The US terrorism obsession on Iran is blinding it to the real threat – Saudi Arabia

I see that the US State Department has elected to list the Pasdaran – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC – as a “foreign terrorist organisation/state sponsor of terrorism”. In a tit for tat move, Iranian lawmakers have prepared legislation that would label the US military as a terrorist group, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. For what it is worth my own government (i.e. Canada) has listed the Quds Force component of the IRGC as a terrorist entity for some time.

The US has used two incidents to highlight why it has made this decision:
the 1996 Khobar Towers apartment complex bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 American service members and wounded dozens more; and a 2011 case in which the Obama administration said it had foiled a “Quds Force plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in a bombing in Washington, D.C. – more on the former later. A State Department official also accused Iran of causing widespread problems, saying it supports the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian groups such as Hamas, and backs the Houthi military insurgency in Yemen — where Iran has been engaged in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia. With the designation, anyone who deals with the IRGC could run the risk of facing criminal charges, such as aiding or supporting a terrorist group.

Look, the US can do whatever it wants, even if under boy President Trump that whatever is impossible to follow from one Tweet to the next, but I think the Americans are missing something really big here. If this policy change is intended to prevent terrorism. which it may or may not, it still ignores the elephant in the room. I am referring here, of course, to Saudi Arabia.

I’d like to humbly suggest that I have a little more than average knowledge on Iran – I was once fluent in Farsi and did work as a strategic analyst on Iran within the Canadian intelligence community for more than two decades – and on Islamist terrorism, which I worked on and have continued to analyse for another 17 years. In that light, I want to put out the position that many have over analysed the terrorist threat from Iran and underestimated that from Saudi. This error is grounded in politics and the West’s cozy relationship with the Kingdom.

For those who wish to disagree with me – please do as I love a (polite) debate! – rest assured that I did not fall off the turnip truck this morning. Iran is a nasty actor and its alliances are unhelpful at best and very destabilising at worst. But Iran is not public enemy #1 for international terrorism, at least not in my books.

Not only are the Saudis behind a disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen where they drop bombs on civilians – here is just the latest example – all under the cloak of restricting Iranian influence among the Shia Houthis, but they remain the ideological and spiritual underpinning of much of the world’s Islamist terrorist threat. They continue to send preachers and literature that spreads hateful interpretations of Islam around the Muslim world and use their obscene wealth to wield religious influence.

But, you counter, the Saudis have changed! They have gazed into the mirror and now know that they should not have been doing all that bad stuff. Changed? Really? Which changes would these be?

  • the ‘enlightened’ leadership of Mohammad bin Salam, aka MBS (‘Mister Bone Saw’) for his role in the killing and dismemberment of regime critic Jamal Kashoggi last fall in Turkey?
  • allowing women to drive – forsooth in 2019! – showing an openness to modernity (you might want to ask the imprisoned female activists their views on this ‘openness’)?
  • clamping down on radical clerics, despite the continued evangelisation program abroad alluded to earlier?

Besides, was the Khobar attack really an Iranian operation? Maybe, as I have no insider knowledge on it, but is it a coincidence that US servicemen were killed at a time when Al Qaeda’s leader Usama bin Laden was calling for such action and saw the US military presence in Saudi Arabia as an invasion/occupation? Was this just not another Sunni Islamist terrorist attack?

I find it interesting that the US vendetta against Iran – let’s call it what it really is – is probably tied to a large extent to the humiliation of the 1979-81 American embassy in Tehran hostage crisis, an act the US can’t seem to get over. And yet it has had no problem forgiving the Saudis for 9/11 (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens). Hmm, 52 diplomats held for 444 days (no deaths or injuries) vs 2,977 deaths and an uncounted number of wounded. And yet Iran is the one we are supposed to be apoplectic about. Am I off base here?? Feel free to weigh in.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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