“A war between Iran and the US is absolutely meaningless”

Aleksey Malashenko about the middle-eastern desolation of Trump, the political confusion in Iran, and the fatigue of the Iranians from the regime of the ayatollahs

There has been an aggravation in the relations between Iran and the United States in recent days, which has been driven by the attack on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the American drone shot down in the sky of the Islamic Republic and the and all the accompanying diplomatic rhetoric with the use of non-diplomatic expressions. The well-known Russian Orientalist scholar, Aleksey Malashenko, told Realnoe Vremya whether there will be a war between the US and Iran, which some media discussed as a foregone conclusion.

“Trump, as an exotic man, decided that Iran does not comply with the agreements. And all hell broke loose”

Mr Malashenko, before our conversation you said that the current history of the Iran-US confrontation is no longer interesting. What makes you think so?

Because it was very popular to write that there would be a war (at least recently it has been much discussed), and today, after Trump wrote that he did not want to be at war, the talks about the war have stopped. But there was a huge number of materials. Although it was clear that no one would fight, but there would be only long conversations, scandals, threats, mutual accusations, intimidation. The war in this case is absolutely senseless, and I am sure that the parties will agree, although it will take a lot of time.

So, we are dealing with some cunning tactics of Trump in foreign policy? Or is it the peculiarity of the US president?

Let's look at the other side: there is Iran with 89 million people, a radical country, the Islamic state in the Shiite version — they have a constitution, and everything else is built on the Shiite basis. Besides, the state in the most active way acts in the Middle East, and it behaves rudely, bluntly, it is a party to the civil war in Syria. Iran clearly states that Shiism is a variant of Islam, and he is engaged in propelling Shiism where it is possible, first of all, of course, in Syria, where the Alawites are in power.

In addition, the Iranians are revolutionaries, they have a strong xenophobia against the West and Israel, and therefore Iran causes irritation in many countries of the world, and especially in Muslim countries, where the majority are Sunnis (Shiites in the world are somewhere 12 per cent) — this is Saudi Arabia, Egypt. Undoubtedly, this behaviour has caused problems in relations with the United States, especially since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Its leader Ayatollah Khomeini has always been anti-American, such were his successors and heirs, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the elite military-political formation of supporters of the religious leader of Iran to protect the ideas of the Islamic revolution — editor’s note).

On top of all of that, Iran became engaged in the nuclear program that was not controlled by the world community. Yes, it was unclear whether Iran wants to make a nuclear bomb or not, but propaganda has done its job. Despite the fact that no one would have given Iran such weapons, many understood that if this had happened, the Iranian nuclear bomb would have been a factor influencing the situation in the Middle East, the situation with the same West, and so on. Therefore, Iran remains a factor of irritation for many states.

Of course, with the advent of President Rouhani, Iran's relations with the world have become saner. Iran began to cooperate with Europe, signed in 2015 the agreement 6+1 (Iran was allowed to export oil to Europe in exchange for abandoning the nuclear program — editor’s note) and everything seemed to have calmed down, but Donald Trump is an exotic man, he decided that Iran's agreements were not respected, and all hell broke loose.

Photo: vestifinance.ru
With the advent of President Rouhani, Iran's relations with the world have become more sane. Iran began to cooperate with Europe, signed in 2015 the agreement 6+1

To what all this will lead in the end — I do not know, but what Trump did (the statement of readiness to fight with Iran) was a provocation. Trump is said to be an unpredictable person, but the way he behaves has led to that he has been left alone in this direction. Saudi Arabia is afraid of Iran because in Yemen the Shiites are fighting against the Saudis, in neighbouring Lebanon people are fighting, in Syria people are fighting.

But Trump is such a person that he will not go on extreme aggravation. He will intimidate, impose sanctions, but war with Iran is impossible. Yes, the situation was heated by that the American drone was shot down in the sky of Iran, but the drone was shot down in their sky in November 2018 — so what? They talked, and all this led to nothing.

“There can be no winner in such a big war. 120 million people live in these countries”

There was also the attack on oil tankers, in which Trump accused Iran. By the way, following after Saudi Arabia.

Yes, but, by the way, it is still unknown who blew them up. I personally don't believe it could be Iran. Yes, it could be carried out by groups that support Iran, but it is simply impossible to imagine that such an order could be given by some Iranian leader. Yes, there is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, but even its leader will not give such orders. He may intimidate with war, but what war can be in such an important place for the world as the Persian Gulf? This is not the time when there was a war between Iraq and Iran, and not the Syrian situation — the situation of the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Is it possible? No. Besides, there can't be a winner in such a big war. Well, how it will look if more than 120 million people live in these countries! So, there are many talks, but there will be no war.

