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.

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ANALYSIS: How to tackle Iran’s Middle East bellicosity

Thanks to years of Western appeasement in the face of Iran’s belligerence across the Middle East, evidence of Tehran’s dangerous footprints are now visible in several countries across the region, including even Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

The Trump administration, however, has made it quite vivid its adoption of a firm approach. This stance, signaled in the historic May conference in Riyadh, is long overdue and should be enhanced by Washington supporting the Iranian people’s desire for regime change.

A history of devastation

Iran has a long record of hostility against neighboring countries and US interests in the Middle East. The 1983 bombings targeting the US Embassy and barracks in Beirut, the Khobar Towers attack in 1996, all climaxed in the support Iran provided for Shiite proxies and the Sunni Taliban in their campaign against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In parallel form, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, two known terrorist groups, have for over 30 years enjoyed contributions from Tehran to fuel sectarianism throughout the Middle East and carry out terrorist attacks.

The Obama administration handed Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate through a strategic mistake of prematurely pulling out all US troops. This paved the path for Iran to further export its “revolution” through a convenient medium of extremist proxies.

The West can literally be accused of standing aside and watching Iran’s aggressive policy. This has rendered a slate of countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen feel threatened and/or left utterly devastated from Iran’s meddling on their soil.

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (top-R) attends President Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran, on August 5, 2017. (AFP)

Troubling activities

Of late, Iran has been reported to send further weapons and narcotics to Yemen’s Houthis. These drugs are sold to provide income for Iran’s supported militias on the ground in the flashpoint country south of Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s archenemy in the region.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are present in Yemen also to instruct and guide the Houthis in assembling weapons smuggled into the country by Tehran.

“For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi’ites in the Houthi movement,” Reuters cited Western and Iranian sources.

“Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transshipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.”

The Iranians are also taking provocative measures against the US Navy in the same region recently, viewed by analysts as actions to learn the limits of US President Donald Trump. On July 26th an armed Iranian patrol boat closed within less than 150 meters of the USS Thunderbolt, yielding back only in response to warning shots fired by a US Navy ship.

Such developments are reasons why Trump contacted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron “to explore how to increase cooperation in addressing the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq and countering Iranian malign influence,” according to a White House readout.

Positive steps forward

Despite the utterly wrong decision of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visiting Tehran for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, the Trump administration is sending push-back signals and making Iran learn its aggressions will not go without cost.

This is a necessary and welcomed shift in Washington’s foreign policy.

President Trump has signed into law a strong bipartisan Congressional initiative imposing strict sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The IRGC is now considered a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. Considering the Guards’ control over at least 40 percent of Iran’s entire economy, this raises the stakes for companies considering doing business with Tehran.

It would be wise to reconsider investing in Iran’s $400 billion economy and ponder placing one’s bets in other regional countries, or say, the United States’ $19 trillion establishment.

And in news that most certainly raised eyebrows in Tehran, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr visited Saudi Arabia recently and called for the controversial Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units in his country to be dissolved now that the Islamic State has been defeated.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks in the official endorsement ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani, right, in Tehran, on Aug. 3, 2017. (AP)

The nuclear deal

High hopes were placed in the nuclear deal sealed between the P5+1 and Iran, which Obama hoped to leave behind as his foreign policy legacy.

Two years down this road it has become vivid that Iran’s behavior has not changed, to say the least. In fact, Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and other extremist entities have escalated. Iran’s role in the Middle East, namely Syria, Iraq and Yemen have been horrifically destructive.

The Trump administration can lead the international community in instituting the first real and effective initiative against the Iranian regime.

Any trade with Tehran should hinge on:

– the regime halting all executions and human rights violations,
– withdrawing their forces from Syria and Iraq, and severing any ties and support for terrorist groups,
– completely stopping missile activities, especially ballistic missile production and tests,
– ending all nuclear initiatives and providing true “anytime, anywhere” access to all suspected sites, including military facilities.

Moreover and parallel to recent sanctions, which must be executed immediately and without any loopholes, the Iranian people’s organized opposition, resembled in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, should be recognized. This will pave the path for regime change by this coalition without war or military intervention.

Failure in this regard is tantamount to aiding Tehran’s regime.

