Iran has an effective military advantage over the US and its allies in the Middle East because of its ability to wage war using third parties such as Shiite militias and insurgents, a military think tank said.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iran’s “third-party capability” has become Tehran’s weapon of choice.
These networks are more important to Iranian power than either its ballistic missile program, putative nuclear plans or its conventional military forces, it said in a 16-month study titled Iran’s Networks of Influence.
Overall, conventional military balance is still in favor of the US and its allies in the region, but the balance of effective force is now in Iran’s favor, the report said.
Despite US sanctions, Iran has met little international resistance for its strategy, even if it is now facing a fresh challenge from protesters within some of the countries in which it wields influence, the report said.
The findings are likely to strengthen the position of Western diplomats who argue that any new nuclear deal with Iran must include not only updated constraints on the nation’s nuclear program, but also commitments on its regional behavior.
The network has been designed, resourced and deployed by Tehran as its principal means of countering regional adversaries and international pressure, the report said.
The policy “has consistently delivered Iran advantage without the cost or risk of direct confrontation with adversaries,” it said.
The report found that “Iran is fighting and winning wars ‘fought amongst the people,’ not wars between states.”
“Iran avoids symmetrical state-on-state conflict, knowing it will be outgunned. Instead, it pursues asymmetrical warfare through non-state partners,” it said.
Countering Iranian influence requires not only local responses, but also an understanding of its sovereign capability as a whole, which has become the cornerstone of the regime’s regional security strategy, it said.
The report warns against simplistic labeling the third parties as “proxies,” saying that Tehran does not expect an economic return from its partners, but — on the contrary — finances them.
The authors said that Iran is resilient enough to resist the wave of anti-Iranian protests, but faces difficulties, as “its influence relies on groups that either do not want to directly rule [as in Hezbollah in Lebanon] or are not capable of and equipped for governance [as in Iraq].”
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