Posted tagged ‘Iran’s military spending’

The Ayatollah Empire Is Rotting Away

January 7, 2018

The Ayatollah Empire Is Rotting Away, TabletEdward N. Luttwak, January 7, 2018

 

There is no need to laboriously negotiate a new set of sanctions against Iran—strict, swift, and public enforcement of the restrictions that are already on the books is enough. Every time a South Korean regime-related deal is detected, the offenders need a quick reminder they will be excluded from the United States if they persist. In this, as in everything else, it is just a matter of getting serious in our focus on Iran.

Obama was serious in his courtship of the ayatollahs’ regime. Trump should do the same to bring the regime to an end, faster

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Ronald Reagan, who outraged the Washington elite and frightened European leaders by flatly refusing coexistence with the Soviet Union, lived to see its sudden decline and fall. There is a fair chance that Donald Trump, who contradicts Barack Obama and Europe’s leaders by refusing coexistence with Iran’s ayatollah empire, will also have the satisfaction of seeing the dissolution of a regime that Obama among many others preferred to accommodate.

Whether or not this past weekend’s mass demonstrations in Iran will spread, whether a second revolution is imminent or not, the numbers for the ayatollah empire just don’t add up. A breakdown is materially inevitable.

With some 80 million people, and with oil accounting for 80 percent of its exports, Iran would need to export some 25 million barrels a day to make a go of it, but it can barely export 2.5 million. That would be luxuriously ample for the likes of Abu Dhabi with fewer than 800,000 citizens, but it is a miserable pittance for Iran, with a population more than 100 times as large.

Iran cannot even match the $6,000 income per capita of Botswana. That most fashionable of safari destinations is a fine and well-governed country to be sure, and far from poor by African standards—but then its citizens are not required to pay for extensive nuclear installations, which are very costly to maintain even in their current semi-frozen state, or for the manufacture of a very broad range of weapons—from small arms to ballistic missiles—for which much expensive tooling is imported daily from the likes of our own dear ally South Korea. Neither is Botswana mounting large-scale military expeditions in support of a foreign dictator at war with 80 percent of his own population or providing generous funding for the world’s largest terrorist organization, Hezbollah, whose cocaine-smuggling networks and local extortion rackets cannot possibly cover tens of thousands of salaries. The ayatollah empire is doing all those things, which means that average Iranians are actually much poorer than their Botswanian counterparts.

You would never know it looking at photographs of Tehran, one more bombastic capital city fattened on intercepted oil revenues and graft, but Iran is dirt poor. I recently saw Iran’s general poverty at first-hand driving through one of Iran’s supposedly more prosperous rural districts. In an improvised small market next to a truck stop, several grown men were selling livestock side by side, namely ducks. Each had a stock of three or four ducks, which looked like their total inventory for the day.

That is what happens in an economy whose gross domestic product computes at under $6,000 per capita: very low productivity, very low incomes. The 500,000 or so Iranians employed in the country’s supposedly modern automobile industry are not productive enough to make exportable cars: Pistachio nuts are the country’s leading export, after oil and petroleum products.

The pistachios bring us directly to Iran’s second problem after not-enough-oil, namely too much thieving by the powerful, including pistachio-orchard-grabbing Akbar Hashemi “Rafsanjani,” former president and a top regime figure for decades.

Akbar Hashemi was not being immodest when he claimed the name of his native Rafsanjan province for himself. He became the owner of much of it as huge tracts of pistachio-growing orchards came into his possession.

His son Mehdi Hashemi is very prominent among the aghazadeh (“noble born”), the sons and daughters of the rulers. He preferred industrial wealth to pistachios, and his name kept coming up in other people’s corruption trials (one in France), until he finally had his own trial, for a mere $100 million or so. But the Rafsanjani clan as a whole took a couple of billion dollars at least.

The Supreme Leader Khamenei himself is not known to have personally stolen anything—he has his official palaces, after all. But his second son, Mojtaba, may have taken as much as $2 billion from the till, while his third son, Massoud, is making do with a mere 400- or 500-hundred million. His youngest son, Maitham, is not living in poverty either, with a couple of hundred million. The ayatollah’s two daughters, Bushra and Huda, each received de-facto dowries in the $100 million range.

This shows that the regime is headed by devoted family men who lovingly look after their many children, for whom only the best will do. It also cuts into the theoretical $6,000 income per Iranian head, because some “heads” are taking a thousand times as much and more.

That is one motive for today’s riots—bitter anger provoked by the regime’s impoverishing and very visible corruption, which extends far, far beyond the children of the top rulers: thousands of clerics are very affluent, starting with their flapping Loro Piana “Tasmania” robes—that’s 3,000 euros of fancy cloth right there.

Much of the economy is owned by bonyads, Islamic foundations that pay modest pensions to war widows and such, and very large amounts to those who run them, mostly clerics and their kin. The largest, the Mostazafan Bonyad, with more than 200,000 employees in some 350 separate companies in everything from farming to tourism, is a very generous employer for its crowds of clerical managers.

That is why the crowds have been shouting insults at the clerics—not all are corrupt, but high-living clerics are common enough to take a big bite out of that theoretical $6,000 per capita.

But the largest cause of popular anger is undoubtedly the pasdaran, a.k.a the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), an altogether more costly lot than the several hundred aghazadeh or tens of thousands of high-living clerics. The IRGC’s tab starts with the trillion dollars or more that the pasdaran-provoked nuclear sanctions cost before the Obama team agreed to lift them and continues with the billions that Iran still loses annually because of the ballistic-missile sanctions that Trump will never lift. Then there are the variable costs of the pasdaran’s imperial adventures, as well as the fixed cost of pasdaran military industries that spend plenty on common weapons as well as on “stealth” fighters and supposedly advanced submarines that exist only in the fantasies of regime propagandists. Pasdaran militarism and imperial adventures are unaffordable luxuries that the demonstrators very clearly want to do without—hence their shouts of “no-Gaza, no-Syria.”

Whatever happens next—and at least this time the White House will not be complicit if it ends in brutal repression—the ayatollah empire cannot last. Even despite Obama’s generous courtship gifts, the Iranian regime cannot just keep going, any more than the USSR could keep going by living off its oil.

So what can be done to accelerate the collapse? Broad economic sanctions are out of the question because they would allow the rulers to blame the Americans for the hardships inflicted by their own imperial adventures. But there is plenty of room for targeted measures against regime figures and their associates—the State Department list of sanctioned individuals is far from long enough, with many more names deserving of the honor. (Iran is not North Korea; it is not hard to find names and assets and to make them public.)

Above all, very much more could be done to impede the pasdaran and their military industries. Many European and Japanese big-name companies are staying away from Iran because the missile and terrorism sanctions persist—and to avoid displeasing the United States. They should. But the South Koreans whom we defend with our own troops totally ignore U.S. interests in regard to Iran and have therefore emerged as the lead suppliers of machinery and tooling for the pasdaran weapon factories. Nor do they hesitate to sell equipment that can be adapted to military use in a minute or less, as in the case of the airfield instrument landing system and portable ILS/VOR signal analyzer that the Korea Airports Corp. has just agreed to supply to Iran’s Tolid Malzomat Bargh.

There is no need to laboriously negotiate a new set of sanctions against Iran—strict, swift, and public enforcement of the restrictions that are already on the books is enough. Every time a South Korean regime-related deal is detected, the offenders need a quick reminder they will be excluded from the United States if they persist. In this, as in everything else, it is just a matter of getting serious in our focus on Iran.

Obama was serious in his courtship of the ayatollahs’ regime. Trump should do the same to bring the regime to an end, faster.

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East

June 22, 2017

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East, Gatestone InstitutePeter Huessy, June 22, 2017

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

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The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of such a doctrine from their communities.

What still has to be considered is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

The tectonic plates in the Middle East have shifted markedly with President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and his announced new regional policy.

The trip represented the beginning of a major but necessary shift in US security policy.

For much of the last nearly half-century, American Middle East policy has been centered on the “peace process” and how to bring Israel and the Palestinians to agreement on a “two-state” solution for two peoples — a phrase that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to say.

First was shuttle diplomacy during 1973-74 in the Nixon administration; then second, in 1978, the Camp David agreement and the recognition of Israel by Egypt, made palatable by $7 billion in new annual US assistance to the two nations; third, the anti-Hizballah doctrine, recently accurately described by National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, as Iran, since 1983, started spreading its terror to Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. This last effort was often excused by many American and European analysts as a result somehow, of supposed American bad faith. Fourth, came the birth, in 1992, of the “Oslo Accords” where some Israelis and Palestinians imagined that a two-state solution was just another round of negotiations away.

Ironically, during the decade after Oslo, little peace was achieved; instead, terror expanded dramatically. The Palestinians launched three wars, “Intifadas,” against Israel; Al Qaeda launched its terror attacks on U.S. Embassies in Africa; and Iran, Hizballah, and Al Qaeda together carried out the forerunner attacks against America of 9/11/2001.

Since 9/11, despite wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism has not only failed to recede; on the contrary, it has expanded. Iran has become the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and the Islamic State (ISIS) has tried to establish a transnational “Islamic caliphate.” Literally tens of thousands of terror attacks have been carried out since 9/11 by those claiming an Islamic duty to do so. These assaults on Western civilization have taken place on bridges, cafes, night clubs, offices, military recruitment centers, theaters, markets, and sporting events — not only across the West but also in countries where Muslims have often been the primary victims.

Particularly condemnable have been the improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, perpetrated to a great extent by Iran, according to U.S. military testimony before Congress.

All the while, we in the West keep trying to convince ourselves that, as a former American president thought, if there were a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, most of the terrorist attacks we see in Europe and the United States “would disappear.”

No matter how hard we may rhetorically push the “peace process”, there is no arc of history that bends naturally in that direction. Rather, nations such as the United States together with its allies must create those alliances best able to meet the challenges to peace and especially defeat the totalitarian elements at the core of Islamist ideology.

If anything, the so-called Middle East “peace process” has undercut chances of achieving a sound U.S. security policy. While the search for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian “problem” dominated American thinking about Middle East peace for so many decades, other far more serious threats materialized but were often ignored, not the least of which was the rise of Iran as the world’s most aggressive terrorist.

The United States has now moved in a markedly more promising and thoughtful direction.

The new American administration has put together an emerging coalition of nations led by the United States that seeks five objectives:

(1) the defeat of Islamic State;

(2) the formation of a coalition of the major Arab nations, especially Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to clean up in their own back yards financing terrorism and providing terrorists with sanctuary. As Elliott Abrams, an adviser to former U.S. President George W. Bush, cautions us, however, this will not be an easy effort: “Partnerships with repressive regimes may in some cases exacerbate rather than solve the problem for us” but, Abrams says, “gradual reform is exactly the right approach…”;

3) “driving out” sharia-inspired violence and human rights abuses from the region’s mosques and madrassas;

(4) a joint partnership with Israel as part of an emerging anti-Iran coalition — without letting relations with the Palestinian authority derail United States and Israeli security interests; and

(5) the adoption of a strategy directly to challenge Iran’s quest for regional and Islamic hegemony, while ending its role in terrorism.

Defeating Islamic State

Defeating ISIS began with an accelerated military campaign and a new American-led strategy to destroy the organization rather than to seek its containment. According to the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, “Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Dept. of Defense/Brigitte N. Brantley)

So far, the United States coalition has driven ISIS from 55,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria.

A New Coalition

Apart from a strategy to counter ISIS, the Trump administration also called on our allies in the Middle East to put together a new joint multi-state effort to stop financing terrorism. Leading the multi-state effort will be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, which together will supposedly open a new center dedicated to the elimination of terrorist financing. Positive results are not guaranteed, but it is a step in the right direction.

According to Abdul Hadi Habtoor, the center will exchange information about financing networks, adopt means to cut off funding from terrorist groups, and hopefully blacklist Iran’s jihadist army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). These measures in turn will help eliminate the sanctuaries from which terrorists plot and plan.

This move also places emphasis on the responsibility of states to eliminate terrorism. As President Trump said, each country — where it is sovereign — has to “carry the weight of their own self-defense“, be “pro-active” and responsible for “eradicating terrorism”, and “to deny all territory to the foot soldiers of evil”.

This determination was underscored by many Arab countries breaking diplomatic relations with Qatar for its support of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Most of Qatar’s Arab neighbors, including the Saudis, Egypt, and the UAE did so, while the US, although denouncing Qatar’s support of terrorism, continues to maintain access to, and use of, its critical military base there.

In short, the U.S. is playing good-cop, bad-cop in the region, while U.S. allies are putting together what Josh Rogin of the Washington Post described as “a regional security architecture encompassing countries on the periphery of Iran.”

Such an approach is not without risk: Turkey, allied with Iran and Qatar, has already has pledged to help Qatar defy the Gulf States’ trade cut-off. If Turkey, for example, seeks to move its promised aid shipments to Qatar through the Suez Canal, the ships could possibly be blocked by Egypt or attacked on the high seas. Does the U.S. then come to the assistance of a NATO member — Turkey — against an ally in the strategic coalition?

Drive Hateful Ideology Out

A companion challenge by the new American President underscored this new security effort. President Trump said to the assembled nations of the Islamic conference that they have to expel the ugly Islamist ideology from the mosques and madrassas that recruit terrorists and justify their actions.

Trump said: “Drive them out of your places of worship”. Such words had never been spoken so clearly by an American president, especially to the collection of nearly all the Islamic-majority countries (minus the Shi’ite bloc) gathered together.

The president’s audience doubtless understood that he was speaking of the doctrine of sharia (Islamic law). The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of the doctrine from their communities. It was a sharp but critical departure from the previous American administration’s message in Cairo in 2009, and placed the Islamic doctrine that seeks to establish the sharia throughout the world in a contained context.

New Israeli Partnership

With Israel, the administration has cemented the next part of its strategy. Here the Trump administration successfully improved our political and military relations with Israel. Markedly so. One part of that effort was enhanced missile-defense cooperation called for in the FY18 United States defense budget, specifically to deal with Iranian and Iranian-allied missile threats.

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

Challenge and Roll Back Iran

The final part of the administration’s strategy starts with a thorough review of our Iran strategy and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “nuclear deal”, with Iran. As Max Singer recently wrote, even if we discount what secretive nuclear capability Iran may now have, the Iranian regime will at the very least be much closer to producing nuclear weapons down the road than when the JCPOA was agreed to.

As Ambassador John Bolton has warned the nuclear deal with Iran did nothing to restrain Iranian harmful behavior: “Defiant missile launches… support for the genocidal Assad regime… backing of then Houthi insurgency in Yemen… worldwide support for terrorism… and commitment to the annihilation of Israel” continue.

In addition, uranium enrichment, heavy water production, the concealed military dimensions of warhead development and joint missile and nuclear work with North Korea all lend a critical urgency to countering Iran’s lethal efforts. The United States did not make these counter-efforts any easier by providing to Tehran $100 billion in escrowed Iranian funds, equivalent to nearly one quarter of the Islamic Republic’s annual GDP.

The United States’ and Europe’s easing of sanctions on Iran has helped reintegrate Iran into global markets via mechanisms such as the electronic payment system run by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT). That, in turn, has helped Iran expand dramatically its military modernization budget by 33%, including deals worth tens of billions of dollars in military hardware with China and Russia.

Added to that is Iranian financial- and weapons-support for foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Iran’s significant support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen includes weaponry, financing and logistical support, including advanced offensive missiles. The Houthis regularly attempt to carry out missile attacks against Saudi oil facilities.

Such Iran activity is described by the Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, as “the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interest of our partners and allies”.

As such, it can only be challenged through exactly the kind of military, political, and economic coalition the Trump administration is seeking to band together, which would include the Gulf Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

The administration’s five-step strategy has a chance to work. It creates a policy to destroy ISIS; oppose Islamic terrorism and specifically the imposition of sharia; adopt measures to go after the financing of such terrorism; implement improvements in Gulf allies’ military capabilities — including missile defenses — parallel with pushing NATO members to meet their military spending obligations; put back into place a sound and cooperative relationship with Israel; and specifically contain and roll back Iranian hegemonic ambitions and its terror-master ways.

What still has to be considered, however, is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of ISIS, as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

If successful, some modicum of peace may be brought to the Middle East. And the arc of history will have finally been shaped toward America’s interests and those of its allies, rather than — however inadvertently — toward its mortal enemies.

Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, and was the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation for more than 20 years.

Iran Using U.S. Cash to Fund Unprecedented, Massive Military Buildup

May 3, 2017

Iran Using U.S. Cash to Fund Unprecedented, Massive Military Buildup, Washington Free Beacon, , May 3, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on April 10, 2017. Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic’s fighting force into an “offensive” juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill.

Iranian officials announced late last month that Iran’s defense budget had increased by 145 percent under President Hassan Rouhani and that the military is moving forward with a massive restructuring effort aimed at making it “a forward moving force,” according to regional reports.

Iranian leaders have stated since the Iran deal was enacted that they are using the massive amounts of cash released under the agreement to fund the purchase of new military equipment and other armaments. Iran also has pursued multi-million dollar arms deals with Russia since economic sanctions were nixed as part of the deal.

Leading members of Congress and U.S. officials working on the Iran portfolio suspect that at least a portion of the Obama administration’s $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran  has been used to fund and support terrorists in the Middle East.

The latest disclosure about Iran’s military buildup is further fueling concerns that U.S. cash assets returned to the country—which were released with no strings attached by the Obama administration—are helping Iran pursue a more aggressive military stance against U.S. forces in the region.

“President Obama flat-out caved in to Iran when he handed them the disastrous nuclear deal and $1.7 billion in cash payments that could assist Iran’s military,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), an opponent of the nuclear deal, told the Washington Free Beacon. “So it’s no surprise that the world’s lead sponsor of terrorism would feel emboldened to become more aggressive in the region and flex its military muscle.”

Iranian Brigadier General Kiumars Heidari announced the military buildup during Iran’s annual Army Day. While the announcement did not grab many headlines in the Western media, national security insiders have been discussing the announcement for weeks, according to conversations with multiple sources.

Iran’s goal is to turn its army into an “offensive” force, a major shift from its historic role as a support agent for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, Iran’s extremely well funded primary fighting force.

Iran hopes to revamp its army from top to bottom, including improving logistical capabilities, weaponry, and other armaments.

Mahan Abedin, an Iran analyst writing in Middle East Eye, described the announcement as a major shift in Iranian military policy that would allow the Islamic Republic to intervene in the Persian Gulf region, where the U.S. military has a significant presence.

“This is a major policy announcement with far-reaching consequences for foreign policy and internal defense-related power dynamics,” Abedin wrote. “If implemented properly, Heidari’s proposed modernization policy would not only radically alter Iranian defense doctrine, but just as importantly, it would also reverse the army’s subservient relationship to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, told the Free Beacon that it should come as no surprise that Iran is diverting the cash it received under the nuclear deal to its military industry.

The disclosure comes as “no surprise to anyone who studied Iran” and should have been anticipated by the Obama administration, which largely sought to downplay the importance of giving Iran billions in cash resources, Rubin said.

“First, there’s history: Between 1998 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran more than doubled and the price of oil quintupled,” Rubin explained. “Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested the bulk of it in its nuclear and missile programs. The person coordinating Iran’s strategy? Hassan Rouhani who was at the time secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.”

“Obama and Kerry might as well have wired the money directly into the accounts of those seeking to enhance Iran’s military, kill Sunnis, or sponsor terrorism,” Rubin said.

One senior congressional source tracking the matter expressed concern about the safety of U.S. forces in the region, which already are routinely harassed by Iranian military personnel.

“This is certainly grounds for concern,” the source said. “An Iranian military buildup coupled with an offensive posture is a threat to the United States and our allies. This also serves as an important reminder of why the Obama administration’s cash infusion to Iran was so dangerous.”

The cash windfall provided by the United States and European countries is “fungible and hence can be used for everything from sponsoring terror proxies to developing ballistic missiles,” the source warned. “Congress will continue to take action to counter Iranian terrorism and ensure this regime never acquires a nuclear weapon.”

Iran’s military announcement has already sparked a renewed push on Capitol Hill to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran.

“The Iranians know that the party will end this fall, when Congress will pass bipartisan legislation that begins to roll back Iran’s military growth,” one senior congressional adviser working on the sanctions effort told the Free Beacon.

“The Obama administration avoided any serious action for years, and so Iran kept growing its arsenal and using it against our allies, against Syrian civilians, and increasingly against our military,” said the source. “Now they’re rushing to accomplish as much as they can before Congress and the Trump administration get around to reversing Obama’s policies.”

Tehran Relies on Propaganda to Make up For Misallocation of Funds to Foreign Conflicts

March 10, 2017

Tehran Relies on Propaganda to Make up For Misallocation of Funds to Foreign Conflicts, Iran News Update, March 10, 2017

(Please see also, Time to Call Iran’s Revolutionary Guards What They Are: Terrorists. — DM)

[R]ecently released intelligence strongly suggests that the supreme leader and hardline authorities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bear a great deal of responsibility for the economic struggles of Iranian citizens, as a result of the systematic misappropriation both of budgetary funds and financial resources earned through Iran’s private sector. On Wednesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a panel discussion coinciding with the release of an e-book titled, The Rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire.

In both the discussion and the document, the leading Iranian opposition group explained that a recent push toward widespread privatization of the Iranian economy has actually resulted in the private acquisition of more than half of the country’s gross domestic product by front companies and other affiliates of the IRGC and the supreme leader himself.

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On Friday, Reuters picked up on reporting in Iranian state media which noted that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had once again voiced criticism of President Hassan Rouhani’s handling of the nation’s economy following the nuclear agreement that went into effect at the beginning of last year. The supreme leader’s remarks appeared to specifically highlight the ongoing struggles of the Iranian people, who are experiencing poverty at a rate of at least nine percent and likely much higher.

“Of course the government has taken remarkable steps but if the resistance economy had been implemented fully and widely, we could witness a tangible difference in people’s lives,” Khamenei was quoted as saying. In previous months, he had already called for the renewal of his own “resistance economy” plan, which involves domestic development aimed at making the nation more capable of weather the storm of international economic sanctions, as distinguished from Rouhani’s plan of reaching out to Western powers in order to alleviate those sanctions.

Khamenei’s recommendations thus serve a dual purpose. In the first place, they further undermine the prospects for further rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and the West. And secondly, they defray blame for economic woes away from the supreme leader’s office and its hardline affiliates, putting it instead onto the Rouhani administration, which faces a contentious reelection bid in May.

But recently released intelligence strongly suggests that the supreme leader and hardline authorities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bear a great deal of responsibility for the economic struggles of Iranian citizens, as a result of the systematic misappropriation both of budgetary funds and financial resources earned through Iran’s private sector. On Wednesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a panel discussion coinciding with the release of an e-book titled, The Rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire.

In both the discussion and the document, the leading Iranian opposition group explained that a recent push toward widespread privatization of the Iranian economy has actually resulted in the private acquisition of more than half of the country’s gross domestic product by front companies and other affiliates of the IRGC and the supreme leader himself.

The Washington Times reported upon some of the findings presented in that document, emphasizing the fact that the regime is using these privately acquired assets to channel billions of dollars into regional terrorism, paramilitary activities, and weapons development. The article notes that the intelligence gathered by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran found that approximately 100 billion dollars was being spent annually just on salaries for militant fighters in the Syrian Civil War.

The Washington Times credits the NCRI with presenting a clear warning to Western businesses and policymakers. And the document itself says, “Foreign investors cannot in practical terms avoid entanglement by affiliation in the Iranian regime’s behavior, including its support for terrorism, continued aggressive policies towards regional countries, manufacture and testing of ballistic missiles, and systematic egregious human rights violations inside Iran.”

To critics of Iran’s clerical regime, this entanglement is worrying in its own right because of Tehran’s traditional behavior. And it is made more worrying by the fact that the above-mentioned ballistic missile program is being used alongside other types of weapons as a tool of explicit anti-Western propaganda.

This fact was highlighted once again on Friday when the Associated Press reported that General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace division, had boasted of the successful testing of another ballistic missile. The launch was aimed at naval targets and took place amidst three days of large-scale training exercises by the Iranian Navy, which is separate from the naval forces of the IRGC.

The IRGC conducted its own naval operations the previous week, and both demonstrations were accompanied by boastful rhetoric about readiness for war with proclaimed enemies including the United States. In a separate example of the same propaganda trends, Iran also premiered an animated film depicting a military officer modeled after IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani leading a small number of Iranian vessels in destroying a much larger American fleet.

In January, the IRGC conducted the test launch of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile barely a week after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump. Such tests take place in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to refrain from work on weapons that could carry a nuclear warhead, but a half dozen other such launches had been carried out before Trump was inaugurated but after the conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

The January incident was apparently the immediate impetus for a statement by the Trump administration putting Iran on notice over its provocative behavior. But various observers including US Navy officers have declared that that behavior remains unchanged, and that the IRGC continues to act unprofessionally and confrontationally in the region. Last weekend, for instance, several fast-attack vessels belonging to the IRGC positioned themselves about 600 yards away from a US Navy surveillance ship and three British vessels, compelling them to change course.

The AP reported on Friday that Iranian officials had since made exactly the opposite claim about the incident: that the American and British vessels had changed course specifically to approach the Iranian boats. But considering that this is at odds with the accounts of various other Iranian-initiated close-encounters, it seems to suggest an effort on Tehran’s part to justify its missile tests and defiant rhetoric, by suggesting that the US is the more aggressive party.

Assuming that this particular Iranian claim is indeed a deceptive one, it is certainly not the only one of its kind. The ongoing propaganda campaign also appears to involve an effort to present Iran as being much better positioned than it is for global conflict. This is suggested by the aforementioned film and the statements accompanying military demonstrations and missile tests. But the tendency is perhaps much more clearly on display in allegedly false Iranian claims of advanced weapons development.

The National Interest recently pointed to this phenomenon as it concerns the Qaher F-313 fighter jet, which is supposedly equivalent to an American F-35 stealth fighter, and which Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan claimed was ready for operational testing. In fact, independent analyses of photographs of the craft are broadly in agreement that it is merely a non-functional mockup, and a poorly structured one, at that.

Similar claims have been made about other Iranian weapons and equipment, including drones supposedly cloned from captured American technology. Other military hardware unveiled by the Iranian Army and the Revolutionary Guards has been shown to be little more than outmoded technology affixed with purely cosmetic upgrades. But to the extent that the regime is able to use its tightly controlled state media to present these so-called developments to a domestic audience, it may evoke a more war-ready image of Iran than is defensible in reality.

What’s more, this messaging dovetails with Supreme Leader Khamenei’s statements on the Iranian economy, insofar as it suggests Iran is capable of greater-than-expected domestic military development, while also concealing the fact that much of the country’s military allotment is being spent in foreign territory like Syria and Yemen instead of on advanced domestic development, whether military or civilian.

 

U.S. Money Transferred To Iran Used To Expand Iran’s Military Budget

December 15, 2016

U.S. Money Transferred To Iran Used To Expand Iran’s Military Budget, MEMRI, Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*

While we cannot establish whether the money transferred from the U.S. went directly into the expanded defense budget, it, at a minimum, enabled the government to release an equal amount of money for defense purposes. It is noteworthy that the increase in the proposed defense budget for 2017 is approximately equal to the amount transferred by the U.S. Whatever the source of the defense budget increase, the IRGC will have ample resources to expand its nefarious activities far beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic.

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The government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani has submitted to the Majlis (parliament) a draft budget for the fiscal year March 2017-March 2018 for a total of $99.7 billion equivalent. The budget envisages a growth in expenditure of 13.9 percent over the preceding year, but a sharp increase of 39 percent, or $10.3 billion, in funds earmarked for defense, including a big increase in the budget of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Notwithstanding political, economic and social conflicts between the Rohani government and the IRGC, foreign policy is closely coordinated by the two bodies. Upon reaching power, the Rohani government declared two key priorities: reforming the national economy, and reaching agreement with the West on the nuclear program. The government has shown no objection to the role of the IRGC, a potent military force accountable to the Supreme Leader, in regional politics, and particularly in Syria and Iraq. A branch of the IRGC, the Qods Force Brigade, commanded by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, is responsible for spreading Iran’s subversive and, often, terrorist activities across the Middle East and beyond.

Growth Of Iran’s Defense Budget

Overall, Iran’s defense budget has increased from $6 billion in 2013 during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to $8 billion in 2014, and in access of $10 billion for the next Iranian fiscal year. However, the section of the military budget earmarked for the IRGC has registered a far greater increase than the military budget as a whole. The budget allocation for the Revolutionary Guards was $3.3 billion in 2013, increased to $6 billion in 2015, declined to $4.5 billion in 2016 but increased by 53 percent to $6.9 billion for 2017 which translated into 77 percent of the total defense budget. In fact, under the Rouhani presidency, the total allocations to the military, the IRGC, the Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed (Basij), and the General Staff of the Armed Forces all rose to almost 80 percent since mid-2013 when Rohani assumed the presidency.

Apart of its dominant share in the national defense budget, the IRGC derives vast revenues from its control over energy, construction, banking, and marketing (as well as smuggling of contraband.) Much of these economic activities are carried out by a company known as Khatam Al-Anbiya (“Seal of the Prophet”) established by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the late 1980s as the economic arm of the IRGC. Upon the withdrawal of the major oil companies such as Shell Oil (Anglo-Dutch) and Total (French) from Iran’s oil sector following the international sanctions, ownership of the oil and gas fields vacated by these companies was transferred to Khatam Al-Anbiya.[1]

The Ultimate Destiny Of The U.S.-Transferred Cash To Iran

In seeking to strengthen the policy of rapprochement with Iran, the Obama administration (though its Treasury Department) has surreptitiously transferred to Rohani’s government two tranches, in cash, for a total of $1.7 billion, allegedly as the cumulated interest on Iran’s deposits, made during the Shah regime before the 1979 revolution, for the purchase of American weapons

It is a commonly accepted premise that money is fungible. While we cannot establish whether the money transferred from the U.S. went directly into the expanded defense budget, it, at a minimum, enabled the government to release an equal amount of money for defense purposes. It is noteworthy that the increase in the proposed defense budget for 2017 is approximately equal to the amount transferred by the U.S. Whatever the source of the defense budget increase, the IRGC will have ample resources to expand its nefarious activities far beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic.

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst (emeritus) at MEMRI.

 

[1] Al-Quds al-Arabi, December 10, 2016

Iran’s Forces Outnumber Assad’s in Syria

November 24, 2016

Iran’s Forces Outnumber Assad’s in Syria, Gatestone Institute, Majid Rafizadeh, November 24, 2016

Pursuing a sectarian agenda, Iranian leaders have also fueled the conflict by sending religious leaders to Syria to depict the conflict as a religious war.

Iran’s military forces and operations in Syria are significantly more than what has been generally reported so far.

The Syrian war has led to the rise and export of terrorism abroad as well as to one of the worst humanitarian tragedies, in which more than 470,000 people have been killed.

Iran has played a crucial role in maintaining in power President Assad, who has repeatedly used chemical weapons on civilians. Iran has promoted continuing the conflict.

2070

While, according to reports by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Syrian military has fewer than 50,000 men, Iran has deployed more than 70,000 Iranian and non-Iranian forces in Syria, and pays monthly salaries to over 250,000 militiamen and agents. According to a report entitled, “How Iran Fuels Syria War,” published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), non-Iranian mercenaries number around 55,000 men; Iraqi militias are around 20,000 men (from 10 groups), Afghan militias are approximately 15,000 to 20,000 men, Lebanese Hezbollah are around 7,000 to 10,000 men, and Pakistani, Palestinian and other militiamen number approximately 5,000 to 7,000.

In addition, the composition of Iranian IRGC forces are around 8,000 to 10,000 men, and 5,000 to 6,000 from the regular Iranian Army.

The major Iranian decision-makers in the Syrian conflict are Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s so-called moderate leaders — including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif — are also in favor of Iran’s military, advisory, financial, and intelligence involvement in Syria. Rouhani repeatedly announced his support for Assad and pledged to “stand by [Syria].”

