Aleppo at the front of a growing proxy war


The siege of Aleppo which began in 2012 is now being called “the mother of all battles” or “Syria’s Stalingrad. At least 30,000 civilians have been killed, mainly by the Syrian government and Russia who have targeted Aleppo for wave after wave of horrifying bombings.

But the battle for Aleppo isn’t just a battle in the Syrian civil war: Aleppo is at the front of a much larger proxy war with between the “Axis of Resistance” (Iran + Syria + Lebanon + Hezbollah) backed by Russia against the “West” (USA + Saudi Arabia together with many Arab states and possibly the EU) and, at least for now, the West is definitely losing. In the meantime, the number of casualties grows daily and each side is claiming that the other is to blame. If Aleppo falls, so does the West’s hopes of allowing the Syrian people to determine their destiny through by choosing their government: Assad inherited the presidency from his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000 and since then, there have been no free elections in Syria. Oh, there were two elections in 2007 and 2014 which Assad won simply because he was the only candidate to run for president, glaring evidence that his basis of power is not the choice of the Syrian people but the dictatorial powers of a self-proclaimed leader.

Peace talks for Syria continue to stall on one single point: Should Assad remain power or should general elections choose Syria’s next president? Tehran is sticking to its bet on Assad and is adamant that peace will only return to Syria if Assad remains in power. But make no mistake, Tehran has its own agenda to keep Assad in power: The Assads have supported Iran for decades and one of the reasons can be found in that they are Alawites, a Shiite-like minority in Syria and are therefore potential “importers” of the Islamic Revolution. Whether or not Assad will allow Syria to undergo an Islamic Revolution or not, he clearly understands that Tehran is his best ally. If Aleppo falls and the Syrian civil war ends, Syria will become, like Lebanon, a satellite state of Iran, with or without an Islamic Revolution.

The nuclear deal created a new situation in which Tehran and Moscow began to develop a strategic relationship which is influencing the whole region. Moscow, which has stayed far away from the Middle East since its Afghan debacle, finally found a way back into the region through the expansionist strategies of Tehran.

For years, Tehran warned Western states to stay far away from the Syrian civil war claiming that any move to support the rebels would be seen as a foreign interference despite the fact that Tehran has been a foreign interference in the war from day one by supporting Assad financially, politically and militarily either directly or through Hezbollah. The rise of ISIS, backed in the past by Saudi Arabia and the US, only increased Tehran’s legitimacy to block off any attempts to depose Assad. As the world began to get to grips with the horrors of ISIS, many countries sent in bombing expeditions which were all categorized as “useless” by Tehran so it was a big surprise, at least to some, that Tehran and Assad invited Moscow to join Assad’s efforts in destroying the rebels.

Syria, like Yemen, has become the battle grounds for a proxy war of increasingly global proportions. Both wars began as civil wars and quickly escalated to proxy wars between two regional enemies: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran dove in full throttle into Syria to help Assad while Saudi Arabia grudgingly joined the war in Yemen to help restore the Yemenite government which was ousted by Houthi rebels supported by Tehran. In neither countries are Iran and Saudi Arabia fighting directly with each other because both sides understand that this would mean the end of the proxy war and the beginning of a regional war which has the potential to become a global war if and when the US and Russia get involved.

Tehran continues to blame Riyadh for the “appalling situation” in the region and to blame Washington for creating “a warmongering atmosphere which led to the increased activities of terrorist currents in the region” without once accepting its responsibility for its own part in fueling the conflicts. The West, on the other hand, blames Tehran for the exact same outcome without accepting any responsibilities. And the people of Aleppo? Just as the rest of the Syrians and Yemenites, they will continue to suffer as long as their city remains such a strategic point within these proxy wars.

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The Namazis are sentenced to 10 years in jail

Siamak Namazi and his 80 year-old father, Baquer Namazi, have both been sentenced to 10 years in jail for “cooperating with the US” following an hour-long trial in Tehran.

Siamak, a Lebanese-based businessman with dual Iranian-American nationalities, was arrested in October 2015 under charges of “spying” although explicit charges were never revealed. His father, Baquer, a well-known UNICEF diplomat with years of experience,  flew to Tehran to try to help his son but was himself arrested in February 2016. For months they both languished in jail with minimal contact with lawyers or family, but the 10-year conviction is still a huge blow to them and their family: Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother and Baquer’s son calls his father’s conviction a “death sentence” due to his old age.

This in itself is another clue into the regime’s paranoia regarding foreign “interference” and its willingness to use dual-nationals as pawns in internal politics and foreign diplomacy. Convicting Western dual-nationals is bad for Hassan Rouhani’s efforts at “constructive engagement” with the West and these Western prisoners are extremely useful to pressure Western governments who want to do business with Iran. On signing the nuclear deal, 5 Western dual-nationals were released from prions under similar charges in return for a huge ransom, and now that Canada has renewed diplomatic relations with Iran, Tehran released Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian national who spent four months in jail under similar charges.

The trial was held behind closed doors and their trial mirrors that of Nazanin Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who was sentenced to 5 years in jail for “secret” charges.

The predicament of the Namazis was only compounded by the manner in which Tehran informed the world of their convictions: an official Iranian news agency, Mizanonline, broke the news of their fate using a propaganda video which linked Iranian drones, imprisoned American sailors, Jason Rezaian and Barak Obama to the Namazis’ fate.

The government in Iran, nor the judiciary have reacted or issued statements in regards to the Namazis.The fate of the Namazis includes two critical message for Iranians who are living in the West and who hold dual nationalities:

  • If you happen to be an Iranian national with dual nationalities from a Western country, you should be weary of travelling to Iran for fear of becoming another pawn in Tehran’s war against “foreign interference”.
  • If you are a dual national from the West who happens to be arrested, you should understand from the outset that you will not receive a fair trial and you will be convicted to many years in jail.

It’s poignant to note that Muhammad Ali’s widow peened a letter to Ali Khamenei requesting for “Islamic mercy” for the Namazis only a few days before they were convicted. 10 years in jail for charges which are not even explained fully and no legal opportunity for defense. No, there is no “justice” nor “Islamic mercy” in Tehran. There is only a situation in which the hardline regime works in collusion with the IRGC and the judiciary to imprison Westerners as another means of gaining political points against Rouhani and as a means of improving deals with Western governments.

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Nigeria blocks Tehran’s efforts to “Export the Revolution”

If there’s one thing the mullahs in Tehran take very seriously, it’s the “revolution”, meaning the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, is a self-professed “revolutionary” who places “revolutionary ideals” above the welfare of the Iranian citizens. One would think that since the revolution happened over 37 years ago, the regime in Tehran would have moved on but the power of the regime lies in keeping its revolutionary ideals alive or as FM Javad Zarif claimed, “without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries”. Perhaps this is what Henry Kissinger meant when he said that Tehran was acting less as a country than a cause.

But the revolution doesn’t end within the borders of Iran: Tehran is duty–bound by Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision to “Export the Revolution” in order to save the “oppressed” from the “oppressors” in all corners of the world. This vision, as Zarif claims, is meant to “change the international order”. This may sound naïve, dangerous, incredible, ambitious etc… to anyone looking from the sidelines but to the governments of the countries who are targeted to “Import the Revolution”, this is definitely worrisome because none of these governments want to be deposed by a revolution.

The mechanics of exporting a revolution are actually quite simple: Set up and support Shiite “cultural” centers in order to recruit and empower local Shiite leaders who are then trained in Iran to “sell” the Islamic revolution to their followers through a mixture of democracy and subversion with the aid of Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s part in the exporting the revolution is to militarize the struggle. Of course, on the way, the local revolutionaries will have to deal with the resistance of the governments which they want to overthrow and people are bound to be imprisoned or killed on the way, but, hey, what’s a revolution without casualties?

Nigeria was targeted by Tehran as a potential country to which the revolution might be exported to and Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky was the Shiite cleric to spearhead it. Zakzaky watched in awe as the Islamic Revolution replaced the Iranian monarchy with an Islamic regime in 1979 and felt that such a revolution might be feasible for Nigeria. Zakzaky founded the Islamic movement in Nigeria in order to “to ensure more stringent application of Islamic legal and administrative systems…then ultimately to create an Islamic state in Nigeria” and claimed that “there is no government except that of Islam”. The fact that only half of Nigerians are Muslim and only a small portion of these are Shiites might make Zakzaky’s goals seem out of touch but this only served to impress Tehran.

Zakzaky, a frequent visitor in Tehran, was making progress…too much progress in the eyes of the Nigerian government. After a number of arrests for “civil disobedience” the Nigerian government finally had enough and in December 2015, Zakzaky’s compound was raided, hundreds of his followers were killed and Zakzaky himself was wounded (he lost one eye and is partially paralyzed) and arrested. Furthermore, Shiite organizations were banned in certain areas of Nigeria as fears spread that a revolution really was under way.

Tehran shifted gears and began to apply as much diplomatic pressure as it could in order to free Zakzaky and to reignite the revolutionary ideals. Tehran claimed that the crackdown on Zakzaky was “Illegal and unfair” and that Nigeria should focus more on “Takfiri terrorism” (Boko Haram) and less on “legitimate” Shiite organizations. The attack on Zakzaky and his followers was, in the eyes of Tehran,  an act of “genocide” and the Nigerian government was responsible for Zakzaky’s welfare. According to Tehran, Zakzaky’s “posed no danger” to Nigeria despite his numerous claims to lead a revolution in Nigeria.

The Iranian ambassador in Nigeria, Saeed Koozechi, increased the pressure by claiming that Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement was a “peaceful religious group that has no connection to extremism” and Zakzaky was imprisoned only because he was “fighting corruption”. “The Shiites are a small minority group in Nigeria. They engage in peaceful religious activities and they are not harmful to anyone. We have never heard of unrest and extremism from the Shiite followers in Nigeria”. Furthermore, he pontificated that “the Shiites are Nigerians too and they have rights like other citizens. The government shouldn’t pour fuel on fire” and that the Nigerian government should compensate “for the damage on those who suffered losses during the bloody clash”. Koozechi’s statements were obviously not welcomed in Nigeria and earned him a one-way ticket back to Tehran.

Tehran didn’t stop the pressure and steered the narrative to issues of religious freedom and democracy. Tehran went further to claim that the Nigerian government’s aggressive acts were “violent and brutal measures by extremists and Wahhabi-affiliated forces against Shias”. Tehran, which claims to try to unify all Muslims all over the world, returned easily to the Sunni-Shiite divide. Meanwhile, more Iranian diplomatic pressure was focused on Nigeria as Zarif visited Nigeria but the Nigerian government made it clear that Zakzaky was an internal issue which did not merit any foreign intervention, least of all from Tehran. The Nigerian government, just like the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, made it very clear that it doesn’t want to import Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.

But if there is one thing that can be learned from Tehran’s efforts to export the revolution, is that Tehran is persistent and patient. As long as there are Shiites who feel oppressed by local governments, Tehran will continue to instigate an Islamic revolution. And as long as Tehran keeps on trying to export the revolutions, local governments will be forced to continue to block the import of such a revolution by imprisoning or killing the leaders of the local revolutions.

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EU blinded by Iranian “gold rush”

On October 3ed, the European Parliament issued a resolution which outlines the strategy that the EU wants to implement in regards with Iran one year following the nuclear deal. On the whole, the resolution is a an up-beat “middle of the road” approach which intends to increase “political dialogue” with Iran, increase “trade and economic matters”, increase “sectorial cooperation”, increase “Iran’s role in the region” and increase cooperation with Iran on “socio-economic issues, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.

