Confronting Iran’s influence in Syria is vital

While Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the regime ruling Iran, sought to garner attention and boast victory in Syria through the recent visit of Syrian regime dictator Bashar Assad to Tehran, developments in the Levant are actually  by far against the clerical regime’s interests.

U.S. President Donald Trump is now fully agreeing to maintaining a contingency in Syria – said to be 400 troops – in what appears to be a dual mission in the country’s northeast and the strategic al-Tanf base on the Syria-Jordan border.

Reporting on how his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin focused mainly on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored how he and the Russian leader agreed on the need to remove all foreign forces that came into Syria.

Considering the fact that the Lebanese Hezbollah also plays a highly devastating role in Syria, the U.S. is seeking new sanctions against this terrorist group that was founded and continues to enjoy funding by Tehran.

All these measures are principally important, especially bearing in mind the fact that the regime in Iran seeks to establish an all Syrian militia in Syria, most likely a replica of its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces. Tehran was the main force behind the launching of the Hashd al-Shabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, in Iraq, who stand accused of fueling sectarian strife in the Mesopotamia.

And to add insult to injury, despite claims made by various Iranian regime officials, Russia is now confirming a decision to establish a “Syria Working Group” with Israel. Netanyahu has also been heard making remarks about launching a joint Israel-Russia working group to have all foreign forces leave Syria.

Tehran, sensing the need to save face in light of such developments, resorted to hasty comments to dampen the impact of this setback. Bahram Ghassemi, spokesperson for the Iranian regime’s Foreign Ministry, claimed Russia does not follow in line with Israel and claimed Tehran and Moscow enjoy “strong ties.” While the mullahs’ regime in Iran claim remarks made by Israeli officials have no impact on them, a Kremlin spokesperson confirmed a decision was made between Putin and Netanyahu to establish this working group soon.

The question now is how can the U.S. facilitate the pushing of Iran’s malign forces out of Syria?

Iran is already under tight U.S. sanctions. These measures should continue to especially deprive Tehran of finances used to fuel its regional agenda of wreaking havoc and continuous warmongering in Syria. As a reminder, Tehran insiders have been heard voicing the importance of maintaining influence in Syria for the sake of remaining in power back home.

Despite being long overdue, the United Kingdom recently designated all branches of the Lebanese Hezbollah – founded and funded by the regime in Iran – as a terrorist organization, putting an end to the separation between this group’s political and military segments.

The U.S. Treasury Department also sanctioned “Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba,” a radical Muslim militia group known to be loyal to Tehran and having around 10,000 fighters. The group leader, Akram Kaabi, is also blacklisted. These measures are necessary to chip the wings of Iran’s warmongering apparatus.

Tehran is known to be funding a conglomerate of extremist groups across the Middle East, parallel to billions provided annually to Assad in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and extremist militias in Iraq. Denying Iran access to the global financial system will deplete its treasury of the funds needed to continue this unbridled campaign of belligerence.

To put a nail in the coffin, Washington should designate Iran’s IRGC, the main force behind all these destructive activities, as a foreign terrorist organization. This can go parallel to a similar designation of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), now more legitimate following a recent surge of Iran-backed terror plots and assassinations across Europe. Even the Europeans are sanctioning portions of the MOIS in response.

Ending Iran’s influence in Syria is pivotal to returning peace to the Middle East. Interestingly, this also weakens Tehran’s crackdown apparatus and renders direct support to the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle against the mullahs’ regime.

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Sanctions to protests: A lose-lose situation for the Iranian regime

Al Arabiya English

As the world continues to assess US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria and significantly decrease America’s foothold in Afghanistan, Iran has troubles kicking in from all corners.

With US sanctions beginning to bite significantly against the regime, the Iranian regime is finding it difficult on how to juggle these unprecedented and escalating measures, while demands of Tehran complying with international financial transparency regulations are hanging over the regime’s neck.

If Iran gives in to these global measures, their support for proxy groups across Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and beyond will be severely tampered.

If the regime chooses to maintain its current stance, not only will the currently escalating economic embargoes expand, they will also gain a far more international image, with Europe, Russia and China having no choice but to distance from Iran.

‘Most powerful organization’

Following the US decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the remaining members of the deal have emphasized on Tehran complying with standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based intergovernmental organization focusing on preventing money laundering and terrorism financing.

While most people may have never heard of the FATF, it is described by financial crime experts as “the most powerful organization” that has gone unnoticed by the commoners.

If the FATF finds a country in failure to abide by its standards, that country will face a blacklisting that has the watchdog urging members to carry out countermeasures – read sanctions – that can result in a complete prohibition of financial transactions.

Banks may be required to review and shut down correspondent accounts with Iranian banks, meaning they will be prohibited from launching overseas subsidiary branches, limiting business transactions, and going as far as imposing enhanced monitoring and reporting requirements on transactions in any way involving Iran.

Any hope?

It is certain that non-US banks and businesses exposed to the US financial system will not choose to defy Washington.

All the while, the European Union, in an effort by foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, is pushing forward with a so-called special purpose vehicle. This payment system aims to shield European companies, and those from across the world, choosing to do business with Iran, from the damning effect of US sanctions.

The Iranian regime is disturbed by Europe’s delay in the SPV launching. All the while, it is hard to comprehend how this mechanism intends to work out if Tehran fails to bow before FATF demands.

