Iran’s Expansionist Misadventures Prompt Domestic Crises – OpEd


By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami*

While many still see the traditional benchmarks, such as military and security, as being the primary indicators of a nation’s stature and power, this is no longer the case. Today, other indicators, such as sustainable development, good governance, clean energy, fighting climate change, human development, water security and the building of sustainable communities, are equally important.

The world’s nations — particularly those with significant resources — are now divided into two groups regarding these indicators. The nations in the first group have adopted these progressive indicators and integrated them into their policymaking to build a bright future for their citizens. However, those in the second group have refused to acknowledge these progressive indicators, showing negligence toward human development. Their leaders have embraced colonialist projects rather than pursuing forward-looking policies.

Despite being among the richest nations in the region, Iran has failed to pay any attention to vital issues like alleviating socioeconomic problems or transforming itself into a developmental model for other countries. Iran’s woeful standing is even less excusable when one considers that it ranks fourth globally in terms of proven oil reserves, occupies second place worldwide in terms of natural gas reserves, and has a diverse economy, including industry, agriculture and services.

Rather than allocating its vast wealth to building the nation, Iran’s leadership channels much of it toward financing its expansionist projects, leaving the country economically sanctioned and internationally isolated.

As acknowledged by Iranian politicians and military commanders, Tehran allocates a significant percentage of its wealth to funding loyalist paramilitaries in its spheres of influence to spearhead its unsustainable expansionist project.

Mohammed Ali Jafari, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in 2019 boasted that Iran had a 100,000-strong force in Iraq and had deployed 100,000 fighters to Syria. Meanwhile, the current IRGC chief, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, has previously said that Tehran recruited fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq to fight in Syria. Iran also transfers massive quantities of weapons to its proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, including short-range missiles, ballistic missiles and drones.

A study recently published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies showed that, by the end of 2019, Iran was spending nearly $16 billion per year on its proxy militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The study also indicated that Iran pays an additional $700 million per year to the Lebanese Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the UN has estimated that the average funds Iran allocated to Syria since the beginning of the crisis there in 2011 had reached $6 billion per year at the end of 2020. These figures are estimates as Iran conceals the real numbers, fearing widespread anger and possible uprisings if they were to be disclosed.

Meanwhile, as Iran’s wealth is funneled to support its destructive and destabilizing expansionist projects, the Iranian people struggle to survive. Their government fails to present any sustainable model of development or hope for the future in light of the country’s woeful economic situation, skyrocketing unemployment rates and deteriorating living conditions.

Hamid-Reza Haji Babaee, the chairman of the planning and budget committee in the Iranian parliament, revealed this month that nearly half of Iran’s population is enduring unspeakable economic deprivation, with 40 million of its citizens (from a total population of 79.9 million) needing urgent aid and 35 million having to live without steady incomes. In recent years, the number of people living in abject poverty has risen from 26 million to 30 million.

According to remarks made by the inspector of the Supreme Assembly of Workers’ Representatives, half the population now lives below the poverty line. As economic and social stresses increase, so does the divorce rate, which is up 28 percent in the past decade.

The consequences of the horrendous living conditions in Iran are numerous and grave, including high rates of embezzlement and bribery. According to the head of Iran’s economic security force, Mohammed Reza Moghimi, the first six months of 2021 alone saw a 61 percent surge in the number of embezzlement cases registered and a 94 percent increase in the number of people involved compared to the first six months of 2020. The number of bribery cases recorded has risen even more, with a staggering rise of 357 percent compared to 2020.

Meanwhile, suicide rates saw a 4.2 percent increase in 2020 compared to 2019, with a weekly average of 15 citizens attempting suicide, according to the Iranian forensic organization.

Also, the numbers of emigrants and would-be emigrants has continued to rise, with the Iranian Medical Council recently announcing that it has received more than 3,000 requests from doctors seeking to emigrate due to the miserable economic conditions and the lack of hope for any upturn. Dr. Ali Jafarian, a lecturer at Iran’s University of Medical Sciences, warned that, if the current trends continue, a tsunami of emigration will engulf the country’s young people and academics.

If Tehran’s leadership was to direct its efforts and Iran’s vast wealth toward building the nation into a thriving modern state and developing its institutions, Tehran could be an enviable model state. If, instead of sponsoring its proxy militias and parallel armies, it were to pour its wealth into developing the country and empowering its people, while observing the principles of good neighborliness and coexistence, it would enjoy vast popularity among its own citizens. Neighboring countries would also be keen to form partnerships, rather than holding onto the mistrust that has overshadowed their relations with Tehran because of the latter’s sectarian interference in their national affairs.

Iran has chosen a path of heedlessness and has shown utter disregard for all the progressive indicators that could turn it into a model state, while preserving the sovereignty, security and cohesion of neighboring countries.

Despite its expenditure of tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars across the region, Iran has failed to create a sustainable or desirable model in any of the states in its spheres of influence, with the peoples of Iraq and Lebanon — the two most important countries in Iran’s expansionist project — protesting against Tehran and its interference. Iraqi voters, especially in the Shiite-majority southern provinces, also dealt a severe blow to Tehran by refusing to vote for the Iranian-affiliated proxy militias.

Iran’s regional and global role — which has caused the country incalculably vast financial and human losses — is now at a crossroads, with new political equations in play, whose protagonists are citizens rejecting Iranian interference. This could well spark game-changing protests inside Iran against the country’s disastrous misadventures overseas, which have come at the expense of the lives and well-being of the Iranian people.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami

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