By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
As the negotiations between Washington and Tehran continue, and the chances increase of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and lifting sanctions against Iran, the regime in Tehran appears to be growing more emboldened and empowered to escalate its destabilizing and destructive behavior in the Middle East.
Instead of attempting to broker calm and peace, the Iranian leaders appear to be adding fuel to the fire in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. In a recent telephone call with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, for example, Esmail Ghaani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, which is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, applauded Hamas for the attacks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on Iranian foreign policy, seemed to incite a continuation of rocket attacks when he wrote on Twitter: “Palestinians are awake and determined. They must continue this path. One can only talk with the language of power with these criminals. They must increase their strength, stand strong, confront the enemy, and force them to stop their crimes. #FreePalestine.”
Twitter’s policy states that it can suspend accounts “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” and many users have slammed the platform for not taking action to ban Khamenei for breaking this rule.
In addition a number of US senators last week urged the Biden administration to halt its negotiations with the Iranian regime. In a joint letter to the president, they wrote: “The United States engaging in active negotiations with Iran and potentially providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief will no doubt contribute to Iran’s support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who attack Americans and our allies. We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided.”
The Iranian regime may also view the conflict between Hamas and Israel as a form of retaliation for the assassination by the US of Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. In fact, one member of the Iranian parliament, Ahmad Naderi, described the conflict as a “blessing” and said the “clock will tick faster for Israel’s annihilation.” He added: “This is the blessing (brought on) by the blood of (Soleimani).”
Iran is also attempting to project its power toward the US and Israel. Since the establishment of the regime in 1979, Iranian leaders have repeatedly projected the false impression and narrative that their objective in the Israel-Palestine conflict is to help and support the Palestinian people. In reality, their main objective is linked to an aspiration for regional hegemonic supremacy, rather than the humanitarian reasons.
Before the revolution, Iran was allied with Israel, supported it fully and received weapons from it. After the revolution, one of the major foreign policy objectives and revolutionary ideals of the regime became its rivalry with Israel.
It is crucial to understand that this rivalry was not in any way influenced by the struggles of the Palestinian people. Instead, it was mainly prompted by Israel’s alliance with the US, which became the regime’s primary enemy and the main focus of its foreign policy after the revolution.
The Iranian regime also labels other countries its enemies as a tool it uses to suppress domestic opposition and to advance Iran’s ideological and hegemonic ambitions in the region.
In May 2020, Iran’s supreme leader surprisingly admitted that his regime is a weapons provider.
“Iran realized Palestinian fighters’ only problem was the lack of access to weapons,” he said “With divine guidance and assistance we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it.” The Iranian leaders believe that they can project their power and influence in the Arab world by interfering in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
In the past four decades, the Iranian regime’s alliances with some Palestinian political parties have shifted to favor those that better align with its foreign policy objectives.
For example, Tehran cut ties with Hamas at the start of the Syrian civil war, because of the latter’s stance on President Bashar Assad. The strategic alliance was later renewed, in part because the Iranian regime views Hamas as important to its efforts to advance its foreign policy, strategic and geopolitical objectives in the region.
By meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tehran is attempting to project the narrative that the regime does not only have influence among Shiites (in Iraq, in Assad’s Alawite state, among followers of Hezbollah, etc.) but also in Sunni nations.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime appears to be pouring fuel onto the fire of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and it is incumbent on the Biden administration to halt its negotiations with the country’s leaders at this critical time.
- 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