March 2, 2024
Why Does Iran Escalate Its Proxy War in the UAE?
Featured MENA News Opinion

Why Does Iran Escalate Its Proxy War in the UAE?

Morocco’s clear and concise support message to United Arab Emirates

By Abdelkader Filali. Ph.D. (Ottawa University)

The Houthi- Iranian attacks on Abu Dhabi have had little effect on battlefield events, and Iran malign manoeuvres has failed to politically weaken UAE and the whole gulf countries. On the contrary, UAE now had support from the international community, the Arab Parliament, the Arab league, the Arab countries. In short, Houthi-Iran efforts in the proxy war zones have proved counterproductive.

The Houthi- Iranian attacks on Abu Dhabi raised considerable alarm among military strategists, national security analysts, journalists, academics, elected officials, and the public alike. The Houthi -Iranian strikes on UAE should prompt a serious reassessment of the Arab League, Security Council, European Union. It is a naivety to imagine that any deterrence policy on Iran can deter its ambition altogether.

Rethinking Iran Proxy Wars in the Region

In advancing its influence and alliances abroad, Iran has preferred malign, targeted maneuverings over brash, bellicose military operations, resulting in a vast and coordinated sphere of influence. To begin, in the Middle East, Iran’s presence is intimately felt on contemporary battlegrounds, such as Syria, and Yemen, and in recent popular demonstrations, such as those in Iraq and Lebanon. In Lebanon in particular, Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed political and military organization, exerts an unprecedented level of legislative power and currently holds the majority rule in Lebanon’s government (Sly & Haidamous, 2020). Iran has also been involved in the development, funding, and arming of the Shia insurgency in Bahrain. As militant cells in Bahrain have become more violent since 2011, aided by the introduction of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and military training in Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, Iran has managed to heighten its profile in the Gulf, threatening a key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (Knights & Levitt, 2018).  However, Iran’s shadowy Shia Crescent is not only limited to the Middle East, contrary to the beliefs of many military strategists and academics. Rather, the Shia Crescent has manifested itself beyond the Middle East, finding fertile ground in Africa (Hezbollah’ cell in Algiers training member of polisario in Tindouf) and in Latin America.

Coercive Deterrence

Deterrence shapes where and how an adversary decides to compete. Therefore, the justifications for the Arab move against the continuation of Iranian aggression before the disaster strikes, must equal the strength of the Iranian justifications for expansion. As Gulf Countries and Iranian tensions continue to escalate, bipolarity will become even more entrenched, reversing the nascent diplomatic accord reached through the ambitious, but short-lived, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

With the Iranian brazen denials of the blindingly obvious of facilitating the strike against the UAE, officials in Tehran have given observers and analysts an old and used concept: the trick of denial. Iran appears to have taken its proxy warfare to another level, using its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Yemen, subversion, and clandestine operations, arming and training militias to undermine its neighbors and expand its influence in Africa.

Iran and its Proxies’ Grave Mistakes

The Houthi- Iranian attacks on Abu Dhabi have had little effect on battlefield events, and Iran malign manoeuvres has failed to politically weaken UAE and the whole gulf countries. On the contrary, UAE now had support from the international community, the Arab Parliament, the Arab league, the Arab countries. In short, Houthi-Iran efforts in the proxy war zones have proved counterproductive


The Houthi’s striking Abu Dhabi airport and start a shadow war in the first place, is a sign of its despair and weakness. In effect, that its strategy of proxy warfare is a mistake. Rather than overt military actions that attempt to resolve issues or disputes, Iran’s proxy wars involve destabilization, disruption and subversion. Similar ideas have been described under the rubric of hybrid war.

Serious Reassessment


The diplomatic challenge, as always, is to avoid traditional reactions to clandestine warfare. In this case, Iran is demanding a renegotiation of its nuclear programs in a region where it is not in Iran’s interest to expand. Because Iran escalation in UAE is a symptom of weakness, the Arab countries and their allies are simultaneously strong enough to reassure Iran about the future of the region and deter further aggression beyond it. The Iranian economy has lost more than $2 trln with subsequent proxy wars in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and regions, The policy of stagnant wars has made Iran weaker than before.

Reference

Knights, M. & Levitt, M. (2018). The evolution of Shi’a insurgency in Bahrain. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 11(1), 18-26.

Sly, L. & Haidamous, S. (2020). Lebanon gets a new Hezbollah-backed government amid mounting unrest. Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/lebanon-gets-a-new-government-loyal-to-hezbollah-for-the-first-time/2020/01/21/6c2e646c-3c8a-11ea-afe2-090eb37b60b1_story.html

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