Other Iranian officials have apparently been working to leverage the Trump administration’s aggressive tone as motivation for existing and potential Iranian allies to join in an axis opposed to Western interests in the region. Naturally, the Islamic theocracy has focused particularly on the Muslim world in pursuing this project, though it has also enjoyed growing alliances with both Russia and China.
Additionally, Kurdistan 24 reported on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic had reportedly secured an alliance with an Iraqi Christian militia in the Nineveh Plains. The article explains that this is a complicated development insofar as it is predicated on that militia’s relationship with one of several Shiite proxies of the Islamic Republic, even though those proxies in general are contributing to the persecution of Christian populations in the area.
Despite Iranian animosity toward this and other religious minorities, it is in the interest of the Islamic Republic and its established allies to retain cooperative relationships with the Nineveh militants because they serve as a link in the chain between Tehran and Damascus. This overland route, which also extends to Beirut and the headquarters of Lebanese Shiite paramilitary Hezbollah, is widely referred to as the “Shiite crescent” and is apparently central to Iran’s efforts to extend its influence across the region and to ultimately establish its own hegemony there.
Some reports indicate that that route has already become active, largely thanks to the numerous Shiite paramilitaries that comprise coalitions in both Syria and Iraq. But Iran’s broader aims will likely require buy-in from entities representing the competing Sunni branch of Islam as well. Relations have recently improved between Iran and some of these organizations, including the Afghan Taliban and Palestine’s Hamas. This latter ally represents a potentially important tool in Iran’s encouragement of Muslim unity that is simultaneously organized under its own banner and in opposition to American influence in the Middle East.
The Iranians sought to exploit the Palestinian issue on Wednesday around the same time that the Supreme Leader weighed in on more general aspects of the conflict between Iran and its main Western adversary. The Hill reports that the Iranian Parliament easily passed a measure declaring Jerusalem to be the “eternal” capital of a future Palestinian state, and it did so specifically in reaction to Trump’s move earlier in December to declare that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move its embassy to there from Tel Aviv.
Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament used the measure’s passage as an opportunity to expound upon the regime’s rhetoric regarding both the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the nature of the Trump administration. The White House’s announcement on Jerusalem, he claimed, constituted an attempt to strike a blow against all Muslims. However, such rhetoric cannot be expected to change the attitudes of American allies in the region who are particularly threatened by Iran’s expanding influence. Although Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were quick to join much of the world in opposing Trump’s measure, this does not seem to have seriously slowed the development of an anti-Iranian coalition that includes both of those nations, the US, and Israel itself.
The Trump administration’s assertive Iran policy clearly entails efforts to advance that development and to broaden the coalition, as evidenced by this month’s presentation in Washington D.C.
egarding the apparent Iranian origin of missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Some US allies such as France have intensified their tone on the issue of Iranian missiles, calling for multilateral restrictions on related activities. And although France and much of Europe have been earnestly pursuing new trade relations with Iran in the wake of the 2015 nuclear agreement, there are tentative signs that the White House public relations campaign may be curtailing this trend.
Azer News reported on Tuesday that Iranian non-oil exports had decreased respective to the same period last year in vritually all regions of the globe except for member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, after having previously escalated throughout much of the globe. Unsurprisingly, though, overall economic cooperation remains vigorous with allies like Russia. The Financial Tribune reported on Tuesday that Russia’s Eximbank had signed an agreement with Iranian partners for “unlimited financing” of domestic development projects.
Other nations apparently remain on the fence about their position in the widening split between allies of the Islamic Republic and those of the United States. Although the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ali Larijani on Tuesday as boasting about ongoing increases in Turkish investment, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News issue a report the following day that described the Turkish government as denying that any mutual cooperation deals had been signed among it, Iran, and Qatar.
Turkish officials specifically made reference to a supposed “axis” centered on Iran, and they did so in order to deny that it exists or that Turkey is involved in it. The officials also highlighted the issue of Muslim unity but criticized the advancement of one regional country’s interests over another’s. In this way, Ankara tacitly rejected the notion of unity under an Iranian banner. But it still remains to be seen whether this attitude will be borne out over the long term, since relations between Iran and Turkey have traditionally been complicated but have grown closer in recent months while Turkish relations with the US have deteriorated.
Generally speaking, the strength of Iran’s position in the broader region remains uncertain, but the country’s leadership has a number of opportunities to become more entrenched with the help of various proxies and emergent allies. The longevity and durability of these relationships will no doubt depend in large part upon Western policies in the months and weeks ahead, and specifically on the breadth and overall success of the competing coalition’s reach.