Aboutalebi Appointment Adds Insult to Injury

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You can say a lot of things about the Iranian regime – but one thing that you must know, is that they have the most twisted sense of humor.

This time, we’re addressing the appointment of the Hamid Aboutalebi as the new Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi was one of the architects of the American  Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979-1981 and a key operative behind political assassinations, most notably, that of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Italy in 1993.

But, this joke is not funny anymore and the US Senate approved a bill to bar the ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz went as far as saying that the “nomination is a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States”.

This incident went as high as the White House – Press Secretary Jay Carney called the potential nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi “extremely troubling”. Later, Carney said that the white house sent a message to the Iranian government saying that this choice is “not viable”. On a side note, it’s nice to see that the Iranians can bring together the Republicans and the democrats…

The Iranians, who apparently thought that they can do whatever they want and get away with it (It’s been working quite alright for them so far…) are trying to calm the matter down –in an interview he gave beforehand, Aboutalebi tried to tell his version of the story, that he was only helping in translation to the terrorists.

Cut to the chase: Iran seems to have enough accomplished diplomats and choosing Aboutalebi to serve in New York is either a bad idea or a great way to taunt the US, both option being unecessary at a time when Iran and the West seem to be getting along so well.

Iran-Backed Terrorism In Turkey

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Tawhid-Salam – Remember This Name. 

Most people don’t know yet what Tawhid-Salam is but then again, few had heard of Al Qaeda before 9/11. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t  heard of Tawhid-Salam until about 3 weeks ago but since then, this name has popped up again and again as a growing terrorist group emerging in Turkey and backed by and well connected to, once again, Iran.

In fact, after a 3-year investigation including 234 people who were wiretapped, Tawhid-Salam was named “the stealthiest and the most dangerous terrorist organization of recent times” according to Former İstanbul Police Department intelligence bureau chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer.

 

Terrorists With Top Connections

The relationship between Iran and Turkey has had many ups and downs but can be summed up in one sentence: Tehran has many friends in Turkey who are beneficial economically and politically. As far as money is concerned, it might be worth your while to re-read my article on Iran’s involvement in Turkey’s Gold Scandal from December 29th that involved numerous high ranking officials in Turkey.

It seems that Tawhid-Salam is also very well connected: According to Yılmazer, the police managed to “expose the wider network of Iranian agents that has been set up in Turkey and discovered connections to senior government officials”. These connections include Interior Minister Efkan Ala, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan and Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay to name a few.

 

Links to Quds Forces and the Iranian Consulate

Tawhid-Salam’s track record is “impressive” and includes assassinations of Iranian opposition leaders and Turkish journalists/intellectuals as well as American, Saudi and Israeli diplomats.

The group has alsoconducted surveillance of the US consulate and drawn “plans of the Nuclear Research Institute in İstanbul’s Halkalı neighborhood” and delivered them to Iranian intelligence. Some of these activities were video-taped by the police as part of the investigation.

Tawhid-Salam was first identified in 1996 but has been systematically protected and covered up for over 20 years by various Turkish officials. Hakkı Selçuk Şanlı, one of the group founders, admitted in 2000 that organization members were trained in Iran “to stage attacks in Turkey and conduct intelligence operations on behalf of Iran”. He also added that he had supplied IRGC Quds forces with bombs for attacks in Georgia and Thailand from a storage unit rented by an Iranian Quds operative, Rızazade Metin.

Their contacts with Quds forces were facilitated by their contact in the Iranian Consulate – Naser Ghafari.

Iranian Passport Forgery on the Rise in Bangkok

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Some stories have to start from the end. And in our story it’s the fact that Thai authorities placed Alireza Kolmoham, AKA “Mr. Ali”, in the wanted list. His alleged crime? Ties to a gang which provided forged passports to international human trafficking groups.

Mr. Kolmoham is Iranian and he supplies other Iranians with forged passports for various reasons. In some cases, Iranians are trying to flee Iran and emigrate to the West and they hang around Asia, until they can reinvent their identities while in other cases, the owners of the forged passports are Iranian operatives involved in subversion and terror.

