45 Years after Iranian Revolution: Hard-line foreign policy disrupts regional stability

Forty-five years have passed since the Iranian Revolution that overthrew a pro-U.S. monarchy and established a theocratic Islamic polity. As long as Iran, which takes an anti-U.S. stance, sticks to its hard-line foreign policy, stability in the Middle East cannot be expected.

Since the revolution on Feb. 11, 1979, Iran has been ruled by Shiite religious leaders. It has expanded its influence by providing arms, funds and personnel, among other support, to Shiite armed groups in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

Meanwhile, the United States has stationed its troops in friendly Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar as part of its strategy to maintain stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies are also wary of Iran.

In addition to this confrontational structure, the outbreak of the Gaza conflict has made the situation in the Middle East even more volatile. Recently, in retaliation for an attack by pro-Iran militias on a U.S. military facility in Jordan that resulted in the deaths of U.S. service members, the U.S. military carried out airstrikes on the bases of militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

It is not clear whether Iran is directing such militant groups to attack the U.S. military. However, the consequent weakening of the U.S. military and the reduction of the U.S. presence in the Middle East would likely be a desirable outcome for Iran.

Iran’s nuclear development is another destabilizing factor in the region. Iran claims the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but it produces highly enriched uranium that can be converted into raw material for nuclear weapons and has refused to fully cooperate with inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There is no dispelling suspicions that Iran is working to acquire nuclear weapons to counter Israel, a de facto nuclear power which Tehran views as an enemy.

The 2015 nuclear agreement, in which the United States and Europe would lift sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, was a perfect opportunity to ease tensions. It is regrettable that the U.S. administration of then President Donald Trump reneged on the deal, as Iran is now using this as an excuse to accelerate its nuclear development.

Japan has built friendly relations with Iran for a long time. Now that relations between Iran and the West are deteriorating, Tokyo needs to openly express to Tehran its concerns about the current situation and urge the country to help bolster regional stability.

Japan should also consider summit diplomacy by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

There have been sporadic protests in Iran over the oppression of women and high prices. The public’s frustration likely has been amplified by the ongoing economic difficulties caused by international isolation and sanctions.

The regime will inevitably weaken if it continues to use iron-fisted tactics to stifle dissatisfaction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2024)