A shadow war is raging between the United States and its Israeli and Sunni Arab allies—notably Saudi Arabia—against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The stakes are for the very survival of the U.S.-dominated order that has existed in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. For both Israel and Saudi Arabia, the stakes may very well be the survival of their nation-states in the face of a growing, ideologically rabid Islamist Iran. Since 2019, that shadow war is increasingly coming out into the light—and it could drag the world into another great power war.
Recently, the Iranians are believed to have attempted to ship uranium to their Houthi Rebel proxies fighting against Saudi-backed Sunni forces in Yemen’s civil war. Unfortunately for the world, that shipment was intercepted by none other than al-Qaeda.
If you thought that would end Iran’s dangerous game of pin-the-uranium-on-the-donkey, another shipment was intercepted, this time by British counterterrorism forces. It is believed the uranium was being sent to proxies operating in Britain for a possible assassination attempt on an unknown person living in Britain (uranium has been used to great effect by Russian intelligence to poison dissidents living in Britain).
Movements for a Larger War
There is, however, another possibility: These tiny amounts of uranium are being distributed along known Iranian routes. After all, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, has long used both European and British ports of entry as transit nodes for the illicit traffic of moving weapons into Lebanon.
In 2013 and 2014, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander, General Qassem Soleimani, brokered a deal worth 400,000 Euros with Hezbollah to secure warehouse facilities in places like England, Germany, and Belgium to covertly store ammonium nitrate—a key component in the explosives Hezbollah routinely uses, and a precursor element for HMX.
It is more than likely Hezbollah still has covert depots scattered at English ports that it uses to house illicit weapons and other material that will eventually find their way into the waiting hands of Iranian agents, such as those fighting on the ground in places like Syria or Lebanon.
Just as the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been building up their weapons capabilities to use against the Saudi-backed groups fighting them, Hezbollah in Lebanon has been building up their capabilities to launch a renewed offensive against Israel.
With the world distracted by the Russo-Ukraine War, Tehran’s rulers may believe the time is ripe for them to strike while the Western defenses are down. These shipments may be an ominous sign that they are preparing the battlefield.
Iran’s Precision Project
In 2020, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy issued a stark report detailing a robust and pernicious threat to Israeli security from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group headquartered in neighboring Lebanon. According to the 2020 report, the Iranians have bankrolled what they refer to as the “Precision Project.” Paul Iddon of Forbes stated that Israeli leaders “will have to contend with increasingly lethal Hezbollah missiles [when another Israeli-Hezbollah conflict erupts].”
Iddon assessed that, “[Hezbollah] has amassed an enormous arsenal of surface-to-surface missiles and rockets.” This arsenal is extremely dangerous and can do previously unheard-of levels of damage to the Israeli heartland, should Hezbollah be given the go-ahead to initiate another caustic war with Israel by their Iranian masters.
The IRGC has overseen the project designed to enhance the accuracy of Hezbollah’s rockets. Thanks to their assistance, Hezbollah’s rockets will be able to better target and more accurately hit critical Israeli infrastructure and other soft targets deep inside Israel.
Under Iran’s direction, Hezbollah built many of these missile production facilities throughout Lebanon and Syria very near to large civilian populations, in order to deter the Israelis from striking hard at these dangerous facilities. Plus, the fact that the facilities building the missiles for Iran’s Precision Project are distributed so far afield, means Israeli warplanes will have increased difficulties taking out these facilities before they can pose an immediate threat to their homeland.
The Nuclear Element
As I document in my forthcoming book, The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (due out March 28), since 2016, the IRGC has been creating massive stores of a chemical known as Octagen (HMX). This is a critical element for creating fuel for the kinds of precision missiles that Hezbollah has been building in their IRGC-supported missile production facilities throughout Lebanon and Syria.
In fact, the 2020 Beirut blast is believed by some (including this author) to have resulted from HMX being detonated—whether purposely or accidentally—at one of Hezbollah’s secret depots at the Port of Beirut.
All this means is that the Iranians are coordinating a massive effort across the arc of the Shiite Crescent in the Middle East to expand their power, threaten their neighbors, and destabilize the already tenuous American position in the region. By adding some uranium to the growing arsenals of Hezbollah and/or the Houthis, the Iranians are enhancing the lethality of their proxies.
We could be waking up one day this year to news that the critical Israeli port of Haifa has been destroyed in a dirty bomb attack delivered by Hezbollah missiles. Or, we might awaken to learn that the critical oil production facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia have been obliterated in a Houthi dirty bomb attack (delivered by the large fleet of Iranian drones that the Houthi have at their disposal), spiking the price of the world’s already-high oil prices.
Western security officials need to take the threat of Iran proliferating its relatively small amount of weapons-grade uranium to its proxies via black market routes more seriously than they do. Greater effort must be put into busting up these illicit trading routes the Iranians have spent years building globally so as to prevent the flow of increasingly devastating Iranian weapons from getting to their proxies, who mean to do our allies—and us—great harm.
Perhaps Iran will be unable to build a viable arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, they have enough nuclear material to spread around the region so that their proxies can use it to devastating effect in a series of nuclear-like attacks that could do grave damage to key U.S. allies. Such a move could force Washington to make a staggering choice (as Russia and China press against U.S. power elsewhere): either escalate against Iran and break the back of the already ailing U.S. military or abandon the Middle East to Iran and its Russian and Chinese partners.