Small Wars Journal

Reclaiming the Initiative: Proxy Warfare in the Middle East

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 5:39pm

Reclaiming the Initiative: Proxy Warfare in the Middle East

Yaniv Friedman and Lazar Berman


On a spring night last year in the Golan Heights, the unprecedented occurred. For the first time in a long history of hostility, Iranian forces fired rockets into Israeli territory. In response, Israel's artillery and air force struck Iranian military installations across Syria, the IDF's largest strike in the country since the civil war began.

With the two bitter enemies competing for decades across not only the Middle East, but the entire world, how could May 2018 be the first time Iranian forces directly targeted Israeli territory?

The answer is simple, at least at first blush – proxies. Iran utilises a number of state and non-state entities to harm Israel, the US, and other enemies.

Of course, Tehran didn’t invent this type of warfare. Throughout history, actors have used other forces to achieve their own foreign policy goals. Sparta inflicted a staggering defeat on Athens in Sicily using a Spartan general and token Spartan force, but primarily local troops.

In today's security reality, proxy warfare represents an especially relevant tool in the state's kit. Iran has employed proxy organizations to great effect, while the American and Israeli militaries currently seem reticent to systematically study and employ proxies. Without fully understanding proxy warfare, the US, Israel, and their allies will struggle to take the initiative against Iran in the region.

In addition, contemporary NATO discourse focuses on the rise of 'gray zone warfare,' in which state actors – like Russia and China - undermine the status quo using means short of high-intensity war.[ii] Proxies could be an important tool as the West struggles to develop a response to this complex and growing challenge.

This work relies on 11 case studies in which the US, Israel, and Iran operated as patrons. Seven of the case studies are presented more fully.  

This work assumes the point of view of the patron, examining issues that arise working with and through a proxy. While there is great value in the proxy point of view, the United States, Israel and other Western states have played the role of patron and will continue to do so.

To make proxy warfare work, the patron must think carefully about when to use proxies, how to manage the relationship, and how to exit. These are the questions this work seeks to address. It is a framework to guide leaders' thinking about proxy warfare, and to facilitate them asking crucial questions at each stage. It attempts to reveal the recurring challenges patrons face in their use of proxies, the inherent risks, and means of addressing those problems.


Any analysis is impossible without defining what exactly proxy warfare means. Many studies rest on imprecise definitions that include related but different modes of warfare. While proxy warfare is undoubtedly a form of partnership, it is a unique type. Not all alliances are proxy relationships, nor are all outside interventions in local conflict. Vague definitions lead to misleading or foggy conclusions.

This work defines a proxy relationship as: A relationship between two entities, be they states or organizations, in which the more powerful actor ('patron') uses the other to accomplish its foreign policy goals; the less powerful actor ('proxy') is fighting in a local armed conflict that the patron wants to influence while limiting its own direct involvement; the two share a common enemy; both envision benefits coming from the relationship; and they coordinate activity during the conflict.

At its most basic, proxy relationships involve a patron that works through a proxy to harm the target. But there are often other pivotal players. There can be two or more co-patrons working directly with the same proxy. A patron often works through an intermediary country or organization to reach the proxy. A proxy can even have its own sub-proxy. In many cases, more than one of these actors are present.

Evolution of Proxy Warfare

Though proxy warfare has been employed for millennia, the lion's share of the thinking and writing was done during the Cold War, and largely assumes two world powers trying to undermine the other's alliance system. Karl Deutsch's 1964 state-centric definition was typical of the period: 'An international conflict between two foreign powers, fought out on the soil of the third country...'[iii]

Proxy warfare has changed in significant ways. Because of the spread of technology, the 'democratization' of violence, and the internet, proxies enjoy more independence than they did during the Cold War. These relationships tend to be less top-down. This phenomenon is especially apparent in the vital issue of funding. Today, organizations enjoy increased options for funding themselves, making them less reliant on their patron.

Technology has had other important effects. Patrons often desire deniability. Deniability has always been a challenge to maintain, but is infinitely harder when battlefield images spread around the globe instantaneously.

The strategic environment was relatively stable during the Cold War. Without a consistent bipolar backdrop, the contemporary strategic environment changes rapidly. Ostensibly stable Middle Eastern regimes have crumbled in weeks. Sub-state organizations have popped up and captured territory before it was clear who exactly they were. Previously inconceivable alliances in the Middle East emerge. This has profound effects on today's proxy relationships, as interests of both patrons and proxies swing in the shifting winds.

Finally, in the Cold War, patrons were almost always states.[iv] Today, we regularly see organizations employing their own proxies, which should change the way we think about patrons.

This study seeks to contribute to the literature relevant to today's challenges.

Regardless of the specific context, there are inherent tensions in patron-proxy relations. These tensions are manageable if recognised, but inevitably place stress on the relationship. If not managed, they can tear it apart entirely.

These include tensions between patron and proxy goals, which are rarely identical; patron and proxy ethical and legal codes; the differing aims of multiple patrons, and of the patron and its intermediary. The patron itself must deal with the tensions between short-term benefits and long-term costs (especially around proxy demands for increased involvement that might create other problems that the patron alone must face later); influence over the proxy and the cost that entails; and continued support for the proxy against abandoning it.

Case Studies

This work relies on 11 case studies. For Israel, the study examined relationships with the Iraqi Kurds, the Yemeni Royalists, the Maronites in Lebanon, and the South Lebanon Army. The Israeli cases are historical, for the simple reason that after Lebanon, Israel stopped employing proxies in a concerted manner. American proxy relationships with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the Sons of Iraq, and the New Syrian Forces are also studied. And for Iran, this work investigated Tehran's relationship with Hamas, Iraqi Shi'ite militias in Iraq, Saudi Hezbollah, and Hezbollah in Syria.

These cases provide a robust range in terms of time, goals, strategy, and outcome. Seven of the case studies are presented more fully here.  

Israel-Iraqi Kurds (1963- 1975)

This was a multi-patron relationship, each with its own interests.

Israel's interests were straightforward. Israel wanted to limit Baghdad's ability to send troops to fight Israel in future conflicts, and to bleed Iraq's forces in the meantime.[v]  Israel also felt an emotional connection to another minority people struggling to achieve independence.[vi]

Iran had its sights on strategic islands and waterways under Iraqi control. Iran used the Kurds to pressure Iraq; give us territory, they signaled to Baghdad, and we will cut off the Kurds.  But Iran did not want its proxy to win. 'We support the Kurds so that they will fight [Iraq], not so that they will make peace,' said Iran's intelligence chief.[vii]

The US sponsored the Kurds from 1972. Like Iran, they had no interest in a Kurdish victory.[viii] They did, however, see an opportunity to harm the Soviets by weakening their Iraqi client.[ix]

The Kurds wanted to push Iraqi forces out of Kurdish areas, ideally through a negotiated settlement with Iraq that included cultural autonomy.[x]

The relationship itself can be broadly divided into three periods.

The First Kurdish-Iraqi War broke out in 1961, and the Iraqi army proved incapable of quelling the rebellion.

Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani began looking for Israeli contacts in 1963.[xi] Israel understood that Iranian consent was crucial, and met with senior Iranian officials. In July 1963, they agreed that Israeli and Iranian advisers would cross into Kurdistan from Iran for three month stints. Israeli teams were made up of 3 or 4 members, and would expand to around a dozen if the Kurds were undergoing special training.[xii]

Israel's permanent presence began in 1965. Israel even sent a dentist to Iraq to treat Barzani. Under this arrangement, the Kurds enjoyed significant military success. In a battle conceived by Israeli adviser Sagi Chori, an entire Iraqi brigade was destroyed at Mount Handrin in 1966.

