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Irans Foreign and Defense Policies

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Technical Report

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Congressional Research Service Washington United States

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Irans national security policy is the product of many, and sometimes competing, factors the ideology of Irans Islamic revolution Iranian leaderships perception of threats to the regime and to the country long-standing Iranian national interests and the interaction of the Iranian regimes various factions and constituencies. Some experts assert that the goal of Irans national security strategy is to overturn a power structure in the Middle East that Iran asserts favors the United States and its allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Muslim Arab regimes. Iran characterizes its support for Shiite and other Islamist movements as support for the oppressed and asserts that Saudi Arabia, in particular, is instigating sectarian tensions and trying to exclude Iran from regional affairs. Others interpret Iran as primarily attempting to protect itself from U.S. or other efforts to invade or intimidate it or to change its regime. Its strategy might, alternatively or additionally, represent an attempt to enhance Irans international prestige or restore a sense of greatness reminiscent of the ancient Persian empires. From 2010 until 2016, Irans foreign policy also focused on attempting to mitigate the effects of international sanctions on Iran.Iran employs a number of different tools in pursuing its national security policy. Some Iranian policy tools are common to most countries traditional diplomacy and the public promotion of Irans values and interests. Iran also has financially supported regional politicians and leaders. Of most concern to U.S. policymakers is that Iran provides direct material support to armed groups, some of which use terrorism to intimidate or retaliate against Israel or other regional opponents of Iran. Irans armed support to Shiite-dominated allied governments, such as those of Syria and Iraq, has aggravated challenges from Sunni insurgent groups by fueling Sunni popular resentment.

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