Here are the op­tions for war with Iran, and how to avoid it

The Daily News Egypt - - Commentary - Is a veteran colum­nist. He is the for­mer gen­eral man­ager of Al Ara­biya news chan­nel, and for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat

Fronts of con­fronta­tion with Iran and its main al­lies are in­creas­ing.The bal­lis­tic mis­sile that Houthis launched on the Saudi cap­i­tal is a se­ri­ous mil­i­tary de­vel­op­ment that can­not be alien­ated from the re­gional con­flict with Iran in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Diplo­matic means have failed owing to the Ira­ni­ans’ con­tin­u­ous re­fusal to with­draw their forces and mili­tias from Syria.They had pre­vi­ously re­fused to with­draw them from Iraq where they un­der­took mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. Iran’s lat­est bat­tle is the re­cent in­va­sion of Kur­dis­tan.

Iran con­trols its bat­tles from a dis­tance in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Ye­men.The coun­tries of the re­gion, as well as the US, have failed to adopt a pol­icy that re­sponds to the “ex­pand and con­trol” strat­egy that Iran adopted through its prox­ies.Amer­ica, which has suf­fered as a re­sult of ex­plo­sions and as­sas­si­na­tions by Hezbol­lah, sim­ply chose to con­front the proxy it­self — through kid­nap­pings and as­sas­si­nat­ing peo­ple in­volved on Hezbol­lah lead­ers. Egypt and Gulf coun­tries have done the same in the past,and sim­ply pres­sured Hezbol­lah po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally.

Iran forces its op­po­nents to re­sort to one of two op­tions; ei­ther through di­rect con­fronta­tion with the source it­self (Iran), or through the for­ma­tion of re­gional prox­ies who will fight the wars for it. The op­po­nents are un­likely to adopt the first choice and fight a war with Iran, un­less Tehran de­cides to launch a di­rect armed at­tack, which is not Iran’s way of man­ag­ing its crises. Even when Iran lost eight diplo­mats, among oth­ers, in a Tal­iban am­bush in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, in the late 1990s, it did not wage a war there but in­stead, it built lo­cal mili­tias, with pa­tience and per­sis­tence.

De­spite Iran’s clear con­trol in some fronts such as Iraq, the Iraqi army can­not con­front the pro-Ira­nian lo­cal armed forces, owing to the plu­ral­ism of its po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and the pre­dom­i­nant Ira­nian in­flu­ence there.

It is very clear that Iran is play­ing a big role in di­rect­ing the Iraqi forces and es­pe­cially the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces (PMF) to ex­ter­mi­nate the Kurds from Kirkuk. This is a very im­por­tant re­gional bat­tle and not only an Iraqi one. Kurds are not ex­empt from se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary mis­takes; they are com­mit­ted in this cri­sis as a re­sult of the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, the ex­cuse Iran used to en­croach on vi­tal, oil-pro­duc­ing and ge­o­graph­i­cal ter­ri­to­ries.

The states will find no use in re­sort­ing to mili­tias’ con­flicts to re­store bal­ance.To­day, Syria is en­ter­ing the phase of gov­er­nance ar­range­ments, the most im­por­tant of which is mark­ing its area of con­trol. Ira­nian mili­tias are car­ry­ing out nu­mer­ous ex­e­cu­tions of peo­ple in the re­gions they con­trol, which were ar­eas of op­po­si­tion in the past.With their ac­tiv­i­ties, the Ira­nian mili­tias are look­ing to take con­trol of the se­cu­rity in their re­gions,since the Syr­ian regime has no longer enough mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ca­pac­i­ties to project its power.

Un­der these cir­cum­stances, the coun­tries of the re­gion will have to con­front a huge Ira­nian project that is us­ing Syria to con­trol Syria it­self, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and what is be­yond the bor­ders at a later stage. Other than this pol­icy, there will be no way for the Rus­sians or the Syr­ian regime to weaken Iran or make it leave, no mat­ter what is be­ing said and promised. By then, it is ex­pected that Syria will be­come a coun­try con­trolled by mili­tias too.

Ira­ni­ans are prof­it­ing from the proxy pol­icy be­cause they con­sider that their in­vest­ment in Hezbol­lah, their most ex­pen­sive and long-term project, is cost­ing them around $700 mil­lion per year, rep­re­sented with an ad­vanced army. As for their Houthi prox­ies in­Ye­men, they are cheaper; a fighter might cost them two dol­lars per week.

I go back to my main idea: The fields of con­fronta­tion are in­creas­ing with Iran’s ex­pan­sion and the ab­sence of a means to de­ter its con­trol. Iran got even more dan­ger­ous af­ter it had suc­ceeded in weak­en­ing Saad Hariri’s pres­ence and pro­mot­ing the Houthis’ ca­pac­ity to threaten the heart of Saudi Ara­bia with mis­siles.

Elim­i­nat­ing the op­tion of a di­rect mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with Iran, which no­body wants to see hap­pen­ing, the only pos­si­ble op­tion would be strength­en­ing the lo­cal mili­tia forces in the trou­bled coun­tries.

Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Rashed Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Arab News


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