Supplies came in several forms. Arms were crucial, including ammunition, machine guns, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Food and medical gear were also shipped in.  Media report claimed that Israel brought in aid worth $50,000 every month.[xiii] 

Israel also trained the Kurds. At times, Kurds flew secretly to Israel to train. Israeli advisors ran more advanced courses, including commanders courses up to the company level.[xiv] Israel gave medical aid as well. Doctors rotated through Kurdistan to run a field hospital in Barzani's headquarters.

The new Iraqi president presented a peace plan in 1966. The plan was not implemented because of a Baathist coup in 1968.

The Kurds had little faith in the Iranians. Tensions regularly arose, especially when Iraq and the Kurds moved toward temporary peace agreements.  To punish the Kurds, Iran would close the border and prevent weapons transfers from Israel. After the 1966 agreement, Iran even tried to get Israel to withdraw its advisors. [xv]

But Iran was the lynchpin. Without Iranian consent, there was no way to get Israeli supplies and personnel safely into Kurdistan.

The 1967 War was a major test of Israel's investment. Israeli aid was at its height, and the Israelis were eager for the Kurds to open up a new front to keep Iraq from sending troops to Israel. Barzani insisted his forces lacked the ability to do so.[xvi] Though disappointed, Israel took the development in stride.

After the 1968 coup, Barzani looked to move from a guerrilla campaign to open warfare. Rafael Eitan, then IDF chief infantry and paratrooper officer, was sent to investigate the possibility.[xvii] Ideas were bandied about that involved sending Kurds captured tanks, but Iran torpedoed the idea.

The second phase began in 1970 with a Kurdish-Iraqi peace agreement. But the agreement broke down quickly.

In 1972, the US assented to an Iranian request to support the Kurds. American involvement was not entirely advantageous for Israel. During the 1973 war, Israel again asked the Kurds to open a front to keep Iraq from deploying. Washington convinced Barzani to ignore the request.[xviii]

The third period was the renewal of all-out warfare starting in 1974. The Kurds attempted to use conventional methods against Iraq. Barzani asked Israel to send Chori back to help stymie a dangerous Iraqi offensive in 1974.[xix]

In March 1975, everything collapsed for the Kurds. Iran and Iraq finally reached a settlement, and the Shah cut Barzani off. Israel had no choice but to follow Iran's lead, and the uprising fell apart.

Several factors contributed to the relationship's success. The entire effort flowed through Barzani who thoroughly trusted the Israelis, and even visited the country twice.  Israelis knew where to focus their efforts, and who they needed to convince.

For a relatively small cost, Israel profoundly affected the Kurdish uprising. The footprint in Kurdistan was extremely light, but resulted in major achievements over a long period.

But there were factors hobbling the relationship. Both sides had unreasonable expectations. Israel tried to make the peshmerga fight like conventional soldiers. The Kurdish leadership displayed stunning naiveté, failing to grasp that ties depended on Iran.  The Kurds expected Israel to fight their battles, both military and diplomatic. When Israel's limits became clear, Barzani looked increasingly toward Iran and the US.

Ultimately, the relationship was a qualified failure for both sides. Israel failed to achieve its primary goal in 1973, keeping Iraq from fighting Israel. Instead, Iraq sent 3/4 of its air force, 2/3 of its tanks, and 1/5 of its infantry to the Syrian front.[xx]

Israel-Maronites (1958-2000)

The ties between Israel and the Maronites go back to the pre-State period. During the 1948 war, good relations existed between Christian villages and Israel, but Israeli reticence prevented the ties from developing despite the natural affinity between religious minorities. From 1958, when Israel aided the Christian-led government against Nasserite coup attempts, Jerusalem balanced between keeping the Palestinian terrorists away from its border and staying out of the conflict in Lebanon. [xxi]

The geographic proximity enabled Israel to monitor their proxy, and deliver aid directly, easily and covertly. Israel provided the Maronites arms, equipment, training, and medical aid, in return for intelligence on hostile actors in the south, and for the Christians to fight their common enemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel's policy was summed up by then-Northern Command head Rafael Eitan: 'We will not fight for them. We will help them… so they'll be able to fight themselves. We have a shared interest- to fight terrorists.' [xxii]

Israel also worked via a secret intermediary – Iran. The Shah saw in Lebanon an opportunity to hold the line against Nasserism, a threat to his pro-Western regime. In May 1958, an Iranian plane landed in Israel to be loaded with captured Egyptian arms.

The Maronites requested Israel's diplomatic assistance as well, asking Israel to pressure the US to increase its support for the pro-Western camp. Israel communicated these messages, but received a cold response from the Eisenhower Administration. [xxiii]

The 1970s Lebanese civil war and Syria's entry into Lebanon generated an important breakthrough in the relationship. Tensions between the opposing camps – the Maronites against the Druze and Palestinians- culminated in an explosion in mid-1975. The Syrians entered the war on the side of the Christians in June 1976.

For Israel, this demanded a strategic reappraisal. PM Yitzhak Rabin led the camp opposing military involvement. Foreign Minister Yigal Alon and Defense Minister Shimon Peres saw an opportunity to create a new alliance with the Christians. The senior military leadership was initially hesitant but eventually came around.[xxiv]

The collapse of the Lebanese 1st Brigade in 1976 and the increasing threat to Christian villages in Southern Lebanon led to a new phase in relations. Israel was concerned that the PLO would take advantage of the power vacuum in Southern Lebanon. The Maronites feared for their safety after the breakup of the Lebanese Army. It was in the interests of both sides to have the Maronites fight the PLO, but for different reasons. [xxv]

With the Enclave Initiative, Israel began creating new security structures on the ground. Israel provided artillery support, communications gear and military advice to the village of Qlaiaa in March 1976.[xxvi] Rumors of the assistance spread like wildfire, and other Christian villages turned to Israel. In parallel, Lebanese began to cross into Israel for business and medical care.[xxvii] The Maronites in Beirut also began sending representatives to meet with Israelis. Major Sa'ad Haddad was sent from Beirut to help create a security strip between the PLO forces and Israel.

Haddad's operations led, in November 1976, to the first Israeli artillery barrage to assist Maronite forces. This was a conspicuous expansion of Israel's involvement that portended direct military intervention. [xxviii]

The joint activity led to a drop in terror against Israel from Lebanon, in contrast to the peak of 1975. The frequency of rocket fire fell by 50% and ground incursions were reduced to almost none.[xxix]

In September 1977, under the first right-wing Likud government, an Israeli armored column crossed the border after a PLO attack on Christian villages. They requested Israeli support, and the IDF fought alongside the Christians in the area of Khiam. The goal was still limited to the removal of the terror threat. Israel preferred to do so by supporting a Christian security zone, but showed a willingness to intervene directly. [xxx]

A major departure from limited intervention came in 1978, when terrorists hijacked an Egged bus, leaving 35 Israelis dead. Israel responded with Operation Litani, complete with airstrikes and a ground incursion. The IDF sought to destroy PLO bases and kill their fighters, but still did not try to solve the entire Lebanon problem.[xxxi]  Israel also wanted to create a security zone stretching 10km into Lebanon, manned primarily by Haddad's Free Lebanon Army, the precursor to the South Lebanon Army.

A new phase with a new concept began with the second Menachem Begin administration in 1981. Under PM Begin, CoS Eitan, and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, constraints were removed. The new US Reagan administration agreed that Syria had to leave Lebanon.[xxxii] They especially wanted to expand cooperation with the Maronites in Beirut and Bashir Gemayel's militia as part of their anti-Soviet efforts. Israel's goals changed as well -the expulsion of the PLO and Syrian forces, Christian domination of Lebanon, and a bilateral peace agreement. [xxxiii] This meant a new regional order.

