The Iranian regime is building a sustained regional presence via the creation of cultural centers and informal contacts throughout the continent, leveraging the significant — and sympathetic — Lebanese diaspora that exists across various African nations. There is also credible evidence that Iran is working with radical regional groups. For instance, working through Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, Iran has supported the leftist Polisario Front since at least 2017. (This cooperation was so worrisome that the Kingdom formally severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018 as a result.) Polisario delegations are also known to have traveled to Lebanon for training, security experts said. Likewise, Iran now has a significant presence in neighboring Mauritania and nearby Tunisia, and is believed to be actively carrying out recruitment in both places.
With a review of U.S. policy toward the North African nation now underway, with ongoing unrest in nearby Libya, and with rising instability in the adjacent Sahel region, the kingdom’s strategic agenda is already quite full. All of this made the degree of concern among local policymakers over what they view as an Iranian strategic offensive on the continent all the more striking. “It’s no longer accurate to just speak about Iran in West Africa, “The Iranians are all over the continent now.”