In my earlier essays Israeli Strategic Culture and Iranian Nuclear Program, I discussed Israeli strategic culture and Israeli perceptions of the Iranian nuclear threat. In applying strategic culture theory, I tried to project Israeli threat perception and a possible Israeli response. In this essay, we will try to understand the factors governing the Iranian mind-set, their strategic approach and their possible response to Pressure to abandon the Nuclear Program.
As we know, strategic culture is "a collectivity of beliefs, norms, values and historical experiences of the dominant elite in a polity that influences their understanding and interpretation of security issues and environment, and shapes their responses" (according to Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi, former professor at the Punjab University , Lahore, Pakistan)
Iranian strategic culture is influenced by three factors: pride of the Iranian past, Shia Islam and experiences of revolution. Then there is culture of revolution which has its own experiences and apprehensions.
Iran is a nation state dominated by an Aryan race group, although Azaries, Arabs, Baluchi and others are also important ethnic groups. The state religion is Islam and a majority (89%) follows the Asna Ashari sect of Shia Islam. Others include Ismaili Shiites and Sunni (9%) as well as Baha’is, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.
Iran is situated at a very strategic location. It’s on the mouth of Strait of Hurmaz through which 40 % of world’s oil supply pass every day and also because it join Euro-Asia, Central Asia, South Asia with Middle East. It has a nearly 4,000-year-long history, and due to its rich past, it has a well-developed culture and national pride. The era of Dara, Nosherwan, etc. is still a part of Iranian self-esteem.
Iranians are one of the oldest people having a glorious history. Historically, they have stood up to outside challenges. Unlike their neighbors they have great pride for their past, and one can feel the reflection of this pride and depth while meeting any Iranian.
Islam came to Iran in A.D. 633-656 with the fall of the Sassanids and the decline of the Zoroastrian religion. As mentioned earlier, Iranians follow the Asna Asheri sect of Shia Islam, which is also known as the 12 Imam Shia Islam and which is the second largest Muslim sect after the Sunni sect.
Shia hold fast to the teachings of the Prophet and, in contrast to other Muslims, believe that his family, including his descendants, known as Aimah e Ahle Bait, have a special spiritual and political rule over the Muslims. They believe that after the Prophet, the era of Imamate started, and that the first imam was nominated by the Prophet in Ghadir e Khum when he declared his son-in-law, Ali Ibn e Abi Talib ,the future imam, and that this precedent was repeated by Ali, who before his death nominated Hassan, his son — and so on.
According to Shia belief Imam Mahdi will come as a savior of the Ummah and will fight the battle with the Jews and the Antichrist in which Mahdi will kill the Antichrist. Mahdi will be aided by the second coming of Christ. According to the Hadiths the Antichrist, or Dajjal, will be killed at the door of Lodd. (Presently, there is major Israeli Air Force base situated in Lodd.)
Shia Muslims take pride in Martyrdom. According to them their history is full of Martyrs starting from Imam Ali to Imam Hassan Askari, the 11th Imam. They observe and Mourn in Moharram in remembrance of Martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the Grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). No Shia gathering proceeds without the remembrance of Martyrs of Karbala.
In Iran Iraq War mothers sent their children to fight against Iran some time as young as 14 years old. Iranian inferior in Weapons fought well against much superior Iraqis who had latest weapons given by western powers.
Second Factor which shapes mind set of Iranian Strategic Elite is Pride in their national history and culture. Iran remained a dominant power throughout history. Their language and culture has strong marks on all Middle East and south and central Asia. In my personal experience many times I found Iranians under superiority complex. They Take pride in their history and culture and are bound in actions under its influence. During Shah Times, Iran tried to be a regional power. Shah of Iran dreamed Iran to be a super power one day. Iranian intervention in Oman to curb The Dhofar Rebellion (1962-75) was an effort in pursuit of role of leadership and regional power.
The Third Factor that formed the Iranian mind-set is era of exploitation by Late Shah Regime who was supported by US and West. His regime was seen as most corrupt and nepotism of elite was order of the government at that time. Vast oil and natural reserves and their income were used for lavish lives of elite where as poor suffered a lot under US blessed Shah Regime.
In 1951 Muhammad Mossadaq was chosen as Prime minister by Majlis. He gained mass popularity and support which infuriated Shah’s regime. Ù•Mossadaq Nationalized oil industry which was largely controlled by British oil companies. This infuriated US and British. At one time Mossadaq reached a point of popularity where Shah became insecure and had to escape from Iran. To save their oil interests American CIA and British MI6 Staged a counter coup and in the end Shah was reinstalled and the most popular leader of the masses was ousted.
Ousting of Mossadaq was a short term relief for American and British Backed Shah. The lava of hate and want of revolution which was forced underground thanks to US and UK was getting hotter and hotter. Fate had given a chance to Shah but he failed to understand what Masses wanted and in the end had to leave Iran in 1979 for ever.
