Iran: From human rights violations to dangerous meddling

From day one the regime of Iran has been based on the pillars of domestic crackdown, and exporting terrorism and a reactionary, religious mentality.

As we speak, spreading extremism and Islamic fundamentalism remains a cornerstone policy of Iran’s state-run strategy, all hacked into this regime’s constitution.

The real image

Earlier this year Amnesty International’s 94-page report, “Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack,” detailed this regime’s drastic human rights violations, with a specific focus on its extensive overdose of executions.

As witnessed for years running, Iran is the world’s leading executioner per capita, with many hangings continuously and horrendously carried out in public. All the while, secret executions are ongoing in dungeons across the country, including Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.

This is the real image of Iran, cloaked by the ruling regime and their appeasers in the West for years, who continue to portray Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate worth dealing with.

ANALYSIS: Does the Middle East’s stability hinge on Iran’s expulsion?

Rouhani heads a corrupt system responsible for executing around 3,500 people, and counting, from 2013 to this day. 350 such counts have been registered this year alone.

Iran lacks anything even remotely comparable to a justice system and the current Justice Minister, Alireza Avaie, has been on numerous terrorist lists since 2011 for human rights violations.

Avaie is also known to have played a leading role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, consisting of mostly members and supporters of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Nursing home

Iran is the godfather of human rights violations and terrorism, known as the main source of systematic human rights violations and expanding conflicts across the region.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and the Quds Force, responsible for the IRGC’s extraterritorial operations, led by Qassem Suleimani, famed for his ruthlessness, are the main parties responsible for Iran’s internal repression, and mainly, aggressively expanding Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East.

For decades the IRGC has been responsible for terrorist attacks in this flashpoint corner of the globe, including the countries of SyriaIraqLebanon and Yemen. In this regard, Tehran’s continuing practice of being the nursing home of proxy extremist groups is no matter of dispute or questioning.

What Iran has maintained a lid on has been its close collaboration with terror elements. For decades, the world has been deceived – conveniently for and by Iran – into believing that significant differences exist between Sunnis and Shiites, and thus cancelling any possibility of Tehran having links with its Sunni rivals.

Tehran has usurped this window of opportunity to portray itself and claim to be a de facto ally of the West in the fight against extremism, especially recently in the form of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Discussions in Washington are ongoing over how the US military, short of a direct conflict, can deter and contain Iran’s meddling in Middle East countries. The Pentagon has refrained from public comments.

One official familiar with the mentality of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has hinted to the media that Iran is the focus of much attention in the Pentagon recently.

Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired a meeting between the US, UK, France and Germany to blueprint US-European collaboration aimed at countering Iran through the course of diplomatic and economic practices. Other senior Trump administration officials have also resorted to significant remarks.

“What the Iranians have done across the broader Middle East is fuel and accelerate these cycles of violence so that they can take advantage of these chaotic environments, take advantage of weak states, to make them dependent on them for support,” US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said to a security forum last weekend.

“We have to address what is a growing Iranian capability and an ability to use proxies, militias, terrorist organizations to advance their aim, their hegemonic aims in the region,” McMaster added.

This file photo taken on May 15, 2003 shows Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (L) welcoming former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami at Sanaa International Airport. (AFP)

 

Game-changing revelations

Newly released documents obtained by US special forces in their raid on the residence of the now dead al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan prove what many scholars have argued for years.

Iran’s regime, known as the beating heart of Islamic fundamentalism, has never considered sectarian differences an obstacle to cooperate with extremists. Tehran seeks to strengthen its resolve in the objective of furthering influence and global support for fundamentalism and terrorism.

These documents prove how the Iranian regime was working closely with al-Qaeda, including bin Laden himself, which could have subsequently led to Tehran’s inevitable cooperation with ISIS.

Iran’s rulers, and their cohorts spread in various countries, seek the same objective of establishing a ruthless caliphate by deploying global jihad. This practice hinges on unbridled brutality, misogyny and immorality to its utmost extent. No limits in barbarity and viciousness is accepted by these parties in their effort to reach their objectives.

Further reports are emerging detailing the growing amount of ties linking the regime in Iran with extremists groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. New evidence confirms how despite the existence of various factions of extremist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS, at the end of the day, they all look at Tehran as the main source fueling this infamous mentality.

Flashpoint Yemen

Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen has escalated and gained much attention recently. For example, a missile launched by the Houthis on November 4 was strikingly similar to an Iranian-made Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile, added to its collection by Iran in 2010, and yet never before seen in Yemen’s missile arsenal, according to a confidential report prepared by a UN panel of experts missioned to monitor a 2015 arms embargo imposed on Yemen.

One component — a device, known to be an actuator, used to assist in steering the missile — was found among the debris bearing a metal logo of an Iranian company, Shadi Bagheri Industrial Group, known to be the subject of UN, EU, and US sanctions.

The Houthis “obtained access to missile technology more advanced” than what they had prior to the conflict’s birth in 2015, according to the panel report.

“The design, characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” the text adds.

Serious measures

The dangerous nature of Iran’s regime is obvious to all. Parallel to military and terrorist measures throughout the globe, Tehran targets naïve and vulnerable subjects, using them to relay their reactionary mentality. This includes the various Western parliaments and significant international bodies, including UN and EU institutions. Tehran’s demonization agendas have shown to be predecessors to violent attacks.

Only serious measures against Iran’s regime, and ultimately the collapse of this ruthless entity, will mark the end of Iran’s human rights violations, and meddling and support for terrorism being spread deceivingly under the flag of Islam.

ALSO READ: Who is Qais al-Khazaali, godfather of Iranian-backed Shiite militias?

Iran’s increasing meddling abroad is not a policy signaling this regime’s strength. In fact, facing deep domestic crises, Tehran is attempting to cloak its internal weakness by increasing its influence across the region on the one hand, and resorting to saber-rattling to prevent the international community from adopting a firm policy.

Iran entered negotiations and succumbed to curbing its nuclear program due to fears of uncontrollable uprisings resulting from crippling international sanctions. This is the language Iran understands and more major sanctions are needed against this regime.

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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 state of Iran’s presidential election after recent exits

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s early exit on Tuesday from Iran’s presidential election even prior to the May 19 polls, with no candidates until now forecasted to gain more than 50% of the votes, came as an unexpected turn of events.

This can be the result of a conclusion reached by the hardliner camp from the 2013 presidential election where their chances were hurt with none of their candidates willing to step aside in favor of their all-out interests.

The Status Quo

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his camp have most likely decided to set aside the deceiving smiles of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and American educated Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the first round, and bring in figures known to adopt harsher tones.

Mostafa Mir-Salim, a conservative former minister of culture and Islamic guidance, will most likely follow in Ghalibaf’s footsteps. He never had any meaningful chance in the polls and was only kept to level the playing field and set three “hardliners” against three so-called “moderates/reformists”.

Khamenei loyalists will now be rallying behind Ebrahim Raisi, known as an insider figure enjoying the Supreme Leader’s support. He has climbed up the political ladder through the judiciary and out of the spotlight until the past year or so.

Ebrahim Raisi. (Raisi.org)

Known as the “massacre ayatollah” inside Iran, Raisi has served the mullahs’ so-called “judiciary” for three decades, sending thousands to the gallows to ensure his rise in the ranks. Raisi’s signature trademark is his notorious role in the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the banned Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The Rival Camp

Rouhani, of course, leads three “reformists/moderates”, with his own Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri stepping aside on Monday, and Mostafa Hashemitaba, who served as head of Iran’s National Olympic Committee.

Jahangiri in the debates was seen both challenging the “hardline” rivals head on and taking the hits for Rouhani. Hashemitaba is not a serious candidate as he has openly indicated he is literally voting for Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AFP)

The initial wrap up is the “reformists/moderates” are rallying behind Rouhani. However, a broader analysis shows how ridiculous the entire sham election truly is.

Rouhani himself has nothing to present to the Iranian “voter.” He has failed to inject any new life into the economy and provide for the average Iranian after the nuclear deal, and yet tens of billions of dollars are spent on:
a) the regime’s meddling across the region, mainly in Syria
b) the ballistic missile drive
c) the domestic crackdown machine
d) the nuclear program that was supposed to be curbed

During the past four years Rouhani has also presided over 3,000 executions, meaning two individuals sent to the gallows in Iran each day.

And Then There Were Two

The scene is now set for a race between Raisi and Rouhani. Signs indicate Raisi will ultimately be selected by the regime apparatus. Would Khamenei have even entered Raisi into the race if he had any hesitations about the outcome? The Supreme Leader’s recent remarks can be interpreted as warnings to Rouhani, especially when he cautioned any disruptor of the process will receive a “slap in the face.”

Rouhani also understands a complete “engineering” of the election will not be an easy task for Khamenei due to the deep divides in the regime’s senior ranks.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, a former principalist, and Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a close confidant of Khamenei, have placed their weight behind Rouhani.

The ruling elite allowed Rouhani into the presidency in 2013 to answer their need for such a tool during the end of Obama’s term to bring an end to international sanctions. With Obama gone and the Trump administration imposing a complete overhaul in US policy vis-à-vis Iran, Khamenei is recalibrating his regime for the tough road ahead.

A Potential New Twist

Another new change in the 2017 election is how Khamenei’s camp is now understanding and embracing the importance of social media.

The candidates are using Twitter, despite being officially banned in Iran, and the messaging app Telegram, with over 20 million users amongst Iranians, to spread their message especially to the younger generation that comprise a very large percentage of Iran’s population.

While hardliners were known to traditionally respect bans placed by the regime on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, a video posted by hardliners themselves went viral showing Rouhani visiting the site of a recent mine disaster and how protesters attacked his vehicle to voice their demands.

Raisi took to Instagram to livestream his rallies and staged question-and-answer sessions, a move considered unprecedented in Iranian politics.

Dissident activists, especially those connected with the PMOI/MEK network of supporters inside the country, have gone the distance recently and braved many risks to make their voices heard and spread the message of Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.

If arrested these activists will most certainly be tortured and most probably executed as any support for the PMOI/MEK inside Iran would be crossing a major red line for the mullahs’ regime.

Final Thoughts

Despite the regime in its entirety boasting a high general turnout vote, this trend of dissent most definitely signals yet another major boycott by the Iranian population.

Here’s a few lines to take into notice about Iran’s façade presidential election.

“Fact is, in Iran the question isn’t who gets the most votes, but who’s counting them. And those counting them this year clearly favor Raisi, a hardliner judge,” according to The New York Post.

“All this seems to guarantee the next few years will be filled with hostility and provocations directed toward America from Tehran. Indeed, even if Rouhani gets another presidential term, it’s already clear: The age of phony smiles between America and Iran is now over.”

Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis?

The 12th presidential election in Iran will be held on May 19th. These polls are taking place at a time when the regime in Tehran, and especially Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are facing three distinct crises.

a)  Khamenei, suffering from prostate cancer, sees his days as numbered and must designate a successor. From March 2015 he has held various sessions with senior regime and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials for this very purpose. Khamenei insists that his successor be clarified prior to his death.

b)  A major policy overhaul in Washington following the end of Obama’s tenure. This has terrified Iran and placed this regime in intense isolation on the international stage and across the region in the face of Arab and Islamic countries.

c)  The presidential election crisis in May.

Khamenei, witnessing his establishment coming to its knees during the 2009 uprisings, is extremely concerned about a repeat scenario. In such circumstances, the possibility of his entire regime crumbling at the hands of a revolting population is very serious and even likely. Khamenei is weighing how to properly engineer the elections while not providing any pretext for popular upheaval.

In contrast to the viewpoints of various parties in the West, the rifts inside Khamenei’s faction and those supporting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does not arise from a difference between two so-called “moderate” and/or “hardline” mentalities. The fact is that the sham election is a dispute over two solutions aimed at safeguarding and maintaining a religious dictatorship in power, furthering their expansionism and ambitions.

Both factions, including Khamenei and the current formerly represented by the influential Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, believe in resorting to a domestic crackdown, obtaining nuclear weapons, meddling in the internal affairs of other countries such as Iraq and Syria, and using instability and terrorism leverage as a tool to pursue their foreign policy. The only difference is how to advance in their goal to realize these objectives. Therefore, when we are talking about two factions, we must not mistakenly compare the Iranian regime with today’s advanced democracies.

Khamenei is considered very weak due to the current crises his regime is facing. In contrast to last year, when he constantly lashed out at Rouhani for the deal sealed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and similar initiatives sought for other purposes, Khamenei refused to mention Iran’s current political crises. Furthermore, following the major U.S,-Iran policy change, Khamenei has set aside his stereotype threats against the U.S. and maintained a state of hesitancy in his remarks.

Khamenei and Election Engineering

Candidates for Iran’s presidential elections will register from April 11th to the 16th. The ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-man body directly and indirectly appointed by Khamenei himself, will weigh the candidates’ qualifications from April 17th to the 27th. The elections are scheduled for May 19th.

Iran’s presidential elections always feature a large number of candidates. However, the main candidates from the two main factions must receive Khamenei’s explicit or implicit approval.

“Rouhani’s candidacy was confirmed after gaining the approval of the establishment’s senior officials,” according to the Ebtekar daily.

By establishing the “Popular Party of Revolutionary Forces” and the membership of the same individuals who elevated firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president from the ballot boxes back in 2005, Khamenei has revealed signs of how he has engineered the upcoming elections.

In his “Nowruz” message marking the Iranian calendar New Year, Khamenei came to admit his role in the results of the 2009 presidential election.

“I entered the 2009 [presidential election] and stood firm,” he said. In his remarks, Khamenei warned about the May election by stipulating, “I will stand firm and intervene.”

It is worth noting the IRGC command, and especially Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, are seeking the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, who is also considered one of Khamenei’s options as his successor. Khamenei has yet to reach a final decision over Reisi’s candidacy in the May elections. If he registers as a candidate and fails to become president, his chances of succeeding Khamenei will be severely undermined. And if Khamenei seeks to select Reisi as the next president at all costs, he faces the severe possibility of instigating nationwide uprisings.

What is the Forecast?

Naturally, due to the numerous different elements facing Khamenei and his regime’s factions, forecasting even the near future is quite a challenging task. However, there are three different scenarios facing Khamenei:

1) Eliminating Rouhani and selecting a candidate meeting his standards, and that of the IRGC.

2) Rouhani is severely weakened after losing Rafsanjani, considered a major pillar in the regime’s apparatus. He will be reappointed as president on the condition of succumbing to the hegemony of Khamenei and the IRGC.

3) Rouhani views Khamenei weak in the balance of power and stands as a major opponent against his faction.

Of course, Khamenei prefers to realize the first scenario. If concerns of nationwide uprisings cancel this possibility, he will give in to the second scenario.

Although Rouhani is in favor of the third scenario, considering the society’s powder keg conditions and losing the support of Rafsanjani, such a turn of events would be considered dangerous for both the regime’s factions. This outcome can bring an end to the public’s fear of the regime’s domestic crackdown machine and ignite a new nationwide uprising. This is a red line for both of Iran’s factions.

Those supporting Khamenei, and especially the IRGC, seek to eliminate Rouhani from these elections. However, Khamenei cannot take very bold measures and officially oppose Rouhani’s candidacy. When confirming Rouhani’s candidacy, Khamenei asked him to hold coordinating meetings with Sulemani and IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari. This request brings us closer to the second scenario.

However, the Iranian people and their organized opposition, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), consider such elections under the mullahs’ regime as baseless and demand free and fair elections held under the United Nations auspices. Such polls are only possible through regime change in Iran and establishing a democratic system.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK). He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.

Is Iran expanding its spying and lobbying efforts?

The Iranian intelligence minister’s recent remarks, pertaining to Tehran overseeing a spy/lobby network in important capitals across the world, is cause for concern. Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s spy chief, bragged about the regime’s capability to run a lobby group in Washington with the aim of promoting Tehran’s hardline agenda.

According to Alavi, Iranian dual citizens in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have maintained their loyalty to the “Islamic revolution,” the mullahs’ hallmark motto ever since 1979, through which they have wreaked havoc across the region and beyond.

A “lobby group for the Islamic Republic of Iran” is actively bolstering Tehran’s status in the international stage and helping to sell and legitimize its nuclear ambitions as just causes to the globe, Alavi claimed

The head of Iran’s intelligence apparatus did not bother to name the specific lobby entity. One certain group, however, the National Iranian American Council, has been the target of major criticism in the past several months, with accusations of the group lobbying on Tehran’s behalf. Various dissident organizations are demanding the Trump administration to launch an official probe digging into NIAC’s history and nature of its current events.

