The US annual terrorism report of 2017 named Iran as “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.” But is it really? Even Trump, before the 2016 election, gave that title to Saudi Arabia, apparently basing his opinion on a leaked secret memo from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that stated Saudi donors “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Indeed, there was good reason for Clinton and, by extension, Trump to feel that way. After all, Saudis comprised the majority of terrorists involved in 9/11 and they were funded by a Saudi citizen – Osama bin Laden. The Saudis also created the Taliban by teaching their extreme Wahabbist form of Islam to young Afghan refugee students during the Soviet-Afghan War. (Talib means student.) The Saudis continue to finance the Taliban. And, as if all that were not bad enough, the Saudi’s Wahabbism inspired ISIL or, as it is more commonly known as ISIS.
In addition, the Saudi royal family has long used its power and extreme religious beliefs to terrorize the citizens of Saudi Arabia. It tortures and incarcerates anyone who dares to defy its religious beliefs or openly criticizes the family. And it often publicly beheads the most outspoken dissidents, even crucifying their bodies following executions to threaten anyone else considering defiance. Commit a more serious crime and the Saudis will bury you up to your neck and stone you to death.
Yet the family’s brutality and excesses are largely ignored in the West because the Saudis have lots of money and oil. Of course, that fact did not go unnoticed by the Trumps and the Kushners who have relied on Saudi money to finance their developments. Indeed, one of Trump’s first official acts as president was to travel to Riyadh where he bowed to the royal family, placed his hand on a crystal globe and gushed about the Saudi’s purchase of weapons from the US. (It should be noted that Saudi Arabia has used those weapons to carry out a brutal war in Yemen, continuing to bomb and kill thousands of civilians as part of the near 1,400-year conflict between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam.)
Since Trump’s meeting in Riyadh, Trump’s ties with the Saudis have become as unshakeable as his ties with Putin. Even when the Saudi leader ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post contributor, Trump refused to hold him accountable or to even acknowledge his involvement. Not even the mass shooting of US military personnel by a Saudi at the Pensacola Air Station drew a rebuke from Trump.
As I’ve previously written, Iran, on the other hand, was a US ally until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when it deposed the brutal monarchy of the Shah who had gained power after the 1953 coup of Iran’s democratically-elected Iranian prime minister orchestrated by the UK and US. The prime minister’s crime? He threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil reserves.
Our relationship with Iran has been exceedingly complicated ever since.
Following our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which border Iran, Iran’s goal has been to force the US to remove our military from the region. With that goal in mind, it has supported terrorist groups as proxies against both the US and Israel. In retaliation, the US imposed economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Yet we have occasionally worked together for common goals. Iranian militias helped the US and its allies end the violence in Iraq. They also helped fight against ISIS.
But it’s Iran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi militias that has led to its reputation as a sponsor of terrorism. Hezbollah is described by the US as the primary terrorist partner of Iran. Yet that claim is open for debate. To many, especially Palestinians and Lebanese, Hezbollah is a political party and a liberation movement that uses force to resist Israeli occupation.
Iran also supports Hamas, a group that has been labeled a terrorist organization since 1997. But some argue that Hamas is a resistance movement. Not a terrorist group. In addition, some claim Iran has links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS. But those claims are murky at best. Indeed, Iran did as much to defeat ISIS as anyone, including the Kurds.
It must be emphasized that, unlike the Saudis, no Iranian has ever attacked Americans on American soil.
So which country is the greater sponsor of terror? Which nation commits the greater number of human rights violations against its own citizens? By those measures, it would be difficult to draw a clear line between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The obvious difference seems to be in how we treat them.