Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 June 2017
Pays For ISIS Attack in Tehran
By Huda Al Husseini
Iran Exploited Tehran Terror Attacks For Its Own Gain
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Qatar’s Role in Yemen Tells about the Gulf Crisis
By Dr. Manuel Almeida
Gulf Experts Missed the Qatar Crisis
By Sinem Cengiz
the Qatari Crisis
By Mashari Althaydi
SCO and Middle East: Expanding Stakes and New Approaches
By Talmiz Ahmad
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Huda al Husseini
16 June 2017
What happened was expected, but who would
have imagined that the response would be as it came. Terrorist attacks targeted
a main institution that is the Parliament Building; it is a symbolic building,
the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.
As for the terrorists, they were Iranian citizens.
The reaction of a group of Syrians was:
“We, the Syrians, have suffered a lot from terrorism, ISIS, al-Assad and the
Iranian regime; we stand in solidarity with all the victimized peoples
Iran mixes between ISIS and the Gulf
states. In fact, ISIS represents a more serious threat to the Arab countries
than to Iran. Iran’s situation is better than that of Arab countries because extremist
groups, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization and its militias
in Iraq, or the Houthi groups in Yemen, are all pro-Iranian militias.
Taken By Surprise
The Iranian security was taken by surprise
by what happened and stopped all the communication networks “because of
terrorist activities.” This is the biggest terrorist operation in Iran in 10
years. The Iranians were confused because the reaction on the ground did not
match with what local television stations reported, trying to ease the impact
of the attacks.
In fact, a number of terrorists had made
their way through many checkpoints, and according to a report, they dressed as
women. It took several hours to control the situation and kill the terrorists.
The success of ISIS in carrying out a
terrorist operation in Iran was expected due to already known reasons, but
during the last couple of months, observers have seen a remarkable development
and predicted the occurrence of a terrorist operation.
In late March, the organization broadcast a
video in Persian, calling on the Sunni minority in Iran to rebel against the
Shiite-dominated Iranian institutions. The Iranian Broadcasting Corporation
described the video as nonsense and said that it was an attempt by ISIS to
cover its increasing losses in Iraq. Iranian officials revealed last year that
they had stopped several ISIS attacks. After the video, ISIS published 4
editions of its online publication ‘Rumiyah’ in Persian. It is published in
English, French, Russian and Indonesian.
With the rise of ISIS, Iranian officials
including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have warned that they will
take “decisive actions” if ISIS militants came just 40 kilometres near Iran’s
Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at the
International Centre for the Study of Political Extremism and Violence, says
that ISIS used to publish the translation of selected articles and statements
in Persian, but this was the first time that ‘Rumiyah’ was published in
Persian. (Rumiyah is derived from the name of Rome, and the organization
considers that when it occupies the Italian capital, then the whole world will
be under ISIS control).
According to Winter, the organization has
been publishing articles in Persian and translated videos since 2015. However,
with the Persian edition of ‘Rumiyah’, “it seems that a logical progress has
already taken place.”
Winter had co-authored a report published
by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, based in The Hague, in which
seven Iranians committed suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria between December
2015 and November 2016.
In the first issue of ‘Rumiyah’ in Persian,
ISIS called for killing of ‘infidels’, and to consider killing as Halal and a
form of prayer.
The cover of the second issue was a
blood-stained knife, with tips on how to kill the infidels with a knife (we
have seen this in the London Bridge attacks that took place recently in
The other four issues were translations
from previous editions of ‘Rumiyah’.
ISIS online propaganda is an important
pillar in its strategy that is used to attract sympathizers from all over the
world, thousands of whom have travelled to Syria and Iraq. It is difficult to
measure the degree of its success in Iran.
Some analysts believe that the ideology of
ISIS has little interest among Sunni Iranians constituting between 5 and 10
percent of the total 81 million populations, although Sunnis in Iran are
routinely subjected to harassment, discrimination and marginalization. However,
ISIS remains a threat to Iran.
