IRAN AND ITS NEIGHBORS

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Iran and the World



Introduction
Iran holds a precarious position in the world. Since its revolution in 1979 which installed an Islamic Republic, the Republic's foreign policies at times seem pragmatic and at other times wholly ideological. This tends to leave many of its friends and foes confused and unsure of future steps. Currently, Iran's nuclear ambitions tend to be a major point of contention between the country and the rest of the world.

Iran and Israel
Since the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1979), Iran and Israel have not had diplomatic relations, nor has Iran recognized Israel as a country. Furthermore, the current Iranian regime has propagated extreme rhetoric against Israel. Indeed, the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that “Israel must be wiped off the map” is well known. However, it must be pointed out that this translation of his Persian statement is not accurate. Juan Cole's translation of the statement is “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.” The translation is different, though the point is still extreme. Ahmadinejad is a fairly rash and radical speaker, who may not have been expressing the view point of the whole Iranian government or population, however, the fact that this statement was said at all still points to the radical views of the Iranian state on the Israeli state. Indeed, while the destruction of the Israeli state may be an ultimate ideological goal of the regime; it is certainly not its primary aim.
During the Iran-Iraq war, in fact, Israel was an intermediary in the US sale of weapons to Iran. Despite this arms transaction, Israel and Iran continue to threaten each other with military action. Israel claims it will take unilateral military action against Iranian nuclear threats, and Iran often claims that it will demolish Israel. The two seem to be caught in a cycle of threats which please certain audiences within their respective countries. Without a major development, it does not seem that the threats will come to fruition.

Iran and Russia
In October, 2007 President Vladimir Putin of Russia visited Tehran, signaling the ever warming relations between the two countries. Current times present a drastic difference from the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev, telling him that communism was dead and that he and his nation should study Islam. Although Iran and Russia still do not share many ideological similarities, the two nations have similarly pragmatic political sensibilities which bring them closer together.
One of the issues which brings the two together is the nuclear issue. Russia is aiding Iran in its acquisition of nuclear energy. In a nuclear deal worked out between Iran, The United Nations and Russia, Russia is building and giving technical assistance on the Bushehr nuclear reactor. At the same time however, Russia has supported sanctions against Iran for its lack of cooperation in proving that it does not seek nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Russia and Iran blame each other for delays on the project. Nevertheless the Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation has been the basis of a developing relationship.
During an October, 2007 meeting, Russia and Iran moved beyond their nuclear cooperation in an effort to forge deeper ties on a broader array of issues. They have come together especially over their shared opposition to US foreign intervention policies. Both countries face coercive US actions and seek to reduce the US’s role worldwide. Iran and Russia's pragmatic desires may bring them even closer in the future; however, their ideological differences will always be present.

Iran and Hezbollah
In the public sphere, it is not known what exactly the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah consists of. It is apparent that Iran supports Hezbollah to some significant degree. There are even Hezbollah aligned members in the Majlis (Iranian parliament). The United States claims that Iran is a major financial and operational supporter of Hezbollah; that they two are interconnected at a very basic level. During the early days of Hezbollah, the group was indeed very close to Iranian guards based in Lebanon, but the current extent of these close ties are somewhat less clear. The ideological similarities between Hezbollah and Iran, however, do suggest a close relationship. Both detest the presence of Israel; both are Shi'ite, and both condemn the “Western” presence in the Middle East.

Iran and Venezuela
In 2006 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared, “The distance between our countries (Iran and Venezuela) may be a bit far, but the hearts and thoughts are very close.” Although historically there have not been strong ties between Iran and this South American Country, recently the two anti-American, anti-western imperialism, regimes have come closer.
Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, is a socialist leader who is trying (some say he's succeeded) in becoming a leader of South America. Similarly to Iran, the country has oil reserves which it uses to its advantage in the global market place. Iran and Venezuela have come together to support a different “world-order” than that of the American one. Together in the beginning of 2007, they pledged 2 billion dollars to countries that were in Chavez's words "attempting to liberate themselves from the imperialist yoke.”

Iran and The United States (and its Western Allies)
The “West”, especially America and Britain, have a history of intervention within Iran, and it would be inaccurate to discuss current relations without at least giving an overview of earlier 20th century events. During World War II, Britain and Russia entered Iran in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Axis Powers. During this time period, the occupying powers more or less forced the Shah to abdicate the throne to his son. During his son's rule the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq became immensely popular with his plan to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which was then controlled by British Petroleum (BP) with only partial profits going to Iran. Worried about oil nationalization, the British and Americans covertly supported and instigated a coup, which put Reza Pahlahvi (the former Shah) back into power. The Shah while trying to implement “modern” reforms, crushed all opposition and opposition movements. This (as well as many other factors) led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which eventually put in place the government which is still in power today, the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is apparent that the “West” had a key role in the development of 20th century Iranian political history, and that the current regime came into power at least partially in opposition and in reaction to the government that had had been put into place by the “west”.
A few more key moments in 20th century history define US-Iranian relations, including the Iranian Hostage crisis and the Iran-Contra Affair. In the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Iranian students/militants (depending on your point of view) stormed the US embassy and held over 50 people hostage for 444 days. The Iran-Contra Affair was likely a related incident in which the US government sold weapons to the anti-American Iranian government, with the help of Israel. Iran and the United States have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1979.
Currently Iran and the “West” have very poor relations. Many countries, including America, condemn Iranian support of Hezbollah. And, many western countries are at least suspicious about Iranian nuclear activity, suspecting that the program may be for the development of weapons, not electricity. After 9/11, Iran officially condemned the terrorist acts, nonetheless the US continues to look for ties between the act and Iran. Furthermore, lately, America has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and insurgency in Iraq; however, Iran desires a stable nonviolent neighbor, so it is unclear if these allegations are accurate. On the other hand, “death to America” rallies are not rare in Iran, though not close to all Iranians or government officials would support these rallies. Iran and America do not have formal diplomatic ties, and the two seem to be on opposite ends of the worldwide political spectrum. American neocons seem to suggest military action against Iran is warranted, while others suggest diplomacy is the better option. Currently, relations between Iran and America are clearly tense and in a state of flux.

Iran and Other Middle Eastern Countries Briefly: Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt
Iran has odd relationships with its Middle Eastern counterparts. Part of the oddity stems from Iran being a Shi'ite Muslim and Persian country, while must other countries are majority Sunni Muslim and Arab. Furthermore with its strict adherence to Shari'a law and Islamic rhetoric, it is in opposition to its more 'modernizing' neighbors. Iraq and Iran have not had a good relationship recently. For most of the 1980s they were at war, and tensions persisted after the war's conclusion. The Baathist ideology of Saddam Hussein did not mesh with the Islamic rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeini. After the US invasion, Iran claims to be helping to develop a more stable and peaceful neighbor, while the US claims that Iran is supporting and adding to the chaos and instability in Iraq. In Lebanon, Iran supports the Shi'ite Hezbollah organization. Hezbollah tends to be in opposition to the Beirut government and on the ground controls most of southern Lebanon. Hence, the Lebanese and Iranian governments are not the closest pair. After the Islamic revolution, Iran broke relations with Egypt when that nation formally recognized Israel. Recently however, ties between Iran and Egypt have been growing and the two are working towards a total normalization of diplomacy, in hopes of promoting a more stable region.

Sources:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1018/p06s02-woeu.html ^ Cole, Juan (May 03, 2006). Hitchens the Hacker; And, Hitchens the Orientalist And, "We don't Want Your Stinking War!. Retrieved on 2006-05-04. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1018/p06s02-woeu.html http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=5591643 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5354812.stm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran-Venezuela_relations http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-01-14-iran-venezuela_x.htm Keddie, Nikki R.. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution, Yale University Press, 2006.

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