Iran and its regional influence in the Middle East

Iran and its regional influence in the Middle East

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Tijani Dalal *

 Introduction

The triangle of the Middle East area is a gateway for international transport between the three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe), making it an important strategic location. It overlooks the world’s most prominent water bodies, in addition to its rich natural resources including gas,  and  it contains  the third of  global oil introduction estimated by 66%, the latter formed a source for the global and regional competition  on the middle east  area  for decades , this enhances  the tension in the area and ignite the wars inside it  including   the Arab-Israeli wars, and after  the end of the Cold War, and the formation of the new world order  , the tension in the region continued with the outbreak of the first Gulf War  between Iraq and Iran   and the second gulf war between Iraq and Kuwait   , in which the United States formed an international coalition that intervened in the region, paving the way for a war on Iraq. The events of September 11, 2001 were the most prominent pretexts for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.

The fall of Iraq has had a great impact on the Middle East and rearranged many of the papers within it to draw the features of new regional powers in the region represented by the increasing Iranian presence leading Shiite influence as it seeks to spread its ideology in the region and work to protect its allies headed by the regime of Bashar Assad and the Lebanese Hezbollah, This is why it intervenes in the Syrian crisis and works to reach a solution that is in line with its interests. Based on its location and geostrategic importance and its multiple potentials and its influence, it is considered one of the major regional powers in the Middle East.

  Research problem:

Iran’s regional power is one of the competing regional powers in the Middle East, which played an influential role in the current issues. From here, we can propose the following problem:

To what extent can the Iranian regional force influence the Middle East?

First: the regional status of the Iranian role

* Iran’s geostrategic status and the Iranian economic qualifications:

Iran enjoys of a very important  strategic  location  where  the geography of Iran   contains an important oil wells  and  the location of Iran   is very important  due to its overlooking  Hermes  trait  noting that Iran’s strategic location makes it a trade gateway, especially oil, and a link between the East and the West. Iran is located between Latitude   25 and 40 North of the Equator and between longitude 44 and 63 East of Greenwich, which it is located in the southwestern   from the Asia continent and in the   northeast of Arabian Peninsula   . It is bordered by the Sea of ​​Qazvin and Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to the south and Iraq and Turkey  from the West. [1]
Iran is Located within the warm temperate tropical zone, and  it has a major extension of climate diversity. It lies on the eastern side of the Arabian Gulf and serves as a bridge to Europe and Asia. Iran overlooks the most important water bodies, including the Arabian Gulf in the Southwest, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea in the South and the Sea of ​​Qazvin in the North. , Iran is located in the heart of the Muslim world and is one of the largest countries in the region with an area of ​​164, 8000 km2. According to the statistics of 2014, Iran has a population of 78,143,644. The geographic factor is the most important factor in the external policy of Iran that it seeks through  it  to protect its national security, which is one of its most important external goals.

The economy is the most important component of power in the country and the most important determinants of the role of foreign policy. The stronger the state economy, the more powerful it can rely on itself and it does no subject to the bargains of the big countries, such as the weak ones that they are forced to rely on the other countries  and then  they  are  in a state of dependency .
The Iranian economy is one of the most prominent economies that have seen positive stability in the world, despite international economic sanctions by the major powers, USA FREEZ OF Iranian assets in its banks and the European countries did the same, which have had a major impact on the economy, despite its reliance on oil revenues in a balanced manner. [3] ]

Iran ranks fourth in the world in terms of oil reserves and second in gas reserves after Russia. The head of state is the supervisor of the economy with a text of the constitution and the supreme leader          ( Murshed) is entitled to intervene as the policy designer. The Iranian economy is an influential element in the Iranian decision-making process. Iran’s GDP is $ 482,445 billion and the per capita income is $ 6,500, which makes the Iranian economy stable.  It has natural resources such as coal, natural gas, lead, copper, zinc and oil. The latter occupies an important position; it is the basis of the Iranian economy as   It relies heavily on its foreign relations. Its price fluctuations affect Iran’s foreign policy. Oil revenues are the main source of Iranian national income and the main source of hard currency, and  despite its reliance on oil reserves, however, it has  tended to substitute for this wealth through the Iranian  nuclear program   to produce the energy noting that  Iran achieved in 2001 the highest growth in eight years, averaging 5% [5] . Iran and its strategic location and strategic importance and by its multiple potential is one of the main regional powers in the Middle East and this region is important for Iran in the fields of common history and Islamic culture. Iran’s geographic proximity to the Arab region and the  its common borders made Iran since the advent of the 1979 Islamic revolution seeking to play a regional role different from the role of the time of the Shah, Iran after hindering its role in the region because of the war with Iraq in 1980 and its entry into international isolation and the deterioration of relations with most Arab and Western countries and  the Gulf War II 1990  was considered  as an important opportunity  to break  the  isolation and Iranian openness  to the  Arab and Western countries as a prelude to the restoration of Iran ‘s role and weight at the regional and international levels as a result of the importance of the Middle East, especially the Arab Gulf [6] .

Where Iran seeks to gain influence in the region to form a major regional power, because of its great economic, military and human potential, along with its cultural heritage, and it has succeeded in different stages in the exercise of different roles in the influence in the Middle East.

* 2 Iran’s nuclear program

The main motive for Iran to possess nuclear weapons  is its sought  to possess defensive deterrent force  in future  and that is  to resist any foreign threat  and it seems that   Iran’s decision  from the beginning to develop nuclear military capabilities in response to Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, especially in light of the strikes it received during the war with Iraq ,  and after the weakness of Iraq  , its motives have become evident in the need to have a deterrent power to confront the USA  and the Zionist entity  especially  in the light of  developing nuclear weapons by the latter  appears to have been the main motive for Iran’s aspiration to acquire nuclear weapons, and Iran has the basic elements to play a regional role in the Middle East  due to   a large block of Human Resources inhabit a spot of very  important ground  geographically and historically a deep extension and   considerable influence significantly on the geographical neighboring countries because of the link with these countries with  close  bonds  based on  strong political and economic relations, [8] Iran used soft  power  in its nuclear power in order to  enhance the  international legitimacy by asserting its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful nuclear purposes and to gain time in negotiations and the success of its nuclear project, it is clear that Tehran has an interest in obtaining weapons. [9]

Second: Iranian strategy in the Middle East

* 1 Iranian project and foreign policy in the Middle East

Iran’s influence on the Middle East emerged through the signs of the Iranian project, especially in the Arab region after the Islamic revolution in Iran 1979, by launching the slogan of exporting the revolution, one of the priorities on which Iran relied on the emphasis of Islamic unity by seeking to export the revolution to various parts of the world Arab and Muslim countries as a way to reach its stated goals of protecting the rights of Muslims in the region. Iran was able to help Hezbollah to emerge as a representative of the people in Lebanon and provided it with material and military support so that  it managed to form a Shiite force in the region.

And Iran’s pursuit in  the region and playing a leading role and the imposition of  hegemony ,  Mohamed Jawad Larijani  introduced   a theory which is one of the most important theories that included a strategy and the most important in this theory ( umm al qura) , Iran is the center of Islamic leadership in the world and the  Iranian guardian  jurist ( Velayat eFaqih ) will oversee the whole Islamic world and the most important goals of the Iranian strategy In the theory of the Umm al qura ( mother of villages) are:

  • The maintenance of the Islamic system, ie, the regime of the guardian jurist (Velayat e faqih ) .
  • Protect Iran as a top priority.
  1. Regional expansion in the region [11].

To overcome Iran’s internal problems, it headed towards the neighboring countries in an attempt by the Shah’s regime to engage the people in external conflicts. This project is covered by  the cloak of Shiism, serving both the political and religious aspects. The objectives of Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East exceeded the limits of national and regional security  to  be a stage of hegemony and impose the influence  in many Arab and Islamic regions [12] , and Iran worked to strengthen and expand its influence in the region on the main dimensions: first export the Iranian revolution to the Middle East  countries in order to enhance and strengthen Iranian influence in the Arab world and the support of its allies politically, militarily  , economically and second: spread Shiism as an important element for the generation of Iranian soft power after the export of the revolution and  Shiism depended  on the Shitte communities in the Middle East by supporting its allies in the region    by supporting resistance movements and its Syrian ally   , the  largest Arabic ally for it  in the region  ,  however , this dimension aimed at formation strong Shiite entities   in the Arab countries to support Iranian policies in the region by supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is now the cornerstone of the Lebanese political structure and a strong Shiite arm in the Middle East, this is what Iran has done to strengthen its influence and   support Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements supported by Iran politically, financially  and logistically  in addition to its support for the Houthis in Yemen [13] .

The second Iranian document confirms the draft of the twentieth Iranian strategy (2005-2025), after the document Umm al-Qura, an official document that puts forward visions of the Iranian role in the region in 20 years and  according to this strategy and according to the document, Iran is becoming a central nucleus of the dominance of internal  pluralism in the region in order to do a leading role  for the security, political and economic organization  of this region and   Iran seek to be an influential international force in all global issues. [14]

Iran has a vision and a clear project in its movements towards the region, especially since the entry of US forces to Iraq in 2003, it seeks to change the culture in the surrounding communities in order to change the regional equation in the long term in order to achieve the hegemony away from the tools of political and economic control, [15]  Iran has worked  for the expansion in the Middle East, so it has faced  threats in the region , it  fought  Kurdish rebel movements within its territory, but the events of September 11, 2001 opened the doors to expand its influence in neighboring countries under the umbrella of the fight against terrorism and resulted in the fall and occupation of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where Iran took advantage of the collapse of Iraq to strengthen its influence [16] .

Iran was a supporter of the US war to strike Iraq because Saddam’s regime was an obstacle to Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Iran rejects a strong Iraqi authority that competes it and rule a way from its authority and influence its power. The fall  of Saddam’s regime   opened the space  for the allies of Iran  to  takeover the governance in Iraq  and worked to contain the Shiites of Iraq through the parties loyal to them and used as a bargaining  paper  in any regional and international entitlement to calm the situation or raised it  in Iraq [17] .

Iran is an important country in the Middle East and its relations with the Arab countries are characterized by instability and tension. The Gulf region represents the vital area of ​​Iran geographically and politically. It has been at the heart of Iran’s long-standing external behavior since long ago and Arab Gulf issues in particular  and middle east in general  have become in the heart of the Iranian strategy   ] [18] .

The security of the Arab Gulf is part of Iran’s national security and for its security; Iran has adopted a number of strategies and measures, including the strengthening of political and economic relations with countries. Iran began to impose its control over these countries with arrival  of the  reformist Mohammad Khatami   to power in 1997 with openness and cooperation with Arab and Islamic countries , contrary to  the era of the Shah and differed with the arrival of the  conservative  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005, where the foreign policy of Iran was characterized by tension and conflict with the West and with some Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, especially with the insistence of Ahmadinejad   to continue to the  management  of  the  nuclear file  [19] .

The activation of Iran’s role in the region has been based on several axes, including the undeclared regional intervention in the security and  the stability of the Gulf countries, especially where the US forces are present for the purpose of achieving strategic objectives, the most important of which is to obstruct the American project in the Middle East. The second is to expand its nuclear program and to develop its military power to impose a state of balance of power in the Middle East. The third side is the political and economic openness of Iran to the Gulf countries in order to support the political and regional status through the construction of wide regional relations , giving it flexibility in  its movements and away from international and regional  isolation  and Iran’s occupation of the three islands was an objective to maintain control of the strategic ,vital Strait of Hormuz   as it is one of the cornerstones of Iran’s strategy and control it , thus dominating the oil resources and controlling navigation in the waters of the region (20).

Iran is seeking to spread Shiism    to achieve the Shiite crescent, where the Shiite group in Bahrain calls for some reforms to improve the situation of the Shiites and the emergence of many Shiite opposition organizations at home and abroad and the boycott of parliamentary elections in 2002 and this is what Iran seeks to achieve in the region and we find there also in  Kuwait, where  the Shiite represents 30%  of the population of the state noti the Iran found its way to  carry out its project  and control the region  ND Syria   is considered  part of the Iranian axis and is a major part of what some consider the Shiite crescent especially after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime and the rise of the Shiites in Baghdad, through the elements  and  strategies and actions  done by Iran  to play  a regional role in the region, whether by exporting the revolution or spreading Shiism and creating agents in the region, all help it to play an active role. [21]

The victory of Hamas in the elections was of great importance to Iran as it was considered part of a new system that serves the Iranian issues and has major strategic objectives and its support for Hamas is the pursuit of Iran to play a regional role commensurate with its potential and  capabilities  as a pivotal state in the region and  the victory of Hamas  enhances the Iranian deterrent force and provide Iran with new opportunities  to deal  against Israel, the West and the Arab States [22]

