Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Persian Hegemon

Those of us above the age of consent may very well remember eons back when anyone chatting about the "Shia Crescent" were laughed out of the room.

Except of course, nobody's laughing now...

Iran has been at odds with the West since 1979, when Islamic radicals overthrew the pro-US shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and established the country as a theocracy. Over the last decade Iran’s nuclear program has caused panic in Washington, DC, as successive administrations have struggled to work out how to deal with their regional bogeyman. This culminated in the controversial 2015 nuclear deal signed by 44 — which 45 now appears to have in his sights.

Officials in Tehran are busying themselves with the facts on the ground in the Middle East. Ever since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran — a Shiite state — has had its eyes on its Shiite-majority neighbor, intent on taking over the levers of power, commerce, and the military.

But this is just one part of Iran’s wider goal: to establish territorial dominance from the Gulf of Aden to the shores of the Mediterranean.

Since the start of the Arab Spring, Iran has drawn tens of thousands of Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters to fight in the war for Syria. Ely Karmon, at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, Israel, estimates there are 5,000 to 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria at any given time.

The Fatemiyoun Brigade, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, an elite branch of the armed forces, is comprised of Afghan fighters, and numbers up to 17,000 fighters. Hisham Hashemi, an Iraqi security expert, estimates around 65,000 Iraqi militia fighters have received training, weapons, or funding from Iran.

US and Israeli officials have voiced grave concerns about what appears be an emerging land bridge of fighting groups loyal to Tehran stretching from Iran’s Zagros Mountains all the way to the borders of Israel — but seem powerless in their attempts to stop it. Iran appears to be using these men in ever more creative ways, in an ongoing sectarian and geopolitical war that pits pro-Iranian Shiite countries and organizations against a Saudi-led bloc of conservative Sunni governments backed by the US.

The Iranian training of militia fighters seems to be accelerating, with fresh recruits and veterans of past training missions planning trips to Iran this year, according to the fighters themselves. Recent recruits described being trained in the use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), which can pierce the armor of military vehicles and were used extensively against US forces during the occupation of Iraq a decade ago.

Iran’s reach extends beyond Syria and its neighbors. US and other officials suspect that Iranian training of fighters in Yemen — where Tehran’s Houthi allies control the capital — is behind recent attacks on ships off the coast of Yemen that some worry could cripple crucial sea lanes.
Fighting loosely organized and diverse armed groups of men who blend easily into civilian populations also presents a significant challenge to the US and its allies, one for which conventional tools of warfare rarely suffice.

Iran’s ruling elite is opaque at the best of times, and figures within Tehran’s security apparatus have rarely disclosed details about the training program. No one outside Iran's circle of security leaders knows what it is called — one Iranian national security insider told BuzzFeed News that it doesn’t even have an official title. In the media, Iranian officials describe the fighters as “Defenders of the Holy Shrines,” in reference to their role in protecting Shiite religious sites. In rare moments when Iranian officials do talk about the program, they describe it in grand terms, linking its aims to the establishment of a just world order that will come about with the return of the Mahdi, the disappeared 12th Imam in Shiite theology, whose reappearance they say will herald a new age.

It’s also a battle Tehran sees as a direct assault on US influence in the Middle East.

The main goals of Iran’s militia program are to maintain Iran’s security by weakening or eliminating radical Sunni groups; strengthening Iran’s strategic objectives by expanding the capabilities of its allies; keeping a balance of power favorable to Iran in the Middle East; and countering rivals such as the US and Israel. 


Mark Matis said...

Islamic radicals did not overthrow the pro-US shah in 1979. Instead, Jimmeh Cahtuh forced the Shah to leave.

God damn Carter to hell for what he did.