Assessing Iran’s proxy “elements:” A case of State Sponsored Terrorism in Middle East?



With a sudden drift in the domestic politics in Iran, a consequence of Iranian revolution decades ago, Iran, today, continues to support terrorist factions operating in and around the Middle East. Besides propagating its ideology in and around the Middle East, Iran continues to use terror factions, rogue state agencies, militant organizations as proxies in the regions of Central Asia and beyond, projecting its control through these “rogue” elements; in an effort to halt the peace processes in the Middle Eastand hindering in the progressive projects of the state which it sees as an “influence of the West” or a threat to its own policies. Terror institutions such as HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, rely heavily on the state support of Iran,will continue to do so heavily on the state as along as Iran finds them useful and “valued” to its purpose. In the light of aforementioned statements, the US Department of State on Terrorism “defined” Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The report stated that:

“Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2010. Iran’s financial, material, and logistic support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy.”

The aforementioned “support” of terror factions, as stated above, “cloaked” in different forms, is charged under the top leadership oftheIslamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and “export the revolution to Middle East and beyond”.

It is important for policy makers to understand that, Iran within the context of State Sponsor of Terrorism is different from other countries, reason primarily being its “less efforts” to deny it. Whereas nation such as Pakistan use terror organizations established “on their soil”, they not only deny their involvement with these terror factions but also out rightly deny the presence of these militant groups on their soil, but go limitlessly to establish a “strong nexus” with these militant organizations to accomplish their agenda. This is particularly correct in the light of “strong evidence” against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and their involvement in training and arming the militant organizations.

Acting on a similar perspective, unlike Pakistan, Iran has done little to “cloak” their involvement with militant organizations; openly advocating their support against terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and HAMAS. Iran’s “out rightly” acceptance of contributing “materials and men” to these militant organizations worries the policy makers of today,since it not only explains the “extensive” role played by Iran in militant attacks that consumes the lives of massesbut also politicises these militant attacks in an effort to counter, what they call, “hegemony of the West. More importantly, many top leadership in Iran have not only welcomed the visit of heads of these militant organizations(one such was the visit of top leadership of Hamas)to their country, their continues support from militant organizations such as Al Qaeda and praises from the Taliban turn nation’s actions to a “probable threat” to the world. Their support to various militant organizations, followed by their “active propagation” of “power and ideology”in and around the Middle East and beyond, using terror faction as proxies, particularly during the on-going conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, where Iran continues to support actively with “military hardware and training” to loyalists of terrorist organizations, pose a grave threat to security and stability not only in the Middle East but beyond, a stress that is quite visible in the intelligence community.

Iran, has in the past maintain a “continuous” support to the terror organizations and will continue to do even in the future, until the international community does not unanimously impose sanctions effective enough to curb its activities, until then Iran will not change its policies, will continues to propagate its ideologies against the West. In an effort to effectively control/limit Iran’s movement in the global world, international community must ensure that, the sanctions o imposed should be ratified by power nation such as, Russia and China, who have a history of using veto to its privilege during United Nations Security Council resolution sessions/discussions,manoeuvring the discussion and subsequently dissolving it. These two nations have a “possible” history of supporting Iran; followed by an “irritant” behaviour of “no support” to international community particularly in the issues they seem benefiting, and dissolving the United Nations Security Council discussions/ resolutions deeming the global efforts as null and void. These two countries have a history of abusing the“power of veto”, seen recently by Russia during a discussion on resolution denouncing the Assad regime of Syria. Experts believe that, for Russia, its frequent use of veto is principally because of its extensive trade relationship with roughly all the countries, and for China, its ability to manoeuvre political decisions/scenarios to benefit its agendas.

Furthermore, the will that bind the international community is “rigged with personal objectives”. If the international community decides totake strong and strict actions against Iran, and cut the state’s links with terror factions through harsh sanctions, the measures used against Iran will prove to be very effective, leaving the state no option but to comply.

