Extended US sanctions do not breach nuclear deal

The US decision to extend its non-nuclear sanctions on Iran for another 10 years has elicited a lot of responses from Tehran. The common denominator of all the responses is that such sanctions breach the nuclear deal, implicating the US on trying to derail the deal. Even President Hassan Rouhani joined in on the cacophony of rants claiming that the US is “the enemy” and that these sanctions will lead to “harsh reactions” from Tehran. What Rouhani and the mullahs in Tehran prefer to not mention is that these sanctions are focused only on US entities and do not affect the economic relations between Iran and the rest of the world. “But, it’s still a breach of the deal, then isn’t it?” you say. Well, here’s where it all gets tricky since the status between Tehran and Washington is still stuck where it has been since 1979. In fact, the ink had barely dried on the nuclear deal when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decided to ban 227 US brands from the Iranian market while at the same time, forbidding the chief negotiators, FM Javad Zarif in particular, from negotiating anything with the US that wasn’t nuclear in nature and explaining why chants of “Death to America” while burning the US flag was justified.

Now some would quickly claim that even though the sanctions are not nuclear-related, they infringe on the “spirit” of the nuclear deal. They are 100% correct.

The “spirit” of the deal can be found in the mutual goal of Iran and Western countries to look to the future for peaceful relations instead of looking back to find all the reasons why Iran was isolated by the West in the first place. But from day one, such a spirit never really existed in Tehran. Tehran has always claimed that it would gladly sign the nuclear deal with the P5+1 but such a deal would not normalize in any way relations with the US.

In fact, that spirit, which President Barack Obama tried so hard to sell to the American public was cut down before it even had a chance to develop. Khamenei made sure that Tehran’s negotiating team did all it could to keep the nuclear deal focused only on nuclear issues. The P5+1, specially the US, tried to repeatedly introduce other issues such as missile tests, sponsoring terrorist organizations, supplying arms to the Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, harassing US navy ships in international waters etc… to no avail. The message from Tehran was clear: this was a nuclear deal and as such the only issues which would be relevant to the deal would be nuclear issues. As such, the renewed sanctions do not breach the deal itself.

So when Obama claimed that Tehran’s repeated long-range missile tests broke the spirit of the deal, Tehran loudly pointed out that such a spirit doesn’t exist. But this didn’t stop some Iranian leaders to pick up on Obama’s “spirit” of the deal to try to pressure the US to lift all sanctions which might impede the normalization of Iran’s economy.

Many people are wondering what will happen to the nuclear deal once Donald Trump takes over. One thing is certain, if there ever had been a “spirit” of the deal, it lived only in Obama’s administration and it will certainly die out under Trump.

The bottom line is this: Trump might lead the US out of the deal or he might even add a few more sanctions just to make a point. Such a move would not necessarily force any of the other co-signees of the deal to drop the deal but it would place Tehran and Washington back to where they were before the deal was signed – deep in the paranoid mentality that has been the bread and butter of relations between these two countries since 1979.

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Human rights in Iran: The thin line between Islamic laws and the regime’s zero-tolerance

thin-line

Following on the heels of the EU strategy report on Iran which included a harsh criticism of the state of human rights in Iran, the UN issued a new resolution which echoes the exact same sentiment: Iran is a serial abuser of human rights on many levels and in order to normalize relations, Tehran will have to change.

The UN resolution includes severe criticism on many levels in regards to the abuse of human rights in Iran: “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, “alarmingly high frequency of the death penalty” and “human rights violations against women and girls”.

The EU’s report was similar including the fact that the EU “remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty”, calls on Tehran to respect “the rights to freedom of expression…without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, demands that Tehran “eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women”, is worried that Tehran doesn’t “fully guarantee international due process safeguards (and) ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees”, “considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms”, “calls for the release of all political prisoners” and  “calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law”.

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of the criticism by both the UN and the EU, it is necessary to define two distinct categories:

  • Islamic laws: Abuses of human rights due to Islamic laws which include the oppression of women and religious minorities as well as the use of the death penalty.
  • The regime: Abuses of human rights due to the intolerance of the regime to accept criticism and calls for change by activists, political oppositionists.

These two categories of the West’s view on human rights in Iran is mirrored in Tehran’s categorical rejections of the EU/UN critique:

  • Islamic laws: There is a basic difference between Western ideals of human rights and “Islamic human rights” which must be acknowledged and accepted by the West.
  • The regime: All criticism by the West against Iran on the issue of human rights is politicized, hypocritical, arrogant and based on double standards and the regime is not susceptible to pressure from any source, least of all from the West…in fact, Tehran views such resolutions as an “abuse” of human rights in itself.

Of course, the regime doesn’t differentiate between both categories but from a Western perspective, the distinction between these two categories should be critical. It really is arrogant of the West to expect an Islamic country to give up its Islamic values in order to kowtow to the norms of the West and the issue of Shariah laws has put the West into a Catch 22 situation: if the West places such high import on religious beliefs and religious freedoms, it must accept that Shariah laws are legitimate in an Islamic country even if they seem outrageous from a Western perspective. Qisas, usually understood through the “eye for an eye” form of punishment, is brutal and barbaric from a Western perspective but it is deemed as “beautiful and important“. Tehran accepted to hold talks on human rights with the EU based on “mutual respect”, devoid of “double standards” and understanding that there is a fundamental difference between Western human rights and “Islamic human rights”, a difference which may not necessarily bridged. The West can try to “tone down” the harshness of some of these laws and to allow for more personal freedoms by pointing out that many Islamic countries have done just that but at the end of the day, as long as the Islamic regime exists, Islamic laws will prevail.

The issue of the death penalty in Iran is exemplary of this issue: according to the regime, 75%-80% of all executions are drug-related. Up until now, Tehran has vehemently defended these executions based on the fact that Shariah laws endorse the execution of drug-dealers and that it’s war on drugs benefits the West since most of the drugs are destined to Western users. Unfortunately, this defense is weakened by two simple facts: 1) the death penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for drug dealers even according to Iranian leaders and 2) not all Westerners agree that limiting the inflow of drugs is worth the 700+ drug-related executions a year. Since Iran holds the dubious title for the largest number of executions per capita, and since the regime is intent on normalizing relations with Western countries (apart from the US, of course), the mullahs in the regime have understood that it might be worth it to be more lenient on most drug-related offenders, convicting only the largest repeat offenders to be executed. But then again, change cannot be immediate as the Iranian deputy foreign minister made it clear that negotiations over human rights with the EU could take 3-4 years and that Tehran will not give up capital punishment under any circumstances.

So what about the second category? The regime’s inability to allow for dissent, opposition and change? This is much firmer ground from a Western perspective because the issue isn’t related in any way to Islam, only to the ideals of democracy which allow for pluralistic views and for the respect of minorities of any kind. It’s important to remember that Iran has repeatedly and proudly claimed that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East even though is not a true democracy (more like a “democtatorship”) due to the huge powers of unelected bodies of the regime. In fact, the bases of power in Iran emanate from democratic vote (the election of the president, government, the Assembly of Experts etc…through popular vote) and from the regime’s dictatorial resolve to choose its own leaders (such as the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the IRGC etc…). Tehran’s pride at being democratic coupled with its inherent fear of accepting democracy 100% is an inherent weakness of the regime. Slamming the regime for “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, the lack of “freedom of expression”, “the discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, “political prisoners”, the lack of “fair trial”, the oppression of “religious and ethnic minorities” etc…” all emanate from the regime’s fears of losing its power.

These issues should spearhead the West’s efforts to help the cause of human rights in Iran. If these issues are dealt with, if Iranians have a say in the way they are being governed, the Islamic religious issues will take care of themselves. Let’s take the issue of compulsory hijabs for women. To be sure, not every Iranian woman and definitely not every Iranian man is in favor of women wearing hijabs. The problem is that with the current regime, no one really knows if the majority of Iranians want compulsory hijabs or not. But if the whole of the regime was elected by the people and if enough people would decide that women should not have to wear hijabs, laws will be changed to accommodate such a sentiment. If the majority of the Iranian people would vote for more freedom of the press, for the release of political prisoners, for a fairer judicial system etc…, these changes would come about as well.

That’s why the West should place more weight on abuses of human rights in Iran which aren’t directly related to Islamic laws. . The systematic oppression of women and even the use death penalty, as such, must be accepted since they both stem from religious beliefs. Such a strategy echoes the statement of the liberal Iranian MP, Ali Motahari who wants Western criticism to be split into “two dimensions”: “one is related to Islam’s laws that is unnegotiable and not understandable for them (the West), and the second is related to affairs common to all human beings that has nothing to do with a certain ideology”.

 

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EU blinded by Iranian “gold rush”

On October 3ed, the European Parliament issued a resolution which outlines the strategy that the EU wants to implement in regards with Iran one year following the nuclear deal. On the whole, the resolution is a an up-beat “middle of the road” approach which intends to increase “political dialogue” with Iran, increase “trade and economic matters”, increase “sectorial cooperation”, increase “Iran’s role in the region” and increase cooperation with Iran on “socio-economic issues, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.

There are many good intentions and a lot of wishful thinking in this resolution:

  1. Terror: Iran is, according to the resolution, a key player in “counter-terrorism”.
  2. Capital punishment: Iran may have the largest rate of execution per capita in the world, but there is hope since “eliminating the death penalty for drug-related offences would drastically reduce the number of executions (up to 80 % according to Iranian estimates)”.
  3. Economy: Iran is the largest economy outside of the WTO and is aiming for a yearly 8% growth rate for which “European investments are key for Iran to achieve this goal”.
  4. Regional influence: Iran is a “major player in the Middle East and Gulf region” and the EU calls on Iran to “play a constructive role in solving the political crises in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan”.
  5. Human rights: Iran can work with the EU to “find common ground on matters related to democracy or human rights”.

Of course, there are some basic problems in these guide lines since…

  1. Terror: Iran has portrayed itself as a champion against terrorism (ISIS) but is also designated as a supporter of terrorism (Hezbollah is a designated terrorist organization by the EU as well). How can Tehran help in counter-terrorism when it does not even acknowledge that it supports terrorism? Judging from Iran’s political and military presence in Lebanon which is ruled by Hezbollah with Tehran pulling the strings, does anyone really believe that Hezbollah won’t remain in Syria once the civil war dies out? Does it not seem strange to the MEP’s that Tehran has taken the liberty to decide who is supporting terrorism and who is fighting against it?
  2. Capital punishment: Iran seems to finally have succumbed to global pressure to curtail the death penalty for drug-related criminals but the issue is critical since it will mean that the regime abandoned its revolutionary ideals for those of the “imperialistic/colonialistic” West. Can anyone realistically believe that Khamenei and his hardline mullahs and his paranoia of “Western influence” would simply give up on Qu’ranic laws which were re-established in 1979 to be exchanged with the laws of the countries the revolution was meant to destroy? And what about the fact that Hezbollah is actively involved in drug smuggling in Lebanon, Latin America and even Europe?
  3. Economy: The EU might want to cash in on the Iranian economic potential but it will have to wait in line to do business with Iran (after Russia, China, India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Vietnam, Malaysia etc…). Why would Tehran prefer to do business with European organizations and companies as long as there remain outstanding issues on human rights? Did the MEP’s not notice how Germany’s economic minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was rebuked by Tehran after he voiced a call for Tehran to take responsibility for the carnage and destruction in Syria and reminded Tehran that it would have to recognize Israel in order to have good relations with Germany? Such issues do not even exist in dealing with Eastern or Asian countries so why would Tehran bother?
  4. Regional influence: Iran has a very destructive role in fueling the crises in many of its neighboring countries. Did the MEP’s forget that Tehran is actively involved in fueling the Syrian civil war by blindly backing Assad? That it fueled the civil war in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels to oust the government? That it has control of Shiite militias in Iraq? And what about Tehran’s meddling tendencies in the Gulf States and its increasing rivalry with Saudi Arabia? Did the MEP’s really buy into Tehran’s propaganda that it is simply helping its neighbors?
  5. Human rights: The Islamic Revolutionary ideals of the regime can in no way accommodate many basic Western ideas of human rights. How can anyone expect the regime in Tehran to suddenly accept that minorities such as Kurds, Baha’is and Sunnis should be treated equally when the oppression of minorities occurs in contravention with the Iranian constitution? How can anyone expect gender equality and an end to gender segregation when such a thought is totally alien to Islamic law? How can anyone expect Tehran to accept gays when being gay is against Islamic law? How can anyone expect the regime to allow Iranians to criticize it when for decades, the critics were all oppressed, sent to jail or executed?

The resolution also missed some very basic points in regards to how things are done in Iran. The MEP’s might find common grounds with members of Rouhani’s government, MP’s in the Iranian parliament, activists who want to change the regime etc…but there can be no common ground between the MEP’s and the unelected members of the regime, beginning (and ending) with Khamenei. Someone should tell them that Khamenei has a glowing vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” which will lead to a “Century of Islam” meant to destroy the current “hegemony” of the West. The MEP’s should understand that Khamenei’s worst nightmare is to be in any way influenced by or indebted to the West and that the IRGC, directly under Khamenei’s orders, controls roughly 40% of the Iranian economy. It is Khamenei, backed by the Guardian Council and the IRGC who rule Iran – not the government nor the parliament.

The resolution was not unanimous by any stretch of the imagination and was approved by a 37-15 vote. Many of votes against the resolution originated from Liberal MEP’s who found it hard to accept the optimistic tone, especially in regards with human rights: Marietje Schaake, an MEP who was a part of the EU delegations to Iran, voted against the resolution claiming that it did not reflect the key issues of human rights violations and Tehran’s support for Assad and terrorist groups. Schaake didn’t mince words and called on her fellow MEP’s to be more realistic: “It seems a gold rush is blinding MEPs, even though high levels of corruption, and state interference in the economy also impact their ability to do business in a predictable and transparent way”. Schaake, unlike many of the MEP’s has been to Iran and has met Iranians outside of Iran, including Masih Alinejad, who is at the head of an anti-regime campaign called MyStealthyFreedom. She even ran into trouble in Iran after attending a meeting with a large handbag which bothered some Iranian leaders. She understands the rift between Brussels and Tehran cannot be bridged based on the business deals the EU might offer. Tehran will gladly do business with anyone who accepts the regime “as is”.

Yes, at the end of the day, the resolution is meant to make Europeans happier and that means doing business with Iran. It’s all about money. But the Europeans, in the eyes of the regime, are still “suffering” from being related to the US and to the West and it is much more comfortable to strike a deal with Russia or Azerbaijan than with the EU.

The feedback from Tehran on the EU resolution reflects these wide cultural rifts between the good intentions of the MEP’s and the hardline attitude on the regime: Tehran welcomed the resolution but called on the EU to be more “realistic” in its attitudes regarding human rights: “While human rights negotiations are set to be held between Iran and the EU in the near future, the adoption of such positions is questionable and unconstructive and does not in any way help elevate the human rights discourse and (only) reinforces speculations of intervention in our country’s domestic affairs”. Translation: “You want to do business with us? Fine. Just don’t try to change us”.

 

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Narges Mohammadi to stay in Jail until 2026

The renewed trial of Nargess Mohammadi, an Iranian activist, once more exemplifies that people who are identified by the regime as “political criminals” for criticizing the regime have no chance to a fair trial: Mohammadi is to remain in jail until 2026.

Why? Let’s start from the end: On September 28th, the Tehran court of Appeals upheld a sentence against Mohammadi which would keep her in jail for another 10 years for a number of political charges – “assembly and collusion to commit crimes against national security” (5 years), “spreading propaganda against the State” (1 year) and “establishing and running the illegal splinter group LEGAM” (10 years). But what exactly were her “crimes”? She was a member of an organization whose goal was to abolish capital punishment in Iran. She met with the former EU representative Catherine Ashton in Tehran without permission. She made a speech at the gravesite of Sattar Beheshti who died after being tortured by the regime. All of these “crimes” can be lumped into one bigger “crime”: criticizing the regime.

Unfortunately for Mohammadi, the regime in Tehran has zero tolerance for criticism of any kind: the regime’s goal is to sustain itself and the only way it can do this is to maintain the status quo from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, effectively barring any change that could endanger the regime. Furthermore, the regime is all encompassing in that it has it maintains its power bases in the non-elected bodies such as the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council, in the Assembly of Experts, in the Majlis (parliament), in the government, in the judiciary, in the IRGC (includes both military and economy), the military/police/intelligence, the Basij (volunteer paramilitary), the nuclear program etc… These interacting tentacles of power in all the aspects of the lives of Iranians ensure that any one criticizing the regime, its ideals, its laws or its governing bodies can be punished without any effort to maintain the civil rights of the “criminal”. In this vicious circle, all the people and organizations under the influence of the regime work together to stifle or oust any danger to the regime itself. In such a manner, an activist for human rights or for social change, such as Mohammadi,  can easily be arrested, charged and convicted with trying to overthrow the regime, a “crime” which carries heavy prison convictions or even execution.

It’s irrelevant to the regime that Mohammadi, and activists like her, do not receive the benefits of a fair trial. Mohammadi wasn’t even present at the verdict of her trial in which she was convicted to 11 years in jail. She can’t even enjoy the benefits of Iranian law which stipulates that “criminals” do not have to serve accumulating prison sentences on different charges but should serve only the largest sentence (10 years in her case).

The fact that Mohammadi is a mother of two who will not see her children grow up is irrelevant and the fact that her health has deteriorated rapidly while in jail is irrelevant as well because Mohammadi’s fate is not her own: her fate is meant to be a deterrent to all would-be activists in Iran with one clear message: criticizing the regime will lead to a loss of freedom and dignity.

Mohammadi’s plight has generated massive support from the UN, Amnesty, Front Line Defenders, Nobel Women, Reporters Without Borders and a host of other governments and NGO’s which have all decried Mohammadi’s cause and the reaction from Tehran has been, to date, “butt out!”. If there’s one thing that bothers the regime more than criticism from Iranians, it is criticism from non-Iranians. Yes, some believe that an increase in global pressure might hurt Mohammadi’s cause into leading the regime to dig its heels in harder but most activists believe that with enough pressure, Hassan Rouhani’s government might have to rethink its ways if it wants to maintain its new-found ties with Western countries.

So, please add your own weight to helping Mohammadi by either sharing this article or join the converstion at any of these sites.

https://twitter.com/UnitedForNarges, https://www.facebook.com/International-Campaign-for-Human-Rights-in-Iran-49929580840/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsiran/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/, https://www.facebook.com/nobelwomen/, https://www.facebook.com/Free-Narges-612133508960995/?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/lddhi.fidh/?fref=nf, http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/iran-take-action-for-narges-mohammadi/

Thank you.

 

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Saint Rouhani doesn’t need facts

Following on the path of Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times to “rid the world of Wahabbism”, Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the NAM meeting in Venezuela was filled with cynical half-truths and lies which are totally irrelevant of the facts. In fact, he sounded as if he is the president of a neutral country such as Sweden or Switzerland and not a country which is fueled by a strategy of expansionism, is involved in two proxy wars, is accused of numerous efforts to meddle in its neighbors affairs, is openly supporting terrorist organizations, is increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni divide, is oppressing women and sectarian/religious minorities etc…

Rouhani’s speech is all “peace and love” but is devoid of being factual:

