Has Khamenei signaled dead-end for Iranian regime’s adventures?

The United States’ important policy shift against Iran’s growing ambitions, spelled out in a 12-article speech delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is leaving Tehran’s clerical rulers facing quite a difficult challenge.

Iran experts believe these changes are based on two domestic and international pillars, acknowledging the reality of Tehran’s regime as a main threat in regards to its nuclear program, ballistic missile drive, exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, and a domestic crackdown machine on full throttle.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei understands how such dangerous circumstances are rendering severe setbacks for his forces both inside the country and militia proxies abroad.

Reports indicate the Afghan “Liwa Fatemiyoun” militias, hired to fight in Syria, are deserting their units, and Tehran is apparently ordering Houthi militia units in Yemen to withdraw from the country’s western coastline and surrender their most strategic port in al-Hudaydah.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting of the foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, at the Europa building in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AP)

 

Six conditions

In a desperate effort to counter this offensive, Khamenei has placed six conditions before the European Union to issue resolutions against the US in the United Nations Security Council, not raise the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East influence, guarantee trade through European banks, assure Iran’s ability to fully sell its oil, compensate pledges the EU has not lived up to (according to Khamenei) and take a stand against US sanctions.

As preposterous as Khamenei’s words sound, we need to understand that he has no choice but to resort to such remarks. And of course, the words of French President Emmanuel Macron sink deep in the minds of Tehran’s senior officials. French firms have to decide on continuing their activities in Iran and assessing the risks imposed by US sanctions, he said in recent remarks. The French President cannot ask companies such as Total to pull out of their business in the US, Macron said.

As many European companies continue to rush out of Iran, Stadler of Switzerland has been the latest to jump on the train, halting a $1.1 billion contract to provide and build 960 wagons for the Tehran-Karaj metro, citing the return of US sanctions as the reason.

Iran’s own political figures are losing hope. “How do we expect the Europeans to forgo their $700 billion exports to the US for the sake of $20 billion exports to Iran?” recently said Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran professor University with ties to the Iranian regime’s so-called reformist camp.

Although Khamenei has taken what seems to the naked eye a strong position by placing demands before Europe, he is also seeking new negotiations with the Green Continent. This proves that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visits to China and Russia, and a recent drive of Iran seeking eastern shift in policy, failed miserably.

From day one after Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the reality about the Iranian regime’s destructive policies became clear. Neither the European Union, Russia nor China are willing to provide any guarantees to Tehran. This explains why Khamenei, desperately seeking a lifeline, sees the only path forward as establishing a rift in the international community to somehow find breathing room for his regime.

Iranian and US banknotes are on display at a currency exchange shop in downtown Tehran. (AP)

Dark future

One must also recognize the severe setbacks Iran will be suffering from Washington’s drastic change in policy, in comparison to the Obama years. This has not only brought a complete end to all the dreams of those advocating appeasement vis-à-vis Iran, but also the dark future awaiting Tehran if it chooses to continue its nuclear program, ballistic missile ambitions, regional influence and domestic crackdown.

The Iranian regime is coming to learn the days of mass arrests, torture in prisons and executions without paying the price are coming to the end. Tehran is feeling the heat across the region, understanding its missile launches, exporting terrorism and meddling in neighboring countries come with a major price tag.

All of the Revolutionary Guards’ vastly expanded bases throughout the region, parallel to networks of terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, alongside the nuclear program and not providing the promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections of its civil and military sites, are now targets of a variety of punitive measures by the US and its allies.

All this Iranian belligerence received a major $150 billion as a result of a highly flawed nuclear deal. Money that could have provided for the over 50 million Iranians living in poverty. Ironically, it is the Iranian regime’s own semi-official outlets that are providing such drastic statistics.

The above have resulted in a growing volume of dissent inside Iran, as analysts now consider this country a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. What makes the status quo even more dangerous for the Iranian regime is the fact that the Iranian people’s thirst for regime change is symbolized in their support for the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

While there may be a long dispute about the issue of regime change in Iran, the current circumstances are quite telling for the Iranian regime itself. “[National Security Advisor John] Bolton makes the same remarks today as he did in a PMOI/MEK event,” according to an editorial in the semi-official Mardom Salari daily.

According to former Iranian parliament deputy chairman Mohammad Reza Bahonar, “The US administration receive their analysis from the PMOI/MEK… the strategy of behavior change is no different from regime change.”

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ANALYSIS: Spotlight on Iran’s media apparatus

Media discussions continue over the nuclear deal with Iran and the need to curb Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

There’s also discussion relating to the degree with which the regime, through its militias and proxies, meddles in the affairs of other countries in the region, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon.

There is, however, another highly dangerous reality, spreading from Tehran throughout the region and beyond, in the shape of the regime’s growing media empire.

The powerful threat posed by this network is must be understood. It is high time to put a spotlight on this growing phenomenon by focusing on containing and ultimately ending it.

The use of media and publications is a very important element of the regime’s ‘export of revolution,’ together with actual military operations, the establishment of religious footholds by founding centers and institutions and, as seen in Lebanon, appealing to the people by building free clinics, distributing food and other such charitable measures.

The United States has recently threatened to issue sanctions against Iran’s state TV and radio broadcasting empire, but, undeterred, Iran has announced its intentions to launch new French and Russian language networks, as well as targeting West Africa.

In a recent interview with Voice of America Farsi TV, Mr. Hassan Dai, a researcher into Iran’s international affairs, sheds light on Tehran’s vast media/publications grid.

A few numbers

There is no exact figure for how many TV networks Iran has launched to support its objectives abroad, but there are at least 55 stations known to broadcast programs in a variety of languages, mainly focusing on the Middle East.

Over 200 radio stations are aligning with hundreds of websites and printed newspapers.

The Iranian regime also fully understands and embraces the power of social media, using this platform to great effect in spreading the word about its television productions.

The Islamic TV/Radio Union

Founded ten years ago, Iran’s Islamic TV/Radio Union holds annual meetings and official numbers claim this Tehran-based union enjoys a membership of 236 organizations from 36 countries.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki described the objective of this union as providing “honest support for armed groups in the field.”

This union is known as an umbrella entity for all Tehran-influenced regional and international media outlets. The main member of this union is the Iranian regime’s state provider, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) operating inside the country with branches in Lebanon and Iraq.

In 2002, the Arabic language “Al-Alam TV” launched to cover the entire Middle East.

Iranian and foreign staff members of “Press TV” news channel work at the newsroom in Tehran, 20 June 2007. (AFP)

A few years later, the English language “Press TV” began broadcasting with branches in London and Lebanon. Due to sanctions, this network was later cut-off from Europe’s cable TV network.

“HispanTV” in Spanish provides similar broadcasts in Spanish for Latin America and parts of Europe.

“Al-Kowthar” airs religious programs in different languages while Sahar TV has recently expanded its activities in Azeri, Bosnian, French, Turkish and other languages.

Middle East focus

In addition to the IRIB, Iran is placing significant focus on supporting its Middle East militias.

No other country has such a high number of militia groups, each equipped with their own media outlet. IRIB chief Ali Asgari’s October visit to Lebanon provided a glimpse into the depth of Tehran’s established network.

According to Dai, using such media outlets, Iran continues its gain of significant experience in disseminating lies and spreading propaganda over many years.

Journalists work 07 December 2004 at the Al-Manar television station, the mouthpiece of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim fundamentalist Hezbollah. (AFP)

The Lebanese Hezbollah has through the years carried out a two-pronged campaign comprising military operations and media activities, especially using satellite TV networks. “Al-Manar TV” launched in 2000, developing into the new “Al-Mayadeen” network in 2012. With numerous Arab language TV networks stationed on its soil, Lebanon is of great importance for Iran.

Iraq is also home to many Iran-backed militia groups, each now enjoying a separate media platform. While distinct in name, their activities are well coordinated.

The main media stations and militia groups are:

  • “Al-Qadir,” associated to the Badr Organization led by Hadi al-Ameri, airs in Baghdad, Karbala and Basra;
  • “Al-Ettejah,” associated to the Katayeb al-Hezbollah led by senior Revolutionary Guards Quds Force member Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes;
  • “Al-Ahd TV,” associated to Asaeb al-Haq led by Qeis al-Khazali, whose men have vowed to fight U.S. Marines in Iraq;
  • “Al-Forat,” associated to Ammar Hakim, former leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a group known for its close ties to Tehran;
  • “Al-Nojaba,” associated to the Harekat al-Nojaba group that is witnessing a recent rise.

The Dawa Party has three different TV networks.

  • “Afaq,” associated to former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
  • “Al-Baladi,” associated to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari.
  • “Al-Mesar,” associated to the party itself.

Moving on to Yemen, a country now witnessing a proxy war launched by Iran against Saudi Arabia. While its role continues unconfronted, Tehran has provided the Yemen Ansarollah, aka the Houthis, the “al-Masireh TV” and “al-Saha” networks. These establishments, based in Beirut, enjoy Lebanese Hezbollah support.

Despite the fact that al-Masireh’s satellite provider ended its services, this TV station continues to air its programs.

In Palestine the two networks of Palestine “al-Yawm” and “al-Quds” are fully controlled and funded by Iran. They are in close relations with Islamic Jihad and the Quds Force Saberin unit, known for its extraterritorial special operations. “Al-Aqsa,” however, is associated to Hamas and cannot completely be described as under Tehran’s control, while they specifically oppose peace efforts with Israel.

Main target for expanding activity

Following the transfer of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) from Iraq to Albania, Tehran has been redoubling its efforts to establish a wide variety of outlets in this country and across the Balkans.

The PMOI/MEK have been a target of Iran’s demonizing campaign for decades and Tehran understands it needs to invest even further in this regard to delegitimize this opposition coalition that significantly threatens its entire establishment.

This urgency is increasing daily as protests continue across the country following a recent uproar from the whole spectrum of Iran’s society, incited, according to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by the PMOI/MEK.

Measures taken by the Iranian regime against the PMOI/MEK in Albania include paying various Albanian TV networks to air anti-PMOI/MEK propaganda during the past few months. A new website called “Iran-Freedom-Albania” presents such posts in Farsi, English and Albanian.

In addition, the Habilian website, known for its links to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, and Pars Today are now presenting Albanian language segments to their platform to target the PMOI/MEK.

This vast onslaught of media propaganda goes alongside Iran’s cyber campaign, used as domestic surveillance to hunt down protesters and gain knowledge about foreign-based activists.

Iran’s media campaign against its dissidents and opposition aims to help quell the current uprising. Be in no doubt that discovering the PMOI social network inside Iran and their supporter cells across the country are a major priority for Tehran.

The costs

First, taking into consideration the lack of transparency that Iran’s regime is known for, we should most certainly refrain from relying on official statistics. At least 30 percent of Iran’s entire economy is completely behind the curtains, controlled by the IRGC and other Khamenei-supervised institutions. There is no information on how the revenue of this large segment of Iran’s economy is allocated.

The same goes for Iran’s foreign belligerence. There is no mentioning of the budgets allocated for Syria, said to be $10 to $15 billion a year. This includes the money Iran provides to launch a new satellite TV network in this ravaged country.

There are no official statistics for these measures. Estimates indicate the Hezbollah-affiliated “al-Manar” TV station demands an annual budget of $20 million. As a result, aside from networks managed by the IRIB, Iran’s foreign-based media cost the regime around $150 million a year.

Blanket sanctions

Iran is certainly feeling the international pressure to significantly curb its ballistic missile program and meddling across the Middle East. As we trust this article shows, concentrated measures are also necessary to closing the curtain on its destructive media empire.

With reports of a controversial secret deal between the Obama administration and Tehran preventing new sanctions against Iran’s IRIB, Washington should lead an effort to impose blanket sanctions on this regime’s method used to spread its malign ideology and belligerence.

The time to act is now.

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.

ANALYSIS: How to pursue talks with Iran while isolation haunts the regime

What we have all come to understand is the fact that protests across Iran came as a major shock for the ruling regime and the international community. While the first wave of protests may have been quelled, Iran’s regime fully understands there is an intense fire burning in this powder keg society.

Making matters even worse, and a subject Tehran refuses to discuss, is the parallel expansion of international isolation currently haunting this regime. The Obama years are gone and the United States, Europe and the Arab World are adopting increasingly stronger positions against Iran’s belligerent policies.

Iranian protesters are following these developments closely, knowing the stronger the international effort, the weaker the clerical rulers will be in quelling their demands for ultimate regime change.

Washington initiative

In response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 120-day ultimatum for Europe to improve the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid a visit to his European counterparts to discuss Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional meddling.

This cumulative pressure, with the Trump administration pushing forward this new Washington initiative to reform the JCPOA, is placing the Europeans before a decision they have been kicking down the road for decades, and especially during the eight years of Obama’s full-throttle appeasement drive.

This rift in the West’s actions provided Tehran the breathing room it desperately needed to export its dilemmas abroad, under the banner of “exporting the revolution.” The end results in Iraq, Syria and Yemen go beyond any need of explanation after all these years of atrocities.

Europe changing face

During his London visit, Tillerson placed his finger on a subject considered highly sensitive for Iran. There is a growing consensus between the U.S., the UK, France and Germany over improvements necessary on various segments of the JCPOA and Iran’s behavior in different areas continuously causing concerns for the international community.

Prior to this, signs have been growing of Europe changing face, as Paris and London very specifically made it known that Iran must take major steps back over its bellicosities. Without the Obama administration providing life support for Tehran, the world has no ear for this regime’s claims of pursuing a “defensive” ballistic missile program and meddling across the Middle East “to protect religious interests.”

Despite the reality that European companies were seen initially rushing to Iran following the JCPOA signing, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his recent visit to Washington said their two countries are determined to even impose economic sanctions on Iran in response to its ballistic missile development.

As similar remarks are heard from the U.K. and Germany, it is wise to conclude that these partners on both sides of the Atlantic are beginning to tighten the rope with meaningful measures against Tehran.

Arab World offensive

Another sign of the recent Iran protests and international isolation hitting Iran where it hurts came as the regime’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, cancelled his participation in the annual World Economic Forum at Davos.

For those familiar with the Iranian regime, this came as no surprise as Zarif knew harsh questions would be awaiting him regarding Tehran’s quelling of recent protests. Such a scene was witnessed at the verbal beating Aladdin Borujderdi, head of Iran’s parliamentary Security Commission, received during his recent European Parliament visit.

Gulf Arab officials used the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday to slam Iran for its destabilizing behavior in the region.

Zarif’s telling absence left the Davos platform ripe Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to launch a wave of harsh criticism at the Iranian regime.

“[Iran] is using sectarianism and terrorism in order to interfere in the affairs of other countries,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a panel at the forum.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash went on to accuse Iran’s influence in the region of “transnational sectarianism” nature, adding a wake-up call to Tehran by describing the recent protests across the country set “very significant” markers.

“The whole idea of not Gaza, not Syria but Iran is what you [Iran] should concentrate on, is a clear message, not from us across the Gulf, but from your own population. Don’t spend $5/6bn annually in Syria, don’t spend a billion on Hezbollah,” he added in reference to Iranian demonstrators protesting the regime’s Middle East policy.

Different perspective

Despite this pressing emphasis on Iran’s ballistic missile drive and regional meddling, Tehran seems to be seeing things differently.

“The JCPOA is facing fragile circumstances. Domestic disputes in this regard can be tantamount to an assist to the U.S.,” according to the Bahar website, close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
It is quite obvious that Washington’s talks with Europe are not restricted to the JCPOA, but also covering the very issues Iran refuses to mention, cloaking its concerns behind a different perspective regarding recent developments.

It has become a known tactic of Iranian media and figures close to the ruling elite to launch a brouhaha about the JCPOA, while remaining silent on sensitive issues, such as their ballistic missiles and foot-sprints across the Middle East.

Why Iran needs to remain silent in this regard is quite obvious. At a time when people across the country are placing the very pillars of this regime in their crosshairs and demanding regime change, Tehran understands its weakening positions in the international spectrum will have a direct impact on domestic issues.

We must all come to understand conditions inside Iran and its relations with the outside world will never return to the status desired by the ruling regime and those international parties benefiting from these settings.

In such circumstances, each and every government across the globe has a duty to stand on the right side of history, being shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people. This is no time to decrease any pressure on Iran’s regime. Unlike the JCPOA, the setbacks foreseen for Iran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East meddling must be sweeping and evocative.

If Iran avoids these two subjects, the international community must understand this is exactly where this regime will bleed significantly. Taking action in this regard will also send the correct message to Iran’s protesters.

ANALYSIS: Will new sanctions change the balance of power in Iran?

US President Donald Trump is calling for new sanctions on Iran in his Friday decision, while providing Tehran with sanctions relief “for the last time” under an accord he himself describes as the “worst deal ever.”

The President is stepping into this verdict after consulting the all-important Iran question with his national security team. The factor changing the playing field now is the nationwide protests that continue to threaten the very pillars of Iran’s regime.

New scenario

The law obliges the US administration to announce every 90 days whether Iran is complying with a 2015 agreement the international community aiming to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

The fact that Iran is shaking under the feat of tens of thousands of protesters in over 140 cities across the country raises Trump’s latest decision to an unprecedented and utterly dangerous level for Tehran.

This follows first the United Nations Security Council discussion of Iran’s human rights violations, and as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said it best, the voice of the Iranian people being heard. The new sanctions, targeting most importantly Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, are of human rights nature and place the crosshairs on Tehran’s “Achilles’ Heel.”

This will definitely act as a wakeup call for all senior and lower level officials Iranian involved in four decades of human rights violations, devastating millions of Iranian families across the country.

These new tougher measures come as the Trump administration is voicing strong support for anti-government protesters spreading to many Iranian cities, and from a president who continues to harshly criticize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

‘Other issues’

“The president has been very clear that many aspects of the Iran deal need to be changed,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a recent interview. “There are many activities outside of the Iran deal, whether it be ballistic missiles, whether it be other issues, that we will continue to sanction, that are outside the JCPOA — human rights violations — we couldn’t be more focused.”

“We have as many sanctions on Iran today as we have on any other country in the process, and we will continue to look at things,” Mnuchin told VOA. Iran’s domestic crackdown is now an issue parallel to its regional aggression and nuclear/ballistic missile proliferation. The international community is now focusing on this new aspect of Iran’s belligerence, despite the regime’s long effort of maintaining a lid on this issue.

In Iran the JCPOA is dubbed as “Barjam” and there is talk of “Barjam 2, 3 and 4,” referring to the regime’s concerns of possible negotiations – and resulting setbacks – to discuss its Middle East meddling, ballistic missile ambitions and now, the gross human rights violations that have maintained a very restive society under the regime’s iron fist grip.

Iran is continuously seeking to drive a rift between the US and Europe on the JCPOA, emphasizing all non-nuclear related issues must remain outside these discussions.

Trump’s latest decision is defusing Iran’s plot by allowing Congress and Washington’s European partners a last chance to upgrade the nuclear deal. Iran is facing an enormous uphill battle, knowing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs may now considered “inseparable,” all sites can become targets of immediate inspections, and “sunset provisions” may no longer be acceptable.

Despite all the stonewalling, Europe no longer has any excuses up its sleeves, especially considering the fact that Tehran’s human rights dossier is now demands immediate attention.

Economic isolation

“Iran has no true economic ally” is the title of a recent article read in the semi-official “Jahan-e San’at” (Industry World) daily. Chinese bank, long considered a sanctuary for Tehran, are no longer agreeing to cooperate with Iranian entities similar to the past.

US is increasing economic sanctions against Tehran on a daily basis, while Turkey, a long partner of Iran, is also holding back, recalling the troubling Halkbank scenario.

Iran’s currency, the rial, is plunging without any operational solution in the near future. The ruling regime is becoming unable to fund power stations providing electricity, and this is enormously embarrassing, and very telling, for a country sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest crude oil reserves.

Considering the fact that the rial has been a very shaky currency in the past 40 years, analysts are forecasting an enormous and compelling economic crisis in the making for Tehran’s rulers.

This brews major concerns for this regime’s near future, especially since the latest unrest sparked with an economic focus and quickly avalanched into a huge political challenge endangering the entire regime establishment. This is a simmering fire with enormous potential, and Iran’s rulers understand this better than all other parties.

Changing balance of power

It is quite obvious that Iranian officials remain concerned about Washington’s possible exiting from the JCPOA and the resulting crippling economic impact for their regime. With protests continuing across the country, however, Tehran’s concerns multiply and senior officials are facing a devastating impasse.

The US’ objective is to place Iran under the center of international attention, increase global pressure and having partners board ship in the new White House approach vis-à-vis Tehran. This policy can and should witness Washington continuing to express support for the Iranian people and their demand for regime change.

Discussing Iran’s human rights violations and the new episode of crackdown measures against protesters will act as a major obstacle in the face of Iran’s foreign ambitions. In contrast to the JCPOA, in this regard Tehran understands vividly it cannot rely on Europe to create a divide in the West’s stance.

The new Iran uprising is changing the balance of power against the ruling regime’s favor both inside the country and abroad, with more voices raising against Tehran across the board. Looking forward, the JCPOA and all others subjects will increasingly haunt Iran’s regime in the near future.

The grassroots nature of these protests also underscore the undeniable fact that when the inevitable transformation begins to realize in Iran, the Iranian populace, without any unnecessary foreign intervention, will determine their future.

ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.

This comes following a Wall Street Journal article explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.

‘Hard look’

The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.

Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.

“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”

Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.

“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.

It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.

A different Iraq

US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.

This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.

Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.

Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.

This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.

Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.

July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.

Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.

Necessary deterrence

With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.

As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.

It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.

Times have changed

Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.

This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:

1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.

This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.

‘Global threat’

As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:

– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;

– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;

– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;

– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”

Will Iran’s Troubles In Yemen Propagate Elsewhere?

Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.

How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.

Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.

The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.

The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.

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Huthi supporters brandish their weapons during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 8, 2017. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Muslim and Arab countries across the world to protest against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. / MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.

It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.

Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.

This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.

Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.

The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.

Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.

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BEIJING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 24: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on November 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jason Lee – Pool / Getty Images)