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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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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Saint Rouhani doesn’t need facts

Following on the path of Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times to “rid the world of Wahabbism”, Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the NAM meeting in Venezuela was filled with cynical half-truths and lies which are totally irrelevant of the facts. In fact, he sounded as if he is the president of a neutral country such as Sweden or Switzerland and not a country which is fueled by a strategy of expansionism, is involved in two proxy wars, is accused of numerous efforts to meddle in its neighbors affairs, is openly supporting terrorist organizations, is increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni divide, is oppressing women and sectarian/religious minorities etc…

Rouhani’s speech is all “peace and love” but is devoid of being factual:

  • Tehran is fighting “against extremism and terrorism” – Anyone mention Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda and the Taliban? OK, so one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but doesn’t it bother Rouhani that Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization even by the Arab League? And doesn’t it seem strange that Tehran is supporting al-Qaeda (before and after 9/11)?
  • Tehran rejects the “hegemonic and domineering inclinations” of superpowers – OK but this obviously doesn’t include Moscow, of course, which has become Tehran’s BFF . Rouhani obviously knows that Russia is a superpower and yet, he doesn’t have qualms in allowing Russia to support Assad in his civil war while incessantly warning the US to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps what he really means is “Western superpowers”…that makes more sense.
  • Tehran rejects the support of the “West together with the East” – That was Khomeini’s motto to keep Iran unaligned and independent. Since then, the regime in Tehran has never looked to the West but wait, isn’t Moscow in the East? And isn’t Beijing, another superpower being wooed by Tehran also in the East?
  • Tehran is always ready to help out the “righteous” – Ahhhhhhhh…define “righteous”. Tehran’s definition of the “righteous” just happens to be Shiites and anti-Americans wherever they may be. That doesn’t include Syrian civilians who sided with the rebels against Assad (184,000 deaths to date). It also doesn’t include Yemenites who sided with the government against the Houthis. That doesn’t include the members of the Iranian resistance wherever they may be.
  • Tehran does not interfere “in the internal affairs of “other countries” – Yeah, yeah…Let’s start with Lebanon which has become a satellite state of Tehran through the empowering of Hezbollah. Move on to Syria in which Tehran chose to support Assad who doesn’t represent all of the Syrian people since the start of the civil war which was sparked by his unwillingness to hold free national elections. How about supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government there? Or empowering Shiite militants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait,  and Nigeria? Not interfere? Tehran is the king of the “Meddle East“.
  • Tehran is avoiding “wounds inflicted every day on innocent bodies” – Wow…he obviously forgot about include the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian army and Russia in Syria and the thousands of victims of Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also doesn’t include the 30,000 political prisoners who were massacred in 1988 by the regime. Oh, and the thousands of Iranians who are imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, flogged and executed for not toeing the regime’s line.
  • Tehran operate on a “policy of moderation, prudence and interaction to settle conflicts” – So that’s what it’s called. “Moderation” and “prudence” explain Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen. They also explain Tehran’s meddling and subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Wait…Saudi Arabia…yep, “moderation” and “prudence” explains the latest vicious rhetoric by Khamenei and the rest of the regime vilifying the Saudi leadership and the Saudi religion.
  • Tehran is a “pioneer in engaging in dialogue and talks” – OK, that really depends when the “pioneering” began. Until Rouhani was elected, Tehran consistently rejected any dialogue with the West since 1979. Ahmadinejad’s presidency was notorious for ignoring calls to negotiate and antagonizing possible negotiating partners. Tehran ignored the calls of the IAEA and the UN to hammer out a nuclear deal for years. Perhaps Rouhani should have said “pioneer since 2013”. That’s about right.
  • Tehran is trying to create a “new order” through “cooperation and the collective participation of all the neighbors” – What “new order”? Well, as Zarif pointed out, Iran is different from all countries because it wants to change the “international order”. By this he was referring to the goal and duty, imbedded within the Iranian constitution, to Export the Revolution to the “oppressed”. And then there’s the Global Islamic Awakening against the West or the New Islamic Civilization Khamenei loves to fantasize about. And how about the “cooperation and collective participation”? The people of Syria didn’t ask to import the new order, neither did the government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States aren’t exactly “cooperating” with Iran in developing such a “new order”.
  • Tehran is against “interference of outside powers” in internal affairs – Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Tehran? Against interference? What’s really peculiar is that Tehran doesn’t see itself as “interfering” nor does it see itself as an “outside power”. And yet Tehran is “interfering” as an “outside power” in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…. Hell, it even invited the “interference” of an “outside power” when it agree to allow Moscow to support Assad in his civil war. Seriously, how can “Exporting the Revolution” not interfere with governments who do not want such a revolution to occur in their countries?

Are you getting the picture here? Rouhani is telling the NAM states what they want to hear: That Tehran is run by a peace-loving regime, is unaligned with any super-power, is fighting extremism and terrorism and is averse to interfere in any country’s internal issues. With such a great message, who cares about the facts?

Mr. Rouhani, it’s OK to believe that if you repeat the same lies enough times, people will believe you. But if you don’t take responsibility for your problems and weaknesses, at some point, your credibility is bound to plunge. Just as in the case of Zarif’s attack on Wahabbism, it’s easy to agree with many of the points that you shared in your speech – if all nations, including Iran, would act according to how you described your regime’s purported guidelines, the world would definitely be a better place to live in. Until then, remember, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

 

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Zarif scores points BUT loses credibility

Reading Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism“, is bewildering: he hits the problems of extremist Wahabbism right on the nail but the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility, let alone mention, Iranian-backed extremism and terrorism (including non-Shiite organizations such as Al-Qaeda) makes his whole argument less credible and more akin to propaganda. Had Zarif admitted to Tehran’s support of terrorism, his call would have greatly increased in credibility. As it is, Zari’s tirade against Wahabbism sounds like a speech by a pathetic alcoholic in denial at an AA meeting.

What makes Zarif even less credible is that his call “rid the world of Wahabbism” is really a call to pressure Saudi Arabia, no more no less. Since Wahabbism is a key part of Saudi Arabia, eliminating Wahabbism is really another way of trying to eliminate Saudi Arabia. Zarif knows this all too well. All forms of extremism, Shiite or Wahabbist, should be eradicated but a call to eradicate Wahabbism is like a call to eradicate Shiism. Had someone from Saudi Arabia called on the world to “rid the World of Shiism”, Zarif would be the first to call the Saudi speaker a “racist” and a “sectarian” whose purpose is to divide Islam, and, to be honest, he would be 100% right. Zarif knows this all too well but he is so focused on answering Tehran’s PR needs that he conveniently put such thoughts aside.

Zarif is playing the role of the crafty diplomat who is more adept at a bazaar haggle than in the real world: he did this outstandingly during the negotiations on the JCPoA and he is trying to do the same now with Saudi Arabia. His strategy is simple: attack and soothe then attack and soothe over and over again. Listen to Zarif attacking Saudi Arabia: Saudi rulers are “callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands”, their “petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist” policies which “beget, foster, and spread terrorism”, their allegiance to “serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons” and their responsibility for “the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred”. OK, we get it. Now listen to this following quote: “We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism“. Shouldn’t Zarif “put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear” first in order to be credible in his conciliatory call on Saudi Arabia to “join hands”? Will the real Zarif please stand up?!

Even Zarif’s repeated mention of the “Zionists” is beginning to wear out. Whenever there’s a problem with Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf States, with the Arabs, with the West, with anything, it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat to blame: Zionistic Israel and the fate of the maligned Palestinians. Listen to Zarif explain the source of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “The tragedy of Palestine, the center of anger and desperation felt in the Muslim world, is at the heart of this crisis“. Is it really? Or is the cause of the Palestinians simply an effective way to galvanize support for Iran amongst Muslims? Nobody in Tehran ever mentions the plight of the Palestinians in Jordan. No one in Tehran offered the Palestinians to live and thrive in Iran. No one in Tehran has ever offered to mediate a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, the Palestinian cause isn’t Tehran’s goal – the Palestinians are simply Tehran’s pawns in a game of political chess to dominate the region.

But Zarif’s attacks on Wahabbism don’t stop only in regards to terrorism. Here’s Zarif on one of his favorite, and least credible, topics: “Today, interference in internal affairs of other countries, occupation, and extremism have posed threats not only to the world’s peace, security, and development but to the solidarity of NAM state members“. Once again, Zarif “forgets” to mention that interfering in other countries’ affairs is one of Tehran’s specialities since it is part of its revolutionary ideals (“Exporting the Revolution) and is even part of Iran’s constitution. He “forgets” to mention Tehran’s continuous meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc… He “forgets” to mention that Tehran has developed a well-oiled strategy of using local and mercenary proxy organizations to meddle without being physically there.

Zarif isn’t alone in this strange mud-slinging contest in which Tehran slings mud at Saudi Arabia and then cries foul when mud is slung back from Riyadh: It’s an integral part of the regime under Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, in fact, instigated this strategy from the day that he launched his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative at the UN 3 years ago. In one master stroke, he presented Iran as a champion against terrorism without mentioning once (in three years) Tehran’s role in the resulting Islamic violence and extremism.

Since he became president, Rouhani has mastered the art of repackaging Iran as a Middle Eastern Switzerland: “For us, peace and non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, their national sovereignty, consultation and coordination on issues of the developing and entire world are important”. It’s not hard to notice that he doesn’t mention Tehran’s political and military interference in domestic affairs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…He doesn’t mention how without Tehran’s “interference” Bashar al-Assad would have been forced to agree to a general election to prove whether he really is the choice of the Syrian people nor does he mention how the Houthi rebels would never have successfully ousted the Yemenite government without the support of Tehran. “Non-interference”? Yes, only when it is in Tehran’s benefit. When it isn’t, Rouhani and Zarif are quick to point out that they aren’t really interfering, only “helping”.

The bottom line is that Tehran has become very adept at creating myths based on populistic lies which totally lack any form of responsibility. These myths are churned out by the regime and retold constantly until it might seem like the truth. ISIS is “the problem”…the US is “the problem”…Saudi Arabia is “the problem”…Israel is “the problem”…the Iranian resistance is “the problem”…everyone is “the problem” except, of course, for the regime in Tehran because the regime is above any criticism and criticizing the regime is a sin which can send you to jail or to the gallows.

No, in order to be credible, Tehran first has to own its own problems and weaknesses. Yes, the whole Western world and the whole Arab world might be theoretically wrong about accusing Tehran for all the problems in the Middle East but in practice, the stubborn theocratic regime in Tehran is definitely not blameless and as long as it continues to act the part of the wrongly accused saint, no progress can be expected in trying to cool down the multi-level conflicts in the region which appears to be ready to blow up and take the world with it.

 

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Tehran beating on the drums of war

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

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

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

 

More anti-Saudi rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More military actions and rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Tehran tries to justify the 1988 massacre

The tape-recording of Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Ruhollah Khomeini’s would-be successor, describing his objections to the systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 by the orders of Khomeini himself, is echoing increasingly louder despite the fact that the audio-file was online for just one day until the Ministry of Intelligence persuaded Montazeri’s son to delete it (he was then “interrogated” twice for sharing “state secrets” and was “offered” to sign an affidavit that he wouldn’t upload similar content in the future…he refused).

Within 3 months, approximately 30,000 politically prisoners, most of them supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), were executed after short two-minute trials by the “death commissions”, or in some cases weeks of interrogations and torture. The whole process was systematically organized, from cutting off the prisons from communications with the outside world all the way up to transporting the bodies at night in refrigerated trucks to be buried in mass graves.

While most of the buzz outside of Iran is critical of the massacre and the people within the regime who carried it out, especially since some of them hold powerful positions in the regime today, the voices in Tehran are growing louder and more polarized. On the one hand, there are calls from the grass-roots levels and from political leaders who are echoing Montazeri’s objections with their own while other voices call to officially justify the massacre. And then, of course, there is the classic strategy of Tehran to simply blame the West for spreading propaganda – not one leader of importance has accepted the need to at least examine the legitimacy of such a massacre as well as the responsibility of the regime and the people within it.

