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Militias Operating In and Against
Saudi Arabia 


By Lucie Švejdová

Militias Operating In and Against Saudi Arabia


The Islamic Republic of Iran has dragged Saudi Arabia into a long-standing proxy-war. At the centre of the enduring rivalry is Tehran’s desire to reverse its (self-inflicted) position of being a political “have-not”—an isolated Islamic revolutionary state. The revisionist drive of Iran’s regime, and its aspiration to carve out a Shia ‘Full Moon,’ which deliberately fuels sectarian violence, is the major destabilising factor in the region.


Monitoring the activities of Iran’s Motley Crew in the Arab Gulf and Middle East is a prerequisite for understanding the activities of an assortment of paramilitary groups operating in and against Saudi Arabia. In other words, militias in Saudi Arabia need to be analysed in the context of Iran’s regional ambitions.


Firstly, Iran often equates battlefield ‘victory’ in one location as steps towards victories in others. From this perspective, subversive activities of Iran-backed militias in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria are viewed as stepping stones to projecting influence over Saudi Arabia. As Iran deliberately destabilises the adjacent countries and wedges-in their high command, it builds direct land-bridges that serve as logistics routes for its agents. These strategic axes — particularly those in the Arab Gulf — then serve as staging grounds to harass Saudi Arabia.


In Yemen, for example, Tehran’s strategic interest is to proliferate the ongoing conflict across the border to Saudi Provinces and it is well documented that the Islamic Republic provides Yemen’s Houthi paramilitaries not only with weaponry and expertise but also with military supervision. Already in early 2015, Iranian parliamentarian, Ali Reza Zakani, publicly revealed these intentions when he stated that ‘the Yemeni revolution...will be Saudi territory and...the people of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia will lead those protests.’[1]


From their safe haven in Yemen, Iran-backed militias also raid Saudi oil facilities in order to damage Saudi economy and oil industry. Saudi Arabian Oil Co. installations have been attacked multiple times since March 2018. Vital hydrocarbon transportation routes are also in danger of disruption. In January 2018, Houthi militias threatened to block the strategic Red Sea shipping lane, an important trade route for oil tankers, which pass proximate to Yemeni shores while heading from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.[2]


Secondly, Iran strives to undermine Saudi Arabia from within. To do so, Iran fuels a negative Shia-Sunni dichotomy and seeks to antagonise Saudi’s Shia population. Tehran attempts to alienate and segregate Shia population of the Eastern Province from the rest of the country by calculated instigation of sectarian violence. The agents of Islamic Republic, like Hezbollah Al-Hejaz, infiltrate the local Shia minority and supply it with advanced munitions and military equipment in large numbers on the flimsy pretext of ‘defending the Shia community from the Saud.’ Through deliberate radicalisation and armament of fractions of the Shia population, Iran seeks to ignite sectarian armed insurrection that would justify an Iranian military intervention against the Kingdom.


These subversive intentions are evident also from the rhetoric of Iran-affiliated organisations. As mentioned previously in the second part of Mapping Militias in Bahrain, Saraya al-Mukhtar announced support for resistance of the people in the Eastern Region against Saudi occupation. Amongst other examples, Akram al-Kaabi, the commander of Harakat al-Nujaba, a prominent Iran-linked Iraqi militia, voiced support for anti-government ‘resistance’ by Saudi Shiites in the town of Awamiya.[3]


Thirdly, on its quest to destabilise and ultimately overthrow the Saudi government, Iran collaborates with (Sunni) jihadi groups and follow a ‘strategic flexibility’ approach. Of particular concern are Tehran’s fluid and long-lasting links with al Qaeda (and parts of ISIS), which were exposed in the 9/11 Commission Report.[4] The report revealed that senior al Qaeda figures maintained close ties to Iranian security officials and had frequently travelled across Iran’s border⎯including at least eight of the fourteen operatives selected for the 9/11 attacks.[5] In 2007, Osama bin Laden himself acknowledged the murky relations between Iran and al-Qaeda by referring to Iran as al-Qaeda’s ‘main artery for funds, personnel and communication.’[6] Despite Tehran’s denials, Iran has a history of sheltering al Qaeda operatives including Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama and the emerging leader of the terrorist organisation.




The subsequent monitoring segments will detail the activities of paramilitary organisations operating in and against Saudi Arabia and assess their connection to Iran’s regional campaign of destabilisation and violence.



27 April 2018


[1] Quoted by Lori Plotkin Boghardt, in ‘Gulf Fears of Iranian Subversion,’ The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2 April 2015, available at:

[2] For full report see: Aziz El Yaakoubi, ‘Yemen’s Houthis threaten to block Red Sea shipping lane,’ Reuters, 9 January 2018, available at:

[3] Reported by Ahmad Majidyar in, ‘Iran-Backed Militia Commander Threatens Saudi Arabia over Tension in Eastern Province,’ Middle East Institute, 15 May 2017, available at:

[4] The full document is available at:

[5] See Greg Bruno, ‘State Sponsors: Iran,’ Council on Foreign Relations, updated 13 October 2011, available at:

[6] Quoted by Iman Zayat, ‘When Hamza bin Laden stumbles and falls in line with Iran,' The Arab Weekly, 8 April 2018, available at:





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