Decoding Tehran’s Strategy In the Middle East

Masoud Dalvand
Freedom Star
Published in
5 min readJan 15, 2024

O riginally published at the Iran News Update website

The Iranian regime has adopted an aggressive stance, both domestically and internationally. At home, its survival strategy relies on suppression, limiting dissent and curtailing any form of opposition. Simultaneously, it extends its influence abroad by supporting terrorism through proxy militias, contributing to a complex web of regional conflicts. These actions have prompted a global call for strategic responses that go beyond traditional military solutions.

Effectively addressing the Iranian regime’s threat requires a strategic shift beyond conventional containment. The cyclical nature of Tehran’s behavior, driven by internal vulnerabilities, calls for a more nuanced and comprehensive policy in the West. While the regime’s lobbyists argue that decisive confrontation exacerbates crises, historical evidence suggests that it prompts a strategic retreat, emphasizing the need for a clear and assertive stance against Tehran’s aggression. The global community must recognize the fundamental pillars of the regime’s survival strategy — internal suppression and external turmoil — to pave the way for lasting peace and stability.

Since 1979, Iran’s regime has systematically sponsored global terrorism. Operating through entities like the IRGC-QF and MOIS, Iran orchestrates attacks, assassinations, and supports terrorism within its military and intelligence structures. The IRGC-QF leads Iran’s proxy support outside the country, prioritizing deniability. Iran funds, trains, and equips U.S.-designated groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ, KH, and AAB. The regime has also aided Shia militant groups in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lebanese Hezbollah, backed with $700 million annually, poses a significant threat globally. Iran’s support extends to Palestinian terrorist groups, Al Qaeda operatives, and the recruitment of foreign fighters through entities like the Fatemiyoun Division and Zainabiyoun Brigade. Iranian airlines, including Mahan Air, facilitate their global activities. Iran’s state-supported terrorism has affected over 20 countries since 1979.

In a recent article the National Council Resistance of Iran (NCRI) wrote: “The Iranian regime’s survival is dependent on two critical pillars: suppression at home, and spreading terrorism and warmongering abroad. The regime’s Middle East strategy revolves around the concept of “strategic depth,” which involves fostering regional influence through the support of proxy militias and non-state actors.”

Iran regime’s ballistic missile development poses a significant regional security risk and challenges global nonproliferation efforts. UN Security Council Resolution 1929, implemented in 2010, imposed strict limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program, particularly those capable of carrying nuclear weapons. However, Iran has persisted in developing and proliferating a diverse range of short, medium, and longer-range missiles, maintaining the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East.

Despite international concerns, Iran’s regime has conducted numerous missile launches since 2010, violating UNSCR 1929 and continuing to defy UNSCR 2231. There is evidence of Iran supplying missile technology to its proxies, including reports of ballistic missile transfers to Shia militias in Iraq. In Lebanon, Iran supports Hezbollah’s missile production facilities and precision guidance system development. Additionally, there is mounting evidence of Iran providing ballistic missile technology to the Houthis in Yemen, amplifying regional tensions and posing a broader threat to global stability.

Iran’s regime consistently employs deceptive tactics to fund illicit activities, posing a threat to the global financial system. Despite international calls for stricter regulations, the regime persists in using shell companies and seemingly legitimate entities to exploit vulnerabilities for financing. The IRGC-QF, especially through the Central Bank of Iran, engages in large-scale illicit financing schemes, supporting U.S.-designated terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s failure to adhere to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing standards has led to its designation by the Financial Action Task Force as a high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdiction for the past decade.

The Iranian regime, particularly through the IRGCN, poses a significant risk to global maritime security, extending from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea. Iranian officials, including high-ranking IRGC commanders, have explicitly threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, a key passage for 20 percent of global petroleum. Additionally, Iran supports Houthi militants in Yemen, providing weapons and advisors, leading to maritime attacks in the Red Sea.

The IRGC’s persistent influence in the region is evident in the Houthis’ expanded maritime offensive capabilities. Furthermore, Iran has conducted politically motivated seizures of commercial vessels, showcasing its intent to project influence both domestically and internationally.

The Iranian regime stands as a prominent threat actor in cyberspace, employing cyberespionage, propaganda, and attacks to shape foreign perceptions and counter perceived threats. This activity not only undermines international norms but also poses a regular threat to secure and reliable Internet communications. Prioritizing plausible deniability, Iran makes attribution challenging, but mounting evidence suggests ongoing malicious cyber activities.

Iran has actively developed cyber capabilities to surveil and sabotage adversaries, targeting governments, commercial entities, and civil society over the past decade. Emphasizing “soft” targets like vulnerable businesses and critical infrastructure, the regime’s cybercrimes extend beyond these to include silencing and weakening critics within its borders. The Iranian regime employs cyber capabilities to restrict access to the Internet for its citizens, blocking social media platforms, funding online censorship, and limiting access to satellite services, showcasing an ironic crackdown on platforms like Twitter.

Iran regime’s human rights record is deplorable, marked by ongoing violations targeting political activists, civil society members, religious and ethnic minorities. Due process is frequently absent, with arbitrary detentions of foreign and dual nationals. Citizens exercising civic activities and freedom of expression face persecution, including journalists and online voices.

Workers involved in trade union activities, as well as various ethnic minorities, endure harassment, arbitrary arrests, and deaths in custody under suspicious circumstances. The regime represses religious freedom, harassing and targeting minorities not recognized in the constitution.

Legal proceedings consistently fall short of international standards, denying fair trial guarantees. Human rights lawyers are targeted, impeding efforts to protect individual freedoms. Detainees endure appalling conditions, with credible reports of torture and cruel, inhumane punishments, particularly in Evin Prison.

Iran maintains one of the world’s highest per capita execution rates, often for offenses not meeting international criteria for the death penalty. Juveniles, starting at age nine for girls and 13 for boys, continue to face execution for crimes committed before turning eighteen.

Beyond its borders, Iran’s negligence for human rights is evident in Syria, where Iran-backed groups, including Hezbollah, target civilians, and in Iraq, where support is provided to hardline elements associated with designated terrorist organizations.

Corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels of the Iranian regime have led to extensive environmental degradation. Coupled with drought and rising temperatures, this negligence is pushing the country towards an environmental crisis. Iranians are increasingly vocal about concerns such as limited water access and poor air quality. In response, the regime resorts to force to suppress dissent and conceal its corrupt practices.

The regime’s failure to address crucial environmental issues, like the irreversible depletion of water resources and air pollution, reflects its inability to meet the basic needs of the people. While investing billions in foreign misadventures fueled by the IRGC, the regime neglects fundamental necessities at home, including clean water and fresh air. Activists mobilizing on these critical issues face harassment, arrest, or suspicious deaths.

Even if the regime formulated a sustainable water policy, rampant corruption hinders implementation. Lake Urmia in northwest Iran stands as an example of mismanagement, highlighting the regime’s resistance to change. Air pollution remains a severe and unresolved problem in Iran.

Originally published at on January 15, 2024.



Masoud Dalvand
Freedom Star

Human rights activist and advocate of democracy, freedom, and justice in Iran.