Sept. 21, 2016
Iran Cannot Be a Partner in the Struggle Against ISIS – Interview with Dennis Ross (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Iran’s behavior within the region continues to be aggressive. They believe they have a right to dominate the region, because they look down on the Arabs, think they have a superior culture, and see the U.S. as being their main impediment. Now we see unease among America’s traditional friends in the region because the U.S. is perceived as being less willing to confront or counter Iranian aggressiveness in the region.
- Iran cannot be a partner in the struggle against ISIS. In the aftermath of ISIS, we will need Sunni governance because there will be a “son of ISIS” if there is continuing exclusion of Sunnis, denial of rights, and a perception and reality of Shia militias ruling over Sunni areas.
- That’s why we need partnership with the Sunnis, not the Iranians. So long as we don’t take the threat perception of Iran as seriously as many in the GCC take it, it’s going to be very hard to attract Sunnis in the kind of role we’d like to see them play.
- The Saudis see Iran as an existential threat. From a Saudi standpoint, they look at what Iran is doing in their Eastern Province, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and they see an effort at encirclement. The Saudis have uncovered caches of arms inside the Eastern Province. The same thing has happened in Bahrain.
- President Obama suggested to an American journalist that Saudi Arabia should “share the neighborhood” with Iran. In the abstract, coexistence makes sense provided the one you’re coexisting with is not a predator. Once Iran demonstrates to its neighbors it’s not a threat, then it becomes possible to integrate the Iranians into a regional structure.
- But look at Iranian behavior: Hizbullah has a stranglehold over Lebanon. In Iraq you have Shi’ite militias engaging in torture and looting that only deepens the sectarian divide. If there’s going to be a different approach that treats Iran as a country within the region, then Iran has to show it’s prepared to recognize the interests of others and not threaten them.
Dennis Ross, a counselor at the Washington Institute, was a special assistant to President Obama from 2009 to 2011.