Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on February 1, 1979, and every year since that date marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Dawn (dah-yi fajr), the annual commemoration of the Islamic revolution.

Observers at the time feared that similar revolutions would occur in other Islamic states, and in a speech this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicated that such a possibility is not out of the question. In Isfahan, Iran, on February 3, he said he has encountered revolutionary sentiment in his global travels, provincial television reported.

“Not just academics, not just men of letters, not just intellectuals,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd, “but the people on the streets and in marketplaces lovingly shout: ‘Iran, Iran, long live Iran, may Iran remain, may Iran be victorious.’

Ahmadinejad may actually believe that Muslims in other states are inspired by the Iranian revolutionary model. But the reality is that the only place where it has gained a foothold is in Lebanon, with the Shiite Muslim organisation, Hizbullah.

Iranian officials continue to praise Hizbullah and provide it with financial and military support, but the Iranian revolutionaries who were keen to export their experience two decades ago have mostly adopted a pragmatic foreign policy approach today.

Iranian assistance to Hizbullah in the 1980s was guided largely by an activist impulse and the desire to see Khomeini’s creation replicated elsewhere. For similar reasons, Iran directed assistance to Shiite mujahideen fighting the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan, and it tried to incite Shiite residents of Bahrain and Kuwait to revolt against their rulers. Exporting the revolution and assisting the so-called oppressed in other countries continue to be codified in the Iranian Constitution.

Iran no longer focuses on Shiite Muslims alone, however, and it helps Sunni groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In practice, and despite Ahmadinejad’s rantings, Tehran now prefers greater pragmatism in its foreign relations. Therefore, continuing assistance to Hizbullah has less to do with duplicating Iran’s theocracy and assisting a “liberation movement” than it does with a desire to have an armed ally on Israel’s border that can be mobilised in a time of war. There is no question that Iran continues its involvement with armed groups throughout the Middle East, and it also works bilaterally with neighbouring states in order to gain regional dominance at the expense of the US.

Iran will work with Shiite or Sunni entities in this quest. If Washington is serious about ending Iranian interference in Lebanon and elsewhere, it must make clear to those cooperating with Iran that their survival is at stake, and it should use all available diplomatic tools to communicate to Iran the danger that Iran faces.

Ahmadinejad may speak irrationally, but there are other national leaders in Tehran with a firmer grasp on reality. — The Christian Science Monitor