Proxies and politics: Why Iran funds foreign militias

In wake of Arab Spring, Iran’s backing of foreign militias has drawn much attention. Why is this support so central to Iranian foreign policy?

At a military parade commemorating the 36th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq War, the chief of the Iranian armed forces spoke clearly and bluntly. Tehran holds sway over five Arab countries.

Major General Mohammed Bagheri listed them as Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq.

Their enemy, as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif controversially wrote in the New York Times last month, is Wahhabism, the ultraorthodox brand of Sunni Islam propagated by Saudi Arabia.

In some of these countries, like Lebanon, Iran has a long history. In others, such as Yemen, they have only recently involved themselves. The Palestinian cause, and by extension enmity to Israel, is a cornerstone of the theocratic regime’s domestic legitimacy.

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