Congress has also been petitioned to investigate ties between Iran and the NIAC, and the latter’s active drive to promote a pro-Tehran agenda in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chair the foreign affairs committees in each chamber of Congress, have received specific letters signaling the importance of urgent action in this regard.

NIAC was once again under the spotlight this January for its actions of presenting a positive image of the Iran nuclear deal and advocating a pro-diplomatic approach with Tehran. The media reported extensively on how two senior Iranian regime supporters, former Iranian nuclear diplomat Hossein Mousavian and NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi, enjoyed access to the Obama White House on more than 30 occasions, conducting meetings with senior administration officials.

Such meetings took place at critical points of the Obama administration’s decision-making process and engagement with Iran in their effort to push forward the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Alavi’s recent remarks are source for serious concern as entities advocating Iran’s agenda in the American capital are obliged by the Foreign Agents Registration Act to disclose the nature of their work. This even includes conditions where the relationship does not involve money exchanges, at least not through legal and opaque channels.

A legitimate question now hovers over the possibility of any ties between the groups referred to by Iran’s intelligence minister and the Islamic Republic’s positions on foreign policy.

Another just query circles around the many visits Parsi has made to the White House and the State Department during former President Obama‘s tenure, and can they be attributed to what the Iranian intelligence minister describes as lobbying for Tehran.

Any group seen to be advocating the promotion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and caring less about the Iranian people’s human rights and the regime’s crackdown, should be subject of suspicion.

For years Iran has been known to forward an official plot of boosting relations with groups promoting anti-war and pro-regime policies in the West. Improving contacts with Iranian dual nationals living in the West has been high on Tehran’s agenda on this matter.

One major task of this network has been discrediting those opposing the regime in Tehran and taking measures against any efforts voicing support for Iran regime change. The main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its most important member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been the constant target of smear campaigns launched and orchestrated by the Iranian regime and NIAC.

Their nightmare involves Washington discussing possibilities with Iranian opposition groups, and upscaling the effort into direct cooperation aimed at further sanctions and ultimately regime change.

Originally published in Washington Examiner

Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner and an Iranian human rights activist.

Iran’s Military Drills: The Same Old Saber-Rattling

While mainstream media may provide wide coverage of Iran’s recent military drills on the ground and at sea, including a variety of missile test launches, they represent nothing new. A new administration taking the helm in Washington has engendered widespread reactions from inside the mullahs’ apparatus on how to respond. Senior Iranian regime officials have been discussing recent developments and rest assured they are weighing a variety of different scenarios on how to respond with the least possible collateral damage.

One scenario currently being evaluated is a possible foreign military attack against Iran, and the solution provided is similar to the policy Iran adopted regarding its nuclear program: giving in to negotiations with the international community and providing concessions in order to maintain their face while taking advantage of possible loopholes, to thus defuse or neutralize any military assault. The recent visit to Kuwait and Oman by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is evaluated in such a perspective.

A second scenario, pursued by the so-called “hardliners” in Iran and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is focused on the argument that the new U.S. administration, despite all its aggressive posture, is unable to launch a new military offensive due to the lack of appetite in the American society and the White House’s adherence to the U.S. bipartisan structure and strategy.

What is clear in Tehran’s decisions and policymaking is the current pursuit of saber-rattling by means of recent missile test launches and military drills scheduled for a variety of military forces, especially the IRGC.

Through missile tests and a colorful array of military maneuvers that merely showcases a force barely able to meet any true challenge against its Middle East rivals, Iran is desperately seeking to keep face, domestically speaking.

It is quite obvious to any realistic military analyst that if the United States and its Arab allies sought to respond to Iran’s unconventional methods, they would hardly have any tough planning to think about. However, the intention of this piece is far from advocating another unnecessary war in the Middle East. The only difference is that Iran continuously presses the pedal on propaganda warfare, and unfortunately enjoys the support of a conglomerate of pro-appeasement advocates in the West, which also must come to an end.

Such chest thumping by Iran was also seen during the George W. Bush administration, especially following the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, where Iran desperately sought to prevent a similar fate. To sum it up, Tehran resorts to saber-rattling in an attempt to quell any possible Washington military option, and to lift the spirits of a dwindling social base suffering from serious loss in numbers.

In this regard, IRGC Ground Forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour — before becoming famous for his ‘slap in the face’ remarks — had announced the ground drills staged from February 20th to the 22nd involving an initial phase of missile tests in Iran’s central desert lands, resembling a defensive scenario in the face of threats posed by foreign forces.

The second phase consisted of the IRGC special forces, known as the Saberin Unit, troops of the 5th Nasr Division and paramilitary Basij conscripts. The later forces were preparing for missions to quell popular protests, the prospect that Tehran fears the most.

As mentioned already, Iran’s military drills are focused only on creating a military boogieman out of nothing in comparison to the conventional forces of other states, focusing on keeping rivals and international correspondents at a certain distance.

However, these preposterous and truly ridiculous measures — such as speedboats firing rockets and sinking a mock U.S. aircraft carrier — no longer has anyone buying this story. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently issued a staunch reminder to Tehran:

“Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president.”

Yet more important is Tehran’s desperate attempt to keep a straight face after the end of Obama’s presidency when it enjoyed too many concessions. Iran even boasts of using precision accurate rockets, that are in fact nothing but a remodeled version of the Russian 122mm Katyusha rocket (a WW II design) with a range of no more than 75 kilometers. Iran has even claimed of testing “anti-helicopter mines,” which deserves only ridicule in today’s world of advanced warfare.

To respond best to Iran’s measures is to target the mullahs’ Achilles Heel. The mullahs rely on the IRGC for their domestic crackdown, foreign warmongering, and their ongoing nuclear/ballistic missile drive. To this end, blacklisting the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization — under discussion as we speak in the White House and Congress — would be the silver bullet against the regime ruling Iran.

This is the right next step in a roadmap to bring an end to 38 years of misery both for the Iranian people and nations across the Middle East.

Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president.”

Yet more important is Tehran’s desperate attempt to keep a straight face after the end of Obama’s presidency when it enjoyed too many concessions. Iran even boasts of using precision accurate rockets, that are in fact nothing but a remodeled version of the Russian 122mm Katyusha rocket (a WW II design) with a range of no more than 75 kilometers. Iran has even claimed of testing “anti-helicopter mines,” which deserves only ridicule in today’s world of advanced warfare.

To respond best to Iran’s measures is to target the mullahs’ Achilles Heel. The mullahs rely on the IRGC for their domestic crackdown, foreign warmongering, and their ongoing nuclear/ballistic missile drive. To this end, blacklisting the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization — under discussion as we speak in the White House and Congress — would be the silver bullet against the regime ruling Iran.

This is the right next step in a roadmap to bring an end to 38 years of misery both for the Iranian people and nations across the Middle East.

Originally published in American Thinker

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

Ahwaz protests in Iran: A sign of things to come?

Tensions continue to rise between the new US administration and Iran with a series of actions and reactions. Most recently, Iran has launched a new round of military drills, embarking on more provocative actions, while US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel have joined in by issuing what is described as twin warnings to Iran.

All the while, what should not go neglected is the simmering status inside Iran. The society is considered a powder keg as unrest continues to grow after 38 years of the mullahs’ atrocious dictatorship. The last four years of the so-called “moderate” or “reformist” Iranian President Hassan Rowhani has also failed to yield any demands raised by the people despite claiming to hold the “key” to all problems.

The city of Ahwaz in southwest Iran has been the scene of continuous unrest, as locals are protesting a slate of disastrous plans implemented by the mullahs’ regime to reroute Karoon River, a major source of water for agriculture and other vital aspects of life in this area where the summer is scorching hot.

These projects include also the diversion of waters from Karkhe River, excessive dam construction and the oil ministry resorting to inexpensive oil extraction methods. This practice, mainly implemented by the Revolutionary Guards, has fruited a long list of dried local lakes and ponds.

The result has been nothing but increasing air pollution and water and power being frequently cut off. To this end, the people’s very health is in danger as clean air to breath is literally hard to find.

Banks, administrative offices, schools and universities have been closed in nearly a dozen Khuzestan Province cities. Even oil production, which Tehran seems to boast to have escalated above 4 million barrels per day now, has suffered tremendously with a 770,000-barrel nosedive.

Growing street protests

However, the most concerning aspect of the entire situation for the regime involves the growing number of street protests that began on February 12th and continued for at least a week in the face of numerous warnings issued by the repressive state security apparatus.

