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Iran's Proxies More Important Than Its Nuclear Program - Report

Members of Hezbollah march with party's flags during a rally marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day) in Beirut, Lebanon May 31, 2019.

A new research paper published by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies says Iran has developed a "sovereign capability to conduct warfare through third parties" in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, the paper concludes that "This sovereign capability is of greater strategic value to Tehran than its conventional forces, its ballistic missiles or even its rejuvenating nuclear programme."

According to the IISS, the research entitled Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East is a study, based on field work, interviews and open source analysis explaining "how Iran projects its influence in the Middle East through a variety of complex relationships with regional partners."

John Chipman, the Director-General and Chief Executive of the IISS described this "sovereign capability" as a weapon of choice that is peculiarly suited to today’s regional conflicts." He wrote in an analysis that such capabilities, "are not defined by state-on-state warfare, involving parity of forces subject to international law, but are complex and congested battlespaces involving no rule of law or accountability, low visibility, and multiple players who represent a mosaic of local and regional interests."

This sheds light on the way Iranian forces operate beyond Iranian borders in combat theaters as far as Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where officials and commanders often claim their troops are based as military advisers rather than actual boots on the ground.

The IISS paper published on November 7, highlights the fact that " The Islamic Republic of Iran has tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East in its favour by countering superior conventional forces with influence operations and use of third-party forces."

One of dozens of pictures which shown Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Qassem Soleimani, in an operation outside the country (probably Iraq or Syria). 2016
One of dozens of pictures which shown Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Qassem Soleimani, in an operation outside the country (probably Iraq or Syria). 2016

The paper notes that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force is the focal point and driving force of Iran's capability to conduct proxy warfare in the region. The Quds Force is now a powerful regional player whose doctrine and strategy is designed to work with the realities of contemporary conflicts.

The paper observes that the Qods (Quds) Force has matured under its current commander Qassem Soleimani and is now Iran's principal means of countering regional adversaries and international pressure.

Meanwhile, Chipman noted in his expert commentary that "Tehran has lost faith in negotiations following the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal but has found a way to win in war." He added: "While the conventional military balance remains heavily in favour of the US and its allies, Iran has tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East to its advantage by developing a sovereign capability to conduct warfare through third parties."

Students training with al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Babil, 11Jun2105
Students training with al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Babil, 11Jun2105

Stressing on Iran's confidence in its "ability to attract minorities and the disenfranchised beyond its borders," Chipman concluded that "Weak states and divided societies are easy prey for Iranian influence. In Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Iran has pursued non-state partnerships opportunistically."

This comes while Iran's influence has been blunted in countries with a measure of good governance, he noted.

Elsewhere, the IISS paper observed that Iran's deployment to countries such as Yemen and Syria, "has encountered no effective international response but has consistently delivered Iran advantage without the cost or risk of direct confrontation with adversaries."

Although Iran's regional capabilities are rooted in Iranian forces' combat experience and Shiite revolutionary ideas, still it exploits and enrols both Shiite and non-Shiite communities that share Iran's objectives, the study found.

The paper concludes that as Iran has not been constrained so far by conventional actors, it "will continue to seize opportunities to expand its third-party capability, but it must manage both the risk of overstretch and of rejection by communities that see it as a foreign, interventionist state."

Examples of such rejection has been observed during the past week in demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon where protestors voiced their anger over Iran's intervention and in one case set the Iranian consulate in Karbala on fire and removed Iranian flags while tearing posters of Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani.