AMIA Bombing Still Looms Over Key Iranian Diplomats

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As we’re approaching the 20th anniversary of the AMIA (The Mutual Society of Argentina and Israel) community center bombing in Buenos Aires (July 18th, 1994), the survivors and families of victims are still searching for the truth and retribution for the 85 lives and hundreds of injured.

The investigation pointed towards Hezbollah and more importantly, the Iranian regime at the time all the way up to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president.

The prosecution issued warrants for key Hezbollah members as well as Rafsanjani, Hade Soleimanpour (Iran’s ambassador to Argentina) and Mohsen Rabbani (Iran’s cultural attaché in Argentina). Only Soleimanpour underwent questioning and was released after offering his testimony. Rabbani disappeared and re-emerged in Tehran and Rafsanjani simply denied any involvement by himself or by Iran.

The list of Iranian diplomats who were suspected of being involved kept growing: Interpol published names of six individuals (out of nine) who were officially accused for their role in the terrorist attack. These include Ahmad Vahidi (IRGC commander and later appointed as Iran’s defense minister), Ali Fallahian (Iranian intelligence minister), Imad Mughniyah (founding member of Hezbollah), Mohsen Rabbani, Ahmad Reza Asghari (Iranian diplomat), Mohasen Rezaee (Iranian politician and presidential candidate). Other suspects included Ali Akbar Velayati (presidential candidate and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s right hand man). All are high ranking diplomats who would rise even higher over time.

Iran vehemently objected to the notion of arresting its politicians, and so a makeshift solution was conceived: A truth Commission.

Last year, the government of Argentina announced it had signed a memorandum with Iran in order to investigate the AMIA bombing further. It basically meant that Argentina and Iran would now investigate together Iran’s participation in the bombing. The memorandum overturned decisions made by Argentina’s courts and prompted a lot of criticism by the families of the victims as well as US senators who wrote a letter to President Christina Kirschner, saying that they found the agreement “disturbing“.

But, last week a court decision on the matter was given: An appeals court in Argentina declared the deal as unconstitutional but this decision is not yet final since the government is planning to appeal this decision to the high court.

In any case, the AMIA bombing represents a pure example of Iran’s shadow diplomacy: One hand places the bomb and kills people while the other hand diplomatically tries to wash away any connections. And to make matters more complicated, Iranian diplomats sign a deal with Argentina which allows the prime suspect to become a part of the investigation! I can understand why the Iranians acted the way they did…can’t say I understand the motives of the Argentinians.

 

other posts on argentina: irans-ongoing-tango-with-argentina and iran-emerging-from-the-shadows-in-argentina

 

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Iran & Iraq: From Enemies to Neighbors to Partners

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26 years ago, the UN Security Council resolution 598 put an end to the Iran-Iraq war which cost over a million lives and nearly $600 Billion. Since then, relations between the two countries have been mostly chilly and formal…until now.

“Close ties between Tehran and Baghdad will serve the interests of regional countries“, said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking directly to appease the fears of the Gulf and nearby states, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which I wrote about previously in this blog.

An eye opening piece by Ali Hashem in Al monitor explained Iran’s type of political game with its neighbor: “It is a matter of common interests, indeed. The Iranians proceeded according to a playbook with their eye on the long game. Tehran backed the US political process adopted by the Shiite Iraqi groups that had sought refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule, but at the same time supported the armed insurgency against the US occupation”.

Iran’s strategy in Iraq is in line with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s overall  “beyond boundaries” defense policy which is based on exporting the revolution to its neighbors, especially those with substantial Shiite populations,  and to any countries with “anti-Imperialist” forces. Iraq fits that description on all counts.

Iran has also another motive to strengthen ties with Iraq which is the home of a large community of exiled members of Iranian opposition groups. According to the latest report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Iran is behind the Iraqi forces who have killed 116 refugees and wounded 1,350 in refugee camps. Furthermore, Iran has formally requested the extradition of these exiles in order to give them a “fair trial” back in Tehran before sending them to rot in prison or hang from the gallows.

In fact, a source in the know of the relations between the two countries, explained further: “All the other countries in the region stabbed Iraq in the back. Iran’s decision was to help Iraqis in whatever they wanted to do, and that’s why today Iran and Iraq have a $12 billion trade exchange, and in a few years this will be $30 billion.” Iran’s bet seems to have been successful or as Iraq’s Deputy PM Rowsch Nuri Shaways explains: Iran is now Iraq’s “most trustworthy neighbor”.

But the Iranian foreign office and other notables high in the hierarchy might have bigger fish to fry: the US State Department officials are considering an investigation into the presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq. The Iranian interest in Iraq is paramount, and it recently reached what some spectators might call a boiling point: the Iraqi elections.

On the 19th, Iran issued a statement congratulating Iraq on a well-organized and successful election. And yes, Tehran backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his 3ed term.

Iran is searching for reliable allies and Iraq in 2014 seems to be one of its best potentials. You can bet on the fact that part of the trade between these two countries in the future will include military dimensions.

Iran’s Problem with Baharain

 

 

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I’ve posted on this blog posts on Iran’s relations with its fellow gulf countries before (“Trouble brewing in the Gulf, “With friends like these 3“, “Iran’s diplomatic duality in the Gulf“, “With friends like these 1“.

This week, Bahrain is taking focus again in that area and once again, it has to do with Iran’s efforts at subversion in the area. On the 28th of April, a Bahraini court sentenced 12 men to a life sentence in prison for spying. The Judges ruled that the men received training from the IRGC in Iran and that they also possessed weapons and explosives.

Furthermore, an article in The Express Tribune reported that: “Bahrain accuses Iran of fueling unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising led by the Shi’ite Muslim community demanding reforms and more share in running the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty”. This is quite the hefty accusation and it followed similar accusations last year regarding the IRGC setting up a terrorist cell that planned to attack its airport and government buildings.

The response from Tehran was as expected: It denied the allegations, but defended the cause of the Shi’ite opposition. The row between the two countries started a few days before, when the Bahraini Authorities expelled Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s representative, Hussein al-Najati, in the latest sign of tension with the Shia majority in the Persian Gulf country. “We strongly condemn (such) measures by the al-Khalifa and announce that we will never leave the Bahraini people alone,” said the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a speech in Qom, and added that this is a sign of the Al Khalifa’s fall.

The troubles in Bahrain did not go unnoticed by its neighbor and Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia: “Our regional security requires that we, as a Gulf grouping, work to create a real balance of forces with it, including in nuclear knowhow, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file” said  former Saudi intelligence director Prince Turk Al Faisal to the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.

So while Iran is succeeding in getting closer to the West, its neighbors are getting wearier of its continued efforts to stir up a Shia opposition from within. This might seem very distant and irrelevant to readers from Europe and America but Iran’s world view is certainly not limited to its neighbors.

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…

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.

 

 

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/

Iranian Diplomatic Abuse Increases Visa Restrictions

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Following President Rouhani’s election and promotion of his agenda to lead meaningful change in Tehran’s foreign policy, a quick thaw in its international relations might have been expected.

Iran’s not there yet.

During the past three months five countries have hardened their visa regulations with Iran, making it more difficult to visit that country. According to this recent article in Farsi, Georgia http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/08/12/georgia-stops-irans-revolving-diplomatic-door/, Oman http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/30/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-1/, Indonesia, Egypt http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/10/08/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-2/ and now Malaysia seem unconvinced by Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric; instead of opening doors with Iran, they’re slamming them shut.

A few of the mentioned (and other) countries have enforced more stringent visa rules because of diplomatic and other abuses by Iranians on their soil. Some want to pressure Iran to alter its behavior, while others want to stop the flow of refugees from that country.

Of course, the Iranians are trying to put a brave face on the continuing deterioration in relations with countries from their core group, the Non-Aligned Movement (Tehran is group chair, a position it will hold for the next two years). Indeed, Tehran recently announced http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/159110 it is considering lifting visa requirements for certain states. Doesn’t seem like this plan will wash for the time being.

(We wonder whether the Iranians have an ulterior motive behind the move – in addition to boosting tourism – such as bringing in more foreign nationals to promote its darker activities http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/02/iranian-embassies-recruit-latin-american-students/.)

These developments might seem inconsequential at a time when Tehran is focusing on nuclear negotiations with the . But think again: since his election, Rouhani has been quite vocal about reintegrating Iran into the international community and improving relations with Iran’s neighbors – especially Saudi Arabia.P5+1

The Iranian president clearly has his work cut out for him. He definitely won’t attain his goal as long as the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue abusing the tools of diplomacy and fueling world suspicions.