Shifting Threats and Strategic Adjustment in Iran’s Foreign Policy: The case of Strait of Hormuz

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Iranian behavior in the Strait of Hormuz (Strat) and the Persian Gulf is Janus-faced, swinging between the embracement of confrontation through calls to close the Strat and a quest for cooperation, which has been exemplified by inviting Arab monarchies to talk. Why is Tehran’s policy in the Strait in such a constant state of flux? Is it just a policy inconsistency or does it signal aspects of the Islamic Republic’s strategic logic instead? Some explanations focus narrowly on ideological motives, hegemonic ambitions, or rogue elements in the IRGC. None of these explanations are satisfactory, however. This paper argues that the Islamic Republic is a reactive actor to threats with a penetrative foreign policy. The dominant role of its leadership’s threat perception has resulted in the use of the power resources in a constant strategic adjustment with shifting threats. These adjustments follow a trade-off between leadership’s confidence in capabilities and wariness of constraints. Such a dynamic explains important shifts in Iranian foreign policy. This article deconstructs Iran’s power strategies and constraints in the Strait as a case study. It shows that while the Islamic Republic’s principal policy in the Strait in a non-existential threat environment favors maintaining the security of the waterway, Iranian leaders leave behind constraint-driven conservatism when existential threats emerge by incorporating the Strait into their deterrence or loss-aversive brinkmanship strategy. Flexible adjustments are perceived in Tehran as an essential tool to guarantee the regime’s survival.




Divsallar, A. (2021). Shifting Threats and Strategic Adjustment in Iran’s Foreign Policy: The case of Strait of Hormuz. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.

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