Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Iran Won In Lebanon. What About Iraq?

Officials in Beirut see no alternative but to accommodate the Hezbollah militia.


By Danielle Pletka
The Wall Street Journal
June 27, 2017

In the violent Middle East, Lebanon looks like a miracle. A mix of Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims who have fought a brutal civil war, and have weathered aggressive outside interference, Lebanon is still puttering along as a semi functioning democracy. To encourage and strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces, the U.S. has given more than $1 billion over the last decade.

But looks are deceiving. In Lebanon, despite America’s help, Iran has won.

Step back a few decades and remember the pitched battles of the Lebanese civil war—Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Christian. The kidnapping and killing of countless innocents; the murder of the CIA station chief in Beirut; and finally, the end of the civil war with the 1989 Taif Accords, a rare Arab-led initiative, which dictated terms that enabled weary Lebanese fighters to lay down their arms.

The many militias that had grown up as appendages of the Lebanese political process were disarmed, the army was successfully deconfessionalized, militias melted into the Lebanese Armed Forces, Shiites were reassigned to Sunni units, Christians to Shiite ones and so on. The fighting ground to a halt. Israelis, and eventually even Syrian occupying forces, withdrew.

Except for Hezbollah. This Shiite militia was created by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be an Iranian proxy, nominally “resisting” Israel, but in fact resisting the normal governance of Lebanon by its people. After more than 30 years, Hezbollah is still in Lebanon, sacrificing lives, resisting democracy, dictating foreign policy and corrupting the true Lebanese Armed Forces. For the past six years, it has been fighting assiduously on behalf of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria.

On a recent visit, my first after a long lapse, I found a palpable change in tone: Lebanese officials once privately noted their hostility to Hezbollah and Iranian interference. No longer. Now Hezbollah is something to accommodate, part of the “fabric of Lebanese life,” as one senior military official put it. Since the 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah has rearmed dramatically, with an estimated 150,000 missiles, including short-range Katyusha-type rockets and thousands of medium-range missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv. Thousands of Lebanese have either volunteered or been forced to fight in Syria for Bashar al Assad.

Even the Lebanese Armed Forces, long considered a pillar of the state, is now cozy with Hezbollah, as the latter’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, affirmed in a recent speech. And contrary to the oft-expressed hopes of senior U.S. officials, not only has the army failed to limit Hezbollah’s reach within Lebanon, but reports suggest it may also have shared weaponry. A recent Hezbollah military parade in Syria showed U.S.-sourced M113 armored personnel carriers of the kind supplied by Washington to Beirut. Senior Lebanese officials insist the APCs “could have come from anywhere.”

Iran is pursuing a similar strategy in Iraq. As in Lebanon, irregular militias have been part of the political and military scene since Saddam Hussein ruled. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011 and the rise of Islamic State, some militias have proved useful to the Iraqi government—and to the U.S.—in taking on ISIS, much as Hezbollah proved itself useful to Beirut in ousting Israel from southern Lebanon.

The Baghdad government has accommodated the so-called Hashd al Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces; and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of Shiite Islam’s greatest eminences, has blessed their fight. The Iraqi legislature has approved the PMF’s nominal incorporation into the Iraqi army, even as Iraqi government officials acknowledge that 30% of the PMF are under Iranian government control. Once the fight with ISIS ends, what will happen to these militias?

There’s already a hint of how the future of the PMF will play out: Like Hezbollah, some units are fighting at Iran’s behest in Syria on behalf of Mr. Assad. Iraqi leaders, as their Lebanese counterparts once did, are fretting about the future of Iran’s proxies. The Iraqis rightly see the militias as instrumental in the counter-ISIS battle, and also rightly judge them a danger when that fight is done. Perhaps, with the help of Ayatollah Sistani, some of the PMF will be legitimately incorporated into the Iraqi army—subsidized by U.S. taxpayers to the tune of $715 million in the last fiscal year alone—and answerable in its chain of command. But Iraqi leaders know full well that some will not.

That is why more must be done soon to ensure that the Iraqi leadership understands, as the Lebanese government does not, that the continued existence of Iranian proxy forces within and working alongside its military is incompatible with long-term assistance from the United States.

Congress can predicate assistance and weapons transfers on clear assurances that Iran and its proxies are not indirect beneficiaries. If it does not, Iraq, like Lebanon before it and others to come, will become yet another pawn in Iran’s Middle East game.


Article Link To The WSJ: