U.S. Drastic Measures On Iran Have Just Begun

The new US strategy vis-à-vis Iran began to unravel this week.

Making headlines has been the CIA’s latest trove of nearly half a million documents indicating deep ties between Iran and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Experts have been busy analyzing the data, especially showing how Iran offered al-Qaeda operatives “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf,” according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal.

On October 31st the U.S. Treasury Department officially implemented the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), described by officials in Iran as the “mother of all sanctions” targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

New sanctions are leveled against IRGC commanders and affiliates involved in domestic crackdown, plundering the population’s wealth, exporting the regime’s terrorism, and advancing Tehran’s nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile program.

Also described as a “black hole,” CAATSA will be placing the very pillars of the Iranian regime in its crosshairs. The IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters, known to pursue massive construction projects, has around 5,000 companies under its umbrella involved in building dams, power plants and refineries. The IRGC in its entirety reportedly controls over 40% of Iran’s economy.

Furthering Tehran’s troubles is a new push by 13 prominent U.S. senators in a letter calling on the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. With Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) leading the initiative, this demands a rigorous new international inspections regime to be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program.

The main objectives include gaining vital access to Iran’s military sites, up to now considered off-limits by Tehran, and escalating transparency into the regime’s uranium enrichment drive.

Iran is suspected of taking advantage of military sites to continue nuclear activities banned under a nuclear agreement considered landmark by some, while highly flawed by others. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have been banned or forced to endure a bureaucracy of 54 days to obtain access to disputed sites.

This, of course, provides Tehran enough time destroy all trace of illicit activities, as seen when the highly controversial Lavizan-Shian site was razed to the ground in late 2003 and early 2004. Iran went the limits to cover up undeclared nuclear activities, according to Western diplomats.

Aerial image of Lavizan-Shian after extensive razing. (Courtesy: getty images)

The new initiative from U.S. senators, highlighting “shortcomings in the inspection and verification regime,” is said to enjoy the Trump administration’s full backing, as the White House seeks to resolve outstanding issues over Iran’s compliance with the deal and patch outstanding loopholes providing the regime dangerous opportunity to obtain nuclear weapons.

Aiming to garner further international support, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin headed to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Mnuchin focused his efforts on ratcheting up pressure on Iran by placing special focus on terror financing across the region.

Under this escalating pressure, Tehran scrambled a senior military commander to level new threats of launching ballistic missile attacks against U.S. forces stationed across the Middle East. This followed reports of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “limiting” the range of his forces’ ballistic missiles to nearly 1,300 miles, or 2,000 kilometers.

While this does encompass all regional U.S. bases, we must understand that Tehran’s forces are no match against the U.S. military. And rest assured, this regime enjoys no public support. Considering the weight of Washington’s Iran policy shift, Tehran is desperately resorting to such measures to save face at home and prevent any sign of weakness before an increasingly restive society.

Iran’s growing international isolation today is all due to initial revelations back in August 2002 when the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) blew the whistle on the Natanz uranium enrichment site and Arak heave water production plant.

Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, Iran. (Courtesy: Cryptome)

Ever since the NCRI has played a leading role in alerting the world of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially the clandestine network of military complexes.

Back in July 2003 the NCRI provided information on the secret Kolahdouz military complex located west of Tehran, home to a uranium enrichment testing facility.

At a Washington press conference in June the NCRI provided vital information on dozens of sensitive IRGC missile sites, including twelve previously unknown and one specifically linked to its controversial nuclear program.

The NCRI’s recent 52-page investigative publication, “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” came as a bombshell. More than two years into a nuclear deal supposedly aimed to prevent block Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons, this report is a wake-up call showing how Iran’s A-bomb drive is in fact up and running.

Iran’s civilian nuclear program, where regime officials eagerly escort inspectors, is providing the necessary cover for the military branch to pursue their lethal objectives.

For nearly two decades the IRGC unit tasked to advance Iran’s nuclear bomb drive is the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (Sazman-e Pazhouheshhaye Novin-e Defa’i), known by its Persian acronym SPND.

The Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact (Markaz-e Tahghighat va Tose’e Fanavari-e Enfejar va Zarbeh), known by its acronym METFAZ, is focused on research and building the nuclear weapon trigger.

Iran has scattered the facilities involved in this regard throughout several sprawling military houses that include dozens of silos and tunnels. This provides Tehran the ability to relocate necessary centers and projects, making pinpointing more difficult for IAEA inspectors, and thus reducing the exposure possibility.

The NCRI has identified four chief sites mainly pursuing the nuclear weapons drive:

  1. Pazhouheshkadeh, inside the Parchin military complex 30 miles southeast of Tehran, which has recently become the main center for METFAZ’s tests.
  2. The Nouri Industrial site, located at the maximum security Khojir military complex southeast of Tehran and spanning 75 square miles. The Hemmat Missile Industries Group, stationed in Khojir, focuses on nuclear warheads production.
  3. The Hafte Tir site, under the authority of Iran’s Defense Ministry, is located inside a military base found in a mountainous region near the town of Mobarakeh between the major cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. SPND has supervised the construction of underground tunnels at this site.
  4. The Sanjarian site, located on the banks of Jajrood River east of Tehran. Until recently this center was considered the main METFAZ testing facility and a subdivision of SPND.

The very fact that these key nuclear sites have gone uninspected by the IAEA, and how the IRGC is directing this effort, makes the new U.S. senators’ initiative and Treasury Department sanctions all the more essential.

Such measures are recommended to expand to all individuals, entities, institutions and companies affiliated to or involved in deals with the IRGC. Sanctioning each IRGC proxy abroad and all 31 provincial commanders inside Iran will significantly curb the regime’s warmongering and domestic crackdown capability.

Bold measures are needed to bring an end to Iran’s lethal belligerence across the region, implemented through the IRGC. This is key for any hope of terminating Middle East wars and bloodshed.

The U.S. has launched the policy needed to reach these objectives. Needed now is for the European Union to also blacklist the IRGC and end Iran’s use of this rift in international policy to its benefit in supporting terrorism.

Iran And The Nuclear Deal’s Future

It has been over a week since a new round of tension has initiated over the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This string of developments were kick-started with a meeting between Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and Yukio Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The fact that Washington suddenly sought a meeting with the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog and launched an emphasis on inspections of Iran’s military sites has raised eyebrows.

In retaliation, Iran vowed no access to its military sites, prompting Haley’s reaction in saying such an approach by Tehran will severely jeopardize its future compliance with the JCPOA. And despite the IAEA issuing a quarterly report confirming Iran’s compliance with the deal terms, Amano on Thursday “rejected Tehran’s claim that its military sites were off-limits to inspection…,” according to the Associated Press.

The Trump administration has been in office for over 7 months now and this issue coming under limelight is quite significant, to say the least.

The US President is obligated to provide a report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance or non-compliance with the JCPOA. It is known by now that President Trump agreed, grudgingly, to find Iran in compliance back July. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal he went as far as to say he had actually sought to find Iran in non-compliance in the first such report under his watch, let alone in July.

Mid October is the next set timing for Trump’s future report to Congress. If he finds Iran in compliance, we will witness a continuation of the status quo, despite Trump’s belief that Tehran has violated the JCPOA spirit and that this is the worst deal possible.

As a result, documents, evidence and a strong argument is obviously needed to prove Iran has violated the pact. Only under such a scenario will the Europeans and other parties be convinced to board ship.

This can be analyzed as the very purpose of Haley’s meeting with Amano and other IAEA officials. Washington needs assurance that the IAEA, as a technical oversight entity, is actually surveilling Iran’s nuclear program and that all JCPOA articles are truly implemented. And more importantly, is Iran cooperating and complying or not?

From the JCPOA signing to this day the IAEA has issued seven verification reports confirming Iran’s compliance. In two reports the IAEA confirmed Iran exceeding its heavy water limits, resulting in Tehran taking immediate action to send the excessive amount to Oman. Various analysts viewed this as a sign of Iran’s desperate need to the JCPOA, despite recent threats of relaunching nuclear efforts.

