The nuclear deal with Iran was promoted by its champions as an instrument of moderation. After signing it, they argued, Iran’s energies would be focused on trade and the benefits accrued from doing business with the world would gradually transform the country for the better. The reality, as we have seen in the years since the deal was signed, has been radically different: rather than prompt a rethink about its conduct, the inflows of revenues generated by the deal permitted Iran to extend its “tentacles across the region”.
That was the damning verdict delivered by General Joseph Votel, chief of the US Central Command, to the house armed services committee on Tuesday. As Mr Votel said, Iranian proxies – which include the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and several hardline Shia militia groups – now operate in multiple countries. When they are not backing Bashar Al Assad's murderous tyranny in Syria, they are seeking to subvert the national sovereignty of neighbouring states and generate conflict with the sole aim of expanding the dominance of their sponsors in Tehran. To get a sense of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' expansionist strategy in the region, consider that while it took two decades to establish its chokehold over Lebanon, it has taken a mere five years for its alliance with the Houthis to ransack Yemen and leave it a conflict-ridden wasteland.
Ever since the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the nation's legitimate government, Yemen has been reduced by Iran to a testing ground for its ballistic missiles. The US goes to "China Lake to test our weapons systems", Mr Votel said, while Iran's rulers "go to test their weapons systems in Yemen". Under the Houthis, Yemen has become a launchpad for Iranian missiles against Saudi Arabia and the UAE – a potential trigger, in Mr Votel's words, for a "regional conflict". The UAE has been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to hold Iran to account. As Lana Nusseibeh, ambassador and permanent representative of the UAE to the UN, said in an exclusive interview with The National, the "ongoing proliferation of missile technology" by Iran calls for urgent international action if we are to avert the crisis from blowing up.
Despite the stakes, a resolution brought to the floor of the UN Security Council on Monday by Britain designed to do just that was vetoed by Russia. Moscow's recklessness will not, however, dampen the resolve of the nations exposed to Iranian aggression. In a phone call on Tuesday to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, US President Donald Trump emphasised the"destabilising activities" of Iran and expressed gratitude to the UAE for its leadership and contributions to the fight against terrorism. It will take a united front from Arab states in cooperation with their international allies to strengthen regional countries, as well as support legitimate governments and institutions of the Arab world, to cut these tentacles.