A Lesson from Iranian Pragmatics

On the urgency of avoiding the country the hell of holy war and its catastrophes
Abdulrasheed Alfaqih
April 30, 2024

A Lesson from Iranian Pragmatics

On the urgency of avoiding the country the hell of holy war and its catastrophes
Abdulrasheed Alfaqih
April 30, 2024

In light of the developments and recent events in the regional conflict between Iran and its allies in the region on one hand, and Israel and its Western backers on the other hand, it is imperative for the components allied with Iran, its followers, and supporters in the region to take immediate and proactive steps without delay. This involves seriously considering the concerns raised by the majority of people who have engaged with the overall recent developments. 

In fact, many have expressed their disappointment, anger, and criticisms since the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, up until the announcement of the end of the Iranian military response operation by New York. Instead of dismissing any opposing opinions as mere defense of Israel and its backers, it is important to recognize that the true source of these reactions stems from the disappointment caused by the limited effectiveness of the Iranian response to Israel. It is crucial to address these concerns and reassess strategies in order to have a more impactful and effective approach in dealing with the conflict. Indeed, the Iranian response to Israel did not fulfill the minimum requirements of deterrence as outlined in the official discourse of the Iranian regime itself and the discourse of the allied formations in the region. This discrepancy has contributed to the disappointment expressed by many and has led to questioning the effectiveness of the response. It is crucial for Iran and its allies to evaluate and adjust their strategies to ensure a more meaningful and impactful deterrent approach in the face of such challenges.

Indeed, it can be clearly stated that the Iranian regime has followed a realistic political approach in dealing with the events and developments that arose from the Israeli attack on its consulate in Damascus and its subsequent repercussions. The Iranian regime made the decision to exercise restraint and chose to carry out a limited, coordinated, and gradual military response, within the framework of the right to self-defense guaranteed by the United Nations Charter. This approach aims to preserve the regional situation and prevent it from escalating into a comprehensive regional war, while also maintaining a reasonable level of credibility for the Iranian regime among its followers and supporters, both inside and outside of Iran. This is a strategy that the radical and revolutionary Iranian regime has adopted in dealing with these unusual developments, in accordance with the principles of political realism, detached from slogans, emotions, and populism that the Iranian regime has employed for over four decades to influence the region.

The requirements of political realism

It is important to note that the Iranian regime's approach to dealing with Israel is rooted in its ideological beliefs and political realism. Since the overthrow of the Shah's regime, Iran has identified Israel as an enemy and has adopted a new identity in its opposition to Israel. This approach, in principle, is not inherently wrong or condemnable. On the contrary, it can be seen as a responsible, optimal, and commendable approach to managing the fate of societies, nations, and states. However, the recent controversy surrounding Iran's measured and calculated choices, particularly in response to the targeting of its consulate, has raised questions about the regime's consistency. It is evident that the Iranian regime has sometimes demonstrated a dualistic approach in its handling of its national interests and security, both within its domestic sphere and through proxy conflicts in the region. The regime appears to carefully weigh every step it takes within its borders, while simultaneously engaging in tactics and strategies of proxy conflicts in the region.

This indicates that the Iranian regime exercises a high level of sensitivity and precision in assessing the situation within its borders. It has, on multiple occasions, shown a willingness to absorb significant attacks that cross its declared red lines under the banner of "strategic patience."

Moreover, it is important to note that different actors in the region have varying approaches to conflicts and proxy wars. The Iranian regime has indeed demonstrated restraint and caution in safeguarding its own interests, national security, and the well-being of its society. It seeks to avoid unnecessary risks, adventures, and the consequences of reckless actions that could lead to war.

However, it is also essential to consider the Iranian regime's approach to conflicts outside its borders, particularly through proxy wars. In these instances, the regime's actions may appear more assertive and less concerned with the potential risks and repercussions for the societies and nations affected by its allied forces. It is important to recognize that Iran's involvement in such conflicts often falls under the framework of its resistance axis, which tends to escalate tensions without considering the minimum requirements of political realism, security, and stability for those societies.

The difference in approach between military support and economic, developmental, and humanitarian support is a matter that relates to the strategy and priorities of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime focuses on enhancing the armament capabilities and military preparations of its allied formations and groups, promoting common slogans, and striving to achieve military balance in the region.

On the other hand, economic, developmental, and humanitarian support may be of lesser importance in the priorities of the Iranian regime. The regime may perceive this type of support as a threat to its control and influence in the region, as it could contribute to enhancing the independence and decision-making capacity of independent groups.

However, it is important to note that the negative repercussions of this discrepancy are evident, as escalating crises in those societies and countries can exacerbate humanitarian conditions and promote animosity and divisions. Economic, developmental, and humanitarian support from Iran could be an opportunity to build cooperative relationships and bonds between those formations and the people, thereby promoting stability and development in the region.

Examining the nature of the alliance between partners

Based on the unusual developments taking place in the region and their potential implications, it is crucial for the formations allied with Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine to conduct an immediate self-assessment of their relationship with the Iranian regime. This assessment should involve a comprehensive analysis of the form, content, legitimacy, effectiveness, and future prospects of these relationships, as well as the mutual obligations, benefits, and consequences for the affected communities and individuals. This prioritization is of utmost importance and urgency for the benefit of these formations first and foremost, and for the benefit of the communities impacted involuntarily or voluntarily by the outcomes of these relationships.

Taking the initiative for self-evaluation and review by these formations is the optimal and guided way to ascertain the nature and reality of the relationships. They should either manifest as legitimate relationships characterized by cooperation, honesty, transparency, and mutual benefit, taking into account the shared interests, challenges, and risks for all communities and components through open and clear channels. Alternatively, they should be clarified as illegitimate relationships characterized by subordination, ambiguity, and encryption, remaining confined to absolute secrecy to achieve central dominance and control. Therefore, these formations must take a brave and responsible initiative to rectify all aspects of these relationships and the paths pursued.

Apart from the praise or criticism, supportive or opposing, of the approach that the Iranian regime has adopted in managing the conflict, including its recent developments, and by tracking and analyzing its official channels and platforms, the Iranian regime has just provided a significant political and practical lesson to all its allies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine. It is crucial for them to carefully examine and study all its details, elements, and realities, separate from the constraints, emotions, and propaganda disputes that both support and oppose Iran. This presents an exceptional opportunity for decision-makers in these formations to understand and comprehend the fundamental differences between the determinants, orientations, obligations, and responsibilities of managing non-state formations on one hand, and the determinants, orientations, obligations, and responsibilities of managing nations, societies, and states on the other hand. It also helps in recognizing and understanding the limitations, paths, requirements, and boundaries of alliances, as well as the precise calculations of shared interests, where emotions, sentiments, slogans, improvisation, and reliance on good intentions and noble purposes have no place.

Indeed, Iran operates according to its precise calculations of interests and national security, which has allowed it to absorb numerous dangerous operations that have repeatedly crossed its declared red lines. This includes Israeli operations targeting experts and vital targets within Iran itself, as part of a strategy that confirms the governing regime's awareness that inter-state wars are highly costly and difficult to win.

Going so far as to venture to say that the Iranian-Israeli conflict is a play is not much different from daring to proclaim the sanctity of this conflict, its causes, principles, and goals. The contexts, content, and realities of this conflict throughout its history, up until today, affirm that there is a real and fierce conflict between Iran and its allies on one side, and Israel and its supporters on the other. Its goal is to secure the greatest amount of interests and influence, and to define the boundaries of national security, especially for Iran and Israel. The operational theater of this conflict is currently concentrated in the Arab region, which has been exploited and made accessible as a fertile ground for the Arab system that lacks awareness, insight, perception, and vision, and is preoccupied with power struggles, oblivious to the undermining factors affecting the nation, state, and society within the realm of national and existential security.

The scourge of conflict

In order to understand the Iranian regime's behavior and discourse, it is certain that the regime of the Khomeini Islamic Revolution acknowledges the existence of two conflicting approaches within the regime. On one hand, there is a rational and pragmatic approach driven by calculations of national interests and security. This approach has allowed the regime to absorb and withstand various operations that have challenged its declared red lines, such as Israeli operations targeting Iranian experts within Iran. The regime is aware of the high cost and difficulty of inter-state wars and seeks to avoid direct confrontation.

On the other hand, the regime also utilizes armed factions, which operate with relative flexibility. These factions are not completely independent, nor are they solely dependent on Iran. They are embedded in their respective environments, equipped, trained, and ideologically aligned with Iran. They operate outside the boundaries of interstate laws, enabling them to serve Iran's interests without directly implicating the Iranian state.

This analysis, attributed to thinker and diplomat Ghassan Salamah, sheds light on the complexities of the Iranian regime's behavior and its multifaceted approach to regional dynamics.

Until now, there are no clear indications of any Iranian intentions to change its strategy, despite the fiery rhetoric that followed the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. This pattern repeats after every operation that targets strategically important Iranian interests, whether it's related to their national security or the activities of allied factions and components of the Iranian regime in the region. These factions actively engage in proxy conflicts and operate within defined limits that cannot be exceeded under any circumstances. The current war in Gaza and its dynamics serve as evidence of this adherence to limits. The de-escalation understandings that followed the attack on the American military base on the Jordanian-Syrian border, as well as the restraint shown by some of Iran's allies in the region during the Israeli military operation in Gaza, further support this compliance. It aligns with the latest version of the wise statements of political realism theory.

Indeed, it is confirmed today, based on the accumulated practical experience during the past period, that the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, and the Iranian response through a limited and coordinated military operation, as well as the restraint shown by all direct and indirect parties to the conflict in de-escalating the situation and preventing a direct and comprehensive military conflict, represents a pivotal moment in the course of the conflict. It will have profound repercussions in the region on multiple levels, this is certain. Past experiences and current interactions indicate that the parties involved in the conflict may have learned valuable lessons from previous conflicts and realized the negative consequences of escalating the situation into a direct and comprehensive military conflict. This turning point may present an opportunity to move towards a political and diplomatic solution that achieves stability and peace in the region.

However, we must remain cautious and fully aware that conditions can change at any moment, and there are multiple factors that influence the dynamics of the conflict. Therefore, it requires further efforts, dialogue, and negotiations to build sustainable understandings and achieve comprehensive peace in the region.

The Iranian regime will undoubtedly face numerous questions, primarily focusing on Iran's actual position in the theater of regional conflict, the boundaries and commitments of its alliances, and its actual rules of engagement. Additionally, there will be inquiries about the criteria and determinants for defining the geographical scope of proxy conflict, which often extends beyond Iran's direct interests and encourages its adversaries, particularly Israel, to target more areas that cross its red lines.

In conclusion, there is a need for transparency regarding the content of Iran's limited and coordinated response, shedding light on its official systemic military capabilities, defensive and offensive readiness, as well as its seriousness, principles, and commitments. The Iranian regime must provide sufficient and compelling answers to these questions to its allies before its adversaries. The answers to these questions will shape the contours, directions, contents, and outcomes of the ongoing conflict.

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