There are many good intentions and a lot of wishful thinking in this resolution:

  1. Terror: Iran is, according to the resolution, a key player in “counter-terrorism”.
  2. Capital punishment: Iran may have the largest rate of execution per capita in the world, but there is hope since “eliminating the death penalty for drug-related offences would drastically reduce the number of executions (up to 80 % according to Iranian estimates)”.
  3. Economy: Iran is the largest economy outside of the WTO and is aiming for a yearly 8% growth rate for which “European investments are key for Iran to achieve this goal”.
  4. Regional influence: Iran is a “major player in the Middle East and Gulf region” and the EU calls on Iran to “play a constructive role in solving the political crises in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan”.
  5. Human rights: Iran can work with the EU to “find common ground on matters related to democracy or human rights”.

Of course, there are some basic problems in these guide lines since…

  1. Terror: Iran has portrayed itself as a champion against terrorism (ISIS) but is also designated as a supporter of terrorism (Hezbollah is a designated terrorist organization by the EU as well). How can Tehran help in counter-terrorism when it does not even acknowledge that it supports terrorism? Judging from Iran’s political and military presence in Lebanon which is ruled by Hezbollah with Tehran pulling the strings, does anyone really believe that Hezbollah won’t remain in Syria once the civil war dies out? Does it not seem strange to the MEP’s that Tehran has taken the liberty to decide who is supporting terrorism and who is fighting against it?
  2. Capital punishment: Iran seems to finally have succumbed to global pressure to curtail the death penalty for drug-related criminals but the issue is critical since it will mean that the regime abandoned its revolutionary ideals for those of the “imperialistic/colonialistic” West. Can anyone realistically believe that Khamenei and his hardline mullahs and his paranoia of “Western influence” would simply give up on Qu’ranic laws which were re-established in 1979 to be exchanged with the laws of the countries the revolution was meant to destroy? And what about the fact that Hezbollah is actively involved in drug smuggling in Lebanon, Latin America and even Europe?
  3. Economy: The EU might want to cash in on the Iranian economic potential but it will have to wait in line to do business with Iran (after Russia, China, India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Vietnam, Malaysia etc…). Why would Tehran prefer to do business with European organizations and companies as long as there remain outstanding issues on human rights? Did the MEP’s not notice how Germany’s economic minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was rebuked by Tehran after he voiced a call for Tehran to take responsibility for the carnage and destruction in Syria and reminded Tehran that it would have to recognize Israel in order to have good relations with Germany? Such issues do not even exist in dealing with Eastern or Asian countries so why would Tehran bother?
  4. Regional influence: Iran has a very destructive role in fueling the crises in many of its neighboring countries. Did the MEP’s forget that Tehran is actively involved in fueling the Syrian civil war by blindly backing Assad? That it fueled the civil war in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels to oust the government? That it has control of Shiite militias in Iraq? And what about Tehran’s meddling tendencies in the Gulf States and its increasing rivalry with Saudi Arabia? Did the MEP’s really buy into Tehran’s propaganda that it is simply helping its neighbors?
  5. Human rights: The Islamic Revolutionary ideals of the regime can in no way accommodate many basic Western ideas of human rights. How can anyone expect the regime in Tehran to suddenly accept that minorities such as Kurds, Baha’is and Sunnis should be treated equally when the oppression of minorities occurs in contravention with the Iranian constitution? How can anyone expect gender equality and an end to gender segregation when such a thought is totally alien to Islamic law? How can anyone expect Tehran to accept gays when being gay is against Islamic law? How can anyone expect the regime to allow Iranians to criticize it when for decades, the critics were all oppressed, sent to jail or executed?

The resolution also missed some very basic points in regards to how things are done in Iran. The MEP’s might find common grounds with members of Rouhani’s government, MP’s in the Iranian parliament, activists who want to change the regime etc…but there can be no common ground between the MEP’s and the unelected members of the regime, beginning (and ending) with Khamenei. Someone should tell them that Khamenei has a glowing vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will lead to a “Century of Islam” meant to destroy the current “hegemony” of the West. The MEP’s should understand that Khamenei’s worst nightmare is to be in any way influenced by or indebted to the West and that the IRGC, directly under Khamenei’s orders, controls roughly 40% of the Iranian economy. It is Khamenei, backed by the Guardian Council and the IRGC who rule Iran – not the government nor the parliament.

The resolution was not unanimous by any stretch of the imagination and was approved by a 37-15 vote. Many of votes against the resolution originated from Liberal MEP’s who found it hard to accept the optimistic tone, especially in regards with human rights: Marietje Schaake, an MEP who was a part of the EU delegations to Iran, voted against the resolution claiming that it did not reflect the key issues of human rights violations and Tehran’s support for Assad and terrorist groups. Schaake didn’t mince words and called on her fellow MEP’s to be more realistic: “It seems a gold rush is blinding MEPs, even though high levels of corruption, and state interference in the economy also impact their ability to do business in a predictable and transparent way”. Schaake, unlike many of the MEP’s has been to Iran and has met Iranians outside of Iran, including Masih Alinejad, who is at the head of an anti-regime campaign called MyStealthyFreedom. She even ran into trouble in Iran after attending a meeting with a large handbag which bothered some Iranian leaders. She understands the rift between Brussels and Tehran cannot be bridged based on the business deals the EU might offer. Tehran will gladly do business with anyone who accepts the regime “as is”.

Yes, at the end of the day, the resolution is meant to make Europeans happier and that means doing business with Iran. It’s all about money. But the Europeans, in the eyes of the regime, are still “suffering” from being related to the US and to the West and it is much more comfortable to strike a deal with Russia or Azerbaijan than with the EU.

The feedback from Tehran on the EU resolution reflects these wide cultural rifts between the good intentions of the MEP’s and the hardline attitude on the regime: Tehran welcomed the resolution but called on the EU to be more “realistic” in its attitudes regarding human rights: “While human rights negotiations are set to be held between Iran and the EU in the near future, the adoption of such positions is questionable and unconstructive and does not in any way help elevate the human rights discourse and (only) reinforces speculations of intervention in our country’s domestic affairs”. Translation: “You want to do business with us? Fine. Just don’t try to change us”.


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Moderates? What moderates?

Since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, there’s been an incessant buzz about “moderates” in Iran. Is Iran on its way to becoming more moderate? Is Rouhani the agent of moderateness that Iranians can bet on? Is he really a moderate or only a “faux-moderate” who understands that being moderate can make you popular? Will the regime, which is much stronger than the presidency ever allow itself to become more moderate? Should the global community which would welcome a more moderate Iran support Rouhani?

The answers to these questions are “probably not”, “he might have been”, “defenitely not” and “perhaps not”. The reason for the evasiveness in answering the question is that there are two big factors which nobody can even get close to predicting: will the moderate-seeking Iranian population rise up to demand change and how will the regime react to such an uprising?


Rouhani, the “moderate”

The issue began with Rouhani himself who was immediately dubbed a moderate by the global community as well as by the people who voted for him. It’s easy to see why people would believe this following Rouhani’s promises to improve foreign relations with the world through “constructive engagement” which resulted in the signing of the JCPoA and the renewal of diplomatic, economic and military ties once the sanctions were removed. But once the JCPoA was inked, Iran’s supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stepped back onto center stage and began dictating foreign policy “red lines” based on his paranoia of the “Great Satan” (the USA) and “foreign infiltration” (any foreign, usually Western, influence on the economy or culture) which should not be crossed: the US was blamed for not removing non-nuclear sanctions (not stipulated in the JCPoA, American goods were banned from Iran, negotiations with the US were forbidden on every issue apart from the JCPoA…Tehran, at least in regards with the US, was back to its pre-Rouhani era.

But Rouhani wasn’t designated a moderate simply based on his promises on foreign policy: he also promised real change in the basic human and social rights of the Iranian people. He promised to free the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement, Mir Hossein and Mehdi Karroubi , from house arrest, to decrease the oppression of minorities, to decrease gender discrimination, to increase freedom of speech and allow for criticism of the government and the regime, to issue a Civil Rights Charter etc… Unfortunately for Iranians, the issue of human rights in Iran has deteriorated drastically as the regime leapt from one crackdown to another, infringing on the rights of free speech, artistic freedom, the freedom of individuals, the freedoms of minorities, women’s rights etc…Instead of an improvement in these areas, Iranians who believed in Rouhani’s promises found themselves disillusioned, oppressed and in jail.

The myth of Rouhani’s moderateness only increased during the parliamentary elections in which “reformers” managed to beat the “hardliners”, giving rise to hopes that not only was the government “moderate”, the parliament was now “moderate” as well. On closer inspection, the “reformist” party, the List of Hope, looked more like a loose coalition than a tight knit group who could take on the hardliners. Theoretically, Rouhani could command a majority in the Majlis but theories like these usually break apart once Khamenei puts his foot down.


Rouhani, the powerless

Is Rouhani a moderate? Is his star foreign minister, Javad Zarif, a moderate as well? It’s hard to say for sure. Rouhani and Zarif are hard to figure out because they are the products of two worlds: they both grew up within the regime which ingrained in them the Revolutionary ideals from 1979 but they both lived in the West and have acquired a much clearer understanding on how to communicate effectively with Westerners. Unlike Ahmadinejad, Rouhani isn’t all Islamic Revolution demagoguery, he is a pragmatic diplomat who knows that rants can get you only so far – adding sweet-talking diplomacy to the conversation can get you much much farther. Zarif, an expert diplomat, has no illusions about his commitment to the regime and its goals: Tehran, he claims in his book, has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order”, a goal exemplified in the regime’s dedication to “Export the Revolution” (“The Islamic Republic supports the just struggle of the mustazafun (the oppressed) against the mustakbirun (the arrogant) in every corner of the globe”). “Exporting the Revolution” is just one of the Revolutionary Goals which as Zarif says, “distinguish us from other countries”. And yet, diplomacy is Zarif’s chosen weapon to achieve these goals: “the art of diplomacy is to maximise your benefits at minimum expense” and “the art of a diplomat is to conceal all turbulence behind his smile”. Exactly.

But does it really matter if Rouhani or Zarif are really “moderates at heart” or not? At the end of the day, not one bit. Whether Rouhani is really a deep-down moderate who wants to tone down the regime’s extremism or not, it is the regime, and specifically Khamenei, not Rouhani, who dictates Rouhani’s presidency. The regime, which is much more powerful and much more encompassing than Rouhani’s government, might tolerate the fact that people might think that Rouhani is a “moderate” but will not tolerate him acting as one. Why? Because 1) the regime, with Khamenei at its helm, remains glued to Revolutionary ideals and b) the regime is much more powerful than the president could ever be. Some of the regime’s elements such as the government and the parliament are voted on democratically but the most of the regime’s power originates from elements which are not chosen by the people, for the people, but are in fact chosen by the regime, for the regime. The Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the IRGC, the Basij etc… are all focused on one goal: preserving the nature of the regime as it was established in 1979 during the Islamic Revolution.


The real moderates in Iran

Yes, there are moderates in Iran. Moderates who would want part of the regime’s fundamentalism to disappear. Through the aid of global communications and social media, they can appreciate and understand the benefits of freedom. They definitely want to remain Iranian, they probably want to remain Muslim but they deplore the regime’s single-minded goal to maintain the status quo at all costs. They deplore the fact that they cannot voice their thoughts and feelings freely. They deplore the basic inequalities ingrained within the regime’s doctrine in regards to minorities, political opponents and women. They deplore the power of the unelected theocratic dictatorship over the democratically elected government, creating a mutant “democtatorship”. They deplore the regime’s incessant meddling in other countries’ affairs rather than focus on the welfare of the Iranian people. These are the moderates: apart from those already in jail, these moderates are stuck in a no-man’s land torn by the need to control their destinies as they see fit and the need to protect their freedoms and the freedoms of their loved ones. Some of them dare to cross the line and are immediately shut down or monitored to be shut down at a later date. They are Rouhani’s most willing partners for change and, unfortunately, they are the most disappointed in his inability nor the courage to wholeheartedly take on the regime.

So the regime is hardline, Rouhani’ might be more moderate than the regime but he is no match for a “Supreme Leader” and the real moderates are either forced to whispering conspiracies or to suffering violent crackdowns. Will the regime ever become more moderate? As long as Khamenei is alive, only a counter-revolution could achieve change and since the next Supreme Leader will be chosen by a hardline Assembly of Experts, his successor is bound to be a hardliner as well in order to maintain the status quo. One day, the Iranian moderates will finally rise – they might not succeed but they will rise.


To support or not to support?

The global community, in the meantime, is stuck in a veritable conundrum: Should it support Rouhani’s “moderateness” in order to give the Iranian moderates the moral and political support it might need or denounce his “faux-moderateness” for the scam it is, and in doing so, force the Iranian people to act out of desperation?

This question is further complicated by the fact that the Western support of Rouhani is exactly what’s fueling the hardline criticism against him…the minute he seems a bit too close to the West, he is immediately attacked at home for not being “Revolutionary” enough. Nobody really knows the answer to this question because nobody can really claim to know how to factor the regime’s reaction to any form of massive uprising and there have been enough cases, during and following the Arab Spring, that the West supported democracy in some countries like Libya and Egypt,  only to watch democracy implode back and replacing dictators by fundamentalists and the nervous calm of suppression by outbursts of anarchy.


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Narges Mohammadi to stay in Jail until 2026

The renewed trial of Nargess Mohammadi, an Iranian activist, once more exemplifies that people who are identified by the regime as “political criminals” for criticizing the regime have no chance to a fair trial: Mohammadi is to remain in jail until 2026.

Why? Let’s start from the end: On September 28th, the Tehran court of Appeals upheld a sentence against Mohammadi which would keep her in jail for another 10 years for a number of political charges – “assembly and collusion to commit crimes against national security” (5 years), “spreading propaganda against the State” (1 year) and “establishing and running the illegal splinter group LEGAM” (10 years). But what exactly were her “crimes”? She was a member of an organization whose goal was to abolish capital punishment in Iran. She met with the former EU representative Catherine Ashton in Tehran without permission. She made a speech at the gravesite of Sattar Beheshti who died after being tortured by the regime. All of these “crimes” can be lumped into one bigger “crime”: criticizing the regime.

Unfortunately for Mohammadi, the regime in Tehran has zero tolerance for criticism of any kind: the regime’s goal is to sustain itself and the only way it can do this is to maintain the status quo from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, effectively barring any change that could endanger the regime. Furthermore, the regime is all encompassing in that it has it maintains its power bases in the non-elected bodies such as the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council, in the Assembly of Experts, in the Majlis (parliament), in the government, in the judiciary, in the IRGC (includes both military and economy), the military/police/intelligence, the Basij (volunteer paramilitary), the nuclear program etc… These interacting tentacles of power in all the aspects of the lives of Iranians ensure that any one criticizing the regime, its ideals, its laws or its governing bodies can be punished without any effort to maintain the civil rights of the “criminal”. In this vicious circle, all the people and organizations under the influence of the regime work together to stifle or oust any danger to the regime itself. In such a manner, an activist for human rights or for social change, such as Mohammadi,  can easily be arrested, charged and convicted with trying to overthrow the regime, a “crime” which carries heavy prison convictions or even execution.

It’s irrelevant to the regime that Mohammadi, and activists like her, do not receive the benefits of a fair trial. Mohammadi wasn’t even present at the verdict of her trial in which she was convicted to 11 years in jail. She can’t even enjoy the benefits of Iranian law which stipulates that “criminals” do not have to serve accumulating prison sentences on different charges but should serve only the largest sentence (10 years in her case).

The fact that Mohammadi is a mother of two who will not see her children grow up is irrelevant and the fact that her health has deteriorated rapidly while in jail is irrelevant as well because Mohammadi’s fate is not her own: her fate is meant to be a deterrent to all would-be activists in Iran with one clear message: criticizing the regime will lead to a loss of freedom and dignity.

Mohammadi’s plight has generated massive support from the UN, Amnesty, Front Line Defenders, Nobel Women, Reporters Without Borders and a host of other governments and NGO’s which have all decried Mohammadi’s cause and the reaction from Tehran has been, to date, “butt out!”. If there’s one thing that bothers the regime more than criticism from Iranians, it is criticism from non-Iranians. Yes, some believe that an increase in global pressure might hurt Mohammadi’s cause into leading the regime to dig its heels in harder but most activists believe that with enough pressure, Hassan Rouhani’s government might have to rethink its ways if it wants to maintain its new-found ties with Western countries.

So, please add your own weight to helping Mohammadi by either sharing this article or join the converstion at any of these sites.,,,,,,,

Thank you.


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Tehran prosecutor gets away with torture and murder

During the protests of the Green Movement in 2009, many Iranian protesters were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. Some were lucky and were subsequently released. Others remained in jail or were sent to jail again since then. And still others died as a result of being tortured. Three of these victims, Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani and Mohsen Rouholamini died from torture at the Kahrizak prison facility. They were sent to Kahrizak by the general prosecutor of Tehran,  Saeed Mortazavi, who then proceeded to falsify their cause of death as “meningitis”.

Mortazavi was not unknown to the victims: he reputedly visited the prisoners in Kahrizak and warned them to not divulge any information regarding the tortures (they did) and in order to cover up the evidence, transferred the prisoners who were set to be released to Evin prison for 2-3 weeks where they were taken care of in the clinic so that “the torture marks” on their bodies would not be “so visible”. The victims were forced to walk barefoot on hot asphalt, were beaten regularly, sometimes while being strung up to the ceiling, were forced into crowded cells, were living off meagre rations etc…For the survivors, the nightmare remains all too vivid even if they did flee the country.

While most victims and their families resolutely put their suffering behind them for fear of reprisals, the Rouholamini family decided to take Mortazavi to court on charges of murder and falsifying documents. Last month, Mortazavi was acquitted of the murder charges but was fined $60 for the falsified documents. The Rouholamini family has yet to give up and plan to appeal the decision.

During his trial, Mortazavi offered the court and victims’ families some sort of an apology accompanied by a self-exoneration:  “As I was the Tehran prosecutor at the time, I express shame for this terrible incident, even though it happened without any deliberate intention, as God and my conscience are my witness…the bloody incidents that happened after the great plot hatched during the June 2009 presidential election were described as a crime by the supreme leader of the revolution (Ali Khamenei), and I, the prosecutor at the time, deeply apologize and seek forgiveness from the innocent martyrs Javadifar, Rouholamini and Kamrani, and hope God Almighty would bless them with the highest rank”. It’s hard not to notice the irony in the fact that Mortazavi elevated the statute of the victims to “innocent martyrs” (after being charged as seditionists) and that he places the “blame” on the fact that Khamenei described them as “criminals”. In short, much as many Nazi officers claimed during their trials, Mortazavi was sorry but he was just doing his job and fulfilling orders from above.

But some of the surviving victims didn’t buy his apology: “His apology is an insult” says Reza Zoghi, a survivor who fled to Turkey on his release. He was held and tortured at  Kahrizak for 5 days and then sent to “recover” in Evin for 17 days until his release. Zoghi is not in a forgiving mood and feels helpless due to the fact that he is unable to take his case to court: “In fact, none of us were actually able to pursue our cases. In the end, only the Rouholamini family was able to drag Mortazavi to court. But what upsets me was that none of our names were mentioned during the trial. It’s true that we survived, but we were all tortured. Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments”.

To be honest, Mortazavi is not blameless nor is he alone to be blamed. Mortazavi was part of the regime which exhibited zero-tolerance for anyone brave enough to voice criticism against it. Mortazavi is as guilty as the torturers of Javadifar, Kamrani and Rouholamini , as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who declared them criminals, as the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who rigged the elections and as the intelligence and IRGC officers who handled the arrests and some of the tortures. For the survivors and the families of the victims, it’s uncertain what’s worst: the actual crime or the sham trial that exonerated the criminal and the actual people who tortured them (or led to their tortures) or the regime which orchestrated it. In any case, Mortazavi’s apology is too little too late.

The Green Movement, from its birth to its demise is a snapshot of everything that is rotten in the regime: It was born as a protest to what seems to have been a rigged election that brought Ahmadinejad into power and ended the minute Khamenei declared the movement’s leaders and participants as “seditionists”. The fate of the Green Movement remains one of the biggest fears for anyone in Iran who wants to criticize the regime or the all-powerful Supreme Leader who, as one unnamed Iranian diplomat said “is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot“. Furthermore, the fate of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are still under house arrest after 5 years despite President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to release them, is a living testament to all would-be protesters – criticize the regime and lose your freedom and your human dignity, or, die. And there’s nothing that a “moderate” president can do about it as Barbara Slavin aptly put: “Probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country“.

The only hope for Iranians who do want to change their lives and increase their personal freedoms is either an implosion of the regime or a protest so massive that the regime will have to back down.

Brave Iranian women biking against the ban

On the 10th of September, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a “fatwa” (a religious decree which is law) forbidding women to ride bikes in public places for fear that they would attract “the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption”. Bicycles, he continued, “contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned”. His fatwa followed a declaration one week earlier in which he defined the “role and mission” of Iranian women as “motherhood and housekeeping”. In the process, once again, the regime in Tehran is finding new ways of turning its citizens into criminals.

The need to issue such a fatwa rose since women riding bike in public was considered a “sin” but there isn’t a law in the Iranian penal code regarding women on bikes. The issue of women on bicycles has been buzzing in Iran since around May when authorities began placing signs in parks which stated that “bicycle riding for women is prohibited in this place, women are set to ride at the women’s park”. Nobody really took notice until, July 26th, when security agents detained a group of women who had organized a cycling event, the Lake Bike Riders, to increase awareness to the ravages on the environment and to encourage citizens to forego the use of cars at least one day a week (Carless Tuesday). The women cyclists were taken to the police station to sign a “pledge” to never ride bicycles in public before they were released.

The absurdity of the fatwa and its oppressing effect on women, their health and the environment began attracting a lot of attention in Iran and the world but some (very) brave Iranian women have decided to take their protest to the next level. In cooperation with My Stealthy Freedom, a community on Facebook for women who try to enjoy their “stealthy freedom” by sharing pictures of themselves defying the oppressive regime by not wearing hijabs, Iranian women began uploading pictures and videos of themselves biking despite the ban – #IranianWomenLoveCycling. Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist and administrator of My Stealthy Freedom is sure that women who are willing to share their moments of stealthy freedom are the key for change in Iran: “Women in Iran want to be active in society but for the clerics that’s the big threat because in their (the regime’s) eyes, women should not be seen nor heard, stuck in the kitchen…women are the main agents of change”.

It’s hard for some people to understand just how brave these women who are sharing their pictures and videos on bikes really are. Men and women are sent to jail and even executed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and protesting Khamenei’s fatwa is a huge risk. But that’s exactly the point: these women are willing to risk their freedom and their lives to be a part of the change even if it means doing something which might seem insignificant to some such as not wearing a hijab or riding a bike. Listening to these women is inspiring: “We immediately rented 2 bicycles to say we’re not giving up cycling…It’s our absolute right and we’re not going to give up”, “am I a criminal because I love life and I love cycling?”, “on that day (when the ban will be lifted), I will be proud that I did resist the oppression”, “we will do what we think and feel is right”. Listen to this woman expressing her feelings while riding with her mother.

It’s obvious that Khamenei will never overturn his fatwa since he cares less for the freedoms of women than for the support of the hardline men who make up his regime. Hassan Rouhani hasn’t voiced his opinion on this issue but judging from the past, he is powerless to fight the regime on social issues. In the past, he has called on the authorities to relax the implementation of hijab laws, to allow women to support the Iranian teams in sports stadiums etc…but he knows what everyone knows in Tehran: going against the Supreme Leader on any issue is the quickest way to disappear physically or politically. It makes no difference that he encouraged Iranian women to enjoy health lifestyles nor that he has expressed support for solutions to save the environment because as Barbara Slavin put it so simply “probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country”. Or as one Iranian politician who preferred to remain unnamed said “the leader (Khamenei) is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot”.

But Rouhani will have to step out of his comfort zone if he intends to drum up votes in the upcoming presidential elections: it was the votes of women, liberals and secular Iranians which brought him to power – without their support, he is bound to lose. His loss will be the hardliners’ gain and the oppression of the civil rights and the personal and social freedoms of the Iranian people is bound to grow which will leave his disillusioned voters with a simple choice: bow down to the regime or rise up against it. The only hope is that if enough Iranian women decide to take the issue of their oppression to the streets, the regime will find itself in a no-win situation: accept the gradual liberation of women’s rights or crack down on the protesting women and face a huge backlash by Iranian women and their male supporters who would rather live a “normal” life than a “revolutionary” one.


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Saint Rouhani doesn’t need facts

Following on the path of Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times to “rid the world of Wahabbism”, Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the NAM meeting in Venezuela was filled with cynical half-truths and lies which are totally irrelevant of the facts. In fact, he sounded as if he is the president of a neutral country such as Sweden or Switzerland and not a country which is fueled by a strategy of expansionism, is involved in two proxy wars, is accused of numerous efforts to meddle in its neighbors affairs, is openly supporting terrorist organizations, is increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni divide, is oppressing women and sectarian/religious minorities etc…

Rouhani’s speech is all “peace and love” but is devoid of being factual:

  • Tehran is fighting “against extremism and terrorism” – Anyone mention Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda and the Taliban? OK, so one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but doesn’t it bother Rouhani that Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization even by the Arab League? And doesn’t it seem strange that Tehran is supporting al-Qaeda (before and after 9/11)?
  • Tehran rejects the “hegemonic and domineering inclinations” of superpowers – OK but this obviously doesn’t include Moscow, of course, which has become Tehran’s BFF . Rouhani obviously knows that Russia is a superpower and yet, he doesn’t have qualms in allowing Russia to support Assad in his civil war while incessantly warning the US to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps what he really means is “Western superpowers”…that makes more sense.
  • Tehran rejects the support of the “West together with the East” – That was Khomeini’s motto to keep Iran unaligned and independent. Since then, the regime in Tehran has never looked to the West but wait, isn’t Moscow in the East? And isn’t Beijing, another superpower being wooed by Tehran also in the East?
  • Tehran is always ready to help out the “righteous” – Ahhhhhhhh…define “righteous”. Tehran’s definition of the “righteous” just happens to be Shiites and anti-Americans wherever they may be. That doesn’t include Syrian civilians who sided with the rebels against Assad (184,000 deaths to date). It also doesn’t include Yemenites who sided with the government against the Houthis. That doesn’t include the members of the Iranian resistance wherever they may be.
  • Tehran does not interfere “in the internal affairs of “other countries” – Yeah, yeah…Let’s start with Lebanon which has become a satellite state of Tehran through the empowering of Hezbollah. Move on to Syria in which Tehran chose to support Assad who doesn’t represent all of the Syrian people since the start of the civil war which was sparked by his unwillingness to hold free national elections. How about supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government there? Or empowering Shiite militants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait,  and Nigeria? Not interfere? Tehran is the king of the “Meddle East“.
  • Tehran is avoiding “wounds inflicted every day on innocent bodies” – Wow…he obviously forgot about include the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian army and Russia in Syria and the thousands of victims of Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also doesn’t include the 30,000 political prisoners who were massacred in 1988 by the regime. Oh, and the thousands of Iranians who are imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, flogged and executed for not toeing the regime’s line.
  • Tehran operate on a “policy of moderation, prudence and interaction to settle conflicts” – So that’s what it’s called. “Moderation” and “prudence” explain Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen. They also explain Tehran’s meddling and subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Wait…Saudi Arabia…yep, “moderation” and “prudence” explains the latest vicious rhetoric by Khamenei and the rest of the regime vilifying the Saudi leadership and the Saudi religion.
  • Tehran is a “pioneer in engaging in dialogue and talks” – OK, that really depends when the “pioneering” began. Until Rouhani was elected, Tehran consistently rejected any dialogue with the West since 1979. Ahmadinejad’s presidency was notorious for ignoring calls to negotiate and antagonizing possible negotiating partners. Tehran ignored the calls of the IAEA and the UN to hammer out a nuclear deal for years. Perhaps Rouhani should have said “pioneer since 2013”. That’s about right.
  • Tehran is trying to create a “new order” through “cooperation and the collective participation of all the neighbors” – What “new order”? Well, as Zarif pointed out, Iran is different from all countries because it wants to change the “international order”. By this he was referring to the goal and duty, imbedded within the Iranian constitution, to Export the Revolution to the “oppressed”. And then there’s the Global Islamic Awakening against the West or the New Islamic Civilization Khamenei loves to fantasize about. And how about the “cooperation and collective participation”? The people of Syria didn’t ask to import the new order, neither did the government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States aren’t exactly “cooperating” with Iran in developing such a “new order”.
  • Tehran is against “interference of outside powers” in internal affairs – Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Tehran? Against interference? What’s really peculiar is that Tehran doesn’t see itself as “interfering” nor does it see itself as an “outside power”. And yet Tehran is “interfering” as an “outside power” in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…. Hell, it even invited the “interference” of an “outside power” when it agree to allow Moscow to support Assad in his civil war. Seriously, how can “Exporting the Revolution” not interfere with governments who do not want such a revolution to occur in their countries?

Are you getting the picture here? Rouhani is telling the NAM states what they want to hear: That Tehran is run by a peace-loving regime, is unaligned with any super-power, is fighting extremism and terrorism and is averse to interfere in any country’s internal issues. With such a great message, who cares about the facts?

Mr. Rouhani, it’s OK to believe that if you repeat the same lies enough times, people will believe you. But if you don’t take responsibility for your problems and weaknesses, at some point, your credibility is bound to plunge. Just as in the case of Zarif’s attack on Wahabbism, it’s easy to agree with many of the points that you shared in your speech – if all nations, including Iran, would act according to how you described your regime’s purported guidelines, the world would definitely be a better place to live in. Until then, remember, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.


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Zarif scores points BUT loses credibility

Reading Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism“, is bewildering: he hits the problems of extremist Wahabbism right on the nail but the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility, let alone mention, Iranian-backed extremism and terrorism (including non-Shiite organizations such as Al-Qaeda) makes his whole argument less credible and more akin to propaganda. Had Zarif admitted to Tehran’s support of terrorism, his call would have greatly increased in credibility. As it is, Zari’s tirade against Wahabbism sounds like a speech by a pathetic alcoholic in denial at an AA meeting.

What makes Zarif even less credible is that his call “rid the world of Wahabbism” is really a call to pressure Saudi Arabia, no more no less. Since Wahabbism is a key part of Saudi Arabia, eliminating Wahabbism is really another way of trying to eliminate Saudi Arabia. Zarif knows this all too well. All forms of extremism, Shiite or Wahabbist, should be eradicated but a call to eradicate Wahabbism is like a call to eradicate Shiism. Had someone from Saudi Arabia called on the world to “rid the World of Shiism”, Zarif would be the first to call the Saudi speaker a “racist” and a “sectarian” whose purpose is to divide Islam, and, to be honest, he would be 100% right. Zarif knows this all too well but he is so focused on answering Tehran’s PR needs that he conveniently put such thoughts aside.

Zarif is playing the role of the crafty diplomat who is more adept at a bazaar haggle than in the real world: he did this outstandingly during the negotiations on the JCPoA and he is trying to do the same now with Saudi Arabia. His strategy is simple: attack and soothe then attack and soothe over and over again. Listen to Zarif attacking Saudi Arabia: Saudi rulers are “callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands”, their “petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist” policies which “beget, foster, and spread terrorism”, their allegiance to “serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons” and their responsibility for “the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred”. OK, we get it. Now listen to this following quote: “We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism“. Shouldn’t Zarif “put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear” first in order to be credible in his conciliatory call on Saudi Arabia to “join hands”? Will the real Zarif please stand up?!

Even Zarif’s repeated mention of the “Zionists” is beginning to wear out. Whenever there’s a problem with Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf States, with the Arabs, with the West, with anything, it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat to blame: Zionistic Israel and the fate of the maligned Palestinians. Listen to Zarif explain the source of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “The tragedy of Palestine, the center of anger and desperation felt in the Muslim world, is at the heart of this crisis“. Is it really? Or is the cause of the Palestinians simply an effective way to galvanize support for Iran amongst Muslims? Nobody in Tehran ever mentions the plight of the Palestinians in Jordan. No one in Tehran offered the Palestinians to live and thrive in Iran. No one in Tehran has ever offered to mediate a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, the Palestinian cause isn’t Tehran’s goal – the Palestinians are simply Tehran’s pawns in a game of political chess to dominate the region.

But Zarif’s attacks on Wahabbism don’t stop only in regards to terrorism. Here’s Zarif on one of his favorite, and least credible, topics: “Today, interference in internal affairs of other countries, occupation, and extremism have posed threats not only to the world’s peace, security, and development but to the solidarity of NAM state members“. Once again, Zarif “forgets” to mention that interfering in other countries’ affairs is one of Tehran’s specialities since it is part of its revolutionary ideals (“Exporting the Revolution) and is even part of Iran’s constitution. He “forgets” to mention Tehran’s continuous meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc… He “forgets” to mention that Tehran has developed a well-oiled strategy of using local and mercenary proxy organizations to meddle without being physically there.

Zarif isn’t alone in this strange mud-slinging contest in which Tehran slings mud at Saudi Arabia and then cries foul when mud is slung back from Riyadh: It’s an integral part of the regime under Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, in fact, instigated this strategy from the day that he launched his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative at the UN 3 years ago. In one master stroke, he presented Iran as a champion against terrorism without mentioning once (in three years) Tehran’s role in the resulting Islamic violence and extremism.

Since he became president, Rouhani has mastered the art of repackaging Iran as a Middle Eastern Switzerland: “For us, peace and non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, their national sovereignty, consultation and coordination on issues of the developing and entire world are important”. It’s not hard to notice that he doesn’t mention Tehran’s political and military interference in domestic affairs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…He doesn’t mention how without Tehran’s “interference” Bashar al-Assad would have been forced to agree to a general election to prove whether he really is the choice of the Syrian people nor does he mention how the Houthi rebels would never have successfully ousted the Yemenite government without the support of Tehran. “Non-interference”? Yes, only when it is in Tehran’s benefit. When it isn’t, Rouhani and Zarif are quick to point out that they aren’t really interfering, only “helping”.

The bottom line is that Tehran has become very adept at creating myths based on populistic lies which totally lack any form of responsibility. These myths are churned out by the regime and retold constantly until it might seem like the truth. ISIS is “the problem”…the US is “the problem”…Saudi Arabia is “the problem”…Israel is “the problem”…the Iranian resistance is “the problem”…everyone is “the problem” except, of course, for the regime in Tehran because the regime is above any criticism and criticizing the regime is a sin which can send you to jail or to the gallows.

No, in order to be credible, Tehran first has to own its own problems and weaknesses. Yes, the whole Western world and the whole Arab world might be theoretically wrong about accusing Tehran for all the problems in the Middle East but in practice, the stubborn theocratic regime in Tehran is definitely not blameless and as long as it continues to act the part of the wrongly accused saint, no progress can be expected in trying to cool down the multi-level conflicts in the region which appears to be ready to blow up and take the world with it.


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