Iran’s Political Victory in Iraq, and What the U.S. Can Do about It

Like Israel, Iraq has been mired in several years of political deadlock that may have finally come to an end. The Jewish state is just now entering the period of post-election bargaining that will lead to the formation of a new governing coalition, while the new government in Baghdad was sworn in last week. Unlike Israel, however, the new government is supported by an encroaching foreign power that props it up with a network of well-armed militias. The new prime minister is Mohammed Shia al-Sudani; the foreign power is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bilal Wahab explains:

On paper, Sudani’s government was formed as a consensus entity that reaches across ethno-sectarian lines. In practice, however, it is dominated by Shiite parties who waited until after they engineered a ruling plurality in parliament before inviting Sunni and Kurdish parties to participate. Their platform includes a long to-do list of seemingly beneficial policy initiatives, but with no accountability measures attached to failure. Rather, the new government seems tailor-made to advance anti-democratic trends, ignoring the will of the millions of Iraqis who rose up in 2019 against a system based on divvying state resources and power among sectarian patronage networks.

In essence, the Shiites have won the ethno-sectarian war. . . . It is therefore logical to assume that their primary goals remain unchanged—namely, to take over the state, develop the Popular Mobilization Forces, [militias under de-facto Iranian direction], as a parallel institution to the national military, and join Iraq and Iran at the hip (which would also facilitate closer connections with China and Russia).

For too long, Washington has underestimated its leverage and tools in Iraq. The powers that be in Baghdad are well aware of this leverage, however—they know they would not have had the luxury to wage a yearlong political battle without the United States actively preventing the emergence of another Islamic State insurgency. Indeed, Sudani will not be doing Washington a “favor” by allowing U.S. military advisors to stay in Iraq—it’s the other way around. America’s engagement, convening power, and sheltering of Iraqi financial assets still provide the foundation for the international legitimacy that the new government craves. And to complement these carrots, the Biden administration should remind Baghdad that it has an arsenal of sticks to punish continued corruption, money laundering, and human-rights abuses.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran, Iraq, Shiites, U.S. Foreign policy

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security