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Iran's Islamic influence in the Mideast

Call it the Pyongyang ploy.

Hold out for direct talks with America and its allies, thus bolstering your international position, while budging not an inch on your nuclear aspirations.

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If North Korea seemed unimpressed by a package of inducements and unfazed by the threat of United Nations sanctions, Iran seems to be even less so.

The reason is not hard to find. Iran sees itself at the forefront of a new pan-Islamic movement.

The day of pan-Arabism, when a secular Syria joined with Egypt in a United Arab Republic, is long since gone. A young Egyptian is quoted by The New York Times as saying, "I have more faith in Islam than in my state."

A Congressional report says, "There is a lot about Iran that we do not know." That's for sure. But we do know that the Iranian mullahs, flush with oil revenues, are putting their imprint on a large part of the Middle East.

There is reason to believe that Iran encouraged Hizbullah to open hostilities against the Israelis. And a Jordanian newspaper says that what it calls "the Hizbullah victory" will have "earthshaking regional consequences."

The mullahs in Iran have undoubtedly made the calculation that fading superpower America has expended its armed might in Iraq and is unable to mount another significant military action in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, recent battles in the Middle East, the emergence of Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, the sectarian war in Iraq, even recent reverses for the American-backed regime in Afghani- stan, all point to Islamic empowerment.

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This is the atmosphere in which Iran feels powerful enough to thumb its nose at the countries that would deny Iran an Islamic nuclear bomb.

If the confrontation in the Middle East is between radical Islam and democracy, it looks as though, at the moment, radical Islam has the upper hand.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.