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Opponent terrorists, lack of communication, a war in the making

Mehdi Dehnavi

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The Islamic Revolution and Iran’s efforts to participate actively in the region through the Revolutionary Guards

The Iranian revolution was always the source of major changes in the Middle East‏. One of the main goals of this revolution and its leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was to spread this revolution across other Middle Eastern countries, with the purpose of establishing other Islamic and non-dictatorial regimes in the region.

A goal, which formed the basis for inviting the Iraqi people and army to revolt against Saddam Hussein‏. Thus, not only did it spark fears in the Middle East, Arab countries and their oligarchic governments, but it also persuaded them to equip themselves against a potential insurgency of their people against their own governments and the newly established Islamic State in Iran.

One of their actions was aimed at gaining a closer approach to the United States, which, following the Iran hostage crisis‏, it was now fully in line with the Arab dictatorial regimes in confronting the Iranian regime. By enabling the US to have many military bases across their territories, they provided the conditions for a wider US military presence in the region‏. Meanwhile, Iran was also expanding its influence across some countries of the region, using the potential of the Shiite populations and Pro-revolutionary groups.

The emergence of serious regional tensions of the IRGC with the Americans

The starting point of the game, being Iran opposing the presence of the Americans in the Middle East, ultimately led to regional tensions between Iran and the United States, therefore, IRGC, in addition to the task of guarding the achievements of the Islamic Revolution and, of course, the destruction of the State of Israel, was now obliged to export that revolution to other countries in the region and to be at the forefront of confronting US forces.

For instance, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, which killed more than 200 officers and soldiers from the US and French military forces, were believed to be an attack traceable to Hezbollah, according to the Americans, which is a militant and political group originated in Lebanon in 1982 and established by IRGC.

Other examples include the establishment, political, financial and logistical support of groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Liberation Organization, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Popular Mobilization Forces, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organization, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Liwa Zainebiyoun and etc., which operate in Iraq and Syria and act against the US and its allies in the region, as well as the confrontation of the IRGC’s speedboats with the American warships in the Persian Gulf.  It is worth remembering the 2016 U.S. – Iran naval incident. These confrontations, forty years after the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the establishment of the IRGC, were not always hostile. There have been numerous instances of secret relations with the Americans, namely, the Iran-Contra affair, Indirect cooperation with the Americans in support of Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995, direct cooperation during the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Indirect cooperation in Iraq against ISIS, especially in the Battle of Mosul (2016-2017), etc., all appearing in the work of this revolutionary institution.

Designating IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)

Given all of the above, as well as the changing political situation in the region, especially during the post-ISIS era, which we are currently witnessing with the defeat of radical Sunni Islamist groups as ISIS; it is understandably challenging for America and its regional allies to tolerate and accept a radical Shiite force that wants to control all Middle Eastern developments, supporter of Shiite movements in the Sunni kingdoms of the region, creator of several political-military groups in the latter, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc., provider of political, financial and logistical support, and sensitive to the presence of the United States and its western allies in the region, and for this purpose, if necessary, even cooperates with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and assassins leaders of internal opposition groups outside Iran, as the Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders of the PDKI, assassinated at the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin (The Mykonos restaurant assassinations). Therefore, United States for the first time, by designating the name of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the list of foreign terrorist organizations, in addition to ignoring the sovereignty of the Iranian regime, it is trying to convey the message that the Iranian government and its military arm abroad (Quds Force), are actively involved in terrorist activities.

Increasing the risk of occurrence of war in the region

What is your first anticipation of a confrontation between the two enemy troops regarding each other as a terrorist? Truth, it is likely to be a direct or proxy war, particularly in those areas where we are able to witness a military presence of both countries and no communication channels have been considered for preventing a war. No doubt, the prediction of war is not so simple, as, in previous years, Iran has always preferred silence to retaliation and counterattack against Israeli bombings across its bases in Syria. Tehran’s leaders may go to the extent of using this strategic silence against any potential American attacks. The reason for this would be the very low social capital of the Iranian regime inside the country. However, no government can fight both the foreign enemy and its people. However, it can be argued that if Tehran wants to counteract it, it has several options in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. For example, if Tehran decides to have a military response to this designation, thousands of the United States military forces in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria, near the militias organized by the IRGC or its main personnel, could be targeted. At the same time, it is likely that the US will reciprocate. For the reason already mentioned, it is very difficult to control a cycle of action without any communication channels.

Mehdi Dehnavi is a UK based Middle Eastern affairs analyst with a focus on Iranian Political Development, Kurdish Issue, Islamic Fundamentalism, Terrorism & Counterterrorism, US Politics, NPT, Disarmament and Arms Control. His articles have been published by several journals and news agencies including Sputnik International, The Diplomatist, Diplomacy & Beyond Plus and The Russian International Affairs Council.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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