Iran and the Middle East in 2017

Iran Review | Behzad Khoshandam: The restive environment of the Middle East during 2017 was an arena for the implementation and enforcement of Iran’s foreign policy in its strongest form. During this year, the Middle East was affected by such discourses as the liberation discourse, resistance, localization, fighting against transregional forces, and negation of extremist ideologies and actors.

Under these conditions, Iran’s strategic approach to the Middle East was heavily affected by the legacy of former US president, Barack Obama, as well as aggressive and Iranophobic tactical actions taken by his successor, Donald Trump. Therefore, during 2017, Iran was fighting against four legacies of Obama, that is, Daesh, proxy wars, the refugee crisis, and efforts made to redefine the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. In doing this, the Islamic Republic aimed to create a new order in its surrounding environment, including in the Middle East. Therefore, boosting Iran’s influence and regional standing in the Middle East was a major goal for the country. Tehran pursued this goal through full commitment to the implementation of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The cost of these measures was not high for Iran due to miscalculations by the Western-Arabic and Zionist front in the Middle East and also as a result of Iran’s interactive and cooperative approach, which led to the fall of Daesh.

Of course, continuation of past trends, including divisionist, secessionist, tribal, religious and ethnic trends, in the Middle East cannot be denied. However, Iran tried during 2017 to become a center for the promotion of unity and convergence in this geographical region. Rejection of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s secession vote in September 2017 by Iran and Turkey despite the United States’ support for Kurds was an example of inter-state cooperation in the Middle East. The cooperation between these two neighboring states in the Middle East was a good example of serious cooperation in this region in response to a common threat. In historical terms, the cooperation between Iran and Turkey in the Middle East during the third millennium can set a new example and even be generalized to other issues such as the refugee crisis, the fight against terrorism and organized crime, and active exchange of intelligence.

Also on the agenda of Iran’s foreign policy in 2017 was attention to important international crises related to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In an effort to manage these crises, Iran took advantage of its strategic depth and strategic breathing space. Therefore, throughout 2017, Iranian officials put strong stress on the concept of collective and common security, while rejecting the negative consequences that actions taken by extremist groups had for all the Middle Eastern countries. On the basis of this concept, Iran forged close cooperation with Russia in 2017, especially for the management of the international crisis in Syria through negotiations in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana where participants discussed the fate of post-war Syria.

Official recognition of al-Quds as the capital of Israel by Trump in December 2017, who added that the United States would take steps to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to al-Quds, was another development which drew serious backlash from world’s public opinion and Iranian officials alike. Categorical support from the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Palestine and participation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an extraordinary summit of the OIC were clear signs of Iran’s strategic concerns with regard to Palestine.

The ongoing crisis in Yemen developed into calamitous aspects in 2017 and no country was able to stop its horrendous and terrible consequences. Iran’s approach to manage this crisis, which was the result of the military aggression against Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its allies, caused more tensions among Saudi Arabia’s neighboring countries. The assassination of former Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was another development, which made equations in Yemen more complicated as 2017 was nearing its end.

The crisis in relations between Qatar and other member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council in 2017 was another development, which paved the way for Iran to boost cooperation with Qatar and even Kuwait in certain areas. Such interactions between some member states of that council and Iran can be considered as a new chapter, which may gradually lead to the collapse of the council and prompt its other members to turn to Iran.

Despite aggressive positions taken by the anti-Iran front consisting of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Islamic Republic continued to play an important role and inspire other countries in the Middle East during 2017. Iran’s close cooperation with governments of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Russia as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and many other effective groups in the Middle East during 2017 caused relative stability of political, diplomatic and military trends and currents in this region.

From the viewpoint of strategic developments in the Middle East, the year 2017 was a prime time for Iran to emerge as winner on the basis of the logic of cooperation, which was rooted in common interests and values of regional countries. Iran’s achievements were a result of its regional role and strength and were also owed to the fact that discourses supported by Iran in the region were beneficial to a large number of regional forces and governments. Of course, Iran faced serious challenges in 2017, which were posed by the common front formed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel. Without a doubt, the most important item on the agenda of Iran’s Middle Eastern policy in 2018 will be how to overcome these challenges.



*More by Behzad Khoshandam:
*Iran’s Foreign Policy in 2017 :
*Two Years after the Iran Deal and the Choice of Reconciliatory Strategic Necessity:

*Iran and International Organizations in 2016: