For the last several years, the world has been witness to the rapid shift of influence in a Middle East traditionally dominated by Sunni Muslims. The ascendance of the Shiites, who make up only 20% of all Muslims, is led by an increasingly aggressive Iran, and complete control of the Persian Gulf region is quickly becoming a reality.
Iran's strategy for replacing long-established Middle Eastern Sunni dominance with a new Shiite leadership in the region consists of three parts: fomenting unrest in Iraq to solidify Shiite control, the rapid pursuit of a nuclear program that would enhance Iran's power and position in the Middle East, and a complete Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon.
It is no secret that Iraq's Shiites are greatly influenced by Iran. As part of its larger strategy for dominance of the Middle East, though, the Iranian government has taken advantage of the chaos inside its neighbor's borders to increase instability and to promote the killing of Sunni Arabs by Shiite death squads. Weapons, bombs and radical fighters are regularly smuggled across the border, and reports indicate that Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah fighters are providing technical and tactical expertise as the clerical regime in Iran seeks to solidify the power of a Shiite-led government that will ally itself with its former foe. With Shiites making up nearly 60% of the Iraqi population, the days of Sunni-minority rule are over and Iran is in perfect position to spread its influence in the region while making Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors increasingly uneasy.
While the United States continues to find itself bogged down in Iraq, the Iranian government continues its pursuit of nuclear technology with major help from Vladimir Putin's Russia. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad summarily dismisses demands from an impotent United Nations because the Security Council is so fractured that military action or meaningful sanctions are unlikely to be agreed upon by the permanent five members. So, while Russia continues to submit weaker drafts of a sanctions resolution in order to protect its financial stake in Iran's nuclear program, and while France and China continue to push for more time, the clerical regime in Tehran keeps promising future talks (despite a U.N. deadline that passed months ago) as it continues its drive to become a member of the nuclear club. The acquisition of a nuclear capability by Iran would make it the undisputed power in a violent and unstable region.
Finally, Iran has been aggressively pushing a complete Hezbollah takeover of long-time Syrian satellite Lebanon. Hezbollah already controls several seats in the Lebanese parliament, and has thoroughly infiltrated the Lebanese Army. At Iran's urging, Hezbollah used its state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon to launch a new conflict with neighboring Israel this past summer, a conflict that emboldened the terrorist group's Iranian benefactors and increased Hezbollah's popularity among the Lebanese populace. The recent assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, who was a fierce opponent of Hezbollah and Iranian-allied Syria, pushed the Lebanese government dangerously close to a complete collapse. If that collapse happens, Lebanon would face new elections that would probably increase the power and control of Hezbollah, and by default, Iran.
With the continued promotion of a Shiite dominated Iraqi government, the defiant pursuit of nuclear technology, and the consolidation of Shiite Hezbollah's power in Lebanon, Iran is becoming increasingly powerful and poised to lead a period of Shiite supremacy in a predominantly Sunni Middle East. Sunni countries allied with, or at least tolerant of the United States, as well as Israel, are faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran with tremendous influence and control in both Iraq and Lebanon. The power play for Shiite dominance in the Middle East is quickly acting itself out, and Iran may soon get the recognition as a major regional and global player that it so desperately seeks.