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”.

 

 

 

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Why Does Tehran Back Taliban?

talibalFear of ISIS has been a stepping stone for Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Iraq and it now seems to be a stepping stone into Afghanistan as well. In short, apart from signing security deals with the Afghan government, Tehran began supplying Taliban militia with weapons and money to fight ISIS in Afghanistan and on the Afghan-Iran border.

The fact that Tehran is supporting a fundamentalist Sunni, and once anti-Shiite, militia is not intuitive, to say the least and 3 questions remain unanswered for now:

  • Why is Tehran supporting the Taliban and not the official Afghan armed forces?
  • Does Tehran’s support of the Taliban have anything to do with Kabul backing the Saudi war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen?
  • Is funding the Taliban to fight ISIS the real reason for such a drastic move or does Tehran have an alterior motive?

Of course, truthful answers to these questions are overshadowed by the political spins and denials that are already out of control. But answering these questions might be the key to understanding the mindset of the leaders in Tehran.

 

Why Taliban and not the Afghan Military?

afghanistanThe Taliban seems to be the strangest group to partner with Tehran ever. The radical anti-Shiite stance expressed by the Taliban for decades frequently led Tehran and Taliban to outbreaks of violence which cost many lives on both sides. Meanwhile, the governments of Tehran and Kabul have been busy signing MoU’s and agreements over the last year. So why not fund the Afghan military instead of partisan militia?

Once again, there is no simple answer. Perhaps, Tehran is betting on the Taliban warriors, known for their ferocity, to deal with ISIS. Another reason might be that Tehran is covering its bases just in case the Taliban returns to power. What is certain is that Tehran understands that they can more easily sway a militia group such as the Taliban than the Afghan government which has allegiances with Tehran’s regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.

And lastly, but more practically, Tehran has already mined Afghanistan for “volunteers” to fight for Assad in the civil war in Syria and most of these fighters were once Taliban militia.

 

What About the Houthis and Saudi Arabia?

yemenThe Afghan government gave the Saudis a passive “thumbs-up” in their war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen who are backed by Tehran. Needless to say, the Iranians were not happy. But surprisingly, many Afghans were not happy about supporting the Saudis either.

Tehran’s support for the Taliban may, in the future, be equated to its support of the Houthi rebels if the Taliban’s power increases and manages to overthrow the current government.

To make matters more complicated, the Taliban was traditionally supported by Saudi Arabia and funding the Taliban may be a way for Iran to weaken the militia’s ties with the Saudis.

And lastly, one must remember that although Afghanistan’s president visited Tehran, he has visited Riyadh many more times. Meanwhile, over the past two years, 3 Taliban delegations have been welcomed in Tehran where they met with politicians and IRGC officials.

 

Fighting ISIS or a Bigger Agenda?

regionSince NATO stepped out of Afghanistan, the situation there is becoming more volatile with many powers trying to fill in the vacuum. Iran is already a significant part of the Afghan economy, especially in regions bordering Iran: Tehran supplies Afghans with electricity and water as well money and infrastructure to support Shiite factions in Afghanistan.

Supporting the Taliban can also feature as a pressure point in the nuclear deal brewing between Iran and the US. Iran has expressed worries that the US could use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack if the nuclear deal goes bust. In fact, some believe that were a nuclear deal to be signed, Tehran would probably back down from supporting Taliban openly.

But much more importantly, Afghanistan could one day become another Iraq for Iran – a country which is dependent financially, politically and militarily to such an extent that opposing Tehran would be unthinkable. By surrounding itself geographically with allies, Iran can export its Islamic Revolution while at the same time, keep these countries free of any power which wants to attack Iran.

