>>The Role of Iran in the Middle East Proxy Wars
The Role of Iran in the Middle East Proxy Wars2018-05-16T16:33:17+00:00

The Role of Iran in the Middle East Proxy Wars

A Series of Arti­cles on Iran


Arrays of inter­sect­ing con­flicts in the Mid­dle-East have drawn the region into a com­plex bat­tle-field, with dam­ag­ing effects on its social fab­ric. Even before the 2011 Arab upris­ings, major con­flicts in the region tend­ed to inter­sect with local diver­gences, cre­at­ing pri­ma­ry as well as sec­ondary con­flict clus­ters, poi­son­ing rela­tions between region­al and inter­na­tion­al actors and com­pli­cat­ing any attempts for sus­tain­able solu­tions.


Since the 1979’s rev­o­lu­tion, the Islam­ic Repub­lic of Iran has had a cru­cial part in the hybrid and chang­ing course of the con­flicts in its neigh­bors and in the over­all bal­ance of pow­er in the region. Their long-last­ing alliances with Hezbol­lah, as well as a strong engage­ment with Assad, Shia mili­tias and some of the Kur­dish groups and the Houthis are a clear illus­tra­tion of the country’s efforts to expand its influ­ence in Iraq, Syr­ia and Yemen[1].

As a result of these inter­fer­ence as well as pow­er and secu­ri­ty vac­u­ums which were cre­at­ed in the chaos of con­flicts, syn­chro­nized with numer­ous for­eign inter­ven­tions, rad­i­cal Islamist groups were sup­plied with the nec­es­sary sup­port they need­ed to empow­er their posi­tion. The emer­gence of these armed groups uphold­ing an extrem­ist ide­ol­o­gy, which prof­it­ed from local and inter­na­tion­al griev­ances, widened the scope of the already com­plex civ­il war in Syr­ia, the chaos in Iraq and the upris­ing in Yemen.

The inter­na­tion­al­ized aspects of these inter­sect­ing con­flicts were, among oth­er fac­tors, illus­trat­ed by the region’s major pow­ers’ inter­fer­ence by sup­port­ing the sup­ply of for­eign fight­ers to var­i­ous Syr­i­an, Iraqi, Libyan and Yemeni groups (with jihadist and reli­gious extrem­ist ide­olo­gies) oper­at­ed on a logis­ti­cal lev­el, sub­si­diz­ing trav­el costs and arma­ment and financ­ing many of their capa­bil­i­ties. Accord­ing to a NATO report[2], the issue of pri­vate finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions to fur­ther any form of armed jihad is a par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­si­tive ques­tion for Iran, which is reg­u­lar­ly accused of fund­ing many ter­ror­ist groups.

With regard to domestic politics, the country is viewed as a failed state that cannot or does not protect the human rights of its own people


Due to its inter­fer­ence in the region, Iran is often seen as a dis­in­te­gra­tive force, hav­ing unre­solved con­flicts with numer­ous neigh­bor­ing states. With regard to domes­tic pol­i­tics, the coun­try is viewed as a failed state that can­not or does not pro­tect the human rights of its own peo­ple. Iran is an author­i­tar­i­an state that repress­es oppo­si­tion selec­tive­ly. It divides the pop­u­la­tion into Khoud­is, or con­formists and ghair-e Khoud­is, or non­con­formist. Although Iran allows elec­tions, it screens can­di­dates on an ide­o­log­i­cal basis. All these are the con­se­quences of ide­o­log­i­cal rigid­i­ty and pow­er monop­oly adopt­ed by the Islam­ic Repub­lic of Iran since 1979.  

Med­dling in the Shi’a Cres­cent, Iran­ian alleged rise as a lead­ing region­al pow­er is close­ly relat­ed to devel­op­ments in Iraq, Syr­ia, Lebanon and Yemen, where Iran suc­ceed­ed in strength­en­ing its posi­tion through the trans-bor­der Shi­ite con­nec­tion in each of the Arab coun­tries men­tioned ear­li­er. In all cas­es, the Iran­ian inter­ven­tions rein­forced the region­al and transna­tion­al sec­tar­i­an con­nec­tions, enhanc­ing the country’s aspi­ra­tions to become a region­al force.

Alto­geth­er, the con­tem­po­rary dynam­ics of proxy war­fare is a sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of the char­ac­ter of con­flicts in the Mid­dle-East, which points to a poten­tial increase in the engage­ment of proxy strate­gies by region­al pow­ers, espe­cial­ly Iran. Fol­low­ing the 1979 Iran­ian rev­o­lu­tion as a back­drop, this series of arti­cles attempts to explore to which extent the endur­ing pow­er strug­gle of Iran in the region is fix­ing proxy wars and enabling con­flicts to mate­ri­al­ize.

The series will there­fore shine a light upon a num­ber of sub-ele­ments in explain­ing the posi­tion of Iran both in its com­plex rela­tion with its own cit­i­zens, as in the wider region. Ele­ments such as the socio-eco­nom­ic dimen­sions of Iran’s inter­nal state of affairs, includ­ing its oppres­sion of minori­ties and human rights vio­la­tions, the Iranian’s role in sup­port­ing proxy wars such as in Syr­ia and Iraq and Yemen, and the country’s aspi­ra­tions to devel­op a nuclear pro­gram, which is ques­tioned by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing the EU, will con­tribute to a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the wider dynam­ics of the Mid­dle-East order/disorder (and its many inter­sect­ing fac­tors).

By perceiving these factors, a better policy response is enabled, which takes into consideration the root causes and deep drivers of conflicts.


[1] “Syr­ia: The hid­den pow­er of Iran”, NYR Dai­ly, 13 April 2017.

[1] https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2016/Also-in-2016/geopolitics-gulf-monarchies-fight-against-daesh/EN/index.htm

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