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Iranian Justifications for Repeated Intervention in the Region

09 November 2016

Iran no longer hides its intervention or negative influence in the internal affairs of the region’s states, which has resulted in the escalation of different regional crises. On the contrary, Iran has started to shed light on such interventions with the aim of sending direct messages to the regional and international powers concerned with these crises. These messages imply that Iran is an important figure not to be ignored and that it will impede the efforts exerted to reach political settlements if such resolutions are not in their direct favor, or in line with its endeavors to prop up its regional role in the Middle East.

In this context, Iran was keen to take advantage of the lack of interest by major international forces, particularly the US, in these interventions, as the latter still prioritizes Iran’s implementation of the nuclear agreement articles agreed upon in July 2015. The Obama administration considers the agreement a significant achievement which, from the point of view of many orientations, makes up for the consecutive failures caused by the poor foreign policy the U.S. has adopted over the last eight years towards main international and regional crises, including the Ukrainian and Syrian crises, as well as peace talks between Israel and the Palestine.

Several Justifications

Iran has begun to put forth several justifications to explain its constant interventions in the internal affairs of regional states, namely through establishing strong ties with armed organizations and local groups. The latest of these justifications was provided by the commander of the Basij mobilization organization,Mohammad Reza Naqdi on Oct. 15th, 2016. He said that Iran’s borders are an interest to humanity and not simply the borders created by humans, adding that we must not limit our services to the border created by colonialists.

It is of note that these statements are not new; more than one Iranian official has pointed out the expanding, dynamic area of Iran. For example, Yahya Rahim Safavi, adviser to the military affairs leader and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, claimed in May 2014 that Iranian power extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, in March 2015, Ali Younesi, Special Assistant to the President of Iran's Ethnic and Religious Minorities, said that Baghdad had become the capital of the Iranian Emperor.

As a whole these statements raise two major significant issues related to the general orientation of Iranian foreign policy. The first issue is that Iran is dissatisfied with its current borders and believes that the balance of power between international forces at some points in history led to a shrinking of its geographical area. This was evident in the statements of several Iranian officials, who pointed out that signing conventions with some of the international forces led to deducting vast areas of Iranian land.

This is a bleak situation for Iran’s people, mainly because Iran’s aspiration to fill a transnational role was one of the determinants of policy adopted prior to the eruption of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran however, developed new dimensions following the establishment of the Islamic republic regime, which relied on doctrinal foundations that largely extended the Iranian borders and imposed a wide, vital scope for Iran’s interventions. These interventions have become a major threat against the security and stability of many countries. Iran even uses ideological slogans for its interventions for example, “Supporting the Oppressed,” “Fighting the Arrogant” and “Establishing the International Government for Islam.” Despite these claims, Iran will generally ignore these slogans if they contradict its interests within the country. 

The second significant issue with Iran’s foreign policy is that Iran will continue to intervene in the region despite the repercussions of such actions. This means that Iran will continue to support different regional crises without any notion of reaching settlements in the near future, and they will continue to escalate tensions in their relations with many of the regional forces in the area. This policy is contrast to the expectations which indicated that the rise of President Hassan Rouhani to power in 2013, and the nuclear agreement reached in 2015,would lead to a shrinking in the tension and an improvement in relations with many states in the region.

An Interest in the Islamic State (ISIS)

Iran’s eagerness to announce the dismantlement of cells affiliated with ISIS can be explained by the groups actions in attempting to infiltrate Iranian borders for the purpose of carrying out terrorist operations from within the country. On Oct. 14th, 2016, the vice governor of the Fars Province, Hadi Pajuhish, stated that Iranian security forces were able to disassemble a cell of 11 foreign elements. Prior to that, in August 2016, the Iranian media announced that the authorities were able to frustrate terrorists’ attempts to cross the Iranian-Iraqi borders, and that they had revealed that security forces succeeded in stopping a major terrorist operation which was planned to be carried out in the capital of Tehran.

It can be said that Iran seeks to achieve two goals through its repetitive announcements of dismantling terrorist cells affiliated with ISIS. The first goal is giving special eminence to its intervention, particularly in the Syrian and Iraqi crises. Iran continues to provide support to the Assad regime in Damascus and to the Iraqi Government in Baghdad. Iran has also helped form and train sectarian militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan to boost the Syrian regime’s capability, as well as the Iraqi government’s, in order to face the pressures imposed upon both.

Thus, through the disassembling of terrorist cells, Iran attempts to suggest that its role in supporting the Assad regime and the Iraqi Government is based on defending its interests and securities. In other words, Iran seeks to affirm that its support for both sides is an advanced defense against the terrorist organizations before ISIS crosses its borders.

Certainly, Iran’s keenness to send this message is a result of the fierce criticism against it due to the country’s adopted policy towards the Syrian and Iraqi crises, which, according to many views, led to the attrition of Iran’s financial and military capabilities, as well as the unnecessary continuation of the crises.

Iran’s second goal is to convince international forces to consider the possibility of establishing a security partnership to fight terrorism in which Iran would be the main party. This has constantly been a central topic of statements made by Iranian officials. For example, on Dec 15th, 2015, the chief of staff for President Rouhani, Mohammad Nahavandian, stated that the nuclear agreement could be a prelude to cooperation between Iran and the U.S. to fight terrorism, on condition that the latter abides by the articles of the agreement.

In other words, since Iran has reached a settlement regarding its major issues with international forces via the nuclear agreement, Iran now seeks to consolidate its capabilities by taking part in the reformulation process for the security and strategic arrangements in the region. From Iran’s point of view, this settlement can be relied upon to assist with the counter-terrorism effort, which recently gained the special attention of international forces after several terrorist operations were carried out within some Western states, including France and Belgium.

These efforts face significant obstacles; in addition to the constant accusations against Iran of supporting terrorism, these obstacles keep the paths of this agreement on the table, in a way that would impede the activation of any real partnership between Iran and the Western states on the issue of counter-terrorism in the coming period. These obstacles still stand in the way of lifting the international sanctions on Iran, through allowing foreign companies and banks to deal with it.