26 August 2006

Iran, Its Neighbors and the Regional Crisis

The link above will click you to the entire PDF report from Chatham House. The report provides some very interesting insights into the perspective of the Iranians. The summary is below

Executive Summary
The Middle East is bedevilled by crises. The war between Hizbullah and Israel, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the instability in Iraq and the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme create a climate of deep unease. Iran is involved in all these crises, to a greater or lesser degree, and its regional role is significant and growing. In applying pressure on Iran to cease support for Hizbullah, to refrain from hostility towards Israel, to resist meddling in Iraq and to abandon any thoughts of nuclear military capability, the United States hopes for the cooperation of Iran’s regional neighbours. However, Iran has successfully cultivated relations with its neighbours, even those Arab and Sunni states which fear its influence, and is in a position of considerable strength.

Iran is simply too important – for political, economic, cultural, religious and military reasons – to be treated lightly by any state in the Middle East or indeed Asia. The wars and continued weaknesses in Afghanistan and Iraq have further strengthened Iran, their most powerful immediate neighbour, which maintains significant involvement in its ‘near-abroad’. The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region.
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has recently dominated its relations with the Western powers, but not those with its regional neighbours. Understanding the dynamics of Iran’s relations with its neighbours helps explain why Iran feels able to resist Western pressure. While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the IAEA and UN Security Council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour. Iran’s domestic power structure is complex and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one of a number of players. His dramatic millenarian rhetoric attracts headlines, but the broader governing polity does share his robust conviction that Iran is the linchpin of a wide region and can maintain firm independent positions.

Iran views Iraq as its own backyard and has now superseded the US as the most influential power there; this affords it a key role in Iraq’s future. Iran is also a prominent presence in its other war-torn neighbour with close social ties, Afghanistan. The Sunni Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf are wary of Iran yet feel compelled by its strength to maintain largely cordial relations while Iran embarrasses their Western-leaning governments through its stance against the US. Syria and Iran enjoy an especially close relationship, as most clearly seen in their alliance against the US and Israel, and support for Hizbullah. Iran’s relationship with Lebanon is long and intricate and the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah in July-August 2006 may be partly seen in the context of the broader struggle between Iran and the US/Israel. Israel certainly views Iran as its greatest threat and the tension between the two has increased.

The relationship between Iran and Turkey pivots between friendship and rivalry but Turkey favours good relations and the avoidance of further regional instability. Russia is a significant economic partner to Iran, is heavily involved in its nuclear programme, and tends to take the role of mediator at the international level.

The recent rapprochement between Iran and Pakistan remains ambiguous while Iran and India have notably improved ties, mostly on the basis of Indian energy needs. Energy security and economic ties also dominate Iran’s relations with China and Japan.

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