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Iran’s Fortunes Rising in a Middle East Vacuum

Iran’s Fortunes Rising in a Middle East Vacuum

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This article examines Iran's ascendency to dominance in the power vacuum that currently exists in the middle east.
This article examines Iran's ascendency to dominance in the power vacuum that currently exists in the middle east.

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Published by: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Mar 30, 2014
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10/26/2014

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Iran’s Fortunes Rising in a Middle East Vacuum
Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
, March 19, 2014
Vol. 14, No. 7 March 19, 2014
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah
!
 
On March 12, 2014, Israel was hit by massive rocket fire from Gaza by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). PIJ is completely dependent on Iran for its funding and equipment, and some of its operatives have also undergone training in Iran for the manufacture of rockets and explosives and for guerrilla warfare. There have also been recurring attacks on IDF border forces in Israel’s north as well – including along the Syrian border – where Hizbullah’s ties with Iran are well-known. All of these attacks on Israel come in the wake of the green light given by Iran against the backdrop of changing power equations in the broader Middle East.
 
!
 
Iran has been leading an “axis of evil” as it devises and implements an ambitious plan to increase its influence across the Middle East and mold it in line with its revolutionary Islamic ideology. Central to that
 
plan is ejecting the United States and the West from the region, along with what remains of their influence.
!
 
The change in Iran’s behavior reflects its growing self-confidence since the recent rounds of nuclear negotiations with the West began, along with America’s rapidly declining regional and international status (vivid in the Ukrainian crisis as well). The more the United States’ regional and international status sinks, the more Iran’s self-confidence rises.
!
 
Iran regards the U.S., and the West in general, as lacking the capacity to use military force to stop its nuclearization, or to curtail Iran’s assertive measures against the Gulf States and in the Middle East generally. Iran sees an opportunity to continue driving the U.S. and the West out of the region.
!
 
Iran views Hizbullah and the Palestinian terror organizations as major components in its national security strategy, part of its long arm. Iran acts ceaselessly to provide these actors with rockets and the knowledge to manufacture them, along with other weapons. The latest developments, coupled with Iran’s growing realization that it is immune to a Western military attack, could lead it to make even bolder moves
 
by itself and through its proxies.
!
 
U.S. policy is increasingly impelling states in the Middle East to alter their framework of alliances. They view the United States as less and less reliable, and are seeking an alternate power instead. Possibilities include Russia, China, or – closer to home – Iran.
A Green Light from Iran to Strike at Israel
The massive rocket fire from Gaza at Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) on March 12, 2014, under the rubric of “breaking the silence,” coupled with the detonation of explosive charges by Hizbullah along the northern border fence on Mt. Dov on March 14 and in the northern Golan Heights on March 18, suggests that Iran’s two main allies in the region were given a green light to step up the friction with Israel and gradually change the rules of the game that has been played so far. PIJ is completely dependent on Iran for its funding and equipment, and some of its operatives have also undergone training in Iran for the manufacture of rockets and explosives and for guerrilla warfare. The already well-known ties between Iran and Hizbullah are now reaching a new level as Iran involves Hizbullah in the effort to rescue the Assad regime in Syria.
 
President Bashar Assad’s war on the numerous, fragmented opposition factions has entered its fourth year, while so far costing some 150,000 lives. These recent attacks on Israel, whose timing is not coincidental, were preceded by Israel’s interdiction of the
Klos C 
 weapons ship with its cargo of forty Syrian-made M-203 long-range missiles, along with mortars. The intended recipient was PIJ in Gaza. These large-warhead, precision missiles were meant as a game-changer in Gaza, to give Iran’s client a strategic advantage over Hamas, which has been increasingly beleaguered, with Sinai and al-Sisi’s Egypt in turmoil. Iran is also reestablishing its ties with Hamas after a two-year hiatus in the wake of disagreements over support for Assad in the Syrian civil war. According to Palestinian sources, a high-level Hamas delegation headed by Khaled Mashal, head of its political bureau, intends to visit Iran soon to discuss “important issues.” The same source denied that “Tehran has closed all its doors in Hamas’ face,” and emphasized that “the relationship between the two sides has started to be restored in a positive and gradual manner.”
1
 According to the pan-Arab daily
 Al-Quds al-Arabi
, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas co-founder and member of the political bureau, and Marwan Isa, deputy commander of Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, played a crucial role in arranging the meeting in Tehran.
2
 Ali Larijani, head of the Iranian
 Majlis
, said recently that the relationship between Iran and Hamas has returned to the way it was in the past and that Iran supports Hamas since it belongs to the resistance front, and since “our Islamic duty commands us to support the resistance.”
3
 
Improving Ties among Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah
The course taken by the
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 cargo – from Syria to Iran to Iraq – again reveals the key points of the “axis of evil” and the tightening links between them. This axis is led by Iran, which has been devising and implementing an ambitious plan to increase its influence in the Middle East and mold it in line with its revolutionary ideology. Central to that plan is ejecting the United States and the West from the region, along with what remains of their influence. Especially noteworthy in this context is the intensifying cooperation among the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah triangle. At Iran’s behest, Hizbullah has entered the struggle to salvage Iran’s strategic asset, the Assad regime. Despite growing domestic criticism, in part due to scores of Hizbullah casualties on Syrian

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