However Iran and Turkey often have competing ambitions including regional preeminence, a complicated historical relationship, and religious and political differences that signify natural competition. Iran has previously manipulated them in order to achieve its regional, political, or strategic objectives.. Iran has supported Hamas for decades, and in Egypt Iran has pushed to empower the Muslim Brotherhood as its main political ally. The Islamic regime will challenge US interests in the region by seeking to fill the political vacuum left by the withdrawal of American forces in the region and resulting reduction of US presence.
Iran also pursues cooperation with states on the geographic and strategic periphery of US-Iranian competition. Primarily through economic partnerships and anti-Western commonalities, Iran attempts to create a network to lessen the blow of international sanctions and garner general support for Iran. Though many of the countries Iran seeks to cooperate with are militarily and economically weak, by casting its net wide Tehran aims to build an array of partners to balance against Western dominance of the global order.
Analyzing US and Iranian Competition The chapters that follow build upon these themes and provide a net assessment of US competition with Iran, focusing on each major aspect of the present and probable future nature of that competition. Each chapter concludes with detailed recommendations on how US policymakers should shape their competition with Iran — focusing on medium and long-term objectives, as well as near-term policy.
The analysis does not attempt to provide a detailed history of US and Iranian relations — important as history is in understanding the forces that shape the actions and perceptions of each side. It draws upon previous CSIS and Burke Chair analyses of these issues and trends, and provides an assessment of both the current state of competition and US and Iranian options. As noted earlier in this chapter, the prospects for outside regime change simply seem too limited.
The probability of internal regime change is too unpredictable, and analyses of the Iranian power structure did not reveal the kind of fractures that seem likely to produce anything more than speculation. No one should dismiss the possibility that a shift in the top-level leadership of Iran, or a broader popular uprising, could bring change. In producing the current report, however, it became clear that this was both a separate area of focus and one that required a level of speculation outside the framework of this study Finally, the reader should be aware that this work is the product of a series of draft analyses that have been circulated for comment.
Each draft has been reviewed during informal briefings, meetings, reviews, and other dialogues. This has included informal discussion with a range of US officials, officers, policy makers, and intelligence experts, as well as visits to the region and similar discussions with officials and experts in Europe, the Gulf, the Levant, Turkey, Israel, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The results, however, represent the views of the authors and have not been subject to any outside approval or coordination.
Cordesman Adam Seitz. Competition between the US and Iran is not a new phenomenon. They sought to push the US out of the Gulf and make Iran the dominant power in the region. Moreover, the US at least in-part supplied Iraq the chemical and biological weapons it used against Iran, which led Iran to develop its own programs and to renew its nuclear efforts — although they continued to be described as peaceful programs.
Moreover, Iran expanded the scope of its activities involving Hezbollah and Hamas. It also expanded the use of the Quds force after its creation and use in the Iran-Iraq War. This military competition is critical to both the security of the Gulf and Israel, and the stable flow of world oil exports.
The recent unrest in the region has heightened competition to influence the outcome of any transition, or lack thereof, which takes place. Figure II. S would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing its war with Iran. In July, the US mistakenly shot down an Iranian commercial jet, killing civilians. Shortly afterwards, President Clinton extends ban on US oil contracts with Iran, accusing it of continuing to support international terrorism. The overture was dismissed by the US.
Many in the US question the origin, intent, and sincerity of the letter. The US dismisses the report as "impossible to believe". No significant progress occurred; Iran reportedly viewed Powell as a lame duck with no real power. Russia backs Tehran, and signs a deal to supply fuel to Iran's Bushehr reactor.
President Bush states, "It has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who Ahmadinejad dismisses the claims as an "excuses to prolong the stay" of US forces. President Ahmadinejad calls the report a "great victory". President Bush says that Iran should reveal the full extent of its nuclear program, or risk further international isolation. Iran released a video which shows no sign of any threat and a senior US official later said the radio threat may have been a misread signal originating from elsewhere.
