How Iran signals future waves of crackdown, terror attacks

The recent car bombing incident in Chabahar, southeast Iran, sounds alarm bells for those familiar with the history of the Iranian regime. What is being described as a suicide car bombing outside a city police station, considering the conglomerate of Iran’s security entities, is quite suspicious to say the least.

With a long history of crackdown and execution campaigns following such attacks with questionable nature, there is concern of the clerical regime preparing yet another onslaught targeting a particular sector of Iran’s society. The Chabahar incident bears signs of regime hallmarks paving the path for yet another wave of atrocities.

Iranian Arabs

Back in September, a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz became the target of gunmen going on a rampage, opening fire and killing 25 people in the process, with half of those killed being members of the regime’s notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Targeting a military parade and the IRGC allows the regime to play the innocent game. The entire incident looked very misleading and convenient:

– IRGC members in very clean clothes rescuing small children before cameras,
– the attackers reaching the stage where many high ranking officials were watching the parade but only targeting low-ranking IRGC members,
– the ambush taking place just days before US President Donald Trump chairing a United Nations Security Council session focusing on Iran,
– and the attack leading to a major crackdown against the Iranian Arab community in Ahvaz and Khuzestan Province.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted this tweet using terms “respond swiftly and decisively,” signaling a heavy clampdown to come.

It’s also interesting how Zarif quickly reached a conclusion of terrorists being “recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime” just hours after the attack, suggesting the text was prepared and merely needed a few carefully prepared photos.

Up to 600 activists were arrested, according to Amnesty International, in very overt public raids, clearly indicating the authorities’ intention to install a climate of fear among restive locals and across the country.

Following the crackdown, disturbing reports from locals and human rights organizations indicated around 22 men were executed “in secret” within days in November. As always, Iranian regime officials have and continue to dismiss those reports.

“The timing suggests that the Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahwaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent in Khuzestan province,” according to Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Iranian Kurds

In June of last year, another suspicious attack targeted Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini.

Six assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and explosive vests aimed their assault at two heavily secured sites in the Iranian capital. The twin attack left 17 killed and dozens more wounded, raising numerous questions about how the attackers were able to penetrate two symbolic and fortified sites.

People cannot bring even a pen into the parliament without passing through security, one wounded individual said to the media at the time. There were also comments among social media users inside Iran raising questions over if ISIS was actually behind the attack; and how the entire scenario provided pretext for the regime to launch a new oppressive wave.

The Iranian regime’s security forces responded to this attack by first launching a wave of arrests against Iran’s Kurdish communities, especially in Kermanshah Province bordering Iraq. Dozens of Kurdish citizens were apprehended on vague charges of cooperating with “extremist religious groups” in various Iranian cities. Eight of the detainees were sentenced to death in May.

Furthermore, Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles into the Syria-Iraq border area, claiming to target ISIS positions. All in all, the entire dossier was used by the Iranian regime to justify a massive crackdown against the Kurdish community, respond to accusations of why Iran has never been targeted by ISIS, and launch a highly publicized missile attack to boost the lowering morale of its depleting social base back home.

Looking abroad

Using such so-called threats at home, Iran’s regime justifies its targeting of dissidents exiled abroad, with a specific surge witnessed this year in Europe.

Danish authorities are accusing the Iranian regime of seeking to assassinate an Arab separatist leader living in Denmark. Tehran claims the figure is linked to the group that carried out the Ahwaz attack back in September.

Other plots of the Iranian regime have also been foiled in Albania back in March and in France in late June, both targeting large rallies of the principle Iranian opposition entity, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Paris is refusing to dispatch a new ambassador to Tehran and is not accepting Iran’s envoy in Paris until the regime provides a clear explanation over the Paris bomb plot targeting a massive rally.

The convention was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian exiles and senior international figures including Rudy Giuliani, lawyer of US President Donald Trump, and former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Final thoughts

Considering the nature and history of the Iranian regime, and recent developments following the Chabahar bombing, there is legitimate concern of Iranian authorities carrying out a new wave of crackdown and executions possibly targeting the minority Baluchi community in the southeast.

There are already reports of arrests in this area with authorities claiming they are in connection to the recent attack. Interesting are remarks and threats heard from Iran’s “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani at a Tehran conference on Saturday.

“With Iran being weakened through sanctions, many will be in danger… You won’t survive the rubble of drugs, refugees, bombs & assassinations…”

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ANALYSIS: Europe’s non-stop appeasing of Iran’s clerics

The distance Europe is going, aiming to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, can be described as shameless. While disturbing to admit, it is a stark reminder of how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain fell to Hitler’s knees in the late 1930s, only to pave the path for World War II.

One would think the Green Continent would have learned its lesson, especially after the death of over 60 million people. Unfortunately, Europe’s policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime is mirroring the shame witnessed 80 years ago.

Appeasement and short-term economic interests are blinding Europe to the extent that senior officials are neglecting the very dangerous security terrorist threats posed by Iran’s regime, being the number one state sponsor of terrorism.

Denying reality

While the United States re-imposed crippling oil/banking/shipping sanctions against Iran on November 5, and considering the exodus of international firms pulling out of Iran, the Europeans are relentlessly preserving a highly flawed nuclear deal crafted by the pro-appeasement Obama administration.

The main initiative floats around a so-called special purpose vehicle through which companies would avoid the US financial system and prolong business relations with Tehran. It has been weeks now that European governments are playing “hot potato,” refusing to host the circumventing apparatus. Austria and Luxembourg – and Belgium, according to some reports – have rejected the burden.

