The term “proxy war” found its way into the glossary of military and strategic science during the Cold War. As its appearance may indicate, the proxy war is a type of conflict in which actors involve in a sort of struggle on behalf of other opposed sides. So the proxy war is a strife between two or more parties, meant to materialize objectives and interests of the sides or countries supporting their own proxies.
The Islamic awakening sparked in late 2010 following a set of events in the West Asia and North Africa, starting with Tunisia and immediately spreading to other countries of the two regions. Its coincidence with the economic crisis in the US and Europe has made the two decline to apply preemptive measures or choose a direct confrontation to prevent rise of a novel Islamic civilization or deepened discourse of the Axis of Resistance across the region. Instead, an intra-civilization conflict took place.
On the other side in the US, the presidential election and voting to Obama’s “change” promises, sent a message to the new White House administration: the direct military confrontation must give place to use of a “soft and smart power.” To put it differently, the discord inside the US over direct actions, the country’s critical economic conditions, the West Asian chaotic conditions, the strong position of the Iran-led Axis of Resistance, and the unsupportive international circumstances barred Washington from direct military intervention in an uprising-hit West Asia region.
Accordingly, considering the interpretation of Samuel Huntingdon, the American political scientist, of the upcoming global security conditions and also holding a belief that emergence of a new Islamic civilization empowered by Iran as its key drive is the most dangerous threat posed to the US-led Western civilization, President Obama administration designed and implemented its policies on new bases– being quite different from those of his predecessor George W. Bush. Under the fresh, reviewed strategy of Obama administration the intra-civilization clash took place of clash of civilizations, the smart power stood instead of hard power, the proxy war strategy replaced the preemptive military intervention, and the creative and constructive chaos took place of a hegemony-enforced relative stability.
Regarding the above-mentioned cases, the proxy war of the US in the new era was based on two pillars:
– The takfirist camp with characteristics such as ignorance, meanness and atrocity, with ISIS terrorist group as its top representative.
– The regional countries, on top of them Saudi Arabia.
Accordingly, through political, intelligence, military, training, and advisory supports on the one hand and persuasion of regional countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey on the other hand, the White House and Pentagon cooked up a proxy war deep into Iran’s strategic depth. The war against Syria, Yemen, and Iraq and what is being seen in Bahrain as well as efforts to drag the conflicts to the Iranian borders are instances of the proxy war in a regional scale in a bid to curb and then destroy the “Resistance discourse” for the final aim of weakening the Islamic Republic’s strength in the region.
During the 2014 Herzliya conference in the Israeli regime, main Israeli and American strategy was set to be transferring the battle to the “adversary ground” and hiding behind the clashes between the Islamic countries and groups. In other words, damaging the Islamic nations using their own power and hands.
Additionally, Moshe Ya’alon, the former Israeli minister of defense, has overtly called existence and activity of the terrorist and takfirst groups in the region as elements helping improve Tel Aviv’s security factor. He continued in the conference that presence of terrorist groups in the region meant driving out the Palestinian issue and focusing on inter-Muslim conflict.
With these in mind, we can easily suggest that the regional proxy war masterminds include the West, led by the US and the Israeli regime, and the Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, as well as Turkey. These countries, also called the Western-Israeli-Arab camp, are faced by Axis of Resistance, led by the Islamic Republic of Iran, with wings like Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian liberation-seeking organizations, and the anti-imperialist groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. In the present time, an array of strife is under way between the two opposing resistant and the overbearing camps in a variety of economic, political, and ideological fields. This encounter is expected to continue activity in the future.
With the above explanations in mind, we now can easily answer these questions: Why were countries such as Syria and Iraq targeted by waves of terrorist-takfirist militant groups? What are the proxy war actors in West Asia region? And finally who have been the winners and losers of such a conflict?
Takfirst groups: top proxy war actors
The takfiri groups in line with their firmly-established ideology, which is taken from the thoughts of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyyah, as well as American-Israeli theorists, engaged in fighting with the pro-Resistance governments of the region. Basing their approach on the “close and the distant enemy” strategy of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current lead of Al-Qaeda terrorist group, these terrorist groups began slaughtering people and demolishing the target countries’ major infrastructures. Michael Brant, the former deputy director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has said that Washington should adopt a “divide and destroy” instead of “divide and rule” strategy. He continued that they plan massively to implement their long-term policies, including supporting anti-Shiite groups like the takfiris and spreading the idea of apostasy of the Shiite Muslims in a way that in a proper time people from other Muslim sects announce Jihad (war) against them.
The losers of the region’s proxy war
Among the major losers of the proxy war we can refer to some actors like:
– The US and the Israeli regime: The key actors of the proxy battle in the region, whose policies are followed by other minor actors, are Washington and the Zionist lobby in the US. George Friedman, the chief of Stratfor, an American think tank, in an article titled The Middle Eastern Balance of Power Matures has said up to the early 2000s, the US strategy in the region was direct military presence and use of hard power to secure it vital interests in West Asia region. He counted some actions like direct aid for Iraq in its war against the neighboring Iran in the 1980s, signing military treaties and building permanent military bases in the region’s countries, invading Iraq and Afghanistan, deploying aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, and some other steps.
