Iran’s new line of defense

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sanctioning the Terrible Twosome

The world currently faces two atomic crises in Iran and North Korea, despite long strides in the effort of nuclear non-proliferation. Deep military and nuclear cooperation between the two states makes dealing with these challenges even more difficult. One may have thought lessons would have been learnt from the devastating lessons of appeasement from World War II – yet the approaches adopted vis-à-vis North Korea and Iran in signing nuclear agreements have raised accusations that Neville Chamberlain’s famous policy is still alive and well.

It’s obvious that Iran has learned from North Korea, and vice-versa, in both military and diplomatic spheres: in a recent Raddington Report article we argue that there are few nations that view North Korean missile tests with more interest than Iran. The Islamic Republic yearns to be in the position North Korea finds itself in – to have developed a nuclear arsenal, along with the means of deliver the payload. And North Korea covets to have had the opportunity Iran found: usurping Obama’s desperate need for a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement to garner a slate of concessions.

There is seemingly little appetite for a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran – yet the appeasement of these two rogue regimes have left the international community in more of a quagmire. North Korea is holding South Korea and Japan hostage (along with tens of thousands of stationed US troops) while Iran continues its regional meddling, support for terrorism, ballistic missile advances and human rights violations, all whilst reaching an agreement with the P5+1.

Pyongyang and Tehran have both sought nuclear weapons as insurance for their notorious regimes. Enjoying enticement by US administrations since the 1990s, North Korea has reached its objective, at the expense of it’s starving people – and economy more broadly. Iran, whilst seeking nuclear capability, began feeling the heat of international sanctions and escalating public anger, which forced it to trade a curbing of its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. What goes unnoticed, however, is how agreements signed by the international community with these two regimes provide a green light to the ruling autocrats to pursue the oppression of their own populations.

Iran has continued its practice of abducting American citizens and sentencing them to long prison terms. A situation in which Kim Jung Un was provided more inducements to come to the negotiating table – as in Iran’s case – could possibly result in further abductions, assassinations and more tens of thousands of political prisoners held in facilities so large they are visible in satellite images. Concessions have already provided Iran a green light to expand its domestic crackdown and meddling abroad. The definition of insanity, famously, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Offering a possible insight into the Trump administration’s future approach to Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Nikki Haley delivered a speech recently in the American Enterprise Institute, stating that; “…if the President does not certify Iranian compliance, the Corker-Cardin law also tells us what happens next. What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands,” she explained, in reference to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations continued.

Following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, which led to claims that the DPRK has acquired the ability to test a hydrogen bomb, there is belief amongst high circles in Washington that North Korea is supporting Iran in return to the path of obtaining nuclear weapons. While Washington is weighing its options in responding to North Korea’s latest nuclear bomb test, most concerning are obvious shows of allegiance, such as a recent 10-day visit to Tehran by Pyongyang’s parliament speaker Kim Yong Nam.

Thanks to a ‘windfall’ of billions of dollars provided by the Obama-blueprinted nuclear deal, Iran has the hard currency and financial assets North Korea needs. In return, Pyongyang can deliver the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology Tehran wants to acquire. It has become increasingly obvious these regimes are far from rational actors who can be persuaded into taking action for the better benefit of the international community. North Korea must be made to bow before demands to give up nuclear weapons, whilst Iran must be made to understand that following the path of its East Asian partner is not an option.

The response Tehran receives from the international community, with the US at the helm, is of vital importance. The failure of previous US administrations to take any meaningful action to prevent the growth of such a dangerous nexus leaves us with the circumstances we face today. It is a known fact that many of Tehran’s ballistic missile designs, such as the Hwasong series, are based on Pyongyang prototypes. This is the result of political and military ties leading back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Concerns escalate to a highly lethal level when we realize Iran’s missiles, mirroring those of its North Korean sisters, could enjoy the capability of delivering nuclear payloads. These decades-long close exchanges have now also provided Iran the ability to construct missile production factories in Syria and Libya, some underground.

It is increasingly difficult to deny Tehran’s diplomatic, economic and military ties with Pyongyang. It is even possible the two country’s scientists have been present at each other’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, one after another. Tehran and Pyongyang must be made to comprehend that a continuation of their provocations cannot not be tolerated – senior Iranian and North Korean leaders, along with the institutions maintaining their rule, should be the target of crippling international sanctions. Kim, Khamenei and their henchmen, must find it far more difficult to plunder their people’s wealth for their own interests, while the two populations suffer in poverty. The international community should also boost campaigns aimed at drying up the two regimes’ supply chains providing the needs for their missile and nuclear drives.

