Archive for the ‘Trump and Iran’ category

Facing Trump Administration, Iran Shows Fear And Military Self-Restraint, Halts Provocations, Threats, And Incitement – While Boosting Morale At Home And Delegating The Bulk Of Conflict To Its Proxies

March 20, 2017

Facing Trump Administration, Iran Shows Fear And Military Self-Restraint, Halts Provocations, Threats, And Incitement – While Boosting Morale At Home And Delegating The Bulk Of Conflict To Its Proxies, MEMRIA. Savyon and Yigal Carmon* March 20, 2017

Introduction

Since the establishment of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which is known to be against Iran’s revolutionary regime, Iran has faced a new reality. On the one hand, the U.S. is acting to organize the Gulf countries and Arab countries into an arrangement that Arab media have dubbed an “Arab NATO” which is aimed against Iran. On the other hand, Iran senses that despite the Iran-Russia cooperation in recent years and in various areas, Russia is abandoning it for its other vital interests, such as an understanding with the U.S. in order to advance the lifting of the sanctions against it, and an understanding with Turkey as its top regional partner.[1]

These developments have given rise in Tehran to a sense that it is besieged and under an emerging existential threat, in light of the crystallization of a comprehensive U.S.-Russia-Arab (including Israel) front against the Iranian revolutionary regime.

This report will review the overall Iranian reaction to this new situation:

The Iranian Response To The New Developments

Iran’s response to these new developments is characterized by fear of U.S. activity against its regime, as can be seen in several areas:

1. Considerable military restraint and a halt to long-range missile tests, in response to the warning by President Trump: Following Iran’s failed January 29, 2017 launch of its long-range Khorramshahr missile, the Trump administration announced that Iran was being “put on notice.” At that time, Iran had been making preparations to launch yet another long-range missile, and had made the practical arrangements for doing so; the launch was cancelled following the U.S. warning. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh complained, on March 9, that Iran had been so firmly deterred that it is even refraining from using a missile to launch a satellite into orbit: “We have a missile for non-military purposes for launching satellites. But it is being put into storage because of America’s angry tone?! … How much longer will we be blackmailed and forced to compromise? If we do not change our strategy, and continue to operate according to orders from officials who are stuck in the mud, our situation will deteriorate daily.”[2]

The satellite images below, taken by ImageSat International (ISI),[3] show the launch site in Semnan. The first image, taken January 17, shows the launch site and launch pedestal as inactive; it also shows, on the ground, the emblem of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) and the emblem of the Simorgh (“Phoenix”) orbital carrier rocket that is used to launch satellites. The second image, taken February 3, shows the launch pedestal ready for launch and many vehicles at the launch site.

Left to right: Image 1: Launch site in Semnan showing inactive launch pedestal, with emblems, taken January 17, 2017; Image 2: Launch site showing pedestal ready for launch and vehicles surrounding the site, taken February 3, 2017.

Images 3 and 4 below, also taken February 3, show the integration facility during a visit by a VIP in advance of the launch. The VIP’s vehicle, and many others, including jeeps from the VIP’s motorcade, can be seen.

Left to right: Images 3 and 4, showing integration facility during the VIP’s visit; taken February 3, 2017.

Image 5, taken two days later, on February 5, shows that the launch site is again inactive.

Image 5 – launch site again inactive, taken February 3, 2017.

The day after the cancellation of the missile launch, on February 4, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said: “America is looking for excuses surrounding our missile tests, because the enemy has set its sights on [harming] our security. The enemy deals with issues such as [our] nuclear capabilities and science, the might of [our] missiles, and so on. These are all merely excuses [to justify] their hostility towards the Islamic regime and the Iranian nation.”[4]

Also indicating Iran’s military self-restraint were February 9, 2017 statements by Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan. On the eve of Iran’s Revolution Day, he spoke about “the new claim by American elements and media outlets regarding an additional missile test by Iran. These false claims,” he added, “are a type of creating an enemy and Iranophobia. This is planned by the Zionist regime, which incites while spreading lies.

“First, this is a false claim, and nothing like [such a missile launch] happened; second, even if such a test was conducted, it had nothing to do with them at all; and third, Iran’s missile program is a standard program, and missile tests are part of these plans, which are made in advance; these tests are conducted in order to maintain our country’s defensive readiness.”[5]

  1. A halt to provocations against U.S. Navy vessels, and even an official IRGC statement that responsibility for handling the crews of foreign vessel apprehended penetrating Iranian territorial waters was being transferred from the IRGC to the civilian Ports & Maritime Organization (PMO): This is due to fear of a harsh response by the Trump administration to humiliation of American captives – as happened in January 2016, even though there had been no real response to this from the Obama administration.[6]
  2. A halt to public threats to burn and sink U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf,[7] and a near-total moratorium on hostile anti-U.S. statements: The slogan “death to America” has disappeared almost entirely from the official discourse of regime spokesmen, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself,[8] as have public burnings of the American flag.[9]

In a March 16, 2017 article, the ideological camp mouthpiece Kayhan attacked the government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, stating that the government is claiming that “when Trump was elected, [Rohani government officials] said that Trump was unpredictable and makes unconsidered decisions – and that is why it is better for us to refrain from saying anything to offend him…”[10]

  1. Boosting morale and persuading Iranians of the might of their country and of the need for faith in God and in the armed forces’ ability to face down the U.S.: One example of this was a television interview with Defense Minister Dehghan on February 7, 2017, on the eve of Revolution Day. In it, Dehghan said that today, that is, after Trump took office, Iran is on the defensive against the American threat: “We consider defense to be necessary for our country, for other Muslim countries, and for Muslims [in general]… It is certain that the enemies are lying in wait for our regime. It is our duty to equip ourselves to the point that no one dares threaten us, blackmail us, or attack our country. All defensive elements, together with the nation as a whole, stand against the enemy to prevent an attack by it, and if the enemy attacks, we will punish it…

“The countries around us are no threat to us. The threat to us is an extra-regional threat known as the regime of arrogance [i.e. the U.S.], which is why we must acquire anything that gives us the upper hand – that is, asymmetric warfare. We must operate so that on the designated day [when war breaks out], not only will we not be caught off guard strategically, but we will surprise the enemy and inflict the maximum damage on it…”[11]

One example of efforts to boost national morale was a speech by IRGC Deputy Commander Hossein Salami, who had often issued threats to the U.S. and had said that Iran would destroy its forces in the Gulf. On February 2, 2017, Salami highlighted Iran’s defensive capabilities in light of the uniting of ranks by its enemies: “Today, the enemies have joined forces against our great revolution, but their plans have been defeated. The entire world wants to wipe us off the geographical map… but the martyrs have shown that any superpower can be confronted with reliance on faith, with Islam, and with obedience to the leader. By relying on jihad and martyrdom, we can confront any power and defend the honor of Muslims.

“Our glorious history is full of victories over the arrogance [i.e. the U.S.]… The Islamic regime of Iran has succeeded in gaining major influence in the Islamic world… Our nation is so mighty… We are involved in a great jihad, and as long as the Muslims [meaning the Shi’ites] dream of martyrdom and rely on the directives of the Koran, which light our way, we will never be defeated, but we will defeat the enemy…

“Iran’s mighty missile force is included in the list of unprecedented global deterrents. If the enemy fears our nuclear might, it can flee to the bomb shelters.

“The Iranian nation has learned to create might by reliance on internal faith… Every day, the number of defensive missiles, warships, and launchers increases. The air, land, and sea are under the control of this nation… here, in the land of heroes and martyrs.”[12]

Also in his February 4 speech, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh highlighted Iran’s ability to withstand an American attack: “The threats to Iran made by certain American elements are merely boasts. Due to my knowledge of the capabilities of our armed forces, I confidently say that a foreign threat will not influence our Islamic regime. We rely on the infinite might of God, while America relies on earthly equipment and might. We will emerge victorious from the arena in any possible scenario. We will not hesitate for a single moment in creating and strengthening our defensive capabilities… 24 hours a day, we work to defend the security of the nation, and if the enemy makes the smallest error, our missiles will land on its head like a thunderclap.”[13]

  1. Strengthening the resistance front and delegating the fight against Iran’s enemies – the West, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states – to Iran’s proxies: These proxies include the Shi’ite militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Syria, Hizbullah, and the Palestinian organizations, which are operated by Iran, to revive the battlefront against Israel (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6811, Iran Prepares Militarily And Politically Vis-à-vis Trump Administration: Strategic Alliance With Russia, Dragging Israel Into War With Hizbullah, Palestinians, March 3, 2017).

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have recently been firing missiles at Saudi Arabia: On March 17, the Houthis fired a medium-range ballistic missile at an Aramco facility in Jazan, Saudi Arabia.[14] Also on March 17, the Houthis fired three missiles at a mosque in an army base in Ma’rib Governorate during Friday prayers. The attack killed and wounded dozens of officers and soldiers.[15] Additionally, a locally made Yemeni Borkan-2 missile was fired at the King Salman airbase in Riyadh.[16]

Further, the Syrian regime has been escalating its responses to Israeli attacks on convoys transferring strategic missiles from Iran to Hizbullah. Unlike in the past, this week the Syrian regime fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli aircraft. MEMRI assesses that this was the result of Iranian pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and on Hizbullah to respond in accordance with Iranian policy in order to spark a military confrontation with Israel.

Furthermore, it should be mentioned that as part of the Iranian regime’s efforts to revive the Palestinian front against Israel, on February 21, 2017, Tehran held the Sixth Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada. In his opening remarks at the conference, Supreme Leader Khamenei stressed the need to assist resistance movements in their military struggle against Israel, and said that Iran’s aid to these movements is directly tied to the level of these movements’ commitment to the principles of “resistance” (i.e. the struggle against Israel). He especially highlighted the need to continue aiding the resistance in the West bank, saying: “The main pivot of the Resistance is the steadfastness and endurance of the Palestinian people who have raised courageous and resistant children. Meeting the needs of the Palestinian people and Palestinian resistance is an important and vital responsibility which should be carried out by all of us. In doing so, we should not ignore the basic needs of the Resistance in the West Bank because the West Bank shoulders the main burden of the suppressed intifada.” (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6795, Khamenei In Speech At Iran’s Sixth International Conference In Support Of Palestinian Intifada: ‘We [Stand] With Every Group That Is Steadfast On This Path [Of Resistance]’; ‘Cancerous Tumor’ Israel Must Be Cured In Several Phases, February 21, 2017).

It should also be mentioned that as part of Iranian efforts against Israel, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has recently made aggressive statements about Israel in interviews with Iranian and Lebanese media.

  1. Attempting to connect Russia to Iran in a strategic alliance (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6795, Iran Prepares Militarily And Politically Vis-à-vis Trump Administration: Strategic Alliance With Russia, Dragging Israel Into War With Hizbullah, Palestinians, March 3, 2017).
  2. Clinging insistently to the JCPOA, even in light of actions by the U.S. that Iranian representatives had once stated would lead Iran to revert to a pre-JCPOA situation.

Moreover, in this context, MEMRI assesses that Iran will under no circumstances withdraw from the JCPOA, even if the Trump administration increases the sanctions against it, and even if the U.S. takes military action against Iranian interests in the region. This is because the JCPOA is an historic achievement for Iran, since it grants it the status of a nuclear state. Furthermore, according to the Iranian regime mouthpiece Kayhan, the Rohani government had presented the JCPOA as a tool to prevent a war against the Iranian regime.[17]

 

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.

 

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1303, ‘Iran Diplomacy’ Following Tripartite U.S.-Russia-Turkey Military Chiefs of Staff Meeting: ‘If You Aren’t Sitting At The Table, You Are Being Eaten At The Table,‘ March 15, 2017.

[2] Tasnim (Iran), March 9, 2017.

[3] ISI – ImageSat International – is a privately owned company which provides confidential earth imagery acquisition under prioritized tasking management with very high resolution image quality.

[4] Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2017.

[5] Asr-e-Iran (Iran), February 9, 2017.

[6] According to IRGC Navy commander Ali Fadavi, the IRGC signed an agreement with the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran (PMO) under which the crews of all foreign naval vessels penetrating Iranian territorial waters and captured by the IRGC would be handed over to the PMO. Defapress.ir February 27, 2017.

[7] An isolated incident on March 4, 2017 saw IRGC boats approach an American destroyer, forcing it to change course. The Iranians later argued that the incident came about because the destroyer had deviated from its regular path. Tasnim (Iran), March 8, 2017.

[8] Assembly of Experts head and Guardian Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was the one official who did use the “death to America” slogan during a Revolution Day parade on February 10, 2017. He said: “Today, we all chant the slogan ‘death to America’ and trample its flag. This means we will not compromise nor back down to evil. We are not alone in the world, and throughout the world there are many nations that trample the American flag. Hostility towards America is the slogan of all those who are oppressed and desire freedom. We will never end our hostility towards evil, and we will always chant the slogan ‘no to humiliation.'” Fars (Iran), February 10, 2017.

[9] It should be noted that some attempted to justify this by calling it a sign of respect for the American people who voted against Trump.

[10] Kayhan (Iran), March 16, 2017. It should be mentioned that while the ideological camp’s hawks, such as the IRGC and Kayhan, accuse the pragmatic camp and President Rohani of responsibility for this policy of self-restraint, Supreme Leader Khamenei consents to this policy, and even leads it himself.

[11] Tasnim (Iran), February 8, 2017.

[12] Tasnim (Iran), February 2, 2017.

[13] Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2017.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 18, 2017.

[15] ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 18, 2017.

[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 18, 2017.

[17] Kayhan (Iran), March 16, 2017.

State Department’s Top Iran Official Helped Sell Notorious Iran Deal

March 19, 2017

State Department’s Top Iran Official Helped Sell Notorious Iran Deal, Iran Focus, March 19, 2017

(Secretary of State Tillerson should pick Backemeyer’s brain for information about Iran’s vulnerabilities and the negotiation of the Iran scam. Then he should probably fire him — DM)

London, 19 Mar – A current senior official at the State Department, Chris Backemeyer, who serves as deputy assistant secretary for Iranian affairs under Secretary Rex Tillerson, was intimately involved in convincing public and private agencies of the Iran deal’s merits. Allegedly, he was a key component of the operation to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the American people.

As part of his duties under Obama, Backemeyer was the U.S. principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy. He traveled throughout the country (and the world) working to convince multinational corporations to do business with the Iranian regime. He was also the lead sanctions negotiator in the P5+1 talks that resulted in the Iran deal.

Today, Backemeyer is the highest-ranking official at the State Department with intimate experience in Iran policy.

In an article by National security correspondent Jordan Schachtel, he writes that “Backemeyer reassured mega-companies such as Boeing that investing in Iran was a safe bet, while at the same time the Iranian regime was exporting its caliphatist ideology across the globe. Iran is the world’s foremost state-sponsor of international terrorism. The dictatorship in Tehran funds and aids several terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and the world at large.”

As part of the deal, Iran received an estimated $100-plus billion in assets for agreeing to stop its rapid nuclear development, a windfall for that country. But in fact, according to Schachtel, the deal gave Tehran an accelerated path to a nuclear weapon. Chris Backemeyer helped charter a deal that threw a lifeline to a regime with a flailing economy. Last year, it was revealed that the US paid a $1.7 billion ransom to Iran for the release of American hostages. In his testimony before Congress, Backemeyer claiming that the money would go to serve “the critical needs that Iran has had.” Instead, say Schachtel, “some of the cash was handed over to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the group responsible for conducting Iran’s worldwide terrorist operations.”

The State Department official spoke at an annual confab last year, which was hosted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). This is a group that many Iranian dissidents consider to be a front group for Tehran, with deep ties to the regime.

US is back

March 19, 2017

US is back, Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser, March 19, 2017

(Please see, for example, A new foundation for Saudi-US relations. — DM

The Trump administration is not even 100 days old, but the Middle East is already feeling the change. The United States is once again taking an active role in the region, and more importantly, Washington is once again standing by the allies and friends it had abandoned. It is now abundantly clear that America can differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys in the region, and that it plans to act for the former and against the latter.

It is an open secret that the election of President Donald Trump, despite being portrayed as an enemy of Islam who gobbles up Muslims, was greeted with a sigh of relief in the region, and in some cases with overt jubilation. America’s allies were fed up with former President Barack Obama and his administration, which turned its back on them during tough times and did not hesitate to criticize them and even question their legitimacy.

The Obama administration was obviously biased in favor of pro-Islamic elements in the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It also courted Iran and tried to appease it, in the hope of dissuading it from pursuing its nuclear ambitions and maybe scaling back its destabilizing activities in the region. This all created an unbridgeable gulf between Washington and its old friends, who came to conclusion that even the minimal understanding Washington had of the region’s complexities was no longer there, and that perhaps the Obama administration had lost touch with reality.

Trump is not committed to the former administration’s value system, which was used to pass judgment and essentially sacrifice his allies and friends. For all of Obama’s high-minded values, he essentially let Syria falter and allowed its fate to be decided by the impulses of President Bashar Assad and his friends in Moscow and Teheran.

Many have assumed that Trump would prefer to wait before taking action in the Middle East, a region with which he is not familiar and which does not require immediate American intervention, especially since Obama left him almost no wiggle room. But, surprisingly, the American efforts in the region under his leadership have been the most intense in recent memory.

Last week, Trump hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, whose associates were quick to declare that the meeting was a historic turning point in the countries’ bilateral relations, because the two leaders saw eye-to-eye on the Iranian threat and on the need to counter its efforts to destabilize the region. Similar voices have been heard in Cairo and in Ankara.

Trump is also sending additional forces to Syria to strengthen the American hold on its eastern part. This is designed to help deal a crushing blow to Islamic State and provide a counterweight to the Russian presence, and even more importantly, to the Iranian presence there. Trump has also tried to have the Israelis and the Palestinians resume direct talks without accepting the prerequisites set by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump’s actions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are part of a more comprehensive effort to advance regional cooperation in the region, an effort Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been pushing for months. Trump hopes this effort will usher in new arrangements between Israel and its Arab neighbor and the Palestinian Authority.

Trump may not have a deep understanding of the region, but he has the instincts of a businessman who wants to win. He may very well prove that one does not have to be impartial to reach a deal, as President Vladimir Putin has proved in Syria. Trump may be able to make Israel and the Palestinian reach certain understandings even while showing his support for Israel. Most importantly, the deal that Trump promotes will not be bound by the value system of Obama or the Europeans, nor will Trump say amen to every request made by the Palestinians. Trump will only make sure the deal advances both sides’ interests.

Only time will tell whether Trump can effect the change he desires in the region.

In Media, Iranian Foreign Minister, Majlis Member Clash Over Iran-U.S. Relationship

March 10, 2017

In Media, Iranian Foreign Minister, Majlis Member Clash Over Iran-U.S. Relationship, MEMRI, March 9, 2017

(If we send Kerry, will they keep him?

–DM)

Recently, Iranian Majlis member and National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Javad Karimi Ghodosi, from the ideological camp that is critical of the JCPOA and of Iranian ties to the U.S. made accusations against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In a February 28, 2017 interview, Ghodosi told the YJC website, which belongs to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), that Zarif had sent a letter to his U.S. counterpart Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting, inter alia, that former secretary of state John Kerry be appointed special JCPOA representative. Ghodosi also noted: “[I]t is unclear whether the letter was sent in coordination with regime officials in Iran.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry immediately denied Ghodosi’s allegations, attributing ulterior motives to him and saying that he was attempting to defame Iran’s diplomatic officials.

These statements must be viewed in the context of the Iranian leadership’s apprehensions about what the Trump administration will do next, after President Trump tweeted, on February 2, that “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile” and added that the JCPOA was a “terrible deal.” They must also be viewed against the backdrop of the disagreement within the Iranian leadership over what its strategic response to the U.S. should be – whether to work with it, in line with the pragmatic camp’s approach, or to strengthen strategic ties with Russia, in line with the IRGC’s position.

