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​Report to Congress on Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies

 

Contents

Introduction 5

Iran’s Policy Motivators   5

Threat Perception  5

Ideology  6

National Interests  6

Factional Interests and Competition   7

Instruments of Iran’s National Security Strategy  8

Financial and Military Support to Allied Regimes and Groups  8

Other Political Action  11

Diplomacy  11

Iran’s Nuclear and Defense Programs  12

Nuclear Program  12

Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and Activities  12

International Diplomatic Efforts to Address Iran’s Nuclear Program 14

Developments during the Obama Administration  15

Missile Programs and Chemical and Biological Weapons Capability 17

Chemical and Biological Weapons 17

Missiles 18

Conventional and “Asymmetric Warfare” Capability 21

Military-Military Relationships and Potential New Arms Buys  21

Asymmetric Warfare Capacity  22

Iran’s Regional and International Activities  25

Near East Region 25

The Persian Gulf 25

Iranian Policy on Iraq, Syria, and the Islamic State  36

Iraq  36

Syria  38

Iran’s Policy toward Israel: Supporting Hamas and Hezbollah 39

Hamas 40

Hezbollah  41

Yemen42

Turkey 43

Egypt 44

South and Central Asia 44

The South Caucasus: Azerbaijan and Armenia 44

Central Asia  45

Turkmenistan 46

Tajikistan 46

Kazakhstan  47

Uzbekistan  47

South Asia 48

Afghanistan 48

Pakistan  49

India  50

Sri Lanka 51

Russia 51

Europe  52

East Asia 53

China  53

Japan and South Korea  54

North Korea 54

Latin America 55

Venezuela 56

Argentina 56

Africa 57

Sudan 58

Prospects and Alternative Scenarios 59

 

Figures

Figure 1. Map of Near East …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 25

Figure 2. Major Persian Gulf Military Facilities ………………………………………………………………… 34

Figure 3. South and Central Asia Region ………………………………………………………………………….. 44

Figure 4. Latin America ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 55

Figure 5. Sudan ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 57

Tables

Table 1. Major Iran or Iran-Related Terrorism Attacks or Plots ……………………………………………. 10

Table 2. Iran’s Missile Arsenal ………………………………………………………………………………………… 20

Table 3. Iran’s Conventional Military Arsenal …………………………………………………………………… 23

Table 4. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) …………………………………………………… 24

Table 5. Military Assets of the Gulf Cooperation Council Member States …………………………….. 35

 

Contacts

Author Contact Information ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 61

 

Iran’s national security policy is the product of many, and sometimes competing, factors: the ideology of Iran’s Islamic revolution; Iranian leadership’s perception of threats to the regime and to the country; long-standing Iranian national interests; and the interaction of the Iranian regime’s various factions and constituencies. Some experts assert that the goal of Iran’s national security strategy is to overturn a power structure in the Middle East that Iran asserts favors the United States and its allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Muslim Arab regimes. Iran characterizes its support for Shiite and other Islamist movements as support for the “oppressed” and asserts that Saudi Arabia, in particular, is instigating sectarian tensions and trying to exclude Iran from regional affairs. Others interpret Iran as primarily attempting to protect itself from U.S. or other efforts to invade or intimidate it or to change its regime. Its strategy might, alternatively or additionally, represent an attempt to enhance Iran’s international prestige or restore a sense of “greatness” reminiscent of the ancient Persian empires. From 2010 until 2016, Iran’s foreign policy also focused on attempting to mitigate the effects of international sanctions on Iran.

Iran employs a number of different tools in pursuing its national security policy. Some Iranian policy tools are common to most countries: traditional diplomacy and the public promotion of Iran’s values and interests. Iran also has financially supported regional politicians and leaders. Of most concern to U.S. policymakers is that Iran provides direct material support to armed groups, some of which use terrorism to intimidate or retaliate against Israel or other regional opponents of Iran. Iran’s armed support to Shiite-dominated allied governments, such as those of Syria and Iraq, also has fueled Sunni popular resentment.

Iran’s national security policy focuses most intently on the Near East region, including on U.S. operations, allies, and activities in that region. It is that region where all the various components of Iran’s foreign policy interact. Iran’s policy also seems to be directed at influencing the policies and actions of big powers, such as those in Europe as well as Russia, that are active in the Near East—either as partners or antagonists of U.S. interests in that region.

Some experts forecast that Iran’s foreign and defense policies would shift after international sanctions were eased in January 2016 in accordance with the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA). Additional financial resources enable Iran to expand its regional influence further. Others assessed that the nuclear agreement would cause Iran to moderate its regional behavior in order not to jeopardize the agreement and its benefits. During 2016, Obama Administration officials and U.S. reports asserted that there was little, if any, alteration of Iran’s national security policies. On February 1, 2017, the Trump Administration cited Iran’s continued “malign activities” and repeated ballistic missile tests, and asserted that Iran “is now feeling emboldened” and that the Administration was “officially putting Iran on notice.” The Administration subsequently sanctioned additional Iran missile entities under existing authorities and maintained that a “deliberative process” was underway that could result in further actions not contravening the JCPOA. Recent U.S. statements and press reports indicate the Administration might be considering military efforts to set back Iranian influence in Yemen, and perhaps elsewhere.

Iran has used the JCPOA to ease its international diplomatic isolation and to try to develop itself as a regional energy and trade hub and to explore new weapons buys. Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i and key hardline institutions, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), oppose any compromises of Iran’s core goals, but support Iran’s reintegrate into regional and international diplomacy.

View full report here.

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