JEB SHARP: We're likely to learn more details about Iran's secret nuclear site in the coming weeks. A lot of small picture detail, in other words. So we figured it would be useful to take a quick look at the region's overall strategic chessboard. Here's The World's Alex Gallafant with a list in hand.
ALEX GALLAFANT: We'll run through a few of Iran's interests one by one, with the help of Daniel Byman. Byman directs the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. Let's start with Iraq, Iran's neighbor to the west. Under Saddam Hussein, it was Iran's enemy. Now, Dan Byman says, it's under the strong influence of Iran.
DANIEL BYMAN: This influence is political, economic, cultural and military. And it's going to grow as US forces draw down from the country.
GALLAFANT: Perhaps Iran's best friend in the region is Syria. Both countries oppose Israel and are hostile to the United States. The US is working on that -- in fact, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister is in Washington today for talks. But Byman says Syria's ties to Iran will be hard to break.
BYMAN: In a way, they're almost all the other one has. So, to pry Syria loose will require quite a few concessions: from the United States and from Israel.
GALLAFANT: We'll get to Israel in a moment. But first, right next door to Syria, there's Lebanon. It's home to the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Iran helped found Hezbollah over 25 years ago -- and remains its principal supporter. But not everyone in the region wants a dominant Iran. Take Sunni Arab nations such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They work with the United States to counter Iran's influence. But Byman says there's tension: these countries are afraid the US will cut a deal with Tehran.
BYMAN: ï¿½whether over its nuclear program, or over Iraq or something else, and essentially, to abandon themï¿½. They're concerned the United States will shift from one side of the Muslim world to the Iranian world. That view is overstated of course, but in the back of their minds, they don't trust Washington to always do the right thing.
GALLAFANT: Now we'll turn to Iran's neighbor to the east: Afghanistan. Iran sees the chaos there as a threat to its own stability. Byman says Iran is concerned about the resurgence of the Taliban. ...but is also wary of increased American influence in the country.
BYMAN: Iran's response to this has been to try to play all sides. At times its people, its forces, its local sympathizers have cooperated with the United States and its allies in Afghanistan. But Iran has also worked with anti-US forces including the Taliban in order to gain influence at a local level and try and gain options should the situation there change dramatically.
GALLAFANT: In other words, Iran accepts a degree of instability in exchange for strategic position. Byman says that's a basic Iranian strategy right across the region -- to create chaos, to sow unrest or to create civil strife in its neighbors.
BYMAN: And so instability is a weapon for Iran to wield, but at the same time, Iran is concerned that the pot will bubble too much and eventually blow the top off.
GALLAFANT: The pot is certainly bubbling at the moment with news of Iran's secret nuclear facility and its testing of medium range missiles. All this is of particular concern to Israel -- the main target of Iranian animosity.
BYMAN: Iran has consistently supported anti-Israel terrorist movements, and has claimed at least that its missile program and its nuclear program are in large part designed to counter Israel, not other powers.
GALLAFANT: Israel is an undeclared nuclear state -- that makes it not just a regional power, but a global power. And that's what Iran aspires to be, according to Dan Byman. But he adds that it's still developing that status. Its military is weak. Its economy is struggling. And, since Iran's disputed election, the country's leadership is under tremendous pressure. Byman says Iran is a country that in many ways has punched well above its weight. The question is: can it keep doing so? For The World, I'm Alex Gallafant.