Iran is implementing its strategic aim of turning Syria into a zone of Iranian influence. Ultimately, Iran wants to build a military infrastructure so that it can pursue its jihad against Israel on two fronts: the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights. Here, too, Iran prefers to make use of a proxy. In addition to Hizbullah, Iran is laying the groundwork to absorb tens of thousands of fighters of the Shiite Legion as they wind up the war against the Islamic State to the region from the outskirts of Damascus to the Golan Heights.
During the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day celebrations in June 2017, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed that in the next war with Israel he would open Lebanon’s borders to tens of thousands of fighters from Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Hence, in effect, he gave Iran an open invitation to dispatch the warriors of the Shiite Legion, who are operating under the command of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolution Guards’ Quds Force, so that they can fight Israel.1
At the end of November 2017, the international media published satellite photos of a military camp being built near Damascus about 50 kilometers from the border with Israel. This camp, it was reported, was intended to absorb 500 Iranian soldiers or Shiite militia fighters operating under Iranian command. A few days later the camp was destroyed in an airstrike that was attributed to Israel.2
On December 9, 2017, it was reported that Qais al-Khazali, the Baghdad-born commander of the Iraqi Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), had toured southern Lebanon along the border with Israel accompanied by Hizbullah commanders. In the segment publicized, Hizbullah commanders are seen showing the guest from Iraq the Golan Heights region along with other geographic details about the area bordering Israel.
Next to the border fence at Fatima Gate, the commander of the Shiite militia declared, “I‘m here with my brothers from Hizbullah, Islamic Resistance. We announce that we’re fully prepared and ready to stand as one with Lebanese people with Palestinian cause in the face of unjust Israeli occupation.”3
Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali from Iraq on border: “I‘m here with my brothers from Hezbollah, Islamic Resistance. We announce that we‘re fully prepared & ready to stand as one with Lebanese people with Palestinian cause in face of unjust Israeli occupation” pic.twitter.com/0shogWbeqc
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) December 9, 2017
Asaib Ahl a-Haq is one of the large Shiite militias that make up Al-Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU – Popular Mobilization Units), which is the over-arching framework of the Shiite militias operating in Iraq under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Al Khazali was arrested in Basra in 2007 by the British SAS but was released in 2010 in a hostage exchange. Before U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Asaib Ahl al-Haq was involved in attacks that inflicted heavy casualties on allied forces.
The reaction of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has retracted his resignation, to the presence of the Iraqi militia commander in southern Lebanon was embarrassing. Hariri ordered the Lebanese security authorities to open an investigation into how the Iraqi commander had reached southern Lebanon without his entry into Lebanon having been approved.4 Hariri, who has been demanding that Hizbullah cease its activities outside of Lebanon as part of the process of reestablishing political order in Beirut, stands feckless, while Hizbullah enthusiastically carries out the tasks Iran assigns it.
It appears that the Sunni prime minister, who has returned to his palace in Beirut, will remain a fig leaf for the heavy-handed control that Iran exerts via Hizbullah. He will not constitute a real obstacle to the entrenchment of the militias of the Shiite Foreign Legion, which is now sending its commanders to southern Lebanon while Iran prepares barracks for them at the outskirts of Damascus.
For its part, Iran seeks to signal Israel that it is determined to prepare the military infrastructure for the next round of hostilities with Israel, deploying Hizbullah and the Shiite Foreign Legion, now released from their battles with ISIS.
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