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Thursday, May 18, 2017
Ehud Yaari decribes Iranian preparations for conventional invasion of

Dr. Aaron Lerner: What with so many “experts” claiming that its essentially
superfluous for the IDF to prepare to face a large scale conventional war
including large ground force movements Ehud Yaari identifies the development
of just such a threat.

The policy implications go far beyond the need to maintain the forces to
address such a challenge.

Consider the very real possibility that this conventional Iranian challenge
might be coordinated with forces in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.

Our “quiet for quiet” policy in the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon hinges on
the assertion that regardless of whatever “balance breaking” weapons are
deployed in the two areas that the IDF could rapidly decimate them.

Such complacence may not be appropriate if these weapons are slated to be
used to draw away resources needed to stave off an Iranian invasion!
Iran's Ambitions in the Levant
Why It's Building Two Land Corridors to the Mediterranean
The ultimate purpose of the corridors, however, is to expand Iran’s reach
into the Golan Heights, with the goal of tightening the noose around Israel.
By Ehud Yaari - Foreign Affairs 1 May 2017
About the Author:
HUD YAARI is a Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy and the Middle East commentator for Channel 2 TV news in

In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the administration of
President Donald Trump is currently “reviewing ways to confront challenges
posed by Iran.” This most likely means looking for ways in which to curb
Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East. But for any containment plan to be
effective, Washington must examine Iran’s newly emerging strategy in the
Levant and must understand that although Tehran still hopes to achieve
regional hegemony in the long term, its current plan is to focus on
obtaining and maintaining a predominant position in Iraq, Lebanon, and
Syria. The bloody quagmire involving those three countries offers more
opportunities to consolidate power than what would surely be a riskier
confrontation in the Gulf, where Iran would have to contend with the United
States and its allies. Success in the narrower approach, moreover, could
ultimately strengthen Tehran’s hand against Saudi Arabia and those in the
Sunni bloc.

General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force division within
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is one of those in charge
of executing the new policy vision. For the last three years, he has been
kept busy setting up the building blocks for at least one, but more likely
two, land corridors across the Levant (one in the north and one in the
south), linking Iran to the Mediterranean. These pathways would traverse a
distance of at least 800 miles from Iran’s western borders through the
Euphrates and Tigris valleys and the vast expanses of desert in Iraq and
Syria, providing a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and finally ending at the
edge of the Golan Heights. The two corridors would serve as chains to move
military supplies or militiamen when needed. Lately, a number of
Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias have mentioned in public their efforts to
move their fighters along these routes. Forces from the Lebanese militant
group Hezbollah, for example, are present in Syria and in Iraq, while key
Iraqi Shiite militias are currently in Lebanon.

The idea, according to several senior Iranian officials, would be to
outsource the supervision of the corridors to proxy forces, such as
Hezbollah and the various Shiite militias Iran sponsors in Iraq and Syria,
in order to avoid using its own military forces to control the routes. (Iran
has a long-standing aversion toward investing manpower abroad.) Tehran’s
proxy militias would be able to field a force numbering 150,000 to 200,000
fighters, including 18,000 Afghani Shiites, 3,000 to 4,000 Pakistani
Shiites, and small Christian and Druze militias. Some of these forces have
already been deployed to various sectors along the envisaged corridors. Iran
would also be able to recruit more Shiites—especially refugees from
Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking employment and a cause.

The northern corridor would pass from Iran through the now Shiite-majority
province of Diyala toward Kirkuk Province and the town of Shirqat to the
east and link to Syria via the Tal Afar and Sinjar mountain districts. This
means that Iranian convoys would reach Syrian Kurdish territories already
reconnected to areas under control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In
order to move through this corridor, the Iranians would need to ensure that
neither the Iraqi government nor the Kurdish forces farther west interfere.
In view of growing Iranian influence over the Iraqi government and its armed
forces, it seems very unlikely that there will be real opposition from
Baghdad to their convoys. The same is true for the Kurds. The peshmerga, the
military forces of Iraq’s two main Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, would be disinclined
to halt Iranian troop movement that does not threaten their own interests.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces in Sinjar have close ties to Iran,
and in Tal Afar, pro-Iranian militias are already operating with U.S.
consent. In Kurdish Syria, known among the Kurds as Rojava, Kurds governed
by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are under constant threat from Turkey,
which considers the PKK and PYD terrorist groups and thus regard Iran as a
friendly power.

