The Tentacles of Iranian Interference

12 April 2024
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The war in Gaza and its aftermath of renewed tensions between Hezbollah and the Hebrew state are a reminder of the extent of Iranian interference in the region. But the mullahs' regime is now exerting a destabilising influence beyond its traditional sphere of influence. The risks to peace and global trade are real.

For almost five months, the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, has been firing rockets and missiles into Israeli territory on a daily basis, mobilising the IDF on its northern front. This mobilises many soldiers who are not deployed on the southern front, in Gaza. Behind this diversionary strategy is the shadow of Iran, which never misses an opportunity to use its influence in the region to wage proxy wars. On 1 April, Israel retaliated with an air strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, which the Hebrew country considers a rear base for operations against it. Sixteen people were killed in the attack, including Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a key figure in Iran's efforts to meddle in the region.

The Shia crescent: the core of Iranian influence

The crescent that stretches from Lebanon to Iran is at the heart of Iran's strategy of influence and gives Tehran the status of a major regional power. From the Houthis in Yemen to the Shiite militias in Iraq, from the Lebanese Hezbollah to the Syrian regime and the Palestinian Hamas, the mullahs' regime has gradually woven its web in the region and has real power to do harm.

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, Iran has shown a certain caution, as has Hezbollah, which must consider local realities such as the definition of a maritime border between the two countries, which was the subject of an agreement in April 2022. The stakes are high in an economically depleted cedar country. But Iranian networks remain mobilised, and Tehran continues to manipulate the various players in the region like a puppet master.

With 30,000 armed men and a substantial missile arsenal, Hezbollah is a sword of Damocles hanging over the Jewish state. Nearly 100,000 residents of northern Israel have been forced to leave their homes since tensions flared in the border area. The risk of a regional explosion is significant, and Tehran sometimes seems to ignore it.

The turbulent waters of the Red Sea: a proxy war for Tehran

On the periphery of this Iranian-influenced Shiite arc, the Houthis are disrupting maritime traffic in the Red Sea and unbalancing world trade. Operating in the arid Yemeni hinterland, the Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest trade routes. In recent days, the attacks have become less frequent, as reported by General Alexus Grynkewich, Commander of the US Centcom Air Force [AFCENT]. Since 31 March, only three drones - two aerial and one surface - and two anti-ship missiles have been fired by the militia. But Iran, acting in the shadows, is probably in the process of resupplying its allies.

Since the start of these attacks in the Red Sea, on the pretext of retaliation for Israel's war against Hamas, Iran has been supplying the Houthis with drone jammers and spare parts for long-range rockets and missiles, as well as top-of-the-range equipment. The Iranians and their Lebanese allies Hezbollah are also sending military advisers to help the Houthis plan their attacks. The person in charge of Tehran's operations in the former Arabia Felix is a certain Abdolreza Shahlai. He is said to have previously supervised attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, proof of Iran's global strategy in the region.

Sudan: Iran's growing influence

Far from its traditional zone of influence, Iran is pulling other levers of interference. Sudan is the scene of this strategy. The country is torn apart by a civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary militia of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo "Hemetti". In this war of generals, Iran has clearly sided with General Abdelfattah al-Burhan, to whom it supplies drones. The American news agency Bloomberg gathered evidence of the use of Iranian Mohajer 6 drones by the Sudanese army from satellite images of a military base north of Khartoum, the country's capital, still in the hands of the regular army. These drones have also been sold to other countries around the world, including Russia, which is using them in its war of invasion in Ukraine, and Ethiopia, which is using them in its bloody crackdown on Amharas militias.

Since last October, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Sudan have engaged in a marked diplomatic rapprochement, the first since their break-up in 2016. Since then, Tehran has been destabilising the country and driving the warring parties away from the negotiating table, fanning the embers of a conflict that is getting bogged down. The conflict threatens to destabilise neighbouring Chad. There are strong human links between the two countries, notably through the Zaghawa ethnic group, whose territory straddles the border. Chad, a pillar of regional stability, could take the whole Sahel region with it. Yet another reason to take Iranian interference seriously.

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