What the Iranian regime really wants – and what the West refuses to see

The original goals of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 were clearly stated at the time– the destruction of Western-style democracy and its way of life and the imposition of Shi’ite Islam on the west.

Iranian wrestlers carry portraits of Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and today’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the opening ceremony of the Takhti Cup tournament in Tehran in 1998 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian wrestlers carry portraits of Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and today’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the opening ceremony of the Takhti Cup tournament in Tehran in 1998
(photo credit: REUTERS)

With the best of intentions world leaders have been pursuing a policy in respect of Iran that leads nowhere. The original goals of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 were quite clearly stated at the time by the first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – the destruction of Western-style democracy and its way of life and the imposition of Shi’ite Islam on the world.
An analysis of Iranian policy over the past 41 years reveals a stark truth. The regime has never abrogated those objectives, and they remain the fundamental principles motivating the regime today. This is a truth the West has refused to acknowledge.
“We have to wage war,” wrote Khomeini, “until all corruption, all disobedience of Islamic law ceases.”
Despite the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and its effect within Iran – bad enough as reported, but probably far worse in reality – the hardline elements within the regime, in line with their true purpose, have maintained their pressure. On April 14, armed men boarded and briefly held a Hong Kong-flagged tanker and its Chinese crew in the Strait of Hormuz before releasing the ship.
The next day, 11 vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy approached six US military ships while they were conducting integration operations with Army helicopters in international waters. The US ships issued several warnings through bridge-to-bridge radio, blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise-making devices. The Iranian vessels left after about an hour.
Ever since 1979 the world has grappled with problems emanating from the Iranian regime. Consistently over the past 41 years Iran has either carried out, or initiated through its proxy militias like Hezbollah or the Houthis, a series of bombings, rocket attacks, assassinations and terrorist actions in the Middle East and across the world. For decades, Iran also made determined efforts to develop nuclear power, with the aim – never openly acknowledged – of producing nuclear weapons.
It is unlikely that the present regime has abandoned that objective. In 2015, in an attempt to cripple its nuclear program, the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran. No doubt all those involved, including then-US president Barack Obama, had the very best of intentions. With that deal – which incorporated a substantial financial boost to Iran – they believed they had put the regime’s nuclear ambitions on hold for at least 15 years, making the world a safer place. Moreover they believed that they had taken an important step toward normalizing relations and bringing Iran back within the comity of nations.
They were mistaken. To quote US President Donald Trump, speaking on January 8, 2020. “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying ‘thank you’ to the United States, they chanted ‘death to America.’
“In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed. Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.”
Where did the civilized world go wrong. The mistake was the same mistake the world made in the case of Adolf Hitler. Nobody read Mein Kamf, first published in 1925 – or, if they did, nobody thought he meant what he said. But the philosophy underlying Hitler’s political beliefs was there, in black and white, for years before he was in a position to implement it. If politicians, or opinion formers, had taken it seriously, his rise to supreme power could have been thwarted. He could never have maneuvered his way into becoming Germany’s chancellor.
The problem that Iran poses to the civilized world stems entirely from the Islamic revolutionary regime that the nation wished on itself back in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini, the figurehead for Iran’s new direction, became Supreme Leader in December 1979. His philosophy, which he made no secret of, and wrote about nearly 40 years before, required the immediate imposition of strict Sharia law domestically, and a foreign policy aimed at spreading the Shi’ite interpretation of Islam across the globe by whatever means were deemed expedient.
“We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” he declared. “Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be a struggle.” Or again: “Establishing the Islamic State worldwide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.”
Pursuit of this fundamental objective of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state acting either directly or through proxy militant bodies enabling it to deny responsibility – in a succession of acts of terror, mayhem and murder directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shi’ite Muslims as well. “To kill the infidels,” declared Khomeini, “is one of the noblest missions Allah has reserved for mankind.”
He was unequivocal about the basic purpose of his regime. “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam and the suppression of the rule of the world conquerors.”
This partly explains Iran’s unremitting hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia. With Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, the Saudi kingdom sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world – a claim hotly contested by Iran. The regime sees Saudi Arabia as its great rival for political, as well as religious, hegemony in the region. In 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that Mecca was in the hands of “a band of heretics.”
Saudi Arabia gives as good as it takes. In 2018, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, declared that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “makes Hitler look good…. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. The Supreme Leader is trying to conquer the world.”
Trump has repeatedly denied that he seeks regime change in Iran – he says he wants no more than a cessation of Iran’s terrorist activities and a renegotiation of the nuclear deal. These, if finally achieved through the tough sanctions imposed by the US, would indeed be welcome. But a clear-eyed look at the facts shows that a genuine accommodation with this regime is simply not possible. Western leaders want to believe in it, but they cannot, or will not, see that it would be a negation of the fundamental purposes underlying the revolutionary Iranian regime – its very raison d’être.
These are the words of the regime’s founder, its first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. “We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world. We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.” ■
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review, and the author of ‘The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016.’ He blogs at www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com