 

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Tehran and ISIS – It’s Complicated

iran and isis

The relationship between Tehran and ISIS is a complicated one:

  1. Iran consistently accuses the US/Saudis of creating ISIS and thus supporting terrorism.
    But in reality, ISIS was born out of the vacuum or power and stability in Syria and Iraq, a vacuum that was filled by Tehran.
  2. Iran and ISIS are enemies and are at war in the fields of Syria and Iraq.
    But fighting ISIS legitimizes Iran’s political and military involvement in Syria and Iraq which suits Tehran’s regional aspirations.
  3. Iran has taken the lead, as well as the costs and the glory, of fighting ISIS.
    But fighting ISIS has also forced Tehran to cooperate with the “Great Satan” and other regional enemies, a situation filled with tension and mistrust.
  4. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has not yet targeted Iranian territory.
    But fighting ISIS may result in an invasion by ISIS of Iranian soil in the future.
  5. Both ISIS and Tehran’s raison d’aitre is to promote a global Islamic revolution, although one is Sunni and another is Shiite.
    But Khameini is constantly calling for a global unity of Muslims under Islam regardless of religious factions
  6. Tehran has a long history of promoting Islamist extremist/terrorist militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban etc… for its agenda so, why not ISIS?
    But Tehran modus operandi with terrorist militia is based on Tehran controlling the agenda and ISIS isn’t listening to Tehran.

Whatever the case may be, Tehran will continue to wage a tactical war against ISIS but underneath it all, ISIS may be serving Tehran’s regional and global strategy so well that if ISIS did not exist, Tehran would have had to invent it.

 

Iran Also Created ISIS

isis 1There is evidence that proves that leaders of ISIS were once supported by the US and Saudi Arabia in an effort to promote US interests in the Middle East but those ties were severed once ISIS “went rogue”. Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria and the weakening of the Iraqi government, both of which are connected directly to Tehran, created the instability that ISIS required: there were enough disgruntled Syrians and Iraqis to join ISIS and enough weak areas in which wars could be waged. The fact that the US pulled out of Iraq only made it easier for both Iran and ISIS to march in.

 

ISIS is Iran’s Tactical Enemy and Strategic Ally

isis 5Tehran may be fighting ISIS in the battlefields in Syria and Iraq but without ISIS, Tehran’s military involvement in these countries might warrant a foreign military intervention just as its involvement in Yemen brought on a military reaction by Saudi Arabia.

There is growing criticism within and outside of Iran against the regime in Tehran for supporting Assad in his civil war. The cost of supporting Assad is believed to be approximately $10-$15 billion a year and now that Tehran is sending troops to Syria, the cost is bound to grow financially and in the loss of Iranian lives as well.

As to Iraq, Tehran is eager to bring Baghdad and has been supporting the Shiite factions there for the past few years. Baghdad is a key city in the vision for an Iranian empire as outlined by Rouhani’s chief adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities, Ali Younessi.

With Lebanon already under Iranian control, Syria and Iraq on the way, and Yemen and Afghanistan in its sights, Tehran can finally begin the process of building a regional empire.

In contrast, the US remains Tehran’s strategic enemy even if it is Tehran’s tactical ally against ISIS.

 

A Common Enemy Creates Strange Allies

isis 7When ISIS began its rampage last year (29th of June, 2014), the tone from Iran complacent: IRGC generals spoke about ISIS as an isolated issue with no real repercussions to Iran. But as ISIS stormed through Iraq, the same generals changed their tune: Tehran, as a regional leader and a friend of Baghdad and Damascus, would eradicate ISIS…in fact, Qods chief Suleimani claimed that only Iran could wipe ISIS off the map.

The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 suddenly created a situation in which Western forces, specifically the US, were ready to fight beside the Iranian forces in the effort to eradicate ISIS. This strange coalition of enemies was fragile from the start and the Iranians wasted no time in criticizing the US for its “ineptitude” on the battle field.

 

Will ISIS Wage War on Tehran?

isis 3ISIS, even within its name, makes no territorial claims over Iran. And even if it did, it would seem pointless: ISIS is a Sunni movement which is trying to carve out a Sunni kingdom within Syria and Iraq and would never be welcome by the people of Iran who are Shiites.

Furthermore, ISIS is winning in Syria and Iraq because both of these countries lack any stability at this point in time while Iran’s regime is firmly entrenched with a powerful army. So, even in their wildest dreams, the leaders of ISIS probably do not view themselves entering triumphantly through the gates of Tehran. But they will probably find a way to bring the war to Iran on its borders with Iraq.

 

Two Sides of the Extremist Islamic Coin

isis 4Yes, ISIS is Sunni and Iran is Shiite. But both are striving for a world that will be Islamic and religious. They do not strive for a modern and updated version of Islam but want their citizens to be part of the ancient version of Islam based on Shaariah laws.

The chances of a unity between Iran and ISIS seems as close as a unity between Tehran and Riyadh but one must not forget Khamenei’s
fervent vision of a Global Islamic Awakening and his calls lately for unity among all Muslims of the world.

 

The Fine Line Between a Terrorist and a Freedom Fighter

isis 6The leaders in Tehran were quick to use ISIS in an effort to redefine terrorism: Rouhani’s first foreign policy initiative was to create WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) using ISIS as the clear definition of terrorism. Obviously, Rouhani conveniently forgot to mention Tehran’s ties with terrorist militia. Suddenly all the Iranian leaders placed themselves firmly and righteously against extremism, violence and terrorism.

But what about Tehran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban etc…What about Tehran’s support for the Houthis rebels in Yemen? What about Tehran fighting its wars in Syria and Iraq with Hezbollah and Taliban militia? And what about the atrocities carried out by these same militia in Syria and in Iraq?

Whether Tehran likes it or not, in many cases, ISIS and Tehran are very similar in many respects.

 

In reality, ISIS is really a localized problem – 10-15 thousand militia on a rampage in Iraq and Syria. But the horrors of ISIS and Tehran’s involvement in both these countries make the fight against ISIS a global one. Paradoxically, Iran needs ISIS as a way to free itself from its connection with terrorism and as a card of legitimacy to spread its military power over Iraq and Syria.

 

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Proxy War in Yemen Ignites Regional Power Play

saudi iranThe situation in Yemen is spiraling out of control and is rapidly turning into the center of a Proxy war with ever-growing conflicts of interests – Yemen was upgraded from a local war zone of government and rebels to a regional war with global consequences.

 

 

Tehran Meddles in Yemen

yemen iranBack in 2007, the Yemenite government accused Iran of “meddling in its internal affairs“. By  2012, Iran, through its Qods forces, supported Shiite Houthi rebels with arms shipments, Hezbollah militia and “military advisors”. A power play between Iran and Yemen’s historical patron, Saudi Arabia began to unravel.

Within three years, Yemen’s president fled from his country, finding refuge in Saudi Arabia while Sanna became another satellite of Tehran following Beirut, Damascus (through supporting Assad) and Baghdad (with the US’s blessing for fighting ISIS).  The US had already pulled out (a “death blow” for Yemen), the diplomats and the UN would follow – Sanna fell into disarray and panic as Houthi rebels, Hezbollah militia and suicide bombers took control. Meanwhile, economic partnerships were laid out and Iran even offered to provide Yemen with a huger power plant…it all seemed perfect for Tehran.

 

 

…except for Saudi Arabia…

saudi-arabia-armyThe Saudis were fuming at the loss of Yemen and the birth of another Shiite state modeled on the export of Iran’s revolution. They watched as the US backed out of Yemen while pursuing a nuclear deal which seemed to the Saudis shaky at best – in fact, it sent them to chase after their own nuclear program, possibly igniting a regional arms race.

And then, the Saudis, motivated by the fear of Iran’s increasing crescent of power coupled with the threat of Tehran with nukes, bombed the Houthis and suddenly, everyone had to pick sides. What had begun as a few border skirmishes with Houthi rebels as early as December 2009 developed into a massive airstrike which was quickly followed by preparations for a ground offensive: The 100 warplanes and the 150,000 troops that Saudi Arabia was “contributing” to the war could not be ignored.

