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Episode 105. Iran: Crises on All Fronts

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Iran, ensnared by its mountainous borders, now faces multifaceted threats from all directions and their strategic position is becoming increasingly perilous along every axis. Neighbours like Azerbaijan and Pakistan now pose mounting challenges to national stability, while inaction also risks problems fermenting elsewhere.


As Iran's now overstretched military copes with multiple engagements across the region already, the Iranian military, defence industry and IRCG are being warned that they must undergo structural reforms or be crushed from all sides. But will the Iranian military embrace the reforms, will recent tensions in the Caucasus draw Iran into the conflict, and would a deepening relationship with Russia or China salvage Iran's hard-fought strategic gains? We ask our panel of experts

 

Episode Overview:


Part 1: The Exposure in the East (2:45)

  • Michael Rubin begins this episode with an overview of Iran's unique military structure, with its complex relationship between the IRGC, the Iranian civil and theocractic governments, and the Iranian economy.

  • We discuss the impacts of economic sanctions on Iran and specifically the IRGC, which is now almost completely detatched from the Iranian state budget as a result.

  • We unpack the current state of Iran's relationships with Iraq and Afghanistan, including the use of militias and other paramiliary forces to exert influence and project regional power, while maintaining plausible deniability

  • We discuss the evolution of Iran's strategic boundaries in recent years, including a sort of quasi-Iranian Monroe Doctrine, and the current balancing act Iran is attempting through strengthening relationships with nations and organisations such as the BRICS.

Part 2: The Wager in the West (28:46)

  • Alex Vatanka commences our second section noting the perception by many in the international community believe Iran is in a stronger position today in geopolitics than it has been in some time, with its proxy conflicts in places such as Syria and Yemen and opportunuistic exploitation of opportunties to hedge against its strategic rivals.

  • Vatanka contends that Iran has been invested in Syria and maintaining the Assad regime, depsite the high price, in order to maintain access to Hezbollah and the ability to strike at Israel.

  • We discuss the recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh, its relationship with Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the strategic implications for Iran's northern borders and its geopolitical balancing act.

  • We explore the relationship between Iran and NATO member Turkey, noting its fluctuating nature since the Revolution.

  • Vatanka suggets that a comparison of Iran and Saudi Arabia's foreign politics would suggest an ideological devotion that has hamstrung Iran's position geostratically, whereas Saudi has managed to be much more pragmatic than it is perceived to be.

Part 3: The N in the North (50:56)

  • Farzin Nadimi begins our final segment by discussion the force posture of Iranian military and the IRGC, noting the hodgepodge of Soviet-era platforms standing in contrast to its advanced domestic defence industrial base.

  • Iran's drone program has flourished in recent years, with significant sales to Russia, which reflects Iran's asymmetric warfare doctrine as well as the difficulty of replenishing its Air Force under current sanctions.

  • Iranian tanks and heavy armour is both outdated and outnumbered; we discuss how that limits Iran's ground warfare and invasion capabilities and how they've countered that with ballistic missiles, unmanned drones and special forces.

  • We discuss the future of Iranian military focuses, including the likelihood of a further embrace of unmanned vehicles, as well as the potential to prioritise certain conflicts, instead of maintaining its current plethora of hotspots.

 

Episode Guests:


Michael Rubin

  • Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.

  • A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre- and postwar Iraq.

  • Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring Iranian history, including Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos

Alex Vatanka

  • Director of Iran Program and Senior Fellow, Black Sea Program, at the Middle East Institute

  • His focus is on Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran

  • Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School

Farzin Nadimi

  • Senior Fellow with The Washington Institute

  • His focus is in the security and defence affairs of Iran and the Persian Gulf region

  • He has written previously about Tehran's asymmetric naval warfare strategy


The Red Line's Iran Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of Iran and its neighbours.

Books:

The Battle of the Ayatollahs in Iran: The United States, Foreign Policy, and Political Rivalry since 1979

Alex Vatanka


Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran and the Rise of Irregular Warfare


Black Wave : Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East

Kim Ghattas

 

For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon member Dave Baggett, Cameron Cain, Connor McClory, Polyglot Erin, Andy Ortleib, and David

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