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  • Author: Younes Mahmoudieh
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: When I visited Iran this summer, severe panic attacks, depression, and anxiety—longstanding byproducts of post-traumatic stress disorder—caused me to seek out a trauma therapist. After weeks of contacting Iranian pharmacies, hospitals, charities, and relief organizations, my prescriptions for Zoloft, Xanax, Ativan, and Clonazepam remained unfilled. Since the United States exited the Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA) and imposed new sanctions, this kind of shortage has become commonplace.
  • Topic: Health, Sanctions, International Community, International Court of Justice (ICJ)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? A U.S. resolution seeking to extend UN arms restrictions on Iran beyond their October 2020 expiration failed at the Security Council. Washington has asserted that it will claim the right to unilaterally restore UN sanctions, which were terminated as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Why does it matter? Any U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions will be controversial, given the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and likely to create deadlock at the Security Council. The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it. What should be done? The remaining parties to the deal should be united in resisting Washington’s efforts, as should other Security Council members. They should essentially disregard a U.S. “snapback” – restoring sanctions – as ineffectual, obstruct attempts to implement it and discourage Iran from overreacting to what will end up being a symbolic U.S. move.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Sanctions, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration. What’s new? Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have repeatedly brought the two sides to the brink of open conflict. While neither government seeks a full-fledged war, a string of dangerous tit-for-tat exchanges amid mounting hostile rhetoric underscores the potential for a bigger military clash. Why does it matter? Due to limited communication channels between Tehran and Washington, an inadvertent or accidental interaction between the two sides could quickly escalate into a broader confrontation. The risk is especially high in the Gulf, where U.S. and Iranian military vessels operate close to one another. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should open a military de-escalation channel that fills the gap between ad hoc naval communications and high-level diplomacy at moments of acute crisis. A mechanism facilitated by a third party might contain the risk of conflict due to misread signals and miscalculation.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs, Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Iran has embraced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a major pillar of its military strategy. Iranian officials may exaggerate their capabilities, but Western analysts should not dismiss the threat posed by Iranian drones. Iranian authorities have invested in and experimented with drones for 35 years. Iranian authorities use drones for two main purposes: surveillance and attack. Iranian controllers now have the ability to conduct missions over the horizon and in most weather. Attack drones fall in two categories: Those with the ability to drop bombs or launch missiles and return to base and “kamikaze” drones that seek targets of opportunity. Iranian authorities have had more success with the latter. The biggest danger posed by Iranian UAVs, however, in years to come may be the result of Iranian proliferation of its drones to proxy groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and the transfer of the ability to manufacture those drones. This will create some ambiguity in the operational environment as uncertainty about the identity of the drone’s controller can undercut momentum to hold that controlling country or group to account. This ability to escape accountability might actually make the use of drones more likely in surprise and terrorist attacks in the coming years.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Weapons , Drones
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Kenneth Pollack
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: For the first two to three decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” was little more than rhetoric, ascribing greater unity of effort to an amalgam of states, semi-states, and non-state actors that opposed the Middle Eastern status quo than was ever the reality. Because of the events of 2014–16, when key Shi’a groups and governments faced severe threats, there has been a significant shift in the Axis’ composition and effectiveness. Today, the Axis is comprised of an increasingly cohesive coalition of groups functioning more directly under Iranian guidance. Iranian support for these groups has also shifted from covert terrorist collusion, funding, intelligence sharing, rhetorical support, and tacit diplomacy to overt force deployments, joint military operations, economic assistance, deterrence, and alliance solidarity. Nevertheless, Iran’s successes have led to additional problems. The Axis of Resistance strategy was born out of necessity, and it is unclear, especially without Soleimani, whether Iran will be able to adapt moving forward.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan, Nicholas Carl, Marie Donovan
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces are organized around headquarters that are meant to coordinate the operations of Iranian paramilitary forces and support the Quds Force’s use of proxy groups such as Iraqi Shi’a militias abroad. Their basing in Iran indicates a primary focus on suppressing internal unrest and waging irregular warfare in the rear of an invader rather than on defending against an invasion conventionally. Their organizational structure and the pattern of their operations in Syria suggest that they might be challenged to coordinate large-scale (multi-division) operations abroad and possibly at home. The fact that the Iranian leadership has not yet had to use them on a large scale to suppress growing domestic unrest suggests that the regime still has a potent reserve force to ensure its survival even if the unrest grows considerably, as long as it does not also face a requirement for large-scale military operations abroad.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Qassem Soleimani, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Last year’s Washington Institute forum on post-Soleimani succession suggested that the IRGC would lose a unique coordinating capability and its most important totem once he left the scene. Last April, The Washington Institute held a closed-door roundtable to discuss the potential impact if Qassem Soleimani no longer commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Governed by the Chatham House rule, participants discussed how succession might work in the Qods Force and what Iran would lose if Soleimani became permanently unavailable, reaching consensus on many key issues. Now that the commander is indeed gone, their conclusions can help policymakers navigate the stormy seas ahead, though some aspects of his importance remain a matter of heated debate.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Sujata Ashwarya
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown University Press
  • Abstract: Despite substantial efforts and investments in rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the country is still struggling to deliver on public services. Years of destruction in conflict, as well as alleged mismanagement and neglect, have taken a heavy toll on the country’s power infrastructure. Severe power cuts and rolling blackouts are endemic in Iraq today. Between 2014 and 2018, Islamic State terrorism inflicted billions of dollars in damage on the already dilapidated electricity infrastructure, causing a cumulative potential and actual loss of a whopping 7GW in generation and transmission capacities.
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Infrastructure, Business , Conflict, Services, Electricity
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Iraq remains an area of rivalry between the U.S. and Iran. The latest example was the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by the U.S. in January. The Iraqi parliament then demanded the withdrawal of all foreign military troops. However, the fear of the resurgence of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and continued protests against Iranian influence, ongoing since October 2019, may lead the Iraqi authorities to alter their position. An alternative option to request a NATO mission to take over some of the activities of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS may be a good solution.
  • Topic: NATO, Military Affairs, Islamic State, Military Intervention, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Iran’s official figures on cases and deaths from COVID-19 (the disease resulting from coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2) do not reflect the real scale of the pandemic in that country, which might be among the hardest hit in the world. The pandemic will deepen the economic crisis and disfunction of the state, becoming a challenge to Iran’s ruling elite. The regime might survive thanks to the security apparatus and, in parallel, continue its support of Shia militias in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and the Syrian government. Only the succession of power after Ali Khamenei will be the real test of the coherence of the Iranian elite, and in case of disruption, it might result in the collapse of Iran’s theocracy.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Economics, Government, Health, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Elites
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Lebanon, Syrian Arab Republic
  • Author: Emerson T. Brooking, Suzanne Kianpour
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Iran has invested significant resources and accumulated vast experience in the conduct of digital influence efforts. These clandestine propaganda efforts have been used to complement Iranian foreign policy operations for the better part of a decade. Nonetheless, Iranian influence capabilities have gone largely unstudied by the United States, and only came to widespread attention in August 2018 with the first public identification of an Iranian propaganda network. Following the US assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani and a sharp escalation in US-Iranian tensions, it is important to understand the perspective, methods, and intent of Iranian influence efforts. For Iran, information dominance represents a central focus of both foreign and domestic policy. Iran sees itself as engaged in a perennial information war: against Sunni Arab powers, against the forces of perceived Western neocolonialism, and particularly against the United States. Should the information conflict be lost, many Iranian officials believe the collapse of the state will soon follow. Accordingly, Iran has prioritized the development of digital broadcast capabilities that cannot be easily targeted by the United States or its allies. Iran has also prioritized information control. Although Iran boasts roughly fifty-six million Internet users, these users must navigate a culture of censorship and frequent state intimidation. Following the 2009 Green Movement, the Iranian government came to see social media activism as enabling an existential threat. Authorities created special cyber-police units, built a new legal framework for Internet regulation, and outlawed most Western digital platforms. They also began to develop systems to remove Iranian users from the global Internet entirely. In pursuit of foreign and domestic information dominance, Iran began operating Facebook and Twitter sockpuppets as early as 2010. As the United States and Iran entered into a period of rapprochement and negotiation, the number of accounts grew exponentially. These accounts have been used to launder Iranian state propaganda to unsuspecting audiences, often under the guise of local media reports. To date, Facebook has identified approximately 2,200 assets directly affecting six million users. Twitter has identified eight thousand accounts responsible for roughly 8.5 million messages. Much of this Iranian content cannot be characterized as “disinformation.” In sharp contrast to the information operations of Russia, which routinely disseminate false stories with the aim of polluting the information environment, Iran makes less use of obvious falsehood. Instead, Iran advances a distorted truth: one that exaggerates Iran’s moral authority while minimizing Iran’s repression of its citizens and the steep human cost of its own imperial adventures in the wider Middle East. As a whole, Iran’s digital influence operations represent a continuation of public diplomacy, albeit conducted through misleading websites and social media sockpuppets. Iran broadcasts a fairly consistent message to many different audiences: in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in Europe, in North America, and, most notably, in Latin America and the Middle East. The aim of these efforts is to “tell Iran’s story,” the same as any Western government broadcaster might strive to do. The difference is that, as an international pariah, Iran must pursue this work through more clandestine means. Global observers have long learned to doubt the truthfulness and sincerity of Iranian-branded media. As the United States considers policies to safeguard its elections and confront Iranian influence activities, three conclusions can be drawn about the nature of Iran’s modern propaganda apparatus. Iran’s digital influence efforts involve centralized goals and disparate agents. Different elements of Iran’s digital propaganda apparatus evidence the involvement of different government agencies. It is not clear how, or if, these agencies coordinate their operations. These goals are closely tied to Iran’s geopolitical interests. Nearly all content spread by Iran’s digital influence efforts relates directly to its worldview or specific foreign policy objectives. Consequently, it is easier to identify the operations of Iran than those of other actors like Russia, whose content is more likely to be politically agnostic. Iran may attempt direct electoral interference in 2020 and beyond. To date, there is little evidence that Iran has sought to affect the outcome of a US election. This does not, however, preclude future such campaigns based on Iranian interest in achieving rapprochement with the United States.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics, Media, Conflict, Disinformation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Abigail Eineman
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: The June edition of “Sanctions by the Numbers” illustrated a decade of U.S. sanctions policy by using heat maps to show the countries with the largest number of designations. Across both the Trump and Obama administrations, Iran was always at the top of the list. This edition of Sanctions by the Numbers explores Iran sanctions further, tracking how designations and delistings have evolved over time, the dozens of countries affected by Iran-related sanctions programs, and the top types of U.S. designations. The data add to the existing consensus that sanctions have an inverse relationship with Iran’s economic health, and designations have far outpaced delistings in the last three years as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Sanctions, Economy
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ilan Goldenberg, Elisa Catalano Ewers, Kaleigh Thomas
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: It appears unlikely that Iran will engage in diplomatic negotiations with President Donald Trump’s administration before the U.S. elections. However, the international community may find Iran ready to consider a return to negotiations in 2021—regardless of the results in November—either because of Iran’s interest in engaging a Biden administration or in an effort to avoid four more years of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign. This report lays out potential options for a new U.S. administration to engage Iran in 2021. Many of the ideas also can be adapted for a second term Trump administration as described at the end of this report.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Engagement
