Iran’s proxies target Israel: Here’s what to know about them
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Iranian pro-government media said in the early hours of April 14 that it had attacked Israel on four fronts. This included attacks by Iran itself using drones and missiles, as well as threats from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran has spread its proxies throughout the region. These groups pose an increasing threat to Israel and Israel’s partners and allies. It’s important to understand who these groups are and what their capabilities may be.


Hezbollah is the largest and oldest of the Iranian partner and proxy groups in the region. Founded in the 1980s, it has played an increasingly influential role in Lebanon, essentially controlling who is elected president and controlling parts of the economy. Hezbollah has stockpiled more than 150,000 rockets over the last thirty years. Some of these are short-range rockets that threaten northern Galilee. Other Hezbollah rockets are long-range and can threaten all of Israel, almost to Eilat. In addition, Hezbollah increasingly has precision-guided munitions, meaning it can target strategic infrastructure with precision. In addition, Hezbollah is now believed to have 2,000 drones, which it has increasingly used against Israel. Hezbollah also has anti-tank missiles and thousands of fighters. Some of its fighters are part of its more elite “Radwan” force. Hezbollah has suffered casualties in its attacks on Israel since October 8. Around 250 of its members have been killed. This is a setback for the group. It has also carried out around 3,100 attacks on Israel.

The Houthis

The Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have been increasingly a threat since 2015. Originally a small rebel movement, they burst on the scene in 2015 when they took over a swath of Yemen. They are based in the mountains around Sana’a, but they also threatened the coastal cities of Aden and Hodeidah. This caused Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to intervene in Yemen in 2015. The Houthis received ballistic missile and drone technology from Iran and built an impressive local industry to create long-range missiles and drones. They also developed cruise missiles. Iran used these weapons to target Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh. After October 7 the Houthis began to target Eilat using drones and cruise missiles and then ballistic missiles. Later, the Houthis began targeting ships. It has carried out dozens of attacks on commercial ships, and it has hijacked one ship. It claims to be targeting Israeli-linked and Western ships. The Houthi capabilities have expanded greatly in the last several years. Beginning in 2020, Iran also based its Shahed 136 drones in Yemen. The Houthis now can strike at southern Israel with their weapons.

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)
The Iraqi militias

Iran has been backing militias in Iraq since the 1980s. Key militia leaders such as Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr organization, and the late Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were close to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Abu Mahdi was active in supporting Iran’s terrorist causes in the 1980s, such as targeting Kuwait and other countries and groups. After the US invasion of 2003, the Iranian-backed militias began to increase their power in Iraq, feeding off the power vacuum. Abu Mahdi’s Kataib Hezbollah became the vanguard of these militias. It was joined not only by Badr but also by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, whose leader, Qias Khazali, had once been detained by the Americans in Iraq. Other groups popped up as well, such as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. In 2014, after ISIS invaded Iraq, the Iranian-backed militias formed the backbone of a paramilitary army called the Popular Mobilization Forces, which numbered more than 100,000 fighters. After the defeat of ISIS in 2017 in Iraq, the militias became an official government-paid force linked to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. In essence, they became the Iranian IRGC of Iraq. The groups then stockpiled missiles and drones. They began to operate more freely in Syria and to threaten US forces and Israel. They also carried out kidnappings, such as the kidnapping of researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in 2023. They murdered key Iraqi intellectuals and targeted Kurds. They have targeted Israel since October 7, using long-range drones to target Iraq and other areas.

Iranian militias in Syria

Iran’s IRGC operates in Syria. During the Syrian civil war, Iran recruited many groups to support the Assad regime. These included Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and also Shi’ites from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2018, Iran began to build up more bases for these groups, such as the Imam Ali base near Albukamal and also encouraged Hezbollah to open its “Golan file” to threaten Israel from the Golan. Iran also moved drones to Syria and tried to move air defenses to its T-4 base in 2018. The Iranian-backed militias in Syria are disparate and have varying capabilities, but most of them are relatively weak. They have targeted US forces and also Israel. They usually require close IRGC supervision and guidance.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy group that is also a Palestinian group. Unlike Hezbollah or the militias in Iraq, it is not a Shi’ite group. PIJ has terrorists in Gaza and participated in the October 7 attack. It had thousands of rockets and thousands of fighters in Gaza, but it has taken losses over six months of war. In the West Bank, PIJ is active mostly in Jenin, where it also has hundreds of members. It has benefited from the illegal trafficking of rifles in the West Bank and has tried to increase its stockpile of weapons and explosives and move into IED (explosive) production. The group is relatively small but has destabilized the northern West Bank and poses an increasing threat.  

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