Another contender for the role of "first violin" in Middle Eastern affairs is Iran. Unlike Turkey, which is still at a certain mental crossroads, Tehran quite clearly perceives itself as part of the region, and also realizes that the solution to most of the problems it faces is in the plane of strengthening its geopolitical positions. There is an extremely important difference from Israel: Iran, although it is predominantly a Shiite country, under certain circumstances can also rely on spiritual leadership in the region. Therefore, its strategy can be not only military suppression of potential competitors, but also the use of “soft power” of both religious and economic origin.
Refine the original data. Iran is a fairly large country with a population of about 80 million people. Iran is predominantly inhabited by Persians speaking Farsi and professing Islam of the Shiite sect. This greatly distinguishes them from the Sunni Arabs who inhabit nearby Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other countries of the Arabian Peninsula.
The geopolitical position of Iran is extremely beneficial: it is a kind of "castle" to Central Asia, on the one hand, and controls a significant part of the Persian Gulf coast, on the other. Moreover, he controls the Strait of Hormuz (its northeast coast), which is a real bottleneck of the planet’s largest oil pantry.
Both of these factors have long been not so much a blessing as a curse of Iran. Even now, we see Iran being besieged by Americans who would not refuse to “reformat” the Tehran regime into something more “democratic” (or obedient, which is much closer to the truth) and begin, through its territory, a fatal for Russia and China . But this is by no means an invention of recent years: before that, the extremely rich and advantageous Persia was the object of greedy Anglo-Saxon claims. Perhaps, over the past few centuries, Iran was forced to take a defensive position (and not always succeed - long periods of sovereignty restrictions took place), when there was no time for geopolitical ambitions.
But the situation has changed. After the Islamic revolution of 1978-1979, Tehran did not concede sovereignty over its own territory to anyone. One can argue about what more it brought to the people of Iran - the advantages or disadvantages, but it gave the Iranian statehood a second wind, allowing the country to stand in the war with Iraq, and in the sanctions confrontation with the United States.
And now this multi-million dollar, rich in hydrocarbons, quite wealthy in military terms, the state has finally got a short respite. Perhaps it's time to look around and try to occupy a higher place in the Middle Eastern and world hierarchy.
To better understand Iran’s chances of hegemony in the Middle East region, we must immediately make several important reservations.
First of all, this is a reservation relating to absolutely all the other participants in a potential race: while the United States dominates the region, the status quo will remain there. And any tangible changes in the Middle East political arena are possible only after the weakening of the positions of the current hegemon.
Problems with Iran and the search for possible allies in the region. Automatically exclude Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are obvious antagonists of the Persians and their possible claims. Almost as confidently we eliminate Egypt. Iraq is more suited to the role of a victim of Iran than to the role of its ally. And the matter is not even in the consequences of the protracted war between these countries: rather, it is much more beneficial for Iran to strengthen at the expense of the part of Iraq inhabited by Shiites, rather than expect serious help from Baghdad exhausted by bombardments and civil war.
The long-term partnership with Turkey looks quite controversial. And we should not be misled by the cooperation of Turkey, Iran and Russia in the matter of the Syrian settlement (if only because Turkey is more there because of its political weight and logistical utility, rather than because of real need). Strictly speaking, Turkey was invited to this process rather so that it would not interfere much, rather than expecting any help from it. And the actions of Ankara make it clear that it pursues its own interests with much more zeal than the Syrians.
However, Iran has with Turkey and a point of contact. First, partly Kurds live in Iran. These countries are united by a common view on the Kurdish problem, which is the refusal to see any problem at all. With the importance that Turkey attaches to the Kurdish issue, this is extremely important. In addition, Iran borders with Turkey in areas inhabited by Kurds. And also with other territories inhabited by this people - with the north of Iraq, for example. Strongly spoiling relations with Iran, the Turks can get a lot of problems due to Tehran’s support of Kurdish militias along the line of contact with Turkey. Iran can go for it due to the fact that the Kurdish problem is not so acute before it, and they do not expect serious internal political complications from the Kurds.
Of course, Syria can be safely written down to potential allies of Tehran: they are unlikely to forget the contribution that Iranian volunteers made to the common cause of defeating the terrorist formations that had been tormenting this country for several years. But, objectively speaking, this is also not the strongest ally, which in its present state can be easily neutralized even by Israel, even Turkey.
