ANALYSIS: Trump’s new policy: Solidarity with Iran’s people

US President Donald Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal on Friday and referred the case to Congress. It remains to be seen what measures await Tehran, especially considering the highly intensive quarrel that brought us where we are today.

What is certain, however, is that this marks a major US policy shift vis-à-vis Iran, having impact across the flashpoint Middle East.

Ever since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower back in the 1950s and since the CIA-backed the 1953 coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Washington’s policies have either directly or indirectly supported the ruling regimes in Iran and against the Iranian people’s better interests.

Trump, however, has for the second time in less than a month stated his solidarity with the Iranian people. Iran has violated the very spirit of the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the entire accord is against US national security interests, according to Trump.

The Arab world reacted positively, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain promptly supporting the US landmark decision.

This is in line with April’s Riyadh conference where Trump called on the Islamic world to recognize the threat of Iran’s meddling in their countries and take the necessary action. Considering the importance of the Middle East for Iran, rest assured Tehran is receiving these messages loud and clear.

President Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

Opposition voice

The Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), known for its credibility after blowing the whistle on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions back in 2002, also welcomed Trump’s strategic policy shift.

The new US policy condemning flagrant human rights violations in Iran and “to deny the Iranian regime and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) funding for its malign activities,” and opposing “IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people,” are very necessary, according to NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

Trump’s acknowledgment that under Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the regime “oppresses its people, abuses their rights” and “exports violence, destabilizes its neighbors, and sponsors terrorism abroad,” is a recognition of the Iranian regime’s illegitimacy, she added.

The Trump administration has executed a widespread strategic alteration, ending years of appeasement and rapprochement that provided Tehran with unjustified concessions. This includes the 1997 designation of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) at the Iranian regime’s behest. Following a 15-year legal battle the PMOI successfully obtained a US federal court ruling ordering the Obama administration to end its unjust terrorist designation.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

Undiplomatic, to say the least

Iran’s lobbies and appeasement advocates have gone the limits to restrain the Trump administration from adopting fierce measures against Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words depicted the devastating blow felt by the regime in its entirety, resorting to completely unorthodox and undiplomatic remarks for a president.

“Trump’s speech consisted of nothing but vulgar language, allegations and bogus remarks,” Rouhani saidin an unorthodox reply. “Trump apparently doesn’t know the JCPOA is not a bilateral document to act however he wishes,” he added. “…the IRGC is not just a military unit, but the Guards are in the hearts of [the Iranian] people,” he also said in a speech at a government cabinet meeting, ending any notion of being a so-call

Enter a capTrump ordered the Treasury Department to designate and fully sanction Iran’s IRGC in its entirety based on Executive Order 13224. (File photo: AP)

Technical Input

Trump ordered the Treasury Department to “fully sanction” the IRGC for its support of terrorism. There can be a debate about the exact meaning of this measure. Does this place the IRGC under sanctions? Is this entity now considered a terrorist organization? What is the meaning of “designating” an entity as a terrorist body?

In the United States there is a law and an executive order covering terrorism. All organizations designated as terrorist organizations are blacklisted as such based on this law and/or executive order.

The legislation was adopted by Congress back in 1996, based on which the State Department, in coordination with the Treasury Department, were provided the authority to designate foreign organizations as terrorist entities, also known as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).

In 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, former US president George Bush issued Executive Order 13224, providing the State and Treasury departments the necessary authority to accelerate the process of designating, sanctioning and restricting such bodies as “foreign terrorist organization” or a “global terrorist.” The authority provided in a presidential executive order is equal to that of a congressional legislature.

On Friday, Trump ordered the Treasury Department to designate and fully sanction Iran’s IRGC in its entirety based on Executive Order 13224. Generally, these blacklists impose financial restrictions on the designated individuals or entities.

There are slight differences the two State and Treasury blacklists, as the main aspects are very similar, including confiscating all assets of the designated individual or organization, and placing them under the authority of the US judiciary. The State Department’s FTO list also imposes immigration restrictions.

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)

The path forward

The “Corker-Cardin” bill overseeing the JCPOA for Washington provides Congress 60 days to decide the next step following Trump’s announcement on Friday, indicating the Iran nuclear deal is against U.S. national security interests. Trump has called on Congress to intensify this legislation to include certain additional restrictions.

Trump in fact emphasized if existing loopholes in the accord are not resolved, as president he enjoys the authority to single handedly revoke the agreement in its entirety.

