Tehran continues to meddle

Over the recent period, several reports have voiced public accusations against Iran for spy and sabotage activity. The lack of fear and unexpected openness is the big surprise.

It was recently released that the UAE convicted an Iranian national for spying for Iran and sentenced him to ten years imprisonment. Reza Mohammad Hussein Mozafar was found guilty of spying, aiding Tehran’s nuclear program and fraud to smuggle equipment and devices on behalf of Iran. The Abu Dhabi federal appeals court also found him guilty of harming the relations between the UAE and the USA, due to the fact that some of the devices were imported from the US for transfer to Iran, in violation of the UN sanctions.

The Gulf News documents additional cases. In April a person was found guilty of violating international sanctions against Iran, when attempting to smuggle devices which could be used in the Iranian nuclear program. In a separate case, two men were charged with espionage for the Iranian intelligence, and their hearing has been postponed to August 27. They were also charged with spreading false information. In an additional case, an Emirati was charged with espionage on behalf of Iranian intelligence, and his case was also postponed to August 27.

Only recently we wrote a separate piece on the Kuwait “Terror Row” titled Kuwait turns staunchly anti-Tehran, relating to the fact that Kuwait expelled Iranian diplomats and closed Iranian offices due to an operative secret Iranian linked terror unit. It’s also been revealed that Iran has devised new clandestine routes and methods for smuggling arms and financial support to the Houthis in Yemen. According to the report, cash and drugs are used in order to fund the rebel activity.

On Tajik state television, officials of the government and former activists accused Iran of instigating civil war in the country, including political assassinations and sabotage activity. This would seem to be the first time that Tajikistan openly accuses Iran of financing and directing political killings in its jurisdiction. It is a known fact that such an accusation would not be aired on Tajik state television without the consent of the leadership to release this information.

In addition, a senior Afghan officials have accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for providing safe haven for Taliban leaders and militants, while the elite Quds Force, which conducts covert operations, meets with the Taliban often and advises them. The head of Farah’s provincial council, Jamila Amini, stated “Iran’s interference is direct, it is engaged in encouraging youth to join the insurgency”. Afghan officials in the western provinces bordering with Iran are increasingly vocal about Iran’s interference. The conclusion is that Iran’s support for the Taliban has mushroomed and Iran is now seen as a major backer of the Afghan Taliban.

The astounding fact of all these cases is the fact that countries and officials voice their condemnation of Iran openly. Even countries which have never done this before. With so many accusations, it’s time to accept the simple truth: Tehran is a serial meddler in the region.

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Kuwait turns staunchly anti-Tehran

The camps are getting organized and consolidated. At first it was Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the Emirates that declared a boycott on Qatar, known today as the Qatar-Gulf crisis. By extension, they were also targeting Tehran. It became explicit when they issued their conditions for restoration of ties, and cutting back ties with Iran was one of the 13 sweeping demands to end the blockade. After all, they charged Qatar with two main accusations – its support of terror and its deep ties with Iran.

Historically, as reported in al-monitor, Kuwait tried to remain neutral and defuse tensions between the Gulf states and Tehran. Kuwait did not join the Saudi camp over tensions in Yemen, and despite the fact that Kuwait opposed the Assad regime it did allow the re-opening of the Syrian embassy in Kuwait. But, something snapped. Recently, Kuwait joined the band-wagon by expelling Iran’s ambassador, fourteen other Iranian diplomats and ordered the shutdown of Iran’s trade offices, cultural and military missions.

The “Daily Sabah” news outlet attributes the expelling to a “terror row“, referring to the “Abdali Case”, the Emirate’s supreme court conviction of an Iranian-linked terror cell. The terror cell had alleged ties to the IRGC and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist proxy, and were convicted of smuggling weapons from Iran. Yet, it is not limited to that affair. Kuwaiti’s parliamentary interior and defense committee MP Abdullah al-Maayouf was quoted stating “Iran must tend to its own domestic affairs instead of interfering in those of others”.

The Kuwaiti step is not insignificant. Firstly, it buries any hope of diffusion of tensions, as Kuwait, the beacon of such diffusion, joins the crowd. It reverses trends of reconciliation between Iran and Kuwait. It also has the potential of arousing unrest in Kuwait, as there are internal sectarian complications and wealthy Shiite families control Kuwaiti conglomerates. It may have political, energy and economic implications.

While some analysts warned that the Qatar-Gulf crisis could break up the six nation GCC, made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, UAE, it would seem that current developments are consolidating the GCC even more. Kuwait has chosen sides and that side is against Iran. The developments highlight the fact that Iran is losing its allies. It may enjoy military victory in Syria and Iraq, over ISIS, and increased control there, but it is losing ground in its home base.

 

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Persian Gulf On the Brink

For the past two years, Rouhani has kept on hammering his four “commandments”, which, taken together, are meant to change the perception/brand of Iran from a religious, extremist, aggressive, subversive and isolated country to a country everyone (well, nearly everyone) would want to be friends with:

  • Thou shall not build nukes: The long-awaited JCPOA seems to justify this commandment and Tehran is now pushing for a global banning of nukes in the hope of denuking Israel – Critics will note that the JCPOA is not “water-tight” that it does not effectively bar Tehran from building nukes in the future.
  • Thou shall fight against terrorism: Redefining terrorism, terror-bashing and fighting ISIS in Iraq and in Syria are posed as “proof” of Rouhani’s WAVE initiative to fight terrorism and extremism – Critics would counter that Tehran continues to support terrorist militia such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc…and continues to support local Shiite militia in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc..
  • Thou shall lead Iran out of isolation: The nuclear deal, the numerous trade delegations and the popularity of Rouhani/Zarif in the West are all bridges meant to legitimize Iran – Critics would point out that the nuclear deal is far from being implemented and that any breach of the deal, from either side, will place pressure on all of Tehran’s new partners.
  • Thou shall not meddle in thy neighbors’ affairs: The repeated calls for Islamic unity are meant to turn this commandment into a fact although the truthfulness of this call and its practicalities remain questionable – Critics will say that Tehran is still dutifully trying to “export the revolution” by infiltrating governments through pro-Shiite/Tehran groups.

Rouhani may have been able to successfully sell his new brand of Iran to its proxies/allies (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), to the NAM countries it represents, to the EU and even to the US, but some of its neighbors, specifically Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and now, Yemen, are not buying in. Instead, they are breaking diplomatic ties and getting ready for more proxy wars or even the possibility of a direct war with Tehran.

 

Tehran-Riyadh Rivalry


Tehran and Riyadh have been regional enemies since the Islamic revolution. Tehran, keen on “exporting the revolution“, wants to oust the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia in favor of an pro-Shiite Islamic government. The Saudis look on Tehran as the meddling neighborhood extremist which has to be brought to order.

The rhetoric between Tehran and Riyadh, which has always been fiery in the past is reaching explosive levels: The last incident to spark some fiery rhetoric is Tehran’s politicizing of the pilgrim tragedy in Mina, Saudi Arabia. Tehran is not only accusing Saudi Arabia of mismanagement, it is hitting home in many different ways that the tragedy a) was pre-planned by the Saudis to kill Iranian pilgrims, b) proves that Saudi Arabia is incapable of managing the Hajj and c) is worthy enough to spark a war. Whether Tehran really believes that the tragedy was not an accident or whether it is ready to begin an out-and-out war with Riyadh is questionable but the message is clear: Tehran feels strong enough to butt heads openly with Riyadh.

The Saudis have been on edge since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations have retaliated with their own fiery rhetoric ranging from threatening to enter the civil war in Syria, accusing Tehran of trying to arm the Houthi rebels in Yemen, purchasing its own nuclear weapons and more.

 

Choosing Sides

Tehran’s neighbors have always been subject to its meddling on political and military levels. In some countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq), Tehran has succeeded in becoming the de facto leaders the countries while in others (Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan), it is still striving to do so.

Tehran’s methods of subversion focus mainly on identifying and supporting defiant, and predominantly pro-Shiite, factions in neighboring countries. These factions or militias receive money, weapons and training by Tehran or its proxies (mostly Hezbollah) in the hope of overthrowing the local government. In the case of Yemen, they actually succeeded in doing so for a while until the Saudis began an open war against the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels.

The targets of Tehran’s meddling and subversive nature have to take sides and it is no surprise that Yemen, Bahrain and the UAE have chosen Riyadh over Tehran, recalling diplomats from Iran.

Kuwait hasn’t severed diplomatic relations yet but has also been targeted by Tehran’s meddling and is currently in the process of a trial of 26-man Iranian-backed terror cell this month.

Even Lebanon, which has long been under Tehran’s rule is accusing Tehran of medlding in its presidential elections, an accusation that was, of course, dismissed by officials in Iran.

Tehran, riding high on its new-found popularity with Russia, China and the EU is testing the limits of its power in the region. Its new friends are attracted to the huge potential economy a sanction-free Iran will represent but its neighbors are less interested in the potential economic boom with Iran. Instead, they are worried that Tehran’s regional and global aspirations, guided by the will to “export the revolution”, will mean an increase in  meddling in their governments’ businesses. The nuclear deal, which was supposed to bring peace to the region has only “deepened” the existing “battle lines”.

Iran Selectively Obsessed with the Oppressed

The rhetoric from Tehran is filled with the Marxist dichotomy of the “oppressed” (mustad’afun ) and the “oppressors” (mustakbirun) in which Tehran frees the “poor oppressed” from the “arrogant oppressors”. This theme is central to Tehran’s revolutionary ideals which were born in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and remain the driving force of Tehran’s foreign policy to this date through the goal of “Exporting the Revolution”.

Unfortunately, this ideal is not evident in the lives of Iranian women and Iranian minorities (religious, political, ideological, racial and sexual) who are oppressed by the regime’s strict Revolutionary and Shari’a laws. For some reason, although the regime is finely tuned to the cries of the “oppressed” all over the world, it is deaf to the cries of the oppressed Iranians and doesn’t equate itself with being the oppressor.

Tehran’s selective definition of who are the “oppressed” and who are the “oppressors”, as well as its total disregard for borders in this issue, is central to Iran’s internal and external conflicts: It fuels the accusations by its neighbors for meddling and subversion, accusations by the West of abuses of human rights in Iran, accusations by the West and some of its neighbors of Tehran’s continuous support of terrorism as well as Tehran’s suspicious nuclear program.

 

Oppressing the Oppressed in Iran

Article 2 of the Iranian constitution defines the Islamic Republic’s basic beliefs in religion (“There is only one God“, “Understanding God’s divine nature is fundamental in setting laws”, “Human beings return to God after death”, “God is just” and “Leadership shall continue the revolution of Islam”) and then defines the basic rights of humans (“dignity, value and freedom with responsibility to God”) before finally stating that “Oppression in any form is not acceptable“.

While each statement may seem legitimate in its own right, together they form a glaring contradiction: Those Iranian people who do not adhere to the regime’s religious beliefs are constitutionally stripped  of their rights of “dignity, value and freedom” and legitimately “oppressed” since they failed to commit in their “responsibility to God”.

Despite the statement “oppression in any form is not acceptable”, any Iranians opposing the regime or the laws of Shiite Islam is fair game to the regime’s oppressive laws and is liable to be arrested, sent to jail, tortured and or executed. This is true for journalists and bloggers, political opponents and dissidents, human rights activists and lawyers, artists and authors, religious and racial minorities…all of whom are guilty of simply not being 100% in tune with the regime’s agenda. This is also true for Iranians who are not equal under Islamic law, specifically women and gays. As far as Islam is concerned, both these groups are inferior to the leading traditional male heterosexual stereotype and therefore are eligible for legitimate oppression.

In short, Tehran is very selective in defining which Iranians are liable to be “oppressed” and who aren’t despite its constitution’s clear cut denial of “any form of oppression” and will continue to oppress all Iranians who do not wholeheartedly support the regime.

 

Saving the Oppressed in the World

In article 152, Tehran rejects “all forms of domination” and places itself firmly in “non-alignment with respect to the hegemonist superpowers”. Article 154 clarifies that Tehran “considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world” and therefore, while Iran will “scrupulously refrain” from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the mustad’afun (oppressed) against the mustakbirun (oppressors) in every corner of the globe”. Both these articles are the foundations for the regime’s ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” as well as Khamenei’s own vision of a Global Islamic Awakening.

These two articles hold within them another glaring contradiction since they call for saving the “oppressed” from the “oppressors” in any country while refraining from interfering in internal affairs. When Khamenei reaffirms his support for the oppressed people of Yemen, Palestine and Bahrain, is he not interfering with the governments in these countries (the supposed “oppressors”)? When Khamenei stated his support for the “oppressed” African Americans in the US, is he not interfering with the US government? Is Tehran’s support of Shiite “oppressed” terrorists in Bahrain and Kuwait not direct interferences in the internal affairs of these countries?

Add to this the very tricky part of defining who are the “oppressors” and who are the “oppressed” and Tehran’s ability to redefine these to its advantage. Is Tehran’s support for Alawi-Shiite Assad in tune with supporting the “oppressed”? The predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels as well as all of Assad’s enemies would answer loudly and clearly “NO”. So, not only is Tehran interfering in the internal affairs, it is redefining the identities of the “oppressed”/”oppressors” to be in tune with its agenda of “exporting the revolution”.

Tehran may vehemently deny meddling in its neighbors affairs but it is constitutionally driven to do so in order to support the “oppressed” and will continue to do so as long as the regime is in power.

 

Tehran’s obsession the “oppressed” has lead it into two glaring contradictions: Its continued oppression of Iranians who stray from the ideals and laws of the Islamic regime and its continued meddling in its neighbors affairs in is effort to save the “oppressed” there. So much for Rouhani’s pride in Iranian “logic”.