ANALYSIS: How to tackle Obama’s ‘cover up’ of the Hezbollah drug scandal

Long ago I wrote explaining how Congress is taking the lead on Iran policy. Recently, major developments involving the United States, Iran and the entire Middle East have placed the powerful US legislative body before obligations in the face of arguably the world’s most dangerous regime.

At a time when Iran’s foreign meddling and ballistic missile drive continues to raise eyebrows out of deep concern, important spotlight is being focused on a shadowy aspect of Tehran’s notorious schemes.

Politico released what has been described as a bombshell, exposing how Iran literally demanded the Obama administration facilitate a major drug trafficking/money-laundering campaign across four continents.

While senior Obama administration officials must be held accountable for their ties with the terrorist Lebanese Hezbollah, the main issue at hand is how to tackle the root: Iran.

Bending backward

Congress has called on the Department of Justice to provide, no later than 5 pm on January 8th, 2018, all documents and communications in any way related to Obama officials literally bending backwards and allowing Hezbollah to flood US homeland with drugs. Lawmakers also have demanded a DOJ briefing on the subject no later than Jan. 12th, 2018.

In response to a request filed by Representatives Jim Jordan and Ron De Santis, reports indicate US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review into Project Cassandra, the decade-long Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initiative said to be hindered by the Obama administration.

Morally wrong

The highly controversial Iran nuclear deal came at an extraordinary cost. The Obama administration has long been criticized of going the limits to appease Iran, and this new controversy of killing an investigation into a drug ring that most likely provided an annual revenue of $1 billion to Hezbollah is morally wrong, to say the least.

This die-hard terrorist group is known to be Iran’s offspring from the early 1980s and also involved in propping the brutal Bashar Assad regime in its relentless carnage against the Syrian people.

And despite the fact that the 2003 war against Iraq was a strategic mistake by the Bush administration and playing into the hands of Iran, at that time Hezbollah provided training for Iraqi militias to attack and kill US and coalition forces stationed in the country.

A disturbing reminder lies in the fact that back in May 2010, John Brennan, then Obama’s counterterror chief, argued that Hezbollah was evolving into a political party. This important figure in Obama’s team went on to become the CIA Director, conveniently during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal when Tehran sought a back door from Washington for Hezbollah’s obvious wrongdoings.

According to Politico, Hugo Carvajal, known as an alleged drug kingpin in Venezuela, was arrested in Aruba in 2014. Venezuela is known to have close relations with Iran, and despite the massive potential of generating important knowledge regarding the cocaine trafficking network, extraditing Carvajal was, conveniently for the Obama administration, out of the question.

“Within a few years, cocaine trafficking from Venezuela to the US soared from 50 tons a year to 250 tons, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Statistics,” as reported by Newsweek.

Mysteriously, the Netherlands reportedly intervened to have Carvajal returned to Venezuela. There is always room for arguments and speculation, yet one cannot deny the possibility that the Dutch Royal Shell Oil Company most likely sought to do Iran a favor in return for lucrative post-nuclear deal contracts.

‘Vast network’

Hezbollah’s terrorism finance operations are known to thrive throughout Latin America despite the DEA long linking the militant group to local drug cartels in the region, according to former DEA operations chief Michael Braun who testified before US lawmakers in June 2016.

Hezbollah moves “[multiple] tons of cocaine” from South America to Europe and developed “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme or schemes that we have ever witnessed,” Braun explained.

Under pressure from Republican lawmakers, Obama’s State Department in 2013 issued a report claiming Iran was not supporting any active terrorist cells in the region and concluding Tehran did not enjoy vast influence in Latin America as critics claimed. Quite arguably another episode of Obama’s kowtowing before Iran.

Hezbollah enjoys a “vast network” in Latin America, especially in Brazil, home to an estimated one million Shiite Muslims.

Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at the same hearing “cited a 2014 report by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that outlined a connection between Hezbollah and the Primeiro Comando da Capital, a Sao Paulo-based prison gang, which is widely regarded to be among the country’s biggest exporters of cocaine,” according to The Washington Times.

While falling on deaf ears with the Obama administration, Ottolenghi’s advice for Congress and the administration to “aggressively focus” on Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America is a definite necessity for the Trump White House.

Going even further back to November 2012, a congressional report focused on border security highlighted how Latin America had “become a money laundering and major fundraising center” for Hezbollah, according to the Miami Herald.

Three men, suspected to have ties to none other than Hezbollah, were arrested on charges of laundering cocaine money a Colombian cartel. The trio were able to illegally move $500,000 into Miami banks through a series of sophisticated financial transactions extending from Australia to Europe, the report adds citing US authorities.

Another message to Tehran

The fact that the Trump administration has adopted a far contrast policy in comparison to his predecessor is beyond question. This practice has extended to America’s stance on North Korea, a staunch ally of Iran and known to have cooperated with Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drives.

In response to Pyongyang’s defiance and continued ballistic missile tests, the UN Security Council on Friday adopted tough new sanctions slashing up to 90 percent of the rogue regime’s petrol imports.

To the surprise of many, and certainly senior Iranian regime officials who most definitely followed the UNSC session up close, Russia and China both voted in favor of the measure. This adds to North Korea’s already escalating woes, alongside other restrictions imposed by the US, UN and the European Union.

Crippling sanctions

Ottolenghi has correctly called for sweeping measures against Hezbollah: “The Trump administration should move swiftly to revive Project Cassandra and make it the centerpiece of a comprehensive effort to take down Hezbollah.”

Also needed now are meaningful measures targeting the root of this entire crisis, being Iran. This regime benefits from Hezbollah’s belligerence, and this terrorist entity is dependent on Tehran’s logistical and financial support.

Therefore, the US Congress taking the lead in imposing severe sanctions against Iran’s main source of revenue, being its oil exports, and effectively restricting its access to the international banking system are necessary measures for starters.

Crippling sanctions targeting Iran’s ruling regime and its Revolutionary Guards have the potential of fueling major social unrest. This Tehran cannot tolerate and will definitely succumb to the international community’s demands of significantly curbing its slate of bellicosities.

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ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.

This comes following a Wall Street Journal article explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.

‘Hard look’

The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.

Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.

“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”

Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.

“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.

It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.

A different Iraq

US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.

This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.

Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.

Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.

This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.

Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.

July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.

Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.

Necessary deterrence

With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.

As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.

It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.

Times have changed

Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.

This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:

1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.

This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.

‘Global threat’

As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:

– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;

– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;

– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;

– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”

ANALYSIS: The ball is rolling in Syria, against Iran

Developments over Syria following recent collaborations between leaders of the United States and Russia have gained significant momentum. This also signals a decreasing Iranian role and a prelude to further setbacks for Tehran.

An hour long phone call last Tuesday between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin followed the latter’s meeting with Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.

After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum.

Political flexibility

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed last week to facilitate a full-scale political process in Syria and to sponsor a conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to end the war.

While some may consider this a victory for Iran, jumping to early conclusions blinds us from understanding how Tehran sought full hegemony in Syria. Today, circumstances account to major setbacks.

Putin’s hosting of talks on Syria inclines that Moscow calls the shots. This leaves Tehran deeply concerned, especially following its six-year long campaign to maintain Assad in power. The mere fact that Iran is sitting at the table with Russia, also in talks with the US over different issues, and Turkey, a Syrian opposition supporter, leaves no doubt Tehran will need to display political flexibility.

After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum. (Reuters)

Many would argue a pact between Washington and Moscow will define the blueprint of finalizing Syria’s crisis. Did the Sochi talks place Tehran and Ankara in line with Moscow and Washington? Doubts remain in this regard and Iran understands clearly how a post-ISIS Syria will come at a heavy price.

And with Russia significantly scaling down its military presence on the ground in Syria, Iran’s dreams of a Shiite crescent are endangered, to say the least. Moreover, the mere fact that China is considering a role in reconstructing post-war Syria means more players in the future of this country, and a declining part for Iran.

Seeking to safeguard its interests in Syria, Iran’s terrorist-designated Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) is also eyeing a share in Syria’s reconstruction. This should sound alarm bells, especially since such a role would provide a front for Iran’s efforts to maintain a foothold in the Levant.

Higher global interests

Certain is the fact that Russia’s reservations are not limited to Syria. On the international stage Moscow and Washington enjoy a certain stature. This said, it is quite obvious Moscow will not sacrifice its higher global interests for Syria.

The phone call between Trump and Putin is a sign of coordination between their two countries in Syria. With Washington playing an observer role in the Astana talks weighing Syria, one can conclude their role in the Levant is not eliminated.

Far from it, in fact. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said recently how the US is in Syria to stay. “US troops, in Syria to fight Islamic State, won’t be packing their bags now the jihadist group is essentially beaten. They’re staying on,” Bloomberg reported. This comes as the Pentagon is also likely to announce the presence of around 2,000 US troops in Syria, according to Reuters.

Iran understands fully that US presence in Syria is a source of dilemma for any future plans in the region. Considering the drastic consequences of Obama’s premature departure from Iraq, there are doubts Trump will allow such a repeat in Syria.

Riyadh’s reservations

Considering the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, one can conclude that Moscow will also be taking Riyadh’s reservations over Syria into consideration. Knowing the Arab world’s support is crucial, Putin will strive to obtain Riyadh’s consent.

In his latest meeting with United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized how his government worked with Saudi Arabia to unify the Syrian opposition, also indicating UN’s blessing for this latest push.

Unlike Iran, Assad remaining in power is not a red line for Russia. And Moscow will seek Riyadh’s cooperation to have the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional states jump on the train to bring a final end to the Syria crisis.

This spells into a more significant role for Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Middle East archrival, whose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in a recent New York Times interview described Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”

Foreign Ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, attend a news conference in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2017. (Reuters)

 

The shadow

Fueling more concerns for Iran is the fact that the Sochi talks focused on establishing peace and stability in Syria based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. This platform was even described by Iranian state media as an “American and Zionist conspiracy.”

The shadow of UN-backed solutions for Syria will continue to haunt Tehran. Putin also emphasized changes in the process of Syria’s political agreement will render based on the Geneva agreement framework.

To add insult to injury, the Syrian opposition meeting Thursday in Riyadh agreed to dispatch a single bloc for next weeks’ UN-backed peace talks. Nasr Hariri, a known Syrian opposition figure selected as the new chief negotiator, is heading to Geneva for the talks set to begin tomorrow. The opposition is ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table,” according to Hariri.

Tehran would have been delighted to continue fragmenting the Syrian opposition, as witnessed throughout the 6½ year war.

Iran’s dilemma

An opportunity is available to end Syria’s fighting, with a high possibility that a final political solution will materialize in the Geneva talks.

Iran, however, thrives on increasing violence across the region. Any decrease in such tensions is against Tehran’s interests as it allows the international community to place its crosshairs on Iran’s belligerence, including a controversial nuclear programdeveloping ballistic missiles, as senior Revolutionary Guards commanders recently threatened, spreading its influence across the Middle East through supporting terrorism and proxy groups across the board, and human rights violations.

In his abovementioned interview, the Saudi Crown Prince reiterated how the world has “learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.” As the international community seeks to bring an end to the war in Syria, appeasing Iran through this delicate process must be strictly prohibited.

ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s influence fading in Lebanon and Yemen?

Recent developments across the region are signaling increasing isolation for Tehran. Despite investing for decades, Lebanon and Yemen are literally slipping out of Iran’s hands.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sent shockwaves across the region by announcing his resignation. The recent missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen targeting Riyadh crossed a costly red line for Tehran.

Turning point in Lebanon

In Hariri’s own words, Iran and Hezbollah had literally taken the entire country of Lebanon hostage, making it impossible to carry out his duties.

Evidence also revealed an assassination plot threatening his life. Western and Arab intelligence services unveiled how his entourage was targeted, in a blueprint similar to his father’s assassination.

“Those who planned to assassinate prime minister Hariri deactivated the observation towers while his motorcade was passing by,” Reuters wired citing Al Arabiya.

YEMEN-CONFLICT-POLITICS-HUTHI
Supporters of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement gather in Sanaa on September 21, 2017. (AFP)

Three issues related to this development are worth pondering over:
1) Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh only one day after his meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.
2) The United States launched a new Iran policy targeting this regime’s destabilization and terrorism across the region.
3) Hezbollah has come under severe sanctions, including three bills passed by the US House of Representatives on October 25th.
a. H.R. 359 calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
b. H.R. 3342 sanctioning Hezbollah for using innocent civilians as human shields
c. H.R. 3329, known as HIFPA, targets Hezbollah’s international financial support

In short, Hariri’s resignation changed all calculations for Iran in Lebanon.

A look into the past

After a long stalemate Lebanon established a government on 18th December 2016, seeing Hariri as the prime minister and Michel Aoun as president. Lebanon’s power structure and political fabrication comprises of a Christian president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite head of parliament.

This combination provided a major advantage for Iran, carrying out all its crimes under the cover of a legitimate Sunni government. Hezbollah is attacking its dissidents in Lebanon, under the pretext of Lebanese Army operations. This terrorist designated entity is also using Lebanon’s financial infrastructure for its own benefit.

This farce legitimacy is now coming to an end. Hariri himself said the status quo could not continue.

Concerns and reactions

Iran and Hezbollah are both sensing the dangers ahead after Hariri’s resignation. “Without a doubt this resignation has raised our concerns and we did not welcome it,” said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.

Media in Iran are known to voice the general opinion of its ruling regime. “It appears that Hariri’s resignation is the operational beginning of this strategy in the region, with the ground being paved by the US Congress sanctioning [Iran] and Hezbollah,” according to the semi-official Entekhab daily.

A shot period after Hariri’s resignation, the Houthis in Yemen launched a missile targeting the King Salman International Airport near Riyadh.

“Iran has provided the capability for ballistic missile attacks launched from Yemen,” wire services reported citing Jeffrey Harrigian, commander for southwest Asia at the US Air Forces Central Command on Friday.

“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Harrigian added.

One can raise three possible reasons for this retaliation by Iran:
– A response to the blow received from Hariri’s resignation.
– The Houthis are suffering a series of setbacks on the ground.
– The United Nations has proposed peace plans for Yemen. The Houthis missile launch signals Iran’s response to peace and any negotiations whatsoever in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition accused Iran of launching a “direct military aggression” and declaring war, threatening possible retaliation. Article 51 of the UN Charter entails countries the right to take defensive military action in such scenarios. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said adequate action will be taken at the proper timing.

Two air strikes targeting the defense ministry in Yemen’s militant-held capital Sanaa late Friday were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to witnesses and rebel media. No casualties were reported.

Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target. (Screengrab)

Iran’s paradox

Iranian military officials, however, denied any part in the Riyadh missile attack. “We don’t even have the means to transfer missiles there,” said Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, understanding the consequences in this regard.

This is the very individual who threatened all US bases in the region in the case of IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the IRGC without any such response from Iran.

Furthermore, the Houthis lack the necessary industrial capacity to manufacture light weapons, let alone ballistic missiles. Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target.

“… where shall be the next target for long-range ballistic missile: maybe Riyadh, Jaddah, Taef and ARAMCO…,” it wrote.

International response

The ballistic missile launch is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. UNSC Resolution 2216 bans any provision of weapons for Houthi leaders in Yemen. UNSC Resolution 2231 specifically prohibits Iran from transferring and selling weapons abroad without Security Council consent.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for the world body to take action against Iran in response to this ballistic missile attack. Yemen lacked such hardware prior to Iran’s support and delivery of weaponry to the Houthis.

The White House condemned the Houthis missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, adding they threatened regional security and undermined efforts aimed at halting the conflict. France and the United Kingdom also condemned these measures, followed by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh where he stressed on pressuring Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Consequences of appeasement

Iran and Houthis reaching the point of launching such an attack can be traced back to eight years of appeasement by the Obama administration. Despite the UNSC obligating the Houthis to handover heavy weaponry, pull forces out of all cities and transfer all administrational entities to the officially recognized government, no measures were carried out in this regard.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. (Reuters)

 

Diplomats of former US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Houthis in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, yet refused to receive representatives of Yemen’s legal government. The Obama administration would foster numerous ceasefire agreements, allowing time the battered Houthis to regain their momentum.

One example of the Obama-Kerry engagement policy with Iran was witnessed when the Houthis and forces loyal to sacked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah advanced south with lightning speed from Sanaa towards Aden.

On March 25, 2015, in the midst of Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, Washington issued evacuation orders to US forces stationed in a large airbase north of Aden, including transferring all weaponry and hardware to the Houthis.

Times are changing

Iran enjoyed 16 years of highly flawed US policy across the region, providing it ample time to gain ample influence in four different Arab states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Following the Riyadh Conference back in May of this year, the decertification of the controversial Iran nuclear deal and the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, it has become crystal clear for Tehran that times are changing.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. Loophole-proof implementation is now needed and signs of such measures are beginning to mushroom in Lebanon and Yemen.

Upon Saudi Arabia’s requested, the Arab League has scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday to weigh Iran’s regional “violations,” wire services reported. This momentum must continue abroad and rest assured Iran’s regime is sensing the growing isolation.

How Iran Is Losing Europe

As the United States adopts new strategy vis-à-vis Iran, senior officials in Tehran are desperately seeking a new life-rope. With Obama and his appeasement gone, Iran is also sensing how Europe is distancing.

Tehran is also witnessing how developments across the Middle East and the international spectrum are cornering its regime, detecting how all parties will choose to side with its rivals.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made a call to Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman condemning the Iran-backed Houthis’ missile launch against Riyadh.

In her recent trip to Washington, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini expressed confidence the Iran nuclear deal, decertified by U.S. President Donald Trump, would not be killed.

Sources in Congress, however, are saying senior Republicans emphasized the deal’s deficiencies and stressed how financial and economic relations established with Iran are endangered, reports indicate.

Iran has feared such an outcome.

“The Europeans must stand against the U.S. government, including its violations of the Iran nuclear deal by imposing sanctions…,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on October 18th.

Prior to this Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to take advantage of the rift between Washington and Brussels to lure Europe into economic deals.

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French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference in Dubai on November 9, 2017. Macron announced he will visit Saudi Arabia on November 9 at night for a meeting with the kingdom’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, during his debut visit to the Middle East. / LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian media outlets have described recent remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson, and the French oil giant Total announcing its complete compliance with U.S. sanctions as further signs of Europe taking the high hills on the Iranian regime.

Macron said on Wednesday he sought to remain firm with Iran over its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. The semi-official Siasat daily on November 4th had lashed at Macron and called on senior Iranian regime officials to end being “naïve.”

This pro-Khamenei faction daily quoted the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s remarks against Iran’s ballistic missile activities as:

“Iran’s ballistic missile policy is not in-line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231… The French President has discussed this matter with his counterpart, Mr. Rouhani. We are in close relations with our European partners and members of the [Gulf] Cooperation Council. We are concerned about the recent remarks made by Iranian officials.”

Furthermore, France’s Foreign Ministry more recently indicated it is taking seriously accusations raised by Washington over Tehran violating two U.N. Security Council resolutions, urging Iran to observe with all its international commitments.

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US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley / TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accused Tehran on Tuesday of supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with a missile fired into Saudi Arabia back in July, called for the U.N. to hold Tehran accountable.

Europe has to this day taken its share of advantages rendered from the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Yet this will never result in the Green Continent threatening its long-term and strategic relations with the U.S. in favor of Iran trade deals.

Iran’s official Kayhan daily, described as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, published a piece on November 5th referring to a “Joint U.S.-Europe project aimed at ending Iran’s authority,” describing the regime as “enchained” by the West.

Senior Iranian clerics are also voicing major doubts and concerns.

“We consider European countries with the U.S. as our enemies… their suggestions may seem decent at first, but we must focus on the inside. Their prepositions of peace may even aim to catch us off guard,” Movahedi Kermani, one of Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leaders, said on November 3rd during a sermon.

The future of Iran’s $4.8 billion deal with France’s Total has also become a topic of immense anxiety.

“The senior financial director in Total has said until the beginning of 2018 as Washington’s new Iran policy is materializing, this company will sign no contracts with Iranian companies regarding the South Pars phase 11 gas development project,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency. “As emphasized in their 2015 Iran strategy, they will completely synchronize with the U.S. considering their cooperation with Iran,” the piece adds.

This daily in another piece dated November 5th titled “Total opens office in U.S. against Iran” writes: “During the deal’s signing a few months ago in Tehran, Total’s chairman emphasized we need not U.S. permission to be present in Iran. However, this company has just recently established an office in Washington for further cooperation with U.S. sanctions policies against Iran.”

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Chairman and CEO of French energy company Total, Patrick Pouyanne / STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s efforts to invest in establishing a rift between Europe and the U.S. is nothing but a mirage. Important are companies’ economic interests, and not necessarily the political positions adopted by this or that individual.

It is quite obvious that European firms are not willing to risk violating U.S. sanctions violations and the consequential fines for the sake of maintaining relations with Iran.

BNP Paribas was slapped a whopping $8.9 billion fine due to its transactions with Iran. Tehran understands this even better. Europe will never endanger its stake in U.S.’ $19 trillion economy for Iran’s $400 billion economy.

Iran must be brought to this comprehension that both sides of the Atlantic consider it the main element behind Middle East crisis. The West should unify in clipping Iran’s wings of terror, in particular targeting the Revolutionary Guards with terrorist designations.

ANALYSIS: How Iran fueled and used al-Qaeda

Iran’s relations with al-Qaeda is under the spotlight following the CIA’s release of nearly half a million documents obtained during a 2011 raid that killed the extremist group’s leader Osama Bin Laden.

How Iran at least facilitated the efforts leading to the 9/11 attacks has been discussed extensively. For decades US authorities have argued Iran-al-Qaeda ties date back to 1991, referred to in a 19-page report amongst the trove.

“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” the report reads.

REVEALED: Bin Laden daughter’s letter addressed to Khamenei

The US government’s 9/11 Commission explained how Iranian officials met with al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan as early as 1991 or 1992. This led to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an offspring of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to begin training al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon, the commission said. IRGC training camps inside Iran have also been exposed by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Al-Qaeda further enjoyed the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in the 1998 truck bombings targeting US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 people killed, including 12 Americans, US prosecutors said in their indictment of Bin Laden. This proves Iran recognizes no religious borders in allying with al-Qaeda. To reach its objective Tehran is bounded by no principles and will resort to any measures necessary, a viewpoint very rarely discussed.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to deliver a speech in Tehran on November 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Pragmatism in politics

Important for Tehran regime is to utilize all means to safeguard its rule by extending influence and reach across the Middle East. This includes wreaking havoc for the region’s nations and targeting all assets of the “Great Satan,” as the Iranian regime describes the United States.

When needed Iran provided al-Qaeda their necessities. When interests alter, however, Tehran easily changes course. The 19-page report mentioned above describes how Iranians later placed al-Qaeda members under house arrest following the Sept. 11 attacks. Tehran understood the importance of al-Qaeda for Washington after its victory in Iraq, and began planning long term.

“They decided to keep our brothers as a card,” the report said. In 2015 Iran made this true, reportedly exchanging a number of al-Qaeda leaders for a diplomat held in Yemen by the terror group’s local branch. “In my experience, the Iranian regime is the best example…of pragmatism in politics,” according to an al-Qaeda official quoted in the 19-page report.

Tehran taking advantage

While Iran and al-Qaeda shared a common enemy in the U.S., the relationship also had its sour days. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reportedly received a letter from al-Qaeda operatives – said to be Bin Laden’s daughter – demanding Tehran release detained operatives’ family members.

In 2003, Tehran reportedly weighed a possible deal with Washington, offering to exchange a number of al-Qaeda numbers for members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) then stationed in Iraq. Nothing materialized, however.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with students in Tehran on October 18, 2017. Leader. (Reuters)

Al-Qaeda’s apparent siding with Iran may seem surprising, considering the ostensible enmity extremists like those of ISIS have for Shiites, and vice versa. “The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that the Sunni-Shiite divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9/11 Commission reported.

Prior to 9/11, Iranian intelligence facilitated border passage to al-Qaeda militants without stamping passports or with previously provided visas by its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the 19-page report.

This mirrors US intelligence, showing how eight of 9/11’s hijackers passed through Iran before arriving into the mainland United States. One can now doubt claims of Hezbollah or Iran not being aware of the 9/11 planning. Experts have also noted how Iran leads a campaign, if you will, seeking short and long term interests.

Also read: CIA files shows depth of al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran

Iran has trained militias to fight in Iraq and Syria under the pretext of “protecting” Shiite holy sites and shrines. Described as a “mere dog-whistle aimed at rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes,” reports show how Iran-backed groups have deployed forces to areas lacking any shrines to “protect.”

All the while, Iran’s proxy groups have staged horrific massacres against Sunni communities across Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in the past several years the Iran-backed Assad regime has suspiciously retreated from various positions, only to see ISIS gain ground, while mutually attacking the grassroot Syrian opposition.

Numerous intelligence reports indicate how Tehran provided long-term shelter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The IRGC protected and groomed Zarqawi, whose group become the predecessor to ISIS, the reports add. The IRGC also facilitated resources allowing al-Qaeda in Iraq to rebuild infrastructure to launch its blitzkrieg offensive from Syria, taking over large swathes Iraq.

U.S. intelligence has well documented Tehran’s ties with al-Zarqawi, strongly doubting the narrative provided by the Obama administration following ISIS’s rampaging of numerous Iraqi cities.

Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran on Aug. 5, 2015. (AP)

Obama’s appeasement

With Bin Laden killed in 2011, why did the Obama administration keep a lid on this valuable source of vital intelligence?

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told Bloomberg the new documents specify “Iran and al-Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate Bin Laden referred to Iran as the ‘main artery’ for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications.”

The Obama administration released selected sets of Bin Laden files, in an attempt to emphasize a fierce rivalry between Iran and the extremist group. We now understand the Obama administration had complete knowledge of Tehran’s lethal cooperation with al-Qaeda.

The timing of Obama obtaining such vital intelligence about Tehran’s relations with al-Qaeda suspiciously overlaps Iran’s extensive meddling in the region, especially the lethal crackdown of its opposition in Iraq.

Iran has gone the limits in attempting to annihilate its opposition. As WikiLeaks revelations shed light on Iran’s conspiracies against the PMOI/MEK, rest assured the future has more such exposures.

President Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the White House on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

Outstanding threat

Iran will deny any relations with al-Qaeda. Interesting is how Iran initially denied any role in Syria and Iraq. The status quo proves Iran’s lethal footprint in literally opening the gates of hell upon these two nations.

The Obama years are over. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have lost their organizational structure, after Iran took complete advantage of them. Iran and the IRGC, however, continue causing mayhem.

The CIA release follows US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision to decertify the flawed Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration has also ended decades of rapprochement, highlighted in the IRGC blacklisting. This very necessary measure needs full-throttle implementation without any loopholes.

Despite their differences, the European Union and United States should join force in the long overdue effort to end Iran’s foot-print in Syria and Iraq.

Unpacking Trump’s Iran Policy Transition

We have surpassed a roller coaster month of intense developments over the Iran nuclear deal. Discussions in Washington, and talks between Europe and the United States catapulted us all into a simple conclusion:

A major global policy change was in the making. U.S. President Donald J. Trump followed suit and delivered his landmark speech last Friday.

It was the first time in over 30 years that a U.S. president completely devoted a speech to announcing his policy in regards to Iran. Trump delivered America’s new comprehensive strategy vis-à-vis Iran, following months of anticipation and talks.

The issue at hand is not a discussion about personal differences between George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Policies have reached a dead end and long term interests have left America no choice but to adopt new policies.

What makes this transition even more important is the fact that an intense war on both sides of the Atlantic has been ongoing over this policy transition. This is not limited to the pro-Iran lobby camp. Major interests are at risk here, covering issues far more important than Washington’s Iran policy.

In this 19-minute speech never did Trump deliver a neutral stance regarding Iran. The entire text was focused on placing his crosshairs on the Iranian regime. He began with the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, continuing with the bombings in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Iraq against America and its allies.

The objective was not to deliver new tactics or mere mechanisms on how America will approach Iran. The very foundations of U.S. policy on Iran has undergone major alterations.

One very interesting fact was how Trump focused on using the terms the “Iranian regime” and/or the “Iranian dictatorship”. Even if he preferred not to use the phrase of “Islamic Republic,” Trump had the option of resorting to “Iran.” Yet his decision to rely on the “Iranian regime” can be considered a non-recognition of this regime in its entirety.

President Trump using the terms “dictatorship” and “regime” indicates the ultimate objective of US policy is regime change in Iran, according to Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, as cited by various state websites in Iran.

In the first minute of his speech the U.S. president described Iran as an aggressive, radical and fanatic regime, and he refused to use the term “government.”

Trump’s speech focused on two subjects: the Iran nuclear deal and this regime’s regional belligerence and meddling through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Prior to his remarks, Trump was under fierce pressure from Europe to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). America’s European allies even took one step back in asking Trump that in the case of decertifying the JCPOA, at least call on Congress not to re-impose pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.

Trump, however, stood against all pressures and his specific orders sent a message to the U.S. Congress and Europe: either fix the JCPOA or else the entire pact will come to an end.

The Europeans, seeking to maintain the JCPOA intact at all costs, found themselves before a fork in the road. The price of safeguarding the JCPOA is to place pressure on Tehran to resolve the existing loopholes.

This will be completely against Tehran’s interests, targeting the “sunset” clauses, Iran’s ballistic missile program and access to military sites for rigorous inspections.

“The notion that [Iran’s] entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, or their malignant behavior has proven to be fundamentally false,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a recent session held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Another very important aspect of Trump’s speech is recognizing Tehran as a threat, and in other words, America’s enemy number one. This, again, marks a strategic shift and not a mere tactical alteration.

“Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy,” a White House press release read prior to Trump’s speech.

This is the epicenter of America’s strategic shift regarding Iran and the Middle East. Following the 9/11 attacks, the flawed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 played into Iran’s hands. These developments provided the necessary grounds for Tehran to spread its influence in the shadows of Sunni extremists and fundamentalists.

To add insult to injury, the Obama years gave birth to a policy hinging on recognizing a role for Tehran in regional developments. This period witnessed America distancing from its Sunni allies.

“The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes,” the press release adds. Once again the Iranian regime has become the main enemy in the region, as we have witnessed in the developments of the past few months following the historic Riyadh conference back in April.

The IRGC also became another major target of Trump’s harsh and unprecedented remarks targeting the Iranian regime’s top authority.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia… I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department followed suit and blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist entity.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded Wednesday to Trump’s remarks by merely saying Tehran would not walk out of the JCPOA, indicating his regime’s desperate dependence to the pact’s reliefs.

This makes it even more interesting how Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel recently wrote, “Iran has [according to German security sources] clearly not given up its long-term goal to become an nuclear power that can mount nuclear weapons on rockets.”

Equally important is how Trump in his remarks specifically separated the Iranian people from the ruling regime, and made his intention crystal clear.

“Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule… In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people,” he specified.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview with CNN on Sunday raised the stakes further for Tehran.

“… the hope that one day the Iranian people will retake the government of Iran,” he said.

Of course, we can argue that Trump’s speech fell short of shedding important light on Iran’s flagrant human rights violations and the Iranian people’s demand for change.

While this is worthy of a lengthy debate, what is important now is that a major revolution in U.S. policy in the face of the Iranian regime spells disaster for Tehran’s rulers, and opportunity for the Iranian people.

ANALYSIS: Certified or decertified, Iran faces tough road ahead

All eyes are on US President Donald Trump and his upcoming Iran speech later this week to clarify his decision to certify or decertify Tehran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to curb the regime’s controversial atomic drive.

This has Iran’s regime on its toes, as senior elite in Tehran understand fully how the US can lead the international community in adopting strong measures against its broad scope of malign activities. Expected to be addressed is also a wide range of concerns over Iran’s dangerous policies in relation to its ballistic missile advances, meddling in Middle East states and supporting terrorist proxy groups as explained in a new video.

‘Iran’s unacceptable behavior’

Iran’s rogue behavior, currently imposing its influence on four major regional capitals of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa, are the result of the Obama administration’s “overly lenient foreign policy, which sought to promote America’s priorities through consensus, rather than through the frank display of power,” as put by a recent The New Yorker piece.

“Lifting the sanctions as required under the terms of the JCPOA has enabled Iran’s unacceptable behavior,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a late September meeting with his P5+1 counterparts and Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Trump administration is also deeply concerned over Iran’s proxies mining the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait waterway, aiming its indigenous missiles from Yemen towards cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and from southern Lebanon towards Israel. This is Tehran in action with the objective of taking advantage of the destruction left behind by ISIS across the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump told reporters before a Thursday evening meeting with senior military leaders at the White House. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he said. “They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

Trump has put Iran “on notice” over charges that Tehran violated a nuclear deal with the West by test-firing a ballistic missile. (Reuters)

Joint effort

Parallel to the White House there are voices on Capitol Hill advocating the new approach weighed by the administration.

“The president should decline to certify, not primarily on grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalog of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States, as well as the deal’s inherent weakness,” Senator Tom Cotton said last week at a speech in the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Trump administration seeks to place necessary focus on Iran’s illicit Middle East ambitions and actions, talks are also ongoing as we speak over how to amend the JCPOA’s restrictions.

“Sunset clauses,” Iran’s ballistic missile development and testing, and an inspections regime lacking the bite to gain necessary access into the regime’s controversial military sites. Under the current framework Iran can easily conduct nuclear weapons research and development in military sites and claim such locations do not fall under the JCPOA jurisdiction.

While it is expected of Trump to decertify Iran, he most likely will not go the distance to completely pull America out of the nuclear agreement. Obama refused to send the JCPOA to Congress for discussion and approval. Trump, however, seems set to place the decision to impose further sanctions on Iran upon the shoulders of US lawmakers.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

More than ‘one piece’

The new mentality sought by Washington is to address all of Iran’s belligerence and not allow its nuclear program and the JCPOA devour all of the international community’s attention.

The new US response, including blacklisting Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards, to be announced by Trump is said to cover missile tests, support for terrorism and proxy groups checkered across the Middle East, hopefully human rights violations at home, and cyberattacks.

Iran has a history of resorting to such measures, including targeting Saudi oil interests. Raising the stakes for Iran, Trump described a meeting with his top military brass on Thursday evening as “the calm before the storm.” Neither the US President nor the White House provided further details, yet rest assured Tehran received the message.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. (AFP)

Fear renders contradiction

Sensing an increasingly escalating tone from Washington, Tehran signaled its first sign of fear by expressing readiness to discuss its ballistic missile program, according to Reuters. And yet less than 24 hours later, Iranian officials said no offers were made to negotiate such restrictions.

“Iran regards defensive missile programs as its absolute right and will definitely continue them within the framework of its defensive, conventional and specified plans and strategies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according state media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also felt the need to make remarks to save face before the regime’s already depleting social base. “In the nuclear negotiations and agreement we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible. No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else,” Rouhani said at a recent Tehran University ceremony, according to state media.

Of course, we all remember how prior to the JCPOA signing in 2015 senior Iranian officials went the limits in describing any “retreat” regarding their nuclear program as a “red line.” To make a long story short, Tehran is comprehending how the times are changing at a high velocity, endangering its domestic, regional and international interests. And unlike the Obama years, its actions will not go unanswered.

Senator Cotton made this crystal clear at his speech: “Congress and the President, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

What Iran Needs Are Not Concessions But Sanctions

With concerns escalating, North Korea should not lead us to tone down our voice and provide further concessions to Pyongyang and Tehran. We should in fact do the opposite.

More than two years after the flaws of a deal between the P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program have become obvious, a chorus is busy insisting there is no other option. While the rendered pact, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has failed to rein in the Tehran regime, correct measures are available at hand.

Some argue the JCPOA has successfully slowed Iran’s dangerous drive to obtain nuclear weapons. The Center for a New American Security held a forum titled, “Consequences of a Collapse of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” featuring “a plethora of prominent speakers advocating in favor of preserving the deal, including former senior Obama administration official, Colin Kahl, a chief proponent of the agreement,” according to The Washington Free Beacon.

We Do Indeed Have Other Viable Options

The highly controversial Parchin military complex, located southeast of Tehran, was “inspected” by Iran’s own “scientists” to provide samples to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is tantamount to asking a murderer to deliver his DNA, in privacy without any supervision, as evidence to compare with that found at a crime scene where closed-circuit cameras recorded his presence at the time of the crime.

JCPOA advocates say the deal isn’t perfect, yet also claim measures against Iran are ill-founded and can be counterproductive. This is not the case.

“The administration could discourage global firms from doing business with Iran by leaving open its final position on the deal, and thus placing at risk their business with America,” as proposed in a recent Foreign Policy piece by James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey.

Yes, such measures would disappoint Tehran. Yet knowledge of this regime’s nature suggests such actions will not push Iran to the brink of abandoning the JCPOA ship, as they are benefiting from the present terms.

And yes, the Iran nuclear deal is a multilateral agreement, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reminded. Yet also as a reminder, in case of Iran violating the JCPOA terms, the United States can unilaterally launch the “snapback” process and have UN sanctions re-imposed on Iran. In such a scenario there is no need to garner support from Russia or China, both known for backing Tehran, as Security Council veto authority is irrelevant in this regard.

Appeasement Is a Failed Approach

With concerns over this issue escalating, the case of North Korea should not lead us to tone down our voice and provide further concessions to Pyongyang and Tehran. We should in fact do the opposite. This dossier should help us realize that appeasement—the same mentality embraced by the Obama administration in blueprinting the highly flawed JCPOA—has placed us where we are today with North Korea.

Do we seek to trek down the same path with Iran, a state with dangerous influence across the already flashpoint Middle East? One such horrible example is Iran’s involvement in Syria. JCPOA advocates are also describing a “best-case scenario” of providing more concessions to North Korea to muster a “far-from-perfect” pact, similar to the Iran deal, in exchange for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear development.

Déjà vu. Haven’t we already experienced this with the Clinton administration’s “Agreed Framework” of 1994? Kim Jong Un recently tested his state’s sixth and most powerful nuclear device, claiming to be a hydrogen bomb. As another harsh reminder, rapprochement with North Korea led to the notorious 2010 sinking of the South Korean destroyer, the Cheonan. It is quite obvious by now that a Pyongyang submarine torpedoed the warship and left 46 sailors dead.

Does another South Korea naval ship, or a city for that matter, have to be targeted for us to realize that rogue states such as Iran and North Korea will only consider engagement as a sign of the international community’s weakness and take full advantage of it? Or must a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf come into the crosshairs of Revolutionary Guards’ fast boats for the West to finally open its eyes?

Some think Iran lacks the necessary will and understands all too well how such a move would spark drastic international measures against its interests. JCPOA advocates (read Iranian apologists) have also delegitimized any concern about Tehran’s intentions by claiming pact violations, such as breaching limits set on heavy water—the substance needed for plutonium-based nuclear bombs—as mere “bumps in the road.”

This shows those making such arguments either lack the necessary knowledge of Iran’s belligerent nature in the past four decades, or simply fall into the category of Iran lobbyists. Fierce international sanctions left Iran no choice but to succumb to nuclear talks with knees bleeding. More non-nuclear sanctions are needed to make Tehran understand the international community means business.

“Peace for our time” was the claim made by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his September 30, 1938 speech concerning the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. Seventy million people paid the price of that strategic mistake with their lives. Let us finally learn our lesson of appeasement and put aside such an approach for good.

Is Iran’s enhanced ballistic missile capability a calculated move?

As the North Korea nuclear standoff and the future of Iran’s nuclear deal has absorbed an all-too enormous amount of international attention, a more important prism on Iran’s regional hostility must not go neglected.

During the United Nations General Assembly the controversial nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), took center stage once again. All the while Tehran has throughout the years overtly and covertly pursued a massive campaign hinging on meddling and extending its lethal ideology of Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East.

The rendered atrocities can be witnessed across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. This threatens the very fabric of the Middle East populace and bears the potential of plunging this flashpoint region into an abyss of proxy wars resulting in nothing but infernos of carnage.

Broken promises

As the Obama administration sought to sell the JCPOA to the American people, US allies and the international community, they claimed a different Iran would emerge as a responsible member of the global neighborhood and the Middle East would be the first region to enjoy the boasted outcome. Some even claimed Iran would become this region’s Japan.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the sidelines of his UNGA meetings. While Iran has enjoyed a rift between Europe and the US, Berlin made remarks sinking deep into the minds of those sitting on the throne in Tehran.

“The Americans are right: Iran is still not playing a constructive role in the Middle East, be it in Yemen or Lebanon,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in a statement. The Green Continent has also welcomed the idea of cooperating with Washington with the aim of containing Iran’s Middle East thirst, especially considering growing concerns over Iran’s dangerous role in Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa and Beirut.

This train of thought also bears backing amongst Middle East states. “Two years have passed since Iran’s nuclear agreement with no sign of change in its hostile behavior; it continues to develop its nuclear program and violates the letter and spirit of that agreement,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahayan said during his UN General Assembly speech.

Yemen: The strategic state

Despite being a very poor country, the geostrategic importance of Yemen is undeniable. This is the very reason why al-Qaeda sought to establish a major foothold in Saudi Arabia’s back yard and now Iran vehemently continues its support of the Houthis in destabilizing this country and the vital international waters adjacent to its shores.

Tehran is continuing its efforts of smuggling illicit weapons and technology to prolong the Houthis’ campaign, according to Vice Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, the top US Navy commander in the Middle East. These measures stoke civil strife in Yemen and enable the Houthis to launch more precise and longer ranged missiles into its northern neighbor.

The Houthis are also receiving an “increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border,” reported The New York Times citing Donegan’s remarks.

While there has been significant success in the initiative against Iran’s meddling in Yemen, the continuing crisis resembles the lethal potential of Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and its current focus on strategic junctures, such as this country’s influence over imperative shipping lines.

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016. (Reuters)

Iran’s growing reach

Further grounds of Iran not changing habits following the JCPOA signing are found in its violation of a related accord, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, by continuing to test launch a range of ballistic missiles.

As recently as Friday Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile as Rouhani increased his rhetoric against Washington through repeating the claim of this regime only seeking its defensive interests. In an even more provocative measure, the medium-range Khorramshahr missile was successfully test launched on Saturday. As claimed by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency, this new weapon has a range of 2,000 kilometers (nearly 1,250 miles) and enjoys the capability of carrying multiple warheads.

This raised strong responses across the board, including US President Donald Trump questioning the JCPOA altogether and accusing Tehran of colluding with Pyongyang. In line with such concerns, Francealso called on the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deliver a full report on the recent missile test.

Rouhani’s emphasis on seeking to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capability is a completely calculated move. All the while it needs understanding that such rhetoric from senior Iranian officials are aimed at maintaining a straight face back home, and not appearing to give in to pressures raised by the international community.

Iran is also busy exporting weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah and a slate of other terrorist and proxy groups. This conglomerate of violations reached the point of Team Obama alumni Samantha Power, former US envoy to the UN, felt obligated to highlight the cases. This is probably Rouhani’s definition of being a “moderate.”

Electing vetted candidates

Of course, this is the same individual who back in May, after reaching a second term through a process dubbed as an “election” carried out amongst vetted candidates said, “We are proud of our armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the Basij and the security forces.”

The IRGC is the godfather of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drive, in charge of quelling all forms of domestic dissent, and exporting the regime’s so-called “Islamic Revolution” abroad. For this very purpose, Iran has for decades fostered the rise of proxy offspring armies including the likes of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Obama’s JCPOA and windfall of billions also provided Iran the opportunity to continue fueling terrorist groups across the region and even marshalling foot-soldiers from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan to Syria to help maintain Syrian dictator Bashar Assad remain on his throne.

As a train of thought has remained intact from Obama’s flawed policies, there are voices who have gone as far as describing Iran being a “major diplomatic, military, and economic player throughout the Middle East and even into Central and Southwest Asia.” Unfortunately, this plays into Tehran’s hands and upgrades the dogma practiced vis-à-vis Tehran for the past four decades, rendering nothing but escalating death and destruction.

If Iran enjoys “considerable influence” in countries across the region it is not due to its righteous cause. Tehran, in fact, owes a great deal of gratitude to West for its tireless policy of rapprochement. Iran must be isolated, and this is not tantamount to a call for a new Middle East war. Imagining this regime can be a party to be constructively reckoned with is in fact naïve.

Broken promises

It has become crystal clear that the JCPOA has not lived up to its promises. The Middle East has evolved into a mess due to Iran’s meddling, leading to Europe leaning toward US’ position of pressuring Tehran to bring an end to its regional carnage.

For far too long Iran has taken advantage of its nuclear program and ambitions to advance its Middle East influence. This must come to an end, parallel to increasing international pressures on its nuclear/ballistic missile drive, support for terrorism and human rights violations at home.

For nearly four decades Tehran has utilized the engagement approach by the West based on the mistaken perspective on playing “nice” with Iran to encourage change. This has resulted in a Middle East engulfed in war, death and destruction, cloaked by the international brouhaha Iran has launched through its nuclear program.

All of the Iranian regime’s animosities deserve due attention in parallel fashion. Its regional meddling and support for terrorism should be top priority. One such solution was recently provided by Walid Phares, former Trump foreign policy advisor, for Washington to use the Arab coalition and Iranian opposition as means against Tehran.