ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s influence fading in Lebanon and Yemen?

Recent developments across the region are signaling increasing isolation for Tehran. Despite investing for decades, Lebanon and Yemen are literally slipping out of Iran’s hands.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sent shockwaves across the region by announcing his resignation. The recent missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen targeting Riyadh crossed a costly red line for Tehran.

Turning point in Lebanon

In Hariri’s own words, Iran and Hezbollah had literally taken the entire country of Lebanon hostage, making it impossible to carry out his duties.

Evidence also revealed an assassination plot threatening his life. Western and Arab intelligence services unveiled how his entourage was targeted, in a blueprint similar to his father’s assassination.

“Those who planned to assassinate prime minister Hariri deactivated the observation towers while his motorcade was passing by,” Reuters wired citing Al Arabiya.

YEMEN-CONFLICT-POLITICS-HUTHI
Supporters of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement gather in Sanaa on September 21, 2017. (AFP)

Three issues related to this development are worth pondering over:
1) Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh only one day after his meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.
2) The United States launched a new Iran policy targeting this regime’s destabilization and terrorism across the region.
3) Hezbollah has come under severe sanctions, including three bills passed by the US House of Representatives on October 25th.
a. H.R. 359 calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
b. H.R. 3342 sanctioning Hezbollah for using innocent civilians as human shields
c. H.R. 3329, known as HIFPA, targets Hezbollah’s international financial support

In short, Hariri’s resignation changed all calculations for Iran in Lebanon.

A look into the past

After a long stalemate Lebanon established a government on 18th December 2016, seeing Hariri as the prime minister and Michel Aoun as president. Lebanon’s power structure and political fabrication comprises of a Christian president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite head of parliament.

This combination provided a major advantage for Iran, carrying out all its crimes under the cover of a legitimate Sunni government. Hezbollah is attacking its dissidents in Lebanon, under the pretext of Lebanese Army operations. This terrorist designated entity is also using Lebanon’s financial infrastructure for its own benefit.

This farce legitimacy is now coming to an end. Hariri himself said the status quo could not continue.

Concerns and reactions

Iran and Hezbollah are both sensing the dangers ahead after Hariri’s resignation. “Without a doubt this resignation has raised our concerns and we did not welcome it,” said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.

Media in Iran are known to voice the general opinion of its ruling regime. “It appears that Hariri’s resignation is the operational beginning of this strategy in the region, with the ground being paved by the US Congress sanctioning [Iran] and Hezbollah,” according to the semi-official Entekhab daily.

A shot period after Hariri’s resignation, the Houthis in Yemen launched a missile targeting the King Salman International Airport near Riyadh.

“Iran has provided the capability for ballistic missile attacks launched from Yemen,” wire services reported citing Jeffrey Harrigian, commander for southwest Asia at the US Air Forces Central Command on Friday.

“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Harrigian added.

One can raise three possible reasons for this retaliation by Iran:
– A response to the blow received from Hariri’s resignation.
– The Houthis are suffering a series of setbacks on the ground.
– The United Nations has proposed peace plans for Yemen. The Houthis missile launch signals Iran’s response to peace and any negotiations whatsoever in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition accused Iran of launching a “direct military aggression” and declaring war, threatening possible retaliation. Article 51 of the UN Charter entails countries the right to take defensive military action in such scenarios. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said adequate action will be taken at the proper timing.

Two air strikes targeting the defense ministry in Yemen’s militant-held capital Sanaa late Friday were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to witnesses and rebel media. No casualties were reported.

Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target. (Screengrab)

Iran’s paradox

Iranian military officials, however, denied any part in the Riyadh missile attack. “We don’t even have the means to transfer missiles there,” said Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, understanding the consequences in this regard.

This is the very individual who threatened all US bases in the region in the case of IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the IRGC without any such response from Iran.

Furthermore, the Houthis lack the necessary industrial capacity to manufacture light weapons, let alone ballistic missiles. Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target.

“… where shall be the next target for long-range ballistic missile: maybe Riyadh, Jaddah, Taef and ARAMCO…,” it wrote.

International response

The ballistic missile launch is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. UNSC Resolution 2216 bans any provision of weapons for Houthi leaders in Yemen. UNSC Resolution 2231 specifically prohibits Iran from transferring and selling weapons abroad without Security Council consent.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for the world body to take action against Iran in response to this ballistic missile attack. Yemen lacked such hardware prior to Iran’s support and delivery of weaponry to the Houthis.

The White House condemned the Houthis missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, adding they threatened regional security and undermined efforts aimed at halting the conflict. France and the United Kingdom also condemned these measures, followed by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh where he stressed on pressuring Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Consequences of appeasement

Iran and Houthis reaching the point of launching such an attack can be traced back to eight years of appeasement by the Obama administration. Despite the UNSC obligating the Houthis to handover heavy weaponry, pull forces out of all cities and transfer all administrational entities to the officially recognized government, no measures were carried out in this regard.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. (Reuters)

 

Diplomats of former US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Houthis in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, yet refused to receive representatives of Yemen’s legal government. The Obama administration would foster numerous ceasefire agreements, allowing time the battered Houthis to regain their momentum.

One example of the Obama-Kerry engagement policy with Iran was witnessed when the Houthis and forces loyal to sacked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah advanced south with lightning speed from Sanaa towards Aden.

On March 25, 2015, in the midst of Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, Washington issued evacuation orders to US forces stationed in a large airbase north of Aden, including transferring all weaponry and hardware to the Houthis.

