Iran and Syria featured prominently in speeches and discussions. US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told the conference Iran is building and arming an increasingly powerful network of proxies in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq that could turn against the governments of those states. “What’s particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more... destructive weapons into these networks,” McMaster said. “So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir also warned of Iran’s regional meddling and welcomed a draft United Nations resolution that would condemn Iran for failing to stop its ballistic missiles from falling into the hands of the Houthis in Yemen, saying: “Iran must be held accountable.” He also called for changes to two aspects of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran: The cancelation of a so-called sunset provision, and expanded inspections to
include non-declared and military sites. Al-Jubeir also criticized European countries for doing business with Iran, saying this “enriches sponsors of terror.”
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is a tough opponent of the nuclear deal, attacked Tehran over aggressions by what he called Iran and its “proxies” in Syria, before issuing a warning to Iranian leaders: “Do not test Israel’s resolve.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif told the conference that, if the nuclear agreement is violated and “if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond seriously... that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did.”
Tense international security conference shows that a comprehensive approach through multilateral cooperation is badly needed if the Middle East is to be brought back from the brink.
Osama Al Sharif
As the US and Russia traded barbs over the latest indictment by the US Justice Department of 13 Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the prospect of the two countries cooperating on the challenges facing the region, especially over Iran and Syria, appeared bleak. And, without such cooperation, Europe and other players would be unable or unwilling to play a more active role.
The Europeans clearly disagree with the US on altering the Iran nuclear deal, although some have expressed readiness to negotiate with Tehran to limit the development of its controversial long-range missile program. Without Russian support, the UN draft resolution on Iran’s supply of ballistic missiles to the Houthis — of which some were launched at Saudi Arabia — will not pass.
The same logic applies to the Syrian crisis, where Russia is now a leading player. Moscow’s help in curtailing Iran’s growing influence in Syria, including its purported attempt to establish missile assembly sites there, is basic and irreplaceable. Russian intervention a week ago prevented an inevitable confrontation between Israel and Syria — and by extension Iran — after the downing of an Israeli F-16.
While the US has been unable to offer practical solutions to the region’s myriad challenges and crises, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov submitted a proposal in Munich. He said that Moscow was open to multilateral US-Russian-European-Chinese cooperation to build a security formula for the Middle East. He said that such a solution, along the lines of the Helsinki process of the 1970s, must take into account the legitimate interests of regional powers such as the Gulf states, Iraq, Egypt and Iran.
Such an approach may not be to the liking of some regional players. Israel will definitely resist any attempt to bring its conflict with the Palestinians before such a multilateral forum, while the US will find it difficult to accept the proposition that it has to partner up with Russia and China to determine a more peaceful future for the Middle East.
But, without a new multilateral approach to dealing with the region’s challenges, chief among them Iran’s regional ambitions and the threat of its proxy network, resolving conflicts and containing threats — as well as avoiding new conflagrations — will be next to impossible. Iran’s meddling in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen must stop; a political and just settlement to the Syrian predicament is the only way to end the bloodbath; and finding an equitable solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict will defuse a major source of regional destabilization. A comprehensive approach through multilateral cooperation is badly needed to bring the region back from the brink.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010