US retaliates with strikes in Iraq and Syria after drone strike: live updates

Iran projects its military power through dozens of armed groups across the Middle East, but to what extent does it control their actions?

That issue has taken on new urgency as the United States considers its next steps after an attack by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia on a U.S. base in northwest Jordan. Sunday’s attack killed three soldiers and wounded dozens more.

The Iranian-backed groups have different histories and relationships with Tehran, but they all share Iran’s desire for the U.S. military to leave the region and for Israel’s power to be reduced. Iranian rhetoric, echoed by its allied groups, often goes further and calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.

Like Iran, most allied groups follow the Shiite branch of Islam. The exception is Hamas, whose members are predominantly Sunni Muslims.

Iran has provided weapons, training, financing and other support to groups, particularly those in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, according to evidence obtained through weapons seizures, after-action forensics, asset tracing foreigners and intelligence gathering. Some of the training is outsourced to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to American and international experts.

More recently, Iran has also allowed militias to obtain some weapons parts themselves and manufacture or modernize some weapons, according to Middle East and U.S. officials. Additionally, most groups, such as Hamas, have their own extensive for-profit enterprises, which include both legal activities such as construction and illegal enterprises such as kidnapping and drug smuggling.

Despite its support for militias, Iran does not necessarily control where and when they attack Western and Israeli targets, according to many European and Middle Eastern experts, as well as US intelligence officials. It influences groups and at least in some cases seems capable of stopping strikes.

After Iraq-based militants attacked a U.S. base in Jordan on Sunday, the group the Pentagon suggested was responsible, Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose leaders and troops are close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, announced it would temporarily withdraw at the behest of from Iran. and the Iraqi government.

However, each militia also has its own agenda, depending on its country of origin.

The Houthi movement, for example, was successful on the battlefield of Yemen’s civil war and controls part of the country. But now, unable to feed their people or create jobs, they are showing strength and prowess to their domestic audience by taking on great powers, attacking shipping heading to and from the Suez Canal, and provoking retaliatory attacks by of the United States and its allies.

That has allowed the Houthis to claim the mantle of solidarity with the Palestinians and also aligns the group with Iran’s goal of attacking Israel and its main ally, the United States.

By contrast, Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has the longest ties to Iran, is part of the Lebanese government. Their decisions about when and how much to attack Israel take into account the risks of Israeli retaliation against Lebanese civilians. A 2020 US State Department report My dear that Iran’s support for Hezbollah was $700 million annually at the time.

The weapons provided to the groups range from small arms to rockets, ballistic and cruise missiles, and a variety of increasingly sophisticated drones, said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, who has followed the representatives for many years.

Iran has been providing smaller direct cash subsidies to its proxies in recent years, in part, experts say, because it is financially strained by U.S. and international sanctions.

In addition to direct aid, some of the groups have received in-kind financing, such as oil, which can be sold or, as in the case of the Houthis, thousands of AK-47s that can also be marketed, according to a report November report of the United Nations.

A Yemeni political analyst, Hisham al-Omeisy, speaking of the Houthis, said: “They are very well supported by the Iranians, but they are not puppets on a string. “They are not puppets of Iran.”

The same could be said of other groups.

Iran itself sends different messages about the militias to different audiences, said Mohammed al-Sulami, who heads Rasanah, an Iran-focused research organization based in Saudi Arabia, which has long sparred with Iran over regional influence.

When addressing domestic and Middle Eastern audiences, Iran tends to present what it calls the “Axis of Resistance” as if it were under its leadership and control, and as part of its regional strategy. But when addressing Western audiences, Iran often maintains that while the groups share similar views, the Islamic Republic does not lead them, al-Sulami said.

“Iran is very smart to use this gray area to maneuver,” he said.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Saudi Arabia,