ANALYSIS: Iran and the Financial Action Task Force impasse

Al Arabiya

What is the FATF and why are we hearing such conflicting remarks from inside the Iranian regime in this regard?

The Financial Action Task Force is a non-governmental organization established by the G7 back in 1979 to tackle money-laundering. In 2001, the initiative was expanded to also target terrorism financing.

The FATF secretariat is based in the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, located in Paris. In 2012, the task of confronting financing any terrorism-promoting activities was added to the FATF’s responsibilities.

FATF, in charge of supervising financial cross-border transactions, provided an October deadline to the Iranian regime to join two international conventions and reform two domestic laws. This body is holding its plenary meeting in Paris this week to discuss “a range of important issues to protect the integrity of the financial system and contribute to global safety and security.”

In response, the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented four bills to the regime’s Majlis (parliament):
– The Anti-Money Laundering Law Reform Bill
– The Anti-Terrorism Financing Law Reform Bill
– The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Supplementary Bill
– The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime Supplementary Bill

History

Following a four month-long delay, the Iranian regime parliament finally approved a bill agreeing to adopt the Combating the Financing of Terrorism standards. This is considered the most important step for Tehran in the path of eventually joining the FATF.

Many voices from inside the Iranian regime launched a major brouhaha after these developments. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described it a historical decision.

Hamid Aboutalebi, an advisor to Rouhani, praised the parliament and said members showed the country’s national security and the Iranian people’s interests are their primary priorities.

Khamenei opposition

The CFT approval, however, came despite the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had specifically said he opposes this law. Meeting members of parliament back in June, Khamenei specifically voiced his opposition to joining any international conventions.

“These accords are actually cooked up in one specific place… If an independent government is found somewhere, such as the Islamic republic, who for example says we don’t accept these conventions and international accords… They attack them with harsh rhetoric demanding they join… That’s what these conventions are all about. Now, what do we do?… I said the parliament should pass a law. For example, on the issue of combating terrorism or money-laundering… the members should sit down and pass their own law,” he said.

Khamenei had described the FATF as an “endless pit” in his social media page. And at a recent state-launched rally in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Khamenei delivered a speech covering a variety of subjects.

“As long as I’m alive I will not allow the country to surrender,” he said. However, word inside Iran indicates that all parties are awaiting his signal to do exactly that.

It is common knowledge that whenever Khamenei emphasizes on standing firm, he is signaling to the regime’s depleting social base he will be heading the opposite route.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the parliament in Tehran on October 7, 2018, during a meeting over the a bill to counter terrorist financing. (AFP)

 

A step back

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani made everything clear reading Khamenei’s letter to Majlis members.

“What I said during our meeting with the members in regards to the four bills and conventions was related to the very principle of these conventions, and not a particular convention. Therefore, I have no objection with these bills being evaluated in the parliament, in order to follow through with the legal procedures,” the letter read in part.

Through such remarks Khamenei took back his own words and threw the ball into the parliament’s court.

Why the predicament?

Why can’t anyone in the Iranian regime, even Khamenei himself, put their foot down and finalize the issue. The answer can be found in Zarif’s remarks to the Majlis members.

“China’s international policies are very similar to that of the Islamic republic. China is our strategic partner. We are also strategic partners with Russia. However, the Russian Central Bank chief told Dr. Hemmati [his Iranian counterpart) we will not be able to conduct business without the FATF. The Chinese had also made similar remarks time and again,” he explained.

“Neither I, nor the president, we cannot guarantee all our problems will be resolved by joining the FATF. However, we can guarantee that by not joining this bill the US will find a very important pretext to increase its pressures against us,” Zarif added.

The Iranian regime has been weighing this issue since 2011, enjoying the appeasement approach practiced by the Obama administration to buy time.

Shooting in the foot

Tehran is also very concerned, understanding the severe consequences of joining the FATF. The clerical regime will no longer be able to funnel money to terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite proxies in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. This means shooting yourself in the foot for Tehran.

All the while, if the Iranian regime fails to approve the FATF conventions, its banking transactions with Europe, Russia and China will face extreme difficulties. This gains significant proportions when we take into consideration the November 5th return of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil/banking/shipping sectors. This will have a crippling impact on the Iranian regime, to say the least, especially considering the increasing protests and strikes across the country.

The current circumstances were best explained by the Iranian regime’s own members of parliament: committing suicide in fear of death. This is the very telling indication and interpretation of a regime facing a critical impasse.

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ANALYSIS: US sanctions and the end of ‘reform’ in Iran

Al Arabiya

With a new wave of US sanctions just around the corner, the regime ruling Iran is in deep waters as domestic and international pressures escalate. To add insult to injury for the clerics in Tehran, public discontent is increasing and people from all of life across Iran are demanding regime change.

Strikes and protests have continued in relentless waves across the country, especially following the December/January uprising. This movement, enjoying vast support in Iran’s society, is shaking the very pillars of this regime.

Plundering the Iranian people for 39 years and counting, the United States withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is further depriving Tehran of the funds it desperately needs to continue fueling its domestic crackdown machine and belligerence aimed at foreign targets.

The clerical regime has played all its cards and the Iranian people will no longer fall for any further deceptive plots.

Reform: A story of the past

In a frantic attempt, the Iranian regime is busy with a diplomatic campaign seeking the support of other Iran nuclear deal partners – the document formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – being Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

These measures have failed to render any tangible results for the Iranian regime, especially considering the fact that the country’s currency, the rial, has plunged and lost more than 60 percent of its value since April alone. Inflation is skyrocketing and even basic necessities are running scarce, all due to the regime’s mismanagement.

In the West, pundits argue Iranians would “rally around the flag” and provide more power to the regime’s hardliners in the face of US hostility. Following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iranians are actually understanding how regime leaders are the party to blame. They have also put an end to any “rally” claim raised by foreigners obviously lacking the necessary knowledge to correctly analyze Iran’s current powder keg society.

For many “experts” it will be hard to admit that the on-the-ground reality of Iran’s fast developing political landscape is far too complex to easily evaluate the recitation of events through the canvas of “reformists” against the hardcore “principalists.” The protests and all out uprising since late December 2017 have proven once for all that the so-called reformists in Iran have failed to render any change deemed positive in the past two decades.

A military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen during a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) in Tehran, in this September 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)

Iran’s “reformists,” dating back to when the now dead former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjanicame to power in 1989, have been on a specific mission never mentioned or explained clearly in western mainstream media: preserving the Iranian regime in power by promising – and very rarely implementing – minor “reforms.”

The protests since December have caught the Iranian regime, and the world over, by surprise. And the so-called reformists in Iran have received their message: Your time is up. The Iranian people are increasingly realizing that the “reformists” in Iran are no different from the hardliners sitting on the throne and having the last word on all major issues.

The “Reformists, principalists, game over” slogan put an end to the “reform” mirage in Iran. A list of Iranian “reformists” are showing their true colors by not standing alongside the people, losing the nation’s trust as a result. Various remarks include:

• Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, accused the protesters of being directed by elements outside of Iran;
• Abbas Abdi, dubbed as a “reformist leader,” described the recent protests as “uncalculated and irrational;”
• the Association of Combatant Clerics, an entity chaired by former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who claimed “opportunists and troublemakers have exploited” them.

Furthermore, it’s good to know that Mir Hossein Mousavi, also described as a “reformist leader” in Iran’s political spectrum, was this regime’s prime minister during the 8-year long Iran-Iraq War, continuously promoting the horrific initiative.

Mousavi also recently admitted of his knowledge regarding the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Mir Mahmoud Mousavi, brother to the former prime minister and a former diplomat for this regime, has recently voiced utter disappointment in Iran’s “reformists,” saying they lack the ability to do anything more than what they have shown in the past two decades.

Which in itself has been anything but meaningful.

Evolving landscape

What we are witnessing in the protests spreading across Iran during the past ten months have been a wave launched by the largely poor and rural branches of Iran’s society. Setting aside those ruling the country and enjoying ties to the regime, the economic crisis engulfing Iran is having a deep impact on nearly every household.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, another “reformist,” had promised to realize economic prosperity following the JCPOA. However, more billions were funneled to fuel the clerical regime’s support for Bashar Assad in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, the Lebanese Hezbollah, sectarian militias in Iraq, further development of ballistic missiles and … the list goes on.

More reason why over 140 cities erupted in major revolt back in December 2017, far before Trump imposed sanctions. It is quite telling that from that turn of events, the clerical regime’s bubble of enjoying the support of the lower, dispossessed class in Iran, has burst.

All the while, Iran’s middle class – or whatever is left of it as 80 percent of the population lives in poverty – is also seen taking to the streets and expressing their anger very publicly on the fact that this regime has failed to deliver socially and economically.

Stepping up the tempo

Iran’s regime has been known to quell public dissent for forty years. The significant factor in this round of ongoing protests is the organized nature of such movements, seen most recently in the truck drivers’ nationwide strike that has now entered its third week and spreading to over 310 cities.

Time and again senior Iranian regime officials are voicing their utter concerns about the Iranian opposition PMOI/MEK, and specifically their “Resistance Units” network inside the country, playing the decisive role in the ongoing uprising.

The Iranian people have shown in the past 39 and some years, with major episodes in 1999, 2009 and the ongoing uprising, that they will not tolerate this regime. As the regime loses the support of a destructive appeasement policy practiced by the West, especially during the Obama years, it grows gradually weaker in the face of an increasingly restive nation that is demanding and will realize sweeping changes through an all-out revolution in the near future.

Iran: Understanding the truck drivers’ nationwide strike

Al Arabiya

From September 23 we have been witnessing a new round of strikes launched by truck drivers throughout Iran and the movement quickly gaining a nationwide spirit. This is the fourth episode of such protests by truck drivers and owners in the past four months alone.

Understanding the potentially crippling impact of these strikes, able to literally bring the Iranian regime’s economy to a standstill and force it to its knees, a senior Iranian regime official on Saturday resorted to accusing the drivers of committing crimes and even voicing threats of execution for those continuing these protest strike.

This alarming development in itself resembles the Iranian regime’s very fragile rule and the days of Tehran’s rulers coming to an end.

Slow start

The first round of this protest movement was witnessed on May 22nd. Of course, Iranian regime officials resorted to their known tactics of deception and hollow promises, allowing authorities to bring this strike to an end on June 8th.

As the World Cub began during this period, news report shifted away from these protests. However, the truckers’ strike registered their demands and paved the path for the second round of such protests beginning in late July.

It is interesting how this second round of protests and strikes by Iran’s truck drivers made its way into joining the second major episode of the Iranian people’s nationwide uprising. The cities of Shapur in Isfahan Province, Karaj, Shiraz and Rasht were hosts to the most significant protests.

August 11th marked the day when this second round of the truckers’ nationwide strike in Iran began fading. All the while, the Iranian people’s protest movement made two specific advances with other branches of society joining the strike, including railway workers, and major rallies regaining force in the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Karaj, Arak, Homayunshahr, Ahvaz, Qahederijan, Mashhad, Najaf and Qarchak.

All these developments acted as yet another reminder and wake-up call for Iranian regime authorities regarding the potential of such protests and how the Iranian people’s uprising continues to pose a major threat for the entire regime.

The Iranian truckers’ third round of protests showed how this movement has the ability or organize, plan and pursue their demands. (File photo: Reuters)

 

Advances

In the second round of their nationwide strike, Iranian truck drivers were able to – without issuing a public call to coordinate their measures – boost the Iranian nation’s uprising a major step forward.

Protests across many cities continued, reminding the general public and the world of how the Iranian regime cannot provide for the population’s basic needs. Employees of the renowned Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company in Khuzestan Province were able to force their employers to appoint their desired representatives to the company council.

The Iranian truckers’ third round of protests showed how this movement has the ability or organize, plan and pursue their demands in a very coordinated manner. This approach impacting the Iranian people’s broader protests, injecting an organized spirit and resulting in new concerns for the ruling clerical regime.

Launching on August 25th, the trucker’s third round of this nationwide strike saw the drivers expanding their organized protests from loading terminals to holding rallies outside of provincial town halls.

While Iranian authorities were able to yet again resort to deceptive measures to bring an end to the truckers’ new protests, September 23rd marked the latest re-launch of this initiative. Amazingly, this movement has spread to over 250 cities across the country in the span of just one week.

Concerning now for the regime is the undeniable political crisis engulfing the Iranian regime alongside the general public’s living conditions sinking to drastic and intolerable lows.

Conclusion

The Iranian people are proving time and again that the Dec/Jan uprising is very much alive and active. Truck drivers across Iran, continuing their nationwide strike, are playing a major role – at times described as an engine – keeping this movement up and running, and igniting further hope in the society.

Without a doubt this protest movement has proven its potential of sparking massive nationwide protests and launching an uprising against the ruling clerics.

The past four months are proving that the circumstances inside Iran have the potential of transforming even the simplest civil protests into major political rallies shaking the very pillars of this regime.

And considering the increasing nature of sanctions against Iran’s clerical rulers and their entire apparatus, this regime will never again have the capacity to overcome this growing wave of social unrest and dissent.

Warmongering Iran and its mounting regional and international isolation

Al Arabiya

The international and regional isolation against Iran is once again becoming a concern for the regime.

Global condemnations over a recent attack on Iraq-based Kurdish dissident groups and the executions of three Kurdish political prisoners resulted in a variety of rebukes concerning Tehran’s warmongering policies in the Middle East and their terrorism in the West.

As a result, the clerical regime is becoming weaker on the international stage like never before. Important now is how to evolve and raise the level to benefit the Iranian people.

Regional troubles

Last Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence condemned Iran’s missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan. One day later, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert added to this condemnation by describing the Iranian regime as a disrupting element in the region and a bad actor across the globe.

On that note, Iran’s malign influence in Syria came under fire in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday as members warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, the last area where Syrian opposition forces and millions of displaced civilians are located.

France, the Netherlands, Kuwait and Turkey called for a complete halt to military attacks by the Iran-backed Bashar Assad regime and Russia. US Ambassador Nikki Haley upped the tone against Russia, Iran and Assad, accusing these parties of not showing any interesting in reaching a political solution. Iran’s role in Assad’s bloody attacks will not go unnoticed, she warned.

Europe threatened

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) shed new light on the regime’s terror apparatus. At a press conference held in London on Wednesday, the NCRI provided new details over Tehran’s terrorist activities in the Green Continent, calling on European countries to close the Iranian regime’s embassies, as they are being used by Tehran as nests for their spies, and expel Iranian regime operatives from their soil.

Members of the British Houses of Lords and Commons took part in this press conference, emphasizing on the necessity to have Iran’s Vienna-based diplomat and other elements, arrested for their role in plotting to bomb the June 30th Iranian opposition convention in Paris, face justice. One MP presented a plan to the British Parliament condemning Iran’s terrorist activities in Europe.

Arab action

The Arab League also pitched in by condemning the Iranian regime’s meddling in regional countries. The 150th Arab League session ended this week with the Foreign Ministers Committee issuing a statement expressing grave concerns over Tehran’s provoking religions sectarianism in the Middle East.

The statement also condemned the Iranian regime’s support for Yemen’s Houthi militias and their launching of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Interesting are the incoherent remarks heard form Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, denying Tehran’s meddling and claiming this regime has “constantly called for a neighborly policy based on trust!”

Unprecedented tone

After enjoying eight years of unbridled appeasement from the United States under the Obama administration, eyebrows began raising in Tehran again after Washington held this regime responsible for any attack by its proxies in Iraq against U.S. interests.

The Trump White House issued a statement warning it will “respond swiftly and decisively” to any such attacks that render injury to Americans or damage to US facilities. The statement by the White House press secretary raised bold accusations against Iran of not preventing recent attacks targeting the US Consulate in Basra and the American Embassy compound in Baghdad.

A view of the Arab League headquarters during a meeting in Cairo on November 19, 2017. (AFP)

 

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons,” the statement reads.

“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” the statement adds.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went a step further by emphasizing on Iraq’s sovereignty, and expressing grave concerns about Tehran’s missile program development and the transfer of these weapons across the region.

To add insult to injury and despite the Iranian regime’s claims of being able to confront US sanctions, the regime’s OPEC envoy is heard complaining over how Saudi Arabia and Russia are increasing their oil production.

This will eventually balance the oil market and make up for the loss of Iranian oil following the November 4 sanctions Washington has in schedule for Tehran. More insulting is how Russia is treating the Iranian regime even after Tehran’s rulers literally sold-out the Caspian Sea to Moscow.

Final thoughts

The status quo is quite telling about the Iranian regime’s isolation and impasse in the Middle East, and across the globe. This, coupled with nationwide protests and a social unrest inside Iran, provides a very expressive canvas of Tehran’s current balance of power.

Recent remarks by Hossein Alaei, former Revolutionary Guards chief of staff, refers to the Iranian regime’s challenging times.
“Today’s political and economic circumstances in Iran are inappropriate… the people are angry and the state must make important decisions,” he explained.

It goes without saying that the Iranian regime’s domestic crises, facing a powder keg society seeking to bring an end to the clerics’ rule, are of the utmost priority for those on the throne in Tehran.

As a result, regional and global isolation should evolve into the international community as a whole standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy.

ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime views the internet

Al Arabiya

For a short while Iran’s cyber security threats and its use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter came under the spotlight. This is good, but more is needed.

Iran runs a cyber-army and what has been unearthed recently is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Facebook, an important portion of this network was linked to an internet organization associated to the regime’s state-run TV/radio apparatus.

Reuters reports how this network is active in 11 languages across the globe, busy spreading fake news and pro-Iran political propaganda on the web. This grid, however, is only a small portion of the Iranian regime’s cyber-army, mostly directed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Bassij paramilitary force.

Dual approach

In recent years, the IRGC has also launched numerous cyber attacks targeting various banks, scientific centers, economic and industrial facilities in the United States, hacking their internet networks in the process. US officials have in response sanctioned individuals associated to this network.

Interesting is how the Iranian regime has a double standard approach in regards to the internet, considering it both an opportunity and a threat. Tehran takes advantage of the internet as a medium to promote its reactionary mentality, “export revolution” (read extremism) and also post fake news about its dissidents.

On the other hand, it’s quite interesting how the regime deprives the Iranian people of free access to the internet and its officials describe the internet as a threat for the regime in its entirety, going the distance to limit access.

A closer look

The Iranian regime’s cyber army is mainly controlled by the IRGC, centrally based in Tehran and commanded by an IRGC division stationed in the capital.

Ghasam.ir is the main website of this entity and more than 2,500 other sites are actively controlled through this medium, according to senior IRGC cyber-army officials.

Tehran’s IRGC cyber-army battalions are designed based on the regime’s needs in cyber-warfare and responses to cultural issues. At least one cyber-army battalion is established for each section of the large Iranian capital.

According to the regime’s terminology, these websites are responsible for launching “currents” on international, cultural and economic issues. IRGC Bassij members involved in social media and creating “currents” are literally creating fake news and/or behind special propaganda campaigns involving complete lies. A large number of the personnel active in this field of work are official reporters of the Bassij Press network.

Bassij cyber-army battalions have throughout the years expanded in various cities across Iran. The IRGC and Bassij have also embedded cyber-army units in all government and state entities, most importantly the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

The technical and communications means available in this entity allow the IRGC cyber-army to expand its activities across the globe.

The IRIB cyber unit consists of seven such battalions and 1,200 personnel, according to the IRGC-associated Youth Journalists Club. The IRIB has also launched other cyber units to confront “the enemy’s soft war” against the regime and “present to the world the objectives and goals sought through the Islamic revolution,” according to Iranian officials talking to state media.

Iran has also established cyber units in a variety of other sectors, including the country’s important colleges and universities, religious schools and even the “Cyber Hizbullah,” in charge of organizing the cyber activities of IRGC Bassij and other such units.

