Why Tehran and Washington's love affair cannot hold still

Recent events in Iraq have opened up the possibility of cooperation between the two countries after decades of hatred

Abdulaziz Tarabzoni

Published: Updated:

Iran has finally got the United States to the table. Recent events in Iraq have opened up the possibility of cooperation between the two countries after decades of hatred. However, Tehran’s obsession with disruption and instability puts a cap on the possibility of an alliance

Pundits in the West have been writing about this new partnership. Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, describes Iran as an island of stability in an unstable Middle East. This view reflects a mixture of delusion and blind optimism about Tehran’s role.

The region is indeed one of the most troubled in the world, notably in countries that have aligned with Iran: Iraq and Syria. Tehran’s imposed agenda has led to these countries’ collapse, a rise in regional sectarianism, and civil war.

Iraq’s political turbulence is due to a decade of Iranian influence. The proxy government in Baghdad, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has created tensions and paved the way for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Syria has been torn for more than three years because of Iranian intervention. Tehran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad’s brutality against his people transformed peaceful demonstrations into an ugly jungle of terrorism. It has made Syria the foremost cause-célèbre for sectarianism and terrorism.

Blaming Riyadh

Parsi falsely describes “Islamic” militants in Egypt and Libya as loyal to their alleged financial benefactor Saudi Arabia. Middle East observers are aware that Riyadh has classified those militants, the Muslim Brotherhood, as a terrorist organization, and has led a strong effort to ban their very existence in the Arab world.

Rather, the Brotherhood shares ideological and political interests with the Iranian revolution, a fact that led the people of Egypt and Libya to topple the regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi, respectively.

Allegations of Saudi support for ISIS are overused, redundant and baseless. It has become a norm that Iran and its allies reintroduce the false claim of Saudi support for Al-Qaeda and most recently ISIS. It is the impulsive rhetoric that Assad and Maliki use to justify their failures and slaughter their citizens.

The truth is that Saudi Arabia has been the main target of Al-Qaeda since its inception, and Iran has not experienced a single terrorist attack since its revolution. The attacks in Riyadh, Yanbu and Khobar, and attempts to assassinate senior Saudi royals, reflect that.

Iranian culpability

There is an intrinsic relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda, as well as other extremist groups. Tehran has hosted Al-Qaeda leaders in safe havens, and provided them with manoeuvring ability into Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

The U.S. Treasury Department has exposed Tehran’s role in facilitating transfers of funds to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Most recently, evidence has been exposed in Syria of direct and indirect support from Tehran and Damascus leading to the creation and growth of ISIS in the region.

Iran has caused enough damage for Washington to listen. It has launched massive attacks against U.S. interests since the 1980s, threatened Israel for far too long, and supported terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah with money and weaponry.

Hundreds of American lives lost in Iraq have not been taken by Saudi Arabia or other Arab Gulf states, but by Iranian-trained militias such as Assaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, and others that publicly announce their role against American troops and Iran’s role in terms of funding and training.

Parsi has described those groups, including Hezbollah, as political opposition. They are everything but political opposition, given their advanced weaponry outside state control, their slaughter of civilians, and their proven terrorist activity from South East Asia to Latin America.

Shiite militias, promoting sectarianism, publicly pledge allegiance to the ayatollahs in Tehran. Both Sunni and Shiite extremists have caused the region much instability and bloodshed. Both sides have been trained, financed and deployed to serve Iran’s agenda.

Relations with the West

Its openness to the West has been primarily driven by economic hardship. However, openness cannot be sustained for long. Iran’s very existence has been dependent on slogans of hating the West, and Washington has to stay aware of that. When Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif was in Vienna supposedly negotiating a nuclear deal with the West, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had to reassure the masses and appear under anti-American banners.

Iran needs instability to survive. Its regional role has been simply carried out through crisis-management, exporting terrorism and exerting influence. Even if President Hassan Rouhani has been a relief to the world compared to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the former is not capable of changing this very basic principle.

Iran might be a stable country, but it has been the cause of instability since its revolution. The recipe for stability in the region is peace and combating extremism. On those two fronts, Iran has provided nothing positive. It has been opposed to ending hostility between Israelis and Palestinians, while moderate Arab countries have pursued efforts to make peace and combat extremism.

Iran, even if it so wishes, would not be able to replace institutional alliances between the West and the Arab world. Parsi labels Riyadh as the “former ally of the United States,” in a naive attempt to undermine the importance and variety of American-Saudi cooperation. This relationship has been beneficial for both sides, and has overcome serious challenges. For Washington to rely on Iran, the checklist Tehran has to go through is significant.

It would have to be a source of regional stability. It would have to publicly denounce Assad's massacres, disown Hezbollah’s terrorism, stop training extremist Shiite militias; ban the transfer of funds to Al-Qaeda, allow a system of governance that does not put religious extremists such as the supreme leader above the democratic system, and have a positive role in seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Washington’s allies support a stable Iran and normalizing its relations with the West. After all, Gulf states have suffered from Iran’s interventions and actions against U.S. interests for too long. However, Iran must stop disturbing the region and long-standing U.S. allies, and stop blaming Saudi Arabia for Tehran’s problems.


Abdulaziz Tarabzoni is a journalist at Al Arabiya News Channel and is based in Dubai.