The Wall Street Journal reports on Iran’s efforts to use proxies to fight American and Israeli influence in the Middle East:
Weeks after Israel invaded Gaza in response to Hamas’s deadly attack on Oct. 7, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei convened a meeting of militia leaders across an alliance Tehran calls “the axis of resistance.”
The attack, which Khamenei had publicly praised as an “epic victory,” marked a crescendo of four decades of Iranian efforts to train and arm a network of nonstate militant groups as a way to threaten its enemies and extend its influence in the Middle East.
But behind closed doors, the Iranian leader told senior Hamas representatives, along with Lebanese, Iraqi, Yemeni and other Palestinian militia leaders, that Tehran had no intention of directly entering the conflict and widening the war, according to two high-ranking officials from Hamas and two from Hezbollah. Side battles, he told the delegates, risked distracting the world from Israel’s devastating incursions in Gaza. The message: Hamas was on its own.
Now the axis faces a moment of truth. As Iran’s allies stoke even more fires across the region—from attacks on shipping in the Red Sea to Sunday’s drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan—they are pushing their benefactor closer to the brink of a direct conflict with Washington that it has long sought to avoid.
Iranian military and financial power forms the backbone of the alliance, but Tehran doesn’t exert full command and control over it. Not every member shares Iran’s Shiite ideology, and all the groups have domestic agendas that sometimes conflict with Tehran’s. Some operate in geographically isolated areas, making it tricky for Iran to provide weapons, advisers and training. That includes Hamas, which is a Sunni movement, or the Houthis in Yemen, whose attacks on shipping have upended global trade flows and triggered U.S. and U.K. counterstrikes.
U.S. officials blamed Sunday’s drone strike on an Iran-backed group, and the White House on Monday said it believed the perpetrators were supported by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian militia ally based in Iraq, with forces in Syria. President Biden said he was weighing how to retaliate. Iran rejected any involvement.
For Tehran, the power of the axis lies in the plausible deniability that comes from each member’s operational and territorial autonomy. Iran gets to distance itself from the militias even as they serve Iran’s strategic interests, countering U.S. and Israeli power in the region.
Read more here.
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