Tag Archives: Ahmadinejad

Tehran’s new face on same old murky policies

IF anyone seriously believes that Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rouhani will be empowered to make a difference, they’re dreaming. The media refers to this conservative Khomeini loyalist cleric as a reformist or a moderate. When compared with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose bordering on lunatic, then yes. But it’s naïve in the extreme to suppose that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose iron grip over the Iranian people has endured since 1989, would permit a man with liberal persuasions to even run for office. In reality, anyone with the potential of being a populist rival to Khamenei, such as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were excluded from the race by the Guardian Council’s vetting committee, along with candidates from the genuinely reformist Green Party, which goes to show that the poll lacked legitimacy. Out of 680 candidates who registered, only eight were approved to run.

Frankly, I’m amazed at the effusive reaction to Rouhani’s triumph. The UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon offered his congratulations, Britain’s former Justice Minister Jack Straw says he’s a man with whom the UK can do business. Vladimir Putin sent the new President a message of confidence that Rouhani would promote the prosperity of a friendly Iran and further strengthen Russian-Iranian relations. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders have also sent him a congratulatory missive expressing their wish for improved ties. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia wishes “greater progress and prosperity for the people of the brotherly Islamic Republic of Iran” at a time when Saudi-Iranian relations are at an all-time low over Syria.

I get that phrases used in diplomatic protocol shouldn’t necessarily be taken seriously. But let’s get something straight. There is nothing brotherly about Iran from the perspective of Gulf States as I’ve highlighted time and time again in my columns, while strongly urging Gulf leaders to cut diplomatic and trade relations with Tehran and expand the GCC’s military capacity to defend our lands against Iran’s territorial and ideological ambitions. Brothers don’t steal from each other, as Iran did when in November 1971 it forcibly grabbed three UAE islands which until today it refuses to give back. And Tehran’s plotting to overthrow the Bahraini monarchy shows that it can’t be considered a friend by any stretch of the imagination. So, when I read that the GCC seeks better relations with its Persian neighbour all because the man who will shortly hold the title of President is considered to be a reasonable man, my heart sank.

We should not permit the ayatollahs to pull the wool over our eyes and neither should the Iranian people who’ve been celebrating in the streets. Make no mistake! The old guard is still in charge and has cleverly consolidated its power with a crafty PR coup. Ahmadinejad was unpopular, hot-headed and unstable. Rouhani is well-educated, well-travelled, well-connected in diplomatic circles and charismatic. He’s tapped into the pulse of the public — currently angered over surging inflation, high unemployment and a freefalling currency — and knows how to craft his rhetoric to suit. But whoever lands the title ‘President’ knows that it’s largely cosmetic when it comes to issues that matter. Rouhani will serve as a valve to reduce the tension in a pressure cooker of discontent at home and anti-Iranian sentiment abroad. He’s ignited false hopes and is giving the world the fake impression that Iran is poised to turn a new page.

Whether or not Hassan Rouhani is seen as a breath of fresh air in an oppressive country that stifles personal freedom and discriminates against non-Shiite minorities is neither here nor there. He’s a proficient diplomat, making all the right noises, promising nuclear transparency and steps to reduce tension with Western powers — which is all very well, but can he deliver? The answer to that is well known. With all the will in the world, he will have little say over Iranian foreign policy which is strictly the province of the Supreme Leader — and as recent history has taught us, anyone who challenges that authority is gone. Rouhani will be free to change the tone of his dealings but not the substance. He may be more amenable than Ahmadinejad to dialogue with the West on Iran’s nuclear file, but the decision to cease uranium enrichment isn’t his to make, even if he were disposed to do so. In fact, he’s known to be proud of his nation’s technological achievements. He is keen to get economically crippling UN, US and EU sanctions lifted, but unless he gets the go-ahead from his master to make concessions, that aspiration is dead in the water.

The President-elect says he wants improved relations with the US and Saudi Arabia. The real test will be his stance on Syria. Flowery words will get him nowhere as long as Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, are flouting the Arab League and the majority of United Nations member states by fighting on the side of a pariah engaged in the destruction of his own country. In the final analysis, the Iranian leadership is undeserving of our congratulations and certainly doesn’t warrant diplomatic niceties from our leaders as long as it persists in killing our true brothers and sisters in Syria — and neither does its partner in crime, Russia, that keeps Bashar Al Assad’s forces supplied with missiles and vetoes anti-regime sanctions in the UN Security Council. In the meantime, let’s not be willing dupes to the new guy’s sweet words that can’t be backed-up with action. In many ways Rouhani is more dangerous than his predecessor. Ahmadinejad wore his aggression and hostility on his sleeve; whereas Iran’s new president could emerge as the Great Deceiver. I can only appeal to GCC member states to remain alert.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
UAE Businessman

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s African Safari

By Joseph Hammond

From Ghana to Egypt to the Horn, the departing president has leveraged economic and diplomatic ties to expand Iran’s reach in Africa.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped on to the tarmac in Accra, the capital of Ghana, some wondered if the April trip would be his last visit abroad as the leader of Iran. Ghana wrapped up a broader tour of Africa that included stops in Niger and Benin. The fact that Ahmadinejad would even visit Ghana, a nation which the Shahist Iran only began diplomatic relations with in 1974, explains how Iranian foreign policy has evolved under his rule.

Ahmadinejad is the first leader of the Islamic Republic to look seriously at Africa. Outreach to Africa has allowed him to achieve several foreign and domestic policy goals, such as persuading average Iranians that Iran is a leading state in the Muslim and developing worlds, despite ongoing international sanctions. After all, until recently Muslims indisputably constituted at least a plurality of Africans. Ahmadinejad’s outreach to Africa has also benefited Iranian foreign policy by forcing Iran’s rivals to expend resources and energy countering Iranian moves there. In so doing, Ahmadinejad has relied on expanded economic ties and existing diplomatic institutions to expand Iran’s reach on the continent.

Despite Iran’s recent elections, Ahmadinejad has continued to push relations, meeting with African ambassadors in Tehran in recent weeks to announce Iran’s intention to build six refineries across the continent in order to cement relationships. Under Ahmadinejad, Iranian trade with Africa has reached over US$1 billion but economic development remains subservient to political goals. In this regard, Iran’s relationship with MTN Group, a South African telecommunications giant, has grown consistently: the company won a licence to develop mobile telecommunications in the Iranian market in 2005 and today commands a 45 percent market share. A legal case launched by Turkcell, the Turkish firm which lost out to MTN in 2005, alleges that the deal was made with MTN in part to gain access to South African weapons technologies. Iranian dissidents also claim the South African firm has been complacent in the Iranian government’s effort to control domestic IT communications.

These economic ties notwithstanding, the diplomatic aspects of Ahmadinejad’s outreach to Africa have been the most visible. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the G-15, a grouping of developing nations that includes several African states have become important venues for Iranian diplomatic efforts. Even more crucial for Ahmadinejad has been Iran’s time as head of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

The National Chairman of Ghana’s Progressive People’s Party, Nii Allotey Brew-Hammond, put Ahmadinjad’s visit in this context for The Diplomat, “When I first heard he was coming, I was shocked, but his visit to Ghana was justified by his position as president of the Non-Aligned Movement. Without this title I don’t think Ahmadinejad would have been so warmly received in Ghana and across Africa.” The chairman was speaking at his headquarters, just a few blocks from an Iranian clinic in Accra’s Asylum Down district. Iran has also funded an Islamic university in the city.

However, Ahmadinejad’s most visible diplomatic triumph occurred in Cairo. In February, Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt since the Islamic Revolution, and he was warmly greeted by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (though ordinary Iranians were not as warmly welcomed). Here again Iran’s role in an international organization, this time the OIC’s Islamic Summit served as a convenient pretext for the visit. At the Islamic Summit, Iran took a leadership role on a number of issues like the crisis in Mali. African diplomats, who spoke off-the record on the sidelines of the conference, confided that Qatari and Iranian views on the situation in Mali had clashed with Qatar being hesitant to label the Mali rebels as terrorists. In a subsequent interview with The Diplomat, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh clarified Iran’s position on the issue. “We believe to help the Malian government to stabilize itself is part of the collective responsibility of the Muslim world. The people of Mali have been the victim of terrorism.”

