Hezbollah is Lebanon is Hezbollah

The Times of Israel, by Naftali Bennett, April 2, 2017:

In July 2006 mortars and rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel’s cities and infrastructure. At the same time, Lebanese militants crossed the border and attacked Israeli soldiers – killing three and abducting the bodies of two others to the Lebanese town of Ayta a-Shab. More Israelis were killed as they chased the attackers into Lebanese territory. Despite this, Israel did not retaliate against Lebanon.

Following a request by the US, Israel distinguished between Sovereign Lebanon and Hezbollah. As a result, I – and thousands of other Israeli soldiers – found myself trying to stop an Iranian paramilitary organization using only tweezers. After weeks behind enemy lines, I can tell you: it is impossible to fight like that.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s recent comments on Egyptian television make it clear he sees no distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s weapons “are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” he said, and noted: “They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense.”

Now that Lebanon has made it clear it is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon, it is time for Israel and the world to let the Lebanese public know: if a rocket or mortar is fired from Lebanon at Israel it will be considered an act of war conducted by the Lebanese government; if Lebanon allows and enables terrorists to stage attacks from its sovereign territory, Israel will hold it accountable.

Unlike last time, if we defend ourselves against a future Lebanese attack we will not use tweezers to search for a needle in a haystack: we will neutralize the haystack.

In the decade since 2006 Iran strengthened Hezbollah as its well-trained and well-equipped proxy. Its arsenal now contains more than one-hundred-thousand rockets, and many of its members have gained combat experience fighting for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Moreover, even as it lost hundreds of fighters helping Assad butcher other Syrians, Hezbollah readied itself for a potential war with Israel, stocking itself with advanced weaponry and fortifying its positions and command centers throughout Lebanon.

But Hezbollah is not only an Iranian-trained army stationed in Lebanon. It is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, boasting 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet. In fact, Aoun made it clear he no longer views the group as an alternative but as part of his government and strategy: “It is no longer an urgent matter to discuss the need to strip Hezbollah of its weapons,” he said in Cairo, hinting that Hezbollah is part of his army’s strategic planning.

This leads to a simple conclusion: if Hezbollah attacks Israel, it is tantamount to a Lebanese declaration of war against Israel.

If we are forced to fight – and to be clear, we have no desire to go to war – we will view all Lebanese governmental institutions as potential targets: any place used as a launch site for rockets at Israel a military post; any village hosting munition storages or command centers a military base; any Lebanese building or infrastructure used to attack Israel would become a valid military target for us to strike.

The results would be tragic for the Lebanese people.

However, the Lebanese people are the only ones who can make sure this scenario never becomes reality.

By removing Hezbollah’s rocket launchers from their backyards, hundreds of Lebanese families can save their homes. By stopping Hezbollah from using their schools as command centers, principals can protect their pupils. So long as Hezbollah is a welcome guest, the hosts are responsible for its actions.

Hezbollah’s power stems from its being embedded in Lebanon, and from Lebanon not being held accountable for Hezbollah’s acts of terror. Aoun made it clear this separation was artificial and irrelevant. As a result, Israel must let the world, and especially the Lebanese people, know Hezbollah is Lebanon.

Naftali Bennett, a Major in the IDF (reserves), is Israel’s Minister of Education and a member of the Inner Security Cabinet.

After Islamic State, Fears of a ‘Shiite Crescent’ in Mideast

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The mullahs’ regime in Tehran is no less brutal, no less jihadi than the Islamic State – so why on earth should we of the West have anything to do w/propping up Tehran’s puppet regimes in Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus? Besides, bomb Raqqa into the ground tomorrow (not a bad idea!) & the global jihad would hardly skip a beat – that’s because jihad is wherever there is a cell, a community, or a network of faithful, devout Muslims obedient to shariah – and that means, already living among us. Jihad is upon us where we live now, not just ‘over there.’ – Clare Lopez

WSJ, by YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Sept. 29, 2016:

From the point of view of Sunni Arab regimes anxious about Iran’s regional ambitions, Islamic State—as repellent as it is—provides a silver lining. The extremist group’s firewall blocks territorial contiguity between Iran and its Arab proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

This means that now, as Islamic State is losing more and more land to Iranian allies, these Sunni countries—particularly Saudi Arabia—face a potentially more dangerous challenge: a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut that would reinforce a more capable and no less implacable enemy.

Pro-Iranian Shiite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraq’s Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are filling the void left by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they are much better equipped and trained than the Sunni extremist group. They are also just as hostile to the Saudi regime, openly talking about dismantling the kingdom and freeing Islam’s holy places from the House of Saud.

That rhetoric only intensified after January’s breakup in diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

Many Western officials see these Shiite militias—which currently refrain from attacking Western targets—as an undoubtedly preferable alternative to Islamic State’s murderous rule, and some of the groups operating in Iraq indirectly coordinate with U.S. air power. But that isn’t how those militias are viewed in Riyadh and other Gulf capitals.

Abuses committed by Iranian proxies in Sunni areas are just as bad as those of Islamic State, argued Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and a nephew of the current king.

“They are equally threatening, and one feeds off the other,” Prince Turki said in an interview. “Both of them are equally vicious, equally treacherous, and equally destructive.”

The West, he added, fundamentally misunderstood Iranian intentions in the region. “It’s wishful thinking that, if we try to embrace them, they may tango with us. That’s an illusion,” he said.

Fears over a “Shiite crescent” of Iranian influence in the Middle East aren’t new. They were first aired by Jordan’s King Abdullah a year after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought pro-Iranian politicians to power in Baghdad.

In the following years, the huge U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency there kept Iranian power in check. Then, just as the U.S. withdrawal and the taming of the insurgency seemed to herald a new era of Iranian prominence in the region, the 2011 upheaval of the Arab Spring unleashed the Syrian civil war.

The dramatic rise of Islamic State that followed created a Britain-sized Sunni statelet in Syria and Iraq—and severed all land communications in the middle of that “Shiite crescent.”

“Prior to 2011, Iran already had overwhelming influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So Iran has not significantly expanded its influence in the region, but rather it has been forced to provide military protection to pivotal allies it risked losing,” said Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group. “If this has caused panic in Riyadh, it’s mainly because the Arab world is in a state of disarray.”

In both Syria and Iraq, however, Shiite militias controlled by Iran now play a far greater role than in 2011. Last month, Iraq ended the brief tenure of the first Saudi ambassador to the country since 2003, expelling him over his criticism of the Shiite militias. These groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq, and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas.

In Syria, too, the survival of President Bashar al-Assad—allied with Iran but autonomous in many of his policies before 2011—has become impossible without the support of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy that has grown into a regional military force. Other Shiite militias in Syria are staffed by Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani recruits.

“Iran’s power has spread further afield than before in terms of direct military power. We have never had so many Shiite militias operating in so many different areas, and fighting in traditional Sunni strongholds,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

With Islamic State also under attack by U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces and a Turkish offensive, it’s possible that these Iranian proxies and allies would link up along the Iraq-Syrian border in coming months. The question is whether they would be able to hold that land and rule over the remaining Sunni populations without a degree of power-sharing—something that neither Baghdad nor Damascus seem ready for.

Absent that, it is likely that a new insurgency would bubble up soon in those areas—likely fomented by Sunni Arab states eager to break up the region’s “Shiite crescent” once again.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni Iraqi politician and the country’s former deputy prime minister, warned that keeping the Sunnis disenfranchised would lead to precisely such an outcome.

“Unless you start thinking about the conditions that created ISIS in the first place and try to overcome these conditions,” he said in an interview, “there will be a new ISIS again, maybe of a different kind.”

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ISRAEL’S NEXT HEZBOLLAH WAR

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Philos Project, by Andrew Harrod, Aug. 12, 2016:

Between Israel and Hezbollah, “another conflict is all but inevitable,” wrote retired Israeli Brigadier General Yakov Shaharabani. “It will be far more destructive and harmful than any other war Israel has fought in recent memory.” The former Israeli Air Force Intelligence chief thus introduced a sobering Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies report a decade after Israel’s last clash with the Lebanese terrorist organization.

Shaharabani said that the July 2006 Lebanon War “was the longest Israel had experienced since its War of Independence in 1948,” but any future clash with Hezbollah will make those destructive 34 days pale by comparison. According to his FDD coauthors, the Israeli government estimates that Hezbollah has approximately 150,000 rockets today as opposed to the mere 14,000 it possessed prior to the 2006 conflict. Writing for the Weekly Standard, Vanderbilt University law professor Willy Stern said that this gives Hezbollah a “bigger arsenal than all NATO countries – except the United States – combined.”

Stern elaborated that Hezbollah’s state sponsor Iran has “supplied its favorite terrorist organization with other top-of-the-line weaponry,” including advanced Russian-made anti-tank and anti-ship missiles and air defense systems. The FDD report noted that sanctions relief for Iran under the recent nuclear agreement will only darken this picture, for “Iran’s massive windfall is expected to trickle down to its most important and valuable proxy: Hezbollah.” Additionally, “Hezbollah has gained significant experience during five years of fighting in Syria” for the embattled Bashar Assad dictatorship.

Israeli Defense Forces leaders have presented Stern with grim scenarios in which “elite Hezbollah commandos will almost certainly be able to slip into Israel and may wreak havoc among Israeli villages in the north.” Given Hezbollah’s “capacity to shoot 1,500 missiles per day, Israel’s high-tech missile-defense system will be ‘lucky’ to shoot down 90 percent of incoming rockets, missiles and mortars.” Accordingly, “IDF planners quietly acknowledge that ‘as many as hundreds’ of Israeli noncombatants might be killed per day in the first week or two of the conflict.”

The FDD report documented Shaharabani’s prediction that the “next Lebanon war could actually devolve into a regional war.” With Hezbollah’s expanding into Syria, “Hezbollah and Iran plan to connect the Golan Heights to the terror group’s south Lebanese stronghold – to make it one contiguous front against Israel. Iran can also unleash violence on Israel through its Palestinian proxies,” meaning, for example, that Hamas rockets “could force the Israelis to divert Iron Dome and other anti-missile batteries to the southern front with Gaza.” As Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “was already embedded with Hezbollah during the last conflict, there is the very real possibility that Iranian forces could join Hezbollah in battle during the next confrontation.”

The FDD report noted that recurrent Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria raise the dangers of killing Russian advisers or coming into combat with Russian warplanes now supporting Assad against the Syrian rebels. Israeli consultations with Russia seek to avoid these clashes, but scholar Michael Doran warned at his Hudson Institute’s July 26 panel discussing the report that the “potential for friction there is enormous.” Recent American coordination plans with Russia in striking jihadist groups like the Islamic State would enable the Assad coalition to approach Israel’s borders, implicating an Israeli “red line” concerning the IRGC there.

Experts agree that a future Hezbollah-Israel conflict’s havoc will engulf as well Lebanon, termed at the Hudson Institute as “Hezbollahstan” by the Israeli embassy’s Deputy Head of Mission Reuven Azar. “The IDF no longer distinguishes between the sovereign nation of Lebanon and Hezbollah,” Stern has written, now that the Shiite-based organization has expanded its influence beyond its south Lebanon stronghold to countrywide domination. Simultaneously, “Hezbollah cleverly places its arsenal where any Israeli military response – even legal, carefully planned, narrowly targeted, proportionate measures – will lead to huge civilian casualties among Lebanese.” As report author Jonathan Schanzer noted at a July 25 FDD event, Hezbollah has “turned Shia villages into essentially missile silos.”

“We are not in the business of trying to provoke a new round,” Azar said, echoing certain arguments in the FDD report, yet several factors indicate that Israel will accept a decisive challenge with Hezbollah if it comes. While report author Tony Badran noted at the Hudson Institute that Hezbollah “is not even comparable to what it was in 2006,” the coming years “risk seeing a Hezbollah that is infinitely more capable in terms of its weapon systems. This time period of the Iran nuclear agreement also portends an Iran that is unleashed, that is probably by that point a threshold nuclear state with a legalized industrial scale program and recognized regional primacy in Iraq and Syria.” As the FDD report stated, the nuclear deal “has placed Iran on a patient pathway to a nuclear weapon. The clock is ticking. Israel’s window of opportunity to defeat Hezbollah in the shadow of the nuclear deal cannot be ignored.”

Not surprisingly, the FDD report cited Israeli assessments of Hezbollah as Israel’s greatest threat, a view confirmed by Schanzer’s past three years of meetings with Israeli officials. While Shaharabani at FDD discussed how Hezbollah would view not losing a future conflict with Israel as a victory, Israel would desire a short, yet decisive campaign against a growing threat, however contradictory these two goals. As he wrote, “Israel may find out very quickly that deterring Hezbollah is not a sufficient strategic goal. Therefore, defeating Hezbollah (or forcing it to leave Lebanon) might become its strategic objective.”

Although Shaharabani’s remarks noted that the more extensive Israel’s actions against Hezbollah, the likelier the intervention by Iran and others, the FDD report remained resolute. “Should war break out, the United State should actively delay the imposition of a premature ceasefire in order to buy the Israelis as much time as needed to complete their military campaign,” it read. This no substitute for victory approach makes eminent sense if, as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Joseph Bahout judged at FDD, Israel’s war with Hezbollah is unavoidable, only the “question is when and under which circumstances.”

