US meeting with Iran over Iraq

By Barry Rubin

As American diplomats hold their first high-level meeting with Iranian counterparts for many years, U.S. policymakers need to be reminded of a very simple but incredibly important point. Namely: What do all the current threats facing the Middle East–the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip, Hizballah’s bid for power in Lebanon , political turmoil in Iraq , and imminent nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical dictatorship–all have in common? Answer: Iran .

Obviously, of course, these issues all have their local causes. But they are also linked by Tehran ’s drive for regional hegemony. Iran ’s strategy has basically been in place since the 1979 Islamist revolution but it has only recently begun to pay off. The often-stated goal of the revolution was to turn Iran into a utopian Islamist society and then to spread this revolution throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world in general.

While all Iranian leaders voice basic support for this program, the country has often been cautious in pursuing it, especially given the long war with Iran in the 1980s and the possibility of Western opposition. But now a number of events have given the regime renewed confidence and the extreme line taken by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also produced more daring, and thus both dangerous and bloody, behavior.

Iran tries to extend its influence in three ways: propaganda and incitement; the promotion of client groups, and projecting the state’s own power. Today, Iran sponsors radical Islamist groups in Afghanistan , Iraq , Lebanon , and among the Palestinians as well as in other countries. Its two most important clients are Hizballah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas group.
This is not to suggest that these organizations are totally controlled by Tehran and have their every move dictated by it. Nevertheless, Iran does largely finance these groups, provides weapons and training, encourages them to launch attacks, and shapes their ideology. Without Iran ’s backing they would be much weaker.

The evidence indicates that Iran has been urging them to be more aggressive and to launch terrorist attacks and more general offensives.

Take Lebanon , for example. Hizballah, the large Shia Muslim group, closely follows Iran ’s line. In 2006 it launched attacks on Israel which led to a major war, steps it would never dared have taken unless Hizballah’s leadership knew that Iran wanted such actions. Indeed, the head of Hamas, Muhammad Nasrallah, is the official representative in Lebanon of the Iran ’s “spiritual guide,” its most powerful official.

Since the end of the summer 2006 war, Hizballah’s emphasis has been to seek control over Lebanon , though it has simultaneously rebuilt its military power. On a number of occasions, Iran has been caught smuggling arms to Hizballah, through both Syria and Turkey . Iranian Revolutionary Guards act as military advisors to Hizballah. Opponents of an Iranian-Syrian takeover in Lebanon , both politicians and journalists, have been systematically murdered in terrorist attacks. Clearly, as many Lebanese have noted, Iran is seeking to turn Lebanon into a satellite state.

The same tactics are employed with the Palestinians. Hamas and the even more extremist Islamic Jihad follow Iran ’s line. Tehran has publicly urged these organizations to carry out terrorist attacks and provides them with examples of openly antisemitic rhetoric duplicated in their propaganda.

In June, there was a turning point in Palestinian history. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, expelled its nationalist Fatah rivals, killed many people because of their political views or activities, and made clear its intention of transforming the Gaza Strip into an Islamist state on the basic model of Iran . Many Palestinians and other Arabs publicly stated their fear and resentment at the idea that Hamas represented an Iranian effort to seize control of their land and cause.

These include two of the Arab world’s top journalists. Tariq al-Humayd, editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat wrote, “The source of the funds is obviously Iran . Today, no one has control over Hamas…except Iran , its economic patron, and Syria ,” Iran ’s ally and the place where Hamas has its headquarters. Ahmad Al-Jarallah, editor of Kuwait ’s Al-Siyassa, noted: “By means of Hamas’s takeover in Gaza , the Iran-Syria axis has managed…to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian peace” and become the main arbiter of regional politics.

But this is only the beginning. On the horizon looms Iran ’s nuclear arsenal. If Tehran gets weapons of mass destruction it will rally far larger numbers of radical and terrorist forces in attacking the West and more moderate Arabs as well as Israel . If Iran gets the upper hand it will block any chance for peace and push the region into decades more of bloodshed.
This is why the details of events in Iraq, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians do not detract from but indeed reinforces the need to contain Iran and especially to ensure that it does not obtain nuclear weapons.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs> and author of the recently published The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

July 23, 2007 | Comments Off on US meeting with Iran over Iraq

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