How Iran views the new US sanctions

The recent Iran sanctions ratified by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump specifically target the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and have caused very interesting reactions from Tehran.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has remained silent, signaling his state of shock. His regime’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also indicated the toll of these new measures.

“…first, the Majlis (parliament) will take steps in this regard. If they have the Congress, we have the Majlis,” he said in a weak reaction. This is a president whose executive branch is in charge of the Iran nuclear deal, passing on the official response to the legislative branch.

Aside from legal and technical aspects of these sanctions, Tehran is currently facing regime change policy and support for the Iranian opposition, represented in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, said Iran’s enemies are seeking to topple the establishment. This has left the entire Iranian regime deeply concerned, rendering it unable to establish a strong position in the face of the status quo.

Prior to this Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also expressed weak remarks in response to the new U.S. sanctions.

Members of Khamenei’s camp have used their platform in Friday prayers to call on Rouhani’s cabinet to take a strong stance. There are voices also saying that Iran’s Central Bank and the entire government will eventually be sanctioned.

Iran’s reactions are of political importance as they indicate how this crisis is resulting in major internal tension.

“This is the mother of all sanctions,” said Foad Izadi, a Tehran University assistant professor, in a recent interview with state TV. “Based on the text, for example, the IRGC will be linked to the government as the government approves the defense budget. Thus, as this military entity is considered a terrorist organization, the government will suffer the same consequences.”

Elements of Khamenei’s camp, known as the conservatives/hardliners/principalists, are demanding Iran exit the nuclear deal altogether, while Rouhani’s camp is arguing the IRGC was under such sanctions in the past.

The entire regime in Iran, however, is forced to follow in line with the nuclear deal and lacks the will to do otherwise. There are concerns inside Iran that the nuclear deal will lead to similar pacts demanded by the international community, such as Tehran’s ballistic missile drive, meddling in other countries, and support for terrorism abroad, and most importantly, the mullahs’ grave human rights violations dossier.

Khamenei, who has the last word in all national security and foreign affairs, had launched the nuclear negotiations even prior to Rouhani’s first term.

Iran’s regime is currently facing two paths of death or suicide. Khamenei himself has been heard saying any change in behavior will result in regime change. Therefore, his entire apparatus lacks any capacity for meaningful change.

To this end, it appears Iran is seeking to maintain the nuclear deal intact with support from the Europeans. However, even such a policy has its own problems for a ruling system of this nature. Khamenei knows the Europeans will also demand changes, especially in Iran’s human rights dossier. This means another dead end for the mullahs.

Even those who naively dubbed Rouhani a “reformist” have questions to answer after he recently met with several senior IRGC commanders. This is yet another sign that Rouhani is calibrating his ties with the belligerent IRGC. Under Rouhani’s watch the defense budget has risen and the IRGC’s ballistic missile production has advanced dramatically.

All the while, Tehran is facing even larger challenges of regime change. Iran’s powder-keg society continues to gain momentum with daily protests and the organized NCRI opposition is enjoying increasing support.

For over 35 years this organization has emphasized the fact that Iran only understands strong language and must be sanctioned meaningfully. The world is only now beginning to comprehend.

Even during the Bush administration, NCRI President Maryam Rajavi reiterated the fact that while her coalition had blown the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program, the main threat emanating from Tehran was its meddling in Iraq and export of terrorism and fundamentalism. This phenomenon is far more dangerous than Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Rajavi emphasized.

The recent sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. Congress is in line with this argument. They first target the Iranian regime and seek to tackle the mullahs’ destructive policies that have plunged the Middle East into flames and threaten the entire globe.

The world is beginning to understand how peace and stability in the Middle East hinges on reining in Iran’s utterly dangerous bellicosity.

As the Trump administration continues to weigh its Iran policy with a possibility of regime change on the table, there are voices heard arguing such a move, citing the failures witnessed in the past two decades.

The very reason regime change campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have failed is the lack of an organized opposition movement ready to provide the alternative afterwards.

Iran enjoys such an alternative, symbolized in the NCRI, its President Maryam Rajavi and her ten-point-plan delivering a free and democratic Iran.

Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2017/08/how_iran_views_the_new_us_sanctions.html#ixzz4pKoiIjC7
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Crosshairs focusing on Iran

Originally posted in Dutch in OpinieZ Magazine

As tensions continue to rise in the flashpoint country of Syria in the already boiling Middle East, and voices heard of a possible conflict between the United States and Russia, they are all mistaken.

The Cold War is over and will not be repeated. These two powers have more common interest to risk any unnecessary military conflict that neither will benefit from. The only party set to gain anything in such a scenario would be Iran, and more and more experts are raising alarm bells.

Yes, Russia has issued a warning to the US about flying its planes or drones west of Syria’s Euphrates River that snakes through the country from the north to the southeast. Rest assured this is nothing but a bluff as Australia first responded by suspending its fighter jet flights, only to resume its activities one day later.

