How Will Iran Respond To The Syria Attacks?

Forbes

We can consider the April 14th airstrikes against the Syrian regime’s chemical infrastructure as a point of no return in regards to this country’s future developments. For many years Bashar Assad and Iran were able to take the utmost advantage of the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement, and thus pave the path for Russia’s entrance into the Middle East. The main victims have been directly the peoples of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other regional states.

Iran seeks to respond to these attacks, both to lift the spirits of its military and security forces across the country, and in regards to the regional balance of power. Facing increasing anti-government protests and its consequences, however, Tehran lacks the capacity to take on measures outside of its borders .

Considered Assad’s main sponsor after spending dozens of billions of dollars in Syria, Iran had prior to these attacks threatened repeatedly that such a US-led initiative will not go unanswered.

Tehran, however, has yet to take any action after the early morning April 14th airstrikes, while further reports in Middle East outlets indicate other bases associated to the Assad regime and Iran-backed militias in Syria are being targeted.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei unprecedentedly described the leaders of the United States, France and the United Kingdom as “criminals,” going against all diplomatic norms. Can such remarks be considered a green light for terrorist attacks by Iran and/or its affiliates?

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force, claims the Asaeb al-Haq, a 40,000- strong militia group affiliated to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) with long-term relations with Iran, has several units currently besieging U.S. forces stationed in the Al Zahra airbase located northwest of Baghdad.

Tehran’s rulers are comprehending clearly how Obama’s appeasement policy, in the face of this regime’s crimes inside the country and those of its affiliated militias abroad, has ended. Ever since the Trump administration has entered the White House, we have witnessed firm actions against Iran’s belligerence, rendering significant results.

For some time, we are no longer hearing reports of IRGC boats harassing US warships in international waters of the Persian Gulf. It has been months since Tehran last test-launched a ballistic missile. Instead they are using Yemen’s Houthis to launch Iranian missiles into Saudi Arabia to both cover any tracks and save face to some extent.

In the nationwide uprisings of the past months that rocked the very pillars of Tehran’s entire apparatus, the Iranian people are extensively protesting the regime’s Middle East meddling. This, parallel to the recent currency nosedive crisis, is preventing the Iranian regime from executing widespread military initiatives in the region.

Trump’s firm policy has also forced North Korea to agree into significantly curbing its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles. Russia, able to voice demands in the past few years due to Obama’s weakness and gaining a significant Middle East foothold through its Syria campaign, refused to respond to the US-led airstrikes against Assad’s forces.

Iran took advantage of the highly flawed appeasement policy by staging military attacks seeking physically elimination, and also demonizing its opposition, being the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and specifically the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main member of this political coalition that is considered the alternative to the Iranian regime.

In Iraq PMOI/MEK members were target to numerous ground and rocket attacks by Iran-associated militias. Tehran resorted to such methods to  balance in the face of regional defeats, including a lethal September 2013 raid into the PMOI/MEK’s main base in Iraq as Tehran’s nuclear negotiators began secret negotiations to curb their nuclear program.

Following the transfer of all PMOI/MEK members to Albanian in the Balkans, Tehran’s ability to carry out military attacks against them is limited. Iran, however, has launched an active propaganda machine and extensively expanded its embassy mission in Albania.

The PMOI/MEK in Albania have hosted senior American dignitaries such as Trump’s new National Security Advisor John Bolton, Trump’s cybersecurity advisor Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain and senior delegations from Congress all on separate occasions. Tehran’s lobbyists, especially those in the U.S., label such developments as the U.S.’ leniency towards war against Iran. This is Tehran’s effort to distract attention from the main issue at hand, being the existence of a popular resistance movement and an Iranian democratic alternative representing the Iranian people’s true will of regime change.

In response to senior U.S. figures supporting the PMOI/MEK and the policy of regime change in Iran, Tehran is focusing its main demonizing measures against this organization to both distort Albanian sympathy regarding the PMOI/MEK’s presence in Albania on one hand, and claim the Iranian regime has no alternative.

“Considering their own experience with dictatorship and oppression, Albanians understand the PMOI/MEK’s pain and suffering,” said former Albanian MP Namik Kopliku. “We are proud to provide a safe haven to the PMOI/MEK who seek freedom for Iran. On the other hand, we are witnessing a long slate of measures by Iran’s lobbyists in Albanian media attempting to spread lies and tarnish the PMOI/MEK’s image amongst our people.”

As a result, this possibility exists of Iran responding to setbacks in Syria by launching a new media campaign against PMOI/MEK members in Albania through its ties to western media outlets, attempting to delegitimize this alternative and portray the Iran dossier as a decision merely between war and appeasement.

If Washington intends to materialize its firm Middle East policy into meaningful results it must place its crosshairs on Iran . This is not a call for a new and unnecessary war in the Middle East. In fact, this is a call to support the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement in the ongoing anti-government protest, coupled with imposing crippling sanctions against the IRGC and Iran’s Central Bank. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin recently signaled the possible return of “very strong” sanctions against Iran.

These coordinated measures will significantly weaken Tehran inside the country and abroad, and facilitate true change by the Iranian people and their rooted opposition.

Advertisements

ANALYSIS: Are Syria strikes a wake-up call for Iran?

Al Arabiya

Despite many speculations, the anticipated US-led airstrike inflicted severe blows to Syria’s Bashar Assad regime. While many chemical facilities became targets to provide some cover for civilians from horrendous attacks in the future, the main message was sent to Iran.

A rain of missiles and warplanes attacking Assad’s military and chemical sites made the Syrian dictator understand the golden years of Obama’s presidency has ended completely for him, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei & Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Iran, considering Syria its own backyard, is now facing major decisions about its future in the Middle East and back home. After the West has raised demands for Tehran to significantly curb its ballistic missile program & regional meddling, this attack, only a month prior to US President Donald Trump’s May 12th deadline, will certainly demand a heavy price from Tehran.

Specifics

US warships and B1 stealth bombers, French Navy vessels, Rafael and Mirage warplanes, and British Tornado fighter jets were the western alliances’ arsenal against Assad’s military. Tomahawk cruise missiles levelled the Mezze military airbase southwest of Damascus. Iran-made Zolfaqar & Qiam missiles, along with their launchers, were reportedly destroyed.

The Jibil Qasioun base, north of Damascus, is destroyed, reports add. This was the Syrian army’s intercepting facility, modernized by Iran, and used as a base by the Lebanese Hezbollah.

The Chemical Research Center near Damascus & the Barzeh military-research base were both targeted by US missiles, leaving at least 5 Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force members killed, reports indicate.

Even though 90 percent of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force units evacuated all bases prior to the attack, sources in Syria say at least 15 IRGC Quds Force advisors were killed in these attacks. Their bodies are reportedly missing.

40 Lebanese Hezbollah members & 35 Syrian military personnel were also killed. Sources indicate these attacks have inflicted billions of dollars in damages to missile & arms depots in Homs, and military facilities in Hama, Mezze & Jibil Qasioun.

Despite claims made by Iran & Syria-associated media, all missiles inflicted severe damages on their targets, to say the least. In a desperate measure, Iran and Syrian state TV stations aired archived footage of Saudi air defense units intercepting Houthi missiles, claiming to be Assad’s forces taking action.

The Pentagon literally ridiculed such claims, saying Syria’s air defense units fired around 40 SAM missiles that were mostly ineffective after mainly fired after the airstrike, most likely placing civilians in danger.

‘Locked and loaded’

With France and the United Kingdom directly taking part in these attacks, it is now clear that the U.S. and Europe will join forces against Iran’s interests at times of sensitive geopolitical matters.

Russia chose to remain completely inactive and Iran, despite its previous threats of wiping Israel off the map in response to an attack on Syria, literally sees its forces on the run.

Claims of Assad’s units downing missiles are highly questionable, especially since the French and British warplanes would have been far easier targets. To add insult to injury for Tehran, further reports indicate further attacks targeting Iran-backed units on Saturday night and early Sunday morning local time.

Trump has warned that the US is ready to strike again if the Syrian regime resorts to further chemical attacks. America is ready to maintain pressure on Bashar Assad until he ends the process of killing his own people, he added.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley used very blunt language in saying her country is ‘locked and loaded’ to strike again in response to any new chemical attack, sending a very significant message to Damascus, Moscow and most importantly, Tehran.

Against principle?

Trump came under criticism over his remarks of seeking to pull out of Syria and leaving for others to finalize the remaining necessities. Criticism continued after he tweeted saying the missiles “will be coming,” apparently going against his principle and giving away the element of surprise.

However, the element of surprise is useful in mostly single-stage attacks, such as the April 2017 US missile strike on the Al Shayeerat air base following Assad’s chemical attack against Khan Sheikhoun.

Although that sent a political message to Assad and his sponsors, it did not prevent the regime from resorting to further chemical attacks. The early morning April 14th airstrike enjoyed the support of France and the UK, and a conglomerate of weaponry.

Parallel to the political message, Assad’s chemical arsenal is now crippled at least for years to come, according to the Pentagon.

Broader perspective

There are signs that the military presence of Iran’s IRGC and other militias in the region will become the next of focus of US policy in the region. It is clear Iran will continue its blueprint of using militias in Iraq, Syria and even Persian Gulf states, such as Bahrain, to advance its objectives across the region.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a statement following the attackcalling for the eviction of Iran’s “Revolutionary Guards and mercenaries from Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other countries of the region. The mullahs’ regime is the main source of survival of Bashar al-Assad and the main source of terrorism and extremism and warfare in the Middle East and the vast sections of the world.”

If Washington is serious about establishing meaningful peace and security across the region, placing Iran’s Middle East meddling in its crosshairs is a must. Crippling sanctions against Iran’s IRGC and the regime’s Central Bank will deliver the necessary punch.

Such a policy can go alongside pressures on the Iran nuclear deal prior to Trump’s deadline and the US Treasury Department vowing to add “very strong,” new “primary and secondary sanctions” against the regime.

Washington is taking steps to corner Tehran. A comprehensive strategy is necessary to resolve the nuclear deal mess, completely end Iran’s destructive influence throughout the Middle East, impose meaningful sanctions targeting Tehran’s financial network and most importantly, supporting the ongoing Iranian protests as this nation vividly abhors their unjust rulers and demands regime change.

Iran reacting to John Bolton’s appointment as US National Security Advisor

Bolton’s selection is tantamount to increasing pressure on Iran

Naghavi Hosseini, spokesman of the Iranian parliament’s Security & Foreign Policy Commission said:

“The selection of John Bolton as the U.S. National Security Advisor is aimed at increasing pressures & aggressive policies against Iran in the coming days.

“Bolton is one of the planners of toppling the Islamic Republic Of Iran.

“Down this path Bolton is supporting the [Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)].

“We are also witnessing the coming of a new U.S. Secretary of State and a new sanctions bill against Iran in the U.S. Congress.

“This trend signals the fact that the Americans… intend to continue their aggressive and enmity policy against Iran.”

JamNews website:

“Firebrand PMOI/MEK supporter becomes the new U.S. National Security Advisor.”

“Bolton has time and again… sought regime change in Iran and is known for his strong positions against the Islamic republic.

“The National Security Advisor is an important post in the White House and plays a significant role in policy-making & administration decisions in regards to U.S. foreign policy and military strategy.

“Donald Trump and H.R. McMaster were talking about his resignation for some time. They pushed this development forward to have the new team in place sooner.

“[Bolton], now in the main decision-making entity defining U.S. strategy, publicly supports regime change in Iran.

“Supporters of aggressive action against Iran’s regime admire Bolton for his frankness.

“Bolton also has good relations with the [PMOI/MEK], meeting with Maryam Rajavi and delivering a number of speeches in their events.”

Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaie says:

“The news is short yet very meaningful. John Bolton, an [Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)] supporter, obtains the highest political post in Trump’s administration.”

Rouydad 24 website:

“Supporter of war against [Iranian regime] becomes US National Security Advisor!”

“Bolton is among the most explicit opponents of the nuclear agreement (JCPOA).”

“Bolton is among the main [PMOI/MEK] supporters and has supported regime change in Iran in his speeches at their rallies.”

Tabnak website (affiliated to former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaie):

“With new changes in the White House, one must say the neocons have gained the main role in Trump’s foreign policies against Iran.”

“The nuclear deal and political regime change in Iran is the epicenter of this defiance.”

“Considering the new circumstances, we must say political regime change is once again in the Trump administration’s agenda.”

“[The new White House apparatus] considers Iran the main issue in the Middle East and Tehran the main threat against US interests.”

“They are attempting to portray [the Iranian regime] as tantamount to ISIS.”

Youth Journalists Club:

“As the new White House National Security Advisor, John Bolton will be playing an important role in Trump’s security decisions.”

“Bolton has repeatedly adopted aggressive positions against [the Iranian regime].”

“He is a staunch supporter of exiting the JCPOA.”

Bazar Ariya website:

“Leaving the Iran nuclear deal was the pivotal point of John Bolton’s first TV interview.”

“Trump’s new National Security Advisor reiterated he is participating in this program to talk about US’ possible JCPOA exit.”

“John Bolton is known for his strong stance against the [Iranian regime].”

“(US Secretary of State-nominee Mike) Pompeo also holds strong opinions against the nuclear pact.”

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 Iran’s regime enters its 40th year as an Islamic Republic

February 11 marked the beginning of the 40th year Iran’s clerics are ruling over what they describe as an “Islamic Republic.”

The fact that this regime is facing a whirlwind of domestic and foreign crises goes beyond doubt. While Tehran’s state media boasts massive support among the populace, remarks heard recently from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei portray a canvas of impasse, a weak entity and the road ahead being uphill, to say the least.

In response to increasing unrest across the country protesting political and economic corruption, Khamenei acknowledged the fact that “fighting cruelty and corruption is very difficult… it will not be resolved easily.”

He is acknowledging the growing scope of systematic corruption riddling the ruling apparatus, and his regime’s weakness in tackling such a demanding issue. Khamenei’s words also indicate Iran’s population will no longer tolerate discrimination, injustice and state-sponsored corruption.

Interesting is how in his latest remarks Khamenei refuses to discuss the 120-day ultimatum issued by U.S. President Donald Trump over the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This further shows his weak hand, especially since Europe is cooperating with Washington’s demands of taking on Tehran’s meddling across the Middle East and ballistic missile program.

Khamenei’s silence is very meaningful and will be devastating for his regime in the near future.

“Systemized corruption”

Political and economic corruption is now considered institutionalized in Iran’s governing systems, ranking this country as one of the world’s most corrupts states. Obviously, economic corruption is merely one result of political corruption, and after 40 years we have come to learn the very subject of corruption has become an inseparable aspect of Iran’s regime.

Iranian Vice President Es’hagh Jahangiri says “termite corruption” is infecting every essence of Iran’s political and economic infrastructure, while Ahmad Tavakoli, head of Iran’s Expediency Council goes further.

“Unfortunately, corruption has become systematic. If measures are not taken, corruption will most definitely bring an end to the Islamic republic,” he adds, cited by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Changing times

Once known for its chest-thumping in refusing to discuss its role in the internal affairs of countries across the Middle East and the so-called “defensive” ballistic missile program, Iran, sensing the changing times, is now signaling steps back in this regard.

In a public acknowledgment of increasing international pressures and Europe distancing away from Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Paris how Tehran would be willing to discuss “other issues” if the West makes certain the JCPOA remains “a successful experience.”

Although these remarks may seem rather harsh, those familiar with the language used by Iranian officials understand this is saber-rattling to save face, knowing discussions over “other issues” will be grueling and far more demanding than anything Tehran experienced during the Obama years.

Obvious is how Iran’s hardliners fiercely oppose such talks, yet all parties of this factionalized regime are realizing there is no good option ahead, and only choosing from bad and worse.

With Trump providing a last chance for what he describes as “the worst deal ever,” the Europe trio of Britain, France and Germany, all seeking to preserve the JCPOA due to their economic interests in Iran, are scrambling to blueprint a plan addressing Trump’s concerns over Tehran’s destructive role in the Middle East and ballistic missile drive.

