Who’s Afraid of Khatami?

A political storm is brewing in Iran surrounding two Iranian presidents: Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, a Reformist politician who was president for two terms from 1997 to 2005 and Hassan Rouhani, the current Reformist president of Iran.

The issue at hand is based a dubious media ban on publishing Khatami’s image or name instated earlier this year by the regime at the request of 10 hardliner MP’s last year which has been enforced even if its legality has been contested by Reformists including Rouhani himself. But the ramifications of the ban are much larger than the ban itself in view of the looming elections to the Iranian parliament and to the Assembly of Experts in 2015. If Rouhani and his fellow Reformists manage to muster enough electoral power in both bodies, Rouhani’s promises for sweeping social changes in Iran  have a chance at being fulfilled: A Reformist majority in parliament will allow Rouhani to initiate new laws that will promote more personal freedoms and a Reformist majority in the Assembly of Experts will affect the identity of the next Supreme Leader after Khamenei.

Khatami is not only a role model for Rouhani but his media ban is quickly becoming a rallying call by Rouhani for popular support by his electorate in the upcoming elections. It is Khatami’s role in the future, as Rouhani’s symbol for change, and not his past presidency that has made Khatami dangerous for Iran’s current hardline regime.

 

Khatami – his presidency and his downfall

Khatami was elected in a 70% landslide on a ticket of reform and liberalization, advocating freedom of expression, tolerance, a free market and what he called a diplomatic “Dialogue of Civilizations” with other nations, including Western countries.

He thought about running for president once again in the ill-fated 2009 elections which led to accusations of fraudulence when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won,  but withdrew before the elections in order to support his friend and fellow reformer, Mir-Hossein Mousavi who was subsequently placed under house arrest. His open criticism of the regime for veering away from “freedom, independence and progress” towards “mental habits of prejudice” and of Ahmadinejad during the election resulted in his being ostracized by the regime.

In 2013, he considered running once again for president but withdrew once more in order to support fellow Reformist, Hassan Rouhani, who went on to win the election under a ticket for change which reflected Khatami’s presidency: constructive engagement with the West, signing a nuclear deal and relief of sanctions, promotion of basic human rights and freedoms etc…

 

The questionable media ban on Khatami

Following is a shortened breakdown of the convoluted media ban on Khatami:

  • On July 8th 2014, in a move meant to hurt Rouhani, ten hardliner MP’s petitioned the minister of justice for a ban on publishing Khatami’s image or his name by the media – the ban was officially instated on February 16th 2015 and within 10 days two news websites, Jamaan and Bahar News, were blocked for ignoring the ban.
  • On June 13th 2015, Rouhani denied that such a ban even existed (“it’s a complete lie“) and questioned the legality of such a ban, stating that the creators of such a ban were “breaking the law and should be punished”.
  • On June 14th, a judiciary spokesman restated that, not only was the ban in existence by order of the Tehran prosecutor, but that any violation of the ban would “be dealt with”.
  • On June 15th 2015, Reformist Iranian MP Ali Motahari wrote a letter to the Tehran prosecutor questioning the legality of such a ban and requesting the prosecutor to explain which article of law was the basis for such a ban – the regime chose not to answer Motahari’s letter and once again, the issue of the ban was suppressed.
  • On December 6th 2015, Ettela’at, a reputable Iranian newspaper, ran an article based on an interview by Khatami to a Lebanese newspaper together with Khatami’s picture and its editor, Mahmoud Doaei was quickly summoned to the Special Clerical Court (twice) in what seems to be another violation of Iran’s laws since such cases should be brought to a court of justice and not the Special Clerical Court which is accountable to Supreme Leader Khamenei alone.
  • On December 14th 2015, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance which is responsible for monitoring the media in Iran stated that no such ban even existed and then once again, the story was buried.

 

So, who’s afraid of Khatami?

Khatami is not only a rallying call for Reformers but for hardliners as well who fear a surge in the power of Reformists in the upcoming elections. Following the signing of the JCPoA which signaled the return of Iran from its isolation and the opening of Iran’s economy and state to foreign investment and influence, or “Western infiltration”, as the hardliners call it, the hardliners understand that if the Reformist strengthen their position in parliament and the Assembly of Experts, more change is bound to come.

Subsequently, both elections have taken on a magnified importance but the election of the Assembly of Experts is seen as crucial by Reformists and hardliners as one: the purpose of the Assembly of Experts is to “elect, remove and supervise” the Supreme Leader of Iran. Rouhani himself, as well as fellow Reformist and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have signed up for these elections and Rafsanjani insinuated that the Assembly of Experts did not have to wait for Khamenei to die in order to choose another Supreme Leader – his suggestion was deemed “anti-regime” and “unconstitutional” by hardliners.

So, who’s afraid of Khatami? Every hardliner all the way up to Khamenei himself. Khatami not only represents, in their minds, a presidency in the past which tried to erode their Revolutionary hardline ideals but also the potential of Rouhani to complete what Khatami began in the future.

 

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Zarif’s Hypocrisy Increases


Iran’s FM Zarif has been known to “stretch the truth” or to “lie” in the past but it sems that lately, this tendency is growing.

Here are two examples of his hypocrisy from one interview that should remind us all that Zarif is a great diplomat but sincerety is not one of his best virtues.

Zarif Hypocrisy on Syria

 “I think another area of possible disagreement is that some of our friends continue to believe that there is a military solution…I think that’s an illusion. Of course there has to be a military element to this, but it has to be a political solution. And then we need to engage in a comprehensive approach to settle the problem of these extremist groups.”

3 Questions for Mr. Zarif:

  • Who are Zarif’s “friends”? Make no mistake, Zarif’s comment was taken as part of his attack on his “friend”, the US. That’s alright because the US and Iran may be friends according to the JCPoA but Tehran and Washington are far from being friends by definition from Zarif’s Supreme Leader, Mr. Ali Khamenei. Moscow, on the other hand, has quickly become Tehran BBFN (Best Friends For Now) and (surprise, surprise), is now the largest military influence in Syria…after Tehran, of course.
  • What is the definition of a “military element”? Tehran has backed Assad militarily from day one through its proxy militia, Hezbollah, and introduced Iranian military corps into Syria since 2012. Tehran’s military support includes delivering military supplies, operating military “advisors” including, Qassem Suleimani himself, the famed Qods chief, deploying untold thousands of IRGC troops and Iranian jets…all this to a tune of approximately $10 billion a year. Since Tehran’s military presence hasn’t stopped the Syrian civil war, it obviously wasn’t the “military solution” but it seems to be quite a big “element” even for Tehran.
  • Who are “these extremist groups”? The row over the list of terrorist groups in Syria is a snapshot of the difficulty in fighting terrorism. Tehran reacted harshly to the notion that Hezbollah and the IRGC would be considered as “terrorists/extremists” but has no problem in naming all of the Syrian rebel groups as “extremists”. It’s worth remembering that Tehran and Moscow are not really in Syria to beat ISIS but to help Assad beat his enemies which include legitimate Syrian rebels who are calling for his downfall and for free elections.

 

Zarif Hypocrisy on America

“Unfortunately, there are mixed signals coming from Washington, mostly negative signals, including the visa waiver program restrictions…Now we await for the decision by the administration on how it wants to bring itself into compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA“.

 

3 Questions for Mr. Zarif:

  • What about “mixed signals” from Tehran? Although Zarif tried to present a pro-Western stance since becoming foreign minister, he has repeatedly stated that relations with the US can never be normalized according to Iran’s Islamic Revolution’s ideals, that the US is the main cause for terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, that the US’s efforts to fight ISIS are merely a “show” and that the US has been deceitful in its accusations against Iran which led to the sanctions. It is noteworthy that Zarif even apologized for shaking Obama’s hand…
  • What about “negative signals” from Khamenei? Khamenei is not only Iran’s Supreme Leader but, following the signing of the JCPoA, he took over the implementation of the JCPoA and the foreign relations file from Rouhani. Unless Zarif is living on another planet, he is sure to know that Khamenei’s signals to Washington are all “negative” – he prohibited any further negotiations with the US, banned 225 American goods from the Iranian economy and repeatedly justified his paranoid fears of “US Infiltration” and the calls of “Death to America” and “Great Satan”.
  • What about Tehran’s “compliance and obligations under the JCPoA”? Whether Zarif wants to admit it or not, Iran’s missile tests are in direct contradiction to UN resolutions that preclude the JCPoA and are therefore an act of non-compliance. Furthermore, although the IAEA probe into Tehran’s past PMD of its nuclear program was buried in order to allow for the implementation of the JCPoA to , the report states that Tehran did not supply all of the required information requested.

