The Increasing Threat from Iran

Last week Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his warnings about the significant threat posed by Iran’s influence in the Middle East. He believes that Iran has been emboldened by the lack of response to a series of attacks it has carried out, like the one on the oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Burning oil facilities in Saudi ArabiaBurning oil facilities in Saudi Arabia (screenshot from BBC News)

Speaking at an IDF graduation ceremony, Netanyahu warned of the increasing threat that both Iran and its regional proxies pose, saying:

“Iranian and pro-Iranian forces are working non-stop to arm themselves.”

Whilst some people might think that is just the Israeli Prime Minister sounding-off on his favourite topic, an increasing number of independent reports point to the truth of his claims.

One such report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has tipped the balance of
effective force in the Middle East in its favour.”

Iran’s rivals in the region may have spent billions of dollars on weapons, but for a fraction of that expenditure Iran has manoeuvred itself into a position of strategic advantage. It has a level of influence over Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen that in places verges on control.

The IISS is not alone in its assessment of the situation. Five months ago the Washington Post reported on the situation, noting that Iran’s emphasis on developing ‘proxy forces’ goes back to the 1979 revolution that deposed the shah and gave rise to the current Islamic Republic.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute, described Iran’s expansionist ethos as “part of their DNA.” In general, experts say that the Iranian regime’s main objective is to counteract American, Israeli and Saudi influence in the region.

They have succeeded in this by capitalising on power vacuums in various Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

Earlier this year the Soufan Centre issued a report describing Iran’s regional strategy as sophisticated, intricate and nimble.

While Iran’s primary method of influence is to support armed factions and pro-Iranian governments financially, politically and militarily; this report says it is a mistake to view Iran’s strategy as simply one of supporting terrorism. That risks underestimating the success of Iran’s grand strategy, which has frustrated the efforts powerful opponents such as the United States and Israel.