Iran: From the “Gulf’s Policeman” to the “Axis of Resistance”

Iran is currently facing the most widespread protest demonstrations since the contested presidential elections of 2009
Demonstrators wave Iran's flag – Photo: Raheb Homavandi/REUTERS
05/01/2018
14:46
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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“As we were saying yesterday.” Miguel de Unamuno
 

In the last 40 tumultuous years, Iran has transformed itself from a staunch United States ally in the Middle East, dubbed the “Persian Gulf’s Policeman,” to a regional power aligned with the so-called “Axis of Resistance,” yet these days Iran is facing the most widespread protest demonstrations since the contested presidential elections of 2009.

Let’s go back in history: In the 70s, the regime of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who came to power in 1941 and supported a CIA-led coup d’état against Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s Prime Minister in 1953, undertook an ambitious economic development strategy based on an explosive rise in oil prices and a military alliance with the U.S. The strategy served as a counterbalance to the arab nationalism and leftist movements and widened the western-oriented middle class but it was rejected by the popular Shia Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, exiled since 1964.

Despite the harsh repression of the regime, as portrayed in Shah of Shahs by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by revolutionaries in 1979—following the overthrown, he headed to Cuernavaca, Mexico, under the protection of president José López Portillo—and after 2,500 years of an established monarchy, an Islamic Republic was proclaimed, followed by the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, eager to replace Tehran as a regional leader.

The long War of Attrition (1980-88) took the lives of nearly 600,000 Iranian soldiers and civilians, as well as 500,000 Iraqi. In addition, the U.S. embassy hostage crisis symbolised the breakdown of diplomatic, trade, and economic relations with both Washington and Europe, followed by a relative isolation of Iran which was aggravated by a series of United Nations sanctions for its nuclear program until the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached in 2015.

Vital land route

In this context, it is undeniable that Iran can be seen as part of the winning side of the protracted Syrian War, joining forces on the ground with Russia and Hezbollah (Party of God, the Lebanese Shia militia.) Tehran prevented the fall of the Assad Dynasty in Damascus and an adverse realignment that could endanger its vital land route to the eastern Mediterranean. Iran is well placed both in development projects of central Asia and China’s “New Silk Road” due to its enormous oil reserves—ranking fourth largest in the world—and strategic location. However, the rising power of the “Axis of Resistance," also known as the “Shia Crescent," has not been emulated on domestic issues, where the Iranian population resents low economic growth, unemployment, and the elimination of subsidies on oil products and food in the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19 presented in December by the Government of President Hassan Rouhani to the Majlis (Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Parliament.)

Furthermore, the current internal unrest could be exploited by those defeated in the Syrian War, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, who are seeking revenge after the defeat of its proxies from the Islamic State, Al-Qaida, and the “moderate rebels.” In this regard, it should be noted that the majority of the first anonymous tweets inviting Iranians to protest in the last days were released in Saudi Arabia—the country where the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman christened the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “new Hitler of the Middle East”—and Great Britain.

In the short term, the perspective for Iran and the Middle East this year will be settled after January 13, because the White House will determine to continue or to waive the American sanctions that are the backbone of the JCPOA. No decision has been made, but according to several news media in both sides of the Atlantic, president Donald Trump will not certify the nuclear deal for the second time in a row, a measure that would put the U.S. in contravention of international law and likely trigger the collapse of the deal, supported by the United Nations, Russia, China, and the European Union.

In line with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and the hawks in his cabinet, Trump has described the JCPOA, promoted and signed by the Obama administration in a move that raised the hope of the resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations, as “the worst deal ever.”

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

 

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