* 3 Iranian position of the Arab Spring

Iran’s possession of these basic elements has made it play a regional role through its keenness to develop its efforts towards the Middle East to deter security threats starting  from the Kurdish problem through the problem of terrorism to end with  the unstable situation in the Arab neighboring countries since the US occupation of Iraq in 200 3 until the protests and demonstrations in the Arabi move . [23]

Iran is one of the regional influential countries in the Arab region, which is also affected by what is happening in this region of events and with the outbreak of the revolutions of the Arab Spring , it has become an urgent need for the Iranian administration to re-introduce the concept of religious democracy  to the Islamic peoples and Iran is considering these revolutions and protests in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, with all its various components, at different degrees of rigidity and pragmatism, to the Arab revolutions as a state of political and cultural labor  that must be exploited to strengthen Iran’s regional position economically, politically and ideologically.

Iran has dealt with these Arab revolutions as an Islamic awakening inspired by the Iranian Islamic revolution and is only exporting the revolution and dreaming of an area subject to Islamic rule. With the outbreak of demonstrations and protests in Syria and the emergence of the first indications of the possibility of escalating into civil war, Iran realized that what is happening in Syria is a serious threat to its interests in the region, especially to Tehran’s Alawite allies in Damascus, it is keen to protect its allies in the region for its own interests.

With the fall of the Tunisian president and the acceleration of the Egyptian revolution against the regime of President Mubarak, the Iranian position began to develop and became evident in   its support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. It also supported the Yemeni revolution and confirmed that the revolutions were the signs of Islamic awakening that  the ideological character was added to it. All the Iranian parties agreed to support the Arab revolutions including the reformist current and conservative current noting that since the beginning of the popular protests in Bahrain, Iran’s official and popular stance has clearly begun to support and defend these protests and to assert its legitimacy and demands. But Iran’s position differed with the Syrian situation where  it took supporting stance  to the Syrian regime to face the people uprising  in Syria  describing it   by foreign conspiracy   aimed at the steadfastness and resistance of Syria  and Iran’s stance  towards Syria’s crisis was not surprised  due to  the nature of the strategic relations between Syria and Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and Syria’s support for Iran in its war with the regime of Saddam Hussein,  because the fall of the Syrian regime has negative repercussions on Iranian influence in Lebanon and the region  as Syria  is the geopolitical gate of Iranian influence in the Middle East [26] .

Syria is a strategic base of great importance for Iran’s influence as it overlooks the Mediterranean. The stable Syrian-Iranian relations are part of the understanding of the Iranian great adherence to the Syrian regime. The development of the relationship developed under crisis conditions for the two countries. The 1980s witnessed the emergence of the Islamic Republic followed by the Iran-Iraq war so the search for allies is a goal in itself for Iran , political allies and allies in order to assist in the military effort, Iran has established a relationship with Syria, especially that Syria has a strategic location where it  is overlooking   Palestine and a safe way to Lebanon and a partner in Iraq, The strained relations between the Baath Party, both Syrian and Iraqi, have made Syria stand alone with Tehran in the eight-year war between Baghdad and Tehran. Syria is the only Arab country to stand by Tehran. [27] Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Iran has declared its support for Assad politically, militarily and financially and Syria’s support for Iran’s nuclear efforts. Iran has played a prominent role in supporting the Syrian regime by allocating $ 10 billion to enable it to purchase weapons and equipment. Iran called for internal dialogue in Syria, and demanded Bashar Assad to expedite political reforms in the country. [28]

It  also stressed the importance of understanding the popular demands and the need to open dialogue between the regime and the opposition. Iran described the popular uprising as a foreign conspiracy aimed at the steadfastness and resistance of Syria against  the Zionists and the West. Iran also supported the reforms announced by President Bashar al-Assad to alleviate the crisis in the country.

Iran fears the loss of the Syrian ally, this close ally may  make Iran to loss  a lot of basic papers that it owns in the region in the event of losing it, it is  in need of him  because he is a key path to the Middle East, especially towards Lebanon, Palestine and the Arabian  Gulf countries and Iran’s loss of this fateful  gate  means siege Iran   completely among its enemies as a major country in the region seeking to extend its influence and achieve its vital interests by maintaining its internal stability in the sense of authoritarianism and maintaining its regional and international standing.

The crisis came to form  an essential  threat  for the Iranian strategy , the fall  of Bashar al-Assad  is  a difficult and hard setback  to the regional  influence of Iran  , Syria is the spearhead of the Iranian interest in the region , it  is the most important regional investment for Iran since the victory of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Iran wants to preserve its interests within Syria and has a lot of investments within it. It exploits  the Syrian crisis to expand  its economic influence  and there are  huge deals  between the two countries  in particular , Syria is part of Iran’s long-term plans to expand its activity in the natural gas market by the end of 2011 to extend the Iranian gas pipeline through Iraq and Syria to be exported across the Mediterranean  sea  to Europe  and the importance of Syrian geography to the Iranian gas export lines to the Middle East and Europe in the future. All these factors highlight Syria’s economic importance to Iran. The latter pledged to provide  full support to Syria, which acted as a mediator between the regime and the Syrian opposition once the regime arrived at a critical stage [31] , Iran fears  of  the fall of the Syrian regime will make the entire Arab pressure   against  Iran. [32]

The fall of Assad or forcing him to step down as part of a political solution, Iran could immediately lose a major ally that would weaken its ability to threaten Israel and thereby deter any possible military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities in the future. The West seeks to protect Israel’s security and this constitutes a threat to the Syrian crisis and Iranian interests [33] .

The success of the Iranian strategy depends on the existence of two options expressed by Iran through its six-party initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis represented by the stability of the regime and the survival of Assad represented in the following:

The first is the steadfastness of the Syrian regime and the prevention of its attrition in a way that affects its structure and the balance of forces in it. This option requires three levels:

 

  • Support the regime in the face of the revolution by all political, economic and military means and tools.
  • Support its influence within the various organs of power.
  • Preserving the position of Bashar Assad in the regime.

Second, the creation of a level of threats and  regional pressures  pushing the major regional powers to reconsider  its calculations in Syria.

Iran recognizes that the continuation of the regime is linked to Bashar’s power and ability to absolute dominance, which led it to help him to establish the National Defense Force. [34]

The Iranian position in favor of the Syrian regime and its support is due in large part to:

  • The desire not to lose the Iranian influence on the Lebanese arena because the Syrian role provides great facilities as a bridge to that effect.
  • The jurisprudential convergence between Iran and the Syrian regime.
  • The Syrian position agrees with the Iranian position regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • Attempt to limit the Western influence on the Syrian arena [35].
  • To work to impede the Taif Agreement and thus reduce the influence of Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese arena and Iran sought to impose its influence and impact on the Middle East.
  • Cut the way for Turkey to be Tehran in the lead  and to have an active role in the events on the Syrian arena [36] .

Iran intervened to resolve the Syrian crisis through political action in the peace negotiations represented at the Geneva Conference and the Astana talks, where Iran took care of what is happening in Syria through the Geneva Conference through the Secretary General of the Iranian National Security Council’s visit Ali shamkhani  to the capitals of Fertile Crescent  where Iran considers  any interference  to be directly relevant to it and rises to the level of nuclear negotiations with the international powers and the group (5 +1) [37] .

 

Iran provided an initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis similar to Geneva in the launch of a transitional process in Syria, provided that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey refrain from arming the rebels and providing support to them, and that Tehran went beyond what the regime wants and even the Russians in promoting a solution involving the brothers of Syria and according to Iran, an initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis must pass through Tehran as it possess  the political game card in Syria, and any disregard for the Iranian role will lead to the failure of  these initiatives .

Iran aims at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis to play a regional role that qualifies it to be a prominent regional and international state by proposing an initiative for a political solution in Syria called the four-point initiative which includes four items set by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as a solution to the Syrian crisis in which this initiative included  a cease-fire and control of the Syrian border and prevention  the entry of foreign fighters and weapons to it  and the opening of the doors of assistance in addition to the item of the transitional government  ,  this initiative is in line with the initiative of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in forming a government of national unity and the amendment of the Constitution and But all this did not lead to a solution to the crisis. [39]

Conclusion:

Iran’s prominent regional status as well as the geographical proximity of the Arab region and the participation  of its borders and its nuclear file which has become the talk of the hour  ,  and since the Iranian revolution in1979 , Iran is seeking to achieve its influence and impact  in the Middle East and disseminate its ideology, and  its efforts to play a prominent regional role in the Middle East through its positions  towards Arab revolutions and to play a leading role in the regional crises and deter the security threats in the region and Iran has influenced the Middle East  by  preparing  the Iranian project to export its revolution and Iranian strategies, so Iran sought to influence in the region.

Rawabet Center for research and strategic studies