Libya, Check; Iran, You’re Next


As a Middle East studies major and the daughter of Iranian immigrants, I’ve long held a strong interest in Middle East politics. While working on my thesis this semester, I’ve analyzed various articles from The New York Times and Al-Jazeera, and I can’t help but form my own predictions for the future of the Middle Eastern power struggle.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq because it claimed Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons. We now know that their allegation was dishonest. The Obama administration’s NATO-led reason for invading Libya was humanitarian. On the surface, this is true. The U.S. government wanted to dethrone Gadhafi, the notorious dictator of Libya, for the sake of the people.

Below the surface, the Obama administration wants to secure the happiness of Libyans and their supportive neighbors in order to develop a positive image in this evolving region. This American-led NATO invasion of Libya is another piece in a puzzle of changing country dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Middle East and North Africa consist of 22 countries (Libya traditionally not being one of them). They’re all Muslim majority countries (with the exception of Israel), distinguished by their respective ethnicities and Islamic sect, the Sunnis and the Shia. Many of the differences between Sunnis and Shia are superficial and political. Most Middle Eastern and North African countries are Sunni. However, Iran, Bahrain and Iraq are mostly Shia, with Iran seeking to become the most dominant.

This talk of Iran’s aspiration to become a regional super power began when they funded Shia insurgents in Iraq after the Bush administration’s invasion. Before then, Iran was already notorious for being the principal patron of the Lebanese Shia militant group, Hezbollah. During the 2009 Green Movement protests in Iran, the Iranian government mobilized Hezbollah mercenaries to kill the native Iranian protesters. Even Jordan’s King Abdullah and Osama bin Laden himself warned the media about Iran’s growing alliances and their growing regional power.

Recently, the Saudi Arabian and U. S. governments accused Iran of plotting an assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States. This controversy made Western audiences more aware of the growing tension between Sunni-country alliances and Shia-country alliances in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is not any valid evidence that Iran sent in assassins to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Although Saudi Arabia denies allegations of fabricating, there are conspicuous flaws with this assassination plot. Saudi Arabia and its close ally the United States have accused Iran’s elite military unit, the Quds, of sending in the assassins (one of them being a car salesman from Texas).  The plot was supposed to succeed in killing a Saudi diplomat in Washington, D.C. However, the Quds do not carry out such operations—period.

Regardless of President Ahmadinejad’s sensationalism and controversial rhetoric, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s government is skillfully cautious in regard to its foreign policy actions. Generally, Iran conducts behind-the-door alliances with mullahs (Islamic clerics) and Shia militant groups. Not even I, a staunch opponent of Iran’s government, can believe that Iran’s regime would sponsor this assassination attempt. Saudi Arabia fabricated this plot because it fears Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.

The United States and their ally Saudi Arabia want to ensure that Iran’s swelling influence will be regulated. For example, Iran’s funding of Shia insurgents in Iraq is acutely important since the United States is officially withdrawing from there in less than 70 days. Consequently, there will be a power vacuum left in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and the United States sense that Iran is insidiously waiting to fill that vacuum.

In addition, the United States wants to suppress Iran’s influence in ongoing “Arab Spring” movement in Bahrain and Syria. As a result, media coverage in United States regarding the Shi’a and Iran-supported protesters is minimal. The U.S. is also highlighting the injustices of Syrian government, which is Iran’s ally. This tactful media-related foreign policy reflects the United States’ level of interest in Iran’s developing role in the Middle East and North Africa.

When the United States led a NATO invasion into Libya with their humanitarian motive, it gained the support of more Arabs. After the death of Gadhafi  and NATO’s success in Libya, the United States’ tarnished image as police of the world (due to its previous grave mistakes upon intervening in domestic issues in Middle Eastern countries) has improved. The United States’ current chief rival in the Middle East is Iran and this will emerge more and more as the United States and Saudi Arabia compete over allies with Iran amongst these changing regimes in the “Arab Spring” of the Middle East.