Iran’s Militias in Iraq Threaten Israel

March 8 2019

Following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Tehran began organizing and arming Iraqi Shiite militias to fight the U.S. and its allies and to undermine the newly emergent government. These forces went on to play a key role in the fight against Islamic State (IS) and, to a lesser extent, against rebel forces in Syria. In collaboration with other Iranian proxies, they have secured control over both sides of an important border area between the two countries—operating, as always, under the direction of the Islamic Republic. It is likely, according to Lazar Berman and Jonathan Spyer, that the militias will next be used against Israel:

[Israel’s] next war in the north may well be a long slog in which its advantages in firepower and numbers only come into play after the IDF wears down and begins to break apart Hizballah’s rocket array and ground forces. . . . But when Hizballah enjoys an Iranian-controlled corridor through which thousands of combat veterans from the Shiite militias can flow, Hizballah fighters will be in a position to withstand much more. . . . So long as they believe that help is potentially on the way, they will likely keep firing. . . .

Israel’s ground forces—in terms of actual combat soldiers—are smaller than many realize, even with the reserves activated. Israel will need significant ground forces if it intends to capture the territory from which Hizballah rockets are launched at Israel. . . . This overstretched ground force will be under even more stress when thousands of Shiite militiamen are thrown into the fight.

Of course, the Shiite militias have never faced an enemy like the IDF in open warfare. Any attempt to rely on ground maneuver as they did successfully in Iraq [against IS] will turn into target practice for Israeli air and armored forces. They will be fighting a highly advanced, highly capable military that is able to target them rapidly with massive firepower. . . . Still, if the Shiite militias learn from Hizballah, and use pre-prepared defenses and tunnels to ambush advancing IDF ground troops, and remain largely underground or in urban areas, they will make Israel’s already daunting challenge in Lebanon even more difficult.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iraq, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syria

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy