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