The question of how to deter Hamas from starting another conflict has dominated recent discourse. Most observers ignore the fact that the terror group is an Iranian proxy, meaning it presents unique challenges to deterrence.
In 2021, Iran will be preparing for a presidential election even as it faces an unprecedented economic crisis. Some conservatives argue that a military figure could turn the country around by virtue of his “jihadist spirit” and “military charisma.” While the allure of such a person as president is attractive to some in Tehran, structural impediments remain. The power of the Office of the Supreme Leader will prove a formidable obstacle in the path of any military figure who hopes to ascend to the presidency in the near term.
The newly announced Iran-China 25 Year Comprehensive Partnership is unprecedented in its scope. It contains a “mystery clause” that gives China control over how Iran spends its resources, which could ultimately amount to Iran’s selling its sovereignty to Beijing. The close military collaboration between the countries also has major implications for the decades-long US domination of the Gulf and large stretches of the Indian Ocean.
Iran’s new anti-Israel legislation has banned all contact with the “Zionist enemy,” however indirect, even going so far as to criminalize the use of electronics that contain components manufactured by companies with branches in Israel. The law has also mandated the creation of a “virtual embassy” in Jerusalem to protect the Palestinians’ interests. For all its hardline posturing, the law reflects chaos within the regime.
Iran’s rapid development of missile expertise has raised concerns in Washington and among its allies about Tehran’s intentions. Despite international censure, the Revolutionary Guards have been able to develop the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the region. Tehran is determined to develop and acquire ever more advanced and accurate ballistic missiles – but its efforts to achieve that goal are hampered by American and Israeli determination to subvert it.
Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.
A heated debate is underway in Tehran over whether or not to remain in the JCPOA following the US withdrawal. President Rouhani believes the cost of leaving is too high, but hardline Iranian conservatives – who never wanted the deal to begin with – want out. It remains to be seen what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will decide.