Iran’s “theocratic regime”, which has maintained power domestically via brutal oppression for over four decades, continues its expansionist policies across the Middle East, paying no heed to the bloody results of its subversive policies.
Tehran has done everything possible to increase its power and gain greater presence in the Arab region, from backing despotic regimes like that of Assad in Syria to claiming implausibly of supporting some of the Arab uprisings and consequently opposing them. While Iran has opposed the uprisings in Syria and Iraq, it has supported that in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and most notably in Yemen.
The fallout of Iran’s policies is not limited to the contribution of dismantling regional states in the region where the Iranian regime has established a foothold, but also seems to be wreaking havoc on the Iranian state itself.
Iran’s regime and the entire country are isolated, exhausted, and militarily and financially stretched to their limits. The regime has pinned its hopes of wresting control over the region especially in Syria and Iraq on Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force. Meanwhile, more Western-friendly faces of the regime, like President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif, have been deployed in the regime’s diplomatic offensive to provide a veneer of reformist liberation and win foreign support.
All these tactics seem not to be working. Although the monolithic regime is injecting billions of dollars to serve its political agenda, the situation across the region, especially in the hotspots where Iran has deployed its proxy militias most heavily, tell of the failure lurking just beneath the surface, awaiting the right moment to surface.
Domestically within Iran, meanwhile, the situation seems to be worse than ever. The Iranian regime is beleaguered on all sides. The Iranian economy faces massive setbacks, as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) tightens its grip and drains the country’s coffers to fund regional wars of expansionism.
Anger is escalating among ethnic minorities who comprise over half the population, especially amongst the Kurds and Ahwazis, who seek autonomy, self-determination and a total break from the regime’s oppression.
Within the regime itself, there are mounting schisms. Different factions are lashing out at each other and indulging in mutual recriminations about the deteriorating situation in the country and the regime’s various unsuccessful policies, both at home and abroad.
Recent indications suggest that the regime’s regional clout is waning, with the proxy militias starting to fall out among themselves. Failure on the ground and rising public discontent among local populations make it impossible for them to follow through with Iran’s political agenda.
In Lebanon and Yemen, the Iranian regime has two militias: Hezbollah and the Houthis. Both have massive weapon arsenals and wield considerable clout in the political arena in the region.
Hezbollah also supports Assad’s regime in Syria, along with other Iranian-backed militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Calls have been rising in recent months to disarm Hezbollah, prompted by both its increasing terror activities in Syria since 2012 and its jeopardizing of Lebanon’s domestic security. In Yemen, anger at the Houthis has risen steadily, with grassroots social and tribal leaders demanding an end to the Houthis’ role in Sanaa.
These developments signal that the Iranian regime’s grip in these countries is more likely to be weakening.
Window of Opportunity
Iran’s regime publicly voiced support for the uprisings against various oppressive regimes in the Arab world in early 2011. However, this claimed supports renders itself, as also described by many analysts, insincere and motivated by the leaders’ wish to capitalize on and exploit the uprisings for the regime’s own benefit for more leverage in the region.
Analysts suggest that since the regime possesses none of the attributes necessary to win widespread regional support that would allow it to take over Arab nations by conventional means; and since Iran lacks a successful development experience with a governance system that Arab peoples might wish to see influencing the political trajectory of their own nations, Iran’s leadership perceived the turbulence during the Arab uprisings as an opportunity for maximizing its regional power.
The unrests in the Arab world have presented a window of opportunity for Iranian regime to foment divisions and fuel sectarian schisms, which could be used as part of a ‘divide and rule’ policy.
Iran’s regime wants its 1979 “Islamic Revolution” – which itself ended with crushing all the country’s democratic parties – to be the sole successful example of an uprising in the region. Therefore, any popular movement demanding change, which might threaten the regime’s rhetoric domination of the Middle East, is ruthlessly crushed.
Since coming to power in 1979, Tehran’s regime has worked to maximize its power structures and networks in the region. This strategy necessitated encouraging division and fragmentation within Arab societies, rather than striving for mutual relations with these nations. While it seems that the regime’s sole objective is to weaken and undermine these countries via infiltration, this pattern constitutes an aspect of increasing its sphere of influence in the regime. Thus the original goal of Iran is not to weaken and undermine Arab countries per se but rather to wield more power no matter what the means are.
The tightly controlled regime media have even collectively termed the Arab uprisings as an “Islamic Awakening” in a flagrant bid to hijack them for its own agenda.
Since 2011, however, Tehran’s double standard have been laid bare when it overtly backed the most brutal Arab regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria with a near-limitless supply of money, weapons, military advisors and ranks and militiamen.
This has underlined once again that the Iranian regime, similar to other dictatorships in the Arab region, has never had any interest in supporting freedom. Its sole imperative is expansionism and regional control. In pursuit of this objective, Iran has spent billions of dollars on helping to slaughter and dispossess millions of people and to reduce whole nations to rubbles.
Since the Iran-backed Houthi coup in 2015, Yemen has become a massively torn state. The Houthis had been receiving money and weaponry from Iran even before the coup was staged. Iran has been keen to retain control of Yemen for several reasons: Foremost among these is that the Iranian regime aims to maintain an unassailable position in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the main point of entry to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.
The Iranian regime also aims to control the Gulf of Aden and to deploy affiliated forces on the Saudi borders, which threatens the stability within its main regional rival – Saudi Arabia. The major losses currently being inflicted on the Houthi militia in Yemen represent a severe blow to the Iranian regime’s regional plans. The Houthis’ targeting of Saudi cities, including Mecca, Taif and Riyadh, with Iranian-produced missiles, led to infighting among the Houthis and their other accomplices, causing a deadlock in the political process in the country and a widespread anger among many Yemenis.
Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa, demanding the ousting of the militias from the city. In 2014, the Houthis launched what they called a “revolution” against the “legitimate government” in Sanaa.
Despite the Houthis’ best efforts in their ongoing battle for control, however, forces affiliated with Yemen’s General People’s Congress (GPC) have recently gained “complete control” of the Sana’a Airport from the Houthi militias. Although GPC-affiliated forces have contributed to a further destruction of Yemeni infrastructure and displacement of thousands of Yemenis, they have recently recaptured the Sabaa Media Agency, Yemen’s central bank and many Embassy buildings, most prominently the Saudi, Emirati and Sudanese embassies, along with the Defence Ministry building.
On these severe losses, experts say that the end of Iran’s presence in Yemen is imminent, with Tehran set to lose on numerous levels as the current push by Saudi-coalition-backed Yemeni forces continues.
These losses are almost as painful to Iran’s regime as the financial losses it has sustained through its campaign in the country, spending at least $10 billion to date on its funding and military assistance for the Houthis.
Iranian people are more likely to wonder where the regime has directed these massive amounts of money, especially that poverty continues to worsen at home and enthusiasm for the regime’s regional wars fades.
The losses in Yemen will also prompt all but the most blindly loyal among the regime’s Hezbollah proxies to question their leadership over its decision to send countless young men, and even child soldiers, into the vortex of war in Syria.
The Iranian regime is unrelenting in its determination to pursue its objective of expanding its influence beyond borders to spread its hard-line Velayat-e Faqih ideology, although this is contested even among Shia themselves.
Ultimately, the result of the regime’s regional policies will be losses in every area, domestically as well as regionally. The grim daily statistics and increasing regional tensions are also taking a heavy toll on the home front, where the sizeable ethnic minority populations are increasingly demanding their rights and freedom.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of MPC Journal.