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Hanin Ghaddar

The Iran deal, the Shiites and demography

The deal controls Iran only within Iran

Lebanese Shiite mothers mourn the loss of sons who died fighting for Hezbollah and young women in Iran celebrating the deal in the streets of Tehran. (image via social media)

The morning after the Iran deal was signed, many local newspapers published two expressive pictures on the front pages. Pictures of Lebanese Shiite mothers crying over coffins covered with Hezbollah flags were published under the bigger pictures of young Iranian women celebrating victoriously in the streets of Tehran. This sight — more than anything in the papers that day — revealed the future of the conflict in the region.  

 

As the Iranians enjoy the economic and possibly social benefits of the deal, Shiites elsewhere will continue fighting Iran’s regional battles. The deal controls the Iranian nuclear program, not its aggressive ambitions in the region. In a way, the deal controls Iran within Iran, not in the broader Middle East.

 

The Revolutionary Guards are the decision-makers behind Iran’s military operations in the region, and there is nothing in the deal that will force them to stop their killing machine in Syria and the broader region. They can enjoy the economic benefits and still continue their military operations.

 

Even under sanctions, Iran did not stop funding these operations. According to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, Iran has spent between $6 billion and $35 billion a year to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Earlier this month, Assad ratified a $1 billion credit line from Tehran. All this happened under sanctions, and this is too big of an investment for it to go to waste. So now that the deal is signed, Assad, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias in Syria will probably get more weapons, fuel, and Shiite mercenaries from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

Iran will probably behave in Iran. The argument that the hardliners in Iran are against the deal and that President Hassan Rouhani is facing a challenge in convincing them is just a show. The hardliners have no problem with the deal as long as it brings economic prosperity and at the same time allows Iran to boost its military operations in the region. And that’s exactly what they will do.

 

The challenge, however, is not in Iran. Assad and Hezbollah will receive a boost in money and weapons, which will prolong the conflict, though not necessarily end it in their favor. This prolongation of war will have repercussions on both the Arab Shiites and the Sunnis.

 

Hezbollah will benefit from the influx of money, and it will be able to increase the social services it had to cut down on recently. This will also help the Party of God recruit more Shiites from Lebanon and across the region to fight in Syria. With better salaries and benefits, many of the increasingly unemployed Shiites will join the war. But even more of them will come back in coffins.

 

This is already creating agitation within the Shiite community. The lack of alternatives is keeping many silent, but it doesn’t mean that they’re satisfied with the deaths and lack of victory. With no alternatives, increased dissatisfaction among the Shiites will not lead to a weakened Hezbollah in Lebanon. On the contrary, Hezbollah will not stop its war in Syria and the Shiites in Lebanon and elsewhere will always be the victims of it. The only result of this will be more isolation of the community — by its own leaders through increased sectarian rhetoric, and by the other communities who can now only see Shiites as their enemies.

 

On the other hand, the Sunnis of the region are not going to face a better fate. For them, the US and Europe have taken sides. Perception in our region is often more important than truth, and for the majority of the people in the Middle East, the US has taken sides in this sectarian conflict. This perception is leading to fears that the US will ally with Iran in the region as a whole — in the same vein as what has started to happen in Iraq — to fight ISIS, which will boost the position of Iran and its militias in Syria, too.  

 

Even if they don’t prove true, these concerns are valid if only because no one has addressed them so far. The deal was signed and not a single official responded to these fears with the depth and strategy they require.

 

To defeat ISIS, the US also needs the Sunni community as an ally, not as an antagonist. Therefore, these concerns should be addressed today. Otherwise, the repercussions are going be further militarization and radicalization of the Sunni community.

 

Then comes the issue of demography, which will be in direct confrontation with Iran’s interests in Syria. More money for Iran will not reduce the sectarian hatred this conflict has fed. With more radicalized conflict on both the Sunni and Shiite sides, demography will eventually win. The Shiites will always remain a minority that continues to fight an ‘existential battle,’ and the Sunnis in Syria will not stop trying to fight Hezbollah and other foreign Shiite militias in their country. 

 

The Iran deal guaranteed economic and social benefits for the Iranian people and authorities. It gave the Obama administration its ‘legacy,’ but it made the war in the region more sectarian, and more radicalized.

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @haningdr

Lebanese Shiite mothers mourn the loss of sons who died fighting for Hezbollah and young women in Iran celebrating the deal in the streets of Tehran. (image via social media)

As the Iranians will enjoy the economic and possibly social benefits of the deal, Shiites elsewhere will continue fighting Iran’s regional battles."

  • allang

    Hopefully in the next few months, people will finally realize the US has no desire to entangle herself in the Middle East again. Not with the Sunnis or the Shiites... not the Turks or the Kurds. And certainly not with the bloodthirsty Iranian proxy in Lebanon. We've learned this lesson the hard way. The Obama administration is too intelligent and too risk averse... to get involved in a Sunni vs Shiite religious war. We have all seen the wonders of indiscriminate suicide bombings. The sweet and swift justice of Islamic fanaticism. The beheading videos... and all the vengeance or bloodlust that comes with it. This is not our war. And more to the point, we have no dog in this fight...

    August 2, 2015

  • RalphS.

    very true, Obama simply made sure Iran doesn't start a nuclear race, as to taking the task of turning barbarians to civil people he left that to the barbarian's leaders.

    August 2, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Glad to read there are Americans who value Obama's smart and far-reaching policies. Over here, in this part of the world, they all hate him: The Shiites by ideology, and the Sunnis because he refuses to send US soldiers die for them. When colonials intervene, the colonized cry foul for centuries. They still bemoan the Crusades, they bemoan 23 years of French mandate (1920-1943) over Lebanon that established our institutions, but never mention 400 years (1516-1918) of backward barbaric Turkish Ottoman occupation. When the West refuses to play the colonial, they cry foul - as they do now - because of indifference, incompetence, etc. What a bunch of morons. For once in their recent history, they have - as we say in Lebanese - to pick their own fleas.

    August 3, 2015

  • كاتلين سعد

    "To defeat ISIS, the US also needs the Sunni community as an ally". ISIS is a caricature of Erdogan's Turkey! One foot in Europe and one in the East, Turkey retrograded into enforcing (attempting to) archaic religious laws. scary! If this is Europe's background, could you imagine the heartland of Sunni Islam? The West fear Sunnis for their lack of centralized leadership and their expanse. Two feuding Islams certainly allay this fear.

    August 1, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    "If this is Europe's "backyard" [not background], could you..." "The West fear [sic] Sunnis for their lack of..." People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...

    August 2, 2015

  • كاتلين سعد

    "West" is capitalized and is by definition plural... I really need not waste time on you. You seam very shallow and lack faucus. I expected a comment on semantics not my "background". You swallowed the bate... Enough [sic]s 4 u???

    August 5, 2015

  • كاتلين سعد

    Now, if Hanibaal is Hanin, I apologize

    August 5, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    كاتلين سعد has now deleted her comment in which she corrected someone's erroneous use of "it's" instead of "its". Problem is she too makes even more horrendous mistakes in her composition, hence my previous reply. She has now withdrawn her earlier accusation. I commend her.

    August 5, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Pathetic كاتلين سعد: West is a collective, not a plural, and is a singular. Just Google "The West are" and tell me what you find. You've now sunken even lower by pretending to be setting baits to hide your laughable critique of someone's bad English with your even worse English. Just stop being defensive and playing silly games, admit your mistake, and read some English. By the way, I do not care about your background.

    August 6, 2015

  • Ali M Hamdan

    The main challenge of the deal is in Iran itself

    July 31, 2015

  • iranasalways

    Dear editor, Just responding to a sentence in your article: "The only result of this will be more isolation of the community — by its own leaders through increased sectarian rhetoric, and by the other communities who can now only see Shiites as their enemies". Madam, recall the time prior to the Zionist Jews invasion of Lebanon, in 1982,: When the Shi'ite community in your country, in spite of having less rights and by far enjoying inferior standard of living than the other community who make up the so-called March 14's constituency in today's Lebanon. Those "sectarian" Hezbollah-shiites fought [Your] Jewish enemy, and brought some degree of respect back to your country: They demonstrated to those Jews & their backers in the West, [Not] all Arabs are useless and cowards; remember? Then, if I may ask, there was no cry of the Islamic Republic or its Revolutionary Guards' "sectarianism". I beg to hear the convenient cry of innocence! [&] victimhood? That at the hands of evil; Lebanon is in pain: That Iranian women, while dancing the night away; celebrating the anticipated good time to come, yet the Lebanese Shi'ite mothers weeping the loss of their sons. Is that meant to be a kind of self-eluding moral condemnation of [mother]-country, Iran? Never again, will the Lebanese Shi'ite community would embrace a God-forsaken Zionist Jew with rice and flowers: Nor will they ever again, ignore or allow a bunch of truly barbarians, these backward cold blooded murderers harm their [Shi'ite] sons & daughters in the name of Sunni-Islam. That Lebanese Hezbollah's deepest regret is that because of forefathers, [Time] has just woken-up the [Mother]-country, Iran. Please, convey the message.

    July 31, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Prior to 1982, the Shiites in South Lebanon were sick of the Palestinians fighting Israel from Shiite villages and inviting Israeli retaliation. When Israel invaded in 1982, the Lebanese Shiites welcomed the Israeli soldiers with rice and flowers as their liberators from the PLO, then within two years between 1984 and 1986 those same Shiites proceeded to exterminate thousands of Palestinians in the Wars of the Camps. Your claims of the Shiites fighting Jewish enemies has nothing to do with Palestine or its liberation; You do not care for Palestine or the Palestinians; You are using Palestine and the Palestinians to advance barbaric Iranian agenda of hegemony and religious extremism. Those Lebanese Shiites fighting in Syria and elsewhere are not fighting for their country; they are fighting for Iran, and this, my friend, is treason. Traitors like Lebanon's Shiites choose religious identity over national identity, regardless of who they claim to be fighting, and that is why they have abandoned Lebanon to fight in Syria and Iraq....Tell me again: What Jewish Zionist enemy are they fighting in Syria and Iraq? Not only are they traitors to their country, but Lebanon's Shiites are stupid for fighting and dying while Iranians are enjoying life and building their country. Across the Arab world, Shiites make up 10% of all Muslims; at the rate of them fighting the Don Quixote wars of Iran, not many of them will be left.

    July 31, 2015

  • RalphS.

    +1

    August 2, 2015