Is Iran’s enhanced ballistic missile capability a calculated move?

As the North Korea nuclear standoff and the future of Iran’s nuclear deal has absorbed an all-too enormous amount of international attention, a more important prism on Iran’s regional hostility must not go neglected.

During the United Nations General Assembly the controversial nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), took center stage once again. All the while Tehran has throughout the years overtly and covertly pursued a massive campaign hinging on meddling and extending its lethal ideology of Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East.

The rendered atrocities can be witnessed across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. This threatens the very fabric of the Middle East populace and bears the potential of plunging this flashpoint region into an abyss of proxy wars resulting in nothing but infernos of carnage.

Broken promises

As the Obama administration sought to sell the JCPOA to the American people, US allies and the international community, they claimed a different Iran would emerge as a responsible member of the global neighborhood and the Middle East would be the first region to enjoy the boasted outcome. Some even claimed Iran would become this region’s Japan.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the sidelines of his UNGA meetings. While Iran has enjoyed a rift between Europe and the US, Berlin made remarks sinking deep into the minds of those sitting on the throne in Tehran.

“The Americans are right: Iran is still not playing a constructive role in the Middle East, be it in Yemen or Lebanon,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in a statement. The Green Continent has also welcomed the idea of cooperating with Washington with the aim of containing Iran’s Middle East thirst, especially considering growing concerns over Iran’s dangerous role in Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa and Beirut.

This train of thought also bears backing amongst Middle East states. “Two years have passed since Iran’s nuclear agreement with no sign of change in its hostile behavior; it continues to develop its nuclear program and violates the letter and spirit of that agreement,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahayan said during his UN General Assembly speech.

Yemen: The strategic state

Despite being a very poor country, the geostrategic importance of Yemen is undeniable. This is the very reason why al-Qaeda sought to establish a major foothold in Saudi Arabia’s back yard and now Iran vehemently continues its support of the Houthis in destabilizing this country and the vital international waters adjacent to its shores.

Tehran is continuing its efforts of smuggling illicit weapons and technology to prolong the Houthis’ campaign, according to Vice Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, the top US Navy commander in the Middle East. These measures stoke civil strife in Yemen and enable the Houthis to launch more precise and longer ranged missiles into its northern neighbor.

The Houthis are also receiving an “increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border,” reported The New York Times citing Donegan’s remarks.

While there has been significant success in the initiative against Iran’s meddling in Yemen, the continuing crisis resembles the lethal potential of Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and its current focus on strategic junctures, such as this country’s influence over imperative shipping lines.

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016. (Reuters)

Iran’s growing reach

Further grounds of Iran not changing habits following the JCPOA signing are found in its violation of a related accord, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, by continuing to test launch a range of ballistic missiles.

As recently as Friday Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile as Rouhani increased his rhetoric against Washington through repeating the claim of this regime only seeking its defensive interests. In an even more provocative measure, the medium-range Khorramshahr missile was successfully test launched on Saturday. As claimed by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency, this new weapon has a range of 2,000 kilometers (nearly 1,250 miles) and enjoys the capability of carrying multiple warheads.

This raised strong responses across the board, including US President Donald Trump questioning the JCPOA altogether and accusing Tehran of colluding with Pyongyang. In line with such concerns, Francealso called on the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deliver a full report on the recent missile test.

Rouhani’s emphasis on seeking to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capability is a completely calculated move. All the while it needs understanding that such rhetoric from senior Iranian officials are aimed at maintaining a straight face back home, and not appearing to give in to pressures raised by the international community.

Iran is also busy exporting weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah and a slate of other terrorist and proxy groups. This conglomerate of violations reached the point of Team Obama alumni Samantha Power, former US envoy to the UN, felt obligated to highlight the cases. This is probably Rouhani’s definition of being a “moderate.”

Electing vetted candidates

Of course, this is the same individual who back in May, after reaching a second term through a process dubbed as an “election” carried out amongst vetted candidates said, “We are proud of our armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the Basij and the security forces.”

The IRGC is the godfather of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drive, in charge of quelling all forms of domestic dissent, and exporting the regime’s so-called “Islamic Revolution” abroad. For this very purpose, Iran has for decades fostered the rise of proxy offspring armies including the likes of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Obama’s JCPOA and windfall of billions also provided Iran the opportunity to continue fueling terrorist groups across the region and even marshalling foot-soldiers from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan to Syria to help maintain Syrian dictator Bashar Assad remain on his throne.

As a train of thought has remained intact from Obama’s flawed policies, there are voices who have gone as far as describing Iran being a “major diplomatic, military, and economic player throughout the Middle East and even into Central and Southwest Asia.” Unfortunately, this plays into Tehran’s hands and upgrades the dogma practiced vis-à-vis Tehran for the past four decades, rendering nothing but escalating death and destruction.

If Iran enjoys “considerable influence” in countries across the region it is not due to its righteous cause. Tehran, in fact, owes a great deal of gratitude to West for its tireless policy of rapprochement. Iran must be isolated, and this is not tantamount to a call for a new Middle East war. Imagining this regime can be a party to be constructively reckoned with is in fact naïve.

Broken promises

It has become crystal clear that the JCPOA has not lived up to its promises. The Middle East has evolved into a mess due to Iran’s meddling, leading to Europe leaning toward US’ position of pressuring Tehran to bring an end to its regional carnage.

For far too long Iran has taken advantage of its nuclear program and ambitions to advance its Middle East influence. This must come to an end, parallel to increasing international pressures on its nuclear/ballistic missile drive, support for terrorism and human rights violations at home.

For nearly four decades Tehran has utilized the engagement approach by the West based on the mistaken perspective on playing “nice” with Iran to encourage change. This has resulted in a Middle East engulfed in war, death and destruction, cloaked by the international brouhaha Iran has launched through its nuclear program.

All of the Iranian regime’s animosities deserve due attention in parallel fashion. Its regional meddling and support for terrorism should be top priority. One such solution was recently provided by Walid Phares, former Trump foreign policy advisor, for Washington to use the Arab coalition and Iranian opposition as means against Tehran.

ANALYSIS: Revisiting Iran’s 9/11 connection

16 years have passed since that tragic day, September 11, 2001, when over 3,000 innocent people lost their lives in the “the largest mass casualty terrorist attack in US history.” The course of modern history changed as we know it.

For more than 15 of these past years the policy of appeasement has withheld the international community from adopting the will needed to bring all the perpetrators of this hideous crime to justice.

Iran has a history of fueling foreign crises to avoid responding to its own domestic concerns. 9/11 provided the window of opportunity to derail world attention to other states and buy Tehran crucially needed time.

Unfortunately, the regime ruling Iran has been the main benefactor of the 9/11 aftermath. As a result of two wars in the Middle East the entire region has been left wide open for Tehran to take advantage of and spread its sinister ideology and sectarianism.

It is hence necessary to highlight Iran’s role in 9/11 attacks and demand the senior Iranian regime hierarchy involved in blueprinting and implementing this attack to be held accountable before the law.

Warmongering history

For the past four decades Iran has been ruled by a clerical regime that is simply incapable of providing the society’s needs and demands. To this end, Tehran has resorted to a policy of exporting the “Islamic Revolution” by meddling in neighboring and distant countries to create havoc.

History has recorded how Iraq invaded Iranian territories and caused the beginning of the devastating eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War. Several months before Iraq launched its military attack, Ayatollah Khomeini, accused of hijacking Iran’s 1979 revolution, described then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a “hypocrite” and a “threat for the Iraqi people.”

Khomeini went as far as calling on the Iraqi people to “place their entire efforts behind destroying this dangerous individual” and the Iraqi army to “flee their forts” and to “rise and destroy this corrupt individual, and appoint another individual in his place. We will support you in this regard.”

Fast forward more than two decades, and again with Iraq in its crosshairs, Iran began what has been described as a very complicated effort to literally deceive the US intelligence community.