Russia looks to maintain its interests in Syria and is in no need of a conflict with the far more technologically-advanced US military.

Iran poses a far greater threat to the US, and the entire world for that matter, than Russia. And as we inch forward down the path of seeking a solution to bring an end to the war in Syria and turmoil across the region, crosshairs are more than ever before being rightfully placed on Iran.

Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and its decades’ long support of its offspring, the Lebanese Hezbollah, are all signs of a vast imperial campaign seeking to gain further control over the future of the entire Middle East. Tehran has long calibrated its foreign policy for this very objective. This goes alongside Iran’s other pillars, being domestic crackdown and advancing nuclear/ballistic missile program, to maintain its rule and remain in power.

Long before the Islamic State, Iran has sought to expand its mentality of establishing a Middle East-wide caliphate. This is exactly why Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini adopted and imposed the velayat-e faqih (governance of jurist enjoying custodianship over all state affairs and people’s lives).

This mentality of Iran’s mullahs must be acknowledged by the West and appropriate measures are needed to prevent any further devastation. A short look at the atrocities we are currently witnessing due to Iran’s influence over Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a should be proof enough to highlight the need for a firm and decisive policy vis-à-vis Iran.

The Obama administration continuously backed the US into a corner and only sought to obtain a highly flawed nuclear deal at any cost. It is imperative for Washington and the international community to understand the imperative nature of setting the correct goals in relations to Iran.

Senator Tom Cotton in the US has recently made a significant call for Washington to seriously consider regime change in Iran as a serious possibility.

“The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran. I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism,” Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said in a recent interview.

Washington had supported reform from inside the current regime in Iran, only to end in no fruit. Officials in the Trump administration, however, are indicating this may no longer provide the results they seek. Allies of this administration are even heard urging a far more aggressive position.

To accelerate the entire subject even further, Washington and Tehran have been experiencing a high fraught increase in their relations.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to a question in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing emphasizing Washington’s support for peaceful regime change, a first bye any US official.

Iran has responded by filing an official complaint to the United Nations. All this goes parallel to numerous face-offs between the US-backed coalition and Iran-backed forces in Syria.

As the Trump administration continues to weigh its all-out Iran policy, such developments and voices heard from across Washington and Europe will most definitely place the mullahs on edge.

265 Members of the European Parliament issued a statement condemning flagrant human rights violations in Iran. This initiative enjoys vast support, “including all political groups and tendencies in the European Parliament. They include 4 Vice-Presidents of the parliament and 23 Committee and Delegation Chairs. This clearly shows that when the issue of human rights violations, repression of women and minorities and the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism are concerned, we are all united.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), however, is gearing for its annual Paris rally scheduled for July 1st this year.

Hundreds of prominent dignitaries from the US, Europe and Middle East will most likely be joined by over 100,000 members of the Iranian Diaspora from all corners of the globe. As seen in previous year this platform will express support for NCRI President Maryam Rajavi and her ten-point plan consisting gender equality, peaceful coexistence, abolishing capital punishment, torture and crackdown, and bringing an end to Iran’s nuclear program, meddling and support of terrorism.

The combination of calls for regime change in the West and the Iranian opposition delivering a very capable platform to realize this initiative is a recipe for disaster in the eyes of Tehran’s mullahs.

ANALYSIS: Iran’s future after new US sanctions

The regime in Tehran continues to be in a state of shock after the passage of unprecedented United States Senate sanctions on Thursday targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program, support for terrorism in the Middle East and flagrant human rights violations.

Many of the new measures imposed on Iran are far more complex than any sanctions even prior to the Iran nuclear deal. There is no need for the Trump administration to tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as these new sanctions provide the US President vast authority for further punitive action. This new initiative also contains a classified amendment believed to describe Iran as an extremely dangerous state.

The threats

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir highlighted the importance of this threat after a recent meeting with his British counterpart in London.

“If Iran seeks respect it must bring an end to supporting terrorism, bombing embassies and spreading sectarianism… Iran also supports terrorism, meddles in others’ affairs, fuels sectarianism, and dispatches the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, Syria and Yemen,” he said.

Further signs of the mullahs’ devious intentions are seen as Iran is reported to provide cruise missiles to Yemen’s Houthis and resulting in a grave threat to the strategic Bab el-Mandeb waterway, according to the US.

As Iran also continues its destructive support for Shiite groups in Iraq, Vice President Ayad Allawi voiced concerns over Tehran of fomenting sectarian rifts across the country prior to next year’s parliamentary election.

And Iran will also continue its efforts in Syria, as many parties are seeking land grabs to ensure their interests in the post-ISIS era. Knowing this, Tehran is seeking leverages in the region to have negotiating ammunition, especially considering the sweeping actions exerted through the new US Senate resolution.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him delivering a speech during a conference entitled “Implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) a new chapter in Iran’s economy”, on January 19, 2016, in Tehran. (AFP)

‘JCPOA 2, 3 and 4’

Section 5 of this bill enforces sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Any individual providing services to an entity identified in this executive order will result in that individual being placed in the US sanctions list. There is no longer any temporary measures and the individual or entity will be permanently sanctioned.

