Articles > > Strategic Depth

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-08-29
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Historically, the concept of the 'Eastern Front' has been associated with the idea of the strategic depth that Iraq has long provided Jordan and Syria in the various Arab-Israeli wars.
 
Iraq was always viewed as such in the Arabs' collective conscience, until that perspective changed completely with the fall of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime and the repercussions of the Arab/Israeli peace process before that, and in light of Iran's subsequent great expansion across the region, which has raised many alarm bells about a 'Shiite crescent' or 'Iranian corridor'.
 
The concept of the 'Shiite Crescent' has come to replace that of the 'Eastern Front' in the public consciousness under the deep [Sunni/Shiite] sectarian rift that has struck the region across its various communities. This concept has been fueled and enshrined as a result of the proxy wars that have erupted throughout the region, as well as a multitude of events over the last decade-and-a-half, from [Lebanese PM] Hariri's [2005] assassination in Beirut, to Hezbollah's takeover of the Lebanese capital in 2008, to Hamas's victory in the 2006 elections in Palestine; followed by the Arab Spring train departing its station in Tunisia and hurtling all the way to Damascus, creating battlefields for the proxy wars.
 
The concept of the Shiite Crescent poses the most negative and dangerous implications when it comes to the social fabric's cohesion in the Levant's countries and communities. In the regional peoples' psyche, it has become associated with an Iranian quest for hegemony to impose its Shiite doctrine on the Sunni majority. Hezbollah has lost much of the Sunni support it secured during its wars with Israel, but for that same reason, it still enjoys the support of some Sunni factions that have chosen to overlook its role in Syria because it remains engaged in conflict with Israel.
 
By joining the fray to attack the [Iraqi Shiite] Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Israel has offered these forces the chance to lay claim to serving as a cornerstone of the resistance front against Israel, rather than being merely sectarian militias. The Israeli army's operations will help the PMU to restore its image and win the sympathies of popular factions outside its sectarian [Shiite] environment. The opportunity may then arise once more to talk of reviving the Eastern Front instead of the Shiite Crescent, but this time with Iran in pole position rather than Iraq, and with a measure of sympathy from some Sunnis and as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of relying on Shiite elements alone. This process will take an accelerated and powerful course if the Iraqi government fails to take control of events, and if the PMU, or parts of it, makes good on its threat to respond to those attacking it, namely, Israel and U.S. forces in Iraq.

Experts and specialists believe that there is no military value to Israel's strikes on PMU targets, as the depots or handful of vehicles destroyed can be replaced with record speed from several sources, most notably Iran, of course. In the calculation of loss and gain regarding these mysterious attacks, Israel stands to gain far less than it may lose, should growing segments of the Iraqi population shift from neutrality or passive hostility towards it, to a position of active hostility, potentially involving Iraqi forces in a direct confrontation with Israel, should war break out, with broad national and popular support and understandable defensive justifications.
 
Electoral motivations are likely to be behind Israel's actions in Iraq. PM Netanyahu is fighting the final battle of his political and personal life and seeks a victory at all costs, even if it involves taking such risks. His extreme right-wing government appears to find strong reassurance in the unconditional, unlimited support it receives from the Trump administration, and it seeks to use this to impose new equations on both Syria and Iraq.
  
Many observers, including myself, would not be surprised if it turns out that Netanyahu's government is in the process of luring the U.S. into a larger military confrontation with Iran by igniting smaller confrontations against Tehran's loyalist PMU factions, in which case we would be facing the most dangerous scenario.