Why is Iran supporting Hezbollah?

Many Iranians are complaining about Iran helping Hezbollah in Lebanon, often emphasizing that there are enough poor and needy people in Iran more worthy of support.

While it´s true that there are indeed many poor people in Iran, we should keep in mind that Irans financial problems are not due to money „wasted“ on funding Hezbollah but mainly to – largely unjustified –  western sanctions. Irans loss from being disconnected from the international payment system and from the extreme sanction based decline of foreign direct investments is in the tens of Billions.

Hezbollah is Irans extended front line with Israel. Without this „artificial border“ Iran would not be able to deter Israel from attacking Iranian facilities by making use of US provided long range bombers.

Thus, when the civil war in Syria broke out and took a clearly sectarian tone by attracting foreign Shia- and Iran-hating Jihadists, both Iran and Hezbollah understood the existential threat. It was no coincidence that Israel immediately supported the „rebellion“ in Syria (while at the same time treating stonethrowing Palestinian youth as „terrorists“).
Irans support for the Syrian government is neither because of the former being led by an Alawite (often wrongly called a „Shia sect“) nor with the purpose of expanding Shia Islam or suppressing Sunnis. If Irans motivations were „sectarian“ then why did the country support Sunni Afghans (Massouds Northern Alliance) and Arabs (Hamas)? Why the support for Sunni Europeans (Bosnians) in the Balcan wars?
Irans support for Syria has three main reasons:
1. During the Iran-Iraq war Syria supported Iran, while all Arab middle east and Gulf states supported Iraq with money and arms, sometimes even with fighters.
2. Syria shares a border with Israel and constitutes another remote front line for Iran in case of a war with Israel.
3. Syria is the only land route to Southern Lebanon. Without an Iran friendly government in Damascus Hezbollah would not last long in any conflict.

The departure of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005 marked the rise of Salafi militants in that country. These forces have at times not only attacked Hezbollah but also engaged the Lebanese army.
As early as in the first months of the start of the Syrian war Salafi militants from Lebanon were intruding Syria and attacking the police and armed forces.

Iranian military strategists recognized the threat immediately: A sectarian insurgency enjoying the support of western powers, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf States, getting arms, funds, equipment and training from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the CIA while being romanticized and whitewashed by western and arab mainstream media would overpower the Syrian government. It was only a question of time.

As predictable as the pending fall of the Syrian ally was, it was also clear that the various backers of the insurgency shared one motivation: hatred of Iran and – as far as the Gulf states were concerned  – the Shia.
Iran could not afford to wait and see waves of foreign Jihadis arrive in Syria to not only „liberate“ the country from the „Nusayri infidels“ (derogatory term for Alawites) but in a further step move on to defeat the „Rafidhi“ (derogatory term for Shias) Hezbollah nearby in Lebanon.

What would happen next?
Since 2003 Iraq has been experiencing years of relentless bombings and massacres against the Shia majority (mostly civilians and including Sunnis living among Shias) carried out by radical islamists, many of them Arabs from Gulf countries. To make things worse Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), presumed dead, resurfaced as ISIS and intensified devastating terror attacks and warfare both in Syria and Iraq.
It was not far fetched to assume that after defeating the Syrian army and Hezbollah Syrias sectarian insurgency  would export the emerging „caliphate“ to Iraq to fight and defeat the Shia government. Despite the Shia making up some 70-75% of the Arab Iraqis the fall of the formally Sunni Saddam government was a thorn in Saudi Arabias eyes and continues to be hardly acceptable even 14 years later.

Iran had and has no interest in having hordes of sectarian „Majoos“ (derogatory term for Iranians used by Arabs) hating islamists on its borders. The decision to dispatch Hezbollah to the Syrian battlefields was nothing but the correct anticipation of an upcoming deadly menace to Irans security and territorial integrity.
In Syria Hezbollah continues to suffer casualties but has managed to contribute heavily to the survival of the government and the rolling back of the jihadists. Hezbollah engaged and defeated both Al Qaeda and Isis in Lebanon as well as on Syrian battle fronts. Without Hezbollah fighting Isis near the Iraqi border in eastern Syria the Iraqi army would have a much harder time defeating Isis in Mossul.

