Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s radical mission for regional hegemony has shifted the dynamics of the Middle East and poses a threat to both the United States and Israel. Driven by religious fervor and a desire to rebuild the Persian Empire, Iran aims to export its revolution via its terrorist proxies and support for Shia militants across the region. With its tentacles in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain, Tehran has played a major role in creating unrest in the region and in the world with the destruction of Israel as its most immediate goal.
LEBANON & GAZA
In the 1980s, Iran steadily expanded its regional influence through its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza (Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively). By strengthening Hezbollah through the provision of weapons, funding, and training, Iran ensured it had a strong line of defense against the perpetual thorn in its side: Israel. At a time when Arab states, including Egypt, began a peace process with Israel, Iran emerged as the frontrunner in the conflict against Israel, highly focused on the Jewish state’s destruction by whatever means necessary.
Today, Iran-backed Hezbollah all but controls Lebanon, while Hamas has been the de facto ruler of Gaza since 2007. Both terrorist groups regularly call for the destruction of Israel and launch attacks against the Jewish state.
Iran’s backing of the Assad regime during the Syrian civil war, motivated by a need to keep its oldest regional ally strong and close, demonstrated Tehran’s longstanding willingness to expend its resources and manpower to further its hegemonic goals. Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, served as a close confidante and mentor to the inexperienced Bashar al-Assad throughout the six-year Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, throughout the war, on behalf of the Assad regime, Iran provided military aid, sent Hezbollah and other Shiite fighters to Syria, rallied assistance from Russia, and even sent its own troops into the country in 2014.
In 2018, Iran and Israel directly engaged in a military confrontation in Israel for the first time as Iran launched an armed drone from Syria, infringing upon Israeli airspace, and Israel retaliated. It became apparent that a critical priority for Israel was to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria, as it had done in Lebanon, providing a base from which to attack Israel.
Nonetheless, Iran has forged a path through Syria and Iraq into Lebanon to transport supplies to Hezbollah. Moreover, Iran’s leadership has had an eye for some time toward building a naval base on the coast of Syria or Yemen that would be armed with long-range missiles for the purposes of attacking Israel. Additionally, Syria provides access for the Iranian regime from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea, a “land bridge” long desired by Iran to expand its influence. Since the Assad regime’s victory, with Iran-trained soldiers on Syria’s border, a permanent Iranian military base in eastern Syria, and a path through Syria and Iraq to transfer advanced arms to Hezbollah, Iran is firmly entrenched in Syria.
Both Syria, though secular, and Iran share a common enemy: Israel. In the wake of the Syrian civil war, Iran has viewed Syria as a valuable “second front” in the “resistance” against Israel in addition to Lebanon.
HATRED OF ISRAEL
Importantly, the most common theme in the rhetoric used by the Iranian leadership is deep-seated hatred for Israel. Over and above regional aspirations, religious zeal, and political ambitions, Iran’s driving goal is to wipe Israel off the map. “Opposition to the Jewish state” has been called “the most enduring pillar of Iranian revolutionary ideology.” With a presence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, Gaza through Hamas, and Syria through its allied interests, Iran’s dark shadow looms on three of Israel’s borders and its goal remains as ever the destruction of Israel.
In a Middle East increasingly shifting according to its actions and the counter-actions of nations in opposition to it, Iran is a dangerous actor on the world’s stage sowing mayhem and reaping devastation that must be met with swift and decisive action by the United States and other world powers.