Last August, Intelligence minister Mahmoud
Alawi said that the authorities had prevented 1,500 Iranians from joining ISIS.
Last week, in the eastern province of
Nangarhar in Afghanistan, where reports confirm that ISIS is active, the Afghan
authorities published a video of a man claiming that he is from western Iran’s
Azerbaijan and had joined ISIS through the Telegram application, the most
widespread means of communication in Iran.
He said: “By the name of God, I am Yasser
from Western Azerbaijan” claiming that an unspecified number of Iranians have
joined and arrived in Nangarhar. The fact that the four attackers of the
parliament and the shrine of Khomeini came from a Sunni Kurdish town, means
that Iranians of different ethnicities have joined ISIS. The Kurdish media are
full of stories from Iranian Kurds groups (also from Iraq’s Kurds) who joined
ISIS and the Fatah al-Sham group that is linked to al-Qaeda. The Kurdish
channels that are loyal to ISIS aired dozens of videos of Iranian Kurds
reaching Raqqa and Mosul.
To Gain Sympathy
ISIS has long sought to launch an attack
inside Iran, where 90 percent of the population is Shiite, and the proportion
of Shiites in Tehran amounts to 95 percent. Thus, it is difficult for ISIS to
gain sympathy or potential in recruiting new members in Iran, which is also the
case in the Arab and Muslim world with Sunni majority.
ISIS or others, plotting a terrorist
operation within Iran was expected. There is rising anger among Sunnis and the
Arab world against Iran and its interference in Arab countries and the Middle
East to achieve its ambitions, and its support for the regime of Bashar
al-Assad that is responsible for a large number of civilian casualties, its
support for former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Lebanese Hezbollah and
Shiite militias in Iraq.
Even at the level of non-political and
non-religious groups, there is a considerable hostility towards the Iranian
On the other hand, these extremist Sunni
radical groups, whether ISIS, al-Qaeda or others, are seeking to overthrow Arab
regimes before overthrowing the Iranian regime. Therefore, the Iranian regime
seeks to distort the image of Saudi Arabia to protect itself as it knows that
Persian nationalism is against Saudi Arabia, and this hostility brings together
the Iranian opposition and religious clerics. This is where the sectarian
religious factor fades.
What has happened is a setback for the
government and officials who were till now proud that Iran was a safe haven in
a terrorized Middle East. What has happened shook the confidence of many
Iranians regarding their security forces because they discovered that their
mysterious security system can be penetrated and decoded.
Involved In Syria Conflict
Iran has been deeply involved in the Syrian
conflict. It has given billions of dollars to the Assad regime, where millions
have been displaced and turned into refugees. It is therefore illogical for
Iran to remain immune to the Syrian backlash, not to mention that it has
supported terrorism in the region and the world.
The attack of ISIS will not have a moderate
effect on Iran’s regional policies. The first response on the field was the
images of General Qassem Soleimani on the Iraqi-Syrian borders, with mercenary
fighters from the Afghan Fatimiyon brigade.
The regime tends to use this terrorist
attack to continue its support for the Assad regime and the Popular
Mobilization in Iraq, under the pretext that it is better to fight ISIS outside
Iran rather than inside one’s own country. However, ISIS was able to
The Itimad newspaper published an article
in which it considered the attack as a ‘golden opportunity’ to show national
unity and warned of ‘childish’ retaliation attempts.
Another newspaper pointed the finger at
Michael D’Andrea, the new head of the CIA’s Iran Operations. The problem in
this case is that the one who prepared the poison will be suffering from it,
and the pain may have reached Iran.
Iran Exploited Tehran Terror Attacks for Its Own Gain
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
This week, Iran’s state-owned media made
outlandish accusations and vigorously lashed out at the US and Saudi Arabia
over the attacks in Tehran. They were following Tehran’s agenda as Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and other Iranian leaders
escalated anti-US and anti-Saudi sentiment by issuing incendiary statements.
