On July 22, 2018, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech has aligned with Iran’s political, military, and religious leadership’s awareness of the new map of power and influence on both regional and international levels, on the contrary of Iran’s sectarian project. Recently, the United States levied sanctions on Iran to prevent it from controlling strategic trade routes and to end its military presence in Iraq, Syria, and other Arab countries. These countries have become fertile ground for exporting crises into other lands, extremist ideas, and incubators for terrorist groups, which threaten international peace and security.
In his speech, President Rouhani threatened and launched a war of words against the United States, which reflected Iran’s confusion towards the United States policies vis a vis Tehran since President Donald Trump’s inauguration as he has aimed to curb Iran’s expansionist activities in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. President Rouhani threatened the United States with Iran’s capability to stand up against its enemies and its military deterrence capability to preserve its gains and interests in the region. He noted that peace with Iran restored regional stability, security and preserved the interests of all sides when he said, “Americans have to understand that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace processes and war with it is the mother of all wars.” He added, “Iran does not accept the language of threats and has a deterrent force. Threats unite Iranians and America will fail, for sure.”
The United States policies vis a vis Iran represented by its withdrawal from the nuclear deal, new sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s terms for signing a new nuclear treaty and calling on countries to stop buying Iranian oil have confused President Rouhani and his team. Internally, sanctions have powered protests because of deteriorating living conditions and a decline in purchasing power. Also, social problems have spread because of a decline in Iran’s oil exports, crowding out of foreign investment- especially in the oil sector, a devaluation of its currency and a decline in the growth rate.
Externally, the United States launched intense military strikes against Iranian proxy militias in Yemen and Syria and perhaps, Washington and Tel Aviv succeeded in an agreement with Moscow to drive these militias out of Syria.
When President Rouhani said, “Iran does not fear threats at all and will respond accordingly,” he aimed to convey a message to the United States that Iran was a key player in regional and international affairs and had the political leverage to influence the direction of peace and security in the region and beyond. President Rouhani highlighted Iran’s capabilities to directly threaten the United States interests and strategic allies in the Arabian Gulf, as well as the transportation of oil to Western Europe, as it has control over the Hormuz Straits, in case the United States hinders the export of Iran’s oil.
“Talks with the United States have only one meaning, submission and eliminating our nation’s achievements.” By this statement, President Rouhani reflected Iran’s determination to ignore international norms and legitimacy. He considered listening to the United States in negotiating a new nuclear treaty to give up uranium enrichment in the future, close its heavy water plant, dissolve its ballistic missile program and stop supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen as equivalent to submission and surrender to Washington as it seeks to deprive Iran from its regional gains. Indeed, this was seen as Iran’s rejection of de-escalation calls in the region and its non willingness for rapprochement with the GCC countries which pursue a policy of goodness with their neighbor states, respect their sovereignty and do not interfere in their internal affairs.
In response, President Trump posted a tweet on July 23, 2018, in which he sharply attacked Iran and threatened President Rouhani saying, “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious!”
On the other hand, President Trump’s tweet reflected a desire for rapprochement with the GCC countries when he said, “Under current circumstances, my country seeks to build strong relations with the world, enhance relations of good neighborliness, and restore relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.”
Iran is aware of the internal and external pressures facing it. The only way to escape these pressures is for it to maintain strong relations with the GCC countries, knowing that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have played a major role in curbing its regional project and succeeded in mobilizing international players to pressure it to correct its behavior and de-escalate tension in the region. Accordingly, President Rouhani called for rapprochement with the GCC countries to seek relief from international pressure but at the same time reflects an Iranian perception of the brewing crisis in the region.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stood firmly against Iran’s project in the GCC countries, especially in Bahrain. It was critical in the Arab coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen and to curb the influence of Iran’s proxy, the Houthi’s in this country. In addition, the Kingdom contributed to categorizing Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, curbing its influence in Iraq by approaching the Iraqi government and Shiite leaders, depleting it in Syria, mobilizing regional and international powers against its presence in the region, and curbing its influence by maintaining strong relations with the governments of other countries such as Sudan, Morocco, Mauritania, Comoros, and some Southeastern countries.
Based on aforementioned, President Rouhani seems to have perceived that Iran could escape internal and external pressures by turning a new page with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries as they are the most influential actors resisting Tehran and its regional project. However, a question arises here, “Is President Rouhani serious in his statement on approaching the GCC countries while he is insisting on preserving Iranian gains in the region?” No doubt, this depends on certain factors that led to the GCC hard-line policy on Iran. Iran has to give up the policy of exporting its revolution, stop interfering in the affairs of Arab countries, respect neighboring states, stop supporting terrorist groups and armed militias in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as contributing to regional stability.
President Rouhani’s statement about maintaining the security of shipping lanes reflects Iran’s willingness for rapprochement with the GCC Countries. He lessened Iran’s inflammatory discourse on the security and interests of the GCC countries and retracted, to a certain extent, previous threats by Iranian officials including himself and Ali Khamenei to close the Hormuz Straits (the only sea route for Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and one of the most important sea passages of oil in the world. About 40% of the world production passes through this strait) if the United States deprives Iran from exporting oil. President Rouhani had said “The one who understands little politics does not say he will prevent Iran from exporting oil. Iran has many straits and Hormuz is one of them. Mr. Trump: Iranians are people of honor and have guaranteed the security of sea routes throughout history. You have to stop playing with the lion’s tail or you will regret.”
Iran understands that the threat of closing the Hormuz Straits will cost it a lot and will be equivalent to suicide and the last nail in the coffin of the Supreme Leadership, knowing that it has always threatened of doing so, but never has done. Iran has aimed to comfort the GCC countries and build rapprochement with them but conveyed a message to the United States that it has other alternatives for exporting oil to its allies, knowing that some companies have already left Iran in compliance with the United States sanctions on this country. On the other hand, other countries such as China, Russia, India, and Turkey have rejected the United States sanctions on buying Iran’s oil.
As a result of President Rouhani’s statements, we understand that Iran is aware of the new circumstances as well as the new era which started after President Trump’s inauguration as the president of the United States. Recently, the Iranian expansionist activities have deteriorated in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and even in the Arab Maghreb States. Iran has been abandoned by its strategic allies, especially Moscow and Damascus that asked Tehran to withdraw its militias from Syria. In addition, Iran is suffering harsh economic conditions, which have resulted in continuous demonstrations since the end of 2017 until today on a sporadic basis. Indeed, all these developments have exerted significant pressure on the Iranian regime and made it reconsider its moves and policies towards its neighboring countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has played a major role in obliging Tehran to reconsider its regional policies.