By: Dr. Sajad Abedi, National Security and Defense Think-Tank.
Iran’s relations with Arab countries have long been subject to change, tension, crisis, even war. Prior to the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Iran’s relations with the Arab countries, especially their neighbors, Iraq in particular, were based on threat indicators. Iran was in the US-led Western-style camp and was part of the Western alliance system against the Soviet Union in the division of the Cold War, while Iraq in the East Camp was led by the Soviet Union. Iran was at that time a regional mission that was counterbalanced by the expansion of the Soviet Union’s influence to the south, in contrast to Iraq, advocating the expansion of Soviet influence in the region. For this reason, there was a very serious regional rivalry between Tehran and Baghdad, sometimes tense, crisis, and even border clashes. This equation continued until the victory of the Islamic Revolution. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the geopolitics of the region have changed, which Western strategists called it fundamental changes. But did the tension and crisis in Iran’s relations with Arab countries end? Answer: no. The nature of the competition has changed, and more Arab countries were drawn into the ranks of Iran. The 8-year Iraqi imposed war and the Arab League’s quest for the regime of Saddam Hussein, with the exception of the three Arab League countries, were the best sign of the competition.
The end of the imposed war, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, also failed to change the equation in Iran’s relations with Arab countries. Since then, due to the lack of a balance of power in the Arab world with nationalist tendencies, the rivalry between Iran and Arab countries has shifted from competition based on membership in world power camps to competing for regional affairs and religious affairs. Iran continued to expand its spiritual influence in the region with the strategy of fighting Zionism, and powerful Arab states such as Saudi Arabia used all their efforts to fight Iran’s influence to maintain their regional status. The occupation of Iraq by the United States in 2003 not only did not end this situation but allowed Iran, on the one hand, to bring the element of geographical integration with the Eastern Mediterranean to the historical Palestinian borders, and on the other hand, it led Iran’s main challenger Saudi Arabia to establish regional and trans-regional unions to counter the expansion of Iranian influence.
The main question of such an estimate is whether this situation is sustainable or not? Answer: no. The next and important question, if this situation is viable, what is the right solution? This estimate attempts to answer this key question.
1. The number of member states of the Arab League is 22, with a population of more than 240 million. The geography of the Arab world extends from southwest Asia to North Africa. About half of the Arab countries are in Asia and the other half in the African continent. But about 70% of the total Arab population live in countries that are in the African continent.
2. The Arab world is not politically whole and the diversity of regimes and political tendencies, as well as their international relations.
3. The Arab World Comprehensive Syllabus has a very limited function under the name of the Arab League, and despite its long history (more than half a century), it has suffered from lack of cohesion and alliance. The unity between the Arab countries, with the exception of the Palestinian issue, has not been sustained in any of the regional and global affairs.
4. About 90 percent of the wealth of Arab countries is accumulated by 10 percent of the Arab population, and many Arab countries are suffering from chronic poverty.
5. Before the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 and before the Arab Spring wave, since 2010, four Arab countries had a high political weight, ranked respectively Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring in 2010 destroyed the strength of the Arab world, and Egypt, Iraq and Syria, respectively, left the regional influence, and Saudi Arabia alone has not been hit by the crisis.
6. Development in the Arab world divided regional competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As a result of tension and crisis in the relations between Tehran and Riyadh, the tensions between the two untapped forces of the region were summed up.
7. The Islamic Republic of Iran expanded its regional scope by expanding the scope of regional influence as a result of a vacuum of power following the invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring phenomenon. On the one hand, there was a significant presence in Syria and aroused Israeli sensitivity, and on the other hand, in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, in the traditional Saudi realm, through the spiritual support of the Houthis, and triggered Riyadh’s security susceptibility. As a result, two regional powers, Israel and Saudi Arabia, turned to a relatively fragile united Alliance to counter regional influence in Iran.
8. In addition to the conservative Arab regimes, nationalist regimes like Egypt and Algeria, as well as the political elites of the Arab world, see the widespread wave of regional influence in Iran.
Solutions for reducing regional tensions
In three levels, the Islamic Republic of Iran can organize its relations with the Arab world on the basis of détente:
First level assuming the Middle East to be a small replica of the universe, the division of circles and domains of influence among the great powers is an inevitable necessity. Iran and Saudi Arabia, as the two great regional powers, must reach agreement on the division of the domains of influence. This is especially important for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Otherwise, the combined power of Saudi Arabia and Israel in the region, considering the global stature of these two powers, makes it difficult and costly to continue the current regional rivalry in Iran. Iran should avoid the collapse of Saudi Arabia on the lap of Israel and the combination of their power.
Second level Extending Iran’s public diplomacy by reducing travel regulations for Arab citizens in the form of tourism is vital. This has positive results for Iraqi nationals despite the psychological roots of the imposed war. Now, Tehran’s current statistics indicate that it has become the medical treatment center of Iraqi citizens, and Iran will soon surpass Turkey. The spread of Arab nationals to Iran and the creation of religious and religious blending, as well as the observation of Iran’s progress, on the one hand, disrupt Iran’s face in the region, and on the other hand, prevent moderate Arab regimes from entering Iran’s regional rivals in Ardebil city. The economic benefits of expanding the travel business of Arab citizens to Iran are very numerous in their place.
Third level, Iran’s relations with the formal institutions of the Arab world, especially the Arab League, which is headquartered in Egypt, should be expanded. Although it was mentioned above, the Arab League has a very low efficiency, but it is noteworthy that the citizens of the Arab countries, in terms of ethnic intolerance, have similar institutions The Arab League supports it and considers it the basis of the Arab Ummah.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They do not necessarily reflect views of al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations.