ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s influence fading in Lebanon and Yemen?

Recent developments across the region are signaling increasing isolation for Tehran. Despite investing for decades, Lebanon and Yemen are literally slipping out of Iran’s hands.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sent shockwaves across the region by announcing his resignation. The recent missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen targeting Riyadh crossed a costly red line for Tehran.

Turning point in Lebanon

In Hariri’s own words, Iran and Hezbollah had literally taken the entire country of Lebanon hostage, making it impossible to carry out his duties.

Evidence also revealed an assassination plot threatening his life. Western and Arab intelligence services unveiled how his entourage was targeted, in a blueprint similar to his father’s assassination.

“Those who planned to assassinate prime minister Hariri deactivated the observation towers while his motorcade was passing by,” Reuters wired citing Al Arabiya.

YEMEN-CONFLICT-POLITICS-HUTHI
Supporters of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement gather in Sanaa on September 21, 2017. (AFP)

Three issues related to this development are worth pondering over:
1) Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh only one day after his meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.
2) The United States launched a new Iran policy targeting this regime’s destabilization and terrorism across the region.
3) Hezbollah has come under severe sanctions, including three bills passed by the US House of Representatives on October 25th.
a. H.R. 359 calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
b. H.R. 3342 sanctioning Hezbollah for using innocent civilians as human shields
c. H.R. 3329, known as HIFPA, targets Hezbollah’s international financial support

In short, Hariri’s resignation changed all calculations for Iran in Lebanon.

A look into the past

After a long stalemate Lebanon established a government on 18th December 2016, seeing Hariri as the prime minister and Michel Aoun as president. Lebanon’s power structure and political fabrication comprises of a Christian president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite head of parliament.

This combination provided a major advantage for Iran, carrying out all its crimes under the cover of a legitimate Sunni government. Hezbollah is attacking its dissidents in Lebanon, under the pretext of Lebanese Army operations. This terrorist designated entity is also using Lebanon’s financial infrastructure for its own benefit.

This farce legitimacy is now coming to an end. Hariri himself said the status quo could not continue.

Concerns and reactions

Iran and Hezbollah are both sensing the dangers ahead after Hariri’s resignation. “Without a doubt this resignation has raised our concerns and we did not welcome it,” said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.

Media in Iran are known to voice the general opinion of its ruling regime. “It appears that Hariri’s resignation is the operational beginning of this strategy in the region, with the ground being paved by the US Congress sanctioning [Iran] and Hezbollah,” according to the semi-official Entekhab daily.

A shot period after Hariri’s resignation, the Houthis in Yemen launched a missile targeting the King Salman International Airport near Riyadh.

“Iran has provided the capability for ballistic missile attacks launched from Yemen,” wire services reported citing Jeffrey Harrigian, commander for southwest Asia at the US Air Forces Central Command on Friday.

“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Harrigian added.

One can raise three possible reasons for this retaliation by Iran:
– A response to the blow received from Hariri’s resignation.
– The Houthis are suffering a series of setbacks on the ground.
– The United Nations has proposed peace plans for Yemen. The Houthis missile launch signals Iran’s response to peace and any negotiations whatsoever in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition accused Iran of launching a “direct military aggression” and declaring war, threatening possible retaliation. Article 51 of the UN Charter entails countries the right to take defensive military action in such scenarios. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said adequate action will be taken at the proper timing.

Two air strikes targeting the defense ministry in Yemen’s militant-held capital Sanaa late Friday were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to witnesses and rebel media. No casualties were reported.

Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target. (Screengrab)

Iran’s paradox

Iranian military officials, however, denied any part in the Riyadh missile attack. “We don’t even have the means to transfer missiles there,” said Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, understanding the consequences in this regard.

This is the very individual who threatened all US bases in the region in the case of IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the IRGC without any such response from Iran.

Furthermore, the Houthis lack the necessary industrial capacity to manufacture light weapons, let alone ballistic missiles. Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target.

“… where shall be the next target for long-range ballistic missile: maybe Riyadh, Jaddah, Taef and ARAMCO…,” it wrote.

International response

The ballistic missile launch is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. UNSC Resolution 2216 bans any provision of weapons for Houthi leaders in Yemen. UNSC Resolution 2231 specifically prohibits Iran from transferring and selling weapons abroad without Security Council consent.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for the world body to take action against Iran in response to this ballistic missile attack. Yemen lacked such hardware prior to Iran’s support and delivery of weaponry to the Houthis.

The White House condemned the Houthis missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, adding they threatened regional security and undermined efforts aimed at halting the conflict. France and the United Kingdom also condemned these measures, followed by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh where he stressed on pressuring Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Consequences of appeasement

Iran and Houthis reaching the point of launching such an attack can be traced back to eight years of appeasement by the Obama administration. Despite the UNSC obligating the Houthis to handover heavy weaponry, pull forces out of all cities and transfer all administrational entities to the officially recognized government, no measures were carried out in this regard.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. (Reuters)

 

Diplomats of former US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Houthis in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, yet refused to receive representatives of Yemen’s legal government. The Obama administration would foster numerous ceasefire agreements, allowing time the battered Houthis to regain their momentum.

