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Analysis: The Different Stages of Iranian Support for ISIS

Recent reports [1] that Iran is supporting ISIS through its funding of Hamas are a reminder that the Islamic Republic has long backed the powerful jihadist group and its predecessors in a variety of ways.

In 2012, the United States Treasury Department exposed [2] the extensive financial ties between Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the terrorist organization that evolved into ISIS. The generous support Iran afforded ISIS in its formative years was part of a broader alliance [3] that the Islamic Republic established with al-Qaeda over a decade ago.

As AQI metastasized across Iraq and eventually became ISIS, Iran sought to position itself at the vanguard of the global effort against the terrorist group, claiming that it was dedicated to beating back its advances. However, Iran and its clients, particularly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have notably failed to dislodge ISIS from any significant territory. Former U.S. military intelligence officer Michael Pregent observed in May that Iran and its allied militias in Iraq did not extend themselves to fight the terror group, and concluded [4] that “Iran needs the threat of ISIS and Sunni jihadist groups to stay in Syria and Iraq in order to become further entrenched in Damascus and Baghdad.” A month later, U.S. officials similarly charged [5] Syria with bombing non-Islamist rebels “in support of ISIL’s advance on Aleppo,” which helped the terror group push back Syrian opposition factions that were fighting Assad’s regime.

Monday’s Ynet report [6] on Iran’s ongoing financial support of Hamas, which the Gaza-based terrorist group partially uses to fund ISIS’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, shed more light on Iran’s strategy of using its proxies to bolster ISIS. Last week, a senior U.S. treasury official revealed [7] that Assad is the biggest purchaser of oil from ISIS. Reports surfaced that Iranian agents were also directly selling [2] weapons to ISIS in exchange for oil last year.

In November, Secretary of State John Kerry noted [8] that Assad “never bombed” ISIS as it captured Raqqa in eastern Syria, and also highlighted Assad’s oil purchases from ISIS. Last week, David Blair, chief foreign correspondent for The Telegraph, wrote [9] that Assad strategically released a number of Islamists from jail during the early stages of the Syrian conflict, a portion of whom later rose to become commanders of ISIS.

In Iran Is More Deeply Tied To ISIS Than You Think [10], which was published in the December 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Benjamin Decker untangled the complex history behind the alliance between the Islamic Republic and ISIS.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor to the Islamic State, has been well documented; comparably little attention has been given to the group’s global reach. While the Islamic State was born out of Osama Bin Laden’s global jihad against the West, many overlook the importance of another player in the equation – Iran.

This may seem surprising given that Iran, the stalwart of the Shi’a Crescent, is currently embroiled in a regional war against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. However, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, described as one of the “largest and most dynamic intelligence agencies in the Middle East” by the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Support Program, has, over the past 20 years, provided financial, material, technological, and other support services to AQI. The man responsible for fostering this unexpected relationship was Imad Mughniyeh. While his name may not carry the same perceived significance as Osama Bin Laden, Mughniyeh commanded a vast international terror network that included Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and a myriad of others, spanning over five continents.

[Photo: Discovery Documentary HD / YouTube [11] ]