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Is the conflict between Iran and America a play?

Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organization" in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]
Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organization" in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]

Arabs have active imaginations when it comes to using conspiracy interpretations for what’s going on. Based on this imagination, many political and sociological phenomena are dealt with as being fake. Conflict between America and Iran is fake, conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is fake, the establishment of Daesh and all it has done since its inception until its defeat on the ground is fake, and the same goes for the relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda and perhaps all other complex political and social phenomena.

These analyses may seem logical based on the history of the region. Arabs have been subjected to many conspiracies and injustices throughout recent history, starting with Sykes-Picot and the division of the region, all the way to the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent occupation of Palestine, establishment of modern Arab countries by the occupation, Arab wars with occupation, invasion of Iraq and other events that are too numerous to list here.

In addition to the extensive contribution of history towards imposing such interpretation to the events, Arabs’ reality also contributes to reinforcing such interpretations. Defeated people and lagging nations tend to resort to conspiracy theories to interpret events rather than adopting more scientific interpretations that can be based on understanding the complexities of politics.

READ: The US will proudly go to war with Iran for Saudi oil 

While we understand the historical reasons for the prevalence of such analyses (which were referred to as reductive analyses by Egyptian scholar Abdel Wahab El-Messiri) to the events in the region, the fact is that complex events such as political conflicts need complex analyses that are proportional to the nature of events.

We can show analyses for all the events that were mentioned at the beginning of this article and were interpreted as fake, but there is no room here for such lengthy analyses. What we can do is focus on analysing the relationship between Iran and the US in light of the escalating conflict between them and also in light of the rising voices saying that this conflict is a mere play.

The Iranian Islamic Revolution has, since its inception, collided with the United States. The revolution, according to many Middle Eastern experts, was only an extension of Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh’s experience of becoming independent of the West, which lasted two years before a coup overthrew it in 1953 with full American support and planning. In this sense, the Iranian revolution was originally based against American interests.

If the US had any doubts about the direction of Iranian policy towards it, the hostility between the new republic and Washington became clear after 52 US diplomats were taken hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days between the end of 1979 and the beginning of 1981.

Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organization" in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]

Iranians hold anti-US placards as they take part in a protest against the Trump administration’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist organization” in Tehran, Iran on 12 April 2019.
[Fatemeh Bahrami – Anadolu Agency]

However, America did not deal with Iran in a consistent and unified way and it did not let historical experiences govern its relations with the country, but rather it followed varying policies according to changing circumstances, and always to America’s best national interests.

Perhaps this change in policy is what allows for saying that this conflict is a play. People adopting this theory, for example, wonder about the Iran Contra affair and America supplying Iran with advanced weapons during its war with Iraq. They also wonder why there hasn’t been a real war between the two countries so far, and about the cooperation of the two countries in files such as the invasion of Iraq and the war against the Taliban.

These questions are all legitimate and have a real origin associated with events, but they all fail the other interpretations claiming the conflict is fake when they are read in their historical and political contexts.

The export of weapons to Iran, for example, was part of Washington’s policy of double containment of Iranian and Iraqi threats through fuelling this war by providing the parties with the weapons necessary to prolong it. This is exactly what happened and both countries came out completely exhausted from the war.

READ: Israel and the war on Iran

Iran’s failure to confront the US invasion of Iraq is linked to Iran’s hostility to Saddam Hussein’s regime and its support of the Shia opposition supported by Washington. But even this consensus between the two countries in the invasion of Iraq was only temporary and turned into a state of hostility and conflict over political and economic influence, and then it turned once again into consensus in the conflict with Daesh in Mosul.

The same analysis applies to Iran’s position against the Taliban for reasons related to its support for the less anti-Shia factions in the Afghan arena.

As for the fact that there has been no military war between the two countries, its interpretation stems from America’s ability to exhaust Iran through economic sanctions and from Tehran’s withdrawal policy, where it backs off when it feels that the conflict with America has reached the brink of war, just as what happened at the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015. It can also be interpreted with the lack of US desire for war after the bitter experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

following up foreign policy of Iran and the United States analytically leads us to the conclusion that both countries have an active policy that is not based on permanent hostility, permanent alliance or permanent submission by one party to another, but rather a policy that varies according to each country’s strategic interests.

The most important lesson to be learned from this volatile relationship between Washington and Tehran is that the conscious foreign policy of any country should not be based on one direction, nor on laying all eggs in one basket. This may explain Iran’s ability to gain so many achievements in more than one arena including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, while Arab states, which adopt inert foreign policy that are largely governed by the requirements of their relationship with the United States, usually lose.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 20 May 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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