The current geopolitical scenario in West Asia allows Iran to increase its influence in the (most volatile) region in the world.
Foreign policy experts are of the opinion that the trend is due to a number of developments in the region. They believe that the best-organised aggressive alliance active in West Asia is the one led by Iran. Tehran and its allies are seeking to set up an arc of control from Syria to Afghanistan – key in the sectarian competition between Shia and Sunni Islam that has Iran face off against Saudi Arabia for regional dominance. It is interesting that Iran’s strategy has played out in what’s been called a “cold war in a very hot place”.
As far as the regional power play is concerned, Iran aims to emerge as the main power in West Asia and the Islamic world. The Islamic republic on the Persian Gulf also wants to roll back the US influence in the region and work towards Israel’s “destruction”, without direct military confrontation with Saudi Arabia. That is why Iran backs proxy politico-military organisations aligned to its strategic objectives in various countries in the region, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestinian territories.
In Syria, Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Since 1982, Iran has been providing funds and arms to Syria in order to help Assad hold on to power. The Syrian civil war made Assad more a warlord rather than a ruler of his country. President Assad recently said that regaining control of Aleppo was a “victory” for his Russian and Iranian allies too. By issuing such a statement, Assad admitted that Russia’s intervention in Syria saved the government forces from defeat and it was not possible to retake control of Aleppo without Russia and Iran’s help.
In Lebanon, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards set up Hezbollah – the only non-state body that has an armed wing – in the 1980s. The Lebanese Shitte militia and political party is not only fighting in Syria, but also backing Assad and reportedly using US-made armoured personnel carriers originally supplied to the Lebanese Army.
Iran’s support to the Palestinian resistance (in logistics, training and funds) has been unmatched. Tehran was with the Hamas till the Arab Spring. The strategy stands largely upset by the rise of Muslim Brotherhood that has warmed to the Hamas. Later, Iran sought strategic ties with Hamas, which distanced itself from the Syrian regime.
In Yemen, Iran’s allies are the Houthis, who seized control of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in September 2014. The ousted Yemeni government forces are backed by the Saudis and Emirates in an anti-Houthi coalition that also includes Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Egypt. Houthis agreed to a temporary UN-led ceasefire in October 2015. So, there is no outright victory for Iran in Yemen.
Iran is also influencing the Iraqi politics in a different way. The Shia Arab majority country has pro-Iranian Sunni party ‘Dawa’ in power. The fragmentation of Iraq helps Iranians dominate one part of the neighbouring country. Tehran even helped stop ISIS advance eastwards in 2014.
Iran’s ambition to become the major power in West Asia is boosted by its involvement among Shia populations in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. After considering the current geopolitical scenario in the region, the top political leadership in Tehran has decided to send Iranian resources to its target through a line of pro-Iranian entities between its border with Iraq and Mediterranean Sea. Iran is also trying hard to stretch its influence to the Arabic-speaking side of the Persian Gulf so that it can subvert the Saudi interests.
Since he became the president in 2013, Hassan Rouhani has hinted that Iran’s main interests lie in gaining an entry into the Israel-Arab conflict via Lebanon and working towards subverting Israel. Also, Tehran wants to work against the Saudis and the Gulf Co-operation Council with the help of “a weak and non-hostile” Iraq.
Although it is difficult to predict whether Iran will emerge as a leading power in West Asia in the coming days, Tehran has started influencing the regional politics by making some changes in its foreign policy.