Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

The Options of the War with Iran

The fronts of confrontation with Iran and its main allies are increasing. The ballistic missile that the Houthis launched against the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh is a dangerous military development that cannot be separated from the regional conflict with Iran in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Diplomacy has failed due to Iran’s ongoing refusal to withdraw its forces and militias from Syria. It had previously refused to withdraw from Iraq, where it is operating militarily. The latest of these operations is the advance on the Kurdistan region.

Iran is a remotely running the battles in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The countries in the region, as well as the United States, have failed in adopting a suitable policy that can confront Iran’s expansionist strategy in the region. The Americans, who have incurred repeated losses in bombings and “Hezbollah” assassinations, have sufficed in confronting the proxy itself through kidnapping or assassinating collaborators or members of the party. Egypt and Arab Gulf countries have also made due with the policy of adopting political and economic measures against “Hezbollah.”

Iran is making its foes adopt one of two strategies: either a direct confrontation with the regime itself or creating regional proxies and engaging in wars with them. The first option, a war with Iran, is unlikely to happen, except in defensive cases should Tehran launch a direct armed attack. This however is not its style in managing its crises. Even when Iran lost eight diplomats and others in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, it did not get involved in a direct war there. It instead relied on patiently and continuously growing local militias there.

Despite Iran’s clear hegemony in areas such as Iraq, the Iraqi army cannot confront the local pro-Iranian armed forces because its political leadership is dominated by Tehran. It is clear that Iran is playing a major role in directing the Iraqi forces, the Popular Mobilization Forces in particular, to eliminate the Kurdish presence in Kirkuk and beyond. This is an important regional battle that is not limited to Iraq. This does not acquit the Kurds however of the major political and military errors they have committed in this crisis as a result of their independence referendum. The vote was exploited by Iran in order to advance on the vital geographic and oil-rich region.

Countries will have no choice but to resort to a militia conflict in order to restore balance in the region. Syria is now entering the phase where governing arrangements are being made, the most important aspect of which is who controls the ground. The Iranian militias are committing mass executions against locals in regions they control. The victims are often former members of the opposition. Through these measures, Iran is seeking to impose security control of its regions, given that the Syrian regime no longer has the sufficient security or military means to impose its complete control.

In light of these circumstances, the regional countries will find themselves faced with a major Iranian project that is using Syria to control Syria itself, as well as Iraq and Lebanon, and at a later point, areas beyond these countries. Faced with this policy, there is no way to remove Iran from the equation or weaken it, no matter how much the Russians or Syrian regime try to convince themselves. Syria is therefore expected to turn into a country run by militias.

For the Iranians, this proxy war is very advantageous, especially with their investment in “Hezbollah”, their most valuable and long-term project, which costs them around $700 million annually. As for their Houthi agents in Yemen, their price is much cheaper because a fighter costs about $2 dollars a week.

I will return to what I said at the beginning and it is that the confrontations are increasing with Iran’s expansion and the lack of a deterrent to it. It is becoming more dangerous the more it achieves victories, most recently with the weakening of the Hariri camp in Lebanon and the strengthening of the Houthi missile capabilities that are directly threatening the heart of Saudi Arabia. With the elimination of the direct military confrontation with Iran, which no one really wants, bolstering local militias in the turbulent countries remains as the only option.