Catherine Perez-Shakdam, co-founder and director of Forward Strategy, a UK consultancy company and a research fellow at the American Center for Levant Studies (ACLS), spoke to an August 28th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) in an interview with Jonathan Spyer, director of research at the Middle East Forum, about the West's failure to take a stand against the global threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The following is a summary of her comments:
Western leaders "misunderstand" the Iranian threat because they apply the "containment and appeasement" strategy once employed against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. While that strategy avoided nuclear confrontation between the two at the time, applying this model today to the Islamic Republic is a fatal mistake that blinds the West to recognizing the true nature of the threat. While Soviet Russia understood its "geographical limitation," the mullahs ruling Iran do not. Ascribing to a "nefarious" Islamist ideology "geared toward export," they infiltrate far beyond Iran's border and impose their worldview on the countries they control.
Iran's goal of "world domination" sounds preposterous to the Western rational mind, but considering the historical evidence of the ayatollahs' modus operandi since they took power in Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, it is not so farfetched. Their practice is of "boiling the frog" by infiltrating target countries to form their "axis of resistance." Whether it is Beirut, Lebanon; Damascus, Syria; Baghdad, Iraq; or Sanaa, Yemen, Iran infiltrated each country and exploited fault lines, be they political, religious, or social. After instigating a crisis, the regime then presents itself coming to the rescue as "saviors." Iran then perpetuates the narrative that "Islam is at war with the West" in general, and with Israel, in particular — the ayatollahs "Zionist entity" scapegoat.
It is "folly on [the West's] part" to claim that the regime targets only the Middle East region. Over the past forty years, Iran has committed terror acts globally, either directly or through its proxies. "Our Western capitals are next in line for infiltration," and there are current examples where European political leaders are "[taking] a knee to the leadership in Iran."
A few years ago, an Iranian diplomat in Belgium, convicted of terrorism, was freed "to continue his prison sentence" in Iran following the regime's manipulation, pressure, and threats. Upon his return to Iran, the regime freed him. In Sweden, the result of the controversy over the issue of Quran burning is that "Iran is actually forcing Sweden to violate its free speech and freedom of religion by forcing it to ban the burning of the Quran."
Under such feckless leaders, Europe loses its "moral standing" by refusing to "draw a line in the sand." Instead of holding the Iranian regime accountable for attacking Europe's "national sovereignty" as well as the Iranian people, European politicians appease the mullahs by reframing the West's democratic principles. Iran has taken the West's measure and knows it has no appetite for militarily challenging the regime, especially after the West's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although Iran spews belligerent rhetoric in threatening attacks against the West and Israel on social media and in the news, Western officials continue to dismiss the regime's ambitions in an effort to "sell us the idea" that it is all for "show" and that Iran can be contained. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) failed to deliver on the notion that the regime would respect the international community. Rather, the ayatollahs respond by claiming victimhood at the hands of the West and Israel, all the while continuing its hostile threats and actions.
The regime casts itself as the "protector" of religious minorities and the Palestinian cause, but its hypocrisy is obvious, given its involvement in the slaughter of Palestinian Arabs in Iraq and its treatment of minorities. Kurds are "systematically discriminated against," while the regime oppresses Christians, Jews, and Baha'i because they are not Muslims. Outside of Iran, its proxy Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into a failed state, Iraqi government officials risk death if they do not comply with Tehran's imposed wishes, and the perpetuation of famine, disease, and death by Iran's proxy in Yemen, the Houthis, has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis.
The regime's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has "planted" outposts in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. Iran has developed its naval capacity to the degree that it could threaten the Strait of Hormuz. An attack on the Strait, a key global oil route, would trigger a global energy crisis. Abiding by international law and respecting a country's sovereignty prevent the West from taking preemptive action, but just recently, an IRGC commander announced that "Iran wanted to control the Panama Canal." His threat is not an exaggeration, considering IRGC agents in Latin American capitals are exerting their influence by spreading the Islamist ideology of the mullahs, while amplifying their message that the U.S. is the "problem."
The regime has successfully "exported south of America's border" — a potentially serious issue for the U.S. that could coalesce in only a few years while America deludes itself that it is containing Iran. To prevent this from happening, the U.S. needs to "recognize that Iran is the enemy" and stand by its regional partners in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, the Syrian opposition, the Kurds – who all understand the threat of the Islamic Republic and "don't want this anymore." The problem is that the U.S. has abandoned many of its strategic partners who now turn to a welcoming Russia and China.
Perhaps there are those in the West who fear that if normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia becomes a reality, the region could undergo a positive shift to "emancipate" itself. Although it "might sound a little bit counter intuitive," in light of the immense natural resources in the Middle East and the possibility that the region would be under less of a threat, it may be "less of an ally and more of a challenger to America's authority or at least domination over world markets."
Devising effective strategies is only possible if the West acknowledges Iran as a threat to Western democratic principles. The regime cunningly exploits the weapon of "Islamophobia" to muzzle the critics of Islamic radicalism in liberal democracies who uphold free speech and the free exercise of religion. By standing in solidarity with the Iranian people who oppose the regime and empowering them to decide on a post-regime future, the West will also be protecting itself.
Other critical steps that the U.S. and Europe can take to hold the regime accountable include enforcing "hardcore" sanctions, which means closing any loopholes through which Iran could continue to sell its oil. It is also imperative that the West map the IRGC to assess how far it has infiltrated Western institutions, be they non-governmental organizations, academia, or the media.
Day after day, cowardly Western leaders worry about "offending" their base and succumb to the regime's agents who have infiltrated their societies and turned Islam into a weapon. Even though the number of Islamists who are the noisiest are a minority, they spread their poison by "redefining" the way Muslims see themselves "in opposition to Western society." Look at France and Germany, where Islamists advocate for "genocide" and "submission and oppression of women." Western leaders misunderstand the problem when they do not see the distinction between Islamism and Islam and fail to recognize that many Muslims themselves suffer under Islamic radicalism.
The ruin across the globe that results from the "evil" ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran demands that state officials show more courage and fortitude in heeding warnings about the regime. "Unless we do something today, I'm afraid that in a couple of years we won't remember, and we will not recognize who we are anymore."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.