On December 1, 2015 Alireza Jafarzadeh wrote an opinion piece on foxnews.com entitled “To defeat ISIS we must target the godfather of terror – Iran”. Even though Jafarzadeh presents many valid points as to why Iran should be targeted in attempts to defeat ISIS, he appears to purposefully overgeneralize this crisis and oversimplify the nature in which a resolution can be achieved – diplomatically, militarily, or otherwise – by targeting Iran. There are far too many actors involved in this conflict and just as many variables in this equation to simply focus on Iran and label them the “godfather of terror”.
The areas where Jafarzadeh falls short, I will attempt to provide a more comprehensive narrative which will require the leasing of certain passages from Jafarzadeh’s article. In particular passages where at first read holds certain claims to be true, but upon a deeper analysis reveals some misconceptions. Thus, my ultimate objective is to clarify these misconceptions that Jafarzadeh leads his readers to discover – more so for the novice reader, unfamiliar with the complexities of this crisis.
“From a geopolitical perspective, however, a key player– keeping Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power, thereby exacerbating the crisis in Syria, and fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq– is undisputedly the theocracy ruling Iran.”
Although it is true that Iran is a key geopolitical player keeping Assad in power and thus exacerbating the crisis in Syria, one must not forget about Turkey. Her contribution in exacerbating this crisis, and essentially supporting ISIS, stems from three strategic objectives that benefits Turkey’s national interest. The first relates to Turkey’s continued struggles with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK – as well as PKK sympathizers – who have been fighting for independence since 1978. Coincidently, and as a byproduct of the war against ISIS, the PKK has shifted most of its attention towards ISIS in hopes of increasing its geopolitical influence and power. This has left Turkey deciding between the lesser of two evils, and in her current state, Turkey has strategically decided to not support ISIS but neither to fight it. With a laxed boarder presence (as well as a reluctancy in opening its air space), Turkey has allowed ISIS to export oil through the Syrian-Turkey boarder and import monetary, military, weaponry and recruitment capital. While Turkey looks the other way, ISIS is able to continue its fight against its enemies which include, for now, the PKK – a welcomed conflict by Turkey.
Second, for the past ten years Turkey has been trying to join the European Union. With little to no progress – especially over the past few years – a glimmer of hope emerged for Turkey through all of this bloodshed, the refugee crisis. On November 29th the EU and Turkey reached an agreement where the former will provide $3.19B USD in aid for the latter to handle the migration of two million refugees. In addition, the two sides will revisit Turkey’s bid in joining the EU and Turkey will tighten boarder security with its European neighbors in the hopes of preventing future attacks like that in Paris. Once again, coincidently, it is in Turkey’s best interest to see this crisis continue in order to help the European Union, fall in their good graces, and increase Turkey’s chances of winning a bid to become the 29th block.
The third and final objective is self-explanatory but nevertheless: Turkey, along with the majority of its North African and Middle Eastern neighbors – like Saudi Arabia – does not want Iran to become the regional hegemonic power. With Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine, Turkey has no objections indirectly assisting ISIS if that means Iran loses an ally in Bashar al-Assad.
As a side note, Turkey has also been a thorn in Washington and Moscow’s side with its weak boarder control, reluctancy to cooperate, shooting down a Russian jet, and allowing ISIS to sell oil and increase its revenue – revenue they use to pay salaries to their members which attracts newer recruits looking for a quick way out of poverty and an easy way in Syria or Iraq.
“Rather, it requires, a fundamental policy shift aimed at drying up the Islamic fundamentalists’ resources and recruiting grounds. […] Tehran is the godfather, with a much longer record and, as a state, with deeper pockets, both in terms of resources and political leverage.”
This passage is preceded by a description of the various individuals from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who has been, and is, supporting the Assad regime. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that when Jafarzadeh says “drying up the Islamic fundamentalists’ resources and recruiting grounds” he is referring to Iran and specifically the IRGC. And although this statement is true, singling out Iran does not contribute to the advancement of this discourse on seeking a resolution in Syria. If one is to truly shift its policy aim at drying up the Islamic fundamentalists, one must focus on Saudi Arabia and the Salafi movement. If Iran is the “godfather of terror” – which is easily debatable – then Saudi Arabia is clearly the godmother. Since the turn of the 21st century, no other country in the region and no other religion in this region has produced as many terrorists as Saudi Arabia and the Salafi movement. To only mention Iran in a statement as the one quoted above is not only dishonest but misleading to the reader. Saudi Arabia has a much longer record, going back to the conflicts with Israel; and Saudi Arabia’s political leverage and resources are much deeper than Iran’s because the former has Washington’s blind support.
It is easy to point to Iran and label them a state sponsor of terror when those whom Iran is sponsoring are relatively easier to locate, monitor, and define – not to mention their fight is primarily against Israel. Unlike ISIS and al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are not infamous for attacking western countries. Rather, their focus is on America’s ally, and when it is Washington defining the term terrorist, it is typical that Iran will be categorized as such. Saudi Arabia on the other hand, and Salafism, has cultivated, aided and/or sponsored terrorists and/or transnational terror groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. This, however, is overlooked by Washington because their deal is, America will not meddle in Saudi Arabia’s policies and provide military equipment, and in return Saudi Arabia will not create problems with Israel and provide oil. If al-Qaeda and ISIS were attacking Israel it would go without saying that more attention and pressure would be placed on Riyadh.
There is much more to be said, however I challenge my readers who may only subscribe to authors like Jafarzadeh, and Fox News, to break out of your comfort zone and engage in a discourse that may be foreign to your own, and potentially threatening to your ideology. Only then can we fully understand the complexities that surround such crises as in Syria and with ISIS, and discover that over-generalizations and simplifications such as those that Jafarzadeh makes about Iran will not bring this region into a better tomorrow.