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Why Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel spells trouble for Iran

On Saturday, US President Donald Trump arrives in Saudi Arabia on the opening leg of his first official foreign tour. His visit is highly symbolic and a clear signal of intent to the Middle East as a whole and the Gulf in particular.

Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US abandoned its leading role in the Middle East. The ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011 threw the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy into chaos; instead of working for the benefit of US interests in the region, Obama opted to back protesters campaigning for democracy against long-term allies of the US, most prominently in Egypt. This was never forgotten by Arab leaders.

Having abandoned America’s regional partners, Obama then worked to bring Iran – a staunch enemy of US allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia – back in from the international wilderness. This concluded in the nuclear deal in 2015, and the loss of a great deal of trust between the US and its Arab friends.

The consequence of Obama’s foreign policy is that the Arab states, left to their own devices, united around the leadership of Saudi Arabia to confront Iran in both Yemen and Syria. This has resulted in a stronger, more organised regional bloc that may prove harder for the Iranians to subvert.

In a worrying development for the clerics, Trump has also now abandoned Obama’s less interventionist stance. Since entering the Oval Office, Trump has been clear about who his friends are in the Middle East. Traditional allies have returned to the forefront of his foreign policy. As if to demonstrate this marked turnaround, Egypt’s President Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump after his election victory. Arab leaders now see that Trump’s presidency will result in more cooperation between America and this coalition, and the opposition to Iran strengthened.

Trump’s outspoken criticism of Iran has caused concern in Tehran, and delighted old allies. In recent months, Trump has launched a review of sanctions on Iran, heavily criticised the nuclear deal and accused it of “playing with fire” by continuing its missile programme. Trump has surrounded himself with critics of Iran, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who called it the “world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism”.

Both Saudi and Israel have been victims of Iran’s support for terrorists. The Saudis have fought Iran-backed insurgents in Yemen, Bahrain and their own Eastern Province, while Israel has waged several wars against Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Both countries were among the most concerned by Obama’s rapprochement with Iran, which would allow its support for these destabilising forces to continue as its economy recovered.

But now, the US is willing to commit to re-asserting itself in the Middle East. On Sunday, Trump will discuss security and counter-terrorism with a coalition of Islamic states – pointedly excluding Iran – and explain US policy in the Arab world. Rumours abound that he will commit the US to a $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and we will likely see a smaller but equally important strategic commitment to Israel.

Iran will look at these deals and worry. Worry about an increase in US military presence in the region; worry about the gradual unity of an Arab coalition against it; and worry about the threat of more sanctions, crippling its economy once again.

Normal Iranians have had enough of living under sanctions. Economic hardship, long blamed by the clerics on others, is no longer tolerated and is the single most dangerous threat to the existence of the revolutionary regime. If Trump wants to hurt the clerics in Tehran, it will be sanctions, not arms deals, that do the most damage.

 

As election nears, real freedom is a distant wish for Iran’s people

On 19 May, the people of Iran will head to the polls to elect their new President. Yet, behind this false veil of democracy, Iranians’ personal freedoms and rights continue to be eroded by a restrictive religious regime scared of the power of its own people.

Like many unpopular systems, Iran’s revolutionary theocracy thrives only when it subjugates the will and desires of its people. The clerics have two ways of doing this: either crush the desires by force, or provide a fake valve to release pent-up pressure while changing nothing. Iran’s ‘democratic’ process is the latter.

While using force to keep the regime in power is more dramatic, the valve is potentially more dangerous to the regime, particularly if it malfunctions. And there is no chance that the clerics will allow anything to go wrong with this election.

The last time this happened was in 2009, when the Green Movement came out in numbers to protest the allegedly rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a regime henchman, in place of the more popular opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The repression was swift and brutal, with the severity of the response echoing the seriousness of the threat to the regime.

The lesson has been learned since 2009, and the steps taken to counter any protest have resulted in a neutering of Iran’s claim to be democratic. Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proclaimed that anyone protesting against the election “will definitely be slapped in the face”. The real punishment will be much worse.

Khamenei also adopted one of the regime’s favourite tactics, that of blaming outsiders for any troubles in Iran. He warned his audience of paramilitary Revolutionary Guards cadets that enemies of Iran seek “to create tension and sedition to disrupt order and security”. He made a point of alluding to US billionaire George Soros, whose name is often linked to other conspiracy theories. There is no evidence of any outside interference in Iran’s election; indeed, it is so closely controlled that there would be no opportunity to interfere even if others tried.

The most shocking part of Iran’s clampdown on individuals’ rights is not, however, the lack of political freedoms. Throughout Iranian society, the regime attacks the public’s freedom of worship, freedom of speech and women’s rights, arresting dissidents, civil activists and independent journalists. Political prisoners continue to languish in Iranian prisons.

The mullahs’ excesses are not limited to their own nationals. Foreign dual nationals, including American and British citizens, are slung in jail for non-existent crimes, converting ordinary citizens into pawns in the international game of political chess favoured by the clerics.

Iran’s clerics are used to using repression as a weapon against their opponents. There is no reason to see why this election will be any different.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of ‘deception’ and supporting terrorism

The Saudi mission to the UN accused Iran of “deception” and of “supporting terrorism and threatening stability in the region.”

In a letter to the UN secretary general and to the president of the UN Security Council, the mission said Iran violated international law through its practices and caused war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It added that Iranian armed militias continue to threaten stability in the region and peace in the world noting that the Iranian regime does not hide its support of terrorism.

The letter described the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a tool that exports extremist Iranian ideology and spreads terrorism in the world by supporting extremist militias with arms, money and people, such as the case with the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the sectarian militias in Iraq.

Iran was also accused of continuing to support Houthis in Yemen for the purpose of occupying the country and threatening neighboring Saudi Arabia’s security.

The Saudi letter came in response to an Iranian letter to the UN Security Council which Iran sent following the Saudi deputy crown prince’s statements on Iran’s sectarian meddling the region.

Source: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/05/17/Saudi-Arabia-accuses-Iran-of-deception-and-supporting-terrorism.html

The Kurds – doing more than Iran against Daesh?

The struggle against terrorism is one of the gravest threats to peace in the modern era. The emergence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, thriving in the political vacuum following the uprising against President Bashar al Assad, has been a source of terrorism since its inception. Yet despite the instability in Syria and the complex patchwork of relationships that spreads across the disintegrating country, the international community quickly united against Daesh and the dangerous type of extremism it represents.

In turn, those who lead the fight against Daesh have been targeted by Islamic extremists. In Europe, the 2016 attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin, to name a few, show that terrorism can strike anyone at any time. The Middle East has also seen its share of attacks. Saudi Arabia is one of Al Qaeda and Daesh’s main targets, and Saudi cities from Mecca to Qatif have been targeted in a nation-wide bombing campaign.

No-one, however, has been hit as hard as those who have been attacked directly by Daesh forces, their land invaded and their people displaced and murdered.

The Kurds are one of these people. Spread across Turkey, Iraq and Iran, their land in north-east Syria was taken first. Soon after, Daesh moved on Kurdish-minority areas in Iraq like Mosul and Kobani, before unsuccessfully assaulting Kirkuk and the Iraqi Kurdish homeland.

But the Kurds have fought back. Using their experience of resistance against Turkey, Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Peshmerga forces have led the military response to Daesh. Receiving support from the US and the international coalition, Kurdish fighters – famously including women in their ranks – have driven Daesh out of Mosul and are continuing their campaign, chasing the extremist group back to Syria with the aim of defeating them completely.

These brave Kurdish efforts are in marked contrast to Iran’s efforts in Syria. Instead of actively contributing to the international coalition against Daesh, Iran has been focused instead on shoring up the murderous Assad regime, desperate to preserve the influence it has over Damascus. Iran’s military efforts in Syria have targeted not Daesh extremists but rebels fighting Assad.

Not content with attacking these non-extremist rebels, Iran has made it its mission to hit civilian populations in areas under rebel control. The battle over Aleppo is a case study in Iran’s operations in Syria: obliterate those living in the city as punishment for supporting, or even just being near, rebel fighters. The indiscriminate regime campaign, undertaken thanks to Iranian planning, leadership, materiel and soldiers, was the civil war’s most horrific event and one of the greatest contributors to Syria’s humanitarian crisis.

Now contrast Iran’s deployment of its resources to that of the Kurds. Kurdistan, operating on a shoe-string budget as a semi-independent part of an embattled Iraqi state, has dedicated all the energy and, critically, military manpower at its disposal to fight Daesh. Iran, a nation that vastly outnumbers Kurdistan in financial and military terms, is instead dedicating its efforts to keep a terrorist and murderer in power.

It is worth noting that Iran is the only country in the region not to have been attacked by Daesh and Al Qaeda, despite the fact that it is run by Shia clerics, who Sunni fundamentalists claim to despise. This is less surprising when one remembers that the US Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for its “support to terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in Iraq” in February 2012.

If Iran were to dedicate as much attention to fighting terrorists like Daesh as the Kurds have, instead of supporting rogue regimes like Assad, the fight against Islamic fundamentalism would be many steps closer to victory.

Straight-talking Trump right to call on Moscow to ‘rein in’ Iran

“President Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran, and Iranian proxies.”

So said a White House readout of the meeting last Wednesday between President Trump and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister.

The role of Iran in Syria is often overlooked, with more focus usually placed on Russia, given its role in providing diplomatic cover for the murderous Assad regime and its position on the UN Security Council.

That is not to disregard the shameful support President Putin has given to Assad. However, when it comes to analysing what is happening on the ground in Syria, more often than not it is the evil hand of Iran that is to be found orchestrating some of the most horrific acts of violence inflicted on the people of Syria.

According to a report, ‘Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict’, by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Iran has supplied the Syrian Government forces and other Shia militias with light arms and advanced strategic weapons, including rockets, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles. They have also used drones to conduct strikes against rebel groups near Aleppo.

Iran’s deep involvement in the conflict extends from supplying of military equipment and advice to providing thousands of ‘boots on the ground’, whether in the form of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force or its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

Iran has not even been trying to hide their involvement. For example, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Chief Military Aide boasted in December 2016 that Syrian President Assad’s forces would have been unable to retake Aleppo without support from Tehran:

“Aleppo was liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah…Iran is on one side of this coalition which is approaching victory and this has shown our strength”.

He then tactfully added: “the new American president should take heed of the powers of Iran”.

This support for the regime of President Assad is nothing short of reprehensible. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been slain by their own ‘government’, millions more have been displaced and an entire region is now racked with instability.

The chemical weapons attack last month, undoubtedly committed by the Syrian government forces, on a rebel-held town was just the latest in a very long line of crimes against humanity conducted in Syria.

What has not been as widely covered is that, as long ago as 2005, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that Iran was working with Syria to build an “innovative chemical warfare programme” and that Iran’s role was to build equipment to produce “hundreds of tons of precursors for VX, sarin and mustard”.

Furthermore, Iranian action in coordination with the Syrian government and Russia is also impeding the international community’s attempts to provide humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrians in desperate need of assistance.

It is about time that the West treated Iran in the manner it deserves, rather than pussyfooting around the revolutionary regime in Tehran that has little interest in playing a responsible role in the international community.

President Trump’s diplomatic efforts have been somewhat blunt since entering office earlier this year. However, after years of failed attempts to counter Iran’s regional meddling, perhaps it is now time for some straight talking.