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DISCLAIMER: all opinions in this column reflect view of the autor(s), not of Vocal Europe

by M. Behzad Fatmi / @BehzadFatmi

Islamic State to Iran is what Al Qaeda has been to America. The analogy might not resonate well among the readers in the West but let’s have the courage to face it.

America’s justification for “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks has been the existence of radical Islamists in the Middle East. Besides Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was also portrayed as a threat to international security. America’s war in the region continued for more than a decade and its large scale military presence was deemed necessary for world peace and security among many quarters of the international community.

Despite the unsuccessful bombing operation in the mountains of Tora Bora to kill Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (which was the main reason for the US to go to war in Afghanistan), the US is yet to fully withdraw from Afghanistan. Similarly, the US would end its military operation in Iraq only after eight years of occupation since invading the country on the pretext of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which later turned out to be false.

What good did the “war on terror” brought to the region is still a matter of debate and will continue to be so for a long time. But clearly the most remarkable and overshadowing negativity it directly or indirectly resulted into is the emergence of a horror like the Islamic State (IS). According to a report published in The Washington Post, many of the top leaders of the IS were trusted commanders of the ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Now Iran is clearly exploiting the IS factor to justify its actions in the region. The Islamic State (IS) is proving to be both a threat and an asset to Iran.

The notorious Sunni militant group swept large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and is fighting against the regimes in these countries. It must be noted that these countries are among the list of four states in the Middle East that are thought to be under significant influence of Iran, i.e. Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Technically, defeat of regime in any of these states at the hands of IS would be detrimental to Iranian regional interests. It would not only weaken Shia Iran’s position against the regional Sunni heavy-weights like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey but in long term the Islamic State may well pose a direct threat to Iran’s current establishment.

However, the politics in the Middle East has never been so uncomplicated and unidimensional. Islamic State is definitely a force which stands at the opposite end of the Iranian ideological spectrum but it does not necessarily mean Iran would be naturally committed to its demise anytime soon.

Ironically, despite continuous extreme brutality in Syria the international outcry against Iran’s emphatic support to Assad regime has gradually subsided in the face of threats from the IS. An article, published in August last year in The Washington Post, argues whether Russian President Vladimir Putin’s well known reservation against any military action against government forces in Syria stands vindicated. This came after the IS published horrific video of beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley.

Not only a possible western attack against a regime staunchly backed by Iran has been subverted but many have even started to argue that the previous polemic of “Assad has lost legitimacy” no longer holds ground.

‘Once bitten twice shy’ seems to be the status quo between the West and the Middle East. The continuous atrocities on Sunni population in Iraq by Iran-backed militias have earned mellow condemnation from the West.

On top of all, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei did approve his top commander to co-ordinate military operations with the US and Iran formally offer to cooperate against the Islamic State in exchange for Washington’s flexibility on its nuclear program. The US, however, publicly rejected such an offer but reports in the media have suggested that Iran has carried out airstrikes in Iraq – which at least was tolerated, if not backed by the US.

For obvious reasons, Iran looks like the most genuine adversary of IS in the region and therefore it simultaneously gets a chance to boast its importance. Consequently however, IS provides Iran with an opportunity to draw some concessions from the West on other international issues like the Syrian conflict and the nuclear program. RT had quoted a senior Iran official saying, “Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in the fight against the ISIL (IS/ISIS) terrorists…but it is a two-way street. You give something, you take something”.

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