Introduction: first, several friends recently suggested that that I should interview Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi; then I read this most interesting text on Moon of Alabama and I decided to ask Professor Marandi to share his views of the current situation in Iran, the Persian Gulf the rest of the Middle-East who very kindly agreed to reply to my question in spite of his most hectic and busy schedule. I am most grateful to Prof. Marandi for his time and replies. Crucially, Prof. Marandi debunks the silly notion that Russia and Israel are allies or working together. He also debunks that other canard about Russia and Iran having some major differences over Syria. Prof. Marandi, who is currently in Iran, is superbly connected and informed, and I hope that with this interview some of the more outlandish rumors which were recently circulated will finally be seen for what they are: utter, total, nonsense. Enjoy the interview!
The Saker: It is often said that there is an “axis of resistance” which comprises Syrian, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia and China. Sometimes, Venezuela, Cuba or the DPRK are added to this list. Do you believe that there is such an “axis of resistance” and, if yes, how would you characterize the nature of this informal alliance? Do you think that this informal alliance can ever grow into a formal political or military alliance or a collective security treaty?
Professor Marandi: I definitely believe there is an Axis of Resistance that currently includes Iran, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, parts of Afghanistan, and Yemen. I do not think that we can include the DPRK in any way or form. I believe that Russia could be considered to a certain degree as aligned or affiliated to this resistance, but that this is not something many would feel the need to acknowledge. At certain levels, there is a lot of overlap between Russian and Chinese policy and the policies of the countries and movements in this region that are affiliated to this Axis of Resistance. The same is true with countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, which I do not consider to be similar to North Korea at all. Just as almost everywhere else, American policy in the Korean Peninsula is ugly, hegemonic and malevolence, but the nature of the DPRK government is fundamentally different from that of Venezuela or Cuba, whether the Americans or Europeans like to acknowledge that or not. Others can interpret the Axis of Resistance to include or exclude certain countries, but it is pretty clear that Iran and Russia have similar policy objectives when it comes to certain key issues. Nevertheless, Russia has a close relationship with the Israeli regime whereas Iran considers it to be an apartheid state, almost identical to that of apartheid South Africa. Or for example the Syrian government position regarding Israel is different from that of Iran’s. The official Syrian position is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip must be returned to the Palestinians, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, and that the occupied Golan Heights have to be handed back to the Syrian people, which are legitimate demands. But the Iranian position is different, Iran firmly believes that Israel is a colonial and apartheid regime and that it is morally unacceptable for it to exist in its present form. Therefore, at least officially, there are substantial differences. So people can interpret the Axis of Resistance in different ways. It is important to keep in mind that despite Syria, Iran, Turkey and Qatar are also moving closer together partially thanks to US, Saudi, and UAE hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood. What is important is that there is a growing consensus about key issues in this region and what the major problems are, and I think that as time goes on this loose alliance of countries and movements is growing more influential and more powerful. I cannot say whether there will be a formal or open collective security treaty or military alliance created by any of these countries in the near or foreseeable future and I do not see such a necessity. However, I think this convergence of ideas is very important and I think that the formal and informal links that exist between these countries is in many ways more important and more significant than formal political or military alliances or security treaties.
The Saker: In recent months a number of observers have stated that Russia and Israel are working hand in hand and some have gone as far as to say that Putin is basically a pawn of Netanyahu and that Russia is loyal to Israel and Zionists interests. Do you agree with this point of view? How do Iranian officials view the Russian contacts with the Israelis, does that worry them or do they believe that these contacts can be beneficial for the future of the region?
Professor Marandi: That is nonsense. The US and Israeli regimes are culturally and ideologically bound to one another, whereas the Americans have a deep antipathy towards Russia. That is why the Russians have a very different position on Syria than do the Americans and Israelis. The Israelis alongside the US, the EU, the Saudis, and some of Syria’s neighboring countries, supported ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other extremist entities and attempted to tear Syria apart. As explained earlier, the Russian view of Israel is different from Iran. There are many Russian Jewish immigrants in Israel and they constitute a large segment of the colonists in Palestine and they are largely utilized for the further subjugation of the Palestinian people and ethnic cleansing. Generally speaking, Russian interests are in sharp conflict with those of the United States, Israel’s strongest ally. In addition, Russia’s close relationship with Syria dates back to the cold war and the relentless US pressure on China and Russia has also acted as a strong catalyst to quicken their convergence with one another as well as with Iran on key issues. The Chinese and Russians know quite well that the United States, the Europeans, and regional countries have extensively used extremists in Syria to undermine the state and that those forces could later be used to undermine security in Central Asia, Russia, and China. A large number of Russian, Chinese, and Central Asians have been trained to fight in Syria, and this is a major threat to their collective security. The United States could use these and other extremists in an attempt to impede the potential success of the Belt and Road Initiative or other plans for Asian integration. Thus, there is a sharp and growing conflict between the Russians and the Americans.
The Israeli regime constantly tells the Russians and the Chinese that they are the gateway to Washington and that if they maintain strong ties with Israel, the Israelis can help them solve their problems with the United States. I do not think there is much truth to that, because this growing conflict is about the fate of US global dominance and there is nothing the Israelis can do to change that. Nevertheless, this has been used as an incentive for the Russians and the Chinese to maintain better relations with the Israeli regime.