All government and non-government branches having any cooperation with the IRGC bear the potential of being blacklisted. Prior to the JCPOA around 600 individuals and entities were blacklisted and the JCPOA delisted around 400. However, with the approval and implementation of this new bill we can forecast a few thousand individuals and entities being blacklisted as a result.

One sign of Iran’s shock is seen in the fact that the regime’s parliament has postponed its response to the Senate bill after a two-week recess. This is no ordinary sanctions bill against Iran and can be considered a mother initiative paving the path for far reaching sanctions against Tehran that bear no need for legal legislation, as they will become operational through executive orders.

In the regime’s circles these new sanctions have been described as the end of the JCPOA and the beginning of enormous challenges. Demands by the international community will be increasing and there may be even calls for measures dubbed in Iran as “JCPOA 2, 3 and 4,” covering Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling and support of terrorism in the region, and their human rights violations dossier.

Iranian state media outlets have gone as far as describing the new sanctions as “black holes” and the “mother of all sanctions.” The future of Iran’s ballistic missiles are currently considered very dark as these sanctions target all IRGC activities.

New revelations

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance (NCRI) US Office released a statement announcing their upcoming Tuesday press conference “to reveal information on key centers for production, testing and launching ballistic missiles by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)” and “details (including satellite imagery) on four of the most important missile centers, including one closely linked to Tehran’s nuclear program. In addition, a dozen of hitherto-unknown centers involved in various aspects of production, testing and launching of ballistic missiles will be made public. Information on the role of North Korean experts involved in the construction of these centers will also be discussed.”

These new sanctions have the IRGC in its crosshairs and seek an end to Iran’s support for the Guards’ regional action and ballistic missiles program. However, the comprehensive nature of this new bill will slowly but surely expand to all organs of the regime in Iran.

This can be considered the unofficial end of the JCPOA, without the US ever needing to officially tear the accord apart. All previous sanctions are returning, with additions, and yet there is no violation of the Iran nuclear deal whatsoever. The main question here is how will Tehran react?

The sanctions are returning for one reason and one reason only. The US has come to realize the regime in Iran is in no position to provide any response whatsoever to the new sanctions. To this end, the time has come to in fact levy far more pressure and sanction all branches of the Iranian regime.

The road ahead

In the mullahs’ dictionary such setbacks are described as “drinking from the chalice of poison” and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, along with all senior Iranian officials, very well know they must prepare their entire apparatus, ranks and files, for such chalices in the not so distant future.

These sanctions couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tehran considering the fact that the NCRI is currently preparing for its annual convention scheduled for July 1st in Paris. As Saudi statesman and diplomat Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud stood alongside over 100,000 Iranians from all over the globe in last year’s event, this year’s rally will be joined by hundreds of prominent political dignitaries from the US, Europe and the Middle East.

This will send a strong message to the international community] that Iran enjoys a major alternative seen in a powerfully organized opposition led by NCRI President Maryam Rajavi and her 10-point-plan envisioning a bright future for a free, liberal and tolerant Iran of tomorrow.

Understanding The New Iran Sanctions

Acting as a major wake up call for Iran, the US Senate on Thursday sent a strong message to the mullahs through a bill fit to place new sanctions targeting Tehran’s ballistic missile program, its support for regional and global terrorism and human rights violations.

Experts have noted the powerful nature of these new measures and analysts close to the Iranian regime have dubbed this measure as the “mother of all sanctions.”

Foad Izadi, a Tehran University assistant professor, in a recent interview with state TV reflected on the depth of this advantage and described the nuclear sanctions as child’s play in comparison.

When we place these new sanctions alongside US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s support for regime change in Iran through peaceful steps and Members of Congress calling for blacklisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, we find the mullahs on the receiving end of very commanding signal.

The 98-2 vote has approved a sleek text that abides by the Iran nuclear deal. These sanctions, technically considered secondary, are in compliance with the nuclear deal due to the very characteristics of Iran’s missile program being excluded from the so-called “landmark” agreement that has failed to provide anything to boast about for the Iranian people. This was yet another concession provided by the Obama administration to Tehran, and the mullahs are seeking to capitalize by operating hand in hand.

“It truly is astounding what Iran continues to do around the world,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “For a people that are capable of so much, their foreign policy is shockingly counter to their own interest.

“We see destabilizing act after destabilizing act — from missile launches, to arms transfers, to terrorist training, to illicit financial activities, to targeting Navy ships and detaining American citizens — the list goes on and on.”