It would be difficult for the Trump administration to issue a report finding Iran in non-compliance when the IAEA says otherwise. This will provoke criticism across the board, such as claims of Trump’s measures being politically motivated. Others have made similarities to the Iraq scenario where claims that led to war were never proven. And the rest is history.

Does this mean the Trump administration has its hands tied and is forced to continuously find Iran in compliance with the pact?

Certainly not.

There is no doubt that Trump’s predecessor provided Iran with significant concessions. The list is quite lengthy and shameful in fact.

The Obama White House deliberately neglected the possible military dimension of Iran’s highly controversial nuclear program. Negotiations were launched and sanctions were lifted without any such concerns being resolved.

Iran was also provided another loophole in regards to inspections, permitted time to eliminate evidence of any wrongdoing. The IAEA, going against norms, has been obligated to inform Tehran beforehand of which site its inspectors intend to visit and for what particular reason. This is tantamount to informing a burglar of when and where the police will be patrolling. This certainly dissolves the inspections regime of any legitimacy.

More interesting is the fact that these articles are not an actual branch of the JCPOA, but added to by the Obama administration as sideline agreements with Tehran. The JCPOA itself has emphasized on the implementation of the Additional Protocol, meaning IAEA inspectors enjoying 24/7 access to military sites with specific mechanisms to prevent any gaps for Iran to take advantage of. There is no differentiation between military and non-military sites in the Additional Protocol.

As a result, one can come to the conclusion that the Trump administration has placed its crosshairs on a very necessary matter. And this is exactly why senior Iranian officials have launched a chorus of brouhaha in their reactions.

Interesting is how officials of the IAEA and Europe have remained silent in regards to recent US actions and Haley’s meeting with Amano regarding the inspection of military sites. This is a candid approval by their part, especially since Haley described her three-hour meeting with the IAEA chief as constructive.

Why the subject of inspecting Iran’s military sites has been raised at this timing is truly of significant importance. Of course, the Trump administration’s reservations in this regard is anyone’s guess.

However, there is undeniable evidence proving Iran is busy with major nuclear activities in its military sites, resulting in a major JCPOA violation.

As explained in a recent Washington Examiner piece by Alireza Jafarzadeh, “In June, the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed details of the escalation of the Iranian missile program, proving the nuclear threat to be real. The opposition coalition identified more than 40 sites for missile development, manufacturing, and testing, all of which were under the control of the IRGC. What’s more, at least one of those sites was known to be collaborating with the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Farsi acronym SPND, the institution tasked with weaponization activities related to the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”

Jafarzadeh is Deputy Director of the NCRI Washington office and credited with blowing the whistle on Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002 that triggered IAEA inspections in Iran.

Former IAEA inspector David Albright recently said buildings in Iran seen in satellite imagery match the sketches of facilities used to test strong explosions. He believes the IAEA should press to gain access to these sites.

Former IAEA deputy Olli Heinonen, who has visited Iran more than 20 times on different missions, also emphasized how the facilities referred to by Albright are protected by berms and specifically distanced from one another. This is similar to the blueprints used for sites testing high explosives, he said, adding this raises serious questions that Iran must answer and the IAEA should enjoy access to this site.

White House National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said the administration is evaluating the NCRI’s recent package of information very closely and has placed it against the very best intelligence reports and analysis available to the United States.

Speaking of grave concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities, the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, a known al-Qaeda affiliated, has gained control of African uranium mines and has its eye on supplying the material to Tehran. This is according to a letter seen recently by Fox News from Somalian Ambassador to the U.S. Ahmed Awad to his counterpart, U.S. Ambassador to Somalian Stephen Schwartz. The letter was dated August 11th.

Maybe the best early conclusion was for Haley to pay a visit to Vienna and seek IAEA’s intelligence access to Iran’s military sites, including the all controversial Parchin complex located southeast of Tehran.

Upon her return Haley emphasized:

  • Iran has secret, unannounced and illegal sites that have yet to be inspected.
  • Iran has publicly announced there will be no access granted to its military sites while the JCPOA recognizes no difference between military and non-military facilities.
  • Iran’s regime has a clear history of lies and pursuing clandestine nuclear program. Therefore, Washington encourages the IAEA to practice its full authority and pursue all of the IAEA’s angles, knowing they enjoy complete US support in this regard.
  • The IAEA can only carry out its duties to a certain extent, as its access to Iran’s facilities are limited.

Back in December 2015 Iran’s official news agency wired a report on the IAEA chief voicing how Iran carried out activities in relations with developing a nuclear explosion device. This intelligence also indicate that prior to 2003, these measures were very institutionalized and some may continue as we speak.

Now the all-important question is what are the consequences if come October it is proven Iran has failed to comply with the JCPOA and, in effect, violated the agreement?

This can signal the end of the entire accord as we know it and bring a disastrous finale to the years of investments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Sanctions will return on Iran as six UN Security Council resolutions will be reinstated.

In case of a violation by Iran, each member of the P5+1 has the authority to call on the Security Council to vote on the continuation of sanctions reliefs. No permanent member of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) has veto right and all relieved resolutions and sanctions will be re-imposed. This authority is based on UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

It is also interesting to know that 10 articles of the new resolution are based on Chapter 7, Article 41 of the UN Charter, and international law, providing authority to use force and the military option to implement their demanded actions.

Under Article 41, the Security Council resolution is binding for all countries for a period of ten years.

All said and done, with the Trump administration signaling intentions to dent the JCPOA, and the IAEA reporting Iran has stuck to the deal, the path forward can be quite a complicated matter.

There is also the possibility of Trump declaring Iran in non-compliance, without actually pulling out of the JCPOA, to pave the path for addressing Tehran’s nefarious activities in the Middle East.

Here the interest of the Iranian people are paramount. Considering how the ruling regime in Tehran is plundering the country’s wealth in support of terrorism, warmongering, and pursuits of an unnecessary nuclear program and ballistic missiles, restricting and limiting the outreach of the main force behind all this belligerency is crucial.

Iran’s IRGC controls 40% of the country’s economy and supervises all the above mentioned troubles. As a result, the recent US sanctions blacklisting the IRGC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group is a step in the right direction. Washington should not hesitate in implementing these sanctions immediately and without any loopholes.

Restricting the IRGC is in the Iranian people’s full interests and will support their effort in establishing freedom and democracy after four decades of utter crackdown.

Iran lobby gets excited over nothing

The State Department officially notified Congress on Wednesday that Iran has met all its commitments under the Obama-negotiated nuclear agreement. The certification is required every 90 days and the previous administration dutifully rubberstamped it each time.

What was unusual is that this approval was the first under the Trump administration and was being closely watched by regime supporters and foes alike. The decision to provide the approval was being loudly hailed and trumpeted by the Iran lobby, especially the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a known pro-Iran lobby, as a sign that the nuclear deal was working and even U.S. President Donald Trump had to admit so.

In the immortal words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the nuclear deal has failed to squash Iran’s ability and determination to develop atomic weapons, arguing that the country’s ambitions still threaten international peace and security, according to The Washington Post.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said in remarks to reporters in the formal setting of the State Department’s Treaty Room. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”

The White House has decided to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its Iran policy, including an evaluation of the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. To this end, the granting of approval was a pro forma act and means relatively little moving forward.

“With this certification, President Trump must now uphold the United States’ obligations and renew the sanctions waivers,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi. “If not, Trump will place the U.S. in violation of its commitments and be responsible for unilaterally killing the nuclear deal.”

Parsi is correct in saying President Trump can effectively kill the Iran nuclear deal in a heartbeat by not renewing sanction waivers granted by the Obama administration. He, however, misses the entire point of the Trump administration’s review, aimed at finally tying together all of Iran’s actions in areas such as human rights, support for terrorism, and active military campaigns against its neighbors.

This was the crucial missing link in the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, willing to excuse Iran on a number of issues and delink the regime from the agreement.

Support the Assad regime as it drops chemical weapons on civilians? Not a problem.

Busy executing thousands of Iranian citizens and political dissidents? Go for it.

Allowing the beating and mistreatment of Iranian women for violations of moral codes and denying them education and job opportunities? Okay by us.

