Middle Eastern geostrategic equilibrium 40 years after the Iranian Revolution

(To Andrea Gaspardo)
13/04/19

Forty years ago, the 11 February 1979, to be precise, the last Iranian Imperial Guard soldiers still loyal to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi they laid down their arms before the revolutionary forces referring to the Islamic Front led by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini, thus leading to the triumph of the Iranian Islamic Revolution and at the end of 1963 years of monarchical rule in Iran.

Looking back, the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran in the 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in its place has had considerable implications not only for the Iranians, but for all the peoples of the "enlarged Middle East" in recent decades.

The West not only lost its largest regional partner (an emerging nuclear power that, under the leadership of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also established what was unquestionably the most powerful army in the Middle East and supplied to the United States at the time extensive military facilities right next to the Soviet border), but at the same time witnessed the rise of a formidable opponent who would have opposed his political designs in the region, backed by an ideological platform that (unique in that historical moment) rejected the model so much liberal and capitalist of the West as the atheist and communist of the Soviet Union.

For an interesting historical coincidence, the Iranian Islamic Revolution triumphed shortly after the collapse of "Arab Nationalism", with the signing of the Camp David peace accords (1978) and the subsequent "defection" of Egypt towards the Western bloc which ended the unity among the Arab states, leaving at the same time Syria, Libya and South Yemen as the only countries allied to the Soviet Union in the region.

The adoption by the Islamic Republic of a foreign policy aimed at contrasting both Israeli "Zionism" and what it perceived as Western "Imperialism" led to its immediate identification, by local forces in the Middle East, as the main pillar of the opposition against the West and its allies. Iran would in fact gradually build a new alliance centered around itself, creating strong ties with the remnants of the Arab nationalist bloc comprising Colonist Qaddafi's socialist and nationalist Libya, Assad Baathist Syria, leftist elements in ex-Yemen of Southern communist as well as Islamic Shiite-inspired parties and factions scattered everywhere in the Middle East.

The impact of this new foreign policy recorded the first major repercussion during the 1982 Lebanon War, when the almost total disintegration of the Lebanese state and the corruption and sectarianism prevailing within the Lebanese Armed Forces made the "country dei Cedri "could not even organize a symbolic resistance to the Israeli invasion aimed at eliminating the presence of the PLO in local land or installing a" client regime "in Beirut in the person of Bachir Gemayel.

With Libya engaged in its war in Chad and with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states all firmly aligned with the West, the Arab nationalist bloc was only a pale memory and the only noteworthy military opposition was that of Syria, supported by the Soviets. However, the Israeli military and technological power in the context of the "Peace in Galilee" operation was such that both Syrian and PLO forces were quickly swept away and forced to retreat as Israeli forces (Tzahal) advanced deep into the territory Lebanese up to besiege its capital Beirut.

At the time of the Pahlavi dynasty, Iran had been hostile towards Arab nationalist regimes (hostility for another "cordially" reciprocated) and, although the new Islamic Republic saw Arab nationalism as an "impious" ideology as well as an potential threat to its national security (see the contemporary Iran-Iraq War), it was nevertheless willing to cooperate with what remained of the nationalist powers to fight against the common enemy. This choice of field resulted in the financial and military support provided by Tehran, in coordination with the Baathist Syria government, to all Lebanese factions fighting against the Jewish state.

During the early 80, Lebanese fighters were trained and armed by Iran and led an effective uprising against the Israeli army, and the former Persian ally thus proved for the first time a thorn in the side for the geopolitical ambitions of the Jewish state, not to mention that, at this juncture, even the American and French armed forces deployed in Lebanon were targeted by pro-Iranian local insurgents enough to be forced to withdraw.

From the subsequent amalgamation of all these variegated militias, Hezbollah emerged in the 1985, which continued to attack relentlessly for the next 15 years the Israeli forces remaining in South Lebanon to guard the so-called "Security Belt" up to its withdrawal in 2000. However, Hezbollah's military successes would have been highly unlikely without Iranian support and Tehran itself took on the burden of paying the extensive assistance that the Shiite militia received from North Korea where much of the movement's military leadership trained to guerrilla techniques.

At the same time, Hezbollah has also established itself as a political organization and since the 1992 has participated in all national elections in Lebanon. Although it has been declared a terrorist organization by both Israel and Western states, it has continued to see its international profile grow and to establish fruitful cooperation even with Russia.

Hezbollah has also expanded its internal support network by making extensive use of social assistance programs aimed at obtaining the support of the local population, while strengthening its conventional and unconventional military capabilities in anticipation of future conflicts with Israel, thus becoming a highly respected fighting force, as the Israelis themselves learned at their own expense during the 2006 war, when the Jewish state suffered its first and, so far, only military defeat. In this way, Iran was able to indirectly project its power through its main regional "proxy".

Given that, if Tehran had remained an ally of the West, southern Lebanon probably would never have turned into a hotbed of Shiite militancy, it can be said that, through Hezbollah, the Iranian Islamic Revolution caused the Jewish State the first military defeat of its history and allowed the Lebanese Shiite movement to acquire military capabilities that today exceed those of most of the actual Middle Eastern states.

The Iranian presence as a strategic counterweight to the power of the Western bloc eventually manifested itself in all its entirety starting with the 2011 in three different war zones. On the Syrian front, when the massive deployment of Hezbollah militias and other Iraqi, Afghan and even Pakistani Shiite factions, as well as the deployment of military units from both Artesh (the Iranian armed forces) and the Guardian Corps of the Islamic Revolution ( Pasdaran) proved decisive first to contain and then to defeat the Islamist insurrection initially supported by the West and then degenerated into the horrors of ISIS.

Before Russia stepped forward on the Syrian front, starting with the 30 in September 2015, Iran, along with Hezbollah and North Korea, had been one of the very few international players who had deployed huge resources on the ground in support of the government local. At the same time, starting in June 2014, Tehran has provided a specific support to the fragile Iraqi state in curbing the advance of ISIS, while bringing Iraq back permanently to the Iranian area of ​​influence.

Finally, when the creeping civil war in Yemen has turned into a full-blown international conflict, the Islamic Republic has spared no aid to the cause of the Huthi, a political-military movement which is the expression of the numerous local Shia Zidite community, under heavy military attack by Saudi Arabia.

The fact that all these hotbeds of war are not being extinguished, but rather are expanding, is a further testimony that the effects of the revolution that 40 years ago upset the world are not yet over.

Photo: web / IDF / MoD Russian Fed