Iran is not needed to beat ISIS

Among Iran’s fundamental foreign-policy objectives is to project itself as the sole regional power capable of defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and eliminating extremism in Iraq. These objectives are in line with Tehran’s regional hegemonic ambitions.

As such, Iranian leaders were understandably furious at not being invited to the international conference aimed at charting a strategy to defeat ISIS. Although Washington has been directly negotiating with Tehran on the sidelines, the former refused to invite the latter to participate in the “core coalition” against the group.

Despite using most of its resources, Tehran has been unable to make any significant military gains against ISIS, whose power and territorial expansion have been remarkable

Majid Rafizadeh

In an unprecedented move, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately wrote a statement on his official website and took to Twitter to attempt to alter the narrative. In order to preserve its hegemonic ambitions and to save face, he argued that it was Iran that refused to join the core coalition.

“Right from the start, the United States asked through its ambassador in Iraq whether we could cooperate against [ISIS]… I said no, because they have dirty hands,” Khamenei wrote. He added that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “personally asked” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who “rejected the request.”

Crucial issues

The crucial issues to address are whether Iran’s military power is needed to defeat ISIS, and what are the costs and benefits of seeking Tehran’s assistance in Iraq. The mainstream media has been filled with analysis about the urgent necessity to include Iran in the anti-ISIS coalition. Projecting Tehran as an indispensable power in defeating the group is naive, and falls right into its foreign-policy objective of regional supremacy.

It is crucial not to exaggerate Iran’s military power in general, and its ability to fight ISIS in particular. For several months, Tehran’s elite Quds Forces have been fighting ISIS in Iraq, as well as assisting and advising Baghdad. Iranian leaders want to preserve the dominance of the ruling Shiite coalition in Iraq, strengthen the central government, maximize their own influence in Iraq and preserve their interests there.

Nevertheless, despite using most of its resources, Tehran has been unable to make any significant military gains against ISIS, whose power and territorial expansion have been remarkable. In addition, Iran’s military capabilities - compared to that of the core coalition, Western powers and NATO - are inferior.

Tehran has two main armies with conventional, old or home-made weapons: the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its projection of its military power has long been showy and pretentious, to project itself as the regional superpower.

The negative repercussions of inviting Iran to these international conferences against ISIS outweigh the benefits. Inviting Tehran would further legitimize its interference in Iraq, and increase its military activities in other countries, including Syria. Iran would also use its “legitimate” involvement as leverage to obtain more concessions in nuclear negotiations.

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Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:53 - GMT 10:53
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