Iran Urges Restraint to Proxy Forces Amid Escalating Conflict in the Middle East

Officials reveal Iran’s private calls for restraint to Hezbollah and other armed groups as tensions rise in the region.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifies, Iran is quietly urging its proxy forces, including Hezbollah, to exercise restraint against U.S. forces in the region. While publicly warning of military readiness to respond to any threat, Iranian leaders are privately cautioning against provoking a direct confrontation. This delicate balancing act reveals Iran’s eagerness to disrupt U.S. and Israeli interests while avoiding a full-scale war. The effectiveness of Iran’s influence over its allied militias is being put to the test, as the Biden administration also treads cautiously in its approach to Iran.

Iran’s Private Calls for Restraint:

Amid U.S. strikes on Iranian-backed groups in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, senior Iranian leaders are privately urging caution, according to Lebanese and Iraqi officials who were briefed on the talks. These officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reveal that Iran has realized the risks of allowing its proxies to freely attack U.S. and coalition forces. The recent lull in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, despite a U.S. drone strike killing a senior Kataib Hezbollah official, suggests that Iran’s message may be having some effect.

A Cautious Approach by the Biden Administration:

The Biden administration has adopted a similar cautious approach towards Iran. While launching retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has refrained from striking inside Iran. U.S. diplomats are also pressuring Israel and Hamas to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, as a negotiated pause in the fighting in November resulted in a decrease in attacks by Iranian-backed groups across the region.

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Iran’s Efforts to Prevent Escalation:

To emphasize its directive for restraint, Iran has dispatched military leaders and diplomats across the region to meet with local officials and militia members. Iranian officials have praised Hezbollah’s sacrifices but cautioned against risking the gains made in the region by engaging in a wider war with Israel. In Iraq, renewed conflict is seen as a threat to talks on a U.S. military withdrawal, which Iran views as a major victory. The effectiveness of Iran’s campaign is evident in the recent decrease in attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

The Limits of Tehran’s Influence:

While Iran has successfully influenced its proxy forces to exercise restraint, there are limits to Tehran’s control. After the U.S. strikes, Kataib Hezbollah reversed its earlier suspension of attacks, pledging “painful strikes and broad attacks.” This highlights the complex dynamics within the self-styled “axis of resistance,” a loose alliance of armed militias that includes Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Kataib Hezbollah. While funded and trained by Iran, these groups operate independently and outside Tehran’s formal security apparatus.

Conclusion:

Iran’s private calls for restraint to its proxy forces in the face of escalating conflict in the Middle East reveal a delicate balancing act. As tensions rise between the United States and Iran’s allied militias, Iran is keen to disrupt U.S. and Israeli interests without provoking a direct confrontation. The Biden administration’s cautious approach mirrors Iran’s efforts to avoid further escalation. However, the effectiveness of Iran’s influence over its proxy forces remains uncertain, as recent developments have shown the limits of Tehran’s control. As the conflict in the region continues, the challenge for both Iran and the United States will be to maintain deterrence and prevent further escalation.

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