For years, Iranian-directed proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Syria have attacked the Islamic Republic’s enemies. The West has willfully ignored the overwhelming evidence and allowed Iran to continue its violence with impunity.
Today, the Biden administration and the G-5 + 1 fear upsetting Iran’s leaders, hoping to appease them through willful ignorance, and cajole them into rejoining the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This one-sided “agreement” was never sent for Senate approval as a treaty, and it outsourced American security interests to international actors.
Lebanon is in economic freefall, and the sectarian tensions between Shiite, Sunni, Christian, and Druze have paralyzed the government. Lebanon’s true power, Hezbollah is under the direct control of Iran, while Lebanon’s weak and compliant armed forces (LAF) coordinate with Hezbollah.
Both Iran and Hezbollah have ignored UNSC Resolution 1559, calling for “strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon” while disbanding “all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”
Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon is supposed to be monitored by a 10,000 multi-national United Nations force (UNIFIL). Its mandate is to work with the LAF to keep Hezbollah’s unauthorized military out of southern Lebanon, prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, disarm all militias, and stop attacks against Israel. UNIFIL’s overall mission has been a failure with few exceptions since it began over forty years ago with the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war.
Last month the UNSC adopted Resolution 2591, extending UNIFIL’s mandate in southern Lebanon for another year. The resolution urged all parties “to ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL in all its operations and UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line in all its parts is fully respected and unimpeded….” It condemned “in the strongest terms all attempts to restrict [its] freedom of movement.” And it reaffirmed “the necessity of an effective and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon.”
The Security Council was too timid to call out Hezbollah or Iran by name in the resolution. The LAF will continue to facilitate Hezbollah’s wishes, or else it will suffer its wrath. So what have the 10,000 UNIFIL peacekeepers been doing for the last 15 years since the UNSC passed Resolution 1701 after the Second Lebanon War with Israel?
They were supposed to have created a zone south of the Litani River free from Hezbollah and entirely in the control of the LAF. Unfortunately, the LAF, for its survival, has become serf to Hezbollah’s wishes. While Hezbollah continues to intimidate UNIFIL personnel directly, the LAF can’t work with UNIFIL to monitor Hezbollah’s actions that threaten Israel. A recent attempt to upgrade UNIFIL’s monitoring of the Blue Line with new surveillance cameras was vetoed by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, with the help of the LAF, has created no-go zones for UNIFIL patrols. All patrols must be coordinated with the LAF in advance in conjunction with their Hezbollah overlords, lest UNIFIL finds some of the tens of thousands of missiles, many hidden in civilian homes — which constitute war crimes.
The LAF facilitates freedom of operation for Hezbollah by designating areas off-limits to UNIFIL troops for inspection. The LAF’s intelligence units that liaise with Hezbollah on occasion attempt to intervene to solve minor incidents, but the vast majority of the time, they are simply in lockstep with Hezbollah. The LAF cannot even guarantee that any equipment and weapons that Hezbollah operatives confiscate from UNIFIL personnel will be returned.
The sources reporting on UNIFIL-Hezbollah clashes are primarily from the Lebanese media. You will not find them on the home page of the UNIFIL website because UNIFIL chooses instead to spotlight its aid to the Lebanese people and the LAF, not its impotence to fulfill its mandate. UNIFIL doesn’t want to put targets on their backs for Hezbollah to identify. Since 2006 at the end of the Second Lebanon War, UNIFIL has stopped no missile transfers from Iran to Hezbollah.
UNIFIL was too intimidated to have exposed any of the six border tunnel openings into Israel excavated by Hezbollah, even after Israel had publicly informed UNIFIL of their existence. The latest resolution also failed to mention that six rocket attacks originated from south Lebanon in the past two months.
Hezbollah no longer even tries to conceal its presence on the Blue Line with Israel. Iranian, Hezbollah and Palestinian flags adorn the border fence. Military ceremonies are held overlooking Israeli communities while more fortifications with vantage points overlooking Israel are erected under the pretense of an environmental organization, “Green without Borders.” Daily, we see Hezbollah operatives gathering intelligence and filming Israelis, even with the LAF present.
Where was UNIFIL this entire time? See no evil, speak no evil, report no evil should be the motto of UNIFIL and the LAF.
