Analysis: Tehran is switching fronts in its fight against the West


Ariel Kogan

Political analyst, Israel

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps taking part in a military drill in the south of Iran.
SEPAH NEWS / AFPMembers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps taking part in a military drill in the south of Iran.

All of Iran’s groups share the theocratic views of the Tehran regime and have, as part of their mottos, a pledge to bring death and destruction to Israel

Iranian proxies in the Middle East are plenty – and are a thorn in almost every regional country’s side. 

The proxies focus on destabilizing local regimes and countries, propagating Khomeinist ideological content to local populations, and ensuring nothing stands in the way of the region becoming a part of the Iranian sphere of influence. The most infamous of the many internationally-recognized terrorist organizations that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has created and trained over the years is Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

All these groups share the theocratic views of the Tehran regime and have, as part of their mottos, a pledge to bring death and destruction to Israel, the Jewish population, and the West as a whole. Moreover, recent information has come to light about the considerations by the Russian high command – and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself – to integrate militants from several of the Iranian proxies operating in Syria into the Russian war effort in the Ukrainian theater.

Iranian Presidency Office via AP
Iranian Presidency Office via APIran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (R) meets with the Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin at the presidency office in Tehran, Iran.

Seven months into the invasion of Ukraine, Russia declared a partial mobilization to bring 300,000 reservists to the battlefield. However, following further complications in the war for Russia, chiefly the West pledging to ramp up its military aid to Ukraine, Russia may be on the brink of another general mobilization wave. Yet, the low level of preparedness, equipment degradation, and the total lack of experience shows that even 1.5 million reservists might not suffice.

This is likely why the Russian high command is considering bolstering its ranks with foreign fighters. One such demographic, which fits the combat experience requirement and the numerical one, is the conglomerate of different Iranian-trained proxy groups of Shiite militants fighting in Syria. These groups, Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Zainebiyoun specifically, are Shia extremists trained, organized, and instructed by the IRGC to fight for its interests in turbulent areas on the map. The Fatemiyoun brigade is mostly Afghans, while the Zainebiyoun brigade is primarily made up of Pakistanis – however, the ethnic makeup of the different Iranian militias varies and includes many other ethnic groups. Again, the binding factor is the IRGC, ideology, and being pronounced enemies of the West.

IRANIAN ARMY OFFICE / AFPThe Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps taking part in a drill in the northern Indian Ocean.

Having these militias be integrated into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine may seem like a relief for the forces opposing them on the Syrian front, primarily Israel, the rebels, and Turkey. However, in the long run, it poses a significant danger. The Khomeinist fighters are plenty, and their ideology constantly brings more to their banner, so it would be doubtful that they would all get wiped out in Ukraine. Therefore, one must see that ultimately, the militants may gain vast experience and perhaps even secure pledges for assistance from Russia when they return to Syria, which is more vital than ever. Moreover, fighting in Ukraine would undoubtedly lend these militant groups knowledge on how to fight against conventional armies, such as the Israeli and Turkish armed forces, which would interfere with the interests of these countries in Syria and the whole region.

Yet another point should be reviewed – one bearing severe consequences, especially for Israel: Several members of the aforementioned terrorist organizations have been captured and arrested in Cyprus and Georgia, preventing them from executing their planned assassinations of Israeli businessmen in these countries. The detained were captured by local security services working with foreign intelligence organizations, such as the Azeri secret service assisting its Georgian counterpart in apprehending the assassins sent by Iran. The leaders of these killing teams were ethnic Azeris – citizens of Iran and Azerbaijan. Some of them were captured while collecting information on Israeli weapons purchased by Baku, a major ally of the Jewish state, which is also directly threatened by the Iranian leadership.    

These foiled plots were not the end of Iranian-backed assassins going after targets at the behest of Tehran. According to an article in the Daily Mail, Iranian-backed gangs in the UK recently have been marking British-Jewish targets for assassination plots. These assassinations will likely be carried out by members of the aforementioned proxy organizations trained by the IRGC. Additionally, the IRGC top brass has been issuing assassination threats to many UK journalists, as reported by Sky News. Moreover, Federal prosecutors in New York claimed that an Iranian-backed gang sought to murder an Iranian-American human rights advocate and journalist, Mashih Alinejad. The suspects were arrested, their ties to Iran were uncovered, and the motive – Alinejad being labeled a dissident due to her active campaign against human rights violations in Iran.

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