This development goes far beyond designating the IRGC and has a more drastic impact than merely decertifying the JCPOA. The Trump administration has announced a completely new policy.

White House fact sheet released prior to Trump’s speech specifically explains how a certain US policy pursued for 15 years vis-à-vis Iran and the Middle East was wrong, and how this administration has decided to no longer repeat those mistakes.

The Iran engagement policy was very effective and acted as a significant pillar in safeguarding and maintaining the Iranian regime in power. That is exactly why from the very day Tehran has sensed a major Washington policy change, all of Iran’s lobbies and advocates are going to the limits to prevent this now realized transition.

Iran had resorted to a variety of threats, even to take military action against US forces in the region, in the case of the IRGC being designated as a terrorist organization.

Now that the entire IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization, we are seeing voices against this development, and Iranian lobbyists attempting to downgrade this turn of events, claiming it is merely sanctions and far different from a terrorist designation.

The truth is that a policy that provided crucial support for Tehran through these years is witnessing major changes. This is rendering enormous concerns in Tehran. What needs comprehending is the scope of Trump’s major policy transition.

As he emphasized, “In this effort we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest suffering victims: Its own people.”

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ANALYSIS: Certified or decertified, Iran faces tough road ahead

All eyes are on US President Donald Trump and his upcoming Iran speech later this week to clarify his decision to certify or decertify Tehran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to curb the regime’s controversial atomic drive.

This has Iran’s regime on its toes, as senior elite in Tehran understand fully how the US can lead the international community in adopting strong measures against its broad scope of malign activities. Expected to be addressed is also a wide range of concerns over Iran’s dangerous policies in relation to its ballistic missile advances, meddling in Middle East states and supporting terrorist proxy groups as explained in a new video.

‘Iran’s unacceptable behavior’

Iran’s rogue behavior, currently imposing its influence on four major regional capitals of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa, are the result of the Obama administration’s “overly lenient foreign policy, which sought to promote America’s priorities through consensus, rather than through the frank display of power,” as put by a recent The New Yorker piece.

“Lifting the sanctions as required under the terms of the JCPOA has enabled Iran’s unacceptable behavior,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a late September meeting with his P5+1 counterparts and Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Trump administration is also deeply concerned over Iran’s proxies mining the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait waterway, aiming its indigenous missiles from Yemen towards cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and from southern Lebanon towards Israel. This is Tehran in action with the objective of taking advantage of the destruction left behind by ISIS across the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump told reporters before a Thursday evening meeting with senior military leaders at the White House. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he said. “They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

Trump has put Iran “on notice” over charges that Tehran violated a nuclear deal with the West by test-firing a ballistic missile. (Reuters)

Joint effort

Parallel to the White House there are voices on Capitol Hill advocating the new approach weighed by the administration.

“The president should decline to certify, not primarily on grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalog of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States, as well as the deal’s inherent weakness,” Senator Tom Cotton said last week at a speech in the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Trump administration seeks to place necessary focus on Iran’s illicit Middle East ambitions and actions, talks are also ongoing as we speak over how to amend the JCPOA’s restrictions.

“Sunset clauses,” Iran’s ballistic missile development and testing, and an inspections regime lacking the bite to gain necessary access into the regime’s controversial military sites. Under the current framework Iran can easily conduct nuclear weapons research and development in military sites and claim such locations do not fall under the JCPOA jurisdiction.

While it is expected of Trump to decertify Iran, he most likely will not go the distance to completely pull America out of the nuclear agreement. Obama refused to send the JCPOA to Congress for discussion and approval. Trump, however, seems set to place the decision to impose further sanctions on Iran upon the shoulders of US lawmakers.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

More than ‘one piece’

The new mentality sought by Washington is to address all of Iran’s belligerence and not allow its nuclear program and the JCPOA devour all of the international community’s attention.

The new US response, including blacklisting Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards, to be announced by Trump is said to cover missile tests, support for terrorism and proxy groups checkered across the Middle East, hopefully human rights violations at home, and cyberattacks.

Iran has a history of resorting to such measures, including targeting Saudi oil interests. Raising the stakes for Iran, Trump described a meeting with his top military brass on Thursday evening as “the calm before the storm.” Neither the US President nor the White House provided further details, yet rest assured Tehran received the message.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. (AFP)

Fear renders contradiction

Sensing an increasingly escalating tone from Washington, Tehran signaled its first sign of fear by expressing readiness to discuss its ballistic missile program, according to Reuters. And yet less than 24 hours later, Iranian officials said no offers were made to negotiate such restrictions.

