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The Iran Primer

Latest on the Race: Heir Apparent Esfandiar Mashaei

Kourosh Rahimkhani

      Although never elected to office, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei has become a major political figure as chief of staff to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is also one of Iran’s most controversial politicians. Ahmadinejad appointed him vice-president in 2009, but the political backlash and opposition from Iran’s supreme leader forced him to resign within days.
      In May 2013, Mashaei was one of more than 500 candidates who registered to run for the presidency. He is widely viewed as Ahmadinejad’s political heir—and an attempt to keep the faction in power. The two men are also related by marriage. In 2008, Mashaei’s daughter married Ahmadinejad’s oldest son. Kourosh Rahamkhani profiles Mashaei.
Does Mashaei have a base of support among the general population?
            Mashaei shares several characteristics with a new generation of political elites. Most were born in villages and small towns. They were young during the 1979 revolution. They have not emerged from the traditional conservative establishment. Many have backgrounds in the Revolutionary Guards or security forces, fostering a “military-security” political class. Finally, few have so far held elected office. But it is difficult to assess how much appeal Mashaei has among the general population. Some of the president’s allies are concerned that Mashaei’s rhetoric has the potential to become popular.

How is Mashaei perceived among Iran’s political elite?
            Mashaei’s statements have provoked the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qom as well as traditional conservatives in the regime. In 2007, Mashaei—then the vice president and head of the Cultural Heritage Organization—angered top clerics and politicians by attending an event in Turkey where women performed a traditional dance. In 2008, he hosted a ceremony in which some women played tambourines and others carried Korans. “It is people who do not understand music who say it is haram [forbidden by Islamic law],” he said.
            He has also sparked controversies over statements about everything from Biblical history to foreign affairs. If the Prophet Noah “had had good managerial skills, other prophets would not have appeared after him,” he reportedly said. He also pronounced, “Without Iran, Islam would be lost.” On current events, he once said, “Iranians are friends of Israelis.”
            His daring comments and actions have pushed the envelope of the Islamic Republic’s officially sanctioned values. Many clerics consider his remarks on religious affairs to be encroaching on their territory and dismissing them as uninformed or even heretical.
            Even fervent supporters of Ahmadinejad have criticized Mashaei. Hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi branded Mashaei’s statements “erroneous and inappropriate.” In 2009, the supreme leader’s representative on the hardline newspaper Keyhan accused Mashaei of being an agent of the “velvet revolution.” General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced Mashaei’s remarks as a “deviation” that undermined national security and against the principles of the Islamic Republic.
What is his background?
            Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei was born in 1960 in a northern Iranian village. He participated in his town’s revolutionary rallies as an 18-year-old and studied electrical engineering at Isfahan University after the revolution. In 1981, Mashaei joined the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit after the Mujahedeen-e Khalq instigated an armed campaign against the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq War. He was later dispatched to Kurdistan, where Kurdish militants were battling forces loyal to the newly formed Islamic Republic. Mashaei championed a cultural-propaganda campaign, rather than a purely coercive counterinsurgency, to deal with the Kurds.
            In 1984, Mashaei joined the Intelligence Ministry in Kurdistan, where he met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then governor of the northwestern city of Khoy. The two men developed a close friendship that has endured almost three decades.
            In 1986, Mashaei was appointed director of an Intelligence Ministry department that dealt with ethnic issues in sensitive regions. He left Kurdistan to help formulate a national strategy. In 1993, he became head of the Interior Ministry’s Social Affairs Department under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.  After the 1997 victory of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Mashaei left the Interior Ministry and worked for state radio, which is under the direct control of the supreme leader.
            In 2003, Mashaei joined the staff of Tehran’s new mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after he was selected by the conservative municipal council. He headed the city’s cultural-artistic affairs organization. Among his controversial initiatives, Mashaei proposed building a major thoroughfare to prepare for the arrival of the twelfth Shiite Imam—the Mahdi or “Hidden Imam”—who disappeared in the ninth century. The Mahdi will return as a messiah as the world comes to an end, according to Shiite eschatology.
            After Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, Mashaei became a major player in his cabinet, serving as the president’s chief of staff. They also now have family ties. In 2008, Mashaei’s daughter married Ahmadinejad’s oldest son.
What role has Mashaei played in Iranian politics?
            Under Ahmadinejad’s patronage, Mashaei has gained more influence in the cabinet, and many see him as the president’s second-in-command. But since 2005, he has also emerged as one of the most controversial figures in the Iranian government. He has been at the center of internal battles between Ahmadinejad’s circle and conservatives known as principlists, who feel the president is veering from the revolution’s early principles.
            Mashaei has held other key positions on both domestic and foreign affairs. Besides chief of staff, he has been the president’s adviser for Middle Eastern affairs; vice president of the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad; and the secretary of the administration’s cultural committee.
            Mashaei is often blamed for formulating apocalyptic and religious-nationalistic themes prominent in Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. Ahmadinejad has urged Iranians to actively pave the way for the coming of the Mahdi. The two themes have been widely viewed as an attempt to build a new constituency among the young and the poor. Ahmadinejad’s messianic interpretation differs from popular Shiite mythology and diminishes the role of Shiite clerics.
            As clerics are falling out of favor in Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad’s opponents are concerned that his rhetoric of “principlists minus the clergy” will become more popular and enhance hardliners around the president.
President Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei vice president in 2009, but he lasted only one week. What happened, and why the controversy?
            President Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei as his first vice president on July 17, 2009 after the disputed June presidential election. The appointment angered many top clerics and other allies of Ahmadinejad. The appointment reportedly increased tensions within the administration. At one cabinet meeting, four ministers clashed with the president over Mashaei’s appointment. On July 24, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei overruled Ahamdinejad’s appointment and Mashaei was forced to resign.
            The Iranian constitution states that the first vice president has the duty to lead cabinet meetings in the absence of the president. He also succeeds the president—with approval of the supreme leader—if the president dies or becomes incapable of performing his duties. Ahmadinejad’s critics suggested that the president was manipulating the post-election turmoil to insert his right-hand man into the center of power. In the end, however, Mashaei’s opponents had enough leverage to block his appointment. Ahmadinejad instead appointed Mashaei his chief of staff.
What is Mashaei’s relationship with Ahmadinejad, and why is the president so supportive of him?
            Mashaei has been viewed as a man surrounded by controversy, and his relationship with President Ahmadinejad has been an enigma to the president’s conservative allies. Ahmadinejad once said he had “a thousand reasons” to support Mashaei and that there was “no convincing” reason for the attacks on him. “One of the virtues and glories God has bestowed on me in life was to become acquainted with this great, honest, and pious man,” Adhmadinejad said.

What positions has Mashaei taken on Iran’s most critical domestic and foreign policy issues, such as negotiations over the nuclear program?
            Mashaei generally echoes the president’s views on Iran’s nuclear program. There is no sign of disagreement between them. But both men have distanced themselves from core fundamentalist policies in Iran, including the hejab (Islamic dress) and police crackdowns on styles of dress considered un-Islamic.

Kourosh Rahimkhani is an independent scholar specializing in Iranian affairs. He worked as a journalist for a number of reformist newspapers in Iran before moving to the United States.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

Latest on the Race: Mashaei on the Issues

      Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei is the most controversial of the 686 candidates who have registered to run for president. He shares President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s populist and nationalist outlook on all key issues. The following are excerpts from various interviews and public remarks.

Nuclear Energy
            “The nuclear issue is the symbol of Iranians' resistance… Arrogant and bullying powers show too much resistance against this inalienable right of the Iranian nation [to a peaceful nuclear energy program].” October 23, 2013 according to Fars News Agency
            “Our motto in Tehran was nuclear weapons for none. But in the United States, President Obama said, ‘We should maintain our arsenal of nuclear weapons.’ They are like cowboys. They just play with their guns and they want to bring peace by doing so. Can they offer peace to the world with a knife? The West is a big liar…
            So we have been accused that maybe we [will] decide in the future to divert to a weapons program. Who is upset about it? The one who has the bombs now.” In a May 4, 2010 interview with The New Yorker
The United States
            “They [Americans] know that talk of our making a nuclear bomb is a lie. They know that Iran is not undertaking a nuclear weapons program. They want to see us all the time being dependent on oil. That way they can control us by changing the oil prices all the time. But nuclear energy can reduce such pressures in Iran. And we are not going to compromise our rights whatsoever.” In a May 4, 2010 interview with The New Yorker
Human Rights
            “The West has a double-standard approach toward human rights. They try to use it like a political tool. If something happens in Iran, they write about it for many months and talk about [it] on television, radio, newspapers…
            We believe the West is not defending human rights. Look at the situation in our region, in the Middle East. Many countries are not democratic, and nobody is talking against them in the West. In Iran, in the past 31 years we had about 30 elections. Now compare the rights enjoyed by Iranian women with the rights in other countries. Why aren’t we talking about the women’s situation in those countries? Why is there no interest on the part of the Western mass media to talk about this?” In a May 4, 2010 interview with The New Yorker
President Ahmadinejad
            “Today, Ahmadinejad is the most popular figure in Iran --- more than ever. His great sin is that he managed to knock down many inside and outside Iran.” In a May 2013 speech according to Khabar Online
            "The level of compliance by Dr. Ahmadinejad's administration with the honored leader of the Revolution [Ayatollah Khamenei] is not comparable to any past administration." March 24 in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)
Palestinian Issue
            “The position that I have always taken is that Palestinians must continue to fight for their rights and the return of their land.” In a September 2008 letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei according to Press TV
            “Without Iran, Islam would be lost…We want to present the truth of Islam to the world…Countries are scared of Iran, because the truth of Islam is here.” August 2010 according to Mehr News Agency
His eligibility to run
            “I received my qualification from heaven and need no qualification from the Guardian Council [to run for president].” At a May 2013 meeting with government figures, according to the Young Journalists Club
Drug Trafficking
            “Most of the executions [in Iran] are of major drug traffickers who are involved in big drug business… They are threatening people’s lives, threatening the lives of our young people with drugs. And we are sending our soldiers to the border with Afghanistan to stop this, and they are getting killed. When we arrest those traffickers, should we give them some prize for their actions?” In a May 4, 2010 interview with The New Yorker

Sport I:Iran and US Wrestle--in a different way

Garrett Nada

           Iran and the United States have at least one urgent interest in common: Their wrestling federations have teamed up to salvage wrestling for the 2020 Olympics after the Olympic Committee recommended dropping the sport in February 2013. The Iranian and American teams were scheduled to hold two friendly matches ― in New York on May 15 and in Los Angeles on May 19 ― to raise the sport’s profile before the committee makes a final decision in September. The Iranians beat the Americans 6 to 1 in New York.

      But the Iranian team’s first trip to the United States in a decade was cut short. The team abruptly flew back to Tehran on May 16. Iran’s wrestling federation told its U.S. counterpart that the team’s schedule had changed but did not provide further explanation. The Iranians said that they remain committed to keeping wrestling in the Olympics.
      Despite tensions between their governments, the American and Iranian wrestling organizations have developed a unique relationship over the past two decades. Iran’s national team has competed in the United States ten times since 1995.
      U.S. participation in Iran’s 1998 Takhti Cup marked the first visit by an American sports team since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The team has competed in Iran ten other times since then. Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, discusses the U.S.-Iran wrestling relationship.

