Rouhani’s unveiled threat to the West
Last week in the French city of Strasbourg, an attacker known to security services sprayed Christmas shoppers with bullets. In the same week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani suggested that destabilizing the Iranian regime might result in instability, criminality and even terrorism in many Western cities.
He did not use his usual diplomatic language or mince his words. “I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran’s ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected... you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum-seekers, bombs and terrorism,” Rouhani said on national TV.
This clear blackmail may be for internal consumption, but its supposed destination is Western countries, specially the US after President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year, saying it allows Tehran to sow dissent, division and violence in neighboring Arab countries and beyond. Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s weakened economy.
The attack in Strasbourg could be a prelude to what awaits Western countries if they do not help Iran circumvent US sanctions
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif echoed Rouhani’s threats by claiming that the US has been selling so many weapons to Middle Eastern countries that it has rendered the region a tinderbox ready to explode. On the face of it, Rouhani’s words could be a mere cry for help as Tehran’s income will dwindle due to the sanctions.
Iran borders Afghanistan, the world’s biggest opium producer, and Pakistan, the transit route for huge drug shipments to the West. And Rouhani claimed that due to the sanctions, Tehran might no longer afford to fight terrorism as it did in Syria and Iraq, or to host refugees, particularly from Afghanistan.
It is true that the US, Russia, France and the UK have been selling weapons to allies worldwide, including in the Middle East. But Iran has not been a spectator, actively spreading its influence and interests everywhere.
It has been a key supporter of President Bashar Assad in the Syrian conflict, fearing that his fall would affect its plans to dominate the Middle East. In Iraq, Tehran-backed militias and their Iranian advisers helped defeat Daesh, but kept the country under the rule of sectarian militias instead of the rule of law.
Iran’s military has for years been showing off its might and regional outreach, including in the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea via its proxies in Lebanon and Yemen, respectively.
Its missiles were stocked and used by Hezbollah repeatedly against Israel, but also against Syrian rebels fighting Assad. And the UN found evidence that Houthi militias fired Iranian ballistic missiles at Saudi cities after Riyadh’s intervention to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
The attack in Strasbourg could be a prelude to what awaits Western countries if they do not help Iran circumvent US sanctions. Indeed, Rouhani alluded to Europe’s migration crisis in 2015-16, and to terror attacks in Belgium, France, Germany and Britain.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.