In 2017, we are at inflection point in Iran’s strategy in the Middle East. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has given the Islamic Republic new resources and freed Tehran to focus on building its conventional military capacity to compete with its regional rivals more directly. Iran is also sensing, finally, some form of victory in the wars in Syria and Iraq. In the aftermath of these conflicts, the Iranian leadership will be left with an enormous degree of influence stretching from Beirut to Basra and beyond. Led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, Tehran will also now have at its disposal a trans-national proxy army of Shia militia units with at least a couple hundred thousand personnel with hybrid warfare capabilities. This will pose significant challenges to our friends in the region and to our interest in stability in Middle East.
Why does Iran pursue these destabilizing activities? Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran’s foreign policy has been driven by a desire to reshape the Middle East under its political and ideological image. At the same time, Iran seeks to ensure more traditional regional power interests of economic growth and expanded spheres of influence. Iran seeks to spread its concepts of Islamic governance, to oppose the state of Israel, protect Shia populations, and to assert its regional hegemony by displacing the United States as the dominant regional power. Due to a relative disadvantage in conventional military capabilities, Tehran has pursued these objectives primarily through clandestine operations and unconventional warfare for the past thirty-eight years. In particular, Iran has utilized its “Resistance Network” of partners, proxies, and terrorist groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah while employing a suite of deterrent capabilities including ballistic missiles and asymmetric naval platforms.