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.

 

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ANALYSIS: How Iranian regime sinks deeper into isolation

Al Arabiya

Following Iran’s announcement of missiles tests under the pretext of “launching satellites” into space, the regime in Tehran is facing a new wave of political isolation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement in response: “The Iranian Regime’s Ministry of Defense has publicly announced plans to launch three Space Launch Vehicles (SLV) in the coming months. Such actions would once again demonstrate Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which calls upon the Iranian regime not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons… The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk. We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in a tweet claiming, “Iran’s launch of space vehicles— & missile tests—are NOT in violation of Res 2231…”

Two months after the US launched new sanctions against the Iranian regime, Washington apparently intends to increase its political and economic pressures to compel Tehran into at least ending its adventurous policies.

Important details

Zarif’s remarks are nothing new, as the regime claims their missiles are for defensive purposes and do not bear the capability of delivering a nuclear payload. However, both the US and Europe are showing grave sensitivity in this regard and making contrast comments.

The missile ranges are key and upgrading these vehicles into delivering a nuclear warhead are an easy step. This subject becomes especially important when placed alongside threats made by senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials saying Iranian missiles now reach Europe.

Why the tests?

It is common knowledge that the Iranian regime is facing a conglomerate of crises as we speak. One particular issue, being Iran’s restive society and continuing protests, is of the utmost importance for the ruling regime, having severe impacts on their entire apparatus, especially more members of their ranks and files throwing in the towel.

Tehran’s clerics are now in dire need of what they describe as “hope therapy.” One such measure is through ballistic missiles and satellite launching vehicles to elevate diminishing spirits.

A protestor chants slogans against the Iranian regime and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following a deadly attack on a camp near Baghdad housing Iranian exiles. (AFP)

 

In regards to Iran’s nuclear program, the regime continues to claim this initiative is for peaceful purposes and/or medical isotopes, knowing a complete shutdown of their “civilian” nuclear program would be humiliating in the face of the “Great Satan.”

Inside Iran and abroad, it would be considered as the regime beginning to succumb to the 12-demands raised by Pompeo.

Not so easy

These adventurous measures, however, create certain issues in already tense relations between the Iranian regime and Europe.

While Tehran desperately continues effort to create a rift between the US and Europe, the Green Continent cannot overlook Tehran’s meddling in the Middle Eastsupport for terrorismballistic missile tests and human rights violations, to some extent. Making things even more complicated is the position long adopted by Tehran, saying a step back on any of these issues will be the beginning of the end on all far more important subjects.

One such sign is the impasse Iran’s regime faces in regards to Europe’s “special purpose vehicle”initiative aimed at providing a mechanism to bypass US sanctions.

This subject has become so provocative for the European Union – especially considering Washington’s start opposition – that members of Iran’s Majlis (parliament) are heard claiming Tehran is not counting on the SPV!.

Seeing the matter becoming utterly embarrassing, Zarif has made similar remarks saying there was no economic objective in signing into the 2015 nuclear deal. It appears Zarif has forgotten how the Iranian regime went on a trade-signing rampage following the nuclear signing, including with companies such as AirBus, Boeing, Total and so forth.

Mehdi Mohammadi, described as an “expert in nuclear and international policy issues,” provided an interesting response after Zarif’s remarks raised quite a few eyebrows across the board.

“If we assume that Mr. Zarif was honest in his remarks, and these words were not the result of pressures from public opinion after the nuclear deal failed to provide economic fruit… this question comes to mind that if there were no economic/sanctions-lifting objectives involved in the nuclear deal, then what objective was the nuclear deal seeking?… Why did we even negotiate in the first place?”

Final thoughts

It is an undeniable fact that Iran’s regime is facing growing isolation, as the international community is coming to understand the clerics’ mortal weakness in the face of mushrooming protests.

Having no solutions, the Iranian regime is kicking the can down the road. 2019, with protests showing no signs of cooling and Washington determined to increase economic and diplomatic pressures, is promising to be a devastating period for Tehran.

Pompeo provided a preview in a recent interview with Newsmax: “The sanctions on Iran have the ultimate goal which we are trying to achieve. Creating an outcome where the Iranian people could have better lives than they have today under this tyrannical regime.”

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.

Israel targets sites of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force, militia groups in Syria

https://twitter.com/HeshmatAlavi/status/1077656867931914241A variety of sites west of Damascus, Syria, associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force and proxy groups, were targeted in an Israeli air and missile strike Tuesday night. More than 30 missiles were launched in this attack that also saw a number of planes carrying weapons from Iran to Syria targeted.

At least 20 missiles were fired by Israeli warplanes as they targeted a base belonging to Iran where Lebanese Hezbollah members were stationed. Reports indicate Israeli warships were also participating in this strike, launching more than 20 cruise missiles towards targets in Damascus.

More than 20 rockets were also fired at bases located west of Damascus.

The Syrian Human Rights Observatory in Damascus said the cruise missiles were targeting arms caches belonging to Iran’s regime. Signs indicate this attack consisted of two waves of strikes carried out by Israel.

The Israeli government has made it clear time and again it will not allow Tehran establish permanent bases and provide arms and ammunition to proxy groups in Syria.

Further attacks were staged against targets in Qatana, southwest of Damascus. Sources on the ground reported a large number of ambulances were dispatched to western areas of Damascus, indicating a high number of casualties.

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Map by @sfrantzman indicating the sites reportedly targeted by Israel on Tuesday night

The second wave of Israel’s attack consisted of F16s bomber escorted by advanced F35 warplanes targeting various sites in Damascus. The targets included Hezbollah sites in a school in Dimas, the Syrian army 4th Saboura brigade headquarters, the 10th Qatana brigade, Syrian Defense Ministry factories in the mountain tops west and north of Damascus, the 67th and 137th brigades in the al-Sheikh region and other arms caches belonging to the Iranian regime.

This is described as the largest attack by Israel following the downing of a Russian military plane. Israel has also targeted two Syrian S200 surface to air missile sites.

The Israeli army also destroyed a site where Iran’s Fajr-5 missiles were being held in secret. There are also reports indicating Israel targeted a Hezbollah command site, killing a number of senior Hezbollah officials.

3
Images of Iran’s Fajr-5 missile system

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Fajr-5, a guided 333 mm missile system

Newsweek, citing a source in the U.S. Defense Department, said the Israeli airstrikes were carried out minutes after senior Hezbollah officials were boarding an Iranian plane in Damascus intending to leave for Iran. This report also indicates Iran’s strategic arms warehouses, including advanced weapons GPS equipment, were targeted in last night’s air raid.

Two suspicious Iranian planes left the Damascus airport just half an hour prior to the attack. One Boeing 747 cargo plane associated to the Fars “Qeshm” airline landed in Damascus International Airport at 7 pm Tuesday night and left the airport at 9:28 pm, meaning half an hour prior to reports of an air attack in Syria.

According to Flightradar24.com, one of the Iranian planes, a Boeing F281-747, took off from Damascus and headed to the east and Tehran, escalated to 30,000 feet and entered Iraqi airspace at around 10 pm to then enter Iranian airspace at around midnight.

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Tweets by @sfrantzman on the suspicious Iranian flights

This thread provides a look at the various videos posted of this latest Israel attack targeting Iran’s interests in Syria.

 

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…”

From currency crisis to rising inflation: Closer look at Iran’s economic turmoil

Hossein Raqfar, an economy expert in Iran, has acknowledged the drastic financial situation facing the regime. Calculations are showing difficult periods ahead even despite what seems, at surface at least, a rebounding currency following the Iranian currency – the rial – plunging to 190,000 against the US dollar.

While the dollar is claimed to sell at around 105,000 rials as we speak, experts are saying even if the rates rise to the regime’s official 42,000 rial the country would be facing deep and widespread recession.