Hezbollahs proven capabilities in assymetrical warfare are a major reason why so far Israel has refrained from attacking Iran.
Plus, as mentioned, Hezbollah managed to severely weaken the anti-Iranian, predominantly Salafi insurgency in Syria and choke off any domino effects leading to the reestablishment of an anti-Iranian government in Iraq.

Iraks Armee und die „Todesschwadrone“

Man bescheinigt allenorts der irakischen Armee mangelnde Disziplin, Kampfkraft und Organisation.

Dann kommen selbst sunnitische Stammesführer und bitten die schiitischen „Hashd Shaabi“ (Popular Defence) um Hilfe. Was passiert? SPONs Raniah Salloum muss sofort einen Artikel schreiben, indem diese Miliz kollektiv und pauschal als „Todesschwadrone“ diffamiert wird.

Bevor man allzu schnell die schiitischen Milizen als Todesschwadrone in Sippenhaft nimmt und so tut als ob es in Irak alternativ jede Menge „säkulare“ reguläre sunnitische (oder andere schiitische) Milizen mit nennenswerter Präsenz gäbe sollte man mal darüber nachdenken, wie die „berüchtigten“ „Todesschwadrone“ entstanden:
Als Reaktion auf eine nicht abreissende und quasi sofort nach der Entmachtung Saddams in 2003 einsetzende Serie verheerender Anschläge auf schiitische Zivilisten mit tausenden Toten.

Die mediale und „physische“ Hetzjagd gegen Iraks Schiiten hat nichts mit der erst später einsetzenden Repression der Sunniten zu tun und war keineswegs eine „Reaktion“ der Sunniten auf irgendwas.
Wer die Ideologie der Zarqawis und anderer „Gründungsväter“ der IS oder der syrischen Al Nusra kennt weiss, dass diese Jihadisten ihren Hass auf Schiiten (pseudo-)historisch und nicht zeitgeschichtlich begründen.

Western air campaign, Kobane and ineffectiveness

2,5 months after the US began to bomb IS in Iraq and almost one month after the US and allies started an aerial bombing campaign against IS in and near Kobane in Syria it is not clear at all whether any real success has been achieved.

In Iraq IS has again managed to put a siege around the Sinjar area and encircle the Yezidi inhabitants. In Kobane IS has lost a couple of hundred fighters but still in inside parts of the city and was even able to take back a „strategic hill“, which the Kurdish defenders just had recaptured 2 weeks ago as an alleged sign of the tide turning (against IS).

Several questions arise:

1. How is it possible that the most modern airforce of the world is not able (or willling?) to dislodge the 1000 (or so) fighters of a militia that has a dozen of old Russian tanks and no air defense?
2. The weapon of choice against small mobile enemy units would be attack helicopters of the types Cobra, Apache and Black Hawk. Why are they not deployed in Kobane?
3. IS has brought reinforcements from Raqqa and the Aleppo countryside in long convoys of pick ups. Why were these not intercepted and attacked?
4. „Moderate“ FSA rebels, e.g. from the „Hazm movement“ have been extensively using american ATGMs (TOW missiles) against armoured vehicles but also against sniper positions and barracks of the Syrian Army. The FSA claims to side with the Kurds and against IS. Why has not a single ATGM been applied against IS vehicles at Kobane?

Another interesting aspect of the war against IS in Kobane is that major parts of the city have been destroyed, mostly by the aerial bombing and NOT by the mortar fire of IS:
Kobane destruction

Readers all remember, when similar pictures are shown from Syria, western and (Gulf) arab press put the blame squarely on the Syrian army and used phrases such as „Assad is killing his people“. The „lesson“ is that while it´s OK for american fighter jets to demolish civilian areas of a SYRIAN city because of IS presence there, the Syrian army has no right to bomb civilian areas that have been taken by islamist militias and turned to launchpads for mortar attacks.

Should the Shia now get angry and suicide bomb Sunnis?

Particularly over the course of the last year the western press has maintained a campaign of indirect justification of anti-Shia violence at the hand of radically sectarian – mainly Salafi – Sunnis.
After each act of beheading, mass executing or suicide bombing Shias in Iraq – predominantly ordinary Shia civilians – the western media coverage never failed to mention and reiterate that the Sunnis feel sidelined and discriminated by the corrupt and sectarian Shia dominated regime. Emphasizing the „anger“ of Sunnis was and is a major feature of almost every article that reports of yet another bombing of a Shia market place. By doing this the media not only insulted the (mostly Shia) victims but also – to a certain degree – explained and even partly legitimized the crime and it´s perpetrators.
It is scandalous to apply such a fallacy that white-washes sectarian motivated hate crimes by giving them the pretense of being an act of reactionary desperation. There is no logic in detonating a bomb that kills family fathers, women, children and elderly in a poor suburb of Baghdad on the grounds that one feels one has been treated unjustly by the Shia dominated government.

In Bahrain the Shia are the majority and their best known activists such as the Khwaja family are entirely peaceful. Today, once again Zainab al Khwaja has been arrested:
http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/pro-democracy-activist-zainab-al-khawaja-arrested-bahrain

In Saudi Arabia Sheikh Nimr, a leader of the Shia community who is not known for violence is sentenced to death:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29627766

I have two questions:
1. Is Barack Obama not ashamed of his coalition that includes Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and gives these two countries the undeserved appearance of being something superior?

2. Considering these obviously extreme anti-Shia policies of the GCC countries would western press „explain“ and understand suicide bombings of the „angry“ Shia population?

Why is „Isis an Hour Away from Baghdad“ despite american airstrikes?

This article by veteran expert middle east journalist Patrick Cockburn is troubling:

„US air strikes are failing to drive back Isis in Iraq where its forces are still within an hour’s drive of Baghdad.“
http://www.unz.com/pcockburn/isis-an-hour-away-from-baghdad/

The statements and findings of Cockburn are both baffling and frightening.
How can it be that the best equipped airforce of the world does not make much difference against a lightly armed militia without airforce and almost without airdefense?
What are all the satellites, AWACS, armed drones and else achieving? Apparently not much, but the most important conclusion is the following which should be thought-provoking for every analytical and sane person:
– In Iraq the US army has been actively invited by the Iraqi government to help
– Despite all of it various shortcomings Iraq HAS already a numerically sizable army of at least 250.000
– In addition there are some (at least) 50.000 Guerilla trained and motivated Shia militias
– Then there are the (probably overhyped) „battle-hardened“ and disciplined Kurdish Peshmerga likely to number 100.000
– Last but not least there are at least some Sunni tribes (like the Dulaimis) hostile to ISIS
http://online.wsj.com/articles/sunni-tribes-join-iraqi-forces-in-battle-backed-by-u-s-airstrikes-1410133588

In total ISIS is facing forces numbering 500.000 men but still manages to not only hold ground but also even to make gains.
Now given this, what sense does it make to create yet another ostensibly „moderate“ Syrian Rebel army (lets call it „FSA 2.0“) with 15.000 men to fight ISIS when much bigger and better trained and more motivated forces have failed ( so far) even despite american air support?
More than IS is losing men due to casualties from air strikes their ranks are replenished by fresh (international) Jihad recruits, a possible „joint venture“ or „reunion“ with Al-Qaedas Syrian branch „Al Nusra Front“ and further defections from other Islamist rebels.
The idea behind FSA 2.0 reveals even more stupidity and lack of strategy when it is said that these forces after defeating IS will turn on the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, defeat them as well and thus „liberate“ Syria? The most battle-experienced and motivated major military entity in the Syrian war is the SAA with around 200.000 soldiers. In addition there are at least 50.000 National Defense Forces (NDF) and probably some further 20.000 loyalists such as the Arab National Guard and not to mention Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias, together likely to number 10.000.

It remains a mystery how an artificially created relatively small force should enter the Syrian battle field and change the dynamics.
The Americans are not seriously interested in an end of war and bloodshed in Syria because the Israelis and Saudis but also the Turks are opposed to it. If the US were sincere in their claimed desire for peace in Syria they would exert pressure on their Arab (Gulf) allies and Turkey to stop funding and arming the rebels and smuggling them into Syria. They would apply pressure on the rebels to attend peace talks without demanding ridiculous preconditions. So the Geneva conferences were doomed to failure and torpedoed in advance. The same will happen with the FSA series. The orginal FSA failed and FSA 2.0 will fail, too, but hey why not give it another try? And then another? Maybe FSA 4.0 will be ceremonially announced when 400.000 Syrians have been died.

