THE CLERICAL REGIME'S OPPOSITION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE INITIATIVES June 1996
"A ruler given to tyranny undermines his own sovereignty.
" Saadi-Iranian Poet (A.D. 1194-1291)
(AN ANALYSIS OF REASONS, MOTIVES, AND OBJECTIVES)
Since the founding of the current regime, as an aftermath of
the 1979 Revolution, Iran has steadfastly opposed all measures
of peace and reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors.
The clerical regime has never visibly clarified its ultimate goals/objectives
or even basic motives for this opposition. However, from its external
behavior in the areas affected by the peace process, Foots on
Iran is able to discern and identify five somewhat distinct objectives
of its foreign policy or, theocratic and security interests. At
this point in time, it is not clear to us at what cost and j ust
how far the ruling clerics are willing to go to achieve these
objectives. Furthermore, the importance and priority which the
current Iranian regime has assigned to these objectives is not
yet known. It is hoped that the future Iranian actions in the
foreign policy arena will make its real intentions and objectives
or motives much clearer and thus afford the international community
and others concerned by this behavior, the opportunity to act
accordingly to the threat posed. In this issue, Focus onIran has
endeavored to give guidance tocounter Tehran's threat to regional
peace, stability and security.
The five objectives we have been able to depict from the regime's
external behavior include:
1) Military presence and pressure directly against Israel:
2) Fundamentalist religious leadership and credibility:
3) Radical political ideology and control, with support of international
4) Strategic military balance in its favor: and Anti-Americanism.
These issues will be discussed later in Part B, under motives
and objectives for opposition to peace. Since the beginning of
this decade, Islamic Republic's external behavior in support of
the above mentioned objectives and motives has been manifested
in its espousal of various international terrorist activities,
subversion of moderate governments, pursuit of domestic nuclear
program, promotion of revolutionary Islam, and support of fundamentalist
religious regimes. Ultimately this negative and misguided behavior
of the clerical le adership could lead to Iran's isolation from
the international community and indeed, more dangerously, the
physical damage or destruction of the nation itself.
B. MOTIVES & OBJECTIVES FOR OPPOSITION TO PEACE:
1) Military presence and pressure directed against Israel: It
may be assumed that the desire for regional political-military
hegemony as the so-called "spokesman and leader of the Muslim
World", is probably the most compelling motive for the mullahs'
opposition to any Arab-Israeli peace/reconciliation. From Tehran's
perspective, Israel would be the ultimate beneficiary of a peace
settlement with its neighbors, especially with Syria. Rightly
or wrongly, Tehran sees its alliance with Syria as a cornerstone
in gaining military dominance in the region, especially against
Israel's military superiority. Moreover, the "Syrian Connection"
provides Iran with a credible counterforce against its inherent
adversary, Iraq. By its opposition to an Israeli-Syrian peace
settlement, the clerical leadership insures its pressure and control
of the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
In this context, Tehran could no longer maintain a military relationship
with Damascus because of its violent hostility to Israel. More
importantly, Syria's connection with Iran forces Baghdad to cover
its western frontier with military assets it would have likely
deployed on its Iranian frontier. It should be noted that the
Tehran-Damascus connection has no significant religious or ideological
foundation. In contrast to Iran, Syria has a secular government
and a predominantly Sunni populace. The Tehran-Damascus alliance
has been one of military expediency.
The somewhat tenuous nature of the relationship between Syria
and Iran was exhibited during the Persian Gulf war crisis of 1990-91
when Syria gave its unconditional support to the U.S.-led coalition
against Baghdad. while Tehran's leaders remained silent, and even
criticized the United States for its "intervention"
in the region's "internal affairs". In this instance,
the clerics' anti-Americanism exceeded their interest in molding
to the Damascus connection and its long-standing enmity towards
Secondly, Islamic Republic's control of Hezbollah in southern
Lebanon would be virtually coming to an end in an IsraeliSyrian
accord. Tehran rightly realizes that among the demands made by
Israel on Syria would be the latter's abolition of the Hezbollah.
