The fact that Iran has regional ambitions is no secret. Over the past few months, the likes of NBC and the Guardian are among those to have honed in on Tehran’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia. In fact, Iran readily admits it is attempting to grow its’ Middle East influence. None other than Ali Akbar Velyati, a close adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, said as much a few weeks ago, stating “Iran’s influence in the region is inevitable.”
However, what is more deceptive, is the nature of Iranian ambitions. Tehran likes to portray itself as some sort of benevolent regional benefactor. Velyati himself claimed that “Iran has no intention to abandon the oppressed nations in the region … Our presence in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon is in coordination with the governments of these countries.”
Iran may like to play the ‘Good Samaritan,’ but the reality is far more sinister. Iran has deeply involved itself in some of the region’s most troubled countries precisely because it intends to use the fog of war and the absence of authority to wield power. It came to light this week that bombs used by Houthi rebels in Yemen have all the hallmarks of Iranian manufacture. This was widely reported by Associated Press and others. Meanwhile, the UK government made a bold statement, explicitly calling on Iran to stop sending weapons to Yemen.
But what has been manifestly under-reported is a much more instructive recent incident. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke to a conference of Iranians in Lebanon. The full text of the speech was reported by the conservative Iranian website Farda News. Nasrallah candidly explained that his loyalty to Khamenei trumps his loyalty towards anything else, including Lebanon’s constitution – A remarkable admission for the leader of a group which claims to fight for Lebanon and sits in the country’s parliament. Nasrallah said that Khamenei’s instructions, proposals and opinions are binding.
What was just as revealing though, was the swift denial of the speech by Hezbollah. A short time later, Farda News dropped the article and published a “clarification” stating that the source of the speech was “unreliable” and apologized to its readers for its publication. Evidently, Nasrallah’s words were not meant for public consumption. It is hardly surprising, given that it pulled the mask away from Iran’s real goal of regional dominance and hegemony. Even though the speech went almost entirely unreported among global and even local media, it was enough for a Lebanese Shi’ite cleric to call for Nasrallah to be stripped of his Lebanese citizenship, given his allegiance to Iran.
Nasrallah’s frank words reveal an Iran which is interested in a regional takeover, not influence. And the situation in Syria further indicates such ambition. As stated by Reuters, it is estimated that at least 1,000 Iranian soldiers have been killed in Syria, including senior figures. Meanwhile, Fox News and New York Times have both recently reported a growing number of Iranian military bases in Syria. Iran’s entrenchment in Syria should worry the West. For a start, it places Iranian forces closer to Europe. It also gives the Iranians a seemingly permanent presence in a country which we now know developed a nuclear facility, destroyed by Israel. This is especially concerning, given that North Korea is thought to have helped build the reactor, a country with which Iran has historic military ties.
It is also worth noting that both Associated Press and Al-Monitor have reported Iranian interference in Iraq’s upcoming election. Even if Tehran fails to exert its influence at the ballot box, Iran’s leaders have shown they will use whatever methods necessary to subjugate their neighbours. In short, the time has come to be much clearer about Iran’s expansionist ambitions, whether it be in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or elsewhere. Such clarity is the first step towards preventing them becoming reality.