In 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama entered office, millions of people rose up against the ruling theocratic regime of Iran. The demonstrations began in response to the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had been favored by the ruling mullahs. The election had taken place on June 12, 2009, and two hours after the polls had closed, the results were announced, causing people to immediately take to the streets. By the next day, the peaceful demonstrators were met with the club-wielding Basij, a pro-government paramilitary group.
By June 19, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the election a “divine assessment” and declared that protests would no longer be tolerated. By June 22, video footage of a beautiful young woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, who had been fatally shot by the Basij while demonstrating, quickly spread throughout the internet and grabbed international attention.
Unfortunately, there were many more anonymous Nedas. The government used this time to purge the opposition party as well as to conduct arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists. The Basij came out on horseback and began to trample on demonstrators. Hospitals were prohibited from reporting the amount of casualties. Many of the demonstrators had been carted off to the notorious Evin Prison to be tortured and raped. Many have never been seen or heard from again.
In the midst of all of this, freedom-loving dissidents throughout Iran were holding up signs saying “down with the dictatorship” and “Obama, where are you?”
The leader of the free world was silent during the initial days of the protests, and when he finally did speak, President Obama’s words were, at best, muted. He said, “It is up to the Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be.”
These people were looking towards the U.S. as the moral leader of the world, and one word from the president might have made a critical difference.
One cannot help but contrast this to the words of President Donald Trump regarding the new anti-regime protests in Iran. On Sunday, he tweeted, “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
One has to marvel at the amazing courage of today’s demonstrators in Iran, who are able to protest despite the known brutality of the regime. Today’s Iranian protesters took to the streets because of government corruption, inflation and lack of economic opportunity. They are puzzled that their regime received $150 billion in unfrozen assets due to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, yet none of this has trickled down to the common man. They are probably disgusted that most of the key sectors of the economy are controlled by the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
We have no way of confirming this, but we are hopeful that the demonstrators might also be motivated by disgust over the regime’s foreign policy; its aggressive behavior and meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza; and its support for terrorist entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
We know that at the time I am writing this, the demonstrations have spread to seven cities, and that they are robust and impressive in size.
There is a lot more, however, that we do not know. We do not know whether or not the regime will once again unleash its immense brutality against the demonstrators. We do not know whether or not these demonstrations might blossom into a genuine threat to the regime.
What we do know is that most of Iran’s current population has been born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and that more than half of Iranians are younger than 35. Many of them despise the country’s oppressive and brutal theocracy, and would love to experience the beautiful taste of Western liberties.
We hope that just as we used Radio Free Europe to overthrow the chokehold of the former Soviet Union, we are also using Voice of America in Farsi to support the Iranian demonstrators. We hope that the CIA is on the ground doing whatever it can to support the legitimate voice of the opposition. We hope that we are using cyber technology to enable the demonstrators to break through the obstacles that the mullahs are imposing on social media and other methods of communication. We hope that the Iranian regime knows that if the outcome is at all similar to the unfortunate result in 2009, both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. will not hesitate to come together and impose crippling sanctions against Iran for its human rights violations.
We hope for the stability of the region and the world, but mostly for the Iranian people, that this odious regime can be overthrown. But in the meantime, we hope that there will be no more Nedas.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which describes itself as an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.
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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri recently shocked the international community by announcing his resignation. Hariri, a Sunni political leader, made this announcement from Saudi Arabia, where some speculate that he is being held under house arrest, while others believe he is there on his own accord because he fears for his very life. These fears are not unfounded. In 2005, his father, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was assassinated by a car bomb that is believed to have been planted by Hezbollah.
The Middle East is a mysterious region where suspicion hangs heavily in the air—under normal conditions. But the entire region, as of late, is mired in extraordinary circumstances. Since the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015, Iran has been vastly emboldened, empowered and enriched. The Iranians have been on the march throughout the region, sowing acts of aggression in Sana’a, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. They are attempting to establish a Shi’a crescent stretching from Tehran throughout the Middle East.
Lebanon has become a puppet state of Iran, and the Lebanese Armed Forces has now become dominated by Hezbollah. An important fact that many people do not know is that we still have a line item in the U.S. Defense Appropriations budget for $100 million towards Lebanon’s military.
There is no doubt that under today’s circumstances, that earmark falls, whether directly or indirectly, into the hands of Hezbollah. Unless and until Lebanon could rid itself of the presence of Hezbollah, American taxpayers’ dollars will be going into the hands of an organization that has been listed by our own State Department as a terrorist group.
Saad Harari knows how to read the tea leaves. The same week of his surprise announcement, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a missile that had been aimed to land at King Khalid National Airport near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The missile was intercepted by Saudi-owned U.S. Patriot batteries.
Nov. 4, meanwhile, marked the most aggressive Saudi shakedown in recent memory. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, 32, purged the government of 11 members of the Saudi royal family and other business elites—in what he described as a “corruption crackdown,” but which may well be a rouse to consolidate his power and quash his political rivals, many of whom are in his own family. As Reuters reported, the Riyadh Ritz Carlton has been turned into a temporary—albeit luxurious—prison.
Adding to the intrigue, a day after the crown prince announced his palace purge, a helicopter carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin mysteriously crashed, killing a potential rival to the crown prince’s power.
The aggressive and ambitious young Saudi prince is not taking Iranian aggression in the region lightly. Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon. This sends a somewhat ominous message. In fact, on Nov. 6, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Gulf affairs wrote that Lebanon “has declared war on Riyadh.”
Some feel that this might be an indicator of a new war emerging between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims—the latest chapter in a 14-century-old dispute as to who will carry the mantle of Islam. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are experts at fighting proxy wars on someone else’s soil. As a joke that is making its rounds around Beirut goes, “The Saudis are willing to fight the Iranians, down to the very last Lebanese.”
In the meantime, there are at least 100,000 missiles staring down Israel from the Jewish state’s north. On Nov. 11, the Israeli Air Force intercepted a drone that fell on the demilitarized zone just north of the Golan Heights. A day earlier, the BBC reported that Iran has established a new military base just south of Damascus.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated unequivocally last Saturday, “We will not allow the establishment of a Shi’ite axis in Syria as an operating base.”
Watch this space. In the Middle East, one cannot play checkers or chess. The game is three-dimensional chess, where the loss of a pawn on one board affects the positioning of the knights, queens and kings on two other boards.
Originally published at JNS.org.
Photo credit: State Department
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“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains,” goes a traditional Kurdish saying. No friends but the mountains and Israel would be more accurate.
Israel stood alone when its political leadership embraced the Kurdish quest for self-determination. A “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Kurds. The deep affinity is mutual. Israeli flags were raised during pro-independence rallies in the Kurdistan region, the US and across Europe.Read More →
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A week and a half ago, President Donald Trump took the first, crucial step towards ending a significant portion of the foreign policy legacy that had been bequeathed to the nation by his predecessor President Barack Obama: the nuclear deal with Iran. What has been largely forgotten by the public is that this particular foreign policy mire was built upon a fiction. The fiction upon which the deal was based was clearly outlined in a seminal article by David Samuels in the May 15 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine entitled, The Aspiring Novelist who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru.
The expose by Samuels focused on Ben Rhodes, the previous administration’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, and how he created a narrative to support the nuclear deal. While reading the article, it became increasingly clear that the nuclear deal with Iran had very little to do with Iran’s behavior or its commitments, but everything to do with a particular foreign policy objective that Obama wanted to achieve upon assuming office. It was all about the narrative—and had very little or nothing to do with reality.
Early in the article, Rhodes was described as trying to suppress the story of the Iranians taking ten sailors on two United States Navy riverine boats in the Persian Gulf. The seizure of the sailor took place days before the parties to the nuclear deal were to begin implementing the deal. But there was an even more immediate concern: later that day Obama was set to deliver the final State of the Union speech of his presidency, which was supposed to be “an optimistic, forward-looking” speech. Samuels described how Rhodes and the administration viewed their priorities: “A challenge to that narrative arises: Iran has seized two small boats containing 10 American sailors. Rhodes found out about the Iranian action earlier that morning but was trying to keep it out of the news until after the president’s speech.”
Samuels in the article further outlined how the “innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal” was “largely manufactured for the purpose of selling the deal.”
The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false. Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency.
In the real world we are living in today—not the ideal world in which we are all the same, and in which no evil exists—this sort of fiction writing serves as a paltry substitute for informed, realistically-based foreign policy and is irresponsible, reckless, and ultimately, immoral.
Foreign policy is not a town hall meeting. It is one thing when running for a local government office in American politics to exaggerate one’s opponents’ flaws, or mishaps. It is quite another in the dangerous world of foreign policy to whitewash a sworn enemy of the United States, whose leaders believe in a fundamentalist version of Shiite Islam, who want to create a Shia caliphate and to obliterate the Kafir – the infidel -through a military buildup of both conventional and unconventional forces, including nuclear weapons.
