Amid the turmoil that has engulfed the wider Middle East over the course of the past year, Iran has been confronted with numerous challenges and some opportunities. Not surprisingly, the top priority for the Iranian regime remains its own survival. The main threats in this regard stem from external military intervention, internal unrest and increasingly, over the past year, strengthened international sanctions in response to its nuclear program. In order to counter these threats, Iran continues to invest in asymmetric, niche capabilities that play to Iran’s strengths while exploiting the vulnerabilities of its high-tech adversaries. The regime has also embarked on a diplomatic and covert military offensive, the latter spearheaded by the Qods Force, to undermine the U.S. and its allies in the region.
The possibility of widespread internal unrest, orchestrated from abroad, has traditionally been a top concern of the Iranian regime, rendered more acute by the riots that followed the presidential elections in 2009. While the regime’s threat perceptions are unlikely to change in this regard in the short term, the possibility of widespread unrest engulfing the country in 2012 is probably more remote than it has been in previous years. Speculation that the Arab Spring might give rise to a period of renewed unrest in Iran has proved to be unfounded. The reformist Green Movement has been driven underground, and all of its key leaders who have not gone into exile have been arrested or silenced. Iran’s security forces -- including its intelligence services, its police force and the paramilitary Basij -- have become particularly adept at penetrating opposition networks and disrupting demonstrations before they spread. Ongoing low-level ethnic and sectarian insurgencies in Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan continue to plague Tehran, but they do not threaten the regime’s existence. ...
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