How Iran used 'terror' as a tool for diplomacy

How Iran used 'terror' as a tool for diplomacy
Comment: Kerry's revelation that Hizballah is not plotting against America has confirmed what many already knew: Iran used fear to force the US to the table, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
6 min read
05 Oct, 2016
Other regional powers may justifiably consider Iran's model as a viable strategy [Anadolu]

Last week, The New York Times broke a story that exposed leaked audio from a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and a small group of Syrian civilians, in New York last month.

The audio of the meeting was verified as accurate by several people who were there, further adding to the embarrassment and failure that the US has been forced to parade internationally, regarding the Middle East and especially Syria. 

In that meeting, a quite clearly frustrated and bewildered Kerry complained that key figures in the Obama administration (likely including the president himself) had argued against using the threat of military action to bolster Kerry's diplomacy.

Even worse, however, is the admission that the US government was willing to attack and kill one kind of "terrorist" - the self-proclaimed Islamic State - yet will not authorise strikes against another - the Lebanese Hizballah. This admission that the US will not target Iran-backed Shia militants sets a dangerous precedent with potentially woeful consequences.

Organic vs state-grown terror

Kerry was recorded as saying that the US was willing to assist and encourage the Syrian opposition in fighting against IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as the Nusra Front, because "both have basically declared war on us".

So has Hizballah not declared war on the United States?

Well, yes it has actually, on many and innumerable occasions. One of the most recent examples comes from earlier this year, when the US announced that it would be deploying more soldiers to Iraq. Hizballah released a statement threatening attacks on US troops in Iraq, alleging that IS is "the stepdaughter of the Americans", and that US soldiers should not feel that they would be safe.

"The [US] occupation's coward soldiers should understand that however protective their vehicles are, these vehicles will become an obstacle for them and they will burn to death inside them," Hizballah's statement in March of this year ominously warned.

Washington seems to have a high degree of selectivity when it comes to threats from Hizballah

Such threats can only be perceived for what they are - a promise of death and violence upon the United States and its uniformed men and women. Considering the US has continued to deploy troops to Iraq, Hizballah's threats should be taken very seriously indeed.

However, quite the opposite is happening. Washington has long viewed Hizballah as a proscribed terrorist organisation that is undeniably backed and supported by Iran through military outfits such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), yet seems to have a high degree of selectivity when it comes to its threats.

Compared to other organisations, and even IS, Hizballah has issued a constant stream of threats against the US (not to mention already having a history of killing US soldiers and citizens), yet faces few repercussions.

Why the double-standards when it comes to the US combatting terrorism? Is it because, as some conspiracy theorists suggest, Washington is secretly in league with Tehran and wants to re-establish it as the regional ruling force it was during the days of the pro-US Shah of the 1970s?

At first glance, evidence would suggest that this line of thought carries some validity. After all, at the same meeting and despite Hizballah's history of threats and violence, Kerry also stated, "Hezbollah is not plotting against us".

However, I would argue that this discrepancy in approach exists simply because IS, JFS and many other Sunni factions were by-and-large not the creation of a state power, but were organically formed in response to western - and even Soviet - encroachment on the land and resources of Muslim-majority countries.

Why the double-standards when it comes to the US combatting terrorism?

While al-Qaeda and its progenitor groups were funded and supported by many countries, including the United States, it was not formed by them.

Hizballah and other groups such as the Iraqi Hizballah, the Badr Organisation and even the newly formed IRGC clone, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), have had intensive and extensive Iranian involvement at every level of their organisations.

Not only are they funded and armed by Iran, but they are also trained by them and ideologically connected. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah himself has long remarked that his organisation and Iran are one and the same. In one video of him as a young leader of Hizballah, he reasserts his loyalty to the "Guardian Jurist", currently Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, after he inherited Ruhollah Khomeini's mantle.

Terrorism as a tool for diplomacy

So what does this all demonstrate? Much like Kerry, who sought to use the threat of US military might to add weight to his diplomacy, Iran has masterfully used a wide network of armed organisations that it has set loose upon the world.

It has drawn on them as a kind of Middle Eastern PR campaign that seeks to show the region's people that Iran truly is the tip of the spear that is the so-called "Axis of Resistance" that stands against the West and intends to liberate Palestine from Israeli rule.

Although this PR stunt has been blunted since Hizballah became embroiled in the genocide against the Syrian people by assisting President Bashar al-Assad to stay afloat (as part of Iranian foreign policy, no less), Iranian proxies have moved beyond the point of pretences and can now openly act in Iran's interests without fear.

Iran has masterfully used a wide network of armed organisations that it has set loose upon the world

The fact that the US is almost kowtowing to the mullahs' will - especially with regard to their nuclear and regional ambitions - has enraged the people of the region, and especially their governments. Iran's increasing power has not helped de-escalate the situation, especially with its recently announced Shia Liberation Army - potentially operational across the Arab world.

The danger that now arises as a result of Washington's weakness and inaction on Iranian expansionism and its use of terror as a tool for diplomacy, is the demonstration to other states that this is a viable strategy. The powers of the Gulf, and even Turkey, are unlikely to sit by for much longer as Iran eats away at their power and influence.

Seeing that Uncle Sam is incapable of protecting their interests, and not wishing to engage in open confrontation with Iran, these regional powers may instead take a leaf out of Iran's playbook and start creating ideologically committed militant organisations themselves.

Should that ever occur, it will sound the death knell of US influence in the Middle East. It will plunge the region into ever escalating low-intensity - but no less deadly - sectarian conflict, as ideologically committed, state-funded, trained and armed paramilitary groups battle it out for supremacy, in a proxy war that will set the Middle East ablaze for generations.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.