Iran deeply concerned over upcoming Arab conferences

Three fundamental domestic and global elements are placing the regime ruling Iran on the edge of a cliff. However, a conference of Arab countries scheduled for May 30 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has resulted in Tehran scrambling senior figures across the Middle East calling for talks and accelerating their tactic of deceptive measures. Resorting to these well-known maneuvers, Tehran is desperately attempting to prevent Arab countries from launching a firm policy vis-à-vis its apparatus.

Firstly, sanctions are beginning to bite. The U.S. bringing an end to oil sanctions waivers issued for China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey and imposing new sanctions on Tehran are beginning to suffocate the mullahs.

“The fact that an Iranian ship could not dock in foreign ports for 10 days to unload is unprecedented in Iranian history. The U.S. State Department is constantly in contact with that small country to not allow our ship to dock. This is unprecedented in the past 40 years. The fact that an oil tanker shipping Iran’s oil is followed by satellites during its entire voyage, registering its number, constantly knowing where it is, who is buying, who is selling… All this is unprecedented in the past 40 years,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on May 25.

Secondly, the presence of U.S. military forces in the region that has literally terrified the mullahs regime. Especially after enjoying eight years of unbridled appeasement from the Obama administration, senior officials in Tehran are understanding that their meddling and warmongering in the Middle East will no longer go unanswered.

During the past three decades, Tehran has never paid any price for its interference in regional countries, literally being the main benefactor of three wars in 1991, 2001 and 2003.

The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq opened the gates of this country for Iran and the mullahs’ regime occupied Iraq at almost no cost, using this important country as a springboard for their continued meddling in Syria and other countries. Currently, Tehran is deeply concerned that this period of taking utter advantage of regional developments is coming to an end.

Thirdly, the active presence of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its cornerstone member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), inside the country and abroad. The mullahs’ regime has been involved in launching massive apprehension campaigns, issuing execution verdicts for political prisoners, resorting to threats and installing fear among the society. However, these measures have not rendered any results and protests are increasing across Iran.

Looking forward, Arab delegates participating in the Mecca conference should adopt a firm position against the regime of Iran to deliver a strong response to Tehran’s recent measures. “No thank you, Mr. Javad Zarif, Iran’s proposal is unacceptable,” was the title of a piece published in the UAE’s Gulf News responding to Zarif’s ridiculous suggestion of signing a “non-aggression pact” with Iran’s neighbors. It is quite obvious that Tehran has been involved in aggressive measures against its neighbors for the past 40 years. Therefore, the mullahs are in no such position to seek the signing of a “non-aggression pact.”

Iran’s regime should not have the opportunity to resort to such tactics, thus gaining breathing room and further extending its lifespan. Tehran has a history of using such opportunities to once again relaunch its warmongering efforts and exporting terrorism across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia will be hosting three important conferences of Arab and Islamic countries. Escalating tensions in the region and Iran’s threats are announced to be among the main subjects of discussion. The Saudi King has officially invited the Emir of Qatar to take part in the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit.

Following the May 30 conference, members of the Arab League will be holding a session and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be convening. These three conferences being held in the final days of the month of Ramadan in the city of Mecca are aimed at establishing a large alliance against Iran, according to Agence France Presse. Increasing tension among the U.S. and Iran has led to concerns among regional countries over a possible military confrontation.

There are no reports about the possibility of Iran being invited or not to the OIC session.

While U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated his willingness to talk with the regime ruling Iran, the mullahs view any talks with “The Great Satan” as a major step back from their 40-year long positions. Such a development will result in the regime weakening and losing its grip on the country with each passing day.

As a result, continuing its warmongering in the region and going back on the 2015 nuclear deal will result in further strong measures by the U.S. and most likely other countries across the globe. On the other hand, bending the knee to negotiations with the U.S. also comes with major calamities.

This predicament has left the mullahs’ regime in a lose-lose situation, with time running out fast as sanctions continue to bite. As a recent Wall Street Journal piece put it, “Amid Tensions, Iran’s Crude Buyers Jump Ship.”

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Iran’s new line of defense

 

There is no doubt that tensions have been escalating between the United States and the regime ruling Iran. Tehran has a new line of defense – inside the United States – that has caught lesser attention and yet deserves a strong response.

It has been one year since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the highly flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal and began reinstalling sanctions lifted under this Obama-era framework.

As we speak, Iran’s vital oil industry – from which the mullahs obtain at least $50 billion in revenue annually – has been sanctioned and the administration is on track of zeroing Tehran’s exports. The regime is also under a long slate of further sanctions across the board, including financial, banking and the recently advanced measures signed into law by President Trump against Iran’s mining industry.

