In the wake of strident accusations by Iran’s supreme leader and other senior Iranian figures that the Islamic State (IS) militant group is a Western creation, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, continues to push a more diplomatic approach to combating IS.
Zarif discussed the threat of IS in an October 15 phone call to his Italian counterpart, Federica Mogherini. Iran’s hard-line Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that both Zarif and Mogherini had emphasized the need for a political solution to combat IS.
The Iranian foreign minister emphasized that the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon should be maintained and said that countries should set aside short-term political considerations and interests in order to demonstrate their seriousness in combating "the IS terrorist group."
Zarif’s deputy, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, has also pressed a diplomatic approach. Iranian media reported on October 11 that Iran’s deputy foreign minister had told the United States that Israel would be at risk if the U.S.-led coalition attempted to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Zarif’s position on the IS issue is more in line with that of the Syrian government’s other major ally, Russia, which has also opposed the U.S. strategy to combat IS.
Moscow has insisted that no action should be taken against IS without the full permission of Assad, whose government Russia insists is the legitimate authority in Syria. Asking Assad’s permission to conduct air strikes would boost his legitimacy.
Both Russia and Iran fear that U.S. led air strikes against IS targets could be widened to include attacks against Syrian government targets, which could weaken Assad’s military and bolster the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.
Iran’s powerful parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, told CNN on October 14 that the air strikes against IS were ineffective.
"Terrorists cannot be destroyed by bombing them," Larijani said, adding that Iran has good experience in fighting terror.
The approach of Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the comments by Larijani contrast sharply with the tone taken by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that the United States and Britain had created IS in order to sow discord between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. Among those supporting Khamenei’s line on IS is Iran’s former intelligence minister, who said on October 14 that IS was a joint creation of Israel’s Mossad, MI6, and the CIA.