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Trump needs a regional policy beyond sanctions to check
Khairallah Khairallah/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
That US President Donald Trump reintroduced economic sanctions on Iran should be considered a turning point on regional and international levels. What’s more important, however, is for Trump to synthesise a comprehensive US approach to the entire region.
Trump has taken the right step, especially if it turns out that it wasn’t an isolated move focusing on just the situation inside Iran and not taking into account Iran’s expansionist project. We should keep in mind that this project is part of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s original Shia plan for the entire region and particularly for Iraq.
If regime change in Iran has become an urgent necessity for the Iranians themselves, it is even more urgent to change Iran’s policies in the region. When Trump invited the Iranian regime to bilateral negotiations without preconditions, it was a smart move. Tehran could only refuse the offer because it realised it had two conditions of its own for any dialogue with the United States. The first such condition is related to Hezbollah, which Iran considers its best achievement since 1979.
Hezbollah is not just another political party in Lebanon. It is also a self-contained standing army in the service of Iran. Hezbollah made Beirut an Iranian media base. Most of the satellite channels used by Iran to pursue its objective of destabilising the region broadcast from Beirut. One example is Al Masirah, which belongs to the Houthis in Yemen but broadcasts from Beirut.
What is required of Iran is necessarily to change its state regime. To conclude that there are positive signs from Tehran, all Iran has to do is become a “normal” state concerned with its internal affairs and leave those of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen alone.
What we’re talking about represents the challenge facing the Trump administration. Trump should have gone beyond economic sanctions and pressured Iran into changing its policies on the regional level.
Some in Washington might say that there is no need to waste effort to counter Iranian influence outside Iran itself and that it is better to choke it from inside. They say there will be no need for further steps on the regional level since Iran is going to be kept busy limiting damage caused by the sanctions.
Such a view belittles the Iranian regime’s capacity to resist and counterattack. For that regime, the first line of defence in ensuring its survival is to foray head first outside Iranian borders.
There is a need for a comprehensive American approach to the problems in the region stretching from Bab el Mandeb Strait north to Iraq and east to the Gulf region. To understand how the United States had come to giving Iran leeway in the region, return to the periods of US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
The United States stood helpless when the Iranian revolution held its diplomats hostage for 444 days starting in November 1979. Iran’s appetite for more American shame grew out of proportion and led to a series of suicide bombings of US facilities in Lebanon. The US Embassy in Beirut was bombed in April 1983 and the US Marines’ headquarters near Beirut’s International Airport was hit in November that year. Battered and bruised, the Americans withdrew their troops from Beirut and Iran had a field day in Lebanon.
Since that fateful year, Iran has been chipping away at Lebanon, its people and its institutions. We have reached conditions in Lebanon such that Iran could boast through its al-Quds Force Major-General Qassem Soleimani that Tehran controls a comfortable majority in the Lebanese parliament.
Soleimani claimed that 74 out of the 128 representatives in the parliament were loyal to Iran. None of those individuals dared contradict him and Iran continues to block the process of forming a new government. So, considering the economic crisis choking the country, is Lebanon doomed?
Lebanon is not alone in suffering from Iranian hegemony. Iraq has seen worse. Nobody knows how long Iraq will last without a government. There, too, the Iranians were given a free hand by the Americans who pulled out militarily from the country in 2010. At that time, US President Barack Obama was obsessed with accomodating Iran.
Everywhere in the Middle East, the Americans backed down to Iranian hegemony so Iran decided to reach all the way to Yemen. Its proxy agents there, the Houthis, are threatening international sea lanes through Bab el Mandeb Strait.
The Americans also backed down in Syria and allowed pro-Iranian militias to come and go as they wished. Nobody really knows if Iran will give in to the Russian-Israeli demand to keep 100km off the Golan Heights.
The US sanctions on Iran will have an effect but when? As everybody awaits regime change in Iran, which will come sooner or later, more damage will be inflicted on Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
As a superpower, the United States will eventually beat Iran at this waiting game but there will always be this nagging question: Why doesn’t the United States have a comprehensive approach to the Middle East and its repetitive crises and to its confrontation with Iran?
A comprehensive approach to the problems of the Middle East would spare the local populations many a hardship, especially in Syria where Iranian hatred to everything that is Arab is destroying the country.
*Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.
Tehran’s ‘proxy model’ faces new constraints
Mark Habeeb/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
Ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Tehran’s leaders have employed proxy forces — often insurgent groups and terrorist organisations — to advance the Islamic Republic’s regional objectives. Initially, the Iranian Revolution advocated “Muslim unity” and attempted to position itself as the leader of all Muslims in the anti-US and anti-imperialistic struggle.
However, Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at Washington’s Middle East Institute, said that following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Iran’s subsequent involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, Tehran increasingly has pursued a sectarian agenda by supporting primarily Shia proxies. Vatanka details his findings in “The Emergence of Iran’s ‘Proxy Model,’” a study released by the Middle East Institute.
Iran’s use of proxy forces since 1979 has not been a consistent practice. Vatanka said that after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, Tehran reconsidered the proxy model and the 1990s saw an Iranian retrenchment in the region.
