Will Iran’s Rouhani Use Syria to Bargain?

After establishing the Iran nuclear deal as his first-term legacy, the question now is what new initiative will Iranian President Hassan Rouhani embark on during his second term? Should the international community have any expectations of Rouhani? And if Rouhani has the will to bring about any change in, for example, Syria, a big if, will it be for the better good of the Syrian people and the region? Or will he be merely looking to promote Tehran’s interests at the expense of others.

Iran’s policies in the region are considered by many to be based on double standards. How does Iran legitimize its interference in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the region while millions have been left killed, injured and displaced as the entire Middle East remains in turmoil?

Iran claims to seek peace, stability and cooperation in the region through negotiations with neighboring countries. Yet the status quo has changed significantly for Rouhani’s second term. US President Donald Trump has ended Barack Obama’s appeasement policy and is pioneering an effort to isolate Iran over its belligerence.

Many of Iran’s regional neighbors view the regime as an ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has massacred of tens of thousands of his own people.

Iran, however, continues its support for Assad, arguing international law considers Assad the president of a legal government in Syria. Disturbingly, according to the New Yorker, “Iranian-backed militias appear to have secured a road link from the Iranian border all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. The new land route will allow the Iranian regime to resupply its allies in Syria by land instead of air, which is both easier and cheaper.”

Tehran is validating its support for the Syrian regime based on a request placed by Assad and claiming 60% of the country’s lands are in the hands of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And the mullahs’ regime refuses to acknowledge the existence of a Syrian opposition that enjoys international legitimacy and support.

While the international community accepts the fact that ISIS and other terrorists must be eradicated in all places, this does not provide grounds for Assad, with Iran’s support, to slaughter innocent civilians. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Assad of committing war crimes and using starvation as a tool in this regard.

UN special rapporteurs and envoys have leveled deeply concerning accusations against the Assad regime, and for Iran to continue its support for Assad is very troubling to say the least. The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan da Mistura also cited Iran providing $6 billion a year to Assad, considered a conservative figure by many.

Iran accuses other countries of recruiting terrorists from across the globe to fight against Assad and places the blame for enormous civilian losses on them. And yet one cannot ignore the fact that Iran is funneling arms, ammunition and militia members to prop up the Assad regime and killing tens of thousands of civilians, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Assad regime recently requested that Iran take on full supervision and payroll duties of thousands of foreigners fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops, according to a government source and a news report.

Iran accuses other countries of interfering in Syria and Bahrain, for example, and yet refuses to accept its role in the Levant as such meddling by an outside party.

Iran is proposing talks with the three other regional powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to hold talks aimed at:

—          preserving the unity of Syria.

—          establishing a power sharing government, yet falling short of determining the highly sensitive subject of the future of Assad in Syria.

—         holding UN-supervised president elections.

The complex question is will Rouhani pressure Assad to accept such terms. The answer lies in understanding why the Tehran regime is deeply interested in Syria. The Levant, under the rule of Assad, provides a land bridge to the Lebanese Hezbollah and thus the Mediterranean Sea for Iran, allowing this regime to spread its influence from its soil all across the region. If Iran loses its foothold in Syria, considered to be its 35th province, it will be the beginning of the end of Tehran’s regional hegemony.

Such an outcome would direct all of Iran’s dilemmas inwards and provide grounds for social unrest, which could shake the very pillars of the mullahs’ regime. As a result, the fundamental nature of Iran’s ruling apparatus prevents the implementation of any meaningful shifts in its regional policy.

“Take into notice, any change in behavior is no different from change in the entire establishment,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said recently.

Will Iran’s Hassan Rouhani negotiate on Syria?

After establishing the Iran nuclear deal as his first-term legacy, the question now is what new initiative will Iranian President Hassan Rouhani embark on his second term? Should there be any expectation from the international community in Rouhani’s second term as this regime’s president? And if Rouhani has the will to bring about any change in for example Syria, a big if, will it be for the better good of the Syrian people and the region? Or merely seeking Iran’s interests?

Iran’s policies in the region have been considered by many to be based on double standards. How does Iran legitimize its interference in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and across the region while millions have been killed, injured and displaced as the entire region remains in turmoil?

Iran claims to seek peace, stability, and cooperation in the Middle East through negotiations with neighboring countries. Yet the status quo has changed significantly for Rouhani’s second term. Donald Trump is now the U.S. President, bringing an end to Obama’s appeasement policy and calling on all countries to isolate Iran.

Many of Iran’s regional neighbors view the regime as an ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has massacred tens of thousands of his own people.

Iran, however, continues its support for Assad, arguing international law considers Assad as the president of a legal government in Syria. Does being a legal government legitimize such measures against its own constituents?

Tehran is validating its support for the Syrian regime based on a request placed by Assad and claiming 60% of the country’s lands are in the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda. And the mullahs’ regime refuses to accept the existence of a Syrian opposition that enjoys international legitimacy and support.

While the international community accepts the fact that ISIS and other terrorists must be destroyed in Syria, this does not provide the grounds for Assad, with Iran’s support, to massacre innocent civilians. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Assad of committing war crimes and using starvation as a tool in this regard.

UN special rapporteurs and envoys have levelled very concerning allegations against the Assad regime, and for Iran to continue its support for Assad is very troubling, to say the least. The UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan da Mistura, has also cited Iran providing $6 billion a year to Assad, considered a conservative figure by many.

Iran accuses other countries of recruiting terrorists from across the globe to fight against Assad and places the blame of enormous civilian losses on their part. And yet one cannot neglect the fact that Iran is providing arms, ammunition and tens of thousands of militias to prop up the Assad regime and killing tens of thousands of civilians, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Iran accuses other countries of interfering in Syria and Bahrain, for example, and yet refuses to accept its role in the Levant as such meddling by an outside party.

Iran is proposing talks with the three other regional powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to hold talks aimed at:

  • preserving the unity of Syria,
  • establishing a power sharing government, yet failing to determine the highly sensitive subject of the fate of Assad as president of Syria,
  • holding UN-supervised president elections.

The sensitive question is will Hassan Rouhani pressure Assad to accept such terms.

Although it is crucial to understand why Tehran’s regime is deeply interested in Syria. The Levant, under the rule of Assad, provides a land bridge to the Lebanese Hizb’allah, and thus the Mediterranean, for Iran, allowing this regime to spread its influence from its soil all across the region. In the case Iran loses its foothold in Syria, considering it its 35th province, it will be the beginning of the end of Tehran’s regional hegemony.

Such an outcome would rebound all of Iran’s dilemmas inwards and provide the grounds for social unrests to overcome the mullahs’ regime. As a result, the very nature of Iran’s ruling apparatus prevents the rendering of any meaningful change in its regional policy.

“Take into notice any change in behavior is no different from the change in the entire establishment,” said Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently.

Iran in Crisis

The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Tehran has been hit with severe blows during the Munich Security Conference, contrasting interests with Russia, the recent escalating row with Turkey, and most importantly, a new U.S. administration in Washington.

These crises have crippling effects on the mullahs’ apparatus, especially at a time when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees his regime facing a changing balance of power in the international community, and is faced with a major decision of selecting the regime’s so-called president.

Iran and Ahvaz

The dust storms crisis in Ahwaz, resulting from the mullahs’ own destructive desertification policies, caused severe disruptions in water and power services and people pouring into the streets in major protests.

The regime, and especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), has for decades pursued a desertification policy of constructing dams, drying lagoons, digging deep oil wells beneath underground water sources with resulting catastrophic environmental disasters. Various estimates indicate the continuation of such a trend will literally transform two-thirds of Iran into desert lands in the next decade. This will place 14 to 15 million people at the mercy not only dust storms but also salt storms.

Iran and the Munich Security Conference

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended this conference with a series of objectives in mind, only to face a completely unexpected scene. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the mullahs are the source of threats and instability throughout the Middle East. Turkey went one step further and said Tehran is the heart of sectarianism and spreads such plots across the region, and all traces in Syria lead to Iran’s terrorism and sectarian measures.

This resembles a vast international coalition against Tehran, inflicting yet another blow to the mullahs following a new administration taking control of the White House. These developments are very costly for Khamenei and the entire regime.

In comparison to the early 2000s when the U.S. launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was the main benefactor. The current balance of power now is quite different, as seen in Munich. While there is talk of an Arab NATO, any coalition formed now in the Middle East will be completely against Iran’s interests.

Iran and Russia

Following a disastrous joint campaign in Syria, for the first time Russia is reportedly supporting a safe zone in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said contacts have been made with the Syrian regime to establish safe zones in Syria. These are the first remarks made by any Russian official on the issue of safe zones in Syria.

Moscow’s increasing contrast in interest with Iran over Syria has the potential of playing a major role in regional relations. Russia certainly doesn’t consider Bashar Assad remaining in power as a red line, a viewpoint far different from that of Iran. Moscow is also ready to sacrifice its interests in Syria in a larger and more suitable bargain with the Trump administration over far more important global interests.

Iran and Turkey

Yes, Ankara and Tehran enjoy a vast economic partnership. However, recent shifts in geopolitical realities have led to significant tensions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the mullahs of resorting to “Persian nationalism” in an effort to split Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of seeking to undermine Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Tehran’s “sectarian policy.” Cavusoglu used his speech in Munich to say, “Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped.”

Tehran considers Ankara’s soldiers in Iraq and Syria as a major obstacle in its effort to expand its regional influence.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s strong approach vis-à-vis Iran and the possibility of him supporting the establishment of a Turkish-administered northern Syria safe zone may have also played a major part in fuming bilateral tensions between these two Middle East powers.

Erdogan has obviously realized completely the new White House in Washington intends to adopt a much more aggressive stance against Tehran. This is another sign of changing tides brewing troubles for Iran’s mullahs.

Iran and Presidential Elections

With new reports about his ailing health, Khamenei is extremely concerned about his predecessor. One such signal is the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, current head of the colossal Astan Quds Razavi political empire and a staunch loyalist to Khamenei’s faction, for the presidency. With former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani out of the picture, Khamenei may seek to seal his legacy by placing Reisi against Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming May elections.

This is literally Khamenei playing with fire, as Reisi is considered a hardline figure and such an appointment may spark 2009-like protests across the country, as the country has become a scene of massive social challenges. Rouhani himself doesn’t enjoy any social base support, especially after four years of lies and nearly 3,000 executions.

Final Thoughts

This places the entire regime in a very fragile situation. From the internal crises of Ahwaz, the upcoming elections and the formation of a significant international front threatening the Iranian regime’s strategic interests.

Forecasting what lies ahead is truly impossible, making Khamenei and his entire regime extremely concerned, trekking this path very carefully and with a low profile. As we witnessed with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, Iran immediately released the 52 hostages held for 444 days.

This regime understands the language of force very carefully. And yet, there is no need to use military force to inflict a significant blow and make Tehran understand the international community means business. Blacklisting Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization by the U.S. at this timing would be the nail in the coffin for the mullahs.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Iran Sabotages a Syrian Ceasefire

By Heshmat Alavi

Despite the boasted rhetoric about the agreement reached in the Astana talks over the Syria ceasefire, this latest stage unveiled the limits involved parties face in bringing an end to the six-year war. Even Russia’s chief negotiator at the discussion reached the point of complaining, more than once, about diverse complications. And the main obstacle remains Iran, due to the fact that a true ceasefire in Syria should spell the end of its foothold.

The talks have even been dubbed a diplomatic coup, with all three sponsors, Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran accused of seeking separate objectives. The truth is there is no ceasefire thanks to Iran’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Despite the so-called “ceasefire pact” sealed on December 30th, pro-Assad forces backed by Iran — including the Lebanese Hizb’allah — have continued attacks on the besieged rebel-held area of Wadi Barada near Damascus.

The Syrian regime has resorted to the ridiculous excuse that al-Qaeda-affiliated “terrorist groups” are in control of Ain al-Fijeh, a small town in Wadi Barada. This despite locals reporting only a “tiny minority” of such elements being present. It is thus crystal clear that neither Assad, nor his Iranian masters, have ever sought a meaningful ceasefire in Syria.

In other areas, regime warplanes launched further airstrikes targeting rebel-controlled areas in west Syria, leaving 12 dead in one area alone, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fact is that the Astana talks have left many loopholes, and this is exactly what Iran will exploit to plunge the entire process into utter failure.

  • No details are available about a mechanism to monitor a supposed ceasefire.
  • Political issues failed to achieve any tangible progress and the talks are described as narrowly focused.
  • One senior Western diplomat criticized the entire initiative as “not very serious,” adding, “You don’t seal a ceasefire in two days.” There are no indications of any work on modalities, observers, mechanisms, maps, and so forth.
  • No document has been signed by Syrian opposition or regime representatives, the two parties who actually have to reach an arrangement.
  • While the agreement promises a separation of rebel forces into legitimate opposition and terrorists, no specific method is laid out over how, and according to what merits.

Russia may be considered the main benefactor of the talks, especially since the U.S. cited transition duties and participated only as an observer. Iran is amongst those tasked to monitor the ceasefire, while it is obvious Iran-backed Shiite militias, already accused of violating this ceasefire, will seek to exploit the numerous Astana agreement loopholes.

Even the next date set for future talks between Syrian opposition and regime delegations, Feb. 8 in Geneva, lacks firm confirmation. The Astana negotiations ultimately did not go as planned due to different interests pursued by all three sponsors, proving that Washington and the Gulf States must take part in any future effort.

Even such a goal encounters difficulty due to stark differences seen between Russia and Iran over the United States possibly taking part. Moscow is in favor of Washington, under the Trump administration, taking part, while Iran flatly rejects the proposal.

“They (the Russians) can now see how difficult their partners are,” one Western diplomat described, according to Reuters.

“They are finding a lot of obstacles from Hezbollah forces, Iran and the regime,” explained Mohammed Alloush, head of the Syrian opposition delegation.

Western diplomats have also voiced concerns, viewing Iran as a main obstacle to progress. Uncertainty is the least that can be said about Tehran’s commitment to what can hardly be described as a ceasefire.

At a time of concerns regarding Iran’s involvement in Syria, including a conglomerate of militias and Assad forces continuing to launch attacks on civilians in rebel-held areas, there are serious questions and doubts over Tehran’s legitimacy as a broker in this entire ordeal.

As seen over the past four decades, Tehran thrives on two pillars of domestic crackdown and provoking unrest across the Middle East. This leaves the international community lacking an obvious solution.

“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,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of dissidents including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Iran’s meddling report card in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen proves this is the sole solution that can render a lasting ceasefire and pave the path to genuine peace.

Originally posted in American Thinker

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Astana Talks: Why Iran and Russia differ on Syria?

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The Nur-Astana mosque in Astana on January 22, 2017. The Astana peace talks, set to begin on Monday, will be the first time a delegation composed exclusively of rebel groups will negotiate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP)

With a new administration under Donald Trump taking the helm in Washington, Iran has shown its concerns by opposing any participation by the United States in upcoming Syrian peace talks scheduled for today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

“We have not invited them, and we are against their presence,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on January 17, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, citing Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

This is Iran trying to keep a straight face for its dwindling social base back home, knowing they have lost hegemony in the Syria dossier to Russia, and yet refusing to admit such a strategic setback. Zarif’s remarks, however, went against pledges made by Russia and Turkey, who have recently taken the initiative out of Iran’s hands in Syria, of inviting the new Trump administration to the Astana talks. US officials have also signaled Washington will be taking part in the new effort.

This latest development points to a major conflict over one of the many definite flashpoints to come between Washington and Tehran over the Middle East. This goes parallel to the highly possible strong approach Team Trump is on the track of adopting, making a significant U-turn in comparison to the Obama administration and their immensely flawed appeasement policy.

In fact, it also proves how Moscow never considered Tehran a strategic partner. It is quite obvious Kremlin would prefer a strong relationship and a real “reset” with the White House, and not the mullahs and what little they have to offer. While Iran considers Syria its 35th province, it has never been the case for Moscow.

“If the enemy attacks us and seeks to take Syria or Khuzestan [oil-rich southwestern Iranian province], our priority would be to keep Syria, because if we keep Syria, we can take back Khuzestan. But if we lose Syria, we would lose Tehran,” said senior Iranian cleric and former IRGC intelligence chief Mehdi Taeb in describing the utter importance of Syria for Iran.

Russia’s objectives

Russia, however, has a variety of objectives in its return to the Middle East after 40 years. With crippling sanctions imposed by the US and Europe over the row in Ukraine and Crimea, Moscow is considering to not only gain a foothold in a strategic corner of the globe, but to also obtain a bargaining chip for future deals with Brussels and Washington.

Russia seeks to maintain its hold on Syria as a Middle East ally and a profitable market for its export of military weapons. This, however, does not spell into maintaining Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in power. The arrangements Moscow is looking for can be reached in talks with the West.

Tehran, on the other hand, is trekking a completely different trail and continuing its original path of establishing a disastrous “Shiite crescent” across the region. Meaning Iran simply cannot have an overhaul take place in Syria, while this is exactly what the Western-backed Syrian opposition seeks.

Iran has invested heavily in Syria and its conglomerate of Shiite militias–far more powerful than what is left of Assad’s army–are taking orders from Tehran, not Damascus. Syria is the cornerstone and the backbone of Iran’s Middle East strategy, stretching from Iraq to Lebanon and even Yemen.

As a result, with Russia pursuing a main objective of obtaining more concessions from the US and Europe on various issues including Ukraine, the possibility of Moscow and Washington reaching an agreement over Syria vastly in contrast to Tehran’s interests should not at all be considered farfetched.

This lays the ground for a dangerous potential, from Iran’s perspective, of Russia and the US coming to terms over Syria’s future. Moscow is in pursuit of a fast solution for Syria and sees Washington involvement in the Astana talks in line with such an objective.

And this is why Zarif, Iran’s top diplomat, seems to have shown such a harsh reaction, as if Iran is being thrown under the bus by Russia. The dispute between Moscow and Tehran over Syria and its future are serious, to say the least. As I explained in a recent Gatestone piece:

“Iran may have enjoyed tactical gains in Aleppo. However, Russia apparently has separate, long-term interests in complete dissimilarity from those of Tehran. Russia has conducted secret direct talks with the Syrian opposition. To add insult to injury, Iran – viewing the Obama presidency as a golden era – is also concerned about the incoming presidency of Donald Trump and his administration, who seem to have strong views against Tehran.”

Originally posted in Al Arabiya English

Iran’s strategic defeat in Syria before Astana talks

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By Heshmat Alavi

The war in Syria has reached a major turning point. The Iran-Russia honeymoon is over, and Moscow is warming relations with Ankara. Reports indicate the two coordinated airstrikes targeting Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist groups. Such a turn of events has even been described as Russia throwing Iran under the bus.

Turkish armed forces and the Free Syrian Army, under Russian air support, advanced in northern Syria to liberate key areas. This is strikingly similar to the measures adopted by Iran-backed Shiite militias with Russia’s support in taking control over Eastern Aleppo.

This new shift in Russian policy from supporting Tehran-Damascus to Turkey-FSA clearly indicates a strategic defeat for Iran. A sudden and unpredicted change of decorations, in line with heavy military operations, parallel to political agreements in writing. We are also on the verge of Astana talks set to place all parties involved at a round table, including representatives of the new Trump administration. This is much to the dissent of Iran.

“Iran, Russia and Turkey laid the foundations for the recent ceasefire in Syria… however, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm under a framework of bilateral negotiations in Ankara,” Iran’s state-run Alef website explained.

“Concerns remain over future Russian policy… Moscow has close relations with Ankara, and specific reservations about Riyadh. Inviting Saudi Arabia to the Syria talks… can shift the balance against Iran…,” Iran’s Arman daily added.

“Russia’s actions in Syria, cooperating with Turkey… neglecting Iran shows Moscow never takes Tehran seriously, and the hoax of strategic relations with Russia is only sought by Iran, while there is no such rejoice seen in Russia,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported citing Sharq daily.

It has now become quite obvious that Iran’s policymakers–read the mullahs–have made yet another strategic mistake, in line with their decisions to continue the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s even after Iraqi forces withdrew to internationally recognized borders; the occupation and hostage-taking fiasco of the U.S. Embassy back in November 1979; launching the completely unnecessary nuclear program while the country sits on an ocean of God-given oil and gas reserves; and meddling in possibly all neighboring and Middle East countries, most vividly seen today in Syria and Iraq.

The only difference now is the mullahs face very serious questions, such as why have they wasted billions in fueling a war machine killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians? Especially at a time when we witnessed heart breaking scenes of Iran’s homeless having no choice but to find refuge in pre-dug graves.

Here is a brief look at how Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has actually allocated the country’s wealth.

  • May 28th, 2013:  Iran opened two credit lines for Syria worth $4 billion and provided a $3 billion loan, according to Syrian Central Bank President Adib Miale. (com)
  • August 27th, 2013: Iran has up to this day allocated $17 billion for the Syrian war. (According to Liberation)
  • September 4th, 2014: Tehran opens a new $4 billion credit line for the Assad regime. (According to Le Figaro)
  • In December 2014 Reuters reported: “If it had not been for Iranian support we could not have survived the crisis,” a senior Syrian trade official said from Damascus, requesting anonymity… In July last year, Iran granted Syria a $3.6 billion credit facility to buy oil products, according to officials and bankers at the time. Another $1 billion went for non-oil products.
  • May 7th, 2015: Iran’s state-run Sharq daily estimated Iran, China and Russia provided around $500 million to Syria each month.
  • April 27th, 2015: “Diplomatic sources in Beirut estimate that Iran spends between $1 billion and $2 billion a month in Syria in cash handouts and military support. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently told a private gathering in Washington that Iran has been channeling as much as $35 billion a year into Syria, according to one of the participants at the meeting.” (Christian Science Monitor)
  • July 5th, 2015: Syrian President Bashar Assad approves a new bill consisting of a $1 billion credit from his regional ally Iran. (According to the state-run Syrian news agency)
  • August 2016: Iran has spent $100 billion in Syria, according to a report provided by Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

These numbers shed light only on a small portion of the billions Khamenei and his regime have stolen from the Iranian people to provide for their war machine, as so unfortunately witnessed in Aleppo most recently. Without a doubt the actual amount is far higher.

The question is where have the mullahs reached, strategically speaking, after wasting tens of billions in the Syria inferno, allowing a dictator to kill nearly half a million of his own people and leave more than 11 million stranded inside the country and abroad?

The Iranian opposition has time and again warned about the dangers of such a policy pursued by Tehran in Syria, and across the Middle East, and provided the sole solution to this deadly dilemma.

“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,” said Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of organizations including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

From day one, exporting crises, terrorism and warmongering has been one of the main pillars maintaining the mullahs’ regime intact, all meant to quell domestic crises. This is exactly why senior Iranian officials continuously explain the necessity of fighting there (Syria) to not fight here (inside Iran).

Never mentioned are the Iranian people and their interests. The mullahs only seek to preserve their establishment, at all costs. And yet with the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime in its entirety is now utterly weakened as he played the highly important role of a balancing mast.

This is a regime bracing for further strategic defeats.

Iran Threatens the Syria Ceasefire Effort

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By Heshmat Alavi

Following nearly six years of bloody warfare and an atrocious takeover of Aleppo by the Russia-Iran-Assad axis, the world has finally reached a relatively reliable settlement in this war-ravaged country. Unfortunately, Iran continues to pose a serious threat to this yet shaky and fledgling settlement.

Russia, replacing the United States, has become the main counterparty involved in the ceasefire talks with the Syrian opposition and its ally, Turkey.

Considering the lame-duck season between November 8th and January 20th before the new U.S. president-elect takes the helm at the White House, these efforts to establish a lasting ceasefire — and hopefully tangible peace — in Syria need to be respected by the international community. This is especially true since the Syrian opposition have blessed this campaign, directly engaging Russia and Turkey.

The new Russia-Turkey relationship has also led to actions against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) targets in Syria.

“Turkish warplanes and artillery have struck Daesh targets in Syria, killing 22 of the group’s terrorists, while Russian aircraft hit terrorists near the Daesh-controlled town of al-Bab,” reports indicate citing Turkish military officials.

In addition to Turkey, the Syrian opposition also enjoys the support of a majority of its neighbors and Middle East countries, all believing Assad’s departure is key to reach a true political solution for this crisis that has taken the lives of nearly half a million and displaced over 11 million Syrians inside the country and abroad.

The dilemma, however, lies in the fact that Iran and its slate of proxy groups are erecting barriers in the path of establishing true ceasefire and peace conditions. Tehran is in full-speed mode to disrupt the entire process, as the mullahs in Iran seek nothing but the Syrian opposition’s all-out annihilation and to completely repaint the country’s social fabric in favor of Assad, ultimately maintaining his regime in power.

The Lebanese Hizb’allah, perhaps the main Iran-backed proxy entity, is feeling the heat following the latest developments in relation to Syria. Hizb’allah desperately relies on a land route from Iran to northern Lebanon to maintain the ongoing flow of support from Tehran.

“Sources in Lebanon told the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Arab that Hezbollah has rejected the Russia-Turkey-mediated ceasefire agreement for the Syrian civil war,” algemeiner reported.

The Lebanese Hizb’allah, known to be fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad as its army has dwindled during the years, is furious over the fact that Ankara has demanded all foreign fighters depart Syria even prior to any discussion of a possible diplomatic solution.

To add insult to injury for Hizb’allah, and Tehran for that matter, is the fact that Moscow has discussed Ankara’s demands with the mullahs, meaning that the Kremlin supports the measure and is seeking an all-out diplomatic solution. This is completely against Iran’s domination and destructive policy to derail the peace process.

Such a turn of events would be the final nail in the coffin for Iran as it continues to rely on foreign recruits and the Hizb’allah to provide the ground forces necessary in Syria.

This is especially significant considering the fact that dissent inside Iran regarding the regime’s participation in the war in Syria is growing.

“On December 16th, 2016, the fans of Foolad Khuzestan B F.C chanted slogans against the dictator Assad in support of Syrians and the people of Aleppo during the football match,” opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)website reported.

The NCRI is a conglomerate of Iranian opposition organizations, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), advocating democratic regime change.

Videos posted on the internet show demonstrations inside Iran demanding the regime stop meddling in Syria and plunging billions to shore up the faltering Bashar Assad regime, and actually think of the Iranian people’s needs and demands.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has comissioned the Revolutionary Guards to pursue his lethal policy in Syria, resulting in horrific death and destruction across the Levant.

As long as the IRGC and its proxy militias, including the Hizb’allah, remain on Syrian soil, this country will never witness peace and tranquility. The IRGC is a major threat to any campaign to bring an end to the mayhem devastating this land.

The IRGC deserves to be designated as a terrorist organization, being Iran’s main leverage to export terrorism abroad.

It is also high time for the international community to call for the very eviction of Iran, the IRGC and all of Tehran’s proxy elements from Syria.

Originally published in American Thinker

How Iran Got Stuck in the Syria Quagmire

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By Heshmat Alavi

Iran, known for its unbridled sectarian meddling in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, is currently facing an unwanted quagmire and dead-end in the Levant. We cannot limit Iran’s role and its meddling across the Middle East to 2016 alone. There is an ongoing war in the region, resulting from Iran’s escalating interventions.

Iran’s ultimate objective is to completely restructure the region’s entire fabric, pursuing a truly destructive and very dangerous policy in this regard. The war in Syria is one of the pillars of this initiative, also continuing in Iraq and Lebanon.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, known for his close relations with Tehran, was the byproduct of Iran’s policies in that country. Iraq under Maliki back in 2010 was oppressing the Sunni community, leading to a major revolt by this vital sector of Mesopotamia. Iraq continues to suffer from such atrocities.

Iran sustained its warmongering and expansionist ambitions in lands far away, such as Yemen. This initiative is also facing major difficulties, with Oman — known for its warm relations with Iran — recently joining the Saudi-led coalitionagainst the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sought to deliver serious blows to Saudi Arabia, using the war in Yemen as the necessary medium. However, Yemen cannot and will not remain the Houthis’ hostage, and this country will not witness a repeat of the Hizb’allah scenario in Lebanon.

The Syria Swamp

Syria, despite the heavy Iranian influence, is now becoming a colossal challenge for Tehran. As U.S. President Barack Obama failed to live up to expectations, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm, sidelining Iran as a result.

While Syria comprises the backbone of Iran’s expansionist adventure in the region, one cannot truly claim Tehran has made significant advances. The Aleppo war made it clear Iran’s aim is to occupy Syria. There is no Assad army in Syria and Iran-backed Shiite militia groups are rampant across the country.

By falling to Russia’s knees to intervene in Syria, Iran accepted the harsh reality of Assad no longer governing what is left of the country.

Currently Iran is no longer considered Russia’s partner in Syria. Moscow has its own interests, not necessarily in line with those of Tehran.

The Free Syrian Army, a major wing of the Syrian opposition, suspended its participation in the Astana negotiations in response to continuous military attacks by Iran and Assad against the Wadi Barda region near Damascus.

This has prompted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to demand that Iran rein in the Shiite militias and Assad from violating the so-called ceasefire.

“Turkey is working with Russia on the question of sanctions for those who violate the ceasefire deal, which was brokered by Ankara and Moscow,” Reuters reported citing Cavusoglu.

This is a vivid show of how Iran has been sidelined in Syria. It is quite obvious that Iran has no intention of allowing a political solution evolve and reach tangible results in Syria. Iran thrives on lasting crises and this is the mullahs’ very policy to maintain Assad as their puppet in Damascus.

Tehran is furious over the fact that Russia and Turkey signed an agreement with a variety of armed Syrian opposition groups, inviting them to the Astana talks. To add insult to injury, Ankara has made demands “requiring all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria, before a diplomatic solution is reached or even discussed.”

Of course, Iran giving in to such demands is highly unlikely after feeling shelved in the wake of the recent Ankara/Moscow initiative. It has, is and always will be in Iran’s nature a continued desire and need to inflame the entire region in turmoil. This is a vital lifeline for Iran.

Following close to six years of disastrous warfare, nearly half a million innocent Syrians killed and more than 11 million displaced, it is high time to reach a final and lasting solution.

“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,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran(PMOI/MEK), the main NCRI member, has played a pivotal role in alerting the global community of Iran’s human rights violations, terrorism, and meddling across the region, and the mullahs’ clandestine nuclear weapons drive. These revelations have further plunged Iran into its current crises.

After decades of appeasement by the West have proven a dismal failure, Tehran must be approached by a determined and firm international community.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Iran in Syria: Russia Took Over

  • It appears that Iran literally gained nothing from the Moscow conference, meaning that its participation was merely of a ceremonial nature.
  • “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.” — Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and a leader of the opposition to Iran’s regime. Continue reading “Iran in Syria: Russia Took Over”

Why did Iran publish images of their general Qasem Soleimani in Aleppo?

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Soleimani stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province
Iran IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin Province, Iraq – March 8, 2015. (Reuters)

Seeing images of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, touring the ravaged city of Aleppo proves the utter failure of US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran. We are talking about a man grossly responsible for massacring innocent people across the Middle East.

Comprehending all this, Iran desperately needed to boast its tactical victory in Aleppo, knowing its future in Syria is actually quite gloomy.

Soleimani has a United Nations travel ban over his head, which the Obama administration pledged to Congress to enforce in response to clinching the highly controversial Iran nuclear deal. However, he has been photographed recently walking the streets of Aleppo, aimed to show Tehran cares less for international sanctions banning such measures.

