President Assad, governing according to Shia Islam, is backed by Iran. After Syria’s violent civil war ended with the Treaty of Damascus in 2018, he regained control over the state. Since then, with Russian support and Western frustration, Assad has maintained control for 4 years before promising, but not yet fulfilling, democratic elections.
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, governing according to Sunni Islam, is backed by Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Shia Houthi rebels are backed by Iran. The civil war is still ongoing, although after recent US intervention, the Houthis have been forced back to holdings in only half of Sana’a and the neighboring coastal region of Al Hudaydah. In 2018, following a withdrawal from Syria, US forces were deployed to assist the Saudi coalition in removing Al-Qaeda/Ansar al-Sharia terrorist forces from the region. Reportedly, the US Navy and Airforce has also been providing additional support to Saudi forces attacking Houthi held regions.
Saudi Arabia wishes to destabilize Lebanon because Hezbollah (a powerful Shia militia group, designated by the United States and much of Europe as a terrorist organization), military backed by Iran, is politically powerful. Hezbollah is now supported by Iran directly through Syria and has been engaged in a guerilla war with Israel since 2019. Israel has been conducting frequent airstrikes into Lebanon and Syria in an attempt to disrupt weapons shipments and manufacturing in these regions that are funded by Iran. Israel has threatened to intervene in Lebanon should Hezbollah become overtly in control of the democratic government there or should it present a threat due to its mass production of precision-guided rockets.
At first, many Shia clerics and militia leaders were aligned with the US and Saudis. However, after the parliamentary elections in 2018, many new Iran-backed leaders were elected into the Iraqi government. However, most civilians and government officials in Iraq still view Saudi Arabia as an ally against an expansionist Iran. Some members of the government maintain pro-Iranian personal views, but they are not enacted in government functions. Iran has been plagued with war for two decades and thus is now focused on internal rebuilding and will probably hold a neutral stance with little support in regional conflicts.
Below is a diagram exemplifying the structure of the Iranian government from 1979 to 2020:
Chairman of Assembly of Experts Ahmad Jannati: Known as one of Iran’s most conservative clerics, Jannati is chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council. He opposes the United States and Israel, and has disqualified many reformist candidates for disloyalty to the Supreme Leader. Additionally, he calls for support for Hezbollah and the compulsory hijab. Lastly, he is one of the founders of the Haghani School, a Shi’a school of thought based in the holy city of Qom.
First Deputy Chairman of Assembly of Experts Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi: Another of Iran’s conservative clerics, Shahroudi is first deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts and Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council. However, in January of 2018, he received heavy international criticism for seeking medical treatment in Germany despite his “crimes against humanity”. Prior to Khamenei’s death, he was considered a possible successor.
General Mohammad Ali Jafari: As Major General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Jafari is largely responsible for subduing revolts at home and directing military action in the region. The Revolutionary Guard Corps supplies the Hezbollah and Hamas with weapons against Israel and is designated a terrorist organization by the United States. In 2017, Jafari warned the United States against re-imposing sanctions, threatening Iran’s use of missiles and treatment of the United States army as a terrorist group.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zarif, was one of the key negotiators of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015 and advices the United States not re-impose sanctions. He also advocates for regional cooperation within the Middle East, especially with Pakistan in combating ISIS and negotiating peace with Afghanistan.
Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zanganeh: Appointed as Minister of Petroleum, Zanganeh leads Iran as the third-largest producer of oil in OPEC. Trying to recover after sanctions were lifted in 2015, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has signed many deals, including one with a Russian company, in 2018, to develop oil fields in Iran.
Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani: Speaker of Parliament (Majles), Larijani, is a conservative politician with a military background (former Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Commander of the Revolutionary Guard). Although previously a key player in the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015, Larijani is more recently known for influencing president Hassan Rouhani, worrying the reformists who elected Rouhani.
Cleric Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi: A conservative hardliner, Yazdi has held nearly every political office in Iran and is regarded as a possible successor to Khamenei. He has inspired other conservative politicians such as Ahmadinejad in 2009. However, Yazdi has also criticized reform-minded politicians like Khatami.
Cleric Ebrahim Raisi: Known as a conservative populist, Raisi ran against incumbent Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 presidential elections. Although he lost, Raisi became a prominent political newcomer in 2018 when he won a seat in Parliament on the basis of anti-corruption. Raisi is supported by rural conservatives and has significant support as a possible successor to Khamenei.
Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi: Prior Prime Minister of Iran, Mousavi ran for president in 2009, under the platform of economic reform, democracy and improved relations with the United States and Europe, against incumbent Ahmadinejad. After he lost the election, he and many others claimed voter fraud, resulting in a series of protests known as the Green Movement. He underwent a period of house arrest, along with his wife and Mehdi Karroubi. However, he was released in 2019.
President Hassan Rouhani: In 2013 Rouhani ran for president as a moderate who would bring Iran’s economy into the global arena. However, as Iran’s economy failed to improve even after sanctions were lifted, Rouhani ran as a complete reformist in 2017, calling for an end to corruption, including deals with the Revolutionary Guard, mass executions, and the house of arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi. As the current president of Iran, he has re-awakened the Green Movement.
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: In 2005 and 2009, Ahmadinejad won the office of the president in Iran as a conservative populist against corruption with nationalist ideals, such as a strong nuclear program and the elimination of Israel. However, in 2013 when Rouhani was elected president, Ahmadinejad turned reform-minded calling for democracy and economic reform, putting himself in danger of house arrest.
Former President Mohammad Khatami: Prior president of Iran in 1997, Khatami’s term indicated the first efforts towards a reform movement in Iran, supporting a free market, diplomatic relations with the West and civil liberties at home. He garnered the support of young people and women while still maintaining his respectability as a religious intellectual. However, many of his efforts have been stifled by conservative hardliners whom he worries will respond violently to reforms. From 2005-2009 he was a critic of Ahmadinejad and supported Mousavi.
Portfolio Powers: Popular Support of Secular Reformists and Religious Moderates, Strong Speaking Skills, Foreign Contacts (particularly in the EU and the US)
Former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref: Prior Vice President to Khatami in 1997, Aref is now the head of the reformist movement in Parliament. In 2013, he was running for president when he dropped out, at the request of Khatami, in order to increase the chance of Rouhani’s victory as a reformist.
Reformist Cleric Mehdi Karroubi: Similar to Mousavi, Karroubi ran for president in 2009 and lost to Ahmadinejad. Karroubi appealed to moderate clerics and rural voters. In both 2005 and 2009, Karroubi claimed to continue Khatami’s reformist efforts. However, Khatami largely put his support behind Mousavi. Karroubi underwent house arrest with Mousavi and was also released in 2019.
Portfolio Powers: Publicity from the 2009 Green Movement, Political “Martyr Status” Journalist Abbas Abdi: In 1979, Abbas Abdi led the student group that held 52 Americans hostage after hearing of the United States’ treatment of the Shah. Furthermore, in 1997, he helped create the reform movement that elected Mohammad Khatami. Today he is a key reform-minded journalist opposed to the United States re-imposing sanctions and the mandatory hijab.
Reformist Politician Mostafa Tajzadeh: In 2009, Tajzadeh was arrested during the Green Movement and imprisoned for 6 years. Today, he is no longer in prison, but is still reform-minded by pushing back against the mandatory hijab and corruption, particularly within the Revolutionary Guard, Judiciary, and Guardian Council.
Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Masoud Karbasian: As Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, Karbasian is mainly focused in solidifying economic ties between Russia and Azerbaijan. He also emphasizes the importance of privatization.
Iraqi Minister of Defense Erfan al-Hiyali: As Iraq’s Minister of Defense, Erfan al-Hiyali is primarily concerned with Iraq-Iran military relations. Iran is currently selling weapons to Iraq for use against Sunni insurgents and in counterterrorism efforts. Iraq and Iran wish to conduct relations among themselves without outside interference of the United States or Israel.
Russian Nuclear Director Alexey Likhachev: As Director of Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev is primarily interested in deals with Iran to build nuclear power plants. However, tense United States-Russia Relations and need for compliance with the Iran Nuclear Deal has complicated this aim.
Saudi Arabian Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdel al-Jubeir: As Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdel al-Jubeir is interested in the fate of Iran due to the rivalry between regional superpowers: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Details are more clearly described above and should be used to jumpstart research on the complicated nature of Iran-Saudi Relations.
American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: As the United States’ Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is interested in both promoting democracy and counterterrorism abroad. However, Pompeo is also concerned with the Iran Nuclear Deal, especially after Donald Trump, a proponent of re-imposing sanctions, was elected to a second term earlier this year.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem: As Syria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Muallem is concerned with the ensuring a pro-Assad Iran remains in the aftermath of any revolution. Without Iran’s backing for the Shia minority Assad regime, it could be engulfed in a renewed civil war with its Sunni majority populace.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini: As the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mogherini is focused importing oil from Iran, a trade negotiation complicated by sanctions/boycotts around nuclear weapon development and state-sponsored terrorism.
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