Iran Protests: What We Are Learning

The future of Iran’s protests is on the minds of many as the fate of this strategically important state remains in limbo. This subject gains even more importance considering U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming Friday decision on the controversial Iran nuclear deal.

Iran’s state media claims the protests have come to an end, a result similar to that of 2009. Yet the world is witnessing how further cities and towns are expressing their abhorrence over the ruling elite.

This status quo is a struggle between the Iranian people literally fed up with this regime and a dictatorship weakened from domestic unrest, internal rifts and international pressures.

Escalating matters far beyond previous scenes of nationwide protests in 2009 and 1999 is the clear reference made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the party behind these rallies.

“As well as Washington and London, Khamenei blamed the violence on Israel, exiled dissident group People’s Mujahedin of Iran and ‘a wealthy government’ in the Gulf, a probable reference to Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia,” according to Reuters.

Tehran pointing fingers at Washington, London, Israel and the Saudis is nothing new. Yet Khamenei mentioning the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is of quite significance, indicating the main source of his regime’s concerns.

This recent wave of protests is setting the grounds with new sets of rules and understandings.

1) The Iranian people no longer fear in expressing their true feelings, seen in the nationwide slogan of “Death to Khamenei.” Such a brave measure in the past would bear the potential of earning you a heavy prison term, if not a death sentence.

2) Unlike previous uprisings, these demonstrations are mushrooming across the country, reaching over 130 cities and towns, according to activists. Places less heard of before, such as Izeh, Dorud, Shahin Shahr and etc. are now seen leading the growing wave of protests. Brave demonstrators are threatening the regime’s very pillars to an extent that security forces have opened fire and killed dozens of protesters, arresting thousands, according to reports.

3) From the second day of this uprising protesters have shown their overcoming of prior fears through responding to the security forces’ attacks and quelling. State vehicles, motorcycles, makeshift police stations and other facilities are being set ablaze by protesters in response to the regime’s unbridled crackdown.

4) For years Iranian state media and its lobbies in the West have been claiming this entity enjoys vast popular support. Various campaigns, including a Twitter hashtag #بسيجي_نيستم (I’m not a Basiji), reveal the regime’s woes, as a growing number of Revolutionary Guards Basij paramilitary members are seen joining the protesters’ ranks.

5) Iran is showing a major vulnerability in its intolerance of social media platforms. The government is filtering the popular Telegram messaging app – said to have 40 million members in Iran – in yet another attempt to prevent protesters from joining force and the entire population from receiving unfiltered information from the outside world.

This makes the necessity of providing unrestricted access to the Iranian populace all the more vital.

6) In far contrast to 2009, the U.S. administration is powerfully standing alongside the Iranian people. This nation continues to suffer from the wounds of Obama extending his hand to Khamenei in their time of need. This time around, however, President Trump and senior administration officials are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s legitimate demands while placing Tehran on notice.

To some extent the Iranian people also enjoy the support of Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. More effort is necessary in this regard, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is meeting today with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, and only discussing human rights violations in Iran and the recent protests very briefly.

7) Despite the detention of over 3,000 protesters, the Iranian people are not silent. As in Tehran, families and other protesters are seen demanding the release of political prisoners and recently detained demonstrators. On January 9th, facing escalating demands outside the notorious Evin Prison, authorities had no choice but to release four political prisoners. This has the potential of becoming a turning point in the regime’s crackdown against protesters.

8) Iran is known for four decades of human rights violations. The referral of this highly sensitive dossier to the United Nations Security Council in less than a week after the spark of these protests is a point of no return for Tehran, knowing the issue of human rights violations, restricting freedom of speech and internet access will no longer go unnoticed by the world’s highest decision making body.

9) Speaking of no return, the myth of Iran’s “reformist” and/or “moderate” currents is now considered an issue of the past. This hurdle, dating back to the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani and even the prime ministry of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, has been preventing any serious discussion of regime change. The “reformist” illusion is now evaporating as protesters are heard chanting, “Reformist, principalists, end of story.”

10) Parallel to all other developments, the nature of many outlets and social media channels is surfacing, making it clear for all who is who, and their affiliations to the ruling regime. The past two weeks have been crucial in making it crystal clear for the Iranian people which outlet of any kind provides unbiased information, and which merely are beating the regime’s drums, according to activists.

11) In another reference to 2009, on December 30th of that year Tehran launched a pro-regime rally claiming of ending the “sedition”. Each year this day has been an opportunity for the regime to stage such marches and provide hand-picked images to the outside world, in its claiming of a vast social base. To this day Tehran has being failing to stage a pro-regime rally worthy of dubbing as a strong response to the nationwide protesters demanding regime change.

As a result, two weeks into the groundbreaking protests, this popular movement is proving it bears the capability of overcoming previously impossible odds. In response, the ruling regime has no solution to provide for the people’s valid demands, while lacking the will of resorting to all-out crackdown, fearing Iran’s powder-keg and a strong international response.

As a result, conditions are set for fundamental regime change in Iran. In these new circumstances, even the smallest protest rally bears the power of a massive demonstration by reigniting hope in people’s hearts and stretching the regime’s resources, making it incapable of delivering the response it needs to quell this ongoing uprising.

Change should be realized by the Iranian people. The U.S. and the international community, however, should provide unrestricted internet access to all Iranians and impose meaningful sanctions against the ruling regime, with the state radio and television IRIB network.

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How To Correctly Support The People Of Iran

Iran is at a turning point. All parties are before a major decision. Anything short of supporting the Iranian people’s legitimate demand for regime change would be tantamount to betraying a nation suffering for nearly forty years under a brutal and repressive regime willing to resort to all measures to remain in power.

We must put all differences aside and focus on the main issue at hand: the Iranian people’s demands for regime change, heard vividly through their “Death to Khamenei” chants, in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They should receive the support they deserve in realizing this rightful objective.

This is of vital urgency as the country judiciary chief, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, is calling for decisive action against the protesters. For those unfamiliar with the language used by senior Iranian regime officials, this is a prelude to major crackdown.

In 1999 the so-called “reformist” former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami ordered the intense quelling of college students demonstrating across the country.

In 2009, the government of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known as a hardliner, also presided a massive crackdown of protesters demanding their votes back following that year’s controversial presidential election results.

Current President Hassan Rouhani, dubbed as a “moderate,” was then the secretariat of the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, specifically ordering security forces to take decisive action against the protesters.

This shows there is no difference between so-called moderates/reformists and hardliners in Iran. Both factions have no tolerance for even peaceful protesters.

Voices continue to support the policy of former U.S. president Barack Obama in staying clear from supporting the 2009 uprising in Iran, and thus not allowing the regime to blame the U.S.

Where did that lead? Throughout the Obama tenure we continued to witness provocative measures by the Iranian regime domestically and abroad.

“… the regime will seek to paint protesters as foreign agents regardless of the reality. The best way to counter this is not to remain silent but to ensure that U.S. statements of support are broadly multilateral and are backed with more practical steps,” as explained by Michael Singh, the Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and managing director at The Washington Institute, in a recent Washington Post read.

Human rights violations continued and under the watch of Rouhani – whom the Obama administration displayed as a figure to cooperate with – Iran has been witnessing at least 3,500 executions and counting.

The regime’s state media continued to broadcast slogans of “Death to America” and the Revolutionary Guards test-fired missiles.

Iran’s regime is notoriously known for its belligerence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, and against the billions of dollars provided to terrorist proxies like Hezbollah.

This clerical regime is also described as a staunch supporter of terrorism constantly destabilizing the Middle East, driving forward a completely unnecessary ballistic missile and nuclear program under the pretext of self-defense and nuclear energy.

All this is coming out of the Iranian people’s pockets, and the lives of so many executed, tortured and imprisoned inside the country, and millions killed, wounded, jailed and displaced throughout the region.

There is a variety of arguments about how to move forward and what policy to adopt vis-à-vis a regime in Iran that is literally resorting to brute force against its own people (of course, the Iranian people do not consider this their own government).

The language Iran’s regime understands is through political and economic relations.

  1. The West, especially Europe, and other partners Iran has relations with, must condition all relations with Tehran to the immediate stoppage of crackdown measures, the release of all political prisoners, including recently detained protesters and activists.
  2. The Iranian people must be allowed to voice their opinions, especially regarding this regime. This means providing unrestricted internet access across Iran to allow activists report the truth of the people’s demands for regime change and the regime’s massive crackdown against peaceful protesters.
  3. Iran’s oil and gas exports must come under all-out sanctions to deprive this regime of the very revenue it allocates so drastically to domestic oppression, destructive foreign meddling and other notorious bellicosities.

It is the time for the world to unite in encouraging the protesters in Iran, having them realize they are not alone in their struggle.

ANALYSIS: How these protests in Iran differ from 2009

Starting Thursday, anti-government rallies beginning in Mashhad, northeast Iran, are mushrooming in several major cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz, and dozens of towns across the country.

These rallies are in sharp contrast to the 2009 episode where former U.S. president Barack Obama refused to support the massive demands for sweeping change.

At the time, the controversial reelection of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked nationwide rallies with protesters demanding their votes back. Today, however, beginning with economic demands as people are reaching the very limits of their tolerance, demonstrators are seeking economic necessities and escalating their expectations to fundamental regime change.

“Death to Khamenei”

Large crowds are turning out in Kermanshah, in the west, in Rasht, in the north, in Isfahan, southcentral Iran, and Hamadan and elsewhere.

Social media posts are providing up-to-date reports of rallies spiraling into a general outcry against the ruling elite and policies inside the country and abroad.

Protesters are seen chanting, “Death to Khamenei,” in a clear reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and targeting the very pillars of this regime.

 

Slogans are showing popular resentment giving way to escalating rage, exposing the regime’s vulnerability far beyond the scope of many Western analysts’ prior arguments.

Interesting is the fact that protesters are defying all odds and standing up for their rights despite warnings and repressive measures by state security forces.

“Death to Rouhani,” “Clerics Must Go” are continuing the earlier chants of “Leave Syria, start thinking about us” and “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, my life for Iran.”

This shows the scope of the people’s abhorrence of the ruling state’s policies, as Tehran allocates billions of dollars in revenue from oil and gas exports to belligerence abroad, including propping the Assad regime in Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen.

Witnessing no change in their basic living standards following the nuclear deal highly boasted by the Obama administration with Iran, people across the country are showing their demands must receive the regime’s acknowledging.

Major rifts

The Iranian regime no longer enjoys the benefits of a policy based appeasement and rapprochement pioneered by the Obama White House. While the Iranian people remember the international community’s failure to support their cries for freedom back in 2009, what started with support from Senator Tom Cotton is avalanching into a flowing stream of support.

The Trump administration, understanding the negative impact of engagement with the Iranian regime, is pursuing a policy of firm action and resolve vis-à-vis Tehran, and now standing alongside the Iranian people’s demand for change.

Two other factors differing in Iran from 2009 is the major rift within the regime’s ruling apparatus and the spreading nature of these protests in cities and towns throughout Iran, encouraging protesters to overcome prior fears of state crackdown.

In 2009 Khamenei placed his weight behind Ahmadinejad, an element of his own apparatus, making him capable of directing a massive crackdown and quelling the protesters’ demands.

As we step into 2018, the case is far different. Khamenei realizes the harsh reality of major rifts crippling his regime’s ability domestically and abroad. The Iranian regime understands very well how opening fire on protesters will fuel the protests’ flames, and yet taking no such action will allow the nationwide uprising to expand.

New realities

At first, understanding the price of opening fire on protesters, officials were seen resorting to various practices such as dispatching hordes of security forces on foot and on motorcycles, threatening to take action.

Posts on social media, however, indicate low morale amongst security forces unwilling to open fire upon protesters even if ordered to do so.

A member of the regime’s ultraconservative Basij, a paramilitary unit of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is seen placing down his baton and taking off his jacket, leaving a not indicating how he is no longer willing to attack his fellow countrymen.

Yet scene from various cities show protesters attacking police stations, tipping over police vehicles and setting police motorcycles ablaze.

Reports from Ahvaz in southwest Iran show how protesters are braving all odds and showing their anger against the regime’s forces.

The people in Iran are also threatening to take up arms in response to any crackdown by the regime. This truck driver vividly explains the people have and are ready to use guns and bullets to attack anyone attacking the protesters.

Reports on Saturday night from Lorestan province indicate security forces opened fire on protesters and killed up to six individuals. Posts show protesters, continuing their rallies even after sunset, carrying the bodies of two apparently dead individuals most likely shot by regime’s authorities.

The road ahead

Unfortunately, the international community, and especially the West, are continuing to pursue short-term economic gains at the cost of the Iranian people’s very lives.

Such parties seek ties with the so-called Iranian moderates from the times of former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, and now Rouhani. This is only rendering a deteriorating situation for the Iranian people, with executions skyrocket to at least 3,500 during Rouhani’s tenure, and Western parties failing to reach their desired goals.

Protesters are currently responding to such a myth of moderates inside the regime, chanting, “Reformists, Principalists, End of Story.”

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi is hailing the protests, saying in part “The ongoing protests in different cities against the regime reveal the explosive state of Iranian society and the people’s desire for regime change.”
The international community should now adopt and meaningfully impose crippling economic sanctions targeting key regime institutions and cut Tehran’s remaining lifelines, in particular the IRGC. It should also make it clear that the Iranian regime will face dire consequences in the case of a violent quelling of protests.
The international community should also formally recognize the Iranian people’s demand for regime change and the legitimacy of the organized resistance pursuing this objective.

 

Iran: How The People Suffer As Billions Go To Waste

As we gear to welcome 2018 with celebrations across the globe, it is morally correct to take a moment and think about the lesser fortunate in such times.

The world’s most powerful earthquake in 2017 shook Iran’s western province of Kermanshah, leaving at least several hundred people killed – while posts on social media showed locals speaking of the death toll being in the thousands – and scores more injured.

For the survivors, despite living in a country sitting on an ocean of oil and gas, their hardships continue as we speak. Iran, being the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, stands accused of allocating billions to prop the Assad regime in Syria, funding the Lebanese Hezbollah, supporting Yemen’s Houthis and backing Shiite militias in Iraq.

This goes alongside further billions pumping into a controversial and unnecessary nuclear program, and a dangerous ballistic missile drive.

The Iranian people are continuously seen protesting the regime’s policies. On Thursday a large number of protesters took to the streets in the cities of Mashhad, Neyshabur, Kashmar and Birjand in northeast Iran, protesting unemployment, poverty and skyrocketing prices. Protesters were also seen chanting, “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to the Dictator,” in reference to the regime’s president and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, respectively.

As we speak, at least 85,000 earthquake victims are enduring dire circumstances, while longing meaningful government aid after more than six weeks into this ordeal.

Evaluations show around 18,000 homes are completely destroyed in this area and another 50,000 have suffered major damages, according to Iran’s official news agency.

The mayor of Sar Pol-e Zahab, the main town targeted by the quake, says many of those whose lives have been ruined remain waiting for trailers. The situation has also been discussed in the country’s parliament.

“Only 1,500 trailers have been sent and installed in the quake-stricken area by people’s charity,” Heshmattollah Falahat-Pishe, a member of Iran’s parliament said according to the semi-officials ISNA news agency.  “Arrangements were made for 400 trailers to be installed daily. This has not been realized and people are very unhappy with the process. Some villages have not received a single trailer…”

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A man injured following the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Iran’s Kermanshah province. (IRNA)

The province of Kermanshah is also known as the center of Iran’s kidney market. As the media sporadically covers the earthquake’s aftermath, unknown to many even inside Iran is the fact that this province faces a wide range of other difficulties.

“Our cities are tantamount to war-torn areas. No major factories, no source of employment… This fuels unemployment and poverty, making many in Kermanshah willing to sell a body part,” said Hossein Bigleri, head of the Kermanshah Kidney Patients Support Society, according to a state-run Iranian website.

The irony lies in the fact that with such a high percentage of Iran’s populace living in utter poverty, those who need kidney transplants the most lack the procuring ability. The price of a kidney now stands at around $5,000 in Iran, and at times even higher, reports show.

Lines are long at Kermanshah’s dialysis clinics, as both sides of a kidney transplant are facing serious jeopardy. As a result, many of those looking to sell their kidneys are seen seeking markets in other cities across the country.