Times are changing

Iran enjoyed 16 years of highly flawed US policy across the region, providing it ample time to gain ample influence in four different Arab states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Following the Riyadh Conference back in May of this year, the decertification of the controversial Iran nuclear deal and the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, it has become crystal clear for Tehran that times are changing.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. Loophole-proof implementation is now needed and signs of such measures are beginning to mushroom in Lebanon and Yemen.

Upon Saudi Arabia’s requested, the Arab League has scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday to weigh Iran’s regional “violations,” wire services reported. This momentum must continue abroad and rest assured Iran’s regime is sensing the growing isolation.

Before Anyone Further Appeases Iran…

 

The pro-Iran deal camp is recently making much noise about how the Trump administration and critics of the pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are making rightful complaints of the text failing to address Iran’s destructive belligerence in the Middle East.

These are valid concerns, considering the fact that even if the deal remains intact come October’s decision by President Donald Trump to find Iran in compliance or not, the mullahs are hell-bent to continue wreaking havoc and expanding influence across the region.

The pro-Iran deal camp claim Washington has no evidence to hold Tehran in violation of the JCPOA terms. Not true.

  • Tehran has exceeded its heavy water production cap, necessary for a plutonium nuclear bomb,
  • testing more advanced centrifuges,
  • illicitly procuring highly sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile technology in Germany, according to Berlin’s intelligence services,
  • surpassing its uranium enrichment cap, another key non-compliance factor

The pro-JCPOA camp also argues this deal has prevented Iran from becoming the next North Korea. This is partially true and misleads only the uninformed reader. A deal very similar to the JCPOA, led by the Clinton administration, was signed with North Korea and ended up in dismal failure. This left the world with a rogue state now equipped with at least 20 nuclear bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles and the technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead in its payload.

While the JCPOA was intended to keep Iran away from nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t Washington lead the West in demanding Iran curb its further belligerence, such as advances in its ballistic missile drive, increasing executions and atrocious human rights violations, and stirring mayhem in the Middle East?

 

Iran must be held responsible for “its missile launches, support for terrorism, disregard for human rights, and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Tuesday.

Speaking of this flashpoint region, legitimate concerns exist over Iran establishing a “Shiite crescent” stretching from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Important to note is the fact that JCPOA flaws, and the Obama administration’s desperate nature to sign a deal as a foreign policy legacy, provided Iran a windfall of billions to stoke its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

“Iran has been helpful in Iraq by fighting the Islamic State,” is how The New York Times describes Tehran’s campaign in its western neighbor, failing to even mention how Iran-backed Shiite militias and death squads have launched massacres, killing sprees and forced displacements targeting Iraq’s Sunnis and other minorities. While Iraq was a melting pot of peoples of different backgrounds living intertwined in peace and for centuries, Iran’s fueling of sectarian wars has created a dangerously wide rift of hatred.

Iran’s measures in supporting Yemen’s Houthis in their illegitimate fight against an internationally recognized government, funding of the Lebanese Hezbollah and supporting the Afghan Taliban as an ally against the US add all the more reason for strong action against Tehran.

In parallel fashion, the pro-appeasement camp continues to seek ties between Washington and Tehran, similar to the “working relationship” established between former US top diplomat John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran apologists are quick to criticize current US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for refusing to meet Iranians, while easily brushing aside the undeniable truth that Tehran usurped its warmed relations with the Obama administration to concurrently prop up the Assad regime and its massacring of innocent Syrian women and children, especially with chemical weapons.

Another question Iran apologists have allowed Tehran to go by never answering is this: Why do the mullahs continuously insist on such a politically and economically expensive nuclear program while sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas reserve and fourth largest crude oil reserve?

If the mullahs truly sought the better interest of the “Iranian nation,” as they have claimed for the past forty years, why don’t they turn off the lights on their nuclear program and reap in all the incentives and lucrative economic contracts that will most definitely follow?

And why the sudden regime change-phobia on Iran? Yes, many critics correctly point out the fact that regime change policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have gone south. Yet why do these critics fail to go the distance and carefully evaluate the main reason behind these failures?

Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya lacked any solution and alternative to replace their ruling states with true democracies. This is not the case with Iran.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of numerous dissident groups and individuals, led by its charismatic President Maryam Rajavi, has a ten-point plan for the future of Iran.

Universal suffrage, pluralism, individual freedoms, abolition of the death penalty, separation of church state, gender equality, rule of law, commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, peaceful coexistence and a non-nuclear Iran all meet the modern democracies in the West.

The NCRI, with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as its core member, has been gaining serious momentum in the past few months. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee met with NCRI President Rajavi in April. Last month hundreds of international dignitaries and over 100,000 members of the Iranian Diaspora voiced support for regime change in Iran in a massive Paris rally.

And as the Trump administration is weighing its comprehensive Iran policy, a high-profile delegation of US senators recently visited Maryam Rajavi and PMOI/MEK members in Albania. This visit sends strong signals as Rajavi and the PMOI/MEK are the legitimate flagbearers of regime change in Tehran.

Credit : National Council of Resistance of Iran
NCRI President Maryam Rajavi meeting with a delegation of US senators in Tirana Albania.

At such a sensitive timing, Tehran is on its last leg and Iran apologists are desperately attempting to provide a crutch. This is a highly mistaken approach.

Washington should lead the West in raising the stakes for Iran. Demands must be placed before the mullahs to end all its menacing activities, parallel to the international recognition of the Iranian opposition NCRI to realize regime change in Tehran.