Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor's Name

Mohiaddin Mesbahi

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Thomas Breslin

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Ronald Cox

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Iqbal Akhtar

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Iran, Iraq, Kurds, Lebanon, Shia, The Shah, Barzani, Sadr, Geopolitics, Foreign Policy, Cold War, Regional Security

Date of Defense



Late in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan coined a controversial phrase that still dominates the heart of the geopolitics of the Middle East: The Shia Crescent. “If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government, a new ‘crescent’ of dominant Shia movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon could emerge to alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to U.S. interests and allies. What the King of Jordan saw as a threat, Iran saw as the bedrock of its newfound regional power. However, what the King of Jordan and his Arab-Sunni aides downplayed was Iran’s ties with non-Shia groups, ranging from Sunni parties to secular and even non-Muslim groups. More importantly, they neglected Iran’s presence in the Middle East before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In fact, the seeming omnipresence of Iran’s proxies in the Middle East is not a recent, nuanced phenomenon; rather, it dated back to the Shah’s foreign policy in making connections with both the Iraqi Kurds and Shia Lebanese. While much ink has been spilled on Iran’s foreign policy under the Islamic Republic, there has been a void in the analysis of Iran’s ties with Non-State Actors (NSAs) in the pre-1979 Revolution Era.


From this point of view, the present study is an attempt to set forth a new understanding of the emergence and fluctuation of Iran’s ties with NSAs at the heart of the Middle East during the Shah’s era. I will accomplish this by identifying the Iran-NSA relationships within an examination of the larger historical context of state-NSA relationships in the region. Here, the story of the evolution of Iran’s ties with NSAs can be narrated as the unfolding of constant interaction between states and non-state forces in the Middle East. Analyzed from this perspective, my research examines the actors, processes, and mechanisms that Iran has used to construct ties with NSAs from 1961 until 1979. “What actors and processes at what levels of analysis and through what mechanisms have constructed Iran’s ties with NSAs?” This is the central question that guides the analytical narrative in the present survey. Therefore, the dependent variable for this research is the evolution of Iran’s ties with NSAs, while the intervening variable is a set of actors and processes that have brought about such sub-state ties. In this framework, the proposed work will undertake these main tasks:

  1. A) Tracing the history of the ebbs and flows within Iran’s ties with non-state actors through a geopolitical lens.

  2. B) Explaining how Iran’s ties with non-state actors unfolded and understanding why Iran’s proxies evolved in the way they did.

  3. C) AssessingthebroadcontoursoftheevolutionarytrajectoryofIran’stieswithNSAs and its possible future path(s) for the geopolitics of the Middle East and its regional balance of power.





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