Muammar Faysal Khouli *
The Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah’s regime in 1979, which fled abroad and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile in France to become the supreme leader of the revolution. Shortly thereafter, dozens of students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and detained dozens of diplomats and staff for 444 days, demanding that the Shah be brought to trial , and the USA cut off the diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 , and seized Iranian assets in the United States, and cut off trade relations with it and banned the export of most goods to it.
Since the crisis between the two countries, Washington cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980. The United States has imposed through successive administrations in the white house a series of economic sanctions on Iran since 1980, accusing Tehran of supporting what Washington calls “international terrorism” and because of its nuclear program . The sanctions included several areas namely, oil exports, trade exchanges, asset freeze, travel ban, military domain, and investment.
The question that arises in this context: What is the origin of the dispute and hostility between the two countries since 40 years?!
The smoke of the escalating crisis between the United States and Iran obscures a larger conflict taking place in the structure of the international system, between the great force seeking to maintain its position in it ( the United States ) and those seeking to change it (Russia, China and to a lesser extent India) , and thirdly , countries affected by US policy , such as Germany and others which are(Germany and others).
The recent crisis, which appears to be an American attempt to contain Iran, is in fact only the signs of a fierce battle that has come out to the public and is about to make Iran a major battleground between the aspiring powers of the international order.
In 1800, Iran was isolated to a certain extent from the global economy. But by 1900 it was on its way to becoming fully integrated into this economy. This was especially true of the North, which provided the Russian market with agricultural goods and unskilled labor, and in the south, especially Isfahan, Persia and Kerman, which provided shavings and shawls, as well as opium, to the British Empire. It was therefore not surprising that Czarist Russia had special interests in the port of Anzli and the route linking this port to Tehran. The British Government had similar interests on the road linking the Arabian Gulf to Isfahan, Shiraz, Zezd, and Kerman.
In 1888, the Benech Brothers, a British company active in the Tigris and the Euphrates, began running a stream of boats from Muhammarah to Ahwaz along the Karun river – Iran’s only navigable river. In 1889, Britain established the Imperial Persia bank to help its merchants. The Russians have made their own bank, the Bank de Escompat du Pierce. Iran was a vital country for Britain not only because of the big game – the stage of strategic rivalry between the British and Russian empires for control of Central Asia – but also because of its commercial potential.
During the First World War, Iran’s geography and natural resources were the subject of a conflict between the Allied Powers represented by Britain and Czarist Russia on the one hand, and the Axis Powers represented by Germany. During the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom occupied Iranian territory. Soviet and British forces participated in it and the purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields, prevent German forces from controlling them, and ensure a secure supply line for Soviet forces engaged in battles on the Eastern Front against Axis forces .
Although Raza Pahlavi declared Iran as a neutral country in World War II, he showed great cooperation with the Axis forces, particularly Germany, which led British and Soviet forces to remove him from the throne and to install his son Mohammed as his successor after the occupation of all Iranian territory.
After the appointment of Mohammed Mossadegh as prime minister of Iran (1951-1953), he nationalized Iranian oil from British control, prompting Britain, for fear of its oil privileges, to freeze all Iranian assets in British banks, and the case was brought to the International Court of Justice, the court ruled in favor of Iran, Britain was not deterred, and imposed a trade embargo on Iran and implemented it by its sea power, which led to the collapse of the Iranian economy.
The 1953 coup was often portrayed as an adventure by the CIA to prevent Iran from joining international communism. In fact, it was a British-American adventure to preserve global oil monopolies. The coup left behind a deep and influential legacy. By overthrowing Mossadegh, the coup linked between the Shah and the British, the Anglo-Iranian oil company, and the imperialist forces, and the army was linked with these imperialist powers – especially the CIA and the British intelligence service. The coup has stained the Americans with the British brush – the Iranians have begun to see that the main imperialist enemy is not only Britain but Britain in close cooperation with the United States of America.
The coup destroyed the National Front and the Tudeh Party – both of which suffered extensive arrests of its members and the destruction of its organizations, even leading to the execution of their leaders. This destruction paved the way for the subsequent emergence of the religious movement. In other words, the coup has led to replace nationalism, socialism, and liberalism with Islamic fundamentalism. At the time of republican rule, nationalism, neutrality, and socialism, the Pahlavi royal family became inherently associated with imperialism, corporate capitalism, and close alliance with the West. It is therefore possible to say that the real roots of the 1979 revolution date back to 1953.
In this context, Ayatollah Khomeini adopted the slogan “No Eastern or Western”, which has become an official doctrine of the Republic that he established during the past four decades, but this era is about to end as a result of the great change in the structure of the international system, especially during the past decade represented by the rapid rise of China and its growing rapprochement with Russia and their challenge together to the foundations of the international liberal system and America’s dominant role.
This important shift has given Iran an exceptional situation and made it the balance point (equilibrium) in this great conflict, which has fueled competition on it. It is a decisive factor in igniting the current crisis in the Gulf, which means that this crisis is not related to what the facts show with regional dynamics and the power relations prevailing in the region , though they are important, but it is even more connected to what is happening at the highest level in the international system, especially between the United States, China, Russia, and to a lesser extent India, Germany and Japan.
Washington’s ruling political elite in both parties agrees that the return of Iran to the US camp is crucial to enabling the United States to regain the lead in its relations with its international rivals, not only in the Gulf and Middle East but also in the larger international game as the position of Iran and its place in the international conflict that is directly related to the ability of the United States to maintain its progress over others, and to remain at the top of the pyramid of the international order, as well as in the efforts of others to remove it and to rise to it.
The United States is aware that Iran has played a major role in enabling Russia, at limited cost, to restore its role in the international arena from the Middle East gate. Russia has been able to take advantage from the Iranian project and through it has achieved a major increase in its regional influence in Syria, Lebanon , Iraq and even in Yemen. Russia has also invested in its influence on Iran to cement its relationship with Israel, which has become to rely on Russia to contain Iran more than Washington.
The question that arises in this context, what is the importance of Iran for both Russia and China, which reject the policies of Trump about Iran, and Washington’s allies?
Russia, which is Iran’s biggest source of weapons, does not view the latter as a strategic ally, despite their military partnership in defending the Syrian regime, but the level of trade between the two countries is very modest and did not exceed 1.741 billion dollars in 2018, of which 1.208 billion dollars is Russian exports, $ 533 million Iranian exports.
Both countries are considered to be major exporters of oil and natural gas, and economically they are competing for energy markets more than two partners, so it is unlikely that Moscow plays a key role in easing the economic embargo on Iran, despite the high exchange between them 2% in 2018, and Moscow’s announcement to continue developing oil trade with Iran, which sells it to other countries, according to the oil-for-goods deal with Tehran.
Russia also condemned the US sanctions and urged foreign countries not to restrict their economic ties with Tehran stressing that it will continue to build a nuclear power plant in the Iranian city of Bushehr and continue working on converting the uranium enrichment project in Fordo (Qom province).
Although the Russian Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that it “understands” Iran’s decision to suspend some of its obligations in the nuclear agreement, a few days later President Vladimir Putin advised Iran to stay in the nuclear deal, but went even further when he said “Russia is not a Extinguishing team, we are unable to save everything, especially what does not entirely depend on our will.”
Putin, trying to play the role of adviser and mediator, more than the role of a strong ally, but accused the Europeans of failing to save the nuclear agreement after the withdrawal of the United States, saying, “The Americans came out and the agreement collapses, while European countries can not do anything to save it , and the ( Europeans) are unable to do an effective work with Iran to compensate for losses in the economic sector. ”
The Russian president admits that he does not have all the threads of the game to save the “nuclear deal” from collapse, let alone the lifting of the economic siege on Tehran, and he says “It depends not only on us but on all partners, all the players, including the United States, European countries and Iran”, .
These statements reflect how much Moscow lacks to protect the Iranian economy from collapse under the pressure of US sanctions, let alone militarily intervene to prevent any possible invasion of Persian territory, but it remains an important diplomatic supporter of Tehran in the Security Council, a major source of arms and an indispensable partner in the production. Nuclear Energy.
But there are those who see Russia as the third of the three major powers in today’s world: the United States, China and Russia. They are not identical forces in political, economic or military terms, but whatever the composition and the mix of these dimensions are, they are effective and have a role on the orbit of the earth,
Russia is not a great economic power, and you will never hear of a Russian refrigerator, car or computer with a good international reputation and despite its remarkable space industries, it relies in its advanced civil technology on the West or China as it did recently on G-5 technology. It hasn’t an advanced technology company like Apple or Ali Baba, Russia’s largest oil and gas extractor, but what makes Russia a superpower is that it has a history of such a status when the Soviet Union was present, thus Russia is a superpower in heredity and It therefore has diplomatic and political traditions that make it know how to stand as such, secondly, an important part of legacy is nuclear military capabilities sufficient to destroy the Earth several times. Although these capabilities did not protect t the Soviet Union from falling, in the current cycle of international relations , it must be calculated, especially it stands , thirdly, behind the ability to use conventional military power, as happened in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, where it has had an impact on changing the balance of power, expanding NATO in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East; and fourthly, Russia has a “strong man” , very skillful in using force and diplomacy , Vladimir Putin , noting that in past two decades, he did not only bring Russia out of the «black decade» of the decade of nineties of the last century, but he managed to regain much of the ground of the superpower.
