Iranophobia Complicates the Fight against ISIS

Fouad Siniora

by Eldar Mamedov

As the March deadline for a political framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran approaches, Iran’s regional rivals have ratcheted up their opposition to a deal. The preferred line of attack now seems to be that the deal will further enhance Iran’s regional influence. EU officials involved in the talks share some of these concerns. But they should not let these claims derail the deal. The goal of isolating Iran is unrealistic. And efforts to contain it can complicate what should be the top priority in the Middle East: the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and al-Qaeda.

Although Israel’s objections to the deal with Iran are well known, other actors in the region also seem to see Iran as a bigger threat than IS and al-Qaeda. A case in point is the Future Current (FC) party in Lebanon. As the main pro-Western, moderate force in this country, the party has the ear of European officials, like the delegation of members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (MEPs) who visited Beirut on February18-19. The party’s position matters because Lebanon, despite its small size, is in many respects a pivotal country in the Middle East because of its relevance to both the Syrian civil war and, through Hezbollah, to the Israel-Iran confrontation. It is also a playground for the Saudi-Iranian rivalry for influence in the region.

The leaders of the FC declare that they favor a deal with Iran. They reckon that it would help their ongoing dialogue with Hezbollah to reduce tensions in Lebanon. But they want a deal that would keep Iran weak and isolated. Meeting with the MEPs, former prime minister Fouad Siniora repeated the position he outlined in a speech in Abu-Dhabi in January 2015: “the elimination of Iraq as a historic barrier between Mid-Asia and the Mediterranean has accelerated Iran’s meddling in the Arab world, through the policies of exporting the revolution, and the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih across national borders, thus fueling a dangerous Sunni-Shia divide. Iran’s claim of carrying the banner of Palestine has allowed it to meddle in the affairs of Iraq, Syria Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.” To deal with the Iranian threat, the leader of the FC and another former prime minister Saad Hariri has offered a piece of advice to the West: listen to your allies in the region—presumably himself and his Saudi patrons—and don’t consider Iran your ally against IS.

Such advice is best disregarded. Contrary to Siniora’s alarmist rhetoric, there is no evidence that Iran is attempting to export its model of the Vilayat-i Faqih, or the leadership of supreme jurist, to the countries of the region. It didn’t do so in Iraq, where the conditions were arguably optimal after the U.S. removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Nor has Hezbollah, Iran’s supposed arm in Lebanon, ever tried to impose theocracy, not even in parts of the country where its influence is strongest. If the West is serious about limiting Iran’s influence, it should not strive to isolate Iran and its allies, such as Hezbollah, but rather press its own allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to stop treating the local Shiites as second-class citizens and depriving them of their civil rights and religious freedom.

Anti-Iranian rhetoric may serve as a cover for the narrow political agendas of some of the West´s allies in the region. Saad Hariri claims that Iran has created IS by supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but this narrative ignores the role played by other actors in the region, notably Saudi Arabia, in disseminating and financing the extremist version of Islam that underpins the brutal actions of IS. Such reductionism, however, should not come as a surprise considering Hariri’s close ties with the Saudis (even to the extent of his pledging allegiance to the new Saudi King Salman). And although there is no reason to doubt Hariri’s personal commitment to fight IS, some members of his party have been embarrassingly close to some notorious Sunni jihadists. The FC’s anti-Iranianism should not obscure the question of whether the party is the truly moderate force it claims to be or simply a sectarian Sunni force.

Ultimately, achieving a nuclear deal is still the best way to address the more objectionable aspects of Iran’s regional policies. The deal is important not so much because of the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to run or other technical details, but because it would open the possibility of a broader rapprochement between the West and Iran. This would create conditions for a discussion of regional matters, including Iran´s support of organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

By contrast, aggressive attempts to exclude Iran from the region will not only fail, but also backfire. They will encourage Tehran to assert its influence in ways that others may find problematic. In fact, such a policy toward Tehran has been pursued since 1979. It manifestly failed to either check Iranian influence or enhance stability in the Middle East. The continuation of such policies would only create a highly unwelcome distraction from the fight against IS and al-Qaeda. It’s time for the West to choose its allies in the region according to their readiness and ability to contribute to this fight, even if that approach requires a reconsideration of some traditional alliances.

Photo of Fouad Siniora

This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament. 

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Eldar Mamedov

Eldar Mamedov has degrees from the University of Latvia and the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. He has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and as a diplomat in Latvian embassies in Washington D.C. and Madrid. Since 2007, Mamedov has served as a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the EP delegations for inter-parliamentary relations with Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mashreq.



  1. The “Iranaphobia” like the nuclear issue is concocted. The real issue is that Iran has ME hegemony and refuses to kowtow to the US. No country is allowed to avoid US “world leadership” therefore Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Russia, China, Venezuela …the list is endless.

  2. Don, why do you say Iran has hegemony? They are isolated by our sanctions. They don’t have nukes like Israel. They are hostile rivals with Saudi Arabia. They are working hard to increase their influence and power in Iraq, but Iraq is a mess. And Syria.

    No really I am curious what you mean – I don’t know much about this. I have read Iran is playing “the long game,” and their prospects look good. Are you thinking of the future?

  3. Arab Sunnis are in a state of disarray. They have seen Shias growing military power and now they see Shias growing international recognition and that disturbs them profoundly. For them the Shias are heretics and should be not be allowed any importance or role in the region.
    In fact Arab Sunnis are now suffering of an inferiority complex vis a vis the Shias. Their response are absurd arguments against Iran and the secret hope that ISIS will stop the Shias

  4. A little O/T, but here are some good Dwight Eisenhower quotes I came across today:

    “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”


    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children.”

    US presidents don’t tend to sound off like that anymore! Apparently neocons don’t think much of Eisenhower.

  5. @Dabney
    It’s understandable, when subjected ti US media, that one might believe that Iran is isolated without a friend in the world, in dire financial straits and barely holding on, without any international political standing.

    The reality, I believe, is quite different.
    — Iran enjoys a central geographical presence in the Southwest Asia as key ling between South & Central Asia and Europe, on the Arabian and Caspian Seas (the latter linking ti Russia) and controlling the Persian Gulf which is of keen US interest (the US calls it the Arabian Gulf, out of spite).
    –Iran enjoys international respect, and is friendly with most of its neighbors including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq (thanks to Uncle Sam).
    –Iran assumed the rotating presidency of the 125-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for a three-year term on August 30, 2012. The NAM continues to support Iran against the US on nuclear.
    –Iran is particularly friendly to major world powers including China, India and Russia.
    –In the Middle East, Iran is friendly to Syria and Lebanon, and supports Hezbollah and Hamas again against Israeli aggression. Turkey is usually friendly.
    –Iran has been successful in standing up to US aggression, and has served as a model for others as nations move from a US-dominated world to a multipolar world.
    –Iran is blessed with a lot of petroleum and natural gas, required by other countries.

    All of these factors, and more, provide Iran with political power in its area and in the world. Go Persia.

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