22 March, 2019

40 Years of Theocracy in Iran: Regional Policy and Global Ambitions

On the 20th of March, I had the pleasure to host in the European Parliament a conference entitled “40 Years of Theocracy in Iran: Regional Policy and Global Ambitions.”

The meeting was co-organized by the AJC Transatlantic Institute in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS).

Below is the intervention I held in the opening of the event.

On 1st of April 2019, there will be 40 years since the Iranian national referendum, when 20 million of Iranians massively voted (99.3% in favour and an official participation rate of 98.2%) to become an Islamic republic.

At that time, a pro-Western authoritarian monarchy was replaced with an anti-Western totalitarian theocracy, based on the concept of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists.

Today, 40 years after, we have on the map an Iran where the revolutionary enthusiasm is still present in a significant portion of the population.

Some are strong believers in “the cause”.

Personal or group interests and benefits drive others.

There is also a segment, especially within the young population, who do not understand why their parents pushed for the Islamic Revolution in the first place.

In this context, we are here today, in the European Parliament to discuss, with the help of a very distinguished panel of experts, and with the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of The German Marshall Fund of the United States, and of the Transatlantic Institute, about Iran’s stance at regional level, but also about some of its global ambitions.

As most of the other topics involving the Middle East, and actually the whole extended MENA Region, a clarification is needed: this is a very complex, intricate, and even tricky subject. Many elements, depending who and how looks at them, can be translated and interpreted in various ways.

A good example is the Nuclear Deal, which is viewed by some as a great achievement and by others as a great threat and mistake.

A simple way to understand Iran’s position at the regional level is through the “Axis of Resistance” – the anti-Western, anti-Israeli and anti-Saudi alliance between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

This Alliance just got an enlargement. It added to its regional presence the Iraqi Shia militias and the Houthis form Yemen.

Iran’s intervention into the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen transformed the strength and scope of the “axis of resistance”.

The battlefield forged new military strength, political legitimacy, and a regional mindset amongst Iran’s partners. These groups view Tehran and each other as battlefield partners, ideological allies, and separate flanks in a common regional front.

The relation between Iran and its regional partners and supporters is less of a “patron-proxy” relationship and more of an Iranian-led alliance. This new format is focused on collective security and extended deterrence bolstered by expeditionary power.

I believe this changing situation is already generating reactions from the other regional actors and their allies.

I am sure we will go deeper into this topic during today’s discussions and I am truly eager to hear our honourable speakers’ opinions.

There is also the element of “Global Ambitions” of Iran.

Here, I would like you to look at the following photo:

Hassan Nasrallah Ali Khamenei al-Asad Putin

This is a banner of Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, hanging in Damascus, Syria.

The photo appeared on Twitter, on February 8, 2014, on a now-suspended Twitter account “IranTalks”.

This image can be the starting point of today’s discussions on Iran’s “Global Ambitions”, together with the security and economic challenges that result from this alliance.