Why a US-Iran Rapprochement May be a Good Thing in the War against Global Terrorism
The North Africa Journal | By Arezki Daoud | The horrific attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi may have come as a surprise for many, but for us, the surprise was less about the act in itself and the perpetrators' intentions than about the magnitude of the violence. Whether it is El-Shabaab, Boko Haram, AQIM, etc, the actual perpetrators eventually lead us back to the same source, Al Qaeda Central. Can a US-Iran rapprochement lead to an easing of such violence? I think so.
In January of 2010, more than three years ago, we issued a Whitepaper that we titled “The Big Jelly Ball of Global Insecurity: Terrorism is now a Permanent Fixture.” In this document, we argued that as global terrorism is likely to remain with us for a long time, it will manifest itself in the form of attacks, or small scale acts of terror, that will take place in one area, die down for a while, just as to create a certain level of comfort, then, when the dust settles, another attack elsewhere would take place. This is, as we tried to illustrate it, the equivalent of having a giant ball of jelly placed above your head, which you are holding with your hands on each side. The problem for you is that just as you think you are controlling the right side, the left side of it begins to drip and fall. Now you quickly rush to control the left side, only to realize that the back side is slowly dripping, and so on. How do you control that remains a big balancing act.
That’s exactly what we see happened in Mali recently, in Nigeria, in Algeria’s gas facility of In-Amenas, in Libya, in Niger, in the Arabian Peninsula, and the list goes on. The events unfolding in Nairobi are simply a manifestation of the uncontrollable Jelly Ball, as a move being made by Al Qaeda leadership in what they consider to be a global game of chess they plan to play for a long time.
So while all eyes are on the terrorists du-jour ‘El Shabaab’, very little is openly discussed as to who is really out there pulling the strings and insuring that mayhem happens. Surely El Zawahiri and the other Al Qaeda big names are the figures of the terror organization, but is there more than that and more than eye can see? Yes there is.
When Islamist militants from West Africa and the Arab world took control of the Malian cities of Gao, Timbuktu and elsewhere, the independent humanitarian agencies long-established in the region were forced to evacuate or risk the wrath of the Jihadists. But they were quickly replaced by Qatari so-called humanitarian agencies. Loads and loads of unidentified equipment were flown into the regional airport, and moved to unknown destinations in the cover of darkness. Local witnesses suggested that the Qatar agencies were simply a cover meant to support the Islamists as they sought to control Mali. In fact, no meaningful support was provided by the Qataris to the battered local communities, and those that did not have an Islamist administration in place have not seen a single Qatari Riyal.
Qatar is said to have been supporting the Islamists of Libya, and potentially by extension the same ones who have assassinated an American ambassador and three other US officials in Benghazi. Qatar has also been active in the Tunisian political crisis by supporting some radical elements of the Islamist Ennahda party, just the way it supported the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. The adventures of Qatar may have taken a momentary break, owing to a change in leadership in that country and the rumors of a US and French anger against the excessive and dangerous meddling of Qatar in many regions.
But the big elephant in the room is no doubt Saudi Arabia. I am not suggesting that the monarchy is directly involved in funding the Jihadists, though I would not be shocked if it were, but to think that Al Qaeda runs the show by itself and has its own finances is a dangerously naïve concept. Al Qaeda has many sympathizers in Saudi Arabia, certainly among the highly powerful religious establishment and eventually among many in the business community. It is widely known that Saudi Arabia has been a major source of funding for Islamist insurgencies in the world, a situation that has become much more front-and-center for the Saudi leadership as they witnessed the rise of a wealthy and aggressive competitor, Qatar, which has been pouring billions in trying to buy influence. That dangerous rise of Qatar was enough to accelerate Saudi’s involvement, which sought to counter Qatar’s support for the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Morsi in Egypt. For Saudi Arabia, the rise of MB was bad news, because this old religious organization never endorsed the idea of a monarchy holding power for perpetuity in the land of Islam, Saudi Arabia. Indeed for the average Sunni Muslim, the concept of a Monarchy is almost synonymous of a sin. The very concepts of equality, justice, righteousness, etc that came from the teachings of the Prophet Mohamed were in extreme contradiction with the concept of monarchy, when one family holds power for ever. As such the MB and Saudi Arabia never saw eye to eye on a number of issues and have been long-time enemies.
To counter the MB in Egypt and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia is said to be supporting the co-called Salafists, who happen to have a much more austere interpretation of Islam, and may be interpreted in its most severe form as Jihadism militancy. That’s why the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt was made possible by that country’s Salafists who get their support from Saudi Arabia. And so as Al Qaeda franchises spend money on recruiting in the West and in local communities where they are active, as they continue to procure weapons and intelligence to end up killing innocent men, women and children, it is increasingly difficult not to point the finger to Saudi Arabia and to a slightly lesser degree Qatar.
So in light of these views, echoed by many reputable analysts and reporters in Europe, North Africa and elsewhere, why isn’t the US more vocal with Saudi Arabia on its destructive actions? Two issues may be forcing the US to remain reluctant in discussing this topic with Saudi Arabia, starting with the most logical conclusion being Saudi’s support in containing Iran as a key factor. Indeed the US needs its Gulf allies to insure that Iran finds its match in the region. For Washington, without Saudi Arabia, the conflict with Iran would be a more difficult one to manage. Saudi Arabia provides not only money but also brings some of the narrative that the Sunnis use to counter the Shia “risk”. Beside, Saudi Arabia has been directly threatened by Iran and with the US, Iran is the common enemy.
So Iran and the Shia organizations it supports such as Hezbollah, as well as the Syrian regime it is helping are a common cause for the US and Saudi Arabia. A feud between the two would only benefit Iran and could be counterproductive in the global sphere of geopolitics, possibly forcing the US to turn a blind eye to the Saudi support of extremist organizations.
But then enters Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian President who has signaled his willingness to talk to the Americans. To me, this is a potentially favorable development, one that I would guess Saudi Arabia will try to derail given the possibility of easing tension in the US-Iran relations. If that happened, it may become possible for the US to pay greater attention to Saudi actions around the world.
While this is good news, another piece of positive news could give the US a certain distance from Saudi Arabia’s influence and that is the booming activity in the energy sector with the shale gas industry expanding production in North America proper, therefore potentially reducing the Gulf nations’ influence of the US energy market.
As the media and mainstream analysts continue to focus on the actions of one rogue organization or another, very little is said or debated about the role of Saudi Arabia in all these dramas unfolding around the world. The possibility of a US-Iran re-engagement may very well be the first steps toward taming Iran and its sponsorship of terror organizations, but it also may lead to an American review of its relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, and that could mean choking some of the global terrorism’ funding sources.