For the past two years, Rouhani has kept on hammering his four “commandments”, which, taken together, are meant to change the perception/brand of Iran from a religious, extremist, aggressive, subversive and isolated country to a country everyone (well, nearly everyone) would want to be friends with:
- Thou shall not build nukes: The long-awaited JCPOA seems to justify this commandment and Tehran is now pushing for a global banning of nukes in the hope of denuking Israel – Critics will note that the JCPOA is not “water-tight” that it does not effectively bar Tehran from building nukes in the future.
- Thou shall fight against terrorism: Redefining terrorism, terror-bashing and fighting ISIS in Iraq and in Syria are posed as “proof” of Rouhani’s WAVE initiative to fight terrorism and extremism – Critics would counter that Tehran continues to support terrorist militia such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc…and continues to support local Shiite militia in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc..
- Thou shall lead Iran out of isolation: The nuclear deal, the numerous trade delegations and the popularity of Rouhani/Zarif in the West are all bridges meant to legitimize Iran – Critics would point out that the nuclear deal is far from being implemented and that any breach of the deal, from either side, will place pressure on all of Tehran’s new partners.
- Thou shall not meddle in thy neighbors’ affairs: The repeated calls for Islamic unity are meant to turn this commandment into a fact although the truthfulness of this call and its practicalities remain questionable – Critics will say that Tehran is still dutifully trying to “export the revolution” by infiltrating governments through pro-Shiite/Tehran groups.
Rouhani may have been able to successfully sell his new brand of Iran to its proxies/allies (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), to the NAM countries it represents, to the EU and even to the US, but some of its neighbors, specifically Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and now, Yemen, are not buying in. Instead, they are breaking diplomatic ties and getting ready for more proxy wars or even the possibility of a direct war with Tehran.
Tehran and Riyadh have been regional enemies since the Islamic revolution. Tehran, keen on “exporting the revolution“, wants to oust the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia in favor of an pro-Shiite Islamic government. The Saudis look on Tehran as the meddling neighborhood extremist which has to be brought to order.
The rhetoric between Tehran and Riyadh, which has always been fiery in the past is reaching explosive levels: The last incident to spark some fiery rhetoric is Tehran’s politicizing of the pilgrim tragedy in Mina, Saudi Arabia. Tehran is not only accusing Saudi Arabia of mismanagement, it is hitting home in many different ways that the tragedy a) was pre-planned by the Saudis to kill Iranian pilgrims, b) proves that Saudi Arabia is incapable of managing the Hajj and c) is worthy enough to spark a war. Whether Tehran really believes that the tragedy was not an accident or whether it is ready to begin an out-and-out war with Riyadh is questionable but the message is clear: Tehran feels strong enough to butt heads openly with Riyadh.
The Saudis have been on edge since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations have retaliated with their own fiery rhetoric ranging from threatening to enter the civil war in Syria, accusing Tehran of trying to arm the Houthi rebels in Yemen, purchasing its own nuclear weapons and more.
Tehran’s neighbors have always been subject to its meddling on political and military levels. In some countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), Tehran has succeeded in becoming the de facto leaders the countries while in others (Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan), it is still striving to do so.
Tehran’s methods of subversion focus mainly on identifying and supporting defiant, and predominantly pro-Shiite, factions in neighboring countries. These factions or militias receive money, weapons and training by Tehran or its proxies (mostly Hezbollah) in the hope of overthrowing the local government. In the case of Yemen, they actually succeeded in doing so for a while until the Saudis began an open war against the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels.
The targets of Tehran’s meddling and subversive nature have to take sides and it is no surprise that Yemen, Bahrain and the UAE have chosen Riyadh over Tehran, recalling diplomats from Iran.
Kuwait hasn’t severed diplomatic relations yet but has also been targeted by Tehran’s meddling and is currently in the process of a trial of 26-man Iranian-backed terror cell this month.
Even Lebanon, which has long been under Tehran’s rule is accusing Tehran of medlding in its presidential elections, an accusation that was, of course, dismissed by officials in Iran.
Tehran, riding high on its new-found popularity with Russia, China and the EU is testing the limits of its power in the region. Its new friends are attracted to the huge potential economy a sanction-free Iran will represent but its neighbors are less interested in the potential economic boom with Iran. Instead, they are worried that Tehran’s regional and global aspirations, guided by the will to “export the revolution”, will mean an increase in meddling in their governments’ businesses. The nuclear deal, which was supposed to bring peace to the region has only “deepened” the existing “battle lines”.