During past weeks, we have been witnessing a surge in terrorist attacks in previously safe countries in the region. Terrorist attacks at Turkey’s Istanbul airport, which killed 45 people, as well as organized terrorist attacks on American diplomats, Shia worshipers, and a security office in Saudi Arabia’s city of Medina are telltale signs of the reality that security is rapidly on decline in the Middle East. At the same time, during calm and warms days of summer, Iran’s security services announced that a terrorist network has been busted in the capital, Tehran. What is the reason behind this duality in building security across the region?
It seems that the most important reason behind Iran’s success in establishing calm and stability and stopping the flow of terrorism through its borders is rooted in the way that Iran looks upon the issue of terrorism. Unlike the West and even regional countries, Iran does not believe that terrorism has its roots in the ideology of the Arab world, but maintains that Daesh and other terrorist groups are short-term phenomena mostly emanating from geopolitical issues and are a result of political crises as well as the waning power of nation-states in the region.
This viewpoint, to the contrary of an ideological approach to terrorism, has led to the creation of new approaches based on regional cooperation and emergence of a multilateral anti-terrorism diplomacy in addition to rapid reaction to the activities of Takfiri groups by Tehran. As a result, even before the resolution of Iran’s nuclear case, Tehran and Washington had at certain junctures cooperated in fighting terrorism. Quite recently, the military cooperation between Iran and Russia in Syria was another result of Iran’s approach to terrorism.
According to this viewpoint, having a powerful national government inside the country has been a priority for Iran in past years and huge investment has been made in fighting terrorist and aggressive groups despite sanctions that had been imposed on the country. Even following the conclusion of Iran’s nuclear deal, aka Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the West’s pressure on Tehran to stop its missile and military programs, the Islamic Republic has emphasized that its defense capabilities are a red line more important than its nuclear program. Iran’s sensitivity about its military capability, which has its roots in historical mentality of Iranians and invasion of the country by various aggressive nations such as Romans and Mongols, was doubled following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and especially subsequent to the rise of such terrorist groups as the Mujahedeen Khalq Organization and the Komoleh terrorist group in the height of Iran’s war with Iraq. As a result, despite hefty cost inflicted by these groups on Iran, the country gained useful security, social and cultural experiences in fighting terrorism.
This comes while despite several decades of activities by Islamist fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, other regional countries and even the international community are still doing nothing more than holding international conferences to detect threat and identify common goals in the absence of conceptual standards to agree on, a security infrastructure to counter threats, and suitable models for defusing threats.
In the meantime, perhaps the most important reason for the failure and vulnerability of such countries as Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the face of the threat of terrorism should be sought in the fact that the nature of terrorism and terrorist groups are intermingled with structures and social fabric in these countries. This issue by no means holds water for Iran. An evidence to this fact is failure of Daesh to attract and recruit its forces from among Iranian citizens.
Due to special sensitivity shown about security in the Iranian society as a result of the aforesaid reasons and despite all ethnic and social gaps, there are no suitable social grounds that would turn Iranian citizens into terrorists. Political experts maintain that due to this situation, Iranian society offers strong support for the fight against terrorism and even for efforts made to counter low-level social violence without any need to resort to repressive measures. As a result of this support, there are needed grounds for legitimizing any measure taken by the Iranian government in its fight against terrorism.
On the opposite of this situation are located those countries, which have been using terrorism as a tool in order to achieve their political goals. Therefore, when terrorists operating in other countries face even a small amount of pressure and change in approach, they easily opt to go back to their home countries where there are suitable social grounds for their activities.
Iran’s remarkable victories over terrorism on the ground, along with the resistance axis, have attested to considerable differences that exist in Iran’s approach and capability to deal with terrorist groups compared to other actors, which are now a target of terrorism. Iran has managed to forge conceptual and strategic consensus among its allies about the need to counter Takfiri groups and prevent further spread of those trends, which promote terrorism, not only within its national borders, but also in allied countries as well.
The secret of Iran’s success and its increasing power in defusing the high destructive power and surprise attacks by terrorists is in the country’s intelligence efforts and media faceoff with terrorism. The fact that Iran’s security and political bodies take advantage of complementary and non-contradictory strategies while being in coordination with cultural institutions and media, has been a major factor in preventing radicalization of the Iranian society even in those regions of the country, which border Pakistan or are close to operational theater of the Daesh terrorist group.
In addition to this coordinated set of state bodies, successful and preemptive presence of Iran’s military and security apparatuses, familiarity with operational methods used by Takfiri groups, defining a successful security model both within the country’s borders and outside the borders among members of the resistance front, and absence of tools of violence in the Iranian society have made Iran’s borders secure while eliminating the possibility of terrorist attacks in the country.
This article was written by Hossein Kebriaeezadeh for Iran Review on July 22, 2016. Hossein Kebriaeezadeh is Expert on Middle East Issues.