Soon after the US and EU disclose intelligence regarding the plant. The following month, Iran agrees to a UN deal to ship Iranian uranium to Russia to be enriched and then to France to produce fuel. Ultimately, Iran backs out. The Obama administration has sent senior emissaries to all of the countries bordering Afghanistan, except Iran. On November 28, explosions rock a uranium enrichment facility outside of Isfahan.
Although Iranian officials claim the event was an accident, the timing of these events makes such a conclusion unlikely. Types and Levels of Competition It is important to note the broad levels of competition that are shaping US and Iranian policy. Each of these forms of competition is interactive with the others and each has a major impact on how the US and Iran compete.
Ideology, Religion, and Political Systems The US concepts of rule of law, religion and state, and human rights differ sharply from Iran. Moreover, the US has advantages in its secular orientation. The US faces problems in attempting to export its concepts of human rights and democracy, but these concepts have powerful popular support in the region. Many Muslims see religion as a matter of faith and conscience with the role of the state focusing on security, development, justice, and secular values.
Typically these thinkers are nationalistic, not religiously motivated, and are not considered Islamists. Iran makes use of state organizations like the Quds force, and uses diplomacy and trade as cover for coercive measures reinforced by manipulating foreign aid, arms sales, and religious activities. It is questionable that Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism; however, there is little doubt that Iranian-backed groups in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza use terrorist tactics and pose direct and indirect threats to the agenda of the US and its allies.
At a minimum, the US competes in the form of counterterrorism operations, military sales, and foreign aid. This aspect of US-Iranian competition involves a complex mix of third parties and competing interests. Various hardline and extremist movements attempt to exploit Iran as much as Iran attempts to exploit them. All of the Arab Gulf states have to deal with different levels of threats, and does so in different ways. Each has a different set of interests balancing its relations with the US and Iran. It seeks to maximize its oil, gas, and product export income, and does not show the concern that states like Saudi Arabia have in placing some limits on oil prices as a way of maintaining long term markets and.
It builds greater dependence on Iranian resources among a greater number of nations — preferably those with international leverage. Iran uses energy deals, its trading status and imports, and the politics of sanctions — claiming they are illegitimate and hurt the Iranian people, to counter the US in this aspect of competition.
This not only involves major energy investors, but countries like Turkey where energy pipelines and gas imports are involved. The US counters by persuading other petroleum exporters to stabilize prices and supplies, using diplomatic channels to expose Iran and lobby for international pressure, and implementing unilateral sanctions.
The US seeks to put pressure on Iran through international isolation. It has worked with Europe, Japan, South Korea and other major trading partners of Iran to limit their energy deals, while working with Russian and China to limit arms sales. The US has backed Russian fuel deals, including fuel swaps, and worked with the EU to offer Iran incentives as well as penalties. Iran has agreed to and recanted various agreements, but has shown greater willingness when agreements are made on its own terms, or with non-aligned nations.
Iran has repeatedly asserted the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program and warned that the nuclear issue could lead to conflict and supply interruptions. The US has warned that military options remain on the table, while Israel and Iran periodically exchange threats. This aspect of US-Iranian competition involves conflicting interests within a number of major powers. China wants stable energy, is wary of breaching sovereignty, and supports a balance of power within the international community. Russia has similar interests, as do energy firms in countries like France. Trade and broader efforts to limit US influence are influential factors.
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Both fear the instability brought by a nuclear Iran and from an attack to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities. Arms control, Exports, and Imports A fine line separates direct military competition from competition in arms control, arms exports, and arms imports. It also works with other powers, from North Korea to Venezuela, in cooperating in military technology and arms production, and has been involved in complex missile and technology deals with Syria, North Korea, China, and Pakistan.
At the same time, its network of proxy buyers smuggle arms and technology from Europe, the US, and other advanced suppliers. It has attempted to make such limits part of UN sanctions on Iran and worked with a variety of countries in efforts to block arms sales and arms smuggling from the US and other powers. This has actively involved the US in negotiations with third parties like China, Russia, and Switzerland. Russia and China have voiced similar concerns at times. International diplomacy Iran portrays the US as unfair, reckless, imperialist, and pro-Israeli in a wide range of forums from meetings in countries as diverse as Japan and Argentina, to organizations like the UN and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The US sometimes proactively responds and sometimes does not. In general, Iran has steadily expanded the role of its diplomats in these efforts with limited response from the US. Iran continuously works to build opposition to US hegemony and support for its own ambitions and advancement in international circles. This has been done with varying degrees of success and often coincides with the various other forms of competition. This competition occurs in different ways, and goes far beyond war fighting capabilities. Military competition occurs as each seeks to deny the other military options, reinforce containment and deterrence, limit escalation, and increase prestige, credibility, and status, all while attempting to influence the behavior of other states.
Military competition involves conventional forces, asymmetric and irregular warfare, and weapons of mass destruction. Iran is steadily expanding its regular military forces in ways intended to expand its influence, limit US military options, intimidate its neighbors, and increase its power projection capabilities.
So far, Iran has not been able to acquire large numbers of modern armor, combat aircraft, longer-range surface-to-air missiles, and combat ships. Partly because of US efforts, much of its conventional military force is obsolescent or is equipped with less capable types of weapons. Iran has long been in discussions with Russia over advanced modern combat aircraft, surface-toair missiles, and ballistic missile defenses. It actively seeks advanced systems from other countries, and has successfully imported Russian and North Korean submarines, and a variety of Chinese anti-ship missiles.
It has modern Russian homing torpedoes, and may have advanced types of Russian and Chinese mines. The end result is a constant and growing challenge to the US in the Gulf region, particularly in terms. The most direct threat to US and allied interests comes from Iranian efforts to build up military capabilities in the Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman, which if exercised well are capable of closing the Gulf.
Capabilities ranging from free floating mines to small crafts with anti-ship missiles, coupled with potential air attacks on key targets and the use of conventional forces, give Iran the theoretical capacity to close the Gulf for a short period. Any weapon and any type of force can be used in asymmetric, irregular, or hybrid ways — from a terrorist proxy to a nuclear weapon.
Building its military capability enables Iran to carry out low-level attacks and general harassment, with some potential for deniability, over extended periods of time in ways that are difficult to counter, or if countered might seem disproportionate or unjustified. Both can compensate and substitute for the limits of its conventional forces.
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It may become less visible, or be moderated, but the Iranian government has steadily moved away from the promise of change and reform once considered under former President Khatami. Iran has become more extreme in rhetoric and action, and has seen a steady rise in the power and influence of hardline elements of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Even with regime change, Iran still seems likely to challenge the US for influence in many of the same areas. It is dangerous to assume that US-Iranian strategic competition and sporadic low-level use of violence will result in large-scale conflict.
A more stable Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, as well as aspects of counterterrorism and counternarcotics present some avenues for cooperation. The US-Iranian competition occurs without clear limits or rules, while outside players like Israel, and developments in the Arab Awakening can suddenly change the nature of the competition. The current state of US-Iranian competition is challenged by the ongoing developments in the Arab uprisings, mounting pressure on Israel, the US withdrawal from Iraq, a more assertive Saudi Arabia, and the elapsing time before Iran might develop nuclear weapon capability.
There is little doubt that all of the types and levels of US-Iranian competition described here will continue to play out in diverse and evolving ways. Russ W. Riegle, Jr. The Many Faces of Political Islam. Cordesman Alexander Wilner. This analysis was made possible by a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation. It draws on the work of Dr. Ground-Based Air Defenses Iraq in and Asymmetric Capability US Forces in the Gulf Introduction The most threatening form of US and Iranian competition takes place in the military and security arena.
