The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

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

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

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

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


The illusion of fighting against terror

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

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

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

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

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


The illusion of human rights in Iran

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

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

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

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

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


The illusion of helping its neighbors

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

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

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

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


The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

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

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

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

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

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


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Khamenei Retroactively Renegotiates the JCPoA

Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei’s open letter to President Rouhani in regards to the nuclear agreement represents re-adapting the signed JCPoA to his red lines, the same red lines he presented to his negotiating team before they signed. In  his letter, Khamenei gave his “blessing” on the deal but added his own red lines which, in some cases, aren’t in tune with the JCPoA that was forged by FM Javad Zarif and the P5+1.

Apart from his suspicious anti-American tone, Khamenei’s letter includes 4 distinct discrepancies:

  1. Written declarations by leaders:
    1. Khamenei stipulates that “EU and the US president” issue written statements which will “reiterate(d) that these sanctions will be fully lifted” as a prerequisite to implementing the deal. These statements are meant to allay Khamenei’s suspicions regarding the willingness of the EU and especially the US to implement the JCPoA but in the process, he creates two major discrepancies.
    2. The first discrepancy is that, according to Khamenei, the JCPoA won’t be implemented until these statements are issued which is not a requirement according to the nuclear deal and furthermore, belittles the nuclear deal since the issue of sanctions is detailed there (the word “sanction” shows up 139 times in the deal).
    3. Second, according to the JCPoA, sanctions will be lifted gradually depending on Tehran’s implementation of the deal and therefore, any statement, even if written out of courtesy to Khamenei demands, cannot include the total lifting of the sanctions.
    4. Khamenei’s demand for written statements not only adds another stipulation that wasn’t included in the deal, it is, in fact, a renegotiation of the issue of the lifting of sanctions.
  2. Nuclear and non-nuclear sanctions:
    1. As far as Khamenei is concerned, the JCPoA means the end of all sanctions against Iran “including repetitive and fabricated pretexts of terrorism and human rights” while the JCPoA provides only for “lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme“.
    2. In other words, nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted while other sanctions can remain or be added without breaching the deal. The Iranian negotiating team worked hard to keep the negotiations focused only on the nuclear issue and effectively blocked efforts by the P5+1 negotiators to introduce issues of human rights, terrorism, subversion etc…
    3. Now, it is Khamenei who is tying these issues to the nuclear deal.
  3. Timing of sanctions:
    1. Khamenei always sought a total termination of all sanctions before Tehran will begin implementing the JCPoA but, as was stated earlier, the JCPoA stipulates that sanctions will gradually be lifted until the termination of the deal after 8 years.
    2. Without the gradual lifting of the sanctions, the P5+1 would have to “slap-back” sanctions if and when Tehran doesn’t comply with the deal which would be much more complicated (perhaps impossible if Russia/china veto) than relieving the sanctions on the go.
    3. By requiring the full lifting of all sanctions, Khamenei is re-bargaining after the deal was closed.
  4. Dealing with “ambiguities”:
    1. Khamenei points out that there are many “ambiguous points in the JCPoA” and adds that the “interpretation provided by the opposite party is not acceptable“.
    2. Khamenei’s letter includes many “interpretations” for points which he finds “ambiguous” and which he provides his own binding “red lines”.
    3. According to his letter, Tehran, through a “smart panel” will decide what is and what is not acceptable and Tehran’s interpretation is to be the final one.

As expected, President Hassan Rouhani, FM Javad  Zarif, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani and numerous other leading Iranian politicians openly accepted Khamenei’s guidelines – it’s hard to imagine them not doing so.

But the question arises what they will do if and when the stipulations of the JCPoA clash with their Supreme Leader’s red lines? Will they side with him and literally scrap over two years of negotiations or will they try to convince him otherwise? And if Khamenei will take the day, as he surely will, what was the use of negotiating with anyone except him? And what is to become of Rouhani?

Once again, the astute Supreme Leader has proven that he is more focused on his visions of a reovlution than Rouhani’s visions of reason and the Iranian people will have to pay the price.

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Internal Conflicts Over Nuclear Deal Plague Tehran

Once the deal was signed in Vienna, Kerry/Obama and Zarif/Rouhani went back home to sell the deal to the American and Iranian people respectively. To be more exact, their target markets were not the people themselves but the leaders of both countries and more specifically, the critics of the nuclear deal in both countries. As these four men can testify, the deal is no easy sell and hardliners Washington and in Tehran are simply not in a buying mood.

Washington: Obama vs. Congress

In Washington, the scenario seems set for Congress to shoot down the deal, forcing Obama to veto it, as he promised. From this point, it is impossible to speculate what will happen: the deal may rest on Obama’s veto but Congress has already made it clear that since it is not a treaty, this deal will not be binding on Obama’s successor next year and therefore, the deal’s days are possibly numbered.

Another more spectacular scenario involves Hillary Clinton spearheading a vote to override Obama’s veto by convincing at least 14 Democrats in Congress to vote against the deal. It’s a long shot but it does exist.

Tehran: Only Khamenei Knows

khamenei red In Tehran, the situation is more and less complicated. The less complicated part is that the deal rests in the hands of one person alone – Khamenei but unfortunately he hasn’t endorsed or shot the deal down…yet: He praised the negotiators, stated that Tehran will continue to act as it has in the past and that the text of the deal should be scrutinized.

Furthermore, only 4 days after the deal was signed, Khamenei let the world know that with or without a deal, Tehran continued to view the US as its enemy, gave support to “Death to America” chants and stated “we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon” – reminding all that Iran may sign a deal but will not change its ways.

The deal has to be ratified by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, but everyone is waiting for Khamenei’s decision. Majli speaker Larijani stated recently that the deal will be scrutinized by Khamenei himself and the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and that the MP’s “should not be worried about that“.

Furthermore, it is Khamenei and Khamenei alone who decided what were Tehran’s red lines for the negotiators and as Zarif briefed the Majlis, he candidly stated that he and his negotiators had done their “best to preserve most of the (Khamenei’s) red lines, if not all“…It’s the “if not all” part that is giving hardliners in Tehran the opportunity to shoot this deal down.

Rouhani vs. IRGC

Zarif may maintain that in Tehran, the military and non-military factions follow the same agenda but until Khamenei dictates what that agenda is, the realities of Iranian politics point to the exact opposite direction, especially when it comes to the IRGC.

The power of the IRGC in Iran is hard to estimate since its influence goes far beyond the sphere of the military: it is the driving force of politics and the economy and has actually gained strength due to sanctions. To date, the IRGC’s chief Jaffari is against the deal. According to him, the deal includes distinct violations of the “red lines” outlined by Khamenei and therefore “will never be accepted by us”. These red lines include long term limitations (10 years), inspections of military facilities, limitations on enrichment at Fordow, gradual lifting of sanctions, the trustworthiness of the IAEA and limits on nuclear research.

What further complicates the issue of selling the deal in-house are the ambiguities of the deal itself: Zarif told the Iranian MP’s that, according to the deal, access to military sites will be denied while the deal specifically includes such access under the “Additional Protocol” which allows access to any suspect site allowing a period of up to 24 days for such access to be allowed by Tehran.

Some believe that any nuclear deal and the consequent lifting of sanctions can only weaken the IRGC’s hold on the economy. Rouhani believes in privatizing the economy and the nuclear deal has opened up the possibility of selling state assets to foreign investors – a move which will definitely not please the IRGC.


Rouhani vs. Khamenei

Dr.-Hassan-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8ERouhani%E2%80%ACs-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8Einauguration%E2%80%AC-ceremony-and-his-formal-endorsement-by-Ayatollah-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8EKhamenei%E2%80%ACRouhani would never openly oppose Khamenei for the simple reason that any such opposition will lead to his demise politically or physically.

