في تاريخ 4 يوليو، بينما كانت الولايات المتحدة تحتفل بعيد ميلادها الـ 247، كانت إيران تحتفي بميلاد نظام عالمي جديد متعدد الأقطاب، يهدف إلى استبدال النظام الحالي أحادي القطب بقيادة أمريكا.
ووصفت وكالة سبوتنيك الروسية للأنباء، وباللغة الفارسية، حدث دخول إيران إلى منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون (SCO) بأنه لم يأتِ توافقًا مع يوم استقلال أمريكا عن طريق الصدفة!
أصبحت إيران رسميًا تاسع عضو في هذه الكتلة الأمنية والاقتصادية التي تقودها الصين خلال القمة الافتراضية للمجموعة. وأشادت طهران بعضوية المجموعة باعتبارها إنجازًا لسياستها الخارجية والاقتصادية الموجهة نحو الشرق. ورحبت وسائل الإعلام الإيرانية بهذه العضوية باعتبارها خطوة ضد الهيمنة الأمريكية تنحو باتجاه تعزيز التعددية.
شكلت الصين وروسيا وإيران في السنوات الأخيرة كتلة سياسية وأمنية وعسكرية مناوئة للغرب، تسمى التحالف الثلاثي. والعضوية الكاملة لإيران في منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون ستؤدي إلى زيادة تعزيز مكانة تلك المجموعة.
وباعتبار الصين القوة الاقتصادية لهذه الكتلة الثلاثية غير الرسمية، فهي ستعمل على تعزيز اقتصاد الجمهورية الإسلامية المنكوبة بالعقوبات عن طريق شراء النفط الإيراني بطريقة غير مشروعة بخصم يصل إلى نسبة 25٪.
ومن المتوقع أن تقلل عضوية منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون من عزلة إيران الاقتصادية والدبلوماسية في الشؤون العالمية وأن تجعل العقوبات التي تقودها الولايات المتحدة ضد إيران أقل فعالية، ما بإمكانه أن يقوض نفوذ واشنطن في ممارسة المزيد من الضغط على إيران.
بكين هي الداعم الاقتصادي الرئيسي لموسكو في الحرب على أوكرانيا، حيث تعهدت بشراكة “بلا حدود” مع روسيا قبل وقت قصير من الغزو في فبراير من العام 2022، وهي تساعد في الحفاظ على اقتصاد روسيا في زمن الحرب. وقد أثار موقف الصين في هذا الصدد إدانة الاتحاد الأوروبي.
هذا ويواصل الحزب الشيوعي الصيني دعم الكرملين، ما يسمح باستمرار العدوان الروسي من خلال أن يكون أكبر شريك تجاري يقدم لموسكو شريان حياة اقتصادي.
بالإضافة إلى ذلك، تعد منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون مكانًا مهمًا لروسيا وإيران المتضررة من العقوبات لدعم بعضهما البعض. فالمنظمة ستعطي فرصة لروسيا وإيران للتخفيف من نتائج عقوبات الغرب.
نمت العلاقات الثنائية بين إيران وروسيا بشكل ملحوظ منذ أن غزت روسيا أوكرانيا في 24 فبراير 2022. وتقدم طهران لموسكو الدعم الدبلوماسي والعسكري، بينما تمنح روسيا إيران حاجاتها النووية وغيرها من التقنيات الأمنية والعسكرية المتقدمة.
علاوة على ذلك، تعد منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون منصة للأنظمة الاستبدادية لدعم بعضها البعض في قمع حركات التحرر أو التمرد المحلية. ففي 26 حزيران (يونيو)، في أعقاب ثورة مرتزقة فاغنر الخاطفة، اتصل الرئيس الإيراني إبراهيم رئيسي بنظيره الروسي فلاديمير بوتين وعرض “دعمه الكامل”. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، دعا قائد القوات المسلحة الإيرانية وزير الدفاع الروسي سيرجي شويغو لزيارة إيران خلال مكالمة هاتفية بينهما. وأخيراً قام قائد الشرطة الإيرانية في نفس الوقت بزيارة نادرة لموسكو.
منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون تأسست في عام 2001 من قبل الصين وروسيا، وهي مجموعة أمنية وسياسية أوروبية آسيوية تضم أيضًا الهند وباكستان وكازاخستان وطاجيكستان وأوزبكستان وقيرغيزستان وإيران التي انضمت حديثًا.
انضمام إيران إلى منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون من هذه الكتلة التي تقودها الصين يعتير تحديًا أكبر للأمن القومي والسياسة الخارجية للولايات المتحدة، إذ يتغير المشهد الجيوسياسي لصالح الصين، وتحتاج أمريكا إلى صياغة استراتيجية شاملة لعكس هذا التحول أو إبطائه.
ولمواجهة المد الصيني، تحتاج واشنطن إلى زيادة قدرات الردع التقليدية لديها، إذ يبدو أن رغبة الصين وقدرتها على الاستيلاء على تايوان بالقوة يتزايدان. في الوقت نفسه، تحتاج أمريكا إلى الانخراط من جديد، وليس تقليص الإنفاق. وقد يعني دخول إيران إلى منظمة شنغهاي للتعاون المزيد من الدور والتأثير الصيني في الشرق الأوسط وآسيا الوسطى.
هذا وتستند استراتيجية الصين حاليًا إلى تشجيع المملكة العربية السعودية والإمارات العربية المتحدة ودول مجلس التعاون الخليجي الأخرى على خفض مستوى شراكتهم الاستراتيجية مع الولايات المتحدة والانضمام إلى المحور الصيني الروسي، حيث إيران تنضم عضوًا جديدًا.
كانت القمة الأولى بين دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي والصين في أواخر عام 2022 حدثًا بارزًا، وأيضًا جرس إنذار للولايات المتحدة. تحتاج إدارة بايدن إلى طمأنة إسرائيل ودول الخليج العربي وتركيا وأذربيجان وأصدقاء وحلفاء آخرين، بأن واشنطن لا تتراجع من المنطقة أو عن التزامها منذ أكثر من نصف قرن بضمان أمن الطاقة والتدفق الحر للنفط، ولاسيما عبر مضيق هرمز.
أخيرًا، تحتاج الولايات المتحدة إلى تعزيز تحالفاتها في المحيطين الهندي والهادئ، فللولايات المتحدة علاقات ثنائية وحلفاء في اليابان وكوريا الجنوبية والفلبين وأستراليا وتايلاند ودول أخرى في المحيطين الهندي والهادئ. كما أن تعاون الولايات المتحدة مع رابطة دول جنوب شرق آسيا (ASEAN) أمر بالغ الأهمية. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، فإن تحويل الحوار الأمني الاستراتيجي بين الدول الرباعية، التي تتكون من الهند واليابان وأستراليا والولايات المتحدة، إلى تحالف أمني رسمي شبيه بحلف شمال الأطلسي، من شأنه أن يرسل رسالة قوية في ردع المغامرات الصينية المستقبلية.
*أحمد هاشمي زميل باحث في معهد هدسون في العاصمة واشنطن.
On July 4, as the U.S. was celebrating its 247th birthday, Iran was celebrating the birth of a new multipolar world order, intended to replace the current unipolar American-led order.
As Russia’s state-owned Persian language news agency Sputnikput it, Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) did not occur on America’s Independence Day by coincidence.
Iran officially became the ninth full member of this China-led security and economic bloc during the group’s virtual summit on July 4. Tehran hailed its membership as an achievement for its eastern-oriented foreign and economic policy. Iranian media outlets welcomed this membership as a move against American hegemony and a step toward strengthening multilateralism.
China, Russia, and Iran have in recent years crafted a political, security, and military bloc in opposition to the West called the Triangular Alliance. Iran’s full membership in the SCO will only further boost that group’s status.
