THE WASHINGTON TIMES – CARLO MUNOZ
Iran has virtually completed a “Shiite Crescent” of influence across the heart of the Middle East, using a string of battlefield successes to link a network of allies and proxy forces now spanning from nation’s border with Iraq all the way to Lebanon.
The crescent, a longtime strategic goal meant to confront rival Sunni Arab powers led by Saudi Arabia, includes several semipermanent bases established in territory claimed as the radical Salafi Sunni Islamic State movement recedes. It also presents a strategic challenge to the U.S. presence in the region that the Trump administration is still struggling to meet.
Pentagon officials say they have military options to challenge Iran’s growing regional clout, but senior U.S. commanders have little appetite for direct confrontation — particularly if it has a high likelihood of drawing Iranian proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
With Islamic State fighters now squeezed into small pockets of territory in Syria’s southern Deir el-Zour region and elsewhere along the Euphrates River Valley, the U.S.-led coalition battling the terrorist group hopes to begin paring back its military operations in the region. This summer, by contrast, Iranian-allied militias set up a road link stretching from Iran’s western border to Syria’s Mediterranean coast.