Prior to the Islamic Revolution that swept Iran in 1979, the status of Shiite Muslims in the Arab world (about 20 percent of all Muslims) was that of inferiors. In many countries like Libya, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, they would be executed without trial. In other countries, Shiites were forbidden to build mosques because, in the eyes of Sunni Muslim majority, they were heretics.
The rise of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini was a watershed. He promised that the Shiites in the Arab world would no longer be oppressed. Indeed, since the revolution in Iran, the status of the Shiites in the Arab world has not only strengthened, in some places they have become the oppressors. Today, the Iranians and their proxies have full control over four Arab states: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. And they threaten to seize even more countries.
In fact, Iranian efforts and attempts to undermine the stability of the Arab states have not ceased in recent years. Iran sees itself as a regional power and has adopted a strategy aimed at extending that power across the entirety of the Middle East. And it is succeeding. Two benefits of this extended power is the ability by Iran to protect the Shiite minority in Arab countries and to strike Israel indirectly. The Iranian octopus today operates both openly and covertly in any number of Arab countries as it exports the Shiite revolution to the rest of the Islamic world.
Thanks to Russian and Iranian involvement, Bashar Assad remained in power in Damascus. Iran wants to benefit from its investment in Syria. Today, it is setting up religious centers in Syria to persuade the Syrians to accept the Shiite religion, thereby bringing tens of thousands of Syrians into the Shiite fold, while will later enable Iran to establish even more Shiite militias to do its bidding.
In Iraq, the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime and the withdrawal of American forces from the country gave Iran a rare opportunity to expand its influence there. Iranian involvement in this country is centered around financing, training, and arming the Shiite militias al-Hashad al-Shaabi (the Iraqi Hezbollah). This political, economic and religious involvement effectively makes Iraq an Iranian protectorate.
The Iranians support and assist the Houthis and through them control much of Yemen, from where they can bomb their arch-enemies, the Saudis. Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have a long-running rivalry centered on the age-old Muslim dispute regarding who was to succeed the Prophet Mohammed. It is from this dispute that the Shiite and Sunni streams of Islam evolved.
Iran established Hezbollah in Lebanon and equipped it through Syria with the most advanced weaponry. Some of the weapons were bombed by Israel in Syria even before their arrival in Lebanon. Iran has turned the Shiite community in Lebanon into a highly-organized fighting force that threatens the Lebanese army and the stability of Lebanon. Today, Iran is a major player in Lebanon.
Iranian is also very active in the Persian Gulf. The Islamic Republic has already occupied the islands of Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, as well as Abu Musa Island, all which the United Arab Emirates regarded as belonging to them. This takeover demonstrated to the Arab states and their leaders the danger posed by Iran. Despite the support of the Arab League, no solution to this ongoing Iranian occupation has yet been found.
Iran also operates in Bahrain and neighboring Oman, and is investing greatly in expanding its influence in both kingdoms. In fact, Iran often claims to "own" Bahrain, that it is a "province" of the Islamic Republic. The Shiite majority in the Kingdom of Bahrain gives Iran legitimacy to make such claims, while the government there accuses Iran of subversion.
Iran supports the establishment of a Palestinian state on the ruins of the State of Israel. The Iranians openly say that they want to destroy the State of Israel, and back up those words with material support for local terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This also enables Iran to brainwash the local Sunni Palestinian Muslims with Shiite ideology, along with a healthy dose of hatred for Israel and the Jews.
Even without a nuclear bomb, Iran is busy destabilizing the rest of the Middle East, making itself no less an enemy of the Arabs than it is of Israel. For this reason it is incumbent upon the US and European Union to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Because if it is able to sow so much discord without the bomb, imagine what it can accomplish with nukes in hand?
Dr. Edy Cohen is an expert on Middle East affairs and a frequent guest on Arab media. Dr. Cohen uses his Arabic-language Twitter profile with over 70,000 followers to engage with people across this volatile region.