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Iran's Salafi Sleeper Cells - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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News reports about Iranian plots to target the Arab Gulf States through local Shiite cells, which have been planted and programmed to carry out terrorist activities and create chaos, in the event of an attack on Iran, may not be far from the truth. However, it is incorrect to suggest that the Shiites alone would be Iran’s agents in a time of crisis. This belief is completely naïve, for Iran today is the largest employer of Sunni movements, specifically the Salafist groups, who are considered the most radical Sunni group, and certainly different from the Shiites. The attack which struck the Japanese oil tanker near the Straits of Hormuz a month ago was not a Shiite operation, but that of a Sunni-Salafi Saudi national based in Iran! There are hundreds more like him, of Arab nationality, hiding and being trained inside Iran. There are also hundreds of others receiving support from Iran for their activities in other areas such as Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Gaza and so on.

Yet the portrayal of this political issue [employing Sunni movements] as one that contradicts with Shia doctrine, or with the Shiites as a people, is reminiscent of the ancient Iranian project, which aimed to unite Shiites worldwide. However this project only worked partially in Lebanon. Indeed, the Tehran regime’s relationship with the Shiite Arabs has been significantly marred by political problems, as is the case in Iraq today, where Iranian efforts have failed to impose influence on Shiite religious parties, to form a certain political mould. If that had succeeded, the political crisis in Baghdad would have ended with an outright majority in parliament and the formation of a government, albeit of Iran’s choosing. Yet this has not succeeded because each party has its own opinion and political agendas, which it believes in and insists upon. Also, there are Shiite Arabs in western Iran today who are treated badly and discriminated against in their own country [Iran]. Thus there is clear evidence that Iran does not see the world along the lines of a sectarian divide, but in accordance with the interests of its politically pragmatic system. This system strives to do all it can to serve the Iranian regime’s objectives and spread its influence, to Sunnis or Shiites.

The truth is that the best battalion serving Iran today is not those Shiite groups in the Arab region loyal to Iran, but Sunni extremist groups which systematically assist Iran, by prompting Shiite citizens to doubt and reject [their own regimes]. These extremist groups serve Iran by spreading fear amongst the Shiites in the Gulf, thus sending their Shiite youth into the arms of Iran.

It is expected that the Iranian authorities intend to put all their effort into securing the largest number of Iranian sympathizers of the Gulf Shiites, and use them for Iran’s purposes within their own states. Iran in its present plight believes it has the power to confront any U.S. attack, through chaos and terrorism, and it is hardly surprising that it will awaken the cells in the Gulf if such a crisis occurs. Here it would be naive to believe that the cells are only Shiite, but in reality they include Sunnis, and Arabs of different nationalities.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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