Tehran’s cynical reaction to terror attacks

The terrorist attacks in Tehran shocked the world but probably shocked the regime in Tehran much more. Apart from the horror of the terrorist attacks, it is illuminating to see how the regime in Tehran reacted to these attacks.

Over the past few years, as terrorist attacks spread around the globe (specially in Europe), Tehran stuck to two main themes: 1) Terrorist would never strike in Iran due to the efficiency of the IRGC and other security bodies and 2) the Western countries who were hit by terrorist attacks were “reaping what they had sown” (ie: the West had supported Sunni terrorist organizations in the past).

Suddenly, the tables had turned and the statements from Tehran followed three main themes: 1) trivialization, 2) accusation and 3) indignation.

Trivialization: following the attack, Khamenei made a speech in which he attempted to minimize its impact calling it a “firecracker” and calling the terrorist “too trivial to affect the nation’s will”. In this same speech, Khamenei didn’t even take the time to offer his condolences to the families of the victims nor wish the wounded well. Parliament leader Ali Larijani joined Khamenei’s sentiment by calling the attack a “minor incident”. 17 innocent Iranian civilians dead and 43 wounded represent a “minor incident” and a “firecracker”? Sounds a bit trivial by all standards.

Accusation: as could be expected, Tehran immediately began to accuse the US and Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism. At first, the accusations were vague: the US and Saudi Arabia were guilty of these attacks because of the American-Sunni alliance, because of the US and Saudi support of Sunni terrorism (specifically ISIS) in the past, because of the Saudi FM’s statement that “Iran must be punished for its interference in the region and its support for terrorist organizations” etc… But then, Tehran upped the rhetoric and claimed that it had definite “proof” the US and Saudi Arabia supported these terrorist attacks but somehow, up until now, none of these “proofs” was shared to the world. Khamenei went further and stated that “the US is itself terrorist, fosters terrorists…and has been originally founded upon terror and cruelty” and “thus, it is impossible to compromise with the US”…this sentence makes more sense if you exchange the word “US” with the word “Iran”…try exchanging the word US for Iran and see how this statement rings much truer.

Indignation: the White House issued a statement of condolences for the victims but added one sentence, “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote”, which blew out some fuses in Tehran. Zarif called the statement repugnant and began slamming the US for supporting terrorism. Although Trump’s statement is definitely not politically correct, it does point out that Tehran’s open support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and other Shiite militias places Tehran within the targets of other terrorist organizations. But more than this, Trump’s statement only echoes statements from Tehran to Western countries who suffered terrorist attacks in the past: “you reap what you sow”.

There is nothing to be happy about the terrorist attack in Tehran. The blood of innocent victims of terrorist attacks is the same regardless of the country in which they were killed or wounded. But one thing is certain, Tehran was caught with its pants down and doesn’t know how to deal with this new situation. From a position in which it openly supports terrorism while claiming it is a champion against terrorism, Tehran found itself suddenly much weaker and much more vulnerable and instead of dealing with the base of the problem, the support of terrorism, it chose to cover up.

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Rouhani’s dilemma

It is clear cut. Rouhani won a decisive victory and expectations from some sectors are sky-rocketing. Now Rouhani faces the most significant dilemma of his life.

After his previous election in 2013, his promises revealed themselves to be empty and void. Although he did manage to secure the nuclear deal and increase engagement with the West, his promises of economic reprieve and increased freedom to the individual in Iran were left unfulfilled. Of course, Rouhani cannot be blamed for all the unfulfilled promises since Rouhani, as president, doesn’t make the final decisions in Iran: the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei and the regime’s security and religious bodies do. Even if Rouhani was 100% the moderate reformer that he claims to be, his ability to bring about change is limited.

Rouhani crossed unprecedented red lines during his presidency and during his election campaign. He attacked the sacred cows of Iran, including the Revolutionary Guard, the judiciary branch, and the security-intelligence apparatus, adopting a combative mode and even defying the supreme leader. Foreign Policy summarized Rouhani’s campaign as going to war against Iran’s deep state. On his war path, Rouhani enumerated Iran’s flaws and faults publicly, from the unjust executions and imprisonment of Iranians, through the IRGC strategy in missile launching to gender discrimination and arrests of opposition leaders. The supreme leader even felt the need to come out with a stern response against Rouhani, and he lost.

These developments will only be significant if Rouhani continues this path, which may even necessitate a revolution of some kind. As long as the regime maintains its theocratic dictatorship, changes which might affect its Islamic and Shiite identity is doomed to failure.

This brings us to Rouhani’s dilemma. He has reached a significant cross-roads. He can go down in history as the president who received the greatest mandate to bring change to Iran, yet disappointed and betrayed this trust twice. On the other hand, he can also be the man who will bring the yearned change to Iran, backed by the people of Iran, whether by incremental evolution or total revolution. This is his choice. With the wide-spread support he received, comes the responsibility. He will not get another chance.


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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.

Shattered Hopes in Tehran

shattered hopes in tehranThe hopes that followed Hassan Rouhani’s election to the presidency reverberated around the world: The millions of Iranian people who voted for him were joined by hundreds of millions of Westerners who felt that Iran was finally on its path out of isolation. These hopes came to a peak in the signing of the JCPoA which fulfilled one of Rouhani’s most ambitious promises by killing three birds with one stone: 1) normalizing foreign relations with the West, 2) boosting the economy by lifting sanctions and opening Iran to foreign trade and 3) legitimizing Iran’s nuclear program.

Paradoxically, the signing of the JCPoA which had elevated Rouhani in the eyes of most Westerners and his Iranian voters was also Rouhani’s fall from grace in Tehran and losing control on all three fronts to none other than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


Hard-liner Backlash

Once the deal was signed, Khamenei, who had taken a back seat for over two years, took back control of the implementation of the JCPoA, rescinded the budding relationship between Tehran and Washington and banned American companies from the Iranian markets. But this wasn’t the end of Rouhani’s fall since hardliners in Iran, with the IRGC as their spearhead, found in Khamenei’s move to consolidate control, an open invitation to “move in for the kill”. Within weeks, Rouhani’s demotion was followed by a crackdown on human rights and freedoms as the IRGC arrested journalists, artists, activists, foreign businessmen etc…while Rouhani impotently objected.

The hopeless stability exemplified in Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has now given way to a volatile atmosphere of instability in which hopes and resignation are constantly jockeying for position. The implementation of the JCPoA is fraught with contradictions between the JCPoA itself and Khamenei’s red lines. The trade delegations are still flying into Tehran but they are becoming weary of the hardline political atmosphere. Khamenei’s anti US rhetoric is creating unease even among the EU members who are beginning to understand that they may be next in line to being banned for introducing Western influence.

The only “player” who seems unfazed from the backlash is the same “player” who is cutting ahead of the line of all the Western delegations and closing deals worth billions of dollars: Russia. The Kremlin,  historically unfazed by government crackdowns and unworried from the possibility of a ground-roots uprising, placed its relations with Khamenei on a high pedestal as Putin’s historic meeting with Khamenei exemplifies.

And the Iranian people, who finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel of sanctions and dreamt of peaceful relations with the West, are back in the dark again.


Proxy Wars Take Center Stage

Meanwhile, Tehran found itself involved in two civil wars: the first, supporting Assad’s government in Syria and the second, supporting Yemenite rebels in Yemen. These civil wars quickly evolved into proxy wars involving Iran’s regional nemesis, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Russia, the US and the EU and are spiraling out of control, forcing Iran into a potentially volatile position of a regional or even global conflict.

The proxy wars are a matter of great concern for the Iranian people and potential Western investors for several reasons. First, these wars are costly and Tehran is invested in them to a tune of approximately $10 billion a year. Second, the definition of allies and foes is very fluid at this moment and Tehran may be anti-West as far as opening markets but it may find itself allied to the same Western countries in the mutual fight against ISIS. Third, the Iranian casualties are estimated to be only a few hundred for now, but an all-out war in Syria or in Yemen is sure to increase the death toll which will, at some time or another, create unrest among an army and a people who are still scarred from the devastation of the Iran-Iraq war.

Once again, Moscow is proving itself to be Tehran’s unswerving ally in the proxy wars: not only did Putin take the plunge in the Syrian conflict, Moscow has launched a fire-sale for its military equipment to Iran, including missiles, anti-aircraft guns, jets etc…

But for the Iranian voters, the situation seems much worse than it had been before Rouhani: Until Rouhani’s election, Tehran’s involvement in Syria was on a slow burner and it has now flared up dramatically. Furthermore, the Iranians are now allied to the Russians who seem hell-bent on testing the West’s resolve in regards to the regional power-play over the Middle East.


Winners and Losers of JCPoA

BN-LK207_1123pu_J_20151123114511The JCPoA that Rouhani and his team hammered out for over two and half years was supposed to be a blessing for all Iranians who had suffered under Ahmadinejad’s 8 year tenure. It’s a tragic paradox that Iran is now much more unstable than it had been before Rouhani’s election. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran was defiantly closed, hopes for change were non-existent and its involvement in the civil wars was at a constant “minimum”. The West simply tried to ignore him and was content to sanction Iran while the Iranian people reluctantly accepted their fate. Many Iranians and Westerners would feel that the situation wasn’t good but at least it was stable.

But once the JCPoA was signed, under immense pressure from…you guessed it…Russia, the hopes of the Iranian people, especially those who voted for Rouhani, were shattered. As time ticks on, the JCPoA is evolving into a deal which cannot hold and it is just a matter of time that it will unravel. The Western powers have placed a lot of emphasis on the possibility of slapping back sanctions if Tehran gets out of line in its nuclear program but such a move would only dissolve the deal and legitimize Tehran’s path to militarizing its nuclear program.

Now that Moscow is firmly on Tehran’s side, the possibility of sanctions seem less dangerous for both: deals between Russia and Iran are being closed with or without sanctions and plans to trade mutually using local currencies have already been inked. In the event of the JCPoA disintegrating into a series of accusations between the West and Iran, a military option, which was never really on the table pre-JCPoA, will now be next to impossible to even discuss since it would mean declaring war against Russia, initiating a third world war.

