October 7, 2016

It is indeed high time to debate a proper approach to confront Iran’s IRGC persistent provocations, adventurism and interventions in neighboring countries.

The Houthi attacks on a UAE vessel in a Red Sea international shipping lane near Bab Al Mandab October 1, and the Iranian armed speed boats’ repeated provocation against US vessels in the Gulf, reveal the level of threat projected by Iran’s IRGC in the Middle East. The UAE vessel was attacked by a Chinese made C-802 previously obtained by the Yemeni Presidential Guard of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Furthermore, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned Russia against being dragged into a deal with Washington which trims Iran’s “share” in Syria. In a TV interview September 22, Safavi said that Russia has no right to compromise Tehran’s part of Syria under any pretext.  “Currently, there is an arrangement between the Americans and Russians. I hope the Russians are not deceived by the Americans by being dragged into a game that benefits Washington more or gives a smaller share to Iran,” said the general.

But Syria is not a “land without people”, using the infamous phrase coined in 1843.

In Iraq, it is not much different. Al Hashd Al Sha’abi (the Popular Mobilization Force-PMF), is waging a fierce political fight in Baghdad to be allowed to participate in the battle of Mosul. So far, the Pentagon, aware of the sectarian sensitivity of this issue, refuses the participation of the PMF.

Yet, it was reported in Baghdad that the US commanders in Al Qayara military base recently signaled that they are ready to accept the participation of the PMF in a limited capacity. Some militias within the structure of the PMF are led directly by the IRGC Quds commander general Qassem Suleimani. The Americans hinted to a role for the PMF just outside of Mosul, but not inside the city, which is similar to what happened in Fallujah where many atrocities were reported. Nineveh provincial council refused any participation of the PMF.

Following a marathon of negotiations between a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary Toni Blinken in Baghdad and Erbil in mid-September, it is said that the “share” of the PMF in Central Iraq will expand from Tal Abtta to Tal Afar on the Syrian-Iraqi borders. This will practically place the area extending from Tal Afar, east of Mosul, to Al Badi including Al Fatsi, Baa’j and Al Badi, until the Syrian borders under IRGC control.

It is therefore fair to say that Iran’s IRGC commanders will have an access to “drive directly, and uninterruptedly, from Tehran to South Lebanon” as one IRGC general dreamed back in the 90’s.

Arab countries and peoples, particularly in Iraq and Syria, understood from the beginning that Iran’s strategic plan is to extend its long “revolutionary” (read: sectarian) arm west until the shores of East Mediterranean, and they will resist this tooth and nail.

But how?

At one point, frustration led to hailing ISIL as the force that can stop the IRGC. Early warnings of the stupidity of placing any bets on ISIL or similar groups were brushed aside. ISIL was a counter-balance to the IRGC but on a ring defined by Iran and with the tools chosen by the IRGC. It was mainly a sectarian bloody gang of murderers which see in any one who does not raise its flag a potential enemy.

This isolationist, sectarian, extremist and very violent line of organizing a population to resist the assault against its national identity is indeed a stupid contradiction. Instead, an organizational line based on national coalition building was supposed to be examined seriously. True such an approach is slower to bring concrete results, but slow sustainable results are much better than negative ones.

And ISIL brought extremely negative results. It fractured the main foundation of any possible national resistance to the black storm of the IRGC that blew on the region from the east. It helped the IRGC win in Iraq by galvanizing the worst brands of religious zealots in the Shia community to confront the worst brands of religious zealots in the Sunni community. Hence it forced religious sectarianism and social polarization on both countries and revived false interpretations of religion.

But what was needed is to revive the national identity, which is an Arab, not Persian, identity, in both Syria and Iraq. This would have furnished the ground of building a coalition around defending the independence and sovereignty of each of those two countries.

The anti-colonial struggle for independence in the two countries started more than a hundred years ago. During this struggle, ties between communities were strengthened as all were fighting to achieve one goal. The unified peoples of Iraq and Syria won their battles then but they lost their hopes later under the deceptive rule of military juntas led by the kind of Saddam or Assad. Military dictators turned the national identity into merchandise sold in return for keeping them in their palaces.

Returning the people of the Levant to the path of national coalition, as we have seen in the history of the Syrian heroic fight against the French in 1920, and the Iraqi revolution against the British in 1923 could have given totally different results. True that the nature of the moment now is totally different than the anti-colonial fight of the first half of the last century, but what we can learn from the history of the two countries is that the question of national identity provides the proper foundation for coalition building and national unity. The major motive is independence and sovereignty which both are currently under intense attacks of a foreign power represented in Iran’s IRGC.

Sane minds would have looked at reviving the national spirit which gathers all: Sunnis, Shias, Christians and Alawis under one flag. Instead, insane minds insisted on raising the black flag of ISIL to only reach a catastrophic result. This led to unifying the world to defeat ISIL all the while forgetting the incursions of Iran into Arab countries, and it divided the population of the two countries along sectarian lines to make both even weaker to be swallowed by the IRGC.

A counter balance for the IRGC should be founded on a wide political coalition which can later create its own armed wing on grounds of protecting independence. It is wrong to conceive of any counter balance the other way around. The point of start is a political movement raising the flag of sovereignty and independence built on a national coalition than crosses the sectarian divide. We should never forget that some of the great anti-colonialist Arab thinkers were Christians, and both the Syrian and Iraqi people never built barriers between communities during their march in history. Iraqis and Syrians are proud Arabs and as such they indeed insist on national sovereignty being their legitimate objective.

It is not rare at all to find an Iraqi Shia or a Syrian Alawi expressing anger when they see how their countries lost its sovereignty under the catastrophic impact of sectarianism.

On the military front, countering the IRGC necessitates forming an Arab Peace Keeping Force. No one needs the permission from this major power or that one to protect the region. However, international laws and norms should be respected. The world should not be allowed to slide into being a jungle. It is preferable to build strong ties with NATO in operational and logistics as well as training and equipping. Egypt, the GCC and other Arab countries could very well provide the backbone of a coherent force.

At one point, the world will reach the point of realizing that the IRGC intervention in the Middle East has reached a point where threats of more crises are imminent. There will be a need to confront this unconventional force head on. But mainly it is the responsibility of the Arabs to defend their land. This cannot be done only on military bases. In fact, using military force should be a last resort. It is mainly a political-social battle where Arabs of all faiths and sects should participate to defend their common joint identity and where sectarian-extremist forces should be categorically rejected.

Middle East Briefing

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.