Moderation, Tehran Style: Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2016— One of the Obama Administration’s hopes for its nuclear deal with Iran was that it would empower regime moderates.
Iran Pledges Cash for Killing Jews: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Feb. 24, 2016— In recent weeks, publications like the New York Times have been reporting about post-nuclear deal Iran and speculating about which sector of its society will benefit the most from the cash windfall that will result from the end of international sanctions on Tehran.
Will Iran Continue Its Nuclear Program Abroad?: Emily B. Landau & Alon Levkowitz, National Interest, Feb. 19, 2016 — Debate surrounding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) tends to focus on the deal itself, its strengths, weaknesses and the prospects for successful implementation.
Phony Truce: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Mar. 7, 2016— No one really believes that the Syria truce scheduled to begin February 26—to bring a "cessation of hostilities" to the nearly five-year-old conflict—is going to hold.
Moderates, Reformists Win Key Iran Election Races: Aresu Eqbali & Asa Fitch, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 29, 2016
US Appeals Court: Terror Victims Can Seize $9.4 Million of Iran Funds: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 28, 2016
Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Setting Up Global Terror Network, 'Including in Europe and America': Ha’aretz, Feb. 24, 2016
Assad’s Victory is at Hand: Robert Fulford, National Post, Feb. 27, 2016
Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2016
One of the Obama Administration’s hopes for its nuclear deal with Iran was that it would empower regime moderates. So it’s no surprise that the deal’s cheerleaders are proclaiming Friday’s election results as a triumph for the Islamic Republic’s “moderate” and “reformist” factions. That depends on the meaning of the word “moderate.”
At stake Friday were seats in the Majlis, or Parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, the body that will select Iran’s next Supreme Leader. Like all Iranian elections, the vote was a carefully stage-managed process. Iranians picked from among candidates prescreened for ideological orthodoxy by the unelected Guardian Council and various security agencies.
The Guardians disqualified 6,000, or nearly half, of the original candidates to the Majlis. Of the 801 candidates to the Assembly of Experts, only a quarter, or 161, made it to the ballot. Most of the disqualified candidates belonged to the reformist and moderate factions of the regime. Imagine U.S. midterm elections in which the White House was able to ban all Tea Party or even nonprogressive Democratic candidates from the ballot.
Western media are nonetheless describing the results as an “embarrassing defeat” for the regime’s hard-liners and the moderates’ “best nationwide electoral showing in more than a decade,” as the Associated Press put it. Of particular note are the results in the capital, Tehran, a national barometer where on Sunday it appeared that candidates on the moderate list had swept all 30 seats in the Majlis.
Some moderates. Consider Mostafa Kavakebian. The General Secretary of Iran’s Democratic Party, Mr. Kavakebian is projected to enter the Majlis as a member for Tehran. In a 2008 speech he said: “The people who currently reside in Israel aren’t humans, and this region is comprised of a group of soldiers and occupiers who openly wage war on the people.”
Another moderate is Kazem Jalali, who previously served as the spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Majlis and is projected to have won a seat. In 2011 Mr. Jalali said his committee “demands the harshest punishment”—meaning the death penalty—for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the pro-democracy Green Movement that was bloodily suppressed after stolen elections in 2009. Those two leaders are still under house arrest.
As for new Assembly of Experts, many of the “moderates” projected to have won seats were also listed on the hard-liners’ lists, since the ratio of candidates to seats was well below two. The winners include Mohammad Reyshahry, a former Intelligence Minister believed to have helped spearhead the 1988 summary execution of thousands of leftists; Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, another former Intelligence Minister believed to have directed the “chain murders” of the late 1990s; and Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabainejad, a fierce opponent of women’s rights who has called Israel “a cancerous tumor.”
The political reality in Iran is that the Ayatollahs, backed by the Revolutionary Guards, remain firmly in control.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Commentary, Feb. 24, 2016
In recent weeks, publications like the New York Times have been reporting about post-nuclear deal Iran and speculating about which sector of its society will benefit the most from the cash windfall that will result from the end of international sanctions on Tehran. The short answer to that question is that very little of the billions that will flow into Iran will find its way to ordinary citizens. Instead, most of it will wind up in the coffers of the government, its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the companies that terror group and the regime control.
But it won’t be just the IRGC and the entities directly under the ayatollahs’ control that benefits from Western largesse. Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon has announced that Iran will now be offering new cash bonuses to Palestinian terrorists. As the Times of Israel reports: Mohammad Fateh Ali said Tehran will give $7,000 to families of “martyrs of the intifada in occupied Jerusalem” and a further “$30,000 to every family whose home the occupation has demolished for the participation of one of its sons,” according to local news reports.
It should be noted that the Palestinian Authority already pays pensions to the families of Palestinians that have been jailed by Israel for terrorism. Indeed, PA TV has a regular program profiling such people and treating them as heroes and martyrs. This is an integral part of a political culture that considers Jews to have no rights to any part of the country, including pre-1967 Israel. More importantly, Palestinian public opinion, egged on by the official media of both Fatah and Hamas, treat attacks on individual Jews, including women, children and the elderly as acts of heroism, not crimes. But the offer of cash bonuses from Iran to those Arabs who seek out random Jews for slaughter in what is known as the “stabbing intifada,” lends added legitimacy to a society that has legitimized terror.
It should be noted that during the past few months, 32 people have been killed in the terror surge that began when the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas spread the lie that Israel was planning to harm the mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Though apologists for the Palestinians have tried to place the blame for the violence on Israeli policies, the bloodshed is rooted in hatred for Jews. As the Palestinians have made clear, they view Jews sitting in Tel Aviv cafes as being as much of a legitimate target as those living in remote West Bank hilltop settlements. Moreover, the Palestinians refusal to negotiate, let alone accept repeated Israeli peace offers, gives the lie to the idea that more concessions from the Netanyahu government or territorial withdrawals would magically end the conflict.
But Iran’s willingness to inject its financial power into the already toxic Palestinian political culture ought to particularly worry an Obama administration that has sought to create a new détente with Tehran. On the same day as Iran’s cash for terror offer, reports were published of meetings in Tehran with representatives from Hamas. The agenda was apparently another Iranian financial offer, this time to help fund Hamas terrorism against Israel.
Iran was Hamas’s chief sponsor during the second intifada. But the group broke with the Iranians when Hamas joined other Sunni Muslim groups in calling for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s ouster. But now, thanks to military intervention by Iran, its Hezbollah auxiliaries, and Russia (as well as American acquiescence to Iran’s foreign policy goals in the wake of the nuclear deal), that Assad’s continued rule is assured, Hamas has reconciled with its former patron. The IRGC is planning to funnel even more aid to Hamas that will allow it to continue its terror tunnel-building program in Gaza as well as to replenish and upgrade its rocket arsenal.
Of course, Iran is interested in more than just helping Palestinians who kill Jews. They wish to expand their influence among Palestinians as part of their push for regional hegemony that so scares Arab nations like Egypt and Jordan as well as Saudi Arabia. This has created an upside down regional alignment that finds these Arab states allying themselves with Israel as they seek mutual protection against an increasingly aggressive Iran.
Iran’s desire to make mischief and to maintain pressure on Israel isn’t new. But the nuclear deal that President Obama imagined would be the start of a new and more peaceful era is giving Tehran the economic muscle to make the region even more dangerous. Instead of helping Iran to, as President Obama hoped, “get right with the world,” those who argued that the deal was good for Israel must now account for the fact that the West’s cash will now subsidize the slaughter of Jews.
Emily B. Landau & Alon Levkowitz
National Interest, Feb. 19, 2016
Debate surrounding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) tends to focus on the deal itself, its strengths, weaknesses and the prospects for successful implementation. Experts have discussed whether the deal—even if upheld—means that Iran will be prevented from developing a nuclear weapon forever, or whether it merely delays Iran on its path to a workable nuclear capability. While the P5+1 insist the deal stops Iran forever, serious doubts have been raised regarding the political will of these powers to hold Iran to its commitments, especially given their apparent hesitation to arouse Iran’s ire, thus endangering the deal.
But one issue has been sorely missing from the discussion: the prospect that Iran might continue important work on a nuclear weapons capability beyond the bounds of the agreement, and even beyond the borders of Iran itself. Indeed, there is a strong possibility that Iran will continue to benefit from North Korea's nuclear advances, and some of Iran's nuclear activities might take place in North Korea itself, using the hermit state as a convenient backyard.
For Iran to do so would make perfect strategic sense. Iran has a clear interest in latching onto North Korea's program—Pyongyang both has technology that Tehran wants and seems to care only about being paid, as demonstrated by the nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria. There is already evidence of Iranian-North Korean cooperation in the ballistic missile field, cooperation with implications that extend to the nuclear realm as well.
There’s a history. The security relations between Iran and North Korea began during the Iran-Iraq war, and since that time, their missile and, later, nuclear cooperation has continued and expanded. In September 2012, for example, Iran and North Korea signed an agreement for technological and scientific cooperation. A few years ago, they also established the "anti-hegemonic front." The extensive cooperation between the two states has, over the years, included mutual visits by top North Korean and Iranian nuclear and missile scientists, including to Syria as well. The official delegations, and exchanges of scientists, demonstrate the wide range of relations between the two states. Missile technologies developed by North Korea were assimilated in Iranian Shahab missiles, and a failed missile test in Syria in 2007 caused the death of Syrian, Iranian and North Korean experts.
It is difficult to know the precise extent of cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang in the nuclear realm, partly due to difficulties in the intelligence field—namely, collecting hard evidence from the two countries—and partly due to the lack of incentive on the part of the U.S. intelligence agencies to share findings that might cause difficulties in the P5+1 framework. Still, it is known that Iranians were present at some of North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, and that North Korea built the reactor in Syria that was bombed in 2007, which it is safe to assume that Iran at least had knowledge of, if not more direct involvement. The Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation demonstrates Pyongyang's willingness to sell its nuclear know-how and hardware to the highest bidder. One could imagine that Pyongyang would be willing to share with Iran its experience from four nuclear tests, for the right price. After all, North Korea is in dire need of financial assistance due to economic setbacks and strained relations with Beijing.
What does each state gain from the bilateral cooperation? Iran gets nonconventional technologies and the expertise that it needs, while North Korea benefits economically by selling its know-how. Moreover, for Iran this opens a backdoor channel, conveniently beyond the bounds of inspections and scrutiny, and the JCPOA itself. So Iran can make necessary advances in North Korea, while ostensibly adhering to the agreement with the P5+1.
There is certainly enough in each country’s recent history for this to be an ongoing topic of investigation, so why is so little attention paid to this danger? Why are the critics of the JCPOA not talking about this concern?
We don’t have the answer, but North Korea's fourth nuclear test, carried out in early January, and its more recent satellite launch have given a boost to those that are asking questions, and some in Congress have recently demanded that the Obama administration reveal to Congress what it knows about the two countries' nuclear cooperation. But when the P5+1 feel perfectly comfortable closing the file on Iran's past weaponization work, despite the damning IAEA report released in early December 2015, they do not inspire trust—not as far as getting to the bottom of Iran's nuclear weapons work is concerned.
This issue cannot be ignored, as it could prove crucial in Iran’s ongoing drive to maintain a nuclear breakout capability. Beyond the evidence of cooperation between the two countries that has already accumulated, these bilateral ties should be watched very closely for the simple reason that it makes perfect strategic and economic sense for the two to continue what is obviously highly beneficial mutual collaboration.
Weekly Standard, Mar. 7, 2016
No one really believes that the Syria truce scheduled to begin February 26—to bring a "cessation of hostilities" to the nearly five-year-old conflict—is going to hold. And nearly everyone, at home and abroad, agrees that the problem with the agreement John Kerry worked out with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is Russia.
If the ceasefire "hinges on Russia's good intentions," said British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, "it will fail before it gets off the ground." Democrats and Republicans voiced similar concerns last week when Kerry testified on Capitol Hill. If Russia violates the agreement, will the White House push back? Kerry said yes, but history is on the side of the skeptics. "Russia knows there will be no Plan B," said Sen. Bob Corker. "The only thing Russia has been consistent about is failing to keep its word," said Sen. John Barrasso.
