This week Iran is commemorating the 1980 Iraqi invasion of Iran, which led to eight years of war, a quarter million Iranians killed, a greater number wounded, and an entire generation of Iranians deeply traumatized. The regime in Tehran may venerate the country’s war efforts, but the statements coming out of Iran show just how forgetful the Iranian authorities are. Iraq invaded Iran—even Saddam Hussein formally recognized Iraq’s responsibility in starting the war—but the Iranian leadership also has itself to blame. Because Iran was trying to “export” its revolution abroad, Iran’s Arab neighbors, fearing the Iranian revolution more than Saddam Hussein, supported Iraq throughout the war. This was the price Iran paid for its diplomatic isolation.
The leadership in Tehran does not seem to have learned anything from its mistakes of the past and is repeating every single one of them.
On September 26, Admiral Ali Fadavi, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy commander, said, “Whenever we go to the Gulf of Mexico we will establish direct relations with the United States.” Fadavi’s comments were meant as a provocative response to Washington’s cautious suggestion that Iran and the United States should establish a hotline to avoid incidents in the Persian Gulf.
On September 27, Commander Mohamad-Hassan Mansourian, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force coordination chief, threatened the United States with terrorism. “With the support of the liberation movements of the world we will begin the defense of the realm from abroad and therefore the United States is not able of attacking Iran,” he warned. Mansourian essentially echoed IRGC Quds Force chief Major General Qassem Suleimani’s statements on May 22. Suleimani said, “Today, Iran’s victory or defeat no longer takes place is Mehran or Khorramshahr. Our boundaries have expanded and we must witness victory in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.”
In another provocative remark, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy commander, revealed on September 27 his plans for an Iranian naval presence near U.S. territorial waters: “Just as the global arrogance [the United States] is present near our territorial waters, we, thanks to the soldiers following the line of the guardianship [Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] will have a forceful presence near the territorial waters of the United States.”
Statements of the Islamic Republic authorities are not disconnected from Iran’s deeds. The Islamic Republic is a destabilizing factor in the Persian Gulf region, which has united the Arab states against Iran. Tehran’s ability to project power into the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic is nonexistent, but its propaganda, which aims to portray Iran as a global power, isolates Iran—just like its failed attempts at “exporting” the revolution isolated Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War.
While Iran is repeating the mistakes of the past, the United States should avoid doing so. Tehran interprets the slightest friendly gestures from the United States (such as establishment of a hotline between Washington and Tehran to avoid incidents) as a sign of weakness, which in turn makes the Iranian leadership even more assertive. The United States should help the Iranian leadership avoid believing its own propaganda regarding Iran’s status as a superpower.