Tehran unites Muslim enemies instead of uniting Islam

It’s no secret that Iran views the “West” in general and the US, UK, Israel etc…as its enemies. These Western enemies symbolize all the humiliations and oppressions that were felt by the third world countries under the colonial empires while Israel is especially hated since it is viewed by Tehran as the last remaining Western “colony”. At the same time the Sunni-Shiite conflict which has been raging for about 1,400 years, is pitting Muslims against Muslims.

Tehran’s answer to both conflicts was to unify Islam against the West. For the past two years, Tehran has been selling itself as the unifier of Islam in order to  lead Islam to a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will eventually lead to a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization“. These lofty visions are adaptations of Khomeini’s basic ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” to all countries in which people are oppressed. As long as Tehran continues to be a cause instead of a nation, as Henry Kissinger put it so well, it is duty-bound to meddle in other countries’ politics in the hope of igniting another revolution against the “Western hegemony”.

According to this logic, all of Tehran’s enemies, are therefore enemies of Islam. This logic might appear to be sound when it comes to non-Muslim “enemies” but it is absurd when these “enemies” are Muslims. In fact, it is even more absurd since Iranians are Shiites, a sect of Islam which represents only 10%-15% of the global Muslim population. The leaders in Tehran who pride themselves on their logic, have found a simple answer that conveniently allows such an absurdity to exist: The Muslims who are enemies of Iran are actually enemies of Islam because they have one thing in common – they have associated themselves with the “West”.

Tehran’s two major Muslim enemies are easy to identify although they are very different in their nature:

  • External: Saudi Arabia, Iran’s loudest and most worrisome regional enemy
  • “Internal” (self-exiled):The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), Iran’s exiled political enemy

To its horror, Tehran is now witnessing more and more Muslim nations associating themselves with Saudi Arabia and the NCRI and instead of unifying all Muslims under a vision of a united Islam lead by Tehran, it has managed to unify Muslims against Tehran.

 

Saudi Arabia and the Arab world

At the beginning of 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who had managed to overthrow the Saudi-supported government there. Tehran vilified the Saudi move and the Saudis answered by putting together a 12 state coalition of Arab states to fight the Houthis. This move took Tehran off-guard since the situation wasn’t anymore a Saudi-Yemen issue, it had grown into a larger Arab-Iran issue.

As the Iran-Saudi conflict escalated in an endless war of words, fueled by events such as the execution of the Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia for charges of inciting “terrorism”, the Saudis took their conflict against Iran one step further and put together a coalition of 34 Arab states for the purpose of “fighting terrorism”. The real purpose of this coalition can be found in the three nations which are “conspicuously” missing on this list, Iran, Syria and Iraq. No, this isn’t an anti-terror coalition but an anti-Tehran coalition.

But this wasn’t enough for the Saudis who dropped the proverbial bomb on Iran by designating Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxy, as a terrorist organization and convinced the Arab League to do the same removing Tehran’s anti-terror “red carpet” from under its feet.

Iran fumed and protested as it watched 34 Muslim nations side with Saudi Arabia and resorted to do what it does best in these situations: bad-mouth Saudi Arabia. The coalition, Tehran claimed, was “fake” and “the self-centered move by of al-Saud will bear no fruit but disgrace and the Saudi attempt are in vain“. What Tehran didn’t mention is that the Saudis outdid Tehran at its own game: since Rouhani presented his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative to combat ISIS, Tehran distanced itself from supporting terrorism and instead positioned itself as a champion against terrorism. Tehran then proceeded to include Syria (Assad’s government) and Iraq in its own coalition against terrorism. By uniting itself with 33 Arab states in the cause against terrorism, Saudi Arabia did exactly the same but the size of its coalition only strengthened the notion that Tehran was isolated from the Muslim world and any ambitions that Tehran might have had in unifying Islamic countries under its flag were destroyed.

 

Saudi Arabia and the NCRI

On July 9th, the NCRI organized its yearly rally in Paris under the call for a “Free Iran”. The rally was a huge success with over 100,000 supporters and bi-partisan support from countries all over the world.

Tehran, which has designated the NCRI as a “terrorist” organization (it’s the only country in the world which has done this) hit the propaganda machine button and began to cry foul. It slammed the NCRI, France, the dozens of speakers, the thousands of supporters etc… but it reserved its loudest criticism for the presence of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal at the rally who praised the NCRI and added that “your legitimate struggle against the (Iranian) regime will achieve its goal, sooner or later…I, too, want the fall of the regime“. Here are some of Tehran’s choices responses?

  • Hassan Rouhani, President: “There are both children-killer regimes (i.e. Israel) and childlike regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia) in the region. There are childlike regimes that are seeking the support of rotten terrorist organizations (i.e. NCRI)”.
  • Ali Larijani, Speaker of Majlis: “Another example is allowing the terrorist-killer Monafeghin (NCRI) in Paris and the nonsense that was uttered by the moron Saudi official. The gathering and what was raised was so worthless and so impolite that it does not merit a response.”
  • Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “This (NCRI) is a politically bankrupt organization and they have betrayed their own people since the inception of the group…This group does not possess the courage to come to Iran and talk to the Iranian people directly; their claims are for beyond Iran’s borders”.
  • Javad Zarif Foreign Minister: “The presence of individuals such as Turki-al Faisal in this gathering is indicative of the incompetency and naiveté of these individuals”.
  • Iranian unnamed diplomat: “The Saudis are resorting to well-known terrorists… As they have also done in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. This shows that they use terrorism and terrorists to further their aims against regional Islamic countries“.

Obviously, the whole “Free Iran” rally wasn’t “appreciated” by the regime in Tehran, but the presence of the Saudi Prince at the rally was a warning signal: The “terrorists” of the NCRI were now teaming up with the “childish” but menacing Saudi Arabia. Two of Tehran’s worst Muslim “enemies” had united in the hope of helping to topple the regime.

 

Palestine and the NCRI

Tehran has placed the cause of the Palestinians as a cornerstone of its Revolutionary Ideals since it views Palestinians as the direct victims of the West’s latest colonial ambition. According to Tehran, Israel was built land that was stolen from the Palestinians by the Western powers in the UN. So when, two weeks ago, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the State of Palestine met with Maryam Rajavi, the head of the NCRI, the reaction from Tehran was a mixture of disgust, bewilderment, hate and “damage control”. Here are some of the reactions:

Hossein Sheikholeslam, adviser to FM Javad Zarif: “That a Palestinian faction that compromises with the Zionists (Israelis) and that has yielded to Israel under US pressure… today meets with terrorist elements is no surprise as could be expected“. But that wasn’t enough for Sheikholeslam: “That man (Abbas) is known to us and documents from the US Embassy in Tehran revealed that he has been a collaborator with the Central Intelligence Agency for a long time and his actions in the past decades have proved that” and “it should be clear for the people that Mahmoud Abbas has had secret ties with terrorist groups and Israelis, and now these relations are being disclosed“. So, not only is Abbas weak and ineffective, it seems that he is also a CIA spy and he is supporting “terrorism” as it is defined by Tehran.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Parliament Speaker’s General Director for International Affairs: “The Palestinians surely regret Mahmoud Abbas’s act of supporting terrorist instead of fighting with it…Mahmoud Abbas’s problem is that he is not focused on restoring the rights of Palestinians“. So, Abbas is simply not focused on serving the Palestinian cause. One could ask who made Tehran a judge of who is and who isn’t supporting the Palestinian cause people but the real question should be why is the cause of the Palestinian people so important to Tehran? The answer is devastatingly simple: Liberating Palestine is a Revolutionary cause and wherever there is a possibility of a revolution against “Western hegemony”, Tehran wants to be part of it.

And what was the reaction from Gaza? “They (the Iranians) have vied and are still vying to destroy and ruin the Palestinian people, entrench the division, and encourage internal conflict to gain political points, nothing else. Their goals have nothing to do with Jerusalem or justice“.

For Tehran, the meeting between the Palestinians and the NCRI felt like the proverbial “stab in the back”: Hezbollah and Hamas, the two organizations most prominent in Palestine remain fully supported, financially and militarily, by Tehran and no other country has taken an anti-Israel pro-Palestine stance as definitely as did Tehran. But the Palestinians probably understood what was on the table for so long: Tehran’s support of the Palestinian cause isn’t meant only for the freedom of the Palestinians but as another step towards achieving its vision of a Global Islamic Awakening under its flag. The Palestinian cause which has the potential to unite all the Islamic nations was the perfect unifying element and its success would definitely weaken the West’s influence in the Middle East. The fact that the Palestinians chose to meet with the NCRI, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, was a clear sign that they weren’t buying into Tehran’s megalomaniacal vision.

 

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The Holocaust Cartoon Contest is about Palestinian Resitance

The Iranian organizers of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest claim that the issue of the Holocaust has become a social taboo which stifles any discussion or any questioning as to the Holocaust itself and that the Holocaust paved the way to the existence of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. The critics of the contest, on the other hand, state their case which is also easy to understand: the Holocaust was an undeniable anti-Semitic catastrophe and anti-Zionism is just a politically correct form of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, these two polarized views are unbridgeable even on a theoretical level and the existence of the contest only increases the chasm between the two narratives. It seems impossible to choose a middle ground in this issue and in order to decide which side of the chasm one stands, the issue has to be examined on two levels: the context and the content.

 

The context

The Iranian House of Cartoon which organizes the Holocaust Cartoon Contest is sponsored by the Municipality of Tehran and states its goal as “the recognition, upgrading and propagation of cartoon and caricature in Iran and World“. This all sounds positive but it’s noteworthy that the contest is simultaneously promoted through another Iranian site called “ResistArt” which is much more specific as to the essence of the content it publishes and its goal to “spread of Resistance Culture and the values of Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense (and) making a field for discussion and speaking between active and creative artists in culture and art of resistance in Iran and other countries by emphasize on Islamic World”.

“Resistance”, in this context, mirrors the Revolutionary Ideals of the Iranian regime against the “imperialistic”, “colonial”, “oppressive” West and more specifically, the US and Israel. Other contests include the “International Yemen Cartoon & Caricature Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia), the “International Daesh Cartoon Contest” (attacking Saudi Arabia and the US) and the “Down with America” cartoon contest (attacking the US). From this point of view, the cartoons and the contests are less about creative freedom and more about political propaganda aimed to serve the goals of the regime.

Now, what about the Holocaust Cartoon Contest? Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, the Secretary of the Holocaust Cartoon Contest  explains that the contest is not meant to “deny or prove (the) Holocaust” but is meant to raise questions such as “why should the oppressed Palestinian people pay compensation for the Holocaust” and why doesn’t the world designate a “piece of Germany to give to the Jews”? Furthermore, Tabatabai explains that a main theme of the contest is the linkage between Adolph Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu and linking the Holocaust in Germany during World War 2 to the “Holocaust” in Gaza.

Since Tehran has repeatedly made it clear that a) the Palestinian cause is an incremental part of the Revolutionary Ideals of the regime in Tehran and that b) Tehran wants to destroy Israel, one way or another, it’s clear that the Holocaust contest isn’t really about free speech or artistic freedom but it is a propaganda tool by the Iranian regime meant to achieve this goal. When questioned on the issue of the contest, Iran’s FM Javad Zarif complicated the issue by unsuccessfully trying to distance the regime from the contest when it is all too obvious that without the regime’s backing, such a contest would not exist.

 

The content

Now, it’s time to check out the cartoons themselves in order to understand what are the messages being spread through this contest.

The cartoons can be liberally categorized into seven intertwining categories:

 

Linking the Holocaust with the suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons equate and link the Holocaust in Germany to the “Holocaust” of the Palestinian people. The difference between a planned genocide of millions of people based on religion and the causalties of war between two warring neighbors is conveniently forgotten.

 

The suffering of the Palestinians: These cartoons portray the plight and suffering of the Palestinians although the linkage with the Holocaust, other than the suffering of a people, is not clear at all.

 

Demonizing Netanyahu: These cartoons portray Netanyahu as Hitler, as a friend of Hitler, a demonic surgeon killing Gaza, a propagator of death and blood, the destroyer of peace, a vampire etc… This theme was actually suggested by the organizers.

 

Emphasizing freedom of speech in regards to the Holocaust: These cartoons are meant to portray the censorship on the issue of the holocaust. In reality, the world is free to talk about and even question the Holocaust up to the point of denying that the Holocaust existed. On the other hand, drawing a cartoon of Mohammad is a sin according to Tehran which chose to blame the cartoonists in the Charlie Hebdo massacre instead of the terrorists themselves.

 

Linking the Holocaust with money: These cartoons create a direct linkage between the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and money that went, supposedly, to establish the state of Israel. The connection between the lives of the victims of the Holocaust in Germany and money is fragile at best.

 

Anti-Semitism: These cartoons are anti-Zionist in nature but the style of the cartoons are definitely anti-Semitic since Jews are portrayed in very stereotypical graphics (religious Hassidic Jews with long hooked noses and beards).

 

Holocaust denial: Although there is only one cartoon that actually denies the Holocaust, it is noteworthy that the organizers decided to exhibit as well – in this case, the Holocaust is equated to a bed-time story of folk tales such as Snow White or Pinocchio.

While it is possible to agree with some of the messages in these cartoons, when they are placed together, it’s plain to see that the cartoons are not about the Holocaust at all but are directly tied to the Palestinian cause. It’s not about creative freedom, or the freedom of speech at all and is meant, in fact, to support the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel and the US.

