Tehran equates diplomacy with weakness and inaction
The latest reports regarding Iran’s provocation in the Strait of Hormuz highlight the notion that Tehran is forcefully attempting to further strengthen its hold over this strategic choke point at the expense of regional stability.
It should come as no surprise that Iran’s military has once again conducted significant moves in the Strait. Roughly a third of all global oil shipments sail through it and Iran’s actions are regarded by the US Navy as "unsafe and unprofessional".
In March, Iranian vessels came dangerously close to British and American ships. The ships had to change course to prevent a collision. In the same week, an Iranian frigate made dangerous moves in the Gulf of Oman. In addition, in the same month, Iran launched a missile test from the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian state outlets boasted about Tehran’s power and reported that a senior military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the US against taking any retaliatory action.
Tehran’s provocations did not come from the usual aggressor, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Instead, they were conducted by the navy. This highlights the notion that the Iran is transforming its navy to act alongside the IRGC and the elite Quds force.
More importantly, Iran’s actions disregard the fact that the Strait of Hormuz does not solely belong to Iran. It is estimated that more than 16 million barrels of oil go through it every day from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iraq and Iran.
Iran’s military adventurism has intensified in the last few months. From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, this is the most productive tactical and strategic approach to project Iran’s power to Arab and western nations.
Tehran benefits from instability and chaos. For example, it was through instability in Lebanon that Iran gave birth to Hizbollah. It is in the midst of conflict in Iraq that Iran formed powerful militia groups. It is through the war in Syria that Iran arms and empowers additional proxies. It is through the crisis in Yemen that Tehran strengthens its ties with the Houthis. The list goes on. When there is instability, Iran expands its powerful operations and increases its influence.
It is critical for the international community to counter Iran’s ambitions and provocations, but how can this be done?
First of all, when it comes to Iran, the nearly four decades since the establishment of the Islamic Republic have proved that diplomacy alone is not adequate. As Henry Kissinger once remarked: “The exercise of diplomacy without the threat of force is without effect.”
Iran should be cognisant of the notion that its provocations and military adventurism in the Gulf will bring grave consequences.
Ronald Reagan followed this rule successfully in April 1988, when he ordered the US Navy to put an end to Iranian naval harassment in the Gulf. American forces sent a strong message to Iran through Operation Praying Mantis. After the operation, Iran’s assaults in the Gulf ceased.
From the viewpoint of the Iranian leaders, if other countries do not respond to the IRGC actions, it is a symbol of their weakness. For Iran, concession, leniency and diplomacy all mean powerlessness.
A regional Arab coalition – with the support of the US and other western allies – would be the most significant element of the equation: a robust bulwark against Tehran. This will require taking steps beyond words.
It requires a three-pronged strategy: strengthening the coalition’s navy, missile and defence capabilities. It also necessitates an accompanying comprehensive plan to counter Iran’s interventionism in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The international community also needs to address the loopholes of the nuclear deal. One of the major reasons that Iran is significantly emboldened is that Iranian leaders are aware that the nuclear agreement will continue to empower them financially and it will also allow Iran to achieve its nuclear objectives.
If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, countering Iran’s aggressive regional ambitions would be next to impossible.
European nations should pressure Tehran. Iran’s destabilising actions in the Strait of Hormuz affect the single market’s economy because Tehran has the capability to disrupt oil flow through the Strait.
Iran is likely to further flex its muscles in Hassan Rouhani's second term, seeking a far more aggressive world view.
Iranian leaders ought to be aware that Tehran’s destabilising actions in the Strait of Hormuz are red lines that could trigger serious consequences if crossed. Otherwise, Tehran’s aggressions and provocations will continue to gather strength.
This can be prevented by the aforementioned comprehensive plan, which is anchored in three-dimensional strategic and military cooperation between the West and Gulf states.
Dr Majid Rafizadeh is a leading Iranian-American political scientist, president of the International American Council and board member of the Harvard International Review
On Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
Updated: June 18, 2017 04:00 AM