Then, in 2003, came the US-led invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which “catalysed a sudden power vacuum in that country.” This created a tempting opportunity, especially for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “After 2003,” Vatanka writes, “Iran’s IRGC stepped quickly in to identify and cultivate what is in Persian referred to as the ‘goro-haaye vije,’ or ‘special groups’ — Arabs and other non-Iranians — who would become the Islamic Republic’s foot soldiers.”
When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Tehran applied the template it developed in Iraq as it “bolstered local non-state militant actors as its foot soldiers in the broader fight for influence,” Vatanka said. In Syria, Tehran also had the advantage of being on the same side as the regime and, later, of Moscow.
There was one key difference in Iran’s involvement in Syria compared to Iraq, writes Vatanka: “The major departure in Syria, when compared to the situation in Iraq, was the need for Iran to bring in droves of non-locals — such as Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Hezbollah from Lebanon — to fight under Iranian leadership to keep the Assad regime from collapse,” he said.
Vatanka suggests that Tehran has had a harder time selling to the Iranian people why Syria is a national security issue, which was a much easier argument to make when the fighting was in neighbouring Iraq. As a result, Iranian leaders have been careful to limit Iranian casualties and rely even more on proxy forces to do the fighting.
Because both the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars quickly took on a sectarian nature, Iran has found itself no longer posing as the revolutionary vanguard for all Muslims. Its proxies are almost solely Shia forces or at least non-Sunni forces such as the Houthis in Yemen.
As a result, Iran’s broader revolutionary message has diminished. Tehran is no longer viewed, for example, as a key supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel.
Vatanka said he does not believe that Iran purposefully chose to express its revolutionary fervour in sectarian terms. Rather, the situations in Iraq and Syria, along with broader instability throughout the region after the “Arab spring,” created an environment in which “Tehran’s reliance on Shia militant groups is where it has found the most return for its investments.”
Vatanka argues that “Tehran will continue to look for ways to break its image as a ‘Shia power,’ which inherently limits its ability to manoeuvre.” However, outside of on-and-off again support for Hamas, it is hard to see how Iran can retreat from the sectarian fight.
The forecast, Vatanka said, was for more of the same: “The proxy model approach has overall been successful for Iran. Unless its costs outweigh the benefits, no major shift in this policy can be expected while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the decisive voice in policymaking in Tehran.”
It is yet to be seen whether the Trump administration’s resumption of harsh sanctions on Iran will put a brake on its ability to conduct war by proxy.
If Vatanka is correct, the sectarian dimension of regional conflicts in the region will continue and perhaps even grow. In the meantime, Vatanka counsels Iran’s Sunni competitors, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “to continue to appeal to non-Islamist Shia Arabs. The policy of treating all Shia, regardless of their political persuasions, as Iranian proxies badly backfired.”
*Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.
Deadly conflict brews within Coptic Church in Egypt’s Wadi al-Natroun
Sonia Farid/Al Arabiya English/August 12/18
In the early hours of July 29, Bishop Epiphanius, Abbot of Saint Macarius the Great Monastery in Wadi al-Natroun, was found dead in a hallway inside the monastery.
The 64-year-old bishop was lying in a pool of blood and investigations revealed he was hit on the head with a heavy object.
Coptic monk Isaiah al-Makari was accused of the murder has been detained and will remain in custody for four days pending investigations into the suspicious death of a bishop, his lawyer said on Saturday.
On August 2, the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a number of decrees concerning monastic life. These included giving monks one month to close all their accounts on social networking websites—the Pope starting by closing his Facebook page—and not accepting new monks for one year in all monasteries across the nation. The church also warned monks of appearing in the media, being involved in any financial interactions or taking part in any projects without the prior approval of their respective monasteries, getting out of their monasteries without reason, or receiving visitors without permission.
The 64-year-old bishop was lying in a pool of blood and investigations revealed he was hit on the head with a heavy object. (Facebook)
On August 5, the church announced the defrocking of Makari, a young monk at the same monastery, for “committing inappropriate behavior that contradicts monastic behavior,” yet no further details were released. On August 6, a young monk called Fatlaous al-Makari slit his wrist and jumped off a high building also in the same monastery and was taken to hospital. Finding it hard to dismiss a connection between the three incidents, questions about a conflict within the Coptic Orthodox Church seem rather inevitable.
Father Boulos Halim, the spokesman of the Coptic Church, said that no one inside or outside the monastery has been officially charge and denied that the defrocking is related to the murder. “Isaiah al-Makari was questioned by the Monastic Affairs Committee at the Holy Synod early this year and a decision to send him away from the monastery was issued because of issues pertaining to monastic laws,” he said. Halim added that several of Makari’s fellow monks signed a petition that requested forgiving him and they pledged that his behavior would change. “The petition was submitted to the late Bishop Epiphanius, who in turn submitted it to the pope recommending that he accepts it. Makari was forgiven and stayed at the monastery, yet unfortunately his behavior did not change, which drove the committee to finally defrocking him.” Halim did not, however, specify what this “behavior” was.
However, it was hard for many to overlook the possible link between past conflicts within the Coptic Church, in which the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great featured prominently, and the current developments. Journalist Maged Atef comments on the latest incidents bring back to the surface the long disagreement between the late Pope Shenouda III and Father Matta al-Meskin, the late abbot of the monastery.
“The two men adopted different views on the role of the church. While Shenouda worked on consolidating ties between the church and the state, al-Meskin believed that the church’s role should only be spiritual,” he wrote. “Al-Meskin was also more open to reconciliation with other sects than Shenouda who was quite hostile to the West, hence its churches, and was more affected by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalist discourse.” While the conflict started at an earlier stage, it escalated remarkably after Shenouda had taken office as the Patriarch and started launching a campaign against al-Meskin.
“This campaign, carried out by Shenouda’s supporters, focused on accusing al-Meskin of heresy and discrediting all the studies he conducted on Coptic Orthodoxy and monastic life,” Atef explained, adding that al-Meskin’s books were banned from all libraries affiliated to the church. Matta al-Meskin, on the other hand, retired to the monastery and there attracted a large number of disciples who subscribed to his views. “This drove Shenouda to send more of his supporters to the monastery, which therefore became the center of the conflict.”
It is noteworthy that Bishop Epiphanius was among the supporters of Matta al-Meskin while both Isaiah al-Makari and Fatlaous al-Makari belong to the more conservative school led by Pope Shenouda.
Conflicts within the monastery
According to journalist Tamer Hendawi, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Bishop Epiphanius link it to the conflicts within the monastery. “The bishop was killed on his way from his room to the church, which makes it more likely that the killer is from inside the monastery,” he wrote. Hendawi added that in monasteries only monks are allowed in and a very limited number of workers. “As for visits, they are preplanned and are not frequent.” Hendawi added that for years that monastery has been divided between supporters of two different schools and the disputes escalated in the years between the death of Matta al-Meskin in 2006 and the death of Shenouda in 2012. “When Pope Shenouda visited the monastery in 2009, then Abbot Bishop Mikhail submitted his resignation. During this visit, Pope Shenouda made the monks wear a coif and Matta al-Meskin was against that and spent all his monastic life without wearing one.”
Hendawi notes that the escalation of tension in the monastery drove Bishop to go back to managing the monastery. “Yet as soon as Pope Tawadros II took office, Mikhail asked to be relieved of his duties and this is when Bishop Epiphanius was chosen.” Hendawi also points out the decision to close all monks’ accounts on social media is another proof that the conflict is related to recent developments. “Closing those accounts was obviously a means of avoiding further tension between the two camps in the monastery and preventing this tension from coming out to the public.”
Writer Shadi Luis notes that the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great has always been a symbol of rebelling against the authorities since Byzantine times and argues that while there is no proof that the latest incidents are linked to past disputes, they at least highlight the fact that the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great is still a center of such conflict.
“And regardless of what investigations would prove, the church is likely to use the murder as a pretext for subjugating all forms of rebellion and for which the monastery has for years been a symbol,” he wrote, adding that the monastery on the other hand will try as hard as it can to maintain the independence it managed to gain throughout the years.
Despite the fact that Pope Tawadros II is considered a reformist who to a great extent subscribes to many of Matta al-Meskin’s ideas, Luis argues that he is more likely to continue the work of his predecessors as far as centralizing the power of the Coptic Church is concerned. “The pope will work on becoming the sole representative of the Copts on both the spiritual and political levels and will be supported in that by the state as well as by the general political atmosphere,” he added. “If this happens, it will put an end to a history of rebellion within Coptic Christianity, one that actually goes back to the fourth century AD and that was always epitomized by the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great.”
Europe’s dangerous illusions about Iran
Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
It was an almost surrealistic scene the other day when the European Union’s foreign relations spokeswoman Federica Mogherini traveled halfway around the world to New Zealand to lobby for “continued trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran” in defiance of sanctions re-imposed by US President Donald Trump.
Here was an official of a bloc of democracies supposedly allied to the United States not only criticizing an American policy, something quite legitimate, but inviting others to oppose it with full resolve. Almost on the same day Alistair Burt, the minister in charge of the Middle East in the British Foreign Office, told BBC Radio 4 that the United Kingdom, still part of the EU, was adopting a similar position against Trump’s move.
By re-imposing some of the sanctions imposed by four of his predecessors, Trump may have been impolitic or provocative. But he has betrayed no signature and violated no treaty. All he has done is refusing to continue suspending some sanctions as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had done before him
Other European Union officials have also expressed similar views. The problem is that they don’t really know what they are talking about.
To start with, they all insist that the so-called “nuke deal” concocted by former US President Barack Obama is inviolable because, in Mogherini’s words, the EU must “honor its signature.” However, the EU never signed the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), nor did anyone else. There is no signature to honor or not.
In any case, though hovering on the sidelines like a ghost, the EU was never part of the negotiations that took place between Iran on one hand and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on the other.
Moreover, the so-called 5+1 group that negotiated with the Islamic Republic was an informal group with absolutely no legal existence and certainly no legally binding mission and no mechanism for enforcing its decisions and answerability.
If Mogherini and Alistair Burt are serious in their campaign in favor of the JCPOA they should re-write it in the form of a treaty signed by EU members and ratified by their respective parliaments or at least the EU’s Council of Ministers. Even then, for JCPOA to acquire some legal dignity it would have to be re-written in the form of an act of parliament and submitted to the Islamic Majlis in Tehran for proper ratification according to the Iranian Constitution, something that the Islamic government is loathing to do.
All of that would require an agreement on a single official version of the deal, which means discarding the various English and Persian versions in circulation.
By re-imposing some of the sanctions imposed by four of his predecessors, Trump may have been impolitic or provocative. But he has betrayed no signature and violated no treaty. All he has done is refusing to continue suspending some sanctions as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had done before him.
Other factors point to EU’s hypocrisy in this matter.
With the re-imposition of American sanctions, thousands of firms trading with both Iran and the US would face a dilemma: which of the two markets do they choose? It is not in the EU’s mandate to resolve that dilemma for them. So far, and at least two years after the ”nuke deal” was unveiled, European firms are not quite sure how or even if they can treat the Islamic Republic as a normal trading partner. Nor has the EU’s lobbying for the mullahs persuaded them to free a dozen European Union citizens still held hostage in Tehran about whom neither Mogherini nor Burt ever make a noise.
If sincere, the EU could use a range of tools at its disposal to encourage at least some firms to continue trading with Iran in areas affected by the re-imposed sanctions. Four-fifths of Iran’s trade with the EU bloc is with Germany, France, the UK and Italy. All those countries have well-established mechanisms for export protection but none is prepared to use them in support of trading with Iran. Interestingly, some of the sanctions that the EU is still keeping in place against Iran are tougher than those re-imposed by Trump.
Leaving all that aside, the EU’s Trump-bashing on the issue will not change some facts. Even supposing the EU did something to render the re-imposed American sanctions less painful or utterly ineffective the concerns that Trump has raised about aspects of Tehran’s behavior would remain worthy of consideration by Europeans.
Shouldn’t one try to persuade or force Tehran to stop “exporting revolution” i.e. terror? Doesn’t peace and stability in the Middle East benefit from an end to Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan? Would it not be a good thing if the present rulers in Tehran allowed the Iranian people a greater space for self-expression and participation in shaping their nation’s destiny?
The EU could play a positive role by acting as a broker between Iran and the US rather than go for empty diplomatic gesticulations. The EU should seek to persuade Iran that its traditional cheat-and-retreat strategy peaked out under Obama and its pursuit would only lead to disaster.
Obama encouraged the mullahs in their reckless strategy by supposedly granting them “the right to enrich uranium” as Islamic Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif goes around boasting. However, all nations have the right to enrich uranium if they so wish or even to build nuclear weapons.
The mullahs wanted another “victory over the Infidel” and Obama gave them the illusion of one through secret negotiations in Oman. Obama’s behavior persuaded the mullahs that regardless of what mischief they may make at home or abroad no one would make them pay a price for it.
Even better, a faux anti-American profile might give a morally bankrupt and repressive regime some prestige in parts of the world where anti-Americanism is the last refuge of every scoundrel. In a talk in New York in 2016, Zarif noted that without its “anti-Imperialist” profile the Islamic Republic would be “just another Pakistan”, which in his world view means a nobody.
Trump isn’t repeating Obama’s mistake by getting involved in secret shenanigans favored by the mullahs; he is playing above board. His message is, behave differently and you shall be treated differently.
That may or may not be the right policy, but it is at least a policy. The EU, on the other hand, has no policy on Iran apart from using it as an excuse for a little bit of Trump-bashing, a favorite global sport these days.
Iran’s mullahs and the orphan regime
Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Has US President Donald Trump’s position on Iran changed? Has he demolished his stated strategy as well as the statements of his senior administration officials, abandoned the conditions set by his foreign affairs minister and set closed doors and dead-end paths before the Iranian regime, the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world?
These questions were raised by some observers in the past phase.
The answer to these questions is simple; no such thing has happened. President Trump’s recent offer is part of his strategy and vision in dealing with the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime is required to change its evil behavior, either under the threat of force or through sanctions that make it conform to international laws. The extent of these sanctions’ strength and cruelty will specify the time needed to subjugate the regime, and this is what Trump has said more than once, that the Iranian regime should change its behavior, and that sanctions will force it to change and the Iranians will want to negotiate sooner or later.
The truth is that this is a desire shared by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region in their confrontation of the Iranian regime and its destructive policies in the region. The Iranian regime should end its illegitimate interference in four Arab countries: Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and should also look after its people’s interests, and if it does not, it would be forced to do so, as was famously stated by the Saudi Crown Prince.
Despite its statements of defiance, the Iranian regime is desperately seeking to communicate with Washington. The US also welcomes any communication as long as it leads to the Iranian regime’s compliance. Messages are exchanged, some of which have been made public while others were not. However, all of them are in the same direction. The Iranian regime uses ideology and sectarianism in its expansionist project in the region but it had previously dealt with the country it calls ‘Great Satan’ and other countries which it opposes via its slogans so why would it be different this time?
The Iraqi people have risen up against Iran and its agents in the country, on politicians, parties and militias in all parts of the country and mostly in the south
The popular discontent against the mullahs’ regime has reached an unprecedented level. The Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards — the two most powerful bodies in the Iranian regime — are unable to see the strength, depth, and expansion of this discontent which is increasing and which will further increase due to the new sanctions.
The imposed sanctions and the sanctions which will be imposed in the coming months all aim to weaken the regime’s economy and its ability to meet internal commitments and resume external adventures. The Iranian regime would thus have two options. The first one is reverting to the concerns of the Iranian people and looking after their interests, not out of its desire to serve its people or make them happy but out of fear of a major revolution that it cannot confront and which may lead to its fall. The second one is to continue spreading destruction in the region and the world and this will subject it to more sanctions and increase the world’s awareness about the past 40 years during which this radical regime supported all kinds of terrorism – and in the end it will lose and suffer on several counts.