The 7 Dangers of Doing Business in Iran

Since the negotiations for the JCPoA began, all of the eyes and hopes of Western businessmen were focused on reaping the profits of a booming Iranian economy after decades of sanctions. From a simple economic aspect, their hopes were legitimate since Iran’s economy was and remains vastly under-priced and it is, theoretically a huge consumer market as well as a huge basis for production.

Now that the IAEA’s probe into Tehran’s shady nuclear program has been buried and the implementation of the JCPoA is on track, sanctions are bound to gradually be lifted as early as January 2016 with hopes of a total removal of sanctions by mid-2016. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Iran isn’t just an economy: It is, first and foremost, a regime, fueled by ideals born in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and managed by hardliners who have built their power base during the years under sanctions. They may welcome the chance to make more money but they are worried that they might lose their power.

Here are seven specific dangers for foreign, specially Western, investors in Iran today.

 

  1. Tehran’s Notorious Red Tape:
    The Iranian bureaucracy is notorious for slowing down business development to a standstill unless money changes hands: Iran is rated 118th in the world’s economies for “ease of doing business” with an endless number of permits required for any business to move forward. Corruption, either through the IRGC or through other power bases is rampant and Western business people will have to get used to being extorted for more money in order to fulfill their dreams of hitting the Iranian jackpot.
  2. Partnering with IRGC:
    The IRGC is an integral part of the Iranian economy, just as the mafia was in Italy for decades, and it is hard to find a sector in which the IRGC isn’t active. Not only is it active in the regular economy, the IRGC is specially strong in the underground economy of smuggling, tax evasion, corruption etc… In fact, the IRGC’s power within the economy grew under sanctions and Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy” because only the IRGC had enough power to do businesses on both sides of the border of laws. The bottom line is that any foreign investor is bound to meet with the IRGC either as partners or as enemies – in both cases, more pockets to grease and the constant fear of suddenly being picked up for “interrogation”.
  3. Foreign “Infiltration” Paranoia:
    Khamenei is justifiably paranoid of allowing Western brands into Iran: It will be hard to maintain anti-US ideals while Iranians chew on their Big Macs, drive Chevrolets, communicate through facebook etc…Last week, Iran listed 227 US brands which are to be banned from the Iranian markets. For now, Khamenei’s focus is on the US brands but he is notoriously fickle and quick to anger: At any moment, he could decide to ban brands from any country depending on the political atmosphere – he has already criticized the governments of the UK, France and Germany…banning their brands is not inconceivable.
  4. Hardliner Crackdowns:
    Tehran has become a battleground for a growing rift with Rouhani on one side and Khamenei on the other. Rouhani’s camp is based on moderate pragmatism and promises for change in the nuclear program, foreign relations, the economy, human rights and freedoms etc… and is made up of Reformers, liberals and the popular vote (specially the younger voters). Khamenei’s camp is based on the IRGC, the regime, the Islamic Revolutionary ideals and the hope to maintain the status quo…it is made up of Principlists, hardliners and clerics. Western businesspeople will obviously prefer to deal with Rouhani’s base but they have to remember that Khamenei is the Supreme Leader and that crackdowns are taking place at this very moment and are sure to grow as elections in February loom closer.
  5. Moscow Gets VIP Treatment:
    It does not matter in which category your business is in, if there are Russian brands in the same category, they will be able to cut ahead of the line. The JCPoA opened the doors for Moscow and Tehran to become partners militarily, politically and economically: MoU’s are signed, deals are inked, loans are established, trading in local currencies are OK’ed…while the Western companies are circling around hesitantly, Russian companies are going straight for the kill.
  6. Snap-Back Sanctions:
    It seems a given that Iran will transgress some resolution or another – I has done so in the past as the IAEA nuclear probe proved, it is doing so in the present with missile tests, and it will continue to do so in the future if only to test the P5+1’s resolve. The chances are that the White House, for now, will not slap-back sanctions but another president and another administration may do so in the future. If sanctions are slapped back on, not only will the JCPoA be annulled but anyone doing business with Iran will find himself/herself on the US’s black list.
  7. Regional Conflicts:
    Iran and Saudi Arabia are two regional rivals who are already fighting each other in two proxy wars: One in Syria (Iran openly, Saudi Arabia covertly) and one in Yemen (Saudi Arabia overtly, Iran covertly). Tehran is also involved in subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE as well as in Iraq and Lebanon. Tehran is openly critical of Turkey and Saudi Arabia and its support of Assad in Syria has made it the enemy of all the Syrian rebels. ISIS is an open enemy of Tehran while the Taliban has now become Tehran’s ally. In short, the region is akin to a gigantic bonfire waiting for a spark. A regional war may very quickly turn into a global one as Russia, the EU and the US choose sides.

 

In short, investing in Iran at the moment may give a business an edge on those who will try to enter at a later date. But entering the Iranian economy now is a move for investors with steel nerves who are ready to walk away at any time and write off a loss.

In a recent survey by the CFA institute, 74% of the investors preferred to wait while only 26% were ready to jump in at the moment.

 

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Election Fever Rises in Tehran

Tehran is all abuzz over the upcoming elections to the Majlis (parliament) on February 26th and the elections to the Assembly of Experts on February 25th.

In the past, these elections garnered less interest than the presidential elections but the 2016 elections for both bodies have taken on a much larger political meaning as a result of the growing rift between the Reformists/moderates headed by President Hassan Rouhani and the Principlists/conservatives headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

Rouhani is betting all of his political power into translating the support that Iranian voters gave him to change the status quo in foreign relations, the nuclear file, the economy and human rights under Ahmadinejad into more power in the Majlis and in the Assembly of Experts.

Khamenei, on the other hand, had begrudgingly accepted the will and the hopes of the Iranian people in electing Rouhani for president and even voiced his support for Rouhani for over two and half years but has since demoted Rouhani by taking over the implementation of the JCPoA and the foreign relations file.

Both elections are crucial for Rouhani and Khamenei because they will determine whether Rouhani’s call for change will gain a second wind or will deflate under the weight of the hardliner regime.

 

The Majlis Elections

The big issue regarding the elections to the Majlis is the balance of power between the Reformists and the Principlists in the 290 seat parliament.

The 2008 Majlis elections resulted in 195 seats (67%) for Principlists, 51 seats (18%) for Reformists, 39 seats (13%) for Independents and 5 seats (2%) for Others.

This parliamentary election was followed by the heavily contested presidential elections in 2009 which led to Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The protests by Ahmadinejad’s political opponents, members of the Reformist Green Movement, resulted in riots and a crackdown leading to massive imprisonments for Iranian Reformists and house arrests for their leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

As a result, the current Majlis elected in 2012, has no real representation of Reformists since a) most Reformist candidates were disqualified by the Guardian Council which chooses which candidates can or cannot run for parliament and b) the Reformists decided to boycott the elections as a group. The results exemplified the misfortunes of the Reformists: the Principlists garnered 167 seats (58%) while the Reformists received only 26 seats (9%) with the rest of the seats split between the Independents (88 seats = 30) and Others (9 seats = 3%).

In contrast, the polls leading to the 2016 Majlis elections point to a massive strengthening of the Reformists in parliament: 133-145 seats (46%-50%) to Reformists and 122-125 seats (42%-43%) to the Principlists.

The possibility that the long-silenced Reformists may reach a majority in the Majlis threatens the power of the hardliners and the regime to the core: Islamic Revolutionary ideals will have to give way to more moderate views and the hardline regime, with Khamenei and the IRGC at its core, will undoubtedly fight to maintain its power.

 

The Assembly of Experts Elections

Unlike the Majlis members who are tasked with creating a wide variety of laws, the Assembly of Experts has a much more focused task: Its sole raison d’etre is to elect, remove and supervise the Supreme Leader in Iran. The scope of the power of the 88 men manning the Assembly of Experts is open to discussion since the relationship between the Assembly of Experts and their Supreme Leader is filled with ambiguous power plays.

The last elections for the Assembly of Experts took place in 2006 with the Principlists winning 59 seats (67%) and the Reformists winning only 29 seats (33%). Furthermore, the head of the Assembly of Experts, Mohammad Yazdi, is a staunch supporter of Khamenei and a harsh critic of Rouhani.

Rouhani and his mentor, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are eager to increase the power of the Reformists in the Assembly of Experts in order to be in a better position to elect a more moderate Supreme Leader after Khamenei. Rouhani and Rafsanjani were boosted by none other than Khomeini’s grandson, Hossein, who has criticized the hardliners and some of the more hardline decisions of Khamenei in the past. Khamenei, on his part, gave Khomeini a cautious “blessing” stating that “there is no problem (with your nomination), only be careful not to damage Khomeini’s name and respect”.

Since the first Supreme Leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, was succeeded only at his death and no Supreme Leader has ever been removed, there is an expectation that Khamenei will remain the Supreme Leader until his death as well. As such, the Assembly of Experts has nothing to do until then.

But Rouhani, Rafsanjani and Khomeini have boldly emphasized the supervising powers of the Assembly of Experts in an effort to effectively control Khamenei while he is still alive and possibly even choose a new Supreme Leader before Khamenei’s demise. The hardliners have openly criticized such calls as anti-regime and as unconstitutional.

 

Rouhani is calling for open and transparent elections, urging the governing bodies to not disqualify anyone wanting to run for elections based on political views. Rouhani is counting on his popularity and specially on the younger voters to extricate the regime out of it Islamic Revolutionist ideals and out of isolation. Khamenei, backed by the IRGC, the current Assembly of Experts, the Principlists and the hardliners prefer to maintain the status quo.

 

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Can Iranian Activism Succeed Where Rouhani Failed?

iranian activismThe post-JCPoA backlash against Rouhani should serve as a wake-up call for Iranian activists in Iran: the changes he promised won’t come from the presidency, the government, the parliament or the Supreme Leader – it will come only from the people.

Since the elections that brought Rouhani to the presidency, Iranian activists were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: Rouhani was not only categorized in Iran and around the world as a moderate, he also had promised far-reaching changes in foreign policy, in the economy and in human rights and freedoms. Protesting against Rouhani, therefore, would only weaken him and strengthen the hardliners who waited for him to stumble. For years, Iranian activism was sporadic and personal: no mass demonstrations , only isolated campaigns to support someone whose rights had been trampled on.

But the situation post-JCPoA is different in many ways: first and foremost, Rouhani has been demoted by none other than Khamenei himself: As the signing of the JCPoA loomed closer, Khamenei re-issued his “red lines” which, in some cases, contradicted the JCPoA itself and then restarted his anti-US campaign for fear of “Western infiltration”. Within weeks, he had taken over the implementation of the nuclear deal and Iran’s foreign policy off of Rouhani’s hands into his own. The hardliners took this move as a green light to bash Rouhani and the subsequent crackdown on Iranian activists was set in motion and in one of the strangest paradoxes ever, it was the Iranian people, the same people who voted for Rouhani who were paying a personal price for the signing of the JCPoA.

 

The Crackdown Grows Daily

Anyone who is seen to be criticizing the regime, in any form is quickly targeted by the IRGC: Journalists, poets, singers, bloggers, artists and activists were arrested along with numerous family members who came to visit their imprisoned dear ones. Beyond the harsh imprisonment itself, some of these “criminals” will faces the dreaded fate of interrogation, torture, sham trials, prison and perhaps even the gallows.

The hardliners feel the pressure of the upcoming parliamentary elections in February and the last thing they want are more moderates and liberals in parliament. The crackdown is meant to send a clear message to all the Iranians – Rouhani was a one-time slip and even he was “taken care of” by Khamenei himself. As such, any form of criticism against the regime, already deemed a sin by a mullah close to Khamenei, would not be tolerated. The Iranian population and the world would see a unified Iran following a unified regime based on the unified beliefs of the Islamic Revolution.

The hardliners only mirrored their Supreme Leader: a revolutionary at heart, Khamenei would not allow Western culture, ideas, brands and beliefs to contaminate the purity of the Islamic Revolution. He understood that it would be impossible to keep on chanting “Death to America” as a rally call to the faithful while they watched American sitcoms, wore Gap, chatted on facebook, drove Chevrolets and drank Coke. Khamenei is paranoid, but in this case, he is justifiably so.

The split between Khamenei and Rouhani only began to be seen in the last six months and specifically in two speeches: his “red lines” speech in which he dictated his demands to the Iranian negotiation team and his “foreign infiltration” speech in which he banned any negotiations and trade with the US. Both speeches were warning signs to Rouhani (it was either Khamenei’s way or the byway) and encouraging signs to hardliners.

 

Activism Grows Daily

Social activism has many faces and many levels of engagement: the range is huge from the “slacktivism” of clicking “like” or “share” on social media to bloody protests in the streets. Any statement which places the Iranian citizen in juxtaposition with the Iranian regime is seen as activism by the regime and is therefore activism.

The range of Iranian activism is huge:

There are is “sharing picture activism” as exemplified by the #dontjudgechallenge campaign which encourages people to share pictures from their ID’s besides updated portraits of themselves and the #mystealhyfreedom campaign which encourages women to share pictures of themselves without their hijabs are worrying the regime.

There are petitions such as the one signed by ninety Iranian journalists to free their four arrested colleagues, or human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, or women’s rights activist Bahareh Hedayat, or poets Fatima and Mehdi Mousavi and many many more.

Even the Tehran symphony Orchestra found a way to support activism by refusing to play a concert after hardliners objected to women musicians playing on stage.

And then there are the street protests which, for now, are run mainly by minorities in Iran such as the Azeri march following a racial slur on a children’s show on Iran’s state TV or Kurds who took to the street to protest the death of a young Kurdish maid who jumped out of a hotel window to her death to escape being raped by an Iranian official.

The road to freedom isn’t a straight highway – specially in Iran where the highways are blocked by the regime – and freedom is a destination that activists can reach through many paths. It is up to the Iranian people as well as human rights supporters from all over the world to stand up and face the oppressive regime.

 

The Time Is Now

There are, to date, approximately 900 prisoners in Iran whose only crime was to exercise their fundamental freedoms as citizens – the right to pray, to express their thoughts and feelings, to gather and to protest. Who is guilty for the imprisonment of these people? The easy answer would be “the regime” or the “IRGC” or even “Khamenei”.

Before you answer, let’s go back 50 years to the human rights movement in the US. On March 3ed, 1965, the Reverend Martin Luther King delivered a eulogy for Jimmy Lee Jackson, a Negro activist who was killed on “Bloody Sunday” by state troopers in Selma, Alabama. It’s a long and moving speech but the gist of it was simple: Yes, Jimmy was killed by a gun fired by a state trooper but this state trooper had “accomplices” – the sheriffs who broke the law “in the name of the law”, politicians who pandered hatred and racism to their voters, the government who chose not to protect civil rights but sent American soldiers to Vietnam, the white ministers who “remained silent” to racism and the cowardly Negros who “passively accept the evils of segregation and stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice”.

So, who is responsible for their imprisonment? It isn’t just the “bad guys” in the regime. It is all of the people who are allowing such a regime to trample on the basic freedoms and human rights of Iranians. Khomeini could never have led the Islamic Revolution in 1979 without the support of the Iranian people. It is now up to the Iranian people, once again, to rise up and demand their rights from a regime which is more “selectively obsessed with the oppressed“, which is more interested in supporting Assad and “freeing” Shiite Bahrainis and Yemenites instead of supporting and freeing its own populace.

Iranian activists must find a common cause with two very large groups of Iranian citizens who are systematically oppressed: women and religious minorities.

Women are probably the largest group of oppressed Iranians and they are discriminated against legally and socially – they are under strict dress code laws, are banned from watching sports, are severely under-represented in government offices, are last in line for vaccines etc…

Religious minorities make up for approximately 39% of the Iranian population: these include Azeris, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, and many more. All are persecuted by the regime in one way or another.

A “coalition” of activists, women and religious minorities would send a clear message to the regime: Game over and time for a restart.

 

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IAEA PMD Report Swept Under JCPoA Rug

The latest IAEA report on the Possible Military Dimension (PMD) in Tehran’s nuclear program is conclusive on three critical points:

  • Tehran is guilty of past PMD development: The report shows unequivocally that Tehran did try to develop nuclear weapons between the years 2003 and 2009.
  • Tehran consistently lied about PMD’s in the past: The report is a direct attack on all of the denials by Iranian leaders and the credibility of Khamenei’s much touted and suspicious “nuclear fatwa”.
  • Tehran is still evading issues on its past PMD: The report outlines that many questions remain unanswered by Tehran regarding key issues regarding militarizing its nuclear program.

And yet, this report is to be swept under the rug in a united effort by the UN, the US and Tehran in order to justify and to implement the JCPoA – it will be conveniently buried and will only resurface as an inconvenient reminder if or when Tehran does finally build a nuclear bomb.

 

IAEA PMD Report: Tehran Lied

There are many inconclusive parts to the IAEA report: There is much evidence that is lacking and some evidence could actually point to a non-PMD possibility. And yet, the IAEA makes it clear that Tehran, at least in the past, did try to develop nuclear weapons and that, therefore, Tehran has consistently lied in regards to PMD of its nuclear program:

  • Testing detonators: 79. “The Agency assesses that explosive bridgewire (EBW) detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device“.
  • Hydrodynamic tests in Parchin: 80. “The information available to the Agency…does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building. The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification“.
  • Computer modeling of Explosions: “…The Agency assesses that Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009“.
  • Missile delivery systems: 82. “The Agency has verified the existence in Iran of two of the workshops referred to in the alleged studies documentation on the integration into a missile delivery vehicle, but has not received any other information on this area since the 2011 Annex“.
  • Arming tests: 83. “The Agency has not received information additional to that contained in the alleged studies documentation on conducting a test or on fuzing, arming and firing systems since the 2011 Annex“.
  • Pre-2003 program: 84. “The Agency assesses that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device“.

The Iranians will be quick to point out that there is no “smoking gun”, only “possible” and “probable” facts which could be construed as evidence and yet one conclusion cannot be escaped: all the Iranian leaders who continuously denied any PMD in Tehran’s nuclear program probably lied (it is impossible to prove whether they knew all the facts or not) and Khamenei definitely lied when he issued his “nuclear fatwa” (it is impossible to believe that he did not know about these experiments).

 

So Tehran Lied and Cheated…Now What?

head_in_the_sand_maskThe report makes it clear that Tehran has cheated and lied in the past but just as in a case of a cheating spouse, this doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a “divorce”. Some might say that people can’t change and as such, Tehran should never be trusted in the future. Others will point out that the fact that a spouse cheated in the past is secondary to the ability of the couple to live a long and prosperous life together. And still others will rightfully point out that the comparison of Tehran’s PMD’s to a cheating spouse breaks down the minute someone new comes into power. Who’s right? Only time can tell.

Khamenei was caught lying and will probably never change his ways but Khamenei is an old man and will soon pass on his Supreme Leadership to someone else who may not harbor aspirations to militarize Tehran’s nuclear program.

Is Tehran to be trusted under the JCPoA? The definite answer is “NO”: The P5+1 should do all it can to not take Tehran at is word and to demand all the necessary information and access required to make sure that Tehran doesn’t build a nuclear bomb.

Will the JCPoA ensure that Tehran won’t build a nuclear bomb? The definite answer is, once again, “NO”: According to all the IAEA reports, including the last, Tehran is still not providing all the information and the accesses necessary to rule out any possible PMD and it is hard to believe that it will do so in the future.

 

The IAEA Report is Dead, Long Live the JCPoA

The overall consensus among the UN, Washington and Tehran is to put Tehran’s shadowy lies in the past and to focus on a brighter future by implementing the JCPoA, the fruit of thousands of hours of negotiations.

This is definitely understandable in regards to Tehran’s wish to look forward since it has the most to gain from the lifting of sanctions. Rehashing accusations of its past is not productive to leading Iran out of its isolation.

Burying the doubts of past PMD infringements by Iran is also understandable among the many countries who want to exploit Iran’s untapped markets and its military-political power post-JCPoA. There is a lot of untapped power and money in Iran and unless a regional/global war erupts, many people are keeping their eyes locked on future prizes instead of looking back doubtfully to the past.

Even Washington, the biggest loser of the nuclear deal (it not only lost face and power, it will be banned from reaping the potential of the Iranian markets) is focusing to the prospects of a better future. Washington’s stance is best understood through Kerry’s thoughts following the damning IAEA report: “Nobody has had any doubts whatsoever about Iran’s past military endeavors. From the get-go, we have consistently said we know that Iran was pursuing a nuclear project” but what really mattered now was “making certain that none of whatever happened in the past can happen going forward into the future”.

Tehran may huff and puff over the accusations on its nuclear past and critics of the nuclear deal are sure to brandish the IAEA report as proof that the JCPoA is built on shaky ground but the JCPoA is a done deal which none of its creators want to undo. May history prove them right.

 

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Khamenei’s Glass House Syndrome on Terrorism

Despite Tehran’s repeated calls to eradicate terror and its efforts to blame the West for any and all forms of terrorism, it continues to support its own terrorist cells and militias. This doesn’t come as a surprise to many who didn’t buy Rouhani’s rebranding of Iran as a champion against terrorism through his WAVE (World Against Extremism and Violence) initiative but it should act as a warning sign for those who did.

Tehran, of course, denies any connection to terroristic activity and even when the connection is accepted, as in the case of Tehran’s support for Hezbollah’s military factions, Tehran simply redefines terrorism to suit its agenda.

The problem is not only whether Tehran supports terrorism or not (it does), but the hypocritical rhetoric that exemplifies its stance on terrorism: last week, Khamenei once again, addressed the “Western youth” inviting them “reconsider the threat of terrorism in the world, its roots and to find a deep insight into Islam“. Of course, he blamed the US for the wave of global terrorism and didn’t mention once Tehran’s support in the past nor in the present for terrorism on a global scale.

Tehran was, remains and will probably continue to be addicted to terrorism and this should be a warning to Kahmenei: Mr. Khamenei, people who live in glass houses should be weary of throwing stones at others.

 

The Paradox of ISIS


ISIS is, paradoxically, Tehran’s ticket to becoming a champion against terrorism: the horror of ISIS is so great that all other forms of terrorism seem to pale next to it. And since Tehran is supposedly fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, Tehran acquired the legitimacy it sought to cross the fence from supporting terror to fighting against terror.

Iranian politicians, such as parliament chief Larijani,  love to point out that the US coalition against ISIS is not only ineffective, it is simply “a game the US follows to achieve its interests“. On the other hand, Iranians love to point out that Russia is doing a great job at fighting ISIS even though evidence is mounting that Moscow is targeting legitimate Syrian rebels and civilians alongside as well as ISIS.

And yet, there is no hard evidence that Tehran is actually fighting ISIS on any front. Yes, Tehran supports Assad in the civil war against his enemies, which include ISIS amongst all the other rebel factions, but there is a distinct lack of information regarding exactly how Tehran is fighting ISIS.

Tehran gladly presents ISIS in a black & white manner, latching on to the fact that ISIS was developed in an American run prison in Iraq and that the US supported rebels who then joined ISIS, making the US the “bad guy” to Assad’s and Iran’s “good guys”. The truth is not so black and white and is closer to a butterfly effect with many variables including US foreign policy, the invasion of Iraq, the birth of Hezbollah, the Islamic revolution, Assad gaining power, the Iran-Saudi conflict etc…

Iranian troops are fighting in Syria alongside Tehran’s proxy Hezbollah but they aren’t really targeting ISIS – if they had, they would have gladly bragged about any victories against ISIS.

 

Terrorist Cells on a Global Scale


Tehran is continuously meddling in other countries’ politics. Of course, Tehran doesn’t call this meddling and prefers to call its activity “support for the oppressed”. Bahrain is a classic case of Iranian meddling mixed with terror: Last week, Khamenei included in his speech the ending support by Tehran for the “oppressed” people in “Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Iraq“. Were Tehran’s activity limited to rhetoric, one could discount such statements as simply politics. Unfortunately for Bahrain, this is not the case. In fact, Manama busted an Iranian-backed terrorist cell “aimed at overthrowing the country’s pro-Western ruling monarchy“. Once again, Tehran denied and accused Manama of playing a “blame-game“.

The same “story” has now developed in Kenya: Two Kenyan Iranians,  Abubakar Sadiq Louw and Yassin Sambai Juma, were recently arrested in Nairobi for charges of “conspiring to mount terror attacks” and recruiting local terrorists to do so. Not only was Iran implicated as supporting this cell financially, one of the terrorists is reported to have been trained in Iran. Tehran quickly denied the allegations. But then, Tehran denied similar accusations regarding another busted terrorist cell in Kenya back in 2012.

Perhaps Tehran may be right about not being involved with an isolated case here or there – but evidence of Iranian backing for local terrorists intent on overthrowing their governments has surfaced in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Yemen, to name a few. Are they all simply bogus accusations or is Iran, once agains throwing stones from a glass house?

 

Terrorist Militias in Proxy Wars

In the case of supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Tehran chooses to spin terrorists as freedom fighters. To be honest, Tehran is not the first to activate such spins: most countries that supported or support terrorism often did/do the same since it is quite easy to do. Unlike ISIS, Hezbollah is not designated as a terrorist organization by all countries which simplifies the spin: If Hezbollah is not recognized as a terrorist organization in Tehran, Bangkok or Beijing, then claiming that they are freedom fighters can be legitimate.

The fact that Hezbollah often terrorize their enemies, killing and maiming civilians, is deemed irrelevant and is compared to the activities of armies such as the US or Israel. Once again, the problem lies within the subjective definitions of who is a terrorist and what is terrorism.

Since this is a subjective perspective, one must resort to a simple “for” or “against” definition: if the terroristic activity is targeting you, it is terrorism.

Tehran accuses the West of supporting terrorist militias such as ISIS and denies that the militias supported by Tehran are terrorists. The West says the exact opposite.

The bottom line is that Tehran supports Hezbollah which is linked to numerous terrorist attacks or terrorist attempts in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Argentina, Turkey, Cyprus Egypt, Singapore, Bulgaria, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, India etc…including two hijackings of planes (TWA 847 and AC 901).

Lots of stones for someone living in a glass house…

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