Ahmad Challabi, dubbed as “The Manipulator” by The New Yorker, was Iran’s front man in feeding the US false information regarding Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify Washington’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The war ultimately eliminated the main obstacle before Iran’s hidden occupation of Iraq and full blown meddling across the Middle East.

Looking further west in the region, Iran ordered Bashar Assad in Syria and former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to facilitate the escape of thousands of al-Qaeda prisoners. This development, parallel to the ruthless crackdown of the two countries’ Sunni communities, led to the rise of ISIS.

This entire episode provided Iran the necessary pretext to justify its presence in Iraq and Syria, especially through tens of thousands of proxy forces.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Eyad Allawi (picture) says the current Iraqi government is backed by Iran and the United States. (Al Arabiya)

The 9/11 facts

bipartisan commission in Washington investigated the 9/11 attacks reported strong evidence exists showing Iran “facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

Up to 10 of the 14 hijackers involved in 9/11, and specifically behind obtaining control of the four aircrafts, were allowed passage through Iran from October 2000 to February 2001. Reports indicate Iran has a history of ordering certain instructions to not harass transiting al-Qaeda members.

Such documents also show Iran’s offspring, the Lebanese Hezbollah, trained alongside al-Qaeda members during the 1990s, leading to the former possibly adopting the latter’s suicide bombing tactics.

“…al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support,” according to TIME report.

Evidence shows that five years later, “Iran and Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah being involved ‘firsthand’ in the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” an Al Arabiya feature said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari on May 20, 2015. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)

Facilitation and execution

In early 2016, Judge George Daniels of New York “condemned Iran for facilitating the execution of the terrorist attacks that hit both New York and Washington.” This lawsuit provided an in-depth look into nearly 300 cases of Iran’s involvement in funding terrorism and collaborating with terror organizations, including al-Qaeda.

“The trial revealed that bin Laden, current leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh – assassinated in 2008 – and other Iranian attaches had met in Sudan to establish an alliance supporting terrorism,” the piece adds.

To those who may argue Shiite Iran would never support a Sunni al-Qaeda, it is hardly unprecedented to find such backing by Tehran for non-Shiite terror groups. Sunni terrorists that share Iran’s goals, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, alongside those who target US interests, have for long enjoyed Iran’s support.

As mentioned above, “Iran also played an important role in supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq, the progenitor of ISIS. As Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan noted in their 2015 book ‘ISIS: Insider the Army of Terror,’ AQI head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was ‘based in Iran and northern Iraq’ for ‘about a year’ after fleeing Afghanistan following the arrival of US-led coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom,” according to The Washington Times.

As cited earlier, Iran also stands accused of having “foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks,” according to a 2011 court filing quoting two Iranian intelligence service defectors. These individuals were “in positions that gave them access to sensitive information regarding Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism,” the piece continues.

The court went on to demand damages due to Iran’s “direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history,” according to The New York Times. The suit also contends that in addition to facilitating the 9/11 hijackers training and travel, Iran and Hezbollah played an important role in the escaping of numerous al-Qaeda operatives by providing safe haven inside Iran.

“… 9/11 depended upon Iranian assistance to Al Qaeda in acquiring clean passports and visas to enter the United States,” the NYT cited Thomas E. Mellon Jr., a former lawyer for the 9/11 victims’ families, saying by quoting ten specialists working on Iran and terrorism.

“I am convinced that our evidence is absolutely real—that Iran was a participant in the preparations for 9/11,” Mellon said in another interview with The Daily Beast.

“Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement, and they have to do that,” Trump said. (AFP)

Lack of will

Iran would have every interest in facilitating the 9/11 attacks to divert international attention onto its rivals, while providing the opportunity for its forces and proxies to take full advantage of rendering mayhem across the region. A glance of the current status in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon proves this point.

For too long investigations have failed to shed the necessary light into Iran’s role into the 9/11 attacks. Even the Commission, accused of never properly grappling the question of Iran’s knowledge prior to 9/11, nearly neglected very important facts gathered by the US National Security Agency about Tehran’s deep involvement in this regard.

