Israel-Hamas war news: Israel suggests army could advance on Rafah

Israel-Hamas war news: Israel suggests army could advance on Rafah

Iran projects its military power through dozens of armed groups across the Middle East, but to what extent does it control their actions?

That question has taken on new urgency as the United States considers next steps after an attack by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia on a U.S. base in northwest Jordan. Sunday’s attack killed three soldiers and injured dozens more.

The Iranian-backed groups have varied histories and relationships with Tehran, but all share Iran’s desire to see the U.S. military leave the region and see Israel’s power reduced. Iranian rhetoric, echoed by its allied groups, often goes further, calling for the elimination of the Israeli state.

Like Iran, most allied groups follow the Shiite branch of Islam. The exception is Hamas, whose members are predominantly Sunni Muslims.

Iran has provided weapons, training, funding and other support to groups, particularly those in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, according to evidence obtained through seizures of weapons, after-action forensic analysis, foreign asset tracing and intelligence gathering. Some training is subcontracted to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to American and international experts.

More recently, Iran has also allowed militias to obtain some weapons parts themselves and manufacture or upgrade some weapons themselves, according to Middle Eastern and U.S. officials. Additionally, most groups, like Hamas, also have their own lucrative businesses, which include both legal activities like construction and illegal activities like kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Despite its support for militias, Iran does not necessarily control where or when they attack Western and Israeli targets, according to many Middle East and European experts, as well as U.S. intelligence officials. It does influence groups and, at least in some cases, seems capable of stopping strikes. But each militia also has its own agenda, depending on its country of origin.

The Houthi movement, for example, has had successes on the ground in Yemen’s civil war and controls part of the country. But now, unable to feed their population or create jobs, they are displaying their strength and prowess in front of their domestic audiences by confronting the great powers, attacking ships going to and from the Suez Canal, and instigating reprisals. from the United States and its allies.

This allowed the Houthis to claim solidarity with the Palestinians and also aligned the group with Iran’s goal of going after Israel and its main ally, the United States.

In contrast, Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has the oldest ties with Iran, is part of the Lebanese government. Its decisions on the timing and scale of attacks against Israel take into account the risks of Israeli reprisals against Lebanese civilians. A 2020 US State Department report estimated that Iran’s support for Hezbollah at the time amounted to $700 million per year.

The weapons supplied to the groups run the gamut from small arms to rockets, ballistic and cruise missiles, and a range of increasingly sophisticated drones, said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, which tracks agents for many years.

Iran has provided fewer direct cash grants to its proxies in recent years, in part, experts say, because it is financially constrained by U.S. and international sanctions.

In addition to direct aid, some groups have received in-kind funding, such as oil, which can be sold or, as in the case of the Houthis, thousands of AK-47s which can also be put on the market, according to a report. November report of ONU.

A Yemeni political analyst, Hisham al-Omeisy, speaking about the Houthis, said: “They are very well supported by the Iranians, but they are not puppets on a string. They are not Iran’s cronies.”

The same could be said of other groups.

Iran itself sends different messages about militias to different audiences, said Mohammed al-Sulami, who heads Rasanah, an Iran-focused research organization based in Saudi Arabia that has long fought with Iran to gain regional influence.

When speaking to domestic and Middle Eastern audiences, Iran tends to describe what it calls the “Axis of Resistance” as being under its direction and control and as part of its strategy. regional. But when speaking to Western audiences, Iran often asserts that while the groups share similar views, the Islamic Republic does not lead them, Mr. al-Sulami said.

“Iran is very smart in using this gray area to maneuver,” he said.

Viviane Néréim contributed to reporting from Saudi Arabia,

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Eric D. Eilerman

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