Iran and Israel’s theft of Arab lands: Crimes without consequences?
Barely a month goes by without new Syrian “reconciliation” agreements, often amounting to the forced removal of entire populations unwilling to swear undying loyalty to Bashar Assad. Last week, such deals arranged the evacuation of thousands of civilians and rebels from the towns of Houla, Rastan, Talbiseh, Babila, Yalda and Beit Sahem, along with final evacuations from Yarmouk, once a sanctuary for 350,000 Palestinian refugees. Most residents were transported to conflict-wracked Idlib, as they joined the 11.7 million Syrians already displaced by the carnage.
Damascus suburbs like Douma and Eastern Ghouta were inexorably pulverized into submission by barrel bombs, chemical weapons and unrelenting artillery fire. Around 200,000 shattered survivors from these two districts were also bussed to Idlib — the next province in the regime’s line of fire. It is as if Assad and Tehran relish the idea of crushing, humiliating and massacring these same innocent civilians all over again.
Evacuated towns have been settled by new populations, including Assad loyalists displaced from elsewhere, and Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Lebanese. Reports show how the Lebanese border region around Qusair has been resettled by thousands of Hezbollah personnel: “Hezbollah is investing in developing thousands of acres in this area, known for its fertile fields, and will directly reap the profits,” according to one story.
Families of foreign militants are obtaining Syrian nationality en masse: The Department of Immigration and Passports in Damascus has reportedly issued 200,000 passports to Iranians and their proxies. A new law serves to eliminate any claims dispossessed Syrians have over confiscated properties, legalizing their possession by new regime-friendly occupiers. The deliberate destruction of document archives in Darayya, Zabadani and Homs serves a similar purpose.
The failure of Syria’s peace process has allowed Iran and Assad to reconquer territories and dispossess their inhabitants.
Once the fog of war in Syria dissipates, the demographic reality will have radically altered. The world’s abandonment of credible peace efforts has allowed Iran and Assad to reconquer territories and dispossess their rightful inhabitants at their leisure. Sunni Arabs once constituted a majority throughout this diverse nation, unified by a strong collective sense of national identity. But they have disproportionately borne the brunt of forced displacements, leaving behind fragmented and ghettoized communities, which are easy to divide and conquer.
A similar situation exists across central Iraq, where a majority of Sunnis were displaced across multiple provinces. They now face paramilitary and administrative obstacles to returning home, including tens of thousands being refused identity documents. Such destabilizing measures are calculated to favor Iran-backed militants in next week’s elections. Elections in Lebanon are similarly being held in circumstances designed to benefit Hezbollah.
Iran is appropriating Arab lands and cities before our very eyes. Israel’s predatory policies for seizing Arab territories are well-documented — for those who care to take notice. Yet annexation of Arab territories by Iranian proxies affects an exponentially greater land area than even the most frenzied Zionist hard-liners could dream of stealing. Due to the complex and covert nature of this land grab, few observers are paying attention.
Israel profited from wars of annexation and bouts of settlement-building to present the world with a fait accompli. Possession of Palestinian land, no matter how it was obtained, could then be legalized retrospectively. Iran has similarly exploited regional anarchy to extend its influence wherever possible. An October 2017 deal brokered by Iran’s Qasem Soleimani forced Iraqi Kurds to withdraw from vast expanses of land that had been under Peshmerga control since 2014, including flashpoint cities like Kirkuk and Sinjar. Today these areas are controlled by Iran-backed militias, which have dispersed rival communities and are aggressively preventing non-partisan election candidates from campaigning.
Globally, there has been extreme reluctance to join the dots and acknowledge the long-term consequences of Iran’s expansionist policies when played out simultaneously across multiple states. It is impossible to ignore the consistent pattern of deploying paramilitaries across strategic territories and exploiting the ballot box to dominate the political sphere, while investing in schools, universities and theological institutions with the goal of ideological supremacy.
Such crimes against humanity by Iran and Israel, shackled to a neo-colonialist political agenda, contribute to a global climate of impunity, where international laws are trampled without consequences. The genocide of the Rohingya, Russia’s interference in the Crimea and Ukraine, and China’s militarization of the South China Sea all illustrate how acts of aggression are these days met with little more than a half-hearted shrug by the international community.
If Tehran’s imperialist agenda is successful, the world will be faced with a potent and irrefutable fait accompli. In Lebanon — where Iran’s hegemonic strategies are furthest advanced — it is almost inconceivable to imagine a scenario in which Hezbollah could be eradicated from the political sphere. Hezbollah is like the cuckoo that has taken over the nest, the parasite which has come to dominate all organs throughout the body of its host. In Syria and Iraq, such a prospect is a little further off — but not much.
Tehran has much to learn about the unsustainable costs of occupation. One hundred years after it was signed, Palestinians and their supporters are no nearer forgetting the consequences of the Balfour Declaration. Occupation doesn’t gain legitimacy over time, and the devouring of Palestinian lands has only served to prevent Israel becoming a normalized state at peace with its neighbors. Iran’s efforts to colonize the Arab world will be no more enduring than imperialist Europe’s 19th century colonization of Africa and Asia.
Next week, the West risks abandoning a deal that (very imperfectly) exerted a restraining influence on Iran’s nuclear program. Yet there is little prospect of replacing it with a more comprehensive program of aggressive containment that could meaningfully respond to Tehran’s campaign for regional supremacy; particularly while the world remains in a state of ignorant denial.
What scenario would be worse than allowing Iran’s ayatollahs to acquire nuclear weapons, thus making themselves an unchallengeable global threat? How about a Persian theocracy with nuclear arms and a mighty empire spreading all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean?
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.