Militias Group Iran Support in Syria: Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance” is a central part of the country’s foreign policy, which it uses to exert influence in the Middle East while reducing the influence of its rivals – the US and Israel to the west – and Saudi Arabia.
Iran has been at the center of discussions of the Israel-Hamas war.
Although Iran denies direct involvement in the October 7 invasion, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said it “kissed the hands of those who planned attacks on the Zionist regime.”
Following the attacks on US facilities, the US launched retaliatory strikes on two Iranian-linked facilities in Syria, raising concerns about Syria’s direct involvement in the conflict with Israel. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its elite Quds Force are providing millions of dollars to arm and train fighters across the Middle East to consolidate power in the region.
This so-called “axis of resistance” is a central part of Iran’s foreign policy, which it uses to influence while undermining its rivals in the West, the United States and Israel, as well as the influence of Saudi Arabia. Sky News looks at the various forces that Tehran supports in the Middle East.
Iran’s military, security and intelligence services have long helped Syria’s Shiite allies support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Strategically, in addition to Assad’s military, it supports a number of pro-government militias in case the Assad regime collapses.
In the second year after the start of the Syrian civil war, a pro-government militia called the National Defense Forces (NDF) was formed. It is by far the largest armed force in the country, with around 40,000 fighters from the Alawite, Druze and Sunni Muslim communities.
Iran urged Assad to legitimize the NDF and formally integrate it into the army, but the regime decided to disband it in 2016, forcing the Islamic Republic to focus on the Local Defense Forces (LDF). Unlike its predecessors, the LDF became part of the Syrian army and has around 50,000 fighters, mostly from Aleppo and Raqqa.
Among the umbrella organizations, elite units such as Al Sefira Legion, Al Bajir Brigade and Katraj Forces are considered the most powerful. Smaller Shiite militias also operate in Syria, including those that Iran has helped recruit from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran provides funds and weapons to Hamas and its smaller rival Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories. Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke said Palestinian Islamic Jihad had more assets. per capita than Hamas.
But like other hard-line Palestinian groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), they are “small and incompletely organized.” “Iran is not interested in the size of its army,” he said.
“More than anything they like to spread their generosity because you never know who will stand out. So it’s a good investment to make sure you’re helping everyone. “
Analysts believe that Hamas’ use of drones to help destroy Israel’s famed Iron Dome defense system in the Oct. 7 attack points to Iranian involvement.
Although Hamas and Iran share a common anti-Israel agenda, they have been at odds over several issues in recent years. Tehran temporarily withdrew money from Hamas when it supported anti-Assad protesters in Syria during the civil war.
Iran pours more money and resources into Hezbollah than any other group in the Middle East. Its large presence in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel makes it very strategically important to Tehran.
“Hezbollah is Iran’s biggest client in this part of the world and their biggest investment,” Professor Clarke said. “They gave them some of their best weapons, including Fateh 1-10 ballistic missiles and armored vehicles.
“So while other groups look like terrorist groups, Hezbollah looks more like a conventional military force.”
Iran also used Hezbollah to train pro-Assad forces in Syria during the civil war. “They use them as conduits to connect with other groups,” Professor Clarke added. “Although Hezbollah is not particularly interested in areas outside of Lebanon and southern Israel, they have to do what Tehran tells them to do.”
Since the war broke out on October 7, fires across the Israel-Lebanon border have raised concerns that Hezbollah may intervene directly in the conflict, sparking a larger war between Israel, its Western allies and Iran.
Before the collapse in 2008, Iran supported the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that fought US forces in Iraq.
It now provides support to more than 60 militia groups within the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella organization. The PMF was officially established in 2014 to help in the fight against ISIS.
Iran is using the Houthi rebels, one of three factions fighting for power in Yemen, as a “proxy force” to pressure Israel and Saudi Arabia, its two main rivals in the region. Professor Clarke said: “The Houthis are ready to go to war against anyone.
“They have attacked Saudi Arabia and Israel with Iranian missiles, so it is right for the Iranians to let the Houthis continue because they are a destructive force for everyone.”
The US’s first military intervention in defense of Israel since the start of the war this month was the shooting down of three missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis.