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We must wake up to Iran’s dangerous games

I do not wish to sound alarmist, but after piecing the puzzle together I cannot escape the conclusion that Tehran’s mid-to-long term strategy is not only aimed at dominating the region but also targets Makkah and Madinah.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been working toward that goal for many years. Last September, he heaped insults on the Saudi ruling family and attacked its caretaker role over Islam’s holiest sites.
In May this year, Hossein Dehghan, Iran’s defense minister at the time, said: “If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except for Makkah and Madinah.” Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia hit back: “We know that we are a main goal for the Iranian regime. We will not wait until the battle becomes in Saudi Arabia but we will work to have the battle in Iran.”
The Kingdom and its GCC allies are well aware of the ayatollahs’ end game. Their arming and financing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen was to open a military corridor for Iran into Saudi’s southern border. That had to be stopped, which is one of the reasons the Saudi-led coalition was obliged to take action.
I now want to warn GCC leaderships of a growing and perhaps imminent danger posed by Iran to the area’s balance of power. I was forwarded a map the other day which was frankly startling. It shows that Tehran has supremacy over substantial swaths of Iraq and Syria besides its virtual command of Lebanon, and is coordinating with Assad forces to cut a 1,800 km safe route across those countries linking Tehran with Beirut, permitting the regime to supply Hezbollah and its other militias with heavy weapons unimpeded.
The Yemen route denied to Iran by our pilots and our brave young men on the ground, the regime has stealthily been increasing the presence of Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters in Syria. Meanwhile, Iran’s paramilitary proxies Hashd Al-Shaabi, who number up to 140,000, have been recognized as a legitimate entity by Iraq despite their allegiance to Khamenei, Moqtada Al-Sadr or the Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf. They have further been legitimized by the US, whose “military advisers” and special forces are coordinating with them to free areas of northern Iraq from Daesh.
Iran’s belligerence is growing by the day. The world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism no longer tries to hide behind a friendly mask to quell the international community’s concerns.

If left unchecked, Tehran’s drive to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria is a threat to the Gulf states.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

In response to Trump’s announcement that he is considering whether to pull America out of the nuclear deal, and the US Treasury’s new round of anti-Iranian economic sanctions, Iran’s so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran could restart its nuclear program in “a matter of hours.” Is that the same nuclear program Iranian officials always maintained was purely peaceful?
On the watch of this “Mr Nice Guy,” Iran’s minorities and opposition groups have been ground underfoot. According to Amnesty International’s latest report, “Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen remained subject to entrenched discrimination.”
I hoped that Iranians disillusioned with the 1979 revolution would rise to reclaim their country, but many are too frightened for their lives and liberty. When 3 million Iranians under the umbrella of the Green Movement rose in 2009 to protest against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the Obama administration distanced itself. As we now know, Barack Obama was working behind the scenes to secure a nuclear deal and had no appetite for regime change. He courted the ayatollahs with reassuring messages, leaving the courageous people who went to the streets high and dry.
His successor’s policy on Iran is more bluster than substance. There is chaos in the White House and Trump’s foreign policy is an ad hoc mish mash that alters according to his mood or is left to the State Department and the Pentagon.
The $64 question is, can Gulf states rely for our defense on an “America First” US that blows hot and cold with world leaders, including European allies? If the Iranian gangs succeed in penetrating Saudi Arabia, can we expect to see the US cavalry on the horizon? Given that Trump seemed willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of Japanese and South Koreans to wipe North Korea off the map after Kim Jong Un’s threat to the US island of Guam, I do not feel reassured.
Neither am I reassured by Iran’s wooing of our friends, Turkey and Qatar, whose people I consider family. On Thursday, Qatar announced it is restoring ties with Iran and returning its ambassador. Turkey and Iran are planning joint military action against Kurdish groups.
Riyadh and its trusted allies should devise a multi-pronged strategy of intelligence sharing, surveillance and missile defense. Iran has been infiltrating Gulf states with spies and sleeper cells for decades aimed at overturning governments. It is time it received a taste of its own medicine.
Countries on the fence should be told to choose sides. Investments should be withdrawn from non-compliant states and diplomatic links severed.
Iran has been handed a free pass for too long. I am no fan of Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but he understands the danger from Iran to his own country and to the region.
“Bringing Shiites into the Sunni sphere will surely have many serious implications both in regard to refugees and to new terrorist acts,” he said last week. He gets it. My hope is that, before it is too late, our own leaders are as receptive to a potentially devastating scenario unfolding before our eyes.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.