On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.
This comes following aWall Street Journalarticle explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.
The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.
Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.
“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”
Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.
Correction: Taeb, Khamenei associate: “… when [#Houthis] want to take Jeddah, Riyadh or… there’s only one solution. Ground Saudi Arabia’s air force & then go in. What do they need? SS missiles. We have plenty & those poor guys didn’t…”#Iran#Yemenhttps://t.co/TYpPvnFA3T
“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.
It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.
A different Iraq
US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.
“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.
This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.
Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.
Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.
This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.
Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.
July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.
Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.
With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.
As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.
It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.
Times have changed
Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.
This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:
1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.
This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.
As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”
The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:
– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;
– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;
– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;
– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”
Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.
How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.
Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.
Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.
The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.
The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.
This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.
It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.
Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.
This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.
Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.
The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.
Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.
This can be considered France’s response to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s New York Times op-ed defending his regime’s ballistic missile program, and literally falling to Europe’s knees to protect Tehran from U.S. President Donald Trump’s major shift in policy vis-à-vis Iran.
The Trump administration is on the verge of publicly displaying evidence proving Iran is procuring missiles to the Houthi.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is also set to present further evidence of Tehran’s weapons proliferation, potential U.N. sanctions violations, acts of destabilization and threats to U.S. allies.
These developments have also spilled into Iran. Mostafa Tajzadeh, an Iranian politician known to succumb to Khamenei’s demands, criticized the IRGC’s intervention in Yemen, saying there was “nothing to make of Yemeni territory that have any strategic importance for Iran.”
Iran took advantage of Obama’s engagement policy to make advances across the region, including Yemen. With times changing, Tehran should not be provided any more such opportunities.
The U.S. Congress is weighing new Iran sanctions for its destructive role in Yemen and policies aimed at destabilizing the country through ongoing support for the Houthis, including supplying them with weapons.
To further trouble matters for Iran, Russia this week evacuated its embassy employees and citizens in Sana’a, reports indicate. One can conclude Moscow sees no hopeful future anytime soon in Yemen and Tehran has most likely lost a partner to bear the mounting challenges.
In fact, a strong stance in Yemen and liberating this country from the Houthis should be used as a launching pad by the international community to begin reigning in Iran’s expansionist policy across the Middle East.
Trump is scheduled to outline his first National Security Strategy next week. After refusing to certify the controversial Iran nuclear deal, registering the IRGC as a terrorist organization and again voicing Bashar Assad has no future in Syria, rest assured Iran’s role in the Middle East will be a major topic in Washington’s new blueprint.
From day one the regime of Iran has been based on the pillars of domestic crackdown, and exporting terrorism and a reactionary, religious mentality.
As we speak, spreading extremism and Islamic fundamentalism remains a cornerstone policy of Iran’s state-run strategy, all hacked into this regime’s constitution.
The real image
Earlier this year Amnesty International’s 94-page report, “Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack,” detailed this regime’s drastic human rights violations, with a specific focus on its extensive overdose of executions.
As witnessed for years running, Iran is the world’s leading executioner per capita, with many hangings continuously and horrendously carried out in public. All the while, secret executions are ongoing in dungeons across the country, including Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.
This is the real image of Iran, cloaked by the ruling regime and their appeasers in the West for years, who continue to portray Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate worth dealing with.
Rouhani heads a corrupt system responsible for executing around 3,500 people, and counting, from 2013 to this day. 350 such counts have been registered this year alone.
Iran lacks anything even remotely comparable to a justice system and the current Justice Minister, Alireza Avaie, has been on numerous terrorist lists since 2011 for human rights violations.
Avaie is also known to have played a leading role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, consisting of mostly members and supporters of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Iran is the godfather of human rights violations and terrorism, known as the main source of systematic human rights violations and expanding conflicts across the region.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and the Quds Force, responsible for the IRGC’s extraterritorial operations, led by Qassem Suleimani, famed for his ruthlessness, are the main parties responsible for Iran’s internal repression, and mainly, aggressively expanding Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East.
For decades the IRGC has been responsible for terrorist attacks in this flashpoint corner of the globe, including the countries of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. In this regard, Tehran’s continuing practice of being the nursing home of proxy extremist groups is no matter of dispute or questioning.
What Iran has maintained a lid on has been its close collaboration with terror elements. For decades, the world has been deceived – conveniently for and by Iran – into believing that significant differences exist between Sunnis and Shiites, and thus cancelling any possibility of Tehran having links with its Sunni rivals.
Tehran has usurped this window of opportunity to portray itself and claim to be a de facto ally of the West in the fight against extremism, especially recently in the form of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Discussions in Washington are ongoing over how the US military, short of a direct conflict, can deter and contain Iran’s meddling in Middle East countries. The Pentagon has refrained from public comments.
One official familiar with the mentality of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has hinted to the media that Iran is the focus of much attention in the Pentagon recently.
Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired a meeting between the US, UK, France and Germany to blueprint US-European collaboration aimed at countering Iran through the course of diplomatic and economic practices. Other senior Trump administration officials have also resorted to significant remarks.
“What the Iranians have done across the broader Middle East is fuel and accelerate these cycles of violence so that they can take advantage of these chaotic environments, take advantage of weak states, to make them dependent on them for support,” US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said to a security forum last weekend.
“We have to address what is a growing Iranian capability and an ability to use proxies, militias, terrorist organizations to advance their aim, their hegemonic aims in the region,” McMaster added.
