Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Khomeini was an Iranian theocratic dictator from 1979 to 1989. He founded the Islamic Republic of Iran and led the 1979 Iranian revolution, which overthrew the last Shah of Iran and ended 2,500 years of Persian monarchy. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the supreme leader of Iran and maintained the position until his death in 1989.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Iran’s second and current supreme leader (1989–present). Khamenei took power after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Dictatorship: A type of authoritarian government in which a small group or individual person rules with almost unlimited power.
Guardian Council: A constitutionally mandated council with significant power and influence in Iran. The council consists of 12 appointed members who are responsible for supervising elections and interpreting Iran’s constitution, among other things. The Guardian Council determines who can run for national office, holds veto power over laws passed by elected officials, and increases the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
Hegemonic: Politically or socially dominant.
Hezbollah: A political party and terrorist organization with significant influence in Iraq and Lebanon.
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iranian nuclear deal): An agreement between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union on the Iranian nuclear program in 2015. The agreement relieved sanctions placed on Iran in exchange for significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC): A branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to advancing the goals of the Iranian leadership and keeping it in power.
Liberal democracy: A form of representative democracy with free and fair elections, characterized by a competitive political process. All adult citizens are given the right to vote regardless of race, gender, or property ownership. A liberal democracy may take various constitutional forms, such as a constitutional republic, a federal republic, a constitutional monarchy, a presidential system, a parliamentary system, or a hybrid semipresidential system. For example, countries such as the United States, India, Germany, and Brazil each take the form of a constitutional republic.
Proxy war: Conflicts where countries use intermediaries in order to accomplish political or military goals. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union did not fight one another directly. Instead they supported people and regimes in various countries in order to expand their influence. Iran has been engaging in a four-decade long proxy war against the United States. Rather than directly attack the United States, Iran prods anti-American sentiment in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Iran then provides support to violent actors in these countries in an effort to drive the US out of the region.
Strategic empathy: An understanding that ideology, emotions, and aspirations drive and constrain the actions of other countries.
Tehran: The capital of Iran.
Theocracy: A system of government led by officials claiming divine guidance. Typically, in theocracies, the legal system is based on some form of religious law.
Qassim Soleimani (1957–2020): Soleimani was an Iranian major general and Ayatollah Khamenei’s right-hand man. From 1998 until his assassination, he was commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which was primarily responsible for military intelligence and unconventional warfare.