Teamed up for Mideast mischief
- Last Updated: 11:59 PM, March 2, 2012
- Posted: 10:07 PM, March 2, 2012
Fearing exclusion from the emerging Mideast political landscape, Russia is forging an axis with Iran to check what it regards as an extension of the Western sphere of influence.
The new axis has three objectives: to save the Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad, to help Shiites overthrow the Sunni ruling dynasty in Bahrain and to derail a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Russia has vetoed two resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council and is threatening to do the same when Britain and France present another one this month. At the same time, Russian arms deliveries to Syria have risen dramatically, Damascus sources say.
It was perhaps no coincidence that Assad launched his massive attacks on the rebel cities of Homs, Idlib and Zabadani a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Damascus.
For its part, the Islamic Republic has thrown its weight behind the Syrian despot. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had initially appeared unwilling to help Assad to the bitter end, making noises about “the right of the Syrian people to decide,” but it now seems that Ahmadinejad was overruled by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.
On Tuesday, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi described Syria as “Iran’s advance defense line,” vowing not to let forces linked to “world arrogance” create “a second Libya.” (“World arrogance” is a label Tehran uses to describe America.)
Last month, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Tehran’s Jerusalem Corps, a military unit charged with “exporting revolution,” visited Damascus to toughen Assad’s resolve to fight back. Now Beirut sources say the Jerusalem Corps has mobilized two Hezbollah units in Lebanon to intervene in Syria to help Assad crush his opponents.
Iran is also assisting Assad financially to alleviate the effect of the European Union’s ban on Syrian oil exports.
To present the Syrian uprising as a Sunni conspiracy against Shiites, Tehran has also arranged for the recognition of Assad’s Alawite religious community as a branch of Shiism.
In a sermon last month, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a pro-government mullah, claimed that Assad is under fire because he is a follower of Ali, the first Imam of Shiism. In reality, this esoteric sect has nothing to do with Ali; it adopted the term Alawite (“followers of Ali”) as a cover in the 1930s during the French occupation of Syria.
Meanwhile, the Irano-Russian interest in Bahrain is shifting from the rhetorical to the concrete. Tehran sources say Russia has begun consultations on a resolution demanding UN intervention to end the political crisis in Bahrain (something that Moscow has vetoed in the Syrian case).
As part of these consultations, Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasbekin has held “wide-ranging exchanges” with a delegation from the Bahraini opposition led by Ja’afar al-Alawi, of the Shiite Islamic Action Party. The Tehran daily Kayhan reports that Zasbekin told Bahraini activists that Russia is “prepared to help the people of Bahrain attain their just demands.”
Regime change in Bahrain could enable Russia to recoup at least part of its losses in the region. Yugoslavia’s breakup and regime change in Libya deprived Russia of all but one of its “naval facilities” in the Mediterranean: the Syrian port of Tartus. (The fall of Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, deprived Russia of facilities in the Iraqi port of Um-Qasar, shutting it out of the Persian Gulf.)
A pro-Iranian regime in Bahrain would cost America its Fifth Fleet headquarters. In contrast, Russia would obtain naval facilities in the Bahraini archipelago, close to the rich oil fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Tehran and Moscow are also trying to prevent a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Tehran has condemned the Hamas-Fatah accord to form a coalition government, obliging Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to go to Tehran to reassure Iranian leaders that his movement will never accept Israel’s existence.
According to Tehran media, “Supreme Guide” Khamenei told Haniyeh that Iran supports a “one-state solution,” the creation of a Palestinian state in which some Jews would be allowed to stay as a minority. Haniyeh replied that, for Hamas, Palestine runs “from the river [Jordan] to the [Mediterranean] sea” — rhetorically “wiping Israel off the map,” as Khamenei demands.
Iranian analysts believe the Tehran-Moscow axis can create “an alternative Shiite space” in which Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon prevent Arab Sunnis, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, from dominating the Middle East with support from Turkey, the US and the European Union.Follow @NYPostOpinion