What motivates the Russian position is the strategic interests of the Kremlin administration in maintaining the international constants that do not conflict with these interests. It aspires to employ the data in the West Asia region in particular and the international arena in general to enhance its ambitions to re-establish its role as one of the influential leaders in international resolutions and solve the disputes. Moscow is also trying to do so in the US-Iranian conflict, helping it to return as a global power, aware that failure to contain the Iranian crisis could turn into a factor that negatively affects these ambitions and strategy.
Therefore, the restoration of Iran to Washington means a big blow to Russia, not only in terms of its political and diplomatic influence, but also in the status of Russia in the international energy market, especially in Europe.
Energy supply is one of the most important tools of Russian influence, and it is also a major manifestation of its power. Thus, energy transmission and control lines are the main drivers of Russian foreign policy, and they played a major role in pushing Moscow to intervene in Ukraine and Syria and the attempt to expand to Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel.
Iran is the only possible alternative to Russia for the European energy market, because of Iran’s large reserves of gas and oil, and proximity to Europe, separated only by Turkey, which is the same gate that Russia also used to access the European market, through the Turkish AlSail pipeline launched by Putin with Erdogan in December 2018.
The survival of the current situation is ideal for Russia, namely, that Iran remains under siege, unable to export its oil, unable to develop its natural gas resources and in a state of hostility with Washington.
From here, Washington sees the restoration of Iran as a major economic and geopolitical blow to Russia, bringing it back to be a regional state with global ambitions.
China is Iran’s biggest economic partner with a total of $ 37 billion, so Beijing is the most affected by sanctions against Tehran, especially since it imports more than half a million barrels of oil a day.
Iran is a market of over 80 million consumers, making China, seeking new markets to absorb its huge exports, unwilling to give up its interests with Tehran easily, which explains China’s stance against US sanctions and Beijing’s assertion that its relations with Tehran are “strategic,” but It is not clear to what extent the Chinese dragon can challenge the American tiger.
On May 17, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country opposes US unilateral sanctions against Iran and stands against what he called “cross-border US powers.” He stressed that “China and Iran are strategic partners, and the two countries should strengthen their coordination, especially with the rapid development of international and regional situations.”
Before the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015, China was the main player in the Iranian economy, but after that, it faced strong competition from European companies entering the Iranian market hungry for Western products of high quality compared to Chinese counterparts.
The recent withdrawal of many European companies from investing in Iran under American pressure is an opportunity for Chinese companies to acquire more shares in this fertile market, especially as Iran is a key partner in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, China , known for its immigrant character , faces high economic risks if it sticks to its strategic partner , as Trump ‘s threats are serious and Beijing ‘s interests with Washington are greater , if the first “factory of the world”, the second is the market of it , and the volume of trade between them reach about 600 billion dollars, about 500 billion dollars, including Chinese exports to United State.
Washington’s pressure on Beijing is high, especially after imposing customs duties on Chinese exports to its markets to narrow the gap in the trade balance, but more dangerous is the US’s harassment towards the China’s global companies, which are easy to impose sanctions, such as Huawei Communications.
The impact of US pressure on Chinese companies is shown when China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Sinopec, an activist in the oil, banking and other sectors, announced “to freeze oil imports from Iran and all operations there for an indefinite period,” in January 2018.
While the Chinese dragon has strategic interests with Iran, but profit and loss accounts make it reevaluate its priorities and look for other options to circumvent US sanctions, especially as Beijing is flexible in paying through commodity swaps or to use local currencies in trade exchanges
Therefore, the importance of Iran to the China is no less important to Russia , and since the signing of the nuclear deal with the Group of Six,(G6 ) , economic relations between China and Iran have been progressively closer .But the trade and economic ties between the two countries are not a milestone in the bilateral relationship, Beijing has chosen to return to strengthening military ties with Tehran, making Washington “anxious” about military cooperation between the two capitals.
China continues to seek to revive the old Silk Road between it and Persia. China’s ambition is open to partnership with Iran despite its stagnant economy, poor governance and corruption. China seems to be betting that the situation in Tehran remains in terms of the relationship with the West in the coldest phase of peace as long as possible, so that the Chinese partner can achieve some of his economic hopes, which explains China’s impulse to take a strong stand for the option of a diplomatic solution to the crisis of Tehran’s nuclear program which has become an open file , despite the fragile agreement Iran signed with the West.
The Chinese position, which is close to Iran, is not free, but with the aim of achieving economic interests . the priorities are for the China-Iran economic relations, China was Iran’s first partner in the years of sanctions and banning which deprived western companies from entering into contracts with the Iranian side. The arena was empty for China in addition to trade exchanges, facilities and ports provided by the UAE ports that are participated to provide the basic needs for the Iranian market. Also, China continued to buy Iranian oil during the embargo years and gained 25 percent of Iranian trade rates, not to mention 50 percent of Iran’s oil and gas sales. The volume of trade exchange between them exceeded 50 billion dollars in 2014.
