The Arab uprisings shattered the conventional military balance between Iran and the United States in the Middle East, according to an updated report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The two countries have since strengthened relationships with both state and non-state actors to “project power and shape the broader regional balance of power.” Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan are key arenas of strategic competition. The following are excerpts from the report, with a link to the full text at the end.
The Islamic Republic has developed strong ties with Syria and non-state actors in the region, including the Lebanese Shi'a group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas Islamist movement, in what Iranian and Syrian leaders have dubbed the "Resistance Axis." Iran continues to exploit Arab-Israeli tensions in ways that make it an active barrier to a lasting Arab-Israeli peace, while the US must deal with Arab hostility to its strategic partnership with Israel. At the same time, both the US and Iran face new uncertainties in dealing with Egypt, Syria, and the wave of unrest in the Arab world.
At the same time, both the US and Iran face an unprecedented level of policy instability in the Levant, and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, that affects every aspect of their regional competition. At present, no one can predict the outcome in any given case. Even the short term impact of changes in regimes is not predictable, nor is how they will affect the underlying drivers of regional tensions. It is particularly dangerous to ignore the risk of replacing one form of failed governance with another one, and the prospect of years of further political instability or upheavals.
Syria has been a challenge for US policy-makers for decades. Yet the current round of instability, an increasingly corrosive and sectarian civil war and the growing role of jihadi and militant Islamist groups are unprecedented. While the US may be poised to grant the Syrian opposition with formal recognition, Washington is less likely to enact a coherent strategy in the short term. This in turn informs the future pace and form of competition with Iran over Syria.
Lebanon has been relatively stable during the current period of upheaval, however, local Sunni-Shiite competition mirrors and overlaps with broader regional competition between Sunni Arab states and Iran. As Syria's civil war deepens there are real risks of instability further spillover effects. However, there are also opportunities to manage security politics in the Levant that the US should not ignore.
The place and role of the Palestinians in US policy and competition with Iran are also part and parcel of US-Iranian competition over Israel. While differences remains between the US and Fatah about the best approaches to achieve Palestinian statehood, the core challenge the US will face remains in dealing with an ascendant Hamas and the possibility the group could make further gains politically in the years ahead. How the US recalibrates or adapts to this will either benefit or undermine Iranian influence among the Palestinians.
Lastly, US policy towards Egypt and Jordan are driven by a number of common factors that have impacted whether or not these two key US allies become exposed to Iranian influence and interference. Patterns of regional instability are likely to last for years and Syria's civil war will undermine the stability of peripheral states, including Jordan. The US must continue to work with regional allies - especially states within the Gulf Cooperation Council - to stave off the socio-economic and political effects of instability on both Egypt and Jordan.
Click here for Part I, “The Military and Asymmetric Dimensions of Regional Instability"
Click here for Part II, “The Proxy Way in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Syria”
Iran’s potential decision to build a nuclear weapon may be the key variable in the future stability of the Middle East, according to a new report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council. “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” predicts that Tehran’s decision to build a nuclear weapon or retain the capability to develop one would trigger a dangerous arms race in the region. Saudi Arabia and Turkey would likely start their own nuclear programs. Sunni-Shiite and Arab-Persian tensions could easily spillover.
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On December 8, Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns said that the United States is ready for negotiations if Iran is “serious about meeting its international obligations” on its nuclear program. He spoke at the Manama Dialogue, a regional security summit convened by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Government officials, businesspeople, economists and strategic thinkers from across the world attended the dialogue. The following is an excerpt from Burns’ statement.
The United States and the international community remain committed to maintaining pressure on the Iranian regime until it fully addresses concerns about its nuclear program. That’s why today I am pleased to announce that China, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Taiwan have again qualified for an exception to sanctions outlined in Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, based on additional reductions in the volume of their crude oil purchases from Iran. As a result, I will report to the Congress that exceptions to sanctions pursuant to Section 1245 of the NDAA for certain transactions will apply to the financial institutions based in these countries for a potentially renewable period of 180 days.
A total of 20 countries and economies have continued to significantly reduce the volume of their crude oil purchases from Iran. According to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration report to Congress, Iran’s oil production fell by one million barrels per day in September and October 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. This has reduced Iran’s export volumes and oil revenues, which fund not only the nuclear program but its support for terror and destabilizing actions in the region. The message to the Iranian regime from the international community is clear: take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community through negotiations with the P5+1, or face increasing isolation and pressure.
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Presidential Determination Pursuant to Section 1245(d)(4)(B) and (C) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012
Today the President made the determination required under Section 1245(d)(4)(B) and (C) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 regarding the supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran.
The analysis contained in the Energy Information Administration’s report of October 25, 2012, indicates that although production disruptions continue to remove some oil from the market and the international response to concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities may have increased demand for non-Iranian crude oil, production increases in other countries and weaker demand growth overall have mitigated oil market tightness to a degree.
There currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil, taking into account current estimates of demand, increased production by countries other than Iran, inventories of crude oil and petroleum products, and available strategic petroleum reserves. In this context, it is notable that many purchasers of Iranian crude oil have reduced their purchases or announced they are in productive discussions with alternative suppliers.
On December 7, the State Department warned that U.S. citizens may be subject to “harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran.” Dual national Iranian-Americans could face additional obstacles because Tehran does not recognize their American citizenship. The following is an excerpt from the travel warning.
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. Dual national Iranian-American citizens may encounter difficulty in departing Iran. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel. This replaces the Travel Warning for Iran issued April 27, 2012 to add additional contact information for the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran.
The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran. The range of consular services provided by the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is limited and may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. Embassies or Consulates. The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals.
The Islamists Are Coming
The Islamists Are Coming, edited by Robin Wright, surveys the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.
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