Iranian Deterrence Strategy and Use of Proxies

Few states in the modern era have placed the development and sustainment of proxy forces more central in their defensive strategies as has the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Assessing the role these groups play in Iran’s deterrence strategy requires understanding the reasons why Tehran placed such emphasis on building foreign forces to defend its security and project its influence in the years after 1979.

Iran does not initially create proxies with the intention of using them as a deterrent force. Rather, this mission is adopted as proxy capabilities strengthen and become existentially important to Iran. Since Iran cannot strike the US homeland conventionally the way the United States can strike Iran with near impunity, Tehran seeks ways to balance the deterrence equation by threatening US interests worldwide through proxy terrorism and asymmetric operations.

As long as the IRI lacks the conventional military power to match the United States or Israel, the IRGC will continue building and sustaining proxies to pressure Tel Aviv, threaten the US homeland, and level the deterrence equation. If the current Middle East conflicts subside, anticipate a renewed emphasis on growing the IRI’s global proxy reach.

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