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Are Arab Militias Losing Their Usefulness For Iran?

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Are Arab Militias Losing Their Usefulness For Iran?

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Written by James M. Dorsey

Iranian support for Arab militias has long threatened Iran’s detractors, unable to develop an effective counterstrategy. Now, the tide may be turning.

A string of events suggests that the usefulness of at least some of the militias in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Palestine is waning as their popularity diminishes and relations with Iran encounter headwinds.

The militias’ changing fortunes and Iran’s seemingly reduced influence challenges fundamental strategic and defence concepts embraced by the Islamic Republic since the clergy-led revolution toppled the US-backed Shah in 1979.

“The overall picture is that Iran’s expansion peaked in 2018 and has since entered a new phase, in which Tehran has not suffered any strategic military set­backs but is hitting a wall. Iran’s biggest fundamental problem is that a majority of its allies … frequently succeed in armed confrontations. Yet they are subsequently incapable of ensuring political and economic stability,” said Middle East scholar Guido Steinberg.

Add to that, almost 43 years later, Iran is a revolution that, not unsurprisingly, has gone off the rails. Beyond widespread corruption and economic mismanagement, Iran has lost its initial pan-Islamic ecumenical revolutionary appeal to Shiites and Sunnis alike. Instead, Sunni Muslims today perceive it as a Shiite and Iranian nationalist force.

To be clear, Iran is not about to dump its non-state Arab allies. They remain too strong a military force to defeat and valuable leverage of Iranian regional power in Lebanon and Iraq even if they may be past the peak of their shelf life.

Moreover, groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas could force Israel to fight on two if not three fronts were Israel to strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

As such, the strategy to build an outer defence line in Arab countries populated by local actors has paid off handsomely.

Hezbollah has become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, a player in the Syrian civil war, and a model for militias elsewhere.

Hamas has ruled the impoverished Gaza Strip since 2007 while the Houthis have stymied the Saudi war machine, if not, for all practical purposes, defeated the kingdom in an almost seven-year-long devastating war. Iraqi militias are a force unto themselves.

More troublingly, militias likes Hezbollah and Iranian-backed groups in Iraq have become increasingly identified with corrupt regimes that have responded violently to mass protests demanding wholesale change.

Protesters have taken the predominantly Shiite Muslim militias to task for promoting a sectarian rather than a national identity that transcends religion and ethnicity.

An alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in last October’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its seats drop from 48 to 17.

Moreover, claims by Hamas in Palestine and the Houthis in Yemen that wars, foreign intervention, and blockades prevent them from delivering public goods and services are wearing thin.

Compared to past military conflagrations, last May, an 11-day war with Israel failed to move the needle on Hamas’s popularity impaired by allegations of corruption and mass unemployment.

Meanwhile, Iran’s ambassador to the Houthis in Yemen, Hasan Irlu, a close associate of General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, who was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad last year, was reported to have died of Covid-19 while in transit in the kingdom en route to Iran.

Iranian officials blamed his death on a Saudi refusal to allow an Iranian aircraft to pick up the ambassador in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and fly him directly to Tehran.

Mr. Irlu “was evacuated in poor condition due to delayed cooperation from certain countries,” said Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh.

Saudi Arabia this week bombed Sana’a airport after Mr. Irlu’s evacuation.

Houthi officials said that Mr. Irlu’s illness provided an “opportunity” for the rebels to demand his departure. They said the group had complained to the Iranian leadership about Mr. Irlu’s failure to coordinate with the rebels in his meetings with tribal and political leaders.

Similarly, Esmail Qaani, Mr. Soleimani’s successor as commander of the Qods Force, encountered pushback when he met in July with pro-Iraqi militias In Baghdad. Mr. Qaani sought to ensure that they would refrain from attacking US targets in the runup to renewed nuclear negotiations in Vienna.

That decision is an Iraqi one,” said Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq or Khazali Network, in a television interview days later.

