In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people. Two years later Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people. Argentinian courts concluded that Iran was behind the attacks.And so the list continues, spanning the globe – 21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6; on and on…The deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions − a high-water mark of ex-US President Barack Obama’s legacy − was pursued on the grounds that it would encourage Iran to adopt a more reasonable approach to its dealings with the West, and might even end decades of hostility. In the event the opposite has been the case. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have spent the billions of dollars they have acquired in expanding their malign influence throughout the Middle East. Over the past three years Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Israel have all been on the receiving end of unprovoked acts of Iranian aggression.
In Syria Iran has used its alliance with Assad to build what amounts to a state-within-a state, just as it did in neighboring Lebanon in the 1980s when it set up Hezbollah. Until Israel’s recent air attack which disabled much of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, the Guard had its own airfield, underground command and control facilities, thousands of missiles, its own dedicated drone base, and an estimated 20,000 Iranian-trained militiamen at its disposal. The purpose of this investment, it seems clear, was to increase Iran’s ability to confront Israel across the Golan Heights, while Hezbollah – armed and equipped by Iran – tackles Israel from south Lebanon.It is doubtful if Iran’s strategic objectives have the backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. It was widely reported that Israel’s airstrikes on Iranian positions within Syria had been the subject of an understanding with Russia, and that in consequence there was never any danger of a military confrontation between them. In fact a day or two later, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to Moscow for face-to-face discussions with Putin. Moreover, Iran’s regional ambitions, both religious and political, lie well beyond Russia’s aims for Syria. Putin intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 in order to secure Russia’s military foothold in western Syria. This he has achieved, gaining the additional bonus of a vastly enhanced political presence in the Middle East. Now he is looking to secure some sort of political compromise and to back out. Putin understands perfectly well that any final settlement cannot leave Iran entrenched inside Syria as a permanent military and political force. Netanyahu must have made it quite clear that Israel, with whom Putin seeks a close relationship, would not permit it, and would itself destroy any military infrastructure if need be. Meanwhile the problem of how to deal with Iran remains. Trump favors bankrupting it with sanctions, in the hope, perhaps, that deteriorating economic conditions will induce the population to rise up and overturn the regime − or that perhaps, in line with his interchanges with the North Koreans, determined opposition would eventually bring Iran to the negotiating table. Alternatively, there is the course that remains the bedrock of Obama’s and the Europeans’ policy – to attempt to bribe the Iranian regime by continuing to lift sanctions and encouraging lucrative trade deals, letting the nuclear consequences take care of themselves. Which is more likely to yield an effective and lasting result?
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is: “The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016”. He blogs at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com