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[Editor’s note: the following is the first installment of a three-part series. Part two will appear in Monday’s issue.]
The Middle East is in the grip of unprecedented upheaval. Libya is torn by civil war. Egypt and Tunisia have seen their long-time leaders ousted. Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen are wracked by protests, as is Saudi Arabia, with more planned in Lebanon and Kuwait. Oman has seen violence, and demonstrations swept Iraq as well. Both Algeria and Morocco are also experiencing unrest.
The causes of these uprisings are varied but unsurprising. Political repression, corruption, and poverty are key issues to the throngs that have taken to the streets. These complaints have been long-simmering, and while the scope of the protests has been surprising, the fact that popular unrest has occurred is not.
What has not been fully foreseen is just what effect these events will have on the balance of power in the Middle East, and across the globe. While the chaos is perplexing, a more disturbing scenario is beginning to emerge. While it might not be directly involved in every case of upheaval, Iran is becoming a clear beneficiary of it. Indeed, it may be that we are witnessing a major shift in the geopolitical balance of world power, one that could pit Iran against the West in a global conflict.
Already, there are signs of Iran’s taking advantage of the situation for its benefit. On February 24, two Iranian warships transited the Suez Canal and docked at the Syrian port of Latakia. Two days later, Iran and Syria signed an accord providing for an Iranian naval base at the port. This is a profound development. An Iranian base in the Mediterranean allows Teheran to considerably expand its naval reach, which has been growing thanks to exercises in the Red Sea. Along with such overt activity, Iran has benefited from developments in Egypt in other ways. The once-tight control Egypt exercised in the Sinai has been seriously weakened. This has allowed Hamas, backed by Iran, to infiltrate from Gaza, and for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists to break out of Egyptian jails. Thus Iran’s proxies threaten Israel along its long and vulnerable Sinai border, adding to the pressure Israel faces from Gaza and Lebanon. Moreover, the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt, and its close ties to Iran, might see a pro-Iranian state emerge, which would have severe strategic consequences for the West.
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