Protests demanding water supplies have become a regular feature in Iran. (Supplied)

 

Different perspectives

Many in the West have been falsifying an image of Iran having two political factions of hardliners and reformists. In fact, their perspectives only differ over how to better preserve and guarantee the regime’s survival.

Back in October, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif relayed a message from Russia and China that Tehran needs to comply with the FATF or else Moscow and Beijing will not be able to continue their business with Iran. His deputy, Abbas Araghchi, voiced the same assessment this month. This was a portrait of the so-called reformists’ viewpoint.

The hardliners, on the other hand, comprising of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members, the top army brass, the clerical establishment and the judiciary, are kicking the can down the road on the FATF standards adoption.

Fears exist that approving and implementing the FATF will unveil sensitive financial information and impede the drive to fund Iran’s proxies across the Middle East and maybe even chip the wings of the IRGC Quds Force, the unit in charge of Iran’s extraterritorial military activities.

Rest assured Zarif and other “reformists” in Iran are no fans of actual change, transparency and major shifts in policy for the Iranian regime. They are only playing their roles in the overall masquerade directed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, all aiming to prolong the lifespan of this regime.

Lose-lose

Iran’s regime was never able to actually benefit from the JCPOA in the long term. With the US pullout, the Iranian regime is in turmoil and the economy is going down the drain.

Renewed FATF countermeasures would add insult to injury for Tehran and has the potential of fueling public protests, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across Iran.

Each day people from all walks of life are protesting in cities throughout the country, including workers, teachers, truckers, students and so forth. The regime is quite vulnerable, concerned over the undeniable reality that all these protests have the potential of quickly evolving into scenes of political demands. Protesters are constantly chanting:

“Let of go Syria, think about us” … “Our enemy is right here, they lie in saying it’s America”

The senior elite sitting on the throne in Iran are going the limits to prevent the transformation of these chants into “Death to Khamenei,” as witnessed so vividly in the December/January uprising that shook the very pillars of this regime just a year ago.

At the end of the day, the Iranian regime is in fact suffering from a “lose-lose-lose” situation:
– The JCPOA never provided any benefits to brag about;
– FATF measures bear the potential of crippling the regime’s economy;
– Popular protests are on the rise, threatening the regime at its core.

The months ahead will be demanding and the regime will be weakening at an alarming and deadly rate. It would be naïve for any international entity, government or private, to invest in the Iranian regime overcoming these hurdles.

Why the EU-Iran initiative is destined to fail

The European initiative known as the “special purpose vehicle” aiming to facilitate financial transactions between the Green Continent and Iran’s regime – read bypass US sanctions – is very shaky and unstable.

What at first seemed to be a bold rising to the challenge by the European Union has now suffered major and controversial setbacks following a series of foiled, Iran-orchestrated terror plots on European soil, including Albania, France and Denmark. These developments have made EU/Iran political relations all the more complicated, to say the least.

Logically, Iran would need to tone down its foreign bellicosity to allow Brussels present an argument vis-à-vis Washington. However, Tehran’s need to save face back home against its opposition in exile, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK), leaves it no choice but to launch such illogical measures from a diplomatic relations point of view.

That being a broad subject for another day, this piece will provide another perspective into why this EU/Iran initiative will most certainly end in failure.

Harsh reality

While introduced a few months ago, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) dossier is facing a conglomerate of obstacles and hurdles. Experts are now asking does this mechanism actually intend to provide the Europeans the means to purchase Iran’s oil and gas while bypassing the ongoing buildup of US primary and secondary sanctions.

“So far, her ‘vehicle’ is stuck in bureaucratic mud, unable to take off as European firms leave Iran in droves,” as described by Benny Avni in a New York Post piece in reference to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as the SPV architect.

Even media outlets known for promoting a return to the Obama era of US/Iran engagement are voicing growing concerns about the SPV sailing into unknown waters.

“Officials have said they are watching such engineering attempts closely, although few economists and officials in Europe believe such efforts will offer Tehran much in the way of sanctuary from American penalties immediately,” according to the New York Times.

Despite the brouhaha launched in western media by Iranian regime apologists and lobbyists, along with remnants of the Obama-era pro-appeasement voices, the on-the-ground reality strikes alarming reminders for those serious about doing business.

“The European payment mechanism doesn’t shield you if you use the US financial system … you can pay but don’t expect to be on their Christmas card list,” said Alex Beard, chief executive for oil and gas at Glencore, to Reuters.

Eventually, tensions are rising between Tehran and Brussels, as the Iranian regime’s patience began to grow thin. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his deputy Abbas Araqchi have most recently voiced their disappointment in Europe not meeting their expectations to launch the SPV as a lifesaving mechanism against mounting US sanctions beginning to take their toll in crippling fashion.

Finally, the nail in the coffin.

“A special European Union initiative to protect trade with Iran against newly re-imposed US sanctions faces possible collapse with no EU country willing to host the operation for fear of provoking US punishment,” according to another recent Reuters report.

“A bit crazy”

Despite its noisy coming to life, the EU SPV gradually grew to become “little more than a glorified arrangement with limited scope” and even described as “largely symbolic.”

More disturbing for businesses is the fact that the SPV, while aiming to become an alternative to the SWIFT global messaging system, falls miserably short. The SPV will lack the necessary ability to “conduct business in dollars or to access US institutions and the US financial system as a whole,” as explained Joel Gehrke in The Washington Examiner.

Taking this slate of reservations into consideration and all the measures of various parties, the nuts and bolts of Europe’s SPV remains a mystery and even Mogherini failed to provide any actual timetable for its launch.

