Extended US sanctions do not breach nuclear deal

The US decision to extend its non-nuclear sanctions on Iran for another 10 years has elicited a lot of responses from Tehran. The common denominator of all the responses is that such sanctions breach the nuclear deal, implicating the US on trying to derail the deal. Even President Hassan Rouhani joined in on the cacophony of rants claiming that the US is “the enemy” and that these sanctions will lead to “harsh reactions” from Tehran. What Rouhani and the mullahs in Tehran prefer to not mention is that these sanctions are focused only on US entities and do not affect the economic relations between Iran and the rest of the world. “But, it’s still a breach of the deal, then isn’t it?” you say. Well, here’s where it all gets tricky since the status between Tehran and Washington is still stuck where it has been since 1979. In fact, the ink had barely dried on the nuclear deal when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decided to ban 227 US brands from the Iranian market while at the same time, forbidding the chief negotiators, FM Javad Zarif in particular, from negotiating anything with the US that wasn’t nuclear in nature and explaining why chants of “Death to America” while burning the US flag was justified.

Now some would quickly claim that even though the sanctions are not nuclear-related, they infringe on the “spirit” of the nuclear deal. They are 100% correct.

The “spirit” of the deal can be found in the mutual goal of Iran and Western countries to look to the future for peaceful relations instead of looking back to find all the reasons why Iran was isolated by the West in the first place. But from day one, such a spirit never really existed in Tehran. Tehran has always claimed that it would gladly sign the nuclear deal with the P5+1 but such a deal would not normalize in any way relations with the US.

In fact, that spirit, which President Barack Obama tried so hard to sell to the American public was cut down before it even had a chance to develop. Khamenei made sure that Tehran’s negotiating team did all it could to keep the nuclear deal focused only on nuclear issues. The P5+1, specially the US, tried to repeatedly introduce other issues such as missile tests, sponsoring terrorist organizations, supplying arms to the Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, harassing US navy ships in international waters etc… to no avail. The message from Tehran was clear: this was a nuclear deal and as such the only issues which would be relevant to the deal would be nuclear issues. As such, the renewed sanctions do not breach the deal itself.

So when Obama claimed that Tehran’s repeated long-range missile tests broke the spirit of the deal, Tehran loudly pointed out that such a spirit doesn’t exist. But this didn’t stop some Iranian leaders to pick up on Obama’s “spirit” of the deal to try to pressure the US to lift all sanctions which might impede the normalization of Iran’s economy.

Many people are wondering what will happen to the nuclear deal once Donald Trump takes over. One thing is certain, if there ever had been a “spirit” of the deal, it lived only in Obama’s administration and it will certainly die out under Trump.

The bottom line is this: Trump might lead the US out of the deal or he might even add a few more sanctions just to make a point. Such a move would not necessarily force any of the other co-signees of the deal to drop the deal but it would place Tehran and Washington back to where they were before the deal was signed – deep in the paranoid mentality that has been the bread and butter of relations between these two countries since 1979.

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Aleppo at the front of a growing proxy war

 

The siege of Aleppo which began in 2012 is now being called “the mother of all battles” or “Syria’s Stalingrad. At least 30,000 civilians have been killed, mainly by the Syrian government and Russia who have targeted Aleppo for wave after wave of horrifying bombings.

But the battle for Aleppo isn’t just a battle in the Syrian civil war: Aleppo is at the front of a much larger proxy war with between the “Axis of Resistance” (Iran + Syria + Lebanon + Hezbollah) backed by Russia against the “West” (USA + Saudi Arabia together with many Arab states and possibly the EU) and, at least for now, the West is definitely losing. In the meantime, the number of casualties grows daily and each side is claiming that the other is to blame. If Aleppo falls, so does the West’s hopes of allowing the Syrian people to determine their destiny through by choosing their government: Assad inherited the presidency from his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000 and since then, there have been no free elections in Syria. Oh, there were two elections in 2007 and 2014 which Assad won simply because he was the only candidate to run for president, glaring evidence that his basis of power is not the choice of the Syrian people but the dictatorial powers of a self-proclaimed leader.

Peace talks for Syria continue to stall on one single point: Should Assad remain power or should general elections choose Syria’s next president? Tehran is sticking to its bet on Assad and is adamant that peace will only return to Syria if Assad remains in power. But make no mistake, Tehran has its own agenda to keep Assad in power: The Assads have supported Iran for decades and one of the reasons can be found in that they are Alawites, a Shiite-like minority in Syria and are therefore potential “importers” of the Islamic Revolution. Whether or not Assad will allow Syria to undergo an Islamic Revolution or not, he clearly understands that Tehran is his best ally. If Aleppo falls and the Syrian civil war ends, Syria will become, like Lebanon, a satellite state of Iran, with or without an Islamic Revolution.

The nuclear deal created a new situation in which Tehran and Moscow began to develop a strategic relationship which is influencing the whole region. Moscow, which has stayed far away from the Middle East since its Afghan debacle, finally found a way back into the region through the expansionist strategies of Tehran.

For years, Tehran warned Western states to stay far away from the Syrian civil war claiming that any move to support the rebels would be seen as a foreign interference despite the fact that Tehran has been a foreign interference in the war from day one by supporting Assad financially, politically and militarily either directly or through Hezbollah. The rise of ISIS, backed in the past by Saudi Arabia and the US, only increased Tehran’s legitimacy to block off any attempts to depose Assad. As the world began to get to grips with the horrors of ISIS, many countries sent in bombing expeditions which were all categorized as “useless” by Tehran so it was a big surprise, at least to some, that Tehran and Assad invited Moscow to join Assad’s efforts in destroying the rebels.

Syria, like Yemen, has become the battle grounds for a proxy war of increasingly global proportions. Both wars began as civil wars and quickly escalated to proxy wars between two regional enemies: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran dove in full throttle into Syria to help Assad while Saudi Arabia grudgingly joined the war in Yemen to help restore the Yemenite government which was ousted by Houthi rebels supported by Tehran. In neither countries are Iran and Saudi Arabia fighting directly with each other because both sides understand that this would mean the end of the proxy war and the beginning of a regional war which has the potential to become a global war if and when the US and Russia get involved.

Tehran continues to blame Riyadh for the “appalling situation” in the region and to blame Washington for creating “a warmongering atmosphere which led to the increased activities of terrorist currents in the region” without once accepting its responsibility for its own part in fueling the conflicts. The West, on the other hand, blames Tehran for the exact same outcome without accepting any responsibilities. And the people of Aleppo? Just as the rest of the Syrians and Yemenites, they will continue to suffer as long as their city remains such a strategic point within these proxy wars.

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Tehran beating on the drums of war

Tehran is becoming more aggressive by the day. This heightened level of aggression is manifested in incessant taunts which are meant to elicit some form of aggressive response from Tehran’s enemies which can generally be categorized as Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, the PMOI (Iranian resistance in exile) and anyone who supports them. It’s not that any of this is totally new to Tehran but the levels of aggression have risen sharply over the past few weeks. Examples of Tehran’s increased aggressive behavior can be found on many levels:

  • Increased anti-Saudi rhetoric
  • Increased anti PMOI rhetoric and military maneuvers
  • Increased military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
  • Increased military presence in Syria and in Iraq
  • Increased talk of Russian-Iranian military alliances
  • Increased hardline speeches by Iranian “moderates”

Tehran will probably not be the first to take these aggressions to military level against any of its enemies since it prides itself on not starting wars but the increase in aggressive behavior from Tehran points to one direction: Tehran is willing to taunt enough people in order to be attacked and it feels safe enough by Moscow’s side to say and do whatever it wants.

 

More anti-Saudi rhetoric

Last week, Khamenei relaunched his tirade against Saudi Arabia with a vengeance as it became clear that neither Riyadh nor Tehran were ready to get over their differences in regards to the agreements needed to allow Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Khamenei’s rant represented a distinct escalation and was vicious even by his standards: The Saudis, he ranted, are “oppressive”, “arrogant”, “faithless”, “blaspheming” “murderers” who are in collusion with the US and Israel and have made Saudi Arabia “unsafe” for pilgrims and for that reason, he called on Muslim countries to “fundamentally reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of the holy sites, although he didn’t offer any advice on how such a “reconsideration” is to take place.

Rouhani echoed Khamenei’s rant and called for Muslim unity (“the “Hajj period should be regarded as a chance to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah and foster unity within the Islamic community”) against Saudi Arabia by calling on Muslim countries to “take coordinated actions to resolve problems and punish the Saudi government”. But he didn’t stop only at the issue of the Hajj: “If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the hajj… maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it…Unfortunately, this government by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen”. Finally, he added his own thoughts on his favorite subject, terrorism: “Regional stability depends on ending support for terrorism…everyone knows which countries are assisting them from inside and outside the region and which countries are supplying terrorists with weapons and armaments”. Of course, Rouhani doesn’t mention how Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are shedding Muslim blood in “Iraq, Syria and Yemen” nor does he mention how Iran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, an organization designated by the western world and the Arab League as terrorist but designated as “shining freedom fighters” in Tehran.

And what about Javad Zarif, Tehran’s star diplomat? He joined the attack and sounded more like Khamenei than Khamenei himself: “Saudi rulers are brazen enough to openly express alliance to the Zionist regime; they have abused and taken hostage sacred Islamic shrines in line with their petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist policies in serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons; ‘stupidity,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘intransigence,’ and ‘unlimited wealth’ have rendered the Saudi family callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands, with a penchant for ‘beget, foster, and spread terrorism’ to plague the world and larger parts of the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen with the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred spewed by its unexperienced rulers”. This is the same Zarif who had told an Omani minister only one week before to “abandon the illusion of rivalry” in the region. “Illusion of rivalry”? Mr. Zarif, this is no “illusion”, this is a reality in which a “cold war” developed into a series of “proxy wars” and is now in danger of developing into an all-out frontal war which is bound to engulf the whole region in flames.

The recalling theme of Riyadh’s ties to the “Zionist” cause is partly true: the main reason that Israel is warming up to diplomatic and other ties with the Gulf States is the mutual fear of Tehran. Of course, the Saudis and the Arab League will not openly endorse a firm relationship with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue isn’t dealt with but the Arab States are also cooling a bit on the Palestinian issue specifically because Tehran’s influence on Hezbollah and even Hamas continues to grow. If the gulf States are more open to dealing with Israel, Tehran can only blame itself…or perhaps, that’s exactly what Tehran wanted from day one – to place Saudi Arabia with Israel against the Palestinians.

In any case, the guys in Tehran didn’t get the support they needed from the Muslim countries, specifically, the members of the Arab League who joined Saudi Arabia’s call to Tehran to stop politicizing the Hajj. Tehran reacted in the expected manner and called again on the Arab League to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop funding terror and to stop killing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, without mentioning, once again, its own supports for terrorist organizations and its own responsibility for the deaths of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenites.

But Tehran didn’t give up yet: Both Khamenei and Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian parliament, called for an international “fact-finding” commission to investigate last year’s disaster in Mina. But then again, no one in his right mind in Tehran would support an international fact-finding commission in regards to the 1988 systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners by the regime.

 

More military actions and rhetoric

But Tehran’s aggressive mood isn’t aimed only at Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and the chances of the Tehran-Riyadh conflict evolving into an open war seem slim despite the constant taunts from both sides. Tehran’s enemy of preference remains the US and it has backed its fiery rhetoric against the “Great Satan” with some military taunts as well.

Tehran seems to have made a strategic decision to harass the US Navy which sends out regular patrols to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the case last year in which the Iranian navy boarded a US Navy vessel which mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, the Iranians are now harassing US navy ships and planes in international waters and air-space: It sent some of its boats to harass US cruisers until the Americans fired some warning shots and it warned Navy pilots that they would be shot down even though they were flying in international air-space.

This may sound like a storm in a tea-cup since no harm was done, but the rhetoric from Tehran is just as taunting: the Iranians denied overstepping international laws and claimed that “the (American) claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic’s soldiers”.

But it’s not only about military actions. Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, advised Tehran to begin developing a nuclear bomb within 48 hours and not be worried about sanctions: “we must know that we do not fear and that we are ready”. Ready for what? For more sanctions? For a war? A world war?

Up until now, Tehran has always placed great emphasis on the fact that its army was for defensive purposes and as such, strengthening the army’s capabilities was a natural right since it’s meant to defend itself. This frame of thought is in tune with Tehran’s pride in not initiating a war or invading a country in centuries but this logic comes apart in regards to the numerous long-range missile tests and the numerous countries in which Iranian armies or its proxies are actively fighting – specifically in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s military activities in all these countries is growing, not diminishing as can be viewed from the growing number of Iranian troops fighting in Syria and in Iraq and from the continuous presence of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s star chief of its elite Qods unit, in the battlefields.

And then, But Khamenei issued a statement in which he stressed that Iran’s “defensive and offensive capabilities” is an “inalienable and clear right”. The addition of the “offensive” to the “defensive” was a first for Khamenei. Why did he choose to stress the offensive capabilities of Iran’s army now?

 

Why now?

Timing is everything and now seems to be an ideal time for Tehran to become more aggressive.

On the one hand, Tehran is frustrated with the ongoing wars in Syria and in Yemen which do not seem close to a victorious end for Iran but on the other hand, Tehran enjoys an unparalleled support of Russia in many levels – both of which explain the rise in aggressive behavior.

Furthermore, Tehran’s growing conflict with Riyadh is creating a situation in which all countries with any connection to the region have to take sides and on the whole, the Arab countries chose to ally themselves with Saudi Arabia.

And then there’s the issue of the West’s support of the PMOI, the growing exiled Iranian resistance which is creating a lot of tension within the regime.

Finally, Tehran is gearing up for the next presidential elections and Khamenei’s hardline tone is being echoed by hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling for a redefine “revolutionary ideals” and is forcing Rouhani to become more hardline if he wants to win a second term.

But perhaps the single element which is most instrumental in increasing Tehran’s aggression is Khamenei himself, or more specifically, the legacy that Khamenei wants to leave after his death. The nuclear deal that Rouhani brokered together with Zarif might have achieved its initial purpose in lifting nuclear-related sanctions and allowing Tehran to openly ally itslef with other countries.

But the nuclear deal did not sit easily with Khamenei who kept on stressing his “red lines” only to watch some of his “red lines” crossed. The further complications with non-nuclear sanctions only increased Khamenei’s distaste for signing a deal with the “Great Satan”.

And then, there is his cherished vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” and a “New Islamic Civilization” which is slipping away from him at a time when his health is deteriorating and his death is approaching. For Khamenei, now is the time to instill in Iran the pride of his Revolutionary Ideals and take on the world because the last thing that he will want to be remembered for is that Tehran capitulated to the Western powers under him..

Will Iran finally unleash its aggression? Will it attack Saudi Arabia or make a run for a nuclear bomb? Will Russia continue to support Tehran in these cases? No one really knows but one fact is certain: Tehran has had enough of being aggressive under cover and too many people in Tehran are itching for a war…specially its Supreme Leader, Khamenei.

 

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

Magic tricks are based on a magician’s ability to misdirect the audience’s attention to her manipulations in order to create an illusion. The audience, who missed the manipulation, is then asked to focus on the end result of the manipulation and the illusion is thus complete. The regime in Tehran has turned the basis of magic tricks into its leading strategy. Whenever Tehran is under pressure, it immediately denies any wrong-doing and then proceeds to misdirect the world’s attention by accusing someone else in order to present a fait accompli of its agenda.

It’s not that Tehran is the only regime guilty of manipulation: most political entities are doing so on a regular basis. But Tehran is perfecting its game to a point where even if it is caught in creating an illusion, it immediately returns to denials, counter-accusations and misdirections in order to maintain the illusion.

It looks something like this: Wrongdoing => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion etc…

Tehran can continue to claim that it doesn’t promote terror, that there are no human rights problems in Iran, that it isn’t meddling in its neighbors’ affairs, that it isn’t failing in implementing the JCPoA as long as it wants but if you look closely and avoid the misdirections, you will be able to see through these illusions and see Tehran for what it is: a brutal, meddling, religious theocracy with ambitions to create the biggest illusion of them all – to lead a Global Islamic Awakening meant to change the Western hegemony and influence on the world.

