Tensions rise in the wake of Iran's alleged assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
A few months ago, when Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the top-ranking general of the Revolutionary Guard and the head of Iran’s paramilitary force Basij, stated that “We must shift the battleground from our region into their territory … one that takes our interests into account as well,” the world did not take the gesture seriously, considering it empty rhetoric. Now, as the United States accuses Iran of the attempted assassination of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, perhaps the world should reconsider Naghdi’s words, taking them as part of a radical shift in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These changes could largely be attributed to the effects of the “Arab Spring” on Iran’s position in the region.
Although U.S. officials frequently accuse Iran of acting against American interests in the Middle East, Iran has never before revealed its direct will against the U.S. outside of that region. Accusing Iran of attempting to bomb Washington is the most serious allegation the U.S. has made against the Islamic regime in the three decades since the Iranian Revolution. The Islamic state, predictably, denies the allegation.
Iran’s alleged plot to bomb Washington sits at odds with its official condemnation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, putting many experts in a state of confusion. During the last week, analyses of the situation have ranged from questioning the allegation altogether to considering the attempted bombing as a manifestation of an internal conflict among Iranian decision-makers.
Although many explanations have been put forth, perhaps the most likely has to do with the residual effects of the Arab Spring. In light of the revolutionary events taking place in the Middle East – specifically what is unfolding in Syria, Iran’s most strategic ally – it seems that the Islamic Republic is encountering a new, and perhaps very serious, threat to its own standing in the region.
Iran’s official gestures since the beginning of the Arab Spring have been contradictory. On the one hand, Iran welcomed the regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen as the end of old dictatorships. On the other hand, it has demonstrated its absolute support for Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime in Syria. Some suggest that Iran supports al-Assad unconditionally because, through al-Assad and Hezbollah, Iran is able to impose its will upon other countries in the region. This theory is one of the main reasons U.S. ally Saudi Arabia encourages more international pressure on al-Assad’s regime, even urging the U.S. to take military action in Syria.
Although Iran has many conflicts with Saudi Arabia, its Supreme Leader has stated that foreign intervention in Syria is one thing that will not be tolerated. Iran and Syria have a security agreement that if one of them is attacked, the other will intervene.
Recent reports suggest that when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Bashar al-Assad to deliver a “strong message” against Syria's crackdown on protests and mentioned the possibility of foreign intervention, President al-Assad replied that if one missile struck Syrian territory, the results would be disastrous for the whole region. The Iranian website Tabnak, which operates under the direction of the former leader of the Revolutionary Guard, suggested that al-Assad’s confidence came from the existence of Iranian missiles, which, in the event of an attack on Syria, would target U.S. interests and military resources based in the Middle East. Iran and Syria have both articulated their vision of response to any direct interference – they both claim the whole region will go up in flames.
It is clear that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are highly anxious about the potential long-term consequences of the Arab Spring – that is, the movement’s potential to topple their authoritarian rule. Each country in the region is not only grappling with its own internal problems, but is also keeping an eye on neighbouring countries, whose tensions could exacerbate them. From Iran’s perspective, the possibility of U.S. and Saudi Arabian interference in Syria targets the Islamic Republic’s very existence.
During the last three months, Iran has made numerous attempts to convey a conciliatory message to the U.S., but that message seems to be falling on deaf ears. Last August, through Afghanistan’s leadership, Iran sent a message that it was ready to co-operate with NATO and the U.S. in Afghanistan. The second message came a few weeks later, when Moqtada al-Sadr, who is one of the most influential Iraqi opponents to both western troops and the Iraqi government – and who is considered one of Iran’s closest allies – announced that he has decided to assist the Iraqi government for the sake of establishing stability. Finally, Iran released the American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal just before the UN general summit in September 2011. This was the Islamic state’s last attempt to demonstrate that it was prepared to come to some kind of consensus with the U.S. to guarantee its security. However, the U.S. did not offer Iran any such guarantees, and seemed to ignore its overtures. This no doubt rang alarm bells for Iran.
If Iran was indeed responsible for attempting to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, then it marks the first time that Iran has employed an official member of the Revolutionary Guard in an attack against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The significance of this should not be underestimated. There have always been tensions between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the alleged bomb plot suggests Iran is sending a new message – that it is prepared to move the battleground from the realm of empty rhetoric to that of direct conflict.
Source: the Mark