Iran’s rugged but underdeveloped Makran coast littoral is pictured. Iran’s Supreme Leader has recently articulated a maritime development plan.
“It is necessary to make use of the coasts, offshore areas, and the seas effectively.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently announced a new, multi-decade approach to develop Iran’s coasts. While it is unclear if and how fast Iran might reconfigure or reorient its economy towards a maritime development strategy, the ambition of the maritime plan and its announcement by Khamenei set it apart from previous Iranian economic strategies and proposals.[i]
As per the excerpted article from the official web portal of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Khamenei called for a whole-of-government approach in his nine-point directive, with the formation of new bodies and government reorganization to accomplish the ambitious plan. Khamenei does not describe where Iran will acquire the billions of dollars needed to actualize this plan. Regardless, he provides the clearest indication to date that Iran seeks to develop the Makran Coast beyond the port of Chabahar, and that Khamenei envisions greater ties to Pakistan and Azerbaijan, two traditional rivals.[ii] Khamenei’s statement also provides diplomatic endorsement for ambitious north-south and east-west commercial corridor schemes involving trade across Iran to Russia through Azerbaijan and from China through Pakistan.[iii] Though his call to defend maritime resources from exploitation from other countries may signal a subtle warning about China, a country with whom Iran has developed warm diplomatic relations.[iv] Among Indian Ocean littoral states, China has a record of overfishing and illegally exploiting other country’s maritime resources. While Khamenei signals that Iran seeks to become a regional hub for commerce, his emphasis that any development should conform to Islamic-Iranian values might undercut the attractiveness of foreign investment, especially among Iran’s non-Persian, non-Islamic neighbors. Still, Iran’s attempts to reorient its economy bear watching and, if even partly successful, this regional economic integration can have great impact on the operational environment.
“Ablagh-e Siyasatha-ye Kali Tawse’ah-e Darya Mahavar” (Communicating Sea-Oriented Development Policies),” Khamenei.ir (official web portal of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), 7 November 2023.
The oceans are divine gifts with rich reserves and resources for the development of science and technology, for achieving job growth and increased wealth, for the provision of vital needs, and for increasing the country’s strength. Since Iran has a privileged geographical position and is located between two seas with thousands of kilometers of beaches as well as islands, many of which remain untouched, it is necessary to make use of the coasts, offshore areas, and the seas effectively…. Accordingly, we have determined General Sea-based Development Policies as follows:
1. The establishment of an integrated policy for sea-based affairs, for the division of work at the national level, and for an active, efficient management of the sea in order to make maximum use of the sea’s capacities to attain a fitting global position and to reach a top position in the region.
2. The development of sea-based-economic activities and the creation of advancied sea-based development centers to speed growth on the coasts, islands, and hinterlands in such a way that sea-based economy will always be at least twice the country’s economic growth rate over the next ten years.
3. The facilitation and development of domestic and foreign investments and partnerships by creating the necessary legal, economic, and security frameworks.
4. The formulation of a comprehensive sea-based development plan that includes zoning of the sea, the coast, and the backshore… with emphasis on an Iranian-Islamic identity….
5. Maximum, optimal utilization of the capacities, resources, and reserves of the marine ecosystem by preventing the destruction of the marine environment, especially by other countries.
6. The provision and advancement of committed, efficient human capital and management….
7. The expansion of economic and commercial cooperation…with neighboring and other countries….
8. Increasing the country’s share in sea-based transport and transit by establishing and strengthening a combined transport network.9. Supporting native and local investors in development projects… and also backing small and medium enterprises in local communities in various areas including fishing, agriculture, industry, and tourism.
[i] Across the Middle East, populations settled and cities grew alongside coastlines and rivers. See: Baghdad, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Casablanca, Tel Aviv, Tunis, and Tripoli for example. Iran has been the exception. Cities developed across the Iranian plateau, separated from the Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea and Indian Ocean by mountain ranges or inhospitable badlands. While the 20th century oil boom brought some development to the Persian Gulf coast, nine of Iran’s top ten cities by population are landlocked, with Ahvaz connected to the Persian Gulf by the Karun, Iran’s only navigable river.
[ii] For previous discussion of Chabahar development, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Construction Begins on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/379863
[iii] For background into Iran’s developing ties with Azerbaijan, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Agrees To Gas Swap with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan” OE Watch, 01-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/403778
[iv] For background about Iran-China economic ties, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Trade With China Is Up, but So Is Political Risk” OE Watch, 08-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/42208
Image: Iran’s rugged but underdeveloped Makran coast littoral is pictured. Iran’s Supreme Leader has recently articulated a maritime development plan.