Iran and United States: The new round of conflict

The rise of Iran has caused worry and irritation among many states around the globe.

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards march during a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in Tehran September 22, 2007 (photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards march during a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in Tehran September 22, 2007
Did anyone in America think that by overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, they would be helping Iran? Meanwhile, that’s what happened. By destroying Saddam’s regime and introducing elements of democracy in Iraq, the US brought to power representatives of the Shi’ite majority, closely associated with the Shi’ite regime of Iran.
Syria has become the next Iraq. The Iranians operate on two levels. First, they established contacts with the government in Iraq and with the Alawites (close to Shi’ites) of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran provides these regimes with serious military and financial support in the fight against Sunni uprisings and Islamic State (ISIS). Assad has received tens of billions dollars from Iran. Secondly, the Iranians built a system of irregular Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq, a military and social structure parallel to the state. This network also receives military and economic support from Iran.
The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) has played a major role in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq. The National Defense Force (NDF) has more fighters than many regular armies and is better motivated in Syria. The NDF is an essential part of Assad’s armed forces, which confront Sunni rebels. Both organizations are under Iran’s powerful financial, military and ideological influence.
This model was successfully used in Lebanon and then exported to other countries. Hezbollah became the core of Shi’ite struggle against Israel and one of the most serious military forces in the region. It now dominates Lebanon.
Having no Israeli or American technologies, or a modern economy, Iranians give asymmetrical answers to the challenges of global politics, skillfully using the mistakes of their opponents. They are methodically building an empire, a “Shi’ite crescent.” Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iranian Quds Force, has become one of the main political figures in both Iraq and Syria. Iran’s control extends from the borders of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean Sea. In addition the Iranians are successfully infiltrating Yemen and Afghanistan. The land corridor between Iraq and Syria allows easy transfer of its armed forces and those of its allies anywhere in the Shi’ite belt.
In case of war Israel will face not only Hezbollah, but an entire Shi’ite network, including hundreds of thousands of fighters from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Iran can easily transfer its units to Syria, so the stock of missiles for firing at Israel will be practically unlimited.
HOWEVER, THE rise of Iran has caused worry and irritation among many of the other states in the region.
Saudi Arabia and most of Arab countries have accused Iran of supporting international terrorism. Saudi Arabia is at war with pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel is discussing plans to attack Iranian forces in Syria. Prof.
Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and Africa studies, gave the best summary of this new situation: “Many still think of the patterns from the twentieth century, when Israel was on one side and all other Middle Eastern states on the opposite one. But this is no longer the case. For a large part of the Arab states, Iran has become the biggest problem in the region. And this circumstance can bring them closer to Israel.”
The US position is the most important factor for the region. There are still two factions in the US administration. President Donald Trump himself, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pursues the president’s policy in the Middle East, have a tough anti-Iranian position. Trump is concerned about the strengthening of Iran, and insists on ending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA).
On the other hand former head of American diplomacy Rex Tillerson stood for the prolongation of the nuclear deal with Iran and a soft position. This line was based on the reluctance to quarrel with European countries; Europe supported the JCPOA. In addition, this soft line is based on the understanding that Iran is a force restraining radical Sunni jihadists (ISIS, al-Qaida, etc). US Defense Secretary James Mattis probably also supports this line.
However, for today, Trump feels more confident. According to authoritative expert on Korean issues Prof. of Seoul Kunmin University Andrei Lankov, Trump’s “policy of military threats and blackmail against DPRK has yielded results.”
In addition, China succumbed to US blackmail and imposed severe sanctions against North Korea. Feeling confident, Trump dismissed Tillerson. His resignation means the weakening of the so-called “axis of adults” – representatives of the administration who tried to exert a deterrent effect on Trump’s foreign policy.
Trump wants to use the same tactics of armed blackmail against Tehran. He can threaten them with cancellation of the nuclear deal, new sanctions, and air strikes, or offer to lift international sanctions in exchange for Iran’s renunciation of nuclear weapons. Trump will probably demand the end of Iran’s missile program and/or withdrawal of all Iranian and pro-Iranian forces from Syria. Tillerson’s resignation could lead to changes in American foreign policy.
The US may move closer to Israel on the Iranian issue. Trump is replacing his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, with John Bolton, a former UN ambassador who has advocated US military action to prevent Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khamenei and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from attaining weapons of mass destruction. Bolton is a close friend of Israel and a supporter of the most rigid and severe policy toward Iran.
The author is a Russian analyst and Middle East expert of the Eurasia-Azerbaijan international expert club.