By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
16 November 2017
Western powers place Daesh at the top of their counterterrorism and foreign policy agenda, characterizing the terrorist group as the No. 1 national security threat. Before Daesh, it was Al-Qaeda. This strategic and security prioritization is misplaced. For the following reasons, the Iranian regime is far more of a security threat to the world than non-state terrorist groups such as Daesh.
First, the Iranian regime’s leaders and military generals enjoy the legitimacy of the nation-state system endorsed by the UN, even though the regime is neither a democracy nor representative of the Iranian nation. As a result, the interventions, military adventurism and crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Quds Force and their militias draw less attention because they operate under the “legitimacy” of a sovereign state. The mullahs have got away with their brutal actions for almost four decades because they have a “government.”
Second, history has shown that the power and capabilities of terrorist groups such as Daesh ultimately fade away. One prominent example was Al-Qaeda. But the increasing dominance and control of the Iranian regime in the region will continue to grow if it is not stopped.
Third, the Islamic Republic has vast military and militia establishments with more than 500,000 active personnel. It hires hundreds of thousands of mercenaries and militiamen.
Fourth, unlike terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime has powerful ballistic missiles, which have been used against other nations, most recently in Syria. IRGC generals have repeatedly boasted that their ballistic missiles can hit any country in the region. With the help of North Korea, the Iranian regime is working on producing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Fifth, Iran’s regime is the top state sponsor of terrorism. It supports, both militarily and financially, hundreds of militia and terrorist groups all around the world. It regularly gives birth to terrorist groups.
No matter how much other governments spend on resources to fight and eradicate terrorist groups, the Iranian regime will create new ones. When a terrorist group is eliminated, Tehran grooms and funds others to advance its agenda. According to my research at Harvard, only one entity, Iran, single-handedly assists almost half of the world-designated terrorist groups. The Iranian regime contributes to terrorist attacks around the world. This means that Iran is responsible for blood spilled across many nations, and for the slaughter of countless victims of terrorism. It has placed spies, lobbyists and agents across the globe, even in the US. As an Iranian general bragged, Iran can activate its cells in any nation to attack those governments.
Sixth, Iran controls and exploits the resources and wealth of a large nation and wields all of the influence that comes with it. Iranian leaders do not have to worry about running out of funds since they rule over a country with the second-largest gas reserves and fourth-largest oil reserves in the world. The Iranian regime does not redistribute wealth among its people, so the level of poverty remains high. The nuclear agreement has definitely assisted Tehran with the flow of additional billions of dollars. These funds go into supporting terrorist groups and dictators such as Bashar Assad.
Seventh, Iran’s expanding influence in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and other countries can become a permanent reality if necessary steps are not taken. Take a close look at how much the mullahs have expanded their power since they came to power in 1979. At the beginning, they hardly had any influence in other nations. Now their militias are everywhere. They have made “legitimate” political parties of Iraqi and Lebanese militia groups in those countries’ Parliaments. They control the security and political establishment of the Syrian regime. They bully almost every other nation in the Gulf.
Eighth, Iran produces sophisticated weapons and has an advanced nuclear program. The Iranian regime will continue trying to obtain nuclear weapons regardless of whether it has a deal with other nations or not. More importantly, the current nuclear deal expires in less than 14 years, lifting restrictions on Iran and allowing Tehran to ramp up its nuclear proliferation.
The Iranian regime conducts policies on a long-term basis. Iranian leaders are extremely patient. Although 14 years may appear a long period for Western powers because their administrations and governments go through elections every few years, 14 years is a short period for the Iranian regime.
Ninth, Iran is a major cybersecurity threat. It has been successful in attacking and hacking into its rivals’ security and governmental organizations. In the most recent example, the regime targeted dozens of British MPs.
Tenth, the mullahs’ regime commits crimes against humanity on a much larger scale than non-state terrorists do. On a daily basis, Iran tortures and executes people, and it helps its proxies to commit brutal acts in other countries. Iran is ranked top in the world at executing its own people. This regime brutally cracks down on religious and ethnic minorities. It regularly crushes all kinds of freedoms, engages in torture, and executes children. The Iranian regime ranks at the top when it comes to human rights abuses, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The Iranian regime is far more of a national security threat to the world than terrorist groups such as Daesh. They are symptoms, and the Iranian regime is the disease; the godfather of terrorism and extremism.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council.