Threat Assessment: In the Middle East an Emboldened Iran

[Director of National Intelligence] John D. Negroponte - Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, January 18, 2007: In the Middle East, Iran and its neighbors see a strategic shift: Iran's influence is rising in ways that go beyond the menace of its nuclear program. The fall of the Taliban and Saddam, increased oil revenues, Hamas' electoral victory, and Hizbullah's perceived recent success in fighting against Israel all extend Iran's shadow in the region. Our Arab allies fear Iran's increasing influence, are concerned about worsening tensions between Shia and Sunni Islam, and face heightened domestic criticism for maintaining their decades-old strategic partnerships with Washington. Iran's growing influence has coincided with a generational change in Tehran's leadership. Iranian President Ahmadinejad's administration - staffed in large part by second-generation hardliners imbued with revolutionary ideology and deeply distrustful of the U.S. - has stepped up the use of more assertive and offensive tactics to achieve Iran's longstanding goals. However, Ahmadinejad's supporters suffered setbacks in the recent Assembly of Experts and local council elections. Moreover, ethnic tensions in Iran's Baloch, Kurdish, and, to a lesser extent, Arab and Azeri areas continue to fester, creating concern in Tehran about the potential for broader ethnic unrest to generate large-scale anti-regime activity. While record oil revenues and manageable debt suggest that Iran is capable, for now, of weathering shocks to the economy, inflationary pressures, exacerbated by Ahmadinejad's expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, are harming Iran's consumer and investment climates and causing employment opportunities to decline. We assess that Iran regards its ability to conduct terrorist operations abroad as a key element of its national security strategy: it considers this capability as helping to safeguard the regime by deterring U.S. or Israeli attacks, distracting and weakening Israel, enhancing Iran's regional influence through intimidation, and helping to drive the U.S. from the region. At the center of Iran's terrorism strategy is Lebanese Hizbullah, which relies on Tehran for a substantial portion of its annual budget, military equipment, and specialized training. Hizbullah is focused on its agenda in Lebanon and supporting anti-Israeli Palestinian terrorists, but it has in the past made contingency plans to conduct attacks against U.S. interests in the event it feels its survival - or that of Iran - is threatened. Syria has strengthened ties with Iran and grown more confident about its regional policies, largely due to what it sees as vindication of its support to Hizbullah and Hamas and its perceptions of its success in overcoming international attempts to isolate the regime. Damascus has failed to crack down consistently on militant infiltration into Iraq and continues to meddle in Lebanon. Lebanon remains in a politically dangerous situation as Damascus, Hizbullah, and other pro-Syrian groups attempt to topple the government of Prime Minister Siniora.

2007-01-19 01:00:00

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