Iran has been pulling the strings behind the scenes of the current unrest in the Middle East through several terrorist organizations it has backed, supported, and trained in recent years.

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Tehran has called for the destruction of Israel and has been antagonistic toward the US. It has cultivated a web of organizations that threaten rival regional powers as well as American interests and Israel.

Iran has proxies operating worldwide. From Latin America to Africa and the Middle East, the Islamic Republic seeks to exert its influence globally.

The groups comprising Iran’s “axis of resistance” in the Middle East operate inside their respective countries as well as against Israel, the US, and other Western countries.

Dr. Menahem Merhavy, a research fellow and expert on Iran at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that spreading its network is one of the basic principles of Iran’s policy.

“Iran does its best to avoid operations stemming from its territory and to ensure there will be no combat on Iranian soil, but somewhere else,” Merhavy told The Media Line.

These are the main Iranian-backed organizations operating in the Middle East right now:

Iraq: Shi’ite Iranian-backed resistance movements

Two decades of instability in Iraq have provided fertile ground for a range of Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist organizations.

Leading them is the radical Kata’ib Hizbullah, itself a union of several pro-Iranian groups that was formed to operate against the American and British forces that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

Kata’ib Hizbullah is believed to be behind the attack that killed three American soldiers on the Syria-Jordan border last weekend. In the attack’s aftermath, several US politicians called for US retaliation against Iran.

Merhavy said that some of the organizations are direct proxies of the Iranian regime, while others receive little or no support. The closer to and more dependent on Iran they are, the more authority it can exert on them.

Kata’ib Hizbullah was designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2009. According to the US National Counterterrorism Center, the group is believed to have about 10,000 members and to possess a wide variety of weapons, including armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, portable air defense systems, and sniper rifles. It has also received extensive training, funding, and intelligence from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.

The US has attacked Kata’ib Hizbullah forces several times over the years.
Yemen: The Houthis

The Houthi movement has been present in Yemen since the 1960s. During the Arab Spring a decade ago, which saw a wave of anti-government protests throughout the Arab world, it came to the frontlines of Yemen’s political scene, flourishing against the backdrop of a prolonged period of instability.

The organization is widely believed to be backed by Iran as part of Iranian efforts to goad Saudi Arabia, and as another tool to irritate Israel. Yemen is just one front in the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the kingdom backing the sitting government in Yemen while the Houthis push for a more hardline Islamic regime. The Houthis have launched attacks against Saudi Arabia, including targeting its critical oil industry.

Often during protests, Houthis have chanted calls for the destruction of the US and Israel but never acted on them until the beginning of the current war between Hamas and Israel. Since the beginning of the Gaza war, the Houthis have officially declared war on Israel and have launched several missile attacks against it, although most were thwarted by long-range air defense systems and have not resulted in casualties on Israel’s side. The Houthis also successfully downed an American drone flying in the region, an attack that was acknowledged by the US.

The attacks are a Houthi show of support for Hamas and another attempt by Iran to irritate Israel but are also an attempt to improve their position as negotiations with Saudi Arabia on the future of Yemen progress.

“Israel is a convenient target if one wants to gain popularity in the Arab world,” Merhavy said. “But more importantly the Houthis want to project their strength and be able to make more demands in the negotiations on the future of Yemen after the civil war ends.” Iran sees the Houthis as another part of its puzzle, more to agitate Saudi Arabia than Israel. The Houthi rebels have also used the opportunity of the Gaza war to threaten Israeli and Western ships passing through the Red Sea at the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, off the coast of Yemen. The group is believed to possess a wide range of missiles and drones, all possibly supplied by Iran.

Yemen’s critical geographical location means that any unrest in the strait leaves the global economy especially vulnerable.

But with their own domestic agenda, the Houthis are less committed to Iran than other proxies may be.

“Iran uses such proxies in order to sting its adversaries as a means to apply pressure on them,” Merhavy said.
Lebanon: Hizbullah

Hizbullah is a Lebanese-based Shi’ite terrorist group that has for years operated against Israel and the US. It is behind attacks against Americans that have killed dozens of American civilians and soldiers.

The US State Department blacklisted the organization in 1997, as did many other countries. Backed and heavily financed by Iran, Hizbullah’s ties and commitment to Tehran are ironclad. Intelligence organizations estimate that Hizbullah has accumulated around 150,000 unguided rockets since its last war with Israel, in 2006, and that this strengthening has been led by Iran.

According to the National Counterterrorism Center, Hizbullah has some 40,000 fighters. Israel considers Hizbullah its most formidable enemy. Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, Hizbullah has fired hundreds of rockets towards northern Israel. Casualties have been very limited as the area was almost completely evacuated by the Israeli government. Unable to resettle the area, the Israeli government is facing a serious dilemma on how to deal with Hizbullah. Meanwhile, the US is trying to reach a political settlement to avert a wider war.
Gaza Strip and The West Bank: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Founded in the late 1980s, Hamas is an Islamist group, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. It is a Sunni group, in contrast to Iran, where most Muslims are Shi’ite.

Many countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and Israel, as well as the European Union, have designated the group as a terrorist organization.

The organization is believed to have begun the war on Israel with some 25,000 operatives. It is unclear how many of them have been killed since October.

According to Merhavy, the initial contact between Iran and Hamas began in the 1990s and then developed into more assistance, especially with weapons. In addition to a wide range of rockets and anti-tank missiles, Hamas also spent years developing a web of underground tunnels that serves its leadership until today. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the organization also “uses cyber espionage and computer network exploitation operations.”

Several media reports after Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7 suggested that the organization was disappointed that Iran had not instructed its other proxies to join more intensively in the effort against Israel. There were conflicting reports regarding the extent of coordination between Hamas and Iran on the timing of the attack. While supported by Iran, Hamas seems to have made this decision independently.

Hamas also operates against Israel in the West Bank. For Iran, which seeks to exhaust Israel on the path to achieving its destruction, the West Bank is yet another arena from where it can achieve this goal.

In the late summer of 2023, after an uptick in attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, Israeli leaders and defense officials began pinpointing Iran as the culprit for some of the anti-Israeli activity.

The claim was that Iran was behind the escalation in the West Bank, prior to the war that broke out in October, which included failed attempts to launch missiles from the West Bank into Israel. The reappearance of the use of improvised explosive devices against Israeli forces in the West Bank and the capture of other such devices in Israeli military raids has exposed intelligence agencies to increased Iranian involvement in this arena.

For years, Israel and Iran have been engaged in a shadow war against each other. Israel’s military is believed to be behind hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in the Middle East, in addition to cyberattacks against major infrastructure in the Islamic Republic. Iran is believed to be behind attacks against Israeli-operated oil tankers and attempts to abduct and kill Israelis in countries like Cyprus and Turkey last year.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a much smaller terrorist organization that operates both in Gaza and the West Bank, is considered much closer to Tehran and much more subservient to its commands.

Source » jpost