Adding insult to injury for the EU and Iran is the reluctance shown by a variety of European countries to host the SPV, including Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium, leaving the entire project literally homeless.

At the end of the day, Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the EU, dismissed the planned SPV as “nothing more than a paper tiger.”

In spite of its strong support of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, France has yet to make a firm decision regarding the SPV and minister recently told Le Monde the entire idea is “a bit crazy.”

ANALYSIS: Iranian concerns heightened after US midterm elections

Al Arabiya

With the dust settling after the US midterm elections, a look at the impact of this important development for the Iranian regime is called for. It has become a known fact that Tehran’s mullahs seek to wait out the presidency of Donald Trump in hopes of him not being re-elected come November 2020.

In line with this train of thought, the Iranian regime was closely following the US midterm elections, rooting for the Democrats to take over all of Congress. This rooting was seen specifically in Tehran’s lobby efforts in support for Democrat candidates.

Not see in the media was the reaction from Iran as reality continues to sink in for the regime and the road ahead looks even more troubling, in their own words.

“Maximum pressure”

Different approaches with similar objectives is how the “Youth Journalists Club,” an outlet known to be linked to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Basij paramilitary entity, analyzes the remarks and actions seen from US Democrats, especially in pursuit of America’s foreign policy.

“Trump, through imposing his ‘maximum pressure’ policy… is eventually seeking regime change in Iran… and the Democrats have never denied their dreams of regime change in Iran,” a YJC piece reads.

“If senior Trump administration officials, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, have a history of taking part in meetings held by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and the individual most likely to become the new House Speaker, has no better track record.”

Hatred & enmity

Kayhan Daily, and especially the editorial written by Hossein Shariatmadari, are considered the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“If the Europeans and Americans, Democrats and Republicans agree on one subject, it is their enmity against [Iran’s regime],” the November 9 editorial reads. “The evidence of this claim is in the actions of European countries and these two American parties in at least the past five years… Did [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo not recently say we have a large coalition supporting us in our sanctions? European countries and some Middle East countries are supporting the sanctions. Even the three European countries remaining loyal to the [2015 Iran nuclear deal] are supporting the sanctions.”

“Some parties are happy about the Democrats taking control over the House of Representatives. Does this not mean we have no capability to run the country and are placing all our eggs in a basket several thousands of kilometers away?” he added in mockery.

“History shows the Democrats have no lesser hatred for us than the Republicans, and they have actually provided twice the support for sanctions against [Iran’s regime].”

US sanctions

Following last Monday’s formal announcement of the second wave of US sanctions, it was expected for the Iranian regime to claim they will overcome such measures – all intended to save face. There are certain remarks that stand out and provide an image into a grim future for Tehran’s rulers.

“When they sanction the banking system, it impacts everything,” Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani said in his remarks on Saturday. “They have targeted the banking system, oil exports, meaning they are targeting the entire country’s revenue… They have prepared a long list of banks, adding to that their branches, along with a flight company…”

Other officials are taking the entire issue one step further and pinpointing the regime’s main source of concerns in such circumstances.

“This year and the next, [Iran’s] currency will sink in value to such an extent that people will pour into the streets due to extremely dire living conditions… clashes will begin! Who is behind all this! The PMOI/MEK… and in the middle of all this mayhem, it just needs two people to chant one or two slogans,” said Hassan Abbasi, known as a theoretician close to the IRGC and Khamenei.

On the ground

It goes without saying these sanctions are the harshest imposed on the Iranian regime in history, with John Bolton making it crystal clear more such embargoes are in the making against Tehran.

It is becoming obvious that as Tehran’s international crises and isolation grow, this phenomenon is fueling the main faceoff on the ground that will define the future: the ongoing forty-year struggle between the Iranian people and an oppressive regime known for its crackdown and human rights violations.

As the regime weakens, Iran’s powder keg society will advance day by day. The days of those sitting on the throne in Tehran are numbered.

ANALYSIS: The meaning of new US sanctions for Iran

Al Arabiya

Despite weeklong claims of US President Donald Trump caving in to pressure, Washington has unleashed the full measure of US sanctions against Iran’s regime. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed reporters Friday that, come 12 a.m. ET Monday, all sanctions will return to pre-2015 Iran nuclear deal levers.

This is “aimed at depriving the regime of the revenues that it uses to spread death and destruction around the world,” Pompeo explained. “Our ultimate aim is to compel Iran to permanently abandon its well-documented outlaw activities and behave as a normal country.”

While a long shot, this policy has potential of reining in Iran’s regime, especially coupled with a highly explosive population and a society described as a powder keg.

Sweeping measures

Since pulling out of the nuclear deal back in May, the US administration has specifically voiced intentions to sanction the regime until Tehran ends its malign activities.

“The Treasury Department will add more than 700 names to our list of blocked entities,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, alongside Pompeo during Friday’s conference call with reporters. “This includes hundreds of targets previously granted sanctions relief under the JCPOA, as well as more than 300 new designations. This is substantially more than we ever have previously done.”

On the highly controversial issue of oil sanctions waivers, the Trump administration has intentions to grant temporary exemptions to eight “jurisdictions,” which Pompeo says will receive six-month waivers from US penalties on the condition that they significantly “wind down” oil imports from Iran.

What specifically is going into effect?

As a result of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Obama administration lifted a slate of sanctions severely curbing the Iranian regime’s economy. The move, considered a major step in appeasing the regime, provided Iran access to crucial markets in Europe and Asia, and the regime gained access to $150 billion in previously frozen oversees assets.

