Reuters indicated that Wednesday’s statement was issued directly in response to a letter that had been sent to him by Ismail Haniya, the head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. In it, Haniya decried the friendly relationship between various Arab governments and the United States, which is famously Israeli’s greatest backer. This led to an explicit declaration of support for Hamas by the Iranian supreme leader. The message did not mention the Arab governments in question, led by chief regional rival Saudi Arabia, but it stands out as a mirror image of recent statements made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Earlier this week, in an interview published by The Atlantic, Prince Mohammad acknowledged that he recognizes the right of the Israeli people to their own state, alongside a Palestinian state. This was a shift in the Saudi royal family’s tone regarding Israel, though it came as less of a surprise than it might have in past years, before rising levels of anxiety about Iran’s regional influence led to signs of covert cooperation between the Jewish state and some of its erstwhile Arab adversaries.
This cooperation, which now includes mutual cooperation with the United States in the wake of the shift in foreign policy associated with the Trump administration, is likely to continue expanding as international media continue to showcase the role that Iran is playing in regional conflicts and power struggles. However, some of that news also raises questions about the precise role that the US will be played, and about the extent to which the White House is willing to contribute to measures that obstruct Iranian influence.
This was emphasized, for instance, in another Reuters report, which discussed the negotiations that opened in the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday with the intention of facilitating a conclusion to the seven-year Syrian Civil War. They are by no means the first such negotiations to be held by Turkey, Russia, and Iran, and there is little reason to suppose that the latest round of talks will be more effective in resolving the differences among the three parties. Yet Reuters notes that three have expressed a desire to accelerate their trilateral cooperation, especially now that the White House has teased the withdrawal of American troops from the severely divided country.
Pravda published an article on Wednesday characterizing this prospective withdrawal as President Trump’s recognition of predominant Iranian-Russian power over the future of Syria. The same article accuses Trump of tacitly admitting that he has no strategy for the region, despite the fact that he has repeatedly indicated that the confrontation of Iran’s malign influence was a leading priority of his foreign policy.
Similarly, Reuters asserted that the three negotiating parties at Wednesday’s talks hold the fate of the Syrian nation in their hands unless there is decisive intervention from Western powers and the international community. Iran remains firmly committed to the permanent retention of the Assad regime in Damascus. Russia has traditionally maintained the same position, although this appears to have moderated somewhat in recent months. By contrast, Turkey had previously joined the US and other Western nations in supporting moderate rebel groups against the Assad dictatorship, but now Ankara is more focused on beating back Kurdish paramilitary groups that have been empowered in northern Syria and are allegedly affiliated with separatist groups inside Turkey.
The above-mentioned Pravda article applauded Turkey for its apparent willingness to break with the West, as evidenced not only by its approach to the Syria negotiations but also by its refusal to follow Europe and the US in imposing sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Iran’s English-language propaganda network Press TV published an article highlighting how President Hassan Rouhani used the Ankara meeting to praise his country’s relations with Russia and to express his eagerness to further expand those relations.
These developments recall attention to longstanding warnings of the potential development of an “eastern bloc,” with roots in Tehran and Moscow, that might effectively challenge Western interests around the globe. To the extent that this week’s meeting in Ankara represents a deepening of the connections that make up that bloc, it also represents a countertrend against the escalating anti-Iranian sentiment shared by Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration, and others.
That sentiment is largely grounded in the proliferation of Iranian proxies across the region and particularly in Iraq and Syria. And that ongoing proliferation also highlights some of the dangers that could be posed by the establishment of an eastern bloc that is capable of effectively supporting such forces.
The issue of Iranian proxies was highlighted by IW on Saturday, via a profile of one paramilitary group, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. As the name suggested, the organization is modelled after the Hezbollah paramilitary in Lebanon, which has been a patron of Iran since its inception and which has evolved into a sort of state-within-a-state, providing local Shiites with essential services in order to win their support and expand its own political power.
The IranWire article notes that al-Nujaba has an estimated 10,000 fighters spread across Iraq and Syria, where it has been credited with helping to secure Assad’s hold on power. Compared to some other organizations that have been integrated into the Syrian and Iraqi armed forces, al-Nujaba expresses particularly firm commitment to the Iranian supreme leader, and that devotion threatens to have an impact on Iraqi politics, given that they are actively supporting Hadi Ameri as a candidate for Prime Minister.
This is only one example of a newly-established regional proxy group with strong, explicit connections to Iran, which could wield strong influence over the future of Iran’s neighbors.
eanwhile, established terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are being newly bolstered by Tehran in the midst of ongoing conflicts. Hezbollah, for instance, has potentially secured a permanent foothold on the edge of the Golan Heights, between Syria and Israel. Such developments naturally stoke the anxiety of Iran’s regional adversaries, and Israel has accordingly launched strikes aimed at dislodging Hezbollah. But as these anxieties continue to develop, it still remains to be seen what role the US will play in addressing them, as well as to what extent allies-of-convenience like Israel and Saudi Arabia will be able to work together in confronting the threat.