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.

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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.

 

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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.

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.

ebd02d55-8a8b-4ef6-a512-30c3246c9a5e.jpg
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.

Warmongering Iran and its mounting regional and international isolation

Al Arabiya

The international and regional isolation against Iran is once again becoming a concern for the regime.

Global condemnations over a recent attack on Iraq-based Kurdish dissident groups and the executions of three Kurdish political prisoners resulted in a variety of rebukes concerning Tehran’s warmongering policies in the Middle East and their terrorism in the West.

As a result, the clerical regime is becoming weaker on the international stage like never before. Important now is how to evolve and raise the level to benefit the Iranian people.

Regional troubles

Last Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence condemned Iran’s missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan. One day later, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert added to this condemnation by describing the Iranian regime as a disrupting element in the region and a bad actor across the globe.

On that note, Iran’s malign influence in Syria came under fire in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday as members warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, the last area where Syrian opposition forces and millions of displaced civilians are located.

France, the Netherlands, Kuwait and Turkey called for a complete halt to military attacks by the Iran-backed Bashar Assad regime and Russia. US Ambassador Nikki Haley upped the tone against Russia, Iran and Assad, accusing these parties of not showing any interesting in reaching a political solution. Iran’s role in Assad’s bloody attacks will not go unnoticed, she warned.

Europe threatened

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) shed new light on the regime’s terror apparatus. At a press conference held in London on Wednesday, the NCRI provided new details over Tehran’s terrorist activities in the Green Continent, calling on European countries to close the Iranian regime’s embassies, as they are being used by Tehran as nests for their spies, and expel Iranian regime operatives from their soil.

Members of the British Houses of Lords and Commons took part in this press conference, emphasizing on the necessity to have Iran’s Vienna-based diplomat and other elements, arrested for their role in plotting to bomb the June 30th Iranian opposition convention in Paris, face justice. One MP presented a plan to the British Parliament condemning Iran’s terrorist activities in Europe.

Arab action

The Arab League also pitched in by condemning the Iranian regime’s meddling in regional countries. The 150th Arab League session ended this week with the Foreign Ministers Committee issuing a statement expressing grave concerns over Tehran’s provoking religions sectarianism in the Middle East.

The statement also condemned the Iranian regime’s support for Yemen’s Houthi militias and their launching of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Interesting are the incoherent remarks heard form Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, denying Tehran’s meddling and claiming this regime has “constantly called for a neighborly policy based on trust!”

Unprecedented tone

After enjoying eight years of unbridled appeasement from the United States under the Obama administration, eyebrows began raising in Tehran again after Washington held this regime responsible for any attack by its proxies in Iraq against U.S. interests.

The Trump White House issued a statement warning it will “respond swiftly and decisively” to any such attacks that render injury to Americans or damage to US facilities. The statement by the White House press secretary raised bold accusations against Iran of not preventing recent attacks targeting the US Consulate in Basra and the American Embassy compound in Baghdad.

A view of the Arab League headquarters during a meeting in Cairo on November 19, 2017. (AFP)

 

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons,” the statement reads.

“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” the statement adds.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went a step further by emphasizing on Iraq’s sovereignty, and expressing grave concerns about Tehran’s missile program development and the transfer of these weapons across the region.

To add insult to injury and despite the Iranian regime’s claims of being able to confront US sanctions, the regime’s OPEC envoy is heard complaining over how Saudi Arabia and Russia are increasing their oil production.

This will eventually balance the oil market and make up for the loss of Iranian oil following the November 4 sanctions Washington has in schedule for Tehran. More insulting is how Russia is treating the Iranian regime even after Tehran’s rulers literally sold-out the Caspian Sea to Moscow.

Final thoughts

The status quo is quite telling about the Iranian regime’s isolation and impasse in the Middle East, and across the globe. This, coupled with nationwide protests and a social unrest inside Iran, provides a very expressive canvas of Tehran’s current balance of power.

Recent remarks by Hossein Alaei, former Revolutionary Guards chief of staff, refers to the Iranian regime’s challenging times.
“Today’s political and economic circumstances in Iran are inappropriate… the people are angry and the state must make important decisions,” he explained.

It goes without saying that the Iranian regime’s domestic crises, facing a powder keg society seeking to bring an end to the clerics’ rule, are of the utmost priority for those on the throne in Tehran.

As a result, regional and global isolation should evolve into the international community as a whole standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy.

ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime views the internet

Al Arabiya

For a short while Iran’s cyber security threats and its use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter came under the spotlight. This is good, but more is needed.

Iran runs a cyber-army and what has been unearthed recently is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Facebook, an important portion of this network was linked to an internet organization associated to the regime’s state-run TV/radio apparatus.

Reuters reports how this network is active in 11 languages across the globe, busy spreading fake news and pro-Iran political propaganda on the web. This grid, however, is only a small portion of the Iranian regime’s cyber-army, mostly directed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Bassij paramilitary force.

Dual approach

In recent years, the IRGC has also launched numerous cyber attacks targeting various banks, scientific centers, economic and industrial facilities in the United States, hacking their internet networks in the process. US officials have in response sanctioned individuals associated to this network.

Interesting is how the Iranian regime has a double standard approach in regards to the internet, considering it both an opportunity and a threat. Tehran takes advantage of the internet as a medium to promote its reactionary mentality, “export revolution” (read extremism) and also post fake news about its dissidents.

On the other hand, it’s quite interesting how the regime deprives the Iranian people of free access to the internet and its officials describe the internet as a threat for the regime in its entirety, going the distance to limit access.

A closer look

The Iranian regime’s cyber army is mainly controlled by the IRGC, centrally based in Tehran and commanded by an IRGC division stationed in the capital.

Ghasam.ir is the main website of this entity and more than 2,500 other sites are actively controlled through this medium, according to senior IRGC cyber-army officials.

Tehran’s IRGC cyber-army battalions are designed based on the regime’s needs in cyber-warfare and responses to cultural issues. At least one cyber-army battalion is established for each section of the large Iranian capital.

According to the regime’s terminology, these websites are responsible for launching “currents” on international, cultural and economic issues. IRGC Bassij members involved in social media and creating “currents” are literally creating fake news and/or behind special propaganda campaigns involving complete lies. A large number of the personnel active in this field of work are official reporters of the Bassij Press network.

Bassij cyber-army battalions have throughout the years expanded in various cities across Iran. The IRGC and Bassij have also embedded cyber-army units in all government and state entities, most importantly the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

The technical and communications means available in this entity allow the IRGC cyber-army to expand its activities across the globe.

The IRIB cyber unit consists of seven such battalions and 1,200 personnel, according to the IRGC-associated Youth Journalists Club. The IRIB has also launched other cyber units to confront “the enemy’s soft war” against the regime and “present to the world the objectives and goals sought through the Islamic revolution,” according to Iranian officials talking to state media.

Iran has also established cyber units in a variety of other sectors, including the country’s important colleges and universities, religious schools and even the “Cyber Hizbullah,” in charge of organizing the cyber activities of IRGC Bassij and other such units.

A religious scholar sporting rings and holding his worry beads types on a computer at a school in Qom on 18 February 2000. (AFP)

 

Controlling the internet

The Iranian regime also uses all means provided by the internet to limit the Iranian people’s access to the world wide web. Tehran’s clerics understand very well that with the free flow of information the entire crackdown apparatus imposed on the Iranian people will begin to fissure.

As a result, the regime’s ideological pillars will weaken and Iranians across the country will gain knowledge of this regime’s corruption and economic bankruptcy. This literally represents an existential threat for the mullahs’ regime.

Iran’s 2009 and the recent Dec/Jan uprisings showed how protesters use social media networks such as Twitter, Telegram and Instagram to organize anti-regime demonstrations. In response, the Iranian regime has a tendency to block or limit the people’s access to the internet and social media platforms at times of crises.

Tehran’s clerics are also known to pursue plans to launch a “national internet network” aimed at completely blocking off the Iranian people from the internet and social medial networks. This, however, has become an impossible hurdle due to the regime’s technological and financial weaknesses.

The Iranian regime’s concerns about Telegram, a popular messaging app used by over 40 million people inside Iran, is a very clear indication.

“In a discussion with [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani we emphasized if Telegram’s vocal service is launched we will not be able to control anything,” said Hossein Nejat, deputy of the IRGC Intelligence Organization and in charge of the crackdown and arrest of cyber activists.

The Iranian regime has also failed to completely block Telegram. Senior regime officials have continuously encouraged people to use Iran-made messaging apps, only to prove a failure. The Iranian people simply don’t trust any indigenous software, knowing their information will be at the Iranian regime’s disposal immediately.

Iran’s concerns of people fully accessing the internet indicates the clerical regime’s political and intellectual failure and inability in confronting the modern world and the Iranian people’s protest movement against their reactionary apparatus.

The international community can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people by both sanctioning Iran’s IRIB and providing free and unhindered internet access to the Iranian people.

ANALYSIS: The reasoning behind Iran’s recent nuclear, military measures

Al Arabiya

The Iranian regime has recently moved up its fall military exercises, due to the re-imposition of US sanctions as they say, and test fired a short-range ballistic missile. This launching comes after a pause of more than a year.

On Monday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei placed what may be a nail in the coffin for any possible negotiations between his regime and the Trump administration.

Parallel to this, while making much lesser noise in the media, is the second return of ten batches of 20 percent enriched uranium that Iran sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord. Iran claims this highly sensitive nuclear material is needed to fuel Tehran’s Research Reactor and threatens to restart the 20 percent uranium enrichment cycle if the deal goes south.

All the while, Iran’s ultraconservative Guardian Council, answering only to Khamenei, has signed measures to bring the regime a step closer to international anti-money-laundering standards. What is the reasoning behind these two threats and one concession?

Missile and military threats

Having the final call on all on all state matters in Iran, especially national security and foreign policy, Khamenei silenced any talk for negotiations with the U.S. From his remarks it is obvious that the Iranian regime is hoping to somehow live through US President Donald Trump’s first term and hope for him to not be reelected.

Back home, with a recent short-range ballistic missile test launch Iran is obviously sending a message to Washington regarding the sanctions. Iran test-fired a missile immediately after Trump came into office. This prompted the famous “on notice” remarks from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the Trump administration slapping sanctions against the Iranian regime, signaling the new White House would not tolerate such behavior.

Tehran is returning to such practices as US sanctions bear down hard, parallel to protests across the country gaining momentum. Even weekend football matches are turning into scenes where people are chanting “Death to the dictator” in reference to Khamenei, as seen vividly in Ahvaz and Tehran in the past few days.

US sanctions re-installed last week are taking Iran out of the US dollar market, shutting down their access to gold and other precious metals such as aluminum, steel and graphite, automobiles and etc.

Extreme sanctions against the Iranian regime’s energy and banking sectors are set to return in November, with the high potential of an already severely struggling economy completely crumbling. As we speak the country’s currency, the rial, is becoming valueless and all businesses are turning to the black market.

Feeling cornered, will the Iranian regime live up to its threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz where nearly one-third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes through? After its first 18 months the Trump administration has shown it will consider such measures as an act of war.

“If the block the Strait of Hormuz we would literally take out all their military on the Strait of Hormuz,” said Ret. Gen. Jack Keane to Fox News recently.

Rest assured the Iranian regime does not wish to instigate a conflict with the US For nearly 40 years now Iran has constantly used proxy forces to attack the US and its regional allies, specifically avoiding direct confrontation through their military.

Interesting reminders

Iran, under growing threats, is known to resort to face-saving measures. As international pressures escalate and facing a restless nation, the Iranian regime desperately needs to maintain a strong posture.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the regime’s Atomic Energy organization, reported recently the returning of a second batch of 20 percent enriched uranium sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord inked by the Obama administration and nixed by Trump back in May as promised during his presidential campaign.

“If the nuclear deal remains alive, the other sides should sell us the fuel and if the nuclear deal dies, then we would feel unimpeded to produce the 20% fuel ourselves,” Kamalvandi threatened, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, known to be associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

He continued his threatening remarks of Iran being entitled to resume production of 20 percent enriched uranium in 2030. Furthermore, Iran has reopened a nuclear plant recently after remaining idle for nine years.

What shouldn’t go missing is the Iranian regime’s necessity to make such threats being very telling in and of itself. These are signs of a regime in crisis mode and needing to maintain a poker face, knowing their hand has nothing to offer while rivals are breathing down their neck with a full house.

Facing reality

It is, however, crystal clear for the Iranian regime that such a trend of ongoing threats cannot continue. Long gone are the Obama years when Tehran open-handedly imposed its will and continued to wreak havoc across the Middle East while advancing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, all aligned with a ruthlessly repressive domestic crackdown machine.

For example, Iran is now heavily investing on deepening an Atlantic rift between the US and Europe. And with the European Union demanding Iran comply with anti-money-laundering standards specified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a senior body linked directly to Khamenei is approving measures to place the regime more in line with the globally recognized norms.

Iran is now in desperate need of foreign investments as US sanctions begin to such dry the regime’s access to the global financial market. The FATF, considered the world’s financial-crime watchdog, had in June provided the Iranian regime until October to impose reforms or face drastic consequences.

The main definition of FATF restrictions for the Iranian regime is defined into the hampering of Tehran’s financial support for terror groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and others. This has the potential of severely crippling the regime’s influence throughout the Middle East.

Back in June Khamenei called for domestic laws to tackle money laundering inside the country, in an attempt to safeguard the flow of financial support to its proxies abroad. Recent development go to show how dire circumstances are leaving Khamenei no choice but succumbing to such humiliating terms. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are only one week into the return of US sanctions and protests across Iran have been gaining continuous momentum ever since the Dec/Jan uprising. Tehran on Saturday and Sunday witnessed the shoe market going on strike as store-owners were protesting high prices and the scarcity of raw material.

The impact of new sanctions will continue to sink in deep, weakening the regime in the face of expanding protests. Prior to November the Iranian regime will be on its knees.