The Commission “failed to delve into the files of the National Security Agency, where the Iran intelligence was waiting to be discovered, until the final stages of the commission’s inquiry,” according to Philip Shenon’s The Daily Beast article.

“… my suspicions are that the Iranians were probably much more involved than we are led to believe,” Middle East political scientist Dr. Joseph A. Kéchichian said to Al Arabiya.

Staffers formerly working for the 9/11 commission have complained that much of the remaining NSA’s pre-9/11 terrorism database has gone un-reviewed to this very day. This goes as far as suggesting a long slate of 9/11 secrets may have remained hidden for the past 16 years. Do we not owe more to the 9/11 victims and their families?

There is promise seen in the new US administration as it continues to turn up the heat on Iran. Yet until a lack of will prevents the launching of a new genuine inquiry into Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks, it is up to us writers and journalists to dig deep and expose Tehran’s relations with terror groups across the globe, especially those involved in the horrific acts that changed our world 16 years ago today.

All this becomes ever so necessary as Tehran covertly pursues its nuclear weapons drive and overtly seeks payload delivery capability through ballistic missiles. We must learn from the mistakes made in regards to North Korea and go the limits to prevent a rogue regime such as Iran from going down the same path.

Is Iran expanding its spying and lobbying efforts?

The Iranian intelligence minister’s recent remarks, pertaining to Tehran overseeing a spy/lobby network in important capitals across the world, is cause for concern. Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s spy chief, bragged about the regime’s capability to run a lobby group in Washington with the aim of promoting Tehran’s hardline agenda.

According to Alavi, Iranian dual citizens in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have maintained their loyalty to the “Islamic revolution,” the mullahs’ hallmark motto ever since 1979, through which they have wreaked havoc across the region and beyond.

A “lobby group for the Islamic Republic of Iran” is actively bolstering Tehran’s status in the international stage and helping to sell and legitimize its nuclear ambitions as just causes to the globe, Alavi claimed

The head of Iran’s intelligence apparatus did not bother to name the specific lobby entity. One certain group, however, the National Iranian American Council, has been the target of major criticism in the past several months, with accusations of the group lobbying on Tehran’s behalf. Various dissident organizations are demanding the Trump administration to launch an official probe digging into NIAC’s history and nature of its current events.

Congress has also been petitioned to investigate ties between Iran and the NIAC, and the latter’s active drive to promote a pro-Tehran agenda in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chair the foreign affairs committees in each chamber of Congress, have received specific letters signaling the importance of urgent action in this regard.

NIAC was once again under the spotlight this January for its actions of presenting a positive image of the Iran nuclear deal and advocating a pro-diplomatic approach with Tehran. The media reported extensively on how two senior Iranian regime supporters, former Iranian nuclear diplomat Hossein Mousavian and NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi, enjoyed access to the Obama White House on more than 30 occasions, conducting meetings with senior administration officials.

Such meetings took place at critical points of the Obama administration’s decision-making process and engagement with Iran in their effort to push forward the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Alavi’s recent remarks are source for serious concern as entities advocating Iran’s agenda in the American capital are obliged by the Foreign Agents Registration Act to disclose the nature of their work. This even includes conditions where the relationship does not involve money exchanges, at least not through legal and opaque channels.

A legitimate question now hovers over the possibility of any ties between the groups referred to by Iran’s intelligence minister and the Islamic Republic’s positions on foreign policy.

Another just query circles around the many visits Parsi has made to the White House and the State Department during former President Obama‘s tenure, and can they be attributed to what the Iranian intelligence minister describes as lobbying for Tehran.

Any group seen to be advocating the promotion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and caring less about the Iranian people’s human rights and the regime’s crackdown, should be subject of suspicion.

For years Iran has been known to forward an official plot of boosting relations with groups promoting anti-war and pro-regime policies in the West. Improving contacts with Iranian dual nationals living in the West has been high on Tehran’s agenda on this matter.