The visit by Soleimani, who is head of Iran’s Quds Force, follows the mass evacuation of East Aleppo’s residents. (Al Arabiya)

Knowing Washington has a lame duck president, the last of Iran’s concerns are about US reactions. State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked in a December 19th press briefing whether Washington will protest to the UN Security Council the fact that Soleimani has been seen in Aleppo.

“We do intend to consult with our partners on the Security Council about how to address our concerns with this,” Kirby said. 

Small talk

Rest assured this small talk raises no concern in Tehran. This UN resolution violation by Soleimani, most certainly blessed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, represents the regime’s need to exaggerate such victories, while major concerns are rising in its camp. Iran’s influence in Lebanon has been common knowledge, especially with its financial and military support for the terrorist-designated Lebanese Hezbollah. However, there are serious signs of dissent regarding the Syria war from this crucial Iran foothold.

“All the effort, pressure, military, and war is against the genuine Syrian opposition,” said Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, one of Lebanon’s leading Shia clerics and Hezbollah’s first secretary general back in 1989 to 1991. “Whereas factions of the [Daesh/ISIS/ISIL] group must remain for the regime and its allies so that there can be a comparison between the two. No one would accept [Daesh], so they must accept the regime.”

“These people [pro-Assad forces] claim they are fighting terrorist organizations. You [pro-Assad forces] are its mother and father. You raised them [Daesh] and continue yet. You ARE the terrorists. You are the killers, in secret and in public. And let me tell you: If you seize Aleppo – and a hundred Aleppos – you will be defeated,” the influential al-Tufayli added.

Hareth Sleiman, a renowned Lebanese Shia academic and political analyst, described the recent events in Aleppo “a shame on humanity… shame on the monsters Putin, Khameinei, Assad, and mercenaries from all corners of the world.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against ISIS militants in Salahuddin Province, Iraq March 8, 2015. (Reuters)

This is exactly why Iran has been enduring the direct burden of financially and militarily shoring Assad on the ground, while giving in to losing hegemony over the entire Syria dossier by begging the Russians to lend lethal air support.

“Without Iran’s expanding military intervention, the Assad regime would have fallen months ago,” said Jim Phillips, a Heritage Foundation Middle East expert, emphasizing that Assad’s army is depleted thin after the six-year carnage. “While Russia’s military intervention has dominated media coverage on Syria, Iran has been responsible for almost all of the ground offensives in recent months that clawed back territory from the rebels and encircled Aleppo. It has deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards,” he added.

Scope of involvement

The Iranian opposition recently unveiled the scope of Tehran’s involvement in Syria.

“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,” said Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a parliament-in-exile calling for peaceful regime change in Iran.

Iran is also concerned over the fact that Russia has successfully established communication channels with the legitimate Syrian opposition groups. Russia also enjoys relations with the Syrian Kurds, while Iran’s links are limited to the Assad regime. To this end, any major alteration in the Assad regime structure or the sheer governance of Syria will most definitely strike a strategic blow to Tehran.

Heshmat Alavi

In the political spectrum, while Iran was recently involved in talks with Russia and Turkey over Syria, it is also pursuing separate goals they do not necessarily share. “As the situation moves closer to the realization of these separate goals, one can anticipate that differences in the Russian and Iranian approaches will become more apparent,” explained al-Monitor.

Iran is also concerned over the fact that Russia has successfully established communication channels with the legitimate Syrian opposition groups. Turkey has most recently hosted talks between Moscow and Syrian opposition representatives. Russia also enjoys relations with the Syrian Kurds, while Iran’s links are limited to the Assad regime. To this end, any major alteration in the Assad regime structure or the sheer governance of Syria will most definitely strike a strategic blow to Tehran.

Worries over Trump

Tehran also has deep worries over a potential warming in relations between Washington, with a Donald Trump White House, and Moscow. The selection of Rex Tillerson as America’s top diplomat, with his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has Iran’s mullahs worried of Moscow bridging gaps with Washington, while distancing itself from Tehran.

Putin is known to favor a “solution among great power” to tackle terrorism, while Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.

In such a scenario, Iran will most likely be excluded from any solution seeking effort for the Syria mayhem. This spells a disaster recipe for Tehran and may even force the mullahs to revise their Levant options.

All in all, Iran is on a course of losing maneuverability power in post-Assad Syria. Expecting a domino effect amongst its very small social and dwindling base back home, Iran desperately needs to publicize images of it forces on the ground in Aleppo.

History has shown such victories are short lived. Even Hitler, after initially enjoying Soviet Union support and parading his troops in Paris, was forced to commit suicide in the end.