The Iranian leadership is certainly aware of these trends, although it cannot be said with certainty that they recognize a connection between confrontational Turkish and Arab activities on the one hand and the revision of American policy on the other. But it fairly clear that Tehran is keen to undermine any notion that there is more unity among Iran’s adversaries than among its allies or even its own internal political factions.
In its reporting on an interview that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently gave to Etemad newspaper, Iran Front Page News indicated that he had attempted to spin the narrative about February’s Munich Security Conference in order to reflect negatively on the stability of Western alliances, and thus positively on Iran’s prospective position in the world. “The European Union is in its hardest political situation in recent decades,” Zarif said before blaming US President Donald Trump for attempting to exploit “a chaotic Europe.” Zarif also speculated that the supposed chaos would actually benefit Europe instead, by allowing it to pursue bilateral relations with individual nations instead of with the European Union as a whole.
But Zarif’s narrative is at odds with much of the earlier reporting about the Munich Security Conference, which took place from February 17th to the 19th. Iran News Update previously highlighted some of that reporting, specifically that which emphasized the large number of critical remarks that had been delivered about Iran’s regional and global role. Naturally, some of those remarks came from Trump administration delegates and other familiar adversaries of the Islamic Republic, but others came from sometimes-partners like Turkey, and the overall tone of the commentary was both stronger and more consistent than in previous years.
Specifically, delegates from several countries described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, as well as blaming it for an ongoing increase in sectarian tensions throughout the region. In light of this, a recent editorial in the American Thinker claimed that the Munich conference, far from exhibiting a new atmosphere with regard to Western relations, marked a “major turning point” in global attitudes toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The article also indicated that there is at least some public acknowledgment of this among Iranian policymakers and experts. It pointed to another editorial, this one published in a supposedly pro-reform Iranian newspaper al-Sharq, which said that the collective attitudes at the Munich conference represented a “new formation of old enemies,” and one that Tehran should prepare to confront.
Whether acknowledging the existence of an increasingly unified front in the international community or not, much of the Iranian establishment seems to be committed to responding to its adversaries with threats and attempts at intimidation. This was highlighted by recent, multi-day military drills conducted separately by the Iranian Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Both demonstrations were accompanied by hardline rhetoric suggesting readiness for war with the United States – a state media talking point that has been the subject of other types of propaganda, as well.
As an example, the Associated Press reported upon an animated film that is currently entering wide release in Iran under the title “Battle of the Persian Gulf II.” A sequel to a film about the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, this new release is an anti-American fantasy that depicts a self-described Iranian “revolutionary” modeled after IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani leading a handful of Iranian naval vessels to victory over a much larger American fleet, following an attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
The AP quoted the film’s director as saying its message was, “if you fire one bullet against Iran, a rain of hot lead will be poured on your forces.” Such commentary is highly reminiscent of that which has been delivered by officers in the same IRGC that is clearly being praised by the film. At the end of three days of exercises last week, General Mohammad Pakpour, the head of the IRGC ground forces, said that the US and its allies should expect “a strong slap in the face” if it underestimates Iran’s military capabilities. Another commander, Hassan Abbassi, suggested that he would personally be capable of raising a guerilla army from among the Iranian expatriate population in the US.
The AP’s report on the “Battle of the Persian Gulf II” suggested that such a provocative film might have seemed “out of date” several months ago, before President Trump had taken office but after the Iran nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action took effect. But as many have observed since that time, Iranian rhetoric, especially coming from such acknowledged hardline entities as the IRGC, had not diminished as a result of expanded diplomatic relations between Iran and its chief Western adversary. In fact, by some accounts that rhetoric intensified to compensate for the perceived retreat in the nuclear field.
But many Western policymakers feel that Iran’s ratification of the JCPOA was not a retreat so much as it was a reorientation of short-term tactics. An editorial that appeared in Forbes on Thursday provided yet another critical examination of the JCPOA, naming several unresolved issues – both nuclear and non-nuclear – that will have to be taken up by the Trump administration as it clarifies its policies with regard to the Islamic Republic.
Among the issues given emphasis by Forbes was the duration of the JCPOA and associated agreements. The article took issue with the very fact that Iran was permitted to continue any nuclear enrichment capabilities under Among the issues given emphasis by Forbes was the duration of the JCPOA and associated agreements. capabilities under the deal, but it also stated that the issue was made worse by suns et clauses that allow Iran to install more uranium enrichment centrifuges after 10 years and expand its stockpile of uranium after 15, potentially leading to a situation in which the country’s clerical regime can break out to the development of a nuclear weapon almost immediately.
Forbes acknowledges that it is not yet clear how the Trump administration will handle the ongoing implementation – or possibly the attempted renegotiation – of the JCPOA. But it also suggests that the nuclear agreement itself is not the only thing that will be addressed by whatever means the White House comes up with. The Forbes editorial says that nuclear negotiations failed to impose restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and that the deal’s sanctions relief led Tehran to “fill the coffers of the Revolutionary Guards” and increase financing for its intrusive activities in the region.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that expanded nuclear enrichment is not the only threat presented by the short-term focus of the nuclear agreement and the UN resolutions that accompanied its implementation. The report notes that the US Office of Naval Intelligence has warned that Iran can be expected to rush to purchase warships, submarines, and missiles as soon as a ban on weapons sales to the Islamic Republic is lifted in 2020.
Such warnings are no doubt justified in part by Tehran’s ongoing empowerment of the IRGC, by the militarist rhetoric that is on display in such state-approved media as “Battle of the Persian Gulf II,” and by statements from such figures as Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the commander of the Iranian Navy who suggested that recent military demonstrations were a preface to the dispatch of Iranian fleets to various waterways in the Middle East and beyond.
These sorts of promises of force-projection underscore some of the reasons why other countries in the region have either preceded or followed the Trump administration’s assertive policies in order to demonstrate unity of purpose in confronting an increasingly bold Iranian threat. It seems now that some of these countries are responding to Iran’s shows of force with their own, as evidenced by an AP report on wide-ranging military exercises that were conducted this week in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The Emirates previously spurred Iran’s anger by publicly blaming Iran for the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, where fellow Arab powers have contributed to a Saudi-led coalition whose mission is to push back the Iran-backed Houthi militants and prevent the growth of Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran’s English-language propaganda network, Press TV reported that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had responded to the UAE by once again denying Iran’s well-known contributions to the Houthi cause while attempting to assign blame solely to Saudi Arabia and its allies for the crisis in Yemen.
Middle East experts have characterized Iran’s un-acknowledged mission in Yemen as the creation of a Hezbollah-like proxy force. While the Iranian military is a long way from being able to present a serious offensive threat to the United States and its allies, Iran’s adversaries are currently tasked with not only preventing the growth of that military but also with preventing the growth of terrorist networks centered in Tehran.
Opponents of the Iranian regime, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, have given the Trump administration a great deal of credit for taking initial steps in this direction, as by starting the process that could lead to the IRGC being designated as a terrorist organization and blacklisted in order to limit the financial resources that it can contribute to foreign proxies. Meanwhile, would-be members of an anti-Iranian alliance are taking their own actions against such proxies.
Last year, it was widely reported that the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council had added Hezbollah to their lists of terrorist organizations. And on Thursday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that although Hezbollah had grown in recent years, partly through its contribution to the Syrian Civil War on Iran’s behalf, the state of Israel was preparing for the possibility of increased hostilities, and building stronger deterrents against a possible Hezbollah-initiated war.
The mutual containment efforts by the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors can be viewed as indicators that the broadly unified opposition to Iran’s militarism is creating numerous, and sometimes unexpected global partnerships.