Take the Enemy at His word: Iranian Ideology and Iranian Global Operations

April 13, 2011

In the post-modern world, we are too quick to dismiss ideology as a motivating — or even the strongest — factor underlying a nation state’s behavior. In spite of having recently fought two against two dangerous  and deadly ideological opponents, first fascism, and then communism, understanding the motivating power and fanaticism generated by an opponent’s ideology seems so “last century.” We prefer to believe that both friendly and dangerous nation states are primarily rational, viewing international developments with the same “cost/benefit” view as ourselves.

So, when we are presented with a video, of the kind provided by former CIA operative Reza Kahlili, where Iranian presenters clearly and openly explain the most recent upheaval in the Middle East as events predicting the arrival of the 12th Imam, it is an easy thing for the sophisticated among us to disregard this fanatical interpretation as fantasy and outside the motivation for action. We do so, even knowing that this frightening and revealing piece of work is an authentic video, receiving the imprimatur of President Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei.

But what happens when we see current world events through the eyes of the leaders of Iran as seen in this film? The film presents hadith (the sayings of Mohammed) predicting events in five geographical areas which pave the way for the return of the Mahdi (the 12th Imam, the Islamic messiah): Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Israel.  All are current areas of intense activity by the Iranians.

In regards to Egypt, the film makes clear that the ouster of President Mubarak has created substantial chaos in the region where Egypt was once a major stabilizing factor. In particular, the presenters laud the rise of radical Islamic parties, mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood by name. The Iranian-Muslim Brotherhood alliance is quite strong, which was clearly apparent when senior Brotherhood official Kamal Al-Halbavi appeared on Iranian television to offer thanks to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad for their support. Before being deposed, Mubarak had been the target of attacks and subversion by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Egyptian security forces made numerous arrests of Hezbollah operatives, and was quoted in leaked cables as stating that the Arab states were terrified of “sabotage and Iranian terrorism,” and because of that threat could not be expected to take the side of the U.S. in a military confrontation with Iran.

In Yemen, the Iranians have also been active in supporting Al-Houthi Shiite rebels in Northern Yemen,  helping to  tear that country apart through continuous fighting and attacks. (See an earlier EMET article on Yemen for more on this important, but often ignored, country.) Despite resorting to substantial brutality, Yemeni President Saleh has faced growing protests, and even a military mutiny. According to the hadith presented in the film, Yemen will allegedly produce the first troops to reach Mecca during the global conflict which will initiate the Iranian “End Times” scenario. In non-ideological terms, a Yemen, in the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula, under the influence of a strong Iranian presence or proxy — or politically dominated by Al Qaeda — is a dagger aimed at the heart of the Saudi regime.  In either case, dangerous support will be given to the Saudis’ own internal Shiite protestors and Islamic fundamentalists.

Recognizing this threat, the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia has become the primary Sunni vehicle for organizing resistance to Iran.  To remove the chance for outside parties to get involved, the Council proposed a peaceful transition for the departure of Saleh in Yemen, an offer apparently accepted by the autocrat but rejected by the protestors.

Indeed Saudi Arabia features prominently in the film, as presenters announce the prophecy that the death of Saudi’s King Abdullah (long rumored to be very ill) will be a turning point for the Mahdi’s return. A war of words and intrigues has been on-going between the Iranians and the Saudis and their Gulf allies.  This reached a fever pitch after the Saudis’ deployed troops into the island kingdom of Bahrain. This was followed by announcements in a Kuwaiti daily, that the GCC intended to implement a program to expel Iranian sympathizers, and especially Hezbollah operatives from the member countries. An Iranian website openly recruited jihadists for “martyrdom operations” against the GCC troops in Bahrain and that Iranian “students” firebombed the Saudi Embassy. Clearly, the Iranian regime believes that now is the time to press against the Saudis and flex the power of the subversive networks they’ve been building for years.

As Iran continues to seek the overthrow its largest regional competitor, it continues to expand its influence in Iraq, where the current government has maintained close relations. In the film, both the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the execution of Saddam Hussein are identified as prophesied events, and Iraq is designated as serving as the “capital of the Mahdi’s world governance.”  Iran has continued to expand its grip on Iraq, especially in key Shia areas, such as Karbala, which an Iraqi independent newspaper in 2005 identified as being “occupied” by Iranian Intelligence:

The city of Karbala is presently under complete occupation of the Iranian regime and has been taken over, the daily Iraq al-Ghad (Tomorrow’s Iraq) wrote. “Thousands of intelligence agents of the Iranian regime have been given Iraqi citizenship, the daily wrote. .. The paper added that 421 Iranian agents had been arrested in Karbala during the time when Ayad Allawi was Iraq’s interim Prime Minister. It said the city’s police chief had been fired after complaining about the massive Iranian influence over the city.

