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Friday, May 24, 2024

PERSPECTIVE: The Shadow War: Iran’s Psychological Strategies and the Peril of Suicide Attacks in Jordan

Amidst the extensive analysis of the 2024 Iranian strikes in Israel from a security standpoint, there lies a critical aspect often overlooked: the profound psychological ramifications experienced within Arab and Muslim communities. Before the Iranian attack, Arabic media platforms, led by extended Shia-backed militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, propagated exaggerated narratives. These narratives demonized not only Israel but also a few Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt, along with other Gulf countries. 

Iran’s geopolitical maneuvers transcend mere military actions, delving into the realm of psychological warfare and the extension of ‘Vilayat-e faqih’ (guardianship of the jurist) and its political Shiism ideology. Iran’s tactics involve fostering political chaos and polarization by portraying Sunni Arab governments in the media narrative as insignificant and straw dolls to Western interests. At the individual level, Iran aims to radicalize people through narratives of grievance and victimization. Ultimately, this can lead to acts of revenge, as the ideology of guardianship promotes the belief in seeking retribution, often exemplified through instances of violent actions known as Al-Shahadah (martyrdom). 

However, Jordanians, their kingdom, and their king were at the center of this demonizing narrative. Iran is well-known for its ability to extend its arms and proxy wars through penetrating societies and employing social media to facilitate this process. The goal of this penetration is to manipulate and weaponize the dehumanizing narrative.Iran’s tactics resemble those used in Iraq after the attack on the Shrine of the Two Imams in Samarra on February 22, 2006. This meticulously planned bombing targeted the mausoleum of Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari in Iraq, a site of immense significance to Shia Muslims, revered for pilgrimage and worship. This assault triggered sectarian tensions between Shia and Sunni communities, precipitating a surge in violence and targeted killings perpetrated by unknown factions and militias, mirroring the divisive strategies employed by the Iranian regime.  

In April 2024, Akram Abbas al-Ka’abi, an Iraqi militant leader and the founder and Secretary-General of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba in Iraq, issued a statement affirming that they will not cease their actions until two objectives are achieved: the cessation of operations in Gaza and the withdrawal of American occupation forces from Iraq. Similarly, in Syria, the slogan “Zainab will not be insulted twice” was adopted to motivate Shia militias to fight in Syria to protect the shrine of Lady Zainab bint Ali ibn Abi Talib, the well-known chant “O avengers of Hussain” has transitioned from a mere slogan to a tangible and perilous reality of conflict. This phrase has become instrumental in Iran’s strategy to reinforce its influence, particularly evident in its concentrated efforts on purported Shia holy sites and what it calls “sacred thresholds.” Iran engages in activities such as the fabrication and restoration of counterfeit tombs and shrines of revered figures, a tactic aimed at drawing Shia adherents and justifying its expansion and consolidation of power within Syrian society (Jamous, 2024).  

Moreover, it has sought to inject funds to purchase land and real estate in the Syrian capital, Damascus, for Iranian extension. This is the same strategy employed for land acquisition and Shia intensification in Jordan. Reports indicate a significant Shia presence in Jordan, with Shia families from Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria settling intensively in the country. Iran’s pivotal tactics operate on both the micro (individual level) and meso (social level). At the micro level, Iran utilizes the media, religious narratives, and financial support through religious gatherings, ritual meetings, and holy events in Shia communities to instigate a sense of victimization, grievance, trauma, and memories of bloodshed among individuals. At the social level, Iran employs a step-by-step and patient strategy to corrode solid societies from within by creating an ‘us vs. them’ narrative and fostering hatred towards their own governments. This can be seen in the shift of Hamas towards Iranian ideology during the events of October 7 events Israel-Gaza war (Hassen, 2023). 

On April 16th, Shahriar Heidari, the Deputy Head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Iranian Shura Council, criticized the decision of the Jordanian government to open its airspace to Israel to confront the Iranian attack, calling it a strategic mistake. Heidari further described Jordan’s role in the operation launched by Iran against Israel as destructive. Iran-backed militias in Iraq also have condemned the Jordanian kingdom aggressively on social media, making accusations of betrayal and branding them as new Arab Zionists. Consequently, they ordered their militias to declare ‘no place for peace’ and keep fighting against U.S. interests in the region, exploiting the Gaza conflict. 

Likewise, on April 16, 2024, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, expressed gratitude towards the Sabereen News group of channels for their condolences telegram following the martyrdom of several individuals, among them the sons and grandchildren of Hajj Ismail Haniyeh. Sabereen News is the main social media conglomerate supporting factions in Iraq, particularly the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia (Sabereen News, 2024). 

Iran has a history of portraying certain regions as holy places under threat, mobilizing support by framing interventions as necessary to protect sacred sites. This tactic was notably employed in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, where Iran’s proxies painted themselves as defenders of holy places against perceived threats.By leveraging religious fervor, Iran was able to mobilize militias and sow societal unrest and grievance.Central to Iran’s narrative is the portrayal of Israel and Arab leaders as primary adversaries, labeled as ‘Arab Zionists.’ Through inflammatory rhetoric disseminated via media platforms and proxies, Iran stirs sentiments of betrayal and treachery among Arab populations. This tactic not only demonizes perceived enemies but also creates a rallying cry for its supporters. Iran’s agenda extends beyond military actions; it seeks to penetrate Jordanian society and spread its ideology by manipulating sentiments and grievances. Media narratives propagated by Iranian proxies in Jordan depict the regime as treacherous and complicit in betraying the Arab cause. Such narratives aim to stoke feelings of anger and resentment, potentially destabilizing the region. 

According to Shia sources, since the acclaimed Hezbollah’s victory in the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2007, approximately 150 families in Al-Baqaa camp have converted to Shia Islam. Al-Baqaa camp, established in 1968 as one of six “emergency” camps, was created to house Palestinian refugees and displaced individuals who fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 war. Additionally, there are reports of Shia presence in Madaba camp, a Palestinian diaspora settlement established in Jordan in 1956, where one or more families have recently embraced Shia Islam. Cases of Shiaism have also been reported in Irbid, Zarqa, and other areas. The most notable proliferation of this phenomenon is observed in various suburbs of Amman. The growth of Shiaism in recent years can be attributed to the mobilization of Iraqi and Syrian militias allied with Iran, as well as the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis into Jordan. 

Iran’s main power relies on political Shiism, which operates as a tool of destruction and genocide. It spreads as a plague among individuals and societies and creates an identity transformation in which people should obey the path of ‘Velayat-e faqih’ (guardianship of the jurist). This form of ideology leads to extreme radical beliefs and embracing behavior for Al-Shahadah (sacrificing oneself for the purpose of victory ‘Velayat-e faqih’). In an explanation of the concept of ‘Velayat-e faqih’ (guardianship of the jurist), Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori-Hamedani emphasized in 2016 that ‘Shahadah’ is an unstoppable weapon for Islamic society. He added that jihad and martyrdom are integral aspects of Velayat-e faqih, and states lacking these two components are vulnerable to enemy infiltration.Iran’s psychological warfare tactics threaten both regional stability and the security of individual societies. By exploiting poverty, grievances, and religious gatherings, Iran seeks to further its geopolitical agenda at the expense of peace and stability. 

In conclusion, the current situation in Jordan is deeply concerning, particularly at the individual level, where Iran’s manipulation of hate and demonizing narratives has reached its peak. Iran’s goal to radicalize and mobilize people, particularly among Palestinian refugee camps, represents a preliminary step towards recruiting more people against the US and Israel in the near future. Iran could exploit the insecurities, alienation, poverty, and unemployment prevalent among Palestinians in Jordan, portraying the Jordanian government as not only unsupportive but as actively collaborating with their enemies. This calculated manipulation aims to radicalize and recruit vulnerable individuals for potential attacks against perceived adversaries at the individual level. This alarming trend underscores the urgent need to address and counter Iran’s influence to prevent further escalation of violence and maintain regional stability. Affected nations must recognize and counter these tactics through heightened awareness, resilience, and diplomatic efforts to mitigate further escalation and violence. 

References 

Al-Arabi, M. (2020). التشيع في الأردن. Retrieved from https://www.alrsool.info/freeviews/356 

Hassen, S. (2023). Hamas’s Ideological Evolution in the 2023 Israel–Hamas War. Retrieved from https://www.hstoday.us/featured/hamass-ideological-evolution-in-the-2023-israel-hamas-war/ 

Jamous, R. (2024). حرب المراقد.. إستراتيجية إيرانية للشحن الطائفي والتوسع في سوريا [Graves War: An Iranian Strategy for Sectarianism Shipping and Expansion in Syria]. Retrieved from https://www.noonpost.com/197213/ 

Sabereen News. (2024). [Tweet]. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/sabreenS11/status/1780587725835444703 

Alwelayah.net. (2016). آية الله العظمى نوري همداني: الأعداء يتغلغلون في الدول الفاقدة للجهاد والشهادة. Retrieved from https://alwelayah.net/post/print/37311. 

author avatar
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.

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