It’s no secret that Iran views the “West” in general and the US, UK, Israel etc…as its enemies. These Western enemies symbolize all the humiliations and oppressions that were felt by the third world countries under the colonial empires while Israel is especially hated since it is viewed by Tehran as the last remaining Western “colony”. At the same time the Sunni-Shiite conflict which has been raging for about 1,400 years, is pitting Muslims against Muslims.
Tehran’s answer to both conflicts was to unify Islam against the West. For the past two years, Tehran has been selling itself as the unifier of Islam in order to lead Islam to a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will eventually lead to a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization“. These lofty visions are adaptations of Khomeini’s basic ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” to all countries in which people are oppressed. As long as Tehran continues to be a cause instead of a nation, as Henry Kissinger put it so well, it is duty-bound to meddle in other countries’ politics in the hope of igniting another revolution against the “Western hegemony”.
According to this logic, all of Tehran’s enemies, are therefore enemies of Islam. This logic might appear to be sound when it comes to non-Muslim “enemies” but it is absurd when these “enemies” are Muslims. In fact, it is even more absurd since Iranians are Shiites, a sect of Islam which represents only 10%-15% of the global Muslim population. The leaders in Tehran who pride themselves on their logic, have found a simple answer that conveniently allows such an absurdity to exist: The Muslims who are enemies of Iran are actually enemies of Islam because they have one thing in common – they have associated themselves with the “West”.
Tehran’s two major Muslim enemies are easy to identify although they are very different in their nature:
- External: Saudi Arabia, Iran’s loudest and most worrisome regional enemy
- “Internal” (self-exiled):The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), Iran’s exiled political enemy
To its horror, Tehran is now witnessing more and more Muslim nations associating themselves with Saudi Arabia and the NCRI and instead of unifying all Muslims under a vision of a united Islam lead by Tehran, it has managed to unify Muslims against Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and the Arab world
At the beginning of 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who had managed to overthrow the Saudi-supported government there. Tehran vilified the Saudi move and the Saudis answered by putting together a 12 state coalition of Arab states to fight the Houthis. This move took Tehran off-guard since the situation wasn’t anymore a Saudi-Yemen issue, it had grown into a larger Arab-Iran issue.
As the Iran-Saudi conflict escalated in an endless war of words, fueled by events such as the execution of the Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia for charges of inciting “terrorism”, the Saudis took their conflict against Iran one step further and put together a coalition of 34 Arab states for the purpose of “fighting terrorism”. The real purpose of this coalition can be found in the three nations which are “conspicuously” missing on this list, Iran, Syria and Iraq. No, this isn’t an anti-terror coalition but an anti-Tehran coalition.
But this wasn’t enough for the Saudis who dropped the proverbial bomb on Iran by designating Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxy, as a terrorist organization and convinced the Arab League to do the same removing Tehran’s anti-terror “red carpet” from under its feet.
Iran fumed and protested as it watched 34 Muslim nations side with Saudi Arabia and resorted to do what it does best in these situations: bad-mouth Saudi Arabia. The coalition, Tehran claimed, was “fake” and “the self-centered move by of al-Saud will bear no fruit but disgrace and the Saudi attempt are in vain“. What Tehran didn’t mention is that the Saudis outdid Tehran at its own game: since Rouhani presented his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative to combat ISIS, Tehran distanced itself from supporting terrorism and instead positioned itself as a champion against terrorism. Tehran then proceeded to include Syria (Assad’s government) and Iraq in its own coalition against terrorism. By uniting itself with 33 Arab states in the cause against terrorism, Saudi Arabia did exactly the same but the size of its coalition only strengthened the notion that Tehran was isolated from the Muslim world and any ambitions that Tehran might have had in unifying Islamic countries under its flag were destroyed.
Saudi Arabia and the NCRI
On July 9th, the NCRI organized its yearly rally in Paris under the call for a “Free Iran”. The rally was a huge success with over 100,000 supporters and bi-partisan support from countries all over the world.
Tehran, which has designated the NCRI as a “terrorist” organization (it’s the only country in the world which has done this) hit the propaganda machine button and began to cry foul. It slammed the NCRI, France, the dozens of speakers, the thousands of supporters etc… but it reserved its loudest criticism for the presence of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal at the rally who praised the NCRI and added that “your legitimate struggle against the (Iranian) regime will achieve its goal, sooner or later…I, too, want the fall of the regime“. Here are some of Tehran’s choices responses?
- Hassan Rouhani, President: “There are both children-killer regimes (i.e. Israel) and childlike regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia) in the region. There are childlike regimes that are seeking the support of rotten terrorist organizations (i.e. NCRI)”.
- Ali Larijani, Speaker of Majlis: “Another example is allowing the terrorist-killer Monafeghin (NCRI) in Paris and the nonsense that was uttered by the moron Saudi official. The gathering and what was raised was so worthless and so impolite that it does not merit a response.”
- Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “This (NCRI) is a politically bankrupt organization and they have betrayed their own people since the inception of the group…This group does not possess the courage to come to Iran and talk to the Iranian people directly; their claims are for beyond Iran’s borders”.
- Javad Zarif Foreign Minister: “The presence of individuals such as Turki-al Faisal in this gathering is indicative of the incompetency and naiveté of these individuals”.
- Iranian unnamed diplomat: “The Saudis are resorting to well-known terrorists… As they have also done in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. This shows that they use terrorism and terrorists to further their aims against regional Islamic countries“.
Obviously, the whole “Free Iran” rally wasn’t “appreciated” by the regime in Tehran, but the presence of the Saudi Prince at the rally was a warning signal: The “terrorists” of the NCRI were now teaming up with the “childish” but menacing Saudi Arabia. Two of Tehran’s worst Muslim “enemies” had united in the hope of helping to topple the regime.
Palestine and the NCRI
Tehran has placed the cause of the Palestinians as a cornerstone of its Revolutionary Ideals since it views Palestinians as the direct victims of the West’s latest colonial ambition. According to Tehran, Israel was built land that was stolen from the Palestinians by the Western powers in the UN. So when, two weeks ago, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the State of Palestine met with Maryam Rajavi, the head of the NCRI, the reaction from Tehran was a mixture of disgust, bewilderment, hate and “damage control”. Here are some of the reactions:
Hossein Sheikholeslam, adviser to FM Javad Zarif: “That a Palestinian faction that compromises with the Zionists (Israelis) and that has yielded to Israel under US pressure… today meets with terrorist elements is no surprise as could be expected“. But that wasn’t enough for Sheikholeslam: “That man (Abbas) is known to us and documents from the US Embassy in Tehran revealed that he has been a collaborator with the Central Intelligence Agency for a long time and his actions in the past decades have proved that” and “it should be clear for the people that Mahmoud Abbas has had secret ties with terrorist groups and Israelis, and now these relations are being disclosed“. So, not only is Abbas weak and ineffective, it seems that he is also a CIA spy and he is supporting “terrorism” as it is defined by Tehran.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Parliament Speaker’s General Director for International Affairs: “The Palestinians surely regret Mahmoud Abbas’s act of supporting terrorist instead of fighting with it…Mahmoud Abbas’s problem is that he is not focused on restoring the rights of Palestinians“. So, Abbas is simply not focused on serving the Palestinian cause. One could ask who made Tehran a judge of who is and who isn’t supporting the Palestinian cause people but the real question should be why is the cause of the Palestinian people so important to Tehran? The answer is devastatingly simple: Liberating Palestine is a Revolutionary cause and wherever there is a possibility of a revolution against “Western hegemony”, Tehran wants to be part of it.
And what was the reaction from Gaza? “They (the Iranians) have vied and are still vying to destroy and ruin the Palestinian people, entrench the division, and encourage internal conflict to gain political points, nothing else. Their goals have nothing to do with Jerusalem or justice“.
For Tehran, the meeting between the Palestinians and the NCRI felt like the proverbial “stab in the back”: Hezbollah and Hamas, the two organizations most prominent in Palestine remain fully supported, financially and militarily, by Tehran and no other country has taken an anti-Israel pro-Palestine stance as definitely as did Tehran. But the Palestinians probably understood what was on the table for so long: Tehran’s support of the Palestinian cause isn’t meant only for the freedom of the Palestinians but as another step towards achieving its vision of a Global Islamic Awakening under its flag. The Palestinian cause which has the potential to unite all the Islamic nations was the perfect unifying element and its success would definitely weaken the West’s influence in the Middle East. The fact that the Palestinians chose to meet with the NCRI, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, was a clear sign that they weren’t buying into Tehran’s megalomaniacal vision.