After Friday prayers, the government staged
demonstrations during a funeral ceremony, with chants of “death to the US” and
“death to Saudi Arabia.” Khamenei said the attacks in Tehran will only hurt the
US and Saudi governments, and “will not damage the Iranian nation’s
This is part of Iran’s broader agenda to
fuel hatred of the US, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations, and thereby
create more instability that will enable Tehran to further expand its regional
influence. Iran is also taking advantage of the Tehran attacks to crack down on
domestic opposition, including minorities such as the Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
Tehran’s sectarian agenda is anchored in deepening the gap between Sunnis and Shiites.
Iran will use the Tehran attacks to
dispatch more of its forces to Syria and Iraq, and to send more financial and
military aid to militias and proxies across the region. Khamenei is exploiting
the attacks to buttress his long-held, three-pronged narrative that Iran has
enemies, it is a victim, and it is a force against terror groups, particularly
This narrative is totally inaccurate. Iran
is listed as the top state sponsor of terrorism by various intelligence
reports. Even the State Department under former US President Barack Obama said
Iran “remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism… providing a range of
support, including financial, training, and equipment, to groups around the
world,” particularly Hezbollah.
It added: “Iran continued to be deeply
involved in the conflict in Syria, working closely with the (Assad) regime to
counter the Syrian opposition, and also in Iraq where Iran continued to provide
support to militia groups.” It was also “implicated for its support to violent Shia
opposition group attacks in Bahrain.”
My research at Harvard University revealed
that roughly 40 percent of world-designated terrorist groups are supported by
only one government: Iran’s. More fundamentally, the argument that Shiite Iran
is at the opposite end of the spectrum regarding Sunni extremist groups such as
Al-Qaeda and Daesh is totally inaccurate.
There is plenty of credible and
substantiated evidence that Iran not only supports Shiite fundamentalist
groups, but has backed leaders of other extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda. For
example, a bipartisan 9/11 commission report pointed out that there was “strong
evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al-Qaeda members into and out of
Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”
Iran supports any terror and extremist
group that shares its anti-American and anti-Saudi agenda. It is deplorable
that whenever there is a terrorist attack in another country, Iranian leaders
and media blame the grieving nations. It is despicable to display jubilance
over such attacks and to try to score political points.
For example, when the Paris attacks
occurred, Kayhan newspaper — considered a mouthpiece of Khamenei, who appoints
the editor in chief — had a front-page headline that read: “The rabid dog of
the Islamic State (Daesh) bit the leg of its owners.”
Iran is blatantly taking advantage of the
Tehran attacks and people’s suffering to advance its regional ambitions,
suppress opposition and fuel anti-American, anti-Saudi and anti-Sunni
Dr. Manuel Almeida
Soon after the eruption of the current
crisis centered on Qatar, Kuwait set itself once again to play the role of
mediator. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah was quoted
by his country’s state news agency as affirming Qatar’s readiness to
“understand the reality of the qualms and concerns of their brothers” of the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
By now it should be evident to Doha what
those concerns are, as they were conveyed during the previous diplomatic spat
in 2014. They go beyond its support for the Muslim Brotherhood — whose longstanding
links with violent extremism continue to be underestimated in the West — and
all sorts of Islamist militants.
Take Yemen. Exactly 10 years ago, a
cease-fire between the government and the Houthis ended what is known as the
fourth Saada war, named after the governorate the Zaydi revivalist group calls
The high-profile peace-broker was none
other than Qatar’s then-Emir Sheikh Hamad bin-Khalifa Al-Thani, who traveled to
Yemen himself. Qatar’s cosy relationship with Iran, at the time already accused
by Yemeni government officials of backing and radicalizing the Houthis and
incentivizing their armed insurgency, played an important role in placing Doha
in the mediator’s seat.
By mid-June 2007, the Qatari peace plan had
taken shape. It included temporary exile in Doha for key Houthi leaders Abdul
Malik Al-Houthi, Abdul Karim Al-Houthi and Abdullah Al-Ruzami, as well as a
joint committee with representatives from Qatar, the Yemeni government and the
Yet the fighting in the north did not
abate, and various Yemeni factions and government officials blamed the Doha
Agreement for giving the insurgents equal standing to the government. The
following year, when Qatar’s mediation appeared to bear fruit, the conflict
resumed. Doha withdrew and failed to live up to its promises to invest in the
areas most affected by the war.
Qatar’s foreign policy transformation under
Sheikh Hamad was often described as a “friends with everyone approach,” before
things started to unravel when some of its gambles in the era of the Arab
uprisings did not pay off.
Less publicized was the existence of an
implicit pact that would come to influence Qatar’s regional policy, arguably to
a substantial degree. Fearful of the threat represented by Islamist activity at
home, the government provided the Brotherhood and like-minded groups with a
safe haven and its largesse, in exchange for a guarantee of non-interference in
Qatar’s domestic scene.
Among the many radical Islamists finding
solace in Doha were the Taliban, which opened an office while living
luxuriously there; Egyptian preacher Yusuf Qaradawi, with his incendiary fatwas
(religious edicts) sanctioning suicide bombings; and during the 1990s Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of 9/11.
During the Arab uprisings, Qatar made a big
bet that various Arab governments would be overthrown and replaced by
Islamists, highly organized compared to other weak or non-existent political
opposition. Perhaps in the minds of Qatar’s leadership was the 1979 Iranian
revolution, which started as a people’s revolution and ended up dominated by
In Yemen, this approach was translated in a
huge spike in Qatari support for Islah, the political faction dominated by the
local branch of the Brotherhood, which features a radical Islamist faction with
many overlaps with Al-Qaeda.
Already the most powerful opposition group
in Yemen and now with Qatar’s political, financial and media backing, Islah
played a dominant role in the uprisings against ousted President Ali Abdullah
Saleh. In a famed speech in April 2011, just a few months before signing a
GCC-sponsored power-transfer deal, Saleh said: “We derive our legitimacy from
the strength of our glorious Yemeni people, not from Qatar, whose initiative we
Qatar found itself in a close relationship
with the leadership of the Houthi militias, while at the same time backing
their nemeses Islah, as well as Al-Qaeda. When the present diplomatic crisis
erupted, the Houthi leadership was quick to express its support for and
solidarity with Qatar.
Saleh was often accused of turning a blind
eye to Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, while capitalizing on
generous US funds for counterterrorism. But he once exposed an alleged Qatari
request not to confront Al-Qaeda and let Doha mediate with the terrorist group
Qatar’s role in Yemen, oblivious to the
fragility of the state and the complexity of the local political and tribal
landscape, is a good illustration of its regional policies’ reckless
opportunism. But Qatari backing for Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Syria, all sorts of
extremists in Libya, radical elements of the Brotherhood and even Lebanon’s
Hezbollah is only part of the story.
It is also about deserving the trust of
those who treat it as an ally and abandoning its hubristic regional policy,
which seems devoid of concerns about long-term consequences. In a highly
volatile Middle East, the world’s richest country per capita could surely play
a more lucid and stabilizing role.
The Gulf is of great strategic importance
due to its energy resources and geographic location. Yet despite this, the
history of the region’s international relations was neglected by academics for
decades. Traditionally, Middle East studies have centered on the Arab-Israeli
conflict or on the role of Islam. But with developments since the 1970s such as
Iran’s 1979 revolution, the 1991 Gulf war and the 2003 invasion of Iraq,
interest in the Gulf has increased.
