Key point: Iran still has many tools to push back against U.S. national security interests.
The recent agreement between Iran and the P5+1 has, presumably, tabled the question of Iranian nuclear weapons for the next ten years, and perhaps longer.
However, Iran retains a set of lethal tools for pursuing its interests in the Middle East. Iran’s regional presence has always amounted to more than the nuclear weapon threat; before the Revolution, Iran played a central role in the politics of the region. After the Revolution it continued to play this role, only in far more disruptive fashion.
Here are five lethal “tools,” arrayed across the spectrum of strategic violence and influence, that Tehran can use to protect its position and further its ends:
Iran has struggled to keep its conventional military forces out of the various wars that have embroiled the region since the early part of last decade. This hardly means, however, that Iran has remained aloof from these conflicts. Rather, Iran has sponsored irregular warfare, through training, supply of weapons, and supply of cash, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard generally acts as the vehicle for this support.
Iran has come closest to direct, formal military intervention in Syria, where it has spent aggressively to keep the Assad regime in power and to restrict the spread of ISIS (a Quds Force commander was killed in Damascus). The Iranians have also intervened in Iraqi political and military affairs since the U.S. invasion, usually through the sponsorship of Shia militias. The relevance of Iranian support for other regional actors, including the Houthi rebels in Yemen, is in dispute, but there’s little question that Iran has displayed a willingness to dip into regional conflicts with training and weapons.
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