Expanding Iran’s borders: the marching threat

Mullah-dominated Iran has military influence over a thousand miles of borders

Walid Phares
Walid Phares
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
7 min read

A few weeks ago, high ranking Iranian officials admitted to a mindset I have asserted—for almost a decade in briefings with Congress and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic—exists. The Tehran regime’s minister of defense openly stated on April 16, 2014, that his country’s real borders are along south Lebanon, sitting on the northern frontiers of Israel. Obviously, such Iranian bellicose declarations are not only a blow against the Lebanese republic’s sovereignty, the latter having been quasi-seized by Iranian ally Hezbollah for decades, but these words also menace international efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, a process already destabilized by another Tehran partner: Hamas.

Stating that the Khomeinist regime is projecting military power along a border guarded by three U.N.SCR resolutions (425, 1559 and 1701) is also an affront to the international community and its collective security commitments. But this Iranian assertion of power beyond its national borders is not new, particularly regarding Lebanon.

Since the early 1980s, the Iranian revolutionary guards have penetrated the Mediterranean country with the help of Hafez al-Assad’s regime

Walid Phares

Since the early 1980s, the Iranian revolutionary guards have penetrated the Mediterranean country with the help of Hafez al-Assad’s regime (then) and—from scratch—created Hezbollah, pushing this terror organization to seize terrain gradually until it reached the international border between Lebanon and Israel. Tehran’s recent declaration of “having a frontier in south Lebanon” is nothing but a natural consequence of its co-domination of this country with the Syrian regime. During the 1990s, first in an article in the Journal of Global Affairs in 1992 titled “The Syria-Iran axis,” then in several Op-Ed pieces and briefings, I projected the Khomeinist march through Syria into Lebanon in the direction of the international borders. In March of 2000 at a meeting at the U.N., I argued that the southern region of Lebanon should be transferred to an international force under chapter 7 after Israel’s withdrawal; otherwise, the Ayatollahs would ignite wars on the Eastern Mediterranean at their will. And so they did, via Hezbollah—including the conflict of 2006. Tehran’s war room—not the Lebanese government or the United Nations—is indeed in charge of warfare operations across these frontiers a thousand miles from its own national soil. But South Lebanon is only one of the borders Iran controls and can transform into battlefields at will. Few observers have established the real lines of demarcation between Iranian regime influence and the rest of the region.

Mullah-dominated Iran

Through its military presence in Syria, its influence inside Iraq and its own borders, the Mullah-dominated Iran has military influence over a thousand miles of borders. Surrounding Turkey from the east and the south, via three countries it controls, Tehran has the potential capacity to enter into a land confrontation—read terror strikes—against a NATO ally. After Russia’s frontiers with the Alliance in the Baltic region and Poland, Iranian lines of contact with the Atlantic bloc are the longest.

More important are Iran’s military zones of influence bordering the Arab moderate world. During the Saddam-Khomeini war of 1980-1987, Iraq was perceived as the shield protecting the Arab hinterland. After the fall of the dictator, and despite U.S. presence for almost a decade, Iran ended up with significant influence in Iraq. This means that Pasdaran forces are able to exploit the entire length of Syrian and Iraqi borders with the Arab countries to their south. Little spoken about, these strategic “Iranian borders” with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are fundamental to geopolitical calculations. In 2006, I presented a study to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. Congress titled “The Shift of Strategic Borders,” where I demonstrated and visually presented what was on the mind of Tehran’s rulers. Iran has had an alliance with Syria since 1981, and its Guards were already present in Lebanon on the side of Hezbollah since the early 1980s. I made a definitive case that the dramatic maker and changer of geopolitics in the region would be U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. When that happens, I argued, all will depend on who seizes Mesopotamia. My argument was that if a free Iraq blocked Iranian advances, the region would be safer, but if a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad opened the path for the Ayatollahs’ forces to sweep through into Syria, nothing would stop them from projecting power on the Eastern Mediterranean. And that is exactly what happened after the rushed and politically motivated pull-out by the Obama administration of U.S. troops by the end of the 2011. Immediately after the removal of all Coalition forces, Iran moved in to fill the power vacuum.


The first consequence was a direct land bridge from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut’s southern suburb via Baghdad. The second consequence was the encirclement of Turkey from the south. The third effect, and most dramatic, was the forming of virtual lines along the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders, the Iraqi-Saudi borders and the Jordanian-Iraqi and -Syrian borders, with Iran’s intelligence and security apparatuses stretching along the northern frontiers of three Arab countries—all traditional allies of the U.S. Western observers and policymakers did not catch the formidable earthquake caused by Iran’s tectonic sphere of domination as they sought to envelop the entire north of the Arabian Peninsula. King Abdallah of Jordan spoke of the “Shiite arch” (referring to the Iranian Ayatollahs) early on. Kuwait’s media has been warning about the Iranian geopolitical offensive for years. And lately, Saudi Arabia performed military exercises on its northern borders “to block a potential regional threat.” We can be certain they were not referring to the Swiss.

This cataclysmic transformation was the direct result of a badly orchestrated withdrawal from Iraq coupled with the elimination of the real ground opposition to Tehran’s regime based in Iraq. The elimination of the meaningful Iranian national resistance presence in Iraq allows Iran’s Khomeinist phalanges to sit on the Eastern Mediterranean, slaughtering civilians in Syria, oppressing opponents in Iraq, and menacing the entire Arabian motherland across the deserts south of the Fertile Crescent. And these are to be known as Iran’s larger borders.


Dr. Walid Phares serves as an advisor to members of Congress on the Middle East. He is the author of the newly-released The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and the Catastrophes to Avoid, as well as Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America and The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. He has served on the Homeland Security Board of Advisors and the National Security Council Task Force on Nuclear Terrorism. Dr. Phares taught at the National Defense University since 2006.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending