FPI Bulletin: Iran Responds to the Paris Attacks

November 19, 2015

The Iranian regime claimed this week that the United States is behind the terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed 129 lives. The allegation, however, should come as no surprise. Ever since the emergence of the Islamic State, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has claimed that America created the organization, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh. Khamenei argues that ISIS fits into Washington’s two-track strategy to dominate the region by spurring war and exporting anti-Islamic cultural influences. This conspiratorial worldview suggests that Tehran will continue to view the United States as an enemy, regardless of the recent nuclear agreement.

ISIS as an American Creation

Just days after the Paris attacks, the website of Ayatollah Khamenei released a slickly produced English-language video arguing that America created ISIS, supported Al Qaeda, and continues to threaten Iran. “What,” the video asks ominously, “are we going to witness after the Paris attacks?”

This argument hardly charts new ground for the Islamist regime. As the supreme leader explained on July 18, the Obama administration established ISIS “with the purpose of pitting us against one another and making nations confront each other.” The international campaign to defeat the organization, he says, is a ruse. “The unreal effort which America and its allies are making in the region today under the name of confronting DAESH,” he declared on September 13, 2014, “is, in fact, an effort for channeling enmities among Muslims more than it is an effort for nipping this evil movement in the bud.”

The United States, he asserted two days later, is simply “looking for an excuse” to expand its control over the region. The notion that the United States seeks the defeat of ISIS, he said on November 25, 2014, “is a downright lie.” In fact, he claimed on August 17, 2015, “All the takfiri [i.e., apostate] groups that you see” — including ISIS — “are their handicraft.”

At the same time, Khamenei has portrayed the success of ISIS — particularly its robust European recruitment — as a sign of the West’s spiritual decay. “If you take a look at the Western world,” he said on July 11, 2015, “you will see that European youth are depressed. The number of suicides is so large there.” Therefore, he continued, they join ISIS to “seek excitement as a result of their depression” and commit suicide in its cause.

In this context, Khamenei appears to consider the Paris attacks yet another manifestation of America’s enmity toward Iran. He fears that the West may use the massacre as a pretext to commit further aggression against Iran, and that it seeks to manipulate Iranian youth with erroneous assertions that ISIS represents Islamic values. The tragedy in France thus threatens Iran itself, both physically and spiritually, and serves to reinforce Khamenei’s earlier warnings about America’s ambitions. ISIS, Khamenei asserted in a November 4, 2015, statement published on his website, amounts to little more than a U.S. “puppet show.”

America as the ‘Epitome of Global Arrogance’

For Khamenei, America’s creation of ISIS constitutes only the latest in a litany of sinister plots against Iran. In this view, Israel, the Sunni Arab states, and terrorist groups each play a role in U.S. designs. The “enemy,” he said on July 18, 2015, “planted the Zionist regime in the region so that they can create discord and busy regional countries with themselves.” On August 22, in an apparent reference to Sunni Arab nations opposed to Iran, he argued that the “enemies sometimes use certain Islamic countries to say and do what they want”; these states, he continued, “have been deceived and used as a tool.” According to a November 4 statement on Khamenei’s website, “Al-Qaeda, Al- Nusrah Front, FSA (Free Syrian Army), ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and many other names should not be confusing; they are all Western backed mercenaries fighting proxy wars.”

Khamenei believes that reason and persuasion cannot defeat the United States: “The enemy is a transgressor by nature,” he said on October 7. “It is in the nature of world-devouring powers to transgress, to advance, to occupy and to dig-in their claws. This is in their nature. If your earthworks are penetrable, he will penetrate.” America “is the epitome of global arrogance,” he asserted on August 17, and “knows nothing about human morality and it is not ashamed of committing any crime — of any nature.” On November 3, in an approving citation of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he noted that America “was behind all problems” and lies at “the root of all evil things.” “If they could destroy the Islamic Republic,” he added, “they will not hesitate even for a moment.”