After failing to convince any smaller European partner to do their dirty work, France and Germany feel compelled to take on the burden, mainly to save face and avoid humiliation in the case of complete failure. Keep in mind the threat of damning US penalties hangs over their heads.

It has become quite embarrassing to witness European policymakers be so utterly determined to literally fund the clerics ruling Iran. (File photo: Reuters)

 

Consequences

It actually remains unknown if the Europeans have seriously weighed the national security threats resulting from their ongoing efforts. The SPV would provide the Iranian regime another channel to garner revenue for the malign purposes of funding terrorists and militaristic objectives across the Middle East.

The cash Iran received under the 2015 nuclear deal can most certainly be presumed to have ended up in the pockets of the Assad regime in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, Shiite extremist groups in Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, to name a few. Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) plays a leading role in this campaign.

Furthermore, it is interesting how Europe is neglecting the threats on its own soil. Newly provided revenue, thanks to the hard efforts of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and company, will most likely fund Iran’s future terror plots even in their own backyard.

In 2018 alone, European authorities have been busy foiling numerous plots. The first in March, targeting members of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in Albania; a highly dangerous bomb plot in June targeting an opposition rally near Paris; and an October assassination plot in Denmark.

All this was in parallel to similar schemes in Turkey and the Netherlands, as Iran’s spies also sought “capture and kill” initiatives targeting Iranian opposition figures in the US.

Interesting is how the Europeans are falling over themselves to preserve economic benefits for a regime that continues such measures across the continent and has showed no sign of slowing down its malign activities. This was demonstrated vividly in the most recent ballistic missile test by Iran made known to the world by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Correct course

It has become quite embarrassing to witness European policymakers be so utterly determined to literally fund the clerics ruling Iran. All the while, the Iranian people are braving all odds in voicing their abhorrence of this regime.

The mentality of allowing the Iranian regime profit from international trade with the hope of turning it away from its menacing nature has proven to be wishful thinking.

In fact, the Obama-era showed how the Iranian regime took full advantage of this foolish fantasy and wreaked havoc across the region, never stopping their proliferation of menace after the Obama-blessed nuclear deal.

Europe must learn from the mid-20th century and modern history, and finally bring an end to its humiliating indulging of Iran’s terror-fueling regime. Tehran’s malign activities must not go ignored, including human rights violations, the proliferation of ballistic missiles and a very suspicious nuclear program while sitting on an ocean of crude oil and natural gas.

Iran’s regime will soon be obligated to set aside its bellicosity or face dire consequences, especially as a restive nation continues to chip away at its foundation.

Europe should decide to stand on the right side of history and prevent a 21st century Chamberlain catastrophe.

Why the EU-Iran initiative is destined to fail

The European initiative known as the “special purpose vehicle” aiming to facilitate financial transactions between the Green Continent and Iran’s regime – read bypass US sanctions – is very shaky and unstable.

What at first seemed to be a bold rising to the challenge by the European Union has now suffered major and controversial setbacks following a series of foiled, Iran-orchestrated terror plots on European soil, including Albania, France and Denmark. These developments have made EU/Iran political relations all the more complicated, to say the least.

Logically, Iran would need to tone down its foreign bellicosity to allow Brussels present an argument vis-à-vis Washington. However, Tehran’s need to save face back home against its opposition in exile, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK), leaves it no choice but to launch such illogical measures from a diplomatic relations point of view.

That being a broad subject for another day, this piece will provide another perspective into why this EU/Iran initiative will most certainly end in failure.

Harsh reality

While introduced a few months ago, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) dossier is facing a conglomerate of obstacles and hurdles. Experts are now asking does this mechanism actually intend to provide the Europeans the means to purchase Iran’s oil and gas while bypassing the ongoing buildup of US primary and secondary sanctions.

“So far, her ‘vehicle’ is stuck in bureaucratic mud, unable to take off as European firms leave Iran in droves,” as described by Benny Avni in a New York Post piece in reference to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as the SPV architect.

Even media outlets known for promoting a return to the Obama era of US/Iran engagement are voicing growing concerns about the SPV sailing into unknown waters.

“Officials have said they are watching such engineering attempts closely, although few economists and officials in Europe believe such efforts will offer Tehran much in the way of sanctuary from American penalties immediately,” according to the New York Times.

Despite the brouhaha launched in western media by Iranian regime apologists and lobbyists, along with remnants of the Obama-era pro-appeasement voices, the on-the-ground reality strikes alarming reminders for those serious about doing business.

“The European payment mechanism doesn’t shield you if you use the US financial system … you can pay but don’t expect to be on their Christmas card list,” said Alex Beard, chief executive for oil and gas at Glencore, to Reuters.

Eventually, tensions are rising between Tehran and Brussels, as the Iranian regime’s patience began to grow thin. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his deputy Abbas Araqchi have most recently voiced their disappointment in Europe not meeting their expectations to launch the SPV as a lifesaving mechanism against mounting US sanctions beginning to take their toll in crippling fashion.

Finally, the nail in the coffin.

“A special European Union initiative to protect trade with Iran against newly re-imposed US sanctions faces possible collapse with no EU country willing to host the operation for fear of provoking US punishment,” according to another recent Reuters report.

“A bit crazy”

Despite its noisy coming to life, the EU SPV gradually grew to become “little more than a glorified arrangement with limited scope” and even described as “largely symbolic.”

More disturbing for businesses is the fact that the SPV, while aiming to become an alternative to the SWIFT global messaging system, falls miserably short. The SPV will lack the necessary ability to “conduct business in dollars or to access US institutions and the US financial system as a whole,” as explained Joel Gehrke in The Washington Examiner.

Taking this slate of reservations into consideration and all the measures of various parties, the nuts and bolts of Europe’s SPV remains a mystery and even Mogherini failed to provide any actual timetable for its launch.

Adding insult to injury for the EU and Iran is the reluctance shown by a variety of European countries to host the SPV, including Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium, leaving the entire project literally homeless.

At the end of the day, Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the EU, dismissed the planned SPV as “nothing more than a paper tiger.”

In spite of its strong support of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, France has yet to make a firm decision regarding the SPV and minister recently told Le Monde the entire idea is “a bit crazy.”

ANALYSIS: What Iran fears even more than sanctions

Al Arabiya

Tensions in Iran’s society are running high due to increasing poverty, skyrocketing prices and unemployment, alongside escalating oppression. Public anger is on the rise due to drastic economic/social pressures and we are reaching the tipping point. This is far more alarming for those sitting on the throne in Tehran.

Schoolteachers, truck drivers, storeowners, farmers, sugar mill and steel workers are among the various branches of Iran’s restive society continuing to protest, launch long-term strikes and raise their demands in significant fashion.

Considering the fact that more than 80 percent of Iranians are living in poverty, there is no doubt these movements will evolve into a new uprising of unprecedented proportions.

Senior Iranian regime officials are fully aware of this developing reality on the ground. Not being in sync with the 21st century or the Iranian society, the only “solution” they deem possible is to increase their crackdown.

This will only fuel the fire already simmering deep within the Iranian populace.

Growing tension

The latest round of nationwide strikes, including launched by Iran’s hardworking truck drivers, have expanded to over 75 cities in at least 24 of Iran’s 31 provinces. Further concerning for officials and authorities is the support truckers enjoy among people from all walks of life.

Adding to the regime’s troubles are protests heard from the international community in response to its oppressive measures. Amnesty International has raised concern over the mass arrest campaign and secret executions launched by authorities in Khuzestan Province of southwest Iran.

Since 24 September, up to 600 Ahwazi Arabs have been detained incommunicado in a wave of arrests following a deadly armed attack that took place in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, two days earlier.

“If confirmed, the secret executions of these men would be not only a crime under international law but also an abhorrent violation of their right to life and a complete mockery of justice, even by the shocking standards of Iran’s judicial system,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The situation across the country is reaching a certain dangerous climax, a conglomerate of:

– Human rights violations and continuing crackdown,

– Poor economic management and institutionalized plundering of people’s wealth by state-linked institutions,

– A significant decrease in production due to skyrocketing imports,

– Officials neglecting vast poverty and the people’s needs, parallel to increasing unemployment,

– Adopting temporary remedies for the currency market while those linked to the regime are taking advantage of the mayhem and making huge profits.

Sounds of alarm

In Iran, members of parliament should not be considered the people’s representatives. Considering the fact that the Guardian Council (with strong links to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) vets electoral candidates, these so-called MPs are merely seeking their own interests.

“Mr. President, what is your agenda for the teachers’ living conditions? And what have you done?” asked Shadmehr Kazemzadeh, a parliament member in a recent session.

Another member shouted in response, “Nothing! Nothing!”

The main concerns lies in the fact that the regime lacks any answers in response to escalating popular protests.

“Mr. Speaker, we were with the people for a few days and we had no answers for them in regards to economic issues, regarding skyrocketing prices… the truth is people are having problems in their lives,” said Haji Doleigani, another parliament member.

Push comes to shove

It is common knowledge in Iran that Khamenei enjoys a certain influence over the parliament, aka the Majlis. If there is even an iota of support in the Majlis for Rouhani’s government, this is not equivalent to a white check.

The factional disputes are the result of each current pointing fingers at others for the country’s dilemmas, all in fear of an escalation in public upheaval. Yet when push comes to shove, all government, provincial, city, town and village officials are in one front in the face of any security development threatening the regime.

Currently the media is mainly focusing on how US sanctions will influence the future of Iran. While doing so, it is necessary to remind ourselves the main reason for the Iranian people’s ongoing sufferings – being the regime – and the subject senior regime officials fear most, being protests by the people.

Mojtaba Zolnour, Majlis member from the city of Qom in central Iran, made interesting remarks in a recent TV interview.

“Today, in a period of sanctions, if we ask ourselves have we made progress or failed to do so, it would be a lie to claim we are making advancements. Why are we cloaking our incompetence behind the wall of sanctions?”

Protests in Iran have reached a point of no return. While the ruling may seek to wait out US sanctions in the hope of US President Donald Trump failing reelection in November 2020, it has no answers for Iran’s powder keg society.

ANALYSIS: Iranian concerns heightened after US midterm elections

Al Arabiya

With the dust settling after the US midterm elections, a look at the impact of this important development for the Iranian regime is called for. It has become a known fact that Tehran’s mullahs seek to wait out the presidency of Donald Trump in hopes of him not being re-elected come November 2020.

In line with this train of thought, the Iranian regime was closely following the US midterm elections, rooting for the Democrats to take over all of Congress. This rooting was seen specifically in Tehran’s lobby efforts in support for Democrat candidates.

Not see in the media was the reaction from Iran as reality continues to sink in for the regime and the road ahead looks even more troubling, in their own words.

“Maximum pressure”

Different approaches with similar objectives is how the “Youth Journalists Club,” an outlet known to be linked to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Basij paramilitary entity, analyzes the remarks and actions seen from US Democrats, especially in pursuit of America’s foreign policy.

“Trump, through imposing his ‘maximum pressure’ policy… is eventually seeking regime change in Iran… and the Democrats have never denied their dreams of regime change in Iran,” a YJC piece reads.

“If senior Trump administration officials, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, have a history of taking part in meetings held by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and the individual most likely to become the new House Speaker, has no better track record.”

Hatred & enmity

Kayhan Daily, and especially the editorial written by Hossein Shariatmadari, are considered the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“If the Europeans and Americans, Democrats and Republicans agree on one subject, it is their enmity against [Iran’s regime],” the November 9 editorial reads. “The evidence of this claim is in the actions of European countries and these two American parties in at least the past five years… Did [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo not recently say we have a large coalition supporting us in our sanctions? European countries and some Middle East countries are supporting the sanctions. Even the three European countries remaining loyal to the [2015 Iran nuclear deal] are supporting the sanctions.”

“Some parties are happy about the Democrats taking control over the House of Representatives. Does this not mean we have no capability to run the country and are placing all our eggs in a basket several thousands of kilometers away?” he added in mockery.

“History shows the Democrats have no lesser hatred for us than the Republicans, and they have actually provided twice the support for sanctions against [Iran’s regime].”

US sanctions

Following last Monday’s formal announcement of the second wave of US sanctions, it was expected for the Iranian regime to claim they will overcome such measures – all intended to save face. There are certain remarks that stand out and provide an image into a grim future for Tehran’s rulers.

“When they sanction the banking system, it impacts everything,” Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani said in his remarks on Saturday. “They have targeted the banking system, oil exports, meaning they are targeting the entire country’s revenue… They have prepared a long list of banks, adding to that their branches, along with a flight company…”

Other officials are taking the entire issue one step further and pinpointing the regime’s main source of concerns in such circumstances.

“This year and the next, [Iran’s] currency will sink in value to such an extent that people will pour into the streets due to extremely dire living conditions… clashes will begin! Who is behind all this! The PMOI/MEK… and in the middle of all this mayhem, it just needs two people to chant one or two slogans,” said Hassan Abbasi, known as a theoretician close to the IRGC and Khamenei.

On the ground

It goes without saying these sanctions are the harshest imposed on the Iranian regime in history, with John Bolton making it crystal clear more such embargoes are in the making against Tehran.

It is becoming obvious that as Tehran’s international crises and isolation grow, this phenomenon is fueling the main faceoff on the ground that will define the future: the ongoing forty-year struggle between the Iranian people and an oppressive regime known for its crackdown and human rights violations.

As the regime weakens, Iran’s powder keg society will advance day by day. The days of those sitting on the throne in Tehran are numbered.

ANALYSIS: The meaning of new US sanctions for Iran

Al Arabiya

Despite weeklong claims of US President Donald Trump caving in to pressure, Washington has unleashed the full measure of US sanctions against Iran’s regime. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed reporters Friday that, come 12 a.m. ET Monday, all sanctions will return to pre-2015 Iran nuclear deal levers.

This is “aimed at depriving the regime of the revenues that it uses to spread death and destruction around the world,” Pompeo explained. “Our ultimate aim is to compel Iran to permanently abandon its well-documented outlaw activities and behave as a normal country.”

While a long shot, this policy has potential of reining in Iran’s regime, especially coupled with a highly explosive population and a society described as a powder keg.

Sweeping measures

Since pulling out of the nuclear deal back in May, the US administration has specifically voiced intentions to sanction the regime until Tehran ends its malign activities.

“The Treasury Department will add more than 700 names to our list of blocked entities,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, alongside Pompeo during Friday’s conference call with reporters. “This includes hundreds of targets previously granted sanctions relief under the JCPOA, as well as more than 300 new designations. This is substantially more than we ever have previously done.”

On the highly controversial issue of oil sanctions waivers, the Trump administration has intentions to grant temporary exemptions to eight “jurisdictions,” which Pompeo says will receive six-month waivers from US penalties on the condition that they significantly “wind down” oil imports from Iran.

What specifically is going into effect?

As a result of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Obama administration lifted a slate of sanctions severely curbing the Iranian regime’s economy. The move, considered a major step in appeasing the regime, provided Iran access to crucial markets in Europe and Asia, and the regime gained access to $150 billion in previously frozen oversees assets.

When Trump’s administration recalled the first major round of sanctions in May, Tehran was slapped with barriers regarding on Iranian metals, alongside its automotive and airline industries. In this round of crippling sanctions, the regime’s oil and banking sectors will receive major blows – exactly the areas Trump wants targeted.

Crosshairs are on major oil exporters, shipping companies and major Iranian banks — including the country’s Central Bank and other financial institutions, according to the White House. The administration will also “target those who attempt to violate or circumvent [the sanctions].”

“One hundred percent of the revenue that Iran receives from the sale of crude oil will be held in foreign accounts and can be used by Iran only for humanitarian trade or bilateral trade in non-sanctioned goods and services,” Pompeo explained Friday, adding insult to injury for Tehran.

The additional penalties are blueprinted to “cut off revenues the regime uses to bankroll terrorist groups, foment global instability, fund nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and enrich its leaders.”

The White House, however, has plans permitting the sales of humanitarian goods —including food, medicine and raw agriculture products — to Iran.

Why waivers for certain countries?

Washington’s ultimate goal is to have all trading partners zero oil purchases from Iran. Of course, this objective needs time and two of the eight “jurisdictions” receiving exemptions have reportedly agreed to seek other sources “within weeks” and the remaining six have been provided a maximum six-month period to do the same.

These jurisdictions “have demonstrated significant reductions in their crude oil and cooperation on many other fronts, and have made important moves toward getting to zero crude oil importation,” Pompeo said Friday.

