Tehran takes in Hamas leaders expelled from Qatar

The ultimatum set by Saudi Arabia and its allies, giving Qatar 10 days to meet 13 demands, expired. It’s unlikely that Qatar will shut down Al Jazeera, one of the 13 stipulations, but they have responded favorably to at least one of the items on the list. One of the key demands is cutting ties with extremist organizations, among them Hamas.

As proof that Qatar felt the pressure and took the threat seriously, Qatar turned its back on Hamas and revealed an un-willingness to host Hamas operatives anymore. Once it became clear that Hamas is no longer welcome in Qatar, the leaders of Hamas began to look for a new home.

Hamas turned to Tehran which rushed to the occasion, overlooking the previous “offense” of Hamas supporting the Syrian rebellion in opposition to Iran, and offered safe sanctuary for the Hamas leaders in Lebanon, under the protection of the Iran-backed Hezbollah. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder and member of the Hamas, confirmed that the Iranian-Hamas bond is as close and as strong as ever. Saleh al Arouri, one of the most wanted terrorists, after being expelled last month from Qatar, along with other senior Hamas operatives, has apparently found a safe haven in Dahieh, the stronghold of the Hezbollah in Beirut. Thus, one of the results of the isolation of Qatar is a strengthening of Iran’s ties with extremists and extremist organizations.

In the past Iran could afford to cool its relations with Hamas, due to the fact that it was flying high with many friends. Now they seem to need every friend they can get..

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Tehran’s Duality on Terrorism & Democracy

With the recent twin terror attacks in Iran, hitting at the parliament and the mausoleum, Iran revealed a new rhetoric on terrorism, which is reserved only for them.

When President Trump condemned the twin attacks, extended condolences yet suggested that Iran shares some of the blame for the terror attacks, by stating “those who sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote”, Iran responded with a vengeance.  Foreign Minister Zarif in a tweet rejected the notion entirely while terming Trumps’ words “repugnant”. As reported in firstpost, Zarif continued to give his own explanation for the attack rationalizing that the attackers targeted the “seat of democracy”.

For decades the Iranian regime has preached that Europe and the Western world are to blame for the terrorist attacks perpetrated against them. Even in the face of the most recent London attack, the supreme leader related to the events claiming that Europe has brought the Islamic state terrorism on itself through its intervention in the Middle East. In his tweet (June 5) he stated “this is the inferno they set up and has now backfired on them”. Why is it legitimate to analyze thus in the European context, yet repugnant in the Iranian context?

Furthermore, to interpret the attacks in Iran as targeting “the seat of democracy”, is bordering on delusional science fiction. Iran is a Democtatorship. It is a country which holds presidential elections but which allows a non-elected body to disqualify candidates in advance if they do not represent the values of the Islamic Revolution. It is a country which has publicly elected officials in government and in parliament but they are subordinate to the unelected regime, and specially the unelected Supreme Leader and his military backing, the IRGC. It is a country in which opposition leaders who tried to bring about change are under house arrest without trial. Whether Zarif likes it or not, Iran is a ruled by a theocracy, a “deep state” of power that is unelected but chosen by the regime itself.

To twist things even further, the supreme leader recently dismissed any chance of reconciliation with the US due to the fact that the US is the cause of instability in the ME and founded upon terror and cruelty – never mind the fact that the West and most Arab states claim that it is Tehran which is the cause of instability in the Middle East now.

 

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Tehran’s cynical reaction to terror attacks

The terrorist attacks in Tehran shocked the world but probably shocked the regime in Tehran much more. Apart from the horror of the terrorist attacks, it is illuminating to see how the regime in Tehran reacted to these attacks.

Over the past few years, as terrorist attacks spread around the globe (specially in Europe), Tehran stuck to two main themes: 1) Terrorist would never strike in Iran due to the efficiency of the IRGC and other security bodies and 2) the Western countries who were hit by terrorist attacks were “reaping what they had sown” (ie: the West had supported Sunni terrorist organizations in the past).

Suddenly, the tables had turned and the statements from Tehran followed three main themes: 1) trivialization, 2) accusation and 3) indignation.

Trivialization: following the attack, Khamenei made a speech in which he attempted to minimize its impact calling it a “firecracker” and calling the terrorist “too trivial to affect the nation’s will”. In this same speech, Khamenei didn’t even take the time to offer his condolences to the families of the victims nor wish the wounded well. Parliament leader Ali Larijani joined Khamenei’s sentiment by calling the attack a “minor incident”. 17 innocent Iranian civilians dead and 43 wounded represent a “minor incident” and a “firecracker”? Sounds a bit trivial by all standards.

