The Nuclear Deal Fallout: The Global Threat of Iran

May 24, 2017

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Nuclear Weapons

Iran Nuclear Agreement

Middle East and North Africa

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Ray Takeyh testified before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, May 24, 2017, discussing the impact of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's regional ambitions and the global threat it poses.


  • Iran has become a more aggressive region power since the JCPOA came into effect; the Islamic Republic's defense budget has more than doubled, and its activities in Iraq and Syria have intensified.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stands today as one of the most successful Persian imperialists in the history of modern Iran. He has essential control of much of the Iraqi state, he is the most important external actor in Syria, and Hezbollah provides him with not just a means of manipulating Lebanon’s politics but also shock troops who can be deployed on various war fronts.
  • Israel remains the principal victim of Iranian terrorism, even though Iran has never fought a war with Israel and has no territorial disputes with the Jewish state.
  • The Green Movement and the demonstrations of the summer of 2009 was a watershed moment in the history of Iran, one that severed the essential link between the state and society, shattered the Islamic Republic's veneer of legitimacy, and brought the system to the brink of collapse. The Obama administration should not have remained silent as protestors called on America to support their cause. 

Policy Recommendations

A regime as dangerous to U.S. interest as the Islamic Republic requires a comprehensive strategy to counter it, which means exploiting all of Iran’s vulnerabilities, increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, weakening its economy, and supporting its domestic discontents. To that end, the United States should

  •  establish ties with forces of opposition within Iran and empower those who share its values;
  • designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and impose financial sanctions to deprive Iran's leaders of money that funds the patronage networks that are essential to their rule and imperial ventures;
  • hold Iran accountable for its dismal human rights record as well as its nuclear infractions and support for terrorism;
  • assist the Arab states of the Persian Gulf contest Iran's gains in the Middle East by helping them battle Iranian proxies in the region, defending their economic infrastructure, providing them with weapons systems that defend against guided rockets and mortars, encouraging them to invest in missile defense technologies and augment undersea warfare capabilities, preventing Iran from interdicting their energy exports along key transit routes, pushing them to block the Strait of Hormuz to chock off Iran's oil exports, and brokering agreements with regional countries that have formidable special forces capabilities, such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, to help more vulnerable countries, such as Bahrain, deal with internal security problems (Iran's adversaries could even develop a subset of special forces capable of operating inside Iran to exploit the grievances of various ethnic minorities);
  • forge new constructive alliances in the Middle East based on shared anti-Iran interests, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and revitalize the U.S.-Israel relationship;
  • pull Iraq away from Iranian influence by pushing Baghdad to govern more inclusively so as to benefit Sunnis and Kurds and not just Iraqi Shias, committing to rehabilitate Iraq's army and bureaucracy, ramping up U.S. military assistance to Kurds and Sunni tribal forces, intensifying the air campaign against the self-declared Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, and embedding U.S. personnel in the Iraqi military at lower levels than it currently does; and
  • embrace the task of unseating the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to weaken Iranian influence there.

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