Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
December 20, 2021
The political system in Iran is built on fundamental principles that address the domestic and external fronts differently.
At home, the regime emphasizes its supposed independence from global powers, adopting a “neither East nor West but the Islamic Republic” slogan. In addition to this, the regime constantly emphasizes its opposition to the Pahlavi regime that preceded it.
Overseas, both regionally and globally, Iran’s regime has consistently shown hostility or belligerence toward most countries. Outpourings of hatred rarely follow the same pattern, with expressions toward regional and global actors markedly different to one another. In short, there is a political animosity and an ideological one; the former is most evident in the organized chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” that are repeated by Tehran’s supporters across the region.
There are also other versions of these slogans, such as the one chanted by the Iran-affiliated Houthi militia in Yemen: “Death to America, damnation to Jews, victory for Islam.”
This animosity is limited to the political and rhetorical spheres for various reasons. First and foremost, Iran and its allies position themselves as bulwarks against global, primarily Western imperialism, knowing that this narrative will find a sympathetic audience in the Muslim world, which has experienced the disastrous effects of centuries of predominantly Western colonialism.
Iran’s regime harnesses widespread regional resentment at the decades of injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people and the West’s failure to find an equitable settlement for this crisis, along with its clear bias for the Israeli occupiers against the Palestinian victims. The regime capitalizes on this righteous resentment and anger to promote its own message of hatred and hostility toward the US and Israel.
In Ayatollah Khomeini’s last will, he mentioned the US 17 times, famously labeling it as the “Great Satan.” In a document entitled, “We are proud of our animosity against the terrorist America,” he called Americans “beasts” who “have no qualms about committing any crime or offense to achieve their criminal and ominous objectives.” Americans, he asserted, make no distinction between a friend and enemy so long as it helps achieve their “hegemonic and despicable ambitions,” with “terrorist America” and its ally, global Zionism, igniting the flames of conflict worldwide.
This political animosity, aimed at the US, Israel and Western countries, is different to Iran’s ideological animosity, which primarily targets Saudi Arabia, and has ideological and geopolitical impulses. In a speech in 1989, Khomeini said: “Even if it were possible to forgive Saddam Hussein, become heedless to the issue of Al-Quds, or ignore the crimes of the US, it would never be possible to forgive Saudi Arabia.”
Anyone who reads Khomeini’s will quickly realizes that his greatest animosity was reserved for Saudi Arabia. According to the Iranian constitution, the primary objective is to “export the revolution” — firstly in the Middle East, from Lebanon in the north to Yemen in the south. According to Khomeinist ideology, Iran’s fundamental doctrinal and ideological responsibility is to pave the way for the reappearance of the “hidden imam.”
Iran’s supreme leader considers himself to have leadership over all Muslims and Iran to lead the Muslim world, despite its various jurisprudential and sectarian schools of thought. Iran’s quest has failed because Makkah and Madinah, the two holiest sites in Islam, are located in Saudi Arabia, and are outside Tehran’s control. Hence, Iran seeks to weaken and destabilize Saudi Arabia so it can, either directly or indirectly, wrest control of the Two Holy Mosques.
Many signs confirm this Iranian quest, with Iran’s leadership having already held and funded dozens of conferences, symposiums and demonstrations across the world, with the common thread being to promote the idea that Saudi Arabia is not fit to run the Two Holy Mosques. It has clearly and repeatedly demanded that the Two Holy Mosques be supervised by a joint Islamic committee.
It should be considered that Iran’s foreign policy is based on the politics and ideology of animosity and aggressiveness, especially toward countries who stand up to Tehran’s expansionist project and its profoundly destabilizing doctrine of “exporting the revolution.”
In addition, Iran has devised “The Theory of Umm Al-Qura,” first proposed by Mohammed Javad Larijani in the 1980s. The essence of this theory is that the so-called Islamic Republic is not merely one of many Muslim countries but is, in fact, Umm Al-Qura, or the abode of Islam, meaning that the victory or defeat of Iran means the victory or defeat of Islam.
The theory states that Iran will be the leader of the Islamic world, and asserts that any country aspiring to be Umm Al-Qura should extend beyond its recognized geographical borders. Umm Al-Qura is not an exclusive birthright for any country, meaning a certain country could be the standard-bearer of Umm Al-Qura for a certain period of time. After the Islamic revolution emerged victorious, Iran became Umm Al-Qura and the abode of Islam.
For Iran’s leadership, which has even claimed that Saudi Arabia is illegitimately occupying Makkah and Madinah, this theory provides a handy pretext for nominating Qom — the center of Iranian hard-line Shiite teaching — as a holy city to rival Makkah. According to the theory, Makkah is under Saudi occupation. In fact, despite the massive proselytization of the theory, it has found no acceptance among the Islamic countries.
The theory’s failure led Iran to focus on Shiite geopolitics. Shiite minorities are being recruited, trained, and supported to destabilize the region, including Saudi Arabia. Thus, Iran created Hezbollah, trained its elements, funneled money and weapons to the group and ran its terrorist operations inside Saudi Arabia. Currently, Iran is targeting the Kingdom via the Houthi militia in Yemen. The Houthi militia repeats the slogan, “The road to Jerusalem passes through Makkah” — a modification of Khomeini’s slogan during the Iran-Iraq War: “The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala.”
These self-evident facts prove that the Iranian regime is founded on animosity to both the distant “other” (the US) politically and the near “other” (Saudi Arabia), both ideologically and politically. This also explains why Iran is supporting terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and hosting their commanders in Tehran, and why it facilitated the passage of the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks with the aim of damaging relations between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Hence, it should be considered that Iran’s foreign policy is based on the politics and ideology of animosity and aggressiveness, especially toward countries who stand up to Tehran’s expansionist project and its profoundly destabilizing doctrine of “exporting the revolution.” Riyadh and Washington emerge as the two main forces capable of preventing Iran from realizing its strategic objective.
In conclusion, we must remember the words of Khomeini in his will. These words are not abstract but express an order. He said: “This is the age where the Islamic world is oppressed at the hands of the US and the Soviet Union and all their client regimes such as the House of Saud, traitors of the great Holy Mosque (May the curse of God, his angels and his messengers be upon them). It was necessary to point to this issue, invoking curses upon those insolents and viscerally condemn them.”
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is head of Rasanah, the International Institute for Iranian Studies. Twitter: @mohalsulami