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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Syrians and Yemenites caught in the middle

If you listen to Tehran, you will hear harsh criticism aimed at Riyadh for launching a war on Yemen and if you listen to Riyadh, you will hear similar criticism regarding the military involvement of Iran in Syria. There are quite a few similarities and some major differences in both cases.

The biggest similarities can be found in the circumstances surrounding the wars: Both Tehran and Riyadh are supporting governments in one war and rebels in another and both wars are, in many ways, proxy wars in which Tehran and Riyadh are really trying to weaken each other. The motives of Tehran and Riyadh are mainly sectarian in nature and are the result of the regional conflict surrounding the strained relations between the two countries.

The biggest differences between the two wars are the number of civilian casualties (400,000 in Syria compared to 9,000 in Yemen), the nature of the of the coalitions used by both sides (the three-state “axis of resistance” in Syria and the ten-state coalition in Yemen) and the differences in the definition of the involvement (Tehran continues to claim it is in Syria on a purely advisory status while Riyadh openly admits to waging a war against the Houthi rebels). Furthermore, Tehran’s agenda is clearly focused on “Exporting the Revolution” to Syria, Yemen an dto whichever country is willing to accept it while Saudi Arabia is working hard to stop Tehran from achieving this goal.

The bottom line remains that the involvement of Tehran and Riyadh in both wars are leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in what are basically proxy wars in a larger power play by both countries in the region.


Let’s start with the similarities:

  • Both local governments are contested locally and are suffering from civil wars: Bashar al-Assad’s inheritance of his title and power from his father without an election resulted in a civil war in Syria in 2011 while Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had to flee Yemen in 2015 following a civil war instigated by Houthi rebels.
  • Tehran and Riyadh were invited by the governments of these countries to help fight the civil wars: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad requested the help of Tehran to fight his civil war while Yemenite president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi requested the help of Riyadh to return to power after being ousted by Houthi rebels in a civil war.
  • Tehran and Riyadh support the rebels in each country: Tehran supports the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government while Riyadh supports many Syrian rebels to fight Assad.
  • Tehran and Riyadh blame each other’s support of rebels as an excuse to wage a proxy war: Tehran used Riyadh’s support of the Syrian rebels and ISIS to support Assad in his civil war while Riyadh justified its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen because Tehran helped the Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government.
  • Both wars are tainted by sectarian and religious overtones: Shiite Tehran supports Assad who is an Alawite, a religious minority in Syria closely related to Shiism, and supports the Houthi rebels who are Shiites while Riyadh supports Sunni Syrian rebels who are a majority in Syria and the Sunni Yemenite government.
  • Both wars serve as proxy wars between Tehran and Riyadh: The wars in Syria and in Yemen serve as proxy battle fields for the intense rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh which has always been a rumbling undertone in the region but has increased dramatically following the negotiations and the signing of the JCPoA.
  • In both wars, the majority of the victims are civilians: As in most wars in the last few decades, the battlefields are within cities and neighborhoods and civilians find themselves in the frontline with soldiers leading to the indiscriminate victimization of civilians.
  • In both cases, Tehran and Riyadh have warned each other to not interfere: Tehran has warned Riyadh to stay out of Syria and Riyadh has warned Tehran to stay out of Yemen but in reality, both Tehran and Riyadh continue to support the rebels in each country.
  • Both Tehran and Riyadh blame each other for supporting terrorism and are self-acclaimed champions against terrorism: Tehran blames Riyadh for supporting Sunni/Tafkiri/Wahabbist terror and claims that it is the biggest champion against terrorism while Riyadh blames Tehran’s support and use of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels while claiming to lead a 34-state coalition against terror.
  • The peace processes in both wars are hampered by Tehran and Riyadh: International efforts to bring peace to Syria and to Yemen have been unsuccessful so far largely due to the preconditions which Tehran and Riyadh are demanding, preconditions which make any prospect of peace deplorably insignificant.


Now some of the differences:

  • The official nature of the support of Tehran and Riyadh is different: Tehran continues to claim that its role in Syria is only “advisory” which is partly true judging from the frequent visits of Qods chief Qassem Suleimani but it also finances Assad’s war to the tune of $10 billion a year, supplies Assad’s forces with weapons, deploys its proxy Hezbollah to fight for Assad and has sent its own IRGC and Afghan troops to fight in Syria as well. The Saudis, on the other hand, do not even try to hide the military nature of their war in Yemen. Tehran’s insistence on the advisory nature of its involvement in Syria becomes even more ludicrous as the number of Iranian casualties in Syria rises (official estimates are at 600 for now).
  • The number of civilian casualties in Yemen is only 2% compared to Syria: To date, the number of civilian casualties in Yemen is estimated at roughly 9,000 people while the number of civilian casualties in Syria is estimated to be 400,000. Even if you factor in the length of the war, the civilian casualty rate is Syria is ten times larger than in Yemen. This fact is not relevant to the families and friends of the victims but it does need to be factored into the amount of blood on the hands of Tehran and Riyadh.
  • The three-state “axis of resistance” vs. the 10-state “coalition”: Tehran remains very possessive of its influence in Syria and has warned all countries to stay away, all countries except for Russia of course. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand opted for a wide coalition of Arab states. The difference between both cases is strategically significant: In Syria, Tehran is trying to maintain its power over Assad while strengthening its ties with Moscow. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand wants to make it clear to the world, and specially to Iran, that it has the backing of the Arab world.

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

Magic tricks are based on a magician’s ability to misdirect the audience’s attention to her manipulations in order to create an illusion. The audience, who missed the manipulation, is then asked to focus on the end result of the manipulation and the illusion is thus complete. The regime in Tehran has turned the basis of magic tricks into its leading strategy. Whenever Tehran is under pressure, it immediately denies any wrong-doing and then proceeds to misdirect the world’s attention by accusing someone else in order to present a fait accompli of its agenda.

It’s not that Tehran is the only regime guilty of manipulation: most political entities are doing so on a regular basis. But Tehran is perfecting its game to a point where even if it is caught in creating an illusion, it immediately returns to denials, counter-accusations and misdirections in order to maintain the illusion.

It looks something like this: Wrongdoing => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion etc…

Tehran can continue to claim that it doesn’t promote terror, that there are no human rights problems in Iran, that it isn’t meddling in its neighbors’ affairs, that it isn’t failing in implementing the JCPoA as long as it wants but if you look closely and avoid the misdirections, you will be able to see through these illusions and see Tehran for what it is: a brutal, meddling, religious theocracy with ambitions to create the biggest illusion of them all – to lead a Global Islamic Awakening meant to change the Western hegemony and influence on the world.


The illusion of fighting against terror

When Tehran is criticized of supporting terror, it immediately denies supporting terrorism, misdirects the world’s opinion towards ISIS and blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terrorism, while positioning itself as a champion against terrorism.

In this case, the brutal nature of ISIS is the perfect misdirection in order to manipulate its audience into believing that Tehran is actually against terror since ISIS is probably one of the few terrorist organization which is recognized globally as such. Anyone fighting against ISIS is automatically seen as “the good guy” even if this does include people with blood on their hands such as Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Ali Khamenei (Iran) and Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah).

Tehran’s denial of supporting terrorism is not an easy misdirection since Tehran openly supports organizations, such as Hezbollah, which are designated as terrorist organizations by many countries in the world. But even if Tehran can’t fool all the people all of the time, it can fool enough people some of the time and as long as enough people believe that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, the illusion can be pulled off successfully.

Blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terror is a more delicate misdirection since it is based mostly on the Saudi Arabia’s ties with al-Qaeda and the fact that ISIS was established in an Iraqi prison under US rule. Tehran continues its misdirection by linking the US and its allies to ISIS even though such a link is, at present, far from the truth but such a theory is appealing to people with anti-American sentiments and that is enough for Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran is actively encouraging Islamic terrorism by pitting its terrorist forces, such as Hezbollah, against legitimate Syrian rebels and the Yemenite government.

The weakness of this illusion can be easily spotted the fact that, although Tehran is actively fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, it continues to support terrorism through its Quds forces and its terroristic proxies. Tehran continues to support terrorism on a regional and a global scale and not amount of misdirections can erase this fact.


The illusion of human rights in Iran

brothers in lies 2When Tehran is criticized for the state of human rights in Iran, it denies having any problems of human rights in Iran and immediately attacks the US and the UK for problems of human rights within their own countries and blames a lack of cultural misunderstanding.

Once again, Tehran, the supreme illusionist, doesn’t try to deal with the accusations nor alleviate the problem of human rights in Iran despite the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of globally designated human rights abuses in Iran. By misdirecting its Western audiences to focusing on #BlackLivesMatter or the tortures in Guantanamo, it portrays itself as a champion of human rights despite the fact that Tehran systematically abuses and oppresses religious and cultural minorities as well as political opponents, activists, critics of the regime, women and gays.

But since this is usually not enough to convince Western audiences who are appalled at the blatant abuses of human rights in Iran, Tehran tries to misdirect them even further by claiming that the reports of human rights abuses are not only politically motivated to hurt Iran but are lacking in their veracity since they do not take into account basic cultural differences between secular and democratic governments and theocratic Muslim governments. In this manner, Tehran plants seeds of doubt on the notion of global human rights in the first place.

The weakness of this part of the illusion is that many of the problems of human rights in Iran do not stem from Islamic law but the environment of zero-tolerance  to any statement or act that could be interpreted as criticism against the regime. It’s not only about the treatment of gays, women and executions which is dictated by Shariah law, it’s about the treatment of religious minorities, reporters, activists and “dissidents” who are oppressed for criticizing the regime and it’s about a judicial system which limits the chance of a fair trial and a punishment which correlates the nature and the dangers of the crime committed (unlike Atena Farghdani who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a satirical caricature).

Whether the mullahs in the regime like it or not, Tehran is a systematic abuser of human rights and no amount of finger pointing or claims of cultural differences can erase the abuses of the thousands of Iranians who were oppressed, harassed, arrested, fined, tortured, imprisoned and executed up until this very day.


The illusion of helping its neighbors

When Tehran is criticized for its subversive meddling in neighboring countries, it denies doing so and immediately misdirects these accusations towards its regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, insisting on the fact on being “invited” by its neighbors to help the “oppressed” people there.

Blaming Saudi Arabia is an easy misdirection since Riyadh doesn’t even try to hide its efforts of always taking a position opposite Iran in regional conflicts due to the vary basic and age-old Shiite-Sunni conflict which has taken millions of lives since its inception 1,400 years ago. Tehran may openly call for Muslim unity but underneath such calls remain a very basic distrust and hatred which is fueled by each and every act of Sunni-Shiite violence. But Tehran is more meddling in nature than Riyadh for one simple reason: it continues to emulate Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution” to any country which might accept it while Riyadh has no such ambitions. Tehran, in this manner, justifies its involvement in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, conflicts which have led to hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And then, we come to the justification by invitation: Tehran claims that it was “invited” by the government of Syria to join the civil was and is highly critical of the fact that Riyadh claims that it was “invited” by the Syrian rebels to do the same. On the other hand, in Yemen, it is Riyadh who claims to be “invited” by the government while Tehran was “invited” by the rebels. Does Assad, as the president of Syria, a country torn apart by civil war because Assad refused to hold democratic elections, even have a moral right to “invite” Tehran to crush the Syrian rebels? Do the Houthi rebels in Yemen have such a right? And does the fact that Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria (to whom Assad belongs) are both Shiite-like religions not emphasize that Tehran is selectively trying to save its Shiite neighbors in an effort to export to them the revolution?

Face it: Tehran isn’t “helping” its “oppressed” neighbors by “invitation”, it is helping itself to achieve its Islamic revolutionary ideals of a Global Islamic Awakening which is Shiite in nature and which is headed by the mullahs in Tehran.


The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

When Tehran is faced with problems of fully enjoying the fruits of the JCPoA because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions (terrorism, missiles, human rights etc…), it denies any wrong-doing and blames the US for attempting to derail the nuclear deal.

To be honest, the JCPoA was not meant to be a peace treaty with the P5+1 nor was it meant to deal with any other issue other than monitoring and restricting Tehran nuclear program. Tehran made this clear whenever the Western negotiation teams would try to include issues such as Iran’s missile programs, its support of terrorism, its flagrant abuses of human rights etc… When the deal was finally signed the US, the EU and the UN lifted all the nuclear-related sanctions but other sanctions remained. Furthermore, these sanctions were reinforced by Tehran’s continued transgressions in testing long-range missiles, in supporting terrorist organizations and in abuses of human rights.

But the illusionists in Tehran misdirected the world’s attention to the remaining sanctions as if they were in contradiction of the JCPoA, trying to present the US as the one who was not fully implementing the nuclear deal. The fact that the US secretary of State John Kerry practically begged foreign investors to invest in Iran even though Khamenei banned US brands from Iran was viewed presented by Tehran as futile.

And when an IAEA report pointed to the fact that, despite Tehran’s denials, efforts at militarizing its nuclear program were evident from soil samples taken at the Parchin military base, Tehran maintained its denials, accusing the IAEA of politicizing its report.

Yes, Tehran is implementing the JCPoA, as is the US. The problem is that all sides want the JCPoA to be a much more encompassing solution which it isn’t and both sides are selling an illusion of a peace treaty which never really existed. The problem is that Tehran is looking at the problems of implementing the JCPoA as an excuse to return to large-scale enrichment which would then force the West into either accepting Tehran’s militarization of its nuclear program of into trying to stop from doing so.


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Tehran Tried To Have It Both Ways

both ways

Lifting sanctions

During negotiations leading up to the JCPoA, Tehran resisted the US’s efforts to include issues such as terrorism, missiles and human rights to the nuclear issue. The Americans thought that they could use the JCPoA as a bargaining chip to get some more concessions out of Tehran concerning these other issues but were unsuccessful at achieving this goal. The JCPoA was subsequently signed and nuclear-related sanctions were lifted once the JCPoA was implemented and everyone made a big deal about how the Iranians had craftily forced the US into a corner in order to sign the deal.

As the sanctions were lifted, the euphoria in Iran was buoyed by the stream of foreign trade delegations (over 400 in less than three years) and the prospects of cashing in on the deal. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei quickly banned over 400 US brands from Iran and made a point of banning any form of negotiations with the US and justifying the calls of “Death to America” and it looked as if Tehran had won the upper hand.

Unfortunately, the US’s continuing sanctions on missiles, terrorism and human rights in Iran has caused most big international banks to wait wearily on the sidelines of Iran’s economy and without the banks, the lifting of the sanctions seems impotent. Khamenei is now thoroughly frustrated claiming that “we haven’t seen anything tangible from these delegations visiting Iran…we are expecting to see some real improvements. Promises on paper have no value” and is now openly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani for “magnifying the disadvantages and losses caused by sanctions“.


Caught in a trap

Khamenei is now pushing for a “Resistance Economy” which will not be dependent on foreign investments and foreign trade and Rouhani is now up against the wall. If the remaining sanctions aren’t lifted soon, the whole promise of the JCPoA will dwindle down to the money freed from the lifted nuclear-related sanctions.

But in the meantime, Tehran continues to carry out more missile tests which are answered with more missile-related sanctions, continues to openly support terrorist organizations thereby receiving more terrorism-related sanctions and is in complete denial over the problems of human rights in Iran. The US, which seemed to have given away the whole store to the Iranians is virtually holding the only key to the locked door and Tehran will have to decide within the very near future whether it is willing to renegotiate some kind of deal which would free up any banking restrictions.

What makes matters worse is the fact that it has become nearly impossible to manage closed economy which is open as well in a world where all economies are globally interconnected.

That may be why Khamenei is looking towards Asia for international trade as he clearly stated thatIran’s “definite policy is based on cooperation with Asian countries“.


A dead end

Of course, it may be in the US’s long-term interests to free up the banking systems in order to give Rouhani and his so-called moderate government some economical and political leeway. The problem is that apart from the White House, no one in Washington actually wants to help Iran or Rouhani because they are still upset over. Perhaps the US would be willing to ease up on some sanctions if Iran would ease up on its missile tests and its support of terrorist organizations and would be open for some real changes in human rights but the chances of that happening now are dwindling fast.

In the same manner, Rouhani’s government has repeatedly stated that Iranian emigrants and exiles would be welcomed in Iran in an effort to project a more open and moderate Iran. But in reality, there are too many cases in which Iranian exiles are arrested on visiting their homeland for exactly the reasons why they ran away in the first place. These nigthmarish stories of Westernized Iranians being sent to jail is creating major problems in wooing Iranians living in the West to move to Iran. Instead, they too, like the banks, would rather wait on the sidelines to see how things turn out.

No, this looks like another dead-end which will leave the extremists telling the moderates on both sides “I told you so”.

Tehran’s Actions Contradict Its Words

The ambiguity of the relationship between Tehran and the West continues to create wave after wave of insecurity. For all intents and purposes, the signing of the JCPoA between Iran and the P5+1, was meant to herald a new paradigm which would not only end Tehran’s isolation vis-à-vis the West but actually place Tehran on the same side of its former “enemies”.

The post-JCPoA reality is strikingly different than the positive wording and the smiling handshakes of its co-signers. What followed the inking of the deal is a continuous ping-pong of accusations and counter-accusations from all sides and every step towards the normalization of the relationship between Tehran and the world is followed by a counter-step in the opposite direction.

Tehran has to decide, once and for all, if it wants to be accepted by the world as a country with the potential to become a trusted trading partner and a destination for world tourism and investments, or to continue its efforts to export its revolution and by doing so, continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs. In other words, Tehran has to choose between being a part of the current world order or to continue to strive to create a new world order based on the Islamic Revolution or as Henry Kissinger aptly put it: Iran has to choose “whether it’s a nation or a cause”.


Steps and Counter-Steps

Here are a few examples of Tehran’s steps to normalizations followed by counter-steps which increase its isolation:

  • October 7th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of congratulating President Hassan Rouhani on a great job of de-isolating Iran but immediately added a ban on any talks or negotiations with “the Great Satan” USA, a major player in the signing of the JCPoA. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • October 12th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Iran test fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear war heads destined for Israel which, although not in contradiction with the JCPoA but, was in direct contradiction of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). Why? The fear of seeming weakened by the JCPoA in the eyes of Iran’s allies and enemies.
  • November 6th 2015: Following the implementation of the JCPoA, Tehran began a massive crackdown against journalist and artists who seemed too liberal or too critical of the regime – within weeks, dozens of journalists and dozens of artists were rounded up and imprisoned on charges which reflect the nature of the arrests: “propaganda against the state”, “insulting the sacred”, “assembly and collusion against national security”. “infiltration”, “spying” etc… Why? The fear of internal criticism and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • December 14th 2015: Following the signing of the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani officially opened the doors of Iran’s economy to the world but within days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of banning over 227 US brands and businesses from Iran. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • January 4th 2016: Following Tehran’s call for Muslim unity to deal effectively with a world dominated by the superpowers and the West, the regional and sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia based on accusations of meddling and proxy wars threatens to pit Muslims against Muslims in the region and in the world. Why? The fear of weakening the ideal of Exporting the Revolution.
  • March 9th: Following Iran’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which moderates and reformists gained significant power over the ruling hardline/conservative parties, Tehran once again tested long-range missiles, this time with the words “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” written in Hebrew on the missiles. Why? The fear of losing part of its raison d’etre and its Islamic Revolutionary ideals by not threatening Israel.


Believing Words or Actions

Last Thursday, Khamenei shared his dissatisfaction regarding the fact that the 120 plus trade delegations landing in Iran over the past two years have not yielded “anything tangible”. Obviously, these trade delegations are torn between the hopes of striking gold in Iran’s economy and between the fears of a regional conflict or a return of sanctions which could wipe out their investments. He then added something which sounded rather prophetic: “Promises on paper have no value”. And therein lies the problem with Tehran.

Tehran, on paper, has huge potential for strong business and political relationships with countries around the world but Tehran in action continues to support Islamic Extremism at a time when Islamic Extremism is causing Westerners to shudder from fear. Tehran’s willingness to sign the JCPoA and the subsequent inking of numerous MoU’s with tens of countries are in stark contrast with its destabilizing actions in the region and the world.

At the same time, Western states, and specially the US, has to decide whether they want to deal with Iran if it continues its flippy-floppy strategy with the world. The missile tests are just such an example: Iran tested its missiles twice since signing the JCPoA and the US/UNSC did absolutely nothing about it for fear of destroying the achievements of the JCPoA itself. What makes matters worse is that Washington is as wishy-washy as Tehran is flippy-floppy: following the last missile tests, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that he had communicated to Iranian FM Javad Zarif about the US’s “concern” and within hours, Tehran published a claim that no such communication had ever taken place.

Tehran’s involvement in the civil war in Syria is a prime example of the contradictions between its words and its actions: Tehran sometimes says that it has troops in Syria and then denies that it has, that its pulling out its troops and then that it isn’t. Tehran continuously calls loudly on the West to not get involved in the Syrian civil war and then applauds Russia’s efforts on Assad’s side. Tehran maintains that only a political solution can solve Syria’s civil war but then manages its own troops as well as Hezbollah’s. It’s confusing and that’s how Tehran likes it.

The key learning from all of this is simple: As long as Tehran talks of peace but walks towards war, there can never be a normalization of relations between Tehran and the West and Rouhani has to choose whether he plans to build a better future for Iranians by maintaining its Islamic Revolutionary past or by joining the global community and distancing itself from revolutionary notions such as Exporting the Revolution.

Fighting Terror Becomes a License to Kill

The civil war in Syria is definitely one of the most horrifying conflict of the decade: the war that has raged since 2011 has taken of a death toll crossed the 200,000 mark and 5 million Syrians have fled the country. What began as a civil war instigated by the Arab Spring, quickly became a proxy war for regional and global rivals and threatens to morph into a global conflict.

But more importantly, this war will  notoriously be remembered for the birth of the ISIS rampage, a fact which has worked in Assad’s favor: In comparison to the atrocities of ISIS, Assad, a dictator who inherited his power from his father and refused to hold free elections, suddenly looked like a victim.

Throughout the war, Assad and Tehran have used the “fight against ISIS” as the narrative that successfully empowers them with a “license to kill” anyone who isn’t pro-Assad – and the world has blindly accepted this.


ISIS is Assad’s License To Kill

black and white 3Unfortunately for the millions of Syrian rebels who aren’t affiliated with ISIS or any other terrorist group, most of the world accepted this benevolent portrayal of Assad while they were battered endlessly by the Syrian army, Hezbollah militias, Iranian “advisers” and now, Moscow’s best. The feverish quest to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth overcame and efforts to force Assad to earn his power through elections regardless of the fact that had Assad not tried to quell the protests by his people for reform and free elections, the war may never have gained impetus and ISIS might never have existed. This same quest helped Tehran to rebrand itself from a state which supports terror to a state which fights against terror.

This doesn’t mean that these new “supporters” of Assad are “bad” people: they are normal people who are rightly terrified by ISIS. Comparing searches of ISIS to Assad in google trends since 2014 shows that the interest in ISIS is about 43 times more than the interest in Assad. This makes sense and, in a way, explains why people support Assad in the civil war: ISIS is simply scarier.

Assad’s supporters and ISIS’s enemies conveniently blame “terrorism”, a word which is just a rallying call to go to war, and the legitimate plight of the Syrian people who want to be able to choose their own leader was, just as conveniently, forgotten. Furthermore, the hundreds of thousands of casualties by Assad’s army and his supporters (mainly Hezbollah and Tehran) and the millions of Syrian refugees were attributed to the “terrorists” although there is growing evidence that most of the casualties were killed by Assad’s army and most of the refugees fled from Assad’s army.


Disturbing Facts and Figures

The facts regarding the identity of the casualties and the refugees (who killed them and who are they fleeing from respectively?) is murky at best: both sides claim to be victims and blame the other. Independent sources are hard to come by and the numbers are so confusing that many simply give up and go with their gut against ISIS…and for Assad.

But what if sources such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights are correct and that 95% of the casualties were killed by Assad’s regime? What if the majority of Syrian refugees are really fleeing Assad? What if the number of atrocities carried out by the regime really do eclipse those of ISIS? What if ISIS was actually a blessing in disguise for Assad (and for Tehran) by giving him the legitimacy he lacked amongst his own people? Is eradicating ISIS really worth the atrocities carried out by Assad and his cronies?

Since Moscow entered the fray, for the purported goal of wiping ISIS out, it has been accused of targeting and killing non-ISIS rebels and civilians. Moscow denies and the world keeps on looking away. Tehran pontificates on the need for Europe to take care of the Syrian refugees while it continues to unwaveringly support Assad to create the reason why they are fleeing Syria. Once again, the world seems content to accept Assad and Tehran at face-value in the all-encompassing hope of destroying ISIS.


The Ironic/Iranic Road to Democracy

President Hassan Rouhani made a big point of stating that not only is Iran a democracy but that Iran will “help bring about democracy in Syria“. Iran’s FM Javad Zarif echoed this sentiment by claiming that Syria’s fate should be “determined at the polls and not by weapons“. So, how is Iran “helping to bring democracy” to Syria and allow the Syrians to choose their leaders “at the polls”? By blindly supporting Assad with money, “advisers” and weapons, by allowing Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to call the shots in Syria and by branding any resistance to his regime as terrorism.

It’s time for the world to take a closer look at who really is responsible for this war and to not accept narratives that are mistakenly supported out of fears of ISIS. It’s time to make Assad and Tehran accountable for prolonging this war and for the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees whose lives could have been normal had Assad accepted to hold elections.

Now, Assad is finally offering the possibility for elections but at “only if terrorists are defeated first“, meaning that by the time he will hold the elections, all forms opposition to his regime will either be dead or outside of Syria. The bitter irony here is that Assad may actually win his power democratically at the expense of the hundreds of thousands he killed, the millions of refugees who fled his forces and the gullible world who bought the “Assad vs. ISIS” narrative hook, line and sinker.


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Zarif Explains Why Tehran Scares US

Let’s face it: many people in the US, in Europe and in the Middle East are terrified of Tehran. This is not a question of right or wrong, or of differing points of views…it is a fact.

People who fear Tehran will point out that it supports terrorism, that it meddles in its neighbors politics, that it will militarize its nuclear program, that it aggressively calls for the “death” of America/Israel/Britain etc…and that it is impervious to criticism on issues of human rights.

Supporters of Tehran would answer that it is actually fighting against terrorism, that it is “helping” out its neighbors, that it has the right to create a nuclear bomb, that it is rightfully the enemy of the US/Israel/Britain etc… and that it can decide for itself what is an abuse of human rights and what isn’t.

But terrorism, meddling, nukes, death threats and human rights are only the symptoms of the main issue that makes Tehran scary: The regime in Tehran and the ideals that power it.

In order to understand this better, one should simply listen to Zarif, Iran’s Westernized, moderate and smiling foreign minister of Iran, own words.


Just listen to Zarif…

So the next time you think about supporting or criticizing Tehran, remember that its goals are far reaching and are based on its aspirations for a global revolution against the Western “hegemony”.  At the end of the day, it is not the weapon itself which is to be feared but the mindset and the intentions of the person using the weapon. Decide on which side of the weapon you want to be.



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Does Iran Want Peace or War?

peace or warThe upcoming nuclear deal with Iran has optimists and pessimists clearly on two sides of a fence with barely any remaining middle ground.

Optimists are betting on two and a half outcomes from a nuclear deal:

  • 1) Iran won’t INCREASE its meddling
  • 2) Iran won’t BUILD a nuclear bomb
  • 5) Iran won’t USE a nuclear bomb

Pessimists, or realists, depending on the outcome, don’t buy into any of these premises…here’s why.


Iran Will (not) Increase Meddling

iran saudiAt the base of Iran’s tendencies to meddle in its neighbors politics is Ayatollah Khomeini’s insistence to “export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle. Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution“. Khamenei’s vision an imminent global “Islamic Awakening” reflects his predecessor with his promise that “this century (21st) is the century of Islam“.

But this isn’t just some religious edict, it is a military one. According to General Jaafari, the chief of the IRGC, “the mission of the Qods Force is external, to help Islamic movements, to expand the revolution and to provide “assistance” to suffering people across the world and to people who need help in such countries as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq“. The Qods leader himself, Suleimani, is quite happy to take on this task: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa“.

Iran is meddling in neighboring countries by supporting factions which are closer to the Islamic Revolution – Assad in his civil war in Syria, the Houthis in their civil war in Yemen and Hezbollah in all its fronts.

