American Consequences - December 2017

Across the sectarian battlefield is terror- sponsor Iran, the dominant Shia Muslim power in the world. While vastly outnumbered – about 10% of the global population of Islam – what militant Shia states lack in manpower they make up for with zeal. The Iranian regime has been using its cunning and ruthlessness to build satellite armies among the extremists of the region since 1979. Fast-forward to today, and Iran has never been in a stronger position for asymmetrical warfare. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the murderous Assad regime in Syria, and the all-too-powerful Shia militias in Iraq are clients of the mullahs in Tehran. Add to this the more recent Iranian overtures to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Iran has an ability to project power from the Mediterranean all the way to the Arabian Sea. Up to now, the Saudis and Iranians have refrained from direct military confrontation. But the devastating civil war underway in Yemen has brought these regional powerhouses closer than ever to an overt act of war. Iran is the primary backer of the Houthis, a rebel group that has overrun a large part of Yemen. The Saudis, meanwhile, are backing the Houthis’ opponents, the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. As part of that effort, the Saudis have engaged in an air campaign that, while largely ignored in the West, has been remorselessly destructive.

Enormous body counts and vast destruction for all parties involved aren’t always sufficient impediments to war in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter.

Yemen is now both a war zone and a failed state that could bring the Iranians and the Saudis to blows. Add into this combustible mix the Houthi- fired missile from Yemen that was shot down last month near an international airport in Riyadh... And tensions have rarely been this high between the two regional combatants. While we can hope that the Saudis and Iranians know an all-out war would be costly for both countries, the possibility of miscalculation and rapid escalation remains. As the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s taught us, enormous body counts and vast destruction for all parties involved aren’t always sufficient impediments to war in the Middle East – or anywhere else for that matter. We will not achieve peace in the Middle East next year. To the contrary, it will be a victory of sorts if we can make it through the next 12 months without seeing yet another major war erupt within the Islamic world.

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