Iran's Influence Spreads Throughout Middle East
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
With all the attention focused on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the United States should be concerned with Iran spreading its arc of influence throughout the Middle East.
Iran has never been shy about expanding its influence, and in recent years has been bullish about its successes. The current focus of the U.S. is to degrade and eventually destroy ISIS, but Washington has allowed Iran to expand its influence in the Middle East unfettered.
The current situation in Iraq came to a boiling point last summer, when ISIS militant fighters forced the complete collapse of the Iraqi army and forced then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from office, replacing him with Haider al-Abadi. Many in the West want to claim that it was U.S. pressure which brought the change in leadership, but in reality it was Iran concerned about the threat to the Shiite shrines in Iraq, Islamic militant threats to overrunning Baghdad, and finally its own strategies in both Iraq and Syria.
CNN reported that the militia (al Hashed al Shabi) or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), were trained, equipped and most importantly, led by Iranian military advisers and quickly became battle hardened. What they lacked in military skills, they made up for in determination.
The Iranians have invested heavily in the PMUs. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, General Qassim Suleimani, seems to have spent more time in Iraq than Iran since last summer and was photographed around Tikrit. According to several analysts, it is Suleimani that organized and directed the Shia militia in an apparently more deliberate and better planned assault than previous operations.
The ongoing Tikrit operation has more to do with the Shia militia’s being organized and trained by Iran than anything the Iraqi army will play in this operation and the potential operation of retaking Mosul from ISIS. Many Iranian leaders openly boast about the U.S. supplying the air cover for Iranian ground operations.
Almost since the Islamic regime took in power in Tehran, it has heavily backed various Islamic proxy forces, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank area. Just last month, Houthi rebels backed by Iran took over the capital city of Sana’a in Yemen, virtually sending that country into a civil war.
This was basically at the same time that the Economist magazine reported that Iran’s influence extends to the cross-border attacks by Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights that killed six fighters from Hezbollah, days after the group denied that it was in the area. More surprisingly, it also killed Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, an Iranian general. His presence suggests that Iran was trying to establish a presence in an area that has fallen out of Syrian government control.
This also feeds into the narrative in which Iran is largely responsible for propping up and maintaining the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad, by providing him Shiite militias in the form of Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), plus gives the regime all the financial backing and political support it needs.
As Washington focuses on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, it is seemingly missing that before Secretary of State John Kerry visited Saudi Arabia to ease the nervousness of Riyadh regarding the nuclear talks with Iran, high level Pakistani government officials also visited the kingdom with a different agenda. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Saudi Arabia to discuss a wide range of issues, one of them was to ease the tension of Saudi Arabia after Simon Henderson (Washington Institute) wrote an essay last month noting Riyadh’s support of Pakistan’s nuclear program, “providing financing in return for a widely assumed understanding that, if needed, Islamabad will transfer technology, or even warheads.”
It is ironic that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations are on the same side, while the U.S. continues to press forward with the Iranian nuclear negotiations; all the while, the region believes the Obama administration will virtually throw them under the bus just to have a nuclear deal – no matter how much it costs.
To the Sunni Arab nations, the only winner in the nuclear negotiations is Iran, as they get to keep their nuclear infrastructure intact, plus gain greater influence across the Middle East.
Only time will see how this plays out.