The real question is what is UNIFIL’s mission in the 21st century. Is it to keep the peace or to enforce it? If it is the former, then UNIFIL’s success is minimal at best, only due to Hezbollah’s patience under the direction of Iran, waiting for an opportune time to open its missile arsenal to strike Israel. But if it is the latter, and south Lebanon “must be free of unauthorized personnel, weapons, and other assets,” then UNIFIL has been a profound failure.
UNIFIL’s presence in Lebanon has lasted decades. That is why it is necessary to end the charade that UNIFIL is fulfilling its mission. It is time to state the obvious, UNIFIL is ineffective and completely cowed by Hezbollah. Can the UNIFIL force’s half a billion dollars a year subsidy be anything more than another international bureaucratic economic boondoggle?
The only choice, short of totally ending UNIFIL’s presence, is to fundamentally change its mission. Since it is nearly impossible for UNIFIL to fulfill its current mission, it would be far wiser to change its mission to simply act as a mediator that can resolve tactical conflicts between the Israelis and the Lebanese on the border, as they have done over the past 15 years.
Since the US is a significant contributor ($145 million per year) to this ineffective force, it should insist on reducing UNIFIL’s mandate to one that it can fulfill and dramatically decrease its funding in proportion to a reduced mission. American administrations of both parties have been willfully blind to the reality in Lebanon. The American taxpayer should not have to finance a mission that has not improved Lebanon’s future or afforded peace to the residents of Israel or Lebanon. They would be better served by funding a more limited mission.
Most Americans are unaware of the phrase “War Between the Wars.” It describes Israel’s low-grade war with Iran, Hezbollah and Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria to stop Iran from transforming “Syria and Iraq into missile-launching pads,” as it has in Lebanon. The goal is to prevent a permanent Iranian presence on Israel’s doorstep with advanced weaponry that could tip the scales against Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Ten years ago, the Arab Spring gave hope to people of the Middle East that they could take more control of their lives away from repressive regimes. Those in the West hoped that new governments would be more aligned with their interests, even without adopting Western-style democracy. Such dreams were dashed when Islamists and new authoritarians took advantage of the moment to seize control. The prospects of that “spring” turned into a lasting “Middle East Winter.” The one glimmer of hope was Tunisia, and that fragile democracy now also has turned authoritarian.
Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has tried to find some way to accommodate and work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. More specifically, they have attempted to identify some working arrangement with the Supreme Leader, the regime’s ultimate authority and final word.
Carrots in the form of economic inducements and sticks in the shape of sanctions relief have not fundamentally moved the needle in dealing with Iran. Only the perceived threat of an American invasion of Iran after the United States went into Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s forced the Iranians to slow-walk some of their malign and nuclear activities.
But what is absent in the current administration’s thinking and strategizing is the willingness to look with fresh eyes at why 40 years of efforts have entirely failed. Those failures had real consequences in the death of more than 600 American servicemen killed in Iraq by Iranian-supplied improvised explosive devices, the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the kidnapping of Americans who never again saw the light of day. This is not to mention the tens of millions of Iranians who are forced to live under a brutal regime that tortures, imprisons and kills its citizens for the crimes of homosexuality and speaking their minds.
The answer is right in front of the noses of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and President Joe Biden. The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world, including among their Sunni brethren. They are as doctrinaire as ISIS in their beliefs, except the Iranians will soon have the capability to have nuclear weapons. Since 1979, many Republicans and most Democrats have not been able to deal with this complex reality.
The Achilles’ heel of American foreign policy is the false belief that all nations, including those that are horrifically repressive and sponsors of terrorists, can be induced to choose a more conciliatory and less confrontational posture to the U.S. and its allies by Western reason and economic inducement. This comes despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that our outreach has been interpreted as a weakness.
Administrations from both parties have chosen to ignore the obvious because of our Western conceit, that we know how to manipulate this regime if we only bend enough, give enough money and show respect. The manipulation masters are the Iranians. Religiously sanctioned dissimulation, also known as Taqiyya, permits deception of one’s enemy. The Iranians’ patsies are their naïve Western nuclear negotiation counterparts.