While refusing to identify the eight jurisdictions, Pompeo did clarify that the full European Union would not be one of them. The list will release Monday when sanctions are re-implemented, Pompeo added.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, present details of the new sanctions on Iran. (AP)

 

The main objective

The US administration is seeking to keep the Iranian regime from getting cash. This “maximum-pressure” campaign intends to guarantee Tehran does not have the funds to support terror groups checkered across the Middle East, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The White House says the sanctions buildup has already deprived Iran of some $2 billion over the past several months, plunging the regime’s economy into a crisis. And despite claims by a slate of Iranian regime apologists and lobbyists in the West, Washington’s actions “are targeted at the regime, not the people of Iran,” as Pompeo explained.

Iran’s reactions

On Friday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sought to save face after the sanctions onslaught. “America will not be able to carry out any measure against our great and brave nation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said to state media. “We have the knowledge and the capability to manage the country’s economic affairs.”

On the same day, Alam Alhoda, Friday prayer imam and the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Mashhad, resorted to blatant threats of terror attacks across the Gulf region.

“If we reach a point that our oil is not exported, the Strait of Hormuz will be mined. Saudi oil tankers will be seized and regional countries will be leveled with Iranian missiles,” he said.

Furthermore, in a sign of Iran’s regime becoming extremely concerned about the upcoming sanctions, Tabatabaie-Nezhad, the Friday prayer imam of Isfahan said, “The US will be implementing the second round of sanctions on November 4th. This is the work of the Mojahedin!” referring to the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

And in what is considered a significant turn of events, Iran’s Guardian Council – comprised of six clerics directly appointed by Khamenei and six others appointed indirectly – vetoed the Financial Actions Task Force CFT (countering the financing of terrorism) convention on Sunday.

The FATF CFT adoption was the main condition raised by the EU, Russia, China & India for maintaining financial relations with Tehran. The future of these ties have become all the more controversial.

Final thoughts

The new US sanctions will make it far more difficult for Iran to obtain money at such desperate times. Despite the European Union’s initial disapproval of Washington’s new measures, a newly foiled terrorist plot by the Iranian regime in Denmark has made matters all the more difficult.

Danish officials are seeking EU action after arresting a Norwegian of Iranian descent on charges of actions aimed at assassinating an Iranian dissident on their soil. European leaders are opening the door to sanctions against the Iranian regime in response to terror plots in Albania, France and now Denmark.

Despite the need to calm relations with the West, Tehran’s regime understands desperate times call for desperate measures. This is especially true when new US sanctions are destined to suffocate the regime’s economy.

The importance of banning Iran’s regime from SWIFT

Al Arabiya

Crippling US sanctions are set to kick in early next month against Iran’s regime, targeting its oil and banking sectors.

While initially calling for “maximum pressures,” as we speak, the Trump administration is weighing to what extent these measures should push forward in denying Tehran access to the global financial system.

There is word that US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is informing foreign governments that Washington may be stepping back from an onslaught aimed at forcing the Belgium-based financial messaging network, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, to cut off sanctioned Iranian banks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This is a highly important matter as SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is considered part and parcel of Washington’s upcoming oil sanctions on Tehran.

If the US were to allow SWIFT continue providing even limited services to the Iranian regime, loopholes would be exploited by Tehran to facilitate money transactions the regime desperately needs.

This is why senior US administration officials are calling for sanctioning SWIFT board members should they decide to facilitate such financial transactions for Tehran. If Trump allows Iran access to SWIFT, his measures would not meet the “maximum pressures” litmus test and be weaker than Barack Obama’s actions.

Turn of events?

The potential SWIFT exemption can be considered as the Trump administration recalibrating their sanctions due to their high severity or even caving in to demands raised by America’s partners in Europe, various observers say.

The decision has apparently launched a struggle inside the Trump administration, particularly pinning Mnuchin against National Security Adviser John Bolton, a fierce advocate of tough action against the Iranian regime. While Mnuchin has made hints of his own, Bolton specifically used the term “squeeze Iran” in his recent visit to Armenia.

“We are going to squeeze Iran because we think their behavior in the Middle East and, really globally, is malign and needs to be changed,” Bolton said. These remarks are completely in line with Trump’s initial demand of “maximum pressure” against Tehran.

Mnuchin was also careful to balance his wording, indicating there has yet to be a final decision on disconnecting the Iranian regime from SWIFT.

Humanitarian goals

“Our objective is to make sure that financial institutions do not process sanctioned transactions,” Mnuchin told WSJ.

His office is “having very specific discussions with SWIFT,” he added. “I will use all the tools in my power to make sure that sanctioned transactions do not occur.” Humanitarian transactions, however, will be allowed, he added, launching suspicions across the board.

An Iranian goldsmith counts gold coins in Grand Bazaar, which has seen customers buying gold as a hedge against falling rial, in Tehran, on Aug. 12, 2018. (AP)

 

Brian Hook, the US Special Representative on Iran, specifically stated the Trump administration’s position in this regard.

“Our sanctions do not now, nor have they ever, targeted humanitarian goods. Our sanctions pressure the Iranian regime into changing its behavior and they do not target the Iranian people. The United States does not sanction the export of food or medicine to Iran,” Hook said at a July 2 press briefing.

Collective effort

While it would be more effective for the Europeans to be aboard US sanctions on Iran, as some argue, all countries will eventually realize it is in their interest, and the world’s, to impose heavy measures against the Iranian regime.