Ghodosi, Zarif. Source: YJC, February 28, 2017

Following is the translation of the YJC interview with Ghodosi and of the Foreign Ministry’s rebuttal:

Majlis Member Ghodosi: Foreign Minister Zarif Asked Secretary Of State Tillerson To Appoint John Kerry As JCPOA Representative Because Of His Ties With The Iranians

“The Foreign Minister [Zarif] has sent a letter to [U.S. Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson with four requests. I hope the foreign minister will not deny this, because everything I say is true.

“One of the requests that Zarif presented to the American secretary of state is that America not take steps to cancel the JCPOA, and that if it did, Iran would submit a complaint to the [UN] Security Council regarding American violations of the JCPOA.

“Zarif’s most important request to the American secretary of state is that the U.S. State Department appoint a special JCPOA representative. The letter stated that John Kerry should be selected for this position, because he has a good and transparent relationship with the [Iranian] negotiating team.

“In this letter, Zarif [also] proposed to the new American secretary of state that he conduct a secret bilateral meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Additionally, Zarif also requested that a direct emergency line be set up for special cases between the two countries’ foreign ministries.

“Thus far, no response from the new American secretary of state to the Iranian foreign minister’s letter has been received, and it is unclear whether the letter was sent in coordination with regime officials in Iran. However, since Iran does not approve of such ties [with the U.S.], we must question [whether it was coordinated with regime officials].

“Additionally, the Iranian foreign minister sent three letters to [EU Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica] Mogherini presenting [Iranian allegations of U.S.] JCPOA violations. This is an excellent revolutionary letter.

“Regime officials stressed to the Iranian foreign minister that the public must be kept up to date regarding such letters and JCPOA violations. In any case, even Zarif’s fourth letter, [which was] to [Iran’s] National Security Committee, mentioned no such JCPOA violations.

“In light of the increasing severity of the sanctions, which keeps rising, the government, and especially [President] Rohani and [Foreign Minister] Zarif, must be more transparent with public opinion on nuclear matters.”

Foreign Ministry Vehemently Denies Ghodosi’s Claims

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announcement stated that “this new, untrue, and unfounded claim by Karimi Ghodosi on the matter of letters by Zarif to the American secretary of state is strongly denied.

“The Foreign Ministry is shocked and saddened by the improper and bizarre thought process of Karimi Ghodosi, who insists on continuing to make false and unfounded allegations about the senior echelon of the Iranian diplomatic corps. The aim of this appears to be disruption of public opinion and self-aggrandizement. As in the past, these claims will not benefit his specific goals.

“The wise and diligent Majlis members are well informed about all of Iran’s foreign policy, and will not be influenced by these false statements.

“Such deviant issues will [also] not influence the continuation of the principled path of the Foreign Ministry, or its general operating frameworks. Measures that disrupt public opinion are against national security and can be dealt with by legal means.”[1]

___________________________

[1] YJC (Iran), February 28, 2017.

Time to Call Iran’s Revolutionary Guards What They Are: Terrorists

March 10, 2017

Time to Call Iran’s Revolutionary Guards What They Are: Terrorists, American ThinkerReza Shafiee, March 10, 2017

What is missing in all the talks and arguments made in Washington as to what is an effective remedy to counter the mullahs in Iran is the role of Iranian people. Iran is boiling with popular discontent, now. According to Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, the Iranian regime’s chief of police: “On average 20 to 30 protest gatherings take place around the country by citizens who have lost their life savings to the banks,” These citizens are mainly retired with very limited savings and were scammed out of their lifetime savings by various government-owned financial institutions.  Such protests are but a drop in the ocean when we add the teachers, nurses, factory workers, and an army of college graduates with no prospects of finding decent jobs to the discontent. This amounts to tens of thousands of people, in large numbers of gatherings each year. According to a BBC report, more than 11 million or Iran’s 83 million people are unemployed in the country.

*********************************

Ever since signs emerged that Trump administration is considering a long-overdue classification of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, the ruling mullahs have gone to work. They put into place a well-known strategy of intimidation and deception aboard, coupled with an absolute iron fist at home. They do this because they know the value of controlling a terrorist organization. The problem is in the harm it means for everyone else.

In the past, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, would brandish the former by reminding Western governments that if they chose to cross Tehran then they must be prepared to pay dearly. But that was decades ago. One fact is undisputable now: The Iranian regime has long passed its prime revolutionary and glory days when Khomeini rode in on the tides of millions who were sadly unaware of what was to come. In those days, people tasted a short-lived period of high expectations, at the time wildly called “spring of freedom.”

At the same time, hostage-taking by IRGC’s protégés, such as nascent Lebanese Hezbollah, of foreign nationals, preferably Americans, was routine. The ayatollahs were behind it even though it often took place in Lebanon. After each kidnapping, IRGC’s proteges then engaged hostages’ governments in a lengthy and humiliating process of hostage negotiations and sometimes hostage swaps in the 1980s.

Today the IRGC has made it much more convenient to reach the same ends by taking the hostages among dual citizens who take the risk of traveling to Iran. Case in point was hostages released just after Iranian regime struck the nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other world powers. IRGC’s deputy chief, Brigadier General Hossein Nejat, in a speech in Bushehr (south of Iran), said: “The Iranian-American journalist of the Washington Post, Jason Rezaian, who had formed an espionage network was identified and arrested by the IRGC.”

Hossein Nejat stated: “The former Secretary of State, John Kerry with his intelligence forces urged the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif to release Jason Rezaian. Consequently, the U.S. government in return paid 1 billion and 400 million dollars ransom to Iran for the release of Jason Rezaian.”

Other IRGC officials, on different occasions after the hostages were released, have bragged that the Obama administration released Iranian prisoners in the United States and on top of that paid a hefty sum as ransom money.

In past few weeks, despite attempts by regime officials, such as Zarif, to keep a low profile while anxiously monitoring Donald Trump’s every move, IRGC is actively scheming. It raised the prize on Salman Rushdie’s head, showcased and glorified old terrorists such as Anis-Alnaghash on state-run television and openly threatened the U.S.

CNC News revealed on Feb. 28 that an IRGC strategist, Hassan Abbasi renewed threats that the force has planned to unleash terror cells on U.S. soil. He has elaborated plans to sabotage nuclear plants in the United States among other things. Ironically, at the same time, IRGC has claimed that it is fighting terrorism in neighboring countries.

Javad Zarif has recently said: “the world at large agrees that the IRGC has extended the utmost support for neighboring countries in their fight against terrorism.”

Zarif seemingly refers to IRGC’s destructive and brutal role in Syria and is trying to sell it as constrictive. According to IRGC’s own figures, more than 1,000 members of its rank and file have been killed in cities around the war-torn country.  Many were veteran IRGC officers. The Iranian regime claims that it has only an advisory role in Syria, however it has recruited and dispatched thousands of Afghani and Pakistani nationals to Syrian fronts. Not one has fought ISIS.

On March 2, Brigadier General Ismail Ghaani, who is deputy Quds Force commander, speaking in the northeastern city of Mashhad, told a group from the Fatemiyoun Division, an offshoot of the force fighting in Syria: “Fatemiyoun proved that it is a capable force ready to operate not only in Syria but anywhere else on the planet when Islam requires it.” Fatemiyoun was formed of Afghani recruits, along with its sibling organization Zenabiyoun Division of Pakistanis.

The Iranian regime today makes it no secret that it is heavily involved in Syria and Iraq. It sugarcoats its involvement with the illusion that IRGC and its armed wing, the Quds Force, are fighting ISIS. But it’s not true. After almost six years of involvement in the bloody civil war in Syria, it is out in the open that the regime has no quarrel with ISIS. Former Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with Fox News: “Assad facilitated the release of 1,500 prisoners, parallel to 1,000 by Maliki in Iraq, leading to the foundation of ISIS.”  Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, said that Americans knew what Prime Minister Maliki was up to, but chose not to take any action.

It is also a hard fact that Maliki was in every way a puppet of the Iranian regime. He was trained by the IRGC and fought alongside its forces during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

What is missing in all the talks and arguments made in Washington as to what is an effective remedy to counter the mullahs in Iran is the role of Iranian people. Iran is boiling with popular discontent, now. According to Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, the Iranian regime’s chief of police: “On average 20 to 30 protest gatherings take place around the country by citizens who have lost their life savings to the banks,” These citizens are mainly retired with very limited savings and were scammed out of their lifetime savings by various government-owned financial institutions.  Such protests are but a drop in the ocean when we add the teachers, nurses, factory workers, and an army of college graduates with no prospects of finding decent jobs to the discontent. This amounts to tens of thousands of people, in large numbers of gatherings each year. According to a BBC report, more than 11 million or Iran’s 83 million people are unemployed in the country.

When it comes to Iran, the decision-makers in Washington have two options: One is to follow the status quo and tolerate a regime which is the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, a stirrer of sectarian violence in the region, and engaged in two wars in Iraq and Syria. It’s a nation that secretly supplies weapons to Yemen’s Houthis which has also cost American servicemen’s lives. If the Trump administration chooses this option, it will make the same mistakes the Obama administration made.

The other, and better, option is to stand with Iranian people and their resistance, to let them shape their own future. All they asked of U.S. in 2009 was for the U.S. to stand with them. At the time, they chanted: “Obama are you with us or with them.” They clearly hoped the U.S. would not placate mullahs with concessions, nor turn a blind eye to regime’s terrorism.

One such good signal in the right direction would be to designate IRGC as a terrorist organization.  In light of all it has done and its growing strength, in designating the IRGC as a terrorist group, we are doing ourselves a favor.

Reza Shafiee is a member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) 

Recruit Russia in the fight against Iran

March 9, 2017

Recruit Russia in the fight against Iran, Israel Hayom, Ariel Bolstein, March 9, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Moscow Thursday takes place at an interesting time.

Russia, which has exhausted its military moves in Syria, is searching for a future strategy that will allow it to integrate into the world of U.S. President Donald Trump. Russia has paid a high price for its confrontation with the West. True, as a result of the United States’ geopolitical retreat under former U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian influence has grown on a few fronts, primarily in the Middle East, but this achievement is not worth much without American recognition of Russia’s new-old status as a world power. The changing of the guard in Washington provided Moscow with a unique opportunity to turn the page on its relationship with the West, but the significance of such a change would also mean concessions on its part.

It seems that Russia may meet Trump halfway on the Iranian issue. Russia did not have much in common with the country of Islamic revolution from the outset, and the collaboration between them stems more from a desire on the part of both countries to challenge the existing world order. Indications of Russia’s openness to the idea of turning its back on Iran have been noted on Russian state television. These channels are full of talk shows that focus on current events, and the variety of voices heard on them is effectively controlled by authorities. In recent weeks, these programs have raised the possibility of placing Iran on the sacrificial altar between Moscow and Washington, and this was received with understanding by a majority of participants. One must remember that Putin and as a result the Russian public are determined to witness Russia’s inclusion in the select club of world powers, but they have no interest in dragging others who also claim the crown along with them, and certainly not Iran.

From Israel’s perspective, Netanyahu is now the only statesman to enjoy the trust of and an unprecedented friendship with both the White House and the Kremlin. Israel has succeeded in preserving its interests in the tempest of upheaval in the Middle East, in large part due to the relationship Netanyahu has forged with Putin. The Russians have been forced to honor Israel’s freedom of action in the region and have come to understand full well Israel’s determination to act whenever Israeli considerations require that it do so.

In the Trump era, Israel’s stock has risen even more in the eyes of the Russians. Moscow could not help but notice the special affinity Trump has shown toward Netanyahu and the feelings of solidarity they share. Israel is clearly not operating within a vacuum — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia after Netanyahu, and later in the month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani will do the same — but those in the Kremlin must understand the differences in influence among these three figures.

The possible resolution in Syria and its de facto division into regions of influence underscores the need to stop the expansion and strengthening of Iran. Russia needs to understand that Hezbollah’s murderousness and lack of humanity is no different from that of the Sunni terrorists it so mercilessly bombed. There should be one law for the Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly Nusra Front — and Hezbollah. If Russia operates according to this principle, its standing and the security of the region will vastly improve.

Iran honestly abiding by nuclear deal or terrified of changing times?

March 7, 2017

Iran honestly abiding by nuclear deal or terrified of changing times? Al Arabiya, Heshmat Alavi, March 7, 2017

(Al Arabiya is “a Saudi-owned pan-Arab[4] television news channel.” — DM)

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano addresses a news conference after a board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

During the Obama years Iran understood very well his administration would take no serious actions against their aggressive nature, as seen in the West’s relative silence in the face of more than a dozen missile test launches.

To this end, Iran’s recent compliance by JCPOA articles should only be perceived as a result of its deep fear in the new US administration’s possible policies.

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Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently issued his latest report to the agency’s Board of Governors. At a first glance the text leaves you thinking Iran is honoring the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.

However, considering the rapid pace of international developments, and US President Donald Trump’s harsh remarks against the nuclear deal, we are seeing Iran going the limits to maintain the JCPOA intact. This is a staunchly different approach from the Obama era.

The latest IAEA report contains very important technical aspects, showing how weak Iran has become. Despite all the threats of abandoning the JCPOA ship altogether, Iran’s recent measures proves it needs the JCPOA more than any other party.

By the statistics

On November 8th, 2016 the IAEA verified Iran’s heavy water reserves reached 130.1 metric tons. Iran also informed the IAEA about sending 11 metric tons of heavy water outside of its borders on November 6th and 19th, also verified by the IAEA.

After this transfer Iran has not dared to exceed the 130 metric ton limit, and on February 14th the IAEA verified Iran’s reserves have decreased to 124.2 metric tons, meaning even 6 metric tons less than the JCPOA specified amount.

During the Obama administration Iran had twice exceeded the 130 metric ton limit, and yet rushed to send the excess amount to Oman prior to Donald Trump taking the helm at the White House.

Natanz

Under the JCPOA Iran is permitted to maintain more than 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges in 30 cascades in the Natanz enrichment site. Again, terrified of the incoming Trump administration, reports indicate Iran has significantly lowered the number of such centrifuges.

Iran is continuing to enrich UF6 uranium at Natanz, yet not daring to enrich any uranium above the 3.67 percent standard set for nuclear fuel production. Iran has also not exceeded the 300-kilogram amount of 3.67 percent uranium 235, equal to 202.8 kilograms of uranium.

By February 18th Iran had stored 101.7 kilograms of 3.67 percent uranium, showing the regime has not only abided, but even halved their stocks. This is another sign of Iran’s concerns of the change in guards in Washington.

Ferdow

The controversial Ferdow uranium enrichment, with a capacity of 3,000 centrifuges, currently has 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges, where 1,042 are placed in six cascades, and two such centrifuges are set aside for research purposes.