What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran wrestling relationship?
      We have a positive and strong relationship built on years of competition. The U.S. team has been to Iran 11 times. I have been on four of those tours, and the atmosphere has always been really positive. We have been greeted with open arms. Iranians have shown our athletes a great deal of respect on and off the field of play. Iranians have a high degree of wrestling knowledge, and they appreciate high-level competition. They have been really supportive of our athletes and have cheered them on. Most U.S.-Iran interaction revolves around competitions and exchanges, with the exception of our current joint effort to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympics.
How are Iran and the United States coordinating their efforts to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympics?
            I visited Iran for the freestyle World Cup in mid-February, less than a week after the Olympic committee recommended dropping wrestling. After I landed in Tehran, I immediately started talking to my Iranian counterparts about ways to collaborate.
            The international wrestling federation and 177 nations, including Iran and the United States, have launched a coordinated effort to retain wrestling as an Olympic sport. Our two federations are hosting the Los Angeles and New York matches in conjunction with “World Wrestling Month.”
What difference do matches like these have on diplomacy with Iran? What is the role of sports between nations?
            Sports are a force for good. They bring people together. And interaction increases understanding and lowers barriers. Love of sports is a commonality even among nations that see things differently in terms of politics and religion.
            “Ping-pong diplomacy” had a positive impact on the U.S.-China relationship in the early 1970s. The exchange of players helped pave the way for President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing.
            Wrestling in particular is one of the best sports to provide the opportunity for collaboration. The upcoming exchanges in Los Angeles and New York will feature some intense matchups. But the events are solely about raising wrestling’s profile. The U.S. and Iranian teams want to make a strong case for keeping wrestling in the Olympics.
How do the two teams compare?
      Iran, Russia and the United States have the top three teams in freestyle wrestling. Iran’s team won six medals at the 2012 Olympics, including three golds. Iran has won 38 medals in wrestling since 1948.
      In the 2012 games, the U.S. team took four medals, including two golds. The United States has won 129 medals in wrestling since 1904.
      Iran won the freestyle World Cup in February 2013. Russia took second place, followed by the United States.
How do U.S. and Iranian wrestling styles differ?
            Neither team has a particular style. The great thing about wrestling is that no technique necessarily works better than another. The athletes use a diverse range of styles and skill sets. There are similarities on both sides of the mat. Some wrestlers tend to be very technical, while others focus on their power.
How often do the teams compete? How do the athletes and coaches get along?  
            We meet just about every year at the World Championships, sometimes at World Cups and some other competitions. The United States regularly attends Iran’s annual Takhti Cup. The teams have a mutual respect for each other’s skills.
            The head coaches of the two teams, Zeke Jones and Gholamreza Mohammadi, actually wrestled against each other in the early 1990s. So the rivalry between the two teams has some history.
            The current rivalry dates from the finals of the 2012 Olympics. Jordan Burroughs beat Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi for the gold medal in the 74 kilo weight class.
            One of the most interesting matchups in the upcoming tour will be between 120 kilogram heavyweights Tervel Dlagnev and Komeil Ghasemi. Iran’s Ghasemi beat Dlagnev for the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. 
            Friendly meets and exchanges provide opportunities for interactions off the mat, including occasional team meals together. But for the most part, athletes from both teams tend to stay in competition mode and focus on the matches.
Iran’s wrestling team has competed in the United States ten times:
1995 World Championships in Atlanta, Georgia
1995 World Cup in Chattanooga, Tennessee
1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia
1998 Junior World Championships in Primm, Nevada
1998 World Cup in Stillwater, Oklahoma
1998 Goodwill Games in New York City, New York 
1999 World Cup in Spokane, Washington
2000 World Cup in Fairfax, Virginia
2001 World Cup in Baltimore, Maryland
2003 World Championships in New York City, New York
Rich Bender is the executive director of USA Wrestling.
Photo Credits: Jordan Burroughs and Sadegh Goudarzi at the 2012 Olympics, courtesy of USA Wrestling.
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


Sport II: The Basketball Bridge

Garrett Nada

      For more than a decade, Iran has looked to the United States to improve its caliber of basketball. In 2000, the national team even hired American coach Gary LeMoine. Since then, dozens of Americans ― reportedly 37 during one season ― have played on Iranian teams. Jonas Lalehzadeh is among the best-known.
      Since 2011, the six-foot-five-inch point guard from California has played for the national team and two professional clubs in the Super League, Iran’s equivalent of the National Basketball Association. He was the league’s top scorer in the 2012-2013 season.
      Lalehzadeh has ties to both cultures, which makes him unusual among the Americans who play ball in Iran. His Iranian parents were completing their degrees in the United States during the 1979 revolution and decided to stay. He was born in 1989. He grew up in southern California, but was immersed in Persian culture and spoke Farsi at home. He had hoped to play professional basketball in the United States, but didn’t get drafted. So he turned to his parent’s homeland. In an interview, he discussed his experience playing basketball and living in Iran as an American.