Accusation: as could be expected, Tehran immediately began to accuse the US and Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism. At first, the accusations were vague: the US and Saudi Arabia were guilty of these attacks because of the American-Sunni alliance, because of the US and Saudi support of Sunni terrorism (specifically ISIS) in the past, because of the Saudi FM’s statement that “Iran must be punished for its interference in the region and its support for terrorist organizations” etc… But then, Tehran upped the rhetoric and claimed that it had definite “proof” the US and Saudi Arabia supported these terrorist attacks but somehow, up until now, none of these “proofs” was shared to the world. Khamenei went further and stated that “the US is itself terrorist, fosters terrorists…and has been originally founded upon terror and cruelty” and “thus, it is impossible to compromise with the US”…this sentence makes more sense if you exchange the word “US” with the word “Iran”…try exchanging the word US for Iran and see how this statement rings much truer.

Indignation: the White House issued a statement of condolences for the victims but added one sentence, “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote”, which blew out some fuses in Tehran. Zarif called the statement repugnant and began slamming the US for supporting terrorism. Although Trump’s statement is definitely not politically correct, it does point out that Tehran’s open support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and other Shiite militias places Tehran within the targets of other terrorist organizations. But more than this, Trump’s statement only echoes statements from Tehran to Western countries who suffered terrorist attacks in the past: “you reap what you sow”.

There is nothing to be happy about the terrorist attack in Tehran. The blood of innocent victims of terrorist attacks is the same regardless of the country in which they were killed or wounded. But one thing is certain, Tehran was caught with its pants down and doesn’t know how to deal with this new situation. From a position in which it openly supports terrorism while claiming it is a champion against terrorism, Tehran found itself suddenly much weaker and much more vulnerable and instead of dealing with the base of the problem, the support of terrorism, it chose to cover up.

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Tehran eyes the Saudi alliance

Two years ago the Muslim anti-terrorism military alliance, set up by Saudi Arabia, was established. At the time it took the Muslim world by surprise, and some regarded it as a passing comedy of errors. Saudi Arabia setting up an anti-terrorism alliance sounded like a good joke, taking into consideration Saudi’s history in terrorism. Tehran wasted no time in criticizing the initiative: Rouhani managed to position Tehran as a fighter against terrorism in its over-publicized fight against ISIS while successfully hiding the fact that Tehran supports terrorist organizations so it only made sense to slam Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s biggest regional rival. Yet, as ludicrous as this initiative may seem, the alliance has not only survived, it has even expanded. Today it currently counts 41 members and recently the former Pakistani Chief General, Raheel Sharif, received approval to head the alliance.

In the tribune they enumerate three good reasons for this alliance:

  • Coordination by Muslim countries is key to combat Islamists extremists and terrorists who have hideouts, bases, training grounds etc…in these countries.
  • Since some of the members of this initiative have supported Islamist terrorists in the past, this venture will force them to disengage from terrorist organizations who have been proven to be unreliable and volatile.
  • A Muslim alliance against Islamist terrorism is a great platform to improve the image of Islam which was hijacked by Muslim extremists, an image which is defined by religious violence.

And then, Sharif called Tehran to join the alliance. Suddenly, Tehran found itself in a classic CATCH 22 situation: if it joined the alliance, Tehran would be forced to put aside its enmity for Saudi Arabia, and worst, it will have to give up on supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. But if it didn’t join the alliance, it would be designated as the only country in the region to not join what seems to be a worthy cause: eliminating, or at least seriously weakening Islamist terrorism.

The upside of such an alliance would be monumental for the region and possibly for the world. If Tehran does join the alliance, this might be the beginning of the end of the regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia which would bury the chances of a regional or even a world war. Furthermore, by joining the alliance, Iran and Saudi Arabia, both supporters of terrorist organizations who are fighting each other in the proxy wars between both countries, will effectively be forced to stop funding terrorism.

But even more important, if Iran does join the alliance, it will take out the wind out of Trump’s threats to confront Iran: the US could not initiate a war against Iran if it’s allied with Saudi Arabia and if Tehran is seen by the world as a champion against terrorism.

So, it makes a lot of sense for Tehran to join the alliance. Unfortunately, the regime in Tehran did not survive until now through common sense and teaming up with Saudi Arabia, after years of bad-mouthing Riyadh, would feel like “drinking from the poisoned chalice” (Khomeini’s take on the peace treaty with Iraq) all over again.

No, Tehran will probably never join hands with Riyadh because doing so would seriously weaken its identity to its people and to its allies.

 

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Gaps Between Rouhani’s Rhetoric and Reality

growing gapsLast week, Rouhani sent out three clear but distorted messages from the Ahlul Bayat World Assembly in Tehran:

These three statements are supposed to foster good will among the world’s Islamic communities and countries but unfortunately, they portray an illusion that is far removed from the realities of Tehran. Once again, it seems that Rouhani is a master at rebranding Tehran from the outside while keeping Tehran’s regional and global aspirations alive.

 

Muslim Unity: “We should not allow enemies to use terrorist groups to portray the religion of Islam… as the religion of killing, violence and destruction“.

Who are the “terrorist groups”? ISIS. Other terrorist organizations such as Mujahedeen, el Qaeda, Houthis, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc…are not included.

Who are “the enemies”? The West/US. The fact that Tehran’s enemies include the Syrian rebels, Saudi Arabia, the current Yemenite government etc…is astutely off the Rouhani’s agenda.

Rouhani’s efforts to pin the blame of Islamic Radicalism on the West is far-fetched since Islam has systematically been abused by Radical Fundamentalist Organizations and Islamic governments, including Tehran, for decades. What Rouhani conveniently forgets to mention is Tehran’s continued financial and military support for some of these terrorist organizations and even its political support for others such as in the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

And what about Khamenei’s call to “harshly, severely and humiliatingly punish(ed) and kill(ed)” anyone who opposes the regime without restrictions to “any time or place…even if they have escaped the country“? And how about Ayatollah Amoli’s  call to “emancipate Islam’s holy sites from Saudi control” which has “turned it to a house of idols and indulged themselves in drunken revelry“? Islamic unity? Definitely not.

 

The Source of Power: “We do not see our power in weapons. We see our power in logic, reasoning and hoisting the flag of peace“.

Only one week later, Rouhani issued a contradictory statement: “We should strengthen our defense capability, so that the agreement and stability will remain sustainable in this country and our cordial ties with the region and the world will remain amicable and lasting” – “Logic”?

In the meantime, Tehran is actively pursuing the closure of the purchase of Russia’s S-300 missiles as well as trying to purchase 150 jet fighters from China…”Logic”??

The Iranian army and/or its proxies are currently fighting in three wars in four neighboring countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza. “Logic”???

Rouhani may talk about “logic, reasoning and the flag of peace” but Tehran is and remains heavily invested in many regional military conflicts and does not mean to stop supporting these wars in the near future: “We have announced that our defense capability will continue unharnessed and our arms aids to our allies will continue too“. And how about Tehran’s upcoming “huge ballistic missile exercise” ? Also part of Tehran’s power of “logic”?

 

Regional Friendship: “Iran is never to use its scientific, political and spiritual power against any regional Muslim country or neighbor“.

The “scientific” part of Iran’s power obviously alludes to Tehran’s nuclear program which many countries, including some of Iran’s neighbors, believe will be militarized by Iran at some point in the future. Can its Muslim neighbors really count on Tehran not dropping a nuclear bomb on them? Saudi Arabia, for one, isn’t ready to take the chance and is ready to purchase its own nuclear weapon if Tehran will rush for the bomb.

But what is more cynical is Rouhani’s promise to not use it “political and spiritual power” against its Muslim neighbors since “Exporting the Revolution” is a critical part of the Iranian constitution and calls for Tehran to support the “oppressed” people wherever they may be. In fact, as Zarif explains it, Tehran has “a viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order.” And how does Tehran plan to achieve this? By constantly meddling in internal politics through supporting Shiite factions in Sunni countries.

Over the last month alone, a terrorist cell with ties to Tehran was busted in Bahrain while a large arms cache emanating from Tehran was discovered in Kuwait.

 

Rouhani’s speech at the Ahlul Bayat council was meant to allay fears by its neighbors, but it is simply pure propaganda with no base in reality. Rouhani may preach about “Muslim unity”, “logic” and not attacking its neighbors until he is blue in the face – the regime in Tehran remains an aggressive force intent on regional and Islamic domination and its neighbors fear it. Because although Khamenei blames the US for the “disintegration” of Iraq and Syria, it is first and foremost Tehran which is responsible from trying to “disintegrate the region” in order to replace it with the “Islamic Revolution”.

 

 

 

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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