Mar. 1, 2019
- Iran’s Diligent Investment in Empire – Alberto M. Fernandez
While domestically Iran is struggling, regionally it is pursuing an ambitious agenda to reshape the region in its image. The military-security-intelligence relationship between Iran and its regional proxies is the heart of its power projection. Less known are Iranian non-military efforts to create facts on the ground and extend its influence.
As the great Shia Muslim power in a mostly Sunni region, Iran has often worked through non-Iranian co-religionists who serve as foot soldiers. These populations are rewarded with land and housing, leading to demographic shifts in places like Southern Syria and Damascus. In Northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, the country’s ancient Christian population is being pushed out by Shabak militia armed and supported by Iran.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are pragmatic and seeks to forge ties with non-Shia and even non-Muslims. In Lebanon Iran has its own pro-Hizbullah Maronites or Druze. In Southern Syria bordering Israel, Iran and Hizbullah are steadily at work in cultivating productive ties with Sunni Arab rebels who had been fighting the Assad regime.
Iran also seeks to promote greater influence through cultural and educational ties. Iranian universities are now found in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. By building relationships, cultivating proxies and allies, Iran embeds itself in the fabric of local societies and excels in the retail politics of diplomacy.
Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez, a career U.S. Foreign Service member, is president at Middle East Broadcasting Networks, which owns and operates Arabic-language news and information television channels. (MEMRI)