During the past three months (especially following the November 8th US elections) Iran has suspended all of Ferdow’s uranium enrichment and R & D activities.

Surveillance

All stocked centrifuges, along with their components, are under constant IAEA surveillance. The IAEA enjoys orderly access to related facilities in Natanz, including daily inspections based on IAEA inspectors’ requests.

Iran continues to allow the IAEA use electronic surveillance devices and online seals on its uranium enrichment facilities to provide continuous monitoring. Iran has also agreed to provide for the presence of a larger number IAEA monitors.

Iran has agreed to abide by the Additional Protocol, once considered a red line for the regime, allowing the IAEA monitor a large number of sites and other facilities affiliated to Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s enriched uranium in Oman

Another sign of Iran giving in to major setbacks is the regime’s agreement to stock their enriched uranium in Oman, and seek its sale to foreign buyers from there. This also includes stocks of excessive heavy water. And yet, Iran is also concerned about the fate of its money in Oman banks, as expressed by a number of parliament members.

The irony

In the meantime, one cannot say for certain that the mullahs have actually relented their nuclear weapons drive. It is in the mullahs’ nature to continue their pursuit for terrorism, nuclear weapons and domestic crackdown. These are the Iranian regime’s three main pillars.

It is common knowledge that the mullahs enjoy no social base, and this is seen in remarks made by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency chief saying in most of his interviews how Tehran intends to relaunch the nuclear program once the JCPOA time limit ends.

Despite all this, the mullahs very well understand the language of force. Iran only succumbed to the nuclear talks once international sanctions began crippling their economy.

During the Obama years Iran understood very well his administration would take no serious actions against their aggressive nature, as seen in the West’s relative silence in the face of more than a dozen missile test launches.

To this end, Iran’s recent compliance by JCPOA articles should only be perceived as a result of its deep fear in the new US administration’s possible policies.

Investments

After Obama left office foreign investment in Iran has also witnessed a nosedive, adding to the mullahs’ growing concerns. Tehran curbed a portion of its nuclear program, yet receiving nothing in return and continuously being described as the main state supporter of terrorism, instability and insecurity.

Iran’s unfrozen money has been transferred to Oman, and yet the government says it cannot release the assets to Tehran. Iran has at least $18 billion blocked in China, with no means to gain access to.

British Petroleum also had double thoughts following Trump’s entrance into the White House. This major international oil company has currently taken a major step back from participating in Iran’s oil projects.

Total in France, seeking to develop the major gas fields south of Iran, has also taken similar measures, suspending its activities until the summer of this year to allow Trump to clarify his JCPOA policy.

Foreign banks and companies

Why are French companies unable to invest in Iran? This country’s largest banks are holding back on any cooperation with Tehran, blocking any major investment by large French companies in this country. In addition to Total, Renault, AirBus and others are unable to invest in Iran without the support of major French banks such as Societe Generale.

These banks, however, are very concerned of unilateral punishing measures by the US against foreign entities investing in Iran. For example, the BNP Paribas was slapped with an $8.9 billion fine by Washington for bypassing US sanctions against Iran.

Airline restrictions

Japan’s Mitsubishi ended its negotiations to sell planes to Iran, citing concerns of the new US administration’s possible future sanctions and policies.

Despite Tehran seeking to expand its airlines and reach abroad following the nuclear deal, New Delhi delivered yet another blow by suspending its flights to Iran.

“Air India Express, the low-cost unit of the South Asian nation’s flag carrier, has put on hold a plan to fly to Tehran amid renewed tensions between the US and Iran after President Donald Trump imposed fresh sanctions on the Persian Gulf country,” according to a Bloomberg report.

Money laundry warnings

The Financial Action Task Force, the international body assigned to fight back against money laundering, issued a stark warning to Tehran to live up to its obligations or else face serious actions.

The FATF recently issued a strong reminder saying “in June 2016, the FATF suspended counter-measures for twelve months in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan. If the FATF determines that Iran has not demonstrated sufficient progress in implementing the Action Plan at the end of that period, FATF’s call for counter-measures will be re-imposed.”

Conclusion

More than a year after the JCPOA implementation, and with Washington adopting a completely new mentality and overhauling any pro-appeasement policies vis-à-vis Iran, the mullahs in Tehran have realized the global balance of power has shifted completely against their interests.

To this end, their recent measures to curtail their nuclear stocks should not be considered a coming to mind by Tehran. Not at all. The mullahs understand the language of force, just as President Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 the fledgling mullahs’ regime rushed to release all American hostages after a 444 ordeal.

Now, Tehran is once again comprehending a significant shift in international politics, and it is taking measures accordingly to limit all possible damages. And rest assured they will jump to the occasion if they sense any weakness or hesitation.

As a result, Iran must be held at the ropes and the next necessary step in this regard is the long overdue designation of its Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. This will begin to limit its ability to wreak havoc across the Middle East and limit its human rights atrocities.

This is in the interest of all nations.
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Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program. He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi & blogs at IranCommentary.