Friday, June 14, 2024

Beware Iran’s dangerous Middle East creep

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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I do not wish to sound alarmist but after piecing the puzzle together I cannot escape the conclusion that Tehran’s mid-to-long term strategy is not only aimed at dominating the region but also targets Mecca and Medina.

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been working towards that goal for many years. Last September, he heaped insults on the Saudi ruling family while slamming the Saudi ruling family’s caretaker role over Islam’s holiest sites.

In May this year, Iran’s Minister of Defence Hossein Dehghan was quoted saying, “If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except for Mecca and Medina.”

The then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman hit back. “We know that we are a main goal for the Iranian regime,” he said. “We will not wait until the battle becomes in Saudi Arabia but we will work to have the battle in Iran rather in Saudi Arabia.”

The Kingdom and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies are well aware of the ayatollahs’ end game. Iran’s arming and financing Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels was to further a military corridor into Saudi’s southern border for Iranian revolutionary guards and pro-Iranian militias. That march had to be stopped, which is one of the reasons the Saudi-led coalition was obliged to take action.

That said, I want to warn GCC leaderships of the growing and perhaps imminent danger to the area’s balance of power posed by Iran. I was forwarded a map the other day which was frankly startling.

It shows that Tehran has supremacy over substantial swathes of Iraq and Syria besides its virtual command of Lebanon and is coordinating with Assad forces to purposefully cut a 1,800 km safe route across those countries linking Tehran with Beirut permitting the regime to supply Hezbollah and its other militias with heavy weapons unimpeded.

The Yemen route denied to Iran by our pilots and our brave young men on the ground, the regime has stealthily been increasing the presence of Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters in Syria where they have made substantial gains against Daesh and other groups of a similar ilk.

In the meantime, Iran’s proxy Shiite paramilitary groups known as Hashd Al-Shaabi – which number anywhere between 60,000 and 140,000 – have been recognized as a legitimate entity by the State of Iraq despite their allegiance to Khamenei, Moqtada Al-Sadr or Najaf’s Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.

Those anti-Sunni ideologues have further been legitimized by the United States whose ‘military advisers’ and Special Forces are coordinating with those pro-Iranian militias in Iraq’s bid to free areas of northern Iraq from Daesh’s occupation.

Iraq shares a border with Saudi Arabia and there may come a time when Iraq’s hard liners are co-opted by Iran to assist with an attempted invasion of the Kingdom.

Iran’s belligerence is growing by the day. The world’s greatest state-sponsor of terrorism no longer tries to hide behind a friendly mask to quell the international community’s concerns.

In response to President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is mulling whether or not to pull America out of the nuclear deal and the US Treasury’s new round of anti-Iranian economic sanctions, Iran’s so-called moderate leader President Hassan Rouhani threatened that Iran could restart its nuclear programme in “a matter of hours”. Is that the same nuclear programme Iranian officials always maintained was purely peaceful?

On the watch of Iran’s Mr Nice Guy, Iran’s Sunni minorities and opposition groups have been ground underfoot. According to Amnesty International’s latest report, “Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen remained subject to entrenched discrimination…”

The report slams Iran’s human rights record. “Floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments (such as rendering people blind) continue to be applied” to detainees and “at least 78 juvenile offenders remain on death row.”

I hoped that those among the Iranian people who are disillusioned with the promise of the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah would rise to reclaim their country, and I have advised Arab leaderships to help them in that regard. However, it appears that many are too frightened for their lives and liberty to act against the fascists controlling every aspect of their existence.

When three million Iranians under the umbrella of the Green Movement rose in 2009 to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the Obama administration distanced itself. As we now know, behind the scenes, Barack Obama was working to secure a nuclear deal and had no appetite to secure regime change. He courted the ayatollahs with reassuring messages leaving the courageous people who went to the streets high and dry.

His successor’s policy on Iran is more bluster than substance. There is chaos in the White House and the President’s foreign policy is an ad hoc mish mash that either alters according to his mood or he has farmed-out to the Department of State and the Pentagon.

The sixty-four-dollar question is can Gulf States rely on an “America First” US that blows hot and cold with world leaders, including European allies, be relied upon for our self-defence? What if, the Iranian gangs succeeded in penetrating Saudi Arabia, can we expect to see the US cavalry on the horizon.

I do not know the answer but given that Mr Trump seemed willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of Japanese and South Koreans to wipe North Korea off the map following Kim Jong-Un’s threat to the US island of Guam, I do not feel reassured.

And neither am I reassured by Iran’s wooing of our friends, Turkey and Qatar whose people I consider to be family. On Thursday, Qatar announced it is restoring ties with Iran and returning its ambassador. Turkey and Iran are engaged in planning joint military action against Kurdish groups.

A multi-pronged defensive strategy consisting of intelligence sharing, surveillance, and missile defence should be devised by Riyadh and its trusted allies. Iran has been infiltrating Gulf States with spies and sleeping cells for decades aimed at overturning governments. It is time it received a taste of its own medicine.

Countries on the fence should be told to choose sides. Simultaneously, investments should be withdrawn from non-compliant states and diplomatic links severed.

Iran has been handed a free pass for too long. Despite not being a fan of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he understands the danger from Iran to his own country and to the region.

“Bringing Shiites into the Sunni sphere will surely have many serious implications both in regard to refugees and to new terrorist acts,” he recently told reporters, pledging to take action. He gets it. My hope is that our own leaders are as receptive to a potentially devastating scenario unfolding before our eyes before it is too late.

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