IRAN – Syria and Yemen: the Wars that others fight


Saudi Arabia’s “salami” war in Yemen is solely classifiable as an invasion of another country, while Syria is the result of a dangerous Persian-Gulf-led strategy of backing groups of sectarian Sunni extremist fighters on one side, and Iran backing the Assad Alawite quasi reign through its agencies like Hezbollah (the party of God) and the Quds Force (an offshoot of the Revolutionary Guard) inside Syria with a potential power to turn into a proxy war inside a proxy war between Russia and the US – the same scenario as what happened in Afghanistan during cold war.

The first issue to be considered is what war is and its definition. In the modern era, the term “war” often, but not always, denotes armed conflict between sovereign states. Taking into consideration the above definition, I would define “proxy war” as continuation of political conflicts of body politics through third parties. Vietnam in the 1960s and Afghanistan in the 1970s are the two most notable examples of proxy wars between communist and anti-communist forces. In Vietnam, the United States intervened directly with military forces, and the Soviet Union intervened indirectly by sending massive amounts of military and economic aid. In Afghanistan, it was the other way around – the Soviet Union launched a military invasion, and the United States backed the freedom fighters (Mujahidin, which later under the leadership of Bin Laden – a Saudi Arabian billionaire – formed the al-Qaeda group). In a nutshell, in proxy wars, the superpowers would back one side while relying on indigenous forces to do the fighting with their help, in form of “advisors”. The same anecdote is true about Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s.

The proxy war in Syria – oversimplified by Saudi and U.S. media

The majority of the Syrian population are Sunni though the country is ruled by Alawites, which are an offshoot of Shi’ites. On the one hand, Iran is backing the Hezbollah (party of God) against mostly Sunni-driven uprisings and on the other hand Saudi Arabia is supporting rebel efforts to topple Assad through backing proxies like SJ (Sunni Jihadists – I am not calling them IS as western medias do, because they are neither Islamic, nor a State, but hired mercenaries.).

U.S. broadcasters, who seem to be funded by Persian Gulf Arabs, turn the proxy war notion into an abstract and virtually pure problem of limiting Iranian influence in the region. They naively express the groundless idea of a rapprochement between Iran and the US, which initially stemmed from Iran and the 5+1 group nuclear deal, as a main reason of their blindly supporting anti-Assad Sunni extremists without knowing the anti-western staunch attitudes of Ali Khamenei. It ignores the fact that the regional actors behind the curtain of battles in Syria, Iraq and Libya are leading the entire Middle East into a new span and era of instability and uncontrolled factional violence.

The crimes committed by the Syrian regime in the war are outrageous, but the meddling policies of external countries targeting a proxy war to cancel out the existing regime have formed a far graver threat to the entire region, particularly the Middle Eastern sphere. David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, has scrutinized the process by which Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey competed with one another to create proxy forces with which to remove and overthrow the Assad regime – albeit we cannot overlook massive military and economic support given by theocratic Iran and massive military and political aid of imperialist Russians to vamp up the quasi-dictatorship of Assad.

Such a bizarre, scandalous, open, unbridled and uncontrolled competition by Western and Persian Gulf Arab countries as well as Turkey, in forming and equipping extremist oppositions, with the aim of replacing the Alawite regime for a Sunni-Salafi regime, was by its very essence an uncontrolled and dangerous use of power that carries the conspicuous and clear-cut risk of even intensifying the violence of the war in Syria. They have turned the aftermath of agency war into a far greater evil by turning towards the most violent armed groups they could find on the planet and using them as their agents – for instance the Turks, who are dreaming about rebuilding the Ottoman Empire, or the Saudis and the Qataris who have “turned a blind eye” – as Ignatius wrote, their deadly artilleries soon “made their way to the terrorist groups”.

Only when it became evident that Salafi-Sunni-Saudi-led countries were crafting a proxy war inside Syria that could deteriorate and shift the power balance against the Assad regime, Iran and its loyal agency, for instance the Hezbollah (party of God), joined in the mix and propped up the regime.

But what the public opinion of the Syrian war perceives is the tie between Syria and Iran in its deterrence strategy, which is known as “Axis of Resistance”. In terms of military power, Iran is not comparable to the US and Israeli military power in the Middle East, and has been, still is, the target of US and Israeli sporadic military threats.

The Assad regime along with Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories are part of the Iranian Axis of Resistance against Israel. Israel would have to take into consideration two definite facts, that Syria is in possession of a force of thousands of missiles and that Syria is the shortest passage for Iranian resupply of Hezbollah.