Besides expecting a strong support from the power nations to these UN Security Council sanctions, it is important for international community to play an active role in the global arena, particularly in assisting the countries that are gripped in conflict launched by Iran backed terror organizations. Using “smart diplomacy”and “benefiting incentives”, will empower a state gripped in conflict against Iran backed proxies to fight at the “level playing field”; crippling Iran’s propaganda activities inthe Middle East and its interference in the politics of Central Asia, forcing Iran to operate within International Law. Moreover, international communities can learn from their “active engagement” during the conflict of Syria and Libya, using these conflicts as a framework. In order to eliminate Iran’s interference in global politics and cripple its support to its proxies, international community must come together and use “political pressure and smart diplomacy” against the state, before it compromises security and political stability in the Middle East and beyond.

Furthermore, international community can also useMujahedeen-e-Khalqto its advantage, in an effort to further pressurise Iran and militant organizations it supports. Moreover, international community could also take a further step in communicating directly with the militant organizations Iran so “actively” supports. Since, both HAMAS and Hezbollah have become actively involved in domestic politics, these factions can be forced to open doors for a dialogue with the international community, not only to moderate their ideas but also to extend legitimacy to these factions in domestic politics. In order to progress thoroughly and actively in the domestic politics moreover accepted by international community, these Iran backed terror factions must adopt policies accepted both at the global and domestic level.

Iran backed militant factions – An Introduction

It all started with the Iranian Revolution and subsequent removal of the Shah from power in 1979. Since then, Iran has openly advocated for terrorism. Even during the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a cleric,supported terrorism to a greater extent, stating “terrorism as a new tool for Islamic Republic”. The events following the Iranian Revolution, a siege of the US Embassy and capturing of 52 officials and staffers under captivity of over 444 days – was clear signal for the White House and the West of Iran’s contentions and use of terror as a “viable and dominating” tool.

Backed by Iran, the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), an extended organization of Hezbollah during the Lebanese Civil War followed by subsequent support to other terror organizations such as Al Qaeda and HAMAS, terrorism dominated Iranian domestic policy for years. This massive support of terrorism, which continues even today,continued even during the reign of Ali Khamenei. Tehran has largely been the benefactor from Iran’s continuous propagation of its ideology in and around the Middle East, the Central Asia and beyond, will remain pose a grave threat to the security and stability in the region, if the international community does not eliminate the link between Tehran and its proxies.

Furthermore, Iran’s continuous “strong” relationship with each of its backed terror organizations, stands unique,such as that, each of these terror organizations gives priority to the Iran’s interests in the region, and strengthen Iran’s dominance through their control. Each of these proxies has a unique mission; Hezbollah is a politico-military organization in Lebanonwith additional units deployed in South America which provides training and military hardware to other violent nonstate-actors and militant organizations in the region. However, the primary goal of Hezbollah is to strengthen Iran’s political dominance in the Levant; HAMAS is also a politico-military organization operating from the Palestinian territories and uses guerrilla warfare against Israel. The group strengthens Iran’s interests in Palestinian territories; Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant organization based out of Syria, It shares many operational similarities with HAMAS,and use guerrilla warfare tactics against Israel.

All these terror organizations might have different operational mechanism, organizational structure or indifferent modus operandi, but they all aid Tehran and act as an extension of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the same organization which providesfunding, training and other necessary support.


Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslims politico-militant fundamentalist organization, formed in the 1982 in the wake of Lebanese Civil Warto respond the then “aggressive” Israeli Defence Forcesand the organizations ideology and policies framework are based on teachings of the late Ayatollah Khamenei and its members are inspired from the Iranian Revolution. Thus, because of its ideological and historical importance, “Hezbollah is the most important proxy for Tehran”. It has, not only proven valuable from time to time, but Tehran too, carefully provided “strategic and logistic” support, in an effort to export Iran’s ideology and further influence its partnered “proxies”. It is also important to note that, Tehran is in complete control over the organization and its say in matters of operational and leadership appointment is final. This strengthens Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran, making it easier for Tehran to use it as their own militaryon any occasions, using the organization in “covert” operations and simply denying its role when countered by international community. Additionally, the close relationship between Hezbollah and Iran is enjoyed mostly by Tehran, as Hezbollah’s strategic presence is of geographical important, especially in Levant, and frequently in South America.

