Filling the vacuum vacated by ISIS

It would seem that the defeat of ISIS, at least in Syria and in Iraq, is coming near. Already  in October 2016 security analysts predicted the defeat of ISIS, as reported in express. Since then, the noose has been drawn closer and tighter.

In Mosul, reports (like aljazeera) are corroborating that neighborhoods held by ISIS are completely surrounded by anti-ISIS coalition forces.  According to theguardian, key Mosul sites have been seized from ISIS. cbsnews summarized “ISIS is cornered, desperate and leaving a trail of destruction in Mosul”.  Reports have surfaced regarding the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, who has apparently abandoned Mosul and gone into hiding (see independent).

Losing Mosul has been projected to spell the end of ISIS’s ability to further control areas in Iraq. A bizarre coalition of Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Shia militias, Turkish forces, US airstrikes and others has brought about a change of tide.

The Syrian front is also nearing some kind of outcome. As reported on cbsnews, many areas in Syria are being liberated from ISIS strongholds. Although the battle still continues in Aleppo, it would seem that the Syrian army with the help of Russian military, have been able to re-conquer most of the city.

The Syrian front is no less complex than the Iraqi one. What began as a civil war around the legitimacy of the Assad regime has erupted into a full blown multi-state battle between ISIS and anti-ISIS coalitions. With Russia, Turkey, Iran, Afghan, Pakistani and other Shiite militias intertwined in the military efforts. As reported in bbc, it would seem that at least a quarter of ISIS territory has been already liberated.

With President Trump pledging to defeat ISIS and even signing an executive order to plan the defeat of ISIS in thirty days, it would seem that we are at a crucial stage.  It always takes the US some time to make the move, but once it does, history has shown us that that is a decisive moment. During the second world war, it took Pearl Harbor to draw the US into the war, three years into the bloody battles, but once that happened it was decisive.

So, it is time to start asking the question about the day after – who will fill the vacuum?

After WWII, we witnessed the ally forces splitting the territories amongst themselves, laying the foundation for decades long “Cold War” between the US (NATO) and Russia (Warsaw pact).

In Iraq, it is quite clear that Iran will maintain tremendous influence over any future political settlement, thus expanding the Shiite arc of influence way beyond the Persian Gulf.

What about Syria?

Assad is too weak and shattered to control anything. Russia, with all its might and power, will not camp down in Syria, thousands of miles away from homeland. Turkey may want to stay, but it would not seem to be feasible long term.

The real danger is an Iranian direct or proxy takeover, like it has done in Lebanon (with Hezbollah), in Yemen (with the Houthis) and in Iraq. Moreover – they have flooded the area with proxy fighters. Already the washingtonpost has warned that “thousands of Shiite militiamen” have led the charge in Syria, all loyal to Iran. These militias have bolstered Iran’s influence in Syria, alarming even officials in Assad’s government.  Philip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias is quoted stating “they are building a force on the ground that, long after the war, will stay there and wield a strong military and ideological influence over Syria for Iran.” Iran is there to stay. They will fill the vacuum, expanding Shiite influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, unless action is taken to avoid it.

Mistakes have been made in the past, like with the splitting of regions of influence following WWII. A bigger mistake would be to allow an entity like Iran to fill such a vacuum. It would seem that it is time for the powers to start planning the day after.

 

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The nuclear deal and the fall of Aleppo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Aleppo is liberated / Aleppo has fallen

The city of Aleppo has been liberated or has fallen, depending on whose side you are on. It’s a victory against terrorist or a massacre inflicted on innocent civilians. It is the triumph of the legitimate leader of Syria (together with his Iranian and Russian allies) for the benefit of the Syrian people or the triumph of illegitimate leader of Syria (together with the foreign meddling of Iran and Russia) for the benefit of Bashar al-Assad’s government. Aleppo is open to interpretation since the narratives surrounding it are bipolar in nature: Each side is claiming that it is in the right and the other side is in the wrong. These two separate “echo chambers” create a situation in which two separate and totally different realities seem to be occurring at once.

Whatever the case may be, the city is totally ruined as can be seen from this video the civilians of Aleppo have paid the price: It is they who were wounded or killed, who starved, who are forced to move to another city. Sometimes, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is spot on. Looking at this picture taken last week in Aleppo following the ceasefire is just such a picture: the victors in the truck could be liberators or they could be terrorists but the civilians trudging their way out of Aleppo certainly don’t look like terrorists and the destruction of Aleppo is clear to all. It might be worth your while to keep this picture in mind as you read this article. You might also want to view this video taken by citizen of Aleppo from his window over the past few years…It’s easy to notice that the rebels don’t look like the hardened terrorists which Assad, Tehran and Moscow are claiming they are.

The fact that even according to Syrian sources, most of the fighting in Aleppo was done by Russian jets and Iranian-backed Shiite militants is one that says a lot about the conflict itself. As such, the battle of Aleppo is as far from a civil war as it could be: This wasn’t a battle between warring Syrian factions but a battle between the foreign supporters of Assad against the Syrian rebels who have lost their own foreign support for a long time.

Meanwhile, Tehran is jubilant over the “freeing”/”liberation”/”victory” of Aleppo: while the Iranian media is ecstatic Rouhani has congratulated Assad claiming that “the victory in Aleppo… constitutes a great victory for the Syrian people against terrorists and those who support them” to which Assad thankfully responded that Iran had stood “on the side of the Syrian people and government in its most difficult moments, and we will never forget it”.  Some Iranians have taken the fall of Aleppo to mean much more: “The liberation of Aleppo indicates the defeat of the political and military power of the (global) arrogance (the US)”.

Both leaders are sharing their versions of the truth and are denying any questions regarding the legitimacy of Assad’s government who has not held a true democratic election since he became president in 2000 and who imprisoned activists who called for democratic elections in 2001 and in 2011.  Nor is either leader questioning the illegitimacy of the “terrorists” who were beaten in Aleppo, Syrian rebels who challenged Assad’s rule since 2011 by calling for the release of political prisoners and demanding democratic reform. No, it is much easier to portray all rebels as terrorists and Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria because in this manner, there is no need for acknowledging the fact that Assad’s government doesn’t really have the backing of the Syrian people. Tehran isn’t helping the Syrian people, as it might like to portray itself, it is helping Assad.

Some voices in Iran are more cautious regarding the jubilation surrounding the liberation of Aleppo and Tehran’s involvement in Syria in general: “the killing of 300 thousand people and the displacement of 12 million others in Syria will only lead to hatred and violence” towards Tehran and the celebrations over the “liberation” of Aleppo are only “two nights’ joy” compared to the worries Tehran will have for the “next 30 years”.

What is certain is that Tehran seems to have successfully exported its revolution to Syria with tens thousands of Iranian troops, Shiite militias and Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria under the direct supervision of Qassem Suleiman, the chief of Tehran’s Qods forces in coordination with Moscow. And much more important than this, the Syrian civil war, together with the nuclear deal, has led to the rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow which has redefined the balance of power in the Middle East.

For now, the US and Russia are content to fight each other on the issue of Aleppo in the confines of the UN: The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power asked if the “axis of resistance” had “any shame” on the suffering that their actions have cost while the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, quipped back that she certainly wasn’t “Mother Theresa“. The US, nor any other supporter of the Syrian rebels, is not willing to turn Aleppo into a Sarajevo, the city which ignited World War 1 and the fleeing people of Aleppo will have to accept the fact that they are totally alone against the axis of resistance.

For now, the Syrian “rebels” and the Syrian civilians who happen to live on the “wrong side” of Aleppo are trying to restart their lives elsewhere but they are definitely still in danger. Thousands are still waiting for a safe passage and every day, there are new cases in which Shiite militants are murdering Syrian “rebels” before they can get out. The videos of Syrian civilians calling out for help form Aleppo have spread all over the world but no help can be expected in a country which has allowed only foreign influences who are backing Assad but which isn’t allowing any foreign influence which might be construed as being against Assad.  The graffiti written by the fleeing Syrians on the ruined cityscape say it all: “Good by”,  “we shall return one day” and “Under each destroyed building is a family buried with their dream. They were finished by Bashar Al Assad”. For the estimated 50,000 Syrians still waiting to flee the oncoming forces of the axis of resistance, the next few days will be crucial and will literally become a matter of life or death following a “complete meltdown in humanity“.

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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.

Ten Rouhani quotes that will test your gag reflex

Let’s be honest – Hassan Rouhani is to date Iran’s best bet to lead the changes that he promised when he was elected. While there are serious doubts to whether he is really a “moderate” or not, it’s quite clear that relative to the regime’s leaders, he is definitely “more” moderate. To his credit, Rouhani, unlike the leader of a “normal” democratic country, has to lead his country under the “guidance” and the “red lines” of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and de facto dictator of Iran who is a definite hardliner intent on maintaining the status quo from the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But just because he is the West’s Best Bet for now, doesn’t mean that we should accept whatever he says for granted. The world is quick to pick up on any discrepancies and lies by donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and that’s the way it should be. Politicians who lie should be forced to be scrutinized and trashed. And much like other Iranian leaders, Rouhani is prone to statements which are can be categorized as wishful thinking, naïve, misleading, hypocritical, outright lies…or simply, puke-worthy.

Here are 10 statements which might sound OK until you understand the contexts in which they were said:

  1. Asked if he prefers Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Rouhani mockingly quipped “Should I prefer bad over worse or worse over bad?“. Now, although there are any who might agree with Rouhani, he, as the president of Iran, is the last to laugh at the situation in the US elections since Iranian elections are notorious for being dictated by Khamenei and by the vetting process of the Guardian Council which can disqualify candidates based on their affinity to the revolutionary ideals of the regime. Once the Iranian people have a chance to choose their Supreme Leader (he is chosen by the Assembly of Experts), then he can mock the US elections.
  2. Rouhani, who understands that his re-election depends on whether the nuclear deal will translate into billions of dollars in foreign investments, called on Iranians (and the regime) to be hospitable to foreign investors: “The businessman and investor who wants to come, we must be hospitable. They must come and leave Iran easily“. OK, sounds like good advice. Except that Rouhani’s statement came only two days after and American-Iranian businessman, Siamak Namazi, and his 80 year old father, Baquer Namazi, were both convicted 10 years in jail for “collaborating with a hostile government”. The “hostile government” is obviously the US although according to Iranian law, only one country is considered “hostile” and that’s Israel. Three days later, aother American Iranian, Reza Shahini, was convicted to 18 years in jail on similar charges. “Hospitable”? “Come and leave Iran easily”? Who’s he kidding?
  3. Today, we are glad that Iran is a great defensive wall in the region against Daesh and al-Qaeda and is fighting off terrorism“. Rouhani’s rebranding of Iran as a champion against terrorism will be learned about in history and communication classes around the world in the future. Rouhani, nearly single handedly (with the aid of ISIS/Daesh), managed to turn Iran, a proven state-sponsor of terrorism and terroristic organizations such as Hezbollah into a “great defensive wall” against terrorism. Sure, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter but Hezbollah has been designated as terrorist organization by most of the West and most of the Arab world…is that not enough to warrant a puke over Rouhani’s statement? And what about Iran’s cooperation with al-Qaeda and the Taliban? And what about Tehran’s support for Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Houthis etc…? No…Tehran is not a defense against terrorism…in fact, it has taken to the offensive by pitting its own terrorist organization against ISIS in the hope that everyone who hates ISIS will support Iran.

In a speech in Markazi, Ruhollah Khomeini’s birthplace, Rouhani eulogized Khomeini up to a point where Khomeini became hardly recognizable. Here a few choice quotes which will probably make you gag:

  1. Under the Islamic Sharia, he (Khomeini) revived the dignity of women”: Sharia law” and women’s “dignity“? Really? Iranian women are oppressed legally and socially. Women are legally worth half of what men are, are forced to wear clothes that will not arouse men’s desire for them, are easily divorced and discarded by their husbands under Iranian law, are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission, can be forbidden to work if their husbands object, are not allowed to run for the presidency nor for the Assembly of Experts, are banned from learning certain subjects in universities, are forced to observe gender segregation in all public places, are not allowed to ride bicycles in public etc… “Dignity”? Ask the thousands of women who have been imprisoned, tortured and oppressed or ask the loved one of those who were killed or executed.
  2. (Khomeini) clearly shown us the true Islam and democracy“. Well, Khomeini might have shown the Iranian people the “true Islam” but “democracy”? Iran is governed by a “democtatorship” in which the government and the parliament is chosen by the people through public elections but other aspects of the regime are chosen by the regime members. The most important unelected position is obviously the “Supreme Leader” which Khomeini justified under his ideal of “velayat-e faqih”, the Guardianship of the Islamist Jurist in the place of the Prophet Mohammad…Khomeini himself and then Khamenei. Both Khomeini and Khamenei are not “passive” Supreme Leaders and are actively involved in all aspects of government, dictating “red lines”, ousting leaders, “guiding” voters etc…”Democracy”? Not yet…
  3. Khomeini promoted Islamic brand of the arts including music and singing“. Yes he did. And Khamenei is a poet. But you have to give Rouhani credit for controlling his gagging reflex since he knows more than anyone that arts that aren’t “Islamic” enough are oppressed. Classical, pop, rock and metal concerts are repeatedly cancelled, women cannot appear on stage to a mixed audience and are not allowed to sing in public etc…and any art that criticizes the regime is a “go to jail” card for the artist. Sometimes, the situation is so strange that it borders on being humorous just as in the case of a metal concert in which the audience was forced to sit down and were banned from headbanging or displaying a “horn” sign. It’s too convenient that Rouhani actually forgot about all of the oppressed artists when he said this.
  4. Thanks to the ideas and thoughts of Imam Khomeini (RA) the Islamic Republic is known as a role model around the world“. Yep. A role model. But for what? For standing up to the West? For exporting the Islamic Revolution? For what? And to whom? The list of states who do view Iran as a role model is definitely much shorter than the “around the world” phrase suggests: Mostly anti-Western/American states such as Cuba and Venezuela, some Latin American and African countries who look to Iran for trade and, of course, countries with strong Shiite bases such Iraq and Syria.

And here are a few of his older and most gag-worthy quotes:

  1. All the people in our country, no matter which ethnicity or tribe they’re from, should feel they’re the citizens of one country and enjoy equal rights“. Wow. Does this include women who legally have less rights then men and are heavily oppressed? Does this include Sunnis, Kurds, Baha’is and Christians who are systematically oppressed as well? Does this include people who are critical of the regime and are usually found either in jail or in graves? Does this include gays who are executed in Iran? Face it, there are no “equal rights” in Iran because the Shariah law simply cannot allow for “equality”.
  2. “Iran is a modern Islamic society, with a modern polity and advanced institutions of civil society, leaving no room for extremism and radicalism to survive for any length of time“. Well, Iran has been “extremist” since 1979 so 37 years is actually quite a “length of time”. The whole regime is extremist and it is so heavily entrenched in all aspects of Iranians’ lives that there is a lot of “room” to maintain hardline extremism for a while longer. Who is Rouhani kidding? And what makes Iran’s Islamic society “modern” as long as ancient Shariah laws and beliefs prevail at every corner. And what about Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah or is Hezbollah not “extremist” enough for Rouhani?
  3. The viewpoint of the government is that the people must have full access to all information worldwide“. While this may have been the “viewpoint” of his government, “access” to information has actually dwindled under his presidency. Iran just launched its “Iran-Wide-Web”, a closed internet which will allow authorities to block and monitor content which they might feel is critical of the regime and worthy enough to send the sharers of this content to jail. This is just one more promise which Rouhani failed to deliver on.

Sure, Rouhani is not the only politican to “bend the truth” or to even lie, and he certainly won’t be the last. But sometimes, whether you support a leader or not, you should face the truth head on and accept the leader for who he is and what he stands for. Rouhani might might sound right but remember Rouhani’s own words: Ahmadinijad was stupid enbough to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing, to expose his teeth and nails and alert the west. I can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have all the diplomatic and rhetoric skills to do so. Exactly.

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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Syrians and Yemenites caught in the middle

If you listen to Tehran, you will hear harsh criticism aimed at Riyadh for launching a war on Yemen and if you listen to Riyadh, you will hear similar criticism regarding the military involvement of Iran in Syria. There are quite a few similarities and some major differences in both cases.

The biggest similarities can be found in the circumstances surrounding the wars: Both Tehran and Riyadh are supporting governments in one war and rebels in another and both wars are, in many ways, proxy wars in which Tehran and Riyadh are really trying to weaken each other. The motives of Tehran and Riyadh are mainly sectarian in nature and are the result of the regional conflict surrounding the strained relations between the two countries.

The biggest differences between the two wars are the number of civilian casualties (400,000 in Syria compared to 9,000 in Yemen), the nature of the of the coalitions used by both sides (the three-state “axis of resistance” in Syria and the ten-state coalition in Yemen) and the differences in the definition of the involvement (Tehran continues to claim it is in Syria on a purely advisory status while Riyadh openly admits to waging a war against the Houthi rebels). Furthermore, Tehran’s agenda is clearly focused on “Exporting the Revolution” to Syria, Yemen an dto whichever country is willing to accept it while Saudi Arabia is working hard to stop Tehran from achieving this goal.

