Now that everyone and his uncle has had a chance to comment on the nuclear accord reached with Iran, it’s my turn.
(Full disclosure: I was an Iranian analyst in the Canadian intelligence community for twenty years and was even fluent in Farsi at one point – alas no more!)
There is no question Iran poses a puzzle to many people. Iranians on the whole are very pro-Western and yet very nationalist, taking justified pride in having one of the oldest civilisations on earth. They are also insistent on being seen as Persians (well, at least the majority are) and do not like being tarred with the same “the Middle East is full of Arab Muslim fanatics” brush. Most Iranians are heavily in favour of a normalisation of relations with the West and and return to international respectability.
On the other hand, the regime – or rather part of it – is of a different flavour. Rabidly anti-Western since the 1979 revolution (and somewhat understandable in light of Western actions in Iran under the last Shah), they have meddled in the affairs of many countries and supported some rather nasty groups. Their anti-Israeli rhetoric is shameful (albeit comical and probably not indicative of what they would actually do) and gets a lot of attention. And they may or may not be seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.
And Iran is the self-styled protector and promoter of the world’s Shia (whether others see them as that is another question). It is this role, according to the Saudis, that makes them so dangerous (see article here). The spread of Shia Islam is the true menace. Ergo, Iran is the world’s greatest threat to international security and the Obama/Kerry accord gives them free reign to inflict more terror on us.
It is not hard to be any clearer on this. Notwithstanding the nuclear issue (which I am no expert on), the threat from a particular interpretation of Islam favoured by the Saudi regime and disseminated over the globe for the past 40 years dwarfs by several orders of magnitude that prosyletised by the Iranians. Furthermore, the terror and militant groups propped up or financed by the Iranians generally do not act in what they see as the name of Islam: this cannot be said for the hundreds of terrorist organisations and groups that subscribe to a narrow interpretation of Sunni Islam, an interpretation which took many of its elements from the Saudi version. The Islamic State/Al Qaeda/Boko Haram/Al Shabaab….. campaign of violence and terror is so much more dangerous than that of Hizballah that the two do no belong on the same list of threats.
Yes, there are aspects of Shia Islam that might lead to violence (I am thinking here of the cult of martyrdom surrounding the death of imam Hossein in 680) and there is a following of the twelfth imam (the “Mahdi) that former President Ahmadinejad was so fond of. But the Sunni extremists have taken both elements and expanded upon them to the nth degree. Who leads the world in suicide attacks? Not Iran. And who is killing in the belief that the Mahdi is on the cusp of returning? Not Iran. In both cases it is Sunni extremists.
As we continue to fight groups that kill in the name of Allah we will continue to see more and more individuals and groups that have more in common with Saudi Arabia than Iran.
That is the simple truth.