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Research Report

Iranian Influence in the Levant, Iraq, and Afghanistan

Frederick W. Kagan
Kimberly Kagan
Danielle Pletka
Copyright Date: Feb. 19, 2008
Pages: 71
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    The conflict between Iran and the United States began in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. Born partly of ideological differences and partly of real and perceived differing national interests, it has continued, alternately hot and cold, for almost three decades and seems unlikely to end soon. Like most previous conflicts, its conclusion cannot be foreseen. Many such struggles, like the Anglo-German tensions between 1871 and 1945 and the centuries-long tensions between Britain and France, lead to full-scale war. Others, like the Anglo-Russian or Russian-Ottoman tensions throughout the nineteenth century, lead to...

  2. (pp. 3-16)

    Iranian policy in Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza is a microcosm of Tehran’s broader foreign policy strategy. Although it is possible to view Iran’s actions in each of these areas as indicative of separate bilateral relationships, a step back reveals a larger pattern. In each instance, Iran began with significant investment in allies—in the case of Syria, the regime; in Lebanon, the Shiite “militia” Hezbollah; and in the Palestinian areas, rejectionist groups opposed to Fatah, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Many in the United States and in other governments—particularly in the intelligence community—are...

  3. (pp. 17-36)

    Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have been actively involved in supporting Shia militias and encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion—and Iranian planning and preparation for that effort began as early as 2002. The precise purpose of this support is unclear and may have changed over time. But one thing is very clear: Iran has consistently supplied weapons, its own advisers, and Lebanese Hezbollah advisers to multiple resistance groups in Iraq—both Sunni and Shia—and has supported these groups as they have targeted Sunni Arabs, Coalition forces, Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government itself....

  4. (pp. 37-56)

    In 2007, Iran offered economic, social, and cultural assistance to Afghanistan; pressured Kabul over Afghan refugees and migrant workers in Iran; lent limited military support to the Taliban and possibly other insurgent groups; tried to develop a deep bilateral relationship between Tehran and Kabul; attempted to create a gap between Kabul and the West; and possibly tried to destabilize the government of Hamid Karzai.¹ Taken together, these activities constitute what might be a deliberate strategy on Afghanistan for Tehran, although there is no direct evidence to prove that Iran is following such a strategy. Whatever Iran’s purposes might be, however,...

  5. (pp. 57-66)

    Iran is the principal source of weapons, funding, training, and on-site advisers for a number of Sunni and Shiite insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza, and it is almost certainly providing some military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran has projected its economic power—sometimes even at the expense of the prosperity of its own people—throughout the region using grants, loans, joint ventures, and private enterprises. Many of its major economic projects have had the effect (and sometimes the stated goal) of making Iran the vital economic nexus of the...