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Abigail Eineman
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: In February, CNAS launched Sanctions by the Numbers, a project to track U.S. sanctions designations and delistings. In this second installment, heat maps show the most heavily targeted states in three periods of time: over the course of the Obama administration from 2009–2017, the Trump administration from 2017–June 2020, and a snapshot of the past decade through June 2020. The maps rely on ten years of sanctions data published by the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iran, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas Heras, Kaleigh Thomas, Jennie Matuschak
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and especially since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has become highly proficient in using its surrogates and proxies across the Middle East as a tool to achieve its interests while avoiding direct conflict with the United States. Successive U.S. presidents have sought options for pushing back against this Iranian strategy but have struggled to find approaches that could deter Iran’s actions or degrade its capabilities. In most cases U.S. administrations have been hesitant to respond at all, for fear of starting a larger conflict. The recent killing of Qassim Soleimani represents the opposite problem, in which the United States and Iran came unnecessarily close to a much larger war. In contrast, Israel’s “campaign between the wars” (the Hebrew acronym is mabam) against Iran and Iranian-backed groups in Syria has been one of the most successful military efforts to push back against Iran in the “gray zone.” Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and especially since early 2017, Israel has conducted more than 200 airstrikes inside Syria against more than 1,000 targets linked to Iran and it’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGCQF), and against IRGC-QF backed groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. This campaign has slowed Iran’s military buildup in Syria while avoiding a broader regional conflagration that would have been damaging to Israel’s interests.1 This study examines Israel’s mabam campaign and asks what lessons the United States can draw and how they may be applied to future U.S. actions in gray zone conflicts, both against Iran and more broadly.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Dina Smeltz, Amir Farmanesh
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  • Abstract: Both the United States and Iran have been among the countries worst hit by the coronavirus, but neither country has moved away from mutual confrontation. Nationwide surveys conducted by IranPoll this winter – before the spread of the virus and before the US strike against Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani – show that although Iranians say their country should not develop nuclear weapons, they have lost confidence in the nuclear agreement and think that the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council including China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany) have not lived up to their obligations. Chicago Council survey results from January 2020 show that a majority of Americans say they would favor rejoining the agreement if Iran restarts its nuclear weapons program.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Public Opinion, Disarmament, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Dina Smeltz, Brendan Helm
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  • Abstract: On January 3, the United States launched a drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, ramping up tensions between Washington and Tehran. Results from a just-completed Chicago Council survey show that more Americans think the strike has made the United States less safe than more safe, and more name Iran as the country posing the greatest threat to the United States than any other country. If Iran restarts development toward a nuclear weapon, the US public prefers diplomacy, but more Americans now support military action against Iran.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Public Opinion, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Hillel Frisch, Eytan Gilboa, Gershon Hacohen, Doron Itzchakov, Alexander Joffe
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: The targeted killing by the US of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has unsettled the region and the world. We have assembled initial takes on this event by five BESA researchers: Prof. Hillel Frisch, Prof. Eytan Gilboa, Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, Dr. Doron Itzchakov, and Dr. Alex Joffe.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Geopolitics, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Uzi Rubin
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning on the emergent Yemen-originating missile threat corresponds to Iran’s modus operandi of surrounding its foes with missile “rings of fire” and will enable Tehran to complete the missile encirclement of the Jewish state as a step toward its eventual demise. Israel must do its utmost to confront this new strategic threat by establishing an alert system and defense capabilities against Yemen-originating cruise and ballistic missiles, whatever the cost.
