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ALM Special

2023 in review: Iran sees opportunity in Gaza war, steps up crackdown at home

Iran's theocratic establishment engaged in a flurry of foreign diplomacy to try to ease the international isolation it is facing, while at home it intensified its crackdown on dissent.
11/24/2023 Tehran, Iran. Two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) armed military personnel are monitoring an area while standing guard next to an Iranian Majid anti-aircraft missile system during the Ela Beit Al-Moghaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) military rally in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Hossein Beris / Middle East Images / Middle East Images via AFP) (Photo by HOSSEIN BERIS/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2023, from the Gulf to Russia, and from Africa to Latin America, the Iranian government left no stone unturned in its effort to expand diplomatic relations in order to offset its international political and economic isolation. Tehran also capitalized on the Gaza war to rally its proxies, change the conversation and intensify its crackdown at home. 

The most notable regional breakthrough of the year occurred in March with the surprise announcement that Tehran and Riyadh had agreed on a rapprochement, brokered by China, after an eight-year hiatus and years of antipathy. 

Still, while the two states have officially reinstated diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, few concrete steps have been taken to show the longtime rivals are on track to deepen economic and political relations. Divergent foreign policy goals and deep-seated ideological fissures between the Shiite state in Tehran and the Sunni kingdom in Riyadh seem to remain unaddressed. 

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister's refusal to meet with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran in June because a portrait of Iran's hard-line slain former commander Qasem Soleimani appeared on the press conference wall was further proof of how far the two sides still need to come to achieve genuine normalization.

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