Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Iranian hardliners pose a critical threat to the region

Tehran must not be allowed to export its Hezbollah model to Yemen, Iraq or post-war Syria

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned via Instagram on Tuesday. Bria Webb / Reuters
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned via Instagram on Tuesday. Bria Webb / Reuters

"America believes that Iran is the biggest threat in this region,” said senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in Abu Dhabi this week. “Everywhere we look where there is destabilisation, where there is terror, where there are rockets, it’s all coming from Iran and its proxies.”

Mr Kushner, who is also President Donald Trump's son-in-law, was speaking in the context of US efforts to secure peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and the opportunities and threats at work in the Middle East today. He is right to single out the threat posed by Tehran as the primary cause of destabilisation. In Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the militia it funds and supports are exacerbating – and even instigating – conflict and strife, with ballistic missiles, ground troops and spy networks.

That view was vindicated on Monday, when UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid laid a draft order in parliament to outlaw Lebanon’s Hezbollah – a proxy of Iran – and put to bed the euphemistic distinction between its political and military wings. If the order is passed, the UK will join the US, Canada, Israel and the Arab League in designating it a terrorist group – and rightly so. Hezbollah is perhaps Iran’s most successful client. So embedded is it in Lebanese politics that it holds three cabinet positions in the country’s new government.

The world must ensure that Iran cannot export that model to Yemen, Iraq or post-war Syria.

Hope for the latter dimmed on Monday when Bashar Al Assad landed in Iran, marking his first international visit to a country other than Russia since the Syrian war began eight years ago. There, Mr Al Assad met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, who heads the IRGC's external Quds force and has executed Iranian military action in Syria. Alongside billions of dollars in aid, Tehran and Hezbollah have supplied thousands of fighters to battle alongside Mr Al Assad’s troops. Together with Russia, Tehran has been responsible for keeping the Syrian regime afloat and is complicit in the deaths and displacement of millions of innocent Syrians.

But there was one notable absence at the unholy alliance in Tehran on Monday: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Zarif announced his resignation on Tuesday, bizarrely via Instagram. An architect of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump pulled out of last May, Mr Zarif has frequently drawn the ire of hardliners in Tehran. His resignation may indicate a sea change in the corridors of power, which could pose an even greater threat to this region.

Given where power lies in the Iranian regime – firmly with Ayatollah Khamenei and Soleimani – the idea of a moderate government in Tehran was always a facade. But Mr Zarif’s imminent departure underscores the immense danger Iran continues to pose to Middle Eastern stability – and the imminent need for Arab-US co-operation to curtail it.

Updated: February 26, 2019 05:51 PM

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