National Security

Israel, Iran & Changes in Middle East

By Rana Athar Javed

Middle East is passing through historical turmoil, and “nation states are collapsing”. The role of political Islam is regularly impacting societies and a vast majority of Muslim population is now displaced in “no-man’s-land” or living under inhuman conditions in camps at the borders of Turkey and Jordan. This is the exact reflection of “reversing imperialism” in a way in which only monarchies supported by Western modernization and democratic set-ups would survive as a nation, because from Egypt to Syria and, from Lebanon to Jordan, every state had an artificial system of nation state, hence this collapse.

The usage of complexity and volatile security environment as a method to carve-out a more divided and full of internal animosity countries will make Israel more dominant and secure. Under this chaotic preamble of a “fragmented Middle East”, what is it that makes Iran a very important player on the global scene? It is really not the government or only clerical establishment, which operates under the velayat-e-faqih system (Supreme Juriconsult), rather than people and the Iranian civil society.

The political discourse on freedom and legitimacy of the Islamic system at home and aggressive rhetoric against the US/Israel orchestrates the contemporary discourse over Iranian style democracy. This political brinkmanship places a very heavy weight behind the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and thus legitimizes his command and control of every single institution and clerical group, although different ideological positions on the current Islamic system exist.

Still, Iran’s ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons dilutes every other aspect of Iran’s internal political issue, thereby gains extra-coverage for Iranian cause in the international press and the think tanks based in Western countries. Iran’s ability to engage Israel and Saudi Arabia at different fronts through unconventional strategy also implant a query, that is, how in future, only a couple of countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar would be guiding the reconstruction of Sunni dominant areas.

Such a scenario would leave a huge vacuum for Israel, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and their strategic logistic supporters to continue to create more “no-man’s-land”, (e.g. Golan Heights) and displacement of Muslim youth. – which may well become a new assembly line of radicals and source of recruitment for al-Qaeda.

After Syria, Lebanon and Jordan may be next in-line because logically, every country that surrounds both Israel and Iran must be facing a socio-political terminating call, in order to protect the unilateralism of, and strategic supremacy for Israel. As it appears now, the Palestine issue will remain unsettled, at least in the foreseeable future.

Iranian elections may bring a reformist president, but the fact that disillusionment of Iranian people is not with the conservative regime, it is with system of vetting the presidential/parliamentary candidates by the Guardian Council (Shora-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assassi), a constitutionally-mandated 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

No other country in the Middle East operates under parallel system of institutions, especially an electorate system which greatly impacts both the aspirations of young Iranians and, world politics. But, the way its parallel political structures forward both factional (i.e. conservatives & reformists) agenda is very complex and little understood; in fact, to the outside world, it often seems positively enigmatic.

The supreme dichotomy here is between, on the one hand, the assumed theocracy exercised and applied by the vali-ye faqih and the Guardian Council and, on the other hand, democracy, defined as power deriving from a popular mandate vested in persons elected directly by the people through a vote to exercise political power.

From this dichotomy flows discourse that ranges from exclusion of political reform to reflections on civil rights and liberties that are relatively liberal, albeit defined primarily in Islamic terms, specifically in terms of the theology and practice attributed to Imam Ali, the first Shiite Imam, and Ayatollah Khomeini.

The final vote count in Iran’s eleventh presidential elections is underway. “Early results from Iran’s presidential election put the reformist-backed candidate, Hassan Rouhani, in the lead. Official figures give him 51% of the five million ballots counted so far – well ahead of second-placed Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf on 17%. If Mr Rouhani maintains that margin, he will be able to avoid a run-off vote. However, Mr Rouhani faced a tough challenge from hardline candidates, including Mr Qalibaf – who is seen as a pragmatic conservative – and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili – who is said to be very close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

Without any further disillusionment about Iran’s so-called democratic system and factional political, it is crucial to comprehend that the current presidential elections may not be a deciding factor in the domestic reform movement, but, whatever the election results, the US and rest of the world will have deal with Iran’s classic posturing and nuclear brinkmanship. This assessment is in line with the pace with which Iran pursued its nuclear program in the post-1979 Iranian revolution, and still tops the news coverage on nuclear sanctions issue. This is significant both in terms of making Iran a pariah state and to construct its status as the supreme opposition to Israeli and the US, which in turn also makes Iran a legitimate military target.

By all accounts, the policy of creating risk societies on the basis of chaos, sectarian, regional and ethnic divides has comprehensively changed the way Middle East was important. The region is now more vulnerable, brutally mutilated and the disgruntled youth hardly finds any hope for a better future. It is this significance of changes in the Middle East, which demands from both Israel and Iran to observe restraint because errors of politics may become too costly for the forthcoming generations of the Middle East, especially for both Israelis and Iranians.