Even administration officials are doubtful. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, and CIA director John Brennan don't believe that Russia is going to abide by the terms of the ceasefire. And there's good reason for skepticism: Russia, a central participant in the hostilities, wrote the rules to give itself plenty of flexibility. And what's worse, what American allies and especially American officials are loath to point out, is that the secretary of state is acting like Russia's defense lawyer. Whatever Moscow has in mind, Kerry is providing pre-emptive cover to justify it.
The truce stipulates that everyone put down their guns, but no one expects the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, to stop fighting. Hence, operations against these two groups will continue as usual. And, so it seems, will Russia's campaign against any other organization arrayed against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, because this is what Moscow has done up until now. Indeed, the way Vladimir Putin sees it, any rebel unit he hits is by definition a terrorist group.
When Russian planes hit hospitals and schools to terrorize civilians and send more rushing for the Turkish border, those aren't really hospitals and schools. According to Putin and his diplomats, those are terrorists. Given the cruelty and cynicism of the Russians, we can be fairly certain they will continue to bomb anyone they like, including civilians, during the "ceasefire."
Kerry doesn't think that's a problem, even if some of those rebel groups Putin has been hitting are backed by the CIA. If you don't put down your weapons, says Kerry, "if you don't choose to be part of [the agreement] then you are choosing to perhaps make yourself a target."
Okay, say that you're willing to abide by the truce, and you put down your arms, but the Russians bomb you anyway because Moscow sees the whole deal as an American invitation to shoot fish in a barrel—that is, to shoot the anti-Assad rebel units that Kerry disarmed with his bogus truce. Now, say you fight back against the Russians, or Assad, or the Iranians, or whoever else is shooting at you and your family. It's you who will be in violation of the agreement—not Russia. You can complain all you want, but good luck, because Russia not only wrote the rules, Russia is also the referee.
True, Washington and Moscow are co-chairs of the International Syrian Support Group "task force" established to implement the agreement and monitor compliance. But only Russia is on the ground in sufficient numbers to monitor and compel compliance. And in any case, the Obama administration isn't going to call out Putin for violating the agreement. That might make Moscow angry. And as John Kerry put it recently, "What do you want me to do? Go to war with Russia? Is that what you want?"
The secretary of state was speaking with Syrian opposition figures and aid workers. They petitioned him to stop siding with Russia and represent their interests, for once. "Don't blame me," said America's top diplomat. "Go and blame your opposition." Kerry will never forgive the Syrian opposition for not letting him surrender on their behalf to the forces that have slaughtered them for five years and who have no plans to stop now. The Russian-designed and White House-sponsored ceasefire is going to leave them defenseless.
The paradox at the heart of the truce is that it was supposed to facilitate humanitarian assistance. It was supposed to bring some relief to those whom Assad's forces, Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia have been killing. But it won't bring them relief; it will just make them more vulnerable by disarming the only people who are protecting them. The Syrian opposition knows this; so does the British foreign secretary and everyone on Capitol Hill, as well as the Pentagon and the CIA. On the other side, the Russians, Iranians, and Assad all know this, too. It's hard to know which would be worse—that the secretary of state and the president he answers to don't understand this or that they do.
Moderates, Reformists Win Key Iran Election Races: Aresu Eqbali & Asa Fitch, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 29, 2016—Moderates and reformists close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have won key seats in Iran’s parliament and Assembly of Experts…
US Appeals Court: Terror Victims Can Seize $9.4 Million of Iran Funds: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 28, 2016—Victims of a 1997 triple suicide bombing in Jerusalem have won a major US appeals court judgment involving an award of $9.4 million in damages.
Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Setting Up Global Terror Network, 'Including in Europe and America': Ha’aretz, Feb. 24, 2016—Israel's defense minister on Wednesday accused Iran of building an international terror network that includes "sleeper cells" that are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives in order to strike on command in places including Europe and the U.S.
Assad’s Victory is at Hand: Robert Fulford, National Post, Feb. 27, 2016—More than a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed since the Arab Spring of 2011 set the stage for the civil war in Syria. About 11 million other Syrians have been forced from their homes by the fighting. About four million have left the country in an attempt to find safety elsewhere. As a UN report recently put it, Syria is a “fractured state on the brink of collapse.”