Iran, its clients, and the future of the Middle East: the limits of religion
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Iran has steadily expanded its strategic influence across the Middle East in large part due to its cultivation of a network of foreign co-religionist militant clients. Those clients have enabled Iran to fight adversaries by proxy in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iran's growing regional influence is often credited to the shared religious ties and loyalties of its clients. This article challenges that notion by examining Iran's post-1979 track record of developing clients and argues that, although Iran's successes—such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iraq's Badr—are well known, its failures to develop or retain the loyalty of clients have received much less attention. This article finds that Iran's relations with its clients are strongest when three conditions exist: first, those clients share Iran's theocratic interpretation of Shi'a Islam; second, Iran is the sole patron or the leading outside source of support to the client; and third, the client either shares or does not oppose Iran's ambitions in its country and agenda in the region. In cases when all those factors are present, Iran has been successful at preserving strong ties with clients over time. However, if one of those conditions is absent, then Iran's ties to a client can be susceptible to weakening and outside competition. These findings have important implications for the future of Iranian influence in the region and the Middle East more broadly.
The article of record as published may be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiy185
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