Nikki Haley, the outgoing American representative at the United Nations, once defined her problem with Iran. She said that everywhere there's trouble, you find Iran at work.
The Iranians shouldn't be annoyed by that comment. In fact, it sounds like an accurate account of their strategy. They believe, with religious faith, in steadily expanding the range of their influence, showing their power in any conflict on the horizon. You can't keep up with them. They put money into Lebanon long ago but who knew until recently that they were in Yemen? Now they are in Gaza.
Bassam Tawil, a Palestinian Muslim writer with a cool view of Iran, clearly believes that the Iranians will fight to the last Palestinian. In a recent article he paraphrases the message that Iran sends to Palestinian families: "If you want money and a good life, send your children to die on the border with Israel."
For the Iranians and their proxies, he argues, Islamic unity is necessary to advancing the ultimate goal of removing the "cancerous tumour" (one of the Iranian terms for Israel) from the face of the Earth. Iran has been doing whatever it can to achieve this goal.
Were it not for Iranian support, he believes, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization, Hezbollah, would not be aiming thousands of rockets and missiles at Israel. Were it not for Iranian military and financial backing, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups would not have been able to fire more than 500 projectiles at Israel in 24 hours, as they did recently.
Some estimates of Iran's aid are as high as $200 million a year. Hezbollah, seen in capitalist terms, is an owned and operated subsidiary of Iran. It is also a peculiar sort of terror army: it plays a role in the Lebanon government. Its political arm holds seats in Parliament and two places in the cabinet.
Tawil might also have mentioned the tunnels built between Lebanon and Israel, at a cost to Iran of several million dollars. They are clearly designed for a Hezbollah surprise attack in which gunmen could suddenly emerge into nearby Israeli towns, kidnapping or murdering civilians. The tunnels have been discovered and are now being exhibited to UN officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls Hezbollah's tunnel digging an "act of war."
Aside from foreign countries, Iran also deals harshly with its own citizens. Recently Irwin Cotler and the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights asked the Canadian government to sanction 19 high-ranking Iranians who can be identified as "architects of oppression" against the Iranian people.
Executions in Iran have included the execution of child offenders, including at least nine in the past two years. Capital punishment is ordered against individuals on vaguely worded offences, such as "enmity against God." In August 2016, authorities hanged 25 Sunni men, of whom 22 were from Iran's Kurdish minority and three were Iraqi nationals, all on charges of enmity against God. Journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, student activists, artists and bloggers are persecuted for exercising what most countries consider their rights.
In 1979 a revolution defeated a cruel shah and replaced him with the Islamic Republic, promising freedom. But many citizens found a clerical dictatorship harder to live with than a royal regime. Last week the UN General Assembly called to account Iran's human rights record by a vote of 84 to 30, another step down for the reputation of the mullahs.