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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
BREAKING: Trump Admin Preparing to Kill Iran Nuclear Deal If Europeans Refuse to Fix Agreement – Insiders worry Admin will cave to appease Iran https://t.co/3tFv2cYwtu
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
“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.
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.
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 aWall Street Journalarticle 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.
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.
Correction: Taeb, Khamenei associate: “… when [#Houthis] want to take Jeddah, Riyadh or… there’s only one solution. Ground Saudi Arabia’s air force & then go in. What do they need? SS missiles. We have plenty & those poor guys didn’t…”#Iran#Yemenhttps://t.co/TYpPvnFA3T
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
This can be considered France’s response to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s New York Times op-ed defending his regime’s ballistic missile program, and literally falling to Europe’s knees to protect Tehran from U.S. President Donald Trump’s major shift in policy vis-à-vis Iran.
The Trump administration is on the verge of publicly displaying evidence proving Iran is procuring missiles to the Houthi.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is also set to present further evidence of Tehran’s weapons proliferation, potential U.N. sanctions violations, acts of destabilization and threats to U.S. allies.
These developments have also spilled into Iran. Mostafa Tajzadeh, an Iranian politician known to succumb to Khamenei’s demands, criticized the IRGC’s intervention in Yemen, saying there was “nothing to make of Yemeni territory that have any strategic importance for Iran.”
Iran took advantage of Obama’s engagement policy to make advances across the region, including Yemen. With times changing, Tehran should not be provided any more such opportunities.
The U.S. Congress is weighing new Iran sanctions for its destructive role in Yemen and policies aimed at destabilizing the country through ongoing support for the Houthis, including supplying them with weapons.
To further trouble matters for Iran, Russia this week evacuated its embassy employees and citizens in Sana’a, reports indicate. One can conclude Moscow sees no hopeful future anytime soon in Yemen and Tehran has most likely lost a partner to bear the mounting challenges.
In fact, a strong stance in Yemen and liberating this country from the Houthis should be used as a launching pad by the international community to begin reigning in Iran’s expansionist policy across the Middle East.
Trump is scheduled to outline his first National Security Strategy next week. After refusing to certify the controversial Iran nuclear deal, registering the IRGC as a terrorist organization and again voicing Bashar Assad has no future in Syria, rest assured Iran’s role in the Middle East will be a major topic in Washington’s new blueprint.
Developments in the Middle East have placed the spotlight once again on Iran and its hegemonic temptations. This goes parallel to calls from parties such as France and Germany, whom Iran previously counted on in the face of U.S. pressures, demanding Tehran reel in its ballistic missile program and support for proxy groups across the region.
While all such measures are necessary and deserve escalation, Tehran’s human rights violations demand even more attention. This is the one issue that both shivers fear in the ruling regime and provides direct support for the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom, democracy and all the other values embraced by today’s 21st century world.
As the world marks International Human Rights Day on December 10th, we are also well into the first year of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s second term.
Dubbed as a “moderate” figure in Iran’s politics, with many arguing otherwise, the scene witnessed in Iran during his tenure has been far from it. Over 3,500 executions are merely the first stain of an atrocious report card of human rights violations.
A new report by Iran Human Rights Monitoring reviewing the plight of human rights in Iran during the course of 2017 sheds light on a reality the regime strives to cloak from the world.
Mrs. Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, in a semi-annual report referred to the absence of an independent judiciary in Iran. Improving the country’s human rights situation hinges on reforming the judiciary, she added.
Amnesty International in its 2016-2017 report indicated how, aside from China, Iran is host to 55 percent of all the world’s executions.
In June Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei used the term “fire at will” in a speech, leading to an increase in repressive measures and flagrant human rights violations.
This includes a 22 percent increase in the number of arrests, 25 percent increase in women executions, the execution of four juveniles, and a surge in inhumane and humiliating punishments, according to the Iran-HRM report.
Iran has witnessed 520 executions from the beginning of 2017 to the end of November, while only 91 such cases have been reported by the regime’s official news agencies. 28 of these were public hangings and five cases involved political prisoners.
The systematic murder of porters by state security forces in Iran’s border regions, counting to 84 such cases so far in 2017, raised a stir in social networks and even international media outlets.
The report also sheds light on the atrocious conditions in Iran’s prisons, as severe crackdown measures have rendered jails packed with inmates. This has led to poor hygiene conditions, low quality food and many other dilemmas for the prisoners.
Iran’s jails are also home to at least 640 political prisoners, an issue Tehran refuses to recognize or provide any information about. These individuals are constantly tortured and placed under inhumane pressures, as more than 56 are victim to mental and psychological tortures.
One such hideous practice has been chaining inmates to a courtyard pole, seen carried out in Ardebil Prison, northwest Iran, according to the report.
Iran is also known to resort to inhumane measures resembling the Middle Ages. Five limb amputations, 32 lashings and more than 105 humiliating public parading of prisoners have been registered from January to November 2017.
Ruled by a regime founded on pillars of crackdown, Iran has long been criticized for its lack of press freedoms; more than 30 journalists and 18 bloggers are currently behind bars across the country. At least five journalists are banned from any such activities and dozens of others are serving heavy sentences.
In its April statement Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran as 165th among 180 countries on its index of press freedoms, adding the country ruled by Tehran’s regime is considered one of the world’s largest prisons for journalists.
After imposing censorship for decades and keeping the Iranian people cut off from the outside world, the regime ruling Iran understands the power of the internet and social media, in particular.
While Iran cannot afford to completely cut off the internet, the mere fact that nearly 40 million Iranians are online daily is literally a time bomb for Tehran. The regime has gone the limits to ban and filter numerous websites and platforms, especially Telegram, considered to be very popular in Iran due to the privacy and security provides to its users.
Iranian officials have publicly announced the filtering of around 16,000 to 20,000 Telegram channels, went as far as blocking any live video streaming on Instagram and filtered Twitter.
Religious and ethnic minorities in Iran, specifically Christians and Baha’is, are experiencing similar restrictions, parallel to not being recognized by Iran’s ruling extremists and systematically placed under pressure from state officials and authorities. The UN Special Rapporteur in her report referred to the harassment of religious and ethnic minorities, specifically holding the IRGC responsible for arresting minority members.
For the first time the UN Special Rapporteur’s report refers to the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, consisting mostly of members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Looking forward to hosting a distinguished panel of speakers @PressClubDC to discuss "The Summer of Blood": the 1988 extrajudicial killing of 30,000 dissidents by #Iran's rulers, many of whom remain in positions of power today. https://t.co/qDLL4kyp2k
A panel of prominent American politicians participated in a recent discussion in Washington, DC, unveiling a new book published by the U.S. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the main coalition consisting of the PMOI and other Iranian dissident groups.
U.S. President Donald Trump has twice expressed the American people’s solidarity with their Iranian brethren, signaling a stark contrast in policy with his predecessor who failed to stand alongside the Iranian people during their 2009 uprising.
Sanctions and a variety of restricting measures targeting Tehran’s nuclear drive, ballistic missile program, and support for terrorism and proxy groups are very necessary, and should increase. Parallel to such actions, measures targeting Iran’s senior officials and the entities behind human rights violations must be placed on agenda by the international community.
As developments across the Middle East continue to signal landmark breakthroughs in the near future, Iran is resorting to desperate measures to safeguard a fading role.
As over 85 percent of Yemen is retaken by the Saudi-backed coalition, reports indicate a second ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s armed Iran-supported Houthi militias targeting Saudi soil was shot down on Thursday near the south-western city of Khamis Mushait.
In Syria there are signs of hostilities nearing an end after nearly seven years of carnage. This is in fact against Iran’s interests as this regime thrives on unrest outside of its borders to keep the flame of turmoil burning and focus attention at bay from its domestic woes back home.
Desperate times, desperate measures
While standard viewpoints and common sense lead us to the conclusion that certain measures signal Iran’s strengths, this piece is meant to argue otherwise. Iran, nowadays, is forced to choose between bad and worse.
With Yemen slipping out of its control, Tehran is desperate and resorting to a variety of measures to maintain a straight face despite significant setbacks. This includes deadly clashes between Houthi forces and those loyal to ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah, significantly endangering Tehran’s future interests.
The circumstances in Yemen are obvious. It has become a no-brainer that Tehran supports the Shiite Houthis against the internationally-recognized government of Yemen. Yet Iran cannot engage directly in Yemen through ground, air or sea measures. Launching missiles from Iran to Yemeni soil against the Saudi-led coalition or into Saudi soil is also out of the question.
Remains only the option of smuggling arms and missile parts through Oman and other routes into Yemen to support the Houthis and have the missiles assembled and readied to target Saudi targets. Riyadh’s missile defense units have defended their territories. Despite all the calamities, Iran is left with the sole option of continuing such measures, or succumb to forgoing its Yemen campaign and accepting defeat.
To make matters worse, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution calling on Iran to halt its support for the Houthis. With 539 votes in favor against a mere 13 against, the European Parliament condemned the Houthis’ recent missile attacks targeting Saudi interests, especially a civilian airport in Riyadh and the King Khaled International Airport.
A confidential United Nations sanctions monitors report seen by Reuters indicates the remains of “four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi rebels this year appear to have been designed and manufactured by Riyadh’s regional rival Iran.”
A similar mentality and practice of understanding is needed to compensate a recent move by a reporter of Iran’s state broadcaster embedded with Tehran’s foot-soldiers in Syria.
It is common knowledge that recruiting juveniles for war is banned by international law. All the while, a November 25th video showing a 13-year-old boy in the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal made a frenzy on Iranian websites and social media channels.
Describing himself as a “defender of the shrine”– using terminology branded by the Iranian regime for foot-soldiers and cannon-fodders recruited for battles in Syria and Iraq – the young boy says he is from the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran and resorts to various explanations about his motivation for being in such circumstances while expected to be attending school.
Although obviously a publicity stunt, why would Iran resort to such a measure knowing organizations such as the Human Rights Watch would raise major concerns? If Iran is boasting about major victories in Syria, why the need to resort to such a PR measure with more cons than pros?
Adding to the controversy is remarks made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over Tehran’s forces insisting to remain in the Levant. “The US and Russia cannot decide for Iran… It’s our region… We are going nowhere,” Zarif said in remarks going against Iran’s claims of maintaining a presence in Syria to fight ISIS and “defend Islamic shrines.”
It is becoming an undeniable reality that Iran is losing hegemony in Syria to a long slate of players. And after wasting dozens of billions of dollars in the Levant, bringing death to hundreds of thousands and literally destroying an entire nation, Tehran is desperately in need to save face.
What the future may hold
Iran’s meddling across the region has escalated tension across the region to unimaginable levels and left a path of ruins. Tehran currently seeks a corridor to its main proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah, to easily provide necessary logistics and maintain influence throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir raised the stakes by accusing Hezbollah of using Lebanese banks for smuggling and money laundering to finance their terrorist activists. Riyadh’s top diplomat went as far as describing Lebanon as another country’s hostage, most likely referring to Iran.
The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has long called for strict measures aimed at evicting Iran from the region, especially Syria and Iraq. The war in Syria is coming to an end against Iran’s interests.
The forces supported by Tehran in Yemen are losing ground fast. Hezbollah is coming under increasing pressure in Lebanon and in Iraq, after the routing of ISIS, Iran can no longer justify the presence of proxy forces.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday met with Iraqi Kurdistan leaders in Paris and called on Iraq to dismantle the Iran-backed militia known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. This is a very public call for such a measure considered highly sensitive for Iraq and Iran.
All the while, the Iranian regime is no entity to remain silent or inactive. There are ongoing conspiracies to obtain further influence in Iraq’s upcoming general elections set for May 12th. Establishing underground missile factories and a land-bridge are in the blueprints for Lebanon.
Wreaking endless havoc in Yemen and creating obstacles one after another in the Syria talks are Iran’s agenda. In response, a strong and united international effort is needed to confront Tehran’s ambitionsand deter it back once and for all.
From the early days of its rule Iran’s regime has been increasing economic pressure on the people, especially the lower class and most deprived. A vivid result of such practice has been the astonishing phenomenon of many Iranians willing to sell their kidneys and other organs, and even mothers pre-selling their unborn fetus. This is parallel to the growing phenomenon of child labor, a swelling number of homeless people roaming the streets and people even resorting to making homes out of graves.
Tehran has a history of increasing domestic pressure and skyrocketing prices to provide for the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, exporting terrorism and fundamentalist across the region, and currently, the onerous finances needed to confront international sanctions and managing an economy in ruins.
Iran’s regime has shown it cares less about such matters as billions are poured into various domestic and international campaigns. This includes meddling in Middle East countries, boosting its nuclear and ballistic missile drives, and launching dozens of military and security forces imposing an intense atmosphere of internal crackdown.
In a recent initiative Iran’s regime seeks to increase the price of bread and medicine. A large portion of Iran’s lower class is currently deprived of a daily portion of bread. Bakeries in Iran’s poor neighborhoods are already selling bread based on monthly payments.
“… the price of bread will be increased by 32 percent… the Minister of Industries spoke of decreasing government supervision over wheat and bread sales,” according to a report broadcast by state TV.
Such price increases, originally 15 percent for bread, have resulted in alarming dilemmas for ordinary life.
“…prices of various goods have risen significantly while annual salary increases are equal to the value of a few kilograms of fruits,” according to the Baharestaneh website.
Conditions have sank to such lows that even Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), reportedly controlling a large portion of the country’s economy and allocating billions for regional meddling, have attacked other institutes to escape from any such criticism.
“The 10th parliament can be described as lacking courage, and being fluid and unpredictable. Members of parliament no longer have any sensitivity over the people’s economic woes, especially increasing poverty in our society,” according to Mashreq News, another state-run outlet in Iran.
Although having concerns about ordinary Iranian’s welfare is not one of the IRGC’s strong attributes.
In response, a member of Iran’s parliament, Amir Khojaeste, resorted to remarks seeking to place the blame on the government of President Hassan Rouhani.
“Why have they increased bread prices by 15 percent and imposing pressure on the people? Salaries are low and the lower class are enduring enormous pains,” he said.
This is the same parliament that adopted a bill providing $600 million dollars to further develop Iran’s already controversial ballistic missile program and the Quds Force, pursuing the IRGC’s extraterritorial campaigns. This includes recruiting foot-soldiers and cannon fodders, from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran “has Basijis of the Islamic world from six countries in Syria and Iraq,” said General Mohammad Reza Yazdi, commander of the IRGC division stationed in Tehran.
Iran’s meddling in Syria was a topic in a recent phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, underscoring “the need to confront and reverse Iran’s destabilizing activities in Syria.”
Tehran has been accused of allocating $30 billion annually for its support and promotion of terrorism through proxies, also including the Houthis of Yemen.
Suspicion over the IRGC’s intentions have increased following remarks by senior officials seeking to expand the force’s reach.
The IRGC will play an active role in establishing an enduring “ceasefire” in crisis-hit Syria, its chief commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said according to Reuters. Disarming Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy in the region and a designated terrorist group known for its nefarious attacks, was non-negotiable, Iranian state TV reported last Thursday. Reports have placed “Hezbollah’s annual income at between $800 million and $1 billion, with 70-90 percent coming from Iran…”
IRGC deputy chief commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami has gone as far as warning to increase the range of missiles above 2,000 kilometers to target Europe, according to wires citing the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency.
The Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has long exposed Tehran’s role in the region, especially in Syria. Advocating a policy of regime change in Iran, the NCRI has welcomed the IRGC terrorist designation by Washington and considers the expulsion of Iran from Syria and Iraq as necessary for the region to finally begin heading towards peace and stability.
Considering Tehran’s decades of supporting terrorism and meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, this regime will continue to plunder the Iranian people to provide for its range of belligerence.
The Iranian people have been suffering under such a state and a recent surge in protests are raising eyebrows and escalating concerns in Tehran. For example, following the recent earthquake that shook western Iran the lack of state support for the victims has been alarming.
The earthquake inflicted damages equaling to 11 years of the targeted province’s budget, according to the Kermanshah governor. It is worth noting that Tehran’s annual support for Assad in Syria equals 150 times that of this province’s annulal budget.
One Iranian state daily warned:
“The recent earthquake unveiled the Iranian citizens’ distrust in state institutions… This will not remain without specific political and social consequences… this is a reminder of the imminent threat of a complete meltdown of social trust…”
Developments over Syria following recent collaborations between leaders of the United States and Russia have gained significant momentum. This also signals a decreasing Iranian role and a prelude to further setbacks for Tehran.
An hour long phone call last Tuesday between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin followed the latter’s meeting with Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.
After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum.
The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed last week to facilitate a full-scale political process in Syria and to sponsor a conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to end the war.
While some may consider this a victory for Iran, jumping to early conclusions blinds us from understanding how Tehran sought full hegemony in Syria. Today, circumstances account to major setbacks.
Putin’s hosting of talks on Syria inclines that Moscow calls the shots. This leaves Tehran deeply concerned, especially following its six-year long campaign to maintain Assad in power. The mere fact that Iran is sitting at the table with Russia, also in talks with the US over different issues, and Turkey, a Syrian opposition supporter, leaves no doubt Tehran will need to display political flexibility.
Many would argue a pact between Washington and Moscow will define the blueprint of finalizing Syria’s crisis. Did the Sochi talks place Tehran and Ankara in line with Moscow and Washington? Doubts remain in this regard and Iran understands clearly how a post-ISIS Syria will come at a heavy price.
And with Russia significantly scaling down its military presence on the ground in Syria, Iran’s dreams of a Shiite crescent are endangered, to say the least. Moreover, the mere fact that China is considering a role in reconstructing post-war Syria means more players in the future of this country, and a declining part for Iran.
Seeking to safeguard its interests in Syria, Iran’s terrorist-designated Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) is also eyeing a share in Syria’s reconstruction. This should sound alarm bells, especially since such a role would provide a front for Iran’s efforts to maintain a foothold in the Levant.
Higher global interests
Certain is the fact that Russia’s reservations are not limited to Syria. On the international stage Moscow and Washington enjoy a certain stature. This said, it is quite obvious Moscow will not sacrifice its higher global interests for Syria.
The phone call between Trump and Putin is a sign of coordination between their two countries in Syria. With Washington playing an observer role in the Astana talks weighing Syria, one can conclude their role in the Levant is not eliminated.
Far from it, in fact. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said recently how the US is in Syria to stay. “US troops, in Syria to fight Islamic State, won’t be packing their bags now the jihadist group is essentially beaten. They’re staying on,” Bloomberg reported. This comes as the Pentagon is also likely to announce the presence of around 2,000 US troops in Syria, according to Reuters.
Iran understands fully that US presence in Syria is a source of dilemma for any future plans in the region. Considering the drastic consequences of Obama’s premature departure from Iraq, there are doubts Trump will allow such a repeat in Syria.
Considering the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, one can conclude that Moscow will also be taking Riyadh’s reservations over Syria into consideration. Knowing the Arab world’s support is crucial, Putin will strive to obtain Riyadh’s consent.
In his latest meeting with United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized how his government worked with Saudi Arabia to unify the Syrian opposition, also indicating UN’s blessing for this latest push.
Unlike Iran, Assad remaining in power is not a red line for Russia. And Moscow will seek Riyadh’s cooperation to have the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional states jump on the train to bring a final end to the Syria crisis.
This spells into a more significant role for Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Middle East archrival, whose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in a recent New York Times interview described Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”
Fueling more concerns for Iran is the fact that the Sochi talks focused on establishing peace and stability in Syria based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. This platform was even described by Iranian state media as an “American and Zionist conspiracy.”
The shadow of UN-backed solutions for Syria will continue to haunt Tehran. Putin also emphasized changes in the process of Syria’s political agreement will render based on the Geneva agreement framework.
To add insult to injury, the Syrian opposition meeting Thursday in Riyadh agreed to dispatch a single bloc for next weeks’ UN-backed peace talks. Nasr Hariri, a known Syrian opposition figure selected as the new chief negotiator, is heading to Geneva for the talks set to begin tomorrow. The opposition is ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table,” according to Hariri.
Tehran would have been delighted to continue fragmenting the Syrian opposition, as witnessed throughout the 6½ year war.
An opportunity is available to end Syria’s fighting, with a high possibility that a final political solution will materialize in the Geneva talks.
In his abovementioned interview, the Saudi Crown Prince reiterated how the world has “learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.” As the international community seeks to bring an end to the war in Syria, appeasing Iran through this delicate process must be strictly prohibited.