When Trump’s administration recalled the first major round of sanctions in May, Tehran was slapped with barriers regarding on Iranian metals, alongside its automotive and airline industries. In this round of crippling sanctions, the regime’s oil and banking sectors will receive major blows – exactly the areas Trump wants targeted.

Crosshairs are on major oil exporters, shipping companies and major Iranian banks — including the country’s Central Bank and other financial institutions, according to the White House. The administration will also “target those who attempt to violate or circumvent [the sanctions].”

“One hundred percent of the revenue that Iran receives from the sale of crude oil will be held in foreign accounts and can be used by Iran only for humanitarian trade or bilateral trade in non-sanctioned goods and services,” Pompeo explained Friday, adding insult to injury for Tehran.

The additional penalties are blueprinted to “cut off revenues the regime uses to bankroll terrorist groups, foment global instability, fund nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and enrich its leaders.”

The White House, however, has plans permitting the sales of humanitarian goods —including food, medicine and raw agriculture products — to Iran.

Why waivers for certain countries?

Washington’s ultimate goal is to have all trading partners zero oil purchases from Iran. Of course, this objective needs time and two of the eight “jurisdictions” receiving exemptions have reportedly agreed to seek other sources “within weeks” and the remaining six have been provided a maximum six-month period to do the same.

These jurisdictions “have demonstrated significant reductions in their crude oil and cooperation on many other fronts, and have made important moves toward getting to zero crude oil importation,” Pompeo said Friday.

While refusing to identify the eight jurisdictions, Pompeo did clarify that the full European Union would not be one of them. The list will release Monday when sanctions are re-implemented, Pompeo added.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, present details of the new sanctions on Iran. (AP)

 

The main objective

The US administration is seeking to keep the Iranian regime from getting cash. This “maximum-pressure” campaign intends to guarantee Tehran does not have the funds to support terror groups checkered across the Middle East, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The White House says the sanctions buildup has already deprived Iran of some $2 billion over the past several months, plunging the regime’s economy into a crisis. And despite claims by a slate of Iranian regime apologists and lobbyists in the West, Washington’s actions “are targeted at the regime, not the people of Iran,” as Pompeo explained.

Iran’s reactions

On Friday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sought to save face after the sanctions onslaught. “America will not be able to carry out any measure against our great and brave nation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said to state media. “We have the knowledge and the capability to manage the country’s economic affairs.”

On the same day, Alam Alhoda, Friday prayer imam and the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Mashhad, resorted to blatant threats of terror attacks across the Gulf region.

“If we reach a point that our oil is not exported, the Strait of Hormuz will be mined. Saudi oil tankers will be seized and regional countries will be leveled with Iranian missiles,” he said.

Furthermore, in a sign of Iran’s regime becoming extremely concerned about the upcoming sanctions, Tabatabaie-Nezhad, the Friday prayer imam of Isfahan said, “The US will be implementing the second round of sanctions on November 4th. This is the work of the Mojahedin!” referring to the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

And in what is considered a significant turn of events, Iran’s Guardian Council – comprised of six clerics directly appointed by Khamenei and six others appointed indirectly – vetoed the Financial Actions Task Force CFT (countering the financing of terrorism) convention on Sunday.

The FATF CFT adoption was the main condition raised by the EU, Russia, China & India for maintaining financial relations with Tehran. The future of these ties have become all the more controversial.

Final thoughts

The new US sanctions will make it far more difficult for Iran to obtain money at such desperate times. Despite the European Union’s initial disapproval of Washington’s new measures, a newly foiled terrorist plot by the Iranian regime in Denmark has made matters all the more difficult.

Danish officials are seeking EU action after arresting a Norwegian of Iranian descent on charges of actions aimed at assassinating an Iranian dissident on their soil. European leaders are opening the door to sanctions against the Iranian regime in response to terror plots in Albania, France and now Denmark.

Despite the need to calm relations with the West, Tehran’s regime understands desperate times call for desperate measures. This is especially true when new US sanctions are destined to suffocate the regime’s economy.

The importance of banning Iran’s regime from SWIFT

Al Arabiya

Crippling US sanctions are set to kick in early next month against Iran’s regime, targeting its oil and banking sectors.

While initially calling for “maximum pressures,” as we speak, the Trump administration is weighing to what extent these measures should push forward in denying Tehran access to the global financial system.

There is word that US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is informing foreign governments that Washington may be stepping back from an onslaught aimed at forcing the Belgium-based financial messaging network, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, to cut off sanctioned Iranian banks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This is a highly important matter as SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is considered part and parcel of Washington’s upcoming oil sanctions on Tehran.

If the US were to allow SWIFT continue providing even limited services to the Iranian regime, loopholes would be exploited by Tehran to facilitate money transactions the regime desperately needs.

This is why senior US administration officials are calling for sanctioning SWIFT board members should they decide to facilitate such financial transactions for Tehran. If Trump allows Iran access to SWIFT, his measures would not meet the “maximum pressures” litmus test and be weaker than Barack Obama’s actions.

Turn of events?

The potential SWIFT exemption can be considered as the Trump administration recalibrating their sanctions due to their high severity or even caving in to demands raised by America’s partners in Europe, various observers say.

The decision has apparently launched a struggle inside the Trump administration, particularly pinning Mnuchin against National Security Adviser John Bolton, a fierce advocate of tough action against the Iranian regime. While Mnuchin has made hints of his own, Bolton specifically used the term “squeeze Iran” in his recent visit to Armenia.

“We are going to squeeze Iran because we think their behavior in the Middle East and, really globally, is malign and needs to be changed,” Bolton said. These remarks are completely in line with Trump’s initial demand of “maximum pressure” against Tehran.

Mnuchin was also careful to balance his wording, indicating there has yet to be a final decision on disconnecting the Iranian regime from SWIFT.

Humanitarian goals

“Our objective is to make sure that financial institutions do not process sanctioned transactions,” Mnuchin told WSJ.

His office is “having very specific discussions with SWIFT,” he added. “I will use all the tools in my power to make sure that sanctioned transactions do not occur.” Humanitarian transactions, however, will be allowed, he added, launching suspicions across the board.

An Iranian goldsmith counts gold coins in Grand Bazaar, which has seen customers buying gold as a hedge against falling rial, in Tehran, on Aug. 12, 2018. (AP)

 

Brian Hook, the US Special Representative on Iran, specifically stated the Trump administration’s position in this regard.

“Our sanctions do not now, nor have they ever, targeted humanitarian goods. Our sanctions pressure the Iranian regime into changing its behavior and they do not target the Iranian people. The United States does not sanction the export of food or medicine to Iran,” Hook said at a July 2 press briefing.

Collective effort

While it would be more effective for the Europeans to be aboard US sanctions on Iran, as some argue, all countries will eventually realize it is in their interest, and the world’s, to impose heavy measures against the Iranian regime.

After all, which CEO in his/her right mind would jeopardize their future of doing business in the US $19 trillion economy for the sake of preserving business with the Iranian regime’s $400 billion economy? Especially considering the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) control a large portion of Iran’s economy.

There is also talk of European governments retaliating to develop what has been described as a “special purpose vehicle” in the case of US sanctions becoming too severe. This mechanism, being largely symbolic, aims to protect European corporations from damning US sanctions.

“Europe’s much-vaunted ‘special-purpose vehicle’ for trading around US financial sanctions, announced last month, is expected to be little more than a glorified barter arrangement with limited scope,” according to another WSJ article.

In the overall discussion of preventing any loopholes, Trump administration officials are also seeking measures against firms, such as Turkey’s Halkbank, for assisting Iran bypass and violate sanctions.

In this regard, persuading Ankara to restrict Tehran’s measures is merely a minimum objective for Washington. The main aim is to prevent Iran from escaping penalties in the face of tough US sanctions and Washington would prefer its allies not resorting to rearranging international financial systems.

‘Full snapback’

It is a known secret that Trump seeks to impose severe sanctions against Iran, reminding the world most recently about his intentions while adding further sanctions will be added even after November 5. Bearing in mind the fact that Iran was told to brace for a “full snapback” of sanctions, analysts believe Trump will settle for nothing less.

Washington is also seeking to impose increasingly tough sanctions to portray the number of Iranian companies, including so-called humanitarian organizations, are in fact associated to the IRGC.

The US Treasury Department has blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist group, while the State Department has yet to list this entity as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. A measure necessary in line with Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy.

Various observers are describing any exemption provided for Iran, especially in regards to SWIFT, as “caving” in to the Europeans. The Iranian regime suffered a damning blow back in 2012 when the Obama administration cut off its access to the SWIFT.

With access to the SWIFT network Iran will enjoy the ability to fund terrorism, continue destabilizing the Middle East, and may even finance their ballistic and nuclear programs. As Benny Avny explained, “It would certainly be ironic if Trump gave Iran a SWIFT exemption — since his sanctions would then be weaker than Obama’s.”

ANALYSIS: Iran and the Financial Action Task Force impasse

Al Arabiya

What is the FATF and why are we hearing such conflicting remarks from inside the Iranian regime in this regard?

The Financial Action Task Force is a non-governmental organization established by the G7 back in 1979 to tackle money-laundering. In 2001, the initiative was expanded to also target terrorism financing.

The FATF secretariat is based in the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, located in Paris. In 2012, the task of confronting financing any terrorism-promoting activities was added to the FATF’s responsibilities.

FATF, in charge of supervising financial cross-border transactions, provided an October deadline to the Iranian regime to join two international conventions and reform two domestic laws. This body is holding its plenary meeting in Paris this week to discuss “a range of important issues to protect the integrity of the financial system and contribute to global safety and security.”

In response, the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented four bills to the regime’s Majlis (parliament):
– The Anti-Money Laundering Law Reform Bill
– The Anti-Terrorism Financing Law Reform Bill
– The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Supplementary Bill
– The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime Supplementary Bill

History

Following a four month-long delay, the Iranian regime parliament finally approved a bill agreeing to adopt the Combating the Financing of Terrorism standards. This is considered the most important step for Tehran in the path of eventually joining the FATF.

Many voices from inside the Iranian regime launched a major brouhaha after these developments. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described it a historical decision.

Hamid Aboutalebi, an advisor to Rouhani, praised the parliament and said members showed the country’s national security and the Iranian people’s interests are their primary priorities.

Khamenei opposition

The CFT approval, however, came despite the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had specifically said he opposes this law. Meeting members of parliament back in June, Khamenei specifically voiced his opposition to joining any international conventions.

“These accords are actually cooked up in one specific place… If an independent government is found somewhere, such as the Islamic republic, who for example says we don’t accept these conventions and international accords… They attack them with harsh rhetoric demanding they join… That’s what these conventions are all about. Now, what do we do?… I said the parliament should pass a law. For example, on the issue of combating terrorism or money-laundering… the members should sit down and pass their own law,” he said.

Khamenei had described the FATF as an “endless pit” in his social media page. And at a recent state-launched rally in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Khamenei delivered a speech covering a variety of subjects.

“As long as I’m alive I will not allow the country to surrender,” he said. However, word inside Iran indicates that all parties are awaiting his signal to do exactly that.

It is common knowledge that whenever Khamenei emphasizes on standing firm, he is signaling to the regime’s depleting social base he will be heading the opposite route.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the parliament in Tehran on October 7, 2018, during a meeting over the a bill to counter terrorist financing. (AFP)

 

A step back

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani made everything clear reading Khamenei’s letter to Majlis members.

“What I said during our meeting with the members in regards to the four bills and conventions was related to the very principle of these conventions, and not a particular convention. Therefore, I have no objection with these bills being evaluated in the parliament, in order to follow through with the legal procedures,” the letter read in part.

Through such remarks Khamenei took back his own words and threw the ball into the parliament’s court.

Why the predicament?

Why can’t anyone in the Iranian regime, even Khamenei himself, put their foot down and finalize the issue. The answer can be found in Zarif’s remarks to the Majlis members.

“China’s international policies are very similar to that of the Islamic republic. China is our strategic partner. We are also strategic partners with Russia. However, the Russian Central Bank chief told Dr. Hemmati [his Iranian counterpart) we will not be able to conduct business without the FATF. The Chinese had also made similar remarks time and again,” he explained.

“Neither I, nor the president, we cannot guarantee all our problems will be resolved by joining the FATF. However, we can guarantee that by not joining this bill the US will find a very important pretext to increase its pressures against us,” Zarif added.

The Iranian regime has been weighing this issue since 2011, enjoying the appeasement approach practiced by the Obama administration to buy time.

Shooting in the foot

Tehran is also very concerned, understanding the severe consequences of joining the FATF. The clerical regime will no longer be able to funnel money to terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite proxies in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. This means shooting yourself in the foot for Tehran.

All the while, if the Iranian regime fails to approve the FATF conventions, its banking transactions with Europe, Russia and China will face extreme difficulties. This gains significant proportions when we take into consideration the November 5th return of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil/banking/shipping sectors. This will have a crippling impact on the Iranian regime, to say the least, especially considering the increasing protests and strikes across the country.

The current circumstances were best explained by the Iranian regime’s own members of parliament: committing suicide in fear of death. This is the very telling indication and interpretation of a regime facing a critical impasse.

ANALYSIS: US sanctions and the end of ‘reform’ in Iran

Al Arabiya

With a new wave of US sanctions just around the corner, the regime ruling Iran is in deep waters as domestic and international pressures escalate. To add insult to injury for the clerics in Tehran, public discontent is increasing and people from all of life across Iran are demanding regime change.

Strikes and protests have continued in relentless waves across the country, especially following the December/January uprising. This movement, enjoying vast support in Iran’s society, is shaking the very pillars of this regime.

Plundering the Iranian people for 39 years and counting, the United States withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is further depriving Tehran of the funds it desperately needs to continue fueling its domestic crackdown machine and belligerence aimed at foreign targets.

The clerical regime has played all its cards and the Iranian people will no longer fall for any further deceptive plots.

Reform: A story of the past

In a frantic attempt, the Iranian regime is busy with a diplomatic campaign seeking the support of other Iran nuclear deal partners – the document formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – being Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

These measures have failed to render any tangible results for the Iranian regime, especially considering the fact that the country’s currency, the rial, has plunged and lost more than 60 percent of its value since April alone. Inflation is skyrocketing and even basic necessities are running scarce, all due to the regime’s mismanagement.

In the West, pundits argue Iranians would “rally around the flag” and provide more power to the regime’s hardliners in the face of US hostility. Following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iranians are actually understanding how regime leaders are the party to blame. They have also put an end to any “rally” claim raised by foreigners obviously lacking the necessary knowledge to correctly analyze Iran’s current powder keg society.

For many “experts” it will be hard to admit that the on-the-ground reality of Iran’s fast developing political landscape is far too complex to easily evaluate the recitation of events through the canvas of “reformists” against the hardcore “principalists.” The protests and all out uprising since late December 2017 have proven once for all that the so-called reformists in Iran have failed to render any change deemed positive in the past two decades.

A military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen during a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) in Tehran, in this September 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)

Iran’s “reformists,” dating back to when the now dead former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjanicame to power in 1989, have been on a specific mission never mentioned or explained clearly in western mainstream media: preserving the Iranian regime in power by promising – and very rarely implementing – minor “reforms.”

The protests since December have caught the Iranian regime, and the world over, by surprise. And the so-called reformists in Iran have received their message: Your time is up. The Iranian people are increasingly realizing that the “reformists” in Iran are no different from the hardliners sitting on the throne and having the last word on all major issues.

The “Reformists, principalists, game over” slogan put an end to the “reform” mirage in Iran. A list of Iranian “reformists” are showing their true colors by not standing alongside the people, losing the nation’s trust as a result. Various remarks include:

• Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, accused the protesters of being directed by elements outside of Iran;
• Abbas Abdi, dubbed as a “reformist leader,” described the recent protests as “uncalculated and irrational;”
• the Association of Combatant Clerics, an entity chaired by former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who claimed “opportunists and troublemakers have exploited” them.

Furthermore, it’s good to know that Mir Hossein Mousavi, also described as a “reformist leader” in Iran’s political spectrum, was this regime’s prime minister during the 8-year long Iran-Iraq War, continuously promoting the horrific initiative.

Mousavi also recently admitted of his knowledge regarding the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Mir Mahmoud Mousavi, brother to the former prime minister and a former diplomat for this regime, has recently voiced utter disappointment in Iran’s “reformists,” saying they lack the ability to do anything more than what they have shown in the past two decades.

Which in itself has been anything but meaningful.

Evolving landscape

What we are witnessing in the protests spreading across Iran during the past ten months have been a wave launched by the largely poor and rural branches of Iran’s society. Setting aside those ruling the country and enjoying ties to the regime, the economic crisis engulfing Iran is having a deep impact on nearly every household.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, another “reformist,” had promised to realize economic prosperity following the JCPOA. However, more billions were funneled to fuel the clerical regime’s support for Bashar Assad in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, the Lebanese Hezbollah, sectarian militias in Iraq, further development of ballistic missiles and … the list goes on.

More reason why over 140 cities erupted in major revolt back in December 2017, far before Trump imposed sanctions. It is quite telling that from that turn of events, the clerical regime’s bubble of enjoying the support of the lower, dispossessed class in Iran, has burst.

All the while, Iran’s middle class – or whatever is left of it as 80 percent of the population lives in poverty – is also seen taking to the streets and expressing their anger very publicly on the fact that this regime has failed to deliver socially and economically.

Stepping up the tempo

Iran’s regime has been known to quell public dissent for forty years. The significant factor in this round of ongoing protests is the organized nature of such movements, seen most recently in the truck drivers’ nationwide strike that has now entered its third week and spreading to over 310 cities.

Time and again senior Iranian regime officials are voicing their utter concerns about the Iranian opposition PMOI/MEK, and specifically their “Resistance Units” network inside the country, playing the decisive role in the ongoing uprising.

The Iranian people have shown in the past 39 and some years, with major episodes in 1999, 2009 and the ongoing uprising, that they will not tolerate this regime. As the regime loses the support of a destructive appeasement policy practiced by the West, especially during the Obama years, it grows gradually weaker in the face of an increasingly restive nation that is demanding and will realize sweeping changes through an all-out revolution in the near future.

ANALYSIS: How to cripple the Iranian regime and help its people

Al Arabiya

The US administration taking significant measures to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s regime aims to reach a variety of objectives. Crippling sanctions are being implemented on Tehran and there are methods to pinpoint these efforts against the regime and in fact support the Iranian people’s strive for freedom and democracy.

One very effective initiative is severing all access for Iranian banks to SWIFT, or the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.

These actions have the potential of exerting crippling economic and financial pressure Tehran, including exerting unprecedented damages to the regime’s trade relations and import/export process.

Iran deal finale

Numerous outlets are running a variety of reports and articles discussing the impact of US President Donald Trump exiting the Iran nuclear deal and the future of relations between Iranian banks and SWIFT.

If Tehran’s rulers see their apparatus cut off from SWIFT, the regime Central Bank, Bank Melli, Bank Sepah and Bank Saderat (Exports) will no longer enjoy the highly important facilities provided by the Belgian firm.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 4, 2018 shows him greeting the crowd in Tehran. (AFP)

What is SWIFT?

This Brussels-based company is quite large in size and is mainly involved in facilitating transactions. Simply put, SWIFT lubricates the wheels of financial relations across the globe.

Placing this subject into better perspective, financial transactions were carried out through telex messages, taking a few days to arrive at the destination. These transactions are accelerated to a matter of minutes under SWIFT services.

Today, SWIFT is known to manage around 11,000 banks and financial institutions across 209 countries, facilitating around six billion financial messages annually.

Remaining neutral?

SWIFT opened eyes into this world back in May 1973 with a very noteworthy characteristic of refraining any involvement in political disputes. Launched with the support of a number of countries, this institution aims to accelerate money and financial transactions for trade across the globe.

While SWIFT officials strive to distance their entity from politics, the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York had the US, a major SWIFT member, demanding further control over financial transactions across the globe. This included American authorities seeking increasing access to personal information of individuals using SWIFT.

Despite initial opposition by SWIFT authorities, the European Union agreed to U.S. demands of establishing methods of controlling and monitoring trade and banking transactions.

In July, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran over its missile program. (Shutterstock)

Iran, SWIFT & US sanctions

Iran joined the SWIFT in 1992, linking its Central Bank, Banks Melli, Sepah and Saderat (Export), alongside other Iranian regime banks to the world’s financial network.

In 2012, under pressure from the US and major sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear program, the links between Iranian regime banks and SWIFT, and effectively the global financial network, were severed.

Following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signing and initial measures implemented by Iran, SWIFT lifted its restrictions on Iranian banks in 2016. This goes alongside the $1.7 billion in cash provided to Tehran by the Obama administration and the $150 billion in assets unfrozen.

Despite pledges provided by senior Iranian officials, not a single dollar of this huge amount went to provide the Iranian population’s necessities. While over 50 million people across the country are living in poverty, Tehran continues to fuel its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, an unnecessary nuclear program and ballistic missile drive.

New measures

On June 4th the three countries of France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a letter to US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin asking for new American sanctions to not include the SWIFT apparatus.

Following the developments of the recent G7 meeting in Canada, there are no signs of Washington taking the European request into consideration. If so, the Green Continent will be significantly limited in continuing its economic cooperation with Iran.

