January 23, 2023No Comments

The Middle East in 2023: From Revolution to Survival

Author: Omri Brinner and Chantal Elisabeth Hohe.

2022 brought about several game-changing developments in the Middle East and beyond. These events - from domestic political instability, through the weakening of American influence in the region, to the protests in Iran - will all leave a mark in 2023, a year that is shaping to be decisive for the Middle East’s future.

Of the many things to monitor in the region during 2023, four issues stand out the most, largely due to their international significance. These are the American involvement in the Middle East; climate change and the region’s efforts - or lack of - to counter it; the domestic upheaval in Iran and its global impact; and the economic situation across the region, with a growing number of countries in economic disarray (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen).

Image Source: https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/protests-in-iran-the-regime-s-trail-of-blood-a-8775e064-e031-4f80-8a87-5ec4cb59246c 

The US in the Middle East

Going into 2023, the United State’s role in the Middle East is undefined. Had it been clear and obvious, American officials wouldn’t have to reiterate that their country will remain pivotal as it once was. The facts on the ground suggest less American physical involvement. There are less American troops in the region; American diplomacy has been weakened; and one is much more exposed to alternative soft power than before. In that sense we are expected to see declining American presence across the region. Diplomatically, the US is losing grip as well. While it largely has Israel on its side in its competition with China and Russia, other allies - most notably Saudi Arabia - are becoming less and less dependent on the US, fueling a multipolar world where the US is now one of many, rather than the one. The US can stay assured that it will continue to have leverage over several individuals and countries in the coming year, but all in all - and much due to the multipolar inertia across the region - this leverage is not infinite, and further distancing from American policies are likely to follow. This dynamic played out in the relations between President Biden and the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman, where the latter refused to give-in to American pressure on oil prices, proving that the American leverage on him and his country is limited. In other words, American superiority will not only continue to be challenged from afar, but also from within the region itself.


2023 might very well be the year of the Persian Spring. The revolutionary protests that began in September have the potential to spin the regime out of control and to create a new reality in the country, and the region. What started as a social protest against the state’s brutality and the killing of Masha Amini has developed into a full regime-change movement, with the slogan “death to Khamenei” gaining momentum and legitimacy on social media. It is of course possible that the harsh and lethal crackdown by the state will break the back of the revolution, but these past few months and the ones to follow will certainly change Iran and affect the region as a whole, whichever way the wind blows.

Furthermore, in light of the internal turmoil and the fact that the Iranian nuclear deal is all but alive, it is likely that Iran will push to both enrich as much uranium as possible and to create destabilizing chaos across the region in the coming months. All in all, what happens in Iran during 2023 will determine the near future of the Middle East.


After a rather unsuccessful COP27 failed to produce actionable policy solutions or real commitments from the international community, a decisive year lies ahead for the Middle East, where people will continue suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis. Most prominently, water scarcity will lead to an increasingly dire situation, fueling food insecurity, economic downturn, civil unrest, and violent extremism. That said, several innovative start-ups and promising technologies are on the rise, with the GCC countries upping the funding to accelerate developments in the field. Hope now lies upon the Abu Dhabi COP28, set to take place in November and, ironically, hosted by UAE’s National Oil Company CEO, with civil society organizations and academia urging for serious action.


A cleavage in economic performance is increasingly visible among Middle Eastern countries, with the oil-based GCC monarchies witnessing continuous growth - whereas others are facing economic decline, leading to or exacerbating existing socio-political turbulences. The economic outlook for 2023 indicates that inflation is likely to surpass 30% in numerous countries, with Syria at 63% and Lebanon at a staggering 167% . Further regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen, face economic hardship while also having to tackle political challenges, civil unrest, and violent conflicts. Overall, domestic and international factors - such as the war in Ukraine - are likely to deepen a looming recession and the energy crisis. While it is likely that wealthy GCC countries will continue to support struggling regional allies, countries such as Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will continue to be used as arenas for proxy wars, further deepening their economic troubles.

December 9, 2022No Comments

Revolutionary Iran: Women, Life, Freedom

ITSS Verona and King's College London hosted a joint event on the protests in Iran to discuss how the ongoing protests are different from the previous ones and how come "Woman, Life, Freedom" represents a collective will of the Iranian people and how was it formed? Is it a modern revolution based on the values that are identified within this context? What is the role of Iranian women in this revolution? And finally what is the outcome, are amongst questions that we will discuss with our guests during this event.


Dr Sadegh Zibakalam Mofrad is an Iranian academic, author, and pundit described as reformist and neo-liberal. Zibakalam is a professor at the University of Tehran and frequently appears on international news outlets including BBC News and Al Jazeera.

Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is a McCloy Fellow on Global Trends of the American Council on Germany (ACG), exploring how transatlantic foreign policy toward authoritarian states could reconcile interests and values.

Dr Nayereh Tohidi is a Professor Emerita and former Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and the Founding Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (2011-2021) at California State University, Northridge. She is also a Research Associate in the Program of Iranian Studies at UCLA coordinating “Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran” since 2003. She received her MA and Ph.D. from the Universities of Tehran and Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She is also the recipient of several post-doctoral fellowships and research awards, including an NEH grant, a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; universities of Harvard and Stanford, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at UCLA.

Ms Elahe Amani learned about conflict resolution and mediation in 1990, through the CSUF Certificate Program of “Managing Multicultural Work Environments”. She completed formal mediation training through Pepperdine School of Law Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in 1991 and promptly joined the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) and published a book review on “Mediation Across Cultures” in the SCMA newsletter. In 1992-93 after the Los Angeles riots, Elahe conducted sessions of community mediation between Korean and African Americans in Town Hall settings through a program organized by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. In 2006 Elahe did a presentation at SCMA Salon on “Gender and Mediation” and presented on the panel in the affinity discussion at SCMA’s annual conference at Pepperdine University on “Culture and Mediation.” She is currently Interim Director of the Academic Technology CenterInterim Director of Academic Technology Center at California State University, Fullerton.

Moderators: Dr Michele Groppi and Shahin Modarres.

July 18, 2022No Comments

Prof. Germano Dottori on Iran’s shifting role amidst developments in the Middle East

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Germano Dottori addresses and analyzes Iran's role within the new developments in the Middle East. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Biden's travel to the Middle East and the developing potentials of new Middle Eastern alliances.

Professor Germano Dottori was the Chair of Strategic Studies at Luiss-Guido Carli University in Rome until November 2020. He was an Adviser to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between 2001 and 2006. He has worked with the Rivista Italiana di Difesa (Italian Defence magazine) since 1997. He has published books and research in Italy and Great Britain on security and defence.

Interviewer: Shahin Modarres

June 18, 2022No Comments

Will METO be the new NATO?

Author: Shahin Modarres.

As the light at the end of the tunnel of revitalizing the JCPOA grows weaker the tension between Iran and the international community rises fiercely. Tension can be analyzed on two levels, regional level, and international level. On a regional level whilst Iran's regional competitors express their concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israel has been applying a drastically different approach, a completely physical approach that dances on the edge of initiating a direct regional conflict. For the past month a notable number of high-ranking officers and scientists within the IRGC and Ministry of defense have been targeted and assassinated in the streets of Iran, almost all targets played an important role in the country's nuclear and missile program. Even though the Israeli officials never officially accepted the responsibility but Israel remains to be the main guess behind the calls. At the same time reports have been registered regarding threats against Israeli citizens in Turkey and Thailand. Earlier Israel's minister of foreign affairs asked all citizens to evacuate Istanbul immediately because of a series of imminent threats against their lives. 

On another proxy level, the shelling of Iranian infrastructures in Syria by the Israeli Air Force has been intensified. Drones trying to reach Israeli territories through Iraq's airspace have been shot and there have been reports of drone attacks on safe sites of Israel's intelligence operations according to Iranian authorities. Constant cyber war has been going on as well, every now and then, Iranian or Israeli hackers have been claiming victory by accessing infrastructures or personal data from the rival. A full encounter between the countries is now more threatening than ever. That is the main reason why both actors are reinforcing their teams in anticipation. 

Image Source: https://www.bakerinstitute.org/center-for-the-middle-east/

One of Iran's main bargaining leverages has been its regional influence. A military influent formed of mostly Shiite militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen running alongside vast support of Sunni groups such as Hamas for years gave Iran an upper hand to proceed with its regional proxy wars but what has changed? Iran's influence in the region has been limited mainly because of two reasons, a technological shift in the defense paradigm and a realistically Machiavellian perception of diplomacy. The aerial defense system known as the "Iron Dome" by Israel has definitely been a game-changer redefining traditional defensive methods through advanced approaches to countering missile attacks. On the diplomatic level, the "Abraham Accords" were none other than a realist perception of "my enemy's enemy can be my friend!" The growing angle of difference between Iran and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia itself lead the tension between Israel and Arab countries to decrease gradually. Now a new form of an alliance is being formed between them. An alliance that some interpret as a Middle Eastern form of NATO; is METO. 

A few days ago Israel's minister of defense called for a new alliance between Israel and its Arab partners against Iran led by the United States. It appears that the defensive circle against Iran is getting tighter but at the same time Iran has decided to deactivate the surveillance set by the IAEA within its nuclear facilities. President Biden's trip to the Middle East will happen soon during which he will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia. Against all odds, the Biden administration appears to be considering its foreign policy legacy none other than peacebuilding between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hence, his trips will play a crucial role that may affect and form Middle East's near future on different levels.

A Middle Eastern Treaty Organization(METO) on a dynamic scale may only live with the blessing of the United States. But on a regional level, actors are consciously trying to build an independent alliance as well. Almost each and every member of the new alliance at some point during the past two decades has been unhappy regarding US policies in the region hence traces of a collective will to have independent strong regional alliances are quite clear amongst actors. There is already talk regarding Israel sharing parts of its "Iron Dome" technology with Arab partners. Whilst wealthy Arab partners can generously invest in the Israeli technological and scientific R&D, all allies may benefit from the results.  

On the other end, Iran has shown a Russo-Oriental turn towards developing military and security cooperation with China and Russia. Also, there has been a fast development of the county's Aerospatiale program, particularly in regards to ballistic missiles program, drones, and satellites. Even though the Iranian economy is facing its most fragile state expenses regarding the doctrines of "Defense and Influence" have indeed increased. 

To anticipate the outcome of this equation we all need to think in a Machiavellian context, to simply interpret the equation based on each country's national interest. Will the US join the coalition to form METO? Will Russia and China support their supposed ally if Iran's nuclear program once again ends up in the United Nations Security Council? And eventually, the final unfortunate question is, will we face another devastating war in the Middle East?  

May 16, 2022No Comments

Manochehr Dorraj on the development of bilateral relations between Iran and China

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China. 

Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.

Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

April 18, 2022No Comments

Iran’s Nuclear Policy: Roots and Reasons

By: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi, Filippo Cimento.

How often do we consider nations with glorious histories tend to live under the constructed shadow of their past and continue a collective sense that is tangible yet sophisticatedly laying behind layers of time? Is it correct to assume the roots of Iran's nuclear program are somehow attached to reviving its past? What are the main differences between pre and post-1979 Iran and its nuclear development policies?

The issue appeared in the public debate a few years after Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power in 1944. The latter, who studied in Switzerland, developed a western attitude enriched by power aspirations and ideals of modernization. In this project, the nuclear program has always been present. For Shah, modernization necessarily passed through the implementation of a nuclear program. First, Shah intended to give his country a real energy alternative, not forgetting that nuclear weapons could give a strong international legitimacy: a powerful state, a state capable of defending itself, is a compelling state and a state which is able to develop its regional influence. Moreover, the program could give birth to a process of technological and scientific progress, increasing the power of the country through investments in new researchers. With the 1979 revolution and the change in the alliance system, Iran remained isolated and the nuclear program was suspended.

Image Source: https://www.nytimes.com/1974/06/28/archives/france-and-iran-sign-4billion-accord-shah-will-receive-5-nuclear.html

The decision of resuming the nuclear program has been guided by the will to conserve independence from other powers, intensify the distances from the United States, and start the first net of relations with its neighbours from a strong position of power. The government started gradually to intercept the feeling of the elite and of the public that the nuclear strategy crystallized the regional position. In other words, nuclear power could give to Iran not only a decisive international bargaining leverage but mostly a stabilizing tool in domestic politics. In some way, the perception that  the Iranian people could have of the government and of its action could have been influenced by the ideal of a political elite capable of taking strong decisions. The Iranians would see the development of a nuclear program as an ambitious project enabling the country to develop a strategic aim and enhance its regional influence. From this element, some scholars have claimed that a new uniting consensus aroused around the nuclear pact, allowing the executive power to gain a wider leeway. Scholars have argued that the main reason that pushed Iran toward a nuclear program was deterrence. In this reconstruction, a primary role is played by the War against Iraq, which must be analyzed in a wider context. The war broke out after 1979 when Iran was isolated, and Iraq exploited the opportunity to improve its relations with the US. Such an attack, which engaged Iran all of a sudden, found it unprepared and taught to Iran the importance of appearing strong and resistant.

However, it could be claimed that deterrence is a dangerous strategy and that Iran in this way could face enormous risks in challenging the international community in such an open approach. Nonetheless, among the political elite, a decisive idea has spread and motivated the choices of Iran: if Iran goes beyond the imposed threshold, the international community will accept it. This has been a compelling argument that animated the internal debate about the nuclear program. In the international non-proliferation agenda, Iran’s nuclear program has been placed as a priority security issue: the consequences of a nuclear Iran, in the fragile region of the Middle East, could trigger threatening outcomes. To counter such a threat and identify the main efforts to be undertaken to address it, studies have focused on understanding the causes behind Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Realism has been the predominant international relations theory for this purpose. Yet, an opposite analysis has placed constructivist interpretations at the center of the debate.

In constructivist views, the revolutionary values associated with the regime are linked to the development of the nuclear programme. As such, normative factors have been proposed as the elements behind the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy. Mahdi Mohammad Nia has argued that, since 1979 brought the clerical regime under Ayatollah Khomeini to power: The Iranian nation has been dominated by a revolutionary ethos and this has been translated into its foreign and security policy. Consequently, Iran's nuclear aspirations should be looked at through the lens of this discourse.

This discourse involves the aim of the Islamic Revolution. Through such, the regime has been seeking to reaffirm its independent, anti-western, anti-hegemonic, and anti-colonial nature. The nuclear weapon would therefore fulfill these values. It is in this same argument that Homeria Moshirzadeh shows how the main discourses of justice, independence, and resistance are profoundly ingrained in the constitution of the identity of the Islamic Revolution and that therefore gaining nuclear weapons. Constructivists aside, realism continues to dominate the analysis of nuclear Iran. In fact, the security dilemma is still sought as an important motivator. According to Shaheen Akhtar and Zulfiqar Khan, the regime’s perceived threat from the not-so-distant Israeli nuclear weapons would continue to act as an urgent security threat and that within an anarchical order, where Iran itself acknowledges its vulnera

Overall, the role of domestic politics, thus in conjunction with both theories, remains prevalent in scholarly analysis. Shahram Chubin and Robert S. Litwak for instance have argued that the question of nuclear development in Iran is rooted in domestic politics and that efforts to address the regime’s aspirations must look at the nuclear debate within the Iranian public. It is essential to conclude that in the current frame of international relations particularly the Middle Eastern dynamics of power development of a nuclear program is not justified yet understandable. By comparing the cooperation once held before 1979 between Iran and the international community and the bitter hostility that gradually developed after the revolution it is important to focus on the role of the agent, not the context.   

January 31, 2022No Comments

Iran’s Foreign Policy towards East: Causes and Consequences

By: Shahin Modarres, Filippo Cimento and Yasmina Dionisi.

Image Source: https://www.irna.ir/news/82866036/توصیه-مسافرتی-وزارت-خارجه-به-مسافران-خارج-از-كشور

 "No ties to the East, no ties to the West, just the Islamic Republic" (Image Reference)

This motto engraved at the entrance of the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs represents Islamic Republic's ideology regarding its foreign policy. An ideal of independence mixed with a heavily ideological theme. Where do we stand 43 years after this motto was first chanted? Is the Islamic Republic an independent state from what it defined as East and West or is it becoming more and more dependent on one side in order to survive? In this article we will briefly review what pushes the Islamic Republic towards the East and what is to be expected from such pattern.

Within international relations, sanctions typically act as a tool of foreign pressure aimed at targeting the policies of other States (Marinov 2005, 564): compromises from leaders are more likely if their existence in power is threatened by an external pressure (Marinov 2005, 564). Even so, in the history of global politics, States have been targeted by sanctions, by foreign countries, according to diverse strategic rationales. In regards to the Iranian case, economic sanctions have been directed at curbing the regime’s nuclear programme, restraining its regional policy, and condemning its human rights violations.

Sanctions have acted as the preferred policy tool of the States most concerned by the development of the State’s nuclear programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 143). Though the Islamic Republic of Iran has faced sanctions since the November 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, the first US sanctions in regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions date to 1995 with President Clinton’s issuing of the Executive Order 12957 of March 1995 and the Executive Order 12959 of May 1995. These involved US export controls banning the transfer to Iran of dual-use that could be applied for weapons purposes. The international community would universally consider the matter a decade later, with the first UN sanctions against Iran imposed in 2005 by the Security Council Resolution 1737, which mandated a ban on assistance to Iran’s enrichment programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 144). If effects of the sanctions are to be assessed, it could be said that the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions of 1996 (ILSA), for instance, whose principal purpose had been to deter foreign investments in Iran’s energy industries, penalized the Iranian companies investing annually in Iran’s oil and gas sector; the ILSA was extended and the Iranian oil production stalled, growth was hampered (Schott 2012, 190). 

Iran’s regional policy has additionally been a subject of concern within global politics and for neighboring countries. The Islamic Republic boasts a geostrategic position enabling it to project its influence on Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean (Švejdová 2017, 46). Among the effects of economic sanctions relating to Iran’s regional aspirations the most significant amount to the impact of the state’s national economy. (Švejdová 2017, 47). That said, the stabbing of the economy has not haltered the regime’s resilience, which has exploited the foreign pressure by stabilizing its roots and empowering its policies, mainly through its religious ideology (Naghavi and Pignataro 2015, 3).

The last grounds on which Iran has been targeted by the U.S. and the international community are its human rights violations. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been accused of violations both traditionally tied to oppressive regimes and also related to the regime’s codification of provisions found in Shi’a jurisprudence (Mokhtari 2004, 469). But in Iranian internal politics, Iranian policy changes have far from been implemented as a result of the U.S. sanctions nevertheless, as, on the contrary, the Iranian regime has condemned the United States for self-inflicting a domestic economic distress (Schott 2012, 191).

On the Chinese side, we must investigate the reasons behind the choice of Iran as an ideal partner for Beijing. We will analyze some past choices in order to find the constant characteristics.
We can take into consideration the example of Sri Lanka, where according to Ganeshan Wignaraja, *1“The pattern of Chinese investment reveals a nuanced picture of benefits and costs. Chinese multilateral policies are required to maximize the benefits and minimize any risks of its investment.” Moreover, it is not to be underestimated the role of Beijing’s influence in the political equilibrium, Jayadeva Uyangoda in fact affirms that 2* “China was using corruption as a controlling device. Chinese assistance to Rajapaksa was a means of buying his support by helping him increase his grip on the country.”
Other peculiarities can be studied in the case of Pakistan, where the construction of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is involving investments valued at 60 billion dollars, embedded in the wider Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing is applying a strategy that was defined by Zhao Shurong as 4* “cross-continental mercantilism, a policy that, through State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), allows China to endorse free trade aiming at the accumulation of capital, setting a new model of economic growth”. Investing in the strategic Gwadar Port could be a plastic representation of a policy that, according to Francois Godement, 3* “has a special significance for China, which considers regional connectivity as a fundamental element to rise at global level.”
We can therefore individuate a pattern, also in Africa, where 5* “trade has not been fair and has been detrimental to African businesses. For example, in South Africa factories had to close because of the cheap influx of Chinese goods”. Moreover 6*“Human Rights Watch alleges that Chinese organizations have been accused of inhuman treatment of workers in Zambia.“ From what emerges, China appears to search for a weak partner, who may accept exploitative measures in order to attract unfair but still useful investments.

Even though the details of the Iranian-Chinese 25-year agreement have not been published, yet considering China's pattern to a modern form of exploitation makes it quite clear. The illusion of economic growth generates a lasting debt with China that will harm the economy on a much larger scale in the long-run. It appears that the only reason behind such shady alliance is Islamic Republic's crucial need to trade which has been frozen by the U.S. sanctions. 

January 28, 2022No Comments

Zeno Poggi on The Sanctions Regime against Iran

Dr. Zeno Poggi, co-founder, President and CEO of ZPC S.r.l., Vice President of ACCUDIRE S.r.l. and President of AWOS- A World of Sanctions, tackles a complex issue: The Sanctions Regime against Iran.

Interviewer: Anna Lorenzini

November 30, 2021No Comments

Drought in Iran: What to expect?

By: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

Image Source: https://www.resetdoc.org/story/drought-worse-sanctions/

May God protect this land from foe, drought, and falsehood. This famous prayer engraved in the heart of Apadana Palace in Persepolis by the Persian Shahanshah Darius the Great has a particular meaning to Iranians, but why? Where do we stand 2570 years after these words were said?

A nation without water is a nation without the most crucial flow of life. Water is undeniably recognized as a priority for human sustainable development and linked to all other environmental and societal concerns.

It should come as no surprise then that the importance of water, and its role as a vital commodity, considerably increase in arid and desert areas. These, specifically, are regions where the natural phenomenon of drought does not only frequently occur but bears rather alarming economic, social and environmental costs. 

Iran is no stranger to an arid climate. Located 20 to 45 degrees north, more than 90 percent of the country’s area is dry. The question of water drought is relevant in such a country whose society and economy can be said to be water-dependent: water has played a key role in its society since the establishment of the first known human empire in the southwestern part of Iran.  Drought should be addressed as an urgent concern. Three major consequences of water drought in Iran are delved into in this article: respectively on the agricultural sector, on energy production in regards to hydroelectricity, and ultimately on internal migration.


Drought primarily affects the agriculture sector. Studies on the Iranian agricultural sector are limited but its major role in Iran’s political economy and food security can still be denoted. The country aims towards becoming fully self-sufficient in food production and food security remains a priority in Iran. 

Arid areas like the Middle East rely on irrigation. Reportedly, in what is the water used for agriculture, irrigation accounts for about 20% of the global agricultural evapotranspiration.   What has been evident is that Iran's agriculture is heavily impacted by water availability. Dating back to July 1968 when the Nationalization of Water Resources act was enacted, and all water in the country was considered a natural wealth and belonging to the nation; the relation between Iran’s agricultural sector and water use hardly goes unnoticed: Iran’s agricultural sector is, as a matter of fact, responsible for about 90% of water consumption at a national scale. From 2005, 98 percent of all agricultural raw materials in Iran were produced from irrigated lands

 Scholars find the main theme in this sense is the one of responsibility. This responsibility is principally visible in the action of the government in what concerns the resources management. For example, George Joffe claims that “Waste needs to be eliminated”, and “The real solutions, therefore, are to find ways of using water more efficiently and rationally, rather than fighting to retain control”. This could be done by reducing the amount of water lost through leaks which stays at a level of 50% of all water piped. Moreover “cost-effective methods of desalination through solar power will ultimately be the key to survival”. It is self-evident that Iran is not going in this direction, on the contrary, there is an increasing process of irresponsible exploitation, that in most cases reveals being without any vision. About this Iraj Emadonin says that “Farmlands under irrigation are estimated to comprise around 8 million hectares.” And since “Groundwater plays a very important role in Iran’s agricultural operations”, Roohollah Noori affirms that a portion of nearly “77% of Iran’s land (2021) is under extreme groundwater overdraft, where the rate of human uptake is more than three times higher than the rate of natural recharge.”


Drought is halting the country’s desire to transition to hydroelectric reliance for energy. Iran uses water power to generate electricity. Still, if hydroelectric power stations have operated in the country for over half a century, the percentage of electricity that actually originates from these has considerably decreased over the course of the last decade. 40 years ago, 37% of the total electricity in Iran was produced with hydroelectric power stations. As of 2007, that percentage amounted to only 8%. Nevertheless, environmental concerns and increased awareness of the limited supplies of fossil fuels have been pushing the country to seek clean and renewable hydroelectric power.  Such overreliance posed limits within the government as it was pushed to subsidize fuels, for individual energy consumption.

What is sought out as a renewable alternative is a hydroelectric power, but it is clear how that a drought crisis makes it far from favorable. This comes at a dangerous price, considering Iran suffers from frequent shortages of power.

The level of energy production is influenced by different factors. The manifestation of drought is one of the most influential ones. In particular, the negative impact of this phenomenon is confirmed by Kaveh Madani, who states that “reservoirs, which are vital for farms, communities, and hydropower have fallen to dangerous lows”.

