Call it double standards, different perspectives, politics, hypocrisy, Taqiyya or lies…the rhetoric that’s coming out of Tehran is loaded with messages which makes one want to blurt out “right back at you” or “why don’t you take a look in the mirror”. It’s as if the leaders in Tehran live in a vacuum and are totally disconnected from the realities as viewed by the rest of the world, especially the Western and the Arab world.
They redefine concepts such as “terrorism”, “foreign policy” and “human rights” by simply changing perspectives and then blame the seeming contradictions on cultural, political and geographical “disconnections”. In such a manner, Tehran can position itself as a champion against terrorism although it fully supports terrorist organizations, can position itself as the guardian of its neighbors’ interests although it meddles subversively in local politics and position itself as the champion of Islamic human rights although its human rights record is one of the worst in the world.
This process of “redefinition” has increased dramatically under the government of Hassan Rouhani and the signing of the JCPoA. This makes sense since before Rouhani, Iran was politically an defectively isolated and ostracized – the regime didn’t really need to try to manipulate the mind-set of the world. But since Tehran began trudging down the path of “constructive engagement”, redefinitions have become a defining strategy to position Tehran in a better light and take the world off-guard.
The best way to understand this is to listen to what Iranian leaders are saying. For the sake of this article, we will focus on statements by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader), Ali Akbar Velayati (Khamenei’s chief adviser on foreign policy), Hassan Rouhani (Iran’s president), Ali Larijani (speaker of Iran’s parliament) and Javad Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) on the issues of “terrorism” and “regional foreign policy”…another article in the future will focus on Tehran practicing what it preaches in the realm of “human rights”.
Tehran as a champion against terrorism
The issue of Islamic terror escalated dramatically over the past two years. Sure, 9/11 had brought Islamic terror to the West but 9/11 looks “tame” in view of the barbaric rampage of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Spotting an opportunity, Rouhani presented his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative to the UN to a standing ovation. The war against terrorism became Tehran’s carte blanche to kill or destroy whoever was in Tehran’s way and another carte blanche to tarnish any Western and Arab anti-terror activities. Why was Tehran involved in Syria? Why was the US forbidden to fight ISIS in Syria? Why did Tehran execute 20 Kurds in one day? To fight terrorism, of course.
Terrorism became the magic word to allow Tehran to fulfill its political agenda regardless of the fact that an organization such as Hezbollah (as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc…), which is fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen etc… is wholly financed by Tehran and is designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western and Arab nations. Here are some statements by Iranian leaders which show that Tehran is eager to preach against terrorism but is much more wary about practicing what it preaches on this subject:
- Velayati on the West’s efforts to differentiate between legitimate Syrian rebel groups and ISIS: Iran “will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists“. By this logic, Tehran refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is just as “ridiculous“.
- Rouhani on categorizing terrorism: Rouhani also called for the fight against all types of terror groups, saying the terrorists should not be divided into good and bad ones in pursuit of “short-term interests”. Is not Tehran’s categorizing of all Syrian rebel factions as “bad terrorists” and its opposition to categorize Hezbollah as “bad terrorists” not a clear example of Tehran pursuing its own “short term interests“?
- Zarif on the dramatic increase of terrorist attacks all over the world: “We should not and will not rest until those behind terror in Istanbul, Dhaka, and now Baghdad, and their ideology are defeated“. Notice, no mention of Hezbollah and Tehran’s ingrained “ideology” of “Exporting the Revolution”, two critical factors in fighting Assad’s war in Syria.
- Larijani on tactics and strategies of terrorism: “We have on multiple occasions warned the countries in the region that the tactical use of terrorism is a strategic mistake“. So why, oh why, is Tehran using Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to fight Assad’s civil war? And why is Tehran using Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government? A clear “strategic mistake“.
- Khamenei the fate of those who support terrorism: “However, the creators of terrorism will not remain secure from the repercussions of terrorist acts either“. Mr. Khamenei should remind himself this since the rise in Tafkiri terrorism is, in part, a “repercussion” to Tehran’s state-sponsored Shiite terrorism.
- Khamenei on the aims of the US in the region: “Behind our western border, the S.is training terrorists. It is spending money and handing out weapons to be used against the Islamic republic…the Americans have dangerous plans for (Iraqi) Kurdistan … Their plans are not aimed at defending the Kurdish people, but they want to control them“. Perhaps…but 1) Tehran is spending billions of dollars in “training terrorists” and “spending money and handing out weapons” to terrorist organizations and to help Assad win his civil war and 2) Tehran has excelled in “controlling” nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Azers as well as efforts to do so in Yemen as well.
- Zarif wants to cooperate with Mali and Ghana to fight terrorism: “Iran is prepared to cooperate with Mali in the area of fighting terrorism and extremism“, “The Islamic Republic is ready to cooperate with Ghana in the fight against terrorism and extremism“. “Cooperate“? The same “cooperation” which Tehran gave to Nigerian Shiite sheikh Ibrahim Zakazaky who was charged by the Nigerian government of trying to overthrow it?
- Rouhani on “exporting” its experience on fighting terrorism: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran has valuable experience in fighting terrorism and is ready to transfer it to other countries. Very admirable, but…Tehran has gained quite a lot of “experience” from fighting against terrorism since the advent of ISIS in 2014 but has a lot more “experience” in supporting terrorism since 1979.
- Rouhani on the how to effectively fight terrorists: “We should block income sources and channels of arms transfer to the terrorists“. And yet, Tehran continues to be the major “income source” and “channel of arms transfer” to Hezbollah (a terrorist organization), Yemenite Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemenite government and subversive Shiite organizations in the Gulf States.
- Zarif on the methods to combat terrorism: “Terrorism and extremism cannot be eliminated only through military, political, or economic means; rather a cultural and ideological approach is also needed“. Well said Mr. Zarif but first, Tehran has to deal with its own “cultural and ideological approach” in supporting terrorist organizations in its struggle to “Export the Revolution”.
- Larijani on how not to combat terrorism: “Terrorism is not a simple and tactical issue and cannot be solved by airstrikes“. He’s 100% right but he remains one of the biggest supporters of Moscow’s efforts at combating ISIS through…”airstrikes” which incidentally also targeted other Syrian rebels and civilians.
- Larijani on blaming Saudi Arabia: He also said those countries which provided terrorists with arms and missiles are responsible for crises in Syria (and that) those who make blood bath in Yemen are the ones who are to blame for tension in the region. Who is providing Assad and Hezbollah with “arms and missiles” in Syria which are extending the “blood bath” there?? Who provided “arms and missiles” to the Houthis rebels in Yemen to overthrow the Yemenite government and initiated the “blood bath” there? Tehran, of course.
- Velayati on the purported support of Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels: “However…some reactionary regional states are training terrorists and providing them with support in violation of international law“. Wait a minute…isn’t the fact that Tehran is “training” Hezbollah and “providing them with support” also a “violation of international law“?
Tehran’s modus operandi is simple: Support (mostly Shiite) terrorist organizations while doing two things at once – 1) Deny that the organizations being supported are really terrorists and 2) Blame the West (the US, EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) for the rise in Sunni terrorism.
Tehran as a champion of regional foreign policy
Tehran is very active in its neighbors activities and has positioned itself as the master of foreign policy in the region. This self-appointment is a direct result of the amount of control Tehran has in some countries in the region, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as its continued efforts to expand its control in other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and other Gulf States. Furthermore, the signing of the JCPoA has strengthened diplomatic power with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan etc… and after years of isolation, Tehran has finally become a crucial regional power.
That’s all good for Tehran but the problem is that Tehran doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to regional policy. It will warn Western powers to not meddle in local politics while it does so incessantly in its efforts to “Export the Revolution”. It blames countries like Saudi Arabia for helping the Yemenite government to beat the Houthi rebels while it is helping Assad to beat Syrian rebels in the same manner. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for creating division amongst Muslims while it does so as well. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for diplomatic incompetency while it tries to survive from one blunder to another.
Here are some choice statements by Iranian leaders which illustrate just how little Tehran practices what it preaches.
- Zarif on who should control Syria: “We believe only the Syrian people should decide about their future and others can only facilitate this political process to resolve the crisis“. OK, but if “only the Syrian people should decide about the their future” why is Tehran so adamant in helping Assad who inherited his power without then how does Zarif explain the amount of influence Tehran has on Assad
- Velayati on interfering in Syrian affairs: “No country has the right to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs and decide for fate of others“. Exactly. Not even Tehran who has the biggest foreign military involvement in Syria and who has taken upon itself to “decide the fate” of Syrian by blindly supporting Assad for its own agenda of “Exporting the Revolution”.
- Khamenei on the slippery notion of intervention: “The people in those (Muslim) countries should decide about their own destiny and prevent any foreign intervention“. Strange…when a Western power involves itself in the region, it is “foreign intervention” but when Tehran involves itself in the fate of countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc… it isn’t simply because Iran is Muslim? Khamenei, “intervention” from Iran in these countries is just as “foreign” as “intervention” from Saudi Arabia or from the US.
- Velayati the legalities of foreign intervention: “The presence in Syria by such countries as the US and Saudi Arabia, who intervene there without the Syrian government’s consent, is illegal“. Velayati is basing this statement on the fact that Assad formally “invited” Tehran to help him fight his civil war. There are two problems in this statement: 1) Since Assad inherited his power without a popular vote, the question of the legitimacy of his government is problematic to say the least and 2) Isn’t Tehran’s “presence” support of the Houthi rebels in Iran to overthrow the government also “illegal” then?
- Velayati on Iran-Russia cooperation in the region: “There is unprecedented cooperation between Iran and Russia. This cooperation will not be limited to Syria, as a patch of this cooperation can be seen in Iraq and Lebanon…It will be extended to Yemen too“. Tehran’s new-found “cooperation” with Moscow embolden it to include Moscow not only in its war for Assad but also in another proxy war in “Yemen too” (Moscow hasn’t agreed to such a move yet) but this never stopped Tehran from warning Saudi Arabia and the US from “interfering” in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen.
- Velayati on the delicate issue of meddling: “Iran opposes any kind of change of the legal regimes through power, military force, coups, violence and separatism, as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries“. This is an admirable statement except for the fact that Tehran actively used “power, military force, coups, violence and separatism” to support Houthi rebels to overthrow the government in Yemen.
- Rouhani on wars in the region: “How can we remain silent while Yemeni people are savagely bombed everyday by those who call themselves the custodians of the Grand Mosque (Saudi Arabia)“. Rouhani is definitely “silent” on how the Syrian rebels and the Syrian civilians are “savagely bombed everyday” by Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, by Assad’s forces with the support of Tehran and by Iranian military personnel.
- Khamenei on the benefits of cooperation: “We will not cooperate with America over the regional crisis“. It should be noted here that Tehran has vehemently opposed the “interference” of the US in Syria although it did welcome Moscow to “help”. Isn’t ending the “regional crisis” and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of future victims” not worth involving whoever can help? Especially since the US still holds a lot of influence over Tehran’s southern rival?
- Khamenei on double standards of impunity: “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region…(Khamenei issued) a directive to Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“. Khamenei obviously doesn’t mention the hypocrisy in not allowing countries which are deemed as enemies of Tehran to not “act with impunity” but doesn’t think twice about issuing a directive to do the exact same crimes he is lamenting about.
- Zarif on Saudi Arabia’s agenda: “Some people in Riyadh seem bent on dragging whole region into crisis (and) Iran has no desire to escalate tensions…They (the Saudis) can continue to support extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred, or choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security“. If only Zarif would convince Tehran to not strive to “drag” the “whole region into crisis“, to stop supporting “extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred” and “choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security” because Tehran is doing the exact opposite in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf States.
- Larijani on the Saudis’ effect on the region: “The Saudis have fomented crises for certain regional states and are pursuing disintegration of some other states“. Wow. Larijani conveniently “forgets” to mention that Tehran’s efforts to support the Houthi rebels actually ended in their the “disintegration” of the Yemenite government which then led to the Saudis declaration of war on the Houthis together with the reinstated Yemenite government.
- Khamenei on Muslim division: “One of the main tools used by the enemies to prevent the birth of modern Islamic civilization is through creating divisions among Muslims…Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Are not “Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (and) the United Arab Emirates” not Muslims and, therefore, won’t such a statement only increase Muslim division?
- Khamenei on the Shiite Sunni divide: “The Arrogance front (the US) is making massive efforts to introduce this confrontation as a war between Shiite and Sunni“. This is a ludicrous statement to make following the torrent of accusations by Tehran on the responsibility of Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia in the development of Tafkiri (Sunni) terrorism which only serve to increase the “war between Shiite(s) and Sunni(s)“.
- Zarif the problems the Arab governments are facing: “The Arab world’s intelligentsia and the grass roots feel a sense of frustration after developments in recent years and the lack of proper reaction by their rulers (and) the governments are trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“. Let’s just accept this statement as true for a second…isn’t that exactly how the “intelligentsia and the grass roots” in Iran are feeling and isn’t Tehran “trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“? Yes and definitely, yes.
- Khamenei on the art of negotiations: “They (Rouhani, Zarif and all the Iranians who worked to sign the nuclear deal) believe (that) Middle East or domestic problems can be solved by JCPOA; this means giving up principles and redlines, and yielding to the arrogance“. In negotiations, there is always give and, as Zarif pointed out so well, it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. Negotiating for a deal meant to get rid of all nuclear sanctions means “giving up (on some) principles” because if Tehran had not given anything away, the deal would not have been signed.
These statements clearly show that Tehran is intensifying a double standard in the region: Tehran “helps”, others “interfere”. Tehran promotes Muslim “unity”, others promote Muslim “division”. Tehran’s meddling is “legal”, others are “illegal”. Russia is “good”, US is “bad”. The double standards go on and on as the leaders in Tehran try to paint a picture in which they are the heroes and everyone who is not supporting it is a villain.