The “Cold War” in the Middle East


Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 602, p. 47, on Nov. 11, 2017

In recent days, there have been various developments in the wider Middle East region. The announcement by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri of his resignation from Riyadh early last week was a major shock inside the Lebanese administration which was surprised by the news as for other countries in the world. The ballistic missile, which almost hit the Saudi capital Riyadh on the same day, completed the image of the new setting, whose details are becoming clearer. The cold war between the two poles of the region, Sunni and Shi’a, Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, is beginning to ignite.

Since the beginning of this century and following the announcement by the US government of the war on terror after the events of 11 September, the Iranian government, led by Khamenei, is working to increase its influence in the Middle East. The US war in Iraq, which led to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, was a gift to the Iranian leadership that exploited the political vacuum in Iraq as well as the Shiite sect to control the country’s political decisions. Iran has also increased its military support to Iraqi Shiites to form many fanatical militias on the pretext of defending the Shi’a community. This Iranian expansion in Iraq was not properly addressed by the US government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was a supporter of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. So the Sunnis of Iraq were left alone to face the retaliation of Iranian allies within the Iraqi government, which led them to form extreme Sunni militias, including ISIS, becoming the catalyst for total control of power by Shiites. In this way, Iran became the command of Iraq’s decisions.

With the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, Iran found itself an entry to Lebanese territory supporting the formation of the so-called Hezbollah militia. This militia is responsible for many war crimes against other Lebanese communities, especially the Christian community. It is also responsible for killing 299 US Marines and French soldiers of French and US troops by suicide bombers in Lebanon in 1983. With the end of the civil war, Hezbollah refused to hand over its weapons under the guise of Israel’s removal from the areas of southern Lebanon where it remained active until 2001. However, these weapons were not used exclusively against Israel, but Iran used Hezbollah to impose its influence on other Lebanon communities by force of arms. It has become impossible for the Lebanese government to take any step without referring to the leadership of Hezbollah, which receives orders directly from the Iranian leadership. Iran became the Lebanese government’s leader.

Iran did not stop at this point, but has increased its presence in the region by backing the Assad regime against its people who revolted against it in early 2011. It also controls the Yemeni administration by supporting the Houthi militia, which in turn organized a military coup against the legitimate government. In this way, Iran has, according to the president of its parliament, acquired complete control over the four Arab capitals. This growing Iranian influence in the region has become an obsession with the Sunni pole, led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At the recent Riyadh conference in which the United States and more than 45 other countries participated, they began to prepare the international atmosphere for a coordinated move against Iranian influence. The current US government, headed by Trump, is already moving against Iran by imposing further sanctions on its organs, such as Hezbollah, in the region. Trump also declared his non-ratification of the Iranian nuclear deal and its forwarding to Congress, which can vote to cancel it, a serious blow to the Iranian government. Recent statements by many US officials, including Vice-President Pens, against Hezbollah can be seen as a preamble to more than just financial sanctions.

A well-informed Arab source has assured me that Saudi Arabian leadership has already begun to develop a comprehensive plan to wipe out Iran’s bodies in the region. During the visit of King Salman to Moscow, Iran’s influence was one of the most important files discussed with the Russian government. The King asked the Russian leadership to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria. In return, the Kingdom will support the reconstruction of the devastated country. In addition, the recent approach between the Saudi Arabian leadership and the Iraqi government through the signing of many economic agreements can be seen as the beginning to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq. My source assured me that the most significant blow to Iran’s influence in the region would be the weakening of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Lebanese Prime Minister’s resignation and Riyadh’s statement that Hezbollah is behind the recent launch of a ballistic missile against it is a clear indication that Riyadh in co-operation with Washington and other Sunni states in the region may declare a new war in which Israel will be a key part. Eliminating Hezbollah and limiting Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, Iran has two options: either it accepts it or goes into direct war with the Kingdom.

Following the victory of the US in the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the George Bush administration was preparing to declare war on Iran. But in an unexpected visit to Washington, Putin threatened that any war against Iran would trigger a third world war. At this stage, we are at a crucial turning point for a world war. Will the situation evolve or will it be limited to the current skirmishes that could lead to the restoration of influence in the region?