They now threaten to reach the crisis point as Iran produces highly enriched uranium and develops all of the technology necessary to produce nuclear weapons, and as US, European, and UN sanctions become steadily stronger. Their military competition involves a wide range of other states — particularly the Arab Gulf states and Israel. It occurs in ways where each nation, and its allies, seeks to deny the other side military options, and seeks to establish or reinforce containment, deterrence, and limits on escalation.
It is also a competition for military prestige and status, and which seeks to use military forces to influence the behavior of other states.
The US sees Iran as a state that has been vehemently antiAmerican since the fall of the Shah and the founding of the Islamic Republic, which held US embassy employees hostage, and threatens the region, exports terrorism, and exports aid and arms to insurgents and extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It feels Iran seeks to become the dominant power in the region while seeking to expel US power and influence. It sees the US as the cause of growing economic problems and a sanctions regime that could cripple the Iranian economy. The end result is a competition of building and deploying military forces that has now gone on for more than 30 years, and which has occasionally led to direct military action.
Key events include the Iranian hostage crisis , US seizure of Iranian assets, the imposition of sanctions on Iran, and occasional military clashes The most prominent aspect of USIranian rivalry, though, has been the use of proxies. It reflects the fact that Iran has sought to bridge the gap in conventional capability by building a strong capacity asymmetric warfare to defend against attacks and invasion, and the extent of its 5. After it conventional forces suffered tactical defeats at the hands of superior US forces in the Gulf during Operation Praying Mantis , Iran shifted its focus to developing a strong asymmetric capacity that focuses on the use of smart munitions, light attack craft, mines, swarm tactics, and missile barrages to counteract US naval power.
While such assets cannot be used to achieve a decisive victory against US and other forces in a direct confrontation in the Gulf, they are difficult to counter and give Iran the ability to strike at larger conventional forces with little, if any warning. Iran has also created robust nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which have become a focal point of US-Iranian military competition. Iran has now created conventionally armed ballistic missile forces that can strike at US allies and US bases in the region with little warning, and could be configured to carry nuclear warheads if Iran can develop them.
This program may have paused in , but recent reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA and other sources makes it clear that Iran has since made further advances in its capability to produce nuclear weapons, now has all of the technology necessary to produce a nuclear device, and is pursuing warhead designs for its missiles that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons. Iran still claims that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but its lack of cooperation with the IAEA — and the growing range of other indicators that it is developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons — make such claims doubtful.
It is possible that Iran may acquire deliverable nuclear weapons at some point in the next two to five years. The UAE, for example, has received the transfer of advanced Fs. Saudi Arabia has received transfers of billions of dollars of advanced equipment, including AH Apache attack helicopters, M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and FS multirole fighters.
Most Southern Gulf states have advanced version of the Patriot with some missile defense capability and the US has made it clear it will provide more advanced systems in the future. Even since the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Khomeini regime, the US and Europe have refused to provide Iran with new arms sales as well as military technology, parts, and updates for the systems they sold during the time of the Shah.
They have also put continuing pressure on Russia, China and other arms suppliers to limit the transfer of arms. The US and its allies also favored Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, and the US provided substantial support to Iraq in the form of arms sales, intelligence, and technological assistance. Figure III. April — Iran and Saudi Arabia sign a security agreement with the objective of combatting drug trafficking and terrorism.
June — Five years after a truck bomb destroyed the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; a federal grand jury in the US indicts 13 Saudis and one Lebanese for their role in the attack. The indictment states that all were part of Saudi Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. The blast killed 19 US servicemen. October 2 — Six years after it halted arms sales to Iran due to US diplomatic pressure, Russia signs a military agreement with Iran that includes the sale of missiles, fighter aircraft, and other armaments.
However, Iran agrees to perform search and rescue missions for US pilots that crash or are shot down over Iranian soil. September — A CIA report accuses Iran of possessing one of the most active nuclear weapons programs in the world. Moreover, it indicates that Iran is seeking ballistic missile technology from Russia, China, and North Korea. They discover that the ship is carrying 50 tons of arms that Israeli officials believe are intended for Palestinian militant organizations.