The bottom line remains that the involvement of Tehran and Riyadh in both wars are leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in what are basically proxy wars in a larger power play by both countries in the region.

 

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • Both local governments are contested locally and are suffering from civil wars: Bashar al-Assad’s inheritance of his title and power from his father without an election resulted in a civil war in Syria in 2011 while Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had to flee Yemen in 2015 following a civil war instigated by Houthi rebels.
  • Tehran and Riyadh were invited by the governments of these countries to help fight the civil wars: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad requested the help of Tehran to fight his civil war while Yemenite president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi requested the help of Riyadh to return to power after being ousted by Houthi rebels in a civil war.
  • Tehran and Riyadh support the rebels in each country: Tehran supports the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government while Riyadh supports many Syrian rebels to fight Assad.
  • Tehran and Riyadh blame each other’s support of rebels as an excuse to wage a proxy war: Tehran used Riyadh’s support of the Syrian rebels and ISIS to support Assad in his civil war while Riyadh justified its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen because Tehran helped the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government.
  • Both wars are tainted by sectarian and religious overtones: Shiite Tehran supports Assad who is an Alawite, a religious minority in Syria closely related to Shiism, and supports the Houthi rebels who are Shiites while Riyadh supports Sunni Syrian rebels who are a majority in Syria and the Sunni Yemenite government.
  • Both wars serve as proxy wars between Tehran and Riyadh: The wars in Syria and in Yemen serve as proxy battle fields for the intense rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh which has always been a rumbling undertone in the region but has increased dramatically following the negotiations and the signing of the JCPoA.
  • In both wars, the majority of the victims are civilians: As in most wars in the last few decades, the battlefields are within cities and neighborhoods and civilians find themselves in the frontline with soldiers leading to the indiscriminate victimization of civilians.
  • In both cases, Tehran and Riyadh have warned each other to not interfere: Tehran has warned Riyadh to stay out of Syria and Riyadh has warned Tehran to stay out of Yemen but in reality, both Tehran and Riyadh continue to support the rebels in each country.
  • Both Tehran and Riyadh blame each other for supporting terrorism and are self-acclaimed champions against terrorism: Tehran blames Riyadh for supporting Sunni/Tafkiri/Wahabbist terror and claims that it is the biggest champion against terrorism while Riyadh blames Tehran’s support and use of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels while claiming to lead a 34-state coalition against terror.
  • The peace processes in both wars are hampered by Tehran and Riyadh: International efforts to bring peace to Syria and to Yemen have been unsuccessful so far largely due to the preconditions which Tehran and Riyadh are demanding, preconditions which make any prospect of peace deplorably insignificant.

 

Now some of the differences:

  • The official nature of the support of Tehran and Riyadh is different: Tehran continues to claim that its role in Syria is only “advisory” which is partly true judging from the frequent visits of Qods chief Qassem Suleimani but it also finances Assad’s war to the tune of $10 billion a year, supplies Assad’s forces with weapons, deploys its proxy Hezbollah to fight for Assad and has sent its own IRGC and Afghan troops to fight in Syria as well. The Saudis, on the other hand, do not even try to hide the military nature of their war in Yemen. Tehran’s insistence on the advisory nature of its involvement in Syria becomes even more ludicrous as the number of Iranian casualties in Syria rises (official estimates are at 600 for now).
  • The number of civilian casualties in Yemen is only 2% compared to Syria: To date, the number of civilian casualties in Yemen is estimated at roughly 9,000 people while the number of civilian casualties in Syria is estimated to be 400,000. Even if you factor in the length of the war, the civilian casualty rate is Syria is ten times larger than in Yemen. This fact is not relevant to the families and friends of the victims but it does need to be factored into the amount of blood on the hands of Tehran and Riyadh.
  • The three-state “axis of resistance” vs. the 10-state “coalition”: Tehran remains very possessive of its influence in Syria and has warned all countries to stay away, all countries except for Russia of course. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand opted for a wide coalition of Arab states. The difference between both cases is strategically significant: In Syria, Tehran is trying to maintain its power over Assad while strengthening its ties with Moscow. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand wants to make it clear to the world, and specially to Iran, that it has the backing of the Arab world.

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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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