The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia have yet to demonstrate that they have the “courage” to attack Iran directly and it is still conventional wisdom among most observers that none of Iran’s self-defined adversaries will ever develop an appetite for a hot war on Iranian soil any time soon.
One of the reasons for this reticence to attack Iran directly, especially where more moderate members of the Pentagon are concerned, is that such an operation would be suicide from a military-strategic point of view. Ultimately, the US would likely lose any war on Iranian soil that was not a nuclear war. The latter option would of course be a cataclysmic disaster for the planet.
This is one of the reasons that the US continues to construct a totally nonfactual narrative about “Iranian terrorism”. Because no such thing exists (on the contrary Iran both fights and is a victim of Takrifi jihadism), the US along with Israel continues to peddle the narrative that the Lebanese party Hezbollah is an ‘Iranian terrorist group’, even though Hezbollah’s latest accomplishment has been destroying ISIS and al-Qaeda in Lebanon while continuing to help the secular Syrian government fight jihadists.
While many pundits highlight the fact that if a US politician articulates the name of any group with an Arabic or Farsi name, it is easy to pass off such a group as a terrorist organisation, this simplistic explanation for Washington’s continued attacks on Hezbollah as an “Iranian terrorist group”, in spite of the fact that Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party and security force, actually bears a far more sinister explanation.
Because many in the US and Israel are in fact afraid of taking on Iran directly, they are actively working to undermine Iran by attacking its smaller allies. The continual demonisation of Hezbollah is clearly defined by the US as an attempt to weaken the appeal of Hezbollah in Lebanon, in order to convince Lebanese Shi’a Muslims to withdraw electoral and moral support for the party, thus eliminating the power of an Iran friendly group in the heart of the Levant.
This is not speculation or conjecture, but a reference to an important US policy document, drafted as a ‘gift’ for Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. The document known as “A Clean Break” was authored by the future Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee in the Bush administration, Richard Perle. The document was meant to provide guidance for the future of US-Israeli policies in the Middle East.
At the time, it was reportedly dismissed by Neyanyahu as being too extreme, even by Israeli standards, but since 9/11, many of the proposals have either been executed or attempted, including regime change in Iraq and Syria, aggression against Shi’a factions in Lebanon and an increasingly militant approach to Palestine.
Perle’s proposals for Hezbollah make for a reading that is one part frightening and another part laughable. Perle suggests a full-scale campaign to weaken and demonise Hezbollah, something which has clearly failed as Hezbollah’s popularity, even among Christians and Sunnis has only risen since the 1990s, as many Lebanese see Hezbollah as an insurance policy against both Israeli aggression as well as against jihadist terrorism of the ISIS and al-Qaeda variety. The laughable part is when Perle suggests that the Sunni Hashemite Jordanian regime could somehow fill the void left by a would-be weakened Hezbollah, because of alleged latent sentimental attachments among Levantine Shi’as towards the Hashemite dynasty. Such an enlargement would have been far flung even in the 1920s and in 2017, the following segment form “A Clean Break” reads like a bad script to a would-be sequel to Lawrence of Arabia.
“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria’s regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Asad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam.
But Syria enters this conflict with potential weaknesses: Damascus is too preoccupied with dealing with the threatened new regional equation to permit distractions of the Lebanese flank. And Damascus fears that the ‘natural axis’ with Israel on one side, central Iraq and Turkey on the other, and Jordan, in the center would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula. For Syria, this could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East which would threaten Syria’s territorial integrity.
Since Iraq’s future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq, including such measures as: visiting Jordan as the first official state visit, even before a visit to the United States, of the new Netanyahu government; supporting King Hussein by providing him with some tangible security measures to protect his regime against Syrian subversion; encouraging — through influence in the U.S. business community — investment in Jordan to structurally shift Jordan’s economy away from dependence on Iraq; and diverting Syria’s attention by using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon.
Most important, it is understandable that Israel has an interest supporting diplomatically, militarily and operationally Turkey’s and Jordan’s actions against Syria, such as securing tribal alliances with Arab tribes that cross into Syrian territory and are hostile to the Syrian ruling elite.
King Hussein may have ideas for Israel in bringing its Lebanon problem under control. The predominantly Shia population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shia leadership in Najf, Iraq rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah (sic), Iran, and Syria. Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet’s family, the direct descendants of which — and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows — is King Hussein”.
Of the many things an overzealous Richard Perle got wrong. The most staggering are as follows:
–Underestimating the non-sectarian popularity of the Ba’athist government in Syria
–Not accounting for the Shi’a majority in Iraq who would be politically unleashed in a post-Saddam society
–Overestimating the appeal of the hereditary Jordanian regime to Arabs living in republican states
–Overestimating Jordan’s desire to be anything more than a parking lot for western military hardware
Of course, failing to realise Turkey’s contemporary pivot away from NATO could not have reasonably foreseen in 1996, but the statements on Turkey still make for perplexing reading with the benefit of hindsight.