For Syria, the trade-off is not too complex: the return of the
Golan Heights and perhaps a demilitarized upper
Jordan Valley and both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese frontier
for its recognition of, or normalized relations with Israel. Would
Syria abandon its Tehran connection for the Golan? In order to
assure the survivability of the alliance, the Tehran regime must
endeavor to prevent the accord from ever materializing.
In order to achieve this objective, Tehran has stepped up its
financial and material support of Hezbollah and has concomitantly
"egged them on" to aggressive actions against Israeli
forces in southern Lebanon and the bombardment of Northern Israel's
Hula Valley. The loss of the "Syrian Connection" and
its attendant Hezbollah control would undoubtedly end clerical
Tehran's dream of a Middle East wide, political-military influence,
if not hegemony. For the Mullahs'regime, the stakes are indeed
high. For Iran there is another potential cause for concern. An
Israeli-Syrian accord would increase Israel's political and diplomatic
prestige in the region, especially in the Persian Gulf. Hezbollah's
threat would be relaxed and perhaps in the distant future, it
could be placed at the disposal of a friendly Persian Gulf State
to counter a future Iranian threat in the region. As of the time
of this writing, Prime Minister Peres is on an unprecedented visit
to Oman and Qatar. This visit, a likely reaction to the Emirs
presence at the Rabin funeral may presage the normalization of
Israeli -Omani/Qatari relations. The presence of Persian Gulf
States friendly to Israel, would be anathema to the Islamic Republic.
Disruption of the peace process from Tehran's perspective, could
embarrass Israeli prestige abroad, especially with potentially
friendly Middle East States, e.g. Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
It should be noted, that as of this issue of Focus on Iran, the
clerical government severely criticized Qatar and Oman. As might
be expected, this was an aftermath of those countries acceptance
of the recent visit by Israel's Prime Minister.
More to the point, it reflects Tehran's concern about Israel's
expanding diplomatic initiatives in the Arab world as witnessed
by the most friendly personal and diplomatic relations with Jordan.
To re-iterate, from Tehran's perspective, scuttling of the Syrian-Israeli
peace process would diminish Israel's diplomatic prestige and
credibility. 2) Fundamentalist religious leadership and credibility:
Islamic Republic's preoccupation with advancing the cause of Shi'ite
fundamentalism centers on its Hezbollah clients in southern Lebanon
and very likely the Hamas terrorists of Gaza and the West Bank.
The clerical regime's long standing support of Hezbollah in particular,
serves Tehran's objective of establishing a fundamentalist Shi'ite
foothold in Lebanon as: 1) A springboard for further expansion
in the region: 2) Putting military pressure on Israel and indirectly
for Syria's support in that effort: and 3) Establishing the current
regime's credibility as the leader in Islamic fundamentalism.
The viability of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is primarily dependent
on Syria for logistical and material support and on Iran for financial,
moral and religious support. It follows from this triangular relationship
between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, that in order for its continuance,
the peace initiative between Syria and Israel must not come to
fruition. As mentioned earlier, Israel's requirement from Syria
in return . for its withdrawal from the Golan Heights is Syria's
abandonment of Hezbollah if not forcing the latter out of southern
Since the Tehran leadership is essentially of a theocratic nature,
its commitment is to expand its ideological doctrine (i.e. Khomeini-ism/
Shi'ite fundamentalism). The theological reason for being and
the credibility of the current government of the mullahs thus
rests largely on the success of its support of client groups (e.g.
Hezbollah) and its gaining control of Hamas. With its control
of the Hamas group, Tehran achieves not only another significant
harassing element against Israel, but perhaps more importantly,
gains a potential successor to Arafat's newly formed West Bank
Palestinian government. The likelihood of Hamas' ultimate victory
over Arafat, has at least a 50 % chance of realization. Although
much of the Islamic Republic's involvement with Hamas falls within
the realm of political objective to be discussed in the following
section 3, the clerics also most likely entertain the objective
of introducing a strong Shi'ite presence especially among the
more militant, radical and less Sunni-committed elements of Hamas.
If such an adherence could be achieved, then the mullah-led regime
in Tehran will have gained a notable victory in winning the "hearts
and minds" of the most radical of the Middle East's population.
