Iran shows strength, but has many weaknesses

Iran shows strength, but has many weaknesses
Comment: Claims of a new age of Iranian hegemony are false - Tehran faces more challenges today than it has had for many years, says Marwan Kabalan.
3 min read
09 Feb, 2015
Iran has achieved little since its revolution three and a half decades ago [Getty]
Despite exaggerated accounts that Iran is a regional force majeure, reflected in some superficial analyses that prepare us for the approaching age of Iranian hegemony, all indications show the exact opposite.

According to some commentators, Tehran appears as if it is about to declare its biggest victory since the Achaemenids and Sassanids. However, the country is facing far too many regional and domestic challenges for this to be the case. Today, Iran is weaker - not stronger - than four years ago.

At the end of 2011, when the US finished withdrawing from Iraq, Iran was preparing to extend its influence from Herat in Afghanistan to Beirut in Lebanon. The former US president, George W Bush, had weakened Iran's main regional rivals – the Taliban to the east and Iraqi Baath party to the west. However, the Arab Spring soon ruined Iran's aspirations.

The situation has deteriorated further due to the emergence of the Islamic State group that has extended its control over large areas of western Iraq and eastern Syria. In doing so, it has turned Iran's sphere of influence into isolated islands in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
     Iran may be a good player and an experienced negotiator, it has not achieved its goals.

It is not just that "Sunni" Iraq is no longer under Iran's dominance after Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government was removed from power in August 2014, Maliki being an ally of Iran. However, the US has also returned to Iraq to stop IS gaining greater control of the country.

Iran no longer has the final word in Iraq. It was the US that decided Haidar al-Ebadi should replace Maliki as prime minister. The US now controls the situation and is cleansing the army and security forces of Iran's henchmen, and returning former army officers to their previous positions.

It is also integrating Sunnis back into the political process and restoring ties between Iraq and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

If we talk about another of Iran's regional allies, Hizballah, we can see how drained it is because of its interference in the Syrian conflict, and the damage this has done to its deterrence capabilities.

In Yemen, Iran appears to be gaining grounds through its Houthi allies who have seized control of the presidential palace. However, this scene is also misleading.

Yemen, which regional and international powers have failed to control throughout history, will not allow itself to be dominated by Iran even if it using local tools. Yemen is a complicated country, not just geographically but also socially, and because of its tribal and religious composition.

The best Iran can hope to do is turn it into a battlefield in a sectarian war between al-Qaeda and the Houthis, which would achieve nothing.

While Iran appears to be making progress in its nuclear talks with the West, it is being drained across the region.

Iran may be a good player and an experienced negotiator, but it has not achieved its goals - if we study Iran's behaviour and foreign policy over the past three and a half decades since the revolution, we can see it has failed to make any real achievements in the region.

Its real power has always been its ability to spread chaos, and prevent its enemies advancing through the creation of local militias and informal brigades.

However, Iran appears unaware its rivals are now using the same methods. This will eventually backfire on everyone, including Iran, because no one is immune to the region's religious and ethnic diversity and extreme polarisation.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.