One of the few politicians who did speak up is Mostafa Poumohammadi, then representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and now the Minister of Justice. At first, Pourmohammadi denied his involvement and his responsibility in this heinous crime but then decided to come clean with a vengeance: “I didn’t even have ONE NIGHT OF SLEEPLESSNESS in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“. It’s a fitting choice of words since on tape, Montazeri says clearly the opposite: “I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours…what do you have to tell to the families? How much (did the) Shah execute? Compare our executions to his“.

What is more horrifying? The fact that the regime massacred 30,000 defenseless prisoners for their beliefs, or the fact that some of those who were involved are actually proud of what they did, or perhaps the fact that those same proud people maintain top positions in the regime?

 

Listen to Khomeini

Khomeini’s fatwa, a religious decree which is law, was as short as it was deadly:

[In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,]
As the treacherous Monafeqin [Mojahedin] do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance, and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [Mojahedin] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

In reaction to some criticism and objections to the massacre, Khomeini made his position clear: “Those who insist on their position of hypocrisy in prisons across the country, are enemies of God and condemned to death… It is naïve to have mercy on enemies of God… Those gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions, must not allow themselves to have any speck of doubt…Anyone at any stage, if persists on hypocrisy, he/she is punishable with death. Swiftly, annihilate the enemies of Islam. As for the examination of the cases, those measure are preferable that would expedite execution of the verdicts…The decisiveness of Islam before the enemies of God is among the unquestionable tenets of the Islamic regime. I hope that you satisfy the almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concern with details. They must try to be as ferocious as possible against infidels. To hesitate in the judicial process of revolutionary Islam is to ignore the pure and holy blood of the martyrs.”

As to Montazeri’s objections, Khomeini was even clearer: “Since it has been made clear that after me (Khomeini), you (Montazeri) will hand over Iran to liberals and through them to the Hypocrites, you have lost the competence and legitimacy for future leadership of the regime…the responsibility (of being Supreme Leader) requires more endurance than you have shown“.

The fact that all this was written by Khomeini in a time of duress as he “swallowed the poison” of making peace with Iraq is crucial: Khomeini, under pressure for not winning the war, focused his frustration on a much easier target – defenseless political prisoners who were serving time for being affiliated to the PMOI. And once again, he covers up any questions regarding the legitimacy of such a massacre with the “God-given” right of “revolutionary Islam” and the “holy blood of the martyrs”.

 

 

Listen to Montazeri

The audio-tape recorded a meeting between Montazeri on August 15th 1988 and Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then the regime’s sharia judge and now head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges, Morteza Eshraqi, then the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor and until 5 months ago Iran’s Attorney General and now the chief of the influential Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, and Pourmohammadi, then the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and today the Minister of Justice.

During this meeting, Montazeri tried to put a stop to the massacre which had begun one month earlier. As Khomeini’s confidante and would-be successor, Montazeri had publicly voiced his objections for which he would be publicly disgraced and lose his shot at succeeding Khomeini. But in this tape, we can hear just how much he was horrified by the massacre:

  • Montazeri explains the historical ramifications: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals…Beware of fifty years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…We will not be in power forever“.
  • Montazeri understands who is to blame: “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault…the people are now revolted by the Velayat-e Faqih (the regime)“.
  • Montazeri on the planning before the massacre: “(The ministry of) Intelligence wanted to do it (the massacre) and had made investments. And, Ahmad (Khomeini’s son) had been personally saying for three or four years (prior to the massacre) that the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) must all be executed, even if they read their newspapers, publications and statements“.
  • Montazeri shares some grizzly details: “Someone was in prison. They said his sister was also accused. So, they went and brought his sister. They executed the man. Her sister had been imprisoned for only two days. She was only 15. They asked her sister what do you say? She said I liked these people. They said because her brother was executed, execute her as well…In Isfahan, a pregnant woman was among them [those massacred]. In Isfahan they executed a pregnant woman (he adds that in clerical jurisprudence) one must not execute a woman even if she is a mohareb(enemy of God). I reminded [Khomeini] of this, but he said they must be executed“.
  • Montazeri on dealing with the PMOI: “The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not simply individuals. They represent an ideology and a school of thought. They represent a line of logic. One must respond to the wrong logic by presenting the right logic. One cannot resolve this through killing; killing will only propagate and spread it“.
  • Montazeri asks for mercy: “For God’s sake, it is the month of Moharram, the month of God and the Prophet. At least feel some shame from Imam Hussein. Cutting off all meetings and suddenly engaging in such butchery!!… Is something like this done anywhere else in the world?
  • Montazeri on his feelings of guilt: “I haven’t been able to sleep and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours … what do you have to tell to the families?…(I) will not have a response on the Day of Judgment…(It is my) duty to speak up and warn Imam (Khomeini)“.

It’s obvious that Montazeri felt that the atrocity being carried out on Khomeini’s whim was a tragic mistake for the regime and for Khomeini as well. He didn’t accept the legal or religious justifications and he was willing to stand up to try to stop the atrocity as he saw it clearly. Up until now, the regime continues to claim that it wasn’t an atrocity but a shining moment of the regime and of Khomeini.

 

 

Listen to the regime

Two weeks ago, the Assembly of Experts reacted to the furor over Montazeri’s tape-recording in the expected manner of the regime: the 1988 massacre was “a historic and revolutionary decision by his highness Imam Khomeini“, and “a prompt decision” to “deal seriously and decisively with the Hypocrites (the Mojahedin)“, indicating Khomeini’s “deep and insightful understanding.” In fact, Khomeini’s fatwa is described as a decision to have a “fair trial for leaders and some members” of the PMOI.

Many politicians went out of their way to try to remove any stains from Khomeini and themselves but the most vocal was none other than Pourmohammadi who at first denied his involvement but then decided to simply justify his deeds: “We are proud we have implemented God’s order about the ‘hypocrites’ (PMOI or MEK). You cannot show mercy to the hypocrites, because if they can bloody and soil you, they will…We have stood against the enemy of God and people and confronted them with power…I didn’t even have one night of sleeplessness in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“.
So, if the regime isn’t to blame, then who is? The West, of course: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a would-be moderate who supports Rouhani, expressed his regrets over “a new wave of attacks directed against Khomeini…The wave has embraced virtually all foreign opposition media, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently held an exhibition which recreated the scenes of executions in those days… The extent of support for the Mojahedin Organization at this time deserves to be pondered…The main objective of our international and domestic enemies is to take revenge from the unprecedented role and status of Imam (Khomeini).”

The regime and the people running it seem to have no regrets. The 30,000 victims of the massacre and the systematic organization of this massacre are not even irrelevant but are a testament to the true path of the revolutionary regime which exterminates anyone and anything that stands in its path. From Khamenei to Rouhani, the voice in Tehran over the massacre is clear: no regrets, only pride.

 

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Tehran looking everywhere but West

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei inherited his paranoia of foreign interference from his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini who coined his “Neither East Nor West” strategy which was paired up with another dominant theme of Khomeini’s, “Exporting the Revolution”: “Once again, I announce my support for all movements, fronts, and groups which are fighting in order to escape from the claws of the Eastern or Western superpowers“. Standing up to the “arrogant” superpowers and supporting the “oppressed” people/nations was always at the core of the Islamic Revolution and it remains so today as well under Khamenei’s goal of leading a “Global Islamic Awakening”, a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization”.

For decades, these twin strategies were upheld by Tehran but since the signing of the JCPoA, the hatred for the West and specially the US (the “Great Satan”) has even intensified but Tehran is definitely looking Eastward, specially towards Russia and China, as a means of increasing its power in the region. It also in began looking in other directions: first, South to Africa and Latin America where it’s scouting for likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and then to its immediate neighbors, mostly for economic reasons but as a means to gain more power in the region.

Although Khomeini would approve of Tehran’s focus to the South and to the neighborhood, he is probably rolling in his grave over the growing ties with Moscow and Beijing.

 

Definitely not West.

Following the signing of the JCPoA, Khamenei forbade dealing with the US but allowed President Hassan Rouhani to try to develop diplomatic ties and trade ties with countries in the EU. The initial response from most EU countries was positive and EU trade delegations landed one after the other in Tehran in an effort to capitalize on the huge potential of the Iranian market which was finally released from sanctions. The enthusiasm of the European delegates and governments was dampened by two unrelated issues: 1) The US’s removal of the nuclear sanctions did not clear Iran from other sanctions which are related to terrorism and human rights and 2) the issue of Iran’s horrific record in human rights and its recurring ties with terrorism resulted in a lot of internal objections. For now, European countries and businesses are waiting impatiently on the sidelines until both these issues are cleared and the US isn’t even on the sidelines.

 

South to Africa and Latin America

A lot of diplomatic effort is being invested to the South, to Africa and to Latin America. These countries hold a lot of economic potential but money is not the main goal here. All the nations in  Africa and Latin America are part of the Non-Aligned-Movement (NAM) and most fit Khomeini’s description of being oppressed, at least in the past, by the “arrogant” West – this makes them good targets for “Exporting the Revolution”. Furthermore, at least in Latin America, many nations hold deeply anti-American sentiment which makes them even better candidates to “Export the Revolution” to.

On his African tour, Tehran’s FM Javad Zarif, “offered” each country he visited, to share in Tehran’s experience at “fighting terrorism”. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this offer sounded hollow since the government of Nigeria cracked down on the subversive efforts of a local Shiite Sheikh Zakzaky who was openly backed by Tehran. Furthermore, Tehran is the current president of NAM (a post which changes every three years) and has used its position to try to mobilize NAM countries to support its agenda.

On Latin America, Zarif made a point of kicking of his tour in Cuba and including in his tour countries with strong anti-American countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. In his visit in Cuba, he made a point of emphasizing the fact that both Iran and Cuba were under American sanctions. Note how this statement echoes Khomeini’s quote at the beginning of the article: “The resistance of the Iranian and Cuban nations has left the hegemonic countries no other choice but compromise and renunciation of their hostile policies even in their words“.  Zarif’s LatAm tour is particularly worrisome for many countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay who are suffering from fears of Hezbollah’s growing influence in the region, mixing anti-American sentiment with terrorism and Shiite Islam.

 

Close by to Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors

Tehran’s involvement in Muslim neighbors such as Syria and Iraq has been in full force for the past few years but following the signing of the JCPoA, Tehran not only extended its overtures to other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Talks of increased trade were mixed with calls for the unification of Muslim countries in tune with Khamenei’s vision. These potential partners are crucial not only as trading partners but also as a buffer to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to unify all Arab countries against Iran.

But Tehran didn’t stop with Muslim countries – it also began wooing its non-Muslim neighbors. High level meetings between Iran and India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and others led to many trade agreements and the easing of diplomatic restrictions such as visa requirements. Azerbaijan committed to creating a free-trade zone on the border of Iran while Georgia decided to drop visa restrictions.

All in all, Tehran’s new-found interest in neighbors which had little or no contact with Iran in the past is not strengthening Iran’s power in the region economically and politically. None of these countries have any real powers to “infiltrate” and they might not be likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and Khomeini would probably have approved.

 

East towards Moscow and Beijing

By far the biggest development since signing the JCPoA is the rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow and Beijing. These two local superpowers quickly understood the ramifications of the signing of the JCPoA which brought Iran out of its isolation and Tehran’s continued hatred of the West. For Moscow and Beijing, strengthening ties with Tehran served two immediate purposes: cashing in on the economic potential of Iran’s market as well as weakening  the US’s influence in the region and the perception of the US’s influence in the world.

Moscow was the first to jump at the opportunity to fill the vacuum by openly supporting Tehran politically, economically and militarily. Even the issues of the remaining sanctions and the problems of dealing in dollars were easily circumvented as Tehran and Moscow agreed to deal through barters or through local currencies. At the same time, Moscow began supplying Tehran with missiles and joined the Syrian civil war siding with Tehran and Assad. The latest developments in which Russian jets launched air-raids on Syria from Iranian territory exemplifies the nature of the growing partnership.

Beijing was slightly more cautious but quickly understood that if it did not want to leave Moscow in the field alone – there was too much money to be made and weakening the US was an added bonus. Huge deals were signed and Tehran and Beijing are now talking about purchasing Chinese jets.

And suddenly, Tehran became a catalyzer to create a new coalition in the region with Tehran, Moscow and Beijing at its core and other countries in the region as second circle partners. The growing relationships with Moscow and Beijing are still fragile but as long as the money keeps on rolling and the US remains at bay, it will definitely grow and with it one can expect a growing Russian and Chinese influence on the regime and on the lives of Iranians and Khomeini’s “neither East nor West” lost half of its meaning.

Tehran should practice what it preaches

Call it double standards, different perspectives, politics, hypocrisy, Taqiyya or lies…the rhetoric that’s coming out of Tehran is loaded with messages which makes one want to blurt out “right back at you” or “why don’t you take a look in the mirror”. It’s as if the leaders in Tehran live in a vacuum and are totally disconnected from the realities as viewed by the rest of the world, especially the Western and the Arab world.

They redefine concepts such as “terrorism”, “foreign policy” and “human rights” by simply changing perspectives and then blame the seeming contradictions on cultural, political and geographical “disconnections”. In such a manner, Tehran can position itself as a champion against terrorism although it fully supports terrorist organizations, can position itself as the guardian of its neighbors’ interests although it meddles subversively in local politics and position itself as the champion of Islamic human rights although its human rights record is one of the worst in the world.

This process of “redefinition” has increased dramatically under the government of Hassan Rouhani and the signing of the JCPoA. This makes sense since before Rouhani, Iran was politically an defectively isolated and ostracized – the regime didn’t really need to try to manipulate the mind-set of the world. But since Tehran began trudging down the path of “constructive engagement”, redefinitions have become a defining strategy to position Tehran in a better light and take the world off-guard.

The best way to understand this is to listen to what Iranian leaders are saying. For the sake of this article, we will focus on statements by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader), Ali Akbar Velayati (Khamenei’s chief adviser on foreign policy), Hassan Rouhani (Iran’s president), Ali Larijani (speaker of Iran’s parliament) and Javad Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) on the issues of “terrorism” and “regional foreign policy”…another article in the future will focus on Tehran practicing what it preaches in the realm of “human rights”.

 

Tehran as a champion against terrorism

The issue of Islamic terror escalated dramatically over the past two years. Sure, 9/11 had brought Islamic terror to the West but 9/11 looks “tame” in view of the barbaric rampage of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Spotting an opportunity, Rouhani presented his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative to the UN to a standing ovation. The war against terrorism became Tehran’s carte blanche to kill or destroy whoever was in Tehran’s way and another carte blanche to tarnish any Western and Arab anti-terror activities. Why was Tehran involved in Syria? Why was the US forbidden to fight ISIS in Syria? Why did Tehran execute 20 Kurds in one day? To fight terrorism, of course.

Terrorism became the magic word to allow Tehran to fulfill its political agenda regardless of the fact that an organization such as Hezbollah (as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc…), which is fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen etc… is wholly financed by Tehran and is designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western and Arab nations. Here are some statements by Iranian leaders which show that Tehran is eager to preach against terrorism but is much more wary about practicing what it preaches on this subject:

  • Velayati on the West’s efforts to differentiate between legitimate Syrian rebel groups and ISIS: Iran “will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists“. By this logic, Tehran refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is just as “ridiculous“.
  • Rouhani on categorizing terrorism: Rouhani also called for the fight against all types of terror groups, saying the terrorists should not be divided into good and bad ones in pursuit of “short-term interests”. Is not Tehran’s categorizing of all Syrian rebel factions as “bad terrorists” and its opposition to categorize Hezbollah as “bad terrorists” not a clear example of Tehran pursuing its own “short term interests“?
  • Zarif on the dramatic increase of terrorist attacks all over the world: “We should not and will not rest until those behind terror in Istanbul, Dhaka, and now Baghdad, and their ideology are defeated“. Notice, no mention of Hezbollah and Tehran’s ingrained “ideology” of “Exporting the Revolution”, two critical factors in fighting Assad’s war in Syria.
  • Larijani on tactics and strategies of terrorism: “We have on multiple occasions warned the countries in the region that the tactical use of terrorism is a strategic mistake“. So why, oh why, is Tehran using Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to fight Assad’s civil war? And why is Tehran using Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government? A clear “strategic mistake“.
  • Khamenei the fate of those who support terrorism: “However, the creators of terrorism will not remain secure from the repercussions of terrorist acts either“. Mr. Khamenei should remind himself this since the rise in Tafkiri terrorism is, in part, a “repercussion” to Tehran’s state-sponsored Shiite terrorism.
  • Khamenei on the aims of the US in the region: “Behind our western border, the S.is training terrorists. It is spending money and handing out weapons to be used against the Islamic republic…the Americans have dangerous plans for (Iraqi) Kurdistan … Their plans are not aimed at defending the Kurdish people, but they want to control them“. Perhaps…but 1) Tehran is spending billions of dollars in “training terrorists” and “spending money and handing out weapons” to terrorist organizations and to help Assad win his civil war and 2) Tehran has excelled in “controlling” nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Azers as well as efforts to do so in Yemen as well.
  • Zarif wants to cooperate with Mali and Ghana to fight terrorism: “Iran is prepared to cooperate with Mali in the area of fighting terrorism and extremism“, “The Islamic Republic is ready to cooperate with Ghana in the fight against terrorism and extremism“. “Cooperate“? The same “cooperation” which Tehran gave to Nigerian Shiite sheikh Ibrahim Zakazaky who was charged by the Nigerian government of trying to overthrow it?
  • Rouhani on “exporting” its experience on fighting terrorism: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran has valuable experience in fighting terrorism and is ready to transfer it to other countries. Very admirable, but…Tehran has gained quite a lot of “experience” from fighting against terrorism since the advent of ISIS in 2014 but has a lot more “experience” in supporting terrorism since 1979.
  • Rouhani on the how to effectively fight terrorists: We should block income sources and channels of arms transfer to the terrorists“. And yet, Tehran continues to be the major “income source” and “channel of arms transfer” to Hezbollah (a terrorist organization), Yemenite Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemenite government and subversive Shiite organizations in the Gulf States.
  • Zarif on the methods to combat terrorism: “Terrorism and extremism cannot be eliminated only through military, political, or economic means; rather a cultural and ideological approach is also needed“. Well said Mr. Zarif but first, Tehran has to deal with its own “cultural and ideological approach” in supporting terrorist organizations in its struggle to “Export the Revolution”.
  • Larijani on how not to combat terrorism: “Terrorism is not a simple and tactical issue and cannot be solved by airstrikes“. He’s 100% right but he remains one of the biggest supporters of Moscow’s efforts at combating ISIS through…”airstrikes” which incidentally also targeted other Syrian rebels and civilians.
  • Larijani on blaming Saudi Arabia: He also said those countries which provided terrorists with arms and missiles are responsible for crises in Syria (and that) those who make blood bath in Yemen are the ones who are to blame for tension in the region. Who is providing Assad and Hezbollah with “arms and missiles” in Syria which are extending the “blood bath” there?? Who provided “arms and missiles” to the Houthis rebels in Yemen to overthrow the Yemenite government and initiated the “blood bath” there? Tehran, of course.
  • Velayati on the purported support of Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels: “However…some reactionary regional states are training terrorists and providing them with support in violation of international law“. Wait a minute…isn’t the fact that Tehran is “training” Hezbollah and “providing them with support” also a “violation of international law“?

Tehran’s modus operandi is simple: Support (mostly Shiite) terrorist organizations while doing two things at once – 1) Deny that the organizations being supported are really terrorists and 2) Blame the West (the US, EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) for the rise in Sunni terrorism.

 

Tehran as a champion of regional foreign policy

Tehran is very active in its neighbors activities and has positioned itself as the master of foreign policy in the region. This self-appointment is a direct result of the amount of control Tehran has in some countries in the region, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as its continued efforts to expand its control in other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and other Gulf States. Furthermore, the signing of the JCPoA has strengthened diplomatic power with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan etc… and after years of isolation, Tehran has finally become a crucial regional power.

That’s all good for Tehran but the problem is that Tehran doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to regional policy. It will warn Western powers to not meddle in local politics while it does so incessantly in its efforts to “Export the Revolution”. It blames countries like Saudi Arabia for helping the Yemenite government to beat the Houthi rebels while it is helping Assad to beat Syrian rebels in the same manner. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for creating division amongst Muslims while it does so as well. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for diplomatic incompetency while it tries to survive from one blunder to another.

Here are some choice statements by Iranian leaders which illustrate just how little Tehran practices what it preaches.

  • Zarif on who should control Syria: “We believe only the Syrian people should decide about their future and others can only facilitate this political process to resolve the crisis“. OK, but if “only the Syrian people should decide about the their future” why is Tehran so adamant in helping Assad who inherited his power without then how does Zarif explain the amount of influence Tehran has on Assad
  • Velayati on interfering in Syrian affairs: “No country has the right to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs and decide for fate of others“. Exactly. Not even Tehran who has the biggest foreign military involvement in Syria and who has taken upon itself to “decide the fate” of Syrian by blindly supporting Assad for its own agenda of “Exporting the Revolution”.
  • Khamenei on the slippery notion of intervention: “The people in those (Muslim) countries should decide about their own destiny and prevent any foreign intervention“. Strange…when a Western power involves itself in the region, it is “foreign intervention” but when Tehran involves itself in the fate of countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc… it isn’t simply because Iran is Muslim? Khamenei, “intervention” from Iran in these countries is just as “foreign” as “intervention” from Saudi Arabia or from the US.
  • Velayati the legalities of foreign intervention: “The presence in Syria by such countries as the US and Saudi Arabia, who intervene there without the Syrian government’s consent, is illegal“. Velayati is basing this statement on the fact that Assad formally “invited” Tehran to help him fight his civil war. There are two problems in this statement: 1) Since Assad inherited his power without a popular vote, the question of the legitimacy of his government is problematic to say the least and 2) Isn’t Tehran’s “presence” support of the Houthi rebels in Iran to overthrow the government also “illegal” then?
  • Velayati on Iran-Russia cooperation in the region: “There is unprecedented cooperation between Iran and Russia. This cooperation will not be limited to Syria, as a patch of this cooperation can be seen in Iraq and Lebanon…It will be extended to Yemen too“. Tehran’s new-found “cooperation” with Moscow embolden it to include Moscow not only in its war for Assad but also in another proxy war in “Yemen too” (Moscow hasn’t agreed to such a move yet) but this never stopped Tehran from warning Saudi Arabia and the US from “interfering” in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen.
  • Velayati on the delicate issue of meddling: “Iran opposes any kind of change of the legal regimes through power, military force, coups, violence and separatism, as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries“. This is an admirable statement except for the fact that Tehran actively used “power, military force, coups, violence and separatism” to support Houthi rebels to overthrow the government in Yemen.
  • Rouhani on wars in the region: “How can we remain silent while Yemeni people are savagely bombed everyday by those who call themselves the custodians of the Grand Mosque (Saudi Arabia)“. Rouhani is definitely “silent” on how the Syrian rebels and the Syrian civilians are “savagely bombed everyday” by Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, by Assad’s forces with the support of Tehran and by Iranian military personnel.
  • Khamenei on the benefits of cooperation: “We will not cooperate with America over the regional crisis“. It should be noted here that Tehran has vehemently opposed the “interference” of the US in Syria although it did welcome Moscow to “help”. Isn’t ending the “regional crisis” and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of future victims” not worth involving whoever can help? Especially since the US still holds a lot of influence over Tehran’s southern rival?
  • Khamenei on double standards of impunity: “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region…(Khamenei issued) a directive to Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“. Khamenei obviously doesn’t mention the hypocrisy in not allowing countries which are deemed as enemies of Tehran to not “act with impunity” but doesn’t think twice about issuing a directive to do the exact same crimes he is lamenting about.
  • Zarif on Saudi Arabia’s agenda: “Some people in Riyadh seem bent on dragging whole region into crisis (and) Iran has no desire to escalate tensions…They (the Saudis) can continue to support extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred, or choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security“. If only Zarif would convince Tehran to not strive to “drag” the “whole region into crisis“, to stop supporting “extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred” and “choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security” because Tehran is doing the exact opposite in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf States.
  • Larijani on the Saudis’ effect on the region: “The Saudis have fomented crises for certain regional states and are pursuing disintegration of some other states“. Wow. Larijani conveniently “forgets” to mention that Tehran’s efforts to support the Houthi rebels actually ended in their the “disintegration” of the Yemenite government which then led to the Saudis declaration of war on the Houthis together with the reinstated Yemenite government.
  • Khamenei on Muslim division: “One of the main tools used by the enemies to prevent the birth of modern Islamic civilization is through creating divisions among Muslims…Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Are not “Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (and) the United Arab Emirates” not Muslims and, therefore, won’t such a statement only increase Muslim division?
  • Khamenei on the Shiite Sunni divide: “The Arrogance front (the US) is making massive efforts to introduce this confrontation as a war between Shiite and Sunni“. This is a ludicrous statement to make following the torrent of accusations by Tehran on the responsibility of Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia in the development of Tafkiri (Sunni) terrorism which only serve to increase the “war between Shiite(s) and Sunni(s)“.
  • Zarif the problems the Arab governments are facing: “The Arab world’s intelligentsia and the grass roots feel a sense of frustration after developments in recent years and the lack of proper reaction by their rulers (and) the governments are trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“. Let’s just accept this statement as true for a second…isn’t that exactly how the “intelligentsia and the grass roots” in Iran are feeling and isn’t Tehran “trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“? Yes and definitely, yes.
  • Khamenei on the art of negotiations: “They (Rouhani, Zarif and all the Iranians who worked to sign the nuclear deal) believe (that) Middle East or domestic problems can be solved by JCPOA; this means giving up principles and redlines, and yielding to the arrogance“. In negotiations, there is always give and, as Zarif pointed out so well, it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. Negotiating for a deal meant to get rid of all nuclear sanctions means “giving up (on some) principles” because if Tehran had not given anything away, the deal would not have been signed.

These statements clearly show that Tehran is intensifying a double standard in the region: Tehran “helps”, others “interfere”. Tehran promotes Muslim “unity”, others promote Muslim “division”. Tehran’s meddling is “legal”, others are “illegal”. Russia is “good”, US is “bad”. The double standards go on and on as the leaders in Tehran try to paint a picture in which they are the heroes and everyone who is not supporting it is a villain.

 

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The 1988 massacre that continues to haunt Tehran

Last week, an audio-file was added to the website of the late Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the man who was set to succeed Khomeini as Supreme Leader but instead was forced to resign as a result of his voiced objections to the systematic and institutionalized massacre of thousands of political prisoners between July and October 1988.

The 1988 massacre was ordained by Khomeini himself through a fatwa (religious edict) whose victims were imprisoned for being members of “dissident” organizations who criticized the regime – mostly members of the Mujahedin Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and mostly Sunnis (as opposed to the Shiite regime). The men and women were imprisoned for crimes as small as distributing pamphlets and some were meant to be freed within the next few months.

During those five fateful months, a total shut-down of communications between the prisons and the outside world was implemented: TV’s and radios were confiscated, family visits and phone privileges were abruptly stopped people within 100 meters from the prison could be shot. During this time, tens of thousands of political prisoners underwent short, on-sight, interrogations following which they were either executed, tortured, flogged or exempt from the fatwa. The executions were held within hours of the interrogation, hanging six prisoners at a time in order to carry out the fatwa more efficiently. The bodies were then transported by trucks to mass graves. Firing squads were used on some occasions, but the noise of the shots only resulted in increasing the tension in the prisons. By November, the authorities began informing the victims’ families while warning them not to carry out funerals or wakes and in most cases, the authorities did not divulge the burial sites of the victims.

What made the massacre so horrifying was the planned madness of it all and the fact that the victims of this massacre died for simply being affiliated to a “dissident” political organization or for not being Muslim enough. The issue of the audio file and Montazeri’s ardent objection to the massacre have brought to light another shameful episode in the history of the regime’s brutal, secretive, systematic and deadly behavior to anyone who it deems as an “enemy of the state” or an “enemy of Islam”.

Within days of the issuing of the fatwa, Montazeri wrote three public letters in which he vehemently protested the massacres. He beseeched Khomeini to recall the fatwa because it of the great injustice it would cause, calling it “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands”. In the audio files, he also claims that he could not have kept silent because if he had, he would “not have an answer on Judgment Day and I saw it as my duty to warn Imam (Khomeini)”. He also worried about the effect of the executions on the families of the victims and the criticism of the world since the act would be interpreted as an act of revenge or of unchecked exasperation. According to Montazeri, somewhere between 2,800 and 3,800 people were executed although eye-witness testimonies point to a much higher number (5,000 – 6,000) and the MEK claims the real number was closer to 30,000. He “resigned” (more like forced to resign) in March 1989.

Three days after the sharing of the audio file, the son of Montazeri received a phone call from the Ministry of Intelligence requesting that the audio-file be deleted from the site. He agreed to do so.

To date, the regime in Tehran has refused to talk about the massacre, to take responsibility for it and/or to recompense the families of the victims. To date, the regime continues to execute political prisoners simply because they believe in ideals which diverge from those of the regime. To date, there are still family members and survivors who are afraid to share their tales of suffering and oppression, knowing full well how the regime treats people who do.