Different studies have been conducted on the topic, describing the relation between dry climate conditions and hydroelectric production. Saeed Jamali believes that “The expected climate warming could intensify droughts and dry spells, bringing to hydropower generation reduction, which is expected at the Saymareh, Saz Bon, Garsha, and Koran Bozan basins.”More in detail “because of insignificant streamflow reductions since 2020, hydropower production may not change considerably during this period. However, serious hydropower generation deficit is expected by the 2050s and 2080s”. But those are not the only regions that will be affected, in fact in Sadat Mousavi’s opinion is that climate change has the potential to significantly alter the hydropower generation in the Dez Dam basin. The results of the study showed a reduction in the flow of water and electricity generation for the Bakhtiari reservoir.” So, the scientific community is concordant in the necessity of seeking solutions. For instance, Pouya Ilfaei proposed the ideation of a management strategy of energy that works in a more efficient way, thanks to big data analysis.

Internal migration

The ultimate consequence of drought will be internal migration. 

In 1985, the United Nations Environmental Programme coined the term “environmental refugee”. It is known worldwide that human migration is largely affected by changes in climate and drought strikes are a considerable factor that causes the displacement of people, notably from rural centers to the cities. Climate change has been the most compelling cause for environmentally-induced migrations: the drought phenomenon has been classified as a slow-onset change, and scholars have highlighted how slow-acting processes lead to more long-term migrations. Worse, part of the country may become inhabitable. 

Drought-prone areas in Iran, around Lake Urmia, the Southern part of the country, and Khuzestan, for instance, host rural populations. These are largely dependent on resources such as water, soil, and crops.  

Not alarmingly Iran is experiencing a rapid migration from rural areas to urban centers and today over 75 percent of the population live in urban areas, the capital hosting 18 of them.Even worse, the abovementioned drought-prone areas are at risk of becoming inhabitable.

As mentioned above, scholars' voice agrees in considering the dangerous consequences of internal migration. First, Ali Mirchi underlines that “mass migration will increase more than we have ever seen” if “villages and rural areas run out of water, and livelihood will not be sustainable anymore”. Shahrzad Khatibi adds that “unplanned and irregular expansion of the main cities has contributed to overpopulation.” From the latter different problems derive, such as “urbanization and increasing water demand, while there is no match between demand and water availability”. The government should “reverse process of migration from the large cities of the country to smaller towns. Like in Tehran, where 20% of the population lives, the government should consider different short-term and long-term policies in order to decrease economic attractiveness”. The adoption of this kind of strategy is fundamental in order to avoid discontent related complications. In this regard, Rasoul Sadeghi warned that “Low levels of migration effectiveness underpin limited population redistribution. Spatial patterns reflect socioeconomic inequalities” which are relevant and develop in a gap between rich cities and underdeveloped countryside. Along with this situation, there has been “no policy concerns about housing costs, traffic congestion in destination areas.” But there is an even more complex process, internal to Tehran where overpopulation has made spatial inequality the distinguishing feature of urban unsustainable development.


As this conclusion is being written Iranians in different regions of the country are protesting against the mismanagement of the country's water resources whilst facing violent suppression by security forces. People in Isfahan have been peacefully standing where once Zayande Roud river lived, for more than a week now. Other cities particularly from the Southern and Central regions of the country are joining them to show their concern regarding a concerning lack of water resources. Agriculture and all related products face an unstable state where in many cases there are exist no sufficient water resources. Iran's source of hydroelectricity has also been seriously threatened by the same growing drought. The combination of both elements mentioned is generating a South to North pathway of internal migration, which foresees overpopulation in regions already facing the same problem on a more minor scale. Internal migration derived by drought is introducing many catastrophic factors, growing inhabitant zones is the least.  

November 26, 2021No Comments

Middle East: Toward a Sustainable Regional Security System?

By: Martina Gambacorta.

Image: This amazing tangled knot of a diagram, made by U.K. data journalist David McCandless, displays the key players and notable relationships in the Middle East. What it communicates is something no one doubts: the Middle East is a confusing place. Image Source: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/ng-interactive/2014/sep/24/friends-and-enemies-in-the-middle-east-who-is-connected-to-who-interactive

Without doubt, security is the first and fundamental objective of governments involved in the building of a sustainable regional security in the Middle East but it is not the only one. On one hand, different actors are cooperating to counter the Iranian threat and the affiliated militias. On the other hand, multilateral cooperation is taking a way forward from the mere security interests, while economic and thus political aims are now being prioritized. One of the things that emerged  especially in the last 20 years, is that the US role in the region is vitally important but it works much better when it is done through multilateral efforts of allies. In an ideal World one would see the inclusion of Russia and China in this multilateral work, but if not, it is up to the countries of the region, the US, the EU and other willing actors to try to take action to address the regional challenges. Up to now military action has played an important role—through aviation, maritime and border security; but we are moving toward an increased non-military cooperation. 

