The creation and expansion of Iranian-backed “resistance” forces in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen and Lebanon serve Iran’s national security interests and have created panic in Israel, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said today. According to IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency, he made the remarks at the annual gathering of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which re-elected Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as the chairman of the body responsible for selecting the supreme leader. The IRGC commander said Iran transformed regional security threats such as the 2014 emergence of the Islamic State into an opportunity to expand its sphere of influence across the region. “In Iraq, we witness the creation of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces [Popular Mobilization Forces], which are a replication of the Islamic Republic’s popular Basij forces during the sacred defense [Iran-Iraq war],” Jafari pointed out, adding that the resistance forces have also played a key role in the Syrian conflict.

The IRGC commander claimed that the growth of resistance forces have shaken the “backbone” of Israel. He also called the recent downing of an Israel F-16 fighter jet by the Syrian Army as an “unprecedented” achievement for Iran and its allies in the region.

Comment: The US military invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring and its aftermath, and the rise of ISIS all helped the Islamic Republic to further expand its hard power and soft power influence across the Middle East. Iran has arguably emerged as the most influential foreign player in Iraq, as Iranian militia proxies are now an integral part of the Iraqi security institutions and are vying for political influence in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

As Jafari noted, Iran does not want the Iraqi PMF paramilitary forces to be disbanded and sees the organization as a Basij model that should play a prominent role in the Iraqi security and politics in the future – further consolidating Iran’s influence in Iraq as Hezbollah does in Lebanon. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree formalizing the inclusion of the PMF into the country’s security institutions, but Iranian-sponsored PMF leaders made it clear that the organization will not be merged into the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Interior.

Likewise in Syria, Iran has gained an extensive military footprint in recent years, posing significant threat to Israel. Damascus has long been Tehran’s ally and the Islamic Republic has used the Syrian territory as a conduit for weapons supply to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But now, Iran has become the most influential player on the Syrian battlefield, commanding tens of thousands of Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, Afghan and Pakistan Shiite militia forces. The presence of Iranian-sponsored groups in southern Syria and the reported establishment of Iranian military bases and missile factories in Syria has alarmed Israel.

As Jafari pointed out, the Islamic Republic sees its regional state and non-state allies as both offensive and defensive assets. The IRGC not only uses its proxies to advance the Islamic Republic’s political, ideological, cultural, and economic sphere of influence across the region, but it also values these foreign proxies as deterrent assets against any American or Israeli military attack against its nuclear and missile installations.