Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Speech: We will Remain in Nuclear Deal as Long as Interest Demands it

Rouhani

London – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made little on Friday of US President Donald Trump’s new strategy on Tehran, saying that the nuclear deal was “stronger than the US president believed.”

“We will respect the nuclear deal as long as our rights are guaranteed and as long as our interest demand its,” he said during a televised speech hours after Trump declared his new strategy.

Rouhani added that Tehran was cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency to that end.

He warned however that Iran would abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers if it failed to serve the country’s national interests.

Responding to Trump’s claims that the authorities in Tehran had violated the rights of the Iranian people, he announced that the US president “will not be able to come between the people and Supreme Leader.”

Furthermore, he criticized Trump for labeling the Persian Gulf as Arab, urging him to brush up on his history and geography.

“His speech only had insults and false accusations against the Iranian people,” stated Rouhani.

In addition, he renewed his defense of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, stressing that they are “combating terrorism in the region.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi reiterated Rouhani’s stance, warning that Tehran would withdraw from the nuclear deal if it had to.

“Iran’s main policy backs peace and stability in the region and it confronts destabilizing activities,” he stressed.

The Iranian military forces, including the Revolutionary Guards, are a symbol of strength and preservation of Iranian national security, he declared.

“Any military move against the military and Revolutionary Guards will be met with the appropriate and resolute Iranian response,” he stressed.

Moreover, he accused the US of supporting terrorism in the region, saying that it cannot blame others for its action and shy away from its responsibilities.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned on Friday that Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal will mark the end of the agreement, reported the Russian TASS news agency.

“Washington’s withdrawal would lead to chaos in the world,” he warned from St. Petersburg in Russia where he is attending an international parliamentary conference.

He hoped that Russia will play role in resolving the disputes related to the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, deputy chief of Iran’s Quds Force, the external branch of the Revolutionary Guards, Esmail Qa’ani said that Trump’s threats to Iran will harm the US, reported Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

“We are not warmongers, but they will regret any military action against Iran,” he warned.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain Welcome Trump’s ‘Firm’ Iran Strategy

Iran

Riyadh – Saudi Arabia welcomed on Friday US President Donald Trump’s new strategy against Iran and its hostile policy, hailing his vision in this regard and commitment to work with US allies in the region to counter common challenges.

The Kingdom said in a statement: “Riyadh had previously supported the nuclear agreement between Iran and the 5 + 1 powers, in the belief that it is necessary to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in our region and the world.”

It had hoped that the agreement would prevent Iran from obtaining such arms in any way, continued the statement released by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

“Instead, Iran exploited the economic benefits of lifting the sanctions and used them to continue to destabilize the region, especially through its ballistic missile development program and support of terrorism in the region, including the Houthi militias in Yemen and ‘Hezbollah’.”

“Iran has not only done so in flagrant violation of the resolution, but also it transferred such potentials and experience to its militias, including the Houthis, who used the missiles to target the Kingdom. This therefore exposed the falsity of Iranian claims that the development of these capabilities is only for defensive reasons,” the statement added.

In continuation of its aggressive approach, Iran had, through its Revolutionary Guards and Houthi militia, repeatedly targeted international navigation passageways in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. The statement also accused it of carrying out cyber attacks against Saudi Arabia and regional countries.

The Kingdom therefore voiced its ongoing commitment to work with partners in the United States and international community to achieve the objectives declared by Trump.

It underlined the need to address threats posed by Tehran’s policies to international peace and security from a wider perspective beyond its nuclear program to include all of its aggressive activities, in order to cut off all avenues for it to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Similarly, the United Arab Emirates also voiced its complete support for Trump’s new strategy to deal with Iran’s destabilizing policies.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “For too long, the Iranian regime has spread destruction and chaos throughout the region and beyond. The nuclear deal offered Iran an opportunity to engage responsibly with the international community. Instead, it only emboldened Iran to intensify its provocative and destabilizing behavior.”

“The new US strategy takes necessary steps to confront Iran’s malign behavior in all its forms – including its growing ballistic missile program, support for terrorist organizations like ‘Hezbollah’ and the Houthis, cyber attacks, interference in its neighbors’ domestic affairs and threats to the freedom of navigation,” continued the statement released by the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

The US Treasury Department’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is a strong measure that will help limit Tehran’s dangerous activities as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism, stressed the statement.

“The UAE welcomes and endorses the new US strategy. We reaffirm our commitment to working with the US and our allies to counter the full range of Iran’s destabilizing activities and its support for extremists,” emphasized the Foreign Ministry.

Bahrain also welcomed the new US strategy, stressing that Iran is the leading world sponsor of terrorism.

Manama welcomed the steps announced by Trump on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement, including imposing sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

It stressed that this stance is a confirmation and a reminder to the global community of the importance of combating terrorism and all those who support it to make the region and the world more peaceful and stable.

“The Kingdom lauds Trump’s policy and keenness to prevent chaos and to counter Iran’s attempts to promote terrorism,” said the Foreign Ministry in a statement.

It affirmed that Bahrain “is one of the countries most affected by the expansionist policy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which aims to undermine the security of our societies by promoting and supporting extremist ideas and destructive acts of terrorism.”

Bahrain expressed its support for all efforts aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and all efforts aimed at combating its funding and arming of extremist militias in the region. It stressed the need for Iran to respect the sovereignty of its neighboring countries and commit to international laws.

Trump’s New Policy Will Focus on Iran’s Meddlers

Iran

After more than nine months in office, President Donald Trump finally has an Iran policy.

Last month before the opening of the UN General Assembly, Trump approved the long-awaited strategy to deal with Iran, according to administration officials. These officials tell me it will outline a new aggressive approach to countering Iranian threats all over the globe and endeavor to use the leverage of Trump’s threats over the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to spur US allies to begin to address its flaws.

On Wednesday at a press conference to dispel news reports that he considered quitting his post over the summer, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted the new policy was coming. Speaking of the Iran nuclear agreement, he said, “the JCPOA represents only a small part of the issues we have to address with Iran.”

The centerpiece of Trump’s new Iran strategy will be the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, placing it in the same category as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Congress mandated this designation over the summer, but allowed Trump to waive the requirement.

The designation would be significant.

The Revolutionary Guard in Iran controls a large portion of the state’s economy. Iranian economist and businessman Bijan Khajehpour, in an article in al-Monitor in August, estimated that the guard was responsible for 15 percent of Iran’s gross domestic product. (He also acknowledged that it’s difficult to arrive at a precise statistic because there are no official statistics on the web of companies it controls and its stake in enterprises with state and semi-state entities in Iran’s economy.)

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization could create problems for foreign companies seeking to invest in Iran. While the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama issued rules requiring private companies to do due diligence and avoid investment in the Revolutionary Guard, the rules were weakened in the final months of the administration. The new designation will make life harder for those companies.

“It’s important because it means if you are doing business with Iran in key sectors of its economy, you run a significant risk you are doing business with a terrorist organization,” Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told me this week.

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard is one element of what administration officials have described as a whole-government approach to pushing back against Iran’s regional aggression.

This includes a new policy on countering Iran’s threats to shipping lanes in the Arab Gulf and particularly the threat of anti-ship missiles and the harassment of US Navy vessels. It will include a new emphasis on countering Iranian networks inside Latin America; Iran’s development of ballistic missiles; Iranian human rights violations against its own citizens; and support for terrorist groups and proxies in the Middle East.

Two US intelligence officials tell me that an element of the strategy that will not be publicized includes a ramping up of intelligence operations against the Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian proxies like “Hezbollah” in the Middle East.

Already, CIA Director Mike Pompeo has approved new authorities for US intelligence officers to begin tracking and targeting Iranian agents abroad. These kinds of programs include psychological operations, such as placing funds in secret accounts belonging to Iranian officers in order to create the impression such officers are working for foreign powers.

Obama wound many of these programs down in his second term, particularly after the formal negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal began in 2013. Pompeo is winding them back up, according to these officials. As The New York Times reported in June, Pompeo has placed the CIA officer, nicknamed the “dark prince,” who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden, in charge of the agency’s Iran operations.

Despite the administration’s crystallizing policy on Iran, US officials tell me there is still no formal plan on how to secure Syrian and Iraqi territory after the ISIS is driven out. This is particularly important in Syria today as Iran’s proxies and the Revolutionary Guard have already begun to take over some of these areas as the war against ISIS has turned. In Iraq, militias loyal to the Revolutionary Guard still play a key part in the state’s war against the terrorist group. Since 2014, the US has at times provided air support in operations that include these militias.

Dubowitz told me that for now he is assessing how comprehensive the new effort against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will be. “I’m looking for measures that will drain the Guard Corps’ resources and have an economic impact on their funding of aggression abroad and patronage networks at home,” he said.

If Dubowitz gets his wish, it’s likely the Iranians themselves will accuse Trump of violating the nuclear deal forged by his predecessor, and threaten to pull out. Unlike Obama, Trump would probably consider that a favor.

Bloomberg

Iran Out to Remake Mideast With Arab Enforcer: ‘Hezbollah’

Hezbollah

For three decades, “Hezbollah” maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across Israel, said a New York Times report on Monday.

But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, “Hezbollah” has changed, too.

It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of combattants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.

As a result, “Hezbollah” is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

“Hezbollah” is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.

Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, “Hezbollah” became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing around the region. “Hezbollah” has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.

Months of interviews with officials, fighters, commanders and analysts from nine countries, and with members of “Hezbollah” itself, bring to light an organization with new power and reach that has not been widely recognized. Increasingly, Iranian leaders rely on it to pursue their goals.

Iran and “Hezbollah” complement each other. For Iran, a Persian nation in a mostly Arab region, “Hezbollah” lends not just military prowess but also Arabic-speaking leaders and operatives who can work more easily in the Arab world. And for “Hezbollah”, the alliance means money for running an extensive social services network in Lebanon, with schools, hospitals and scout troops — as well as for weapons, technology and salaries for its tens of thousands of fighters.

The network “Hezbollah” helped build has changed conflicts across the region, said the Times.

In Syria, the gunmen have played a major role in propping up Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally. In Iraq, they are battling the ISIS and promoting Iranian interests. In Yemen, seized the capital Sana’a in support of the insurgents. In Lebanon, they broadcast pro-Iranian news and build forces to fight Israel.

The allied militias are increasingly collaborating across borders. Syria, Iranian-backed forces are pushing to connect with their counterparts in Iraq. And in the battle for Aleppo last year — a turning point in the Syrian war — Iranian-supported fighters hailed from so many countries their diversity amazed even those involved.

“On the front lines, there were lots of nationalities,” said Hamza Mohammed, an Iraqi fighter who was trained by “Hezbollah” and fought in Aleppo. “‘Hezbollah’ was there, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis – everyone was there, with Iranian participation to lead the battle.”

The roots of that network go back to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Iran called on “Hezbollah” to help organize Iraqi Shiite militias that in the coming years killed hundreds of American troops and many more Iraqis.

Recent wars have allowed Iran to revive and expand the web, and some of the groups “Hezbollah” trained in Iraq are now returning the favor by sending fighters to Syria.

More than just a political alliance, “Hezbollah” and its allies have deep ideological ties to Iran. Most endorse vilayat-e-faqih, the concept that Iran’s supreme leader is both the highest political power in the country and the paramount religious authority. They also trumpet their goal of combating American and Israeli interests, while arguing that they fill gaps left by weak governments and fight extremists like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Many wonder what these tens of thousands of experienced fighters will do after the wars in Syria and Iraq wind down.

For “Hezbollah”, expansion has come with a cost. The grinding war in Syria has saddled it with heavy casualties and growing financial commitments.

In an interview, Sheikh Naim Qassem, “Hezbollah” deputy secretary general, proudly acknowledged his organization’s efforts to pass its rich experience to other Iranian-aligned forces.

“Hezbollah” has become active in so many places and against so many enemies that detractors have mocked it as “the Blackwater of Iran,” after the infamous American mercenary firm.

“Hezbollah” has taken on increasingly senior roles in ventures once reserved for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — the force that helped create “Hezbollah” itself.

In Iraq, Iran has redeployed militias originally formed to battle American troops to fight ISIS. It has also recruited Afghan refugees to fight for a militia called the Fatemiyoun Brigade. And it has organized a huge airlift of fighters to fight for Assad in Syria. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps provides the infrastructure, while commanders from Iran and “Hezbollah” focus on training and logistics, said the Times.

Fighters interviewed in Iraq described how they had registered at recruitment offices for Iranian-backed militias to fight ISIS. Some were trained in Iraq, while others went to Iran for 15 days of drills before flying to Syria to fight. More experienced fighters took advanced courses with Iranian and “Hezbollah” commanders in Iran or Lebanon.

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who studies militant groups, said more than 10,000 Iraqi fighters were in Syria during the battle for Aleppo last year, in addition to thousands from other countries.

Officers from Iran coordinated the ground forces with the Syrian military and the Russian air force while “Hezbollah” provided Arabic-speaking field commanders, the fighters said.

*The New York Times

Iranian Revolutionary Guards: No Joint Military Operations with Turkey

Iran

London – The Iranian Revolutionary Guards denied on Tuesday it was carrying out any operations outside the borders of the Persian State.

It made the statement in response to comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, in which he revealed an agreement with Iran to carry out joint military action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Iranian partner, the Free Life Party of Kurdistan.

Iran’s Mehr news agency published a statement by the IRGC denying joint Iranian-Turkish operations outside the Iranian borders against the PKK. However, the Iranian Guards asserted: “As in the past, we will strongly oppose any group, cell or person attempting to infiltrate Iranian territory to carry out anti-security or terrorist activities.”

In a press statement before leaving to Jordan on Tuesday, Erdogan said that the joint military action against the Kurdish groups, which were opposed to Tehran and Ankara, was one of the main topics discussed between the Turkish Army Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Baqeri, in Ankara last week.

In response, the IRGC issued a statement on Tuesday, in which it refuted reports about joint Iranian-Turkish operations against the PKK, Mehr reported.

Over the past few years, northwest Iran has seen fierce confrontations between Kurdish opposition groups.

“The joint action against terrorist groups, which have become a permanent threat, has been reviewed on the agenda between the commanders of the two armies, and I have discussed extensively how this can be done at any time,” Erdogan said, adding that talks in this regard would be maintained between Ankara and Tehran.

In Tehran, Baqeri noted that the two countries have reached an agreement to control border security, without commenting on Erdogan’s statement about the possibility to attack Kurdish armed groups. He also revealed that Akar would soon pay a visit to Tehran.

Mysterious Raids on Popular Mobilization Forces near Syria

al-Tanf

Beirut, Baghdad – Mysterious airstrikes launched Tuesday against a faction linked with the Popular Mobilization Forces near the US-led international coalition camp of Syria’s al-Tanf, drove disputes between Iraqi officials and members of the coalition fighting ISIS in the war-torn country..

Sources from Sayyed al-Shuhada Brigade (The Battalion of the Sayyed’s Martyrs) said that the US army conducted airstrikes last night on one of its convoys, which was moving from inside the Iraqi territories in the direction of the Syrian border, near al-Tanf area.

Many members of the Brigade were killed and injured as a result of the aerial bombardment, including an officer from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

A spokesman from the brigade said on Tuesday that at least 36 members of the Sayyed al-Shuhada force were killed and more than 75 others were wounded in the strike.

The US attack is considered the first against militias linked to Iran inside Iraqi territories, although the coalition’s warplanes had already attacked military regime forces and Iranian-linked militia convoys near al-Tanf camp in the east.

For its part, Iran admitted on Tuesday the killing of one of its Revolutionary Guards officers.

Tehran said that Colonel Morteza Hosseinpour-Shalmani from was killed in Syria during an “advisory” mission fighting ISIS forces.

Colonel Abbas Bayrami, assistant of coordination affairs at Al-Quds Brigade based in Gilan province, said on Tuesday that Shalmani was killed during a “consultative mission in Syria” on Monday.

However, Iran’s Fars news agency said that ISIS captured Shalmani during clashes with the Popular Mobilization Forces in an area near al-Tanf, without giving additional information.

Meanwhile, although the International Coalition has denied its involvement in the raid, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday “the international coalition has no authority to carry out bombardment without the knowledge of Iraq.”

Moqtada al-Sadr in Riyadh

Iran

The images of the Iranian regime’s hegemony over all aspects of life in Iraq are clear. From trade to construction and raw material to its control of the banks, government, parliament and political parties. A New York Times report said that the Iranians are controlling everything, from the television stations to the drug trade.

Iran is trying to justify its presence and control by saying that Iraq needs it and that without it, it will collapse, even claiming that it liberated the city of Mosul from ISIS.

This is not true as the battle was primarily waged by the Iraqi army with US support.

Iran has however been working on building its power and presence in Iraq for 14 years, until it has now become its high ruler. The majority of Iraqi politicians, including Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, who are familiar with the road to Tehran, head to it to receive the support and approval of its leadership. This is similar to how Lebanese politicians used to head to Syria to receive the blessing of the president in Damascus.

In light of this Iranian hegemony, we witnessed the brave visit of Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most influential figures in Iraq, to Saudi Arabia. The visit confirms claims that he rejects this hegemony and instead insists on the independence of the Iraqi voice. It also comes as a challenge to politicians, such as Nouri al-Maliki, the current Iraqi vice president, who previously served as the worst prime minister in its history.

Sadr’s stance and that of a number of Iraqi leaderships is not based on rejecting good ties with the neighbor, Tehran, but it is against its tutelage. They oppose its control over resources and the authorities. They oppose altering the course of the river on the border and drilling for petrol in nearby areas. They oppose exploiting Iraqi companies and banks for secret and internationally-barred Iranian transactions. They oppose the formation of Iraqi militias outside the control of the state. They oppose the meddling of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Iraqi government and parliament, the appointment of governors and heads of municipalities, the management of state media and crack down on the private media.

Iraq is a great country and not a banana republic for an extremist religious regime in Tehran that is milking it financially in order to fund its military adventures in Syria, Lebanon and other areas.

Iraq today, under the hegemony of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is a poor country by all standards, not due to a lack in financial resources, but due to the major corruption in its institutions and Iran’s looting of these resources.

It is in the interest of the countries in the region, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to support the independence of Iraq and make its people feel that they are not alone. I reiterate my old position that the GCC policy of disassociation was wrong as it facilitated Iranian meddling and allowed it to expand its influence. Looking at Iraq through a sectarian lense is a wrong interpretation of the political situation on the ground and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the political and social dynamic there.

Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia was preceded by one paid by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. This opened the doors that had been previously shut towards a positive and significant political shift towards the neighbor in the north.

It is natural to wonder if the Iraqis can confront Iran, which is clamping down fiercely on northern Syria, without caring for the horrible massacres committed by its militias there.

Saving Iraq is a mission tasked to the country’s nationalists regardless of their affiliations. Countries in the region are also responsible for taking a clear stance against the hegemony of the Ayatollah regime’s institutions, such as the Quds Force, on Iraq’s state institutions and political parties.

Iraq is a rich country by itself. It does not lack major resources like Syria and Yemen. It is capable of regaining its authority once the nationalist Iraqi leaders raise their voice loud for everyone, including Iran, to hear.

The Iraqis need to the world to listen that they will combat the Iranian hegemony and kick out the Revolutionary Guards from their land. This is a mission for the Iraqis, not the Gulf, Arabs or anyone else.

Iran Threatens to Hit US Bases as Rouhani Brother’s Health Deteriorates

Guards

London – Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri threatened on Monday to target US bases if the US administration places the Revolutionary Guards on its list of terrorist organizations.

At a gathering of military commanders held in the city of Mashhad in the northeast of Iran, Baqeri said: “Labeling the Revolutionary Guards the same as terrorist groups and applying similar sanctions to them is a big risk for America and its bases and forces deployed in the region.”

In mid-June the US Senate voted for a new legislation that binds the US administration to enforce new penalties on Iran, including imposing sanctions on the country’s ballistic-missile program and designating the Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.

The legislation is waiting for the approval of the House of Representatives and the signature of President Donald Trump before becoming a law.

Referring to the recent US legislation, Baqeri said American officials should speak a little more “wisely, thoughtfully and maturely” about a powerful country like Iran, adding that his country’s missile program was defensive and would never be up for negotiation.

Separately, several Iranian websites reported on Monday that Hossein Fereidoun, the brother of President Hassan Rouhani was transferred to hospital on his second day of detention.

Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie announced on Sunday that Rouhani’s brother was arrested on financial crime charges at a time when the president is scheduled to take the oath of office in Majlis and present his new government lineup at the start of next month.

The reports said Fereidoun’s health became critical when he appeared in court on Monday during an interrogation session.

During the past four years, Fereidoun was the main target of Rouhani’s opponents and was used as a means to exert pressure on the Iranian president.

Is it Still Possible to Coexist with the Tehran Regime?

Iran

Over the weekend, the French capital Paris played host to a massive rally organized by the Iranian opposition and attended by many international political figures. The timing of this rally was particularly significant, given the historical and exceptional current state of affairs in the Middle East and the unprecedented tense relations between its countries.

As expected on an occasion like this, the main stress in most positions expressed by Iranian, Middle Eastern and Western speakers was that it was impossible for a regime with a “chemistry” like that of the Tehran regime to change, and that all attempts to make it moderate its stances are doomed to failure.

Indeed, gambling on the “rationality” of the Iranian leaders, and regarding them as “not suicidal” – to quote former President Barack Obama in his marketing pitch for the JCPOA – are proving meaningless every day. And despite the atrocities committed by ISIS and its systematic destruction wherever it moves “achieved” by the tacit cooperation of players benefiting from it, there are two clear realities:

First is that Iran’s sectarian militias, as well as those supported by Tehran through its “Revolutionary Guards” (IRGC) do not differ much from ISIS in terms of brutal exterminatory practices justified by alleged religious legitimacy.

Second is that there is not much difference either between diplomatically-clad extremism, as reflected in Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the brazenly-militaristic and sectarian extremism, as expressed in the gung-ho speeches of IRGC leaders like Mohammad Ali Jaafari and Qasem Soleimani as well as their militia henchmen in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. In fact, all traces of “difference” disappear when positions being explained pertain to the Gulf region, the Fertile Crescent and Yemen.

Sure enough, Iran’s ambition of achieving regional supremacy did not start with Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 when it launched its campaign of “Exporting the Islamic Revolution,” followed soon by it diligent outbidding on the path of “Liberating Palestine.” As many remember under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran was in 1955 a founder member of the Baghdad Pact – along with the UK, Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US, before Iraq withdrew resulting in re-naming CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). Later, the Shah made no secret of his ambition that Iran become “The Policeman of the Gulf” since it was the most populous country sharing its coast.

However, there is a big difference between the ambition of a regional leader to enhance the influence of his nation based on his belief in its civilization and capabilities, and the aggressive insistence of a theocratic regime on “exporting” its political and religious “legitimacy” to its neighboring countries by force and conspiring to overthrow their governments throw intrigue and sectarian incitement.

Since 1979, “exporting” the revolution, along with the notion of “Vali e Faqih” has been one of the two cornerstones of the Khomeini regime, and now still followed by his successor Ali Khamenei. This “project” suffered a setback during the Iran – Iraq War, which was ended by the international community. Checking Iran’s ambitions at that time was temporary, and they were never really eradicated because Tehran continued to build subservient sectarian military organizations throughout the Middle East. The first has been Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” – initially, under under the cloak of “Islamic Amal.” It was soon to be followed by Iraqi Shi’ite militias that had fought with the Iranian armed forces against the Iraqi army during the Iran – Iraq War. Many leaders of the latter today are the de facto leaders of Iraq.

Noteworthy here is the fact that the Hafez Al-Assad regime in Syria also sided with Iran during that war against Iraq. Actually, then Iranian ambassador to Damascus Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur (who later became Interior Minister in Iran) was the authority entrusted with founding “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. In fact, Tehran’s efforts were not limited to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, but were later expanded to include Yemen through the Houthis, and Bahrain through “mullahs”, who had no qualms about Iranian historical claims over their country.

On the other hand, Iran did not concentrate its efforts solely on Shi’ite organizations, but achieved a breakthrough with the Sunnis, namely in the Palestinian occupied territories. This far-sighted strategy had two aims: The first, was that backing Sunni organization in Palestine would give credibility to its slogans about “liberating Palestine”. The second, it would allow it to freely found, arm and support Shi’ite militias without being accused of practicing sectarian discrimination. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened and under the banners of “Islamic Unity,” Tehran has been bankrolling Shi’ite – Sunni groups that are acting as effective vehicles to its propaganda and defenders of its policies and adventures.

Last week Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of “Hezbollah”, said in a televised speech that “a war Israel launches against Lebanon and Syria will never be limited to these two arenas, but will open the door before thousands of fighters (Shi’ite of course) from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the world to join Syria (i.e., Bashar al-Assad regime) and the Resistance (i.e.. ‘Hezbollah’)…”

What these words mean could not be clearer. The man is prepared to invite – if an invitation is ever needed – Iran’s IRGC to fight on Lebanese soil, without even bothering to consult with a government in which his pro-Tehran party is represented. Nasrallah’s declaration came after the “reassurances” made by Iranian Defense Minister Hussein Dehghan that “Iraq is now a part of Iran!”, and the infamous proclamation by Iran’s ex-Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi that “Iran now controls four Arab capital cities (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a)…”

In the meantime, Iran has been busy, both, directly or through its militia henchmen, in justifying its war of sectarian “cleansing” and displacement that it has been fighting in Syria since the 2011 uprising, as well as in Iraq. Tehran and its henchmen’s justifications have been fighting against “Takfir” and “Takfiris”, including al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front and ISIS. However, the fact that there were old understandings and dealings between Iran and al-Qaeda is well known, which is why the terrorist group never attacked Iranian targets. More recently, ISIS rarely fought against Assad’s forces, choosing instead to attack its opponents, namely the “Free Syrian Army”. Moreover, Assad regime’s smuggling of extremist terrorists across the Iraqi border in order to hassle and harrass American troops in Iraq is well documented by Iraqi authorities, as is the extremist fighters’ “escape” from Iraqi prisons to join ISIS in Syria.

Today, now that the Iranian leadership has exploited and benefited from ISIS’ destruction of several (Sunni) Syrian and Iraqi cities, one needs to ask a serious question: Is it possible to coexist with the Tehran regime?

In Paris, thousands of Iranians exiled by the regime answered the question loud and clear, and so did millions of Iranians before at home: No. No coexistence with this regime.

If this is what Iranians themselves believe, how can we the Arabs disagree?

Lebanese Officials Slam ‘Hezbollah’ Threat to Turn to Iran Revolutionary Guards in New Israel War

Hezbollah

Beirut – “Hezbollah” MP Nawwaf al-Moussawi created an uproar in Lebanon when he threatened that the party would resort to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should a new war erupt with Israel.

The reactions to the remarks have been limited to certain factions of the Lebanese politicians, while it was clear that the main leaders, especially the party’s partners in government, chose to ignore them.

This was interpreted as their resignation that the issue of “Hezbollah” was no longer a local one, but it was linked to regional and international decisions.

Mario Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is allied with the party, hoped that Moussawi had not made his remarks during this time, while the Mustaqbal Movement’s Mustafa Alloush urged President Michel Aoun to make a clear stand on the issue.

Moussawi made his remarks in wake of criticism directed against “Hezbollah” chief Hassan Nasrallah’s latest speech.

Moussawi had said that thousands of fighters from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine were prepared to join the Lebanese and Syrian fronts to deter any possible Israeli assault.

“The party has the right to rally its allies in a battle where the enemy will rally all of its allies. As we have fought together with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria and the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq, we will fight together as one alliance in Lebanon if the enemy attacked us,” he continued.

Mario Aoun said that assumptions should not be made based on these statements, “which are ultimately strategic rather than political.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We had hoped that such alarming statements would not have been made at this current time given the dialogue that was recently held at the presidential palace.”

He noted that “Hezbollah’s” stance was a response to Israeli provocation, hoping that the threat will not be translated into action.

For his part, Alloush questioned the lack of official reaction to Moussawi’s declaration, asking: “We may not be capable of confronting ‘Hezbollah’ with weapons, but can we not respond to it politically?”

“Moussawi and ‘Hezbollah’ do not speak in the name of the government or Lebanon, but in the name of Iran,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the remarks were a form of “political mockery.”

“The fighters that Nasrallah and Moussawi are talking about are not ghosts and they can only arrive in Lebanon through crossing the Syrian border, which is controlled by the US-led International Coalition,” he explained.

Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea said that Nasrallah’s “escalatory” statements contradict the positive atmosphere brought about by the approval of a new parliamentary electoral law and the presidential palace consultative meeting.

Political sources from the March 14 camp questioned why “Hezbollah” was dealing “blow after blow” at the president only months after he came to power, starting with the Qusair military parade and the criticism against Saudi Arabia shortly after the president paid a visit to it.

The sources told Lebanon’s Markazia news agency: “Nasrallah’s stance indicates that he still sees himself as larger than the Lebanese state. The policy of disassociation that the government has adopted does not concern him … He alone holds the decision to go to war or make peace, disregarding Lebanon’s interests or the repercussions of his actions.”

“The new presidential term is the first victim of these practices, whose president is insisting that its main goals be restoring the lost dignity of the state,” added the sources.

“This raises questions over ‘Hezbollah’s’ seriousness in making Michel Aoun’s presidency a success,” they said.