Fact-checking Saudi and Iranian statements on terrorism
Iran’s funding, arming, supporting, training and giving sanctuary to terrorist groups is well-documented
According to Iran’s state-owned news outlet Press TV, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi has warned Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to think twice about "the repercussions of his statements.”
Al Arabiya News Channel aired Jubeir’s recent statement that was in response to earlier remarks given by Iran’s General Consul, accusing Saudi Arabia in a way that I believe was unsubstantiated, regarding an event on terrorism held by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels on July 21, 2016.
It is worthwhile to fact-check the statements.
Harboring, supporting and sheltering terrorism
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran’s military, financial, and sanctuary support for terrorist groups, as well as Iran’s direct or indirect involvement in terrorist attacks across the globe in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and America have been well-documented by many credible intelligence reports across the world, as well as various news outlets.
On a diplomatic level, several members of the international community have also accused Iran of being responsible for terrorism from India to the US, by sponsoring, training, funding, arming or giving sanctuary to terrorist groups and individuals.
Iran’s support, which is confirmed by Iranian leaders, or the leaders of the allied groups, is not limited to Shiite-designated terrorist groups such as Hezbollah or Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq.
The current narrative is that Iran wants to defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda leaders and that Tehran and Washington have mutual interests. However, Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS has a long history and their ties are more complicated than the mainstream narrative.
Iran is believed to have maintained its ties with al-Qaeda since the early 1990s. According to multiple intelligence reports and external experts, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) gave shelter, protection, assistance, Iranian passports to many senior a;-Qaeda members, including the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq (Abu Musab Al Zarqawi), the predecessor to ISIS, when the US was looking for him.
Most recently, three senior al-Qaeda members, who have been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists, are believed to have been “located in Iran” at some point. Al-Qaeda senior members have been capable of escaping US drones by living in Iran, using Iranian passports and being used as a pawn to advance Iran’s foreign policy objectives. Hiding some of these figures has been instrumental in giving birth to ISIS. According to a report by the Claremont Institute, which cites German intelligence, being a Shiite government has not stopped Iran from partnering up with al-Qaeda, which brands itself as Sunni. According to the US Treasury, Iran has even helped al-Qaeda fighters enter Syria.
Iran’s funding, arming, supporting, training and giving sanctuary to terrorist groups is well-documentedMajid Rafizadeh
In addition, an audio message from Bin Laden’s son Hamza, which was released in recent weeks, points to the “continuation of Iranian sponsorship” within al-Qaeda, according to a report by a US-based think-tank. Declassification of 113 hand-written messages also revealed, according to the report, that Bin Laden said Iran is “the chief pathway for our money, men, communiqué, and hostages” and he urged his group “not to start a front against Iran.”
The US State Department has released its latest annual report related to terrorism and global terrorist activities, in which it stated: “Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2015, providing a range of support, including financial, training, and equipment, to groups around the world – particularly Hezbollah. Iran continued to be deeply involved in the conflict in Syria, working closely with the Assad regime to counter the Syrian opposition, and also in Iraq where Iran continued to provide support to militia groups, including the Foreign Terrorist Organization Kata’ib Hezbollah. In addition, it was implicated for its support to violent Shia opposition group attacks in Bahrain. Iran was joined in these efforts by Hezbollah, which continued to operate globally, as demonstrated by the disruption of Hezbollah activities in Peru in 2014 and Cyprus in 2015.”
Three crucial pillars that Iran relies on are the IRGC, the intelligence wing of the IRGC and Iran’s proxies.
In addition, judicial and intelligence evidence has pointed to Iran’s connection with al-Qaeda in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Earlier this year, US District Judge George Daniels in New York ordered the Islamic Republic to pay more than $10.5 billion in damages to the estates and families of people who died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The court held that “Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 terrorists specific terrorist travel operation” and the “facilitation of al-Qaeda's operatives' travel to training in camps in Afghanistan was essential for the success of the 9/11 operation.” It also stated that a “terrorist agent of Iran and Hezbollah helped coordinate travel [for the hijackers].”
Expansionism and exportation of Iran's revolution
In his statement last week, Jubeir asked: “Doesn't the Iranian constitution say "export the revolution"? Didn't Iran create Hezbollah? Didn't Iran attack more than a dozen embassies in Iran in violation of all international laws?”
A central part in Khomeini and Khamenei’s ideology is exporting their revolution, which is emphasized in Iran’s constitution. Article 11 states that the constitution “provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad” and “will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community.”
According to article 144, Iran’s constitution delegates to its military the fulfillment of these goals: “The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be an Islamic Army, i.e., committed to Islamic ideology and the people ... It will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world.”
With regards to Iran supporting groups, which are designated as terrorist by the international community, not only is the evidence overwhelming, but Iranian authorities or leaders of these groups have also publicly admitted their involvement, such as the leaders of Hezbollah have done.
In closing, Iran’s funding, arming, supporting, training and giving sanctuary to terrorist groups is well-documented.
Although at the end of his speech, Jubeir extended his hands and hoped that Iran will change its behavior, as long as Iran pursues its deep-rooted ideological and revolutionary beliefs of achieving regional hegemony and preeminence - through exporting its revolution, relying on hard power, and supporting terrorist groups - Tehran will not be a constructive and rational state actor for either the region, or for its own citizens.
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: @Dr_Rafizadeh