Iran's new message to the US
Although US officials always accuse Iran of acting against American interests in the region, Iran has never before tried to reveal its direct will against the US outside of the Middle East.
Bombing Washington is the most serious allegation against the Islamic regime in the three decades since the Iranian Revolution. The Islamic state, however, as always, denies this allegation. What I will offer here is a decoding of Iran's "new message" - to the West, generally, and to the US, particularly - through the lens of the larger picture: the effects of the "Arab Spring" on Iran's position in the region.
Iran's apparent 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. Huge differences among their analyses during the last three days demonstrate this perplexity. The spectrum of analysis ranges from putting the whole allegation under question, to considering this attempt as the manifestation of an interior conflict between decision makers within Iran.
My interpretation, however, suggests deciphering Iran's plot in Washington with reference to the Arab uprisings. In the light of these events in the Middle East, specifically Syria - Iran's most strategic ally - it seems that the Islamic Republic is encountering a new and perhaps very serious threat to its own situation in the region. If one considers Iran's official gestures since the beginning of the "Arab Spring", Iran's contradictory behavior draws notice. On the one hand, Iran welcomed the regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen as the end of old dictatorship regimes. On the other hand, Iran also demonstrated its absolute support for Bashar al-Assad's state. It has been argued that, through al-Assad and Hezbollah, Iran imposes its will upon other countries in the region. That is one of the main reasons that Saudi Arabia encourages more international pressure on al-Assad's situation, even urging the US to take its military procedure in Libya to Syria.
Although Iran has many different conflicts with Saudi Arabia, it seems that Syria's condition, as Iran's Supreme Leader clearly states, is the issue on which no compromise will be tolerated. Iran and Syria have a security agreement that if one of them is attacked, the other will intervene.
On the other side, although Saudi Arabia fortifies Syrian opposition, it simultaneously reinforces the dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen. These manoeuvrers make it clear that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are highly anxious about the potential long-term consequences of the "Arab Spring" - that is, the toppling of their own authoritarian regimes. Therefore, what is taking place in the region is not just each country grappling separately with their own interior problems. Syria, however, in Iran's perspective, is a special case; the possibility of US and Saudi Arabian interference in Syria targets the Islamic Republic of Iran's very existence.
To understand the reasons for the alleged assassination attempt, we must first reconsider Iran's various attempts to convey a "message" to the US during the last three months. Firstly, last August, through Afghanistan's leadership, Iran sent a message that it was ready to cooperate with NATO and US in Afghanistan. The second "message" came a few weeks later, when Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most influential Iraqi opponents to both Western troops and the Iraqi government, announced that in order to establish a stable situation he has decided to assist the latter. It is crucial to remember that this figure is considered as one of Iran's closest allies. The release of the American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal just before the last UN general summit in September, was the Islamic state's last attempt to demonstrate that the regime was prepared to come to some kind of consensus with the US to guarantee its existence. However, the US did not offer any guarantees, seeming to ignore Iran's overtures.
Last month some of Turkey's newspapers reported that when the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Bashar al-Assad to deliver a "strong message" against Syria's crackdown on protests, 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, claimed that al-Assad was referring to Iranian missiles, the targets of which are US interests and military resources based in the Middle East. Iran and Syria have articulated their vision of response to any direct interference; they both claim the whole region will "go up in flames."
This is the first time that Iran has used an official member of the Revolutionary Guard in an attack against the US and Saudi Arabia. The significance of this should not be underestimated. There has always been tension between the US and Islamic Republic of Iran, but the regime's "new message" is this: they are prepared to move the battleground from the realm of empty rhetoric to that of direct conflict.
Last month Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the head of Iran's paramilitary force Basij and top-ranked general in the Revolutionary Guard, stated "We must shift the battleground from our region into their territory… one that takes our interests into account as well". Now, as the United States accuses Iran of the attempted assassination of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, the world may need to consider Naghdi's words as a new doctrine, suggesting a radical shift in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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