The emphasis moved north to Beirut, Gemayel's base of operations. Israel instructed him to gather the Maronite factions under his leadership to give Jerusalem one leader to work with. Instead, Gemayel had rival Maronite leaders killed, consolidating his position.

Mossad operatives working with him were won over regardless. Israelis were under Gemayel's spell - 'He sent blessings to their wives on their birthdays, and wrote personal letters by hand.'[xxxiv]

The Mossad saw the Maronites as the key to a new regional order. Military Intelligence, which maintained a greater distance from the Christians, was suspicious of Gemayel and the Christians' capabilities. [xxxv]

In a departure from the Israeli concept to that point, IDF forces began to support the Christians directly in 1981. The Maronites in the Bekaa Valley led Israel to believe that they were about to be slaughtered by Syria, and Gemayel turned to Begin in a panic. Not all Israeli leaders were convinced. While Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi trusted Gemayel, IDF intelligence argued that he was trying to provoke Israel into expanding its operations against Syria. Since these Christians were far from Israel's borders, it was hard to verify their claims, but the Mossad carried the day. Israel downed 2 Syrian helicopters, not in response to any Syrian action against Israel.[xxxvi]

The violent incidents between Israel and the Palestinians in Lebanon continued. On July 10, 1981, they reached a new intensity, as Palestinian terrorist fired rockets at northern Israel for two weeks, and the IDF fired back, until the American diplomat Philip Habib mediated a ceasefire. But the PLO understood the terms differently than Israel, and continued to attack. They struck 248 times between August 1981 and May 1982. Tensions rose. Then on 3 June, 1982, Palestinians shot the Israeli Ambassador to the UK. Israel had to respond.[xxxvii]

Israel embarked on Operation Peace for Galilee in June 1982, with the goal of expelling PLO forces and installing a new Christian-led political order. The ensuing Israeli presence in Southern Lebanon, which would last for 18 years, rested on a close partnership with the SLA, which grew out of the preexisting ties. Gemayel was murdered in September 1982, after being elected president.

After Haddad's death in 1984, Gen. Antoine Lahad took command with the support of Israel, Maronite politician Camille Chamoun, and the tacit consent of the Lebanese government.

The SLA usually hovered around 2,700 fighting men. In 1992, for instance, there were 1,342 Christians, 318 Druze, 699 Shi'ites, and 102 Sunnis (for a total of 2,461 men).[xxxviii]

Israel wanted the SLA to operate within the security zone to prevent infiltrations into northern Israel.[xxxix] In return, the SLA, whose goal was to protect the population in southern Lebanon, wanted training, supply, financial support, medical care, and supporting fire during combat.[xl]

By 1986, when Israel returned to the security zone after retreating to the border, some Israeli leaders were arguing that the common enemy – Palestinian terrorists – had nearly been eliminated, so Israel's entire strategy should change. Though there was a new Shi'ite threat, they maintained, a military presence in Southern Lebanon and the SLA weren't necessarily solutions to that problem. [xli]

Despite the growing Shi'ite threat and the changing strategic reality, Israel continued its relationship with the SLA. But the peace process with Syria in the 1990s set off alarm bells that Israel might abandon the security zone. This revelation, not surprisingly, affected the SLA's motivation in the mid-90s.

More seriously, Israel and the SLA found themselves at cross purposes. Israel sought to protect its northern border, while the SLA fought to protect the residents of Southern Lebanon. This dissonance became especially apparent when unauthorised SLA attacks would lead to Hezbollah Katyusha fire on the Galilee.

Another growing problem was the SLA's increasing inability to protect itself. Despite repeated IDF-initiated reforms and reorganizations, it lacked the means and motivation to fight independently. Instead of the SLA being the IDF's armor, Israeli forces became the protectors of their proxies.

In the end, Israel unilaterally abandoned the security zone in May 2000. Israel left the SLA to fight on its own against Hezbollah, but it quickly collapsed, with thousands fleeing into Israel. Hezbollah controls Southern Lebanon to this day, and Israel fought a difficult war against the organization in 2006.

Lebanon remains a strategic problem for Israel, and no Lebanese seem willing to gamble again on Israeli support.

Iran-Shi'ite Militias in Iraq

Ties between Iran and the Shi'ites in Iraq are rooted in deep geographic, religious, and personal connections. These ties enabled Iran to maintain a presence in Iraq, which expanded massively after the fall of Saddam Hussein. This ongoing presence saved Iran and the militias from the long, complex process of building trust and familiarity. [xlii]

Iran has several important goals in its use of Shi'ite militias. Since 1979, it has developed Shi'ite militias around the region[xliii] to expand its influence and harm US interests while avoiding direct conflict. In Iraq, Iran is looking to become the power broker in the Shi'ite community,[xliv] reduce US influence across the country, and spread its ideology. Since the 2014 creation of the Popular Mobilization Units, the militias have also served to create and hold a Shi'ite land bridge to Syria and Lebanon.

Shi'ites in Iraq, however, are far from united. Poor urban Shi'ites form the core of support for Imam Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia violently opposed the US-led occupation of Iraq. But he has resisted Iranian attempts to co-opt him,[xlv] and both America and Iran expect him to limit their influence in Iraqi affairs after his bloc's strong showing in Iraq's 2018 elections.[xlvi]

The most powerful Iraqi Shi'ite figure is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a nationalist who reject Iran's religious interpretation and resists Iranian influence in Iraq.  However, it was Sistani who issued the 2014 fatwa calling Iraqis to arms to resist ISIS, leading to the expansion of the PMU, dominated by Iranian proxies.

IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani is key to maintaining intimate ties with the militias, visiting Iraq regularly. Geographic proximity makes it easier for Iran to control them directly, and to provide aid and guidance.[xlvii]

Despite their advantages, the Iranians do run into challenges. Rival Shi'ite groups occasionally clash,[xlviii] and some even find their interests at odds with Iran.[xlix] In addition, Iran's use of Iraqi militias creates broad resentment within Iraq.  

To assert control, the Iranians support multiple rival groups, keeping any one group from gaining too much power and independence.[l]

The most powerful PMU militia is the Badr Organization. Many consider it the dominant force in Iraq today, at least before the 2018 elections, in which its bloc came in second place.[li] It was established in Iran in the 1980s by Iraqi Shi'ites who fought for Tehran in the Iran-Iraq War. The Badr Organization is headed by Hadi al-Amiri, who also served as the Iraqi transportation minister. The Badr Organization also controls the powerful Interior Ministry.

Like Lebanese Hezbollah, it has a political arm and a military arm funded and guided by Iran. Al-Amiri proudly acknowledges this support, and is considered the Iraqi battlefield leader closest to Iran and Soleimani.[lii] But the organization 'exemplifies the multiple identities and complexities that define Iraq's Shiite militia groups,' according to Brookings scholar Ranj Alaaldin. The Badr Organization cooperated militarily with the US and the West, and is deeply integrated into the Iraqi security system.[liii]

The Badr Organization numbers in the tens of thousands and has been accused of atrocities against Sunnis.[liv]

Kata'ib Hezbollah was founded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi Shi'ite who spent decades training in Iran. He faces a death sentence in Kuwait for terror attacks against the American and French embassies there. Al-Muhandis is currently second only to al-Amiri in the PMU. The organization believes in velayat-a-faqih, which demands obedience to the authority of Iran's Supreme Leader.

Al-Muhandis is also extremely close with Soleimani, and boasts about his loyalty to Iran.[lv]

KH regularly attacked US and Iraqi forces in Iraq. The US considers KH a foreign terrorist organization, and Muhandis a terrorist.[lvi] KH sent fighters to Syria to battle rebels alongside the Syrian army, Hezbollah, and IRGC.

Still, it too has tacitly cooperated with Americans, Kurds, and Iraqi forces against ISIS. But KH, like Badr, has been involved in torturing and killing Sunnis. [lvii]

Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq split off from Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi in 2006, and carried out thousands of attacks against Western and Iraqi targets. Exceptionally close with Iran and Hezbollah, AAH receives an estimated $1.5 million -$2 million from Iran every month.[lviii] Posters of Khamenei and Khomenei hang at the group's offices.[lix] Iran funded the group as a more loyal alternative to the Sadrists. US officials see it an effort to create an Iraqi version of Hezbollah.[lx]

Hezbollah has trained AAH fighters, supervised by the Qods Force and Soleimani.[lxi] Its tactics are 'classic Soleimani,' including stealth attacks and denial of responsibility.[lxii] It moved into the spotlight in 2007, with an attack in Karbala that left five Americans dead. In 2008, AAH members fled to Iran after the US and Iraqi forces took Sadr City, and underwent military training there.

AAH is led by Qais Al-Khazali, who reported directly to the Qods Force Deputy Commander during the fighting against US troops.[lxiii] In 2007, Khazali was captured by British forces near Basra, but was released in 2009 in exchange for a kidnapped Briton. After his release, Khazali and the AAH leadership relocated to Iran, where they coordinated attacks against US forces, Iraqi government figures, and Sadrists.[lxiv] They returned to Baghdad in late 2011 to massive fanfare.

Like Hezbollah and other Shi'ite groups, AAH has become increasingly involved in political processes. 'Now they have political legitimacy and their tentacles in all the security apparatus,' said an Iraqi minister. 'Some of us didn't notice until it was too late.' AAH opened political offices, social services programs for widows and orphans, and a network of religious schools.[lxv]

Interestingly, it has also spread into Lebanon, likely with Iranian backing.  AAH established a Syrian branch, under the pretext of protecting the Shi'a Sayidah Zaynab mosque. But like other Shi'ite groups, they too try to portray themselves as a defender of all communities, establishing a small Sunni unit in 2015.[lxvi]

The war against ISIS was a major opportunity for the militias. They captured massive swathes of territory, even in Sunni and Kurdish areas. In December 2016, the PMU officially joined the Iraqi security services, meaning the salaries of Iranian-controlled groups are now paid by the Iraqi government.[lxvii]

The PMU wanted a role in the 2016-17 battle for Mosul, but were forbidden by the government from participating directly. Instead, they encircled the city from the West, cutting off Tel Afar in a maneuver that covered dozens of miles a day.

Again, the PMU emphasised its ostensible religious toleration.  Before the Mosul campaign, the PMU released a video showing the church bells ringing in the city, indicating to Christians that the Shi'ite militias were their liberators. [lxviii] They have also created Christian, Yazidi, and Shabak units to protect their own villages.[lxix]


Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip in 1987 as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, but began attacking Israeli targets only in 1989.[lxx] It grew to lead Palestinian terrorism against Israel, responsible for 46% of all Israeli terror deaths in the Second Intifada.[lxxi] After winning Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, Hamas violently expelled the rival Fatah party from Gaza  the next year. Since turning Gaza into Hamastan, it has fought major conflicts with Israel in 2008-9, 2012, and 2014.

Iranian support for Hamas isn't a given. There is a disconnect between Sunni Arab Hamas and heavily Shi'ite Persian Iran, and the relationship swings between hot and cold.  Moreover, until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was firmly pro-Western and pro-Israel.[lxxii]

From 1980-1988, Iran focused on the bloody war with Iraq. Tehran and Hamas only became close after Israel expelled 400 Hamas members to Lebanon in 1992. Until then, Iran had supported primarily Islamic Jihad, which it still does. With the ties cultivated in Lebanon, Iran became a dedicated supporter of Hamas, providing military and economic aid.[lxxiii]    

After Hamas's takeover of Gaza, Iran significantly expanded its support. It began supplying quality weapons and ammunition, including rockets, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and mortars. It also sent trainers, and Qods Force fighters trained a significant number of Hamas members outside Gaza.  This knowledge allowed Hamas to create a homemade weapons industry.

Financial support was no less important, and from tens of millions of year, Iran began contributing $200 million annually.[lxxiv]

Hamas has obvious reasons to accept Iranian support. It needs a state actor to provide it material support against both Israel and the PA. The quality of its weaponry – especially its rocket array – is the result of Iranian material and technological support. The money props up its civilian rule in Gaza.

Iran is working to become the dominant player in the region. Their support for the struggle against Israel is also intended to provide a measure of prestige in the Arab street. 

Driven by a profound ideological and even religious imperative, Iran also sees Israel as a Western outpost that must be destroyed. It seeks to threaten all of Israel's borders through proxies, as a deterrent against Israeli strikes. Through training, money, arms, diplomatic support, and ideological direction, Iran has succeeded in building a capable military threat against Israel in Hezbollah.[lxxv] It seeks to do the same with other organizations.

On the one hand, Hamas's position on Israel's border increases its importance in Iran's eyes. But the lack of a shared border between Iran and Gaza – and the Egyptian and Israeli blockade- makes it harder for Iran to transfer weapons and personnel. It also makes it easier for both sides to disengage from one another during crises.

Egypt – ideologically, Hamas's enemy – is nevertheless, extremely consequential. Hamas is entirely dependent on its lifeline through the Egyptian border, through crossings and the remaining tunnels. This gives Egypt significant control over what Iran can provide, and over the relationship in general. 

Moreover, the Sunni-Shi'ite alliance suffered a serious blow during the Syrian Civil War. Hamas eventually declared for the MB-affiliated Sunni opposition, while Iran was the unequivocal direct backer of the Assad regime. In response to Hamas's decision, at the end of 2011 Iran suspended its support almost entirely. However, Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, said that Iran hadn't given anything since 2009.[lxxvi]

A thaw occurred in 2012, when Iran renewed weapons shipments to Hamas.  But the real improvement came only after Protective Edge in 2014, when senior Iranian leaders publicly supported Hamas against Israel. In December 2014, with Hamas under blockade, Abu Marzouk declared, 'I believe bilateral relations between us and the Islamic Republic of Iran are back on track.'[lxxvii] Iran transferred tens of millions of dollars to Hamas's military wing to rebuild destroyed tunnels, according to reports.[lxxviii] It gave funds to allow Hamas to replenish its missile supply.

But another civil war damaged ties anew. Hamas declared its support for Saudi-backed Yemeni president in 2015, as he battled Shi'a Houthi insurgents supported by Iran. Not surprisingly, Tehran was angered by Hamas's position and the subsequent visit to Saudi Arabia by Khaled Mashaal.[lxxix]

Meetings in Lebanon between the IRGC, Hezbollah, and Hamas led to a 2017 trip by Gaza PM Ismail Haniyeh to Tehran to finalise the full restoration of Iranian financial support.[lxxx]

There are a number of reasons for this rapprochement. The victory of the Assad regime over ISIS and other Sunni rebels allowed Iranian leaders to refocus on the Palestinians. Soleimani was especially active in pushing Hamas to renew violence against Israel.[lxxxi] Perhaps most important was the rise of new leadership in Hamas. The election of Yahya Sinwar in February 2017, and the appointment of Haniyeh as head of the political wing, were received enthusiastically in Tehran. They both publicly and privately stress Iran's importance, despite the effects this has on Hamas's ties with Egypt. Iran saw this as a signal that Hamas was eager to restore ties.[lxxxii]

US-Mujahadeen (1979-1987)

In December 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, supporting the Marxist government in an internal crisis against Islamist Mujahadeen. The Soviets also wanted to move closer to Middle Eastern oil sources, protect against the flow of radical Islamists, and perhaps even feared that the US would try to establish a base in Afghanistan to replace what they lost in Iran.[lxxxiii]

The US Carter Administration saw the invasion as the greatest threat to world peace since WWII and decided that Afghanistan could become the 'Soviet Vietnam.'[lxxxiv] By July 1979, the US was helping the anti-Communist Mujahadeen. The US preferred to work through Muslim intermediaries and co-patrons to bridge the cultural gaps, and the lack of knowledge about the terrain, language, and local customs. 

