By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
Iran’s state-owned Persian media outlets have concentrated on the US-Russia relationship in the last few days. The Iranian regime’s President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at the US administration by mentioning that Washington ought to strengthen its ties with NATO members.
Then Iranian leaders dragged Russia into the issue, with Rouhani stating on Iranian TV: “The Americans are shamelessly threatening Russia.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also attempted to use his classic tactic of fear-mongering by pointing out that US policy is “bringing humankind closer to annihilation.”
It is worth noting that this is a politically calculated move by the Iranian regime to pit Russia and the US against each other. The increased tensions between the Donald Trump administration and Vladimir Putin’s government will grab the global spotlight, taking attention away from the Iranian regime’s threats; specifically the military adventurism and expansionism of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite branch the Quds Force, and its proxies in the region.
Furthermore, the Iranian regime benefits from any heightened tension between Russia and the US because Moscow would then be obliged to strengthen its alliances against Washington. It follows that Russia will boost its military and political cooperation with Tehran and support a regime that holds anti-Americanism at the top of its foreign policy agenda.
In other words, the more tension between Russia and the US rises, the more Russia gets closer to the Iranian regime and supports it.
One of the major pillars of Iran’s foreign policy has been to keep Russia on its side regardless of which government rules Moscow. This is due to the fact that the Iranian regime is in desperate need for Russian military, geopolitical and technological assistance. Iran needs Russia to keep the Syrian regime in power. For instance, Iran can use Russia’s airstrikes, while the IRGC and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, can provide the required boots on the ground to make territorial advances.
In addition, Tehran needs Moscow to circumvent international isolation and sanctions; to obtain the most advanced weaponry; to tip the regional and global balance of power against Tehran’s “enemies;” and to gain global “legitimacy.” This helps the regime evade responsibility and accountability for its aggression in the region and its human rights violations. Iranian leaders further need Russian assistance in sending nuclear technology to Iran, modernizing the heavy water reactor in Arak, and supporting Tehran’s export of surplus highly enriched uranium.
Maintaining strategic, economic and geopolitical relationships with Russia is so critical for Iran that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who rarely meets with world leaders, has met with representatives of the Kremlin several times.
To keep Russia’s alliance, the Iranian regime has used other tactics beside inflaming tensions between the US and Moscow. For example, like Assad’s regime, Iran has granted Russia a foothold in the Middle East. The Iranian regime even violated its own Constitution’s Article 146, which stipulates: “The establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes, is forbidden.” No foreign power has used Iran’s soil or territories as a base for military operations since the Second World War, but Tehran has allowed Russia to use its Hamadan Airbase as a military base to bomb Syria.
The US and European countries ought to remind Russia that its economic and political relationships with the West outweigh its ties with Tehran. Russia should also be cognizant of the fact that Iran is a threat to Russia, as Tehran is currently luring the EU into decreasing its energy dependence on Russia by allowing the bloc to tap into its oil and gas sectors. Iran seeks a larger role in the gas market and is welcoming Western partnerships. Moscow and Tehran have the first and second-largest gas reserves in the world, respectively.
Improved ties between the US and Russia could endanger the Iranian regime’s revolutionary objectives, but the Iranian regime is playing its cards wisely. By playing the US and Russia off against each other, Tehran is ultimately advancing its regional hegemonic ambitions.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh