The Dilemma of Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Tehran must cope with a hostile environment and a dwindling ability to retaliate.

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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ended Iran’s nearly five centuries of uninterrupted imperial rule. But it continued the Persian tradition of territorial expansionism and regional dominance dating back to Cyrus the Great, whose empire in the sixth century B.C. stretched from North Africa to Central Asia. Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries pursued their imperial objective under the guise of religious redemption, not brute military conquest, but they expanded the country’s influence nonetheless. Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s slowed its penetration of the Arab region. Still, Iraq’s defeat in Desert Storm in 1991 and its occupation by U.S. and allied forces in 2003 opened the way for Tehran to assert its influence in the Middle East. Last year, a former Iranian minister of intelligence bragged that Iran now controls four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa). Yet the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal has gradually weakened Iran economically. It also isolated Tehran internationally. Iran is trying to cope with crippling sanctions, the new Sunni-Israeli alliance, frequent Israeli attacks and growing inability to sow discord in the region. Imperial Nostalgia Since the rise of the Safavid Empire in 1501, Iranian territorial ambitions stopped at India’s gates […]

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Hilal Khashan
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.