  • Topic: Security, Military Affairs, Geopolitics, Weapons
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Yemen
  • Author: Uzi Rubin
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Operation Shahid Soleimani, the Iranian revenge attack for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, was less spectacular than the Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last September and was apparently controversial even within Iran’s top leadership. Still, Israel can learn lessons from it: that Iran’s regime is willing to take extraordinary risks when it feels humiliated; that in certain scenarios precision missiles can be as effective as combat aircraft; that even a few precision missiles can disrupt the operation of modern air bases; and that good public diplomacy is crucial for crisis management.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Weapons , Crisis Management, Risk, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Ali Akbar Dareini
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: Coronavirus is killing Iranians, so does Trump by waging a campaign of economic and medical terrorism. Its refusal to lift the sanctions exacerbates the already-tense relations between Tehran and Washington and pushes Iran to redefine its foreign policy.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Sanctions, Economy, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Ali Akbar Dareini
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: Neither Iran nor the United States want a full-fledged military war but the Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” and Soleimani’s assassination mean the two foes remain on collision course.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: It is the geopolitics rather than the economics of energy that will drive US interest, particularly as it regards efforts to change Iranian policies, if not the Iranian regime, as well as the longer-term power balance in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Oil, Natural Resources, Geopolitics, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Scott Edwards
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: On the 3rd of January 2020, the United States signalled its intent to escalate tensions with Iran, through the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds forces, in Iraq. Following attacks from Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia on the American embassy in Baghdad, the escalation took place on a backdrop of worsening US-Iranian relations, focused on the US withdrawal of the Iranian nuclear deal (and Iran’s subsequent rollback of key commitments), the reinstatement of economic sanctions against Iran, and increasing tensions in the Straits of Hormuz. Such tensions have been met with concern in East Asia, particularly among countries that have been steadily expanding their relationships with Iran. Responses, however, reflect a continuation of business as normal rather than any great change. While Malaysia, for example, has condemned the assassination in line with their growing closeness to Iran, there has been no tangible change of policy. Indonesia, who has developed a relationship but emphasised their desire to remain neutral in the Iran-Saudi tensions, have avoided making overt statements in support of Iran or condemning US action. For the most part, therefore, Southeast Asian states have been unwilling and unable to abandon their relationship with the US and other key states such as Saudi Arabia, or isolate themselves by supporting Iran overtly. For other East Asian states, overtly supporting Iran runs the risks of encouraging the escalation of the conflict and the damaging of their interests, such as is the case with China. As such, this paper will argue that while the perception surrounding Soleimani’s assassination among East Asia is for the most part negative, this will not fundamentally impact on their relationship with the US or spur a further shift to Iran. Instead, in the face of continuing US pressure on Iran, Iran’s relationships within East Asia have begun to ultimately suffer. This paper will begin by analysing the expansion of Iran’s relationship with East Asian states before going on to argue how these are likely to decline in future despite these countries’ concerns of US actions as well as actions of other important states such as Saudi Arabia. While Iran has expanded its relationship with a number of partners in East Asia, this paper will focus on relationships Iran finds particularly important. Primarily, this is Malaysia and Indonesia, who, as countries with Muslim majority populations, have seen their involvement with Iran growing at a faster pace than others but in relationships mired in complexity. It will also consider China’s perspective; a relationship that has taken on importance for different reasons.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Sanctions, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iran, Malaysia, Middle East, East Asia, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ross Harrison
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: The United States and Iran are poised for a showdown. Understanding where we are today with this conflict and where we are likely to go in the future requires that we look at the conflicting strategic doctrines between the United States and Iran against a backdrop of a shifting Middle East.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Richard E. Rubenstein, Oakley Thomas Hill
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: Why would Trump run the risk of a war by assassinating Iran’s most effective general? Conventional Realist explanations do not answer the question adequately. The imperial strategy and the American Empire’s decline points toward a more convincing (and alarming) explanation.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Geopolitics, Donald Trump, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ali Akbar Dareini
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: “The Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly supplying Iraq with detailed intelligence, including data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography, to assist Iraqi bombing raids on Iran’s oil terminals and power plants in the war between the two nations … Iraq reportedly used the intelligence to calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops.” (1) This was a Washington Post report in 1986. “In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that (Saddam) Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.” (2) This was part of one of the declassified CIA documents published by Foreign Policy on 26 August 2013. Satellite imagery, communications intercepts and CIA assessments forwarded by the United States to Iraqi commanders showing ‘where the Iranian weaknesses were’ led to the death of many Iranian soldiers and civilians during the bloody 1980-88 war. That bitter and costly experience left a profound impact on the minds of Iranian military strategists. Having an intelligence eye to watch enemies from the sky and prevent similar disasters in the future preoccupied their brains. At the outset, possessing instruments of visual observation in the sky appeared to be a dream for many Iranians. But that would be a long-term project to make sure that Iran would not suffer again. Reconnaissance satellite is now widely seen as a strategic asset enabling states possessing this technology to obtain first-hand key information about the activities and resources of their enemies. It also enables states to protect their national security in this competitive world. This paper argues that great powers threaten weaker states. And regional powers like Iran have no option to survive but to get strong in order not to be bullied. It also argues that Iran, by successfully launching its “first military satellite” into orbit, has demonstrated a new capability that may shift the balance of power in its favor amid increasing tensions with the United States.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Power Politics, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Brandon Friedman, Joshua Krasna, Uzi Rabi, Michael Milshtein, Arik Rudnitzky, Liora Hendelman-Baavur, Joel D. Parker, Cohen Yanarocak, Hay Eytan, Michael Barak, Adam Hoffman
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
  • Abstract: This collection of essays, published by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in collaboration with the Moshe Dayan Center (MDC), focuses on how states and societies absorbed the coronavirus shock as the first wave spread through the Middle East, from February through April 2020. It offers a critical examination of how several different Middle East countries have coped with the crisis. This publication is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but rather representative and preliminary. Each of these essays draw on some combination of official government data, traditional local and international media, as well as social media, to provide a provisional picture of the interplay between state and society in the initial response to the crisis.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Health Care Policy, Economy, Crisis Management, Sunni, Jihad, Coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: World Politics Review
  • Abstract: The ballistic missiles that Iran fired at two military bases in Iraq housing American troops could only be the start of Tehran’s retaliation. Many observers worry that more blowback could come in the form of Iran’s favored tactic of asymmetric warfare waged through its proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. This escalation did not begin with the killing of Soleimani, but in May 2018, when Trump unilaterally took the United States out of the international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program, known as the JCPOA, and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. What impact has the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal had in Iran? How has it changed the Iranian regime’s foreign policy calculations? And how have Iranian citizens reacted to Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” and more sanctions? This WPR report provides an essential view of events from Iran.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Sanctions, Military Affairs, Nuclear Power, Denuclearization
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery. What’s new? In June, several rockets landed near U.S. installations in Iraq, and in July-August, explosions shook weapons storage facilities and a convoy of Iraqi paramilitary groups tied to Iran. These incidents helped push U.S.-Iranian tensions to the edge of confrontation, underscoring the danger of the situation in Iraq and the Gulf. Why does it matter? While the U.S. and Iran have so far avoided clashing directly, they are pushing the Iraqi government to take sides. Iraqi leaders are working hard to maintain the country’s neutrality. But growing external pressures and internal polarisation threaten the government’s survival. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should refrain from drawing Iraq into their rivalry, as doing so would undermine the tenuous stability Iraq has achieved in the immediate post-ISIS era. With the aid of international actors, Iraq should persevere in its diplomatic and domestic political efforts to remain neutral.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Geopolitics, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Yemeni al Houthi movement claimed the drone and missile attack on Saudi oil facilities on September 14, 2019, but the attack on Abqaiq was planned and executed by Iran. The al Houthi claim to have conducted the attack diverted the Western discussion away from Iran’s role and focused instead on the war in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia’s misdeeds. The Iranian attack on Abqaiq was part of a pattern of Iranian military escalation in response to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. The US should conduct a military strike to deter continued Iranian military escalation. Refraining from retaliation will embolden Iranian proxies and allies and encourage the regime to stand fast with its nuclear program, regional activities, and repression of its own people.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Houthis
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In October, mass protests over poor living conditions and Iran’s influence on the country’s internal policy erupted in Iraq. Brutal attempts to quell the demonstrations led to the escalation of violence. On 30 November, Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi resigned, which was one of the demands of the demonstrators supported by the prominent Shiite spiritual leader in Iraq Ali al-Sistani. The PM’s resignation, the proposal of reforms put forward by the president of Iraq, and the UN plan to stabilise the country backed by Sistani indicate the possibility of abolishing the model of consensual democracy prevailing in Iraq.
