The International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) has issued the sixth edition of its Annual Strategic Report for 2021. The 264-page report has continued to be published over the past five years. The first edition was published in December 2016. The report is based on the analysis of information, and supported by tables, tallies and charts — along with monitoring, forecasting and analysis of events. The 2021 report reflects Rasanah’s widening scope with the in-depth analysis of several key international developments.
The 2021 report sheds light on international variables within the context of the ongoing US-China rivalry and European efforts to preserve their position in the global order given their strategic alliance with the United States. Furthermore, the report addresses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global and regional powers, particularly its ramifications related to energy shortages and price hikes. In the context of the Middle Eastern landscape, the report shines a spotlight on the numerous events that took place as a result of the change in the US administration and its adoption of new policies which impacted the region. For example, the report points to the retreat of Daesh in Iraq, Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and the Maghreb and its attempts to expand its presence in Africa. Finally, the report reveals what has been happening in Iran, its internal transformations, and its relationship with Arab countries and the international community. At the ideological level, the report explains the Iranian government’s ongoing attempts to enhance its legitimacy at home through employing religion and taking advantage of fatwas (religious edicts) to counter the calls to boycott the presidential election, in addition to defaming its political opponents. At the social level, the report highlights the doubling of poverty in Iran, the multiple coronavirus waves, and the rise of other social dangers in the country. At the economic level, the report touches on the deteriorating economic situation, although there has been a slight improvement driven by the surge in oil sales to China and the growth of foreign trade. At the military level, the report indicates that Iran is continuing to seek to acquire military technologies and equipment through criminal activities and the black market to support its “forward defense” doctrine.
In relation to Arab affairs, the report analyzes the Gulf states’ goodwill toward Iran and the trajectory of Iran-Gulf relations which were marked by approximations aimed to defuse tensions in the region. On the Yemeni front, the report discusses the developments regarding the ongoing crisis, the Houthi escalation against the governorate of Ma’rib and Iran’s provision of massive military support to the militia. On the Iraqi front, the report sheds light on the challenges facing Iranian influence at the military, economic and cultural levels. Iranian influence at the political level declined significantly following the outcomes of the recent parliamentary election. In relation to Syria, the report reviews the political developments impacting Iran’s presence and role in the country, before moving on to Lebanon. The Lebanese file discusses Lebanese government formation, the fuel shortage and the impact of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah on both issues.
Regarding international affairs, the report addresses the radical shift in US relations with Iran. Washington’s new strategy toward Iran is based on diplomacy as the key tool to revive the nuclear deal and ease tensions between Tehran and the region’s countries. Furthermore, the report reviews Russia-Iran cooperation and Moscow’s support for Tehran in the nuclear talks, calling for US sanctions on Tehran to be lifted.
Rasanah’s report indicates that Iran-Europe relations experienced tensions over the nuclear issue and Europe exerted pressure on Tehran in regard to human rights abuses and its support for terror activities. The report analyzes China’s support for Tehran amid the ongoing nuclear talks, Beijing’s support for Tehran’s nuclear industry, deepening cooperation between the two countries reflected in the signing of the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, Tehran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the supply of coronavirus vaccines to Tehran. The report also touches on the intersection of relations between Iran and China, especially the latter’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Afghanistan.
The report also indicates that Iran-Turkey relations faced issues that heightened their rivalry in Iraq — as well as the relative cooperation between the two sides to address the problem of Afghan refugees and the conflicting visions and interests of both actors in Azerbaijan. In relation to Pakistan, the report details Iran-Pakistan interactions which were impacted by the developments taking place in Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. It also highlights Iranian efforts in light of the new strategic realities resulting from the Russian-brokered ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban taking over Kabul once again, and the substantial changes to the Afghan political landscape.
The report concludes by forecasting the developments in 2022 and the years to come as a result of the developments that occurred in 2021. The report forecasts that in 2022, there will be an increase in domestic transformations in Iran, and the pace of its interactions with the Arab countries and the international community will pick up in light of the nuclear talks entering their final stage – with the negotiating parties focusing on Tehran fully complying once again with its nuclear obligations. The latter will push Tehran to take tough decisions in the hope of getting the US sanctions lifted. The lifting of sanctions will impact the extent of China’s support to Iran, particularly in the economic, military and technological fields. In turn, this support will impact Beijing’s other interests in the region. The report also forecasts that, whether Iran reduces or raises its estimated military budget if there is a breakthrough in the Vienna talks, it will still face major difficulties on the frontlines in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Moreover, the regional landscape’s complexities, prompted by the Taliban taking over power in Afghanistan, could cause Iran to face threats and dangers — coupled with the influential presence of regional rivals in Afghanistan.