Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Majid Rafizadeh: The Folly of Inviting Iran to Fight ISIS

by Majid Rafizadeh


There has been considerable pressure from the leftists and Democrats to include the Islamic Republic of Iran in the core coalition of Western allies that have joined to fight the Islamic State. The core coalition consists of Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark. Turkey, which is led by the Islamic Justice and Development Party of Recep Erdogan, has been notably less cooperative than expected.

Some national and international outlets, along with policy analysts, are beating the drum that without the Islamic Republic defeating the Islamic State is impossible. As one pro-Iranian outlet asserted, “If Obama thinks he can fight the Islamic State group without Iran’s help, he’s mistaken.” 

This academic, naïve and immature argument – that the assistance of the Islamic Republic is needed to counteract the rise of an Islamic terrorist group –  has been resurfacing repeatedly for almost a decade. This view falls right into the hands and interests of the Iranian regime. This argument comes from two camps: the first camp  consist of those who desire to project the Islamic Republic’s power to be more than it actually is. The second camp of individuals present and reflect their minimal understanding and naïveté in comprehending the power structure of the Middle East, the power of the Islamic Republic, and its role in the Middle East.

First of all, Iran’s military power in comparison to that of European countries and the core coalition is minimal. Exaggerating about the military power of the Islamic Republic and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps falls right into the hand of the Iranian regime and the mullahs.

By doing so, the Islamic Republic has managed to project itself as the only option,  regional power, and more fundamentally, partner of the West (specifically the United States) in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Secondly, the security threat posed by ISIS has shifted the attention from Iran’s nuclear program, and this is what the Iranian regime is searching for. While Iran’s nuclear defiance used to command more attention in the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda (and other members of the P5+1) when it comes to Iran, the geopolitical and security threat of ISIS has shifted priorities.

More fundamentally, the Islamic Republic was the major reason behind the emergence and creation of the terrorist group the Islamic State. Iran’s military, financial, intelligence, advisory, and security support of the Assad government have been instrumental in keeping the Alawites in power. However, the Islamic Republic’s assistance has also caused the uprising to spiral into a full-fledged civil war and sectarian conflict. Iran’s support contributed further to the instability in the country.

The Iranian and Syrian governments’ use of brutal force further radicalized and militarized the conflict. The Islamic Republic’s (and its proxy Hezbollah’s) involvement in the Syrian conflict ratcheted up the sectarian language as well, pitting the Sunnis, the Shias and Alawites against each other.

This particular milieu provided the platform for Al-Qaeda affiliates and groups such as ISIS to develop, organize, recruit more members, and coordinate more efficiently.

It goes without saying that from the beginning the Islamic Republic’s line for the Syrian uprising has been that Assad has been attacked by terrorists, Takfiris, or radical Sunni Islamist groups. The Syrian regime employed the same argument to legitimize its use of hard power and prevent foreign intervention as well.

The Syrian regime, with the assistance of Iranian advisors, released several ISIS members and Salafists from prison in late 2011 and early 2012 in order to strengthen Damascus and Tehran’s argument that Assad has been a target of radical terrorist groups rather than a popular uprising.  The ISIS recruitment significantly intensified during this time.

At the beginning, the rise of such radical groups fell right into the interests of the Iranian and Syrian regime. The Islamic Republic and Syria were strategically successful at sending the West, and particularly the United States, a robust message that there is no alternative to Assad, and any military or foreign intervention would exacerbate the conflict.

In addition, the elite Quds Forces, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, has gained significant power in Iraq and Syria since the rise of ISIS. The Iranian government no longer sees a need to hide their involvement of its troops on the ground in these countries. The growing role of the IRGC and Quds Forces is being justified by Iran’s claim that it is fighting ISIS. In addition, the United States sees no other option other than to turn a blind eye on the increasing role of Iranian forces.

Militarily speaking, there is no need for the Islamic Republic to defeat the Islamic State. Ideologically and religiously speaking, the Iranian regime’s policies are not that different from the Islamic State when it comes to executions, amputations, stoning, suppressing women, persecuting minorities, destabilizing the region, among others. Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic does these acts in a more systematic way, and they are legalized under its Islamist and Shari’a law-based legislative, judiciary and executive systems.

By requesting that the Islamic Republic assist in defeating the Islamic State, we will be playing right into their hands. The Iranian regime will project itself as the sole power in the Middle East and continue more assertively to pursue its regional hegemonic ambitions and nuclear objectives. Secondly, the West would be legitimizing and emboldening the authoritarian and Islamist regime of the mullahs. Third, the Iranian leaders will use the partnership with the West as well as the West’s request to join them as leverage in obtaining more concessions from the United States when it comes to nuclear talks. The Iranian regime will use this as a platform to maneuver more in the nuclear negotiations and paint the picture that it is an indispensable regional power.

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu. Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.

Source: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2014/majid-rafizadeh/the-folly-of-inviting-iran-to-fight-isis/

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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