“Iran regards defensive missile programs as its absolute right and will definitely continue them within the framework of its defensive, conventional and specified plans and strategies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according state media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also felt the need to make remarks to save face before the regime’s already depleting social base. “In the nuclear negotiations and agreement we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible. No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else,” Rouhani said at a recent Tehran University ceremony, according to state media.

Of course, we all remember how prior to the JCPOA signing in 2015 senior Iranian officials went the limits in describing any “retreat” regarding their nuclear program as a “red line.” To make a long story short, Tehran is comprehending how the times are changing at a high velocity, endangering its domestic, regional and international interests. And unlike the Obama years, its actions will not go unanswered.

Senator Cotton made this crystal clear at his speech: “Congress and the President, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

Is Regime Change Truly The Correct Iran Policy?

Following the recertification of Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal aimed at curbing its controversial nuclear program, there is quite a stir over the Trump administration possibly adopting a regime change policy in the face of Tehran’s belligerence.

There are those who favor such a trajectory, while Iran lobbyists and apologists have promptly argued otherwise, saying war should not be an option and citing ongoing campaigns in countries across the region to back their opinions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s strong position of supporting regime change in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent shockwaves in Tehran and beyond.

“Our policy towards Iran is to push back on (its regional) hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government,” he said.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, known for his “Iran, Iran, Iran” description of the source of Middle East dilemmas, followed suit.

“Until the Iranian people can get rid of this theocracy, these guys who think they can tell the people even which candidates they get a choice of. It’s going to be very, very difficult,” Mattis said in a special interview.

It is broadly assumed that the diplomatic pressure and sanctions initiative embarked upon by the White House and Congress are aimed at serving a regime change objective in Iran. The next necessary step would be to make this policy crystal clear to Tehran and all relevant parties.

Such strong statements made by Tillerson and Mattis dig deep into the Iran dossier and realize one stark, and very positive, difference between Iran and its neighbors. In contrast to others, the Iran regime change enterprise enjoys a long-term plan presented by a grass-rooted opposition movement, symbolized in the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Unfortunately, the campaigns launched in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and even Syria, after former US president Barack Obama said the dictator Bashar Assad must go, all lacked this very necessary element, and the world remains witness in horror of the drastic consequences. Millions left killed and injured, scores more displaced, trillions of dollars literally wasted and entire cities and countries leveled. And the only benefactor has been the mullahs’ regime…, being an entirely different topic of discussion.

Tehran lobbyists stationed in Washington are heard saying Iran also lacks any such organized opposition capable of delivering anything different from what we have witnessed in other countries. For years they have been inaccurately mischaracterizing the NCRI as lacking adequate organization, support and resources.

To spare time, one needs only refer to this coalition’s recent July 1st convention in Paris, held annually, for a glimpse of its social base and international backing. Over 100,000 members of the Iranian Diaspora, joined by hundreds of international dignitaries from all walks of life representing a conglomerate of political trends, shows how the NCRI, and its President Maryam Rajavi, have garnered growing support both inside Iran and abroad to bring about regime change and establish freedom and democracy in their homeland.

Advocates of the appeasement approach vis-à-vis Iran will further continue quarreling over how the West must continue its effort of seeking internal Iranian elements of moderation.

Ever since the 1980s a slate of senior Iranian regime officials, including former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, and now Hassan Rouhani have been naively dubbed as “moderates” or “reformists.”

What deserves comprehension after 35 years of deception is the fact that Iran’s “moderate/reformist” pretext has long surpassed its expiration date. While the Iranian people are yearning for change, there is no such appetite, capacity or potential in Tehran’s ruling mullahs’ apparatus.

  • Mousavi supported the regime’s unnecessary continuation of the war against Iraq, devastating the lives of millions,
  • Rafsanjani supervised a domestic cleansing of dissident voices, and a string of assassinations and terrorist plots abroad,
  • Khatami presided over the 1999 student uprising crackdown and advanced Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons drive,
  • and Rouhani’s first term as president rendered the execution of over 3,000 individuals, and the trend continues as we speak with over 100 executions in July alone. Rouhani has also blessed a dangerous spike in ballistic missile advancements by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

As a result, any form of moderation or reform is nothing but a hoax misused by Tehran to continue misleading and deceiving the international community, while threatening the rise of hardliners if the likes of Rouhani are deserted.

Returning to the decidedly significant statements made by Tillerson and Mattis, it is high time such game-changing rhetoric receives deserved backing from President Donald Trump himself.

Iran must feel the heat from Washington’s policies, especially as Tehran prolongs its Middle East belligerence plaguing Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, and endures its harassing of the US Navy in Persian Gulf waters.

America must take the lead in facing Iran over its fundamentalist nature both inside the country and abroad. The Trump administration should begin architecting an international coalition to back the NCRI’s drive for regime change and peaceful democratization of Iran.

After four decades of utter atrocities, it is the Iranian people’s right to live in peace and prosperity.

ANALYSIS: How to tackle Iran’s Middle East bellicosity

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

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

A history of devastation

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

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

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

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

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

Troubling activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive steps forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nuclear deal

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

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

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

Any trade with Tehran should hinge on:

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

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

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

Blueprinting the Right Iran Policy

very reluctant US President Donald Trump recently gave the green light for the State Department to recertify Iran as complying with a nuclear agreement signed between international community representatives and Tehran two years ago.

This measure has hurled ongoing debates, launching a faceoff amongst those who consider the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a liability and seek an immediate exit, and those who argue the world simply can’t live without it.

While there are also calls for renegotiating the deal or implementing the JCPOA to its exact meaning, as mentioned recently by senior US officials such as inspecting Iran’s military sites, there is another option before the Trump White House: supporting the Iranian people and calls for regime change.

What needs understanding is that Trump’s agenda of adopting a firm stance on Iran should not be minimized on the JCPOA. This would play into Iran’s hand, while Tehran continues its belligerence elsewhere.

The Trump administration has before it an opportunity to adopt meaningful leverage on Iran.

We must give credit to the Obama administration for establishing an international coalition and initially ramping up sanctions against Iran. This is what brought Tehran to the negotiating table, as economic strains began reaching the point of no return.

Obama’s mistakes afterwards were treacherous, however, succumbing to Iran’s demands. Tehran came to believe Obama sought a foreign policy legacy at all costs, and took full advantage. Whereas if the US led the international community in pressuring the mullahs, Tehran would have given in to all demands.

Never forget how despite all his saber-rattling remarks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the nuclear agreement approved in the regime’s parliament in 20 minutes.

Yet to those who believe continuing with the JCPOA as it is, a look back at the past two years is necessary. Iran has used the deal’s resulting in reportedly up to a $150 billion windfall to expand its Middle East hegemony. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon are under substantial Tehran influence, leaving the region heavily battered more than ever before.

To add insult to injury, the JCPOA’s sunset articles provide Iran the option of patiently awaiting until they can produce all that is necessary for a nuclear weapon.

Iran is already cheating the nuclear deal due to Obama’s desperate positions in his final years. Tehran exceeded its heavy water production cap. Heavy water is the fundamental ingredient in a plutonium bomb. Iran has been testing more advanced centrifuges, again undermining JCPOA limits. According to German intelligence services Iran has been illicitly procuring highly sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile technology in Germany. Tehran has also exceeded its uranium enrichment cap, another major non-compliance factor.

The deal left the Trump administration little to work with, and no serious building block to build pressure on Tehran.

As a result, abandoning the deal allows Iran make a dash for nuclear weapons capability and leaves the US to blame. In such a scenario, it would most likely take more time for Washington to form an international coalition necessary to re-impose necessary measures.

The Obama approach encouraged the Europeans and other parties to rush to the Iranian market. This effectively has been providing further billions to the notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as this entity controls more than 40% of Iran’s economy. Such a disastrous dogma has also left the Trump administration reluctant, or even unable, to fully overhaul Washington’s comprehensive Iran policy and hold Tehran accountable.

In its first six months the Trump administration slapped three different rounds of sanctions, mostly through the Treasury Department, in response to Iran’s ballistic missile test launches, support for terrorism and regional extremism, and egregious human rights violations. While such action is necessary after all the cost-free concessions provided by Team Obama, they fail in forcing Iran to think twice about its measures. However, there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Congress sent a very powerful message to Tehran recently through the House 419-3 and Senate 98-2 votes, slamming an unprecedented level of sanctions and restrictions on Iran. This bill experienced its share of riddles and obstacles, as reservations and alterations have continuously hovered over the Russia and North Korea sections. The Iran chapter, however, continuously enjoyed vast bipartisan support. And Tehran is receiving the message loud clear.

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Keyhan daily in Iran, known to be the Supreme Leader’s mouthpiece, described the new bill as the “mother of all sanctions.”

While long overdue, and despite the fact that the IRGC should officially be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department, the Guards are now blacklisted amongst the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT).  “The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), not just the IRGC Quds Force, is responsible for implementing Iran’s international program of destabilizing activities, support for acts of international terrorism and ballistic missiles,” the text reads in part.

Drastic measures will be implemented following Trump’s signature: all US-based assets and property associated to any individual or entity linked to the IRGC will be seized and frozen. No US individual or entity is permitted to any affiliation, including financial, business or other services, with any individual associated by any means to the IRGC. With all IRGC-affiliated individuals and entities placed under sanctions, this move will have a paralyzing effect for Iran’s belligerent efforts. The IRGC Khatam al-Anbiya conglomerate, currently involved in cooperation with over 2,500 companies, will be targeted severely. A domino effect will launch as sanctions target all related firms. Secondary banking sanctions against the IRGC will ban any and all financial institutions from delivering direct and/or indirect banking services to any individual or entity linked to the IRGC.

These sanctions should be imposed immediately to act as a launching pad for the Trump White House to take the next necessary steps. Iran’s footprints in Syria and Iraq have resulted in utter death and destruction. Tehran’s lethal influence in the Levant and Mesopotamia must be brought to an end. Moving on, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have both spoken of regime change as a forward-looking approach when it comes to Iran.

Ambassador John Bolton, former US envoy to the United Nations, said it most clearly at a recent Iranian opposition rally in Paris: “The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday,” come February 2019.

Blacklisting of Iran’s Terrorists Long Overdue

US President Donald Trump sent a very strong message in his ordering of a volley of cruise missiles targeting an airbase of Bashar Assad’s military in Syria. While there are many parties involved in the Levant mayhem, the main target of this message was the regime in Iran, as it has been Assad’s most crucial ally during the past six years of war.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been stationed in Syria from early on, buttressing Assad’s regime years before Russia began its campaign of supporting the regime in Damascus.

Parallel to its meddling throughout the Middle East and even beyond, the IRGC has also spearheaded the mullahs’ deadly crackdown of the Iranian people in their endless pursuit of freedom, democracy and due civil liberties.

For the second time during the Trump administration, the State Department has reportedly decided to certify that Iran is complying…

The IRGC began its foreign meddling from the very early days of the mullahs’ rule in Iran. Seeds were planted in Lebanon by grouping a variety of Shiite terrorist groups under one leadership, known as the Lebanese Hezbollah. The IRGC was, and is today, behind financing, training, arming and directing all Hezbollah activities.

In October 1983, a Hezbollah suicide bomber guided a heavy truck into a US Marine barracks in Beirut and staged a massive blast that took the lives of 241 American servicemen. In response, the Reagan administration in 1984 designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. This classification stands ground as we speak.

The Quds Force, known as the spear of the IRGC’s international efforts, was also blacklisted in 2007 by the Bush White House. The Quds Force played a major role in launching proxy groups in Iraq targeting American and other coalition forces.

Today, Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani has become a critical figure for the Iranian regime, resembling the face of Iran’s reach abroad. He is known to lead Iran’s efforts in Iraq and Syria, especially, in a campaign aimed at fortifying Tehran’s interests. The Quds Force is specifically fueling sectarian mentalities, pinning Shiites against Sunnis and launching the most horrific massacres amongst peoples who were living in peace alongside each other for centuries.

Iran’s terrorism reach expanded far beyond the Middle East, including the September 1992 Mykonos restaurant assassination of dissidents in Berlin and the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

Domestically, the IRGC is also the main entity enforcing the mullahs’ crackdown on a restive society, described as a powder keg, demanding true freedoms, civil liberties and to live under an actual democracy.

July 8th marked the passage of 18 years from the 1999 student uprising in Iran that rocked the very pillars of the mullahs’ rule. Orders were issued to the IRGC paramilitary Bassij thugs to pour into the streets and attack the protesting college students. Many were killed, thousands injured, scores more arrested and tortured in prisons. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, then secretariat of the Supreme National Security Council, personally ordered the crackdown.

Today, the same oppressive machine is behind a massive execution spree across the country. Rouhani’s first term as president was riddled with over 3,000 executions. 238 executions have been registered in the first six months of 2017. This period has witnessed 12 public executions, including seven women and three individuals arrested as juveniles at the time of their alleged crimes.