 

The illusion of fighting against terror

When Tehran is criticized of supporting terror, it immediately denies supporting terrorism, misdirects the world’s opinion towards ISIS and blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terrorism, while positioning itself as a champion against terrorism.

In this case, the brutal nature of ISIS is the perfect misdirection in order to manipulate its audience into believing that Tehran is actually against terror since ISIS is probably one of the few terrorist organization which is recognized globally as such. Anyone fighting against ISIS is automatically seen as “the good guy” even if this does include people with blood on their hands such as Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Ali Khamenei (Iran) and Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah).

Tehran’s denial of supporting terrorism is not an easy misdirection since Tehran openly supports organizations, such as Hezbollah, which are designated as terrorist organizations by many countries in the world. But even if Tehran can’t fool all the people all of the time, it can fool enough people some of the time and as long as enough people believe that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, the illusion can be pulled off successfully.

Blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terror is a more delicate misdirection since it is based mostly on the Saudi Arabia’s ties with al-Qaeda and the fact that ISIS was established in an Iraqi prison under US rule. Tehran continues its misdirection by linking the US and its allies to ISIS even though such a link is, at present, far from the truth but such a theory is appealing to people with anti-American sentiments and that is enough for Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran is actively encouraging Islamic terrorism by pitting its terrorist forces, such as Hezbollah, against legitimate Syrian rebels and the Yemenite government.

The weakness of this illusion can be easily spotted the fact that, although Tehran is actively fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, it continues to support terrorism through its Quds forces and its terroristic proxies. Tehran continues to support terrorism on a regional and a global scale and not amount of misdirections can erase this fact.

 

The illusion of human rights in Iran

brothers in lies 2When Tehran is criticized for the state of human rights in Iran, it denies having any problems of human rights in Iran and immediately attacks the US and the UK for problems of human rights within their own countries and blames a lack of cultural misunderstanding.

Once again, Tehran, the supreme illusionist, doesn’t try to deal with the accusations nor alleviate the problem of human rights in Iran despite the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of globally designated human rights abuses in Iran. By misdirecting its Western audiences to focusing on #BlackLivesMatter or the tortures in Guantanamo, it portrays itself as a champion of human rights despite the fact that Tehran systematically abuses and oppresses religious and cultural minorities as well as political opponents, activists, critics of the regime, women and gays.

But since this is usually not enough to convince Western audiences who are appalled at the blatant abuses of human rights in Iran, Tehran tries to misdirect them even further by claiming that the reports of human rights abuses are not only politically motivated to hurt Iran but are lacking in their veracity since they do not take into account basic cultural differences between secular and democratic governments and theocratic Muslim governments. In this manner, Tehran plants seeds of doubt on the notion of global human rights in the first place.

The weakness of this part of the illusion is that many of the problems of human rights in Iran do not stem from Islamic law but the environment of zero-tolerance  to any statement or act that could be interpreted as criticism against the regime. It’s not only about the treatment of gays, women and executions which is dictated by Shariah law, it’s about the treatment of religious minorities, reporters, activists and “dissidents” who are oppressed for criticizing the regime and it’s about a judicial system which limits the chance of a fair trial and a punishment which correlates the nature and the dangers of the crime committed (unlike Atena Farghdani who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a satirical caricature).

Whether the mullahs in the regime like it or not, Tehran is a systematic abuser of human rights and no amount of finger pointing or claims of cultural differences can erase the abuses of the thousands of Iranians who were oppressed, harassed, arrested, fined, tortured, imprisoned and executed up until this very day.

 

The illusion of helping its neighbors

When Tehran is criticized for its subversive meddling in neighboring countries, it denies doing so and immediately misdirects these accusations towards its regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, insisting on the fact on being “invited” by its neighbors to help the “oppressed” people there.

Blaming Saudi Arabia is an easy misdirection since Riyadh doesn’t even try to hide its efforts of always taking a position opposite Iran in regional conflicts due to the vary basic and age-old Shiite-Sunni conflict which has taken millions of lives since its inception 1,400 years ago. Tehran may openly call for Muslim unity but underneath such calls remain a very basic distrust and hatred which is fueled by each and every act of Sunni-Shiite violence. But Tehran is more meddling in nature than Riyadh for one simple reason: it continues to emulate Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution” to any country which might accept it while Riyadh has no such ambitions. Tehran, in this manner, justifies its involvement in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, conflicts which have led to hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And then, we come to the justification by invitation: Tehran claims that it was “invited” by the government of Syria to join the civil was and is highly critical of the fact that Riyadh claims that it was “invited” by the Syrian rebels to do the same. On the other hand, in Yemen, it is Riyadh who claims to be “invited” by the government while Tehran was “invited” by the rebels. Does Assad, as the president of Syria, a country torn apart by civil war because Assad refused to hold democratic elections, even have a moral right to “invite” Tehran to crush the Syrian rebels? Do the Houthi rebels in Yemen have such a right? And does the fact that Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria (to whom Assad belongs) are both Shiite-like religions not emphasize that Tehran is selectively trying to save its Shiite neighbors in an effort to export to them the revolution?

Face it: Tehran isn’t “helping” its “oppressed” neighbors by “invitation”, it is helping itself to achieve its Islamic revolutionary ideals of a Global Islamic Awakening which is Shiite in nature and which is headed by the mullahs in Tehran.

 

The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

When Tehran is faced with problems of fully enjoying the fruits of the JCPoA because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions (terrorism, missiles, human rights etc…), it denies any wrong-doing and blames the US for attempting to derail the nuclear deal.

To be honest, the JCPoA was not meant to be a peace treaty with the P5+1 nor was it meant to deal with any other issue other than monitoring and restricting Tehran nuclear program. Tehran made this clear whenever the Western negotiation teams would try to include issues such as Iran’s missile programs, its support of terrorism, its flagrant abuses of human rights etc… When the deal was finally signed the US, the EU and the UN lifted all the nuclear-related sanctions but other sanctions remained. Furthermore, these sanctions were reinforced by Tehran’s continued transgressions in testing long-range missiles, in supporting terrorist organizations and in abuses of human rights.

But the illusionists in Tehran misdirected the world’s attention to the remaining sanctions as if they were in contradiction of the JCPoA, trying to present the US as the one who was not fully implementing the nuclear deal. The fact that the US secretary of State John Kerry practically begged foreign investors to invest in Iran even though Khamenei banned US brands from Iran was viewed presented by Tehran as futile.

And when an IAEA report pointed to the fact that, despite Tehran’s denials, efforts at militarizing its nuclear program were evident from soil samples taken at the Parchin military base, Tehran maintained its denials, accusing the IAEA of politicizing its report.

Yes, Tehran is implementing the JCPoA, as is the US. The problem is that all sides want the JCPoA to be a much more encompassing solution which it isn’t and both sides are selling an illusion of a peace treaty which never really existed. The problem is that Tehran is looking at the problems of implementing the JCPoA as an excuse to return to large-scale enrichment which would then force the West into either accepting Tehran’s militarization of its nuclear program of into trying to stop from doing so.

 

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Iran Nuclear Threat Returns

As the financial benefits of the JCPoA continue to elude Iran due to sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issues (terrorism, human rights etc…), the nuclear issues are moving back to front stage. Tehran is threatening that it would “resume large-scale uranium enrichment” if the US doesn’t free up all sanctions against Iran even though all of the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on time. In fact, the US has become one of Iran’s major lobby groups in the world, openly calling for world businesses to do business with Iran even if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned over 227 US corporations from Iran.

To make matters worse, the reports from the IAEA since the implementation of the JCPoA are not helping to blow away the fears of a militarized nuclear program in Iran: the reports emanating from Iran are less detailed and murkier despite the promise for more “transparency” and allow for what President Barack Obama said in order to reassure the world: “this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification”. The reports lack in-depth data and lingering questions are left unanswered such as the exact whereabouts of Iran’s stockpiles of Uranium.

Furthermore, the IAEA tested soil samples from Parchin, which were unprecedentedly taken from the site not by IAEA officials but by Iranian officials,   produced two different types of man-made Uranium giving reason to believe that tests on nuclear weapons were carried out there in the past. Parchin remains highly suspicious according to the IAEA satellite pictures show evidence of a massive clean-up, evidence that was backed up by the IAEA’s only visit to Parchin in 2015. Tehran, of course, denies any wrong-doings and refuses to allow further inspections of the base.

This refusal is an example of the growing differences between how the JCPoA was understood by the West at its signing and how it’s being interpreted in Iran today. Visits to “suspicious” sites, which was part of the JCPoA to allow IAEA officials “access where necessary, when necessary”, remains another point of contention since the IAEA has not reported on visits to any such sites.

But the problems do not begin nor end with the IAEA. The JCPoA included specified clauses which would forbid the testing of ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of” carrying a nuclear payload. The fact is that since the signing of the JCPoA, Iran has carried out three ballistic missile test that we know of. The US and the UN warned Iran that the missile tests were a breach of the JCPoA but these allegations were hotly contested by Iran’s FM Javad Zarif, the chief architect of the deal: the JCPoA, he says “doesn’t call upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads … it calls upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles that were “designed” to be capable….that word (“designed”) took me about seven months to negotiate, so everybody knew what it meant“. This issue was weakened further by the weak wording in which the UN “calls upon” Iran to desist from testing missiles and not “prohibiting” the missile tests. US Secretary of State Johan Kerry tried to rectify the wording by asking Iran to rewrite this clause in the deal but he was brusquely rejected by Tehran’s defense minister who called it “nonsense”.

Other outstanding issues include the stockpiles of heavy water at the Arak plant which were meant to block the possibility of a “Plutonium path” to a nuclear bomb and more importantly, the estimates of Iran’s “break-out” time (to build a bomb) is still being disputed. The Obama administration sold the deal by claiming that it would extend the “break-out” time to one year but the estimates are now placed at only 7 months.

All of these issues point to a growing distrust on both sides on the validity of the JCPoA. This distrust is enhanced by none other than Khamenei himself: the issuer of the infamous “nuclear fatwa” and an ardent denier of Iran’s plans to militarize its nuclear program in the past, present or future, is so disenchanted with the nuclear deal that he continues to add fuel to the fire of fears. In a speech to the Assembly of Experts entitled “With Power, We Can Take From the Enemy (the US/West)“, he made it clear that Iran has mastered the potential to enrich Uranium to 20%, emphasizing that “if a country is able to bring itself to 20%, from there until the 90%-99% (level needed to build a nuclear bomb) is an easy task, there isn’t a long way (left to go). They (the world powers) know this. The Islamic Republic has progressed on this path”.

The fact that Khamenei places so much emphasis on the ideal of martyrdom makes any thoughts of a nuclear bomb in his hands a nightmare of global proportions.

The West, especially the US is now stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”: If it reneges on the deal and slaps back sanctions, Khamenei will follow on his threat to “burn the deal” and will definitely increase the enrichment of Uranium which will pressure the West into deciding whether to wage war on Iran or wait until it builds a nuclear bomb…both options are scary since they can easily lead to World War 3.

The other alternative is to play into Khamenei’s raging paranoia of a “soft war” meant to increase “foreign influence” in Iran through allowing foreign businesses and investments into the Iranian economy. As Kerry stated, “doing business is one of the best ways to create interests and vested purpose, if you will, in furthering transformation“. This strategy is surely a winner in the long run but it requires that Iran remain stable and open to the world for a long time since foreign businesses remain wary of investing in Iran as long as the regime remains volatile.

As long as President Hassan Rouhani remains in power, such a strategy may succeed since Rouhani has placed great emphasis on attracting foreign investments despite Khamenei’s repeated calls to maintain a “resistance economy” as if the JCPoA were not signed. And even if Rouhani does win the 2017 elections, it must be noted that his ability to steer Iran to a less “Revolutionary” path is severely limited by, once again, Khamenei, who is proud to view himself as a “Revolutionary” rather than a politician – a fact which helped Henry Kissinger to say that Iran has to decide “whether it is a nation or a cause“.

Until then, the world will have to keep on holding its breath and hope that Iran will choose peace with the world instead of trying to fulfil Khamenei’s ambitions for a “Global Islamic Awakening” which could be powered by a nuclear war.

 

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Tug of War and Peace in Tehran


The differences between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and its President, Hassan Rouhani, are growing bigger with every sound bite and what is at stake is nothing less than the future nature of the regime itself.

For decades, Khamenei’s iron will governed everything about Iran. Presidents would kowtow to his will and in the fiasco following the 2009 elections, he made it clear that he was a regime man through and through when he backed the conservative winner of the elections, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over the protests of rigged elections by a large portion of the Iranian population which had voted for moderate candidates.

But Rouhani isn’t just another president: His popularity is built on his moderateness and his call for far–reaching changes in Iran’s economy, its foreign relations, its human rights etc…He may have grown up within the regime but there can be no doubt that Rouhani view the regime as capable of change.

Both men are popular within their own spheres and although questions abound about just how much Rouhani is a moderate since his past is intertwined with hardline elements within the regime, it’s become obvious that the conflict between the two is growing into a veritable tug of war or a tug of peace.

 

Understanding both men

In one corner is the “Supreme Leader”, chosen by the Assembly of Experts and supported by all hardliners, conservative organizations and, last but not least, the IRGC and most of Iran’s military. Khamenei is fighting to maintain the status quo established back in 1979: A regime, built on and made to maintain a religious theocracy fueled by revolutionary ideals. He is 77 years old, is in frail health and is thinking of his legacy. Khamenei’s mindset is governed by his vision of a Global Islamic Awakening which would revolutionize the whole world, his idealization of martyrdom, his fierce nationalistic pride and his readiness to go to war if this pride is marred in any way. He is the heavyweight in this case since his powers are “supreme” by definition (he is to remain Supreme Leader for life) and his power base is institutionalized through Iran’s governing bodies and organizations.

In the other corner is the president, elected by the Iranian people and supported by all moderates, most of Iran’s younger and more urban populace and much of the Western world. Rouhani is fighting for change he promised back in 2013: A country, built on and made to maximize the welfare of the population in the future and fueled by positive interaction with the world. He is 68 years old, in good health and is thinking about getting elected once again in 2017. Rouhani’s mindset is governed by his vision of a modernized and open society and his steadfast belief in negotiations and peace. He lacks Khamenei’s constitutional and military power but his popularity is on the rise and he is backed by other moderate leaders such as ex-presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.

It’s a classic conflict of conservativeness vs. moderateness, of maintaining the past vs. building a better future, of Islamic fundamentalism vs. Islamic secularism, the power of the armed forces vs. the power of the people, of revolution and resistance vs. global acceptance etc…

 

Since 2013 up until today


For the past three years, Rouhani’s path was symbolized by his willingness to negotiate and sign what would become the JCPoA, the nuclear deal. On his election campaign, he promised to free Iranians form the yoke of nuclear-related sanctions which were slapped on by the UNSC for violations of IAEA rules and protocols. He betted his political career on “constructive engagement” with the West in order to reach a deal which would not only free up $150 billion in frozen assets but would bring Iran out of the cold and into the fold of the global community. His bet payed off already during negotiations but peaked when the JCPoA was signed and then implemented. He remains an ardent believer in negotiations as he stated recently that “extremist ideology tells us not to trust anyone, not to trust our neighbors or our friends, while the moderate thought tells us that we have to talk with the world“.

During those two years, Khamenei mostly bided his time by giving Rouhani the minimum support he needed to sign the deal. He made sure that he didn’t overly endorse the nuclear deal nor did he try to stop the deal for fear of stoking up the anger of hopeful Iranians who had enough of being isolated under Rouhani’s predecessor, Ahmadinejad. Khamenei is a more conservative gambler and all he wanted to achieve was a removal of the sanctions not on a monetary level but on a level of national pride. Once the sanctions were lifted, he returned to his “resistance economy“, an economy which would not be overly influenced by foreign trade and investments which clashed directly with Rouhani’s vision of the economy.

Not surprisingly, it was the signing of the JCPoA which led to the open tug of war between the two but the tug of war only grew more visible after the elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts in which the moderates identified with Rouhani strengthened dramatically. Suddenly, the balance of power between the two, which had been under Khamenei until then, inched towards Rouhani.

 

The JCPoA that will lead to war or peace

clash economyThe signing of the JCPoA was viewed as a major triumph by Rouhani: it was the proof that negotiations could be more effective than revolutions and that change was possible in a world of changing power bases. From the first day of negotiations, Rouhani enjoyed a lot of support from the world’s superpowers and the Western world in general. Moscow courted him fervently and Beijing backed him up while the EU and the Obama administration found in him the seed of hope that could neutralize the fears of a third world war ignited in the Middle East. Rouhani was a breath of fresh Iranian air to Iranians and to the world after years of stifled seclusion and oppression and continues to this day to claim that Iran is not a threat to its neighbors nor to the world. And yet, he had three main problems: 1) he remains constitutionally and institutionally weaker than Khamenei, 2) Iran continued to be embroiled in regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Gaza etc… and 3) the lifting of sanctions following the JCPoA was marred by the fact that the US slapped on some missile-related sanctions, effectively scaring away potential foreign investors.

For Khamenei, the signing of the JCPoA was a clear crossing of some of the “red lines” which he had outlined and it symbolized a normalization between Iran and the US, a normalization which is not compatible with Khamenei’s deep-seated revolutionary hatred of the USA so his first order of command, after taking over Rouhani’s role in implementing the JCPoA was to ban 244 American brands from Iran’s economy and ban any further negotiations with the US. This would have been enough for Khamenei to remain antagonistic but Rouhani’s growing popularity, the world’s growing interest and involvement in Iran’s conflicts and its military prowess as well as the added sanctions which would freeze most Western investors only increased his antagonism.

Rouhani is his own best spokesman but in order to understand what Khamenei really thinks, one must listen to his supporters such as IRGC chief Mohammad Jafari who echoed Khamenei’s antagonism when he said that the JCPoA was “not a cause for pride”  and was forced against the will of the Iranian people and that he is waiting for “an order” to go to war against Saudi Arabia and Bahrain which he called “stupid” and “politically backward”.

These rumbles of war may seem acceptable to Khamenei’s proud and martyrdom-seeking psyche but it probably horrifies Rouhani who understands that normalization with the world is not possible unless Iran’s words and actions maintain a path towards peace.

Tehran Tried To Have It Both Ways

both ways

Lifting sanctions

During negotiations leading up to the JCPoA, Tehran resisted the US’s efforts to include issues such as terrorism, missiles and human rights to the nuclear issue. The Americans thought that they could use the JCPoA as a bargaining chip to get some more concessions out of Tehran concerning these other issues but were unsuccessful at achieving this goal. The JCPoA was subsequently signed and nuclear-related sanctions were lifted once the JCPoA was implemented and everyone made a big deal about how the Iranians had craftily forced the US into a corner in order to sign the deal.

As the sanctions were lifted, the euphoria in Iran was buoyed by the stream of foreign trade delegations (over 400 in less than three years) and the prospects of cashing in on the deal. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei quickly banned over 400 US brands from Iran and made a point of banning any form of negotiations with the US and justifying the calls of “Death to America” and it looked as if Tehran had won the upper hand.

Unfortunately, the US’s continuing sanctions on missiles, terrorism and human rights in Iran has caused most big international banks to wait wearily on the sidelines of Iran’s economy and without the banks, the lifting of the sanctions seems impotent. Khamenei is now thoroughly frustrated claiming that “we haven’t seen anything tangible from these delegations visiting Iran…we are expecting to see some real improvements. Promises on paper have no value” and is now openly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani for “magnifying the disadvantages and losses caused by sanctions“.

 

Caught in a trap

Khamenei is now pushing for a “Resistance Economy” which will not be dependent on foreign investments and foreign trade and Rouhani is now up against the wall. If the remaining sanctions aren’t lifted soon, the whole promise of the JCPoA will dwindle down to the money freed from the lifted nuclear-related sanctions.

But in the meantime, Tehran continues to carry out more missile tests which are answered with more missile-related sanctions, continues to openly support terrorist organizations thereby receiving more terrorism-related sanctions and is in complete denial over the problems of human rights in Iran. The US, which seemed to have given away the whole store to the Iranians is virtually holding the only key to the locked door and Tehran will have to decide within the very near future whether it is willing to renegotiate some kind of deal which would free up any banking restrictions.

What makes matters worse is the fact that it has become nearly impossible to manage closed economy which is open as well in a world where all economies are globally interconnected.

That may be why Khamenei is looking towards Asia for international trade as he clearly stated thatIran’s “definite policy is based on cooperation with Asian countries“.

 

A dead end

disagreement-1
Of course, it may be in the US’s long-term interests to free up the banking systems in order to give Rouhani and his so-called moderate government some economical and political leeway. The problem is that apart from the White House, no one in Washington actually wants to help Iran or Rouhani because they are still upset over. Perhaps the US would be willing to ease up on some sanctions if Iran would ease up on its missile tests and its support of terrorist organizations and would be open for some real changes in human rights but the chances of that happening now are dwindling fast.

In the same manner, Rouhani’s government has repeatedly stated that Iranian emigrants and exiles would be welcomed in Iran in an effort to project a more open and moderate Iran. But in reality, there are too many cases in which Iranian exiles are arrested on visiting their homeland for exactly the reasons why they ran away in the first place. These nigthmarish stories of Westernized Iranians being sent to jail is creating major problems in wooing Iranians living in the West to move to Iran. Instead, they too, like the banks, would rather wait on the sidelines to see how things turn out.

No, this looks like another dead-end which will leave the extremists telling the moderates on both sides “I told you so”.

