Away from the “clanking of weapons” and the noise of threats and intimidation, the time has come for the Iranian leadership to reconsider its regional policies, and as a consequence and a priority, it must conduct a broader and deeper review of its internal policies as well.
This is especially as it faces today a crisis in its relations with its people, as evidenced by the moving and frequent protests inside Iran, and the uprising of nations hosting its allies and proxies, as is the usual case in Iraq and as occurred at least once in Lebanon.
After Qassem Soleimani’s death, Iran thought it had regained control and that its “earth-shattering response” to the assassination would be sufficient to win the “battle of hearts and minds” in the Arab world, which have long been harmed by American policies and are angry at Washington’s bias in favour of Israel.
In the end, Iran did not win new friends but rather lost the trust of some of its traditional friends. No prudent leadership in Tehran should listen to the statements made by some factions and militia leaders affiliated with and funded by them. Even those who mastered passing out “certificates of martyrdom and pardons” in the name of Palestine and Jerusalem only represent a small group of Palestinians in Iran.
Unfortunately for Iran’s leadership, the Ukrainian plane fell at the hands of the Revolutionary Guard’s missiles before the blood of the victims of the American attack on Baghdad Airport dried up.
This was accompanied by a confused and chaotic performance by the leadership. All of this was like oil fueling the fire of popular anger that presented itself in a series of angry protests over the past year and before. This is an achievement that the leadership prided itself on as the response to Soleimani’s death.
During his funeral this faded and was replaced with the image of a confused performance in dealing with the plane issue and angry protesters rather than images of sad mourners across Iran’s cities and streets.
In Iraq, the blood of Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis has not yet dried up and the popular movement resumed its mass activities in the environment hosting factions loyal to Iran.
The Iraqi demonstrations covered up the images of the mourners and the funeral and the position condemning the American violation of Iraqi sovereignty. It was replaced with a position supporting the demands of the activists in a new government able to meet the aspirations of citizens and their demands, and to distance Iraq from Washington and Tehran alike.
While a meeting in Qom was held for the competing popular mobilisation factions, meetings are taking place in other Arab capitals for leaders of the Sunni component, to draw a road map of “federalisation” and “regionalisation.” Meanwhile, the Kurdistan region is reverting to its old move of independence. Iraq is threatened by division and Iran bears a large portion of the responsibility for its fate.
As for Lebanon, which is threatened by political, financial and economic bankruptcy, Hezbollah will not be able to risk any adventure that would strip it of its remaining popular support, even in its areas of influence where thousands of demonstrators participated in the “all of them means all of them” marches.
In Palestine, it is enough to say that Hamas supporters were unable to justify Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Tehran except by describing it as a “necessary” visit stemming from Hamas’ isolation in the besieged Gaza Strip. The public were absent from the condolence tents set up solely to send messages to Tehran. The majority of the Palestinian people reject Iranian policies in the region. In fact, this majority no longer buys goods from this axis or even takes it seriously.
The “hard power” has failed or barely preserves Iran’s regional interests and influence and it is now time to think of “soft power” means and tools if Tehran wants to normalise its relations with the Arab people.
This was first published in Arabic on Addustour, 15 January 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.