All Men in Iran Village Executed

Iran flag of deathCounter Jihad, Feb. 26, 2016:

A member of the Iranian cabinet says that his government has executed every man in one of the country’s villages. The Daily Beast reports:

, an official responsible for the Islamic Republic’s division of women and family affairs, said violence could explode in the undisclosed area of the Sistan and Baluchestan province as a response to the executions. “The children of the executed criminals are also already drug traffickers,” she said. “They want to avenge the deaths of their fathers.” The total number of men killed has not been released.

The Iranian regime’s use of its sharia-inspired drug laws to execute regime opponents is infamous.  Yet the Praetorian guard of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, is actually the major figure in the narcotics trade both in Iran and in the region.  The IRGC controls the majority of the flow of opium from Afghanistan into the Levant and the Middle East generally.  Illegal activities are a major source of the IRGC’s operating budget, of which narcotics are only one.

Drug trafficking is another major area of the underground economy that the IRGC controls. Iran’s long border with Pakistan and Afghanistan is one of the the world’s busiest drug smuggling corridors.  Iran’s interior minister recently declared that the value of narcotic  drug sales in Iran is $3 billion per year, not including commission from transporting the drugs from Afghanistan to other transit points, like the Balkans. The US Department of the Treasury has placed Quds Force Commander Esmail Baghbani on the US sanctions list for his role in drug trafficking. The IRGC also has close ties with the drug cartels in the South and Central America through Hezbollah.

As the report notes, the IRGC’s control of the opium flow has allowed the terrorist group Hezbollah to infiltrate Latin American drug cartels by providing cheap heroin.  One of Iran’s oldest and most successful proxy forces, Hezbollah has managed connections with both governments and drug cartels in Latin America.  Hezbollah’s access to the IRGC’s opium stream has made its heroin operations in Lebanon chief among its many fundraising schemes.  US prosecutors in 2011 named Hezbollah as a major participant in money laundering operations between the Middle East, America, and West Africa as a result of the heroin trade.  During the civil war in Lebanon of the 1980s, Lebanese migrants to South America became a bridgehead for Hezbollah into that continent.  Hezbollah’s access to hashish, and its capacity to create and ship heroin, allowed it to build important supply relationships to the drug cartels it found in South America.  This allowed Hezbollah access to other drugs coming from South America, broadening its capacity to raise money off the drug trade.  Cash and drug smuggling operations between Hezbollah and Latin America have been recently tied to Nicaragua, Panama (on multiple fronts), Venezuela, CubaEcuador, and Argentina.

The drug trade is thus a key part of Iran’s attempt to export jihad and its own Islamic revolution.  Yet with the next breath, “drug trafficking” is used to justify genocidal acts against its own ethnic minorities.

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ISIS launches its winter terror offensive with first 274 deaths

ISIS-Global-Conquest-Map2

Debka File, Nov/ 13, 2015:

The US drone strike Thursday night, Nov. 11, targeting the Islamic State’s infamous executioner known as “Jihad John” in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa may or may not have hit the mark – the Pentagon says it is too soon to say. The hooded, masked terrorist with the British accent has been identified as a British Muslim born in Kuwait called Mohamed Emwazi. He appeared on videos worldwide showing the cold-blooded murders of US, British, Japanese and other hostages.
The drone attack occurred shortly after the latest ISIS atrocity: Thursday night, two or three suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing 43 people and injuring at least 240 in the Hizballah stronghold of southern Beirut opposite Burj Barajneh.

Ten days earlier, the Islamic State brought down the Russian Metrojet airliner over Sinai killing all 224 people aboard. This spectacular act of terror was apparently the first strike of the jihadist group’s winter offensive. It achieved its objectives of multiple murder; mortal damage to Egypt’s tourism industry and a blow to the prestige of its president Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi.
The attack also punished President Vladimir Putin for bringing the Russian military into the center of the Syrian conflict.