After all, which CEO in his/her right mind would jeopardize their future of doing business in the US $19 trillion economy for the sake of preserving business with the Iranian regime’s $400 billion economy? Especially considering the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) control a large portion of Iran’s economy.

There is also talk of European governments retaliating to develop what has been described as a “special purpose vehicle” in the case of US sanctions becoming too severe. This mechanism, being largely symbolic, aims to protect European corporations from damning US sanctions.

“Europe’s much-vaunted ‘special-purpose vehicle’ for trading around US financial sanctions, announced last month, is expected to be little more than a glorified barter arrangement with limited scope,” according to another WSJ article.

In the overall discussion of preventing any loopholes, Trump administration officials are also seeking measures against firms, such as Turkey’s Halkbank, for assisting Iran bypass and violate sanctions.

In this regard, persuading Ankara to restrict Tehran’s measures is merely a minimum objective for Washington. The main aim is to prevent Iran from escaping penalties in the face of tough US sanctions and Washington would prefer its allies not resorting to rearranging international financial systems.

‘Full snapback’

It is a known secret that Trump seeks to impose severe sanctions against Iran, reminding the world most recently about his intentions while adding further sanctions will be added even after November 5. Bearing in mind the fact that Iran was told to brace for a “full snapback” of sanctions, analysts believe Trump will settle for nothing less.

Washington is also seeking to impose increasingly tough sanctions to portray the number of Iranian companies, including so-called humanitarian organizations, are in fact associated to the IRGC.

The US Treasury Department has blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist group, while the State Department has yet to list this entity as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. A measure necessary in line with Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy.

Various observers are describing any exemption provided for Iran, especially in regards to SWIFT, as “caving” in to the Europeans. The Iranian regime suffered a damning blow back in 2012 when the Obama administration cut off its access to the SWIFT.

With access to the SWIFT network Iran will enjoy the ability to fund terrorism, continue destabilizing the Middle East, and may even finance their ballistic and nuclear programs. As Benny Avny explained, “It would certainly be ironic if Trump gave Iran a SWIFT exemption — since his sanctions would then be weaker than Obama’s.”

A look at Iran’s history of assassinating dissidents

Al Arabiya

The Jamal Khashoggi case has taken the world by storm, all in favor of the Iranian regime to take attention from its domestic and international crises, and place the spotlights elsewhere.

What should not go overlooked is the fact that Iran has a long history of brutal methods to eliminate dissidents inside the country and abroad, especially Europe.

This goes alongside the Iranian regime’s atrocious report card of massive terrorist attacks, killing scores of innocent people. Unfortunately, through the past 39 years, the West’s appeasement approach has saved Tehran from any meaningful accountability in this regard. This must change.

Special targets

The names of Kurdish opposition leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, former Iranian prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar and opposition figure Fereydoun Farrokhzad have been heard as victims of Iran’s terror machine. One objective of this piece is to see into other cases unfortunately lesser mentioned by mainstream media.

One of the most high-profile cases was the 1990 assassination of Dr. Kazem Rajavi, the brother of Massoud Rajavi, leader of Iran’s main opposition, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The murder of Kazem, representing the Iranian opposition in Switzerland and the United Nations European Headquarters, was a highly sophisticated operation involving numerous Iranian regime embassies and conducted outside his home on the outskirts of Geneva.

Being a strong critic of the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, Tehran’s mullahs wanted him dead and went to extreme measures for this end result. As in many cases, there is a strong belief that the mullahs’ Intelligence Ministry was directly involved in this plot. Kazem was gunned down in his car on April 24, 1990. In Rome, Iranian intelligence agents assassinated Mohammad Hossein Naghdi, a member of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), on March 16, 1993.

This former charge d’affairs of Iran was on Tehran’s hit list for joining the opposition ranks and Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini had called for his assassination back in 1983. After one failed attempt in that same year, Khomeini once again called for Naghdi’s assassination in 1988, resulting in his murder 10 years after the initial order.

Focusing on the main Iranian opposition movements, the Iranian regime’s Supreme National Security Council took steps forward in specifying a list of dissidents whose elimination was considered necessary for Tehran. After Kazem Rajavi and Naghdi, this list included NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mohammad Mohadessin and other senior NCRI figures such as Jalal Ganjei, Manouchehr Hezarkhani, Abbas Davari, Parviz Khazaie and Abolghasem Rezaie

Gruesome measures

The Mykonos restaurant killings is arguably described as one of the most vicious assassinations carried out by Iranian regime operatives. Tehran’s terrorists in Berlin gunned down Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a very brutal manner to send a message.

In 1997, a German court ruled that the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and former intelligence ministers Ali Fallahian were all involved in this assassination.

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The Anglo-Iranian communities, supporters of Iran’s democratic opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and main organised opposition movement PMOI, hold a rally in London on Jan. 4, 2018. (AP)

When it comes to eliminating dissidents, Iran’s regime truly recognizes no borders and crosses all red lines of morality. At the age of 39, Ms. Zahra Rajabi was a senior PMOI/MEK member stationed in Turkey when brutally assassinated on February 20, 1996. She was in Istanbul on assignment to protect the rights of Iranian women and refugees in Turkey.

She was found murdered in an apartment with bullets in her body. This assassination proved the Iranian regime is extremely ruthless to the point that even an individual seeking to protect the rights of refugees is considered a target and national security concern.

These assassination dossiers across various counties portray how the Iranian regime’s presidents and senior ministers, along with other high-ranking officials, are directly involved in the murder of Iranian dissidents.

More recently, Saeed Karimian, chairman of Gem TV, was assassinated in Istanbul by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) along with a colleague. This April 2017 killing was immediately followed by Iran’s state media running a chorus of fake news reports claiming the victim had been in collaboration with the PMOI/MEK.