Iran’s Chink In The Armor: Human Rights Sanctions

Discussions over United States foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran are continuing as we speak. The Trump administration and Congress have been busy slapping a variety of sanctions, some unprecedented, on Iran for its conglomerate of belligerence.

Tehran’s pursuit of ballistic missiles, controversial nuclear program, support for proxies across the Middle East and fueling sectarian strife has gained widespread attention across the international community. Gone somewhat unnoticed, unfortunately, is Iran’s atrocious human rights violations record.

The appeasement policy in practiced in the West for more than three decades now has left the Iranian people without any support in the face of ongoing executions, detentions, torture and other abuses at the hands of the ruling mullahs.

While strong measures against Tehran are necessary and in fact long overdue, emphasis should be placed on Tehran’s Chink in the Armor: human rights violations.

Recent actions are raising concerns amongst human rights organizations and activists across the board.

“Iran’s judicial and security bodies have waged a vicious crackdown against human rights defenders since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, demonizing and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights,” Amnesty International reported. “…activists have been sentenced to more than 10 years behind bars for simple acts such as being in contact with the UN, EU or human rights organizations including Amnesty…”

Recent reports also indicate a woman being executed on July 26th in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia, bringing the number of women executed during the tenure of the so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani to 80. To twist the knife, the “reformist” Rouhani is not appointing even one female minister for his cabinet.

Speaking of executions, human rights activists have reported 102 executions in the month of July in Iran, while 120 death row inmates await imminent hanging. The first six months of 2017 in Iran was marked with 239 executions, including seven women and three individuals arrested while under age at the time of their alleged crime.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella body consisting of a variety dissident organizations, issued a statement expressing concerns over the lives of 53 political prisoners in Gohardasht Prison, west of Tehran. These inmates have been suspiciously transferred to an unknown location to prevent any contact with the outside world.

These statements make a review of Iran’s human rights report quite necessary.

After the mullahs’ establishment hijacked the 1979 revolution, their true nature was unveiled as their crackdown on any and all dissent escalated.

For nearly 2½ years all protests and demonstrations were quelled. Dissidents, especially members and supporters of the main NCRI partner, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were detained, tortured and murdered.

The turning point arrived at June 20th, 1981 when regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to open fire on a 500,000-strong march in Tehran.

From that day forward the Iranian regime launched a ruthless campaign aimed at purging all opposition forces. Tens of thousands were arrested and tortured, parallel to mass executions in prisons across the country.

A sound file of the late Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then Khomeini’s successor, was unveiled last September, shedding light on current senior Iranian officials’ involvement in those executions. This sent shockwaves across Iran and accelerated efforts launched earlier by the Iranian opposition both inside the country and abroad to shed light on this atrocity and demand accountability.

In the 1990s Iran witnessed a series of assassinations dubbed the “chain murders” led by the notorious Ministry of Intelligence. Dozens of intellectuals and dissidents, including three Christian priests, were assassinated in brutal manner.

In 1999, current President Hassan Rouhani, then Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, placed orders for the IRGC and paramilitary Bassij forces to viciously crackdown nationwide student uprisings.

Such atrocities were witnessed yet again in 2009 when the Iranian people took to the streets protesting controversial presidential results engineered by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reach a second term.

Following Ahmadinejad to the presidency, the smiling Rouhani – naively described by the West’s pro-engagement camp as a moderate – registered a tally of over 3,000 executions during his first term.

And by taking advantage of the 2017 presidential election season to accuse the mullahs’ establishment of hinging their rule on executions and detentions, the months of 2017 and after his re-selection to a second term have been tainted with further human rights violations, as explained above.

While the US administration is raising the heat on Iran, the European Union continues to seek short-term economic gains at the expense of legitimizing the Iranian regime. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is to visit Iran for Rouhani’s upcoming inauguration, raising anger amongst the Iranian people. Tehran will usurp such a visit to legitimize its cruelties against the Iranian population and ramp up executions.

Iran must understand the appeasement policy has come to an end and its measures will not go unpunished. The new sanctions adopted by the US targeting the IRGC, itself heavily involved in human rights violations, are welcome and should be fully implemented.

What the international community must realize is how the human rights dossier is the soft spot for Iran’s mullahs. Tehran must be pressured correctly to both hold the mullahs accountable for their crimes against humanity, and support the Iranian people in their struggle.