Zarif Explains Why Tehran Scares US

Let’s face it: many people in the US, in Europe and in the Middle East are terrified of Tehran. This is not a question of right or wrong, or of differing points of views…it is a fact.

People who fear Tehran will point out that it supports terrorism, that it meddles in its neighbors politics, that it will militarize its nuclear program, that it aggressively calls for the “death” of America/Israel/Britain etc…and that it is impervious to criticism on issues of human rights.

Supporters of Tehran would answer that it is actually fighting against terrorism, that it is “helping” out its neighbors, that it has the right to create a nuclear bomb, that it is rightfully the enemy of the US/Israel/Britain etc… and that it can decide for itself what is an abuse of human rights and what isn’t.

But terrorism, meddling, nukes, death threats and human rights are only the symptoms of the main issue that makes Tehran scary: The regime in Tehran and the ideals that power it.

In order to understand this better, one should simply listen to Zarif, Iran’s Westernized, moderate and smiling foreign minister of Iran, own words.

 

Just listen to Zarif…

So the next time you think about supporting or criticizing Tehran, remember that its goals are far reaching and are based on its aspirations for a global revolution against the Western “hegemony”.  At the end of the day, it is not the weapon itself which is to be feared but the mindset and the intentions of the person using the weapon. Decide on which side of the weapon you want to be.

 

 

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Beyond the “Deal or War” Dichotomy

The nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by its deal makers as the only alternative to war. This black and white view of diplomacy seems totally irrelevant in a world that is exemplified with many shades of grey.

If the deal is shot down, will this lead to war and carnage? Maybe…maybe not. One thing is for certain…nobody knows.

 

The Black & White Scenario

bwThere are only 2 possible scenarios here:

  1. The deal is ratified by the Majlis and Congress (or Obama’s veto): Sanctions are lifted and as long as Tehran doesn’t try to militarize its nuclear program nor hamper the IAEA inspectors from doing their jobs, one can expect peace, love and a lot of money. In another ten years, Iran may give up on trying to build nukes simply because the business part of Iran becomes more powerful than the nuke part of Iran.
  2. The deal is shot down by either Congress (overriding Obama’s veto) and/or the Majlis: A big brawl erupts over sanctions (since the UN and the EU as well as Russia and China want to drop the sanctions) and the US heads to war with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other allies who want to prove their friendship to the US or who hate Iran with a passion.

This all makes sense in a perfectly simple world with one possible outcome for every input – this is what Obama/Kerry and Rouhani/Zarif are selling.

Unfortunately, or not, life is much more complicated, specially when the key players have vastly opposing world views and nobody is working in a vacuum: Iran and the US will probably remain enemies for quite a while even if a deal is signed and the EU, Russia and China have their own agendas regarding Iran and the US which are not based solely on Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The Innumerable Shades of Grey Scenarios

greyLet’s say that the Washington doesn’t back the deal (Congress’s vote or Obama’s veto)…

Will Tehran drop the deal and give up on the fact that the EU and the UN already approved the deal while China and Russia are backing the deal? Probably not since the deal will give Tehran the leverage it needs to divide the P5+1 and make do with the US sanctions that will be kept in place.

Will the US head for war at this point? Probably not since it lost the power of presenting Iran with a united front and American public opinion will not support another war that resembles too much the war on Iraq, minus the support of the EU.

Will Tehran then rush for the bomb? Probably not simply because it knows that by doing so it will not only give the US and some of the P5+1 a good reason to head to war whatever the costs, it will also result in more sanctions being slapped on by the UN and the EU.

And now let’s contemplate another option: Washington does back the deal (Congress’s vote or Obama’s veto)…

Will the Majlis ratify the deal? Possibly…nobody really knows whether Khamenei will back the deal knowing that many of his “red lines” were crossed and that the hardliners and the IRGC seem dead against the deal.

Let’s suppose they do – Will Iran stick to the deal? That really depends on whether the regime maintains its world view to “change the international order” and continue in its efforts to export the revolutions because as Zarif and Khamenei both stated, “without revolutionary goals we do not exist”. If so, then Iran will probably break the deal at one point or another or force the P5+1 to break the deal by dragging its heels.

But perhaps, there will be a change in the regime as a result of the deal? Possibly because the power of money can overcome the power of the revolution and the benefiters of the deal will have a lot to lose. Unfortunately for them, they will have to fight the IRGC to reach that goal so one can expect a lot of bloodshed. The outcome of a counter-revolution is impossible to even speculate on as one can learn from the consequences of the Arab Spring in other countries.

What will happen if the Majlis doesn’t back the deal…what then? Iran may lose some of its power to divide and conquer the P5+1 but will probably find that Russia and China are good enough allies and that some countries from the EU will be ready to risk it.

Now, what about Israel? Will Israel head to an open war? Possibly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Iran will retaliate with an all-out war. Israel already bombed reactors in Iraq and in Syria without going into a full out war while Iran will be hard put to find allies to fight at its side apart from Lebanon (no relevant militarily), Syria (embroiled in a civil war) and Iraq (at war with ISIS). Furthermore Israel might be able to convince some other Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain etc…who are wary of Iran’s efforts at regional dominance.

On the other hand, Israel might give up on attacking Iran knowing that if Iran does retaliate, the costs of such a war would be huge and Israeli public opinion will not stand for it.

Chances are that the future will show that yet another scenario will take place – the possibilities are endless. But one thing is certain, neither the supporters nor the critics of the nuclear deal really know what will happen. We can only hope that all the countries involved will not drag the world into a war which had the potential to turn into a global conflict.

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Internal Conflicts Over Nuclear Deal Plague Tehran


Once the deal was signed in Vienna, Kerry/Obama and Zarif/Rouhani went back home to sell the deal to the American and Iranian people respectively. To be more exact, their target markets were not the people themselves but the leaders of both countries and more specifically, the critics of the nuclear deal in both countries. As these four men can testify, the deal is no easy sell and hardliners Washington and in Tehran are simply not in a buying mood.

Washington: Obama vs. Congress

In Washington, the scenario seems set for Congress to shoot down the deal, forcing Obama to veto it, as he promised. From this point, it is impossible to speculate what will happen: the deal may rest on Obama’s veto but Congress has already made it clear that since it is not a treaty, this deal will not be binding to Obama’s successor next year and that the deal’s days are numbered.

Another more spectacular scenario involves Hillary Clinton spearheading a vote to override Obama’s veto by convincing at least 14 Democrats in Congress to vote against the deal. It’s a long shot but it does exist.

Tehran: Only Khamenei Knows

khamenei red In Tehran, the situation is more and less complicated. The less complicated part is that the deal rests in the hands of one person alone – Khamenei but unfortunately he hasn’t endorsed or shot the deal down…yet: He praised the negotiators, stated that Tehran will continue to act as it has in the past and that the text of the deal should be scrutinized.

Furthermore, only 4 days after the deal was signed, Khamenei let the world know that with or without a deal, Tehran continued to view the US as its enemy and “we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon” – reminding all that Iran may sign a deal but will not change its ways.

The deal has to be ratified by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, but everyone is waiting for Khamenei’s decision. Majli speaker Larijani stated recently that the deal will be scrutinized by Khamenei himself and the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and that the MP’s “should not be worried about that“.

Furthermore, it is Khamenei and Khamenei alone who decided what were Tehran’s red lines for the negotiators and as Zarif briefed the Majlis, he candidly stated that he and his negotiators had done their “best to preserve most of the (Khamenei’s) red lines, if not all“…It’s the “if not all” part that is giving hardliners in Tehran the opportunity to shoot this deal down.

Rouhani vs. IRGC

Zarif may maintain that in Tehran, the military and non-military factions follow the same agenda but until Khamenei dictates what that agenda is, the realities of Iranian politics point to the exact opposite direction, especially when it comes to the IRGC.

The power of the IRGC in Iran is hard to estimate since its influence goes far beyond the sphere of the military: it is the driving force of politics and the economy and has actually gained strength due to sanctions. To date, the IRGC’s chief Jaffari is against the deal. According to him, the deal includes distinct violations of the “red lines” outlined by Khamenei and therefore “will never be accepted by us”. These red lines include long term limitations (10 years), inspections of military facilities, limitations on enrichment at Fordow, gradual lifting of sanctions, the trustworthiness of the IAEA and limits on nuclear research.

What further complicates the issue of selling the deal in-house are the ambiguities of the deal itself: Zarif told the Iranian MP’s that, according to the deal, access to military sites will be denied while the deal specifically includes such access under the “Additional Protocol” which allows access to any suspect site allowing a period of up to 24 days for such access to be allowed by Tehran.

Some believe that any nuclear deal and the consequent lifting of sanctions can only weaken the IRGC’s hold on the economy. Rouhani believes in privatizing the economy and the nuclear deal has opened up the possibility of selling state assets to foreign investors – a move which will definitely not please the IRGC.

 

Rouhani vs. Khamenei

Dr.-Hassan-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8ERouhani%E2%80%ACs-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8Einauguration%E2%80%AC-ceremony-and-his-formal-endorsement-by-Ayatollah-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8EKhamenei%E2%80%ACRouhani would never openly oppose Khamenei for the simple reason that any such opposition will lead to his demise politically or physically.

But the deal is important enough for Rouhani to oppose Khamenei indirectly: Apart from touting the deal as a “historical victory” and a “new page in history“, he added for the benefits of the critics of the deal, including Khamenei, that the “new page in history” did not turn “in Vienna on July 14th” but in Tehran on August 4th when the “Iranians elected me as their president”. Furthermore, despite the fact that he constantly played down the effects of the sanctions as a motive for negotiating a deal, he reminded everyone that Iran’s trade had been reduced to a “stone age level” and that he was voted to the presidency on the promise of relieving Iran of the sanctions.

Evoking the support of the Iranian people is obviously meant to dampen any criticism on the deal but since Iran is led by a mixture of democratically elected politicians such as Rouhani and non-elected leaders such as the IRGC, the clerics and the Supreme leader, the support of the people may be impotent if Khamenei deems it so.

In a classic bargaining move, Tehran has wisely decided that the Majlis will vote on the deal in Tehran only after Congress has voted on it in Washington. Until then, a huge political struggle is in play in Iran and the fate of Rouhani, the IRGC and the Iranian people depend on what Khamenei will think at that moment.

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Opposing the Regime in Tehran is now a SIN

Criticizing, protesting or opposing the regime in Tehran has always been dangerous and futile.

The plight of the Green Movement in 2009 is a clear testament of how the regime views any opposition: hundreds of protesters were killed, thousands were sent to jail where some were tortured and raped and the opposition leaders are still under house arrest to this day. Meanwhile, the regime placed all forms of media under censorship and arrested any journalists, local or foreign, for doing their jobs while internet access was shut down sporadically. Since then, protests have been localized out of fear of repercussions and no single protest ever reached such a magnitude.

As of last week, the plight of Iranians seeking change has just become more dangerous and more futile: Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammadi Golpayegani, has declared that “To oppose the state is the greatest sin”.

This may sound naïve to Western ears who may scoff at the validity of such a statement and of the weight it carries for potential critics of the regime. Unfortunately for Iranians, equating criticism of the regime with sinning practically means that anyone foolish or brave enough to openly criticize the regime will definitely go to jail and can face a death sentence as befits the sentence of “Moharabeh” (crime against Islam) under article 190-191 of the judicial system.

Unlike countries in which religion is separate from government and the judicial system, deeming a crime a sin holds a lot of weight in Iran since the judicial system is based on religious and Shariah law.

All of this comes at a time in which Rouhani calls for wide social changes and criticizes oppression of Iranians based on religious laws as he did in the case of forcing women to wear hijabs. Unfortunately for Rouhani and for all Iranians who expected any form of change in Iran, the regime is only growing more intolerant to criticism, protest and change leaving only one path to change open: changing the regime itself.

 

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Hillary May Be the Nuclear Deal Breaker

hillaryThis may sound far-fetched but it really isn’t: At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton may be the only person who will decide whether to make or break a deal with Iran. This isn’t a job she might willingly take upon herself but it may simply be a case of being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Check out this scenario and then make up your own mind.

 

 

Now that the deal is inked…

Khamenei_2162138bOn July 14th, Kerry and Zarif finally reached a formula that seemed mutually acceptable to both sides. The number of centrifuges, the levels and percentages of uranium enrichments, the protocols of access to IAEA inspectors, blocking the plutonium route etc…Pages upon pages of details meant to block Iran from making a nuclear bomb and meant to unblock money from sanctions. Both sides shook hands, smiled for the cameras and then headed home.

Based on the aftermath of earlier deals both in Geneva and in Lausanne, the two diplomats will now have to focus on pking holes in the agreement in an effort to “sell the deal” to their people. Concessions will be made to seem smaller, details will become ambiguous, conflicting fact sheets will be circulated and accusations will be heard around the globe.

Meanwhile, the deal will be placed before the Majlis in Tehran and before Congress to be ratified:

Will Khamenei council the Majlis to sign or not? Will Obama veto or not? Time will tell. If either one doesn’t, the deal dies. But if both do, they will have to deal with Hillary.

 

After Obama vetoes congress…

secretaryclintonheadshot.0Supposing that Obama and Khamenei decide to lead their countries to a nuclear deal.

This may be enough for Iran since the Majlis will back Khamenei in any case but this may not be enough for the US since Congress can overturn Obama’s veto with a majority of two thirds.

In comes Hillary Clinton and all the evidence point to the fact that she will probably place her weight to sway congress to veto Obama’s veto. Here are a few reasons why:

  • A “deal” and not a “treaty”: The negotiations are set to deliver a nuclear “deal” with Iran and not a “treaty”. This isn’t simply an issue of semantics: A deal is binding to the current administration, a treaty is binding to future administrations. If Hillary becomes president, she can decide whether to back the deal or not anyway.
  • It’s personal: The relationship between Hillary and Obama is strained, to say the least. Insiders say that Hillary is blaming Obama for leaking her e-mails which turned into a media sensations. Blocking Obama’s veto may be sweet vengeance for Hillary.
  • Pro-Iran & Pro-Israel: Although Obama claims to “have Israel’s back”, the whole issue of a nuclear deal with Iran was definitely a slap in the face to Tel Aviv. Hillary, on the other hand is much more pro-Israeli and much less pro-Iranian.
  • The elections are coming: Hillary hasn’t won the elections yet but there doesn’t seem to be a Republican candidate who will give her a real fight. Obama, on the other hand, is on his out of the White House. Approving a deal may antagonize some democrats but squashing a deal will rally support from the Jewish electorate as well as from some Republicans who might find her more appealing than Jeb Bush.

 

If the deal does ever get into Hillary’s hands, there is a good chance that she will send it crashing down in the hope of gaining more support in Congress and in the streets for her elections. Makes sense?

 

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Nuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

intent contentNuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

Most people are trying to decide if a nuclear deal with Iran is good or not based on the contents of the deal: the number of centrifuges, the amount of uranium, the transparency of inspections etc…

God may be in the details but in this case, he/she can be found in the intentions of both sides. And since there is a huge lack of trust between both sides, the validity of the deal is not to be found in what is written but in what is intended and how it is communicated. Not the “what” but the “how” and the why”.

As it stands, this deal isn’t worth the paper it is printed on and much less the amount of time and money that has been invested in it.

 

What are the intentions of the West?

flag 2It’s evident that the West’s main intention is to stop Iran from militarizing its nuclear program. And although Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supporters of the regime believe that Tehran should not be subjected to such restrictions while its arch enemy, Israel isn’t.

Since 2003, the IAEA has repeatedly found that Iran is not complying to NPT guidelines in numerous manners (enrichment above the 5% cap, tests on weaponization, denial of access to nuclear and military bases etc…) as outlined in the IAEA reports on Iran. These fears of non-compliance by Iran in its nuclear program led the UN Security Council to slap on a multitude of sanctions on Iran in the hope that Iran would comply to all IAEA and NPT guidelines.

Tehran has repeatedly denied accusations of non-compliance to the NPT, calling them baseless and politicized, stating that it “has constantly complied with its obligations under the NPT and the Statute of the IAEA“. From this point of view, the sanctions seem unfair and cruel and the nuclear deal is seen to simply be a way to lift these sanctions.

But Khamenei doesn’t believe that the West’s intentions are focused only on blocking a militarized nuclear program. As far as he is concerned, the “sanctions imposed against Iran have nothing to do with Tehran’s nuclear activities” but instead are meant to prevent Iran from “reaching a prominent civilizational status”.  Furthermore, Khamenei feels his infamous “nuclear fatwa” – the use or threat of using a nuclear weapon is “haram” (a sin) – is more than enough to allay any fears in the West.

 

What are the intentions of Tehran?

iran-flagIt is next to impossible to understand what Tehran, or more specifically, what Khamenei really wants. Lifting the sanctions is obviously the first and necessary step to right what he believes is an unjust wrong enforced by the West on Iran.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric and Tehran’s actions go much further than simply lifting sanctions: Khamenei has been pushing for a long-awaited “Global Islamic Awakening” which would unseat the “hegemony” of the “imperialist/colonialist” and “arrogant powers” (USA = the Great Satan) who have dominated the world for the past two centuries and who have “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could”. In his vision, the coming century is to be “the century of Islam”, led by Iran through its experience in the Islamic Revolution.

Furthermore, Tehran is dedicated to export the Islamic Revolution, a vision developed by Khomeini himself and upheld by the IRGC’s elite Qods unit as is evident in this boasting statement by Qods chief, Qassem Suleimani: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

Tehran’s military and political involvement in Lebanon (de facto governing through Hezbollah), Gaza (de facto governing through Hamas), Syria (supporting Assad in the civil war in Syria), Iraq (installing a pro-Iran government in Iraq and fighting ISIS), Yemen (supporting Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government) and Bahrain (supporting Shiite extremists to overthrow the Bahraini government) are statements to Iran’s regional and global aspirations. Further evidence of “exporting the revolution” and “Islamic Awakening” have been identified in other Gulf States, Arab states in the Middle East as well as many states in Africa and in South America.

Seen in this light, a militarized nuclear program would greatly enhance the chances of bringing to fruition both leaders’ visions and is causing the West to distrust Tehran’s motives.

 

Motives will make or break the Nuclear Deal

kerry zarifThe biggest problem surrounding the nuclear deal is the lack of trust which is unsuccessfully replaced with a myriad of details. As such, any deal, if signed, is destined to fail due to the basic lack of trust.

So, what would make a good deal? Only one thing: a total about-face by Tehran in regards to its motives and behavior that will build trust.

Imagine if Tehran had approached the negotiations for a nuclear deal with complete acceptance to comply to all IAEA/NPT guidelines and manage a nuclear program within the boundaries of supplying electricity. No need for enrichment beyond 5%, for so many centrifuges, for heavy water plants, for blocking access to bases, for testing weaponization etc…Creating electricity, and nothing more.

Imagine if Tehran had given up on its efforts to meddle in neighboring countries and on its aspirations to lead an empire in the region. No involvement in civil wars and efforts to overturn governments, no more support to terrorist organizations, no more threats to destroy Israel…Thriving peacefully, and nothing more.

There would have been no need for sanctions or a nuclear deal since Iran would be treated like any other country with a nuclear program meant for peaceful purposes.

 

Unfortunately, Tehran wants to keep its cake and eat it: It wants to lift sanctions but also wants to maintain its nuclear program and its aspirations for regional dominance intact. As such, the nuclear deal is akin to a marriage by two people who don’t trust each other since they met – divorce is inevitable.

 

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Is Tehran Addicted to Terror?

addicted to terror

For years, Iran has been accused of supporting terrorist organizations in its effort to export the Islamic Revolution to neighboring Arab states.

For years, Iran has denied all involvement with any terrorist organizations and instead has rebranded itself as a champion against terrorism through its battles against ISIS.

And for years, Iran has eventually been found to be supporting terrorists and to be lying in its denials.

This cycle of supporting terrorism, denying it, being found out and denying once again is a central part of Iran’s aspirations in the Middle East. But every time that Iran is caught backing terrorists, it’s denials lose their legitimacy just as a drug addict’s denials lose their sincerety after every relapse.

 

Iranian Terror in Bahrain and Jordan

bahrain jordanLast week, Jordanian security officials apprehended an Iranian-backed terrorist by the name of Khaled Kazem al-Rubai with 45 kilos of high explosives. Al-Rubai, who has dual Iraqi-Norwegian nationality, is said to have ties through the Iranian-backed Bayt al-Maqdis which is connected directly to the IRGC’s Qods unit. He entered Jordan through Syria, under the control of Iran, and is suspected of planning a large terrorist attack in Amman.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is:  last month, officials in Bahrain busted a terrorist cell with larges caches of explosives that was linked to the Iranian-backed Al Ashtar Brigades, a Shiite terrorist organization dedicated to overthrowing the government in Bahrain.

 

Iran’s Motives and MO

denialWhat is Iran’s motive? Although Jordan and Bahrain are very different in many ways, both countries are traditionally allied to Saudi Arabia and are weary of Iran’s efforts to “Export the Islamic Revolution” through local Shiite organizations and extremists intent on toppling the ruling monarchies.

Denials by Tehran to the connection with these terrorist cells were issued quickly in both cases but unfortunately, Tehran is notorious for denying everything and then being caught doing exactly what it denied: In Syria, Tehran at first denied operating Hezbollah militia to help Assad and later admitted doing so. Tehran denied shipping ammunitions and arms to Assad and then recanted. Tehran denied operating its own armies in Syria and then recanted once again. The same modus operandi of denials and then begrudged recantations could be seen in Tehran’s involvement with Yemen’s Houthi rebels: denial of involvement were followed by proudly admitting that Iranian-backed Hezbollah operatives trained and supplied the rebels in an effort to overthrow the Yemenite government.

 

On Truth and Trust

regionSince the trials are held behind closed doors, it may take time till we understand exactly what evidence the security forces have that ties the terrorists to Tehran.

But one thing is certain: Iran doesn’t inspire trust in any of its neighbors. In fact, they are terrified by Tehran’s repeated calls for a Global Islamic Awakening which would endanger the essence of their governments. Iran’s repeated efforts at meddling in its neighbors affairs cannot be overlooked any more nor can its aspirations to build an empire in the Middle East.

They, more than anyone else, understand that Iran’s finger prints are all over the repeated efforts by Shiites to overthrow neighboring governments. Tehran’s aspirations to head an Islamist empire may be kept off the agenda at the nuclear negotiation tables in Vienna but they are a top security priority for the immediate neighbors who will be the first to pay the price.

 

Iran, it seems, is addicted to meddling, terror and denials. It’s as if a drug addict is trying to take over counselling for rehabilitating other drug addicts. As long as the hands of Tehran are stained in blood, it cannot expect that the West will easily want to shake hands in peace.

 

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Tehran Redefines Terrorism

tehran redefines terrorismUnbelievable as it may be, there is no universal definition of terrorism. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

It would seem very simple: The targeted murder of innocent people, as a means of instilling fear, should be regarded as terrorism no matter what the cause or the objective (political, ideological, economic or whatever). But by this definition, it seems that every war, no matter its size, can be defined as terrorism, as long as civilians are hurt or fear being killed.

Unlike traditional wars which are fought between military units on military fronts, terrorists target the “homeland” – civilians.

Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, is portraying itself as a champion against terrorism and in the process, has redefined terrorism.

 

In the beginning, the West defined terror

terror 1For years, the West seemed to have the monopoly on deciding who is a terrorist. This isn’t surprising.  After all, terrorism was born as a method for “underdogs” to fight the strong, or for those seeking independence against those enjoying statehood. Since the West was usually the target for terrorist attacks, the West defined who was a terrorist.

Iran was long ago defined by the West as a state supporter of terrorism because of its support to organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Taliban and others which are defined to this date as terrorists by most Western countries (US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand and the EU). Iran’s support to these organizations included funding, training and supplies. Iran’s relation with Hezbollah is probably the strongest and Hezbollah militias fight in all of Iran’s battles and wars in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

 

A wider definition of terrorism

images (1)Over the last few decades, the superpowers sometimes chose to support local terrorist militias to help fight their wars instead of engaging the enemy on traditional battlefields. This may have been strategically necessary to win wars against enemies who also used terrorism, but it seriously hurt the West’s legitimacy to criticize the use of terrorism.

Furthermore, these same organizations, sometimes backed by the superpowers, began terrorizing countries in the Middle East and suddenly supporters of terrorism became victims of terrorism.

ISIS is a classic example of the birth of a terrorist organization in our era. Born as a political Sunni entity against Shiite domination, it brought terrorism to a new savage level. It wasn’t enough to simply kill civilians. Ritual beheadings, burning alive, systematic rapes, horrifying torture/amputations and firing squads became the norm – and all the horrors were filmed and shown to the world shamelessly. Unfortunately, ISIS also influenced the redefinition of terrorism in other ways.

 

Tehran redefines terrorism

Iran_Presidenr_Hassan_Rouhani_speak_UN_General_Assembly_2013Two years ago, Rouhani launched his WAVE (World Against Extremism and Violence) initiative at the General Assembly of the UN, strategically placing Iran as a champion in the fight against terrorism. Although Iran supports terror organizations, this fact was overlooked under the cause of eradicating ISIS. As the rampage of ISIS widened across Syria and Iraq, Iran took the front stage in becoming a legitimate partner in counterterrorism.

From the Iranian perspective, they have their own definition of who is a terrorist:

  • “The West”: The West, especially the US, was defined as supporters of terrorism for its support of militias as well as for waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which took the lives of civilians and local militia.
  • The Regional Enemies of Iran: These include primarily Israel (for its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians) and Saudi Arabia (for its support of terrorist militia such as Al Qaeda). Other countries such as Bahrain and the UAE are sometimes included in this list.
  • The Enemies of Friends of Iran: This definition was tailor-made by the Iranians to describe the rebels fighting Assad. While Tehran uses designated Hezbollah terrorist militia to fight Syrian rebels to uphold Assad’s regime, which has already caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, it reserves the right to define the Syrian rebels as terrorists and themselves as freedom fighters.

 

It is time to define categorically and unequivocally what is terrorism and who can be defined as a terrorist in order to prevent the abuse of such terminology by countries like Iran.

 

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8 Arguments For and Against the Nuclear Deal

pros and consThe Huffington Post ran an article on Eight Arguments Against an Iran Nuclear Deal — and Why They Are Wrong. It’s worth reading. It goes through 8 reasons why people are skeptical of a nuclear deal with Iran with rebuttals on why the nuclear deal is the only viable solution at this time.

What the people at HuffPost don’t seem to understand is that the Iranians are playing hardball while the US is still trying to figure out the rules of the game:

  1. Khamenei restated his red lines which refute all of all of the US’s demands: immediate sanction relief, no inspections, no access to scientists, no 10 year time limit, no limit on R&D.
  2. The Iranian parliament, drafted a law to ban “any inspection of military, security and non-nuclear sites as well as access to documents and scientists” making the negotiations of such inspections illegal. It should be noted that the bill breezed by easily and was followed by “Death to America” chants.
  3. Rouhani quietly stated that the nuclear deal is available IF there are no “excessive demands”, which includes any demand that deviates from Khamenei’s red lines.
  4. Zarif followed this with his “failure in talks is not the end of the world” quip leaving no doubt that Tehran is ready to leave the negotiations.
  5. On the other hand, Kerry seems to be too eager for comfort: The US seems so intent on signing a deal, any deal, that it keeps on re-accepting Iranian red lines. Here’s one of the ideas being bounced around lately: The US may be ready to trade good nukes (nuclear plant for electricity) for bad nukes (heavy water plant in Arak).
  6. Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” calls for blind trust above wide-eyed transparency and is seriously being considered by the US as a way to save face with Khamenei.
  7. Iran has a definite Plan B in the form of aligning itself with Russia, China and its trade neighbors (Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc…) thus satisfactorily circumventing of any of the effects of the remaining sanctions and placing the US between a rock and a hard place. The West, on the other hand has no viable plan B except increase sanctions, which will lose their teeth after Iran’s Plan B.
  8. And finally, Tehran is getting more and more involved in fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, reminding all that it is ready to take the fight beyond its borders.

Now, to the bottom lines:

  • HuffPost: The bottom line is that this deal promises to be by far the most effective way of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and doing so moreover without recourse to military action.
  • Iran 24/07: The bottom line is that this deal cannot guarantee prevention of a nuclear Iran and if signed, will probably be short-lived because of lack of transparency and the issue of snap-back sanctions.

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On Volleyball, Women, Rouhani and the Regime

volleyball

The issue of female spectators at volleyball games in Iran is a microcosm of Iranian politics in general:

  1. At first there is a status quo that is contested by the Iranian people who are seeking more freedom.
  2. The West backs the protesters in their cause in the hope for change.
  3. Rouhani voices support for the protesters.
  4. The Iranian authorities look as if they will concede to the demands of the protesters.
  5. Hardliners protest in their turn, promising blood, and the authorities renege on their decisions at the last minute.
  6. The protesters’ rights are curtailed while the West along with the helpless Rouhani, protest once again to no avail.

The bottom line is this: despite the protestations of the Iranian people, Western human rights groups, the international volleyball association and President Rouhani himself, the status quo has returned because a few hardliners promised blood.

If this is how Tehran acts over a volleyball game, why should anyone expect any more on the issue of executions or the nuclear deal?

 

Ghoncheh Ghavami – the “volleyball prisoner”

_79215113_7605b70b-c9ed-47eb-a00d-adc476875e34Last June, a young British-Iranian human rights activist by the name of Ghoncheh Ghavami, attended a volleyball game in Tehran and was subsequently arrested. She was released within hours and then rearrested to rot in jail for five months until her trial. At first, the accusations against Ghoncheh ranged from spreading propaganda, ties with the opposition and even spying. After six months, which included minimal communications with her lawyers and family and repeated hunger strikes, she was tried only for “propagating against the ruling system” and sentenced to one year in jail.

Meanwhile, many human rights activists and organizations, together with the international volleyball federation (FIVB), and even Rouhani himself, picked up her cause and called for her release. The FIVB went as far as to sign a resolution “not give Iran the right to host any future FIVB directly controlled events such as World Championships, especially under age, until the ban on women attending volleyball matches is lifted“. Finally, the courts acquiesced and on November 22nd, Ghoncheh was finally set free of jail but not out of Iran due to a travel ban for two years.

As far as everyone was concerned, it seemed that the authorities had capitulated: Ghoncheh was not free, but at least she wasn’t in jail and the authorities had agreed to sell tickets to women fans.

 

Protests on all sides

_83749168_83748411In January, the Iranian volleyball association had agreed to allow “some” women into the match. “Some”? The authorities didn’t specify but it was believed that 500 family members and foreign women (expats and diplomats) would be able to attend. In April 2015, the deputy minister of sports, Abdolhamid Ahmadi, reiterated that women would be allowed into stadiums.

The vagueness of the authorities sent Iranian social activists to protest and the FIVB reiterated its decision: “The FIVB is monitoring the situation and will liaise closely with the international federation of volleyball officials onsite, to monitor Iran’s conditions for hosting the 26th FIVB world league. The FIVB remains totally committed to ensuring inclusivity and the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis all around the world“.

But, the protesters and the clout of FIVB were not enough to counter the shouts of the Ummat Hezbollah hardliners who handed out leaflets promising to take “a stand against the presence of prostitutes… in stadiums,” and promised that “this Friday there will be blood”. The tide was changing.

Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdifor, tried to take on the hardliners, protesting officially and through her facebook page that a “crowd of sanctimonious people who published one notice after another denouncing the modest and decent girls and women of this land who talked of confrontation used obscene and disgusting insults that only befit themselves“.

 

Iran vs. US…without women

1745763The long awaited match between Iran and the US was looming and the issue of the women fans still looked grim but somehow, the FIVB remained hopeful: “We hope that the government will allow Iranian women to cheer for their national team alongside their male counterparts“.

The hopes of the FIVB and fans were shattered as security agents stopped and checked cars for women inside, prohibiting the cars to continue up to the stadium. The match would be held, despite the promises over the past few months, without women in the stadium. Iran went on to beat the US, 3-0, breaking their 6-0 winning streak.

But Iran’s win was overshadowed by the issue if segregati
on and the inability of the FIVB to force Iran to open its stadiums to women.

The hardliners had prevailed and had done so despite the efforts of Rouhani and his administration.

 

The issue of the segregation of sports may seem minuscule besides issues such as executions, terrorism, oppression etc…which are part of Tehran’s regime. But in fact the issue mirrors the regime’s actions by hardliners to oppose any form of loosening up of the Shariah laws established in 1979. President Rouhani promised to make peace with the West, to lead a peaceful nuclear program, to create equality for women, to allow more political freedom etc…But the fact of the matter is that if Rouhani cannot convince the regime and the hardliners to allow some women into a sports stadium, how can he be trusted to carry out far bigger changes?

 

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