Analysts of geopolitics and strategy are having trouble analyzing the rapid developments in Iran revolving around the growing strength of the country’s opposition. Even Western policymakers are reworking their next moves regarding the nuclear crisis. Will sanctions hurt or help the opposition movement? Will negotiating any further enable the regime in Tehran to salvage political legitimacy? These are powerful concerns. The game has certainly changed.
But little is known what would happen in the event that a few months from now if the opposition movement successfully forces massive resignations in Tehran or forces the regime from power. Most analysts will affirm things will change immensely, but there is no guarantee that the Middle East will have a reduction in security problems. Primarily, Israel, Arab states and Western powers have to concern themselves with fugitive officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Inevitably, a new Iranian government will issue hundreds of warrants for arrest and move to cease Guards’ financial and material assets worldwide. The major threat comes from that money and particular officers who may decide to invest their cash and time in areas like Iraq, Yemen or primarily southern Lebanon.
Without complicating an early analysis trying to figure out if a new Iran would certainly become a “liberal democracy,” the largest security threat to the Middle East could become a consolidated Hizbullah. The movement began with the help of Iranian intelligence in the early stages of Operation Peace for Galilee, and has been the most successful franchising of the Islamic Revolution abroad. The movement would be quick to shield former officers in the Guards and employ them as officials in their own military ranks.
Western powers would notice the reduced strength of Syria without its long time ally, at least to the extent the two countries have been allied the last thirty years. Syria would be faced with two extreme options in the event of a total regime collapse in Tehran. But the opposite option foresees Damascus consolidating its government’s power, increasing pressure on Jerusalem and Beirut, then aiding former Revolutionary Guards and giving them quarter in Syrian territory. Those former officers would become tremendous assets to the Syrian military.
Few analysts assume Iran would be stable enough to represent a significantly negative or significantly positive force in the Middle East immediately after a revolution, but it would certainly want to move quickly to prevent an armed rebellion against a new government.
On top of all this, Israel should not expect a quick restoration of relations with Iran. Political considerations will play into a hypothetical Iranian leadership’s decision to what extent it wants to publicly relate to Israel, given the perceptions of Israel perpetuated by the Iranian regime the last thirty years. It could be difficult to secure a cooperative relationship with a new Iran to face a resurgent threat from Hizbullah and Syria.
But Israelis should not be disconcerted by this. The positive developments from a revolution may outweigh these concerns. A new Iran would likely balance its relations with Israelis and Palestinians, and probably establish ties with Israeli intelligence to pursue wanted Iranian criminals, names the Revolutionary Guards themselves. It could serve as a bridge to other governments to open up ties with Israel. Any investment from Israel in the country’s financial recovery from years of sanctions would be tremendously welcome, and Israel certainly has the capacity to make that relationship happen. Backed by Western urging, Jerusalem would likely have an embassy in Tehran, despite what reservations many Iranians had.
No matter the construct of a new government, it would certainly be more liberal and less of a threat to everyone in the region, allowing its nuclear program to also become less of a concern. It will certainly reorder Israel’s security priorities and open up opportunities for Jerusalem’s foreign relations. The current government in Beirut may see an opportunity to pressure Hizbullah to surrender its weapons arsenal without the Iranian government continuing to replenish its supply into perpetuity. And with Syria and Hizbullah politically weakened, it could create a political back-channel between Jerusalem and Beirut aimed at ending the official war between the two capitals, and give Israel leverage in negotiations with Syria and the Palestinian Authority.
Pressure on Israel will certainly not go away and its concerns with Hizbullah and Syria will not immediately vanish, but the optimism throughout the Middle East and certainly in Israel and Iran would be omnipresent. Israel should prepare for the day after tomorrow, while keeping itself focused on the still pressing reality.