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Iran, the Unitary State

Tehran’s Foreign-Policy Makers Act as One

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting with military commanders in Tehran, Iran in February 2017 Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader / New York Times / Redux

The drone strikes on two major Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia in September left many observers puzzled. Though officials in Washington and Riyadh blamed Iran for the attacks, aggression of this kind seemed at odds with the more conciliatory positions of the government of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president. Was it really in Iran’s interest to so drastically escalate a simmering conflict with the United States and its regional partners? The Houthis, Iran’s allies in Yemen’s bloody civil war, immediately claimed responsibility for hitting the oil fields, but the sophistication of the attack pointed to a state actor and, eventually, to Iran as the culprit. Though Iranian officials denied any involvement, some commentators suggested that elements of Iran’s security apparatus participated in the attacks, even if the strikes weren’t orchestrated at the level of the state. 

Many experts, including current and former analysts and

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