Iran’s grand strategy tests U.S. and its allies Yemen, Iraq, Syria - analysis

The strategy of Iran and its allies is to show they can set the Middle East ablaze if they want. From Lebanon to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf of Oman, Iran faces off against the US and its allies.

By
June 19, 2019 23:07
3 minute read.
M302 rockets found aboard the Klos C ship are displayed at an Israeli navy base in the Red Sea resor

M302 rockets found aboard the Klos C ship are displayed at an Israeli navy base in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat March 10, 2014. The ship seized by the Israeli navy on suspicion of smuggling arms from Iran to the Gaza Strip docked on Saturday in Israel, which planned to put the cargo on display i. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

 
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An air strike hit Tel al-Hara in Syria on June 12. The mountain contained an observation area for the Syrian regime and its allies, including groups linked to Iran.

The next day, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are accused of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Yemen. The incidents were several thousands of kilometers apart, and help us to understand the scale of the battlefield that links Iran and its allies, pitting them against America’s allies.

The alliances in this contest are well known. On the one side are Iran, pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq, the Syrian regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On the other are US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. The strategy of Iran is not a top-down approach controlling all its proxies. But the Islamic republic certainly encourages its allies in various ways, and likely also encourages them to exercise restraint at other times.

For instance, after the US warned Iran against any attacks in early May, the regime in Tehran appeared to scale back some provocations. But it also attempted other probing attacks.

The US says Iran was “almost certainly” behind the sabotage of four tankers off the coast of the UAE on May 12. A rocket was fired near the US embassy in Baghdad on May 19. The Houthi rebels increased their drone attacks on Abha city and airport in Saudi Arabia.

One must draw the conclusion that there is a strategy, and that Iran has exported technology to its allies. Some of this is well known, such as advances in rocketry by Hamas in the last decade, or the Houthis firing ballistic missiles at Riyadh or Iran saying its missiles can hit US carriers. Iran even showcased its new precision in attacks against dissidents in Koya in Iraq and against ISIS last year in Syria.

Then comes the latest rocket and mortar attacks, for which Iranian-backed groups are a likely the culprit. June 14 mortar attacks at Balad Air base in Iraq. June 17 against Camp Taji in Iraq, where US forces are present. June 18 in Mosul. June 19 against oil facilities near Basra, where ExxonMobil has offices. Of course, all of this is done with plausible deniability. A rocket launcher was “found” in Mosul. No group takes responsibility. It could be ISIS, some say.

But so many attacks on so many places where the US is present?

The strategy of Iran and its allies is to show that they can set the Middle East ablaze, if they want to. From Lebanon to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf of Oman, Iran faces off against the US and its allies.

Writers such as Martin Chulov have called part of this strategic map Iran’s “road to the sea,” a corridor of influence across Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah. But there is also the southern flank that links it with Yemen and the Gulf of Oman and other parts of Iraq.

Iran’s strategy is not like the pre-World War I strategy of the two alliance systems in Europe. It doesn’t need to calculate the exact times to deploy specific units – like the Schlieffen Plan the Germans came up with that saw war like a Mozart composition.

Rather, Iran’s plan is more Beethoven, with all the power and surprises of his symphonies. Tehran’s strategy now is to test the US and its allies on numerous fronts, while Washington says it does not want war – it only wants “maximum pressure” on Iran. However, for many countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, a low-level conflict against Iran’s proxies has already been going on for years.

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