Saturday, May 03, 2003

I keep saying I have things to say about Iran. Here they are:

Basically, Iran has now become the most important regional power in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia, and the forces are only now moving to limit its influence. In Iraq, Iranian influence is well-documented through its sponsorship of the important SCIRI faction in souther Iraq and the fact the Sadriyun follow a pro-Iranian policy, though there is no overt political backing. Even the clerical establishment in Najaf, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, can be expected to tilt Iraq in a pro-Iranian direction politically just by nature of their political common interests and the ways in which they are pursued. Furthermore, the new most important TV news outlet in Iraq, al-Alam, is broadcast from Iran, and I strongly suspect that Iranian charities are preparing to pour in plenty of aid.

Less well-documented is Iran's role in Afghanistan. Newt Gingrich recently commented that not a single road has been built in Afghanistan since the war. He was wrong: The Iranians have built roads. The American media sometimes refers to the fact Iran has provided military supplies to Ismail Khan, the warlord who rules Herat, and the fact Iranian agents are cultivating influence elsewhere in the country. The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting al-Qaeda, but in Afghanistan it is Pakistan that has come under fire for not doing more to prevent attacks from their soil. Iran's support for various warlords has allowed them to bring stability to areas under their control which is allowing for economic development supported by Iran's $560 million Afghan aid package. In areas of Afghanistan close to Iran, people are now getting such amenities as cable television.

This is added to Iran's existing influence in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. Hezbullah is largely an Iranian creation, despite its popular association with Syria. Syria's power as the occupying force in Lebanon is to prevent Hezbullah from acting; yet a Hezbullah leader's web site clearly shows the group's Iranian orientation. Furthermore, Mossad has said before that the current Intifada is kept alive largely through the influence of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Some may remember the seizure of the ship illegally carrying weapons to the Palestinian Authority in January 2001. (Admittedly I remember this in part because it happened the day after an airing of my favorite Star Trek episode, "The Wounded.") According to Mossad, IRG people working through contacts in Lebanon both supply and direct operations by at least the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade regardless of the directions of the Palestinian Authority.

I will not at this time give my reasons why I don't consider Hezbullah much of a terrorist organization (such as they fact they attack military targets) or all the reasons why the U.S. and Iran should really not be mortal enemies. In analyzing policy, however, I notice that if the U.S. succeeds in getting Syria to crack down on Hezbullah, it could sever the link through which Iran supports the militant Palestinian groups and make it easier for the Abu Mazen-led PA to regain control of the territories. I also notice that Bush's sudden declaration that Syria was cooperating followed Syrian comments carried by al-Jazeera about how much they could influence the Shi'ites in southern Iraq, currently Iran's base of influence. All of these suggest that the new alignment in the Middle East will involve attempts by different powers to curtail Iranian hegemony through cooperation with the U.S. or form a common front with Iran against the U.S. Hopefully the end result will be further steps toward resolving the Palestinian issue and better relations between Iran and the U.S.


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