Iran’s presidential election: Nothing new after 38 years

We were recently witness to the first debate of Iran’s 2017 presidential election, which can be evaluated from a variety of perspectives.  One simple conclusion is that all candidates failed to provide any hope for a better future.

Remembering how the 2009 debates paved the way for nationwide uprisings, rattling the regime’s entire establishment, this year’s debate was shortened in timing to prevent any uncontrollable sparks.  Despite all this, the arguments provided a vivid view into the regime’s critical domestic crises.

More important is the fact that, similar to all previous so-called “elections” in this regime, no candidate was able to provide a comprehensive political and economic agenda.  Twelve rounds of presidential elections, parliamentary polls, and votes for city councils have provided nothing but more of the same.

Why is it that nothing changes in Iran?  Why is it that with a new president in the U.S., all policies are completely refurbished, including immigration, health, education, and so forth?  The Trump administration’s foreign policy is being overhauled, to say the least.

Why is it that in smaller countries more similar to Iran – say, the Philippines, Chile, or Turkey – a new government brings with it changes across the spectrum in people’s lives, all linked to the state’s domestic and foreign policies?

Yet when it comes to Iran, we see nothing but a cycle of the same factions coming and going, while further plundering the country’s wealth and making the least difference in people’s lives.

The reason must be pursued in the very roots and nature of this regime.  This is a dictatorship ruled by the four percent, as described by presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the recent debate.  A vast 96% majority of Iran’s population remains under the wrath of this cruel minority that relies on a completely fascist-minded set of laws resembling anything but a constitution.

And when elections are held, all candidates are vigorously vetted by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 conservative clerics, of whom six are appointed directly and the other six indirectly by the supreme leader himself.  And when a president is actually selected, he is nothing more than a puppet, acting according to the supreme leader’s will.  Based on the regime’s “constitution,” the president’s authority must be confirmed by the supreme leader no matter what the people have “voted.”

All this brings us to a certain set of conclusions:

Firstly – The president in Iran has no true power or authority, as the supreme leader enjoys the final say in all subjects, including national security and foreign affairs.

Secondly – No regime president has ever had any specific economic-social agenda.  Assuming any one of them had prepared such a blueprint, his agenda would need to be in complete compliance with the supreme leader’s demands.

Thus, one may ask the purpose of holding elections in such an establishment.

Mohammad-Tai Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential senior cleric in the mullahs’ ruling elite, provided probably the best response in an interview:

Elections have two purposes[.] … [T]he nation considers itself involved in establishing a religious state. As a result, they will further strive in supporting a state established with their backing, leading to the realization of important religious state goals.

The second purpose is … the importance of the people’s role and votes disarming opponents. They intended to depict this Islamic establishment as authoritarian. However, when the people’s votes are respected, opponents will lose all excuses[.]

This brings us back to our initial argument: as faces change in this regime, it is to no avail for the greater good of the people.

For example:

  • The so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, doubled the number of executions in comparison to 1996 and quadrupled them in comparison to 1995!
  • The so-called “principalist” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was even worse, and the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani has stood above all with a record of 3,000 executions in four years.
  • Poverty and human rights violations have been on a continuous increase.  Iran has 16 intelligence services, and the numbers could go up, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
  • The mullahs’ own laws define around 1,800 counts of crimes that people must not commit!  The slate includes what clothes to wear, what to eat, what to read, and what satellite TV they are permitted to watch.  It is worth noting that France has only 300 such criminal measures.
  • The country’s national currency has constantly nosedived.
  • Embezzlement cases have been on the rise year after year.
  • Meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries, including Iran’s involvement in Syria, has climaxed.  This has been parallel to Tehran continuing its nuclear program and ballistic missile drive.

Neither in domestic policy nor foreign strategy can we pinpoint any significant differences among Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani.

To this end, don’t hold your breath or have any hope that the May 19 presidential “election” – read: “selection” – will render anything new from within the mullahs’ regime.

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Iran Nuclear Deal Continues to Raise Concerns

One would think critics of the Iran nuclear deal would have raised all the flawed aspects of the accord during former President Barack Obama’s tenure or new President Donald Trump’s first days in office. If so, think twice, as new revelations indicate Obama conceded far beyond what we already knew about.

Politico’s Josh Meyer wrote an eye-opening investigative report unveiling how the Obama team freed seven apprehended Iranians by overruling the judgment of veteran prosecutors, while publicly claiming merely economic sanctions were violated by the discussed individuals. The truth was, however, through their membership in a weapons procurement entity, these Iranians posed major threats to US national security.

To add insult to injury, the Obama administration went further in dropping all charges against 14 fugitives, despite clear evidence gathered by US authorities showing their involvement in smuggling advanced weaponry to Iran and its terrorist associates. This measure signaled an end to international arrest warrant efforts against the 14 individuals, and all the while the Obama administration was busy hindering all attempts to seek their apprehension:

“The major issue is not [attaining] an agreement, but ensuring the actual implementation of the agreement in practice. The number…

“The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the US ‘also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.’”

Senior White House, State Department and Justice Department officials time and again went the distance to deny requests filed by prosecutors seeking to lure one of the 14 fugitives to a US-friendly country to implement a plan for their arrest. To this end, the arms merchants were able to use the opportunity to evade the net of US law enforcement. One can speculate they are now safe in Iran.

Extradition efforts targeting in-custody suspects were also stalled by Obama’s people, parallel to the slow-walking of probes and prosecution procedures focusing on US-based procurement,

According to Meyer’s report, the Obama administration was successful in deliberately derailing its own measures at very crucial moments:

“Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

In effect, this provided Iran a green light to continue ignoring and defying international law.

When the seven were released, the Obama White House claimed such this “one-time gesture” had ended in the release of “civilians” to render the freedom of Americans who were illegally apprehended by the Iranian regime on bogus charges:

“In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as ‘civilians.’ The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere ‘sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.’”

It is quite obvious that such an Iran appeasement policy hinged on and came at the price of doing whatever was needed to get Iran to sign a highly-flawed nuclear agreement, and resorting to whatever lies necessary in selling the pact to the American people:

All this came as proof to Iran of how desperate Obama was, and how far he would go, providing Tehran the exact circumstances to take full advantage.

Iran’s mullahs further sensed such weakness in the Obama administration as it failed to enforce its red line regarding Bashar Assad’s chemical attacks, and thus green-lighting Iran’s involvement in Syria.

The irony, as I explained in Forbes piece back in February, lies in the fact that while Obama was busy selling the deal, Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were actively taking advantage of the pact’s benefits.

“In the past 18 months Khamenei-controlled companies, including the IRGC conglomerate, have sealed deals with foreign companies valued at over $11 billion…

”Debate over the JCPOA’s future remains a major issue. If kept intact despite all its flaws, the U.S. should fully implement all articles and have each and every loophole sealed. This initiative can be coupled with further sanctions punishing Iran’s lethal meddling across the Middle East, pursuing a dangerous ballistic missile program and atrocious human rights violations.”

Parallel to an extensive JCPOA review, the next necessary step forward for the Trump administration in adopting a new Iran approach is to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, and thus showing Iran that the devastating appeasement policy championed by the Obama administration has come to an end.

This will correctly place America alongside the Iranian people in the effort to bring about regime change that will result in a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran.

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

ANALYSIS: Iran feeling US policy shift after Obama

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, known to lead a regime based on a mantra of “Death to America,” has been cautiously silent ever since US President Donald Trump took the helm in the White House.

With a recent medium-range ballistic missile test launch backfiring severely, both politically and substantially–the vessel exploded during reentry into Earth’s orbit–the regime leader, who has the final word on all national security and foreign affairs, is maintaining a low profile.

The new White House lashed back with a series of measures Tehran has not been used to, especially after enjoying eight years of the Obama administration’s highly flawed appeasement policy.

Tensions escalated last week following Iran’s missile test confirmation, triggering US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn using his first public appearance to lash back a staunch warning, placing Tehran “on notice.” Trump has been very active, to say the least, taking to Twitter and warning Iran about the high contrast between he and his predecessor. “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

And his administration wasted no time before the weekend by slapping a new slate of economic sanctions targeting 25 Iranian individuals and entities involved in Iran’s missile program, while suggesting the possibility of more to come. “President Donald Trump’s press secretary suggested Friday afternoon that more sanctions, and even military action, could be on the way,” reports indicate.

Khamenei’s silence

And to add insult to injury, US Defense Secretary James Mattis, in his first foreign visit, labelled Iran as the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.”

Despite Fridays traditionally providing a platform for senior Iranian officials to voice positions over foreign affairs and pump back the spirit lost among their dwindling social base, Khamenei remained silent. And this is a time where his Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basijis are in most need of his so-called guidance.

These are all signs of the Iranian regime establishment being caught off guard after trekking into uncharted Trump waters. With its ballistic missile Tehran was actually testing the new Trump administration. The mullahs are now highly regretting such a poorly calculated measure.

Interesting is the fact that the pro-appeasement camp is continuing their old tactics of warning how Iran may do this and that. “…terrorist attacks against Americans, attacks by Shiite militias against the thousands of American troops in Iraq, or pressure on the Iraqi government to deny the United States access to the bases where it trains Iraqi security forces,” wrote Philip Gordon in The New York Times. Gordon was Obama’s White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region from 2013 to 2015.

