Lebanon & Iraq Resist Becoming Iran’s Provinces

Iran may have come out of global isolation as a result of the nuclear deal but its expansionist ideals are increasing its isolation within the region. As was outlined in previous posts, Tehran’s dedication to “Export the Revolution” has led it to meddle in local politics of its neighbors. Tehran’s efforts have been vigorously resisted by the Gulf States but the resistance now includes countries which were once content to accept Tehran’s rule. Specifically, calls to thwart Tehran’s meddling are now emanating from two allies who fear that their countries are de facto “provinces” of Iran: Lebanon and Iraq.

Tehran may have discounted the resistance from countries who are siding with its regional arch enemy, Saudi Arabia, but it must have been taken off-guard from the resistance from its staunch allies. But both Lebanon and Iraq have finally come to understand that being a “province” of Iran could be detrimental to their countries’ future if they have to choose between Iran and the support of the rest of the Arab world. In fact, the resistance is becoming sectarian in its nature pitting the loyalty to Iran against loyalty to other Arab nations, or in other words, the centuries-old Shiite-Sunni divide. This development is all the more extreme in view of Tehran’s continuous calls for Islamic unity and a Global Islamic Awakening with Tehran as the role model.

What was long denied by Tehran is finally coming to light: Iran’s neighbors may or may not want to be allies with Tehran but they certainly do not want to become an extension of Tehran’s regime.

 

The Arab-Iran Divide

The catalyst for this growing divide is based on four developments over the past few years: 1) Tehran’s ever-growing involvement in Syria by backing Bashar Al Assad in his civil war,  2) Tehran’s backing of Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government, 3) the signing of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 which successfully opened the doors of Iran to the world and 4) Tehran’s self-acclaimed war against terrorism. Saudi Arabia was frustrated by all three developments since the first meant that Damascus was de facto under Tehran’s rule, the second was an attempt to do the same in Yemen, the third because a large part of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies were now siding with Iran and the fourth because it is simply an excuse to send in military aid to Syria and Iraq.

The Arab-Iran or Sunni-Shiite rift is growing despite Iran’s repeated calls for Islamic unity and the rhetoric that had once been nationalistic is now becoming more sectarian. Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, the Interior minister of Bahrain spells it out clearly: “Bahrain is an Arab state and will remain an Arab state“.

Saudi Arabia decided to stop watching from the sidelines and came to the aid of the Yemenite government against the Houthis and has stated that it plans to send Saudi troops to fight in Syria. And then, Riyadh made another dramatic move by retrieving its $4 billion military aid to Lebanon and here too, the sectarian rhetoric is clear: “The GCC regretfully believes that Lebanon’s decision (to ally with Iran) became hostage to foreign regional interests and goes against the Arab national security“. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia made it clear that it clearly views Hezbollah as a terrorist militia fighting under the auspices of Tehran and that it will not allow Hezbollah’s impact on the Syrian civil war backing Bashar al-Assad nor Hezbollah’s backing of Houthi rebels in Yemen to repeat itself in other states.

The reactions from Lebanon quickly picked up this theme as prominent Lebanese politicians blasted the overbearing influence of Hezbollah/Iran in the country since it has led to Lebanon being isolated from its Arab allies. Lebanon’s Justice Minister, Ashraf Rifi, resigned claiming that “there is an armed party (Hezbollah) that is dominating (Lebanon’s) governments decisions“. Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora made it clear that “we refuse to turn Lebanon into a base to be used for animosity of Arab states or to interfere in their internal affairs”. Notice, once again, how he pits Iran against the Arab states. Another former prime minister of Lebanon echoed this sentiment: “We will not allow anyone to pull Lebanon to the camp of hostility toward Saudi Arabia and its Arab brothers. Lebanon will not be, under any circumstances, an Iranian province. We are Arabs, and Arabs we shall remain“.

Criticism against Iran is also emanating from much closer quarters, from within Hezbollah itself: Subhi al-Tufayli, Hezbollah’s first secretary-general blasted Hezbollah chiefs for “serving the interests of Tehran and “the Russian conqueror” rather than the Lebanese people“. He called on Hezbollah to leave Syria immediately but acquiesced that such a move would be highly unlikely since it is against the agenda of Iran in Syria.

Another unpleasant surprise for Tehran came from Baghdad, one of its staunchest allies: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, a Shiite himself, spoke out against Tehran’s military interference in Iraq. Technically, Iranian troops and “advisers” are operating in Iraq in an effort to wipe ISIS out but Al Abadi wasn’t pleased by the fact that this fight was managed by Shiite militias in Iraq and not by Iraq’s army. Furthermore, he took offense to Iranian Qods Chief Qassem Suleimani’s “bossy manner as if Iraq was an Iranian protectorate”. In fact, he even objected to Suleimani’s landing in Baghdad without prior permission. The result of Al Abadi’s frustrations is that Suleimani hasn’t been to Iraq for the past six months and his pictures and posters in the battlefield have been removed.

The extent of the antagonism felt by the Arab states neighboring Iran in regards to Tehran’s expansionism is spilling over into the rest of the Arab world: Morocco was supposed to host the Arab League summit but decided to cancel it because such a summit  would “falsely imply unity and solidarity among Arab states” when crucial answers are needed to address events in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Palestine.

The power struggle initiated by Tehran’s expansionism is rapidly coming to a boil and Tehran has to plan its next move wisely. For now, Tehran continues to deny its meddling efforts to create a “Shiite Crescent” in the region and is content to maintain its course by repeating its support for Assad and for the Houthis and by offering Lebanon military support. To make matters worse, Tehran continues to deny deploying Iranian troops in Syria (“no Iranian boots” on Syrian soil says FM Javad Zarif, only “advisers”) when a) the number of Iranian casualties keeps rising and is estimated at 300 and b) Hezbollah is simply Iran’s version of a “foreign legion”.

Instead, Tehran should seriously defuse the tension in the region by curtailing its expansionist attitudes to its neighbors and it should begin by ditching Assad because as long as Tehran is backing Assad, neighboring Arab states will continue to view Iran as an immediate threat. The bottom line is that Iran may have come out of isolation vis-à-vis the West but it is finding itself isolated by its Arab neighbors and its own allies.

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FIVB Bamboozled by Iran in Gender Segregation Issue

The issue of allowing Iranian women to cheer on their sports teams from the stadiums was reignited at the Kish Island Open leg of the Beach Volleyball World Tour last week: Despite assurances by the local authorities, women who came to the stadium were not allowed to enter and were forced to view the tournament from a cafeteria or from its rooftop.

This ongoing saga regarding the demands by Iranian authorities to segregate the stadiums and the demands by international sports organizations to allow women to cheer on their teams is a snapshot of the problems of diplomacy with Iran: The local authorities agree to any stipulations by the sports organizations and then simply renege on these agreements in real-time.

It may seem impossible to change the segregation laws in Iran, perhaps rightly so since this is an internal issue, but if Iran wants to host international tournaments, it must acquiesce to international laws or not host the games at all.

 

Segregation in stadiums

volley ball 3Why the fuss? Apart from the fact that gender segregation is a basic Islamic law to separate women from men in public places, the authorities fear that women may drop into immorality from watching men playing sports. Women have been barred from football stadiums since the Islamic Revolution. In 2012, the authorities added volleyball, a very popular sport in Iran, to the sports that cannot be viewed by women from the stadiums.

The issue of gender segregation on volleyball games rose to headlines in June  2014 when Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian activist was arrested for trying to attend a volleyball game. She was released six months later on bail but was forced to serve a two-year travel ban. Ghavami’s arrest led the World Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) to ban Iran from hosting international volleyball tournaments in the future. The message was clear according the FIVB spokesman: The FIVB will “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”.

The local authorities resorted to some basic haggling: “some” women, specially foreign nationals in Iran, would be allowed.

Not good enough, answered the FIVB: “The FIVB has been informed that there is no change to Iran’s previous decision to ease its ban on women attending sporting events…(and) 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.”

Tehran seemed to weaken and added that other women, family members of the players, could attend as well.

The FIVB relented and the game between Iran and the USA was scheduled to take place in June 2015. Two hundred tickets were set aside for women but as they approached the stadium, they were prevented from entering. In fact, Ansar-e Hezbollah, a religious vigilante group, handed out fliers which made its position clear: “We are taking a stand against legalizing the presence of prostitutes… in stadiums…this Friday there will be blood“.

Iran’s vice president, Shahindokt Molaverdi, a woman who is in charge of “family matters” criticized the authorities’ actions loudly with special attention to the “crowd of sanctimonious people who published one notice after another denouncing the modest and decent girls and women of this land (and who)used obscene and disgusting insults that only befit themselves“.

Her criticism fell on deaf ears, as did campaigns to allow women into stadiums, such as this one from Human Rights Watch, #Watch4Women in Iran – https://www.hrw.org/watch4women.

 

The Case of Kish Island

On February 7, 2016, the FIVB announced that the Kish Island Open tournament “will be open to fans from all age groups and genders. This will include families and women”.

The reality of the situation became clear at the stadium as women were forbidden to enter. As one woman recounted: “We went there and a security [officer] told me, ‘Where are you going? I said, ‘Watching matches’. He said: ‘It’s forbidden.'”

The FIVB issued a rosy statement deeming the tournament a “success” but FIVB spokesman Richard Baker must have been at a loss for good excuses when he said that “there were some misunderstandings with regard to security“. Security? How do women fans in a stadium represent a threat to “security”?

Baker then added that “there have been misunderstandings throughout the day, and we have had to seek clarification,” but the Iranian federation “has the best intentions but there are cultural issues”.

Baker should have understood that the problem is not one of “security” but one of “policy”: Tehran will never give up its Islamist principles from pressure from abroad.

Some blamed the FIVB for lying in regards to the issue but it is much more probable that the FIVB’s main crime was to naively believe the promises from Tehran. In any case, the FIVB must decide whether it should allow tournaments to be held in Iran in the future or not. Just in case the guys at the FIVB didn’t understand until now, the Iranians are notorious for their negotiation skills. In fact the similarities between the issue of gender segregation at volleyball games closely mirrors the negotiations and the signing of the JCPoA: The Western authorities make demands, Tehran haggles and sticks to its guns, allows some theoretical leeway and then does whatever it wants in the end because there is little room to argue with issues such as “security”.

 

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Amnesty on Iran’s Flawed Judicial Processes

Last week, Amnesty issued a report which blasted Iran’s legal structures. The 87 page report can be summarized in one word, “INADEQUATE”, but anyone interested in Iran’s human rights should read the whole report to get an idea of just how inadequate Iran’s legal system really is.

The bottom line is that although the constitution in Iran clearly states that all Iranians are equal under the law and that they all have the right to a fair trial, the reality is that the judicial system Iran is filled with by laws which effectively cancel these constitutional rights and that Iranians who are suspected of crimes which are anti-Islamic or anti-regime are legally deprived of their constitutional rights.

Following are the summaries of the basic flaws ingrained within the judicial system as outlined in the report:

  • Legally Undefendable Crimes: One of the biggest problems within Iran’s judicial system is the ability to define crimes that, although purposefully vague, are the basis to extinguish the rights of the accused. Crimes defined as “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “insulting the Prophet of Islam”, “enmity against God”, “corruption on earth”, “apostasy”, national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” are definite “go to jail” crimes that are punishable by death and that “legally” allow the system to deprive the defendants of their constitutional rights. These “crimes” are slapped on to anyone who criticizes Islam or the regime, including journalists, artists, bloggers, lawyers, activists, religious minority leaders, politicians etc…Once such a crime has been defined, the chances of acquittal dropt to a near zero percent.
  • Legalized Illegal Arrests: Although the constitution and criminal codes of law offer many rights to people who are arrested, in reality, these rights can easily be circumvented. Suspects don’t have the right to an explanation of their arrest or of their rights. They don’t enjoy the right to be brought before a judge but can file a complaint to the investigator and they can be held in jail before trial for up to two years. They can be denied of their rights to access a lawyer indefinitely and can be forced to choose a lawyer from a restricted list supplied by the investigator. Furthermore, lawyers are forbidden to “intervene in court until “the end of the investigations” and can be forbidden to speak during interrogations of the suspect. Detentions prior to formal charges can be extended legally up to one month but the detention can be extended by a judge without further explanation. Meetings with lawyers can also be monitored and the defendant has little room to demand for more time to present an adequate defense. And if you happen to be a foreign national, the rights to communicate with representatives of your government are non-existent.
  • Limited Ability to Fight Back: The law in Iran allows for defendants to file suits demanding reparations only in regards to the conviction itself. This means that defendants can’t sue for the treatment they received during their arrest, detention or incarceration, however horrible it may have been. To make things worse, the law precludes the option for reparation in cases where defendants refused to provide evidence to prove their innocence or if they were arrested for another legal reason or if they “facilitated the conditions of their own arrest” for illegitimate reasons. These broad definitions in fact minimize the chance of defendants who were wrongly accused, wrongly arrested, wrongly imprisoned and, of course, wrongly mistreated to ever obtain financial or other forms of compensation.
  • Torture is not a Crime: Although various forms of torture such as flogging, amputation, blinding, gouging eyes etc…are legal forms of punishment, torturing a suspect or a prisoner is not a crime. Detainees of “special crimes” often undergo torture, ill-treatment, humiliation and degradation before and after their trials and have no legal way to prosecute their torturers. Torture is actually legalized by the constitution “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information” which has led to the use of torture to elicit forced and public confessions. Sexual harassment of the defendants by state officials also falls in legal grey areas: If a defendant was raped by a state official while under detention or incarceration, he or she may file a lawsuit as in any other case of rape but cases of “minor” sexual harassment such as forced nakedness, kissing, groping etc…have no chance of being brought to trial.
  • Partial Impartiality Under the Law: The constitution itself allows the courts to be partial to selected groups of people: women are legally discriminated in courts (their rights are legally half of their male counterparts) as are non-Muslims. But the partiality of the court begins with the judges themselves: women and minorities cannot become judges and judges can be dismissed based on anti-Islamic or anti-regime behavior. Once the trial is underway, it can be arbitrarily held behind closed doors and confessions, forced or real, hold more weight than evidence which is obtained legally or illegally. Even appeals are treated with partiality since the decision of the higher court may be reversed by the original court which issued the conviction. Furthermore, a defendant doesn’t have the rights de facto to be present during his/her own trial.
  • Sex is Punishable by Death: While Iranian leaders continue to deny this fact, it is not only illegal to be gay in Iran, it is punishable by death. Strangely enough, in the case of male homosexuals, the law differentiates between active and passive partners when it comes to the punishment: Passive homosexuals are to be punished by death while active homosexuals are punished by flogging unless the intercourse is by force or the active homosexual is no-Muslim. Female homosexuality is punished by flogging but in cases of both men and women, gays who are repeat offenders (convicted 4 times) face the death penalty. Illicit relations between men and women, including “kissing and sleeping under one cover” is punishable by flogging or the death penalty.

The report goes into many details regarding each of the inadequacies but the point becomes clearer with each sentence: the judicial system in Iran is intrinsically flawed and the freedoms outlined in the constitution are repeatedly and easily trampled on through sub laws or laws that allow the investigative and judicial authorities leeway to do so.

What makes this report harder to swallow is that all of these trampled freedoms continue to occur under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a self-proclaimed and internationally branded “moderate” who promised to increase the freedoms of Iranians. And if you think that after Supreme Leader and hardliner Ali Khamenei passes on things might get better, it might be worthwhile to remember that the leading candidate to replace him is none other than Iran’s judicial chief Sadeq Larijani who also happens to be the brother of Iran’s chief of human rights, Javad Larijani. In other words, change can not be expected to happen in the near future,

 

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Tehran to EAT & KEEP its cake

Saudi Arabia dropped the proverbial bomb last week when it declared that it planned to send its own troops into Syria to fight ISIS. The Saudis motives to do so are probably based on two key issues:

  • Riyadh wants to be seen as the champion against terror and not the entity supporting terrorists. If this sounds familiar to you, it is: that is the exact same strategy that President Hassan Rouhani led successfully for Iran.
  • Riyadh doesn’t want to leave the Syrian fields at the mercy of Iran and its close allies, Bashar al-Assad, Iraq and Russia. By placing its troops in Syria, it can help the legitimate Syrian rebels fight back while fighting ISIS at the same time.

The Saudi move clearly caught Tehran off guard because it threatens to undo a lot of hard work that the Iranians have been executing for years:

  • For years, Tehran has supported Assad financially, politically and militarily without any regard to the fact that a) he refused to hold free elections after he inherited his presidency from his father and b) he represents a minority of Syrians.
  • For years, Tehran has rebranded itself as the regional champion against terrorism/ISIS despite the fact that a) Tehran continues to support terrorist militias in many countries in the region and b) its support of Assad has resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.
  • For years, Tehran has claimed that its presence in Syria is solely to fight ISIS when in reality a) Tehran doesn’t differentiate between ISIS and other legitimate Syrian rebels and b) Tehran’s record of victories in fighting ISIS is non-existent.

Riyadh tired of being labeled the sole supporters of terrorism while Tehran seemed to literally get away with murder, of watching Tehran control the destiny of Syrians while preaching to the world that only Syrians should control their destiny, of sitting idly by while legitimate Syrian rebels which Saudi Arabia supported were destroyed by the unique coalition of Assad, Tehran, Hezbollah and Russia and of being accused of unjustly fighting a war in Yemen to help the government against Shiite Houthi rebels while Tehran was doing the same on a bigger scale in Syria. Riyadh tired of Tehran’s double standards and finally called its bluff.

No serious analyst can even begin to predict the outcome of Saudi Arabian boots hitting Syrian soil because the region is so volatile that anything can happen.

But one thing is certain: Tehran is justifiably worried.

 

Zarif, the master of hypocrisy

Not surprisingly, Iranian FM Javad Zarif is sparing no adjectives in blasting the Saudi move: It is “childish“, an “illusion“, “propaganda slogans“, a “bluff” etc… while at the same time repeating over and over again that the fate of Syria should be left in Syrian hands and that “foreigners” should butt out. Were Zarif the foreign minister, say, Sweden or Switzerland, his remarks could be accepted wholeheartedly but the problem is that Zarif is the FM of Iran which just happens to be militarily involved in the civil war in Syria for the past 4 years on Assad’s side. Furthermore, Tehran has restated over and over again that it will continue to support Assad up to the end and Zarif even added that Iran won’t allow the Syrian rebels, Assad’s and therefore Iran’s enemies, to regroup.

Zarif’s statements are hypocritical on 3 counts:

  1. If he believes that Saudi Arabia’s willingness to send troops to Syria is “childish”, an “illusion” or a “propaganda slogan”, why does he believe that the deployment of Iranian troops and proxies in Syria is legitimate? The answer is simple: Tehran is dedicated to “Export the Revolution” and Assad, an Alawite closely related to Shiism is a perfect candidate to help it do so.
  2. If he believes that “foreigners” should leave Syria’s destiny to Syrians, why does he believe that Iran’s financial, political and military support for Assad are legitimate? The answer here is simple as well: Tehran isn’t a “foreigner” in Syria…in fact, it wants to turn Syria into a “province” of Iran just as it did with Lebanon.
  3. If he believes that Syrians should choose their own destinies, why is he supporting a man who refused to hold free elections and who doesn’t represent most of the Syrian people? Once again, the answer is simple: Tehran doesn’t give a damn about the “Syrian” people – it only cares about the minority of Syrians supporting Assad.

Zarif is deservedly credited for being an ace diplomat but his diplomatic skills all too often lead him to blatant hypocrisy and lies, but always with a smile J. He has been caught in his web of lies repeatedly over the past but he has always managed to cover them with his smile and his success in leading the way to a nuclear deal. Once the Saudis enter Syria, you can expect him to profusely accuse Riyadh for a number of “crimes” while ignoring the fact that Tehran has been doing so for over 4 years.

 

From regional rivals to war

The regional rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran has escalated dramatically over the past two and half years. Before that, Iran had remained in its sanctioned isolation while Saudi Arabia enjoyed the open support of the West. The elections of President Hassan Rouhani triggered a massive change which has resulted in dramatic about-face in the region. Rouhani’s “constructive engagement” with the West lead to the long awaited nuclear deal, the removal of sanctions and mega-billion dollar deals with the EU and a close alliance with Russia. Furthermore, his efforts at rebranding Iran as a champion against terrorism, and Saudi Arabia as the champion of terrorism, miraculously succeeded .

Tehran’s successes in all these areas raised the pressure on Saudi Arabia alarmingly. Not only do the Saudis doubt the efficacy of the nuclear deal in preventing Tehran form militarizing its nuclear program they suddenly found themselves under persistent criticism for supporting Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq and for fighting Houthis in Yemen. To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia came under attack from Iran in regards to human rights and sectarian violence after executing a Shiite rabble-rouser accused of instigating subversion and terrorism.

Riyadh and Tehran are already involved unevenly in two proxy wars: Riyadh supports Syrian rebels while Tehran is openly fighting in the war in Syria while Tehran supports Houthi rebels while Riyadh is openly fighting in the war in Yemen. If and when Saudi troops hit the ground in Syria, these uneven proxy wars could quickly escalate into an all-out proxy war in Syria, a similar war in Yemen, a possible similar war in Iraq and then, possibly  a direct war between Tehran and Riyadh.

 

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EU Red Carpets Hide Blood Stains


The red carpet treatment offered to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, by heads of state in Europe is justified from a diplomatic and economic perspective: The JCPoA has brought Tehran out of its isolation and many states are looking at Iran with renewed interest as a base to make money or to increase political influence. Rouhani’s tour in Italy and France yielded billion dollar deals and a direct connection between these countries and Iran and Rouhani is set to visit Belgium and Austria in the near future and, if all goes well, other European states are bound to roll out the red carpet for him at later dates. “Doing business” with Iran is, for now, a very profitable venture in view of the fact that Iran is now flush with cash and has an economy which is thirsty for Western products and investments.

Unfortunately, these red carpets and the billion dollar deals resulting from them are also covering blood stains of victims who are repeatedly trampled under by the regime in Tehran:  Thousands of Iranians are incarcerated or executed for criticizing the regime or for simply demanding basic freedoms not awarded to them as minorities oppressed by the regime while untold tens of thousands are killed or wounded in wars and subversive efforts which Tehran is aggressively supporting in the region and around the world.

The burning question remains whether the Western countries who want to do business with Iran have a responsibility to pressure Iran into complying with Western standards of human rights or not? Obviously, these governments and corporations who are rolling out the red carpets for Rouhani would rather turn a blind eye to the suffering of the victims of the regime. In order to effectively do so, they justify their actions by pointing out that they are already “doing business” with countries with human rights records similar to Iran, by claiming that by “doing business” with Iran they will empower Rouhani’s “moderate” viewpoint or by simply stating that “it’s just business” and if they don’t do it, others will. This may help them sleep better at night but their denials will certainly not help the victims of the regime survive.

 

Iran’s Overbearing Quest for Respect

Obtaining respect and dignity is at the core of the Islamic Revolution and of Iran’s stubbornness in regards with dealing with pressures from the West. In order to understand just how important obtaining respect is for the regime, one has to only read into the vision of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, for a Global Islamic Awakening or a New Islamic Civilization. For Khamenei, the goal of establishing a global Islamic rule through the unity of all Muslims around the world is destined to bring freedom for “oppressed” nations and to finally bring dignity to the “Ummah” (Muslim nation).

The respect that Iran seeks from the West is a one-way street because the West has “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could” and it is now, according to Tehran, time for a drastic change in the world order or as Khamenei simply states “today, it is Islam’s turn” and “this century is the century of Islam”.

This respect demands that Sharia laws existent in Tehran should be evident in the presence of Iranian leaders all over the world. This call for respect for Islam and for Iran has led to numerous diplomatic spats that include not accepting to attend lunches or dinners where wine is served, demands that women wear head-dresses and that art containing nudes be covered up. It is not surprising then that following the Charlie Hebdo massacre over cartoons of Mohammad, Khamenei was one of the first to condemn the caricaturists instead of the terrorists.

And what form of respect does Iran show to the West? Very little. Visiting diplomats are chastised if they do not wear “proper” head-dresses or meet with critics of the regime, foreign journalists such as Jason Rezaian are incarcerated for “spying” and US sailors who crossed into Iran’s territorial waters were arrested and humiliated instead of being offered safe passage.

 

To Pressure or Not To Pressure?

Rouhani may truly be a moderate when juxtaposed with the hardliners ruling Tehran but the facts show that the state of human rights has gone from bad to worse under his presidency. Executions are soaring, crackdowns on journalists/bloggers/artists are growing, oppression of religious minorities are on the increase and gender inequality has increased in some areas. To be fair, Rouhani is certainly fighting to create a more moderate regime in Tehran by fighting Khamenei on issues of foreign policy and by fighting the Guardian Council on issues of disqualifications of reformist candidates in the upcoming elections.

Some believe that any more pressure on Iran now will only lead to a backlash of hardliners who will pounce at the opportunity to hit back at Rouhani. Others believe that it is only through continuous pressure that Rouhani can finally convince the Iranian people that their quest for freedoms is being supported by the world and that they should voice their quest to the regime. What is certain is that the regime won’t offer these freedoms freely.

But the problem is not only the infractions of human rights in Iran: Tehran is notoriously supporting wars in Syria and in Yemen while supporting subversive efforts to overthrow governments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and even as far away as Kenya and Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian victims in the Syrian civil war were butchered by Assad’s army (funded and supported by Iran), by Hezbollah militia (an Iranian proxy) or by the Russian air-force. According to the Syrian Network For Human Rights, of the 200 thousand plus civilians killed in the war, Assad’s forces, supported by Tehran, are responsible for nearly 96% (over 180,000 people)!

Unfolding the red carpet in Rome and in Paris for Rouhani is an affront to their lives and deaths.

 

Blood Money Keeps Pouring In

money time

The implementation of the JCPoA released over $100 billion in funds frozen by sanctions. Although this is a huge sum of money, it is only the beginning: deals with China are estimated at $600 billion over the next ten years while deals in Rome and in Paris are estimated at $40 billion. Here’s a short (long) list of some of the deals brokered in Europe during Rouhani’s last visit and estimates for future deals reach the $200 billion mark…for now.

This money is sure to benefit the IRGC and the foreign investors who are brave enough to enter the Iranian markets but it will probably take a very long time until its effect will reach the Iranian populace and will probably never reach the Syrians suffering from Iran’s involvement in their war.

If Iran were a country focused on the welfare of its civilians, the influx of cash would be a windfall for the cash-starved Iranians but as Henry Kissinger put it, Iran has to decide “whether it is a nation or a cause”. According to Foreign minister Javad Zarif, Iran is more of a cause than a nation since Tehran has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order…why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order…it may seek independence and strength, but its definition of strength is the advancement of its national welfare” and “without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.“.

Knowing this, it is up to the countries investing into Iran to decide whether they are ready further such a cause or whether they want to help the Iranian people. Until then, the money flowing into Iran is bound to promote bloodshed instead of promoting welfare.

 

 

 

Khamenei: Today, it is Islam’s Turn

While Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, is “conquering” the West with his moderate demeanor, his charming smile and billion dollar deals, other Iranian leaders are, once again, voicing their hopes for expanding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary ideals on a global scale. These hopes are not new: Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini institutionalized the need to “export the revolution” into the Iranian constitution (“The Islamic Republic supports the just struggle of the mustazafun (the oppressed) against the mustakbirun (the arrogant) in every corner of the globe”) and Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has long preached for a Global Islamic Awakening or a New Islamic Civilization with Tehran at its heart.

Some might prefer to dismiss such ambitions as simple demagoguery meant to excite the hardliners but underneath this rhetoric lies a very well thought out strategy supported potenttially hundreds of millions of believers. The call from Islamic unity has been voiced repeatedly from Tehran (and from extremists organizations such as ISIS) but, at least for now, it has not been accepted by most Islamic countries due to sectarian factions and regional rivalry. The facts that Iran is Shiite, that Shiites represent a minority of all Muslims (estimated at 15%) and that Shiites and Sunnis have a long history of not getting along is the biggest hurdle for this vision to turn into reality. The Arab spring which gave Muslims living in Muslim countries a taste of freedom and democracy is another hurdle since many of them view Tehran’s regime as another form of dictatorship that they worked hard to discard. The last big hurdle is the reaction of conservative Westerners (“patriots” and/or “fascists”) who will fight to keep the identity of their countries as non-Islamic.

At the core of this ideology lie many truths in that Western (white) civilizations have ruled the world for the past centuries at the expense of the countries they colonized or exploited and that empires have risen and fallen repeatedly throughout the history of mankind.

This vision is fueled by deep emotional feelings of being abused, humiliated, sidelined, disrespected and denigrated over hundreds of years and these emotions are “non-negotiable” since they are completely subjective. Will this vision ever come to fruition? Will all Muslim nations ever unite? Will Muslims living in non-Muslim nations unite? And if so, when? And if so, how? Nobody knows the answer to these questions but two facts are certain:

  • It’s a zero-sum game: If or when Islam goes global, it will be at the expense of the current ruling of the “colonial”, “arrogant” and “oppressive” Western countries who are viewed by Islamic leaders as the core of the suffering of all the non-western countries in the world.
  • It’s a game led by Tehran: The regime in Tehran views itself as the core of all Islamic Revolutions due to the success of its own revolution in 1979 it is using this vision of “Exporting the Revolution” or “Global Islamic Awakening” or “Islamic Civilization” as a means to increase its extremist Shiite version of Islam.

So while one may be impressed by Rouhani’s smiles and checks, one must be aware that the visions of global dominance exist at the highest level of the regime within people who have the power to invest enormous amounts of energy to give such a vision a chance to become a reality.

 

Khamenei: “Today it is Islam’s turn”


Khamenei has been preaching a “Global Islamic Awakening” for years. Here are some from some of Khamenei’s speeches: A speech from 2012, a speech from 2015  and another speech from 2015 which represent his core message:

  • The goal: This century is the century of Islam. The goal is Islam. The goal is Quranic and Islamic rule. The goal is to establish an Islamic government that can turn society into the ideal society that Islam wants.
  • The timing: Today, it is our turn. Today, it is Islam’s turn. Today, it is the Muslims’ turn to shape a new Islamic civilization with their own determination.  We refer to this phenomenon, which we are looking forward to, as the “New Islamic Civilization”. We should be striving for the new Islamic civilization- for the sake of humanity.
  • The enemy: For two hundred years, Westerners…occupied Islamic countries: some of them directly, some of them indirectly with the help of local dictatorships. They humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could. Today the arrogant powers of the world feel helpless in the face of Islamic Awakening. Muslim nations must continue their struggle so that they can eliminate the enemy in different arenas.
  • The importance of Tehran: The Islamic Republic is an example in this regard. It is a testing ground and a tried and trusted method for the world of Islam.
  • The path to success: The battle is a battle of wills. Any side whose will is stronger has the upper hand. They kept us scientifically backward for many years. They trampled on our culture. They destroyed our independence. Today we have awakened and we will conquer the arenas of science one after the other. Muslim nations should come together under the banner of the call to God and the call to Islam. Then the Islamic Ummah will regain its dignity.
  • The force is with him: This is primarily addressed to religious scholars and sincere intellectuals. I am not hopeful about politicians anymore.

In other words, Khamenei wants to change the rules. He is thinking on a global scale and in his case, he is willing to put a lot of money to fulfill his dreams. It’s worth noticing that that he doesn’t believe that these dreams will be fulfilled through politicians or diplomats but through grass-roots revolutions.

 

Khamenei is not alone

While these words may sound to some as the lone delusions or aspirations of an old, albeit very powerful man, the reality is that these visions are supported by most hardliners in Iran, by the IRGC, by the Larijani clan and by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Akbar Valayati, Khamenei’s adviser who is a crucial link between Khamenei and Moscow has repeatedly gone on record in regards to “exporting the revolution”. It was he, who called Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain “revolutionary nations” in the regional and global struggle to free the “oppressed” from the “oppressors”. It is these states that make up the infamous “Shiite Crescent” which is promoted by hardliners and suppressed by moderates in Iran.

Much like the Kennedy family in the US, the Larijani family is one of the most influential family in Tehran boasting the Chairman of the parliament, Ali Larijani, the chief of Justice, Sadeq Larijani and the chief of Human Rights, Javad Larijani.  All three support Khamenei’s vision in different degrees: Ali Larijani is a great supporter of Islamic unity which he calls the “great truth” of the Islamic Revolution. Sadeq Larijani explains why Iran should be at the core of such a unity because Iran has become a “serious alternative to Western Liberal democracy“: “Once the West saw the world shackled by its secular ideology; now it faces a strong and indomitable Islamic Republic of Iran as a serious rival alternative to its order…now they would acknowledge that the Islamic Republic of Iran is an example for Muslim countries”. Javad Larijani also credits the Islamic Revolution for initiating the “Islamic Awakening in the Muslim world” and he now sees how the waves of the Islamic Revolution are “sweeping through Europe”.

But the message of a Global Islamic Awakening is not a vision for hardliners only: Zarif, who is easily regarded as one of the more adept diplomats in the country and who is far from being a hardliner makes it very clear in his book that it is the “duty” of Tehran to “Export the Revolution”. Tehran, he claims, has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order…why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order…it may seek independence and strength, but its definition of strength is the advancement of its national welfare”. Iran’s goals aren’t focused on the welfare of the Iranian populace but on revolutionary ideals which define the country: “without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.”

 

Iran the nation or Iran the cause?

Henry Kissinger famously summed up his view on Iran by stating that Iran must decide “whether it is a nation or a cause“. His insight definitely hits the spot: Were Iran a “nation”, it would channel all its energies into increasing the welfare of Iranians over increasing the influence of Iran in the world. But if Iran is a “cause”, such goals seem meaningless since they have no repercussions once they are achieved and instead, Tehran would choose the spreading of its influence over the welfare of Iranians.

So while Rouhani is trying to portray Iran has a peace-loving and stable nation, the decisions of Iran in the region (and the world) point to the fact that many leaders in Iran, including the most powerful one, Khamenei, continue to view Iran as a cause:

  • Iran has been investing approximately $10 billion a year in Syria alone for the past four years while the Iranian economy was floundering.
  • Iran transgressed numerous IAEA regulations which invoked crippling sanctions despite the fact that Tehran claimed that its nuclear program was peaceful.
  • Iran continues to support Shiite militants in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Nigeria etc…in efforts to overthrow the local governments instead of living in peace with them.
  • Iranian leaders continue to rants on visions such as a Global Islamic Awakening instead of focusing inwards to Iranians.

Iran, for now is definitely a cause. It’s a simple and megalomanic cause which plans to overthrow the Western domination of the world and supplant it with an Islamic domination with Tehran at its heart and as long as this cause beats in the hearts of Iranian leaders, it can never be looked on as “just another” country nor can its denials in regards to militarizing its nuclear program be taken too seriously.

 

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