Home Blog Page 3

Bin Laden’s letter saved Tehran from ISIS terror


A letter recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan holds the key to the pact that for years protected Iran from jihadist attack.

“There is no need to fight with Iran,” he wrote in 2007. “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel and communication, as well as hostages.” The letter was addressed to the leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, later to become Islamic State.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its founder, knew the extent of co-operation between al-Qaeda and Iran. For him and other jihadists, Iran offered an escape from Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion, and it gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda figures under a secret deal.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy, wrote to Zarqawi to warn that his anti-Shia bloodlust in Iraq was damaging the al-Qaeda brand — and also risked damaging al-Qaeda’s relationship with Shia-majority Iran.

In 2007 the Sunni jihadists in Iraq issued a direct threat to Iran. Bin Laden’s warning against such a strike was heeded, but hatred of Shias remained a founding tenet.

The obligation not to attack the world’s leading Shia power was over. While this may be the first successful Isis strike in Iran, it is not its first attempt. Isis has tried and failed many times.

Iran lacks a disaffected Sunni population that helped Isis take root in Iraq and Syria. Most of Iran’s minority are Kurds who identify with Kurdish nationalism.

In 2011 the US sanctioned six al-Qaeda operatives, using Iranian soil to move funds and recruits from Iran’s Gulf neighbours to South Asia and elsewhere. The network remains.

Source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bin-laden-s-letter-saved-tehran-from-isis-terror-03zx92vvb

The Shia Crescent: Iran’s dream nearing reality

Recent days have seen mounting signs that ISIS is on the retreat. Its campaign in Iraq has gone into freefall, while the Iraqi army and local militias are chasing the extremists back well into Syria. There has been speculation this weekend that Raqqa, the extremists’ de facto capital, will be under siege soon following significant ISIS losses.

The remarkable aspect to this drive is the coalition of convenience that has emerged to fight ISIS. The Iraqi army is fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, US and UK Special Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The other partner in the coalition are the Iraqi Shia militias, much of whose funding and training is provided by neighbouring Iran. These are the same militias whose primary intention after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was the murder of US and UK soldiers based in Iraq.

With Iran’s proxy Hezbollah and crack Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) leading the charge – with Russian air support – against moderate rebels and ISIS alike on Syria’s western front, Iran’s dream of creating a land bridge of Shia client states across from Tehran to the Mediterranean is nearing reality. This will have major ramifications for the way in which it can supply terrorist groups throughout the region.

The importance of this Shia crescent to Iran’s regional ambitions cannot be underestimated. For decades, Hussein’s Sunni Iraq blocked the passage of Iranian supplies to its proxy dependents, forcing Tehran to find other ways to get materiel, men and missiles to them. After his overthrow, Iran played a major role in the chaos of Iraq, trying to ensure that the chips eventually fell in its favour.

Now, the Shia militias that it backed early in the civil conflict remain powerful players that are largely independent of government. Iranian generals like Qassem Suleiman, the head of the IRGC’s elite Qods unit and one of the most powerful men in the region, have direct command of Iraqi militias. Their involvement in the campaign against ISIS will provide the opportunity to secure land for their paymasters, and lead the charge to link up with the fighters for Assad coming in from the West.

Iran’s game in eastern Syria will be along the same lines as it was in Iraq. Iranian generals will be examining the possibilities of advancing on former ISIS land; already in May, the US destroyed a military convoy allied to Syria’s President Assad for encroaching towards its al-Tanf base on the Syria-Jordan border. Signs of Iran’s intention to make a land grab will be even more evident as ISIS loses territory.

This is a serious concern to the West and to those seeking stability in the Middle East. A clear road from Tehran to Damascus and beyond will allow the Ayatollah’s regime to spread its ‘revolution’ to its allies with ease. Terrorist movements like Hezbollah, Assad and Hamas will all benefit, and those seeking stability will lose unless action is taken to restrict their influence. The US has supported the creation of a buffer zone in eastern Syria that can be policed by the international community, while committing more arms to strengthen moderate militias like the Kurds.

This is a start, but only Iran has the genuine long-term desire to remain engaged across this region. The West must demonstrate the same resolve, otherwise it must be prepared to suffer the consequences of stronger, better armed enemies across the region.



Allegations of voter fraud in Iranian elections no surprise

The defeated candidate in Iran’s recent presidential elections, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, on Sunday officially lodged a complaint to the Guardian Council, which oversaw the election on 19 May, and the judiciary about the prevalence of voter fraud in support of the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani.

The complaint has been widely supported by Raisi’s conservative supporters, who have pledged to continue their campaign to back him despite his loss to Rouhani by a margin of 57 percent to 38. Indignant at the result, Raisi said, “I ask the Guardian Council and the judiciary not to let the people’s rights get trampled. If this vote-tampering is not looked into, then the people’s trust will be damaged.”

The irony of this statement is that, to all normal Iranians and observers from abroad, this damage was already done decades ago. There is no trust in the Iranian electoral system and Iranians are now feeling more and more disconnected from their leaders.

The disconnection felt by the people is the precursor to one of the regime’s great fears: a revolution against the revolution. The regime has clamped down hard on its opponents, keen to ensure that the Green Movement of 2009 is not rekindled. This election was carried out under tight security, and it remains to be seen how the popular opposition will manifest itself in the near future.

From the start, the process has been managed by the Guardian Council which, under the orders of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has restricted voters’ choice to only those hand-picked by the regime. Of the 1600 would-be candidates who submitted their forms to the Council to run, only six made it onto the ballot paper. Of these six, only two were ever considered to have the serious backing of the state.

Rouhani and Raisi were both marketed to voters as having starkly different views on how to run the country, with the Western press in particular adamant that the split between the hard-liners and the ‘reformists’ was a genuine contest. This is not the case. Both candidates are members of the ruling clerical elite and have been played increasingly important roles in promoting and sustaining the Islamic theocracy in place since 1979.

During the campaign, Rouhani and Raisi exchanged accusations in debates and on the campaign trail, using language rarely heard in politics in Iran. Rouhani accused Raisi of abuses while at the judiciary, and was in turn accused of corruption and economic mismanagement. Each denied the other’s accusations. 

What neither denied, however, is that they would both be subservient to the will of the Supreme Leader. Neither would challenge his authority or act as a counter-balance of power in the Iranian system. Neither would stand up against Iran’s support for terrorist causes in advancing its malicious foreign policy. Neither would work to reform properly this ‘revolutionary’ regime that has forced its people into submission and poverty.

There was no choice in Iran’s election. When voters went to the polls on 19 May, they could only be certain of one thing: nothing would change.

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.