Regional Perspectives on Iran

Part of: Deterring Iran after the Nuclear Deal

In Chapter 8 of the CSIS International Security Program report, Deterring Iran after the Nuclear Deal, Jon B. Alterman examines the policies of Iran's neighbors in the region towards Iran.

Iran has a diverse set of neighbors with a diverse set of capabilities. While the Arab Gulf states and Israel take a variety of approaches to their relations with Iran, they are unified in one thing: each sees Iran as a threat to itself and to the region. This is in part because Iran’s size—more than 75 million people—dwarfs them, and in part because Iran is a non-Arab and non-Sunni power that is seeking influence in a region that is predominantly Sunni Arab. Yet, Iran’s actions play a large role in these countries’ perceptions. Time and time again the Iranian government’s actions remind these states that the Iranian government seeks to change the status quo, by force if necessary, and they must remain on guard.

For each and every country, the response to the Iranian threat is the same: to seek to bring the United States on board in order to confront Iran more directly. For both the Arab Gulf states and Israel, a fear that the United States might abandon the Middle East by rebalancing toward Asia is real. Similarly disturbing is the prospect that President Donald Trump might rethink the way that the United States engages with global partners, insisting that they give more and get less. They are reassured by initial signs that the Trump administration is less concentrated on Asia and more focused on Iranian malfeasance than the Obama administration had been. Iran tops the list of international threats for all of them.

Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program