Others are skeptical of the allegations, however. David Roberts, Director of the Qatar office of Royal United Services Institute offered this view: “The idea that the Qatari state would actively want to support Al Qaeda militants in Mali is absurd.” Roberts does concede, however, that every dollar of Qatari aid is difficult to account for and that the aims of private charity groups are even more opaque.

The Horn of Africa is another region which has seen increased interest from Iran under Ahmadinejad. This past February, a United Nations investigation claimed that Iranian and North Korean arms were being smuggled into Somalia. Iran has also been accused of supporting Hamas and the Houthi rebels in Yemen through Red Sea smuggling efforts. “Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has devoted greater attention to developing relationships with groups and actors hostile to U.S. interests in the region, including the Horn of Africa,” explains Daniel Tavana, Research Associate at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

Despite being accused of indirectly supporting Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated, Somalia-based Salafist group, Iran has also maintained warm ties with Somalia’s government. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has pledged to develop an Iranian medical facility there similar to the Iranian clinic in Ghana. In Somalia, however, Iranian influence has provoked a renewed Turkish engagement with the continent. In 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan became the first non-African head of state to visit the country since 1991, and soon after his visit Turkey hosted a meeting of the OIC in Istanbul where US$350 million in aid was pledged to rebuild Somalia. Altogether, Ankara’s spending on development in Africa has reach over US$100 million this decade and Turkey currently has 34 embassies on the continent, up from just 12 in 2009.

Iran’s relationship with Sudan has also concerned many countries in the Western world. The Sudan is the one country in Africa with which the Islamic Republic has long had warm ties. Following the death of the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani greatly expanded relations between the two nations. Ahmadinejad has reaffirmed Sudanese-Iranian political ties and emphasized the two nations’ joint struggle against “colonialists.” Sudan has long been suspected of serving as a transit point for Iranian arms headed to Hamas in the Gaza strip, and in October 2012, mysterious explosions rocked a weapons facility in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Sudan promptly blamed Israel for the attack and, just days later, Iranian warships made a port visit to Sudan.

Indeed the Iranian navy has expanded its operations along the Africa coast under Ahmadinejad in a bid to expand its role in the Indian Ocean. In 2008 Iran began participating in anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and, following the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, two Iranian warships provocatively transited the Suez Canal. Iran also enjoys warm relations with Eritrea (who supports al-Shabaab in Somalia) and reportedly established a military base at the port city of Assab in southern Eritrea in 2008 (Israel is thought to have countered with its own military base in the country).

Each leader of the Islamic Republic has brought a distinct style to Iranian foreign policy. As Supreme Leader in the 1980s, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini was a staunch anti-colonialist, framing Iran’s position in the world as “neither East nor West.” Yet, his tone failed to strike a lasting chord among African governments, many of whom looked skeptically at the Islamic Republic of Iran due to its efforts to spread its Shi’a revolutionary model. (Senegal even shut down the Iranian embassy in Dakar during Khomeini’s rule, and again in 2010).

Although it is difficult to ascribe a specific African foreign policy to Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the presidents serving under him have left a mark on Iran’s approach to the continent. President Rafsanjani’s foreign policy can be depicted as post-revolutionary pragmatism, while President Khatami’s foreign policy favored multilateral cooperation and a “dialogue of civilizations.” Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy in Africa has incorporated elements of all three, mixing the rhetoric of Khomeini with Rafsanjani’s opportunism and Khatami’s emphasis on multilateral institutions.

With the leadership changing hands, Ahmadinejad’s efforts may be frivolous if Hassan Rowhani takes Iranian foreign policy in a new direction. If Iran continues to engage the region, however, it will continue to have success in light of the Obama Administration’s lack of clear policy goals in Africa.

