Last year the US stacked bundles of euros and Swiss francs on pallets and loaded them onto a transport aircraft bound for Tehran. The $400 million was destined to be used as leverage in securing the release of American hostages being held illegally by the Iranian regime as part of the nuclear deal.
That $400 million would later swell to a total of $1.7 billion in cash paid out to the mullahs as part of a settlement agreement over a longstanding dispute regarding payment made by the deposed Shah of Iran’s government for US military hardware prior to the Islamic revolution.
What has caused concern among elected officials and policymakers is the doubt surrounding what the regime would do with the cash windfall. A recent study by the American Action Forum, a non-profit research organization, estimated that as much as $37.4 million of this $1.7 billion were funneled directly to fund operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
These operations have stretched from supporting the Assad regime in Syria to Shiite militias and death squads in Iraq to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Leading US lawmakers now suspect that the IRGC played a key role in assuming control of this cash, which the White House has admitted to putting directly in Iranian hands, the Free Beacon disclosed Monday evening.
“Applying the official spending levels to the U.S. payment to Iran, the $1.7 billion would mean $37.4 million for the IRGC,” according to research published by Rachel Hoff, AAF’s director of defense analysis. “Paying ransoms in exchange for Americans held abroad is one bad policy—indirectly funding terrorism is another.”
AAF has determined based on public reports by Iran that the country spends 3.4 percent of its total budget on defense needs, though some experts, including Iranian dissident groups, estimate the number is much higher.
At least “65 percent of that funding [goes] to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iranian elite paramilitary force,” according to AAF. “That works out to 2.2 percent of Iran’s total budget for the IRGC, which actively supports terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. It is unlikely that Iran accurately reports its military or paramilitary spending, but the reported budget figures are useful as a baseline.”
Most disturbing is the very real possibility that the US exchanged the cash payments directly to IRGC agents and members of its military intelligence units which have been at the forefront attacks against US personnel in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iraq over the past three decades.
The Iranian regime’s long support for terrorism has included more recent revelations about the mullahs links to Al-Qaeda; a fact that regime and Iran lobby have worked frantically to cover up by trying point blame on Saudi Arabia instead.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Dmeocracies, recently took regime foreign minister Javad Zarif to task in a series of tweets lambasting an editorial Zarif penned in the New York Times.
“Where is Abu Hamzah al Khalidi, the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, currently? He’s in #Iran:http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/07/treasury-designates-three-senior-al-qaeda-members-in-iran.php …” read one of his tweets, correctly pointing out how the Iran regime provides safe havens for Al-Qaeda leaders.
Joscelyn reminds us that the State Department’s original sanction against Iran in 2011 was because of the revelations of a “secret deal” between Iran and Al-Qaeda to provide the terror group behind the 9/11 attacks support.
That burgeoning conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Iranian regime drew a strong rebuke a warning from Mecca province governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal who urged Iran to end what he called wrong attitudes toward Arabs and warned it against any use of force in its rivalry with the kingdom.
The Saudi Press Agency quoted Prince Khaled as telling journalists his message to the Iranian leadership was “I pray to God Almighty to guide them and to deter them from their transgression and their wrong attitudes toward their fellow Muslim among the Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and around the world”.
“But if they are preparing an army to invade us, we are not easily taken by someone who would make war on us.”
Alarmingly, it now seems in addition to the $1.7 billion in cash the regime received from the US, the total amount of cash released back to Iran as part of the nuclear deal could have reached as high as $34 billion, with no tracking of how that money is being used by the mullahs.
The Associated Press reports Iran brought home roughly $20 billion dollars from this deal. But nearly $12 billion dollars in previously frozen U.S. sanctions were given to Tehran as nuclear talks progressed. Add to that the $1.7-billion-dollar cash payout the White House gave Tehran before the release of several U.S. hostages this year and the sum total soars to nearly $34 billion dollars.
“So every dollar that goes to Iran you have to assume is going to go to Hezbollah,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R) FL. “Or it’s going to go to their missile program, or their nuclear ambition or their military.”
Unlike digital transfers of money, cash is untraceable. Some experts say we likely will never know how Iran will take advantage of this windfall.
By Laura Carnahan
The Republican National Convention is going on in Cleveland where Donald Trump will become the nominee for the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton will follow suit in Philadelphia and then another season of American politicking will launch into its usual fall fury.
This election year though is different from any other in that the U.S. and the rest of the world are confronted by a problem it has never seen before and that is the rise and spread of Islamic extremism and the terror being perpetuated by organizations such as Hezbollah and ISIS, but also aided by nation states such as the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
Through the use of the internet and social media, extremist groups are now able to preach their hatred around the world and manipulate individuals to commit heinous acts, as well as coordinate terror cells in a playbook that has already been proven time and again from Sydney and Ottawa to Boston and San Bernardino to Paris and Bangladesh.
That makes the problem of dealing with terror not so much a law enforcement exercise of going after specific individuals, but rather a geopolitical strategic exercise in battling an ideology. This makes the problem facing the next president all the more daunting because the battlefront is in trying to kill an idea instead of just using a Predator drone to fire a missile at a terrorist leader.
This also helps frame a better understanding of the role the Iranian regime plays in the spread of global terrorism.
Iran remains on the U.S. State Department list of nations that is a state-sponsor of terror; a list that has ironically shrunk over the years as the Cold War ended much of the friction that occurred between the U.S. versus the old Soviet empire and each respective client states.
Instead, we are left with a world of unaligned rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea, and nations that have fallen apart to such a degree that terrorist organizations operate essentially freely such as Somalia, Syria and to a lesser degree now Libya.
The rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS into essentially nation-state status illustrates the fundamentally changed nature of the world we live in and it is a world that could not happen unless countries such as Iran under the mullahs have provided support, cash, expertise and political cover for those rogue entities.
When Al-Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion, many of its key leaders were granted refuge in Iran by the mullahs in Tehran. The mullahs also provided support to Shiite militias backed by Iran fighting U.S. troops in Iraq, killing many with Iranian-manufactured explosive devices.
When Syria’s Assad regime was on the brink of collapse, the Iranian regime stepped in with Quds Force fighters, Hezbollah terrorists, Afghan mercenaries recruited from refugees in Iran, billions of dollars in cash support and arms and ammunition.
Staving off Syria’s governmental collapse allowed Islamic extremist groups to flourish in the carnage of that war as Iran targeted Western-backed moderate rebel groups and left terror groups such as ISIS to spring forth and take root.
Iran did as much as anyone to pump ISIS up with the collapse of the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki which drive disaffected Sunni tribes into the arms of ISIS and opened the door for the fall of Mosul and the rich oilfields in the north which have sustained ISIS with millions of dollars in illicit oil revenues a day.
These are all facts that the Iran lobby have mightily sought to deflect and hide from scrutiny. Groups such as the National Iranian American Council have concocted straw man issues out of immigration visas and banking transactions while ignoring the much more significant problems of human rights violations and the incredible suffering being caused by Iranian regime’s policies.
Iranian regime itself has publicly and aggressive announced its intentions for the all the world to see, most notably in flouting a nuclear agreement which was dead on arrival a year ago.
Even the regime’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who pulled this pathetic deal from the arms of a compliant and submissive Obama administration, boasted yesterday of Iran’s ability to bring its nuclear program back on track to producing literally tons of enriched uranium quickly as the deal eases off more quickly than the advertised 15 years promised.
Zarif said a document, submitted by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency and outlining plans to expand Iran’s uranium enrichment program, is a “matter of pride.”
The absurdity of the contention that Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal was on display when the United Nations issued a 17-page report that pointed out Iran may be abiding by the letter of the agreement, but not the spirit of it.
No greater understatement in diplomacy has been uttered since Neville Chamberlain claimed “peace in our time” after meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich.
The report did have the common sense to point out the destabilizing nature of Iran’s recent test launches of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and its illicit supplying of arms to Yemen and Iraq in those proxy wars.
Those understated concerns were too little and too late to offset the deaths and violence escalating around the world as Islamic extremist terrorist acts are now becoming the norm rather than the exception.
The fuel for that extremism comes from an Iranian regime that commits such cruel acts of barbarism as to set a bar that ISIS seems compelled to match and exceed with each new act of bloodshed.
Amnesty International took Iran to task with a new report on the denial of medical care to Iran’s numerous political prisoners; a reprehensible situation revealed broadly by Americans taken prisoner by Iran such as Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati.
The report, Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons, provides a grim snapshot of health care in the country’s prisons. It presents strong evidence that the judiciary, in particular the Office of the Prosecutor, and prison administrations deliberately prevent access to adequate medical care, in many cases as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate, punish or humiliate political prisoners, or to extract forced “confessions” or statements of “repentance” from them.
“In Iran a prisoner’s health is routinely taken hostage by the authorities, who recklessly ignore the medical needs of those in custody. Denying medical care to political prisoners is cruel and utterly indefensible,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“Prisoners’ access to health care is a right enshrined in both international and Iranian law. When depriving a prisoner of medical care causes severe pain or suffering and it is intentionally done for purposes such as punishment, intimidation or to extract a forced ‘confession’, it constitutes torture.”
Iran sets the template and ISIS follows and unless Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton deal first and foremost with the behavior of the Iranian regime, its actions will never to checked and altered.
By Michael Tomlinson
Terror struck another airport again, this time in Turkey, with devastating loss of life. The world was quick to label it terrorism and it brought back fresh memories of similar attacks in Paris and Brussels as suicide bombers fired assault rifles at passengers and then exploded vests.
While no terror group has claimed responsibility so far, suspicion by Turkish officials naturally fell on ISIS which operates extensively along the border with Syria and Iraq. If this attack was perpetrated by the Islamic State, it opens up a widening front in its efforts to destabilize Turkey, which has already suffered steep drops in tourism; a vital component of its economy.
What is worrisome is the larger global trend towards rising violence from radicalized Islamists, either operating directly under the control of terrorist leadership as in Paris, or being self-radicalized as in San Bernardino and Orlando.
The response from many countries to these escalating attacks has been to call for stepped up attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as witnessed by Wednesday’s attack of an ISIS column leaving Falluja in Iraq by U.S.-led aircraft, or call for a hardening of potential soft targets at home.
What none of these suggestions deal with is the source of this rise in terror from extremist Islamic groups, which is the Iranian regime. Iran and its mullahs sit at the center of the sectarian violence wracking the region.
It was Iranian regime’s intervention in Syria to save the Assad regime that helped to spawn ISIS in the first place. It was Iran that provided safe haven for many of the leaders of Al-Qaeda forced out of Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S.-led invasions, only to see them go back to fight in Iraq and Syria.
It was Iran that forced the government of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to force his Sunni coalition partners out of the government, leading to the schism that resulted in the quick fall of Mosul and most of northeastern Iraq to ISIS, giving the terror group its big boost in territory, cash and oil wells.
Predictably, while the rest of the world expressed shock, outrage and sympathy over the attacks in Istanbul, the response by the Iranian regime was understandably muted.
Bahram Ghasemi, newly-appointed spokesperson for the regime’s foreign ministry, officially reacted to the blast when he offered condolences and sympathy to the bereaved families of the victims and Turkish government in state-run media.
“As Foreign Minister Zarif had frequently stated, there is a systematic lack of international resolve to address the vicious phenomenon; extremism and terrorism would not be limited to political and geographical borders,” he said.
There were no similar sentiments expressed by regime leaders such as Ali Khamenei or Hassan Rouhani.
The two-faced nature of the Iranian regime when it comes to condemning acts of terror was highlighted in an editorial by Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security, in the Washington Times, in which he took the regime to task for its expressions of sympathy following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“It’s hard to imagine an expression of sympathy more disingenuous. Tehran’s comments must be viewed against a backdrop of its status as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, its steady propaganda against the United States, and its own brand of homophobia that has its origins in Islamic extremism,” he said.
“Iran is not all talk. The rhetoric about Western ‘arrogance’ and ‘hostility’ has been backed up by the arrests of numerous people who hold both Iranian and Western citizenships. The same goes for journalists, artists and professionals who have any meaningful connections with the West, and for activists the regime deems pro-Western,” he added.
This disconnect between the lip service Iran pays to acts of terror, while fully committing itself to supporting and funding it lies at the heart of the problem with the approach the U.S. and European Union have taken to Iran since the nuclear agreement was reached last year.
You cannot hold a state sponsor of terror such as Iran accountable when you are rushing to do business deals to enrich it. It is dangerous and will eventually lead to only more acts of terror and more chaos across the world.
The rise is terror is only matched by the abhorrent level of human rights abuses being committed by the Iranian regime as well.
Perviz Khazaii, former Ambassador of Iran in Sweden and Norway and the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Nordic countries, penned an editorial in The Diplomat highlighting these abuses.
“Violent punishments are not confined to Iran’s prisons, either. For instance, in October 2014, gangs affiliated with the regime carried out acid attacks on at least 25 Iranian women and girls who were regarded as being improperly veiled or otherwise in violation of religious norms,” he said.