129 of these executions have been based on drug charges and it is worth noting that 5,000 inmates are currently on death row under similar circumstances. These executions are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In the second half of 2017, we will most likely and unfortunately witness a more horrendous wave of executions. The first five days of July already bore witness to 22 executions, two being in public.

The IRGC’s role in domestic crackdown dates back to the very early days of the mullahs’ foundation. The most horrific episode can be described as the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners. Victims consisted mostly of members and supporters of Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

To this end it is high time for US, European Union, United Nations and all Middle East and Islamic countries to designate the IRGC based on its true characteristic: a terrorist organization.

The IRGC is a proven threat to global security and stages ruthless attacks against Iranians inside the country. As a result, the terrorist designation of this entity is long overdue.

Make Iran Pay a Price for Regional Meddling

There is no doubt that the Middle East is in turmoil like never before. And this is highly due to the disastrous engagement/lead-from-behind policy adopted by the Obama administration, despite its claim it sought to lessen tensions.

Iran is taking advantage by expanding its sphere of influence through proxy groups in Iraq, propping the Assad regime in Syria by dispatching a conglomerate of militia shock troops and fueling the Yemen war by providing arms, money and logistical support to the Houthis. However, the days of Iran’s advances are numbered.

As the Trump administration continues to place its crosshairs on ISIS in Syria, Tehran is busy in a land-grab campaign, already thinking about the post-ISIS Levant. Iran has also through the years ordered its offspring, Lebanese Hezbollah, to dispatch thousands of its members to Syria.

Washington must come to understand more action is needed against Iran’s moves in Syria. Tehran is also seeking to raise the stakes for the US in the all-important region of southeastern Syria. A series of incidents all clearly indicate the escalating tensions on the ground and in the skies:

—         US fighter jets targeting Iran-backed militias nearing a base of America-backed forces in al-Tanf on the Syria-Iraq border,

—         US warplanes shooting down two Iranian-made drones and a Syrian Sukho-22 jet targeting allied Kurdish forces on the ground,

—        Iran launching medium-range ballistic missiles from its soil to Deir Ezzur in eastern Syria.

The most recent White House warning to Assad not to resort to a chemical attack raised the temperature even higher. It is obvious Assad would need permission from Iran and Russia for such a move. Thus Washington was sending an “on notice” message to Damascus, Tehran and Moscow.

Iran’s objective is clear: establishing a land corridor passing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and reaching the Mediterranean shores. On both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, Tehran has militia proxies seeking to push ISIS out of the region and prevent any US-backed forces, be it the Kurds and Sunni Arabs advancing upon Raqqa, or the Free Syrian Army in the southeast, from gaining any further foothold in Syria after the fall of ISIS.

Iran seeks full control over the Syria-Iraq-Jordan borders and will not tolerate any US presence in the area. Iran has also ordered Hezbollah to stretch its activities to Daraa in southern Syria close to the Israeli border.

While the Trump administration has taken unprecedented military action to protect its interests, White House statements explaining US-led coalition forces do “not seek to fight” Iran-backed forces will be viewed by Tehran as a window of opportunity to continue their belligerence in a highly-hostile flashpoint area.

And while we are here, Russia declaring a freeze on deconfliction agreements with the US is nothing but a bluff considering the fact that Moscow has already accomplished more than its expectations in Syria: fortifying a naval and air base, and establishing a major foothold in the Middle East after decades of absence.

It is high time for Washington to begin defining and taking steps in the direction of its broader post-ISIS Middle East policy. It is imperative to understand Iran’s threats will only further increase and the end of ISIS will not mean the end of violence or Tehran’s destructive meddling.

Iran’s actions in Iraq after 2003 should provide a very disturbing vision. Tehran dispatched its mullahs and flooded the country with money to launch “cultural centers.” This was the beginning of Iran spreading its tentacles and injecting its disparaging mentality to fuel sectarian wars that continue to haunt Iraq and wreak havoc in the country.

Shiite militias have been harassing the Sunni minority for over a decade as Tehran seeks to change the complete social fabric of Mesopotamia. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as the Hashid al-Sha’bi in Arabic, are a replica of the mullahs’ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Iran’s influence in Iraq has reached the point of this entity being legalized by the Iraqi Parliament.

As ISIS routed the classic Iraqi army thanks to the disastrous policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran began justifying PMF presence in battles for Falluja, Ramadi, Salahaddin, Tikrit and now Mosul.