None of this is new. In 2006, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “It is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate from the same set of ground rules. [Former Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini] spoke of the Shi’ite concept of taqiyah…the necessity to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying…If the Islamic Republic perceives itself as under threat, its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie but may also feel justified in so doing. From a religious and political perspective, the ends justify the means.”
Iran is not capable of fundamental reform in any Western sense under this regime. The quicker we understand that, the more realistic will be our foreign policy. For President Biden and previous administrations from both parties, ignoring it is a prescription for national security nightmares.
As Bret Stephens, writing in The New York Times, said, “If Iran’s ambitions are fundamentally ideological – to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution to every part of the Middle East and beyond – then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will be bent on dominance and subversion, not stability. Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression, and revolution.”
Let us be clear: That does not mean America should put boots on the ground to overthrow the Iranian republic. That is the false accusation of Iranian regime apologists and isolationists in our government, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
It does mean we are hurting the Iranian people’s chance to throw off their yoke of repression when we appease Iran with economic relief, this time by wanting to return to a bad nuclear deal that economically strengthens an economy on the ropes.
American values and security interests demand that we not economically empower Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted, especially in exchange for a nuclear agreement that doesn’t allow genuine inspections or end their nuclear program. We are giving them just what they want — to delay the weaponization of a nuclear device for a few years, in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic relief which will support the terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas, South American tyrants, Iraqi and Syrian militias and the Houthis. This is not to mention handing a lifeline to their hate-mongering government while building missiles capable of hitting the U.S. Even if Iran chooses not to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, its neighbors know that it can turn on the nuclear weapons spigot at any time of its choosing.
One just needs an open mind to understand that projecting a Western perspective on a revolutionary Islamic regime is not only misguided but dangerous. This regime can’t abandon its extremist agenda without collapsing. There is no way that will happen when the revolutionary regime’s raison d’etre is a religiously motivated movement that cannot abandon its most fervently held beliefs.
The shortsightedness of the Biden administration and other powers extends to projecting Western timeframes on a Persian Islamist power. For example, the American maximum pressure campaign that has brought the Iranian regime to the edge of the economic cliff is claimed to be a failure by supporters of the Iran nuclear deal because Iran has advanced its nuclear enrichment since Trump withdrew from the agreement.
However, the timeframe of the revolutionaries in Iran is measured in decades and centuries, willing to wait out an impatient America. A nuclear agreement at this time guarantees Iran weapons capabilities in less than a decade. Thus, a continued and strengthened maximal economic pressure campaign may be the only thing that could change the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. But that requires more patience than the American democracy has, as it changes its executive branch every four or eight years.
A nuclear Iran may be inevitable. So, which is better for American interests: Strengthening the revolutionary regime with economic relief, or continuing to keep the Iranian government on financial life support under maximum pressure sanctions until one way or another Iran ceases to be one of the worst actors on the world’s stage?
Totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union need to collapse under the weight of their failed economies, whether they are communists or Islamist revolutionaries. Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is likely to be the next Supreme Leader, is another true believer, with a long history as a heartless butcher of those who stands in the way of the “revolution.” The only way to find common ground with this fundamentalist revolutionary regime is to let them have their way. If we rejoin a nuclear deal that is not truly longer and stronger, this administration will not have learned the lessons of why we have never found common ground with Iran.
Despite the election of a zealot as Iran’s new president, Iran and the United States likely will return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the JCPOA or the Iran nuclear agreement, with only minimal changes. Iran needs to stabilize its government to prevent a popular uprising, in part because of the economic collapse fostered by stringent American sanctions. At the same time, America wants to kick the proverbial “nuclear can” down the road and take the Islamic Republic off its to-do list by claiming victory.
Walter Meed Russell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees the glass of America’s 20-year presence in the Middle East as half full. He believes we bolstered our interests, if not advancing democracy abroad. One of the most important accomplishments that we take for granted is that our presence has prevented any “major new international terrorist attacks” on American soil over the last two decades. In addition, he points out the unprecedented accomplishment of the Abraham Accords where today “neighboring Arab states now consider Israel an ally to be cultivated” instead of a pariah to be annihilated.
But are these gains sustainable without a continued American presence in the region? What will be the consequences without an American security blanket?
The American withdrawal from the region, promised by US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, now has a September target date in Afghanistan. In Iraq and Syria, the US presence is also on life support. The long-anticipated departure from the Middle East will end a fragile status quo for all the players in the region.