Shah wanted to change Iran. He was over ambitious. He wanted to change the society. He wanted return of era of Iranian glory. This he expressed in October 1971 at the 2500 years anniversary of Iranian Monarchy. For the ceremony nearly all the heads of states were invited and a tent city was made next to ruins of Persepolis. According to reports this anniversary costed 100 million Dollars, a country where poor were getting poorer and rich was getting richer it was enough to add insult into injury of poor and exploited masses.
Another thing which was unwise but was done by Shah was trying to change the social set up of a deeply religious and conservative society. His liberal ideas were not digestible for common Iranians. His regime was trying to cross limits of culture and religion. To implement his agenda he used torture and all the ruthless tricks to suppress any dissent.
This made Mullahs against Shah Regime. His concessions to US and UK in oil exploitation and gap between rich and poor forced left to oppose shah and in the end forced forces of Left (Mujahideen Khalaq) and Right (Mullahs) joined hands to work together against Shah Regime. In 1979 Iran underwent a revolution. It was against shah but US and west took it as anti Western revolution.
Revolution brought some changes as new elite has its own Values to follow. Iranian Army and establishment who supported Shah and was responsible for fall of Mossadaq, was neutralized by making counter weights like Pasdaran e Inqalab e Islami. Pasdaran are Stronger then Iranian Regular army known as Artesh and come direct under Spiritual leader. Similarly to counter agencies and police Basij militia were created to protect regime and counter any plot against revolution.
From the start west especially US took hostile stance against Iran and the revolution. US, and its allies instigated Iraq to wage war against Iran and then Provided Iraq with latest weapons. They urged Arabs to support Iraq and presented the war as war between Shia, Sunni and Persian v. Arabs.
After Iran Iraq war, US, and west tried to pressurize and topple Iran by putting sanctions on pretext of different issues and then supporting dissent in Iran against Mullah Regime. According to Seymour Hirsh’s article, Re direction, Published in New Yorker magazine in 2007. US, and its allies are supporting anti government forces in Iranian Azerbaijan, Khuzestan and Kurdistan etc.
Interestingly after Iraq invasion in 2003, US who had designated Mujahideen Khalaq as Terrorist Organization and had bases in Iraq was not touched by US and its allies. Their Bases were left alone to be used against Iranian Mullah Regime. Similarly Kurdish rebels were allowed to be trained By Israelis commandos to fight against Iran and Turkey.
The one sided Hostilities by west has made enormous effects on Iranian strategic thinking and culture. Iran’s economy due to sanctions is in a very bad shape. Iran who is a major oil producer don’t have capability to purify its own oil and have to get it refined from outside. US and West support to dissent has made Iranian regime due to pride in past and Islamic ideology has made it more stubborn and motivated to safe guard Iranian Revolution.
Militarily they know their limit that’s why they have developed Anti Aircraft systems to protect their air and missals to strike the enemies. Iranian Revolutionary Guard has trained itself in hit and run type actions and can play havoc to invading forces in their guerrilla techniques. They have also maintained links with popular non statuesque forces in the region like Hamas inand in Lebanon. Iranian Stance against Israel and support of Palestine cause has made it popular in non Shia population of Middle East and Muslim world.
Like Saudi Arab who is considered as leader of Sunni world, Iran is seen as a leader in Shia Muslims across Middle East and world that’s why when demonstrations started in Bahrain, Yemen and East of KSA, they all pointed fingers towards Iran without having any evidence.
Iran started its nuclear program to full fill its needs for energy but west accused it that it was making Atomic bomb. Khomeini in one fatwa declared WMD’s haram , Although Iraqis under Saddam Hussain used Poisonous gasses against Iranians but Iran due to Fatwa never went after chemical weapons. Today Iranian government still maintain that nuclear weapons are haram and it is nuclear program is not for weaponization. The logic which they give is that they have oil they should sell it and earn money and not to use it to meet energy needs because nuclear energy is many times cheap then energy made by oil.
Today US, and Israel are seen happy due to Syrian Protests and unrest against Bashar ul Asads regime. In Israeli and American calculus Regime change in Syria is necessary to cut down line of supply to Hezbollah and Hamas in order to limit their freedom and capability to strike back in case Iran is attacked. Iran has never proven itself to be threat to any of its neighbors. It’s only Israel which feels real threat because it doesn’t want any nation in Middle East to be in position to challenge its dominance.
If Israel attacks Iran there will be repercussions throughout Middle East. Shia belt will explode. Iranian first action would be to block strait of Hurmaz by sinking some ship and make it unusable for sea traffic. Second option would be to support anti US forces in region especially in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Attack on Iran will unite Iran and Persian pride will force nation to unite against outside threat.
Summing up Iranian Nuclear Program is criticized unjustly. Iran has right to use nuclear energy for its energy requirements and its plainly discriminatory and foolish to demand that Iran should use its oil and gas to full fill its needs and not to develop nuclear energy. So far since 1979 Iran has proved itself to be mature and peaceful unlike Israel who has displayed recklessness on many occasions. Iranian strategic culture dictates Iran will never give up its program. Israeli Strategic culture dictates that it will attack Iran but common sense dictates any attack on Iran will be start of Armageddon.