The Islamic Republic of Iran's influence in the region, including in Iraq and Syria, is rapidly declining, with a string of failures and defeats attributed to its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Analysts believe the main factor behind such increasing failures is the shortage of liquid assets due to US sanctions.
"For years, the IRGC has claimed that Iran's active presence in the region is rooted in religion and in the spiritual influence of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei," political expert Karim Samadian told Al-Mashareq.
"Once, the regime even claimed that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan are also influenced by Khamenei's spiritual power," he said.
The same allegations were made about the organisation and mobilisation of militant groups in the region, he said. From Afghanistan to Syria, paramilitary groups allied with Iran were called "spiritual and ideological allies".
Lower funds, less influence
Under stricter US sanctions and the "maximum pressure" campaign, Iran appears unable to pay the militias it funds. Observers say the significant reduction in Iran's oil revenue has resulted in an inevitable decrease in Iran's regional influence.
The IRGC is "currently struggling financially, and there is not as much cash to fill the pockets of IRGC commanders and regional allies", he said.
Samadian said the reason for a recent escalation in discord and discontent among Iranian proxy groups is also low funds, which proves that money, not religion, has in fact been their "ideology" all along.
In a television interview in April, Mostazafan Foundation director Parviz Fattah, formerly director of the IRGC Co-operative Foundation, said IRGC commander at the time, Qassem Soleimani, had once asked him for help to pay the militia.
According to Fattah, Soleimani, who was facing budget shortages, asked for money from the foundation so he could arrange to pay the salaries of Fatemiyoun militia members in Syria (Iran-backed Afghan militants).
Fattah's remarks were harshly criticised by reformists and moderates in Iran, although his fellow conservatives were largely silent. Critics said Fattah should not have spoken about the regime's secrets and the IRGC's lack of funds.
Referring to Fattah's interview, Samadian said, "The fact that the IRGC is no longer able to [sufficiently] pay its agents is the root of their day-by-day decline in the region."
Hizbullah's financial reliance on Iran
Iran's current financial influence in the region is a far cry from that of a decade and a half ago. In June 2006, Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said he was "not worried about US banking sanctions" because all of his militia's funding "comes from Iran".
Thanking Khamenei, he said Hizbullah received "all its needs, from food and clothing to missiles and rockets", from Iran.
"For several years, Islamic Republic officials have not hidden the fact that by paying money, they have formed proxy groups to expand their influence in the region," said Zahra Zanjani, political expert and former student activist.
Nasrallah's 2006 remarks "sparked widespread opposition among Iranian people, but IRGC-affiliated media actually defended payments to Hizbullah", she told Al-Mashareq.
Sanctions weakening IRGC
In light of harsher sanctions, Zanjani told Al-Mashareq, "the Iranian people's money can no longer be spent on regional adventures," adding, "Over the past few years, some Hizbullah members have complained about not getting paid regularly."
In June, new IRGC Quds Force Commander Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani, who succeeded Soleimani, was reportedly unable to take cash to Iraq with him due to lack of funds, she added.
Instead of money, Qaani gave silver rings to some leaders of Iran-affiliated militias, telling them that for now, they had to count on the Iraqi government for funding.
While Iranians have faced unbridled inflation, unemployment and other financial woes, their money was spent on the irrational expansionism of Khamenei and the IRGC for years, said Zanjani.
The IRGC and Khamenei have, over the years, spent billions of dollars of oil revenue on creating chaos and expanding their mafia-like regional influence, she said.
"I believe Khamenei no longer holds the position he had 10 years ago. He has now become a hated figure in the entire region, even among Iraqi shias," Zanjani said.