But meddling requires cash: Estimates of Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen are estimated at $30 billion a year while under heavy sanctions. Once those sanctions are lifted and hard cash fills up the state coffers, one can only surmise that the extra cash will not only be funneled to the Iranian citizens but will be directed to citizens of other countries who might influence their governments to support Tehran. The first countries on Tehran’s short list will probably be Bahrain (73% Shiites), Kuwait (40% Shiites), and then the UAE and Saudi Arabia (15% Shiites). From there, Tehran will most probably look East (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and North (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).



Iran Will (not) Build a Bomb

circlesIran’s nuclear program symbolizes Tehran’s ability to conquer science. Science, once a forte of the Arabs in the past, has been dominated in the past few centuries by the West. But not for long, warns Khamenei: “They (the “arrogant powers” = the West) kept us scientifically backward for many years. They destroyed our independence. Today we have awakened and we will conquer the arenas of science one after the other“. Furthermore, oil and gas exports may put Iran on par economically with Western countries but it is science that will place Iran on par intellectually: “In an economy which is based on underground resources, no need will be felt to identify or attract the elites. Therefore, no real progress will be made in the country”. ” Instead, Khamenei believes that “Iran should be run with its domestic and surface resources which are the intelligence and talents of its young generation and elites as well as by producing science and knowledge in the country. In that case no world power could play a game with our economy.”

Science is progress, independence and power that exemplifies the minds of those who master it and building a nuclear bomb is the pinnacle of progress, independence and power.

The nuclear deal will not be able to prevent Iran from dashing to the bomb at any time and with a sunset clause in effect, Iran may “legitimately” build a bomb within ten years. The extra money from the relief of sanctions, the increased trade with Russia and China and the inability for IAEA inspectors to monitor military or hidden bases will only contribute to achieve Khamenei’s vision. Khamenei himself may not be alive by then but he can rest assured that no “arrogant power” would ever “look down its nose” at Iran ever again.


Iran Will (not) Use a Bomb 

PeaceBombsWould Iran use a nuclear bomb if it had one? Firing a nuclear weapon on a country with nukes is bound to trigger a reprisal which could lead to the mutual destruction of both sides. This fear had kept the Russians and the Americans from pulling the trigger during the long cold war. Nukes, it seems, are meant more as a form of deterrence than a form of attack.

Once Tehran will have a bomb, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries will be forced into obtaining their own nuclear weapons as well. Were Iran to fire a nuclear device at Israel or the Gulf States, the retaliation would be fierce and the destruction in Iran, horrendous.

But then again, the Islamic Revolution idolizes martyrdom. According to Khamenei, martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and, perhaps more importantly, “this is what frightens the enemy“. In this context, losing a few hundred thousand Iranian lives to martyrdom would be a small price to pay for eradicating the Zionists (Israel) and the terrorists (Saudi Arabia). As we wrote in an earlier post, “Nuke and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary“.


Of course, nobody knows how Iran will look like in the future. Perhaps by then, Khamenei’s vision will seem like a horse buggy on a highway. But if his vision will live on, the pessimists will have the unfortunate luck to be right about what a nuclear deal with Iran can lead to.




Iran is King of the Meddle East

meddle eastTehran’s stance on Yemen is cynical to the point of schizophrenia. On the one hand, it is obvious to all that it is meddling in Yemenite politics by supporting the Shiite Houthi rebels to exchange the current Saudi-supported Yemeni government with one that is more sympathetic to Iran and to the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, once the Saudis struck back at the Houthi rebels, Tehran went into its “Deny, Accuse & Threaten” mode, by denying supporting the Houthi rebels, accusing the Saudis of meddling and threatening to retaliate.

Will Tehran ever come clean on its aspirations to dominate the region and/or Islam? Probably not until it has achieved its goal and by then, it will be a fait accompli.


Axis of Iran vs. Axis of Saudi Arabia

Iran-saudiMake no mistake, this is not a localized skirmish between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels: this is a war of wills between Iran and its allies vs. Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi’s first level of coalition includes Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. Its second level of coalition includes the US and then many EU countries and Israel.

The Iranian’s first level of coalition includes Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Its second level includes Pakistan (began as a Saudi supporter and then went neutral) and Russia.

This localized war is the fulcrum of interests of most Middle Eastern countries as well as US and Russia so what happens in Yemen happen will definitely not stay in Yemen.


Tehran’s Meddling Method

crescent dominationsYemen is not the first country that Iran is meddling in.

In fact, Tehran is a prolific and compulsive meddler in politics of states that can potentially join the Islamic Revolution. It has succeeded to do so in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The governments in these three countries owe allegiance to Tehran in no uncertain terms and their countries are home to Hezbollah militia and Qods “advisors” and forces.

It is also trying to meddle in all the Gulf states, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some South American countries to lesser degrees of success.

