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Debate: Iran is exploiting Sunni Islamists | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A picture taken on October 25, 2013 shows members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front taking part in a parade calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, at the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo. (AFP/Karam Al-Masri)

Does the understanding that has crystallized between Washington and Tehran over jihadist groups neglect to take into consideration Iran’s regional expansion?

Yes, because the stated enmity between the two countries is not deeply ingrained, nor does it form an obstacle to cooperation between the two.

Anyone familiar with Washington’s policies toward Tehran knows that relations between the two countries are fraught with distrust and confusion. Over the past 35 years, relations between the United States and Iran have been opaque. This fact is underlined when the two nations must work together to achieve a common goal in the region.

This type of game is more complicated than a game of chess. Perhaps it is one of the rare types of historic political rivalries where enemies exchange services by moving a piece to serve the other. However, the history of political relations between the United States and Iran’s Islamic Republic proves that there is no situation where it is impossible for enemies to find common ground.

The common interests shared by Washington and Tehran are far greater than the open hostility between them. Perhaps the limited cooperation that took place between the two countries in Afghanistan and Iraq, which continues to some extent today, is the simplest example we can use to demonstrate that the hostility between them is not so deeply rooted as we might expect. However, it remains true that their current enmity will impede the development of cooperation between the two countries. Thus one should not be surprised when some say it was American silence that allowed Iran to bring its nuclear program to a point where the Islamic Republic is—as US Secretary of State John Kerry admits—only two months away from possessing nuclear weapons. The world would not have allowed Iran’s program to reach this advanced level if the most powerful country on the planet did not turn a blind eye to it.

From this perspective, what some observers predicted regarding what the Geneva Accord between the P5+1 world powers and Iran meant for American–Iranian cooperation may be true: the agreement could aid Iran in its regional expansion project and help the country achieve some of its objectives in the Middle East, specifically regarding the situation in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon—not to mention the political process in Iraq, which has kept Washington connected to Tehran. Points of concern also include extremist Shi’ite groups in Bahrain, which benefit from both Iranian and American popular sympathy. An interesting aspect of the Geneva Accord between the P5+1 countries and Iran is that it did not resolve the issue of Iranian support for terrorist groups the Islamic Republic uses to carry out its goals and threaten the security and stability of other states—some of them countries friendly to Washington.

The US, which used to be proactive in the face of terrorism, has been disregarding many terrorist organizations known to have ties to Iran. Why not include the Houthis in Yemen or the Mukhtar Army or Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq or other armed organizations in Iraq on its list of terrorist organizations? Why not designate the groups engaged in armed violence in Bahrain?

There is no doubt the US and Iran share common interests, despite their declarations to the contrary. This may not be surprising in the pragmatic world of politics, but it is certain that this is not befitting of a nation that drives the global system; it is the reason why the US is facing a crisis of confidence among its important allies in the Middle East.

What increases the fears of some regional parties is Iran’s ambition to exploit the current crisis in Ukraine to the benefit of terrorist organizations. America may not put pressure on Iran, so as not to push the regime into Moscow’s arms. Iran, however, will exploit this situation and continue supporting terrorist organizations in order to create more chaos in the region.

The counterpoint to this article can be read here.