A new study on the Middle East takes the wraps off Iran’s militia doctrine

While the Houthis may not have yet adopted Iran’s interpretation of Wilayat Al-Faqih, they are still following the same pipeline that has led to the creation of some of Tehran’s most-powerful terrorist assets, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Asaid Al-Haaq in Iraq. (AFP)
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Updated 11 February 2021

A new study on the Middle East takes the wraps off Iran’s militia doctrine

  • UK-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has published a report titled ‘The View from Tehran: Iran’s Militia Doctrine’
  • The findings expose the vast network of violent organizations supported by the theocratic regime

LONDON: As the smoke cleared on another Houthi terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, this time a drone attack on the Kingdom’s Abha airport, new details emerged about the extent of Iran’s campaign of violence across the Middle East.

The Houthis claimed to use four drones in Wednesday’s attack, which followed days of escalating aggression from the Iran-backed terror outfit. Meanwhile, a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) has warned that Iran-backed militias throughout the region are growing in size, scale and lethality.

The paper — titled “The View from Tehran: Iran’s Militia Doctrine” — exposes the vast network of violent organizations supported by the regime.

With new evidence and a sweeping analysis, it details the militias supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the fastest-growing form of Tehran-backed proxy terrorist outfits in the Middle East.

It goes on to argue that militias supported, trained and supplied by the IRGC pose the greatest threat to regional stability.




This fervent ideological and religious affiliation means that Tehran can expect undying dedication to its deadly causes from groups aligned with the IRGC. (AFP)

One of the report’s co-authors, Professor Saeid Golkar, a senior fellow at the TBI and an assistant professor in the department of political science and public service at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said that the IRGC-backed militias pose a unique danger to the Middle East.

Unlike the relationships between Tehran and its grassroots militias, which tend to be limited to shared tactical and material interests, the IRGC’s links with its proxies are rooted in a radicalized shared worldview, with these groups fully adopting Tehran’s ideology of Wilayat Al-Faqih, which grants Iran’s supreme leader absolute authority over Shiite Muslims.

This fervent ideological and religious affiliation means that Tehran can expect undying dedication to its deadly causes from groups aligned with the IRGC.

To consolidate these links, Tehran uses the IRGC to heavily invest in the radicalization and indoctrination of militants, gathering resources and support from the regime’s so-called soft-power institutions in the diplomatic, humanitarian, educational and cultural areas.

In Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthis are waging war against the internationally recognized government, there is evidence that the IRGC’s Quds Force — the branch that deals with unconventional warfare, psychological operations and military intelligence — is training Yemeni Shiite Muslims into adopting its worldview.

In 2014, the Quds Force deployed advisers, mostly from its Lebanese and Iraqi militia groups, to boost the Houthi efforts in consolidating power. Tehran has struggled to bring its authority and teachings over the group, but this has not reduced its efforts.

While the Houthis may not have yet adopted Iran’s interpretation of Wilayat Al-Faqih, they are still following the same pipeline that has led to the creation of some of Tehran’s most-powerful terrorist assets, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Asaid Al-Haaq in Iraq.

One of the TBI’s analysts and a co-author of its new report, Kasra Aarabi, told Arab News that Iran has brought hundreds of Yemeni students from Houthi tribes to study at “soft power” institutions in Tehran like Al-Mustafa International University.




The IRGC’s links with its proxies are rooted in a radicalized shared worldview, with these groups fully adopting Tehran’s ideology of Wilayat Al-Faqih, which grants Iran’s supreme leader absolute authority over Shiite Muslims. (AFP)

According to the report, some of the students have explicitly displayed loyalty to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Aarabi told Arab News that this worrying trend could signal a growth in the IRGC’s influence over Yemen’s Shiite Muslims, leading to further terrorist operations in the troubled country.

He warned that “sanctions relief will not be enough to stop IRGC-aligned groups. Their fighters are radicalized, they will fight regardless of access to material reward. We need to counter these groups the same way that we would when facing Sunni Islamist extremists.”

Aarabi added that only a “full-scale hearts and minds approach with counterinsurgency strategies” will deal with these militias. Military solutions are not enough, he argued, governments will also need to challenge the ideology behind them.

“You need to adopt this approach to properly constrain them, starting from the root of the problem and pushing back the ideas that drive the violence,” he said.

Golkar shared his fellow report author’s view, arguing that the dominant Western approach to countering IRGC-supported groups has been insufficient.

“There is a popular joke in Iran,” Golkar told Arab News, “that a couple are sleeping at home, they hear a noise in their apartment, the woman asks him to check what is happening, but the husband is scared of dealing with the reality and he says ‘inshallah, it is just a cat, go back to sleep’ — this has been the dominant approach of Western policymakers dealing with the IRGC.”




Report: Militias supported, trained and supplied by the IRGC pose the greatest threat to regional stability. (AFP)

He added: “They are scared of what is happening, so they just say ‘it is a cat’, and that the IRGC is just a conventional military. But they are wrong. We need an approach that deals with the IRGC, the Quds Force and its militias by recognizing the reality of the extent of their reach.”

Golkar said perceptions had to change in the West to understand the extent of the IRGC’s influence. “Understanding the reality is vital, if you deny what is happening you cannot deal with it,” he said. “The second approach is the tactical response. We have to know how these militias are aligned with Tehran and how much they comply with the regime.”

Aarabi said “the militia doctrine has been designed to outlive the regime in Tehran. Even if the Islamic Republic collapsed, the IRGC has built an infrastructure across the region and this militia doctrine can go into a full insurgency mode. It can outlive the Islamic Republic, and this needs to be considered when policymakers design strategies to stem the problem.”

The extent of Iran’s nexus of evil is vast. The TBI identified 194 IRGC operations across 51 countries and five continents since 1979. With the first interactive tracker of the IRGC’s global footprint, analysts can for the first time observe a total depiction of Tehran’s wide-reaching violent operations.

Golkar and Aarabi challenged the view that Tehran is only supporting these groups as a deterrent. Aarabi said: “The argument goes that if relations improve with the US and if sanctions are lifted, then the regime will feel less threatened and it will reduce its support for these groups.

“But our research totally contradicts this view. Many of these militias have embraced the IRGC’s ideology; they do not even recognize the territorial borders of Iran.”

He added: “These are not conventional forces defending the state of Iran. They are for the division of the world between the land of Muslims and the land of infidels.

“Easing sanctions will not work. Just 13 days after the nuclear deal was signed, Khamenei rejected the idea that any material incentive would cut Iran’s support for regional militias. As sanctions were being eased, we saw a surge in the militias and the manufactured IRGC groups.”

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Updated 40 min 35 sec ago

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Updated 28 February 2021

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at

AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.


Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

Updated 28 February 2021

Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for COVID-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.