After 3rd December, 2007, when the US National Intelligence Council released a report, the advocates of the attack on Iran were deprived of one of the reason for its conduction. In the report called Iran: Nuclear intentions and capabilities (1) the CIA claims “with a high degree of certainty” that Teheran terminated its nuclear program yet prior to 2003 and doesn’t resume it nowadays.
In spite of the statements included in the report, the United States, Israel, the US allies in the Middle East but also France still insist that Iran, which belongs along with Syria, Libya and North Korea to the so-called rouge states, remains a threat for global security. Here are the three reasons: Firstly, it doesn’t conceal its intention to “erase Israel from the world map”. (2) Secondly, the responsibility for the stirring up of religious unrests and the civil war in the neighbouring Iraq are frequently attributed to it. Thirdly, it allegedly supports terrorist organisations in the Middle and Central East.
The statements made by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed to Israel are generally known. And how about the other two reasons mentioned – are they just a fabricated propaganda like Iranian chemical weapons in the past, or an indisputable fact? Does Iran sponsor terrorism or does it just legitimately and naturally uphold “allied” Shiitish splinter groups in the surrounding countries?
Iran: The historical and political context
The majority of more than 60 billion Iranian inhabitants subscribe to Muslim denomination. Approximately 90 per cent of them to the Shiitish branch of Islam, only 6-8 per cent to the Sunni one and the rest comprise non-Muslim religions, particularly Zororastrianism, Christianity and Judaism. However, Islam used not to have such important status in Iran like it has at present. The current name of Iran, which means “the Land of Arians” in translation, is derived from Indo-European Arian tribes which settled the territory of Southwest Asia around 1,500 B.C, but its history dates back to more distant past, namely the third millennium B.C., to the period of the Persian Empire.
It was not until the 7th century that the Arab inhabitants subjugated Persia and brought Islam to its territory. Interestingly, from the ethnical point of view the Arab comprise solely 2 per cent of Iranian population in contrast to neighbouring countries, i.e. Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, in whose they account for the majority of the population. Thus, it is not the ethnicity that links Iran with its neighbours. On the contrary, in accordance with the name of the country, which means in the ancient Persian “noble”, the Iranians are traditionally very proud of their Persian descent and perceive themselves to be culturally subordinate to the Arab ethnic group. The religion is much stronger regional bond. Today, Shi´a, as one of three main branches of Islam, unites just 15 to 20 per cent of Muslims. While in Iran they amount to the largest group of the entire population (the already mentioned 90 per cent) and Shi´a was recognised as official religion in this territory in 1501, in other countries of the Middle East (except for Azerbaijan, where they account for 85 per cent of the population, in Bahrain 70 per cent and in Iraq 65 per cent) the Shiites belong to minority population. Although the Shiitish minority is numerous also in Yemen (more than 40 per cent), Lebanon (32 per cent), Kuwait (30 per cent), Pakistan (20 per cent) Afghanistan (19 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (16 per cent), the dominant status is enjoyed by the Sunnites in most of Arab countries.
In the aftermath of the schism in 632, when a ideological dispute over who is supposed to take up the late prophet Muhammad’s position, the Shiites were intent on a successor form the family, namely Muhammad’s cousin Ali (that’s the origin of the name Shi´at Ali, i.e. Ali’s Following), and recognised neither Abu Bakr nor his successors as the rightful kalifs. Whereas the Sunnites were concentrating on power assumption and state construction, convinced that it is their task and responsibility by which the please Allah, the Shiites disseminated the morale, material insufficiency, suffering or even personal martyrdom as the strengthening of belief in the arrival of the last prophet’s successor, the hidden Imam, as it were, who would destroy all atheists and establishes the blissful universal peace (3). This was due to happen within the following two years according to the sect Hojjatieh and the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That’s why the West as well as the Middle East states are more and more concerned over Iran and its “expansionism”. In April 2006, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proclaimed that “the Shiites were always loyal to Iran and not to the country they lived in” (4) and these countries accused Iran of striving to abuse the Shiitish population in the surrounding states in order to push through its own interests.
In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini attempted it once in pursuit of expanding the revolution to the surrounding states. The uprising of people against the Iranian Shah commenced the revolution which was supported by religious leaders and armed troops. On 1st April 1979 after the majority of Iranian people voted for the establishment of an Islamic republic in a referendum, Khomeini declared a new theocratic form of state and implemented Sharia, the Islamic religious law. Islamic radicals took charge over the government. They have retained the rule over the country until now, although they have made many democratic concessions.