ISIS, Maliki and the Sunnis

Two popular mistakes should be identified and avoided:

1. It is not merely ISIS against the Iraqi army. ISIS is the spearhead and the combat wise most experienced and effective single group of a variety of Sunni militias that are fighting the Iraqi armed forces. Not all of these 7 or 8 groups are radical islamists and sectarian. Many are tribal fighters disaffected with the central government which they accuse of having sidelined, oppressed and marginalized Sunnis for years. Others are former Baathists, thus more or less secular minded or nationalists, among them the Naqshbandy army.

2. Though it is true that especially the Maliki government is highly corrupt and has acted in sectarian ways, this is not merely because Malikis regime is backed by Iran or simply hates Sunnis. While ISIS as the name of a specific organization only exists since  a couple of years, the hatred ideology of takfiri salafism in post-Saddam Iraq is not that new. As early as in 2003 systematic and wide scale deadly attacks against Shia police, army recruits and especially ordinary civilians began to occur at least on a weekly basis. Suicide bombers and car bombs killed hundreds of Shia every month, targeting them in mosques, at market places, in Cafes and restaurants and even at funerals. Many Shia clerics were assassinated few months after the US invasion in 2003, e.g. Ayatollah Hakim:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Baqir_al-Hakim#Assassination

Not all but many instances of power abuse at the hands of Shia militias and Iraqi armed forces were a reaction to the relentless and high casualty bombings of Shia areas. Neither Iran nor the Iraqi Shia clergy brought sectarianism to Iraq. It was the „achievement“ – and not an incidental one – of Wahhabi/Salafi ideologues from the GCC countries awash in money and relying on arabic mass media in shape of several satellite channels broadcasting anti-Shia and anti-Iranian hate mongering all around the clock.

It is wrong to declare Sunni opposition to the Iraqi regime as „terrorism“ and not every Sunni insurgent fighting the Iraqi army is a takfiri. The Sunni opposition is legitimate but it suffers from being associated with ISIS and similar minded sectarian jihadists.

 

Iraq will be doomed if Sunnis should gather behind ISIS

For one, it is clear that ISIS alone surely did not capture Mossul and Tikrit within few days. Local Sunni tribal fighters as well as former Baath party officers had also their share, with the latter being behind a long term planning of the events.

At the same time nobody should have doubts that ISIS is the „muscle“ of what many disgruntled Iraqi Sunnis consider a „Sunni revolution“. Trying to play down ISIS´ role as the primary and most lethal fighting force would be a repetition of similar illusory claims regarding the Al-Nusra front in Syria, which western powers and Arab countries behind the Syrian opposition for a very long time tried to detract from.
In Syria the so called „Free Syrian Army“ had tens of thousands of fighters and was even „assisted“ by the already mentioned hardcore Salafi fighters of the Al-Nusra, but still ISIS managed to fight and rout these groups in eastern Syria and inflict heavy casualties on them elsewhere in that country.
There is little reason to assume that ISIS will „perform“ weaker in Iraq. Other Sunni groups including the more regionally interested tribal fighters as well as the more nationalist and secular minded former Baath party forces are welcome to cooperate with ISIS and contribute but ISIS will demand and enforce to have the final say and call the shots.

Should the Sunnis decide to „enjoy“ ISIS and tolerate the leadership of the „islamic state“, this will be the end of Iraq as a sovereign state as ISIS openly and proudly announces it´s firm will to fight the Shia majority of the country. ISIS is not a mere (and legitimate) resistance movement against an unjust, Shia led government but a vehemently sectarian, supremacist and violent movement, which considers all Shia as infidels who deserve death. But Iraq is not Pakistan where the Shia are basically defenseless. In Iraq the Shia make up a majority of 70-75% among the Arab population and have tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of battle-experienced fighters willing to die when existentially threatened.