Iran Undermining Arab Unity, Regional Stability

Notwithstanding Iran’s support of the Arab states and movements which comprise the so-called “Axis of Resistance” against US-Israeli interests, the effect of Iranian influence has been to weaken and divide the Arab world, argues Suleiman Takkieddine. In his view, the present crises in the region - including the growing divisions between Sunnis and Shiites - owe much to the expansion of Iranian influence, as does the constant threat of direct US military intervention in the region.

al-monitor An Iranian worshipper shouts anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in support of the people of Bahrain after Friday prayers in Tehran 09/09/2011. Photo by REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl.

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us withdrawal of iraq, us, sectarian violence, sectarian, regional politics, hezbollah, hamas, davutoglu, balance of power in the middle eeast, anti-americanism in the middle east

Jan 18, 2012

Neither the size of the Iranian military power, nor the technological progress it has achieved over the course of the [last] three decades are to be underestimated. However the show of force and the defiant [attitude] it is adopting against the United States cannot be considered in terms of military balance. Iran is not facing the US directly; rather, it is competing with it in order to win regional control with the support of the anti-American powers and political groups.

[In some cases], Iran reached both open and implicit understandings with the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, taking advantage of the US [intervention in these countries]; but it has never confronted the US presence in the region forthrightly.

Strategically, Iran believes that the West has no interest in bombing the Middle East, especially considering that it has oil interests [in the region] and that the resulting chaos would be in the interest of more than one international party, namely the major players in Asia - China and Russia.

Based on these facts, Iran is seeking to gain [control] of some countries [to promote] its interests and [exert a strong] influence. It wants to find a regional strategic security belt, and exercise an influence similar to what it had in Iraq and what it is presently cultivating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [It can also exert this influence] through some political parties in the Arab Levant [such as Hamas and Hezbollah].

Despite the ideological hype, the fact remains that Iran is a nationalist country with interests to promote. It is aware that its political ideology will not fit in the Arab and Muslim world. In other words, the political Islam it has adopted does not fit the culture of the region, and it has contributed to what Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, has called the Sunni Awakening. The conflicts and disputes plaguing the region are obviously non-doctrinal. However, they have in practice [taken on a sectarian character].

The Arab world had never experienced such a wave of intolerance and sharp [division] over the sectarian issue. In fact, Arab Shiites had never been politically sectarian as they [have become] since the rise of Iranian influence. On the other hand, the US military attack against the region along with the change in Iranian priorities and plans are two factors which helped boost Iranian [influence] in the Arab World. In the midst of American attempts to form a new regional system in the Middle East, Iran took advantage of the weak [position] of the Arabs and was the first to object to the US policy. However, its ideological discourse raised concerns among the Arabs about its regional objectives. Consequently, [Arab countries] decided against cooperation [with Iran] to produce a regional Islamic system to safeguard the interests of all countries. Arabs have already distanced themselves from Sunni Turkey, whose regional role has been undermined as a result of its open and clear cooperation with the West and its disregard of Arab interests .

It is true that the Arabs are responsible for the fate of Iraq; but Iran’s attitude towards Iraq during the US occupation did not encourage [other countries] to cooperate in rescuing Iraq from its ordeal, preserving its unity and quickly rid it of the occupation.

Iran’s show of force and defiant [attitude] towards both the US and the West do not imply that Iran [alone] will have to pay the price of the confrontation, should it somehow come to pass. According to Iran, no direct war will be waged against it, for multiple reasons, including the Chinese and Russian support [it enjoys]. Iran is fighting wars [beyond its borders], on Arab land, using Arab forces. In fact, it would not lose much if the region turned into a hub of conflicts, small wars and civil wars. Even in the face of [Israel], Iran is neither a confrontation zone nor a border state. Therefore, any potential war will only affect it indirectly. Iran is using its conflict with the Zionist [State] to win Arab and Islamic legitimacy and influence in some [countries] as well as power cards to negotiate with the West on its regional role.

Over the [last] three decades, Iran has seemingly been incapable of altering the regional balance of power in order to serve the interest of the Arabs, who are facing the Zionist challenge; rather, it has further attracted Americans to the region, creating an incentive for direct military intervention. As a result, the Zionist [State] has not declined or stagnated, despite the support [provided by Iran] for the movements resisting it. Just because the issue concerns the  Arabs and the Arabs have failed to resolve it does not mean that they alone should should be held responsible. However, in the absence of cooperation between [Turkey and Iran] and given the present atmosphere of caution, anxiety and bickering, the involvement of these non-Arab regional powers serves to undermine the Arabs, rather than reinforcing them.

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