Iran remains the root of regional instability

As Trump administration is poised to revive its ties with Washington’s traditional Middle East allies, tough challenges remain.

2017/03/05 Issue: 96 Page: 15

The Arab Weekly
Mosa Zahed

US President Donald Trump’s first month in office was marked by what appears to be a fundamental alteration of Wash­ington’s Iran policy in putting Tehran on notice following January’s test-firing of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Trump’s modus operandi has been noted by Iran’s anxious leadership, which has subse­quently increased sabre-rattling and posturing by issuing empty threats and engaging in war games, hoping to deter any initiative that aims to restore regional stability and security, which is considered by Tehran a direct threat to its foreign policy interests.

As the Trump administration is poised to revive its ties with Washington’s traditional Middle East allies to construct an effec­tive regional policy with the objective of curtailing Iran’s rising hegemony, tough challenges remain. The region is in mayhem and the Syrian conflict unre­solved.

Determined to let a nuclear deal with Iran form an integral part of his foreign policy legacy, Barack Obama sacrificed the conflict in Syria and avoided intervention so as not to upset Iran’s theocracy, Washington’s negotiating partner, which the administration heavily depended on to effectuate its aspirations. The ayatollahs effectively exploited Obama’s Achilles heel and bolstered Syrian President Bashar Assad’s murder­ous regime, leading to the death of hundreds of thousands and generating a global refugee crisis.

Obama’s decision not to enforce his red line in Syria after it was repeatedly crossed by the Assad regime has had, in addition to its negative effects on the region’s stability, massive implications on European security.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took notice of Wash­ington’s failure to act against Assad’s brutality, was encouraged and determined to pursue his objectives in Eastern Europe by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea, shattering the interna­tional community’s achievements on security and cooperation after the second world war, most notably breaching the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.

In the absence of an effective US role in Syria, the Kremlin, under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), launched a military intervention and strengthened anti-Western forces, such as Iran, in the region, aiming to shape the Middle East according to its raison d’état.

The repercussions of Obama’s calamitous US foreign policy significantly narrowed the political manoeuvring space of the Trump administration vis-à-vis the raging conflicts.

Trump’s recent remark that it would be a good thing if the United States and Russia could collaborate in the “fight against ISIS… and Islamic terrorism all over the world” raises the question of how Washington intends to form such an alliance with Moscow without capitulat­ing to the Kremlin’s demands over the crisis in Ukraine, thereby imperilling the security of Eastern and Central Europe.

As the Trump administration appears to be resolute in con­fronting Iran’s expansionism and

state sponsorship of terrorism, it remains unclear how a partner­ship between the United States and Russia could be constructive considering the solidified alliance between Moscow and Tehran in Syria.

One thing is certain: For the conflicts that continue to engulf the region, Iran has entrenched itself in all of them politically, militarily and financially and should thus be identified as the primary culprit for the region’s havoc and turmoil. Only if Russia concedes to this reality may an alliance between Washington and Moscow prove fruitful.

In a remarkable display of unity at this year’s Munich Security Conference, regional countries spoke with one voice against Tehran’s aggression and expan­sionism, indicating the potential formation of a powerful alliance that yearns to reinstate peace and security.

Therefore, one way of effec­tively undermining Putin’s agenda is for the Trump administration to focus its efforts on ensuring the establishment and reinforcement of a coalition that leaves Moscow out of the equation.

By successfully pushing against Iran’s expansionist policies, conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen will be resolved and ultimately Putin’s leverage in the Middle East will diminish. Such an approach would enable Washington to pursue an uncompromising principled position against Russian belligerence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Mosa Zahed is the founding director of Middle East Forum for Development in London.

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