The Holy Catholic Church, which has fought the battles of Christ for eighteen hundred years, is therefore destined to pass through a persecution compared to which those that she has suffered up to the present time are insignificant. St. Augustine classifies them under three general headings. The first he calls violent, on account of the cruelty with which the early Christians were treated by the Roman Emperors, while at a later period the Church suffered from the deception of false brethren, a trial much more insidious than the former, as it was more dangerous. But the persecution of Antichrist will combine both forms and will consequently prove more redoubtable than when one form only had to be contended with. - The Antichrist by the Rev. Paschal Huchede

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Monday, May 11, 2009


I. Introduction
1. Foreword
On 6 March 2009, Rabat severed diplomatic relations with Tehran. This kind of measure is
extremely grave and is taken comparatively rarely in relations between states. It followed
from a crisis which flared up three weeks earlier when a key Iranian leader stated that
Bahrain ‘belonged’ to Iran. Far from being anecdotal, the break between the two Muslim
countries shed light on the destabilising role which Iran has played vis-à-vis the Arab world
for the past thirty years. Not content with seeking to promote its political pawns in Iraq or in
Lebanon and going well beyond the determination to build a ‘Shiite crescent’ in the Middle
East under its leadership, which was sometimes attributed to it in the past, ever since the
accession to power of Ayatollah Khomeiny Iran has pursued an aggressive policy towards all
the Arab countries.
The Shiite movement now is present as one of the unavoidable features of the geopolitics of
the Near and Middle East. These past few years we have witnessed a veritable renaissance of
this branch of Islam, which was in the minority and marginalised for centuries. Its renewal
raises questions, fears and concerns. The advent of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the arrival in
power of the Shiites in Iraq (where Iran meddles daily in the domestic affairs) in a context of
interfaith warfare, the Shiite support to terrorist groups such as Hamas in Gaza, the pro-
Shiite ‘entry card’ of Iran in many moderate Arab countries are all facts which feed the now
justified fears. The break in diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the
Islamic Republic offers an interesting textbook case but it is one which can be understood
only in the context of a global approach.
The colossal sums allocated by the regime of the Mullahs to support their pro-Shiite
diplomacy (with a good part of the Arab world) and to ensure if not supremacy, then at least
the strengthening of the Shiite axis, no doubt enable the Islamic Republic to make its voice
heard, a voice which claims to be that of an ‘Islam of the oppressed.’ Everywhere in the world
Tehran tries to bring together both the anti-imperialists and the anti-Americans as well as
those who are opposed to the ‘corrupt regimes’ which govern the region. In a word, the
country of the Mullahs now plans ‘ to shine in the world like a beacon of resistance.’1
We shall try in the course of this study to prepare an ‘inventory’ of the Shiite movement in the
Muslim world and to analyse the weight and the influence which the Islamic Republic of Iran
exercises over its communities, but also over the non-Shiite Arab states. We shall also
attempt to understand how this influence is organised.
Iran as we know it today – the Islamic Republic of Iran we should say – entered the
community of nations in a brutal manner. One recalls the hostage taking at the American
Embassy in Tehran the day after the Revolution and Iranian arrogance during the crisis over
Western hostages in Lebanon during the 1980s and 90s. One will also note the Shiite rites –
at times violent – which are an assault on Western public opinion. The involvement of the
Iranian regime in support of terrorism no longer has to be proven. The unacceptable
statements of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad regarding the Holocaust and his desire to
‘wipe Israel off the map’ have shocked the world. And one cannot, to be sure, avoid
mentioning the deplorable situation of human rights, the fate reserved for women,
homosexuals, and political dissidents, the strict application of Sharia and the nuclear dream,
pursued at any price, which put all of present-day Iran in a disturbing light.
The Iran of yesterday and of today is experiencing a pivotal year in 2009. This country is
considered as central given its geographic situation. With the arrival of the Obama
administration in the White House, a new diplomacy could be born between Tehran and
Washington. Meanwhile in the beginning of 2009, they celebrated the 30th anniversary of
the Islamic Revolution which brought Ayatollah Khomeiny to power.
The chancelleries of the whole world hoped that the presidential elections of the month of
June would bring to power a ‘moderate,’ someone keen to restore the image of Tehran in the
world and to reestablish ‘normal’ diplomatic links with the international community. But
nothing came of it and the protests which followed the contested reelection of Mahmud
Ahmadinejad ended in a challenge which was savagely suppressed. All the fears are once
again justified. And the question remains: will 2009 be a pivotal year for Iranian
expansionism in the Arab countries?
2. Some successes, many open questions
Iran occupies a strategic location at the geographic junction between the Arab world, the
Turkish world, the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia and the Caucasus world. The first
Shiite Islamic state in the world,2 the country is also proud of its Persian past and possesses
some specific things which other nations of the region would dream of having: major fields of
oil3 and gas4, large reserves of water and a steady growth of its Gross Domestic Product
Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been the subject of many judgments, of a
multitude of studies, thousands of books, tens of thousands of articles, but paradoxically this
country nonetheless remains poorly understood and is the target of many prejudices which
have been magnified by the present crisis over the nuclear question. These discussions may
be explained as much by the domestic course which the Republic has followed as by the
central position which it occupies in a complex and volatile region, as well as on the world
level. To begin with, there are the considerable energy riches of Iran, as well as its strategic
geographic position: as the number two world exporter of oil, owner of the second largest
1 Fars News Agency, ‘Iran’s Foreign Policy Based on Wisdom, Resistance,’ 20 March 2008.
2 80 % of the population of the country is Shiite, while in Iraq, for example, they constitute 60 to 65 %
of the population.
3 Iran holds 11% of the world reserves of petroleum.
4 Iran holds 16% of the world gas reserves.
reserves of natural gas, the link between Asia and the Middle East, bordering the Caspian and
the Persian Gulf,5 the country is at the centre of the crucial energy issues of this 21st century.
Next, the nature of the regime shapes the critiques and the discussions. Ever since 1979, the
Iranian regime has been decried, considered as an expression of arbitrary and totalitarian
Even if Iran is not a democracy – the manipulation of the elections of June 2009 have once
again reminded us of this -, the reality is nonetheless more complex. Far from being a
monolithic state rallying behind the figure of its spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, and President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iran is the theatre of bitter domestic fights between reformists and
conservatives but also within these two most visible currents.6 Notwithstanding the criticsims
leveled at it, the Iranian regime also has the characteristic of basing itself on popular support
via consultations which have been regularly organised since the Revolution, and this is
something which is exceptional in the Middle East. Finally, a population of 70 million
inhabitants – of whom 80% are illiterate– makes it the most populous country in the region,
with a GDP placing it once again in second place in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, alongside these strengths and successes, Iran often projects a negative image in
the world, tarnishing or reducing to zero what could be positive factors of change. Since 1979,
the country has been suffering from a flagrant lack of investment in its energy infrastructures
which oblige it to import most of its requirements for fuel despite the enormous energy
resources at its disposal.7 Furthermore, under embargo and banned by nations for its support
to Hezbollah and for its suspicious nuclear programme, Iran is working hard to find its place
in a Middle East which is in total turmoil. Finally, despite the regular holding of elections at
all government levels, Tehran does not apply the international conventions with respect to
human rights which it has ratified, and it does not hesitate to throw in prison or even execute
anyone opposing its policies or any criminal found guilty of a ‘crime against Islam ,’ even
going as far as executing minors. In 2008, 346 persons condemned to death were executed,
of whom eighteen, perhaps more, were aged less than eighteen years old at the time when the
deeds for which they were charged took place.8
The country has also been at the centre of a major diplomatic crisis since 2003, following the
revelation of the existence of suspicious nuclear sites at Natanz and Arak despite the
ratification by Iran of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and despite its having
approved the principles of the IAEA.9 Six years of negotiations have not made it possible to
understand the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme because the extent of concealment
was widespread. Iran, of course, has the legitimate right to develop nuclear energy insofar as
it is committed to use it for civil purposes.10 Thus, a great many questions exist and they
highlight the risks of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
5 Denis Bauchard, Clément Therme, ‘l’Iran, une puissance énergétique (ré)-émergente, [Iran, a reemerging
energy power] Paris, IFRI, 2007, p. 5.
6 Azadeh Kian-Thiébaut, ‘Iran between sanctions, destructions and negotiations,’ in L'Iran, plaque
sensible des relations internationales [Iran, sensitive plate of international relations], La Revue
internationale et stratégique, n° 70, Paris, Dalloz, 2008, p. 82-83.
7 Clément Therme, ‘L'Iran, exportateur de gaz ?, [Iran, exporter of gas ?] Paris, IFRI, 2008, p. 3.
8 Amnesty International, ‘La situation des droits de l'Homme dans le monde,’ –[The situation of
human rights in the world] - rapport 2009, ÉFAI, 2009, p. 237-241.
9 International Atomic Energy Agency.
10 Jean-Claude Chagnollaud, ‘Iran and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT)’ in L'Iran réel –
revue française de géopolitique n°5, [The real Iran – French review of geopolitics no. 5] Paris, Ellipses,
p. 34.
II. Portrait of a ‘revolutionary’ regime
1. The Iran of the Mullahs
In order to understand where we are today with the regime of the Mullahs, we must show the
linkage between the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the contradictions within the Islamic nation
and the present state of Islam inside this nation.
With the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy (genuinely reforming but authoritarian)
of the Shah, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 established an Islamic Republic, the first of its
kind in modern history. Without any doubt, the revolution found its origins not so much in
the ‘abuses’ of the regime as in the fierce determination of the Shiite clergy to preserve its
interests while protecting its immense land holdings. Far from advertising its wish to
establish a religious state, the clergy had the intelligence during the growing disturbances
which marked the year 1978 to ally itself with the Left, the Extreme Left and the ‘Progressive’
intellectuals. This broad front enabled it first to remove the Pahlavi dynasty and then to bring
to power Ayatollah Khomeiny on 11 February 1979.
The impact of the revolution and of the establishment of the Islamic Republic was enormous
within the Muslim world, where certain anti-establishment currents saw in it the first
political success of Islam in centuries. The Mullahs very quickly understood the aura which
surrounded them and chose to export their revolutionary project. But the supremacy of Sunni
Islam in the neighbouring countries, as well as the excesses of a bloody revolution marked by
ruthless suppression of ancient elites close to the government led inexorably to Tehran’s
2. Frustrated ambition for the Umma as a whole
From the beginnings of the Islamic Republic, certain American and European analysts saw in
it the Deus ex machina of a possible worldwide Islamic revolution. But Iran could not be the
spearhead of this movement for one simple reason. Shiism enjoys such a majority in Iran that
it is taken to be the leader of all Shiite communities in the world (wrongly in the eyes of
some). But Shiism is not only a minority within Islam generally, representing between 12 and
15% of all Muslims. It is also considered as schismatic, a deviant sect, even heretical by the
rest of the Umma, the community of believers.
It is nonetheless true that the Iran of Khomeiny has provided grounds for the fears of the
Americans by doing everything to avoid presenting the Islamic Revolution as purely and
exclusively Shiite. This determination was even clearly expressed in the Iranian constitution.
The 107th principle [article] of this constitution thus defined ‘The Grand Ayatollah Imam
Khomeiny’ as ‘Supreme Guide of the worldwide Revolution of Islam [and] founder of the
Islamic Republic of Iran.’ One of the three ‘Conditions and qualities of the Guide’ (109th
Principle) is to have the ‘fairness and virtue necessary to guide the people of Islam.’ The 11th
principle meanwhile stipulates: ‘According to the prescription of the verse: ‘ Certainly this
community which is yours is a unique community and I am your Lord. Therefore, worship
Me.’ All Muslims constitute a single community and the Government of the Islamic Republic
of Iran is obliged to set its general policies on the basis of the alliance and of the union of
Islamic nations and to deploy other efforts in order to realise the political, economic and
cultural unity of the world of Islam.’ Finally, the 16th and last paragraph of the 3rd principle
of the constitution states that the foreign policy of the country is developed: ‘On the basis of
the criteria of Islam, the fraternal commitment to all Muslims and the unreserved support
of the destitute of the world.’11
‘World revolution,’ ‘unique community,’ ‘ union of Islamic nations,’ ‘ fraternal commitment
to all Muslims’: each of these expressions evidently supports the fear of seeing Iran embody a
model which could serve the entirety of the Umma. One could not say more clearly that in the
view of the Imam Khomeiny and his adulators, the Islamic Revolution of Iran clearly had the
calling to go beyond the frontiers of the country and to form the avant-garde of a worldwide
Islamic Revolution, a bit in the way that the Soviet Union of Stalin saw itself as the avantgarde
of the worldwide ‘proletarian masses’ in the march towards communism.
But no constitution is stronger than reality. The Iranian Revolution took place in the heart of
the Shiite world and it could not get rid of this original distinction. The reality was thus what
we have stated: being a minority and often detested, Shiites could not claim to brandish the
standard of the revolt intended to rally all Muslims. The pious wishes of Ayatollah Khomeiny
could do nothing about that, nor could the writings in marble of the constitution.
The worldwide revolutionary ambition of Tehran thus had a long way to go, even if the
revolution aroused undoubted enthusiasm in the Muslim street. To be sure, we witnessed
more or less massive conversions of Sunnis to Shiite Islam, essentially in the Arab
communities living in Europe. We also saw certain extremist Sunni groups look
sympathetically upon the new regime. These tendencies were rather important in any case in
arousing concern among the Moroccan, Algerian and to a lesser extent Tunisian authorities,
as well as in certain European countries. But they remained marginal and as Olivier Roy
emphasises: ‘The failure of the revolution to export itself in a sustainable way outside the
frontiers of Iran is explained […] by two factors: it was unable to seriously get around the
opposition between Shiites and Sunnis and remained profoundly Shiite [and] the revolution
did not achieve unanimity in the Shiite milieu, even if the majority of non-Iranian Shiites
felt solidarity.’12
Overall, the Sunni world did not follow the movement. As for the non-Iranian Shiite world, it
trembled, to be sure, and certain subversive organisations rejoiced and felt reinvigorated by
the success of the revolution. But, as we shall see further on, it was only in one country,
Lebanon, that Tehran succeeded in exercising its influence on the Shiite community
massively and durably.
3. A revolutionary regime
In order to understand the present situation, it is not enough for us to specify what the
Iranian regime was not and is not or to delve into its failures: we also must define, before we
go much further, what are the ambitions of Iran and what is the nature of its regime. Then we
can better appreciate its foreign policy.
The Iranian regime has the dual characteristics of being revolutionary and Shiite. And it is
these things in a geographic and political environment which is often extremely conservative
(as are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, Iran’s immediate neighbours) and Sunni (in
any case, at the level of the authorities in place). The Iranian ‘Revolution’ of 1978 resembled
more, in fact, a counter-revolution than a revolution in the sense that the regime of the Shah
which was committed to modernity and social change while two of the profound motivations
11 One can read the complete text of the Iranian Constitution (adopted on 24 October 1979, entered in
force on 3 December 1979 and revised on 28 July 1989) on the site of Jurispolis at the following
12 Olivier Roy, ‘The impact of the Iranian Revolution in the Middle East,’ in Les mondes chiites et
l’Iran (sous la direction de Sabrina Mervin) [The Shiite worlds and Iran (under the direction of Sabrina
Mervin)], Paris, Karthala-Ifpo, 2007.
of a part of the clergy to commit itself in the camp of those who wanted to overthrow the
dynasty – a commitment which was decisive and without which the regime of the Shah would
not have been beaten – were to oppose change and to preserve their economic interests. The
agony of 1978-1979 thus does not mark definitively anything more than the final victory of
the Black reaction over the White Revolution. But the profoundly reactionary regime (as
seen, for example, in the situation of women and the general attitude of the Iran of the
Mullahs with respect to mores) which established itself in Tehran in 1979 adorned itself in
the showy rags of a revolution on the (non-exclusive) grounds that it was born in blood and
brought down a repressive government but also, to be sure, because it was the bearer of a
plan for society which marks an open and total break with everything which preceded it.
All the speeches of the regime appealed to this revolutionary phraseology and to its
customary clichés: exalting and mythologising the struggle which led to the ‘liberation,’
exaltation of the ‘martyrs’ and the internationalist commitment. Moreover, it is not just a
matter of appearances and slogans. Shiite Islam is definitely, in part, a religion of the
4. A Shiite and messianic regime
The Iranian regime is Shiite. That is a truism which should be remembered. Behind it lies
something very important if one wishes to understand the psychology and the modes by
which contemporary Iran functions and those who direct it.
Shiism was born in the 7th century, in the tumultuous period which followed the death of the
Prophet Mohammed. Ali, his cousin and son-in-law (he was the spouse of Fatima Zahra,
daughter of Khadija, the first wife of Mohammed), was the fourth successor of Mohammed
(after Abu Bakr, Omar Ibn al-Khattab and Uthman Ben Affan). Since his authority was
challenged, he had to go into battle in 657 in Siffin, on the banks of the Euphrates, against
Muawiya ibn Abi Sufu-yan, governor of Damascus (Muawiya was the descendant of Omayya,
the great uncle of Mohammed). After fighting which resulted in 40,000 deaths in two days,
Ali, whose forces were numerically inferior, accepted an arbitration which ruled against him
and this ended, three years later, in 661, in his murder by one of his former warlords who
condemned the arbitration to which he submitted.13 But his supporters then regrouped in a
‘Party of Ali’ (shî’at Ali, hence the term ‘Shiites,’ derived from the Arabic word used to
designate ‘partisans,’ who agreed that only a descendant of the prophet or member of his
‘house’ could lead the Muslims). They appointed Ali’s son, Hassan, to succeed him, but he
could not impose his rights and tried to join with Muawiya, who, for his part, founded in
Damascus the dynasty of the Omayyads (descendants of Omayya). It was taken badly: the
master of Damascus had him poisoned. Ali’s second son, Hussein, then took over from his
brother Hassan and broke with the Omayyad Caliph.
On 10 October 680 (10 Muharram 61, according to the Muslim calendar) the battle of
Karbala took place in which a powerful Omayyad army confronted an army of Hussein
consisting of 72 men and children. The event obviously turned into a massacre. Hussein, two
of his sons aged 10 and 1 and all of their companions were killed. The only male to escape the
slaughter was Ali, another of Hussein’s sons, aged 22, who was ill and did not take part in the
battle. The battle of Karbala is one of the founding events of the Shiite movement and marks
the definitive separation between Shiites and Sunnis. For this reason, it is commemorated by
13 This was the first split within the Shiite movement, which experienced many of them in the course of
its history: some radical supporters of Ali insisted that he had been appointed Caliph by the will of
Allah and thus could not put this selection in question by accepting a human arbitration. This is how
the Kharidjite current was born. Especially puritanical, this wing of the Shiite movement was in turn
divided into many families, the azraqites, the najadat, the ufrites and the ibadites. Nowadays one
finds Kharidjite communities from Algeria and Djerba (Tunisia), to as far as Oman (where they are in
the majority) and Zanzibar.
the holiday of Ashûra during which the faithful whip themselves to the point of bloodshed to
remember the massacre. Then there are forty days of mourning lasting till the Arbaïn
(literally the ‘fortieth’) which gives rise to new excesses of sorrow. Shiism was thus born
largely in the drama of the battle of Karbala, but its entire history was a succession of dramas:
after Ali, Hassan and his brother Hussein, eight Shiite Imams (each the son of the preceding
one) went through persecution, prison and often death for their beliefs. Finally there was the
12th Imam, Muhamad Abu Qasim, born in 868. We don’t know much about him, historically
speaking, other than that he lived in hiding for a large part of his childhood and that
everything possible was done to conceal his birth from spies and oppressors to spare him the
dire fate of his father.
Nonetheless, he died in 874, the same year as his father, no doubt murdered in his turn. But
this new fatal blow was too cruel for the Shiites, who then created the myth of the hidden
Imam or, more precisely, the concealed Imam. The legend was spread that Muhamad Abu
Qasim lived hidden somewhere, no doubt in a grotto. The Shiites believe that for 65 years he
continued to communicate with the faithful by means of four successive representatives
called the Portes (gateways) : this is what was called the ‘Lesser Occultation’ (874-939). It
was followed, in 939, by the Greater Occultation: starting from this date, no one represented
the Imam. The Shiites who live still in the Greater Occultation believe however that the 12th
Imam is still alive. For them, he is the Mahdi, (meaning the man guided by God) whose
return to Earth will mark the end of the Greater Occultation and the establishment of a reign
of justice and peace, hence, no doubt, the end of time and the last judgment.14
Shiism is not united. Acknowledgement of the line of twelve Imams and of the incarnation of
the Mahdi in the twelth of them defines what is called Duodecimal Shiism, present in Iran,
in Iraq and in Lebanon, among other places, and now the majority current. But other
branches of Shiism also exist: Zeydism (present today in Yemen), Septimanian Shiism or
Ismaelism, itself divided into many trends, as well as the Kharidjite current.
Although Shiism was the state religion in Persia as from the 16th century, in the rest of the
Muslim world it essentially underwent persecution. Considered as heretics, the Shiites were
forced to conceal their faith. This constant repression was obviously a restraint on the social
development of their community (outside Iran) and pushed many Shiites to take refuge in
regions which were more or less inaccessible, often in the mountains. Born of the rejection of
arbitrariness, the Shiite movement quite naturally built its identity, generation after
generation, as a religion of the excluded members of the population and of pariahs.
Persecution also obliged the Shiites to develop the art of taqiya (circumspection) which
consists in concealing from other Muslims the fact that one is a Shiite by pretending in public
to observe the Sunni rites. As for a plan of society, we will not speak about it at length since it
is obvious: the ayatollahs in power in Tehran have built an Imamat, the Shiite equivalent of
the Sunni Caliphate.15. Society is guided and directed by religion and everything follows from
reading the Quran and from the interpretation which the clergy make of it. Not all Shiites
share this vision of the world; but, unfortunately, it is clearly the vision of the masters of
14 One should note that the Sunnis also believe in the Mahdi, but say that he has still not been
incarnated and will appear on Earth several days before the end of time.
15 On the Sunni notion of the Caliphate, one should refer in particular to two works by Claude
Moniquet: ‘La Guerre sans visage,’ [The War without a Face] Paris, Michel Lafon, 2002, and ‘Le
Djihad, histoire secrète des hommes et des réseaux en Europe [Jihad, the secret history of the men
and networks in Europe], Paris, Ramsay 2004.
5. The attempt to export the revolution
In the period immediately following the Islamic Revolution, Iranian diplomacy was
characterised especially by a tendency to ‘export’ its revolution, above all to the Arab world.
In the years which followed, Tehran supported in particular an attempt to overthrow the
government of Bahrain and gave assistance to terrorists who were organising attacks on
Western embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Tehran probably also went much further, since for
many years in a row the Iranian secret services organised disturbances during the pilgrimage
to Mecca, disturbances which degenerated to the point where they caused bloody rioting in
1987. This tendency was aggravated by the war against Iraq. The entire Arab world supported
Baghdad with the exception of Syria, where the minority in power is Alawite and is thus
linked to Shiism.
At this time, a new slogan appeared in the Iranian streets: ‘the road to Jerusalem
passes through Kerbala.’ This expression can be understood variously. In the first place, it
means that the destruction of Israel remains the number one objective of Iran but that this
can only be achieved once the Shiites are ‘liberated’ (Kerbala being one of the most important
holy places of Shiism). Another possible interpretation is that Israel can only be defeated
once the Arab regimes which have betrayed the Palestinian cause have been overthrown.
But in 1989, after criminal prevarication which caused human loss on both sides of the Shatel-
arab, Khomeiny finally accepted a cease-fire. Abandoning the final and definitive victory
which in any case was beyond its reach, Tehran henceforth steered its policies based on the
principle of realism which led it to prioritise its national interests. When the Iraq of Saddam
Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Tehran observed a sort of neutrality which was relatively
favourable to Baghdad: to be sure, Iran did not want an Iraqi victory, but neither did it want a
total defeat which would have signified sole United States control over the region and the
possible dismantling of Iraq. If it seems that the Mullahs do not want a strong Iraq, they want
still less for it to be too weak and thus unstable, which could result in an upsurge of Sunni
extremism and also above all a return of the Kurdish question. In fact, Kurdistan extends
over the territory of four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria), but nearly 39% of its land
surface (195,000 km²) is situated in Iran, where it represents approximately 12% of the total
national territory…
Export of the revolution, at the time when it was still news was done not only via ‘traditional’
diplomacy but also by means of myriad organisations and committees which evaded state
control and came under the purview of the religious authorities. This export apparatus was
also very close to the security services and the Revolutionary Guard. Far from obtaining the
expected results, these manoeuvres, which were at times rather crude, essentially had the
effect of persuading Iran’s Sunni neighbours that they must be careful with it like the plague.
Not only did the revolution fail to expand, but it found itself encircled and isolated. In
addition, except in rare cases, this agitation did not elicit any response in the Sunni street: in
Bahrain just as in Mecca or in Kuwait City, it was the Shiites who were mobilised, used and
manipulated like tools. The Iranian Revolution wanted so much to pass for an ‘Islamic’
revolution but found itself reduced it what it was in reality: a purely Shiite movement.
Only one country allowed Tehran to experience some success from its aggressive policies:
Lebanon, where there were the special conditions of civil war, political under-representation
of the Shiites and Israeli occupation of the south of the country – and here Hezbollah, nearly
completely put together by Tehran and enjoying Iran’s unfailing support, managed to
influence the local political life in a substantial manner (and continues to do so).
6. The security apparatus, international vector of the revolution
Alongside the religious hierarchy, the military was not left untouched. Unlike nations such as
Turkey and Pakistan where the political authority of the armed forces is recognised
constitutionally, the Iranian situation is more vague. With the Islamic Revolution of 1979,
the powerful Army of the Shah fell into the hands of the ayatollahs and, after a bloody purge,
it was marginalised.16
The Islamic Revolution’s own security apparatus was put in place beginning in 1979 but in a
certain disorder. A number of elements of the SAVAK (the Shah’s security and intelligence
services) were incorporated into the new service, as the regime did not want to go without
their talents, but it seems obvious that these transfers concerned only very few of the high
level officials: many dozens of high ranking officials of the SAVAK figure among the military
officers identified as ‘henchmen of the Shah’ and executed in summary fashion in the first
months of the revolution, i.e., between February and September 1979. In addition, out of a
total staff estimated to have been 15,000 persons, around 3,000 officials were the victims of
reprisals, removed from their duties and imprisoned. It is still extremely difficult to have a
clear vision of the extent of the ‘transfers’ between the security services of the old regime and
those of the new regime.
The first head of the SAVAMA17, the new intelligence service reporting to the Supreme Guide,
was none other than General Hossein Fardoust, an associate of the Shah of Iran with whom
he had been close from their years together in school in Switzerland beginning in 1931.
Trained by the British secret service, Fardoust enjoyed the full confidence of the monarch:
when he was the deputy director of SAVAK, he was named to head the Imperial Inspection, a
force of two hundred officers especially charged with the task of monitoring the directorate of
the service. This hardly prevented Fardoust from rallying the new regime to the Revolution.
On the contrary: we can imagine that the information which he had gathered over the years
on his own colleagues was the key to gaining acceptance. At the end of 1979, Ali Tabatabai,
who had been press secretary in the Iranian Embassy in Washington and now directed an
organisation opposed to the new regime in exile, the Iran Freedom Foundation, declared that
‘Many members of the old SAVAK belong to the new organisation, and with the exception of
the Bureau Chiefs, the whole organisation still seems to be intact.’ This was true to such an
extent that Tabatabai defined the SAVAMA as a ‘carbon copy’ of the S.AVAK, with the same
distribution of the same personnel within its offices charged with the same assignments as in
the times of SAVAK. Even so, Hussein Fardoust, did not remain for very long at the head of
SAVAMA: in December 1985, he was accused of being a Soviet agent who was duly paid by
the KGB and was stripped of his duties. He died two years later, apparently from a heart
But as from 18 August 1984, the intelligence services underwent fundamental reorganisation
under the leadership of Mohhamad Rayshahri, at the time the president of the Revolutionary
Court of the Armed Forces. He was raised to the rank of Minister in his own right over what
was now called VEVAK18 (in our day, VEVAK is frequently shown under the English acronym,
MOIS standing for Minister of Intelligence and Security).
16 Ahmad Naghibzadeh, ‘Soldiers and politics in Iran,’ Défense nationale et sécurité collective, janvier
2008 [National Defence and Collective Security, January 2008], Paris, p.130
17 An Iranian acronym standing for Sazeman-e Ettela’at va Amniat-e Melli-e Iran, Organisation for
Intelligence and the Security of the Iranian Nation.
18 Iranian acronym for Vezarat-e Ettela’at va Amniat-e Keshvar, Ministry of Intelligence and National
Just like SAVAMA in the past, the VEVAK is placed under the direct authority of the Supreme
Guide. It can only be directed by a mujtahid.19 Rayshahri, who was to become the First
Minister of Intelligence, drew attention to himself by disarming in the summer of 1980 a
coup d’état in the making. The plot of Nojeh developed in Army and intelligence circles,
apparently under the inspiration of Chapour Bakhtiar, who had received the support of King
Hussein of Jordan and of Saddam Hussein. Later he played a rather important role in the
discovery of another coup d’état, directed this time by Sadegh Ghotzadeh.
From the time of its creation, the VEVAK has not only been a central instrument in the
repression of all organised opposition and of all intellectual dissidence in Iran, but also a tool
used to hunt down and murder opponents who took refuge abroad. Some of these abuses
have been criticised in Iran itself under the direction of the ‘reformer’ Mohammad Khatami :
in the struggle against the most conservative fringe of the clergy, President Khatami created a
commission of inquest charged with the task of casting light on many dozens of murders of
opponents committed within Iranian borders. The affair degenerated into an open political
crisis when Khatami used it to force the resignation of the Minister of Intelligence who had
been imposed on him by the conservatives, Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi.20 The involvement of
the VEVAK in the base deeds of the regime and in the assassination of opponents has never
been denied. That has been so whoever was in charge of intelligence.21
If surveillance of opponents in exile is crucial for the regime, then as an official German
report underlines: ‘The Iranian intelligence service wishes to obtain information as quickly
as possible on the activities of the anti-regime organisations… The reason for this fear is
that the reputation of Iran abroad can be tarnished by anti-regime propaganda of the
opposition which reproaches the Iranian leadership for massive and permanent violations
of human rights and the opposition in exile might [nda: by its actions] win influence over
domestic affairs.’22
In the end, it is the VEVAK which provides surveillance of the officially recognised religions
in Iran (like Christianity and Judaism), as well as the repression of the religious minorities
which are not recognised and considered to be heretical, such as Baha’is.
7. Berlin and Paris, centres of the VEVAK in Europe
The VEVAK is thus not content to be a simple service of intelligence and internal security: it
occupies a central role in the gathering of intelligence required for actions of elimination and
of terrorism carried on abroad by the regime and frequently lends its support to killers
charged with these murders, even when they are not directly linked to the special services.
Thus, in many concrete cases it has been proven that the arms or explosives used by the
killers as well as the instructions or money was given to them by agents of the VEVAK in the
country where they had to act, at the same time as intelligence on the habits of their targets.
In order to carry out this mission which the regime considers to be essential, the VEVAK has
deployed many hundreds of its intelligence officers in the embassies and consulates of Iran
across the world.
19 A mujtahid is a member of the clergy who is able to make a ruling based on a personal interpretation
of an Islamic point of law.
20 The latter later became State Prosecutor of the Islamic Republic.
21 Between 1984 and 2007, five ministers of intelligence succeeded one another at the head of the
VEVAK: Mohammad Reyshahri , Ali Fallahian, Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, Ali Younessi and finally
Gholam Hossein-Ejehei.
22 Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Annual report for Protection of the Constitution, 2000, page
The Iranian Embassy in Bonn was long considered by Western intelligence services to be the
nerve centre of Iranian espionage in Europe. The one which later was opened in Berlin shares
the same nefarious reputation. The choice of Germany as its principal operational base owes
nothing to chance: Germany harbours the largest community of the Iranian diaspora in
Europe, and, therefore, the largest concentration of opponents to the regime. But there is
more to it: despite the atrocious methods of the VEVAK and its proven involvement in
supporting international terrorism, the Federal Republic of Germany has not hesitated, since
the start of the 1990s, to sign agreements on intelligence sharing with Tehran.
Thus, on 7 and 8 October 1993, Ali Fallahian, at the time Minister of Intelligence, was
officially welcomed in Berlin. To the great displeasure of a number of German politicians but
also of such foreign capitals as Washington, London and Jerusalem, which accuse the
Germans of rolling out the red carpet to the ‘manager of Iranian terrorism.’ It should be said
that Germany thus broke with the policy of isolation decided upon by Europe, which has
wanted to make any progress in its relations with Tehran conditional upon the raising of the
Fatwah against Salman Rushdie and improvements in the domain of human rights. To tell
the truth, there is nothing astonishing in the position of Berlin: the Federal Republic of
Germany was and remains to this day one of the best advocates of Tehran on the
international scene. As the principal trade partner of Iran, Berlin has till now often opposed
the adoption of sanctions it considers too painful against its Persian friend.
Facing a scandal, the German authorities tried to posit the idea that this visit had a purely
humanitarian objective: to talk about the fate of foreigners detained in Iran. This version was
at the time put in doubt by the very serious magazine Spiegel, which did not hesitate to
criticise it as a ‘pure lie,’ emphasising that the cooperation between the FRG23 and the
VEVAK was extremely close and that many Iranian intelligence officers had undergone
training courses lasting many months in Germany. To tell the truth, the fact that Germany
assumed expenses to receive Fallahian was still more shocking given that this visit came
several weeks before the opening of the trial of an Iranian and several Lebanese accused of
having murdered, in 1992, several Kurdish leaders in a restaurant in Berlin. The German
prosecutor’s office had formally accused the VEVAK of being the originators of these
murders, which had been prepared on the third floor of the Iranian Embassy in Germany.
The Germany Secretary of State in charge of intelligence, Bernd Schmidbauer, did what he
could to minimise the importance of this visit, but its programme, made public by the
German press, leaves no doubt whatsoever as to the very special importance which this trip
had in the view of the German side. On 6 October at 19.00, Fallahian was received in the
Chancellery for an official dinner ; the next day he visited the BKA 24, and then, after a tour of
the city of Cologne, the BfV25, before returning to Bonn to be received there in the
Chancellery. In the evening, finally, he flew to Munich to visit there the BND. We now know
that at least four times in the course of these official meetings Ali Fallahian asked his German
hosts to stop the legal action being taken against the assassins of the Kurdish leaders.
If the German intelligence and security services could in this way compromise themselves
with their Iranian counterparts, it is obvious that they were knowingly acting in phase with
their government. And, in fact, the lead came from on high. Several times during the 1980s,
Tehran set about things directly in Germany : by making explosives intended for attacks in
other European countries pass by there (including France), by having Hezbollah kidnap
German citizens in Beirut and by assassinating in cold blood and premeditated manner its
opponents who were refugees in Germany. But none of this ever altered the superb optimism
of the German leaders, who always thought it was better to close their eyes to these ‘incidents’
23 BundesNachrichtenDienst, the German foreign intelligence service
24 BundesKriminalAmt, German Federal Police.
25 Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Federal Office of Protection of the Constitution, Counterespionage
and the domestic security service.
rather than risk compromising by ill-considered reactions the commercial exchanges which
have made the FRG the number one trading partner of Iran of the Mullahs.
These excellent relations do not prevent Iranian intelligence from feeling perfectly relaxed in
Berlin, as we hear from German counter-espionage: ‘One of the pillars of the Iranian
intelligence service in Germany is the Iranian Embassy in Berlin, where many intelligence
officers work under diplomatic cover. Some officers operating from the embassy but also
from general staff recruit persons for espionage activities in Germany, transmitting to
them their instructions and receiving their reports in writing, by telephone or via the
Internet.’26 Physical meetings are limited insofar as possible in order to better protect the
security of the local agents and their Iranian handlers and, when it becomes necessary, ‘they
absolutely must take place in a third country [a country other than the one where the agent
carries out his duties and the officer is posted] or in Iran.’27
At present, while Germany is continuing to play a central role within Europe for the Iranian
intelligence apparatus, the operational capabilities of the VEVAK in France have also been
strengthened. The Iranian diplomatic mission in France is thus charged with intelligence
assignments which go beyond the borders of the Hexagon and can extend into neighbouring
countries including Belgium, which is host to the main European institutions and to NATO.28
One will also note that the Scientific Counsellor of the Iranian Embassy in Paris is a post
which is often held by an intelligence officer charged with industrial and scientific espionage.
He performs this function for the entire European Union with the exception of Great Britain.
In 2006, a half-dozen intelligence officers from the VEVAK thus coordinated many
intelligence operations across all of Europe from their location on the Avenue d’Iéna, a
stone’s throw away from the Champs-Elysées.
8. Substantial resources for effective services
The VEVAK today comprises some 20,000 civil servants divided into sixteen main
Directorates and a certain number of specialised Offices. The three main Directorates are
those for External Affairs, Intelligence Abroad and Liberations Movements, and lastly the
Security Directorate.
External Affairs oversees all the other departments of the VEVAK and is more particularly
responsible for operations conducted abroad against the organisations of the opposition ; it is
under the direction of Mohammad Reza Iravani, the ‘number two’ of the Ministry who has
been mixed up in all the abuses of the regime since the 1980s. Intelligence Abroad is devoted
to the more classical operations of intelligence gathering, but also maintaining contacts with
local terrorist movements. Finally, the department of Security, contrary to what its name
might indicate, is concentrated also on offensive actions conducted essentially outside the
Iranian frontiers. A dozen other directorates share the more customary assignments of an
intelligence service, such as counter-espionage, intelligence via technical means and
protection of official communications. Operations taking place in the two countries bordering
Iran are often directed from regional Offices which report to the directorate of External
Affairs and are based not far from the borders.
Since 1987, the VEVAK has had its own school, the Imam Baqer University, where its staff is
trained. Still more important, the service manages its own prison, at Evin, a detention centre
with a sinister reputation where, for many years, opponents, ‘saboteurs’ and other ‘spies’
have been savagely tortured and sometimes executed. The international reputation of the
26 Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, ‘Annual report, 2005, on the Protection of the Constitution,’
page 274.
27 Idem, 2002 report, page 217.
28 Dr Ali Ahani, who was ambassador to France in 2007, had previously been posted in Belgium. This
was his second tour of duty in Paris since he had already been ambassador there from 1988 to 2003.
Evin prison was further tarnished when the Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi
was detained there in June 2003 after having photographed the families of imprisoned
students who demonstrated in front of the building. According to many sources – including
the testimony of the Iranian doctor and jurist who examined her body and then asked for
political asylum in Canada – Zahra Kazemi had been raped and beaten. She died on 11 July
2003 in the hospital of a military prison.
It is nearly impossible to determine the budget of the VEVAK. On the one hand, this budget
is decided outside of any parliamentary control. It is the subject of an annual negotiation
between the Minister of Intelligence and his counterpart at Finance. But in addition, it can
grow considerably through contributions coming from secret funds allocated to the Office of
the Supreme Guide or to the Presidency of the Republic. More than 50% of the value of
property seized by the Ministry during its operations within Iran (for example, buildings
belonging to convicted opponents) is passed along to the budget of the Ministry.
Aside from its officers posted in the central administration or placed under diplomatic cover
abroad, the VEVAK, like any other self-respecting ‘offensive’ intelligence, has a multitude of
structures capable of harbouring its Officers without official cover (Non Official Cover or
NOC, to use the Anglo-Saxon terminology). These range from commercial Iranian companies
active in the domain of hydrocarbons or transport right up to cultural associations, phony
dissident movements or just companies created abroad. These various entities procure not
only covers for agents and operations of the VEVAK, but can also make it possible, when they
are profitable, to finance certain networks or furnish necessary logistical support (supplies,
flats, vehicles, means of communication) to operations directed from Tehran.
Many dozens of structures of this type exist today in Europe. Certain agents of the regime
have created as many as three or four associations and as many commercial companies as
needed. These officers recruit their agents especially in the organisations of opponents whom
they are charged to monitor as we learn from German counter-espionage experts: ‘In most
cases, the recruitment effort is made when the targeted person makes a visit to Iran. On this
occasion, the service exercises strong pressure on the targeted person, using, among other
devices, the threat of reprisals against their relatives still living in Iran. Those who do not
come to Iran are approached by telephone from Iran.’29
And one should not forget, of course, that the Ministry also has plenty of other possibilities to
camouflage its agents: they may get themselves recruited as local agents of embassies or
foreign companies in Iran, then request immigration to the countries concerned; or they may
pass themselves off as journalists, employees of Iran Air, students or businessmen. And
VEVAK does not concentrate all its efforts just on the opposition in exile, even if this remains
one of the bêtes noires of the regime. It also engages in more traditional activities which can
function quite well. While most of them remain unknown to this day or cannot be cited for a
number of reasons, we nonetheless can recall several notable successes of Iranian
In June 1986, an administrative secretary in the diplomatic unit of the French Prime Minister
in Hôtel Matignon was questioned by the DST (Directorate of Surveillance of the Territory)
which had been watching her for several months. Martine X.30, who was in her 40s, took to
an Iranian ‘friend’ residing in Germany and using the operational alias of Mohamed Ansari,
some confidential defence documents which she had been tasked to archive or destroy. Her
interesting comings and goings between Paris and Frankfurt had attracted the attention of
the French special services. Mohamed Ali Hansari lived in Frankfurt, where he represented
29 Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, 2004 Annual Report of the Office for the Protection of the
Constitution, page 259.
30 Twenty one years have passed since then. It must be understood that we will not cite the last name
of the person involved and that we have changed the first name.
an Iranian oil company but he seems above all to have used his seductive talents to recruit
single and vulnerable women as paid agents of Iran. This technique is as old as the world
itself, but it was used at the time by the intelligence services of the Soviets and their allies,
often with success.
In Germany in May 1992, a federal civil servant was indicted for having transmitted to
Tehran diplomatic telexes coming from various German embassies in the Middle East. Much
more recently, we note the arrest and indictment in December 2006 of a corporal serving
with the British forces in Afghanistan, Daniel James. The case is far from being minor since
the soldier, of Iranian origin, was the personal interpreter of General David Richards,
commander-in-chief of the NATO expeditionary force. Other cases of this same type took
place in Canada or other developed countries where the networks of the VEVAK are
especially active in the deployed by Tehran to obtain the technologies essential for its nuclear
programme but also for the development of its missile systems.
The VEVAK apparatus has nonetheless gone through a recent crisis: it seems in fact that the
ascent of Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005, pushed a certain number of
experienced officers linked to the reformist Khatami to fear reprisals which might be directed
against them and to make moves accordingly. To be sure, in the past twenty years, the
Ministry of Intelligence has witnessed other crises as well, but the defections came at a bad
moment, when the regime was passing through a period of acute paranoia. Since 2006, the
arrests of ‘foreign spies’ accused of having wished to gain information about Tehran’s nuclear
programme have grown considerably. The best known case is that of Hossein Mousavian, the
former ambassador of Iran to Germany and member of the team of Iranian negotiators until
2005. Another celebrated case is that of the Iranian-American university instructor Haleh
Esfandiari, who was suspected of being linked to a network aiming to overthrow the regime.
Other cases which have received more or less media attention have affected citizens of
Canada, China, Sweden, as well as Iranians accused of working for the American or Israeli
intelligence services. In March 2007, many journalists were criticised by VEVAK for having
‘taken foreigners’ money to publish articles contrary to the interests of National Security,’31
and they were incarcerated, in turn.
The most surprising manifestation of spy mania which seems to have ravaged the VEVAK
organisation was no doubt the arrest in July 2007 of some fifteen… squirrels which,
according to the official news agency Irna ‘were transporting espionage material belonging
to foreign agencies.’. We don’t know if the cute rodents were detained in the Evin prison, but
one may fear the worst, especially if they had Jewish features, which would undoubtedly have
proven their belonging to the MOSSAD...
9. The Pasdaran, the military wing of the regime
The regime was not satisfied just to inherit the intelligence services of the former regime and
transform them. It also built an entirely new security apparatus which is its own: the
Pasdaran32, or Revolutionary Guard.. The Pasdaran may be compared with what the SS was
for the Nazi regime. Here as well, what we are talking about is a purely ideological army
which duplicates official services of the state and in case of serious problems will be the last
defence wall of the government – its veritable state within a state. Created on 5 May 1979 and
reporting directly to the Supreme Guide, the corps of Pasdaran today has its own terrestrial
army, air force, navy and a specialised unit charged with operations abroad: the Force al-
31 Dépêche AP, 5 March 2007.
32 The official name of the Pasdaran is Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami: Army of the Guardians
of the Islamic Revolution.
However, it would be wrong to believe that the Corps of the Revolutionary Guard was built
in opposition to the Artesh, the regular army: it began, in fact, by compensating for the
regular army’s weaknesses before its growth was encouraged by an army which drew all the
benefits which it could extract from the existence of this force.33 Resignations, desertions,
forced retirements and summary executions had greatly weakened the framework of the
Artesh which was then Islamised thanks to the ideological and political Directorate which
was created in its midst. However, it turned out to be impossible to make the regular army
into a purely ideological tool capable of serving within the frontiers as well as defending the
borders. That is how the Pasdaran came into existence.
In the beginning, the corps of Pasdaran numbered barely 10,000 men, but war made its staff
balloon out enormously: from 50,000 fighters in 1982 to 150,000 in 1983, then 250,000 in
1985 and, finally, 450,000 in 1987. The Pasdaran distinguished themselves especially during
the war against Iraq, training and sending off to the slaughter whole battalions of young
adolescents who underwent minimal military education and who served as the cannon fodder
of the Artesh, when they were not purely and simply sent to enemy mine fields to open a
passage for the regular troops. The first head of the Pasdaran, Mostafa Chamran Savei, was a
kind of ‘professional revolutionary’ born into a modest Tehran family who turned to
terrorism after receiving an engineering degree in the United States. He took part in the
training and establishment of various groups of terrorist cells in the Middle East (including in
Egypt, in Lebanon – where he was one of the founders of the Amal Shiite militia, then of
Hezbollah – and in Syria) before returning to Iran at the start of the Islamic Revolution.
Named as Minister of Defence and special military adviser to Ayatollah Khomeiny, he headed
up the Pasdarans from the day of their creation and he died in battle on 21 June 198134.
The Pasdaran have changed over time from the time of their birth, following two distinct but
complementary paths: military, of course, with Savei and his two successors, but also
political, with Mohsen Rafighdoust, a curious figure who was not an obvious candidate to
play one of the leading roles in politics. Thrown out of primary school for unruliness,
Rafighdoust was no stranger to the prisons of the Shah when he worked within the Islamic
Coalition, a party which brought together religious officials and the bazaar merchants. He
earned a living selling fruit behind a stall in the wholesale market of Tehran where he said he
built up many debts – before seizing his chance in February 1979, at the age of 39, during the
return of Khomeiny: he drove the car which took the Ayatollah from the airport to the place
of his first speech and was then named as head of his personal body guards before being
propelled to the post of Minister of the Revolutionary Guard.
The year 1987 was a turning point for the Revolutionary Guard, who were initially seen as an
undisciplined force, difficult to command and thus to use and good only to be employed
domestically in operations of repression or to be launched, in the context of the war with
Iraq, in quasi-suicide operations and those where the rate of losses would in any case never
have been sustained by more classic units. While the war was becoming permanent and the
country was bled white and was isolated and the army was cut to pieces, the sacrifices made
by the Guard convinced the masters of Iran it had better things to do than waste them in
hopeless clashes. In 1988, the Pasdaran were totally reorganised, given heavy equipment and
new command structures.
10. A Pasdar network which controls large segments of society
Collaborating closely with the army, which had long pleaded for professionalism in their
corps (the two entities met daily within a joint command headquarters), the Pasdaran
33 See, in particular, Daniel Byman, Shahram Chubin, Anoushivaran Ehteshami and Jerold D. Green:
Iran’s security policy in the post-revolutionary era, Rand Corporation, 2001.
34 The successors of Mostafa Chamran were Mohsen Rezaï (1981-2004) today Secretary of the Council
of Discernment, and Yahya Rahim Safavi, who remains in this post as we write.
benefited however from a ‘competitive advantage’ which was totally inaccessible to the
Artesh: not content just to provide elite warriors who were fanatically devoted on the front
lines, the Guard were indeed able to use their force within the country to rally society and
provide backbone to the economy of war. Thus, while the country was the victim of an
international embargo and was forbidden to procure the weapons it needed, the Pasdaran
started up its own factories producing arms. These factories produced in particular the minisubmarines
used for operations in the Gulf, mines and also copies of the Chinese Silkworm
anti-ship missiles.
Little by little, successes won both abroad and domestically enhanced the influence of the
Guard who, beginning in the late 1980s, were consulted more and more often in setting the
general strategy of the regime.
Like everything concerning the Iranian security apparatus, there are no credible and verified
details regarding the exact structure of the Pasdaran and their mode of operations.
Nevertheless, it is certain that their influence remains considerable. Their devotion has
indeed enabled them to occupy a special place in the Iranian security galaxy. First of all, the
leadership of the corps of Guard is extremely stable: the number of directors and high officers
of the Pasdaran are known since the 1980s and come to a couple of dozen, all of which
reinforces still more the cohesion of the machine. The investment of the Pasdaran in key
sectors of the economy – arms, first of all, but also electronics and hydrocarbons, then
import-export – has augmented their power still more, because the Guards who are at the
head of these enterprises or in their senior management retain close relations with their
original unit. Thus an extensive and very flexible network of relationships forms, passing
from the military and security sphere to technologically advanced industry and business all
the way over to the political world. It should be remembered that President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad is a former Pasdar.
But as soon as you take up the question of numbers, everything becomes fuzzy. It is believed
that in 2005 the manpower of the Pasdaran numbered between 130,000 and 250,000 men
distributed among dozens of units spread across the country. Experts suggest that their navy
has nearly 20,000 men. It controls a flotilla of rapid patrol boats, many of them built to
Swedish design and equipped with powerful Volvo engines which make them especially highperformance,
with sea-to-sea missiles and light artillery – as well as naval frogmen. Created
at the start of the 1980s and considerably reinforced in 1987, this force was especially used
during the Iran-Iraq War to lay mines in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Ormuz in order to
prevent or at least harass the shipping of oil tankers which had just taken on Iraqi crude. It
was one of these mines which, in July 1987, exploded upon contact with the Kuwaiti tanker
Bridgeton, flying the American flag and escorted by the US Navy. On 27 July 1987, the
commander of the Pasdaran, Mohzen Rezaï, who was received by Khomeiny at his private
residence, rejoiced that ‘the prayer of a billion Muslims has been answered.’35
The little that we know about the background of the person responsible for this attack, the
brother Mohamad Alai, commander of the naval base of the Pasdaran set up at Bandar
Abbas on 26 April 1987, it is especially representative of the profile of other senior officials of
the Revolutionary Guard. Aged 43, Alai was a supporter of the Islamic Revolution from the
very first day. At the start of the 1980s, he was put in charge of operations of propaganda and
intelligence in various Gulf Emirates. In the summer of 1987, he commanded 1500 men and a
fleet of 40 fast patrol boats.
During the underhanded war conducted against the oil tanker convoys, the navy of the
Pasdaran was more present and more effective than the regular navy. Much more recently, it
35 AFP dispatch dated 27 July 1987, 16.20.
was naval units of the Guard which took fifteen British sailors hostage in the Shatt-el-Arab in
March 2007.
One should mention the fact that the Pasdaran had a setback at the end of the winter of
2007 which could turn out to be serious: the defection of General Ali Reza Ashgari, who
disappeared under incredible circumstances in February 2007. After being sent on an
assignment in Syria, he went to Istanbul, where the Iranian Embassy had reserved a suite in
his name at the hotel Ceylan Intercontinental. Once arrived in Istanbul, he said that for
reasons of security he preferred to move into the Hotel Guilan, where he left his luggage
before disappearing slightly after 18.30. The regime quickly dispatched an investigative team
to Turkey, stating loudly that the general had been either kidnapped or murdered. In fact,
neither was the case: Ali Reza Ashgari had taken the precaution to discreetly get his family
out of Iran in the days preceding his voyage to Damascus, thus sparing his wife and children
the unenviable fate which awaits those close to defectors, all of which clearly indicates that he
knew he was leaving on a one-way trip.
General Ashgari was not a newcomer. After having served for a long time in a post in
Lebanon where he supervised the activity of Hezbollah, he returned to Tehran where he was
particularly in charge of production of short and medium range missiles before, as sources
close to the opposition tell us, he became busy with certain sensitive procurements within the
context of the nuclear programme. For three years he also headed the Force al-Qods (see
below), the ‘international’ department of the Pasdaran. When he was Deputy Minister of
Defence until 2005, was Ashgari a ‘local agent’ (an agent recruited by a hostile service who
kept his position so as to be able to deliver intelligence) for many years, as many sources,
including Israeli, state?
Involvement by Mossad or the CIA has been mentioned, one after another, but within the
intelligence community we hear rather insistently that it was in fact the British SIS which was
behind this operation. In any case, the defection of such a high level person is always a hard
blow for the institution which experiences it. Obviously it will not be fatal for the Pasdaran,
but it will cause a lot of harm and certainly oblige them to modify the organisation chart, to
suspend or halt operations under way, to recall agents from abroad and to change the
methods of communication and the codes. In a word, there will be lost months just when Iran
is short of time. Without taking into account the stress and the doubt which a defection
introduces into the mind of each person: are there any other moles? Are there any other
betrayals under way or in the making? In the given case, General Ashgari was not alone,
because among the Pasdaran just as in the VEVAK, the ascension to power of Mahmud
Ahmadinejad – even if he was a ‘former member of the house’ – prompted several desertions.
11. The Force al-Qods : tool of the Pasdaran abroad
But in the framework of this study, it is above all the activity of terrorism and subversion of
the Pasdaran on the international level which commands our attention. These especially
secretive operations of the Revolutionary Guard are carried out via the Department of
External Security and Intelligence and the Department for External Operations of the
Pasdaran. These two committees of the Pasdaran are among other tools, though certainly
they are most important ones held by the Force al-Qods.36
The Force al-Qods was created in the 1980s and brings together especially well trained
elements of the Pasdaran. It fought on the Iraqi front during the ‘Imposed War’ but rapidly
was directed towards other tasks, namely to help the regime to export the Islamic Revolution.
This organisation is even more secretive than the Pasdaran and both its operation and its
resources are covered by a thick veil of shadow. While its headcount is secret – the press most
36 Al-Qods is the name, in Arabic, of the city of Jerusalem. The Persian name of the Force al-Qods is
often cites fantastic numbers ranging from 3000 to 50,000 members –, the most recent
estimates by Western intelligence services to which we have had access put the number at
‘several thousand men,’ without doubt between 2,000 and 5,000 (but certainly not more
than 10,000 if one considers what we today take the whole of the Pasdaran to be) including
at least one half based permanently abroad.
We also know that apart from a Department of Intelligence belonging to it, the Force al-Qods
(whose headquarters was set up in the premises of the former Embassy of the United States
in Tehran) is probably organised around eight Directorates, each devoted to a part of the
world or to a more or less consistent geopolitical ensemble: the Western countries (United
States and Europe); Iraq; Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan;
Turkey; North Africa (including Egypt and the Sudan); the Arabian peninsula and finally the
former Soviet republics.
Many hundreds of Pasdaran belonging to the Force al-Qods have long been present in the
Bekaa plain in Lebanon, where they train the Hezbollah forces, around Baalbek, and they
organise transfers of arms to this movement, especially across Syria. Many hundreds of
others are also present since 2003 in Iraq, where they assist certain Shiite groups, including
Moqtada al-Sadr’s Army of the Mahdi. Several of those it has sent out were arrested in Iraq
in December 2006. A contingent of unknown number is also active in Afghanistan, where, in
the past, the Force al-Qods gave support to the Northern Alliance of the Shiite Ahmed Shah
Massoud who fought against the Taliban. Finally, other members of the Force al-Qods are set
up abroad, often – but not always – under diplomatic cover and they conduct there
assignments of maintaining contact with the local terrorist organisations, giving them
financial support, arranging the training of their members and running intelligence
operations resulting in ’actions’ : this is by no means the kind of general intelligence
performed by VEVAK but instead to discern the targets of possible attacks, whether
opponents of the regime or local infrastructures.
Every year the Force al-Qods handles hundreds of millions of dollars which are then
distributed as arms and equipment or manpower to the various organisations with which it is
in contact when it does not itself purely and simply head them up. At present the main
beneficiaries of this assistance are Hezbollah, the Badr Division (a force consisting of Iraqis
bracketed by Pasdaran created during the war against Iraq but still active today against the
Americans and the British) and the Army of the Mahdi.
The exact degree of independence of the Force al-Qods vis-à-vis the Revolutionary Guard is
a matter of debate among experts, but it seems that it may receive orders directly from the
Supreme Guide and that, in addition, its leader sits at the side of the leader of the Pasdaran
in many high level commissions where questions of ‘security’ are discussed. Indeed, we may
conclude that the Force al-Qods commanded by General Qassem Suleimani, a close associate
of the President of the Security Council Ali Larijani, is in charge of all special operations of
the Pasdaran abroad, from support to local actors friendly to Iran to subversive and terrorist
III. Iran and the Shiite crescent
1. ‘The return of Shiism’37
The Muslims today number nearly one billion followers around the world and will be nearly
2 billion in 25 years according to present projections. In order to understand the complexity
37 Title borrowed from the first chapter of François Thual’s book, ‘Géopolitique du chiisme’
[Geopolitics of Shiism], Edition Arléa, 2002.
of the Muslim world and of one of its essential components, Shiism (even ‘the Shiisms’) – a
dissident branch of Islam –, it is necessary to deal with the problems of modern geopolitics in
the Middle and Near East, but also in the planet generally. One such analysis also enables us
to better grasp the weight and influence of Iran – constantly mounting – over the large fringe
of some 140 million Shiites around the planet (i.e., 10 to 12% of the worldwide Muslim
population). Out of these 140 million believers, 80 to 90% are duodecimal or ‘Twelver’
As we shall see further on, the geography of Shiism in fact allows us to draw a ‘Shiite crescent’
which goes from Iran up to Lebanon and surrounds Alawite Syria – and Iraq. While this
crescent constitutes the ‘nerve’ – the principal target – of Iranian influence , Pakistan, India,
Bangladesh, Turkey, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan are also countries where
Shiites play an important if not preponderant role. The Shiite populations of these countries
are also in the field of action of ‘Iranian diplomacy,’ which: ‘takes root in the defence and the
spread of Shiism.’38
Let us concentrate our analysis on the ‘return of Shiism’ beginning with the civil war in
Lebanon (1975) and the Iranian Revolution (1979) and going up to the present. In the course
of the last 30 years, Shiism, as Pierre Pahlavi stresses, has experienced: ‘an unprecedented
renaissance of identity and politics as we see from the religious and political dynamism of
the communities in Central Asia and the Middle East.’39 We shall see the details in the next
few pages, particularly as we review the various countries of the ‘Shiite crescent,’ as well as in
many Arab countries of the Near and Middle East. And though it is still too early to speak
about the ‘success’ of this ‘Shiite crescent,’ it is nonetheless time to ask questions about the
extent of the Iranian influence on the countries of the region and on its ability to destabilise
2. Pan-Shiism and the tools of propaganda
After the revolution, the country prioritised religious solidarity in the 1980s to encourage the
creation of fundamentalist states. This was a vain attempt in societies mainly Turkish
speaking or Sunni. Iran then adopted a more pragmatic approach which consisted in: ‘
depoliticising its religious policy and highlighting its other ethno-cultural advantages.’40
Put another way, Iran set up various associations and developed some initiatives aimed at
positioning itself as a model of Shiite development. This diplomatic and religious machine
has now been taken in hand by the Ayatollah Khamenei using different tools.
The system of the Bonyad : these are consortiums of companies created the day after the
Islamic Revolution (constituted in large part thanks to property confiscated from persons
close to the royal family), which – though taxable – are in fact exempted from taxes and
which serve to finance pro-Iranian political and paramilitary activities. They report directly
to the Supreme Guide. The Bonyad have a plethora of staff, often corrupted. In the absence of
official figures, it is difficult to gauge their influence but the lowest estimates speak of around
20% of Iranian GDP. The best example of success of the system of Bonyads is certainly the
Foundation of the Destitute which has become one of the richest in the country and
which operates ‘like a multinational holding company owning banks, luxury hotels, the
factories of Zamzam, the local soda, with a near monopoly on most of the mineral water
and other beverages sold in the country, not to mention the many kinds of business carried
38 Op. cit. p.14.
39 Pierre Pahlavi, ‘The place of Shiism in Iran’s grand strategy,’ Géopolitique de la mer Noire : enjeux
et perspectives, Défense nationale et sécurité collective, août –septembre 2008 [Geopolitics of the
Black Sea :issues and prospects, National Defense and collective security, August-September 2008].
40 Ibidem.
on with the outside world.’41 The Foundation Astan-e Qods-e Razavi, for its part, has
the task of maintaining the sanctuary of the Imam Reza who controls a hundred companies
active in the food industry, textiles, pharmaceuticals and petrol. Initially intended to help the
oppressed and destitute, these foundations have nowadays forgotten about them. Meanwhile,
the foundations are real obstacles to free competition and undermine the financial and
banking system.
Other institutions under the authority of the Supreme Guide: the Organisation for
Culture and Islamic Relations (OCIR) – which was put to sleep under Khatami after having
served as cover in Bosnia during the 1990s – was reactivated in 2006. It has been especially
active in Iraq, where it brings together both ‘humanitarians’ and the intelligence services and
can count on thousands of Iranians from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala (see the chapter
on Iraq below).
The official media: they play a key role in spreading the ideology of the regime, ‘promoting
national unity’ and ‘Islamic solidarity.’ According to the director of the news agency Fars :
‘We need powerful media to be able to fight against the cultural invasion of Western
countries and their media. They want to expand by this means their cultural and economic
domination of the world and in such circumstances, our media have a serious and grand
duty to perform.’42 But the official media are also given the task of communication with the
outside world: the satellite stations Press-TV, Al-Alam and Al-Kawthar carry the proselytism
of the authorities beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic. Thus all radio and television
broadcasting from Iranian territory is controlled by the government.
The schools of theology: they study in particular the question of ideological, theological
and political relations of Iran with the Shiite worlds. They seek to weave a network of
transnational solidarity between the Iranian rulers and their counterparts of the region. In
Iraq, the historical centre of Shiism, the theology schools controlled by Iran seek to
perpetuate a predominance which now has great resonance. And, as P.-J. Luizard explains,43
the terrorist movement of Moqtada al-Sadr is both a challenge to the American occupation
and a magisterium (marja’iyya) of great Ayatollahs who are often quietist and from Iran,
even if Qom remains the refuge of most of the anti-establishment Shiite leaders and a central
Thanks to his status as regent of Shiism, the Supreme Guide has a key political and religious
position which enables him to spread Iranian influence beyond its borders. What we mean is
an informal system which, as Pierre Pahlavi explains: ‘rests on the central institution of the
marja’iyya, or spiritual direction, via which the message of Tehran is spread to the entire
duodecima Shiite clergy without passing through official channels.’44 But Iran is also the
protector of these minorities over which a veritable fascination exists. At the time, the Shah
of Iran also presented himself as the defender of the believers. We may conclude by
mentioning the fact that over the past few years Iran never stopped developing cultural
agreements, introducing associations of friendship and signing commercial accords with a
certain number of Arab states.
3. A vector necessary for Iran to break out of its isolation
If, as we shall see in the next chapter, a goodly number of Shiite minorities seek to find in
Iran an ally and a partner, the same is true of Iran: it is also desperately seeking allies! Iran is
41 Delphine Minoui, ‘The opaque Islamo-business of Iranian foundations,’ in L’, 1
October 2006.
42 International agency of the Quranic press, Tehran, 25 May 2007.
43 Mervin Sabrina (dir.), ‘Les mondes chiites et l’Iran,’ [The Shiite worlds of Iran] Paris / Beyrouth,
Karthala/IFPO, 2007.
44 Pierre Pahlavi, op. cit.
ideally positioned in this region of the globe. It is at the crossroads of three zones: the Middle
East, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. And, as Thierry Dufour explains: ‘the country is
called upon to shine in the whole Muslim world. For centuries it has been one of the leading
countries of Muslim culture, one of those which gave to Islam its greatest scholars,
intellectuals and artists (…). The history of two millennia of Persia gives to Iran the status
of a very old civilisation.’45
A very old civilisation which today unquestionably has need of Shiite communities. The latter
offer opportunities to break out of the encirclement on the international scene which Iran has
had to confront for many years. This is an isolation which Iran has in part drawn upon itself
and which is experienced badly not only by the political and religious establishment but also
by the population itself. We mentioned in the foreword that on the day after the revolution
the Islamic Republic did nothing to attract the sympathy of the international community. On
the contrary, the new Islamic theocracy has from its very first days defied the Western world
by displaying its scorn for the international rules and its determination to export its
revolutionary model. Finally, we stress that the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), which followed
directly after the revolution, traumatised the ‘young regime.’ The nearly unconditional
support of the international community to the regime of Saddam Hussein all during the
conflict was very difficult to live through.
Nowadays this situation of isolation still persists and is perceived as a threat not only to the
identity but also to the independence of Iran. Many examples illustrate this ‘putting in the
dock’ by the world’s nations, including within the Muslim world.46
Diplomatic isolation is accompanied by isolation within a goodly number of international
organisations, both political and economic:
WTO: after an initial request for membership in 1996 followed by 21 other unproductive
attempts, the candidature of Iran at the WTO was finally accepted thanks to the United States
lifting its veto in November 2006. This veto was imposed for reasons linked to the Iranian
nuclear programme. However, Iran is not yet a full member of the organisation because the
process is long and complicated. Furthermore, the issues relating to the nuclear question and
Iranian intransigence render Iran’s definitively joining the WTO still more uncertain. Yet
Iran clearly has need of membership to emerge step by step from the sclerosis of an economy
which is too dependent on oil and subsidies, and which is missing real internal dynamism.
OPEC: while Iran was one of the initiators of the creation of OPEC47 in 1960 and is thus an
historic pillar of the organisation, the Islamic Republic has often been marginalised within
OPEC, where it is a backer of expensive petroleum. Iran has for years tried to make its voice
heard over the objections of a Saudi Arabia which is solicitous of protecting the Western
world from too great a jump in the price of a barrel of oil. Meanwhile, in September 2007,
Iran won a small victory when OPEC members finally refused to follow the recommendations
of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which represents the energy interests of the
industrialised countries. Iran had called upon them not to vote for an increase in production
45 Thierry Dufour, ‘The influence of Iran through Shiism – Modus operandi, success and limits of
Iran’s pro-Shiite policy,’, October 2006.
46 In this regard, see the episode of the island of Abou Moussa and the small isles of the lesser and
greater Tomb, near the Straits of Ormuz, Chapter IV, - point 7)
47 The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC) was created on 14 September 1960
during the Conference of Baghdad at the initiative of the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and of
Venezuela. At the start, the organisation had 5 member countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and
as proposed by the IEA. The rise in production requested by the IAE was equivalent to the
present production of Iran.
Many OPEC members from the Persian Gulf fear terrorist reprisals of the Mullahs against
themselves and thus decided not to follow the recommendations of the IAE. This episode is a
small victory for Tehran but a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which had otherwise
succeeded is countering the regime in another attempt to make the price of oil rise to $500 in
January 2007!
4. How Shiite movements and populations react to the Iranian foreign
a. In Lebanon
The country was occupied by Great Britain and France in 1941, following the frantic retreat of
the Vichy regime which allowed the Axis Powers to occupy Lebanon and Syria. Free France
ended by proclaiming independence on 22 November 1943. Nonetheless, it took until the
‘national pact’ concluded between the Maronite Christians and the Sunni Muslims for
independence to take effect. The national pact had two main conditions. First, the Christians
had to renounce French protection and accept independence, while the Muslims had to
forsake Arab unity and, above all, the dream of a ‘greater Syria.’ The second condition was the
maintenance of the religious communities. The pact provided that the presidency of the
Republic would go to the Maronites (majority of the population), the presidency of the
Chamber would go to the Shiites and the presidency of the Council would go to the Sunnis.
The other less substantial communities obtained various secondary posts.
This fragile equilibrium was repeatedly broken, especially during the regional and national
crisis of 1958 when the Lebanese President, Camille Chamoun, opposed the policies of Nasser
(in his conflict with the West). The Palestinian presence (thousands of Palestinian refugies
came into the country of cedars after the 1948 war of independence) in Lebanon quickly
became the stumbling block of political life: the ‘pro-Lebanon’ faction, who demanded the
suspension of fedayeen operations as well as the restoration of the state authority, were
opposed to the ‘Arabists,’ who were in solidarity with the resistance which bound their
destiny to that of their ‘brothers’ who had taken refuge in Lebanon.
On 13 April 1975, an attack on a bus resulted in thirty or so victims (essentially Palestinians).
Reprisals and counter-reprisals followed and the whole country soon was caught up in the
conflagration. The Lebanese civil war had begun.
The ‘revenge’ of the Lebanese Shiites
After having been the religious minority of the land of cedars for centuries, the Shiites saw
their position strengthened the day after the outbreak of the civil war. But this change began
several years beforehand. In fact, during the 1960s demographic growth pushed the
population to move to Beirut, the capital and the centre of power. Little by little the city saw
the emergence of a Maronite and Shiite majority. Dropping Nasserism for a political line
more marked by Shiism also reinforced the position of the Shiite community in Lebanon. As
Georges Corm explains: ‘the rise in demographic power of the Shiite community was
accompanied by a revitalisation of its identity, focused on duodecimal Shiism and,
precisely, around the Shiite high clergy.’48 This return of strength was accompanied by a
rapprochement between Lebanese Shiism and Iranian Shiism and all of this happened well
48 Georges Corm, ‘Le Liban : les guerres de l’Europe et de l’Orient [Lebanon : the wars of Europe and
of the Orient], Gaillimard, Folio, 1992.
before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Though no official census was carried out since 1932
(in order not to exacerbate the community tensions), it is generally assumed that the Shiites
numbered more than one million and represented around 30% of the population. This is also
the community which had the highest birth rate.
The Amal movement and Hezbollah
Amal: the Amal movement, founded in 1975, has as its first objective to raise the economic
and political role of the Shiites so as to be able to respond appropriately to Palestinian
domination of the political and social scene, including in South Lebanon. The Amal
movement, unlike the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), wishes to be the bearer of a
Lebanese legitimacy, though it supports the Palestinian cause, and cannot accept infiltration
of Shiite villages basically serving Palestinian resistance and carrying out operations of
terrorism against Israel. The concentration of Palestinians rapidly constituted a threat for the
Shiite community seeking political emancipation.
The war of 1982 gave Amal the long-awaited opportunity to show its power in the Shiite areas
which were previously controlled by the PLO. However, despite the support of Syria, Amal
showed that it was too weak to take over the Palestinians. The battle of 1985 against the
Palestinians of South Beirut and the substantial losses of the Shiite side caused a major
turning point for the Shiite movement, which was marginalised. The misfortune of Amal may
be explained in part, as we shall now see, by the emergence of its rival, Hezbollah.
Hezbollah: the Lebanese Hezbollah (party of God) was up to the mid-1990s considered
both by public opinion and by the Arab countries to be ‘an Iranian community in Lebanon’
as well as a ‘tool of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Near East.’49 Founded in 1983 by a
gathering of many Shiite fundamentalist factions to struggle for the liberation of South
Lebanon, it was supported by Syria and, of course, by Iran which inspires its ideology and its
forms of organisation. While it played a capital role in the clashes for which Lebanon was the
theatre, notably in the taking of Western hostages, its struggle was oriented towards other
objectives. Since 1985, it truly replaced the PLO in the fight against the State of Israel.
At the time, Hezbollah shared with the Palestinian forces not only its condescension for the
Lebanese State but also the wish to use the South of the country as a base for attacks on the
State of Israel. Amal shared with Hezbollah the rejection of the Zionist occupation of
Lebanon. Otherwise the two movements disagreed essentially on two points. Firstly,
Hezbollah intends to conduct the struggle right up to the destruction of the Jewish enemy
and the reconquest of Jerusalem. For its part, Amal, as protector of the Shiites, has a more
moderate vision than its rival and intends to lead the struggle against Israel within the
frontiers of Lebanon. Secondly, religious fundamentalism and the establishment of an
Islamic Republic in Lebanon are in total contradiction with the ideology of the Amal
movement, which bases its action on the renewal of the state institutions and which tries to
accord a larger place to the Shiite community in Lebanon. In the first few years, these
‘ideological-political’ considerations were concealed in order to lead the fight against the
Army of South Lebanon and Israel.
The organisation of Hezbollah is pyramidal: at the top there is a council of 7 members
(choura el-qara), a politburo and an executive council. Then come the regions, the sections,
the labour unions and, to be sure, the popular mobilisation at the base. Since the end of the
civil war, faced with the shortcomings of the Lebanese State, the organisation has built up the
number of neighbourhoods and regions of the local missions. The successes of the latter have
largely contributed to the development of its influence. Thus, Hezbollah acts in numerous
domains such as education, water and electricity infrastructures, the hospital sector, etc.
49 Al-Nahar, on 15 March 2000.
Hezbollah divides up into many ‘wings’ which support one another. The social wing in South
Lebanon assisted the military branch to establish a recruitment network, while the political
wing took advantage of the ambient institutional chaos to present itself as a political party
and finally assert itself as an unavoidable force on the Lebanese political scene.
Hassan Nasrallah, the undisputed leader of Hezbollah
From the 1940s to 1960, the nationalist Arab ideas and ideas of the Left became organised
and they seduced an entire generation. Hassan Nasrallah was born in 1960 in the suburbs of
Beirut. His family was originally from the village of Bazourieh, near Tyre in South Lebanon.
While still a student in the secondary school of Tyre, he was an activist in the ranks of the
Amal movement for whom he then became the local leader in in Bazourieh. After receiving
religious training in Iraq, he was expelled in 1978 due to his religious activism among the
Khomeyni supporters. He left Amal after the Israeli invasion and founded Hezbollah together
with other fighters.
Hassan Nasrallah was able to establish himself as the head of the resistance. He also
succeeded in arranging a mobilisation which transcended the Shiite communty and extended
over the whole of Lebanese society, so that resistance became the cement of national unity. In
1997, he created the Lebanese Brigades for Resistance to the Israeli Occupation (L.B.R.I.O.),
a non-faith and non-partisan structure which proposed both to the Shiites and to the
Lebanese of other religions that they incorporate a military structure in order to conduct
armed struggle against Israel. As Caroline Donati emphasizes: ‘While the relative success of
this formula attests to the limits of the capacity for opening up of a party marked by its
ideological and religious relationship to Shiite Islam and to Iran, for all that Hezbollah
enjoys a real ascendancy over the Lebanese population.50
These last few years, Hassan Nasrallah has abandonned the project – at least in his speeches
– of an Islamic Republic in order to insert his party into the political system of Lebanon,
while maintaining the unity of the Shiite community and reinforcing its influence over them.
b. In Iraq
Iraq is the cradle of Shiism, since it is where its main holy places are concentrated. The
Second Gulf War relieved Iran of its worst enemy and allowed it to recover in Iraq is ability to
act which no other country in the region could take advantage of. Indeed, while during the
first three years of the conflict Iran proclaimed itself to be ‘neutral,’ one did not have to wait
very long to see the infiltration of Iraqi opponents in Iran and Iranian agents towards Iraq. As
Mahammad Reza Djalli stresses: ‘the intermixing of the fates of Iran and Iraq is explained
by the conjuncture of a certain number of geographic, historical, religious and historical
factors,’51 and, after many centuries, the domination of the Shiite holy places in Iraq is a
major issue for the two countries. Every year they attract thousands of pilgrims. Many
Iranians are otherwise living in Iraq. The tensions between these two countries have
crystallised around the border marking the separation between the former Ottoman Empire
and the Persian empire. The border line, which is nearly 1500 km long, is now the result of
the correlation of forces between Iran and Iraq.
Since 1932 (the date of independence of Iraq), the two countries have almost never had
cordial relations. However, the situation degenerated only after the fall of the Shah and the
arrival of the Mullahs in power in 1979. In 1980, Saddam Hussein, pushed or supported by
France and the United States, launched Iraq into a fratricidal war against Iran which lasted 8
50 C. Donati, ‘South Lebanon: the Israeli retreat’ in Maghreb-Machrek, Paris, April-June 2000, n°168,
p. 131.
51 Mahammad Reza Djalli, ‘After Saddam: Iranian hopes and uncertainties,’ Politique étrangère 3-
4/2003, p.568
years and ended up costing hundreds of thousands of lives and an exorbitant amount of
Iranian interactions in Iraq
In order to understand the question of Iranian interference in Iraq, we have to look at the
way in which a multitude of Iranian decision centres interacted (the President, the Supreme
Guide, the grand Ayatollahs, the Revolutionary Guard, etc.)52 There are so many actors who
do not always have the same political agenda and who can even sometimes neutralise one
another. However that may be, since the unleashing of the Second Gulf War, the influence of
Iran in Iraq is unquestionable and that is so in many different ways. This influence as
described in many American and British military reports, by the testimony of Iraqi and
Iranian agents, appears to have been minutely planned well before the American invasion.
As we have already underlined, Shiism is undoubtedly the natural lever of action of Iran in
Iraq since the Iraqi population is around 60 to 70% Shiite. Yet the latter have always been in
the situation of a political minority in Iraq. This privileged link – which was strengthened
during the past two decades – reached its paroxysm today. The very influential Ayatollah al-
Sistani, who was born in Iran and who lived there for many years, is just one example of the
permanent collusion between Iran and a goodly number of the Shiite religious leaders in the
region of Basra. Juliana Daoud Yusu, editor-in-chief of the daily al-Manar in Basra explained
in 2005 : ‘We see the interference of Iran in all sorts of affairs; the closing of night clubs, the
disappearance of liquor stores (…) They take advantage of the absence of government, and
they do it in a very well planned manner.’53 The ‘religious leaders’ also proceed to take
permanent control of the mores (make-up, dress code, restriction of the rights of women,
etc.). There is a veritable Shiite propaganda around the holy places which operates through
Iranian flags sitting atop the mosques, the distribution of religious materials (books, CDroms)
and the promotion of the Persian language.
There are tens of thousands of Iranians living in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and the
hundreds of thousands of others who, each year, make the pilgrimage to the holy Iraqi
places : pilgrims, intelligence agents or Iranian terrorists – the permeable Iran-Iraq border
makes possible all types of infiltrations. Once they are established in Iraq, these ‘Iranian
agents’– who already have a substantial pool of potential collaborators among the ‘dual
nationals’ and among the Shiite Iraqis – have largely proceeded these past few years, whether
by retribution or by force, to recruit Iraqi helpers to ensure their domination. As for the Iraqi
police, who are powerless given the extent of this influence, it very often has no alternative to
watching and waiting despite the relative restructuring of its departments.
Since the period just after the Iran-Iraq War, the Revolutionary Guard has acquired an
important role on the Iraqi political scene both through propaganda operations and by
violent actions on the ground. Just before the American invasion of March 2003, the
Revolutionary Guard repositioned itself in order to reinforce the border with Iraq and then
occupy the vacuum left by the collapse of the regime. Operating thanks to diplomatic or
humanitarian cover (NGO, Red Cross, etc.), the Guard provides for the military training and
logistical support of Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents.
These past few years, this ‘collaboration’ has resulted in military equipment and
communications being supplied to Shiite terrorist groups such as the group of Abu Mustafa
al-Sheibani which was created completely by the Revolutionary Guard and heads a network
of insurgents which during 2005 and 2006 made large scale attacks using, among other
52 See avove: the Iran of the Mullahs
53 Tob Robberson, ‘Iranian influence raises anxiety in southern Iraq,’ The Dallas Morning News,
August 3, 2005.
things, legal weapons till then not used by the insurgents. Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani has
figured on the black list of the United States since January 2008.
The Iraqi Hezbollah
As Laurence Louër explains: ‘Some small groups whose nature remains difficult to discern
have regularly claimed the label ’’Hezbollah’’ ever since the 1980s, but this is not the case of
any central actors in the Shiite Islamist field.’54 However, there is well and truly a group
presenting all the characteristics of an Iraqi Hezbollah. It was created in 1982 at the
instigation of Iran. It was initially devoted to uniting the various movements of Iraqi
resistance. Its internal organisation, the training of its leaders and of its militia are all
provided by the Pasdarans and its acknowledgement of the authority of Ali Khamenei makes
it a movement very similar to the Lebanese Hezbollah directed by Hassan Nasrallah. By
means of terrorist operations, and always at the request of Iran, the Iraqi Hezbollah has
never stopped working to neutralise the operations of coalition forces aimed at creating an
opposition movement to Iran in Iraq. The Army of the Mahdi, organised differently from
Hezbollah – with a floating authority– was also aligned with Iran, and its leader Moqtada al-
Sadr said in 2004 that his movement was allied with the ‘leadership of Iran.’ However that
may be, the pro-Iranian terrorist movement is not content to engage in violent actions.
Following the tactics used in South Lebanon, it has attracted and recruited a population in
desperate straits by means of charity or incited attacks through the television channel al-
c. In Syria
Syria displays great ethnic diversity even if its majority is Sunni. Nearly 80% of the
population obeys Sunni Islam, with minorities of Druze and Alawites at their sides. Syrian
Islam remains tolerant and the Christians are not worried. Moreover, the 1950s and 60s saw
a movement of secularisation of the city folk and of the country’s educated classes. Damascus
was long under French influence and it had to wait until 1946 to declare its independence. In
fact, it was not the first parliamentary elections which freed Syria in 1932 since the
candidates were chosen in advance by Paris. The days following independence were marked
by constant political instability which ended only with the accession to power of the late
Hafez El-Assad during a coup d’état in 1970. Once he became chief of state, Assad decided to
establish the bases for institutional stability through a constitution and an assembly of the
Syria’s foreign policy is mostly focused on its neighbours in the region. Its relations with
Tehran really took shape only during the period of tensions in the middle of the 1970s
between the Syrian President and the Rais of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein.
In the space of just a few years, what was at first a strategic relationship between Damascus
and Tehran was rapidly transformed into a relationship of lord and vassal. To be sure, the
Alawite regime of Bashar El-Assad is economically dependent on its big Iranian brother, but
this dependence very quickly opened the door to an omnipresent ideological domination
throughout all of Syria by means of Iranian cultural and religious institutions. The Pasdaran
also infiltrated the Syrian army.
While Iran plays a grand role of support to Hezbollah, Syria does the same. In this way its
political and military support have over the years become a necessity for the activities of
Hezbollah in South Lebanon.
54 Laurence Louër, ‘Shiism and politics in the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Monarchy of the
Gulf,’ Collections Mondes et Nations [World and Nations Collections], Editions Autrement, 2008, p.
In its relations with Syria, Hezbollah enjoys 3 advantages:
- Its integration within the Shiite community and its ability to mobilise resources thanks to
its discipline and its methods of clandestine implantation.
- Israel’s interdiction of the presence of the Syrian Army south of the Litani.
- The support of a large part of Iranian leadership with whom Syria does not wish to clash.’55
In addition, Hezbollah depends on Syria in various ways. In fact, the main path of access
which makes it possible to transport arms passes via Syria. And Hezbollah owes a large part
of its legitimacy in Lebanon to Syria. It has been Syria which dissuaded the Lebanese
government from curbing the political predominance of Hezbollah. Finally, it benefits from
assistance and political support from the authorities in Damascus.
While Syria has supported the ‘party of God’ ever since the Taëf Accords56, they nonetheless
have not always shared the same positions. Thus, during the wars of the camps (1984-1987),
Hezbollah went as far as to clash with the Syrian Army supporting the Amal movement.
However that may be, this dependence allows Syria to use Hezbollah for its own purposes,
even though many ideological divergences can lead these two actors to disagree over the
goals, the strategy and the tactics.
In fact, the ideological platforms are almost antagonistic. The doctrine of Hezbollah is based
on extreme religious fundamentalism, whereas the Syrian establishment is atheistic, socialist
and nationalistic.
Syria prefers to reach a more pragmatic goal (the retreat of Israel from the Golan Heights) by
negotiation while recognizing the danger of escalation of the conflict to the regional level.
These are the differences which, in the opinion of Shmuel Gordon still explain the risks taken
by Hezbollah in its dependence vis-à-vis Syria.
On the other hand, frictions have also appeared between the two protectors of the Shiite
movement. In 1999, the government of Damascus, which wanted a truce to allow the
government of Ehud Barak to relaunch the peace process, reacted in a muscular fashion to
Tehran which was at the time inciting Hezbollah to escalation. The latter meanwhile caused
the Israelis to undertake violent reprisals against Lebanese targets.
During the last few months, the two nations have opted for a ‘critical dialogue.’ Syrians and
Iranians have counted on the victory of Barack Obama, because the Democratic candidate
stood for an opening after a period of demonisation generated by the Republicans. However,
Tehran remains very critical regarding the diplomatic overture made by the Americans to
Damascus because the Iranians would lose one of their most precious allies in the region. The
recent statements of the Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi, who called upon Syria to
show more prudence vis-à-vis the enemies are not innocent and come at a moment when
Syrian foreign policy has seen a sort of sign of recovery: establishing contact with Saudi
Arabia, at least relative reconciliation with Egypt and the wish of the Americans to test the
55 E. Kheir, ‘The long march of Hezbollah: from global rejection to integration’ in Le Débat
Stratégique, mars 2000, n°49, [The Strategic Debate, March 2000, no. 49]CIRPES, Paris, p. 2.
56 The agreement of Taël signed on 22 October 1989 abolished the national pact of 1943 and reduced
the powers of the chief of state, of the prime minister and of the president of the Assembly. This
agreement set down the abandonment of the pre-existing community policy as the essential national
policy. It involved disarming the militia and regrouping the Syrian troops on the Bekaa plain.
good will of the Syrians.57 One can say very clearly that Iran does not want the ‘international
overtures’ towards Syria to isolate it still further.
IV. Revolutionary Islam, state terrorism and terrorism
1. State terrorism
As we mentioned in our introduction, right after the Islamic Revolution the regime of the
Mullahs did not stop ‘pouring oil onto the fire’ at the international level. The episode of
hostage-taking at the American Embassy and the hostages held in Lebanon are very revealing
in this respect. After having shown that Hezbollah was in the end just an armed wing of Iran
charged with the task of performing terrorist missions which Tehran could not itself assume
without risking still more being banished from the international community, it seems to us
interesting to present here below a non-exhaustive list of the attacks perpetrated by the party
of God (and (in)directly by Iran) during the 1980s and 90s58 :
23 October 1983 in Beirut: suicide attacks against the multinational force of
intervention which is trying to put an end to the war: 248 American marines and 58
French parachutists are killed.
March 1984: targeted kidnapping of the CIA bureau chief in Beirut. William Francis
Buckley dies after 15 months of detention and torture.
January 1985: murder of two French noncommissioned officers in Beirut;
1985: start of the campaign of kidnappings which will be called generically in the
Western media the affair of the Hostages in Lebanon and which concerns, among
others, American, French and British journalists, diplomats and researchers. The
journalist Terry Anderson remains the hostage held for the longest period of time:
kidnapped on 15 March 1985, he was freed only in December 1991.
14 June 1985: hijacking in Athens of a Boeing airliner belonging to TWA on a flight
between Athens and Rome. American citizen Robert Stehem is murdered in the course
of this hostage-taking which ends on 30 June.
1985-1986 : a campaign of attacks in France, ordered by Iran, coordinated by
Hezbollah and carried out by a local cell (Fouad Saleh group) causes 10 deaths and 40
injuries. At the end of his investigation, the anti-terrorist judge Gilles Boulouque
identified and indicted 17 members of Hezbollah.
13 January 1987: arrest of Mohammed Ali Hamadé in Frankfurt with 9 litres of a
powerful liquid explosive, methyl nitrate.
17 and 20 January 1987: kidnapping in Beirut of two German citizens, Rudolf and
Alfred Schmidt (both freed in 1988).
26 January 1987: arrest at Frankfurt Airport of Abbas Hamadé, brother of
Mohammed, who also was in possession of many litres of methyl nitrate.
57 Tariq Al-Homayed, ‘Rififi between Damascus and Tehran,’ Courrier International, Thursday, 12
March 2009, p.25
58 This list is taken from an analytical article written by Claude Moniquet and Dimitri Delalieu:
‘Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation and armed wing of Tehran in the Near East,’ Analysis, ESISC, 23
July 2006 in
17 February 1988 : hijacking of Kuwait Airways flight 422 as it departs from
Bangkok. The hijacking lasts 16 days and costs the lives of two passengers.
17 March 1992: suicide attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos-Aires (29 dead
and 220 wounded).
18 July 1994: suicide attack against the Jewish Community Centre of Buenos Aires
(86 deaths and 250 wounded).
27 and 28 July 1994: attack against the headquarters of Jewish organisations and
against the Israeli Embassy in London (20 wounded).
In May 2003, Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI gave the Wall Street Journal59
some details on the investigation into the booby trapped lorry attack on the Khobar Towers in
Saudi Arabia which killed 19 Americans on 26 June 1996. According to him, the operation
was organised, financed and coordinated in Iran by the security services, the Revolutionary
Guard and the Ministry of Intelligence.
As for attacks carried out in Turkey, the Daily Telegraph60 reported in 2003 that one of those
who planted the bombs used in two terrorist attacks in Istanbul which caused 24 deaths had
traveled many times to Iran to get training there in explosives.
The war on terror launched by the Americans and their allies right after the attacks carried
out by al-Qaeda increased somewhat further the feeling of isolation which we have already
described above.61 In fact, a quick glance at the map of the region indicating the various
American military bases will suffice for any observer to appreciate to what extent Iran is
literally encircled. From the massive stationing of American troops in Iraq and in
Afghanistan to the military agreements on defence which Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Oman and the United Arab Emirates have signed with the United States, the encirclement of
the Islamic Republic is a reality.
But isn’t this situation just the consequence of a foreign policy focused on defiance to the
Western world and the obsessive determination to attack which accompanies it, focused on
the practice of state terrorism and finally on promotion of terrorism via various movements?
2. Suicide attacks: an Iranian model widely ‘exported’
On 29 September 2005, the new Iranian Minister of Defence General Mostafa Mohammadi-
Nadjar officially announced what everyone had long known: Iran is training kamikazes!
During a meeting of the Pasdaran in Tehran, the man who was the first commander of the
Middle East force of the Revolutionary Guard during the 1980s and who personally
supervised the suicide attack in Beirut in 1983 which cost the lives of 241 American soldiers
said: ‘A nation having a spirit of devotion, sacrifice and martyrdom has no need for atomic
arms and can use its dedicated forces to resist the enemy and neutralise its threats.’62
In October 2005, it was a high official of the Revolutionary Guard, General Mohammad
Kossari, who explained: ‘We know all the sensitive points of the enemies and what we must
do to them. Today we have volunteers for martyrdom who are ready to strike against these
sensitive points.’63
59 Wall Street Journal, 20 May 2003.
60 Daily Telegraph, 1 December 2003.
61 See Chapter II, paragraph 3: A necessary axis to break out of isolation.
62 ‘The Ministry of Defence confirms that Iran is training the Kamikazes’ in Iran Focus, 29 September
63 News agency ILNA, 11 October 2005.
Since then, statements by high military officers or Iranian politicians along these lines have
been repeated many times over. As Laurent Artur du Plessis stresses: ‘The Iranian state is,
after the defeat of Japan in 1945, the first state to officially advocate this form of attack and
to recruit apprentice kamikazes on a large scale and train them’.64 He predicts that: ’Iran
will occupy a leading position in the war between Islam and the West in its capacity as a
state sponsor of kamikaze terrorism.’65 Nowadays Tehran has a school of martyrs as well as a
museum dedicated to the cult of kamikazes!
