Washington, DC – At a Senate hearing this week aimed at setting the stage for new Iran sanctions legislation, some Senators openly questioned the U.S. approach to Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations’ that tacitly support the extremist Wahhabist ideology that birthed the Islamic State.
“I think a lot of us are very concerned about the lack of questions asked about U.S.-Saudi relations and the flow of Saudi dollars to the version of Islam that forms the building blocks of Sunni extremism,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Every attack against the United States thus far has been by Sunni-based extremist groups,” he added.
Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested the U.S. must consider a more balanced approach to the region. “They [Iran] push back against people who push them. In Syria, there are 25,000 Iranian troops. There’s a whole lot of Sunnis on the other side being funded by the Gulf States, same in Yemen,” Paul said.
“We get so alarmed over Iran that we forget the role Sunni extremists play in regional conflicts as well as global terror,” observed Paul, while acknowledging that the question of who initiated the provocation in any given scenario is a complicated one to answer.
“We get fixated on Iran and we forget about the danger of Wahhabism. Wahhabism is teaching hatred of America throughout the world and funding it,” continued Paul. “Most of the support for radical Islam and terrorism is coming from Saudi Arabia, not from Iran.”
The Brooking Institution’s Martin Indyk pushed back against Paul and Murphy’s comments, saying that “the Iranians are very aggressive in trying to export their revolution” and that the regime has “purposely subverted” Israel-Palestine peace talks as an example of their intolerance. But Indyk also noted the relative success and self-sufficiency of the Iranian Jewish community contrasted with greater hindrances faced by Jews in the Arab world as evidence of the tolerance shown in Shia society compared to those based on Sunni fundamentalism.
On Yemen, Paul pointedly asked Indyk if he thought Saudi aggression could be to blame for initiating the conflict.
“The Saudis intervened because they faced a threat from the Houthis with Iranian-supplied weapons,” said Indyk, seeming to deny the role of Saudi and Qatari air strikes in escalating the conflict.
Paul followed up by asking whether Indyk viewed Saudi bombings of a funeral procession last October as a provocation. Indyk refuted the inquiry by referring back to his written statement in which he called for a political resolution to the ongoing Yemeni civil war.
Paul went on to highlight the willingness of Iranian Americans to support engagement with the regime despite serious differences and to take stances against religious extremism like Wahhabism.
“If you talk to Iranian-Americans, they’re very open to engagement with Iran and I think they are very open as far as their religious beliefs in being more tolerant than Wahhabism.”
Lawmakers also discussed issues pertaining to the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017” (S. 722) bill, which was recently introduced in the Senate to coincide with AIPAC’s annual lobbying day. That legislation would effectively label the IRGC as Specially Designated Terrorist Group.
Michael Singh, suggested that designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization would be a mistake. He explained that although the Iranian state is clearly to blame for many destabilizing acts and is a known state sponsor of terrorism, designating the IRGC as an FTO would do little to rein in its activities.
“I do believe we should punish and sanction [the IRGC] but I’m wary of picking and choosing good guys and bad guys within the Iranian regime,” he said. “We need to recognize Iran is a state sponsor of terror. Iran will use various organs of its government in pursuit of these goals. I’m wary when people think the IRGC is a rogue element not carrying out state policy. Our real problem is [Iran’s] state policy, and we need to remain focused on that.”Back to top