Iran deeply concerned over upcoming Arab conferences

Three fundamental domestic and global elements are placing the regime ruling Iran on the edge of a cliff. However, a conference of Arab countries scheduled for May 30 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has resulted in Tehran scrambling senior figures across the Middle East calling for talks and accelerating their tactic of deceptive measures. Resorting to these well-known maneuvers, Tehran is desperately attempting to prevent Arab countries from launching a firm policy vis-à-vis its apparatus.

Firstly, sanctions are beginning to bite. The U.S. bringing an end to oil sanctions waivers issued for China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey and imposing new sanctions on Tehran are beginning to suffocate the mullahs.

“The fact that an Iranian ship could not dock in foreign ports for 10 days to unload is unprecedented in Iranian history. The U.S. State Department is constantly in contact with that small country to not allow our ship to dock. This is unprecedented in the past 40 years. The fact that an oil tanker shipping Iran’s oil is followed by satellites during its entire voyage, registering its number, constantly knowing where it is, who is buying, who is selling… All this is unprecedented in the past 40 years,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on May 25.

Secondly, the presence of U.S. military forces in the region that has literally terrified the mullahs regime. Especially after enjoying eight years of unbridled appeasement from the Obama administration, senior officials in Tehran are understanding that their meddling and warmongering in the Middle East will no longer go unanswered.

During the past three decades, Tehran has never paid any price for its interference in regional countries, literally being the main benefactor of three wars in 1991, 2001 and 2003.

The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq opened the gates of this country for Iran and the mullahs’ regime occupied Iraq at almost no cost, using this important country as a springboard for their continued meddling in Syria and other countries. Currently, Tehran is deeply concerned that this period of taking utter advantage of regional developments is coming to an end.

Thirdly, the active presence of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its cornerstone member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), inside the country and abroad. The mullahs’ regime has been involved in launching massive apprehension campaigns, issuing execution verdicts for political prisoners, resorting to threats and installing fear among the society. However, these measures have not rendered any results and protests are increasing across Iran.

Looking forward, Arab delegates participating in the Mecca conference should adopt a firm position against the regime of Iran to deliver a strong response to Tehran’s recent measures. “No thank you, Mr. Javad Zarif, Iran’s proposal is unacceptable,” was the title of a piece published in the UAE’s Gulf News responding to Zarif’s ridiculous suggestion of signing a “non-aggression pact” with Iran’s neighbors. It is quite obvious that Tehran has been involved in aggressive measures against its neighbors for the past 40 years. Therefore, the mullahs are in no such position to seek the signing of a “non-aggression pact.”

Iran’s regime should not have the opportunity to resort to such tactics, thus gaining breathing room and further extending its lifespan. Tehran has a history of using such opportunities to once again relaunch its warmongering efforts and exporting terrorism across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia will be hosting three important conferences of Arab and Islamic countries. Escalating tensions in the region and Iran’s threats are announced to be among the main subjects of discussion. The Saudi King has officially invited the Emir of Qatar to take part in the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit.

Following the May 30 conference, members of the Arab League will be holding a session and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be convening. These three conferences being held in the final days of the month of Ramadan in the city of Mecca are aimed at establishing a large alliance against Iran, according to Agence France Presse. Increasing tension among the U.S. and Iran has led to concerns among regional countries over a possible military confrontation.

There are no reports about the possibility of Iran being invited or not to the OIC session.

While U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated his willingness to talk with the regime ruling Iran, the mullahs view any talks with “The Great Satan” as a major step back from their 40-year long positions. Such a development will result in the regime weakening and losing its grip on the country with each passing day.

As a result, continuing its warmongering in the region and going back on the 2015 nuclear deal will result in further strong measures by the U.S. and most likely other countries across the globe. On the other hand, bending the knee to negotiations with the U.S. also comes with major calamities.

This predicament has left the mullahs’ regime in a lose-lose situation, with time running out fast as sanctions continue to bite. As a recent Wall Street Journal piece put it, “Amid Tensions, Iran’s Crude Buyers Jump Ship.”

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What Comes After French FM’s Iran Visit

Monday’s Tehran visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is startling a wide variety of responses, especially from inside Iran.

Kayhan daily, known as the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, ran a piece titled “French Foreign Minister heading to Tehran with a JCPOA-2 hat,” using the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while describing Paris’ efforts to impose further setbacks upon Iran’s regime.

The semi-official Ruydad 24 website in Iran writes, “The JCPOA, ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region are of the most important challenges before Iran, Europe, the United States and Middle East countries.”

This is what concerns Tehran the most, being crystal clear the Europeans would never side with Iran over the U.S.

Seeking to raise the stakes prior Le Drian’s visit, Tehran on Monday announced it enjoys the capability of producing higher enriched uranium within two days if Washington’s abandons ship on the 2015 nuclear deal between.

“If America pulls out of the deal … Iran could resume its 20 percent uranium enrichment in less than 48 hours,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told al-Alam TV.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Le Drian will be merely involved in discussions and there are no negotiations involved. France’s official position says otherwise.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, with a range of a few thousand kilometers, is definitely non-consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and goes beyond Iran’s need to defend its borders,” Le Drian said in an interview with the French daily Le Journal du Dimanche.

“If this dilemma is not resolved directly, Iran will be facing the threat of new sanctions,” he added.

France is leading Europe in talks with Iran and it is very likely Le Drian discussed with Iran’s officials the conditions raised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The U.S. has asked France to lay Trump’s conditions before Iran. European countries have confirmed these conditions,” according to the semi-officials Fars news agency, said to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

In his meeting with Le Drian, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks vividly displayed Tehran’s deep concerns about the JCPOA’s future.

“The JCPOA is a litmus test for all parties and its dismantling will bring disappointment for everyone,” Rouhani said.

We must also take into consideration the timing of Le Drian’s visit, coming prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, in which Iran was the main issue of talks.

Two weeks later Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to Washington where Iran’s regional meddling will most likely be discussed. Tehran’s role in Syria has raised major concerns.

“…if we don’t push Iran out and come up with an agreement in Geneva that gives Syria back to the Syrians. This war never ends. So, Mr. President it’s just not about defeating ISIL. If you leave Syria in the hands of Russia and the Iranians this war never ends,” said Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent interview.

Finally, Trump will be hosting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, as the leader of Europe in regards to the JCPOA.

As a result, the objective of Le Drian’s visit to Iran can be described as placing Trump’s significant pressures and imposing his conditions. Tehran will most definitely be concerned, knowing all meetings will evolve in Trump’s talks with Macron in Washington. Two weeks later Trump will announce his decision on the JCPOA.

This leaves Tehran before a particular dilemma. Succumbing to the new conditions set to preserve the JCPOA will deliver a strategic setback, being, to say the least, significantly curbing its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. Iran considers these two pillars its pride and regional strategy depth.

Choosing to reject Washington’s conditions, however, will most certainly lead to the return of crippling sanctions for Tehran.

Add to this dilemma the ongoing protest staged by Iranians across the country. This goes alongside calls for further nationwide protests next Tuesday, marking the country’s annual “Fire Festivities” held on the last Tuesday night of the Iranian calendar before inviting in the new year.

Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) has issued a call for a nationwide uprising to mark this celebration. Senior Iranian officials have acknowledged how the PMOI/MEK organized the recent flare of protests across the country.

Tehran’s troubles are only beginning.

Sanctioning the Terrible Twosome

The world currently faces two atomic crises in Iran and North Korea, despite long strides in the effort of nuclear non-proliferation. Deep military and nuclear cooperation between the two states makes dealing with these challenges even more difficult. One may have thought lessons would have been learnt from the devastating lessons of appeasement from World War II – yet the approaches adopted vis-à-vis North Korea and Iran in signing nuclear agreements have raised accusations that Neville Chamberlain’s famous policy is still alive and well.

It’s obvious that Iran has learned from North Korea, and vice-versa, in both military and diplomatic spheres: in a recent Raddington Report article we argue that there are few nations that view North Korean missile tests with more interest than Iran. The Islamic Republic yearns to be in the position North Korea finds itself in – to have developed a nuclear arsenal, along with the means of deliver the payload. And North Korea covets to have had the opportunity Iran found: usurping Obama’s desperate need for a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement to garner a slate of concessions.

There is seemingly little appetite for a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran – yet the appeasement of these two rogue regimes have left the international community in more of a quagmire. North Korea is holding South Korea and Japan hostage (along with tens of thousands of stationed US troops) while Iran continues its regional meddling, support for terrorism, ballistic missile advances and human rights violations, all whilst reaching an agreement with the P5+1.

Pyongyang and Tehran have both sought nuclear weapons as insurance for their notorious regimes. Enjoying enticement by US administrations since the 1990s, North Korea has reached its objective, at the expense of it’s starving people – and economy more broadly. Iran, whilst seeking nuclear capability, began feeling the heat of international sanctions and escalating public anger, which forced it to trade a curbing of its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. What goes unnoticed, however, is how agreements signed by the international community with these two regimes provide a green light to the ruling autocrats to pursue the oppression of their own populations.

Iran has continued its practice of abducting American citizens and sentencing them to long prison terms. A situation in which Kim Jung Un was provided more inducements to come to the negotiating table – as in Iran’s case – could possibly result in further abductions, assassinations and more tens of thousands of political prisoners held in facilities so large they are visible in satellite images. Concessions have already provided Iran a green light to expand its domestic crackdown and meddling abroad. The definition of insanity, famously, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Offering a possible insight into the Trump administration’s future approach to Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Nikki Haley delivered a speech recently in the American Enterprise Institute, stating that; “…if the President does not certify Iranian compliance, the Corker-Cardin law also tells us what happens next. What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands,” she explained, in reference to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations continued.

Following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, which led to claims that the DPRK has acquired the ability to test a hydrogen bomb, there is belief amongst high circles in Washington that North Korea is supporting Iran in return to the path of obtaining nuclear weapons. While Washington is weighing its options in responding to North Korea’s latest nuclear bomb test, most concerning are obvious shows of allegiance, such as a recent 10-day visit to Tehran by Pyongyang’s parliament speaker Kim Yong Nam.

Thanks to a ‘windfall’ of billions of dollars provided by the Obama-blueprinted nuclear deal, Iran has the hard currency and financial assets North Korea needs. In return, Pyongyang can deliver the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology Tehran wants to acquire. It has become increasingly obvious these regimes are far from rational actors who can be persuaded into taking action for the better benefit of the international community. North Korea must be made to bow before demands to give up nuclear weapons, whilst Iran must be made to understand that following the path of its East Asian partner is not an option.

The response Tehran receives from the international community, with the US at the helm, is of vital importance. The failure of previous US administrations to take any meaningful action to prevent the growth of such a dangerous nexus leaves us with the circumstances we face today. It is a known fact that many of Tehran’s ballistic missile designs, such as the Hwasong series, are based on Pyongyang prototypes. This is the result of political and military ties leading back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Concerns escalate to a highly lethal level when we realize Iran’s missiles, mirroring those of its North Korean sisters, could enjoy the capability of delivering nuclear payloads. These decades-long close exchanges have now also provided Iran the ability to construct missile production factories in Syria and Libya, some underground.

It is increasingly difficult to deny Tehran’s diplomatic, economic and military ties with Pyongyang. It is even possible the two country’s scientists have been present at each other’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, one after another. Tehran and Pyongyang must be made to comprehend that a continuation of their provocations cannot not be tolerated – senior Iranian and North Korean leaders, along with the institutions maintaining their rule, should be the target of crippling international sanctions. Kim, Khamenei and their henchmen, must find it far more difficult to plunder their people’s wealth for their own interests, while the two populations suffer in poverty. The international community should also boost campaigns aimed at drying up the two regimes’ supply chains providing the needs for their missile and nuclear drives.

This question is now raised over the meaning of seeking a new nuclear arrangement with North Korea, especially as the JCPOA is currently being usurped by Iran. Surely rapprochement will only encourage Pyongyang to continue its current aggressive nature – and what lessons would Tehran, a regime enjoying a dangerous reach across the Middle East, learn from this? There is no need to explain how Tehran and Pyongyang have most likely followed each other’s negotiations with the international community, the deals sealed to buy time, the successful and unsuccessful lies and deceptions and how to come to each other’s support when needed. Most importantly, however, they have learned how to create rifts amongst Western countries, such as the United States, France and Britain, and to utilise Russian and Chinese postures, to divide in the UN Security Council.

As Haley correctly said, “Enough is enough.” War is neither needed nor welcomed. An international consensus to impose crippling sanctions on the regimes of Iran and North Korea is necessary.

Although watered down to garner the support of Beijing and Moscow, the sanctions adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Monday against North Korea, capping the regime’s oil imports from China and banning its profitable textile exports, is a step in the right direction. One hopes this is the beginning of a continuing trend to bring an end to Pyongyang’s dangerous bellicosities, and sends a powerful message to Tehran of the international community’s resolve and intolerance for such rogue behavior.

If history is to teach us any lesson, it is that of rapprochement rendering nothing but death and destruction. If we seek an end to the current nuclear standoffs, all parties must further set aside their short term interests and think for the better good of all.

Paris convention calls for evicting Iran from Mideast

A vast convention hall located north of Paris was the scene of a massive Iranian Diaspora gathering who voiced their demand for a better future through regime change in Tehran.

Hundreds of dignitaries from the Arab World, United States and Europe stood alongside the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its President Maryam Rajavi in condemning Tehran’s meddling throughout the Middle East as the main obstacle to establish peace and security in at least four regional states.

Saturday’s keynote speaker was Rajavi, who called on the international community to recognize the NCRI as the voice representing the Iranian people, evict Iran from the Middle East end the appeasement policy and welcome a strong strategy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s call for regime change.

Regional support

“The Iranian people are the first victims of Khomeini’s dictatorship,” said Turki Al-Faisal. “Your effort in challenging this regime is legitimate and your resistance for the liberation of the Iranian people of all ethnicities, including Arabs, Kurds, Balochis, Turks and Fars of the mullahs’ evil, as Mrs. Rajavi said, is a legitimate struggle.”

In a sign of a united Middle East position in the face of Iran’s belligerence, numerous Arab delegations including many former and current officials from more than a dozen regional countries participated in the convention.

In their colorful array of speeches these representatives of hundreds of millions of people who have suffered from the mullahs’ support for terrorism placed their fists down saying enough is enough. Following four decades of endless destruction and misery brewed by Tehran’s mullahs across the region, these nations are more than ever supporting the NCRI platform advocating regime change.

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi spearheaded Saturday’s convention.

“Our people want a constitution based on freedom, democracy and equality. The time has come for the international community to heed the demands of the people of Iran,” she said.

Rajavi shed light on a subject less taken into consideration about Iran, being the very fact that the roots of Tehran’s foreign wars are found in its domestic crises.

“Out of the past 38 years, the mullahs were engaged in war with Iraq for eight years, have been at war with the people of Syria for six years, and have pursued confrontation with the international community for more than ten years to build an atomic bomb. The Iranian Resistance is proud that it has stood up to the mullahs’ religious fascism in all these three spheres: It has been the flag-bearer of peace and freedom; it has been a vanguard in defending the people of Syria, and it has led the way for a non-nuclear Iran,” Rajavi added.

“We have welcomed the statements made at the Arab, Islamic, American Summit in Riyadh against the Iranian regime’s terrorist and destabilizing activities. Nevertheless, we emphasize that the ultimate solution to the crisis in the region and confronting groups like ISIS, is the overthrow of the Iranian regime by the Iranian people and Resistance,” she continued.

Placing forward the most important changes needed, Rajavi stated people’s demands in their struggle for freedom and democracy.

1) The international community must recognize the NCRI as the sole legitimate voice representing Iranian people.

2) Bringing a lasting end to the highly-flawed policy of engagement and appeasement vis-à-vis Tehran.

3) Establishing a strong position of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s will of seeking an end to the mullahs’ rule through regime change.

Fierce quarrel

Politicians and high-profile figures from the United States and Europe gave more weight to a complementary message of this conference: the mullahs do not represent the Iranian people and it is high time for the international community to acknowledge this nation’s true demand for regime change.

Representing a rare bipartisan initiative in Washington, American dignitaries including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Mayor Rudi Giuliani, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Governor Ed Rendell and a substantial slate of dozens of other political and military officials joined the ranks of many others voicing their support.

“You, I, my government and your leadership, we see Iran in exactly the same way. The regime is evil and it must go. #FreeIran,” said Mayor Giuliani.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Trump administration has much fewer illusions about the nature of the Iranian dictatorship. I think it’s fair to say that Secretary of Defense Mattis in his years in the Central Command understands exactly who the Iranian dictatorship is…I think it’s fair to say that the National Security Advisor, General McMaster, in his years of service in the Middle East, knows exactly who the Iranian dictatorship is,” said former US presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Iran has been suffering a series of setbacks following last month’s Riyadh Summit. Couple that with the Trump administration continuing to evaluate its comprehensive Iran policy, the mullahs in Tehran have every reason to be extremely concerned about how the bleak the future is. — Al Arabiya English

Crosshairs focusing on Iran

Originally posted in Dutch in OpinieZ Magazine

As tensions continue to rise in the flashpoint country of Syria in the already boiling Middle East, and voices heard of a possible conflict between the United States and Russia, they are all mistaken.

The Cold War is over and will not be repeated. These two powers have more common interest to risk any unnecessary military conflict that neither will benefit from. The only party set to gain anything in such a scenario would be Iran, and more and more experts are raising alarm bells.

Yes, Russia has issued a warning to the US about flying its planes or drones west of Syria’s Euphrates River that snakes through the country from the north to the southeast. Rest assured this is nothing but a bluff as Australia first responded by suspending its fighter jet flights, only to resume its activities one day later.

Russia looks to maintain its interests in Syria and is in no need of a conflict with the far more technologically-advanced US military.

Iran poses a far greater threat to the US, and the entire world for that matter, than Russia. And as we inch forward down the path of seeking a solution to bring an end to the war in Syria and turmoil across the region, crosshairs are more than ever before being rightfully placed on Iran.

Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and its decades’ long support of its offspring, the Lebanese Hezbollah, are all signs of a vast imperial campaign seeking to gain further control over the future of the entire Middle East. Tehran has long calibrated its foreign policy for this very objective. This goes alongside Iran’s other pillars, being domestic crackdown and advancing nuclear/ballistic missile program, to maintain its rule and remain in power.

Long before the Islamic State, Iran has sought to expand its mentality of establishing a Middle East-wide caliphate. This is exactly why Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini adopted and imposed the velayat-e faqih (governance of jurist enjoying custodianship over all state affairs and people’s lives).

This mentality of Iran’s mullahs must be acknowledged by the West and appropriate measures are needed to prevent any further devastation. A short look at the atrocities we are currently witnessing due to Iran’s influence over Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a should be proof enough to highlight the need for a firm and decisive policy vis-à-vis Iran.

The Obama administration continuously backed the US into a corner and only sought to obtain a highly flawed nuclear deal at any cost. It is imperative for Washington and the international community to understand the imperative nature of setting the correct goals in relations to Iran.

Senator Tom Cotton in the US has recently made a significant call for Washington to seriously consider regime change in Iran as a serious possibility.

“The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran. I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism,” Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said in a recent interview.

Washington had supported reform from inside the current regime in Iran, only to end in no fruit. Officials in the Trump administration, however, are indicating this may no longer provide the results they seek. Allies of this administration are even heard urging a far more aggressive position.

To accelerate the entire subject even further, Washington and Tehran have been experiencing a high fraught increase in their relations.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to a question in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing emphasizing Washington’s support for peaceful regime change, a first bye any US official.

Iran has responded by filing an official complaint to the United Nations. All this goes parallel to numerous face-offs between the US-backed coalition and Iran-backed forces in Syria.

As the Trump administration continues to weigh its all-out Iran policy, such developments and voices heard from across Washington and Europe will most definitely place the mullahs on edge.

265 Members of the European Parliament issued a statement condemning flagrant human rights violations in Iran. This initiative enjoys vast support, “including all political groups and tendencies in the European Parliament. They include 4 Vice-Presidents of the parliament and 23 Committee and Delegation Chairs. This clearly shows that when the issue of human rights violations, repression of women and minorities and the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism are concerned, we are all united.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), however, is gearing for its annual Paris rally scheduled for July 1st this year.

Hundreds of prominent dignitaries from the US, Europe and Middle East will most likely be joined by over 100,000 members of the Iranian Diaspora from all corners of the globe. As seen in previous year this platform will express support for NCRI President Maryam Rajavi and her ten-point plan consisting gender equality, peaceful coexistence, abolishing capital punishment, torture and crackdown, and bringing an end to Iran’s nuclear program, meddling and support of terrorism.

The combination of calls for regime change in the West and the Iranian opposition delivering a very capable platform to realize this initiative is a recipe for disaster in the eyes of Tehran’s mullahs.

Iran’s missile launches: A sign of strength or weakness?

How should we evaluate Iran’s medium-range missile strikes, boasted by the mullahs as an official response to the June 7th twin attacks allegedly staged by ISIS in Tehran? As a sign of strength showing Iran’s ability to take on ISIS while also sending a message to all adversaries, most importantly Washington? Or a desperate attempt by the mullahs to maintain a straight face against increasing domestic and foreign crises?

Iran last resorted to such drastic measures of launching ballistic missiles from its soil back in the final days of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 after suffering major defeats, and once again in 2001 against former bases of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in Iraq in response to a vast opposition camp inside the country. This proves Tehran will fall to such lows when pinned against the wall as a last resort.

The question is, why would Iran launch expensive medium-range missiles, knowing it has yet to perfect a precision guiding system (as three of the seven missiles landed in Iraq and three others were far off their targets in Deir Ezzur)? Furthermore, Iran boasts of having tens of thousands proxy shock troops in Syria propping the Assad regime and there are also reports of Tehran launching missile factories in Syria. So why the need to use such poorly guided medium-range missiles from their own turf?

This was nothing but a publicity stunt following the June 7th attacks, and Iran seeking to take advantage of the entire scenario to press the gas pedal on domestic crackdown and justify their foreign meddling in the Middle East and beyond. I have explained my thoughts extensively in a Forbes and Al Arabiya English article.

Despite targeting Syria in this missile attack, Iran mainly intended to deliver a message to Saudi Arabia. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) accused Riyadh and also Washington over the June 7th attacks.

However, we should also take into notice that Tehran launched its missiles into the deserts of eastern Syria. And while the IRGC accuses Saudi Arabia and the U.S., rest assured Iran’s mullahs are not so foolish as to launch missiles into the Kingdom or target American interests in the Middle East.

Iran’s leaders may be extremists, but they are very pragmatic and know exactly when to back off. One such lesson was learned when the U.S. Navy in 1988 launched Operation Praying Mantis and nearly annihilated Iran’s naval forces in retaliation to the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War, with subsequent damage to an American warship.

The Iranian regime’s senior hierarchy and IRGC were in dire need of such a missile launching especially following five months of setbacks:

a) The election of Donald Trump as President of United States and the end of Obama’s dreadful era of appeasement.

b)  Iran being placed “on notice” by the Trump administration.

c)  Washington slapping two rounds of sanctions and a recent Senate resolution calling for sweeping action against Iran’s ballistic missile program, support of terrorism and human rights violations.

d)  The U.S. military taking direct action against Assad’s airbase in April, more recently attacking Iran-backed troops and two Iran-made drones in southeast Syria, and downing an Assad regime bomber near Raqqa.

e)  And possibly most significant of all, at a time when the Trump administration continues to weigh its comprehensive Iran policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heard in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing emphasizing Washington will support elements inside Iran seeking peaceful regime change.

All this places a heavy burden on a regime that only enjoys merely four percent popular support, as explained by a candidate in last month’s faux presidential election.

As a result, to maintain a straight face Iran will resort to any and all desperate measures. All the while, such a turn of events and severe setbacks have come at the worst possible time for Tehran, as the PMOI/MEK, under the political umbrella of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), are preparing for their annual Paris rally scheduled for July1 this year.

Over 100,000 Iranians and hundreds of American, European and Middle East dignitaries gather to voice their support for NCRI  President Maryam Rajavi and her ten-point plan for the future of Iran enjoying gender equality, peaceful coexistence, abolishing capital punishment, torture and crackdown, and bringing an end to Iran’s nuclear program, meddling and support of terrorism.

As a result, from the mullahs’ perspective desperate times call for desperate measures. Considering the bleak-looking future for Tehran, expect more such reactions.

The state of Iran’s presidential election after recent exits

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s early exit on Tuesday from Iran’s presidential election even prior to the May 19 polls, with no candidates until now forecasted to gain more than 50% of the votes, came as an unexpected turn of events.

This can be the result of a conclusion reached by the hardliner camp from the 2013 presidential election where their chances were hurt with none of their candidates willing to step aside in favor of their all-out interests.

The Status Quo

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his camp have most likely decided to set aside the deceiving smiles of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and American educated Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the first round, and bring in figures known to adopt harsher tones.

Mostafa Mir-Salim, a conservative former minister of culture and Islamic guidance, will most likely follow in Ghalibaf’s footsteps. He never had any meaningful chance in the polls and was only kept to level the playing field and set three “hardliners” against three so-called “moderates/reformists”.

Khamenei loyalists will now be rallying behind Ebrahim Raisi, known as an insider figure enjoying the Supreme Leader’s support. He has climbed up the political ladder through the judiciary and out of the spotlight until the past year or so.

Ebrahim Raisi. (Raisi.org)

Known as the “massacre ayatollah” inside Iran, Raisi has served the mullahs’ so-called “judiciary” for three decades, sending thousands to the gallows to ensure his rise in the ranks. Raisi’s signature trademark is his notorious role in the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the banned Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The Rival Camp

Rouhani, of course, leads three “reformists/moderates”, with his own Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri stepping aside on Monday, and Mostafa Hashemitaba, who served as head of Iran’s National Olympic Committee.

Jahangiri in the debates was seen both challenging the “hardline” rivals head on and taking the hits for Rouhani. Hashemitaba is not a serious candidate as he has openly indicated he is literally voting for Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AFP)

The initial wrap up is the “reformists/moderates” are rallying behind Rouhani. However, a broader analysis shows how ridiculous the entire sham election truly is.

Rouhani himself has nothing to present to the Iranian “voter.” He has failed to inject any new life into the economy and provide for the average Iranian after the nuclear deal, and yet tens of billions of dollars are spent on:
a) the regime’s meddling across the region, mainly in Syria
b) the ballistic missile drive
c) the domestic crackdown machine
d) the nuclear program that was supposed to be curbed

During the past four years Rouhani has also presided over 3,000 executions, meaning two individuals sent to the gallows in Iran each day.

And Then There Were Two

The scene is now set for a race between Raisi and Rouhani. Signs indicate Raisi will ultimately be selected by the regime apparatus. Would Khamenei have even entered Raisi into the race if he had any hesitations about the outcome? The Supreme Leader’s recent remarks can be interpreted as warnings to Rouhani, especially when he cautioned any disruptor of the process will receive a “slap in the face.”

Rouhani also understands a complete “engineering” of the election will not be an easy task for Khamenei due to the deep divides in the regime’s senior ranks.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, a former principalist, and Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a close confidant of Khamenei, have placed their weight behind Rouhani.

The ruling elite allowed Rouhani into the presidency in 2013 to answer their need for such a tool during the end of Obama’s term to bring an end to international sanctions. With Obama gone and the Trump administration imposing a complete overhaul in US policy vis-à-vis Iran, Khamenei is recalibrating his regime for the tough road ahead.

A Potential New Twist

Another new change in the 2017 election is how Khamenei’s camp is now understanding and embracing the importance of social media.

The candidates are using Twitter, despite being officially banned in Iran, and the messaging app Telegram, with over 20 million users amongst Iranians, to spread their message especially to the younger generation that comprise a very large percentage of Iran’s population.

While hardliners were known to traditionally respect bans placed by the regime on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, a video posted by hardliners themselves went viral showing Rouhani visiting the site of a recent mine disaster and how protesters attacked his vehicle to voice their demands.

Raisi took to Instagram to livestream his rallies and staged question-and-answer sessions, a move considered unprecedented in Iranian politics.

Dissident activists, especially those connected with the PMOI/MEK network of supporters inside the country, have gone the distance recently and braved many risks to make their voices heard and spread the message of Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.

If arrested these activists will most certainly be tortured and most probably executed as any support for the PMOI/MEK inside Iran would be crossing a major red line for the mullahs’ regime.

Final Thoughts

Despite the regime in its entirety boasting a high general turnout vote, this trend of dissent most definitely signals yet another major boycott by the Iranian population.

Here’s a few lines to take into notice about Iran’s façade presidential election.

“Fact is, in Iran the question isn’t who gets the most votes, but who’s counting them. And those counting them this year clearly favor Raisi, a hardliner judge,” according to The New York Post.

“All this seems to guarantee the next few years will be filled with hostility and provocations directed toward America from Tehran. Indeed, even if Rouhani gets another presidential term, it’s already clear: The age of phony smiles between America and Iran is now over.”

ANALYSIS: Adopting a different approach on Iran

Signaling a major buzz topic in Washington these days, with the international community waiting anxiously, the new US administration is on the verge of implementing a significant Iran policy overhaul.

America nearly lost all of its influence in the Middle East as a result of a devastating engagement policy captained by the Obama-Kerry team, all in a desperate effort to obtain Tehran’s consent in completing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The impact of the support by the Obama Administration of the Arab Spring did the rest, as main Arab allies came under immense pressure.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

Considering Obama’s yearning to seal the JCPOA as the foreign policy hallmark of his legacy, he was seen succumbing to literally any and all demands made by the Iranians. Tehran understood and used this leverage to issue threats of walking away from the deal.

While President Trump has not torn up the deal as candidate Trump pledged, his administration has taken the lead to strongly criticize Iran’s current behavior in the Middle East that poses a major threat to America’s strategic position and the security of regional allies.

The Trump administration, unlike its fledgling predecessor, is weighing on how to bring Iran’s mischievous behavior under control and have it completely halted.

Selling a false deal

The pro-JCPOA camp sold the deal to the international community by claiming Iran’s mullahs’ would become more moderate and begin acting reasonably.

Let’s review the facts on the ground:

– The Middle East is in carnage, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and proxies launching deadly killings in Syria in support of Assad, massacring Sunnis and other minorities in Iraq, supporting Houthi militants in Yemen, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, just to name a few.

– Tehran is continuing its ballistic missile program full speed ahead, preparing to couple the project with an ongoing secret nuclear weapons drive, as exposed recently by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

– Military confrontations between US-Arab allies and Iranian forces continue, as shown in the Gulf and the Bab Al Mandab.

– Flagrant human rights violations and increasing domestic crackdown. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now seeking a second term, has presided over 3,000 executions.

We were reminded recently by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley ,when she referred to existing Security Council resolutions banning Iran from importing or exporting arms, and end all ballistic missile testing.

Haley clearly indicated Trump will not allow such measures slide, as we witnessed far too often under the Obama watch.

“The United States will work closely with our partners to document and address any actions that violate these resolutions,” Haley said. “We must take a stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s illegal and dangerous behavior.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows in remarks unseen from America’s top diplomat for many years. Iran continues to enjoy the top ranking of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nature of sanctions being vital to the national and security interests of America, and its regional allies in particular, will be a major topic of a new JCPOA review.

Fresh sanctions

Meanwhile, a new bill seeking to slap fresh sanctions against Tehran for continuing its illicit missile program is in the preparation process in the House of Representatives.

Sanctions and economic pressures are a major leverage the US enjoys against Tehran. Blocking access to the global banking system and compelling companies and various institutions to choose between America’s $19 trillion economy and Iran’s half a trillion should not make the decision any harder.

Irony lies in the fact that Obama initially boosted US sanctions against Iran, only to ignore Iran’s highly belligerent proliferation activities and support for terrorism.

A recent Politico report highlighted how the Obama administration even released Iranian arms dealers apprehended by US authorities and dropped international arrest warrants seeking others. To this end, Obama literally risked US national security for the sake of appeasing Tehran’s mullahs.

The Trump administration is set to draw a major line in the sand. Beefing up sanctions could be a major policy change adopted by the new White House. To take steps further, Washington should seriously consider designating the mullahs’ Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization for its role in Iran’s meddling and supporting terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East, Tehran’s ongoing military development programs -especially the ballistic missile drives – and horrific human rights violations across the country.

Missed opportunity

In 2009 Obama missed the opportunity to support the Iranian people’s cry for freedom and democracy, and now the new US administration cannot stand again on the sidelines. Supporting the Iranian people and their organized opposition, currently openly represented by liberal movements such as the NCRI, seeking a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Iran, living in harmony with its regional neighbors and returning to the international community as a responsible member, could be a starting point.

If Washington would be able to address these options in full, not falling into the trap of removing the Iranian regime under the umbrella of “bringing democracy”, but supporting a growing liberal democratic opposition, a better future for Iran is possible. This will take time, during which economic and political pressure should be increased on the regime. Appeasing the mullahs will not reap any positive rewards, Tehran will not see any need to change at all.

– Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is the co-writer of this article.

ANALYSIS: Is there anything Iran’s presidential election can change?

The US is said to be weighing a variety of different approaches on the regime ruling Iran after the upcoming May 19 presidential election.

This line of thought argues any punishing measure by the US now would support “hardliners” against “moderates”. The problem is that any such distinction of Iran’s political landscape is entirely incorrect.

The regime in Iran does not, to say the least, has the best interest of Iranians or people across the region at heart, let alone other nations throughout the planet. The argument of how the West’s actions may affect Iran’s elections fails to understand what Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his surrogates have in their playbooks.

In the elections, all candidates are vetted by a 12-cleric member Guardian Council body, effectively appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei, as seen last Thursday. The list has now been trimmed to six candidates.

The slate includes incumbent President Hassan Rowhani, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former minister of culture Mostafa Mirsalim and former industry minister Mostafa Hashemitaba.

A first glance indicates the remaining four will most probably step aside eventually in favor of Rowhani and Raisi.

Elections render no change

Iran’s elections do not have any impact on domestic or foreign policy. In internal issues, the hallmark “moderate” Rouhani and former president Mohammad Khatami – also dubbed “moderate” and president from 1997 to 2005 – only increased domestic crackdown, including arrests, tortures and executions.

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On foreign policy, never has there been the slightest difference in the regime’s eagerness to advance its nuclear program. Most recently, Rowhani made remarks signaling a shocking contrast to other Iranian officials: he boasted of the highly flawed Iran nuclear deal.

“Nuclear technology is a dire necessity for us, and that is exactly why [Khamenei] constantly underscores the need to continue developing this technology,” he said according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Rowhani also boasted how his cabinet increased the defense budget.

“Statistics show [this] government has increased the defense budget by 145 percent… It is the pride of [this] government that the steps taken forward in providing strategic equipment and assets for the armed forces in the past 3½ years have matched those of the past 10 years,” he explained.

Rowhani is also known for his close relationship with the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, dating back to 1979, while his main opponent, Raisi, spent the past three decades easily climbing up the regime’s ranks for his role in the judiciary, and sending dissidents to the gallows without any hesitation.

Raisi is most famously known for his membership in the notorious “Death Commission,” tasked to carry out Khomeini’s fatwa leading to the summer of 1988 massacre that left more than 30,000 political prisoners dead in the span of a few months. Most of the victims were members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Reuters)

A slate of wrongs

It would be a grave mistake for the US, and the West in general, to preemptively limit their available options on the theoretical basis of enjoying influence in the internal election, let alone its outcome, of a regime such as Iran.

A more critical mistake is constantly made by Western media, which tends to be easily misled over the scope of existing political opinions in Iran. The mere fact that Rouhani is embattled does not make him the ideal candidate for the West. A reflexive reaction in the West seems to be that if Raisi is worse, then let’s support Rowhani.

Whoever ends up becoming Iran’s next president, is – and has to be, for his own safety, politically and otherwise – absolutely in line with the supreme leader, and the radical direction of the Iranian regime in its entirety.

The mere assumption that potential US actions might be considered a major factor in Iran’s presidential election simply fails to comprehend the true nature of Iran’s political establishment, loyal only to the views of Khomeini. There is no representation by true liberals in Iran today, and nor should there be any such expectations in the future.

Even if the rivalry between Rowhani and Raisi ends with the “moderate” Rowhani gaining a second term, it changes absolutely nothing. Rowhani has been, and has to be, in service to Khamenei’s policies. Rowhani advanced the supreme leader’s nuclear policy after he blessed the nuclear talks back in 2012, prior to Rouhani’s presidency.

He supported Iran’s involvement in Syria and all the proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, parallel to supervising increasing human rights violations.

Conclusion

Iran’s presidential election is nothing but a game we witness every four years. The president has no true role in running the country, other than to implement the supreme leader’s policies. Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, has the final say on all national security and foreign policy issues, while enjoying full, unrivaled supremacy.

