Iran has recently been reaching out to its Arab neighbors to propose a fraternal reconciliation.
Some Arab nations have been criticized for their less-than-enthusiastic response to these overtures. But that criticism is naive. Iran’s history and political structure make clear that these efforts are nothing more than a poor attempt at public relations spin and cannot be trusted. The recently Arab Summit in Jordan passed 15 resolutions indicting Iran’s behavior in the region — its backing of terror groups, its meddling in the internal affairs of neighboring nations, its incitement of Sunni-Shiite conflict, its intervention in the Syrian civil war and several other of its hostile policies.
If Iran were actually trying to turn a page with its Arab neighbors — which have endured decades of Iran-sponsored interference and terrorism within their borders — Iran should show some evidence it has truly changed.
What signals have the Iranian regime given to indicate a serious wish to reconcile with the Arab nations of the region? What changes has it made to its policies and actions?
The answer: none. Tehran is continuing its business-as-usual sponsorship and export of terror in the region, backing Hezbollah in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen and other militant groups. More to the point, if this reconciliation attempt is to believed, who in Tehran should Arab nations respond to? Should they deal with the official Iranian government or the real power base — Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC)?
Has Iran made any structural changes to its ruling class that would persuade Arab neighbors that things are really different in Tehran? Absolutely not. The clerics remain in charge in Iran and have the final say.
All of the Iranian government’s diplomatic efforts and political decisions are controlled by the theocratic leadership, the IRGC and its extremist sectarian affiliates. If that remains the case, any reconciliation offer is bogus.
This was demonstrated during the negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif insisted on moving the negotiation team during the talks to Tehran to enable Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC to monitor the discussions and to approve or reject every detail of the agreement until it met with the real leaders’ approval. This is proof that the Iranian government cannot act independently or make any binding commitments without the approval of the clerical and military leadership.
But might Ayatollah Khamenei himself seek reconciliation with Iran’s Arab neighbors? Isn’t peace good for everybody?
This assumption might be valid if it ignored the fact that Iran’s jurist leadership has prioritized “exporting the revolution” as a core tenet of the Islamic republic’s constitution. The IRGC masterminds and implements the regime’s aggressive interventionist policies and is inextricably intertwined with the theocratic leadership. The IRGC is synonymous with the country’s national security, which is the sole prerogative of Supreme Leader Khamenei.
If the Iranian regime were serious about wishing to hold negotiations with Arab nations, these would be led by the country’s supreme leader, not by the administration under his control. The government and the diplomatic corps have no independent power and are his tools.
Tehran’s latest efforts to initiate unilateral negotiations with its neighbors via its powerless administration are a fruitless exercise. The empty offer by Iranian leadership is to buy more time to advance its regional agenda of destabilization and terror and to evaluate other nations’ stances toward Iran, particularly that of the new U.S. presidential administration.
Without radically changing its policies, particularly its funding and deployment of extremist sectarian militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and its interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime’s reconciliation rhetoric and talk of negotiations should be disregarded.
Any real negotiation requires mutual confidence and respect, which Tehran is unwilling to grant.
The international community should understand that Arab nations’ sour history with the Iranian regime’s duplicitousness and its brutal regional military expansionism gives them every right to be skeptical about this recent offer of reconciliation. The primary objective behind Tehran’s new diplomatic strategy is to convince the international community and Western powers that Tehran is a normal, reasonable and pragmatic government.
No one should fall for this ploy. Arabs in the United States and around the world will not.
• Mohammed Alsulami is a researcher at Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, specializing in Iranian studies.