ANALYSIS: With ISIS on the run, is it time to focus on Iran?

Iraq announced the official defeat of the ISIS terror group on its soil recently. Efforts in Syria pinpointing on the cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zoor, the last two ISIS strongholds, are also on the rise with estimates forecasting the group’s complete annihilation in October.

Unfortunately, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, thanks to the marginalization and crackdown of mass Sunni populations by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran has benefited from the existence of ISIS to divert international attention and crosshairs away from its mischiefs.

After three long years of devastation and destruction brought about by ISIS, it is high time for the international community to exert its energy and pressures on Iran to bring an end to its proclivity of regional meddling and bellicosity.

Most recently revelations have made clear of Iran’s efforts to produce advanced, precision weapons in Lebanon and Syria. These activities are dangerously close to Israel, an enemy Tehran’s regime has sworn to wipe off the map.

Iran has been very active in Syria and focusing efforts to transform the country into a military entrenchment base. Anyone having knowledge about the Iranian regime’s nature and recent history understands how Tehran’s ruling clerics seek to establish war fronts across the Middle East to spread their malign influence.

An image grab taken from Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV on August 24, 2017 shows Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. (AFP

The main proxy

These sites in Lebanon and Syria are intended to produce missiles with state-of-the-art capabilities. Tehran has specifically pressed the gas pedal on these measures during the past year in Lebanon. The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy and offspring from 1982 to this day, will most likely be the principal benefactor of these new missiles, enabling it to threaten specific targets.

This goes parallel to Tehran’s repeated efforts, especially during the ongoing six-year war in Syrian, to smuggle strategic, game-changing weapons into Lebanon. These attempts have been greeted with numerous Israeli airstrikes against various targets in Syria in recent years, such as advanced weapons caches or convoys that reports indicate were headed for none other than Hezbollah.

Already entangled in the Assad/Iran war against the Syrian people, Hezbollah has yet to show any retaliation against Israel in response to these airstrikes. While these assertions may not be new, the changing times in the Middle East are further providing grounds for dire action as “tomorrow” may prove to be too late.

To add to the regional concerns stirred by Iran, the al-Shabaab terror network, a known affiliate of the al-Qaeda network, has raised the stakes by taking control of uranium mines in Africa. Reports indicate its intention is providing Iran with such crucial sensitive supplies. This can be described as yet another failure of Obama’s highly flawed, back-channeled deal with Tehran that left the regime’s pivotal threats unaddressed.

A SANA handout picture shows (L-R) Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus on February 25, 2010. (AFP)

The bigger picture

Iran has been taking advantage of the overall Middle East situation to extend its sphere of reach and influence through Hezbollah and a slate of other proxies. Tehran has also focused on propping the Assad regime in Syria, holding on its foothold in Yemen through supporting the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and maintaining its strategic presence in Iraq after the fall of ISIS. The latter is specifically important considering the upcoming 2018 parliamentary elections.

And even more disturbing about Syria are recent blueprints of de-escalation zones across the country. The southern de-escalation zone in particular would provide Iran and its company of proxies the highly sought opportunity to consolidate their stretch across these sensitive areas. These measures are also aimed at limiting Saudi influence in Syria, considered a red line for Tehran.

Iran took advantage of strategic policy mistakes in Iraq. This should not be repeated in Syria. Assad in Damascus has since 2011 relied on Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah for its very survival. The Syrian regime has maintained its strategic positioning thanks to Iran’s crucial role in delivering economic and military assistance through the years.

Iran is now seeking to place itself as the ultimate winner of the Syria war, and a glimpse at post-2003 war Iraq and the status of Lebanon provides a prelude of the devastation to come. As such, all the more important to launch global initiatives to counter Iran’s hostile aims.

US President Donald Trump ordered a massive military strike against a Syria Thursday in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack they blame on President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP)

Understanding the reality

Assad may now threaten to look East after the war rather than West in retaliation to those who stood against him. Yet he should be reminded of how he must face accountability for his horrific crimes against humanity, mostly at the behest of the ruling regime in Iran.

In a recent Paris visit, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Assad leaving Syria is a high probability. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called on world powers to impose a transition plan in Syria. The French top diplomat also made it crystal clear there is no place for Assad in Syria’s future.

All this goes parallel to the necessity of displaying an allied, international determination that Iran’s threats against the security of the region and beyond will not go tolerated.

As a recent New York Times piece explains, “The Trump administration has so far seemed willing to cede Syria to Russia, save for the defeat of the Islamic State. But Washington should understand what this really means: ceding it to Iran.”

ANALYSIS: How the tide is turning against Iran

As ISIS is losing ground in its two last enclaves of Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, there are many rightfully concerning reports of Iran seeking to chip further control in Syria.

All the while, there are also signs of contradictory remarks heard from senior Iranian officials, parallel to indications on the ground of how international counterparts are seeking their own interests that fall completely against those of Tehran’s.

Such incoherency signals nothing but troubling times ahead for Iran in losing its grasp of strategic interests across the Middle East, including Syria.

‘Not tantamount to meddling’

Similar sentiments were heard recently from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. Zarif exerted himself to defend Tehran’s carnage in other countries under the pretext of a mandate to defend human rights.

“The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic, based on the constitution, is a policy that is naturally founded on human rights. What is the meaning of human rights? It means defending the rights of innocent against oppressors… We have this definition in our constitution. This is not tantamount to meddling,” he claimed.

Zarif’s remarks were followed by Suleimani’s insight. “There were friends in high places, in our country’s domestic and foreign hierarchy, who argued not to get involved in Syria and Iraq, and sit back and respectfully defend the revolution. One individual asked you mean we go and defend dictators? The leader (referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) provided a clear response in saying when you look at the countries we have relations with, who is a dictator and who is not? We simply look at our interests,” he explained.

A troubling slate

The relations Khamenei refers to promote an image into the very nature of his establishment. Bashar Al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria can be read as a reign of death and destruction. With Iran’s support and in the absence of a coordinated global response over 500,000 have been killed, scores more injured, over 12 million are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge abroad, and swathes of the country is left in ruins.

Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, another figure described as Tehran’s puppet, has a similar report card unfortunately gone neglected. The Sunni community was the main target of Al-Maliki’s Iran-backed wrath, fueling the rise of ISIS.

In Yemen the Houthis and ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Salah have also been at the receiving end of Iran’s support. As the Saudi-led coalition advances against Iran’s disastrous efforts, signs of major rifts, and even reports of clashes between the two forces, constitute a major quagmire for Tehran.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy offspring brought to life by the IRGC back in the early 1980s, are known to instigate the Syrian war by supporting Al-Assad, and pursuing Tehran’s interest wherever needed across the Middle East.

Looking abroad, Iran has established cozy relations with North Korea and Venezuela, both dictators whose people are starving. The Pyongyang-Tehran axis is especially raising concerns considering their close nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration.

Iran’s own dictatorship

This is a regime provoking a variety of bellicosities. Recent threats by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi of relaunching certain nuclear activities are reminders of the dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Extending equally to such concerns, and not receiving adequate consideration, is Iran’s ongoing human rights violations. Over 100 executions were reported in the month of July alone. This comes after more than 3,000 were sent to the gallows during Rouhani’s first term.

President Hassan Rouhani with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis at his office in Tehran, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

More recent cases include the ongoing hunger strike of dozens of political prisoners in a jail west of Tehran going on for nearly four weeks now. These inmates are protesting prison guards resorting to violence and other repressive measures used to impose further pressures.

Concerned of this and the overall situation in Iran, Amnesty International in a statement demanded Iranian authorities “allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of Raja’i Shahr Prison and other prisons across the country.”

While this and many other such cases deserve an international inquiry, they do signal a significant change in tone of courage in Iran’s powder keg society against the ruling regime.

From others’ perspectives

Fortunately, there is an end to be seen in the Syrian war. However, six years after the spark of that revolution, the Syrian people have suffered tremendously mainly due to Obama’s compelling kowtowing to Iran.

The war has been draining Iran, forcing it to seek the support of other parties, including Russia. The more parties with stakes in Syria, and with the US taking a far more active stance, the more Iran sees its future in the country threatened.

As the Levant’s forthcoming is being blueprinted, high on the agenda must be thwarting Iran’s interests. With ISIS defeated in Iraq, there will be no legitimacy for Iran’s presence in Iraq in any shape or form. The same argument goes for Syria.

The international community, coming to realize Iran’s destructive nature, should take the initiative and demand the eviction of all Iranian elements from Syria, including IRGC members and foreign proxy members transferred from abroad.

Peace is the end

All said and done, comprehending Iran’s regime thrives on the mentality of spreading crises across the region is vital. Ceasefire and reconciliation are not in this regime’s nature, knowing increasing public demands will follow.

This regime has failed to provide in elementary needs inside Iran for the past four decades. Thus, satellite states abroad will be no exception. Peace and tranquility in the Middle East hinges on containing Iran’s influence from all its neighboring countries and a complete end to its lethal meddling.

A new chapter is being written in this flashpoint region’s history.

Make Iran Pay a Price for Regional Meddling

There is no doubt that the Middle East is in turmoil like never before. And this is highly due to the disastrous engagement/lead-from-behind policy adopted by the Obama administration, despite its claim it sought to lessen tensions.

Iran is taking advantage by expanding its sphere of influence through proxy groups in Iraq, propping the Assad regime in Syria by dispatching a conglomerate of militia shock troops and fueling the Yemen war by providing arms, money and logistical support to the Houthis. However, the days of Iran’s advances are numbered.

As the Trump administration continues to place its crosshairs on ISIS in Syria, Tehran is busy in a land-grab campaign, already thinking about the post-ISIS Levant. Iran has also through the years ordered its offspring, Lebanese Hezbollah, to dispatch thousands of its members to Syria.

Washington must come to understand more action is needed against Iran’s moves in Syria. Tehran is also seeking to raise the stakes for the US in the all-important region of southeastern Syria. A series of incidents all clearly indicate the escalating tensions on the ground and in the skies:

—         US fighter jets targeting Iran-backed militias nearing a base of America-backed forces in al-Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border,

—         US warplanes shooting down two Iranian-made drones and a Syrian Sukho-22 jet targeting allied Kurdish forces on the ground,

—        Iran launching medium-range ballistic missiles from its soil to Deir Ezzur in eastern Syria.

The most recent White House warning to Assad not to resort to a chemical attack raised the temperature even higher. It is obvious Assad would need permission from Iran and Russia for such a move. Thus Washington was sending an “on notice” message to Damascus, Tehran and Moscow.

Iran’s objective is clear: establishing a land corridor passing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and reaching the Mediterranean shores. On both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, Tehran has militia proxies seeking to push ISIS out of the region and prevent any US-backed forces, be it the Kurds and Sunni Arabs advancing upon Raqqa, or the Free Syrian Army in the southeast, from gaining any further foothold in Syria after the fall of ISIS.

Iran seeks full control over the Syria-Iraq-Jordan borders and will not tolerate any US presence in the area. Iran has also ordered Hezbollah to stretch its activities to Daraa in southern Syria close to the Israeli border.

While the Trump administration has taken unprecedented military action to protect its interests, White House statements explaining US-led coalition forces do “not seek to fight” Iran-backed forces will be viewed by Tehran as a window of opportunity to continue their belligerence in a highly-hostile flashpoint area.

And while we are here, Russia declaring a freeze on deconfliction agreements with the US is nothing but a bluff considering the fact that Moscow has already accomplished more than its expectations in Syria: fortifying a naval and air base, and establishing a major foothold in the Middle East after decades of absence.

It is high time for Washington to begin defining and taking steps in the direction of its broader post-ISIS Middle East policy. It is imperative to understand Iran’s threats will only further increase and the end of ISIS will not mean the end of violence or Tehran’s destructive meddling.

Iran’s actions in Iraq after 2003 should provide a very disturbing vision. Tehran dispatched its mullahs and flooded the country with money to launch “cultural centers.” This was the beginning of Iran spreading its tentacles and injecting its disparaging mentality to fuel sectarian wars that continue to haunt Iraq and wreak havoc in the country.

Shiite militias have been harassing the Sunni minority for over a decade as Tehran seeks to change the complete social fabric of Mesopotamia. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as the Hashid al-Sha’bi in Arabic, are a replica of the mullahs’ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Iran’s influence in Iraq has reached the point of this entity being legalized by the Iraqi Parliament.

As ISIS routed the classic Iraqi army thanks to the disastrous policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran began justifying PMF presence in battles for Falluja, Ramadi, Salahaddin, Tikrit and now Mosul.

Firstly, it is a dire necessity for the US and its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and all Gulf Cooperation Council states, to quickly remedy the Qatar crisis and prevent Iran from taking advantage of such a rift.

Secondly, as ISIS is being eradicated, all attention must be focused on Iran and its devastating meddling in the region. One very imperative measure to curb Iran’s influence and bring an end to its reach across the region is for the US, European Union and Arab nations to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Finally, Sunni Arab states should be involved in rebuilding the devastated lands of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to prevent Iran from again taking advantage of such an initiative for its deceptive objectives.

Iran must come to learn that the days of meddling in the region without paying the price are over.

Iran Opposition Unveils IRGC Missile Sites

Iran has been pursuing an extensive ballistic missile program through dozens of very important sites, including twelve unknown to this day and one specifically linked to its highly sensitive and controversial nuclear program, the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed at a press conference Tuesday in Washington.

The NCRI, citing sources of coalition member People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) network inside Iran, in this case in Iran’s Defense Ministry & the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has a history of blowing the whistle on Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nuclear weapons drive, terrorism and meddling across the Middle East and beyond, and human rights violations.

Various aspects of the dozen hitherto-unknown sites involved in ballistic missile production, testing and launches, all controlled by the IRGC, were also unveiled.

NCRI US Office Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh presented satellite imagery on the sites and details of North Korean experts who took part in the construction of such highly essential centers.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demanded the acceleration of missiles production and tests following the nuclear deal signed with the P5+1 and specifically tasking the IRGC Aerospace Force to realize this objective.

The scope of Iran’s IRGC-pursued missile program is far more extensive than previously perceived. In this press conference the NCRI identified the locations of 42 IRGC sites, of which 15 are involved in missile manufacturing and containing several factories linked to a missile industry group.

Four of Iran’s most important missile sites are located in the cities of Semnan (east of Tehran), Lar (southcentral Iran), Khorramabad (western Iran) and near Karaj (west of Tehran), according to the PMOI/MEK sources. Iran has only acknowledged the existence of two of these sites to this day.

The Semnan site has been actively associated to SPND, Iran’s organization in charge of building a nuclear weapon, PMOI/MEK sources revealed. SPND has carried out many of its tests at this site.

SPND is the Persian acronym for the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, including Iran’s nuclear weapons program engineering unit. The NCRI first unveiled the existence of SPND in July 2011, leading to its sanctioning three years later.

IRGC missile sites have all been constructed based on North Korean blueprints, according to PMOI/MEK sources, adding Pyongyang’s experts have also been present at sites assisting their Iranian counterparts.

The NCRI revelation comes at a sensitive timing as the US Senate levied extensive new sanctions on Iran covering particularly its ballistic missile program, and support for terrorism and human rights violations.

All factions of the regime in Iran are fully supportive of their drive to upgrade their ballistic missile program, considered a critical aspect of the mullahs’ national security framework and foreign policy.

“We will have a new ballistic missile test in the near future that will be a thorn in the eyes of our enemies,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted recently.

The region is currently engulfed in escalating tension as Iran launched six medium-range ballistic missiles targeting ISIS in eastern Syria on Sunday. Adding to the list of turmoil, the US military shot down a Syrian regime Su-22 fighter jet near the city of Raqqa for dropping bombs on US-allied ground forces. This is a first for Washington in the six-year long multi-faceted Syrian conflict.

This increase in foreign crises, parallel to Iran’s powder keg society causing major dilemmas for the mullahs as protests elevate across the country, will be a major issue of discussion in the upcoming NCRI annual convention scheduled for July 1st in Paris.

The NCRI, representing the most powerful Iranian opposition coalition, is calling for the following measures against Tehran:

  • Enacting and implementing effective and comprehensive sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program and all associated individuals and entities,
  • Designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization as the institution behind Iran’s missile program, terrorism and meddling,
  • Evicting the IRGC and all affiliated proxy militias from Middle East countries, specifically Syria and Iraq.

ANALYSIS: Prelude to a showdown between the US and Iran?

With the United States boosting “combat power” in southern Syria and bolstering measures with the Kurds in the north in preparation for a major assault on the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa, word is in the air about a confrontation in the making between the US and Iran in the Middle East, with Syria acting as a launch site.

Does this piece intend to promote war against Iran? Absolutely not. While some do argue this would play into the Iranian regime’s hands and provide pretext for the clerics to rally fighters to take on the “World Arrogance” or “Great Satan,” as Tehran describes Washington, there is no basis to go that far.

Most importantly is the sheer fact that the regime lacks such a social base. Recall how former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said this regime represents four percent of Iran’s society. And yet the increase in US military presence in the Middle East should be considered a welcome measure, certainly so after the Obama administration disastrously created a dangerous void by prematurely pulling out US troops from Iraq in late 2011.

Iran’s destructive policies

Iran usurped the opportunity and opened the gates of hell into Mesopotamia. The destructive policies Tehran dictated to Baghdad under former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki paved the path for the rise of ISIS in 2014 to storm the country’s north and central lands.

It has taken three dreadful years and a volume of human and financial resources to push the terror group out of Iraq, leaving large swathes of the country devastated and more importantly, Iran enjoying unprecedented and highly sensitive influence across the spectrum in Iraq through its conglomerate of militias.

The international coalition, led by the US, has provided air support for the Hashid al-Sha’bi in its advances against ISIS. The correct/incorrect nature of such a policy, however, is the topic of another debate.

Importance of the Levant

On Syria, there is no doubt in the importance of the Levant for Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has, time and again, highlighted the imperative of Iran confronting its enemies in Syria far from its own borders.

“Had the ill-wishers and plotters not been prevented from their evil deeds in Syria we would have to prevent them in the Iranian provinces of Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan, so it is better we do it there,” he said recently. “The door for martyrdom, which was closed by the end of the war with Iraq, is now open in Syria.”

So if no war with Iran is in suggestion here, what foreign policy advice can be provided to the West, and especially Washington?

Constant is the fact that non-military options are always preferred and have proven their effectiveness. Iran is undeniably a rogue and authoritarian regime determined to gain and impose an illegitimate dominance across the region, meddle in other nations’ domestic affairs, export terrorism/extremism/Islamic fundamentalism, and kill civilians and military personnel of all adversaries, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and all their regional allies.

Rajavi has provided the initial building blocks of how to tackle the Iranian regime dilemma. (AP)

Against all parties

Confronting Iran by military force is considered illogical by politicians from both sides of the aisle in Washington, and their counterparts across Europe and the Middle East. Iran’s policies in the Middle East have been against the interests of all parties, with the exception of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and its slate of proxy forces behind the rampage we are witnessing today.

The question is how to confront Iran correctly. Those in control are taking advantage and misrepresenting Islam for their interests and their sponsored atrocities are against the teaching of all holy books, including the Torat, Bible and Quran.
Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran is a strong coalition providing a platform on how to take on the Iranian regime in the most effective of manners.

NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, herself a Muslim woman representing a tolerant vision of Islam in far contrast to the mullahs’ atrocities, held a gathering on Sunday in Paris marking the holy month of Ramadan.

Rajavi’s call

Encouraging “Interfaith Solidarity Against Extremism,” Rajavi provided the initial building blocks of how to tackle the Iranian regime dilemma. “I would like to propose a three-pronged initiative on behalf of the Iranian people and Resistance. And I urge all the states and countries in the region to support it.

First, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is the main operative advancing all the regime’s policies in the region, must be officially recognized and declared a terrorist entity. The presence of this force and its proxy militias in Middle East countries must not be tolerated and they must be evicted all together from countries in the region.

“Second, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) must expel the Iranian regime and grant Iran’s seat in this organization to the Iranian people’s Resistance.

“Third, they should recognize the Iranian people’s struggle to bring down the clerical regime and establish freedom and democracy.”