It has become common knowledge that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – rightfully designated by the Trump administration as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO) – has control over a vast portion of the Iranian economy. As a result, much of the regime’s revenue earned from oil, mining and other sectors are being channeled by the IRGC for the mullahs’ malign activities, including:

  • funding the Bashar Assad dictatorship in its onslaught against the Syrian people that has left at least 500,000 people killed;
  • fueling terrorist groups across the Middle East such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Houthi militias in Yemen, Shiite proxies in Iraq, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and Afghan-Pakistani conscripts dispatched to prop up Assad’s killing machine;
  • developing and procuring ballistic missiles both inside the country providing such an arsenal to proxies across the region;
  • and last but not least, stubbornly pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the cover of
    “a civilian nuclear energy drive.”

Suffering a series of devastating blows, Iran has been retaliating by accusing the United States and its allies in the Middle East of seeking war. While such a response from Tehran is of no surprise, what is alarming, however, is the support the mullahs are enjoying from rivals of the Trump administration inside the United States.

1

Senator Sanders is literally calling for a return to the Obama years and falling to the low of appeasing Tehran’s murderous mullahs. What he fails to take into consideration is the fact that such a policy will dangerously threaten U.S. national security.

Unfortunately, Senator Sanders has fallen to the low of parroting talking points used by Iran regime apologists/lobbyists.

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For those interested, this Twitter thread provides more details about Senator Sanders’ hypocrisy that is playing into the hands of Tehran’s ruling mullahs.

And we also have Matt Duss, Senator Sanders’ foreign policy advisor, rushing to the support of Iran’s regime and defending the mullahs’ desperate measures that are aimed at saving face.

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Duss is citing Vali Nasr, a known Iran regime apologist/lobbyist that goes around spreading the mullahs’ talking points in Western circles and media. This thread sheds light into Nasr and his mentality.

Another example in this line of thought is Senator Chris Murphy. One of his latest tweets is quite interesting.

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Such a mentality adopted by these American figures – who should be more concerned about the American people – has driven them into an utter state of hypocrisy.

5

It is interesting how Sen. Murphy refuses to recall how the Obama-blessed 2015 nuclear deal allowed Iran to continue wreaking havoc across the Middle East and beyond. Of course, appeasing a dictator leads to such results. However, when the likes of Sen. Murphy choose to neglect such a harsh reality, it results into such low-level, childish remarks:

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Such an approach by Sen. Murphy should be of no surprise considering his attendance at sessions held by Iran’s lobby group in the U.S., the disgraced National Iranian American Council (NIAC), loathed by the Iranian Diaspora across the West.

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This thread provides more information on how Sen. Murphy has become a pawn of the mullahs’ regime.

Sen. Tim Kaine’s hatred of U.S. President Donald Trump is no secret. What is disappointing, however, is that Sen. Kaine would resort to any measure to attack President Trump. Even if it means rushing to the support of Iran’s mullahs by parroting claims raised by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his network of apologists/lobbyists scattered across the U.S. and Europe.

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When we are discussing blind hatred targeting President Trump, we cannot leave out Rep. Ilhan Omar who just couldn’t miss the opportunity.

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A question for Rep. Omar & all her colleagues: If you are talking about “war,” why not a single line of criticism against the mullahs’ regime of Iran that has been at war with the Iranian people, nations across the Middle East, and America for the four decades?

Of course not, as that would go against Omar’s personal interests.

Next in line is Rep. Barbara Lee who has no originality and nearly copied the very lines used by Zarif. To define her words, she is actually calling for a return to Obama’s weak foreign policy of bending backwards and providing even further billions to the mullahs’ regime.

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Iran’s latest move has been to end two measures of compliance under the 2015 nuclear agreement, commonly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran will no longer abide by two limitations:

  • Maintaining the production of low enriched uranium (3.67% for nuclear reactor fuel) to a cap of 300 kilograms and selling any excess amount abroad.
  • Maintaining the production of heavy water below 130 tons and storing any excess amount in Oman.

As of Wednesday, Iran will be producing unlimited amounts of low enriched uranium and heavy water, and keeping all excess amounts inside the country. Tehran went on to define a 60-day ultimatum for the remaining JCPOA to “live up to their obligations” and deliver the incentives promised to Iran under the nuclear deal: specifically purchasing oil form Iran and opening their financial networks to the mullahs’ regime.

It is quite interesting how these two specific actions were already sanctioned by the U.S. just days earlier.

“The United States acted on Friday to force Iran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power,” Reuters reported.

“The U.S. actions announced on Friday included an end to a sanctions waiver that allowed Iran to evade a 300-kg limit on the amount of low-enriched uranium it can store under the nuclear deal at its main nuclear facility of Natanz… the United States would no longer waive sanctions that allowed Iran to ship to Oman for storage heavy water produced at its Arak facility beyond a 130-ton limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal.”

Adding to Iran’s miseries, the European Union responded to Tehran’s threats on Thursday by rejecting any ultimatums issued by the mullahs’ regime. As a result, if Iran was counting on raising its tone level to drive a gap between Europe and the United States, they failed miserably. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Europeans are actually realizing the Iran threat and taking a stronger position than the abovementioned Members of the U.S. Congress.

Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that no one asks why Iran even needs a “civilian nuclear energy” program? The country is sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest crude oil reserves. Why on earth would you waste hundreds of billions of dollars on a nuclear program, confine many facilities deep into mountains and bring upon your country decades of political turmoil?

The answer is quite simple. In envy of North Korea, the mullahs’ regime seeks nuclear weapons in order to obtain security guarantees. Yet the likes of Ben Rhodes are suffering from a blind hatred towards President Trump, rendering a list of American figures playing into the mullahs’ hands and literally placing U.S. national security in grave danger.

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All voices providing life support to the regime in Iran are running a dangerous line of appeasement.

We should recall how former UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain believed in appeasing Hitler of Nazi Germany in an attempt to prevent war. The rest is history.

Is Khamenei merging the IRGC into Iran’s regular army?

Following the U.S. State Department’s unprecedented step of designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO), there have reportedly been movements in the IRGC hierarchy, sources say. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has recently held a number of meetings with senior commanders of the IRGC and Iran’s regular army, along with Ali Akbar Veleyati, Khamenei’s senior international affairs advisor.

Kamal Kharazi, a former Iranian foreign minister, made the following remarks in a private meeting on the IRGC’s terrorist designation:

“The subject of new developments in the IRGC is nothing new and [Khamenei] has held a number of meetings with the IRGC and regular army hierarchy, issuing a numbers of orders on this matter. [Khamenei] has placed senior IRGC officers Vahid Haghanian, Hassani Sa’di (deputy of the IRGC-linked Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters), and General Ali Bagheri, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, in charge of implementing these instructions. However, this process was accelerated with the IRGC’s terrorist designation on April 8.”

Kharazi shed light on the history of this important issue in Iran.

“The ‘phase by phase merging’ of portions of the IRGC into the regular army is nothing new. [U.S. President Donald] Trump laid out a new U.S. strategy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran in his speech on October 13, 2017, and placed the IRGC in the U.S. sanctions list… Khamenei held a meeting with senior IRGC and regular army commanders on October 22, 2017, forecasting that the IRGC sanctions are a prelude to the IRGC’s terrorist designation. Therefore, in that meeting a decision was made to gradually merge the IRGC into the regular army. Arrangements were made to merge a portion of the senior IRGC ranks – including colonels and higher commanders – into the regular army. This phase has been completed to a large extent,” he explained.

“Following the IRGC’s terrorist designation by the U.S., defections and disappointment have increased significantly among the IRGC files. One day after this announcement, the IRGC issued a call to all its forces stationed in provincial bases and the Basij Resistance units saying considering the people’s growing dilemmas following the recent floods, the possibility of popular protests and unrest in the coming two months is quite high, and the consequences go far beyond what was witnessed in the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 uprising,” Kharrazi continued.

That particular episode in Iran’s history of uprisings saw protests mushrooming in over 140 cities across the country and the regime eventually arrested over 8,000 dissidents.

Citing a senior official in the regimes Armed Forces Headquarters, Kharrazi added the number of retirement requests have increased at an alarming rate among senior IRGC ranks. Low morale among Basij members is becoming a grave concern, with a growing number of such individuals deserting their units and bases.

Confronting Iran’s influence in Syria is vital

While Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the regime ruling Iran, sought to garner attention and boast victory in Syria through the recent visit of Syrian regime dictator Bashar Assad to Tehran, developments in the Levant are actually  by far against the clerical regime’s interests.

U.S. President Donald Trump is now fully agreeing to maintaining a contingency in Syria – said to be 400 troops – in what appears to be a dual mission in the country’s northeast and the strategic al-Tanf base on the Syria-Jordan border.

Reporting on how his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin focused mainly on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored how he and the Russian leader agreed on the need to remove all foreign forces that came into Syria.

Considering the fact that the Lebanese Hezbollah also plays a highly devastating role in Syria, the U.S. is seeking new sanctions against this terrorist group that was founded and continues to enjoy funding by Tehran.

All these measures are principally important, especially bearing in mind the fact that the regime in Iran seeks to establish an all Syrian militia in Syria, most likely a replica of its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces. Tehran was the main force behind the launching of the Hashd al-Shabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, in Iraq, who stand accused of fueling sectarian strife in the Mesopotamia.

And to add insult to injury, despite claims made by various Iranian regime officials, Russia is now confirming a decision to establish a “Syria Working Group” with Israel. Netanyahu has also been heard making remarks about launching a joint Israel-Russia working group to have all foreign forces leave Syria.

Tehran, sensing the need to save face in light of such developments, resorted to hasty comments to dampen the impact of this setback. Bahram Ghassemi, spokesperson for the Iranian regime’s Foreign Ministry, claimed Russia does not follow in line with Israel and claimed Tehran and Moscow enjoy “strong ties.” While the mullahs’ regime in Iran claim remarks made by Israeli officials have no impact on them, a Kremlin spokesperson confirmed a decision was made between Putin and Netanyahu to establish this working group soon.

The question now is how can the U.S. facilitate the pushing of Iran’s malign forces out of Syria?

Iran is already under tight U.S. sanctions. These measures should continue to especially deprive Tehran of finances used to fuel its regional agenda of wreaking havoc and continuous warmongering in Syria. As a reminder, Tehran insiders have been heard voicing the importance of maintaining influence in Syria for the sake of remaining in power back home.

Despite being long overdue, the United Kingdom recently designated all branches of the Lebanese Hezbollah – founded and funded by the regime in Iran – as a terrorist organization, putting an end to the separation between this group’s political and military segments.

The U.S. Treasury Department also sanctioned “Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba,” a radical Muslim militia group known to be loyal to Tehran and having around 10,000 fighters. The group leader, Akram Kaabi, is also blacklisted. These measures are necessary to chip the wings of Iran’s warmongering apparatus.

Tehran is known to be funding a conglomerate of extremist groups across the Middle East, parallel to billions provided annually to Assad in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and extremist militias in Iraq. Denying Iran access to the global financial system will deplete its treasury of the funds needed to continue this unbridled campaign of belligerence.

To put a nail in the coffin, Washington should designate Iran’s IRGC, the main force behind all these destructive activities, as a foreign terrorist organization. This can go parallel to a similar designation of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), now more legitimate following a recent surge of Iran-backed terror plots and assassinations across Europe. Even the Europeans are sanctioning portions of the MOIS in response.

Ending Iran’s influence in Syria is pivotal to returning peace to the Middle East. Interestingly, this also weakens Tehran’s crackdown apparatus and renders direct support to the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle against the mullahs’ regime.

How to analyze the Zarif resignation façade in Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif returned to his post around 30 hours after his Instagram resignation post. During this entire charade, speculations were heard across the board about the motivation and true nature of this latest episode of escalating turmoil for the mullahs’ regime in Iran.

What is certain, however, is the fact that Zarif’s resignation indicates a new acceleration of crises for Tehran, especially in regards to international relations and on specific matters, including the 2015 nuclear deal and outstanding anti-money laundering/terrorism financing resolutions under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

With the Trump administration turning up the heat on Iran, international pressures and global/regional isolation are engulfing Tehran. State-run media outlets in Iran are also acknowledging these developments that are raising eyebrows and keeping senior decision-making officials awake at night.

“Another conclusion of [Zarif’s] resignation is the 2015 nuclear deal coming to an end… There are figures who are disappointedly concluding how Zarif’s resignation is tantamount to the complete failure of Hassan Rouhani’s government,” according to the state-run Fararu website.

A variety of analysis have also been circling in regards to Zarif’s resignation. However, lesser voices have pinpointed the root of the entire matter.

The failing “Hassan Rouhani project,” referring to the regime’s president, and deep internal crisis is a result of Tehran’s failure in preserving the nuclear deal, overcoming the impact of U.S. sanctions, and the regime’s dead-end in regards to FATF regulations.

This defeat began with the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 uprising, disrupting all of the regime’s apparatus, including its foreign policy agenda. The first example was witnessed in the U.S. withdrawing from the highly flawed 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Rouhani laid it out clearly in his remarks on August 28, 2018, saying everything began on December 26, 2017, when protesters poured into the streets and chanted anti-regime slogans. This was followed with U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA, triggering the Iranian regime’s troubles, Rouhani added.

Rouhani’s Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri voiced even more concerns about the regime’s future.

“Super domestic challenges [ongoing protests] are impacting super global challenges, further intensifying these dilemmas,” he said.

The Javan daily, known to be affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), added to the tempo.

“Voices inside the country, and more abroad, are considering this truly low-class resignation as signs of deteriorating conditions for the [regime], and even called on the president of Iran to follow in line with his minister and resign himself!” the piece reads in part.

To add insult to injury for the clerical regime in Iran, 2018 was riddled with a number of foiled terror and assassination plots in Europe. In March, Albanian authorities arrested two operatives for plotting to bomb an opposition gathering, leading to the expulsion of the regime’s ambassador several months later.

In late June, another bombing plot targeting the annual Iranian opposition rally near Paris was foiled. Tens of thousands of people, along with hundreds of international dignitaries, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were also attending the event.

Tehran also targeted dissidents in the Netherlands and Denmark, leading to unprecedented European Union sanctions against a branch of the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence, parallel to expelling a number of diplomats.

These crises escalated even further during the Warsaw ministerial conference and a large rally held close to the site by supporters of the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Giuliani delivered a speech emphasizing on the sole alternative for the Iranian regime, symbolized in NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

NCRI supporters held another rally during the Munich Security Conference, signaling to the world the very source of Tehran’s main concerns. And Zarif, described as “charming” and a “moderate” by some, literally lost his temper in his remarks about the Iranian opposition.