The Saudi mania with toppling the Iraqi Shi’ite government seems to mirror the true and deep feeling that Prince Bandar bin Sultan said to Richard Dearlove, former director of MI6. “The time is not far away in the Middle East, Dearlove”, expressed Sultan, “when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

Indeed, the Wahhabi Saudis have never put aside their vivid hostilities against the establishment of a Shi’ite administration and of a Shia-dominated regime in Iraq, which was a direct result of the military occupation of Iraq and the end of the Sunni-Saddam dictatorship by the United States. The Saudis started helping the relocation of extremist Sunnis to Iraq to oust the Shi’ite administration. In the wake of the US leaving Iraq, the funding from the Saudi’s oil dollars and other Persian Gulf Sheikhs for Sunni fighters in Iraq and arms moved toward the well organized, closed-minded, hapless, verbose, wicked and carnivorous forces, which ultimately means the Salafi jihadist extremist militant terrorist (SJ) group.

Initially, the grounding for a Middle Eastern proxy war followed after the NATO forces opened fire in the war in Libya and was followed by the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Those bloody battles took the form of viable, prestigious, cynical meddling by regional actors leading to worsening violence. In this case the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar were struggling for blustering their power and regaining their reputation within the Arab world through their funding and backing in any possible way for Libyan expatriates in their own states.

The Qatari princes directed their backing to the Libyan Islamic (Salafi) Fighting Group, which the US State Department has classified as a terrorist organization in early 2004 (one contemporary example of U.S. double standards of fighting against terrorism and human rights). The regional war in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, which is indeed fueled by Sunni Arabs oil money, Turkey’s geopolitical aid, Western country’s military, consultation and training aids, Iran’s “advisory” help and imperialist Russia’s military aid – and they have an impact on the longer-term structure of the conflict.

The media narratives have indicated only shallow analyses concerning the issue of the current proxy war in the region. What is actually needed, but sadly lacking, is media coverage scrutinizing the satanic realities of the proxy war, their cradles and their birthplace.

Is Yemen really a proxy war?

Agreeing on the Deutsch’s definition of proxy war – an international conflict between two foreign powers, fought out on the soil of a third country, disguised as a conflict over an internal issue of the country and using some of that country’s manpower, resources and territory as a means of achieving preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies-it is clear that it initially involves the use of another country’s fighters rather than the direct use of force by the foreign power or powers. So it is evident that the Saudi bombing in Yemen, which undoubtedly has killed mostly innocent Muslim civilians, using cluster bombsthat have been outlawed by many states in the world, cannot be termed as a proxy war at all but a straightforward external military aggression.

The fact that the majority of western as well as Arabic news broadcasting began labeling Yemen as a proxy war in response to the Saudi bombing strongly implies that the expression was solely a cunning and subtle way of softening the cruel reality of Saudi aggression.

The nowadays false-belief stressing the application of the term “proxy war” is, of course, that Iran had caused Yemen to enter into such a war by its military and economic support for the Houthis. But it overlooks the central question of whether the Houthis had been seeking such foreign goals and foreign strategies. It is a fact that Iran has had bonds with the Houthis, the Saudi propaganda line that the Houthis have long been Iranian proxies is not supported by the evidence just for a simple clear reason. Houthis have a long record of fighting against Al Qaeda in Yemen, to be more precise, they are the only military force fighting against Al Qaeda in Yemen and with a long history of fighting against central Sunni government which implies that they have a firm grounding in military affairs and consequently they are not really an agent or proxy of Iran and they can defend themselves without help of Iran.

Last year’s Houthi takeover of Sanaa has actually delivered firm evidence to prove the contrary to the Saudis argument that Houthis are initially Iranian proxies in Yemen. US intelligence sources recently told The Huffington Post that before the Houthis entered the capital, the Iranians had advised against such a move, but that the Houthis ignored this information.

Vom Bruck thinks that since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son Ahmed Ali Saleh had specified to the Houthis, that militants were still committed to them and would not resist the Houthi units progressing towards the capital unless the Houthis attacked them. As a result, the Houthis clearly did not intend to follow an Iranian order in Yemen.

Despite Hadi’s lack of leadership experience, the West propped him up with hefty expenses. He is far from what the pro-democracy protesters had called for in the early months of the Arab Spring. But for the international community, the theoretical alternative to ushering Hadi into power was that Saleh — who had already been president for 32 years — would have clung to power, possibly igniting a civil war. Now that has happened nonetheless.

The extent to which the Houthis’ policy is dictated by Tehran remains unknown, but much of the Arab world believes the group is carrying out Iran’s will. Taking into consideration that the Houthis were the only power fighting against Al Qaeda, it seems naïve to listen to the propaganda coming from Saudi Arabia and the United Sates.

For Yemen, the consequences of foreign power involvement can be horrible. For one, Saudi Arabia’s actions seem to prove the proxy war narrative. And that threatens to further cement sectarian tensions, which have already been on the rise. The Shi’ite/Sunni rivalry — such a powerful current in today’s Middle East — was not relevant in Yemen until this past year. Followers of both sects used to pray in the same mosques.

That is not the case anymore, and the last deadly suicide bombings in Shi’ite mosques in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain and Qatar are a terrifying indicator of that increasing divide.


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Majid Mazloum Bilandi

Assistant Prof. of Economy at the University of Warsaw (Poland)

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