As he oversees the succession search and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Mr. Khamenei appears to be content, for now, to let the Arab militias across the Middle East do what Tehran has been paying and training them to do. Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance,” which includes Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, is at the core of the Islamic Republic’s grand strategy against Israel, the United States and Sunni Arab leaders, allowing the regime to strike out at its adversaries without using its own forces or endangering its territory. The various militias and terrorist groups that Tehran nurtures have allowed it to indirectly evict America from Iraq, sustain the Assad family in Syria and, on Oct. 7, help inflict a deeply traumatizing attack on the Jewish state.
As its proxy fighters inflame Israel’s northern front through sporadic Hezbollah missile strikes, instigate attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and impede maritime shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Iran is likely hoping to pressure the international community to restrain Israel. And the imperative of not expanding the Israel-Gaza war, which has thus far guided American and Israeli policy, means that neither is likely to retaliate against the Islamic Republic — only against its proxies.
Of course, Hamas, which Israel has vowed to eliminate, is valuable to Iran. The regime has invested time and money into the group, and unlike most Islamic Republic proxies and allies, Hamas is Sunni, which helps the Shiite theocracy transcend sectarianism in the region. Liberating Palestinians, whom Iranian revolutionaries have been fond of since the Palestine Liberation Organization aided them against the Shah in 1979, is also at the core of the clerical regime’s anti-imperialist, Islamist mission.
But for Mr. Khamenei, the home front will always prevail over problems in the neighborhood. In the end, in the event Israel were to succeed in its goal of eliminating Hamas, the clerical state would most likely concede to the group’s demise, however grudgingly.
Of course, the more conflict Iran engages in — directly or indirectly — also increases the chance that a rogue or poorly judged strike could send the violence spinning out of control — in a direction Iran does not favor. History is riddled with miscalculations, and there is a real possibility that Iran could find itself pulled into the larger conflict that it has sought to avoid.