No one is fooled by Iran and its proxies’ smoke-and-mirrors pantomime
During yet another of his incessant trips to Beirut, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian declared last week: “War is not the solution, and we absolutely never sought to expand it.”
Nevertheless, through a multitude of Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Yemeni paramilitaries, expanding the conflict is exactly what Tehran has been doing over the past four months. Iran lies so brazenly, but it can’t help boasting about the control it wields through these proxy armies.
“A large-scale attack on Lebanon will spell the end of Netanyahu,” Abdollahian boldly asserted. This was a stupid thing to say on two levels: first, because it would also entail the end of Lebanon as we know it; and second because politically Netanyahu is already a dead man walking. “Our assessment is that the Zionist regime will never be able to fight on two fronts,” Abdollahian said — as if such frivolous speculation were not gambling with the lives of millions in Lebanon and nearby states, with negligible immediate cost to Iran itself.
This exemplifies the disregardful manner in which Tehran treats Arab states as cards to be used and incinerated in the cause of scoring cheap political points. The ayatollahs treat everybody like fools in denying their culpability in mobilizing region-wide armies of proxies, as if nobody would guess the country of origin of the drones and missiles being fired off indiscriminately across the Middle East.
Iran lies so brazenly, but it can’t help boasting about the control it wields through these proxy armies.
Alharq Al-Awsat quoted Hashd Al-Shaabi politicians in Iraq recalling how they were given their marching orders by senior Iranian officials soon after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel: “They told us that we are part of Iran and its power in the region. You are the striking hand to protect Shiism, and it is time not only to liberate Al-Aqsa, but to rule the countries of the region.” In apparent reference to these meetings, Kata’ib Hezbollah’s Abu Fadak Al-Muhammadawi said: “The sensitive regional context and what will transpire depends mainly upon our commitment to what we agreed upon.”
Iraq’s paramilitary Hashd Al-Shaabi and its Quds Force masters have years of experience of playing games of smoke and mirrors behind counterfeit identities, seeking to establish a veneer of separation between the array of “Islamic resistance” factions who have been engaged in attacking US targets, while Hashd groupings present themselves as legitimate politicians in a clumsy good cop, bad cop routine.
“Resistance” factions such as Hezbollah Al-Nujaba have little to lose politically, since they have no parliamentary seats. They have therefore been the most gung-ho elements in attacking the Americans, even ridiculing other Hashd components for their lack of battle readiness. Like the Houthis in Yemen, these forces have scattered far and wide in small mobile cells, so that retaliatory Western strikes inflict negligible losses.
Kata’ib Hezbollah has one foot in and one foot out of Iraq’s parliament. Its political figurehead Hossein Moanes anticipated “a long war of attrition against the enemy which will last for years.” Meanwhile its “resistance” wing was blamed for last month’s attack that killed three Americans, triggering widespread reprisals, including the killing of a Kata’ib Hezbollah commander, Abu Baqr Al-Saeedi.
The group's subsequent hurried announcement that it would temporarily cease attacking the US, and strenuous denials of Iranian involvement, were presumably intended to short-circuit US-Israeli pressure to target “the head of the snake” and strike Tehran directly. Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, meanwhile, despite its long history of deadly attacks on US assets, has mostly stayed out of the latest bouts of attacks — focusing on the Hashd’s political and economic priorities in a complex but well coordinated division of labor.
The Hashd’s confluence of economic, political, military and social agendas highlights why these factions have become so hazardous for Iraq’s continued existence, particularly under a government so heavily dominated by these entities that it has doled out prime economic concessions worth billions of dollars in revenue, over and above the $3 billion this 240,000-strong force receives annually from the state purse.
Kata’ib Hezbollah has one foot in and one foot out of Iraq’s parliament. Its political figurehead Hossein Moanes anticipated “a long war of attrition against the enemy which will last for years.”
All the while, smaller “resistance” factions have a free hand to tenaciously pursue Iran’s longstanding goal of evicting the Americans. As Hezbollah Al-Nujaba’s Akram Al-Kaabi said: “It has become a duty for everyone to declare war on America and remove it, humiliated, from Iraq.” This comes at a time when US-Iraqi talks on the future status of foreign troops in Iraq continue. We should expect this to be the subject of fiery political grandstanding in the coming days. although many within Iraq’s administration fear how rapidly things could fall apart — yet again — if the Americans depart.
Hilariously, after Iran and its proxies had gone to enormous trouble to establish phantom entities such as“Ashab Al-Kahf” or “Saraya Awliya Al-Dam” to claim responsibility for attacks on US forces, megalomaniac faction leaders such as Akram al-Kaabi and Kata’ib Hezbollah’s Abu Hussein Al-Hamidawi were unable to restrain themselves from boasting about their own prowess in staging these assaults. As the Hashd researcher Michael Knights astutely noted: “The facade strategy requires a sacrifice of ego, which is not something they can keep up for very long.” These cloak-and-dagger identities never stopped the US military targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah and Hezbollah Al-Nujaba directly — albeit too little, too late.
These factions are solely accountable to the Quds Force, whose personnel are embedded within the Shoura Council of Kata’ib Hezbollah and other factions, pulling their strings behind the scenes.
In the event of further escalation, it’s unlikely that Iran’s leaders and paramilitary officials wearing political suits can distance themselves from the oncoming storm. Unfortunately, such callous stupidity is likely to cost countless Arab lives and region-wide devastation, along with the lives of untold numbers of innocent Iranian civilians when the miscalculations and mishaps of these ignoramuses ultimately bring the battle to the gates of Tehran.
The ayatollahs hubristically believe they’ve been enormously clever in such farcical lies and professions of non-involvement. But the identity of the puppet masters mobilizing these proxy armies and inflaming the regional battlefield on all fronts is hidden to nobody.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.