The next Islamic State assault was aimed to undermine the credibility of Jordan’s King Abdullah and his security services: On Nov. 8,  a Jordanian police captain opened fire at a high-security US training facility outside Amman, killing two American trainers, a South African and two Jordanians. The number of US personnel injured in the attack was not released. This attack was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the massive al Qaeda assault on Amman’s leading hotels, all American owned, which left 61 dead.
In northern Sinai, the murder of a family of 9 Egyptians at El Arish Thursday morning raised the total of ISIS murders in less than a month to 274.
DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources discern three objectives in the attack Thursday night in Beirut

1. A lesson for Tehran and Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah to show them that the Islamic State is able to reach them on their home ground, no matter how many troops they deploy to fight the jihadis in Syria (Iran and Hizballah together field an estimated 13,000 soldiers in Syria). ISIS was capable of inflicting terrible casualties both on the battlefield and in their homeland, first in Beirut and eventually in Tehran.

2.  The day before, Wednesday, Nov. 11, in a speech marking the “Day of the Shahid,” Nasrallah gloated over Hizballah’s triumph in a battle outside Aleppo. He also boasted that his domestic security shield in Lebanon presented an impenetrable barrier against ISIS or Nusra Front terrorist intrusions.

The Islamic State’s tacticians determined to blow up both claims in Nasrallah’s face. He and Iran were to be shown that they could not stop ISIS or prevent the Syrian war’s spillover into Lebanon.

3.  By blowing up the Russian airliner over Sinai, the Islamists sought to underscore this point for Moscow too. Russia might send a powerful military force to Syria, but the Islamists would hit Putin from the rear at a location of its choosing anywhere in the Middle East. Moscow may have opted to defend Bashar Assad, but what can it do to protect Hizballah and its other allies?.

DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources note that US and Russia have taken lead roles in the broad military effort to defeat ISIS – often by means of pinpointed operations. At the same time, under their noses, the Islamist terrorists have launched their winter campaign, striking with extreme ferocity and agility in unexpected places that are outside the regular battle fronts in which the big powers are engaged.

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Beirut suicide bombings: At least 41 killed, 200 hurt

Residents inspect a damaged area caused by two explosions in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

Residents inspect a damaged area caused by two explosions in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

By Greg Botelho, CNN on Nov. 12, 2015:

(CNN) A pair of suicide bombings killed at least 41 people and wounded over 200 more Thursday evening in southern Beirut, Lebanese Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said.

The state-run National News Agency reported that two suicide bombers blew themselves up within 150 meters (490 feet) and five minutes of each other, shaking the Bourj al-Barajneh district in southern Beirut.

It was not immediately clear where they came from or what their motivation was.

But in a purported statement circulated online by ISIS supporters on social media, ISIS claimed responsibility for the blasts. CNN hasn’t confirmed the authenticity of the statement.

In addition to the human toll, the explosions damaged at least four nearby buildings. Video distributed by Reuters showed a dramatic scene in the bombings’ aftermath, with rescue workers carrying out victims past piles of rubble and through a mass of people.

After the blasts, authorities closed all entrances to Bourj al-Barajneh, NNA reported. Judge Sakr Sakr dispatched military police and other authorities to investigate the blasts, cordoning off the area around them.

Citizens have been urged to stay away from the bloody scene as well as nearby hospitals so that ambulances can more easily get back and forth.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared Friday a day of mourning for the victims of the bombings, a terrorist attack condemned by officials across the country’s political landscape.

Bombings not new to Lebanon

Lebanon has seen plenty of violence involving numerous parties in recent decades, including the current fallout from the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria.

That war has flooded the Middle Eastern nation with more than a million refugees, according to the United Nations, and also contributed to intermittent spillover violence.

Most of that bloodshed has been concentrated near the Syrian border, though not all, as evidenced by a November 2013 Beirut bombing that killed at least 23 people and wounded about 150 more.

The al Qaeda-linked militant group Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for that bombing and warned of more to come unless the Lebanese-based, Iranian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah stops sending fighters to support Syrian government forces.

Is it Iran’s Middle East Now?

405400143RUBIN CENTER,  NOVEMBER 7, 2015 BY JONATHAN SPYER:

The Middle East is currently in the midst of widespread instability, civil strife and the collapse or contraction of state authority. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Tunisia and Egypt have all experienced major instability over the last half decade. The first four of these areas have effectively ceased to exist as unitary states, and are now partitioned de facto between warring entities, organised according to ethnic, sectarian or tribal loyalty. The Palestinian territories too are divided into areas controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

In this fractious landscape, powerful regional states are seeking to gain advantage, extend their own power, and diminish that of their rivals.

The collapse of states has in turn brought with it the decline of the national identities which supposedly underlay them, and the growth of sectarian identification as a political factor. The result is the emergence of Sunni-Shia conflict as a major overt presence in the Middle East. In Yemen, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in a more complex way in Syria, Sunni-Shia rivalries form a central dynamic, which are also important in terms of the geo-strategic rivalries among major states competing in the Middle East.