With Tehran “calling all the shots”, Hezbollah plays an “extensive” role besides Iran’s militaryand a strategical “extension” to Tehran. Besides from a major say in appointment of Hezbollah’s leadership, they also receive massive financial support from Iran.

The financial support Hezbollah receives from Iran roughly mounts to over $100 million per year. However, a large percentage of money is distributed in Hezbollah’s social activities, it does not limit Hezbollah from actively participating intrafficking of arms,militant attacks against Israel, and trafficking of drugs.

Although, Hezbollah is slowly drifting away from its “terror” activities, however, there have been recent incidents no later than 2013, which has Hezbollah’s modus operandi all over it, particularly involving killings and assassination attempts on Israelis living in Georgia, India, Thailand and Azerbaijan. In the light of recent surfacing of some “compelling” evidences that points to Hezbollah’s modus operandi,Iran’s support to Hezbollah would bring severe consequences to this relationship. Furthermore, experts state that, Hezbollah’s presence in South America is not just limited to propagating Iran’s ideology, but also to strengthen the drug trade it has so extensively been a part of, which it uses to promote additional funding and turning the region into a possible base for future.

However, in the light of recent evidences pointing towards Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorist attacks followed by its history of supporting, financing and participating in terror attacks indirectly though, forces many counter terrorism experts to re-consider Hezbollah within the context of terror organizations. Considering its previous involvement in terror attacks along with non-substantive, inconclusive evidences proving a direct connection, the support it receives from Tehran forces many homeland security experts to think otherwiseas Tehran may use Hezbollah for future terrorist incidents. However, the sudden inclination of Hezbollah into domestic politics have forced the political leadership within the organization to follow a moderate ideology, although its potential to carry out future terror attacks and its continuous backing from Tehran, makes policy makers and homeland security experts “concerned”. Furthermore, Hezbollah’s active participation in the drug trafficking makes it a criminal organization, a cult; which in the eyes of international law, is a serious issue for global security and stability. In the light of recent “resurrection” of debates between Tehran and White House, Hezbollah may be given extended areas of operations by Tehran, in an effort to strengthen its operations in the region. Although, many claim that Hezbollah’s power rests primarily in the seat it Lebanon making it a “necessity for Tehran than proxy”. Moreover, the legitimacy it enjoys in the state of Lebanonhas given it a separate identity, free from the influence of Tehranand Syria, the relationship Tehran enjoys with Hezbollah, makes policy makers wonder on its “extending relationship”. Although, Hezbollah is rapidly changing its views to “moderate”, it might give a way for Tehran excessive control over Lebanon, making it difficult for Hezbollah to counter Tehran with “moderate” views.


Unlike Hezbollah, HAMASis predominantly a political organization, with an “extremist” ideology and carries rampant, wide scale military attacks on Israel; the target of these attacks are mostly women and children. These rampant military attacks on masses comprising of mostly women and children, a modus operandi of HAMAS. With HAMAS targeting specifically women and children, Iran’s support to this group have been a question for foreign policy experts even today.

Founded in the on-set of the First Intifada in 1987, the organization remained independent from “foreign influence” before engaging with Tehran in 1990. The relationship enjoyed by the two has been strengthened through series of incidents. The relationship between HAMAS and Tehran can be classified into three stages: First,during the late 1980s, when HAMAS and Tehran were “marginal”in relationships and frequently HAMAS accused Tehran of its backing to Palestinian Islamic Jihad; Second, the outcome of the first Gulf War paved a way for a clear Iranian victory over Iraq, reinstating Iran’s dominance in the region and a potential for super power of Middle East, tempted by Iran’s victory, HAMAS inclination towards Tehran grew larger. In the years after war, Tehran began assisting HAMAS extensively; right from post-Gulf War, Second Intifada, the Second Invasion of Iraq, assassination of Yasir Arafat, and HAMAS entrance into domestic politics, turning the “extended relationship” into an Tehran-HAMAS allianceas for Iran, HAMAS was a readily available tool to spread Iran’s ideology in the region whereas for Hamas, since its increasing isolation by the international communities, found Iran a major support.

