Iran’s Proxy strategy and the Biden Administration weak position

By: Ahmad Fawad Arsala

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On February 5, 2024, Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, issued a notable statement, emphasizing that Iran does not intend to instigate tensions with any country and denies the presence of proxy forces in the region. This statement is widely perceived as a potential Iranian gesture towards de-escalation. The significance lies in the departure from Iran’s historical strategy, which involved employing proxies to advance geopolitical interests while avoiding direct confrontations that could threaten its hold on power.

Iran’s historical use of proxies to navigate complex geopolitical situations in regions like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Lebanon is well-documented. Notably, there have been instances of Iran seeking de-escalation, as highlighted by former President Donald Trump, who claimed that Iran communicated with the U.S. before the missile attack on the Ain al-Asad base in January 2020. The communication aimed to save face for the Iranian regime, asserting retaliation for the killing of IRGC QUDS force commander Qasim Soleimani, while also alerting the U.S. to prepare and evacuate to prevent a full-scale war.

In the recent conflict, responding to the killing of three U.S. service members, Iran suffered losses among its proxy fighters, including Syed Hamza Alawi, an Afghan Shia commander of the Fatimion brigade, associated with the IRGC Quds force in Iraq and Syria. Based on Iranian news media, Hashd al-Sha’bi (the Popular Mobilization Units, PMU) which is a wellknown Iranian proxy organization has announced the following in the after math of the US strikes:

  • The attack on the operational headquarters of Al-Anbar Province and the support detachment of Brigade 13 resulted in 7 martyrs and 7 wounded.
  • The attack on the logistics support headquarters resulted in one person wounded.
  • Attack on the artillery unit headquarters resulted in one martyr and four wounded.
  • Attack on the armored combat unit led to three martyrs and ten wounded.
  • Attack on the tank battalion headquarters resulted in four wounded.
  • Attack on two bases belonging to Brigade 45 resulted in 11 wounded.
  • Attack on Essam Al-Baldawi Hospital resulted in five martyrs.

The Iranian regime has consistently felt reassured and, according to some perspectives, appeased by the Biden administration since its inception. This sentiment is based on specific actions taken by the administration, such as the Treasury Department’s decision to lift sanctions on former senior officials of the National Iranian Oil Co. and various companies engaged in petrochemical trading and shipping on June 10, 2021. Additionally, the U.S. and Iran prisoner swap in September 2023 involved the Biden administration unfreezing $6 billion of Iranian oil money. Some critics question the necessity of coupling this substantial financial exchange with the release of five Iranian prisoners for five American prisoners, raising concerns about the overall deal’s terms and implications for Iran.

Furthermore, the Iranian media and official speeches consistently underscore the belief that the Biden administration is displaying reluctance to enter into a military conflict, particularly in the lead-up to the upcoming U.S. presidential election. This perception gains credence when considering the active U.S. participation in ongoing conflicts, such as the Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict. This involvement implies a current lack of determination or willingness on the part of the U.S. to engage in a direct confrontation with Iran. The Iranian narrative emphasizes these instances to assert that the United States is currently disinclined to initiate or escalate military hostilities with Iran, aligning with their strategic interests.

In conclusion, the statement issued by Nasser Kanaani on February 5, 2024, reflects Iran’s approach, as it emphasizes a commitment to avoiding tensions with other nations and denies the presence of proxy forces in the region. This stance is widely interpreted as a potential gesture towards de-escalation, marking a departure from Iran’s historical use of proxies to advance its geopolitical interests.

The acknowledgment of instances where Iran sought de-escalation, as highlighted by the communication preceding the Ain al-Asad base missile attack in January 2020, further underscores the complexity of Iran’s strategic maneuvers. The recent conflict resulting in losses among Iran’s proxy fighters also highlights the risks associated with this approach.

Moreover, the perceived reassurance and appeasement of the Iranian regime by the Biden administration, evident in the lifting of sanctions and the significant financial exchange in the prisoner swap, contribute to the overall context. The Iranian narrative, emphasizing U.S. reluctance to engage in military conflicts amid other global involvements, suggests a strategic advantage for Iran in the current geopolitical landscape.

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