Newly released documents obtained by US special forces in their raid on the residence of the now dead al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan prove what many scholars have argued for years.
Iran’s regime, known as the beating heart of Islamic fundamentalism, has never considered sectarian differences an obstacle to cooperate with extremists. Tehran seeks to strengthen its resolve in the objective of furthering influence and global support for fundamentalism and terrorism.
These documents prove how the Iranian regime was working closely with al-Qaeda, including bin Laden himself, which could have subsequently led to Tehran’s inevitable cooperation with ISIS.
Iran’s rulers, and their cohorts spread in various countries, seek the same objective of establishing a ruthless caliphate by deploying global jihad. This practice hinges on unbridled brutality, misogyny and immorality to its utmost extent. No limits in barbarity and viciousness is accepted by these parties in their effort to reach their objectives.
Further reports are emerging detailing the growing amount of ties linking the regime in Iran with extremists groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. New evidence confirms how despite the existence of various factions of extremist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS, at the end of the day, they all look at Tehran as the main source fueling this infamous mentality.
Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen has escalated and gained much attention recently. For example, a missile launched by the Houthis on November 4 was strikingly similar to an Iranian-made Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile, added to its collection by Iran in 2010, and yet never before seen in Yemen’s missile arsenal, according to a confidential report prepared by a UN panel of experts missioned to monitor a 2015 arms embargo imposed on Yemen.
One component — a device, known to be an actuator, used to assist in steering the missile — was found among the debris bearing a metal logo of an Iranian company, Shadi Bagheri Industrial Group, known to be the subject of UN, EU, and US sanctions.
The Houthis “obtained access to missile technology more advanced” than what they had prior to the conflict’s birth in 2015, according to the panel report.
“The design, characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” the text adds.
The dangerous nature of Iran’s regime is obvious to all. Parallel to military and terrorist measures throughout the globe, Tehran targets naïve and vulnerable subjects, using them to relay their reactionary mentality. This includes the various Western parliaments and significant international bodies, including UN and EU institutions. Tehran’s demonization agendas have shown to be predecessors to violent attacks.
Only serious measures against Iran’s regime, and ultimately the collapse of this ruthless entity, will mark the end of Iran’s human rights violations, and meddling and support for terrorism being spread deceivingly under the flag of Islam.
Iran’s increasing meddling abroad is not a policy signaling this regime’s strength. In fact, facing deep domestic crises, Tehran is attempting to cloak its internal weakness by increasing its influence across the region on the one hand, and resorting to saber-rattling to prevent the international community from adopting a firm policy.
Iran entered negotiations and succumbed to curbing its nuclear program due to fears of uncontrollable uprisings resulting from crippling international sanctions. This is the language Iran understands and more major sanctions are needed against this regime.
From the early days of its rule Iran’s regime has been increasing economic pressure on the people, especially the lower class and most deprived. A vivid result of such practice has been the astonishing phenomenon of many Iranians willing to sell their kidneys and other organs, and even mothers pre-selling their unborn fetus. This is parallel to the growing phenomenon of child labor, a swelling number of homeless people roaming the streets and people even resorting to making homes out of graves.
Tehran has a history of increasing domestic pressure and skyrocketing prices to provide for the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, exporting terrorism and fundamentalist across the region, and currently, the onerous finances needed to confront international sanctions and managing an economy in ruins.
Iran’s regime has shown it cares less about such matters as billions are poured into various domestic and international campaigns. This includes meddling in Middle East countries, boosting its nuclear and ballistic missile drives, and launching dozens of military and security forces imposing an intense atmosphere of internal crackdown.
In a recent initiative Iran’s regime seeks to increase the price of bread and medicine. A large portion of Iran’s lower class is currently deprived of a daily portion of bread. Bakeries in Iran’s poor neighborhoods are already selling bread based on monthly payments.
“… the price of bread will be increased by 32 percent… the Minister of Industries spoke of decreasing government supervision over wheat and bread sales,” according to a report broadcast by state TV.
Such price increases, originally 15 percent for bread, have resulted in alarming dilemmas for ordinary life.
“…prices of various goods have risen significantly while annual salary increases are equal to the value of a few kilograms of fruits,” according to the Baharestaneh website.
Conditions have sank to such lows that even Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), reportedly controlling a large portion of the country’s economy and allocating billions for regional meddling, have attacked other institutes to escape from any such criticism.
“The 10th parliament can be described as lacking courage, and being fluid and unpredictable. Members of parliament no longer have any sensitivity over the people’s economic woes, especially increasing poverty in our society,” according to Mashreq News, another state-run outlet in Iran.
Although having concerns about ordinary Iranian’s welfare is not one of the IRGC’s strong attributes.
In response, a member of Iran’s parliament, Amir Khojaeste, resorted to remarks seeking to place the blame on the government of President Hassan Rouhani.
“Why have they increased bread prices by 15 percent and imposing pressure on the people? Salaries are low and the lower class are enduring enormous pains,” he said.
This is the same parliament that adopted a bill providing $600 million dollars to further develop Iran’s already controversial ballistic missile program and the Quds Force, pursuing the IRGC’s extraterritorial campaigns. This includes recruiting foot-soldiers and cannon fodders, from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran “has Basijis of the Islamic world from six countries in Syria and Iraq,” said General Mohammad Reza Yazdi, commander of the IRGC division stationed in Tehran.
