Recent Trends and Future Prospects of Iranian-Sponsored International Terrorism

by Bruce Hoffman

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International terrorism has been a prominent feature of Iran’s foreign policy since the revolution in 1979 that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. At the root of this policy is a desire to extend the fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law by exporting the Islamic revolution in Iran to other Muslim countries and cleansing the Middle East of all Western influence. This report examines the basic rationale of Iran’s international terrorism campaign, its trends and patterns of activity over the past six years, and the Iranian personalities behind the policy. It assesses the future course of Iran’s policy of supporting terrorism and, accordingly, focuses on the ongoing power struggles within the Iranian regime that are likely to determine the country’s foreign policy now that Khomeini has died. The author discusses four key issues: (1) the reason Iran has supported international terrorism as a foreign policy instrument; (2) the ties between Iran and extremist Shia organizations elsewhere; (3) the trends in international Shia terrorism activity and the explanations for these patterns; and (4) the ways these trends have been affected or influenced by internal rivalries within the Iranian ruling elite.

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