Disruptive Speaker Series
The Iranian Threat Network:

Implications for the U.S.-Iran Crisis

25 July 2019


On 25 July, SOFWERX, in collaboration with USSOCOM J5 Donovan Strategy and Innovation Group and Joint Special Operations University, hosted a Disruptive Speaker Series entitled “The Iranian Threat Network: Implications for the U.S.-Iran Crisis” led by Dr. Diane M. Zorri from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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From 1979, the regime in Tehran has pursued policy paths that often counter the U.S. objectives and interests across the Middle East. Beyond regime survival, Tehran is succeeding in improving its strategic position from one of a peripheral power, scarcely surviving the end of the 8-year Iran-Iraq war, to one of regional hegemony. The demise of the Ba’athist Party in Iraq in 2003 created a regional power vacuum gradually filled by Iranian proxies. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Tehran’s leaders took advantage of Baghdad’s weak position and put many Iraqi centers of power under their tutelage using both soft to hard power. After the withdrawal of coalition forces from the region in 2011, through the proxy networks it had established, the Iranians gained a solid foothold in Iraq and Syria under the guise of helping Baghdad and Damascus fight Islamic State. In Yemen, Iranian proxy groups back Ansar Allah, a Houthi-led rebel organization fighting a regime that depends on neighboring Saudi Arabia for its survival.

Iran’s actions have not only antagonized much of the West, but also regimes across the Middle East. From a realist perspective, Iran’s successes have led to the loss of clout, prestige, and even legitimacy of pro-U.S. regimes in the area. Despite U.S.-led sanctions, the new regional status quo favors Iran, which poses a significant threat to U.S. objectives. Iran’s hegemonic aspirations are changing the balance of power across the region, especially in “gray zone” conflicts. Gray zone conflicts provoke Western sensibilities and give Tehran the strategic advantage by prolonging hostilities Through the use of its proxy organizations, Tehran actively seeks to keep regional conflicts in the “gray zone.”

This study offers a novel perspective to the study of Iranian proxy organizations. This research employs a comparative analysis of Iranian proxy groups in the Middle East and takes a policy-oriented approach. The policy-centered approach offered here has both intrinsic and instrumental values for training and understanding how to counter Iranian decision-making. Yet, the impact of this research seeks to go beyond the present tension with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In academic terms, this analysis offers new insights as to how the foreign policy of nefarious regimes ultimately shifts relations amongst regional powers and allies. The study could be applied beyond the case of Iran, as it presents a new model of political analysis for comprehending the mechanics involved in developing, employing, and sustaining maligned proxy organizations.

Click Here to Read Dr. Diane Zorri’s Full Paper


Dr. Diane Maye Zorri is an assistant professor of Security Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida and serves as a Subject Matter Expert on Iraqi politics to Joint Special Operations University. She writes and does research on issues that involve security and governance in the Middle East, U.S. defense policy, and national security. Prior to her work in academia, Diane served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and worked in the defense industry. During the Iraq war, she worked for Multi-National Force-Iraq in Baghdad, managing over 400 bilingual, bicultural advisors to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Defense. This work is part of a larger research project for Joint Special Operations University entitled, “Iranian Proxy Groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen: A Comparative Analysis.”

Click Here to Read Dr. Diane Zorri’s Full Bio

25 July Presentation

Click Here to View Dr. Zorri’s Slides

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For event related questions, please contact Tania Steele, [email protected]