Iran’s meddling in Syria was a topic in a recent phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, underscoring “the need to confront and reverse Iran’s destabilizing activities in Syria.”
Tehran has been accused of allocating $30 billion annually for its support and promotion of terrorism through proxies, also including the Houthis of Yemen.
Suspicion over the IRGC’s intentions have increased following remarks by senior officials seeking to expand the force’s reach.
The IRGC will play an active role in establishing an enduring “ceasefire” in crisis-hit Syria, its chief commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said according to Reuters. Disarming Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy in the region and a designated terrorist group known for its nefarious attacks, was non-negotiable, Iranian state TV reported last Thursday. Reports have placed “Hezbollah’s annual income at between $800 million and $1 billion, with 70-90 percent coming from Iran…”
IRGC deputy chief commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami has gone as far as warning to increase the range of missiles above 2,000 kilometers to target Europe, according to wires citing the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency.
The Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has long exposed Tehran’s role in the region, especially in Syria. Advocating a policy of regime change in Iran, the NCRI has welcomed the IRGC terrorist designation by Washington and considers the expulsion of Iran from Syria and Iraq as necessary for the region to finally begin heading towards peace and stability.
Considering Tehran’s decades of supporting terrorism and meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, this regime will continue to plunder the Iranian people to provide for its range of belligerence.
The Iranian people have been suffering under such a state and a recent surge in protests are raising eyebrows and escalating concerns in Tehran. For example, following the recent earthquake that shook western Iran the lack of state support for the victims has been alarming.
The earthquake inflicted damages equaling to 11 years of the targeted province’s budget, according to the Kermanshah governor. It is worth noting that Tehran’s annual support for Assad in Syria equals 150 times that of this province’s annulal budget.
One Iranian state daily warned:
“The recent earthquake unveiled the Iranian citizens’ distrust in state institutions… This will not remain without specific political and social consequences… this is a reminder of the imminent threat of a complete meltdown of social trust…”
Developments over Syria following recent collaborations between leaders of the United States and Russia have gained significant momentum. This also signals a decreasing Iranian role and a prelude to further setbacks for Tehran.
An hour long phone call last Tuesday between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin followed the latter’s meeting with Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.
After allocating billions on its Levant campaign, Iran is witnessing its hegemony fading as measures aimed at bringing the Syria war to a close gain momentum.
The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed last week to facilitate a full-scale political process in Syria and to sponsor a conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to end the war.
While some may consider this a victory for Iran, jumping to early conclusions blinds us from understanding how Tehran sought full hegemony in Syria. Today, circumstances account to major setbacks.
Putin’s hosting of talks on Syria inclines that Moscow calls the shots. This leaves Tehran deeply concerned, especially following its six-year long campaign to maintain Assad in power. The mere fact that Iran is sitting at the table with Russia, also in talks with the US over different issues, and Turkey, a Syrian opposition supporter, leaves no doubt Tehran will need to display political flexibility.
Many would argue a pact between Washington and Moscow will define the blueprint of finalizing Syria’s crisis. Did the Sochi talks place Tehran and Ankara in line with Moscow and Washington? Doubts remain in this regard and Iran understands clearly how a post-ISIS Syria will come at a heavy price.
And with Russia significantly scaling down its military presence on the ground in Syria, Iran’s dreams of a Shiite crescent are endangered, to say the least. Moreover, the mere fact that China is considering a role in reconstructing post-war Syria means more players in the future of this country, and a declining part for Iran.
Seeking to safeguard its interests in Syria, Iran’s terrorist-designated Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) is also eyeing a share in Syria’s reconstruction. This should sound alarm bells, especially since such a role would provide a front for Iran’s efforts to maintain a foothold in the Levant.
Higher global interests
Certain is the fact that Russia’s reservations are not limited to Syria. On the international stage Moscow and Washington enjoy a certain stature. This said, it is quite obvious Moscow will not sacrifice its higher global interests for Syria.
The phone call between Trump and Putin is a sign of coordination between their two countries in Syria. With Washington playing an observer role in the Astana talks weighing Syria, one can conclude their role in the Levant is not eliminated.
Far from it, in fact. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said recently how the US is in Syria to stay. “US troops, in Syria to fight Islamic State, won’t be packing their bags now the jihadist group is essentially beaten. They’re staying on,” Bloomberg reported. This comes as the Pentagon is also likely to announce the presence of around 2,000 US troops in Syria, according to Reuters.
Iran understands fully that US presence in Syria is a source of dilemma for any future plans in the region. Considering the drastic consequences of Obama’s premature departure from Iraq, there are doubts Trump will allow such a repeat in Syria.
Considering the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, one can conclude that Moscow will also be taking Riyadh’s reservations over Syria into consideration. Knowing the Arab world’s support is crucial, Putin will strive to obtain Riyadh’s consent.
In his latest meeting with United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized how his government worked with Saudi Arabia to unify the Syrian opposition, also indicating UN’s blessing for this latest push.
Unlike Iran, Assad remaining in power is not a red line for Russia. And Moscow will seek Riyadh’s cooperation to have the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional states jump on the train to bring a final end to the Syria crisis.
This spells into a more significant role for Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Middle East archrival, whose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in a recent New York Times interview described Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”
Fueling more concerns for Iran is the fact that the Sochi talks focused on establishing peace and stability in Syria based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. This platform was even described by Iranian state media as an “American and Zionist conspiracy.”
The shadow of UN-backed solutions for Syria will continue to haunt Tehran. Putin also emphasized changes in the process of Syria’s political agreement will render based on the Geneva agreement framework.
To add insult to injury, the Syrian opposition meeting Thursday in Riyadh agreed to dispatch a single bloc for next weeks’ UN-backed peace talks. Nasr Hariri, a known Syrian opposition figure selected as the new chief negotiator, is heading to Geneva for the talks set to begin tomorrow. The opposition is ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table,” according to Hariri.
Tehran would have been delighted to continue fragmenting the Syrian opposition, as witnessed throughout the 6½ year war.
An opportunity is available to end Syria’s fighting, with a high possibility that a final political solution will materialize in the Geneva talks.
In his abovementioned interview, the Saudi Crown Prince reiterated how the world has “learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.” As the international community seeks to bring an end to the war in Syria, appeasing Iran through this delicate process must be strictly prohibited.
They say a news event has a three-day lifespan. The regime in Tehran is counting on such a theory to have the international community move on after the recent earthquake that shook western Iran. Each passing day further reveals the scope of this vast catastrophe.
“More than 1,000 people have lost their lives,” Iranian MP Ahmad Safari said to the official ILNA news agency 72 hours after the quake. “I went to a village where they said they pulled 20 corpses from under the rubble. They were not even counted in the death toll. 70 people died just in one alley of the town of Sarpol-e Zahab. Another 250 were killed in the Mehr housing complex.”
Experts advised the government of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) to build 25,000 homes under the Mehr blueprint. Ahmadinejad, however, ordered the construction of 1.5 million such units, raising questions of possible negligence in construction and lack of proper supervision.
While the ruling regime failed to provide any first aid relief, Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi made an early call asking supporters to rush to their compatriots in need.
“Just as opposed to the practices of the clerical regime, now is the time to show solidarity. Assisting and saving the victims of the earthquake is a sacred national duty,” she said.
The incoming statistics of this recent quake are devastating.
“There are still people stranded in villages where 90 percent of the homes are left destroyed. No official has visited these areas. The locals, along with their children, are forced to sleep the nights in their farm fields without any shelter,” a reported wired by the semi-official ISNA news agency reads.
Instead of focusing measures to rush aid for the victims, Iran’s regime imposed martial law in Sarpol-e Zahab, the epicenter of the earthquake.
Was such a catastrophe preventable? Is Iran the only country prone to earthquakes?
Japan has a history of earthquakes and thanks to technological advances we no longer witness skyrocketing number of casualties and damages.
Australia also experienced a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday that resulted in tsunami warnings. No casualties or major damages were reported.
Preventing quake damage is nothing out of the ordinary or impossible. A truly popular government allocating the necessary manpower, means and budget can do the job. Here is exactly where the problem lies in Iran.
On August 13th members of the Iran’s parliament unanimously adopted a 16-article bill providing around $600 million to further develop Iran’s ballistic missile program and additionally fund the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), especially the extraterritorial unit known as the Quds Force.
Iran’s five military entities enjoy a budget of $13.5 billion for the current Persian calendar year (March 2017 to March 2018), of which $7.4 billion belongs to the IRGC. This is a 24 percent increase from the last calendar year.
It is worth noting that the Iranian regime has a nearly $7 billion budget deficit, equaling to nearly half of its military budget.
Proper now would be to evaluate the money sent by the Iranian regime to Lebanon. There is actually no figure of Tehran’s financial support for the Lebanese Hezbollah.
While recent reports have placed this value at over $800 million, back in 2011 Al Arabiya Farsi shed further light in this regard.
“Hezbollah used to receive $350 million each year from Iran. In addition to Hezbollah’s own activities, this budget was used to provide for members’ salaries, the families of killed Hezbollah members, various projects in southern Lebanon and Beqaa, and bribing Lebanese political figures to back Hezbollah.”
One such $400 million construction project in Lebanon, including parks, was paid for completely by Iran. All the while millions in Iran remain under poor living conditions.
“As long as there is money in Iran, we will have money,” said Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, making it crystal clear how the terrorist-designated group’s entire budget is bankrolled by Tehran.
Deprived of this budget, 40 percent of the Iranian people are living in complete poverty. 13 million homeless in city outskirt slums. 14 million literally cannot pay for their daily meals.
State-affiliated websites in Iran report nearly 20,000 homes were completely destroyed in the recent quake. Whereas in Japan, simple homes made with a budget of $10,000 each, have proven to be earthquake-resistant.
If we take into consideration just the abovementioned $600 million, Iran’s government could have provided 60,000 such homes for victims of the past three major quakes across the country.
This includes 20,000 in Kermanshah province, the site of the recent quake designated as the most powerful in 2017 so far; another 20,000 for the victims of the 2012 East Azerbaijan quake in northeast Iran; and 20,000 more for the victims of the 2003 Bam quake that left tens of thousands of innocent people killed.
This is all aside from sitting on an ocean of 125 billion barrels of oil, 227 trillion cubic meters of gas and a daily revenue of $200 million from exporting oil.
The point is the solutions are out there. Iran, however, is ruled by a regime that could care less about its populace. For those sitting in Tehran, this is a recipe for disaster.
Mohammad Biranvand, another member of Iran’s parliament said, “Do you know that the people now trust athletes and celebrities more than they trust government institutions? All this indicates that the earthquake of distrust will be far more destructive than the recent earthquake.”
Iran, sensing the increasing international isolation, has long sketched the necessary blueprints to prevent a future already becoming very bleak. For decades Tehran has maintained this entire country and its vast oil reserves in its crosshairs.
Recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan prove the Iranian regime’s devious intentions and should alert the international community. The government of Iraq, jockeying to maintain ties with both Washington and Tehran, has unprecedentedly agreed to redirect Kirkuk province’s crude to Iran.
This oil will be supplying a refinery located in the city of Kermanshah, close to the recently earthquake-struck region. This decision follows the retaking of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds in the notorious shadow of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani.
Iran has continuously fueled regional tensions across the board, launching parallel proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen against the entire Arab World, with a main focus on Saudi Arabia. After Iran enjoyed 16 years of strategic mistakes and appeasement, the Trump administration has expressed major concerns and is taking major action against Tehran.
Iran is already receiving trucks of Iraqi oil, currently based at 15,000 barrels per day valued at around $1 million, with plans to escalate to 60,000 bpd, a Reuters report citing Iraqi officials indicates.
Considering it its own backyard, Iran has pressed Iraq over an oil pipeline project to ultimately export Kirkuk oil through Gulf ports. Tehran’s ultimate objective is to pump 650,000 bpd of Kurdish oil into refineries across Iran and for export purposes, the report adds citing a senior Iranian official.
Feeding off Iraq
While the cover story may seem an ordinary economic agreement between two neighboring countries, Tehran cannot deny a malign past of seeking to take advantage of its crisis-riddled western neighbor.
In April 2012 the London-based International Centre for Development Studies confirmed concerns of Iran stealing large amounts of Iraqi oil. Iran’s efforts involved stealing an annual value of $17 billion worth of oil from fields considered mostly Iraqi and not shared between the two oil-exporting rivals, the report indicated.
Those fields enjoy a reserve of over 100 billion barrels, with the majority laying inside Iraq. Iran was taking an estimated 130,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day, according to the report. The Iraqi oil fields of Dehloran, Naft Shahr, Beidar West, and Aban were the victims of this vast plundering.
The oil fields of al-Tayeb and Fakka, along with various sections of Majnoun, were also targets of Iranian misuse, adding another 250,000 bpd to the above figure.
Iran was stealing a whopping 14 percent of Iraqi oil revenue, depriving this war-ravaged nation of desperately needed funds that Tehran is likely to allocate to notorious belligerence across the region.
Fallen on deaf ears
Iran has also supported the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a conglomerate of mainly Shiite militia groups. This entity, following Iran’s IRGC paramilitary Bassij prototype, stands accused of smuggling oil from wells across to the country to Iran on a daily basis, according to an April 2017 report citing an Iraqi Oil Ministry source.
The Badr militia, Iraqi Hezbollah, Saraya al-Salam militias and al-Fadilah party militants have also gained significant control over the al-Basra and Maysan refineries and A’las, Oujeil and Hamrin oil wells in Salahuddin province of central Iraq. The Iraqi Oil Ministry has remained silent as PMF leaders have been smuggling hundreds of oil tankers to Iran on a daily basis, the source added.
Salahuddin Govenor Ahmed al-Jabouri’s efforts in urging Baghdad several times to protect A’las and Oujeil oil wells located east of Tikrit from such theft have fallen on deaf ears. On a daily basis dozens of oil tankers are stolen and smuggled through Tuz Khurmatu from these oil wells, the report adds.
The PMF was initially established in response to the attack staged by Islamic State terrorists. Their activities, however, have expanded to Iraq’s political affairs and the PMF also stand accused of flagrant human rights violations. To make matters even more complicated for Iran, Soleimani was spotted near the Iraq-Syria border alongside the PMF, making quite a stir in the media.
The entire history of Iran stealing Iraqi oil can be described as a chapter of Tehran’s silent growth of influence, especially during the years of Obama’s appeasement. Qassem Soleimani, running the IRGC’s international branch known as the Quds Force, is also known to be the right hand of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Alongside the military campaign he runs across the Middle East through Iran-backed proxy militias, Soleimani also has Iran’s oil business heavily on his mind. A September visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by Soleimani came prior to the Iraqi army’s recapture of Kirkuk, resulting from a rift in Kurdish forces leading to the city’s fall into Baghdad control.
“… the presence of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, exacerbated tensions among the Kurds and the government in Baghdad,” US Senator John McCain said in Washington recently.
Iran has since 2003 been known to fuel division across Iraq and Soleimani’s recent stop in Kurdistan came after a referendum that Iran vigorously opposed, and was followed suspiciously with Kirkuk’s sudden fall. “The recapture of Kirkuk was coordinated with Soleimani,” according to the abovementioned Reuters report.
This can lead to a conclusion that Iran, sensing harsh times ahead, is providing increasing control to the IRGC over the vital oil sector in its already troubled economy.
This may seem a flawed decision by Tehran considering the IRGC’s recent terrorist designation by Washington. Yet it also sheds light on Iran’s dependency on the IRGC to further advance domestic and regional policies.
Iran will resort to further such desperate measures in the coming future, comprehending how the tide is changing drastically against its interests.
A possible agreement between the US and Russia over Syria following a recent meeting between President Donald Trump and his counterpart Vladimir Putin; the surprising resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his visit to Paris; France raising the tone against Iran’s ballistic missile program; and growing domestic unrest witnessed following the recent earthquake in western Iran are all tallying Tehran’s deepening concerns.
Conditions are shifting fast, and Tehran believes desperate times call for desperate measures. Vital now is for the international community to increase the velocity of restrictions damning this regime. With ISIS’s days of authority coming to an end Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri has called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the PMF.
Sunday’s Arab Summit session in Cairo ended in a statement describing Iran as a “dangerous dagger”in the region, especially in its approach towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries.
“Ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia have amounted to 76 rockets, all Iranian-made, and therefore we affirm our full solidarity with Saudi Arabia in everything it takes to protect its national security,” said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit during the emergency meeting. The entity went as far as saying it will not declare war on Iran at this stage.
Recent developments across the region are signaling increasing isolation for Tehran. Despite investing for decades, Lebanon and Yemen are literally slipping out of Iran’s hands.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sent shockwaves across the region by announcing his resignation. The recent missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen targeting Riyadh crossed a costly red line for Tehran.
Turning point in Lebanon
In Hariri’s own words, Iran and Hezbollah had literally taken the entire country of Lebanon hostage, making it impossible to carry out his duties.
Evidence also revealed an assassination plot threatening his life. Western and Arab intelligence services unveiled how his entourage was targeted, in a blueprint similar to his father’s assassination.
“Those who planned to assassinate prime minister Hariri deactivated the observation towers while his motorcade was passing by,” Reuters wired citing Al Arabiya.
Three issues related to this development are worth pondering over:
1) Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh only one day after his meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.
2) The United States launched a new Iran policy targeting this regime’s destabilization and terrorism across the region.
3) Hezbollah has come under severe sanctions, including three bills passed by the US House of Representatives on October 25th.
a. H.R. 359 calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
b. H.R. 3342 sanctioning Hezbollah for using innocent civilians as human shields
c. H.R. 3329, known as HIFPA, targets Hezbollah’s international financial support
In short, Hariri’s resignation changed all calculations for Iran in Lebanon.
A look into the past
After a long stalemate Lebanon established a government on 18th December 2016, seeing Hariri as the prime minister and Michel Aoun as president. Lebanon’s power structure and political fabrication comprises of a Christian president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite head of parliament.
This combination provided a major advantage for Iran, carrying out all its crimes under the cover of a legitimate Sunni government. Hezbollah is attacking its dissidents in Lebanon, under the pretext of Lebanese Army operations. This terrorist designated entity is also using Lebanon’s financial infrastructure for its own benefit.
This farce legitimacy is now coming to an end. Hariri himself said the status quo could not continue.
Concerns and reactions
Iran and Hezbollah are both sensing the dangers ahead after Hariri’s resignation. “Without a doubt this resignation has raised our concerns and we did not welcome it,” said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.
Media in Iran are known to voice the general opinion of its ruling regime. “It appears that Hariri’s resignation is the operational beginning of this strategy in the region, with the ground being paved by the US Congress sanctioning [Iran] and Hezbollah,” according to the semi-official Entekhab daily.
A shot period after Hariri’s resignation, the Houthis in Yemen launched a missile targeting the King Salman International Airport near Riyadh.
“Iran has provided the capability for ballistic missile attacks launched from Yemen,” wire services reported citing Jeffrey Harrigian, commander for southwest Asia at the US Air Forces Central Command on Friday.
“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Harrigian added.
One can raise three possible reasons for this retaliation by Iran:
– A response to the blow received from Hariri’s resignation.
– The Houthis are suffering a series of setbacks on the ground.
– The United Nations has proposed peace plans for Yemen. The Houthis missile launch signals Iran’s response to peace and any negotiations whatsoever in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition accused Iran of launching a “direct military aggression” and declaring war, threatening possible retaliation. Article 51 of the UN Charter entails countries the right to take defensive military action in such scenarios. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said adequate action will be taken at the proper timing.
Two air strikes targeting the defense ministry in Yemen’s militant-held capital Sanaa late Friday were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to witnesses and rebel media. No casualties were reported.
Iranian military officials, however, denied any part in the Riyadh missile attack. “We don’t even have the means to transfer missiles there,” said Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, understanding the consequences in this regard.
This is the very individual who threatened all US bases in the region in the case of IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the IRGC without any such response from Iran.
Furthermore, the Houthis lack the necessary industrial capacity to manufacture light weapons, let alone ballistic missiles. Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target.
“… where shall be the next target for long-range ballistic missile: maybe Riyadh, Jaddah, Taef and ARAMCO…,” it wrote.
The ballistic missile launch is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. UNSC Resolution 2216 bans any provision of weapons for Houthi leaders in Yemen. UNSC Resolution 2231 specifically prohibits Iran from transferring and selling weapons abroad without Security Council consent.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for the world body to take action against Iran in response to this ballistic missile attack. Yemen lacked such hardware prior to Iran’s support and delivery of weaponry to the Houthis.
The White House condemned the Houthis missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, adding they threatened regional security and undermined efforts aimed at halting the conflict. France and the United Kingdom also condemned these measures, followed by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh where he stressed on pressuring Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Consequences of appeasement
Iran and Houthis reaching the point of launching such an attack can be traced back to eight years of appeasement by the Obama administration. Despite the UNSC obligating the Houthis to handover heavy weaponry, pull forces out of all cities and transfer all administrational entities to the officially recognized government, no measures were carried out in this regard.
