What Will Follow Iran’s Regional Influence?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

New developments in the Middle East which erupted in the early months of 2011, have led to renewed debates on strengthening of Iran’s regional influence among the Middle East experts. Although Iran’s regional influence has been a matter of debate since the fall of the former Soviet Union due to the challenge it has posed to the United States, recent freedom-seeking uprisings in the Middle East have added more zeal to those debates. Although there is considerable consensus on the relationship between the status quo and Iran’s rising influence, especially following developments in the Arab world, the most important issue, however, pertains to outlook of Iran’s sustained influence in the region and barriers to its progress.

Continuation of Iran’s influence on the Middle Eastern issues such as Arab-Israeli peace, regional crises, freedom-seeking movements and management of regional interactions will depend on bolstering the country’s bargaining power and its ability to appear as an active player. It should also take advantage of its diplomatic finesse and the power to convince others. If Iran managed to bolster its mediatory role, promotion of its emancipatory capacities in foreign policy will naturally follow. As a result, there will be maximum acceptance for establishing regional coalitions with Iran. Recent willingness of Egyptian officials to collaborate more with Iran is evidence to the point.

Probable deepening of Iran’s influence on regional developments will be also connected to its relations with big powers, especially the United States, as well as the country’s nuclear program. Decreasing tensions between Iran and other regional players is another step which can help Tehran. Special attention should be paid to the role of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council. Promoting Iran’s ties to such important Middle Eastern countries as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq will reduce sense of insecurity in those countries and prevent their national interests to fall victim to regional developments. If Iran managed to increase its regional clout, the Iranian model of resistance would be taken up by important regional players. In that case, it would be easier to manage regional developments, moderate the roles of big powers and counteract network-based actors.

On the other hand, Iran’s increased clout in the Middle East region is sure to provoke challenges. If current speculations about possible promotion of Iran’s regional influenced proved true, it would have considerable consequences for the whole region which may also cause short- and medium-term problems for Iran to meet its national interests. A major barrier facing Iran’s efforts to increase its regional influence is related to its relations with big powers as well as the quality of the upcoming geopolitical and geostrategic interplays in the region.

The role to be played by Israel and the United States in regional developments, especially in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, is of utmost importance to Tehran. The number of major regional players in the Middle East should be also taken into account. At present, various players such as states, network-based actors, nongovernmental organizations, nongovernmental and civil actors as well as profit and nonprofit multinational corporations are at work and will leave their mark on Iran’s efforts to increase its regional clout. The relationship between Arabs and big powers, especially the relationship between major Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain with the United States and big powers, is another important variable which can bear down on Iran’s role in the Middle East’s developments.

On the whole, the Middle East’s developments in early 2011 have provided suitable context for Iran’s role in the region. Meanwhile, there is also a good ground for the Iranian moment in regional developments. Continued influence of Iran will depend on its ability to overcome existing limitations by making the most of diplomatic, bureaucratic, and soft capacities of official policymakers and unofficial elites both in and out of the country. In addition, possible link between Iran’s national interests and those of big powers and other regional players in addition to avoiding possible tension will divert the international community from Iranophobic ideas. As a result, Iran’s relations with major global powers such as the European Union, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and other important regional players will be strengthened.