Tehran’s Revolutionary Allies



Tehran wants to export its Islamic Revolution and, in doing so, build an empire based on its Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Some might scoff at this statement, judging it a bombastic conspiracy theory. It certainly does sound bombastic and had such a statement been said by non-Iranians, or even Iranian dissidents, one might agree that it sounds too much like a conspiracy theory.

Unfortunately, for whoever views such an aspiration as a danger (and fortunately for all the others), “Exporting the Revolution” is not only ingrained within the ideals of the Islamic Revolution itself, it is evidently the ambitious inspiration of many Iranian leaders who are proud to point out to successes in exporting the revolution to neighboring countries. It’s worth listening to the rhetoric of these leaders: their words speak volumes about Tehran’s long-term vision of a Global Islamic Awakening with Tehran at its center.

 

The Adviser: Tehran’s  Regional “Revolutionary Nations”

31BC6B55-A983-4557-8DDB-219376B7D479_mw800_mh600The latest Iranian leader to add some fuel to this growing bonfire of revolutionary aspirations is none other than Supreme Leader Khamenei’s right hand man- Akbar Velayati: While discussing the role of Iran in the region during the Munich Security Conference in Tehran, he pointed out that Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are “revolutionary nations”. His choice of words is no accident and neither is his choice of countries. All of these countries have, to some degree, been sold on the Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and by lumping them together as “revolutionaries” reveals Tehran’s ambitions:

  • Lebanon has been under the influence of Tehran’s since 1982, with the birth of Iran’s proxy Shiite Hezbollah, culminating in the economic and military treaty signed between the two countries in 2008.
  • Iraq fell under Tehran’s influence in 2005 with the election of al-Maliki, a pro-Shiite/Tehran and anti-US president, who opened Baghdad’s doors to Iran.
  • Syria’s fall under the influence of Iran was on a slow burner until the civil war broke out in 2011 and Tehran pledged its political, financial and military support to Assad.
  • Tehran’s influence over Yemen took form in its support for the Shiite Houthi rebels to successfully overthrow the Yemenite government in 2014 which subsequently led to Saudis openly fighting in Yemen.
  • Bahrain is interesting in this context since it is far from being under Tehran’s influence, not because Tehran isn’t trying but because the ruling government of Bahrain is fighting off Tehran’s influence to this day.

By categorizing all of these countries together, from satellite states such as Lebanon to states suffering from Iranian efforts at subversion such as Bahrain, one can understand that Tehran’s plan for “Exporting the Revolution” has gone from one country (Lebanon) to the region (the so-called Shiite Crescent).

 

The Mullah: The Greater Iranian Empire

Ali-YounesiEarlier this year, Ali Younesi, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, spoke glowingly about a greater Iranian empire from the borders of China to the Persian Gulf with Baghdad at its center. His statement drew harsh responses from Baghdad and strengthened the accusations against Tehran’s empirialistic aspirations. Younesi quickly came under fire internally and went on the record to claim that he was misunderstood: he only spoke of a “historical and cultural unity” and did not imply a nationalistic unity between Iran and any other countries. Iranian leaders such as President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s parliament chief, Ali Larijani, and Iran’s FM Javad Zarif joined the “lost in translation” theme and went out of their way to try to convince the world that Tehran has no empirical ambitions and respects the national identity of its neighbors.

Although Younesi may have been misunderstood, but the context of his statement is important: he spoke about unifying all of these countries in the region in order to protect them from “Islamic extremism, takfirism, atheism, neo-Ottomans, the Wahhabis, the West and Zionism”. Clearly, this isn’t only a question of “history and culture” but is in fact a political and military unity against the enemies of Tehran and its Islamic Revolution.

 

The Soldier: The De Facto Iranian Leader

Whether politicians in Tehran or in any neighboring countries support or deny the revolutionary ambitions, one man’s presence in all of these countries is key to understand the military dimension beyond the words and ideas. That man is Iran’s Qods chief Qassam Suleimani.

Suleimani is rightfully deemed the most influential military leader in Iran, even more powerful than the chief of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari. While Jafari remains in Iran, Suleimani is in charge Iran’s “extraterritorial military and clandestine operations” and he continuously pops up in Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus where he has his own offices and network of Iranian and local military personnel. Wherever Suleimani goes, an increase in Tehran’s military influence follows because, as Suleimani himself has said: “I Qassem Suleimani, manage Iranian policy in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. The Iranian ambassador in Iraq is a member of the Quds forces, and whoever replaces him will also be a Quds Force man“.

Suleimani’s power is legendary and his local “partners” are in awe of him: Who else could shout “the Syrian army is useless! Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I would conquer the whole country” and still remain alive in Syria?

As Assad’s future became bleaker and the nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran was inked, it was Suleimani who flew to Moscow twice, despite UN sanctions against his flying abroad, to clinch the Russian support for Assad and the resulting military involvement by the Russians in Syria.

Without Suleimani’s military might, one might be excused to believe the Iranian denials of an empire and accept Younesi’s feeble “historical and cultural unity” statement. But Suleimani isn’t in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq for “historical and cultural” reasons – he is there to increase Tehran’s influence in the region, and in doing so, is creating the groundwork for “Exporting the Revolution” to all the countries he controls.

 

The Politician: Tehran’s “Global Vocation”

zarif (1)The ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” was devised by none other than the hero of the Islamic Revolution, Khomeini, as part of Iran’s constitution to “support the just struggle of the mustazafun (the oppressed) against the mustakbirun (the arrogant) in every corner of the globe”. It is an essential part of Iran’s revolutionary goals, goals which are taken very seriously in Tehran as Zarif wrote in his book: “Without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.

Zarif went on to explain Tehran’s special raison-d’aitre in the region: Tehran, he claims, has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order”. It is this “viewpoint” that drives Tehran to look beyond its borders to fulfil Khomeini’s vision. The fact that many of these countries’ governments don’t want to accept this “revolution” nor want to change the “international order” is irrelevant even to a politician such as Zarif: the revolution comes before all other ideals.

 

The Supreme Leader: Tehran Leads a Global Islamic Awakening

Khamenei-1No one embodies the spirit of the Islamic Revolution as much as Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei, who repeatedly chooses to call himself a revolutionary, as opposed to a politician, makes no qualms about fulfilling the ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” nor its goals: A Global Islamic Awakening that will include an “uprising against global and international dictatorships (Israel/US)” who have “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could” that will culminate in a “century of Islam” – Khameini doesn’t limit his vision to the region…he’s going global.

Although this may sound, like all the other over-ambitious Iranian leaders quoted here, as the simplistic rants of a religious extremist, the power of the Supreme Leader mingled with the inherent riches of Iran’s energy sources significantly increase the possibility of trying to turn this rant into a reality.

Khamenei, the revolution is the top priority  in times of war and in times of peace: The jihad to achieve these goals is, according to him, “endless because evil and its front continue to exist… this battle will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it, which has expanded its claws on human mind, body and thought“. But even in times of peace, such as the period that is sure to follow the nuclear deal, Khamenei wants to Iran to keep its  revolutionary ideals: peace with the West is dangerous since it will lead to a war that will force Iran to “put aside its revolutionary philosophy until it loses its power” – How? “The enemy’s effort to have influence is one of the big threats…an economic and security influence are of course dangerous and have heavy consequences, but a political and cultural influence is a much larger danger and everyone must be careful”.

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Suleimani Links Moscow to Assad and to Tehran


If you listen closely, between the noise of the bombs and the cries of the refugees, you can probably hear Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s sigh of relief all the way from Damascus: Moscow finally made a power play and increase its support for him. If you listen even more closely, you might also hear quite a few cheers of victory from Tehran, especially the cheers of Qassem “Supermani” Suleimani, (the “Shadow Commander”), the chief of Iran’s Qods unit and the mastermind for all of Tehran’s military procedures and policies outside of Iran with bases in Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus. Why?  Suleimani has just returned from his second trip to Moscow, despite sanctions against him travelling, and he is the crucial link between Moscow, Tehran and Assad.

All this is good news for Assad, bad news for the Syrian rebels and worrying news for the US/NATO. But will it be enough to save Assad? Tehran’s backing is ideological and the Iranians will fight for Assad right up to victory or defeat. Moscow, on the other hand will support Assad, and Tehran, as long as it politically convenient to do so. For now, it is content to send more weapons and reportedly, Russian troops, as well as shows of force of warships and submarines.

 

Just in Time


Why did the Russians move now? According to an article in Middle East Briefing, there are 4 reasons and all of them are related to Iran:

  • Diplomacy is dead in Syria: The P5+1 have invested very little in diplomacy in Syria, compared to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and since Assad is being supported by Tehran, it seemed impossible to deal with both issues at once. Moscow, which had favored diplomacy and had long objected to any foreign military presence in Syria, suddenly decided to do exactly what it warned others not to and beefed up its military presence there.
  • The nuclear deal and the regional reshuffle: The nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran allowed Russia and Iran to become regional partners. Trade deals were inked, Russian missiles were promised to Iran, strategies to drop the US dollar in favor of local currencies were launched and Tehran finally had its option to the West. Khomeini’s “neither West nor East” slogan was put aside as Tehran found itself being wooed by the West (US/EU) and the East (Russia/China) simultaneously with Russia topping as its best ally to fight the US’s involvement in the region.
  • ISIS and the rebels gained ground: As ISIS gained more control of Syria and Iraq and the rebels successfully defeated Assad’s troops, the situation in Damascus went from bad to worst. Meanwhile, the US continued its strategy of focusing on the nuclear deal and its relations with Iran for fear of leading the country to “another Iraq”. Assad was on the brink of disaster which would have led to another void that could have allowed foreign troops to enter Syria. Putin decided to follow Iran’s lead in fighting ISIS and supporting Syria.
  • The US’s continued inaction in Syria: The US’s role in Syria was ineffective to say the least. Washington sent people to train the rebels without really fighting for them and in the process was labelled as a partner of the rebels without actually helping them. The vacuum left by the US’s inactions in Syria and Iraq (as well as the Ukraine) was too tempting for Tehran, and now for Moscow, to not fill. The US was so focused on the nuclear deal with Iran that is was weary of going to war against Tehran in Syria and this played directly into the hands of the Putin who, as he showed in the Ukraine, is not afraid of military options.

Beyond these geopolitical reasons, there are two others that are of a more personal nature:

  • Putin and Rouhani will speak at the UN General Assembly later this month: Although Rouhani has already spoken twice at the assembly, it will be Putin’s first and both will probably use their involvement in Syria as a justification for their foreign and military policies.
  • It’s become a “Putin vs. Obama” issue: Obama’s hesitancy to go to war is juxtaposed to Putin’s readiness to do so and Putin revels in his macho branding of the tough guy who walks the talk and is unafraid to take on any world leader. Although the US/NATO are “concerned” with the Russian move into Syria, Putin is betting on the fact that Obama will not send American troops to fight abroad and therefore deploying Russian troops doesn’t really put him at risk of confronting the US in the battle field.

 

Blame ISIS and the West


Without Moscow, Assad’s future looked dim not only on the battlefield but in the media since many are rightly blaming him for the devastation of the civil war in general and the plight of the Syrian refugees in particular. Assad is not only avoiding his responsibility for the plight of those Syrian refugees who are fleeing him and not ISIS, he is blaming the “West” (including the EU) for the refugees’ plight since the “West” at one time had supported “terrorists” (ISIS).

