Iran: regional challenges and international threats

Iran: regional challenges and international threats

- in Lectures

iranOpen Discussions/ Gulf Cultural Club

16th January 2017


Dr Mohammad Haidar*

Paul Ingram**

Roshan Mohammad Saleh***

The demise of Ayatullah Hashemi Rafsanjani is great loss to the Islamic Republic which he helped to establish. Yet Iran has managed to sail through rough seas in the past 38 years. Despite signing the nuclear deal with the 5+1 powers, Iran is still experiencing a hostile West and an unfriendly region. As it marks the 38th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution, it also celebrates political achievements on its regional fronts: from Lebanon through Syria to Iraq and from Bahrain to Yemen Iran is encountering detrimental threats to its political and ideological influence. Yet it has survived four decades of major upheavals, local and regional wars, sanctions and international pressures. Iran’s relations with the Arab World and the West will be explored in this seminar.

Chairman: Salam alekium welcome ladies and gentlemen, sisters and brothers. Today’s programme is on Iran: regional challenges and international threats. I would like to read a few lines from a very famous poet from the Indian sub-continent Iqbal Lahori, as he is known in Iran. He wrote a lot of his work in Farsi and he said: “The dream of Europe and the West regarding their rule of the world, both West and East, may not come true if Tehran becomes the Geneva of the East. The fortunes of the entire world will be changed.” He wrote a profound statement about 100 years ago about the situation. He was a visionary, a poet and a scholar.

He is very much appreciated in Iran. It is really interesting if you look at the Islamic revolution itself when it first came on the horizon in 1979. The major source of inspiration and motivation for many young people in Iran at that time taking part in the 1979 inqlab was Iqbal. I recall that it was a very common thing during the revolution days to see people gathering in a park or corner to listen to some reciting Iqbal’s blood warming Persian poetry. He is immensely regarded in Iran but sadly in Pakistan itself, the country where he was born he is not appreciated as much and conferences are not held about him. That is a different story.

In November I made a presentation in Dubai about the economic situation in Iran and the possibilities of what it could do. I was talking about Iran and the prospects that Iran holds for the whole of the Middle East and the global economy. Iran has the second largest oil reserves and the fourth largest gas reserves. There was conference at Kings College recently which said that potentially Iran could be the number one energy supplier to the West.

So it is an extraordinary situation that Iran is in. It has the largest car manufacturing industry in the Middle East. Khodro Iran is a car manufacturer which sells cars to the whole of Africa and South American countries. When I talk to my business associates who have never been to Iran I say to them Iran is a country where women drive metros. Women drive trucks, women drive cars. It is a country which is unlike Saudi Arabia which our government tends to support blindly.

Whereas sanctions have been applied for the last 40 years on Iran it is quite remarkable what it has achieved in the last 40 years considering all the wars, the sanctions and the challenges that it has faced. Iran is one of the few countries where former presidents do not leave the country and buy flats in London. All the former presidents and prime ministers are still living in Iran. Like the former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died recently, they have not abdicated from Tehran. Mr Khatemi is still living there; Mr Ahmedinejad is also living there. So you see how robust and democratic Iran is considering the region in which it is surviving. With regard to the whole issue of Iran being non democratic, there are elections: mayoral and municipality elections. There is an extraordinary situation which has developed in Iran which sparks robust debate. When we have robust debate in Europe and American everyone says how wonderful it is that we the opportunity to talk. But if you walk in the streets of Qom or Mashad people also talk critically of the government and that is called democracy where opinions are allowed to flourish.

The demise of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani is a great loss to the Islamic Republic which he helped to establish. Iran has managed to sail through rough seas in the past 38 years despite signing the nuclear deal with 5+1 power Iran is still experiencing a hostile west and an unfriendly region.

As it marks the 38th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution, it also celebrates political achievements on its regional fronts. From Lebanon through Syria to Iraq and from Bahrain to Yemen Iran is encountering detrimental threats to its political and ideological influence. Yet it has survived four decades of major upheavals, local and regional wars, sanctions and international pressures. Iran’s relations with the Arab World and the West will be explored in this seminar.

Dr Mohammad Haidar: Ladies and gentlemen salam alekium, peace be upon you. When talkmohammed haydering about Iran there is a storm of ideas and a wave of issues. Where do we start? You are like in a whirlpool swimming and you have to know which direction to take but physically speaking if you are a swimmer to get rid of the whirlpool you have to dive to the bottom and then you can survive.

