A new Middle East is upon us and its primary beneficiary couldn’t be happier. In a speech Monday in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Politburo Chief Gen. Yadollah Javani crowed, “Iran’s pivotal role in the New Middle East is undeniable.
Today the Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation enjoys such a power, honor and respect in the world that all nations and governments wish to have such a ruling system.”
Iran’s leaders have eagerly thrown their newfound weight around. For instance, Iran is challenging Saudi Arabia’s ability to guarantee the stability of global oil markets.
For generations, the stability of global oil supplies has been guaranteed by Saudi Arabia’s reserve capacity that could be relied on to make up for any shocks to those supplies due to political unrest or other factors. When Libya’s teetering dictator Muammar Gaddafi decided to shut down Libya’s oil exports last month, the oil markets reacted with a sharp increase in prices. The very next day the Saudis announced they would make up the shortfall from Libya’s withdrawal from the export market.
In the old Middle East, the Saudi statement would never have been questioned. Oil suppliers and purchasers alike accepted the arrangement whereby Saudi Arabian reserves – defended by the US military – served as the guarantor of the oil economy. But in the New Middle East, Iran feels comfortable questioning the Saudi role.
On Thursday, Iran’s Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi urged Saudi Arabia to refrain from increasing production. Mirkazemi argued that since the OPEC oil cartel has not discussed increasing supplies, Saudi Arabia had no right to increase its oil output.
True, Iran’s veiled threat did not stop Saudi Arabia from increasing its oil production by 500,000 barrels per day. But the fact that Iran feels comfortable telling the Saudis what they can and cannot do with their oil demonstrates the mullocracy’s new sense of empowerment.
And it makes sense. With each passing day, the Iranian regime is actively destabilizing Saudi Arabia’s neighbors and increasing its influence over Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority in the kingdom’s Eastern Province where most of its oil is located.
Perhaps moved by the political unrest in Bahrain and Yemen, Saudi regime opponents including Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority have stepped up their acts of political opposition. The Saudi royal family has sought to buy off its opponents by showering its subjects with billions of dollars in new subsidies and payoffs. But still the tide of dissent rises.
Saudi regime opponents have scheduled political protests for March 11 and March 20. In an attempt to blunt the force of the demonstrations, Saudi security forces arrested Tawfiq al- Amir, a prominent Shi’ite cleric from the Eastern Province. On February 25, Amir delivered a sermon calling for the transformation of the kingdom into a constitutional monarchy.
Iran has used his arrest to pressure the Saudi regime. In an interview with Iran’s Fars news agency this week, Iranian parliamentarian and regime heavyweight Mohammed Dehqan warned the Saudis not to try to quell the growing unrest. As he put it, the Saudi leaders “should know that the Saudi people have become vigilant and do not allow the rulers of the country to commit any possible crime against them.”
Dehqan continued, “Considering that the developments in Bahrain and Yemen affect the situation in Saudi Arabia, the [regime] feels grave danger and interferes in the internal affairs of these states.”
Dehqan’s statement is indicative of the mullah’s confidence in the direction the region is taking.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Iran is deeply involved in all the anti-regime protests and movements from Egypt to Yemen to Bahrain and beyond.
“Either directly or through proxies, they are constantly trying to influence events. They have a very active diplomatic foreign policy outreach,” Clinton said.
Iranian officials, Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists and other Iranian agents have played pivotal roles in the anti-regime movements in Yemen and Bahrain. Their operations are the product of Iran’s long-running policy of developing close ties to opposition figures in these countries as well as in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Morocco.
These long-developed ties are reaping great rewards for Iran today. Not only do these connections give the Iranians the ability to influence the policies of post-revolutionary allied regimes.
They give the mullahs and their allies the ability to intimidate the likes of the Saudi and Bahraini royals and force them to appease Iran’s allies.
This means that Iran’s mullahs win no matter how the revolts pan out. If weakened regimes maintain power by appeasing Iran’s allies in the opposition – as they are trying to do in Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen – then Iranian influence over the weakened regimes will grow substantially. And if Iran’s allies topple the regimes, then Iran’s influence will increase even more steeply.
Moreover, Iran’s preference for proxy wars and asymmetric battles is served well by the current instability. Iran’s proxies – from Hezbollah to al- Qaida to Hamas – operate best in weak states.
From Hezbollah’s operations in South Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, to the Iranian-sponsored Iraqi insurgents in recent years and beyond, Iran has exploited weak central authorities to undermine pro-Western governments, weaken Israel and diminish US regional influence.
In the midst of Egypt’s revolutionary violence, Iran quickly deployed its Hamas proxies to Sinai.
