Covert warfare of Iran: A growing influence amid the Israel-Hamas War

The accelerating cauldron in West Asia with an incremental shift in battle lines is blatantly visible in the current geopolitics.

The accelerating cauldron in West Asia with an incremental shift in battle lines is blatantly visible in the current geopolitics. While challenging the United States (US) clout, Iran-China-Russia is already supporting nations across West Asia, becoming popular among the Arab nations. The current war which began with unprovoked violence of Hamas against Israel has turned many-fold with Israel’s unparalleled retaliation in its defence of the Gaza Strip leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Iran-China-Russia is a quasi-alliance visible, challenging the US’s hegemony. While the US-sanctioned Iran rejects recognition for Israel outright, China has been trying to sail with its great power diplomacy along with its renewed wolf-warrior diplomacy with the sole objective of world harmony reflected by the recent Chinese brokered “Iran-Saudi rapprochement”. In addition, even though China condemns Israel for the mass catastrophe in Gaza siding with the Arab world, its trade with Israel continues. However, the US has been accusing China of pseudo-neutrality. It argues that China’s apparent policy of non-interference is proving to be an antonym of peace in the current trajectory of geopolitical conflicts. Russia’s stand against the West, delineated with the Russia-Ukraine conflict adds up to its alignment with Iran and China in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Furthermore, Iran has historically good relations with both China and Russia in terms of arms trade and technology transfer. However, this bloc is not limited to these three countries. Iran’s axis of resistance post-Iranian revolution continues to be pertinent in contemporary international politics through its para-military state actor, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with its backing in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza.

IRGC (Sepah-e-Pasdaran-e-Enghelab-Islami)

Born out of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, interestingly Iran has two military wings. One is the regular army for defence purposes known as Artesh and the other is IRGC, also known as Sepah. The IRGC was concocted on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader. Apprehensive of the military, the clerics consolidated it to defend and uphold the regime against the threats, both inside and outside. It has grown to the extent that it has the authority over Iran’s military-industrial complex. While Iran’s strategy began as a defence against a possible attack from the US, it has out-stretched itself as a manifestation of a deep state in West Asia, forming a network deterrence. Declared as a terrorist organisation by the US, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, its history goes back to its command structure with various wings. One of them is the elite Quds force, devoted to the regime rather than the country, which is also responsible for the mosaic warfare and the nascent cognitive warfare.


The IRGC Quds force has a wide axis of resistance network with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Syrian government and Hamas in Gaza. The present uprising has shed light on the Hamas partnership with Iran.

The intimate partnership of Iran and Hamas is a well-known fact. Albeit Shias and Sunnis have long been at odds, Shi’ite Iran benefits from an alliance with Sunnite Hamas since they share a common enemy of Israel and the United States over its head. Iran celebrated the October 7 attack on Israel. Iran’s insecurity concerning its hegemony in the region as a result of Israel’s growing amity with the Arab states is speculated to be the reason for the attack. There is conjecture that the India-Middle East-Europe corridor (IMEC), which was established under India’s presidency at the G-20 summit, might be the immediate cause. The engagement of Israel and Saudi Arabia in this corridor revealed an increasingly uncorroborated relationship. Furthermore, Israel is being opposed by the Axis of Resistance. Hezbollah has described the deadly Hamas attack as a decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation. Along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers have engaged in almost daily attack exchanges since the attack. The Houthi’s slogan, “Death to America, Death to Israel, curse the Jews and victory to Islam,” underscores their anti-Western and anti-Israel stance. The recent world trade disruption through drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea passing through Bab-al-Mandeb forced Israel-linked commercial ships to change course. Israel is forced to take the route around the southern tip of Africa through the Cape of Good Hope. The Houthis eventually extended the attacks to other nation-states, disturbing global trade in one of the busiest routes in the world.