A religious scholar sporting rings and holding his worry beads types on a computer at a school in Qom on 18 February 2000. (AFP)

 

Controlling the internet

The Iranian regime also uses all means provided by the internet to limit the Iranian people’s access to the world wide web. Tehran’s clerics understand very well that with the free flow of information the entire crackdown apparatus imposed on the Iranian people will begin to fissure.

As a result, the regime’s ideological pillars will weaken and Iranians across the country will gain knowledge of this regime’s corruption and economic bankruptcy. This literally represents an existential threat for the mullahs’ regime.

Iran’s 2009 and the recent Dec/Jan uprisings showed how protesters use social media networks such as Twitter, Telegram and Instagram to organize anti-regime demonstrations. In response, the Iranian regime has a tendency to block or limit the people’s access to the internet and social media platforms at times of crises.

Tehran’s clerics are also known to pursue plans to launch a “national internet network” aimed at completely blocking off the Iranian people from the internet and social medial networks. This, however, has become an impossible hurdle due to the regime’s technological and financial weaknesses.

The Iranian regime’s concerns about Telegram, a popular messaging app used by over 40 million people inside Iran, is a very clear indication.

“In a discussion with [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani we emphasized if Telegram’s vocal service is launched we will not be able to control anything,” said Hossein Nejat, deputy of the IRGC Intelligence Organization and in charge of the crackdown and arrest of cyber activists.

The Iranian regime has also failed to completely block Telegram. Senior regime officials have continuously encouraged people to use Iran-made messaging apps, only to prove a failure. The Iranian people simply don’t trust any indigenous software, knowing their information will be at the Iranian regime’s disposal immediately.

Iran’s concerns of people fully accessing the internet indicates the clerical regime’s political and intellectual failure and inability in confronting the modern world and the Iranian people’s protest movement against their reactionary apparatus.

The international community can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people by both sanctioning Iran’s IRIB and providing free and unhindered internet access to the Iranian people.

ANALYSIS: The reasoning behind Iran’s recent nuclear, military measures

Al Arabiya

The Iranian regime has recently moved up its fall military exercises, due to the re-imposition of US sanctions as they say, and test fired a short-range ballistic missile. This launching comes after a pause of more than a year.

On Monday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei placed what may be a nail in the coffin for any possible negotiations between his regime and the Trump administration.

Parallel to this, while making much lesser noise in the media, is the second return of ten batches of 20 percent enriched uranium that Iran sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord. Iran claims this highly sensitive nuclear material is needed to fuel Tehran’s Research Reactor and threatens to restart the 20 percent uranium enrichment cycle if the deal goes south.

All the while, Iran’s ultraconservative Guardian Council, answering only to Khamenei, has signed measures to bring the regime a step closer to international anti-money-laundering standards. What is the reasoning behind these two threats and one concession?

Missile and military threats

Having the final call on all on all state matters in Iran, especially national security and foreign policy, Khamenei silenced any talk for negotiations with the U.S. From his remarks it is obvious that the Iranian regime is hoping to somehow live through US President Donald Trump’s first term and hope for him to not be reelected.

Back home, with a recent short-range ballistic missile test launch Iran is obviously sending a message to Washington regarding the sanctions. Iran test-fired a missile immediately after Trump came into office. This prompted the famous “on notice” remarks from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the Trump administration slapping sanctions against the Iranian regime, signaling the new White House would not tolerate such behavior.

Tehran is returning to such practices as US sanctions bear down hard, parallel to protests across the country gaining momentum. Even weekend football matches are turning into scenes where people are chanting “Death to the dictator” in reference to Khamenei, as seen vividly in Ahvaz and Tehran in the past few days.

US sanctions re-installed last week are taking Iran out of the US dollar market, shutting down their access to gold and other precious metals such as aluminum, steel and graphite, automobiles and etc.

Extreme sanctions against the Iranian regime’s energy and banking sectors are set to return in November, with the high potential of an already severely struggling economy completely crumbling. As we speak the country’s currency, the rial, is becoming valueless and all businesses are turning to the black market.

Feeling cornered, will the Iranian regime live up to its threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz where nearly one-third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes through? After its first 18 months the Trump administration has shown it will consider such measures as an act of war.

“If the block the Strait of Hormuz we would literally take out all their military on the Strait of Hormuz,” said Ret. Gen. Jack Keane to Fox News recently.

Rest assured the Iranian regime does not wish to instigate a conflict with the US For nearly 40 years now Iran has constantly used proxy forces to attack the US and its regional allies, specifically avoiding direct confrontation through their military.

Interesting reminders

Iran, under growing threats, is known to resort to face-saving measures. As international pressures escalate and facing a restless nation, the Iranian regime desperately needs to maintain a strong posture.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the regime’s Atomic Energy organization, reported recently the returning of a second batch of 20 percent enriched uranium sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord inked by the Obama administration and nixed by Trump back in May as promised during his presidential campaign.

“If the nuclear deal remains alive, the other sides should sell us the fuel and if the nuclear deal dies, then we would feel unimpeded to produce the 20% fuel ourselves,” Kamalvandi threatened, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, known to be associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

He continued his threatening remarks of Iran being entitled to resume production of 20 percent enriched uranium in 2030. Furthermore, Iran has reopened a nuclear plant recently after remaining idle for nine years.

What shouldn’t go missing is the Iranian regime’s necessity to make such threats being very telling in and of itself. These are signs of a regime in crisis mode and needing to maintain a poker face, knowing their hand has nothing to offer while rivals are breathing down their neck with a full house.

Facing reality

It is, however, crystal clear for the Iranian regime that such a trend of ongoing threats cannot continue. Long gone are the Obama years when Tehran open-handedly imposed its will and continued to wreak havoc across the Middle East while advancing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, all aligned with a ruthlessly repressive domestic crackdown machine.

For example, Iran is now heavily investing on deepening an Atlantic rift between the US and Europe. And with the European Union demanding Iran comply with anti-money-laundering standards specified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a senior body linked directly to Khamenei is approving measures to place the regime more in line with the globally recognized norms.

Iran is now in desperate need of foreign investments as US sanctions begin to such dry the regime’s access to the global financial market. The FATF, considered the world’s financial-crime watchdog, had in June provided the Iranian regime until October to impose reforms or face drastic consequences.

The main definition of FATF restrictions for the Iranian regime is defined into the hampering of Tehran’s financial support for terror groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and others. This has the potential of severely crippling the regime’s influence throughout the Middle East.

Back in June Khamenei called for domestic laws to tackle money laundering inside the country, in an attempt to safeguard the flow of financial support to its proxies abroad. Recent development go to show how dire circumstances are leaving Khamenei no choice but succumbing to such humiliating terms. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are only one week into the return of US sanctions and protests across Iran have been gaining continuous momentum ever since the Dec/Jan uprising. Tehran on Saturday and Sunday witnessed the shoe market going on strike as store-owners were protesting high prices and the scarcity of raw material.

The impact of new sanctions will continue to sink in deep, weakening the regime in the face of expanding protests. Prior to November the Iranian regime will be on its knees.

Why Washington’s willingness to listen to Iranians is nightmare for the regime

Al Arabiya

The speech delivered by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday evening at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles can be described as yet another nail in the Iranian regime’s coffin.

It is hard to recall the last time the leaders of a regime were compared to the “mafia,” as Pompeo did in his description of the clerics sitting on the throne in Tehran. It is only fair to say Pompeo has escalated his Iran ante suggestively after his May speech where he outlined the Trump administration’s new strategy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and summarized it in 12 conditions Tehran must adhere to.

With the rial plummeting further against the US dollar, water and electricity shortages rendering further public dissent, and a new round of truck drivers’ strike launching on Monday, Iran’s domestic calamites are dangerously coupling with its escalating foreign isolation.

A disaster is in the making for the regime.

‘Polished front men’

After decades of enjoying full-fledged appeasement from various administrations in the United States and the West in general, Iran’s regime is facing a White House like none other.

Officials in Iran described the Obama years as the “golden era.” Nowadays, the circumstances are in deep contrast to what Tehran desires and needs to continue its domestic crackdown and foreign adventures.

“Despite the regime’s clear record of discretion, America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate; it’s like an Iranian unicorn! The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts haven’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remotely called a moderate, or a statesman,” he said.

This was a severe blow to Iran apologists continuing to claim reform from within this regime is possible.

Pompeo resorted to the term of “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry” when dismissing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘Mafia’

With protesters across the country continuing to voice their dissent regarding the ruling regime and complaining about severe economic hardships, Pompeo voiced strong words in saying Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.”

“40 years of fruit from Iran’s Islamic Revolution has been bitter. 40 years of kleptocracy. 40 years of the people’s wealth squandered on terrorism. 40 years of Iranians jailed for expressing their rights,” he explained.

The “mafia” ruling Iran is also known for its horrific practice of supporting terrorism and sponsoring extremist groups to fuel sectarian strife across the Middle East and export crises across the globe, including Europe.

As we speak Iran is going the distance to have a Vienna-based “diplomat” – arrested recently in connection to a bomb plot targeting the Iranian opposition “Free Iran 2018” convention in Paris – returned to Vienna. Pompeo referred to this case in his speech and made an interesting conclusion about the regime.

Unexpected

In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact, supposedly aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Trump had always described it as the worst deal in the world and lived up to his campaign promise of tearing up the accord.

Ever since US sanctions have been returning and an armada of foreign companies, including the likes of Total, Siemens and Boeing, to name a few, are ending their business with the Iranian regime.

Seeing its lifeline of oil exports threatened, Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a series of retaliatory threats in response to imminent US embargoes. What they received was unexpected, to say the least.

Placing this alongside Pompeo’s strong speech on the same day once again bring us to this conclusion that Iran’s regime understands only a firm language.

The Trump administration has been implementing such a viewpoint, especially through meaningful sanctions that promise to make Tehran think twice about how to trek forward.

Historic

The Trump administration says its Iran policy is not specifically “regime change.”

A look at Pompeo’s recent speech, the 12-conditions he placed before Tehran in May, and how the stakes are escalating following Trump’s response to the Iranian regime’s threats, it is safe to say the changes we are witnessing and the road ahead are of historic proportion.

