Iran’s Doubled-edged Sword

An excerpt: The foreign policy opportunities that the turmoil in the Arab world has created for Iran could be outweighed by new domestic unrest it has helped to spark.

By LESLIE SUSSER
March 22, 2011 15:12
1 minute read.
Aircraft carrier

Aircraft carrier 521. (photo credit: Reuters)

IN LATE FEBRUARY, WITH THE Arab world in turmoil, two Iranian warships sailed through the Suez Canal on their way to the Syrian port of Latakia in the eastern Mediterranean.

It was the first time since the ayatollahs came to power in 1979 that armed Iranian vessels had asked for and received permission to traverse the Egyptian waterway.

True, according to the 1888 Constantinople Convention, the new Egyptian rulers had no choice but to grant the “Khark,” a 33,000- ton supply vessel and the “Alvand,” a 1,500- ton frigate armed with torpedoes and antiship missiles, rights of passage.

Nevertheless, in crossing the canal in an overtly provocative manner, the Iranians were making multiple statements: That Egypt, for decades the most prominent member of the pro-American anti-Iranian camp in the Arab world, was no longer obviously part of a grand US-led Middle Eastern alliance; that, in the Iranian view, American power in the region was in decline and could be challenged with impunity; that, with a capacity to project power as far as the Mediterranean, Iran was the coming hegemonic power in the region; and that unlike the US, which abandoned longtime faithful allies, such as the deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Iran always stood fast by its friends, starting with Syria.

In other words, by crossing the canal, the Iranians were issuing an open invitation to moderate Arab regimes in flux to break with a “declining” America and join their “ascendant” radical camp. During an inspection of the Iranian vessels at Latakia, Ahmad Mousavi, Iran’s Ambassador to Damascus, spelled it out. “If Egypt and other Islamic countries stand by Iran and Syria, we will see the end of the United States’ hegemony in the region,” he declared.

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