Iran's Fragmented Diplomacy Hinders Regional Stability

Iran's fragmented diplomacy, marked by institutional and ideological divisions, hinders its ability to foster lasting stability in the Middle East. The country's complex regional policy is further complicated by its revolutionary nature and lack of elite consensus on its regional policy.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Iran's Fragmented Diplomacy Hinders Regional Stability

Iran's Fragmented Diplomacy Hinders Regional Stability

Iran's ability to foster lasting stability in the Middle East is hindered by its complex regional diplomacy, marked by institutional fragmentation and ideological divisions. The plurality of institutional actors, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President, the Supreme Leader, and the Revolutionary Guards, can present contradictory diplomatic positions on the same topic without official clarification.

Why this matters: The instability caused by Iran's fragmented diplomacy can have far-reaching consequences for regional security and global politics. A cohesive Iranian foreign policy is crucial for resolving conflicts in the Middle East and promoting cooperation between nations.

This "diplomacy with several voices" can be a strength in developing a strategy of destabilization, but an obstacle to Iran's participation in regional crisis resolution, particularly in the Yemen war. Dr. Mohammed Al Sulami, an expert on Iran, notes that "the regional perception of the neighborhood policy of Iran remains built on caution rather than trust."

The Supreme National Security Council, Iran's main foreign policy body, aims to defend several positions simultaneously, allowing different institutions to exist on the international diplomatic scene and legitimize their existence domestically. However, since 1989, developing a common strategy between the various decision-making centers has proven difficult.

Ideological divisions further complicate Iran's regional diplomacy. The Revolutionary Guards and the Basij view the US military presence in the region as an existential threat to the survival of the Islamic revolution. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's recent anti-US and anti-Israel speech implicitly attacked Saudi Arabia, stating that anyone who extends a hand of friendship to America and Israel is an oppressor.

The revolutionary nature of Iranian regional policy is a hurdle to successful rapprochement with its neighbors. Even if direct diplomatic dialogue were restored between Iran and its neighbors, the future of regional detente would depend on Tehran downplaying its call for militarism, including the possible militarization of its nuclear program and the use of missiles as a diplomatic tool.

Despite signing a rapprochement deal with Saudi Arabia in March 2023 and sending 87,550 pilgrims to the kingdom this year, Iran's diplomatic apparatus struggles to manage the process of challenging US influence in the Middle East. As Dr. Al Sulami observes, "In Iran, there is no elite consensus or political elite self-confidence regarding what should be the country's regional policy." Until Iran addresses its internal divisions and adopts a more cohesive approach, its ability to engage constructively and promote lasting stability in the region will remain limited.

Key Takeaways

  • Iran's fragmented diplomacy hinders regional stability due to institutional and ideological divisions.
  • This fragmentation can lead to contradictory diplomatic positions and hinder crisis resolution.
  • Iran's Supreme National Security Council struggles to develop a common strategy among decision-making centers.
  • Ideological divisions, particularly anti-US and anti-Israel sentiments, complicate Iran's regional diplomacy.
  • Iran's ability to promote regional stability is limited until it addresses internal divisions and adopts a cohesive approach.