Firstly, it is a dire necessity for the US and its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and all Gulf Cooperation Council states, to quickly remedy the Qatar crisis and prevent Iran from taking advantage of such a rift.

Secondly, as ISIS is being eradicated, all attention must be focused on Iran and its devastating meddling in the region. One very imperative measure to curb Iran’s influence and bring an end to its reach across the region is for the US, European Union and Arab nations to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Finally, Sunni Arab states should be involved in rebuilding the devastated lands of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to prevent Iran from again taking advantage of such an initiative for its deceptive objectives.

Iran must come to learn that the days of meddling in the region without paying the price are over.

Iran’s Road Ahead Signals International Isolation

With the presidential election set aside, what is the road ahead for Iran, domestically and abroad? Is Iran seeking to establish relations with the international community, especially the United States? Is this regime interested in engaging the world, and is this why President Hassan Rouhani was granted a second term?

“There are those who are concerned a state and its people should have global relations, and I completely agree,” said Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on May 27th.

“Iran has no restrictions in cooperating with large US oil companies,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bizhan Namdar Zangane to reporters on the sidelines of a recent OPEC meeting.

Many may consider such words as a new window of opportunity in Iran, falling for the same deceptive tactics used by this regime for nearly four decades. We should not go down this path and play into Iran’s hands. Those familiar with the true nature of this regime understand these are signals of weakness, desperation, fear and begging.

US President Donald Trump recently ended a 9 day foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe. Time and again, in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Brussels and Italy he resorted to strong remarks against Iran, accusing it of terrorism and evil, highlighting the regime’s destabilizing role, its use of militias and meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, flagrant human rights violations and the fact that the Iranian people are the main victims of this regime. Trump also highlighted how the US intends to work with all nations in the region against Tehran’s meddling.

And in response, Khamenei delivered four speeches with his fledgling camp of followers expecting strong remarks from their “Death to America” flag-holder.

Yet with Obama gone and a far different US president in the White House, Khamenei has not dared resort to his old practices. Again, another sign of weakness. His silence is not merely a reflection of Trump’s visit to the region, but a canvas of the new balance of power in the Middle East and beyond as the new American leader is overhauling previous foreign policy doctrines after failing to deliver.

Khamenei has every right to be concerned. The US Treasury Department has been busy issuing three new rounds of sanctions and various blueprints are also discussed in Congress, rendering a number of bills. Interestingly, Khamenei has refused to say a word in response, not even accusing the US of failing to fulfill its nuclear deal.

Furthermore, the new US sanctions may have only been imposed on 40 or 50 companies, and there are voices heard describing such measures as merely kicking the can down the road. Yet there is significance in the details:

  • These sanctions have broadened the spectrum beyond Iran’s ballistic missile program and targeted the regime’s human rights violations. This includes sanctioning the Prisons Organization and blacklisting Sohram Suleimani, the brother of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani. For those familiar with this regime, the human rights dossier is this regime’s Achilles heel.
  • The IRGC is being specifically targeted, parallel to its affiliated companies, and paving the path for its ultimate blacklisting.
  • Congress has begun focusing on non-nuclear sanctions on Iran. With the Obama obstacle set aside, there is real perspective of such plans being adopted.

This includes the very sensitive 1988 massacre dossier in Iran where the mullahs sent over 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows in the span of a single summer. The House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul introduced such an initiative, enjoying co-sponsorship of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Rules Committee Chair Rep. Peter Sessions.

The House resolution “condemns the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the 1988 massacre of political prisoners and [calls] for justice for the victims.”

Such measures become so utterly significant when they enjoy bipartisan support, as seen in the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adopted with 18 of 21 votes in favor. This bill targets Iran’s ballistic missile program, terrorism, human rights and the IRGC. If passed by the Senate the bill obligates the US government to impose new sanctions against active individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Another similar measure directly targets the IRGC and if adopted this will render the first sanctions directly targeting this entity. The only previous such measure dates back to 2007 when the US blacklisted the IRGC Quds Force.

The truth is Iran’s election façade has come to an end with Khamenei failing to unify his regime. The entire regime apparatus suffered a blow, as rifts are rampaging across the board amongst its ranks and file. Iran is also faced with a new international coalition and the most noteworthy regional isolation.

There are no signs of change as in early May, Khamenei admitted, “a change of behavior is no different from regime change.”

