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The vast majority of Islamist terrorism against the US and Europe is done by Saudi-aligned Salafi jihadist groups. Indeed, this was the case in the worst act of terrorism against the US—indeed, perhaps the worst anything against the US—9/11.

Despite this, the US maintains a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and views the Shi'ite Iran as its principal geopolitical adversary in the region. This is despite Iran and its proxies not having significantly targeted the US or its military assets, or engaged in terrorism against American civilians. The most notable instances of Iranian malfeasance against America were the Iran hostage crisis and Beirut bombing in 1983, but these were a half-century ago.

One hypothesis is that this is because of the Israel lobby, since Iran is much more of a threat to Israel than Saudi Arabia or Salafi jihadists, and essentially all of Israel's wars since the 1980s have been against Iranian proxies.

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    In the last 30 years (or so) the US has been at war in Iraq (twice) Afghanistan, Lybia, Syria... so on what basis is Iran the principle adversary, except that Iran is big and powerful in the region.
    – James K
    Jan 20 at 19:48

8 Answers 8

15

I found evidence (listed below) that counters this claim:

This is despite Iran and its proxies not having significantly targeted the US or its military assets, or engaged in terrorism against American civilians.

  • Iran has expressed multiple times that it views the US as its enemy.
  • Iran has been designated by the US as a state sponsor of terrorism for its support of multiple terrorist entities in the past decades, and as recently as in the past months.
  • Iran supports Russia in its brutal war against Ukraine (a US ally), supplying drones and other weapons, and providing political support.
  • Iran supports Hezbollah, which itself has been designated by the US as a terrorist entity.
  • Iran supports Hamas, which itself has been designated by the US as a terrorist entity.
  • Iran supports Houthi militants, which themselves have been designated by the US as terrorist entities. The Houthis attacked American and allied civilians ships, putting civilian lives in danger and leading to substantial negative economic consequences from the Suez Canal shipping disruptions.

Saudi Arabian government, in contrast to the Iranian government:

  • Has not expressed that it views the US as its enemy
  • Has not (at least openly) sponsored terrorist activities against the US or its allies.

References:

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused United States President Joe Biden of “inciting chaos” after he expressed support for demonstrations against the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in Iranian government custody nearly a month ago.

The protests started in mid-September after Amini, 22, died following three days in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” for allegedly violating the strict dress code for women.

“The remarks of the American president – who is inciting chaos, terror and the destruction of another country – serve as a reminder of the eternal words of the founder of the Islamic Republic who called America the Great Satan,” Raisi said, referring to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

Iran accuses ‘Great Satan’ US of ‘inciting chaos, terror’ | News | Al Jazeera


Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its support for terrorist-related activity in 2021, including support for Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various terrorist and militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations, provide cover for associated covert operations, and create instability in the region. Iran has acknowledged the involvement of the IRGC-QF in the Iraq and Syria conflicts, and the IRGC-QF is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorist activity abroad. In 2019, the Secretary of State designated the IRGC, including IRGC-QF, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Iran also used regional militant and proxy groups to provide deniability, in an attempt to shield it from accountability for its destabilizing policies.

...

In 2021, Iran continued providing weapons systems and other support to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. These groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank.

... In Yemen, Iran has provided a wide range of weapons, training, advanced equipment such as unmanned aerial systems, and other support to Houthi militants, who engaged in hundreds of attacks against regional targets in Saudi Arabia. In May and December, the U.S. Navy and partner forces interdicted dhows carrying Iran-origin weapons intended for the Houthis, including hundreds of heavy machine guns and sniper rifles; dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles; several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons; and thousands of assault rifles.

In 2021, Iranian forces attacked several commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman, including an April 13 attack on the Hyperion Ray and a July 29 UAS attack on the Mercer Street vessel.

Iran - United States Department of State


Ukrainians have increasingly woken up to the sound of suicide drones as Russia turns to Iranian-made imports to destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Now they may have another deadly Iranian weapon to worry about -- ballistic missiles.

Cheap but effective, Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 "kamikaze" drones have already made a deadly impact in Ukraine.

If U.S. intelligence assessments pan out, Russia will soon be able to supplement its use of Iranian suicide drones and its own cruise and ballistic missiles with powerful short-range Iranian Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles.

Coming as the Kremlin is reportedly struggling to maintain its depleted stockpile of aerial weapons as it ramps up strikes, the missiles would potentially boost Russia's ability to continue its costly air campaign.

Iranian Missiles Threaten To Boost Russia's Deadly Air Campaign In Ukraine


Kawtharani has been touted as a temporary stand-in to direct Iraqi Shia militias until a permanent Iranian successor to Soleimani is chosen (File: Mehdi Bolourian/WANA via Reuters)

The United States has offered up to $10m for information on Hezbollah commander Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, who was an associate of slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Kawtharani was branded a “global terrorist” by the US in 2013, accused of funding armed groups in Iraq and helping transport Iraqi fighters to Syria to join President Bashar al-Assad’s effort to put down a revolt against his rule.

Announcing the reward, the US State Department said Kawtharani had “taken over some of the political coordination of Iran-aligned paramilitary groups” formerly organised by Soleimani, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander assassinated in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January.

“In this capacity, he facilitates the actions of groups operating outside the control of the Government of Iraq that have violently suppressed protests, attacked foreign diplomatic missions, and engaged in wide-spread organised criminal activity,” it said in a statement.

The State Department said it was offering the sum for information on Kawtharani’s activities, networks and associates as part of an effort to disrupt the “financial mechanisms” of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

The US has blamed Iran-backed armed groups for several attacks on its bases in Iraq.

US offers $10m for information on Hezbollah commander in Iraq | Hezbollah News | Al Jazeera


Hezbollah has also used calculated violence to accomplish its objective of weakening US global influence. During its embryonic stage in the 1980s, the group attacked US citizens, diplomats, and servicemen in Lebanon—including the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing – to end America’s presence in Lebanon, rather than merely cause casualties. In the subsequent decade, it outsourced these attacks to Hezbollah al-Hejaz, al-Qaeda, and others to destabilize US influence globally. Again, in 2003, when Hezbollah began training Iraqi Shia militias to fight US forces, Nasrallah expressed his hope that bogging Washington down in Iraq would “end the United States’ control over the world.” The group wanted to bleed America of treasure, personnel, and, perhaps, most importantly, its will to project force abroad by embroiling it in a protracted, asymmetric war.

Hezbollah considers the United States, not Israel, its greatest enemy - Atlantic Council


Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles at a U.S.-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement late Thursday.

The statement said the crew saw the missiles land in the water near the ship. There were no reported injuries or damage to the ship, the M/V Chem Ranger, a Marshall Island-flagged, U.S.-owned, Greek-operated tanker ship, U.S. Central Command said.

Yemen's Houthi rebels said they had carried out the attack, claiming "direct hits," a statement on the group's social media said.

...

"The actions by the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists continue to endanger international mariners and disrupt the commercial shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea and adjacent waterways," said General Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM commander.

"We will continue to take actions to protect the lives of innocent mariners, and we will always protect our people," Kurilla said.

US Says Houthis Launched Missiles at American-Owned Tanker


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    US was always enemy of Iran before Iranian Revolution and after Iranian Revolution. For example see 28 Mordad coup d'état.
    – C.F.G
    Jan 21 at 6:08
  • 4
    Don't forget Iran's naval interference with the Persian Gulf oil trade which has been sporadic for decades. Recently see apnews.com/article/… (July 2023) and reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/… (last week) cnbc.com/2023/06/01/… (15 times in 2 years). The U.S. wants the oil trade to flow is a more powerful narrative than the "Israel lobby."
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 22 at 18:27
  • 6
    Don't forget Iran based group's attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq this month and last year. aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/21/…
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 22 at 18:34
  • 4
    Don't forget close ties and arms sales between Iran and North Korea. "The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) maintains a close partnership with Iran. . . North Korea and Iran are cooperating on long-term missile development projects, which included the shipment of parts in 2020. North Korea’s hypersonic missile tests have also raised concerns about technology transfers to Iran, which developed a testing facility for hypersonic weapons in 2014." 38north.org/2021/11/…
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 22 at 18:37
  • 4
    Don't forget that the U.S. views Iran as a rogue nuclear weapon armed power. foxnews.com/world/… which fired long range missiles in anger at three different countries this month. nytimes.com/2024/01/18/world/middleeast/…
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 22 at 18:39
6

You mentioned in your question that the terrorist attacks in the US were organised by Saudi Jihadists and not by the official government which is an US ally, that's why Bin Laden didn't live in Saudi Arabia and was in exile in Sudan and Afghanistan.

But Iran officially supports terrorism and the regime itself organizes attacks against the US and its allies. For example, the hostage crisis in 1979 was approved by Khomeini. Besides you have forgotten the role Iran played in killing Americans in Iraq from 2005 to 2011.

enter image description here

Besides the Islamic Republic has a long history of assassinations in and outside Iran. This is the list of regime's assassinations including Ali Akbar Tabataba'i in the US.

Finally the Islamic Republic has always tried to destabilize the region to the detriment of the US and the West in general.Recent Attacks in the red sea are good examples that show to what extent the Islamic Regime can destabilize the region. We haven't seen such things from Saudi Arabia.

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Because Iran is the most powerful Middle Eastern nation that is publicly committed to destroying America, and undertakes acts to that end.

Saudi Arabia does not seek to destroy America. Neither do Egypt/Pakistan/Iraq/Israel/Qatar/IAE/etc.

Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis are against the US, but first not as directly, and second are mostly dangerous because of Iranian (and in some cases, Russian) assistance. For instance, attacks on unaligned shipping, American shipping, and American warships by Houthis were done with Iranian hardware, provided to them for this purpose.

It's hard to say it's wrong for the US to be wary of a country that has been promising the death of America for decades, and recently has supplied arms fired at our ships.

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  • Could you cite evidence proving that Iran is "committed to destroying America"? Jan 24 at 20:20
  • And TBH you're probably underestimating anti-Americanism in Pakistan. It's just that there's more of a democracy, or at least power alternation over there, so the reflection of that sentiment in gov't policy has varied more over time than in Iran. (Let's not forget though who celebrated the "liberation from slavery=US" of Afghanistan though, even if he walked it back a bit thereafter dawn.com/news/1692286) Feb 9 at 7:30
  • @fizz I feel like my answer should be rewritten to incorporate the mitigating factors of your comments here. What you're saying is accurate, although (1) American inference is more relevance than Iranian implication here, and (2) Iran is not alone in wanting to oppose the US in the middle east, they are just the loudest, strongest such actor. I don't have time to do that rewrite justice at this time, but if you wanted to edit my answer to clarify those points, go ahead. Alternately I'll check later and see if another answer is a directly better one than mine (and delete mine if so).
    – bharring
    Feb 9 at 15:35
2

Question:

Why does the US view Iran as its principal geopolitical adversary in the Middle East?

I don't think anybody, but Iran thinks the US views Iran as it's principal adversary in the middle east. The US just fought a war in Iraq. The US still has troops in Syria and around the Persian Gulf fighting Islamic Jihad. The US just a few years ago killed nearly 200 Russian Wagner troops who attacked a few soldiers guarding an oil field in Northern Iraq.

Still we have had issues with Iran and it seems will continue too.

And now all this trouble with the Houthi's out of Yemen, in which Iran is their primary backer.

1

The Israel lobby has an effect, but this is not the only issue.
Historically, the issue goes back to the essential and decisive role of America in the coup against Mossadegh's democratic government and re-imposing the Shah's dictatorship on Iran, (25 years before Islamic revolution).

Another issue is oil. America cannot accept any risk in the field of energy. For this reason, for America, in the Middle East, puppet dictator governments are much better than people's elected governments. Because a democratic government may make decisions about exports and oil prices that are in the interest of its own people and not in the interest of America.

But the most important issues are ideology. Two opposing ideologies cause two opposing views in most fields. I have explained about this here.
Iran's Islamic (Shia) ideology says:
do not oppress and fight oppression.
Wherever you can help the oppressed (even if he is a disbeliever) against the oppressor, you should do so.
Do not accept the dominance of infidels over Muslims. Especially if the Muslim land is occupied, fight against the occupier....
As you see all of this make hostility with US. Iran says Hezbollah and the Palestinian resistance are honorable and liberating groups, but Israel is a terrorist. US says exactly the opposite. US wants to dominate Iran and the Middle East; Iran resists. Even in Latin America Iran helps countries that resist against US.
And so on :)

To see the depth of the hostility, note that Imam Khomeini started his campaign with "No to the Shah, No to America, and No to Israel" 15 years before the victory of the Islamic Revolution ( 10 years after American coup against Mossadegh).

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    "US wants to dominate Iran" - Sounds weird to American ears.
    – Jacob3
    Jan 22 at 11:12
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    @Jacob3 Why not? In WW2, US tried to dominate Communism, Now US wants to dominate Islam. See also Nixon quote in my answer.
    – C.F.G
    Jan 23 at 6:44
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    @Jacob3 Why do you blame Iran's schools for your lack of understanding of world issues (because of living in a censored media region)? I cited Nixon quote, so I don't see how it is relate to Iran schools? Also, why you think that Islamists kill those who don't believe in Islam?
    – C.F.G
    Jan 23 at 12:32
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    @Jacob3 If you think that Islamists kill those who don't believe in Islam, this is a real evidence that Western media try to make the face of Islam look ugly. Note that someone who doesn't see or doesn't know the truth is different from someone who knows the truth and fights with it (i.e. truth). (Just remember which side burns the other side's holy books? Which side makes movies to indoctrinate Muslims to be terrorists?Which side publishes cartoons of the Prophet of Islam in magazines to spread hatred? ​ Which side created the Taliban? But which side is a victim of Terrorism?)
    – C.F.G
    Jan 23 at 12:48
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    @C.F.G, Nixon saying that "Khomeini’s Iran" is a threat to America's friends, doesn't mean that the US wants to dominate Iran or Islam. It means that Nixon doesn't like countries who wish to annyhilate America's friends. BTW, no book of any former president should be regarded as if it's America's national bible (democratic countries are open societies were every citizen is free to express their own views and everything doesn't mean anything unless it becomes law, even views of the president).
    – Jacob3
    Jan 23 at 18:55
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I reply to the last part of the question: "One hypothesis is that this is because of the Israel lobby, since Iran is much more of a threat to Israel than Saudi Arabia or Salafi jihadists, and essentially all of Israel's wars since the 1980s have been against Iranian proxies."

These are not just wars. Iran openly calls for the total annihilation of Israel, and actively prepares itself and its proxies to this aim. I can think of no other example of a country that openly calls and prepares to annihilate another country. The closest example is maybe China preparing to occupy Taiwan, or Iraq occupying Kuwait, but even these examples are much less deadly than Iran's plans for Israel. In contrast, Saudi Arabia does not call or prepare to annihilate any other nation.

Any active attempt to annihilate another country (in contrast to just a territorial conflict) is a global threat to the stability of the world, which explains the strong enmity it creates in the USA (as well as in many others).

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The historical information back to the fourties seems accurate, from my knowledge of our relationship with Iran. I know we installed the Shah of Iran after a coup caused by the CIA. Information I didn't find. Regarding the relations between 1890 and 1940,the King of Saudi Arabia, ruled for almost 50 years. He controlled the religious and political relations between Pursia, the UK colonialists, Europe and Africa. The conflicting philosophies continue today.

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    The coup in Iran took place in 1953, the Shah of Iran took power in 1941 during the WWII, so this is not correct that they installed him after the coup. The coup was done to overthrow the Shah, but it didn't succeed.
    – TMFG
    Jan 23 at 3:22
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    In 1941, When Russia and the UK invaded Iran, America sided with Iran (but didn't provide military assistance). So back in the 40s the US was friends with Iran.
    – bharring
    Jan 24 at 18:18
-3

Your point of view about terrorists is true: The vast majority of Islamist terrorism against the US and Europe is done by Saudi-aligned Salafi jihadist groups. That you see same ideology in Taliban, Same ideology in ISIS, Same ideology in Al-Qaeda and same Ideology in Saudi Wahhabism.

Without going into the details, the answer is clear. West is always trying to steal other countries resources. In WWII era it was mainly Brittan and after WWII it is US. But Why does the US view Iran as its principal geopolitical adversary in ME? Because in practice (power and plan), only Iran is a staunch opponent of US presence in the Middle East.

In this regard Wesley Clark says:

Oh, it’s always — there are always interests. The truth is, about the Middle East is, had there been no oil there, it would be like Africa. Nobody is threatening to intervene in Africa. The problem is the opposite. We keep asking for people to intervene and stop it. There’s no question that the presence of petroleum throughout the region has sparked great power involvement. Whether that was the specific motivation for the coup or not, I can’t tell you. But there was definitely — there’s always been this attitude that somehow we could intervene and use force in the region. I mean, that was true with — I mean, imagine us arming and creating the Mujahideen to keep the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Why would we think we could do that? But we did. And, you know, my lesson on it is, whenever you use force, there are unintended consequences, so you should use force as a last resort. Whether it’s overt or covert, you pay enormous consequences for using force.

This is not limited to only after the Iranian revolution. For example see 28 Mordad coup d'état

Upon the AIOC's refusal to cooperate with the Iranian government, the parliament (Majlis) voted to nationalize Iran's oil industry and to expel foreign corporate representatives from the country. After this vote, Britain instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil to pressure Iran economically. Initially, Britain mobilized its military to seize control of the British-built Abadan oil refinery, then the world's largest, but Prime Minister Clement Attlee (in power until 1951) opted instead to tighten the economic boycott while using Iranian agents to undermine Mosaddegh's government. Judging Mosaddegh to be unamenable and fearing the growing influence of the communist Tudeh, UK prime minister Winston Churchill and the Eisenhower administration decided in early 1953 to overthrow Iran's government. The preceding Truman administration had opposed a coup, fearing the precedent that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement would set, and the U.S. government had been considering unilateral action (without UK support) to assist the Mosaddegh government as late as 1952. British intelligence officials' conclusions and the UK government's solicitations to the US were instrumental in initiating and planning the coup.

OR Elon Musk tweet about the US-Iran:

Iran wants war! look how close they put their country to our military bases

enter image description here

Richard Nixon in his book 1999 Victory Without War writes:

Improving our ties with these states requires the United States to undo the damage done by the Iranian arms deal. For our friends in the region, Khomeini’s Iran is a much greater threat than even the Soviet Union. We must therefore assure them that the Iran fiasco was an aberration which will not be repeated. But we also must become actively engaged in efforts to settle the Palestinian question. It is this issue and our close ties with Israel that lead the gulf states to keep relations with the United States at an arm’s length.

Iran, in action, controls the Strait of Hormuz, which a third of the world's liquefied natural gas and almost 25% of total global oil consumption passes through the strait, making it a highly important strategic location for international trade. Iran also holds 10% of the world's proven oil reserves and 15% of its gas.

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    Interesting, but, probably, baseless. Why US does not mistreat Qatar or Saudia Arabia for the same things? Why specifically Iran?
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 20 at 12:49
  • 1
    @dEmigOd Which part is baseless?
    – C.F.G
    Jan 20 at 14:42
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    The main claim is basically baseless. You fail to explain why US designates Iran as the adversary. You claim that is aims for its vast resources, but other much smaller nations in the near proximity rich in resources are not targeted. This is illogical, you need orders of magnitude less efforts to expropriate their resources.
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 20 at 15:18
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    @dEmigOd During World War II, US and UK attacked Iran for two reasons: 1. Preventing the Soviet Union from accessing oil and southern Iran 2. Using its oil resources. / While Iran never attacked US positions at that time. Considering this and the fact that years later, US supported Saddam to attack Iran without Iran being guilty, I cannot say that US does not intend to steal Iran's resources. I agree that there is something more reasons.
    – C.F.G
    Jan 20 at 15:37
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    @C.F.G It was the USSR and UK, not the US and UK, who invaded in 1941. Iran did ask the US for help, as it was neutral at the time. The US did support Iran's territorial integrity, but did not provide military assistance. It was to stop the Germans. In 1941, the US was directly arming the Russians like they're arming Ukraine today.
    – bharring
    Jan 20 at 21:06

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