This can be seen in the opening of research
centers in Gulf countries in recent years. But this interest is mainly in the
context of oil and security, preventing academics and experts from
comprehensively understanding domestic and socio-political issues in the
region. This reductionist view is not limited to Western scholars but also
Until recent years, in Turkey one could not
find a university thesis on the Gulf. The region is only discussed in Turkey
when there are crises, high-level visits or major agreements signed. Despite
developing relations between Turkey and the Gulf countries in recent years, the
focus has been largely on oil and politics rather than the region’s dynamics.
The current Gulf crisis is not related to
oil or Qatar’s foreign relations, but to inter-Gulf relations, a historical
dispute between the region’s countries and several other issues that do not
take their rightful place in mainstream academia.
Knowledge of the region that involves
sitting at a desk and relying on secondary sources will never work. One needs
to use primary sources, conduct fieldwork and know the language. Sadly, Turkey
has a poor record in this regard because it kept a distance from the region for
decades and lacked sufficient knowledge of Arabic. As such, “experts” in Turkey
do not see the full picture, which has led to a misunderstanding of the causes
of the current crisis.
Having lived in the Gulf for 16 years and
studied the region for nearly 10, I am familiar with the challenges involved.
But lazy scholarship is one of the reasons why scholars did not see the current
crisis coming. As a well-known Twitter user wrote: “The Gulf experts who didn’t
see this coming are now explaining to you what it means.”
An urgent awakening is needed to solve the
region’s problems and to understand it better. Those who claim to be Middle
East or Gulf experts have a responsibility not to resort to conspiracy theories
to explain developments, and to pay more attention to the region.
Several mediation efforts have been
initiated to end the Qatar crisis. The Turkish President Erdogan has been clear
in taking the Qatari side from the beginning. This may weaken his credibility
in the mediations because he openly said that Qatar is oppressed and cannot be
Would that mean that Saudi Arabia, the UAE,
Bahrain and Egypt, along with Jordan, Mauritania and some other countries, all
have no proof against Qatar?
However, according to the Anadolu agency,
the Turkish Foreign Minister Mouloud Jawish Oglu said after his visit to Doha
that the “crisis must be overcome through dialogue and peace and Turkey is
willing to help.”
I wish all the success for the Turkish
efforts but I think Turkey will not be more trustworthy, considerate or
interrelated compared to Kuwait – the founding state of the Gulf system – whose
efforts have not succeeded until now, despite the great respect among Gulf
leaders of the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad.
This is not due to the “intransigence” of
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab and African
countries, but rather it is because no one has tackled the essence of the
problem yet. As Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid said, the
problem is not just a matter of “concerns” that Qatar should be ready to
Indeed, it is not a matter of concerns but
rather tangible proof and a long history that has not been revealed yet; it is
not even a matter of reassuring but rather urging Doha to stop these policies,
efforts, information, and troubles.
As the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef
al-Otaiba, told al-Ittihad newspaper: “What should Qatar do? First, it must
recognize what the world already knows: Doha has become a financial, media and
ideological source of extremism. Then Qatar must take decisive action to solve
the problem of extremism for good.”
Turkey’s Erdogan is not the only one who
wants to underestimate the problem; even European countries are doing so under
the pretext of uniting the efforts to fight terrorism. They are acting as if
the Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian, Bahraini and Yemeni speeches disagreed with Doha
for some other reasons.
We all want what is good for the Qataris
and Qatar. At the end they are part of the Gulf region. However, the “statement
of account” of Qatar’s policies for 20 years is what led us here today.
Do mediators have the ability to
“understand” the reasons of this anger? Do they really understand the seriousness
of the political chaos and the activities encouraging strife?
If they do, it won’t be difficult for them
to urge Doha to adopt an upright approach; it will be better for them, their
neighbours and the whole world.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
began life in 1996 when China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan
set up the “Shanghai Five” as a regional confidence-building forum. It was
re-christened as the SCO with the membership of Uzbekistan in 2001.
