Iran Has the Edge in the Proxy War Waged with Saudis and Israel
Saudi Arabia and Israel differ widely in their approach to the threat both face from Iran, but they have this in common: They are nowhere near matching Iran in the war of proxies, by which the Shiite extremist regime is reaching into every corner of the Middle East.
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Abbdulrahman al-Rashid, former General Manager of the Al Arabiya TV News Channel, who often speaks for royal opinion in Riyadh, put it this way:
“… the option of a direct military confrontation with Iran is something that no one wants. After eliminating this option, it seems the only approach would be strengthening local militias in countries witnessing unrest.”
A few days earlier, Dr. Uzi Rubin, father of Israel’s missile program wrote: “The dilemma before Israel today is to decide which ‘existential’ threat it should prepare for…. A full-scale war against state armies and a resurgent Eastern Front (Syria-Hizballah-Iraq) that may be established over the next decade, or for a continuous series of limited wars in which the home front will be the main target of powerful non-state (Palestinian) armies in Gaza and (pro-Iranian) armies in Lebanon?”
Rubin concludes that the IDF command has opted at present for the former and is “preparing for full-scale wars against state armies for national survival.”
Neither the Saudis nor Israel seem to be trying to address pro-Iranian proxy forces as their greatest military peril. This has left Iran free to pursue this strategy with the following tactics:
- Tehran has created scores, if not hundreds, of loyal paramilitary militias in four Middle East countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
- Iran can call on additional militias and thousands of fervent Shiites in countries outside the region to fight under its flag, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Iran has embedded secret armed underground cells inside the Shiite communities of all the Gulf Cooperation Council emirates. They are geared to go into action on orders from Iranian intelligence.
- Iran’s armed forces are divided into an army and the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which makes its autonomous military arm, the Al Qods Brigade, available for operations on foreign soil. Al Qods is designed to activate overseas proxy entities, a resource which neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel possesses.
- Iran has used those proxies to deploy advanced missiles right up to the borders of Israel and Saudi Arabia: The kingdom is enclosed on its southern border by Yemeni Houthi rebels and on its eastern frontier by the powerful pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) aka the Hashd al-Shaabi and Badr Brigades, as well as Iraqi Hizballah.
Israel is confronted from two places in the north by Hizballah, which is based in Lebanon and Syria, and from the south by the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in which Iran is increasingly involved.
Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and Israel withdrew from military involvement in the Syrian conflict in the past year, while Tehran further deepened its grip.
- The most recent example of Iran’s deft manipulation of proxy strength for strategic ends showed up Wednesday, Nov. 9, when the Syrian ISIS stronghold of Abu Kamal was captured by two forces combined under Tehran’s control: the Iraqi PMU and the Lebanese Hizballah.
Hizballah crossed from Syria into Iraq for the first time to meet up with the PMU which entered Syria from Iraq. Since both were under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, these cross-movements consolidated Iranian control of the central section of the Syrian-Iraqi border – one of Tehran’s most coveted objectives.
It has to be said that neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia took any action to thwart Iran’s drive for this goal.
And indeed, on Wednesday, after the fall of Abu Kamal, Damascus publicly sealed this feat with an official statement:
“The Syrian Arab Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran have met up with the Iraqi forces at the Deir Ez-Zour-Anbar boder axis this morning. Backed by Hizballah and Hash al-Sha’abi Iraqi paramilitary, the Syrian Army and IRGC forces were able to meet up with the Iraqi forces across the border after reaching Akash Oil Fields in the southeastern countryside of Deir Ez-Zour Governorate.”
This was the first time the Assad regime had ever admitted to IRGC participation in a battle for control of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
- The broad distribution of pro-Iranian militias in several countries gives Iran the flexibility to coordinate combined operations for simultaneous attacks on several fronts.
- By participating in the military operation against Iraqi Kurdistan, Tehran’s proxy achieved not only the pro-US KRG’s downfall and the breakup of its Peshmerga army, but also preempted Israel’s use of the semiautonomous Kurdish republic for setting up a forward intelligence surveillance base close to Iran’s eastern border. Also averted was a possible Israeli military operation from Kurdistan against the overland corridor Iran has carved piece by piece through Iraq to Syria.
The Israelis and Saudis are only just now pondering the types of conflict and strategy building up against them and taking their first look at the military and economic ramifications of a proxy war. But Iran is already well advanced in pursuit of this strategy and has scored its first successful round.