Iran's Whingeing About the Saudis Conceals Its Terrorist Intent

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a news conference in Riga, Latvia, on June 2. Danielle Pletka writes that Iran is the godfather of modern terrorism that until 9/11 had helped kill more Americans than the Saudis would ever care to. Ints Kalnins/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Someone—not the Iranian foreign minister, mind you—penned a nice little piece on The New York Times op-ed page for Muhammad Javad Zarif.

For those of you who don't turn straightaway to the Grey Lady's deeply predictable opinion page, here's the gem in all of its splendor: "Mohammed Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism" (yes, his name is also in the headline).

Setting aside the fact that the Times op-ed page seems to have become the modern day equivalent of Mussolini's balcony, a perch from which dictators can honor the public with their unfiltered opinions, the piece is a fascinating window into the world of sectarianism, terrorism and hypocrisy that the Obama administration has helped wreak in the Middle East.

Of course, Zarif is right. Wahhabism is indeed a danger to the world, a scourge of extremism Salafi ideology that successive Saudi regimes have inflicted upon the Muslim (and Christian and Jewish) world. Someone did a handy little chart of ISIS laws (beheadings, stonings, whipping—that stuff), and it tracked completely with the law of the land in Saudi.

The Saudis helped created Al-Qaeda (not alone, of course); they have systematically used their oil riches to crowd out Sufi and other forms of moderate Islam through the funding of mosques, imams, textbooks and more. Saudi funded schools and madrasas have taught intolerance and antisemitism and extremism to susceptible young minds for decades.

When we are told that women must be in the niqab (the veil showing only the eyes), that is wahhabism. When we are told the Koran forbids graven images or the touch of infidel hands, that is wahhabism. These tenets of extremist Islam have been popularized by the wahhabis.

And Zarif is right that the Saudis have used their wealth to hire lobbyists and directly to buy friends in the United States and Europe, which has surely influenced policy in their favor. But then Zarif stops, and it is in his silence where we find the hypocrisy, dishonesty and sheer Machiavellian predacity of the Tehran regime.

Because, you see, Zarif is only concerned with Sunni terrorism, but Iran is the veritable godfather of modern terrorism, the government that has taken proxy war through terrorist groups to its current state, the regime that until 9/11 had helped kill more Americans than the Saudis would ever care to.

And worse yet, unlike the Saudi government, which has actually begun to grapple with its problems and its legacy, Iran has merely doubled and tripled down on its terror model. But let's review the bidding, shall we?

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, men and women may not consort; women must be veiled (though not with their faces covered). Iran has executed, on average, a person a day in 2016. Women can drive in Iran, it's true; but in many other ways, the country is as illiberal as Saudi Arabia. And forget about being a minority in Iran, where only 50 percent of the population is Persian.

But wait, folks, there's more. The modern era of terrorism was ushered in by the Palestine Liberation Organization (remember the Munich Olympics?) But it took the Islamic Republic of Iran to elevate terrorism to the art form we see today.

It was the Islamic republic that created Hezbollah and sponsored the groups that kidnapped and murdered Americans through Lebanon's long civil war. It is the Islamic republic that funds Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is Iran that props up the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime—you know, the guys that have repeatedly gassed their own people.

It is Iran that has assassinated its enemies the world over, and it is Iran's own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (and its expeditionary Quds Force) that was responsible, during the Iraq war, for hundreds of U.S. servicemen dying.

It is Iran that has taken the mantle of protector of the Shiites of the Middle East, and rather than supporting peaceful claims to representation in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and elsewhere, has armed those Shiites and helped them drive war, terrorism and extremism.

It is Iran that helped arm and support Hugo Chavez's vile dictatorship in Venezuela; Iran that has been in attendance at at least one of North Korea's nuclear tests; Iran that likely supported Syria's illicit nuclear weapons program; not to speak of the Islamic Republic's own illegal nuclear weapons program, now legitimized by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal).

It is Iran that has trained and armed Hezbollah, shaping it from birth to the substantial and well armed proxy army it is today. It is Iran that has encouraged the new Russian expansionism in the Middle East; Iran that attempted to assume the mantle of Sunni Islamist extremism when the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt; Iran that has long hosted Al-Qaeda and facilitated the movement of its people before and after 9/11.

The bill of particulars is much longer, but you get the picture. None of this should serve to exculpate the Saudis, but the notion that somehow the Islamic Republic of Iran can be a leader against terrorism is macabre humor.

Now, I know you're wondering, how is any of this Barack Obama's fault? Thanks for asking. Here's what he told court scribe Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic:

The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.

Get that? The Iranians and the Saudis have to share the Middle East.

As our friends at the State Department like to say, what the hell? How is it in America's interests to see the Wahhabis and the Quds Force share the region? How is it possible anyone could see Iran as a constructive partner after Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Argentina and so much more?

What the Saudis and other Sunnis see in the White House is a leader who believes the Iranian regime is a force for good in the region, one through which the United States can devolve responsibility, ultimately leaving the Middle East altogether. They may be wrong, but there is nothing the White House has done, including ridiculous arms sales, to reassure them.

Rather, Obama and his feckless Secretary of State have done little more than serve Russian and Iranian interests in the region since the JCPOA's signing. Precious little has been done to rein in Hezbollah, or Iran's illegal arms transfers to Assad and Hezbollah, or the financing flowing to Hamas and PIJ. (And no, a few sanctions do not a policy make.)

The Middle East is descending into sectarian warfare; the Saudi foreign minister had his turn on the op-ed page, now the Iranians are getting theirs. If it were only a war of words, we might turn away. But it is much more, and in a few short years, one of the parties will be armed with nuclear weapons.

Danielle Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.