Backgrounder: State Players in Middle East Geopolitics

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The Middle East is home to an intricate web of proxy militias, frequently aligned based on sectarian or ethnic affiliations and supported by a range of regional and international actors. The motivations driving these groups often extend beyond sectarian or ethnic boundaries. Their struggles may revolve around securing political power, asserting influence, or gaining access to vital resources. On one hand, the involvement of external powers in these conflicts has heightened regional tensions and exacerbated humanitarian crises. However, on the other hand, external powers have also intervened with the aim of restoring order or enhancing the security landscape, with one recent example being the United States and its partners intervening to halt the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Arguably, the United States and Iran could be considered the most significant players in proxy wars in the Middle East. Iran backs some of the more prominent proxies, namely Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. These three groups are effectively shaping the trajectory of Middle East diplomatic and security dynamics. In every conflict where Iranian-backed proxies are active, US-backed proxies are fighting them. The recent Hamas attack on Israel has escalated tensions, prompting countries to take sides. The taking of sides also results in the deployment of proxies. And while Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other nations support proxies in various conflicts, Russia, with its much broader scope of policy interests, is arguably the third most prominent sponsor in the region.

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