Iran controls its battles from a distance in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The countries of the region, as well as the US, have failed to adopt a policy that responds to the “expand and control” strategy that Iran adopted through its proxies. America, which has suffered as a result of explosions and assassinations by Hezbollah, simply chose to confront the proxy itself — through kidnappings and assassinating people involved on Hezbollah leaders. Egypt and Gulf countries have done the same in the past, and simply pressured Hezbollah politically and economically.
Iran forces its opponents to resort to one of two options; either through direct confrontation with the source itself (Iran), or through the formation of regional proxies who will fight the wars for it. The opponents are unlikely to adopt the first choice and fight a war with Iran, unless Tehran decides to launch a direct armed attack, which is not Iran’s way of managing its crises. Even when Iran lost eight diplomats, among others, in a Taliban ambush in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, in the late 1990s, it did not wage a war there but instead, it built local militias, with patience and persistence.
Despite Iran’s clear control in some fronts such as Iraq, the Iraqi army cannot confront the pro-Iranian local armed forces, owing to the pluralism of its political leadership and the predominant Iranian influence there.
It is very clear that Iran is playing a big role in directing the Iraqi forces and especially the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to exterminate the Kurds from Kirkuk. This is a very important regional battle and not only an Iraqi one. Kurds are not exempt from serious political and military mistakes; they are committed in this crisis as a result of the independence referendum, the excuse Iran used to encroach on vital, oil-producing and geographical territories.
The states will find no use in resorting to militias’ conflicts to restore balance. Today, Syria is entering the phase of governance arrangements, the most important of which is marking its area of control. Iranian militias are carrying out numerous executions of people in the regions they control, which were areas of opposition in the past. With their activities, the Iranian militias are looking to take control of the security in their regions, since the Syrian regime has no longer enough military and security capacities to project its power.
The region will have to confront a huge Iranian project that is using Syria to control Syria itself, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and what is beyond the borders at a later stage.
Under these circumstances, the countries of the region will have to confront a huge Iranian project that is using Syria to control Syria itself, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and what is beyond the borders at a later stage. Other than this policy, there will be no way for the Russians or the Syrian regime to weaken Iran or make it leave, no matter what is being said and promised. By then, it is expected that Syria will become a country controlled by militias too.
Iranians are profiting from the proxy policy because they consider that their investment in Hezbollah, their most expensive and long-term project, is costing them around $700 million per year, represented with an advanced army. As for their Houthi proxies in Yemen, they are cheaper; a fighter might cost them two dollars per week.
I go back to my main idea: The fields of confrontation are increasing with Iran’s expansion and the absence of a means to deter its control. Iran got even more dangerous after it had succeeded in weakening Saad Hariri’s presence and promoting the Houthis’ capacity to threaten the heart of Saudi Arabia with missiles.
Eliminating the option of a direct military confrontation with Iran, which nobody wants to see happening, the only possible option would be strengthening the local militia forces in the troubled countries.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed