Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini and following the dethroning of Reza Shah which saw a long-standing dynastical rule in Imperial Iran come to an end a process that steered its way to the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in accordance with the philosophy of Ayatollah Khomeini. The foreign policy of Iran since then is to embed its influence in the region.
Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps: To carry out such operations Iran has formed the IRGC (Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps) by order of the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran the group is separate from Iran’s armed forces it specializes in asymmetric and unconventional warfare its main aim is to protect Iran’s revolutionary system with Quds force as the most elite unit of the IRGC whose jurisdiction falls beyond the scope of the countries border.
Iran sought to have a greater strategic alliance in the Middle East with its Arab allies and dubs this policy as “forward defense strategic “meaning battle the enemy in another state the IRGC has been the key factor in Iran seeking greater regional dominance in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, prolong the conflict and regional instability in the fragile contents of the middle east has given Iran an opportunity to gain a foothold in these countries such as the emergence of Hezbollah in the 80s in Lebanon during the Israeli occupation of the country and Iraq in 2003 post (Iraq war)and Yemen in 2014.
Following the Saudi war and embargo of the Arab state and Syria which has been a long-standing ally since the days of Hafez Al-Assad father of current President Bashar Al-Assad Iran has further granted its support to the Assad regime during the civil war and fight against ISIS and anti-Assad groups in the state with the heavy collaboration of Hezbollah and also contribute its assistance to various military groups across the region.
Iran has been doing all the activity under strict sanctions imposed by the US firstly in 1979 and since then has been the most sanctioned country in the world until Russia exceeded it following the invasion of Ukraine. Despite the isolation and sanctions on Iran, it has not hesitated to show commitment to its alliance.
However, talks with Iran are currently going on following the revival of 2015 Nuclear Talks with P5 members any new deal will result in strengthening and widening the hands of the Islamic Republic in their foreign policy on the other hand Iran’s rivals in the middle east such as Saudi Arabia and Israel have recently called for strict actions against Iran and emphasis that a new deal should include hardline approach the one that limits Iran’s foreign dominance.
Iran has greater political and military influence in these four Arab states Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas Iran terms the alliance as “Axis of Resistance” to stifle the US and Zionist presence in the region.
Iran’s activities in the Middle Eastern Countries:
Hezbollah is a Shia military and political force that has challenged the presence of US and occupied Zionist forces in the Middle East and has also once established itself in Lebanon’s political mainstream system Hezbollah has perpetuated both the nexus of welfare work and military wing.
The association between Iran and Hezbollah dates back to the 1980s during the civil war and occupation of Beirut by Israel which saw the emergence and rise of Hezbollah as a resistance force with the assistance of IRGC who funded the group and trained it and soon Hezbollah came to the force as a movement that ended the three-decade-long foreign occupation.
Iran and Hezbollah both have been staunch supporters of the Palestinian freedom movement and therefore lend their support to pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist resistance forces in the region such as Hamas both entities deemed the presence of the occupied Zionist regime as usurpers and therefore illegal and illegitimate and must be eliminated immediately.
“As I have often warned both before and after the revolution, I once again remind everyone of the danger of the prevalent, festering and cancerous Zionist tumor in the body of Islamic countries”. Ayatollah Khomeini (1981)
It is undisclosed how much assistance Hezbollah receives but one report in 2017 estimates that Iran has annually provided Hezbollah with 1 billion dollars annually and military support which includes thousands of missiles rockets and ammunitions.
Across the Middle, East Hezbollah has fought inside Syria against ISIS and anti-Assad forces according to one estimation about 70% of Hezbollah fighters were present in Syria during the peak of the civil war Hezbollah has also clashed with Israeli occupation forces in the middle east during the 2006 war which ended in Israeli retreat and Hezbollah victory which shock all corners of the earth is also involved in frequent military and border clashes with the Zionist regime in August 2021 Hezbollah fired rockets in Israel as a response to Israeli airstrikes.
Hezbollah has evolved throughout the years and has established itself separate from Lebanon’s armed forces also surfaced as a mainstream political party that has provided essential services to the Lebanese people most significantly in September 2021 Hezbollah broke an energy deal with Iran to provide the crises hit Lebanon with fuel to ease the countries hard hit economic crises this grants Hezbollah and Iran political leverage over their regional rivals.
Iraq has always been the most significant component in Iran’s foreign policy historical events have shown that Iraq can pose a direct and indirect threat to Iran such as the long-standing Iran-Iraq war US invasion of Iraq to ISIS presence in the country all the episodes have somehow shown that it can have radical ramifications on Iran stability as well as its National Security. This is why Iran aims to determine Iraqi national policy and strategy.
Iran shares the longest land border with Iraq (1500km) as well as cultural, religious, and economic ties using which Iran has strongly penetrated and mobilized the Shia population of the country Iraq is also home to the center of religious learning hawza (theological seminary) in holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, therefore, clerics hold a special place for Iraq and its tactical blueprint and thus are influential in uniting the national leadership in achieving the mutual interest for both the neighboring states.
Iran’s two main aims in Iraq are to counter and end US presence and secondly to reshape the Iraqi political sphere to do so Iran has invested strategically and financially in Iraq’s political and military domain such as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) a military wing authorized by the Iraqi government formed in wake of ISIS advancements in the country with the purpose of countering its presence as well as retaliating the US and its allies present in the country the rise of PMU in Iraq has been attributed to the 2014 fatwa of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani who called for the mobilization of volunteers to tackle ISIS considering the only effective way given the countries army collapse.
