Iran’s forget-me-not signals
The Iranian regime is inept at translating military victories in Iraq, Syria and Yemen into political victories.
Provocation. Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Shia group Asaib Ahl al-Haq. (AFP)
2017/12/17 Issue: 136 Page: 15
A leaked video revealed a visit by Qais al-Khazali, head of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) to southern Lebanon. That visit must have been planned as there is no way it would have occurred without Hezbollah’s permission and supervision. AAH takes its orders from Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force and the man in charge of conquering the Arab world.
A month prior to his visit, Khazali declared his intention to stand with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia, in the event of an Israeli attack, whether in Syria or Lebanon. Khazali and his group toured areas on the Lebanese border with Israel, thus defying UN Resolution 1701, which forbids the presence of any military forces in the border zones besides those of the United Nations or the Lebanese Army.
It was an intentional message either by Hezbollah or Soleimani that they were willing to violate the UN resolution. It also recalls a warning by Hezbollah Secretary- General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah would open the floodgates of an invasion by tens of thousands of fighters from all over the world.
Khazali’s visit must be understood within the framework of Iran’s role in the region and especially considering preparations for the people after the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
Clearly, Soleimani wanted to strengthen ties between the various Iranian agent militias in the region, knowing that the final stages in the war on Sunni extremism — ISIS and al-Nusra Front — have ushered in the period of getting rid of so-called Shia terrorism.
It is obvious that leaving the Shia militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to run loose can only produce a monster worse than ISIS. So it becomes necessary to end the role of Shia militias in these countries if there is a plan to rebuild them as national entities.
Iran and Soleimani are aware of this line of thinking and know that regional and international discussions on how to deal with the Shia militias are taking place. There are only two options available: the use of military force against the militias or absorbing them into existing official military structures.
Those who would rather avoid a military confrontation with the Shia militias argue that the militias enjoy popular support, which makes eliminating them complicated. To make things worse, the Russians and Americans are far from reaching a final deal regarding Syria, even though they have made great progress in easing tensions and in the war on ISIS.
Many analysts say that any ceasefire in the region spells defeat for Iran. It seems that the Iranian regime is inept at translating military victories in Iraq, Syria and Yemen into political victories. Syria would be even more difficult, given that Iran lacks an adequate social acceptance there.
In Lebanon, some fear the recent Iranian show on the Lebanese-Israeli border via the presence of AAH’s leader was another occasion for Iran to express its backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
For more than ten years, Iran has used threats to the fragile peace along the border with Israel to blackmail the international community. By bringing its Iraqi militia into the picture, Iran is saying it has other options than Hezbollah. By doing so, it simply pulls the carpet from under any local or external debate about Hezbollah’s weapons.
The video showing Khazali’s visit could have been leaked by Hezbollah as a reaction to the recommendations given at the International Support Group for Lebanon’s meeting in Paris. The meeting insisted — once again — on the need for all parties in Lebanon to observe the dissociation policy and UN Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which Hezbollah refuses to commit to implementing.
Some months ago, Hezbollah was happy to see France somewhat side with it in its conflicts with Saudi Arabia but France is now insisting that Hezbollah pay heed to UN resolutions first. That worries Hezbollah and embarrasses Iran.
Iran cannot decide between choosing the path of agreement or continuing to fuel conflicts in the Arab region. In the meantime, Israel is pounding Iranian targets in Syria with no Iranian reaction. Perhaps Khazali’s visit to the Israeli-Lebanese border was planned as a reminder to Israel and the international community that peace and tension along this border are, in the end, in the hands of Tehran.