That is, we can hardly expect any pro-Iranian coalition to be formed if Saudi Arabia does not itself push Ankara away from itself with any thoughtless actions. At the same time, Turkey is unlikely to recklessly rush under anti-Iranian banners, no matter who they were raised. Is that she herself offered to lead the campaign, and the expected benefits more than outweigh the possible costs.
But with what Tehran has complete certainty, so it is with opponents. Or even enemies - in this case, it is a very specific definition.
To clarify what kind of relationship the Persians had with the Israelis, probably there is not much point. Israel considers Iran to be the number one threat, strongly protests against any deals with Iran and, in general, is a consistent supporter of a military solution to all disputed issues. The reason is very simple: Iran is the closest in the region (except Israel itself) getting close to creating its own nuclear weapons, to fully control its nuclear research is quite problematic, and, coupled with the promises of some Iranian officials to destroy Israel, this raises serious concerns for the latter for its security.
But relations with Saudi Arabia are not so simple. Strictly speaking, there are not so many formal irritants in relations between the two countries. First of all, this is the position of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain.
Bahrain is an island state in the Persian Gulf, roughly 70% inhabited by Shiite Muslims. And although it is located off the Saudi coast, Bahrain has historically been either part of Iran or, in the modern sense, its protectorate. At one time, after gaining independence from Britain, the authorities of Bahrain managed to conduct a kind of exchange - to give Iran several islands in exchange for its official recognition. And since then, at the official level, this issue has not been particularly raised.
But unofficially, Iran still has a great influence on the Shiite majority of Bahrain. During the 2011 uprising of the year, the Shiite majority were more than ever close to overthrowing Sunni rule, and only the entry of troops from Saudi Arabia prevented such a development. Unrest periodically flared up and later, in which the authorities of CA and Bahrain blamed Iran, and in 2016, after the execution in Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shiite preacher Nimr al-Nimr, accused of inciting rebellion and overthrowing the power in Bahrain, protests were held throughout Iran, after which diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were severed.
In addition to the formal, there are informal stimuli. This is Iran’s general dissatisfaction with the consistent pro-American position of Riyadh, and the counter unhappily with the CA because of the military support that Iran provides to Yemeni Hussites, and even the Saudi claims for leadership in the Islamic world, which Iranians seem to be not entirely justified, to say the least. In the Syrian conflict, the parties also occupy diametrically opposed sides: some supply and finance terrorists, others destroy them with the help of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian army.
And all these contradictions guarantee that Iran, in any case, should not expect a quiet life, and subversive work both against it and against its interests will be conducted systematically and adamantly. And we have not touched upon Iran’s relations with the United States ...
One of the examples of such work was the relatively recent popular unrest in major Iranian cities. By a strange coincidence, they were well coordinated from overseas through the well-known and we have the Telegram messenger, which has a rather serious encryption algorithm. The unrest managed to stop, not allowing the development of events under the Syrian scenario, but it cannot be ruled out that similar attempts in the future will be more successful.
Some doubts are caused by the current capabilities of the Iranian army. Yes, she is quite combat-ready and is able to cope with the tasks of the country's defense. But long-term sanctions and the lack of opportunities to purchase modern equipment did not in the best way affect the equipment of the Iranian armed forces. In part, this was offset by its own developments: Iran has developed and produces its own anti-ship missiles, and drones. Procurement of modern C-300 air defense systems from the Russian Federation also had a positive effect on the country's defense capability.
But there are still restrictions on offensive weapons against Tehran. This concept is interpreted quite broadly, and in its desire to acquire a modern Aviation, ships and even armored vehicles Iran is very limited.
Therefore, we can quite definitely say that in military terms this contender for leadership does not have decisive trumps in comparison with Turkey and, especially, Israel. Technically, it is essentially losing to the Saudis, but the latter are so “successfully" fighting with the poor Yemeni Hussite formations, that against Iran no technical superiority seems sufficient.
As a result, we get something like the following. Iran, having a potential comparable to Turkish, and in some ways even exceeding it, quite strongly, to put it in terms of sports, sat up at the start. And now it doesn’t matter how objective the reasons for this were. It is important that, having no economic, demographic or military superiority over its direct competitors, Tehran can hardly count on leadership in the region.
Of course, over time, the situation can change dramatically: the weapons will be bought up, the oil will rise in price, the overseas “curator” of the Middle East will not be able to pay the national debt, etc. But it is also obvious that competitors are also unlikely to stand still.
Probably, the situation can be corrected by a high level of relations with one of the world powers, marking the US place in world affairs. For example, with China. But we'll talk about this in the next part of the study.
To be continued ...