▶ Funds, mis­siles, armed drones and speed boats have been sup­plied by Tehran to its for­eign prox­ies

The National - News - - NEWS - DAMIEN McEL­ROY Lon­don

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

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