Perhaps the single best organised and most aggressive alliance active currently in the Middle East is the bloc of states and movements gathered around the Islamic Republic of Iran. Motivated by clear strategic goals and by powerful ideological motivations, and with long experience of subversion particularly relevant to the current period of instability in the Middle East, Iran and its allies are powerful players in the regional contest.

Prior to the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, signed on 14 July 2015, it had appeared that Iran might be approaching a point of overstretch. Tehran was committed to assist a large portfolio of clients engaged in conflict across the region, at a time when Tehran was itself subject to biting economic sanctions. The continued civil war in Syria and the opening of conflicts in Iraq and Yemen – in which the Iranians were heavily committed – seemed to introduce this possibility.

However, the conclusion of the nuclear agreement – and with it the prospect of release of impounded funds as part of sanctions relief – has immediate implications for the related subject of Iranian regional ambitions and outreach. The precise sum likely to become rapidly available to Iran following the signing of the agreement and sanctions relief remains unclear and disputed. Estimates range from $150 billion (the sum frequently quoted by opponents of the nuclear deal) to $56 billion (the likely sum according to US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew).

But even if one assumes the lower estimate, and combines this with additional sums likely to become available to Iran because of renewed economic ties with the outside world as an element of sanctions relief, it may be concluded that the risk of overstretch, and a consequent inability on the part of Iran to sustain its regional commitments, has effectively disappeared as a result of the signing of the JCPOA.

As a result, Iran is well placed in the current period to continue its practice of supporting proxy political-military organisations in a variety of regional locations, in pursuit of Iranian strategic goals.

IRANIAN AMBITIONS IN THE ARAB WORLD

Iran is currently actively supporting proxies in major conflicts in the following areas: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. In addition, there is evidence that Iranian agencies are active among Shia populations – as yet without major effect – in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Tehran also has a strategic relationship with (Sunni majority) Sudan.

Iranian aims

Iran’s strategic goal is to emerge as the dominant power in the Middle East and, eventually, the entire Islamic world. It seeks to roll back US influence in the region and to work towards Israel’s destruction.

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CONCLUSION

In all areas of Iranian regional ‘outreach’, a common pattern exists. Iranian regional policy is characterised by the establishment and/or sponsorship of proxy political-military organisations. In every case noted, (with the partial exception of Lebanon) the result of the Iranian involvement is not Iranian strategic victory and the constitution of the state in question as an ally of Iran. Rather, Iranian outreach prevents the defeat and eclipse of the local Iranian ally, while ensuring division and continued conflict in the area in question.

This Iranian modus operandi – and its centrality in Iranian regional strategy – as well as the far reaching nature of Iranian goals as outlined above, mean the notion that a post JCPOA Iran can form a partner for stability in the region is deeply flawed, and will quickly be contradicted by the facts.

The export of chaos has the merit, perhaps, of keeping disorder far from Iran’s own borders by ensuring that rivals to Tehran are kept busy engaged in proxy conflicts elsewhere. However, it is difficult to see how it can result in regional hegemony and leadership.

This Iranian penchant for fomenting chaos also places them on a different trajectory to the Russians. This is important, because the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War, from September 2015 has been characterised in some quarters as the birth of a new strategic alliance between Tehran and Moscow. Ibrahim Amin, editor of the pro-Hezbollahal-Akhbar newspaper, happily called this supposed new bloc the ‘4 + 1’ alliance (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah).

But Russia has no interest in strategic support for Islamist proxies in the Middle East. Rather, it seeks powerful state allies, without particular concern as to their internal electoral arrangements or ideological proclivities. The Iranian model of creation and support of proxy Shia Islamist forces contrasts with Russia’s desire for powerful, centralised forces with which it can do business. This means that Russia and Iran have different and even opposed regional orientations, even if there is currently an overlap with regard to the Assad regime in Syria.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is likely to increase its support for its portfolio of proxy organisations across the region. The net effect of this will be to increase regional disorder and foment continued conflict. However, because of the built in limitations of Iranian methods and because of the sectarian nature of the conflicts in question (which means Iran finds it very difficult or impossible to pursue really lasting alliances with non-Shia Arab clients), it is unlikely that this will result in the attainment by Iran of its strategic goal of regional leadership/hegemony. Iran is a spoiler par excellence. But despite its ambitions and pretensions, it does not look like the founder of a new Middle Eastern order.

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