“While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States … will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” Pompeo said.

Obama turned his back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and the rendered results continue to plague us globally.

Trump is not making that mistake. The sheer fact that Washington has decided to listen to the Iranian people inside the country and abroad is a nightmare turning into reality for Tehran’s rulers.

Iran: Changes in Revolutionary Guards’ senior command?

IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari & Quds Force chief may be sacked

The following report is from sources inside Iran and has yet to be confirmed.

At a family event on July 18th, Seyed Massoud Khamenei, the son of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has told Sadeq Kharazi, his brother in law, that Khamanei has been unhappy with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) recently, especially considering the major setbacks Iran has suffered in Syria.

Changes in the senior IRGC ranks are in the making, Massoud Khamenei said, and Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami will be replacing IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Image result for hossein salami
Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami

IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani is also said to be sacked, yet his replacement has yet to be specified.

Massoud Khamenei has told Sadeq Kharazi, who enjoys close relations with Suleimani, that the Quds Force chief has twice recently requested to meet with the Supreme Leader, only to be turned down on both occasions.

Image result for khamenei IRGC
IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani

Sadeq Kharazi has said the Supreme Leader sought to keep a lid on the information about changes in the IRGC ranks. However, information has leaked out of Khamenei’s home and office.

In a move intended to prevent already decreasing morale among IRGC personnel, Khamenei recently ordered officials to deny any rumors of changes among senior IRGC officials.

In line, Brigadier General Mohammad Shiraz, head of Khamenei’s Military Office, on Saturday denied rumors claiming Jafari’s replacement.

Iran after the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki

Al Arabiya

The Middle East situation on the ground is significantly different in comparison to a short while ago. There were times when Iran sought to become the leading hegemon in the region.

With Tehran’s honeymoon coming to an end after eight years of Obama at the helm in Washington, the regime is finding itself severely marginalized. There are also analysts saying the days of Iran’s clerics in power are numbered, especially with protests spreading throughout the country.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki to discuss a variety of issues, including trade, military, missiles, nuclear weapons and China.

Another topic highly anticipated by many is the Middle East and especially Iran’s destructive role in the Middle East. Trump has been crucial on Tehran, pulling out of a flawed nuclear pact and having a series of new sanctions return against the regime that is already rendering a long list of international companies heading out of Iran. The Helsinki Summit was only promising to add to the regime’s miseries.

President Trump speaks about Iran and the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

 

Decision makers

The highly debated Helsinki summit will most likely kick-start a process completely in contrast to the Iranian regime’s interests, especially in Syria. Trump and Putin are expressing hopes their military forces in Syria will enjoy good cooperation. This means no word of Iran on future decisions for whatever is left of this war-devastated land.

When Trump resorts to terms such as the plague of Islamic terrorism, rest assured the Iranian regime is getting the message. Tehran has been the main beneficiary of extremists from all colors wreaking havoc across the Middle East; from Pakistan and Afghanistan all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean. Anyone ever ask how Iran has remained so secure while sitting in the middle of all this mayhem?

Trump continued on the necessity to place Iran’s regime under pressure to prevent its ambitions and activities focusing on supporting violence across the region, adding the US will not allow Tehran take advantage of the international coalition’s successful war against ISIS in Syria.

With all of Iran’s hopes lying on Putin, the Russian president praised his talks with Trump and emphasized conditions are ripe for effective cooperation in Syria. Again, no mentioning of a role for Iran. While Russia’s role in Syria is a very controversial topic, especially with the Russian air force launching massive bombing raids on civilians, Putin’s words mean trouble from Tehran’s perspective.

“We will be cooperating with the US on the war against terrorism and establishing peace,” Putin said. Iran thrives on chaos and any talk of fighting terrorism and establishing peace are a nightmare for this regime, to say the least.

Harsh times

Iran’s plights were already piling prior to Helsinki, with the US imposing sanctions one after another. Tehran is known to be spending huge budgets on Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and extremists in Palestine. And with heavy sanctions set to kick in on August 6th and November 4th, what Iran needs the most now is foreign investment.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had dispatched his senior advisor, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, to Moscow. Considering today’s circumstances and Iran’s regime feeling the heat from Washington, the message delivered by Velayati was obviously a mayday call asking Putin to refrain from sealing a deal with Trump.

A major embarrassment came after Velayati claimed Moscow is ready to invest a whopping $50 billion in Iran. Putin had other thoughts, however, as Kremlin’s spokesman highlighted he cannot confirm such a claim and that Russia is willing to evaluate the possibility of providing Russian goods in return for Iranian oil.

Iranian MP Hedyatollah Khademi said sarcastically in response, “We thank Russia for providing us goods in return for oil so at least we won’t die of hunger!”

Iran’s regime is fighting for survival, knowing Washington will be demanding their proxies throughout the region to place down their arms, pack their bags and go home. (AP)

 

The first of many

With Tehran losing its grip on Yemen as the Houthis suffer defeats on the ground, Iran’s rulers consider any step back from Syria as the beginning of the end to all their devious regional ambitions of reaching “Quds through Karbala.”

