Understanding Iran's Non-State Network


(MENAFN- Asia Times) During a three-day period in January, Iranian-supported militant groups employed an anti-ship missile to attack an oil tanker in the Red Sea, launched rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, and used a drone strike to kill three US soldiers in Jordan.

These incidents marked the extension of attacks by Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East into the fourth straight month since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, 2023.

Largely diplomatically isolated since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, unable to challenge US military power, and lacking the nuclear brinkmanship card held by North Korea, Iran has evolved its strategy of utilizing militant groups for decades.

Iran's Quds Force has provided training, funding, and weapons assistance to various militant groups in the region, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. This strategy has advanced Iran's geopolitical interests and afforded it plausible deniability, but not all of its associates march in lockstep with Tehran.

Part of Iran's approach involves transforming militant forces into powerful political actors.

Hamas, founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, gained prominence during the First Intifada against Israeli forces. Hamas grew closer to Iran during the early 1990s after the Oslo Accords initiated an ultimately failed peace process, with Iran providing financial and weapons support during the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005.

When Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas established administrative control over the territory after winning elections the following year, and has forbade elections since.

Consolidating armed Palestinian opposition under Hamas allows Tehran to challenge Israel directly. But as a Persian and Shiite Muslim country operating in a predominantly Arab and Sunni Muslim peninsula, Iran has offset its diplomatic and cultural isolation by using the Palestinian cause to criticize Arab governments growing closer to Israel in recent years.

October 7

Supporting Hamas against perceived inaction from Arab leaders has been a constant feature of Iranian public messaging. Further normalization between Israel and Arab states is now paused because of the Israel-Hamas war.

While Iran denied prior knowledge of the October 7 attack, it has expressed public support for Hamas since . Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has meanwhile stated that Iran provides US$70 million annually to the group in addition to ongoing logistical and weapons assistance, largely through smuggling operations .

However, relations between Iran and Hamas are largely limited to opposition to Israel and the West, and Hamas also receives financial support from Turkey , Qatar , and other sources .

Instead, Hezbollah has emerged as Iran's most important non-state ally. Established as a Shia militia in 1982 during the Lebanese Civil War, Hezbollah's significant military forces have been utilized to target Israeli and Western forces in the Middle East.

Since the recent conflict's onset, Hezbollah has launched hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, but the destruction caused by the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel has made it cautious of further escalation .

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