REGIONAL INTERVENTION IS IRAN’S TOP PRIORITY, WARNS DOSSIER
▶ Funds, missiles, armed drones and speed boats have been supplied by Tehran to its foreign proxies
Iran has secured unprecedented regional advantages from its strategy of promoting its influence through proxy forces in the absence of an effective international response, a leading security think tank found.
A report from The International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded that Iran’s cross-border policies were vastly more important than the nuclear threat and missile development programme targeted by international sanctions.
The study traces the evolution of the policy to the establishment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the early 1980s and, in particular, to the establishment of its Quds Force to lead the IRGC’s external activities.
Iran’s policy of developing and strengthening militias was pioneered in Lebanon but has since been instrumental in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
In addition, the Quds Force has links to groups from Hamas to the IRA.
The study said the alliances sought or developed by the IRGC were based on the establishment of four points of common interest: ideological affinity, strategic convergence, political expediency or transactional relationships.
“We wanted this acknowledged as a capability not an accident,” said John Raine, an IISS director, told The National.
“The Iranians use this day in, day out, it is how they project their force and to them it is more useful than their conventional force.”
While conventional thinking focuses on the traditional balance of power in the region, the
IISS dossier makes a distinction on the balance of effective force, which it says lies with the Iranians.
It said that gave Tehran an ability to pick its battles to its advantage.
“They are inside various states, they are inside the conflicts and they have these levers they can use to dictate the pace of confrontation – they have been systematic about exploiting these advantages,” Mr Raine said.
The dossier itself takes to task a failure to recognise the accumulation of power by Iran through its allies.
“The strategic value to Iran of its networks is higher than that of its conventional forces, its ballistic missile capability and its nuclear programme,” the study said.
“There has been an insufficient international response to deter Iran from developing and deploying this capability.
“By 2019, Iran’s influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen had become the new normal in the region where once such a concept would have been unthinkable.”
The step-by-step methods employed by Iran can be identified across a range of countries and conflicts.
The vital tools for Tehran are the supply of advisers, funds, ballistic missiles, armed drones and, in the case of strategic maritime choke points, remote-controlled speed boats.
The dossier said that began with the deployment of the Quds Force, followed by the direction of finance and military materials to certain groups.
Training of militias locally and in Tehran-controlled territory is then supplemented with the provision of advanced weaponry.
The expeditionary Quds Force units are bolstered by the arrival of the regular army, foreign ministry operatives and other officials.
In the public realm, the pattern is that denials of involvement give way to admission of Iranian interest. By this stage a Hezbollah-modelled structure of militia and its political wing starts to become clear.
Finally, Iran uses its soft power tools, including propaganda, to entrench its allies. One section of the dossier points out the complementary statements and Twitter posts of the Quds Force leader Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani and Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister.
For Mr Raine, the point is that while Iran has not created the tension it seeks to leverage, it has a ready formula to exploit situations for its own agenda.
“There is a high degree of opportunism but what they are not opportunistic about is the centrally held, curated effort to seize those opportunities,” Mr Raine said.
The policy is not without costs for Iran, which has shown it will scale back its efforts if casualties rise.
“Regional interventions have cost Iran hundreds of lives and billions of dollars when it is also facing international sanctions pressure and mounting domestic pressure,” he said.
The result is that Iran has been able to offset its international isolation and the economic effect of sanctions by co-opting a strategy of “hybrid warfare” that marries military and civilian intervention.
“Iran’s interventions have validated an external military doctrine, emphasising hybrid war techniques and co-operation with state and sub-state actors,” the study said.
It makes clear the recent expansion means the effect is not limited to land but also to the seas, a development with international implications. “Iran has been able to threaten international shipping and energy arteries,” the dossier said.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps during a parade in Tehran. The dossier warns that there has been insufficient international response to prevent the IRGC’s malign influence from spreading