Since Mubarak’s fall, Iran has worked intensively to expand its proxy forces’ capacity to operate freely in Sinai.
Recognition of Iran’s expanded power is fast altering the international community’s perception of the regional balance of forces. Russia’s announcement last Saturday that it will sell Syria the Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile was a testament to Iran’s rising regional power and the US’s loss of power.
Russia signed a deal to provide the missiles to Syria in 2007. But Moscow abstained from supplying them until now – just after Iran sailed its naval ships unmolested to Syria through the Suez Canal and signed a naval treaty with Syria effectively fusing the Iranian and Syrian navies.
So, too, Russia’s announcement that it sides with Iran’s ally Turkey in its support for reducing UN Security Council sanctions against Iran indicates that the US no longer has the regional posture necessary to contain Iran on the international stage.
Iran’s increased regional power and its concomitant expanded leverage in international oil markets will make it impossible for the US to win UN Security Council support for more stringent sanctions against Tehran. Obviously, UN Security Council-sanctioned military action against Iran’s nuclear installations is out of the question.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has failed completely to understand what is happening.
Clinton told the House of Representatives and the Senate that Iran’s increased power means that the US should continue to arm and fund Iran’s allies and support the so-called democratic forces that are allied with Iran.
So it was that Clinton told the Senate that the Obama administration thinks it is essential to continue to supply the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese military with US arms. Clinton claimed that she couldn’t say what Hezbollah control over the Lebanese government meant regarding the future of US ties to Lebanon.
So, too, while Palestinian Authority leaders burn President Barack Obama in effigy and seek to form a unity government with Iran’s Hamas proxy, Clinton gave an impassioned defense of US funding for the PA to the House Foreign Relations Committee this week.
Clinton’s behavior bespeaks a stunning failure to understand the basic realities she and the State Department she leads are supposed to shape. Her lack of comprehension is matched only by her colleague Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ lack of shame and nerve. In a press conference this week, Gates claimed that Iran is weakened by the populist waves in the Arab world because Iran’s leaders are violently oppressing their political opponents.
In light of the Obama administration’s refusal to use US military force for even the most minor missions – like evacuating US citizens from Libya – without UN approval, it is apparent that the US will not use armed force against Iran for as long as Obama is in power.
And given the administration’s refusal to expend any effort to protect US interests and allies in the region lest the US be accused of acting like a superpower, it is clear that US allies like the Saudis will not be able to depend on America to defend the regime. This is the case despite the fact that its overthrow would threaten the US’s core regional interests.
Against this backdrop, it is clear that the only way to curb Iran’s influence in the region and so strike a major blow against its rising Shi’ite-Sunni jihadist alliance is to actively support the prodemocracy regime opponents in Iran’s Green Movement. The only chance of preventing Iran from plunging the region into war and bloodshed is if the regime is overthrown.
So long as the Iranian regime remains in power, it will be that much harder for the Egyptians to build an open democracy or for the Saudis to open the kingdom to liberal voices and influences. The same is true of almost every country in the region. Iran is the primary regional engine of war, terror, nuclear proliferation and instability. As long as the regime survives, it will be difficult for liberal forces in the region to gain strength and influence.
On February 24, the mullahs reportedly arrested opposition leaders Mir Hossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi along with their wives. It took the Obama administration several days to even acknowledge the arrests, let alone denounce them.
In the face of massive regime violence, Iran’s anti-regime protesters are out in force in cities throughout the country demanding their freedom and a new regime. And yet, aside from paying lip service to their bravery, neither the US nor any other government has come forward to help them. No one has supplied Iran’s embattled revolutionaries with proxy servers after the regime brought down their Internet communications networks. No one has given them arms.
No one has demanded that Iran be thrown out of all UN bodies pending the regime’s release of the Mousavis and Karroubis and the thousands of political prisoners being tortured in the mullah’s jails. No one has stepped up to fund around-the-clock anti-regime broadcasts into Iran to help regime opponents organize and coordinate their operations. Certainly no one has discussed instituting a no-fly zone over Iran to protect the protesters.
With steeply rising oil prices and the real prospect of al-Qaida taking over Yemen, Iranian proxies taking over Bahrain, and the Muslim Brotherhood controlling Egypt, some Americans are recognizing that not all revolutions are Washingtonian.
But there is a high likelihood that an Iranian revolution would be. At a minimum, a democratic Iran would be far less dangerous to the region and the world than the current regime.
The Iranians are right. We are moving into a new Middle East. And if the mullahs aren’t overthrown, the New Middle East will be a very dark and dangerous place.