Initially, Trump took a hard line against North Korea, but then he agreed to enter into a dialogue with Kim Jong-un. What prevents him from entering into a dialogue with Iran?

Trump wanted to show his own authority on Kim Jong-un, his own influence, his own capabilities. With Iran, this will not work out — Trump will have to concede to Iran, which means that the American president will be defeated.

Yes, it is difficult to imagine that Iran will be able to achieve something without mutual concessions.

Exactly. Concessions will be made, and Islamic radicals will believe that the US is a weak enemy, and if it is weak, then it is possible to do not what it is now. In addition, Iran is not the direction that can bring Trump any points in the next election. If he fights with Iran, it will end badly for him in 2020. I understand that before the elections he wants to show himself, but in the case of Iran, Trump has not found the best place for himself.

You said earlier that Trump doubted that Iran is fulfilling the terms of the deal to abandon the creation of nuclear weapons. As I understand it, it is also impossible to imagine a Gulf war involving Iran?

If the whole Europe believes Iran and only Trump does not, of course, the question arises: “Are Europeans stupid today?” Hardly so. There is one option — Trump played along with Israel. This line with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the emphasis on excellent relations, demanded a move against Iran. And it happened, which was well received in Israel. What is more, the relations with Israel are very important for Trump!

This line with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the emphasis on excellent relations, demanded a move against Iran. And it happened, which was well received in Israel. What is more, the relations with Israel are very important for Trump!

Of course, Israel does not want Iran's continued presence in Syria close to it. But can the US help it in this?

But from Syria, the US in no way can squeeze Iran. Syria is a very painful issue for Iran, they have done a lot in military terms (they have given weapons, control half of the Syrian army), in the restoration of the territory, so it is impossible to imagine that they will leave because of Trump. Well, as it is important for Russia to show that it is a strong world power, so it is important for Iran to show that this country is an important Shiite power.

Iran — it's for a long time. Recently, they have celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. President Rouhani is a liberal by their standards, but if the Americans do something against Iran, they only strengthen the position of Iranian radicals.

“The Iranians are tired of the regime of ayatollahs, there is a political turmoil in the county”

Can we say that instead of war, the world will see the usual US sanction mechanism against the enemy? After all, as you have said, it is far from agreements.

There will be sanctions, but Iran not only deals with the West — there are Chinese who help the country. Yes, it is hard to live in Iran, but they live and even hold elections. Compared to Russian ones, these elections are quite democratic, with real opposition. Will Iran continue to evolve? Now the elite is divided — there is the Corps and there are supporters of the liberal President Rouhani, there is Qom and there is Tehran. In the foreseeable future, in two or three years, there will be some events. Just because people are tired of the ayatollahs regime, and besides, there are liberal ayatollahs and conservative ones. And how things will develop in the country further, even our domestic Iranists will not be able to say.

At the beginning of 2018, in Iran there were protests against the growth of prices for products, but they quickly subsided. Were they some kind of wake-up call for the Iranian authorities?

It would be an exaggeration to call these events a protest. In Iran, there is Qom, Tehran, Isfahan, there is a village, and in the society there is if not a split, then a political disorder. On what basis will this opposition consolidate? On the basis of liberal Islam? Well, what then — the rejection of the Islamic revolution? It is unclear. The situation is really funny — once no one believed that the Islamic revolution was for a long time, but now no one knows where it leads the state.

Can the European countries influence Iran?

Economic cooperation, cooperation in the field of education, science, culture with Europe can gradually erode the system, but it will take a very long time. Then again — is Iran threatening someone so that Europeans influenced? Well, maybe Israel, and even then only in words. It scares Saudi Arabia more than it threatens it.

What are the foundations of Iran's foreign policy, if the country does not threaten anyone, but irritates?

Like any foreign policy, Iran's policy always expresses the interests of the country as it is understood by the ruling elite. In this case, the country exports oil and should use this factor, which it does. Besides, Iran is set to religious and political expansion, that is, the spread of Shiism. Shiism is going, by the way, towards the Russian North Caucasus as well.

Iran is set on religious and political expansion, that is, the spread of Shiism. Shiism is going, by the way, towards the Russian North Caucasus as well

Will Putin and Trump discuss Iran at their meeting in Osaka at G20 summit?

Most likely, the subject of their conversation will be Ukraine and the Middle East. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Patrushev has recently spoken with the US recently, and I think that the Middle East will be discussed in the Iranian context.

Yes, many are tired of Iran in Syria, but without it, they cannot do. But so far the partnership with Iran on Syria is unprofitable to our state as well — competition is beneficial.

By Sergey Kochnev