Apr 4th 2015

Iran, Not ISIS, Is The Real Menace

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Extract:

"The nuclear deal may in fact embolden Iran to continue its subversive activities. But it can also allow Iran to turn a page in its relations with the international community and harness its huge human and material resources to become a constructive player on the global stage."

Whereas the international focus today is on how to counter violent extremism, which is behind many of the violent conflicts sweeping the Middle East, the real destabilizing power and sponsor of terrorism in the region and beyond is Iran. Unlike violent extremists and religious fanatics such as the Islamic State (IS), which can be degraded and even destroyed, the same cannot be said about Iran. Tehran continues to export its revolutionary zeal by supporting terrorism and radical organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, providing direct financial and military assistance to radical Shiite militias, and maintaining through subversive activities its strong hold on Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

In an effort to convert Yemen into another Iranian satellite in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran was quick to exploit the war-torn country by providing logistical support, money, and military hardware to the Shiite-leaning Houthis.

Iran, whose ambition is to become the region’s hegemon, is gradually consolidating its gains and firmly progressing toward achieving its national objective by whatever means, including the use of force, insurrection, and terrorism.

Given Iran’s long, rich history of magnificent past achievements, its natural resources, geographic location, enlightened population, and still-untapped potential, one would think that Iran would have chosen to project ‘soft power’ to achieve its desired regional prominence.

The Mullahs, however, chose a different path because they recognize their own shortcomings as a revolutionary regime that lacks a defined national identity, and as a predominantly Shiite state suspected and even reviled by Sunnis in the region and beyond.

In addition, fearful of regime change and concerned about an organized domestic opposition that would attempt to overthrow the regime, the Mullahs concluded that Iran’s revolutionary zeal is the only path that will secure its foothold in the region.

Given the inherent animosity and distrust between the Shiites and Sunnis that was revived in the wake of the 2003 Iraq war, the Mullahs know that they will be rejected by the Arab world and their brand of revolution will not be acceptable.

This also explains why Iran, with or without a final agreement on its nuclear program, remains committed to acquiring nuclear weapons to deter other powers from attacking it and also be in a position to subordinate other states in the area.

Moreover, because of Iran’s desire to distract the attention of the international community from its mischiefs, it has systematically exacerbated regional conflicts not only in its immediate vicinity (Bahrain, Yemen) but also further away, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In sum, in spite of the economic hardships and domestic and international pressure, the Iranian regime hijacked the country’s human and material resources in its effort to become a regional powerhouse. Tehran will simply not stop exploiting every opportunity and using heinous means to achieve its objectives unless confronted by major players in and outside the region.

To understand how far Iran would go, its constitution says it all. The preamble states that it “shall pave the way for the perpetuation of the Islamic revolution within and outside the country… [and seek] to lay the ground for the creation of a single world nation…the army will be entrusted with the task not only protecting and preserving our borders, but also an ideological mission…Jihad in the name of God and the world.”

Although President Obama’s eagerness to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is admirable, the fact that the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, which was just concluded in Lausanne, is not linked to Iran’s threatening behavior is troubling, as Iran will continue to feed into the region’s violent turmoil.

It is understandable that because of domestic opposition, national pride and what would have been interpreted as indirect admission of its subversive activity, Tehran adamantly refused to link the easing of the sanctions to anything else but the nuclear program.

That said, Iran cannot have it both ways. There is no better time for the US to insist quietly that the extent and the speed of easing the sanctions will be linked not only to Iran’s compliance to the provisions of the agreement, but also to its behavior.

The Arab states, who recently announced the formation of a unified Arab military force, must now demonstrate their capability to form robust, combat-ready forces, equipped with the most modern military hardware that can be projected anywhere to deal with any threat in the Middle East.

Iran will take such a military force seriously only if the joint command demonstrates the resolve and credibility to engage any enemy, including Iran, to prevent encroachments into Arab territory.

Saudi Arabia, who is engaged in a proxy war against Iran in both Syria and Iraq, made an extremely important strategic move to bomb Houthi encampments in Yemen. This was necessary and timely to send a clear warning to Iran that the Arab states will not tolerate its continued infringement and are intent to stop it.

The European Union, which is eager to resume business with Iran once the agreement on its nuclear program is finalized, must also link future business contracts, purchases, and transport of Iranian crude oil and gas to Iran’s behavior.

The EU and the US must insist that Iran, who has tremendous leverage on the Assad regime, modify its stance on Syria and play a constructive role to assist in bringing a political solution to end the tragic civil war. By being part of the solution, Iran can maintain–if not strengthen–its influence in Syria.

Having a common strategic interest to check Iran’s regional intrusion and blunt its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, Israel and the Arab states should continue to share intelligence and even collaborate if directly threaten by Iran.

The nuclear deal may in fact embolden Iran to continue its subversive activities. But it can also allow Iran to turn a page in its relations with the international community and harness its huge human and material resources to become a constructive player on the global stage.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."