Khamenei’s Crescent of Control

crescent dominations

Although Tehran is still isolated from the West due to sanctions over it dubious nuclear aspirations, its regional sphere of control is growing in leaps and bounds.

At its epicenter is a crescent of military and political control that ranges from Gaza to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and now Yemen.

 

Palestine-Iran

2000px-Flag_of_Palestine.svgRelations with Iran took off when the PLO supported the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran but received a boost during the second Intifada in 2000 when Arafat released Hamas and Islamic Jihadist prisoners who identified with Iran. Despite calls from PLO/Fatah leaders to Tehran to stop meddling in internal Palestinian politics,  Iran’s influence grew stronger as Hamas’s power grew within Palestinian politics and once Hamas won the elections in 2006, Tehran became Palestine’s main sponsor. That sponsorship isn’t only financial since Tehran supplies Hamas with military support and knowledge.

 

Lebanon-Iran

Flag_of_Lebanon.svgLebanon has been under Tehran’s influence since the Islamic revolution in 1979 but its control over Beirut grew in leaps in bounds with the founding of Hezbollah in 1982, during the subsequent wars between Hezbollah and Israel and finally following the signing of a military and economic agreement in Tehran by Lebanon’s president Suleiman in 2008. As outlined in a number of earlier posts, Beirut is ruled by Tehran through Hezbollah and Qods chief Qassem Suleimani himself.

 

Syria-Iran

syriaflagimage1Tehran has been Damascus’ ally since 1979 as well but the relations strengthened when Syria sided with Iran during the war with Iraq. Syria played a big role in establishing Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon as well as in Syria and once Bashar al-Assad took over in 2000, the course was set for the signing of a military cooperation in 2006. That cooperation took on a much deeper meaning with the outset of the civil war in Syria in 2011 and since then Hezbollah troops have been  supported by IRGC and Qods military power in efforts to destroy the Syrian rebels. Tehran’s military support was accompanied by financial support estimated at $10 billion which has put Damascus under the control of Tehran.

 

Iraq-Iran

iraq-flagIraq and Iran were at war for 8 bloody years between 1980 and 1988 and after that, there existed between Baghdad and Tehran a cordial peace. Relations between the two countries improved significantly in 2003 when Iran strongly opposed the US-led Gulf war against Iraq. But it was only in 2005 that Tehran began to have some form of control over Iraq through a pro-Iran and pro-Islamist president al-Jaafari and later by the like-minded Shi’ite prime minister al-Maliki (2006-2014). Trade between the two countries flourished and helped to oil diplomatic relations but Tehran’s grip on Baghdad suddenly increased with Iran’s involvement in quelling ISIS’s rampage in Iraq.

 

Yemen-Iran

yemen-flagYemen also enjoyed cordial relations with Iran since 1979 but since Yemen was heavily supported by Saudi Arabia, Tehran had no control over Sanaa. But once funds from Saudi Arabia dried up, the way was clear for Shi’ite Houthi rebels (less than 30% of the total population) to take over with the full political, financial and even some military support from Iran in late 2013. The Houthi government is fanatically pro-Iran and expects Tehran to continue its support on all levels.

 

Crescent of Control

khamene 6None of these countries were invaded by Iran and all countries “invited” Tehran’s influence in some way or another and all ties began with ties with pro-Islamic/Shi’ite leaders who envisioned some form of Islamic revolutions of their own even if it did look like Iran was simply meddling in other countries’ businesses.

But unlike other spheres of influence by countries such as the US, Russia or even the EU, the ties between these countries and Iran are not a coalition in the general sense of the word but a confederation that is ruled by one person, Supreme Leader Khamenei and his vision of a global Islamic Awakening with Tehran at its core.

Apart from these countries, Iran’s influence is on the rise in many countries such as Bahrain and the UAE who have large Shi’ite populations but Tehran’s control is still limited in these countries due to governments who are willing to maintain diplomatic friendship but are wary of Tehran’s meddling in their politics and their military.

 

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Tehran Doesn’t Invade, It Infiltrates

infiltration

Supporters of Tehran like to repeat that Iran hasn’t initiated a war for hundreds of years (since 1798), idealizing Iran as a peaceful country, while pointing out the US is a country which has initiated numerous wars.

And although this makes statistical sense, it is profoundly misleading. Tehran’s modus operandi is not invasion but infiltration and subversion.

The proof lies in Iran’s military and political influence in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Yemen and to a lesser extent (for now), in Afghanistan, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Egypt etc…

 

And proud of it too

suleimaniThe Iranians are (justifiably) proud of the power they exert: Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently boasted that Iran’s influence spreads from Yemen to Lebanon adding that Iran’s “current power was unsurpassable for anyone in the world”.

Iran’s military forces outside of its borders are masterminded and managed by one Qassam Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s elite Qods, a formerly shadowy master puppeteer who has finally stepped into the spotlight for doing what he stated already back in 2007: “you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan“.

Since then, he has his own offices in Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad with key local representatives and is constantly on the move from battle to battle.

Suleimani enjoys the full support of Supreme Leader Khamenei who urged him to increase terror attacks against the West and its allies.

 

Lebanon (Hezbollah + Qods) & Gaza (Hamas)

lebanon palestineIran’s ties with Lebanon and Gaza date back from the Islamic revolution and the wish to fight a mutual enemy – Israel.

Formal ties escalated with the signing of a treaty in 2008 which guaranteed Lebanon military and financial support ($10 Billion in trade and $100-$150 Million to Hezbollah yearly). Since Hezbollah rose to power in Beirut, Iran’s political influence has increased to the point where the Lebanese government has openly requested for Iranian military aid on Lebanese soil. Tehran cordially agreed, Beirut reneged and then recapitulated under pressure from Hezbollah.

But is Iran welcome by the Lebanese people? A poll from 2012 shows that only 39% of the Lebanese view Iran favorably while 74% approved of tougher sanctions against Iran.

Likewise, Iran’s influence in Gaza dramatically increased following Hamas’s rise to power in the 2006 elections. Iran supplies Hamas with rockets/ammunition and funding  to the tune of $30-$50 Million a year. On the whole, Iran’s influence is welcomed in Gaza by all Hamas supporters but Fatah leaders are ambivalent – they fear Tehran but they understand that without Iran, their cause would fizzle out. And although Hamas suffered a fall-out with Iran by choosing the “wrong side” in the Syrian civil war, relations are warming up to normal as a Hamas delegation recently was welcomed warmly in Tehran enjoying meetings on highest levels.

So did Iran invade Lebanon and Gaza? No.

Have they turned both of these states into satellite Shi’ite entities of Iran’s influence? Definitely yes.

 

Syria & Iraq (Hezbollah + Qods)

syria iraqImmediately following the breakout of the civil war in Syria, Iran sent “humanitarian aid” and warned the West not to get involved while doing exactly that – got involved: Iran financed Assad to the tune of approximately $10 Billion and placed its Hezbollah/Qods troops at his disposal, allowing Suleimani to echo Colonel Kurtz’s from Apocalypse Now: “The Syrian army is useless! Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I would conquer the whole country“. Regardless of Suleimani’s criticism of the Syrian army, Assad owes his power to Tehran and supports Iran politically and militarily without hesitation.

Iran’s involvement in Iraq began with its support of the Shi’ite Prime Minister El-Maliki but it received a huge boost following ISIS’s rampage in Syria and Iraq. Hezbollah troops were immediately reassigned to deal with ISIS on Iraqi soil while Suleimani mobilized the Iranian army directly against ISIS on Iraqi soil.

Much like it does in all other regions with large Shi’ite populations, Tehran strengthens its high level military and political pressure with grassroots organizations and local militia.

And just as in Lebanon and Gaza, Baghdad placed formal requests to Tehran for military support offering Iran the chance to turn Iraq into a satellite state as well.

Foreign minister Zarif made Iran’s stance vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq very clear: he maintains support for both while urging the West to stay out.

So, did Iran invade Syria and Iraq? Again, no…not literally.

Has Tehran turned Syria and Iraq into satellite states? Syria, definitely yes. Iraq? On the way.

 

Yemen and the Gulf States

yemen plusUnlike Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and Iraq, Iran’s influence in some states is still in its infancy.

Two months ago, Iran backed a mini-revolution in Yemen and managed to wrestle Yemen out of the Saudi hands. This event followed half a year of tense relations between Iran and Yemen regarding a kidnapped Iranian diplomat and repeated efforts by Tehran to mobilize Shi’ite supported Hoothi troops. These efforts were finally successful.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to try to infiltrate its Gulf neighbors by operating spy rings and subversive organizations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

 

So, no, Iran doesn’t officially invade countries or initiate wars.

It’s smarter, cheaper and more effective to simply infiltrate countries through a volatile cocktail of money, military and religious support. Reminds us somewhat of the Roman peace – it also claimed that it only acted out of peaceful intentions, until they conquered most of Western hemisphere.