This, parallel to a doctoring of Karimian’s image in a photo next to Iranian opposition President Maryam Rajavi, made it obvious how Iran’s main objective in this assassination of a TV official was to demonize and defame the main Iranian opposition organization.

And speaking of the PMOI/MEK, their members and supporters have been targets of a recent surge in terror and espionage plots, including in Albania, France and the United States. Iran’s Vienna-based diplomat and intelligence operatives in the US and across Europe have been arrested, some facing charges.

Foreign aspects

The Lebanese Hezbollah, a known Iran offspring, has been a designated terrorist organization by the US State Department since 1997. Funded by Tehran, this terrorist group was responsible for the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, killing over 50, and the US Marine barracks in Lebanon’s capital six months later, leaving 241 Americans and 58 French peacekeepers dead in 1983.

In 1985, Hezbollah hijacked a TWA flight, holding dozens of American hostage for weeks and eventually killing a US Navy sailor. Hezbollah also played a major role in the Iranian regime’s 1994 attack targeting the AMIA Jewish center that left 85 killed and over 300 injured. In 2006, a US federal judge held Tehran responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American service members.

At the end of the day, the murder of one human being, let alone more, must be responded with due justice. And if any party deserves facing justice it is the Iranian regime for its four decades long history of assassinations and terror attacks. This undeniable fact is especially worth reminding to the slate of Iranian regime apologists/lobbyists going the distance regarding the Jamal Khashoggi case.

ANALYSIS: Iran and the Financial Action Task Force impasse

Al Arabiya

What is the FATF and why are we hearing such conflicting remarks from inside the Iranian regime in this regard?

The Financial Action Task Force is a non-governmental organization established by the G7 back in 1979 to tackle money-laundering. In 2001, the initiative was expanded to also target terrorism financing.

The FATF secretariat is based in the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, located in Paris. In 2012, the task of confronting financing any terrorism-promoting activities was added to the FATF’s responsibilities.

FATF, in charge of supervising financial cross-border transactions, provided an October deadline to the Iranian regime to join two international conventions and reform two domestic laws. This body is holding its plenary meeting in Paris this week to discuss “a range of important issues to protect the integrity of the financial system and contribute to global safety and security.”

In response, the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented four bills to the regime’s Majlis (parliament):
– The Anti-Money Laundering Law Reform Bill
– The Anti-Terrorism Financing Law Reform Bill
– The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Supplementary Bill
– The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime Supplementary Bill

History

Following a four month-long delay, the Iranian regime parliament finally approved a bill agreeing to adopt the Combating the Financing of Terrorism standards. This is considered the most important step for Tehran in the path of eventually joining the FATF.

Many voices from inside the Iranian regime launched a major brouhaha after these developments. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described it a historical decision.

Hamid Aboutalebi, an advisor to Rouhani, praised the parliament and said members showed the country’s national security and the Iranian people’s interests are their primary priorities.

Khamenei opposition

The CFT approval, however, came despite the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had specifically said he opposes this law. Meeting members of parliament back in June, Khamenei specifically voiced his opposition to joining any international conventions.

“These accords are actually cooked up in one specific place… If an independent government is found somewhere, such as the Islamic republic, who for example says we don’t accept these conventions and international accords… They attack them with harsh rhetoric demanding they join… That’s what these conventions are all about. Now, what do we do?… I said the parliament should pass a law. For example, on the issue of combating terrorism or money-laundering… the members should sit down and pass their own law,” he said.

Khamenei had described the FATF as an “endless pit” in his social media page. And at a recent state-launched rally in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Khamenei delivered a speech covering a variety of subjects.

“As long as I’m alive I will not allow the country to surrender,” he said. However, word inside Iran indicates that all parties are awaiting his signal to do exactly that.

It is common knowledge that whenever Khamenei emphasizes on standing firm, he is signaling to the regime’s depleting social base he will be heading the opposite route.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the parliament in Tehran on October 7, 2018, during a meeting over the a bill to counter terrorist financing. (AFP)

 

A step back

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani made everything clear reading Khamenei’s letter to Majlis members.

“What I said during our meeting with the members in regards to the four bills and conventions was related to the very principle of these conventions, and not a particular convention. Therefore, I have no objection with these bills being evaluated in the parliament, in order to follow through with the legal procedures,” the letter read in part.

Through such remarks Khamenei took back his own words and threw the ball into the parliament’s court.

Why the predicament?

Why can’t anyone in the Iranian regime, even Khamenei himself, put their foot down and finalize the issue. The answer can be found in Zarif’s remarks to the Majlis members.

“China’s international policies are very similar to that of the Islamic republic. China is our strategic partner. We are also strategic partners with Russia. However, the Russian Central Bank chief told Dr. Hemmati [his Iranian counterpart) we will not be able to conduct business without the FATF. The Chinese had also made similar remarks time and again,” he explained.

“Neither I, nor the president, we cannot guarantee all our problems will be resolved by joining the FATF. However, we can guarantee that by not joining this bill the US will find a very important pretext to increase its pressures against us,” Zarif added.

The Iranian regime has been weighing this issue since 2011, enjoying the appeasement approach practiced by the Obama administration to buy time.

Shooting in the foot

Tehran is also very concerned, understanding the severe consequences of joining the FATF. The clerical regime will no longer be able to funnel money to terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite proxies in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. This means shooting yourself in the foot for Tehran.

