ANALYSIS: How to tackle Iran’s Middle East bellicosity

Thanks to years of Western appeasement in the face of Iran’s belligerence across the Middle East, evidence of Tehran’s dangerous footprints are now visible in several countries across the region, including even Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

The Trump administration, however, has made it quite vivid its adoption of a firm approach. This stance, signaled in the historic May conference in Riyadh, is long overdue and should be enhanced by Washington supporting the Iranian people’s desire for regime change.

A history of devastation

Iran has a long record of hostility against neighboring countries and US interests in the Middle East. The 1983 bombings targeting the US Embassy and barracks in Beirut, the Khobar Towers attack in 1996, all climaxed in the support Iran provided for Shiite proxies and the Sunni Taliban in their campaign against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In parallel form, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, two known terrorist groups, have for over 30 years enjoyed contributions from Tehran to fuel sectarianism throughout the Middle East and carry out terrorist attacks.

The Obama administration handed Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate through a strategic mistake of prematurely pulling out all US troops. This paved the path for Iran to further export its “revolution” through a convenient medium of extremist proxies.

The West can literally be accused of standing aside and watching Iran’s aggressive policy. This has rendered a slate of countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen feel threatened and/or left utterly devastated from Iran’s meddling on their soil.

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (top-R) attends President Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran, on August 5, 2017. (AFP)

Troubling activities

Of late, Iran has been reported to send further weapons and narcotics to Yemen’s Houthis. These drugs are sold to provide income for Iran’s supported militias on the ground in the flashpoint country south of Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s archenemy in the region.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are present in Yemen also to instruct and guide the Houthis in assembling weapons smuggled into the country by Tehran.

“For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi’ites in the Houthi movement,” Reuters cited Western and Iranian sources.

“Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transshipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.”

The Iranians are also taking provocative measures against the US Navy in the same region recently, viewed by analysts as actions to learn the limits of US President Donald Trump. On July 26th an armed Iranian patrol boat closed within less than 150 meters of the USS Thunderbolt, yielding back only in response to warning shots fired by a US Navy ship.

Such developments are reasons why Trump contacted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron “to explore how to increase cooperation in addressing the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq and countering Iranian malign influence,” according to a White House readout.

Positive steps forward

Despite the utterly wrong decision of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visiting Tehran for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, the Trump administration is sending push-back signals and making Iran learn its aggressions will not go without cost.

This is a necessary and welcomed shift in Washington’s foreign policy.

President Trump has signed into law a strong bipartisan Congressional initiative imposing strict sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The IRGC is now considered a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. Considering the Guards’ control over at least 40 percent of Iran’s entire economy, this raises the stakes for companies considering doing business with Tehran.

It would be wise to reconsider investing in Iran’s $400 billion economy and ponder placing one’s bets in other regional countries, or say, the United States’ $19 trillion establishment.

And in news that most certainly raised eyebrows in Tehran, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr visited Saudi Arabia recently and called for the controversial Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units in his country to be dissolved now that the Islamic State has been defeated.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks in the official endorsement ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani, right, in Tehran, on Aug. 3, 2017. (AP)

The nuclear deal

High hopes were placed in the nuclear deal sealed between the P5+1 and Iran, which Obama hoped to leave behind as his foreign policy legacy.

Two years down this road it has become vivid that Iran’s behavior has not changed, to say the least. In fact, Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and other extremist entities have escalated. Iran’s role in the Middle East, namely Syria, Iraq and Yemen have been horrifically destructive.

The Trump administration can lead the international community in instituting the first real and effective initiative against the Iranian regime.

Any trade with Tehran should hinge on:

– the regime halting all executions and human rights violations,
– withdrawing their forces from Syria and Iraq, and severing any ties and support for terrorist groups,
– completely stopping missile activities, especially ballistic missile production and tests,
– ending all nuclear initiatives and providing true “anytime, anywhere” access to all suspected sites, including military facilities.

Moreover and parallel to recent sanctions, which must be executed immediately and without any loopholes, the Iranian people’s organized opposition, resembled in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, should be recognized. This will pave the path for regime change by this coalition without war or military intervention.

Failure in this regard is tantamount to aiding Tehran’s regime.

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The Right Solution For Iran Is Not War

We are at a critical juncture in our time in history. The Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has entered now its third year.

As the Trump White House is pending its Iran policy there is increasing support for regime change. All the while the Iran appeasement camp are boosting their efforts of claiming any firm policy on Tehran will lead to war. The question is do the measures professed by this party truly prevent war?

When Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) recently held its annual convention in Paris, with Trump “emissaries” such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking powerfully of regime change in Iran. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton went as far as declaring the Iranian regime will not witness its 40th anniversary in February 2019.

In response, Iran and its lobbies in the West, terrified of such a surge behind the NCRI as the sole alternative able to bring about true change in Iran, have not remained silent. Iran apologists are yet again seen resorting to the old tactic of warning about a new war in the Middle East.

For decades now pro-Iranian regime writers have cautioned against adopting a firm policy on Tehran, allowing the mullahs’ regime to plunge the entire Middle East into havoc.

As we speak Iraq, Syria and Yemen are in ruins thanks to Iran’s support of proxy elements fueling sectarian conflicts and deadly civil wars.

The war in Afghanistan has yet to finalize after 16 years, and reports continue of Iran supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in this country.

Lebanon has yet to witness political stability in decades as Iran continues to funnel millions of dollars and arms to its offspring, the Hezbollah, brought to life by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) back in 1982.

Many other Arab countries can follow suit after Kuwait expelled Iran’s ambassador and more than a dozen other “diplomats” from its soil based on espionage charges.

But of course, the Iran apologists conveniently consider such matters as irrelevant or at best second hand. These very Iran lobbyists are the actual warmongers as their efforts have provided Tehran the opportunity to bring upon utter devastation to all Middle East nations.

Pat Buchanan in a Townhall piece argues, “After Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, would America and the world be well-served by a war with Iran that could explode into a Sunni-Shiite religious war across the Middle East?”

Neglected here is the passivity encouraged by such Iran-apologists has actually empowered Tehran. The end result has been Iran engulfing Iraq and Syria into a horrific abyss of Shiite militias massacring innocent Sunni civilians.

Former MEP Struan Stevenson sheds light on such an unfortunate phenomenon.

“800,000 people have been rendered homeless from Mosul alone, millions when you count the refugees who fled from Ramadi and Fallujah. Thousands of innocent Sunni civilians have been killed, and tens of thousands among them were injured,” he wrote in a recent Al Arabiya article.

There is no question that the 2003 Iraq war was a strategic mistake. Yet why do Iran-apologists, again conveniently, neglect another drastic error of Obama prematurely pulling all US troops out of Iraq in 2011? This left the fledgling state of Iraq at the hands of wolves, being Iran, its puppet, former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Shiite proxies and death squads.

We simply cannot deny the fact that al-Maliki in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, all supported financially and logistically by Iran, paved the path for the rise of ISIS. They massacred Syria’s Sunnis, parallel to Maliki’s crackdown of the Iraq’s Sunni minority. This allowed ISIS to spread, and first in Iraq and Syria, and thus throughout the Middle East, Europe and beyond.

The regime in Iran actually benefited extremely from the rise of ISIS to claim legitimate its involvement in Iraq and Syria through Shiite proxy groups.

Again, as Iran-apologists across the board in the US and Europe encouraged engagement and rapprochement with Tehran, climaxing unprecedentedly during Obama’s tenure, Iran’s mullahs continued their killing spree across the region.

Looking back at the past several years, one can dare to accuse these Iran-apologists of paving the path for Tehran to legitimize its horrific killing sprees, and causing a horrible number of deaths. Can we not accuse them of warmongering?

These Iranian lobbyists, including Trita Parsi, head of the so-called “National Iranian American Council”, raise the flag of war being bad for business, and thus cheering diplomacy to encourage business. Yet he neglects Iran’s own warmongering in the Middle East.

All said and done, with the Trump administration seriously weighing regime change as policy vis-à-vis Iran, the international community sees before it the opportunity to finally adopt the right policy on Iran.

Engagement has failed. Wars in the Middle East have been disastrous. We do not want to go down that road in regards to Iran. And there is no need.

The Iranian people and their organized opposition, the NCRI, are more than capable of toppling the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. This organization has everything in place and seek only the international community to recognize their struggle and end the disastrous Iran appeasement approach. A course correction vis-a-vis Iran policy regarding is needed, too, in order for the people of Iran and their opposition to take on the rest.

ANALYSIS: Is it time for the US and Saudi Arabia to combine efforts on Iran?

The new administration in Washington has chosen to stand alongside its Arab allies to voice a clear message. This is how this message reads: The regime in Iran is domestically repressive and resorts to flagrant human rights violations, and expansionist outside of its borders, wreaking havoc across the Middle East and beyond.

To take the next needed step, an all-out strategy is necessary to rein in Tehran and confront its belligerence inside the country and beyond.

Far too long the international community has failed to recognize the fact that the regime in Iran is controlled by aggressive fanatics that will literally stop at nothing to seek their interests, while knowing their internal status is extremely fragile.

Important lessons

While it is high time for the United States to lead the West and Saudi Arabia to lead the Arab world in this initiative, there is no need to launch yet another devastating war in the Middle East. The past 16 years have taught us many important lessons:

– The war in Afghanistan toppled the rule of Taliban and the al-Qaeda safe haven, and yet the lack of a legitimate post-war strategy allowed Iran take complete advantage of this void.

– The invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and again played into the hands of Tehran’s regime, providing it the opportunity to spread its devious mentality of fundamentalism, sectarian extremism and terrorism.

– The Arab Spring has reiterated to us that without an alternative opposition, no regime change will render any positive outcome. The current state of Libya is an unfortunate reminder.

– Most important of all, the international community is coming to understand that a policy of engagement and appeasement vis-à-vis the regime in Iran will only further fuel instability. Take the cases of Syria and Yemen, for example, where Iran has allocated enormous manpower and financial/logistical resources to create the mayhem it thrives on.

Highly-flawed deal

On a broader scale where Iran’s counterparts were the P5+1, thanks again to Obama’s highly flawed approach, the regime has been able to cheat around the nuclear accord. Tehran has staged over a dozen ballistic missile tests despite being strictly forbidden by UN Security Council sanctions.

New reports from German intelligence indicates further illicit measures by Iran’s operatives painting a very disturbing image. “Iran is targeting German companies in its bid to advance its missile program, in possible violation of an international agreement, and at least on occasion with the aid of a Chinese company,” Fox News reported citing a damning 181-page German intelligence agency report.

Tehran is actively seeking to obtain “products and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well as missile technology,” according to the report, adding the mullahs are using various fronts to target German companies.

Further disturbing revelations regarding the Obama administration’s poorly crafted nuclear deal with Iran found little or no decrease has been witnessed in Iran’s effort to obtain the technology needed for missiles capable of delivering nuclear warhead as payloads, according to Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

To add insult to injury, with North Korea successfully test-launching its first intercontinental ballistic missile and on the path to its sixth nuclear detonation, there are increasing voices of concern over the possibility of Pyongyang selling more of its ballistic missiles, the technology or maybe even a nuclear warhead to Tehran.

With a windfall of billions of dollars flowing into Iran after the nuclear deal and oil sanctions lifted, Iran has both the money and oil that North Korea craves.

Bold, necessary measures

Washington and Riyadh should begin pushing back at Tehran by targeting this regime’s financial assets to begin with. Considering the fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, known as the regime’s praetorians, control around 40 percent of the country’s economy, it is vital to designate this entity as a foreign terrorist organization.

If not, its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite proxies in Syria, sectarian groups in Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen, to name a few, will continue. And peace will forever elude the Middle East.

The international community should finally begin pressuring the ruling mullahs by standing alongside the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. The recent presidential “election” and protests before and after have proven the rift between Iran’s population and the regime is elevating dangerously against the regime’s interests.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, led by its President Maryam Rajavi, has presented a 10-point plan able to facilitate the changes needed for the better good of the Iranian people, and nations across the Middle East.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), being the main NCRI member, enjoys a vast network of supporters inside Iran and has blown the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

It is time for the mullahs in Tehran to understand pressures will rise from the international community unless they succumb to the demands of the Iranian people for the future they deserve, being the democracy and freedom they have been wrongly robbed of for the past four decades.

