In the four decades since its Islamic Revolution, Iran has formed or supported an expanding number of allied fighting forces throughout the Middle East. Iran’s Quds Force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), serves as the main point of contact with these groups, providing them with training, weaponry, and funds to promote Iranian regional objectives. Fighters from Shiite Muslim–majority countries such as Iraq and Lebanon compose Iran’s main proxies, but groups in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and Syria have also formed associations with Iran. At the heart of this network [PDF] is Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militant group infamous for its acts of terrorism, which has helped Iran bridge Shiite Arab–Persian divides. More recently, Hezbollah helped Iran support the Bashar al-Assad regime in the civil war in Syria, where it worked to bring other militias to the regime’s defense.
How does Iran benefit?
Groups acting on Iran’s behalf have attacked U.S. forces in the past, and experts say Iran hopes to further leverage its growing network of partners to move equipment and personnel across the Middle East to bolster the country’s drive for regional hegemony and remove Western powers. While U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has further weakened Iran’s economy, analysts say many of the groups Iran has cultivated were or are becoming more financially independent of their benefactor. They say the U.S. killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Solemani in January could motivate them to increase attacks on the United States and its allies in the region.