Iran is one of the leading countries in the Middle East. Historically, the country tended to take the leading opposition in the region, but throughout the 20th century, Iran could hardly gain the dominant position in the Gulf region as long as there was a competition between two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, which influenced international politics worldwide. In this regard, Iran experienced the influence of superpowers during the Iran-Iraq war, when the foreign support of Iraq put Iran in a very difficult position, but the country managed to win that war. Paradoxically, but it is only at the present days, when there is only one superpower that dominates the world, i.e. the USA, Iran has got an excellent opportunity to become the leading power in the region because its main opponent, Iraq, lays defeated in the result of the military operation conducted by the USA. At the same time, Iran has a long way to go to get dominance in the region since the country still has to compete with the USA and its allies in the region to get the strategic advantage in the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Iran from 1978 to the present days
The history of Iran in the second half of the 20th century was marked by turbulent events which have changed the life of the country dramatically and which have influenced the development of the region at large. In this respect, the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 was probably the most significant event after World War II. In fact, it was a turning point in the history of Iran because the Islamic Revolution put the end to the monarchy in Iran since Islamists headed by Homeini had overthrown the Shah and established a totally new state, the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran. At the same time, the Revolution did not really contribute to the democratization of the Iranian society. Instead, it brought to power radical Islamists who pedaled the introduction of the Constitution based on Islamic traditions and principles and after the Islamic Revolution they influenced practically all spheres of life of Iranian people. On the other hand, the Islamic Revolution changed the balance of power in the region consistently, because Iran started developing independent policies which were irrelevant to the position of either superpower in the world
Nevertheless, Iran could not avoid the confrontation with the USA because the country attempted to establish the regime which could conduct independent policies. In fact, this was the only way to the survival of the theocratic Islamist regime in Iran. Eventually, the confrontation of Iranian regime with the USA resulted in the hostage crisis in 1979-1980, when American embassy’s employees became hostages of Iran. The crisis led to the severe confrontation between Iran and the USA which persists till present days.
The outcomes of the Islamic Revolution were quite controversial On the one hand, Iran got an opportunity to conduct an independent policy, regardless of the position of superpowers, while, on the other hand, the revolution undermined stability in the Middle East. Remarkably, Iraq, a traditional opponent of Iran, attempted to use the weakness of the Iranian army after the Revolution and launched the war against Iran, but Iraqi successes proved to be short-running and Iran managed to regain territories it had lost at the beginning of the war and by the end of 1980s Iran won the war and weakened its rival, Iraq, consistently (Potter and Sick, 2004, p.327).
In addition, Iran needed to develop an anti-American alliance in the region in order to oppose to the pressure from the part of the USA which constantly grew and, today, the USA is the major initiator of economic sanctions against Iran. Since 1980s, Iran has been trying to create a powerful alliance and, initially, shortly after the Islamic Revolution, Iran has got a lot of support in the Islamic world. Many Arab countries welcomed the revolution and Islamists’ influence started to grow consistently in the Middle East.
In such a situation, Iran attempted to maximize its political benefits and supported Islamists in the region. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the support of Hezbollah by Iran, which was so significant that many specialists (Tragert, 2003, p.148) view Hezbollah as a product of Iran. Also, Iran actively supports Islamists in other countries, such as Sri-Lanka, Saudi-Arabia, India and Pakistan. One of its major allies in the region is Syria which foreign policy is closely intertwined with the foreign policy of Iran and, as a rule, these countries have the common position on various issues of international politics. Also, after the ruin of the USSR, Iran attempts to develop closer cooperation with Russia.
At the present moment, the region tends to the balance of power, where Iran attempts to gain the dominant position, especially now, under the Presidency of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The balance of power in the region should be viewed on two levels: internal and external. On the one hand, Iran attempts to maintain the internal balance of power by means of the strengthening of the national economy and ample financial support of Islamist movement and Islamic ideology in Iran as well as in other countries of the region. On the external level, Iran has got the support of Syria, the principle allies of Iran in the region, and Hezbollah, the Islamist movement which is amply supported by Iran and which shares the Islamist ideology, which is the dominant ideology in Iran. In such a way, Iran uses all possible opportunities to become the dominant power in the Middle East.
Iran and the USA
However, today, Iran cannot establish a total control in the region because of the permanent rivalry with the USA. It is important to underline that the Middle East and the Gulf region is strategically important from economic and geopolitical perspectives. The Gulf region is the main supplier of oil in the world and the country which controls the region can influence the world economy and political decisions taken on the top level. The current situation seems to be quite paradoxical. In actuality, Iraq, the main rival of Iran in the region, is defeated by the USA. Iran has the strongest army in the region and its economic potential is one of the most prospective in the Middle East, while the influence of Islamists spreads far beyond borders of Iran eastward and westward. Formally, such a situation may be characterized as perfect for Iran as the dominant power in the region, but the presence of the USA in the Gulf region and in the Middle East prevents Iran from the total domination in the region.
Now, Iran is under the permanent pressure from the part of the USA. The latter uses all possible means to prevent Iran from the domination in the region. Americans have already conducted military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the US army is present in both countries, bordering on Iran. Moreover, Americans have established loyal, pro-American regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Near East region, the USA heavily relies on Israel, its major ally. In such a situation, the domination of Iran seems to be practically impossible, taking into consideration military and economic resources of the USA (Tragert, 2003, p.219).
In contrast, Iran grows stronger, while the USA strengths become more and more limited in the region. Obviously, Iran growing in power is a serious threat to the USA and its influence on the Gulf region and the Middle East. The threat from the part of Iran to the USA increases due to the technological, scientific and military development of the country. In this respect, it is necessary to remind the substantial progress of the nuclear industry in Iran, which increases the potential of Iran to create nuclear weapon and, in the future, Iran can represent a serious power in the region, against which the USA could hardly be able to apply a military force. In fact, the nuclear power can be a guarantee which prevents the USA from military intervention in Iran. No wonder, Iran works hard on its nuclear programs, while the USA attempt to stop these programs and insist on the wider introduction of economic sanctions on Iran along with the limitation of technological, scientific and economic cooperation of other countries with Iran, especially in the field of nuclear power.
In all probability, the strategic goal of the USA was the formation of a loyal government in Iraq to constraint Iran since the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988 proved to be very exhausting to both countries and another military confrontation or even a threat of such a confrontation would be perfect to the USA (Rajaee, 1993, p.185). Such a confrontation would force Iran to focus on the strengthening of its military power and it would compete not only with the USA but also with Iraq. However, if the USA had such a plan, this plan did not work properly since, today, Iraq is rather a burden for the USA than a real threat to Iraq. Moreover, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime strengthened Islamists in Iraq consistently that, indirectly, strengthened the position of Iran in the region, In such a context, even the defeat of Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be an ally of Iran, can hardly outweigh the costs of the military operation in this country and maintenance of the loyal regime in Afghanistan.
In conclusion, it is necessary to underline that, today, Iran had excellent opportunities to start dominating in the Middle East. The rivalry with the USA facilitated in a way the struggle of Iran for the dominance in the Middle East because Americans defeated the major rival of Iran in the region and strengthened anti-American movements in the Middle East, while the leader of the anti-American struggle in the Middle East is Iran. As a result, the struggle of Iran and the USA makes the position of other countries irrelevant because they would be unable to resist to either country in case of military conflict or a long-run confrontation.