ANALYSIS: Understanding Iran’s missile belligerence

Iran has recently witnessed increasing pressures from both sides of the Atlantic, especially over its ballistic missile ambitions. After weeks of deliberations, the US Congress passed initiatives imposing unprecedented restrictions on Tehran.

Just one day after Iran test-launched a satellite-carrying rocket, the Europeans on Friday joined their American allies in sharpening their tone on Iran’s mullahs, demanding an immediate cessation.

The US Treasury Department also responded sharply, imposing even further sanctions on six companies owned or supervised by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, known to play a central role in Tehran’s ballistic drive. All their US assets have been frozen and US citizens barred from dealing with the six firms.

As expected, Iran has continued its refusal to cooperate. “We will continue with full power our missile program,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi to state broadcaster IRIB.

The differentiation

A logical conclusion would be for Iran is to yield back on its ballistic missile program. Yet this isn’t necessarily the case for Tehran.

We are dealing with a completely pragmatic regime, moving its pawns very carefully, with the utmost calculus to the very end. Iran needs to maintain face on two different issues:

1) While not understood by many in the West, the mullahs desperately need to maintain a straight face before its already dwindling social base.
2) Iran will continue to set the stakes high for the international community – meaning continue their missile program – until pressures corner it in the ring, similar to 2013 when sanctions forced Iran into the nuclear negotiations.

Iran needs to undergo missile tests similar to those seen Thursday, claiming to seek placing satellites into orbit. Whereas it is common knowledge the same technology is used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles enabling Iran to threaten targets in mainland United States.

A handout picture released by Iran’s Defense Ministry on July 27, 2017 shows a Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket at its launch site at an undisclosed location in Iran. (AFP)

Foul objectives

While Iran abandoned any intention to place a man into space, it continues to seek similar objectives even despite reports of the recent “Simorgh” test-launch failure last week.

As Iran’s ballistic missile program is known to have received huge amounts of support from the North Koreans, Iran itself is known for parties abroad through providing missile armament.

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launched a ballistic missile Thursday fired targeting the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, only to be shot down, according to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Tehran proxies. This shows both the threats posed by Iran’s ballistic missile program, as such arsenal can be provided to dangerous groups abroad, and to what extent Iran will go.

Further to the west in the flashpoint Middle East region reports also indicate of Iran building and launching underground missile production factories in Lebanon. This is a new form of exporting instability and extremism for Iran, and these sites are currently controlled completely by the Lebanese Hezbollah, Tehran’s main terrorist offspring.

On a side-note of Iran’s missile ambitions, L. Todd Reed explains in The Washington Times, “The argument could be made that the consequence of the nuclear deal was Iran being able to buy sophisticated weapons and Russia having the cash to stay in the Middle East as a military power.”

Zolfaghar missiles on display during a rally marking al-Quds Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. (AFP)

A new era

What is terrifying Iran, however, is the new and unexpected landscape it finds itself in as the Trump administration is busy overhauling the highly flawed Obama foreign policy vis-à-vis Tehran.

Senior Iranian regime officials were heard threatening attacks against American bases prior to last week’s unparalleled sanctions mainly targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Both chambers of the US Congress passed their bills with veto-proof authority.

Iran has also sensed this change in language by the West and has begun to act accordingly. A recent piece in The Hill best explains this transition:

“A mere shift in tone from the [Trump] administration already appears to have affected Iran’s calculus. While Iran has continued missile and space launch vehicle testing, it has not launched another nuclear capable, medium-range ballistic missile since being put “on notice” by the White House in February. In Syria, Iranian-backed forces have not targeted the U.S. military outright, even though the US twice downed Iranian-made Shahed-129 drones.”

The Europeans have also shown signs of significant changes. While Iran has taken advantage of its relations with the Green Continent to close economic agreements, the European Troika – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – also joined their American allies in condemning Iran’s recent rocket test as “inconsistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.”

Neither destabilizing impact of Iran’s ballistic missile ambitions on the Middle East, nor the IRGC’s role in this regard can be denied. It is also true that Iran took advantage of Obama’s disastrous appeasement/engagement policy to advance its missile arsenal to the utmost extent.

Despite the new US sanctions restricting and blacklisting the IRGC being long overdue, needed now is for the Trump administration to fully implement such actions against Iran. There is no more room for reservations that have to this day provided Iran paths to bypass and derail international community efforts.

The countries of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have suffered the most of Iran’s belligerence, and the full eviction of the IRGC footprints from these states would be the next necessary step forward against Tehran’s regime.

Has The Iran Nuclear Deal Changed Anything After Two Years?

July 14th marks two years of a controversial nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), brokered between the international community, represented by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – and Germany, with Iran.

Where are we now? Has Iran changed for the better? Or has Tehran taken advantage of the Obama administration’s concessions to further advance their domestic crackdown, foreign meddling and nuclear/ballistic missile programs?

We are now at a crucial juncture. The Trump administration is currently weighing all options, including regime change, in their evaluation of a comprehensive Iran policy. As wars in various countries and appeasement with Iran have all proved disastrous, regime change by supporting the Iranian people and their organized opposition is the best viable option.

The pro-deal camp described Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a “reformist” and decided to neglect the massive wave of executions launched during his first tenure. The Iran nuclear deal gave a green light to Tehran, leading to over 3,000 executions during Rouhani’s first term as president.

Despite all the naive expectations in Rouhani’s second term, there are reports of increasing executions. This month alone 57 prisoners have been sent to the gallows.

View image on Twitter

The regime in Iran is fearing a repeat of widespread protests mirroring those seen rocking its very pillars back in 2009. In response, Iranian regime security forces are seen raiding homes of a long slate of political and human rights activists in Iran, most specifically those supporting the main opposition group, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

This YouTube video shows a brave Iranian activists declaring “My Vote is Regime Change” on May 19th when the regime held its elections.

Rest assured Iran will ramp up its domestic crackdown as rifts in its senior hierarchy continue to deepen. To add insult to Iran’s injury, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mentioned his support for regime change through backing domestic opposition at a June 14th congressional hearing.

Looking abroad, Iran took advantage of the nuclear deal to first convince Russia to launch its Syria campaign in September 2015 and provide the air support needed to help prop up the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Prolonged death and destruction resulted as Syria is bearing nearly half a million dead and over 12 million internally and externally displaced.

Iraq has also seen the wrath of Iran’s foreign intervention. Under the pretext of the fight against ISIS and the US-led coalition providing air coverage, Tehran’s proxies are literally changing the social fabric of Iraq’s Sunni provinces.

ISIS may have been defeated in Iraq, but the battle to establish stability and true Iraqi sovereignty has only just begun. Iran’s influence runs deep in this country despite the US spending $3 trillion of its resources, and thanks to Obama’s premature troop departure handing over Baghdad to Tehran in a silver plate.

Yemen and Iran’s support for the Houthi proxies is no better story. As Obama focused solely on preserving his legacy-defining nuclear deal with Iran, the mullahs continued to support the Houthis financially, logistically and with crucial arms supplies. The country will not see peace unless a strong will is adopted to end Tehran’s deadly involvement.

Iran’s mullahs have also been fast advancing their ballistic missile program, all in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Knowing the Obama administration would fail in taking any punishing actions, Tehran carried out numerous test launches after the Iran nuclear deal signing and continued to do so after Obama left office.

The Trump administration has slapped three rounds of sanctions against Iran. In one instance Tehran cancelled plans for one missile test launch. The mullahs need these test launches to maintain face and curb many internal issues amongst its already dwindling social base.

Moreover, Tehran’s ballistic missiles have become a leverage to threaten the Middle East. As North Korea continues its ballistic missile advances, a possible trade between Pyongyang and Tehran could be devastating for future regional stability and possibly even world peace.

“And it’s clear that the regime’s behavior is only getting worse. Their continued violations of the agreement; their work with North Korea on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles only continues to grow… North Korea is already perilously close to the point where they can miniaturize a nuclear weapon, put it on an intercontinental ballistic missile and hit targets in the United States. And the day after North Korea has that capability, the regime in Tehran will have it as well simply by signing a check,” said John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN at a recent Iranian opposition rally in Paris.

Reports also indicate Iran is continuing to focus activities with the objective of obtaining nuclear weapons.

In a recent publication the state of Hamburg in Germany reports “there is no evidence of a complete about-face in Iran’s atomic polices in 2016” [after the Islamic Republic signed the JCPOA deal with Western powers in 2015, aimed at restricting Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief]. Iran sought missile carrier technology necessary for its rocket program.”

For the road ahead, the Trump administration should adopt a firm policy of first inflicting the true nature of strict measures implemented in the JCPOA, especially the tough inspections of all facilities and holding Tehran in violation without any reservation.