The effort to appease the regime only enabled and emboldened the mullahs, and now the Trump administration has to do the heavy lifting and hard work the Obama administration couldn’t and wouldn’t do, which is why this review will be so critical.

In a slap at the Obama administration that negotiated alongside the P5+1 for the deal, Tillerson said, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

Congress has introduced bills extending U.S. sanctions against Iran related to its alleged support of terrorism, human rights violations and missile tests. Lawmakers have put the legislation on pause, however, because of the impact the bills could have in Iran’s presidential election scheduled for next month.

  •   Should the U.S. confront Iran directly by using military force against proxies such as the Lebanese Hizb’allah and Afghan mercenaries in Syria?
  •   Should Washington re-impose a broad swath of sanctions on Iran and target the commercial enterprises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)?
  •   Should the Trump administration affirmatively embrace and recognize Iranian dissident groups, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and focus efforts on their inclusion back into Iran?

All these questions and more will have to be part of the White House review.

The administration is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the IRGC.

In his remarks, Tillerson focused not only on the nuclear deal, but also on what he called Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.”

He specifically cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as hostility to Israel, the harassment of U.S. naval vessels plying the Persian Gulf and cyberattacks targeting the United States and its Gulf allies.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said.

Time is of the essence considering the upcoming April 25th meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord.

But President Trump doesn’t have to tear up the deal to tighten the screws on Iran. The agreement, which is not a treaty, provides broad leeway to signatory governments in interpreting its terms, and the Trump White House is mulling taking a much more forceful stance on enforcing the deal to the letter.

There are already signs that the Trump administration is using existing legal authorities in a more forceful manner than its predecessor. Last Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sohrab Soleimani, the brother of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, for his role in abuses in Iran’s prisons. And in February, the Treasury Department also blacklisted eight IRGC-linked organizations, including an official based in Lebanon.

At the end of the review, the question of whether or not to keep the nuclear agreement may not exactly be centered on the agreement itself, but rather on whether or not the cost of keeping the pact intact in place is too high compared to the cost of not containing Iran as it expands into Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, along with new threats to Bahrain and other Gulf states.

How Trump and Congress can coordinate against Iran

In recent years, one of the most divisive foreign policy subjects in Washington has been none other than Iran.  The deal sealed by the Obama administration with other world powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program and altering the regime’s gross behavior, saw its way through Congress without a single Republican voting in favor.

President Donald Trump made it a hallmark of his campaign to adopt a tougher stance against Tehran.  Recent developments have once again brought Iran at the top of the congressional agenda with the weighing of new initiatives.

President Trump has not defined the exact nature of his approach against Iran, despite unprecedentedly placing the regime “on notice.”  The Obama administration went through intense Iran policy debates, and to this end, many members on Capitol Hill have become experts from the time they have spent on this matter, far beyond any other subject.  As White House officials continue to weigh their options, Congress can seize the initiative to present an assertive perspective able to gain the backing of both executive and legislative branches.

A slate of core components should be included in this congressional effort.

Lawmakers should begin their measures by expressing their view for the need to carefully oversee Iran’s strict compliance with the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  While disagreements have flared in the past in this regard, a consensus is being established in Congress and the White House that vigorously enforcing the deal is the best roadmap to holding Iran accountable for probable future violations.

A bipartisan congressional panel should be established to guarantee correct JCPOA implementation and holding hearings to maintain the subject high on the general foreign policy playbook.  Congress should also raise the costs of Iran’s potential violations, to force the regime to think twice about taking such a path.  This would involve sanctions far beyond those triggered if the deal collapses entirely.

Congress should also call for and support a new series of law enforcement activities, military and intelligence actions, sanctions, and weapons interdiction to blunt Iran procuring for its network of proxies scattered across the region.  This can include a variety of low-profile measures targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its Quds Force, along with their proxies.  This would provide a major boost in the pushback against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Congress should support the Trump administration’s new effort to improve ties with Arab Gulf allies nearly broken under Obama’s watch for the sake of the Iran nuclear deal.  A variety of options, including weapons sales and different methods of cooperation, are available in this regard.  Establishing a broad multinational task force with its Gulf partners should be a major priority for the U.S.  Such a relationship would enhance exercises and training campaigns, intelligence-sharing, and joint operations.  Such an entity can employ attacks on different targets deemed necessary, such as Iran’s proxy groups and other terrorist networks across the region.

