Iran’s Proxy Wars Reshape Middle East Security – Analysis

  1. Iran, China, and Russia Unite Their Navies for a Geopolitical Power Play in the Gulf of Oman
    Iran, China, and Russia flexed their military muscles in a significant joint naval drill in the Gulf of Oman. The bold show of strength, led by Iran, signifies a mounting threat to the West and underlines Tehran’s commitment to using its strategic partnerships with Beijing and Moscow to reshape regional security dynamics.

The trilateral showcase, dubbed Marine Security Belt 2024, marks the fourth combined military exercise the three nations have conducted since 2019. This year’s maneuvers were timed to follow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s Nordic Response, one of the most significant NATO exercises since the end of the Cold War and the first since Sweden joined the alliance.

The Marine Security Belt drills covered an expansive maritime area and were observed by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, and South Africa. Per United States reports, the exercise involved more than twenty ships, including two warships from the Russian Pacific Fleet (including its flagship), multiple platforms from the 45th China Naval Escort Task Force, and vessels from the Iranian Navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN). The drill featured both daytime and nighttime live-fire tests against surface targets and aerial mimics.

Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow designed the maneuvers to showcase the coalition’s leverage in the region and highlight its most capable naval platforms. The trilateral exercise illustrates its participants’ increasing cooperation in the naval domain, which poses a significant challenge to the US and its allies in the Middle East.

  1. Houthi Missiles Strike Israeli Territory
    This month the Houthis continued to attack Israeli territory, commercial maritime traffic, and warships from the US-led coalition in the Red Sea. In early March, the militia struck a Barbados-flagged bulk carrier ship, the MV True Confidence. The attack claimed the lives of at least three sailors and significantly injured other crew members. Then, on March 15 and 16, Houthi forces allegedly targeted a Marshall Islands–flagged liquefied petroleum gas tanker in the Red Sea.

US forces responded to these attacks with retaliatory self-defense strikes. US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that American forces successfully destroyed five unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and engaged one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) belonging to the Houthis in the early morning hours of March 16.

Recent reports suggest that the Houthis have now shifted their focus to cutting off maritime trade in the Indian Ocean. Two of the group’s spokesmen announced that the militia would henceforth strike any Israeli, US, or United Kingdom merchant ships transiting the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa—an alternative shipping route that Houthi attacks in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea have forced many vessels to use.

This announcement indicates that the militia can now project long-range strikes further south from the territory it controls in Yemen. The militant network’s Iran-produced anti-ship ballistic missiles (especially the Tankeel, with a range of more than 310 miles) and anti-ship cruise missiles (including the Sayyad and Quds Z-0, with more than 500 miles of effective range) will prove formidable in long-range salvos. More worryingly, the Houthis also have attacked ships using Iranian Shahed loitering munitions that possess a range greater than 1,200 miles.

While hitting a moving target from such a distance is no easy task, Houthi forces do not have to score successful hits to disrupt maritime traffic: even launches that fail or face interception raise insurance costs and delay shipping. This in turn disrupts global supply chains with broad economic consequences. International maritime trade thus remains vulnerable to threats from Iran and its proxies.

In addition to the militia’s ongoing disruptions in the Red Sea, the group has scaled up its attacks on Israeli territory. On March 18, the Houthis penetrated air defense systems in the Israeli city of Eilat, causing no damage but marking the first time a Houthi cruise missile had hit Israel. The strike provides a troubling reminder that the US strategy of deterrence has failed to prevent its adversaries from acting with impunity.

The militia’s attacks on Israel also highlight a broader strategic risk, as successful strikes against Western ships and Israeli territory have reportedly bolstered the group’s credibility at home. The Houthis’ defiant narrative has helped the group attract new fighters. Its recruitment efforts will likely flourish while it continues to sow chaos unimpeded throughout the region.

  1. Iran’s Defense Technological and Industrial Base (DTIB) Flexes Its Muscles at Qatari Defense Exhibition
    The Iranian booth attracted particular attention at this month’s Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition (DIMDEX), showcasing Tehran’s sophisticated naval platforms and USVs.

Iran’s booth also sent a geopolitical message: it displayed a drone dubbed the “Shahed 149 Gaza.” Additionally, Tehran showcased its controversial medium-range air defense system, Sevom Khordad, which reportedly shot down a United States MQ-4C Triton UAV in 2019. Exhibition participants reported that Iranian presenters had leaflets in both Arabic and Russian, illustrating the rapidly deepening relationship between Iran and the Kremlin.

Iran’s participation at the exhibition also highlighted the recent successes of its defense technological and industrial base (DTIB), and showcased the Islamic Republic’s ability to navigate Western sanctions. Tehran remains willing and able to transfer its advanced capabilities to its proxies, including the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

  1. Israel Eliminates a High-Ranking Hamas Commander
    Israel announced that the Israel Defense Forces had recently eliminated Marwan Issa, one of Hamas’s top leaders and the deputy head of the group’s military wing, in an airstrike. Issa was allegedly also the planner of the October 7 terror attacks that claimed hundreds of civilian lives.

According to official reports from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the strike that neutralized Issa occurred in the Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza, where Israeli intelligence suggested the commander had been in hiding. Long known as the “Shadow Man,” Marwan Issa was rarely seen in public. Quite understandably, he had been avoiding the IDF since the early stages of the conflict.

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