Department of Strategic Studies at Middle East and North Africa Media Monitor MENA
Since World War II, the world has never witnessed a humanitarian catastrophe that caused such a big loss of lives like that which has been caused by the advent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Immediately after the Islamic Revolution took over in Tehran, a huge influx of well-known executions started inside the country. Just after the Revolution, some five million Iranians fled the country until 2013, according to reports by „Euro News.“ Iranians are still fleeing the country for many reasons, including but not limited to religious persecution against Sunni Muslims, convertites, Baha’i and some other oppressed minorities.
So, Iran indulged the region in a series of wars starting with the Iraq war, which killed more than a million, in addition to millions displaced persons. Then, Iran ignited the civil war in Iraq with the help of dozens of Iran-controlled militias, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC. This civil war caused the death of 650.000 persons, according to statistics of the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Some other 60,000 persons are still missing. The „International Organization for Migration“ (IOM) said that 1.6 million Iraqis fled the country between 2006-2010. This civil war was in fact launched upon the coordination and identification of mutual interests between Iran and Al Qaeda, which was welcomed by the Iranian regime after the terror group had fled Afghanistan. This was not the end of the story, and the worst was coming, when the war in Syria and Yemen erupted. These two wars killed more than a million persons, and about 11,000,000 Syrians were either displaced or forced to leave the country.
The catastrophes resulting from the Iranian Islamic Revolution are continuing not only in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but also in different areas of the world, extending from India to Nigeria. Iranian assassinations in Europe are extensions of these catastrophes. Iran also spread its religious schools in most countries throughout the world, and these schools are not only responsible for education and religious rituals, they also have political goals to achieve. These schools legalize systematic military and terrorist actions. They play their role through religious sessions and texts that are circulated by students and teaching staff of these schools. Some of them had to be closed in Europe. This means that we are in front of a destructive culture that is able to destabilize any regions and demolish the minds with disastrous mentality.
What mistakes were made?
Finding solutions to the Iran-borne problems in the Arab World is more important than ruminating the description of the Iranian scene at this stage. However, the inaccurate description of the Iranian case and discussing it with the international community in a deficient manner is a big mistake that delayed the revelation of the reality of Iran’s role in the region. Nevertheless, the image of Iran has become very clear worldwide. More and more, the international community is concerned about the malicious role of Iran. Politicians throughout the World now understand the populist nature of Iran’s formal discourse and policies. Iran’s policy is based on either attracting the public in countries of the region or rebuffing and suppressing them through its militias. Such policy is not different from any radical and religiously motivated policy of other countries. The problem is that powers and developed countries turn a blind eye on Iran’s behavior. These countries are only interested in what comes out of diplomatic channels rather than out of the populist discourse by Iranian officials.
With the advent of the Syrian Revolution and later the military stage, which suffocated the Revolution, most of the figures of the Syrian opposition and the Arab political and cultural elites were still having a wrong perception of Iran’s image. This misconception of Iran’s role led to wrong conclusions and attitudes. When we talk about the Iranian interventions and its efforts to convert people to the Shiite doctrine through its religious schools or focus on the sectarian slogans raised by Iran and its allied militias, we unintentionally give the impression that there is a sectarian conflict in the region between different Islamic sects. This image is thereby created and conveyed to the world. We need to be aware of this because this is what Iran exactly wants. It wants Arabs to persuade the world that there is a sectarian war between Sunnah and Shiites. Iran wants this image in order to justify its intervention in the region under the pretext of protecting Shiites and that those interventions are just for defense. Iran has succeeded in exploiting this impression and imposed its claim that it is protecting minorities in the Middle East. This strategy imitates and benefits from historical events at the time of the Ottoman Empire when Western powers were competing to intervene for the sake of protection of minorities and saving oriental churches.
When Syrian and Arab politicians and thinkers described the Iranian intervention in the countries of the region as a religious intervention, the door for a never-ending argumentation in the media started. This was a deadly mistake made by Syrian opposition figures as it opened the door for Salafi jihadism to grow in the country, and this is what Assad wanted to justify his war against his people by portraiying it as a war against terrorism.
The circulation of sectarian dispute has moved the Syrian Revolution from the scope of demanding dignity, freedom and democracy, and against a tyrannical dictatorship to the recognition of a religious conflict and potential confrontation between different Islamic doctrines. This strengthened Assad’s position and justified his request for Iran’s intervention and Hezbollah involvement in the conflict. This discourse was later reinforced by Jihadi movements, which started their Shariah courts in their areas of domination, instead of establishing revolutionary or national courts, and by this, the different extremist powers in Syria were drawing the shape of the conflict. This shape was the best condition for Iran’s intervention and expansion on the ground. Iran’s intervention was facilitated by Assad’s regime and this made the scene in Syria more complicated. The only clear thing in Syria was the Iranian expansion, whereas other players were fluctuating. All these made the world perceive the war in Syria as a war between sectarian factions, which was completely untrue. Now as we got to a point of no return and got stuck in a stalemate, it has become very important to look for an exit and a better way to get rid of the Iranian presence in Syria and putting things in their normal context.
However, the main persisting question remains:
What strategy can achieve the idea of destroying Iran’s influence?
The issue of religious reference
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of political Islam with the Islamic Revolution in Iran were all associated with questions that used to be asked about the future of the Middle East in the post-communism era. Advocates of political Islam came up with the idea of pledging allegiance to Iran’s religious reference as an Islamic alternative to the former political systems. They proposed the destruction of the existing political systems in the region and urging political Islam to take over, establishing a new reference for the Islamic and Arab World. As for the political system in the Arab monarchies and inheritance republics, stability was very clear: There was no problem in inheriting power, on the contrary, Arab countries witnessed a very smooth transition of power as the existing political system was based on inheritance of power and no competitors were able to interrupt these transitions of power. Conversely, Arab republics ruled by military regimes witnessed many military coups as a result of military conspiracies by military leaders against each other. It was a dominant trend. Republics like Syria, Iraq and Yemen went through hard times of instability, unstable periods. It is worth noticing that Iran penetrated these three countries, Syria, Yemen and Iraq through the concept of religious reference.
With the process of time and normal progression of societies, people start to feel the danger of the current situation. Components of societies normally start looking to strengths for protecting themselves. The problem starts when social components feel that they are threatened and lose confidence in other components, they feel insecure. They start to look for a territorial or international ally. So, the first right thing we need to do is to eliminate those suspicions and concerns about the other, and start thinking like civilized nations. We shouldn’t deal with the social components that are affiliated with Iran as traitors. We should see the image from a different angel. The objective conditions that prevailed following the Islamic Revolution in Iran were all worrying. This didn’t only apply to certain components but also to the whole region especially with the hardships associated with the war between Iraq and Iran, Iraq and Kuwait and then the civil war in Algeria, the long civil war in Lebanon and the war in the Western desert in Morocco with the Polisario Front. All events in those years were stimulating concerns for social and political elites throughout the Arab world.
This description of the Arab World, the prevailing concerns and then the emergence of Iran as an Islamic power have all made many Sunni Arabs fall in the arms of Iran. All these events happened simultaneously with the establishment of Iran’s Hezbollah militias in Lebanon. Iran wanted to have its own Shiite militia away from the Shiite Amal Movement, which was affiliated with Imam Muses Al Sader, who was later removed away and probably killed. Also, in Iraq there were secret militias working for Iran inside Iraq even before the war between the two countries started. And finally, the emergence of Huthis in Yemen.
How to eliminate religious reference
Undermining the religious content of Iran’s strategy can be done through two things:
First, there is a need for crippling the sectarian concept of the conflict. We do need to cripple this concept in Syria first because Assad’s Regime has been benefiting from it for justifying its brutality. Likewise, extremist military groups in Syria are also based on sectarian mottos and they behave in a way that fits most the Iranian strategy and Assad’s objectives. This step is possible through sidelining this concept on the ground. This can be done by formulating a new media discourse by the Syrian opposition forces to re-establish concepts on political basis rather than sectarian ones.
Second, the theory of Iran’s religious reference should also be crippled. New religious references should be initiated like that of Imam Musa Al Sader, who’s disappearance was plotted by Iran as we can understand from a speech to Fares News Agency by an Iranian religious figure named Muhammed Musawi Khueniha, when he said that Musa Al Sader was not in support of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. In February 2018, Jalal Eldeen Al Farisi said in an interview with Fares News Agency that Al Sader had to be killed because he was very close to Iran’s Shah, Muhammed Redah Bahlawi and that Al Sader was not happy with the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
When we talk about religious references, the first thing that comes to our minds is the huge number of people killed in religious wars, whether in the Arab or Islamic world, or even in Europe at an early stage of modern history.
Referring to religious references precisely means the return to religious interpretations of holy scripts, in which political complications, religious disputes and interests are all interrelated. Interpretations of religious scripts change by process of time according to political and economic interests.
During the war between Iraq and Iran, Khamenei was utterly opposing any political settlement that could terminate the war, but with the increase of loss and high price of the war, he agreed to go for a political settlement to end the war.
With the Sunnah, we also see that all military factions have got religious figures, and when any conflict starts, these religious figures push for fighting first and when these factions are exhausted and the number of deaths increases, they come up with new Fatwas justifying peace talks. They never ask themselves: Why don’t call those Fatwas before all these people are killed?
This has repeatedly happened in Syria and had been also repeatedly occurred in Afghanistan. Similarly, in Assad-controlled areas, there are many Sufi groups in Damascus. Most of them study at religious institutes and they have got wide religious knowledge, but they sided with Assad’s Regime since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. They stood by Assad, although the Revolution was a peaceful one. To justify their attitude, they dug deep in religious scripts to find texts that prohibit opposing the ruler. When Assad committed large-scale massacres, they wriggled out by saying that the regime was fighting apostasy. By this, the world managed to close their eyes on the calamities of millions of Syrians who were either killed, injured or displaced as a result of the conflict.
The case with other sects in Syria was not that different as political interests affected the religious scene. It is not true that religion formulates politics; the truth is that politics formulates religion for political purposes. It is clear for us all that the religion game is liable to be utilized for the sake of tampering the situation on the ground.
Iran, the political reference
On the political level, Iranians started to think about the best way to dominate the Middle East after the fall of the Soviet Union. They thought that they were the alternative to Soviet dominance. They essentially depended on the concept of hostility towards the US as an introduction to their penetration of the regional dissatisfaction with the policy of it in the Middle East as the key to Iran’s penetration in the Arab world. Through this theory of hostility towards the US, Iran managed to capture Arabic political Islam. It found Arabic political Islam very similar to the Iranian theory. Therefore, there were many joint interests, and this was very clear when Muslim Brotherhood allied with Iran. Moreover, even Al Qaeda found its best warm crucible in Iran. Iran. So, Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda have got many common interests.
At this stage, Iran was fully aware of the necessity to formulate a political strategy to get hold of the Arab world. The best choice was the Palestinian cause, especially with the emergence of political Islam in Palestine. The road was paved for Iran to bet on this sensitive cause as sympathy with the Palestinian uprising overwhelmed the Arab world. Although most of the support to the Palestinians was provided by Arabs, Iran managed to deviate the interests of the Palestinian groups and the interests of the Palestinian people. That was done by converting Palestinian military groups into militias like Hezbollah of Lebanon, sectarian militias in Iraq and Huthis in Yemen. Iran also succeeded in attracting Arab leftists and nationalistic parties, which started to glorify Iran together with Sunni and Christian entities in Lebanon. All these Iranian allies were united to support Assad’s Regime and Iran’s strategy in the Middle East. Consequently, Iran has finally become the most important political reference in the region. Cards of the game in the Middle East were successfully shuffled and the Syrian crisis got more complicated.
It is no longer a matter of military groups that are motivated by sectarian doctrines as new political trends advocated by leftists and nationalists. Sunni and other movements are also there as it is clear in the case of Syrian opposition with the problem of Al Nusra Front and other Jihadi factions. These extremist groups can never make any change in their structure in favor of the Syrian people. The religious discourse is still getting more and more hysteric and feverish just like the discourse of Taliban and Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS.
How to triple Iran’s political reference
The core of Iran’s political reference in the region is based on the Palestinian question. We can’t separate the Iranian intervention in Syria from the Palestinian cause, which has been the key to Iran’s propaganda ever since Khamenei declared the International Quds Day. This occasion has been a chance to gather all Arab political entities in procession on the streets of Tehran. Khamenei knew how to exploit Al Quds for its value in the Arab’s conscience, so all leftists, nationalists and Islamists were gathered in the grip of Khamenei. In the meetings on the anniversaries of Al Quds Day, Iran managed to contain most Arab political and religious entities.
Iran’s support was dedicated only to its militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Yemen. This support was only provided with military means, so as to help these militias dominate Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Arab leftist and nationalist parties were attracted by the Iranian support to protect themselves. The „Public Front for the Liberation of Palestine“ under the leadership of George Habash was exposed to many humiliating practices by the Hamas Movement, so it resorted to Iran to protect its leaders, and now it is on top of the list of pro-Assad militias. It did so to ensure Iran satisfaction and protection.
Tripling Iran’s political reference in the region should start from where it began. That is the Gaza Strip. This strategy entails that Arab countries should have an open policy towards Hamas and Gaza. While Arab countries and other Islamic and European countries focused on reconstruction projects, development funding and humanitarian aids for the Gaza Strip, Iran focused its support to military groups. Iran invested a lot of money in Hamas’ military wing and Al Jihad Al Islami with very little support to political wings of these military factions during the last decades.
Expelling Iran from Gaza Strip will necessarily mean the collapse of a resistance axis and the fall of Hezbollah’s political theory of Hezbollah in Lebanon. This will also mean remarkable changes against Iran inside Lebanon. If this happens, many political powers in Lebanon will give up supporting Hezbollah. However, this can only happen if Arab countries sponsor a political process for the Palestinians together with excluding Hamas. A political project for the region, based on the Arabic Initiative for Peace will be the main step for trippling the resistance project of Iran’s axis.
A political initiative by Arab countries has become a necessity to impose a better response to the interests of Palestinians in Gaza and for Arabs in the Middle East in general. There should be Arabic mechanisms for dealing with the problem. If this is not to happen, then there will be a need for trippling Islamic factions and their political project, because if these Palestinian military factions continue to have political legitimacy, Iran will continue tampering with the Palestinian cause which is already complicated, otherwise this complication will influence the Arab world in general.
Iran’s intrusion in Europe
Through its cultural centres in Europe, Iran’s activities have gone beyond the cultural role of these centers, having a political impact on Iranians born in Europe and became an integral part of the European societies. These Iranian communities in Europe have been attracted and contained by Iran so as to make those Iranians do their best to advocate the Malali culture. In reply to these activities, France announced its intention to dismantle and ban all Iranian cultural centers and societies that advocate hatred culture and glorify violence. This decision by the French Government refers to the malignant role of these centers.
Iran has become able to work inside Arab countries no matter if it is present in these countries or not. Its main concern is to advocate religious and sectarian concepts to make these concepts overtake any other nationalistic concept. When religious affiliation becomes stronger than the nationalistic one, it becomes very easy to monopolize and mobilize people in these countries through religious pretexts that can justify alienation from the geographical and national identity.
The Iranian war against Europe started when it – together with Assad’s regime – started to target civilians in Syria. The Iranian Minister of Interior, Abdul Redah Rahmani, told the media that if Iran closed its eyes for 24 hours, one million Afghani refugees will go to Europe. His reference to Afghanis was a hint to the Syrian case. It is the new „Iranian Silk Road“, through which Iran opened the road for refugees from mid and Easter Asia to get to Europe. It was some kind of blackmail on Europe to force it making concession on other issues. So, Europe has been suffering from Iran’s policies in the Middle East and Mid Asia. Arabs should immediately take action to terminate the catastrophic domination of Iran in the Middle East and the Arab World.
In short, Iran policy is based on spreading chaos in the Middle East and the world and establishing local militias that are keen on destroying the society wherever they work. These militias undertake the destruction of societies and abort any attempt to establish law-governed states. Iranians have never thought of building schools outside Iran for the sake of knowledge or culture nor building health facilities or run infrastructure projects. They care only for weapons, death and the advocation of militias’ culture and grant them the upper hand. Iran has never offered anything useful in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine or Yemen. Knowledge and humanitarian issues are not on the Iranian agenda at all.
International sanctions constitute one of the best choices to be imposed by European countries on the short run. Nevertheless, expelling Iran from the social structure in the Arab World is not an easy task to do, as its agents are deeply rooted in Arab countries. These proponents of Iran will never care for their own countries as their affiliation to Iran is much bigger than their affiliation to their own Arab countries or their peoples.
The essential point is that even if Iran’s support to its militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Huthis in Yemen or Al Hashd militias in Iraq, these militias can continue their activities. Abdul Malek Al Huthi, leader of the Huthis, is a drug trafficker, cooperating with the international mafia, and Iran’s militias in Iraq are controlling trade and smuggling routes to and from Iran. These illegal activities help these militias avoid any sanctions.
But Gaza Strip remains outside this game, as Arab countries can impose new conditions on Hamas and by doing this, the political file will no longer be in the hands of Iran which controls only military factions there.
The wars in Korea, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina have all ended, whereas the wars prompted by Iran are still incinerating many countries in the Middle East and these wars are even liable to extend to other countries. At the time Iran is trying to imitate North Korea, Syrians in the opposition-held areas should be careful not to use terminologies like Sharia courts and religious mottos. Instead, they need to establish a new national framework that can ensure the respect of human rights. All sectarian and doctrinal names of political or military entities should be obliterated and no longer be used by the media. Those, who advocate these terms with religious connotations should be prosecuted, and all Syrians should be encouraged to use patriotic terminologies and avoid any sectarian discourse.
Arab countries, on their part, should close all religious schools, which play a political role, regardless of the doctrines of these schools. Religious references should be limited to the applications of civil laws related to marriage, divorce, etc. No political entities with religious background should be allowed, and the existing political Islam parties should be restructured, according to constitution and national laws, otherwise they should be prosecuted.
It is very important for us to be aware that the Iranian threat is an existential one, and that reconstruction of the new Middle East requires either tripling the religious reference of Iran or restoring the political reference of the Palestinian Cause by Arabs. Arab countries should immediately go for political process that can make peace for Arabs and Israelis under the auspices of the international community. Only by this, the destructive strategy of Iran’s Islamic Revolution can be terminated, or at least be stopped outside Iran.
 The Baha’i Faith is based on three pillars that form the basis of the teachings of this religion: the oneness of God , that there is only one God, which is the source of all creation; the unity of religion , That all major religions have the same spiritual source, and come from the same God. The unity of humanity , that all human beings are created equal, along with unity in diversity, where ethnic and cultural diversity is seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance  .
 – Immam Musa Al Sader is a Shiite prominent figure in Lebanon. He was against the expansionist project of Iran and didn’t welcome the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Therefore, he was called to visit Libya, and during his visit, he disappeared and he is still missing. Many resources said that he was killed by Iran and his destiny has never revealed yet.
 – Al Huthis are members of a Shiite Militia in Yemen led by Abdul Malek Al Huthi. They are fighting the government of Yemen and they are supported by Iran. They have repeatedly attacked KSA territory.
 Al Jihad Al Islami is a Palestinian armed group based in Gaza Strip. It affiliates Hamas and Iran. It is supported by Iran.
 – “Malali” refers to the Iranian religious regime which rules the country. It is a theocratic ruling system that subjugate everything in politics, economics and other fields to the religious project of the ruling regime in Iran.
 – Shiite Militias in Iraq. they were established by Iran to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS. They are led by Qasem Sulaimani, leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC.
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