Whatever the reasoning behind Zarif’s resignation, the big picture indicates a regime neck-deep in crises with no light at the end of the tunnel. International crises are escalating, with Washington intending to zero Tehran’s oil exports.

Zarif may have returned to his post. Yet this entire façade portrays a regime neck-deep in turmoil, both inside the country and abroad.

Feb 23, 2019: Some of today’s unreported developments in Venezuela

Here’s the story:

Three members of the local Pemon ingenious community were shot dead, and as many as 15 others wounded, as they were attempting to prevent the military of Nicolas Maduro, president of the regime ruling Venezuela, from closing the Venezuelan-Brazilian border at San Francisco de Yuruani, Kumarakapay (in Pemon language).

The regime forces sought to avoid the entrance of humanitarian aid. The Pemons managed to get hold of Brigade General Jose Miguel Montoya Rodríguez, Zone Commander of the National Bolivarian Guards in Bolivar State (62nd command) to force the Maduro regime to stop its violence against civilians. This commander said he would only receive orders from Maduro. He is still being retained.

Capture
General of the National Bolivarian Guard, José Miguel Montoya Rodríguez

Also the Pemons captured another military officer, Lt. Grecia del Valle Roque Castillo, who is now crying and apologizing for the attack. He also remains in the Pemons’ custody.

A lieutenant detained by the Pemones tribe, Grecia Del Valle Roque Castillo, is apologizing from the indigenous community for the attack.

Maduro’s regime has launched a nationwide repression and ordered a total closure of the Venezuelan airspace for commercial flights. There is also an extended blackout of foreign and opposition media outlets. The exact number of protesters murdered and wounded across the country remains unknown.

Former Venezuelan regime president Hugo Chavez had established armed gangs, known as colectivos, usually using small motorcycles to very quickly scare the population and kidnap or kill people.

In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, there are presumably over 20.000 colectivos members. A large contingency are now deployed at Venezuela-Colombia border. At the moment the colectivos are very active across the whole country. Maduro says he has ordered them to “defend the revolution.”

Scenes of colectivos today in the state of Tachira State.

Notice the steel cables from side to side of the streets, called guayas. When up, they are used to stop the colectivos´s motorcycles.

The colectivos had also been attacking the humanitarian aid convoys, reports indicate. Tensions are raising high and sources say Maduro has cut all relations with Colombia.D0HO1esXgAIXLtt.jpg

It is said that the U.S. has given Maduro until Sunday, February 24, to respond by allow humanitarian aid into the country and stopping all violence.

Reports indicate very intense atmosphere and the U.S. has dispatched attack naval group, including the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, for military drills. These large-scale exercises began in late January and usually continue for a month.

This Nimitz class aircraft carrier has with 50 combat aircrafts, including F-22 Raptors; five Ticonderoga-class of guided-missile cruisers; three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; one Ohio-class and one Los Angeles-class submarine.

 

UPDATE: Syria’s major feud erupts between Iran-Russia camps

Following years of collaboration between Russia and Iran in propping the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad to remain in power, there have been signs recently of feuds between these two sides, according to the al-Quds al-Arabi daily. One of the latest of such indications are clashes reported between Syrian regime forces linked Moscow and those units enjoying the support of Iran’s regime.

Israel has immediately taken advantage of this situation and sided with Russia in order to establish a united front against Iran. Tensions have escalated in relations between Russia and Iran, especially following Iran-linked bases and groups being targeted in Syria by Israel with Moscow’s prior knowledge.

Around one week ago clashes erupted between a group of Syrian military forces associated to Iran and commanded by Maher Assad, the brother of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and the al-Nemr group, commanded by Suheil al-Hassan, a Syrian military commander affiliated to Russia.

“Russia and Iran are distancing from one another in Syria. Taking its place is strengthening relations and increasing tires between Russia and Israel, aiming to decrease Iran’s influence in Syria to the point of forcing Tehran out of this country,” according to the Deutsche Welle website.

According to this report, Israel will not accept a Shiite government on its borders. All the while, Russia considers Iran’s presence and influence in Syria as an element undermining its efforts to establish cease-fire across the Levant, and of course, its future interests in this strategic country.

Russian political expert Anton Mardasov wrote in analysis recently published in the Al Monitor website: “The controversy between Moscow and Tehran has always been a part of the Syrian conflict. However, the debates between the two have started to become more political in nature, influencing the future of Syria’s armed forces and other military entities.”

Moreover, RBC, a Russian economic newspaper, published an article two months ago reiterating the threat of Iran-backed groups gradually gaining strength in Syria, and this issue will become an obstacle before Russia’s goal of uniting the Syrian military under a unified leader.

Following disputes between Russia and Iran over the future of Syria, in the past few weeks sources have reported intense battles among a units linked to Russia and militia groups associated to Iran’s IRGC.

