Setting Priorities Straight in the Struggle: On Iran and the Iranian Role in the Arab Region

Before we deal with the topic of the Iranian role in the Arab region, it is useful to recall the complexity of Iran and its different entanglements:

For one, Iran is not a “Banana Republic,” and its regime is not a puppet or a client regime of Imperialism.  Iran has a regional project and works seriously to accomplish it.  It holds many important political cards and uses them cleverly in the context of realizing its project.  Some of these cards are Iran’s nuclear program, its close relationship with the Syrian regime, its close relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, its close relationship with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, its close commercial and economic ties with influential states like Russia and Germany, its close relationships with the “North Coalition” in Afghanistan, its oil reserves, and (most importantly) its role in Iraq, i.e. its strong connections with and influence on the militias and parties that cooperate with the US occupation.

For another, the project of Iran is not an anti-Imperialist project.  In other words, Iran is not the Venezuela of the so-called “Middle East” (with all our reservations about the term “Middle East”).  It does not promote a popular liberation project for the people of the region that is based on ending hegemony and exploitation and realizing the sovereignty of the people over their land and resources.  Iran’s is a pragmatic nationalist/sectarian project with expansionist aspirations.  It occupies Arab land (Ahwaz, Tunb Islands).  It saw no problem in seeking the assistance of its “enemy number one” during its war with Iraq (the Iran-Contra affair).  It also sees no problem in helping the same “enemy” (the USA) on the logistic and intelligence levels during the US aggression against Afghanistan.  And, finally, Iran is playing a very destructive role in Iraq through empowering and supporting the sectarian militias and parties in Iraq who are also the backbone of the US-dominated political process.

Iran seems to have contradictory patterns of behavior if one looks at them from a progressive point of view, but they fall into place if one sees them in the Iranian context: Iran backs the US invasion of Afghanistan and is a key factor in fragmenting and destroying Iraq; while the same Iran backs anti-Zionist and anti-US resistances in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas and Jihad).

With all these complexities, what should the progressive position on Iran be on the Arab and regional levels?

First, we must acknowledge the complete absence of a progressive Arab project in the Arab region on the official level of regimes or on the level of people’s organizations (parties, unions, movements, etc.).

The Arab regimes are completely subordinate to Imperialism; they are incapable of influencing anything diplomatically or militarily.  The recent attack on Lebanon is a key event through which to comprehend this fact: not only did Arab regimes stand idly by watching the destruction of Lebanon, but some of them went so far as to support Israel in its effort to eliminate Hezbollah.  Also, during the attack on Lebanon, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Musa, announced “the death of the Peace Process” with “Israel.”  This “Peace Process” is the main strategy (past, present and future) of the Arab regimes.  Its failure on the Arab level reflects its success on the Zionist level.  To put it more clearly, the Arab regimes were and are working according to a Zionist agenda, as is demonstrated by comments by the top pan-Arab official.

On the popular level, there are three salient clusters of problems:

1.  The resistances (Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian) face many challenges:

  • They are not integrated into or bonded to a comprehensive Arab liberation program.
  • They do not coordinate with each other.
  • Unfortunately, some of them do not consider others a resistance in the first place (mainly the Iraqi and Lebanese resistances).
  • The Iraqi resistance failed to utilize the US/Zionist aggression on Lebanon and Hezbollah’s resistance to counter the spread of sectarianism in Iraq.
  • Hezbollah is still reluctant to openly support the Iraqi resistance and finalize a position on the Iraqi factions that joined the occupation-sponsored political process.
  • The Palestinian resistance insisted on isolating the Palestinian question (“Palestinizing” the struggle), failing to relocate the struggle for Palestine back into its proper Arab context, when it decided to go on its own with its bargaining over the imprisoned soldier in Gaza following Hezbollah’s proposal to collectively negotiate for the three imprisoned Zionist soldiers (two in Lebanon plus the Gaza prisoner).
  • Imperialism has partially succeeded in diverting the main effort of the resistances from confronting the external enemy towards secondary internal conflicts (Palestine: Hamas goes into the government and fights with Fatah over authority; Lebanon: Hezbollah engages in an internal political fight over the government; and Iraq: the US tries to portray resistance as “just another sectarian militia”).

2.  The official, organized Arab opposition (political parties, professional associations, and so on) is preoccupied with struggling for political existence rather that struggling for political programs and ideology.  And there is a huge difference between the two.

3.  The Arab masses are “politically correct” in their understanding and political position, but, because of the lack of organization, an enormous problem, they do not have influence on the ground.

