Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/A strategy for dealing with Iran that would work/د. ماجد رفي زاده: استراتيجية من شأنها أن تنجح في التعامل مع إيران

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د . ماجد رفي زاده: استراتيجية من شأنها أن تنجح في التعامل مع إيران

A strategy for dealing with Iran that would work
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/January 01/2021

The Biden administration and European leaders appear to be mistakenly investing all their political capital in reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Also known as the Iran nuclear deal, it is an agreement reached in 2015 between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 world powers — the US, the UK, Russia, China and France plus Germany — together with the EU.

Whether or not a renewed deal is reached with the Iranian regime, the West should simultaneously pursue another strategy of supporting and assisting regional powers in confronting the theocratic establishment in Tehran.

This is due to the fact that the Iranian regime’s underlying threat in the region has never been limited to its nuclear program. This wider threat is the reason why, when the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015, access to the considerable funds the deal freed up had the perverse effect of allowing Tehran to pour ever greater sums into the coffers of groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthis. Warnings from nations such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were largely ignored, despite their clear concerns about the direct threat the enrichment of these groups presented.

As a result, a reversion to the previous US policy, where Washington believes that the nuclear deal is adequate to confront the Iranian regime, risks undermining peace and stability in the Middle East.
US President Joe Biden previously suggested that Iran had ceased being a “bad regional actor” in the aftermath of the nuclear deal. He said: “I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

This is an easy view for someone thousands of miles away to form but for those living on the ground, dealing with Hezbollah’s weapons caches and Syrian militias wreaking death and destruction, Iran — through its proxy networks in the region — has become a more malign actor than ever. Unless these other issues are resolved, then any efforts to render Iran a more responsible international actor are doomed to failure.
From the perspective of the Iranian leaders, no deal with the West is going to change the core pillars of their revolutionary regime. Instead, the theocratic establishment generally uses international and regional agreements to advance its revolutionary ideals.

Specifically, at a time when the US military presence in the region is being reduced and other forces, in the form of China and Russia, are looking to fill the vacuum, it is more essential than ever to work in lockstep with the Gulf states. The Islamic Republic has positioned itself squarely in opposition against America’s allies in the Gulf, pushing an increasingly hard-line narrative that seems to be part of a grander strategy to destabilize the region.

The four decades since the establishment of the Islamic Republic have proved that diplomacy alone is not adequate. As Henry Kissinger once remarked: “The exercise of diplomacy without the threat of force is without effect.”

The Iranian regime should become cognizant of the fact that its provocations and military adventurism in the Gulf will bring grave consequences. From the viewpoint of the Iranian leaders, a failure by other countries to respond to the actions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is a sign of weakness. In other words, as far as the Iranian regime is concerned, concessions, leniency and diplomacy all represent powerlessness.
A regional Arab coalition — with the support of the US and other Western allies — would be the most significant element of the equation, forming a robust bulwark against the Iranian regime. This will require taking steps beyond words. It requires a three-pronged strategy: strengthening the coalition’s navy, missile and defense capabilities. It also necessitates an accompanying comprehensive plan to counter Iran’s interventionism in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Tehran seeks to sow instability in the region because it benefits from chaos in other countries. For example, it was through instability in Lebanon that Iran gave birth to Hezbollah. It was in the midst of the conflict in Iraq that Iran formed powerful militia groups. It was through the war in Syria that Iran armed and empowered additional proxies. It is through the crisis in Yemen that Tehran strengthens its ties with the Houthis. And so the list goes on. When there is instability, Iran expands its powerful operations and increases its influence.
It is critical for the international community to counter Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and provocations by standing with regional powers that are prepared to confront Tehran. Iranian leaders ought to be aware that their destabilizing actions in the region will trigger serious consequences.

Otherwise, Tehran’s aggression and provocations will continue to gather strength. This can be prevented by the aforementioned comprehensive plan, which is anchored in three-dimensional strategic and military cooperation between the West and other powers in the region, including the Gulf states.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh