Iranian Irony Over Bahraini Sheikh

Last week, Bahrain stripped a Shiite Sheikh, Issa Qassem, of his citizenship, charging him with instigating an “extremist sectarian atmosphere and working to divide Bahraini society” and “follow(ing) foreign religious ideologies and political entities (Iran)“. There are rumors that Sheikh Qassem might be deported or even imprisoned but his fate is still unknown for now.

The reactions from Tehran were as immediate as they were definitely hostile and the internal issue of stripping a citizen of his citizenship quickly escalated into open calls from Tehran for a bloody revolution in Bahrain.

What makes Tehran’s position ironic is that it readily strips any citizen who is critical of the regime of his/her freedom, dignity, humanity and in some cases, life. Tehran likes to present itself as the supporter of the oppressed and as a champion of human rights while it tramples on the human rights of its citizens repeatedly. To add insult to injury, Tehran’s calls to open rebellion in Bahrain is not the first: It successfully supported Houthi rebels in Yemen to oust the government until Saudi Arabia intervened.

Bahrain’s decision on Sheikh Qassem may or may not be a political mistake by the government but what is certain is that Tehran’s efforts to “Export the Revolution” are definitely dangerous to the governments of its neighbors.

 

Tehran calls for a revolution

In general, the reaction from Tehran is meant to fan the fires of a ground-roots revolution or even a coup d’etat:

Any way you read these lines, it is clear that Tehran wants to topple the government in Bahrain and is inciting the Shiite Bahrainis to do so. It should be remembered at this point that over the past few years, Bahrain reported several times that it has busted terrorist cells sponsored by Iran, cells which were meant to overthrow the government.

 

Tehran yearns to “export its revolution”

crescent dominationsIt’s not hard to understand why the Iranians are upset: the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shiite while its government is a Sunni minority and Bahrain is openly aligned with Iran’s regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia. Last year, diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then with Bahrain, Kuwait, Sudan, Yemen and a host of others following the execution in Saudi Arabia of another Shiite Sheikh, Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged with inciting sectarianism and instigating terrorism.

Of course, had Sheikh Qassem and the majority of the population not been Shiite, there is ample reason to believe that Tehran would have not even commented on the issue but since Tehran has taken upon itself to “Export its Revolution” to as many “oppressed” people as it can, it is always on the look-out to support Shiites, whether they are majorities such as in Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, or whether they are minorities such as in Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia, or even when they are total outsiders such as in many Latin American or African states.

So, Tehran’s stand can be summed up in three goals: 1) Stand up for Shiite brothers wherever they may be, 2) Stand up for the human rights of the “oppressed” and 2) Spark and support a rebellion in Bahrain.

Seems quite simple and were Iran another country, a country with great human rights, a country not intent on “exporting a revolution”, a country such as Canada, Sweden or New Zealand, one might be tempted to cheer it on to save the poor Bahrainis.

But that’s not really the case:  Tehran has been accused, rightfully, of meddling in its neighbors affairs – despite the fact that the Iranians pride themselves in not having started a war in two centuries, Tehran is now actively involved in the civil war in Syria (together with Hezbollah), in sectarian wars in Iraq (with Hezbollah and Shiite militias), in trying to overthrow the government in Yemen (through Hezbollah and Shiite Houthi rebels) and, of course, in supporting the Palestinian cause in Gaza-Israel (through Hezbollah, Hamas and a host of other organizations). Hezbollah is its key proxy and as Hassan Nasrallah aptly put it: “Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran….As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money”.

The problem is that Tehran continues to deny any form of meddling and prefer to describe its military interventions as “helping” out at the request of its “friends”. The fact that its friend in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, represent a Shiite Alawite minority and that its friends in Yemen, the Houthis, are also Shiite minorities is inconsequential to Tehran. So, not only is Tehran meddling in its neighbors affairs, it isn’t, as in the case of Syria and Yemen, always on the side of the majority or even the rightful government.

Whether or not the Bahrainis had the legitimacy, or not, to strip Sheikh Qassem is a matter of debate and one can side for or against Bahrain. But what is certain is that Tehran’s calls for rebellion in Bahrain are illegitimate. Imagine if a neighboring country to yours would incite rebellion in your country – for example Argentina on Brazil, Thailand on Cambodia, Kenya on Uganda, Belgium on France, the USA on Canada, Russia on the Ukraine…it would be a “no-brainer”. If Saudi Arabia were to issue similar threats to Iran, war would be declared.

Tehran is treading a very thin line between trying to maintain a peaceful disposition meant to encourage foreign investments and global support  while at the same time actively exporting its revolution to any country that may accept it.

 

Tehran is a serial human rights abuser

But here’s the irony and the hypocrisy of Tehran’s stance on Bahrain: Much like the regime in Bahrain, Tehran isn’t open to criticism or national protests. During the 2009 elections, the “Green Movement”, headed by Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, called for reforms and more personal freedoms for Iranians. The outcome of the election was that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected and the outcome of the elections was hotly contested by many politicians and mass protests. Needless to say, the protesters were rounded up, most were brutally interrogated, many were sent to jail (some are still serving time), some dies in protests or in jails and others fled Iran and visit Iran at the peril of being arrested for their past “crimes” (such as Nazanin Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who returned to Iran to visit her family and is now in jail). Karroubi and Mousavi kept on hammering for reforms but they were ignored by the regime. Following the emergence of the Arab Spring in 2011, Karroubi and Mousavi called on Iranians to rekindle the protests and they were both promptly placed under house arrest, without trial, where they remain to this date.

The victims of the Green Movement are not the only victims to suffer for trying to change the regime. Thousands of  Iranians were, are and will continue to be  arrested, interrogated/tortured, imprisoned and executed for simply trying to do the same: The regime continues to crack down on artists (poets, musicians, caricaturists etc…), journalists (paid media, blogs, social media etc…) and activists (human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, minorities’ rights, workers’ rights etc…) and even people in the fashion industry (models, photographers, make-up artists etc…) for simply not toeing Tehran’s strict Revolutionary Ideals. A caricature of Iranian MP’s as animals landed Atena Farghadani in jail for 12 years and 9 months (she was released on appeal after 18 months), a facebook comment by Sohel Arabi sent him to be executed (later diminished following his “confession”). Sometimes, the regime even gets creative as in the case of former president and reformist, Mohammad Khatami who is indeed free but is under a media ban which means that no media outlet can publish an article or a picture of him.

Zarif, who seems to be so worried about the “rights” of the Bahraini people is impervious to the rights of the Iranian people, rights that his president, Hassan Rouhani, promised to support during his election campaign. He promised to set Karroubi and Mousavi free, to allow more freedom of speech, to give equal rights to minorities etc…but these promises were discarded from the start and there is serious doubt that Rouhani can ever fulfil these promises. And herein lies the irony: Tehran is outraged that Bahrain would dare to strip a Bahraini of his citizenship for criticizing the regime but has no qualms about stripping Iranian citizens of their freedom, their dignity, their humanity and in some cases, their lives.

Whether Tehran understands the irony, is being deliberately hypocritical or is simply following a strategy to “export the revolution” is open to interpretation but one thing is certain, instigating a rebellion in Bahrain serves Tehran’s agenda.

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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Khamenei’s Glass House Syndrome on Terrorism

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

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

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

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

 

The Paradox of ISIS


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

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

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

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

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

 

Terrorist Cells on a Global Scale


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

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

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

 

Terrorist Militias in Proxy Wars

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of stones for someone living in a glass house…

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Zarif’s Endless Hypocrisy

All successful politicians can justifiably be accused of hypocrisy in its many forms – some lie brazenly, some create spins, some refrain from telling the whole truth…In order to survive politically, these seasoned politicians place the agendas of their governments before their personal integrity because honest politicians have very short life-spans.

Without a doubt, Iran’s FM Javad Zarif is a successful politician: he not only understands the rules of the game, he is smart and ambitious enough to create his own rules on the way. Zarif, along with President Hassan Rouhani, is responsible for the nuclear deal with Iran and he enjoys a “superstar” status in Iran which earned him the honor of a statue of his bust in Iran.

Whether Zarif will continue to enjoy the adulation of the Iranian people and of the regime is questionable but, at least for now, he is at the top of his career and one of the key factors of his success is his straight-faced hypocrisy: this has made him a great negotiator with the P5+1, a great interviewee and, for now, a prized asset for Rouhani. On the other hand, this outstanding quality has also made him a politician whose statements should be taken with large doses of skepticism and scrutiny.

Following are a few of his statements which exemplify Zarif’s hypocrisy. Whether you agree with the statements and the agendas they represent or not, one thing is certain: they should not be accepted at face-value.

 

Zarif on Terrorism

syriaZarif whole-heartedly supports Rouhani’s rebranding of Iran as a champion against terrorism, as opposed to a state which supports terrorist militias. Rouhani’s brilliant re-positioning of Iran on the issue of terrorism was based on, and facilitated by, the brutal terroristic nature of ISIS and the reported support that ISIS received from the US in its infancy. If ISIS is “the bad guy”, then fighting ISIS is “good”, hence Iran’s fighting ISIS earns it the title of being “the good guy” regardless of whether it supported and continues to support terrorist militias or not… a bit like a convention of butchers rallying for vegans.

Tehran has supported Assad since 2011 and is fighting ISIS since 2014. Over the past two years, it continuously took the credit for fighting ISIS and continuously denigrated the efforts of the dozen or so countries, especially the US, in fighting ISIS. When Moscow joined the fray, at the insistence of Tehran, Zarif glowingly praised the Russian involvement adding that all countries should follow Russia’s lead. What he “forgets” to mention is that Tehran, as the self-proclaimed leader in the fight against ISIS, has failed dismally to destroy ISIS and doesn’t deserve the role of judging who is and who isn’t doing a good job in the war against ISIS.

During the Munich Security Conference hosted in (surprise, surprise) Tehran, Zarif warned about nations backing terrorism in order to attain “temporary capital”. Although he is 100% right to say this, he conveniently “forgets” that Tehran has done exactly this by supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic jihad etc…in order to achieve what he is warning against.

Furthermore, he urged Europe to be more “flexible” in regards with the Syrian refugee crisis emanating from Syria. Again, he is 100% correct in stating this but he “forgets” to mention that most of these refugees are actually fleeing Assad and Hezbollah/Iranian forces and that had Tehran not supported Assad since the inception of the war, it would not have lasted so long and taken such a heavy toll on the Syrian people.

Tehran might be fighting ISIS terrorist, not too successfully it seems, but it also is using terrorists in order to achieve its own goals.

 

Zarif on Meddling

meddle eastTehran is a notorious meddler in the affairs of its regional neighbors. It does so in order to “export the revolution” and build itself a network of allies which may help it lead Khamenei’s vision of a Global Islamic Awakening with Tehran (and Shiism) at its center. Zarif himself is in tune with these efforts: Tehran, he wrote, has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order” and that “without revolutionary goals, we don’t exist”.

Tehran’s influence is Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is massive while its influence in countries such as Yemen and Bahrain is still kept in check by the ruling governments there and their partner, Saudi Arabia.

And yet, Zarif repeatedly dismisses accusations of meddling and portrays Tehran’s meddling as nothing more than a “helping hand” to friends. According to him, it is up to the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria and that their fate should be “determined at the polls and not by weapons“. Once again, he “forgets” to mention, that Tehran blindingly supporting Assad with weapons and fighters and if he is so keen on a democratic decision, why hasn’t Tehran convinced Assad to hold a free election since 2011? No, Tehran wants Assad in power, with or without elections since Assad represents the Shiite-like Alawite minority which is more in tune with Tehran than the majority Sunni rebels.

Similarly, Zarif stated that Lebanese people should decide their own fate politically, conveniently “forgetting” that Lebanon is indirectly under Tehran’s rule through the political and military power of its proxy, Hezbollah. Without the interference of Tehran in Lebanese politics, Hezbollah would probably be ousted and Tehran would lose another ally on the road to a global Islamic Revolution.

Tehran’s “helping hand” to its neighbors holds the guns needed to support whoever is more in tune with Tehran in killing and suppressing whoever isn’t.

 

Zarif on Human Rights

Zarif’s take on human rights is just as hypocritical as his statements on terrorism and meddling. As with other leaders in Iran, Zarif seems to believe that Iran is a true and open democracy focused on the welfare of its citizens…a government by the people and for the people…a government which “follows its people, not the other way around“. Of course, he “forgot” to mentions that Iran is only semi-democratic in that its president, Rouhani, is chosen by the people through open elections but the regime, with Khamenei at its head, is chosen by the regime itself and it is Khamenei who has supreme control in Tehran, not Rouhani. Even the free elections for the presidency are tainted by the fact that nominees for the presidential elections have to be accepted by Khamenei himself.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last year, Zarif’s hypocrisy shone out when he stated “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinion“, ignoring the imprisonment, torture and oppression of thousands of Iranians who are paying for the crime of criticizing the regime (a “sin” punishable by death). Zarif, in the same interview also stated that Tehran “has a plan to improve human rights” but unfortunately, he hasn’t shared the details of such a plan and neither has Rouhani.

Lately he spoke about trying to release WaPo’s reporter in Tehran, Jason Rezaean, from jail and from his death sentence for being a spy – although the charges against Rezaean are “serious”, Zarif said, he wants to “resolve it (his imprisonment) from a humanitarian perspective“. Too little, too late: Rezaean should not have been imprisoned with restricted contact with his lawyers and family in the first place for simply doing his duty as a reporter.

No, Mr. Zarif…speaking about Iran and human rights in the same sentence cannot be accepted as anything less than hypocritical.

Persian Gulf On the Brink

For the past two years, Rouhani has kept on hammering his four “commandments”, which, taken together, are meant to change the perception/brand of Iran from a religious, extremist, aggressive, subversive and isolated country to a country everyone (well, nearly everyone) would want to be friends with:

  • Thou shall not build nukes: The long-awaited JCPOA seems to justify this commandment and Tehran is now pushing for a global banning of nukes in the hope of denuking Israel – Critics will note that the JCPOA is not “water-tight” that it does not effectively bar Tehran from building nukes in the future.
  • Thou shall fight against terrorism: Redefining terrorism, terror-bashing and fighting ISIS in Iraq and in Syria are posed as “proof” of Rouhani’s WAVE initiative to fight terrorism and extremism – Critics would counter that Tehran continues to support terrorist militia such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc…and continues to support local Shiite militia in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc..
  • Thou shall lead Iran out of isolation: The nuclear deal, the numerous trade delegations and the popularity of Rouhani/Zarif in the West are all bridges meant to legitimize Iran – Critics would point out that the nuclear deal is far from being implemented and that any breach of the deal, from either side, will place pressure on all of Tehran’s new partners.
  • Thou shall not meddle in thy neighbors’ affairs: The repeated calls for Islamic unity are meant to turn this commandment into a fact although the truthfulness of this call and its practicalities remain questionable – Critics will say that Tehran is still dutifully trying to “export the revolution” by infiltrating governments through pro-Shiite/Tehran groups.

Rouhani may have been able to successfully sell his new brand of Iran to its proxies/allies (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), to the NAM countries it represents, to the EU and even to the US, but some of its neighbors, specifically Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and now, Yemen, are not buying in. Instead, they are breaking diplomatic ties and getting ready for more proxy wars or even the possibility of a direct war with Tehran.

 

Tehran-Riyadh Rivalry


Tehran and Riyadh have been regional enemies since the Islamic revolution. Tehran, keen on “exporting the revolution“, wants to oust the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia in favor of an pro-Shiite Islamic government. The Saudis look on Tehran as the meddling neighborhood extremist which has to be brought to order.

