Iran’s never-ending dance of war

Hany Ghoraba
Saturday 18 Jan 2020

While the threat of a full-blown war between the US and Iran has been averted, the Iranian regime will not give up on the policies that brought one perilously close

The Iranian regime hardly wastes any time in stirring up a new regional conflict, and it has been doing so on a regular basis for over four decades. Whether attained through taunting a superpower such as the United States and its European allies or through threatening the stability of Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the story has been much the same.

Iran has been in a four-decade state of war through its militant franchises such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces. It has become customary for the Iranian supreme leader to issue threats during his public speeches, especially during his Friday sermons, and then indulge in a state of victimisation and announce that the world powers are marked for destruction. This kind of political war dance has characterised the Iranian regime’s policies and placed it on a collision course with others.

A war dance is a form of pre-war tribal ritual that dates back millennia and is carried out by indigenous tribes in Africa, the Americas, and even sometimes the Middle East. It is usually led by the tribe’s leader and includes a large number of its warriors with the intention of invoking their fighting spirit before facing an enemy, usually a neighbouring tribe. Initiated by the late Ayatollah Khomeini and followed by his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, this type of war dance is done in Iran through blazing speeches at large rallies. During these, the country’s supreme leader threatens Iran’s enemies – numerous thanks to Iran’s foreign policies – with annihilation. 

The war dances can turn into action, such as has been the case in Iran’s exploitation of the current uprising in Iraq. One 27 December, an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq launched missile strikes on an Iraqi base that had American citizens living in it. The attacks resulted in the killing of an American contractor and the injuring of four others. As a result, the US launched retaliatory strikes on the Iranian-backed Hizbullah and the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Force, killing 25 militants and injuring 25 others. Following the attacks, Iranian-backed Iraqi protesters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad, resulting in the US administration’s ordering a missile strike against Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani, the mastermind behind a number of militant and terrorist groups in the Middle East region. 

Suleimani was targeted by a drone attack at Baghdad’s International Airport and was killed instantly along with four companions on 3 January this year. In response to his death, Iran fired a barrage of rockets at US bases in Iraq, all of which missed their targets, as well as against a Ukrainian civilian airplane that has just taken off from Tehran International Airport, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board who included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians and members of other nationalities. After the downing of the plane, Iranian officials at first denied responsibility and issued a wide range of conspiracy theories while refusing to present the black box of the airplane to a neutral investigative team. On 11 January, Iran finally succumbed to international pressure and announced that the plane had been downed by its air defences by mistake and issued an apology. 

The Iranian regime has once again performed a war dance and poured oil on a fire that was already alight in Iraq, believing that it could gain the upper hand by creating problems for the United States such that it would be forced to withdraw its troops in a similar manner to what happened in 1983 when a truck bombing killed 241 US servicemen in Beirut in Lebanon. The Lebanon attack was believed to have been orchestrated by the Iranian-backed militia Hizbullah, and it resulted in the then US president Ronald Reagan withdrawing US troops from Lebanon. That hardly happened this time around, however, as US President Donald Trump has ordered the deployment of another 3,000 US troops as reinforcements in Iraq. 

Suleimani is known to have been the mastermind behind the present chaos in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries, and he has been treated as a martyr by the Iranian media and regime as well as, ironically, by some in the Western media and some Western politicians who have chosen to ignore the war crimes and acts of terrorism he either planned or committed. Suleimani’s handiwork shows that he was a terrorist in an Iranian military uniform, and his death befits the life he chose for himself and was a natural outcome of the years of mayhem and destruction he caused around the region.  

Yet, despite all this, Iran’s incessant war dance is continuing in the region, and there have been indications that the Iranian regime is preparing to restart its “peaceful” nuclear programme. Given that this is a regime whose military cannot distinguish a hostile cruise missile from a civilian airplane that has just taken off from its own capital’s airport and then shoots it down, it is imperative that all the necessary measures are now taken to stop Iran’s nuclear programme. There is no telling what a hostile regime that stirs up trouble and threatens the annihilation of others might do if it feels cornered.  

The Iranian regime has been opposing any form of peace between the Arabs and the Israelis over recent decades, and it has financed all sorts of terrorist groups that have contributed to destroying any efforts towards that goal. It should be mentioned that Egypt is the only country in the Middle East that has no diplomatic ties with the Iranian regime, and it has been adamant about keeping things this way until major changes happen in Iran. 

The current political situation shows that Iran will likely keep its war dance going, and while cool heads prevailed during the recent crisis from igniting a full-blown war, there is no indication that the Iranian threat to the region is gone. Though the killing of Suleimani sent the message that the US will not tolerate Iran’s using its militants against its troops in the region, there is no indication that Iran will not attempt to do something similar again soon.

For the moment the threat of a full-blown war in the region has been averted, but the Iranians will not give up the policies that easily that still may trigger a war. Despite overblown estimates of Iran’s military capabilities, the United States is more than capable of bombing Iranian military installations to smithereens, but it is unlikely to do that for the moment. The reason is that this would not help to resolve the situation and would likely create adverse effects, halting US long-term plans to replace the present Iranian regime with a friendlier one. The human casualties of such a bombing campaign would also be huge, even if it were directed only at military installations and personnel. 

War is never a game, and as in most regional wars unforeseen circumstances may emerge to change the situation, including the rise of unforeseen military or terrorist groups that thwart plans to prevent a war. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 on false pretences and intelligence, it did not foresee the amount of resistance displayed by local militias and jihadist groups that rallied from the four corners of the world to fight the invasion. 

As the Iranian provocations continue along with its war dance, the region will still need to brace itself for a possible war that could ignite at any time. As a result, great vigilance is required on the part of the international community to minimise the possibility of a fully-fledged war occurring. However, these efforts will not materialise as long as some European countries, as well as Russia and China, continue to try to appease the Iranian regime and exploit the situation economically by entertaining a narrow political vision of one of the vilest and most tyrannical regimes on the planet today.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 January 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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