Turkey’s Anadulo news agency cited various sources saying, “Clashes resumed among the two parties in Hama Province, central Syria, following two days of cease fire as the feuding sides sought to gain control over property, routes and even the locals’ homes in the region. There is no information on the number of casualties in these clashes.”

The ongoing situation is literally a war between Russia and Iran to gain the upper hand over the Assad regime. Russia has no interest in Iran’s military and associated militia units being present in areas near the Syrian opposition forces. Moscow knows Tehran has thousands of mainly Afghan and Pakistani militias on the ground in Syria, and this goes against Russia’s long-term interests in Syria as Moscow seeks to come to terms with the U.S. over ending the war.

Recent reports indicate Moscow has put forward an agreement and forced both sides to sign with a goal to end the conflict between branches of Assad’s restructured military (loyal to Russia) and units under the command of Maher Assad.

Relations between Russia and Iran have soured recently as reports indicate Russia was informed of Israeli air strikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria beforehand and went as far as facilitating these raids. Various Iranian regime operatives are even accusing Syrian and Russian officials of providing precise and up to date information to Israel in order to target Iran-backed bases in Syria.

Moscow is also very concerned about reports of a recent car bombing in Damascus taking place near the Russian embassy being carried out by Iranian operatives.

Adding insult to injury for Iran’s interests in the Levant, on Thursday, the Russia al-Yawm news network reported citing a “number of sources” indicating Iran’s IRGC intends to evacuate its military support base located in Damascus International Airport, with plans to transfer the ordnance to another facility.

Israeli media are also reporting the IRGC gearing to transfer its military base and assets to the T4 airbase in Homs, central Syria. This site has been the target of at least two Israeli air strikes in February and March of 2018.

This report also adds that in the past few years, Iran has used a site in Damascus International Airport dubbed the “Glass House,” located only a few dozen meters away from the airport’s main facility.

Iranian opposition reports have previously described the “Glass House” as Tehran’s main command/intelligence center in Syria, and the site had been heavily protected and under highly restricted conditions. Reports also indicate the Glass House is home to a number of arms depots and two underground facilities.

Israel has recently escalated its attacks against Iran’s assets in Syria and unprecedentedly gone public about such measures. Furthermore, Iran is now concerned of pro-Tehran Shiite militia forces in Iraq being threatened in similar fashion as Israel has warned IRGC-linked groups in Iran will also be targeted as Tehran’s assets in Syria have experienced to this day.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conveyed a parallel message to Baghdad in his recent visit.

 

On the dawn of a new year, here’s a look at Iran’s protest outburst in 2018

Al Arabiya

Year 2018 was like no other for the Iranian regime, beginning with massive protests and a nationwide uprising. While these protests have vanished from mainstream media headlines, they have certainly not ceased.

This ongoing movement came to life with the most serious and biggest opposition demonstrations since 2009, shaking the very pillars of this regime and signaling a society – described as a powder keg – ready to explode and bring an end to the clerics’ rule. This also sent a message to the international community, especially Washington, about the Iranian regime’s domestic vulnerability.

Cross-hairs shifting

Back in 2009, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was able to relevantly distance himself from the protesters’ wrath. In 2018, however, the Iranian people have brazenly taken their gloves off in their hallmark chants:
“Reformists, hardliners, GAME OVER”
“Death to Khamenei”

The streets of Iran have reached boiling point due to the accumulation of the regime’s failing domestic, economic and foreign policies. Ordinary Iranians are losing their purchasing power and reports indicate over 80 percent of the people are living below the poverty line.

An interesting hypocrisy on Tehran’s part is seen in officials’ invitation of the mass public to a “resistance economy,” while continuing their highly expensive foreign policy of providing support for dictators and terrorist groups such as Bashar Assad in Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

All the while, despite the claims made by the Iranian regime and its foreign-based pundits, the source of their miseries is crystal clear for the Iranian people, as voiced in their meaningful slogans.
“Our enemy is right here; they lie and say it’s America”

Bigger picture

Mashhad, a religious city in northeast Iran, was the launching pad of Iran’s 2018 protests, with protests initially focusing on economic dilemmas such as unemployment, poverty and skyrocketing prices.

Ever since, protests are snowballing across the country and knocking on the regime’s doors in Tehran, the capital. While demonstrators began targeting economic policies implemented by the government, Khamenei is feeling in the heat as protesters – including workers, college students, teachers, truck drivers, nurses and people from all walks of life – protest the country’s corrupt political system to the very top.

This is unveiling the very fragile nature of Iran’s regime, especially with US sanctions beginning to tighten the noose around the regime, mainly in regards to its funding of proxy forces across the Middle East.

Khamenei’s charade of blaming enemies was never welcomed by the Iranian people, particularly after witnessing billions go to arming sectarian militias across the region and fuel wars deemed unpopular by the Iranian people.
“Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My life for Iran”
“Let go of Syria, think about us”

Main cause

US sanctions are finding their place in Khamenei’s speeches time and again, especially after Washington withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal back in May of 2018. Iran’s currency, the rial, has collapsed, to a point losing more than 80 percent of its value even prior to US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision. This goes to prove the regime’s policies, corruption and economic mismanagement are the main cause of the people’s suffering.

While Iran’s regime may claim otherwise, economic crisis in Tehran is the result of the “corrupt dictatorship” that has stolen billions of dollars from the public to spend on its Middle East adventures, ballistic missile proliferation and a controversial nuclear program.

Khamenei has learned his lessons both in 2009 and in 2018, hearing the people chanting for his fall and seeing his images burned in alleys across the country. A stark difference in 2018 is the harsh reality that Iran’s lower class – whom the regime claims to have support among – is furious over poor living conditions and are demanding change.

Protesters hold up letters, spelling “Human Rights,” during a rally to demand the release of political prisoners in Iran as part of a “Global day of action” in Berlin on July 25, 2009. (AFP)

 

With Tehran’s former mayor indirectly once saying this regime only represents four percent of the society, Khamenei’s concerns are real and his only solution are increased oppression. Khamenei has no doubt who is behind these protests.

“The incidents were organized” and carried out by the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran [PMOI/MEK], he said in January, although using a different term. “The [MEK] had prepared for this months ago” and “the [MEK’s] media outlets had called for it.”

In an attempt to contain the escalating protests, French President Emmanuel Macron was asked by his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to take action against the PMOI/MEK in France, describing them as the force fomenting the ongoing strife. The French President declined.

The undeniable

As we speak, people from all walks of life are joining the ranks of those protesting this regime’s rule in one way or another. Even bazaar merchants, who played a significant role in the 1979 revolution, have launched numerous strikes to voice their opposition to the status quo.

Considered a center for conservatives in Iranian politics, Khamenei cannot deny that he and his regime have lost the support of not only the bazaar, workers, what is left of the middle class and … All the while, the lower class, while growing in numbers, are also growing in anger. This poses an undeniable threat for the ruling regime in 2019.

As the US further escalates sanctions against Tehran, the month of May signals the end of the six-month oil embargo waivers provided to eight countries importing Iranian oil. Should Washington decide to tighten the screw on Tehran, the regime’s economic woes will avalanche.

Iran’s ruling clerics may attempt to save face with claims such as closing the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where one third of the world’s shipping oil transits. All the while, Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are fully aware of the simmering fire of protests in the epicenter of every major city across the country.

Certain for 2019 is the fact that the Iranian people will further realize this regime is weakening. This will embolden their demands and increase the number and geography of protests across Iran.

The most potent force

The more protests in Iran, the more the international community will realize the regime is weakening to the point of no return. As Tehran’s economic isolation escalates, the more the people will see windows of major protests opening.

This is a deadly formula for the Iranian regime, evolving and expanding from 2018 to 2019, making this upcoming 12 months a year of promising developments for the Iranian people.

The longer Tehran continues the current freefall into economic crisis, the more current protests will transform into the most potent force functioning toward establishing meaningful change within Iran.

Sanctions to protests: A lose-lose situation for the Iranian regime

Al Arabiya English

As the world continues to assess US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria and significantly decrease America’s foothold in Afghanistan, Iran has troubles kicking in from all corners.

With US sanctions beginning to bite significantly against the regime, the Iranian regime is finding it difficult on how to juggle these unprecedented and escalating measures, while demands of Tehran complying with international financial transparency regulations are hanging over the regime’s neck.

If Iran gives in to these global measures, their support for proxy groups across Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and beyond will be severely tampered.

If the regime chooses to maintain its current stance, not only will the currently escalating economic embargoes expand, they will also gain a far more international image, with Europe, Russia and China having no choice but to distance from Iran.

‘Most powerful organization’

Following the US decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the remaining members of the deal have emphasized on Tehran complying with standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based intergovernmental organization focusing on preventing money laundering and terrorism financing.

While most people may have never heard of the FATF, it is described by financial crime experts as “the most powerful organization” that has gone unnoticed by the commoners.

If the FATF finds a country in failure to abide by its standards, that country will face a blacklisting that has the watchdog urging members to carry out countermeasures – read sanctions – that can result in a complete prohibition of financial transactions.

Banks may be required to review and shut down correspondent accounts with Iranian banks, meaning they will be prohibited from launching overseas subsidiary branches, limiting business transactions, and going as far as imposing enhanced monitoring and reporting requirements on transactions in any way involving Iran.

Any hope?

It is certain that non-US banks and businesses exposed to the US financial system will not choose to defy Washington.

All the while, the European Union, in an effort by foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, is pushing forward with a so-called special purpose vehicle. This payment system aims to shield European companies, and those from across the world, choosing to do business with Iran, from the damning effect of US sanctions.

The Iranian regime is disturbed by Europe’s delay in the SPV launching. All the while, it is hard to comprehend how this mechanism intends to work out if Tehran fails to bow before FATF demands.