There is no doubt that there is an important role Iran is playing in the formation of the region at the moment. No day passes without us hearing the name of Iran. We hear about it in the news, see it on television and it is featured on social media – either for or against accusing Iran or supporting Iran.

The passing of Hashimi Rafsanjani, who is considered an important personality, a pillar of this revolution who accompanied the critical steps of this revolution until he died recently will have its impact on the future of Iran. Quite a lot of people may argue that the revolution has lost of its main supporters. You should remember that Iran as a regime never built its system to be based on personality or on a human being so by the time he passes away everything goes away with him.

When I was at Durham University we had many lecturers in the Middle East Centre who came to talk about different issues. I remember once Richard Murphy came to a lecture and he and another guest were arguing that when Imam Khomeini passes away the whole revolution would collapse. Imam Khomeini was ill at the time. Other commentators on the BBC said that the moment Imam Khomeini passes away there will be a conflict and a civil war and there will be no need to worry about this Islamic revolution and this Islamic government.

I was really surprised when people comment like this without doing any research about the basis on which this nation stands or from what platform they are building for the future. All these expectations were completely against what the people wanted.

I will describe the region. Look at these countries like a map in front of you and see where the smoke is coming from. You will find the whole area in turbulence and in trouble. There is war everywhere – from 20 years until now there is not a single country that did not suffer a war or a conflict, or a struggle. I can describe this if I shorten the time. It is like seven minutes of an earthquake but with a power of ten or twenty on the Richter scale. When this earthquake happened everything fell down apart from a mountain. Iran is that mountain at the moment.

Don’t forget this description. It will prove itself in the future and practically there is no one issue in which Iran is not involved physically or which Iran is not behind. In the end you will find that everybody is asking Iran to come and sit at the table and give its support issues to be solved in this region.

I will go back quickly and remind you about what happened in the past. Many people will argue that understanding history is very important in how we form our vision of the future. This is quite important and could be a good approach to understand what is happening between Iran and the Arabs.

This conflict did not start yesterday. There are a lot of common denominators between the Arabs and the Persians. In 1969 Iran relinquished its claim to Bahrain. In 1979 Iran and Iraq signed an agreement to finish the conflict over the Shatt Al Arab and handed it to Iran and Iran stopped supporting the Kurds against the Iraqis. In October 1978 Imam Khomeini started his soft revolution – he was asked to leave Najaf at the time.

In September 1980 Imam Khomeini called for the Iraqi Shia to rise up against Saddam Hussein’s government. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated. In 1987 more than 400 Iranian pilgrims were killed during the haj. We remember the war between Iraq and Saddam Hussein and the loss of two million people, the destruction of the infrastructure, the human resources and the social damage and the fracture which happened between the two nations and extended to every single country in the Arab world because some of the leaders were siding with Saddam and others were siding against him.

In 1997 Khatemi, who considered a reformist in Iran, was elected and after that in 2001 Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a security accord. After the Iran Iraq war they had a good relationship even though it was financed entirely by the Arabs and then some of them reverted. Many delegations came from the Arab world, they apologised and they built a new bridge. I remember the Kuwaitis when they were there. Hashimi Rafsanjani was an important figure in building this kind or relationship because he understood the Arab mentality and he was really courageous in taking this step towards finding a common understanding. If you look at the differences between the Arabs and the Iranians you will find many common denominators but at the same time a lot of misunderstanding and some kind of stubbornness on the other side.

The Iranians were really very clever in using some issues. Some politicians considered these issues only concerned the Arabs, like the liberation of Palestine. People asked why the Iranians were beating their chests for Palestine.

When Rafsanjani was just a young cleric in Iran he translated an important book called The Palestinian issue by Akram Zaider. This book has made a great contribution to the Iranian understanding of this issue bearing in mind that the Shah had one of the biggest Israeli embassies in his country.

After the revolution one of the first steps that Imam Khoemini took was to close the Israeli embassy. He kicked out the Israeli diplomats and put the Palestinians in the same embassy. Such an issue was very controversial and very inflaming for the Arabs. How come an Iranian leader claims that he can do something about it and we can’t? The problem is that the Arabs do not have the answer while the Islamic revolution has shown every single support for Palestine. The evidence for this is very clear. The last Friday of Ramadan is the international day of Jerusalem.

