Concerning Iran, King Salman nailed it

Concerning Iran, King Salman nailed it

Anyone who understands and has followed the character of Iran’s political establishment for decades knows that Saudi King Salman’s recent speech articulately laid out critical truths about Iran’s government.

The first issue is linked to its role in spreading terrorism. Several US State Department reports indicate that Iran is the top state sponsor of terrorism. In addition, based on my research at Harvard, Tehran directly or indirectly supports roughly 40 percent of the world’s designated terrorist groups.

This includes financial, military, advisory and political assistance. Iran’s major organization that establishes and backs militia groups across the region is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and its affiliate branches such as the Quds Force led by Qassem Soleimani.

The IRGC, under the direct supervision of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has significantly contributed to the emergence of groups such as Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shiite militias including Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, which operate as Iran’s proxies. In nearly four decades, Tehran has expanded its influence from Sanaa to Baghdad via direct or indirect interventions.

Iran’s export of a radical version of Shiite ideology and its revolutionary slogans have led to further Shiite-Sunni division. Since 1979, it has used its sectarian agenda to divide and rule and to impose fear. Tehran benefits from this instability. Its sectarian agenda has also contributed to the rise of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.

His astute speech struck a chord among Muslim and world leaders, as well as Westerners and more fundamentally the Iranian people. The only way to change Iran’s behavior for the better is to create a powerful coalition that pressures it politically and economically.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

As King Salman said: “The Iranian regime has been the spearhead of global terrorism since the (1979) Khomeini revolution. For 300 years, we did not know terrorism and extremism until the Khomeini revolution reared its head.” This is Tehran’s underlying modus operandi. It will not alter the core pillars of its revolutionary ideals.

King Salman referred to Iran’s unwillingness to accept diplomatic initiatives: “Iran has rejected initiatives of good neighborhood provided by our countries based on good faith. Iran replaced these initiatives with expansionist ambitions, criminal practices, interference in the internal affairs of other countries, flagrant violations of international law, and violations of the principles of good neighborliness, coexistence and mutual respect.”

For Tehran, concessions mean weakness. That is why the Obama administration’s concessions emboldened and empowered Iran to pursue its regional hegemonic ambitions. Iran’s moderates are a powerful tool for hard-liners to gain more power financially and geopolitically. The powerless moderates bring cash to the hard-liners, while the latter have the final say in foreign policy.

Since 1979, Iran has shown that the only language it understands is pressure. Tehran has repeatedly abused kind gestures from world leaders. As King Salman said: “The Iranian regime erroneously thought that our silence was a sign of weakness and our wisdom a retreat. We have had enough of its hostile practices and interventions, as we have seen in Yemen and other countries in the region.”

Tehran has used the name of Islam to expand its power and advance its pursuit of regional superiority. King Salman pointed to this critical issue by condemning attempts to exploit Islam “as a cover for political purposes that fuel hatred, extremism, terrorism, and religious and sectarian conflicts. The Iranian regime and its affiliated groups and organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthis, as well as ISIS (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda and others, are clear examples.”

He added: “Today we see some who consider themselves Muslims seek to present a distorted image of our religion, where they seek to link this great religion with violence. We say to our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of Muslims everywhere that one of the most important purposes of Islamic law is self-preservation, and there is no honor in committing crimes.”

King Salman thoughtfully distinguished between Iran’s government and its oppressed people: “We confirm… our appreciation of and respect to the Iranian people, who will not be blamed for the crimes of their regime.” US President Donald Trump acknowledged King Salman’s remarks by saying the Iranian people have “endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.”

Trump added: “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region… Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it… and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve.”

The only way to change Iran’s behavior for the better is to create a powerful coalition that pressures it politically and economically. King Salman’s astute speech struck a chord among Muslim and world leaders, as well as Westerners and more fundamentally the Iranian people.

• 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.

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