Protests demanding water supplies have become a regular feature in Iran. (Supplied)

 

Different perspectives

Many in the West have been falsifying an image of Iran having two political factions of hardliners and reformists. In fact, their perspectives only differ over how to better preserve and guarantee the regime’s survival.

Back in October, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif relayed a message from Russia and China that Tehran needs to comply with the FATF or else Moscow and Beijing will not be able to continue their business with Iran. His deputy, Abbas Araghchi, voiced the same assessment this month. This was a portrait of the so-called reformists’ viewpoint.

The hardliners, on the other hand, comprising of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members, the top army brass, the clerical establishment and the judiciary, are kicking the can down the road on the FATF standards adoption.

Fears exist that approving and implementing the FATF will unveil sensitive financial information and impede the drive to fund Iran’s proxies across the Middle East and maybe even chip the wings of the IRGC Quds Force, the unit in charge of Iran’s extraterritorial military activities.

Rest assured Zarif and other “reformists” in Iran are no fans of actual change, transparency and major shifts in policy for the Iranian regime. They are only playing their roles in the overall masquerade directed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, all aiming to prolong the lifespan of this regime.

Lose-lose

Iran’s regime was never able to actually benefit from the JCPOA in the long term. With the US pullout, the Iranian regime is in turmoil and the economy is going down the drain.

Renewed FATF countermeasures would add insult to injury for Tehran and has the potential of fueling public protests, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across Iran.

Each day people from all walks of life are protesting in cities throughout the country, including workers, teachers, truckers, students and so forth. The regime is quite vulnerable, concerned over the undeniable reality that all these protests have the potential of quickly evolving into scenes of political demands. Protesters are constantly chanting:

“Let of go Syria, think about us” … “Our enemy is right here, they lie in saying it’s America”

The senior elite sitting on the throne in Iran are going the limits to prevent the transformation of these chants into “Death to Khamenei,” as witnessed so vividly in the December/January uprising that shook the very pillars of this regime just a year ago.

At the end of the day, the Iranian regime is in fact suffering from a “lose-lose-lose” situation:
– The JCPOA never provided any benefits to brag about;
– FATF measures bear the potential of crippling the regime’s economy;
– Popular protests are on the rise, threatening the regime at its core.

The months ahead will be demanding and the regime will be weakening at an alarming and deadly rate. It would be naïve for any international entity, government or private, to invest in the Iranian regime overcoming these hurdles.

Iran’s reactions to Trump withdrawing from Syria

On December 20, the world was shocked of U.S. President Donald Trump announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. One of the first reactions from the Iranian regime was delight. Yet this sudden burst of joy was very short-lived as it gave way to concern, along with fear.

Why?

Without any delay, reports were heard about the U.S. withdrawing from Syria paving the path for a series of very important developments across the globe.

The mullahs’ regime are certain of the fact that one of the most important issues on the table for Trump is the Iran dossier. Especially after White House National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled Washington’s objective by saying the U.S. administration’s goal is to increase so much pressure on Tehran to break this regime’s bones.

“We think the government is under real pressure and it’s our intention to squeeze them very hard.”

“As the British say, squeeze them until the pips squeak….We are also going to significantly increase the enforcement of sanctions,” Bolton said in Singapore back in November.

This explains why following an initial delight, a wave of concern and fear has engulfed the Iranian regime.

Nosratollah Tajik wrote a piece titled “Exiting Syria: Trump’s game to confront Iran,” describing Washington’s objective as “focusing on special issues, from confronting Iran’s regional policies to a full return of forces back to the U.S.”

The Fars news agency, known as the mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), wrote, “As if Trump… is exiting his forces from the vulnerable Syria region to carry out a far more intense – maybe military – act against Iran.”

Former Iranian diplomat Ali Khorram says, “James Mattis leaving the U.S. administration, and being the highly important Secretary of Defense post, can have grave impact on developments across the globe, and most importantly on Iran.”

Afshar Soleimani, another former Iranian diplomat adds, “First and foremost, it appears that if Trump’s America hands Syria to any party, it will not be Iran.”

Yet what has made the status quo far more dangerous and complex for the Iranian regime are two other developments in this regard.

Firstly:

A U.S. aircraft carrier entering the Persian Gulf for the first time after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal (and ending the longest absence of a U.S. aircraft carrier in this region from 9/11 to this day).

Secondly:

The position adopted by Pompeo on Trump’s decision to pull American forces out of Syria.

The Middle East remains the source of terrorism; we consider the Iranian regime as the leading state sponsor of terrorism across the globe and this region. The U.S. administration has launched a campaign to increase pressure on the Islamic republic to end this support for terrorism, he said.

Of course, the issue of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces out of Syria remains a complicated matter with many questions remaining unanswered.

What is certain, however, is the Iranian regime’s concerns. This illustrates how this decision brings no change in the ongoing trend of increasing of pressures.

As Bolton said, “… squeeze them until the pips squeak…”