The recent intensification of the Turkish-Iranian rivalry in the Levant did
not lead, until now, to any on-the-ground friction. It will probably remain
that way in the foreseeable future. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
seems to prefer rhetorical rather than real war against Iran. He denounces
Tehran’s activities in the Levant, or what he calls “Persian expansionism,”
but judging by Erdogan’s conduct so far, he would be hesitant to use his
considerable influence over Iraqi Kurds, the Turkmen minority in Iraq and
Syria, and Arab Sunni militias to try to foil the Iranian scheme.

The southern corridor would permit traffic from Iran to pass through the
Shiite provinces of Iraq, incorporate the main desert highway of Anbar
Province, and wind through eastern Syria before reaching Damascus. The main
problem with this route is that Anbar’s predominantly Sunni population views
Iran with suspicion and hostility. But most of the estimated 1.5 million
Sunni inhabitants reside in four large cities—Fallujah, Haditha, Ramadi, and
al-Qaim—that can be easily avoided by taking routes through the arid and
sparsely populated countryside. It was in these same areas that
Iranian-sponsored Shiite militiamen fought alongside the Iraqi army to
defeat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and they still maintain some
strongholds along the highway. In this regard, Iraqi security forces
stationed alongside Anbar’s desert highway are not likely to object to
convoys coming from Iran or its allied militias. The local Sunni tribes
would be reluctant to ignite a conflict, especially one they could not win.
Iran could urge, bribe, or coerce them into turning a blind eye to Iran
convoys cutting through their turf.

Over the next decade, Iran intends to modernize its outdated military
arsenal. This would gradually provide both the IRGC and the Islamic Republic
of Iran Army (or Artesh) the mobile artillery, tanks, and other equipment
necessary to consider forming, at some point, a long-range expeditionary
force to reinforce their allied militias. With an upgraded air force, Iran
could provide cover for ground troops moving along the corridors, either to
assert influence over local political factions, tribes, and sects or to mass
troops near the Israeli borders.

Once the battles raging in Syria and Iraq subside, Iran will most likely
continue to develop its proxy militias in both states, in the same manner
that it props up Hezbollah in Lebanon. In Iraq, the Iranian-sponsored
militias, which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella of
dozens of mostly Shiite militias, have already received official recognition
and funds from Baghdad. In Syria, too, if Assad remains in power, Iran plans
to incorporate its wide array of militias into a Basij-style volunteer
paramilitary structure that would effectively be under Iranian control.
These militias are intended to help preserve the pro-Iranian governments
across the Levant and maintain the corridors by establishing a string of
local domains and ad hoc alliances with local players along the routes.

The ultimate purpose of the corridors, however, is to expand Iran’s reach
into the Golan Heights, with the goal of tightening the noose around Israel.
The Iranians publicly express their keen interest in opening up the Golan
front to their proxies, and high-ranking IRGC officers are engaged there now
in the establishment of a new militia—the Golan Regiment—partly composed of
Palestinians residing in Syria. Ahmed Jibril, the veteran leader of the
Iranian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General
Command, has been advocating for such a move in the Golan Heights, a call
that has also been echoed at various times by the official Syrian media.
Such a tactic would extend the current frontline in Lebanon between
Hezbollah and Israel all the way down to the Yarmuk River where the
Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli borders meet. Leaders of some Iranian-sponsored
Iraqi militias, such as al Nujaba, are already talking openly about their
intention to move their forces to the Golan front. Israel has retaliated
several times to attacks coming from that region, and one Iranian general
was killed during those clashes.

In responding to Iran’s plan to secure influence in the Levant, the Trump
administration should work with its regional counterparts to thwart Iran’s
attempt to build these two corridors. Turkey, a NATO ally, should be
encouraged to resist Iran’s efforts to dominate, through the corridors, the
main trade routes serving large amounts of Turkish exports to the Arab
world. The Kurds, both in Iraq and in Syria, should be provided military
equipment to face the Shiite militias. Jordan should assist the Sunnis of
western Iraq, as well as the Shamar Bedouin federation of the Syrian desert,
which has traditional ties with the Saudis, in organizing their own forces.
The United States should back Israel’s effort to prevent the Iranians from
securing a foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. But above all,
the United States should continue talking with Russia and insist that sooner
rather than later, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad will have to go.

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