WASHINGTON – Because the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, now is targeting the country of Lebanon as it seeks militarily to expand its holdings into a caliphate, Iran intends to provide direct counter-terrorism assistance.
The aid from the mullah-led regime in Tehran would included advisers to the Lebanese army and security forces, such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The newly appointed Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Fathali, said such assistance will include arms, equipment, training and the dispatching of counterterrorism experts, which would be the elite al-Quds forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.
“Since the first moment, we have declared our readiness to cooperate fully with the military at the highest levels and with all Lebanese security organs,” Fathali said. “We have announced this intention to the Lebanese side, and we have put no conditions for this cooperation, unlike some states that said that they agree to provide the Lebanese army with weapons provided they are not used against the Zionist enemy (Israel).”
Fathali said the Islamic republic “has a long experience in the field of counterterrorism.”
“The fight against terrorism is a collective action. And states must come together in this area,” he said. “What ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the region are doing not only serves the Zionist entity but also ignites strife and infighting among Muslims.”
He said Lebanon “occupies a prominent place in this region in relation to Iran.”
Fathali’s offer of direct Iranian assistance comes as the Islamic State, an al-Qaida splinter group, has announced the selection of a new “emir,” or prince, for Lebanon.
The new Islamic State emir for Lebanon is Abdeel Salam al-Ordoni, a Palestinian who lived in some of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
Sources have expressed concern to WND that uprisings of unemployed, disgruntled young people from the Palestinian camps could turn into open violence and prompt a cascading effect toward a Sunni-Shiite conflict reminiscent of the a civil war that enveloped Lebanon from 1975 to 1990.
The sources add that with Islamic State chief Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s choice of the Palestinian Ordoni as its leader in Lebanon, the impetus for conflict possibly will originate from the Palestinian camps.
One such camp is Ain el-Hilweh in Saida, or Sidon, a Sunni stronghold just south of Beirut. It also is the location for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and other Sunni jihadist fighter groups, including the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, in a camp of some 100,000 people.
Beirut increasingly is becoming a target as existing Sunni fighters from al-Nusra and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the country join the Islamic State victory march to establish its caliphate in the Levant, also known as Greater Syria.
In a country of 4 million people – which not only has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees in recent years but has some 400,000 Palestinians, 90 percent of whom are unemployed – Lebanon is experiencing increasing unrest. The turmoil has been exacerbated by increased cutbacks in basic services, especially in electricity and the delivery of fresh water.
With services already stretched as the country begins to experience triple-digit temperatures, there are concerns that such conditions will only further the potential for violence.
The tightening of essential services also comes as Muslims adhere to the month-long period of fasting called Ramadan. So far, however, Sunni jihadists, including the Islamic State, have not lessened their attacks during this fasting period that ends July 28.
As one observer recently told WND: “Lebanon is broken.”
It is a condition ripe for increased attacks from Sunni jihadist groups as the Islamic State threatens to take over Lebanon with the help of disgruntled Sunnis and Sunni Palestinians.
“The security situation is dangerous in light of what’s happening in Iraq,” Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri said at a recent news conference.
After months of inactivity, a rash of suicide car bombings has resumed, especially in the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut.
Sunnis, who are aiding al-Nusra and Abdullah Azzam Brigades fighters, have promised more improvised explosive device attacks due to Hezbollah fighters being in Syria to help prop up the government of Shiite-Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In view of the terrorist threat to Lebanon, whose majority population is Shiite, Iran sees a need to protect its own interests there, as well as in neighboring Syria to protect the Shiite-Alawite government of Assad.
The Islamic State already has taken over the eastern part of Syria, erasing the political demarcation line with Iraq through the establishment of a Sunni caliphate with its extreme Sunni Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Fathali’s offer comes as Iraq, led by the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has been engaged in serious fighting with the Islamic State, which has overrun the Sunni portions of the western and central portions of Iraq and now is threatening to attack Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
Baghdad is just inside the Shiite portion of the southern half of the country. While Shiites form a majority of the population in Iraq, Sunni Muslims and Sunni Kurds are also in the northern part of the country.
Maliki is seeking to hold his government together but has turned down outside advice to make it more inclusive by bringing in more Sunnis and Kurds.
For their part, the Kurds appear to have given up on any further representation in the Maliki government and have decided to take the lands they occupy in the north, including the oil-rich region around Kirkuk, and establish a de facto Kurdistan.
If the Iraqi Kurds can unite with the Kurds in the northern part of Syria and get the southern part of Turkey, where Kurds are a majority of the population, they can claim the lands as part of Kurdistan, all of which are in oil-rich regions of the three countries.