This quick timeline might lead us to our recent situation. In fact to understand the conflict between the Iranians and the Arabs you have to go deeply. There are quite a lot of encouraging issues like immigration. I do not say the ‘Persian Gulf’ or the ‘Arabian Sea’ – I say the ‘Islamic Gulf’. There is nothing wrong with this name. There has been trade for a long time. It goes back hundreds of years. So the movement of human beings was very normal. If you go to the Abbasid period, and even before, there is evidence that people were moving. There were some issues with the Arabs about the idea of nationalism. This is a different issue because when Islam embraced other nationalities and expanded quite a number of scientists, philosophers and educated people started to come to this new kingdom and enriched its culture.

There is limited knowledge among some of the Arabs who support the ruler all the time. They use religion against them and that is why there is some conflict between nationalism and those educated people. That is why some of the scholars hate philosophy. It goes back in history. They don’t like philosophy. Philosophy talks about logic, about the mind, about using the tools of the mind. But those people go strictly to the text and they do not see beyond that.

Since the beginning of the revolution Iran has gone through three periods. The first period was the survival period. When the Iraqis wanted to claim the Shatt Al Arab and they invaded. All this period was the survival period for Iran.

The second period was self-reliance when Iran started to build itself from the inside. I know that quite a lot of people have their own remarks about that period of time. There may have been a high level of poverty and injustice but imagines that a country is coming out of a war. It has quite a lot of resources but there was an economic blockade on Iran. Remember what happened in the countries surrounding Iran: in Pakistan, in the Gulf, and in Iraq. It is a turbulent area. In Turkey there have been many coups. The killing of Bhutto in Pakistan, the changing regimes in Afghanistan. All of these countries are on the border of Iran.

The last period is the rising period from 2000 and before. From the year 2000 until now is the dominant period when Iran started to stretch its arms. Whether people like it or not it started to have its own influence. If you want to see its strength looks at the military capacity of Iran at the moment. Look at the military production in Iran. During this period of time remember Iran was not allowed to import anything to do with the military, with aviation or with any kind of industries. They have relied on themselves to produce what they need and to rise again at that period of time.

There are two important issues during this time: the nuclear issue and the oil issue. Iran was well prepared to deal with the nuclear issue. It played by the rules and it won the game. Imagine how many years the negotiations continued for and how much pressure was exerted by the Arab countries and the enemies of the Arab countries and the west which wanted to sabotage this project. Many nuclear scientists were assassinated; the computer system was sabotaged and hacked by the Israelis and other people. There were many attempts to stop Iran from having this important industry even though they claimed that they are not after a nuclear bomb.

According to the Ayatollah this was a critical issue and it could cause damage. He claimed that Iran was not going to develop it even though they might have the knowhow, the tools and the instruments. This became an issue to stop Iran from stretching itself and not getting back on its feet.

The oil was really a very important issue during the time of the dominance of the British over Iran and then the interference of the Americans in the region after the Mossadeq revolution when he claimed that the value of the Iranian oil must go to the people. That is why the revolution had to be sabotaged and the Americans played a very important role in this.

Anyway recently everybody hears about this oil. It is very important for Iran and for the region. Iran collects about 60 percent of its national revenue from oil. Saudi Arabia collects about 95 percent. When this issue turned into a political issue in the region it became very dangerous.

Saudi Arabia had a very influential role in OPEC but OPEC is not the only producer in the world – there are around ten countries competing with OPEC. That is why the economic crisis happened and all the money realised from the oil revenue in 1998 and then the oil price has been dropped dramatically and there is not enough revenue for all these countries. What is happening is that the barrel in that period of time was $150. Now it is $50 but it in recent history it went down to $29. That means that Saudi Arabia was losing over $750 million on a daily basis.

These troubles contributed to more troubles in the region. The smoke is coming from all these countries. It is not coming down. The Arabs should take a wise decision to come together to find a solution with the Iranians to this. Otherwise if the troubles continue the region may experience a long war period which will cause a disaster for the whole region and the world as well.


Chairman: Thank you very much Brother Haidar for your historical perspective and the current analysis of it. Not only are you a good speaker. I think you should be in the diplomatic service as well. You call it the Islamic Gulf. I think that is a new concept that does not take sides.

Intervention: This is what Imam Khomeini called it.

Paul Ingram: I see some friends in the audience. I am more used to interviewing you than speaking inpaul front of you. Thank you in particular to Saeed for inviting me tonight. I wanted to begin my remarks by saying that my experience of the region is my own, and it is limited because I am not of the region. I have of course been a tv talk show host on Iranian television. That is why I was involved in Stop the War Coalition here; representing the Green Party and my experience has given me a great pause for thought and humility when offering my observations.

We sit today at a time of huge uncertainty. We have seen a nuclear deal negotiated over several years, more years that we actually realise because in early times there were negotiations going on in secret. Then we have a president coming in the US who thinks he is a deal maker and he wants to rip up the deal and start again from fresh thinking that he is going to improve the situation. I think it is an extraordinarily dangerous moment. But I think that at the same time for any of us to predict an outcome of this sort of situation we need to be quite careful.

But before I come to some of that, I wanted to talk about the framer and the situation. The Islamic Republic is of course, an Islamic revolutionary government and as such it is a government of resistance against an unjust international order. It is therefore a government that is very easy to demonise because at its root it is not about negotiating with capitalists and with unjust so-called democracies. It is about trying to appeal to the people over the heads of those governments. Those governments are inevitably going to see the Islamic Republic as a threat particularly if those governments have very little legitimacy within their own countries.

So there is inevitably going to be a lot of friction. That friction is going to extend to countries like the UK because although Britain is stated to be a democracy, it has a historic legacy, a legacy of imperialism and choosing its client states in the region. And the very existence of Saudi Arabia is rooted in a history of choice by the United Kingdom. It is very difficult for British governments to move away from that because they are wrapped up in a trap of many, many decades in the making.

So there is a momentum and a legacy in which people – all of us – are trapped. That does not mean that we can’t get out of it. It just means that it is difficult. So in this context we have a very powerful lobby group in Washington, APAC, an Israeli lobby. We have a lot of money involved and corruption (I use that word advisedly) in the United States, and in this country that determines the policy of those countries to the region – it is very difficult to see a smooth exit to the promised heartlands of greater peace.

And in among all of this we get President Trump elected. And what has he been saying? He has been saying that this deal is wrong, he is a friend of Israel. He has been elected on the basis of change and yet in this particular area he is far from it. His main opponent was not an opponent of change either but nevertheless he is a president who has promised, and who has appointed a lot of people who have promised to rip up this deal and to ensure that Iran is an enemy.

They have given all sorts of reasons why this deal is wrong. They have said there are hundreds of billions of dollars that have been freed up as a result of the weakening of sanctions and the unfreezing of assets which the Iranians will then use to dominate the region. The real figure is more like 100 – 150 billion which is roughly the amount of money this government in this country will spend on its own nuclear weapons force. It is about the same amount of money spent in 12 – 18 months on the International Health Service. It is a lot of money but it is not that much money.

The opposition comes from the accusation that this deal has involved limited constraints on Iran’s nuclear programme. Every nuclear analyst, I am one but I am not the only one, across the spectrum, have said that this deal actually does limit Iran’s nuclear activities and ensures that the world can be clear and confident that there are no nuclear weapons being produced within Iran.

We can never be 100 percent certain about this but this is probably the toughest inspection and verification regime outside the Iraq. And in Iraq the situation was that they had just been beaten in an all out war. This is the only time the government has accepted such stringent constraints on its freedom of action. This was not uncontroversial within Iran.

If the Trump administration within the next year or two ends up with a stronger deal – I am not a betting person, but I will give up politics and I will never comment again because it is not going to happen.


Intervention: What is this deal?

If Trump agrees a deal that is better for the West and for those who are interested in constraining nuclear activities than the one we have today. The real reason why there is opposition is because there is a deal. And these people do not want deals. They want conflict because conflict is essential if you interpret the Islamic Republic as a threat to the very existence of Western dominance in the region.

They oppose this deal because it is a child of President Obama and therefore it is very convenient for Trump to give the impression that he is a president of change whereas in actual fact he is a president of consistency and support for capitalism.

He is going to come across some challenges and difficulties in ripping up this deal. It has very strong support within Europe, even within this country. We have even had Boris Johnson say that he supports the deal.

But then again President Trump is already on a war against the European Union. He is today quite clearly on a course to try and break up the European Union actively and the reason for this is that the European Union is a competitive trading bloc to the USA. This is a big issue for him because he sees himself in conflict, not militarily but economically, with the European Union. So problems coming from France and particularly from Germany are going to be opportunities for him to create conflict that he will then use to discredit the European Union.

