Iran’s network of influence in Mid-East ‘growing’
LONDON, Nov 8: Iran is winning the strategic struggle for influence in the Middle East against its rival, Saudi Arabia, according to a study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Iran's regional rivals have spent billions of dollars on Western weaponry, much of it from the UK. Yet for a fraction of that cost, sanctions-bound Iran has been able to successfully embed itself across the region into a position of strategic advantage.
It has a major influence - verging on a controlling influence in some cases - over the affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. The fact that Iran has stealthily built up a network of non-state alliances right across the Middle East, often referred to as "proxy militias", is nothing new.
Starting with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamic Republic has been seeking to export its revolutionary ideology and expand its influence beyond its borders ever since the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in 1979.
But the 217-page report by the IISS, entitled "Iran's Networks of Influence in the Middle East", provides unprecedented detail on the extent and reach of Iran's operations in the region. The key ingredient here has been the Quds Force, the external operations wing of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).
Since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003, the Quds Force has intensified its operations across the Middle East, providing training, funding and weapons to non-state actors allied to Tehran.
The US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime completely changed the shape of the Middle East and provided Iran with ample opportunity to take advantage.
Prior to that event, the Gulf Arab states saw Sunni Arab-ruled Iraq as something of a bulwark against any Iranian expansionism. With that bulwark gone, Iran has successfully capitalised on its religious and cultural ties inside Iraq - which has a Shia Arab majority - to become a dominant force in the country. -BBC