As the economic powerhouse of this unofficial tripartite bloc, China is beefing up the Islamic Republic’s sanctions-plagued economy by illicitly buying Iranian oil at a discount of up to 25%. Now, the SCO membership is expected to reduce Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation in world affairs and make U.S.-led sanctions against Iran less effective, eroding Washington’s leverage to exert further pressure on Iran.
Also, Beijing is Moscow’s main economic backer in the war in Ukraine, pledging a “no-limits” partnership with Russia shortly before the February 2022 invasion and helping keep Russia’s wartime economy afloat. China’s position in this regard has triggered EU condemnation. By becoming Russia’s largest trade partner and offering Moscow an economic lifeline, the Chinese Communist Party continues to support the Kremlin, allowing Russia’s aggression to continue.
In addition, the SCO is an important venue for sanctions-hit Russia and Iran to back each other up. It gives an opportunity to Russia and Iran to minimize the consequences of the West’s sanctions. Iran and Russia’s bilateral relationship has grown significantly since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Tehran is providing Moscow with diplomatic and military backing, while Russia is giving Iran nuclear and other advanced security and military technology.
Furthermore, the SCO is a platform for leading authoritarian regimes to back one another in suppressing domestic mutinies. On June 26, in the immediate aftermath of the Wagner mercenaries’ brief revolt, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and offered his “full support.” In addition, the chief of the Iranian armed forces invited Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to visit Iran during a phone call. And finally, the commander of the Iranian Police paid a rare visit to Moscow.
Founded in 2001 by China and Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a Eurasian security and political group that also includes India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and newly admitted Iran. Iran’s accession to the SCO makes this China-led bloc a bigger national security and foreign policy challenge to the U.S. The geopolitical landscape is changing in favor of China, and America needs to formulate a comprehensive strategy to reverse or slow down this shift.
To counter China, Washington needs to increase its conventional deterrence capabilities. Both China’s willingness and its ability to take Taiwan by force appear to be increasing. At the same time, America needs to re-engage, not retrench. The entry of Iran into the SCO would mean more Chinese footprints in the Middle East and Central Asia. In addition, China’s Middle East strategy is based on encouraging Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to downgrade their strategic partnership with the U.S. and join the Chinese-Russian axis, of which Iran is a junior member.
The first GCC-China Summit in late 2022 was a milestone historical event and a wake-up call for the U.S. The Biden Administration needs to reassure Israel, Arab Gulf states, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, among other friends and allies, that Washington is not abandoning the region and is not giving up on America’s more than half-century commitment to ensuring the region’s energy security and the free flow of oil, including from the Strait of Hormuz.
Finally, the U.S. needs to consolidate existing alliances in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. has bilateral relations and treaty allies in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and other countries in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also crucial. Additionally, transforming the strategic security dialogue between Quad states, consisting of India, Japan, Australia, and the United States, into a NATO-like formal and formidable security alliance, would send a strong message in deterring future Chinese adventurism.
In an unprecedented diplomatic initiative, China on March 10, brokered a deal to restore relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, seven years after Riyadh and Tehran severed their ties.
President Biden’s Gulf strategy, which is a continuation of former President Obama’s Iran-oriented doctrine, has benefited both China and Iran.
In addition to allowing Iran to keep its nuclear capabilities, this doctrine, which culminated in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), requires Saudi Arabia to “share” the region with Iran and allows Iran to expand its influence in the Arabian Gulf region and beyond. The pursuit of an Iran-friendly strategy has led to the decline of US influence and the growing erosion of its deterrence in the Arabian Gulf. Here are four likely consequences of the Iran-Saudi deal for the region:
1. Further US retrenchment from the Gulf region
The Iran-Saudi deal would expedite America’s retreat from the region. The China-mediated Iran- Saudi deal is a lose-lose game for America and at the same time, would empower China and Iran.
Even if they claim otherwise, the Obama and Biden administrations’ withdrawal strategy rests on accommodating Iran and allowing the establishment of a pro-Iran regional order in the Arabian Gulf to fill the ensuing power vacuum. The United States has been retreating from the Middle East region since 2009 and China is the biggest beneficiary of Team Biden-Obama’s Iran-centric retrenchment strategy. It’s a strategy that has pushed America’s Arab allies in the Gulf towards Beijing as Arab states seek to diversify their strategic ties to address their security concerns, including their fear of Iran’s drone and missile strikes on targets in the Gulf and the broader Middle East region.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to mend its relationship with Iran is directly related to the Obama doctrine, which seeks to help establish an Iran-dominated order in the Middle East region. The doctrine falsely assumes that Iran is a rational actor and that Iran’s hegemonic demands must be met positively in order to achieve peace and stability in this restive region.
2. An acceleration in the Sino-centric world order
From a geopolitical perspective, this Beijing-mediated rapprochement is a major diplomatic and geopolitical victory for China and equally a serious blow to US leadership and its influence in the region. China seeks to replace America in diplomatic, military, and economic battlefields. As part of this geopolitical game, Beijing is eager to secure its access to the Middle East’s hydrocarbon resources in case of escalation with the US over its likely invasion of Taiwan. Saudi Arabia’s priority is protecting its petrochemical facilities and securing oil flow from Iranian missiles and drones and China has such leverage to stop Iran’s proxy attacks.
Other Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, have welcomed restored Saudi-Iranian ties and in the absence of US leadership and security guarantees, they are expected to follow suit and race for the improvement of their ties with Iran, establish closer relations with China and keep a low profile concerning their ties with Israel.
3. A blow to the Abraham accords
With President Biden in office, pursuing the Abraham accords is not a US Middle East policy priority, anymore. Yet, Iran and Saudi Arabia occupy a unique place in Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy. During his election campaign in 2022, Netanyahu made blocking Iran’s access to nuclear bombs and establishing formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia his two top priorities.
Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that establishing diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a key Muslim state and the heartland of Islam – would be a diplomatic “quantum leap” and would end the Israeli-Arab conflict, irrespective of the Palestinian issue. With Iran- Saudi rapprochement underway, Netanyahu’s hope for achieving peace with Saudi Arabia may become harder, if not impossible, and the expansion of the Israeli-Arab peace initiative, better known as the “Abraham Accords”, could come to a standstill.
The Abraham Accords is one of the greatest US foreign policy achievements in recent decades and this key diplomatic success needs to be reproduced with US diplomatic leadership. Otherwise, China is going to dominate the region’s diplomatic arena.
4. An interim de-escalation in media and proxy wars
As part of restoring their ties, Iran and Saudi Arabia are expected to soften their language in their media. Saudi Arabia has reportedly agreed to tone down coverage of Iran by Iran International, a Saudi-funded Farsi-language satellite news channel that Tehran has accused of instigating a monthslong protest movement in Iran. Iran, in the past, had called for the designation of “Iran International” as a “terrorist group”.
Iran pursues its foreign policy by creating chaos and instability. Thus, the Saudi-Iran deal is expected to only temporarily mitigate the proxy conflicts across the region between the two Middle Eastern archrivals, not to resolve the 4-decades-old underlying problems.
The clerical regime has reportedly agreed to stop encouraging Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebel attacks on Saudi Arabia. Conversely, in a move to appease Iran to stop its destabilizing behaviors, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister recently stated that his country could invest in Iran “very quickly” following an agreement to restore diplomatic ties.
A potential détente is a welcome development, but only if it is not at the expense of driving US allies into a corner by bullying Iran and weakening US diplomacy in the region by warrior China.
US diplomacy in the face of China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy
Biden’s America has a long way to go to right the strategic wrongs and to regain the trust of its Arab allies, but first and foremost, it must get rid of the Iran-focused Obama doctrine, once and for all.
