The Growing Shadow War between the US, Israel, and Iran

Operating separately from the Islamic Republic Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the IRGC have acted aggressively to expand Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East and other areas of the world. This has recently included Ukraine, where Iranian Shahed drones have harassed civilian infrastructure for months.

Both the US and Israel recognize the IRGC as a terrorist organization, with the EU currently in deliberations towards its designation as well. Under pressure from civilian protests stemming from years of hardline Islamic laws, embezzlement, and corruption, the Mullahs have ordered the IRGC to step up operations to distract from a potential uprising.

Preparing for armed conflict with Israel and the U.S., the IRGC have evaluated their weaponry in Ukraine, selling Russia the Shahed drones. In return, Moscow has pledged to help Tehran in air defense and potentially help to enrich their nuclear program — a major red line of Washington and Tel Aviv.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned Iran of the consequences of providing an aggressor nation like Russia with weaponry in Ukraine. Despite not openly supplying Kyiv with weapons, it has been reported that Israel has been quietly helping Ukraine through other means. It would become known on Jan. 29.

Shadow War in the Middle East

For the past decade, the IRGC has grown a major presence in Syria, a country which borders Israel and remains in a state of war with the latter. Bolstering Assad’s depleted forces, Iranian militias with foreign fighters from Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon helped turn the tide of the war.

When Iraq fell under Iranian influence after the US-led invasion of Iraq left a disastrous powder keg, the Mullahs established a land corridor to Lebanon by intervening in Syria. This has led to major weapons transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon, a militia created by the IRGC in the 80s that was behind the Marine Barracks and Embassy bombings and fought Israeli forces in the south. Israel has struck any Iranian presence and Hezbollah weapons transfers it sees, as the militia maintains a vast rocket arsenal that can strike all areas of the nation’s territory and American ships in the region.

The strikes on Syria have been complicated, as Israel has to request permission from Russian Forces deployed in the nation. As the Syrian government formally requested a large Russian military presence in the country to beat back the rebels and ISIS, Assad also gave up his country’s security apparatus to Moscow.

S-300s are manned by Russia in case hostile countries make a move on Assad, therefore all strikes are usually approved ahead of time to not provoke Moscow. If there is a unilateral decision made by the IDF, such as the incident where Syria’s military accidently struck a Russian cargo plane attempting to intercept the Israeli Air Force, it could lead to escalation. There are fears that the Kremlin would also provide Hezbollah, Assad, Iran, and Palestinian militias in Syria with their modern weapons if Israel interferes with their plans in the nation, leaving a delicate power balance for the past decade.

The proxy conflict has drawn in the United States, as Iran remains one of the nation’s biggest national security threats. The late General Qasem Soleimani, a designated global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council, not only was in charge of operations by Iran’s proxies, but also was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American forces, as his Iraqi militias targeted coalition forces under his command.

JCPOA Standoff

Former President Donald Trump and the current President of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, have viewed the JCPOA, created by the UNSC and Germany, as an agreement that has bought Iran time with its nuclear program. There are signs that this was true as the IAEA caught Iran purposely turning off its nuclear cameras and continuing foreign assassination plots, two of which occurred in the United States.

The Biden administration originally expressed a willingness to continue the JCPOA, too much ire of the Middle Eastern allies as Biden was VP during the Obama administration and helped create the framework of the nuclear deal. Tel Aviv reiterated they would not recognize the deal and strike at Iran on their own if they had to. When the IRGC became emboldened to help Russia with its war in Ukraine, the peace talks ended indefinitely

Shadow War in the Caucasus

With Iran becoming internationally isolated with hostile neighbors, the Mullahs considered Armenia its last true friendly neighbor and a potential buffer for Aliyev’s regime in Azerbaijan. Israel would pick up on this, with weapon shipments to the South Caucasus nation in return for use of airspace and military bases.

Azerbaijan, after help from Turkish and Israel drones, gradually beat back Armenia, and have come close to cutting off the trade route between Yerevan and Tehran. Originally congratulated Azerbaijan on their 2020 victory, Iran immediately regretted it as Azerbaijan has become a proxy in the shadow war.

Baku holds greater imperial ambitions, not just in Armenia, but Iran itself. Attempting to cause a separatist movement as there are more Azerbaijanis in Iran, Aliyev’s government has gone through heightened tensions with Khamenei and the Mullahs.

Shadow War in Ukraine

Israel’s tone during the Russian invasion of Ukraine has come under scrutiny as several weapon systems that Kyiv requested were rejected by Tel Aviv. Iran, finally seeing an opportunity to test their newer models of Shahed drones sold to Moscow, which has caused mayhem to civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, maiming civilians across the nation.

The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor stated, his nation is helping Ukraine behind the scenes, instead of openly. With Russian Forces on their northern border bolstering Assad, Tel Aviv has to act covertly, in fears the Kremlin could arm and bolster the IRGC and its militias with weapons. With Iran stating Russia could help its nuclear program and sell them jets, this has most likely caused a drift in relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv.

Ambassador Prosor would reiterate as Russia holds a large Jewish community, their support to Ukraine has to remain quiet. Historically, Jews themselves were blamed for Russian military failures and persecuted for it. The exiled Chief Rabbi of Russia stated Jews there should prepare to leave the nation in fears they could be scapegoated again.

One of the key targets hit by Israel on the Jan. 29 Iran strikes was a Shahed drone factory — weapons intended for transfer to RF in Ukraine. The U.S. and Israel recently finished their largest military drills ever and the CIA Director was in the nation during the weekend of the strikes. Secretary of Defense Austin previously stated ominously that Iran, under UNSC sanctions, cooperating with Russia would come with consequences last summer.

March to War?

The U.S. and the EU have started to realize peace talks with a rogue state that has slaughtered its own people and continue to help Russia’s barbaric war cannot be amended in this time period, which has given Israel diplomatic support in its ongoing proxy war with Iran. Secretary of State Blinken reiterated all options are on the table if Tehran gets close to a nuclear weapon — a policy that the Trump administration and Tel Aviv also kept.

It will be interesting to see Iran’s response to the current strikes against its militias and key military facilities, but if they are equivalent to the lukewarm retaliation of Soleimani and their nuclear scientist’s death, America and Israel will continue to call the IRGC’s bluff.

[Photo by Saeed Sajjadi/Fars News, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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