Iran has launched air strikes against ISIS, or Daesh as they hate to be called. The air strikes aren’t being launched in coordination with Western powers, at least not on any official level. The United States government has also shot down talks of forming an alliance with Iran. Instead, leaders in the United States have pointed out that ISIS is a common enemy.
Still, the bombing campaign hints at the complicated relations within the Middle East and the fact that Iran and the United States’ interests are often aligned. While the on-going air campaign may not constitute an official alliance, it could be viewed as a small step towards reconciling American and Iranian interests. This, in turn, could lead to a wider breakthrough.
Tensions In Iran Complicated
There’s a tendency for some pundits to lump all Muslims together and to treat the tensions in the Middle East as a Islam vs. West conflict. The truth is far more complicated with hard-lined Sunni Muslims as ardent in their hatred against Western governments, regional dictators (such as the late Saddam Hussein) and Shia Muslims.
Iran is the Middle East’s largest and most powerful Shia country. The country’s population is largely Shia, as is the government and its leadership. This puts it at odds with both other regional governments, such as Saudi Arabia, and also Sunni Islamists.
As such, ISIS is as much a threat to Iran as it is to Western powers. Iran has been working behind the Daesh to get the Shia dominated government to confront Daesh and to supply the Iraqi army with supplies and weapons. There have also been reports of some limited numbers of Iranian troops on the ground.
Daesh A Direct Threat To Iran
Daesh is also obviously a threat to the Iraqi government. Iraq is the only other Shia majority country and is almost certainly a key part of Iran’s regional ambitions. At the very least Iran needs Iraq to act as a buffer against the Sunni dominant country of the region.
Given Daesh’s swift rise, it should come as no surprise that Iran is conducting operations against the organization. If Iraq were to collapse completely, or ISIS to advance towards Iranian borders, it could pose a serious threat to Iran’s national security.
Military Cooperation Could Help With Sanctions and Nuclear Negotiations
What might be even more important than the actual military assistance Iran is providing through the bombing campaign is instead the alignment of interests between the two countries. Iran and the United States interests actually align more closely than it may appear at first glance.
For one, the so-called “hard-lined” clerics in Iran are actually far more moderate in comparison to other hard-lined Sunni clerics in the region. The Shia branch of Islam is also responsible for producing far, far fewer terrorists than Sunni branches. (To be clear, very few Muslims of any branch support terrorism, but most terrorists do come from the Sunni branch.)
Cooperation can reinforce the notion that both the United States and Iran share mutual interests, and the practice of working together can help build up alliances and relations over time. While Iran is not coordinating with Western powers, both parties are likely communicating on some level to ensure that their mutual operations don’t interfere with each other or that neither side is caught in a cross-fire.
The combination of building relationships and reinforcing the notion that both parties actually share common and mutual interests should make it easier to cooperate on issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program. If the nuclear program can be resolved, it could provide a major breakthrough for normalizing relations between the U.S. and Iran and perhaps one day reintegrating Iran fully into the global economy.