Understanding Iranian threat perceptions

Al-Monitor | Seyed Hossein Mousavian: A pervasive perception in US policy circles and among US allies is that Iran seeks hegemony in the Middle East. Israel and other regional states often claim that Iran wishes to “revive the Persian Empire.” While such claims would be dismissed as farcical by any Iranian official, it is important to note that such sentiment lies at the root of the current standoff between Iran, its regional rivals and the United States.

Contrary to mantras such as the above, Iranians broadly view their contemporary history as one of falling victim to aggressive outside powers and struggling to maintain a sense of security. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a series of events and factors have led Tehran to believe that Washington and its regional allies seek regime change and Iran’s territorial dismemberment. This perception is fueled by comments such as that of US Defense Secretary James Mattis earlier this week, who said that regime change will be necessary before the US and Iran can have substantially positive relations.

Broadly speaking, six factors have shaped Iran’s threat perceptions since 1979.

First are the challenges of the 1980s, namely the Iran-Iraq War and separatist rebellions in Iran’s Kurdistan and Khuzestan provinces, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. The United States and allied Persian Gulf littoral states played a decisive role in exacerbating these crises, including by buttressing separatists and providing Saddam Hussein with every means of support, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, which were used to deadly effect. Toward the end of the war, the United States also directly attacked Iranian oil platforms and even shot down an Iranian civilian airliner.

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