Dirty money

Despite Araqchi’s claim of there being no link between the Iran nuclear accord and its influence across the region, new evidence shows the U.S. government tracing portions of the $1.7 billion released by the Obama administration to Tehran – as part of the JCPOA signing – has found its way into the hands of Iran-supported terrorists.

Informed sources are indicating how Tehran has been allocating such funds to pay members of the Lebanese Hezbollah, known as Iran’s main proxy group and provide the budget needed for the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards element described as Iran’s leading foreign intelligence arm involved also in covert action.

The Houthis of Yemen should also be sending their gratitude to Team Obama as evidence shows they, too, have received dividends of the notorious cash load airlifted to Iran. Tehran is using the Houthis to exert pressure on Riyadh from its own backyard.

This is not good news for Iran as such findings will most likely further convince Trump in his effort against the JCPOA. As heard from Araqchi, Tehran understands perfectly well the scrapping of this accord and the return of crippling sanctions, coupled with ongoing domestic protests, are a recipe for disaster.

Troubling months

In another sign of the Trump administration’s determination to take on the issue of Iran’s belligerence, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the region, paying visits to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait.

Iran is most definitely a major topic of his discussions and Tehran is bracing for possibly a new onslaught of regional pressure, similar to that of Europe, making costing demands.

With Iran protests taking a toll on the regime – as seen on Sunday with many cities witnessing people boycotting pro-regime rallies and protesters hitting the streets at night – and increasing word of banks going bankrupt, the months ahead look grim for Iran. This regime understands better than anyone that the public’s increasing wrath will be demanding, and it is using the JCPOA, its regional influence and ballistic missile program to bargain with the international community.

The difference between now and 2015 is that the White House is not at all fond of Iran’s bellicosity, and more importantly, the Iranian people are making serious demands of regime change.

Iran And Future Relations With Europe

Following the recent statement issued by U.S. President Donald Trump on the future of the Iran nuclear deal, technically dubbed as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the four conditions he raised on America’s continued cooperation with this already controversial pact, Tehran’s concerns are focusing on why the Europeans haven’t shown the regime’s desired negative response.

Washington’s conditions include increasing inspections, ensuring “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon,” eliminating all JCPOA expiration dates, and requiring Congress to adopt a bill incorporating Iran’s ballistic missile program into the pact.

Some time ago I explained “How Iran Is Losing Europe,” receiving a variety of messages of agreement and more of harsh disagreement. Regarding the new developments that fall into this line of argument, one can analyze the true feelings of those ruling the Iranian regime through their media outlets.

Tehran is extremely concerned that the U.S. government is reaching agreements with its European partners to stand their ground on these four conditions, leading to escalating restrictions for Iran.

The semi-official Khorasan daily expresses Tehran’s concerns over why the EU’s response refused to firmly reject Trump’s statement, describing the stance as “conservative.”

“Negotiating the existing JCPOA is not in their agenda. However, instead of emphasizing on their previous positions, all parties are now talking of analyzing and making decisions regarding Trump’s conditions,” the piece reads in this regard.

In a sign of the continuing internal factional dispute amongst Iran’s ruling factions, this article lashes at the bloc loyal to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“The fact that [the Europeans] consider this subject as assessable is an issue we must take into consideration in our calculations, and we must not have high hopes in the Europeans,” the article adds.

There is increasing talk about the EU’s response to Trump’s statement and its conditions as a signal of Europe beginning an episode of increasing cooperation with the US in relation to the JCPOA, and similar agreements over Tehran’s slate of belligerences.

“It appears that [French President Emmanuelle] Macron has agreed with Trump to launch talks about Iran’s ballistic missile program in return for the U.S. remaining loyal to the JCPOA. Trump raising the issue of ballistic missile negotiations is without a doubt involving France and Europe into an already lost faceoff,” according to the semi-official KhabarOnline website.

For those unfamiliar with the language and culture of Iran’s state-backed media outlets, this is actually an indication of Tehran’s weakness and deep concerns, and not a signal of readiness for further talks.

Describing the U.S. President’s four demands as “Trump’s pseudo ultimatum to Europe on the JCPOA,” the semi-official Iranian Diplomacy website considers this stance as in line with the European Union and indicates its hope of the Green Continent having more influence on Washington for the unpredictable future.

“The recent remarks and stance heard from Trump and senior U.S. officials proves that behind the curtains the Europeans are playing an important role in convincing Trump to once again waive sanctions for another four months,” the text reads in part.

There are also voices heard inside Iran who have lost complete hope of Europe providing any life rope whatsoever to safeguard the JCPOA in the near future and beyond.

“The EU today is facing a variety of dilemmas and internal crises, lacking the necessary organization to stand against various decisions made by Washington, including in regards to the JCPOA,” reads a piece in the semi-official Khabar One website.

From Tehran’s perspective, the conditions set by Trump are completely unacceptable and a prelude to place pressure Europe to adopt a stronger position in regards to Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling in the Middle East and stoking terrorism.

Speaking of Iran’s bellicosity, relations with Germany is witnessing a twist recently. Following an investigation by the country’s domestic intelligence agency, German authorities on Tuesday raided the homes and offices of 10 suspected Iranian spies, Reuters reported citing prosecutors.

Considering the recent protests rocking the very pillars of this regime and raising many eyebrows, Iran’s human rights dossier will most likely remain under a constant international spotlight that may actually become the most dangerous source of Tehran’s brewing troubles in the near future.

Washington, with Trump’s latest demands, will most likely seek to transform the JCPOA into a meaningless platform for Iran, and yet a medium to increase its pressures and conditions. With Europe left in a pickle to decide between Washington and Tehran, it doesn’t need a political or economic expert to comprehend how bleak the future looks for the Iranian regime.

This is exactly why Iran’s media outlets, known as a good source into the mentality of Iran’s ruling elite, consider the EU’s new soft approach vis-à-vis Trump’s statement a step in undermining the JCPOA altogether and imposing further obligations to degrade Iran’s positions, especially in the Middle East and for its already dwindling and dismal social base.

This is sensed vividly in the words of Abdolreza Faraji-rad, Iran’s former ambassador to Norway.

“Following his discussions with other European leaders, Macron is deciding to both maintain his policy of safeguarding the JCPOA while launching talks regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program and this regime’s role in the region, all to gain U.S. content,” he explained in a radio interview.

Iran is entering troubled 2018 waters, especially with the wave of protests promising to gain strength across the country. How the West, and especially Europe, will respond to the Iranian people’s efforts to realize meaningful change and the regime’s human rights violations, is a major issue.

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.

Iran Protests: What We Are Learning

The future of Iran’s protests is on the minds of many as the fate of this strategically important state remains in limbo. This subject gains even more importance considering U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming Friday decision on the controversial Iran nuclear deal.

Iran’s state media claims the protests have come to an end, a result similar to that of 2009. Yet the world is witnessing how further cities and towns are expressing their abhorrence over the ruling elite.

This status quo is a struggle between the Iranian people literally fed up with this regime and a dictatorship weakened from domestic unrest, internal rifts and international pressures.

Escalating matters far beyond previous scenes of nationwide protests in 2009 and 1999 is the clear reference made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the party behind these rallies.

“As well as Washington and London, Khamenei blamed the violence on Israel, exiled dissident group People’s Mujahedin of Iran and ‘a wealthy government’ in the Gulf, a probable reference to Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia,” according to Reuters.

Tehran pointing fingers at Washington, London, Israel and the Saudis is nothing new. Yet Khamenei mentioning the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is of quite significance, indicating the main source of his regime’s concerns.

This recent wave of protests is setting the grounds with new sets of rules and understandings.

1) The Iranian people no longer fear in expressing their true feelings, seen in the nationwide slogan of “Death to Khamenei.” Such a brave measure in the past would bear the potential of earning you a heavy prison term, if not a death sentence.

2) Unlike previous uprisings, these demonstrations are mushrooming across the country, reaching over 130 cities and towns, according to activists. Places less heard of before, such as Izeh, Dorud, Shahin Shahr and etc. are now seen leading the growing wave of protests. Brave demonstrators are threatening the regime’s very pillars to an extent that security forces have opened fire and killed dozens of protesters, arresting thousands, according to reports.

3) From the second day of this uprising protesters have shown their overcoming of prior fears through responding to the security forces’ attacks and quelling. State vehicles, motorcycles, makeshift police stations and other facilities are being set ablaze by protesters in response to the regime’s unbridled crackdown.

4) For years Iranian state media and its lobbies in the West have been claiming this entity enjoys vast popular support. Various campaigns, including a Twitter hashtag #بسيجي_نيستم (I’m not a Basiji), reveal the regime’s woes, as a growing number of Revolutionary Guards Basij paramilitary members are seen joining the protesters’ ranks.

5) Iran is showing a major vulnerability in its intolerance of social media platforms. The government is filtering the popular Telegram messaging app – said to have 40 million members in Iran – in yet another attempt to prevent protesters from joining force and the entire population from receiving unfiltered information from the outside world.

This makes the necessity of providing unrestricted access to the Iranian populace all the more vital.

6) In far contrast to 2009, the U.S. administration is powerfully standing alongside the Iranian people. This nation continues to suffer from the wounds of Obama extending his hand to Khamenei in their time of need. This time around, however, President Trump and senior administration officials are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s legitimate demands while placing Tehran on notice.

To some extent the Iranian people also enjoy the support of Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. More effort is necessary in this regard, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is meeting today with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, and only discussing human rights violations in Iran and the recent protests very briefly.

7) Despite the detention of over 3,000 protesters, the Iranian people are not silent. As in Tehran, families and other protesters are seen demanding the release of political prisoners and recently detained demonstrators. On January 9th, facing escalating demands outside the notorious Evin Prison, authorities had no choice but to release four political prisoners. This has the potential of becoming a turning point in the regime’s crackdown against protesters.

8) Iran is known for four decades of human rights violations. The referral of this highly sensitive dossier to the United Nations Security Council in less than a week after the spark of these protests is a point of no return for Tehran, knowing the issue of human rights violations, restricting freedom of speech and internet access will no longer go unnoticed by the world’s highest decision making body.

9) Speaking of no return, the myth of Iran’s “reformist” and/or “moderate” currents is now considered an issue of the past. This hurdle, dating back to the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani and even the prime ministry of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, has been preventing any serious discussion of regime change. The “reformist” illusion is now evaporating as protesters are heard chanting, “Reformist, principalists, end of story.”

10) Parallel to all other developments, the nature of many outlets and social media channels is surfacing, making it clear for all who is who, and their affiliations to the ruling regime. The past two weeks have been crucial in making it crystal clear for the Iranian people which outlet of any kind provides unbiased information, and which merely are beating the regime’s drums, according to activists.

11) In another reference to 2009, on December 30th of that year Tehran launched a pro-regime rally claiming of ending the “sedition”. Each year this day has been an opportunity for the regime to stage such marches and provide hand-picked images to the outside world, in its claiming of a vast social base. To this day Tehran has being failing to stage a pro-regime rally worthy of dubbing as a strong response to the nationwide protesters demanding regime change.

As a result, two weeks into the groundbreaking protests, this popular movement is proving it bears the capability of overcoming previously impossible odds. In response, the ruling regime has no solution to provide for the people’s valid demands, while lacking the will of resorting to all-out crackdown, fearing Iran’s powder-keg and a strong international response.

As a result, conditions are set for fundamental regime change in Iran. In these new circumstances, even the smallest protest rally bears the power of a massive demonstration by reigniting hope in people’s hearts and stretching the regime’s resources, making it incapable of delivering the response it needs to quell this ongoing uprising.

Change should be realized by the Iranian people. The U.S. and the international community, however, should provide unrestricted internet access to all Iranians and impose meaningful sanctions against the ruling regime, with the state radio and television IRIB network.

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.

960x0-2
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.

960x0 (1)
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)