Iran menace at centre stage in Munich security conference

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) All was not well at this weekend's high-profile annual Munich Security Conference. From afar it seemed like key foreign leaders and top diplomats were on the same page by pointing to daunting threats facing our world. After all, the conference was held under the motto 'To the Brink–and Back?'. But a closer look painted a more disturbing picture; there was a lot of finger pointing, rancor, a yawning divide separating once close allies and a bit of theatrics — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brandishing a piece of an alleged Iranian drone that was downed last week — followed by stern warnings of military action.

Iran and Syria featured high in speeches and discussions. US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told the conference that Iran is building and arming an increasingly powerful network of proxies in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq that can turn against the governments of those states. 'What's particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more ... destructive weapons into these networks,' McMaster said. 'So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran,' he added.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir also warned of Iran's regional meddling and welcomed a draft United Nations resolution that would condemn Iran for failing to stop its ballistic missiles from falling into the hands of the Houthis in Yemen, adding that 'Iran must be held accountable.' He also called for changes to two aspects of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran: cancelation of a so-called sunset provision, and expanded inspections to include non-declared and military sites. Jubeir also criticised European countries for doing business with Iran, saying that its 'enriches sponsors of terror'.

On his part, Netanyahu, who is a tough opponent of the nuclear deal, attacked Tehran over aggressions by what he called Iran and its 'proxies' in Syria before issuing a warning to Iranian leaders: 'Do not test Israel's resolve.'

Iran's Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif told the conference that if the nuclear agreement is violated and then Iran's interests are not secured, Iran will respond seriously and "that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did'.

As the US and Russia traded barbs over the latest indictment by the US Justice Department of thirteen Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, the prospects of the two countries cooperating on the challenges facing the region, especially over Iran and Syria, appeared bleak. And without such cooperation Europe and other players would be unable or unwilling to play a more active role.

The Europeans clearly disagree with the US on altering the Iran nuclear deal, although some have expressed readiness to negotiate with Tehran to limit development of its controversial long-range missile programme. Without Russian support, the UN draft resolution on Iran's supply of ballistic missiles to the Houthis, some were launched at Saudi Arabia, will not pass.

The same logic applies to the Syrian crisis, where Russia is now a leading player. Moscow's help in curtailing Iran's growing influence in Syria, including its purported attempt to establish missile assembly sites there, is basic and irreplaceable. Russian intervention a week ago prevented an inevitable confrontation between Israel and Syria — and by extension Iran — after the downing of an Israeli F-16.

While the US has been unable to offer practical solutions to the region's myriad challenges and crises, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov submitted a proposal in Munich. He said that Moscow was open to a multilateral US-Russian-European-Chinese cooperation to build a security formula for the Middle East. He said that such a formula, along the lines of the Helsinki Process of the 1970s, must take into account the legitimate interests of regional states, such as Gulf States, Iraq, Egypt and Iran.

Such an approach may not be to the liking of some regional players. Israel will definitely resist any attempt to bring its conflict with the Palestinians before such a multilateral forum. The US will find it difficult to accept the proposition that it has to partner up with Russia and China to determine a more peaceful future for the Middle East.

But without a new multilateral approach to dealing with the region's challenges, chief among them Iran's regional ambitions and the threat of its proxy network, resolving conflicts and containing threats, as well as avoiding new conflagrations, will be next to impossible. Iran's meddling in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen must stop. And a political and just settlement to the Syria's predicament is the only way to end the bloodbath. And finding an equitable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will defuse a major source of regional destabilisation. A comprehensive approach through multilateral cooperation is badly needed to bring the region from the brink.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman


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