The Sunni states, which have counted on the US as a final level of defense, are in uncharted territory. America is not only leaving the region but as a parting gift is returning to the Iran nuclear agreement, which will provide Iran with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The Sunni states know this will encourage Iran to test the waters of how far it can push its influence before it suffers any repercussions. Consequently, all of the region’s nation-states are recalibrating their strategies and contemplating new alliances for their survival, even with their current enemy Iran.
So when Saudi Intelligence Chief Khalid al-Humaidan secretly met with Saeed Iravani, Iran’s deputy secretary of its Supreme National Security Council, it represented a possible tipping point between the Islamic world’s bitterest of rivals as a direct result of America’s retreat from the region. Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council offered a positive spin, advancing the possibility of an Ishmael Track (Sunni-Shi’ite) between the bitter rivals to pursue détente. Pushing America’s longtime Saudi ally into the arms of the region’s most dangerous actor only serves Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests.
The most dangerous consequence of the American turn from the region will be the nuclear arms race left in its wake. The Sunni world will play catch-up, knowing they or anyone else cannot count on UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who are not permitted to visit clandestine Iranian nuclear sites, the very places weaponization is likely to occur. If Iran continues to enrich uranium, develops more precise ballistic and cruise missiles and achieves the compartmentalization of a nuclear warhead, a nuclear Middle East is inevitable. The Saudis, Egyptians and the Emiratis will join the race for their own nuclear bomb as a counterweight to Iran’s adventurism and intimidation. The Saudis have already contracted with Pakistan for nuclear technology and possibly a completed weapon.
So what happens when the US leaves the Middle East? Here are 10 possible outcomes that American politicians, the military and intelligence services will have to grapple with in the coming years.
1. Islamist terrorism will find both new and old havens from which to plot mayhem against the US and Israel. 2. Iran will increase its military activity at the region’s two strategic choke-hold points at the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, threatening international shipping lanes. 3. With America’s retreat, allies worldwide will know that American security commitments can be expected to have expiration dates. 4. Iran, Russia and China will be the new superpowers of the Middle East. 5. Israel will be more isolated if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states move toward Iran out of desperation. Still, Israel hopes they decide to continue normalization (Abraham Accords), seeing them as the better choice of ally. 6. Iran will feel less inhibited in risk-taking, knowing the US will not want to challenge the Islamic regime, lest it withdraw from the nuclear agreement. 7. Iran will set its sights on Jordan, the next domino to fall, after Iraq and Lebanon, under Iranian influence. 8. The Taliban will retake Afghanistan, making all the gains achieved for women and minorities disappear instantly. 9. The chance for regional conflicts will grow. 10. Nuclear proliferation will arrive sooner or later in the Sunni world, to nobody’s benefit.
Are any of these outcomes in America’s national security interest? Will America be forced to return to the region as it did after Obama’s hasty retreat from Iraq in 2011, but under less favorable conditions? As former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told Yaroslav Trofimov of the Journal in October 2019, “If you think the United States as a global power can pull out of the Middle East and not endanger itself, you are deluding yourselves.”
How did we reach a point where America’s most important ally in the Middle East is forced to deal with Russia if it wants to act against Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon and Syria? Today, all of the Middle East’s major players, from Iran to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel, know that Russia is the “go-to mediator” that has relations across the region’s ideological spectrum and can successfully navigate between opposing sides.
As Jonathan Spyer wrote in the Jerusalem Post, Russia “maintains open channels …with the main players …which the United States has chosen through weariness or other priorities to keep absent. … [Russia is] comfortable in the environment of frozen conflicts and divided countries. … Under Biden [the U.S.] shows no signs of wanting to come roaring back to major commitments in the region.”
America has outsourced its foreign policy in the Middle East to Russia, which has forced Israel to change its approach to its most imminent threat from its northern Iranian front in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. With American financial help for its anti-missile systems and Israel’s essential intelligence-gathering to advance American national security interests, the U.S. and Israel are indispensable allies. Beyond that, there is little America can do, or is willing to do, since it has decided not to be an active player in the Levant.
