BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A nuclear deal with Iran may spur proxy wars in the Middle East as Sunni Muslims try to counter an increasingly wealthy and powerful Shi’ite Iran, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator said on Monday.
Gilles de Kerchove told the European Parliament one important cause of terrorism was “this war by proxy from the Sunni world which feels a bit on the defensive because of the rise of Iran”.
Asked if a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions being negotiated in Switzerland would have an impact, he said: “Yes, of course, because Iran will have even more money.
“It is a sophisticated country, with a vision, more and more powerful in the Middle East, and therefore on the Sunni side there might be a temptation for some to support extremist groups to fight against Iran by proxy,” he said.
Major powers are trying to reach a preliminary agreement with Iran aimed at stopping it from achieving the ability to develop a nuclear bomb, in exchange for an easing of sanctions that are crippling its economy.
Mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia is leading air strikes in Yemen to try to halt advances by Iranian-allied Shi’ite Houthi fighters, the latest front in its widening contest with Iran for power in the region.
Their proxy struggle is also playing out in Syria, where Tehran backs Bashar al-Assad’s government against mainly Sunni rebels, and Iraq, where Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are playing a major role.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Andrew Roche