Iran’s Interregional Dynamics in the Near East

by Banafsheh Keynoush (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection XIV, 158 Pages


Few regions in the world are as torn by conflicts as the Near East, in which Iran plays a central role. Opportunities to engage with Iran are abundant, but they are squandered when regional states address immediate conflicts in which Iran is only one part, despite its prominent role. Iran’s Interregional Dynamics in the Near East provides a comprehensive guide to broaden our understanding about Iran and its regional neighbors. By analyzing how Iran’s neighbors view their ties with the country, this volume reveals why Iran is less successful in expanding its regional influence than what is commonly assumed. This is the first book of its kind to be written exclusively by authors from and working in the Near East region who came together at a roundtable funded by and convened at Princeton University. As the moderator of the roundtable, the editor of this volume invited the authors to contribute chapters to this timely book. The book explores a wide range of topics to describe the complex relations between Iran and other states in the Near East including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. The volume is designed to inform politicians, world leaders, scholars, senior policy makers, and graduate students, and it provides an accessible guide to undergraduate students, junior scholars, and the general public.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Transliteration
  • Introduction (Banafsheh Keynoush)
  • 1. Saudi Arabia and Iran: Can Balanced Relations Be Restored? (Banafsheh Keynoush)
  • 2. Iran’s Axis of Influence in Levant and Iraq (Banafsheh Keynoush and Hamad H. Albloshi)
  • 3. Qatar and Iran: Regional Roles, Risks and Opportunities (Luciano Zaccara and Wafa Sultana Mohiddin)
  • 4. Kuwaiti Views of Iran (Hamad H. Albloshi)
  • 5. Iran’s Relations with Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (Nursin Ateşoğlu Güney, Banafsheh Keynoush, and Visne Korkmaz)
  • 6. Old Grievances, New Challenges: Conflict and Cooperation between Turkey and Iran (Nursin Ateşoğlu Güney and Özden Zeynep Oktav)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


On October 19, 2018, the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Princeton University hosted a by invitation only roundtable discussion entitled The Near East: Iran’s Interregional Dynamics. The event brought together experts from the region and the United States, to participate in three moderated panels convened for half a day. Experts presented papers on pre-selected topics, exchanged views, and responded to questions from invited guests at the roundtable. Guests included Princeton University students, faculty, scholars, staff, and members from the Mossavar-Rahmani Center. Discussions focused on relations between Iran and the Gulf Arab states, Iran’s relations with Turkey and Israel, and Iran’s involvement in conflicts in the Arab world.

As the convener and moderator of the roundtable, I invited speakers to contribute chapters to this edited volume. Views expressed in the volume are those of the contributors, not those of the Center. The volume includes chapters by several of the speakers at the roundtable, and reflects the goal of the roundtable, i.e., to bring forward discussions about Iran’s foreign policy from the perspectives of its immediate neighbors in the Near East region. The views in the following chapters offer unique and seldom explored region-specific perspectives on Iran, from experts from the region, and bring those perspectives to the attention of western and English-speaking readers.

My gratitude goes to the contributors to this volume, for patiently spending months writing, revising and reviewing chapters, and for flying long distances to participate at the roundtable. My time at Princeton University as a visiting scholar and subsequently as a temporary professional employee enabled the work on this volume. The Mossavar-Rahmani Center’s Interim Director, Dr. Michael Cook, patiently supported my efforts to invite a larger group of discussants from the Near East region to the roundtable with generous funding provided by the Center. I worked closely with speakers on their presentations for the roundtable, and the Center provided logistical support for the event. I am indebted to the Center’s former manager Reagan Maraghy and her colleague Becky Parnian for their support. The Center’s Inaugural Director Dr. John Haldon supported my work by inviting me to visit Princeton in 2017 and in 2018.

It is my hope that the present volume repays some of the debt I have to everyone who made it happen. It was a joy producing this work with my colleagues, and exploring themes for this volume during long walks on the gentle roads of the Princeton campus, because every step of the way presented a fresh point of view to observe Iran. Understanding this country’s complex regional foreign policy demands hard work, both in this present volume and in the future.

Banafsheh Keynoush

August 2020


Banafsheh Keynoush

This volume aims to provide the reader with a comprehensive guide into the points of views of Iran’s neighbors in the Near East about the country’s conduct of its regional foreign policy. The volume is designed to inform scholars, graduate students, and senior policy makers; but it also provides an accessible guide to undergraduate students, junior scholars, and the general public to better understand the regional relations in the Near East. Few regions in the world have been quite torn by conflicts and wars as the Near East region, in which Iran has played a central role. This volume is meant to improve our understanding about Iran’s regional neighbors and their policies toward the country.

