Although the superiority of Shiism is at the heart of the Islamic Republic’s official ideology, and the ayatollahs have done much to contribute to the Sunni-Shiite divide, they have never shied away from cooperating with Sunni terrorist groups when their interests align. In fact, the founders of Iranian Islamism were inspired by the writings of Sayid Qutb, an early leader of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. Reza Parchizadeh explains the long history of cooperation between the Brotherhood—the parent organization of Hamas—and the Islamic revolutionaries who now rule Iran:
The Muslim Brotherhood . . . taught the Shiite Islamists how to be soldiers. During the 1960s and 1970s, many Iranian Islamists were trained in guerrilla camps in Egypt and Syria under the auspices of Brotherhood-sympathetic army officers. They then relocated to Lebanon to establish the radical Shiite Amal movement, the precursor of Hizballah, to galvanize the Lebanese population against Israel and the West. Along with the exiled PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood and Amal pushed Lebanon toward civil war. Those same battle-hardened guerrillas would later topple the pro-Western regime of the Shah in Iran.
That relationship, Parchizadeh adds, continues into the present, and may explain some of Tehran’s success at evading U.S. sanctions:
The Iranian regime has been using financial institutions in Turkey and Qatar, where the Muslim Brotherhood has a heavy presence [and the active support of the respective regimes] for money-laundering and sanctions-busting purposes. Recently, [Iran] strongly objected to the U.S. designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
When it comes to countering the U.S. and her regional partners, the same principle stands for all Islamists. . . . [T]he Iranian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood are still firmly in cahoots to sabotage all attempts at regional peace, which would spell doom for the appeal of their violent ways. To salvage their common cause in the short term and keep them both alive in the long term, the Muslim Brotherhood is likely a key actor in the skirting of sanctions on the Islamist regime in Iran, a possibility that should be intensely investigated.