Diplomats of former US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Houthis in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, yet refused to receive representatives of Yemen’s legal government. The Obama administration would foster numerous ceasefire agreements, allowing time the battered Houthis to regain their momentum.
One example of the Obama-Kerry engagement policy with Iran was witnessed when the Houthis and forces loyal to sacked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah advanced south with lightning speed from Sanaa towards Aden.
On March 25, 2015, in the midst of Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, Washington issued evacuation orders to US forces stationed in a large airbase north of Aden, including transferring all weaponry and hardware to the Houthis.
Times are changing
Iran enjoyed 16 years of highly flawed US policy across the region, providing it ample time to gain ample influence in four different Arab states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. Loophole-proof implementation is now needed and signs of such measures are beginning to mushroom in Lebanon and Yemen.
Upon Saudi Arabia’s requested, the Arab League has scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday to weigh Iran’s regional “violations,” wire services reported. This momentum must continue abroad and rest assured Iran’s regime is sensing the growing isolation.
As the United States adopts new strategy vis-à-vis Iran, senior officials in Tehran are desperately seeking a new life-rope. With Obama and his appeasement gone, Iran is also sensing how Europe is distancing.
Tehran is also witnessing how developments across the Middle East and the international spectrum are cornering its regime, detecting how all parties will choose to side with its rivals.
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made a call to Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman condemning the Iran-backed Houthis’ missile launch against Riyadh.
In her recent trip to Washington, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini expressed confidence the Iran nuclear deal, decertified by U.S. President Donald Trump, would not be killed.
Sources in Congress, however, are saying senior Republicans emphasized the deal’s deficiencies and stressed how financial and economic relations established with Iran are endangered, reports indicate.
Iran has feared such an outcome.
“The Europeans must stand against the U.S. government, including its violations of the Iran nuclear deal by imposing sanctions…,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on October 18th.
Prior to this Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to take advantage of the rift between Washington and Brussels to lure Europe into economic deals.
Iranian media outlets have described recent remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson, and the French oil giant Total announcing its complete compliance with U.S. sanctions as further signs of Europe taking the high hills on the Iranian regime.
Macron said on Wednesday he sought to remain firm with Iran over its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. The semi-official Siasat daily on November 4th had lashed at Macron and called on senior Iranian regime officials to end being “naïve.”
This pro-Khamenei faction daily quoted the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s remarks against Iran’s ballistic missile activities as:
“Iran’s ballistic missile policy is not in-line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231… The French President has discussed this matter with his counterpart, Mr. Rouhani. We are in close relations with our European partners and members of the [Gulf] Cooperation Council. We are concerned about the recent remarks made by Iranian officials.”
Furthermore, France’s Foreign Ministry more recently indicated it is taking seriously accusations raised by Washington over Tehran violating two U.N. Security Council resolutions, urging Iran to observe with all its international commitments.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accused Tehran on Tuesday of supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with a missile fired into Saudi Arabia back in July, called for the U.N. to hold Tehran accountable.
Europe has to this day taken its share of advantages rendered from the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Yet this will never result in the Green Continent threatening its long-term and strategic relations with the U.S. in favor of Iran trade deals.
Iran’s official Kayhan daily, described as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, published a piece on November 5th referring to a “Joint U.S.-Europe project aimed at ending Iran’s authority,” describing the regime as “enchained” by the West.
Senior Iranian clerics are also voicing major doubts and concerns.
“We consider European countries with the U.S. as our enemies… their suggestions may seem decent at first, but we must focus on the inside. Their prepositions of peace may even aim to catch us off guard,” Movahedi Kermani, one of Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leaders, said on November 3rd during a sermon.
The future of Iran’s $4.8 billion deal with France’s Total has also become a topic of immense anxiety.
“The senior financial director in Total has said until the beginning of 2018 as Washington’s new Iran policy is materializing, this company will sign no contracts with Iranian companies regarding the South Pars phase 11 gas development project,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency. “As emphasized in their 2015 Iran strategy, they will completely synchronize with the U.S. considering their cooperation with Iran,” the piece adds.
This daily in another piece dated November 5th titled “Total opens office in U.S. against Iran” writes: “During the deal’s signing a few months ago in Tehran, Total’s chairman emphasized we need not U.S. permission to be present in Iran. However, this company has just recently established an office in Washington for further cooperation with U.S. sanctions policies against Iran.”
Iran’s efforts to invest in establishing a rift between Europe and the U.S. is nothing but a mirage. Important are companies’ economic interests, and not necessarily the political positions adopted by this or that individual.
It is quite obvious that European firms are not willing to risk violating U.S. sanctions violations and the consequential fines for the sake of maintaining relations with Iran.
BNP Paribas was slapped a whopping $8.9 billion fine due to its transactions with Iran. Tehran understands this even better. Europe will never endanger its stake in U.S.’ $19 trillion economy for Iran’s $400 billion economy.
Iran must be brought to this comprehension that both sides of the Atlantic consider it the main element behind Middle East crisis. The West should unify in clipping Iran’s wings of terror, in particular targeting the Revolutionary Guards with terrorist designations.
Iran’s relations with al-Qaeda is under the spotlight following the CIA’s release of nearly half a million documents obtained during a 2011 raid that killed the extremist group’s leader Osama Bin Laden.
How Iran at least facilitated the efforts leading to the 9/11 attacks has been discussed extensively. For decades US authorities have argued Iran-al-Qaeda ties date back to 1991, referred to in a 19-page report amongst the trove.
“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” the report reads.
The US government’s 9/11 Commission explained how Iranian officials met with al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan as early as 1991 or 1992. This led to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an offspring of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to begin training al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon, the commission said. IRGC training camps inside Iran have also been exposed by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Al-Qaeda further enjoyed the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in the 1998 truck bombings targeting US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 people killed, including 12 Americans, US prosecutors said in their indictment of Bin Laden. This proves Iran recognizes no religious borders in allying with al-Qaeda. To reach its objective Tehran is bounded by no principles and will resort to any measures necessary, a viewpoint very rarely discussed.
Pragmatism in politics
Important for Tehran regime is to utilize all means to safeguard its rule by extending influence and reach across the Middle East. This includes wreaking havoc for the region’s nations and targeting all assets of the “Great Satan,” as the Iranian regime describes the United States.
When needed Iran provided al-Qaeda their necessities. When interests alter, however, Tehran easily changes course. The 19-page report mentioned above describes how Iranians later placed al-Qaeda members under house arrest following the Sept. 11 attacks. Tehran understood the importance of al-Qaeda for Washington after its victory in Iraq, and began planning long term.
“They decided to keep our brothers as a card,” the report said. In 2015 Iran made this true, reportedly exchanging a number of al-Qaeda leaders for a diplomat held in Yemen by the terror group’s local branch. “In my experience, the Iranian regime is the best example…of pragmatism in politics,” according to an al-Qaeda official quoted in the 19-page report.
Tehran taking advantage
While Iran and al-Qaeda shared a common enemy in the U.S., the relationship also had its sour days. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reportedly received a letter from al-Qaeda operatives – said to be Bin Laden’s daughter – demanding Tehran release detained operatives’ family members.
In 2003, Tehran reportedly weighed a possible deal with Washington, offering to exchange a number of al-Qaeda numbers for members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) then stationed in Iraq. Nothing materialized, however.
Al-Qaeda’s apparent siding with Iran may seem surprising, considering the ostensible enmity extremists like those of ISIS have for Shiites, and vice versa. “The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that the Sunni-Shiite divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9/11 Commission reported.
Prior to 9/11, Iranian intelligence facilitated border passage to al-Qaeda militants without stamping passports or with previously provided visas by its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the 19-page report.
This mirrors US intelligence, showing how eight of 9/11’s hijackers passed through Iran before arriving into the mainland United States. One can now doubt claims of Hezbollah or Iran not being aware of the 9/11 planning. Experts have also noted how Iran leads a campaign, if you will, seeking short and long term interests.
Iran has trained militias to fight in Iraq and Syria under the pretext of “protecting” Shiite holy sites and shrines. Described as a “mere dog-whistle aimed at rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes,” reports show how Iran-backed groups have deployed forces to areas lacking any shrines to “protect.”
All the while, Iran’s proxy groups have staged horrific massacres against Sunni communities across Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in the past several years the Iran-backed Assad regime has suspiciously retreated from various positions, only to see ISIS gain ground, while mutually attacking the grassroot Syrian opposition.
Numerous intelligence reports indicate how Tehran provided long-term shelter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The IRGC protected and groomed Zarqawi, whose group become the predecessor to ISIS, the reports add. The IRGC also facilitated resources allowing al-Qaeda in Iraq to rebuild infrastructure to launch its blitzkrieg offensive from Syria, taking over large swathes Iraq.
U.S. intelligence has well documented Tehran’s ties with al-Zarqawi, strongly doubting the narrative provided by the Obama administration following ISIS’s rampaging of numerous Iraqi cities.
With Bin Laden killed in 2011, why did the Obama administration keep a lid on this valuable source of vital intelligence?
CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told Bloomberg the new documents specify “Iran and al-Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate Bin Laden referred to Iran as the ‘main artery’ for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications.”
The Obama administration released selected sets of Bin Laden files, in an attempt to emphasize a fierce rivalry between Iran and the extremist group. We now understand the Obama administration had complete knowledge of Tehran’s lethal cooperation with al-Qaeda.
The timing of Obama obtaining such vital intelligence about Tehran’s relations with al-Qaeda suspiciously overlaps Iran’s extensive meddling in the region, especially the lethal crackdown of its opposition in Iraq.
Iran has gone the limits in attempting to annihilate its opposition. As WikiLeaks revelations shed light on Iran’s conspiracies against the PMOI/MEK, rest assured the future has more such exposures.
Iran will deny any relations with al-Qaeda. Interesting is how Iran initially denied any role in Syria and Iraq. The status quo proves Iran’s lethal footprint in literally opening the gates of hell upon these two nations.
The Obama years are over. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have lost their organizational structure, after Iran took complete advantage of them. Iran and the IRGC, however, continue causing mayhem.
The CIA release follows US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision to decertify the flawed Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration has also ended decades of rapprochement, highlighted in the IRGC blacklisting. This very necessary measure needs full-throttle implementation without any loopholes.
Despite their differences, the European Union and United States should join force in the long overdue effort to end Iran’s foot-print in Syria and Iraq.