Fast forward to the present day when jihad has failed in Syria and Iraq, Hezbollah is more popular than ever in Lebanon (while its opponents are in many ways weaker than ever) and where Iraq has a Shi’a dominated government with openly warm relations with Iran.
Iraq’s present geo-political position is that of the only country in the world where the two most influential countries inside its borders are the United States and Iran. To put this in perspective, imagine a country where the two most influential powers, each with its own troops working with various factions of such a state’s army, were Japan and North Korea.
But this is the awkward reality of modern Iraq, a country whose armed forces coordinate airstrikes with the USA and where in other parts of the country, on the same day, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, train Iraqi troops and Popular Mobilization Units to fight terrorism. What’s more is that Iraq has recently approached Iran to sign a wide ranging military security pact. All the while, the US maintains multiple military bases in Iraq, in addition to an embassy in Baghdad that is better described as a military fortress.
If the US was intent on ‘containing’ Iran at all costs or even maintain a power in the Middle East with a track record of not being afraid of Iran, the US could have simply continued to fund and arm Saddam Hussein. In rejecting Saddam and engaging in illegal regime change, the US severely underestimated the potential of a post-Ba’athist Iraq not to devolve into a battle ground of identity politics, one in which sheer mathematics would dictate more pro-Iranian factions than any other.
Now, the US is stuck in the rut that is contemporary Iraq. On the one hand, Iraq has been a major material investment for the US. This is one of the leading explanations for why the US condemned the recent Kurdish secession referendum in northern Iraq. Where Iraqi Kurds were once the go-to faction in Iraq for the US to undermine the old Ba’athist government and since 2003, a faction that the US exploited to promote a so-called ‘Iraqi success story’, today, the US wants to have its Kurdish cake and eat it too. In other words, while the US does not intend to publicly defame Iraqi Kurds, they also seek to preserve the unity of their investment called Iraq.
At least, this is what the US says in public, but privately, this may have already changed. Kurdish secessionists in Iraq decided to include the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the map of a would-be Kurdish state, as part of the widely condemned secession referendum process. This has infuriated the Arab and Turkomen population of Kirkuk who see Kurds as attempting to annex a city which is not part of the existing autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
Over the last 24 hours, reports from Kirkuk, detailing intense fighting between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. have been flowing in, albeit under the radar due to the media focusing more acutely on Donald Trump’s anti-Iran speech. While most Arab sources describe the battles as being fought between Iraqi Troops and Peshmerga, Kurdish outlets speak of clashes between a “foreign backed Iraqi army” along with Shi’a forces versus Peshmerga.
Thus one sees that generally pro-western and clearly pro-Israel Kurdish writers are proliferating a narrative where a foreign power, meaning Iran, is backing Shi’a Iraqis in a fight against Kurds.
The clear intention is to send the world a false message the the current fights in Kirkuk are an Iranian proxy battle against ‘wholesome Iraqi Kurds’. In reality, when reading between the liens, even in Kurdish propaganda outlets, one realises that the majority Shi’a Iraq army, the Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomen of Kirkuk, are all united behind the Iraqi flag against the Kurdish flag. In this sense, a battle which Kurds are trying to paint as a proxy sectarian war, is actually a rare example of Iraqi unity between Arabs and Turkomen, Shi’a and Sunni.
Thus, one sees the blueprint as well as the folly of the US and Israel’s real proxy war against Iran. Having failed in Syria and Lebanon, Iraq is the place where anti-Iranian forces will continue and likely ramp up their long-term anti-Tehran proxy war.
Whereas ISIS failed to destroy Iraq and also failed to limit Iranian influence on Iraq, the Kurds in Iraq will likely be the next proxy force used to attempt and draw Iran into a new conflict in Iraq. In the coming weeks and months, the headlines in fake news outlets warning of an ‘Iran/Hezbollah plot to take over Syria’, will likely be replaced with stories of ‘Iranian terrorists committing atrocities against Iraqi Kurds’. Of course, the more this strategy fails on the battle field, the more absurd the fake news stories will get, just as fake stories about Syrian chemical weapons tend to appear every time Damascus scores a substantial victory against al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with the new plan for more proxy wars with Iran in Iraq, is that in the process, many Iraqi Arabs, as well as Iraqi Turkomen, may revive a pan-Iraqi identity in the process. Furthermore, if pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq begin fighting for the rights of Sunni Arabs and Turkomen against Kurds, it could actually help to reconcile Iraqi Sunnis with Iraqi Shi’as.
This is the real game-plan against Iran and while it is a dangerous one, it ultimately will not be an effective one. In many ways, it may even be less effective than the attempt to use ISIS and other Takfiri groups to draw Iran into a losing war in the Arab world. Here, the opposite has happened, Iran has worked with legal state partners to cooperate and ultimately secure victory against Takfiri jihadists.
When and if the conflicts in Iraq finally end, the only question remaining will be: What to do with the deeply unpopular US bases in Iraq? There are only two options:
1. Perpetual stalemate
2. A 1975 Vietnam style withdrawal
The United States plans to end Iranian power in Iraq, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq will instead be the graveyard of US hegemony. In many ways, it already is.