Iran's supporters of "pre-emptive initiative" speak of a triple alliance in which the Islamic Republic, the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation work together to drive the US and its allies out of Eurasia, eastern Europe and the western Pacific, bringing almost a century of "American hegemony" to an end. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iran's then President Hassan Rouhani in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on June 14, 2019. (Photo by Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP via Getty Images)
In his meeting in Tehran with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Islamic Republic's "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised what he called "Your Excellency's pre-emptive initiative" in launching "Special Operations " against Ukraine.
He claimed that if Putin had not invaded Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would have started a war against Russia to regain control of the Crimean Peninsula.
Although later removed from the official media in Iran, the remarks started a debate in Tehran's decision-making circles about the Islamic Republic adopting a similar strategy by going on the offensive against its "enemies".
Supporters of that view have been further encouraged by China's military demonstrations against Taiwan. Fars News, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claims the latest showdown on Taiwan had led to "total humiliation" for the United States.
"China has shown Washington what it should expect if it makes another wrong move," it asserts. Those who believe that Iran should copycat Putin and "take the war to the enemy before he attacks" have also called for "special operations" against Israel.
Last June, Khamenei himself spoke of the "need to open a new front in the West Bank against the Zionist enemy".
The reason for the attempt to open a new front in the West Bank is the difficulties that Iran's Quds Force, in charge of "liquidating the Zionist state," is facing on the two other fronts it has been using for decades, Gaza and Lebanon.
In Gaza, the Islamic Republic has invested heavily in promoting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas, however, has always tried to avoid becoming totally reliant on Tehran and a mere agent of the Quds Force, as is the case with the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.
As the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas also emphasizes its doctrinal differences with the Khomeinist version of Twelver Shiism.
Despite its Islamic label, Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, has always been keen to imitate Lebanese Hezbollah by making every move wished by the puppet-masters in Tehran. However, Islamic Jihad is in a minority in Gaza, hence the attempt by Tehran to help it create a base in the West Bank.
Reliable sources in Baghdad say that the Quds Force has been "transiting" significant quantities of arms and cash via Iraq to Jordan, to be smuggled to the West Bank. The Jordanian authorities say they are aware of these "hostile activities"'. King Abdullah himself has publicly called on Iran to cease "destabilizing activities".
Turning the West Bank into a base of operations against Israel is unlikely to leave the Palestinian Authority, i.e. Fatah, indifferent. The Islamic Republic has regarded Fatah as an "enemy" since 1980, when the late Yasser Arafat supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran. This is why both Hamas and Islamic Jihad were given "embassies" in Tehran while the Palestinian Authority remains persona non grata.
Currently, Tehran is unable to reactivate the Lebanese front for two reasons.
The first is Lebanon's dire economic situation, which has driven it to the edge of famine. Iran had promised to "feed the people of Lebanon," but itself facing food shortages as a result of drought and loss of grain imports from Ukraine, it has failed to deliver. Instead, all eyes are now on Turkey, with a nod from Moscow, to help bring Ukrainian grain to Lebanon.
The setback suffered by Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon's recent election is the second reason for the difficulties Quds Force faces in opening another anti-Israel front there. Khamenei and his advisers still talk of the "need to shower rockets and missiles" on Israel from Lebanon, Gaza and West Bank. The daily Kayhan, believed to reflect Khamenei's views, claims that Israel could be "wiped out" with 1,500 missile attacks while Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are supposed to have 100 times as many.
Yet, there are signs that General Ismail Qaani, the new chief of the Quds Force, has not been able to achieve the same degree of authority with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad that his predecessor General Qassem Soleimani enjoyed.
In last week's brief clash with Israel, Islamic Jihad tried to upgrade its position with Tehran compared with Hamas and Hezbollah. However, its claim of "total victory" has not convinced the advocates of "pre-emptive initiative" in Tehran.
Supporters of "pre-emptive initiative" speak of a triple alliance in which the Islamic Republic, the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation work together to drive the US and its allies out of Eurasia, eastern Europe and the western Pacific, bringing almost a century of "American hegemony" to an end.
Fars News reports that such an alliance was already seen as "the most dangerous scenario" for the US by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor. (Fars wrongly describes him as former US Secretary of State.)
In his book The Grand Chessboard published in 1997, Brzezinski suggests that China, Russia and Iran might form an alliance not based on ideology but on hostility to the West in general and the US in particular.
A similar idea was expounded in a series of papers by French military experts led by Thomas Flichy and published under the title China, Iran and Russia: A New Mongol Empire? in 2014. In such an empire, China would assume leadership while Iran and Russia would be allowed to dominate their respective regions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The "new Mongol empire" will have a total population of 1.7 billion and account for almost a fifth of global gross domestic product. It would also be the second-largest military power in the world.
In such a scenario, Taiwan, Ukraine and Israel must not remain as bases for the American "hegemon" and its European and regional allies. All three, each in its own way, also pose threats to China, Russia and Iran's authoritarian systems by offering models for pluralist democracy and liberal capitalism.
Last month, Khamenei praised Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. And this month, China's Ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, praised the Islamic Republic for supporting China in "asserting its sovereignty" over Taiwan.
It is clear that some dangerous pipe-dreamers in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran have fallen for the phantasmagoric vision of, "three great powers" banding together and with help from "the rest", that is to say, the so-called Third World, as Kayhan says, to destroy an international system created by the "corrupt and decadent".
A phantasmagoria produced by three stooges smoking the wrong stuff? Maybe. However, prudence demands preparing for even the improbable.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.