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Iran Plans to Bring the Hizballah Model to Syria and Iraq

The Islamic Republic has managed over the decades to establish Hizballah not only as a powerful military force in Lebanon and a base for terrorist operations but also as a means of exercising political control over the Beirut government and infiltrating the Lebanese military. In Iraq since the early 1980s, and in Syria since 2011, the ayatollahs have been cultivating similar Shiite militias for similar purposes. In an extensive study, Hanin Ghaddar explains how the militias operate, Iran’s plans for them, and what the U.S. can do to counter them:

Through participation, indirect or direct, in various wars and confrontations, . . . Iran has managed to [create] an army of around 200,000 non-Persian Shiite fighters. Individually, these fighters may look scattered and containable, but in reality they are very well organized under the command of the Quds Force, [the expeditionary arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)]. To understand how these militias function, one needs to see them as they see themselves: not as a loose assortment but as a single army with a very clear structure and hierarchy. . . . [M]ost Shiite militias fighting in the region today are organized, trained, and funded by the IRGC and the Quds Force. . . .

While the IRGC still serves as a supervisory entity, Hizballah, Iran’s top Arab Shiite force, is itself training and leading Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani, Afghan, and Yemeni Shiite militias. Indeed, as Iran’s role in the region grows, so does that of Hizballah. This gives Hizballah more confidence when faced with its other domestic and regional challenges; the group knows that in its next war—possibly with Israel—these Shiite militias will come to its aid. . . .

Meanwhile, Iran has already worked its proxies into Iraq’s military and its political system:

Today, [one Iranian-backed group], the Badr organization, leads the [Iraqi] Ministry of Interior, which allows it to support or undermine provincial police chiefs across the country. The ministry also commands the 37,000-strong Federal Police, a five-division motorized infantry force, and the Emergency Response Division, a divisional-sized special-weapons and tactics group. . . . Since 2005, Badr has likewise controlled the leadership and manning of the Iraqi army’s 5th Division, . . . and is interested in folding [the army’s] dozen or so Popular Mobilization Force brigades into a new Badr-controlled Iraqi army or Federal Police division.

Taken together, these [units] make up the largest concentration of ground forces in the country, outnumbering the functional parts of the federally controlled Iraqi army and counterterrorism service. . . . The key issue for the United States is whether Badr might one day play a role in attacking U.S. personnel or evicting U.S. troops from Iraq. Badr includes many deeply anti-American elements, not least the current minister of interior, Qasim al-Araji, who spent 26 months in U.S. military custody and has been accused of supporting deadly attacks on U.S. personnel. . . .

Tehran [could] use radical Badr members to form another splinter group . . . to deploy in Iraq and in regional struggles such as Syria or Bahrain. Like the Lebanese original, these smaller Iraqi Hizballah clones will be used to attack Iran’s enemies such as Israel, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, and possibly to pressure Iraqi political, military, or religious leaders who push back too hard against Tehran’s priorities. Many of these mini-Hizballahs will be partially enmeshed within the security forces, and their part-time involvement in foreign wars with Sunni neighbors will be politically difficult for Iraq’s Shiite prime ministers to prevent. . . .

Yet, Ghaddar concludes, it is not too late for the U.S. to take action to contain Iran.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iraq, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria

 

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy