When news of Iran’s new missile test first made headlines last week, Tel Aviv’s supporters immediately mobilized on screen and off, saying the payload was capable of not only hitting Israel, but southern Europe as well.
The timing does work in Israel’s favor.
Three days earlier, Benjamin Netanyahu called on Barack Obama to provide his country with more military aid and logistical support in the face of what he called ‘Iran’s persistent threat’ against the Jewish State. He also did not commit to a two-state solution and accused Hamas of preparing for an Iranian-style theocracy in the Gaza Strip.
The prime minister’s comments are unruly attempts at scare-mongering; however, Iranian leaders themselves have provided Israel and the West ample reasons with which to make the case that Iran is a territorial bogeyman.
With Iran having considerably developed its nuclear capabilities, the fear of a mushroom cloud over a US city is still palpable in the average American’s psyche.
Iran also provides the justification for the international community to withdraw (and bar) financial aid to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which many believe to be an Iran proxy.
Iran’s belligerent attitude and what some believe to be intransigence regarding its nuclear program has also allowed for the French, British, Americans, Russians, Turks, and Saudis to directly buy into internal Lebanese politics as well as apply more indirect pressure on Syria.
The media’s obsession with Iran has meant that the Middle East peace process has been largely overlooked; both the Road Map for peace and the peace discussions in Annapolis in late 2007 have been all but derailed with no alternative provided.
Hamas’s election win in legislative elections in 2006 and the public support it received from Tehran gave the Israelis the excuses they required to pound the Palestinians in Gaza. Tel Aviv often used Hamas and Iran in the same breath when providing justification for their punitive border crossing closures or barred convoys of foods and medicines from the Gaza Strip.
This serves Iran’s fait accompli – the historic settling of scores in the Middle East by slowly tearing at what is left of so-called Arab unity. Age-old vendettas and settling of scores are part and parcel of the geopolitical fabric which has shaped Middle East history since the fall of both the Byzantine and Persian spheres of power in the face of a growing Islamic empire.
This is being achieved first by rewriting history in Iraq. In October 2005, an unknown group blew up the statue of Abu Jaafar al-Mansour, the eighth century founder of Baghdad. Long a symbol of pride in Iraq, the statue’s destruction was seen as the act of outside forces trying to divide the Iraqi nation. Shortly thereafter, and with the destruction of another symbol – the Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq fell into sectarian war.
The country has only half-heartedly recovered, but many believe that Iran calls the shots in Iraq. Iraq’s Arab tribal system, whether Shia or Sunni, has itself come under severe attack from Basra to Salahddin provinces. Shia Arab tribal leaders are gunned down in the south of the country as violently as elsewhere. Most believe it is Iranian proxies that are behind most of the violence targeting Iraq’s tribal system which has managed to keep most of the country somewhat together since 2003.
Iran even persecutes its Arab Shia population, known as Ahwazis, in the oil-rich south of the country; in 2006 and 2007, Tehran brutally suppressed dissent in Ahwaz.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to implement Iranian geo-political strategy. The Israeli war on Hezbollah destroyed most of Lebanon’s south, decimated any hopes of economic recovery and split the Arab world into two camps.
Those who criticised Hezbollah – chiefly Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – were labelled traitors by the Iranian regime. The dichotomy was also evident in Arab media and public opinion.
During and after the Israeli war on Gaza in January 2009, Iran again criticized the above countries, as well as the Arab League, for not helping the Palestinians.
Egypt was particularly singled out for maintaining the closure of the Rafah crossing except for the most extreme medical emergencies.
Hamas uses Islam as a revolutionary device which is very much in tandem with the Mullah’s approach to their iron-grip on Iran.
Hamas is isolated by a majority of Arab governments (and for this they are to be faulted) while Iran feels it is isolated in the face of international sanctions and Western condemnation of its nuclear program. With no friends in the region, it was only a matter of time before Hamas would reach out to a non-Arab state for support.
By standing up to the West over its nuclear program and supporting Hamas, which many Arabs believe is the last vanguard of resistance against Israeli occupation (they claim Fatah has been sold out to American and Israeli influence), leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the supreme leader become heroes.
The thought of a Shia-inspired Islamic revolution burning through the Middle East has leaders in Egypt, Jordan, and much of the Arab Gulf terrified. It is no coincidence that Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned of a Shia crescent in the Middle East and that his father, King Hussein, Yasser Arafat, as well as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, supported Iraq during the 1980-1988 war.
The Iranians have not forgotten. A few years ago, Khameini said that the war with Iraq would not end until every soldier, every fighter pilot, every Arab who supported Iraq is killed or brought to justice.
And the Iranians have not forgotten that it was Egypt which supported Iraq during the war, both by providing a 3.5-million labor force to keep Baghdad afloat and by helping the Iraqi military retake the Faw peninsula in 1988 – a military strategy that eventually forced Iran to agree to a ceasefire a few months later.
Add to that the fact that Egypt sheltered the much maligned Iranian Shah in 1979 and was the only Arab country to have established diplomatic relations with Israel and you have the creation of quite the vendetta.
No surprise then that Hezbollah agents were arrested in Egypt a few weeks ago. Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah, believe that public sentiment against the Egyptian government is significant enough to support an overthrow orchestrated with the assistance of domestic terrorist groups.
Iran’s tentacles are also extended into the Gulf.
In the late 1960s, Iran claimed Bahrain as Iranian territory. Iran eventually abandoned its claims but the kingdom today is in a very unstable position as Shias (70 percent of the population) continue to challenge the Sunni-run government for power-sharing.
In 1971, Iranian military forces occupied the UAE islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa. Tehran has retained control of the islands and has as of 1999 constructed military bases as well as a landing strip on the territory which Abu Dhabi has petitioned for in international courts.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), founded in 1980, was partially established to combat Iranian territorial aspirations in the region and all GCC countries host US military bases.
Iran says it stands shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians against Israeli aggression. However, mathematics disproves such claims. Since 1948, the number of Iranian soldiers, officers, tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and civilians lost to conflict with Israel amounts to the staggering figure of zero.
Which brings us back to the Iranian missiles; these will all likely be shot down by advanced Patriot and Israeli anti-missile batteries.
But launching such a strike against Israel will give Tel Aviv the mother lode of reasons to obliterate Hamas and in doing so hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel could also take out the southern half of Lebanon as well as Damascus. Iran could retaliate by bombing Amman, Riyadh, Doha, Manama and of course, Cairo.
Alexander Gainem is a journalist and commentator who has written on Middle
Eastern affairs since 2001.