The rhetoric between Tehran and Riyadh, which has always been fiery in the past is reaching explosive levels: The last incident to spark some fiery rhetoric is Tehran’s politicizing of the pilgrim tragedy in Mina, Saudi Arabia. Tehran is not only accusing Saudi Arabia of mismanagement, it is hitting home in many different ways that the tragedy a) was pre-planned by the Saudis to kill Iranian pilgrims, b) proves that Saudi Arabia is incapable of managing the Hajj and c) is worthy enough to spark a war. Whether Tehran really believes that the tragedy was not an accident or whether it is ready to begin an out-and-out war with Riyadh is questionable but the message is clear: Tehran feels strong enough to butt heads openly with Riyadh.

The Saudis have been on edge since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations have retaliated with their own fiery rhetoric ranging from threatening to enter the civil war in Syria, accusing Tehran of trying to arm the Houthi rebels in Yemen, purchasing its own nuclear weapons and more.

 

Choosing Sides

Tehran’s neighbors have always been subject to its meddling on political and military levels. In some countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), Tehran has succeeded in becoming the de facto leaders the countries while in others (Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan), it is still striving to do so.

Tehran’s methods of subversion focus mainly on identifying and supporting defiant, and predominantly pro-Shiite, factions in neighboring countries. These factions or militias receive money, weapons and training by Tehran or its proxies (mostly Hezbollah) in the hope of overthrowing the local government. In the case of Yemen, they actually succeeded in doing so for a while until the Saudis began an open war against the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels.

The targets of Tehran’s meddling and subversive nature have to take sides and it is no surprise that Yemen, Bahrain and the UAE have chosen Riyadh over Tehran, recalling diplomats from Iran.

Kuwait hasn’t severed diplomatic relations yet but has also been targeted by Tehran’s meddling and is currently in the process of a trial of 26-man Iranian-backed terror cell this month.

Even Lebanon, which has long been under Tehran’s rule is accusing Tehran of medlding in its presidential elections, an accusation that was, of course, dismissed by officials in Iran.

Tehran, riding high on its new-found popularity with Russia, China and the EU is testing the limits of its power in the region. Its new friends are attracted to the huge potential economy a sanction-free Iran will represent but its neighbors are less interested in the potential economic boom with Iran. Instead, they are worried that Tehran’s regional and global aspirations, guided by the will to “export the revolution”, will mean an increase in  meddling in their governments’ businesses. The nuclear deal, which was supposed to bring peace to the region has only “deepened” the existing “battle lines”.

Iran Not Big Enough For Tehran

tehran an diranIranians, 95% Shiites, represent less than 5% of the world’s Muslim population (1.5 billion) and although Shiites represent approximately 15% of the global Muslim population, Tehran wants to lead a Global Islamic Awakening consolidating all Muslims.

Sounds a like a lion cub trying to take over all of the prides of lions in the world – this might sound reasonable in a Disney movie but it is out of sync in the real world. The non-Muslim world and most of the Muslim world look on such aspirations with fear and yet, Tehran continues to stake its claim to export the Islamic Revolution to any part of the globe which will welcome it. The fact that most countries, Muslims and non-Muslim, want nothing to do with an Islamic Revolution nor an Islamic Awakening, is irrelevant to Tehran which continues to seek out factions within these countries, usually Shiites but sometimes Sunnis or even Christians, to help plan the seed of the Revolution in foreign lands. And when governments react fiercely to such attempts, Tehran blames them of being anti-Muslim and Iranophobic.

It’s worth remembering a quote from Zarif’s book: “We claim that we have a viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order. This claim bears no relation to our capabilities or our power. It originates from the very nature of our worldview. Why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order.”

Malaysia may have less Muslims than Iran (18 million compared to 80 million) but countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh have more (180 million, 170 million and 130 million respectively). And yet, Indonesia is content to be Indonesia, Pakistan is content to be Pakistan and Bangladesh is content to be Bangladesh…Why not Iran?

 

Tehran’s Method of Meddling

As we have outlined in many previous posts, Tehran doesn’t invade countries, it infiltrates them through meddling in local politics by supporting oppressed factions within other countries, usually Shiites, against their governments. Once these factions take over leadership, they make a point of “inviting” Tehran to help them rule.

This has happened successfully in Beirut and in Baghdad. In Damascus, it was Assad’s ruling party which called on Tehran for help, giving over the reins of the government of Syria to Tehran. In other countries such as in Yemen and Bahrain, Tehran has not yet succeeded but is certainly trying.

Of course, Tehran doesn’t openly admit to its meddling nature. As far as Tehran is concerned, it is “helping” Assad in its civil war out of “religious and human duty” although Assad is an Alawite (Shiite) who represent only 12% of all of Syria’s Muslims and the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrian rebels is on Tehran’s hands.

On his visit to Beirut last week, Zarif made a point of stating that Tehran does not meddle in Lebanese politics, a statement hotly contested by the Lebanese opposition leaders: “Nasrallah admitted, without equivocation, that Hezbollah is orchestrating the FPM’s moves and standing behind its attempts to undermine stability in Lebanon through paralyzing state institutions“.

The critics of Tehran continue to shout foul but Tehran is not listening and continues to call for Muslim unity: “Unity of Ummah (Islamic community) is imperative to fight common threats facing the Muslim countries“. And what are the two greatest threats to Muslims according to Tehran? Terrorism and Zionism

 

Fighting Terrorism Is An Excuse To Meddle

Tehran is using its “fight against terrorism” as a rallying call for all these countries to follow its lead. Within one week alone, Tehran called on Syria, Iraq and Gaza to join together in the fight against terrorism. This call to fight terrorism doesn’t sit well with the fact that Tehran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to help export its revolution. In fact, it seems that Tehran is amplifying its fight against ISIS as an excuse to rally other Muslim countries to war.

Bahrain, a clear target of Tehran’s meddling has no illusions: “Iran uses ISIS as a pretext to meddle in the region“. And Bahrain is not alone – all the Gulf states are wary of Tehran’s WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative which took on speed as Tehran went to war against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. They are even more worried that Tehran, with its coffers replenished under a nuclear deal, will become more empowered to meddle and manipulate its “fight against terrorism” as a means of empowering local terrorist organizations, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Shiite factions in Bahrain, to spark revolutions in their countries.

Zionism is, in Tehran’s definition, the most extreme form of terrorism in the world and as such, is fully supporting the destruction of Israel. Although it has had its ups and downs with Hamas over picking different sides in the Syrian civil war, it is intensifying its support to Hamas in its war against Israel and even Fatach’s Abbas is supposed to visit Tehran in the near future.

 

Meddling Increases With Nuclear Deal

Some believe that the nuke deal will not change Tehran’s “approach to the region” while other believe that a nuclear deal will empower Tehran to meddle more. With or without the US approval, Tehran is set to reap immensely profitable ties with Moscow and Beijing as well as increased trade with its neighbors. Tehran is smart enough to not try to export the revolution to Moscow or Beijing but it will use any open doors to do so in other countries wherever and whenever possible. Furthermore,  the lifting of sanctions which will fill Tehran’s coffers with at least $28 billion of which some will be funneled to export the revolution and fund terrorist organizations. Why? Because, as Zarif explains it so clearly “Without revolutionary goals we do not exist … Our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.” The increase of trade, the freeing of funds and the promise of nuclear program that will reach a “sunset clause” within 10 years will all help Tehran to try to achieve its global aspirations.

This may not be easily understandable to Westerners: Americans and Western Europeans do not have long term aspirational goals. The US may view itself as the world’s moral and political police but ask an American president where the US will or should be in the next ten years and you will probably get a few helpless shrugs and some theoretical goals – Ask Khamenei the same question and he will immediately tell you that Tehran will lead the world to a “century of Islam“, with or without him…that is the main difference.

 

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Nuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

intent contentNuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

Most people are trying to decide if a nuclear deal with Iran is good or not based on the contents of the deal: the number of centrifuges, the amount of uranium, the transparency of inspections etc…

God may be in the details but in this case, he/she can be found in the intentions of both sides. And since there is a huge lack of trust between both sides, the validity of the deal is not to be found in what is written but in what is intended and how it is communicated. Not the “what” but the “how” and the why”.

As it stands, this deal isn’t worth the paper it is printed on and much less the amount of time and money that has been invested in it.

 

What are the intentions of the West?

flag 2It’s evident that the West’s main intention is to stop Iran from militarizing its nuclear program. And although Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supporters of the regime believe that Tehran should not be subjected to such restrictions while its arch enemy, Israel isn’t.

Since 2003, the IAEA has repeatedly found that Iran is not complying to NPT guidelines in numerous manners (enrichment above the 5% cap, tests on weaponization, denial of access to nuclear and military bases etc…) as outlined in the IAEA reports on Iran. These fears of non-compliance by Iran in its nuclear program led the UN Security Council to slap on a multitude of sanctions on Iran in the hope that Iran would comply to all IAEA and NPT guidelines.

Tehran has repeatedly denied accusations of non-compliance to the NPT, calling them baseless and politicized, stating that it “has constantly complied with its obligations under the NPT and the Statute of the IAEA“. From this point of view, the sanctions seem unfair and cruel and the nuclear deal is seen to simply be a way to lift these sanctions.

But Khamenei doesn’t believe that the West’s intentions are focused only on blocking a militarized nuclear program. As far as he is concerned, the “sanctions imposed against Iran have nothing to do with Tehran’s nuclear activities” but instead are meant to prevent Iran from “reaching a prominent civilizational status”.  Furthermore, Khamenei feels his infamous “nuclear fatwa” – the use or threat of using a nuclear weapon is “haram” (a sin) – is more than enough to allay any fears in the West.

 

What are the intentions of Tehran?

iran-flagIt is next to impossible to understand what Tehran, or more specifically, what Khamenei really wants. Lifting the sanctions is obviously the first and necessary step to right what he believes is an unjust wrong enforced by the West on Iran.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric and Tehran’s actions go much further than simply lifting sanctions: Khamenei has been pushing for a long-awaited “Global Islamic Awakening” which would unseat the “hegemony” of the “imperialist/colonialist” and “arrogant powers” (USA = the Great Satan) who have dominated the world for the past two centuries and who have “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could”. In his vision, the coming century is to be “the century of Islam”, led by Iran through its experience in the Islamic Revolution.

Furthermore, Tehran is dedicated to export the Islamic Revolution, a vision developed by Khomeini himself and upheld by the IRGC’s elite Qods unit as is evident in this boasting statement by Qods chief, Qassem Suleimani: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

Tehran’s military and political involvement in Lebanon (de facto governing through Hezbollah), Gaza (de facto governing through Hamas), Syria (supporting Assad in the civil war in Syria), Iraq (installing a pro-Iran government in Iraq and fighting ISIS), Yemen (supporting Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government) and Bahrain (supporting Shiite extremists to overthrow the Bahraini government) are statements to Iran’s regional and global aspirations. Further evidence of “exporting the revolution” and “Islamic Awakening” have been identified in other Gulf States, Arab states in the Middle East as well as many states in Africa and in South America.

Seen in this light, a militarized nuclear program would greatly enhance the chances of bringing to fruition both leaders’ visions and is causing the West to distrust Tehran’s motives.

 

Motives will make or break the Nuclear Deal

kerry zarifThe biggest problem surrounding the nuclear deal is the lack of trust which is unsuccessfully replaced with a myriad of details. As such, any deal, if signed, is destined to fail due to the basic lack of trust.

So, what would make a good deal? Only one thing: a total about-face by Tehran in regards to its motives and behavior that will build trust.

Imagine if Tehran had approached the negotiations for a nuclear deal with complete acceptance to comply to all IAEA/NPT guidelines and manage a nuclear program within the boundaries of supplying electricity. No need for enrichment beyond 5%, for so many centrifuges, for heavy water plants, for blocking access to bases, for testing weaponization etc…Creating electricity, and nothing more.

Imagine if Tehran had given up on its efforts to meddle in neighboring countries and on its aspirations to lead an empire in the region. No involvement in civil wars and efforts to overturn governments, no more support to terrorist organizations, no more threats to destroy Israel…Thriving peacefully, and nothing more.

There would have been no need for sanctions or a nuclear deal since Iran would be treated like any other country with a nuclear program meant for peaceful purposes.

 

Unfortunately, Tehran wants to keep its cake and eat it: It wants to lift sanctions but also wants to maintain its nuclear program and its aspirations for regional dominance intact. As such, the nuclear deal is akin to a marriage by two people who don’t trust each other since they met – divorce is inevitable.

 

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Is Tehran Addicted to Terror?

addicted to terror

For years, Iran has been accused of supporting terrorist organizations in its effort to export the Islamic Revolution to neighboring Arab states.

For years, Iran has denied all involvement with any terrorist organizations and instead has rebranded itself as a champion against terrorism through its battles against ISIS.

And for years, Iran has eventually been found to be supporting terrorists and to be lying in its denials.

This cycle of supporting terrorism, denying it, being found out and denying once again is a central part of Iran’s aspirations in the Middle East. But every time that Iran is caught backing terrorists, it’s denials lose their legitimacy just as a drug addict’s denials lose their sincerety after every relapse.

 

Iranian Terror in Bahrain and Jordan

bahrain jordanLast week, Jordanian security officials apprehended an Iranian-backed terrorist by the name of Khaled Kazem al-Rubai with 45 kilos of high explosives. Al-Rubai, who has dual Iraqi-Norwegian nationality, is said to have ties through the Iranian-backed Bayt al-Maqdis which is connected directly to the IRGC’s Qods unit. He entered Jordan through Syria, under the control of Iran, and is suspected of planning a large terrorist attack in Amman.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is:  last month, officials in Bahrain busted a terrorist cell with larges caches of explosives that was linked to the Iranian-backed Al Ashtar Brigades, a Shiite terrorist organization dedicated to overthrowing the government in Bahrain.

 

Iran’s Motives and MO

denialWhat is Iran’s motive? Although Jordan and Bahrain are very different in many ways, both countries are traditionally allied to Saudi Arabia and are weary of Iran’s efforts to “Export the Islamic Revolution” through local Shiite organizations and extremists intent on toppling the ruling monarchies.

Denials by Tehran to the connection with these terrorist cells were issued quickly in both cases but unfortunately, Tehran is notorious for denying everything and then being caught doing exactly what it denied: In Syria, Tehran at first denied operating Hezbollah militia to help Assad and later admitted doing so. Tehran denied shipping ammunitions and arms to Assad and then recanted. Tehran denied operating its own armies in Syria and then recanted once again. The same modus operandi of denials and then begrudged recantations could be seen in Tehran’s involvement with Yemen’s Houthi rebels: denial of involvement were followed by proudly admitting that Iranian-backed Hezbollah operatives trained and supplied the rebels in an effort to overthrow the Yemenite government.

 

On Truth and Trust

regionSince the trials are held behind closed doors, it may take time till we understand exactly what evidence the security forces have that ties the terrorists to Tehran.

But one thing is certain: Iran doesn’t inspire trust in any of its neighbors. In fact, they are terrified by Tehran’s repeated calls for a Global Islamic Awakening which would endanger the essence of their governments. Iran’s repeated efforts at meddling in its neighbors affairs cannot be overlooked any more nor can its aspirations to build an empire in the Middle East.

They, more than anyone else, understand that Iran’s finger prints are all over the repeated efforts by Shiites to overthrow neighboring governments. Tehran’s aspirations to head an Islamist empire may be kept off the agenda at the nuclear negotiation tables in Vienna but they are a top security priority for the immediate neighbors who will be the first to pay the price.

 

Iran, it seems, is addicted to meddling, terror and denials. It’s as if a drug addict is trying to take over counselling for rehabilitating other drug addicts. As long as the hands of Tehran are stained in blood, it cannot expect that the West will easily want to shake hands in peace.

 

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