The fact that it is Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah fighters that are pulling the triggers is trivialized in view of the horrors of ISIS which cannot be defended by anyone but the brutes themselves. ISIS, ironically, has become a singular pretext for Assad, Rouhani and Putin to carry out their policies by redefining themselves as fighters against terror while using terrorist militias and tactics themselves. Rouhani initiated this move by redefining terror based on fighting ISIS in Iraq and in Syria in his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative – suddenly the narrative moved from Tehran being a massive supporter of terrorist militias to being a fighter for freedom. Suddenly, all Syrian rebels were tagged as being ISIS terrorists irrespective of the legitimacy of the Syrian rebels’ cause to oust the young dictator from power.

The fact that ISIS was supported in its infancy, long before it began its rampage, by the US/West (as well as Saudi Arabia) only made the issue easier to abuse by redirecting the blame for terrorism with total disregard to the terroristic tendencies of Tehran and Assad. Blaming Riyadh also served to support Tehran in its rivalry against Saudi Arabia. On its part, Saudi Arabia claims to have taken in 2.5 million Syrian refugees who were obviously fleeing Assad.

What the world needs to understand is that just because ISIS is labelled as “bad” doesn’t make the people fighting it “good”. Had Assad allowed free elections from the start, ISIS would never have reached the tipping point necessary to break out the way it did.

 

Suleimani in the Middle

Suleimani’s role in Iran’s wars beyond its borders is crucial. Widely respected and feared in the region, he had, until recently, earned the title of the second most powerful man in Tehran and voted the man of the year by the Iranians. Perhaps these acclaims went to his head because suddenly, pictures of Suleimani in the war-fields of Iraq and Syria began showing up on the internet and he must have been “tugged in” by none other than Khamenei himself.

But when it came to coordinating with Moscow on Damascus, he remains the perfect man for the job. He has a large office in Damascus where he meets with Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian military leaders and he regards himself as the boss known for exclaiming that “the Syrian army is useless! Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I would conquer the whole country”.

His fame has placed him in a unique position to be given the reins of command by all who share Tehran’s agendas: “Experts agree that it is hard to overestimate Suleimani’s role in Iraq…at times of crisis Suleimani is the supreme puppeteer…He is everywhere and he’s nowhere.”

Suleimani’s repeated trips to Damascus, Baghdad and now Moscow place him in the perfect position to became the man in charge of coordinating Syrian, Iranian and Russian efforts in Syria and, in the future, in Iraq as well. Once Russia has entered the fray in Syria, doing so in Iraq is a natural development under the pretexts of fighting ISIS.

Nuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

intent contentNuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

Most people are trying to decide if a nuclear deal with Iran is good or not based on the contents of the deal: the number of centrifuges, the amount of uranium, the transparency of inspections etc…

God may be in the details but in this case, he/she can be found in the intentions of both sides. And since there is a huge lack of trust between both sides, the validity of the deal is not to be found in what is written but in what is intended and how it is communicated. Not the “what” but the “how” and the why”.

As it stands, this deal isn’t worth the paper it is printed on and much less the amount of time and money that has been invested in it.

 

What are the intentions of the West?

flag 2It’s evident that the West’s main intention is to stop Iran from militarizing its nuclear program. And although Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supporters of the regime believe that Tehran should not be subjected to such restrictions while its arch enemy, Israel isn’t.

Since 2003, the IAEA has repeatedly found that Iran is not complying to NPT guidelines in numerous manners (enrichment above the 5% cap, tests on weaponization, denial of access to nuclear and military bases etc…) as outlined in the IAEA reports on Iran. These fears of non-compliance by Iran in its nuclear program led the UN Security Council to slap on a multitude of sanctions on Iran in the hope that Iran would comply to all IAEA and NPT guidelines.

Tehran has repeatedly denied accusations of non-compliance to the NPT, calling them baseless and politicized, stating that it “has constantly complied with its obligations under the NPT and the Statute of the IAEA“. From this point of view, the sanctions seem unfair and cruel and the nuclear deal is seen to simply be a way to lift these sanctions.

But Khamenei doesn’t believe that the West’s intentions are focused only on blocking a militarized nuclear program. As far as he is concerned, the “sanctions imposed against Iran have nothing to do with Tehran’s nuclear activities” but instead are meant to prevent Iran from “reaching a prominent civilizational status”.  Furthermore, Khamenei feels his infamous “nuclear fatwa” – the use or threat of using a nuclear weapon is “haram” (a sin) – is more than enough to allay any fears in the West.

 

What are the intentions of Tehran?

iran-flagIt is next to impossible to understand what Tehran, or more specifically, what Khamenei really wants. Lifting the sanctions is obviously the first and necessary step to right what he believes is an unjust wrong enforced by the West on Iran.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric and Tehran’s actions go much further than simply lifting sanctions: Khamenei has been pushing for a long-awaited “Global Islamic Awakening” which would unseat the “hegemony” of the “imperialist/colonialist” and “arrogant powers” (USA = the Great Satan) who have dominated the world for the past two centuries and who have “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could”. In his vision, the coming century is to be “the century of Islam”, led by Iran through its experience in the Islamic Revolution.

Furthermore, Tehran is dedicated to export the Islamic Revolution, a vision developed by Khomeini himself and upheld by the IRGC’s elite Qods unit as is evident in this boasting statement by Qods chief, Qassem Suleimani: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

Tehran’s military and political involvement in Lebanon (de facto governing through Hezbollah), Gaza (de facto governing through Hamas), Syria (supporting Assad in the civil war in Syria), Iraq (installing a pro-Iran government in Iraq and fighting ISIS), Yemen (supporting Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government) and Bahrain (supporting Shiite extremists to overthrow the Bahraini government) are statements to Iran’s regional and global aspirations. Further evidence of “exporting the revolution” and “Islamic Awakening” have been identified in other Gulf States, Arab states in the Middle East as well as many states in Africa and in South America.

Seen in this light, a militarized nuclear program would greatly enhance the chances of bringing to fruition both leaders’ visions and is causing the West to distrust Tehran’s motives.

 

Motives will make or break the Nuclear Deal

kerry zarifThe biggest problem surrounding the nuclear deal is the lack of trust which is unsuccessfully replaced with a myriad of details. As such, any deal, if signed, is destined to fail due to the basic lack of trust.

So, what would make a good deal? Only one thing: a total about-face by Tehran in regards to its motives and behavior that will build trust.

Imagine if Tehran had approached the negotiations for a nuclear deal with complete acceptance to comply to all IAEA/NPT guidelines and manage a nuclear program within the boundaries of supplying electricity. No need for enrichment beyond 5%, for so many centrifuges, for heavy water plants, for blocking access to bases, for testing weaponization etc…Creating electricity, and nothing more.

Imagine if Tehran had given up on its efforts to meddle in neighboring countries and on its aspirations to lead an empire in the region. No involvement in civil wars and efforts to overturn governments, no more support to terrorist organizations, no more threats to destroy Israel…Thriving peacefully, and nothing more.

There would have been no need for sanctions or a nuclear deal since Iran would be treated like any other country with a nuclear program meant for peaceful purposes.

 

Unfortunately, Tehran wants to keep its cake and eat it: It wants to lift sanctions but also wants to maintain its nuclear program and its aspirations for regional dominance intact. As such, the nuclear deal is akin to a marriage by two people who don’t trust each other since they met – divorce is inevitable.

 

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Iranian Involvement in Syria Escalates Alarmingly

15000 troops

Assad’s war against the Syrian rebels is going from bad to worse: A series of critical losses against the rebels and dwindling coffers have weakened Assad to a point where some believe that his days as ruler in Damascus are numbered.

so he naturally called on his closest ally, for help and 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria with another 35,000 to be deployed in the very near future.

Iran’s increasing involvement in Assad’s civil war should light some serious warning signs and the main question remains what exactly will Tehran expect in return.

 

Up until now…

31iht-ednisman31-articleLargeFor a while, Tehran was content to support Assad politically and financially while downplaying its military aid in the civil war raging in Syria. It seemed, outwardly, satisfied to let its Hezbollah militia to spearhead the fight against the Syrian rebels while supporting the militia with IRGC “advisers” and “Afghan volunteers“. Although there were rumors that some of the casualties were Iranian troops, Tehran stuck to denials: Tehran supported Assad but Iranian troops were not involved in the battles and Assad himself joined in these denials.