 

 

Picking Sides…

handsThe Iranians, obviously, cried foul and demanded that the Saudis cease the attacks and accused the embattled government of using “terrorists” to fight the rebels (“terrorism” has become a question of geographical perspective). This didn’t stop the Iranians from unloading 185 tons of weapons on Houthi rebels. Pakistan first took the Saudis side and then switched allegiance to Iran.

Meanwhile, Arab countries, which also fear Iran’s meddling and the accompanying Muslim Brotherhood uprisings, backed Saudi Arabia: Jordan, Morocco and Egypt were the obvious ones. But Sudan, which had once been under Iran’s “support” had to choose sides and chose pragmatism over ideology.

Turkey, already involved in a proxy war over Syrian soil, decided to back Saudi Arabia as well. The Turks, just like the Saudis, fear Iran’s localized meddling, its regional aspirations, its Islamic war-cry and its nuclear potential. Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Iran’s nuclear potential. Now the leader of Turkey visits Teheran, we await the outcome of that.

Even the UK slammed Iran for supporting the Houthi rebels and effectively overthrowing the government.

 

And the US?

150321173909-2441-0The US was stuck between the proverbial “rock and the hard place“: Support its historical friends or its new negotiating partner?

Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran as well his “appreciation” of Iran’s war with ISIS lead him to favor his friends in Tehran which unleashed attacks from within (the Republican Senate) and from without (Israel, the Gulf States and some countries in the EU such as France and the UK). This did not stop him from creating a framework of a nuclear deal with Iran which is to be finalized in June.

Obama is trying to stay neutral on Yemen, knowing that joining Saudi Arabia would jeopardize his prized nuclear deal. But sooner or later, he will have to choose sides.

 

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Iran Turns Meddling Into Method

yemen iran

Last Wednesday, the last nail in the coffin that was old Yemen got hammered in, as the US state department announced it is closing its embassy in the country, effectively forfeiting the battle on the Yemen to Iran (for now).

The establishing of a new Houthi ruling council on February 6th, was the culmination de facto of a coup d’état in Yemen. The Houthi are a group of Shiite Zaydi fighters led by Abdul Malik al-Houthi backed by Iran.

This process, of Iran getting in the back door and the US getting out of a territory in the Gulf, so close to Saudi Arabia, is a perfect example of Iran’s modus operandi of foreign affairs, or in other words – how it expands its influence beyond its borders.

 

The Saudi Situation

Iran-saudiSaudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a decade-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines – Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.

Yemen’s fall to Iran raises the stakes for the Saudis in the event of a US-Iranian nuclear deal. It could deepen the kingdom’s current independent streak, convincing them to further flood the global oil market to undercut the Iranian economy, or to accelerate its possible nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

 

Iran’s Method

hezbollah militiaThe Islamic Republic wants to export its Islamic Revolution, a goal that Ayatollah Khomeini considered as “imperative”. To do so, it spans its influence as far as South America and Africa, and closer to home, its neighbors in the Middle East – most evidently in Syria, in Lebanon and in its close neighbor Iraq.

But Yemen, with its decade long Houthi rebellion, is a perfect example for this, because Tehran’s relentless interference has been most visible: All the way back in 2007, Yemen was pointing fingers at Iran for meddling in its affairs while in 2009, Iran was supplying the Houthi with arms and setting up a quasi-Hezbollah proxy militia. After Saudi Arabia imposed blockades on Houthi-controlled coasts, Iran sent war ships to the Gulf of Eden, allegedly to fight Somali pirates.

But only now, when Iran is the sole international supporter of the Houthi ruling council as the sovereign, all those “hints” and “allegations” were given actual proof.

 

Bottom line, Iran’s MO looks something like this:

  • Identify pro-Shiite leaders, factions and militia within targeted countries.
  • Support them “culturally” and financially while meddling in local politics.
  • Increase meddling by introducing direct and indirect military strength.
  • Establish Hezbollah-like militia with allegiance directly to Tehran.
  • Help the Shiite factions to overthrow the government and reap the political, economic and military benefits.