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What does Iran want?



The Iranian embassy in Brussels: like the Communist revolution or the French revolution, Iran wants to export its revolution as much as possible. According to that vision, it is necessary to expel everything Western from the region

When I heard that Israel had attacked Isfahan, my heart stood still for a moment. It is true that outside the city are some major nuclear sites, something that Israel, as well as the rest of the world, is uneasy about, to say the least.

But Isfahan is so much more than that. It has one of the most beautiful and impressive squares in the world. It was built in the 16th century according to the concept of the paridaiza, Old Persian for walled garden. It is indeed paradisiacal and exudes the cultural and political power of the dynasty of the Safavids who ruled Persia, or Iran, from 1501 to 1772.

It is under the Safavids that Shia Islam became the state religion of the Persian empire. So one might think that Iran’s current regime looks back to that heyday as a glorious past that serves as a model for today’s politics.

Some suggest that Iran’s foreign policy is aimed at bringing back the Persian empire. Not only that of the Safavids, but also that of its founder, Cyrus the Great (600-530 BC). Cyrus’ empire covered the area from what is today Uzbekistan to Turkey and thus what we call the Middle East. Cyrus himself was admired by the Greeks (the historian Xenophon wrote a book about him) and even by the Israelites

He put an end to the Babylonian exile, had the Temple rebuilt and was therefore even called the Messiah by the prophet Isaiah.

It seems logical that this is why Iran is today interfering in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and even Palestine. Yet it is not the Persian empire that drives the ayatollahs and mullahs. Quite the contrary, in fact.

In 1979, they ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in a revolution, eight years after he had celebrated 2,500 years of Persian empire with great grandeur. For that celebration, which was also attended by foreign kings and presidents, food was flown in from Paris’ top restaurant Maxim’s. Iran’s current regime hates everything that had to do with the Shah, and hence all imperial ambitions.

What has been driving Iran since 1979 is not the Iranian state. It is the revolution against everything that state stood for for 200 years. It was a country that had to listen to Russia, Britain and later the United States. The Shah himself was the best example, considering his father Reza Shah Pahlavi had been put on the throne by the British. In return, the Shah gave the British and others concessions over the country’s wealth, especially then on oil. Those who rebelled against this, such as Mohammad Mossadegh, prime minister from 1951 to 1953, were deposed. Under the Shah, Iran was also westernised and secularised.

The 1979 revolution, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was therefore not only against the Shah, but also against colonisation, Western imperialism and secularisation. The goal, therefore, was complete independence from the West and re-Islamisation.

The Muslim Brotherhood, incidentally, was founded in Egypt in 1928 with exactly the same objectives. It is therefore no coincidence that both “revolutionary” movements have sympathy for each other, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni and the ayatollahs Shiite. Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi’s first foreign visit, as a Muslim Brother, was to Iran. That says it all.

1789 or 1989?
Like the Communist revolution or the French revolution, Iran wants to export its revolution as much as possible. According to that vision, it is necessary to expel everything Western from the region.

This is where Israel comes in. Israel is seen by Iran as a Western colonial and imperial project. And this is not entirely unjustified. The British gave the green light to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, with the Balfour Declaration. Since the creation of the state of Israel, it has been unconditionally supported by Europe and the United States. But Iranian hatred goes even further. Israel notably had good ties with the Shah, and Mossad trained the dreaded secret service, the SAVAK.

So Iran is not primarily pro-Palestine, rather than anti-Israel. That is the big difference with the Arab world, that provided a solution to the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, does want to make peace and does want to recognise Israel as a state. That is why the Arab world is annoyed by the rising tension between Iran and Israel. Those Arab countries do not want an open conflict between Israel and Iran. Jordan has helped Israel shoot down drones from Iran, albeit with renewed reluctance. The country especially does not want to be sandwiched in an air war and it certainly does not want to help Iran either.

However, the longer a real solution fails to materialise, the greater Iran’s impact becomes in that Arab world. The longer the occupation of the West Bank lasts, the more space the colonisers are given, the more wars there are in Gaza, the more sympathy Iran, Hamas and other groups like Hezbollah get. After all, they are seen as fighters against a fundamental injustice.

In other words, the West can try to further isolate Iran by imposing even more sanctions, but that will not reduce revolutionary thought and sympathy for it. The result will only be further isolation of Israel in the region. The only way to reduce Iran’s influence is an end to the war in Gaza, and a structural peace between Israel and Palestine. In short, there is only one way for the West to avoid a major and protracted regional conflict in the Middle East, and that is to do everything in our power to reach an urgent solution.


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