Like Hezbollah, HAMAS is a key asset for Tehran, particularly in the goal to spread Iran’s influence and ideology in the Middle East. With major presence in the Middle East, Iran wants to spread its influence and ideology in larger areas of the Middle East, making its dominance in the region, making it easy for Tehran to carry out attacks against Israel and the West. As Tehran is determined to expand the influence of Shi’ite crescent beyond the borders of Middle East, using the proxies to expand its dominance in the Levant could be the “final objective”.

Furthermore, HAMAS is a Sunni organization, hence Tehran is careful in maintaining a balance and provide ample support to Hezbollah, in an effort to counter HAMAS, if it ever questions Tehran’s actions. Moreover, Tehran being a patron, has a major influence on HAMAS. Although, there has been recent “in-differences” between HAMAS and Tehran over the latter’s support to President Bashar al-Assad during his harsh actions against his own masses. Although, this would not go long, as HAMAS is receiving necessary assistance from the Arab states;making the group’s reliance on assistance “minimal” on Tehran, making it less likely to “bend” before Iranian leadership.

Re-structuring policy for the West

Any nation that carries out its dominance in the region using violent non-state actors/proxies and interferes in the domestic and external policies of other states, pose a severe threat to security and stability in the region. Since, these proxy elements specifically target civilian population, and interfere in the domestic policies of other states, proxies or not, if they act as an extended part of military/political institution of the patron state, acts committed by these proxies becomes an act committed by the patron state.

Although, State Sponsor of Terrorism frequently deploy violent non-state actors/proxies in an effort to interfere in another state, Tehran’s relationship with these proxies is a well-known fact, openly advocated by their political leadership, a fact that even the West knows. Since, HAMAS, Hezbollah and PIJ are Tehran’s favourite proxies, the state has also extended support to other militant factions including; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombian (FARC), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Kata’ib Hizballah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Abu Nidal, and more recently, Al Qaeda. All of these aforementioned proxies have been responsible for targeting civilian population in their operations, some even planning to specifically target them. With the direct/indirect assistance from Tehran, it can be well understood that, the murder of innocent men, women and children is to be blamed equally on Tehran.

In an effort to prevent Tehran extending the operations of its proxies beyond the Middle East, particularly Central Asia,it is important for policy makers and political leadership of power nations to put a halt on Tehran’s activitiesand force Iran to stop supporting terror elements. Although, there has been numerous discussions on identifying appropriate measures/resolutions and sanctions to put an end on Tehran’s “financing of terror”, there have been similar sanctions put in place by the West, which proved to be very effective.

Since, Syria and Libya too were “active” State Sponsor of Terrorism, there were certain actions taken by the West which proved to be effectivein reducing the state from sponsoring terrorist elements. Thus, policy makers may consider the case of Syria and Libya and follow the same “principles of engagement”, in an effort to stop Tehran from supporting its proxies. The pressure induced actions in the form of harsh economic sanctions followed by strong military support, forced Al Assad regime to comply with the international law. However, the sanctions put in place followed by military assaults did not force Syria to abandon its “aggression”, but it managed to surgically remove the proxies from this equation.

Similarly, the harshness of sanctions put in place by the West followed by a strong military readiness proved to be largely effective against Libya. In this example, Libyan dictator Qaddafi was not only forced to comply with the international law, but also changed its policies on State Sponsor of Terrorism and began working with international community in an effort to restore domestic security and stability in the country.

However, policy makers must understand that, these cases are quite different as it involves a cooperation and coordination of harsh economic sanctions, political will and a strong military activenesswhich formed a “trident of force” against the oppressing regimes, forcing them to comply with the international law. Before considering active policies involved in the aforementioned scenarios, policy makers must consider them as a case of reference before taking stringent actions against Iran. Although, in the light of Iran’s “expansionist” ideology, policy makers must create a unique combination of sanctions in an effort to force Tehran to comply.

It is important for policy makers to identify key assets that could prove valuable in bringing stability and security in the regions of Middle East and Central Asia, which Tehran so ambitiously participate. One possible way is through active talks, policy makers could invite Iran’s proxies at the table and hold dialogue sessions.

Furthermore, policy makers must understand that, “talks with such irritant factions are rather costly, fruitless, frequently fails may backfire”, which is chance for policy makers should take.