All this is recipe for disaster as Tehran faces a very difficult road ahead. This is also considered a window of opportunity for the Iranian people to finally enjoy the long overdue support of the international community in their quest for freedom and democracy.

Iran’s Road Ahead Signals International Isolation

With the presidential election set aside, what is the road ahead for Iran, domestically and abroad? Is Iran seeking to establish relations with the international community, especially the United States? Is this regime interested in engaging the world, and is this why President Hassan Rouhani was granted a second term?

“There are those who are concerned a state and its people should have global relations, and I completely agree,” said Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on May 27th.

“Iran has no restrictions in cooperating with large US oil companies,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bizhan Namdar Zangane to reporters on the sidelines of a recent OPEC meeting.

Many may consider such words as a new window of opportunity in Iran, falling for the same deceptive tactics used by this regime for nearly four decades. We should not go down this path and play into Iran’s hands. Those familiar with the true nature of this regime understand these are signals of weakness, desperation, fear and begging.

US President Donald Trump recently ended a 9 day foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe. Time and again, in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Brussels and Italy he resorted to strong remarks against Iran, accusing it of terrorism and evil, highlighting the regime’s destabilizing role, its use of militias and meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, flagrant human rights violations and the fact that the Iranian people are the main victims of this regime. Trump also highlighted how the US intends to work with all nations in the region against Tehran’s meddling.

And in response, Khamenei delivered four speeches with his fledgling camp of followers expecting strong remarks from their “Death to America” flag-holder.

Yet with Obama gone and a far different US president in the White House, Khamenei has not dared resort to his old practices. Again, another sign of weakness. His silence is not merely a reflection of Trump’s visit to the region, but a canvas of the new balance of power in the Middle East and beyond as the new American leader is overhauling previous foreign policy doctrines after failing to deliver.

Khamenei has every right to be concerned. The US Treasury Department has been busy issuing three new rounds of sanctions and various blueprints are also discussed in Congress, rendering a number of bills. Interestingly, Khamenei has refused to say a word in response, not even accusing the US of failing to fulfill its nuclear deal.

960x0 (2)
(FILES) In a file picture dated 03 April 2006, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard special forces participate in military manoeuvers at an undisclosed location near the Gulf. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, set to be the target of unilateral US sanctions, is a fiercely committed force whose influence has extended beyond the military into politics and the economy. AFP PHOTO/FARS NEWS/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Furthermore, the new US sanctions may have only been imposed on 40 or 50 companies, and there are voices heard describing such measures as merely kicking the can down the road. Yet there is significance in the details:

  • These sanctions have broadened the spectrum beyond Iran’s ballistic missile program and targeted the regime’s human rights violations. This includes sanctioning the Prisons Organization and blacklisting Sohram Suleimani, the brother of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani. For those familiar with this regime, the human rights dossier is this regime’s Achilles heel.
  • The IRGC is being specifically targeted, parallel to its affiliated companies, and paving the path for its ultimate blacklisting.
  • Congress has begun focusing on non-nuclear sanctions on Iran. With the Obama obstacle set aside, there is real perspective of such plans being adopted.

This includes the very sensitive 1988 massacre dossier in Iran where the mullahs sent over 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows in the span of a single summer. The House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul introduced such an initiative, enjoying co-sponsorship of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Rules Committee Chair Rep. Peter Sessions.

The House resolution “condemns the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the 1988 massacre of political prisoners and [calls] for justice for the victims.”

Such measures become so utterly significant when they enjoy bipartisan support, as seen in the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adopted with 18 of 21 votes in favor. This bill targets Iran’s ballistic missile program, terrorism, human rights and the IRGC. If passed by the Senate the bill obligates the US government to impose new sanctions against active individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Another similar measure directly targets the IRGC and if adopted this will render the first sanctions directly targeting this entity. The only previous such measure dates back to 2007 when the US blacklisted the IRGC Quds Force.

The truth is Iran’s election façade has come to an end with Khamenei failing to unify his regime. The entire regime apparatus suffered a blow, as rifts are rampaging across the board amongst its ranks and file. Iran is also faced with a new international coalition and the most noteworthy regional isolation.

There are no signs of change as in early May, Khamenei admitted, “a change of behavior is no different from regime change.”

All this is recipe for disaster as Tehran faces a very difficult road ahead. This is also considered a window of opportunity for the Iranian people to finally enjoy the long overdue support of the international community in their quest for 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.