Does Iran Want Peace or War?

peace or warThe upcoming nuclear deal with Iran has optimists and pessimists clearly on two sides of a fence with barely any remaining middle ground.

Optimists are betting on two and a half outcomes from a nuclear deal:

  • 1) Iran won’t INCREASE its meddling
  • 2) Iran won’t BUILD a nuclear bomb
  • 5) Iran won’t USE a nuclear bomb

Pessimists, or realists, depending on the outcome, don’t buy into any of these premises…here’s why.


Iran Will (not) Increase Meddling

iran saudiAt the base of Iran’s tendencies to meddle in its neighbors politics is Ayatollah Khomeini’s insistence to “export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle. Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution“. Khamenei’s vision an imminent global “Islamic Awakening” reflects his predecessor with his promise that “this century (21st) is the century of Islam“.

But this isn’t just some religious edict, it is a military one. According to General Jaafari, the chief of the IRGC, “the mission of the Qods Force is external, to help Islamic movements, to expand the revolution and to provide “assistance” to suffering people across the world and to people who need help in such countries as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq“. The Qods leader himself, Suleimani, is quite happy to take on this task: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa“.

Iran is meddling in neighboring countries by supporting factions which are closer to the Islamic Revolution – Assad in his civil war in Syria, the Houthis in their civil war in Yemen and Hezbollah in all its fronts.

But meddling requires cash: Estimates of Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen are estimated at $30 billion a year while under heavy sanctions. Once those sanctions are lifted and hard cash fills up the state coffers, one can only surmise that the extra cash will not only be funneled to the Iranian citizens but will be directed to citizens of other countries who might influence their governments to support Tehran. The first countries on Tehran’s short list will probably be Bahrain (73% Shiites), Kuwait (40% Shiites), and then the UAE and Saudi Arabia (15% Shiites). From there, Tehran will most probably look East (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and North (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).



Iran Will (not) Build a Bomb

circlesIran’s nuclear program symbolizes Tehran’s ability to conquer science. Science, once a forte of the Arabs in the past, has been dominated in the past few centuries by the West. But not for long, warns Khamenei: “They (the “arrogant powers” = the West) kept us scientifically backward for many years. They destroyed our independence. Today we have awakened and we will conquer the arenas of science one after the other“. Furthermore, oil and gas exports may put Iran on par economically with Western countries but it is science that will place Iran on par intellectually: “In an economy which is based on underground resources, no need will be felt to identify or attract the elites. Therefore, no real progress will be made in the country”. ” Instead, Khamenei believes that “Iran should be run with its domestic and surface resources which are the intelligence and talents of its young generation and elites as well as by producing science and knowledge in the country. In that case no world power could play a game with our economy.”

Science is progress, independence and power that exemplifies the minds of those who master it and building a nuclear bomb is the pinnacle of progress, independence and power.

The nuclear deal will not be able to prevent Iran from dashing to the bomb at any time and with a sunset clause in effect, Iran may “legitimately” build a bomb within ten years. The extra money from the relief of sanctions, the increased trade with Russia and China and the inability for IAEA inspectors to monitor military or hidden bases will only contribute to achieve Khamenei’s vision. Khamenei himself may not be alive by then but he can rest assured that no “arrogant power” would ever “look down its nose” at Iran ever again.


Iran Will (not) Use a Bomb 

PeaceBombsWould Iran use a nuclear bomb if it had one? Firing a nuclear weapon on a country with nukes is bound to trigger a reprisal which could lead to the mutual destruction of both sides. This fear had kept the Russians and the Americans from pulling the trigger during the long cold war. Nukes, it seems, are meant more as a form of deterrence than a form of attack.

Once Tehran will have a bomb, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries will be forced into obtaining their own nuclear weapons as well. Were Iran to fire a nuclear device at Israel or the Gulf States, the retaliation would be fierce and the destruction in Iran, horrendous.

But then again, the Islamic Revolution idolizes martyrdom. According to Khamenei, martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and, perhaps more importantly, “this is what frightens the enemy“. In this context, losing a few hundred thousand Iranian lives to martyrdom would be a small price to pay for eradicating the Zionists (Israel) and the terrorists (Saudi Arabia). As we wrote in an earlier post, “Nuke and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary“.


Of course, nobody knows how Iran will look like in the future. Perhaps by then, Khamenei’s vision will seem like a horse buggy on a highway. But if his vision will live on, the pessimists will have the unfortunate luck to be right about what a nuclear deal with Iran can lead to.





Kurdish Spring in Tehran?

kurdish springSometimes uprisings can be attributed by the fate of a single person.

In late 2010, Mohamed Bouaziz, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in protest for what he perceived as unnecessary harassment by government agents. He died without knowing that his death became a catalyst for the Tunisian revolution and the subsequently, the Arab Spring.

In this case, the person’s name is Farinaz Khosrawani and she was 25 years old Kurdish maid working at a hotel in Mahabad in the North of Iran. Two weeks ago, she tried to escape from being raped and she flung herself out of the hotel room window. After perilously hanging on the ledge, she plunged 4 stories to her death. Her tragic demise took on a harsher reality when the identity of her would-be rapist turned out to be an Iranian security agent who then tried to threaten/bribe the hotel to “co-operate, or else”.

Within hours, Kurdish protesters hit the streets, burned down the hotel and riots have been raging since then sometimes gaining momentum, sometimes losing it under the crackdowns by the Iranian police in which hundreds were hurt and imprisoned.

But Khosrawani’s death, just as in Bouaziz’s case, was not the reason for the riots but instead acted as a catalyst: Were there not strong feelings by Kurds in Iran at being systematically discriminated by the regime and its agents, her death would have, at most, sparked a small outburst among her family and friends.

What remains to be seen is just how large of a bonfire, did Khosrawani’s spark ignite and that depends on two things:

  • How much do the Kurds feel discriminated against in Iran?
  • How does the regime respond to the riots?


Discrimination Against Kurds in Iran

safe_imageDiscrimination against Kurds in Iran is rampant and is usually focused on anyone who might be tagged as activists or part of the Kurdish resistance. These people are usually spied upon, sometimes for years, before they are arrested, tortured. If they are found guilty, they might be sentenced to death or simply live on in prison and torture. Sometimes, they are given a choice to either cooperate with the Intelligence services (ie: spy on the Kurdish community or praise the regime’s treatment to the Kurds) or suffer more imprisonment and torture.

Some, like Shahoo Hosseini, an ex-citizen of Mahabad manage to run away and now live in exile. Iranian prisons are filled with Kurdish political prisoners who are treated in the same manner as convicted criminals and drug felons. Last year, 27 Kurdish prisoners went on a hunger strike to try to separate them from the criminals to no avail.

Kurdish civil rights activists are also targeted and pressured by government officials, especially those who are trying to fight the death penalty for Kurdish political prisoners or for prisoners who are found guilty of “moharebeh” (contaminating the earth) such as the six Kurds who were executed in early March.


The Regime’s Response

tumblr_inline_noht0lZMLt1r1mw0s_540As the protesters hit the streets, IRGC guards were called in to beef up the local security forces and the clashes led to hundreds of injuries and at least 25 imprisonments.

Some attribute the latest rise in crackdowns against Kurds to the upcoming nuclear agreement. Rezan Javid, an electrical engineer in Mahabad points to a sinister CATCH 22 situation: “There is an established pattern of the regime seizing on any thaw with the West as an opportunity to crack down even harder on its opponents.” The point being that while the world powers are  focused on signing a deal with Iran, they feel less legitimacy to pressure Iran on issues of human rights. Perhaps that explains why the executions rate under Rouhani is at its highest in decades.


In any case, the riots in Mahabad are bound to be crushed and the hopes for a Kurdish spring will have to wait until Iran is back under pressure from the world and until the Kurds unite against Tehran’s oppressive regime. In the meantime, Khosrawani’s death seems destined to become an isolated news item in the past instead of becoming a catalyst for the future.

Saudis on Nuclear Deal: US is Damned if it Does and Damned if it Doesn’t

damned if you do
Obama’s efforts to sign a nuclear deal with Iran have rattled the US’s historical allies in the region. It was expected that Israel would loudly object to any nuclear deal with Iran but the reactions of the Gulf States, with Saudi Arabia at their head, are now bordering between fear and hysteria.

Can the US successfully juggle its relations with Iran and the Gulf States without dropping any of them? Probably not.

In order to do so, Saudi Arabia would have to believe that a nuclear deal would stop Iran’s dash for nuclear break-out which it obviously doesn’t. Furthermore, it would have to believe in the US’s threat of war against Iran if Tehran does build a bomb, and the Saudis seem to doubt this as well.

So the US finds itself in the worst position ever in which it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. In any scenario, the US is bound to lose face and the faith of its current allies.


The Saudis Don’t Trust Tehran

iran flagThe Saudis have much to fear: Relations between Riyadh and Tehran soured with the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and festered when Saudi Arabia backed Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s. For years, Iran has been putting pressure on the Saudis’ dominance in the Gulf. Whether this is part of a Sunni-Shiite conflict, Tehran’s efforts to “export the revolution” or financial interests, the power struggle between these neighbors has been on for years and has been escalating through proxy wars fought by Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Tehran has an infamous track record of meddling in local politics of neighboring states out of the pretext of “helping” factions, which “happen to be” friendlier to Iran, Shiism and the Islamic Revolution. Usually such efforts by Tehran were met by Riyadh with disapproval or proxy fighting through third party militia. But, the Saudis attack on Yemen, following the Iranian backing of the Houthi rebels, is a game changer which has escalated the tensions between the two rivals.

Saudi Arabia is not only worried about proxy wars or of wars in proxy states. Saudi Arabia, unlike the USA, doesn’t have the “luxury” of its own nuclear arsenal which might inhibit Tehran from nuking Riyadh. One nuclear bomb over Riyadh will extinguish the Saudi empire and its ruling family with it. Thus, making it harder to trust Iran with nukes.

It is the mix of all of these fears which has placed Riyadh at the starting line for an arms race with possible nuclear dimensions.


The Saudis Don’t Trust Washington Either

4cb347149fb092bf0e1b4db0a26c0705Obama seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place: On the one hand, he is wooing Tehran in an effort to control its nuclear program and to destroy ISIS militia in Iraq and in Syria. On the other hand, he is trying to keep allies such as Saudi Arabia in line. Standing on both sides of the fence might seem possible as long as there is no direct and open conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In such a case, Obama will then have to choose.

But the Saudis don’t really believe that a nuclear deal with Iran will stop Tehran from building a bomb. Nor do they believe that the US is ready for an open war against Iran if it does renege on the nuclear deal. Riyadh’s disbelief in the placating messages from Tehran and from Washington are striking a wedge between Riyadh and Washington, a wedge which presented itself in the form of the snub of King Salman when he refused to attend a meeting between Obama and the Gulf states in Camp David last week.

Obama can keep on juggling Iran and Saudi Arabia with polished rhetoric only up to a point in which Iran and Saudi Arabia clash directly and not through proxy wars. If Iran continues to reassert its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, no smooth talking can help Obama in keeping both sides happy.


Obama’s options are clearly limited and he is bound to place the US in a position of conflict in all possible scenarios. The region has turned into a huge unlit bonfire that’s just waiting for a spark to ignite. When it does, the US may be forced to war with a potential nuclear dimension. In the meantime, Obama’s administration is passing the buck to the next generation of leaders.


Zarif is “Breathtaking in his Hypocrisy”

zarif liar

Tehran is “blessed” with quite a few politicians who are exemplary at saying one thing and meaning something totally different.

Zarif, who until now had steered clear of the issue of human rights, just like Rouhani, finally opened his mouth on the issue and the results could have been funny if they were not so sad: According to Zarif, not only are people in Iran “not jailed for their opinions” but it seems that Tehran actually has a “plan to improve human rights”.

Zarif is “breathtaking” in his hypocrisy” as was headlined in this article.

“Freedom of Opinion” in Tehran

facehang 2

Let’s start with the first statement: Does this mean that all of the political dissidents, journalists, bloggers, activists and opposition leaders that have been or still are in jail (or house arrest) – simply don’t exist?

  • Has Sohel Arabi, a facebook blogger on death row because of posting content critical of the regime, ceased to exist?
  • Has Nasrin Sotoodeh, a lawyer activist imprisoned for attending a protest agains tacid throwing at women, evaporated?
  • Are the hundreds of social media users picked up through the government spying system “Ankaboot” (Spider) non existent?
  • Have the opposition leaders Karroubi and Mousavi who are under house arrest since 2009 disappeared?

The list is as long as the people in jail (or released from jail) but you get the point. Zarif would want us to believe that these people are in  jail because they broke the law and not because of their opinions. But what is the difference between the regime and its laws if expressing an opinion diverse from the regime’s is illegal?

Tehran’s “Plan” for Human Rights

human rights 2

The last time Rouhani really said anything about changing the state of human rights in Iran was on his campaign trail to the presidency. But since he became president, he has focused on foreign policy or specifically, getting rid of the nuclear sanctions.

Rouhani is ready to talk about every issue you can think of, but when it comes to human rights, he simply zips up. His first year in office may have brought Iran out of isolation but the state of human rights went from bad to worst. In 2014, there were over 750 executions and 2015 is looking like a record breaker with over 1,000 estimated executions.

So what, exactl,y is this miraculous plan which is making human rights worst instead of better? Why isn’t this plan publicized in order to understand what exactly is being planned and what is the timeline? Don’t hold your breath for an answer….


Lies, Denials and Accusations

brothers in lies 2

In the context of lies, denials and accusations, the first that come to mind are the Larijani brothers-in-lies, Sadeq (judiciary chief) and Javad (human rights chief) who systematically deny that Iran even has a human rights problem. Here are a few snippets from Javad’s speech at the last UPR that might make someone think that Iran is actually Norway or New Zealand:

  • “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).
  • There are no forced legal marriages of children in Iran.
  • All Iranian nationals are “equal before the law”, “have the right to choose their own lawyers” and can count on “the presumption of innocence”.
  • Iran prohibits the use of torture and arbitrary arrest.
  • Iran has “continuously worked for the promotion of human rights ” (with the UN).
  • Iran “adheres to renouncement of all forms of violence” and calls for unity in “combatting all forms of terrorism and extremism”.


Back to the Future Iranian Empire

future empires

Is Tehran aspiring to build an Islamic empire or not? All the evidence points to a positive answer to this question. Problem is, Tehran vehemently denies any such ambitions knowing that admitting to doing so would only increase the distrust and anger of its Arab neighbors.

So instead of saying so out loud, it does so under-cover, by political meddling, toppling antagonistic regimes and “helping” countries it desires to bring under its fold. Thus, it  has rightly deserved the title of “King of the Meddle East“.


From the “Greater Iranian Empire” to the “Global Islamic Awakening”

younesi khameneiOver a month ago, Rouhani’s chief adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities (and former Intelligence Minister) Ali Younesi’s spoke about a “Greater Iranian Empire” with Baghdad as its capital. Younesi was quite clear about Iran’s role in the region: “We are protecting the interests of [all] the people in the region — because they are all Iran’s people,” he said. “We must try to once again spread the banner of Islamic-Iranian unity and peace in the region. Iran must bear this responsibility, as it did in the past.” The reactions from all sides were fierce: Neighboring Arab countries decried that Younesi’s aspirations was targeting them while Iranian leaders chose the “lost in translation” strategy together with calls to dismiss Younesi.

It’s notable that Khamenei did not have anything to say about this since he himself has been speaking of a vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” which would finally dominate the world after centuries of subjugation to the “colonialist powers”.

In all probability, Younesi’s vision echoes Khamenei’s and reflects a deep yearning to bring back the glory of the golden days of a Persian empire, this time under the flag of the Islamic revolution.


“Foreign Interference” vs. “Help” in Syria and Yemen

syria yemenIran has active fighting forces in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and political/military forces in Lebanon and in Gaza. In all these countries, Tehran is financing and deploying troops for the sides which are sympathetic to the Islamic Revolution.

In the case of Syria, Tehran’s involvement definitely saved Assad from caving under the rebel forces and in the process has prolonged a long, internal and bloody civil war. But at every chance, Iranian leaders and diplomats would warn the world that Syria should handle its own business without foreign interference as if Tehran’s involvement was not “foreign interference”. Just to make things clearer, according to Khamenei, Iran isn’t meddling in Syria’s business, it is “protecting” it. Iran vows to stand by Assad against the “Tafkiri terrorists” (calling the rebels “terrorists” is a PR move) even though Assad himself said that Iranian troops are not fighting in Syria…if all of this sounds confusing, it’s meant to be. The simple truth is problematic for Iran to admit: As far as Tehran is concerned, Syria will be part of its empire.

The same pattern is evident in Yemen except that this time, Tehran is supporting rebels against the Yemenite government. Once again, Houthi rebels sympathetic to Tehran and the Islamic Revolution were financed and supported by Tehran directly or through Hezbollah militia. Once again Iran is dedicated to “help” Yemen because, as FM Amir-Abdollahian put it, Yemen’s security is tantamount to Iran’s security. And once again, FM Zarif issued a warning to the world to not get involved in Yemen while at the same time, calling for a new Yemenite government.

The hypocrisy of Iranian diplomacy in regards to Syria and Yemen is most evident in the statements of Iranian deputy FM Sarmadi. According to him, Iran is simply “seeking restoration of regional peace, stability through dialogue” and that “Syria and Yemen should determine their own fates“…yeah, maybe…as long as Iran is on the winning side.

Betting on Rainbows Over Tehran


The nuclear deal with Iran is fuelling many ambitions and expectations: Multinational companies and governments are eager to cash in on the potential of a booming economy free of sanctions (549 billion dollars in 2014) while at the same time, governments are wooing Tehran as a political and military ally.

But all these expectations seem to be far removed from the realities of the regime in Tehran and its economic, political and military agendas.

The negotiations with Iran have made one thing very clear: With Tehran, it’s either Khamenei’s way or the highway and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may remain elusive to most wannabe deal-makers. What they will soon realize is that making deals with Iran is an uphill slippery climb.


The New Iranian Bazaar

bazaar_picGovernmental trade delegations from all over the world have been landing in Tehran since Rouhani took office but the pace is picking up: A German delegation visited Tehran in the hopes of increasing trade to 12 Billion Euros, an Indian delegation with the hopes of increasing its 15 Billion Dollar trade with Iran and even a US delegation was sniffing out prospects while a Belgian delegation is on its way to Tehran in May and the UAE is preparing to send a delegation in May as well.

These follow delegations in the past by China, Russia, turkey, Nicaragua, UK, Austria, France, Latvia, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Greece, EU, Spain, Poland, Italy, Sweden,  South Korea, Mexico, Ireland and many many more.

But it isn’t only governmental trade delegations who are taking a closer look at Iran’s economy – business organizations such as the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and Pathfinder are also hitting the streets in Tehran looking for the proverbial pot of gold.

Add to these delegations private businessmen and one can understand that the traditional Iranian bazaar has moved into conference rooms and hotel lobbies, regardless of past/present/future sanctions as is vividly outlined in this article by YPO member, Ned Lamont.


Russia & China Lead the Way

Russia China sign deal to bypass U.S. dollarMeanwhile, government leaders are rushing in to close specific deals with Tehran with Russia and China at its head.

Both Russia and China have both announced deals to build nuclear reactors. Russia has not only inked a 5-year food for oil deal, it has set up a special “trade bank” and after ditching the US dollar as its basic currency, is now doing business with Iran in Rubles (inviting Turkey and Argentina to do so as well) . Add to this the controversial sale of S-300 missiles and the picture is becoming clearer that with or without sanctions, Russia is cashing in on the détente with Iran.

China has been busy as well: Its current trade with Iran is estimated at 50 Billion dollars and China. Not only is China weary that a nuclear deal will divert business to other entrepreneurs, it want to increase trade to 60 Billion dollars.


Chasing Rainbows

rainbowAll is well and good as long as the Tehran’s nuclear and military ambitions don’t lead to an increase in sanctions and a military response. Within hours/days, Iran may turn into a war zone. This may not hurt military deals with Russia/China but this will definitely dampen the chances of cashing in on Iran.

And how will the governments working with Iran react to such a scenario? Specifically, how will Russia and China react? Is such a scenario probable? Depends on who you ask.

But what is certain, based on the backbiting following every nuclear deal with Iran, is that dealing with Iran is never as easy as it seems.


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