Abdul Rasool Syed |
One of Iran’s key strengths is its geography. It is ideally located between Middle East and Central Asia, with access to major water bodies such as the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea. This very fact enhances its geo-political and geo-strategic importance in the region. In terms of size, it is the second largest in the Middle East and the eighteenth largest country in the world, with a population of approximately 82 million people.
Moreover, its gargantuan wealth of hydrocarbon resources, for sure, multiplies its economic strengths to an unprecedented extent, occupying the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada, and the second largest proven gas reserves after Russia. This richness in energy resources makes its economy the twenty-fifth biggest in terms of GDP and standing eighteenth in terms of its purchasing power parity.
Ali Khamenei, the Supreme leader, exercises veto power over Iranian decision making, heads (IRGC), the judicial system, state television, among other powers.
The Islamic republic is also rich in human capital. It is the land of the young and highly- educated people. About two-third of its population is below the age of 35 and nearly 10 million out of its 81 million inhabitants have university degrees. It is interesting to note how Iran churns out about the same number of engineering graduates every year as that of the US–around 240,000, which puts it fourth in the world after India, China and the US.
What’s more is that Iranian society is quiet tech-savvy and well-connected to the outside world; 64% of Iranians are netizens, while mobile penetration has reached more than 110 percent (meaning that some Iranians have more than one phone). They have also proved their mettle in reverse engineering capabilities and technological innovation.
In addition, although stifled for the years since revolution, Iranians are also known for their entrepreneurial skills, which is a strong pull for the foreign investors.
Militarily, Iran is ranked as the 14th most powerful armed force in the world by Global firepower’s 2019 military strength ranking. Iran’s total military personnel strength is 873,000(est) consisting of two parallel organizations; the regular armed forces and the Islamic revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Its army is well- equipped with modern and sophisticated weaponry and throughout the years they have developed ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2000 kilometers, such as the sejjil series. Iran’s navy has been showcasing its Ghadir-class mini-submarines, which can launch cruise missiles. The boats are able to carry a crew of nine and yet, weigh less than 150 metric tons.
Interestingly, in 2011, Iran took control and captured US’s unmanned Lockheed Martin RQ-170 sentinel amid flight, and used the technology of reverse engineering to create its own drone.
The kingdom, in order to gather international support to isolate Iran, has left no stone unturned to project the Islamic republic as a “rogue state”.
Inter alia, it has also been reported that Iran is one of the five countries that has the cyber-army capability of conducting cyber-warfare operations. To this end, they have established two garrisons for cyber warfare at Zanjan and Isfahan.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Islamic republic, according to political luminaries, is its prevailing dual system of government that mixes elections with a powerful supreme leader. Ali Khamenei, the Supreme leader, exercises veto power over Iranian decision making, heads (IRGC), the judicial system, state television, among other powers. Thus, Supremacy of religious leaders over the elected body eclipses the status of the latter.
Iran’s economy also remains in doldrums due to sanctions imposed by exogenous powers, as well as endogenous bottlenecks. It is plagued with corruption and mismanagement. The IRGC and various religious foundations control much of the economy, stifling competition and thereby making reforms almost a herculean task. The private investment, therefore, remains skittish. Moreover, Iran lacks export diversification, being a one product economy, its economic growth relies heavily only on oil and the Gas Industry.
Besides, international sanctions discourage foreign investors to invest in Iran. The banking sector is also under-developed due to monstrous sanctions, sanctions from which oil revenues also suffer tremendously from. This worsening economic situation has created social unrest in the Islamic republic. Protests against the government have become quotidian affair. Many Iranians have now reached up to a position where they now hanker for the regime’s change and deem it as the only way out.
In addition to a weak economy, Iran’s hard power is also limited. The expeditionary skill of the IRGC, coupled with Iran’s use of proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, often create a sense that Iran is militarily active throughout the Muslim world; which is true, however, it also highlights one of Iran’s biggest weaknesses—its lack of conventional military strength.
Tehran lacks the ability to project significant amounts of conventional power beyond its borders. An analyst, Thomas Juneau contends: Militarily, Iran can deter, deny, spoil, but it can rarely shape the events. As a result, it can subvert its neighbors, but it is vulnerable to conventional military pressure.
This disappointment and dissatisfaction prevalent among the Iranian masses is undoubtedly a colossal threat that can be exploited by the adversaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
And so far, as its soft power is concerned, Iran has miserably failed to showcase it to the world. Though home to one of the richest artistic traditions in world history, encompassing many disciplines, including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy metalworking and stonemasonry, yet the world remains oblivious to this softer aspect of Islamic republic.
The Islamic republic’s geo-strategic location, coupled with its geographic spread and military preparedness, provides it with an opportunity to exercise domineering influence in the region. In this regard, US setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq have been a blessing in disguise for Tehran to spread its tentacles across the greater Middle East by furthering its interests and thereby play the role of regional hegemony.
Economically, there is great room for growth and development in Iran’s economy, for instance, its gas sector is currently under-developed. It provides an opportunity to those at the helm to exploit this source of revenue at its maximum. Moreover, its banking sector, due to prevalent severe sanctions, is also in shambles; if the ongoing tense situation between the US and Iran gets normalized and the sanctions are lifted or relaxed, the Iranian economy may see the boom by harnessing its untapped gas potential and export diversification. It is, therefore, advisable for Iran to resolve its issues through diplomatic means rather than getting itself engaged in any armed conflict with the US.
Additionally, Iran, so far, enjoys the support from China and Russia, which oppose the sanctions on it. It should, therefore, continue cementing its ties with these global powers. Alliance with these countries would also help Tehran dilute “the maximum pressure campaign” launched by America against it.
One of the biggest threats currently hovering over Iran is the ongoing escalation of tension between the Washington and Tehran that has brought the two countries to the brink. If, in any case, this situation snowballs and keeps lingering on, it would bring disastrous consequences for the whole region. Both the countries should, therefore, avoid any possible armed conflict by resorting to peaceful means of resolving the issue.
Saudi Arabia, a chronic adversary of Iran and a close ally of America in the region, also poses a big threat to Iran. The kingdom, in order to gather international support to isolate Iran, has left no stone unturned to project the Islamic republic as a “rogue state”. To delegitimize the regime after the 1979 revolution, it emphasized Iran’s Shiite status, funding preachers around the world and otherwise trying to deny the revolution’s religious credentials.
Another big threat that Iran is confronted with is its dwindling economy. Despite being resilient to the sanctions for a long time, it has eventually started feeling the ballooning impact of such sanctions on its economy. Apart from this, internal corruption and economic mismanagement have also added salt to its economic wounds, severely affecting the purchasing power of the people and incubating high youth unemployment that has engendered the social unrest in the country. The Iranian people, therefore, are living in despair. This disappointment and dissatisfaction prevalent among the Iranian masses is undoubtedly a colossal threat that can be exploited by the adversaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Advocate Abdul Rasool Syed is legal practitioner-cum-columnist based in Quetta Balochistan. He contributes articles to various national and international newspapers. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.