  • Tehran is fighting “against extremism and terrorism” – Anyone mention Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda and the Taliban? OK, so one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but doesn’t it bother Rouhani that Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization even by the Arab League? And doesn’t it seem strange that Tehran is supporting al-Qaeda (before and after 9/11)?
  • Tehran rejects the “hegemonic and domineering inclinations” of superpowers – OK but this obviously doesn’t include Moscow, of course, which has become Tehran’s BFF . Rouhani obviously knows that Russia is a superpower and yet, he doesn’t have qualms in allowing Russia to support Assad in his civil war while incessantly warning the US to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps what he really means is “Western superpowers”…that makes more sense.
  • Tehran rejects the support of the “West together with the East” – That was Khomeini’s motto to keep Iran unaligned and independent. Since then, the regime in Tehran has never looked to the West but wait, isn’t Moscow in the East? And isn’t Beijing, another superpower being wooed by Tehran also in the East?
  • Tehran is always ready to help out the “righteous” – Ahhhhhhhh…define “righteous”. Tehran’s definition of the “righteous” just happens to be Shiites and anti-Americans wherever they may be. That doesn’t include Syrian civilians who sided with the rebels against Assad (184,000 deaths to date). It also doesn’t include Yemenites who sided with the government against the Houthis. That doesn’t include the members of the Iranian resistance wherever they may be.
  • Tehran does not interfere “in the internal affairs of “other countries” – Yeah, yeah…Let’s start with Lebanon which has become a satellite state of Tehran through the empowering of Hezbollah. Move on to Syria in which Tehran chose to support Assad who doesn’t represent all of the Syrian people since the start of the civil war which was sparked by his unwillingness to hold free national elections. How about supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government there? Or empowering Shiite militants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait,  and Nigeria? Not interfere? Tehran is the king of the “Meddle East“.
  • Tehran is avoiding “wounds inflicted every day on innocent bodies” – Wow…he obviously forgot about include the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian army and Russia in Syria and the thousands of victims of Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also doesn’t include the 30,000 political prisoners who were massacred in 1988 by the regime. Oh, and the thousands of Iranians who are imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, flogged and executed for not toeing the regime’s line.
  • Tehran operate on a “policy of moderation, prudence and interaction to settle conflicts” – So that’s what it’s called. “Moderation” and “prudence” explain Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen. They also explain Tehran’s meddling and subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Wait…Saudi Arabia…yep, “moderation” and “prudence” explains the latest vicious rhetoric by Khamenei and the rest of the regime vilifying the Saudi leadership and the Saudi religion.
  • Tehran is a “pioneer in engaging in dialogue and talks” – OK, that really depends when the “pioneering” began. Until Rouhani was elected, Tehran consistently rejected any dialogue with the West since 1979. Ahmadinejad’s presidency was notorious for ignoring calls to negotiate and antagonizing possible negotiating partners. Tehran ignored the calls of the IAEA and the UN to hammer out a nuclear deal for years. Perhaps Rouhani should have said “pioneer since 2013”. That’s about right.
  • Tehran is trying to create a “new order” through “cooperation and the collective participation of all the neighbors” – What “new order”? Well, as Zarif pointed out, Iran is different from all countries because it wants to change the “international order”. By this he was referring to the goal and duty, imbedded within the Iranian constitution, to Export the Revolution to the “oppressed”. And then there’s the Global Islamic Awakening against the West or the New Islamic Civilization Khamenei loves to fantasize about. And how about the “cooperation and collective participation”? The people of Syria didn’t ask to import the new order, neither did the government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States aren’t exactly “cooperating” with Iran in developing such a “new order”.
  • Tehran is against “interference of outside powers” in internal affairs – Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Tehran? Against interference? What’s really peculiar is that Tehran doesn’t see itself as “interfering” nor does it see itself as an “outside power”. And yet Tehran is “interfering” as an “outside power” in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…. Hell, it even invited the “interference” of an “outside power” when it agree to allow Moscow to support Assad in his civil war. Seriously, how can “Exporting the Revolution” not interfere with governments who do not want such a revolution to occur in their countries?

Are you getting the picture here? Rouhani is telling the NAM states what they want to hear: That Tehran is run by a peace-loving regime, is unaligned with any super-power, is fighting extremism and terrorism and is averse to interfere in any country’s internal issues. With such a great message, who cares about the facts?

Mr. Rouhani, it’s OK to believe that if you repeat the same lies enough times, people will believe you. But if you don’t take responsibility for your problems and weaknesses, at some point, your credibility is bound to plunge. Just as in the case of Zarif’s attack on Wahabbism, it’s easy to agree with many of the points that you shared in your speech – if all nations, including Iran, would act according to how you described your regime’s purported guidelines, the world would definitely be a better place to live in. Until then, remember, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

 

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Zarif scores points BUT loses credibility

Reading Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism“, is bewildering: he hits the problems of extremist Wahabbism right on the nail but the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility, let alone mention, Iranian-backed extremism and terrorism (including non-Shiite organizations such as Al-Qaeda) makes his whole argument less credible and more akin to propaganda. Had Zarif admitted to Tehran’s support of terrorism, his call would have greatly increased in credibility. As it is, Zari’s tirade against Wahabbism sounds like a speech by a pathetic alcoholic in denial at an AA meeting.

What makes Zarif even less credible is that his call “rid the world of Wahabbism” is really a call to pressure Saudi Arabia, no more no less. Since Wahabbism is a key part of Saudi Arabia, eliminating Wahabbism is really another way of trying to eliminate Saudi Arabia. Zarif knows this all too well. All forms of extremism, Shiite or Wahabbist, should be eradicated but a call to eradicate Wahabbism is like a call to eradicate Shiism. Had someone from Saudi Arabia called on the world to “rid the World of Shiism”, Zarif would be the first to call the Saudi speaker a “racist” and a “sectarian” whose purpose is to divide Islam, and, to be honest, he would be 100% right. Zarif knows this all too well but he is so focused on answering Tehran’s PR needs that he conveniently put such thoughts aside.

Zarif is playing the role of the crafty diplomat who is more adept at a bazaar haggle than in the real world: he did this outstandingly during the negotiations on the JCPoA and he is trying to do the same now with Saudi Arabia. His strategy is simple: attack and soothe then attack and soothe over and over again. Listen to Zarif attacking Saudi Arabia: Saudi rulers are “callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands”, their “petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist” policies which “beget, foster, and spread terrorism”, their allegiance to “serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons” and their responsibility for “the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred”. OK, we get it. Now listen to this following quote: “We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism“. Shouldn’t Zarif “put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear” first in order to be credible in his conciliatory call on Saudi Arabia to “join hands”? Will the real Zarif please stand up?!

Even Zarif’s repeated mention of the “Zionists” is beginning to wear out. Whenever there’s a problem with Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf States, with the Arabs, with the West, with anything, it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat to blame: Zionistic Israel and the fate of the maligned Palestinians. Listen to Zarif explain the source of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “The tragedy of Palestine, the center of anger and desperation felt in the Muslim world, is at the heart of this crisis“. Is it really? Or is the cause of the Palestinians simply an effective way to galvanize support for Iran amongst Muslims? Nobody in Tehran ever mentions the plight of the Palestinians in Jordan. No one in Tehran offered the Palestinians to live and thrive in Iran. No one in Tehran has ever offered to mediate a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, the Palestinian cause isn’t Tehran’s goal – the Palestinians are simply Tehran’s pawns in a game of political chess to dominate the region.

But Zarif’s attacks on Wahabbism don’t stop only in regards to terrorism. Here’s Zarif on one of his favorite, and least credible, topics: “Today, interference in internal affairs of other countries, occupation, and extremism have posed threats not only to the world’s peace, security, and development but to the solidarity of NAM state members“. Once again, Zarif “forgets” to mention that interfering in other countries’ affairs is one of Tehran’s specialities since it is part of its revolutionary ideals (“Exporting the Revolution) and is even part of Iran’s constitution. He “forgets” to mention Tehran’s continuous meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc… He “forgets” to mention that Tehran has developed a well-oiled strategy of using local and mercenary proxy organizations to meddle without being physically there.

Zarif isn’t alone in this strange mud-slinging contest in which Tehran slings mud at Saudi Arabia and then cries foul when mud is slung back from Riyadh: It’s an integral part of the regime under Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, in fact, instigated this strategy from the day that he launched his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative at the UN 3 years ago. In one master stroke, he presented Iran as a champion against terrorism without mentioning once (in three years) Tehran’s role in the resulting Islamic violence and extremism.

Since he became president, Rouhani has mastered the art of repackaging Iran as a Middle Eastern Switzerland: “For us, peace and non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, their national sovereignty, consultation and coordination on issues of the developing and entire world are important”. It’s not hard to notice that he doesn’t mention Tehran’s political and military interference in domestic affairs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…He doesn’t mention how without Tehran’s “interference” Bashar al-Assad would have been forced to agree to a general election to prove whether he really is the choice of the Syrian people nor does he mention how the Houthi rebels would never have successfully ousted the Yemenite government without the support of Tehran. “Non-interference”? Yes, only when it is in Tehran’s benefit. When it isn’t, Rouhani and Zarif are quick to point out that they aren’t really interfering, only “helping”.

The bottom line is that Tehran has become very adept at creating myths based on populistic lies which totally lack any form of responsibility. These myths are churned out by the regime and retold constantly until it might seem like the truth. ISIS is “the problem”…the US is “the problem”…Saudi Arabia is “the problem”…Israel is “the problem”…the Iranian resistance is “the problem”…everyone is “the problem” except, of course, for the regime in Tehran because the regime is above any criticism and criticizing the regime is a sin which can send you to jail or to the gallows.

No, in order to be credible, Tehran first has to own its own problems and weaknesses. Yes, the whole Western world and the whole Arab world might be theoretically wrong about accusing Tehran for all the problems in the Middle East but in practice, the stubborn theocratic regime in Tehran is definitely not blameless and as long as it continues to act the part of the wrongly accused saint, no progress can be expected in trying to cool down the multi-level conflicts in the region which appears to be ready to blow up and take the world with it.

 

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Tehran looking everywhere but West

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei inherited his paranoia of foreign interference from his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini who coined his “Neither East Nor West” strategy which was paired up with another dominant theme of Khomeini’s, “Exporting the Revolution”: “Once again, I announce my support for all movements, fronts, and groups which are fighting in order to escape from the claws of the Eastern or Western superpowers“. Standing up to the “arrogant” superpowers and supporting the “oppressed” people/nations was always at the core of the Islamic Revolution and it remains so today as well under Khamenei’s goal of leading a “Global Islamic Awakening”, a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization”.

For decades, these twin strategies were upheld by Tehran but since the signing of the JCPoA, the hatred for the West and specially the US (the “Great Satan”) has even intensified but Tehran is definitely looking Eastward, specially towards Russia and China, as a means of increasing its power in the region. It also in began looking in other directions: first, South to Africa and Latin America where it’s scouting for likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and then to its immediate neighbors, mostly for economic reasons but as a means to gain more power in the region.

Although Khomeini would approve of Tehran’s focus to the South and to the neighborhood, he is probably rolling in his grave over the growing ties with Moscow and Beijing.

 

Definitely not West.

Following the signing of the JCPoA, Khamenei forbade dealing with the US but allowed President Hassan Rouhani to try to develop diplomatic ties and trade ties with countries in the EU. The initial response from most EU countries was positive and EU trade delegations landed one after the other in Tehran in an effort to capitalize on the huge potential of the Iranian market which was finally released from sanctions. The enthusiasm of the European delegates and governments was dampened by two unrelated issues: 1) The US’s removal of the nuclear sanctions did not clear Iran from other sanctions which are related to terrorism and human rights and 2) the issue of Iran’s horrific record in human rights and its recurring ties with terrorism resulted in a lot of internal objections. For now, European countries and businesses are waiting impatiently on the sidelines until both these issues are cleared and the US isn’t even on the sidelines.

 

South to Africa and Latin America

A lot of diplomatic effort is being invested to the South, to Africa and to Latin America. These countries hold a lot of economic potential but money is not the main goal here. All the nations in  Africa and Latin America are part of the Non-Aligned-Movement (NAM) and most fit Khomeini’s description of being oppressed, at least in the past, by the “arrogant” West – this makes them good targets for “Exporting the Revolution”. Furthermore, at least in Latin America, many nations hold deeply anti-American sentiment which makes them even better candidates to “Export the Revolution” to.

On his African tour, Tehran’s FM Javad Zarif, “offered” each country he visited, to share in Tehran’s experience at “fighting terrorism”. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this offer sounded hollow since the government of Nigeria cracked down on the subversive efforts of a local Shiite Sheikh Zakzaky who was openly backed by Tehran. Furthermore, Tehran is the current president of NAM (a post which changes every three years) and has used its position to try to mobilize NAM countries to support its agenda.

On Latin America, Zarif made a point of kicking of his tour in Cuba and including in his tour countries with strong anti-American countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. In his visit in Cuba, he made a point of emphasizing the fact that both Iran and Cuba were under American sanctions. Note how this statement echoes Khomeini’s quote at the beginning of the article: “The resistance of the Iranian and Cuban nations has left the hegemonic countries no other choice but compromise and renunciation of their hostile policies even in their words“.  Zarif’s LatAm tour is particularly worrisome for many countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay who are suffering from fears of Hezbollah’s growing influence in the region, mixing anti-American sentiment with terrorism and Shiite Islam.

 

Close by to Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors

Tehran’s involvement in Muslim neighbors such as Syria and Iraq has been in full force for the past few years but following the signing of the JCPoA, Tehran not only extended its overtures to other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Talks of increased trade were mixed with calls for the unification of Muslim countries in tune with Khamenei’s vision. These potential partners are crucial not only as trading partners but also as a buffer to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to unify all Arab countries against Iran.

But Tehran didn’t stop with Muslim countries – it also began wooing its non-Muslim neighbors. High level meetings between Iran and India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and others led to many trade agreements and the easing of diplomatic restrictions such as visa requirements. Azerbaijan committed to creating a free-trade zone on the border of Iran while Georgia decided to drop visa restrictions.

All in all, Tehran’s new-found interest in neighbors which had little or no contact with Iran in the past is not strengthening Iran’s power in the region economically and politically. None of these countries have any real powers to “infiltrate” and they might not be likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and Khomeini would probably have approved.

 

East towards Moscow and Beijing

By far the biggest development since signing the JCPoA is the rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow and Beijing. These two local superpowers quickly understood the ramifications of the signing of the JCPoA which brought Iran out of its isolation and Tehran’s continued hatred of the West. For Moscow and Beijing, strengthening ties with Tehran served two immediate purposes: cashing in on the economic potential of Iran’s market as well as weakening  the US’s influence in the region and the perception of the US’s influence in the world.

Moscow was the first to jump at the opportunity to fill the vacuum by openly supporting Tehran politically, economically and militarily. Even the issues of the remaining sanctions and the problems of dealing in dollars were easily circumvented as Tehran and Moscow agreed to deal through barters or through local currencies. At the same time, Moscow began supplying Tehran with missiles and joined the Syrian civil war siding with Tehran and Assad. The latest developments in which Russian jets launched air-raids on Syria from Iranian territory exemplifies the nature of the growing partnership.

Beijing was slightly more cautious but quickly understood that if it did not want to leave Moscow in the field alone – there was too much money to be made and weakening the US was an added bonus. Huge deals were signed and Tehran and Beijing are now talking about purchasing Chinese jets.

And suddenly, Tehran became a catalyzer to create a new coalition in the region with Tehran, Moscow and Beijing at its core and other countries in the region as second circle partners. The growing relationships with Moscow and Beijing are still fragile but as long as the money keeps on rolling and the US remains at bay, it will definitely grow and with it one can expect a growing Russian and Chinese influence on the regime and on the lives of Iranians and Khomeini’s “neither East nor West” lost half of its meaning.

Tehran should practice what it preaches

Call it double standards, different perspectives, politics, hypocrisy, Taqiyya or lies…the rhetoric that’s coming out of Tehran is loaded with messages which makes one want to blurt out “right back at you” or “why don’t you take a look in the mirror”. It’s as if the leaders in Tehran live in a vacuum and are totally disconnected from the realities as viewed by the rest of the world, especially the Western and the Arab world.

They redefine concepts such as “terrorism”, “foreign policy” and “human rights” by simply changing perspectives and then blame the seeming contradictions on cultural, political and geographical “disconnections”. In such a manner, Tehran can position itself as a champion against terrorism although it fully supports terrorist organizations, can position itself as the guardian of its neighbors’ interests although it meddles subversively in local politics and position itself as the champion of Islamic human rights although its human rights record is one of the worst in the world.

This process of “redefinition” has increased dramatically under the government of Hassan Rouhani and the signing of the JCPoA. This makes sense since before Rouhani, Iran was politically an defectively isolated and ostracized – the regime didn’t really need to try to manipulate the mind-set of the world. But since Tehran began trudging down the path of “constructive engagement”, redefinitions have become a defining strategy to position Tehran in a better light and take the world off-guard.

The best way to understand this is to listen to what Iranian leaders are saying. For the sake of this article, we will focus on statements by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader), Ali Akbar Velayati (Khamenei’s chief adviser on foreign policy), Hassan Rouhani (Iran’s president), Ali Larijani (speaker of Iran’s parliament) and Javad Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) on the issues of “terrorism” and “regional foreign policy”…another article in the future will focus on Tehran practicing what it preaches in the realm of “human rights”.

 

Tehran as a champion against terrorism

The issue of Islamic terror escalated dramatically over the past two years. Sure, 9/11 had brought Islamic terror to the West but 9/11 looks “tame” in view of the barbaric rampage of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Spotting an opportunity, Rouhani presented his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative to the UN to a standing ovation. The war against terrorism became Tehran’s carte blanche to kill or destroy whoever was in Tehran’s way and another carte blanche to tarnish any Western and Arab anti-terror activities. Why was Tehran involved in Syria? Why was the US forbidden to fight ISIS in Syria? Why did Tehran execute 20 Kurds in one day? To fight terrorism, of course.

Terrorism became the magic word to allow Tehran to fulfill its political agenda regardless of the fact that an organization such as Hezbollah (as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad etc…), which is fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen etc… is wholly financed by Tehran and is designated as a terrorist organization by most of the Western and Arab nations. Here are some statements by Iranian leaders which show that Tehran is eager to preach against terrorism but is much more wary about practicing what it preaches on this subject:

  • Velayati on the West’s efforts to differentiate between legitimate Syrian rebel groups and ISIS: Iran “will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists“. By this logic, Tehran refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is just as “ridiculous“.
  • Rouhani on categorizing terrorism: Rouhani also called for the fight against all types of terror groups, saying the terrorists should not be divided into good and bad ones in pursuit of “short-term interests”. Is not Tehran’s categorizing of all Syrian rebel factions as “bad terrorists” and its opposition to categorize Hezbollah as “bad terrorists” not a clear example of Tehran pursuing its own “short term interests“?
  • Zarif on the dramatic increase of terrorist attacks all over the world: “We should not and will not rest until those behind terror in Istanbul, Dhaka, and now Baghdad, and their ideology are defeated“. Notice, no mention of Hezbollah and Tehran’s ingrained “ideology” of “Exporting the Revolution”, two critical factors in fighting Assad’s war in Syria.
  • Larijani on tactics and strategies of terrorism: “We have on multiple occasions warned the countries in the region that the tactical use of terrorism is a strategic mistake“. So why, oh why, is Tehran using Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to fight Assad’s civil war? And why is Tehran using Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government? A clear “strategic mistake“.
  • Khamenei the fate of those who support terrorism: “However, the creators of terrorism will not remain secure from the repercussions of terrorist acts either“. Mr. Khamenei should remind himself this since the rise in Tafkiri terrorism is, in part, a “repercussion” to Tehran’s state-sponsored Shiite terrorism.
  • Khamenei on the aims of the US in the region: “Behind our western border, the S.is training terrorists. It is spending money and handing out weapons to be used against the Islamic republic…the Americans have dangerous plans for (Iraqi) Kurdistan … Their plans are not aimed at defending the Kurdish people, but they want to control them“. Perhaps…but 1) Tehran is spending billions of dollars in “training terrorists” and “spending money and handing out weapons” to terrorist organizations and to help Assad win his civil war and 2) Tehran has excelled in “controlling” nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Azers as well as efforts to do so in Yemen as well.
  • Zarif wants to cooperate with Mali and Ghana to fight terrorism: “Iran is prepared to cooperate with Mali in the area of fighting terrorism and extremism“, “The Islamic Republic is ready to cooperate with Ghana in the fight against terrorism and extremism“. “Cooperate“? The same “cooperation” which Tehran gave to Nigerian Shiite sheikh Ibrahim Zakazaky who was charged by the Nigerian government of trying to overthrow it?
  • Rouhani on “exporting” its experience on fighting terrorism: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran has valuable experience in fighting terrorism and is ready to transfer it to other countries. Very admirable, but…Tehran has gained quite a lot of “experience” from fighting against terrorism since the advent of ISIS in 2014 but has a lot more “experience” in supporting terrorism since 1979.
  • Rouhani on the how to effectively fight terrorists: We should block income sources and channels of arms transfer to the terrorists“. And yet, Tehran continues to be the major “income source” and “channel of arms transfer” to Hezbollah (a terrorist organization), Yemenite Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemenite government and subversive Shiite organizations in the Gulf States.
  • Zarif on the methods to combat terrorism: “Terrorism and extremism cannot be eliminated only through military, political, or economic means; rather a cultural and ideological approach is also needed“. Well said Mr. Zarif but first, Tehran has to deal with its own “cultural and ideological approach” in supporting terrorist organizations in its struggle to “Export the Revolution”.
  • Larijani on how not to combat terrorism: “Terrorism is not a simple and tactical issue and cannot be solved by airstrikes“. He’s 100% right but he remains one of the biggest supporters of Moscow’s efforts at combating ISIS through…”airstrikes” which incidentally also targeted other Syrian rebels and civilians.
  • Larijani on blaming Saudi Arabia: He also said those countries which provided terrorists with arms and missiles are responsible for crises in Syria (and that) those who make blood bath in Yemen are the ones who are to blame for tension in the region. Who is providing Assad and Hezbollah with “arms and missiles” in Syria which are extending the “blood bath” there?? Who provided “arms and missiles” to the Houthis rebels in Yemen to overthrow the Yemenite government and initiated the “blood bath” there? Tehran, of course.
  • Velayati on the purported support of Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels: “However…some reactionary regional states are training terrorists and providing them with support in violation of international law“. Wait a minute…isn’t the fact that Tehran is “training” Hezbollah and “providing them with support” also a “violation of international law“?

Tehran’s modus operandi is simple: Support (mostly Shiite) terrorist organizations while doing two things at once – 1) Deny that the organizations being supported are really terrorists and 2) Blame the West (the US, EU, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) for the rise in Sunni terrorism.

 

Tehran as a champion of regional foreign policy

Tehran is very active in its neighbors activities and has positioned itself as the master of foreign policy in the region. This self-appointment is a direct result of the amount of control Tehran has in some countries in the region, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as its continued efforts to expand its control in other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and other Gulf States. Furthermore, the signing of the JCPoA has strengthened diplomatic power with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan etc… and after years of isolation, Tehran has finally become a crucial regional power.

That’s all good for Tehran but the problem is that Tehran doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to regional policy. It will warn Western powers to not meddle in local politics while it does so incessantly in its efforts to “Export the Revolution”. It blames countries like Saudi Arabia for helping the Yemenite government to beat the Houthi rebels while it is helping Assad to beat Syrian rebels in the same manner. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for creating division amongst Muslims while it does so as well. It blames the West and Saudi Arabia for diplomatic incompetency while it tries to survive from one blunder to another.

Here are some choice statements by Iranian leaders which illustrate just how little Tehran practices what it preaches.

  • Zarif on who should control Syria: “We believe only the Syrian people should decide about their future and others can only facilitate this political process to resolve the crisis“. OK, but if “only the Syrian people should decide about the their future” why is Tehran so adamant in helping Assad who inherited his power without then how does Zarif explain the amount of influence Tehran has on Assad
  • Velayati on interfering in Syrian affairs: “No country has the right to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs and decide for fate of others“. Exactly. Not even Tehran who has the biggest foreign military involvement in Syria and who has taken upon itself to “decide the fate” of Syrian by blindly supporting Assad for its own agenda of “Exporting the Revolution”.
  • Khamenei on the slippery notion of intervention: “The people in those (Muslim) countries should decide about their own destiny and prevent any foreign intervention“. Strange…when a Western power involves itself in the region, it is “foreign intervention” but when Tehran involves itself in the fate of countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc… it isn’t simply because Iran is Muslim? Khamenei, “intervention” from Iran in these countries is just as “foreign” as “intervention” from Saudi Arabia or from the US.
  • Velayati the legalities of foreign intervention: “The presence in Syria by such countries as the US and Saudi Arabia, who intervene there without the Syrian government’s consent, is illegal“. Velayati is basing this statement on the fact that Assad formally “invited” Tehran to help him fight his civil war. There are two problems in this statement: 1) Since Assad inherited his power without a popular vote, the question of the legitimacy of his government is problematic to say the least and 2) Isn’t Tehran’s “presence” support of the Houthi rebels in Iran to overthrow the government also “illegal” then?
  • Velayati on Iran-Russia cooperation in the region: “There is unprecedented cooperation between Iran and Russia. This cooperation will not be limited to Syria, as a patch of this cooperation can be seen in Iraq and Lebanon…It will be extended to Yemen too“. Tehran’s new-found “cooperation” with Moscow embolden it to include Moscow not only in its war for Assad but also in another proxy war in “Yemen too” (Moscow hasn’t agreed to such a move yet) but this never stopped Tehran from warning Saudi Arabia and the US from “interfering” in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen.
  • Velayati on the delicate issue of meddling: “Iran opposes any kind of change of the legal regimes through power, military force, coups, violence and separatism, as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries“. This is an admirable statement except for the fact that Tehran actively used “power, military force, coups, violence and separatism” to support Houthi rebels to overthrow the government in Yemen.
  • Rouhani on wars in the region: “How can we remain silent while Yemeni people are savagely bombed everyday by those who call themselves the custodians of the Grand Mosque (Saudi Arabia)“. Rouhani is definitely “silent” on how the Syrian rebels and the Syrian civilians are “savagely bombed everyday” by Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, by Assad’s forces with the support of Tehran and by Iranian military personnel.
  • Khamenei on the benefits of cooperation: “We will not cooperate with America over the regional crisis“. It should be noted here that Tehran has vehemently opposed the “interference” of the US in Syria although it did welcome Moscow to “help”. Isn’t ending the “regional crisis” and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of future victims” not worth involving whoever can help? Especially since the US still holds a lot of influence over Tehran’s southern rival?
  • Khamenei on double standards of impunity: “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region…(Khamenei issued) a directive to Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“. Khamenei obviously doesn’t mention the hypocrisy in not allowing countries which are deemed as enemies of Tehran to not “act with impunity” but doesn’t think twice about issuing a directive to do the exact same crimes he is lamenting about.
  • Zarif on Saudi Arabia’s agenda: “Some people in Riyadh seem bent on dragging whole region into crisis (and) Iran has no desire to escalate tensions…They (the Saudis) can continue to support extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred, or choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security“. If only Zarif would convince Tehran to not strive to “drag” the “whole region into crisis“, to stop supporting “extremist terrorists and promote sectarian hatred” and “choose the path of good neighborliness and play a constructive role in regional security” because Tehran is doing the exact opposite in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf States.
  • Larijani on the Saudis’ effect on the region: “The Saudis have fomented crises for certain regional states and are pursuing disintegration of some other states“. Wow. Larijani conveniently “forgets” to mention that Tehran’s efforts to support the Houthi rebels actually ended in their the “disintegration” of the Yemenite government which then led to the Saudis declaration of war on the Houthis together with the reinstated Yemenite government.
  • Khamenei on Muslim division: “One of the main tools used by the enemies to prevent the birth of modern Islamic civilization is through creating divisions among Muslims…Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Are not “Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (and) the United Arab Emirates” not Muslims and, therefore, won’t such a statement only increase Muslim division?
  • Khamenei on the Shiite Sunni divide: “The Arrogance front (the US) is making massive efforts to introduce this confrontation as a war between Shiite and Sunni“. This is a ludicrous statement to make following the torrent of accusations by Tehran on the responsibility of Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia in the development of Tafkiri (Sunni) terrorism which only serve to increase the “war between Shiite(s) and Sunni(s)“.
  • Zarif the problems the Arab governments are facing: “The Arab world’s intelligentsia and the grass roots feel a sense of frustration after developments in recent years and the lack of proper reaction by their rulers (and) the governments are trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“. Let’s just accept this statement as true for a second…isn’t that exactly how the “intelligentsia and the grass roots” in Iran are feeling and isn’t Tehran “trying to whitewash their inability by steering the public hatred towards sectarian and ethnic rift“? Yes and definitely, yes.
  • Khamenei on the art of negotiations: “They (Rouhani, Zarif and all the Iranians who worked to sign the nuclear deal) believe (that) Middle East or domestic problems can be solved by JCPOA; this means giving up principles and redlines, and yielding to the arrogance“. In negotiations, there is always give and, as Zarif pointed out so well, it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. Negotiating for a deal meant to get rid of all nuclear sanctions means “giving up (on some) principles” because if Tehran had not given anything away, the deal would not have been signed.

These statements clearly show that Tehran is intensifying a double standard in the region: Tehran “helps”, others “interfere”. Tehran promotes Muslim “unity”, others promote Muslim “division”. Tehran’s meddling is “legal”, others are “illegal”. Russia is “good”, US is “bad”. The double standards go on and on as the leaders in Tehran try to paint a picture in which they are the heroes and everyone who is not supporting it is a villain.

 

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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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Kurds openly fighting Tehran

For 27 years, the Kurds in Iraq and in Iran have, in general, refrained from openly fighting against Tehran. 4 weeks ago, the status quo was broken as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) called on its troops to cross the border from Iraq into Iran to fight the Iranian army and the IRGC leading to dozens of deaths on both sides.

The tense situation is bound to increase as both sides are entrenching themselves further for a major conflict if and when Iranian Kurds join their Kurdish brothers and rise against the oppressive rule of Tehran.

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Tehran answers with zero-tolerance

The IRGC’s answer to the Kurds battle-call was as quick as it was arrogant: “If Mr. Barzani (the head of the KDPI)  doesn’t act against the anti-revolutionists who enter into our territories, we will destroy them all“. Furthermore, Tehran was quick to develop a conspiracy theory, blaming “foreign influences” (namely Saudi Arabia) for the resurgence of violence by Kurdish “terrorists” (always sounds better to claim fighting terrorists) but the Kurds maintain that their quarrel is directly with Tehran for its oppression of Iranian Kurds: “the rulers in Teheran believe that if they have domestic problems they blame it on Israelis and Saudis, and the problem in Iran is solved! But this is absurd…we are talking about the Kurdish issue in Iran and it has nothing to do with tensions with Iran or the Saudis or other countries“. The problem, the Kurds believe is that “the Shia theocracy in Tehran has never shed its mistrust of minorities, and Kurdish is not taught in school, while the predominantly Sunni Kurds find that the government discriminates against them on religious grounds too. Kurdish political parties remain outlawed, and activists are routinely thrown in jail and tortured“.

The IRGC then threatened to invade Iraq in order to deal with the Kurdish forces, a threat which is being taken very seriously by the Kurds especially since Tehran’s influence over Baghdad is so strong. For now, the Iranians are finding it sufficient to simply bomb Kurdish villages in Iraq, more evidence of meddling by the Iranian army in Iraqi territory since most of the casualties there are civilian in nature. The Kurds have bitterly criticized these attacks: “if they (Iranian forces) are brave, they should come and fight Peshmerga (Kurdish troops) on the battlefield instead of targeting and threatening Kurdish civilians“.

 

The Kurds are aiming high

For now, the KDPI claims that its troops have entered into Iran and “are now moving around, making contacts with people, and are ready to act in self-defense only if attacked. But in future stages, our forces will move to the attack mode. This is a process that will gradually unfold” as the KDPI is sure that the “Iranian Kurds are ready to rise“. The KDPI insists that this move is justified by the fact that the regime in Tehran “has stepped up pressure on Kurds and has not left space for meaningful civic or political work (inside Iran)”. Without the uprising of the 10 million Kurds in Iran, the skirmishes are not likely to really hurt the Iranian military since its estimated that the Kurdish troops number only 2,000 for now.

The pressure from the Kurds has reached President Hassan Rouhani: at the beginning of last month, Rouhani stated that “the mother tongue of ethnic groups, especially of Kurds, should be respected and recognized and that Kurdish will be taught in schools” adding that “Sunni and Shiite are all brothers, we are all equal…Kurdistan is the eye of Iran“. Unfortunately, statements such as these are seen as “too little too late” by the angry Kurds. In a later speech in a Kurdish area, Rouhani’s speech was interrupted by anti-regime slogans and condemnations of the “oppressive (and) starving policy” of Tehran against the Kurdish people.

The Kurds understand too well that fighting the Iranian forces is useless in open battlefields and that their only hope is to bring the skirmishes to Kurdish-dominated cities in Iran. They hope that such skirmishes, and more importantly, the IRGC’s harsh responses to such skirmishes, are bound to stir up more tension within the Kurdish communities in Iran which would lead to a crackdown on Kurdish activists which would then lead to a counter-backlash on the human rights front and hopefully, an open rebellion. An outbreak of human rights abuses by Tehran against the Iranian Kurds can also help to mobilize international pressure on Iran although the international community has yet to really pressure Iran on the numerous cases of abuses of Kurdish human rights.

 

A conflict that can blow up or fizzle out

146731Image1But for now, the Iranian Kurds are maintaining the tense peace with Tehran. The KDPI has called on Iranian Kurds to stage a general strike but the nature of such a strike is still unknown. The KDPI is also initiating terrorist activities such as an armed ambush on Iranian parliamentary officials which killed two and wounded two more.

Tehran must plan its next move well in order to not open up another battlefront, this time within Iran. If it reacts too weakly, the Iranian Kurds might view this as an opportunity to demand equal rights. If it reacts too harshly, tensions are bound to flame up which would lead to open insurgence. The timing for Tehran could not be worse: Tehran is involved in three wars outside its borders (Syria, Iraq and Yemen) for now, as well as efforts at supporting insurgences in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, is being increasingly pressured on its human rights records and is in a top-level power-struggle between Rouhani’s “moderate” government and the regime’s hardliners (including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

 

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