Friedman recommended that to keep making advantages with less cost the US needed to pursue two approaches: first, indirect presence– majorly through building coalitions– and second considering a balance of power. The two key elements will determine Washington’s new scheme and strategy in West Asia, and besides keeping the US behind the scenes it will disburden Washington of its former strategy’s costs.
Applying the proxy war strategy, Washington has followed two goals: first, forming alliances comprised of state actors like the Arab governments and the militant and terrorist groups and second embroiling the existing actors in the proxy fight through ideological conflicts. Just unlike the political struggles, the ideological conflicts are based on beliefs. In fact, the warring sides do not back down until defeat of the opposite side or their defeat.
The US and the Israeli regime keep their options open in West Asia, eyeing a series of strategies ranging from the Greater Middle East plan to partition of the region. But they failed to act successfully in any of these schemes, as the US President Barack Obama in a recent press conference has admitted failure in Syria, enumerating a set of reasons for that, including lack of international backing, disunity of the Syrian opposition groups, the military strength of superpower such as Russia, and the Iranian clout in the region.
– Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey: Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha, which in a way are pieces of an American proxy war’s puzzle, are used as the logistical tools of such a war. Providing vast financial, manpower, and military support for the terrorist groups are major works of these three regional actors against the Resistance camp. The London-based Saudi Arabian daily Al-Hayat has maintained that the Arab League “must be shut down” now that the Syrian government has taken back Aleppo from militants. It continued that the Arab League’s statements, as the largest bloc of its kind in the world, do not go beyond being on the paper. This bloc cannot play its role well even in the games it has started in the region, let alone being able to act effectively, according to the Saudi Arabian newspaper.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar as key actors in the Arab League were the top losers of the regional developments and Syria and Iraq conflicts. This comes while the two Arab states spent hugely, both financially and spiritually, on the terrorist groups fighting the governments of Iraq and Syria, but they made no gains. Invalidity in the eyes of the regional public opinion, expansion of Iran’s sway in Syria and Iraq, and sustaining huge financial and military losses are the major outcomes of these countries’ pathways in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey, on the other side, which has sought President Bashar al-Assad removal, not only failed to reach goal but also began to grapple with a set of security challenges at home, including clashing with the Kurdish forces, witnessing rise in terrorist attacks in civilian places, and a slowing down economic growth. Furthermore, Ankara’s advantageous relations with its neighbors like Russia and Iran have been overshadowed by its interventionist policies in the region.
In general, there are a lot of signs of losses of the Western-Arab-Israeli camp, with Aleppo defeat standing as a climactic point of all.
Winners of the proxy war
It is glaringly apparent for all that the overarching drive of waging the proxy battle is impairing the Axis of Resistance, specifically Iran. The terrorist groups that aimed at Iraq and Syria, made it clear that the next step in their strategy was spreading instability to Iran. But their goal was foiled as they, noticeably ISIS, were dealt heavy blows in Iraq and Syria.
So the real winners of the US-waged proxy struggle are the Tehran-led Resistance front and Russia. The takfiri groups now are sustaining working losses in Iraq and Syria, two flashpoints of war in the region. Aleppo liberation was the final nail in the coffin of the pro-terror countries’ strategy.
Even many news and analysis outlets have conceded to loss to Iran. The BBC, for example, in a report noted that certainly Aleppo retaking is a turning point in the Syrian war. The British news outlet said that the main winner of Aleppo battle was Iran and the loser was Saudi Arabia. Increased Iranian sway in Syria was apparent as Tehran unexpectedly forced-stop the ceasefire introduced to facilitate exit of the remaining militants from the northern Syrian city and managed to impose conditions for the truce resumption.
The BBC in another report maintained that the Syrian government’s triumph in Aleppo could transform Iran into a top regional power under some conditions. Tehran wants ruling party of Syria to continue governing the country and wants anti-Assad forces be put down to secure uninterrupted support for Hezbollah. This is the key element granting Iran supremacy in the region, according to the British media outlet.
The special advisor of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis also in a note wrote that Iran and Russia are the strategic victors of the crisis in Syria. Tehran has achieved its goal of saving the contact line with Hezbollah and the Mediterranean Sea. “On the strength of the role of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah, and other Shiite militant groups in Syria and Iraq, now Iran’s presence in the region is necessary and unavoidable,” he continued.
The BBC in an analysis asserted that Aleppo liberation now makes splitting Syria in smaller sectarian and ethnic units much harder. By tightening its control of Aleppo, Assad’s government will get the chance to control back the country’s western parts that accommodate a major part of the urban population and natural resources.
In addition to the Resistance camp, Russia must be considered the next major winner in the Syrian battle. Its serious performance of battling the terrorists not only bolstered Moscow’s global image and prestige but also helped a Russian influence expansion in the West Asia. At the same time, the Russian flexing of muscles in the Syrian conflict helped Moscow press ahead with its policies in other places, particularly in its confrontation of Europe.
All in all, it must be noted that the overbearing camp devised a set of schemes as part of the proxy war including split, intra-civilization war, and erosive ethnic conflicts. However, its losses in Syria and Iraq not only foiled its plans but also paved the way for the opposite camp, Axis of Resistance, to expand sway in the region.