The Devil the saying goes is in the details … and yet for the greatest part of the past two decades we have utterly failed to read such details, and with that, overlooked the fact that two former enemies: Iran and Russia had grown increasingly close, albeit with often competing hegemonic agendas. United in their desire to lay waste Western democracies, and from the ashes of the old, build empires to their respective image, the two formed long ago an unlikely alliance – an axis we only just recently were told had been born.
With Iranian-made drones flying over the skies of Ukraine, experts and pundits flooded the airwaves, warning against the new threat of the Russian-Iranian military entente, proof that the two autocratic states now formed a dangerous axis against Western interests, one we could not longer dismiss since its geographical reach carried to our doorstep.
While this may be true, at least in parts – and in fact has been for more years than I care to count, Iran’s desire to ‘make a splash’ by furnishing Moscow with its drones needs to be understood as part of a much broader campaign of disinformation – I would go as far as calling it psychological warfare.
A beleaguered regime at home, the Islamic Republic needs to appear strong and menacing at a time it is at its weakest. More to the point, Tehran needs to resume control of the narrative – politically and in the media.
The Islamic Republic is losing ground on many fronts – at home protests are showing no sign of revolutionary fatigue, abroad, its infamous Axis of Resistance is under mounting pressure due to the regime’s inability to financially support its allies. In recent months Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis have threatened to disavow Iran should it withdraw its funding. Should Tehran lose its Arab outposts, nevermind its status as the champion of the Palestinian cause, the very essence of its Islamic revolutionary project would be spent.
A movement geared towards territorial expansion, the Islamic Revolution’s core ambition was never to rule over Iran, but rather to establish a base there, to then absorb to its tenets first the Islamic world, and second the world altogether.
And though many will smile at the notion – how ludicrous to posit that ideologues still could ambition world domination, I would invite readers to familiarise themselves with the text of the Governance of the Jurist and Ayatollah Khomeini’s teachings, and recognise in his words the extent of his ambitions – which ambitions have since become institutionalised.
Iran’s tentacular network, the presence in Western capitals of its agents and outposts, its advances in Latin America, Africa, and Asia speak volumes of Tehran’s motives … a reality we have yet to come to terms with. For we felt so strong in our democracies, so shielded by our economic strength and military superiority, we misjudged and misconstrued the regime’s moves, and in doing so, left ourselves vulnerable to its advances.
The Islamic Republic today finds itself at a historical juncture, how we will act will determine much of our collective future.
Tehran is teetering on the edge of a cliff, one little push would lead its entire structure to collapse.
This is not to say that the regime is not dangerous. Indeed it is, but mainly because we allow it. Our inability to curtail Iran’s nuclear pursuits, combined with our fears that any and all rebuttal to the Ayatollah’s ambitions – whether at home or abroad, would lead to a dangerous military escalation feeds the regime’s ambitions.
The regime’s men read in our apathy the coming demise of the West. They move knowing full well that we shall not oppose them. They wield our fears and reticence, using them as tools to consolidate their bases, forever looking for new grounds to conquer.
In other words, our lack of resolve has allowed the regime to not only endure and survive, but inch closer to its end goal – nuclear capacity.
Iran’s decision to enter the Ukrainian war theatre was made with the above in mind.
The argument here is that we have greatly misread Iran’s posturing with regard to Ukraine. The entire exercise is a distraction, an attempt to impress upon us the notion that our rebuttal of the Islamic Republic could lead to increased military tensions and further instability.
Tehran desperately needs us to retreat. Indeed, should we come any closer we may realise that not is all it seems, and that in fact the regime stands but a house of cards about to be swept away.
To still view the Islamic Republic as a rational state actor rather than a dangerous ideology that happens to have territory is folly. The regime cannot be reasoned with or reformed, it will not be bound by treaties or accords.
First announced in late Summer, drone deals came at a time of decisive defeats in Ukraine and troubling protests in Iran. The world started to believe in a Ukrainian military victory and was bracing for what comes from the protests in Iran. For both states, as for every tyrant in distress, a quick victory was essential to survive.
Iranian drones provided this very opportunity. Making as much noise in the media as their moped-like engines do in the air, the Russian operated Iranian drones in Ukraine elevated the perceived collaboration of the two states to the level of global geopolitical powers. Yes, two sanctioned economies that rely solely on oil and gas exports, with outdated and underpowered militaries, and fledgling economies were united in their effort to defy the world.
So what can we do? Or rather what should we do?
A first good step would be to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation and deal a decisive blow to the regime. To argue retreat and concession to the abomination of the regime and its hordes can no longer be the rationale we espouse.
Our standing, and the sanctity of our democracies demand our unbending resolve.
With Dr Stepan Stepanenko – Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society