On June 15, 2020, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu stated there are no disagreements between Russia and Turkey on the fundamental principles of the Libyan settlement. Moscow and Ankara are continuing negotiations at the technical level to develop a mechanism for establishing a ceasefire and start the process of political settlement of the Libyan conflict.
Who is Fighting in Libya?
In Libya over the past few years, two opposing authorities have existed in parallel, one of them is the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli and led by Faiz Saraj. In the east, in the Tobruk, there is the Libyan House of Representatives, controlled by the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar. Since April 2019, the troops of H. Haftar besieged the Libyan capital. In November 2019, the Republic of Turkey and the government of F. Saraj signed a memorandum of understanding, which included the intensification of political and military-technical cooperation.
As a result of Turkish interference, the GNA forces managed to achieve significant military successes and go on the counterattack. The army of F. Saraj was able to lift the siege of Tripoli, which lasted 14 months and push the LNA from the Libyan capital. In April, the GNA troops established control over the coast in western Libya from Misrata to the border with Tunisia. Soon, the army of H. Haftar was forced to leave the capital airport, and Tarhuna, as well as al-Watiya airbase. Against the backdrop of the success of the government of F. Saraj, some Libyan Tuareg militias in southern Libya have expressed their support for Tripoli’s actions.
As a result of the GNA troops’ counterattack, the LNA supply system was violated, several key settlements of western Libya were captured, and the morale of H. Haftar was undermined. Now the fighting between the LNA and the army of F. Saraj is taking place on the approaches to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte, an important strategic point that is under the control of the LNA. The city is located on the way to oil fields in the east of the country, which are held by the army of H. Haftar, and if Sirte is taken from the GNA and their Turkish allies, the road is open for them.
What Role Does Turkey Play in the Libyan Conflict?
The situation at the front was changed thanks to large-scale intervention in the conflict by Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t hide that the victories over the troops of H. Haftar have achieved thanks to the Turkish soldiers and that the Turkish troops present in Libya are going along with the GNA to achieve common goals.
Ankara and Tripoli’s political and military-technical cooperation intensified after the signing of a memorandum of understanding in November 2019. The agreement between the GNA and Turkey defined the boundaries of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, where there are large deposits of natural gas. Besides, the agreement implied the intensification of military cooperation. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the agreement between Ankara and Tripoli on security cooperation is an attempt to legalize military support that violates the arms embargo. The EU, Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus condemned the signing of a memorandum that violates international law, and other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean claim gas production in this part of the sea. By contrast, Tripoli recognizes Turkey’s right to extract natural resources in the designated exclusive economic zone in exchange for support in the Libyan conflict. Indeed, Turkey has interests in Libya. Ankara declares that it intends to win contracts for the restoration of Libya, and in the future, it will participate in the production of Libyan oil.
Just a few days after the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, the participants agreed to comply with the arms embargo on Libya, Turkey sent tanks, anti-aircraft guns Korkut, self-propelled howitzers T-155, cannons GDF, combat vehicles ACV-15 and jeeps with anti-tank guns to help Tripoli. The media report that the Republic of Turkey is also transporting Syrian militants to Libya, who are fighting on the side of the GNA.
It is known that Turkey plans to open two military bases in Libya. Ankara is planning to deploy air defense systems and drones at the recently captured al-Watiya airbase. Also, Turkish troops will be stationed at a military base near Misrata. Turkey has in Libya not only economic interests but also military-political ones. Firstly, the deployment of troops of the Republic of Turkey at Libyan bases will allow Ankara to make more influence on the political course of located in Tripoli government. Secondly, Turkey will create an additional factor holding back the hypothetical offensive of the army of H. Haftar. It is unlikely that the LNA leadership will be able to fight with the Republic of Turkey’s regular units. Thirdly, Turkey will deploy troops in a country neighboring Egypt, one of Ankara’s key foreign policy opponents.
How is Egypt Responding to Intensified Hostilities in Libya?
The offensive of the pro-Turkish GNA forces and Turkey excited the Egyptian military and political circles, who perceived the defeat of the LNA and the advance of the Tripoli army deep into the country as a threat to Egyptians national security. Egyptian Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal said that Egypt will not allow pro-Turkish terrorists to control Libya. Besides, he also accused Turkey of wanting to colonize parts of the Arab world.
Egypt deployed part of the troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border. The media reported that the border with Libya was crossed by Abrams tanks and Mi-24 combat helicopters. It is also worth remembering that in the province Matruh, near the border with Libya, there is a large Egyptian military base named after the first president of Egypt, Mohammed Nagib. On its territory there are more than a thousand structures, about 20 thousand soldiers, hundreds of tanks, helicopters, boats, and air defense systems can be deployed here. The base is located close to the border with Libya, which, if necessary, allows Egypt to respond quickly to threats from a neighboring country.
Why Did Turkey and the Government of the National Accord not Accept the Cairo Declaration?
June 6, 2020, a conference was held in Cairo, during which the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came up with an initiative to overcome the Libyan crisis, the Cairo Declaration. The initiative provided for a complete ceasefire in Libya from June 8, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of the country, and the dissolution of all armed groups except for the LNA, which should ensure security in Libya. The proposals included the conditions for a political settlement of the conflict, in particular, the unification of Libyan political institutions and the creation of a presidential council with representatives of all three regions. It was planned that one of the three representatives would become president, and the other two persons would become his deputies. Egypt also called for continued talks in Geneva on the Libyan joint military commission in the 5+5 format.
The conference was attended by Egyptian President A.F. al-Sisi, Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aquila Saleh, the meeting was also attended by representatives of the United States, Russia, France, and Italy. Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Cyprus, South Africa, the League of Arab States and its members (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Kuwait) have expressed support for the Cairo Declaration. The EU supported the initiative, drawing attention to the fact that nothing can replace the comprehensive world, an agreement on which was reached during the Berlin Conference. Cairo’s efforts have also been welcomed in the United States.
At the same time, there were no representatives of the GNA and the Turkish Republic at the Cairo conference. The terms of a political settlement proposed by the Egyptian president were not discussed with key participants in the conflict. Naturally, Ankara and Tripoli refused to accept the Cairo Declaration and hostilities continued. GNA troops continued the bombing of the city of Sirte: the last large settlement belonging to the western part of Libya and controlled by H. Haftar.
Even though Ankara and Tripoli did not participate in the discussion of the Cairo Declaration, the GNA is ready to take part in peace talks. At the same time, it is emphasized that negotiations are possible only after the troops of F. Saraj can capture Sirte and the military base Jufra. At the same time, the GNA announced that H. Haftar is a war criminal and that he cannot participate in any negotiations on the post-war structure of Libya, and the Minister of the Interior of the F. Saraj Government announced that Libya will not be able to end the war until it’s East is liberated from H. Haftar.
The GNA is ready to continue the attack on the position of the LNA. Turkish troops can play an important role in that, considering that Ankara doesn’t hide the presence of its troops in Libya. The escalation of hostilities in Libya is taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus didn’t become a deterrent to hostilities. On the contrary, the warring parties decided to take advantage of the involvement of the rest of the world in the fight against the epidemic. H. Haftar declared himself the sole Libyan ruler, and the GNA went on the offensive. Missile attacks on Libyan cities lead to interruptions in the supply of water and electricity, which impedes the fight against the virus. Solving the problems caused by the epidemic seems less important to the top military-political circles of the warring parties than a war with each other. All this can contribute to the spread of coronavirus infection.
Egypt and Turkey, perhaps the main players on the Libyan chessboard, are not interested in further escalating the conflict. In July 2020, Ethiopia plans to begin filling the reservoir of the Hidase hydropower plant, regardless of whether Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa manage to reach a compromise on the distribution of water resources of the Nile River. A potential blow to the irrigation system of Egypt is a threat no less significant than the civil war in Libya, so the Egyptian leadership will probably try to avoid the aggravation of the situation on several “fronts” at once. The Egyptian leadership has concerns that it is being dragged into the grueling Libyan war. Given the fact that the army of the Arab Republic has trouble in the fight against terrorists on the Sinai Peninsula, participation in a full-fledged military campaign may make Egypt boggle for a long time in Libya. Also, the Egyptian intervention would be negatively perceived by the world community, and this could lead to the introduction of economic sanctions against Egypt and hit the already fragile economy.
Turkey has announced the launch of the Claw-Eagle Operation. During it, the Turkish Air Force attacked the facilities of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which are located in northern Iraq. Another issue Turkey is forced to monitor is the actions of the Syrian Arab Republic army, which is fighting against terrorist groups in Idlib. The intensification of hostilities in Libya is also taking place against the backdrop of worsening relations between Turkey and Greece. This does not allow Ankara to be involved in the processes taking place in Libya as it would like.
H. Haftar will not give up without a fight. The LNA is going to restructure the main operational headquarters of the command for more effective interaction on the battlefield. Reinforcements are drawn to Sirt. However, in connection with the events of recent weeks, it has become more apparent that a military way to resolve the Libyan conflict is hardly possible. Egypt will not allow the complete defeat of the LNA, and Turkey will not allow the defeat of the GNA forces.
Understanding this forces the warring parties to discuss measures that can stop the bloodshed. The delegations of the GNA and LNA took part in the third round of talks on Libya in the format of a meeting of the joint military talks 5 + 5, during which the parties discussed a draft ceasefire agreement. Although the ceasefire was repeatedly broken, both H. Haftar and F. Saraj alternately refused to sign the ceasefire agreement, now there is a real possibility of a compromise. Turkey and the GNA are ready for negotiations, but they want to strengthen their position before them.
It is worth recognizing that the military solution to the Libyan issue has not justified itself. This means that if the warring parties cannot find a political solution to the conflict, Libya will remain a country divided into two parts for a very long time. Under these conditions, Russia can take the initiative. It can offer F. Saraj and H. Haftar to negotiate with the mediation of Russia and Turkey on the conditions for establishing a ceasefire. Then, when the shooting stops, initiate a discussion on the possibility of a political settlement of the Libyan conflict. Moscow and Ankara have extensive experience in finding a compromise on the most painful issues, and it is possible that the Libyan conflict is no exception.
From our partner RIAC
Papal visit to Iraq: Breaking historic ground pockmarked by religious and political minefields
When Pope Francis sets foot in Iraq on Friday, he will be breaking historic ground while manoeuvring religious and political minefields. So will his foremost religious counterpart, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, one of the Shia Muslim world’s foremost scholars and leaders.
The three-day visit contrasts starkly with past papal trips to the Middle East that included Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, states that, unlike neighbouring Iran, are more accustomed to inter-faith interactions because of their Sunni Muslim history and colonial experience or in the case of Shia-majority Azerbaijan a modern history of secular and communist rule.
Unlike in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis is venturing in Iraq into a Shia-majority country that has been wracked by sectarian violence in which neighbouring Iran wields significant religious and political influence and that is home to religious scholars that compete with their counterparts in the Islamic republic. As a result, Iraqi Shiite clerics often walk a tightrope.
Scheduled to last 40 minutes, Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s meeting with the pope, a high point of the visit, constitutes a double-edged sword for a 90-year-old religious leader born in Iran who has a complex relationship with the Islamic republic.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani has long opposed Iran’s system of direct rule by clerics. As a result, he has eschewed executive and political authority while playing a key role in reconciling Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, promoting inter-tribal and ethnic peace, and facilitating the drafting and ratification of a post-US invasion constitution.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s influence, however, has been evident at key junctures in recent Iraqi history. Responding to an edict by the ayatollah, Iraqis flocked to the polls in 2005 despite the risk of jihadist attacks. Large numbers enlisted in 2017 to fight the Islamic State after Ayatollah Al-Sistani rallied the country. The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in 2019, four days after Ayatollah Al-Sistani expressed support for protesters demanding sweeping reforms.
To avoid controversy, Ayatollah Al-Sistani is likely to downplay the very aspects of a meeting with the pope that political and religious interlocutors of the head of the Catholic church usually bask in: the ability to leverage the encounter to enhance their legitimacy and position themselves as moderate and tolerant peacemakers.
With state-controlled media in Iran largely refraining from mentioning the visit and Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claiming the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world, Ayatollah Al-Sisi is likely to avoid projecting the encounter as a recognition by the pope that he is Shiite Islam’s chief interlocutor or that the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, rather than Iran’s Qom, is the unrivalled capital of Shiite learning.
Sources close to Ayatollah Al-Sistani, who rarely receives foreign dignitaries, have described his encounter on Saturday with the pope as a “private meeting.”
“Khamenei will not like it,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Islamic scholar who studied in Qom and is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Critics are likely to note that Ayatollah Al-Sistani was meeting the pope but had failed to receive in December Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, who is touted as a potential presidential candidate in elections scheduled for June and/or successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.
Mr. Khalaji noted that Iran has long downplayed Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s significance that is boosted by the fact that he maintains a major presence not only in Najaf but also in Qom where he has a seminary, a library, and a clerical staff.
Shiite scholars suggest that is one reason why Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani are unlikely to issue a Shiite-Christian equivalent of the Declaration of Human Fraternity that was signed in Abu Dhabi two years ago by the pontiff and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based historic cathedral of Islamic learning.
“Al-Sistani does not want to provoke Khamenei. There is no theological basis to do so. Muslims cannot be brothers of Christians. Mainstream Islamic theological schools see modern Christianity as inauthentic. They view Jesus as the divine prophet, not as the incarnation of God and his son. In short, for official Islam, today’s Christianity is nothing short of heresy,” Mr. Khalaji said, referring to schools of thought predominant in Iran. “Sunnis are a little bit more flexible,” he added.
Mr. Khalaji noted further that Shiite religious seminaries have no intellectual tradition of debate about inter-faith dialogue nor do any of the offices of religious leaders have departments concerned with interacting with other faith groups. “The whole discourse is absent in Shia Islam,” Mr. Khalaji said.
That has not stopped Ayatollah Al-Sistani from maintaining discreet contacts with the Vatican over the years.
In a bid to popularize the concept of inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a multi-religious prayer meeting in Ur, the presumed birthplace of Abraham, revered as the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
By the same token, Pope Francis, concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and particularly Iraq that has seen the diverse minority shrink from 1.2 million before the 2003 US invasion to at most 300,000 today, will want to build on the Shiite leader’s past calls for protection of the minority faith group from attacks by militants and condemnation of “heinous crimes” committed against them.
The pope hopes that a reiteration by Ayatollah Al-Sistani of his empathy for the plight of Christians would go a long way in reducing pressure on the community from Iranian-backed militias that has stopped many from returning to homes they abandoned as they fled areas conquered by the Islamic State.
The pope’s visit, little more than a month after a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 32 people and days after rockets hit an airbase housing US troops, has sparked hope among some Iraqis that it will steer the country away from further violence.
That hope was boosted by a pledge by Saraya Awliyat Al-Dam (Custodians of the Blood), the pro-Iranian group believed to have attacked the airbase, to suspend its operations during the pope’ visit “as a sign of respect for Imam Al-Sistani.”
Said Middle East scholar Hayder al-Khoei: “There will be no signing of a document, but both (Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani) are advocates of interfaith dialogue and condemn violence committed in the name of religion. The meeting will undoubtedly strengthen the voices and organizations who still believe in dialogue.”
Iraq Opens Hands to the Pope Francis’ Historic Visit
The world looks forward to Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq which is considered the first papal trip represented by the Roman Catholic Church to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, despite spreading the second wave of COVID-19 and the security situation in Iraq. This expected visit has an important impact on highlighting the challenges and disasters of humiliation, the sectarian war and displacing people, Yazidis persecution, and fleeing the Christian minorities that faced Iraq during all these past years after the US invasion occurred in 2003.
The three-day-visit is considered as the message of peace after years of war and violence, referring that the Pope’s visit is as a pilgrim to the cradle of civilization. The papal visit includes Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul- Qaraqosh, and Ur city. The trip comes after 18 months as the pandemic restricts his movement, and it is the first visit to the Middle East when he visited the U.A.E in February 2019 where he met and celebrated in front of 180,000 people at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi.
The papal visit was intended to occur twenty years ago when St. John Paul II tried to visit Mesopotamia during Saddam’s regime, but the endeavors failed to complete that proposed trip. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. The people waited for St. John Paul II who was not permitted to go. We cannot disappoint them twice”, said the Pope.
In a video message addressed by the Pope to the people of Iraq, he expressed his happiness and longing to meet the people who suffered from war, scourges, and death during all these years. “I long to meet you, to look at your faces and to visit your blessed ancient land and the cradle of civilization,” the Pope said.
It is expected that the purpose of the Pope’s visit is to preserve the rest of the Christians in Iraq. According to the estimation of the charity aid of the Church in Need, the numbers of Christians have decreased from 1.4 million to under 250,000 since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially in the cities of northern Iraq. Many Christians were killed and fled from 2014 to 2017 due to the Islamic State occupation and due to their atrocities, persecution, and violence against the Christian areas. The Pope yearns for meeting the dwindling Christian communities in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and Nineveh plains where these regions had suffered from the atrocities of ISIS in 2014 and people had been compelled to flee.
The world is waiting for the most significant historic meeting between the 90-year-old Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the 84-year-old Pope Francis in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. The expected meeting is seen as a real chance to enhance the bonds of fraternity between the Muslims and Christians and to lighten the impact of the islamophobia concept that swept Europe and America due to the terrorism actions that happened in Europe. This expected meeting that will be by Saturday signifies a historic moment when the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets Pope Francis, illustrating the fraternal bonds to make people live in peace and tranquility.
Back in February 2019, the Pontiff Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and the most prestigious leader in Sunni Islam, agreed and signed the declaration of fraternity, affirming peace among all nations. The two parties in this document adhere to fight extremism in every place in the world. If the Pontiff and the Grand Ayatollah sign a document like the declaration of fraternity, this will give Najaf’s Marjiya a very great impact, and this move will be seen as the first step to decrease the religious tensions and fill the gap of the clash of civilization. This document, if it is enacted, will have a great impact to make peace prevailing and encouraging Muslims and Christians to live in peaceful coexistence.
Ur, which is the oldest city in the world, is to be visited by the pontiff. It is considered the biblical birthplace of Ibraham, the common prophet to the Christians, Muslims, and Judaism and the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is expected that there will be prayers in Ziggurat where this place is one of UNESCO world heritage sites. This visit to this historic site will help the landmark to polarize people from Iraq and outside to visit it after years of negligence and ignorance attention to its importance and the vital role that can help Iraq to increase the public income.
The papal visit has many different messages to the people of Iraq. Firstly, the expected meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reflects the fraternal and human stances, and this meeting underlines the important role played by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the US-led-invasion in 2003. Secondly, his visit to Ur to pray there is a message of the peaceful coexistence between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, trying to point out that all these three religions emerged from one source. Thirdly, the Pope endeavors to be with the Christians who suffer from the past events of persecution, humiliation, and atrocities. His presence among them is a message of tranquility, serenity, peace, and contentment to live in Iraq with the Muslims and to abandon fighting against others. Finally, the Pope’s visit to Iraq pays the world’s attention to the religious importance of Iraq and the significant role that can be played by Iraq.
Restart Iran Policy by Stopping Tehran’s Influence Operations
Another US administration is trying to figure out its Iran policy. And, as always, the very regime at the core of the riddle is influencing the policy outcome. Through the years, the clerical rulers of Iran have honed the art of exploiting America’s democratic public sphere to mislead, deceive, confuse, and influence the public and government.
Yet Washington still does not have a proper taxonomy of policy antidotes when it comes to Tehran’s influence operations.
Arguments dictated by Iranian intelligence services echo in think tanks and many government agencies. These include the extremely misguided supposition that the murderous regime can be reformed or is a reliable negotiating partner for the West; or that there is no other alternative but to deal with the status quo.
How has Tehran been able to deceive some in the US into believing such nonsense? First, by relying on the policy of appeasement pursued by Western governments. And second, through its sophisticated influence operations facilitated by that policy.
Consider three recent instances.
First. Just last month, an Iranian “political scientist” was charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered agent of Iran and secretly receiving money from its mission in New York. “For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public … for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective polic1y analysis and expertise,” the Justice Department noted.
Afrasiabi has an extensive body of published work and television appearances. In July 2020, according to the Justice Department, he linked many of his books and hundreds of articles in an email written to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, saying: “Without [Zarif’s] support none of this would have been possible!”
Second. Across the Atlantic, one of Zarif’s official diplomats in Europe, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted and given a 20-year prison sentence by a Belgian court on February 4 for trying to bomb an opposition rally in the outskirts of Paris in June 2018.
Court documents revealed that Assadi crisscrossed Europe as Tehran’s intelligence station chief, paying and directing many agents in at least 11 European countries.
Assadi’s terrorist plot in 2018 was foiled at the last minute. The main target was Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Hundreds of Western lawmakers and former officials were also in attendance.
Third. Unable to harm its opposition through terrorism, the regime has expanded its influence operations against NCRI’s main constituent organization the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which Tehran considers its arch nemesis.
For decades, the mullahs have misled, deceived, and confused America’s Iran policy by disseminating considerable disinformation about the democratic opposition. This has in turn resulted in bungled American responses to Tehran’s threats.
In a breaking revelation this month, a former Iranian intelligence operative wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General, outlining in glaring detail how the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) recruits, pays, and controls dozens of agents across Europe to influence policy.
Forty-one-year-old Hadi Sani-Khani wrote that he was approached by intelligence agents who lured him into the Iranian embassy in Tirana, Albania (MEK’s headquarters). He said he wants to go back to Iran. On one condition, the embassy responded: Cooperate with the regime’s intelligence against the MEK. He subsequently met with the regime’s intelligence chief, Fereidoun Zandi, who coordinated a network of paid agents in Albania since 2014. The intelligence chief was later expelled by Albanian authorities along with the regime’s ambassador.
Khani was paid 500 euros per month to write and publish anti-MEK articles and also send copious amounts of similar propaganda to members of the European parliament. Dozens of websites are operated by Tehran’s intelligence, some of which are, astonishingly, undeclared sources for unsuspecting Western journalists, think tanks and government agencies when it comes to the MEK.
In many cases, reporters have met directly with the regime’s intelligence agents for their stories. In September 2018, for example, according to Khani, a reporter from German newspaper Der Spiegel traveled to Albania. Khani recalls: “We met the Der Spiegel reporter in a Café in Ramsa district in Zagozi square. Each of us then told her lies about the MEK which we had been given in preparation of the meeting. … [Later on,] she occasionally asked me questions about the MEK which I then raised with the embassy and provided her the response I received.”
Der Spiegel published the story on February 16, 2019, parts of which were copied from websites affiliated with Iran’s intelligence service. Following a lawsuit, a court in Hamburg ordered Der Spiegel to remove the defamatory segments of its article.
These same agents also met with a New York Times correspondent at the same Café, who subsequently wrote a piece against the MEK, regurgitating the very same allegations.
The mullahs’ influence operations are a serious obstacle to formulating an effective US policy toward Tehran. As long as the regime’s agents are allowed to exploit America’s public sphere, cultivate important relationships, infiltrate the media and think tanks, and influence serious policy deliberations in Washington through a flood of falsehoods, America will be at a substantial disadvantage.
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