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Iran’s Right Of Passage – OpEd


By Caroline Dougherty

No one predicted the tide of revolutions that has overwhelmed the Middle East in recent months, but now that the seeds of democratic reform have taken root, the democratic nations of the West must provide the necessary support if these fledgling democracies are to prosper. In the long run, a democratic Middle East would be better for the international community: greater market openness, free flow of information and protection of human rights. The democracies of the West have both the moral obligation and economic incentive to facilitate a successful transition to democracy. However, in order to reach this future ideal, the Middle East will have to undergo a precarious transition, but during this period of potentially dangerous transition, the spectre of Iranian hegemonic ambition looms large.

The rise of Iranian power poses a direct threat to global security; a declared non-status quo power led by an absolutist theocracy, the country is both dangerous and unpredictable. Of critical importance is Iran’s current development of ballistic missiles and potential to develop nuclear weapons by 2012. Iranian military prowess stands as a daunting future threat, but the eminent concern is Iran’s arming and financing of Lebanese, Palestinian, Afghani and Iraqi militant groups coupled with outspoken aims of annihilating Israel. External provocation also translates to internal human rights abuse. Disregarding any semblance of democratic values, the country executes more individuals than any other country without due process. Wikileaks recently released cables disclosing, as if it weren’t already clear, that the Iranian problem is not just a Western concern; Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE were revealed to have encouraged a military strike on Iran’s nuclear programme.


Iran’s influence has grown substantially since the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein, a staunch enemy of Iran. This rivalry has traditionally acted as the counter-weight to the regional influence of Iran. Now, with the Egyptian military focused on domestic reform and Saudi Arabia facing its own protests, the power void that began with Iraq now envelopes the greater Middle East. Iran is taking full advantage of the region’s destabilisation by attempting to assert greater regional influence. In an attempt to demonstrate the coming of a new regional order, Iran flexed its muscles this month by sending two naval ships through the Suez Canal en route to Syria. This passage was politically impossible for the last 30 years under the Mubarak administration, but now stands in direct contrast to the Israeli submarine that passed through the Suez Canal just last year.

The underlying message that Iran is attempting to send to the Middle East is that the new Egyptian government is coming into the fold of the radical axis consisting of Syria, Hezbollah, and Gaza’s arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas. As such, Egypt’s successful transition to a stable democracy is crucial to containing Iran and to promoting further democratic reform throughout the Middle East.

While the Egyptian people have gained a sense of empowerment that is inspiring and crucial for democratic development, the Israeli people have become potentially more vulnerable. Coupled with the spectre of a permanent rift with Turkey, the resignation of President Mubarak leaves Israel in alliance purgatory. Israel is now menaced close to home by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian warships carrying unknown cargo in the Suez Canal. Given Iran’s stated desire to obliterate Israel and Israel’s long history of battling mortal hostility, it is not difficult to foresee military action in the region that will far eclipse the current upheaval unless the threat of Iran is addressed.

Containing the spread of Iranian power can be accomplished through the democratisation of the Middle East aided by Western support. Instead of focusing on military intervention or the denouncement of the Iranian government, which may garner anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East, liberal democracies should provide economic aid and political guidance to all nascent democratic movements, including the one in Iran, in order to simultaneously strengthen democratic values and promote pro-Western sentiment in the region. There is nothing that the mullahs fear more than democracies on their doorstep.

The West, particularly the US, has a long, hypocritical history of supporting dictators over democracies, clearly stating its preference for stability over democracy, freedom or human rights. A key example of this preference is the US and Israel’s special relationship with Mubarak during his tenure as President. The formation of a new, anti-Mubarak government places Israel and the US in a precarious position. If democratic elections are successfully held, it is quite possible that the future Egyptian government will not view Israel hospitably. Now is the time for the US to lead and re-establish its aims as pro-freedom, not pro-status quo. Economic incentives and pro-democracy rhetoric can begin the process of rebuilding Western ties with the Egyptian people. For this reason, Western aid and guidance must begin now, before the Egyptian elections take place in five months time.

While Western democracies face anti-western sentiment in the Middle East for their association with oppressive regimes, there is also a sense of immense resentment towards the Iranian regime for both its brutality towards protestors and its hegemonic aspirations. Between political executions and armed suppression of demonstrators, the Iranian government, for all of its anti-Western glory, is actually seen as part of the problem, not the solution. This anti-Iran following presents an opportunity for the West to gain new allies where they are desperately needed. Thus, we must support the fledgling democratic movements in the Middle East, not least as part of our urgent efforts to stop Tehran in its tracks.

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The Henry Jackson Society

The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics is a cross-partisan, British-based think-tank. Its founders and supporters are united by a common interest in fostering a strong British and European commitment towards freedom, liberty, constitutional democracy, human rights, governmental and institutional reform and a robust foreign, security and defence policy and transatlantic alliance.

4 thoughts on “Iran’s Right Of Passage – OpEd

  • March 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    this is just rehash of fox news propaganda. it seems all these people reading from same manual given to them. west doesnot want democreacy in the middle east. that is why all corrupted dictator are supported by US and other western countries. have you heared anything about the massacre of people in Bahrain and Yemen and Saudi arabia? No, but a lot about Lybia or syria, because Human right is just a slogan and political tool for west and not the real goal.

  • March 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Just another propaganda piece by another mis-informed writer. The truth is all international polls have proven that 2009 Iranian election was free and fair including those conducted by American polling agencies. Iran a nation that has the world’s fastest growth rate in science and technology is a progressive nation that is sovereign and intends to remain so. Such propaganda is cheap gossip. Iran is just protecting its interests in the region. Iran is a large country and a powerful one. Trying to antagonize them will only make matters worse. We need to reach to an agreement with them similar to the agreement reached with China. Scare mongering is not a policy option.

  • March 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    “[Iran] is both dangerous and unpridictable” says the learned author. However Iran has not invaded another country in the last 250 years. Guess which countries have invaded, intervened and meddled more than others in the last 60 years: the U.S. and Israel.

  • June 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    It’s USA and Israel who have killed hundreds of thousands of people to push their agenda on a bunch of autocratic and horrible regimes. Having lived and worked in that region for years I am inclined to assert that things would be far better and peaceful if USA plus Israel stop poking their military strength and killings. Hence the outcome is Al-Qaida, AlNusra and ISIS and the like who would in my view would surprise attack to payback what these hooligan countries have been doing in Muslim World. And the victims are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and all the Arabs in the Middle East. It’s about time we in United States follow agenda of a great candidate Bernie Sanders who was perhaps carrying but never made it to change the stupid foreign policy of both GOP and Democrats led by out Armament and Military Industrial complex. With Trump’s election there was some hope for change but that dream has vanished for his love for money and bringing Wall Street thugs in his administration including the AIPAC controlling Congress due its enormous horde of money and media beating their drums.


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