3) Radical political ideology:
Much similar to the preceding section, the mullahs obective of
a strong presence and control of the political instruments of
power in Lebanon and the emergent Palestinian State depends on
its ability to disrupt Israel's quest for peace and normalized
relations with its neighbors. Whereas in southern Lebanon, the
Islamic regime in Tehran has quite effectively exercised political
control over Hezbollah. There is little doubt
that Tehran orchestrates the selection, training, and actions
of the Hezbollah leadership. It should also be borne in mind that
Hezbollah not only threatens Israel and causes some perplexing
problems in Damascus, but it also threatens the survival of the
tenuous political structure of Lebanon itself. This is evidenced
by the fact that despite all efforts, the Beirut government cannot
exercise its control over Hezbollah with or without Syrian acquiescence.
One cannot but wonder if among the long range external political
objectives, resides the ultimate overthrow of the moderate and
the all-inclusive Lebanese political structure. It is reasonable
to sunrise that the Tehran regime could make use of Hezbollah
as an instrument against the Beirut government regardless of whether
it succeeds or fails in disrupting the on-going peace process.
If the peace process fails, Hezbollah's political-military survivability
is assured with a likelilncxxl of a greater national prestige
and credibility. In that event, Hezbollah, might be further emboldened
to act against Beirut, especially if given unconditional support
by the rttaallahs to that end. Likewise, in the eventuality that
the peace initiatives succeed and Hezbollah is forced out of southern
Lebanon, Tehran could opt to "relocate" Hezbollah to
central or other parts of Lebanon, if not in designated quarters
of Beirut itself. Indeed, if such a "relocation" should
occur, Hezbollah's threat to Lebanon's government, could become
a reality by its closer proximity to Beiruit's power center. One
may also surmise that should Hezbollah "relocate" itself
to the squalid quarters of Beirut, the ingredients for urban instability
and uprisings possibly leading to another civil war would be set
Islamic Republic's control of Hamas' political infrastructure
may be more likely than gaining the religious affiliation of Hamas,
as discussed above. Should this be realized, Arafat's Palestinian
government should most certainly be in jeopardy. An Israeli-Syrian
peace-normalization success would bade well for the chances of
the isolation and marginalization of Hamas. This might come about
as a result of a joint IsraeliSyrian-Jordanian concerted effort
to combat terrorism and to support a viable Palestinian State
willing to live with Israel under conditions which it can best
achieve under the current political circumstances.
The radical political ideology of the mullah's regime is plain
and simple one of power and rule through terror and psychological
coercion or "brain washing". The suicide attacks by
which innocent people are maimed and killed are inculcated in
the minds of their lackey's as the "road to martyrdom"
and eternal pleasure/rewards in the afterlife.
This is not the true meaning of Jihad or any Islamic teaching.
It is the teaching of the extremist mullahs in Tehran, the same
teaching that caused the death of thousands of Iran's young men
in the irrational and senseless military attacks and operations
in the recent war against Iraq.
4) strategic military balance in its favor:
The end of the war with Iraq and the defeat of that State in
the Persian Gulf War has witnessed Iran's quest for redressing
the region's military balance in its favor. In Tehran's perspective
this means the maintenance of the "Syrian Connection",
a strong and visible presence in Lebanon, and a credible threat
against Israel. This posture on the Mediterranean (or the "Western
Flank") would be held in conjunction with its strong military
posture along the Persian Gulf (or the "Eastern Flank")
and political dominance in the former Soviet Republics of Azarbaijan
and Turkmen istan would assure its "Northern Flank".