One example of the Obama-Kerry engagement policy with Iran was witnessed when the Houthis and forces loyal to sacked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah advanced south with lightning speed from Sanaa towards Aden.

On March 25, 2015, in the midst of Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, Washington issued evacuation orders to US forces stationed in a large airbase north of Aden, including transferring all weaponry and hardware to the Houthis.

Times are changing

Iran enjoyed 16 years of highly flawed US policy across the region, providing it ample time to gain ample influence in four different Arab states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Following the Riyadh Conference back in May of this year, the decertification of the controversial Iran nuclear deal and the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, it has become crystal clear for Tehran that times are changing.

The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. Loophole-proof implementation is now needed and signs of such measures are beginning to mushroom in Lebanon and Yemen.

Upon Saudi Arabia’s requested, the Arab League has scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday to weigh Iran’s regional “violations,” wire services reported. This momentum must continue abroad and rest assured Iran’s regime is sensing the growing isolation.

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ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s intransigence whiplashing onto its population?

Iran’s aggressions across the Middle East and its support for terrorist and fundamentalist organizations have raised strong remarks from senior regional officials and their American counterparts. And the impact is whiplashing back into Iran’s population.

Iran is ramping up its illicit activities across the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, and threatens free navigation in international waters, according to the US military’s top officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, as he explained his concerns to the Senate Armed Forces Committee at a recent hearing.

Last month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York was the scene of many foreign ministers and other senior officials making strong remarks criticizing Iran’s meddling in regional countries and its unbridled backing of proxy groups checkered throughout the Middle East.

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy,” said US President Donald Trump during his first UNGA speech. Tehran’s regime is a “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” he added.

Iranian soldiers attend the swearing-in ceremony for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a further term, at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2017. (Reuters)

A regional voice

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir condemned Tehran’s belligerence and accused this regime of providing financial support for sectarian proxy groups in Syria and Iraq.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said Iran is disrespecting others’ rights with its expansionist policies and plays a very important role in destabilizing the region through its meddling.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa accused Iran of supporting terrorist organizations, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, and emphasized any normalization in relations with Tehran hinges on this regime ending its support of terrorism. Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi said the Iran-backed Houthi militias are executing Iran’s interventionist agendas in the region.

Kuwait’s envoy in the UNGA called on Tehran to bring an end to its measures threatening regional security. he Cairo-based Arab League closed their September 12th session issuing a statement condemning Iran’s “meddling in Arabic countries.”

“We call on Iran to end its hostile remarks, provocative measures and media attacks against Arabic countries as such actions are considered flagrant meddling in the internal affairs of these Arab states. We condemn Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of Bahrain and the Syria crisis. These interventions can render dangerous results for Syria’s future, security, sovereignty, stability and national unity.”

Maryam Rajavi, (C) founder of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) speaks on June 27, 2014 in Villepinte. (AFP)

As concerns also circle over Iran’s recruiting of fighters from as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Syria war, a new Human Rights Watch report indicates how this campaign has involved Tehran’s conscripting of even Afghan children.

This is parallel to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accusing Iran and Russia of continuing to provide armed support to the Afghan Taliban, media reports said on Saturday

Slate of challenges

The stances adopted by these countries provide no other conclusion that one of Iran’s red lines and main pillars, being its regional ambitions and initiatives, is clearly threatened.

Many countries, especially the Gulf states, are realizing more than ever before that the Middle East will not experience a single day of stability or security as long as Iran continues to support terrorist groups and prolongs its fundamentalist measures.

Iran’s state-affiliated Arman daily ran a piece on September 14th titled, “Iran’s regional and international challenges,” describing this regime’s foreign ministry facing two super-challenges across the region and abroad.

Holding states hostage

Despite all these setbacks in the region and across the globe, and considering all this hatred targeting Tehran, this regime has no choice other than continuing its destructive meddling and support for terrorism throughout the Middle East.

It is obvious that Iran’s objective is to literally hold these states hostage and to protect its “strategic depth,” mainly referring to their foothold and influence in Syria.

As senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have said time and again, if their “strategic depth” is threatened this regime will have to face its domestic dilemmas. This means a powder keg populace and the Iranian opposition movement in the very streets of Iranian cities.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. (Reuters)

“Had the ill-wishers and plotters not been prevented from their evil deeds in Syria we would have to prevent them in the Iranian provinces of Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan, so it is better we do it there,” Khamenei said back in June. This would be a recipe for disaster and brews a crisis far more dangerous than regional and international isolation.

Iran is known to use its war machine of terrorism and meddling in other countries as means to cloak its domestic crackdown and predicaments. Interesting is the fact that the Iranian people are realizing how Tehran’s regime is becoming weaker by the day. This is seen in their growing number of rallies and the political nature of their demands.

Matters become far worse as Iran enjoys an organized opposition movement seen in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) able to motivate and guide protest movements to an extent causing major concerns for Tehran.

The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, even wired a piece warning the entire regime: “… fear the millions, young and old… all waiting for just a spark to set fire to everything… Have fear, and know that when the storm arrives, there will be nowhere to hide. All paths will be closed… you won’t even reach the airplane’s steps as the Shah was able to…” referring to when the Shah of Iran fled only weeks prior to the 1979 revolution.

Iran’s People And The Nuclear Deal

Discussions are continuing as we speak over the fate of the highly controversial Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Advocates and opponents are going the limits to present their case prior to the October 15thdeadline when US President Donald Trump is due to determine the status of Iran’s compliance with the accord.

While this is a very important discussion, what unfortunately goes neglected is the status of the Iranian people who should be the first beneficiaries of such an accord that led to many sanctions being lifted from the Iranian regime.

The ruling elite in Tehran have usurped the billions provided by the Obama administration in cash, waivers and sanctions reliefs to boost their ballistic missile program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, prop up the Assad regime in Syria and its continuous killings of innocent people, and escalate their lethal meddling across the Middle East, including Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain.

The Iranian people, however, have yet to witness any improvements in their lives. Recently many cities across the country have been the scene of widespread rallies staged by hundreds, and at times thousands of people protesting how their investments in state institutions have been plundered.

For four years financial firms such as the Caspian Credit Institution, reported to be affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and various branches of the government have received enormous amounts of money from ordinary people looking to invest in such entities what is literally considered their life savings, according to the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Viewed as a safe investment in other countries, with people placing their money in government institutes and not private companies, investing in such entities has become a nightmare in Iran.

Even the country’s Central Bank has refused to clarify if such financial institutes are actually legal or illegal in nature. Credit firms such as Afzal Tous, Thamen, the Mehr Bank and Arman firm have all opened branches and invited investors to place in their savings, and yet no signs of such names are registered in the Central Bank’s accounts. Millions are said to be investing in these financial firms.

450,000 people who have invested their savings in the Fereshtegan Credit Firm, linked to Caspian, are now complaining how a total of $1.4 billion of their savings have vanished, reports indicate.

Investors had already placed around $2.26 billion in eight trade institutions prior to their dissolve that preluded the formation of the Caspian firm in 2015, the report adds.

Officials of these institutions in Iran are allegedly affiliated to the IRGC and other regime entities, including allegations of the state police issuing registration forms for up to 5,000 such credit institutions.

Many people have felt their trust has been misused and literally stabbed in the back, as their life savings have vanished in thin air.

This has resulted in numerous protest rallies in major cities such as Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Rasht, Kerman, Karaj, Kermanshah, Yazd and Khorramabad, among others.

Protesters in the Iranian capital have rallied outside the regime’s judiciary building, with reports indicating such gatherings continuing. Statements issued by these protesters show they intend to extend their gatherings until further notice.

As reports escalate regarding Iran allocating billions to prop the Assad regime in Syria, protesters are seen chanting: “Forget Syria, start thinking about us!” and “Rouhani, Rouhani, this is the last warning, we are fire at will!” referring to a term used a few months ago by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against presumed enemies of the state.

In the city of Kerman, southcentral Iran, these protesters in a symbolic gesture laid an empty table cloth to portray their current living status after their savings have been plundered.

Many investors who have lost their savings believe the issue is not just about money, as this has become very deep and involves their very dignity.

Conditions have reached a point where the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Economy Commission said there are around 15,000 charity institutions registered in Iran while around half are involved in non-transparent activities considering they do not publish their financial statistics.

Iran’s bankrupt economy is symbolized in as many as 11 million people living under the poverty line, according to the head of Iran’s Khomeini Relief Foundation.

A country with 15,000 charity institutions and a financial turnover estimate of around $10.5 billion, there should not be such an astonishing number of people living in utter poverty.

Considering Iran’s non-transparent regime and economy, this is merely a tip of the iceberg of the enormous economic crisis brewing in this country with a powder keg populace.

This major socio-economic crisis in Iran is evolving as the regime continues to expand budgets allocated for its military and regional forays, and entities involved in imposing a fierce atmosphere of domestic crackdown.

Billions are used to seal deals to purchase planes from Airbus and Boeing, while numerous reports show Iran being notorious for using passenger planes to transfer foot-soldiers, arms and equipment for war machines across the region, especially Syria.

Vital is the fact to impose sanctions on the regime ruling Iran and go the distance in refraining to impose any pressure on the Iranian people. If Iran’s nuclear-related sanctions are relieved under the JCPOA, more measures are needed to ensure the money pouring into Iran are used for the better interest of the Iranian people, and not the regime’s war machine abroad.

Javad Mansouri, the first IRGC commander and a former Iranian ambassador to Pakistan said four years ago, “Even if it rains gold… there will be no change in the status quo. Don’t go thinking all problems will be solved if Mr. Zarif signs the [JCPOA] tomorrow…”