Friday , 1 March 2024

Iranian Regime’s Proxies: Target the Head of the Snake

gatestoneinstitute.org – By not directly targeting the source of support and funding, the Iranian regime, the administration may inadvertently be treating the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem, and, instead of decreasing Iranian aggression, escalating it.

One viable approach involves focusing on the economic lifelines that sustain the ruling ayatollahs. These lifelines include immediately restoring the “maximum pressure” sanctions the US had imposed earlier, targeting key components of Iran’s infrastructure — such as oil facilities, which serve as vital resources and revenue streams – and banning anyone who trades with them from trading with the US. Disrupting these critical elements not only weakens the economic foundation of this terrorist regime but also undermines its ability to finance proxy activities.

It is equally important to target the leaders and bases of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, where proxies are trained and the attacks originate. By hitting Iran’s economic and military infrastructure, the US can exert significant pressure, sending a clear message that the support for proxy warfare — and Iranian attempts to finalize their nuclear bombs — would come at an intolerably high cost.

The last few months unfolded with a marked escalation in the activities of Iran’s proxies, militias and terror groups. Iran-sponsored Houthi rebels in Yemen have caused turmoil in the Red Sea, which is vital to maritime traffic. Their actions not only threaten regional stability but also sent shockwaves through global trade routes and raised concerns about the broader implications of their destabilizing activities. Pictured: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) meets a delegation of spokesman of Yemen’s Houthi militia on August 13, 2019. (Image source: khamenei.ir)

The last few months unfolded with a marked escalation in the activities of Iran’s proxies, militias and terror groups. Iran’s proxy Hamas launched its attacks on Israel, unleashing a barrage of violence across the region. Simultaneously, Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq escalated their assaults on US bases and personnel. Another proxy of Iran, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, also caused turmoil in the Red Sea, which is vital to maritime traffic. Their actions not only threaten regional stability but also sent shockwaves through global trade routes and raised concerns about the broader implications of their destabilizing activities.

The Biden administration’s approach to handling the escalating proxy conflicts has been marred by a series of strategic shortcomings, including, primarily, reacting weakly and belatedly to the increasing hostilities. This delayed reaction has allowed Iran’s proxies to gain momentum, creating a challenging environment that necessitates a more proactive and preemptive stance. Moreover, the administration’s reliance on limited and ineffective strikes against the proxies has proven insufficient in curbing their activities. The restrained nature of these actions may be interpreted as a hesitant and cautious approach, failing to convey a robust and decisive message to the perpetrators.

Consequently, the Iranian regime and its proxies view such responses as mere symbolic gestures, emboldening them to persist in their aggressive actions. A critical flaw in the overall strategy is the failure to address the ultimate enabler of these proxy groups—their paymaster, the Iranian regime.

By not directly targeting the source of support and funding, the Iranian regime, the administration may inadvertently be treating the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem, and, instead of decreasing Iranian aggression, escalating it.

The terrorist regime of Iran resorts to using proxies to attack other countries for several reasons. One primary motivation is to maintain a level of deniability and avoid direct attribution to their own actions. By employing proxy groups, the ruling clerics can distance themselves from the attacks, creating a layer of ambiguity that complicates the process of assigning responsibility. This allows them to pursue their geopolitical objectives without facing immediate reprisals or international condemnation.

In addition, the use of proxies provides the Ayatollahs with a cost-effective means of extending their influence and pursuing their agendas beyond their borders. Proxy groups can act as force multipliers, carrying out attacks or engaging in conflicts on behalf of the sponsoring government without the need for a direct military intervention.

This approach allows Iran to project power regionally or globally without committing significant resources or risking direct confrontation. Furthermore, proxy warfare becomes a tool for manipulating and exacerbating existing divisions within the target country, and creating a chaotic environment that aligns with the objectives of the Islamic Republic of Iran to “export the Revolution.” The Iranian regime already controls four Middle Eastern capitals in addition to its own — in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq — as well as the terrorist groups Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The regime has also worked for decades on expanding its influence in South America, especially “Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, all countries that share a worldview opposed to the U.S.-led international order.”

The use of proxies by the Iranian regime appears to be a calculated strategy aimed at achieving geopolitical goals while minimizing direct exposure to international consequences. It offers a blend of operational flexibility, plausible deniability, and the ability to exploit existing fault lines in target nations, making it an attractive and frequently employed tactic in the pursuit of strategic objectives, such as hegemonic control first of the Middle East and then elsewhere.

To effectively curb Iran’s ability to sponsor and utilize proxies, one must consider adopting a strategy that targets the source of support directly, confronting “the head of the snake.” One viable approach involves focusing on the economic lifelines that sustain the ruling ayatollahs. These lifelines include immediately restoring the “maximum pressure” sanctions the US had imposed earlier, targeting key components of Iran’s infrastructure — such as oil facilities, which serve as vital resources and revenue streams – and banning anyone who trades with them from trading with the US. Disrupting these critical elements not only weakens the economic foundation of this terrorist regime but also undermines its ability to finance proxy activities.

It is equally important to target the leaders and bases of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, where proxies are trained and the attacks originate. By hitting Iran’s economic and military infrastructure, the US can exert significant pressure, sending a clear message that the support for proxy warfare — and Iranian attempts to finalize their nuclear bombs — would come at an intolerably high cost.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at [email protected]

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