Friday, August 25, 2006

new report by CHATHAM house on IRAN as regional power in Middle East



A Middle East Programme report

Edited by Robert Lowe and Claire Spencer

Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) is an independent body which promotes

the rigorous study of international questions and does not express opinions of its own. The opinions

expressed in this publication are the responsibility of the authors.

© The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2006.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by

any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or any informations storage

or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Please direct all

enquiries to the publishers.

ISBN: 1 86203 174 6

ISBN-13: 978 1 86203 174 6

Cover design and typesetting by Matt Link

Map by Francesca Broadbent

Printed by Kallkwik

Cover photographs

Clockwise from top left:

An Iranian cleric stands in front of a picture of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and Hizbullah fighters

during a meeting in support of Hizbullah at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, outside Tehran, 26 July

2006. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranians celebrate after Iran beat Bahrain 1-0 in a World Cup qualifying match at the Azadi Stadium

in Tehran on 8 June 2005, ensuring their qualifiction for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. (AP

Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

A reactor building at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. Iran and Russia signed a nuclear fuel

agreement on 5 June 2005, paving the way for Iran to get its first reactor up and running. (Vahid


Shanghai Cooperation Organization guests, from left to right, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pakistan

President Pervez Musharraf, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai pose at the Shanghai International

Convention Centre, China, 15 June 2006. President Ahmadinejad invited China, Russia and other

Central and South Asian nations to convene a special meeting in Iran to boost energy cooperation.

(Elizabeth Dalziel/AP/EMPICS)

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in talks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud

al-Faisal, Tehran, 12 June 2006. (STR/AP/EMPICS)

The presidents of Iraq and Iran, Jalal Talabani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a press conference, in

Tehran, 21 November 2005. President Talabani spent 3 days in Iran discussing bilateral and regional

issues. (Fidan Serkan/ABACA/EMPICS)


Contributors 4

Executive Summary 5

Introduction 6

Iran 8

Iraq 18

Syria 21

Lebanon 24

Israel 29

Jordan 32

Egypt 34

The Gulf Cooperation Council States 36

Turkey 38

Russia and the Former Soviet States 40

Afghanistan, Pakistan and India 44

China and Japan 48

Appendix: Map of Iran and its Region 50


Rime Allaf, Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Ali Ansari, Reader in Modern History, University of St Andrews and Associate Fellow, Middle

East Programme, Chatham House

Maha Azzam, Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Olivia Bosch, Senior Research Fellow, International Security Programme, Chatham House

Laura Cooper, Administrator, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Fadi Hakura, Founder, Conkura Consulting and Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme,

Chatham House

Christopher Hood, Director, Cardiff Japanese Studies Centre, University of Cardiff and Associate

Fellow, Asia Programme, Chatham House

Ayesha Khan, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge and Associate Fellow,

Asia Programme, Chatham House

Robert Lowe, Manager, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Yiyi Lu, Associate Fellow, Asia Programme, Chatham House

Valerie Marcel, Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Development Programme,

Chatham House

Yossi Mekelberg, Lecturer in International Relations and Politics of Development, Webster

Graduate Centre, Regents College and Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham


James Nixey, Manager, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House

Gareth Price, Head, Asia Programme, Chatham House

Farzana Shaikh, Associate, Centre of South Asia Studies, University of Cambridge and Associate

Fellow, Asia Programme, Chatham House

Nadim Shehadi, Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Gareth Stansfield, Associate Professor in Middle East Politics, University of Exeter and Associate

Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Claire Spencer, Head, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

The Middle East Programme at Chatham House undertakes research and analysis on the politics

and international relations of the Middle East and North Africa. The programme also provides a

forum for the discussion of Middle East affairs by hosting conferences, seminars and meetings

with visiting speakers. For further information or to join the Middle East Programme meeting

mailing list please email Robert Lowe.


Robert Lowe, Manager, Middle East Programme

Tel: +44 (0)20 7957 5737



Executive Summary

The Middle East is bedevilled by crises. The war between Hizbullah and Israel, the conflict between

Israelis and Palestinians, the instability in Iraq and the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme create

a climate of deep unease. Iran is involved in all these crises, to a greater or lesser degree, and its

regional role is significant and growing.

In applying pressure on Iran to cease support for Hizbullah, to refrain from hostility towards Israel,

to resist meddling in Iraq and to abandon any thoughts of nuclear military capability, the United

States hopes for the cooperation of Iran’s regional neighbours. However, Iran has successfully

cultivated relations with its neighbours, even those Arab and Sunni states which fear its influence,

and is in a position of considerable strength.

Iran is simply too important – for political, economic, cultural, religious and military reasons – to be

treated lightly by any state in the Middle East or indeed Asia. The wars and continued weaknesses in

Afghanistan and Iraq have further strengthened Iran, their most powerful immediate neighbour,

which maintains significant involvement in its ‘near-abroad’. The US-driven agenda for confronting

Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has recently dominated its relations with the Western powers,

but not those with its regional neighbours. Understanding the dynamics of Iran’s relations with its

neighbours helps explain why Iran feels able to resist Western pressure. While the US and Europeans

slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the IAEA and UN Security Council, Iran continues

to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour.

Iran’s domestic power structure is complex and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one of a number of

players. His dramatic millenarian rhetoric attracts headlines, but the broader governing polity does

share his robust conviction that Iran is the linchpin of a wide region and can maintain firm

independent positions.

Iran views Iraq as its own backyard and has now superseded the US as the most influential power

there; this affords it a key role in Iraq’s future. Iran is also a prominent presence in its other war-torn

neighbour with close social ties, Afghanistan. The Sunni Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf

are wary of Iran yet feel compelled by its strength to maintain largely cordial relations while Iran

embarrasses their Western-leaning governments through its stance against the US.

Syria and Iran enjoy an especially close relationship, as most clearly seen in their alliance against the

US and Israel, and support for Hizbullah. Iran’s relationship with Lebanon is long and intricate and

the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah in July-August 2006 may be partly seen in the context of

the broader struggle between Iran and the US/Israel. Israel certainly views Iran as its greatest threat

and the tension between the two has increased.

The relationship between Iran and Turkey pivots between friendship and rivalry but Turkey favours

good relations and the avoidance of further regional instability. Russia is a significant economic

partner to Iran, is heavily involved in its nuclear programme, and tends to take the role of mediator

at the international level.

The recent rapprochement between Iran and Pakistan remains ambiguous while Iran and India have

notably improved ties, mostly on the basis of Indian energy needs. Energy security and economic ties

also dominate Iran’s relations with China and Japan.


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