Nonetheless, dialogues are important as it could change a terrorist faction into a probable “stable” political alternativewhich could force them to close the door of violence. It is also important for policy makers to note that, the chances for a success is quite bleak. However, this should not make them weary even before a dialogue session, but should also not be eager enough to cover all possibilities in haste.

Furthermore, policy makers must reinforce their policy/ economic sanction with active dialogue sessionsin an effort to sway them from their patron state, such as this case, Iran. Since, militant factions are quite eager themselves and quickly jump to a conclusion when they see their future dim, the best possible way is to enforce harsher economic sanctions against them, forcing them to comply international law; indulging with them in an intense dialogue and swaying away from patron state, will be no less than a win for policy makers, however, it is important for policy makers to focus on showing them a “bigger picture”, a probable political player in domestic politics, tactics such as these could sway them away from terrorism.

Moreover, looking for a long-term solution, policy makers could useMujahedeen e-Khalq in an effort to push Iranian influence/assets out of Iraqand use it as a leverage against Tehran, forcing them to sway from its proxies.The Mujahedeen e-Khalq has not only provided credible and reliable intelligence inputs and necessary support to the West, the groups “leaning towards democracy” makes it a reliable ally for the West. Although, the Washington continues to designate Mujahedeen e-Khalq a terrorist organization, it would need to change its policies towards “key elements” it needs to eliminate Iranian hegemony in the region. The banning of Mujahedeen e-Khalq was done under the Clinton administration, Trump administration must follow the example of EU and Britain. They not only removed Mujahedeen e-Khalq from “terrorist” designated lists but also continues to use their support even today.

Since, the designation of Mujahedeen e-Khalq as a “terrorist” organization was purely political, Washington should cross it from the list, further making it a useful ally. Not only covering the course of strategic ally for Washington in the West, Mujahedeen e-Khalq would prove to be a viable military support if Washington does confront Tehran.

Furthermore, these avenues aforementioned, will only be successful if policy makers working on the highest decision levels at the international arena unanimously agreein an effort to achieve their common goal. Although, after few successful political manoeuvring by power nations such as Russia and China, it may take policy makers more than “dialogue” to convince the two global powers to agree and support their stance. Since, economic sanctions are, let’s say, put in place and these two power nations continue to do business with Tehran, even the harshest economic sanctions would prove ineffective. Moreover, the same contentions may rise during the discussions for stringent military actions at the UNSC, where the two power nations would “cloak” their decisions using a Veto.

Hence, it is important for policy makers to use every possible tactic (from diplomacy to military) to prevent Tehran’s sponsorship of proxies in an effort to maintain stability and security in the region. This gives policy makers limited but viable options; use of existing “stable” powers that share different ideology than Iran’s and pose a direct challenge to its power, irrespective of the organizations structure (Mujahedeen e-Khalq or any organization), making it a realistic choice to counter Iran’s support to proxies.


It is without a second thought that, Iran will not only continue to use its proxies to establish an ideological dominance in the region, and also pose a grave threat to peace and stability to Middle East and beyond. Until there is a strong response from the international communities, Tehran will continue to support violent non-state actors operating in and around Middle East, Central Asia and South America. The only possible way to put an end to Tehran’s expansionist policy is through effective policies and the entire global community behind it; this is absolutely not a task expected from policy makers overnight, but continues efforts needs to be made.

Iran’s support of its proxies has none to serve but itself. If this policy continues to prosper, it will not only pose a grave threat to global peace and securitybut will diminish the miniscule possibility to counter the threat without significant damage to the Middle East. To effectively resolve this issue, the policy makers must identify key assets and force Tehran for a dialogue, learning from previously designated “effective” policies against similar challenges in Syria and Libya. Although the threat faced by international communities will be unique, an effective mix of economic sanctions and military pressure, followed by smart diplomacywill bear the fruits of success, as it did in the cases of Syria and Libya. However, power nations supporting Iran for shorter financial benefits must look at the larger goals of global peace and security. Furthermore, holding active talks with Iran’s proxies directly and using “resourceful and reliable” allies in the region (such as Mujahedeen e-Khalq)would result in early victories for the West followed by a “hope” for a “stabilize” future not only in and around the Middle East, but beyond.


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Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.