65 Hangings in One Week Under Rouhani

65 hangings

Human rights in Iran are going from bad to worst under “moderate” president Rouhani.

The rate of executions reached an all time high last week with 65 reported executions in one week. 45 of these executions took place in Karaj city prisons less than a week after prisoners there staged protests.

But Tehran is not only consistently abusing human rights it is also mocking the West by repeated denials of doing so and accusing the West of double standards.

While the West is shocked by these abuses, the Iranian parliament is issuing more laws which promote and entrench these abuses.

The world must wake up to the fact that Iran is a serial abuser of human rights and that denials and accusations by Tehran are only meant to allow these abuses to continue.

 

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US Playing Checkers Outfoxed By Iran Playing Chess

checkers chess

Iran successfully changed the rules of the game baffling the US.
In Tehran’s rule book, it’s OK to…

  • shout out “stop terrorism” while funding terrorist organizations.
  • negotiate with the US for peace while chanting “death to America”.
  • back Houthis in Yemen while telling the Saudis to not meddle.
  • support Assad while warning everyone to not interfere in Syria.
  • demand lifting of nuclear sanctions without giving anything up.
  • systematically abuse human rights and continue to act as if it’s OK.
  • accuse the West of Islamophobia while fanning the flames of racial hate.

The West, with the US at its head, doesn’t know how to deal with Iran and is therefore doomed to lose again and again until the rules of the game will be equal on both sides.

 

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Iran is King of the Meddle East

meddle eastTehran’s stance on Yemen is cynical to the point of schizophrenia. On the one hand, it is obvious to all that it is meddling in Yemenite politics by supporting the Shiite Houthi rebels to exchange the current Saudi-supported Yemeni government with one that is more sympathetic to Iran and to the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, once the Saudis struck back at the Houthi rebels, Tehran went into its “Deny, Accuse & Threaten” mode, by denying supporting the Houthi rebels, accusing the Saudis of meddling and threatening to retaliate.

Will Tehran ever come clean on its aspirations to dominate the region and/or Islam? Probably not until it has achieved its goal and by then, it will be a fait accompli.

 

Axis of Iran vs. Axis of Saudi Arabia

Iran-saudiMake no mistake, this is not a localized skirmish between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels: this is a war of wills between Iran and its allies vs. Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi’s first level of coalition includes Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. Its second level of coalition includes the US and then many EU countries and Israel.

The Iranian’s first level of coalition includes Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Its second level includes Pakistan (began as a Saudi supporter and then went neutral) and Russia.

This localized war is the fulcrum of interests of most Middle Eastern countries as well as US and Russia so what happens in Yemen happen will definitely not stay in Yemen.

 

Tehran’s Meddling Method

crescent dominationsYemen is not the first country that Iran is meddling in.

In fact, Tehran is a prolific and compulsive meddler in politics of states that can potentially join the Islamic Revolution. It has succeeded to do so in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The governments in these three countries owe allegiance to Tehran in no uncertain terms and their countries are home to Hezbollah militia and Qods “advisors” and forces.

It is also trying to meddle in all the Gulf states, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some South American countries to lesser degrees of success.

Here’s Tehran’s 5-point method of meddling:

  1. Identify “partners”: Identify pro-Shiite leaders, factions and militia within targeted countries.
  2. Support “innocently”:  Support them “culturally” and financially while meddling in local politics.
  3. Support Militarily: Increase meddling by introducing direct and indirect military strength.
  4. Strengthen Allegiances: Establish Hezbollah-like militia with allegiance directly to Tehran.
  5. Instigate Coup D’etat: Help the Shiite factions to overthrow the government and reap the political, economic and military benefits.

It is in this manner that Tehran manages to expand its level of influence without actually starting a war in any of these countries – The trick is to get an invite to meddle so that nobody can call it meddling.

 

Yemen Spiraling Out of Control

iran saudiThe war in Yemen is not only fought on battlefields but in rhetoric and right now the rhetoric is heating up.

Supreme Leader Khamenei simply called the Saudi attacks on Yemen “genocide“.  Of course, Khamenei is selective in using such words: He is careful not to call the slaughter of Yemenites by Houthi rebels, nor the slaughter of Syrian rebels by Assad’s regime “genocide” – both wars that are militarily supported by Tehran.

Iranian FM Zarif at first denied any Iranian support of Houthi rebels and warned Saudi Arabia that it was making a “big mistake” but then took a different approach that suits the smiling diplomat: Iran, Zarif says, is simply “worried about bout the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen” and is now calling for a change in government .

But his deputy FM, Amir-Abdollahian, was much more threatening:  He warned the Saudis that continued aggression against Yemen would lead to “inevitable consequences“, and insinuated, as usual, that the Saudis were being played by the US.

The US is walking a tight rope with no safety net: US President Obama is adamant in signing a nuclear deal with Iran despite knowing that a) Iran will remain hostile even after a nuclear deal and b) Iran can develop a bomb if it chooses to do so. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Kerry warned Tehran that the US would “not stand by” while Iran continues to support Houthi rebels.

The Saudi shrugged off Iran’s warnings and re-accused Tehran of meddling and of instigating the situation which has led to this war.

The upcoming weeks will be crucial as answers to the following questions will be revealed: Will the Saudi initiative be successful? Will Iran get involved directly? How will the US react? How will the rest of the world react?

Iran and US Agree to Disagree and Disagree to Agree

agree to disagree

Apart from the initial smiles and hugs following the framework agreement orchestrated by Kerry and Zarif in Lausanne, the only issue that both sides could agree on is their mutual disagreement.

The conflicting fact sheets, the ambiguities, the loose ends, the nuances, the continued efforts to sell the agreement back home to hardliners on both sides and the wish to maintain bargaining pressure all led to the point where an agreement was signed but nobody understands exactly what are the terms of the agreement.

 

The Key Disagreements

disagreement-1The disagreements are not cases of “crossing T’s and dotting I’s”. In fact, some of them are at the crux of a nuclear agreement designed to force Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program:

  • Lifting of sanctions: Iran wants immediate dissemination of sanctions on signing the final deal while the US wants the sanctions to be removed gradually in response to Iran’s behavior.
  • Areas of inspections: Iran agrees to the inspections of all nuclear sites registered with the IAEA while the US wants to include military/civilian bases that are suspected of being used to militarize the nuclear program.
  • Bases of enrichment: Iran plans to continue enrichment in all nuclear bases that do so today while the US wants enrichment to be carried out in the base in Natanz and nowhere else.

Other points of disagreement include the types of centrifuges to be used, the rights to enrich beyond 3.67% for “research” purposes and sanctions that aren’t nuclear-related.

 

The Rhetoric of Disagreement

disagreementBut apart from the fact sheets, it is worth listening to the conflicting rhetoric on both sides.

Let’s start with Supreme leader Khamenei since he is the ultimate deal maker/breaker. At best, he is non-committal: he “neither supports nor opposes the deal” since “everything is in the details.” Of course, he blames the “devilish” USA for being deceptive and remains firm on his demands that “all sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed”. In a later statement, he alluded to the problem of the US’s ambiguity as the main hurdle for talks on any issue.

President Rouhani echoes Khamenei’s insistence that all sanctions should end on the day the deal is signed while adding that “the Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations” and that the US and the EU could not “overpower” Iran’s “formidable” diplomats, legal experts and politicians.

FM Zarif’s rhetoric is similar to Rouhani’s on all points and Iranian nuclear chief Salehi straightforwardly stated that the centrifuges will keep spinning in a “business as usual” fashion, meaning that nothing within the nuclear program would stop.

On the other side of the world, Secretary of State Kerry is sticking to his fact sheet saying that “the deal is what we said it was” and the White House insists that sanctions relief would be “phased”. President Obama candidly explained that he is “not surprised” at the conflicting views and promised that “we won’t have to speculate on what the (nuclear) deal will be” because the final deal will be detailed and clear of any ambiguities.

It seems ironic that it is the lawmakers on both sides who are not willing to accept a ambiguous deal which is open to disputations: 163 MP’s of Iran’s Majlis have signed a petition demanding that Zarif publish Iran’s fact sheet. Meanwhile, in Washington, Kerry is trying to fight off demands by congress to clarify the discrepancies of the fact sheets.

 

Some things are clear

putin

If the US and Iran can manage to find a detailed deal that both sides can sign, sanctions will be relieved and Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb may be slowed down. But even Obama has no qualms about the fact that no nuclear deal can keep Iran away from a bomb if it wishes to militarize its nuclear program. With or without a deal, Iran will probably reach nuclear break-out at some point which would eventually lead to a war.

On the other hand, guess who doesn’t really care about the discrepancies? Russia, China, Turkey, India and a host of other countries looking to cash in on the deal…but first and foremost, Russia. Why? Because Russia is in a classic win-win situation: If the nuclear deal is or isn’t inked, Russia will benefit from increased trade and supply Iran with nuclear sites and uranium. Furthermore, Russia has already declared that it plans to sell specialized anti-aircraft missiles on par with the US’s patriot missiles to defend Iran’s nuclear sites. And if a war does erupt over Iran’s nuclear program, you know whose side Russia will be on!

Nuclear Deal, If…

nuclea deal ifFollowing the nuclear “Joint Plan of Action” (JPoA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva in 2013, a “Framework Agreement” (FA) was finally closed in overtime in Lausanne this week.

The basic nuclear details sound quite simple: Cap centrifuges to 6,000 (from 9,000 in JPoA), enrichment to 3.67% (down from 5% in JPoA), enrichment only at Natanz (not mentioned in JPoA) and access of IAEA officials (just like JPoA).

The basic sanction details sound quite simple as well: Eliminations of all nuclear sanctions by the US/EU/UN ($7 Billion in JPoA).

But, beyond basics, there still is no real nuclear deal – that’s supposed to be penned in June if…

 

If…Rouhani “plays ball”…
Hassan RouhaniIf Rouhani patiently “plays ball” and upholds his end of the FA, as he personally vowed to do, he will have achieved his greatest election promise: disposal of all sanctions with an intact nuclear program with a bonus sunset clause. Worth being patient for…

Within 3 months, he can sign a nuclear deal and can set his sights on an economic boom, a rapprochement with the West and, perhaps, more time to develop the potential for nuclear break-out.

Rouhani focused on minimizing nuclear restrictions, sunset clauses and the time spans of the elimination of sanctions. Without them, the hardliners, and more importantly, Khamenei himself, would not buy the deal.

And best of all, he doesn’t even have to be friendly with the US…(Zarif’s quote: “Iran and U.S. relations have nothing to do with this, which was an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue … We have serious differences with the United States”),  nor is he forced to stop meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…nor is he forced to uphold his other election promise of better human rights in Iran.

 

If…Obama Chooses Engagement

141219-obama-sony-1613_f26a4f11b15d21fb1e0c10d2c3792a8bObama chose to work things out with Iran through engagement instead of through war or increased sanctions and isolation.

Had the FA not been signed, Obama would have to increase the sanctions which would effectively push Rouhani into his brother in sanctions’ open arms, Putin. Less likely, Obama would have chosen the war-path which he so desperately wants to avoid.

Obama focused on a “low risk”-“high gain” strategy: Continue to actively strive for peace and hope that the future will smile on him. Not without criticism from within (Republicans/Congress) and from without (Israel, Saudi Arabia, France, UK…).

 

If…Both Agree to Disagree

us-iran.siMuch like the earlier JPoA, the FA is sometimes vague in the parameters of nuclear restrictions and on the time frame of the eliminating of sanctions. “Loose ends” are emerging as quickly as statements by leaders in in Tehran and in Washington to their respective crowds.

Flashback to November 23rd 2013 when the White House issued a fact sheet on the JPoA which satisfied politicians and voters sitting on the fence. Within days, Tehran called the fact sheet out as “invalid” for “overselling” to the Americans quite simply because it was “underselling” to its own hardliners.

Tehran poked a number of loopholes into the JPoA: the right to enrich 20% for “research purposes”, the exclusion of the heavy water plant in Arak, the number and quality of active centrifuges etc…All loose ends that were not tied by the P5+1 negotiators. But the talks went on…for thirteen months (beyond the 6 months in the JPoA deal).

And it’s happening again…

The official Iranian version is simply labeled “press statement”, beginning with a spoiler that the FA has no “legal aspect” yet and is intended only as “a guideline for drafting future accords”. The American text is called the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” implying that “it’s a done deal”.

In some case, the Iranian text differs from the US version when it comes to nuclear restrictions: enrichment facilities (US says only Natanz, Iran says Fordow as well), the sunset clause (US says 10-15, Iran says none), the quality of centrifuges (US says old, Iran says advanced), the upkeep of Arak (US says no nuclear activity, Iran says “updated and modernized”) and the transparency of military aspects of the nuclear program (US says full transparency, Iran says…nothing)

But when it comes to the relief of sanctions, the differences touch on the type of sanctions to be lifted (US says “nuclear”, Iran says “all”) and the time span (US says “step-by-step” while Iran says “immediate” cancellation).

Do any of these amount to deal breakers? They certainly can in the hands of hardliners on both sides. More likely they will be used by Tehran as distractions to Iranian’s best strategy – patience, because, meanwhile, while the talks go on, the money flows in and the centrifuges spin.

 

And, if…Khamenei Signs

amiri20130417141414517_0Yes, the biggest “if” of all: will Khamenei sign this deal?

Only Khamenei knows what is his state of mind, his intentions for his legacy and his ambitions for Iran and for the Islamic Revolution.

 

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Proxy War in Yemen Ignites Regional Power Play

saudi iranThe situation in Yemen is spiraling out of control and is rapidly turning into the center of a Proxy war with ever-growing conflicts of interests – Yemen was upgraded from a local war zone of government and rebels to a regional war with global consequences.

 

 

Tehran Meddles in Yemen

yemen iranBack in 2007, the Yemenite government accused Iran of “meddling in its internal affairs“. By  2012, Iran, through its Qods forces, supported Shiite Houthi rebels with arms shipments, Hezbollah militia and “military advisors”. A power play between Iran and Yemen’s historical patron, Saudi Arabia began to unravel.

Within three years, Yemen’s president fled from his country, finding refuge in Saudi Arabia while Sanna became another satellite of Tehran following Beirut, Damascus (through supporting Assad) and Baghdad (with the US’s blessing for fighting ISIS).  The US had already pulled out (a “death blow” for Yemen), the diplomats and the UN would follow – Sanna fell into disarray and panic as Houthi rebels, Hezbollah militia and suicide bombers took control. Meanwhile, economic partnerships were laid out and Iran even offered to provide Yemen with a huger power plant…it all seemed perfect for Tehran.

 

 

…except for Saudi Arabia…

saudi-arabia-armyThe Saudis were fuming at the loss of Yemen and the birth of another Shiite state modeled on the export of Iran’s revolution. They watched as the US backed out of Yemen while pursuing a nuclear deal which seemed to the Saudis shaky at best – in fact, it sent them to chase after their own nuclear program, possibly igniting a regional arms race.

And then, the Saudis, motivated by the fear of Iran’s increasing crescent of power coupled with the threat of Tehran with nukes, bombed the Houthis and suddenly, everyone had to pick sides. What had begun as a few border skirmishes with Houthi rebels as early as December 2009 developed into a massive airstrike which was quickly followed by preparations for a ground offensive: The 100 warplanes and the 150,000 troops that Saudi Arabia was “contributing” to the war could not be ignored.

 

 

Picking Sides…

handsThe Iranians, obviously, cried foul and demanded that the Saudis cease the attacks and accused the embattled government of using “terrorists” to fight the rebels (“terrorism” has become a question of geographical perspective). This didn’t stop the Iranians from unloading 185 tons of weapons on Houthi rebels. Pakistan first took the Saudis side and then switched allegiance to Iran.

Meanwhile, Arab countries, which also fear Iran’s meddling and the accompanying Muslim Brotherhood uprisings, backed Saudi Arabia: Jordan, Morocco and Egypt were the obvious ones. But Sudan, which had once been under Iran’s “support” had to choose sides and chose pragmatism over ideology.

Turkey, already involved in a proxy war over Syrian soil, decided to back Saudi Arabia as well. The Turks, just like the Saudis, fear Iran’s localized meddling, its regional aspirations, its Islamic war-cry and its nuclear potential. Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Iran’s nuclear potential. Now the leader of Turkey visits Teheran, we await the outcome of that.

Even the UK slammed Iran for supporting the Houthi rebels and effectively overthrowing the government.

 

And the US?

150321173909-2441-0The US was stuck between the proverbial “rock and the hard place“: Support its historical friends or its new negotiating partner?

Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran as well his “appreciation” of Iran’s war with ISIS lead him to favor his friends in Tehran which unleashed attacks from within (the Republican Senate) and from without (Israel, the Gulf States and some countries in the EU such as France and the UK). This did not stop him from creating a framework of a nuclear deal with Iran which is to be finalized in June.

Obama is trying to stay neutral on Yemen, knowing that joining Saudi Arabia would jeopardize his prized nuclear deal. But sooner or later, he will have to choose sides.

 

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