US needs a new strategy for Middle East and North Africa

The fate of the Iranian presence in Syria decides the fate of the Iranian regime in Iran.
Sunday 13/05/2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Moscow, on May 9. (Reuters)
Missing US strategy. Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Moscow, on May 9. (Reuters)

The American pull-out of the nuclear agreement with Iran is, by itself, insufficient without a clear US strategy for the MENA region. US President Donald Trump seems aware of that, judging by the speech during which he announced his decision.

Trump gave all the elements that can constitute the basis for a comprehensive strategy for the extended region, especially that it has become clear that Iranian meddling has reached North Africa through the long-standing conflict between Morocco and Algeria. The best proof of that is the announcement by Morocco that it cut diplomatic relations with Iran after it said it had proof that Hezbollah elements had been training Polisario Front separatists in the Moroccan Sahara. The Polisario separatist movement has been Algeria’s instrument in its silent war against Morocco since 1975.

In his speech, Trump went over every Iranian misdeed in the MENA region. It was all part of Iran’s expansionist project. Launching ballistic missile from Yemen against Saudi Arabia is part of that project. Trump said that “the Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East and supports terrorist proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Over the years Iran and its proxies have bombed American embassies and military installations, murdered hundreds of American service members and kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured American citizens.”

In short then, and contrary to the Obama administration, the Trump administration knows that the problem with Iran is not just its nuclear programme. Returning everything to the Iranian nuclear programme was a scam of common sense and the truth. The real problem was Iran’s behaviour in the region and its expansion plan, which relies primarily on igniting sectarian strife. That has always been the case with Iran and its proxies, which explains Hezbollah’s provoking Beirut’s Sunni population after Lebanon’s latest elections.

We know that Hezbollah is nothing more than a brigade in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The party’s sole mission is to inform all Lebanese that their country is under Iranian mandate. For Hezbollah, its victory was not limited to the elections but extends over all of Lebanon and its citizens. The Iranian proxy is telling the Lebanese that, from now on, they will be treated in the same manner it treated the people of southern Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley on Election Day and the days preceding it.

The Trump administration is serious in its handling of the Iranian file. Following Trump’s speech last October about Iran, there have been changes at the top echelons of the US administration. Mike Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and John Bolton replaced H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

At the same time, North Korea was co-opted. The regime in Pyongyang has decided to freeze its nuclear arsenal and turn North Korea into a “normal” state coexisting peacefully with its economically powerful neighbours China, Japan and South Korea.

Keeping North Korea under control is a major achievement by the Trump administration because North Korea was supplying missile technology to Iran and other rogue regimes, such as Bashar Assad’s in Syria.

Still, in the absence of a comprehensive strategy for the MENA region, Trump’s speech remains just words. The needed strategy must convince Iran that it is no longer welcome in Syria. This means, of course, that the American presence in Syria is a necessity.

It is necessary to liberate the suffering Syrian people from Iranian colonisation and protect them from the Kremlin’s dreams of grandeur. The Kremlin, in fact, persists in playing out its fantasy of a mighty Russia capable of creating its own influence zone, starting with Syria.

In the presence of a comprehensive US strategy for the MENA region, America’s European partners in the Iran nuclear deal will no longer have valid arguments for keeping the agreement with Tehran. The Europeans have argued — correctly — that the Iranian deal could still be useful once it is extended to include Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and curbing its influence in the region. There will be no need for this reasoning if a plan to keep Iran within its boundaries is put in place.

Limiting Iran’s expansion starts with Syria. The fate of the Iranian presence in Syria decides the fate of the Iranian regime in Iran. The regime will crumble in Iran when Iran is kicked out of Syria.

The Syrian regime went through a similar experience in Lebanon. It started to crumble the day it was kicked out from Lebanon. Today its survival in Damascus is contingent on the Iranian and Russian presence in Syria but these two regimes are behaving unnaturally outside their borders and sooner or later the cost of their intervention will become too high to bear.

Syria must be the starting point for a comprehensive plan for correcting the major mistake made in 2003 when Iraq was handed on a silver platter to Iran.