Syrians and Yemenites caught in the middle

If you listen to Tehran, you will hear harsh criticism aimed at Riyadh for launching a war on Yemen and if you listen to Riyadh, you will hear similar criticism regarding the military involvement of Iran in Syria. There are quite a few similarities and some major differences in both cases.

The biggest similarities can be found in the circumstances surrounding the wars: Both Tehran and Riyadh are supporting governments in one war and rebels in another and both wars are, in many ways, proxy wars in which Tehran and Riyadh are really trying to weaken each other. The motives of Tehran and Riyadh are mainly sectarian in nature and are the result of the regional conflict surrounding the strained relations between the two countries.

The biggest differences between the two wars are the number of civilian casualties (400,000 in Syria compared to 9,000 in Yemen), the nature of the of the coalitions used by both sides (the three-state “axis of resistance” in Syria and the ten-state coalition in Yemen) and the differences in the definition of the involvement (Tehran continues to claim it is in Syria on a purely advisory status while Riyadh openly admits to waging a war against the Houthi rebels). Furthermore, Tehran’s agenda is clearly focused on “Exporting the Revolution” to Syria, Yemen an dto whichever country is willing to accept it while Saudi Arabia is working hard to stop Tehran from achieving this goal.

The bottom line remains that the involvement of Tehran and Riyadh in both wars are leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in what are basically proxy wars in a larger power play by both countries in the region.

 

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • Both local governments are contested locally and are suffering from civil wars: Bashar al-Assad’s inheritance of his title and power from his father without an election resulted in a civil war in Syria in 2011 while Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had to flee Yemen in 2015 following a civil war instigated by Houthi rebels.
  • Tehran and Riyadh were invited by the governments of these countries to help fight the civil wars: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad requested the help of Tehran to fight his civil war while Yemenite president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi requested the help of Riyadh to return to power after being ousted by Houthi rebels in a civil war.
  • Tehran and Riyadh support the rebels in each country: Tehran supports the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government while Riyadh supports many Syrian rebels to fight Assad.
  • Tehran and Riyadh blame each other’s support of rebels as an excuse to wage a proxy war: Tehran used Riyadh’s support of the Syrian rebels and ISIS to support Assad in his civil war while Riyadh justified its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen because Tehran helped the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government.
  • Both wars are tainted by sectarian and religious overtones: Shiite Tehran supports Assad who is an Alawite, a religious minority in Syria closely related to Shiism, and supports the Houthi rebels who are Shiites while Riyadh supports Sunni Syrian rebels who are a majority in Syria and the Sunni Yemenite government.
  • Both wars serve as proxy wars between Tehran and Riyadh: The wars in Syria and in Yemen serve as proxy battle fields for the intense rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh which has always been a rumbling undertone in the region but has increased dramatically following the negotiations and the signing of the JCPoA.
  • In both wars, the majority of the victims are civilians: As in most wars in the last few decades, the battlefields are within cities and neighborhoods and civilians find themselves in the frontline with soldiers leading to the indiscriminate victimization of civilians.
  • In both cases, Tehran and Riyadh have warned each other to not interfere: Tehran has warned Riyadh to stay out of Syria and Riyadh has warned Tehran to stay out of Yemen but in reality, both Tehran and Riyadh continue to support the rebels in each country.
  • Both Tehran and Riyadh blame each other for supporting terrorism and are self-acclaimed champions against terrorism: Tehran blames Riyadh for supporting Sunni/Tafkiri/Wahabbist terror and claims that it is the biggest champion against terrorism while Riyadh blames Tehran’s support and use of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels while claiming to lead a 34-state coalition against terror.
  • The peace processes in both wars are hampered by Tehran and Riyadh: International efforts to bring peace to Syria and to Yemen have been unsuccessful so far largely due to the preconditions which Tehran and Riyadh are demanding, preconditions which make any prospect of peace deplorably insignificant.

 

Now some of the differences:

  • The official nature of the support of Tehran and Riyadh is different: Tehran continues to claim that its role in Syria is only “advisory” which is partly true judging from the frequent visits of Qods chief Qassem Suleimani but it also finances Assad’s war to the tune of $10 billion a year, supplies Assad’s forces with weapons, deploys its proxy Hezbollah to fight for Assad and has sent its own IRGC and Afghan troops to fight in Syria as well. The Saudis, on the other hand, do not even try to hide the military nature of their war in Yemen. Tehran’s insistence on the advisory nature of its involvement in Syria becomes even more ludicrous as the number of Iranian casualties in Syria rises (official estimates are at 600 for now).
  • The number of civilian casualties in Yemen is only 2% compared to Syria: To date, the number of civilian casualties in Yemen is estimated at roughly 9,000 people while the number of civilian casualties in Syria is estimated to be 400,000. Even if you factor in the length of the war, the civilian casualty rate is Syria is ten times larger than in Yemen. This fact is not relevant to the families and friends of the victims but it does need to be factored into the amount of blood on the hands of Tehran and Riyadh.
  • The three-state “axis of resistance” vs. the 10-state “coalition”: Tehran remains very possessive of its influence in Syria and has warned all countries to stay away, all countries except for Russia of course. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand opted for a wide coalition of Arab states. The difference between both cases is strategically significant: In Syria, Tehran is trying to maintain its power over Assad while strengthening its ties with Moscow. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand wants to make it clear to the world, and specially to Iran, that it has the backing of the Arab world.

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Tehran should practice what it preaches

Call it double standards, different perspectives, politics, hypocrisy, Taqiyya or lies…the rhetoric that’s coming out of Tehran is loaded with messages which makes one want to blurt out “right back at you” or “why don’t you take a look in the mirror”. It’s as if the leaders in Tehran live in a vacuum and are totally disconnected from the realities as viewed by the rest of the world, especially the Western and the Arab world.

They redefine concepts such as “terrorism”, “foreign policy” and “human rights” by simply changing perspectives and then blame the seeming contradictions on cultural, political and geographical “disconnections”. In such a manner, Tehran can position itself as a champion against terrorism although it fully supports terrorist organizations, can position itself as the guardian of its neighbors’ interests although it meddles subversively in local politics and position itself as the champion of Islamic human rights although its human rights record is one of the worst in the world.

This process of “redefinition” has increased dramatically under the government of Hassan Rouhani and the signing of the JCPoA. This makes sense since before Rouhani, Iran was politically an defectively isolated and ostracized – the regime didn’t really need to try to manipulate the mind-set of the world. But since Tehran began trudging down the path of “constructive engagement”, redefinitions have become a defining strategy to position Tehran in a better light and take the world off-guard.

The best way to understand this is to listen to what Iranian leaders are saying. For the sake of this article, we will focus on statements by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader), Ali Akbar Velayati (Khamenei’s chief adviser on foreign policy), Hassan Rouhani (Iran’s president), Ali Larijani (speaker of Iran’s parliament) and Javad Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) on the issues of “terrorism” and “regional foreign policy”…another article in the future will focus on Tehran practicing what it preaches in the realm of “human rights”.

 

Tehran as a champion against terrorism

The issue of Islamic terror escalated dramatically over the past two years. Sure, 9/11 had brought Islamic terror to the West but 9/11 looks “tame” in view of the barbaric rampage of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Spotting an opportunity, Rouhani presented his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative to the UN to a standing ovation. The war against terrorism became Tehran’s carte blanche to kill or destroy whoever was in Tehran’s way and another carte blanche to tarnish any Western and Arab anti-terror activities. Why was Tehran involved in Syria? Why was the US forbidden to fight ISIS in Syria? Why did Tehran execute 20 Kurds in one day? To fight terrorism, of course.

Terrorism became the magic word to allow Tehran to fulfill its political agenda regardless of the fact that an organization such as Hezbollah (as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc…), which is fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen etc… is wholly financed by Tehran and is designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western and Arab nations. Here are some statements by Iranian leaders which show that Tehran is eager to preach against terrorism but is much more wary about practicing what it preaches on this subject:

  • Velayati on the West’s efforts to differentiate between legitimate Syrian rebel groups and ISIS: Iran “will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists“. By this logic, Tehran refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is just as “ridiculous“.
  • Rouhani on categorizing terrorism: Rouhani also called for the fight against all types of terror groups, saying the terrorists should not be divided into good and bad ones in pursuit of “short-term interests”. Is not Tehran’s categorizing of all Syrian rebel factions as “bad terrorists” and its opposition to categorize Hezbollah as “bad terrorists” not a clear example of Tehran pursuing its own “short term interests“?
  • Zarif on the dramatic increase of terrorist attacks all over the world: “We should not and will not rest until those behind terror in Istanbul, Dhaka, and now Baghdad, and their ideology are defeated“. Notice, no mention of Hezbollah and Tehran’s ingrained “ideology” of “Exporting the Revolution”, two critical factors in fighting Assad’s war in Syria.
  • Larijani on tactics and strategies of terrorism: “We have on multiple occasions warned the countries in the region that the tactical use of terrorism is a strategic mistake“. So why, oh why, is Tehran using Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to fight Assad’s civil war? And why is Tehran using Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government? A clear “strategic mistake“.
  • Khamenei the fate of those who support terrorism: “However, the creators of terrorism will not remain secure from the repercussions of terrorist acts either“. Mr. Khamenei should remind himself this since the rise in Tafkiri terrorism is, in part, a “repercussion” to Tehran’s state-sponsored Shiite terrorism.
  • Khamenei on the aims of the US in the region: “Behind our western border, the S.is training terrorists. It is spending money and handing out weapons to be used against the Islamic republic…the Americans have dangerous plans for (Iraqi) Kurdistan … Their plans are not aimed at defending the Kurdish people, but they want to control them“. Perhaps…but 1) Tehran is spending billions of dollars in “training terrorists” and “spending money and handing out weapons” to terrorist organizations and to help Assad win his civil war and 2) Tehran has excelled in “controlling” nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Azers as well as efforts to do so in Yemen as well.
  • Zarif wants to cooperate with Mali and Ghana to fight terrorism: “Iran is prepared to cooperate with Mali in the area of fighting terrorism and extremism“, “The Islamic Republic is ready to cooperate with Ghana in the fight against terrorism and extremism“. “Cooperate“? The same “cooperation” which Tehran gave to Nigerian Shiite sheikh Ibrahim Zakazaky who was charged by the Nigerian government of trying to overthrow it?
  • Rouhani on “exporting” its experience on fighting terrorism: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran has valuable experience in fighting terrorism and is ready to transfer it to other countries. Very admirable, but…Tehran has gained quite a lot of “experience” from fighting against terrorism since the advent of ISIS in 2014 but has a lot more “experience” in supporting terrorism since 1979.
  • Rouhani on the how to effectively fight terrorists: We should block income sources and channels of arms transfer to the terrorists“. And yet, Tehran continues to be the major “income source” and “channel of arms transfer” to Hezbollah (a terrorist organization), Yemenite Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemenite government and subversive Shiite organizations in the Gulf States.
  • Zarif on the methods to combat terrorism: “Terrorism and extremism cannot be eliminated only through military, political, or economic means; rather a cultural and ideological approach is also needed“. Well said Mr. Zarif but first, Tehran has to deal with its own “cultural and ideological approach” in supporting terrorist organizations in its struggle to “Export the Revolution”.
  • Larijani on how not to combat terrorism: “Terrorism is not a simple and tactical issue and cannot be solved by airstrikes“. He’s 100% right but he remains one of the biggest supporters of Moscow’s efforts at combating ISIS through…”airstrikes” which incidentally also targeted other Syrian rebels and civilians.
  • Larijani on blaming Saudi Arabia: He also said those countries which provided terrorists with arms and missiles are responsible for crises in Syria (and that) those who make blood bath in Yemen are the ones who are to blame for tension in the region. Who is providing Assad and Hezbollah with “arms and missiles” in Syria which are extending the “blood bath” there?? Who provided “arms and missiles” to the Houthis rebels in Yemen to overthrow the Yemenite government and initiated the “blood bath” there? Tehran, of course.
  • Velayati on the purported support of Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels: “However…some reactionary regional states are training terrorists and providing them with support in violation of international law“. Wait a minute…isn’t the fact that Tehran is “training” Hezbollah and “providing them with support” also a “violation of international law“?

Tehran’s modus operandi is simple: Support (mostly Shiite) terrorist organizations while doing two things at once – 1) Deny that the organizations being supported are really terrorists and 2) Blame the West (the US, EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) for the rise in Sunni terrorism.

 

Tehran as a champion of regional foreign policy

Tehran is very active in its neighbors activities and has positioned itself as the master of foreign policy in the region. This self-appointment is a direct result of the amount of control Tehran has in some countries in the region, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as its continued efforts to expand its control in other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and other Gulf States. Furthermore, the signing of the JCPoA has strengthened diplomatic power with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan etc… and after years of isolation, Tehran has finally become a crucial regional power.

That’s all good for Tehran but the problem is that Tehran doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to regional policy. It will warn Western powers to not meddle in local politics while it does so incessantly in its efforts to “Export the Revolution”. It blames countries like Saudi Arabia for helping the Yemenite government to beat the Houthi rebels while it is helping Assad to beat Syrian rebels in the same manner. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for creating division amongst Muslims while it does so as well. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for diplomatic incompetency while it tries to survive from one blunder to another.

Here are some choice statements by Iranian leaders which illustrate just how little Tehran practices what it preaches.

  • Zarif on who should control Syria: “We believe only the Syrian people should decide about their future and others can only facilitate this political process to resolve the crisis“. OK, but if “only the Syrian people should decide about the their future” why is Tehran so adamant in helping Assad who inherited his power without then how does Zarif explain the amount of influence Tehran has on Assad
  • Velayati on interfering in Syrian affairs: “No country has the right to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs and decide for fate of others“. Exactly. Not even Tehran who has the biggest foreign military involvement in Syria and who has taken upon itself to “decide the fate” of Syrian by blindly supporting Assad for its own agenda of “Exporting the Revolution”.
  • Khamenei on the slippery notion of intervention: “The people in those (Muslim) countries should decide about their own destiny and prevent any foreign intervention“. Strange…when a Western power involves itself in the region, it is “foreign intervention” but when Tehran involves itself in the fate of countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc… it isn’t simply because Iran is Muslim? Khamenei, “intervention” from Iran in these countries is just as “foreign” as “intervention” from Saudi Arabia or from the US.
  • Velayati the legalities of foreign intervention: “The presence in Syria by such countries as the US and Saudi Arabia, who intervene there without the Syrian government’s consent, is illegal“. Velayati is basing this statement on the fact that Assad formally “invited” Tehran to help him fight his civil war. There are two problems in this statement: 1) Since Assad inherited his power without a popular vote, the question of the legitimacy of his government is problematic to say the least and 2) Isn’t Tehran’s “presence” support of the Houthi rebels in Iran to overthrow the government also “illegal” then?
  • Velayati on Iran-Russia cooperation in the region: “There is unprecedented cooperation between Iran and Russia. This cooperation will not be limited to Syria, as a patch of this cooperation can be seen in Iraq and Lebanon…It will be extended to Yemen too“. Tehran’s new-found “cooperation” with Moscow embolden it to include Moscow not only in its war for Assad but also in another proxy war in “Yemen too” (Moscow hasn’t agreed to such a move yet) but this never stopped Tehran from warning Saudi Arabia and the US from “interfering” in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen.
  • Velayati on the delicate issue of meddling: “Iran opposes any kind of change of the legal regimes through power, military force, coups, violence and separatism, as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries“. This is an admirable statement except for the fact that Tehran actively used “power, military force, coups, violence and separatism” to support Houthi rebels to overthrow the government in Yemen.
  • Rouhani on wars in the region: “How can we remain silent while Yemeni people are savagely bombed everyday by those who call themselves the custodians of the Grand Mosque (Saudi Arabia)“. Rouhani is definitely “silent” on how the Syrian rebels and the Syrian civilians are “savagely bombed everyday” by Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, by Assad’s forces with the support of Tehran and by Iranian military personnel.
  • Khamenei on the benefits of cooperation: “We will not cooperate with America over the regional crisis“. It should be noted here that Tehran has vehemently opposed the “interference” of the US in Syria although it did welcome Moscow to “help”. Isn’t ending the “regional crisis” and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of future victims” not worth involving whoever can help? Especially since the US still holds a lot of influence over Tehran’s southern rival?
  • Khamenei on double standards of impunity: “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region…(Khamenei issued) a directive to Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“. Khamenei obviously doesn’t mention the hypocrisy in not allowing countries which are deemed as enemies of Tehran to not “act with impunity” but doesn’t think twice about issuing a directive to do the exact same crimes he is lamenting about.
  • Zarif on Saudi Arabia’s agenda: “Some people in Riyadh seem bent on dragging whole region into crisis (and) Iran has no desire to escalate tensions…They (the Saudis) can continue to support extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred, or choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security“. If only Zarif would convince Tehran to not strive to “drag” the “whole region into crisis“, to stop supporting “extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred” and “choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security” because Tehran is doing the exact opposite in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf States.
  • Larijani on the Saudis’ effect on the region: “The Saudis have fomented crises for certain regional states and are pursuing disintegration of some other states“. Wow. Larijani conveniently “forgets” to mention that Tehran’s efforts to support the Houthi rebels actually ended in their the “disintegration” of the Yemenite government which then led to the Saudis declaration of war on the Houthis together with the reinstated Yemenite government.
  • Khamenei on Muslim division: “One of the main tools used by the enemies to prevent the birth of modern Islamic civilization is through creating divisions among Muslims…Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Are not “Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (and) the United Arab Emirates” not Muslims and, therefore, won’t such a statement only increase Muslim division?
  • Khamenei on the Shiite Sunni divide: “The Arrogance front (the US) is making massive efforts to introduce this confrontation as a war between Shiite and Sunni“. This is a ludicrous statement to make following the torrent of accusations by Tehran on the responsibility of Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia in the development of Tafkiri (Sunni) terrorism which only serve to increase the “war between Shiite(s) and Sunni(s)“.
  • Zarif the problems the Arab governments are facing: “The Arab world’s intelligentsia and the grass roots feel a sense of frustration after developments in recent years and the lack of proper reaction by their rulers (and) the governments are trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“. Let’s just accept this statement as true for a second…isn’t that exactly how the “intelligentsia and the grass roots” in Iran are feeling and isn’t Tehran “trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“? Yes and definitely, yes.
  • Khamenei on the art of negotiations: “They (Rouhani, Zarif and all the Iranians who worked to sign the nuclear deal) believe (that) Middle East or domestic problems can be solved by JCPOA; this means giving up principles and redlines, and yielding to the arrogance“. In negotiations, there is always give and, as Zarif pointed out so well, it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. Negotiating for a deal meant to get rid of all nuclear sanctions means “giving up (on some) principles” because if Tehran had not given anything away, the deal would not have been signed.

These statements clearly show that Tehran is intensifying a double standard in the region: Tehran “helps”, others “interfere”. Tehran promotes Muslim “unity”, others promote Muslim “division”. Tehran’s meddling is “legal”, others are “illegal”. Russia is “good”, US is “bad”. The double standards go on and on as the leaders in Tehran try to paint a picture in which they are the heroes and everyone who is not supporting it is a villain.

 

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The 1988 massacre that continues to haunt Tehran

Last week, an audio-file was added to the website of the late Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the man who was set to succeed Khomeini as Supreme Leader but instead was forced to resign as a result of his voiced objections to the systematic and institutionalized massacre of thousands of political prisoners between July and October 1988.

The 1988 massacre was ordained by Khomeini himself through a fatwa (religious edict) whose victims were imprisoned for being members of “dissident” organizations who criticized the regime – mostly members of the Mujahedin Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and mostly Sunnis (as opposed to the Shiite regime). The men and women were imprisoned for crimes as small as distributing pamphlets and some were meant to be freed within the next few months.

During those five fateful months, a total shut-down of communications between the prisons and the outside world was implemented: TV’s and radios were confiscated, family visits and phone privileges were abruptly stopped people within 100 meters from the prison could be shot. During this time, tens of thousands of political prisoners underwent short, on-sight, interrogations following which they were either executed, tortured, flogged or exempt from the fatwa. The executions were held within hours of the interrogation, hanging six prisoners at a time in order to carry out the fatwa more efficiently. The bodies were then transported by trucks to mass graves. Firing squads were used on some occasions, but the noise of the shots only resulted in increasing the tension in the prisons. By November, the authorities began informing the victims’ families while warning them not to carry out funerals or wakes and in most cases, the authorities did not divulge the burial sites of the victims.

What made the massacre so horrifying was the planned madness of it all and the fact that the victims of this massacre died for simply being affiliated to a “dissident” political organization or for not being Muslim enough. The issue of the audio file and Montazeri’s ardent objection to the massacre have brought to light another shameful episode in the history of the regime’s brutal, secretive, systematic and deadly behavior to anyone who it deems as an “enemy of the state” or an “enemy of Islam”.

Within days of the issuing of the fatwa, Montazeri wrote three public letters in which he vehemently protested the massacres. He beseeched Khomeini to recall the fatwa because it of the great injustice it would cause, calling it “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands”. In the audio files, he also claims that he could not have kept silent because if he had, he would “not have an answer on Judgment Day and I saw it as my duty to warn Imam (Khomeini)”. He also worried about the effect of the executions on the families of the victims and the criticism of the world since the act would be interpreted as an act of revenge or of unchecked exasperation. According to Montazeri, somewhere between 2,800 and 3,800 people were executed although eye-witness testimonies point to a much higher number (5,000 – 6,000) and the MEK claims the real number was closer to 30,000. He “resigned” (more like forced to resign) in March 1989.

Three days after the sharing of the audio file, the son of Montazeri received a phone call from the Ministry of Intelligence requesting that the audio-file be deleted from the site. He agreed to do so.

To date, the regime in Tehran has refused to talk about the massacre, to take responsibility for it and/or to recompense the families of the victims. To date, the regime continues to execute political prisoners simply because they believe in ideals which diverge from those of the regime. To date, there are still family members and survivors who are afraid to share their tales of suffering and oppression, knowing full well how the regime treats people who do.

 

The fatwa that led to the massacre

The summer of 1988 was tense in Iran: the eight war with Iraq had taken its toll and on July 18th, Khomeini had finally accepted to “swallow the poison” and to a cease-fire which was to come into effect in August. On July 22nd, Iranian dissidents fighting from within Iraq, members of the MEK, launched another attack onto Iranian soil but were forced to retreat by July 29th. At some time during this week, some believe on the July 28th, Khomeini issued a fatwa which would lead to one of the worst cases of systematic executions of political prisoners in the history of the world:

(In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,)
As the treacherous Monafeqin (a derogatory name by the regime for Mojahedin meaning “hypocrites”) do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance (Western countries, specifically the US/UK), and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

This fatwa, issued in the name of a God who seemed to be anything but “Compassionate” or “Merciful”, sealed the fate for thousands of Iranians, men and women who were imprisoned for being members of the MEK or other “leftist” (read “secular” and “communist”) organizations.

The MEK was designated, until today, as a terrorist organization but one should note that the MEK was instrumental in helping Khomeini rise to power until a fall-out between the regime and the MEK occurred in 1980 when it refused to take part in a plebescite on the new constitution, being disillusioned by the growing power of hardliners in the regime who advocated harsher Islamic rule and more power for the unelected regime. During 1981, the MEK did carry out terroristic activities but within the year, the MEK was outlawed and the string of terrorist attacks was brought to an end with the executions of about 2,000 MEK members.

Montazeri claims that Khomeini was not only sick at the time (he would die within one year of issuing the fatwa) but that he was emotionally dejected from having to accept the cease-fire with Iraq but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that in Iran, a Supreme Leader can seal the fate of his citizens without the need for the political or popular support of his government or his people. The situation remains the same today under Khamenei.

 

The systematic organization of the massacre

The systematic nature of this massacre cannot be ignored and points to preparations long before the actual fatwa was issued. For months preceding the fatwa, interrogations took place within prisons to isolate the members of the MEK, member of “leftist” organizations, secularists and atheists etc…Nothing was done except to herd the prisoners together according to their “crimes”, ie, their beliefs.

But once the fatwa was issued, the machinations of the massacre went into high gear: field trials headed by a three-man “death committee”, an Islamic judge, a revolutionary prosecutor and an intelligence ministry official, “interrogated” the prisoners and decided on the spot (some interrogations lasted less than two minutes) who would be executed, who would be tortured and who would be exempt from the fatwa.

At first, the “death committee” focused only on Mojahedins. The interrogation was based on a number of questions, the first being the political affiliations of the prisoner. If the prisoner answered that he or she was a “Mojahedin”, the interrogation was abruptly ended and the prisoner would unknowingly be escorted out to his or her death. If the prisoner answered “Monafiqin”, a derogatory word meaning “hypocrite” used by the regime to call the Mojahedins, the prisoner, would then have to answer an onslaught of questions not knowing that one “wrong answer” would mean a death sentence. The first set of questions were meant to weed out the hard-core dissidents from those who were willing to cooperate: “Are you willing to denounce former colleagues? Are you willing to denounce them in front of the cameras? Are you willing to help us hunt them down? Will you name secret sympathizers? Will you identify phony repenters? Will you go to the war front and walk through enemy minefields?”.

By August, the “death committee” widened their focus to include all dissidents: leftists, Marxists, secularists, atheists etc…Here, the interrogation was more religious in nature and prisoners were asked if they grew up in religious Muslim families or not and then they believed in the Koran, if they prayed, if they believed in Heaven and Hell etc…What they didn’t know was that the first question, the level of religion in their family split them up into two distinct groups: those prisoners who grew up in religious Muslim families but moved away from Islam, “murtad-i fitri” and those who grew up in non-religious families “murtad-i milli”. The prisoners who grew up in religious families and who answered that they were secular or atheists were, once again unknowingly, singled out for execution on the same day. Those who had grown up in secular families were then given a choice: become a practicing Muslim or get flogged five times a day (in coordination with the five times of prayer for devout Muslims).

In most cases, the prisoners were herded to their interrogation blindfolded and remained so until they were herded back to the groups of prisoners outside, not knowing that their fates had been sealed. There were numerous mix-ups as prisoners joined the wrong groups or when wardens would try to punish or protect a prisoner by sending him/her to another group. Most of the surviving prisoners speak about being beaten and tortured during their interrogations. Those that weren’t were usually the ones who were sentenced to death from the first question.

In all cases, there were no defense lawyers, no application of international and Iranian laws, no fair trial – only an interrogation followed by an execution, floggings or a miraculous exemption.

 

The cover-up of the massacre

The details of the massacre remain hazy to this date. The massacre was carried out under a heavy cloak of secrecy with on-site executions and disposal of the bodies under the cover of darkness. Some of the survivors, as did the families of the victims, shared their ordeals but most preferred to remain silent for fear of retribution by the regime. Political opposition leaders remained silent as well after seeing what happened to Montazeri who was the second most powerful Iranian leader at the time. Human rights organizations were in any case not allowed into prisons and those that did condemn the massacre were ignored by Tehran. The men who carried out the massacre on an administrative or physical level went on with their lives and some rose to prominent posts, such as Khamenei who was president at the time.

For all intents and purposes, the massacre was presented by the regime as a minimal punishment to enemies of the state, as Khamenei so eloquently explained: “In the Islamic Republic, we have capital punishment for those who deserve to be executed … Do you think we should hand out sweets to an individual who, from inside prison, is in contact with the munafiqin who launched an armed attack within the borders of the Islamic Republic? If his contacts with such an organization have been established, what should we do about him? He will be sentenced to death, and we will execute him. We do not take such matters lightly deemed as punishment”. The fact that these prisoners had little contact with the MEK in Iraq was meaningless since they were guilty by association.

Tehran continues to oppress, imprison, torture and execute any person or group which voices criticism against the regime or simply belongs to a minority viewed as harmful to the regime. Fair trials are the exceptions and not the norm and hardliners continue to press for harsher punishments and for a stronger adherence to Islamic and Revolutionary ideals.

At the same time, this same regime continues to claim that critics of its human rights are politically motivated and complain about atrocities carried out by other countries, specifically the US and Israel. What’s clear is that this particular atrocity is more horrifying not only because it was carried out by the regime in the name of the regime but because, for all intents and purposes, it is still being carried out today, alebit on a smaller scale.

 

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Tehran unites Muslim enemies instead of uniting Islam

It’s no secret that Iran views the “West” in general and the US, UK, Israel etc…as its enemies. These Western enemies symbolize all the humiliations and oppressions that were felt by the third world countries under the colonial empires while Israel is especially hated since it is viewed by Tehran as the last remaining Western “colony”. At the same time the Sunni-Shiite conflict which has been raging for about 1,400 years, is pitting Muslims against Muslims.

Tehran’s answer to both conflicts was to unify Islam against the West. For the past two years, Tehran has been selling itself as the unifier of Islam in order to  lead Islam to a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will eventually lead to a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization“. These lofty visions are adaptations of Khomeini’s basic ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” to all countries in which people are oppressed. As long as Tehran continues to be a cause instead of a nation, as Henry Kissinger put it so well, it is duty-bound to meddle in other countries’ politics in the hope of igniting another revolution against the “Western hegemony”.

According to this logic, all of Tehran’s enemies, are therefore enemies of Islam. This logic might appear to be sound when it comes to non-Muslim “enemies” but it is absurd when these “enemies” are Muslims. In fact, it is even more absurd since Iranians are Shiites, a sect of Islam which represents only 10%-15% of the global Muslim population. The leaders in Tehran who pride themselves on their logic, have found a simple answer that conveniently allows such an absurdity to exist: The Muslims who are enemies of Iran are actually enemies of Islam because they have one thing in common – they have associated themselves with the “West”.

Tehran’s two major Muslim enemies are easy to identify although they are very different in their nature:

  • External: Saudi Arabia, Iran’s loudest and most worrisome regional enemy
  • “Internal” (self-exiled):The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), Iran’s exiled political enemy

To its horror, Tehran is now witnessing more and more Muslim nations associating themselves with Saudi Arabia and the NCRI and instead of unifying all Muslims under a vision of a united Islam lead by Tehran, it has managed to unify Muslims against Tehran.

 

Saudi Arabia and the Arab world

At the beginning of 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who had managed to overthrow the Saudi-supported government there. Tehran vilified the Saudi move and the Saudis answered by putting together a 12 state coalition of Arab states to fight the Houthis. This move took Tehran off-guard since the situation wasn’t anymore a Saudi-Yemen issue, it had grown into a larger Arab-Iran issue.

As the Iran-Saudi conflict escalated in an endless war of words, fueled by events such as the execution of the Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia for charges of inciting “terrorism”, the Saudis took their conflict against Iran one step further and put together a coalition of 34 Arab states for the purpose of “fighting terrorism”. The real purpose of this coalition can be found in the three nations which are “conspicuously” missing on this list, Iran, Syria and Iraq. No, this isn’t an anti-terror coalition but an anti-Tehran coalition.

But this wasn’t enough for the Saudis who dropped the proverbial bomb on Iran by designating Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxy, as a terrorist organization and convinced the Arab League to do the same removing Tehran’s anti-terror “red carpet” from under its feet.

Iran fumed and protested as it watched 34 Muslim nations side with Saudi Arabia and resorted to do what it does best in these situations: bad-mouth Saudi Arabia. The coalition, Tehran claimed, was “fake” and “the self-centered move by of al-Saud will bear no fruit but disgrace and the Saudi attempt are in vain“. What Tehran didn’t mention is that the Saudis outdid Tehran at its own game: since Rouhani presented his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative to combat ISIS, Tehran distanced itself from supporting terrorism and instead positioned itself as a champion against terrorism. Tehran then proceeded to include Syria (Assad’s government) and Iraq in its own coalition against terrorism. By uniting itself with 33 Arab states in the cause against terrorism, Saudi Arabia did exactly the same but the size of its coalition only strengthened the notion that Tehran was isolated from the Muslim world and any ambitions that Tehran might have had in unifying Islamic countries under its flag were destroyed.

 

Saudi Arabia and the NCRI

On July 9th, the NCRI organized its yearly rally in Paris under the call for a “Free Iran”. The rally was a huge success with over 100,000 supporters and bi-partisan support from countries all over the world.

Tehran, which has designated the NCRI as a “terrorist” organization (it’s the only country in the world which has done this) hit the propaganda machine button and began to cry foul. It slammed the NCRI, France, the dozens of speakers, the thousands of supporters etc… but it reserved its loudest criticism for the presence of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal at the rally who praised the NCRI and added that “your legitimate struggle against the (Iranian) regime will achieve its goal, sooner or later…I, too, want the fall of the regime“. Here are some of Tehran’s choices responses?

  • Hassan Rouhani, President: “There are both children-killer regimes (i.e. Israel) and childlike regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia) in the region. There are childlike regimes that are seeking the support of rotten terrorist organizations (i.e. NCRI)”.
  • Ali Larijani, Speaker of Majlis: “Another example is allowing the terrorist-killer Monafeghin (NCRI) in Paris and the nonsense that was uttered by the moron Saudi official. The gathering and what was raised was so worthless and so impolite that it does not merit a response.”
  • Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “This (NCRI) is a politically bankrupt organization and they have betrayed their own people since the inception of the group…This group does not possess the courage to come to Iran and talk to the Iranian people directly; their claims are for beyond Iran’s borders”.
  • Javad Zarif Foreign Minister: “The presence of individuals such as Turki-al Faisal in this gathering is indicative of the incompetency and naiveté of these individuals”.
  • Iranian unnamed diplomat: “The Saudis are resorting to well-known terrorists… As they have also done in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. This shows that they use terrorism and terrorists to further their aims against regional Islamic countries“.

Obviously, the whole “Free Iran” rally wasn’t “appreciated” by the regime in Tehran, but the presence of the Saudi Prince at the rally was a warning signal: The “terrorists” of the NCRI were now teaming up with the “childish” but menacing Saudi Arabia. Two of Tehran’s worst Muslim “enemies” had united in the hope of helping to topple the regime.

 

Palestine and the NCRI

Tehran has placed the cause of the Palestinians as a cornerstone of its Revolutionary Ideals since it views Palestinians as the direct victims of the West’s latest colonial ambition. According to Tehran, Israel was built land that was stolen from the Palestinians by the Western powers in the UN. So when, two weeks ago, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the State of Palestine met with Maryam Rajavi, the head of the NCRI, the reaction from Tehran was a mixture of disgust, bewilderment, hate and “damage control”. Here are some of the reactions:

Hossein Sheikholeslam, adviser to FM Javad Zarif: “That a Palestinian faction that compromises with the Zionists (Israelis) and that has yielded to Israel under US pressure… today meets with terrorist elements is no surprise as could be expected“. But that wasn’t enough for Sheikholeslam: “That man (Abbas) is known to us and documents from the US Embassy in Tehran revealed that he has been a collaborator with the Central Intelligence Agency for a long time and his actions in the past decades have proved that” and “it should be clear for the people that Mahmoud Abbas has had secret ties with terrorist groups and Israelis, and now these relations are being disclosed“. So, not only is Abbas weak and ineffective, it seems that he is also a CIA spy and he is supporting “terrorism” as it is defined by Tehran.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Parliament Speaker’s General Director for International Affairs: “The Palestinians surely regret Mahmoud Abbas’s act of supporting terrorist instead of fighting with it…Mahmoud Abbas’s problem is that he is not focused on restoring the rights of Palestinians“. So, Abbas is simply not focused on serving the Palestinian cause. One could ask who made Tehran a judge of who is and who isn’t supporting the Palestinian cause people but the real question should be why is the cause of the Palestinian people so important to Tehran? The answer is devastatingly simple: Liberating Palestine is a Revolutionary cause and wherever there is a possibility of a revolution against “Western hegemony”, Tehran wants to be part of it.

And what was the reaction from Gaza? “They (the Iranians) have vied and are still vying to destroy and ruin the Palestinian people, entrench the division, and encourage internal conflict to gain political points, nothing else. Their goals have nothing to do with Jerusalem or justice“.

For Tehran, the meeting between the Palestinians and the NCRI felt like the proverbial “stab in the back”: Hezbollah and Hamas, the two organizations most prominent in Palestine remain fully supported, financially and militarily, by Tehran and no other country has taken an anti-Israel pro-Palestine stance as definitely as did Tehran. But the Palestinians probably understood what was on the table for so long: Tehran’s support of the Palestinian cause isn’t meant only for the freedom of the Palestinians but as another step towards achieving its vision of a Global Islamic Awakening under its flag. The Palestinian cause which has the potential to unite all the Islamic nations was the perfect unifying element and its success would definitely weaken the West’s influence in the Middle East. The fact that the Palestinians chose to meet with the NCRI, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, was a clear sign that they weren’t buying into Tehran’s megalomaniacal vision.

 

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The Brothers in Lies on Human Rights in Iran

In general, despite tens of thousands of cases which prove otherwise, Iranian leaders speak glowingly about the positive nature of their records on human rights in Iran: in Iran, “the government follows the people, not the other way around”, “the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the government”, Tehran “genuinely and meaningfully” involves its citizens “without any discrimination of any kind”, Iran creates and maintains the “necessary measures for the protection of the rights of the vulnerable groups” (especially women and children), all Iranian nationals are “equal before the law”, “have the right to choose their own lawyers” and can count on “the presumption of innocence”, Tehran has “continuously worked for the promotion of human rights” (with the UN), Tehran continues to “fully participate” for the “promotion and protection of human rights”, Tehran adheres to a full separation of powers (executive, legislature, judiciary), the Iranian police has a “most immaculate record” and is “free of racial discrimination and ethnic impartiality”, Tehran prohibits the use of torture and arbitrary arrest, “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinions”, Tehran never “targets Baha’is just because they are followers of this faith”, “if an individual commits a violation, it has nothing to do with Shiites, Sunnis, or others in Iranian society”, there are no forced legal marriages of children in Iran, “that they say we execute homosexuals is not more than a lie” blah, blah, blah…

What makes Iran more unique on the issue of human rights is that the chief of human rights, Javad Larijani, happens to be the brother of Iran’s judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani (both are also the brothers of the chief of parliament Ali Larijani but that is not yet relevant to this post). This is very convenient for both since they both hold similar views regarding the state of human rights in Iran and both are extremely well coordinated in their denials and counter accusations on this issue.

In fact both brothers continue to state that not only are there no problems of human rights in Iran but that Iran can actually lead the world in developing an Islamic form of human rights which would be far superior than the existing “Western” one.

Listening to these two brothers talk on human rights is borderline comical and exasperating: One can only assume that they are both very loyal to the regime in Tehran, are both hypocritical liars and/or are both arrogant or delusional enough to believe their own statement. Here are a few new soundbites which will give you a glimpse of the madness which symbolizes the state of human rights in Iran and how it is managed by the regime.

 

Denials and counter accusation are their answer to criticism

Whenever accusations arise in regards to the state of human, the automatic response from Javad and Sadeq is denial followed by counter-accusations aimed at the people or the organizations issuing the criticism.

According to Javad, Iran’s record in human rights is “one of the best whether in terms of democracy or in terms of the judicial system” and is “honorable“. And what about the critics and the criticism of problems with human rights in Iran? They do not reflect the “realities on the ground” and are “politically motivated tactics” aimed at achieving political objectives. The highest profile critic of human rights in Iran is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human right in Iran, Shaheed Ahmed who has issued a series of damning reports. Javad’s reaction to these reports never entails actually dealing with their contents but in delegitimizing the author of the report and his motives: “Assigning a special rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran where we have the biggest democracy in the region, and judicial rules and regulations are very advanced and rigorous has been very illogical and unfair…it is tyrannical and irrational for Iran to come under a massive assault and be subject to special reporting…Iran believes that the issue of human rights is not being followed in a just and unbiased manner on the international level, and it has been sacrificed at the expense of political motivations of the big powers”. Furthermore, he states that the designation of a special rapporteur on Iran is simply “illegal“. And what is his answer to Iran’s being the country with the highest rate of execution per capita in the world? Since 70%-90% (he changes the percentage all the time) of the executions are drug-related, the World should “be thankful” and the executions should be viewed as a “positive marker of Iranian achievement” and a “great service to humanity”. But Javad doesn’t ever comment on questions regarding 1) the effectiveness of executing drug dealers as a deterrent and 2) the covert roles of the IRGC and Hezbollah in drug trafficking around the world.

If someone read to you Javad’s speech at the UNPR on the state of human rights in Iran, you might think he represents a country such as New Zealand and not Iran.

Javad’s brother, Sadeq, echoes these sentiments nearly word for word: while blaming the West for “manipulative use of human rights”, he adds, “the West acts on the basis of double standards on human rights and makes manipulative use of the issue…Regarding the human rights, we believe the West’s stance is self-serving, and hypocritical”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And it sounds totally irrational in view of the systematic oppression of women, juveniles, reporters, artists, activists, politicians, gays, minorities etc…and the hundreds of thousands of cases in which these people were harassed, arrested, interrogated, tortured, jailed and/or executed. In February, Amnesty issued a damning report on Iran’s judiciary claiming that it is flawed and inadequate on numerous levels and reduces the chances to a fair trial and a fair sentencing to nil.

Here’s a video which more or less summarizes the Larijani brothers’, and the regime’s as well, take on human rights:

It seems that a large majority of Iranians would like to change the state of human rights in Iran. These are the same people who voted for President Hassan Rouhani and the same people who voted for the “List of Hope” in the last parliamentary elections. Unfotunately for them, the Judiciary, as well as the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, the Guardian Council, the Basij and the hundreds of organizations which make up the regime are not voted into office by the people for their good but are placed into office by the regime in order to maintain the regime’s power. Just like in south Africa, where the regime of a minority of whites kept the majority of native Africans under the inhumane laws of apartheid through brutal laws and brutal authorities, the Iranian people who do want change fear that, just as in 2009, any such demands will be met by crackdowns, imprisonment, torture and death.

 

Islam and Shari’a are their answer to human rights

What makes the Javad-Sadeq Larijani’s take on human rights more intriguing is their belief that a better approach to human rights can be found in Islamic laws and traditions. This is Sadeq’s take on the future of human rights in the world: “The Judiciary will not take notice of irrational words and lies and will resolutely continue its work, because we believe that the highest human rights values are recognized in Islam…many of the issues raised on the pretext of human rights, including opposing the death penalty, are in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran”. Furthermore, he states that Islam “enjoys very rich and productive resources in the field of human rights” which can “counter” Western thoughts on human rights” and that  “Islamic human rights seeks to redeem the human dignity“.

Javad not only echoes his brother’s emphasis on “Qisas” (“Qisas is very beautiful and important“) he also has a lot to say about Islam’s, and Iran’s, role in redefining human rights in the future: “Islamic human rights” should be the “true face” of human rights since Islam is a “comprehensive” and “universal” religion. Furthermore he stated earlier this year that “a new model for public sphere is emerging: representative democracy based on Islamic rationality (and that Iran’s political establishment is) a democratic polity based on Islamic rationality rather than secular-liberal rationality”.

The problem is the judiciary in Iran works hand-in-hand with the IRGC, the Basij, the ministry of Intelligence and the police authorities in defining charges for “crimes” which, based from an Islamic perspective, Qisas is a legitimate response. Charges such as “enmity against God”, “foreign influence/interference”, “insulting the prophet/the Supreme Leader/the president/the regime”, “corruption on Earth” and “acting against national security” are levelled against anyone who criticizes the regime in any way by actions, words or art. So if someone draws a satirical drawing of Khamenei, he or she can legally be executed or at least sent to jail for a few years. How exactly do these laws “redeem human dignity”? How do these laws represent the “highest human rights values”?

And what about Islam’s ability to become the “true face” of human rights? Such a boast depends precisely on just how “comprehensive” and how “universal” Islam really is as a religion. The regime, with Ali Khamenei, its Supreme Leader at its head, have a glorious vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” in which Islam will replace Western/European/US/Chritian values and ideals with those of Islam, and specifically, those of Shi’ite/Iranian Islam. If as Khamenei claimed, “now, it’s our turn” and this “New Islamic Civilization” will take over the world creating a “century of Islam”, the words of the Larijani brothers may turn out to be prophetically true. But how realistic is such a vision when infighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis are more prevalent than conflicts between Muslims and the West? And what about Asian religions and culture? Will a billion Chinese and a billion Hindus also become Muslims? Will all the Christian in the world become Muslims as well? And what about atheists? No, Khamenei is placing the proverbial cart before the horse here and the chances of such a global movement ever coming to fruition are minimal.

For now, Sadeq has offered to hold international talks on human rights: “I suggest that the (Judiciary’s) Human Rights Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council pave the way for talks with European countries (on human rights)” but that the US must be excluded from any such discussions because “Americans are only after deception” and that “We also have things to say about human rights in Europe. We have questions and views about Europe’s approach toward humans, Islamophobia in Europe, and France’s ban on hijab”.

Yes, there is a possibility that the Larijani brothers really believe, deep in their hearts, that Islam is the best source of a new global human rights charter. And if they are, one must admire them for such a belief. But the chances are that the motive to present Islam as the “true face” of human rights has a huge political agenda for them – it is the perfect solution to 1) continue to abuse human rights an disregarding any criticism or pressure and to 2) call on other countries who are abusing human rights to do the same.

#MenInHijab

The fact that millions of Iranian women feel oppressed by the regime in Tehran is not news. Gender segregation is a cornerstone of the regime’s patriarchal laws and customs and although women enjoy equality with men in some areas such as voting and education, Iranian women are legally and even morally, according to the regime, inferior to men.

What is news is that many Iranian men are now actively supporting women’s rights. The latest campaign, initiated by Masih Alinejad in her popular facebook page My Stealthy Freedom, is as simple as it is powerful: #MenInHijab. Iranian men, donning hijabs, are taking pictures of themselves, sometimes with women who are notably “hijab-less” in a clear message of solidarity with their wives, sisters, daughters, mothers and friends.

The campaign was launched with a picture of Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, in a hijab asking him how he would feel if he was forced to wear a hijab. “How do you feel? The picture is comical? weird? or do you see it as a personal insult?” the post asks Zarif adding “That’s exactly how the women who do not believe in compulsory hijab feel” and that “You say everyone must obey the law. But bad laws should not be obeyed”.

It’s important to note that the compulsory nature of the hijab was not always a part of Islamic Sharia law. The hijab’s role in Islam is viewed by devout Muslims as a means to ensure the modesty of women. But the issue of mandatory hijab post-dates the Qur’an. The Qur’an does instruct women to be modest and points out that Mohammad’s wives were urged to go out wearing the “outer garments over their person” in order to “not be harassed”. Some Muslim communities have opted to force women to wear hijabs while other communities have made the hijab optional.

Mandatory hijab laws in Iran are heavily enforced by the “morality police”, voluntary Basij militias and the Iranian authorities in general. Women, mainly the younger and more secular ones, would rather the hijab be optional but notwithstanding such a dramatic change in the law, they tend to wear their hijabs in such a way that more of their hair and face are showing. Iranian women not wearing “proper hijab” are regularly harassed and fined and return “offenders” are interrogated and arrested.

Stemming from the same effort to keep women “modest”, Iranian women are not allowed to perform on stage in front of men and cannot view a sports game in a stadium. Why? According to the regime, it’s because by doing so, they might entice Iranian men to rape them.

This isn’t the first time that Iranian men came to the aid of their female compatriots: In October 2015, another campaign by My Stealthy Freedom called ItsMensTurn called on men to take pictures of themselves with messages of support written on paper or on their hands supporting women men.

This ground-roots movement is exactly what Iranian women need. The hardline men in the patriarchal regime must understand that not all men believe in oppressing women who could be their wives, sisters, mothers or daughters. They must understand the mandatory hijab laws are not only an affront to many women who want it to be optional but is an affront to men as well.

This movement is not about hijabs and modesty. It’s about power and freedom. Many Iranian women will continue to wear hijabs even if they were optional but for those who find the hijab stifling physically and emotionally, the mandatory hijab laws are an oppression of their will to live their lives as they see fit. For them, the mandatory hijab is a symbol of their curtailed freedom by a zero-tolerance patriarchal regime. As far as the regime is concerned, allowing women to decide whether or not to wear hijabs is a sign of weakness in its resolve to uphold Islamic Revolutionary ideals.

The issue of the hijab is brewing into a real battleground between the regime and many Iranians just as the taxes on tea became a battleground between the British colonialists and the American people, the “Boston Tea Party”, a battle which eventually led to the American independence.

 

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Iranians Desperately Need a King or a Ghandi

Millions of Iranian people would like to see far-reaching changes in the amount of freedoms accorded to them by the regime. These are the same people who voted for Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election 2013 and who voted for reformists in the parliamentary elections in 2016. These are the same people who are being oppressed by the regime because of their sex, their religion, their values and their political ideals. They are forced to live in a manner which doesn’t suit them but they feel powerless to lead a change out of fear of another crackdown such as the one in the botched elections of 2009. And yet, too many Iranians have had enough:

But without a leader, from the “inside”, one who could lead these dissatisfied people to demonstrate in the streets, to demand their rights, to challenge the unelected regime, they will remain hopeless and no amount of foreign pressure can help them. It’s time to find and support an Iranian Martin Luther King or an Iranian Mahatma Ghandi, someone who will stand up to the regime and drum up enough support before he, or she, will inevitably be killed.

 

Rouhani’s voters voted for change

shattered hopes in tehranNo one knows exactly how many people in Iran would like to change the nature of the regime and many Iranians are obviously hardline supporters of the regime since the regime is in power without a popular election. The hardliners in the regime would like the world, including the Iranian people, to think that the Iranians who strive for change are a small marginalized minority but one can intuitively find them within the people who voted for Rouhani (nearly 19 million people) in 2013 and for the “List of Hope” (41%) in 2016.

According to the Rouhani Meter, Rouhani made 20 distinct promise in domestic policy in his successful campaign to the presidency: these include freeing the leaders of the Green Movement who are still under house arrest, increasing the support to NGO’s, respecting and allowing minorities to practice of religious rituals, assuring equality for men and women, assuring equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities, encourage and welcome criticism of his administration etc… To this date, he has achieved 2 of these promises – 10% in 3 years. As opposed to domestic policy, Rouhani fulfilled 2 out of 7 (29%) of his promises in foreign policy.

The truth is that Rouhani, although rightly portrayed as a moderate in Iran, is actually helpless when it comes to fighting for the rights of the Iranian people quite simply because the regime, and specially, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, wants to maintain the status quo.

The upcoming presidential elections in Iran are already heating up as hardliners are proposing none other than Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to run against Rouhani. The problem is that Rouhani cannot be judged for all his good intentions, since he is cobbled by the regime, and the regime is working overtime to place the blame on Rouhani himself.

 

Pressure from abroad is not enough

There’s no doubt that many leaders and organizations are pressuring Iran into change. There isn’t a day that goes by without a new call on the regime to change. But since the regime is not listening and is so paranoid about “foreign influence”, the chances for such a change to reach fruition is minimal.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) is upping the pressure by presenting the world, and the Iranian people, with an alternative: a “Free Iran”. Tehran’s response to this alternative can be summed up in one word: fear.

Following the “Free Iran” rally in Paris on the 9th of July, the regime in Tehran went into “attack mode“, accusing the NCRI of being a terrorist organization (only Iran has designated it as such), accusing the French of allowing such a rally to take place (that’s the wonder of democracy), accusing Saudi Arabia of using the rally in its regional conflict with Iran (it did), accusing Egypt of sending a delegate to the rally etc…Not one word was expressed in regards to the claims of the NCRI. Such an attitude reflects Tehran’s response to any criticism in internal affairs: first, denial (“nothing’s wrong, everyone’s happy”) and then counter-accusations (“they”, meaning everyone but the regime, are the “bad guys”).

Such a stance is a result of the inherent weakness of the regime: the regime may legally retain its power “forever” but it will fall apart the instant that enough people within Iran will be disillusioned by the regime. In order to maintain the perceived support of the Iranians, Tehran cranks up its propaganda machine and presents any opposition to the regime as “un-Islamic”, “counter-Revolutionary” and “anti-Iranian”. The regime’s worst fears are that enough Iranians will actually consider an alternative to the regime. The NCRI is just such an alternative although its leader, Maryam Rajavi might find too many hurdles in her path to returning home as did Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

There have been numerous instances when pressure from abroad did lead to positive results but most of these cases are isolated and are not widespread enough to make a crack in the regime.

 

Pressure from within is needed


What Iran needs now is a leader who will be ready to stand up for the rights of the Iranians who feel oppressed by the regime. Such a leader is bound to find himself or herself in jail or killed, just as King and Ghandi were, but if he or she has enough time and enough support, a movement can be started, the masses can make their voices heard and the regime might either panic and fight back too harshly, which would only strengthen such a movement, or might lose the will to fight at all.

This is not a task for the faint at heart but for a person whose belief in the struggle for change is unstoppable.

It could be an Iranian man, someone who was in the regime but is now disillusioned by it, someone like Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who tried to run for parliament but was disqualified by the Guardian Council or someone like Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s reformist ex-president who is now under a strict “media ban”.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance that such a person might be a woman. Women represent the largest group of legally and morally oppressed Iranian citizens. They look about them and see that women around the world enjoy freedoms which they can only dream of since they live under the laws of a gender-segregated regime. For them, being forced to wear hijabs or not being allowed to ride a bike might be trigger to rise up against the patriarchal regime which will be place in an unbearable situation: if it allows such women to openly demonstrate against the regime, it will look weak and if it crushes these women by either imprisoning or killing them, it will look desperate.

Whoever it may be, the people of Iran are waiting.

 

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Millions of Iranians are criminalized by Tehran

The regime in Tehran is built on Islamic laws with zero-tolerance and Iranian citizens who deviate from these laws are deemed criminals. These “crimes” have nothing to do with “hard” criminal acts such as terrorism, murder, theft or rape, crimes which are viewed around the globe as acts which justify arrests and incarceration. No, these crimes are much “softer” and are based on the repressed freedoms which are taken for granted in the West: criticizing the regime in any way, being a religious or cultural minority, protesting lay-offs , visiting people in jail, dressing up in “Western” fashion, emphasizing female beauty, partying with the opposite sex, drinking alcohol, watching foreign content on the internet or on TV, owning a dog…the list goes on and on and on.

The problem is that enforcing the laws against these “crimes” is turning the majority of Iranians into “criminals” in the eyes of the regime and the regime is reacting the only way it knows how: crackdowns. A bigger problem is that although the regime may view these crackdowns as a show of force but the Iranian population views them as a sign of the inherent weakness of the regime which can only resort to force when faced with the demands for change.

Whether the regime likes it or not, criminalizing so many Iranians is bound to blow up in its face. It’s OK to imprison or execute hardened criminals but when Iranians realize that according to the law, most of them are de facto criminals, they are bound to re-question the legitimacy of these laws and of the regime.

 

“Everything” can be a crime in Iran

Here are a few examples of crackdowns which are making “criminalizing” the Iranian population:

  • Criticizing the regime is a crime: the authorities have been cracking down on activists, reporters, bloggers, artists since the signing of the JCPoA. These men and women are arrested, are sometimes flogged and are convicted to long sentences in jail for charges that usually include “spreading propaganda”, “undermining the regime”, “insulting the sacred/regime/Supreme Leader”, “working against national security”, “spying” etc…all legal terms for criticizing the regime and supporting social changes. But these are definitely the “hardcore” few who are willing to risk their careers and their lives to stand up against the regime to fight for change. The majority of “criminals” in this category are much more naive: they may have posted a joke about the regime on social media but since all social media is monitored and censored in Iran and since the authorities have the legal right to search their phones and computers, sharing “critical” content makes them criminals. If every person who shared content which was deemed critical by the regime were arrested, there would not be enough prisons in the world to hold them.
  • Partying is a crime: Alcohol and mixed-gender parties are a crime in Iran but the laws against having a good time are no match for the will of younger secular Iranians who want to enjoy themselves. These people aren’t denying all of Islam but are simply demanding the freedom to choose which laws and regulations to observe and which not too. Their exposure to the experiences of Muslims and non-Muslims in other countries convince them that dancing with someone of the opposite sex is not necessarily a crime, nor should it be. Last month, 35 students celebrating at a graduation party were imprisoned and flogged (99 lashes each) and now 50 more students were picked up for the same reason. As one Iranian official stated, “families must be more vigilant regarding their children to make sure they do not end up in such circumstances” and “law-breakers who use excuses such as freedom and having fun in birthday parties and graduation ceremonies” will not be tolerated. Sources within Iran claim that these few arrests belie a situation in which millions of Iranians can be found to be criminals for drinking alcohol or for smoking drugs or for social interactions between non-married people. As younger Iranians grow away from religion, their will to choose how to party is bound to grow creating more tension with the religious autocratic and outdated regime. It’s only a matter of time until these secular youths decide to stand up against the overbearing religious regime.
  • Enjoying foreign content is a crime: Every few months, Iranian authorities crack down on Iranians who want access to content and have confiscated satellite dishes which are also illegal in Iran. In the last round of crackdowns, 100,000 dishes were confiscated and destroyed and fines of approximately $2,800 were handed out. The satellite dishes are not meant only for watching foreign TV shows and movies, they are used also for freer access to the internet. The problem is that in a digital age, where there is a demand for content, people will find ways to access it and if they can’t access it through satellite dishes, they will do so through mobile appliances. The minister of culture has estimated that 70% of Iranian homes have satellite dishes or other means of accessing foreign content. In other words, 70% of Iranians are breaking the law! Imagine what would happen if millions of Iranians resisted the authorities’ attempts to confiscate their satellite dishes…
  • Dressing up in a “Western” fashion is a crime: The morality police has led another crackdown on women not wearing their hijabs properly. Hundreds of thousands of women are approached, harassed and fined and in some cases, they are arrested as well. But the fear of “improper hijab” is now accompanied by the fear of people wearing clothes with Western words and icons on them and youngsters sporting “Western” haircuts. It’s not clear exactly how a spiked haircut or T-shirt with an American flag or “Don’t Worry, I’m a Queen” written on it can be illegal but the morality police doesn’t really care and the “criminals” who are wearing these clothes feel powerless to fight back. You have to listen to the official take on this “problem” in order to understand just how strained the situation is: “In the early years of the revolution people accepted the hijab without much force, but this trend did not continue and now we have a situation where we are moving from lax observance of the hijab to no hijab at all…the spread of these kinds of products (“Western” clothing) are against public morality and indicate a lack of attention by the officials in charge of cultural matters…there are dirty and disdainful phrases printed on the back of these manteaus and so they should be banned from sale and removed from stores as soon as possible”. Unlike criticizing the regime, partying or enjoying foreign content, the issue of clothes is even more personal since people are harassed on the spot for how they look, what they are wearing and how they are wearing it. Millions of Iranian women want hijab to be worn by choice…millions.
  • Owning a pet is a crime: Yep, owning a dog is illegal in Iran but many Iranians went ahead and adopted dogs anyway. But every once in a while, the authorities carry out massive crackdowns on pet-owners by either injecting acid on dogs in the streets or picking up dogs from their houses under the pretext of vaccinations and then making the dogs “disappear”. Nobody knows how many Iranians own pets but it is estimated to be close to a million people. One million Iranians are now criminals for simply owning a pet and have to watched their loved ones being killed or taken away forcibly. Some of the pet owners are even forced to endure floggings (74 lashes). It’s hard to imagine how many more pets will have to die before Iranian pet lovers will stand up against the regime.
  • Visiting family in Iran is a crime: the number of dual nationals who are imprisoned while visiting their families in Iran is growing. There have been at least 15 known arrests within the past year and since Tehran doesn’t legally recognize dual-nationality, they have no support from the embassies and governments of the countries they live in. The charges against them mirror the charges against critics of the regime but their situation is worse since their loved ones are powerless and thousands of miles away. Too are systematically denied legal advice and medical care, and are literally cut off from contact with their loved ones. Their only real hope is that at some point in time, Iran will initiate or accept a swap of prisoners as it did following the signing of the JCPoA. The result of this crackdown is that millions of Iranians living abroad, along with millions of their loved ones in Iran, are rethinking their plans to reunite in Iran, knowing full well that such a trip could easily turn into a one-way ticket to jail.
  • Being a minority in Iran is a crime: Despite Iranian laws against discrimination against religious and cultural minorities, minority groups such as Baha’is, Sunnis, Kurds, Ahwazis and Christians are systematically persecuted by Iranian authorities and the communities they live in. Places of worships are destroyed or blocked, shops and businesses are shut down, further education is denied and leaders of the these communities are arrested and sometimes executed. These “criminals” and their followers are in real danger since their crimes legally merit executions in many cases. But once again, the problem is not the tens of thousands of people who have been arrested but the millions of followers who understand that they are second class citizens and even criminals in the eyes of the regime.

What’s important to notice is the sheer number of Iranians who are “criminalized” by the regime for not adhering to laws which seem outdated and irrelevant even to the majority of the Iranian population. This isn’t about a few hundred or even a few thousand Iranians who can be marginalized. This is about millions of Iranians who may still be afraid of the powerful regime but who may, at any time, decide that they don’t want to fear the regime any more for “crimes” which are viewed in their eyes as legitimate freedoms.

 

When a criminal minority becomes a criminal majority

For now, the regime believes that it can control these “deviants” by simply cracking down on them: fining them, arresting them, interrogating and torturing them, flogging them, incarcerating them and even executing them. What the regime doesn’t seem to comprehend is that such a situation is bound to blow up in its face: as long as a small minority of the population is viewed as “criminal”, the weight of the majority is enough to stifle out any aspirations to change the regime. But when the majority begins to question the laws and the legitimacy of the regime because it is deemed as criminal by the regime and when this majority is aware of the alternatives to such a regime, this is the stuff that fuels counter-revolutions.

For now, the regime in Tehran is stuck between a rock and a hard place: if it tones down its crackdowns, increases its tolerance and allows for more personal freedoms, it may appease the “criminal majority” but it will anger the ruling bodies of the regime – the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, the mullahs, the Assembly of Experts, the Basij volunteers…in short, the “hardliners”. On the other hand, if it doesn’t tone down its crackdowns, the chances of an uprising will rise.

But it’s not only the regime which is stuck in the middle: President Hassan Rouhani, the self-proclaimed “moderate” president is in a more delicate predicament. During his election campaign and throughout his presidency he maintained that he encouraged more personal freedoms for Iranians and less policing of laws which curtail these freedoms. This attitude was immediately pounced upon by the hardliners who are using every opportunity to impede his political power and his popularity. But Rouhani, without a popular grass-roots support, cannot stand up to the hardliners and is destined to remain a small voice of reason drowned out by the loud raucous of the sanctimonious hardliners who want to maintain the status quo.

As it is, the tensions in Iran are mounting and the regime is reacting the only way it knows how: crackdowns. Not only do these crackdowns increase the tensions, they are scaring away would-be foreign investors who are hard-put to invest in a country with a volatile political climate. The wariness of foreign investors is explained by the regime to the Iranian people as the fault of US sanctions but whether the Iranians believe this or not, the end result is the same: more pressure on the economy and a declining popularity in supporting Rouhani.

 

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

Magic tricks are based on a magician’s ability to misdirect the audience’s attention to her manipulations in order to create an illusion. The audience, who missed the manipulation, is then asked to focus on the end result of the manipulation and the illusion is thus complete. The regime in Tehran has turned the basis of magic tricks into its leading strategy. Whenever Tehran is under pressure, it immediately denies any wrong-doing and then proceeds to misdirect the world’s attention by accusing someone else in order to present a fait accompli of its agenda.

It’s not that Tehran is the only regime guilty of manipulation: most political entities are doing so on a regular basis. But Tehran is perfecting its game to a point where even if it is caught in creating an illusion, it immediately returns to denials, counter-accusations and misdirections in order to maintain the illusion.

It looks something like this: Wrongdoing => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion etc…

Tehran can continue to claim that it doesn’t promote terror, that there are no human rights problems in Iran, that it isn’t meddling in its neighbors’ affairs, that it isn’t failing in implementing the JCPoA as long as it wants but if you look closely and avoid the misdirections, you will be able to see through these illusions and see Tehran for what it is: a brutal, meddling, religious theocracy with ambitions to create the biggest illusion of them all – to lead a Global Islamic Awakening meant to change the Western hegemony and influence on the world.

 

The illusion of fighting against terror

When Tehran is criticized of supporting terror, it immediately denies supporting terrorism, misdirects the world’s opinion towards ISIS and blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terrorism, while positioning itself as a champion against terrorism.

In this case, the brutal nature of ISIS is the perfect misdirection in order to manipulate its audience into believing that Tehran is actually against terror since ISIS is probably one of the few terrorist organization which is recognized globally as such. Anyone fighting against ISIS is automatically seen as “the good guy” even if this does include people with blood on their hands such as Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Ali Khamenei (Iran) and Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah).

Tehran’s denial of supporting terrorism is not an easy misdirection since Tehran openly supports organizations, such as Hezbollah, which are designated as terrorist organizations by many countries in the world. But even if Tehran can’t fool all the people all of the time, it can fool enough people some of the time and as long as enough people believe that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, the illusion can be pulled off successfully.

Blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terror is a more delicate misdirection since it is based mostly on the Saudi Arabia’s ties with al-Qaeda and the fact that ISIS was established in an Iraqi prison under US rule. Tehran continues its misdirection by linking the US and its allies to ISIS even though such a link is, at present, far from the truth but such a theory is appealing to people with anti-American sentiments and that is enough for Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran is actively encouraging Islamic terrorism by pitting its terrorist forces, such as Hezbollah, against legitimate Syrian rebels and the Yemenite government.

The weakness of this illusion can be easily spotted the fact that, although Tehran is actively fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, it continues to support terrorism through its Quds forces and its terroristic proxies. Tehran continues to support terrorism on a regional and a global scale and not amount of misdirections can erase this fact.

 

The illusion of human rights in Iran

brothers in lies 2When Tehran is criticized for the state of human rights in Iran, it denies having any problems of human rights in Iran and immediately attacks the US and the UK for problems of human rights within their own countries and blames a lack of cultural misunderstanding.

Once again, Tehran, the supreme illusionist, doesn’t try to deal with the accusations nor alleviate the problem of human rights in Iran despite the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of globally designated human rights abuses in Iran. By misdirecting its Western audiences to focusing on #BlackLivesMatter or the tortures in Guantanamo, it portrays itself as a champion of human rights despite the fact that Tehran systematically abuses and oppresses religious and cultural minorities as well as political opponents, activists, critics of the regime, women and gays.

