Iranian regional chess reveals US confusion
Iranian regional chess reveals US confusion
On the day Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was assassinated in Baghdad last January, he was the field commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), crossing the borders between Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. , which were for him the same operating theater. In fact, what appear to be failed states in the region can be considered successful IRGC operations. In Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, what appear to be independent organizations operating under the same banner. They take control using similar methods, including assassinations, paralysis, economic collapse, a constant state of crisis and violence fueled by ideologies. By ignoring the IRGC’s actions in negotiations with Iran, Tehran can stick to agreements like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which it negotiated with the West while having a free hand. to continue a destabilization program through its proxies, making the Middle East look like a failing region.
Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, and the Houthis all follow the same pattern of state collapse and replacement by parallel institutions. Hezbollah is active in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and coordinates closely with Hamas in Palestine. Instruments used include suppressing dissent through targeted assassinations and taking the state hostage through paralysis.
In Lebanon, the assassinations began by attacking internal dissent within the Shiite community, targeting the likes of Daoud Daoud, Mahmoud Faqih and Hassan Sbayti, who were leaders of the rival Amal movement. Three years of internal strife between the two groups resulted in the hegemony of Hezbollah in 1990. Then came the assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, journalists like Gebran Tueni, politicians like Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido, soldiers and security agents like Wissam Eid and FranÃ§ois Hajj and civil society activists like Samir Kassir. The same is still true in Iraq, where 2020 was the year of the assassinations, with among the victims Hisham Al-Hashimi, Reham Yaqoub, Tahseen Ali and Ludia Remon. In Yemen, the assassination of government minister Hassan Zaid last year – as well as those of prominent dissidents Ahmed Sharaf Al-Din, Abdul Karim Jadban, Mohammed Abdul-Malik Al-Mutawakel and Abdul Karim Al-Khaiwani – followed the same pattern.
Control is acquired in country after country by contributing to the collapse of state institutions and replacing them with others linked to each other by their ties to Iran. The Iranian toolkit also includes saving time through negotiations, creating paralysis and demands like integration into state institutions and formalizing the inclusion of militias in the military through titles. as a “common or integrated defense strategy” on the pretext that official armies are ineffective. In Gaza, Hamas holds the population hostage, under siege, and maintains the state of war and poverty, while any reprieve can only be obtained through Hamas’s own negotiations with Israel. Through corruption and patronage, militias enter state institutions and bankrupt them, often giving power to their own alternatives and thus constituting a parallel state feeding on the carcass of its victim.
These agents can also play a dual role: one as an integral part of the companies they enter and the other as contingents of the IRGC. In Yemen, for example, the Houthis negotiate like a political actor but at the same time behave like an irresponsible militia, exacerbating violence and working outside the confines of the Stockholm Accord. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is part of government and parliament and, along with its allies, has a veto that can cripple for months. In Iraq, while there are four main actors who are part of the Tansiqiya (coordination) committee, there is also a proliferation of unknown organizations that are popping up with different names. Fragmentation also makes the parallel order of militias âanti-fragileâ and difficult to pin down. This gives Iran and the IRGC a plausible deniability as to their role in the various conflicts in the region.
While Iran sees the entire region as a theater of operations, Washington’s image is different, with each context seen as separate and conflicts unrelated. The region also appears chaotic, desperate, and full of intractable problems and dysfunctional societies. One example is the summer of 2006, when Iranian proxies created chaos and war in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq at the same time. The reaction in Washington to such an impression is a bipartisan consensus on the need to get out of the region because it is unmanageable.
While Iran sees the region as a chess board, the United States sees it more as a poker table. In a game of chess, each move is linked to future moves and the game has a specific end goal. Chess pieces can also be sacrificed to achieve this goal – a short-term loss for the purpose of long-term winning. The enemy here is clearly the United States and the goal is to drive them out of the region.
In the game of American poker, each hand is considered independent. There is no overarching goal and no consistent and identifiable enemy. The United States believes it can win and lose and withdraw from the game at any time. Washington’s poker game is also weak and fragmented, and due to internal politics it appears to be playing with its cards in the game.
Because of domestic politics, America seems to be playing poker with its cards in play.
A deal like the JCPOA, for example, was seen as a success by both parties, but for different reasons. For Iran, it was a temporary sacrifice that gave it carte blanche to pursue broader regional goals (against American interests). The United States saw it as a successful negotiation, regardless of its IRGC empowerment effect in the larger game. It was a success in a region where all other initiatives failed.
Measures to address the bigger picture, such as adding the IRGC or one of its proxies to the list of terrorist organizations or imposing additional sanctions, become entangled in internal partisan politics, where parties in the United States aim to score points against each other and are divorced from the original background.
The combination of all these factors gives Iran a huge victory. The IRGC, through its proxies, can engulf the entire region while making the various crises appear as separate and unrelated incidents. This confuses the United States into believing the region is endemically dysfunctional and unrepairable. At the same time, Iran can appear to be complying with agreements like the JCPOA and appear to be a stable and reliable player.
Nadim Shehadi is Executive Director of LAU Headquarters and Academic Center in New York and Associate Member of Chatham House in London.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News