1. Executive Summary
- Iran’s security strategy in the Middle East has mainly been directed by ruling domestic actors, mostly conservative political leadership led by Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Mentioned actors represent a leading force behind the Shia Crescent that stretches through allied territories with presence of Hezbollah and Houthis as well as Shia-led regimes in Iraq and Syria. The crucial determinants of Iran’s security strategy have been both domestic, such as Khomeinism and related spread of the Islamic revolution across the region, and external, such as Sunni-Shia rivalry, Iran-Israel proxy war, or strengthening the role of Russia and Turkey.
- The last decade saw the emergence of two informal alliances between Iran and Shia proxies on the one side and Israel, the US, and Sunni monarchies led by Saudi Arabia on the other. Russia and Turkey tend to be more pragmatic and have established a cooperation with both sides, though the one with Iran has been preferred in recent years.
- Iran’s strengths encompass its military strength, the coherence of the Shia alliance, and the proven military capabilities of Iran and its proxies. Its weaknesses include conventional military weakness, considerable war attrition, and the pragmatic nature of the alliance with Russia and Turkey. A strengthening of this alliance would be an opportunity along with further exploitation of existing alliances within the Shia Crescent. Iran is primarily threatened by potential collapse of some proxies, most probably either Shia-dominated regime in Iraq or Houthis in Yemen, and limited strikes by Israel and the US.
- Iran’s security goals and actions are linked primarily with two critical ongoing security issues: 1) A direct confrontation with the anti-Iranian coalition, and 2) A persistence of the Shia Crescent.
- Systemic changes in Iran are very unlikely, while considerable changes in strategy are probable only if Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the US would radically change their stances. Especially the US would be instrumental in changing the general line towards Tehran, though any rapprochement seems improbable now when the US strike targeted Qasem Soleimani. The same line as nowadays will persist in the foreseeable future.