Ira­nian regime’s pri­or­ity is en­sur­ing its sur­vival and quash­ing re­gional protests

The National - News - - OPINION - RAGHIDA DERGHAM

Ira­nian lead­ers and their al­lies are count­ing on stamina to weather the storm and are hop­ing demon­stra­tors’ en­ergy and fer­vour will wane as the year draws to a close. In Iran, Iraq and Le­banon, the Ira­nian regime’s pri­or­ity is se­cur­ing its sur­vival and prevent­ing the three up­ris­ings from bear­ing fruit by all means nec­es­sary – what­ever the cost.

Rus­sia re­mains com­mit­ted to its Ira­nian ally and is con­fi­dent of its prom­ise to stop the spread of in­sta­bil­ity. What is new is the shift in the Euro­pean po­si­tion with re­gards to Iran. The Euro­peans have run out of pa­tience with Iran’s vi­o­la­tions, not just in terms of the 2015 nu­clear deal but also the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in stag­ing ri­ots, and stok­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism and vi­o­lence against peace­ful protests in Le­banon, from its out­posts in Syria and the Bekaa Val­ley.

This has made coun­tries like Ger­many draw closer to the US po­si­tion, de­spite pre­vi­ous op­po­si­tion, caus­ing con­cern and anger among the ranks of the Ira­nian lead­er­ship. A few days ago, Ger­man daily Der Spiegel re­ported that the na­tion’s in­te­rior min­istry had re­quested an in­quiry into Hezbol­lah’s ac­tiv­i­ties, with an agree­ment reached by the gov­ern­ment in Ber­lin to im­pose a to­tal ban on the or­gan­i­sa­tion in Ger­many next week. The re­port said Ger­many would treat mem­bers of Hezbol­lah mem­bers as it treats ISIS.

For 18 months, US am­bas­sador to Ber­lin Richard Grenell sought to per­suade Euro­pean states to adopt the Amer­i­can per­spec­tive on Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah ac­tiv­i­ties; the new pol­icy in Ger­many bears his hall­marks. Iran will un­doubt­edly be fu­ri­ous. The lead­er­ship in Tehran spared no ef­fort in con­vinc­ing the Euro­peans to push for ex­emp­tions from US sanc­tions but has since been steadily let down as Euro­pean banks and busi­nesses re­fused to deal with the regime, fear­ing they too would be sanc­tioned. The Ira­ni­ans have used a com­bi­na­tion of black­mail and threats, and a pat­tern of es­ca­la­tion and de-es­ca­la­tion, aware that a US-Euro­pean al­liance would fur­ther in­crease their iso­la­tion. Mean­while, as protests rage on home turf, sources say the regime in Tehran is de­ter­mined to re­ject any di­a­logue with demon­stra­tors. Iran’s lead­ers are con­vinced the protests in Le­banon will die down in a mat­ter of weeks. In short, Iran has de­cided to take a rigid, es­ca­la­tory and un­com­pro­mis­ing ap­proach.

The Euro­peans are con­cerned about a pos­si­ble Ira­nian as­sault of the level and mag­ni­tude of the at­tack on Saudi Aramco fa­cil­i­ties. They are also con­cerned about Iran clamp­ing down on demon­stra­tions at home and drag­ging the Le­banese up­ris­ing into vi­o­lence by en­gi­neer­ing chaos that would con­sol­i­date Hezbol­lah’s con­trol of the coun­try. Such ac­tions would in­evitably im­pact re­la­tions.

Ber­lin is re­sent­ful of Ira­nian threats and black­mails against Ger­many, France and Bri­tain, all sig­na­to­ries of the nu­clear deal. The Ger­man gov­ern­ment be­lieves the time has come to pub­licly call out Ira­nian vi­o­la­tions of the deal in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to try to sal­vage it. Af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump walked out last year, the deal can no longer be re­vived, given the in­abil­ity of Euro­pean pow­ers to com­pel busi­nesses to trade un­der the Instex spe­cial pur­pose ve­hi­cle de­signed to by­pass sanc­tions. Iran’s nu­clear en­rich­ment ac­tions and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gramme have driven an­other nail into the deal’s cof­fin. The IRGC’s in­volve­ment in the sup­pres­sion of protests in the re­gion could mo­bilise pub­lic opin­ion in Europe against the Ira­nian regime’s au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and ex­pan­sion­ism.

Mr Trump is said to be an­noyed by at­tempts by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to in­gra­ti­ate him­self as me­di­a­tor with Tehran while sug­gest­ing lift­ing sanc­tions. A US source said that the ad­min­is­tra­tion was willing to talk but ne­go­ti­a­tions would not be con­di­tional on lift­ing or eas­ing sanc­tions.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue us­ing sanc­tions as a tool to tame, iso­late, con­tain and pun­ish the regime in Iran. If Euro­pean pres­sures on the regime in­crease, its iso­la­tion and fi­nan­cial hard­ship will only deepen. But the ques­tion is: what will its lead­ers then do?

In Iraq, the sit­u­a­tion looks ex­tremely com­plex and dif­fi­cult for Iran, with no light at the end of the tun­nel as protests con­tinue and the death toll rises. Ira­ni­ans are hurt­ing them­selves and their neigh­bour by re­fus­ing to al­low Iraq to be­come a nor­mal coun­try. The regime’s logic does not al­low for a with­drawal from Iraq or the dis­band­ing of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces. The blood­shed will con­tinue and the risk of a US-Ira­nian mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion will in­crease, ei­ther be­cause of de­lib­er­ate provo­ca­tion by the Ira­ni­ans to draw Mr Trump into con­flict or as a re­sult of an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing US forces in Iraq.

In Le­banon, the Ira­nian lead­er­ship thinks the cri­sis will not last longer than an­other month due to fa­tigue and the im­passe that protests have reached. The Ira­nian lead­er­ship is bet­ting pro­test­ers’ en­durance will de­crease as the rul­ing class plays a wait­ing game.

So far Wash­ing­ton has suc­ceeded in en­sur­ing Euro­pean sup­port for the de­mands of the up­ris­ing, led by the need to form a gov­ern­ment of tech­nocrats rather than politi­cians af­fil­i­ated to tra­di­tional par­ties un­der the dom­i­nance of Hezbol­lah and the IRGC.

The sit­u­a­tion is now very del­i­cate. If Iran suc­ceeds in sup­press­ing the Le­banese up­ris­ing, the rul­ing class will return with a vengeance and re­tal­i­ate against those who dared to ques­tion them and call for them to be held ac­count­able.

Western pow­ers are wak­ing up to the fact the key to pro­tect­ing Le­banon from chaos and to­tal col­lapse is to pressure and pun­ish Iran and its prox­ies. But ac­count­abil­ity will take time. It is there­fore nec­es­sary to be pa­tient and think prag­mat­i­cally and strate­gi­cally if the up­ris­ing is to achieve its lofty goals.

Tehran is bank­ing on Le­banese pro­test­ers run­ning out of steam while, in Iraq, the sit­u­a­tion is more com­plex

Raghida Dergham is the founder and ex­ec­u­tive chair­woman of the Beirut In­sti­tute

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.