Iran's ambitions in the Levant

Iran's Ambitions in the Levant
Iran's Ambitions in the Levant

In the words of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the administration of President Donald Trump is currently reviewing ways to confront challenges posed by Iran, Foreign Affairs Magazine reported on Wednesday.

This most likely means looking for ways in which to curb Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East.
 
General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force division within Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is one of those in charge of executing the new policy vision. 

For the last three years, he has been kept busy setting up the building blocks for at least one, but more likely two, land corridors across the Levant (one in the north and one in the south), linking Iran to the Mediterranean. 

These pathways would traverse a distance of at least 800 miles from Iran’s western borders through the Euphrates and Tigris valleys and the vast expanses of desert in Iraq and Syria, providing a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and finally ending at the edge of the Golan Heights. 

The two corridors would serve as chains to move military supplies or militiamen when needed. 



Lately, a number of Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias have mentioned in public their efforts to move their fighters along these routes. 

Forces from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, for example, are present in Syria and in Iraq, while key Iraqi Shiite militias are currently in Lebanon.
 
Some of these forces have already been deployed to various sectors along the envisaged corridors. Iran would also be able to recruit more Shiites—especially refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking employment and a cause.
 
The northern corridor would pass from Iran through the now Shiite-majority province of Diyala toward Kirkuk Province and the town of Shirqat to the east and link to Syria via the Tal Afar and Sinjar mountain districts.

This means that Iranian convoys would reach Syrian Kurdish territories already reconnected to areas under control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

In view of growing Iranian influence over the Iraqi government and its armed forces, it seems very unlikely that there will be real opposition from Baghdad to their convoys. 

With an upgraded air force, Iran could provide cover for ground troops moving along the corridors, either to assert influence over local political factions, tribes, and sects or to mass troops near the Israeli borders.
 
Once the battles raging in Syria and Iraq subside, Iran will most likely continue to develop its proxy militias in both states, in the same manner that it props up Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

In Iraq, the Iranian-sponsored militias, which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella of dozens of mostly Shiite militias, have already received official recognition and funds from Baghdad. 

In Syria, too, if Assad remains in power, Iran plans to incorporate its wide array of militias into a Basij-style volunteer paramilitary structure that would effectively be under Iranian control. 

These militias are intended to help preserve the pro-Iranian governments across the Levant and maintain the corridors by establishing a string of local domains and ad hoc alliances with local players along the routes.
 


The ultimate purpose of the corridors, however, is to expand Iran’s reach into the Golan Heights, with the goal of tightening the noose around Israel. 

The Iranians publicly express their keen interest in opening up the Golan front to their proxies, and high-ranking IRGC officers are engaged there now in the establishment of a new militia,the Golan Regiment, partly composed of Palestinians residing in Syria. 

Ahmed Jibril, the veteran leader of the Iranian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, has been advocating for such a move in the Golan Heights, a call that has also been echoed at various times by the official Syrian media. 

Leaders of some Iranian-sponsored Iraqi militias, such as al Nujaba, are already talking openly about their intention to move their forces to the Golan front. 

Last Modified: 05 03 2017 04:41 PM

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