Islamist Iran Expanding Sphere of Influence
Even before the world allows Iran to achieve status as a nuclear power, the Islamist regime is expanding its tentacles throughout the region. From an academic standpoint, the turmoil in the region is fueled by the ages-old battle between Sunni and Shi’ite: Muslim versus Muslim. However, the geo-political ramifications of that battle threaten to destabilize the region and possibly the entire world as Iran seeks to impose its Islamist will on all:
BEIRUT (Reuters) – With Iran moving closer to a deal with world powers to constrain its nuclear program in return for an end to sanctions, Arab analysts and leaders are focused more on how Tehran is working unconstrained to tighten its grip on Arab states, from Iraq to Lebanon, and Syria to Yemen.
Meanwhile, the heterodox Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen has seized power in the capital, Sanaa, to Iranian acclaim and the alarm of Sunni Arab states such as neighboring Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival.
Iran may be serious about a nuclear deal that ends its pariah status and the crippling sanctions. But it has been maximizing its strength across the Middle East and, because Iranian forces and allied militias are spearheading the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, Sunni Arab leaders believe the United States will do nothing to stop this.
That is why, regional analysts say, it is not so much the prospective nuclear deal that is panicking the Gulf and its Sunni allies such as Egypt, but what a U.S.-Iran rapprochement may bring.
The schism between Sunnis and Shi’ites dates from shortly after the dawn of Islam 14 centuries ago. In modern times, this often translated into rivalry between the Wahhabi fundamentalism of Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran.
But the overthrow of Saddam’s Sunni minority rule by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and its replacement by a Shi’ite Islamist government under the sway of Iran has rekindled a sectarian firestorm.
The Saudis and their allies have backed Sunni forces, including rebels fighting to topple Assad. Riyadh formally backs mainstream rebels in this increasingly Sunni-Shi’ite stand-off, but support from Gulf states and nationals is believed to have reached jihadi groups.
In Syria, when Assad seemed likely to succumb to the mainly Sunni rebellion two years ago, Iran deployed its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
His allies in Iran, meanwhile, such as Tehran MP Ali Reza Zakani – like Soleimani, close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – boast they have three Arab capitals in the bag, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, with Sanaa soon to follow.
While the Obama administration seeks to reassure Arab allies that it remains committed to them, analysts say Washington’s priority is to stop Iran developing an atomic bomb and halt IS expansion.