After leaving the entire region in mayhem by handing Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate and cowardly failing to take any meaningful measure against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after declaring a so-called chemical attack “red line”, any individual in any way even merely affiliated to the Obama Doctrine is not in any position to make any comment about how the new White House should blueprint its Middle East policy.

The golden era

Iran understands very well that the Obama “golden era”, as one figure close to former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani put it, is over. And the recent saga, from Tehran’s January 29th missile test to the sanctions imposed by the Trump White House on February 3rd, forecasts stormy weather conditions for the mullahs.

As the Trump administration weighs various measures vis-à-vis Iran, there are a few issues worth keeping in mind. The past 16 years have proven that foreign military intervention and an appeasement/engagement/rapprochement approach have failed miserably. And yet, there is a third option for the US to consider: standing alongside the Iranian people in their struggle to establish freedom and democracy in their country.

Considering its significant role in domestic crackdown, foreign military intervention and most significantly the involvement in Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile drive, the first and very effective step forward in this roadmap is to blacklist Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

To this end, all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies will be banned, as proposed by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Welcoming the new US sanctions on Iran, the NCRI is an alliance of dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), best known for first blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

After Obama turned its back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and sold them out to the mullahs’, the Trump administration placing the IRGC in its crosshairs sends a message to the Iranian people that this new administration stands shoulder to shoulder in their efforts to be free.

BLACKLIST IRAN’S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS

The right signal to Tehran’s mullahs.

It is a known historical fact that actions speak louder than words. Iran is beginning to understand this loud and clear with a new administration in Washington.

U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, in his first public appearance, issued a stark warning Wednesday in response to Tehran’s latest ballistic missile test and continued support for Shiite Houthi proxies in Yemen.

The main apparatus behind Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling across the Middle East, suspicious nuclear drive and horrendous domestic crackdown is none other than the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Shiite militias trained, financed and armed by the IRGC have also killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.

Supplementary reports indicate U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, intended to send a firm message to the mullahs: you may have enjoyed such leeway during Barack Obama’s tenure. But no more.

As Flynn condemned Iran’s recent medium-range ballistic missile test–which ended in failure–he went on to warn Tehran over instigating instability across the region.

Such a reaction marks a serious, and long due, tonal difference necessary in Washington vis-à-vis Iran. For too long the mullahs’ took advantage of the Obama “golden era” as they viewed it, furthering their reach across the region with their involvement in Syria and Iraq, both leading to unspeakable atrocities.

Iran has resorted to its old tactic of testing the new Trump administration and risking a bold move to win points domestically amongst a small, and depleting, social base. Yet this new measure is beginning to backfire significantly, unlike what Iran enjoyed during the past eight years.

President Trump is also considering how to approach the Iran nuclear deal, which he threatened to tear up during the elections campaign.

As heated discussions continue in this regard, the Trump administration should begin “vigorously enforcing” the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan of Arkansas.

For example, there should be no more toleration of Iran violating already excessive limits set on sensitive heavy water production.

While Washington is preparing to slap new sanctions and ratchet up further punishment measures against Iran by possibly beefing up military presence in the flashpoint Persian Gulf region, one silver-bullet-type measure is available with the potential of inflicting damning results on the mullahs.

The IRGC, considering its role in spearheading Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nuclear drive and meddling across the Middle East, should be blacklisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctioned appropriately.

Such an initiative enjoys support in Congress.

U.S. lawmakers have called on the new administration to support designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. They cited its ongoing support of the Assad regime, where hundreds of thousands have been killed during the civil war,” reports show.

Iran’s “missile program is against the Iranian people’s interest and must be stopped,” Maryam Rajavi, President of the main Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said recently.

“Banning all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies” are further necessary measures proposed by Rajavi.

The NCRI is a coalition dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), enjoying a history of consistently unveiling various aspects of Iran’s nuclear programballistic missile initiativesmeddling across the region and human rights violations.

The IRGC has become a vast political and economic empire in Iran, enjoying an iron grip and “network of companies that came to dominate Iranian industries from energy to telecommunications,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The IRGC is also known to broker deals with China, as the country’s oil-hungry economy seeks to increase crude imports.

Other measures include enforcing travel bans already imposed on IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the man who visited Moscow and begged the Russians to rush to Bashar Assad’s support in Syria, and who has been roaming the streets of FallujahMosul and Aleppo.

Iran is also vehemently seeking a United Nations blessing to begin executing a $10 billion purchase of Russian conventional weapons. While the Obama administration turned a blind-eye to Russia’s delivery of the S-300 anti-air missile system to Iran, Washington can make it clear to Moscow that any further arms deals with Iran will significantly damage bilateral relations.

To this end, the Trump administration has before it a variety of measures that can effectively teach Iran’s mullahs a dire lesson. The IRGC is the entity the mullahs consider most dear, and should be the focus of Trump’s crosshairs.

Originally published in FrontPage Magazine