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Could Iran and the US Overcome Their Mutual Animosity to Eradicate Daesh?
As the United States is eagerly, if not desperately, trying to build its anti-Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) coalition, Iran is increasingly appearing to be an important potential player in that arrangement. However, despite the fact that the US-Iran nuclear deal is slowly evolving as a result of a steady compliance by the latter, these two countries are not coming together in their common fight against Daesh. The chief obstacle is the long history of their mutual animosity. However, given the mutuality of interests both Tehran and Washington possess about eradicating Daesh that animosity is very much resolvable, if both sides succeed in neutralizing the unfriendly environment that currently prevails inside their respective borders toward each other.
Viewing from the perspective of hierarchy of military power, Iran and the United States belong to two opposite ends. The United States is undoubtedly the most powerful country on the globe, while Iran may best be described as the second most powerful country in the Middle East. Yet both America and Iran are not only palpably apprehensive of each other, but particularly the latter has never acted as if it is intimidated enough by this power differential to kowtow to American hegemony in the Middle East.
Despite the fact that Iran and the United states have signed a nuclear deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, made it clear on many occasions that the chances of US-Iranian rapprochement on other strategic issues are non-existent. By the same token, the United States insists that, unless Iran abandons its militant rhetoric toward Israel and behaves like a ‘normal’ nation in the Middle East, there is little-to-no-hope for the return of an era or US-Iranian comity.
Iran never seems to have forgotten the fact that the United States, along with UK, was part of the Western conspiracy to keep it as a servile state. The role of those countries in the nefarious CIA-sponsored coup of 1953 against the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq made an indelible imprint on the collective memories of Iran’s post-revolutionary ruling elites. The second most hateful reality in the calculation of the Iranian rulers was the blind support of the United States of the tyrannical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was not only brought back to the throne after that coup, but was also showered with military wherewithal—for which he paid in top dollars—only to serve the Anglo-American hegemony in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East at large. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 damaged (though did not end) that hegemony.
The United States never accepted the legitimacy of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and took several measures to bring about its end, including by resolutely providing assistance in building Saddam Hussein’s chemical arsenal, which he brutishly used against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War that lasted from 1980 through 1988.
Despite America’s maneuvers to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran, the latter emerged as a palpable source of threat to the US hegemony in the Middle East. It established a permanent presence in Lebanon by politicizing the Shia’s of that country, and by creating the Hezbollah. Hezbollah originally emerged as a paramilitary force, but then transformed itself into as a powerful political party. As such, it not only played a crucial role in bringing an end to Israel’s own hegemonic ambitions to transform Lebanon into its puppet state, but also became a major political player in the confessional politics of that country. Lebanon remained a puppet state of Syria, whose military was eventually ousted from that country in 2005 as a result of the Cedar Revolution, a Western-backed move in the aftermath of the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
It was also in Lebanon that the United States encountered the real fury of Iran in the form of Beirut barrack bombing of 1983, which resulted in the death of 241 American servicemen. They were part of the multinational peacekeeping forces in that country. The bombing itself was supposedly Iran’s revenge of America’s support of the Saddam regime during the Iran-Iraq war in which 750,000 Iranian were reported to have perished. A shadowy group, Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for the Beirut bombing, but it was generally regarded as the work of Hezbollah. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah denied any responsibility for the bombing of the Beirut barracks; however, in 2004 Iran erected a monument in commemorating its “martyrs.”
Iran successfully sabotaged Israel’s aspirations to create a puppet regime in Lebanon and, through that precedence, also wanted to bring Jordan or even Syria into its fold. The credit for bringing about Israeli humiliating withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 goes unswervingly to Iran’s agent, Hezbollah.
When the United States invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, Iran did its best to make that adventure most painful and bloody through the use of the Shia militias, its Quds force, and even by cooperating with the Sunni insurgents of Iraq (which were a conglomeration of Islamists, irate Iraqis, and the remnants of Saddam’s Baathist militias). When the United States was forced out of Iraq in 2008, Iran’s hegemonic presence of that country became a painful reality for the administration of George W. Bush and his coterie of neoconservatives, who were dreaming of transforming Iraq into America’s puppet.
The irony—but the most heartening development for Iran—stemming from America’s post-9/11 militarism is that, it not only disposed of Saddam Hussein’s despicable regime, but, even before that, it also dismantled Iran’s another arch-enemy in the neighboring Afghanistan, the Taliban regime. The end of the Taliban rule was not as promising for Iran as the implosion of the Saddam regime, but Iran did emerge as a major player in the future modalities of political stability, if or when they materialize under the American management, if not its leadership.