One major task of this network has been discrediting those opposing the regime in Tehran and taking measures against any efforts voicing support for Iran regime change. The main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its most important member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been the constant target of smear campaigns launched and orchestrated by the Iranian regime and NIAC.

Their nightmare involves Washington discussing possibilities with Iranian opposition groups, and upscaling the effort into direct cooperation aimed at further sanctions and ultimately regime change.

Originally published in Washington Examiner

Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner and an Iranian human rights activist.

Analysis: The Iranian regime and evolution of ISIS

Support for international terrorism received a major boost the moment the mullahs hijacked Iran’s 1979 revolution. After a very short-lived period of a so-called open political atmosphere, their thugs organized in the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and paramilitary Basij militia, launched a campaign of oppression, arrests, torture and executions targeting not only dissidents, but anyone daring to raise a voice.

Born was “the first ISIS” and through the past 38 years this entity has proven to be more ruthless than anything resembled today in ISIS. Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, sitting on the throne in Tehran, was determined to focus all power under his grip, unleashing his wrath against all Iranians.

As he established his crackdown apparatus, Khomeini began setting his sights abroad, imposing his hegemonic desires through a doctrine of suicide attacks. The IRGC began training numerous proxy groups to help spread the Khomeini’s terror under the pretext of Islam.

Khomeini’s “ISIS” in Iran, more than three decades before ISIS’s charge from Syria into northern Iraq, became the nesting ground for many fledgling groups now wreaking havoc across the Middle East, Europe and as far away as Argentina.

This is Khomeini’s ideology of “Islamic Revolution,” spreading his foul interpretation of a divine religion. He dreamed of a Shiite empire and to this end started targeting all potential countries beginning with Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and so forth.

Lethal campaign

Iran’s lethal campaign has resulted in death and destruction across the Middle East. Over a million killed and hundreds of billions lost in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Countless others killed and injured in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, which Iran used to covertly occupy this land and destroy the lives of so many. Not to mention half a million killed and over 11 million displaced from their homes in the Iran-backed inferno engulfing Syria.

All this has been parallel to Tehran’s spree of assassinations against dissidents exiled across Europe. Iranian intelligence service, using embassies across the Green Continent as safe houses to dispatch their killers, began eliminating exiled dissidents in a campaign dubbed as the “chain murders.”

While pursuing this onslaught, Khomeini’s successor, now Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has continuously maintained executions up at an atrocious rate. Understanding the threat of any day passing without at least one execution somewhere in Iran, even the so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rowhani has a report card of nearly 3,000 executions during his four year tenure.

Yet probably the most atrocious carnage of all launched was aimed at cleansing an entire generation by massacring over 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Most of these victims were members and supporters of main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Iran also has no tolerance for freedom of speech as academics, bloggers and journalists are targeted and quelled by the regime’s crackdown apparatus. The West must come to realize this true nature of Iran’s regime.

The international community’s failure to adopt serious measures against the mullahs has encouraged Tehran to continue hangings and lethal meddling across the Middle East. This is Iran’s campaign of establishing a “Shiite Crescent,” again launched decades before any notion of Daesh and its onslaught in the Levant and Mesopotamia.

Thanks to the Obama administration, Iran received Iraq in a silver plate and enjoys significant influence over Assad with troops in Syria. This has also encouraged Tehran to look further. “The victory in Aleppo will pave the way for liberating Bahrain,” said IRGC General Hossein Salami.

Rest assured one day the world will come to realize how ISIS considered Khomeini, the founder of the first ever “ISIS,” as its mentor on how to spread their reign of terror. No wonder the Iranian people consider the current mullahs ruling Iran, all minions of Khomeini, the Godfathers of ISIS.

Is there a solution?

“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group consisting of a long slate of various Iranian dissident groups, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The administration of Donald Trump, as advised in a hand-delivered letter written by 23 senior former American government officials, enjoys the opportunity to adopt a policy supporting the Iranian people’s call for regime change. This goes in line with President Trump’s first position against “radical Islamic terrorism,” terrifying the Iranian regime from top to bottom.

“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth,” President Trump said.