For a society such as Iran, further disturbing is the rising number of women seeking to sell their kidneys, including women as young as 20 to 35 years of age. There are cases of such desperate women who are even willing to sell their kidneys for as low as $1,500 to desperately make ends meet.

As such numbers portray a drastic image, Iran’s next fiscal budget will provide the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) around $76 billion of the total $114 billion allocated to the regime’s armed forces. The IRGC and its extraterritorial unit, the Quds Force, enjoy a priority in the new budget, according to reports.

While claiming to be a moderate, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani submits the budget plan a month after the quake and presses the parliament to urgently approve the bill.

Mohammad Jamali, a member of the parliamentary defense committee, considers the Quds Force and the provocative missile program that has bought the regime numerous condemnations, deserving the utmost priority in the armed forces’ budget.

This MP argues regional and international threats demand Iran upgrade its capabilities, while continuously failing to provide the attention earthquake victims deserve.

Further concerning is the fact that Tehran is spending about $15-20 billion a year in Syria, revelations indicate.

Making a long story short, many in Iran face no choice but selling their body parts to provide for their daily needs. This regime, however, is designating 150 times the budget of a province such as Kermanshah to maintain a ruthless dictator such as Bashar Assad in power.

The Iranian regime’s aggression result in the people at home paying the price with their flesh and blood, and millions across the region losing their lives, being injured and/or displaced.

This must come to an end and all crosshairs must focus on the ruling elite sitting in Tehran. A TIME piece back in July explains how such measures are effective against Iran’s regime.

“Sanctions on Iran, on the other hand, have shown some results, because unlike North Korea, Iran wants a deeper commercial and political engagement with the rest of the world.”

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

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

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

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

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

Bending backward

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

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

Morally wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Vast network’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another message to Tehran

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

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

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

Crippling sanctions

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

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

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

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

Iran Seeks Breathing Room Through Yemen Missile Attacks

What is the objective behind the recent surge of ballistic missile attacks staged by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militias against Saudi Arabia?

With the Saudi-led coalition retaking 85% of the country from the Houthis, Tehran understands fully its Yemen campaign is coming to a dismal end. All the while, the Iranian regime faces increasing mayday scenarios domestically and abroad.

Iran is a regime established on crises: Unable to resolve one or a number of dilemmas, or anticipating others in the making, Tehran resorts to launching new turmoil.

The mentality of this regime, and its four decades of unjustified rule, has resulted in the status quo of constantly choosing between bad and worse.

Following similar ballistic missile launches on Nov. 4th and 30th, the Houthis on Tuesday resorted to yet another such attack resulting in the Saudi air defense downing the projectile northeast of Riyadh, located 850 kilometers from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen.

Condemning the attack “enabled by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” President Donald Trump in his Wednesday phone call with Saudi King Salman “discussed the importance of engaging the United Nations to hold Iran accountable for its repeated violations of international law,” according to a White House readout.

This measure can be weighed as in response to an unprecedented press conference held by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, displaying remnants of various military equipment, including parts of a ballistic missile, an unmanned aerial vehicle and an anti-tank guided missile, all made in Iran and provided to the Houthis of Yemen.

Ambassador Haley also described Tuesday’s missile attack by the Houthis as bearing the hallmarks of a weapon provided by Iran.

At the same UN Security Council meeting, UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman said:

“… the two missiles launched at the Saudi cities of Yanbu and Riyadh had similar features which suggested a common origin, and are consistent with missiles of the Scud family and had features known to be consistent with [Iran’s] Qiam-1 missile.”

“One of the missiles bore castings similar to that of an Iranian entity on the list maintained pursuant to resolution 2231, he added.

“In terms of restrictions on arms-related transfers, the Secretariat is confident that close to 900 of the assault rifles seized by the United States in March 2016 are identical to those seized by France also in the same month, which the Secretariat had assessed were of Iranian origin and shipped from Iran, Mr. Feltman said.

“The Secretariat is also confident that half of the 200 rocket propelled grenade launchers had characteristics similar to Iranian-produced RPG launchers.

“Further, the Secretariat had received information on an unmanned surface vessel (USV) laden with explosives allegedly used against the Saudi-led coalition and had the opportunity to examine parts of its guidance and detonation systems, which included a computer terminal with a dual English/Farsi keyboard and characteristics similar to those of Iranian-produced terminals.

“The Secretariat was also requested to examine two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), reportedly recovered in Yemen after Implementation Day. One of the UAVs – which Saudi authorities ascertain was similar to that of the Iranian-made Ababil-II – is similar to other drones reportedly seized in Yemen brought to our attention by the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Feltman said.”

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Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman at the Security Council briefing on Non-proliferation. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

To add insult to injury for Tehran, Ambassador Haley argued the new U.N. Secretary General report provides basis for new pressure on Tehran’s ongoing behavior, such as a new resolution or strengthening already existing measures.

Almost simultaneously, the UN General Assembly adopted a Canada-sponsored resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations for the 64th time, expressing:

“…serious concern at the alarmingly high frequency of the imposition and carrying-out of the death penalty… including the imposition of the death penalty against minors and persons who at the time of their offence were under the age of 18, and executions undertaken for crimes that do not qualify as the most serious crimes, on the basis of forced confessions.”

The UN resolution calls on Iran “to abolish, in law and in practice, public executions.”

The onslaught of crises troubling Iran includes a very dangerous row between former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – once considered a very close confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – and the judiciary, another entity considered tightly under Khamenei’s influence.

During May’s presidential elections Ahmadinejad refused to bow to Khamenei’s recommendation to refrain from participating, sparking a significant dispute among the hardliners and rocking the boat in Iran’s highly turmoil seas of domestic politics.

The judiciary recently threatened to accuse Ahmadinejad of “sedition” and supporting Babak Zanjani, an oil-tycoon known to have stolen billions of dollars’ worth of revenue and reportedly enjoying extensive ties with senior regime officials.

Considering the increasing foreign calamities Khamenei’s apparatus faces on a daily scale, such internal rifts couldn’t have arrived at a worse timing.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural national security strategy describes Iran as a “rogue state” and a principal challenger to U.S. interests in the Middle East. While the text blasts former president Barack Obama for sealing a “disastrous, weak, and incomprehensibly bad deal with Iran,” a recent bombshell published by Politico unveiled how the Obama administration literally protected a $1 billion Hezbollah-led drug trafficking network to maintain Iran in line with an already controversial nuclear pact.

Hezbollah is a terrorist designated group launched by Iran in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

To confront all these crunches, Iran has no solutions other than resorting to an old tactic of creating new mayhem to robe previous others. This behavior would seem illogical for a stereotype government, but Iran is anything but a normal or stereotype government.

For example, in the year 2000, after enduring Mohammad Khatami – now under house arrest – as president of his regime for four years, Khamenei had no choice but to pave the path for his second term.

Yet to coat such a setback, Khamenei ordered a major missile attack against the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), then stationed in a series of bases aligning the Iran-Iraq border. While the PMOI initially reported 77 missiles targeted their bases, years later former IRGC chief Rahim Safavi said the avalanche consisted of 1,000 long and medium-rangefired from Iran into Iraqi soil.

The bottom line is that Iran is facing major domestic and foreign dilemmas, to say the least, and its tactic is to screen one impasse through creating yet another. This is no regime to arrange deals and agreements with, and this is no time to decrease any pressure on Iran.

The international community must adopt a firm policy to force Tehran into relinquishing such a slate of belligerence, including its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and proxy groups, and human rights violations at home.

Otherwise, rest assured this regime will mushroom newer and more serious calamities across the board.

ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

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

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

‘Hard look’

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

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

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

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

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

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

A different Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Necessary deterrence

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

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

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

Times have changed

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

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

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

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

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

‘Global threat’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Iran’s Troubles In Yemen Propagate Elsewhere?

Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.

How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.

Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.

The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.

The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.

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Huthi supporters brandish their weapons during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 8, 2017. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Muslim and Arab countries across the world to protest against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. / MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.

It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.

Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.

This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.

Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.

The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.

Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.

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BEIJING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 24: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on November 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jason Lee – Pool / Getty Images)