Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a religious scholar, the Supreme Leader. Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state. The Iranian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, though they are sometimes the subject of discrimination and repression. The workweek in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays. Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed.
Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution there have been two views within the government of the Islamic Republic. The first view is a radical, conservative, and fundamentalist view which has had a stronger role in directing the government and people of Iran. In foreign policy it sees a conflict in the policies of Iran's Islamic regime and that of the "aggressive regimes" (as the government calls them) headed by America. The second viewpoint believes in Islam and the Revolution but at the same time it is a moderate viewpoint.
Some elements of the Iranian regime and the population remain hostile to the United States. As a result, American citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran. In 2007, Iranian authorities prevented a number of Iranian-American citizen academics, journalists, and others who traveled to Iran for personal reasons from leaving for several months, and in some cases detained and imprisoned them on various charges, including espionage and posing a threat to national security. Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals access to the United States Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.
Iran is a pluralistic society. Persians are the largest predominant ethnic and cultural group in this country, though many are actually of mixed ancestry. The population of the country has important Turkic elements (e.g., Azeris) and Arabs predominate in the southwest. In addition, Iranian citizens include Kurds, Balochi, Bakhtyari, Lurs, and other smaller minorities, such as Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, and Brahuis (or Brohi). The Iranian regime continues to repress its minority religious and ethnic groups, including Bahai, Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, and others. Consequently, some areas within the country where these minorities reside, including the Baluchistan border area near Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kurdish northwest of the country, and areas near the Iraqi border, remain unsafe.
Iran's foreign relations are based on sometimes competing objectives. Iran's pragmatic foreign policy goals include, not surprisingly, protecting itself from external threats and building trade ties. Iran also exports its fundamentalist revolution to other countries and supports terrorist organizations, and its vehement anti-U.S. and anti-Israel stances are well-known.
Iran's relations with many of its Arab neighbors have been strained by Iranian attempts to spread its Islamic revolution, a strictly ideological goal. In 1981, Iran supported a plot to overthrow the Bahrain Government. In 1983, Iran expressed support for Shi'ites who bombed Western embassies in Kuwait, and in 1987, Iranian pilgrims rioted during the hajj (pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Egypt mistrusts Iran because of support of Egyptian Sunni fundamentalists. Iran backs Hezbollah (in Lebanon), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, all of which are violently opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Since the toppling of Shah Reza Pavlavi, long-standing international economic sanctions against Iran, combined with the conservative Shia Islam of the ruling religious mullah elite with great antipathy to the West and Israel have produced complex national security requirements for Iran. Striving to re-establish its traditional sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf region as its major player, Iran faces challenges not only from the West, and especially the United States, but also from local powerful and influential potentates.
Iran's primary national security concerns are predominantly "local" relating to maintaining the internal security of the country. This translates to maintaining the security of the Islamic revolution that began with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Iranian security has three focal points: securing the country against opposition elements like Iraqi sponsored Mujahedin operating along Iran's border with Iraq; maintaining territorial integrity against long standing potential secessionist movements in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan; and preventing the incursions of religious ethnic insurgents into Iran from Iran's neighboring states. Such incursions could originate especially from those states in the process of decomposition such as Iraq and Afghanistan or in conflict like Azerbaijan and nearby Tajikistan.
The mission of Iran's Armed forces is to assure the territorial integrity of the country. Subsequent to the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraqi conflict that decimated Iran's military capability, Iran has been in a gradual armament and military infrastructure rebuilding process. Given the political isolation Iran faces and the multitude of its threats from a US presence in the region, a hostile Iraq to the west and uncertain ethnic tensions within the states to its north and east, Iran has embarked on a substantial rearmament program. The immediacy of Iran's concerns for its internal security posed by threats on all its flanks will preoccupy its military to concentrate on diminishing the likelihood that the stability inherent in those regions does not spread to Iran.
Accordingly, Iran has concentrated its military strategies on two primary goals:
- Maintain the internal security of Iran to prevent the rise of nationalistic uprisings among its ethnic-religious minorities. The potential for these uprisings is fueled by conflicts in countries to the north of Iran as well as in Afghanistan to the east.
- Confine the access of the United States to the Persian Gulf. Iran's deployment of anti-ship missiles such as the Chinese Silkworm system at the Strait of Hormuz and the purchase of submarines with mine-laying capabilities support this objective.
Iran's air and air defense forces are the weakest link in the overall defense posture of the country. This situation will remain so until the modernization of Iran's aircraft occurs, the numbers of such aircraft increase and the training of its pilots and depth of its repair parts inventory improve. The majority of the inventory of the replacements to its aging U.S. manufactured fighters and fighter-bombers is a mix of Russian and Chinese aircraft. Despite serious problems that are currently being addressed through foreign arms acquisitions and the indigenous development and production of Azarakhsh and Tandar military trainer aircraft, Iran's air force has a modest offensive capability. However, Iran remains vulnerable to attack from the air due to the poor state of its air defenses.
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