Iran, the second-largest country in the Middle East, is a multi-ethnic Islamic theocracy with the ultimate decision maker being the country's prime religious authority, its Supreme Leader. It infuses elements of democracy, such as an elected president. With one of the longest and storied histories of civilization, the current Islamic Republic of Iran was established by Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 following the Islamic Revolution. Kohmeini became Iran's first Supreme Leader. 

Iran is considered authoritarian in its suppression of rights for women and children and the violent squandering of opposing political protests.

Strategically located between the water bodies of the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian sea, it is bordered by key middle-eastern players, such as Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Iran holds the world's second-largest natural gas supply as well as a massive oil reserve, a key element often discussed in its role in international relations and political leverage.  

Before 1979, Iran maintained friendly relations with Israel via pro-Western leader Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. However, after the Islamic Revolution, Iran severed all ties with Israel and by the 1990s relations turned hostile.

Iran has escalated its nuclear technology development over the years while also funding and supporting Islamic-extremist proxy groups much closer to Israel, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hezbollah. 

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Ben Cardin, United States Senator (D) from Maryland at the 7th Annual JPost Conference in NY

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Head of the Institute for National Security Studies, Amos Yadlin.

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