What role can sports play in diplomacy? What do American and Iranians have in common on basketball?
          Sports can transcend political differences. American and Iranians both love basketball. Many young Iranians are diehard National Basketball Association (NBA) fans. They do whatever it takes to watch American games online. And they know their favorite players’ statistics by heart. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have huge followings. The NBA’s only Iranian player, Hamed Haddadi of the Phoenix Suns, also has many fans. Iranians recognize the talent of American players and consider them among the world’s best.
What is the role of foreign players in Iran?
      Foreign players, especially Americans, are not only expected to score a lot of points. They are also expected to teach fundamentals to their Iranian teammates and improve their team’s overall ability. Some teams rely heavily on the performance of their foreign players, who are paid up to three times more than their Iranian teammates.
      As a result, Iran imposes a rule on how many foreigners can play at the same time. During the regular season, each team is allowed to have only one foreign player on the floor at a time. Two are allowed on the court during the playoffs. But most teams have only one foreigner.
How is the level of play in Iran? How do Iranian and U.S. styles differ?
            Iran has one of the best national teams in Asia. It’s won the Asia Championship twice. The level of play has improved significantly over the last decade. Iranians train just as hard as their U.S. counterparts. Friday is the only day off, so they train twice a day, six days a week.
            In Iranian basketball, big men play with more finesse and move more fluidly. In the United States, the big players focus on power. I have played off guard and point guard in Iran. Iranian guards are more physical than their American counterparts because international rules allow them to be more aggressive.
How did you end up playing professional basketball in Iran? What teams have you played for and what competitions have you participated in?
            I played basketball for my high school. I had a walk-on spot on the University of California at Irvine’s team in 2008. I played for three seasons.
            In one of the most unusual diplomatic outreach efforts, the State Department and the NBA invited Iran’s national basketball team to play in a summer league hosted by the Utah Jazz. The Iranian team played four games in the U.S. summer league to prepare for the 2008 Olympics. My father contacted the Iranians and told them about me. I went to Utah and trained with the team for a few days. The Iranian coaches were impressed and wanted me to play for Iran in the Olympics. But there was not enough time to get my visa.
            The Iranian team later invited me to play for the senior national team in 2011. So I skipped my senior season at Irvine and played in international tournaments for the Iranian team in Portugal and Hungary. 
            I decided to stay in Iran to get more playing experience at the professional level. I signed with Petrochimi Bandar Imam (a professional team) for the 2011-2012 Super League season. The team is based in Bandar Imam, a small town in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran. I helped take the team to the Super League national finals for the first time in eight years. But we did not win.
            I then played for another team, Petrochimi Mahshar, in the 2012-2013 season. We made it to the playoffs despite the team’s low budget. I was the league’s high scorer during the regular season, averaging about 20.6 points per game.
            I was also invited to play for the senior national team, which is drawn from players on many Iranian teams, in the West Asia Basketball Association Championship in February 2013. We beat Lebanon in overtime and won the regional championship. The victory qualified Iran for the Asia Cup, which is scheduled for August 2013 in the Philippines.
How were you received in Iran? How was the transition?
            I grew up speaking Farsi with my parents and was already familiar with Persian customs and holidays. Iranians are very warm and hospitable, so they treated me as a guest at first. Learning about my parent’s home country was just as important to me as playing professional basketball.
            In Iran, print journalists and television media were interested in how I ended up playing in Iran, given political tensions with United States. I felt like an ambassador at times when answering questions about basketball and life in the United States. Many Iranians told me they think highly of Americans despite tension between Tehran and Washington. I was proud to represent both countries.
What are your plans and goals?
      I will do whatever it takes to get into the NBA. I might need to keep playing in Iran to gain more experience. I would also consider playing in Europe or the NBA development league.
      I have really appreciated the opportunity to play basketball and learn more about Iranian culture. My 47,000 Facebook fans and 9,000 Twitter followers have learned a bit about Iran while following my journey. I actually have not spent that much time in Tehran. The professional teams I have played for are based in Khuzestan, a province populated by many Arabs. I have enjoyed experiencing each province’s unique cultural, culinary and linguistic mix.


Sport I: Iran and US Wrestle in a Different Way 

Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

Report: Obstacles to Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

            The United States may be pressed to adopt a containment strategy if efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran fail, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security. U.S. intelligence officials have testified that Tehran has not yet decided whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons. But Iran “may be able to achieve an unstoppable breakout capability or develop nuclear weapons in secret before preventative measures have been exhausted,” the report warns. The authors, including Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2010, outline a strategy for the potential “day after” Iran gets a bomb. The following are excerpts, followed by a link to the full text.