Numerous production units will close down, leading to a significant surge in unemployment. Such developments raise concerns of more people pouring into the streets and a repeat of the Dec 2017 / Jan 2018 uprising.

Such undeniable realities on the ground in Iran leave the regime no choice but to engineer an artificial currency gain, aiming to prevent various imbalances and instabilities, economically, socially and even politically.

Saving face

The Iranian regime is the main element behind all of this country’s economic woes, including the currency crisis. There are a variety of political and social reservations taken into consideration, in line with the old saying of “Ask much to get little.”

The Iranian regime and its array of apologists/lobbyists abroad claim prices in Iran are skyrocketing due to foreign pressures and sanctions. With the currency rates rising artificially, the same voices claim these numbers are dropping due to their management.

These political and psychological schemes are targeting public opinion and seeking to calm a highly restive and potentially uprising society. A staunch reminder is the fact that the rial is hovering at rates three times that of ten months ago. Considering the various aspects in play effecting Iran’s currency rates, the economy is on path to a complete bankruptcy.

“Our equations show Iran’s economy will go bankrupt even with the U.S. dollar trading at 80,000 rials. Huge expenses will be placed on the shoulders of the country’s production lines and families will lose their purchasing powers at unprecedented scales. If rates remain above the 80,000 rial mark, the situation will be even worse,” Raqfar added in his remarks published in Iranian media.

Iranians shop in a supermarket in north Tehran on April 29, 2015. (File photo: AP)

 

Skyrocketing inflation

One of the regime’s main goals in raising the currency rates was to compensate for the government’s budget deficit and other such shortfalls in Iran’s banking system. This goal was never met, neither for the government’s concerns nor the banking system.

Fueling woes are skyrocketing prices across the board and with this ongoing trend, the regime’s experts are forecasting a rise of official inflation rates to 80 and even 100 percent. This will have drastic consequences for those making the calls in Tehran.

According to Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, Iran’s actual inflation rate the regime refuses to officially report stands at 170.5 percent.

These price hikes are witnessed in government goods and services, including the recent turmoil seen in increasing prices of airplane tickets. The Iranian regime actually profited from this dilemma, seeking to gain more currency to pay for government debts, including to the banks and especially private banks.

Speaking of banks, Ruhollah Khodarahmi, head of the Iranian regime’s Bank Keshavarzi (Agriculture), acknowledged the closing of 40 bank branches since late March with the goal of decreasing unnecessary expenses. In his interview with the regime’s officials IRNA news agency, this bank chief signaled the closing of another 50 further branches by March 2019.

Rest assured the actual numbers depict a far more drastic image and these remarks portray merely a tip of the iceberg for the economic dilemma engulfing the Iranian regime.

Banking system down

Iran’s banking system is literally on life support, with money provided by the regime and out of ordinary people’s pockets.

The banks are in no position to provide any support for production units, as they continue to be heavily dependent on the Central Bank and the government. Many of the country’s banks will shutdown without loans from the Central Bank.

The situation at hand for Iran’s economy is very serious and it is safe to say a soon-to-be-witnessed domino effect is prone to destroy production, ultimately leading to the crumbling of the entire economy.

To compensate a portion of their bankruptcy, the banks are charging 30 to 33 percent interest rates on production units, all with the Majlis (parliament) looking the other way. The Iranian regime’s so-called legislative body is under the control of the powerful and rich few in Iran.

As the banks continue their fraud and corrupt practices. Forecasts indicate more production lines will shut down in the months ahead and a new wave of unemployment will spread across the country. Production line owners are literally praying for a turn of events. With no positive development in sight, most of these units have been forced to shut down.

For the ruling regime in Iran this is a recipe for disaster, reminding Tehran about the very sparks fueling the late December 2017 uprising.

As we speak, the Iranian regime is going the distance to save the banking system by further plundering the Iranian people. The people will eventually reach their threshold and this regime, weakened by powerful sanctions and escalating isolation, no longer has the capacity to confront the protesting Iranian people.

A storm is coming, to say the least.

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…”

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.”