According to Khamenei, America’s belligerence — including its imposition of economic sanctions — aims to stymie Iran’s efforts to become a regional power. “Imagine a day,” he said on September 3, “when Iran will be among today’s advanced countries in terms of material progress, science, technology and wealth. … The purpose of all the efforts that are being made in confronting the Islamic Republic is to prevent such a day from happening.” In fact, America seeks to punish Iran precisely because it maintains a “political presence in other countries” and “is influential in the region.”

If aggression constitutes an irrevocable part of America’s identity, says Khamenei, the campaign to defeat it constitutes an irrevocable part of Iran’s. “It is one of the principles of the [Islamic] Revolution,” he said on July 11. “If fighting against arrogance does not take place, it means that we are not followers of the Holy Quran at all.” “The Revolution,” he said on September 16, “is a permanent process, not a temporary one,” and lies at the heart of Iran’s foreign and domestic policy.

In effect, Khamenei envisions a future of unremitting conflict between Washington and Tehran that can end only with American defeat and Iranian hegemony. The two countries must inevitably continue to fight each other because their respective natures and identities require it.

The Nuclear Deal as ‘Penetration’

According to Khamenei, the nuclear negotiations constitute yet another manifestation of the U.S. effort to infiltrate and ultimately dominate Iran — not, as President Obama has repeatedly argued, an opportunity to improve relations. Perhaps more strikingly, Khamenei has described this threat using rhetoric that resembles his warnings about the threat of infiltration from ISIS.

On October 7, Khamenei identified two types of negotiations: the modern type, which “means giving something and receiving something else in return,” and the American type, which “means penetration.” “They pursue something called ‘negotiations,’” he explained on September 9, “but negotiations are just an excuse and a tool for penetration. Negotiations are an instrument for imposing their demands.” On October 21, he contended that America entered the nuclear negotiations “not with the intention of resolving matters justly, but rather it was for the pursuit of their hostile goals against the Islamic Republic.” The United States, he noted on September 3, says the nuclear deal has provided it “with certain opportunities both inside Iran and in the region.” However, he continued, “if they get close to these opportunities, this will be a starting point for nations and countries to become humiliated and backward and to experience various sufferings.”

To prevent such an outcome, Khamenei insisted that the negotiations must focus exclusively on exchanging nuclear concessions for sanctions relief — that is, the “modern” type of negotiations — and would not prefigure any change in U.S.-Iranian relations, which could serve as an avenue for infiltration. From his perspective, he succeeded. “They wanted to use [the nuclear deal] as a means to exert influence in our country,” he said on August 17, “but we blocked their path and we will definitely block their path in the future as well.” Despite America’s best efforts, Khamenei’s “modern” type of negotiations would prevail.

As such, the nuclear negotiations constitute not a precursor to further cooperation, but an “exceptional” case — as Khamenei put it on July 18 — that serves to advance narrowly defined economic goals. The agreement warrants continued vigilance to prevent the United States from abusing it to expand control over the region. In this sense, the threats of ISIS and of U.S. diplomatic subterfuge under the deal comprise part of the same strategy that seeks to undermine Iran; the difference lies only in degree and kind.

It should then come as no surprise that Iran has already begun to flout its nuclear obligations, including advancing its ballistic missile program, halting the dismantling of centrifuges, and attempting to renegotiate the deal’s key provisions. Since Tehran believes that the United States will not meaningfully punish Iran lest the regime withdraw from the deal, the violations serve to demonstrate to the Iranian people and to the world that the deal, contrary to appearances, will not empower the United States to infiltrate or otherwise impact the country.


Ayatollah Khamenei’s response to the attacks in Paris offers a reminder that Tehran, even after the nuclear deal, retains a conspiratorial view of the United States that ensures enduring conflict. Its persistent fears of “infiltration,” “penetration,” and Western imperialism indicate that its leadership filters virtually all elements of U.S. foreign policy — from the nuclear agreement to the campaign against ISIS — through the same ideological prism. As a result, the United States should expect Iran to increase rather than decrease its regional aggression, and even continue to violate its nuclear obligations, in order to demonstrate that the deal will not alter its commitment to Khamenei’s vision of the Islamic Revolution.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More