And despite heavy security measures to prevent any escalation of such rallies, even a gathering brewed in Tehran’s Vanak Square where protesters expressed solidarity with their fellow countrymen and chanted against the mullahs’ regime.

While demonstrators were protesting the lack of vital daily services, the atmosphere quickly grew political with the crowd beginning to chant “Death to tyranny,” “Death to repression,” “We the people of Ahvaz will not accept oppression,” Expel incompetent officials,” “Ahwaz is our city, clean air is our right,” and “Shame on state police.”

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi hailed the people of Khuzestan, and especially Ahvaz, while calling on all Iranians to rise in support. The mullahs’ regime is the main source of all major and minor dilemmas in Iran, which in this case has resulted in the people being deprived of water and power services, alongside growing unemployment and rampaging diseases threatening the locals, Rajavi added.

The city of Ahwaz in southwest Iran has been the scene of continuous unrest. (File photo: AFP)

“One cannot expect the mullahs’, the regime’s leaders and officials to provide any solutions,” she added, calling upon the entire nation to support the deprived people of Khuzestan, most especially the ill and vulnerable.

While the province is rich in oil, the locals have yet to enjoy any benefits. Home to one million inhabitants, the city of Ahvaz is plagued by a large number of surrounding petrochemical factories that emit a large scale of pollutants. This has left locals engulfed in environmental challenges reaching the point where the World Health Organization ranked Ahwaz as the world’s most polluted city in 2015.

The situation has been described as “terrible and extremely complex” by activists and locals complaining the regime only seeks to make money from their lands. The regime responded to the unrest by issuing a statement warning people to refrain from “illegal gatherings” and serious action will be taken against any and all violators.

Western reporters banned

Riot police units have also been dispatched to Ahwaz, in addition to additional forces from neighboring provinces. Authorities banned many Western reporters from visiting the city, raising even more concerns about the regime’s true intentions.

The regime continues to fail to respond to the people’s demands, as all the country’s budget is allocated to warmongering across the region, including Iran’s involvement in Syria, the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and a massive crackdown machine missioned to clamp down on any dissent and resorting to atrocious human rights violations in the process.

Rest assured the scenes witnessed recently in Ahvaz are only a prelude to more intense episodes of future rallies in different cities across the country that will rattle the mullahs’ entire foundation.

Originally posted in Al Arabiya English

To Contain Iran, Blacklist the Revolutionary Guards

The Guards are the main force behind Iran’s nuclear program, lethal meddling across the Middle East, ballistic missile drive and domestic crackdown.

Iran has been dubbed a “de facto Islamic Caliphate” due to increasing domestic crackdown and lethal meddling across the region, especially through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Acting as Iran’s main armed force and sidelining the classic army, the IRGC has earned its reputation as an “Iranian expeditionary force for invading strategic Arab spaces.”

The Obama administration fostered a highly-flawed nuclear agreement with the theocratic regime riddled with far too many loopholes, leaving the new administration of President Donald Trump a handful of dilemmas to weigh.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is known, has enabled Iran to take advantage of and engulf the entire Middle East into unimaginable mayhem, as we have unfortunately witnessed in Aleppo.

Yes, the JCPOA did suspend a portion of Iran’s nuclear program for a few years – with emphasis on “suspended” and “a few years.”

Yet, it allowed the mullahs’ to take advantage of the lame-duck period to expand their regional hegemony, increase nuclear capabilities and build their ballistic missile program.

Ever since day the day in 1979 when the mullahs rose to power by hijacking the Iranian people’s revolution, countries of the Middle East have been targets of Tehran’s endless meddling.

America’s unfortunate strategic mistake of invading Iraq in 2003 provided Iran with an opportunity it was unable to gain after eight years of direct warfare in the 1980s.

Iran flooded Mesopotamia, gaining ground links to Syria and Iraq through its conglomerate of Shiite militias . Through its lackey, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, it has provided an endless flow of arms and missiles to dangerous players in the region and expanded its tentacles like never before.

Iran now boasts of enjoying significant influence, if not full control, over four Arab capitals, stirring unrest with troops in SyriaIraqYemen and Lebanon.

These menacing measures were also made possible through the West adopting a failed policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Iran. The international community, spearheaded by the Obama administration, turned its back on Iran’s atrocities against its own people and across the Middle East creating an opening for the mullahs’ further exploitation.

Iran went as far as defying the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (endorsed by the JCPOA) by testing (and continueing to test) a series of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload. The most Washington and its European partners could muster in response was a strong letter condemning such measures as “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” the resolution adopted by the world’s highest governing body.

Iran has also breached heavy water production limits without consequences.

One crystal clear message to Iran would be to blacklist the IRGC, which is the main force behind Iran’s nuclear programlethal meddling across the Middle East, ballistic missile drive and domestic crackdown.

This strong and well-founded policy will send the necessary message to Iran to understand what needs changing, to thus render the ultimate change benefiting the Iranian people, all nations of the Middle East and the world over.

Originally posted in The Clarion Project

ANALYSIS: Iran feeling US policy shift after Obama

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, known to lead a regime based on a mantra of “Death to America,” has been cautiously silent ever since US President Donald Trump took the helm in the White House.

With a recent medium-range ballistic missile test launch backfiring severely, both politically and substantially–the vessel exploded during reentry into Earth’s orbit–the regime leader, who has the final word on all national security and foreign affairs, is maintaining a low profile.

The new White House lashed back with a series of measures Tehran has not been used to, especially after enjoying eight years of the Obama administration’s highly flawed appeasement policy.

Tensions escalated last week following Iran’s missile test confirmation, triggering US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn using his first public appearance to lash back a staunch warning, placing Tehran “on notice.” Trump has been very active, to say the least, taking to Twitter and warning Iran about the high contrast between he and his predecessor. “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

And his administration wasted no time before the weekend by slapping a new slate of economic sanctions targeting 25 Iranian individuals and entities involved in Iran’s missile program, while suggesting the possibility of more to come. “President Donald Trump’s press secretary suggested Friday afternoon that more sanctions, and even military action, could be on the way,” reports indicate.

Khamenei’s silence

And to add insult to injury, US Defense Secretary James Mattis, in his first foreign visit, labelled Iran as the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.”

Despite Fridays traditionally providing a platform for senior Iranian officials to voice positions over foreign affairs and pump back the spirit lost among their dwindling social base, Khamenei remained silent. And this is a time where his Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basijis are in most need of his so-called guidance.

These are all signs of the Iranian regime establishment being caught off guard after trekking into uncharted Trump waters. With its ballistic missile Tehran was actually testing the new Trump administration. The mullahs are now highly regretting such a poorly calculated measure.

Interesting is the fact that the pro-appeasement camp is continuing their old tactics of warning how Iran may do this and that. “…terrorist attacks against Americans, attacks by Shiite militias against the thousands of American troops in Iraq, or pressure on the Iraqi government to deny the United States access to the bases where it trains Iraqi security forces,” wrote Philip Gordon in The New York Times. Gordon was Obama’s White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region from 2013 to 2015.

After leaving the entire region in mayhem by handing Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate and cowardly failing to take any meaningful measure against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after declaring a so-called chemical attack “red line”, any individual in any way even merely affiliated to the Obama Doctrine is not in any position to make any comment about how the new White House should blueprint its Middle East policy.

The golden era

Iran understands very well that the Obama “golden era”, as one figure close to former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani put it, is over. And the recent saga, from Tehran’s January 29th missile test to the sanctions imposed by the Trump White House on February 3rd, forecasts stormy weather conditions for the mullahs.

As the Trump administration weighs various measures vis-à-vis Iran, there are a few issues worth keeping in mind. The past 16 years have proven that foreign military intervention and an appeasement/engagement/rapprochement approach have failed miserably. And yet, there is a third option for the US to consider: standing alongside the Iranian people in their struggle to establish freedom and democracy in their country.

Considering its significant role in domestic crackdown, foreign military intervention and most significantly the involvement in Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile drive, the first and very effective step forward in this roadmap is to blacklist Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

To this end, all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies will be banned, as proposed by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Welcoming the new US sanctions on Iran, the NCRI is an alliance of dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), best known for first blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

After Obama turned its back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and sold them out to the mullahs’, the Trump administration placing the IRGC in its crosshairs sends a message to the Iranian people that this new administration stands shoulder to shoulder in their efforts to be free.