After the Iraq War of 2003, the phrase “you break it, you own it” was coined with regard to international interventionism. This means that, if a country chooses to intervene in a domestic file and things go badly wrong, then that country has the responsibility to find solutions and basically pay for the consequences and the damage it caused.
Unfortunately, if this concept applies to global powers and regional ones in the Middle East, it seems it does not apply to Iran. Iran is left unchecked to intervene in and break countries all over the Middle East without any real consequences. Worse, most often the responsibility for finding solutions following Iran’s actions is shifted to the leading Arab countries. So it has become: Iran breaks it, but Arabs own it.
A clear example is Lebanon, and hence I am always puzzled when I see interviews of Gulf officials by Western media outlets. The way they frame their questions around Lebanon tends to put the blame on Gulf states, as if the current situation in Lebanon is the Gulf states’ fault or responsibility. They never really question the negative role of Iran and its surrogate Hezbollah.
The same applies to Yemen. While we all acknowledge the difficult situation for the local population, one never asks who created the situation. Who pushed it to the brink? Once again, it is expected that Saudi Arabia and the UAE should disavow their own national security and just yield to the will of Iran, letting the Houthis take control of the country and threaten the local population and their own security. This week’s missile strike by the Houthis on Saudi oil tanks highlighted this policy. Once again, Iran breaks a country but the Arabs need to own the problem and solve it.
In Iraq, Iran has pushed its militias to destabilize and threaten not only Iraqi security, but the region’s too. Until now, the Arabs have been accused of pushing Iraq out, when in fact Iran has weaponized the country against the entire neighborhood. It is yet another example of Iran breaking a country and Arabs needing to step in.
When it comes to Lebanon, Hezbollah has been blocking all paths to reform through violence and, unfortunately, there is no true opposition. There is no voice capable of rebalancing the power structure and forcing Hezbollah, if not to renounce its arsenal, to at least compromise for the sake of the country. This opposition weakness serves Hezbollah, which has no interest in saving Lebanon or serving the Lebanese. Its objective is to serve Iran and its regional hegemonic plans. Nothing will change this it seems — not the loss of all the bank deposits of hard-working Lebanese, not the collapse of all government institutions, and not even a devastating explosion, which, like all other catastrophes, seems to hide Hezbollah’s responsibility. When it comes to every single institution that is accused of corruption by the Lebanese people, from the electric grid to communications networks, there seems to be something hiding for Hezbollah.
It is for this reason that I see a responsibility on the local political forces that oppose Iran’s proxies and aim to rebalance the regional power play, such as Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. It is, in a simple way: “Help us help you.” In Lebanon, one cannot expect to rebuild if we are this weak and abide by the will of Hezbollah; and the same applies to opposing the Houthis in Yemen, the Iran Militia in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) or even Hezbollah in Syria.
It is also time for the West to ask the right questions and to frame its narrative properly, especially in the coming period in the Middle East. Who broke it? Who broke Lebanon? Who broke the peace process? Who broke Yemen? Who keeps destabilizing peaceful situations? In all these scenes and files, it has been Iran delegitimizing the state and empowering militias. The regime in Tehran has been consistently pushing for its own order.
One cannot deny that, in the 1980s, the Iranian regime was in an enemy’s surroundings and could have justified some of its actions. Since then, the Middle East has changed and opened up, but this regime is still stuck in medieval times. The US and its allies, including Arab countries, have tried many approaches, from opposition to appeasement, only to see this regime consistent in its policy of breaking and destabilizing.
There has been a debate around the efficiency of sanctions on the Iranian regime, mainly stating that they do not change anything. However, even if sanctions do not change the regime’s actions, at least they make sure it has less money to pursue its “breaking” objectives, and this makes a difference for the citizens of Lebanon and the other Iranian playgrounds.
While Western policymakers usually focus on the nuclear file, this is actually not the only risk. Iran’s consistent interference in other countries should attract greater attention than it currently does. In this sense, I cannot help but think that, should Iran be working on a covert nuclear weapon program, it will simultaneously create revolutions in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen as it announces its military nuclear capacity. It will cover these states with an iron veil, under which they will be stuck for decades to come.
This is the solution Iran foresees in the region and why it keeps breaking its neighboring countries. I am worried that the coming years will be the time this becomes reality. Nothing in the Iranian regime’s behavior seems to indicate that it is willing to move toward positive regional and government-to-government relations. It is, therefore, important for the local political forces in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq to stand up to the Iranian proxies and refuse to be shrouded by this iron veil.
Finally, if the international community puts the responsibility for stability in the region on the leading Arab countries, it cannot and should not exclude them from negotiations either with Iran or with any other power that is meddling in Arab affairs. Arab countries should also not accept such a scenario and make it clear they should be part of any regional accord.