Who’s winning in the Middle East?

Looking at what is going on in the Middle East, it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate between the leaders who are pulling the strings and those whose strings are being pulled. Some might say that it doesn’t matter since the end result is the same and others might claim that there is a symbiotic relationship between the players and the played in which the roles are fluidly changing all the time.

The players in the region can be lumped into 6 distinct groups:

  • The active superpowers: countries who view the countries in the region as bases for proxy wars in their never-ending power struggles against each other – namely Russia and the USA.
  • The regional enemies: countries in the region which are leading “alliances” of other countries in the region – namely Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  • The regional followers: countries who are following the lead of the regional enemies – these include Lebanon, Iraq and Syria supporting Iran and the Gulf/Arab states supporting Saudi Arabia.
  • The war zones: countries in the region which are ravaged by regional, civil and/or proxy wars – namely, Syria, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.
  • The leading fence-sitters: countries who are looking to increase their influence in the region mainly for economic purposes – namely China and the EU.
  • The opportunistic supporters: countries in the world willing to ally themselves to the regional enemies for economic, political, sectarian and/or religious purposes – Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Malaysia, Argentina, Cuba etc…

Let’s start with the active superpowers. It’s quite obvious that that Moscow has the upper hand over the US in the region for now: the retreat from Iraq and the nuclear deal with Iran, both led by President Obama, have antagonized regional allies and have definitely weakened Washington’s influence in the region while Moscow, under President Putin, on the other hand, has definitely stepped up its game to fill the vacuum. But this balance of power will soon lose its stability as President-elect Trump will take office. While Obama focused his efforts on changing the status quo of allies in the Middle East by forging the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump will most probably try to return to the US’s historical allies, Saudi Arabia. But for now at least, the balance of power is definitely in Moscow’s court.

As to the regional enemies, Iran and Saudi Arabia, it’s quite obvious that, much like its big brother ally, Moscow, Tehran has the upper hand for now. With a nuclear deal which brought Iran out of its pariah status, with new found friends and allies, with trade delegations flying into Tehran to cash in on its market and with Bashar al-Assad on his way to winning the “civil” war in Syria, Tehran is definitely on a roll. Sure, nothing is perfect: Tehran has antagonized many, if not most, of the Arab countries, is watching on the sidelines as the Houthi rebels in Yemen are being crushed and worst of all, is still suffering from a weak economy. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, lost the warm support of the US, watched as the Syrian rebels it supported were defeated, is suffering from an all-time low in its economy and seems threatened by the possibility that Iran might one day build a nuclear bomb which will be aimed at Riyadh.

But the regional enemies would probably not be so adamant to fight out their fight in the war zones were it not for the regional followers which support them. In the case of Iran, Lebanon is a satellite state while Iraq and Syria are on their way to becoming satellite states as well. These are states which are content to follow in order to maintain strategic alliances. They might send a few troops to a war zone but they are mostly there for moral, economic and political support. Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran rhetoric would fall flat were it not for the support of the Arab League and the express support of many other Arab countries but these supporters are not yet ready to place their own soldiers in danger yet.

The war zones, specifically, Israel, Syria and Yemen, are where the conflicts surface beyond diplomatic tiffs or hate-filled and hate-inducing rhetoric. These are the areas where the agendas of the active superpowers and the regional enemies clash and explode and where people suffer the most: soldiers and civilians get hurt and killed, civilians live in fear or become refugees and life, on the whole, is on pause for most of the civilians. The leaders in these zones are playing for the visions they have of the countries that they lead and for their own political lives. In all three zones, foreign intervention from the active superpowers and the regional enemies is a basic part of the wars: Iran, for example, supports the Assad in Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US, on the other hand, support the rebels in Syria, Israel and the Yemenite government. It’s all a big game in which civilians are used as collateral and winning is much more important than peace.

The fence-sitters embody the biggest question marks in the outcome of the conflicts in the region. China and the EU, for example, are trying to maintain alliances with Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Russia and with the US. They don’t want to take sides because taking a side might mean a lost opportunity. They want to profit from the situation. The EU will be selling passenger planes to Iran while China will supply Tehran with fighter jets. Money is the main impetus here and there is always a lot of money to be made from conflicts. For now, they are content to watch the active superpowers and the regional enemies fight it out without taking any side 100%. Oh sure, they feel bad about the victims of the war zones but not bad enough to really do something about it. But the fence-sitters are extremely important due to the potential of their loyalty – imagine if China were to openly ally itself with Iran – but it is exactly this potential which makes them more powerful. The active superpowers and the regional enemies are doing all they can to woo the fence-sitters to their sides but for now, the fence-sitters are doing what they do best: sit on the fence and gain power. For now, they are neither winning nor losing the game and retain their power by simply playing both sides.

And finally, there are the opportunistic supporters. Some are close by such as Turkey or India but some are much further away such as in Latin America. These countries are in the game for one of two reasons: making money or weakening a mutual enemy. Most of these supporters are not really interested in the conflicts in the war zones nor are they seriously worried about the outcome of these wars. They might have been lumped in with the regional followers or the leading fence-sitters but their level of involvement is so varied that it would not do justice to the other groups. They might choose one side or they might choose not to choose. They win if the regional enemy or the active superpower that they are supporting wins. Simple.

So here’s the score for now:

  • Active superpowers: Russia beats US with a wide margin but everyone is waiting for Trump.
  • The regional enemies: Iran beats Saudi Arabia with a wide margin but the game certainly isn’t over yet.
  • The regional followers: One would think that the regional followers of Iran are winning but since two out of three are ravaged by war, winning doesn’t have too many benefits.
  • The war zones: The government forces in Syria and in Yemen seem to be winning while Israel still has the upper hand.
  • The leading fence-sitters and the opportunistic supporters: All countries which are making money or increasing their powers are winning regardless of the outcomes in the war-zones.

And then, there are the ultimate losers – the victims in the war zones and the citizens of the regional rivals whose economies are being extinguished by the costs of war. They are the ultimate pawns for the game played by the active superpowers and the regional enemies. They cannot win unless one side gives up and they can only hope that their side will win.

 

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The nuclear deal and the fall of Aleppo

When the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the West looked worriedly on but did basically nothing. Oh yes, President Barak Obama did force Bashar al-Assad to desist from using chemical weapons but, on the whole, the war zones were empty of any Western influence. Assad warned the Western powers to stay out of the war while rolling out the red carpet for Tehran to take over the dirty business of a war which had ceased to be an internal “civil” war and now included Tehran’s own agenda in the area, namely supporting Assad, a Shiite-Alawite, in an effort to Export the Islamic Revolution to Syria. Tehran was only too happy to pour in Hezbollah, IRGC and Shiite militant troops while joining Assad’s warning to the West to stay clear of the region. For three years, the war trudged on with no clear winners and many losers.

In 2014, ISIS began its rampage, claiming to set up an Islamic state which would span from Syria to Iraq and inadvertently, the issue of the West’s support to ISIS in its infancy became the perfect cover-up: Tehran and Assad were killing terrorists who were backed by the Western powers and their proxies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Every horrifying act of terrorism by ISIS only strengthened this narrative even though the West had stopped supporting ISIS long before it began its rampage in 2014. But Assad and Tehran weren’t only fighting ISIS – in fact, most of the war efforts were focused on eliminating any form of opposition against Assad. These efforts took a heavy toll on the Syrian civilian population and led to a massive wave of Syrians fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in Europe but the West still remained politely out of the war.

Meanwhile, the West was trying to clinch the nuclear deal which would, supposedly, keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. But the issue of the nuclear program seemed secondary to most of the EU representatives who eagerly awaited the cash in on the huge potential of the soon-to-be-opened Iranian economy. As the negotiations on the nuclear deal dragged on, the situation in Syria became worst for all sides and still, the West kept its distance, this time out of fear of endangering the nuclear deal. So while suited diplomats from all over the world haggled over the percentages of Uranium enrichment in fancy board rooms in Europe, Syrian men, women and children kept on suffering and getting killed.

The nuclear deal was finally signed in June 2015 and within four months, the red carpet was once again rolled out by Assad (and Tehran) to Moscow, Tehran’s newest and most powerful ally. Russian planes began bombing Syrian rebels while claiming, as before, that it was there for one reason and one reason only: eradicating terrorists. Moscow’s entry to the war was the beginning of the end for the Syrian rebels. It wasn’t only the issue of the Russian air force, it was the fact that such a superpower openly entered the war while the Western powers maintained their distance, demoralizing the Syrian rebels. All this was done while Assad, Tehran and Moscow continued to hypocritically warn the West to stay out of Syria.

Since day one, Tehran has claimed that the only solution to the war in Syria would be a political one and not a military one while at the same time, Tehran and Moscow have invested in the war in Syria tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the millions of refugees. This glaring discrepancy was once again ignored under the grand goal of eradicating terrorists and the West, once again, sat on the sidelines. As pictures, videos and information regarding the dire situation of the Syrian population leaked out to the world, the pressure on the West to take a stand increased but, once again, nothing. The danger of an escalation which might lead the West to fight against Russia was left the West frozen in indecision.

And then, the siege on Aleppo began and suddenly, the inaction of the West became more unbearable. Most of the troops involved in the siege of Aleppo were not even Assad’s: they were Shiite militants and Hezbollah troops which Tehran had organized. The city was split into two distinct areas: the Western part was pro-Assad while the Eastern part was anti-Assad. As the noose around the rebels tightened, the Russian planes kept on bombing. The war of conflicting narratives sounded like two distinctive echo chambers: One narrative spoke about “liberating Aleppo from the terrorists” while the other narrative spoke about “conquering Aleppo by Tehran and Moscow”. As the siege on Aleppo became more critical, the accusations from the West increased but apart from words, the West didn’t do a thing for fear of “rocking the boat” and being accused of supporting terrorists.

And then, Aleppo fell, or was “liberated”, depending on your point of view and this time, the war of words reached a much higher level. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, slammed Tehran and Moscow for having “no shame” in fighting Assad’s war and victimizing millions of Syrians in the process while the Russian ambassador to the UN pointed out that the US wasn’t “Mother Theresa” and was far from being a neutral “player” in the war. What he should have done is tell Power that Moscow and Tehran are not alone in having no shame and that the US should take responsibility over the fact that it shamelessly abandoned the Syrian people to a fate in the hands of Moscow and Tehran. History might not forgive the Iranians and the Russians for what they did in Syria but it won’t forgive the West either for what it didn’t do there either or as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

 

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Human rights in Iran: The thin line between Islamic laws and the regime’s zero-tolerance

thin-line

Following on the heels of the EU strategy report on Iran which included a harsh criticism of the state of human rights in Iran, the UN issued a new resolution which echoes the exact same sentiment: Iran is a serial abuser of human rights on many levels and in order to normalize relations, Tehran will have to change.

The UN resolution includes severe criticism on many levels in regards to the abuse of human rights in Iran: “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, “alarmingly high frequency of the death penalty” and “human rights violations against women and girls”.

The EU’s report was similar including the fact that the EU “remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty”, calls on Tehran to respect “the rights to freedom of expression…without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, demands that Tehran “eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women”, is worried that Tehran doesn’t “fully guarantee international due process safeguards (and) ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees”, “considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms”, “calls for the release of all political prisoners” and  “calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law”.

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of the criticism by both the UN and the EU, it is necessary to define two distinct categories:

  • Islamic laws: Abuses of human rights due to Islamic laws which include the oppression of women and religious minorities as well as the use of the death penalty.
  • The regime: Abuses of human rights due to the intolerance of the regime to accept criticism and calls for change by activists, political oppositionists.

These two categories of the West’s view on human rights in Iran is mirrored in Tehran’s categorical rejections of the EU/UN critique:

  • Islamic laws: There is a basic difference between Western ideals of human rights and “Islamic human rights” which must be acknowledged and accepted by the West.
  • The regime: All criticism by the West against Iran on the issue of human rights is politicized, hypocritical, arrogant and based on double standards and the regime is not susceptible to pressure from any source, least of all from the West…in fact, Tehran views such resolutions as an “abuse” of human rights in itself.

Of course, the regime doesn’t differentiate between both categories but from a Western perspective, the distinction between these two categories should be critical. It really is arrogant of the West to expect an Islamic country to give up its Islamic values in order to kowtow to the norms of the West and the issue of Shariah laws has put the West into a Catch 22 situation: if the West places such high import on religious beliefs and religious freedoms, it must accept that Shariah laws are legitimate in an Islamic country even if they seem outrageous from a Western perspective. Qisas, usually understood through the “eye for an eye” form of punishment, is brutal and barbaric from a Western perspective but it is deemed as “beautiful and important“. Tehran accepted to hold talks on human rights with the EU based on “mutual respect”, devoid of “double standards” and understanding that there is a fundamental difference between Western human rights and “Islamic human rights”, a difference which may not necessarily bridged. The West can try to “tone down” the harshness of some of these laws and to allow for more personal freedoms by pointing out that many Islamic countries have done just that but at the end of the day, as long as the Islamic regime exists, Islamic laws will prevail.

The issue of the death penalty in Iran is exemplary of this issue: according to the regime, 75%-80% of all executions are drug-related. Up until now, Tehran has vehemently defended these executions based on the fact that Shariah laws endorse the execution of drug-dealers and that it’s war on drugs benefits the West since most of the drugs are destined to Western users. Unfortunately, this defense is weakened by two simple facts: 1) the death penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for drug dealers even according to Iranian leaders and 2) not all Westerners agree that limiting the inflow of drugs is worth the 700+ drug-related executions a year. Since Iran holds the dubious title for the largest number of executions per capita, and since the regime is intent on normalizing relations with Western countries (apart from the US, of course), the mullahs in the regime have understood that it might be worth it to be more lenient on most drug-related offenders, convicting only the largest repeat offenders to be executed. But then again, change cannot be immediate as the Iranian deputy foreign minister made it clear that negotiations over human rights with the EU could take 3-4 years and that Tehran will not give up capital punishment under any circumstances.

So what about the second category? The regime’s inability to allow for dissent, opposition and change? This is much firmer ground from a Western perspective because the issue isn’t related in any way to Islam, only to the ideals of democracy which allow for pluralistic views and for the respect of minorities of any kind. It’s important to remember that Iran has repeatedly and proudly claimed that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East even though is not a true democracy (more like a “democtatorship”) due to the huge powers of unelected bodies of the regime. In fact, the bases of power in Iran emanate from democratic vote (the election of the president, government, the Assembly of Experts etc…through popular vote) and from the regime’s dictatorial resolve to choose its own leaders (such as the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the IRGC etc…). Tehran’s pride at being democratic coupled with its inherent fear of accepting democracy 100% is an inherent weakness of the regime. Slamming the regime for “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, the lack of “freedom of expression”, “the discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, “political prisoners”, the lack of “fair trial”, the oppression of “religious and ethnic minorities” etc…” all emanate from the regime’s fears of losing its power.

These issues should spearhead the West’s efforts to help the cause of human rights in Iran. If these issues are dealt with, if Iranians have a say in the way they are being governed, the Islamic religious issues will take care of themselves. Let’s take the issue of compulsory hijabs for women. To be sure, not every Iranian woman and definitely not every Iranian man is in favor of women wearing hijabs. The problem is that with the current regime, no one really knows if the majority of Iranians want compulsory hijabs or not. But if the whole of the regime was elected by the people and if enough people would decide that women should not have to wear hijabs, laws will be changed to accommodate such a sentiment. If the majority of the Iranian people would vote for more freedom of the press, for the release of political prisoners, for a fairer judicial system etc…, these changes would come about as well.

That’s why the West should place more weight on abuses of human rights in Iran which aren’t directly related to Islamic laws. . The systematic oppression of women and even the use death penalty, as such, must be accepted since they both stem from religious beliefs. Such a strategy echoes the statement of the liberal Iranian MP, Ali Motahari who wants Western criticism to be split into “two dimensions”: “one is related to Islam’s laws that is unnegotiable and not understandable for them (the West), and the second is related to affairs common to all human beings that has nothing to do with a certain ideology”.

 

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15 reasons why Tehran hates the EU strategy report

The EU parliament finally voted and released its report on its strategy towards Iran following the implementation of the JCPoA. Most of the report is filled with good diplomatic and economic intentions and the overall strategy is based on developing a much better relationship with Tehran. The motives are clearly economical which will appeal to Hassan Rouhani’s government which is intent on increasing foreign investment into Iran but there are quite a few points in the report which the hardliners in Tehran are bound to object to.

The first to voice his objection was Javad Zarif, the chief of human rights in Iran who just happens to be the brother of Sadeq Larijani, the chief of the judiciary, and Ali Larijani, the head of parliament.

Human rights:

  1. The death penalty: “Reiterates the European Union’s strong, principled and long-standing opposition to the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances, and emphasises once again that the abolition of the death penalty is a key objective of EU human rights and foreign policy; remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty” and “notes with concern that Iran has the highest level of death-penalty executions per capita in the world” – The death penalty is an integral part of the Shariah law which is the basis for Iranian law and is, in the words of Iran’s human rights chief, Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, “opposing the death penalty, is in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran” while his brother, Javad Larijani added that “Qisas is very beautiful and important“. Since 70%-80% of the executions are drug-related, Javad is now pushing for a bill to curtail the death penalty on all drug traffickers but the death penalty will definitely survive as long as the regime is in power.
  2. Executions of juvenile offenders: “Calls on Iran to ensure that this prohibition (of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is fully implemented and that all relevant offenders are made aware of this right; calls on Iran to declare a moratorium on the death penalty” – Apart from the general support of the entire regime for the death penalty, Tehran has executed numerous juvenile offenders, waiting until they reached the age of 18 to carry out their sentences. Zainab Sokian, a child-bride who was married at the age of 15, was convicted of murdering her husband at the age of 17, who she claims beat her repeatedly and would not allow her to divorce him, is awaiting execution after she delivered a still-born baby in jail (pregnant women cannot be executed under Iranian law.
  3. Human rights: “Respecting the rights to freedom of expression both online and offline, of opinion, of association and peaceful assembly, of thought, conscience, religion or belief and by guaranteeing in law and in practice the enjoyment by its citizens of individual, social and political rights without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status, as provided for in these instruments; points out that this includes a basic right to equality before the law, as well as the right of equal access to education, health care and professional opportunities” – Where to start? Anyone that is not in tune with the Revolutionary and Islamic ideals of Iran is persecuted and oppressed. Anyone and everyone. That includes critics of the regime (activists, politicians, reporters, bloggers etc…), religious and ethnic minorities, women, gays etc…There is no “freedom of expression” and anyone who criticizes the regime in any manner is swiftly arrested, interrogated, imprisoned and/or executed. No pressure from the EU or the entire world can change this situation or as Javad Larijani aptly put it, the EU “lacks the competence” to tell Tehran what to do about human rights and that the EU “should know that the (Iranian) Judiciary will definitely not allow the establishment of such a den of corruption in Iran”.
  4. Gender equality: “Calls for full gender equality through measures to eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women and to ensure women’s equal participation in the labour market and in all aspects of economic, cultural, social and political life” – Gender equality doesn’t exist in Iran. Workplaces are segregated, as are sports stadiums, concert halls, cafes. Women are not even allowed to ride bikes or even sing in public. The day that women will gain full equality will be the day that the regime falls apart.
  5. Fair trials: “Expresses serious concerns that the Code does not fully guarantee international due process safeguards; calls on Iran to undertake a review of the 2014 Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees; calls on Iran to review and amend the law in order to ensure that statements elicited as a result of torture, ill‑treatment or other forms of coercion are excluded as evidence in criminal proceedings, and that all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment brought to the authorities’ attention are automatically investigated” and “calls on the judiciary to respect fair trial and due process and to grant suspects access to a lawyer” – Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution has strict guidelines to conduct fair trials, in reality, the judicial system is inherently flawed because of the relationship that it has with the Iranian authorities and most importantly, the IRGC. There are too many cases in which suspects were imprisoned for months without going to trial, were denied access to lawyers, family members and even doctors, were not even given access to the evidence presented against them. How? All these travesties of justice can usually be found when the charges against the suspects includes charges such as “working against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the state”, “spying for a hostile government”, “enemies of the state”, “terrorists”, “corrupting the earth”, “insulting the Supreme Leader/the regime/the Prophet etc…”. All of these charges allow the judicial system to bypass any efforts at offering the accused a fair trial, working on the assumption that they are guilty until proven innocent.
  6. Freedom of speech and access to information: “Considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms” – The EU is a bit late on this track. Iran just launched its own “national internet” which will allow it to do what it has done in the past but more efficiently: monitor and block content that isn’t in tune with the regime’s Islamic or Revolutionary ideals and arrest the Iranians who are sharing such content. Sharing such content has landed many in jail including bloggers and models.
  7. Arrests of dual nationals: “Expresses grave concern over the arrest of EU-Iranian dual-nationals upon their entering Iran, and stresses that these arrests hinder the possibilities for people-to-people contacts; calls on the Iranian authorities to allow the Iranian diaspora in Europe to safely travel to their country of birth” – It is ironic that while this report was being written three American-Iranians (Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi and Reza Shahini) were sent to extended periods in jail (10, 10 and 18 respectively) and Nazanin Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian was sent to jail for 5 years. On what charges? The Americans were charged with “collaborating with a hostile government (the US) and the charges against Nazanin are “secret”. Over the past year, there have been more and more cases of dual nationals returning to Iran to visit family or to do business who were imprisoned. Some believe that they are pawns used by hardliners to bash Rouhani while others believe that they are pawns to be freed for exorbitant ransoms.
  8. Political prisoners: “Calls for the release of all political prisoners; calls on Iran to free imprisoned EU citizens who have been detained or convicted under a judicial process that did not meet international standards, including: 58-year-old Nazak Afshar, held since March 2016, 76-year-old Kamal Foroughi, held since May 2011, 65-year-old Homa Hoodfar, held since June 2016, and 37-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held since April 2016” – According to Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, there are no political prisoners in Iran, since “Iran does not jail citizens for their opinions“. They are simply prisoners who didn’t respect the law. These include foreign nationals as well as reporters and political opponents including the leaders of the failed Green Movement of 2009 who are under house arrest since 2011. Tehran even feels uncomfortable to call the 30,000 prisoners in 1988 as political prisoners, preferring to claim that they were “terrorists”.
  9. Religious minorities: “Concerned that the number of individuals imprisoned from religious minority communities or because of their beliefs has increased; calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law and that religious freedom is extended” – “Fully respected”? Ask the persecuted Sunnis and Christians who have watched their places of worship destroyed and are often raided and imprisoned. Ask the Baha’is who are denied further education, have had their business closed and lands robbed and have been imprisoned for simply being Baha’is. The only religion that is protected in Iran is Shiite Islam. All of the other religions are legally, socially and morally persecuted.
  10. Afghan refugees: “(EU) stresses the need to take concrete measures that safeguard the human rights of Afghan migrants and Afghan refugees in Iran, including their right to due process and equality before the law” – The case of the Afghan refugees is a delicate one. Iran has accepted to date approximately 3 million Afghan refugees. On the whole, their status is not on par to Iranians and many Iranian hardliners often denigrate them publicly. But, and this is a big “but”, Afghan refugees are often recruited to fight for Iran in Syria and in Iraq. The recruitment is sometimes voluntary although Afghans have complained that many of the recruits were forced to join or face prison or extradition.

Economy:

  1. Economic transparency: “(EU) stresses that for Iran to realise its economic potential, it will have to take steps to create a transparent economic environment conducive to international investment and take anti-corruption measures at all levels, particularly regarding compliance with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) addressing questions such as the cessation of financial flows to terrorist organisations” and “calls, in this regard, on Iran to ensure transparency of its financial sector and to fight corruption and money laundering, in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)” – In a country in which approximately 70% of the economy is run directly or indirectly by the state (specially through the IRGC) and is a proud state sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, such a call for transparency is simply ludicrous. The IRGC itself, including many of its generals are on Interpol lists as terrorists and since the IRGC is one of the strongest bases of the regime, there is no comprehensible way to adhere to FATF rules.

War and terror:

  1. Regional conflict and promotion of terrorism: “Calls on all the states of the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Iran, to refrain from hostile rhetoric fuelling conflicts, action and support for hostile armed groups in the region, including the military wing of Hezbollah and Al-Nusra; expresses concern about growing militarisation in the wider region and supports efforts towards greater arms control, non-proliferation and countering terrorism” and “expresses concern at the development of Iran’s ballistic missile tests, which, despite not constituting a breach of the JCPOA, are inconsistent with the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015)” – This will be one of the main problems of Tehran in regards to the EU report since a) Tehran doesn’t consider the Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization (although it is designated as one by the West and most of the Arab world), b) the leaders in Tehran all the way up to Khamenei have consistently threatened Saudi Arabia (the Saudis are just as guilty) and c) Tehran believes that testing long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload is a natural right. Tehran likes to call itself a champion against terrorism and an “island of stability” in the region but at the same time, it promotes terrorism, subversion and military conflicts in in the region. Just as in the story of the scorpion and the frog who drowned because of the scorpion’s nature while crossing the river, Tehran is duty-bound constitutionally to “Export the Revolution” and Hezbollah plays an important part in this ambition: it has successfully done this in Lebanon, is currently doing so in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and is trying to do so in Bahrain, Nigeria and other countries.
  2. Iran’s influence in Syria: “Regrets the fact, however, that Iranian input has to date not led to a marked improvement in the situation, and calls for it to contribute at least to further facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to increase protection of the civilian population from attacks and to continuously seeking a long‑term solution to the conflict; notes in this context that the Assad regime in Syria has become increasingly dependent on Iran for its own survival and therefore calls on the Iranian authorities to use their leverage to bring the Syrian conflict to a peaceful conclusion” – The Assad regime, which has never held truly open elections since he inherited the post from his father in 2000, is totally dependent on Tehran. Without Tehran, Assad would have fallen years ago and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Syrians would still be alive today. Tehran has adamantly stuck with Assad and has blocked any efforts to force Assad to step down or even to call for a general election which might clear up the question of his legitimacy as the President of the Syrian people. Last week, for the first time, Zarif proposed to hold a general referendum on the issue and hopefully Assad and the Syrian rebels will agree to this.
  3. Ensuring safety in the region: “Calls for a model of EU diplomacy based on political priorities rather than religious identities and on the principle of ensuring respect, safety and security for peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinian people” – Tehran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state and will never do so for fear of losing its ground as the Islamic Revolutionary state which has continuously stood up for the Palestinians.
  4. Israel and the Holocaust: “Strongly condemns the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and the regime’s policy of denying the Holocaust” – Tehran has continuously called for the destruction of Israel and has denied the Holocaust. This rhetoric has inflamed and justified the leaders of Israel over the years and has increased the threat of a regional or even a global war.

 

And there you have it…The EP might have thought that it has created a strategy that will help it to carve a bigger slice of the Iranian economy but it doesn’t realize three simple facts:

  • The regime is focused on maintaining the status quo and is averse to change that would negate its revolutionary ideals.
  • The regime is much more powerful than Rouhani who has claimed to be a moderate who wants to initiate change.
  • The regime would rather deal with the East (Russia, China, India etc…) than with the West (EU/US).

It’s a lose-lose situation that can only be rectified if the EU accepts the regime in Tehran “as is”, without trying to change it one iota.

EU blinded by Iranian “gold rush”

On October 3ed, the European Parliament issued a resolution which outlines the strategy that the EU wants to implement in regards with Iran one year following the nuclear deal. On the whole, the resolution is a an up-beat “middle of the road” approach which intends to increase “political dialogue” with Iran, increase “trade and economic matters”, increase “sectorial cooperation”, increase “Iran’s role in the region” and increase cooperation with Iran on “socio-economic issues, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.

There are many good intentions and a lot of wishful thinking in this resolution:

  1. Terror: Iran is, according to the resolution, a key player in “counter-terrorism”.
  2. Capital punishment: Iran may have the largest rate of execution per capita in the world, but there is hope since “eliminating the death penalty for drug-related offences would drastically reduce the number of executions (up to 80 % according to Iranian estimates)”.
  3. Economy: Iran is the largest economy outside of the WTO and is aiming for a yearly 8% growth rate for which “European investments are key for Iran to achieve this goal”.
  4. Regional influence: Iran is a “major player in the Middle East and Gulf region” and the EU calls on Iran to “play a constructive role in solving the political crises in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan”.
  5. Human rights: Iran can work with the EU to “find common ground on matters related to democracy or human rights”.

Of course, there are some basic problems in these guide lines since…

  1. Terror: Iran has portrayed itself as a champion against terrorism (ISIS) but is also designated as a supporter of terrorism (Hezbollah is a designated terrorist organization by the EU as well). How can Tehran help in counter-terrorism when it does not even acknowledge that it supports terrorism? Judging from Iran’s political and military presence in Lebanon which is ruled by Hezbollah with Tehran pulling the strings, does anyone really believe that Hezbollah won’t remain in Syria once the civil war dies out? Does it not seem strange to the MEP’s that Tehran has taken the liberty to decide who is supporting terrorism and who is fighting against it?
  2. Capital punishment: Iran seems to finally have succumbed to global pressure to curtail the death penalty for drug-related criminals but the issue is critical since it will mean that the regime abandoned its revolutionary ideals for those of the “imperialistic/colonialistic” West. Can anyone realistically believe that Khamenei and his hardline mullahs and his paranoia of “Western influence” would simply give up on Qu’ranic laws which were re-established in 1979 to be exchanged with the laws of the countries the revolution was meant to destroy? And what about the fact that Hezbollah is actively involved in drug smuggling in Lebanon, Latin America and even Europe?
  3. Economy: The EU might want to cash in on the Iranian economic potential but it will have to wait in line to do business with Iran (after Russia, China, India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Vietnam, Malaysia etc…). Why would Tehran prefer to do business with European organizations and companies as long as there remain outstanding issues on human rights? Did the MEP’s not notice how Germany’s economic minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was rebuked by Tehran after he voiced a call for Tehran to take responsibility for the carnage and destruction in Syria and reminded Tehran that it would have to recognize Israel in order to have good relations with Germany? Such issues do not even exist in dealing with Eastern or Asian countries so why would Tehran bother?
  4. Regional influence: Iran has a very destructive role in fueling the crises in many of its neighboring countries. Did the MEP’s forget that Tehran is actively involved in fueling the Syrian civil war by blindly backing Assad? That it fueled the civil war in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels to oust the government? That it has control of Shiite militias in Iraq? And what about Tehran’s meddling tendencies in the Gulf States and its increasing rivalry with Saudi Arabia? Did the MEP’s really buy into Tehran’s propaganda that it is simply helping its neighbors?
  5. Human rights: The Islamic Revolutionary ideals of the regime can in no way accommodate many basic Western ideas of human rights. How can anyone expect the regime in Tehran to suddenly accept that minorities such as Kurds, Baha’is and Sunnis should be treated equally when the oppression of minorities occurs in contravention with the Iranian constitution? How can anyone expect gender equality and an end to gender segregation when such a thought is totally alien to Islamic law? How can anyone expect Tehran to accept gays when being gay is against Islamic law? How can anyone expect the regime to allow Iranians to criticize it when for decades, the critics were all oppressed, sent to jail or executed?

The resolution also missed some very basic points in regards to how things are done in Iran. The MEP’s might find common grounds with members of Rouhani’s government, MP’s in the Iranian parliament, activists who want to change the regime etc…but there can be no common ground between the MEP’s and the unelected members of the regime, beginning (and ending) with Khamenei. Someone should tell them that Khamenei has a glowing vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will lead to a “Century of Islam” meant to destroy the current “hegemony” of the West. The MEP’s should understand that Khamenei’s worst nightmare is to be in any way influenced by or indebted to the West and that the IRGC, directly under Khamenei’s orders, controls roughly 40% of the Iranian economy. It is Khamenei, backed by the Guardian Council and the IRGC who rule Iran – not the government nor the parliament.

The resolution was not unanimous by any stretch of the imagination and was approved by a 37-15 vote. Many of votes against the resolution originated from Liberal MEP’s who found it hard to accept the optimistic tone, especially in regards with human rights: Marietje Schaake, an MEP who was a part of the EU delegations to Iran, voted against the resolution claiming that it did not reflect the key issues of human rights violations and Tehran’s support for Assad and terrorist groups. Schaake didn’t mince words and called on her fellow MEP’s to be more realistic: “It seems a gold rush is blinding MEPs, even though high levels of corruption, and state interference in the economy also impact their ability to do business in a predictable and transparent way”. Schaake, unlike many of the MEP’s has been to Iran and has met Iranians outside of Iran, including Masih Alinejad, who is at the head of an anti-regime campaign called MyStealthyFreedom. She even ran into trouble in Iran after attending a meeting with a large handbag which bothered some Iranian leaders. She understands the rift between Brussels and Tehran cannot be bridged based on the business deals the EU might offer. Tehran will gladly do business with anyone who accepts the regime “as is”.

Yes, at the end of the day, the resolution is meant to make Europeans happier and that means doing business with Iran. It’s all about money. But the Europeans, in the eyes of the regime, are still “suffering” from being related to the US and to the West and it is much more comfortable to strike a deal with Russia or Azerbaijan than with the EU.

The feedback from Tehran on the EU resolution reflects these wide cultural rifts between the good intentions of the MEP’s and the hardline attitude on the regime: Tehran welcomed the resolution but called on the EU to be more “realistic” in its attitudes regarding human rights: “While human rights negotiations are set to be held between Iran and the EU in the near future, the adoption of such positions is questionable and unconstructive and does not in any way help elevate the human rights discourse and (only) reinforces speculations of intervention in our country’s domestic affairs”. Translation: “You want to do business with us? Fine. Just don’t try to change us”.

 

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The Hypocrisy and Irony of Iran, Hezbollah, Drugs, Executions, Latin America and Syria

How are Iran, Hezbollah, drugs, executions, Latin America and Syria connected? Here are some key facts:

  • Hezbollah is trafficking in drugs in Latin America (as well as in Lebanon) and shipping these drugs (mostly cocaine) to the EU.
  • Hezbollah is then channeling its drug money into the Syrian war effort on behalf of Assad.
  • Hezbollah is doing so with the support of Iran which is also supporting Assad.
  • Iran is waging one of the biggest wars on drugs in Iran, executing 600-700 drug-related criminals each year.
  • The UN and some European countries are financially supporting Iran’s war on drugs.
  • The UN and some European countries are supporting Iran’s and Assad’s “war against terrorism” against ISIS
  • The joint forces of Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are responsible for over 96% of all civilian casualties in Syria.

Conclusions?

  • The UN and the EU are helping Iran fight a war on drugs while Iran is helping Hezbollah traffic in drugs from Latin America to the EU.
  • The UN and the EU are lamenting the devastating civil war in Syria which is fought by Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers, financed by Iran and Hezbollah’s drug trafficking.

In other words, the West is getting “screwed” by Iran and Hezbollah on the issues of drugs and terror, while paying them and thanking them for it, and the Syrian Syrian people keep dying…it’s hard to determine which is worse: Iranian hypocrisy or Western gullibility?

 

Hezbollah in Latin America

The influence of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, in Latin America is steadily growing: Reports streaming out of Latin America point to an increasingly worrying trend from benign cultural organizations such as mosques, cultural centers, schools, boy-scouts etc…to criminal influences linking Hezbollah to drug cartels.

At this time, Hezbollah’s home base is firmly entrenched in what is called the “Tri-Border” area linking Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay but its activities extend into other countries such as Uruguay, Chile, Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Venezuela. Obviously, such a network cannot manage on its own and it is backed by the many Lebanese expats, local Shiite imams, anti-US organizations and Iranian officials in these countries. In fact, there is a steady stream of Latin American born clerics and politicians who fly into Iran for “religious training”, all expenses paid by Tehran.

Just how large and powerful is the Hezbollah-Iranian network? According to Alberto Nisman, Argentina’s former general prosecutor, it’s enormous with hundreds of terrorist cells all over the continent as is outlined in his 2013 report. Nisman must have gotten too close to the truth because he was murdered two year later just before publishing an extended report on the issue.

Just as in Lebanon, Hezbollah operatives are well entrenched in the trafficking of drugs to fund its terrorist activities all over the world. Unlike Lebanon, where the drug of choice is Cannabis-based, Hezbollah is trafficking in cocaine in Latin America and most of the drugs are then sent to Europe. Hezbollah’s drug operations are backed with sophisticated money-laundering platforms to allow the organization to cash in on its illegally acquired funds – these include used car dealerships and sophisticated bank transactions.

Earlier this year, the DEA, together with several EU countries, took part in a bust of Hezbollah’s money-laundering schemes but it seems that they have only busted the tip of the iceberg: Hezbollah is still in full force in Latin America and the drugs keep on rolling inThe money that is raised from these drug schemes are funneled back into Hezbollah’s war and terrorist efforts which are focused, at this time, mostly in Syria, fighting together with Tehran to save Assad.

 

Iran, as always, right beside Hezbollah

The linkage between Iran and Hezbollah in general doesn’t have to be elaborated on judging from the praises Tehran frequently heaps on Hezbollah (“shining like the sun“) praises Hezbollah and supports Hezbollah both financially and militarily while Hezbollah readily admits that Iran is its main supporter. The linkage in Latin America is evident in the name of one of the two major Hezbollah networks there: Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani.

Rabbani is a Shiite cleric who moved to Argentina in 1983 and later on, became Iran’s cultural attache in Buenos Aires. He is linked, along with many Iranian leaders, to the bombing of the AMIA building, an Israel-Argentine cultural center, in Buenos Aires which killed 85 and injured hundreds. Naming its network after this Iranian terrorist speaks volumes on Tehran’s involvement in Hezbollah in Latin America.

Tehran’s efforts to Export its Revolution, right under the Big Satan’s door (the US) isn’t accidental: The ties between the heads of states of Latin American countries who were or are anti-US and Iranian leaders are strategical for Tehran. Here are countries which, when lead by anti-American leaders, are willing to open their markets to Iran, are a great potential for Muslim converts, are a source of drugs and money and best of all, are a toe-hold on the American continent in the war against the US.

 

On drugs and death in Iran

As always, when it comes to Iran, there is an ironic twist in all of this: Drug trafficking in Iran is illegal and is punishable by death. In fact, Iran is being accredited by the UN as being the biggest champion in the war against drugs estimating that Iran is responsible for 74% of the opium bust and 25% of the heroin busts in the world. This war comes at a huge price in human rights since, according to Iranian authorities, drug-related executions account for approximately 80% of all of the 1,000 or so executions a year and even Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights is begin to rethink the validity of these executions.

Furthermore, Iran’s war on drugs is partially supported by the UN and the EU since Iran portrays the war as a means of stopping the flow of drugs from Afghanistan into Europe. So while Iran is cashing in on millions of dollars from the UN/EU to fight drug trafficking through Iran, and executing hundred on the way, Iran is simultaneously partnering with Hezbollah in drug trafficking from Latin America to the EU.

And what makes matters worse is the fact that both Iran and Hezbollah are channeling huge amounts of money into Assad’s war efforts while some EU countries and the UN actually support Iran’s and Hezbollah’s activities in Syria viewed from the perspective of fighting terrorism and ISIS.

But things are just getting more complicated as a war between Hezbollah and ISIS is brewing in Latin America. ISIS wants in on the drugs, on the money and on the volunteers and one thing can be certain: the guys in ISIS will not be as gullible as the guys at the UN.

 

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Misinterpreting the JCPoA to Death

Misinterpretation has been a constant plague for the nuclear deal with Iran. It began at the first round of negotiations and it continues to this day. Why? Because regardless of all the millions of words in the negotiations, the Geneva accord and finally the JCPoA, the real deal remained  unwritten and unsigned and there was a veritable chasm between both sides which was never really bridged.

Tehran and the P5+1 all wanted the nuclear deal in order to finally extricate Tehran from its global pariah/hero status (depending on who was looking) but Tehran wanted the deal to maintain its status quo in regards to the nuclear program in its entirety, its military might within Iran and within countries it was fighting in, its revolutionary ideals which encouraged Tehran to export the revolution to other states and specially it anti-American sentiment. Within the P5+1, there emerged two very different camps: the Russian/Chinese camp which just wanted to get the deal inked and the US/West camp which placed more weight on Tehran’s intentions than on the content of the deal. As time ticked-tocked on, the discrepancies between all of the co-signees of the JCPoA turned into larger misinterpretations, some genuine and some politically motivated.

 

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Each round of negotiations ended with the habitual goodwill pictures followed by misunderstandings, double-talk and accusations. Every step forward heralded, sometimes within hours, a few steps back to the pre-Rouhani-constructive-engagement period, back to the Ahmadinejad era in which Iran was the enemy of the US and vice versa. It might be a “fact-sheet” from Washington which would highlight possible (mis)interpretations or a letter from Khamenei in Tehran which would outline his “red lines”  or  a speech in parliament or congress in Tehran/Washington which would place suspicions on the intentions of each side.

Tehran claimed it could enrich beyond the “5%” limit for research purposes while Washington said no. Tehran claimed it could maintain its heavy water plant operational despite the fact that this could offer a “plutonium route” to the bomb while Washington said no. Tehran claimed that the underground nuclear enrichment base in Fordow would remain operational while Washington said…no. Tehran claimed that all the sanctions had to be lifted immediately while Washington stood to its guns and said, once again, no. There was never anything simple or “black and white” about the deal – it was always shape-shifting, adapting to whoever was talking at the moment. Too many articles within the deal seemed open to misinterpretations, whether they were genuine or politically motivated.

Finally the deal was inked. Once again, within days, Khamenei went on his anti-American rants, IRGC generals issued their anti-western threats and the White House had to explain to Americans that just because Khamenei called the US the “Great Satan”, that he banned 244 American brands and that he supports the “Death to America” calls, the JCPoA was still good for America. Congress huffed and puffed and promised to blow the deal down but Obama threatened to use his presidential veto to uphold the deal which he thought would become his shining legacy. As sanctions were lifted, alarmists in the West pointed out that the money unfrozen by the lifting of the sanctions would be allocated to fund terrorism and subversion and the rhetoric from Tehran only fueled this sentiment: The regime in Tehran seemed happy that sanctions were gone but wanted everyone to know that it had not lost its revolutionary ideals nor its regional ambitions.

The tide swayed towards Iran: The sanctions were lifted, the trade delegations were flying in, Rouhani and  Zarif were welcomed in Western capitals all over the world and it looked like the regime in Tehran had managed to hoodwink the powers of the all of the P5+1 governments, especially the White House. In Tehran, the moderates, led by Rouhani fought it out with the hardliners led by Khamenei himself and the elections for Majlis/parliament and for the Assembly of Experts proved that there were definitely two voices emanating from Tehran.

And then, misinterpretations increased…

 

Missiles take center stage

During all the years of negotiations, the US tried to include other issues in the JCPoA: There were efforts to introduce issues such as terrorism, human rights etc… but these were efficiently barred from the deal by Tehran which maintained that the deal was focused only on the nuclear issue. The US did manage to include Tehran’s missile program in the JCPoA: “Paragraph 3 of Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015) calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology”. It’s important to note that the JCPoA doesn’t “forbid” but “calls upon” Iran to “not undertake” the testing such missiles and the definition of the “capability of delivering nuclear weapons” is also murky at best since Tehran claims it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon at all.

True to form, Tehran launched some long-range missile tests along with statement which reflected the hardline stance of Tehran: Tehran might have signed a nuclear agreement which it planned to uphold to the letter but nothing else in Iran would change and Tehran would keep on involving itself in its neighbor’s affairs and would keep on threatening Israel. That’s when the White House slapped some more missile-related sanctions which reminded Tehran that the deal really was only on the nuclear program and that non-nuclear sanctions were legitimate forms of pressure for what seemed to Washington as illegitimate actions on the part of Tehran.

The regime in Tehran felt free to launch missiles with threats against Israel written on them quite simply because most people in Iran felt that they didn’t need to heed what was coming out of Washington once Moscow was placing its bets on Tehran. Washington pointed out that the missile tests were in violation of the JCPoA but Tehran wasn’t listening. But what nobody in Tehran really took into account was the fact that foreign investors and global banks were not as quick to discount the US as irrelevant. Trade delegations from the West came and went, MoU’s were signed, smiling pictures were shared but money wasn’t making it through the barrier of current US sanctions and the threat of sanctions in the future.

Now it was Tehran’s turn to cry foul by claiming that the US was violating the deal by “urging” investors to stay away from Iran. What made matters worse was the fact that Rouhani was betting on the influx of foreign investments to save the Iranian economy while Khamenei kept on promoting his “resistance economy” and as long as foreign investors shied away from writing those checks, Rouhani was losing ground to the hardliners.

 

 

The spirit vs. the letter



One might say that the spirit of the nuclear deal was dead before being born. The spirit of the deal, the intentions of both sides, remained stuck in the paranoia held between Washington and Tehran, a paranoia which began in 1979 and has remained intact with the regime in Tehran and the Republican party in Washington to this day. A deal might have been signed and some of the leaders in both countries might be open to a comprehensive rapprochement but Iran and the US were not destined to become friends or allies in the near future. The breaking of ranks within the P5+1 only increased the misinterpretations: although the JCPoA was negotiated and inked by the P5+1 as a group, there was no clear unity within the P5+1 regarding Iran and the nuclear deal. Washington found itself at odds not only with Moscow but with Paris, London and Berlin as well, all of whom wanted to be at the front of the line to enter the gates of Iran’s economy.

Once again, both sides spoke about violations by the other side and the US tried to force the UNSC into agreeing that Iran had violated the JCPoA but Russia wasn’t going to let the US come between itself and its new ally and business partner. Instead, Moscow joined Tehran in saving Assad in Syria and planned to increase its regular and military trade to Tehran. Talks about circumventing the dollar and dealing in Roubles led to more agreements and more military deals including the sales of an arsenal of S-300 missiles and of Sukhoi SU-30 jet fighters. The conflict of interest between the P5+1 members became all too clear with Washington and Moscow leading the opposing sides.

So who is violating the JCPoA? Washington is pointing fingers at Tehran and Tehran is pointing fingers at Washington while Rouhani keeps getting weaker and Obama is on his way out. The deal is being misinterpreted to death as more and more leaders are criticizing the deal for not really creating the basis for old animosities to be buried. The defenders of the deal on both sides can point to the success of diplomacy but they cannot eradicate the deadly virus of mutual paranoia.

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EU Red Carpets Hide Blood Stains


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

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

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

 

Iran’s Overbearing Quest for Respect

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

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

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

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

 

To Pressure or Not To Pressure?

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

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

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

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

 

Blood Money Keeps Pouring In

money time

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Money Time in Iran

money timeNow that the JCPoA is finally being implemented, it’s money time in Iran on two different levels: It’s time for Iran to make a lot of money and it’s time for Iran to prove to the world that it will continue to be a country which deserves to be out of isolation (which will, in turn, lead to more money).

The first part is the easiest since it is built in with the deal: Once the sanctions are lifted, approximately $100 billion in frozen assets will be released and many governments and corporations who had shied away from breaking sanctions will come knocking at Tehran’s door. Sure, there is a glut in the oil market and the implementation of the JCPoA has already brought the price of oil to a new low but where there is optimism coupled with the opening of the economy, there is money to be made.

The second part is much harder since it will depend on many factors in the future: President Hassan Rouhani and his government will have to find efficient ways to muzzle the hardliners in order to make sure that they, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, do not sabotage what has been achieved by using inflammatory rhetoric and provocative military maneuvers in and outside Iran.

Rouhani may have managed to strike the long-awaited deal but the billion dollar question is can he maintain it?

 

Money Time for Rouhani

On his election campaign over two and half years ago, Rouhani promised his electorate many promises. Most remain unfulfilled to this date but first and foremost among these promises was the lifting of sanctions and some form of normalization with the Western powers. As he said back in 2013, “Our centrifuges are good to spin only if people’s economy is also spinning in right direction“. The implementation of the JCPoA and the numerable trade delegations visiting Iran are a testament to the fact that this particular promise has finally been fulfilled.

In order to do so, he had to walk a political tight-rope which included being attacked by hardline Iranian skeptics for being too moderate in dealing with the West and simultaneously attacked by Western skeptics for not being moderate enough internally. Miraculously, he managed to pull through.

Now is Rouhani’s money time, not in the sense of dollars and rials, but in terms of political power. The JCPoA has proven to Rouhani’s electorate that he can deliver and his popularity levels are likely to soar at a critical time in view of the upcoming elections to the Assembly of Experts and the Majlis. He has shown that the 8 years of hardlining Iran’s foreign relations in order to maintain revolutionary ideals have led to isolation and poverty could be undone in just over two years of positive engagement and moderateness.

Rouhani may have silenced most of the skeptics outside of Iran but he now faces a much more immediate danger: All the hardliners, including Khamenei, have grudgingly accepted the nuclear deal since not accepting it would force them to explain to 80 million Iranians that spinning centrifuges were more beneficial to their welfare than a better economy.

The next month, is, more than ever, Rouhani’s real money time. If he manages to increase the power of moderates and reformists in both the Assembly of Experts and in the Majlis, he can dedicate the rest of his presidency to fulfilling his other promises and probably win the next elections. If he doesn’t he will be sidelined just as he was after the JCPoA was signed when Khamenei took over his responsibilities for the implementation of the JCPoA and foreign policy.

 

Money Time for Foreigners

Once sanctions are lifted, Iran’s economy will be opened to foreigners who want to invest, import or export in/from/to Iran. These investors originate from all parts of the globe but there are four groups that require special mentions:

  • Investors from Russia: Since Rouhani began the process of negotiations with the P5+1, Moscow has become Tehran’s most influential ally. This budding relationship is based on money and power: the trade between the two countries is bound to increase dramatically while both countries have agreed to “de-dollarize” trade and deal in local currencies in an effort to bypass and weaken the US dollar which was a mainstay of foreign trade up until now. But Russia is not only a huge trading partner, it also is a source for military trade (missiles, tanks, helicopters and jets for now), a source of finance (a $5 billion loan has already been inked) and a political partner in Iran’s foreign policy. This political partnership is exemplified in Moscow’s support in dealing with the US during the negotiations and in Russia’s military involvement alongside Iran, in the conflict in Syria. Despite the fact that Ruhollah Khomeini advised for Iran to look “neither East nor West“, Rouhani is shrewd enough to understand that the support of Russia at a time when the US’s influence in the Middle East is waning will give Iran a critical edge in the future.
  • Investors from the EU: Since WW2, Western European countries have been naturally allied to the US but these ties have been weakening steadily over the past decade due to the wars that the US has led in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crises emanating from Wall Street and the emergence of global citizenship which puts into question the current power structures. The EU followed the US in slapping sanctions on to Iran mostly out of loyalty to the US and from fear of being labelled as sanction-busters and losing American business. European countries may be worried that Iran will choose to militarize its nuclear program but they are not afraid of direct consequences as the US is: if or when Iran build a nuclear arsenal, it will force the US to get involved in order to support its allies in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) but the EU countries are not unified in joining such a fight. In the meantime, EU corporations and governments know that a lot of money is to be made in Iran and they are in a perfect position to do so. Foreign trade delegations from Europe to Iran include Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece etc…
  • Investors from Central Asia: Central Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan etc…have eagerly awaited the lifting of sanctions in order to begin trade with their neighbor. They never felt part of the group demanding sanctions but followed along anyway in order to not suffer consequences from the US. Trade between neighbors includes two main benefits: geographical proximity and shared resources. Plans for shared ports and pipelines and tax-free zones are bound to increase once sanctions are lifted. Politically, these countries would rather remain neutral since they have thrived by doing so up until now. Countries like Azerbaijan and Pakistan may find it difficult to remain neutral politically vis-à-vis Iran due to their being predominantly Muslim but for now, money is the main goal.
  • Investors from the US: US corporations will be the last in line to enjoy the benefits from the lifting of sanctions in Iran. The relationship between the US and Iran may have warmed up a bit due to the concerted efforts of President Barak Obama and Rouhani, but they are far from amicable. The US remains, according to Khamenei and his hardliners, the “Great Satan” and Khamenei banned over 200 US brands from being marketed in Iran. Furthermore, not all sanctions have been lifted and a new sanction against the testing of missiles in Iran was instated last week, and American corporations will probably choose to stay away from Iran until these issues have been cleared. Although Iranians might love some global US brands, Iranian bureaucrats will probably shy away from facilitating US investments and presence in Iran for fear of being labelled by hardliners as moderates or worse, traitors.

And still, it must be clearly understood to all foreign investors that although money is to be made, glitches and losses are to be expected in a country notorious for red tape and corruption in which the IRGC plays such a crucial role and a foreign policy which has angered its neighbors (specially Saudi Arabia) and hardliners who are eager for more crackdowns.

 

Money Time for Iranians?

shattered hopes in tehranThe JCPoA was meant to make the lives of the Iranians better. Without the crippling sanctions, the economy of Iran is bound to become empowered and the benefits are meant to trickle down to the average Iranian in the future.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the JCPoA are bound to reach the Iranian populace only in the mid-far future for several reasons:

  • First and foremost, such developments take time to reach the lives of each and every Iranian: debts have to be paid, infrastructures to be financed and much of the money that is to be unfrozen is already “spoken for”.
  • Second, Iran’s continued and growing involvement in conflicts in the region, predominantly Syria and Yemen, are extremely costly: It’s estimated that Iran is investing approximately $10 billion a year in Syria alone for the past 4 years and although Tehran repeatedly played down these expenses, the head of the IRGC has gone on record to state that over 200,000 troops are supported by Iran in the region.
  • Third, and most significantly, Iran’s economy is predominantly ruled by the IRGC and its myriad of companies and organizations. The IRGC was probably
    the biggest benefactor of the sanctions since it managed to turn Iran’s isolation into profitable self-sufficiency.

The low price of oil is bound to lead Rouhani to look for other ways to boost the economy and he will be probably forced to raise taxes which will mean that Iranians might actually suffer at first before they will begin to enjoy the fruits of the nuclear deal.

 

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Did EU President Just Legitimize Iran’s Dismal Human Rights?

The UN, NGO’s all over the world and many Western governments are trying to pressure Tehran to improve the state of human rights in Iran.

Tehran’s response to these pressures? Repeated denials, vilifications and dismissals. As far as Tehran is concerned, there are no human rights problems in Iran and any criticism against Iran on this issue is “baseless” and “political”. In fact, according to Iran’s Human Rights chief and Iran’s Judicial Chief (the “Brothers in Lies“, Javad and Sadeq Larijani respectively), Iran is a leader in human rights. According to Khamenei himself, it is the US, not Iran, who has a problem of human rights: He took part himself in the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and a conference on human rights for African Americans was hosted two weeks ago in Tehran.

On November 8th, the Iranian “we don’t have a human rights problem” claim got a serious boost by none other than the EU President himself, Martin Schultz. During his trip in Tehran he met up with many Iranian leaders including the Javad Larijani himself. Instead of pressuring Larijani on improving human rights he, according to Mehr News Agency, went on record criticizing the West saying that the Western approach to human rights was “fascistic” since it considered itself the “touchstone to be followed by the world”.

If this report is incorrect, we would expect a clear denial from Schultz. If it is true, such a statement has dangerous overtones since it destroys any hope of universal human rights or even any universal understanding on any other topic. What stops a country deciding that all women should be banned from sports? Or that prisoners can be raped? Or that juvenile offenders can be executed? Or that political opposition can be house arrested for unending periods of time? (All this goes on in Iran). Moreover, in one statement, he dismissed the hard work and continued efforts by the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, who files scathing reports on Iran’s human rights.

But what makes matters worse is the fact that Schultz’s statement is in direct contradiction to an EU resolution from March 31st 2014 on the issue of the EU’s strategy towards Iran. Here are the relevant points (with added underlines):

  1. (The EU) Takes the view that the (Iran’s) Charter of Citizens’ Rights should comply fully with Iran’s international obligations, particularly as regards non-discrimination and the right to life, strengthening the prohibition of torture, ensuring full freedom of religion and belief, and guaranteeing freedom of expression, which is currently restricted by the vaguely formulated provision on the ‘national-security-related offence’;
  2. (The EU) Calls, therefore, for the EU to mainstream human rights in all aspects of its relations with Iran; believes that a high-level and inclusive human rights dialogue with Iran should be part of the future policy framework for bilateral EU–Iran relations; calls for the EU to start a human rights dialogue with Iran that includes the judiciary and security forces and establishes clearly defined benchmarks against which progress can be measured; calls for the EU to support fully the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls on Iran to grant him an immediate and unconditional entry visa; encourages UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay to take up the Iranian authorities’ invitation to visit Iran; calls on Iran to declare a moratorium on the death penalty;
  3. (The EU) Underlines the fact that any future Parliament delegations to Iran should be committed to meeting members of the political opposition and civil society activists, and to having access to political prisoners;

Not only did Mr. Schultz not pressure Tehran on human rights, he legitimized a back door from which Tehran could escape its responsibility. His actions follow an earlier petition by 220 EU MP’s to pressure Iran in improving human rights which was, as usual, sidelined by Tehran.

The problems of human rights in Tehran are well documented and many articles have been posted in the past on this blog. Just google “human rights Iran” to get an idea of the problems regarding the discrimination of women, journalists, activists, poets, religious minorities, children, gays, dissidents etc…Or perhaps just understand that criticizing the regime is a “sin” which can be punished by jail, flogging and/or death.

Whether or not the world has a right to intervene in the state of human rights in any country is a legitimate question, but the fact that the President of the EU deems these as “fascistic” is a breach of the EU standpoint, and a travesty which must be rectified. Is this HR expectation “fascistic” only in the context of Iran, where there are financial gains and political interests?

Please share your feelings with Mr. Schultz through his e-mail martin.schulz@europarl.europa.eu, his facebook pages https://www.facebook.com/martinschulz.eu/, https://www.facebook.com/PresidentEP/ or his twitter account https://twitter.com/MartinSchulz.

 

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