How Iran aides the Afghan Taliban under America’s nose

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By Amir Basiri

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) has been active amongst Taliban terrorists opposing the Afghan government, Radio France International website reported on Tuesday citing Farah Province officials in western Afghanistan.

Farah Provincial Council Chair Jamile Amini has accused Iran of sending IRGC members to join the Taliban ranks and files, adding that 25 Taliban members recently killed in this province were IRGC members.

Farah Province intelligence services report Iranian officials have held ceremonies for IRGC members killed amongst the armed dissidents in their province opposing the Afghan government, according to Mohammad Nosser Mehri, spokesman of the Farah governor.

 These reports wired at a time when Farah Province Governor Mohammad Asef Nang accused Iran recently of provoking violence and spreading insecurity in this province.

Despite the apparent irony of Shiite Iran supporting Sunni Taliban, Tehran in fact has a long history of meddling in Afghan affairs and providing for this terrorist group.

Afghan security forces issued a formal complaint over Iran providing logistics and military support for the Afghan Taliban.

Official spokesman Mullah Zabihullah, the group’s second in command, went one step further and shed light on the relations between Iran and new Taliban networks. “He said to the London based Asharq Al-Awsat in an email 18 months ago, that the movement had received drone planes, which help film suicidal operations,” Al-Arabiya reported back in late October.

Iran has been the target of major accusations over providing lethal military support to the Taliban in its long-running war against the international ISAF coalition led by the United States in Afghanistan.

Various analysts, including Washington-based experts of the Institute for the Study of War, believe the ongoing relationship between Iran and the Taliban has been fueled by the pure sentiment of opposing the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Reports of deep Iran-Taliban relations dating back to June 2015 indicate how the Obama administration turned a blind eye to this very troubling phenomenon, most likely to not at all push Iran into derailing the controversial nuclear talks that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security,” The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2015.

“Iran supplies us with whatever we need,” Abdullan, a Taliban commander stationed in central Afghanistan who received a $580 monthly salary and arms from his Iranian sponsors, told the paper.

Afghan and Western officials accused Iran of slowly boosting its supply to the Taliban of arms, ammunition and funding, and moving forward to recruit and train their fighters. Iran’s IRGC has also been a long and vital ally for the Taliban.

Iranian intelligence has also recruited Afghan immigrants on their soil to assist their support for Taliban, ferrying a variety of weapons including “82mm mortars, light machine guns, AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and materials for making roadside bombs,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Tehran has further been accused of enjoying affiliations with al-Qaeda, a known ally of the Taliban.

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security has “over the past 20 years, provided financial, material, technological, and other support services to AQI,” The Tower reported, citing the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Support Program analysis.

Further:

“In 2012, the United States Treasury Department exposed the extensive financial ties between Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the terrorist organization that evolved into ISIS.

“The generous support Iran afforded ISIS in its formative years was part of a broader alliance that the Islamic Republic established with al-Qaeda over a decade ago.”

According to Michael Pregent, a former U.S. military intelligence officer:

“Iran needs the threat of ISIS and Sunni jihadist groups to stay in Syria and Iraq in order to become further entrenched in Damascus and Baghdad.”

Down the road, U.S. officials raised similar charges against the Assad regime bombing non-Islamist rebels “in support of ISIL’s advance on Aleppo,” in practice supporting the terror group push back the Syrian opposition fighting the Assad regime.

Iran considers its support for terrorist and extremist groups, Shiites and Sunnis alike, through a perspective of convenience. From Hamas to Taliban, to the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Syria, Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, Iran supports and backs groups precisely acting and pursuing its interests in specific areas of the Middle East.

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of entities including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran seeking peaceful regime change in Iran, recently warned of Tehran’s meddling across the region.

“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” she said in a statement.

Such a relationship with the Afghan Taliban reveals the bogus nature of Iran’s claims of fighting terrorism and ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, we have to admit Iran is in fact supporting the Taliban and essentially destabilizing a state and government supported by the West, and the international community as a whole.

Iran has most likely, as forecasted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, used billions of previously sanctioned money released as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal to boost its efforts in supporting terrorism and insecurity across the region.

Amir Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and analyst. His writing has appeared in Forbes and The Washington Examiner, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @amir_bas.

Originally published in The Hill