GOP Senators have made a call on President Trump to find Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear accord. Tehran has enjoyed far too much time to cheat its way around the deal and Washington should bring an end to this.

Targeting the core entity responsible for these measures is key. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is involved in domestic crackdown, foreign meddling and the mullahs’ nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. To this end, designating this entity as a foreign terrorist organization is long overdue.

Finally, the Trump administration should lead the international community to first bring an end to the highly flawed appeasement policy with Iran. This will lead to the world standing alongside the Iranian people and their organized opposition movement, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in bringing about true change in order to establish freedom, democracy and a non-nuclear Iran peacefully coexisting with all its neighboring countries.

Is Iran expanding its spying and lobbying efforts?

The Iranian intelligence minister’s recent remarks, pertaining to Tehran overseeing a spy/lobby network in important capitals across the world, is cause for concern. Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s spy chief, bragged about the regime’s capability to run a lobby group in Washington with the aim of promoting Tehran’s hardline agenda.

According to Alavi, Iranian dual citizens in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have maintained their loyalty to the “Islamic revolution,” the mullahs’ hallmark motto ever since 1979, through which they have wreaked havoc across the region and beyond.

A “lobby group for the Islamic Republic of Iran” is actively bolstering Tehran’s status in the international stage and helping to sell and legitimize its nuclear ambitions as just causes to the globe, Alavi claimed

The head of Iran’s intelligence apparatus did not bother to name the specific lobby entity. One certain group, however, the National Iranian American Council, has been the target of major criticism in the past several months, with accusations of the group lobbying on Tehran’s behalf. Various dissident organizations are demanding the Trump administration to launch an official probe digging into NIAC’s history and nature of its current events.

Congress has also been petitioned to investigate ties between Iran and the NIAC, and the latter’s active drive to promote a pro-Tehran agenda in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chair the foreign affairs committees in each chamber of Congress, have received specific letters signaling the importance of urgent action in this regard.

NIAC was once again under the spotlight this January for its actions of presenting a positive image of the Iran nuclear deal and advocating a pro-diplomatic approach with Tehran. The media reported extensively on how two senior Iranian regime supporters, former Iranian nuclear diplomat Hossein Mousavian and NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi, enjoyed access to the Obama White House on more than 30 occasions, conducting meetings with senior administration officials.

Such meetings took place at critical points of the Obama administration’s decision-making process and engagement with Iran in their effort to push forward the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Alavi’s recent remarks are source for serious concern as entities advocating Iran’s agenda in the American capital are obliged by the Foreign Agents Registration Act to disclose the nature of their work. This even includes conditions where the relationship does not involve money exchanges, at least not through legal and opaque channels.

A legitimate question now hovers over the possibility of any ties between the groups referred to by Iran’s intelligence minister and the Islamic Republic’s positions on foreign policy.

Another just query circles around the many visits Parsi has made to the White House and the State Department during former President Obama‘s tenure, and can they be attributed to what the Iranian intelligence minister describes as lobbying for Tehran.

Any group seen to be advocating the promotion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and caring less about the Iranian people’s human rights and the regime’s crackdown, should be subject of suspicion.

For years Iran has been known to forward an official plot of boosting relations with groups promoting anti-war and pro-regime policies in the West. Improving contacts with Iranian dual nationals living in the West has been high on Tehran’s agenda on this matter.

One major task of this network has been discrediting those opposing the regime in Tehran and taking measures against any efforts voicing support for Iran regime change. The main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its most important member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been the constant target of smear campaigns launched and orchestrated by the Iranian regime and NIAC.

Their nightmare involves Washington discussing possibilities with Iranian opposition groups, and upscaling the effort into direct cooperation aimed at further sanctions and ultimately regime change.

Originally published in Washington Examiner

Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner and an Iranian human rights activist.

Iran regime jails may force woman to commit suicide

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving five years in prison in Tehran (Picture: Change.org)

A British-Iranian mother is currently jailed by the mullahs’ regime in Iran and her family is seriously concerned about both her deteriorating health and the risk of her committing suicide.

37-year-old Nazanin Zaghar Ratcliffe lived in northwest London and was sentenced by Iran’s so-called judiciary system to two years behind bars back in May. While attempting to board a flight returning to the UK back in April she was suddenly arrested by the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and even separated from Gabriella, her two-year old daughter. The IRGC has gone as far as confiscating Gabriella’s British passport, making her unable to leave Iran.

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