One of the most ruinous facets of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s destructive legacy has been the government’s war on the country’s own environment. Without drastic environmental and water management policy changes, over half of Iran’s population is at risk of being displaced over the next 25 years. Instead of making the necessary changes, however, Iran’s regime has responded to the impending environmental crisis by harassing, arresting, and even killing the experts who have sought to advise the government on sound policy. The Iranian regime has similarly responded with heavy handed tactics to quell the protests of citizens facing hardships, including drinking water shortages and the loss of cultivable farmland, due to the regime’s environmental mismanagement.
Iran’s disregard for the environment has negatively impacted neighboring countries as well, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than distributing shared water sources with Iraq equitably, Iran has dammed and diverted the tributaries originating in its territory feeding into the Tigris River for its own purposes, significantly curtailing water flows to the vital Iraqi lifeline. Iran’s actions upstream have led to shortages of drinking water and electricity, destruction of wetlands, and loss of farmland downstream in Iraq. At the same time, Iran has gone as far as training and arming the Taliban to sabotage Afghan dam construction upstream in order to prevent against any disruption of water flows to its own territory. Iran’s environmental meddling has weakened the Iraqi and Afghan central governments, and Iran has exploited the instability to project power and influence in these countries.
In the face of a mounting environmental crisis, the regime has consistently acted in its perceived narrow, short-term interests, failing to recognize the devastating public health and national security consequences that its mismanagement has given rise to. Taken together, Iran’s war on its own and its neighbors environments adds a combustible element that risks further inflaming tensions and instability within Iran and throughout the Middle East.