All the while, if the Iranian regime fails to approve the FATF conventions, its banking transactions with Europe, Russia and China will face extreme difficulties. This gains significant proportions when we take into consideration the November 5th return of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil/banking/shipping sectors. This will have a crippling impact on the Iranian regime, to say the least, especially considering the increasing protests and strikes across the country.

The current circumstances were best explained by the Iranian regime’s own members of parliament: committing suicide in fear of death. This is the very telling indication and interpretation of a regime facing a critical impasse.

ANALYSIS: US sanctions and the end of ‘reform’ in Iran

Al Arabiya

With a new wave of US sanctions just around the corner, the regime ruling Iran is in deep waters as domestic and international pressures escalate. To add insult to injury for the clerics in Tehran, public discontent is increasing and people from all of life across Iran are demanding regime change.

Strikes and protests have continued in relentless waves across the country, especially following the December/January uprising. This movement, enjoying vast support in Iran’s society, is shaking the very pillars of this regime.

Plundering the Iranian people for 39 years and counting, the United States withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is further depriving Tehran of the funds it desperately needs to continue fueling its domestic crackdown machine and belligerence aimed at foreign targets.

The clerical regime has played all its cards and the Iranian people will no longer fall for any further deceptive plots.

Reform: A story of the past

In a frantic attempt, the Iranian regime is busy with a diplomatic campaign seeking the support of other Iran nuclear deal partners – the document formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – being Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

These measures have failed to render any tangible results for the Iranian regime, especially considering the fact that the country’s currency, the rial, has plunged and lost more than 60 percent of its value since April alone. Inflation is skyrocketing and even basic necessities are running scarce, all due to the regime’s mismanagement.

In the West, pundits argue Iranians would “rally around the flag” and provide more power to the regime’s hardliners in the face of US hostility. Following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iranians are actually understanding how regime leaders are the party to blame. They have also put an end to any “rally” claim raised by foreigners obviously lacking the necessary knowledge to correctly analyze Iran’s current powder keg society.

For many “experts” it will be hard to admit that the on-the-ground reality of Iran’s fast developing political landscape is far too complex to easily evaluate the recitation of events through the canvas of “reformists” against the hardcore “principalists.” The protests and all out uprising since late December 2017 have proven once for all that the so-called reformists in Iran have failed to render any change deemed positive in the past two decades.

A military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen during a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) in Tehran, in this September 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)

Iran’s “reformists,” dating back to when the now dead former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjanicame to power in 1989, have been on a specific mission never mentioned or explained clearly in western mainstream media: preserving the Iranian regime in power by promising – and very rarely implementing – minor “reforms.”

The protests since December have caught the Iranian regime, and the world over, by surprise. And the so-called reformists in Iran have received their message: Your time is up. The Iranian people are increasingly realizing that the “reformists” in Iran are no different from the hardliners sitting on the throne and having the last word on all major issues.

The “Reformists, principalists, game over” slogan put an end to the “reform” mirage in Iran. A list of Iranian “reformists” are showing their true colors by not standing alongside the people, losing the nation’s trust as a result. Various remarks include:

• Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, accused the protesters of being directed by elements outside of Iran;
• Abbas Abdi, dubbed as a “reformist leader,” described the recent protests as “uncalculated and irrational;”
• the Association of Combatant Clerics, an entity chaired by former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who claimed “opportunists and troublemakers have exploited” them.

Furthermore, it’s good to know that Mir Hossein Mousavi, also described as a “reformist leader” in Iran’s political spectrum, was this regime’s prime minister during the 8-year long Iran-Iraq War, continuously promoting the horrific initiative.

Mousavi also recently admitted of his knowledge regarding the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Mir Mahmoud Mousavi, brother to the former prime minister and a former diplomat for this regime, has recently voiced utter disappointment in Iran’s “reformists,” saying they lack the ability to do anything more than what they have shown in the past two decades.

Which in itself has been anything but meaningful.

Evolving landscape

What we are witnessing in the protests spreading across Iran during the past ten months have been a wave launched by the largely poor and rural branches of Iran’s society. Setting aside those ruling the country and enjoying ties to the regime, the economic crisis engulfing Iran is having a deep impact on nearly every household.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, another “reformist,” had promised to realize economic prosperity following the JCPOA. However, more billions were funneled to fuel the clerical regime’s support for Bashar Assad in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, the Lebanese Hezbollah, sectarian militias in Iraq, further development of ballistic missiles and … the list goes on.

More reason why over 140 cities erupted in major revolt back in December 2017, far before Trump imposed sanctions. It is quite telling that from that turn of events, the clerical regime’s bubble of enjoying the support of the lower, dispossessed class in Iran, has burst.

All the while, Iran’s middle class – or whatever is left of it as 80 percent of the population lives in poverty – is also seen taking to the streets and expressing their anger very publicly on the fact that this regime has failed to deliver socially and economically.

Stepping up the tempo

Iran’s regime has been known to quell public dissent for forty years. The significant factor in this round of ongoing protests is the organized nature of such movements, seen most recently in the truck drivers’ nationwide strike that has now entered its third week and spreading to over 310 cities.

Time and again senior Iranian regime officials are voicing their utter concerns about the Iranian opposition PMOI/MEK, and specifically their “Resistance Units” network inside the country, playing the decisive role in the ongoing uprising.

The Iranian people have shown in the past 39 and some years, with major episodes in 1999, 2009 and the ongoing uprising, that they will not tolerate this regime. As the regime loses the support of a destructive appeasement policy practiced by the West, especially during the Obama years, it grows gradually weaker in the face of an increasingly restive nation that is demanding and will realize sweeping changes through an all-out revolution in the near future.