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Following the assassination of senior Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani by a US missile in Baghdad on Friday, Washington is bracing for retribution from Tehran. Soleimani's murder was linked to Iran's policy of supporting various militias and other disruptive armed organizations across the Middle East, according to the Trump administration. Using a study from The Soufan Center that provides insight on Iran's grand plan and "playbook" in the Middle East, our graphic illustrates what this implies.

Tensions between the US and Iran began to rise in May of this year when three tankers were "sabotaged" off the coast of the UAE. According to the New York Times, National Security Advisor John Bolton ordered a military contingency plan to be submitted to top White House security officials, which includes the deployment of 120,000 US soldiers to the Middle East. That occurred after Bolton announced the deployment of a US carrier strike group based on the USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 heavy bombers to the area.

To win a conventional 21st-century war, Iran has not built its capabilities and regional power. Instead, it has concentrated on pouring money and military weapons into regional friends, proxies, and militias to spread the political wealth and enable them to project influence in the area and beyond. Soft power (financial, political, diplomatic, public relations, and non-military methods) is a critical component in Tehran's strategy, alongside training and weapons supplies. This enables it to present itself as economically powerful while also gaining political support and protecting its agents and friends. Its investments in a large port project in Oman and its significant gas shipments to Iraq are examples of this. Iran has also profited from the schism between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Qatar. It has taken steps to boost food shipments to Doha and has given Qatar Airways permission to fly across its airspace.

How much money does it pour into its neighbors, given the scope of its regional activities? The study conducted by the Soufan Center reveals where Iranian money is moving throughout the Middle East and where Iranian-backed proxies and terrorist organizations are operating. Syria gets around $6 billion in economic assistance, discounted oil, commodities transfers, and military aid each year. Iraq gets up to $1 billion in aid, with some of it ending up in the hands of paramilitary groups. Lebanon, home to Hezbollah, receives approximately $700 million in financial aid, almost all going to the terrorist organization.

Iraqi, Lebanese, and Iranian upheavals have sparked a national soul-searching. Iranian politicians, scientists, sociologists, and analysts, as well as ordinary Iranians, are discussing whether the Islamic Republic is weaker, over-extended, or even on the verge of collapse.

The government has yet to release an official death toll for the domestic demonstrations, which erupted due to a sharp increase in fuel prices. It claims to be awaiting information from the national forensic institution. Meanwhile, Amnesty International estimates that more than 300 people have died due to authorities' "wide-scale clampdown" to cover up the killings.

When Hassan Rouhani steps down in August, the winner of Iran's presidential election will confront a slew of difficulties.

In the June 18 election, seven men are running, with a potential run-off on June 25th .

After his main opponents were disqualified, the ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi is regarded as the most probable candidate to win and take over the presidency in a nation where the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ultimate authority.

All of the candidates believe that the most important goal is to restore an economy that has been hammered severely by sanctions since former US President Donald Trump withdrew out of the Iran nuclear agreement, which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 epidemic.

After Iran's 2015 agreement with global powers, in which it promised not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons — a goal it has long denied pursuing — there were high expectations for an inflow of international investment.

However, Trump's expectations were shattered in 2018 when he pulled out of the agreement and reinstated or reimposed punishing penalties as part of a broad "maximum pressure" campaign.

Iran lost billions of dollars in vital oil earnings and was shut out of the global banking system.

According to the International Monetary Fund, GDP dropped by more than 6% in both 2018 and 2019, and only modestly increased last year.

Unemployment has increased, the rial currency has plummeted, and prices have climbed in tandem with inflation, which the IMF predicts will reach 39% this year.

"If the sanctions are removed, the macroeconomic situation would stabilize, with faster growth and lower inflation," said Thierry Coville of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

But, as Coville cautioned, the next president would still have to manage public expectations, since "one of the dangers is that people want things to change quickly and are disappointed."

Climate change, water scarcity, desertification, and urban air pollution may be Iran's forgotten concern, but they loom big in the nation of 83 million people.

"The Iranian environmental problem is genuine," Coville added, but "we get the sense that the administration is unable to implement a comprehensive strategy."

Three televised pre-election debates did not address environmental concerns.

Written By: Olivium's Editor

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