In mid-February 2016 the Chinese celebrated the arrival of the first cargo train from China to Iran, leaving the city of Yuei in east China’s Zhejiang Province passing through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Iran, and the distance of 10 thousand and 399 kilometers. The trip was the first of the Chinese initiative to revive the ancient “Silk Road” through which traders traveled between Europe and East Asia. It is noted that the pace of Chinese ambition to invest with the Iranians increased with the start of the implementation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers, and China was among the list of partner countries in the agreement. With the rise of US President Donald Trump, the deal is regularly being exposed to increasing threats to veto it, especially with justifications for Iranian excesses seen by the administration as a violation of the terms of the nuclear deal.
In 2013, a group of researchers prepared a report issued by the China-US Economic and Security Relations Monitoring Committee. The report of the congressional committee set up in October 2000 stated that China and Iran had entered into an “active but limited partnership” within 30 years and had cooperated on a number of political, economic and security issues. Iran has become an important market for China to export its weapons to it after the second entered the era of development of its military industry. Tehran has benefited from its military relationship with Beijing, especially during its war with Iraq in a “direct” manner.
The withdrawal of the administration of President Trump from the nuclear agreement and the return of sanctions against Iran not only targeted the interests of its opponents but also cut the way for the allies aspiring in Iran , the European Union rejected the decision to withdraw, considered it harmful to the interests of its countries and rejected the sanctions. Therefore some European countries saw , notably France and Germany, that the American withdrawal from the nuclear agreement was a big mistake, which does not reflect a genuine European desire for rapprochement with Iran, as much as reflects tactical pragmatic trends, foremost the concern with the state of concern Iran, which has a lot of files related to the terrorism which threatens the European interior , this is from one hand , and the other hand , the French-German desire to enter and invest in the Iranian market, a factor that will be hampered by economic sanctions, the total imports of Iran from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands amounted to about 5.2 billion dollars In 2018, and certainly Europe will lose these billions in the event of the collapse of the nuclear agreement in full.
Germany, the largest economy of the Union, was the first victim of the new policy, Berlin, as a result of US sanctions, lost tens of billions of dollars and lost political influence in Iran, led by companies like Siemens, Daimler, Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank and others, and was preparing to revive historical relations between the two countries since the late nineteenth century.
Regarding Washington’s allies in Asia, US sanctions against Iran have forced, a top oil importer, to buy more oil from Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Iran was the third largest supplier of crude oil to India, which imports huge amounts of energy to feed its growing economy, while Iraq and Saudi Arabia were the only countries to export the largest quantities of oil to India, but under the sanctions imposed by the administration of Trump on Iranian oil exports, India was forced to resort to other sources of imports, although India was among the eight countries granted by the United States of America a concession allowed to continue to buy oil from Tehran, but the deadline expired on the second of last May .
Moreover, Iran’s success in capturing opportunities and investing in the mistakes of others to enhance its regional influence in the region seems to have drawn the attention of the major powers and increased competition for it, believing that its position in any of the alignments that are taking shape today in the international system will lead to major changes in its structure and balances of power in it , who wins Iran , gains its regional influence also as Russia did in Syria and if Trump wins it as he wishes through understanding with it or by changing its regime , it means that he has directed a great blow to China’s and Russia’s projects in the region and the world. , and regained American hegemony in the region and the world as it was before the invasion of Iraq, this was what former US President Barack Obama tried to do differently when he reached a nuclear agreement, and started opening up to Iran, he hoped that it would ultimately change the nature of the relationship with it, and to turn it in the long run to a reliable ally, after it became clear to him the “misery” of Arabs and Turks.
There is a broad current in the circles of thought and politics in Washington sees Iran as the winning horse in the conflict in the region and believes that restoring America’s relationship to it as it was during the Shah’s days will have a major impact on the balance of conflict with other big powers in the international system.
China and Russia are well aware of this, and are doing everything in their power to thwart Washington’s attempts to change Iranian policy trends, peace or war. This means that the battle for Iran is in essence a battle for global sovereignty, and so competition on it will be intensified in the coming days, regardless of who will hold the reins of power in Washington, and his political and partisan positions, but that also means that the Iranians have to tighten their belts and prepare for the worst, as their country is about to turn from a player to a playground, after they continued to play in the squares of others.
Iran has entered the 21st century as a major regional power in the Arabian Gulf, if not throughout the Middle East. With a population of about 70 million, Iran is the largest country in the region. It plays a key role in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the third largest oil producer in the world, with the world’s third-largest and perhaps the world’s second-largest proven reserves of oil and gas .It will remain an important country if the oil and gas era continues. So whoever wins Iran, ins its regional influence.
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies