The Islamic Resistance

The attack on American forces in northeast Jordan, which claimed the lives of three American soldiers, has again exposed our vulnerability to proxies. In this case, by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. They are a force courted, trained, funded, and deployed with the direct support of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps – IRGC and, more accurately, their Quds or special forces. Unable to project credible conventional military power outside of its borders, Tehran has employed an expanding proxy force. These forces include Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, and nearly any disgruntled militia that promises to strike at Israel and the West. Not so ironically, this network of proxies may also be Tehran’s most critical vulnerability. Iran’s decisions have put those same proxies in the crosshairs of the United States and allied strikes – Tehran may be next.

There is little appetite or desire to expand a conflict that has already engulfed the region, but inaction is perceived as a weakness by Tehran. Inept reactions are also perceived as weakness, and both embolden Tehran and its proxies. The pressure caused by United States air strikes in response to the attacks on Tower 22 in Jordan needs to continue. As these proxies begin to realize they have been dealt a losing hand, it may be too late for them to fold on their own terms. Simultaneously, Iranian leadership must realize they have overplayed their hand and exposed themselves to the same fate. It is long overdue that Tehran be held directly accountable; this is the time to further isolate Iran’s proxy armies and increase the pressure.

A Common Practice

The use of proxy forces has been a common occurrence throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Most recently, during the Cold War, pitting the United States against communist China and Russia in Korea, Vietnam, and places in between. Merriam-Webster defines a proxy as “authority or power to act for another.” This, even though denied by Iran’s most senior officials, may accurately define the relationship between Tehran and its recruited allies.

Former Iranian Quds Commander Major General Qasem Soleimani, killed by US Hellfire missiles outside of Baghdad in 2020, was the designer of the so-called Axis of Resistance. Though it is debatable how detailed Iran’s control is and to what level of control Soleimani had over each proxy, their mission of violence against Israel and the West remained consistent. Soleimani and his Quds forces spent years building these networks and relationships, and his death only temporarily disrupted the links between the regime in Tehran and their surrogates across the Middle East.

Currently, there is speculation in defense circles that Soleimani’s strategy was too successful. Indeed, the danger might be that the new head of the Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani – a different type of leader and personality than Soleimani – has unleashed forces that he is no longer able to control and direct.

A Proxy Gone Rogue

The Yemen-based Houthis may be the best example of a proxy gone rogue. Fissures are appearing, even as Quds forces and weapons are on the ground in Yemen, directly supporting the strikes on international shipping, United States forces, and allied warships. Interestingly, Houthi missiles stuck the Marshall Islands-flagged ship Star Iris headed for port in Iran with supplies from Brazil, showing the lawless and indiscriminate targeting by the Houthis. Perhaps this is a signal the Houthis are executing their own agenda, with or without Tehran’s approval – this is the time to further isolate them.

Being under the constant threat of Hellfire missile-equipped drones, attack aircraft carrying laser-guided bombs, and knowing warships off the coast carry even more firepower is fatiguing these proxies.