Mon - 05 Nov 2018 - 06:50 AM

written by : Baria Alamuddin Writer Archive -

I am constantly astounded at how otherwise-sensible journalists and diplomats are willing to believe Iranian and Russian professions of good faith, despite all evidence to the contrary. Earlier this year, many credulous figures pronounced the end of Iranian expansionism in Syria. Why? Because Russian President Vladimir Putin had promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in good faith that Iranian proxies would be purged from southern Syrian.

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in the Syrian meat-grinder, with dozens of Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel killed. It will not meekly depart Syria with its tail between its legs at the first hint of pressure from Netanyahu. Despite a token withdrawal of some Hezbollah foot soldiers, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah defiantly announced that Hezbollah would remain in Syria as long as President Bashar Assad desired — as if Assad is even allowed to sneeze without asking Iran’s permission first.

Tehran understands that to perpetuate its dominant position in Syria, it must rely on local assets. Sectarian militias responsible for the worst massacres were trained and armed by Iran. Now it is reportedly recruiting a new generation of Syrian militias. IRGC and Hezbollah officers have embarked on a recruitment campaign throughout refugee camps, and batches of trainees recently graduated near the Syrian city of Deraa.

Hezbollah has reportedly paid around 2,000 former rebels to change sides, particularly among those forces that recently lost US funding. American officials sent WhatsApp messages to rebel commanders saying they should not go into battle with the “expectation of military intervention by us.” One commander bitterly interpreted Washington’s betrayal as meaning: “Go to Russia, go to the (Assad) regime, go to Iran.”

For rebels with their backs against the wall — many of whom picked up a gun when they were scarcely out of primary school — the prospect of a regular wage for performing the only role they know must be highly seductive, no matter whose agenda they will be serving.

Meanwhile, Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitaries in Iraq are recruiting Daesh fighters by offering them a salary, a military ID and a clean record. Around the flashpoint town of Jalawla, Al-Hashd has recruited dozens of militants. A Kurdish official observed how these extremists resurfaced “wearing new uniforms.”

Local Daesh commanders Mutashar Al-Turki and Zaid Mawlan, who fought the Kurds in 2014, have been identified fighting for Al-Hashd. According to one Al-Hashd source, Al-Turki “turned out to be a good man right after he changed allegiance, and now he is ensuring the security of the town of Tawuq against Daesh.”

Iran is often portrayed as having a pro-Shiite agenda, yet the Zaidi Houthis and Syria’s Alawites hail from significantly different schools of Islam. Also, Tehran exports weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and after 2005 it was observed transferring munitions to Sunni extremists fighting the Americans in Iraq.

Anti-Shiite terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi repeatedly took refuge in Iran and received training from its Quds Force. Iran for decades hosted Al-Qaeda leaders, sometimes detaining them, sometimes offering them safe passage or allowing terrorists such as Saif Al-Adl to coordinate atrocities such as the 1996 attack in Saudi Arabia that killed around 20 US personnel.

When US President Donald Trump previously speculated about siding with Assad against Daesh, he risked getting into bed with the creators of the monster he wanted to slay. Assad’s relationship with the figures who established Daesh dates back to the 2004-2011 period when his regime flooded Iraq with jihadists to fight the Americans.

Evidence from Syrian military defectors illustrates how Assad, with Iranian support, cultivated and released future Daesh leaders after the 2011 uprising began. Daesh was wielded both as a force to weaken the rebels, and as a bogeyman to terrorize the West.

Almost no major battles have been recorded between these supposed mortal enemies. Experts note how Syrian regime and Russian bombing raids touted as attacks against Daesh have mainly hit civilians. Iran, Russia and Daesh coordinated assaults against rebel forces for maximum impact.

Documents show how the city of Palmyra repeatedly changed hands peacefully, with the regime entrusting central Syrian regions to the militants whenever it lacked the capacity to hold them itself. Around 72 percent of Daesh’s wealth from oil trading came from the regime, which facilitated Daesh’s commercial activities, redeployments, and the arrival of new batches of terrorists.

Iran is not the defender of Shiites, but the patron of terrorist groups that inflicted the greatest harm on Shiite communities, fueling sectarian conflicts that killed countless thousands of innocent Arabs. Through the facilitation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the mobilization of Shiite militants against US forces, the nurturing of Daesh in Syria, and the creation of the largest paramilitary force of them all — Al-Hashd — Iran sits octopus-like at the nexus of regional terrorism.

Bloody terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah and the Quds Force during the 1980s in Lebanon, the Gulf and globally invented the genres of coordinated suicide bombings and Islamist terrorism, culminating in the 9/11 attacks.

Whenever Iran, Assad and Russia seek legitimacy by proclaiming their roles in combatting terrorism, we must not forget the fateful role they played in empowering the very forces they pretend to fight. Al-Hashd brought together pre-existing Tehran-sponsored militias in 2014 under the guise of fighting Daesh, yet most of their energies were thrown into sectarian cleansing campaigns against Sunnis and other vulnerable groups.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said the Quds Force is conducting “covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe.” Along with the attempt in Denmark to assassinate oppositionists, Tehran was behind a botched bomb plot in Paris and a 2015 assassination near Amsterdam. European police recently arrested an Austria-based Iranian diplomat and a succession of other figures complicit in such attacks.

The recruitment of militants in Syria and Iraq illustrates Tehran’s desperation as it grapples with US sanctions. Iran hopes to put its regional proxies on a war footing as a bargaining chip, and in readiness to recommence their war with the West when the time is right.

Across Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America and even Europe, Iran has been a reliable patron of terrorists and criminal networks. As fast as militants in Iraq, Yemen and Libya can be defeated, they regain strength and return to the offensive. The world will continue to be blighted by terrorism as long as Iran enjoys a free hand to meddle with impunity. Is any further argument required for why the containment of Tehran’s terrorist leadership must be a top global priority?

This article was published by the Saudi-based Arab News newspaper on November 04, 2018.