A review of recent history sheds light on the highly contentious issue (both in the minds of Iranian security officials and Western observers): the nature of Iran’s strategy.
Marginalized by Washington for decades, Tehran cooperated with the U.S. after its invasion of Afghanistan to set up a new regime, maneuvered carefully to expand its influence in Iraq during and after the U.S. occupation of that country, and delicately practiced nuclear ambiguity to persuade the U.S. to negotiate. These three complicated sets of tactics gained Iran a minimal degree of security and opened the door to Iran’s return to the global diplomatic stage.
Now, with a no doubt disappointing year having elapsed since the nuclear accord and thus perhaps feeling that it is not going to get the economic or diplomatic benefits it had anticipated, Tehran has firmly and quietly eliminated America’s monopoly of military power over the Mideast, sending a loud message that it will not be marginalized any longer and, surely, acquiring promises of new weapons from Russia in return for the valuable landing rights at Hamadan.
Iran now finds itself, at little clear cost, significantly more secure from aerial attack by either Israel or Saudi Arabia. It may have to accept the removal of Assad but will at least have Russia on its side of the negotiating table for any grand Syrian solution. Russia could of course walk away from Iran but only at the cost of relinquishing its new air force facility which it will no doubt increasingly value as balancing U.S. bases in Bahrain and Turkey. Tehran will have to follow Russia’s lead regarding Assad–at least until it gets whatever weapons Putin promised, but surely the feeling must be spreading in Tehran that Assad has made himself something of a dead weight. Perhaps, indeed, Tehran is looking for a way to cast him aside. Hamadan has just become a bargaining chip of great value to both Tehran and Moscow.
In comparison with Ankara’s rhetoric and missteps or Riyadh’s bleeding war in Yemen, Tehran’s chessboard maneuvering for position is looking increasingly impressive.