With wind at its back because of the newly gained international legitimacy and sanctions removal, Tehran could more aggressively push its sectarian agenda in the region.
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMONUpdated: JANUARY 20, 2016 12:38
The Islamic Republic of Iran has probably its best strategic position since the founding of the regime in 1979.World powers such as the US, Europe and Russia are favorably disposed to the regime as the nuclear deal reached last summer progresses and their combined operations against Islamic State and other Sunni terrorist groups continue.Reflecting the mood, Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that Iran is key to stabilizing the Middle East.“We need Iran to calm the conflicts and re-establish stability in this crisis-hit region,” he said, according to a Reuters report.But Iran is most likely to do the very opposite.With wind at its back because of the newly gained international legitimacy and sanctions removal, it could more aggressively push its sectarian agenda in the region.“The Islamic Republic has done the deal of their life and been recognized internationally,” David Menashri, professor emeritus at The Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor at The Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA, told The Jerusalem Post.“The nuclear program has been blessed by world powers even if the deal delays it for 10 to 15 years. In historical terms, it is tomorrow morning,” said Menashri, an Israeli, internationally recognized Iran expert.Following the 1979 revolution, the Shi’ite regime was busy consolidating power at home and used the war against Sunni Iraq from 1980-1988 to further this cause by rallying the nation around the flag.Today, its former primary regional rival, Iraq, is a main ally, flipped thanks to the US invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein. The Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad is allied with Tehran.The Islamic Republic’s expansionist revolutionary ideology continues to take it into other Arab countries where it and its proxies are fighting for power including Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. Influence also is being exerted in bordering Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most Western forces from the country, as well as in adjacent Gulf states that have significant Shi’ite minorities.Tehran also has sought to influence terrorist groups in Gaza that oppose Israel.The opposition Sunni bloc is led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, with Israel as a wild card that could be cooperated with to help achieve a balance of power to counter Tehran’ regional encroachment.“The Islamic Republic’s regional and international standing have really been upgraded, as just a few years ago Iran was on its knees in Syria and other places and now all of the sudden you see smiles on the faces of Iranians,” said Menashri.For Iran, this has been a huge negotiating success.“Internationally, Iran is at the peak of its power,” he said, adding that it was also beneficial to Iran that the nuclear deal only dealt with the nuclear issue and not the regime’s other domestic or international behavior, such as its support for radical Islamist movements.“What Iran has been given is almost irreversible, but what it gave away depends on it honoring the agreement.”Of course, everything is not rosy for Iran, continued Menashri, who cited challenges such as low oil prices and growing expectations for a better quality of life.But these will be difficult to deliver even with the unfrozen assets, he said, pointing out that the regime could be faced with unfulfilled expectations.Moreover, there is also going to be domestic opposition from hard-liners to the opening up of Iran to the West, the Iran expert said.“It is yet to be seen if the more reformist elements will be allowed to run in the parliamentary elections next month,” Menashri said.What is clear, he concluded, is that the regime “is going through a period of deep soul searching about the nature of the Islamic revolution.”
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