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.

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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.

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ANALYSIS: How to define Iran’s Hassan Rouhani as a ‘moderate’

Hassan Rouhani reaching a second term in Iran as the regime’s president should not be interpreted as the vote of the people seeking a moderate voice over hardline conservatives. In fact, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sought to repeat the 2009 scenario of engineering the entire election process to have his preferred candidate declared victor, not Rouhani.

And yet as we witnessed in 2013 at the beginning of Rouhani’s first term, and in 1997 and 2005 when Mohammad Khatami was pulled out of Khamenei’s “election” hat, Western mainstream media have rushed to the races to describe Rouhani as a “moderate” in a regime comprised of radicals. Some went as far as claiming 75% of eligible votes taking part, not clear based on what survey as Iran lacks any atmosphere to conduct an unbiased review.

“…About 75 percent of Iranian voters turned out to repudiate an authoritarian populist and re-elect their moderate president, Hassan Rouhani… Having concluded the historic nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015, he now emphasized priorities he’d abandoned in his first term: rights, freedoms and…” said a piece in The New York Times.

It is interesting how one can describe a man as a moderate while he oversaw over 3,000 executions during four years as president. Amnesty International has issued numerous reports expressing concerns in this regard, as explained by The Washington Times.

“Since Mr. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ presidency, executions in Iran have proliferated, usually at grisly public hangings. There were 360 executions in 2011, according to Amnesty International, and by 2014, the number had soared to 734.

The UN special reporter for human rights put the number of executions in 2015 at 966. Mr. Rouhani’s hangmen rested in 2016, relatively speaking, with only 567 executions. Moderation ends where the noose begins,” the article reads. Of course, these are only official numbers and the regime is known to conduct secret and unreported executions across the country.

And yet Iranian regime apologists are seen falling for remarks made by Rouhani during the election season in Iran.

“He directly challenged the abuses of the judiciary and the political overreach of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, with which he has vied for authority throughout his presidency,” the Times piece adds.

Only days into his second term, however, Rouhani’s defense minister Hossein Dehghan, a senior IRGC commander, shed light on new provocative military projects sought by Tehran, including a satellite altimetry calibration system. Iran has long been accused of seeking to enhance its intercontinental ballistic missiles under the cover of launching space orbit satellite systems. Rouhani’s first four years, especially following the highly flawed nuclear deal signing, was riddled with troubling violations.

“Iran has test-fired nuclear-capable ballistic missiles at least ten times since July 2015, despite a UN Security Council resolution, approved along with the nuclear accord, which explicitly calls on Iran to refrain from such activity,” according to reports.

Iranian officials have recently announced a 145% defense budget increase under Rouhani, parallel to the military undertaking a major effort to restructure its ranks and files with the objective of upgrading it into a “forward moving force,” according to reports from the region.

As Rouhani sets to launch his second tenure, early signs indicate what is to be expected. The semi-official Fars news agency, known for its affiliation to the IRGC, reported Thursday of Iran building a third underground ballistic missile factory.

Evin Rouhani’s rival during the election, Ebrahim Raisi, himself a conservative figure known for his role in the massacre of tens of thousands of political prisoners back in the summer of 1988, revealed how the “moderate” Rouhani also has his hands stained with blood.

As news from inside Iran indicate at least ten individuals were executed in the first week of Rouhani’s second term, this “moderate” is known to be the first Iranian regime figure to call for public executions.

As we are yet again and unfortunately reminded by the wrath of extremism in the recent attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt, across the Middle East, Iran, with Rouhani as president, stepped up its support for terrorism, extremism and proxy groups.

“Let me make it clear. Our money, meals, arms and missiles all come from Iran. We are well-off as long as Iran has money,” said Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.

Nasrallah: “Let me make it clear. Our money, meals, arms and missiles all come from Iran. We are well-off as long as Iran has money.”

Of course they acknowledge the flaws of the Iranian regime establishment.

“It’s true that the Iranian system offers limited choice and the president has limited power. The regime has policed its boundaries and eliminated true challenges to the entrenched interests of its security apparatus and clerical elite…This is not representative democracy…”

While The New York Times piece is right in saying Iran has “a civic culture that refuses to surrender its dignity to dictatorship,” it is interesting how it cannot flee the fact that the regime in Iran is a “dictatorship”. So how can a dictatorship have a “moderate” president?

Former MEP Struan Stevenson finalized it best in his recent article:

“The fact that Hassan Rouhani was declared the runaway victor in the presidential election was proclaimed in the West as a triumph for the forces of moderation and reform. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Crimes in Aleppo: Iran must be ousted from Syria

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A Syrian solider looks at al-Ramousseh crossing, where fighters of the rebels were scheduled to leave in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria, on December 16. Photo by European Pressphoto Agency
By Alejo Vidal Quadras   |   Dec. 29, 2016

The unspeakable scenes we witnessed in Aleppo — the massacre of women, children, doctors and other innocents — broadcast to us almost live by the civilians trapped in the siege will go down in history along with Darfur, Srebrenica or Rwanda as major stains on the moral conscience of the world.

Continue reading “Crimes in Aleppo: Iran must be ousted from Syria”

Syria opposition: Assad regime is a plaything controlled by Russia, Iran

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Riyad Hijab, General Coordinator of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee

The Assad regime has been transformed into a “plaything” in the hands of Russia and the Iranian regime, and they are calling all the shots in Syria, said Riyad Hijab, General Coordinator of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee. Continue reading “Syria opposition: Assad regime is a plaything controlled by Russia, Iran”