Over the past decade, the Islamic Republic has gained steadily in strength and influence, to the point where it now controls Lebanon and exerts considerable influence over Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. To reverse this trend, argues Michael Eisenstadt, the U.S., while avoiding war, must confront Iran economically, militarily, and politically. He lays out a plan for doing so, some elements of which are as follows:
Washington should abandon its default commitment to regional stability. Rather, it should seek stability when that serves U.S. interests, and exploit instability when playing the role of spoiler may harm its adversaries. In doing so, the United States will be turning the tables on adversaries like Iran and Russia that have often used this same tactic against it. Washington should likewise counter Tehran’s proxy strategy with a U.S. proxy strategy. . . . Wherever possible, Washington should tie down Iranian and proxy forces in low-level, open-ended conflicts that could limit their ability to engage in troublemaking elsewhere. This includes quietly encouraging domestic unrest in Iran to divert resources that might otherwise be spent on capabilities to engage in troublemaking abroad. . . .
Iraq is the geopolitical fulcrum of efforts to disrupt Iran’s so-called land bridge to the Levant; as long as Iraq remains contested terrain, Iran’s ability to project power into the Levant will be subject to a degree of uncertainty. The key for Washington is to remain engaged. Here, the United States will find willing partners. Most mainstream Iraqi politicians—such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi—want the United States to remain in Iraq so that Iran does not become the uncontested foreign power there. . . .
The overwhelming imperative for the United States in the Levant is to prevent another Hizballah-Israel war. Yet U.S. policy in recent years may have made such a war more likely. . . . [To make the best of the situation], the United States should make clear that it will do the following: provide Israel the diplomatic and military cover needed to wage war successfully [against Hizballah and the Iranian presence in Syria]—even in the face of Russian opposition; augment Israel’s rocket and missile defenses with U.S. sea- and land-based systems; provide Israel with penetrator and other munitions required to deal with hardened underground bunkers and weapons factories; and provide Israel with the intelligence needed to interdict Shiite militias heading to the front from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Finally, the United States should make clear that it will agree to end [a war between Israel and Hizballah] only when conditions for an enduring ceasefire have been met, and it should quietly warn Hizballah and the Assad regime that the damage inflicted by a war with Israel could reignite civil wars in Lebanon and Syria.