Iran’s foreign policy is a menace to the region

All the mini-wars throughout the region could evolve into a more generalised conflict in a flash if cooler heads do not prevail.
Wednesday 28/03/2018
Mini-wars. Iran-backed Shia fighters from a group called the Hussein Brigade use a helmet to draw sniper fire during clashes in the town of Hejeira near Damascus. (AP)
Mini-wars. Iran-backed Shia fighters from a group called the Hussein Brigade use a helmet to draw sniper fire during clashes in the town of Hejeira near Damascus. (AP)

Relations between the United States and Iran are at all-time low and are unlikely to get better anytime soon given that the two countries are headed in opposite directions. US Senator Lindsey Graham, who recently returned from a tour of the region, wrote in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal that Iran was “winning in the Middle East while the US and its allies are on their heels.”

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been to the Middle East numerous times, described his most recent trip as “the most unnerving visit in a long time.”

With good reason. All the mini-wars throughout the region could evolve into a more generalised conflict in a flash if cooler heads do not prevail.

Graham said: “With the help of Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, Iran is winning. Sunni Arabs, Israel and the United States are on their heels.”

Indeed, looking at the Middle East today, one sees many small but active conflicts ready to erupt into one large volcano that could drag the region and countries beyond the traditional Middle East and North Africa borders into a dangerous conflict, unlike anything we have seen.

Syria is a good example. At the epicentre of that unsettling hot cauldron of political instability sits the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has been meddling in the affairs of other countries, looking for ways to expand its influence. The Iranians have intervened either directly or through proxies in the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is not in Syria on a mission of peace. Rather it would very much like to see the Golan front rekindled, a move that would alleviate pressure from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, if Hezbollah and Israel ever go at it again.

Last month’s drone “glitch” in which the Iranians flew a drone into Israeli territory was only a test by the Iranians to measure Israel’s response and reaction. A brief glimpse into what can happen when the Iranians become involved is the example of the Golan Heights separating Israel from Syria.

It should be noted that after US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria in 1973 following the October or Yom Kippur War, the Golan front had been the quietest one, except for a few minor incidents.

That was until the Iranians showed up and flew a drone over Israeli positions. Indeed, there have been several instances in which armed elements on the Syrian side of the border have exchanged gunfire with Israeli soldiers.

Relations between Iran and the United States have deteriorated since Donald Trump entered the White House.

Graham points an accusing finger at former US President Barack Obama for not taking enough action against Syrian President Bashar Assad and for pulling US troops out of Iraq.

“I hope the administration will develop a strategy that includes no-fly zones inside Syria, so refugees can safely return home and that the United States continues to train forces who want to take on Mr Assad. We must also make clear to Iran and Russia that they engage these forces at their peril,” Graham wrote.

Trump has railed against the Obama-era nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, including the United States, calling it the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

The United States accused Tehran last year of supplying arms to Yemeni rebels in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Graham, in the Journal article, cited the fraught relationship between Israel and Iran, referencing Tehran’s support of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The Israeli military said Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, is manufacturing precision-guided weapons in southern Lebanon. This, apparently, is going on right under the nose of the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Hezbollah has amassed thousands of intermediate-range rockets and missiles, all of which are pointed at Israel, Graham said. “Soon Israel will have to attack these rocket sites, which Hezbollah has integrated into civilian infrastructures such as apartment buildings, schools and hospitals,” Graham said, citing an Israeli Defence Ministry official.

“Israeli leaders are concerned that this integration will lead to high civilian casualty rates if the Jewish state has to defend itself,” the senator wrote.

Graham said he intends to convene hearings about the military buildup in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL’s “failures” and more missile defence funding for Israel.

In the meantime, the threat remains.