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Iran sanctions: when will the regime learn?

Iran’s clerical regime has announced its determination to maintain its support for terrorists and its divisive and disruptive foreign policy, despite new measures from the West aimed at restricting Iran’s regional influence and restoring stability to the Middle East.

Last Thursday, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill authorising further sanctions on Iran and Russia. To most observers, this bill was no surprise. Both countries are waging illegal military campaigns that have focused on attacking civilians – in Syria and the Ukraine respectively – while continuing to finance and support terrorist groups abroad. Russia is also accused of meddling in the US elections, while Iran has continued to develop its missile programme.

Iran responded by admonishing the US for breaching the terms of the nuclear deal and alleging that Zionists are in charge of US foreign policy. Senior figures in the regime have been sent out to defend Iran, including the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to the Supreme Leader.

Their comments confirm what their opponents already know: that Iran will stop at nothing to secure its interests in the Middle East. Its protests against the new sanctions show how far away Iran is from playing a constructive role in the international arena.

The Iran legislation had broad bipartisan support after months of negotiations and easily cleared the Foreign Relations Committee in late May. The text of the bill expands current sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for terrorism and transfer of weapons, and human rights violations.

Since President Donald Trump arrived in the White House in January, he has been clear that Iran will no longer get away with such actions. He and senior members of his staff, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and others within the White House, have continually admonished Iran for its actions, but yet it has not changed its behaviour.

At home, funding of its missile programme and other defence initiatives, including arms purchases from Russia, was doubled at the start of the year by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Missile tests continued apace. Iran continued sentencing its own citizens to death at an astonishing rate, while restricting any rights to protest, free speech or religion. The insipid nature of the election in May showed just how tight the regime’s control of democracy is, with the two main candidates both from the same clerical background.

Abroad, the outlook is just as bad. Looking at any of the region’s hot-spots – Syria, Iraq, Yemen – and the hand of Iran can be felt clearly, wreaking havoc through the incitement of violence and the targeting of civilians. It is clear that Iran actively subverts the rule of its neighbours – including allies of the West in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere –but yet it has continued to do so, too often without rebuke.

Iran, therefore, cannot complain that it has not been warned. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely to change its behaviour, meaning it will contribute to further instability and chaos in the region for many years to come.

Iranian boat shines laser at US aircraft in Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian naval patrol boat shined a laser at a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Strait of Hormuz in what officials said was an unsafe encounter.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban said Wednesday that the Iranian vessel also turned its spotlight on two Navy ships that were moving through the strait on Tuesday. Urban, a U.S. Fifth Fleet spokesman, said the Iranian boat came within 800 yards of the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, and scanned it from bow to stern with the spotlight. It also shined the light on the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer.

The Marine CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter automatically fired flares in response to the laser. No one was injured and there was no damage to the ships.

A third American vessel, the USNS Washington Chambers cargo ship, was accompanying the others but was not affected.

Urban said the action was considered unsafe because “illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles.”

Bin Laden’s letter saved Tehran from ISIS terror

BinLaden

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.