Iran Reaffirms Regional Strength, but its Influence is Threatened

 

One such proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah has acknowledged that it will likely fall alongside the Assad regime if the rebels win the four year-long Syrian Civil War. This was the contention of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in comments he made on Tuesday.

Some opponents of the Iranian regime believe that its existence is also threatened by the loss of its alliance with Syria, which Iranian military officials have described as allowing Iran’s defensive strategy to extend to the shores of the Mediterranean. This belief in the fragility of the regime is arguably supported by the amount of money that the heavily sanctioned nation has been willing to pour into preserving Assad’s rule, which already seemed ready to collapse early in the civil war.

According to Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for the crisis in Syria, Iran’s spending on this mission has averaged approximately 35 billion dollars annually.

Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of the Iranian population and as much as 90 percent of blue-collar workers are currently living in poverty. The economic situation for the overall population has worsened considerably over the last ten years, partly as a result of mismanagement and partly as a result of economic sanctions.

The regime’s free spending on its regional activities in the midst of this situation seems to undermine recent comments by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, quoted by The Blaze on Wednesday. Earnest defended against criticism of the Obama administration’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran, saying that it is “common sense” to think that the sanctions relief that Iran receives under the deal will go into reinvigorating the country’s economy, and not into further supporting global terrorism through groups such as Hezbollah.

But Earnest’s broader remarks acknowledged that the common sense expectations might not align with reality. He stated that he would not make predictions about how the regime would actually behave, adding that the Iranian authorities “make their own decisions.”

Earnest even went so far as to point out that under international sanctions Iran has failed to use its constrained resources to improve the economy, and has not significantly scaled back its destabilizing activities in the Middle East region, including its support for Islamic terrorist groups.

Indeed, Iran’s aggressive rhetoric and its adventurism in the region have, if anything, expanded in recent weeks, even as the June 30 deadline for a nuclear agreement grows very near. In a speech on Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that his nation would not negotiate under threat from the US military. He claimed that two US officials had threatened an attack on the Islamic Republic, but the Wall Street Journal notes that he said this without elaboration and “it was not immediately clear what he was referring to.”

Still, the supreme leader’s remarks reflect both uncertainty about a final nuclear deal and the escalating tensions in the region. In fact, by accusing the US of threating Iran, Khamenei may be seen as justifying Iranian actions that further contribute to that escalation, as well as contributing to Iran’s familiar propaganda claims regarding its supposed capability to fend off an American attack.

These claims were apparent in recent reporting by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency in which it claimed that two American reconnaissance aircraft and a US Navy destroyer “rapidly changed direction” in the Gulf of Aden in response to a warning by the crew of an Iranian destroyer. The same report denies that Iranian vessels changed course in response to US participation in a blockade aimed at preventing those vessels from delivering arms shipments to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Arutz Sheva says of this claim of having chased off American forces that it is “just the latest aggressive move by the Iranian navy,” following the seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged commercial vessel Maersk Tigris, which was released on Thursday after being held for more than a week and forced to pay a fine.

But an editorial in Al Jazeera alleges that such aggression is typical of Iranian leaders’ tendency of “overreacting when their regional ambitions in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere seem to be diminishing.” The editorial also cited a number of recent rhetorical comments by Iranian officials and military figures as evidence that the regime is “dangerously nostalgic for the old days of the Persian Empire when it dominated a large swath of territories beyond its present national border.”

But the same editorial presents these ambitions as being contrary to the interests and desires of the Iranian people and the people of the entire region. This is a view that was reflected by Josh Earnest with respect to the nuclear negotiation when he said, “It’s the hope of the Iranian people that the influx of resources will be devoted to meeting the needs of the population there and strengthening the economy that have taken a terrible toll on the daily lives of millions of Iranians.”

This presents one challenge to the regional ambitions of the Iranian regime. But another such challenge comes in the form of active opposition to its existing presence beyond its borders, especially as led by chief regional adversary Saudi Arabia. In fact, on Tuesday Al Monitor quoted former Saudi diplomat and columnist Abdullah al-Shammari as saying that the recent “reshuffling” of key positions in the Saudi government represents a “turning point” whereby Saudi Arabia is finally insisting upon direct confrontation of a persistent Iranian threat.

This view has been reflected by the principal Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has said in various public communications that the Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi was something that Iran had failed to anticipate.