The Arab Awakening—which started in December 2010 and brought an end to four dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen—created an era when America’s clout in the Middle East was palpably reduced. President Obama’s decision to accept the ouster of one of America’s staunchest allies, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, caused ample resentment in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh interpreted America’s public urging of Mubarak to step down as an unalloyed abandonment of a trusted friend. That event might also be the beginning of an independent foreign policy behavior of Saudi Arabia on all issues of regional and global significance. It started to inform (as opposed to consult with) Washington before making such major decisions as starting a war in neighboring Yemen. It also made abundantly clear its opposition to President Obama’s decision to negotiate the US-Iran nuclear deal, which had major implications for the GCC states, but particularly for Saudi Arabia, which had long regarded Iran as its major nemesis.
Iran originally (and wrongly) compared that Arab mass movement with its own Islamic revolution of 1979; however, considering the fact that it had brutally suppressed its own populist Green Movement in 2009, it quickly abandoned the grotesque campaign of accentuating similarities between the Arab Awakening and the Islamic Revolution.
The Arab Awakening did not negatively affect Iran’s strategic maneuverability in its immediate neighborhood. In fact, as Iraq became the victim of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s intensely bigoted sectarian policies, Iran found itself getting increasingly enmeshed into the bloody battles initiated and/or exploited by al-Qaida in Iraq (which eventually transformed itself into Daesh) to check that entity’s steady takeover of the Iraqi territory. Another irony of that era was that the Obama administration, which brought about an end to America’s occupation of Iraq, was forced to reinsert its military—albeit in small numbers—in the Iraqi theater of operation to stabilize the Iraqi government. That development evolved into an important congruity of strategic interests of Iran and the United States.
In the Syrian theater of operation, on the other hand, Iran and the United States found themselves fighting on the opposite side with specific reference to the bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad. That regime was leaving no stones unturned to keep itself in power against a mishmash of fighters from Islamist, nationalist, al-Qaida-affiliated groups, and Daesh. At the same time, Iran and the United States were also focused on attacking Daesh, whose self-styled ‘caliphate’ had its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
The United States’ chief concern is how to find an alternative to Bashara Assad. The transformation of Libya into a failed state in the post-Qaddafi era has made it virtually impossible for the Obama administration to remain cavalier about the emergence of chaos in the post-Assad Syria, which Daesh would love to exploit by escalating its death grip on that country.
As much as Iran and Russia are determined about sustaining the regime of Bashara al-Assad, neither of them is so wedded to the proposition of Syria under Assad that it would not accept a political resolution of the Syrian conflict in which their respective strategic interests are safeguarded once Assad is gone. Only the United States, even with its diminished political clout in the Middle East, may be able to bring all parties to this conflict—Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and the UAE—together in order to find a mutually acceptable solution.
Of all these parties, the most significant ones are the United States and Iran. Russia, with all the bluster about supporting Assad, no matter what price it would have to pay, has severe limitations to its staying power. Its economy is already under excessive duress stemming from the US-EU economic sanctions emanating from Russian illegal incorporation of Crimea and its continued shenanigans to destabilize Ukraine. The fact that the global energy policies have been consistently favoring the consumer has also made serious dents in Russia’s economy.
In addition, Russia’s deteriorating ties with Turkey is disquieting Putin. More to the point, the news that a large number of Russians are joining Daesh is also keeping lights on late into the night inside the fore walls of Kremlin and its security services. Thus, the staying capabilities of Russia in the Syrian conflict are prone to accepting a political resolution, provided such a potential arrangement also ensures Russia’s continued presence in the post-Assad Syria.
Looking at the Middle East from the American strategic interests, one can state with certainty that President Barack Obama would be very much open to getting Iran involved in a very serious way. Any resolution of the Syrian conflict would deal a death blow to the destructive capabilities of Daesh. More importantly, it would be considered as a major achievement of President Obama if he were to at least push it closer to resolution before leaving office.
At this particular point in its history, the Islamic regime of Iran is in an excellent position to extract the kind of legitimacy that it has been seeking from the United States from its very inception. Washington needs Iranian political backing for the resolution of the Syrian conflict much more than it needs even that from Russia. Iran also knows that, if it were to play a major role in the political resolution of the Syrian conflict—especially in a manner in which its presence in that country is not jeopardized—it will be regarded as one of world’s major emerging power. Just this point is so significant that Ayatollah Khamenei would seriously consider abandoning his contentious rhetoric about an alleged culture clash with the West. Given these realities, the prospects of US-Iran cooperation for the eradication of ISIS appear bright.