January 29 — US president George W. September — Iran begins construction of its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr with the assistance of Russian engineers and technicians. The move prompts strong objections from the US. December — The US accuses Iran of possessing a secret nuclear weapons program centered on two nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak, both of which are under construction at the time. Both countries begin to support insurgent groups in Iraq, and expand bilateral defense cooperation. The offer, however, is not considered seriously by the Bush administration. They are paraded through Tehran and later forced to apologize.
All are released three days later after negotiations. November — Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for trade concessions from Europe. The defense ministers of both countries stated in a joint press conference that the agreement was aimed at consolidating defense efforts and strengthening mutual support.
June 6 — Iran is given observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an intergovernmental mutual security organization that includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Iran later applies for full membership in March , but its admission is blocked by sanctions imposed on it by the UN. Iran lodges a complaint at the UN, and states that it will retaliate against any attack. Iran later offers to hold direct talks with the US regarding Iraq, but withdraws the offer soon after.
May — Iran threatens withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if pressure on its nuclear program escalates following a UN Security Council draft resolution. Later that month, the US offers to join the EU in direct negotiations with Iran if Tehran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment December — The UN Security Council passes a resolution that imposes sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Bush states that he does not intend to attack Iran.
February — Iran denies accusations that it is promoting violence in Iraq. They are released after approximately two weeks. The meeting comes after the Iraqi government holds a security conference attended by regional states and permanent members of the UN Security Council. The talks focus on Iraqi security, and are later followed by more talks in July and November.
The talks, however, do not lead to anything meaningful, and cease after three meetings. Among other things, the shipment includes explosively formed penetrators EFPs. US officials state that the large size of the shipment made is indicative that Iranian officials are at least aware of it. Iran denies the accusations. December — A US intelligence report states that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in , but continued to enrich uranium. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hails the report as an Iranian victory. US president George W. Bush states that Iran risks further isolation if it does not reveal the full extent of its nuclear activities.
Iran protests US espionage against its nuclear activities in a formal letter to the US. Bush accuses Iran of being the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran test fired a new version of its Shahab-3 intermediate range ballistic missile, which Iran states are capable of hitting targets in Israel.
The tests, however, draw attention over allegedly doctored. The launch is seen in the West as veiled research into ballistic missile technology.
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September — Iran admits to constructing the Fordow uranium enrichment facility near Qom, but states that it is for peaceful purposes. September 22 — Iran shows its Shahab-3 and Sajjil ballistic missiles in a military parade. Additionally, it shows off its Russian-built Tor M1 air defense system for the first time. September — Iran tests a number of different ballistic missiles during the Great Prophet 4 war games, including the Tondar, the Shahab-1, the Shahab-2, and the Fateh No group claims responsibility, but the Iranian government claims the US and Israel are behind the attack.
March — Iran and Qatar sign a security agreement to combat terrorism and promote security cooperation. The exercises include the conspicuous use of IRGC fast attack craft armed with anti-ship missiles against larger, static targets. Both the IRGC and the regular navy participate. The games include exercises in chemical and biological warfare, large-scale offensive naval infantry operations, and the use of small, fast-attack patrol craft. August — Iran successfully tests a new version of the Fateh, a short-range ballistic missile with a mile range. In what Iran describes as a milestone in its quest for nuclear energy, technicians begin loading fuel into the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
September — The Stuxnet computer virus is detected in staff computers at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The virus is believed to have been created by a nation state. General Jafari claims the missile is capable of destroying a US aircraft carrier.
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Iran sends two warships through Suez Canal for first time since the Islamic Revolution, in what Israel describes as an act of provocation. Iran denies all involvement. November — Explosions as a result of apparent acts of sabotage on Iranian nuclear and missile sites. On November 28, explosions rocked a uranium enrichment facility outside of Isfahan.
