Middle East Briefs

Parallel to the Center’s scholarly work, Middle East Briefs provides a brief analysis of a single issue at the top of the region’s political, social, or economic agenda. Targeted primarily at decision-makers and opinion leaders, the publication was launched in 2005.

Latest Brief

May 2021 – Continuity Despite Revolution: Iran’s Support for Non-State Actors

Mohammad Ataie

Middle East Brief 141 (Summary) — The Islamic Republic of Iran is allied with a number of non-state actors throughout the Middle East, such as Hizbollah in Lebanon and several militias in Iraq. Iranian leaders describe their support for such groups in religious and revolutionary terms, and this aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is widely understood to be a product of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution and motivated, in large part, by ideology. In contrast, Mohammad Ataie argues in this Brief that Iran’s pattern of support for non-state actors after 1979 is in fact a continuation of a regional policy that dates back to the late 1950s. Both Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the leaders of the Islamic Republic pursued a similar strategy of backing extraterritorial groups and utilizing historical and religious ties to Shiʿi communities in the region to counter perceived threats and contain regional adversaries. The shah enmeshed Pahlavi Iran in Iraqi and Lebanese domestic politics by supporting anti-Nasser and anti-left non-state actors, and the Islamic Republic continued this involvement after the revolution as part of their anti-imperial "Axis of Resistance." Ataie asserts that the revolution, therefore, did not usher in Iran’s support for non-state actors and that support cannot be understood primarily in ideological terms.

Read Middle East Brief 141 (PDF)

Mohammad Ataie, Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center.