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Why Iran Is Key For Ending The Middle East Crisis

26/01/2016 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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The Paris attacks by radical Islamists associated with the so-called Islamic State in November 2015, took place in the aftermath of more than a decade of conflict and confrontation since 9/11.

Since then, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq with the aim of promoting democratic values in the Middle East, has been nothing but an utter disaster. The tragedy in Paris may have finally brought an end to all such efforts.

The Iraq war cost the US more than $2 trillion and many thousands of lives were lost. The conflict in the region has now culminated in the largest flow of migration since World War II, and it is clear that the conceptual framework behind such actions had been highly flawed.

[T]he most important "anti-Daesh" player in the region whose cooperation has not been actively sought as part of a broad international coalition aimed at defeating such extremists is Iran.

Subsequent efforts by the Obama presidency to distance the US and some of its allies from their original commitments to nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan by withdrawing the bulk of American and allied troops from those countries, have also backfired.

The destruction of the pre-existing equilibrium in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya has now lead to unprecedented levels of regional tension and insecurity precipitated by revived Shia-Sunni tensions and exacerbated by the false promises of the Arab Spring. As a result, the general stability of the region and the existing balance within its various diverse societies have been gratuitously destroyed by unrealistic expectations of imposing Western beliefs in societies where the majority of the general population had no wish to part with their own values and traditions.

The campaign to remove despots like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi has not just failed in replacing them with quasi-Western democratic orders but has instead succeeded in destabilising and radicalising the region and facilitating the advent of even more vicious and perverse abominations such as the Islamic State or "Daesh".

At the same time, the reckless campaign of the past five years to remove Bashar Assad in Syria, aided and abetted by the intrigues and manipulations of a number of "regional allies", such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who under the guise of preventing a Shia revival in the region, have been hell bent on replacing his secular authoritarian regime with proponents of sectarian and radical Islam not much different than Daesh.

The tragic events in Paris and California finally brought home the message that the West is no longer immune from the kind of insecurity that it has inadvertently inflicted on millions of people across the Middle East. So far the two most obvious "blowback" effects of their actions have been as follow: First, to force an already strained European Union to find ways of accommodating an unprecedented number of unwanted migrants. Second, having to cope with large numbers of trained terrorists disguised as "migrants", who are exacerbating the existing dangers posed by long established "Islamic sleeper cells" recruited from the ranks of impoverished Sunni Muslim immigrants across Europe.

[I]t is a fact that since the turn of the new millennium, only Sunni Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis or Europeans of Arab origin have been involved in incidents of terror...

Today, it is clear that Sunni extremists personified by the likes of Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Taliban, supported by wealthy proponents of Wahhabism, pose the greatest threat to international security. Therefore, in order to contain and subsequently remove the scourge of Sunni extremism, it is a priority that 2016 should see the removal of Daesh from all their strategic strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Eradicating the extremist ideology that has mesmerised and radicalised so many is a long-term process that will need to be diligently pursued over time with dedicated planning and commitment.

What is required for the attainment of both objectives is a new outlook that seeks to enlist the support of those who are most capable of making a decisive contribution. So far, the most important "anti-Daesh" player in the region whose cooperation has not been actively sought as part of a broad international coalition aimed at defeating such extremists is Iran.

With Iran having resolved its nuclear dispute with the international community, it is now possible for the West to usher in a new era of collaboration with the country involving not just economic cooperation but an equally important parallel effort aimed at neutralising the threat posed by radical Sunni fundamentalism in the region. As the protector of "all Shiites", Iran has an obvious incentive for cooperating in any campaign against such forces -- their hardline and murderous attitude towards Shiites in the region who comprise up to 40% of the population from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Levant and the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

The wanton execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia was undoubtedly a deliberate provocation, aimed at trying to hinder the cause of any rapprochement between Iran and the West.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has sought to actively exercise the country's traditional role as protector of all Shiites. During this period, Iranian support has been mainly focused on helping oppressed Shiite communities, especially those in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon where they constitute a majority of the population. Nonetheless, despite all the adverse publicity that has been directed against Iran by Western and regional states, it is a fact that since the turn of the new millennium, only Sunni Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis or Europeans of Arab origin have been involved in incidents of terror, including in Western civilian centres such as New York, Madrid, London and Paris.

The recognition of Iran's critical importance in this regard by the West has been a source of major anxiety for certain regional states that have been the beneficiaries of Iran's isolation in the past three decades. The wanton execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia was undoubtedly a deliberate provocation, aimed at trying to hinder the cause of any rapprochement between Iran and the West.

Nonetheless, the important priority for all responsible parties remains the containment of further sectarian provocations that can easily escalate to an outbreak of Shia-Sunni conflict with potentially unimaginable consequences for international security. Hence, the West needs to wake up and appreciate Iran's unique position for rescuing the region from such a disastrous outcome.

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