• The ferocious 14-century rivalry between the Sunni majority and Shi’ite minority over the succession of the Prophet Muhammad;
• The 680 C.E. killing of Hussein ibn-Ali, the Shi’ite grandson of Muhammad, in the Battle of Karbala by the much stronger army of the Caliph Yazid. The Battle of Karbala was the “big bang” of the Sunni-Shi’ite schism;
• The annual commemoration of Hussein’s martyrdom and betrayal through public processions on the Day of Ashura, which includes beating one’s chest and bloody self-flagellation;
• The dominance of Shi’ite dynasties during the tenth and eleventh centuries in parts of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Sicily and the Caspian area.
• The 1501 declaration of Shi’ism as the official religion of Iran, highlighting the Battle of Karbala and revenge for the killing of Hussein as the core of Iranian Shi’ite identity.
• The 1979 Islamic Shi’ite Revolution in Iran, which highlighted Karbala as the role model for a universal rebellion and martyrdom, as demonstrated by the dispatching of Iranian children to clear minefields during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with a “key to paradise” around their necks. The Islamic Revolution also underscored violent activism against tyrannical Muslim regimes (e.g., the Shah), “apostates” (Sunni Muslims, especially Saudi Arabia) and “non-believers” (the West led by the United States, including Christians, Buddhists and Jews).
• Adhering to the legacy of Hussein ibn-Ali and the Battle of Karbala, Iran’s ayatollahs are convinced — religiously and historically — that sacrificing one’s life and fortunes on the altar of a supreme value will yield a divine prize. They are emboldened by Western indecisiveness, appeasement and reluctance to activate the options of military action and regime change. The inclusion of these two options in the negotiation process — as a club over the head of the rogue ayatollahs — is critical for inducing the ayatollahs to approach diplomacy in a serious manner.
Historical milestones transformed into rogue conduct
These milestones feature prominently in Iran’s education system and mosque sermons, which serve as a most effective production line for Islamic terrorists, and the suppression of and discrimination against all religious and ethnic minorities in Iran, as well as the brutal repression of women’s rights.
They have also shaped the role of Iran’s ayatollahs as the world’s leading epicenter of anti-US subversion and terrorism, attempts to topple every pro-US Arab regime (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), the proliferation of ballistic missile and drone technologies and systems, drug trafficking, money-laundering and fueling civil wars (e.g., Morocco, the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) from the Persian Gulf to Latin America, including the US-Mexico border. Iran’s ayatollahs consider Latin America to be the United States’ soft underbelly.
The worldview and the systematic rogue conduct of Iran’s ayatollahs since the 1979 Islamic Revolution have not been driven by “despair” or “frustration” (supposedly due to sanctions, boycotts and non-recognition of their regional and global prominence). In fact, their worldview and the rogue conduct has been consistent with their 1,400-year-old vision:
• The global exportation of the Shi’ite Islamic Revolution, while toppling all “apostate” and “heretic” Sunni Muslim regimes, and establishing a universal Shi’ite society, ruled by the Supreme Shi’ite Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).
• Bringing the “infidel” West, and especially America — “The Great Satan” — to submission, diplomatically or militarily.
As illustrated by the ayatollahs’ violent reaction to America’s initial support of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the overly generous US diplomatic and financial gestures which accompanied the 2015 nuclear accord (JCPOA), their vision and conduct are the exact opposite of moderation, coexistence and good-faith negotiation.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative.
This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.