IRANIAN FOREIGN Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif walks near Lebanese and Iranian flags upon his arrival at the Government Palace in Beirut in 2015. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis, his allies until recently, should be seen against the backdrop of the clouds threatening Iran’s hegemonic status and territorial hold in the region.
The assassination of Saleh serves the common interest of the Houthis, who control half of Yemen, and their patrons in Tehran.
Saleh’s “betrayal” by his turning to the Saudis and their coalition, which support the legitimate government of Yemen, put at risk the Iranian regime’s project to control four Arab capitals – Sanaa, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut – as Iranian leaders have claimed over the past year.
His assassination was similar to that of former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri in 2005 by Hezbollah, in an attempt to allow the continuing of Syrian-Iranian control of Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia’s latest move to bring about the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri should be seen as pressure against the present growing influence of Hezbollah and Iran
in the land of the cedars.
Just when it seemed that Iran would dominate weak Syria and Lebanon, with the active support of Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias under a Russian strategic umbrella, Israel increased its direct military pressure against the presence of these forces in Syria and their entrenchment in land, air and naval bases.
At the same time, quiet American moves are taking place in Syria and Iraq, although there is still no clear picture of US President Donald Trump’s new comprehensive strategy for Iran, which he announced two months ago.
Recently, the US military infrastructure in Syria has been significantly upgraded and the number of American troops stationed there is expected to be 2,000, not 500, as announced earlier by the Pentagon.
After leaders of the Iraqi pro-Iranian militias threatened to attack American forces following the elimination of ISIS and the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard threatened a missile attack on American bases in the Middle East, CIA Director Mike Pompeo notified Guards commander Maj.- Gen. Qassem Soleimani that Iran would be considered responsible for any attack on American interests in Iraq by forces under Iranian control.
Interestingly, the Russian website Strategic Culture, part of the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus, published an article titled “New US moves: a war with Iran may be much closer than we think,” claiming that a coordinated campaign to contain Iran is in full swing, thus enhancing tremendously the possibility of a war against it.
This writer predicts that it is Iran that might launch a war, by a Hezbollah attack against Israel.
As far as Iran is concerned, Syria
is the “cherry on the cake,” where enormous military, financial, and human effort has been invested in preserving the rule of Bashar Assad. This strategy enables a territorial corridor from Iran through Iraq, permanent military presence in Syria, control of Lebanon by Hezbollah, the opening of a port on the Mediterranean and a direct threat to Israel’s territory.
The latest frequent Israeli air strikes against Iran’s attempts to establish permanent bases in Syria and expand Hezbollah’s front line from southern Lebanon to Israel’s Golan in Syria seriously challenge Tehran.
The Russian policy of tolerating these Israeli operations, by either tacit agreement or allowing it to promote a diplomatic solution to the war in Syria, a “Pax Russia” for the region, cannot be accepted peacefully in Tehran.
More significant American military moves in Syria and Iraq in the near future and the removal of Iran’s influence in Yemen could push the Iranian leadership into a military campaign against Israel, building on the vast reservoir of missiles held by Hezbollah and its ground forces, and strengthened by their fighting experience in Syria.
While the main objective of turning Hezbollah into Iran’s missile- and-land-based arm against Israel was to use it if Israel or the US attacked Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, if in the coming months the pressure on Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen indeed prevails, Tehran would face a fateful decision.The writer is a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism Policy and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.