The key element, the "Western Flank" can only be assured
if Syria remains steadfast to its de facto alliance with Iran
against Iraq (and as understood, against Israel). As mentioned
earlier, this condition also prevails in regards to Lebanon via
the control of Hezbollah. Iran's active presence there provides
it with the logistical and terrorist base for power projection
along with subversive operations in Egypt and the Mediterranean
region, including its current activities i n Bosnia. Moreover,
a military powerful Israel at peace with Syria, at the cost of
Hezbollah, would tem-linate the hope of the mullahs in controlling
the "Western Flank". Indeed, Israel's newly formed relationship
with Jordan and perhaps closer antiterrorist ties with Egypt and
the moderate Persian Gulf States (Oman, Qatar, Bahrain) represents
the ultimate "nightmare" scenario for the current clerical
regime. Iran's most potentially successful and feasible option
again, is to disrupt the ongoing peace initiatives between Syria
and Israel. To that end, Islamic Republic's Vice President, Hassan
Habib], welll to Damascus to re-assure and pressure Assad's regime
to hold fast to the ties with Tehran. Here also, it is likely
that Damascus will act in its own best self-interest, i.e., The
"Iranian Connection" or the "Golan Heights".
Focus on Iran believes Damascus will ultimately opt for the Golan
Heights with all theconsequences which that decision might entail.
As a result, the mullah's subsequent course of action or available
option could be critical to the regions peace and stability. This
notion will be discussed in the following Part C, Iran's Options.
The clerical leadership's anti-American attitude, considered
by many as bordering on pathological, stems from the American
support of the Monarchy in Iran. The four hundred and forty four
day hostage-taking ordeal, is a witness to that pathological behavior.
It naturally follows that, any endeavor or initiative undertaken
by the United States will meet with a "knee-jerk" opposition
from Tehran, regardless of its merit or advantage to Iran. For
example, the U.S. led "Desert Storm" operation in every
sense was beneficial to the security and political interests of
Iran. Yet the short-sighted rulers in Tehran could not endorse
the enterprise, not even its ostensible moral basis. Instead,
they chose to criticize the United States with an incredulous
rationale which was universally rejected. This action, isolated
Iran even more, thus further enforcing its image of a "Pariah
State" in the eyes of the international community. The quest
for peace and stability in the Middle East has been a paramount
U.S. foreign policy goal since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur
War. The motives for U.S. interest in this matter lie in its economic
(e.g. Oil) interests, ties with Israel, support of moderate regimes,
anti-terrorism, and (until 1991) opposition to Soviet ambitions
in the region. Since the end of its war with Iraq, Tehran views
the American policy goals as antithetical to its own as discussed
in sections 1 through 4 earlier.
The culmination of peace accords between Israel and Syria at
the sponsorship and initiative of the United States, would represent
the ultimate foreign policy victory for Washington and an irreparable
blow to the mullahs in Tehran, from every perspective. In the
eyes of the clerical leadership, the "U.S. must be defeated"
for all the reasons pointed out previously, but perhaps more importantly
(indeed psychologically for the leadership) the "defeat of
the Great Satan" must come about.
In this irrational desire for the ultimate defeat of the U.S.
in the Middle East, one is reminded of Captain Ahab's pursuit
and his irrational hatred and compulsion towards the great White
Whale in Melville's "Moby Dick". There may be a deeper
motive for this behavior in the collective psyche of the clerics
in Tehran that, goes beyond the objectives and motives discussed
earlier. The answer may lie in the leadership's desire to establish
a Unified Middle East Theocracy centered in Tehran, a revival
of the medieval Abbasid realm. If so, certainly the United States,
Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even Syria, are not likely to willingly
accept such a realm as their future. If the ruling clerics are
serious in their intent, it will bring ultimate disaster to themselves
and to the noble Iranian nation.
C. IRAN'S OPTIONS:
Iran's options in reference to its opposition to the peace process
are limited. It can either: 1) pursue opposition at all costs,
2) accept the verdict if it fails and seek other solutions, or
3) join in the pursuit of peace and stability. It hardly seems
likely that (3) will be an acceptable option for the current leaders
in Tehran Therefore, we must look at options (1) and (2) above.
