The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Dr. Yossi Mansharof: Iran is exploiting the lack of a centralized power in Afghanistan and Pakistan to enlist support for and manpower for its militias.

Israel Hayom, 10.09.2019


The past day or so have seen another round of blows between Israel and the Shiite militias in Syria. While the IDF reported shots fired by members of the organizations in the Syrian Golan Heights that did not reach Israel, Syrian news outlets reported an attack on a military facility near the Iraqi border, which it attributed to Israel.

The facility that was targeted in the airstrike apparently belonged to the Kata’ib al-Imam Ali group, a Shiite militia mostly made up of Iraqi operatives, and – according to media outlets identified with the Syrian rebels – at least two militia members were killed in the strike.

The strike was carried out near a border crossing between the cities of Al Bukamal in Syria and Al-Qa’im in Iraq, a location that has recently been targeted in a few strikes, for which no one has officially claimed responsibility. The reason for the strikes apparently has to do with the fact that the site is the most important link in the Iranian corridor that moves weapons and fighters from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian Golan Heights and Lebanon.

The entity responsible for these enormous initiatives is the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which itself is a formidable extension of the Iranian regime. Recently, it has come to light that the militias on the ground are working to build a military facility that can accommodate thousands of fighters and an immense quantity of weapons. A prior strike in the same area killed the commander in charge of logistics for the missile unit of the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah group.

Tehran sees the establishment of and support for these militias as a legitimate part of its foreign policy

Iran isn’t fighting to set up a land corridor in Syria for nothing. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has revealed that there are no fewer than 100 militias and smaller groups currently active in Syria whose loyalties are divided between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran.

Someone who is very well-versed in the Shiite militias in Iraq is Dr. Yossi Mansharof, who researches Iran and the Shiite militias at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa.

Mansharof explains that the establishment of the Shiite militias in Syria is not a local process, but part of the ideology and plans of the Iranian regime.

“First of all, you have to understand that all Iran’s aid to the Shiite militias stems from the vision of the Islamic Revolution, which is anchored in the constitution of the regime. This is where Iran’s support for the militias comes from, both at the economic level and in Tehran’s total rejection of the American demand to dismantle the militias or cease its support for them,” Mansharof says.

“American intelligence documents prove that Tehran sees the establishment of and support for these militias as a legitimate part of its foreign policy,” he adds.

Mansharof goes on to explain that Iran founded the Shiite militias under the claim that they were intended to help protect the Assad regime, battle the Islamic State, and maintain an armed Shiite presence in Syria if the Assad regime were to fall.

The militias started to be formed in 2001, at a time when it looked like Assad might be toppled. Tehran rushed to funnel money, volunteers, and weapons into Syria in any way it could, in an effort to keep the Assad regime in place, defend the Syrian Shiite minority, and places holy to Shiite Islam.

Mansharof says that “Today, now that the Assad regime is well-based in Syria and there is no longer any danger it will be defeated, Iran is waging an offense against Israel from Syria, whose vanguard is located on the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Tehran went on to build its offensive in Syria, and – as the IDF revealed – it was headed by Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was previously involved in setting up a Shiite terrorist front against the US in Iraq.

“Daqduq was captured by the Americans and released into the custody of the Iranian government, which promised he would not resume terrorist activity, but they didn’t live up to their commitment, and today Daqduq is heading the front on the Golan Heights on behalf of Hezbollah and the Quds Force,” Mansharof explains.

“The Shiite militias active in Syria are comprised of three main forces: the Iraqi al-Nujaba; the Afghan Fatemiyoun, and the Pakistani Zainebiyoun. These are hired swords, people who are motivated by a combination of Shiite faith, loyalty to [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, and greed. Many of them don’t really understand who they’re fighting for,” he says.

Mansharof describes cases of Afghan fighters who returned to their native country and told local media outlets that they didn’t know who they’d been fighting in Syria. They said that they had been recruited, armed, and given only basic training.

“They were cannon fodder,” Mansharof observes.

According to him, Iran is exploiting the lack of a centralized power in Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries with majority Sunni – not Shiite – populations, in order to enlist support for and manpower for its militias.

“The use of a third element, a proxy, is designed to save Iranian lives and prevent criticism from the Iranian public, who will not accept Iranian losses in a foreign conflict,” Mansharof explains.

Israel Hayom 10.09.2019