Sunday, December 31, 2017

Behind Iranian Lines

From JPost, 15 December 2017, by Jonathan Spyer:


Qais al-Khazali

...[Recently], a recording emerged of an Iraqi Shi’a militia leader called Qais al-Khazali visiting the Lebanon-Israel border area. The short video shows him in the company of two other uniformed men. They are in the village of Kafr Kila, which is adjacent to Metulla.

...Khazali is the leader of an Iran-supported force called Asaib Ahl al-Haq [AAH] (the League of the Righteous). In the manner preferred by the Iranians, the organization doubles as an armed militia and a political party. It was prominent in the Shi’a insurgency against the US and its allies just over a decade ago. Today, AAH is a key component in the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units), the gathering of Shi’a militias raised up in the summer of 2014 to fight Islamic State when the Sunni jihadists were gunning for Baghdad. AAH has also played an important role in the Assad regime’s war in Syria.

...Khazali’s appearance at the border is the latest and most graphic demonstration that Israel can no longer consider its long standoff with Hezbollah as a closed conflict system between a state and a small, albeit well-armed militia. Iran has now breached the boundaries of this system.

On November 19, pro-Iranian Syrian and Iraqi forces completed the capture of Abu Kamal, a dusty town on the Syria-Iraq border 640 km. east of Quneitra. In so doing, Iran secured its land route from Iran through Iraq and Syria, to a few kilometers from the Quneitra crossing. It also secured a road for the supply of Hezbollah.

Iran is taking orders neither from Russia, nor from the nominal Syrian government of Bashar Assad in its activities in Syria. Rather, with thousands of militiamen on the ground in the country, it is building its own independent infrastructure. This includes the facility at al-Kiswa, 13 km. south of Damascus, bombed by Israeli aircraft on December 2. Iranian personnel are also present closer to the Israeli border.

In Iraq, as the war against Islamic State winds down, the Popular Mobilization Units is establishing itself as a permanent armed force. Already a year ago, its continued mobilization was confirmed by law. Now, components of the PMU are securing their status as political forces, ahead of the Iraqi elections scheduled for May. The Badr Organization was licensed to take part in the elections 10 months ago. On November 6, AAH also received its license from the Iraqi Higher Elections Committee to participate in the elections.

Using the kudos gained by their role in the war against Islamic State, and while maintaining their military capacity, these parties are set to perform well. And in cooperation with former prime minister Maliki, they may well emerge as the dominant force in Iraq after the elections.

All this has the slight flavor of déjà vu about it. On a smaller scale in Lebanon, similar Iranian clients who knew how to combine military and political activity are now in a position of unchallenged dominance of the country.

So put all this together – the achievement of the Iranian land corridor through Syria to Lebanon and the Israeli border, the burgeoning political and military strength of Iran’s proxies in Iraq, the Iranian efforts to push their presence and infrastructure to the border with the Golan Heights – and the potential scope and look of a future conflict between Israel and the Iran-led regional bloc becomes clear.

All this is taking place, by the way, at a time when the West is busy practicing politics in Iraq and Lebanon, backing supposedly moderate and certainly toothless figures such as prime ministers Saad Hariri and Haider al-Abadi.

Seen against this background, Khazali’s tour of the area north of Metulla is the latest item of evidence confirming the growing boldness, broadening dimensions and advancing agenda of the Iranians in Iraq and the Levant.
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