Khomeini alongside his adherents pursued the realisation of the Islamic state vision based on the principle velayat-e faqih which is the rule of faqih, i.e. Islamic judge who is supposed to have power until the twelfth hidden Imam arrives. Formally, the Iranian President is the head of the state as well as the government. The religious leader, rahbar, that Khomeini has become, has a stronger position. He is the supreme commander of armed forces, he may veto the government’s decrees and his competences are superior to the national legislative. In the past, this duality of power principle led to Iranian contradictory politics predominantly on the international scene where radical Islamist conservatives under the lead of ayatollahs used to push through different orientation of national politics than the official representative of the state and the so-called soft power. Without letting them know, the ayatollahs often supported extremist groups in the Iranian territory as well as in other countries (5). This altered along with the arrival of the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a former member of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a devoted adherent of Khomeini.
Like Khomeini before, Ahmadinejad is also convinced that the Islamic revolution doesn’t pertain to Iran exclusively, but is supposed to have, or should have, a universal international dimension. It is to be spread across the entire Muslim world and contribute to the strengthening of relations among nations which would be based on justice and faith (6). Although Ahmadinejad officially subscribes to Khomeini’s concept of revolution export, he is at the same time in quest for the same internationalist objective. This can be noticed when considering the step up of the links with Islamist movements throughout the world and the rhetoric aimed at Muslim community beyond Iranian borders which presents Iran as a courageous leader of Muslims facing “the Great and Small Satan”, i.e. the US and Israel. As early as the era of Khomeini, Iran introduced the favourite topic of all Muslims, namely the liberation of Jerusalem, and tried to designate itself as the guardian of the holy places of Mecca and Medina with the aim of getting rid of its unilateral image of a sect and appealing thus not only to the Shiitish but also the moderate Sunni Muslims. Whereas the Lebanon civil war (under way in the period form 1975 to 1985) was waged in a spirit of Shi´ism restoration in the Middle East, and it was exactly during this war that organisations like Hezbollah (programmatically orientated towards the establishment of the Lebanon Islamic Republic according to Khomeini’s pattern) originated with the assistance of Iran, the Iraq-Iran (from 1980 to 1988) slowed this process down. Nevertheless, the tendency to strengthen the Iranian influence was reversed and even transformed into the isolation of Teheran due to Khomeini’s restrained attitude in the course of the War in Kuwait and his passivity as regards Saddam Hussein’s reprisals against the Iraqi Shiites. The status of Iran was reinforced again after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Taliban in Afghanistan.
In comparison with the 1980’s or 1990’s, the current Teheran’s policy on Islamist movements is more thoughtful and differentiated and takes more into account the changes which these organisations have gone through in the recent years. The toppling of Saddam Hussein and the regime change in Afghanistan have led to the consolidation of the position of the Shiites in these countries and thus extended the sphere of Teheran’s activity. Since Ahmadinejad’s power assumption, Iran has been maintaining and simultaneously strengthening the relations also with Sunni Islamist organisations which haven’t got clearly defined anti-Shiitish character like the Palestinian Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The collaboration of Iran with organisations like Al-Qaeda, Taliban or Iraqi Sunni splinter groups is excluded at first sight by their militant anti-Shiism. Anyway, they have a common enemy with Iran, namely the West and the United States above all. In this connection we may talk about two images of Iranian support: On one level it is the sponsorship of ideologically close Shiitish extremist organisations in accordance with Khomeini’s pan-Shiitish plan to export the Islamic revolution and on another level the tacit support and relief aimed at Sunni extremists in terms of the destabilisation of political situation in the Middle East as well as the fight against the US and Israel.
Iran as the sponsor of Shiitish extremists
The Iranian support of extremist movements, from whose many are included in the lists of terrorist organisations, has different shapes and it doesn’t concentrate exclusively on a single country. The first type is the political and ideological support. The Government in Teheran has been pursuing an aggressive policy on Israel and acts like a guardian of the Holy Land, upholds the Shiitish minority in the Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries and tries to export its model of theocratic Islamist state to all Muslim countries by means of Shiitish religious and charitable organisations. In Iraq, for instance, Iran has been supporting two Shiitish clergymen, namely Ali Sistani and Moqtada Sadr. It also takes advantage of the geographical proximity of Shiitish holy places of pilgrimage as well as the influence of theological schools situated there – mainly the Iranian town of Ghom which is the destination of thousands of believers who annually visit this place in order to accept the message by Ayatollah Khamenei and pay homage to the late Khomeini. The same holds true for the Iraqi Nadjaf and Kerbala where the mausoleums of the Imam Ali and Hussein are situated. It likewise participates in the arrangement of cross-border traditional folk festivals. Exactly in the period of religious pilgrimages and celebrations is the migration of agents and the members of military forces the easiest and the least apparent as well. Moreover, each pilgrim-student contributes 20 per cent of his or hers annual income, which is an appreciable and transparent financial source, to his or hers religious school.
