Home > Iran, Middle East > The Geopolitics of Iran

The Geopolitics of Iran

All the credits of this article should go to Starfor Intelligence Global as I inspired myself from a research article entitled: The Geopolitics of Iran: Holding the Center of a Mountain Fortress, published in July 24, 2008.

Iran recent decision to invest in nuclear energy is undoubtedly part of a bigger project. Indeed to drive out its strategy requires the study of the dynamics that shaped the nation. Geography, topography, petroleum sites, economy, and ethno-religious distribution are the subjects we will go through to base our future analysis of world events.


Iran is the 17th largest country with 1,684,000 square meters, larger than France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal combined. Long story short Iran is larger than Western Europe. It is the 16th most populous country with about 70 millions people, which is more than France or even the United Kingdom.

For a better representation I will use Iraq and Afghanistan as a benchmark. Iraq’ size is 433,000 square meters with a population of about 25 million people. Afghanistan’ size is 652,000 square meters with about 30 millions people.

Therefore, Iranians are 28% more numerous than Iraqis and Afghans combined and Iran’ size 56% bigger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.


Iran natural barriers define its frontiers; mountains surround Iran in the west, the north, and the east. The biggest mountain is the Zagros, which is an extension of the Caucasus.

In the West, Iran and Turkey shares 150 miles of mountainous border. The Iraqi side is increasingly flat, part of the Tigris – Euphrates basin. However the Iranian side gets very steep starting a few miles after the border. The Zagros forms the historical frontier separating Persia and Mesopotamia.

The region in the extreme southwest escapes from the trend. The Tigris and Euphrates join to form the Shatt al Arab. The swampy ground buffers against forces seeking to enter the country along the coast.

In the North, the Elburz Mountains run along the Caspian Sea to reach Afghanistan and overhang the desert of Karakum in Turkmenistan.

In the East, mountains of lesser altitude form a natural barrier with Afghanistan and Pakistan reaching the Arabian Sea.

In the South, Iran has 800 miles of coastline located between the Persian Golf and the Golf of Oman. The Strait of Hormuz is the most important and vulnerable port, making Iran an inland power but not a major maritime opponent.

In the Center, Dasht –E Kavir and Dash- E Luth are deserts plateaus supposedly uninhabited and uninhabitable.

Population distribution

As the lowlands are uninhabitable Iran’s population is concentrated in the mountains. Tehran, the capital of Iran, is located in the Elbroz Mountains at 1200 meters of altitude. The majority of the population is concentrated in the West, forming a belt starting from the the Caspian Sea going through the Zabros and Elbroz Mountains reaching Strait of Hormuz. Another concentration center is located in the northeast in the city of Mashhad.


Iran’s oil is its most valuable and most strategic export. Hence, their locations and security are crucial. The major oil fields are located in the southwestern region, which are extensions of the geological formation responsible for the oil fields of northern Iraq. Iran is the 3rd largest oil reserves and is the 4th largest producer in the world. Thereupon one would expect Iran to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but it is not.


Iran is the 28th largest economy but ranks only 71st in per capita Gross Domestic Product. Apart of the Government inefficiency managing oil, one of the major problems is its geography; in fact Iran has a huge population located in mountainous areas making the spread of the wealth unpractical and almost impossible due to high transportation cost. Therefore Iran’s economy cannot benefit from oil production and exportation in cause of its inefficiency managing oil fields and its population distribution.

Ethno-religions distribution

Due to the mountainous landscape protecting the nation, it is impossible to share a unique culture. Large ethnics groups resist to absorption and annihilation by the Persian culture. Iran is a Muslim state divided between the Shia and the Sunnis and populated by 55 to 60% of Persian.

This cultural fracture is a threat to Iran. Without a doubt one will try to create internal allies to overtake the government. As did the Persian Empire, the Iranian government maintains internal integrity against separatist groups. The ‘‘cul-de-sac’’ shape does not let any back up plan in case of insurrection. It is essential to hold a highly centralized government with a strong security apparatus, using the army to repress instability, to protect the entire structure at all cost.


Iran is vulnerable from the inside and will not allow manipulations of its internal dynamics. Indeed Iran first action is to maintain secure border to prevent any invasions, then to secure the country internally.

The northeastern region is exposed to Central Asian powers while the western region opening is the most-often used. Saddam Hussein discovered in 1980 that a direct assault through the Zagros is not feasible. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s confirmed a reality: Due to modern war practices, neither assaults from Mesopotamia through the Zagros nor assaults from the Zagros to Mesopotamia will prevail.

However manipulating ethnic groups is possible. In the 1950’s The British based in Iraq were able to manipulate internal political division in Iran in order to elevate the Shah. During World War II the Soviets spread confusion in Iran to the point of losing its sovereignty.

The Current Situation

The United-States occupied and placed forces in west coast of Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Iran’s concern is that they will use their positions to manipulate ethnic groups and to foment ethnic dissents. This month Iran captured an alleged member of a Sunni Muslim group fighting the government. He confessed dealing with the United-States, proposing him cooperation, an arsenal, and a base along the border of Afghanistan.

Iran’s strategy counters any attempts by reinforcing its defense. Iran possesses a powerful and repressive security, especially where the oil is located. This explains the British naval boats, which entered illegally Iranian waters in 2004 and the constant flow of information about this area in US news. Then, by manipulating religious ethnic tensions in Iraq and Afghanistan to undermine American positions and by creating a nuclear force publicly in order to deter attack in the long run and enhance its bargaining power in the short run.

Starfor Global Intelligence: The Geopolitics of Iran: Holding the Center of a Mountain Fortress
Al Jazeera: Iranian rebel ‘admits US links’, British seamen could face Iranian court, and Ahmadinejad orders nuclear work

  1. Lia Kobylarz
    April 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    There’s good info here. I did a search on Google, Keep up the good work mate!

  1. July 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

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