As recently as April 9th, Iraqi demonstrators were continuing to protest what they called Iranian “occupation” of the city.  Nor is Karbala alone. Fredrick and Kimberly Kagan, whose research and strategic thinking play a key role in the successful “Iraq surge,” warn that the United States has increasingly abandoned Iraq to Iranian subversion:

If Maliki now feels the need to bow to Iranian pressure, it is not because he is Tehran’s man. Quite the opposite: Tehran’s agents spent most of 2006-2009 trying to kill him. But why would anyone expect Maliki or Iraq’s other leaders to continue risking their lives to oppose Iran when there is no support forthcoming from Washington?

If key areas of Iraq are central to the Iranian regime’s ideology, as the film suggests, then it would be foolish to presume that they will halt their efforts upon the evacuation of the Americans. America must offer the Iraqi people an alternative to appeasing Iran, or else Iraqi politicians may not be strong enough to stand up to Iranian dreams of regional hegemony.

Finally, the film gives Jerusalem and Israel pride of place on the Iranian hit list. It directly attributes to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the role of “Conqueror of Jerusalem,” with ample assistance from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Ahmadinejad’s promise to “wipe Israel off the map,” are surely not idle words. Hezbollah continues to build up substantial military resources. Israel publicly displayed intelligence maps showing the location of almost a thousand of Hezbollah missile and bunker positions and has continued to intercept Iranian weapons bound for Hezbollah and Hamas.  It has recently targeted terrorists and arms traveling through Sudan. Arms shipments just like these included the anti-tank rocket which destroyed an Israeli school bus, injuring two civilians, and some of the 120 rockets and mortars which Hamas fired upon southern Israeli towns last weekend.  With the destruction of Israel a central feature in Iranian ideology, how can any peace agreement or cease-fire between Israel and these Iranian-proxies come to pass? Any agreement will be broken the moment the phone call from Tehran comes in.

All of Iran’s expansion and subversions so far have taken place without the security of a nuclear umbrella protecting them from the fear of retaliation. And now the Iranians have announced new nuclear progress. From the Washington Post:

The announcements, linked to the observance of “nuclear technology day” in Tehran, underscore recent assessments by intelligence officials and Western nuclear experts suggesting that Iran is preparing to speed up its production of enriched uranium. Although many of the advances have not been fully implemented, the apparent progress has prompted some experts to redraw their forecasts for how quickly the country could build an atomic arsenal if it chose to do so.

Imagine the boldness with which the Iranians will act if permitted to achieve nuclear status? As EMET published last year:

Whether Iran indeed makes the decision to maintain itself as a “virtual” weapon state, with a uranium stockpile which can be quickly converted into weapons, or whether it simply decides to test a nuclear weapon and announce its power to the world, such a capability will not suddenly make the Iranians easier to contain.

Ideology matters — and it is the Iranian ideological vision of a final apocalypse which makes the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons such a threat to the West and the other nations of the Middle East. The renowned Islam scholar Bernard Lewis believes them when they talk:

“[The Iranian leaders] are religious fanatics with an apocalyptic mindset. In Islam, as in Christianity and Judaism, there is an end-of-times scenario—and they think it’s beginning or has already begun.” So “Mutually-Assured-Destruction is not a deterrent—it’s an inducement.”

Whether the apocalyptic beliefs described in the film provide the motivation, or the justification, for Iranian activities, they are a unique window into what underlies Iran’s vigorous regional activities. From its support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, its encirclement of Saudi Arabia, its infiltration and subversion in Iraq, Its overt support of its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, and its continuous campaign to destroy Israel — Iran is on the move.  In the three decades of the regime’s rule, the Iranians have never been shy about making clear their intentions. And whether their reasons are apocalyptic, or realpolitik, they believe themselves now to be in the ascendance and winning on every front.  If we do not wish to find a world without Israel and America or have Iran act out their call for the “End of Times,” we must act vigorously and act now.

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