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  • Author: Alex Vatanka
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Since its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has incited violent, radical, and often sectarian nonstate groups across the Middle East to serve as proxies in its military campaigns to influence regional and international politics. This “proxy model” has become increasingly salient since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Iraq and Syria, and is now Iran’s primary tool for advancing its regional intersts. The U.S. and the West in general have largely paid attention only to radical Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. With a few exceptions, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, nonstate Shi‘i militant groups have generally avoided the same intense Western scrutiny. This study compares and contrasts regional conflicts that have been shaped by Iranian proxies and Iran’s successful—and unsuccessful—attempts to recruit to its militant groups. It also identifies the key forces that have shaped Iran’s ideological and operational sponsorship of nonstate militant groups, both Sunni and Shi‘i, as well as its motivations and preferred modus operandi.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Conflict, Ideology, Shia, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Nicholas Blanford
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Starting as a revolutionary Shiite militia, the Hezbollah of today dominates the political and military landscape of Lebanon, and possesses tens of thousands of trained fighters as well as an array of sophisticated armaments. Its intervention in Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad has expanded its influence and reach in the region. As the war in Syria comes to a close, the risk of conflict between Hezbollah and Israel could increase, particularly over the future of the Golan Heights. But the mutual deterrence between the two foes remains strong for the time being. The United States is searching for strategies to limit the power of Iran’s Lebanese proxy, but given the group’s deep immersion within Lebanon’s political, economic, and social milieu, the number of realistic options for external powers to weaken Hezbollah or persuade it to forsake its armed wing are minimal.
  • Topic: History, Armed Forces, Political stability, Ideology, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Charles Lister
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The 2011 political unrest in the Middle East provided al-Qaeda and ISIS with an unprecedented opportunity for growth. While both groups share the goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate, they approached the goal with different strategies and to differing degrees of success. Al-Qaeda responded to the instability by attempting to soften its image. The group specifically instructed its affiliates to situate themselves in local conflicts and to slow down the implementation of Sharia law. ISIS, on the other hand, focused on seizing territory and violently disrupting state-building efforts. By the close of 2017, al- Qaeda’s rebranding has successfully allowed the group to expand its footprint in a number of Middle Eastern civil wars at the cost of its central authority. ISIS, meanwhile, has lost most of its territory but retains the ideological strength to inspire attacks abroad.
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Ideology, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria