The Islamic Republic of Iran is motivated by a revolutionary ideology to support global terrorism, and is unlikely to moderate that support even after a successful nuclear deal with the West, according to experts who testified before a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee hearing yesterday.
The experts were Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council, Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Prof. Daniel L. Byman of Georgetown University.
In his written testimony, Berman identified the origins of Iran’s ideology.
Iran’s intimate relationship with terrorism is a function of the ideological worldview that continues to animate the present regime in Tehran.
That outlook can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the Islamic Republic’s founder, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, languished in exile, first in Iraq and then in France. During that time, Khomeini became convinced of the need for Shi’ite empowerment and global Islamic revolution. As a result, the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 was not seen simply as a domestic regime change. Rather, It was also viewed by Khomeini and his followers as the start of a political process that would usher in the dominance of Islam “in all the countries of the world.”
Accordingly, the preamble of the country’s 1979 constitution proclaimed that the Islamic Republic’s armed forces “will be responsible not only for safeguarding the borders, but also for accomplishing an ideological mission, that is, the Jihad for the sake of God, as well as for struggling to open the way for the sovereignty of the Word of God throughout the world.” Iran’s revolution, in other words, was intended from the start to be an export commodity.
Badran, in his testimony (.pdf), pointed out that Hezbollah is Iran’s primary external partner for exporting its revolution.
Since the beginning of the Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran, Hezbollah has enjoyed a privileged place in Iran’s regional strategy. Hezbollah was created as an extension of the ruling militant clerical clique and as the long arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Arab world.
Hezbollah is the first and to date most successful export of the Islamic revolution. From the early 1980’s to the present, Hezbollah has been a constant feature of Iranian overseas operations against the US and its allies. From the outset, the group’s progenitors in the IRGC sought to spawn and support militant movements in line with Iran’s interests and under its control. But Iran is separated from its Arab surroundings by ethnicity, language and sectarian affiliation. Which is why it invested heavily in Hezbollah. A 1984 statement by Iran’s ambassador to Beirut is instructive as to the importance Tehran attached to Hezbollah and Lebanon in its regional strategy: “an Islamic movement [in Lebanon] will result in Islamic movements throughout the Arab world.” Indeed, Hezbollah has been instrumental in helping Tehran develop Arab assets and spread its influence across the region. The ability to export its revolutionary model to willing Arab groups allowed Iran to embed itself in Arab societies and project influence, which otherwise would have been far more constrained.
Kagan argued in his testimony (.pdf) that a nuclear deal agreed to between Iran and the West would not cause Iran to moderate its worldview:
The Obama administration has repeatedly suggested that the current nuclear negotiations can be part of a larger effort at rapprochement with Iran, much to the consternation of our allies in the region. But the Iranian regime has repeated ad nauseam its unwillingness to engage in any such rapprochement and its refusal to see the negotiations in those terms, despite hints of a possible openness to a sort of temporary détente far removed from any actual reconciliation of interests. Anti-Americanism is a core element of the regime’s ideology. It is a critical justification for the regime’s concentration of power in its own hands, politically, economically, and socially. The supposed efforts of the United States and the West to undermine the Islamic Republic by exporting our culture and ideas to Iran’s people form a significant excuse the government uses to sustain one of the most sophisticated and draconian censorship regimes on the planet. Any serious rapprochement with the United States would badly undermine the regime’s justifications for this and many other oppressive activities it regards as essential to its survival, and it is almost impossible to imagine the current leadership embracing any such approach.
We must assume, therefore, that Tehran will continue to see the United States as a dangerous and aggressive enemy regardless of the outcome of the nuclear negotiations. Iran’s leaders will continue to believe that America is attempting to build an alliance of Arab states and Israel with the aim of containing Iran and eventually bringing down the current regime. Iran has held this view without alteration since the 1979 Revolution, and nothing that President Obama can do in the next two years is likely to change it. Iran will therefore continue to be an enemy state, preparing itself for either offensive or defensive war against the United States and its allies in the region, with or without a nuclear program.
Byman asserted in his testimony (.pdf) that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would allow it to cause even more trouble in the Middle East.
An Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a more dangerous force in the region, and preventing this should be a priority for any U.S. administration. A nuclear weapon probably would embolden Iran. Currently, the threat of a U.S. conventional military response limits Iran’s aggressiveness, but a nuclear weapon would enable Iran to deter a U.S. conventional strike. Iran could then become more aggressive supporting Hizballah, various opposition forces to Arab regimes, Palestinian terrorist groups, and more extreme forces in Iraq. Iran could become more like Pakistan: after Islamabad acquired nuclear weapons, it gained a shield from India’s conventional superiority and became more aggressive in backing anti-India substate groups.
The picture that emerges from yesterday’s testimony is that Iran is committed ideologically to exporting its revolution by means of terror, and that a nuclear deal will not only fail to moderate Iran’s behavior, but actually make it more aggressive.
Following the testimony committee, members of Congress had a question and answer session with the experts, which is embedded below.