The Middle East is Iran’s military stronghold and its jurisdiction asserts far beyond in the year 2019 according to US reports more than 600+ US troops were killed by IRGC in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 and following the 2020 US drone strike in Baghdad airport which saw the martyrdom of Quds force commander Qasim Soleimani and PMU commander Abu Mahdi Iran responded the attack with airstrikes on two of major US military bases in Iraq.
Iran has deep-rooted ascendancy in the Iraq political domain following the 2014 elections of Iraq which saw the then prime minister Nouri Al- Maliki as the winner of the elections but whose army was crumbling in the face of ISIS offensive Maliki who was long been an ally of Iran who had political backing from the country was deemed as a liability because of its failed policies and ineffective way of dealing with countries political turmoil at that moment and when the countries Grand Ayatollah Sistani stated for a political change in the country Maliki stepped down and was replaced by Haider Al-Abadi who is the current PM of Iraq.
Iran’s intent would be in Iraq in the forthcoming year to fulfill the vacuum of instability and weak governance and to prevent the emergence of new threats Iran will ensure and resume support for the government of its backing to safeguard its security and intelligence chain of command.
Iran and Syria both have forged a long-standing alliance with countries being allies since the 1970s and their affiliation have strengthened over the decade or so both share a common perception of threat from the US and Israel and have a shared union of interest in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and because of their common enmity towards the US both the states have faced enormous isolation from the western world.
Iran considers Syria a vital strategic and regional ally and power and has considered Syria as a gateway to the Middle East throughout the years Iran has extensively supported Syria from foreign military aggression mainly from Israel. Iran terms the alliance between Damascus and their regional Arab allies as “Axis of Resistance” a union of Arab alliances against the presence of US forces and Zionist occupation in the region.
So, in mid-2011 Assad regime faced one of the most crucial defiances of its rule within the country when anti-government protests broke out in the entire country an outbreak with was inspired by the events known as the Arab Spring wave of uprising originated from the Middle East and North Africa. Meanwhile, the Arab League proposed a peace plan for Syria which was backed by the West and the UN calling for Assad to step down the President however refused the proposal and rejected to bow down to western pressure.
Political turbulence and anti-Assad demonstrations soon turned into a full-scale civil war in the country and many factions within the country turned into violent belligerents against the state and a large number of foreign militants and individuals flocked to Damascus to play their part in the civil war of the country. Syria soon became the battleground for major regional and world powers with ISIS a foreign-backed terrorist organization becoming the face of civil war soon the fighting spread to the capital Damascus and Aleppo Syria’s second-largest city and Bashar’s military seemed to crumble following the events Assad’s allies rallied to support the government during the violent outburst ran began its military involvement in Syria in the same year with the presence of IRGC boots in the country upon the request of President Bashar Al-Assad to Qasim Soleimani.
The first and foremost mission of the Islamic Republic was to hold and preserve Assad’s power in the country and to do that Iran used various ways such as providing basic military assistance to the country’s military using IRGC on the other hand Iran mobilized the pro-Shia pro-Assad faction in the country using “ideological factors” as Syria is home to more than 50 holy shrines and various other holy places of worship most prominent of which is in Damascus. Iran engaged in assembling the Shia from across the globe to “Protect the holy shrines” immense number of fighters from Hezbollah Lebanon, Fatemiyoun Bridge from Afghanistan, and Zainabiyoun Bridge from Pakistan was commanded by 2000 IRGC and Quds force officers. Hezbollah alone had a major involvement in the war during the height of the war more than 40,000 Hezbollah fighters which make up 70% of the entire militia were present inside Syria. Quds force nearly deployed 80,000 volunteer forces across Syria and IRGC had established bases across the country including in the heart of the capital and also near Israel and Iraq border.
Given the sanctions in place against the Assad regime Damascus was draining from economic crises and so Tehran extended the power jurisdiction and lend Syria with financial backing that has and still keeps Assad power intact recent energy deals with Iran are also part of it to cut short nations crises according to UN estimation Iran outstretch 6billion$ to the country annually 10billion$ worth of oil and large number weaponry, military and political support all this is done while in the face of US sanctions. Iran’s dominance is growing massively inside the country and the Assad regime had pinned high hopes on Iran’s aid.
Since 2018 Assad’s dominance has increased in Syria and his recent engagement with the Gulf States who had previously called him to step down and expel him from the Arab League shows that Iran has been successful in its support of the Syrian state.
1979 revolution and ideological expansion was a driving force for the Islamic republic in the Middle East since then Iran’s ascendency in the Middle East had grown too powerfully especially post 9/11 era and with the recent JCPOA talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which is believed to be in its final phase in Vienna expected to reach an agreement any time soon and however many gulf states stressed to limit and strict the nuclear agreements so that Iran dominance can be contained even after lifting of sanctions but the country supreme leader stated that:
“Matters of national strength such as nation’s wider military campaign and capabilities were not a matter for negotiations”
If talks became successful which will saw the lifting of economic and financial sanctions from Iran will allow Iran to double its power pursuit more than ever.
This Article is written by Muhammad Mesum, studying in the department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defense University Islamabad. he is interested in Middle Eastern Politics. The views expressed in this article solely represent the authors’ views and do not reflect or represent the views of the youth Diplomacy Forum.