Iranian plans for expansion in the Middle East and Africa… Details

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Iranian leadership has sought to export this revolution with the aim of intervening in neighboring countries and destabilizing their stability. It has also established numerous charities and Shiite cultural centers outside Iran to gain the sympathy of Muslims in general and Arab Shiites in particular.

The goal is to gain support for regimes, organizations, and individuals loyal to the Iranian regime in the Middle East and Africa, paving the way to control certain locations in these countries. This was confirmed by a prominent Iranian government figure during the celebration of the Iranian Revolution anniversary in 2015, when the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Major General Qassem Soleimani, announced that ‘the indicators of exporting the Islamic revolution are evident in the entire region, from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen, and even North Africa.’

Since the early 1980s, Iran has been planning to establish the Greater Iranian Empire, with its roots in Asia and branches in the Middle East and Africa. Here’s what we will try to outline below:

Iranian Expansion in the Middle East

Regional control has become a strategic goal for Iran after the Khomeini Revolution in 1979. This control prompted the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to act against this expansionist state, especially as Saudi Arabia felt surrounded by groups affiliated with Iranian influence. Therefore, there should be no doubt about Iran’s aspirations for political and strategic hegemony over the Arabian Gulf region, which are explained by Iran’s continuous interventions in the internal affairs of several Gulf countries and its expansionist plans in Arab regions, especially in the Shiite Crescent and the Arabian Gulf, as seen in Iraq, Syria, and parts of Lebanon.

Iran has been supporting its traditional ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon, for some time, and has allied with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, despite his massacres against his people. This cannot be interpreted as a form of solidarity with the Alawite Shiites in Syria, but rather as an Iranian geographic ambition aiming to monitor both Iraq and Syria on one hand, and to besiege Saudi Arabia so it doesn’t become a strategic leader in the Middle East, hence overthrowing Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In parallel with its expansionist ambitions, Iran has become a real threat to security in the region, as it has not adhered to the nuclear agreement with the West and has violated United Nations resolutions and international sanctions regarding missile tests.

Moreover, the Iranian threat today does not only target stability in the Gulf, the Middle East, and the Arab region, but it also threatens international peace and security, as well as global economic and geostrategic interests, given Iran’s possession of internationally prohibited nuclear weapons.

Many political leaders and strategic analysts, such as former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, anticipated this Iranian threat when he published an extensive analysis discussing the challenges facing America and NATO countries in light of current global conditions. He clarified, ‘If the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the Shiite forces trained by Iran, take control and direct them, over the territories of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the result may be the establishment of a belt of territories extending from Tehran to Beirut, which could lead to the emergence of a radical Iranian Empire.’

Iranian Penetration in Africa

Since the Iranian Revolution, the African continent has been a significant focus in Iran’s expansionist policies, offering a broad and fruitful ground for its political and economic activities, and serving as a crucial strategic center to reach Arab countries in North Africa and control their systems.

Iran’s policy in African countries aligns with its approach in the Arab region, which focuses on the religious dimension, used to justify its intervention in the internal affairs of those countries. In a short period, Iran has managed to establish a strong position and economic and political influence in Africa, gaining footholds in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa, Angola, and Congo.

On the religious front, Shia Islam entered Ghana with the beginning of the Lebanese refugee migration in the early 1980s, leading to an increase in Shia missionary activities there. Civil society organizations, like the “Kawthar” organization, began building mosques and organizing Shia religious celebrations such as Jerusalem Day and Ashura. Similar developments occurred in Nigeria, which now hosts a significant Shia population due to the activities of the Nigerian Islamic Movement, despite the absence of Shia presence before the 1980s, prior to the export of the Iranian Revolution.

Economically, one of the pillars of Iran’s penetration into the African continent, Iran has shown significant interest in building economic cooperation bridges in its foreign policy with African countries, attracting foreign investments. For instance, Iran established the first “Iran Khodro” automobile factory in Senegal in 2007, and signed agreements with Ethiopia in gas and agriculture sectors, built nuclear plants in Kenya, and signed cooperation agreements in agriculture, equipment, and energy sectors. Additionally, Iran signed oil agreements with Angola and South Africa, with whom it maintains strong relations in various fields.

Iran’s foreign policy, whether religious or economic, is determined by its interests, even if it contradicts its international positions, such as its stance on Israel. Despite Ethiopia being a strategic ally of Israel in the Horn of Africa region, it maintains strong ties with Iran, which infiltrated the Ethiopian society and managed to spread its Shia ideology, thereby gaining political influence over decision-makers in Ethiopia.

In North Africa

Tehran is striving to forge new regional alliances in North Africa based on political, economic, cultural, and religious foundations. Iran’s distinctive relations and economic and cultural ties with the Arab Maghreb countries, especially Libya, Algeria, and Morocco, aim at expanding its influence in Africa.

Libya has been an important target for Iran during Muammar Gaddafi’s reign, who recognized the Khomeini Revolution in 1979 and sided with Iran during its war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988. This was evident through the growing Shia presence among the youth during Gaddafi’s rule, although the Libyan authorities managed to halt the Iranian Shia wave in recent years after protests by Sunni Muslims.

Algeria serves as a pivot for Iranian presence in the Arab Maghreb countries and a gateway to Africa. In addition to their exceptional economic relations, particularly in energy, Iran seeks to strengthen its bilateral relations with Algeria in tourism. However, in the early 1990s, when the Islamic Salvation Front won municipal elections, there was a shift in Algeria’s military regime’s relations with Iran, leading to a diplomatic rupture over Iran’s alleged support for the Islamic Salvation Front. Relations remained tense until President Bouteflika’s tenure, where they were resumed, flourishing in various fields with the signing of 19 cooperation agreements in agriculture, industry, science, culture, construction, water, energy, and nuclear fields.

Regarding Morocco, diplomatic relations between Morocco and Iran were resumed in December 2014 after a six-year hiatus since 2009 due to Morocco accusing Iran of attempting to interfere in the kingdom’s religious affairs. However, recently, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry announced the severance of ties with Iran due to its involvement, along with its ally Hezbollah, in sending weapons to the Polisario Front, a separatist movement in the Tindouf region. Iran also sent military personnel there to train Polisario members in guerrilla warfare, form commando squads, and prepare hostile operations against Morocco.

It is evident that Iran operates according to a strategic expansion plan in many parts of the world to achieve the dream of the Greater Persian Empire, which it envisions extending to West Africa (Morocco) and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

As we present this evidence of the growing imminent threat posed by Iran in the region, and as this threat escalates and worsens, there is an urgent need to act immediately and plan to stop Iran’s expansionist regime through a set of measures, including:

Supporting the efforts of the Arab coalition countries to curb this threat, especially on the diplomatic front. 

Developing a comprehensive plan to counter Iranian Shia ideology. In addition to the security and military aspects, combating Iran’s destructive ideology is imperative. 

Pressuring Iran to respect international legitimacy by reviewing and completing the nuclear agreement, particularly regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program, and linking the nuclear agreement with Iran to a post-2025 phase and addressing the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile program.

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