US policies in the Middle East: Iran revisits the politics of ‘resistance’

A highly critical tone has reappeared in the Iranian statements regarding the US policies in the Middle East after a hiatus of several weeks dating back to the run-up to the last phase of the talks in Vienna between Iran and the world powers (which resulted in the nuclear deal on July 14).

The ‘revisionist’ line has been quite discernible in the recent days in a series of statements attributed to the advisor on international affairs to the Supreme Leader (and formerly foreign minister) Ali Akbar Velayati who has remained an influential and authoritative voice in Iran’s foreign and security policy establishment for the past two decades.

On Sunday, in a speech at a prestigious conference in Tehran, Velayati delivered a harsh critique of the US’ regional policies. His key points:

  • The so-called ‘resistance axis’ (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) is obliged to not only fight against the dominance of foreign powers but block the influence of the US.
  • The US instigates conflicts involving different groups and sects in the Muslim countries and a united front is needed to counter the US’ ‘plots.’
  • The ‘mercenaries’ (read Islamic State, et al) deployed in the conflicts in the Muslim countries serve the US’ goals and objectives.
  • Iraq, Syria and other Muslim countries will confront these ‘mercenaries’ and the ‘dream’ of the ‘hegemonic powers’ to split Iraq and Syria will never materialize.
  • Syria is a crucial country for Iran since it is “the golden ring of resistance against the Zionists.”
  • If the plans by the US and its allies to achieve their goals in Syria have not succeeded, the credit for it goes to the leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad and the resistance.
  • The US also plans to partition Yemen and, regrettably, remains a mute spectator of Saudi Arabia’s wanton air strikes.

Velayati asserted, implicitly though, that the nuclear deal signed in Vienna does not mean that the fundamentals of those policies change as regards Iran’s resistance to the US hegemony.

Ali Akbar Velayati

Ali Akbar Velayati

Velayati was accurately reflecting the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A day later, on Monday, while addressing the same audience before whom Velayati spoke the previous day, Khamenei articulated on similar lines.

Furthermore, Khamenei said the US hopes to exploit the nuclear deal to “infiltrate” Iran, but “We (Iran) will firmly block their way. We will not allow the US to make economic, political or cultural inroads into the country. We will counter such infiltration with all our power.”

Khamenei repeated that the US strategy is to splinter Iraq and Syria and it is using the ‘Takfiri’ groups as instruments of policy. He said in reality, the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc. are not religious but are political in character.

What explains these strident statements in such forceful terms at a delicate juncture when the US lawmakers are firing all eight cylinders at the Iran nuclear deal?

The heart of the matter is that from the Iranian perspective, no sooner than the negotiations at Vienna ended, the Obama administration turned around to indulge in a series of highly provocative maneuverings to seek unilateral advantage in the Middle East issues.

Indeed, Tehran cannot be faulted if it has deconstructed Washington’s approach to Syria on the following lines:

  • Willingness to militarily intervene in the conflict;
  • Proposal to establish ‘no-fly zone’;
  • Threat of air strikes at government forces;
  • Revving up of the ‘regime change’ agenda.

On the diplomatic track, the US intends to deal with Russia and Iran separately on the bilateral track, exploiting any differences between Moscow and Tehran and gradually ‘softening up’ their robust support for President Bashar Al-Assad.

A concerted campaign also began that the Russian and Iranian grit to support Assad is weakening.

On a parallel track, US encouraged Russia’s parleys with Saudi Arabia and its Syrian proxies. (The US is yet to engage with Iran over the Syrian conflict.)

On yet another track, the US has encouraged Turkey to militarily intervene in Syria ostensibly to fight the Islamic State, although Ankara’s overriding obsession lies in the overthrow of the Assad government.

The US and Turkey’s military intervention in Syria without any UN mandate meets with strong disapproval from Russia and Iran, but the Obama administration chooses to ignore it.

Unsurprisingly, Tehran is on guard against the US’ intentions in Syria, which of course remains a most crucial ally for Iran and a key participant in the politics of ‘resistance.’

However, in the ultimate analysis, the ‘red line’ for the Iranian leadership will be that the US might be stepping up its longstanding policy to create disunity within the regime.

Of course, it has been a fashionable thesis among American experts that the fractious Iranian regime would unravel once the country’s integration with the West gains traction. An article in the Saudi daily al-Hayat this week (featured also by Al-Arabiya) actually predicted that Syria is a flashpoint over which dissent might appear within the Iranian regime. The article juxtaposed President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps:

“In Tehran, the tug of war has started between the hawks and the doves. But at least for now, President Rowhani and his Foreign Minister Zarif seem to still have a green light from Supreme Leader Khamenei to send out messages of reassurance and moderation. It seems they have the authority to speak on behalf of the state in the Islamic Republic, which is seeking understandings with its neighbors. What is not clear yet, however, is whether the Revolutionary Guards have the authority in parallel to speak on behalf of the revolution in Iran. The outcome of the tug of war will most certainly impact Syria.

It is not only on Syria, but also over Yemen (where it exercised restraint by not jumping into a war of ‘resistance’ against the Saudi interventionist forces) that Tehran senses the US ‘pushing back’ at it.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry boasted publicly a few weeks ago that he got Zarif to act promptly within the day to hold Tehran back from supplying weapons to the Houthis. But what Kerry probably didn’t reveal would be the pledge he might have made to Zarif that Washington would work toward opening a political track the UN auspices to resolve the Yemen problem under.

Today, Tehran has every reason to feel embittered that the Obama administration has looked away and allowed a free hand to Riyadh to press ahead with the military intervention in Yemen – even intensifying the air strikes and imposing blockades on Yemen with US Navy support.

Without doubt, if the Saudis feel emboldened to show the thumb at the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – forcing a postponement of the UN-held talks in Geneva, breaking its promises to him on allowing a humanitarian truce and so on and now advancing on the capital of Sana’a (which effectively undermines the prospect of any UN-brokered negotiated settlement in a foreseeable future) – Tehran justifiably would blame American complicity for it.

In fact, the US continues to provide critical support to the Saudi military operations in Yemen, while the Saudi military campaign to vanquish the Houthis and reestablish its dominance over Yemen is relentlessly rolling on.

However, the bottom line still would be is Khamenei’s pointed reference to the threat of hostile powers trying to “infiltrate” the Iranian system.

Interestingly, in a speech – again, on Monday – the Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani (brother of Majlis speaker Ali Larijani and a hugely influential figure in the establishment) also explicitly targeted the US for plotting to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.

Larijani called on the Iranian officials “not to allow the aliens to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.” He recalled the Anglo-American coup to overthrow the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 and warned, “Americans should know that Islamic Iran today is not Iran in the year 1953.”

All in all, Tehran has signaled that if the US tries to ‘push back’ at Iran, it too will ‘push back’ at Washington and there is precious little the Obama administration could do about it.

The politics of resistance is integral not only to Iran’s independent foreign policies and ‘strategic autonomy’ but also to its eternal vigilance against US attempts to create disunity within the Islamic regime.

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Categories: M.K. Bhadrakumar, Middle East

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