It started by working through the Pakistani intelligence service ISI, sending them arms for the Mujahadeen. In parallel, the Saudi co-patron matched the Americans dollar for dollar.[lxxxv] These efforts were called 'Operation Cyclone.'

The eight rebel groups, ranging from relatively secular moderates to Islamists, meant that creating a unified leadership was a tall order. Ahmad Shah Massoud rose to prominence, even though he did not belong to the Islamist Mujahadeen and was a Tajik, not Pashtun. Massoud's dominance, though not always supported by the Islamists, made him a useful partner.

Ronald Reagan accelerated American involvement, as the administration increased its military and financial aid - in 1981, for example, the US gave $3.2 billion. The US wanted to bleed the Soviets - meaning they needed the Soviets to remain in the fight - while the Afghans wanted to drive them out. Reagan, as opposed to Henry Kissinger, cared only about harming the Soviets. He chose a counterforce strategy, supporting any group that fought the Soviets.[lxxxvi]

Initially, US support was limited to outdated weapons, but in time, the US, Pakistan, and Saudis began supplying significant stores of advanced weaponry. ISI transferred the weapons, hosted training, and provided a safe haven.[lxxxvii]  The ISI allowed the Americans to maintain deniability. Still, they often had different interests than the Americans, passing higher-quality weapons to the Islamists and not the moderates.

Washington used regional partners beyond Pakistan, setting up training camps in Egypt and the Gulf states. The US also set up dummy companies to buy Soviet weapons, primarily from Eastern European states. [lxxxviii] To maintain deniability – and avoid escalation – the US also bought captured Soviet weapons from Israel.[lxxxix] Increasingly advanced weapons over time incentivised ongoing cooperation by the proxy.

The financial and civil (including medical) aid expanded quickly. During rising tensions with the USSR, China also began supplying advanced weaponry to the Mujahadeen.    

Mikhail Gorbachev's rise in March 1985 was the beginning of the end for the Soviets. The next year the US began providing Stinger missiles to the Afghans. They were first used in September 1986, downing three Soviet helicopters.[xc] The Mujahadeen would knock down around 250 aircraft, denying the Russians air supremacy.

Still, relations improved between the superpowers. In April 1988, an agreement was reached for a general Soviet withdrawal, and on 15 February, 1989, the last Soviet soldier crossed the border. In all, the Soviets lost 15,000 dead and 50,000 wounded in the failed effort to dominate Afghanistan.

In all, Afghanistan represents an extremely successful use of proxy warfare, as both sides felt their interests were achieved. It should be noted that some of the most important American proxies against the Soviets turned into America's enemies by the 9/11 attacks. The fact that an organization was once your proxy does not guarantee indefinite cooperation into the future.

US-Sons of Iraq

The Sons of Iraq movement is known by many names, and many narratives explain its emergence. It is also referred to as the Anbar Awakening, the Sahwa (Awakening), and the anodyne 'concerned citizen's program.'  Some thought they didn't capture the movement's essence. 'We thought of calling it the ex-terrorist program but that didn’t fly,' joked one American officer.[xci]

The last description conveys an important element. The movement emerged in 2006, as Sunni tribal sheikhs in western Iraq's Anbar province turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), cooperating with US troops many tribal members had been trying to kill only months before. The movement spread, contributing to a drastic drop in insurgent violence and control.

It coincided with the Bush Administration's 2007 surge, in which the US deployed an additional 21,500 troops to give the Iraqi government 'the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas…'[xcii] The US soon realised that creating order would have to include local tribes.

The enhanced American presence meant that tribes had interlocutors nearby when they were ready to reach out. But unit rotations damaged trust. Some units understood how to deal with local leaders, while others were more interested in finding insurgents to kill.[xciii]

The reasons for the drastic shift vary, but many point to AQI's violent enforcement of religious laws, which often existed in tension with tribal laws. The tribes initially welcomed AQI, as both opposed the Shia-dominated government and the occupation force. The relationship soon soured. AQI beat and hanged locals that broke their rules. The fact that AQI was led largely by foreigners added to the discontent. In one telling, the tribes' desire to keep their women from marrying AQI members was the spark that ignited the movement. When AQI killed a sheikh who wouldn’t give up his daughter, the tribes rose up in rebellion.[xciv]

Others point to an inter-tribal struggle over land. The Albu Mahals tribe were notorious smugglers but were being muscled out by an AQI-affiliated tribe. The tribe offered an alliance to the local USMC battalion in November 2005. The Americans provided weapons and training, enabling the Albu Mahals to retake their territory. Other tribes soon followed suit, and a movement was born. 

Or more accurately, many movements. Tribal sheikhs in Anbar, and others, including former Iraqi officers, formed around 50 local movements. Many were essentially 'neighborhood watch groups.'[xcv]

The movement spread from Anbar. Even some southern Shiite tribes cooperated against Shiite extremists.[xcvi]  By Spring 2008, the movement had reached two-thirds of Iraq's provinces. 

The tribes didn't embrace the US-led coalition, but understood that their interests aligned against AQI. And cooperating was actually a better way to get the US to leave. 'Just get rid of the extremists, reduce the violence and cooperate with the government to stabilise your area, and we’re out of here,' the Americans told local leaders.[xcvii]

Over 90,000 Iraqis joined the Awakening movements, 80 percent of whom were Sunni.[xcviii] Fighters earned around $300 a month, a fine salary. In early 2008, the US was spending $16 million a month on salaries.[xcix]

No less important was the reconstruction that security enabled. From February to December 2007 in Ramadi alone, the US spent $223 million. But military commanders emphasised that the investment saved not only lives, but also taxpayer money. 'The savings and vehicles not lost because of reduced violence,' said Gen. David Petraeus, 'far outweighed the costs of their monthly contracts.'[c] More and more sheikhs sought out the Americans, asking for new infrastructure, schools, and jobs for kin.[ci]

In exchange, the Sons of Iraq groups offered intelligence US forces could only dream about.[cii]  'They are also providing actionable information on the location of weapons caches,' US Army Col. David Sutherland explained. 'They even point out al Qaeda fighters, locations of house-borne IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs, deep-buried IEDs, and this is all making a difference.'[ciii] American did not accompany Awakening fighters on operations, but did provide fire support.

The results were indeed drastic. The US military says it killed 2,400 suspected AQI members and captured 8,800 in 2007, and drove the group almost entirely out of Anbar and Baghdad provinces.[civ] Less than a third as many civilians died in enemy attacks in September 2007 compared to December 2006. [cv] Some districts saw violence fall by 90 percent.