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 enjoys an overwhelming focus on sanctioning any foreign individual or entity doing business with a counterpart pre-designated by the US administration in association with Iran’s ballistic missile program. For example, these sanctions can be imposed on any financial institution or foreign company involved in providing key parts or components necessary for Tehran’s controversial missile program.

Two other such actions by the Treasury Department in February and May were preludes, as the administration officially slapped sanctions against a slate of individuals and entities procuring for Iran’s ballistic missile program. The February sanctions were in response to Iran’s medium-range ballistic missile test in late-January, considered by many as a United Nations Security Council Resolution violation.

There are also voices heard questioning the effectiveness of this new measure able to add any particular new bite considering the already extensive landscape of US measures. And yet it is also recognized how such an initiative will be sending a very dominant political message to Iran.

The mullahs in Tehran are also one of, if not the, leading state in human rights violations. While many boasted of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gaining a second term launching a new drive for moderation, there are already increasing reports of dozens of executions ever since the May 19th vote and sweeping crackdown across the country. The recent twin attacks in Tehran on June 7th, which was claimed by ISIS, are also being exploited by the mullahs’ to increase domestic crackdown and foreign meddling.

  • At least 30 inmates in a Southeast Iran prison are on the verge of execution, reports.
  • As the Middle East is engulfed in a rift with many states severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, Iran continues to fuel the dilemma through capitalizing on this sensitive subject.
  • Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen recently targeted three Saudi aid trucks delivering relief aid.
  • Iranian boats resorted to new “unsafe and unprofessional” moves in training a laser on a US Marine Corps CH-53E helicopter as three US Naval ships were transiting Strait of Hormuz international waters.

The world has already experienced how a policy of appeasement and engagement has only emboldened the mullahs to the point of taking advantage of such dismal practices by the international community.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) have a history of unveiling Iran’s plots and warning the world about Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, ballistic missile drive, meddling across the Middle East and supporting terrorism, and resorting to unspeakable human rights violations.

This new round of sanctions will be considered a significant blow to these the Iranian regime’s illicit efforts, especially as experts believe the path is being paved to blacklist Iran’s IRGC. The Guards play a major, if not the leading, role in all the above-stated belligerences, and most concerning today is the foreign meddling that continues to wreak havoc in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and a variety of international waterways that can disrupt billions of dollars of economic transactions.

The new US Senate sanctions are very necessary indeed, as Iran only understands the language of force. This very correct measure should act as the building block and cornerstone of a new foundation of strong action to rein in Iran’s mullahs and finally bring about true and everlasting change and peace.

Sanctions on Iran signal a new horizon

The United States Senate recently voted overwhelmingly 92-7 in favor of moving forward on evaluating further sanctions against Iran and especially targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Following eight years of Obama’s appeasement, this is a significant turn of events resulting in major concerns amongst Tehran and foreign counterparts.

A key signal of Iran’s concerns and status quo in the new balance of power can be received in the somewhat conflicting and hasty remarks heard from senior officials and media outlets across the board in Iran.

“They held the Riyadh summit and claimed of isolating Iran. What isolation was this when such a large number of states stood alongside the Iranian people and the country following the recent terror attack?” said Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Iran’s IRIB state TV station.

“The most repulsive of such measures was the recent US Senate initiative in support of terrorists and establishing new sanctions against Iran. Exactly when the Iranian people are the target of terrorists in the parliament, sensing no shame the US Senate passed a bill against the Iranian people in support of terrorists. This shows how the US Senate enjoys no emotions at all… in this bill, packed entirely with support for terrorists, they went the distance and issued sanctions on Iran’s missile program, IRGC and Quds Force…The US should not think differences of opinions in Iran will provide any window of opportunity for their devilish maneuvers,” he added.

Iranian MP Alaedin Borujerdi, Chair of the Security Commission in the Iranian Parliament, resorted to unorthodox comments in regards to the new US Senate measure.

“It is unacceptable to consider Congress separate from the US government. This is a clear and specific violation of the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) and is unacceptable… If this bill is ratified the Trump administration must veto it, or else it should ready itself for the consequences of such flagrant JCPOA violations,” he said according to Akhareen Khabar website.

The terms “the US Senate on the same day that” or “the US Senate precisely hours after the ISIS attack” are common codes seen in the outlets of both factions of the Iranian regime. This is a clear reference to the failed attempt of a number of appeasement advocates seeking to halt the US Senate from evaluating the new Iran sanctions bill.

The state-run Iran Jib webiste ran a piece on June 10th titled, “Senate passes measure to review anti-Iran sanctions,” shedding interesting light into the mentality of Iranian regime officials.

“On the day that Tehran, after being the target of an ISIS terrorist attack, was receiving waves of condolences and sympathy from various countries, the US Senate was accusing Iran of terrorism, and under this pretext launched a review of new harsh sanctions… by sending a late and unfriendly message of sympathy to the Iranian people, the US, by establishing its place in the regional triangle of consensus-building against Iran, proved it has no intention of decreasing regional instability and fighting terrorism,” the piece reads.