International relations and the politics of the Near East region interact closely, and are interdependent, especially when it pertains to the influence that the United States of America has on the local countries. It is impossible to examine Iran’s regional behavior in a serious fashion without examining how external powers such as the United States have shaped the regional sub-system, and how the region has responded to US policy preferences on issues that involve Iran. In a similar vein, it is impossible to ignore the rich case studies that the individual countries in the Near East have supplied to better understand local interactions with Iran.

In this spectrum of topics that the present volume explores, different international relations theories and concepts are discussed in order to describe the complex relations between the individual states in the Near East region and Iran. While most other regions of the world have been studied rigorously through this disciplinary theoretical approach, the Near East continues to offer a minefield to test international relations theories against the complex realities of the region.1 | 2

What is clear is that regional conflicts between Iran and its neighbors continue to squander abundant opportunities for engagement. Given that many other regional countries besides Iran are dependent for their security on the United States, while some are able to develop independent foreign policies, Iran’s regional role is partly susceptible to the policy preferences of its neighbors. Not surprisingly, Iran has been most successful in expanding its regional influence when conflicts break down the ability of regional countries to properly function as independent states. As a result, unlike what most scholars would argue, the present volume demonstrates that Iran has been far less successful than what is commonly believed to expand its regional influence in unbridled fashion. More than often, Iran has been forced to develop a piecemeal approach that enables it to adapt its regional foreign policy to the preferences of its neighbors.

This volume helps fill the gap that exists in understanding the nuances of how Iran’s neighbors have chosen to interact with the country, through an approach in which international relations theories are explored to offer key ideas and concepts and their influence on the evolution of the foreign policies of the regional states vis-à-vis Iran. The title of the book deliberately focuses on the Near East region in an effort to draw a narrower geographic map that excludes the African Arab states and Yemen although the impact of the conflict in this Arab country is briefly discussed in various chapters, to better explore some distinctive patterns of interaction at the international and regional levels that impact relations with Iran, while leaving room to sufficiently navigate the non-state and sub-state domains that are increasingly viewed as normal parts of the regional relations with Iran.

Against the backdrop of perpetual conflicts, the boundaries between peace and war are blurred in the Near East region. In this space, opportunities to engage with Iran are abundant, but state capabilities are geared to addressing immediate conflicts in which Iran is only one part despite its prominent regional role. This book will examine how the power equilibrium in the regional states’ relations with Iran is challenged frequently by conflicts, and how it is being reshaped. More specifically, how members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) engage with Iran will be explored, as well as Iran’s relations in Iraq and the Levant, and with Turkey.

Chapter 1 examines how the limits of multilateralism, hegemonic policies, and niche diplomacy have impacted the Saudi-Iranian relationship. The chapter is followed by an in-depth examination of Iran’s policies in Iraq and the Levant region. Chapter 3 looks at the nuances of the evolving ties between Qatar and Iran, while Chapter 4 discusses how Kuwait seeks to accommodate Iran to achieve the goal of security and economic development. Chapter 5 2 | 3examines the role that the three small Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates play in shaping regional and bilateral relations with Iran. The final chapter of the book focuses on a detailed examination of the complex relations between Turkey and Iran.

The volume does not provide a conclusion except a brief one at the end of every chapter. A careful study of each of these chapters offers sufficient material by way of a conclusion, to demonstrate that there is a lack of clarity in the region about the impact of US-Iran tensions and Iran’s response to this reality, which in turn leads to a piecemeal regional policy that builds on unresolved conflicts, and modest levels of accommodation, between Iran and its neighbors. Several strands of theory including neorealism and concepts such as the role of middle powers and small powers are explored. But theory does not necessarily apply to all chapters or segments within them, so that readers can appreciate the complexity of the region and build their own understanding of it based on facts provided in this volume and the perspectives of the countries of the region.


XIV, 158
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 158 pp.

Biographical notes

Banafsheh Keynoush (Volume editor)

Banafsheh Keynoush conducted research in the Near East for two decades. She received her Ph.D. from Tufts University, completed coursework at Harvard University, and was a visiting scholar at Princeton University. Her book Saudi Arabia and Iran: Friends or Foes? was translated into several languages.


Title: Iran’s Interregional Dynamics in the Near East
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174 pages