With tens of thousands of young men working with coalition forces, AQI had fewer potential recruits. The drop in violence allowed shops to reopen, and economic activity returned.[cvi] The movement was so successful that AQI started posting orders telling followers to avoid the violence and intrusion into personal lives that led to alienation.[cvii]

But cracks were apparent from the start, and many turned into major problems. A charismatic tribal leader, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, brought together 42 different tribes under his Anbar Salvation Council, and led the awakening in Anbar.[cviii] AQI assassinated Abu Risha in September 2007, and his brother has proved far less capable of unifying disparate tribes.[cix]

Though the US shared neither cultural nor religious ties with the Sunnis, they managed without an intermediary. The relationship was not hostage to the interests of a third party. When the Iraqi government assumed responsibility for the Awakening forces in 2008, however, it operated according to its own interests and fears, and alienated the movement's fighters. PM Maliki's 'Shiafication' of the security forces included a conscious effort to dismantle the Awakening, which he saw as a threat to Shi'ite communities. By the American withdrawal in 2011, only two-third of fighters were on the government payroll. Others became disillusioned and joined ISIS.[cx]

This failure is part of the broader challenge of integrating the Sunni tribes into Iraq's Shiite-dominated government.[cxi] The tribes see the Iraqi Shiites and Iran as their greatest threat.  The fear of the Shi'ite militias was well-founded. One former Awakening commander said that most of those integrated into Iraqi forces were arrested or killed by the militias.[cxii] By 2013, the Awakening forces were almost nonexistent, having disbanded or aligned with IS. [cxiii]

Though the Awakening was wildly successful initially, Iraq still descended into sectarian violence. The movement contributed somewhat to the outcome, which some predicted.  CFR's Steven Simon wrote that while the Awakening could bring about short-term stability, it risked stoking tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism. [cxiv]

Over time, the money and jobs weren't enough. Many Sunnis expected their power within Iraq to be restored. 'The Sunnis were always the leaders of the country. Is it reasonable that they are turned into service workers and garbage collectors? . . . Of course we will not accept that.'[cxv]

Ultimately, the US was not able to create a stable, safe, functioning state. The zero-sum sectarian struggle drove Sunnis into IS hands. Once Awakening units collapsed, few Sunnis in western and northern Iraq were defending their own territory, and Shi'ite forces weren't eager to defend Sunni areas in the face of the ISIS advance. The invasion dragged the country further into violent partisan conflict, one that is has not managed to move beyond.


From the case studies emerge three distinct models of proxy warfare, shaped by unique strategic circumstances, military cultures, and historical experience.

Israel's approach is thoroughly saturated by one long trauma – Lebanon. The instinct is to recoil from any possibility of being dragged into another open-ended conflict. When Israel did use proxies, it had a clear preference for covert relationships on its borders and the periphery of the Arab world. There is no dominant body that handles proxy relationships, leading to internal turf fights. Israel struggles to develop exit conditions for its proxy relationships. This tendency is compounded by a failure to make sense of strategic change.

American thinking on proxies is also dominated by past traumas – Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Unlike Israel, the US takes a global view in its proxy use. The US has also struggled to develop exit conditions, and to recognise strategic change. America found itself in long-term occupations, the benefits of which would crumble if America decided to leave. In Syria, the US is returning to the use of proxy warfare. Recent trauma is clearly shaping the relationship, but as successes mount against ISIS, and a showdown with Iranian proxies looms, the US could deepen the relationship. The rationale for a limited presence may outweigh the urge to stay out of the fight.

The Iranian model is based on friction, presence, and community. The model works only in weak states with significant Shi'ite populations like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The Basij model –mass mobilization of disaffected youth into a pro-regime armed force – that guided the creation of Hezbollah, serves as a model for the PMU militias. In relatively coherent states with Shi'ite populations Iran failed to develop an influential proxy force. In regions without Shi'ites, Iran has similarly struggled to find  loyal and meaningful proxies over the long term.

Iranian success hinges ultimately on the Shi'ite shared community. Community represents a fundamental set of ties – cultural, religious, familial, experiential – that bind people together. Community members are inherently on the same side and share the same fate, and are responsible for the well-being of others in their community.

Iran’s efforts begin with presence, including religious education, social services, and military training. This presence helps Iran build relationships with key players, which can be leveraged when Iran wants to build a full-fledged proxy force.

Iran integrates religious, political, military, and indoctrination efforts in its creation and employment of proxies. This is rendered easier by the fact that control lies with one organization, dominated by one figure, who reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, and gets what he needs for his many proxies.  He maintains close personal relationships with leaders of his proxy groups.

Key Variables

The case studies also point to variables that often determine the success or failure of a patron-proxy relationship.

Change - Time and again, patrons fail to account for strategic change. They seem to expect the strategic reality to either remain static, or not influence the relationship. Patrons must build into their plans ways of anticipating, identifying and adapting to strategic change.

Proximity - Geographic proximity is a double-edged sword. It enhances the patron’s influence and situational understanding. Logistics, especially covert, are rendered easier by supporting proxies just over the border. But there are dangers. Patrons have been swept more deeply into conflicts than they intended. Proxies have used this fact to their advantage.

Intermediary - The benefits of an intermediary are clear- pre-existing ties and credibility, deniability, cost management. But intermediaries can hold control over the relationship. When supporting the proxy no longer serves their interests, they can leave patron and proxy with no avenue for continued cooperation. Patrons must plan for this contingency, and find means of addressing this vulnerability.

Dominant Leader - Inherent tensions inevitably cause turbulence, but are far easier to manage when there is a dominant proxy leader with legitimacy. The patron has a clear address for addressing concerns. That leader can translate patron goals into action. Managing multiple proxy leaders is a tall order, as patrons are unlikely to comprehend and be able to address competing demands.


The case studies point to questions that policy makers must ask at various stages of the proxy relationship. These questions are meant to guide the patron in thinking about the fundamentals of the relationship, in order to better handle the tensions inherent in proxy relationships.

To Engage or Not to Engage?

Before engaging with a proxy, a patron must carefully assess whether conditions are favorable.

The patron must first clarify his own goals. Then he must assess whether a proxy can help him reach those goals. There must be enough shared goals to initiate a relationship. If indeed there are sufficient shared goals, the patron must weigh the cost of attaining those goals. What will involvement cost the patron, in terms of money, arms, credibility, and diplomatic support? Are the gains worth the anticipated costs, even if attainable?     

If the patron determines that it can achieve its aims through a proxy, it should try to identify benchmarks in time, political processes, or military achievements that indicate goals have been reached. This will help the patron avoid a campaign that drags out beyond its expiration date.

The patron should also clarify what would cause it to downgrade or exit the relationship. This can  provide important indicators to identify strategic shifts. Israel failed to recognise that the Maronites' usefulness against the PLO did not necessarily translate to the growing Shi'ite challenge. 

Having weighed these issues, the patron will make a more prudent decision about the costs and potential of a proxy relationship. The patron will also have anticipated indications that the relationship is no longer achieving its goals.

Managing the Relationship

If the patron decides to move forward, the patron must continually assess the relationship to maintain situational awareness and to recognise trends.

The key question is the extent to which both sides share common goals. Goals will not remain static, and initial overlap does not necessarily persist.

To monitor the relationship, a 'red team' should be established. This red team should have the expertise and authority to be taken seriously, but should be outside the actual management of the relationship. While the advisors on the ground build trust and credibility, they can 'fall in love' with the locals, as Israelis in Lebanon and Kurdistan did.

To continuously assess the relationship, the red team must develop metrics at both the operational and strategic levels. The metrics are of particular importance. Choosing the wrong metrics can create illusions of success that miss trends and threats.

While the red team monitors, it is important that the patron avoid turf wars. Ensuring that there is one managing body goes a long way toward avoiding this recurring problem.

But that does not mean it is the only patron in town. There are benefits and costs to the co-patron arrangement, and each patron should continually evaluate whether  this continues to serve its interests.   

A patron often works with an intermediary. The intermediary offers access and deniability, but often controls the relationship. The patron must pay close attention to the intermediary to gain indications if it is planning to disrupt the relationship. If so, the patron can work directly with the proxy, seek another intermediary, or apply pressure and incentives to keep the intermediary in the fold.

To ensure the proxy continues to serve its goals, the patron can play with financial/military aid to punish and incentivise the proxy. In addition, it can transfer resources to a rival group, reminding the proxy it is not indispensable. A more drastic option is improving ties with the target at the proxy's expense, as Iran did with Iraq to pressure the Kurds.

Finally, a patron is often able to influence international diplomacy in ways a proxy group cannot. Reducing diplomatic support, or even temporarily acting against proxy interests, can be extremely effective.


No matter how well the relationship is managed, at some point it will be in the patron's interest to disengage, or at least downgrade it.

A patron-proxy relationship broadly mirrors a military campaign. For a time, continued investment will bring the attackers growing returns, until the effort reaches its culminating point, after which further investment brings diminishing returns and leaves the attacker increasingly vulnerable. So too for a patron – at some point, costs of involvement will outweigh benefits.

The key for the patron is to achieve its goals then disengage before that culminating point.

Identifying where the relationship stands, and the proximity to the culminating point, takes continuous red team assessment. Since it has been monitoring the relationship from the outside, the red team's recommendation over disengagement should be given priority over the body managing the relationship itself, which has a vested interest in staying involved.

Oftentimes, as Israel found in Kurdistan and Lebanon, the relationship is broken off under duress. It is far better to disengage before a crisis, not during.

An enduring question remains – How does a patron exit without leaving behind a dangerous vacuum like in Lebanon or Iraq? Patrons must simultaneously take a short- and long-term view. Leaving might serve short-term interests, but must be done in a way that doesn’t create larger problems down the road.

Of course, not every relationship ends with a clean break. A patron might be better served downgrading the relationship or rebalancing, thus maintaining a presence that can be in the future. This can also help in preventing a vacuum in the wake of a patron exiting the theater, and not all countries are in a position to disengage entirely from a conflict.


Iran continues to expand its influence across the Middle East. In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and beyond, Iran's proxy forces have allowed Tehran to shape events on the ground. This presents a grave danger to the US, Israel, and other allies. Without proxies, the West will be fighting with one hand tied behind its back. True, Iran enjoys an inherent advantage with its Shi'ite community spread across the region. But this is a game that both Israel and the US have played before, often with marked success.

No one is claiming that proxy warfare is without costs, or is the answer to all of a patron's problems. But it is a complementary tool within the state toolbox, one that should not be ignored.

Unfortunately, the US and Israel are reticent to use this important tool. In order to regain the upper hand in the Middle East, and retake the initiative, the US and Israel must use all tools at their disposal.

The value of proxies is not limited to the region. States looking to undermine the status quo, including Russia in Europe, have used local proxies to great effect as they capture territory and challenge Western interests. With Western countries hesitant to deploy forces or invest heavily in defense, proxy warfare offers them a means of advancing their interests at an acceptable cost. What is needed now is leaders who recognise this reality, with the determination to study proxy warfare deeply in order to carry it out properly.


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End Notes

[i] The authors would like to thank LCDR Matt Domingos and Mrs. Kerin Winiarz from the US J7 for their contributions.

[ii] Lazar Berman and Yaniv Friedman, "The Suppressed Sword: Legitimacy Challenges in Gray Zone Conflict," Conference Proceedings – Conflicts in the Gray Zone: A Challenge to Adapt, 9-10 May, 2017, Budapest, Hungary.

[iii] Josef Kraus, 'Proxy Wars and a Role of Intelligence Services in the Current Middle-East' (paper presented at the Defence and Strategy 2018 conference, Brno, Czech Republic, 4-6 June, 2018.)

[iv] Dylan Craig, "State Security Policy and Proxy Wars in Africa, Ultima Ratio Regum 1: Remix or Redux?", Strategic Insights, 9, issue 1, 5.

[v] Shlomo Nakdimon, A Hopeless Hope: The Rise and Fall of the Israeli-Kurdish Alliance (Tel Aviv: Yediot Ahronot, 1996), p. 181.

[vi] Yossi Alpher, Periphery: Israel's Search for Middle East Allies (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), p. 51.

[vii] Nakdimon, Hopeless Hope, 81.

[viii] Ofra Bengio, The Kurds of Iraq: Building a State within a State (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2012), 70.

[ix] Ibid., 72.

[x] Nakdimon, Hopeless Hope, 181.

[xi] Alpher, Periphery, 79.

[xii] Nakdimon, Hopeless Hope, 109.

[xiii] Ibid., 95.

[xiv] Ibid., 248.

[xv] Ibid., 161.

[xvi] Ibid., 193.

[xvii] Nakdimon, Hopeless Hope, 299.

[xviii] Pike Committee Report, 139.

[xix] Ibid., 360.

[xx] Ibid., 105.

[xxi] Yair Evron, War and Intervention in Lebanon – The Israeli-Syrian Deterrence Dialogue (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 28.

[xxii] Raful Eitan, A Soldier's Story: The Life and Times of an Israeli War Hero (New York: SPI Books, 1992), p. 153.

[xxiii] Reuven Ehrlich, 'The Lebanon Tangle: The Policy of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel towards Lebanon, 1918-1958 (Basvach Helevanon) (Tel Aviv: Maarachot, 2000), p. 249. (Hebrew)

[xxiv] Erez Maisel, 'Transition Period: The Aid Initiative to the Residents of South Lebanon,' The Dado Center Journal vol. 1¸ (Tel Aviv: The Dado Center, 2014), p. 120-124. (Hebrew)

[xxv]  Ibid.

[xxvi] Yair Ravid Ravitz, A Window to the Backyard: The History of Israel's Connections with Lebanon – Facts and Illusions,' (Yehud-Monson: Ofir Bikurim, 2013), p. 63-65. (Hebrew)

[xxvii] Ravid Ravitz, Window, 69-74.

[xxviii] Evron, War and Intervention, 45.

[xxix] Ohad Leslau, 'The Evolution of the Israeli Strategy against the PLO in Lebanon 1968-1982,' The Dado Center, 2014.

[xxx] Evron, War and Intervention, 71-73.

[xxxi] Itamar Rabinovich, The War for Lebanon 1970-1983 (Ithaca and London: Cornell, 1984),107.

[xxxii] Shimon Golan, Israel's War in Lebanon (Ben Shemen: Modan, 2017), 62.

[xxxiii] Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War (Milchamot Shalal) (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Shocken, 1984), p. 32-38. (Hebrew)

[xxxiv] Shimon Shiffer, Snow Ball: The Story Behind the Lebanon War, (Tel Aviv: Yediot Haronot, 1984), 25. (Hebrew).

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Rabinovich, The War for Lebanon, 116-117.

[xxxvii] Golan, "Lebanon," 72-111.

[xxxviii] Eyal Zisser, Levanon: Dam Ba'arazim (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2009), p. 87. (Hebrew)

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Reuven Ehrlich, 'The Concept of the Security Zone and the Test of Reality,' in The Security Zone in Lebanon:  Reconsideration, ed. Y. Bar-Siman-Tov (Jerusalem: The Leonard Davis Institute, 1997), p. 15.  (Hebrew)

[xli] Avraham Sela, 'The Security Zone: Regional Lebanese Aspects,' in The Security Zone in Lebanon:  Reconsideration, ed. Y. Bar-Siman-Tov (Jerusalem: The Leonard Davis Institute, 1997), p. 37.  (Hebrew)

[xlii] Michael Eisenstadt, Michael Knights, and Ahmed Ali, 'Iran's Influence in Iraq,' The Washington Institute, 2011, p. 8.

[xliii] Philip Smyth, "Iran is Outpacing Assad for Control of Syria's Shia Militias," The Washington Institute, 12 April, 2018.

[xliv] Nicholas Heras, "Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces," in "Iran's Foreign Legion: The Impact of Shia Militias on U.S. Foreign Policy," The Washington Institute, 2018, p. 8.

[xlv] Ibrahim Al-Marashi, 'Iraq: The Reinvention of Muqtada al-Sadr', Al Jazeera, March 9, 2016.

[xlvi] Margaret Coker, 'Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr now 'Face of Reform' in Iraq?' The New York Times, May 20, 2018.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Ranj Alaaldin, 'Containing Shiite Militias: The Battle for Stability in Iraq,' Brooking Doha Center Policy Briefing, December 2017.

[xlix] Ranj Alaaldin, 'The Origins and Ascendancy of Iraq's Shiite Militias,' Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, The Hudson Institute, November 1, 2017.

[l] Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi and Jonathan Spyer, 'Iraq's Shia Militias and Iran,' The Tower, 2014, p. 3.

[li] Ned Parker, Dabak Dehghanpisheh, Isabel Coles, 'Special Report: How Iran's military chiefs operate in Iraq,' Reuters, February 24, 2016.

[lii] 'Hadi Al-Amiri,' Counter-Extremism Project.

[liii] Ranj Alaaldin, 'Origins,' Current Trends.

[liv] Ibid.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] 'Kata'ib Hezbollah,' from Mapping Militant Organizations (Stanford University)

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Martin Chulov, 'Controlled by Iran, the deadly militia recruiting Iraq's men to die in Syria,' The Guardian, March 12, 2014.

[lix] Liz Sly, 'Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq is recasting itself as a political player,' The Washington Post, February 18, 2013.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Sam Wyer, 'The Resurgence of Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq,' Institute for the Study of War, p. 6.

[lxii] Chulov, 'Controlled by Iran,' Guardian.

[lxiii] Wyer, 'Resurgence,' ISW, 9.

[lxiv] Ibid., 11.

[lxv] Sly, 'Iranian-backed militant group,' Washington Post.

[lxvi] AFP, 'Iraqi Sunnis join feared Shiite militia to battle IS,' Mail Online, March 13, 2015.

[lxvii] Interview with Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem, Israel, June 5, 2017.

[lxviii] Seth Frantzman, 'Mosul quietly fill with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis,' The Washington Times, April 30, 2017.

[lxix] Seth Frantzman, 'Kurdistan after Islamic State: Six Crises Facing the Kurds in Iraq,' Rubin Center. December 25, 2016.

[lxx]  Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising, (Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1990), 222-223. (Hebrew)

[lxxi]  Lior Ben David, 'Terrorist Organizations Fighting Israel,' Knesset Research and Information Center, September 2004. (Hebrew)

[lxxii] Efraim Karsh, 'Iran- Anatomy of a Revolution,' Ma'arachot 268, 1979, 19-25. MB

[lxxiii] Meir Litvak, 'Iran and Israel: The Ideological Enmity and its Roots', Iyunim be-Tkumat Yisrael, Vol. 14 (2004), 370.

[lxxiv] 'Iranian Support to Hamas,' Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 2009.

[lxxv]  Ephraim Kam, 'Military Action against Iran: The Iranian Perspective,' Strategic Assessment, Vol. 11, No. 2, November 2008, 88, 90 (Hebrew).

[lxxvi] Lee Gancman, 'Hamas higher-up says no support from Iran in years,' The Times of Israel, January 31, 2016.

[lxxvii]  Nidal al-Mughrabi, 'Hamas' deputy chief says it has patched up ties with Iran,' Reuters, December 17, 2014.

[lxxviii]  Con Coughlin, 'Iran 'is intensifying efforts to support Hamas in Gaza,' The Telegraph, April 4, 2015.

[lxxix]  'Report: Iran Furious at Hamas' Warming Ties with Saudis, Cancels Delegation's Visit to Tehran,', August 9, 2015.

[lxxx]  Jack Khoury, 'Iran to Resume Financial Support to Hamas, Report Says,' Haaretz, May 30, 2017.

[lxxxi] 'Iran and Hamas Drawing Close: The Current Situation,' Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 2018, 4. (Hebrew)

[lxxxii]  Ibid.

[lxxxiii] Stephen Tanner, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2003), p. 234.

[lxxxiv] Zbigniew Brzezinski, interview the Le Nouvel Observateur.

[lxxxv] Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 328-329.

[lxxxvi] Ibid.

[lxxxvii] Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 25-26.

[lxxxviii] Westad, The Global Cold War, 352-356.

[lxxxix] Tanner, Afghanistan, 250.

[xc] Westad, The Global Cold War, 356, and Tanner, Afghanistan, 266..

[xci] Marie Colvin, 'Sunni sheikhs turn their sights from US forces to Al Qaeda,' The Times, September 9, 2007.

[xcii] Steven Simon, 'The Price of the Surge,' Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.

[xciii]  Ibid.

[xciv] David Kilcullen, 'Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt,' Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[xcv] Colin Freeman, 'Iraqi neighbours rise up against al-Qaeda,' The Telegraph, April 12, 2008.

[xcvi] Kilcullen, 'Anatomy,' Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[xcvii] Kilcullen, 'Anatomy,' Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[xcviii]  Greg Bruno, 'The Role of the 'Sons of Iraq' in Improving Security,' The Washington Post, April 28, 2008.

[xcix] Greg Bruno, 'Finding a Place for the "Sons of Iraq"', CFR, April 23, 2008.

[c]  Bruno, 'Sons of Iraq,' The Washington Post, April 28, 2008.

[ci] Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave, 'In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict,' The New York Times, December 23, 2007.

[cii] Kilcullen, 'Anatomy,' Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[ciii] David Mays, 'Concerned Local Citizens Vastly Improve Security in Iraq's Diyala Province,' US Department of Defense, October 12, 2007.

[civ] Amit R. Paley, 'Shift in Tactics Aims to Revive Struggling Insurgency,' The Washington Post, February 8, 2008.

[cv] Sumedha Senanayake, 'Iraq: Al-Anbar Initiative Makes Progress, But Baghdad Remains Wary,' RadioFree Europe RadioLiberty, November 02, 2007.

[cvi] Kilcullen, 'Anatomy,' Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[cvii]. Paley, 'Shift in Tactics,' The Washington Post, February 8, 2008.

[cviii] Tina Susman, 'Iraqi sheik a contrast to his slain brother,' Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2007.

[cix] Rubin and Cave, 'Force for Iraqi Calm,' The New York Times, December 23, 2007.

[cx] Kenneth Katzman and Carla Humud, 'Iraq: Politics and Governance,' Congressional Research Service, March 9, 2016.

[cxi] Rubin and Cave, 'Force for Iraqi Calm,' The New York Times, December 23, 2007.

[cxii] Joel Wing, 'The Rise and Fall of the 'Sons of Iraq'', Business Insider, November 3, 2014.

[cxiii] Derek Harvey and Michael Pregent, 'Who's to blame for Iraq crisis,' CNN, June 12, 2014.

[cxiv] Simon, 'The Price of the Surge,' Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.

[cxv] Ibid.

Categories: proxy wars - Israel - Iran - Middle East

About the Author(s)

Mr. Yaniv Friedman is a researcher at the Dado Center. He was a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies at Haifa University. Friedman holds an MA in International Relations and History. He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation on the Levi Eshkol government's security policy, 1963-1966.
Mr. Lazar Berman is a researcher at the IDF's Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Military Studies. He commanded a Bedouin unit during his active IDF service, and is a reservist captain in the IDF Commando Brigade. He holds an MA in military operations from Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he wrote his thesis on IDF innovation.