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Iran's Proxy Armies Become a Regime Liability

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

Mark down May 2019 as the month Iran's war-by-proxy-forces racket became an undeniable problem for Tehran's dictators.

This month, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. informed the Iranian regime it will suffer violent consequences if and when the militias and terror cells Tehran employs throughout the Middle East and the world attack Saudi and American targets.


Tehran no longer enjoys the diplomatic nicety of plausible deniability that armed surrogates supposedly provide. The regime will be held directly responsible for its proxy's violent actions.

Several armed incidents this month led Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to threaten the Iranian dictatorship with military reprisals.

On May 14, the United Arab Emirates accused Iran of "sabotaging" four tankers anchored off the UAE Fujairah emirate. Two tankers were Saudi owned. The anchorage is near the Strait of Hormuz -- the Persian Gulf chokepoint for ships entering the Indian Ocean. Subsequently, Reuters reported that an international insurer believed it "highly likely" Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel conducted the attack.

Two days later, Yemeni Houthi rebels attacked two Saudi Arabian oil pumping stations. The Houthis purportedly used small drone aircrafts carrying explosives. The Iranian regime bankrolls the Houthis and provides them with training and weapons, which include short-range ballistic missiles.

Then on May 19, a rocket likely fired by Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias struck near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The rocket missed the embassy, and there were no casualties.

Is the U.S. absolutely certain an Iranian proxy fired the rocket? No. However, pro-Iran militias have conducted rocket attacks in Iraq, and IRGC commanders have threatened to strike American targets in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.


U.S. President Donald Trump was certain enough to issue a feisty tweet: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"

Reuters quoted an unnamed State Department official who pinpointed the Iran proxy force's liability. "We have made clear over the past two weeks and again underscore that attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner. We will hold Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces, and will respond to Iran accordingly."

So clear and unadorned.

Though loath to admit it, the Iranian regime recognizes its conventional military inferiority compared to its many adversaries, particularly Israel, the U.S. and Turkey. So, the ayatollahs use proxy war, covert attacks and terror strikes to rattle their adversaries and frustrate the great powers (like the U.S.) that seek regional stability. For decades, they have bet that violent "meddling operations" by their proxies and IRGC special forces demonstrate their ability to act globally with little risk to their regime.

But this May, the risks rose.

The Trump administration is clearly tired of the 40-year-long war on the U.S. waged by the dictatorship since Ayatollah Khomeini established it in 1979.

Trump's tweet from Jan. 1, 2018, expressed that sentiment: "Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!"


The "terrible deal" was Obama's nuclear weapons deal. Critics said the tweet showed Trump was plotting regime change, however, he has insistently rejected U.S. military action to topple the dictatorship. He favors revolutionary political action by the Iranian people.

Trump will use military might to deter the regime and punish violent anti-American acts, but he much prefers economic sanctions, such as sanctioning Iranian oil exports. The administration believes its political and economic sanctions have begun to hurt several Iranian proxies, Lebanese Hezbollah among them.

Serious internal challenges confront the dictatorship. Domestic opposition is increasing. Iranian citizens damn the regime's economic mismanagement and endemic corruption. Rumor says the ayatollahs are now more corrupt than the Shah.

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