Tehran’s Actions Contradict Its Words

The ambiguity of the relationship between Tehran and the West continues to create wave after wave of insecurity. For all intents and purposes, the signing of the JCPoA between Iran and the P5+1, was meant to herald a new paradigm which would not only end Tehran’s isolation vis-à-vis the West but actually place Tehran on the same side of its former “enemies”.

The post-JCPoA reality is strikingly different than the positive wording and the smiling handshakes of its co-signers. What followed the inking of the deal is a continuous ping-pong of accusations and counter-accusations from all sides and every step towards the normalization of the relationship between Tehran and the world is followed by a counter-step in the opposite direction.

Tehran has to decide, once and for all, if it wants to be accepted by the world as a country with the potential to become a trusted trading partner and a destination for world tourism and investments, or to continue its efforts to export its revolution and by doing so, continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs. In other words, Tehran has to choose between being a part of the current world order or to continue to strive to create a new world order based on the Islamic Revolution or as Henry Kissinger aptly put it: Iran has to choose “whether it’s a nation or a cause”.

 

Steps and Counter-Steps

Here are a few examples of Tehran’s steps to normalizations followed by counter-steps which increase its isolation:

  • October 7th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of congratulating President Hassan Rouhani on a great job of de-isolating Iran but immediately added a ban on any talks or negotiations with “the Great Satan” USA, a major player in the signing of the JCPoA. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • October 12th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Iran test fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear war heads destined for Israel which, although not in contradiction with the JCPoA but, was in direct contradiction of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). Why? The fear of seeming weakened by the JCPoA in the eyes of Iran’s allies and enemies.
  • November 6th 2015: Following the implementation of the JCPoA, Tehran began a massive crackdown against journalist and artists who seemed too liberal or too critical of the regime – within weeks, dozens of journalists and dozens of artists were rounded up and imprisoned on charges which reflect the nature of the arrests: “propaganda against the state”, “insulting the sacred”, “assembly and collusion against national security”. “infiltration”, “spying” etc… Why? The fear of internal criticism and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • December 14th 2015: Following the signing of the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani officially opened the doors of Iran’s economy to the world but within days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of banning over 227 US brands and businesses from Iran. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • January 4th 2016: Following Tehran’s call for Muslim unity to deal effectively with a world dominated by the superpowers and the West, the regional and sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia based on accusations of meddling and proxy wars threatens to pit Muslims against Muslims in the region and in the world. Why? The fear of weakening the ideal of Exporting the Revolution.
  • March 9th: Following Iran’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which moderates and reformists gained significant power over the ruling hardline/conservative parties, Tehran once again tested long-range missiles, this time with the words “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” written in Hebrew on the missiles. Why? The fear of losing part of its raison d’etre and its Islamic Revolutionary ideals by not threatening Israel.

 

Believing Words or Actions

Last Thursday, Khamenei shared his dissatisfaction regarding the fact that the 120 plus trade delegations landing in Iran over the past two years have not yielded “anything tangible”. Obviously, these trade delegations are torn between the hopes of striking gold in Iran’s economy and between the fears of a regional conflict or a return of sanctions which could wipe out their investments. He then added something which sounded rather prophetic: “Promises on paper have no value”. And therein lies the problem with Tehran.

Tehran, on paper, has huge potential for strong business and political relationships with countries around the world but Tehran in action continues to support Islamic Extremism at a time when Islamic Extremism is causing Westerners to shudder from fear. Tehran’s willingness to sign the JCPoA and the subsequent inking of numerous MoU’s with tens of countries are in stark contrast with its destabilizing actions in the region and the world.

At the same time, Western states, and specially the US, has to decide whether they want to deal with Iran if it continues its flippy-floppy strategy with the world. The missile tests are just such an example: Iran tested its missiles twice since signing the JCPoA and the US/UNSC did absolutely nothing about it for fear of destroying the achievements of the JCPoA itself. What makes matters worse is that Washington is as wishy-washy as Tehran is flippy-floppy: following the last missile tests, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that he had communicated to Iranian FM Javad Zarif about the US’s “concern” and within hours, Tehran published a claim that no such communication had ever taken place.

Tehran’s involvement in the civil war in Syria is a prime example of the contradictions between its words and its actions: Tehran sometimes says that it has troops in Syria and then denies that it has, that its pulling out its troops and then that it isn’t. Tehran continuously calls loudly on the West to not get involved in the Syrian civil war and then applauds Russia’s efforts on Assad’s side. Tehran maintains that only a political solution can solve Syria’s civil war but then manages its own troops as well as Hezbollah’s. It’s confusing and that’s how Tehran likes it.

The key learning from all of this is simple: As long as Tehran talks of peace but walks towards war, there can never be a normalization of relations between Tehran and the West and Rouhani has to choose whether he plans to build a better future for Iranians by maintaining its Islamic Revolutionary past or by joining the global community and distancing itself from revolutionary notions such as Exporting the Revolution.

Tehran to EAT & KEEP its cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

But one thing is certain: Tehran is justifiably worried.

 

Zarif, the master of hypocrisy

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

Zarif’s statements are hypocritical on 3 counts:

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

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

 

From regional rivals to war

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

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

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

 

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IAEA PMD Report Swept Under JCPoA Rug

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

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

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

 

IAEA PMD Report: Tehran Lied

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

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

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

 

So Tehran Lied and Cheated…Now What?

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

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

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

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

 

The IAEA Report is Dead, Long Live the JCPoA

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

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

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

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

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

 

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