Analysis: Playing the 'dirty game'

Radical Islamic groups, backed by Syria and Iran, will stop at nothing to undermine stability.

Ahmedinajed 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmedinajed 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Everything in the Middle East is connected. At the moment there are two clear, powerful players supporting the more nebulous web of radical Islamic groups operating in the region. With the Hamas takeover of Gaza, we have growing evidence that fundamentalist Muslim groups in the territory are funded by Syria and Iran. We can see reflections of the situation with Hizbullah and Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, as well as al-Qaida in Iraq. All these movements are supported by Syria and Iran. They are different stories with the same elements. It has become increasingly clear in recent years that Damascus and Teheran share strong ties, based on common interests, that are not likely to be broken any time in the near future. In Lebanon, Syria sees its own lost territory and Iran is eager to support Shi'ite elements against the government. Both have an interest in undermining stability, democracy, liberalization, peace and anything that appears influenced by the West. Syrian President Bashar Assad's declarations about his willingness and desire to work for peace appear insincere when matched with intelligence reports about his government's activities. Even if Assad were speaking in good faith, Iranian security forces are too deeply entrenched in the Syrian military structure to allow much deviation from a shared interest in regional instability. Syrian border officers receive bribes, often quite large, to allow Iranian agents into the country, or out of the country and into Lebanon. The two militaries are linked on a level below the politicians or senior staff. Were Assad to attempt a real peace with Israel and a mending of relations with the West, it is unlikely that the Iranian-influenced Syrian army would support him. And how do these issues affect the situation in Iraq? The country is yet another reflection of Gaza and Lebanon. Iran and Syria have every reason to fight against any American presence in the region, and they will continue to support a growing resistance of Shi'ite militia organizations. It is a dirty but uncomplicated game, and Teheran and Damascus can easily find new players wherever the fighting seems to be. Syria insists it has no connection to terrorist organizations, but supports fighters going back and forth across the border. Iran, which claims to be maintaining a neutral position in the sectarian warfare, is sending its Revolutionary Guards to support Muqtada al-Sadr's Shi'ite militia with weapons and infrastructure. These groups are growing stronger and no one country or opposition group will be able to stop that. Unfortunately, I do not see much to be optimistic about in the region's prospects for the near future. The US, Israel and Europe will continue to support the Lebanese government's authority, because it has no other option. If they were to stop, Lebanon would easily become another Gaza. The West should put its resources into supporting other moderate governments in the Middle East. Egypt and Jordan are especially important partners in the fight against terrorist organizations. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and perhaps China and Russia also have an interest in supporting friendly groups. We do the best we can to maintain legitimate authorities in the Middle East, but the radical Islamic movement, backed by Syrian compliance and Iranian funding, will stop at nothing to achieve its goals. It is important, when focusing specifically on one particular country or situation, to remember how increasingly connected the region is becoming and to keep in mind the powers supporting the destabilization agenda. The writer is a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Molly Nixon contributed to this article.