Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

What is Genuine National Security for Iran?
Reflecting on the 40th Anniversary of the Iran-Iraqi War
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

October 6, 2020
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Although this war is rarely reviewed, the lessons Iran learned from the war have a profound effect on Iran's obsessive pursuit of nuclear weapons development and its diplomacy with neighboring countries.

The Iran-Iraq war began in September, 1980 when Iraqi forces from the Hussein regime suddenly invaded Iranian territory. At the time, Iran was in turmoil following the Islamic revolution in February of the previous year, and it appears that the Hussein administration attempted to seize this opportunity to occupy and, if possible, annex the oil fields of Iran. However, this attempt did not proceed according to their plan. Iran, that had been in turmoil, restored unity, gradually pushed the Iraqi forces back, and invaded Iraqi territory in June 1982.

The Gulf and Western countries, fearing the spread of the Islamic Revolution, supported the Hussein administration both financially and militarily. Isolated by the international community, Iran lacked even the parts for weapons, and the war was stalemated. In August 1988, Iran reluctantly accepted the UN ceasefire resolution, thereby ending the war. The truth is that Iran had been defeated. More than 300,000 had been killed and about one million were injured on the Iranian side; there were enormous human and material losses.

When the end of the Iran-Iraq War led to stability on Iran's western border, Afghanistan began to threaten Iran's eastern border. In the mid-1990s, the Taliban regime, which came into existence in Afghanistan, viewed Iran as an enemy and frequently invaded Iranian territory. Ironically, it was the United States that removed the threats on Iran’s eastern and western borders. After the 9/11 simultaneous terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001, the multinational forces lead by the U.S. and British forces overthrew the Taliban regime. Two years later in 2003, they brought an end to the Hussein administration during the Iraq War.

The biggest lesson that Iran learned from the Iran-Iraq War and subsequent regional conflicts was the need to expand its sphere of security as much as possible and consolidate it. Iran's nuclear program is closely linked to these events. The mere possession of nuclear weapons would suffice to prevent invasions from neighboring countries. Some say that Iran's goal of possessing nuclear weapons is to use it as a political tool – to prove that it is a big power. Although the political motivation cannot be denied, it should be noted that the indelible memory of the Iran-Iraq War is also an underlying cause of Iran's persistence on nuclear weapons development.

Another lesson Iran learned from the war is the effectiveness of expanding the pro-Iranian political and military network in the Middle East region. Side by side with the export of Islamic revolution, this network has served to restrain surreptitiously the regimes that are hostile and adversarial to Iran. From early in the war, Iran sent members of revolutionary organizations such as the Revolutionary Guard Corps to infiltrate and influence Syria and Lebanon. The pro-Iranian organization Hezbollah (Party of God) was established in Lebanon in 1982, and to this day the organization has played an important role in the conflict with Israel.

Syria, the only Arab country siding with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, greatly aided Iran by stopping the crude oil supply to Iraq and mobilizing its army to threaten Iraq's eastern border. Conversely, Iran currently supports the Assad regime in Syria and has established strong political and economic interests there. Also in Yemen, Iran has established close political and military ties with the Houthi movement to curb the Saudi influence. Even in Iraq, Iran has infiltrated into the Shia forces and used them to attack the U.S. troops stationed there. The person responsible for this foreign strategy was Major General Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard, who was killed by U.S. forces in Baghdad in January this year.

However, Iran is now at a major turning point. The diplomatic strategy of expanding political and military networks in regional countries is being criticized as "exporting conflict" by the international community. In Syria, there is also a backlash against Iran's increasing economic influence. There is also a rising dissatisfaction inside Iran that money sent to support other countries should be spent on domestic construction in Iran instead.

Now is the time for Iran to rethink what they should do to ensure their national security. Does nuclear weapons development truly ensure its national security? Does political and military support to its neighboring countries guarantee Iran's security? On the contrary, I think the current policies of Iran will lead to backlashes and reprisals (including military action) from neighboring countries, thereby further isolating Iran from the international community and worsening its state of security.

In the early 1980s, I was a correspondent in Tehran for two years. Iran has a rich culture, abundant human resources, and the wisdom and intelligence of the people reared though the Persian civilization. It is possible for the country to transform itself. I hope that they will think carefully about the path to guarantee their genuine national security.

Megumi Nishikawa is a Contributing Editor of the Mainichi Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 10月 6日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > What is Genuine National Security for Iran?
Reflecting on the 40th Anniversary of the Iran-Iraqi War