Resalat daily, the outlet associated to the ultraconservative ‘Motalefe’ faction, went as far as accusing the US of being allied with ISIS.

“What are the recent measures taken by the US Senate? The alliance of America and ISIS against Iran. The US Senate has agreed to impose new sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran… this decision came exactly when ISIS, with the support of the US and Saudi Arabia, launched a terrorist attack in our country… Although the supporters of imposing new sanctions against Iran under the pretext of human rights violations and terrorist activities claim this bill will not hinder the JCPOA, various analysts believe this paves the path for violating the nuclear deal and are already issuing warnings…” the articles reads.

These sanctions have also become fuel for factional disputes.

Iranian MP Mostafa Tajzadeh, a member of the so-called “reformist” faction in Iran, warned the IRGC not to impose further pressure on the faction of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“I have been and currently am completely against military officers entering the political spectrum and elections, and I first consider it against the interests of the IRGC and the paramilitary Bassij… I know and believe such meddling will significantly damage our unity, security and national interests… IRGC commanders should understand we are undergoing a very sensitive time period. The recent US sanctions are signs of anti-IRGC measures, and it appears they will be seeking to target the IRGC itself with sanctions,” he said according to the state-run Bahar website.

And to add insult to injury, “Western manufacturers are shying away from supplying equipment for an Iranian port that India is developing for fear the United States may reimpose sanctions on Tehran, Indian officials say,” according to Reuters.

As a result, the sanctions triggered by the US Senate can be signs of a new horizon and a very dangerous outcome for Tehran, especially since the Trump administration continues to weigh its comprehensive Iran policy.

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

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

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

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

Iran’s destructive policies

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

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

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

Importance of the Levant

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

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

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

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

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

Against all parties

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

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

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

Rajavi’s call

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

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

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

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

ANALYSIS: Adopting a different approach on Iran

Signaling a major buzz topic in Washington these days, with the international community waiting anxiously, the new US administration is on the verge of implementing a significant Iran policy overhaul.

America nearly lost all of its influence in the Middle East as a result of a devastating engagement policy captained by the Obama-Kerry team, all in a desperate effort to obtain Tehran’s consent in completing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The impact of the support by the Obama Administration of the Arab Spring did the rest, as main Arab allies came under immense pressure.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

Considering Obama’s yearning to seal the JCPOA as the foreign policy hallmark of his legacy, he was seen succumbing to literally any and all demands made by the Iranians. Tehran understood and used this leverage to issue threats of walking away from the deal.

While President Trump has not torn up the deal as candidate Trump pledged, his administration has taken the lead to strongly criticize Iran’s current behavior in the Middle East that poses a major threat to America’s strategic position and the security of regional allies.

The Trump administration, unlike its fledgling predecessor, is weighing on how to bring Iran’s mischievous behavior under control and have it completely halted.

Selling a false deal

The pro-JCPOA camp sold the deal to the international community by claiming Iran’s mullahs’ would become more moderate and begin acting reasonably.

Let’s review the facts on the ground:

– The Middle East is in carnage, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and proxies launching deadly killings in Syria in support of Assad, massacring Sunnis and other minorities in Iraq, supporting Houthi militants in Yemen, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, just to name a few.

– Tehran is continuing its ballistic missile program full speed ahead, preparing to couple the project with an ongoing secret nuclear weapons drive, as exposed recently by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

– Military confrontations between US-Arab allies and Iranian forces continue, as shown in the Gulf and the Bab Al Mandab.

– Flagrant human rights violations and increasing domestic crackdown. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now seeking a second term, has presided over 3,000 executions.

We were reminded recently by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley ,when she referred to existing Security Council resolutions banning Iran from importing or exporting arms, and end all ballistic missile testing.

Haley clearly indicated Trump will not allow such measures slide, as we witnessed far too often under the Obama watch.

“The United States will work closely with our partners to document and address any actions that violate these resolutions,” Haley said. “We must take a stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s illegal and dangerous behavior.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows in remarks unseen from America’s top diplomat for many years. Iran continues to enjoy the top ranking of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nature of sanctions being vital to the national and security interests of America, and its regional allies in particular, will be a major topic of a new JCPOA review.

Fresh sanctions

Meanwhile, a new bill seeking to slap fresh sanctions against Tehran for continuing its illicit missile program is in the preparation process in the House of Representatives.

Sanctions and economic pressures are a major leverage the US enjoys against Tehran. Blocking access to the global banking system and compelling companies and various institutions to choose between America’s $19 trillion economy and Iran’s half a trillion should not make the decision any harder.

Irony lies in the fact that Obama initially boosted US sanctions against Iran, only to ignore Iran’s highly belligerent proliferation activities and support for terrorism.

A recent Politico report highlighted how the Obama administration even released Iranian arms dealers apprehended by US authorities and dropped international arrest warrants seeking others. To this end, Obama literally risked US national security for the sake of appeasing Tehran’s mullahs.

