Iran, an infamous and longtime regional power in the Middle East, has been at war with Israel for decades. But not directly – it uses proxies like Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist organizations to do its bidding. Presently, the Islamic Republic is undertaking a major effort to merge this proxy war with two others to strike not only at Israel, but at the West as a whole, maximizing its own gains out of it.
First, Iran has pledged full support to its largest ally – Russia, supplying it with weapons and equipment, which Russians cannot buy or produce, thus fueling the war in Ukraine. The second conflict, in which Iran has vested interest and invested resources, is the Azeri-Armenian one – on Iran’s northern border.
The war in Ukraine has stalled significantly for Russia. Western munitions and aid, combined with the Ukrainian will to fight and proficiency, have turned the tide. As evidenced by the Kharkiv front counteroffensive and the liberation of Kherson, the Ukrainians started making major headway in pushing out the Russians from their territory. This was all going smoothly until Iran ramped up its delivery of military equipment, primarily UAVs and missiles, to Russia. Iranian drones, specifically the “Shahed 136” loitering munition, are used by Russia primarily to target not military targets but civilian infrastructure.
The supply of such drones to Russia has given it a chance to “retaliate” against the Ukrainian advances and counter-offensives. And yet we all know that hitting a power station, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians without electricity when winter fast approaches, is not retaliation, it’s simply a cheap excuse. Iranian drones have increased the damage the Russian military can inflict on Ukraine, which directly translates to prolonging the war. And that means increased cost to the West which sends military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The West may be affluent; however, no supply is limitless, and Iranian efforts may lead to a gradual decrease or halt to Western support. We are already seeing some Western countries push for a diplomatic compromise. US officials worry that the Ukraine crisis is adding to Taiwan’s almost $19 billion backlog of weaponry, further delaying efforts to arm the island as tensions with China rise.
Additionally, Tehran uses Moscow’s war effort as a proving ground for its munitions. The feedback received from Russian users of Iranian weaponry in Ukraine is analyzed and implemented by the DIO (Iranian Defense Industry Organizations) R&D to improve their UAVs and missiles, so that they may be more effective in Iran’s other endeavors (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/russias-war-ukraine-shifts-dynamics-israel-iran-azerbaijan-triangle). Apart from testing weaponry, Iran stands to gain from a prolonged Ukrainian conflict due to the media coverage it receives. All eyes are on Ukraine, meanwhile large-scale protests aimed at gaining basic civil rights are being dispersed with extreme violence by Iranian regime. Media coverage of these protests is limited, not only due to censorship, however, as mentioned, due to the worldwide focus on Ukraine. The more Tehran keeps assisting Russia in prolonging the war, the more it stands to benefit from reduced media attention.
And one must not forget the nuclear deal as the war in Ukraine significantly reduces the West’s ability to concentrate on additional tasks, besides dealing with Russia and China. Growing ties between Iran and Russia dramatically undermines the likelihood of signing it.
Moving a tad North of Iran, we get to the Caucasus. This region has been plagued by hostilities since the dismantling of the USSR, between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But recently it was artificially escalated by Tehran to the higher geopolitical level, as Iranian regime started to present Azerbaijan as Israel’s beachhead in the region. It is no secret that Baku and Jerusalem enjoy very close relations in the energy and defense spheres, but Tehran’s officials blatantly claim that Azeri government is a “Zionist patsy”, controlling Shia population, which the Islamic Republic wishes to rule. Tehran declared that all the decision-making in Azerbaijan’s policy takes place in Tel-Aviv (sometimes together with Ankara). And that includes the Zangezur corridor (a part of a larger transportation project connecting Baku to Nakhichevan and through it, Turkey) – an initiative of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, whom Tehran’s media already renamed “Aleph” – to underline him being a “Jewish agent”.
The Iranian regime fears that the Zangezur project will cut off its connection with Armenia. This longtime ally of Russia and a founding member of CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), assisted Moscow and Tehran in getting microelectronic components for its military purposes from commercial home appliances. It also assists in supplying Russia with Iranian UAVs. And Iran is ready to protect Armenia at all costs, including providing weaponry. Iran’s foreign minister also announced that “we consider Armenia’s security as the security of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the security of the region.”( https://neweasterneurope.eu/2022/11/28/the-iranian-armenian-russian-axis-and-the-war-in-ukraine/)
At the same time Iran maintains that it will not tolerate Israeli military or intelligence presence in Azerbaijan. The IRGC military exercises and Iranian ground forces drills on the Iranian-Azeri border as well as the official statements issued accompanying them, saying those exercises are a show of force and response to Israeli activity in Azerbaijan, all indicate that Iran has no qualms assisting Armenia against Azerbaijan if it comes to a direct military conflict. And such a conflict will harm Israel’s and other western countries’ interests. Israel gets over 40% of its energy resources from Azerbaijan, which is also considered a major replacement for Russian gas for the EU.
Last but not least is the proxy war Iran is waging with Israel on the Syrian front. IRGC Qods special force has been operating in Syria for a very long time now, with the intent to establish infrastructure to allow for strikes into Northern Israel. Up until recently, the Syrian regime had the full undivided attention and military backing of Russia. The Syrian civil war even saw the Russian air force and special forces assist in training as well as fighting alongside the Assad regime. This all changed once Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started going downhill. All of a sudden, Russian activity in Syria was drastically reduced and the majority of assets transferred to Ukraine. The power vacuum left by the Russians in Syria has allowed the Qods force to increase its own activity massively.
It goes without saying that Qods force was already actively transferring weapons, constructing intelligence networks training Shia militants (including those, who were sent for subversive purposes to Azerbaijan and initiating probing strikes into Israel before the Russia withdrawal. However, the power vacuum left by the Russians was very quickly filled by an increasing number of Iranian operations. With a larger power base in Syria, Iranian subterfuge presents a larger threat to Israel and its security interests on the Northern border. Beforehand, there used to be a silent agreement in place between Russia and Israel, as part of which Russia would act as a blocker for Iranian weapons shipments to its cells in Syria and would not interfere with the Israeli air force strikes on Iranian/Syrian targets threatening Israeli security. This agreement is no longer relevant due to the Russian influence in Syria being minimal.
To sum up, by merging all 3 conflicts in which it has its hand in, Iran gains additional advantage over Israel and the West. Understanding of this threat must lead to a joint stance against it, not only on a declarative level. For now, it seems that the most efficient way to oppose Iran’s plot would be supporting its population’s protests against the regime.