But since this is usually not enough to convince Western audiences who are appalled at the blatant abuses of human rights in Iran, Tehran tries to misdirect them even further by claiming that the reports of human rights abuses are not only politically motivated to hurt Iran but are lacking in their veracity since they do not take into account basic cultural differences between secular and democratic governments and theocratic Muslim governments. In this manner, Tehran plants seeds of doubt on the notion of global human rights in the first place.

The weakness of this part of the illusion is that many of the problems of human rights in Iran do not stem from Islamic law but the environment of zero-tolerance  to any statement or act that could be interpreted as criticism against the regime. It’s not only about the treatment of gays, women and executions which is dictated by Shariah law, it’s about the treatment of religious minorities, reporters, activists and “dissidents” who are oppressed for criticizing the regime and it’s about a judicial system which limits the chance of a fair trial and a punishment which correlates the nature and the dangers of the crime committed (unlike Atena Farghdani who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a satirical caricature).

Whether the mullahs in the regime like it or not, Tehran is a systematic abuser of human rights and no amount of finger pointing or claims of cultural differences can erase the abuses of the thousands of Iranians who were oppressed, harassed, arrested, fined, tortured, imprisoned and executed up until this very day.

 

The illusion of helping its neighbors

When Tehran is criticized for its subversive meddling in neighboring countries, it denies doing so and immediately misdirects these accusations towards its regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, insisting on the fact on being “invited” by its neighbors to help the “oppressed” people there.

Blaming Saudi Arabia is an easy misdirection since Riyadh doesn’t even try to hide its efforts of always taking a position opposite Iran in regional conflicts due to the vary basic and age-old Shiite-Sunni conflict which has taken millions of lives since its inception 1,400 years ago. Tehran may openly call for Muslim unity but underneath such calls remain a very basic distrust and hatred which is fueled by each and every act of Sunni-Shiite violence. But Tehran is more meddling in nature than Riyadh for one simple reason: it continues to emulate Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution” to any country which might accept it while Riyadh has no such ambitions. Tehran, in this manner, justifies its involvement in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, conflicts which have led to hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And then, we come to the justification by invitation: Tehran claims that it was “invited” by the government of Syria to join the civil was and is highly critical of the fact that Riyadh claims that it was “invited” by the Syrian rebels to do the same. On the other hand, in Yemen, it is Riyadh who claims to be “invited” by the government while Tehran was “invited” by the rebels. Does Assad, as the president of Syria, a country torn apart by civil war because Assad refused to hold democratic elections, even have a moral right to “invite” Tehran to crush the Syrian rebels? Do the Houthi rebels in Yemen have such a right? And does the fact that Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria (to whom Assad belongs) are both Shiite-like religions not emphasize that Tehran is selectively trying to save its Shiite neighbors in an effort to export to them the revolution?

Face it: Tehran isn’t “helping” its “oppressed” neighbors by “invitation”, it is helping itself to achieve its Islamic revolutionary ideals of a Global Islamic Awakening which is Shiite in nature and which is headed by the mullahs in Tehran.

 

The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

When Tehran is faced with problems of fully enjoying the fruits of the JCPoA because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions (terrorism, missiles, human rights etc…), it denies any wrong-doing and blames the US for attempting to derail the nuclear deal.

To be honest, the JCPoA was not meant to be a peace treaty with the P5+1 nor was it meant to deal with any other issue other than monitoring and restricting Tehran nuclear program. Tehran made this clear whenever the Western negotiation teams would try to include issues such as Iran’s missile programs, its support of terrorism, its flagrant abuses of human rights etc… When the deal was finally signed the US, the EU and the UN lifted all the nuclear-related sanctions but other sanctions remained. Furthermore, these sanctions were reinforced by Tehran’s continued transgressions in testing long-range missiles, in supporting terrorist organizations and in abuses of human rights.

But the illusionists in Tehran misdirected the world’s attention to the remaining sanctions as if they were in contradiction of the JCPoA, trying to present the US as the one who was not fully implementing the nuclear deal. The fact that the US secretary of State John Kerry practically begged foreign investors to invest in Iran even though Khamenei banned US brands from Iran was viewed presented by Tehran as futile.

And when an IAEA report pointed to the fact that, despite Tehran’s denials, efforts at militarizing its nuclear program were evident from soil samples taken at the Parchin military base, Tehran maintained its denials, accusing the IAEA of politicizing its report.

Yes, Tehran is implementing the JCPoA, as is the US. The problem is that all sides want the JCPoA to be a much more encompassing solution which it isn’t and both sides are selling an illusion of a peace treaty which never really existed. The problem is that Tehran is looking at the problems of implementing the JCPoA as an excuse to return to large-scale enrichment which would then force the West into either accepting Tehran’s militarization of its nuclear program of into trying to stop from doing so.

 

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Kurds openly fighting Tehran

For 27 years, the Kurds in Iraq and in Iran have, in general, refrained from openly fighting against Tehran. 4 weeks ago, the status quo was broken as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) called on its troops to cross the border from Iraq into Iran to fight the Iranian army and the IRGC leading to dozens of deaths on both sides.

The tense situation is bound to increase as both sides are entrenching themselves further for a major conflict if and when Iranian Kurds join their Kurdish brothers and rise against the oppressive rule of Tehran.

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Tehran answers with zero-tolerance

The IRGC’s answer to the Kurds battle-call was as quick as it was arrogant: “If Mr. Barzani (the head of the KDPI)  doesn’t act against the anti-revolutionists who enter into our territories, we will destroy them all“. Furthermore, Tehran was quick to develop a conspiracy theory, blaming “foreign influences” (namely Saudi Arabia) for the resurgence of violence by Kurdish “terrorists” (always sounds better to claim fighting terrorists) but the Kurds maintain that their quarrel is directly with Tehran for its oppression of Iranian Kurds: “the rulers in Teheran believe that if they have domestic problems they blame it on Israelis and Saudis, and the problem in Iran is solved! But this is absurd…we are talking about the Kurdish issue in Iran and it has nothing to do with tensions with Iran or the Saudis or other countries“. The problem, the Kurds believe is that “the Shia theocracy in Tehran has never shed its mistrust of minorities, and Kurdish is not taught in school, while the predominantly Sunni Kurds find that the government discriminates against them on religious grounds too. Kurdish political parties remain outlawed, and activists are routinely thrown in jail and tortured“.

The IRGC then threatened to invade Iraq in order to deal with the Kurdish forces, a threat which is being taken very seriously by the Kurds especially since Tehran’s influence over Baghdad is so strong. For now, the Iranians are finding it sufficient to simply bomb Kurdish villages in Iraq, more evidence of meddling by the Iranian army in Iraqi territory since most of the casualties there are civilian in nature. The Kurds have bitterly criticized these attacks: “if they (Iranian forces) are brave, they should come and fight Peshmerga (Kurdish troops) on the battlefield instead of targeting and threatening Kurdish civilians“.

 

The Kurds are aiming high

For now, the KDPI claims that its troops have entered into Iran and “are now moving around, making contacts with people, and are ready to act in self-defense only if attacked. But in future stages, our forces will move to the attack mode. This is a process that will gradually unfold” as the KDPI is sure that the “Iranian Kurds are ready to rise“. The KDPI insists that this move is justified by the fact that the regime in Tehran “has stepped up pressure on Kurds and has not left space for meaningful civic or political work (inside Iran)”. Without the uprising of the 10 million Kurds in Iran, the skirmishes are not likely to really hurt the Iranian military since its estimated that the Kurdish troops number only 2,000 for now.

The pressure from the Kurds has reached President Hassan Rouhani: at the beginning of last month, Rouhani stated that “the mother tongue of ethnic groups, especially of Kurds, should be respected and recognized and that Kurdish will be taught in schools” adding that “Sunni and Shiite are all brothers, we are all equal…Kurdistan is the eye of Iran“. Unfortunately, statements such as these are seen as “too little too late” by the angry Kurds. In a later speech in a Kurdish area, Rouhani’s speech was interrupted by anti-regime slogans and condemnations of the “oppressive (and) starving policy” of Tehran against the Kurdish people.

The Kurds understand too well that fighting the Iranian forces is useless in open battlefields and that their only hope is to bring the skirmishes to Kurdish-dominated cities in Iran. They hope that such skirmishes, and more importantly, the IRGC’s harsh responses to such skirmishes, are bound to stir up more tension within the Kurdish communities in Iran which would lead to a crackdown on Kurdish activists which would then lead to a counter-backlash on the human rights front and hopefully, an open rebellion. An outbreak of human rights abuses by Tehran against the Iranian Kurds can also help to mobilize international pressure on Iran although the international community has yet to really pressure Iran on the numerous cases of abuses of Kurdish human rights.

 

A conflict that can blow up or fizzle out

146731Image1But for now, the Iranian Kurds are maintaining the tense peace with Tehran. The KDPI has called on Iranian Kurds to stage a general strike but the nature of such a strike is still unknown. The KDPI is also initiating terrorist activities such as an armed ambush on Iranian parliamentary officials which killed two and wounded two more.

Tehran must plan its next move well in order to not open up another battlefront, this time within Iran. If it reacts too weakly, the Iranian Kurds might view this as an opportunity to demand equal rights. If it reacts too harshly, tensions are bound to flame up which would lead to open insurgence. The timing for Tehran could not be worse: Tehran is involved in three wars outside its borders (Syria, Iraq and Yemen) for now, as well as efforts at supporting insurgences in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, is being increasingly pressured on its human rights records and is in a top-level power-struggle between Rouhani’s “moderate” government and the regime’s hardliners (including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

 

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