According to recent reports, Iranian military drones and other arms have been showing up in the bloody war being waged in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The Islamic Republic’s involvement in Africa dates back to its creation in 1979, but the newly elected president Ebrahim Raisi has stepped up the effort, which, as Danny Citrinowicz and Jason M. Brodsky explain, goes far beyond selling materiel:
Iran is expected to increase its arms sales to Africa, especially after the expiration of the arms embargo under UN Security Council Resolution 2231. It will use such practices as a platform to expand its influence on the continent. Ethiopia is probably not the only country that is an export market for the Iranian military industry—Iranian arms have been spotted in Somalia as well. Iran is also likely to increase the number of high-ranking officials visiting Africa and will try to promote economic projects to bypass further sanctions imposed by the United States. It is also possible that both Tehran and Beijing will work together to minimize U.S. influence in Africa.
Iran’s pivot to Africa is not just economic in nature. Tehran sees the continent as a launchpad for targeting U.S. and Israeli interests. Increased Iranian operations in Africa started after the death of the former Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani. . . . Earlier this year came news that Ethiopia’s intelligence agency had thwarted an Iranian terrorist cell casing the embassy of the United Arab Emirates there. . . . Another cohort was seeking to target the Emirati embassy in Sudan.
Iran will probably duplicate the way it works in the Middle East in Africa—meaning, it will work with local forces and use them as proxies or partners to promote Iranian interests, like the Islamic Movement in Nigeria or the Polisario in Western Sahara. There is also a possibility that Iran will try to prevent other countries in Africa from improving their relations with Israel, by arming and funding insurgent movements.