Bangkok has become a favorite half-way destination and a market for passports. According to a Burmese forger, the trade in passports in Bangkok is very lucrative and the Thai police are not even close to breaking down on all the forgers and dealers there.

This is specially true for Iranians who are ranked 86 out 93 in Henley Partners’ “travel freedom index” as far as visa restrictions are concerned – Iranians are still welcomed in Bangkok and it was there that another Iranian passport forger, Seyed Paknejad supplied Iranian terrorists with fake passports as I outlined in an earlier post.  He was caught in Malaysia in the possession of 17 stolen New Zealand passports!

Bangkok is becoming infamous on the passport forgery scene due to a large influx of tourists into the country whose passports are stolen or who choose to sell their passports for quick cash. Also, and more importantly, getting in and out of Thailand can be expedited if the forgers know who to pay off. It’s no surprise then that there are an estimated 20 forgery gangs working in Bangkok to date.

Yes, it was “Mr. Ali” who supplied the forged passports to the two Iranians, Pouria Nour Mohammed Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammed Reza, on board the mysterious Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight to nowhere. It seems that in their case, they needed the passports to emigrate and that any links to terrorism seem slim.

Mr. Ali has disappeared – he is a passport forger, so that should not be a problem for him – and the Thai police are checking to see if he had any connections with the other Iranian forgers working in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the Thais are not sharing all of their information so details are still shady.

We might never have heard of Mr. Ali’s existence if MH370 hadn’t disappeared and that is worrisome. How many forged passports had he supplied until then that slipped through security? Nobody really knows. How many of these forged passports were used by Iranians who were not fleeing Iran but working for Iran? Nobody really knows.

All we do know is that Iranian forgers are supplying Iranians with fake passports at an alarming rate in Bangkok. And you can bet on it that the Iranian operatives know this as well.

Perhaps Thailand should keep a closer look at visiting Iranian nationals and make sure that they return home instead of leaving Thailand under a new identity.

Hamid Babaei Jailed For NOT Spying

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Just Another Ordinary Day in Tehran

You’re at an airport, waiting with your husband for your flight home. All of a sudden, officials come over and take him from you. The next thing you know, they tell you that your husband is a spy, and that you shouldn’t hold your breath to see him again. Do you come to terms with your fate and keep waiting? Or do you decide to fight this injustice as hard as you can?

 

Jailed For Not Spying

It might sound like the premise of an action-packed Hollywood film, but this is the amazing, sad and unfortunate story of what happened on the 5th of August to Cobra Parsajoo, wife of Hamid Babaei. Babaei was an Iranian grad student in Liege, Belgium, studying for a doctorate in finance and law. And she had a tough decision to make.

It started a few weeks before in July 2013: Iranian authorities approached Babaei with a request for him to spy upon other Iranians living in Belgium. He refused the “offer”, ensuring the people who contacted him that his lips were sealed, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

So, a few weeks later, after a family visit and waiting for a plane back from Tehran to his life, someone decided to deny him his life, and declared him a national security threat.

 

8 months in hell…and counting.

For the last eight months, the lives of Babaei and Parsajoo have turned into nightmares: Babaei first spend a month in solitary confinement before being transferred to Evin prison in September. On December 21st, after being denied representation by a lawyer of his choice and after a 10 minute trial, he was sentenced to 6 years in jail for “acting against national security by communicating with hostile governments”.

In the meantime, Parasajoo is managing a campaign to release him. Because of this, she is not allowed to travel and has been threatened repeatedly by the Iranian authorities for speaking publicly about Babaei’s case.

Babaei himself was pressured to make a televised confession against himself and Parsajoo which he has resisted until now… If he does break down, Parsajoo may find herself thrown in jail as well.

Iranian Expats, Beware.

It seems that you can decide to leave Iran but Iran can decide not to leave you, both metaphorically and literally.

So while Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is trying to set up a committee for the return of Iranians from abroad and while President Hassan Rouhani promises to improve the state of human rights in Iran, the regime that preceded them is still working based on a code: either you root for Iran or you become its enemy. If you don’t spy for the regime, you must be spying against it…simple, and very very sad.

Was Babaei brave or stupid to refuse the “offer”? I would like to think that he was brave

This story could happen to anyone. Well, anyone who is an Iranian living abroad and visiting home. Was Babaei brave or stupid to refuse the “offer”? I would like to think that he was brave although I’m ashamed to say that I contemplated choosing the easier path…

 

Trouble Brewing in the Gulf

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The Gulf as a Microcosm

As Iranian diplomats battle their way into a nuclear agreement in Vienna, trouble is, once again, brewing much closer to home: lines are being drawn in the oil-soaked sands and the Gulf states are choosing sides.

And although this might seem far away and irrelevant for most people, this conflict is not going to be contained within the Gulf – in fact, it is being played out in countries as far away as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, India and the US. Because what happens in the Gulf definitely doesn’t stay there.

The Red Corner: Iran-Oman-Qatar

Oman is a natural partner of Iran and has been so since the Islamic revolution. The ties are strong and are fuelled by their control of the Straits of Hormuz as well as money – a lot of money. Last year, Iran inked an agreement with Oman to export gas and Iran is setting up a deal with Oman and India for an underwater pipeline bypassing the current land route through Pakistan. Since relations between Iran and Pakistan are on the rocks right now, such a pipeline would be a double blessing for Iran.

Qatar was not always pro-Iran and, in fact, was at odds with Iran as far as Syria is concerned by backing the rebels (to the tune of 1-3 Billion dollars) as befitted the will of the country’s ex-monarch – Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. But since the crown-prince of Qatar, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is an avid supporter of Assad, sentiments have changed up to the point where Qatar has decided to take a step back from the conflict in Syria and actually back Iran. In the meantime, Qatar and Iran are planning to establish a “Joint Free Trade Zone” which is sure to sweeten the relations between both countries.

The Green Corner: Saudi Arabia-Bahrain-UAE

The nuclear negotiations never did not sit well with Riyadh quite simply because the Saudis do not believe Tehran’s claims of a peaceful nuclear program. Consequently, the Saudis believe that the nuclear deal was a green light for them to buy a nuclear bomb from none other than…Pakistan.

The growing conflict between Tehran and Riyadh is not contained in the Gulf but is being battled out in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq through proxy-terrorist groups being financed by both sides. The Saudi backing of Al-Qaeda troops against Iranian-backed Hezbollah has resulted in an upsurge of terrorism in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq at the expense of civilians and Iranian diplomats caught in the crossfire.

This conflict is about money as well – Iran is trying to mobilize Iraq to form a front against Saudi Arabia’s control of OPEC, a move which is certain to add fuel to an already growing explosion in the making.

The Saudis are visibly upset with Qatar’s siding with Iran in this political tug of war, recalling its ambassador a week ago. True, relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been on the rocks for a while (since Qatar openly backed the Muslim Brotherhood) but the context of their relations is definitely Iran.

And then, of course, there is Bahrain which is, with the UAE, a natural ally of Saudi Arabia and a victim of Iranian attempts at subversion and terrorism. Bahrain never supported Iran and will definitely not do so in the future.

The Future of the Gulf

Iran has never hid its aspirations to become a leader in its neighborhood. After decades of sanctions and animosity with the West which definitely benefitted the Saudis, its rapprochement through a nuclear deal has raised many questions and anger levels between the neighboring countries. Their calls for diplomacy with Saudi Arabia by Iran are repeated in the same breath as accusations and there seems to be no end in sight.

One thing is certain – this won’t be a clean fight: Tehran will use all its resources to topple the Saudis balancing grip and judging from the past, be prepared to read about exposed spy rings, IRGC/Qods/Hezbollah operatives, shipment of munitions etc…

Tehran’s Glass House Syndrome 2 – Terrorism In The Eye Of The Beholder

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Iran is Against Terrorism?

It always seems strange to hear Iranian leaders speaking against terrorism while Tehran supports and feeds a number of terrorist organizations.

What seems stranger is that the more involved Iran is with terrorist organizations and actions, the more its diplomats and leaders bad-mouth terrorism.

Subversion and Terrorism in Lebanon

An Iranian delegation in Lebanon is trying to find ways to “confront…uncontrolled terrorism” while the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon, Ghazanadar Roknabadi “reiterated…that his country is ready to contribute with any kind of aid to Lebanon in its war against terrorism”.

Tehran’s definition of “fight against terrorism” is simple: anyone ready to kill and die for an opinion different from Iran’s is a terrorist, and therefore Iran is fighting many terrorists. They use terror to fight these so called terrorists.

Suffice to mention that Iran is in virtual control of Lebanon through its Hezbollah proxy-terrorist stronghold over the country at an estimated cost to the Iranian taxpayers of  $1 billion a year.

Subversion and Terrorism in Syria

Meanwhile, Iran is pledging to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees while at the same time reinforcing support to the Syrian resistance (meaning Assad) thus causing refugees. In the same breath they blame the “flow of arms by the US terrorists” for the “spread of terrorism in the region and across the world”.

Again, one should remember that Iran is physically, economically and financially involved in the Syrian civil war through Hezbollah and IRGC troops as well as billions of dollars worth of arms shipments and bank guarantees.

Subversion and Terrorism in Iraq

And while Iran is moaning and groaning about terrorist factions working in and from Iraq, Iranian IRGC and Qods generals, including Qassem Suleimani himself, are visibly staking out Baghdad , heading at least three Tehran-backed militia brigades: Kataib HezbollahAsaib al-Haq and the “Promised Day Brigades“.

Formally, Iran is trying to deter Sunni terrorists but Iraq’s potential to buy Iranian weapons and its huge Shi’a population are definitely major targets for Iranian shadow diplomacy as always.

Subversion and Terrorism in Pakistan

Of course, the biggest target for Sunni terrorism can be found in Saudi Arabia but unlike Baghdad, Riyadh is not playing ball with Tehran.

In fact, Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by as Iran makes its moves – they try to garner their own set of regional allies. As Iran is successfully wooing its Gulf neighbors (specially Kuwait, Oman and the UAE), Saudi Arabia is extending its friendship to countries such as Pakistan, much to the displeasure of Tehran.

Having inked a security agreement with Pakistan last month, Iranian diplomats were visibly upset when a terrorist group from Pakistan abducted five Iranian border guards and two weeks later, an additional Pakistani terrorist tried to blow up the Iranian consulate in Pakistan.

Tehran’s Glass House Syndrome

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It starts, as always, with a bang. A rather big bang, that is still heard days later. We’re talking of course on the twin explosions that rocked Beirut on the 19th of October, Killing four people and leaving 38 wounded.

The explosion, which was carried by a car bomb and a motorcycle laden with explosives, targeted an Iranian cultural center, the 2nd time in 3 months that Iranian institutes are attacked in the Lebanese capital.

Although Tehran officials quickly assured that there were no Iranian diplomats or personnel affected by the bombing, it raises a question: Why is Iran being targeted? What makes it and its out-of-country establishments prone to terror attacks?

Well, Iran has been very active as of late in the international front – trying to get back with diplomatic ties with several countries (while discussing Syria). But what might be more important, is the active role that the Islamic republic takes when it comes to the Syrian civil war.

This active role is not simply in the demand Iran is making to be a part of the team that decides on Syria’s future. Iran has been supporting Assad, not only vocally in the news but with military forces going from Iran to the Syrian battlefields.

Although Iran’s efforts at subversion in neighboring countries are not new, their outcries against Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia, although probably justified, make me think of the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones”. Or in Tehran’s case, “people who throw stones should live in stone houses and expect to be hurt”.

Iraq to Join Lebanon and Syria

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It seems that, at least for now, the specter of the Iran-Iraq war is buried deep in the past with Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein. And while Iraq has been steadily imploding for the past few years due to internal strife, Iran’s world smile offensive has placed it in a unique position to take the Tehran-Baghdad relationship to the next level – a level which will place Iraq in company with Lebanon and Syria.

Iran is investing in its Northern neighbor – ideologically, militarily and financially. Iraq’s Shia population is a powerful incentive for Tehran’s Islamist regime and such populations usually preclude subversive efforts by Iran such as in the case of Bahrain.

But in the case of Iraq, as in Lebanon and Syria, subversion is supported by military might in efforts to fight Al Qaeda Sunni terrorism operating relatively freely in Iraq.  Essentially, Iran has evolved into a key player in the Iraqi landscape, a terror-infested country that is undergoing a radical change since its dictator has fallen. Right now, Iranian Qods and IRGC forces are involved in fighting in Iraqi territory while Iraq, on its part, is keeping Iran’s interests closely guarded.

And as befits the Rouhani presidency, money is a key issue and Baghdad seems geared to become a business partner for Tehran’s economic ambitions.Iran’s interests in Iraq are mostly economic – it wants to export its gas across the border, since the regime is short on cash. Also, the two countries want to team up and take on the Saudis in the international oil market.

This situation should alarm everyone in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Iran, riding on waves of its smile diplomacy, is gaining strength, both politically and economically. It wants to sell weapons to Iraq (Iraq Is actually buying weapons from the US) and to expand its control over the region.

Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Syria are long-standing: its influence in Iraq is still in its infancy but Iran needs to take control over Iraq quickly – a weak Iraq will create pockets of unruly terrorism close to Iran and a strong Iraq will place its Sunni might against Shia Iran.

Furthermore, Iraq is much closer to home and fits in with Iran’s world vision of dominating the Middle East. You can expect a lot of Iranian shadow diplomacy in Baghdad in which diplomats and Qods forces will pull strings and set up infrastructures of rule.

 

 

Profitable Amnesia Vis a Vis Iran

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Iranian Smiles and Money produce “Selective Amnesia”

Since the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1, or some would say since Rouhani got elected, foreign diplomats are rushing to Tehran. It’s as if all the previous allegations and criticism against the Iranian regime were suddenly forgotten.

Why? Either to cash in politically or simply to cash in.

Iranian smiles and the limelight they are in represent twin magnets for many world leaders who wish to share the smiling photo-op limelight, meant for their political home-base as well as their allies and enemies abroad.

But, the “smile limelight” is almost overshadowed by the “mountains” of Iranian Rials that the nuclear agreement promised through renewed trade and drops in sanctions just when the economy is ripe: still low but promising to grow.

For some countries, it’s very simple according to Russian Ambassador to Tehran Levan Dzhagaryan: “We do not recognize the unilateral sanctions of the United States and the European Union regarding Iran, that is why we solely put our national interests first when carrying out trade and economic cooperation with Tehran”.

Since Iran’s influence within Russian territory has never amounted to much they can only win from gain. So whether it’s money or fame, they are rushing for Rials.

But what about other countries that are the targets for a global campaign to export the “Revolution” from Tehran through local Iranian/Shi’ite populations, anti-“imperialistic” (read: US) organizations and Embassy/IRGC/Qods/Hezbollah operatives? Their rush for fame and fortune has led to a selective amnesia of some of the reasons they should not board that plane headed for Tehran.

Italy, is a case in point.

Italians “Forgetting” Local Iranian Subversion

Details of Iran’s subversive involvements in Italy were outlined in an earlier post in November: Iranian diplomats and diplomatic support of local “cultural” projects were leading to active Iranian support for radical anti-establishment political organizations working within Italy against the government.

But when, for the first time in 10 years, an Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, visited Tehran on December 22nd, there were only smiles for “longstanding” and “strong” ties with Italy, specifically a “good history of cooperation between Iranian and Italian companies“.

Within two weeks a parliamentary delegation headed by Italian Chairman of Foreign Policy Pier Ferdinando Casini flew in promising that “mutual ties could develop in all aspects“.

 Only a week passed by before Italian Minister of Tourism and Culture Massimo Bray visited Iran stating that “Iran and Italy enjoy a long lasting and deep-rooted relationship, adding the two countries share several cultural commonalities” while Zarif ironically added that “The only way to fight [violence and terrorism] is to engage in a cultural action“. Today it is clear that Italy is leading the pack.

It’s obvious none of these people have read our earlier post. Maybe I should translate it to Italian.

Iran in a Bizarro World

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The Bizarro World

The term “Bizarro World“, or Htrae (“Earth” from back to front), is an imaginary planet that was born in a comic book back in the ’60’s but was resuscitated  by  none other than Seinfeld. The Bizarro World is our opposite world where good is bad, up is down, back is front…and terrorist are pacifists.

Reading through some of President Rouhani’s tweets lately made me think that he had temporarily moved to the Bizarro World under a new name, Inahour, and is trying to take us there with him. Although his wishes to present a positive force for change in Iran is admirable, trying to reposition Iran which has been and is still connected to terrorism globally as a symbol of pacifism comes off as a satirical comedy.

Bizarro Free Syria!

Iran is undisputedly the foreign power most involved in the Syrian civil war: Tehran supports Assad militarily, economically and politically with Hezbollah and Iranian troops on Syrian ground, a steady air-convoy of arms to Damascus and billions of dollars in bank guarantees.

But in Bizarro World, Iran was, is and never will be involved in the Syrian civil war.  Here are a couple of quotes straight from the Bizarro World capital, Narhet:

No one except for d ppl of #Syria should determine Syria’s future. Bloodshed must end & states sponsoring  #terrorism should stop their support.”

“Situation in #Syria is devastating. All must unite to put a stop to the fighting & brutal killing that goes on. #WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism)”.

Deeming accusations of Iran’s involvement through Hezbollah as “preposterous”, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (or Firaz, as he would be called in the Bizarro World) fred Iran of any involvement by simply stating “We are not sending people (to Syria), Hezbollah has made its own decision“.

It’s as if all those Iranian and Hezbollah troops in Syria suddenly seized to exist…as if all those shipment of arms were magically deleted…as if all those Syrian victims by Iranian subversion miraculously had come back to life.

Bizarro Peaceful Terrorism!

Iran’s link to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas is also undisputed: Iran has been funding, recruiting and training terrorist troops for decades and were Iran to stop doing so, Hezbollah and Hamas would probably fracture into disintegration. But Iran’s link with terrorism is not only through proxy organizations: As can be read in my earlier posts, its elite Quds forces are operational globally and are covered in the blood of civilians.

And yet, in Bizarro World, Iran has no ties with terrorism…at all. It’s as if all the money that is funding terrorist organizations and none of the terrorists attacks outlined in this blog (or even this blog at all) ever existed.

Terrorism will come back to haunt those who sponsor it. If a govt thinks it can topple another govt by supporting terrorist, it’s 100% wrong“.

Some states sponsor terrorism w/aim to increase influence. Not only will they not reach that goal but will suffer terrible consequences“.

And even if there had been a tie between Tehran and Hezbollah in the real world, in Bizarro World, the ties between Narhet and Hallobzeh is nearly non-existent.

With Rouhanis’ WAVE initiative at the forefront, anyone in the Bizarro World might actually believe that Tehran is really and truly disconnected from any form of terrorism and has been disconnected for a while.

The families of the victims of Tehran –backed terrorism must feel relieved to know that their murdered family members are alive and well…in a Bizarro World.

Related:

http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2014/01/21/tehrans-zigzag-diplomacy-pays-off/

http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/12/09/irans-diplomatic-duality-in-the-gulf/

http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/12/03/zarif-iranian-diplomacy-the-nuclear-deal/