Iran, like Syria and Iraq, has used the crisis in Yemen to strengthen its regional role by publicly supporting the Houthis. But as other challenges loom in the Gulf, Iran appears to be reacting to these problems by strengthening its ties to the armed forces. Analysts in the Gulf believe that this development threatens U.S. and Gulf defense cooperation and could place Iran at the forefront of regional conflicts.
Despite the meager fallout from the latest nuclear deal, Iran has proceeded with new investment in industries and industries controlled by Iran. Despite calls from President Donald Trump, sanctions have not been lifted and are set to remain in place until a deal is approved by the U.N. Security Council (and later the United States). Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for more unity among members of the U.N. Security Council.
By showcasing military equipment that it built in Iraq, Iran has shown that it can help continue the fight against ISIS and potentially empower groups it supports. Those with whom Washington has worked on issues related to ISIS with support from Shiite proxies in Iraq, such as the government-controlled Iraqi Defense Ministry, have defended the equipment as permissible military assistance. Some Iranian experts believe that the U.S. is beginning to see Iran’s growing regional influence, which could allow it to get off the hook on regional military aid—possibly at the price of support for a nuclear deal.
Iran continues to build nuclear facilities that violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 and has rejected constructive international approaches to resolving the issue. Congress and the Trump administration, faced with political constraints and differing interests between Democrats and Republicans, appear to be incapable of enacting a robust and comprehensive Iran policy that improves U.S. engagement in Iran, as part of its foreign policy objectives, and reduces Iran’s influence and capabilities in the region. Meanwhile, Iran’s support for regional militias has destabilized the political order in Iraq, resulting in further cuts to U.S. assistance to the Iraqi government.
These and other trends threaten to create a situation in which Iran and the United States become embroiled in regional conflicts. The Trump administration also appears to have no strategy for countering Iran in the region as the administration relies on seeking to influence Iran to participate in de-escalation negotiations on the nuclear issue. If Washington continues down this path and seeks to persuade Iran to give up its program in order to address regional and international concerns, there will be no room for compromise on the final result of the negotiations. As negotiations on the nuclear issue grind on and tensions in the Middle East grow, it is time for the United States to make a decision on how it will implement its policy toward Iran.