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An undercover Iranian policeman outside the Iranian parliament during the 7 June attack on the complex. Photo: Getty Images.

Last week, ISIS-sponsored terror attacks hit the symbolic sites of Iran’s parliament and the shrine of revolutionary founding father Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, revealing a massive internal security failure and Iran’s vulnerability stemming from its involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. What do the attacks mean for Iran and its foreign policy?

The attacks will bolster public support for Iran’s regional activities. The leadership has long trumpeted its position at the forefront of the global war on terror, arguing that its military involvement in the Syrian civil war and in supporting proxy and militia groups in Iraq and Yemen puts it on the front lines against ISIS.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two people look out over Tehran in 2014. Credit Ako Salemi.

Almost since the beginning of this millennium, Iran has been an island of calm amid instability and violence. Afghanistan, its neighbor to the east, descended into chaos following the American-led invasion of 2001; Iraq, across its western border, suffered the same fate after 2003. Eight years later, in 2011, Syria erupted into civil war.

Although Shiite Iran has been involved in the conflicts that have ensued in all three of those neighbors — sending men, money and arms to advance the fight against Sunni chauvinists and their sponsors in the Gulf — its own territory has remained remarkably untouched.

Iran has been a functioning nation state where the central authorities have enjoyed a monopoly of force and people out of uniform have been overwhelmingly unarmed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The 7 June attacks in Tehran struck at the symbolic heart of Iran’s revolutionary republic. In this Q&A, Ali Vaez, Senior Analyst for Iran, says the outrages show how the region’s proxy wars are now reaching far beyond the battlefield.

How unusual are these attacks for Iran?

If this indeed was, as it claimed, an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it would constitute the first time the organisation has been able to strike Iran inside its borders. But terrorist attacks are not new to Iran. In the early years of revolutionary turmoil, the leftist-Islamist Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) resorted to violence. In the 1980s, up to 120 terrorist attacks occurred in Tehran perpetrated by MEK and other violent groups, killing hundreds of Iranian officials, including the president and prime minister in August 1981. Even the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, was targeted.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian soldiers stand near the parliament building during an attack in Tehran on Wednesday. (Hossein Mersadi/European Pressphoto Agency)

For the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, a Sunni extremist group managed to successfully carry out a terrorist attack in Tehran. Iranians sat mesmerized in front of their TV sets, watching the unfolding events in disbelief and waiting for any information on the terrorists, their motivation and their affiliation.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks against two potent symbols of power in Iran, which left at least 12 dead and 42 wounded. By attacking the Imam Khomeini mausoleum, the final resting place of the founder of the Islamic republic, the terrorists targeted the Islamic revolution itself. And by attacking the parliament, they assaulted Iran’s vibrant yet imperfect democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Security personnel outside the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Wednesday. Credit Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

The terrorist attacks in Tehran on Wednesday — in bright daylight and at two very different yet entirely related locations — up the ante in what has become a battle royale for influence in the Middle East, and in the fight against the terrorists wreaking havoc in the region and in the West. While Iran may seem to Americans a million miles away, what happens in Tehran most definitely does not stay there.

On his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, President Trump joined many of his Arab counterparts in denouncing Iran as the foremost sponsor of terrorism, perhaps unaware of the irony of doing so while being feted in the country of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s ideological forefathers.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jusqu’à présent, l’Iran avait été relativement épargné par la vague du terrorisme au nom de l’islam radical qui a fait tant de morts en Irak, au Pakistan, en Turquie, en Afghanistan et dans bien d’autres pays musulmans.

Il n’en demeure pas moins que l’implication du pays en Syrie, en Irak, au Liban et de manière plus indirecte en Afghanistan et au Yémen en fait une cible privilégiée pour les groupes djihadistes, qui voient en lui le principal ennemi chiite – rafidhin – à abattre.

En Iran même, les sunnites, radicalisés en raison de la politique peu tolérante du pouvoir, notamment au Baloutchistan – une région partagée entre l’Iran, le Pakistan et l’Afghanistan
et une plaque tournante du commerce transnational de la drogue à base de l’opium –, mais aussi des Kurdes djihadistes à l’ouest du pays, rendent la constitution de ce type de groupe relativement aisée.…  Seguir leyendo »

Au moment où l’ouverture internationale de l’Iran semble irréversible après la réélection d’ Hassan Rohani, le président américain vient de décrire l’Iran comme « principal financeur et organisateur du terrorisme international »

Comment l’Europe et la France, qui sont directement touchées par le terrorisme islamiste radical, peuvent-elles réagir face à cette « vérité alternative » – en français, ces mensonges – dont est coutumier le président américain ? Certes, l’Iran a mauvaise presse, mais à se tromper dans l’analyse des changements au sein de la République islamique, on risque de laisser agir ceux qui rêvent de déstabiliser ce pays et d’étendre le chaos, après l’avoir fait ou laissé faire en Afghanistan, en Irak, en Libye, ou en Syrie.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani visits the frontline during an offensive against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. REUTERS Stringer

Islamic State remains strong. It may have lost ground in the Middle East this year, but it has upped its game beyond the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria, inspiring or conducting a terrorist attack every 84 hours since June.

It successfully hit two of the three top targets on its list: France and the United States. To date, however, it failed to perpetrate a successful attack on its third target: Iran.

It’s not for lack of trying. Iran actively fights Islamic State — and Tehran’s counterterrorism efforts have succeeded where others have not.

Iran’s goal is twofold: Undermine Islamic State’s spread, ideology and vision, which promotes a sectarian agenda, while working to prevent attacks on Iranian soil.…  Seguir leyendo »

Recent gains by Islamic State in Iraq have raised questions about the viability of the Obama administration’s strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat it. Thus far, President Barack Obama has ruled out the use of U.S. ground forces and opted for a mix of air strikes and arming elements in Iraq that have a vested interest in fighting Islamic State. The results of this approach have been mixed. What has become clear, though, is that to defeat Islamic State, the Obama administration must engage with elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are increasingly on the front lines battling Islamic State alongside motivated Iraqi forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

En aquel tiempo, cuando los kurdos eran comunistas y nosotros, amigos de los sátrapas, matar kurdos era una ocupación socialmente aceptada. Luego, tras la Primera Gerra del Golfo, el mundo vio con horror cómo Sadan Husein gaseaba las aldeas kurdas como represalia a la rebelión y España envió a sus paracaidistas –«Operación Provide Confort»– para crear zonas seguras y abastecer a los millares de refugiados. Todo era absurdo. Estados Unidos habían derrotado al Ejército iraquí en un paseo militar, pero dejaron que el tirano siguiera en el poder. Y así, junto a los kurdos, fueron los opositores iraquíes, chiíes en su mayoría, quienes pagaron muy cara una decisión geoestratégica que no tenía más objetivo que impedir la expansión política de Irán.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dix mois après la chute de Mossoul, la dynamique militaire de Daech en Irak est non seulement contenue, mais amoindrie. Seulement, si Daech montre des signes de faiblesse en Irak et dans une moindre mesure en Syrie, plusieurs mouvements djihadistes ont porté allégeance à l’organisation, en Libye, au nord du Nigeria (Boko Haram), en Egypte, en Afghanistan et au Pakistan. Des cellules se réclamant de Daech existent en Arabie saoudite, au Yémen, en Turquie. En vérité, il ne s’agit pas d’une Internationale daechi, mais plutôt d’une identification aux modes d’action de l’organisation en Irak et en Syrie.

La « décrue » du djihadisme en Irak ne signifie pas encore sa déroute.…  Seguir leyendo »

ISIS in the driver’s seat

It has been argued by many analysts of the Middle East that the Islamic State, or ISIS, is less of a threat to American interests in the region than Iran. Alas, that point may be true, but what is also true is that ISIS has imperial ambitions of its own. Its influence in Syria and Iraq has been established as its army of young recruits and hardened Sunni militia veterans march across the desert sands leaving chaos and devastation in their wake.

Surely these are sanguineous nihilists. Some would say means and ends are the same for them. However, there is a strategic strain in ISIS thinking.…  Seguir leyendo »

At the dawn of 2015, the U.S. has yet to articulate a comprehensive foreign-policy strategy to counter the influence and territorial gains of Islamic State, the terrorist group that emerged last year — and poses a dangerous and vexing threat to stability across the Middle East and North Africa. By the Pentagon's admission, we neither understand the underlying ideology of the merciless group nor have a grasp of all the players in the region who have aggravated the crisis.
Indeed, the fog of war seems to have muddied Iran's role in this dark chapter of regional affairs. Is Tehran an ally or a nemesis in the fight against Islamic State?…  Seguir leyendo »

If there is one regional player that gained the most from America's gamble in Iraq, it is Iran. With its invasion in 2003, the United States ousted Tehran's sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shiite government for the first time in Iraq's modern history. As U.S. troops became mired in fighting an insurgency and containing a civil war, Iran extended its influence over all of Iraq's major Shiite factions.

Today, the Iranian regime is moving to exert influence beyond its Iraqi proxies, and is comfortable taking overt military action. There is no one to restrain Tehran, and the rise of ISIS, which views Shiites as apostates, threatens the interests of all Iraqi Shiite factions and of the Iranian regime.…  Seguir leyendo »

En el nombre de Dios

Aunque las páginas de la historia son el reflejo de las experiencias de la Humanidad, extrañamente no aprendemos la lección. El mundo entero fue testigo de cómo se crearon los talibanes y que las ayudas militares, monetarias y también las asesorías terminaron con la propagación de las redes del terror de Al Qaeda en cualquier rincón del mundo, algo que alcanzó, con el derrumbe de las torres gemelas, el corazón de Nueva York. Todos vimos cómo culminaron las invasiones militares de Afganistán e Irak, con la pérdida de vidas inocentes, la destrucción de casas, colegios y la pérdida económica de miles de millones de dólares.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Syrian Kurdish refugee man from the Kobani area trims the nails of a child at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration continues to wrestle with its approach to Syria. There are no good options in a war that has claimed 200,000 lives and displaced nearly 10 million people. The president is right to say that there are no magic solutions, yet he also clearly understands that avoidance is not an alternative if we are to achieve his declared objective of degrading and eventually destroying the Islamic State. Leaving the terrorist group with a haven in Syria ensures it both an ability to wreak havoc in Iraq and an operational space from which to plan, recruit and, in time, carry out attacks worldwide.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the United States begins its campaign to destroy the Islamic State, many voices can be counted on to call for cooperation with Iran. Among those has been none other than Secretary of State John Kerry, who insisted that Iran’s exclusion from the Paris Conference “doesn’t mean that we are opposed to the idea of communicating to find out if they will come on board, or under what circumstances, or whether there is the possibility of a change.” On the surface, this may seem sensible, as both Washington and Tehran have an interest in defanging a militant Sunni group. But we would wise to bear in mind two points: First, Kerry’s proviso on the possibility of change, and second, that the essential axiom of Middle East politics is that the enemy of my enemy is sometimes still my enemy.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama's decision to target militants from ISIS -- which is now calling itself the "Islamic State" or "IS" -- operating in Iraq comes as a huge relief to the Iranians. Officials in Tehran have been panic stricken since ISIS forces overran the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10.

All political factions in Tehran would like to see ISIS suffer and its latest advances rolled back. At the same time, contradictory statements made in Tehran make it clear that the Iranian authorities are divided about the implications of the American military's return to Iraq.

The moderates, the group of people associated with President Hassan Rouhani's presidential administration, are nudging toward an open admission that American military operations in Iraq compliment Tehran's policy goals.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Arab proverb advises, “A problem is solved when it gets tougher.”

Illustrating that point, the advance in Iraq and Syria of the Islamic State poses a threat to the United States while clarifying choices for U.S. policymakers. The question confronting the United States and Iran is no longer whether to work together but how to do so. And in light of decades of distrust and animosity, communications between the two countries can be greatly facilitated by reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement in talks underway in Vienna. Failure, however, would leave only bad options.

If the Islamic State is to be contained, the United States and other nations will have to reconsider past policies and manage enmities.…  Seguir leyendo »

United States leaders have rightly said that defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and resolving Iraq's deepening civil war will require urgent political change in Baghdad. But the military assistance that Iran and Russia are speeding to Shiite groups in Iraq imperils that change.

It now appears that a majority of Iraq's political parties and Shiite religious authorities blame Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's authoritarian tendencies and exclusion of mainstream Sunni groups for the crisis, and they seek his replacement as the starting point for resolving it.

But just as this political majority has begun to form against him, Iran and Russia have extended al-Maliki material and political support that insulates him from domestic political pressure and may even embolden him to try to stay on.…  Seguir leyendo »