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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 157

Edited by Ilan Berman
July 6, 2015

As the presence of the U.S.-led Coalition recedes in Afghanistan, Iran's involvement in the southwest Asian nation continues to deepen. Ongoing monetary and military support from Tehran has enabled the ousted Taliban movement to take on a more aggressive presence in the country's fractious political scene. Among other assistance, Afghan officials say that the Islamic Republic is operating four training camps for Taliban fighters, located in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Mashhad and Zahedan and in the province of Kerman. "Iran is betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban," notes one Western diplomat. "They are uncertain about where Afghanistan is heading right now, so they are hedging their bets." But Iran's backing of the Taliban is also serving a secondary goal; assistance from Tehran, observers say, is simultaneously strengthening the militant movement against its newest competitor, the Islamic State terrorist group. (
Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2015) 

According to the U.S. intelligence community, Iran is stepping up its support for Yemen's Houthi rebels. Intelligence estimates circulated in recent weeks put the number of Iranian and Iraqi Shi'ite forces aiding the insurgency at around 5,000, after an infusion of Quds Force and Hezbollah fighters
was authorized by Tehran in early May. Iran's immediate objective appears to be a strengthening of the capabilities of the Houthis - who now control large swathes of the country - in the face of Saudi and Gulf military intervention. But Tehran, policymakers say, is thinking much bigger. "The Iranians' ultimate target is the [Bab-el-Mandeb] strait and the House of Saud," argues one official. 

According to experts, Iran's growing role in Yemen is notable - and strategically significant. A consolidation of the Iranian position in Yemen "would effectively put the Quds force on the Saudi border and potentially give Iran a naval and air presence near the Bab-el-Mandeb, and the exit from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean - a key trade route for petroleum and all trade and U.S. naval movements through the Suez Canal," says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "A struggle where Iran takes real chances to help Yemen's Houthi and Shi'ite population could deeply divide a country the CIA estimates is 35 percent Shiite and 65 percent Sunni, and increase Sunni and Shiite tensions throughout the entire region." (
Washington Free Beacon, May 27, 2015) 


Iran is already struggling with a major freshwater crisis, with more than 500 cities experiencing shortages of potable water. But environmental conditions are aggravating the situation still further. Rainfall in the Islamic Republic has decreased by some 20% in the past year, constricting the amount of water available for household use. In response, Tehran is taking action, with the Iranian government recently earmarking $10 billion for use on water-related projects. But government officials and experts are warning that the problem has become nothing short of a national security crisis; according to former Agriculture Minister Isa Kalantari, the hydrological situation is now "more dangerous than Israel, America or political fighting" to the future of the country. (Tehran 
ISNA, June 14, 2015) 


A final nuclear deal with the West still remains to be concluded, but the Islamic Republic is already poised to reap the economic dividends of its unfolding detente with the West. "The prospect of an end to sanctions, which have targeted Iran's energy sector and have sharply curtailed oil exports, have raised hopes inside the country and fears without that the long-shunned Persian giant will storm back onto global energy markets," notes a recent expose in Foreign Policy. Indeed, it points out, "[e]conomies like Europe's, which are desperately searching for new sources of supply, are rubbing their hands at the prospect of unlocking Iran's true potential, especially to produce and export natural gas." While many technical hurdles (including Iran's domestic rate of production) remain, the likely result of a loosening of trade restrictions will be a "flood of Iranian oil" onto the international market in the medium-term. (
Foreign Policy, June 25, 2015) 


As nuclear negotiations with Tehran progress, the Kremlin is preparing to push through its long-delayed sale of air defense systems - on one condition. According to Russian officials, the Islamic Republic must first drop the multi-billion dollar lawsuit it filed in 2011 against Russian arms manufacturer ROSOBORONEXPORT before the Geneva Arbitration Court for the latter's failure to deliver units of the S-300 system pursuant to a 2007 deal between the two countries. "The termination of these proceedings will be the first step toward implementing the transaction, this is fundamental," an unidentified Kremlin official has been quoted in the Russian press as saying. If that happens, officials in Moscow have made clear, Iran will receive its deliveries in short order - and, because the S-300 has since gone out of service, it will instead acquire the more advanced Almaz-2500. 

Tehran, however, appears to have other ideas. Iranian officials have previously indicated that the Islamic Republic is prepared to drop the suit - but only after delivery of the promised systems takes place. (
The Moscow Times, June 22, 2015)

Related Categories: Terrorism; Radical Islam; Iran Freedom Initiative; Iran

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