How can the West counter terrorist groups thriving under Iran’s wing?

Terrorists operating with the support of Iran are thriving and causing havoc throughout the Middle East. That, at least, is the conclusion of the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, its latest annual summary and analysis of global security and terrorism trends.

The report’s strategic assessment is clear about the most pertinent menace, recognising that “terrorist groups supported by Iran – most prominently Hezbollah – continued to threaten US allies and interests even in the face of US-led intensification of financial sanctions and law enforcement.”

This conclusion is worrying to all those involved in the fight against terrorism.  Current methods of countering these groups are evidently not working, and there is precious little sign of innovative new methods being implemented. The over-reliance on sanctions, which can be circumvented relatively easily and are enforced with difficulty, is not good enough in the modern world. The West, led by the US, must find a solution to this problem, and the sooner the better.

Western policy makers have had plenty of time to consider an appropriate response, but during this time the threat from Iran has expanded. According to the report, “the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), along with Iranian partners, allies, and proxies, continued to play a destabilizing role in military conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.”

These countries are perhaps the biggest focus of international intelligence efforts worldwide. More resources are ploughed into them, in terms of time, manpower and commitment, than anywhere else in the world. Monitoring of smuggling of weapons and the influx of people should be at the forefront of this effort, with an emphasis also on the movement of money.

With the nuclear deal still in place, the US and the West are helping Iran develop its trade ties to other nations and attract foreign direct investment. This is counterproductive, as much of the revenue and profit is ploughed straight back into Iran’s terrorist network.

Plainly, the West is facing an adversary well skilled in asserting its influence into foreign lands. The report explains how use of proxies, bribery and other methods combine to support its objectives: “Iran continued to recruit fighters from across the region to join Iranian affiliated Shia militia forces engaged in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and has even offered a path to citizenship for those who heed this call. Hezbollah continued to work closely with Iran in these conflict zones, playing a major role in supporting the Syria government’s efforts to maintain control and territory, and providing training and a range of other support for Iranian aligned groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Additionally, Hezbollah continued to develop its long-term attack capabilities and infrastructure around the world.”

While the focus is initially on these three conflict zones, in fact the tentacles of the Iranian regime reach into every rogue group in the region. Hamas and Bahraini Shia rebels are name-checked, as is, most condemningly, Al Qaeda as groups that have all received assistance from Iran.

It is clear that the Islamic Republic is innovating faster than the international community can cope with. The US report acknowledges that the Iranian government maintains and operates “a robust cyberterrorism program and has sponsored cyberattacks against foreign government and private sector entities”.

The West think fast and take action rapidly – both against Iran, its sources of income and the groups themselves – to counter the success of the exploding number of groups thriving under Iran’s wing. Until such action is taken, the Middle East will remain a quagmire of instability.