AEIs Kenneth Pollack Testifies on the Role of Iranian-Backed Militias

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In testimony today at 3:30pm before HFAC’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, AEI Resident Scholar Kenneth M. Pollack discussed the role of Iranian-backed militias and insurgents in Tehran’s regional strategy:

Iran has eagerly supported the militantly secular PKK, the Sunni Islamists of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and even Salafi extremists like al-Qa’ida and Ansar al-Islam, who see the Shi’a as apostates who should be killed. Iran does so because its greater goal is to overturn the regional status quo, which is the only way it sees to secure its defensive agenda of protecting the regime and serve its expansionist agenda of dominating the Middle East, spreading Khomeini’s ideology, and improving the position of its fellow Shi’a more broadly. All of this, of course is interlocking and self-serving.

Of necessity, Tehran turns instead [of its own military forces] to non-state actors like political opposition movements, terrorist groups, insurgencies, and militias to help it prosecute its foreign policy agenda, as long as those groups are serving its purposes. Iran understands from hard experience that many of these groups are just as cynical in accepting Iran’s aid as Tehran is in giving it, and that most have interests that diverge from Iran’s in important ways. In part for that reason, Iran tries to emplace its own personnel—and those of Hizballah, the one quasi-state ally that truly does hew to the Iranian line—with those groups not just to strengthen them, but to control them.

In other words, Iran does not rely on these groups because it wants to or believes them to be ideal military forces. It turns to them because it must. Its reliance on foreign, irregular militant groups bolstered by Iranian advisers reflects its own limitations, political and military. Such groups are the weapons of the constrained, not the free. No one relies on them if they could instead rely on their own military forces.

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