Colin P. Clarke, William Courtney
Security, Middle East
Iran has spent billions of dollars in its quest to be a regional hegemon, but its main achievement has been to spark instability across a wide swath of the Middle East.
Participants in the countrywide protests in Iran are urging a retreat from costly foreign fights and more aid at home. Even if regime change does not take place, Tehran’s clerical rulers may have to pull in their horns. But if they slash Iran’s military footprint in Syria, then Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power may again become tenuous. The West could exploit these tensions by pressuring Moscow and Damascus to stop sabotaging UN negotiations on a Syrian political settlement.
The protests that erupted throughout Iran just a few days before the end of 2017 have resulted in over twenty dead and two thousand Iranians arrested. While Grand Ayatollah Khamenei blames “enemies of Iran,” dissatisfaction appears to be widespread among his people. Likewise, Iran’s ally Russia has warned the West not to meddle.
Ordinary Iranians ought to be living better, but are not. Oil output has climbed back to levels before 2011, when the West, Russia and China imposed sanctions to spur Iran to limit nuclear proliferation risks. Those sanctions were lifted after a 2015 accord, but living standards have lagged. Protests broke out in response to an end to some consumer subsidies as well as anger over corruption and social policies.