The Trump administration is set to draw a major line in the sand. Beefing up sanctions could be a major policy change adopted by the new White House. To take steps further, Washington should seriously consider designating the mullahs’ Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization for its role in Iran’s meddling and supporting terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East, Tehran’s ongoing military development programs -especially the ballistic missile drives – and horrific human rights violations across the country.

Missed opportunity

In 2009 Obama missed the opportunity to support the Iranian people’s cry for freedom and democracy, and now the new US administration cannot stand again on the sidelines. Supporting the Iranian people and their organized opposition, currently openly represented by liberal movements such as the NCRI, seeking a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Iran, living in harmony with its regional neighbors and returning to the international community as a responsible member, could be a starting point.

If Washington would be able to address these options in full, not falling into the trap of removing the Iranian regime under the umbrella of “bringing democracy”, but supporting a growing liberal democratic opposition, a better future for Iran is possible. This will take time, during which economic and political pressure should be increased on the regime. Appeasing the mullahs will not reap any positive rewards, Tehran will not see any need to change at all.

– Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is the co-writer of this article.

ANALYSIS: Is there anything Iran’s presidential election can change?

The US is said to be weighing a variety of different approaches on the regime ruling Iran after the upcoming May 19 presidential election.

This line of thought argues any punishing measure by the US now would support “hardliners” against “moderates”. The problem is that any such distinction of Iran’s political landscape is entirely incorrect.

The regime in Iran does not, to say the least, has the best interest of Iranians or people across the region at heart, let alone other nations throughout the planet. The argument of how the West’s actions may affect Iran’s elections fails to understand what Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his surrogates have in their playbooks.

In the elections, all candidates are vetted by a 12-cleric member Guardian Council body, effectively appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei, as seen last Thursday. The list has now been trimmed to six candidates.

The slate includes incumbent President Hassan Rowhani, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former minister of culture Mostafa Mirsalim and former industry minister Mostafa Hashemitaba.

A first glance indicates the remaining four will most probably step aside eventually in favor of Rowhani and Raisi.

Elections render no change

Iran’s elections do not have any impact on domestic or foreign policy. In internal issues, the hallmark “moderate” Rouhani and former president Mohammad Khatami – also dubbed “moderate” and president from 1997 to 2005 – only increased domestic crackdown, including arrests, tortures and executions.

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On foreign policy, never has there been the slightest difference in the regime’s eagerness to advance its nuclear program. Most recently, Rowhani made remarks signaling a shocking contrast to other Iranian officials: he boasted of the highly flawed Iran nuclear deal.

“Nuclear technology is a dire necessity for us, and that is exactly why [Khamenei] constantly underscores the need to continue developing this technology,” he said according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Rowhani also boasted how his cabinet increased the defense budget.

“Statistics show [this] government has increased the defense budget by 145 percent… It is the pride of [this] government that the steps taken forward in providing strategic equipment and assets for the armed forces in the past 3½ years have matched those of the past 10 years,” he explained.

Rowhani is also known for his close relationship with the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, dating back to 1979, while his main opponent, Raisi, spent the past three decades easily climbing up the regime’s ranks for his role in the judiciary, and sending dissidents to the gallows without any hesitation.

Raisi is most famously known for his membership in the notorious “Death Commission,” tasked to carry out Khomeini’s fatwa leading to the summer of 1988 massacre that left more than 30,000 political prisoners dead in the span of a few months. Most of the victims were members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Reuters)

A slate of wrongs

It would be a grave mistake for the US, and the West in general, to preemptively limit their available options on the theoretical basis of enjoying influence in the internal election, let alone its outcome, of a regime such as Iran.

A more critical mistake is constantly made by Western media, which tends to be easily misled over the scope of existing political opinions in Iran. The mere fact that Rouhani is embattled does not make him the ideal candidate for the West. A reflexive reaction in the West seems to be that if Raisi is worse, then let’s support Rowhani.

Whoever ends up becoming Iran’s next president, is – and has to be, for his own safety, politically and otherwise – absolutely in line with the supreme leader, and the radical direction of the Iranian regime in its entirety.

The mere assumption that potential US actions might be considered a major factor in Iran’s presidential election simply fails to comprehend the true nature of Iran’s political establishment, loyal only to the views of Khomeini. There is no representation by true liberals in Iran today, and nor should there be any such expectations in the future.

Even if the rivalry between Rowhani and Raisi ends with the “moderate” Rowhani gaining a second term, it changes absolutely nothing. Rowhani has been, and has to be, in service to Khamenei’s policies. Rowhani advanced the supreme leader’s nuclear policy after he blessed the nuclear talks back in 2012, prior to Rouhani’s presidency.

He supported Iran’s involvement in Syria and all the proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, parallel to supervising increasing human rights violations.

