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Janes analysis: Iranian non-state proxy threat

The killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in a US airstrike in Iraq on 3 January has significantly increased tensions between the two nations, with a significant probability of retaliation or possible escalation by Iran. In addition to conventional military means, Iran has an array of non-state proxy groups across the broader region that could potentially be utilised to threaten US military and government targets.

Ansar Allah

Better known as the Houthis, Ansar Allah has been provided with both arms, training, and manpower by Iran. The most serious threat potentially posed is to international shipping – particularly oil tankers – traversing the Bab al-Mandab strait, with the group having deployed both anti-ship missiles and explosives-laden unmanned maritime vehicles (UMV) against sea vessels previously.

In the event of either an escalation of hostilities between Iran and the US, or as an act of retaliation for Suleimani’s killing, the Iranians could utilise Ansar Allah, or its own forces likely stationed alongside the group in Yemen, to target and threaten tankers transporting oil to the US. There is also the risk of the use of ballistic missiles and weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to target US military personnel, assets, or facilities at bases in Saudi Arabia.


The military wing of Lebanese group Hizbullah, al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, has been extensively armed, trained, financed, and supplied by Iran since its inception, and represents Iran’s most operationally-proficient proxy. Hizbullah forces are present in both Syria and Iraq alongside Iranian-backed Shia militia groups and could directly target US forces/interests in either countries as either retaliation or an escalation of hostilities.

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