 

The fatwa that led to the massacre

The summer of 1988 was tense in Iran: the eight war with Iraq had taken its toll and on July 18th, Khomeini had finally accepted to “swallow the poison” and to a cease-fire which was to come into effect in August. On July 22nd, Iranian dissidents fighting from within Iraq, members of the MEK, launched another attack onto Iranian soil but were forced to retreat by July 29th. At some time during this week, some believe on the July 28th, Khomeini issued a fatwa which would lead to one of the worst cases of systematic executions of political prisoners in the history of the world:

(In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,)
As the treacherous Monafeqin (a derogatory name by the regime for Mojahedin meaning “hypocrites”) do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance (Western countries, specifically the US/UK), and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

This fatwa, issued in the name of a God who seemed to be anything but “Compassionate” or “Merciful”, sealed the fate for thousands of Iranians, men and women who were imprisoned for being members of the MEK or other “leftist” (read “secular” and “communist”) organizations.

The MEK was designated, until today, as a terrorist organization but one should note that the MEK was instrumental in helping Khomeini rise to power until a fall-out between the regime and the MEK occurred in 1980 when it refused to take part in a plebescite on the new constitution, being disillusioned by the growing power of hardliners in the regime who advocated harsher Islamic rule and more power for the unelected regime. During 1981, the MEK did carry out terroristic activities but within the year, the MEK was outlawed and the string of terrorist attacks was brought to an end with the executions of about 2,000 MEK members.

Montazeri claims that Khomeini was not only sick at the time (he would die within one year of issuing the fatwa) but that he was emotionally dejected from having to accept the cease-fire with Iraq but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that in Iran, a Supreme Leader can seal the fate of his citizens without the need for the political or popular support of his government or his people. The situation remains the same today under Khamenei.

 

The systematic organization of the massacre

The systematic nature of this massacre cannot be ignored and points to preparations long before the actual fatwa was issued. For months preceding the fatwa, interrogations took place within prisons to isolate the members of the MEK, member of “leftist” organizations, secularists and atheists etc…Nothing was done except to herd the prisoners together according to their “crimes”, ie, their beliefs.

But once the fatwa was issued, the machinations of the massacre went into high gear: field trials headed by a three-man “death committee”, an Islamic judge, a revolutionary prosecutor and an intelligence ministry official, “interrogated” the prisoners and decided on the spot (some interrogations lasted less than two minutes) who would be executed, who would be tortured and who would be exempt from the fatwa.

At first, the “death committee” focused only on Mojahedins. The interrogation was based on a number of questions, the first being the political affiliations of the prisoner. If the prisoner answered that he or she was a “Mojahedin”, the interrogation was abruptly ended and the prisoner would unknowingly be escorted out to his or her death. If the prisoner answered “Monafiqin”, a derogatory word meaning “hypocrite” used by the regime to call the Mojahedins, the prisoner, would then have to answer an onslaught of questions not knowing that one “wrong answer” would mean a death sentence. The first set of questions were meant to weed out the hard-core dissidents from those who were willing to cooperate: “Are you willing to denounce former colleagues? Are you willing to denounce them in front of the cameras? Are you willing to help us hunt them down? Will you name secret sympathizers? Will you identify phony repenters? Will you go to the war front and walk through enemy minefields?”.

By August, the “death committee” widened their focus to include all dissidents: leftists, Marxists, secularists, atheists etc…Here, the interrogation was more religious in nature and prisoners were asked if they grew up in religious Muslim families or not and then they believed in the Koran, if they prayed, if they believed in Heaven and Hell etc…What they didn’t know was that the first question, the level of religion in their family split them up into two distinct groups: those prisoners who grew up in religious Muslim families but moved away from Islam, “murtad-i fitri” and those who grew up in non-religious families “murtad-i milli”. The prisoners who grew up in religious families and who answered that they were secular or atheists were, once again unknowingly, singled out for execution on the same day. Those who had grown up in secular families were then given a choice: become a practicing Muslim or get flogged five times a day (in coordination with the five times of prayer for devout Muslims).

In most cases, the prisoners were herded to their interrogation blindfolded and remained so until they were herded back to the groups of prisoners outside, not knowing that their fates had been sealed. There were numerous mix-ups as prisoners joined the wrong groups or when wardens would try to punish or protect a prisoner by sending him/her to another group. Most of the surviving prisoners speak about being beaten and tortured during their interrogations. Those that weren’t were usually the ones who were sentenced to death from the first question.

In all cases, there were no defense lawyers, no application of international and Iranian laws, no fair trial – only an interrogation followed by an execution, floggings or a miraculous exemption.

 

The cover-up of the massacre

The details of the massacre remain hazy to this date. The massacre was carried out under a heavy cloak of secrecy with on-site executions and disposal of the bodies under the cover of darkness. Some of the survivors, as did the families of the victims, shared their ordeals but most preferred to remain silent for fear of retribution by the regime. Political opposition leaders remained silent as well after seeing what happened to Montazeri who was the second most powerful Iranian leader at the time. Human rights organizations were in any case not allowed into prisons and those that did condemn the massacre were ignored by Tehran. The men who carried out the massacre on an administrative or physical level went on with their lives and some rose to prominent posts, such as Khamenei who was president at the time.

For all intents and purposes, the massacre was presented by the regime as a minimal punishment to enemies of the state, as Khamenei so eloquently explained: “In the Islamic Republic, we have capital punishment for those who deserve to be executed … Do you think we should hand out sweets to an individual who, from inside prison, is in contact with the munafiqin who launched an armed attack within the borders of the Islamic Republic? If his contacts with such an organization have been established, what should we do about him? He will be sentenced to death, and we will execute him. We do not take such matters lightly deemed as punishment”. The fact that these prisoners had little contact with the MEK in Iraq was meaningless since they were guilty by association.

Tehran continues to oppress, imprison, torture and execute any person or group which voices criticism against the regime or simply belongs to a minority viewed as harmful to the regime. Fair trials are the exceptions and not the norm and hardliners continue to press for harsher punishments and for a stronger adherence to Islamic and Revolutionary ideals.

At the same time, this same regime continues to claim that critics of its human rights are politically motivated and complain about atrocities carried out by other countries, specifically the US and Israel. What’s clear is that this particular atrocity is more horrifying not only because it was carried out by the regime in the name of the regime but because, for all intents and purposes, it is still being carried out today, alebit on a smaller scale.

 

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