د. ماجد رفي زاده: حان وقت العمل وليس الأقوال إذا كانت إيران تريد حقًا أن تكون جارة جيدة Time for action not words if Iran really wants to be a good neighbor Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 02/2022
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been claiming that one of his administration’s priorities is to improve ties with Tehran’s neighbors, including the Gulf states. But such statements are only collections of words unless they are followed by tangible actions.
Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, who is a high-ranking military adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former chief commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has also suggested that Tehran’s foreign policy has entered a new period that is anchored in improving relationships with other countries in the region. In addition, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh last week said: “Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two important countries in the region and the Muslim world, can enter a new chapter of interaction and cooperation to achieve regional peace, stability and development by adopting constructive and dialogue-based approaches.”
But, as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan pointed out last year, the Kingdom will judge the Raisi administration by “the reality on the ground.” Unfortunately, former Iranian presidents, including the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani, also made similar promises to improve ties with the Gulf states. But ties between the Iranian regime and the Gulf states deteriorated under Rouhani’s administration thanks to Tehran’s military adventurism and destructive policies in the region.
Furthermore, Raisi’s administration has not yet made any changes to Iran’s regional policies in spite of his claims that the country wants to improve ties with other nations in the region.
When it comes to Yemen, the IRGC is still a key supporter and sponsor of the Houthis and it has been stepping up its weapons supply to the group. The sophisticated drones and missiles that the Houthis use to target Saudi Arabia and the UAE most likely come from Iran, which has recognized the terror group as the official government of Yemen. The Iranian government continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen and these weapons are being deployed for offensive purposes by the Houthis.
In Syria, the Raisi administration is still using the Arab nation as a proxy battleground to score victories against Israel and to expand the Iranian regime’s military stranglehold in the Levant. By exploiting the instability in Syria, Iran’s IRGC and Quds Force now enjoy a military presence close to the Israeli border. The IRGC has also established permanent military bases in Syria and has significant control over some of the country’s airports.
Meanwhile, the IRGC under the Raisi administration continues to exploit Iraq as a proxy battleground in order to achieve its revolutionary ideals and hegemonic ambitions. Tehran’s Iraqi militias are also exploiting religion, using sectarianism as a tool to gain power and further Iran’s parochial, religious and political ambitions. The Iranian regime’s militias are also known for ratcheting up the conflict by engaging in various crimes against civilians.
Raisi has not yet made any changes to Iran’s regional policies in spite of his claims that the country wants to improve ties. And when it comes to the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, Raisi has not shown any signs that his government is going to halt or slow the advancement of its nuclear activities, which have been a source of grave concern for other countries in the region.
While Iran’s nuclear breakout time (the amount of time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon) was estimated to be about a year under the Rouhani administration, it has shortened to just a few weeks since Raisi took office last year.
If the president genuinely wants to improve relations with Iran’s neighbors, he needs to address their concerns and this requires a major shift in Iran’s foreign policy. It is important to point out that improved relationships between Iran and its neighbors could have a significant impact on the region’s geopolitical, economic and security landscapes. If the Iranian government prioritized its relationships with Arab nations based on mutual respect and economic and geopolitical interests, rather than ideological ones, and if the theocratic establishment stopped supporting, arming and financing Shiite militia groups and proxies across the region, it would bring significant benefits to Tehran as well as the region.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime must move beyond words by fundamentally shifting its regional policies if it truly wants to improve its relations with the Gulf states and other neighboring countries. *Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh