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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

With Tehran's tactics laid bare, action is needed

Iran’s regime must be halted from repeating its Hezbollah model in Syria, Iraq and Yemen

HR McMaster, US National Security Adviser, speaks during the 54th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. Ronald Wittek / EPA
HR McMaster, US National Security Adviser, speaks during the 54th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. Ronald Wittek / EPA

In a televised address in Lebanon two years ago, Hezbollah's leader addressed the sanctions the US Congress had just imposed on his organisation. “As long as Iran has money, we will have money,” a defiant Hassan Nasrallah declared. The rare disclosure confirmed what many in this region and elsewhere have long believed: that Iran is breeding loyal proxies to weaken Arab states. As The National reported, US National Security Adviser HR McMaster reiterated this message before an audience in Munich on Saturday. Iran is recycling the “Hezbollah model”, he said, birthing militant groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen that answer directly to Tehran. “So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran,” he said. While the direct US admission of what has long been expressed on these pages is welcome, countering Iran’s tactics will be another matter.

The Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration was structurally flawed because the relief from sanctions it guaranteed liberated vast resources, bankrolling the promotion of Iran’s interests in the region. Invigorated ties with trading nations including South Korea, Japan and Germany have boosted the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose role in the country’s ballistic missile programme is well documented. Mr McMaster scolded Iran’s investment partners yesterday. Since the deal’s inception, the Iranian regime has pledged one thing and done another. The wealth it has accumulated has not trickled down to the Iranian people, who took to the streets in December in protests that continue to this day.

With greater resources, the IRGC has funded and armed Hezbollah and other pro-government militias in Syria in concert with its backing of Bashar Al Assad’s regime. Amid civil disorder in Iraq, Tehran has fostered militancy. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, asserted at the UN Security Council in January that the Houthi missile launched at Riyadh in December was Iranian-made. Many of Iran’s proxies are being equipped with ever more sophisticated weaponry, including missiles and rockets.

Whatever course of action is taken should limit fresh bloodshed in conflict zones already razed by violence. The Syrian conflict is multifaceted; attempts by the US to create a northern border force to repel Iran led to the Turkish assault on Afrin. Nevertheless, half-measures are futile in the face of Iranian patronage. The key is to hobble Tehran, drive out its proxies, and pave the way for robust governance. Steps must be taken to thwart the spread of its ideology in the vacuums it has filled. In Lebanon, Tehran’s influence is perhaps too embedded. But in Yemen, ending the Iran-backed Houthi occupation of Sanaa is an important step. Syria and Iraq warrant similar action. In the ruins of regional conflicts, Iran’s insidious influence must be curtailed. The stability of the Middle East depends on it.