The sanctions that are scheduled to be back on line come November 4 are set to include financial and banking collaboration. Any entity refusing to abide by these regulations, already seen very unlikely, will be the target of US punishment. This comprises their US-based assets being frozen, officials banned to enter US soil and their activities limited in the US.

Iran’s domestic crackdown organs and its foreign belligerence are all funded through state banks and financial institutions. All actions taken against these entities and limiting their power will benefit the Iranian people in their daily protests and long struggle to establish freedom and democracy in their country.

Following the Dec/Jan nationwide protests, described by many as an uprising, there is no longer any doubt that the Iranian people want this regime gone. As a result, any measures against Tehran’s interests will support this nation’s quest to achieve their objectives.

A look at the current trend leads to this conclusion that the months leading to November will be of grave importance for the future of Iran’s regime, knowing the continuation of today’s actions will cripple its entire apparatus very soon.

ANALYSIS: After Trump nuclear deal exit, different perspective on Iran sanctions

Al Arabiya

Following the United States’ decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal, we are witnessing the beginning of a significant series of measures against Tehran. Cascading sanctions are in the making and continuing economic relations with Iran would be tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot.

Iran’s economy is on the ropes and Washington knows quite well how to make the ruling clerics understand how their four decades of belligerence will no longer go tolerated. Interesting is how the new US sanctions are targeting the regime, its entities and senior officials, going the Iran apologists camp arguing such measures will hurt the Iranian people.

And these sanctions against Iran’s regime will continue, especially since Tehran believes any back-stepping will lead to devastating defeats in the very near future for its entire apparatus.

Quick glance

The US Treasury Department explains how all pre-JCPOA sanctions will return in two 90 and 180 day phases, while no new contracts will be permitted with Iran. The regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its extraterritorial unit, the Quds Force, are in the center of Washington’s crosshairs.

The very significant nature of these sanctions lies in the fact that Washington’s latest endeavor targets Iran’s financial sources, being the root of its domestic crackdown and foreign meddling.

Trump has tweeted how Iran’s military budget has interestingly skyrocketed by 40 percent following the JCPOA, while the accord claimed to seek peace and security across the region. There has been cooperation with the US to sanction an Iran-linked currency exchange network involved in transferring millions of dollars for the IRGC Quds Force.

Such entities, linked directly or indirectly to the IRGC, result in the utmost concerns for Washington as they facilitate the Iranian regime’s measures causing havoc across the Middle East. The US is now also calling on Qatar to end its support for Iran-associated militia groups.

The fact that Middle East countries are supporting Washington’s sanctions against Iran is quite imperative to counter Tehran’s measures to establish and take advantage of financial institutions for its malign activities across the region.

Europe

The Green Continent is not happy about US President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Iran accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Yet it doesn’t need rocket science to understand Europe would never make the strategic mistake of standing alongside the Iranian regime in the face of crippling US sanctions.

The Europeans will eventually find a method to work with their American allies, and rest assured Iran’s regime will be the party suffering from Europe distancing from its market. While there are tariff issues ongoing between Washington & Brussels, facts and numbers speak for themselves:

– US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell emphasizes, “Trump has said US sanctions will include important sections of Iran’s economy. German firms should lower their activities in Iran as soon as possible.”
– Italy’s Eni energy company announced it has no plans for new investments in Iran and from 2019 onward the firm will begin purchasing oil from other countries.
– Back in 2007, European Union/United States relations rendered $1.045 trillion in trade, while the EU’s trade with Iran reached a maximum of $15 billion. It’s not hard to do the math.

An Iranian holding US 100-dollar bills in a shopping center in Tehran on April 10, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s view

Ahmad Khatami, this week’s Friday prayer imam in Tehran, made it clear how the Iranian regime has no hope in Europe.

“To say America no, the European Union yes goes against edification. We have to understand that the European Union has a bad track record on promises. They are no better than the US Plans were made for the EU to invest in Iran. Did they? They also cancelled a signed contract to sell us airplanes. The JCPOA didn’t save the country. In fact, sanctions upon sanctions are now imposed on us,” he said.

It is worth noting that Ahmad Khatami has very close relations to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Furthermore, the Tehran Friday prayer tribune has become a stage where Khamenei sends his representative to express his views about weekly developments. As a result, knowing Khamenei has the last word on all state matters, recent events are depicting a very dangerous slope for the Iranian regime’s future.

The next move

Knowing this enormous amount of international pressure cannot go unanswered, Iran first responded by launching around 20 rockets from IRGC-associated bases in Syria into the Golan Heights. This sparked a massive retaliation by the Israelis against a variety of IRGC targets throughout Syria, to which Tehran has remained silent on.

Tehran is now threatening to relaunch its nuclear fuel enrichment cycle and escalate military confrontation, all claims worth following to understand Iran’s future options in these troubling times. What goes less discussed are the Iranian regime’s domestic troubles. Protests by people from all walks of life continue to increase and the country’s currency, the rial, is nosediving.

On Saturday, the air travel currency cap was decreased from €10,000 to €5,000, and €2,000 for ground/sea travel.

All said and done, we will see in the coming weeks if Tehran exits the JCPOA and be bold enough to restart high level uranium enrichment. Trump has warned such steps by Iran would lead to “very severe consequences,” and history shows between bad and worse the Iranian regime will ultimately choose the bad option.

Options before Tehran trace a very gloomy future. This will play into the Iranian people’s interests in their struggle against the clerical regime’s four decades of oppression and devastation.