Iran’s Lebanon Embassy Hit by Own Tactics

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Beirut Victims of Terrorism

This blog was initiated to promote the virtues of diplomacy and remains committed to this goal, focusing on Iran’s exploitation of its own diplomatic infrastructure the world over.  In this context, and against the backdrop of the bombing of its embassy in Beirut last week, this post is dedicated to the 23 victims – including Iran’s “cultural” attaché, responsible for activities in both Lebanon and Syria – who never returned home, all because Tehran’s game of duality.

 

Past Backlashes Against Iranian Diplomats

I condemn the act, for sure. But in view of the aggressive support for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah by Iran and its official representatives – not only in Syria itself, but from Lebanon as well – it was unsurprising that the al-Qaida-linked Sunni rebel group which claimed responsibility for the attack pledged to continue until Hezbollah withdrew its forces from Syria.

This would not be the first time, of course, that Iranian diplomacy’s emissaries and employees paid the price for Tehran’s policy of riding the tiger.

Already back in 1980, an Iranian died when six armed men stormed the Iranian embassy in London.  In 1992, Iranian rebels led a unified attack on diplomatic missions and embassies in 10 Western countries as a form of protest against Iranian air strikes in Iraq.  In 1996, Taliban forces in Afghanistan killed 11 Iranian diplomats.  Last year, the Iranian consulate in Afghanistan was attacked again over executions of Afghans in Iran.

The pattern is the same: Iran exploits its diplomatic infrastructure for very non-diplomatic activity, and in the end those affiliated with it pay the price.  

Tragic Price for Exploiting Diplomacy

As Iran’s involvement in Syria escalates unchecked by the international community, the Beirut bombing demonstrates that Tehran is not immune to the dangers faced by other diplomats – including by Iran-supported operatives (as well-documented by this blog). Indeed, the Beirut tragedy is unfortunately liable to repeat itself – unnecessarily leading to more victims of Iran’s cynical exploitation of diplomacy.

 

Iranian Diplomacy Seeks to Gag Critics in West

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There are all kinds of diplomatic abuse. While this blog usually follows Iran’s diplomatic subterfuge, this time I’d like to focus on how Iranian diplomacy threatens western groups that criticize the regime in Tehran.

What originally caught my eye in this context was a seemingly innocuous comment made in August by Foreign Minister Zarif, before he and President Rouhani took NYC by storm. In an interview in Persian, Zarif noted that “the biggest active lobby against Iran is ‘United Against Nuclear Iran” – a US group promoting anti-Tehran sanctions. A strange choice, but harmless enough.

Or was it? Perhaps, if that’s all there was to it. But unfortunately for Zarif, there is context to this story that cannot be ignored.

Turns out that a mere week after Rouhani’s election victory, Alireza Miryousefi Aval – past and present third counsellor and spokesperson for Iran’s UN mission in NYC – was quoted in the New York Times as saying that UANI’s founders had “worked within or were close to the U.S. government” and that Iran considered it “counterproductive and contrary to the policy announced by the new administration in early 2009, which purportedly sought to diplomatically interact with Iran.

According to the paper, Miryousefi added in his statement that: “the formation of the group, taken in the context of other hostile American actions including cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and unilateral sanctions, “convinced Iran that the U.S. does not mean what it says.”

Anybody ever hear of a foreign diplomat criticizing the host country’s constituencies? Only Tehran has the audacity – and the good fortune to get away with it.  But the Iranian diplomat’s point is clear: there’s no difference between cyber attacks and legitimate, democracy-style criticism. Opposition groups in the west should be gagged, as they still are in Iran.

This sort of intimidation through diplomatic means didn’t start with Rouhani. Indeed, Zarif’s predecessor Ali Akbar Salehi, current head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made that obvious when his said in an interview with the Wiener Zeitung earlier this year: You see, every group has a right to have its own beliefs and positions. However, I want to emphasize that in one’s decisions, caution and wisdom should prevail. Otherwise one gets into trouble. Those who are looking for conflicts won’t achieve a positive result.  My advice for these groups is this: You might have your differences with us, you might have your own beliefs, but at the same time we advise you to be more rational and more careful.”

Salehi was actually referring at the time not to UANI but rather to the European anti-Iran group STOP THE BOMB (STB), which like UANI also supports sanctions. And here lies the link connecting the Ahmadinejad administration and its Rouhani successor:  STB has recently come under attack by official Iranian and proxy media organs such as Tehran’s Hispan TV  and Hezbollah’s  Al Manar. They exploited a visit by Austria’s vice minister of foreign affairs Reinhold Lopatka to do so, putting words in his mouth against the organization. The identical wording in the reports is unmistakable.

(For the unaware: Hispan TV is subordinate to the EU-sanctioned Iranian Broadcasting Authority – IRIB – the heads of which are appointed by Rouhani’s cabinet.)

Bottom line, Iranian diplomacy is not only providing cover for acts of subversion and the persecution of dissidents.  It also thinks it can impose on the west its distorted view of what constitutes freedom of speech. Lucky for Iran’s critics that Tehran’s oppressive tactics will never take hold out side Iran.

Iran and Italy – It’s Amore!

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Roses from Rome

This blog takes pride in shedding light on Iran’s exploitation of its diplomatic infrastructure for some very undiplomatic purposes. Turning now to Italy, it’s not hard to identify those same components that exist elsewhere: the embassy, chamber of commerce, spiritual center, local radicals and gullible diplomats.

Money is a central motive here. Import of Iranian oil rose by 90% last year and contracts have been signed for the next three years. As the President of the Italy-Iran Chamber of Commerce, Rosario Alessandro,  boasted, “Rome will be Tehran’s main European trade partner for the year 2013“.

 

Thorns from Tehran

For its part, Tehran wants to increase its infrastructure of influence in Italy not only through trade and diplomacy but through cultural and political entities as well.

Its base is the Cultural Institute of the Iran Embassy headed by Iranian cultural attache, Ali Pourmarjan. Most of the institute’s activities are seemingly benign – such staging exhibitions and cultural events – but Pourmarjan is a key contact with other organizations which are definitely not benign.

Take the Islamic Association Ahl al Baith organization, for example, created by a neofascist named Pietro Benvenuto who converted to Islam and took on the name of Abd al-Kabir. Abd al-Kabir was inspired and remains in contact with another neofascist and ex-terrorist Claudio Mutti, the editor of  the geoplolitical magazine, Eurasia, who also converted to Islam taking on the name of Omar Amin. Both men and organizations actively support Tehran and are in contact with Pourmarjan and high ranking diplomats in Italy and in Iran.

Another similar organization is the Imam al Mahdi Islamshia center headed by another Italian convert called Hojatolislam Abbas Damiano di Palma who studied in Qom and met former President Ahmadinejad several times.

As in other cases, Tehran’s infrastucture in Italy goes beyond its embassy and religious figures, but rather also includes ties with with radical right wing political organizations such as the “Stato & Potenza” (State & Power) movement whose attacks on “imperialism” clearly mirror Tehran’s sentiments. Its leaders, Lorenzo Salimbeni,  Stefano Bonilauri and Ali Reza Jalali  are all ardent supporters of Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad.

Sounds familiar? Not surprising – especially not the central role by the cultural attache at Iran’s embassy to Italy. Remember Mohsen Rabbani, Tehran’s cultural attache in Buenos Aires during the time of the AMIA attack. Remember  Hamid Mohammadi, cultural attache at Iran’s embassy to Canada (before it was shut down) who bragged about exploiting his position to recruit expatriots for the cause.

Iran’s Ongoing Tango with Argentina

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Solidifying Friendships on the Left

As mentioned in my previous post, Argentina’s open door policy vis-à-vis Tehran has for several years now allowed the latter’s officials to strengthen ties at the local level.  The presence of former Iranian charges d’affairs Ali Pakdaman at a major even event of the Movimiento Piquetero is glaring in this context.

Piquetero is not alone: Tehran is also supported by an organization of women called the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Originally established for an extremely worthy cause, since 2006 its leader, Hebe de Bonafini, has been consistent in defending Iran on the AMIA case. Indeed, she still “does not accept the investigation” (her signature appears on a relevant document that was personally handed in 2007 to Ahmadinejad himself).

Another organization courted by Tehran is the Marxist Movimiento Patriótico Revolucionario Quebracho  whose representative, Fernando Esteche, heads the Islamic Politics Seminar at the national university of Mar del Plata (which regularly hosts visitors from Iran). Apart from openly supporting Hezbollah and mutual demonstrations, the ties between Tehran and Quebracho are mostly underground and are under investigation.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

But at the end of the day, ties cultivated by Iran’s mission with the local fringe are the low-hanging fruit. What truly interests Tehran’s emissaries are legitimacy – as demonstrated by the energy devoted to whitewashing the AMIA case – and circumventing international sanctions.

Enter the Argentinean-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, established in 2010. Founded by a group of local Argentinean businessmen, the chamber is undoubtedly recognized as an official Iranian body by the Argentinean authorities.

Two prominent figures are conspicuous in the chamber’s establishment and operations: Pakdaman (surprise, surprise), for Iran; and Dr. Leonardo Damián Díaz, previously General Manager of the LSG Investment Group, on the Argentinean side.

Damián Díaz is a serious guy: an Argentinean lawyer from the University of Belgrano specializing in criminal and business law, who for 12 years served as a member of the Argentinean team to the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). He’s also an independent player for strategic consulting and negotiation between Argentinean and foreign companies.

Oh, one more thing: he’s also a coordinator in website discussion rooms that defend Iran on AMIA. These chats also dwell on the possibilities of national revolution in Argentina…

Postscript: Rabbani’s Still Around

Turns out that Mohsen Rabbani, Iran’s cultural attaché to Buenos Aires at the time of the AMIA bombing and wanted for murder, continues to preach to his Argentine followers from Iran – despite the time passed since his escape. It’s right there, on the website of the Asociación Argentina Islámica. Apparently even if you can take Iran’s diplomats out of Argentina, its shadow diplomacy will remain anyway.