Iran’s military policy is a contentious subject. Ofira Seliktar and Farhad Rezaei provide a comprehensive look at how Iran has been implementing asymmetrical warfare strategy and proxy war since the establishment of the Islamic Revolution in their book Iran, Revolution, and Proxy Wars. Drawing upon comprehensive primary and secondary sources, the authors do due diligence by analyzing, case-by-case, how Iran’s proxy war strategies through Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps– Quds Force (IRGC-QF) are multifactional and target-oriented and to what extent these proxy war tools are correlated with Iran’s revolutionary ideology and geopolitical ambitions.
The first chapter provides historical background and elaborates on how Khomeini’s Islamic revolution legitimized the requirement of political violence to export the revolution beyond Iran’s borders. To carry out this mission, this chapter illustrates how the IRGC has been established and how IRGC-QF is the main responsible structure to embark its proxies through Shiite militias in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. The authors also underline the relationship between Foreign Ministry and IRGC-QF as the Iranian embassies and cultural centers in Muslim countries as “these dual-use proxies garnered political legitimacy while offering a cover for terror” (p. 17). Lastly, the chapter lays the foundation of how Revolutionary Guards have systematically developed asymmetrical warfare strategies, preventing Iranian authorities from becoming a direct target on the international stage.
Chapter 2 elaborates on Hezbollah, starting from its establishment phase to demonstrate the scope of application of Iran’s asymmetrical warfare strategy in Lebanon. The authors concentrate on how the cooperation between IRGC and Hezbollah was formed and how it has masterminded Hezbollah’s development throughout the years in the region, bonded by the mutual aim to destruct Israel. The nexus between Iran and Hezbollah persistently exposes the role of Hezbollah with regard to Iran’s revolutionary ideology and the ambition to export the revolution.
Chapter 3 interrogates the asymmetrical warfare strategy of the IRGC-QF in Palestine. The emphasis on the liberation of Jerusalem from Israeli occupation is recalled as one of the key objectives of the revolutionary ideology. Motivated by political and religious goals, the Iranian regime does not accept any convergence between Palestine and Israel and utilized its proxies, including Hezbollah, to hamper the peace process at all costs. In this respect, Seliktar and Rezaei argue that “the derailed peace process was the clearest indication yet that using proxies was a low-cost, high-yield strategy” (p. 69).
The authors probe into the relationship between al-Qaeda and IRGC-QF in chapter 4. The chapter explains how IRGC-QF’s sphere of influence extends in Africa by providing examples from Sudan, Somalia, and Egypt. The logistical, financial, and intelligence support of IRGC–QF and al-Qaeda showed asymmetrical warfare strategies such as espionage, sabotage, explosion, and assassination. Somalia’s geopolitical position, located in the Horn of Africa, encouraged IRGC-QF to export the revolution in the continent. Despite Iran’s huge spending, authors argue that IRGC-QF could not transform Sudan into another Lebanon.
Chapter 5 discusses the establishment of IRGC-QF proxies in Iraq and the spread of its military and political influence post-9/11. The developments after 9/11 and the removal of Saddam were considered “God’s Gift to Iran” (p. 129). In general, IRGC-QF’s strategies are interpreted as their endeavor to establish a second Lebanon in Iraq. Seliktar and Rezaei also underline how IRGC-QF organized and instrumentalized its proxies, Badr Brigade and Mahdi Army, to prevail against the Sunni militias and U.S. army in Iraq. Additionally, the utilization of political actors such as Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq to enhance its sphere of influence of Iran is analyzed.
Chapter 6 begins with a brief historical background between Iran and Syria, and Syria’s support during the Iran-Iraq War, which laid the foundation for their cooperation for the future. Then, the authors discuss why Syria’s geographical position inevitably places itself in Iran’s revolutionary export project. The rest of the chapter demonstrates how IRGCQF played a role in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power during the Arab Spring, and Seliktar and Rezaei argue that under the leadership of Soleimani, IRGC-QF implemented multifactional military strategies to fight both anti-Assad powers and also ISIS in Syria. The particular importance of the Shiite Liberation Army in expanding Iran’s proxy capacities is detailed, as well as religious propaganda, which was important in encouraging volunteers to fight in Syria, echoing Khamenei’s call for the “door to martyrdom which was closed by the end of the Iran-Iraq War is now open in Syria” (p. 184).
Chapter 7 touches upon Iran’s moves to export the revolution in the Gulf peninsula with Shiite populations, namely Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. It discusses how the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia morphed between 1987 and 1990, with Saudi Hezbollah, IRGC-QF’s proxy, undermining rapprochement with several terror attacks. The authors’ emphasis on Bahrain through IRGC-QF’s role in the military coup against the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, placing it as an important location in Iran’s geopolitical agenda. Lastly, the authors examine the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen, a key topic as it demonstrated IRGC’s naval strategy and its success which emboldened Iran’s ambition to extend the Shiite crescent.
The pioneering work of Seliktar and Rezaei presents a comprehensive and multidimensional investigation into Iran’s asymmetrical warfare strategy and its implementation in many countries from the Middle East to Africa. Analyzing IRGC’s proxies’ case by case and the detailed relations network of the leading figures in all proxy groups with Iranian officials provide a broad insight throughout the book. It also shows how Iran’s revolutionary ideology and multifaceted foreign policy for this purpose have not changed their direction at the cost of damaging the political mechanism between moderates and hardliners. It does not only focus on the military side of the proxy wars but also evaluates how Iranian political factionalism determines the developments for the moves of IRGC-QF. Importantly, the authors highlight how IRGCQF successfully deploys its proxies regardless of their sectarian differences to fight against bigger threats such as the U.S. and Israel. The failures and apprehension of the U.S. officials to prevent IRGC-QF advancement are also important indicators of understanding the limitations of great powers.
The book could be enriched further if a few additional points had been addressed. While the book focuses on asymmetrical warfare strategy and proxy wars, a brief explanation at the beginning would be helpful to understand these terms and what they involve in a general context. Secondly, although there was a great deal of information on the military supplies that Iran has provided to various groups, its economic impact on Iran’s economy was not emphasized to understand the budget of the IRGC-QF. All in all, the book’s scope would be considered a significant reference guide for researchers focusing on Iran’s proxies in the Middle East and North Africa.