By The Free Iranian Staff
On November 7th, Dr. John Chipman, the Director-General of a United Kingdom-based think tank, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), published an article claiming that “Iran is winning the war for the Middle East, and the West has no convincing response.” Chipman asserted that the Khomeiniist regime’s proxy forces throughout the region have successfully lifted Tehran to a position of dominance in the Middle East that it cannot be shaken from. The Khomeiniist regime’s media has been covering Chipman’s statements, because it reaffirms their propaganda image of being powerful and undefeatable. However, this analysis ignores the daily events of the last several weeks, which have proven, to the contrary, that Tehran’s proxies are paper tigers, that have begun to implode just as soon as Tehran has lost its abilities to lavishly fund them.
Chipman took issue with US President Donald Trump’s statement from this summer that “Iran has never won a war but never lost a negotiation,” yet Trump’s quote is an acute summary of the recent history of the region. The power that Tehran had was only obtained through international aid and acquiescence, mostly that of the former Obama administration and the European Union. Consider Iraq, to begin with. Tehran fought a bloody eight-year war with the Saddam Hussein regime, only to be stalemated. The regime was only able to commence exerting influence there after the US-led coalition deposed Hussein in 2003. In fact, it was a member of that coalition, namely the UK, which helped the regime organize the Shi’a militia forces that are now Tehran’s main organ of power in that country. Furthermore, the militias were only able to seize control of the Baghdad government after the American soldiers withdrew from Iraq in 2011, and the 2015 JCPOA restored Tehran’s access to billions of dollars in blocked oil funds.
It has long been known that the regime directed practically all of the monies it received under the 2015 deal to its military, namely, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the international groups formed and directed by it. It was then, thus, that the world saw Tehran make power plays simultaneously in several countries:
❍ In Iraq, as mentioned, the IRGC formed the Hashd al Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces – PMF), and using them, managed to install the current government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in 2016.
❍ In Syria, the IRGC and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies were able to form mercenary armies that allowed the pro-Tehran regime of Bashar Assad to recapture most of the territories lost to the opposition groups.
❍ In Yemen, the regime was able to funnel massive amounts of military and financial aid to its Houthi allies, which enabled what had been a long-running, low-level, insurgency to break out into a civil war
❍ In Bahrain, increased support from Tehran enabled the Shi’a rebel forces there to become more active.
❍ In Lebanon, the pro-regime Hezbollah and Amal Shi’a parties were able to further solidify their hold on the country, install their ally as Lebanon’s president, and reduce the elected parliament to impotence.
These moves were implicitly supported by the then-Obama administration, and its European allies, as they naively saw an empowered Tehran as a “stabilizing force” in the region, which could remove the need for an American peace-keeping presence. Tehran, thus, acted knowing that it would not face any real consequences in response. Tehran’s Arab opponents, likewise, were demoralized and did not resist as strongly as they might have, because they knew they would not have the US’s help and support.
However, after the Trump administration was inaugurated, and the US recommitted itself to a counter-Tehran strategy, observers saw the regime respond by immediately more cautious in its actions and ploys. After the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, and re-imposed full sanctions six months later, the regional strategic situation began to change. As Tehran’s currency reserves began to decline, it began to lessen its aid to the proxy armies. With less support, and faced with strong opposition from the US and other regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, some proxy groups began to reconsider their options. Thus, the Houthis suddenly decided to open negotiations with the US-backed forces in the summer 2019, and signed a peace accord in October. Lebanon, meanwhile, became subjected to additional economic pressures as a direct result of the sanctions against Iran, and Hezbollah, finding itself unable to support its vast social service infrastructure, began pushing for more exploitative taxation. This, in turn, provoked the current Lebanese popular uprising. The current Iraqi uprising also has come at a time when, as Tehran’s abilities are more circumscribed, and the US administration is not turning a blind eye to its maneuverings, Iraqis are feeling more empowered to stand up to the IRGC.
This brief recapitulation of recent regional history clearly shows that, far from what Chipman alleges, that “sanctions alone are unlikely to force the regime to give up a capability,” the regime is being forced to abandon its proxies, monetarily. Without the lavish spending, these groups, which have little to no base of support among the populations of their various countries, are now finding themselves faced with counter-revolts aimed at curbing their influence. The ongoing Iraqi and Lebanese protests have already led other analysts to state that the Tehran regime is losing the Middle East. If the present American campaign of “maximum pressure” on Tehran continues, there is no reason to not believe that the IRGC will continue to lose its remaining abilities to influence regional politics. Instead of having “tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East,” the momentary domination of the region by Tehran was simply the result of a flawed, Western policy, and now that the policy has changed, Tehran is beating a retreat.