Analysis: How Iran exploits ISIS to wage terror

With the Obama administration and Europe courting the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism to help defuse the Syrian civil war, core aims of Tehran’s clerical regime have been ignored.

November 22, 2015 07:10
3 minute read.
Iranian women mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war during a military parade

Iranian women mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war during a military parade. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The intense Western effort to decimate Islamic State after the terrorist entity executed attacks in Paris has largely relegated Iranian and Hezbollah jingoism in Syria and Iraq to a secondary status.

With the Obama administration and Europe courting the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism – the Islamic Republic of Iran – to help defuse the Syrian civil war, core aims of Tehran’s clerical regime have been ignored.

Writing on last week’s events in Foreign Affairs magazine’s website, Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted: “Iran is using ISIS’ ascendance in the Middle East to consolidate its power. The country is now the key ally keeping Iraq’s Shi’ites and the Alawite [Syrian President] Bashar Assad regime standing against well-armed and tenacious Sunni jihadists.

“In those battles, Tehran will likely do just enough to make sure the Sunnis don’t conquer the Shi’a portions of Iraq and Assad’s enclave in Syria, but no more. Meanwhile, in ISIS’ wake, Tehran will strengthen its own radical Shi’a militias. The result could be a permanent destabilization of the Arab heartland.”

To counter Iran’s expansion, Saudi Arabia and Qatar spearheaded on Thursday a non-binding anti-Iran UN resolution to keep some semblance of a spotlight Tehran.

The resolution condemned the intervention in Syria of “all foreign terrorist fighters... and foreign forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime, particularly the al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (of Iran) and militia groups, such as Hezbollah.” The resolution passed in the General Assembly 115-15, with 51 abstentions.

In many ways Iran and Islamic State are mirror images of each other. Take a historical example from a half millennium ago. Asked what Francis I of France sought in his war with Charles V of the Habsburg Empire, the French king replied: “None, we are in complete agreement. We both want control over Italy.”

Fast forward to 2015. Both Islamic State and Iran seek to exert hegemony over the Islamic heartlands.

It is worth recalling that the Iran-Hezbollah- Syria troika is responsible for eight times as many Syrian dead as Islamic State. An October German survey conducted among nearly 900 Syrians revealed 70 percent of those questioned held the Assad regime responsible for their exodus from Syria. The poll showed 52% of the Syrians would not return to Syria if Assad remained in power.

All of this helps to explain J. Matthew McInnis’s conclusion. The resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “ISIS also serves a practical purpose for Iran. [Islamic State’s] reign of terror and global ambitions have effectively distracted the international community from President Assad’s butchering of his own people.”

Iran and its strategic partner Hezbollah have invoked a kind of plastic surgery to disguise their terrorism in the West. French literary star Michel Houellebecq reminded readers in his Thursday New York Times op-ed titled “How France’s Leaders Failed Its People” that in 1986 Hezbollah launched “a series of bombings in various public places in Paris.”

Hezbollah’s so-called political operation still remains a legal organization in France.

While European politicians have largely gone to great lengths to mainstream Iran’s regime – and as a corollary effect, Hezbollah, too – there is a countervailing force in Congress. Last week, the US Senate unanimously adopted the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act.

The legislation would permit the US government to sanction foreign financial organizations for providing monetary services to Hezbollah or its subsidiaries.

The sheer barbarity of the massacres in Paris has understandably overshadowed the role of Iran’s terrorist apparatus in the region. The Islamic Republic’s nefarious behavior is a kind of masterpiece of a dialectic. Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei manages to keep his hands in all political buckets in the region.

If France and its allies - the US and the EU - are serious about slashing Islamic State terrorism, they will need to examine how the Islamic state of Iran helps boost Islamic State and Syria’s al-Qaida franchise Nusra Front.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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