Washington has unmatched economic, military, and diplomatic capabilities. The United States can keep Iran at bay including by maintaining a credible deterrence and strictly sticking to the Maximum Pressure campaign. In addition, America can reverse China’s ascent in the Arabian Gulf by pursuing proactive diplomacy and expanding peace in the region.
China’s coercive foreign policy, known as “wolf warrior diplomacy,” and Beijing-brokered talks may establish interim détente in Saudi-Iranian relations but cannot bring peace to the Arabian Gulf and the broader Middle East, only the expansion of the Abraham Accords can. American policymakers must continue efforts to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Islam and the most important Arab state, by including the latter in the Abraham Accords and expanding much-needed peace, stability, and economic integration in the restive region.
In the past few months, poison attacks have affected hundreds of Iranian schoolgirls, prompting some parents to take their children out of school due to fear of what some have dubbed “biological terrorism.”
These attacks started in November in Qom, which is the heartland of Shiite extremism and home to Iran’s Shiite seminary and Islamic institutions. This wave of toxic gas attacks has expanded to the rest of the country, but with thirty school attacks, the ultraconservative city of Qom still leads the list of the most-targeted cities.
Speculation on the perpetrators of such attacks continues but the regime itself and regime-affiliated extremist groups are the main suspects. Some local media have said that it could be the work of religious zealots who want to prevent girls from attending school. Others, including former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, have speculated that the poisonings are the work of hardliners who want to “copy” the Taliban in Afghanistan and the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, which have banned women’s education and terrorized parents to stop sending their girls to school. Abtahi has asked in an Instagram post: “Has Boko Haram come to Iran?”
Several regime officials have highlighted the intentional nature of the serial poisoning of female students in Qom and other cities. Iran’s deputy education minister has admitted these attacks are “intentional” and Iran’s attorney general has acknowledged the poisoning of students in the city of Qom might be a “deliberate criminal act.”
Yet, as in all other cases when things go wrong, Iran’s senior officials, including its president, Ebrahim Raisi, have blamed foreign enemies for schoolgirl poisonings.
These reportedly intentional biological attacks come at a critical time: the regime in Iran has been challenged by the death of Mahsa Jina Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police” on September 16, 2022, which sparked large protests across the nation. Consequently, it appears that the Iranian regime is taking revenge on this women-led movement by indiscriminately targeting schoolgirls.
A race between Sunni and Shiite extremists on misogyny
Iran remains the leading state sponsor of global terrorism. The Islamic regime brutally represses its own people and supports instability, chaos, and terrorist organizations abroad.
As a predominantly Shiite country, Iran used to have sectarian animosity with such extremist groups like Al Qaeda. However, Iran has occasionally formed an anti-American alliance of convenience with Sunni terrorist organizations, hosting their leaders and providing them with logistical and financial support. The U.S. State Department stated in February that Said al-Adel, an Iran-based Egyptian, has become the head of Al Qaeda following the July 2022 death of Ayman al-Zawahiri. In addition, the former U.S. special representative for the reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, recently said that Iran has become a new center of Al Qaeda.
In addition to hosting, funding, and arming Sunni extremists, Iran also competes with these groups to make its Shiite version of Islam a more puritan, brutal, and misogynist brand. What Iran is doing with its schoolgirls is reminiscent of acts of such terrorist organizations as the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda who oppose women’s education. Iran’s Shiite fanatics are competing with their Sunni rivals while the mullahs in Tehran deeply fear the progressive women’s movement that has adopted the “Woman, Life, Freedom” slogan, three components that go against the founding principles of this clerical regime. Thus, the government is adamant to clamp down and deter the women’s activism in Iran, even by means of poisoning them.
Silencing, stoning, enslaving, and taking revenge on the women is an inalienable part of Islamist extremist entities that despise women just for being women, especially if those women—like brave girls in Iran—dare to seek freedom from clerical tyranny, Islamist misogyny, and inhumane Sharia law.