Nonetheless, the most crucial form of support is the Teheran’s state financial assistance which enables the organisations to construct and maintain permanent infrastructure, pay existent member and hire new ones. It is necessary, however, to train new members for the job. Iran has established several training camps in its territory as well as beyond its borders. In these camps, the “Holy Combatants” learn how to handle weapons, ammunition and explosives and acquaint themselves with strategies, the arrangement and planning of kidnappings and terrorist attacks. Among the major camps in Iran are the Imam Ali Camp and Barandak near Teheran, Vakil Habab in Mashad, Badigan-Giorasli in Shiraz, Salah Abad, Aram Patik and Beit el-Makdes near the town of Ghom (often referred to as Qom) and Bechesti-Zahra on the Kharg Island. Iran has built similar camps also beyond its borders, for example, in Lebanon, Syria and Sudan.
The material aid to Teheran consists predominantly in the supplies of weapons and explosives. Although the weapons, which were found in Iraq and in arsenals in the border area between Iran and Afghanistan in April 2007, hasn’t been proved to be of Iranian origin and according to the British experts they could have been produced in any country of the Middle East, it is proved that Iraqi Shiitish extremists as well as Hezbollah, for instance, use for the assaults the Fajr-3 ballistic missiles produced in Iran (7).
Thus we may say that the Iranian support of extremists is rather diversified. It is probably the combination of each of the aspects mentioned which is the reason why nowadays, Iran is labelled as the sponsor of worldwide terrorism No. 1 by the US diplomacy in particular (8). In the Iranian Government’s eyes the support of extremist organisations doesn’t amount to terrorism, but the support of a nation fighting for its sovereignty and rights. Therefore, for example, Teheran doesn’t conceal its support of Lebanon as well as Palestinian extremists in their fight against Israel at all.
Organisations upheld by Iran:
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
PID is fully depndent on two states, namely Syria, through which the organisation makes attacks from Lebanon on Israel, and Iran which provides it with massive financial assistance. From among the whole of Palestinian extremist movements, it is PID that has the closest links with Iran. According to the top representative of the organisation Dr. Ramadan Shalah “the Islamic Jihad is one of a myriad of tree fruits of (our – authorial comment) leader Khomeini” (9). Iran is the greatest sponsor of PID. Almost the entire budget of the Islamic Jihad estimated at several millions dollars is financed by Iran. A large part flows to the preparation of terrorist attacks on Israel and to its infrastructure, i.e. offices, wages, weapons, explosives and financial assistance to the bereaved. In July 2003, the Palestinian security forces declared the confiscation of three million dollars in cash, which accounts for a tidy sum in view of the overall organisation budget. All these information prove how Teheran retains through minimal financial assistance its influence on PID and similar organisations by means of which it wages a hidden war on Israel without leaving behind evident traces.
The fundamental goals of Hamas as a political and religious extremist organisation are the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of Islamic state, the appointment of a single representative of the Palestinian people and the prevention of the secularisation and westernisation of the Arab society. Since similar objectives and interests are shared by several Islamist groups within the region, Hamas, which means “enthusiasm” in translation, is upheld by several countries concurrently. In the period of its inception, twenty years ago, Hamas was even backed by Israel itself with the aim of discrediting the Palestine Liberation Organisation and establishing a kind of alternative to self-governmental rule of Yasser Arafat. The most significant financial assistance, however, comes from Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is tension between these two sources, primarily as for Saudi Arabia. Saudi support doesn’t actually spring from the antipathy towards Israel or some preferences. The relations between Rijad and Fattah, as the successor of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, exist much longer than those with Hamas. It’s more about ridding Iran and Syria of Hamas. Hamas leaders asked them for help after the International Community had frozen all of its financial sources. Iran responded positively to its request. The share of Iranian sources on Hamas’ annual budget, that is reckoned to be 30 million dollars, is estimated at 10 million dollars. The US expert at terrorism funding Matthew Lewitt mentioned even 10-20 million dollars per annum. Other 10 million account for donations from private persons (10), predominantly rich Arab merchants and Muslim organisations acting in Europe and the US. The Swiss expert portal Terrorwatch mentions apart form others also the French Committee for Charity and Support for the Palestinians, the German Foundation Al-Aksa, the US Holy Land Foundation for the Relief and Development and the British Palestinian Relief and Development Fund for the Support of Palestine and Lebanon.
As an example of the Iranian support of Hamas as well as their mutual collaboration may serve the offices which Hamas has been in possession of in Teheran since 1993 as well as training camps in the Iranian territory. The political demonstration of support was the meeting of the Iranian Vice-President Mohammed Habíb with the representatives of Hamas in Damask immediately after the Israel assassinations in February 1996.