“Iran isn’t the way it used to be, with 100% control over the militia commanders,” said an Iraqi Shiite political leader

That is a realization that has yet to take root in Tehran, and once it does could have far-reaching consequences for Iranian policies and posture. Initially, Iran’s cost/benefit analysis is likely to conclude that the benefits of support for non-state Arab militias continue to outstrip the cost.

The question is, for how long.

A podcast version of this story is available on  Soundcloud, ItunesSpotifyStitcherTuneInSpreakerPocket CastsTumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon, and Castbox.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.


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Yes it looks like Mossad wishful thinking.

It is the Zio axis of evil which has never been weaker.

When the Saudi Judea occupation government falls we shall see.

It will mean the end of Zio USSA dollar and the global Zio slave empire.

jens holm

Thats no comment to the article at all.


Damn! I was fooled again and opened the page to see the name of a Hasbara writer (not exactly correct, a Hasbarat doesn’t get paid much, let alone being on a Zionist institution payroll but you know what I mean) under the article.

Here’s my confession:
I didn’t read a single word, but let me hazard a guess:
The drivel Saudis said when we and Yemeni government was trying to bring our ambassador back home for treatment (about Ansarallah is now an enemy of Iran or something) is caught by the neck, beaten to death, skinned and presented as some sort of evidence that all friends of Iran are no longer friends. Please correct me if I’m wrong so I apologize the “author” for my prejudice. thank you!

That is if you actually carried the burden of reading an ordered and paid for lame propaganda text.

Last edited 29 days ago by Garga
Chris Gr

Bro, you are funny again! Anyway, back to the topic. Iran will try to expand. Now Iran supports the Ethiopian military also. They are trying to encircle the Saudis.

Florian Geyer

Hi Garga,
It looks as if the zionists are getting worried that their grip on the world is failing.

L du Plessis

As long as US & israel remains the Middle East’s enemy its good.

jens holm

Ha ha. Even the iranians try to look like united arabs.

And what do we see and they dont see. they are not.

I also will say that most relations has its ups and downs. I think we unfortunatly see that Iraq and iran leaders are not better then others.

The main mistake is just as in Syria. there is no local controllers elected by the local people having responsability. Too much also is driven by bajonets and fear instead of trust or lack or same.

In real parlamentarisme, we replace the ones, we think is bad and do it in peace. Its often better but unfortunatly not always.

Thats what those simpelton nepotistic systems dont have.

They tell some few elected by themself has patent for being the most clever ones and by that can not be replaced. Its the same for Russia and all its poor.

A country work hard to include all. It does not make trench digging as we see in Fx ME. Militaries should be runned by the Parlament and people living there and not the other way around.

Military control is not a country but a warzone.

Chris Gr

Yes that’s right. It is funny how it will play in the future where Syrian Ba’athists will have problems with Iraqi and Iranian Shias plus Iraqis and Iranians have ethnic conflicts in Khuzestan.


The weakness of US imperialism is making it harder for Iran to rally its allies against the “great satan”

Florian Geyer

The weakness of your duplicitous opinion is clear for all to see.


Iran’s proxies Hezbollah and Hamas have enjoyed alot of freedom under Bibi (the bastard) rule, but that is over. Since May, Hamas has not dared to shoot one rocket into Israel as Bennet and Gantz promised to crush them and kill their leaders.

Hamas can only shoot rockets on Israeli civilians like the cowards they are, Israel can wipe them out if we choose to go all the way. The thing is, when we kill just dozens of them then the world is suddenly asking us to stop. We can not finish the job in 10 days from the air, we need to enter and butcher them.

Same goes to Hezbollah, the only way to stop that threat is to enter SL and remove and Shia presence there meaning to wipe out all of their villages and exile them to Syria or kill them. Sometimes that is the only option, you have to destory your enemy til lthe last one of them is dead dead dead.

So I have news for you Jnoub, that is exactly what we are going to do to you next war. Get ready you Lebanese Shia bastard, we’re gonna end you once and for all.

Chris Gr

I don’t agree with your ultranationalism though.

Lebanon is a failed state like Libya and cannot match Israel. However, an assault on Lebanon will trigger a wider war and other forces will go there.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x