Key words: ISIS, ISIL, Iran, Al-Qaeda, Syria, Iraq
By Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai
For several years, al-Qaeda has been keen to avoid striking the Islamic Republic of Iran since Osama bin Laden was head of the organisation. The same policy was followed by Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for various reasons. However, “Islamic State” (ISIS) wanted to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda, to reveal its weakness or complicity with Iran and to attract most needed recruits, especially important since this organisation is in real decline in the Middle East (Syria and Iraq). ISIS has now intentionally attacked Iran, taking advantage of the Gulf members’ hostility towards Tehran, and supported by the United States of America who are accusing the Shia Iran of sponsoring Salafi Wahhabi Sunni ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Iran has been able in the last decade to attract al-Qaeda leaders and militants by providing these with a “golden prison”, where al-Qaeda leaders have been given refuge (house arrest and tightly controlled movement) for many years, meeting various objectives: Iran used al-Qaeda members to exchange hostages, preventing al-Qaeda by intimidation from carrying out terrorist attacks against its interests and against Iranian soil. Al-Qaeda Central was forced to concede for fear of Iranian retaliation. Iran has managed to create a balance between its own ideology and that of its fiercest enemy – al-Qaeda- which advocates striking the “Safavid Iranian Shiites” – by providing a safe haven for those who have declared global war on the US, the enemy of Iran.
Moreover, Iran has been able to provide safe refuge to al-Qaeda making it difficult for the US to target al-Qaeda leaders. It is indeed in Iran’s interest that Al Qaeda keep fighting against the “Great Satan”, the United States.
During the rise of ISIS in Syria, its late official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, reproached and accused Ayman al-Zawahri of instructing ISIS – that was an al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq – to refrain from striking Iran. ISIS aimed to reveal and embarrass al-Qaeda for deviating from the Salafi Jihadi ideology that promotes killing “Rafidah” (Shiites) as a top priority. However, al-Qaeda was characterized by a more strategic approach, favouring the US as its favourite target and not the Shia. In fact, the same Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote to the Jordanian Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh (aka Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) reproaching him for fighting against the Iraqi Shia rather than the US occupation forces, by asking him, in his private letter (intercepted by the US), if “ever in the history of Islam anyone managed to exterminate the Shia?” Zawaheri wanted, through the “Islamic State in Iraq,” to win the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi population.
Luckily Zarqawi rejected the advice and prioritised targeting the Shia first rather than the US troops (otherwise most Iraqis would have supported his cause and ISIS would have spread like wild fire). Zarqawi passed on his hate and destructive policy towards the Shia to his successors and later, through these to the latest Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader who carried on the fight against the Shia in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
Baghdadi did not stop at targeting Shia: despite the destruction of Iraq and Syria infrastructure, most Sunni properties in all the respective countries were destroyed. ISIS brought the war in the Middle East to the every Sunni city: homes and belongings were systematically and totally destroyed in most Sunni strongholds in Iraq.
Al-Baghdadi was not content to wage war and bring chaos to Iraq and Syria only but struck also in Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. His group was responsible for targeting the West, Africa and Asia. His last strike – and not the least – is the attack against the Iranian parliament and the Imam Khomeini shrine. ISIS did indeed succeed in its objective to target the Islamic Republic.
ISIS exploited the powerful anti-Iran hostile atmosphere in that region of the Middle east, especially after the campaign by US President Donald Trump calling above all to collect the largest amount of financial assets from the Gulf countries, which no US President ever managed to collected before ($480bn from Saudi Arabia only). By exploiting the current atmosphere, ISIS finally succeeded in breaching Iran’s security measures (several previous attempts failed, foiled by Iran security measures and intelligence service). So, many terrorist attacks were foiled, not only in Iran but also in many European cities in these last two years.
Will ISIS strike again in Iran? Certainly, the terrorist group will try hitting multiple targets simultaneously and individually in many capitals around the world. ISIS attempts are expected to increase in the near future because it lacks patience and prefers – instead of learning from past mistakes and preparing the ground for future empowerment – to accelerate the strikes and send a message to sympathisers that, despite the loss of territories in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is still able to strike those it considers its enemies. Iran is not expected to respond overtly but through its support to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq in their fight against Jihadists Salafist Wahhabi and their sponsors.
ISIS is therefore not expected to die easily especially since terrorism does not die, it shrinks, and it seems possible contain it. ISIS, who inspired tens of thousands of supporters around the globe, cannot surrender. The group is still waging a media campaign and calls for offensive against the Middle Eastern countries and the west. It is even expressing strong animosity against the Salafi Sunni Jihadists of al-Qaeda even as it balances on the quasi-final edge in Iraq and Syria. It is obvious that ISIS is looking for other lands to establish itself in after its defeat in Syria and Iraq- that could very well be Afghanistan, Yemen or Africa- so as to renew its strength and prove to the world that… ISIS is here to stay (Baqiyah).