There are many evidences of the cooperation between Iran and Hamas and neither Teheran nor Hamas representatives deny close mutual links. The fact that Iran upholds politically and materially the organisation’s activities has been confirmed by several members of Hamas as well as the Iranian Government. The proof is the statement made by the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Larijani on the occasion of the meeting with the political head of Hamas Chalid Mishal in 2006: “We will certainly donate this government and thus terminate the US cruelty to this country” (11). Likewise the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zahar praised himself in a comprehensive interview for the German magazine Der Spiegel that he himself transferred 42 billion dollars in cash from Iran to Hamas and that Hamas succeeded in smuggling weapons through the tunnels connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip (12).
Since the International Community struggles to cut off Hamas’ official foreign financial flow, the two main forms of the financing of this organisation remain charity organisations and cash.
According to the official daily of the Palestinian Self-Government Al Hayat Al Djadida from June 2006 there is only one from among many charity organisations that acts in the Palestinian territory, namely Al Ansar. In the period of six months, it divided 1.8 million dollars to 2,900 families of suicidal assassins in the Gaza Strip. Other 1.3 million dollars were passed out by Iran via this organisation to 2,020 families in Judea.
Because Hamas cannot get hold of financial sources through Israeli banks, Teheran attempted to send financial assistance to Palestine directly in the suitcases which belonged to the representatives of Hamas returning from foreign visits and journeys. The first of these “bearers” was exactly the Foreign Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zahar in April 2006 and the officially last one was probably the Prime Minister Ismael Hanija who returned to Iran from a journey with 35 million dollars in cash and the Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s pledge of annual aid amounting to 250 million dollars. Anyway, Israel rejected to keep on turning a blind eye to such cash flows. Therefore, at the command of the Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz, the Rafah airport terminal was closed literally under Hanija’s nose on 14th December. This step catered to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who surmised that after the exploitation of finances, the radicals from Hamas would be more open to negotiations concerning the government and the recognising of Israel. Ismael Hanija, in “aid” of whom went several dozens of armed Hamas adherents, was finally granted the entry into the Gaza territory after a few hours. The money ended up in the account of the Palestinian Self-Government with the League of Arab States and was probably divided among officials close to the President Mahmoud Abbas and Fattah, which is upheld by the International Community as well as Arab countries (13). It was definitely not divided among local officials in Gaza, or security troops, for the building of training camps or the redress of the bereaved in the aftermath of Israeli army attacks, i.e. the purposes that they had been originally intended for (14).
The means in question, obviously, aren’t extensive when considering the Palestinian Self-Government’s needs and previous support from the US and the European Union amounting to 1 billion dollars per annum. That’s why it remains a question to what degree Iran is capable of upholding the Hamas’ rule and thus compensating the absence of the International community’s financial assistance. It’s sure not to be able to cover the whole missing sum.
Russia has declared the intention to uphold Hamas too. The President Vladimir Putin said many times that Russia doesn’t consider Hamas a terrorist organisation and therefore there is reason neither to reject the negotiations with Hamas nor to furnish it with financial assistance. Since the beginning of 2007, however, the sums have been rather low. The highest of them accounted for 10 million dollars and the entire government was provided with it, not just Hamas. Russia prefers the abolishment of sanctions to direct financial assistance, anyway, it exhorts at the same time Hamas to a more moderate politics.
If Hamas continues in radical anti-Israel rhetoric, in future it can count on the support of Teheran, but not the International Community. No matter if Hamas gives priority to either Iranian or international aid, owing to which it would have to make lots of concessions, form the viewpoint of internal politics it definitely shouldn’t invest the acquired financial sources in the arrangement of terrorist attacks and the waging of guerrilla war on Israel, Fattah and the PLO (15), but rather in the regional self-government and the continuation of the social program. Because this is the cause of its success in the 2006 elections in which it gained 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Parliament. Whereas Fattah always “invested” the means of foreign institutions financing the Palestinian Projects in the “establishment of capacities”, (which meant in practice some foreign seminar for public servants), their wages or the modernisation of the city hall, the representatives of Hamas cosidered the finishing of sewage or the equipment of hospitals more necessary in terms of regional self-government. Moreover, Hamas is intent on armed resistance to Israel. At the election meetings, no weapons were seen and the campaign on the local level was based predominantly on a clear definition of social and economic problems of the particular regions and their solution (16).
At the beginning of 1980’s, Ali Akbar Mohtashami, the then Iranian Ambassador to Syria and later Foreign Affairs Minister, found Hezbollah. Ever since, the Lebanese Hezbollah has been in direct touch with Teheran by means of a special squad known as the “Section 15” of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. More than a third of Iranian aid to Islamist organisations throughout the world is intended for the Lebanese Hezbollah (17). It is Hezbollah that was established by Iran with the aim of exporting to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine Khomeini’s velayat-e faqih idea as well as other principles of Islamic revolution (the spread of “genuine” Islam, the foiling of the Western interests in the Middle East and the liberation of the Holy Land). Apart form Israel, Hezbollah exist under various names and with a smaller membership also in the Persian Gulf monarchies, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The fact that also in the case of Hezbollah Teheran doesn’t try to conceal its sympathy with it and the participation in its activities is to be demonstrated by several events, for instance, after the assassination of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on 6th October, 1981, the Iranian Government didn’t hide its joy and renamed one of the largest streets in Teheran after the assassin and issued a stamp with his portrait in honour of him. Naturally, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry categorically refused any intervention in the internal affairs of its neighbours (18). Nevertheless, the political as well as religious representatives of Iran perpetually appeal to the “oppressed” Muslims in the Persian Gulf countries to revolt against their “decadent” governments. The US, Israeli and Saudi Arabian intelligence services proved Iran’s participation in terrorist attacks or coup d’états in neighbouring countries for several times, for example, the attempts to a coup d’état in Bahrain in 1981 and 1996. A not less significant role than Iran plays, or rather, used to play some time ago, also Syria in Lebanon. Although Syria itself admits only an official state aid in the area of security and logistics – these two fields are exactly the official acceptable name for the support of Hezbollah’s militant troops, arms supplies and the transfer of Iranian Militants to Lebanon across its territory.
After the Baas party failed in direct confrontation with Israel in Yom Kippur War, Damask focused its attention to neighbouring Lebanon subverted by civil war. Lebanon, which has been perceived by Damask to be a historical territory of the Great Syria until now, has played the role of buffer zone between Syria and Israel ever since. The goal of Syrian foreign policy in Lebanon was to enfeeble Israel and thus get back the Golan Heights. However, Damask isn’t interested in undertaking military actions against Israel from its territory, but gives preference to the proxy war, as it were, through Lebanon by means of Hezbollah. The attacks against Israel are commanded from the Beqaa Valley in southern Lebanon controlled by the Shiites and Hezbollah. Syrian troops abandoned Lebanon only in April 2005 under the pressure of the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the so-called “Cedar Revolution” led by Lebanese opposition which accused Syria of complicity in the assassination of the former PM Rafik Hariri.
The Cedar Revolution alongside the cessation of Syrian influence caused by the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon resulted in the resignation of the Lebanese PM Karameh and free democratic elections. Following the elections the Parliament was entered by a representative composition of the representatives of all sects and communities including the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of the from exile returning Michel Aoun, i.e. the victorious Hariri’s bloc led by the son of the assassinated former PM and the strengthened Hezbollah that took the ministerial seats in the new government for the first time.
Despite certain dependence and continual Syrian and Iranian influence, nowadays, we cannot label Hezbollah as a dependent tool of Iranian policy. Although the leaders of the organisation still abide by Khomeini’s principles, it is the Lebanese Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah that they consider the religious leader and not the Iranian Imam Ayatollah Khamenei. Likewise the top representative of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah is a former field commander, but he is a clergyman in particular. Though he is a friend of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he met during the training in the intelligence service KIM IL SUNG in South Korea as early as 1987, he has been also the head of Hezbollah since 1992 (he closely cooperated with Ahmadinejad the then representative of the Foundation for the Memory of Martyrs) (19). However, he is a Lebanese above all.
In the recent years, Hezbollah has won the favour of the poorest Lebanese, not only of Shiitish denomination through the work of charitable organisations. Thank to this fact it has become a relatively self-reliant player independent of its mentor. Lately, the organisation has been evidently “Lebanesed”, it has refrained form its original objective to establish an Islamic republic according to the Iranian pattern in Lebanon. After the liberation of southern Lebanon, it has inclined to the view that the balance between the whole of seventeen religious communities in the country is the most reliable guarantee of the country’s stability. This is highlighted by the fact that two schools of thought start to appear within the Lebanese Shiitish community. The first one, which is close to the Council of Shiitish Ulemas, continues in the promotion of the velayat-e fakih principle and the second one, which is politically led by the Amal party, spurs to the reaching of compromises. Hezbollah leaders realised also thank to Hamas that as the tool of the fulfilment of Iranian ambitions they risk the loss of acquired status. They win the voters’ favour by moderate rhetoric and social program outside Shiitish community as well and thus strengthen their status of a legitimate parliamentary party. As for Hezbollah there will be probably a gradual divergence from Teheran in the not-too-distant future, at least on the political level.
Other spheres of Teheran’s interest and influence
Besides these organisations, Teheran has been supporting also other Islamist organisations not only in the Middle East, but also in Northern America Caucasus and Central Asia according to the portal Iran-Resist.org. Among these are allegedly the Armed Islamic Group G.I.A. (Groupe islamique Armé) in Algeria, the Islamic Liberation Party in Morocco, Islamic Jihad in Egypt, the Balochistan Liberation Army in Pakistan and Jun d´Allah (Allah’s Army) as well as the Dharma and Kashmir Liberation Front in Kashmir.
Different manifestation of Iranian influence in individual countries
Iran managed to intrude into Afghanistan not earlier than the toppling of Taliban. Ever since, it has been collaborating with several organisations (20). Among these are the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, i.e. the organisation fighting against Taliban, the Shiitish guerrillas Harakt-i-Islami (Islamic Movement), Hezb-i-Wahdat, Hezb-i-Wahdat-e Islami, Shura-e-Itehad (United Islamic Front), Sazman-e Nasr (Victory Organisation) and Sepah-i-Pasdaran (the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution), Jumbesh-i-Melli Ilsami (National Islamic Movement) representing the Uzbek and Turkmen minority and finally the Sunni guerrilla from Pakistan Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam).
The US even accuses Iran of the collaboration with Taliban. The US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte accuses Teheran of supplying weapons to Taliban and the provision of military training. He refers to the recently disclosed arsenals and weapon supplies in the Afghan border areas. The weapons made in Iran were lately found in a warehouse in Herata on the Afghan-Iranian borders (10 tonnes) and in September 2007, the NATO army foiled the third largest weapon supply on the Iranian-Afghan borders containing special explosive cartridges manufactured in Iran and used by Taliban for the production of street bombs (21).
The return of more than 200,000 Afghan refugees from Iran, by means of whose Teheran has been pressing Kabul, would have a negative impact on the situation in Afghanistan. Of course, Iran denies any suspicion of the support of extremists, primarily Taliban which wasn’t Iranian ally even in the period when it used to be in power.
The Afghan President Hamid Karzai avoids publicly accusing Iran of interfering in the country’s affairs. He doesn’t want to make another enemy of Iran, on the contrary, he struggles to cultivate mutual relations in order to counterbalance the conflict with Pakistan.
Three years ago, in connection with Iraq the US weekly Time ascribed to Teheran the pursuit of a strategy similar to that in Afghanistan. While its support of the Shiitish minority over 60 per cent is understandable, Iran is more often linked also with the Sunni guerrillas and the Iraqi cell of Al-Qaeda through the cooperation with whose it is supposed to strive for the destabilisation of the country and the damage to the US army. This affirmation has been recently repeated also by the French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner (22). On 4th October, 2007, he said in an interview for the French Diplomatic Press Association that “Iran has a finger in every pie in Iraq”. This holds true for the support of Shiitish as well as Sunni militia and the sparking of conflicts in terms of the Shiitish community itself. Iranian position on the imaginary Iraqi rebel chessboard is rather complex and not clearly defined.
Teheran has begun to uphold the Iraqi Shiitish Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani who represents most of Iraqi Shiites, furthermore it supports the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the political party Da´wa which is one of the four Iraqi Shiitish parties. Iranian Ayatollahs, however, were doubtful about Sistani’s too secular philosophy, therefore the begun to support also his opponents within the community Ahmad Chalabi and Ijad Alavi. Since Ahmadinejad was elected President and after Iranian elections on 15th December, 2005, the fourth Shiitish subject, the party Moqtadu Al-Sadra led by the son of an Iraqi ayatollah murdered in 1999 at the command of Saddam Hussein, has become a privileged Iraqi partner of Teheran, despite the fact the militant wing of this party, the co-called Mahdi’s Army, is in opposition to Siitish militia Badr upheld and armed by Iran. While the US denounce Sadr as a terrorist controlling guerrillas in Nadjaf and Nasiri, the former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsandjani expressed an opinion that “in contrast to the terrorist groups operating in Iraq, there are powerful subjects contributing to the nation’s security […], besides many others, among them is also the Mahdi’s Army which is composed of enthusiastic and heroic young people…” (23). In this connection it is intriguing to take a look at the current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech broadcasted shortly after his election by the Iranian television (24).
At his point, Iranian strategy isn’t thus much complicated as it might seem at first glance: Instead of letting the Iraqi state endanger Iranian regime, it only sufficed to support Shiitish political parties in Iraq in the course of the creation and acquisition of political space. Thank to this attitude, two of these subject became a part of up-to-date Iranian Government, by the way, thank to the US support too. Radical groups and wings of these parties (for example, Mahdi’s Party) saw to the Islamisation of religions and ethnic demands as well as the strategy of the President George W. Bush „we will turn them one against another” (25) by turning it against himself. This chaos wouldn’t have been efficient if the Wahhabist Saudi-Arabian Jihadists from Al-Qaeda had contented themselves with the killing of coalition soldiers. It was necessary to sacrifice civilians, the Shiitish ones too, because the end justifies the means. According to the portal Iran-Resist.org Teheran was contributing to Musaba Al-Zarkavi’s (the already killed Iraqi Al-Qaeda representative) recruitment of suicidal assassins by the daily wage of 75 cents and a one-off 300 dollars bonus (26). According to the CIA report called The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland released on 18th July, 2007, Al-Qaeda chose Iran as one of the Shura Majilis meeting points, i.e. its top representatives (27).
Moreover, last year, the news appeared that Iran furnished the Shiites as well as the Sunnis with chemical weapons. The Kuwaiti daily Al Seyassah stated in reference to Western intelligence services that Shiitish militants arrested in Iraq deemed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards collaborating with Mahdi’s army to be the suppliers of chloride-filled weapons. (According to testimonies similar weapons should have been supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah) (28).
Washington has already declared its intention to register Iranian Revolutionary Guards along with its special faction Al Qods with the list of terrorist organisations. However, it lacks enough best evidences. Iranian Pasdarans don’t make terrorist attack by themselves abroad. They are focused on the conduction of strategies, financing as well as the training and arming of domestic extremists.
Ironically, Teheran has been collaborating with the Iraqi Government and the United States on the solution to the Iraqi security situation since 2003. The last tripartite negotiations were held only in November 2007. According to the TV channel Al-Jazeera Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Manouchehr Mottaki confirmed the readiness of Iran to cooperate with the US and the Government of the PM Nouri al-Maliki on the solutions to Iraqi security during his visit (29). The ongoing negotiations haven’t born fruit so far. In spite of this fact the existence of a stable and compact Iraq with the firm status of the Shiites is particularly of Teheran’s interest. In the case that Iraq is divided among individual rival groups, the northern Kurdish province would tear away and gain independence as the first one. Iran will do its level best to prevent this owing to its own separatist Kurdish minority.
The Iranian neighbourhood policy might be thus summarised by the words of the Russian academician Leonid Shebarshin: “The Iranians are pragmatic… they use to cheat their partners. They concern themselves primarily with their own interests rather than the interests of the International Community or the suffering people.” (30)
Shiitish Islamic ideology is certainly not the only cornerstone of present Iranian foreign policy. If this was the case it would surely not take the Christian Armenia’s part in the dispute with Shiitish Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and it also wouldn’t support Moscow’s military intervention against Muslim Chechen separatists. As regards Teheran’s policy on Caucasus, it is not the ideology that takes the first place, but pragmatism. Russia is apart from China one of the largest and most responsible political as well as business partners. This holds true in the field of armament industry and nuclear power engineering too.
The attitude of pan-Shi´ism is thus just one of the political tools and hegemonic ambitions of Teheran. The second one is the confrontational rhetoric of the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad towards the West, but Israel and the US in particular. This might have ensured him the favour of some Sunni extremist movements, however, he has been at the same time contributing to the growing concerns of his neighbours as well as the dissensions within the Shiitish community that begins to concentrate more and more on its own national policy and economic issues. No matter if with or without Ahmadinejad, finally it is difficult to label the Shiitish religious community (Umma) as a homogeneous whole in which Iran would play the role of Vatican. The Shiites have never been like-minded – today even less than in the past.
Moreover, Teheran’s quest for regional hegemony and the support of Shiitish extremists in the surrounding countries haven’t found the prerequisite support among the Iranian people. This is proved by student demonstrations held in 1999 and 2003 in favour of greater involvement in domestic policy rather than the support of Palestinian rebels. Since 2005, the situation in Iran has been gradually changing for worse due to international embargo. Notwithstanding the growing oil prices on the world’s markets, in 2007, the Iranian offices were forced to implement fuel rationing which stirred up mass plunder of petrol stations by dissatisfied people. The prices of staple foods have soared too. In the country, inflation as well as unemployment has grown concurrently. In view of these internal problems, it is rather improbable that Iran manages to unite 140 million Shiites throughout the world, or to create at least the so-called “Shiitish half moon” composed of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon in the Persian Gulf that the Arab countries, headed by Saudi Arabia, are thus much afraid of and against which they sought alliance also at the November summit in Annapolis. Ayatollah Khamenei predicted the failure of the alliance dreaming most probably of the joint strategy of his Shiitish and Sunni regional allies for the foreseeable future.
(1)U.S. National Intelligence Council: Iran – Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. November 2007. http://www.page2007.com/iran_nic_2007.pdf.
(2) The repeated statement by the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference „World without Sionism” on 26th October, 2005, see: http://www.novinky.cz/clanek/68417-iran-zopakoval-vyzvu-na
(3) According to the Shiitish doctrine the last of Imams “vanished” in 874. „He abandoned the world, but has remained alive until present day.” The sect Hojjatieh believes that he will re-appear in the following years and restore the rule of justice and truth on earth.
(4)Orlík, Karel: Arabské země se obávají šíitů, EuRabia, 7.12.2007. http://www.eurabia.cz/Articles/1465-arabske-zeme-se-obavaji-
(5)For instance, in 2002, the case of the ship Karine-A heading for Gaza which was fully loaded with weapons. The Council of Revolution Guardians, that was directly subordinate to Ayatollah Khamenei, sent the contingent, which was halted by the Israeli naval police, without the knowledge of the President Muhammad Chatami as well as the Government.
(6)According to the declaration dated 12th January, 2006, in Bandar Abbas : “We are a Muslim nation… and the Islamic Revolution is not restricted to a specific geographical region and we call for mutual ties with all nations based on justice”. http://www.payvand.com/news/06/jan/1088.html.
(7)Harding, Thomas: Taliban ‘using missiles from Iran to target British troops. The Daily Telegraph, 22.5.2007; Wright, Robin: Iranian Flow Of Weapons Increasing, Officials Say; Arms Shipments Tracked To Iraqi, Afghan Groups. The Washington Post, 3.6.2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/
(8) In connection with the refusal of the visit of the Iranian President to Ground Zero, the monument to the victims of the 11th September 2001, the head of the US Diplomacy Condoleeza Rice labelled Ahmadinejad as “the President of a country which is most probably the largest state sponsor of terrorism”. The US Government has been declaring this in its reports on global terrorism annually since the period of Clinton’s administrative. see: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/04/30/america/NA-GEN-
US-Terrorism-Iran.php. The Washington Institute for the Middle East Policy is of the same opinion: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC07.php?CID=230.
(9) The statement by Dr. Ramadan Shalaha for the Press Agency of the Republic of Iran IRNA on 22nd May, 2002.
(10)L´Iran: État sponsor du terrorisme. Terrorism and Counterterrorism Research Group. http://www.erta-tcrg.org/cri6224/2004-2006/iran_contenu.htm.
(11)L´Iran va apporter une aide financiere au gouvernement du Hamas. Tunisia Today. http://www.tunisia-today.com/archives/30590
(12)Hamas will islamischen Staat im Gaza-Streifen errichten. Die Presse, 21.6.2007. http://diepresse.com/home/politik/nahost/312035/clanok.do.
(13)Libération, 15.12.2006. http://www.liberation.fr/actualite/monde/223419.FR.php.
(14)Israel worried Hamas and Iran developing strategic relations. Haaretz, 14.12.2006.
(15)The Palestine Liberation Organisation from which the current President of the Palestinian Self-Government Mahmoud Abbas was elected.
(16)Adamčíková, Jitka: Jaká bude Palestina s Hamásem? http://www.infoservis.net/art.php?id=1069233799.
(17)L´Iran: État sponsor du terrorisme. Terrorism and Counterterrorism Research Group http://www.erta-tcrg.org/cri6224/2004-2006/iran_contenu.htm.
(18)According to statements presented on the official website of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry http://www.mfa.gov.ir, or in an interview with the former Iranian President Muhammad Chatami for CNN on 7th January, 1998. http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9801/07/iran/interview.html.
(19)Erlanger, Steven: A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons.The New York Times, 7.8.2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/world/middleeast/07
(20)Les Organisations terroristes financées par les Mollahs. Iran Resist. http://www.iran-resist.org/ir139.
Brooks, Peter: Irán jako bitkár. EuRabia, 8.10.2007. http://www.eurabia.cz/Articles/1302-iran-jako-bitkar.aspx; Iranian Weapons Intended for Taliban Intercepted in Afghanistan. Associated Press, 17.4.2007. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,266590,00.html
(22)Asociation de la presse diplomatique francaise, Le Nouvel Observateur, 4.10.2007.
(23)Iran in Iraq : How much Influence? International Crisis Group. Middle East Report n°38, 21.3.2005, s. 18.
(24)A speech broadcasted on 25th July, 2005, on the 1st channel of the Iranian Television: http://memritv.org/search.asp?ACT=S9&P1=782.
(25)See the speech of George W. Bush jr. in the US Congress on 20th Spetember, 2001. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-
(26)Bush accuse l´Iran d´attisser les violences en Irak. Iran Resist: http://www.iran-resist.org/article1720
(27)Another base is supposed to be situated in Pakistan according to the report mentioned.
(28)See: Írán dodává chemické zbraně irackým šiítským milicím – hizballáhu a hamásu http://info.pravdaoislamu.cz/clanok.php/2007/04/18/iran-
(29)Janev, Jaromír: USA v Íránu narazí, vzkázal šéf Revolučních gard. Český rozhlas, 1. 11. 2007. http://www.rozhlas.cz/izurnal/zahranici/_zprava/394302.
(30)Fištejn, Jefim: Pragmatizmus bláznov. Český rozhlas, 16.10. 2007. http://www.rozhlas.cz/cro6/komentare/_zprava/389272.