The main aim of this workshop was to show the continuing role and involvement of Iran in local, regional and global terrorism. It addressed the ideology embraced by the Iranian government and the repercussions of these beliefs. The links between Hezbollah and Iran, and their involvement in Syria and Iraq, were also studied, as well as Hezbollah’s activity in Latin America. Links between al-Qaeda and Iran were also highlighted.
Chair: Dr. Eitan AzaniDeputy Executive Director, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), IDC Herzliya, Israel
Mr. Ilan BermanVice President, American Foreign Policy Council, United States of America
Dr. Benedetta BertiResearch Fellow and Lecturer, The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University, Israel
Dr. Matthew LevittDirector, Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, United States of America
Prof. David MenashriPresident, College of Law and Business, Ramat Gan & Senior Research Fellow, Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Dr. Harold RhodeDistinguished Senior Fellow, Gatestone Institute, United States of America
Prof. David Menashri
Prof. David Menashri highlights that Iran is not only influencing groups in the region, but is also being influenced by such groups and, at times, the Iranian government is notably becoming more cooperative in order to distance itself from radical groups. While some voices now call for a greater role to be played by Iran, Prof. Menashri argues against this, stressing the risk of Iran further expanding its foothold in the region. He also points to a basic misunderstanding of Islamism in Iran, expanding upon the changes (or lack-thereof) which have occurred since the fall of the Shah’s regime and stressing that the Islam promoted in Iran has changed over time. He also underlines the existence of a degree of pragmatism in the Iranian government, while admitting that the state itself does not have much power. Rather, Iran is in the hands of radicals who view Islam as the advancing ideology of the 21st century. However, these individuals do face internal challenges: Rouhani has failed to deliver much, and changes within the region are also having an impact, with some portions of the population wondering what has been gained from spending so much in Syria and Iraq. Effectively, Iran has a negative relation with new Islamic movements as these threaten its way of life.
Dr. Benedetta BertiDr. Benedetta Berti focuses on Hezbollah in Syria; she asks why Hezbollah is in Syria and how they are portraying their involvement there. She also observes the strategy, tactics, and trends of Hezbollah in Syria, as well as the costs of this participation. Hezbollah is in Syria, firstly, in order to preserve the status quo in light of the many links that exist between Lebanon and Syria, and in view of the negative effects that the fall of Assad’s regime would have on Hezbollah. Thus, while Hezbollah’s narrative is one of unity (it views itself as a national unifier), it received support from Assad from the very beginning. Some opponents of Hezbollah have questioned the correctness of its involvement in a conflict where Arabs are pitted against one another, to which the group argues that Syria is the current forefront of resistance (the liberation of Palestine being the next), and that it offers protection from the takfiri threat posed by ISIS. However, its true objectives in Syria are clear: to keep Assad in power, while avoiding a spill over of the conflict into Lebanon. As such, the group has done much for Assad, providing his regime with large-scale political and military support. The cost of this involvement, however, is definitely high: it is hurting Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon, where it is being targeted by other groups and failing to protect Shia communities. That being said, the rise of takfiri extremism is improving the relations that exist between Hezbollah and the Lebanese armed forces.
Dr. Matthew LevittDr. Matthew Levitt questions the reasons underlying an attempted Hezbollah attack against an Israel office, asking whether this may be Hezbollah trying to simply attack whatever they can, but rejecting this explanation as it does not correspond to Hezbollah’s behavior. He discusses the Hariri trial, and the heightened tensions between Hezbollah and Iran, specifically regarding Israel.
Dr. Harold RhodeDr. Harold Rhode points to the fact that Iran, as the largest Shia country in the world, sees itself as an older brother to other Shia communities throughout the Middle East (especially in view of the hostility which exists between Sunnis and Shias). This notably explains why groups in Lebanon and Iraq have, at times, sought proximity with Iran even though they do not particularly like the regime. Effectively, this trend goes beyond Iraq as Iran is involved anywhere where there is a Shia population and intervenes in various conflicts in the hope that those they support will come out victorious. This is notably the case in Bahrain. This being said, Dr. Rhode points to the fact that many Shias resent the way in which they are used by Iran. He also highlights that, with a different government, Iran would be a natural ally to the outside world.
Mr. Ilan BermanMr. Ilan Berman points to the fact that Iran is a revisionist state seeking to regain prominence. As such, it should be understood not only as a state, but also as a movement with global aspirations. Indeed, Iran participates in various revolutions throughout the world, and is a threat even beyond the Middle East. Iran has a huge influence in Latin America (it was notably involved with the Chavez government in Venezuela while the FARC have trained with Hezbollah). The presence of Hezbollah in Latin America is something that was understood only too late by the United States, which now claims that this presence is neither an issue nor, in any case, something that it can alter. Yet what will happen if Hezbollah becomes involved in Latin American politics? It will probably result in a leftward, anti-USA, shift. Latin America is also relevant as it supplies Iran with much of its uranium. Mr. Ilan Berman also points to the importance of cyberspace for Iran, with the government using cyber-attacks as a means of reminding the world of its reach.
Dr. Eitan AzaniDr. Eitan Azani concludes the workshop by discussing specific connections between Iran and al-Qaeda. He stresses Iran’s understanding of itself as being the leader of the Umma, a vision that explains Iran’s tendency to provide military and logistical support, funding, and dispense military and terrorism training. In terms of links between Iran and al-Qaeda, Dr. Azani points to Zarqawi’s presence in Iran for at least two years as well as cases of Iran executing arms deals for al-Qaeda. He also reiterates Iran’s involvement in Syria among both Shia and Sunni populations.