By Iran Review
By Shahrouz Shariati*
Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are the main actors in the West Asia region. Therefore, the United States cannot ignore the role that these countries play in this region and, in view of its own interests, will finally have to rely on them for the resolution of such major crises as terrorism and Islamic extremism. However, the question is which one of these actors is more reliable for the resolution of the ongoing crises in the Middle East and to do away with threats posed by Takfiri terrorists?
A primary answer to this question is that, at the present juncture, the interests of the United States are at odds with the interests of its traditional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. When he United States was trying to topple the government of the Syrian President Bashar Assad through lending its support to Syrian opposition groups, its interests somehow overlapped with those of Saudi Arabia in Syria. However, a change in US strategy after Washington came to realize that the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group was a more serious threat than the incumbent government in Syria, led to some kind of gap between the two countries’ approaches to Syria.
Under present conditions, demonstration of emotional, religious and financial links between Saudi Arabia and Daesh has caused further deepening of the distrust that had been already developed between Riyadh and Washington following terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Therefore, while the United States did not sense any threat from its relations with Saudi Arabia in the past, under the present circumstances and as the scope of terrorist threats expands, it is feeling more threatened.
In addition, the United States’ relations with its other traditional ally in the region, that is, Turkey, are now at their lowest due to the ongoing war against Daesh. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has moved toward an authoritarian regime and its policies with regard to fighting Daesh and resolution of the crisis in Syria are not in agreement with the United States’ priorities. In addition, Turkey has been focused on arming those opposition groups, which fight against the Syrian government, and leaders in Ankara are ready to help any group, which is active against the Syrian government, in the vain hope of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
This state of affairs clearly shows that the interests of Ankara are not in line with those of Washington in the Middle East and the United States does not agree to Turkey’s policy in this regard, because it does not want terrorist groups to become powerful in Syria. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a regional power, has been able to play a major role against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Tehran has been responsibly asking for the elimination of Daesh in Iraq and flushing of this terrorist group out of Syria. At the same time, it has been emphasizing the need to maintain territorial integrity of these two countries while seeking to reduce the group’s potential to stage terrorist attacks elsewhere in the region and also prevent its members from securing a foothold in such neighboring countries as Afghanistan.
In the meantime, it is clear that Iran is one of the most important targets of the Daesh terrorist group and, as a country with the biggest Shia population in the region, which rejects the Salafist ideology, is considered as a hostile country by Daesh. This hatred that Daesh has for Iran became even more profound when the ideology of Daesh was strongly tied to the ideology of Iraq’s defunct Baath party. Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, had clearly advised his followers to keep this ideology alive.
Iran and America cooperating against the common threat of Daesh
In view of the above facts, it is evident that lack of coordination between the United States, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, on the one hand, and the overlap between Washington’s interests and those of Tehran with regard to the fight against Daesh can gradually bring the governments of these two countries closer together in their fight against threats posed by this terror group.
At the same time, according to theory of offshore balancing, it seems that the most logical option for Americans is to give up the Middle East and leave Iran in charge of fighting this important threat both directly and indirectly. On the other hand, the presence of Daesh in Iraq and Syria and Syria’s resistance against this terrorist group through Iran’s support has demonstrated to Washington and other Western powers that Iran enjoys a suitable degree of coherence and stability and has serious influence on people in the region both directly and indirectly.
From the viewpoint of regional countries, the current government of Iran is a powerful government in the Middle East region and is also a powerful force in the Middle East to fight against Daesh in order to restore stability to the Islamic world. As a result, global powers can take advantage of Iran’s regional position in the Middle East as a balancing weight. The new balance of power created in this way can allow Iran to play a mediatory role to establish peace among various conflicting sides in the region once the United States makes the decision to leave the Middle East. This will also help Iran attain its rightful standing within the international community.
On the whole, the United States is well aware that from a military standpoint, Iran is very powerful, while it is also a big country in terms of geographic expanse and has a sizeable population. Therefore, due to these factors, in addition to civilizational considerations, Iran can behave like a big power in this region. All told, such a country has the potential to establish the balance of power in the region and play a leadership role in creating a new balance of power among regional countries.
According to the above facts, the United States and Iran may have different viewpoints on a future Middle East, but they have shared views on three main goals: 1. maintaining territorial integrity of Iraq and resolving the ongoing crisis in Syria; 2. preventing a sectarian war, which can easily spread to the entire region; and 3. defeating Daesh as a serious threat.
Last but not least, it goes without saying that historical differences between Iran and the United States will continue to play an important part in persistence of a hostile mood between Tehran and Washington. However, realistic considerations of power indicate that at the end of the day, the United States will have to give up usual political pleasantries and make a choice between two options of terrorism and antiterrorism in the region. At that time, the United States will surely find Iran a much better option for cooperation than Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tarbiat Modarres University