January 16, 2014 – The Day Iran Was Anointed Regional Power
Thursday January 16, 2014 will go down in history as the day that America finally turned its back on its unrivaled position of influence as Middle East kingpin and made way for Russia to step in. That day too, Washington and Moscow anointed the Iran as regional power broker, elevating the Shiite Revolutionary Republic to senior status over the heads of the Sunni powers and Israel.
An early flight from Damascus to Moscow that same Thursday served as the mundane symbol of the changing times, because of its unusual passengers: Two Middle East foreign ministers, Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif and Syria’s Walid Muallam, flew together to a momentous meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Momentous, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report, because the two ministers had brought with them two landmark documents.
One was Iran’s blueprint for Syria’s political future, just finalized by Zarif and Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Russian president was asked to add his name to the document ready for its presentation to the Geneva 2 conference convening in Switzerland on Jan. 20.
The other document was Iran’s plan for stabilizing the Lebanese government, which Zarif drafted this week in Beirut following a round of meetings with Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and other key local political figures.
That the two ministers should seek the Russian president’s acquiescence for their proposals spoke volumes for the change of hands quietly taking place in the Middle East.
America and Russia empower Iran as regional strongman
Not too long ago, Saudi, French, Israeli or Turkish officials would have routinely traveled to Washington to submit any important policy decisions or accords to the overview of the State Department, the National Security Council and other key White House figures, then waited on the US President and Secretary of State for judgment.
As of this week, that scene has shifted from DC to the Kremlin – at least for the duration of the current US presidency.
This change is designed to unfold in three stages:
The first is Iran’s empowerment as Middle East top dog. Foreign Minister Zarif takes over as traveling master agent and trouble shooter entrusted with solving local problems across the Middle East and Persian Gulf and keeping their leaders in line behind Tehran.
This US-Russian master plan began to be fleshed out this week. The foreign minister didn’t spend a moment in Tehran. He didn’t even have time to look at the nuclear implementation agreement finalized Sunday, Jan. 12, between the six powers and Iran. His hands were full with a whirlwind tour of the region’s capitals for engineering politics at the local level.
Six regional disputes addressed in less than a week
Bahrain: Zarif spent months on a plan for bringing the royal family’s representatives and Shiite opposition leaders together around one table. According to our sources, the Iranian foreign minister bluntly told those leaders once and for all this week that the time had come to end their bloody protests and sit down with the regime to resolve their disputes.
Yemen: Here, Zarif put together the first encounter of its kind between the warring chiefs of the Houti tribes and the Hashid tribal federation, which backs central government in Sanaa. On Jan. 14, he persuaded the Houti leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, to accept a plan for a federal government to be installed in Sanaa based on justice and equality.
Iraq: Stopping over in Baghdad, the Iranian foreign minister persuaded or, according to some Iraqi sources, compelled the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop persecuting the Sunni community because without them he would never halt Al Qaeda’s expansion through his country.
Jordan: In Amman, Zarif obtained a promise from King Abdullah to suspend weapons consignments through his kingdom to the Syria rebels – at least during the Geneva conference on the Syrian conflict taking place later this month. The Iranian reciprocated with a pledge that Jordan’s security would be taken into account in future political and security decisions relating to Syria.
Iran’s four-point political plan for Syria
Lebanon: In two days of meetings in Beirut (Sunday and Monday), Zarif and Hizballah chief Nasrallah compiled a master plan designed to bring Geneva 2 to a successful resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Syria: He then moved to Damascus, where he obtained Assad’s consent to his four-point plan:
1. Since there is no chance of the Assad regime and the rebel movement coming to terms at this point in their three-year war, the political solution would have to be approached in stages.
2. The first stage would be a truce. (Our sources note that a ceasefire has existed de facto in many parts of Syria for the last two months.)
3. Humanitarian corridors will be opened up for essential American, Russian and European aid in food, medicines and provisions for cold weather, to reach rebel-held zones of Syria which are mostly under army siege.
4. Al Qaeda militias will shun any agreements. Therefore, Syrian and rebel forces must agree to collaborate in fighting jihadist elements in the areas under their control.
Kerry must adapt to a less masterful role in the Middle East
This week, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kuwait at a conference of donors for Syria. His announcement of a US donation of $380 million as its contribution to humanitarian aid for the Syrian refugees was intended to inaugurate the “humanitarian corridors” proposed in the Iranian master plan for Syria.
Not that Kerry didn’t know what was going on, since the Russians and Iranians continually keep him up to date, but he must begin adapting to a less masterful role in the reordered allocation of tasks among the US, Russia and Iran. The exception is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in which he is profoundly involved.
In general, however, the Obama administration is shying awayfrom any policy-making concerned with the “petty details” of local conflicts in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. This role has passed to Iran. Its prime mover, foreign minister Zarif, is henceforth entrusted with talking to local potentates, resolving local disputes and referring the fruits of his labors to Moscow.
After the Russians affix their signature to the agreements he forges – and for Syria, this went all the way up to President Putin in person – they are relayed to Washington by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
As this mechanism begins to turn over, the Americans, Russians and Iranians are working overtime in an effort to bring Saudi Arabia aboard.
More about this important project in the next item.