Analysis: Iran's Growing Foothold in the Mideast

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JERUSALEM, Israel - For Israel, surrounded and vastly outnumbered by less-than-friendly Arab countries, the first two months of the new year have been anything but dull.

- Two weeks into 2011, Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, brought down the Lebanese government.

- Within days, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia as his regime collapsed.

- Then massive protests in Egypt and pressure from the U.S. and other countries brought President Hosni Mubarak's downfall.

Now the regimes of Libya's Moammar Ghadhafi and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh appear to be nearing the same fate, while Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria and Morocco have been dealing with massive demonstrations.

In Saudi Arabia, 100-plus academics, businessmen, and activists are calling for major reforms, including the establishment of a constitutional monarchy -- an idea that put people behind bars in 2003 and 2004.

One of the signatories, King Saud University Prof. Khaled al Dakhil, said the petition would be submitted to King Abdullah with "high hopes the reforms will be implemented," AFP reported.

The petition also calls for electing, rather than appointing, members of the Shura council and expanding opportunities for women in political and social life.

Unemployment among Saudi's young adults is at 10 percent and women, for the most part, are shunned in the work place.

Fruit of the Islamic Revolution

Iran is crediting its 1979 Islamic Revolution for the popular protests that have toppled the Tunisian and Egyptian governments and which may soon bring down the regimes in Libya and Yemen.

Meanwhile, officials in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey are praising Iran's unique role in strengthening Muslim unity.

"Iran's pivotal role in the Middle East is undeniable," Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council Gen. Yadollah Janvani told participants at a conference in western Iran on Monday, Iran's state-run news agency, FARS, reported.

"Today the Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation enjoys such power, honor, and respect in the world that all nations and governments wish to have such a ruling system," Janvani said.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said the events taking place in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya have "special meaning" for Iran.

"Today developments in North Africa, [including] Egypt, Tunisia and some other countries have a special meaning for the Iranian nation," Khamenei told students at Tehran University campus.

"This is what was always referred to as the Islamic awakening created by the victory of the great revolution in the Iranian nation," he said.

Lebanon and Iran

On Saturday, Sunni Lebanese Sheikh Muhammad Rashid said Iran "should play greater roles" in expanding Islamic unity in Lebanon, FARS reported.

According to the report, Rashid and Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Qazanfar Rokabadi discussed the intifadas (armed uprisings) against the "tyranny of their rulers," an apparent reference to the overthrow of the Lebanese government in January by Hezbollah.

On Monday, Khamenei called on Islamic governments "to become vigilant and stop the 'Great Satan' [a reference to the United States] from interfering in their destinies."

"If governments become united with their people, no power can take control of their nations," Khamenei added.

Syria and Iran

In Damascus, Syrian Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Ali Habib said the two Iranian warships docked in Syrian ports -- Khark and Alvand -- are evidence of Iran's powerful navy. The two vessels were the first Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal in more than 30 years.

"The presence of the Iranian vessels in Syria is an indication of the Islamic Republic of Iran's strength and the enemies' failure," Hababi said during a meeting with Iranian naval commander Adm. Habibollah Sayyari.

Sayyari noted that "the Iran-Syria cooperation signifies the depth of the two countries' ties."

"We hope to expand the relations between Iran and Syria through the approval of this Memorandum of Understanding and establishment of naval ties," Sayyari said, adding that both countries would be strengthened by "the good ties between the two friendly and brotherly countries."

Egypt and Iran

In Egypt, Kamal al-Halbavi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, praised Iran's central role in consolidating Muslim unity worldwide.

"Given the recent developments in the region, we need unity among the Muslim countries, and Iran can play an important role in this regard," Halbavi told participants on Sunday at a conference in Tehran on the "Islamic Awakening in the Arab World."

Halbavi praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling him his "favorite leader" and the "bravest man in the Muslim world."

"We [in Egypt] need innocent, honest and brave leaders like him," Halbavi said.

Turkey and Iran

Meanwhile, Turkey's increasing ties with Islamic countries "should be ringing alarm bells in the West," according to Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and Bar-Ilan University professor.

In a perspective paper entitled "Turkey's Changing Foreign Policy and its International Ramifications," Inbar said Turkey's "crossing over" will affect the international community's ability to curb Iran's nuclear program and also strengthen its "grip over Syria and Lebanon."

"Turkey's shift in foreign policy will undoubtedly strengthen Iran's grip over Syria and Lebanon," Prof. Inbar wrote.

Hezbollah's takeover of Lebanon will allow Iran to "establish a 'Shiite corridor' to the Mediterranean, he said.

How much of a foothold Iran has gained in these countries remains to be seen. But one thing is evident:  the regime changes taking place across the Middle East are not ringing in democratic reforms, at least not a   democracy as the West defines it. Such democracy is not likely to flourish under an Islamic regime.

With such hostile Islamic regimes increasingly surrounding the tiny nation of Israel, now more than ever it is time to pray for the Jewish nation and people and for the peace of Jerusalem.

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CBN News
Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Internet Producer - Jerusalem

From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

She and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) several years ago. Barrow hopes that providing a biblical perspective of today’s events in Israel will help people in the nations to better understand the centrality of this state and the Jewish people to God’s unfolding plan of redemption for all mankind.