A tectonic shift has occurred in the Middle East, highlighting both a threat and a historic opportunity. The threat, newly revealed in its extent and cunning, is Iranian subversion. The opportunity is the chance to make progress on some of the region's fundamental problems now that, for the first time in a century, Arabs and Jews alike fully appreciate the menace in Iran's hegemonic ambitions to dominate the Muslim world. They share with the West
the conviction that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran is no longer just an existential threat to Israel. It threatens the regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf emirates and has infiltrated other Islamic states. Shiite Tehran has transcended sectarian and ideological differences to create an aggressive coalition. It includes various Sunni movements, such as Hamas and other far-left groups, all operational proxies for Iran's efforts to destabilize the Middle East and promote Iranian interests and terrorist bases.
The Iranian operation is multifaceted. Preachers in thousands of mosques have long disseminated the Khomeinist revolutionary propaganda, but the reach is now deeper. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard controls thousands of websites and blogs. Front companies, including banks, employ thousands of locals in each targeted country. Cleverly, the Iranians finance charities, social and medical services, courses in information technology, scholarships, and cultural centers offering language classes and Islamic theology, all with the same underlying purpose. They support publishing houses and more than a hundred newspapers and
magazines and control satellite television and radio networks in various languages.
Then there are the political satellites: Hezbollah in Lebanon, against which Israel fought a war in 2006, and Hamas, the instigator of the recent Gaza war. They are funded, trained, and armed by Iran to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel and to sabotage any dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even now, Iran has an outpost in Gaza, creating the potential for Iranian incitements on both Israel's southern border and Egypt's northern border, an area where there is a security vacuum.
The Egyptians have now furiously blown the whistle on the subversion against their government. They have exposed a Shiite terrorist group headed by a Hezbollah activist. Dozens of people were arrested, including some from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Tehran's principal vehicle for exporting revolution. The cell planned attacks on Suez Canal installations and Egyptian tourist sites in the hope of destabilizing the regime, which Iran
considers vulnerable because of the age of President Hosni Mubarak and the possibility of a shaky political environment when he passes away.
Astonishingly, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, publicly attacked the Egyptians and issued an exhortation to the Egyptian Army to overthrow the Mubarak regime. The Egyptian retort, published in the state-controlled newspaper al-Gomhouria, was blistering: "We do not allow, Oh Monkey Sheikh, to mock our judiciary, for you area bandit and veteran criminal who killed your countrymen, but we will not allow you to threaten the security and safety of Egypt . . . and if you threaten its sovereignty, you will burn!" President Mubarak spoke out forcefully, and the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, linked together the Iranian threat to Egypt, Israel, and the West in the same breath.
In addition to creating Hezbollah cells--there are probably more--Iran helps Hamas smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip via Sudan and the Sinai. This has awakened the Egyptians to the risk to their security from the iron triangle of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Other Arab countries are similarly aroused. Tehran hopes to see its allies sweep to power in Bahrain. The small but prosperous nation is "part of Iran," in the words of Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, a senior aide to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In Morocco, security uncovered a network of pro-Iranian militants plotting violent operations; Morocco severed diplomatic relations. In Jordan, the State Security Court has sent three people to prison on charges of spying for Hezbollah after they "monitored positions, possessed weapons, and gathered things and information that must be kept secret."
Iranian strategists consider Jordan a colonial creation that will disappear when they establish a single state covering the whole of Palestine; two thirds of Jordan's population is Palestinian. The Jordanians fear that one of the consequences of the U.S. military pullout from Iraq will be Iranian penetration into Iraq that will project directly into Jordan. Iranian-controlled groups have been in Kuwait, too.
But Iran sees the largest target of opportunity as Lebanon. It aims to destroy Lebanon's historic balance as an Arab country with an affinity for the West. Tehran sees an opportunity to tip that balance between the pro-Western orientation advocated by Christians and the Druze and the pro-Nasserist, anti-Western orientation favored by some of the Muslims, the most rapidly growing part of the population. Iran is infusing massive amounts to back a coalition led by Hezbollah and including former Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian, in June's general election. Tehran's goal is to transform Lebanon and shift it to the pro-Iran column as a Shiite-dominated country under Islamic law. Should Hezbollah and its supporters win a significant majority, it would constitute a milestone in that quest. Hezbollah, in short, seeks a new election law that would establish an Islamic state run by Hezbollah.
In the new Hezbollah platform, there is no reference to its militia and its weapons, nor is there any expression of willingness to dismantle its military capability and integrate it into the Lebanese armed forces. Rather, the group wishes to retain its power in order to change Lebanon's political system and at the same time increase the military threat on Israel's northern border.
A Shiite axis of evil controlled by Iran is not a remote prospect. A year ago, when the Lebanese government tried to dismantle Hezbollah's independent communications infrastructure, Hezbollah effected a brutal takeover of Beirut.
Clearly, what Hezbollah is doing is not in the interest of Lebanon or the region. The Arab states are understandably opposed to Hezbollah's takeover of Lebanon and, equally, to Hamas's designs to take over the Palestinian Authority in next year's election on the West Bank and Gaza. Should Iran succeed in both elections, Israel would have Hamas on the south, Hezbollah on the north, and Hamas on the West.
These are the forces that have provided the seeds for a delicate new alliance based on shared national interests among the United States, the Sunni Arab countries, and Israel--an alliance that can now change the entire political path to secure the stability of the region.
The Arab countries, headed by Egypt, realize this battle with Iran requires cooperation-- including, perhaps, with Israel. This hasn't happened since Israel yielded Sinai after the Yom Kippur War. Israel possesses not only a deterrent military component against a nuclear Iran, should that come to pass in the face of Western disunity, but also an intelligence component for effective defense. So, for the first time, Israel, Egypt, and other Arab countries are on the same side of the fence against a common enemy that poses a strategic threat.
This shifts priorities from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the fate of the entire region as a hostage to Iran.
As it has long been said in the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.