We all understand Iran, the regime with the ambition to dominate and gain influence. However, in fact we do not really know it. To Iran, the end justifies the means: from selling cigarettes to counterfeiting currencies, dealing drugs, money laundering, collecting Khums tax and using it for military purposes, establishing complex networks of companies in Africa, Latin America and Asia and sending clerics seeking loyalties from fighting coaches who train on weapons.
These are the secret activities of the Iranian empire, which tries to exploit everything it puts its hand on to serve its aims. It's through these cells and secret smuggling networks that it built and continues to build its nuclear program.
Although propagating disputes is its official hobby, Iran does not fight with its own troops. The last war the Iranian armed forces fought was against Iraq and it ended in 1988. During that war, the new Iranian regime sent whatever forces were left of the defeated Shah and got rid of them.
After the revolution, the Ayatollahs led the regular army. These Ayatollahs are skeptics about it, and they do not recognize military ranks as they only respect religious hierarchy. Afterwards, all of Iran's battles were assigned to cells, networks and infiltrators, like Lebanon's Hezbollah, Iraq's Hezbollah, Yemen's Ansar Allah, Afghan Fatimids and dozens of other groups that are deployed across the region and fighting for the superiority of the Ayatollah's state.
Iran did not and perhaps will not engage in military confrontations using its own battleships and fighter jets as, despite equipping its naval and ground troops with the best weapons, it avoids big confrontations. It secretly sends fully-loaded ships to the areas where there is unrest, while its soldiers guard the Quds Brigades troops crossing Mesopotamia to enhance the capabilities of foreign militias fighting under its command.
The US government recently said it plans to coordinate efforts between its regulatory and security institutions and seek the help of its regional allies to understand Iran's training and smuggling networks more and how Tehran manages its secret wars across the world. It said it will publish the information it has about Iran's secret companies and expose those who deal with them and that it will expose the evidence which proves Iran's ties to al-Qaeda.
These ties came as a strange surprise to us and have changed how we view Iran since 2003. That year, explosions carried out by al-Qaeda rocked the Saudi capital. We thought the attacks were by Saudi terrorists, but to our surprise the orders to execute them were conveyed to a cell in Riyadh through telephone calls from Iran.
The explosion in May that year was executed via a phone call from Bin Laden's Egyptian aide Seif al-Adel, who is hiding with his fellow terrorist comrades in Iran. Seif al-Adel planned the murder of 18 Americans in the Somali capital in 1993 and it is believed that he had a role in planning the September 2001 attacks in the US.
Before that, it never crossed our mind that the two enemies, Tehran's regime and al-Qaeda, will meet and work together in the same field against the same target. After this happened, we began to see Iran as the country of mysteries and realized it is more mysterious than we thought.
Knowing it well requires the regional powers' joint work. They must work together to decipher its mysteries and expose networking, destruction and intelligence networks. Before engaging in any action against it, knowing the Iranian regime more has become a top necessity.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.