Khamenei insists on using more military power in Syria:

“[I]n December 2015, Khamenei ordered the IRGC to stand fast in the Aleppo region. He reiterated that if they retreated, their fate would be similar to the Iran-Iraq war and the regime would ultimately be defeated in Syria. Thus, in January 2016, the IRGC doubled the number of its forces in Syria to about 60,000 and launched extensive attacks in the region. However, despite tactical advances in some areas, these forces have been unable to even take control of southern Aleppo. IRGC faced a deadlock. In March 2016, Khamenei ordered the regular Army’s 65th Division (special operations) to be deployed around Aleppo, and increased the number of other forces as well. Plans for a major offensive to capture Aleppo were set in motion. During attacks by the IRGC and the Iranian army in April 2016, dozens of the regime’s forces, including IRGC commanders and staff, Iranian army personnel and foreign mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, were killed. Although the IRGC and the Iranian regime’s regular army forces have failed to change the balance of military power in Syria, Khamenei insists on sending more IRGC and army forces into the Syrian quagmire. Seeing no way forward, and no way back.”

Iran has also played critical role in pushing Russia to intensify its military involvement in Syria by providing air support, so that the IRGC and its allies could help Iran’s military make quick territorial gains.

Iran has spent approximately USD $100 billion on the Syrian war. The sanctions relief given to Iran as a result of the “nuclear agreement” has significantly assisted the Iranian leaders’ ability to continue the war.

Iran also pays salaries to non-Iranian militias to participate in the war: “The Tehran regime spends one billion dollars annually in Syria solely on the salaries of the forces affiliated with the IRGC, including military forces, militias, and Shiite networks.”

Iran, for example, pays nearly USD $1,550 a month to the IRGC’s Iraqi mercenaries who are dispatched to Syria for a month-and-a-half, and approximately USD $100-200 a month to the Syrian militia fighters from the Syrian National Defense.

Pursuing a sectarian agenda, Iranian leaders have also fueled the conflict by sending religious leaders to Syria to depict the conflict as a religious war.

“Iran’s ruling regime has deployed a vast network of its mullahs to Syria, where their warmongering stirs up the fighters. And much like during the Iran/Iraq War, religious zealots are also sent to Syria to fuel the flames of religious fervor among the IRGC’s Basiij fighters and Afghan and Iraqi mercenaries.”

Iran has divided Syria into five divisions and haד over 13 military bases including the “Glass Building” (Maghar Shishe’i), which is the IRGC’s main command center in Syria, located close to the Damascus Airport. The IRGC placed its command center near the airport because,

“the airport would be the last location to fall. IRGC forces airlifted to Syria are dispatched to other areas from this location. One of the commanders stationed at the Glass Building is IRGC Brig. Gen. Seyyed Razi Mousavi, commander of IRGC Quds Force logistics in Syria. Between 500 and 1,000 Revolutionary Guards are stationed there.”

Other Iranian bases are scattered across Syria including in Allepo, Hama, and Latakia.

Since Brig. General Hossein Hamedani was killed in Syria, the current command of Iran’s forces in Syria lies with the Command Council, whose members include: IRGC Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani (deputy of Qassem Soleimani who is the commander of the Quds Force) and IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Jafaar Assadi (aka Seyyed Ahmad Madani).

The Syrian conflict has become the “root cause” of terrorism, which does not recognize borders and has spread to Europe and America. Since the Syrian war is the epicenter of terrorism, fighting terrorist groups such as ISIS without resolving the Syrian conflict is fruitless.

Terrorist groups such as ISIS are the symptoms, and the Syrian war is the disease. We need to address the disease and the symptoms simultaneously.

The best strategic and tactical approach is to cut off the role of a major player in the conflict: i.e. Iran. Without Iran, Assad would most likely not have survived the beginning phase of the uprising.

Iran kept Assad in power and gave birth to terrorist groups such as ISIS. In other words, Iran and Assad are the fathers of ISIS. Iran and Assad also played the West by claiming that they are fighting terrorism.

Considering the military forces and money invested in Syria, Iran is the single most important player in the Syrian war, and has tremendously increased radicalization of individuals, militarization and terrorism. Iran benefits from the rise of terrorism because it expands its military stranglehold across the region. Iran is top sponsor of terrorism, according to the latest report from U.S. State Department.

Iran will not agree to abandon Assad diplomatically.

In order to resolve this ripe environment of conflict for terrorism in Syria, Iran’s financial and military support to Assad should be strongly countered and cut off.

Iran Sanctions Have Ended – and the Mass Executions Have Restarted

September 22, 2016

Iran Sanctions Have Ended – and the Mass Executions Have Restarted, American ThinkerMansour Kashfi, September 22, 2016

The crippling global sanctions on Iran cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars and decimated the economy. Inflation rose to over 40 percent and unemployment levels reached 33 percent. Consequently, the majority of citizens experienced an astronomical cost of living and lack of government services. Therefore, news of negotiations and lifting of sanctions was very well received by Iranians and generated optimism for a life of less hardship after sanctions.

However, since the agreement ending sanctions was signed between the Islamic Republic (IR) and the international powers last January, nothing has improved regarding the everyday life of the Iranian people. Not even one of the critical civil issues that was promised by the so-called “moderate”, “pragmatic” president, Hassan Rouhani, to be addressed after sanctions ended, has been opened for discussion by the IR officials.

Regardless of the rather rapid increase in Iranian crude oil and petrochemical sales and the release of billions of dollars of frozen money by a number of international oil companies and foreign governments, the nation-wide tax in all categories remarkably increased, and a limited welfare to needy senior citizens has been discontinued.

Despite the rosy promises of the IR’s authorities, especially Hassan Rouhani, to bring justice for all and raise the standards of living of the people, amazingly nothing has been done to improve Iranians’ living conditions, and no social freedom and justice is on the horizon. On the contrary, tougher repression and mass executions are the only gift by the IR to the Iranian people after sanctions ended.

Release of Assets

US officials claimed that IR had more than $100 billion of frozen assets abroad during the sanctions era, the equivalent of 28 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, which has been returning to the IR after sanctions ended. A good portion of this money was balance payments of crude oil sold by IR to its customers during the sanction years, including Royal Dutch Shell, Italy’s Saras, Greece’s Hellenic, Emirates National Oil Company, the Indian Reliance and Essar oil refiner, the Netherlands and Japan. All unfrozen money has been transferring to IR’s Central Bank by way of the SWIFT global transactions network. President Hassan Rouhani announced last March that the government of IR has access to all unfrozen assets.

Further, according to the International Energy Agency, IR is currently exporting about 2.14 million barrels of crude and over 200,000 barrels of gas condensates daily. The IR’s oil ministry reported the oil revenues from 2016 until mid-July were about $20 billion.

During negotiations with the IR last year the Obama administration agreed to pay $400 million plus interest of $1.3 billion to settle a failed arms sale to Iran that was initiated during the monarchical government before 1979. The first payment equivalent of $400 million in cash in the form of Swiss francs and euros was airlifted from Geneva, Switzerland to Tehran on January 17, and in return four Iranian-American hostages in IR’s jail were released. Further, officials of the State and Treasury departments confirmed on September 6 that two remaining installments of the $1.3 billion were sent to Tehran in the same manner through Geneva on January 22 and February 5.

With all this windfall money nothing tangible in terms of infrastructure renovations, civil reform and the rise of standard of living has taken place in the country. On the contrary, poverty has increased, over one-third of Iranians presently live under the poverty line, and thousands of citizens escape the country everyday to find a safer place to live. Worst of all, in testimonies of various human rights advocates and organizations, the ignoring of human rights by the IR is always an ever-growing issue in Iran, particularly after the ending of sanctions.

Human Rights Issues

The level of repression inside Iran has increased since Hassan Rouhani took office as president in 2013. Since then, the number of executions has grown rapidly. In 2014, the number of death sentences in Iran reached the largest number of executions in the world except for China. In 2015, according to Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, the number exceeded 1,000.

The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee passed a resolution last November that expressed its deepest concern about human rights violations by the Islamic regime. Amnesty International has also called on regime authorities to stop the hanging, particularly of juvenile offenders who are convicted on dubious evidence.  Amnesty International time and again has published reports on physical and psychological torture in Iran, saying that the number of torture and ill-treatment cases is increasing in Iran, making it clear that these violations of human rights not only continue in this time of a moderate President, but are noticeably becoming widespread and in most places systematic.

In January of 2016, finally the expected moment of change arrived, and sanctions were lifted. But immediately, political pressure and religious discrimination began increasing daily. The penalty for apostasy is still death. Any female regardless of age that does not wear veils is arrested and faces harsh punishments. Cultural dissidents, artists, and homosexuals on most occasions would receive capital punishment. Mass executions for political prisoners which were common practice for over a decade after the so-called revolution have now restarted primarily for non-Shi’a citizens.

There was a hanging of 20 innocent Sunni-Kurdish citizens in Karaj, a suburb of Tehran on August 3, 2016, the execution of an Iranian nuclear scientist on August 7, the hanging of 5 minority citizens in the western province of Azerbaijan on August 14, and another hanging of 3 minority citizens accused of exploding the oil pipeline in the southwest province of Khuzestan on August 16. Although U.N. Representative Ahmed Shaheed firmly requested the IR stop the systematic executions, 12 more allegedly accused of possession of illegal drugs were hanged in Karaj prison on August 27. There were a total of 41 executions officially of innocent citizens just in one month. In addition many young male and female citizens disappear every day, and their decomposed bodies are occasionally found in the remote parts of their hometowns. These systematic executions reveal that the nature of the Islamic regime has not changed at all, sanctions or no sanctions. IR claims they were executed for “purported terrorism and related activities” as reported by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced on September 6 a bill to censure President Obama for his rewarding a terrorist government for its hostage taking as IR presently still has three Iranian-Americans in prison.

It is inhuman for these executions to take place after an unfair trial, absent of any attorneys on behalf of defendants, and obviously based entirely on coerced confessions. In most cases such executions take place without any trial at all, and the Islamic regime has never allowed Ahmed Shaheed to visit Iran to make a precise assessment on human rights violations.

Iran as a member of the United Nations and other international human rights communities has systematically violated nearly every provision of these institutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. IR’s officials have openly opted to ridicule the concept of universal human rights, and they brand the principle of human rights as a tool of the “Great Satan” and Western imperialism.

Where does the money go?

Evidently, the released money after sanctions ended was not intended for citizens’ welfare and the improvement of the living conditions in Iran. The IR officials have been apathetic since the welfare and health of the Iranian people is of the lowest priority in their eyes, considering the huge expense of their active terrorist groups in the Middle East. The money has already reached the IR’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for their efforts to export the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries and carry on the IR’s hostile engagements in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, arming and financially supporting terrorist groups around the world including Hamas in Gaza, Hezb’llah in Lebanon, Shi’a groups in Bahrain, Houthis in Yemen, and the drug traffickers in South America. The IRGC is the most powerful extralegal organization and richest entity in Iran. The associated IRGC units own over one-third of the listed companies of the Tehran Stock Exchange. Further, according to Bloomberg, the IR Supreme Leader Mullah Khamenei is the owner of an economic empire of about $95 billion.

Now we know where the money goes.