V. The neighbourhood policies chosen for the Arab countries
After having renounced exporting its revolutionary model by seeking wide support of the
‘Muslim masses,’ the regime in Tehran has nonetheless not turned its back on its policy of
destabilising the Sunni Arab world, which it considers to be a threat to itself. Using the arms
of terrorism and of subversion all at once or alternatively, for thirty years Tehran has tried in
an uninterrupted manner to undermine the authorities in a number of Arab countries.
1. The example of Morocco
a. Iran/Morocco: two conceptions of foreign policy – From an antagonism
to an opposition and an attempt at destabilisation?
We have emphasised a number of times already that Iran has been particularly active these
past few years in promoting its theocratic republic. In the Maghreb and especially in
Morocco, a dialogue was set up between the political parties and the official representatives
of the Mullahs. This ‘activism,’ which is more political than religious, was tolerated by the
authorities insofar as it did not threaten the fundamental interests of the kingdom. As we
shall see further on, the episode in Bahrain in March 2009 finally led to the breaking of
diplomatic relations between Iran and Morocco. While this decision is without doubt the
consequence of the ‘disrespectful attitude’ of the Islamic Republic towards it, it also appears
that Morocco is ‘infuriated by the unacceptable and continuous meddling by Iran in its
internal affairs.’ It seems the Moroccan authorities have seized upon this opportunity to free
themselves from a relationship which has now become dangerous.
The Kingdom of Morocco maintained special relations with Iran going back to the period of
the Shah and lasting up to his overthrow in 1979. After the Revolution, the Moroccan
authorities took a long time before they recognised the Islamic Republic of Iran. Relations
finally were normalised only towards the end of the 1990s when they exchanged
ambassadors. In February 2008, Morocco and Iran made official their mutual ‘links of
friendship and agreements on cooperation.’ However, for many years the intelligence and
security services of Morocco pointed their finger at the connections between Iran and the
fundamentalist networks which threaten the country. The force al-Qods has been charged
with recruiting and sending to Iran Moroccans who, following their return to their country
after their training in Iran, engage in spreading there the ideology of the Mullahs.
The modus operandi of Iran in Morocco, as in other countries of the Maghreb, is relatively
‘ simple’ and effective. First of all, Tehran tries to re-launch bilateral relations by putting the
accent on favoured links which unite their two countries. The regime then underlines the
importance of organising tourist exchanges, of developing cultural and economic relations.
Finally, it infiltrates forces which will develop fundamentalist networks and will see to it that
64 Laurent Artur du Plessis, ‘ L’Iran dans la 3e Guerre mondiale [Iran in the 3rd World War], Jean-
Cyrille Godefroy, 2005
65 Ibidem.
the ideology is spread. Morocco is, of course, a formidable ‘entryway’ for agents of the
Mullahs heading for France and, more generally, towards Europe.
In Morocco as elsewhere, terrorism has been used by the Mullahs.
In July 2007, during a raid in Casablanca, the Moroccan police arrested Saad Al-Hosseini,
known as ‘the chemist’ and suspected of having played a role in the May 2003 attacks in
Casablanca. Linked to al-Qaeda, al-Hosseini passed through Afghanistan but also had spent
time in Iran with many members of his network.
In 2008, the Moroccan authorities dismantled a vast Islamist network whose chief,
Abdelkader Belliraj, held Moroccan and Belgian nationality. He was apparently involved in
many assassinations in Belgium at the end of the 1980s and also played a key role in
preparing terrorist attacks in North Africa. Linked to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant
Groupe (MICG), the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Algerian SGPC) and the
Abdelkader Belliraj Movement, he also was in close contact with the ‘moderate’ Islamist
leaders of the al-Balil al-Hadari party. The latter ‘Alternative Civilisational’ party was created
in 2002 and won official recognition by the authorities in 2005. It was the first Islamist
political party created in Morocco and it maintained relations with Iranian Shiite circles. An
investigation into the Belliraj network finally led the Moroccan authorities to dissolve the
party in February 2008. In the end, the death penalty was requested by the prosecutor in the
anti-terrrorist court of Salé, near Rabat, against Abdelkader Belliraj, who was accused of
having directed a terrorist network consisting of 35 members in Morocco and abroad.
b. The breaking of diplomatic relations
In mid-February 2009, on the occasion of the commemoration of Iran’s Islamic Revolution,
Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the former president of the Iranian Parliament and present adviser to
the Supreme Guide, said that Bahrain belonged to Iran by describing it as the ‘14th Iranian
province.’ This incident, which is reminiscent of the Iraqi declaration which preceded the
invasion of Kuwait, prompted a general outcry of protests around the world despite a
message intended to reduce tensions which was sent shortly after the incident by Iranian
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the King of Bahrain, Hamad Bin Aïssa al Khalifa.
The divorce with Morocco was pronounced on 6 February, ten days after the recall of the
interim chargé d'affaires in Tehran for consultations. The official press release explains: ‘The
Kingdom of Morocco has decided upon a break in diplomatic relations with the Islamic
Republic of Iran beginning this Friday.’ But this decision cannot be explained just by the
tensions arising between Tehran and Bahrain.
In fact, in the gradation of diplomatic relations,66 breaking them between two States is an
extreme act which occurs generally just before a declaration of war. And while Morocco well
and truly recalled its head of mission for 10 days, it remains a fact that it still had a whole
panoply of ways to get its message across to Tehran without breaking diplomatic relations.
This was a strong act intended to show Morocco’s determination in the face of what many
Arab countries now define openly as the ‘Iranian challenge.’
c. Challenging the King of Morocco’s role as Commander of the Believers
In Morocco Islam is the state religion and the King assumes the role of Commander of the
Believers (Amir Al Mouminine). This magisterium, which distinguishes him in the Islamic
world, arises from a prerogative which is both religious and constitutional, and which
consecrates the sovereign as guarantor of the spiritual balance of his country. While Iran
66 Jean Salmon, ‘Manuel de droit diplomatique [Manual of diplomatic law], Bruylant, Editions Delta,
tried to strengthen its relations with Morocco in the name of the ‘Islamic Umma,’ it remains
true that the constitution of the Mullahs does not recognise geographic borders.
Since 2004, we have witnessed a veritable Iranian policy of entryism and intervention in the
affairs of Morocco. The resumption of activism by Iranian diplomacy whether directly or
indirectly in order to encourage the spread of Shiism (publications and dissemination of
works, promotion of cultural centres, etc.) has had great resonance. This Shiite interference
and religious proselytism which has been established in Morocco little by little has been
perceived as threatening because it competes directly with the Sunni Malekite rite which has
been practiced in Morocco and is embodied by the sovereign.
A communiqué from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Morocco the day after the breaking of
diplomatic relations mentions: ‘the attempt by Iran to threaten the unity of the Muslim faith
in Morocco and the Sunni Malekite rite whose guarantor is King Mohammed VI.’ ‘This type
of action (...) constitutes unacceptable meddling in the internal affairs of the kingdom and is
contrary to the rules and ethics of diplomatic activity,’ says the official communiqué
published on the internet site of the official news agency MAP.
2. The example of Tunisia: Bourguiba, a man to bring down?
In March 1987, the Tunisian government broke relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran
because of ‘subversive activities’ led by the Iranian Embassy in Tunis. At this time, the
authorities in Tunis accused the Iranian diplomatic representation of supporting Islamists
who were opposed to President Bourguiba. Bourguiba was resolutely oriented to the West.
Beginning in 1956, he promulgated an avant-guard code on personal status which prohibited
polygamy and replaced simple repudiation of a spouse by a procedure of divorce through the
courts. He then legalised the contraceptive pill and abortion, doing so well in advance of a
good number of European countries. Islamic circles and conservatives (Iran among those in
the front ranks) feel threatened by the modernity and flexibility of this statesman vis-à-vis
Islam. Relations between the two states were renewed only in September 1990 in the name of
‘Islamic solidarity and the charter of the United Nations.’ At this time, Tunisia was not the
only country to break its relations with Iran. Mauritania and Senegal also ended their
relations with the Islamic Republic in the middle of the 1980s over ‘interference in their
internal affairs.’
3. The example of Saudi Arabia
a. The new diplomacy of Riyad with respect to Tehran
These past few years, relations between these two nations have been marked by Iranian
attempts to influence the decisions of Riyad. Tehran regularly sends clear signals to Saudi
Arabia. One thinks, in particular, of what occurred during the conference in Annapolis in
November 2007 when President Ahmadinejad asked King Abdullah not to participate in the
negotiations. During the pilgrimage to Mecca of 2007, Ahmadinejad made history since it
was the first time that an Iranian chief of state traveled to the holy city.67 The best known
activity of Saudi diplomacy dealing with Tehran happened thanks to the agreement of the
Arab League to bring Iran into its organisation with observer status.
Otherwise, the Tehran-Riyad pairing grew stronger beginning with the time when they
decided to act in concert in order to stabilise the Lebanese crisis in 2007 as tensions between
Shiites and Sunnis had reached new heights.
67 At the invitation of the Saudi King.
As we see, Saudi Arabia acts as a buffer in the region while also serving American interests in
the Sunni – Shiite split. In fact, during these past few years the Americans68 have considered
that the Saudis form a bloc making it possible to polarise the Sunni nations (Jordan and
Egypt) and to help the Sunni groups in those nations which are called mixed (like Lebanon).
Alongside these American visions, the Saudis have understood very well the importance of
renewed relations with Tehran since many economic accords have been signed since the
accession to power of the fundamentalist Ahmadinejad. These accords provide in particular
that the Saudi banks may open branches in Iran and vice versa. Ever since the Saudis have
taken into account that they are no longer simple suppliers of oil to the Americans, Riyad has
developed a prudent economic diplomacy with its neighbour Iran.
This new bilateral relationship cannot conceal the stumbling blocks of the past. As we are
going to see further on, the two Middle Eastern nations have historically been opposed to one
another. In Lebanon, the Saudis have decades-long links with the family of former Prime
Minister Hariri and they invested colossal sums in the reconstruction of Beirut.
Finally, we point out the speech which Prince Saud Al-Faysal made on 3 March, when he
called upon the Arab countries in the Union to face up to the ‘Iranian challenge’ at the
opening of a meeting of the Arab Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Cairo. The Minister of
Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom declared: ‘In order to consecrate the Arab reconciliation, we
need a common vision on questions relating to Arab security and in order to face up to the
Iranian challenge.’ This sally by the Saudi Minister clearly appeared to be a signal to relaunch
the discussion of the Persian threat at a moment when in the United States the new
Obama administration had not yet decided on its plan of action vis-à-vis Iran.
b. The casus belli of Jeddah
In August 1987, some clashes occurred in the Great Mosque of Mecca during the annual
pilgrimage in which millions of Muslims participate. These clashes involved Iranian pilgrims
who demonstrated to proclaim Imam Khomeiny (Supreme Guide of the Iranian Revolution)
spiritual leader of all Muslims. Iran had sent ‘false pilgrims’ intending to create trouble for
the pilgrimage. The Iranian demonstrators corresponded to a plan by Tehran which foresaw
in particular the destruction of certain buildings in Mecca. In the end, the confrontations
between the Iranians and the Saudi law enforcement forces resulted in 402 deaths and 649
injured.69 Several days later, the Saudi Embassy was sacked and 4 diplomatic officials were
kidnapped under the passive watch of Iranian forces of order. A political confrontation
followed between these two nations when Imam Khomeiny expressed his doubt that the
Saudi dynasty would be able to ensure the security of the holy places. These words very
clearly were questioning the activities of King Fahd who, in October 1986 had asked that his
title of majesty henceforth be replaced by that of ‘servant of the two holy places’: Mecca and
Arab reactions to the carnage in Mecca were not long in coming. Egyptian President Mubarak
confirmed his full support for the Saudi royal authorities as protectors of the Islamic holy
sites. In Jordan and in Kuwait, King Hussein and the Emirs vigorously condemned the
Iranian attitude. In Morocco, King Hassan II said he was concerned that the press in Tunisia
was taking up the Iranian heresy.71
68 Under the administration of Bush Jr.
69 AFP, ‘The plan of the Iranian demonstrators of Mecca,’ 4 August 1987.
70 Pierre Taillefer, ‘The confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran takes a political turn,’ AFP, 4
August 1987.
71 AFP, ‘Allies and adversaries of Iran,’ 2 August 1987.
c. Birth of the Hezbollah of Hijaz
A Saudi branch of Hezbollah, known under the name Al Hijaz, is active in various nations
such as Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain. This group was formed in the Iranian and Lebanese
camps and is considered to be a terrorist organisation by the Saudi and American authorities.
In 1996, activists of Al Hijaz participated in the attack on the Khobar Towers in which 19
American soldiers were killed.
The Lebanese crisis of 2006 allowed the Saudi Hezbollah to return to the front of the stage
with the publication of a fiery communiqué denouncing the statements of the Al-Saud
traitors.72 This was obviously a direct response to the condemnation by the Saudi regime of
the disastrous consequences of the adventurism of the Lebanese Hezbollah and of their
foreign supporters, a lightly veiled reference to Syria and, above all, to Iran.
The Hezbollah Hijaz has a small popular following. It lacks a clear political vision and relies
only on terrorism as a propaganda tool thanks to support from Iran. In this sense, the tiny
grouping is not participating in the process of reconciliation between Al-Saud and the
Islamists and this proves once again that Iran has its instruments dispersed everywhere in
order to strike against Western interests in crucial areas. In fact, the Hijaz group is
established mainly in the western province of Saudi Arabia which is strategically sensitive
and where most of the oil resources of the kingdom are concentrated.
4. The example of Jordan
a. The concerns of King Abdallah II over the emergence of the ‘Shiite
While the advent of Iranian entryism has had and will continue to have enormous
consequences in Iraq, it is also true for Jordan, which now feels threatened by the efforts of
the Islamic Republic to spread Shiite influence. In December 2004, the Washington Post73
published an interview with King Adballah II in the course of which the sovereign said he was
concerned by the emergence of a ‘Shiite crescent’ and explained that the pro-Iranian changes
in Iraq will have consequences for regional geopolitics. According to the sovereign, the
modifications in the correlation of political forces between the Shiites and the Sunnis could
result ‘in new problems which would not be restricted to the borders of Iraq.’74
Shortly after the assassination of Rafic Hariri on 14 February 2005, the King said once again
he was concerned over the advent of Iran in the region. In Washington, where he met the
representatives of the Jewish community, he said: [Hezbollah, Syria and Iran] encourage the
terrorist attacks on Israel in order to divert the attention of the world from the events in
However, the sovereign has tried repeatedly to call for a negotiated settlement of the conflict
between Iran and the West over its controversial nuclear programme. In January 2006,
during a meeting with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the King explained the reasons
for that appeal. He said that recourse to force would have grave repercussions on the stability
and the security of the region. Does the sovereign have any choice? Does the Jordanian
regime which feels itself threatened by the expansionism of the Mullahs think it is able to
72 Laurence Louër, ‘The Hezbollah movement, international phenomenon with links to Iran,’
electronic publication http://www.teloseu.
73 Washington Post, 8 December 2004.
74 Ididem.
75 David Rigoulet-Roze, ‘Ethnic and faith-based geopolitics of the Middle East,’ Diploweb, September
counter the Iranian advance on its kingdom by recognising the right of the Islamic regime to
develop nuclear energy?
However that may be, the stability of the kingdom has been harmed, particularly when
Katyusha type 107 rockets made in Iran are seized in a Hamas hiding place in Jordan or
during the dismantlement of a recruitment branch of the Islamist Palestinians who were on
their way to Iran and Syria via Joran to receive military training.
