Al Monitor reported on Wednesday that Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani had begun a tour of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq during which he spoke with religious and political leaders and discussed continuing security cooperation, as well as economic and political ties. Iran is fighting the Sunni Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, where Iran enjoys firm alliances that give it a direct line of influence stretching to the Mediterranean.
During the trip, Larijani disregarded the contributions of a US-led coalition of nations also fighting the Islamic State. He asserted that the coalition had offered nothing but slogans, although in fact it has carried out sustained bombing campaigns against IS targets and has been credited with contributing to battlefield victories that Iranian officials took exclusive credit for domestically.
Larijani’s outreach thus speaks to continued antagonism of the West amidst Iranian attempts to build its own coalition to confront any Western presence in the region. Officials have clearly implied that this is their goal, in that they have courted Turkey as a potential partner and suggested that an Iranian-led coalition consisting mostly of Syria and Iraq would be sufficient to defeat IS on its own.
Further contributing to this narrative of Iranian strength, the regime began massive military drills on Thursday, which were reportedly set to continue for six days.
One official was quoted by the International Business Times as saying that the drill poses no danger to foreign forces in the region, including the US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf. General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, the chief of Iran’s ground forces, said that the exercises were aimed at improving Iran’s defensive capabilities and training its current crop of soldiers.
But earlier in the week the newly announced war game was described by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officials and others as a demonstration of the nation’s opposition to the presence of foreigners in the region. Indeed, one such official advised foreign forces to leave the area in order to avoid any problems.
In this sense, the military exercise appears to be aimed at redoubling antagonism of the West, but Arutz Sheva indicates that it may also be a signal of commitment to the Houthi rebel group that has taken control of much of Yemen, which lies close to the area of Iran’s naval maneuvers. Thus the event can be viewed as serving both ends – gathering regional partnerships and setting them against Western interests.
Meanwhile, there are other signs of antagonism of the West, as in remarks made Friday by high ranking cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Emami Kashani, who expounded upon a letter sent earlier in the week by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. According to the Indo-Asian News Service, Kashani asserted that the P5+1, and not Iran, would be responsible if nuclear negotiations between the two sides did not result in the signing of a final agreement. He cited Zarif’s letter in making this claim, but the letter effectively acknowledges Iranian unwillingness to compromise, describing a broad range of Western negotiators’ offers as illegitimate and humiliating.
This spells difficulty for those negotiations, which Zarif himself said were already troubled by compounded mistrust on both sides. Voice of America News points out that these difficulties will only be exacerbated by the political shift in the US when Republicans take control of the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives.
The possible resulting failure of the talks can be expected to amplify the anti-Western rhetoric that has been strong among Iranian officials even during the talks. It may also lead to a reorienting of Iranian strategy away from President Hassan Rouhani’s pragmatic engagement and toward broader engagement with regional powers at the expense of the West.