Although physically weak from recent routine prostate surgery, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, emerged smiling from his hospital bed — and for a good reason. He has never been stronger. From Syria to Iraq, from Tehran to Gaza and UN headquarters in New York, he feels empowered and this shows nowhere better than in Geneva.
Khamenei has many reasons to smile. The sanctions that were crippling his regime just a year ago appear to be receding. Companies from Europe to Asia are lining up to do business in Iran. His significant efforts to assist Bashar Assad in Syria and to keep Hezbollah afloat have paid off as well. Many in Washington have begun to see Assad as a potential ally against what they believe to be the real threat, namely ISIS. His disciple, President Hassan Rouhani, has just met British Prime Minister David Cameron in New York. Rouhani appears to be making new friends.
Hamas, Khamenei’s ally in Gaza, rained thousands of rockets, many supplied by Iran, on civilian targets in Israel this summer while the world condemned Israel for responding harshly. Khamenei has Israel, America’s principal ally in the region, surrounded by his surrogates — Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Now he is moving westward, toward the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank: Muhammad Reza Naghdi, the commander of Iran’s Basij force, announced on August 27 that, “arming the West Bank has started and weapons will be supplied to the people of this region.” He warned Israel that, “the Zionists should know that the next war won’t be confined to the present borders and the Mujahedeen will push them back.”
Despite its role in spreading and supporting terrorist networks in the region, Iran might now join the West in its fight against ISIS. Surprisingly, this new alliance is paved by no other than the U.S. As the President Obama recently explained in an interview with Chuck Todd, “You have absolute clarity that the problem for Sunni states in the region, many of whom are our allies, is not simply Iran. It’s not simply a Sunni-Shia issue. Sunni extremism, as represented by ISIL, is the biggest danger that they face right now.” The president further told Todd that, “We’ve got to do more effective diplomatic work to eliminate the schism between Sunni and Shia that has been fueling so much of the violence.”
It is safe to say that although Obama is trying to “eliminate the Sunni Shia schism” — a problem that countless Muslim scholars have tried and failed to solve over the past 1400 years — the only “problem” that will be eliminated in the process is American interests and security in the region. Acknowledging the new ISIS danger while ignoring Iran’s role in fomenting sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq is not only shortsighted but dangerous. ISIS is not about to acquire nuclear capability, at least yet. Iran is.
On the same day that Ayatollah Khamenei reportedly permitted his military commanders to meet with their American counterparts in Iraq to discuss ISIS, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] issued a confidential report (obtained by Reuters) to its member states, writing that “little progress is being made,” and that Iran has implemented only three of the five nuclear transparency steps which it had committed to completing before August 25, under a confidence-building deal reached with the IAEA last November. Does the West actually no longer view a nuclear Iran as a pressing threat?
Those familiar with the Islamic Regime know that it never compromises when it feels strong or when it has the upper hand. In this high-stakes poker game, Iran’s behavior in Geneva shows that its leaders believe they are in a position of strength. Their potential recruitment to American efforts to defeat ISIS will only serve to strengthen that position — perceived or otherwise — and make it even more difficult to hold them to meeting the obligations to which they committed in Geneva.
President Obama still seems to advocate “leading from behind,” a set of policies aimed at encouraging others to take the lead so as not to get American hands dirty. As well-intentioned as President Obama may be, it is hard to overlook that he has been consistently wrong on Iran — from the time he extended his hand to Ahmadinejad to when he sat on the sidelines while millions of Iranians rose up against the regime.
ISIS is indeed a new danger, but it was not created in a vacuum. Its defeat will far from guarantee bringing about a solution to the deeper problems in the region. If ISIS, a 25,000-strong militia, poses a serious new threat for America, how can one disregard the 550,000-strong military of the soon-to-be nuclear Iranian regime?
Dr. Nir Boms is a co-founder of CyberDissidensts.org. Shayan Arya is an Iran expert and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran (Liberal Democrat).