In Middle Eastern minds, a unified front would play a decisive role in dealing with major fundamental challenges that are undermining the regional stability, such as Iran. Nonetheless, such unified front would not only look at allies, but would strive to include enemies too. Saudi Arabia and Iran informal talks are a clear proof of how the two want to avoid a collision that would destabilize their respective systems of power.

In this frame, the Middle Eastern geopolitical scene has been shaken in recent years by a completely unexpected, almost paradoxical, convergence such as that between Saudi Arabia and Israel. In this case, the most significant episodes were perhaps the apparently repeated meetings, between 2016 and 2018, between the influential Saudi prince Turkī al-Fayṣal, former head of the secret services, and Tzipi Livni, co-secretary of the largest Israeli opposition party, together with General Amos Yadlin and his colleague Ya'akov Amidror, formerly head of military intelligence and National Security Advisor. Since those years, an intelligence-sharing program has begun between Saudi Arabia and Israel to monitor both the pro-Iranian non-state actors in the region, from Ḥizbullah to the ḥūṯī, and the advancement of the Iranian missile program. 

In Riyadh, the hope is that Israel—through its influence on groups in Washington—will be able to coordinate robust pressure on the US political establishment to activate containment of Iran, by introducing or re-imposing sanctions, and possibly helping to reactivate Washington's commitment to defending the interests of all its traditional Middle Eastern allies. The Saudis therefore offered new demonstrations of loyalty to the United States, including a willingness to open a new chapter to secure Israel's future in the region.

Such normalization reflects nothing but the footsteps traced by Obama, Trump and Biden’s presidencies to leave responsibilities to local actors whenever US interests are not at stake. Also, it reflects a profound need for a sustainable regional security system that could develop simultaneously to the creation of ties of political and economic-financial nature and access to resources. An example is the announcement of the giant Dubai Port (Dp) World that it intends to settle in the Israeli port of Haifa or the maritime expansion strategy of the United Arab Emirates. This demonstrates a need for new funding and space to stay afloat in a crisis environment. 

In this sense, the "Abraham Agreements" go toward this direction but do not come out of nowhere, in that  they represent a tactical convergence between the interests of the actors involved. The Arab Gulf countries, including Qatar and Oman, have been cultivating economic-financial, intelligence and security relations with Israel for years, behind the scenes or in a semi-formal manner. 

In 2015, the Emirates granted the Jewish state to establish diplomatic representation at the International Renewable Energy Agency based in Abu Dhabi. Together with Egypt, Qatar has been the main mediator between Hamas and Israel for years. In 2018, Oman formally received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the same year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview that Israelis "have a right to have their own land" and that Saudi Arabia "has no problems with Jews". Also in 2018, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled ben Ahmad Al Khalifa even went so far as to take Israel's side against Iran. Commenting on the umpteenth air raid in Syria attributed to the Jewish State Air Force against alleged Iranian military bases, he stated that "Israel has the right to defend itself and eliminate sources of danger".  

If the Turkish threat is added to the Iranian one, the Jewish state could be—together with Russia—a new factor of protection. Behind the curtain of the agreements also hides Saudi Arabia. If Bahrain has signed an agreement with Israel, it is because Riyadh has given the green light. Saudi Arabia then granted the opening of its airspace to air links between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. To do more, Mohammed bin Salman must wait to formally take power, so that his father - the over eighty and sick King Salman - passes away. Mohammed bin Salman’s ambition is to become the protector of all the holy places of Islam. Science fiction, at least for now. 

Is this frame a solid basis for a sustainable regional security system? It is too early to answer and in the following 20 years changes will shape a new frame. As presented in this article,  advances have been made and different actors are building a new unified front. Nonetheless, unanswered questions still remain. One of this concerns Iran and the future of the JCPOA. Should a comprise be found, and sanctions reduced, the unified front will undoubtedly accommodate the US. Nonetheless, the JCPOA works have proofed to be a failure in the past, and unexpected outcomes cannot be excluded. Moreover, the JCPOA will not be enough to tackle other issue but the nuclear one. While allies are talking to each other, and enemies are being included in such dialogue, religious and ethnic differences won’t be easily overcome through politics and economics.