Friday, January 22, 2016

After Implementation Day

The day after Implementation Day what will the mullahs do with their newfound cornucopia?

Apologists are certain to claim that these monies will be applied solely to boost a sagging economy. No doubt some, perhaps most, of those funds will do so—but not all. They also are needed to accelerate Iran's ongoing thrust for regional hegemony.

Iran has long since expanded its influence beyond what King Abdullah of Jordan termed in 2004 "the Shia crescent." At the time, Tehran was supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, while attempting to secure influence in U.S.-occupied Iraq. Abdullah's statement provoked considerable controversy, with many pundits reacting to the king's statement with either ridicule, disbelief or both.

Twelve years later, Iran is no less invested in Hezbollah and Assad. But it also has achieved far more sway in Iraq than anyone apart from King Abdullah (certainly not the United States) ever anticipated. Iran's influence now also extends to the Houthis of Yemen, while it foments dissension, and possible insurrection, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's eastern province. Not surprisingly, the Saudis, facing Iranian subversion both on their border and inside their country, have one-upped the Jordanian king's characterization. They now speak in terms of a Shia "full moon."

It would not require Tehran to divert much if its newfound revenue significantly to increase its subversive activities and support for terrorism both inside and outside the Middle East.

Iran's support for Hezbollah costs something over a billion dollars annually, according to a top Israeli official who watches these developments as closely as anyone. Estimates of its support for Assad range anywhere from what the Obama administration has characterized as "a pittance," to some $6 to 8 billion as identified by UN officials and academic observers. Add to that perhaps another two billion provided to Iran's Shia allies in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and its total annual expenditures amount to some $10 billion. This is an amount it can easily double by drawing upon its newly unfrozen accounts, while still allowing it to pump at least $40 billion into its domestic economy.

An increase in Tehran's aid to Bashar al-Assad, in the form of both military and economic assistance, will render it even more difficult to achieve an end to Syria’s civil war. More funding for Hezbollah will increase the threat from across Israel's northern border, adding to the likelihood of another conflict between the terrorist militia and the Jewish state. More financial support both for the Shia militias in Iraq, and for its backers in Baghdad, will further fractionate that bitterly divided country.

An increase in Iranian support for the Houthis will add to the growing strains on the Saudi budget, which may have to step up its operations in Yemen even as it faces declines in oil revenues, shrinkage of foreign reserves and massive deficits resulting from all-encompassing social programs. Finally, increased Iranian funding for the Bahraini opposition, which claims to speak for that kingdom's majority-Shia population, could lead to even greater instability that could cross the causeway that links the island to the Saudi eastern province, further aggravating Riyadh's security situation.
Washington has long assumed that the Gulf states have nowhere else to go for their national security. For decades, that was a valid assumption. But with a resurgent Russia reaching out to states all over the Middle East, and China expanding its influence in the region as well, that assumption no longer may hold true. If it does not, other allies elsewhere in the world will also begin to question just how reliable an ally the United States really is.