On April 15, 2011, a prominent news story described Iran’s support for Syria’s draconian crackdown on protestors. The story focused on Iran’s widespread meddling in the region, but it missed the key point: Shia Iran’s closest ally in the Middle East is Sunni Syria. Iran deals freely with Sunni Muslims and Sunni countries when it’s in its interest to do so.
Many folks can only see in black and white. As a result, contrary to a mountain of evidence, many policymakers, counterterror specialists, and citizens continue to believe that there is no cooperation between Sunni and Shia because of religious hatred.
While it is true that, on the local level, Sunnis and Shias routinely attack and kill each other in places like Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, it is equally true that, on the strategic level, Shia Iran’s closest ally in the Middle East is indeed Sunni Syria; that Iran supports all the major Sunni terrorist organizations; and that Iran is planning to re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Sunni Egypt after more than 30 years.
None of this is surprising given that ninety percent of all Muslims in the world are Sunni. Iran has long realized that if it is to be the dominant power in the predominantly Sunni Middle East, it is simply in its interest to actively cooperate with Sunnis when such cooperation serves its purposes.
And so, for years, one of the key aspects of Iran’s foreign policy has been to undermine the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East by supporting Sunni terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.To be fair, Fairchild misses a key point here: Syria is majority Sunni, but it's Ba'athist government is Alawite, a Shi'ite sect. The opposite of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, when a majority Shi'ite county was ruled by Sunnis. Notwithstanding that (admittedly rather sizable oversight), Fairchild is right on point here.
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