All so that a former President can put a checkmark after one of his objectives.
This deception of the American people and the international community is patently immoral, particularly when it had been clear for over a decade that Iran has been intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
We are not talking about the acquisition of small arms, but of allowing a rogue state to create an industrial scale nuclear infrastructure. Lives depend upon responsible foreign policy.
The profound immorality of the Obama administration was on display in June of 2009 throughout Iran, when, after the sham elections, millions of young, democracy-loving Iranians took to the streets in protest of the brutal rule of the Mullahs. Beautiful Iranians had their skulls crushed in, and were carted off to the notorious Evin prison, sometimes never to be seen from or heard again. Many were holding up the sign” Obama. Where are you?” Finally, after more than a week of this brutality, Obama said something that can only be described as tepid, and measured, at best. Apparently, even then, Obama had wanted to cozy up to the Mullahs, and felt that the lives of these young beautiful dissidents were simply a price he had to pay for his foreign policy objective.
“He feared the demonstrations would sabotage his secret outreach to Iran,” columnist Eli Lake later observed.
It was not only the tone deafness ear to the human suffering and cries of the Iranian dissident population, nor the grave policy consequences of the Iranian nuclear deal that was so callous, cold-hearted and calculating. The method by which it was sold was also troubling. This deal had been presented to the American people and our policymakers in a way that evaded the Constitution of the United States and compromised our national sovereignty.
By making deal between six nations (the P5 plus 1: the U.S., Russia, China, France, Great Britain plus Germany) and Iran, as opposed to a treaty, the Obama administration bypassed Congress, making it nearly impossible for the legislature to exercise their responsibility of oversight and review. This was done to prevent the United States from acting unilaterally in case Iran would be been in violation of the deal.
This was further complicated by Obama making an end-run around Congress and going directly to the UN Security Council to enshrine it by a vote.
Although the U.S. was the essential driver of the deal, it is now increasingly difficult to get out of it because America is just one of 6 parties to the deal. This was Obama’s calculation all along.
The framers of the Constitution had situations like this in mind when they asserted that a treaty had to be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate. It is also why members of the U.S. Congress felt that they needed to reassert their constitutionally mandated role of oversight and review in the form of the Iranian Nuclear Review Act of 2015, known in shorthand as Corker-Cardin.
Contrary to popular belief, President Trump did not de-certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA) or withdraw from the nuclear agreement on October 13. He simply did what he had been legally mandated to do under Corker-Cardin: to certify whether or not the lifting of Iranian sanctions is in the national security interest of the United States.
But the most deadly omission in this entire charade is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not actually been doing the job of verifying Iran’s compliance with Section T of the nuclear deal, which addresses activities such as computer simulations of nuclear explosions or designing multi-point explosive detonation systems, activities which are necessary to the development of a nuclear weapon. The IAEA also has never visited any military site since the implementation of the deal nearly two years ago. These are sites where the suspected nuclear activity has been ongoing, but where the Iranians claim are off-limit to nuclear inspectors because they have deemed them “military sites”.
According to a report by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, of September 21, 2017, “as of the last quarterly report in August 2017, the IAEA had not visited any military site in Iran since Implementation Day, risking the de facto creation of no-go zones in Iran, a development that would render verification of the JCPOA moot. There is concern that this reflects Iranian bullying on the issue, where the Iranian regime takes a position that it will not allow inspectors access to military sites and the IAEA does not want to create a conflict the entire deal by asking to go.”
Why is the IAEA and most of the world cowering to the Iranian bully? Why have the spineless European leaders isolated President Trump for telling the truth about Iran? Is it just that a new market has opened up for business? Or is it that they are just buying time?
Everyone knows that Iran’s nuclear clock has been ticking for two years now, and that in just another 6 to 8 years, this deal gives Iran a legally sanctioned path to nuclear weapons.
The Iranian nuclear deal was a Munich Pact built on the quicksand of selling a “narrative” to a public that does not know how to recognize evil when it stares us in the face. And does not recognize the distinction between truth and fiction.
If Trump follows through on his October 13 speech and strengthens the terms of deal, it will go a long way towards rolling back Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear threats to the world.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, a pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in Washington, DC.
History provides a blueprint of US future foreign policy in the Middle East. In 2011, former President Barack Obama withdrew US troops from Iraq. This led to reduced US presence and political influence in the country (and increased Iranian leverage), affecting Iraq’s political administration and military might.Read More →