By Aditya Vashisht
Iran finds itself once again in the spotlight due to the large scale deployments announced by the United States in the Persian Gulf region. The deployment involves three warships, an amphibious readiness group, an expeditionary force on top of a destroyer and with F-35s and F-16swhich had been already sent some weeks ago. The US has cited the need to maintain the ‘freedom of navigation in the region’, threats emanating from the recent seizures of oil tankers by Iranian navy. But the actual motive seems to be the containment of Iran.
This development comes amidst a growing Russo-Iranian partnership in which both the nations are cooperating in Ukraine and Syria, their actions presenting a significant threat to the US influence. As such, it becomes imperative to look at the larger picture of how Iran is tackling the challenges placed upon it by the US and how it is carving an independent space for itself.
In terms of foreign policy, the two main trends have been deepening of relationships with likeminded nations and use the system forged by Russo-Chinese partnership for its own benefit. This two pronged policy not only helps Iran to evade the effect of US sanctions but also helps lessening Washington’s influence in general.
Being a sanctioned state, Iran is forging relations with other states facing the wrath of USA. Just recently, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi concluded a visit to the African nations of Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The visit was the first in a decade by any Iranian President and the choice of nations was significant. Out of the three, one is under sanctions by the US while the other i.e. Uganda is under the threat of sanctions. The sentiment was clearly expressed by Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa, when he gave a call for all sanctioned nations to unite, thereby boosting Iran’s efforts. Deepening relations with sanctioned states not only increases Iran’s diplomatic clout thereby reducing its isolation, but it also leads to the virtual formation of a mini club of sanctioned nations who are increasingly connected to each other and sustain themselves through their partnerships.
When one adds Russia to this club, Iran’s efforts to evade sanctions and to increase its stature gain a significant strength. Both the nations have actually increased cooperation after Russia faced a slew of sanctions on the part of US and its allies due to the Ukrainian conflict. This convergence of interests makes them pursue a beneficial partnership and also work together to diminish US influence. Moreover the entry of China into the foray benefits Iran immensely, since it has two powerful nations which make a common cause with it.
A recent example of the Tehran-Beijing-Moscow axis includes Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a member state. This enables Iran to further integrate into a system which actively seeks to counter US hegemony. Iran has already taken a step further by applying for BRICS membership. Becoming part of two major multilateral organizations shall aid Iran in ending its state of enforced isolation enforced by US.
In the realm of defence policy, Tehran is focused upon enhancing its military strength which shall act as deterrence against any misadventure undertaken by its adversaries. It has been acknowledged to be in possession of the largest missile programme in the Middle East. To this arsenal it has also added hypersonic missiles, the first going by the name of ‘Fattah’ having been unveiled last month. Moreover Iran is also making a name for itself as an emerging drone manufacturing power, with its Shahed drones performing well in the Ukrainian conflict, in which Russia’s swarm attacks against Ukrainian positions were successful. These Shahed drones have outmatched the famed Turkish Bayraktar drones and thus it comes as no surprise that Russia and Iran are going to establish a drone manufacturing facility in Tatarstan.
To Iran’s conventional military strength we can also include significant nuclear capability. Though Iran has publically stated its intention to not develop a nuclear bomb, but by enriching uranium to more than 80% capacity, a little short of the required capacity to develop nuclear weapons, it is safe to say that Iran has the ability to turn the direction of its nuclear strength towards weapons manufacturing. Being in possession of nuclear capability, Iran has a significant edge over other powers in the region. Moreover, by enhancing its enrichment capacity, it has been arm-twisting the US to either respect the JCPOA agreement or risk facing a powerful adversary possessing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s policies are also being aided by the turn in the policies of the Arab states. The general trend among Arab nations is to develop and maintain strategic autonomy. As delineated from the Arab League summit held in May, the focus is towards fewer conflicts and to develop a regional conflict resolution mechanism which is de –escalatory in nature and which does not allow any foreign state to meddle in their affairs.
This stance provides Iran a significant opportunity to normalize its relations with Arab states, which is a significant blow to American hegemony. A significant example of this has been Iran’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia under China’s eye. Not only both the states resolved their disputes mutually, but by gaining China’s seal of approval, their reborn relationship got the backing of a powerful neutral power, while China’s stature as an important player in the Middle East increased. The US’ stature received a hit, which was a plus point for Iran.
Thus, a combination of an active foreign policy, enhanced military strength and favourable conditions in international politics are aiding Iran in its efforts to overcome the pressures exerted upon it by the US. In such a context, it would be interesting to see the US response. Will Washington opt to reconcile itself with reality or would it, in an effort to forcefully maintain its hegemony, adopt a policy of continued hostility? As Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian remarked, “the ball is in US’ court”.
(Author is a blogger based in Lucknow. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])