Dolan, an expert on the Middle East and on Middle East policy, disregards this notion, which has been put forth by a considerable number of American politicians, including potential Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul. This advocacy may be driven in part by what Dolan considers an incorrect view of Iran – one that considers it to be a primarily defensive power with only a soft commitment to its revolutionary ideology.
Dolan appears to blame this view for the fact that President Obama doesn’t see to see Iran as the real threat that it is. The same cannot be said for traditional US allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, which recognize Iran and its allies as the key driving forces in the sectarian conflict that is pushing more and more Sunnis into the arms of their strongest defender, ISIS. Dolan makes clear in his interview that mutual opposition to this group does not mean that Iran sees itself as a potential US partner, or as anything other than a force of opposition to US interests.
That force of opposition is on display in the expanding Iranian influence in the Iraqi civil war and elsewhere in the region. Despite attempts at denial on the part of Iran and others, it is increasingly clear that Tehran is directly participating in the conflict against ISIS. This week, pictures from Amerli in northern Iraq showed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, celebrating with Iraqi forces after territory was reclaimed from ISIS.
News.com.au provides a profile of Soleimani, who has been described as the most powerful man in Middle Eastern warfare, has been identified by the Iranian resistance as fundamentally restructuring the Iraqi army under his own command, and has long had a place on international lists of terrorist agents. This reputation is partly owed to his provision of improvised explosive devices to Iraqi insurgents during the American occupation and his role supplying Shiite militants as counterbalances to Sunni fighters in places like Syria.
The newfound evidence of Soleimani’s presence on the Iraqi battlefield stands in contrast to the ongoing Iranian strategy of issuing statements that reassure the international community that Iran is not overreaching in the Middle East. An essay at Al Arabiya dismisses this notion and offers evidence that Iran’s covert activities are on the rise not just in Iraq and Syria, but also in various other nations including Bahrain and Yemen.
Some of these activities may be aimed at Iran’s perennial goal of asserting greater control over the Strait of Hormuz, thus helping it to close off shipping lanes as it tries to expand its oil economy in partnership with other anti-Western nations and groups. The Al Arabiya essay claims that Iran has learned from past mistakes and thus carries out its regional intrusions in stricter secrecy, so as to decrease the threat of incurring worse economic sanctions, while also preserving the clerical government’s hold on power.
But although Iran is not publicizing its military activities, it certainly is making a strong effort to publicize its military capabilities. Recent weeks have seen multiple statements by Iranian government and Revolutionary Guards Corp figures asserting that new weapons and defensive systems have been developed and are being readied for action. The latest example of this, as reported by Brahmand Defense and Aerospace News, involves claims that the regime has designed and developed three new helicopters, including one that is capable of evading radar detection.
Repression and Identity
While things like religious persecution in Iran have tremendous impact on specific groups, they also parallel a broader issue that is identified by Iranian author Ramita Navai in her latest book, City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran. The book provides a series of stories from the lives of diverse residents of Tehran, and the title comes from the Navai’s observation that Iranians of all stripes are forced to lie about themselves in order to fit in under the clerical regime, all while the government lies to conceal the common social problems that plague the cities.
In an interview with Public Radio International, Navai observes, however, that young Iranians today appear to be asserting their freedom and identity to a greater degree, and that this may lead to broader change within Iranian society. But of course, so long as the clerical regime remains in place, these assertions of freedom carry serious risks.
Various personal identities are still actively opposed by the regime. One example that has remained particularly obvious throughout this week is a feminist identity. Amidst the strong ongoing push for gender segregation in the workplace and in public spaces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei came out strongly against Western values and Western views of gender roles.
France24 points out that Khamenei’s remarks to the Assembly of experts paradoxically asserted that Western “moral crises” such as “a wrong position about women” were responsible for “undermining the feminist wave.” It is the regime’s stated view that keeping women out of public life and keeping them from having contact with men is the best way to defend women’s rights and proper role in society.
As long as some people are kept out of public life or relegated to second-class status, they have much to gain from the few outlets that are available to them for information and self-expression. Information technology is also a boon to those people whom Ramita Navai recognizes as having to lie about themselves to live in Iranian society. This week, Iran has seen some limited signs of faster and more widespread access to the internet.
Mashable points out that this has led increasing numbers of oppressed Iranians to the secret-sharing app, Whisper. It provides several examples of the anonymous posts that have recently come from the Islamic Republic. One says simple, “Being a woman in Iran is tough…” Another tells of the poster’s desire to come out as gay, and his knowledge that doing so could lead to his being legally executed.