Iran in Crisis

The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Tehran has been hit with severe blows during the Munich Security Conference, contrasting interests with Russia, the recent escalating row with Turkey, and most importantly, a new U.S. administration in Washington.

These crises have crippling effects on the mullahs’ apparatus, especially at a time when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees his regime facing a changing balance of power in the international community, and is faced with a major decision of selecting the regime’s so-called president.

Iran and Ahvaz

The dust storms crisis in Ahwaz, resulting from the mullahs’ own destructive desertification policies, caused severe disruptions in water and power services and people pouring into the streets in major protests.

The regime, and especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), has for decades pursued a desertification policy of constructing dams, drying lagoons, digging deep oil wells beneath underground water sources with resulting catastrophic environmental disasters. Various estimates indicate the continuation of such a trend will literally transform two-thirds of Iran into desert lands in the next decade. This will place 14 to 15 million people at the mercy not only dust storms but also salt storms.

Iran and the Munich Security Conference

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended this conference with a series of objectives in mind, only to face a completely unexpected scene. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the mullahs are the source of threats and instability throughout the Middle East. Turkey went one step further and said Tehran is the heart of sectarianism and spreads such plots across the region, and all traces in Syria lead to Iran’s terrorism and sectarian measures.

This resembles a vast international coalition against Tehran, inflicting yet another blow to the mullahs following a new administration taking control of the White House. These developments are very costly for Khamenei and the entire regime.

In comparison to the early 2000s when the U.S. launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was the main benefactor. The current balance of power now is quite different, as seen in Munich. While there is talk of an Arab NATO, any coalition formed now in the Middle East will be completely against Iran’s interests.

Iran and Russia

Following a disastrous joint campaign in Syria, for the first time Russia is reportedly supporting a safe zone in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said contacts have been made with the Syrian regime to establish safe zones in Syria. These are the first remarks made by any Russian official on the issue of safe zones in Syria.

Moscow’s increasing contrast in interest with Iran over Syria has the potential of playing a major role in regional relations. Russia certainly doesn’t consider Bashar Assad remaining in power as a red line, a viewpoint far different from that of Iran. Moscow is also ready to sacrifice its interests in Syria in a larger and more suitable bargain with the Trump administration over far more important global interests.

Iran and Turkey

Yes, Ankara and Tehran enjoy a vast economic partnership. However, recent shifts in geopolitical realities have led to significant tensions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the mullahs of resorting to “Persian nationalism” in an effort to split Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of seeking to undermine Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Tehran’s “sectarian policy.” Cavusoglu used his speech in Munich to say, “Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped.”

Tehran considers Ankara’s soldiers in Iraq and Syria as a major obstacle in its effort to expand its regional influence.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s strong approach vis-à-vis Iran and the possibility of him supporting the establishment of a Turkish-administered northern Syria safe zone may have also played a major part in fuming bilateral tensions between these two Middle East powers.

Erdogan has obviously realized completely the new White House in Washington intends to adopt a much more aggressive stance against Tehran. This is another sign of changing tides brewing troubles for Iran’s mullahs.

Iran and Presidential Elections

With new reports about his ailing health, Khamenei is extremely concerned about his predecessor. One such signal is the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, current head of the colossal Astan Quds Razavi political empire and a staunch loyalist to Khamenei’s faction, for the presidency. With former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani out of the picture, Khamenei may seek to seal his legacy by placing Reisi against Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming May elections.

This is literally Khamenei playing with fire, as Reisi is considered a hardline figure and such an appointment may spark 2009-like protests across the country, as the country has become a scene of massive social challenges. Rouhani himself doesn’t enjoy any social base support, especially after four years of lies and nearly 3,000 executions.

Final Thoughts

This places the entire regime in a very fragile situation. From the internal crises of Ahwaz, the upcoming elections and the formation of a significant international front threatening the Iranian regime’s strategic interests.

Forecasting what lies ahead is truly impossible, making Khamenei and his entire regime extremely concerned, trekking this path very carefully and with a low profile. As we witnessed with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, Iran immediately released the 52 hostages held for 444 days.

This regime understands the language of force very carefully. And yet, there is no need to use military force to inflict a significant blow and make Tehran understand the international community means business. Blacklisting Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization by the U.S. at this timing would be the nail in the coffin for the mullahs.

Originally posted in American Thinker

A bombshell for Iran

This year’s Munich Security Conference became the scene for the condemnation of Iran as a sponsor of terror on a regional and global scale. The mullahs’ regime was named as the main state sponsor of terrorism, and part of the problem, not the solution, in establishing peace and security in the Middle East.

The similarity of the harsh criticism and strong positions taken by numerous countries against Iran speaks very vividly and unmistakably of a coalition against Tehran, leaving senior Iranian regime officials desperately in need of a solution, and fast.

The conference has been described as a major turning point to what the future may hold for Tehran, and it is now crystal clear that the balance of power in the region and across the globe has shifted significantly against the mullahs, to say the least.

“A new formation of old enemies against our country has established, and we are alone faced with a global alliance. In such conditions Iran must decrease the military confrontation possibility, tone down the propaganda and make room for overt and covert diplomacy, all aimed at breaking this alliance,” the state-run Sharq daily wrote in a recent editorial printed on its first page.

“The strategic management of Iran’s policies in the region must be returned to the Foreign Ministry,” wrote the state-run Jamaran website. For example, Iran’s embassy in Baghdad is considered the most important for the mullahs’ regime. And this post is, and has been, under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force from 2003 onward.

These remarks make it undisputable how terrified Iran is of the rocky road ahead.

The period we are currently in is being described in Iranian circles as the “post-Munich era” involving potential disputes between Riyadh and Tehran. Such developments foreshadow a substantial decline in Iran’s influence in the post-Munich order, signaling harsh days ahead for the mullahs’ regime.

The regional balance of power will undergo major changes, and Iran is terrified of not only being on the wrong side of history, but of suffering major setbacks. Senior Iranian officials are issuing warnings for decision-makers to accept the new reality and focus their efforts on sidestepping any provocative actions that can provide excuses or pretexts by rivals. This is one major reason Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has remained relatively silent in the past month.

Iran is concerned that U.S. president Donald Trump’s efforts will not be limited to the recent round of sanctions imposed following the January 29th ballistic missile test. Regime analysts are predicting a series of pressure-increasing measures by the new White House, knowing Congress is fully ready to back such action. One issue Republicans and Democrats will not have much trouble finding common ground on is punitive measures against Tehran’s mullahs.

It is common knowledge that Iran benefited extremely from Obama’s eight-year tenure, especially the unprecedented access Tehran’s lobbies enjoyed to the White House. On the other hand, many voices advocating a firm approach on Iran are now considered very close to President Trump and his national security team.

To this end, Khamenei understands quite well that unpredictable developments await. Just as international sanctions and fear of an explosive society becoming completely restless forced Iran to the negotiating table, with Trump at the helm in the White House, rest assured that Khamenei will have very limited options.

Tehran will to some extent attempt to further test Washington’s limits, such as the recent military drills and testing of “advanced rockets”, or generals making remarks such as Iran being ready to give U.S. a “slap in the face.” This practice is also aimed at lessening the costs resulting from any possible future negotiations with the West.

Senior Iranian regime officials and politicians understand the unpredictable nature of what lies ahead. This is exactly why voices are heard indirectly encouraging the Supreme Leader to refrain from provoking new tensions and enter new talks when possible.

To this end, the regime’s efforts to create new space for the mullahs’ regime in relations involving the international community and regional countries, all under the banner of engagement, backfired significantly in this year’s Munich Security Conference.

As a result, there is a rising perspective of further global and regional isolation awaiting the mullahs’ regime in Iran. Khamenei and his inner circle are realizing the harsh reality that Obama’s “golden era” is over, and the Munich bombshell will have major impact both internationally, and more importantly, in domestic affairs.

Originally published in American Thinker

Iran’s Supreme Leader Sees the Beginning of a New Era

By Shahriar Kia

Following a rocky first month in Trump-Iran relations, it’s significant that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has chosen to maintain a substantially low profile. Comprehending the threat of vast changes in Washington, Khamenei also knows he cannot show weakness to his dwindling social base already terrified of major changes in the new U.S. administration’s policies vis-à-vis Iran following Obama’s eight years of appeasement.

In recent remarks, Khamenei even said there is no difference between the Obama and Trump administrations (!) and “the real war is the economic war, the sanctions war.”

These are interesting observations from Khamenei, and they should be considered deceptive, because he understands fully well that with Obama gone, so are the concessions the previous White House provided to his regime. Khamenei’s own change in reactions is further proof, as he is seen choosing his words quite carefully.

“To pass this stage, Iran has two options ahead. First, to strongly counter-react in areas in which the United States has vital interests, and the second is for Iran to act within the frameworks laid out by the United States in order to continue to have a role in the region and get out of the harnessed state. No doubt, the second option would ensure more strategic advantages for Iran.” (Jahan-e-Sanat, February 20)

During the Obama years, Khamenei himself used strong terms in threatening American interests across the globe. He went as far as saying that his regime would “raze” Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground, wasting no time in lashing out at any threats. This also showed how Obama’s appeasement policy failed miserably.

Now that Khamenei is receiving “on notice” level warnings from Washington, he is in fact completely terrified to use any strong terms. However, he is resorting to a new tactic of claiming there being “no difference” between the Obama and Trump administrations. From January 20th onward, Khamenei has repeatedly made such remarks about the two administrations.

This comes at a time when the supreme leader and his inner circle used believed sanctions could have no impact. Such a shift in tone seen in Khamenei is the index that a policy of firm language against Iran, parallel to economic pressures through sanctions, can bring this regime to its knees.

On the other hand, we are witnessing that Tehran’s lobbies, and those who capitalized on massive economic gains rendered through the appeasement policy, are desperately speaking out against any sanctions, and especially the possible designation of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

The IRGC controls much of Iran’s economy, and yet Tehran’s lobbies have gone the distance in claiming its blacklisting will threaten America’s interests in Iraq and other countries hosting U.S. bases, and also endangering so-called “moderates” in the face of “hardliners.”

This is nothing but fake news, signaling that not only officials in Tehran, but their decreasing number of international correspondents, are concerned about Obama’s appeasement policy coming to an end.

A firm policy against Iran goes far further than only containing this regime’s nuclear ambitions and foreign meddling. Such a shift can also fuel the Iranian people’s increasing protests against this regime. The exact opposite of Obama turning his back to the 2009 uprising in Iran.

Recent protests in Ahvaz and other cities resembles the Iranian people’s hatred of this regime and their thirst for change.

Ended Sunday, February 20, the Munich Security Conference condemned the Iranian regime for disrupting security and stability in the region. The delegations in the conference had one sentence in common when speaking against the Iranian regime: the Iranian regime is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, said by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as well as Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir. Also, Turkish finance minister Mevlut Chavushoghlu put this same issue another way while pointing to the regime’s interventions in Syria and Iraq. “Iranian regime is seeking sectarianism in the region”, he said.

The new alliance of Arab nations, and especially the participation of Turkey, has raised major concerns among senior officials in Tehran as a strong front against its terrorism and meddling in other countries is formed.

The formation of such a front is a sign of significant policy changes in Washington. This appears to be a step in the direction of regaining the trust lost amongst U.S. allies during the Obama tenure to confront Iran’s terrorism and meddling in the Middle East.

Etemad, for instance, writes on February 21: “the leaders and elite in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey had this vision in recent years that with Barack Obama as President, the US administration wouldn’t take any specific measure against Iran in order to put Tehran under pressure.”

Military drills and hollow saber rattling by IRGC commanders during the past few days shed light on Iran’s fear and severe weakness of developments in the makings with the incoming policy alterations in Washington.

What needs to be understood is  that we are already at the beginning of a new era where the regime in Iran will no longer benefit from an appeasement policy that allows it to both increase its domestic crackdown and foreign warmongering, such as Iran’s involvement in Syria, and continuously threaten to abandon ship on the accord aimed at curbing the Iran nuclear program.

This provides a golden opportunity for the international community to begin standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people and its organized resistance under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim woman who represents a tolerant and democratic Islam against a fundamentalist version of Islam advocated by the mullahs’ regime. Bringing an end to the appeasement policy and, as being recently weighed by the Trump administration, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist designation are necessary steps in a long overdue roadmap.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst writing on Iran and the Middle East. He is the member of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, also known as the MEK). He graduated from North Texas University.

Originally posted in American Thinker