But the deal is important enough for Rouhani to oppose Khamenei indirectly: Apart from touting the deal as a “historical victory” and a “new page in history“, he added for the benefits of the critics of the deal, including Khamenei, that the “new page in history” did not turn “in Vienna on July 14th” but in Tehran on August 4th when the “Iranians elected me as their president”. Furthermore, despite the fact that he constantly played down the effects of the sanctions as a motive for negotiating a deal, he reminded everyone that Iran’s trade had been reduced to a “stone age level” and that he was voted to the presidency on the promise of relieving Iran of the sanctions.

Evoking the support of the Iranian people is obviously meant to dampen any criticism on the deal but since Iran is led by a mixture of democratically elected politicians such as Rouhani and non-elected leaders such as the IRGC, the clerics and the Supreme leader, the support of the people may be impotent if Khamenei deems it so.

In a classic bargaining move, Tehran has wisely decided that the Majlis will vote on the deal in Tehran only after Congress has voted on it in Washington. Until then, a huge political struggle is in play in Iran and the fate of Rouhani and the Iranian people depend on what Khamenei will think at that moment.

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Nuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

intent contentNuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

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

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

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


What are the intentions of the West?

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

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

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

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


What are the intentions of Tehran?

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

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

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

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

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


Motives will make or break the Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Nuclear Deal, If…

nuclea deal ifFollowing the nuclear “Joint Plan of Action” (JPoA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva in 2013, a “Framework Agreement” (FA) was finally closed in overtime in Lausanne this week.

The basic nuclear details sound quite simple: Cap centrifuges to 6,000 (from 9,000 in JPoA), enrichment to 3.67% (down from 5% in JPoA), enrichment only at Natanz (not mentioned in JPoA) and access of IAEA officials (just like JPoA).

The basic sanction details sound quite simple as well: Eliminations of all nuclear sanctions by the US/EU/UN ($7 Billion in JPoA).

But, beyond basics, there still is no real nuclear deal – that’s supposed to be penned in June if…


If…Rouhani “plays ball”…
Hassan RouhaniIf Rouhani patiently “plays ball” and upholds his end of the FA, as he personally vowed to do, he will have achieved his greatest election promise: disposal of all sanctions with an intact nuclear program with a bonus sunset clause. Worth being patient for…

Within 3 months, he can sign a nuclear deal and can set his sights on an economic boom, a rapprochement with the West and, perhaps, more time to develop the potential for nuclear break-out.

Rouhani focused on minimizing nuclear restrictions, sunset clauses and the time spans of the elimination of sanctions. Without them, the hardliners, and more importantly, Khamenei himself, would not buy the deal.

And best of all, he doesn’t even have to be friendly with the US…(Zarif’s quote: “Iran and U.S. relations have nothing to do with this, which was an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue … We have serious differences with the United States”),  nor is he forced to stop meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…nor is he forced to uphold his other election promise of better human rights in Iran.


If…Obama Chooses Engagement

141219-obama-sony-1613_f26a4f11b15d21fb1e0c10d2c3792a8bObama chose to work things out with Iran through engagement instead of through war or increased sanctions and isolation.

Had the FA not been signed, Obama would have to increase the sanctions which would effectively push Rouhani into his brother in sanctions’ open arms, Putin. Less likely, Obama would have chosen the war-path which he so desperately wants to avoid.

Obama focused on a “low risk”-“high gain” strategy: Continue to actively strive for peace and hope that the future will smile on him. Not without criticism from within (Republicans/Congress) and from without (Israel, Saudi Arabia, France, UK…).


If…Both Agree to Disagree

us-iran.siMuch like the earlier JPoA, the FA is sometimes vague in the parameters of nuclear restrictions and on the time frame of the eliminating of sanctions. “Loose ends” are emerging as quickly as statements by leaders in in Tehran and in Washington to their respective crowds.

Flashback to November 23rd 2013 when the White House issued a fact sheet on the JPoA which satisfied politicians and voters sitting on the fence. Within days, Tehran called the fact sheet out as “invalid” for “overselling” to the Americans quite simply because it was “underselling” to its own hardliners.

Tehran poked a number of loopholes into the JPoA: the right to enrich 20% for “research purposes”, the exclusion of the heavy water plant in Arak, the number and quality of active centrifuges etc…All loose ends that were not tied by the P5+1 negotiators. But the talks went on…for thirteen months (beyond the 6 months in the JPoA deal).

And it’s happening again…

The official Iranian version is simply labeled “press statement”, beginning with a spoiler that the FA has no “legal aspect” yet and is intended only as “a guideline for drafting future accords”. The American text is called the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” implying that “it’s a done deal”.

In some case, the Iranian text differs from the US version when it comes to nuclear restrictions: enrichment facilities (US says only Natanz, Iran says Fordow as well), the sunset clause (US says 10-15, Iran says none), the quality of centrifuges (US says old, Iran says advanced), the upkeep of Arak (US says no nuclear activity, Iran says “updated and modernized”) and the transparency of military aspects of the nuclear program (US says full transparency, Iran says…nothing)

But when it comes to the relief of sanctions, the differences touch on the type of sanctions to be lifted (US says “nuclear”, Iran says “all”) and the time span (US says “step-by-step” while Iran says “immediate” cancellation).

Do any of these amount to deal breakers? They certainly can in the hands of hardliners on both sides. More likely they will be used by Tehran as distractions to Iranian’s best strategy – patience, because, meanwhile, while the talks go on, the money flows in and the centrifuges spin.


And, if…Khamenei Signs

amiri20130417141414517_0Yes, the biggest “if” of all: will Khamenei sign this deal?

Only Khamenei knows what is his state of mind, his intentions for his legacy and his ambitions for Iran and for the Islamic Revolution.


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Do the Iranians Really Want a Deal?

elusive deal

It has been over a year since the Iran nuclear talks have started. At their birth, they were portrayed as a simple exchange between willing sides: The West wanted to get Iran in line in all nuclear-related issues, while Iran wanted its economic sanctions removed. After over a year, it seems that nothing could be more complicated and the nuclear deal remains as elusive as ever.

But the situation just gets more and more complicated. It sometimes even looks as if Tehran is actually trying to sabotage the deal since no deal might be a better deal for Iran. The supreme leader Khamenei narrowed the teams negotiating rope a few times. Take Ali Larijani, Iran’s Parliament speaker, latest take on the negotiations and the issue of centrifuges: “This is something like a trivial matter and we should not bargain over trivial matters” said Larijani, in an effort to conceal that it is precisely the amount of centrifuges that the P5+1 are worried about.

Apart from the number of centrifuges, there are, of course, other obstacles: “the still ambiguous status of the Arak heavy water reactor; the PMD’s (possible military dimensions) which remain unaddressed; the verification methods given Iran’s deceit in the past; unanswered questions posed by the IAEA to Iran; and last but not least, the question of when and how much of the sanctions imposed on Iran will be lifted, whether they will be lifted at all, or, as put by US negotiator Wendy Sherman, they will simply be suspended.”

As far as Tehran is concerned, they are not prepared to compromise in any way its current nuclear program (which Rouhani brokered back in 2005) since any diminishment would seem to diminish the power of the regime. This world view is not limited to the nuclear issue but includes all forms of “interference” which might lead to a “capitulation” of the regime to external pressure.

This view is predominant in Tehran’s exasperating attitude towards accusations of human rights abuses. It is obvious to all except for some hard-core Iranian fanatics, that Tehran’s definitions of human rights do not fit those of the UN/West. And yet, the regime in Tehran keeps on claiming that these accusations are “unfair” and simply “Islamophobic”/”Iranophobic”. Tehran still does not realize that all efforts at denying obvious human rights abuses reflect on the veracity of its claims of innocence in the nuclear issue.

There is also the continued anti-west rhetoric, stating that the Jihad will continue all the time that America exists. The US is still deemed by many Iranian leaders, including Khamenei, as “the enemy” and Tehran has not spared any criticism for the US lead coalition against ISIS.

Furthermore, the Iranians are repeatedly bragging of their military might, parading new missiles, radars and drones which does not rub well with the P5+1 who have not succeeded in linking the nuclear negotiations with Iran’s military developments.

Iran’s FM Zarif, who personifies the Iranian negotiations, further exasperates the West by switching constantly from open optimism to guarded pessimism to apocalyptic warnings. To date, the P5+1 team, as well as the rest of the world, don’t know how to deal with these diplomatic “zig-zags”.

His Supreme Leader, Khamenei, is less prone to zig-zagging and is generally pessimistic and hostile to the West (specially the US) in its efforts to get Iran to toe the line. For him, the US/West is still an oppressive and “arrogant” enemy which has to be outwitted and overcome in order to fulfill his vision of an Islamic Awakening led by Tehran and himself.

To conclude this, one might be influenced by Rouhani’s optimism and positive thinking, especially his belief that a deal is certain. But as we learned from the past – Rouhani is not always the one who holds the power in the regime.

What is Iran Hiding in Parchin?

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ISIS report – May 12th 2014

“Digital Globe imagery dated April 25, 2014, shows renewed signs of external activity at the Parchin military site where Iran is alleged to have conducted work related to nuclear weapons development. Parchin represents a key outstanding issue to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in resolving its concerns about Iran’s past and possibly on-going nuclear weapons work and military fuel cycle activities. Before the Parchin issue can be resolved satisfactorily, Iran will need to allow the IAEA to visit the site, provide information and access to officials linked to activities at the site, and possibly permit visits to other sites. In sum, Iran will need to provide far more cooperation on this issue than it has done so far. If it does not, it risks not achieving a final deal with the P5+1 or not receiving further sanctions relief as part of an extended interim deal. ”

IAEA Report – June 4th 2014

“The Agency continues to seek answers from Iran to the detailed questions provided to Iran regarding Parchin and the foreign expert and to request access to a particular location at the Parchin site. Since the Agency’s first request for access, extensive activities have taken place at this location that will have seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.Since the Director General’s previous report, the Agency has observed through satellite imagery, building materials, debris and earth deposits, as well as ongoing construction activities that appear to show the removal/replacement or refurbishment of the external wall structures of the site’s two main buildings.”



Mind the Gaps in the Nuclear Deal

bridge2Any agreement requires efforts of both sides in bridging the gaps. In the case of the nuclear deal, it seems that the gaps just keep on getting wider. What does this say about the Iranian partner to the deal?

Here a couple of quotes that should emphasize just how wide the gaps really are:

The American View

  • US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman: “The agreement…freeze and roll back their program in significant ways and give us time on the clock to negotiate comprehensive agreement.”
  • White House: Iran has agreed to “halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”

The Iranian View

Iranian Nuclear Chief Ali Akbar Salehi:

  • “The only thing we have stopped and suspended — and that is voluntarily — is the production of 20% enriched uranium, and that’s it.” & “the entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.” Salehi adds: “Come and see whether our nuclear sites, nuclear equipment and nuclear facilities are dismantled or not.”
  • Otherwise Iran will pursue its natural course.” & “Tehran can go back to where it was on the nuclear path in a matter of hours“.
  • “Out of the 18,000 centrifuges that we have roughly, 9,000 of them are working, are functioning; and the other 9,000 we have voluntarily accepted not to inject gas into them.”
  • On proceeding in developing the heavy water plant in Arak: “Arak heavy water reactor is not for the production of plutonium. This reactor is a research reactor.”

Doesn’t sound like the nuclear program will be “stopped“, “frozen“, “dismantled“, “rolledback“, “reignedin“, “controlled” etc…as the West has struggled to describe it. Quite simply, according to Iran, it is at the best “paused“. The two main differences being the “restart” point of the nuclear program should the interim agreement disintegrate (“a matter of hours”) and who is benefitting from the deal until then (Iran).

Setting Aside Illusions

Back on January 31st, Foreign Minister Zarif stated that the West should set aside the illusions that the Iranians approached the negotiation table because of the effect of sanctions. While this statement is reversed because it is precisely the sanctions which brought about Rouhani’s election and removing the sanctions remains Rouhani’s priority and promise for change, Zarif is right about setting aside illusions regarding the exact effects of the deal on Tehran’s potential to militarize its nuclear program. Time is on Iran’s side.

So although it is admirable that the west wants to “give peace a chance” before resorting to harsher solutions, it seems delusional to believe that the interim agreement has “bought time” for the west and its interests.

Earlier Posts:

Contradicting Perceptions Regarding the Iranian Deal

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Two Sides of the Nuclear Deal

Let’s face it: the nuclear deal clinched between Iran and the P5+1 is obviously lopsided. While most Western leaders view the nuclear deal as a beginning of exciting developments for the future, Iranians officials view it as a means to preserve their nuclear program, simply without sanctions.

Following are some of Foreign Minister Zarif’s statements concerning the nuclear deal which highlight the difference in attitudes. Any deal is worth only as much as the will of both sides to keep it and judging from Zarif’s statements, it’s doubtful that the Iranians are serious about keeping the deal.

“More sanctions would only result in more centrifuges”.

Zarif’s threat here exemplifies Iran’s perception of the Western community – a weak and mellow entity – that due to its anxiety wishes the deal more than them.

Is Iran really ready for more sanctions that can crush its economy again and bring Rouhani and Zarif down? And why would a peaceful nuclear program require more centrifuges?

“Sanctions did not prevent the installation of 19 thousand centrifuges in Iran”.

Anachronism at its best.  Zarif purposely overlooks the fact that the centrifuges predated the sanctions, and neglects to state the fact that the sanctions were implemented as a result of the centrifuges.

Would breaking the deal and increasing sanctions stop the installation of further centrifuges? Probably not. Only a change in regime or a successful military strike could do that.

“If the entire agreement does not lead to a positive outcome, it will not be the end of the world.”

Although Zarif rides the deal to acclaim legitimacy, he belittles its importance.  Dissolving the deal would not be the end of the world, but it certainly might be the end of Rouhani’s version of perestroika and Zarif would be stuck in a desk job in Tehran.

Was Iran better off in pre-Rouhani days? And is the Iranian regime and nation ready to go back there? And finally, can Rouhani and Zarif survive a disintegrated deal? The answer is a probable “no” on all counts.

“Besides enraging the Iranian nation, the impact of the sanctions has more than anything been the fact that our enrichment facilities have carried on.”

The old saying “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”, seems to have underestimated  Zarif. Although the global community knows that the sanctions dragged Iran to the negotiating table, and were a result of Tehran’s persistence with enrichment, yet, somehow, Zarif thinks it is the other way around.

According to Zarif’s logic, Iran should beg for increased sanctions, which can lead to a militarized program. After all, isn’t that what Rouhani and Zarif were after from day one: A militarized nuclear program legitimized by the West’s actions?

Earlier Posts:

West Gets Future Checks – Iran Gets Cash


Focus on Deal or on Loopholes?

As the nuclear deal was clinched under euphoric adjectives such as “groundbreaking” and “landmark”, the air seemed to fill with hope…and suspicion.

The goals are clear: The West wants to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program will not be militarized and Iran wants to rid itself of the sanctions.

What isn’t clear is Iran’s commitment to assuage the West’s fears: Following the initial euphoria in November, it seemed that there were too many loopholes allowing Iran to continue on a military path by uranium enrichment beyond the required levels and quantities.


More Reasons for Suspicion

So when another round of talks led to a “finalized” deal, the euphoria was mixed with suspicion… suspicion that seemed well-founded.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN this week that “The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again“. In short, Iran would momentarily freeze but not dismantle.

To the best of our knowledge, no objective parties have actually read all of the details of the agreement. As explained by veteran Iran-watcher Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, “a lot of U.S. and European diplomats haven’t seen the text yet so how are you going to be able to guarantee full implementation?”

This seems to be strengthened by a recent admission by Iran’s chief negotiator, that the deal includes a secret 30-page “non-paper” which may or may not actually represent a side-deal.

And then there’s the comment by Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy organization (and previous foreign minister): “The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working,” he said on state television. “This is our greatest achievement.”

A nuclear deal written on ice? Not exactly: Iran’s economy has been saved, so it’s already cashed in.