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Persia Rises Again

The Middle East in 2017 was all about the war against the Islamic State. It created strange bedfellows. Russia coordinated its military activities with the United States. The cooperation between Turkey and Iran, historical rivals, was unprecedented. The Arab states put aside their differences and their disdain for the Bashar Assad regime and devoted their resources to the Islamic State?s defeat.

As it turned out, the war was successful. IS no longer holds meaningful territory in the Middle East?just a few isolated pockets in Syria and Iraq. The victor of this war was Iran, which is poised to be the most consequential actor in the region in 2018. As the map shows, Iran has at various times been powerful enough to dominate the Middle East. The Islamic State?s defeat is Iran?s best chance to realize its regional ambitions.

Everything is set up well for Iran. Its influence over its old nemesis Iraq has become quite strong. The preservation of the Assad regime means the preservation of one of Iran?s most powerful allies. The end of the war against IS means Hezbollah can retreat from the battlefield and get back to ruling Lebanon? and causing problems for Israel. And all of this means Iran?s dream of projecting power out to the Mediterranean is within its grasp.

We don?t expect Iran to complete its objectives. First of all, Iran?s geography makes power projection difficult, even with significant allies in the region. But second and more important, Turkey is stronger than Iran. However, Turkey is not yet ready to assert that strength. That means 2018 will belong to Iran. It must make its moves now if it is to press its advantage successfully. In the long term, a new Persian empire will fail to materialize. But in 2018, Iran?s pursuit of empire will define Middle Eastern affairs.

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