Putin’s mysterious poison game
Russian president Vladimir Putin has, on several occasions, used mysterious poisons and other biological and toxic substances to get rid of his enemies. He has also used these substances against schoolchildren. When Putin came to power in Russia in 1999, he started punishing the independence-seeking Chechen nation by indiscriminately bombing Chechen civilians, leveling the capital, Grozny, and targeting Chechen schoolgirls by collectively poisoning them by potentially using chemical agents or biological weapons.
When she was seventeen years ago, Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian investigative journalist and human rights activist, started probing the poisoning cases of Chechen schoolgirls and began publishing her findings in 2006. She was found dead in her apartment a couple of months later. No one was charged for the murder as impunity reigns for perpetrators who go after anti-Putin activists.
A similar pattern is repeating itself in Iran as the clerical regime is trying to collectively punish women by means of mass poisoning as there is no will to find and charge the perpetrators. Inspired by Putin’s poison game, Tehran has waged a war against schoolgirls by indiscriminately punishing brave Iranian women for resisting the regime’s efforts to subjugate and indoctrinate them.
Iran, Russia, and China
Iran has shown great interest in importing Russian and Chinese repression technologies, and it is possible that Iran has acquired its poisoning technology from Russia.
Xi Jinping’s China is another source of inspiration for Iran. China is a dystopian, human rights nightmare as collective punishment can go as far as the mass rape and detention of the Uighur people, especially women in Muslim and Turkic-speaking Xinjiang province.
One can’t help but notice that misogyny is a common trait of all repressive regimes. Putin punished, in mass, Chechen women for giving birth to tough fighters who wanted independence from Russian tyranny. Xi is collectively punishing Uighur women for giving birth to a generation that wants to preserve their culture and tradition and defy the Chinese Communist Party’s indoctrination. Iran is indiscriminately punishing women and schoolgirls because of their leading role in anti-regime protests that started with Amini’s brutal death.
Iran, Russia, China, and other authoritarian regimes fear women the most. To deprive their nation of liberty, Putin’s Russia, Xi’s China, and clerical Iran along with Islamist terrorist organizations suppress women’s very existence.
What America can do
While the women in Iran are putting their lives at risk and fighting for their emancipation and dignity, the democratic world led by the United States must take measures to ensure that they are on the side of the freedom-seeking women in Iran, not the regime.
The Biden administration needs an effective and coercive strategy to address Iran’s nuclear and human rights dossiers; it cannot remain indifferent to Iran’s proliferation threat and human rights violations.
Washington must act swiftly as the Iranian regime has enriched uranium to 84 percent purity, becoming closer than ever to weapons-grade material. At the same time, Tehran seeks sophisticated S-400 air defense systems from Russia which would make a potential Israeli airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities harder. The United States must take steps to ensure that Tehran will never access nuclear weapons to initiate an atomic Armageddon.
The free world should also be able to concur that the compulsory hijab is against women’s rights. Unlike what the Iranian regime and other radical Islamists say, the compulsory hijab is not part of the culture and national tradition in Iran or elsewhere in the Muslim world. The compulsory veil is a sign of submission and subjugation of women. That is one reason why Iranian women have symbolically been burning their headscarves during protests. To support Iranian women, Western diplomats must stop complying with this discriminatory and myogenic law when traveling to Iran. Recently, the Iranians were outraged by the Swiss ambassador’s decision to wear a long black veil during a visit to a shrine in Qom, the very city most affected by poisonous attacks against girls and women.
For the United States, devising a comprehensive strategy for targeting human rights abusers is indispensable. Designating those Iranian officials who are responsible for the biological war against women and are involved in the poisoning, killing, harming, denigrating, and subjugation of women in Iran should be a priority. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control can do a better job of further sanctioning and including Iranian individuals and entities that are connected to women’s rights abuse in the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list.