Bipartisan consensus: Stop Iran and its missile attacks on Iranian dissidents

iranprotest_timessquare_072215gettyFox News reports a missile attack occurred on Camp Liberty Iraq on October 29; residents include 2,400 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). About 80 missiles made holes as deep as 7 feet and wide as 8 feet—including 122 mm Katyushas and those Tehran produced—the NB24 Russian missiles.

Why is Iran targeting its opposition? Dissidents block the goal of Tehran—to control Baghdad and Damascus where we are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Washington’s evolving strategy is DOA on the Hill unless the administration reaches out to the opposition and sees Iran as a threat across the porous border.

How to counter the threat from Iran? Align with others opposing Tehran and the bipartisan congressional coalition sharing that view.

Saudi Arabia’s alignment against Iran includes Israel as a silent partner. Saudis view Tehran and Damascus unfavorably. A potential partner for Riyadh and Washington is the Iranian Resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran. All define the threat as Islamist.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir asked, Is Iran a “state or a revolution?” If it wants to export its 1979 revolution and revive the Persian Empire “we cannot deal with it.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his UN speech on October 1 that shifting alliances in the Middle East drew Arab countries like Saudi Arabia closer to Israel in confronting Iran and ISIL. His speech before the Congress stated that, “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat…to the peace.”

On April 29, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “ISIS: Defining the Enemy.” Maryam Rajavi is President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the coalition of which the MEK is the largest unit; she testified from Paris. Her written testimony showed how Tehran is an Islamist epicenter of terrorism to establish an Empire without borders and called for empowering the democratic tolerant Islam she represented.

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Is Washington Forgetting Its Allies in the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations?

BELGIUM-SYRIA-IRAQ -CONFLICT-US-COALITIONAs Secretary of State John Kerry rushed in 2013 to sign an interim nuclear deal with Iran, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), incoming chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee, stated that Kerry “has been a human wrecking ball.” Regarding extension of current talks to July 2014, McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said a “bad deal” with Iran would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

If Ashton Carter is confirmed as secretary of defense, he may temper Kerry’s overemphasis on nuclear diplomacy with little regard for regional implications; Carter would marry diplomacy with military elements in an overall strategy for Iran’s nuclear program.

Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen wrote in a post for the Washington Institute that as far back as April 2009, Saudis told U.S. Special Envoy Dennis Ross, “if [the Iranians] get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” On Nov. 1, 2013, just prior to the Nov. 24 interim nuclear accord between Iran and the Permanent Five Members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1), the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI),reported Riyadh’s concerns before Kerry’s visit two days later about a Tehran-Washington rapprochement: It increases Iran’s regional influence at the expense of the Arab States; a year later, Nov. 23, 2014, Saudi newspaperscriticized Obama for cooperating with Iran while abandoning his Arab allies and called on Riyadh to conduct a strategic reassessment of the alliance with Washington.

Contrast how America’s Middle East allies are cut out of the nuclear talks with Iran versus nuclear talks with North Korea. Gulf states and Israel are excluded while European allies play a prominent role in the P5+1 negotiation with Tehran. In Asia, U.S. regional allies like Seoul and Tokyo are in a contact group with Beijing, Pyongyang, and Moscow. Although talks with Pyongyang have a mixed record, Arab States are absent from talks on Iran’s nuclear program and pay the price of a deal or no deal, whether good or bad. Although Kerry often travels to Jerusalem and Riyadh before talks with Iran, he does so at his discretion, and there is not formal consultation with regional allies before each secret bilateral or multilateral with Tehran.

Washington’s participation in nuclear talks with Iran while ignoring Iranian dissidents to curry favor with Tehran are intertwined stories of diplomatic appeasement of the Ayatollahs.

The Islamic Republic wields outsize influence in councils of power in Baghdad. According to the Washington Post, appointment of Iraq’s interior minister in October 2014 opened the door to Shiite militia and Iranian influence in Baghdad. Mohammed Ghabban, a Shiite politician with the Badr Organization has ties to Hadi al-Amiri, head of Badr and its military wing. He is likely to wield huge power in the ministry. The Badr militia ran Shiite death squads during Iraq’s sectarian war, after infiltrating the Interior Ministry. A leaked 2009 State Department cable said Amiri may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. The Post also stated that head of Iraq’s human rights ministry is also affiliated with Badr.

Meanwhile, Iranian dissidents are not well represented by the American Embassy in Baghdad during the past three years, while nuclear talks have been taking place. Memorializing an accord with Baghdad, on Dec. 25, 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, under pressure from pro-Iran Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, urged some 3,000 Iranian dissidents to abandon their home in Camp Ashraf, where they had lived for decades, in favor of Camp Liberty. In that statement, Secretary Clinton promised“officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad will visit regularly and frequently.” This pledge was never fulfilled, except for a few short visits to the camp without discussing security concerns of the dissidents. Trying to please Tehran with unfilled efforts by U.S. Embassy staff is a macabre example of the adage, “Promises are made to be broken and lies are meant to be kept.”

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Russia TV Arabic Hit on Ukraine with Implications for the Middle East

RT on RT september 2On September 2 2014, Raymond Tanter was on Russian TV.

The lead for the program was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement that the West in general and the United States in particular encouraged what he called the “War Team” in Kiev. He contended that Washington was thwarting the efforts of the “Peace Team,” led by Moscow. Tanter first refuted the Lavrov accusation and then segued to the Middle East.

Tanter said that a goal of President Obama’s visit to Estonia on 3 September 2014 and participation in the 4-5 September NATO summit in Wales was to provide a signal to former republics of the Soviet Union, such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: NATO will come to their defense according to Article Five of the NATO Treaty, which holds that an attack on one is an attack on all, although each member can decide what actions to take. While these states (and Poland) would like to see permanent stationing of NATO troops, a compromise was a Rapid Response Force, which would rotate among such states.

And contrary to Minister Lavrov’s claims, NATO was not encouraging Ukraine from a negotiated settlement. In fact, the United States hardly mentions the relevance for Ukraine’s security of the Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances, 1994: Kiev gave up its nuclear weapons in return for pledges from Moscow and Washington, among others, “to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine…”

With the use of proxies and subsequent incursion of Russian combat troops into Ukraine, Moscow is in violation of the Budapest Memorandums, which were reaffirmed by Moscow and Washington in 2009, in conjunction with nuclear arms control. Because Russia’s actions during 2014 in Ukraine were inconsistent with the NATO-Russia Founding Act 1997, NATO suspended cooperation with Russia.

The program is pitched to an Arab audience; consequently, Tanter tied what was taking place in Europe and developments the Middle East. Washington’s moves to counter Moscow over Ukraine and U.S. airstrikes to counter ISIS in Iraq fit nicely with additional sanctions against Iran for failure to comply with prior prohibitions.

The Saudis and other Gulf States would like to see a tougher posture by Washington against Iran; one way to show this toughness is to recognize the PMOI as a legitimate dissident group and its members under siege in Iraq as international refugees.

For additional information, please click here to access the 2 September 2014 Russia TV discussion.

Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric

What Makes Tehran Tick: Islamist Ideology and Hegemonic Interests

Israel Defense Forces Lt Col (ret) Michael (Mickey) Segallis an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East; he is also a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Below is a summary of one of his articles for the Center’s Blog, which is repeated below because his qualitative research reinforces conclusions of Iran Policy Committee (IPC) quantitative research on a similar topic in a book entitled What Makes Tehran Tick.

Michael (Mickey) Segall, “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” Vol. 12, No. 20, 28 August 2012

  • Each year since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism,” as demonstrating masses shouted: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” during rallies and addresses by the leadership.
  • For Shia Iran, the struggle against Israel and its Western allies is almost its sole common denominator with most of the Sunni Arab domain. Now, with the rise of Islamist regimes – especially in Egypt, which Iran views as having broken the taboo on peace accommodations with Israel – Iran is making enhanced use of the Palestinian issue and denial of Israel’s right to exist, in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims across the Middle East and beyond.
  • From Iran’s standpoint, the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening as Iran terms it – has revalidated Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision, and Iran feels great confidence in the righteousness of its approach, which it sees as part of a broader historical course of divine intervention. The gathering of more than 100 non-aligned nations in Tehran this week together with the participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the newly elected Egyptian president – despite U.S. efforts to prevent it – further strengthens Iran’s belief in the triumph of its alternative Islamic revolutionary vision of the new world order.
  • The current leaders of Iran also associate Khomeini’s vision with repeated successes in the national and regional arenas: the nuclear program that keeps advancing despite the West’s and Israel’s efforts to stymie it, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Hizbullah’s “victory” against Israel in the Second Lebanon War, the Palestinians’ firm stance in the subsequent Gaza War, and the Islamic Awakening, which Iran appropriates to itself.
  • It is believed that, like the fulfillment of Khomeini’s prophecies about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam, his prophecy of Israel’s destruction will also be realized and the mission is in Iran’s hands.
  • The Iranian leadership’s virulent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, much in evidence before and during Jerusalem Day on Aug. 17, in fact recycles the original slogans of Khomeini’s revolution, recalibrated to the Islamic mood now prevalent in the Middle East. In this context, Iranian spokesmen claim that the Syrian crisis is not part of the Islamic Awakening but an attempt by the West to strike at one of the main strongholds of the anti-Israel and anti-U.S. struggle. 

Below is a summary from Chapter Two of the IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, which relates to the Segall findings.

The IPC performed quantitative content analysis on an extensive database of  about 2,400 Iranian leadership statements collected from the period of 1979-2005.

The research question:

To what extent do Iran’s perceptions of threat from Israel and the United States drive Iranian regime hostility toward Jerusalem and Washington, respectively?

The principal finding:

Iran is consistently more hostile toward Israel than the United States. Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel.

The left Figure shows that out of the universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements collected by the research team, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel.

The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (right Figure).

The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat from Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel. By contrast, Iran’s expression of hostility to Washington is basically in proportion to Tehran’s perception of threat from the United States.

In the case of Segall’s “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” quoted above, he draws on statements made by the Iranian leadership on Jerusalem (Quds) Day, the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, 17 August 2012, when Iranian leaders traditionally call for the destruction of Israel. The IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, focuses not only on Jerusalem (Quds) Day but also on Embassy Takeover-Day—the annual celebration of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran as well as May Day—as a neutral control date to enhance validity.

Specifically, the IPC team selected 2,400 statements from the two weeks surrounding three different dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). Rather than collecting the universe of statements from the Iranian regime from 1979-2005, the IPC used targeted sampling.

To keep sample size manageable and content consistent, IPC researchers collected from two databases: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the BBC International Monitoring Reports. FBIS microfiche archives were accessed first to obtain a requisite 25 statements from each date set for each year. FBIS materials after 1997 are available through the Internet-based World News Connection, while BBC International Monitoring Reports were obtained via Lexis-Nexis.

Conclusions:

First, because of the ideological base for Iranian hostility toward Israel, there is little or no prospect for a negotiated settlement involving Israel and Iran or between the major powers and Iran about its quest to develop a nuclear arms capability; Israel’s threats directed toward Iran are not taken seriously by Tehran; and because Iran follows its hostile rhetoric with threats of military action, Israel and Iran may be on a collision course of war unless other options complement the triad of threats, sanctions, and talks.

Second, a policy of regime change from within can place the Iranian regime on its back foot by forcing it to choose between regime survival and pursuit of an ideological goal of destruction of Israel. Regime change from within requires the kind of coalition of dissidents that brought down the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Third, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the main Iranian opposition organization that rejects clerical rule, played a critical role in toppling the Shah and is poised to repeat such a performance to help depose the clerical regime. But because the MEK is on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list and its members languish under siege in Iraq, the group is constrained from assuming its rightful role in a coalition of oppositionists in Iran. Irrespective of whether other dissident organizations say they oppose the MEK, the others are likely to move with the MEK against the regime once the MEK is off the American terrorist list. Why? Among other opposition groups, the Iranian regime pays the most attention to the MEK, it has the most support among the Iranian expat community, and the MEK does not seek or require funds, military arms, or other assistance from States to help bring down the Iranian regime. Finally, the pro-Israel community can play an instrumental role in persuading Members of the U.S. Congress to remove the terrorist tag on the MEK and related organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran.

MeK, Iran, and the War for Washington

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL POST

by Raymond Tanter
The National Interest
September 16, 2011

Note: The author has not received any compensation whatsoever from the MeK or related groups.

There is an escalating war for influence over U.S. policy toward Iran: It is a dispute among university scholars, think-tank analysts and former American officials. Reverberations of this war are not confined to the Washington beltway but have profound significance for the Middle East. As Arab republics like Egypt and Tunisia fall from popular protests, internally inspired regime-change scenarios abound. While largely peaceful protests brought down regimes in Cairo and Tunis, state suppression resulted in violent pushback in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Although Arab republics are the immediate targets of their populations, Arab kingdoms like Bahrain, and to a much lesser degree Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are feeling the heat of popular unrest. Because there is generally a lack of consensus on how to transfer power in Arab republics, they are less stable than kingdoms. “The king is dead; long live the (new) king,” does not easily translate into “The president of the republic is dead; long live his son.”

Just as conflicts over succession occur among the Arab republics, so a succession crisis is likely to arise in the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should use the lens of such a conflict in Iran when viewing the war in Washington about an Iranian dissident organization—the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK). Saddam Hussein’s takedown by foreign militaries highlights the need for a homegrown antidote to Iranian rulers because external regime change is off the table in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton is poised to announce the MeK designation in fall 2011, a decision long overdue. Nothing is likely to be more decisive in reducing the strategic threat from Tehran than having a vigorous democratic opposition in Iran; it is critical to have a coalition of prodemocracy dissidents working together to weaken the regime from within and replace it; the MeK can play an enhanced role in the prodemocracy movement if it is removed from the State Department terrorist list. But above and beyond the potential international benefit of facilitating internal regime change for Iran, the MeK simply deserves to be delisted on the basis of facts and law alone.

A search of U.S. government and private electronic and media sources by scholars in the Iran Policy Committee reveals an absence of evidence to support the inference that the MeK engages in terrorist activities or terrorism or has the capability and intent to do so. The databases are: the U.S. Worldwide Incident Tracking System, which the National Counterterrorism Center no longer publishes; Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Global Terrorism Database; and U.S. government-supported RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents. In these major databases, there are no confirmed associations of the MeK with any military action after 2001.

Given the absence of unclassified evidence of MeK involvement in terrorist activities during the course of nine years (2001-2010), any countervailing evidence in the classified record should be viewed with skepticism and subject to scrutiny for credibility. An assumption here is that terrorist incidents are too public not to appear in databases or in newspapers of record.

On 4 December 2008, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities issued a judgment annulling the MeK designation, and the European Union cleared the MeK of terrorist conduct in January 2009. The United Kingdom removed the group from its list of proscribed organizations in June 2008. In addition, the French judiciary dismissed all terrorism and terrorism-financing charges against the group in May 2011.

Two issues before the American court have been whether the State Department provided due process of law to the MeK and credibility of evidence in support of allegations against it. In a July 2010 ruling regarding a MeK appeal of its continued designation in January 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC circuit faulted the decisionmaking process of the secretary of state.

The court questioned the credibility, sources and legal relevance of evidence in the Secretary’s January 2009 decision to maintain the designation and ordered the State Department to give the MeK an occasion to rebut some of the declassified material used in the re-designation. On 20 May 2011, the department released ten documents. Five were unclassified, mostly wire service reports from the Associated Press, Radio Farda and Azeri Press Agency. They concern allegations, such as MeK’s “cult-like” behavior and supposed lack of popular support within Iran. Such false, nonlegal allegations are no grounds on which to base a terrorist tag.

For the MeK to be re-designated absent any terrorist activity or terrorism, the State Department has to demonstrate that the group has both the capability and the intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism and that it either threatens U.S. national security or the security of American citizens.

In the Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT) 2007, 2008, 20092010, and 2011, a CRT 2006 accusation that the MeK “maintain[s] the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts” does not recur. And there are no terrorist activities or terrorist events cited during the legally relevant period of two years prior to the last re-designation decision of January 2009. In fact, no such actions are alleged in Country Reports since 2001.

In view of the convergence of historical circumstances and the law in favor of delisting, consider the political origins of the MeK designation. The roots are in the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s: In exchange for release of American hostages held in Lebanon by one of Tehran’s proxies, Hezbollah, the State Department alleged without evidence that MeK members used terrorism and violence as “standard instruments of their politics.” Thus began the use of that designation primarily as a tool to achieve foreign-policy aims rather than antiterrorism goals.

Martin Indyk, who served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in 1997, said one of the reasons the MeK was put on the terrorism list was part of a “two-pronged” diplomatic strategy. It included increasing pressure on Saddam Hussein by linking him to a “terrorist group,” the MeK. The other “prong” was the Clinton administration’s interest in opening a dialogue with Tehran. On 8 June 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected president of Iran, and the administration viewed him as a moderate. Clinton officials saw cracking down on the MeK as a way to strengthen Khatami at the expense of so-called hardliners. But this political use of the terrorist designation failed; Tehran pocketed the concession without reciprocity.

Because law and facts converge for removing the designation of the MeK, those who oppose delisting fall back on political grounds buttressed by vague factual allegations for a continuation of the terrorist tag. There is an unfounded claim that the MeK is unpopular within Iran because of “numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians.” Then there is an invalid policy conclusion: “Removing the MeK from the Foreign Terrorist Organization [sic] list and misconstruing its lack of democratic bona fides and support inside Iran will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition.” The allegation of MeK unpopularity is false. Support within the expatriate Iranian community suggests popularity in Iran; no other dissident organization can mobilize similar numbers of expat supporters.

Some who believe delisting would limit Washington’s ability to reach out to the Iranian street are wrong; the disproportionate number of protestors arrested and hanged because of association with the MeK indicates the organization’s significant presence on the Iranian street. Those who oppose delisting the MeK and hold a dim view of the effectiveness of Iranian dissidents to bring about regime change weaken their opposition to removal of the tag on the MeK. An argument in support of delisting on foreign-policy grounds is that it would reinforce the democratic opposition in Iran.

In most of the arguments opposed to delisting the MEK, no statutory fact is presented. So opponents of removing the terrorist tag resort to irrelevant non-legal arguments to overshadow lack of evidence of its engagement in terrorist activities or terrorism. In effect, those in favor of maintaining the MeK listing want Secretary Clinton to disregard the facts and the law entirely. With a simple signature delisting the group, Secretary Clinton would not only bring her Department in line with law and facts; she also would help empower the Iranian people to change the regime and open a political option between failed engagement and ineffective sanctions, on one hand, and problematic military action on the other.

Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council and as personal representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe in the Reagan-Bush administration. He is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

Image by Harald Dettenborn

Raymond Tanter Stream on Michigan’s Big Show

Professor Raymond Tanter appeared on the Michael Patrick Shiels Michigan Morning Show on Friday, 20 June 2012, to discuss a mass shooting in Colorado. Tanter provided his reaction to the “Batman” movie shooting on the syndicated radio and television show, along with representatives from the Michigan State Police; a psychiatrist; a criminal defense attorney; and a movie critic.

Because initial evidence suggests lack of international terrorist involvement in the Colorado shooting, it appears to be an illustration of homegrown “lone wolf” terrorism. On one hand, nonstate terrorism is often characterized as a weapon of the weak that sends a message of vulnerability to the strong.  On the other hand, state-sponsored terrorism by rogue regimes like those in Damascus and Tehran, often target defenseless soft targets, such as dissidents, because lack of  popular support for the regimes demands use of force to control their populations.

Unlike lone wolf-homegrown terrorists, a rogue state frequently has a longstanding relationship with a proxy, which makes their combined capability and intent to act much more lethal and may provide “plausible deniability” to the state sponsor. For example, in addition to operating via a proxy organization, Hezbollah, there is evidence the Iranian regime engages in terrorist activities on its own, using intelligence personnel and elite military units.