Iran\'s dangerous game

November 12, 2017

These are testing times for the region. Four Gulf countries have asked their citizens to leave Lebanon amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the latter’s role in Lebanon and Yemen. What happens next with the crisis over Lebanon remains to be seen but in Yemen, at least, the path forward is clear. Iran must stop its increasingly brazen support to Yemen’s Houthi militias.

The latest dangerous consequence of Iran’s cynical actions became all too apparent on November 4. The Houthis, emboldened by the steady flow of lethal weapons and incendiary ideas from Tehran, attempted to export the Yemen war to Saudi Arabia by lobbing a missile at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. It was intercepted and Saudi authorities denounced the missile attack on their territory as an act of “direct military aggression.”

Riyadh was entirely within its rights to do so. Its response is strongly supported within the region and beyond. The US State Department issued a statement that “welcomes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s statement exposing the Iranian regime’s support for Houthi militias, including the supply of illegal arms such as ballistic missiles.” French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in the UAE and Saudi Arabia last week, said the intercepted missile was obviously “an Iranian missile” and “shows precisely the strength” of Iran’s weapons programme.

It also shows the extent to which Iran has become the single most ominous threat to the stability of the Middle East.

Iran has brought the region to this dismal pass. There may be consternation but there cannot, indeed should not, be any expression of surprise. It is hardly a secret that Iran ramped up support to the Houthis many months ago. In May, Reuters released a long report quoting multiple sources to lay bare the increasing impunity with which Iran is fuelling the nearly 3-year-old Yemen conflict.

It described Tehran’s involvement in clear terms: “Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi move­ment, stepping up support for its Shia ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.”

It need not have come to this. Iran could have peacefully and profitably used the 2015 nuclear deal as a path to co-operation with the rest of the world. Instead, it capitalised on the lifting of international sanctions by intensifying its ballistic missile programme and by giving additional resources to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with which to pursue a broad expansionist agenda.

Through its proxy, Hezbollah, Iran has acceler­ated and widened the scope of its intervention in Syria and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia is not the only Arab country deeply concerned about Iran’s grow­ing interventionism. The world has reason to be alarmed.