From THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 3, 2009, by Jonathan Spyer*:
...Seeking Iranian cooperation in dealing with the grave and urgent situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan looks set to form a cornerstone in the US policy of engagement with Teheran.
...The administration's approach rests on a crucial assumption: It is considered that since Iran and the Taliban are mortal enemies on the ideological and theological level, and since in the past, Iranians and Taliban have clashed, there ought to be a common Iranian-US interest in defeating or containing the Sunni extremists.
This, however, is highly questionable. Closer observation would suggest that, theological and historical matters notwithstanding, Iran has a clear stake in maintaining the absence of security - in "Afpak" [Afghanistan and Pakistan] and beyond it.
...Iran operates according to the dictum that America's difficulty is Iran's opportunity. On this basis, in spite of the relations of mutual loathing that pertain between the Shi'ite regime in Teheran and the Sunni, Deobandi extremists of the Taliban, ample evidence points to Iranian covert assistance to the Afghan insurgents engaged in war against NATO forces in the country.
In April 2007, NATO forces intercepted two convoys carrying Iranian arms to the Taliban. A recent French media report noted the existence of three training camps for Taliban fighters in Iran. British forces in Afghanistan last year reported evidence that Iran has been supplying Taliban fighters with similar sophisticated roadside-bomb-making equipment to that given by Teheran to Shi'ite insurgents in southern Iraq. Both Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus and NATO spokesman James Appathurai recently confirmed reports of Iranian assistance to the Taliban.
The assistance to the Taliban follows the familiar broader pattern of encouragement of instability across the region. Iran is in the business of challenging the US-dominated order in the Middle East. Preventing an American achievement in Afghanistan, and keeping NATO forces bogged down in an endless, bloody slogging match in the country represents a natural expression of this.
This strategy may be seen at work elsewhere. In Iraq, Iran is maintaining its support for Shi'ite insurgents in the Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous) organization. These forces suffered severe disruption at the hands of US troops in 2007 and 2008, with many militants taking refuge in Iran. Evidence suggests that their operations are now once again on the increase in Iraq. The Iranians make little effort to conceal their links with the Shi'ite insurgents. Ahl al-Haq militants are armed with Iranian made Fajr-3 missiles and explosive formed projectiles (IEDs) used in roadside bomb attacks.
So while the Iranians will be happy to talk if invited to, the talking will take place simultaneously with continued Iranian assistance to forces engaged in killing US troops in the two conflict zones in which they are currently deployed in the Middle East. Both the talking and the fighting are part of a unified strategy for building Teheran's influence and power.
...This approach to diplomacy reflects the confident self-assertion of a regime that regards itself as the "rising sun" striving toward ascendance across the region.
The US administration thinks that Teheran "should" support regional security and stability. The problem is that the Iranian regime appears to have a different way of calibrating its interests.
In the Iranian approach, support for violence and insurgency brings with it myriad advantages. The Western powers, prevented from attaining their objectives, appear weak and helpless. The enemy, bogged down in conflicts elsewhere, has less time and capital to spend on containing Iranian ambitions...
*Jonathan Spyer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.