This week, Iran’s state-owned media made outlandish accusations and vigorously lashed out at the US and Saudi Arabia over the attacks in Tehran. They were following Tehran’s agenda as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and other Iranian leaders escalated anti-US and anti-Saudi sentiment by issuing incendiary statements.
After Friday prayers, the government staged demonstrations during a funeral ceremony, with chants of “death to the US” and “death to Saudi Arabia.” Khamenei said the attacks in Tehran will only hurt the US and Saudi governments, and “will not damage the Iranian nation’s determination.”
This is part of Iran’s broader agenda to fuel hatred of the US, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations, and thereby create more instability that will enable Tehran to further expand its regional influence. Iran is also taking advantage of the Tehran attacks to crack down on domestic opposition, including minorities such as the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Tehran’s sectarian agenda is anchored in deepening the gap between Sunnis and Shiites.
Government seeks to advance its regional ambitions, suppress opposition and fuel anti-American, anti-Saudi and anti-Sunni sentiment.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Iran will use the Tehran attacks to dispatch more of its forces to Syria and Iraq, and to send more financial and military aid to militias and proxies across the region. Khamenei is exploiting the attacks to buttress his long-held, three-pronged narrative that Iran has enemies, it is a victim, and it is a force against terror groups, particularly Sunni ones.
This narrative is totally inaccurate. Iran is listed as the top state sponsor of terrorism by various intelligence reports. Even the State Department under former US President Barack Obama said Iran “remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism… providing a range of support, including financial, training, and equipment, to groups around the world,” particularly Hezbollah.
It added: “Iran continued to be deeply involved in the conflict in Syria, working closely with the (Assad) regime to counter the Syrian opposition, and also in Iraq where Iran continued to provide support to militia groups.” It was also “implicated for its support to violent Shia opposition group attacks in Bahrain.”
My research at Harvard University revealed that roughly 40 percent of world-designated terrorist groups are supported by only one government: Iran’s. More fundamentally, the argument that Shiite Iran is at the opposite end of the spectrum regarding Sunni extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh is totally inaccurate.
There is plenty of credible and substantiated evidence that Iran not only supports Shiite fundamentalist groups, but has backed leaders of other extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda. For example, a bipartisan 9/11 commission report pointed out that there was “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”
Iran supports any terror and extremist group that shares its anti-American and anti-Saudi agenda. It is deplorable that whenever there is a terrorist attack in another country, Iranian leaders and media blame the grieving nations. It is despicable to display jubilance over such attacks and to try to score political points.
For example, when the Paris attacks occurred, Kayhan newspaper — considered a mouthpiece of Khamenei, who appoints the editor in chief — had a front-page headline that read: “The rabid dog of the Islamic State (Daesh) bit the leg of its owners.”
Iran is blatantly taking advantage of the Tehran attacks and people’s suffering to advance its regional ambitions, suppress opposition and fuel anti-American, anti-Saudi and anti-Sunni sentiment.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.