  • Topic: Corruption, Politics, Elections, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Eric M. Brewer, Elisa Catalano Ewers
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: The Trump administration has adopted an aggressive Iran strategy. The United States seeks to achieve—via the application of maximum pressure—nothing short of a fundamental change to policies that have defined the Islamic Republic for decades, if not since its founding, and have been a constant source of tension with the United States. Although the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and re-impose sanctions on Iran has garnered most of the attention, the administration also is leveraging diplomatic, law enforcement, informational, and other tools to apply pressure across a range of issues: Iran’s missile program, support for terrorism, regional influence, and human rights record
  • Topic: International Relations, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iran
  • Author: Elizabeth Rosenberg, Jordan Tama
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: Economic sanctions have become the tool of choice for U.S. policymakers to influence international affairs. On issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation to human rights, the United States typically imposes sanctions with the goal of inducing a government to change its behavior. Yet sanctions often have more potential to deter unwanted actions than to compel policy reversals, and the greatest impact of sanctions sometimes involves the signals they convey about likely future U.S. steps. Maximizing the overall effectiveness of U.S. economic pressure therefore requires concerted efforts by policymakers in the executive branch and Congress to make sanctions more effective instruments of deterrence and signaling. Doing this will also have positive knock-on effects, helping to limit the unintentional escalation of international competition and preserve the utility of sanctions as a vehicle for addressing security challenges and protecting universal norms. This report highlights several areas for action by U.S. policymakers: Make U.S. sanctions-removal assurances more credible: U.S. offers to lift sanctions on a country if it makes certain concessions send an effective signal only if the United States has a track record of backing up its commitments. In recent years, this signal has been severely weakened by U.S. failures to follow through on some significant sanctions-removal agreements, notably with Iran and Cuba.
  • Topic: Economics, National Security, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iran, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Ilan Goldenberg, Kaleigh Thomas, Jessica Schwed
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: In recent months, Iran has responded to rising tensions with the United States—particularly the US launch of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran—by attacking oil tankers and infrastructure in the Persian Gulf region around the Strait of Hormuz (the Strait). These actions have been designed to signal to the United States, the Gulf states, and the international community that the American strategy of strangling Iran economically will not be cost-free, and to Saudi Arabia in particular that it is highly vulnerable to Iranian retaliation. As the Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most critical energy chokepoints, the implications of Iran’s efforts merit close scrutiny and analysis. This study was designed to examine three scenarios for military conflict between Iran and the United States and assess the potential impacts on global oil prices—as one specific representation of the immediate economic impact of conflict—as well as broader strategic implications.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Oil, Global Markets
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas Heras, Kaleigh Thomas
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: On May 21, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) hosted an all-day tabletop exercise (TTX) in Washington, D.C., to game out three scenarios related to the crisis surrounding U.S.-Iran tensions over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and destabilizing regional policies. The intent was to understand how key players would respond and act in these potential scenarios. The TTX included seven teams: the United States, Iran, Europe (representing primarily France, Germany, and the United Kingdom but also the European Union), China, Russia, Israel, and the Gulf Arab States (one player as Saudi Arabia/UAE and the other player as Oman). Teams featured American and foreign regional and functional experts with a deep experience in their respective areas. Players were asked to play the most realistic version of their government.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Louis René Beres
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: On core matters of peace and security, two closely interrelated questions must be asked: 1. What precisely does Donald Trump have in mind regarding any potential armed conflict with Iran? 2. What might such a possibility portend for Israel, a US ally? Answers to these questions must extend beyond narrowly partisan simplifications. They should be nuanced and subtly overlapping. At a minimum, once a shooting war were underway, the Israeli armed forces (IDF) could become involved, possibly to a substantial degree. In a worst case scenario, clashes would involve unconventional weapons and directly affect Israel’s civilian population. The worst of the worst could involve nuclear ordnance.
