FPI / May 31, 2019
Iran has responded to mounting U.S. economic and military pressure by attempting to calm its Persian Gulf neighbors by hinting at improved relations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, during a May 26 joint press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Ali Alhakim in Baghdad said that Iran “wants to have the best possible relations with all [its] neighbors in the Persian Gulf region,” adding that he had proposed signing a nonaggression pact with them.
In that regard, Mideast analyst Yochanan Visser noted that a friend had asked him if there would be war between the United States and Iran.
“It has already started,” Visser said he responded, adding that the Islamic Republic is a world champion in fighting proxy wars.
While refraining from directly attacking U.S. military targets in the Middle East, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “has openly announced it would use its many proxies to target the U.S. and its allies,” Visser noted.
On May 17, Radio Farda reported that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force which is tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution, had met with commanders of Iranian controlled militias across the Middle East and told them to prepare for a proxy war with the U.S.-led anti-Iranian coalition.
Soleimani’s Quds Force has established Hizbullah-style militias in Iraq where the umbrella organization of Shi’ite militias Hashd al-Shaabi is in control of large parts in the north and west of the country.
In Yemen, the Quds Force is working with Ansar Allah or Houthis militia to control the country and to destabilize Saudi Arabia, while in Syria Shi’ite militias together with the Quds Force and Hizbullah “are turning the country into a second Lebanon with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel,” Visser said.
“If we take a look at what happened after the U.S. decided to increase sanctions on Iran and annulled waivers on Iranian oil exports at the beginning of May, we will see that the proxy war already has started,” Visser said.
In Iraq, Hashd al-Shaabi is reportedly deploying ballistic missiles in the western desert with the reported intention of using them against Israel in a future war.
Hizbullah Nujaba, one of the Hashd al-Shaabi militias, has deployed missiles in the vicinity of U.S. bases in Iraq and was reportedly responsible for a missile attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone earlier this month.
“This is the Baghdad neighborhood where the U.S. embassy is located,” Visser said. “The attack took place after the U.S. suddenly decided to pull out most of the embassy staff last week and issued a travel warning for US citizens in Iraq.”
Also this month, the Israel Air Force reportedly attacked the al-Kiswah region southwest of Damascus where the Quds Force and Hizbullah have headquarters and weapon storages.
The Syrian news site Jorf News reported that the Quds Force has started to use a port it leased from the Assad regime in Latakia earlier this year for military purposes.
The Quds Force is providing a combat naval training course for the Shi’ite Afghan Fatemiyoun militia transferred from Iran to Syria where it fought along the Syrian army in the war against Islamist militias.
“Iran wants to establish a naval force in the Mediterranean Sea in order to use it in a future multi-front missile war against Israel which would see three land fronts: southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Gaza,” Visser said.
In the Persian Gulf, meanwhile, Iran is using the Ansar Allah militia in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia while the IRGC is using drones to observe the movements of the U.S. Navy in the waterway.