Following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, scarcely a day passes without news of rocket or drone strikes on American targets in Iraq and Syria. Orchestrated by groups identified as proxies of the Iranian government, these attacks persist despite repeated warnings from American officials.
The challenge posed by Iran’s proxy groups has entangled America for several decades — a challenge yet unresolved due to a lack of a clear strategy to contain the Islamic Republic. So, what is America’s Plan B?
Forty-four years ago, the Islamic Republic solidified its existence by taking American diplomats hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This “hostage crisis” heralded a “new Iranian challenge” for America. Anti-Americanism has been a formal and steadfast policy of the Islamic Republic, which perceives the United States not as a “rival,” but an “enemy.” Its domestic, regional and overall foreign policy has been guided by this unchangeable principle.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), especially its extraterritorial wing, the Quds Force, formerly commanded by Qassem Soleimani, has patronized many Islamist groups that have attacked American and its allies’ interests in Iraq and Syria. Hence, we are not merely dealing with ideological enmity; we face an active field enemy that challenges American policies and its allies across the Middle East.
The aim? Complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, weakening America’s allies, and dominating the Middle East.
One might ask why, despite Iraq having an army, do dozens of paramilitary groups under Iranian command exist alongside the Iraqi army? How and why have Hamas and Hezbollah, with Iran’s support endeavored to become part of the governments established in Gaza and Lebanon? This expansion of influence signifies something more: replicating the model of the Islamic Republic, which is based on anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments, throughout the Middle East — a situation many refer to as the octopus. The alarming aspect of such a situation is that the front under Iranian command can easily align with another front that is a rival of America: Russia and China.
In the last two decades, America has primarily focused on Iran’s nuclear program. This program, along with Iran’s missile program and its malign role in the Middle East through its proxies, places Tehran in an out-of-touch position. The core question that needs to be reiterated is; what should be America’s Plan B in the face of such a regime?
First, unlike common responses to this question that immediately propose limited military options, the matter at the first stage is mental and political. The most significant principle that American decision-makers need to formally recognize is this: there is no possibility of interaction, cooperation or behavior change with the Iranian government. The death of this fantasy or optimism in American foreign policy is a prerequisite for any breakthrough or alternative solution. The Iranian government has no other fantasy except for confrontation with the USA. Any other level of contact, at best, will have tactical and fragile aspects.
Second, in the next phase, America’s understanding of Iranian reality needs to be updated. The tactics of Iran’s government against America over the last four decades have evolved, and the dynamics of changes within Iranian society have been very fluid.
Four decades ago, the Iranian people’s movement demanding a change of government, was not as strong as it is now and had not spread across Iran. In recent years, the biggest challenge for Iran’s government domestically has been dealing with persistent anti-government protests. The people, contrary to the Iranian government, are generally secular and desire friendship with the West and America. Therefore, although the Islamic Republic is a natural enemy of America, the people of Iran are naturally friends of America and the West.
Various American administrations, to the extent that their eyes are on agreements with the Iranian government, have not seriously supported the people who wish to change their fate. Therefore, instead of exhausting and low-yield talks with a “stubborn enemy,” America should have a comprehensive strategy to support the people of Iran and the opponents of the Islamic Republic. The people of Iran have repeatedly shouted on the streets of various cities: “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is Right here.”
Third, as the Iranian government is not the sole challenge facing America, countering such a government is not solely the responsibility of the United States. Establishing a strong regional or international mechanism to curb the destructive behaviors of the Islamic Republic is essential.
The danger posed by the Islamic Republic in the Middle East is no less than Russia’s threat in the Baltic region. The alliance of these two axes significantly escalates the risks they can create in the East and West. The military collaboration between the Islamic Republic and Russia, previously in Syria and now in Ukraine, and their stance against the West indicate they are serious threats to global peace and security.
The international focus on Russia and overlooking the threat of the Iranian regime is not realistic. The duty of an international coalition is to identify the extent of the threat and coordinate to confront it accordingly. The political and diplomatic weakening of the Islamic Republic at the regional and global levels could be on the agenda of such a coalition. Moreover, cooperation and pressure on regional governments, including Iraq, to deal more seriously with the proxy groups of the Islamic Republic could be another objective of such a coalition.
Plan B signifies a shift in strategy. It is not necessarily a military plan. It marks the end of the temptation to engage with a stubborn enemy and the beginning of envisioning a different Iran. America has tested the first strategy for four decades. It has been very costly and fruitless. Now is the time to give the second one a chance.
Source : The Hill