Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the country’s Quds Force, was a busy man. When he died in a US drone strike on January 3 near Baghdad International Airport, he had been en route to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, according to media reports. The two had reportedly planned to discuss ways to ease tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

However, Soleimani was not a man of peace. After taking control of Iran’s Quds Force in 1998, he largely focused on establishing ties between Tehran and like-minded, non-state actors in the Arab world. Many of these links were formed on the basis of a shared confession: Shia Islam.

Read more: Who was Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force leader?

Tehran’s most important foreign non-state ally is Hezbollah, a political party and militant group founded in Lebanon in 1982. For years, Tehran has also maintained ties with a range of Iraqi militias like the Hashd Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization made up of numerous smaller militias. Iran backs Yemen’s Houthiinsurgents, who are united in their shared animosity toward Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the Iranian regime has also built up a network of actors in Syria affiliated with President Bashar Assad, who pose a direct threat to neighboring Israel.

Taken together, these international non-state actors constitute a broad network of allies on whom Tehran can rely in case of armed conflict.

Hezbollah vows revenge

They have certainly demonstrated their willingness to fight in years of conflict in the Arab world. But how loyal are they to Tehran — especially now that Tehran has largely shied away from major retaliatory strikes in the wake of General Soleimani’s assassination?

Houthi rebels in Yemen

Iran backs Houthi insurgents in Yemen

On the day Soleimani was killed, Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on Shia militias to fight US forces across the region and to commit suicide attacks. Nasrallah declared they would send the US soldiers home in “coffins.” He also threatened Israel, claiming that it had originally planned to kill the Iranian general, yet had either lacked the ability or the courage to do so. Nasrallah left no doubt about Hezbollah’s willingness to wage war on US troops, yet so far has not launched any attacks. Neither have other regional Shia militias.

Read more: Female activists demand Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei resign

Islam expert Udo Steinbach says Nasrallah is holding off on Tehran’s request. “The militias are politically and partially economically dependent on Iran,” he says, adding that Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi insurgents have in the past always followed Tehran’s orders. Iraq’s Shia militias, meanwhile, are only loosely allied with Tehran as well as being integrated with Iraq’s armed forces. But all the groups have shown loyalty to Tehran. “It is not very likely that any of these groups would consider becoming independent political or military actors after Soleimani’s death,” says Steinbach. 

Soleimani’s death has put Israel on high alert. According Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, Iranian ally Hezbollah possesses significant military might. Speaking to the Times of Israel, he said, “for the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there’s going to be an Arab actor, Hezbollah, which is going to be able to not only disrupt Israel’s mobilization processes by hitting mobilization centers and warehouses, but also to disrupt our offensive capabilities.” He added that, “we face a critical year at a time when our political leaders are involved in other matters.”

Iraqi militia ready for action

Iran’s reaction to Soleimani’s killing has largely been one of self-restraint. Its missile strikes on Iraqi army bases used by US forces caused no causalities. But if militias linked to Tehran are not satisfied with this limited response, they could well take matters into their own hands, Dina Esfandiary of the New York Century Foundation told Foreign Policy magazine. She believes they may not necessarily obey Tehran’s will.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses a meeting in Tehran

Supreme Leader Khamenei is ultimately the one to decide how Iran or its proxies react

“It doesn’t matter if Iran stops,” Abu Hussein, a mid-level fighter in the Hashd Shaabi, told Foreign Policy. “Iran has avenged the killing of Soleimani. The Hashd must still avenge the killing of al-Muhandis.” Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Hashd Shaabi units, was killed together with Soleimani.

But Udo Steinbach disagrees. He argues that the future of Iran-US ties will be determined by the political leadership of both nations. “If the Iranians reach the conclusion that the time has come to make a step toward the US, they will pragmatically implement this decision,” he says. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alone would make such a call, and none of Iran’s allied militias would seriously oppose such a move, Steinbach says.

DW sends out a selection of the day’s news and features. Sign up for it here.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Palestinian killed in clashes as tensions rise over US plan

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes with demonstrators in the West Bank on Wednesday, the first death since tensions rose following the release of President Donald Trump‘s Mideast plan, according to Palestinian officials. The…

‘Unreasonable & unacceptable’: Beijing slams Washington for press freedom hypocrisy after Chinese media branded ‘foreign missions’

Washington’s move against Chinese state media are “unreasonable and unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters on Wednesday. The United States has always advertised freedom of the press, but it interferes with and obstructs the normal operation of Chinese…

Ukraine minister sees no preparations for new Russia talks, has low expectations

Original source: Reuters ROME (Reuters) – Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday he saw no preparations taking place for a promised summit over the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, adding that he had little hope it would make any progress…

Dubai port operator DP World suspends staff travel to China

DUBAI (Reuters) – DP World, one of the world’s largest port operators, has suspended all staff travel to China until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak there. Companies including Facebook, LG Electronics and Standard Chartered are among those restricting…