Iranian media are highlighting the role of Iran’s Security chief Ali Shamkhani, a military man, in normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.
The media is using the term “field diplomacy” to describe the role the military can play in securing diplomatic outcomes, because Shamkhani was a long-time senior IRGC officer and navy commander with the rank of Admiral. The term is also used to highlight the use of the military in achieving diplomatic objectives, which in this context is IRGC’s regional power projection.
Hardline daily Vatan Emrooz which speaks for the ultraconservative Paydari Party and conservative Bultan [Bulletin] News which is close to parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf first used the term this week after a deal was reached in Beijing to restore diplomatic relations with Riyadh.
The term ‘field diplomacy’ was first used by former foreign minister Javad Zarif when IRGC Qods (Quds) Force commander Qassem Soleimani circumvented the Foreign Ministry and brought Syrian President Bashar Assad to Tehran for a meeting with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in February 2019.
Iran's former foreign minister Javad Zarif
At the time, Zarif was so deeply annoyed by the IRGC's intervention, and not even inviting him to the meeting that he resigned, but Khamenei did not approve the resignation. Zarif later once again used the term about IRGC's intervention in foreign policy in a leaked interview that put an end to his career.
Vatan Emrooz, portrayed the Tehran-Riyadh agreement as a victory for Shamkhani and ‘field diplomacy’ and even extended this victory from the realm of foreign policy to the area of economy as Shamkhani went to Abu Dhabi for a diplomatic and economic mission on Thursday. The media in Tehran said that he will be seeking the United Arab Emirates' cooperation in circumventing US sanctions, particularly the ones that have largely hindered Iran's oil exports and international banking since 2018.
However, it is not yet clear how the UAE can cooperate with Iran as long as US and other international sanctions against Tehran are in place.
Iran and the UAE have recently raised the level of their diplomatic relations from the charge d'affairs level to the ambassadorial and have named their new chief diplomats. The hardliner media said that the UAE welcomes the breakthrough in the Iran-Saudi ties as it will eliminate the threat from Yemen where Houthis last year launched the first attack on Abu Dhabi in the history of the Emirates.
Vatan Emrooz added that Iran, on the other hand looks at the UAE as the Hong Kong of West Asia and a hub that can facilitate international banking operations for Iran. Only the future can show how realistic those security and financial hopes are.
The report in Bultan News, used the term field diplomacy with some caveat. Its headline said, "The agreement with Saudi Arabia was the outcome of a realistic union between field diplomacy and foreign diplomacy," although it is clear from all Iranian and international reports that Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had no part in making the long-awaited deal.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
The website also stressed that it was the achievements of the Iranian military and nuclear scientists that were used as leverage to change regional developments in Iran's interest. This is clearly a reference to Iran's possible attempt to get closer to developing nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, while observers have asked both sides to act cautiously and calmly, some hardliners, including military officials appear to be going too far in their ambitions. IRGC's PR Chief Ramezan Sharif told ILNA News Agency in Tehran about the far-reaching impact of the deal between Tehran and Riyadh.
Sharif was quoted as saying, "The next Qods day ceremony in Iran on April 21 will bring about the end of the Abraham Accord between Israel and Arab nations."