Although Iranian officials claimed the event was an accident, the timing of these events makes such a conclusion unlikely. December — Iran makes increasingly aggressive statements regarding the presence of the US 5 th Fleet in the Gulf, including, but not limited to threatening a US aircraft carrier if it returned to the Gulf. The US seeks to counter Iran by denying it modern conventional arms, improving its own forces and power projection capabilities, and by building up those of friendly Arab Gulf states, particularly those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Iran does have large conventional forces with significant capabilities to threaten and influence its neighbors. It is improving its ability to deter US naval and air operations — as well as potential operations by Israel and other states — and it has significant military options it might use against Iraq, targets in the Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and the GCC states. Moreover, Iran has successfully imported Russian and North Korean submarines and a variety of Chinese anti-ship missiles.
It has modern Russian homing torpedoes and is reported to possess advanced types of Russian and Chinese mines. It also is slowly creating the capability to design and manufacture its own major conventional weapons systems. The US, however, has had considerable success in persuading other states not to sell Iran modern major weapons system, and Iran has been forced to try to produce many of its own systems with only limited success. Iran is still heavily dependent on systems that date back to the time of the Shah and which were worn by the stress of the Iran-Iraq War.
It has had some successes in modernization, but it has not been able to acquire large numbers of modern armor, combat aircraft, longer-range surface-to-air missiles, or major combat ships. Much of the outcome of this aspect of US and Iranian military competition depends on how other nations treat arms sales to Iran. Iran has negotiated with Russia over sales of advanced types of modern combat aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, and ballistic missile defenses. It also actively seeks advanced systems from other countries. The end result is a constant and growing challenge to the US in the Gulf region, particularly in terms of air, missile, and naval warfare, as well as a challenge to the US in providing military support and transfer to the GCC states, Israel, and Iraq.
Asymmetric and irregular warfare: Iran has made major efforts to improve its capability for asymmetric warfare, and to use those forces to pressure, threaten, or attack other powers in ways that the US finds difficult to counter. Any weapon and any type of force can be used in asymmetric, irregular, or hybrid ways—from a terrorist proxy to a nuclear weapon. Iran has already demonstrated its ability to use its forces in asymmetric and irregular warfare in a number of ways: o.
Long-range ballistic missile and space tests; expanding range of missile programs. Long series of IRGC and Iranian military exercises in Gulf demonstrating ability to attack coastal targets, shipping, and offshore facilities. Both compensate for the limits of its conventional forces and act as a substitute.
Iran has also gone to considerable lengths to use proxies to undermine the US presence and influence in regional countries. Expanded areas of operation and influence. However, Figure III. Few doubt that Iran now has a mix of forces that can carry out low-level attacks and harassment over extended periods of time in ways that would make it difficult for the US and its allies to respond by escalating in a manner that would seem justified.
It is only if Iran can acquire nuclear weapons that it can create a potential deterrent to US conventional attacks if Iran uses its asymmetric or conventional forces. Missiles and weapons of mass destruction: Iran is a declared chemical weapons power, has long-range missiles, may be developing biological weapons, and is seems to be seeking nuclear weapons to counter US capability to threaten and deter Iran, as well as to win influence over its neighbors.
The US is seeking to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and long-range missiles while simultaneously developing options to deter and defend against Iran if they should succeed. Bloomberg, January 9, A November report by the IAEA lists strong indicators that Iran has been moving towards a nuclear weapons capability since the mids. IAEA and other reports show that Iran developed underground nuclear facilities that it initially attempted to keep covert, and expressed an active interest in nuclear warheads for its missiles. Reports also show that Iran is making advances in its centrifuge designs that can greatly increase their capacity as well as making it far easier for them to create small, dispersed sites that will be far harder to detect.
Iran also is a declared chemical weapons power, although it has never complied with the Chemical Weapons Convention CWC , nor stated its holdings. It probably has the capability to manufacture persistent nerve gas. It could certainly put such gas in a unitary warhead and probably has some cluster weapon capability. Hyland, and Molly A.
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