Suleimani specifically mentioned Iraq and Syria, where the Quds Force has been instrumental in preserving the existing regimes. The armed forces of both of those countries largely collapsed in early days of fighting, but have been buttressed by Shiite militias often supplied, financed, and led by Iran. The apparent integration of these militias, and also Quds Force fighters, with the regular armies suggests that Iran will have a durable presence there for some time unless challenged from the outside.
Meanwhile, Tehran is enjoying still-nascent influence over other countries in the region, such as Yemen and Bahrain. But in the former case, the ascendance of the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels has been rather rapid, as between September and February the group overran the capital, forced the resignation of the existing pro-Western president, and most recently dissolved the country’s parliament, almost solidifying Houthi control over the structures of governance.
Iran’s actions in Yemen and Bahrain have been described as part of an effort to encircle Saudi Arabia – something that may prompt the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council to react and attempt to save Yemen from Shiite dominance, according to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution. But this may also promise to amplify the sectarian nature of the conflict there, especially in light of the fact that US forces have left the capital of Sanaa, abandoning the American embassy to Houthi rebels.
CNS News says that there are some reports indicating that the Houthi have acquired American weapons and equipment that were left behind. If this is the case, it may help the Shiite rebels to simultaneously stand up to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and any separate GCC forces that enter into a trilateral conflict in Yemen. But the largest factor in Houthi resilience is likely to be the support of Tehran and the Quds Force, which is responsible for operations beyond Iran’s borders.
Iran has a long history of supplying weapons to local militias and international terrorist groups, and according to the Jerusalem Post new information has recently come to light about the architecture of these ongoing smuggling operations. The information was revealed to the media by Western intelligence agencies and concerns Unit 190 of the Quds Force, a group of about two dozen people responsible for illicitly delivering arms to conflict areas. Unit 190 reportedly packs weapons and other restricted equipment into shipments of food and goods that are permitted under economic sanctions. The report sheds some light on the means of Iran’s regional expansion of influence, but does not immediately indicate that this information can be used to limit the reach of Iran’s arms shipments.
While this remains an open question for Western policymakers, some of those same individuals are also concerned with shipments and influence being transferred in the other direction, specifically from Russia to Iran. The possibility of expanding Tehran-Moscow relations was raised with some alarm by Representative Darrel Issa in a meeting of the US House Committee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, according to Breitbart.
Issa argued that the support of Russia is further contributing to Iran’s destabilizing influence in regions such as Syria and Lebanon. He also took the Obama administration to task for failing to confront the Iranian regime in line with its dangerous activities and anti-Western rhetoric. Issa was joined by Representative Ted Poe, the chairman of the committee, who made a point of linking the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to its regional adventurism and sponsorship of terrorism.
“All of these activities are part of Iran’s plan to expand its influence, and its stature and its terror around the globe,” Poe said.
A joint session of Congress is scheduled to meet on March 3, where it will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu to give a speech on Iran’s nuclear program, its negotiations with the P5+1, and the general danger that it poses to the region. Much of the US Congress and much of the Israeli government have expressed mutual worry about President Obama’s current approach to dealing with these issues.
Arutz Sheva reported on Thursday that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz had suggested that Iran might act unilaterally against Iran if Western powers fail to curtail its nuclear ambitions. In his comments to reporters, Steinitz outlined what he called a “gloomy picture” of nuclear negotiations to date. He invokes comments from both sides indicating that major gaps exist on key points of discussion, and added that Iran has shown no willingness to compromise, meaning that if a framework agreement is reached by next month, it will more than likely be strongly in Iran’s favor.
Also on Thursday, The Tower pointed to the latest intelligence supporting the notion that Iran is unwilling to compromise and give up on its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Satellite images show suspicious ongoing activity at the Parchin military base, namely asphalting that may be used to repurpose aspects of the site or to cover up past activities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has long sought access to the Parchin site, suspecting that it is connected to the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has consistently denied that access, as well as offering unsatisfactory cooperation on other aspects of the IAEA probe. Nonetheless, several Iranian officials have declared the matter settled, and have demanded that the international community close the file on Parchin and the nuclear weapons program as a whole in spite of many unanswered questions.