Middle East governments should unite in fight against terrorism
Proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran have given rise to extremism in the region and as the terrorist attacks in Tehran last week show, no one is immune to the damage that militants can cause
Iran has for years claimed to be the safest and most stable nation in the Middle East. The extremist group Islamic State has long tried to prove otherwise and last Wednesday it succeeded, with gunmen and suicide bombers killing 17 people at the country’s two most symbolic places. But conspiracy-minded Iranians also believe Saudi Arabia and the United States are involved, exacerbating tensions. A combustible situation has evolved that can only be dampened by Muslim and Arab leaders settling their disagreements and working together with allies to fight the common scourge of terrorism.
Tehran claims Iranians who support IS are behind the attacks on the parliament and the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. That is likely as Sunni Muslims are a minority in Iran and have long held grievances against the country’s Shia leaders for discrimination. Khomeini’s founding principles are at odds with the beliefs of Sunnis and especially those who follow Wahhabism, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia and the ideology of Islamists like IS and al-Qaeda.
The attacks came just days after Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival for regional strategic and religious dominance, led several Arab and Muslim nations in imposing diplomatic, travel and trade sanctions on Iranian ally Qatar. To many Iranians, the timing was too coincidental. Officials were equally perturbed by the undiplomatic remarks of US President Donald Trump, who, during a recent visit to Riyadh, reinvigorated American support for the kingdom and distrust of Tehran. His comments that the US would “grieve and pray” for those who died, but “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling prey to the evil they promote”, understandably sparked outrage.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen. Both give financial and weapons support to extremist groups to attain their aims. But that backing also has fuelled the rise of IS and other radicals who are threatening global peace and stability. The latest victim is Iran, which is fighting IS in Syria and Iraq. That battle should be reason for the US to have a more balanced policy towards Tehran and the Mideast’s governments to join forces to eradicate extremism.