Iran’s proxies suffer
After North Korea’s bid to make a historical reconciliation with the world, the Iranian regime will become an orphan in the world with no one like it. The evil regime that’s internationally been outcast will have no supporters. All its tricks are exposed, and it would not benefit from playing the game of vacillating between the so-called reformists and hardliners. The world now knows very well that the Iranian regime does not have any moderates, as they are all hardliners with varying degrees.
Iran’s wings in the region are also suffering. The Iraqi people have risen up against Iran and its agents in the country, on politicians, parties and militias in all parts of the country and mostly in the south. This uprising is supported by the traditional reference in Iraq which represents the opposite of the reference of Vilayat-e Faqih which has been modernized at the hands of Khomeini and Khamenei after him. Iran’s militias in Syria are suffering a lot from the repeated Israeli targeting, from the regime’s desire to abandon them and from the ability of any Russian-American understandings to undermine them and lead to their expulsion from Syria.
Similar reversals now face the terrorist Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, which has hijacked the Lebanese state and which commits murder and massacres against the Syrian people. The party’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah admitted that the group’s wages, expenses, food and drink come from the regime in Tehran. Drug trafficking will not be enough for Hezbollah to cover the financial shortages that may happen after sanctions are fully re-instated on the Iranian regime.
The Houthi militia in Yemen might be the foremost of these Iranian affiliates to succumb from this pressure because it will face what similar militias are facing in the three mentioned countries and it’s also confronting an Arab alliance that has already regained legitimate control over large tracts of Yemen and which is winning every day and not losing. The Houthi militia is only holding on to what it has but it’s not regaining any liberated land. It’s facing a strong Yemeni army, an effective Yemeni resistance and a victorious Arab alliance on all fronts. All its practices are internationally condemned, while it keeps killing civilians and bombing markets as it did in Hodeidah earlier this month.
There are two clear military approaches in Yemen since the launch of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’. The first approach is that of the Yemeni state, the Yemeni army and the alliance and which is fully committed to the international law in all respects. The second approach is that of the Houthi militia and which violates international laws and commits crimes and atrocities. Any observer of what is happening in Yemen since the beginning of the war can easily see who is responsible for incidents like the Hodeidah bombing, the murder of civilians and the use of civilians as human shields.
The Iranian currency has fallen to its worst level. This is drastically affecting the Iranian economy. This fall has occurred before all sanctions are fully re-instated. The regime is incapable of waging a military war to escape from internal problems and is incapable of convincing its people that it cares for their interests or defends their rights.
These are two major failures that would make a huge impact in forcing the regime to obediently return to the international community and force it to fully comply with international laws and end its major adventures of sabotage and destruction and permanently betting on terrorism, whether Sunni and Shiite, and which it has done ever since the mullahs’ revolution in 1979 until today.
In the end, no one thinks that the Iranian regime will change overnight but after the strict sanctions, it will find itself obliged to change its behavior and policies and it will reluctantly give up its ambitions and delusions. It’s only a matter of time.
Human development precedes democracy
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Democracy is not always the perfect solution in relations between government and the people and as long as societies do not have their most important elements in place: individualism and abandoning sectarian and tribal affiliations.
When sectarian and tribal people vote for a candidate, they don’t choose him because they think he is the best and the most capable of politically and economically leading the country. They vote to whoever represents the group, whether on a religious sectarian level or an ethnic and tribal level. I am totally convinced that societies which believe in tribal or sectarian affiliations as a primary identity before individualism will most likely lead to social unrest where the majority, whether sectarian or tribal, deprives the minorities that are different from them of their rights.
This may develop into a civil war, which only God knows its duration. That’s why I fully believe that human development and freeing an individual of his or her inherited sectarian or tribal affiliations are an essential condition which democracy cannot be achieved without.
The Arab revolutions, which President Obama called the Arab Spring and appointed Qatar to foment through its funds and media led to a lot of bloodshed, massacres and human and financial disasters, which continue till today.
Qarar is a small state that’s limited in population and geography and if we take it as an example and if Hamad bin Khalifa – who sponsored the so-called Arab Spring – establishes democracy there as the media he backs demands and holds elections, tribal affiliations will play a key role in empowering this or that tribe. This would be for reasons based on the candidate’s tribal affiliations and not on his competence. In fact of all Gulf countries, Qatar is the one where the majority of its small population has tribal affiliations.
Libya is another example. The war that broke out there after the fall of President Gaddafi is going on between different tribes and groups with different religious ideologies. They seek with the force of arms to possess power either for religious reasons, like the Muslim Brotherhood, or for tribal motives. I do not think that Libya would end up democratic even if the war continues for another 100 years unless one of the contenders imposes himself by the power of arms and exclude others.
Corruption in democracies
The West along with some Arab intellectuals still believes that democracy offers the best solution for Arab countries. They overlook the mindset of Arabs who give priority to sectarian and tribal loyalty over national loyalty. All experiences which tried a democratic solution have failed drastically, and many such states have ended up among the most corrupt countries, as is confirmed by Transparency International.
Iraq which is an oil-rich country that enjoys resources which other countries do not have and which also has a proud historical heritage is an example. It is suffering form from corruption, insecurity and several more of the era’s maladies. On the other hand, Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had never claimed to be democratic and despite that their people are reconciled with their leaders. These countries also enjoy security, stability and relative welfare especially when compared to Iraq that has similar economic resources. If things are measured in terms of outcomes, why have Gulf States succeeded without democracy, while states that imported democracy from the West failed?
Thus, we must be convinced of a truth which stipulates that human development, educating the individual and strengthening individualism come first. When Arabs get rid of sectarian or tribal tendencies, then it may be possible for one to think of the democratic solution as a way to regulate the social contract between the government and the governed.
Ordinary people pay the price for Tehran’s support of
الدكتور ماجد ربيزاده: الناس العاديين هم من يدفع ثمن مساندة إيران للأسد
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/August 12/18
It is ironic how history can surprise many historians, scholars, politicians and policy analysts. When the uprising began in Syria in 2011, many world leaders and experts predicted that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was on the verge of collapse. They most likely drew their conclusions from the historic developments that occurred in other Arab countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia during the Arab Spring.
World leaders such as the former US President Barack Obama, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to contend that Assad’s fall was “only a matter of time.” Hence, they famously called for the Syrian president to step down. But, after more than seven years of civil war, the Syrian regime has survived and it is widely perceived that Assad has come out of the conflict triumphant. In fact, in the last few months, after Assad recaptured the last major stronghold of the rebels in the suburbs of Damascus, and after their surrender in the city of Daraa (which was the birthplace of the popular uprising), Israel recently announced that the Syrian civil war had effectively came to an end. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters last week: “From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule.”
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that suppressing most of the rebellion, recapturing major cities and rebel holdouts, and maintaining control in Damascus was not simply a result of luck for Assad and his loyalists.
The external dimension of the Syrian civil war played a far-reaching role in the Assad regime’s fate. To put it simply, the hesitation, lack of coordination and unification, in addition to the reluctance of Assad’s external enemies to enact a firm policy against the Syrian regime, combined with the commitment, determination and political willpower of Assad’s allies to sustain his grip on power, ultimately tipped the balance of power in favor of Assad’s Alawite-dominated state. A game-changer for Damascus was the extensive role that its staunchest geopolitical, ideological and strategic ally — the Iranian regime — has fulfilled.
At the beginning, Tehran only provided advisory assistance and moral support to the Syrian regime. Subsequently, specifically during 2012 and 2013, when Assad’s forces showed weakness and lost several major battles and territories to the opposition and rebel groups, Iran ratcheted up its involvement. At this point, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei instructed the government to provide military, intelligence and economic assistance to Assad. Iranian leaders across the political spectrum — moderates, hard-liners and principlists — also reached a consensus by unanimously calling for more robust support to defend their ally.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite branch, the Quds Force, which conducts military and ideological operations in foreign countries, dispatched low-level soldiers as well as senior military generals to Syria. In addition, Iran used Hezbollah, Shiite militias from across the region, and recruited fighters from other countries such as Afghanistan to fight in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.
From both the Iranian leaders and Assad’s perspectives, they have finally emerged as winners of the seven-year-old civil war, although violence and brute force was deployed and nearly half a million of people, including thousands of children, have been killed
More importantly, as inflation skyrocketed in Syria and the regime lost revenue due to the war, as well as regional and international sanctions, Iran did not hesitate to open the doors of its nation’s treasury to fulfill Assad’s economic needs. Iran spent roughly $16 billion a year to support Assad. Tehran also opened a credit line for Damascus and continued to extend it — it has now reached over $3 billion. With such strong financial and military support, Iran has deeply infiltrated the political, military and security structures of Syria.
From both the Iranian leaders and Assad’s perspectives, they have finally emerged as winners of the seven-year-old civil war, although violence and brute force was deployed and nearly half a million of people, including thousands of children, have been killed. The Iranian regime celebrated accomplishing its mission as Assad regained control of most territories.
But what Iran’s leaders did not predict was the unintended consequences of their unequivocal support for Assad and his forces. As the Tehran regime hemorrhaged $100 billion of the nation’s wealth in order to keep Assad and his Alawite-dominated state in power, its own citizens suffered dramatically. The financial situation for ordinary Iranian people became unbearable; the unemployment rate increased, inflation rose, and millions of people could no longer make ends meet.
If the Iranian leaders had invested the billions of dollars that they used to save Assad on creating jobs at home and improving the economy, they would not be facing nationwide protests.
The irony is that Assad may have won the civil war with the assistance of Iran, but now Tehran is in deep turmoil. But the difference is that Assad is not in a position to reciprocate Tehran’s favor and come to its aid, since he is presiding over a battered and war-torn country.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
The media is wrong — Trump is not tough enough on Iran
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/August 12/18
Sometimes the world’s media resembles a giant echo chamber. A high proportion of the liberal media is consumed by endless criticism of President Donald Trump’s divisive policies — often justifiably. So with Trump reimposing sanctions on Tehran, this vast media machine has steamrolled ahead, thoughtlessly denouncing Trump’s “tough” position against Iran. We are treated to TV debate shows without any debate: Participants simply take turns repetitively and tediously arguing that the nuclear deal seemed to be working fine, and “Trump’s approach will only undermine Iran’s moderates.”
Meanwhile — instead of working with America to create a workable successor deal — Europe is vigorously trying to appease Tehran and subvert US efforts, dreaming up a bizarre framework for conferring anti-sanctions protection for Western firms who have mostly been smart enough to interpret the wind direction and exit the Iranian economy as fast as possible.
The fundamental problem is what the nuclear deal didn’t cover: Namely, the ballistic program, the long-term future of Iran’s nuclear program, and the unleashing of paramilitary hordes across the region to sabotage the governing systems of Middle Eastern states. Why is the latter point consistently ignored by the Western media?
Iran’s paramilitary proxies strategy is arguably an outgrowth of Western pressure on the nuclear program. During the 1980s, revolutionary Iran bankrolled paramilitary forces almost literally everywhere: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, etc. However, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death, it was the “pragmatists” – Ali Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — who curtailed this activity, allowing Iran to rebuild after the catastrophic war with Iraq.
Sanctions are necessary. Yet, despite the accumulation of international sanctions after 2005, Iran’s paramilitary spending similarly mushroomed; partly because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps filled its coffers through monopolizing sanctions-evading networks in oil, heavy arms, narcotics and basic goods
We now know that Supreme Leader Khamenei, the “pragmatist,” spent the 1990s quietly pursuing breakout nuclear capacity so Tehran could menace its enemies — America, Israel, Europe, and the Gulf Cooperation Council states — with nuclear holocaust. When this program was discovered in 2003, Khamenei was forced to shelve his frenzied ambitions for nuclear apocalypse. So, in order to retain his warmongering abilities, Khamenei dusted off Khomeini’s revolutionary blueprint for a transnational proxy army of brainwashed militants based on the hugely successful model of Hezbollah, which today outguns the Lebanese state itself.
Within a couple of years, Khamenei’s lieutenant, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, had armed and trained Iraqi Shiite militants for staging thousands of attacks against American, British and Iraqi forces, causing hundreds of fatalities. Then came the Syrian uprising, where around 60,000 proxies have retained Bashar Assad in power as an Iranian puppet. Iran, likewise, armed various parties in Afghanistan, while cashing in on the lucrative opium trade. In Yemen, Houthi terrorists rain down Iranian missiles upon Saudi Arabia and menace the globally crucial Bab Al-Mandab Strait. Iran, meanwhile, has sought to exacerbate religious and political tensions throughout the Middle East and North Africa, while its arms smuggling networks penetrated deep into the African continent.
Sanctions are necessary. Yet, despite the accumulation of international sanctions after 2005, Iran’s paramilitary spending similarly mushroomed; partly because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps filled its coffers through monopolizing sanctions-evading networks in oil, heavy arms, narcotics and basic goods. The IRGC reinforced its stranglehold on the economy while ordinary Iranians suffered.
During the 1980s, the Western media portrayed Khomeini as a deranged, bloodthirsty demagogue, while Khamenei was widely viewed as a pragmatic voice of reason. Today we have Hassan Rouhani and Mohammed Javad Zarif providing the “reformist” facade. Yet, from the earliest days of the revolution, Rouhani, alongside Khamenei, was a quintessential regime insider. Instead of meeting America halfway, Rouhani is today escalating his anti-Western rhetoric and winning plaudits from Soleimani and Khamenei.
What would be the point of negotiating with Rouhani, when the so-called president isn’t sufficiently senior to be properly briefed about Khamenei and Soleimani’s bellicose regional strategy? The presidency is a smiling facade for a repressive and hated terrorist regime. Let’s not kid ourselves.
By trying to honor a deal that is already dead, Europe is undermining any hope of a holistic and enforceable containment program against Iran. Meanwhile, China, Russia and India will happily circumvent American efforts and provide Iran’s economy with back-door funds.
Yet Trump himself lacks a coherent Iran containment strategy. I doubt he clearly understands who the Hezbollah Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq and the Houthis are, despite these factions threatening to attack American assets. Nevertheless, some officials driving Trump’s policies comprehend Iranian meddling all too well. Defence Secretary James Mattis was on the ground in Iraq when US troops were being slaughtered by Iranian munitions. Mattis spent the past decade having his stark warnings of Iranian aggression being completely ignored by the Obama administration.
Sanctions ratchet up the pressure, but they are a blunt instrument that often produce perverse results — not least enriching the IRGC and paramilitary factions. If Trump has the stomach for confronting this militia menace, he must stop hinting about quitting Syria and block their further expansion, while working with allies to ensure that militants cannot dominate Iraq’s forthcoming government. He must assist the GCC coalition in halting Iran’s pipeline of heavy munitions to the Houthis. Trump likes quick, easy wins — but there is no cheap win against Iran. Tehran is patient, tenacious and single-minded in building up its war-making assets across the region, until one day we wake up and it is the sole dominant force on the field.
