The View From Tehran – OpEd


By Ahmad Hashemi

Resistance Axis

News about the Iran-led proxy network in the Middle East that Tehran calls the “Resistance Axis.”

A Second Hezbollah 

Iran boasts about the Houthis’ increasing the cost of Israel’s war in Gaza and pressuring the Biden administration to push for a permanent ceasefire. Take the newspaper Jam-e Jam’s January 17 article, for instance. The paper, which is published by the State Radio and Television Organization, claims that the Houthis have extended their unbroken eight-year track record of victory against Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and their Western supporters by making the Red Sea unsafe for Iran’s enemies. “The Houthis have humiliated America and created panic in Israel,” the article states.

Why it matters. Through the Houthis, Iran is reproducing the successful example of Hezbollah, which has acted as Iran’s top proxy and main asset in deterring potential Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear sites. The Houthis have advanced their capabilities to a point where they can obstruct supply chains and shipping to pressure the West to mediate a truce in Gaza.

Hajji Washington

Developments in Iran-US relations. In 1889, Iran appointed Hajji Hossein-Gholi Khan Noori, also known as Hajji Washington, to be its first ambassador to the United States.

Biden Will Not Hit Targets in Iran

The January 28 killing of three US troops in Jordan in a drone attack by Iran-backed Iraqi militants has sparked debates among the Iranians inside and outside the country about whether the US will respond by striking targets in Iran. The consensus among Iranian experts and social media users is that the attack in Jordan sought mainly to increase the pressure on the Biden administration, which will in turn force Israel to end the war in Gaza. Most Iranians also agree that the upcoming 2024 presidential election restrains President Joe Biden from taking any major military action inside Iran, fearing escalation.

Sussex University lecturer Kamran Matin predicted on February 1 that the Biden administration would deliberately delay its response to give the Iranian forces a chance to leave their bases in Iraq and Syria and not suffer casualties. Otherwise, the administration believes, Iran will be forced to respond, America will retaliate again, and the cycle will escalate into a wider war. Matin’s prediction proved correct. The Biden administration waited four days, until February 2, to carry out retaliatory strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria. Additionally, Iran had a chance to pull its senior IRGC forces from Syria on February 1, one day before the US took retaliatory actions.

Matin is not a lone voice. Mohammad Ali Jannatkhah, a conservative media personality in Iran, opined that there is no possibility of a direct US-Iran confrontation for at least one year. For the Biden administration, cordial relations with Iran are so desirable and important—and the stakes are so high—that Washington will not risk escalation. According to Jannatkhah, US strikes would target Iran-led proxies but not Iran itself. Yet others believe that the Biden team is under huge pressure from Congress, even from fellow Democrats, to hit targets inside Iran.

Some American analysts who are routinely sympathetic to the Iranian government warned about any threat of escalation and prescribed a diplomacy-only approach. In an appearance on BBC Persian Service on January 28, International Crisis Group Iran Project Director Ali Vaez stated that he saw no advantages for the US in resorting to military force. To back his argument, Vaez produced a specious statistic, claiming that after former President Donald Trump took down top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the State Department reported a 400 percent increase in Iran’s proxy attacks against American targets. Vaez erroneously argues that absorbing the blows from Iran is the only viable option.

Why it matters. US deterrence has eroded. Ali Khamenei assumes that America is either incapable or unwilling to respond to Iranian aggression in a way that truly punishes Iran. He can rely on a stable of Western analysts to amplify the theme that Iran’s rise is inevitable and American and allied resistance is futile.

Love Triangle

Issues pertaining to the alliance of convenience among Ali Khamenei’s Iran, Xi Jinping’s China, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Iran, The Hague, and the Pax Sinica

Following South Africa’s accusation of genocide against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Iran expressed disappointment at Russia’s and China’s stances. On January 12, Hamshahri, a newspaper owned by the Tehran municipality, called their positions “strange.” The paper complained that, while China and Russia are adamant supporters of the Palestinian cause in rhetoric, they are not among the countries supporting South Africa’s official complaint.

Other state media outlets, however, have argued that Iran, Russia, and China have greatly benefitted from the conflict in Gaza, and that the United States is the biggest loser. A report published on January 7 by the regime’s official media outlet, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), claims that Beijing’s position as an impartial mediator in the Gaza conflict has grown in significance, and that China’s influence in West Asia is increasing. China hopes to strengthen its position in the region by weakening America’s strategic influence through an Iran-backed peace initiative called the Pax Sinica.

Why it matters. The Islamic Republic has a talent for compartmentalization. On the one hand, it celebrates its alliance with Beijing and Moscow to counter the US-led international order. On the other hand, Tehran openly acknowledges disagreements among the three countries. This underscores that the Triangle Alliance is based more on convenience than any deeper alignment

Iran and Israel

The latest on the ongoing 40-year shadow war between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state.

Lose to Palestine!

While Iranian sports teams are barred from competing against their Israeli counterparts, the Islamic Republic encourages competition with Palestinian teams. Yet Iran frowns upon the idea of its teams and athletes winning any game against Palestinians. Winning against the official underdogs violates the dictates of chivalry, the Islamic Republic believes. Therefore, when Iran beat Palestine 4–1 in the Asian Cup Group C opener on January 14, some hardliners protested. Ironically, some players on the Palestinian team have dual Israeli citizenship, and of course, some of them play in the Israeli Football League. These players’ Israeli citizenship technically disqualifies Iranian teams from playing against them.

Soccer has always been political in revolutionary Iran, and never more than when Iran hosts Palestinian teams. In October 2011, the Iranian soccer team hosted the Palestinian team and defeated it 7–0. Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the supreme leader’s mouthpiece publication Kayhan, objected. He deemed the Palestinian players “under the oppression of Israel,” and argued that scoring goals against them was nothing to rejoice about.

Why it matters. While the regime encourages its athletes to lose to Palestinians, the Iranian people and national teams reject the official ideology. They prefer to win.

Iran vs. Aniran

Developments in Tehran’s relations with Aniran, the ethnolinguistic slur Iranians use to describe non-Iranian peoples—mainly Turks and Arabs—who live in and around the Islamic Republic.

Is Turkey Stealing Iran’s Clouds?

Over the past two months, photos have been circulating showing contrasting weather conditions in Turkey and Iran. While Turkey has cloudy skies and snow-covered mountaintops, there appears to be nothing but empty skies and dry mountains just across the border in Iran. Why?

One theory is that Turkey is stealing Iran’s clouds and manipulating weather patterns to divert rain clouds away from Iran. Such claims are not new. In 2018, an Iranian official accused Iran’s foreign enemies, mainly Israel, of manipulating the weather to create a drought.

Why it matters. These conspiracy theories serve two serious political purposes. First, they absolve the Iranian regime of responsibility for the fact that its poor environmental policies are causing lakes and rivers to dry up. Second, the theories tarnish the image of feared enemies. The largest lake in Iran, Lake Urmia, has been shrinking for more than a decade, primarily because of excessive dam construction. Importantly, the lake is in Iranian Azerbaijan, adjacent to Iran’s border with Turkey. Azerbaijan and Turkey are not just military allies; they are also closely related ethnically, with mutually intelligible languages. Lake Urmia’s evaporation has led to serious discontent among the Azerbaijanis of Iran, who make up between 20 and 30 percent of the country’s population and feel a strong bond of kinship with both Azerbaijanis and Turks. Iran therefore is eager to distort Turkey’s positive image among Iranian Azerbaijanis by claiming that Turkey is responsible for the environmental disaster.

The Streets of Tehran

The most debated news, issues, and topics of amusement among Iranians. 

Amir-Abdollahian’s English

Iranians are mocking Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian after he tripped over basic words during a speech in English at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in Gaza. The video of the speech has gone viral in Iran.

Many Iranians say they feel embarrassed by the incident. Some social media users called Amir-Abdollahian a source of disgrace on the global stage. Others joked that his area of expertise was murder rather than English. Voice of America Persian Service’s former lead presenter, Jamshid Chalangi, sarcastically pleaded with the foreign minister to have mercy and not slaughter the English language. Chalangi was alluding to Iran’s recent execution of political prisoners, which occurred as the foreign minister was welcomed in New York for his UN speech. Khalilullah Baluchi, an ethnic Baluch activist, compared Amir-Abdollahian’s English fluency with that of an elderly street vendor from the impoverished, Sunni-dominated Sistan and Baluchestan Province. However, hardline supporters of the regime have defended Amir-Abdollahian, saying that a foreign minister should not necessarily be judged by his knowledge of foreign languages.

Why it matters. In the Islamic Republic’s personnel decisions, loyalty to the regime trumps professionalism. This is what Iranians are implying on social media when they make fun of its top diplomat: that the only people who can climb the socioeconomic ladder are flatterers and lackeys. Amir-Abdollahian has ascended quickly through the ranks of the Iranian political elite, having been an affiliate of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranians see this as evidence of his fealty to the regime rather than his competence as a foreign minister.

Beyt Update

News about the Beyt, the Arabic word for house, which refers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and official residence.

Khamenei’s Mar-a-Lago: “The King’s Garden”

Ali Khamenei, the 84-year-old supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is from Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest holy city, in the northeastern province of Khorasan. Every year, Khamenei returns to Mashhad for Nowruz, Iran’s new year celebration, which starts on March 21 and lasts almost two weeks. During Nowruz, he resides in the Bagh-e Malek (meaning “king’s garden”), the location of a palace that formerly belonged to Iran’s last king, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. 

Most members of Khamenei’s extended family have parted ways with him due to political differences. Those relatives who have not cut ties with the supreme leader visit him at the King’s Garden each Nowruz. A Russian S-300 advanced surface-to-air missile defense system is reportedly stationed in Mashhad for Khamenei’s protection.

Why it matters. Iranian state media works hard to depict the supreme leader as a humble, personable, and accessible leader who should serve as a fatherly role model for citizens. In truth, however, Iranians do not buy it. Khamenei spends his yearly holiday in seclusion at an expropriated residence still known as the King’s Garden, protected by Russian air defense systems, with relatives who are clearly forced to act like a happy family for the cameras.

Hudson Institute

Hudson Institute is a nonpartisan policy research organization dedicated to innovative research and analysis that promotes global security, prosperity, and freedom.

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