This question is now raised over the meaning of seeking a new nuclear arrangement with North Korea, especially as the JCPOA is currently being usurped by Iran. Surely rapprochement will only encourage Pyongyang to continue its current aggressive nature – and what lessons would Tehran, a regime enjoying a dangerous reach across the Middle East, learn from this? There is no need to explain how Tehran and Pyongyang have most likely followed each other’s negotiations with the international community, the deals sealed to buy time, the successful and unsuccessful lies and deceptions and how to come to each other’s support when needed. Most importantly, however, they have learned how to create rifts amongst Western countries, such as the United States, France and Britain, and to utilise Russian and Chinese postures, to divide in the UN Security Council.

As Haley correctly said, “Enough is enough.” War is neither needed nor welcomed. An international consensus to impose crippling sanctions on the regimes of Iran and North Korea is necessary.

Although watered down to garner the support of Beijing and Moscow, the sanctions adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Monday against North Korea, capping the regime’s oil imports from China and banning its profitable textile exports, is a step in the right direction. One hopes this is the beginning of a continuing trend to bring an end to Pyongyang’s dangerous bellicosities, and sends a powerful message to Tehran of the international community’s resolve and intolerance for such rogue behavior.

If history is to teach us any lesson, it is that of rapprochement rendering nothing but death and destruction. If we seek an end to the current nuclear standoffs, all parties must further set aside their short term interests and think for the better good of all.

The Truth About Iran’s Evin Prison

Two months have passed since the May presidential “elections” in Iran that saw the incumbent Hassan Rouhani reach a second term. The pro-Iran appeasement camp in the West went the distance to raise hopes over the hoax of Rouhani rendering major reforms.

These voices somehow described Rouhani as a “reformist” and completely neglected the over 3,000 executions during his first term as president. Reports from across the country are turning out to be very disturbing, signaling more troubling times to come in reference to human rights violations.

As fellow Forbes contributor Ellen R. Wald reported, “On July 16, news came out that an American graduate student at Princeton University named Xiyue Wang had been sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison for ‘espionage.’”

This is Iran again resorting to old tactics of taking Westerners as hostage, mainly dual citizens, to be used as bargaining chips in advancing objectives and politics in negotiations with interlocutors.

Another practice the regime in Tehran will continue is sending scores to the gallows. The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a report recently indicating 57 individuals have been executed across Iran in the beginning of July alone.

Reports from inside Iran also indicate nearly 120 inmates held in a prison west of Tehran are on the verge of execution. These hangings are planned for the next few weeks, their families say citing authorities, and the sentences of at least 13 individuals are to be implemented soon.

These alarming reports have all arrived only after a recent tour launched by the mullahs for dozens of foreign ambassadors to visit the notorious Evin Prison located in the hilltops of northern Tehran.

But of course, no human rights organization or international prison expert were invited, only selected areas of the prison were shown, and merely hand-picked images were provided to the media to depict a highly peaceful environment and go against any claims of rights violations.

This PR show in Evin, with its history of atrocities, was coupled with Iranian state media outlets pumping reports claiming the jail being upgraded to state-of-the-art conditions.

Iranian authorities went the distance to showcase specific facilities provided only to rich inmates behind bars for financial crimes. These areas included a gym, an in-house beauty salon, a library and also a restaurant.

What needs clarification to the outside world is the fact that Evin, along with many other prisons, has a dark history of widespread executions, tortures, and inhumane and unbearable conditions, to say the least. The regime in Iran, with a track record of 63 UN condemnations of human rights violations, is hardly in any position to claim of providing inmates with adequate conditions.

If Iran truly intends to be transparent, why not begin permitting all international human rights organizations unlimited access to any and all areas of each and every single prison across the country?

Following this orchestrated tour, Human Rights Watch made a call to Tehran seeking access for rights groups to these prisons. HRW is among many similar entities seeking access to Evin as the facility has been closed to human rights investigators representing independent international and national organizations.

While there is no expectation for Iran to begin allowing any honest visits, two female political prisoners wrote an open letter explaining the atrocities they endured in Evin.

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Golrokh Iraee and Atena Daemi

Political prisoners Golrokh Iraee and Atena Daemi described ”solitary cells with no windows, ventilation and lavatory,” “dungeons and dark interrogation rooms,” and “cells known as graves” in Evin.

Why did this international delegation not visit the women’s ward of Evin where female political prisoners like themselves are held, they asked. Their letter goes on to explain how ward 4 of this prison was renovated by the inmates transferred to solitary confinement on the very day of the ambassadors’ visit.

Mrs. Maryam Akbari Monfared, another political prisoner whose three brothers and sister were executed during the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners across Iran, also wrote an extensive open letter as she spends her eighth year behind bars in Evin. Having experienced a variety of Iran’s jails for decades, Monfared wrote, “I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the devaluation of human and humanity” and experienced atrocities also in Shahre-Ray and Gohardasht prisons.

“Prison food was so little that hungry inmates were forced to collect the residue of other food trays as well as the food which was left on the ground,” she explains.

“I saw an eleven-year-old girl who was sent into exile from a children correction center to Gohardasht prison so as to be punished… Women and girls who had repeatedly felt the hanging rope around their necks, being on death row for years… Dear ambassadors, who were surprised by what you saw! What you saw was a made-up face of this religious regime’s prisons… I saw inmates on death row in Share-Ray prison, desperately begging their families to talk their judges into implementing their death sentence sooner, as they didn’t wish to stay alive in prison…”

What needs reminding here is the fact this is a regime founded by the ultraconservative Ruhollah Khomeini who, as the first supreme leader of Iran, authorized the amputation of hands and feet as punishment for thieves.

All this is more reason for the international community, and especially the Trump administration, to turn up the heat on Iran. The regime in Tehran is resorting to all measures possible to deceive Washington and other parties to delay the blacklisting of the Revolutionary Guards as a major party involved in the mullahs’ crimes against humanity, terrorism and international belligerence.

In 2009 former US president Barack Obama betrayed universal humane values and chose to side with the mullahs’ regime. And Tehran responded by continuously taking Americans hostage and now putting a show for the Europeans and others.

Taking strong action against Tehran, similar to the recent sanctions slapped against 18 entities involved with Iran’s support for terrorism and ballistic missile program, will finally signal to the Iranian people that the world has now decided to stand by their side.

ANALYSIS: Is it time for the US and Saudi Arabia to combine efforts on Iran?

The new administration in Washington has chosen to stand alongside its Arab allies to voice a clear message. This is how this message reads: The regime in Iran is domestically repressive and resorts to flagrant human rights violations, and expansionist outside of its borders, wreaking havoc across the Middle East and beyond.

To take the next needed step, an all-out strategy is necessary to rein in Tehran and confront its belligerence inside the country and beyond.

Far too long the international community has failed to recognize the fact that the regime in Iran is controlled by aggressive fanatics that will literally stop at nothing to seek their interests, while knowing their internal status is extremely fragile.

Important lessons

While it is high time for the United States to lead the West and Saudi Arabia to lead the Arab world in this initiative, there is no need to launch yet another devastating war in the Middle East. The past 16 years have taught us many important lessons:

– The war in Afghanistan toppled the rule of Taliban and the al-Qaeda safe haven, and yet the lack of a legitimate post-war strategy allowed Iran take complete advantage of this void.

– The invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and again played into the hands of Tehran’s regime, providing it the opportunity to spread its devious mentality of fundamentalism, sectarian extremism and terrorism.

– The Arab Spring has reiterated to us that without an alternative opposition, no regime change will render any positive outcome. The current state of Libya is an unfortunate reminder.

– Most important of all, the international community is coming to understand that a policy of engagement and appeasement vis-à-vis the regime in Iran will only further fuel instability. Take the cases of Syria and Yemen, for example, where Iran has allocated enormous manpower and financial/logistical resources to create the mayhem it thrives on.

Highly-flawed deal

On a broader scale where Iran’s counterparts were the P5+1, thanks again to Obama’s highly flawed approach, the regime has been able to cheat around the nuclear accord. Tehran has staged over a dozen ballistic missile tests despite being strictly forbidden by UN Security Council sanctions.

New reports from German intelligence indicates further illicit measures by Iran’s operatives painting a very disturbing image. “Iran is targeting German companies in its bid to advance its missile program, in possible violation of an international agreement, and at least on occasion with the aid of a Chinese company,” Fox News reported citing a damning 181-page German intelligence agency report.

Tehran is actively seeking to obtain “products and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well as missile technology,” according to the report, adding the mullahs are using various fronts to target German companies.

Further disturbing revelations regarding the Obama administration’s poorly crafted nuclear deal with Iran found little or no decrease has been witnessed in Iran’s effort to obtain the technology needed for missiles capable of delivering nuclear warhead as payloads, according to Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

To add insult to injury, with North Korea successfully test-launching its first intercontinental ballistic missile and on the path to its sixth nuclear detonation, there are increasing voices of concern over the possibility of Pyongyang selling more of its ballistic missiles, the technology or maybe even a nuclear warhead to Tehran.

With a windfall of billions of dollars flowing into Iran after the nuclear deal and oil sanctions lifted, Iran has both the money and oil that North Korea craves.

Bold, necessary measures

Washington and Riyadh should begin pushing back at Tehran by targeting this regime’s financial assets to begin with. Considering the fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, known as the regime’s praetorians, control around 40 percent of the country’s economy, it is vital to designate this entity as a foreign terrorist organization.

If not, its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite proxies in Syria, sectarian groups in Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen, to name a few, will continue. And peace will forever elude the Middle East.

The international community should finally begin pressuring the ruling mullahs by standing alongside the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. The recent presidential “election” and protests before and after have proven the rift between Iran’s population and the regime is elevating dangerously against the regime’s interests.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, led by its President Maryam Rajavi, has presented a 10-point plan able to facilitate the changes needed for the better good of the Iranian people, and nations across the Middle East.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), being the main NCRI member, enjoys a vast network of supporters inside Iran and has blown the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

It is time for the mullahs in Tehran to understand pressures will rise from the international community unless they succumb to the demands of the Iranian people for the future they deserve, being the democracy and freedom they have been wrongly robbed of for the past four decades.

Will Iran’s Rouhani Use Syria to Bargain?

After establishing the Iran nuclear deal as his first-term legacy, the question now is what new initiative will Iranian President Hassan Rouhani embark on during his second term? Should the international community have any expectations of Rouhani? And if Rouhani has the will to bring about any change in, for example, Syria, a big if, will it be for the better good of the Syrian people and the region? Or will he be merely looking to promote Tehran’s interests at the expense of others.

Iran’s policies in the region are considered by many to be based on double standards. How does Iran legitimize its interference in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the region while millions have been left killed, injured and displaced as the entire Middle East remains in turmoil?

Iran claims to seek peace, stability and cooperation in the region through negotiations with neighboring countries. Yet the status quo has changed significantly for Rouhani’s second term. US President Donald Trump has ended Barack Obama’s appeasement policy and is pioneering an effort to isolate Iran over its belligerence.

Many of Iran’s regional neighbors view the regime as an ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has massacred of tens of thousands of his own people.

Iran, however, continues its support for Assad, arguing international law considers Assad the president of a legal government in Syria. Disturbingly, according to the New Yorker, “Iranian-backed militias appear to have secured a road link from the Iranian border all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. The new land route will allow the Iranian regime to resupply its allies in Syria by land instead of air, which is both easier and cheaper.”

Tehran is validating its support for the Syrian regime based on a request placed by Assad and claiming 60% of the country’s lands are in the hands of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And the mullahs’ regime refuses to acknowledge the existence of a Syrian opposition that enjoys international legitimacy and support.

While the international community accepts the fact that ISIS and other terrorists must be eradicated in all places, this does not provide grounds for Assad, with Iran’s support, to slaughter innocent civilians. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Assad of committing war crimes and using starvation as a tool in this regard.

UN special rapporteurs and envoys have leveled deeply concerning accusations against the Assad regime, and for Iran to continue its support for Assad is very troubling to say the least. The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan da Mistura also cited Iran providing $6 billion a year to Assad, considered a conservative figure by many.

Iran accuses other countries of recruiting terrorists from across the globe to fight against Assad and places the blame for enormous civilian losses on them. And yet one cannot ignore the fact that Iran is funneling arms, ammunition and militia members to prop up the Assad regime and killing tens of thousands of civilians, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Assad regime recently requested that Iran take on full supervision and payroll duties of thousands of foreigners fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops, according to a government source and a news report.

Iran accuses other countries of interfering in Syria and Bahrain, for example, and yet refuses to accept its role in the Levant as such meddling by an outside party.

Iran is proposing talks with the three other regional powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to hold talks aimed at:

—          preserving the unity of Syria.

—          establishing a power sharing government, yet falling short of determining the highly sensitive subject of the future of Assad in Syria.

—         holding UN-supervised president elections.

The complex question is will Rouhani pressure Assad to accept such terms. The answer lies in understanding why the Tehran regime is deeply interested in Syria. The Levant, under the rule of Assad, provides a land bridge to the Lebanese Hezbollah and thus the Mediterranean Sea for Iran, allowing this regime to spread its influence from its soil all across the region. If Iran loses its foothold in Syria, considered to be its 35th province, it will be the beginning of the end of Tehran’s regional hegemony.

Such an outcome would direct all of Iran’s dilemmas inwards and provide grounds for social unrest, which could shake the very pillars of the mullahs’ regime. As a result, the fundamental nature of Iran’s ruling apparatus prevents the implementation of any meaningful shifts in its regional policy.

“Take into notice, any change in behavior is no different from change in the entire establishment,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said recently.

Sanctions on Iran signal a new horizon

The United States Senate recently voted overwhelmingly 92-7 in favor of moving forward on evaluating further sanctions against Iran and especially targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Following eight years of Obama’s appeasement, this is a significant turn of events resulting in major concerns amongst Tehran and foreign counterparts.

A key signal of Iran’s concerns and status quo in the new balance of power can be received in the somewhat conflicting and hasty remarks heard from senior officials and media outlets across the board in Iran.

“They held the Riyadh summit and claimed of isolating Iran. What isolation was this when such a large number of states stood alongside the Iranian people and the country following the recent terror attack?” said Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Iran’s IRIB state TV station.

“The most repulsive of such measures was the recent US Senate initiative in support of terrorists and establishing new sanctions against Iran. Exactly when the Iranian people are the target of terrorists in the parliament, sensing no shame the US Senate passed a bill against the Iranian people in support of terrorists. This shows how the US Senate enjoys no emotions at all… in this bill, packed entirely with support for terrorists, they went the distance and issued sanctions on Iran’s missile program, IRGC and Quds Force…The US should not think differences of opinions in Iran will provide any window of opportunity for their devilish maneuvers,” he added.

Iranian MP Alaedin Borujerdi, Chair of the Security Commission in the Iranian Parliament, resorted to unorthodox comments in regards to the new US Senate measure.

“It is unacceptable to consider Congress separate from the US government. This is a clear and specific violation of the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) and is unacceptable… If this bill is ratified the Trump administration must veto it, or else it should ready itself for the consequences of such flagrant JCPOA violations,” he said according to Akhareen Khabar website.

The terms “the US Senate on the same day that” or “the US Senate precisely hours after the ISIS attack” are common codes seen in the outlets of both factions of the Iranian regime. This is a clear reference to the failed attempt of a number of appeasement advocates seeking to halt the US Senate from evaluating the new Iran sanctions bill.

The state-run Iran Jib webiste ran a piece on June 10th titled, “Senate passes measure to review anti-Iran sanctions,” shedding interesting light into the mentality of Iranian regime officials.

“On the day that Tehran, after being the target of an ISIS terrorist attack, was receiving waves of condolences and sympathy from various countries, the US Senate was accusing Iran of terrorism, and under this pretext launched a review of new harsh sanctions… by sending a late and unfriendly message of sympathy to the Iranian people, the US, by establishing its place in the regional triangle of consensus-building against Iran, proved it has no intention of decreasing regional instability and fighting terrorism,” the piece reads.

Resalat daily, the outlet associated to the ultraconservative ‘Motalefe’ faction, went as far as accusing the US of being allied with ISIS.

“What are the recent measures taken by the US Senate? The alliance of America and ISIS against Iran. The US Senate has agreed to impose new sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran… this decision came exactly when ISIS, with the support of the US and Saudi Arabia, launched a terrorist attack in our country… Although the supporters of imposing new sanctions against Iran under the pretext of human rights violations and terrorist activities claim this bill will not hinder the JCPOA, various analysts believe this paves the path for violating the nuclear deal and are already issuing warnings…” the articles reads.

These sanctions have also become fuel for factional disputes.

Iranian MP Mostafa Tajzadeh, a member of the so-called “reformist” faction in Iran, warned the IRGC not to impose further pressure on the faction of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“I have been and currently am completely against military officers entering the political spectrum and elections, and I first consider it against the interests of the IRGC and the paramilitary Bassij… I know and believe such meddling will significantly damage our unity, security and national interests… IRGC commanders should understand we are undergoing a very sensitive time period. The recent US sanctions are signs of anti-IRGC measures, and it appears they will be seeking to target the IRGC itself with sanctions,” he said according to the state-run Bahar website.

And to add insult to injury, “Western manufacturers are shying away from supplying equipment for an Iranian port that India is developing for fear the United States may reimpose sanctions on Tehran, Indian officials say,” according to Reuters.

As a result, the sanctions triggered by the US Senate can be signs of a new horizon and a very dangerous outcome for Tehran, especially since the Trump administration continues to weigh its comprehensive Iran policy.

ANALYSIS: Adopting a different approach on Iran

Signaling a major buzz topic in Washington these days, with the international community waiting anxiously, the new US administration is on the verge of implementing a significant Iran policy overhaul.

America nearly lost all of its influence in the Middle East as a result of a devastating engagement policy captained by the Obama-Kerry team, all in a desperate effort to obtain Tehran’s consent in completing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The impact of the support by the Obama Administration of the Arab Spring did the rest, as main Arab allies came under immense pressure.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

Considering Obama’s yearning to seal the JCPOA as the foreign policy hallmark of his legacy, he was seen succumbing to literally any and all demands made by the Iranians. Tehran understood and used this leverage to issue threats of walking away from the deal.

While President Trump has not torn up the deal as candidate Trump pledged, his administration has taken the lead to strongly criticize Iran’s current behavior in the Middle East that poses a major threat to America’s strategic position and the security of regional allies.

The Trump administration, unlike its fledgling predecessor, is weighing on how to bring Iran’s mischievous behavior under control and have it completely halted.

Selling a false deal

The pro-JCPOA camp sold the deal to the international community by claiming Iran’s mullahs’ would become more moderate and begin acting reasonably.

Let’s review the facts on the ground:

– The Middle East is in carnage, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and proxies launching deadly killings in Syria in support of Assad, massacring Sunnis and other minorities in Iraq, supporting Houthi militants in Yemen, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, just to name a few.

– Tehran is continuing its ballistic missile program full speed ahead, preparing to couple the project with an ongoing secret nuclear weapons drive, as exposed recently by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

– Military confrontations between US-Arab allies and Iranian forces continue, as shown in the Gulf and the Bab Al Mandab.

– Flagrant human rights violations and increasing domestic crackdown. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now seeking a second term, has presided over 3,000 executions.

We were reminded recently by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley ,when she referred to existing Security Council resolutions banning Iran from importing or exporting arms, and end all ballistic missile testing.

Haley clearly indicated Trump will not allow such measures slide, as we witnessed far too often under the Obama watch.

“The United States will work closely with our partners to document and address any actions that violate these resolutions,” Haley said. “We must take a stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s illegal and dangerous behavior.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows in remarks unseen from America’s top diplomat for many years. Iran continues to enjoy the top ranking of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nature of sanctions being vital to the national and security interests of America, and its regional allies in particular, will be a major topic of a new JCPOA review.

Fresh sanctions

Meanwhile, a new bill seeking to slap fresh sanctions against Tehran for continuing its illicit missile program is in the preparation process in the House of Representatives.

Sanctions and economic pressures are a major leverage the US enjoys against Tehran. Blocking access to the global banking system and compelling companies and various institutions to choose between America’s $19 trillion economy and Iran’s half a trillion should not make the decision any harder.

Irony lies in the fact that Obama initially boosted US sanctions against Iran, only to ignore Iran’s highly belligerent proliferation activities and support for terrorism.

A recent Politico report highlighted how the Obama administration even released Iranian arms dealers apprehended by US authorities and dropped international arrest warrants seeking others. To this end, Obama literally risked US national security for the sake of appeasing Tehran’s mullahs.

The Trump administration is set to draw a major line in the sand. Beefing up sanctions could be a major policy change adopted by the new White House. To take steps further, Washington should seriously consider designating the mullahs’ Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization for its role in Iran’s meddling and supporting terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East, Tehran’s ongoing military development programs -especially the ballistic missile drives – and horrific human rights violations across the country.

Missed opportunity

In 2009 Obama missed the opportunity to support the Iranian people’s cry for freedom and democracy, and now the new US administration cannot stand again on the sidelines. Supporting the Iranian people and their organized opposition, currently openly represented by liberal movements such as the NCRI, seeking a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Iran, living in harmony with its regional neighbors and returning to the international community as a responsible member, could be a starting point.

If Washington would be able to address these options in full, not falling into the trap of removing the Iranian regime under the umbrella of “bringing democracy”, but supporting a growing liberal democratic opposition, a better future for Iran is possible. This will take time, during which economic and political pressure should be increased on the regime. Appeasing the mullahs will not reap any positive rewards, Tehran will not see any need to change at all.

– Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is the co-writer of this article.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Sees the Beginning of a New Era

By Shahriar Kia

Following a rocky first month in Trump-Iran relations, it’s significant that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has chosen to maintain a substantially low profile. Comprehending the threat of vast changes in Washington, Khamenei also knows he cannot show weakness to his dwindling social base already terrified of major changes in the new U.S. administration’s policies vis-à-vis Iran following Obama’s eight years of appeasement.

In recent remarks, Khamenei even said there is no difference between the Obama and Trump administrations (!) and “the real war is the economic war, the sanctions war.”

These are interesting observations from Khamenei, and they should be considered deceptive, because he understands fully well that with Obama gone, so are the concessions the previous White House provided to his regime. Khamenei’s own change in reactions is further proof, as he is seen choosing his words quite carefully.

“To pass this stage, Iran has two options ahead. First, to strongly counter-react in areas in which the United States has vital interests, and the second is for Iran to act within the frameworks laid out by the United States in order to continue to have a role in the region and get out of the harnessed state. No doubt, the second option would ensure more strategic advantages for Iran.” (Jahan-e-Sanat, February 20)

During the Obama years, Khamenei himself used strong terms in threatening American interests across the globe. He went as far as saying that his regime would “raze” Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground, wasting no time in lashing out at any threats. This also showed how Obama’s appeasement policy failed miserably.

Now that Khamenei is receiving “on notice” level warnings from Washington, he is in fact completely terrified to use any strong terms. However, he is resorting to a new tactic of claiming there being “no difference” between the Obama and Trump administrations. From January 20th onward, Khamenei has repeatedly made such remarks about the two administrations.

This comes at a time when the supreme leader and his inner circle used believed sanctions could have no impact. Such a shift in tone seen in Khamenei is the index that a policy of firm language against Iran, parallel to economic pressures through sanctions, can bring this regime to its knees.

On the other hand, we are witnessing that Tehran’s lobbies, and those who capitalized on massive economic gains rendered through the appeasement policy, are desperately speaking out against any sanctions, and especially the possible designation of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

The IRGC controls much of Iran’s economy, and yet Tehran’s lobbies have gone the distance in claiming its blacklisting will threaten America’s interests in Iraq and other countries hosting U.S. bases, and also endangering so-called “moderates” in the face of “hardliners.”

This is nothing but fake news, signaling that not only officials in Tehran, but their decreasing number of international correspondents, are concerned about Obama’s appeasement policy coming to an end.

A firm policy against Iran goes far further than only containing this regime’s nuclear ambitions and foreign meddling. Such a shift can also fuel the Iranian people’s increasing protests against this regime. The exact opposite of Obama turning his back to the 2009 uprising in Iran.

Recent protests in Ahvaz and other cities resembles the Iranian people’s hatred of this regime and their thirst for change.

Ended Sunday, February 20, the Munich Security Conference condemned the Iranian regime for disrupting security and stability in the region. The delegations in the conference had one sentence in common when speaking against the Iranian regime: the Iranian regime is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, said by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as well as Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir. Also, Turkish finance minister Mevlut Chavushoghlu put this same issue another way while pointing to the regime’s interventions in Syria and Iraq. “Iranian regime is seeking sectarianism in the region”, he said.

The new alliance of Arab nations, and especially the participation of Turkey, has raised major concerns among senior officials in Tehran as a strong front against its terrorism and meddling in other countries is formed.

The formation of such a front is a sign of significant policy changes in Washington. This appears to be a step in the direction of regaining the trust lost amongst U.S. allies during the Obama tenure to confront Iran’s terrorism and meddling in the Middle East.

Etemad, for instance, writes on February 21: “the leaders and elite in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey had this vision in recent years that with Barack Obama as President, the US administration wouldn’t take any specific measure against Iran in order to put Tehran under pressure.”

Military drills and hollow saber rattling by IRGC commanders during the past few days shed light on Iran’s fear and severe weakness of developments in the makings with the incoming policy alterations in Washington.

What needs to be understood is  that we are already at the beginning of a new era where the regime in Iran will no longer benefit from an appeasement policy that allows it to both increase its domestic crackdown and foreign warmongering, such as Iran’s involvement in Syria, and continuously threaten to abandon ship on the accord aimed at curbing the Iran nuclear program.

This provides a golden opportunity for the international community to begin standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people and its organized resistance under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim woman who represents a tolerant and democratic Islam against a fundamentalist version of Islam advocated by the mullahs’ regime. Bringing an end to the appeasement policy and, as being recently weighed by the Trump administration, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist designation are necessary steps in a long overdue roadmap.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst writing on Iran and the Middle East. He is the member of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, also known as the MEK). He graduated from North Texas University.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Iran Irony: IRGC And State Firms Are Benefiting From JCPOA

Those who raised the Iran deal flag, mainly in the United States and Europe, claimed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would boost trade and encourage foreign investment, enhancing Iran’s private sector and eventually downgrading the regime’s tight grip on the economy.

This was back in 2015 when the P5+1 agreed to lift sanctions in return for having Iran’s nuclear program curbed. Now in early 2017, however, signs indicate the main winners in Iran are none other than state-owned companies. This means Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the terrorist-supporting Revolutionary Guards are enjoying JCPOA benefits.

At least 90 of the nearly 110 agreements, totaling nearly $80 billion, involve such state-controlled companies. This includes the National Iranian Oil Company, parallel to others run by regime pension funds and massive conglomerates of semi-public nature.

Despite a long slate of harsh remarks made by Iran’s hardliners against the JCPOA, a recent Reuters study shows those businesses answering directly to Khamenei are benefiting most from the JCPOA.

 

Many deals, spanning the energy, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and other sectors, remain in the preliminary stage. Iran’s foreign partners mainly include France, Germany, Italy, Russia and South Korea.

Iran’s “Setad Ejraiye Farman-e Hazrat-e Emam,” also known as the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam and best known as Khamenei’s personal empire, has been the main benefactor of the highly flawed nuclear pact. This entity has stakes in and control over nearly all of Iran’s economy and benefits significantly through the JCPOA.

A 2013 Reuters probe shed light on Setad’s $95 billion empire, established through illegally seizing thousands of properties owned by business people, Iranians living abroad and religious minorities.

“A major network of front companies controlled by Iran’s leadership” is how the U.S. Treasury Department described Setad as it sanctioned the massive entity. Through the JCPOA, however, this conglomerate has enjoyed doing business with foreign companies.

One of the three such deals signed with foreign companies involves a $10 billion oil refinery construction plan. While Khamenei may not personally own these companies, his shadow—described as supervision—is essentially routing all invested finances.

In the past 18 months Khamenei-controlled companies, including the IRGC conglomerate, have sealed deals with foreign companies valued at over $11 billion.

It is a known fact that Tehran maintains a heavy hand over the economy, providing circumstances allowing state-controlled firms to acquire most business deals made possible after sanctions were lifted. The private sector makes up a mere 20% of Iran’s economy, according to official estimates.

To this end, private companies have received a dismal 17 deals, including a hotel management contract sealed most probably because of the French partner’s chief executive being the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, Iran’s vice president.

The first slate of investments inked for Iran is most likely to strengthen state power, meaning Khamenei, counter to any hopes raised prematurely by JCPOA supporters. The supreme leader enjoys vast control, especially in the IRGC, through which he pursues his Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon policies.

Conglomerates, or foundations, whose chiefs are appointed directly by Khamenei, were the recipients of five of the 90 deals. Several of these entities enjoy widespread business transactions and not being obligated to pay full taxes. This includes Astan Qods Razavi, a vast religious institution controlling at least 36 subsidiary companies and entities.

One such firm is the Razavi Oil & Gas Development Company that sealed a preliminary agreement with Italy’s Saipem, also an oil and gas company.

The IRGC, known for its domestic crackdown and dispatching tens of thousands of Shiite militia members and arms throughout the region, is also considered a major destination point of JCPOA benefits.

The IRGC controls or has large stakes in four of the 90 deals sealed with the Iranian regime. And of course, Khamenei enjoys full hegemony over the IRGC. Despite remaining U.S. sanctions banning any “significant” business transactions with the IRGC, many of its front companies are free of any blacklisting.

Three of the four mentioned deals are signed with companies with strong ties to the IRGC and yet are not sanctioned. And to add insult to injury, the fourth company is on sanctions and yet enjoys involvement in a foreign deal through indirect routes.

Loopholes remain in the sanction regime imposed against Iran, all resulting from an appeasement/engagement approach adopted by former president Barack Obama. This is a gap in need of closing at a policy level.

“Despite a decline in sanctions… the Iranian economy is suffering from recession. The Iranian economy is under the control of the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the IRGC. They are the only one who will benefit from trade with Iran and not the Iranian people,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi in a conference. Rajavi is president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of Iranian dissident entities, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Debate over the JCPOA’s future remains a major issue. If kept intact despite all its flaws, the U.S. should fully implement all articles and have each and every loophole sealed. This initiative can be coupled with further sanctions punishing Iran’s lethal meddling across the Middle East, pursuing a dangerous ballistic missile program and atrocious human rights violations.

Originally published in Forbes