“This sort of enforcement of the regime’s ruling ideology has also motivated a massive, ongoing crackdown on activists, writers, bloggers, and artists. This has helped Iran to secure its title as the largest jailer of journalists in the Middle East,” he added. “In short, the human rights situation is deteriorating at a fast pace.”
- Matthew McInnis, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, also examined how Iran’s involvement in these conflicts has fueled the rise in sectarian violence as the mullahs seek to solidify a Shia sphere of influence for themselves in Syria and Iraq in an editorial in the National Interest.
“Tehran’s most frequent foreign-policy blind spot remains underestimating the degree to which its aggressive regional activities spur sectarian and ethnic backlash. If it can avoid triggering further Sunni radicalization, an internal Shia civil war, and the potential breakup of the country, however, the Islamic Republic is likely in good shape to continue its ‘Iranianization’ of Iraqi security and political structures,” McInnis writes.
The world should stop enabling the regime and hold it accountable for the spread of terrors motivated by Islamic extremism.
By Michael Tomlinson
The Oslo Forum was created in 2003 as a gathering for mediation practitioners to meet and share their expertise. It was aimed at the hope of building a larger community of mediation experts and increase learning, serving as an incubator for testing and honing future peacemakers hoping to resolve conflicts around the world.
It has grown from its first meeting of 17 practitioners to now include over 100 notable key players from the United Nations, intergovernmental and private organizations, journalists, analysts and other experts.
Among its participants has been a veritable who’s who of global ambassadors for peace, including former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, President Jimmy Carter, new Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Ki and many others.
And like any progressive project, it has some more far-fetched ideas it has tried to implement including inviting Javad Zarif, the foreign minister for the Iranian regime to this year’s conclave in Norway.
While we know Norwegians are a kind, generous and thoughtful people, earnestly hoping and working for peace around the world, the participation of Zarif at this Forum to ostensibly share ideas for peace is one of the more incredulous things anyone has heard.
The Iranian regime stands alone in the world as the leading supplier and exporter for terrorism and proxy wars. Its Quds Forces and Revolutionary Guard are on the battlefields and shipping cash, arms and mercenaries to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
It has managed to become the second largest executioner of prisoners on the planet and regularly abuses its own men, women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, dissidents and just about anyone else the mullahs in Tehran have a disagreement with.
Zarif’s crowning achievement has foreign minister has been to snooker the world into supporting a nuclear agreement that essentially preserves Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure, open the floodgates to billions in fresh cash and does not mandate any changes in its barbaric human rights practices.
That’s a neat trick and if the participants at the Oslo Forum are looking for tips on how to obscure the truth, they’ve invited the right man in Zarif.
No one can deny that Iran’s intervention in Syria is the single largest reason why the civil war has lasted this long and expanded so far. It is also the reason why Islamic extremist groups such as Al-Nusra and ISIS were able to spring into existence and expand.
The heavy military and economic involvement by the Iranian regime and refusal to engage in multilateral peace talks that involve any discussion of removing the bloody Assad regime from power has certainly shaped and molded the Syrian conflict into the bloody affair it is today.
All of which makes Iran’s participation in the Forum that much more curious since top mullah Ali Khamenei has been definitive and expressive in his beliefs concerning the use of violence and terror to achieve the regime’s aims. Compromise, negotiation, mediation and discussion are not words in the vocabulary of the mullahs.
That is certainly true when you look at the recent spate of arrests and imprisonments of dual-national Iranians who have been tossed into Iranian prison without charge or access to counsel, including a Canadian professor and a British mother.
It is also notable that during recent visits by various European leaders to Iran to seek out commercial trade opportunities with the nuclear agreement in effect, the Iranian regime did not slow down one bit the pace of executions, imprisonments and abuses during any of those visits.
Take for example Federica Mogherini, European Union policy chief, who visited Iran this past April only to see the regime execute three prisoners the day she arrived or Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister of Italy, who visited Iran only to have the regime hang 17 people, including three juveniles at the same time.
These visits by European leaders and the inclusion of Zarif at a conference for peace negotiators makes a mockery of the human suffering in Iran and only emboldens the mullahs to continue with these practices since there seems to be no downside.
His participation is even stranger when you consider that the Iranian regime has opened up a recruiting center in Heart, Afghanistan to persuade and even coerce thousands of Afghans to fight in Syria.
