ISIS, out. Hezbollah, in.

It is quite clear now that with every victory over ISIS, Tehran and it terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are ready to fill the vacuum.

The fight against ISIS was exploited successfully by Tehran, for two objectives. The first – to establish an arc of influence, spreading from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The second – to consolidate and strengthen the “resistance axis”. Both objectives seem to have been achieved.

Several analysts have already declared Iran the winner in Syria (see for instance the Bloomberg article “as Syria crumbles only Iran is a sure winner“, and the paper issued by the Middle East Forum asserting “and the winner in Syria is Iran“). The same for Iraq. The NYTimes reckons that Iran dominates Iraq, and that “from day 1 Iran saw a chance to make a client state of Iraq and transform Iraq into a jumping off point to spread Iranian influence around the region, and in that contest Iran won and the US lost“. The commander of Iran’s Quds force, Kassem Suleimani himself, boasts that Iran now has the upper hand in the region. But it’s not really Tehran who is filling up the vacuum of ISIS, it’s Hezbollah since Hezbollah acts as a non-state proxy which is free to fight all of Tehran’s wars.

Ideological similarity leads to cooperation, as can be seen from historical and current cooperation between Tehran and al-Qaeda. It has already been exposed that Tehran has a long term secretive alliance with al-Qaeda. Recently, Somalia sent an urgent letter to the American ambassador, raising concern regarding cooperation between an al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab and Iran on the mining of uranium. According to the Somali warning, “global stability is at stake”. Apparently, the alliance is still at work.

Such cooperation or alliances should not come as a great surprise. Radical groups may be stark rivals, but with time, the common goal is a uniting factor. Tehran, al-Qaeda and ISIS are, ideologically, not so far from each other. They all support Islamic views of global domination, strong anti-Western inclinations and the goal of an idealized government based on Shariah law. They all engage in terror as a justified means. The strong alliance between Iran and Sunni elements (like Hamas, Turkey and Qatar) demonstrates the fact that the Shiite-Sunni schism can be overcome if the mutual goals exist. As al-Monitor claims  Tehran is focused on improving relations with Sunni actors in the Middle East. In their eyes, the end goal justifies the means.

And when that goal is to export the Islamic revolution, it’s Hezbollah which is on the front line. So, you can allow yourself some comfort in knowing that the monsters of ISIS are finally on the run but remember that the guys in Hezbollah are much closer to ISIS than you would hope for.

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Tehran’s selective terrorism

Iran is an active partner in the fight against ISIS, and as a result boasts that it is a “champion against terrorism”. But, observing its record on the sponsoring of terrorism reveals that they do not have a problem with terrorists, they have a problem with terrorists who are not on their side.

The July 2017 state department country reports on terrorism 2016 defines Iran as “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016, as groups supported by Iran maintained their capability to threaten US interests and allies. The Iranian IRGC – Quds force – along with Iranian partners, allies and proxies, continued to play a destabilizing role in military conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen” (pg. 12 and pg. 304). The report names the terror agents on behalf of Iran, among them the Hezbollah, Iranian affiliated Shia militia forces, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, cyberterrorism and even extended support to al-Qaida operatives.

Tehran’s selective definition of terrorism is also evident in their own words, like the distinction they make between ISIS and the Taliban. As reported in Tasnim news agency, a senior advisor to Foreign Minister Zarif, Seyed Rasoul Mousavi, differentiated between ISIS and the Taliban, claiming that the Taliban is an “Afghan group totally different from Daesh”. His message was clear – while ISIS is a terrorist group, the Taliban are just militants fighting a cause. They may be different organizations with different ambitions, but for the victims of the Taliban, there is no difference.

Only recently Kuwait expelled Iranian diplomats over a terror cell, convicting 21 people of belonging to a terror cell that had been formed and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The recent boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and affiliates was due to Qatar’s support of terrorism and “deep ties with Iran”.

In the final analysis, Tehran isn’t hiding its support for terrorist organizations, it conveniently defines them as non-terroristic. Problem solved according to Tehran. Except that the problem isn’t solved: Many of these organizations are designated by the West as terrorist organizations and as proxies of Tehran. All these countries should therefore recognize Tehran for its support of terrorism. It should be that simple.

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Tehran’s Duality on Terrorism & Democracy

With the recent twin terror attacks in Iran, hitting at the parliament and the mausoleum, Iran revealed a new rhetoric on terrorism, which is reserved only for them.

When President Trump condemned the twin attacks, extended condolences yet suggested that Iran shares some of the blame for the terror attacks, by stating “those who sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote”, Iran responded with a vengeance.  Foreign Minister Zarif in a tweet rejected the notion entirely while terming Trumps’ words “repugnant”. As reported in firstpost, Zarif continued to give his own explanation for the attack rationalizing that the attackers targeted the “seat of democracy”.

For decades the Iranian regime has preached that Europe and the Western world are to blame for the terrorist attacks perpetrated against them. Even in the face of the most recent London attack, the supreme leader related to the events claiming that Europe has brought the Islamic state terrorism on itself through its intervention in the Middle East. In his tweet (June 5) he stated “this is the inferno they set up and has now backfired on them”. Why is it legitimate to analyze thus in the European context, yet repugnant in the Iranian context?

Furthermore, to interpret the attacks in Iran as targeting “the seat of democracy”, is bordering on delusional science fiction. Iran is a Democtatorship. It is a country which holds presidential elections but which allows a non-elected body to disqualify candidates in advance if they do not represent the values of the Islamic Revolution. It is a country which has publicly elected officials in government and in parliament but they are subordinate to the unelected regime, and specially the unelected Supreme Leader and his military backing, the IRGC. It is a country in which opposition leaders who tried to bring about change are under house arrest without trial. Whether Zarif likes it or not, Iran is a ruled by a theocracy, a “deep state” of power that is unelected but chosen by the regime itself.

To twist things even further, the supreme leader recently dismissed any chance of reconciliation with the US due to the fact that the US is the cause of instability in the ME and founded upon terror and cruelty – never mind the fact that the West and most Arab states claim that it is Tehran which is the cause of instability in the Middle East now.

 

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Iranian Irony Over Bahraini Sheikh

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

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

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

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

 

Tehran calls for a revolution

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

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

 

Tehran yearns to “export its revolution”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tehran is a serial human rights abuser

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

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

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

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