The accession of India and Pakistan to full
membership at the Astana Summit on June 8-9 is the first expansion of the SCO
in 16 years. SCO observers are: Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia and Belarus, while
Turkey, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal are dialogue
The SCO has a total population of 3.5
billion, nearly 50 percent of the world population, and the combined GDP in
absolute figures that is over 25 percent of global GDP. It has considerable
geopolitical significance in that it links the Asia-Pacific and the Atlantic
with South Asia and West Asia, as its secretary general, Rashid Alimov, has
West Asian issues have been discussed at
the SCO for the last several years. All the members are concerned about the
three evils of “terrorism, extremism and separatism” since transnational
extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, anchored in West Asia, get several
recruits from SCO members and in turn threaten them with radicalisation and
The conflict in Afghanistan and the
associated radicalism has affected SCO members over the last 35 years and
remains an important area of concern today. Now, the Syrian conflict has
captured SCO attention as well. At a recent meeting of SCO defence ministers,
the threat from ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat Nusra was highlighted.
Russia, with two SCO observers, Iran and
Turkey, is spearheading the ceasefire and the peace process, with meetings of
government and opposition groups taking place in Astana to complement the
UN-sponsored Geneva conferences. The interest of both Iran and Turkey in
obtaining full membership of SCO is being strongly backed by Russia and China.
West Asia is also important to the SCO as
the pathway for transnational connectivity projects. Thus, the Eurasian
Economic Union (EEU), promoted by Russia, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
sponsored by China, which envisage linkages across the Eurasian continent and
the Indian Ocean, and India’s projects from Iranian ports to Afghanistan,
Central Asia and Russia, give central importance to West Asia.
Addressing the sixth China-Arab States
Cooperation Forum in 2014, President Xi Jinping saw the West Asian states as
“natural partners” in building the BRI projects, and suggested that the two
sides should “build a community of common interest and common destiny”.
Besides logistical links, the president
also saw wider links between China and the Arab world, including energy, trade
and investment, and the new frontier areas of space technology, and nuclear and
renewable energy. These perceptions are shared by India, whose prime minister,
after very robust engagements with regional nations, has shaped solid strategic
and economic partnerships with West Asia.
The biggest concern that the SCO states
have regarding West Asia relates to the security situation that is marked by:
the regional confrontation, the wars in Syria and Yemen, the rising tide of
sectarianism in defining regional differences, and, above all, trans-national
militant groups with their lethal assaults and the attacks of their “lone-wolf”
adherents which target the region and beyond.
The successful implementation of the BRI
land and sea projects requires that the pathways of the routes be secure.
However, so far SCO has displayed neither the capacity nor the interest in
pursuing this onerous but important responsibility.
To play a more credible role in regional
security affairs, the SCO needs to put into effect some much-needed changes in
its organization and functioning and the range of its engagements.
First, following its recent expansion, it
must promote greater internal cohesion and cooperation. For instance, the
various BRI and other regional connectivity projects should not be projected as
sponsored by specific countries but promoted as cooperative ventures of the
grouping as a whole. And, linked with this, the projects themselves should be
the product of region-wide consultations and take on board the core interests
and sensitivities of partner countries.
Thus, India has found it difficult to
associate itself with the BRI initiative since a major project involved, the
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), takes no account of the disputed
character of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK). It is a welcome development that
the Indian and Chinese leaders spoke frankly to each other on this subject at
the Astana summit.
Secondly, the SCO should approve an “SCO
Regional Forum” on the lines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), where members,
observers and dialogue partners could engage in a free and frank discussion of
security issues with a wide range of interlocutors.
This forum could be supported by a Track-II
platform on the lines of the Council for Security and Cooperation in the
Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) that supports the ARF.
Finally, given the importance of the
connectivity projects that envisage a central place to West Asian and the
significance of ties with the West Asian nations for all SCO members, some
major Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE and should be
invited to be dialogue partners of the SCO as an institution. Only then will it
be possible for the SCO members to shape an effective approach to regional