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Iran’s threshold for chaos is too high

(Alamy)

4 min read

Iran’s threshold for chaos and hostilities is far too high. Born out of the revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic’s purpose was stated explicitly by Ayatollah Khomeini: “We should try hard to export our revolution to the world.”

Much of the current fracturing across the Middle East is attributable to Iran’s marriage of revolutionary zeal with self-preservatory caution. Whether in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, Iran seeks to utilise proxies to achieve its ideological and practical aims without ever risking a direct confrontation, knowing one could prove fatal. 

This is a low-cost, high-reward strategy, spreading Iranian influence and ideology across the region and strengthening their proxies at the cost of the host state’s viability. Few could argue that Lebanon or Yemen have benefitted from the rise of Hezbollah and the Houthis. 

The sparks lit by Iran could easily grow into a fire that engulfs the region, drawing in our own country and allies

My concern is that the Ayatollah’s risk tolerance has grown too high. The sparks lit by Iran could easily grow into a fire that engulfs the region, drawing in our own country and allies. Our defensive action against the Houthis in the Red Sea demonstrates the impossibility of insulating ourselves from conditions in the Middle East. 

As well as their sponsorship of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis and militias in Syria and Iraq, in an interview in this edition of The House magazine (see page 14), the Defence Secretary confirms that Iran is supplying Russia with ballistic missiles. Iran has also fostered closer relations with China. The expiration of UN-mandated sanctions in the Iran Nuclear Deal in October 2023 was due to a likely China and Russia veto of any extension from the UNSC. The IAEA reporting of 83.7 per cent enriched uranium in early 2023 has raised fears that Iran is moving closer to developing nuclear capabilities.

Now throw into this mix the possibility of a second Trump presidency and it becomes clear that the situation requires urgent attention. Noises from Washington DC suggest Iran will be a primary focus for a second Trump administration, but we do not know how he will approach the problem. Further sanctions? Support for an Arab nations defence pact? Direct military confrontation? All of these are possibilities, but Trump has been around long enough for us to expect the unexpected and to avoid overly confident predictions. 

The Islamic revolutionary regime has severe weaknesses. The record low turnout of 41 per cent for the recent rubberstamp elections demonstrates a growing rejection of the regime following the brutal crackdown of the Mahsa Amini protests. Western sanctions continue to bite and selling oil on the cheap to China is not a viable economic alternative to a fully integrated economy. 

We lack a coherent deterrence plan but there are a few simple steps the government can and should take. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) should be proscribed, allowing us to better counter them at home and abroad. We should take a firmer stand against transnational oppression and improve protections for Iranian dissidents in the UK whilst rooting out so-called religious and charity institutions that promote Iran’s interests in our society. Finally, we should appoint a special envoy for hostages, as the US has already done, and begin to develop a coherent approach to freeing British citizens held by Iran and others. 

While these three steps are overdue and necessary, we need an injection of creativity into this debate. That is why I am holding a policy workshop on Iran on 13 March, where all Members can learn, discuss, and suggest how we best approach this issue. 

There are glimpses of hope on the horizon. A Saudi-Israeli normalisation, building on the Abraham Accords, could fundamentally shift the security picture in the region. Weaknesses at home and a more creative and assertive international response can check the Ayatollah’s sponsorship of terror abroad. 

Our current approach is to snuff out the fires without confronting the arson. If we are to succeed, we need to stop the spread at the source and begin to rebuild the states and communities damaged by the fire of the Ayatollah’s revolution. 

 

Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee

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