To many people today, the Islamic State has become the face of radical Islamist terrorism, thanks largely to its flair for drama. From its bases in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is sowing trouble and chaos throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and, increasingly, throughout Europe and the wider Western world.
Its handiwork is so ubiquitous and so horrific that many in the West now consider the Islamic State the number one global terrorist threat and believe defeating the group is the solution to global Islamic terrorism. For many Western governments, confronting the terrorist group widely known as isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is the focal point in their foreign policy toward radical Islam.
One can understand the impulse to focus on the Islamic State. Reading about isis fighters wedging a 4-year-old child into an oil drum and setting it ablaze stirs the emotions. But fighting the war on radical Islam by focusing on the Islamic State has led to some unwise assumptions, and to the West making some risky decisions.
In Western capitals across the world, the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly seen and embraced as a logical ally in the war against the Islamic State. If you consider isis the primary enemy, then courting Iran seems rational: Shia Iran despises Sunni isis and wants to see the terrorist organization eradicated just as much as we do, so let’s join forces and fight. Recruiting Iran’s assistance makes sense practically and tactically too, considering Tehran’s proximity to the fight.
We see this logic used regularly by Western journalists and politicians. In April, Newsweek produced an article titled “Why We Should Let Iran Fight Islamic State.” The author wrote: “The way to offset Sunni isis is to let Shia Iran do the fighting in the Middle East’s sectarian war, via forces almost as vicious including Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard. And by supporting Shia movements fighting Sunni radicals as Iran is already doing in Yemen” (April 19).
The National Interest argued, “While a threat to U.S. interests, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (isis) presents us with a unique opportunity to ‘reset’ the Middle East equation—to actively transform regional relations, to abate the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to forge a new working relationship with Iran. As the United States moves to escalate its war against isis and forge a coalition against the terrorist group, it is important that Iran be included in the process. After all, U.S. and Iranian interests have increasingly converged in the Middle East with the emergence of a common enemy, and no power in the region is better suited to taking on isis than Iran and its affiliated Shia militias in Iraq” (Oct. 6, 2014; emphasis added throughout).
Again, allying with Iran seems logical if you consider isis the supreme threat. But this ignores the fact that for nearly four decades Iran has been the world’s number one state sponsor of Islamic terrorism.
Tehran, of course, is quite happy to play along. Iran’s leaders make routine statements condemning the Islamic State and expressing alarm at the group’s vigorous growth. They make gestures that augment the widespread belief in the West that Shiite Iran and Sunni isis are mortal enemies, incapable of ever cooperating. The West listens naively and rewards Iran for showing itself supportive and cooperative. Iran smiles and enjoys the political, financial and strategic benefits won with a few simple lies.
The strategy of defeating the Islamic State by working with Iran, or at least empowering Iran to fight the terrorists, has broader implications for the America-Iran relationship. The more dependent America is on Iran to fight the Islamic State, the more careful Washington must be not to make decisions or pursue policies that could upset Tehran. This gives Iran leverage in the broader relationship.
The premise behind America recruiting Iran to fight the Islamic State is the belief that Iran and isis are archenemies. But what if this assumption is incorrect?
The Iran-Islamic State Relationship
Like most national, tribal, ethical and religious relationships in the Middle East, the relationship between the Islamic State and Iran is not nearly as simple as many Westerners believe. Evidence proves that Iran and the Islamic State are not archenemies. In fact, Iran is at least partly responsible for the Islamic State’s creation!
In his article “Iran Is More Deeply Tied to isis Than You Think,” Benjamin Decker provides a detailed explanation of Iran’s involvement in the creation of various Sunni terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. He writes, “As the West continues to partner with Iran to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ the Islamic State, it is worth remembering that one of Iran’s highest-ranking terrorists was instrumental in founding al Qaeda, and that the split between Shia and Sunni jihadis is murky at best” (Tower, December 2015).
The Islamic State emerged from al Qaeda in Iraq. Decker continues: “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq (aqi), the predecessor to the Islamic State, has been well documented; comparably little attention has been given to the group’s global reach. While the Islamic State was born out of Osama bin Laden’s global jihad against the West, many overlook the importance of another player in the equation—Iran.
“This may seem surprising given that Iran, the stalwart of the Shia Crescent, is currently embroiled in a regional war against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. However, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, described as one of the ‘largest and most dynamic intelligence agencies in the Middle East’ by the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Support Program, has, over the past 20 years, provided financial, material, technological and other support services to aqi.” This article explains in detail Iran’s history with grooming and training key Sunni terrorist leaders, and financing and supplying weapons and tactical assistance to various Sunni terrorist groups.
An article from the Tower’s website, “The Different Stages of Iranian Support for isis,” said, “Recent reports that Iran is supporting isis through its funding of Hamas are a reminder that the Islamic Republic has long backed the powerful jihadist group and its predecessors in a variety of ways.
“In 2012, the United States Treasury Department exposed the extensive financial ties between Iran and al Qaeda in Iraq” (Dec. 16, 2015). Again, this is the terrorist organization that evolved into the Islamic State!
Iran wasn’t alone in supporting and exploiting the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq. For example, a Pentagon report from August 2012 revealed that the U.S. and the West once supported the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” in an effort to dislodge the regime of President Bashar Assad. That opposition movement comprised of “the Salafist [movement], the Muslim Brotherhood and aqi.” But that support was brief and much less than Iran’s.
Another fact that has been exaggerated in the West is the belief that Iran and Syria are sincerely trying to destroy the Islamic State. TheTower.org explained: “As aqi metastasized across Iraq and eventually became isis, Iran sought to position itself at the vanguard of the global effort against the terrorist group, claiming that it was dedicated to beating back its advances. However, Iran and its clients, particularly Syrian President Bashar Assad, have notably failed to dislodge isis from any significant territory” (ibid).
The article quotes Michael Pregent, a former U.S. military intelligence officer, warning in May 2015 that Iran and its allies were not actively engaged in sustained battles with the Islamic State. In fact, he stated, “Iran needs the threat of isis and Sunni jihadist groups to stay in Syria and Iraq in order to become further entrenched in Damascus and Baghdad.” In June 2015, U.S. officials “charged Syria with bombing non-Islamist rebels ‘in support of [the Islamic State’s] advance on Aleppo,’ which helped the terror group push back Syrian opposition factions that were fighting Assad’s regime.”
The April 2016 issue of Tablet contains an interesting interview with Abdul Halim Khaddam, former vice president and foreign minster of Syria. This man understands the way the Middle East works, and he understands Iran. In the interview, Khaddam revealed that Syrian strongman Assad—who is an Iranian proxy—and the Islamic State are partners. “It is a fact that Daesh [an Arabic name for the Islamic State] does not fight the government in Damascus any more than the government in Damascus bombs Daesh,” he explained. “Although it is Sunni, Daesh’s roots are in Iran—in a group of ex-officers of the Iraqi Presidential Guard that went to train in Iran and that Iran accepted because they thought they could use them later—and their calculation proved right. Daesh worked with Iran and with the Syrian regime to get the Americans away from Iraq. The idea was to then share the territory between Sunnis and Shiites, an arrangement which the Iranians refused once the U.S. were gone.”
Iran and the Islamic State arenotthe mortal enemies we think they are!
It is dangerous to assume that Iran thinks the same way about the Islamic State as the West does. The truth is, the Islamic State’s rise has proven enormously beneficial to Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.
First, the Islamic State has distracted America and the West from Iran’s terrorist activities. Thanks to isis, Iran is no longer on the West’s radar as a terrorist threat.
Second, the presence of the Islamic State gives Iran an opportunity to refashion its reputation in the region and globally. Iran’s leaders regularly deliver statements promising to defend the persecuted from the Islamic State and bring stability to Iraq and the broader region. Tehran is exploiting the violence and instability created by isis to cast itself as the region’s savior. Iran’s leaders have promised to rescue Iraq, as well as Christians and other isis victims. Compared to the Islamic State, Iran seems like a picture of moderation.
Third, the rise of the Islamic State has provided Iran with the opportunity to bolster its military presence in Iraq and Syria. Iranian officials, soldiers and intelligence personnel are setting up offices all over Iraq and Syria, all under the guise of fighting the Islamic State. If isis’s presence in Iraq and Syria diminishes, keep an eye on who fills the power vacuum. It will be Iran!
When you consider all the facts, it is obvious that the rise of the Islamic State has actually made Iran stronger. The isis threat has boosted Iran’s reputation in the international community. It has enabled Iran to extract concessions from America and the West. It has improved Iran’s strategic position in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. And it is undermining, both directly and indirectly, Iran’s primary opponents in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia.
Don’t buy the narrative that Iran is terrified by the rise of the Islamic State. Don’t be deceived by the lie that these two are mortal enemies, and that Iran is willing to join the West in defeating the terrorist group. When it comes to isis, Iran seeks to manage its activities, not eliminate its presence.
This means ensuring isis isn’t allowed territorial gains too close to Iran’s border. It means making sure the Islamic State doesn’t establish total control over Iraq or any key assets. It means keeping the Islamic State in check so it doesn’t affect Iran’s aspirations.
Iran has no interest in eliminating the Islamic State from the Middle East, and certainly not from Europe or the West! Iran has two basic ambitions. First, it wants to be the dominant power in the Middle East. Second, it wants to undermine and destroy Israel, America and the West. Right now the presence of the Islamic State is helping Iran achieve those ambitions!
Finally, consider what Bible prophecy has to say about the relationship between Iran and the Islamic State. The key prophecy is Daniel 11:40-43. Verse 40 says, “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.”
Notice the time setting: These events are happening at “the time of the end.”
Next, it’s obvious that the “king of the south” comes from the Middle East. These verses describe the king of the north invading the Middle East and North Africa in order to confront the “king of the south.” Who is this king?
Gerald Flurry explains the answer in detail in his free booklet The King of the South. This booklet was written over 20 years ago, when it was much harder to see from events that the king of the south would be comprised of Iran and radical Islam. Nevertheless, Mr. Flurry wrote, “Iran will undoubtedly lead the king of the south. This power will be comprised of the radical Islamic movement. Iran is working fiercely to lead this radically militant religion. … This king of the south is undoubtedly the Iran-led radical Muslims. They are strong and are pushing others around in the Middle East.”
The king of the south is radical Islam, operating out of the Middle East and North Africa, with Iran at the head!
Today this prophecy is being fulfilled openly and dramatically. Even a child can observe Middle East politics and see that Iran and radical Islam are the biblically prophesied king of the south.
Prophetically, the Islamic State and Iran are on the same team, and both are working successfully for the destruction of the West!