Fourteen missiles hit a residential neighborhood and a US base in Erbil, killing one American and wounding nine others. This was followed by firing ten missiles at the Ain al-Asad US airbase. This week alone, dozens of missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed in the sky over four Saudi cities, as well as an oil facility. There were also missiles that targeted an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman. Furthermore, Israel claims that a tanker used by Iran to smuggle oil to Syria had deliberately spilled its oil in Israeli waters, and the resulting pollution reached the Lebanese coast. Moreover, Iran launched new commando operations inside Pakistan's territory.
The list of Iranian infringements and provocations runs long, and they are all interconnected and occurring around the same time. There is no doubt that all these efforts are aimed at delivering a specific message, whether to Washington or the countries of the region. For over 40 years, Iran has been responsible for so much of the violence that has befallen the region, regardless of whether they were involved in the negotiation process or not.
If the United States is looking for signs of Iranian goodwill, none can be found. In fact, violence, as we have been witnessing, has increased significantly during these past few weeks.
The new Biden administration is swimming in a sea of contradictions. On one hand, the US is providing military support against Iranian attacks, while at the same time, Iranian officials are being greeted and welcomed. Furthermore, the US has not lifted the economic sanctions against Iran, yet a plan is in motion allowing the Iraqi government to pay Tehran $4 billion for Iranian gas, and Tehran has been demanding an extra billion dollars as interest. Also, South Korea has been permitted to pay Iran $7 billion even after the hijacking of a South Korean ship and its crew, as well as the ongoing threat of assault on South Korean assets. Perhaps Iran’s increasing aggression is meant to make it easier for US officials to convince the world that negotiating with Tehran on the nuclear deal serves everyone's interest.
We cannot accurately identify the US’s real stance towards Iran by only relying on official statements condemning Iran’s increasing attacks since Joe Biden's arrival to the White House, nor by the latest US military operations against the Iranian militia in Syria. In the event that Iranian military activities continue in the region, this will likely bring forth more chaos that will be difficult to control, as well as military alliances and new battlefronts. In turn, this will create an optimal opportunity for major powers to interfere, more than ever before, under the pretext of brnging balance back to the region.
We all have heard Biden’s campaign promises and subsequent statements regarding the importance of reducing the violence in Yemen. However, we can note that the exact opposite is happening as clashes have instead doubled. This time, the Iran-backed Houthi militia has increased their military activity immediately after the US removed the Houthis from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The fighting in Marib has intensified significantly, and the city is currently undergoing the largest clashes in its modern history due to the convergence of Houthi fighters on its outskirts in an attempt to seize control. Among its residents are two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out to flee the clashes during the past few years.
Today, these residents, along with the rest of the population, are in more danger with the looming threat of what could be the worst humanitarian crisis to date. Houthi fighters have gone beyond Taiz, and the launch of missiles and drones from Yemen to Saudi Arabia has increased, despite having announced a ceasefire in compliance with the new administration's requests.
With every passing week, it becomes evident that there is a pressing need for the countries of the region to unite in the face of Iran, regardless of what the negotiations between the West and Iran lead to. This unity, or “a NATO for the Middle East,” as Ronald Lauder called it in a news article, will improve the negotiations, and not the other way around. A unified Arab stance will prove to Iran that negotiations would be a better option than drones and ballistic missiles.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.