The Iranian Revolution, 40 years on
The Iranian Revolution, which is marking its 40th anniversary, is no less important than the Bolshevik Revolution. It was a genuine popular revolution that changed the face of the Middle East, the Gulf and the wider region, including Yemen on one side and Afghanistan on the opposite side.
The Iranian Revolution made real inroads deep inside the region by relying on two important and dangerous weapons: playing to sectarian base instincts and abducting the Palestinian cause from the Arabs. Before the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there was no open Sunni-Shia conflict.
Before the Iranian Revolution, there was no one who had any other concern than to outbid the Arab nations on the Palestinian cause. Before the Iranian Revolution, Lebanon was something else, as were Syria and Iraq.
It wasn’t enough that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made the last Friday of each Ramadan “Jerusalem Day,” Iran also blocked any chance for a reasonable settlement with Israel. It was by making Hamas carry out suicide bombings that Iran killed any chances for a settlement. Those attacks served only the interests of the extreme right in Israel, which was opposed to any settlement with the Palestinians, especially to the two-state option.
Through Hamas and other proxies, Iran has played an important role in changing the nature of Israeli society and making it more right wing and extremist.
The suffering that the Palestinians experience today is the result of Iran’s thwarting any hope of a settlement when some progress could have been made towards achieving an independent Palestinian state. That dream has become a mirage.
In 40 years, Iran has transformed itself into a key regional player, if not the main player, in light of the decline of Egypt’s role.
All Arabs bear responsibility for Egypt’s decline as the key regional player after insisting on isolating it following Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, then his signing the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and finally the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in March 1979.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran came about, Egypt had been ostracised by the Arab League. The new Iran was the first to benefit from that situation and pushed in the direction of the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athists.
Saddam Hussein, even under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr’s presidency, created the right atmosphere for Iran to infiltrate the Arab fabric and go deep in the Iraqi interior. He paid a heavy price for it in 1980 when he found himself in direct confrontation with Iran. The Iran-Iraq war raged for eight years and Iran was supported by Syria’s Hafez Assad and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
The biggest disappointment, however, was the one experienced by Yasser Arafat when he discovered during his first visit to Tehran and his meeting with Khomeini that what was required of him was to be a pawn of the Islamic Republic and to forget the role he played in supporting anyone who wanted to get rid of the shah.
Arafat’s support to the Iranian Revolution was in the form of accepting military training in Palestinian camps in Lebanon of various Iranian groups united by their hate for the shah’s regime.
Iran took the utmost advantage of the decline of Egypt’s Arab role with the intimidation campaign by Ba’ath parties of Syria and Iraq. Iran’s expansion to Lebanon created a threat for Iraq and the Gulf countries and it also upped its role in Syria and Yemen.
What is the secret behind US-Iranian relations since 1979? What was the secret behind the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 at a time when even a child could tell that the prime winner of any war leading to a change of the regime in Iraq without a good preparation for the post-Saddam era would be Iran and no one else but Iran?
During the Khomeini era and under the reign of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran could have been a different version of the shah’s Iran. It could have spared the region so many disasters instead of competing with this Arab state or the other about which is more Muslim.
In the era of the Islamic Republic, the Shias became more radical and consequently dragged the Sunnis with them down the same path of extremism. At no time was the profound relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran absent from the regional scene. As a witness to that, there is a street in Tehran named after Khaled al-Islamabouli, the Muslim Brother who assassinated Sadat.
What has not changed much for the past 40 years is the absence of a serious American will to confront Iran. What has not changed either is Iran’s hostile behaviour, which had been apparent during the shah’s regime.
Thus, the Emirati islands of Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb have been illegally occupied by Iran since 1971. Iran has scored victories in more than one Arab country, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and a near victory in Bahrain. It has literally conquered many Arab nations just by brandishing the slogan “Death to America and Death to Israel.” However, neither the United States nor Israel has died.
It’s been 40 years since Khomeini’s triumphant return to Tehran. The entire region has changed but to the worse.
What has not changed is Iran’s arrogance towards the Arabs. Unfortunately, some Arabs have accepted to become a sectarian militia in the service of Iran’s hopeless expansionist project. That project will meet the same fate as the former Soviet expansion project.
What the Iranian Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution have in common is there were projects based on foreign expansion but by countries without an economic base that could secure a minimum standard of living. Under the shah, Iran relied heavily on oil and gas revenues and, under Khomeini, it has become even more dependent on those revenues.
Iran today is good at meting death and destruction and not good at offering models even remotely connected to the culture of life.