  • Topic: Security, War, Nuclear Power, Peace, Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America, Israel
  • Author: Fatima Al-Smadi
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: The sanctions affect Iran in many ways, not only in economic terms. This paper examines the impact of sanctions on Iran’s domestic and foreign policy.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iran
  • Author: Mike Saidi
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Iran’s protest scene is evolving and has become more complex and demographically encompassing since the late-December 2017 widespread riots known as the Dey Protests. Economic problems, government mismanagement, and ethnic, labor, sectarian, and environmental issues have driven distinct and overlapping demonstrations, but they have not cohered into a unified protest movement capable of overthrowing the regime. Although the Iranian protest movement does not remotely threaten the regime, an evolved protest scene will undoubtedly shorten the life span of the Islamic Republic.
  • Topic: Protests, Revolution, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Tobias Schneider
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Originally styled as a small detachment of volunteers and refugees mobilized to defend the shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab outside Damascus, the Fatemiyoun formation’s size and presence across Syria has slowly expanded throughout the war. At home, the IRGC began cultivating a narrative of Afghan “resistance” to transnational Sunni jihadism. Joining the Syrian jihad was increasingly promoted as a path to legal and social recognition within the Islamic Republic at a time when thousands of desperate young Hazaras were setting out to emigrate to Europe. This paper analyzes the origins and expansion of the Fatemiyoun Division, its recent role in the Syrian civil war, and the impact its Syrian jihad has had on the Hazara community in Iran as well as transnational militancy in Afghanistan. As the Syrian conflict winds down, the future of the Fatemiyoun as a fighting force remains unclear. But even if the formation were to be disbanded, the networks, narratives, and capabilities developed in Syria could help the IRGC raise a similar formation again in the future.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Refugees, Syrian War, Shia
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Alex Vatanka
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Since its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has incited violent, radical, and often sectarian nonstate groups across the Middle East to serve as proxies in its military campaigns to influence regional and international politics. This “proxy model” has become increasingly salient since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Iraq and Syria, and is now Iran’s primary tool for advancing its regional intersts. The U.S. and the West in general have largely paid attention only to radical Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. With a few exceptions, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, nonstate Shi‘i militant groups have generally avoided the same intense Western scrutiny. This study compares and contrasts regional conflicts that have been shaped by Iranian proxies and Iran’s successful—and unsuccessful—attempts to recruit to its militant groups. It also identifies the key forces that have shaped Iran’s ideological and operational sponsorship of nonstate militant groups, both Sunni and Shi‘i, as well as its motivations and preferred modus operandi.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Conflict, Ideology, Shia, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: An Iran-Saudi Arabia war is unlikely, but it is now more likely than ever before. A military confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran should command respect and inspire concern because it could cause tremendous harm to an already volatile Middle East and possibly to the global economy. Iran seems to have an upper hand in a direct military confrontation with Saudi Arabia because of its combat experience, geography, manpower, strategic depth, and greater cost tolerance. However, none of these attributes give Iran any decisive advantages in a contest with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is neither helpless nor without military options. While it is easy to start a war with Iran, it is anything but to finish it. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would have to think hard about the capabilities of the Saudi military and the resilience of Saudi society before embarking on such a risky course. In any war dynamic between Iran and Saudi Arabia, U.S. military intervention or support would be the most decisive exogenous factor for both Riyadh and Tehran. The United States has a security commitment to Saudi Arabia, but the extent to which Washington can tolerate subtle Iranian aggression against the kingdom that falls below the threshold of conventional warfare, while potentially upending Saudi stability, is unclear.
  • Topic: Security, Military Affairs, Conflict, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America