Conclusion

Iran’s presidential election is nothing but a game we witness every four years. The president has no true role in running the country, other than to implement the supreme leader’s policies. Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, has the final say on all national security and foreign policy issues, while enjoying full, unrivaled supremacy.

Khamenei even has the authority, under the regime’s so-called constitution, to veto and dismiss all powers provided to the president. The difference we will witness in Iran’s approach to domestic and international affairs will be zero. That is exactly why designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization should not be delayed for any reason – especially Iran’s presidential election.

According to The Daily Beast the IRGC “are Iran’s most important security, military, and political institution, with financial interests in most areas of the state’s economy. Its Quds Force, which is in charge of global operations, was officially designated as a terrorist entity by the US Treasury Department in 2007. Hezbollah was designated in 1997.”

It is now time to target the main root of the Middle East’s crises.

Iran lobby gets excited over nothing

The State Department officially notified Congress on Wednesday that Iran has met all its commitments under the Obama-negotiated nuclear agreement. The certification is required every 90 days and the previous administration dutifully rubberstamped it each time.

What was unusual is that this approval was the first under the Trump administration and was being closely watched by regime supporters and foes alike. The decision to provide the approval was being loudly hailed and trumpeted by the Iran lobby, especially the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a known pro-Iran lobby, as a sign that the nuclear deal was working and even U.S. President Donald Trump had to admit so.

In the immortal words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the nuclear deal has failed to squash Iran’s ability and determination to develop atomic weapons, arguing that the country’s ambitions still threaten international peace and security, according to The Washington Post.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said in remarks to reporters in the formal setting of the State Department’s Treaty Room. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”

The White House has decided to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its Iran policy, including an evaluation of the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. To this end, the granting of approval was a pro forma act and means relatively little moving forward.

“With this certification, President Trump must now uphold the United States’ obligations and renew the sanctions waivers,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi. “If not, Trump will place the U.S. in violation of its commitments and be responsible for unilaterally killing the nuclear deal.”

Parsi is correct in saying President Trump can effectively kill the Iran nuclear deal in a heartbeat by not renewing sanction waivers granted by the Obama administration. He, however, misses the entire point of the Trump administration’s review, aimed at finally tying together all of Iran’s actions in areas such as human rights, support for terrorism, and active military campaigns against its neighbors.

This was the crucial missing link in the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, willing to excuse Iran on a number of issues and delink the regime from the agreement.

Support the Assad regime as it drops chemical weapons on civilians? Not a problem.

Busy executing thousands of Iranian citizens and political dissidents? Go for it.

Allowing the beating and mistreatment of Iranian women for violations of moral codes and denying them education and job opportunities? Okay by us.

The effort to appease the regime only enabled and emboldened the mullahs, and now the Trump administration has to do the heavy lifting and hard work the Obama administration couldn’t and wouldn’t do, which is why this review will be so critical.

In a slap at the Obama administration that negotiated alongside the P5+1 for the deal, Tillerson said, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

Congress has introduced bills extending U.S. sanctions against Iran related to its alleged support of terrorism, human rights violations and missile tests. Lawmakers have put the legislation on pause, however, because of the impact the bills could have in Iran’s presidential election scheduled for next month.

  •   Should the U.S. confront Iran directly by using military force against proxies such as the Lebanese Hizb’allah and Afghan mercenaries in Syria?
  •   Should Washington re-impose a broad swath of sanctions on Iran and target the commercial enterprises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)?
  •   Should the Trump administration affirmatively embrace and recognize Iranian dissident groups, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and focus efforts on their inclusion back into Iran?

All these questions and more will have to be part of the White House review.

The administration is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the IRGC.

In his remarks, Tillerson focused not only on the nuclear deal, but also on what he called Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.”

He specifically cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as hostility to Israel, the harassment of U.S. naval vessels plying the Persian Gulf and cyberattacks targeting the United States and its Gulf allies.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said.

Time is of the essence considering the upcoming April 25th meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord.

But President Trump doesn’t have to tear up the deal to tighten the screws on Iran. The agreement, which is not a treaty, provides broad leeway to signatory governments in interpreting its terms, and the Trump White House is mulling taking a much more forceful stance on enforcing the deal to the letter.

There are already signs that the Trump administration is using existing legal authorities in a more forceful manner than its predecessor. Last Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sohrab Soleimani, the brother of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, for his role in abuses in Iran’s prisons. And in February, the Treasury Department also blacklisted eight IRGC-linked organizations, including an official based in Lebanon.

At the end of the review, the question of whether or not to keep the nuclear agreement may not exactly be centered on the agreement itself, but rather on whether or not the cost of keeping the pact intact in place is too high compared to the cost of not containing Iran as it expands into Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, along with new threats to Bahrain and other Gulf states.

Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis?

The 12th presidential election in Iran will be held on May 19th. These polls are taking place at a time when the regime in Tehran, and especially Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are facing three distinct crises.

a)  Khamenei, suffering from prostate cancer, sees his days as numbered and must designate a successor. From March 2015 he has held various sessions with senior regime and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials for this very purpose. Khamenei insists that his successor be clarified prior to his death.

b)  A major policy overhaul in Washington following the end of Obama’s tenure. This has terrified Iran and placed this regime in intense isolation on the international stage and across the region in the face of Arab and Islamic countries.

c)  The presidential election crisis in May.

Khamenei, witnessing his establishment coming to its knees during the 2009 uprisings, is extremely concerned about a repeat scenario. In such circumstances, the possibility of his entire regime crumbling at the hands of a revolting population is very serious and even likely. Khamenei is weighing how to properly engineer the elections while not providing any pretext for popular upheaval.

In contrast to the viewpoints of various parties in the West, the rifts inside Khamenei’s faction and those supporting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does not arise from a difference between two so-called “moderate” and/or “hardline” mentalities. The fact is that the sham election is a dispute over two solutions aimed at safeguarding and maintaining a religious dictatorship in power, furthering their expansionism and ambitions.

Both factions, including Khamenei and the current formerly represented by the influential Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, believe in resorting to a domestic crackdown, obtaining nuclear weapons, meddling in the internal affairs of other countries such as Iraq and Syria, and using instability and terrorism leverage as a tool to pursue their foreign policy. The only difference is how to advance in their goal to realize these objectives. Therefore, when we are talking about two factions, we must not mistakenly compare the Iranian regime with today’s advanced democracies.

Khamenei is considered very weak due to the current crises his regime is facing. In contrast to last year, when he constantly lashed out at Rouhani for the deal sealed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and similar initiatives sought for other purposes, Khamenei refused to mention Iran’s current political crises. Furthermore, following the major U.S,-Iran policy change, Khamenei has set aside his stereotype threats against the U.S. and maintained a state of hesitancy in his remarks.

Khamenei and Election Engineering

Candidates for Iran’s presidential elections will register from April 11th to the 16th. The ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-man body directly and indirectly appointed by Khamenei himself, will weigh the candidates’ qualifications from April 17th to the 27th. The elections are scheduled for May 19th.

Iran’s presidential elections always feature a large number of candidates. However, the main candidates from the two main factions must receive Khamenei’s explicit or implicit approval.

“Rouhani’s candidacy was confirmed after gaining the approval of the establishment’s senior officials,” according to the Ebtekar daily.

By establishing the “Popular Party of Revolutionary Forces” and the membership of the same individuals who elevated firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president from the ballot boxes back in 2005, Khamenei has revealed signs of how he has engineered the upcoming elections.

In his “Nowruz” message marking the Iranian calendar New Year, Khamenei came to admit his role in the results of the 2009 presidential election.

“I entered the 2009 [presidential election] and stood firm,” he said. In his remarks, Khamenei warned about the May election by stipulating, “I will stand firm and intervene.”

It is worth noting the IRGC command, and especially Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, are seeking the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, who is also considered one of Khamenei’s options as his successor. Khamenei has yet to reach a final decision over Reisi’s candidacy in the May elections. If he registers as a candidate and fails to become president, his chances of succeeding Khamenei will be severely undermined. And if Khamenei seeks to select Reisi as the next president at all costs, he faces the severe possibility of instigating nationwide uprisings.

What is the Forecast?

Naturally, due to the numerous different elements facing Khamenei and his regime’s factions, forecasting even the near future is quite a challenging task. However, there are three different scenarios facing Khamenei:

1) Eliminating Rouhani and selecting a candidate meeting his standards, and that of the IRGC.

2) Rouhani is severely weakened after losing Rafsanjani, considered a major pillar in the regime’s apparatus. He will be reappointed as president on the condition of succumbing to the hegemony of Khamenei and the IRGC.

3) Rouhani views Khamenei weak in the balance of power and stands as a major opponent against his faction.

Of course, Khamenei prefers to realize the first scenario. If concerns of nationwide uprisings cancel this possibility, he will give in to the second scenario.

Although Rouhani is in favor of the third scenario, considering the society’s powder keg conditions and losing the support of Rafsanjani, such a turn of events would be considered dangerous for both the regime’s factions. This outcome can bring an end to the public’s fear of the regime’s domestic crackdown machine and ignite a new nationwide uprising. This is a red line for both of Iran’s factions.

Those supporting Khamenei, and especially the IRGC, seek to eliminate Rouhani from these elections. However, Khamenei cannot take very bold measures and officially oppose Rouhani’s candidacy. When confirming Rouhani’s candidacy, Khamenei asked him to hold coordinating meetings with Sulemani and IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari. This request brings us closer to the second scenario.

However, the Iranian people and their organized opposition, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), consider such elections under the mullahs’ regime as baseless and demand free and fair elections held under the United Nations auspices. Such polls are only possible through regime change in Iran and establishing a democratic system.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK). He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.