By Peter Brookes, Special to The China Post
With the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East obsessing world leaders and the public, Iran has used the distraction to up its involvement in Afghanistan a notch.
News broke this week that NATO forces last month seized some 50 Iranian rockets concealed in a truck convoy. The weapons were on their way to the Taliban in support of its expected spring offensive.
The 122 mm rockets are significant in that they are the most powerful, and have the greatest range, of any weapons that Iran has passed to the Taliban so far — as best we know, of course.
The rockets, while not known for their accuracy, allow the Taliban to target U.S. and coalition forces over the horizon from some 15 miles away. They could also be used as terror weapons against population centers.
The Taliban also reportedly visited Tehran recently to ask for even more lethal weapons, including portable surface-to-air missiles for use against aircraft, including more vulnerable helicopters.
But Iranian involvement in Afghanistan and support for the Taliban — a one-time enemy of Tehran — is not new. Iran has been working to bloody our nose there for years.
Publicly, Tehran plays nice with the Afghan government, including the passing of vast amounts of cash to buy influence, while hedging against a number of possible outcomes in Afghanistan.
But Afghanistan is just one of the pieces that Iran is playing on the chessboard in its shadowy game to dominate the region. Unfortunately, the game seems to be going the mullahs’ way at the moment.
They’ve seen Arab adversaries in places like Egypt fall.
And, depending on how things play out in Cairo, the Camp David Accords — which have kept the peace between Israel and Egypt for decades — could be broken.
Jordan, another country at peace with Israel, has been shaken with political protests. And Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been rattled with Shia unrest — most likely backed by Iran. In Iraq, Iran is gaining influence as America’s appears to be waning.
Tehran has also made solid gains in Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-backed candidate for prime minister has been named. An Iranian ally, Syria, is moving back into Beirut after a hiatus, while yet another, Hamas, controls Gaza.
Plus, the meaning of Iran’s warships plying the Mediterranean Sea recently for the first time since the 1979 revolution hasn’t been lost on any of the states that line the coast, especially Israel. Training cruise? Sure, it was. Of course, in addition to all this sobering info, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a real game-changer for the region, still remains essentially unbridled — and moving in the direction of a breakout.
With U.S., Coalition and Afghan lives on the line, the most recent Taliban arms transfer is disturbing indeed, but it’s only part of the increasingly bad news that is an ascendant Iran.
No matter how diverted by events elsewhere, world leaders had better pay attention. Heritage Foundation senior fellow Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Brookes can be reached at [email protected]