5. The example of Egypt
a. The fears of President Hosni Moubarak regarding the rise in power of the
‘Shiite crescent’
The Hashemite sovereign is not the only leader to worry about Iranian influence on the
various Shiite communities in the Arab countries. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has
repeatedly drawn the attention of the Americans and of public opinion to the dangers of
Iranian entryism. In March 2006, he drew the attention of the Americans to a possible attack
on the Iranian Republic. According to him this would poison still more a situation which was
already quite difficult: ’Iran is generously assisting the Shiites of all countries and these
people are often ready to do anything if Iran is attacked.’76 Following the example of the
Jordanian sovereign, the Egyptian rais has often reiterated this idea, especially in an
interview he granted to the station al-Arabiya in the course of which he denounces Iranian
In December 2007, the visit to Egypt of the boss of the Iranian Supreme Council of National
Security, Mr. Larijani, had as its stated objective to ‘warm up’ relations between the two
countries. This was an unofficial visit, ‘private and for family reasons,’ which aroused fierce
opposition especially from the party in power, the PNB, directed by the son of Hosni
Mubarak, who believes in fact that any rapprochement with the Islamic Republic would not
serve the interests of Egypt and would risk worsening relations with the United States and
the European Union. And while meetings did take place during the visit of the Iranian envoy,
they led to nothing.
Along with its fears, Egypt decided to re-launch a military nuclear programme (abandoned
more than 20 years ago) in order to join the group of countries having nuclear energy.
Egyptian President Mubarak has said that his country believes that it should remain a
peaceful nuclear country, and his decision received the support of Washington and of the
Sunni Arab countries. Recent regional turmoil may explain the shift in Washington. If Iran
continues its nuclear programme, it should consider the nuclear potential of the Sunni Arabs.
After having supported the Israeli ‘exception,’ the White House might favour a Middle East
supplied with many ‘dissuasive poles.’77 Cairo’s nuclear programme would only see the light
of day in 2020 but it could modify the intra-Arab geopolitical equilibriums. The Egyptians
have the human means to succeed with this project and Saudi Arabia and the countries of the
Gulf seem ready to pay a part of the bill in order to make these facts a reality.
b. Hezbollah established in Egypt
While terrorism is obviously not a new thing in Egypt, the establishment of Hezbollah on
Egyptian soil is relatively recent. In April, the security services dismantled a Hezbollah
network which, according to the newspaper Al-Ahram, had begun its activities in 2007 when
Sami Shihab, a Lebanese living in the Shiite suburbs of Beirut moved into Egypt on a false
76 Gerard-François Dumont, ‘Iran and the ‘Shiite crescent’: myths, realities and prospects,’ Revue
Géostratégiques, n°18, janvier 2008 [Geostrategic Review, no. 18, January 2008]
77 Cécile Hennion, ‘Confronting Tehran, Washington and the Sunni Arab countries support a nuclear
Egypt,’ Le Monde, Sunday, 25 March 2007, p.9.
passport. It was his arrest in November 2008 which led to the dismantling of the network.
According to many Egyptian and Arab media, the network was intended to carry arms and
money for Hamas using the smugglers’ tunnels near Rafah (a border post between Gaza and
Egypt). But the network also planned terrorist attacks in Cairo and in Sinai, particularly
against sites frequented by Israeli tourists.
The Egyptian response to this affair did not take long in coming. The media and the political
class denounced Iranian interference in Egyptian affairs. After having promised his Lebanese
counterpart during a telephone conversation that those responsible would be brought to
justice, Hosni Moubarak said: ‘We will not allow anyone to damage Egyptian sovereignty
or to threaten its stability.’78 For his part, the chief of Iranian diplomacy in Cairo was
summoned as a sign of protest against: ‘the meddling of Tehran in the internal affairs of the
As regards the chief of Egyptian intelligence services, Omar Suleiman, he visited King
Abdallah of Saudi Arabia in order to discuss with him the subversive activities of Iran and of
its military wing not only in Egypt but also in a good number of countries of the Middle East.
In this affair Iran kept a relatively low profile in the media. Tehran denied the involvement of
Hezbollah which it said was involved only in supporting the Palestinian cause and that Egypt
and the Arab countries were spreading false propaganda about the pro-Iranian Shiite
movement. Ali Larijani, president of the Iranian Parliament, said that: ‘the governments
[Egyptian and the Arab countries] are accused of collaboration with Israel during its war
in the Gaza Strip. They are spreading propaganda in order to restore their status.’79
However, the leader of Hezbollah himself acknowledged the involvement of his terrorist
organisation in smuggling arms and militia from Egypt to Gaza during the recent operation
‘Cast Lead.’ Hassan Nasrallah denied though that Hezbollah was involved in planning
terrorist attacks in Egypt.
6. The example of the Gulf states
Just after his accession to power, Ayatollah Khomeiny stated his intention to expand the
Islamic Revolution across all the Middle East. The states of the Persian Gulf were the first to
be targeted and the example of the coup d’état in Bahrain is just the most visible example. In
fact, in 1981 some militants from the Islamic Liberation Front of Bahrain having links with
Iran attempted a coup d’état which was thwarted by the security services. This example
demonstrates the subversive intent of Iran in the region and the fault line between the Shiites
and the Sunnis. Other subversive actions such as the hijacking of a Kuwaiti Airlines flight
between Bangkok and Kuwait City in 1988, which was the work of Shiite militants, did not
calm relations between Iran and its neighbours in the Gulf.
Well before these events, in 1971, the Army of the Shah took control of Abou-Moussa and of
the islands of the greater and small Tomb, near the Straits of Ormuz, after the departure of
the British forces form the Gulf and several days after the declaration of independence of the
United Arab Emirates. Iran has always rejected the claims of the Emirates to these small
territories. The island of Abou-Moussa (12 km2) is located nearly at equal distance between
Iran and the Emirates. Its strategic position and its possible reserves of oil make it a major
bone of contention. In 1992, Abu-Dhabi criticised Tehran for jeopardising the status quo
which prevailed until then by strengthening its military presence on the island. In 2002,
during the Arab League Summit in Beirut, the question of the sovereignty of these territories
was definitively settled by a resolution passed unanimously by the participating states.
78 Muhit, 13 April 2009.
79 Al-Jazeera TV, 13 April 2009.
This reveals the growing anxiety of the six Arab monarchies of the Gulf as they confront
growing Iranian influence in the region. It was such that in September 2008 the countries
decided to turn to other regional powers in order to create a counterweight to Tehran. An
agreement aimed at reinforcing cooperation in the political, military and economic spheres
was signed between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)80 and Turkey. This memorandum of
understanding, which was described as a strategic partnership by Sheikh Hamad Al Thani,
chief diplomat of Qatar, was signed in the presence of the chief of Turkish diplomacy Ali
Babacan. During this meeting, the representative of the GCC and the Turkish representative
had a long discussion on Iran’s opening of two administrative offices on the island of Abou-
Moussa. The Iranian action provided grist for an old disagreement going back decades which
is considered by the United Arab Emirates as a violation of an agreement on joint
administration of this territory.
The Gulf states, which have Sunni majorities and are traditionally allied with the United
States, are worried over the growing influence of Shiite Iran in the region. The prospect of a
neighbour eventually having a military nuclear capability also disturbs them. The worst
nightmare would be that American pressures provoke an uncontrollable regional
conflagration whose consequences they would be the first to feel.81 This is why the opening of
a dialogue with Iran by the new Obama administration can only be reassuring to the Persian
Gulf states.
The attitude of Tehran vis-à-vis these nations is rather ambiguous and the words of former
Iranian diplomats feed these suspicions. In fact, the former ambassador of Iran to the United
Arab Emirates, Adel Al-Assidi, who now lives in Sweden under the status of a political
refugee, maintains that Tehran has maintained a vast network of agents in the six Arab petromonarchies
of the Gulf. These agents are ready to destabilise the countries at any moment
and are part of the Revolutionary Guard, a militia close to the conservatives and to the
current President of Iran.82
VI. What are the prospects for the Shiite crescent and for the Arab
world under Iranian influence?
1. From pan-Shiism to pan-Islamism?
The Iranian Revolution awakened Shiism from many centuries of lethargy. Today as we have
seen in the course of this report, Iran continues to strengthen its position, going so far as to
frighten certain Arab countries no longer with the emergence but with the long lasting
reinforcement of this ‘Shiite prosperity.’
Despite the differences between Sunnism and Shiism, the religious authorities of Tehran
have redoubled their efforts to develop an inter-Islamic rapprochement. From the
authorisation given to Shiite loyalists to pray behind the Sunni Imams, to the crisis of the
caricatures of Mohammed and support for the Palestinian cause, the Iranian leaders
prioritise this inter-Islamic convergence by unifying themes such as anti-imperialism and
anti-Zionism. And it has to be said that in many cases this ‘pan-Islamic diplomacy’ – to
borrow the term coined by Pierre Pahlavi83 – has functioned well within the Sunni world.
80 The GCC brings together the 6 monarchies of the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Kuwaït, the United Arab
Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman.
81 Delphine Minoui, ‘The monarchies of the Gulf urge prudence with Tehran,’ Le Figaro, Wednesday,
16 January 2008, Paris, p.4
82 Farah Stockman, ‘Subversion: the sleeping agents,’ Courrier International, Thursday, 25 September
2008, Paris, p.8
83 Pierre Pahlavi, op. cit.
It is this in particular which prompts the moderate Arab countries to exercise the greatest
prudence because the original calling of revolutionary Islam is to bring along in its wake the
various Shiite communities in: ‘a revolution whose future is the general Islamisation of the
world and the triumph of Shiite truth.84 This decidedly utopian wish to export the revolution
has had some successes and is still considered to be a threat.
Pan-Shiism remains a difficult objective, because the 140 million Shiite believers do not
constitute a homogeneous whole with whom one can operate easily. Some successes of the
Iranian foreign policy in the Shiite crescent are certainly incontrovertible, but they are not
sufficient to truly join together the various populations as a whole. On the other hand, a
goodly number of Arab states have redoubled their efforts to ‘integrate’ the Shiite
populations. This is so especially in Bahrain, where the Shiite leaders – after having been
exiled in the 1990s following clashes with the authorities – returned to the country and
opened a dialogue with the authorities who allowed them to obtain economic and political
benefits in exchange. As for Saudi Arabia, it has put in place a national dialogue in view of
reforming the kingdom and it invited the Shiites to take part. The emirate of Qatar has, for its
part, decided to grant specific rights to the Shiite minority.
Iraq embodies a considerable challenge for Iran because it has the ability to assume the
leadership of the Shiite world. It is surely because the authorities in Tehran are aware of this
risk that they have redoubled their efforts to keep Iraq under control. We have stressed in the
chapter devoted to Iraq that the main holy places of Shiism are located in Iraq and all the
Imams recognised by the Shiites are Arabs. Khomeiny himself lived fore more than a decade
(1965-1978) in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq whence he prepared the revolution.
However, the Iranian ambitions run far beyond the Shiite crescent and even beyond the
Muslim world. Indeed, these past few years, Iran has appeared to be particularly active in
strengthening its political, economic and military relations with a goodly number of states all
around the planet.
2. Beyond the frontiers of Islam ?
Within the United Nations Security Council, Iran has always tried to keep up relations with
China and Russia. With China we might define the relationship as an unfinished alliance.
With Russia, it could be described as an opportunistic entente.85
a. The unfinished alliance with China
During the 1990s, the military relations between Iran and China reached the kind of peak
which only bilateral Sino-Pakistani and North Korean relations surpassed by a bit.
Historically it was above all during the Iran-Iraq conflict that Beijing provided military
materiel to Tehran. These sales collapsed at the end of the war and only recently have they
returned to the summits. The Chinese have always wished to maintain relations with Iran,
seeing the preponderant influence of the United States and of Russia over the remaining oil
states of the region.
One other issue characterises the bilateral relations: energy routes. The Chinese leaders
became aware of this only recently, going back to 2003, when the Americans entered Iraq,
acquiring the ability to control the Iraqi energy resources. This was added to their presence in
84 Thierry Dufour, ‘The influence of Iran through Shiism – Modus operandi, success and limits of
Iran’s pro-Shiite policy,’, October 2006.
85 Collective, ‘The real Iran,’ Revue française de géopolitique [French review of geopolitics], Ellipses,
Afghanistan, near the resources of the Caspian Sea and of Central Asia, not to mention the
Arabian Peninsula. China thus has tried to turn its links with Iran into a protected domain.86
The Sino-Iranian rapprochement shows its limits, however. Some emblematic examples such
as the absence of the Iranian President from the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing in
2008 demonstrate that the alliance is not optimal. Otherwise, the setback of the request of
Tehran to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation just reconfirms our analysis. Thus we
can say that Tehran and Beijing draw benefits from their relationship, especially Iran, which
can count on the Chinese veto right in the Security Council to enjoy a precious support versus
Washington. The bilateral relations are going to develop while maintaining a certain limit of
which the pair is amply aware.
b. An opportunistic entente with Russia
Historically, the Iranians benefited a fortiori from having Russian military materiel during
the Iran-Iraq conflict. Relations during the 1990s continued to expand even though at the
beginning of the 1980s Russia had conducted a war against Muslims in Afghanistan and,
more recently, against the Muslim Chechens. In other words, the Iranians applied a sort of
Realpolitik to advance their interests at the expense of ideology.
With the fall of the Soviet empire, Iran continued to develop its relations with Moscow. This
attitude has always been conditioned by a bilateral desire to reduce the American influence in
the region. Iran even wished to increase its influence in the Southern Caucasus. Iran and
post-Soviet Russia have always cultivated harmonious relations at all levels, especially due to
their shared vision of a multipolar world. From an economic point of view, their commercial
exchanges went from 600 million dollars in the middle of the 1990s to 2 billion in 200487.
The future of bilateral relations will depend on Iranian management of the nuclear issue. So
long as this problem is not settled, Tehran cannot expect unswerving Russian support.
VII. Conclusions
Iran remains an enigma. As a revolutionary regime, the Islamic Republic intends to position
itself on the world chessboard as an unavoidable regional power. Iran is and will remain the
preeminent Shiite nation, acting in such a way as to establish its dominant position in the
Shiite crescent, to maintain and consolidate it still more. In fact, a rapid examination of the
evolution of the situation in Lebanon and in Iraq suffices to convince us that Tehran has not
stopped influencing this area, nor has it halted its efforts to infiltrate the moderate Arab
The renewal of Shiism and the political successes which Iran has won over the past few years
give us reason for concern. It is likely that Tehran will continue to support destabilisation and
misunderstandings, to arouse fear and fascination, in order to reach its ultimate objective of
promoting revolutionary Islam. For this purpose, it is well and truly a ‘multidirectional’
policy which Tehran has put in place so as to reach its objectives and break out of the
isolation which saps its strength.
In this context, the ‘Arab policy’ of Tehran appears both a tool intended to promote its vision
of Islam as well as a tactical choice permitting it, in case of grave crisis with the international
community – for example over its nuclear programme – to have the means of destabilising
86 François-Régis Dabas, ‘Iran-China: an unrealised alliance,’ in ‘The real Iran,’ Revue française de
géopolitique [French review of geopolitics], Ellipses, p.107
87 Jonathan Piron, ‘Iran-Russia, an opportunist entente,’ in ‘The real Iran,’ Revue française de
géopolitique [French review of geopolitics], Ellipses, p.113
the whole Middle East and North Africa with a view to transforming a clearly defined and
limited problem into a major regional crisis which could paralyse the great powers in the
Security Council and prevent their reacting in an appropriate manner.
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