Once again, it is the Iranian people who will suffer the consequences of the power moves of Iran’s regime: instead of heading for a few decades of well-deserved peace and prosperity, they will find themselves at the center of a global power-play between the West and Russia.

There is little hope for the Iranian people: the backlash in human rights and freedoms, the open market that might rapidly close down, the peace with the West that is already disintegrating…all will lead to the simple fact that the Iranian people, and Rouhani, are going to foot the bill for Khamenei’s anti-Western paranoia (and Russia’s anti-Western agenda) to keep the revolution alive instead of opting for an evolution lead by the will of his people.

Death to America vs. Love Mash Donald’s

Fast food restaurant chains are an essential part, for better or for worst, of American culture and through globalization, their presence is felt all over the world. Head to any large city in the world, and you are bound to see restaurants such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbuck’s etc…filled with locals.

This is true about Iran as well but in Iran the situation is more complicated because of two simple facts:

  1. Sanctions and Isolation: Up until the JCPoA, Iran’s markets have been isolated from Western brands and litigations against rip-offs.
  2. US-Iran Relations: The relationship between Tehran and the US (“The Great Satan”) have been sour since 1979 and remain sour even post-JCPoA.

The fate of American fast food chain stores in Iran represents a microcosm of the complicated relations between a) the Iranian people and America, b) the regime in Tehran and America, c) the American brands and their Iranian rip-offs Pre-JCPoA and Post-JCPoA and d) the regime in Tehran and the Iranians

The conflict between the Iranian’s appetite for American fast food and the regime’s hate for America might become a focal point between the “Revolutionary Ideals” of the regime and the personal freedom of choice of Iranians as the JCPoA comes into effect.

Iranian People and America

Let’s face it, Iranians have hunger for American fast food chain restaurants even if they are rip-offs of the original brands: Brands such as Mash Donald’s (McDonald’s with golden arches and Ronald McDonald) , Baskin Robbins (31 flavors but Italian gelato), Chipotle (Mexican food and also pizza and chicken wings), Domino’s Pizza, KFC (many many chains), Raees Coffee (the Iranians Starbuck’s), Pizza Hat (Pizza Hut with a Dick Tracy-like logo), Burger House (yep, Burger King) and Subways (no-ham Subway) are a testament to this fact.

This demand for Western fast food in Iran isn’t based on how tasty (open to discussion) or how nutritious (who hasn’t seen “Supersize Me”?) the food really is. No, this demand is for American culture. When you bite into a Big Mac, whether you are in Miami, Prague, Melbourne, Tokyo, Nairobi or Tehran, you are biting into American culture and its resulting globalization.

But the situation in Tehran is stranger than in most cities since the Big Mac (called the Mash Donald’s baguette burger) is being eaten in a restaurant that is a rip-off of the American brands in an atmosphere filled with anti-American propaganda. It’s a miracle that such chain stores even exist under such circumstances but the Iranian people who may not have the chance to vote for Iran’s foreign policy vis-à-vis America can vote for American culture by simply taking a bite of a Big Mac or some fried chicken.

The fact that most of the customers at these restaurants are either younger, richer or more educated Iranians only increases the contrast between these customers and the regime they live under.

Regime in Tehran and America

The nuclear deal was supposed to end the 36 year enmity between Tehran and Washington. It didn’t: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei anti-American sentiment during the negotiations only increased once the JCPoA was signed, not out of fear of an American military conflict but out of his fears of “American infiltration”.

What “infiltration”? Well, for one, Khamenei has accepted the influx of foreign brands and trade but is blocking the Iranian markets from US brands. Ali Fazeli, the head of the Iranian chamber of commerce: “In accordance with orders from the Supreme Leader, we do not give any authorization to Western brands”.

Make no mistake – there are plenty of American brands in Iran including Pepsi and Coca Cola but these are only “products”. Restaurants are not only establishments for selling products, they provide an environment in which to eat and as such, have come under much more scrutiny by the regime.

When Khamenei talks about “American infiltration” he wants Iranians to believe that he is talking about spies who want to change the politics of the country as can clearly be understood in his efforts to explain that the “Death to America” calls are not aimed at Americans but against “arrogant” American governments and policies. In fact, Khamenei is less worried of the effects of American policies as he is of American culture. Khamenei doesn’t want American brands dotting the landscape of Iran and, in the process, weakening his anti-American rants.

American Brands and Iranian Rip-Offs

These chain stores are all rip-offs of the American brands and have survived to date due to the isolation of the Iranian economy and the inability of the international brands to sue them for copyright infringement. None of these brands would have a chance in an international court even if some actually did change the names or the logos a bit.

The case of KFC is an interesting one: KFC existed in Iran pre-1979 but had to close down following the dominant anti-American sentiment. Local rip-offs sprouted rapidly including brands such as “Super Star Fried Chicken”, “Kabooky Fried Chicken”, “Karen Fried Chicken”, “ZFC”, “BFC”, “KFChalal”,  etc…Most of them have the red and white logo with the smiling Colonel Sanders and some even have the ubiquitous KFC buckets and the “Colonel Sanders recipe”.

KFChalal“, a newcomer on the market and affiliated with a chain from Turkey opened up last week with lots of fanfare and pictures of line-ups for the chicken. Within 2 days the restaurant was shut down for being “too American” in its décor. Up to now, all the original brands gave up on any aspirations to sue the rip-offs but once the JCPoA will take effect, they will probably rethink their positions: Since Khamenei won’t allow their brands to profit in the Iranian markets, they might resort to the next best thing: Suing.

The Iranian courts may find such efforts laughable but a) the Americans can turn to international courts and b) other large brands will be looking on to see how well protected they will be under Iranian law.

The Iranian Regime and the Iranian People

The irony of an Iranian chanting “Death to America” and then stopping in for a Big Mac must hurt Khamenei deeply since is it symbolizes the weakness of his regime: These customers may love being Muslims and may even accept the harsh laws of the regime, but when they are hungry, they become just like any non-Iranian – “Revolutionary ideals” and the yearning for “martyrdom” are replaced with…American food.

This conversation with Siavah Mirteki, a 29 year old Iranian eating at Mash Donald’s pretty well sums it all up: “This falafel sandwich is fantastic…of course if McDonald’s comes, I’ll go there too. When I went on pilgrimage to Mecca we would go to McDonald’s every evening. In our country, we have two governments…(Rouhani represents the official one seeking to improve relations with the United States) but there are other groups, too, that still don’t like America…They can barely tolerate Mash Donald’s, let alone the real thing.”

Khamenei’s fears of American “infiltration” are share shared by his hardliner cronies and the IRGC. Rouhani, on the other hand, is trying to tone down these fears but Khamenei demoted him to the back stage post-JCPoA, effectively taking over the implementation of the nuclear deal and foreign policy.

President Hassan Rouhani might talk about “constructive engagement” with the West and might even secretly desire a bucket of KFC but even he understands that American fast food is not a simply issue: Iranians might love the freedom of choice to eat it but it is exactly this freedom that is a thorn in Khamenei’s side. And Khamenei knows how to treat thorns – he just takes them out.

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Post-JCPoA Rouhani Demoted to Back Stage

good cop bad copFrom the day of his election on June 14th 2013 President Hassan Rouhani was the smiling and moderate face of Iran to the world who preached for “constructive engagement” with the West in order to reach a nuclear deal and lift the sanctions. As far as all were concerned, Rouhani was single-handedly defuisng a 35 year old bomb with the blessing of his Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But since then, on two specific dates, June 23ed (Khamenei issues “red lines” to negotiators) 2015 and then October 21st 2015 (Khamenei pens “red lines” letter to Rouhani), he suspiciously seems to have been fulfilling his role as the “good cop” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “bad cop”: Khamenei allowed Rouhani to take front-stage in order to clinch a deal which would lift the crippling and humiliating sanctions but once that was attained, he was expediently demoted to the back stage.

The window of opportunity that Rouhani’s election promised is shutting down rapidly and the world will have to get used to dealing, once again, with a martyr-loving revolutionary instead of a reasonable and pragmatic diplomat.

Rouhani Enters Center Stage

Hassan RouhaniRouhani’s smiling demeanor represented a stark change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the West embraced him with open arms. During this time, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei seemed to have taken a back seat and allowed Rouhani to be his trusted guide in the foreign terrain of international negotiations. He offered Rouhani his quiet support, keeping the hardliners back home at bay and significantly toned down his anti-West rhetoric.

Rouhani’s moderate image improved dramatically as he championed the fight against terrorism through his War Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative which was enthusiastically adopted by the UN and which brilliantly changed Iran’s reputation from being an avid and active supporter of terrorism to being the leading fighter against ISIS and all other forms of terrorism. This repositioning allowed Tehran to claim legitimacy for its military actions in the region, actions that included supporting terrorist militias such as Hezbollah in Syria and in Yemen and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran, within two short years had been rebranded and the flood of foreign (specially EU) delegations into Tehran was a clear testament to the fact that Iran had successfully extricated itself from isolation.

During this time, Rouhani even managed to bypass the thorny issues of human rights and social reforms which he had promised to change during his election campaign but which had gotten worst during his presidency: Rouhani made a point of occasionally voiced his opinions against gender discrimination, against the imprisonment of journalists etc…but he never really acted on these issues. He didn’t really have to because, despite his failures in internal affairs, the promise of a nuclear deal facilitated by Rouhani’s foreign policy was perceived by the West, and by most of the Iranian people, as Iran’s best chance for a positive change.

Cue in Khamenei

This idealistic situation began to turn on June 23ed 2015 when Khamenei issued his “red lines” regarding the upcoming deal to both sides of the negotiations table. But as the details of the JCPoA which was signed on July 14th 2015 came to light, it became painfully obvious to all that some of Khamenei’s “red lines” had been crossed.

The hardliners at home immediately went on to attack the deal and even the deal-maker himself, Zarif, admitted that the deal had crossed some “red lines”, most significantly these:

  • All sanctions would have to be lifted immediately: The JCPoA states a gradual lifting of sanctions dependent on implementation of the deal by Iran.
  • Enrichment for the purposes of R&D would be unrestricted: The JCPoA allows for limited enrichment beyond the required 3.5% under supervision.
  • IAEA inspectors could not visit non-nuclear sites such as the Parchin military base: The JCPoA expressly empowers the IAEA to visit any site deemed necessary.

Despite the “weaknesses” of the nuclear deal, Rouhani and Zarif kept on riding the waves of their success: the UN and the EU lifted their sanctions, the open and active support of  Moscow, the trade delegations from the Western countries, the growing isolation of the US and Saudi Arabia…all pointed to the fact that even without a signed deal, Rouhani’s foreign policy had been a massive success.

For the next few months, hardliners in Tehran and Republicans in Washington tried to scuttle the deal and it appeared that there were two distinct voices emanating from Tehran: the voice of the revolutionary Khamenei and the voice of the diplomat Rouhani. In Washington, President Barak Obama went on a limb and after threatening to veto Congress, managed to get the deal ratified. In Tehran, Khamenei took a less positive stance: he continued to support the deal passively support but a) he allowed the hardliners to bash and criticize Rouhani, Zarif and the deal and b) he contradicted Rouhani’s demands to keep the deal out of a vote in parliament. On October 12th  2015,

the deal was finally ratified in Tehran in a close vote (139 in favor, 100 against and 12 abstained) and the JCPoA became a binding reality.

Khamenei Back on Center Stage

But Khamenei wasn’t ready to let go and on October 21st 2015, he penned an open letter to Rouhani, reinstating his red lines for the implementation of the deal – red lines which, in some cases, are in direct contradiction to the JCPoA itself. The cheers from the hardliners in Tehran could be heard around the globe and the very next day, Rouhani answered Khamenei’s letter with profuse thanks and submission  to Khamenei’s demands. Zarif’s own statement of submission quickly followed and suddenly there were two nuclear deals: the one signed by Zarif and ratified in parliament and the one that Khamenei demanded.

As far as Khamenei was concerned, the whole issue of a nuclear deal was meant to change the West’s behavior (ie: lift all the sanctions) without changing one iota of the nuclear program which he claimed would never be used to create nuclear weapons.

Since then, Khamenei has visibly returned to the spotlight and Rouhani, and Zarif,  has been demoted to becoming Khamenei’s “yes-man”. Khamenei resumed his aggressive rhetoric towards the US to a level reminiscent of the Ahmadinejad era and was echoed by other prominent leaders such as Mohammad Jafari, the commander of the IRGC. even on issues such as Syria, Khamenei set the tone.

Some might scoff and say that Khamenei never really let go of the reins and they are probably right: Khamenei is an astute leader and he was probably biding his time. Whether Rouhani was in the know and simply playing a part will not be known in the near future.

What is certain is that Rouhani’s ability to bring about positive changes in Iran has diminished drastically: The nuclear deal seems to be doomed to failure since at some time in the future, the JCPoA guidelines will clash with Khamenei’s red lines. Khamenei’s open hatred for the US is bound to strike a nerve at some time or another in Washington. Abuses of human rights are on the rise in Iran and Khamenei is making sure that no one can do anything about it.

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Tehran vs. Riyadh: the Battle for a New World Order

Whether we like it or not, the war for a New World Order is taking place at this moment in the Persian Gulf between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The regional tensions between Tehran and Riyadh have existed since the Islamic Revolution in 1979: Saudi Arabia is a Sunni state governed by a royal family and the last thing they want is a revolution instigated by Shiites. On the other hand, the leaders of Tehran, beginning with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, are duty-bound to “export the revolution” to any place where revolutionary seeds could grow (preferably where there are “oppressed” Shiites).

But tensions have mounted distinctly since Hassan Rouhani ascended the presidency. Paradoxically, Rouhani is not hell-bent on exporting the revolution: he is more of a politician than a revolutionary and he seems focused on the welfare of the Iranian people more than on the welfare of people in another country who might be deemed “oppressed” enough to merit a revolution. But Rouhani’s election, and specifically his engaging foreign policy, radically changed the balance of power in the region.

Unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was content to keep Iran isolated and maintain relations only with the few countries who were fans of Tehran, Rouhani reached out to the West in an effort of “constructive engagement” in order to bring Iran out of isolation. His efforts paid off with a nuclear deal which promises to lift the crippling sanctions and create an economic boom.

It is this change in the balance of power that has simultaneously strengthened Tehran and weakened Riyadh that is at the core of the mounting tensions in the region.

A Regional Rivalry

iran saudiBut Rouhani’s foreign policy, however benign as it might seem, doesn’t exist in a vacuum and what could have had a simple and happy ending turned into another nightmare: The nuclear negotiations reshuffled the definitions of allies and enemies and the long and winding road to the JCPoA raised suspicions, accusations and questions regarding the true motives of the parties involved. Meanwhile, the Saudis were significantly left out of the talks while Tehran’s ongoing efforts to export the revolution to Syria, Iraq and Yemen took on a military nature through the raging civil wars in Syria and in Yemen as well as the fight against ISIS in Syria and in Iraq.

Syria and Yemen are vaguely mirror situations for Tehran and Riyadh: In Syria, Tehran supports and fights for the Assad government against the Syrian rebels who want to oust him and who are supported by Riyadh. In Yemen, Riyadh supports and fights for the Mansur Hadi government against the Houthi rebels who are supported by Tehran and succeeded in ousting him out temporarily until Riyadh retaliated. Although Tehran and Riyadh have not yet met each other on the battlefield, they are getting dangerously to doing so through their proxy wars (Riyadh supplies weapons to Syrian rebels fighting Hezbollah and Iranian troops in Syria, while Tehran trained and supplies Houthis fighting Saudis in Yemen) and taunting explosive rhetoric emanating from both sides.

Every move by either Tehran or Riyadh is scrutinized by the other side in an effort to find a point of weakness or a point of aggression to merit a new verbal volley: The Saudi bombing in Yemen, the death of an Iranian general in Syria, the Iranian support to Syria, the pilgrim tragedy in Saudi Arabia, the Tehran-backed terrorist cells in Bahrain…all feed the animosity between the two nations.

A Global Rivalry

It’s true that Tehran has repeatedly stretched its hand to Riyadh in an effort at diplomacy but Riyadh is too weary of Tehran’s regional aspirations and its new found friends. The nuclear negotiations and the deal itself resulted in Tehran being wooed by the P5+1 (Russia & China, US & EU) as well as numerous other countries through politicians and trade delegations who have come to court the regime and make a lot of money. These countries, which had once ignored Tehran and visited Riyadh are now sending an endless stream of politicians and trade delegations to Tehran and, on the whole, ignoring Riyadh. In fact, a recent survey in Saudi Arabia found that the Saudis are more worried about Iran than they are about ISIS.

But for those who view this as some far-away conflict that is regional in its nature, here’s the bad news. The conflict between Tehran and Riyadh has the potential to go global within milliseconds since both nations are at the front edges of the battle between the Old World Order and a budding New World Order. Tehran, as Zarif so eloquently explained, aspires to change the global world order and its new status following the nuclear deal, specially vis-à-vis Russia can be a springboard to make these revolutionary visions materialize. Zarif also explains how such a change can come about following the nuclear deal: Tehran wants to “bring about conditions of such a type that the world economy is so entangled with our economy that other countries do not have the power to sanction us“.

Riyadh traditionally belongs to the OWO historically backed by the West and the large Sunni countries in the region (the GCC, Egypt, Jordan and now Sudan) while Tehran is betting on the backing of the East (Russia, China), the EU (which is distancing itself from the US) and the Non-Aligned-Movement countries (NAM). A war between these two nations is bound to light up warning lights in all the major capitals of the world. It is exactly because of this that Rouhani, backed by all the global players should begin a new round of “constructive engagement” with Riyadh…the consequences of a war between these two countries could be nothing short of disastrous.

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What Rouhani Omitted at the UNGA

President Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the UNGA on the 28th of September is another Rouhani classic. Apart from the attack on Saudi Arabia for the deaths of the pilgrims in Mina, he managed to touch on all of his favorite subjects: negotiations, money, terrorism and democracy. It’s worthy to notice that he didn’t mention, even once, the burning issue of the systematic abuses of human rights in Iran.

Reading Rouhani’s speech is somewhat confusing since he sounds as if he isn’t the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country which continues to support terrorist militias and efforts at subversion and revolution in neighboring countries and whose democracy is flawed by the theocracy of the regime and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Furthermore, it is crucial to remember that any talks of democracy and capitalism are definitely not in tune with Khamenei’s revolutionary ideals.

Here are a few soundbites which demonstrate how easy it is for him to blame others without ever taking responsibility and promising promises which he will never be able to keep. Each soundbite is accompanied by a question/s which Rouhani should be asked and should be forced to answer.



  • Rouhani: “We proved in these negotiations that there is nothing on Iran’s table other than logic, reason and ethics, and where necessary, legitimate and decisive self-defense against any kind of aggression.”
    Question: What interests the world isn’t what was ON the table in Vienna but what was UNDER Iran’s table of Tehran’s nuclear program and its numerous transgressions vis-à-vis IAEA regulations?
  • Rouhani: “Our policy is to continue our peace-seeking efforts in the region based on the same win-win principle, and act in a way that would lead to all in the region and world benefitting from these new conditions.”
    Question: What Iran got out of the deal is understandable but what exactly did the P5+1 gain from this WIN-WIN deal?


Anti-Terrorism & Pro-Democracy & Pro-Human Rights & Anti-Subversion:

  • Rouhani: “The gravest and most important threat to the world today is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states.”
    Question: What about the threat of states, such as Iran, SUPPORTING terrorists such as Hezbollah?
  • Rouhani: “We consider it unfortunate for national uprisings in our region to be deviated by terrorists and for the destiny of nations to be determined by arms and terror rather than ballot boxes.”
    Question: If ballots are so important to you, why did Tehran not force Assad to an OPEN ELECTION before sending troops, Hezbollah militia and weapons to Syria?
  • Rouhani: “As we aided the establishment of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and also Yemen. We support the consolidation of power through the vote of people rather than with arms. We defend the rule of the majority that respects the rights of minorities. ”
    Question: Why did Tehran SUPPLY both Syria and Yemen with weapons and fighters instead of convincing leaders to hold elections? How can Tehran become such a champion of DEMOCRACY when it is ruled by a non-elected theocracy? Since when does Tehran respects the rights of MINORITIES (women, Christians, Baha’is, Sunnis)? When you say “HELP”, are you not aware that to some, this is a means of MEDDLING/SUBVERSION? 



  • Rouhani: “Iraq, Syria and Yemen are all examples of crises being stoked through terror, extremism, violence, bloodshed, invasion and the indifference of the international community.”
    Question: Isn’t it a “strange” COINCIDENCE that Tehran’s political, economical and military influence is evident in all of these countries? What is Tehran’s RESPONSIBILITY for the horrors in these three countries?
  • Rouhani: “They are similar examples displaying cases of displacement, homelessness and fleeing from the horrors of war and bombardment. Their problems have persisted because the international community has failed them and because of incorrect actions of newcomers to the region and naive trans-regional actors.”
    Question: Are they not, first and foremost, victims of countries like Syria and Iran who believe that open criticism against the regime is not LEGITIMATE? Are they not also victims of a war that has been PROLONGED by the aid of Iran? What is Tehran’s RESPONSIBILITY for the miseries of Syrians and Yemenites?
  • Rouhani: “We must not forget that the roots of today’s wars, destruction and terror, can be found in the occupation, invasion and military intervention of yesterday. If we did not have the US military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US’s unwarranted support for the inhumane actions of the Zionist regime against the oppressed nation of Palestine, today the terrorists would not have an excuse for the justification of their crimes. ”
    Question: Is Palestine the real raison d’aitre of the ISIS savages? Don’t these wars have anything to do with the anger of SUNNI Arabs being ruled by SHIITE-like Alawites in Syria and pro-SHIITES in Iraq? What is Tehran’s RESPONSIBILITY in regards to promoting SHIISM in the region while creating and supporting TERRORISM directly or indirectly?



  • Rouhani: “Iran, with all of its economic and cultural potential, is well positioned to become a hub for export-oriented investment.”
    Question: Are you sure that Khamenei would want Iran to become a strategic “hub” of business for the region with all of his worries about FOREIGN INFLUENCE of capitalism on the ideals of the Islamic Revolution?


Rouhani is an impressive politician who knows how to say the right things at the right time. He has masterfully rebranded Iran as a pro-capitalism, pro-transparency, anti-terror, pro-democracy and pro-human rights state when it is quite obvious that this brand is far removed from the realities of Tehran. His hope that by repeating these mantras again and again, the world would believe him. The world hopes that the Iranians and regime leaders will believe him as well and that the regime in Tehran will change its horrid ways and abandon its revolutionary ideal.


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Race For Riches In Tehran

Since Rouhani took office and began his “constructive engagement” with the West, trade delegations having flying in to Tehran on a regular basis. But since the nuclear deal was inked, the steady stream of delegations has turned into a torrent with everyone in the delegations dreaming to hit the jackpot and capitalize on Iran’s weak economy and strong potential.

Of course, the risks are huge since no one knows how Tehran will react to the large influx of foreign trade which has emphasized just how much Rouhani is eager for foreign investments while Khamenei is weary of the resulting foreign influence on the Iranian population. Furthermore, no one can even begin to imagine if and how Tehran will uphold its side of the nuclear deal nor can anyone envision what would happen to Iran’s economy in a case of sanctions being “slapped-back” or in case of a military confrontation.

For now, the foreign delegates are given red carpet treatments with many photo-opportunities with Tehran’s leading politicians and they serve as a testament to Tehran’s newfound status out of isolation. So while foreigners still only dream about getting richer in Iran, Rouhani is already reaping huge political profits simply from their visits in Tehran.


The Two Early Giants

The two biggest players in the region are at the forefront of the potential foreign traders and investors in Iran: Russia and China gleefully began talking business from the day that Rouhani began nuclear negotiations. Neither country really cared about the sanctions anyway and both knew that they could trade with Iran regardless of whether sanctions were applied, lifted or slapped back. The proposed deals with both countries are enormous by any standard: Hundreds of billions of dollars in food-for-oil trade, regular trade and investments. But more, much more than this, Moscow and Beijing are willing to accept Tehran without criticism over its nuclear program, its systematic abuses of human rights and its recurrent efforts at meddling and subversion in its neighbors’ affairs.

In fact, Moscow and Tehran have come up with a plan to ditch the dollar in their mutual trade in an effort to weaken the US and are cooperating fully in military matters in Iran and in Syria. Putin is only too happy to procure Tehran with missiles and jet fighters as part of its efforts to increase its own influence in the Middle East.

As to Beijing, it too is ready to sell military equipment to Tehran and is also beefing up its sales of missiles to Syria.

Both Moscow and Beijing are not to be confused with other countries who are trying to cash in on Iran since neither of them really fear Tehran nor the US.


EU at the Front

Next in line for the red carpet treatment in Tehran are the Europeans in all their forms (EU, Switzerland, Baltics…). Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Belgium, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Serbia and more have rushed to Tehran to find their own pots of gold, or rather oil. Future delegations include the UK, Holland and others…These delegations are on shakier ground since although they are encouraged by their governments and their accountants to make money, they also represent countries and governments who are critical of Tehran’s abuses of human rights and who are weary of Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.

In most cases, they focus on the money by disregarding the issues of human rights and by claiming that Tehran’s nuclear program is of a peaceful nature. In the process, they are usually breaking laws and regulations that are supposed to enforce all delegations to Tehran to bring up the issues of human rights (EU legislation) and they are circumventing the UN’s IAEA by claiming what the IAEA, after all these years of inspections, is still not able to do.

Countries such Bulgaria and Serbia are given special treatment since Tehran understands that these countries are freer to deal with Tehran regardless of EU laws, regulations and expectations. In fact, Tehran has singled out Belgrade to be its “economic hub” in the region which may or may not include the EU.


Then Friends and Neighbors

Other past and planned delegations to Tehran include neighbors such as India, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Qatar, UAE, Armenia and Turkey as well as friendly countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway etc…

The neighbors are key to expanding Iranian influence in the region. In fact Rouhani placed an emphasis in dealing with neighbors than with other countries in an effort to enhance his brand of Tehran as a benign and profitable element in the region. Significantly absent from the red carpet are the missing delegations from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and from other Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia etc….Their absence is a jarring testament to the fear that Tehran’s Islamic Revolution has instilled in their governments.

Finally, there are the friends: Countries from Scandinavia, Latin America and Africa who share some of Iran’s anti-American sentiment, who supported Tehran even during the wild days of Ahmadinejad and who found in Rouhani the savior of Iran. For them, trading with Iran is a justification of what they had been claiming all along: that Tehran is to be trusted.

All of these countries have no qualms about working with a country with a horrific reputation for abuses of human rights nor are they afraid of a nuclear Iran since they don’t view Iran as a potential enemy in any scenario.


Last in Line

Although the US is planning to send a trade delegation in the near future to Tehran, there are very good chances that the US players will be snubbed by the Iranians quite simply because Khamenei says so. This will quickly become a point of contention between Rouhani and Khamenei since Rouhani is eager for foreign investments regardless of its source while Khamenei is weary of Western influence that will infiltrate into Iran through Western trade and brands.

Furthermore, the US did plan to lift sanctions but seems to be trigger happy to slap back sanctions or to slap on new sanctions if necessary. These might not faze business people from other countries but the possibility of being found guilty of breaking sanctions is a nightmare for US investors.


At the end of the day, doing business with Tehran is not only about money – it is a political statement by each businessman and each country in regards to Rouhani’s government and the regime in Tehran. If the nuclear deal sticks and if Rouhani’s spirit of moderacy prevails, they will make billions. But if the nuclear deal falls through and Khamenei’s paranoia and global aspirations take the day, they will find themselves robbed of their profits or worst.

Can Iran fight its nature?



A Scorpion wants to cross a river, but can’t swim. He goes to a frog and asks him for a ride on its back. the frog says: “if I give you a ride you’ll sting me”. The scorpion explains that if he stings the frog, they’ll both drown. The frog accepts this logic, and the two start their journey across the water. Halfway through, the frog feels a burning spear in its back and realizes that the scorpion did sting. As they’re both drowning, the frog asks the scorpion – “why did you do that – now we’ll both die”.

The scorpion tells him: “I can’t help it – it’s in my nature.”

Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq… and Iran?

The last few years prove that it is only “natural” for Iran, with no better way of putting it, to be involved in as many skirmishes as it possibly can. The 3 big ones going on at the moment – The war in Syria, the Gaza Strip contention and the ISIS-IRAQ conflict, are claiming insurmountable amounts of casualties every day.

In addition, Iran is knees deep in all sorts of terror activities.

Referring to the Israel-Palestinian arena – The newspaper Javan, affiliated with the IRGC, stated that Iran “had armed the resistance in Gaza with Fajr 5 missiles and with drones to help fight Israel and gave Iran credit for its success.” And only recently, the Iranian leadership pledged further military assistance to the terrorist organizations in Gaza, while the Supreme Leader Khamenei called for expanding this assistance, stating “We believe that the West Bank should also be armed like Gaza”.

North of there, in the bloodbath that is the Syrian civil war, Iran has earned itself a whole Wikipedia article on its involvement. But we’re discussing terror here: Iran used and is still using Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror organization, to carry out its interests in Syria.

Terror on your doorstep

But in Iraq, the “let’s use a terror group” tactic went a bit off. It is hard, the regime slowly learns, to deal with a terror organization when it’s coming against you.

The Iranian agents in Iraq, numbered at 32,000, both covert and unconcealed, are using any kind of weapon they can, going so far as flying Jets. It seems Iran is genuinely scared of the threat that ISIS poses. This threat has even led Iranians to question whether it was wise spending all the personnel, ammo and supplies in other arenas (like Gaza and Syria). To quote Dina Esfandiary, who wrote earlier this month: “Iranians are terrified. Many question Iran’s involvement in Syria, but they support involvement in Iraq. Syria is an optional war: a crisis where Iran can dial its involvement up or down based on its policy preferences. It is not an existential issue. But ISIS activities in Iraq pose a real threat and a genuine sovereignty concern, something Iran hasn’t seen in a long time.”

It remains to be seen, whether Iran’s quest for Middle East power will lead to its downfall. For Iran’s sake, it must be able to beat its nature.