But where does this sit in terms of Russia because Russia is also a part of this deal and Russia has signed up to it. Of course President Trump is portrayed as a friend of Russia. Some people think he is an agent. They may be going too far but then again they may not. Russia has obviously an interest in the region and an interest in Iran. But Russia is also a country that has, in the recent past, used Iran quite successfully as a way of embroiling the USA in conflict. I would not be at all surprised if Putin sees this as an opportunity as long as it is seen quite clearly as Trump who is the one who is the one to blame for the nuclear deal to unravel.

So the nuclear deal is in severe difficulty and I don’t know whether it will last the next six months or not.

What will the UK do because it theory this government strongly support this deal? If it comes to a choice between supporting this deal and staying on the right side of President Obama, I know which side my money is on.

In the context of Brexit we are wanting to see ourselves as independent of Europe and we have few allies and a deal with Trump is very important to us. In the broader economic context we are not going to be challenging Trump. Our relations with Iran are already poor. I don’t think there will be too many politicians who are that worried about them getting worse. The choice has already been made within the next few weeks when relations were already getting worse with Saudi Arabia as to which side of the fence this government is to jump to when it comes to relations between Saudi and Iran.

I think this is deeply problematic for all sorts of reasons because anyone who has interests in Iran moving away from a pure resistance country to one that is engaged with the rest of the world in what I believe to be a resistance that will be more effective than being overly and externally hostile to other countries.

I think those people who are interested in a progressive Iran would oppose this sort of development by the United Kingdom and by the Trump administration. I think those people who are interested in developing positive, constructive relations between Iran and the Arab world is in a difficult place today. Those who are interested in preventing a renewed conflict in the region, I think we need some ideas and I am here to hear what they are.


Roshan Muhammed Salih:  Thank you for inviting me tonight. I will try not to repeat to much of what rosheveryone else has said because the other speakers raised some of the points I was trying to make. I know a lot of you but for those who do not know me, I am not Iranian however I have visited Iran several times obviously inspired by the values of the Islamic Revolution and have worked at Press TV for nine years now so I speak to Iranians every day in this country and also in Iran as well. I can also see things from the another point of view because I am a Sunni Muslim. I have lived in the Khalej so what I thought I would do is go through what I consider to be Iran’s domestic position, its regional position and its international position.

As a journalist, I think Iran is appallingly covered by the Western media and much of the Arab media as well. The voices that oppose Iran tend to predominate such as the right wing in the Western media and the sectarian voices to a large extent in the Arab media and Iranian dissidents who are out of touch with their own country have an amplified voice, especially in the Western media.

I don’t know if any of you read Martin Chulov’s article in the Guardian about Iran and Syria. He said that Iran was ethnically cleansing Sunnis in certain areas of Syria and his sources were all pro rebel including a spokesman for Ahrar Al Sham a very extreme group in Syria. If he had just headlined it pro rebel anti Iran fanatics say this I would have no problem with it but he presented it as fact and that is what you get with a lot of Western coverage of Iran – highly problematic positions being presented as fact.

In this country it is not just the right wing media that indulges in Iran bashing. It is the left wing media as well. The political and media establishment in this country and in the Western world in particular (the countries that I know best – America, Britain and France and Germany to a certain extent as well). Whether you are on the left or on the right you are still going to bash Iran and the net effect of that is that Western audiences in particular but I would also say Arab audiences misunderstand the country. So the stereotypes: Iran is run by bad mullahs it is a dictatorship, a human rights abuser, the sponsor of terrorism abroad, backing up a dictator in Syria etc

This is the narrative propagated by the Western media, the Saudi-funded media, the Qataris and increasingly the Turks. I am going to argue the reality is different. I would say that anyone in this room who has not been to Iran should go. Now it is much easier. Now they are opening up to tourism to a certain extent and the best way of dispelling myths is to actually go there. What a country Iran is. I am not going to do a Lonely Planet tourist brochure advertisement now but it is an absolutely beautiful, wonderful, amazing country

Domestically I would say Iran is in a good position. It is a strong state economically. It is not a weak state economically put it that way. I may not go as far as saying it is strong. But it is strong militarily. It has a self-sufficient economy – maybe I can phrase it like that. And it has more security for its citizens than most of its neighbours. There are no major insurgencies in Iran like there are in other countries. You have Ahwaz and Baluchistan but these are policing issues rather than insurgencies.