            Although the United States is not likely to acquiesce to the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, Tehran may be able to achieve an unstoppable breakout capability or develop nuclear weapons in secret before preventive measures have been exhausted. Alternatively, an ineffective military strike could produce minimal damage to Iran’s nuclear program while strengthening Tehran’s motivation to acquire the bomb. Under any of these scenarios, Washington would likely be forced to shift toward containment regardless of current preferences…
The strategy would seek to advance 11 core objectives:
• Prevent direct Iranian use of nuclear weapons;
• Prevent Iranian transfer of nuclear weapons to terrorists;
• Limit and mitigate the consequences of Iranian sponsorship of conventional terrorism, support for militant groups and conventional aggression;
• Discourage Iranian use of nuclear threats to coerce other states or provoke crises;
• Dissuade Iranian escalation during crises;
• Discourage Iran from adopting a destabilizing nuclear posture that emphasizes early use of nuclear weapons or pre-delegates launch authority;
• Persuade Israel to eschew a destabilizing nuclear posture that emphasizes early use of nuclear weapons or hair-trigger launch procedures;
• Convince other regional states not to pursue nuclear weapons capabilities;
• Limit damage to the credibility of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.S. nonproliferation leadership;
• Prevent Iran from becoming a supplier of sensitive nuclear materials; and
• Ensure the free flow of energy resources from the Persian Gulf.
To achieve these objectives, containment would integrate five key components: deterrence, defense, disruption, de-escalation and denuclearization. Each of these “five Ds,” in turn, would entail a number of specific policies, activities and resource commitments.
Deterrence would attempt to prevent Iranian nuclear use and aggression through credible threats of retaliation by:
• Strengthening U.S. declaratory policy to explicitly threaten nuclear retaliation in response to Iranian nuclear use and strengthening commitments to defend U.S. allies and partners;
• Engaging in high-level dialogue with regional partners to extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella in exchange for commitments not to pursue independent nuclear capabilities;
• Evaluating options for the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear forces;
• Providing Israel with a U.S. nuclear guarantee and
engaging Israeli leaders on steps to enhance the
credibility of their nuclear deterrent; and
• Improving nuclear forensics and attribution capabilities
to deter nuclear terrorism.
Defense would aim to deny Iran the ability to benefit from its nuclear weapons and to protect U.S. partners and allies from aggression by:
• Bolstering U.S. national missile defense capabilities;
• Improving the ability to detect and neutralize nuclear weapons that might be delivered by terrorists;
• Improving network resilience to reduce the threat posed by Iranian cyber attacks;
• Maintaining a robust U.S. conventional presence in the Persian Gulf and considering additional missile defense and naval deployments;
• Increasing security cooperation and operational integration activities with Gulf countries, especially
in the areas of shared early warning, air and missile defense, maritime security and critical infrastructure protection; and
• Increasing security cooperation with Israel, especially assistance and collaboration to improve Israel’s rocket and missile defenses.
Disruption activities would seek to shape a regional environment resistant to Iranian influence and to thwart and diminish Iran’s destabilizing activities by:
• Building Egyptian and Iraqi counterweights to Iranian influence through strategic ties with Cairo and Baghdad, leveraging assistance to consolidate democratic institutions and encourage related reform;
• Promoting evolutionary political reform in the Gulf;
• Increasing assistance to non-jihadist elements of the Syrian opposition and aiding future political transition efforts;
• Increasing aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces as a long-term check on Hezbollah;
• Continuing to assist Palestinian security forces and institution building while promoting an
Israeli-Palestinian accord;
• Enhancing counterterrorism cooperation and activities against the Iranian threat network, including expanded U.S. authorities for direct action;
• Expanding collaboration with partners to interdict Iranian materials destined for proxies such as Hezbollah; and
• Aggressively employing financial and law enforcement instruments to target key individuals within the Iranian threat network.
De-escalation would attempt to prevent Iran-related crises from spiraling to nuclear war by:
• Shaping Iran’s nuclear posture through a U.S. “nofirst-use” pledge;
• Persuading Israel to eschew a preemptive nuclear doctrine and other destabilizing nuclear postures;
• Establishing crisis communication mechanisms with Iran and exploring confidence-building measures;
• Limiting U.S. military objectives in crises and conflicts with Iran to signal that regime change is not the goal of U.S. actions; and
• Providing the Iranian regime with “face-saving” exit ramps during crisis situations.
Denuclearization activities would seek to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program and limit broader damage to the nonproliferation regime by:
• Maintaining and tightening sanctions against Iran; and
• Strengthening interdiction efforts, including the Proliferation Security Initiative, to limit Iran’s access to nuclear and missile technology and stop Iran from horizontally proliferating sensitive technologies to other states and non-state actors.
            If these steps are carried out, effective containment is possible. But it would be highly complex and far from foolproof. The residual dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran would be meaningful, and the consequences of a failure of containment would be profound. The success of the strategy would also depend on numerous factors that Washington can influence but not control, including the preferences of the Iranian regime, the decisions of key allies and partners and the degree of international cooperation in support of containment…
More resources by Colin Kahl:

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