Iran’s old ways are self-defeating
The Iranian escalation in the Arabian Gulf is useless. Perhaps I’d better qualify that statement: Yes, it has some use. It is useful because it exposes the real character of the Iranian regime to convince those who still have any illusions in that regard.
The United States was right when it said it would send military reinforcements to the Gulf, including the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group, given growing apprehensions about Iranian terrorist acts in response to tougher US sanctions on Tehran.
The attacks on four ships off the UAE port of Fujairah, including two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian ship, confirmed US fears. Sooner or later, investigations will reveal that Iran was behind the attack and that the choice of the site of the bombing attack was very deliberate. The Port of Fujairah is not far from the Strait of Hormuz and is used to avoid oil transit through this vital strategic strait.
It was also remarkable that the first outlets to report the Fujairah incident were media working for the Iranian services — even before an official statement from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining what happened. Clearly, Iran was sending a message to the Gulf states and the US administration as it realises the sanctions against it are no joke.
It is still early to speak of a major conflagration in the region but we must not lose sight of the fact that Iran can go quite far in challenging the United States. There are two reasons for that.
First, the need of the Iranian regime to close ranks internally and give the impression that the Iranian population is united and ready to ward off any external aggression.
The other reason is that Iranian officials are betting on the Trump administration having other priorities before Iran, including the trade war with China, and that there is a margin that Tehran can use to play its favourite game: using sectarian militias to move forward with its expansionist project based on “exporting the revolution.” That game has become antiquated and no longer fools anyone except perhaps naive idealists.
On the opposite side, there is an American administration that knows exactly what Iran is all about and has a list of conditions that Iran must abide by if it wants to return to a normal state — a state that does not pose a threat to its neighbours and has no illusions of grandeur based on the false belief that it has something to offer its geopolitical environment and the world besides misery and
Iran’s biggest failure since the revolution that overthrew the shah is failing to build a strong and diversified economy that is not entirely dependent on exporting oil and gas. So now there is an economically failed country that wants to lead the region. Does this sound normal? The normal thing is for Iran to return to its real weight and stop playing roles too big for its size.
Does Iran realise what it has done in this or that Arab country, especially in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and even in Bahrain and the Palestinian territories, specifically in Gaza? Who has benefited from all that it did in those countries other than the United States and Israel — the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan”?
In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, along with others, overthrew the shah and his regime. He succeeded in getting rid of the others and established the Islamic Republic, which immediately set out to look for an external enemy.
Tehran’s continuous provocations of Iraq led Saddam Hussein to commit a great folly and declare war on Iran. It was a war that Khomeini needed to strengthen his position internally and keep the army busy with the war on the frontiers and away from him. The escalation with the outside world was a goal in itself for the founder of the Islamic Republic, who needed to stir up the Persian nationalist spirit.
During the era of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran resorted to old methods in a world that had changed. The Gulf countries that are subjected to Iranian practices and provocation are not like Saddam.
Moreover, the current US administration is not the administration of Jimmy Carter, who was so naive and so ineffectual that all he could do was watch as Iranian security services detained the US diplomats at the embassy in Tehran, a real “nest of spies” as it was called by the Iranians at the time.
The Carter administration made only one small attempt to rescue the hostages. When that tragically failed, Carter surrendered to fate and to the blackmailing of the hostage takers for 444 days that ended only with Carter losing the presidential election to Ronald Reagan in 1980.
This is Iran’s favourite game: badgering the enemy until reaching a deal. This time, however, it won’t do to blow up a ship here and there or kidnap US soldiers or citizens or something of that sort.
Instead, Iran should face reality, especially now that sanctions have revealed to the world that the mighty Islamic Republic is just a third world country or even fourth or fifth world. It has nothing to export but violence, blackmail and sectarian instincts. Why can’t Iran look for different goods to export?