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Iran’s Influence Stems from US Policy and War Would Be a Monumental Disaster

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When Corinth and Megara, both allies of Sparta went to war, Athens sensed opportunity and soon formed an alliance with Megara.  It precipitated the First Peloponnesian War (c 459 – 445 BC) and Athens soon turned the alliance into control of Megara.  When peace returned, so did Megara into the Spartan fold.  In 1941, Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched the massive Operation Barbarossa against it.  In both instances, the violators paid dearly.  By the end of the Peloponnesian wars, a long saga, Athens had been reduced from its preeminence as the most powerful Greek state to a defeated vassal of Sparta.  We know what happened to Germany.  In one case it took over fifty years, in the other just four.

History may not repeat itself but here we are in the 21st century and another agreement is about to be broken.  Visiting leaders from France and Germany, UK’s Theresa May on the phone …. all have advised against such a course and all to no avail.  Donald Trump insists on pulling out of the Iran deal.  Every 120 days he is supposed to sign a waiver to lift sanctions related to the nuclear deal.  Signing in mid-January, he warned it would be the last time unless the agreement was changed.  The major European leaders have failed to dissuade him, and have now gone so far as for one to call his decision insane.  They are right for the consequences could be disastrous, particularly as Iran continues to fulfill its obligations under the deal which keeps a check on any development of nuclear weapons.

First for some background:  Starting with the US invasion of Iraq, the political order in the Middle East arranged by Britain and France post World War I quickly disintegrated.  National borders became porous, and state institutions severely stressed due to civil war or through non-state actors like ISIS — although the latter has been greatly weakened the ideology remains — and Syria has faced a multi-pronged insurgency.  Out of chaos rather than design, Iran has emerged a key player.

By offering help to Syria and Iraq and through aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s influence now extends over a wide swathe of the Middle East, from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.  Moreover, in Yemen, it has pinned down the Saudis in an expensive civil war against a popular (Houthi) rebellion to which it has provided a measure of support.

If this implies Iran is highly militaristic with a huge military budget, one could not be more wrong.  In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, Iran spent $12.7 billion on defense whereas Saudi Arabia laid out $63.7 billion, about five times more.  So how has Iran succeeded in magnifying its influence?

Not surprisingly, it has been a blundering US, staggering around like a drunken giant trampling any semblance of order.  In the Iraq war, it overthrew a government and nation that was a countervailing force against Iran, and put in place an elected one which, given Iraq’s Shia majority, was Shia.  Some of the Shia leaders had sought refuge in Shia Iran from Saddam’s efforts to keep this majority at heel.  In this they had common bond with the Kurds up in northern Iraq, who fighting for an independent Kurdistan, had been gassed by Saddam.

The Shia government in Iraq now looks to Iran.  For example, last year the Kurds held a vote on independence from Iraq to form a separate Kurdistan.  The Kurds voted for independence laying open the real possibility of civil war.  It was Iran with its muscle in the region who dissuaded the Kurds, even forcing them to surrender Kirkuk, a city with a mixed Kurd and Arab population, to the central government.

Then Saudi Arabia’s rejection and organized boycott of Qatar left it little choice but to seek closer ties with Iran, with which it has common natural gas interests.  For Iran, it is a first foothold across the Gulf, right next door to Saudi Arabia’s oil,  which happens to be in a Shia-majority province.

In Lebanon, Iran has long supported its Shiite brethren, whose awakening dates to the 1980s Israeli invasion and its refusal to leave the South.  First forming Amal to protect their rights, this downtrodden minority is now the most powerful force in Lebanon, now well-known as Hezbollah.  It has been successful against Israeli arms twice.  First, in forcing them to eventually leave southern Lebanon in 2000 — Israel’s interest was the water from the Litani river — and a second time when Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006 and Hezbollah forced it to pay a high enough price that withdrawal became the sensible option.

Iran’s stock in Syria has soared both through the help given to Assad’s forces by Hezbollah but also through a substantial contribution by its revolutionary guards.  This battle hardened force in concert with the tough Hezbollah and the Syrian army form the ground forces to compliment Russian air power.  Together they have given President Assad victory and made Russia the arbiter in the region.  The alliance has also been helped by a disaffected Turkey, wary of US help for Kurds, and the antagonistic, fundamentalist, and now also threatening, Saudi Arabia, which has become close to Israel.

A harbinger of things to come was the Sochi meeting between Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the future of Syria.  The US was notable only in its absence.  Russia is now actively wooing Turkey, and any belligerence by the Trump administration towards Iran will only draw it too closer to Russia, perhaps even signing a defense pact, although Iran would prefer neutrality.

Aside from religious kinship and its use of proxies to protect itself from the Saudi bloc, Iran has also chosen to develop sophisticated missiles, a comparatively cheaper alternative to huge military expenditures.  These ensure an attacker will pay a heavy price, and is one good reason why Benjamin Netanyahu would rather the US do the dirty work while he continues to make inflammatory and deceptive speeches about Iran.  Unfortunately at present, the US is also exposed.  Worse, its vulnerability is in a region where Iran holds a better hand.  Moreover, a seriously destructive attack on Iran will bring back chaos to the whole region and sow the seeds for another ISIS and/or similar group(s) with the potential for exporting their philosophy to Europe and North America.

What this analysis shows is exactly what the Europeans have been telling Mr. Trump.  It makes sense to talk while maintaining the current deal.  “Jaw, jaw is better than war war,”  said a statesman (Churchill) whose bust occupies a prominent position in Trump’s office.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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Powershift in Knesset: A Paradigm of Israel’s Political Instability

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The dynamics of the Middle East are changing faster than anyone ever expected. For instance, no sage mind ever expected Iran to undergo a series of talks with the US and European nations to negotiate sanctions and curb its nuclear potential. And certainly, no political pundit could have predicted a normalization of diplomacy between Israel and a handful of Arab countries. The shocker apparently doesn’t end there. The recent shift in Israeli politics is a historic turnaround; a peculiar outcome of the 11-day clash. To probe, early June, a pack of eight opposition parties reached a coalition agreement to establish Israel’s 36th government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. While the political impasse has partly subsided, neither the 12-year prime minister is feeble nor is the fragile opposition strong enough to uphold an equilibrium.

Mr. Netanyahu currently serves as the caretaker prime minister of Israel. While the charges of corruption inhibited his drive in the office, he was responsible to bring notable achievements for Israel in the global diplomatic missions. Mr. Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has bagged several diplomatic victories; primarily in reference to the long-standing conflict with Palestine and by extension, the Arab world. He managed to persuade former US President Donald J. Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contentious city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he managed to strike off the Palestinian mission in Washington whilst gaining success in severing US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. To the right-wing political gurus, Mr. Netanyahu stood as a symbolic figure to project the aspirations of the entire rightest fraction.

However, the pegs turned when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave the office while facing a corruption trial. What he deemed as a ‘Backdoor Coup Attempt’ was rather criticized by his own base as a ruse of denial. By denying the charges and desecrating the judges hearing his case, Mr. Netanyahu started to undercut the supremacy of law. While he still had enough support to float above water, he lost the whelming support of the rightest faction which resulted in the most unstable government and four inconclusive elections in the past two years.

While Mr. Netanyahu was given the baton earlier by President Reuven Rivlin, he failed to convince his bedfellow politicians to join the rightest agenda. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu probably hoped to regain support by inciting a head-on collision with the Palestinians. The scheme backfired as along with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the tremors overtook Israel’s own Arab-Jewish cities resulting in mass chaos. The burning of Mosques and local Synagogues was hardly the expectation. Thus, both the raucous sentiment pervading the streets of Israel as well as the unstable nature of the Netanyahu-government led the rightest parties to switch sides.

As Mr. Netanyahu failed to convince a coalition government, the task was handed to Mr. Yair Lapid, a centrist politician. While the ideologies conflicted in the coalition he tried to forge, his counterparts, much like him, preferred to sideline the disputes in favor of dethroning Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid joined hands with a pool of political ideologies, the odd one being the conservative Yamina party led by the veteran politician, Mr. Naftali Bennett. While Mr. Lapid has been a standard-bearer for secular Israelis, Mr. Bennett has been a stout nationalist, being the standard-bearer for the rightest strata. To add oil to the fire, the 8-party coalition also includes an Arab Islamist party, Raam. A major conflict of beliefs and motivations.

Although the coalition has agreed to focus on technocratic issues and compromise on the ideological facets, for the time being, both the rightest and the leftish parties would be under scrutiny to justify the actions of the coalition as a whole. Mr. Bennett would be enquired about his take on the annexation of occupied West Bank, an agenda vocalized by him during his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu. However, as much as he opposes the legitimacy of the Palestinian state, he would have to dim his narrative to avoid a fissure in the already fragile coalition. Similarly, while the first independent Arab group is likely to assume decision-making in the government for the first time, the mere idea of infuriating Mr. Bennett strikes off any hope of representation and voice of the Arabs in Israel.

Now Mr. Netanyahu faces a choice to defer the imminent vote of confidence in Knesset whilst actively persuading the rightest politicians to abandon the coalition camp. His drive has already picked momentum as he recently deemed the election as the ‘Biggest Fraud in the History of Israeli Politics’. Furthermore, he warned the conservatives of a forthcoming leftist regime, taking a hit on Naftali colluding with a wide array of leftist ideologies. The coalition is indeed fragile, yet survival of coalition would put an end to Netanyahu and his legacy while putting Naftali and then Lapid in the office. However, the irony of the situation is quite obvious – a move from one rightest to the other. A move from one unstable government to a lasting political instability in Israel.

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Middle East

The Gaza War

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Destruction in Gaza following an Israeli strike in May 2021. UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

On May 22, 2021, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei’s website, posted a congratulatory message from one of the Hamas group’s leaders, Ziad Nakhaleh. In his message, Ziad Nakhaleh addresses Khamenei and says, “Qasem Soleimani’s friends and brothers, especially Ismail Ghani (Iran’s IRGC commander) and his colleagues, led this battle and were present with us during our recent conflict with Israel. … We pray for the preservation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its brave soldiers.”

Since the regime’s establishment 42 years ago, Iran has been instrumental in inflicting war and chaos regionally. When Iran finds itself cornered and entangled with its internal problems or facing an impasse, a war or bloody conflict gets ignited by the regime to divert the Iranian people’s attention. This undeclared policy of the Iranian regime frees itself from the most pressing internal issues, even temporarily.

Today’s Iranian society is like a barrel of gunpowder ready to ignite. Last year, the Iranian parliament declared that more than 60 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. According to the media close to the regime, close to 80% of the population below the poverty line this year. It is worth mentioning that Iran is one of the top 10 wealthiest countries globally, despite the challenges of the current sanctions.

This poverty is mainly the result of rampant institutionalized government corruption. According to Qalibaf, the current speaker of Iran’s parliament, only 4 percent of the population is prosperous, and the rest are poor and hungry. The two uprisings of 2017 and mid-November 2019 that surprised the regime were caused mainly by extreme poverty and high inflation. The regime survived the above widespread uprisings by opening direct fire at the innocent protestors, killing more than 1500 people. There is no longer any legitimacy for the regime domestically and internationally.

The explosive barrel of the Iranian discontent is about to burst at any given moment. To delay such social eruption, Khamenei banned the import of COVID-19 vaccines from the US, Britain, and France, hoping the people will be occupied with the virus and forget about their miserable living conditions.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime is in the midst of new negotiations with the western countries regarding its nuclear program. These negotiations may force the regime to abandon its nuclear plans that have cost billions of dollars, its terrorist activities in the region, and its ballistic missiles stockpile. This retreat will inevitably facilitate the growth and spread of the uprisings and social unrest across Iran.

The Deadlock of the Regime

The regime is facing an election that could ignite the barrel of gunpowder of the Iranian society. In 1988, when Khamenei wanted to announce Ahmadinejad as the winner of the presidential ballot boxes but faced opposition from former Prime Minister Mousavi. Widespread demonstrations were ignited. The same scenario is repeating itself in this year’s presidential election, where Khamenei intends to announce Raisi as the next president of Iran. There is a legitimate fear that demonstrations will ignite once again.

To avoid the happening of the same experience, Khamenei is forced to make an important decision. Like any other dictator, he pursues a policy of contraction during these challenging and crucial times, deciding to favor those loyal to him and his policies. Khamenei needs a uniform and decisive government to exert maximum repression on the Iranian people.

By disqualifying the former president (Ahmadinejad), the current vice president (Jahangiri), and most importantly, his current adviser and speaker of the two parliaments (Larijani), he has cut loose a large part of his regime. One way or another, Khamenei’s contraction policy is going to weaken his grip on power.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime must comply with the West’s demand for nuclear talks. In 2021, the political landscape is entirely different from 2015 in the balance of regional and global forces. The regime’s regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria has been severely weakened.

There is an explosive situation inside Iran. The resistance units spread throughout Iran after the 2019 uprising and have rapidly increased in recent months. They are spreading the message of separation of religion from the government, plus equality between men and women in a society where women do not have the right to be elected as president or a minister. The resistance units call themselves supporters of Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian regime’s sworn enemy. These units can direct a massive flood of people’s anger towards the Supreme Leader’s establishments with every spark and explosion.

Khamenei wanted to force the West to lift all sanctions and demonstrate a show of force within Iran and the region by initiating the Gaza war. The Gaza war was intended to divert the attention from Khamenei’s decisions on Iran’s presidential election. In this situation, the regime wanted to break its presidential deadlock by firing rockets through Hamas and carrying out a massacre in Israel and Palestine.

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