Friday, 10 January 2020

The problem with Iran

        Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979 the world has grappled with problems centred on the Iranian regime. Consistently over the 40 years Iran has either carried out, or initiated through its proxy militias like Hezbollah or the Houthis, a series of bombings, rocket attacks, assassinations and terrorist actions not only in the Middle East, but across the world. Iran also made determined efforts for decades to develop nuclear power, with the aim – never openly acknowledged – of producing nuclear weapons.

        Finally in 2015, in an attempt to halt their nuclear programme and bring Iran back into the comity of nations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran. No doubt all those involved, including then-US President Obama, had the very best of intentions. They believed they had put Iran’s nuclear ambitions on hold for about 15 years, making the world a safer place if only temporarily, and believed that they had taken an important step towards normalizing relations with the Iranian regime.

        They were mistaken. To quote President Donald Trump, speaking on 8 January 2020:

        “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying "thank you" to the United States, they chanted "death to America." In fact, they chanted "death to America" the day the agreement was signed.

        “Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. The regime also greatly tightened the reins on their own country, even recently killing 1,500 people at the many protests that are taking place all throughout Iran.”

        Where did the civilized world go wrong? The mistake was the same mistake the world made in the case of Hitler. Nobody read Mein Kamf or, if they did, took it seriously until it was too late. But the philosophy underlying Hitler’s political beliefs was there, in black and white, for years before he was in a position to implement it. He might have been thwarted.

       The problem that Iran poses to the civilized world stems entirely from the Islamic revolutionary regime that the nation wished on itself back in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the figurehead for Iran’s new direction, became Supreme Leader in December 1979. His philosophy, which he made no secret of, and wrote about nearly 40 years before, required the immediate imposition of strict Sharia law domestically, and a foreign policy aimed at spreading the Shi’ite interpretation of Islam throughout the world.

        “We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” he declared. “Until the cry 'There is no god but Allah' resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.” Or again: “Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.”

        Pursuit of this fundamental objective of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state – acting either directly or through proxy militant bodies, which enables it to deny responsibility – in a succession of acts of terror, mayhem and murder directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shia Muslims as well. “To kill the infidels,” declared Khomeini, “is one of the noblest missions Allah has reserved for mankind.”

        He was unequivocal about the basic purpose of his regime. “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam and the suppression of the rule of the world conquerors ... We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world. We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”

        With the best of intentions world leaders have been pursuing a path that leads nowhere. The Iranian regime, now headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, has no interest at all in an accommodation with the West. It is intent on achieving the original goals of the Revolution – the destruction of Western-style democracy and its way of life, and the imposition of Shia Islam on the world. “We have to wage war,” wrote the first Supreme Leader, “until all corruption, all disobedience of Islamic law ceases.”

        This partly explains Iran’s unremitting hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia which, with Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world. This claim is hotly contested by Iran, which sees Saudi Arabia as its great rival for political, as well as religious, hegemony in the region.

        Trump has repeatedly denied that he seeks regime change in Iran – all he wants is a cessation of Iran’s terrorist activities and a renegotiation of the nuclear deal. These, if finally achieved through the tough sanctions imposed by the US, would indeed be welcome. But the fundamental purpose behind Iran’s Islamic regime means that a genuine accommodation with the rest of the world – which the ayatollahs seek to convert to Shia Islam – is impossible.


Published in the Eurasia Review, 11 January 2020:

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