According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu used a visit to the Hermon Brigade base on the Golan Heights as an opportunity to both express condolences for the murder of a Jordanian pilot by ISIL and also to draw comparisons between the Sunni militant group and the Iranian Shiite theocracy.
“In the Islamic State of ISIS, they burn people alive; in the Islamic State of Tehran, they hang them from cranes in the public squares,” he said. “Both are motivated by an extreme ideology of militant Islamic terrorism that has a cruelty that is unbounded.”
The parallel dangers of these two entities were recognized also by Ashton Carter, the Obama administration’s new nominee to head the Department of Defense, according to the Wall Street Journal. Carter is expected to be easily confirmed for the post by the US Congress, in no small part because his views on issues like Iran and the Ukraine are not too far from the more aggressive stance of President Obama’s Republican adversaries. He is thus poised to fill the post vacated by Chuck Hagel, who had been accused of career-long commitment to a conciliatory Iran policy.
It remains to be seen if this change in Obama administration personnel signifies a change in the policy that the administration pursues with respect to nuclear negotiations and broader issues. Israeli officials would certainly like to see such a change, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that the US is on the verge of a bad deal. He is set to speak to the US Congress next month but will not visit with President Obama, owing to the deep gulf between the US executive and legislature over this issue.
In his comments on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that Iran poses a greater threat than ISIS precisely because its extremist ideology may come to be backed by a nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, Netanyahu suggested that Israel feels a more explicit, more private threat related to Iran’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East.
While speaking at the base on the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said that Iran has been trying for a long time to open a front in Syria for its proxy wars against the Jewish state. According to YNetNews, the Israeli Prime Minister added that this was in addition to the front that Iran had already opened in Lebanon through its support for the Hezbollah paramilitary that reportedly wields as much power as the official Lebanese government, as well as in the Gaza strip through similar but less extensive support of Hamas.
The Tower points out that Iran’s relationship with Hamas has been troubled in recent months. But this has not stopped Iran from wielding its influence there. Quite to the contrary, that influence may be expanding in part because of Hamas’ apparent failure to acknowledge Iran’s help in last summer’s war with Israel.
According to The Tower, Tehran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force are implementing a plan to begin directly funding and directing forces operating in the Gaza Strip, effectively circumventing Hamas’ usual leadership role there. This is seen as both a strategic and punitive measure and is apparently part of a broader strategy. In Yemen also, Iran is reportedly transferring decision-making power into the hands of its own Quds Force officials, which will direct the Shiite militia that has virtually overrun the country.
An essay in the American Thinker emphasizes how this ascendance of the Yemeni Houthi rebels poses a serious danger to Western interests, regardless of whether Tehran is in direct control of activities there or is only a foreign sponsor. In either case, it now has a partnership with a Shiite force in Yemen than has been widely compared to Hezbollah. The article points out that this brings Iran “as close as it has ever been to controlling the strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.”
The American Thinker adds that this greater international leverage threatens to weaken the effectiveness of international sanctions on Iran, and may even constitute a “strategic checkmate” that allows Iran to seriously threaten its regional and global adversaries even without a nuclear weapon. The author joins other critics in blaming current Obama administration policy for creating these circumstances through neglect of Tehran’s overarching strategy of becoming a regional hegemon.
And the applications of that strategy have not been limited to Syria, Palestine, and Yemen, either. The Tower points out that the government of Bahrain has accused Iran of continuing to blatantly interfere in the small Gulf kingdom’s internal affairs. Many Iranian officials claim that the island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia actually belongs to Iran. Tehran is generally seen as financially and strategically backing rebels from the country’s Shiite majority, and thus contributing to destabilization of the government there.
Yemen and Bahrain have been described as component parts of a strategy to surround and pressure Iran’s main regional adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Also fundamental to any such effort is Iraq, where Iranian influence has been especially strong in the midst of the country’s burgeoning civil war, which has given an excuse for a direct and extensive Quds Force presence within territory controlled by an already Iran-allied government.
The World Tribune pointed out on Wednesday that Iran has now acknowledged exporting missiles to Iraq as its presence there deepens and presumably becomes more permanent. IRGC air force commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh announced the shipments and framed the issue in anti-Western and anti-Israeli terms that are typical of the organization, while at the same time citing the fight against ISIL that has encouraged the Obama administration to ignore or even encourage Iran’s growing influence.
“By exporting the technology of manufacturing missiles and other equipment, Iran helped countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Palestine as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah to stand up to and ground the Zionist regime, ISIL and other Takfiri groups,” Hajizadeh said, acknowledging that Tehran’s influence in Iraq is part of a larger and still growing trend.
This is dangerous to Western interests in the region because the transfer of Iranian arms to Iraq may lead to those same arms ultimately falling into the hands of Iran-backed Shiite militias and other extremist groups. Indeed, this has already happened, as indicated by photos and videos showing US tanks and guns being wielded by Shiite militias known to have been involved in attacks against American forces in the past.
The Tower suggests that the United States is unwittingly allowing this to happen, insofar as it is underestimating the impact of the growing Iranian influence. In some cases, the US is reportedly giving the green light for Shiite militias to be integrated into the Iraqi army, only to have those militias take primacy as the Iraqi army integrates itself into their religious motivated and largely Tehran-controlled structures. Naturally, this amplifies worries that the defeat of ISIL under current circumstances may lead to the rise of an equally dangerous extremist network centered in the Islamic Republic of Iran.