Instead of castigating Trump for being mean to nice Mr. Rouhani, the world’s media must take a hard look at what Iran is actually doing — and then criticize Trump for not going far enough in devising an all-encompassing strategy to stop Tehran in its tracks. Only this can prevent the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean from becoming Iranian zones of control, from which Iran can menace the global economy — with equally catastrophic consequences to the ayatollahs having been allowed to possess a nuclear bomb in the first place.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
A choice between reform, adjustment and self-sabotage: Tehran considers its options
Raghida Dergham/The National/August 12/18
What will Iran do now? It is difficult to answer this question, not only because its leadership has been left scrambling by US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the re-imposition of crippling sanctions but also because it has very limited and costly options, which all carry fateful implications for the future of the Iranian project – from its insistence on exporting its revolutionary ideology to the geographical consolidation between Tehran and Beirut, through Baghdad and Damascus.
Clearly the US president’s policy of bringing Iran to its knees with economic pressure has started to succeed. But what is less clear is whether this policy will tame the regime and convince its leaders to change their behaviour or whether it will lead to new deals that were not possible before Mr Trump’s painful blow.
The statements coming out of Iran suggest its seasoned leaders have understood the gravity of Mr Trump’s renouncement of his predecessor’s policy and that they have taken stock of the need to rein in their expansionism in the region, especially in Yemen. For the Trump administration, targeting the stability of the US’s allies in the Gulf has become a red line, contrary to the equation under Barack Obama, who made overtures to Tehran at the expense of those alliances.
Experienced diplomats and politicians in the Iranian regime have thus started to indicate they might be willing to mend relations. However, these pragmatists in the Iranian regime do not fully control the decision-makers and have to contend with the hardliners, who fear existential challenges that threaten the survival of the regime and its core ideology. They believe that any concessions today will wipe out yesterday’s gains and preclude the ambitions of tomorrow.
Other hardliners are driven by the pulse of the people, whose protests have so far not formed a critical mass. For now, demonstrations remain confined to the middle classes, intellectuals and women.
If we were to simplify things, we would say first that the Iranian domestic crisis could become a fateful showdown for the regime and second, that the internal conflict is not between reformists and hardliners but is in fact within each of these two camps. There are calls for the reformist president Hassan Rouhani, a cleric, to step down, including by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian parliament impeached the minister of labour, Ali Rabiei, as unemployment soared and living standards fell. It was a clear blow to Mr Rouhani. Mr Rabiei blamed the government, parliament and the judiciary for the country's economic collapse, clashing with parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is facing questions and mounting criticism regarding the vast sums of money it is spending on its ventures in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. People are on the verge of panic as the currency collapses and major companies flee to avoid US sanctions, with a large share of wealth in Iran set to evaporate as the nation returns to regional and international isolation.
Yet the impression we get from Iran is that no one has a solution. The IRGC cannot pretend to have the keys to the government in Iran, not simply because Qassem Soleimani is no longer a national hero but because even his Quds Force cannot disobey the government’s orders.
If the IRGC and the hardliners decide to turn against the reformists in power, this could bring about the implosion of the regime. And if they decide to attack US interests and invite a military response, for instance, by shutting down maritime corridors vital for energy supplies, it is unlikely Iran’s civilian infrastructure can bear the consequences. Indeed, the result would be self-immolation.
Astonishingly, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cited Iran’s options for sabotage and proximity to Europe, to implicitly warn the US. Mr Maas said anyone who's hoping for regime change “must not forget that whatever follows could bring us much bigger problems”, adding that “isolating Iran could boost radical and fundamentalist forces”. That came on the heels of a warning by cybersecurity experts that Iran’s huge electronic warfare capabilities give it the ability to mount a devastating attack, to dissuade Europeans from adopting US sanctions.
Iran’s options for reprisal attacks are not limited to the cybersphere, where the US has identified Iran as the fourth most serious cyber threat to US national security. The reformist foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was quoted by Iranian media as making thinly veiled threats, in response to questions about the second round of US sanctions coming into effect in November targeting oil exports, saying: “They can’t think that Iran won’t export oil and others will export.”
In other words, Iran is prepared to shut down international maritime corridors including the Strait of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandeb to block the oil exports of the Gulf states.
Mr Zarif used duplicitous language that same week, with the Fars agency quoting him as saying that Tehran was interested in the stability and security of the region. Was this a climbdown from his extreme position or was he really beginning to implement a bold new move to open up to Iran’s neighbours?
One expert on Iranian affairs stresses the significance of the appointment of Mohammad Alibak in the Iranian foreign ministry. An Iranian official spokesman described the move as a “breakthrough”. But is this a tactical move designed to prompt a seeming change in Iranian behaviour for damage limitation purposes?
Many in the Iranian regime understand that the key to a real breakthrough is Yemen, where they can end their intervention – through arming and funding the Houthis – construed to threaten Saudi national security. Such a qualitative and serious shift in Iranian policy would de-escalate the situation and buy enough time to produce a lasting accord. However, it falls to Iran's top leaders to decide whether the Iranian setbacks so far warrant sacrificing their project in Yemen.
Most likely, the Iranians will want to reach a deal. Washing their hands of Yemen could be accompanied by assurances about Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The quality of these assurances not only depends on mending relations with the Gulf states but also on the negotiations with Washington, Moscow and the bargaining taking place between the US and Russia.
Now is the phase for sorting options, crafting bargains and the tug-of-war to prevent collapse in Iran, secure reconstruction in Syria, end the bloodletting in Yemen and bolster the states of Iraq and Lebanon. It is too early to jump to conclusions, however, because decision-makers are still considering their options between reforming, adjusting and self-immolation.