Iran’s actions have consistently been noted to be clandestine, with its influence functioning as a proxy for it. It maintains the front-and-centre myth that this clout makes its own decisions. The grey region is where the real world is. Even while each of these factions pursues its national interests, they unite to work towards the shared vision of spreading Islam, with Iran leading the charge as an aspiring regional hegemon. This is further evidenced by the recent accusation made by Ramazan Sharif, the spokesperson of the IRGC that the attack on Israel was retaliation for the 2020 murder of Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds force. The claim was prompted by the recent Israeli bombing that killed Brig. Gen. Razi Mousavi in Syrian airstrike. However, it conflicted with Hamas’s swift denial, possibly to prevent turning the narrative away from international support for the Palestinian cause and towards IRGC’s emotive purpose. Iran later retracted the statement with its age-old Gray Zone Warfare.


The idea behind cognitive warfare is to influence the opinions and behaviours of individuals by undermining their cognition to gain an advantage over them. With today’s rapidly advancing technology, it seeks to remain in the grey area and is gaining popularity by integrating social, cyber, and information engineering capabilities. The purpose of Iran lies in supplementing its long-term goal of propagation and exporting the Iranian revolution around the world while combating the West. It is logical to believe that controlling a nation’s sectarian makeup will yield benefits to this soft realm of warfare. Iran has a history of deploying diplomatic tactics to the public and strategic media communications to shape the narrative of its participation in regional stabilisation, which includes impeding the rise of the Islamic State.

An offshoot of the military-industrial complex, the IRGC has long-standing connections to several organisations. One among them is the non-governmental Owj Arts and Media Organization, well-known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda meant to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. This complex further extends to news agencies such as Fars and Tasnim which IRGC uses for its strategic communications to set its narrative. For instance, the massive attack on the twin bombings in the South-eastern city of Kerman in Iran near the grave of Guards general Qassem Soleimani has raised tensions with Israel. The news organisations have developed a narrative. Major General Hossein Salami, Commander of the IRGC, declared that “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists are only acting as agents for America and Israel” and threatened to take retribution, even though the terrorist outfit of Daesh had acknowledged responsibility.

The practice of cognitive warfare and the emergence of threats to virtual borders are consistent with the digital age. Recently, the Israel Security Agency’s Shin Bet foiled an Iranian espionage attempt using social media. It claimed that Iranian security forces were exploiting virtual space to entice Israeli civil society operatives to complete tasks for them in exchange for payments. Similar research conducted by the Fake Reporter Organisation disclosed that a foreign network with connections to IRGC since 2021 has been creating lies to stoke social unrest. The network has been spreading false information about Israel since the beginning of the conflict by using AI-generated deep fakes and fictitious accounts formed under the moniker “the second Israel.” These techniques aid information warfare by sending out agents, widening the divisions and impersonating real persons. Moreover, Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, had his Facebook and Instagram profiles deleted by Meta due to the platform’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals (DOI) policy, which forbids any promotion of violence. It’s interesting to note that Meta’s policy is impacted by US government decisions about participation in terrorist activities.

The battle is no longer just between Israel and Hamas; it is progressively spreading to encompass new fronts. The Houthis’ Red Sea embargo, where they specified “promised safe passage” for Chinese and Russian ships since they are not associated with the US, UK and Israel, reinforces the clout of Iran, China, and Russia. In exchange, the two permanent members of the United Nations may provide political support by blocking resolutions against the group. As a result of the balance of power, a quasi-alliance of US-Israel-Saudi Arabia is visible opposing this. Saudi Arabia and Iran are known to have a cold war in the region. Even with the recent thaw brokered by China, tensions remain between the two countries. Saudi Arabia appears to be aligning its national interests with those of the US and Israel, with the covert goal of hegemony and security aspirations combined with the overt cause of providing stability and peace to the region. Even though the conflict in Gaza has made negotiations to develop diplomatic ties with Israel difficult, Saudi Arabia appears to be prioritising its national interest in maintaining regional hegemony. While it engages in bandwagoning with both the US and China, it remains tilted towards the US to counter any potential attack from Iran with nuclear capacity.

Nandini Khandelwal
Nandini Khandelwal
Nandini Khandelwal is pursuing a master’s program in Politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University. Her area of interest lies in Conflict Studies specializing in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). She has published commentaries and research articles on platforms such as the Indian Council of World Affairs, Samvada World, and Global Strategic Defence News.