Khamenei even has the authority, under the regime’s so-called constitution, to veto and dismiss all powers provided to the president. The difference we will witness in Iran’s approach to domestic and international affairs will be zero. That is exactly why designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization should not be delayed for any reason – especially Iran’s presidential election.

According to The Daily Beast the IRGC “are Iran’s most important security, military, and political institution, with financial interests in most areas of the state’s economy. Its Quds Force, which is in charge of global operations, was officially designated as a terrorist entity by the US Treasury Department in 2007. Hezbollah was designated in 1997.”

It is now time to target the main root of the Middle East’s crises.

Trump’s strike against Assad in Syria: The message for Iran

The United States military took decisive action early Thursday morning through launching a total of 59 precision guided Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting a Syrian airbase north of Damascus.

This site was believed to be used by Bashar Assad to carry out a horrific chemical weapons attack last Tuesday, leaving more than 500 killed and injured in Idlib Province of northwest Syria. Entire families were devastated, such as Abdulhamid al-Yussof, who lost 25 members of his family, including his wife and 9-month twin babies, Ahmed and Aya.

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US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike, carried out by two US warships, the USS Porter and USS Ross, prior to his meeting with the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, possibly also sending a message also to North Korea about its nuclear ambitions.

More importantly, however, this strike, signaling a major shift in US policy, will be viewed as a strong message to Iran, being the main supporter of Assad regime throughout span of this atrocious six-year carnage against innocent civilians. And this turn of events couldn’t have arrived at a more critical timing, only weeks prior to Iran’s presidential election. Tehran will need to carefully evaluate the road ahead.

The strike

The very nature of the US attack, taking place at 3:40 am local time when minimum activity at the Shayrat airbase was expected, the fact that Washington had at least to some extent informed Moscow of its intentions prior to the strike, and the effort put in at the United Nations Security Council to obtain international consensus shows the objective was to deliver a political message to Assad, Iran and all other parties involved in Syria.

Reports indicate many hardened hangers and fueling stations at the airbase were destroyed. A more important statistic was also reported indicating Assad lost 9 to 14 Sukhoi warplanes, an asset fortunately very difficult for this regime to replace. Additionally, General Khalil Ebrahim, one of Assad’s senior commanders, was killed in the strike along with a number of other Syrian regime troops involved in the horrific Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack.

International consensus

Following eight years of devastating inaction by the Obama administration, partly due to its seeking to seal a highly flawed deal supposedly intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the global community has made its position loud and clear by voicing support for this measure against Assad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francoise Hollande issued a joint statement supporting the US missile strike. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said his country understands the reasoning behind this military move by the US, and British Defense Minister Michael Fallon described the action quite necessary.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also fully approved the strike against Assad’s military targets. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voiced strong words in the Security Council on Friday, saying Iran also bears heavy responsibility in Assad’s chemical attack after supporting the ruthless Syrian dictator for years.

“Getting Assad out is not the only priority,” Haley said in a Sunday interview with CNN. “What we are trying to do is obvious defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally, move towards a political solution.”

Representing a rare bipartisan measure, a significant number of Democrat and Republic senators in the US on Friday presented a bill to punish the Syrian regime for its war crimes.

Senators Bob Corker, Ben Cardin, Marco Rubio, Jeanne Shaheen, Robert Menendez and Todd Young introduced the “Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act”, instructing the US Secretary of State to “report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria, and authorize assistance for investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal, to hold Assad and his regime accountable for their heinous acts.”

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa backed the attack on Assad’s airbase, adding Thursday’s attack was a clear warning to Iran and all states supporting Assad in massacring innocent people.

Iran left terrified

Being caught completely off guard after enjoying 8 years of Obama’s unrestrained appeasement, Iran has found itself cornered after the recent US precision air strike against its Syrian puppet.

The road ahead for Tehran is now quite complex, to say the least. One so-called expert best depicted Iran’s utter fear in an interview with Iranian state TV saying, “I hope the US brings this to a halt and resolves this issue through diplomatic agreements.”

The semi-official Fars news agency, voicing the position of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), shed light on another aspect of Iran’s concerns. “The Syrian coalition… welcomed the strike and called for the continuation of such attacks,” the wire reads.

Ever since US President Donald Trump came to the White House, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan have called for the elimination of Assad and increasing sanctions against Iran, according to the Iran Online website. Turkey welcomed the military action against Assad and once again placed forward its plans to immediately impose a no-fly zone over Syria.

While reports indicate the presence of IRGC elements in Shayrat, the White House announced Trump is discussing with other world leaders the possibility of establishing a safe zone in Syria, according to Iran’s Entekhab website. Reports indicate the Pentagon is also providing Trump with plans on attacking Syria and setting Assad aside, the post continued.

Final thoughts

This attack couldn’t have come at a worse timing for Iran. To resolve the Syrian crisis the international community needs to expel Iran from the Levant and move forward by first designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Already concerned about the possibility of its powder keg society exploding into nationwide protest similar to that of 2009, Tehran has now suffered a major setback in Syria.

Evicting Iran from the Levant is “indispensable to bringing peace and tranquility to, and removing fundamentalism and terrorism from the region and the world,” according to a statement released by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Looking into the near future, Iran’s presidential election, read selection, is scheduled for May 19th. Knowing the Sharyat airbase strike by the US has sealed Washington’s change in policy and attitude, Tehran is left devastated and seeking desperate measures to maintain face, especially inside the country.