Option l) Pursuit of opposition to the peace process:
The most likely course for the current leadership, is tocontinue
its opposition to any settlement between Israel and Syria until
the matter is resolved to its favor ordisappoinanent If, as the
Tehran ruling clerics hope, the peace initiatives fail, their
rewards would be great but at high risk ultimately to the nation's
security and well-being. The aftarnathofthepeace initianvefailure,islikely
toembolden d -ie regime minvokefimherYkAdlattaggressionsagainstIsael,orasindicated
earlier,tochallengetheBeirut govaTmcrntityelf Secondly, theTehtan
leadership, may avail itself the opportunity of settling the "Israel
problem" oneeand forall.Thisoould bedone through military.mack
by Syriawith financial and military support from Iran, Libya or
North Korea It is also probable that Iran could forge a coalition/alliance
with Iraq and Syriaasarrning politicalard otherdifferenaescould
be set aside fora common effort against Israel (and perhaps Jordan
in the bagam).Thermhzatimofthisadmimdyextrer»epolitiA-military
scenario isfiaughtwithdangernotonlytoIran itsefbut,totheprospects
ofa general Middle East War with United Suites' involvement
Most assuredly, even if Syria (and Iran/Iraq) are not engaged
in waragainst Israel, increased Hezbollah attack, would bring
about an Israeli response not unlike 1982-83 incursion into Lebanon.
The consequences of such an Israeli response cannot be guessed
at now, but in any event, it could not be conducive to regional
peace and stability.
Option 2) Accept the verdict of Syrian-Israeli peace accord and
seek other solutions:
If the peace initiative succeeds, the Tehran leadership is faced
with thedilerrmaofwithdmwingentimlyfromdie ateraof~iLtivehosflity
aganst Istael,'tiek its wotuxls" of foreign policy failure
and tend to other matters. Or, as it is reasonable to surmise,
Tehran will seek a more meaningful political-military reconciliation
with Iraq directed primarily against Israel, but with significant
implications for Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf States and Jordan.
As far-fetched as it may seem, theW'adaistpolitical structure
in Syria nray "find itself threatened by such an alliance.
One could reasonably expect that Tehran would employ its Hezbollah
client~ against a "turn-coat" Syriawhichmade the accord
with Isael The otheraltemativewithin this option is for it to
totally withdraw fixxn tenvristic-military
aggressiveness on its socalled' Vlrestem Flank". Such action
would bean admittance of failure to its lackeys and the world
at large. Couldthisregirresurvwethefadtueofitsheavyirn+estr rltsofWhncal,
ideolo9cal,andreligiouscapitalagainst theUnited States, Isael,and
the peace process? The answer here is difficult to reach, since
there are too many variables to consider within the Iranian domestic
environment Suffice it to say that "to lick its wounds"
and withdraw from the "Western Flank" combat environment,
is not a likely alternative for the Tehran regime as seen from
the current vantage point.
Option 3) Join the pursuit of peace and stability in the region:
Thusopnonistheleast likely thecurrentradrcalregime wouldchoose,
for all the masons, motives, and objectives heretofore discussed.
Although this istheoption that those patrioticelementswoulddhoose
for Iran, it will not be realized until those elements achieve
political power in Tehran. For this reason, it is understandable
why the authorities in Tehran have kept much relevant information
of its anti-peace activities from the Iranian populace.
Foci ,a on Irwi, resolutely believes that no peace or stability
in the region is forthcoming from this irresponsible regime. Furthermore,
not only must all Iranians, in and out of the country, be made
aware of the (=sequences of the current regimes opposition to
the peace initiatives, but the international community must also
be informed. Because, in the unfortunate event of war in the Middle
East, many nations could be drawn into such a conflict Bluntly
put, the international community must make itcleartotheclerical
regime that it will not permit its anti-peace activities, even
if United Nations sanctions are to be employed, among other measures
D. CONSEQUENCES FOR IRAN'S ANTI-PEACE ACTIVITIES:
Nothing can come to Iran but economic and physical disaster for
its irresponsible anti-peace foreign policy. It is conceivable
that, should war occur, in any form or magnitude, Iran will suffer
the consequences. The "consequences" would likely range
from economic sanctions and blockade to bombing and missile attacks
on selected economic-military targets in Iran. One only needs
to look at the devastation on Baghdad, brought on by modern weapons,
as to what could befall Iran's cities and industrial centers.
The end result, tragically, is harm to the Iranian people and
long term physical and economic destruction to the nation. The
final and only true assessment of the current regime's behavior
against peace is that its modus operandi is indeed not in the
interest of the Iranian nation and its people. Simply said, it
threatens the very survival of an ancient nation.