The relationship between Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex cat-and-mouse game, in which Russia winks and allows Israel to strike its erstwhile allies — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Iranian-controlled militias. Yet, Russian interests demand that it also keeps those entities in control of Syria and Lebanon to solidify the crucial gains it attained by supporting the Syrian civil war’s winning side. Russia’s Syria victory allowed it to expand and upgrade its Tartus seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, a warm water port that expands its regional influence toward Europe. Add to that its upgraded Khmeimim Air Base near the Syrian city of Latakia, and Russia is as much a victor as Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the former head of research for the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Division, retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, “Everyone understands that Israel isn’t acting against the Syrian regime [as long as it is not] doing anything that jeopardizes Russian interests. Russia appears to be giving Israel a free hand against game-changing technology transfers from Iran, as long as it plays by its rules.”
How did Russia become the most influential force in the region?
The die was cast nearly 10 years ago when former President Obama allowed his chemical weapons “red line” to be crossed, choosing not to militarily respond to Assad’s use of sarin gas that killed 1,400 civilians. Instead, Obama chose to abandon Syria and turn over the removal of chemical weapons to Putin, who was more than willing to accept the invitation as a path to becoming the dominant power in the Levant. The Obama administration apparently was convinced that turning Syria over to the Russians would be analogous to America’s experience with Vietnam. Russia thanked Obama and immediately proceeded to change the Syrian war in favor of Iran and Syria.
According to The Atlantic, “Obama’s failure to follow through on (his) threat … has continued to haunt America’s involvement in the Syrian tragedy. The subsequent U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal did not prevent the horror of April 4  when … Assad’s forces mounted a new sarin attack on civilians. … The agreement and its implementation mechanism were deeply flawed.”
Israel’s long-term plan of playing Iranian Whac-a-Mole — hitting game-changing military targets as they emerge throughout Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — needs Putin’s consent. Israel’s continuing air campaign must be coordinated with the Russian military to avoid its accidentally targeting Israeli aircraft. Neither Israel nor Russia would like Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system to shoot down an Israeli jet aircraft, or worse, to force Israel to target a Russian missile system in response. That would be a diplomatic disaster. Syrian anti-aircraft destroyed a Russian plane during an alleged Israeli missile strike in 2018.
The unspoken “quid pro quo” between Israel and Russia is that Israel must settle for half a loaf. It can attack Iranian proxies and their advanced missile facilities, but it must accept a permanent Iranian presence and influence in Syria, just as it has in Lebanon with Hezbollah. In 2017, Russian promises to keep Iran and its proxies 53 miles away from the Israeli Golan evaporated almost from the moment they were uttered.
Russian pronouncements regarding Israeli actions in Syria and Lebanon are decidedly hostile. According to Newsweek, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov said, “Israel is attacking Hezbollah; Hezbollah is not attacking Israel. … The problem is Israel, not the Iranians. … There is no way we are approving any Israeli strikes on Syria.” But so far, it’s more Russian bluster than any tangible action inhibiting Israeli actions in Lebanon and Syria.
Israel knows the address is Moscow if it wants to advance its interests and attempt to minimize Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Watching Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Hezbollah’s Lebanese parliament leader Mohammad Raad be given equal access and respect in Moscow this month must have turned a few Israeli stomachs. Then again, Russia is no angel — it delights in any opportunity to diminish the United States.
The status quo in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq won’t last forever. Iran could turn the screws on Israel at any time if it senses weakness or military advantage. With American willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel could decide at some point to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, prompting a massive Iranian directed attack emanating from Syria or Lebanon. The likelihood that the situation on Israel’s northern border would spiral out of control over the next decade is high. However, Israel and Russia share an interest in not letting things escalate. Russia wants to solidify its gains, and Israel would like to avoid the costs of a major war with Iran.
If Israel’s northern Iranian border gets hot, some would argue that it is in American interests to actively engage in diplomacy to quiet the situation. The last time the U.S. worked with Russia on the northern border, the U.S. trusted Putin to keep Iran from permanently entrenching itself on Syria’s border with Israel. As with chemical weapons, Russia held the cards and did as it pleased, making America look impotent to its allies and enemies alike. With both Democrats and Republicans eager to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, Israel is left to deal with Russia for the foreseeable future.
A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?
There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.
So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.
What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.
Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.
A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?
As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.
What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.
Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.
One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.
This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.
More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.
Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”