I am 100 percent convinced that the vast majority of the population of Iran supports the Islamic Republic of Iran. I would say up to 80 percent of the population supports the concept of an Islamic republic. Now within that 80 percent there may be 40 percent who veer towards reform and 40 percent which the Western media would call hard line supporters but they all support the Islamic Republic. And then you have 20 percent that don’t – that maybe prefer a secular state or something like that. But 80 percent is a huge figure.

The opposition has seen what the rest of the region is going through whether that is in Syria or Iraq. They have seen one country destroyed after another and they don’t want that for their own country.

I would also say that Iran is an independently strong state. For example Saudi Arabia without outside assistance from America and Israel would collapse pretty quickly. But Iran is an independently powerful state and has over the years, through military threats and sanctions and internal destabilization attempts, has learned to be self-sufficient. So it does not need an outside sponsor like other states in the region do.

I won’t say too much about this but the nuclear negotiations that took place and the deal were a sign of Iran’s strength. Iran is not a defeated country like Iraq was, like Libya was. It drove the West in a certain sense to the negotiating table. Of course there were mutual benefits for both. Iran wanted sanctions relief. But the fact is that the West, if it could have destroyed that country militarily it would have but it did not. So Iran basically forced the West to the negotiating table.

Iran is an Islamic republic but within that framework there is a wide variety of views as we saw with the late Ayatollah Rafsanjani. He changed his position within his life time but he was a supporter of the Islamic Republic even if he had certain ideological differences with other pillars of the establishment.

There is a balance of power which works very well in Iran. You have the different centres of power whether it be the judiciary, the parliament, the leader etc. The reformers get in for eight years and the conservatives get in for eight years so everyone has a go. And that keeps a sort of entente between all the different parties.

I am not sure how the presidential elections are going to turn out. I think that will depend on how the Iranian people feel about the sanctions relief that Rohani promised them. It will be interesting to see which way that goes. Iran is in a strong position domestically.

Regionally the attempt to take down the resistance axis has failed. That is what Syrian was about: weakening Iran. Saudi Arabia, the West, Qatar and Turkey threw the kitchen sink at Syria and they failed. And today Iran enjoys a strong political and military presence in certain countries, Lebanon and Syria. It also enjoys a strong influence in other countries: Afghanistan and central Asia, Yemen to a lesser extent and Palestine as well.

Iran’s strategy is to support its allies in the region. It has a pragmatic strategy as well. Assad and Iran as not natural bedfellows in many ways. He is secular, he is more open to the West – well he used to be anyway. Obviously Iran is an Islamic state.

Its allies could be atheist countries like Cuba and Sunnis like in Palestine or Shias – Alawites even. It has a pragmatic strategy. It does not have to see eye to eye with its allies. The survival of the Islamic state is what is paramount to the Iranians and maintaining the resistance structure in the region is crucial to give them a buffer.

And why do you need that buffer? If you look back to the experience in the 1980s when the Arab world and the West tried to strangle Islamic Iran at birth and spent the whole of the 1980s trying to do that. Iran’s military strategy is based on that experience. They have vowed never to fight a war on their soil ever again. And in order to do that they have to be on the offensive to a certain extent and have buffers in places like Iraq and Syria etc and in Afghanistan – the bordering countries – to protect them from ever having to fight on their own soil. And incidentally that it the strategy that Western countries have as well. When was the last time America fought a war on its own soil? It does not do that.

I am painting a bit of a rosy picture now. Iran obviously faces huge problems in the region mainly funded by Saudi Arabia. I talked about buffers. I do not think Iran is an expansionist state. We heard that it has given up its claim to Bahrain and settled its territorial disputes with many countries.

The sectarian propaganda in the region is that Iran wants to recreate the Persian Empire. That is rubbish. That is just not true. But what Iran does seek is buffers and a sphere of influence. And any great power will seek that sphere of influence mainly to protest itself. Obviously Iran does face unpopularity in large sections of the Arab and Muslim world. Incredible sectarianism is directed its way. Hopefully these will a passing trend.

As a non-sectarian state Iran’s (Iran is a Shia state but it has a non-sectarian outlook) the strategy is to cultivate alliances with non Wahabi Sunnis. Whether that is successful or not remains to be seen. There is a lot of sectarianism in the Arab world and the wider Muslim world and that is a challenge.

Internationally we have heard that Iran has survived four decades of war, sanctions, military threats and internal destabilisation attempts. But it is surviving. It is more than surviving. It is thriving. Go there and you will find out.

The West is Iran’s ideological enemy. It always will be. There may be tactical deals but ultimately the West’s strategy is to take down Iran. Its strategy is regime change. Have no double about that even though they may be periods of tactical retrenchment. But Iran knows this and is wise to it.

Sanctions have not really been lifted. Ask any of the Iranian institutions outside of Iran. They will y tell ou in terms of getting funding and money sanctions have not been lifted and ask Iranians inside Iran as well. They have not benefitted from the deal. But if the money which Paul talked about is not released more and more Iranians will move towards the isolation position rather than engagement with the world position and that can spell news for President Rohani.

Trump will he rip up the Iran deal? I don’t know. But the fact is that Europe wants to do business with Iran. America might not but if he tries to rip it up there is going to be resistance from those countries in the West that want to do business with Iran. Tehran and Britain have exchanged ambassadors. British Airways is flying to Tehran five times a week. These are positive signs. These are signs that two countries want to do business with each other even if they don’t like each other.

Trump is about retrenchment. I am not sure. I may be guessing here. It was thought George Bush was about retrenchment as well when he first came. He seems less interventionist in his foreign policy.

Obviously Trump is making overtures towards Russia. Iran is an ally of Russia and is very focused on not antagonising Russia in any way. Iran needs allies. It needs a powerful global player on its side. So if Trump courts Russia perhaps Russia may be tempted to abandon Iran to a certain extent. I would not be totally shocked if that happened because I do not believe Russia and Iran are completely natural bed fellows. I don’t think they necessarily share the same ideological positions so that alliance could fall apart at some point in the future.

But generally Iran has benefitted from the move towards a multi polar world where America is no longer the sole hyper power. Iran has played its cards very well. I would hasten to say that I believe the Iran leaders from a strategic position are the cleverest leaders in the Middle East by a mile. They playing chess: everyone else is playing chequers.

So to conclude: Iran is very badly reported around the world. But ultimately the only war that Iran is losing the media war. That is the only war it is losing. It is winning every war on the ground, every war that matters.

It is domestically secure and in the region and internationally it is on the ascendency. And I would also conclude by saying that Iran is the only successful example of a modern Islamic state.


* Dr Mohamed Haidar is Lebanese-born economist and activist with BSc degree from the Lebanese University, BA from Yarmouk University (Jordan), MSc from the Lebanese American University and PhD from Durham University. He worked as Business writer with Al-Hayat daily newspaper. He taught and supervised research work at the American University of London. He also cooperated with the International training Centre of the United Nations (ILO) which is located in Turin – Italy. He worked as Financial Consultant for Arab Investments, a company specialized in financing and managing property and property developments. Dr Haidar is regular guest on several media and broadcasting stations such as BBC, RT Al-Jazeera and other stations discussing Business and political issues in the Middle East.

**Paul Ingram is BASIC’s executive director, responsible for developing its strategy to help reduce global nuclear dangers through disarmament and collaborative non-proliferation. Paul has authored a number of BASIC’s reports and briefings covering a variety of nuclear and non-nuclear issues since 2002. Paul has an extensive media experience and hosted a weekly peak-time talk show on IRINN (Iranian domestic TV News in Farsi) addressing issues relevant to global security 2007-2012. He also taught systems approaches on the flagship Top Management Programme at the UK government’s National School of Government 2006-2012.

BASIC: British American Security Information Council

***Roshan Muhammed Salih is journalist at LBP and editor at 5Pillars. He holds BA Hons French and Philosophy from Staffordshire University (August 1994), Post Graduate Certificate in Journalism from London School of Journalism (August 1998 ) and Post Graduate Certificate of Education from Exeter University (August 1996 ). He worked for two years as a teacher in a secondary school before re-training as a journalist. He started out in local newspapers in the UK before moving into TV production, making political, lifestyle and travel documentaries for mainstream British channels. Roshan then moved to Al Jazeera English’s new wesbite as a journalist in Doha before returning to the UK to become head of news at Islam Channel. He then became head of news in London for Press TV, a position he held for five years. He is now a documentary maker and runs a British Muslim website. His goals are (mainly) to write and report about the Muslim world.

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