At the same time, Iranian leaders such as Zarif and Larijani continued to warn foreign powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict and to let the Syrians deal with the civil war by themselves. Whenever talks of foreign involvement by the West or the UN arose, these same leaders would cry “foul” and call these efforts “meddling” while accusing “the West” of being responsible for the civil war in Syria, the birth of ISIS, the rise in extremism etc…

 

From bad to worse

Qassem Suleimani with a group of peshmerga fighters in KurdistanLast week, Hezbollah requested Iran “send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently”. Qods leader Suleimani wasn’t far behind and announced that “the world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days” and sure enough, word has leaked out that 15,000 Iranian troops are on their way to Syria.

What is not surprising is that numerous Iranian officials, including Rouhani, Zarif and Larijani reiterated over the past few days support for Assad. Rouhani ominously vowed to support Syria “until the end of the road” adding that Tehran has “not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria“.

 

Many questions arise

Iran-and-Syria-flags-combinedThis latest move by Iran raises three key questions:

  • Is Iran’s involvement in Assad’s civil war legitimate? Iran and Syria signed a military agreement endowing both sides to aid each other in case of war. But in this case, Syria is not fighting a war against another country. Tehran argues that the rebels are supported by foreign powers, namely Saudi Arabia, which gives it the right to aid its ally. This is a classic case of the “chicken and the egg” since the Saudis stated that their support of the rebels is in response to Iran’s support of Assad (echoes the situation in Yemen in which the Saudis are bombing the Houthi rebels who managed to overthrow the Yemeni government with the aid of Tehran).
  • Does this involvement reflect the will of the Iranian people? Tehran’s decision to finance a civil war in Syria (estimated at $10 billion) comes at a time when the Iranian economy is still weak. Zarif said that “the government of Iran follows the people not the other way around” but does the Iranian people support such an escalation of Iran’s involvement in Syria? Are the Iranian people ready to kill and fight for Assad? Nobody knows because nobody asked the people.
  • What does Iran expect in return from Assad? Trade, an obvious reason, can not be a reasonable option since Syria’s economy is shaterred. Some might argue that Tehran’s increased involvement reflects its fears of ISIS and other militia hostile towards Iran and or Shiites. Others believe that Syria is destined to be part of Iran’s aspirations for an empire that will include Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for now.

Whatever the case may be, Tehran’s increased support in Syria will not be overlooked by the regional powers nor the UN. If Assad is destined to fall in his civil war, Iran’s intrusion can only escalate the involvement of other regional powers in the area, namely Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Iranian Terror On The Rise

suleimani terror

Let’s face it, while nuclear negotiations are plodding along the long and winding road to an unknown destination, Iran is enjoying a “breathing space” as a result from the divisions between the members of the P5+1 regarding what to do with Iran until the deal is inked.

This “breathing space” has allowed Iran to strengthen its diplomatic and economic relations and has brought much needed relief to the Iranian people in the form of a better economy and an environment of guarded hope for a better future.

 

Steady Course for Nuclear Program

At the same time, this “breathing space” has also allowed Iran to stick its course on its nuclear program.

Doing so might sound like a valid strategy but since Iran’s nuclear program had crossed too many red lines in the past, this means that it remains beyond the red lines in the present. Yes, there is more transparency but the military base at Parchin and the heavy-water plant at Arak are still hidden under veils of secrecy which inspire doubts as to the sincerity of the Iranians regarding military dimensions to their nuclear program.

 

Steady Increase in Military Influence

But while the nuclear program is on a steady course, this “breathing space” has allowed Iran’s military programs beyond its borders to increase dramatically.

Iranian backed terror is not a new development but it is a growing one. A closer investigation of the Islamic uprisings in Europe and the US would probably show that Iran’s helping hand is deeply involved.