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The emerging Shia Axis – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon

This idea sounds incredulous, but before you trash it, have a closer look. It is the Shia connection because of which Alawaite Syria has jealously guarded Hezbollah's position in Lebanon and disarmed all of its non-Shia rivals. And it is the Shia factor why in the face of a Syrian withdrawal, Hezbollah is wild against those asking for a Syrian withdrawal.

The Mullahs are furtively putting together a Shia Axis – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon. Once Iran is brought down they may have no place to hide their faces.
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Hezbollah has given subtle warnings through fhree bomb blasts in Christian East Beirut. Hezbollah may choose to foment more strife, to convey the all too clear message that there will be no stability in Lebanon without Syria's steadying hand. The recent bombings in Christian suburbs of Beirut may only be a foretaste of what lies ahead.

This could potentially lead to widespread unrest, even civil war, which would have major ramifications in Israel, Syria and beyond. Some Israeli officials believe that Hezbollah has recently reinvigorated attempts to subcontract attacks in Israel by Palestinian militant groups. A Lebanese civil war may in fact work to Hezbollah's favor, as a Syrian withdrawal would leave Hezbollah the most powerful force in Lebanon -- more powerful than the Lebanese army.

A Hezbollah victory in such a conflict would fulfill Shia aspirations of controlling the country and create nightmares in pro- American neighboring countries with potentially restive Shia populations, Bahrain Saudi Arabia not least among them. Such a development would create a Shia axis stretching from Iran, through Iraq to Lebanon, delighting Tehran.

This axis would start from Iran and pass thru a Shia ruled Iraq, continue thru Alawaite (a shia sect) ruled Syria up to Hezbollah dominated Lebanon. In spite of Baathism, the Alawaite regime in Syria retains its Shia core, which is why Hafez Assad violently suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood (Sunni Wahabi) uprising in Hama (Homs) using fighter planes, with a brutality that stunned even the paranoidly violent Wahabis. Here are some excerpts of the massacre: "To make sure that no person was left alive in the rubble and buildings, the Syrian army delivered poison gas generators. Cyanide gas filled the air of Hama. Bulldozers were later used to turn the city into a giant flat area."

This is the reason for the Syrian patronage of the Hezbollah and the Hezbollah opposition to a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Their being Shia is at the bottom of it.

Iran has been fortifying Hezbollah bases in the face of a Syrian troop withdrawal in an attempt to enhance its strategic position. Iran has been using Revolutionary Guard units to fortify important positions Syria has promised to vacate, such as early warning stations.

Iran maintains about 1,000 Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, serving as ideological and military advisors to Hezbollah. Tehran is also increasing arms shipments to Hezbollah, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, one of which unnerved the Israeli Air Force by recently penetrating Israeli airspace undetected. It is also using the organization to create a larger pro-Iranian Shia force in Lebanon. Tehran thus wields the ability to ignite a larger Middle Eastern conflict.

According to a spokesman for the Druze opposition, "Iran is using the Syrian withdrawal as an opportunity to become the next power broker in Lebanon." By fortifying its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon, Tehran is sending a resounding signal that Israel cannot disregard Iranian interests without suffering harsh consequences. More pointedly, it serves as a visible and powerful deterrent against any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Syrian President Assad recently appointed Assaf Chawkat, a family member, to the state's head intelligence post. Chawkat, who has close ties to Hezbollah, has long overseen relations between the organization and its Iranian sponsor. Chawkat has most likely assured Tehran that Hezbollah will not be weakened by a Syrian withdrawal and that Damascus will not restrain Hezbollah if Israel or the U.S. attacks Tehran's nuclear facilities. Hezbollah will remain a potent force that Tehran will use to control events in the Middle East in the foreseeable future.

The question is of Iraq, how strong will the Iraqi link in this Shia chain be. Iraq has significant non-Shia minorities – the Sunnis and the Kurds. But the recent elections have strengthened the Shias. They have political organizations like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). They have militias like the Badr Brigades and Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army to flex their physical muscle. But they face a military challenge from the Al Qaeda and Zarqawi led Sunni insurgency as also a parliamentary challenge from the Kurds, who want to increase their autonomy and ultimately whenever possible to secede from Iraq to form an independent Kurdistan. So Iraq remains an uncertain link in the emerging Shia chain. This could make it unpredictable and susceptible to extremist influences from Iran, when the Iranian regime faces a military challenge from the US in the near future.

In a nutshell, an Iran threatened by US military action is furtively building a Shia axis that starts from Iran and passes thru a Shia dominated Iraq, continues thru Alawaite (a shia sect) ruled Syria up to Hezbollah dominated Lebanon. As the US pressure on Iran intensifies, Iran could put this axis to work in an unpredictably destructive way, with Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army along with its own Basij an irregular terrorist militia. In its effort to democratize the Middle East, while retaining intact the violent Islamic ethos, the US is riding a wild tiger in the Middle East, marking a great watershed in the history of the region -- which way this tiger turns next is the big question.

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