One of the important subtexts that are often ignored in the discussion about the nature of the nuclear threat from Iran is the way such weapons would allow Tehran to throw its weight around the Middle East without dropping any bombs. Iran has long employed auxiliary forces around the region to bolster its influence. Though Hezbollah has risen from a sectarian Shia terrorist group to a position where it is in virtual control of much of Lebanon, it is also a loyal follower of Iran. Hamas was deeply dependent on Iranian cash and arms for much of the last decade as it consolidated its control of Gaza. It seems to be willing to break away, but Iran has not lost hope of maintaining its influence among Palestinians via splinter groups as well as by efforts to get Hamas back in the fold. It is also hoping to back up a tottering but brutal Assad regime in Syria that has also been a faithful ally.
But just as troubling for the West is the news reported today by the New York Times that Iran is knee-deep in funding an insurgency in Yemen. While Yemen has been the site of proxy wars for the Muslim world for decades (Egypt’s Gamal Nasser regime came to grief there in the 1960’s), any such activity in a nation that borders a potentially unstable Saudi Arabia is bound to raise alarms in the West. It should also remind those foolish advocates for a policy aimed at containing or deterring a nuclear Iran that the ayatollahs have their own ideas about what the region will look like once they get their fingers on a nuclear button.
According to the Times, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are shipping weapons to the Houthi Yemeni rebels who, as followers of the Shia variant of Islam, are natural allies of Iran. In doing so, they are countering the influence of the Saudis, who have been intervening in Yemeni tribal and civil wars throughout the country’s history. Given the ability of the Saudis as well as the United States to weigh in with greater resources in Yemen, the Iranian threat there might be dismissed as not that significant. But the more foreign assets Iran accumulates, the greater its ability to strike out via terrorism against the West as well as the regime’s Arab foes.
More to the point, the balance in power in Yemen as well as every other country where Iran seeks to exercise influence will be thrown to the winds once the regime goes nuclear. Though there is a debate as to how “rational” Iran’s Islamist leadership truly is, there is no doubt about its willingness to use terror as a tactic to broaden their regional power base. Even if one is willing to gamble with the lives of millions of Israelis by sitting back and letting the Iranians achieve their goal, a nuclear Iran running an active Middle East terror network will be an entirely different and far more dangerous threat.
The Iranian foray in Yemen is just one more piece of a puzzle that points to the lethal nature of its rulers’ grand ambitions. Those in Washington and Europe who are inclined to keep talking about the problem rather than acting to forestall this peril need to remember that allowing the leading state sponsor of terror to go nuclear threatens not only Israel but the West and moderate Arab regimes as well.