The Christian Science Monitor visited the center and reported on what is no longer a secret in Iran as the regime seeks to bolster the number of mercenaries sent to fight for the Assad regime.
Some Afghans fight willingly for religious reasons, eager to take up a cause of “defending” Shiite shrines in Syria. Others fight for cash, upwards of $700 per month, or choose to realize promises of Iranian citizenship, schooling for their children, and jobs, if they survive the frontline – benefits usually beyond reach for Afghan migrants in Iran, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
Still other Afghans report coercion and intimidation, and say their second-class status inside Iran – among an estimated 3 million Afghans, only one-third are legal migrants – is taken advantage of. Afghans’ “vulnerable legal position in Iran and the fear of deportation may contribute to their decision [to join militias in Syria], making it less than voluntary,” Human Rights Watch said in a January report.
None of these revelations should be ignored at the Forum and in fact, Zarif should be confronted with these facts and asked why the regime has failed to work for peace in Syria instead of seeking to escalate the conflict.
Ultimately, as Zarif continues this European tour, he should be met with hard and tough questions and not platitudes and open arms.
By Michael Tomlinson
July 9 has come and gone and yet another deadline has blown by in excruciating nuclear talks between the Iran regime and the P5+1 group of nations; totaling now six missed deadlines in the past two years.
But with talks collapsing again, a fresh round of finger pointing continues to break out as U.S. and Iranian negotiating teams took to competing news leaks to start the blame game as to which side was at fault for the impasse.
Regime foreign minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter to float the accusation that it was the other side that had changed demands in the middle of negotiations. It is an absurd claim since it has been the mullahs in Tehran who have dropped several verbal bombs that have blown up talks including an extraordinary demand to lift United Nations embargoes on the arms trade.
Given the fact that the regime is hip deep in supplying three major wars now in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the prospect of the regime being flooded with new arms it could redirect to its forces in these conflicts has effectively killed talks. With this last minute demand, Iran’s mullahs may have overreached as evidenced by the sudden stiffening in the U.S. position and the threat by Secretary of State John Kerry to walk away from talks.
Both Russia and China have supported a lifting of the embargo since they stand to be the biggest sellers of weapons to the regime. The behind the scenes rift amongst the P5+1 members may very well have been a calculated move by the mullahs in order to sow discord right at the deadline and apply maximum leverage in order to extract the best deal possible.
Some news media and analysts have speculated that significant concessions granted to the regime over the past two years may have emboldened the regime into thinking it was winning and encouraged the mullahs to overreach with their latest demands, only to see the golden opportunity to gain sanctions relief be dealt a setback with the missing of this week’s deadlines.
More broadly though, these sudden demands by Iran and finger pointing have laid bare the absurdity of the regime lobbying forces that have been deployed to help manage the media during talks. Chief among them have been the National Iranian American Council which has sent two of its staffers, Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi, to camp out in Vienna and offer soundbites to any journalist willing to listen.
Parsi especially has been active on his Twitter trying to shore up the regime position and jumped into the blame game as well once word came down from the Iranian delegation that the Americans had finally seemed to wise up to the regime’s games.
“Iranian view is that US withdrew today a proposal it had put forward yesterday, WANTING to pass the Corker deadline #IranTalksVienna,” Parsi said in a tweet.
Parsi has tried to put lipstick on a pig in tweeting out pithy little attacks on the U.S. as talks broke down, as well as supporting Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s tweets as he took exception to the stiffening in U.S. resolve.
All of which amounted to squat for Parsi and his lobbying partners as world financial markets took notice of the regime blunder and global oil prices stabilized as belief spread that the window for a nuclear had closed.
At the end of this week, the mullahs seriously miscalculated about demanding immediate sanctions relief so they could gain access to the estimated $140 billion in frozen assets as well as resume trade in arms and missiles to restock inventories drained dry through its proxy wars.
The demands came at such bad times so close to deadlines as to raise the specter of desperation on the part of Iran’s leadership. The past several months have seen mass protests and disruptions throughout Iran as ordinary citizens, teachers and young people have demanded improved economic conditions and relief from oppressing human rights restrictions.
The mullahs may have been feeling the pinch and made these demands not out of some strategic negotiating position, but simply out of desperation to save themselves, in which case the West would be well-served to walk away from these talks and call the regime’s bluff and find out just how bad off the mullahs really are.
At the end of the day, do we really need a nuclear deal if the only option is a bad one?
By Laura Carnahan
Iran Lobby Playing Blame Game