U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan
October 26, 2011
US competition with Iran has become the equivalent of a game of three-dimensional chess, but a game where each side can modify at least some of the rules with each move. It is also a game that has been going on for some three decades. It is clear that it is also a game that is unlikely to be ended by better dialog and mutual understanding, and that Iran’s version of “democracy” is unlikely to change the way it is played in the foreseeable future.
The Burke Chair at CSIS is preparing a detailed analysis of the history and character of this competition as part of a project supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation. This has led to the preparation of a new draft report entitled US and Iranian Competition: The Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan.
This report is available in two versions:
- A summary analysis that is now available on the CSIS web site at: https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/111026_US_IranStratCompLevant_Chapter.pdf
- A full length analysis with a full range of graphs and charts that is now available on the CSIS web site at: https://csis.org/files/publication/111026_US_IranStratCompLevant_full_report.pdf
Iran’s efforts to expand its regional influence in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan are a key aspect of its strategic competition with the US. Nearly twenty years after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and five years after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, the US and its allies continue to struggle with the realities of Iran’s growing influence in the region and its use of proxy and asymmetric warfare. The Islamic Republic has developed strong ties with Syria and non-state actors in the region, including the Lebanese Shi’a group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas Islamist movement in what Iranian and Syrian leaders have dubbed the “Resistance Axis.” Iran continues to exploit Arab-Israeli tensions in ways that make it an active barrier to a lasting Arab-Israeli peace, while the US must deal with Arab hostility to its strategic partnership with Israel. At the same time, both the US and Iran face new uncertainties in dealing with Egypt, Syria, and the wave of unrest in the Arab world.
Both the US and Iran face an unprecedented level of policy instability in the Levant, and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, that affects every aspect of their regional competition. At present, no one can predict the outcome in any given case. Even the short term impact of changes in regimes is not predictable, nor is how they will affect the underlying drivers of regional tensions. It is particularly dangerous to ignore the risk of replacing one form of failed governance with another one, and the prospect of years of further political instability or upheavals.
Syria has been a challenge for US policy-makers for decades. Yet the current round of instability is unprecedented and the US is not likely to enact a coherent strategy in the short term. This in turn informs the future pace and form of competition with Iran over Syria.
While Lebanon has been relatively stable during the current period of upheaval, there are real risks of instability as well as opportunities to manage security politics in the Levant that the US should not ignore.
As this report shows, Israel too is an arena for US-Iranian competition and the recent cycle of instability will remain critical to how both countries develop their bilateral relationship and security ties. The place and role of the Palestinians in US policy and competition with Iran are part and parcel of US-Iranian competition over Israel.
Lastly, US policy towards Egypt and Jordan are driven by a number of common factors that have impacted whether or not these two key US allies become exposed to Iranian influence and interference.
Comments on this draft will be extremely helpful and should be sent to acordesman(@)gmail.com.
Reports published to date include:
The Sanctions Game: Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change:
Competition in Iraq:
Competition in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan:
Competition in EU, EU3, and non-EU European States:
Competition Involving Turkey and the South Caucasus:
Competition Involving China and Russia:
Energy, Economics, Sanctions, and the Nuclear Issues:
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States:
Reports in development include:
US and Iranian Military Competition
Competition in the Southern Gulf, Arabia, and Yemen
Competition in the Levant, Jordan, and Egypt
Competition in Latin America and Other Areas
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