Do not be mistaken, however: there is no intention to promote a pro-war campaign against Iran, as launching such a campaign would play into the regime’s hands.  The silver bullet or the final nail in the coffin against Iran, at least for now, is for Congress to pass a bill designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.  This is the measure that will send the necessary signal to Tehran that neither America nor the international community will tolerate any longer their belligerence of any nature.

Such a move will prevent any further wars in the region, support the Iranian people against the very entity behind Iran’s domestic clampdown and human rights violations, and weaken the regime in its entirety prior to the crucial May 19 presidential election.  Congress can thus set the stage for the Iranian people to pour into the streets, similar to the 2009 episode, and express their true feelings about the mullahs’ hideous rule.

Massacre In Syria Is Why Iran Must Be Evicted

International media aired horrifying images of Bashar Assad’s most recent massacre through an atrocious chemical attack staged by his Sukhoi 22 warplanes targeting the city of Khan Sheikhoon in Idlib Province, in Syria’s north. At least 100 suffocated to death and more than 400 were left injured with symptoms similar to those caused by sarin gas. Most of the victims were women and children and even the hospital where the victims were being treated was bombed.

While the Syrian opposition delegation involved in the Geneva talks said this chemical attack has left future negotiations looking bleak, this horrific act of vicious barbarity should pinpoint the international community’s attention on the main element behind all this carnage: Iran’s involvement in Syria in a diehard effort to maintain the dictator Bashar Assad in power.

A wave of international condemnations followed this killing spree.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement.

“While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said through a statement, urging Russia and Iran to prevent Assad from the use of chemical attacks.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini held the Syrian regime responsible for this horrendous chemical attack.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called for accountability for those behind the dreadful Idlib attack and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the world must not neglect Assad’s crimes and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu condemned the Idlib attack as an inhumane crime.

The scene on the ground is considered even too gruesome to describe. Physicians in Idlib have called on the international community for their support. Idlib’s White Helmets warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Khan Sheikhoun, adding Assad’s bombing campaign is targeting their sites and even known medical centers.

The Syrian Physicians Organization said the al-Rahme hospital in Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in six different bombing raids, leaving no doubt of Assad’s indifference between military and non-military targets.

Reports indicate all hospitals in Idlib Province are struggling to provide care for casualties from Khan Sheikhoun.

The Syrian crisis has recently been gaining increasing attention in the international stage, with the tide turning against Assad and his main supporter, Iran. As rebels staged surprising attacks in Damascus recently, social media activists campaigned through the hashtag #IranOutOfSyria to raise voice against Tehran’s deadly meddling in Syria.

Public opinion in the Arab World has been increasingly against the role played by Iran through its Revolutionary Guards – the entity behind Tehran’s human rights violations, nuclear program and ballistic missile drive – and a conglomerate of proxy groups in Syria. There no longer is any doubt in the Middle East that the main element behind the ongoing catastrophes caused by the war in Syria is none other than the regime in Iran. Over 500,000 people killed and 14 million displaced throughout the country or scattered across the globe has been the end result to date.

What has raised eyebrows recently is far more transparent positions taken by the West, especially the new U.S. administration on Syria. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has vividly underscored the necessity to confront Iran’s meddling in the region, evicting its forces from Syria and labeling Assad as a war criminal. A recent European Union Foreign Ministers session in Luxembourg emphasized on the necessity to support the Syrian opposition and guaranteeing Assad having no future in Syria.

Already riddled with a presidential elections crisis around the corner, these recent developments have left Tehran terrified, especially due to Washington’s major policy overhaul turning attention to the roots of this crisis, being the regime in Iran.

For years the Iranian opposition has been highlighting how Iran is the main reason for the continuation of the war in Syria and the main obstacle before peace.

Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, condemned the Idlib chemical bombing and the ruthless killing of civilians, describing the killing of such innocent children as a grave war crime. Khamenei and Assad, as in 2013, are responsible and must face justice, Rajavi continued, adding war and crisis will continue until Iran and the IRGC are evicted completely from Syria.

While the new Trump administration has only been at the helm in Washington for less than three months, a major change in guards has already been witnessed. There is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill on Syria to bring an end to Iran’s role and presence in this country. States across the Middle East and Turkey also agree action is necessary against Iran’s fueling of the Syrian crisis.

To this end, and after six years of utter carnage, it is high time to completely root out and eradicate any and all Iranian related presence in Syria, and the first step in such a roadmap to reach peace in the Levant is to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.

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.

New Revelations on IRGC Leading Iran’s Ballistic Missile Drive, Nuclear Weapons Program — Through Control Over Docks

Despite the United States placing the Iranian regime “on notice” for test-firing medium-range ballistic missiles in January, Tehran has taken no steps to change its behavior. Indeed, reports indicate that Iran test launched a new pair of ballistic missiles over the weekend.

New evidence was uncovered about the extent of control that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is leading the mullahs’ ballistic missile drive, parallel to the nuclear program and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, has over this.

In London on Tuesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) held a press conference revealing that the IRGC has a growing grip over Iran’s key economic hubs. The NCRI cited intelligence gathered by sources linked to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) from inside the regime, particularly among the IRGC rank and file. The data obtained in recent months clearly proves the IRGC has full control over 90 docks, which amount to 45% of Iran’s total official number of 212 piers.

Revisionism is a long-standing cottage industry when  it comes to Winston Churchill. Now Michael J. Cohen, Professor of History Emeritus…

The IRGC began setting up these “Bahman Docks” in 1982, by order of regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The group was instructed to manage its activities outside the authority of any state supervision and beneath the proverbial radar of international institutions.

Over the years since then, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ordered the expansion of IRGC activity at these docks, and the further intertwining of the organization with the country’s economy. The main goal today, and previously, is to bypass international sanctions.

As a result, the IRGC now has complete control over Iran’s ground, sea and air borders, flooding the economy with a variety of imports without paying a single dollar in customs.

The IRGC has ports in Bandar Lengeh in Hormozgan Province, two docks in Abu Musa Island and another two in the Greater Tunb Island — among others.

In addition to exporting arms to Middle East militias, the IRGC takes advantage of these docks to smuggle oil, gasoline, natural gas, chemical products, cigarettes, narcotics, alcoholic beverages, mobile phones and pharmaceuticals. The IRGC reportedly pockets an annual revenue of around $12 billion from importing and exporting illicit goods through the docks.

According to the NCRI, the IRGC has also established a number of front companies tasked specifically with transferring weapons caches through the docks. This flow of arms continues non-stop, with only a small percentage having been discovered and blocked by the international community in recent years. And all this is in addition to the colossal official budget the IRGC receives from Tehran.

The new revelation is but another reason for the international community to take firm and swift action against the IRGC.

Originally published in Algemeiner

New revelations confirm Iran has failed to moderate its hostile behavior

By Amir Basiri

Iran has failed to moderate its hostile behavior following the strong cautionary threats issued by Washington placing Tehran “on notice” in response to Iran’s late-January intermediate-range ballistic missile launch.

This can more vividly be seen in yet another pair of anti-ship ballistic missiles test-fired by Iran during this weekend, one on Saturday and again on Sunday. To further the tension, Iranian fast attack boats resorted to another episode of aggressive measures by coming within 600 yards of a United States Navy surveillance vessel in the sensitive Gulf waters of the Strait of Hormuz.

The Revolutionary Guards, the entity behind Iran’s ballistic missile tests and naval provocations, is the subject of new revelations unveiling its grip on strategic assets in Iran used to boost its support for terrorism, Iran’s nuclear program, missile drive and the effort to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

A press conference on Tuesday in London was hosted by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), shedding light on the IRGC’s expanding control over Iran’s economy.

The group cited information obtained from sources inside Iran affiliated to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) with access into the IRGC ranks and files. This new data, gathered in the past several months, clarifies the IRGC’s ownership of 90 docks to pursue its illicit intentions. This count is equivalent to 45 percent of Iran’s 212 officially-registered piers, mainly spread across its southern shores.

The IRGC employs these docks to send dire logistics to proxy militia groups across the Middle East, and Iran’s support for such lethal entities throughout Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon are known to all.

The history of these docks dates back to 1982, when the Iranian regime leadership first ordered the IRGC to begin such a network. The main objective was to provide a window of opportunity for the IRGC to enjoy freedom of state supervision and customs limitations, and most importantly, remain beyond the reach of international monitoring.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has continued this legacy through the years by instructing an increase in the number of these “Bahman Docks,” as they are dubbed. This allowed the IRGC to become ever more involved in the country’s economy, reaching a point today of being known as the regime’s economic powerhouse and covertly bypassing international sanctions.

These docks have also provided further means for the IRGC to flood Iran’s markets with an enormous volume of usually low-quality, cheap goods without any customs concerns. Such a practice has literally brought many aspects of Iran’s production economy to its knees and fueled the current financial crisis riddling the country.

 

The annual income pocketed by the IRGC through illegal imports and exports, from alcoholic drinks and pharmaceuticals to even major oil and gas shipments, hovers around a whopping $12 billion. This is all parallel to the irony that the IRGC also receives a significant bulk of Iran’s annual economy.

Considering the monitoring imposed on Iran’s activities by the international community, the IRGC especially employs such docks to deliver arms and military equipment to groups throughout the region, including missiles targeting U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

The NCRI revelations presented various names of docks and shipping companies tasked by the IRGC to provide cover for its variety of transfers. The IRGC now also owns a number of large oil tankers usually rented to foreign states and rendering even more revenue for the IRGC’s export of terrorism.

According to the NCRI intelligence, the IRGC arms-flow through these docks and shipping companies is a constant trend, and yet only a small portion of such measures were discovered and prevented in recent years by the international community.

As measures against Iran and the IRGC are currently weighed in the White House and Congress, such important revelations emphasize the fact that action against the IRGC, being Iran’s main medium in support of terrorism and extremism across the Middle East, is needed more than ever before.

Originally published in Washington Examiner

With the Mullahs at the Helm, There Can Be No Solution to Widespread Poverty in Iran

Iranian authorities periodically launch campaigns to round up child workers and beggars roaming the streets. But can such campaigns be successful in a nosediving economy?

Officials sidestep this issue, as is clear in remarks made by the Iranian Deputy for Social Affairs, who claimed that the reason the issue is not being resolved is that there are too many organizations trying to tackle it, and not enough coordination among them. Similar assertions were made in a state TV program on the topic earlier this month.

Anyone versed in the topic, however, knows that the real culprit is the nationwide poverty caused by the atrocious economic policies imposed by the mullah-led regime. People who are not hungry do not send their children into the streets to beg or look for work, when they should be in school and enjoying the precious years of their youth.

Even the state-run Salamat News website admitted that the regime’s repressive plans aimed at containing social crises have completely backfired.

“Rounding up drug addicts, homeless people living in the streets, runaway girls, beggars and many others that have ended up in such situations as a result of poverty and the class gap in our society have ended in failure as a result of hasty measures carried out by authorities,” its report reads.

Other reports indicate the middle class in Iran has nearly vanished altogether.

“One of the simplest methods thought about by each official after they come to office is to round up such individuals. There was hope to resolve this issue from our society, yet due to known reasons these individuals have only been seen fleeing and returning to the streets. In the past 12 months, there have been many different plans and efforts launched by the municipality and the police, most leading to nothing but failures,” the website added.

Many Iranian officials, too, have admitted that the practice of rounding up people and holding them in special centers is not a strategic solution to the problem. They now acknowledge that the real solution would be to improve the public’s living conditions through major economic reforms.

Of course, the mullahs — whose plundering has left nothing for the people and who hae wasted billions in the nuclear program and global terrorism — will have nothing to do with such suggestions, and therefore any expectation from Tehran in this regard is an illusion.

Indeed, as long as they remain at the helm, no end to these woes will be in sight.

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