Iran's influence in the region is waning as its traditional allies like Syria are suffering from internal conflict
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Iran’s role in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere continues to conflict with U.S. interests in the Middle East, and Tehran’s defensive foreign policy should not discount the most destructive elements of its foreign policy, including enabling the Assad regime’s massacre of civilians and supporting designated terrorist groups. But placed in context, it is clear that Iran has not made marked gains since the Arab Spring. Despite the shifting to focus on its most critical partners, Tehran is today seeing its influence in the region recede and its allies’ power and sovereignty diminished. Sound U.S. policies can check Iran’s destabilizing influence while engaging Tehran on shared interests, such as containing the threat from the Islamic State and implementing a mutually beneficial nuclear agreement.
A few short years ago, Iran was focusing on expanding its role in the Middle East, including among Sunnis, capitalizing on its mantle as the leader of the self-proclaimed anti-Israel “Axis of Resistance.” 1 Though Tehran still aspires to regional preeminence, challenges to its allies have forced it to deemphasize its resistance to Israel: Its ties to Hamas have been largely usurped by Turkey and Qatar, and Hezbollah, a cornerstone of Iran’s resistance axis, is focused almost entirely on Syria and likely incapable of sustaining a fight against Israel. Iran and its allies are today deeply embroiled in sectarian civil wars it had no interest in fighting.
Iran has a long history of supporting terrorist proxies and promoting an aggressive foreign policy that has caused instability in the region. However, we should be careful not to overstate the impact or threat from their regional ambitions as they have had limited success in spreading their revolutionary ideology. Additionally, recent instability in Iran's traditional spheres of influence (ex. ISIS and Syria), is forcing them to refocus their efforts and reduce funding for other activities.