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Iran hardliners: ISIS bit the leg of its owners

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

Tehran’s reaction to the Paris attacks has been intriguing and contradictory. President Hassan Rowhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sent a message of condolence to French President Francois Hollande.

“In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government,” said Rowhani, who canceled what would have been the first Iranian presidential visit to Europe in 10 years.

Tehran has used ISIS to consolidate its regional power. Before the rise of the group, Iran had a hard time legitimizing its role in Iraq and its support of Assad.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

However, what about the final decision-makers in Iran? Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has chosen to be silent, but his positions can often be determined by analyzing statements from powerful hardliner political figures, his close advisers, or conservative media.

Keyhan newspaper, considered Khamenei’s mouthpiece, had a headline on its front page stating: “The rabid dog of the Islamic State bit leg of its owners.” Iranian police have prevented people from gathering in public to mourn those killed in Paris.

Using ISIS

The hardliners appear to be using the attacks to buttress their narrative about crises in the Middle East. Part of the narrative is that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was created by the West and regional countries to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the West needs to drop its opposition to him to defeat the group and avoid further attacks such as those in Paris.

This suggests that Iranian leaders will not moderate their policies on Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Lebanon. As such, the Vienna talks on Syria will be fruitless. Iranian leaders have failed to comprehend that their support of Assad has directly contributed to further radicalizing and militarizing the Syrian conflict, leading to the emergence and empowerment of extremist groups.

Tehran has used ISIS to consolidate its regional power. Before the rise of the group, Iran had a hard time legitimizing its role in Iraq and its support of Assad. Tehran can also use ISIS to strengthen its Shiite militias, which have played a crucial role in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Iran might display some efforts in fighting ISIS, but it is in Tehran’s interest to maintain the group.

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Dr. 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. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @MajidRafizadeh

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