Joseph Hammond is a freelance writer and former correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Iranian Presidential Election Turning into a Circus

Iranian Presidential Election Turning into a Circus

By Reza Kahlili

The Iranian presidential election next month will not be free. The candidates have all been selected to run because they are loyal to the Islamic dictatorship.

Most of the candidates are criminals, including three with arrest warrants issued against them by either Interpol or Argentinian courts for the 1994 Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires: Mohsen Rezaei, the ex-chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, and two former regime officials, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Akbar Velayati.

Another candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, current mayor of Tehran and former police commander, has said of the 1999 student protests:

“I was the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force at the time. Photographs of me are available showing me on the back of a motorbike, with Hossein Khaleqi, beating them (the protesters) with wooden sticks. … I was among those carrying out beatings on the street level and I am proud of that. I didn’t care that I was a high-ranking commander.”

Recently an audiotape surfaced on the Internet revealing his 2003 speech to the Basij paramilitary forces bragging about his role at the Supreme National Security Council meeting to get the authorization to attack the student protesters: “I spoke very harshly. Didn’t observe proper protocol, and I told them as head of the police, I will demolish anyone who would show up tonight on the campus to protest … with my behavior I intimidated them to get the permission to enter and also to shoot (at protesters).”

Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the 12-member Guardian Council decides the eligibility of who can run for office, and anyone with any history of opposing the regime is barred from participation. The council is made up of six Islamic faqihs (experts in Islamic law) appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the Judiciary (who is himself appointed by the supreme leader), and then approved by the parliament.

However, what makes this presidential election interesting this year is the confrontation between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the latter’s handpicked candidate, close confidant and top adviser Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

As I reported on April 30, Ahmadinejad was arrested after his visit to Tehran’s 26th International Book Fair. He was held for seven hours and was warned to keep his mouth shut about matters detrimental to the Islamic regime before being released, according to a source within the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence unit.

Earlier, the regime’s media outlet Baztab reported that Ahmadinejad had warned associates that if Mashaei was rejected as a candidate, then Ahmadinejad would reveal recordings confirming that the regime defrauded the voters in the 2009 presidential election.

Our revelation of the news caused a firestorm inside the regime, which then arrested the editor of Baztab for publishing the report. They then attacked WND and me for publishing the report of the arrest and the revelation about the recording, which reportedly quotes officials telling Ahmadinejad in 2009 that they would announce his total winning tally as 24 million votes where, in fact, the actual number was much lower.

The source who provided the information about Ahmadinejad’s arrest then revealed the content of the tape (which is a bit longer than 11 minutes) as being between Ahmadinejad and Vahid Haghanian, the head of the supreme leader’s office. The two discuss the fraud in which Haghanian said election officials added millions of votes to Ahmadinejad’s tally to declare him the winner.

During that phone call, the two argued as Haghanian told Ahmadinejad what Khamenei expected of him. Haghanian told him that they had to add millions of fake votes to declare him the winner despite having all the Guards and Basij personnel voting for him.

The actual results of the election, as provided by the source were:

• Mir Hossein Mousavi won the election with over 19,250,000 votes.
• Ahmadinejad was second with a little over 13,000,000 votes.
• Mohsen Rezaei had approximately 3,700,000 votes.
• Mehdi Karoubi had approximately 3,200,000 votes.

Millions of Iranians took to the streets after the 2009 election results were reported, calling Ahmadinejad’s reported 62 percent tally of voters a fraud and demanding a free election.

Thousands were arrested, with many tortured and executed. Mousavi and Karoubi have been under house arrest ever since.

According to the source, Ahmadinejad plans to derail the elections if Mashaei’s registration for presidential candidacy is not accepted. Khamenei desperately wants this election to go without incident to show the world that the regime is united and has popular support.

It will be interesting to see if Khamenei backs down and allows Mashaei to run just to keep Ahmadinejad in check, but then picks his own candidate out of the hat, as the regime always does, and as they did with Ahmadinejad himself, to keep the clerical regime alive longer.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of the award-winning book  A Time to Betray (Simon & Schuster, 2010). He serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI).