The Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba this week announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade.” While it is not uncommon for entities to name themselves after areas they aim to “liberate,” the militia’s spokesman has said that the unit could assist the Syrian regime in taking the Golan Heights, a region in the Levant that has been controlled by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.
If true, the unit would likely participate in a future offensive to capture territory from Syrian opposition in the part of the Golan Heights still controlled by Syria, before moving on to the much taller order of dislodging the Israelis across the border.
This week’s announcement reflects Tehran’s priorities in southern Syria since finally taking the fiercely contested city of Aleppo late last year: crush Syrian opposition, and pose military threat to Israel from the Golan Heights.
Harakat al Nujaba, or Movement of the Noble, has sustained operations in the Syrian and Iraqi combat zones. An offshoot of the Iranian-backed militias Asaib Ahl al Haq and the Hezbollah Brigades, Harakat al Nujaba was formed in 2013 to fight in the Syrian Civil War as part of Iranian-led Iraqi expeditionary forces. The militia joined the Popular Mobilization Forces, the umbrella organization of Iraqi militia, the following year, after the Islamic State incursion into Iraq. Operating as one of the largest Iraqi-Shiite militia contingents in Syria, the militia has claimed to field 10,000 forces. Harakat al Nujaba played an important role in assisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and pro-Syrian regime forces conquer Aleppo late last year.
The Iraqi militia functions as an extension of the Islamic Republic. Having sworn full allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the militia promotes velayat-e faqih (guardianship of jurisprudence), the Islamic Republic’s founding ideology. Harakat al Nujaba takes direct orders from Major General Qassem Soleimani, the chief of the IRGC extraterritorial branch the Qods Force. Last year, the Iraqi militia, which is also known as Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, proclaimed that it and Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s most powerful foreign militia, were “the twins of resistance.”
The militia leader Akram al Kabi is close to the top Iranian leadership, including the supreme leader. A co-founder of the Asaib Ahl al Haq – itself an offshoot of the Mahdi Army – Kabi was designated in September 2008 by the US Treasury as a terrorist for aiding Iraqi insurgents. In 2015, he openly said he would depose the Iraqi government if Khamenei issued the order. Last year, top Iranian officials close to Khamenei gave Kabi a highly publicized reception in Tehran, unprecedented in scope and scale for a militia leader. This past December, Harakat al Nujaba publicized Kabi’s meeting with Khamenei on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran.
Harakat al Nujaba has divulged some details about the Golan Liberation Brigade. The commander of the militia’s forces in Syria released a statement declaring the unit to be a synthesis of combat experiences gained in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The militia’s official spokesman confirmed the event as a press conference March 8 in Tehran at the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, saying the unit was formed following “recent victories” (an implicit reference to Aleppo). He claimed the Golan unit is comprised of “special” forces.