Here’s Tehran’s 5-point method of meddling:

  1. Identify “partners”: Identify pro-Shiite leaders, factions and militia within targeted countries.
  2. Support “innocently”:  Support them “culturally” and financially while meddling in local politics.
  3. Support Militarily: Increase meddling by introducing direct and indirect military strength.
  4. Strengthen Allegiances: Establish Hezbollah-like militia with allegiance directly to Tehran.
  5. Instigate Coup D’etat: Help the Shiite factions to overthrow the government and reap the political, economic and military benefits.

It is in this manner that Tehran manages to expand its level of influence without actually starting a war in any of these countries – The trick is to get an invite to meddle so that nobody can call it meddling.


Yemen Spiraling Out of Control

iran saudiThe war in Yemen is not only fought on battlefields but in rhetoric and right now the rhetoric is heating up.

Supreme Leader Khamenei simply called the Saudi attacks on Yemen “genocide“.  Of course, Khamenei is selective in using such words: He is careful not to call the slaughter of Yemenites by Houthi rebels, nor the slaughter of Syrian rebels by Assad’s regime “genocide” – both wars that are militarily supported by Tehran.

Iranian FM Zarif at first denied any Iranian support of Houthi rebels and warned Saudi Arabia that it was making a “big mistake” but then took a different approach that suits the smiling diplomat: Iran, Zarif says, is simply “worried about bout the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen” and is now calling for a change in government .

But his deputy FM, Amir-Abdollahian, was much more threatening:  He warned the Saudis that continued aggression against Yemen would lead to “inevitable consequences“, and insinuated, as usual, that the Saudis were being played by the US.

The US is walking a tight rope with no safety net: US President Obama is adamant in signing a nuclear deal with Iran despite knowing that a) Iran will remain hostile even after a nuclear deal and b) Iran can develop a bomb if it chooses to do so. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Kerry warned Tehran that the US would “not stand by” while Iran continues to support Houthi rebels.

The Saudi shrugged off Iran’s warnings and re-accused Tehran of meddling and of instigating the situation which has led to this war.

The upcoming weeks will be crucial as answers to the following questions will be revealed: Will the Saudi initiative be successful? Will Iran get involved directly? How will the US react? How will the rest of the world react?

Obama Offers “Hope”, Khamenei Offers “Death”

obama khamenei 2In these last few days, Iranians celebrated Nowruz (New Year) and President Obama released a video dedicated to all the “Iranian leaders and Iranian people”. In the message, Obama sounds optimistic, and explains to the people of Iran that this is a time to have “hope” for a better future after a nuclear deal is clinched. Four days later, Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei, responded to that message, with vitriolic rhetoric about how the US was not to be trusted and, “Death to America, of course”.

This is the part where I urge you, the reader, to watch both videos – both just over 4 minutes long. The overwhelming differences between them, once you watch, will make this post redundant.


A Different Perspective

obamaObama and Khamenei are as different as the US and Iran: In less than 2 years, Obama, whose mandate of control was given to him by the voters in America, will step down from his office and be replaced by someone else. Khamenei, who was appointed by the Assembly of Experts for an indefinite term, will probably be replaced after his demise.

Obama wants a deal so bad, he is ready to fight congress for it, fight against his main ally in the Middle East (Israel) and veto any new sanctions. Sure, that doesn’t mean that he will sign a deal “no matter what”, but it is obvious to all that he is trying.

Khamenei is at best partial about the deal: During the last year, he changed his mind on the nuclear talks – in November he said that the lack of a deal shows Iranian strength, 3 months after that he claimed that no deal is better than a bad one, and in March he warned the US from spoiling the nuclear deal.

So while the Obama is busy trying to make a change in his limited time in office, Khamenei seems to be doing everything in his power to limit change.


“Death to America, of course”

khamenei deathIt’s chilling to see that not only does Khamenei’s crowd automatically go into “Death to America” chants, but that Khamenei, whose President and Foreign Minister are working hard to close a deal with the US, simply adds ” Death to America, of course”. “Of course”? Is calling for the death of a state and its people so trivial that he answers “of course”?

What is his message to the Americans and to the Iranians who look on in hope that a peaceful solution be attained? It certainly isn’t one of rapprochement and of change – it is simply reverting to the dogmatic cries that have kept Iran isolated and under sanctions for so long.

As we outlined in an earlier post, the nuclear deal is not really about centrifuges and degrees of Uranium enrichment: it is about the state of mind and the goals of Iran’s leaders. If you think that the call of “Death to America” sounds horrifying now, imagine hearing the same chant knowing that Iran has a nuclear bomb.


If Khamenei hates the Americans so much and he keeps on changing his mind, they why is he allowing his government to conduct negotiations? In short: regime survival, “Money”.

Khamenei’s power as a Supreme Leader is severely tested in times of economic hardships. These economic hardships are a result from his policies. If the Iranians get too hungry, they might hit the streets in an effort to change his policies or change him. The ONLY reason Khamenei is willing to negotiate a deal is to immediately relieve Iran of the crippling sanctions while keeping the nuclear program intact. What happens after that is irrelevant to him since he will be dead.