In the Arab region, there are three main powers (USA/”Israel,” Iran, and Turkey) and two projects (US/Zionist and Iranian).  The Arabs are the terrain on which these powers pursuing their respective projects fight.  In the game of history, those who have projects can take advantage of events.  Makers of events who lack a project cannot make the most of their own actions.  This means that, in the absence of an Arab liberation project, any event will be exploited by either the US/Zionist project or the Iranian one.

Does this mean that we have to choose sides: either Iran or the USA?

Definitely not.  Our analysis should always differentiate between the main contradiction and the secondary ones.  The main contradiction is always with the bigger, more powerful, and globally dominant Imperialism: It is the USA and its subsidiary “Israel.”

The main enemy of all anti-Imperialists, and of the Arab liberation project, is US Imperialism and Zionism.  Any other contradictions are secondary.  Therefore, those who say that “Iran is more dangerous than the USA” or “Iran is more dangerous than Israel” are not only not objective, but their analysis serves US Imperialist interests in the following respects:

  • Prioritizing the battle with Iran that has a sectarian and fragmenting character, over the battle with the USA and “Israel” that has a unifying and liberatory class character.
  • The probability of transforming the USA and “Israel” into provisional allies or “powers-that-can-be-comprehended” in confronting the “Iranian danger.”  Some Iraqi factions have already started talking in this direction, while the Saudi and Jordanian regimes promote such an understanding.
  • Fragmenting the Arab resistances in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, one from another, and putting them in confrontation, rather than being together in one trench.
  • Diverting the Arab masses away from the paramount US/Zionist danger towards low-priority targets for the Arab liberation project.

Does this mean we should ally with Iran in the face of the USA?

Here we should differentiate between two levels:

The popular level: here lies a necessity of establishing a front that includes all the peoples of the region (Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians) to confront US Imperialism and Zionism, both exploiting and harming all those peoples.

The official level: here we can see from the examples above that the Iranian regime is not anti-Imperialist, it has its own project for regional hegemony and works for that interest, not for the interest of the people.  Therefore, it is impossible to seek an alliance at that level.

Needless to say, US-imposed sanctions and/or a military strike against or invasion of Iran will principally harm the people (the stark example of Iraq since 1990 is still a scar in the face of humanity).  Neither sanctions nor military force against Iran can be an American solution of the Iraqi sectarian dilemma, which Washington created in the first place and is the first to benefit from it!  Therefore, the objective position would be to stand against the threats to Iran and support it in the face of any attempted or actual aggression.

The way out: steps towards fulfilling an Arab liberation project in the Arab region.

Remaining in a condition of continuing reaction is very dangerous.  Resistance without a strategic project will keep us and our cause alive but leave us treading water and rotating in our place forever, in a world transforming at massive speed.  A world where Imperialism will continue to make a huge effort to strengthen its interests at the expense of people, with no regard except for profit.  What we need is to evolve a people’s project to confront the US/Zionist project.  In this way, we can stay alive and move forward.  What are some ideas that can serve this aim?

  • Building the horizontal unity of the Arab popular struggle, as a lever to achieve a qualitative vertical progress.
  • Rearranging political alliances locally, regionally, and internationally on the basis of polarization, not points of agreement.
  • Re-introducing socialism and secularism as the optimum option for confronting Imperialism and achieving progress.
  • Expanding popular struggle from the Arab region to include all the people of the region.
  • Forming an alliance with rising anti-Imperialist regimes in South America.
  • The task for European and US anti-Imperialists: unconditional support for the resistances in the Arab region, breaking the official taboo on such support, establishing a radical front against Imperialism.


Imperialism today is in crisis, but it is not defeated, and it is not destined to be defeated without the direct action of anti-Imperialists.

If we lose this historic opportunity by

  • turning our back on the resistances in the Arab region and pretending they are not our problem, or the resistances do not represent us simply because they are Islamic or Ba’thist, or
  • by directing our efforts away from the main enemy, or
  • by contributing to the stabilization of the sectarian project by adopting its mechanisms, or
  • if the resistances, instead of fighting their common enemy, start fighting each other, or
  • if we are deceived into transforming the main battle with Imperialism and Zionism into internal trivial political fights,

then we will rescue Imperialism from its crisis, and will be obliged to wait for another 100 years or more, until Imperialism enters a crisis of similar proportions.

Dr. Hisham Bustani is a leftist writer and activist from Jordan.  He is a founding member of the Resistant Arab People’s Alliance, member of the Jordanian Higher Executive Committee for Resisting Normalization with Israel, and a member of the executive board of the Socialist Thought Forum (Jordan).  Contact:

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