This was a motto Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini resorted to in justifying the devastating Iran-Iraq War back in the 1980s. Those days are over. Iran’s regime is fighting for its very survival, knowing Washington will be demanding their proxies throughout the region to place down their arms, pack their bags and go home.

The Helsinki Summit also proves that Moscow is no longer interested in anything Tehran can offer. Putin seeks to preserve his own future interests in the Middle East and as sanctions against Iran increase, Tehran’s rulers will lack the money to maintain Kremlin’s political and military support.

As a nail in the coffin for Iran’s regime, Trump said US and Russian national security council representatives will be hammering out the details of Monday’s initial agreements. This means National Security Advisor John Bolton representing Washington’s interests. He’s certainly one American figure the Iranian regime is familiar with.

After seven years of pouring billions into Syria, Helsinki has left Khamenei watching in agony as world powers decide Iran’s future in the region. Add to this escalating protests and strikes across Iran, you have the exact ingredients needed for a recipe for disaster. From Tehran’s viewpoint, of course.

ANALYSIS: Why Iran can’t take a decision similar to North Korea

Al Arabiya

The historic meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, and the resulting Korean Peninsula denuclearizing deal, has the potential of resolving a decades-old international crisis.

This very important development will most definitely have its impact on another flashpoint in today’s world, being the Middle East, and most importantly, Iran.

Comprehensive document

The meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the first of its kind following the end of the Korean War back in 1953.

The signed document is currently dubbed as a “Comprehensive Document,” sending a signal to the signatory parties of the 2015 “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” over the Iran nuclear program.

This agreement can is a cornerstone to include nuclear disarmament and halting its ballistic missile program by North Korea, and the US lifting its sanctions.

Prior to this signing, the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed to agree with and welcome any peaceful measure. Following the signing, however, Tehran’s tone changed drastically.

“The North Korean government should be on high alert in this regard,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi.

“North Korea should be on alert that the US President is not loyal to his signature,” said Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Reza Nobakht.

Aside from these remarks, senior Iranian officials are concerned of North Korea sharing secrets of their nuclear and missile collaborations with the US and possibly other international community members.

Iranian protesters burn a representation of the US flag at a rally in Tehran on June 8, 2018. (AP)

Different viewpoints

A variety of reactions have been heard from Iran’s perspective.

There are those who believe the US/North Korea deal was made possible due to Pyongyong’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons. As a result, this camp argues flatly against any thought of destroying Tehran’s nuclear program or closing down its nuclear sites, let alone destroying them.

“Some experts have different viewpoints on this matter, claiming North Korea destroyed its nuclear sites due to its excessive age and being worn out,” according to a piece in Iran’s Vatane Emrooz daily.

“Despite sanctions and global threats, for years North Korean officials continued their nuclear and ballistic missile tests to now enjoy this capability of safeguarding their country,” the piece adds.

Others in the Iranian regime are also voicing concerns of Washington having more dangerous intentions. “Trump seeks to force Iran into a new round of negotiations,” according to the Hemayat daily.

Impact on Iran

There’s no doubt the Trump/Kim summit will increase pressure on the Iranian regime domestically and internationally. Signs indicate a growing number of parties will be demanding Tehran to finalize its decision between:

a) Entering new talks with Washington after succumbing to the 12 conditions raised by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

b) Standing firm on a 40-year long position and continuing their belligerence across the board.

Neglected in the past four decades is the fact that Iran has kicked the can down the road on this issue and taken advantage of surrounding developments to prolong its very existence.

The important factor here is the difference between North Korea and the Iranian regime. Despite the variety of claims heard about the result of the Trump/Kim agreement, North Korea’s capacity made such a change in policy and strategy possible. The Iranian regime, on the other hand, lacks any such aptitude, proven in the past four decades.

People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)

Tehran is not Pyongyang

Another issue gone neglected is the fact that North Korea has never faced resistance from within or an organized opposition movement. While such a factor has plagued the Iranian regime ever since day one back in 1979.

This goes to prove that the deciding factor in Iran are the people and their opposition movement, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This movement has encouraged and organized protests and uprisings for the past 40 years, especially since the Dec/Jan nationwide protests that swept 142 cities across Iran.

This phenomenon is Tehran’s main concern and Pyongyang has been free of any such dilemma. Iran’s society is a powder keg ready to explode and regime officials acknowledge the fact that their apparatus is facing 21 super challenges on a daily basis. This slate includes:

• The deep and increasing rift between the people and the ruling regime,

• The incurable trust divide as people continuously lose faith in anyone with any association to this regime,

• The people’s abhorrence of the regime being present in every part of their daily lives,

• The active presence of educated women in daily protests,

• The climaxing water shortage crisis witnessed in numerous areas of the country,

• Unemployment and skyrocketing prices,

• Brain drain and the increasing flow of billions in currency exiting the country.

It is interesting how the status quo is the psychological impact of Trump exiting the nuclear deal as the 90-day and 180-day deadlines for returning sanctions have yet to arrive.

In such circumstances, with or without sanctions, with or without negotiations, the Iranian people will relentlessly continue their struggle against this regime.