ANALYSIS: What’s to Become of Soleimani’s Mideast Agenda?
The mastermind of Mideast mayhem is dead, but others have picked up the torch, and Trump seems to be stumped.
More than three weeks after the US military in Iraq assassinated Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), along with the leader of the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, it appears that their deaths haven’t had the desired effect on the shadow war between Iran and Israel.
Let’s first take a look at what is happening in Iraq, where a popular uprising had been directed not only against the corrupt Iraqi government, but also against the Iranian entrenchment in the country.
After the US took out Soleimani and al-Muhandis, a dramatic change has taken place in Iraq.
First, tens of thousands Iraqis took part in mourning rituals for the two slain commanders, after which the Shiite majority in the Iraqi parliament unanimously adopted a resolution that demanded an end to the presence of the US military in the country.
When the Trump Administration announced it had no intention to leave Iraq, attacks on US personnel and bases increased. A total of 109 Katyusha rockets have been launched at US interests in Iraq since the current unrest began in October.
On Sunday, another missile attack took place on the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily guarded area near the compound of the embassy. Five missiles were fired at the embassy and one scored a direct hit wounding one person.
The attack came after the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the winner of the last Iraqi elections, decided to join the Iranian axis in Iraq, and published a list of demands that in his view must be met in order to get rid of the US military.
Last Friday, al-Sadr organized his own million-man march in Baghdad against the American presence in Iraq, and later announced he could organize more of these anti-America demonstrations.
At the same time, al-Sadr asked his followers to abandon the anti-government protests, thereby clearing the way for a new ruthless crack-down on the angry protesters.
Al-Sadr made the crucial move after he met on January 13 with members of the Quds Force and commanders of Shiite Iraqi militias belonging to the umbrella organization al-Hashd al-Sha’abi in the Iranian city of Qom to discuss the new situation in Iraq after Soleimani’s assassination.
In northeast Iraq, near the border town al-Bukamal, the Iranian activities continue, meanwhile, and apparently triggered fresh airstrikes by unknown drones and warplanes.
Iran is reportedly building an underground base near al-Bukamal something that worries Israel, which has reportedly already carried out airstrikes to stop the construction of the base and the deployment of ballistic missiles in the region.
All of these recent developments are clearly meant to reinforce Iran’s grip on Iraq after the demise of its star commander.
The real problem for Israel is the American passivity in light of these developments.
The Trump Administration thought it had cut off the head of the Iranian octopus, but the Iranians are now using the anti-America sentiment in Iraq to force the US military out of the country, and with success. Reporters who paid visits to American bases in Iraq noticed that there are fewer US soldiers present, and those who are still there are restricted in their movements due to the increased dangers they are now facing.
After defeating the Islamic State caliphate, the US military turned its weapons against the Iranian axis in Iraq in an attempt to stop the Iranian entrenchment in the country, but Soleimani’s assassination now threatens to end this new mission.
Then there is Syria, where the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out new airstrikes against the Iranian axis on January 14, when the T-4 base in northwest Syria was attacked, and most likely also last Saturday, when unidentified warplanes bombed two sites belonging to the Quds Force and the Shi’ite Liwa Fatemiyoun militia.
Liwa Fatemiyoun is an Afghan militia that was brought to Syria by Qasem Soleimani in order to be used as cannon fodder in dangerous missions on behalf of the Assad regime.
Soleimani’s ‘soldiers’ in Syria are now reportedly doing the dirty job of defeating the Sunni Islamists in the northern Idlib Province.
The British paper Daily Telegraph obtained intercepted audio recordings of radio traffic between members of Liwa Fatemiyoun, who are now ‘liberating’ the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
“The fighters, speaking in Persian, are heard using the names of animals as code words to describe targets, and claim that a planned attack will be easy,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
The Afghan militia – which reportedly has 20,000 fighters in Syria – is also used as a shock force against the Sunni Islamist militias, which are now facing defeat.
Soleimani has reportedly given the Iranian axis a five-year strategy for creating a Shiite Crescent that will become an existential threat to Israel.
Under the command of Soleimani, the IRGC also developed a skilled cyber warfare unit that increasingly hinders Israel and the US military in the Middle East.
Last week, Iran was among the nations that launched cyber attacks to disrupt Jerusalem’s commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Israel’s newly-upgraded cyber defense air traffic unit reported it had neutralized a staggering 800 cyber attacks on the incoming planes of the world leaders who attended the memorial in Jerusalem.
To conclude, Soleimani’s assassination may have been a severe blow to Iran, but as the developments on the ground show it has not led to a significant reduction in the belligerent activities by the Iranian axis.