The current political boundaries of the Islamic Republic are a fraction of what the Persian empire was at it’s peak. This map of Scythia & Parthia shows what have been fairly stable boundaries for Iranian culture – from the Tigris river in the west to the Indus in the east.
Geographically this area is known as the Persian or Iranian Plateau
The current nations within Greater Iran’s territory include Georgia, Armenia, Azerbijan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, and portions of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Uighur portion of China.
This area is not a contiguous plateau, but it’s all elevated, often rugged, and it lays between Anatolia to the west and the Hindu Kush to the east. I have previously written about Anatolia’s water problems in Losing The Euphrates.
This article, Iran Becoming Uninhabitable, contained this stark quote from a former agriculture minister.
Kalantari said that the “deserts in Iran are spreading, and I am warning you that South Alborz and East Zagros will be uninhabitable and people will have to migrate. But where? Easily I can say that of the 75 million people in Iran, 45 million will have uncertain circumstances.” Kalantari continued, “If we start this very day to address this, it will take 12 to 15 years to balance.”
Iran has two and a half times the population of Afghanistan, it has direct access to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. Opium production in Afghanistan was curtailed by the Taliban, but since the U.S. led invasion ten years ago production has rebounded. The U.S. is leaving and if Iran collapses due to a mix of climate change and ill advised sanctions, western Europe’s heroin habit will fuel insurgency across the region, and sea access will facilitate that trade.
Afghanistan can convert fertilizer to explosives but they are otherwise almost entirely dependent for any military goods. Iran has its own internal industries making everything from bullets to ballistic missiles. Supply chain issues will hit systems that are large of complex in nature, but the AK-47s and RPGs will continue to flow, and these are the foundation weapons of any insurgency.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan. Our presence in Iraq affected the whole region. Syria’s civil war has spread into Lebanon, Iraq, and it threatens Turkey. Libya’s revolution put a flood of weapons on the market. Egypt’s revolution replaced a stable strongman government with dueling factions, none of which can get along in a pluralist environment.
If the U.S. does not take the lead and back off Iranian sanctions, a sometimes belligerent rational actor will be replace by an ugly amalgam of all the things we have seen from the other interventions and revolutions I named. That outcome may be inevitable due to climate change, but rushing to it is a foreign policy mistake of a similar magnitude to what happened in the Balkans in 1914 or Czechoslovakia in 1938.