The reaction of the Iranian political establishment in regards to the shootings and bombings in Paris has been intriguing and contradicting.
President Rowhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, sent a message of condolence to French President Francois Hollande. Rouhani pointed out "In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government". In addition, Rowhani canceled his trip to Europe, which would have been the first Iranian presidential visit to Europe in 10 years.
Nevertheless, what about the final decision-makers in the Islamic Republic? I refer to the position of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and hardline establishment (the Judiciary, intelligence, Iran's Revolutionary Gurad Corps, and Qud Force), the actual final word in Iranian law and politics.
The Supreme Leader has chosen to be silent and not issue any official statements or condolences for the Paris attacks. The Supreme Leader's silence speaks loudly, though. Mr. Khamenei often uses other indirect outlets to express his position. Deciphering Mr. Khamenei's actual position can often be determined through analyzing other official statements issued by powerful hardliner political figures, his close advisers, or conservative media outlets that he influences.
The Iranian hardline and conservative media outlets have been more vocal about the Paris attacks. For example, Keyhan's newspaper -- which is considered to be the mouthpiece of the Supreme Leader and its editor in chief is representative of the Supreme Leader as well as appointed by him -- had a headline on its front page stating "The rabid dog of the Islamic State bit leg of its owners." In addition, the Iranian police prevented people from gathering in public and mourning for those who were killed in the Paris attacks.
Hardliners Political Opportunism
Iranian hardliners appear to be utilizing the Paris attacks to strengthen and buttress their narrative about the crisis in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The narrative is anchored in the following: First, Iran's staunchest ally, President Bashar Al Assad, has long been attacked similarly by the Islamic State since 2011. Secondly, the Islamic State is created by the West and other regional countries in order to fight the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. Third, in order to defeat the Islamic State, the West needs to change its position of opposing Assad and instead shift its support to the Syrian government.
This narrative has been reflected by several major state media outlets and crucial Iranian political figures.
For example, Quds online, linked to IRGC wrote,
The U.S. and European countries support terrorists under the pretext of confronting Syria's legal president, and they have allowed them to carry out crimes against humanity. The byproduct of such an approach is seen in the Paris terrorist attacks, and currently ISIS is like a dog that has bitten its owner's leg, and the countries of Italy, United Kingdom and United States are threatened with similar attacks. If Western countries are seeking to prevent being engulfed in such human catastrophes, they must uproot terrorists without meddling in the internal affairs of other countries such as Syria. For this objective it is necessary for the West to leave the fate of Bashar Assad up to the Syrian people and focus their efforts on uprooting terrorism [resistance forces and the Free Syrian Army].
Or the Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, the deputy head and a senior IRGC commander, pointed out "From the first months of the terrorist measures in Syria and other neighboring countries, we gave numerous warnings to Europe that terrorism will engulf their lands.....If the West continues its support of terrorism... they will have to expect declaring emergency state in other parts of the European continent...." He added that "The French have paid the price of their government's support for ISIS and terrorism".
In addition, this highlights the notion that Iranian leaders are not going to moderate or alter their position or policies on Syria, Iraq, Yemen, or Lebanon. As a result, the Vienna talks on Syria will also be fruitless since Tehran is not willing to budge an inch.
What Iranian leaders have failed to comprehend is that Iran's support of Assad and his bombing campaign has indirectly contributed in further radicalizing and militarizing the Syrian conflict and subsequently leading to the emergence and empowerment of extremists groups such as the Islamic State.
Iran's Perception of the Islamic State
When it comes to the Islamic State, Iran views it as a threat to it regional interests, but Tehran has also utilized ISIS to consolidate its geopolitical, strategic and ideological power in the Middle East. Before the rise of the Islamic State, Iran had hard time legitimizing its role in Iraq and explaining its support of the Syrian president.
The Islamic State has since provided the platform and an excuse for Tehran to "legitimately" dominate Syria and the Iraqi political establishment militarily, intelligence and politically. Tehran can also use the Islamic State to strengthen its Shiite militias which have played crucial role in several countries including Iraq and Lebanon in dominating domestic politics and pushing other forces outside the country.
The Islamic Republic might display some efforts in fighting the Islamic State in order to protect the power of the Syrian President and the Iraqi Shiite coalition, but it seems that it also in the best interest of Tehran to keep the organization of the Islamic State operating to some extent in order to preserve Iran's aforementioned advantages and in order to project Tehran to the West as the only reliable alternative and partner in the region for fighting the Islamic State.
The Islamic State seems to fit perfectly in Iran's narrative. Although Tehran fights with the Islamic State militants, but it also knows how to use the Islamic State to advance its hegemonic ambitions, pursuit of regional pre-eminence, and supremacy.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review. He is originally from Iran and Syria. You can contact him at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @majidrafizadeh
This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.