National Review     |     By DAVID ZIMMERMANN     |     November 14, 2023

Iran has been conducting covert influence operations for years in the U.S. and abroad as part of a concerted disinformation campaign that is suspected to be espionage, a congressional briefing and corresponding report revealed Tuesday.

The 82-page report, titled “Iran: The Ayatollah’s Hidden Hand,” details how supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the Iranian regime use operatives in the Biden administration to influence U.S. policy involving the Islamic Republic, building on a Semafor article that was published in September. At the time, it was reported that at least three Iranian agents transitioned from soliciting Tehran’s talking points to working directly on policy under the purview of U.S. special representative for Iran, Rob Malley. In April, Malley’s security clearance was suspended over his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

“Having been provided with top-level security clearances, these Iranian agents had access to highly classified and sensitive information available only to senior U.S. officials, placing them in a unique position to mislead American policymakers while undermining policy toward Iran’s theocratic regime,” the newly published report states. “The actors allegedly collaborated with and took direction from senior Iranian officials while maintaining the appearance of working on behalf of the U.S. government.”

In addition to swaying foreign policy in favor of Iranian interests, the operatives also worked to subvert favorable opinions of the Middle Eastern nation’s leading opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from Washington, D.C. Iran continues to demonize the MEK to this day, accusing the political group of terrorism primarily for its defiance of Ayatollah Khamenei.

“By brazenly targeting the highly effective dissident organization, the operatives hoped to leave U.S. officials with the false impression that there is no viable alternative to the ayatollahs — and certainly not one with a pro-democracy record that remains committed to toppling clerical rule,” the report adds.

Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan, associate dean at the University of Baltimore who authored the report, presented an overview of his findings to select congressmen, foreign policy experts, and the media on Capitol Hill, where he called on both chambers of Congress to organize investigations and hearings into the matter.

“The Iranian regime poses a direct national security threat to U.S. citizens and U.S. security interests,” Sheehan said. “The fact of the matter is that no organization who aligns themselves with a hostile state or serves as a foreign agent should wield influence over U.S. policy or have access to sensitive national security information.”

Representatives Tom McClintock (R., Calif.), Randy Weber (R., Texas), and ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., the former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs during the George W. Bush administration, introduced the professor’s research at the briefing.

While lauding the House’s actions to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Sheehan advocated for Congress and decision-makers in Washington to be aware of the tactics that Tehran employs to “advance their broader, geopolitical agenda.” Early this month, the House passed a bipartisan resolution that declares a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable under U.S. policy.

Intimidation of U.S. officials is one of the many tactics listed in the book, Sheehan said, noting one of the key endorsers of his report was shot in Madrid, Spain, just five days prior to the Tuesday briefing. Professor and European statesman Alejo Vidal-Quadras, who fortunately survived, has reason to believe the Iranian regime was behind the failed assassination attempt. The Spanish police’s special terrorism unit is currently investigating the matter.

Sheehan posed questions to the audience, wondering whether the Iranian influence operations have officially become efforts of espionage and how much damage the covert campaign has caused.

https://www.nationalreview.com/news/iran-conducting-influence-operations-in-the-biden-administration-report/

 

Semafor     |     Jay Solomon     |     Sept. 29, 2023

THE SCOOP

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues — particularly its nuclear program — by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative.

The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails reported for the first time by Semafor and Iran International. The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative. At least two of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance. A third was hired by the think tank Malley ran just as he left for the State Department.

The documents offer deep and unprecedented new insights into the thinking and inner workings of Iran’s Foreign Ministry at a crucial time in the nuclear diplomacy — even as Tehran’s portrayal of events is questioned, if not flatly denied, by others involved in the IEI. They show how Iran was capable of the kind of influence operations that the U.S. and its allies in the region often conduct.

The emails were obtained and translated by Iran International, a Persian-language television news channel headquartered in London — which was briefly based in Washington due to Iranian government threats — and shared with Semafor. Semafor and Iran International jointly reported on some aspects of the IEI. Both organizations have produced their own stories independently.

The communications reveal the access Rouhani’s diplomats have had to Washington’s and Europe’s policy circles, particularly during the final years of the Obama administration, through this network. One of the German academics in the IEI, according to the emails, offered to ghostwrite op-eds for officials in Tehran. Others would, at times, seek advice from the Foreign Ministry’s staff about attending conferences and hearings in the U.S. and Israel. The IEI participants were prolific writers of op-eds and analyses, and provided insights on television and Twitter, regularly touting the need for a compromise with Tehran on the nuclear issue — a position in line with both the Obama and Rouhani administrations at the time. The emails describe the IEI being initiated following Rouhani’s 2013 election, when he was looking to find an accommodation with the West on the nuclear issue. According to the emails, Iran’s Foreign Ministry, through its in-house think tank — the Institute for Political and International Studies — reached out to ten “core” members for the project, through which it planned to liaise over the next 18 months to aggressively promote the merits of a nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington, which was finalized in July 2015.

“This initiative which we call ‘Iran Experts Initiative (IEI)’ is consisted of a core group of 6-10 distinguished second-generation Iranians who have established affiliations with the leading international think-tanks and academic institutions, mainly in Europe and the US,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, a Berlin-based Iranian diplomat and future Foreign Ministry spokesman, wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, the head of the IPIS think tank in Tehran, on March 5, 2014, as the project gained steam. Their communication veered between English and Farsi — which was translated by Iran International and independently verified by Semafor.

Khatibzadeh wrote again a week later, on March 11, and said that he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics — Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary — following a meeting with them in Prague. “We three agreed to be the core group of the IEI.”

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018-2021.

Tabatabai and Esfandiary didn’t respond to requests for comment on the IEI. Esfandiary’s current employer, the International Crisis Group, confirmed her participation in the initiative. But the Crisis Group, which promotes conflict resolution globally, said the IEI was an informal network of academics and researchers that wasn’t overseen by the Iranian Foreign Ministry and that it received funding from a European government and some European institutions, which they declined to identify.

The emails discussing the IEI were part of a trove of thousands of Zahrani’s correspondence that Iran International obtained. These include passport copies, resumes, invitations to conferences, airplane tickets, and visa applications. It’s not clear how complete or comprehensive the documents are concerning the IEI.

KNOW MORE

According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s communications, the IEI project ramped up after this initial outreach. On May 14, 2014, a kickoff conference was held at the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna — site of the international nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was listed as an attendee, according to an email, as well as members of his nuclear negotiating team and eight representatives from Western think tanks. Lower-level Iranian diplomats had initially proposed the meeting be held in Tehran, but Zarif’s deputy advised against it for logistical reasons.

Zarif was fixated during the discussions in Vienna on elevating, or creating, a public figure who could promote Iran’s views on the international stage concerning the nuclear issue, according to the emails. He specifically mentioned an Iranian version of Robert Einhorn, an Obama administration diplomat and expert on nuclear proliferation, who regularly published scholarly pieces on Iran’s nuclear program and appeared at U.S. and European think tank events.

“You were very right by saying that it is a shame that Iran has not its very own Bob Einhorn — someone who can foster attention on Iran’s case the way Einhorn does for the US or the P5+1 for that matter,” Adnan Tabatabai, a German academic who attended the IEI meeting in Vienna, wrote Zarif in English five days after it ended. The P5+1 was the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, and the diplomatic bloc negotiating the nuclear deal with Tehran. Adnan Tabatabai is not related to Ariane Tabatabai.

Adnan Tabatabai also offered Iran’s Foreign Ministry to ghostwrite pieces on its behalf. “Our suggestion could be that we as a group, work on an essay (2000 words) regarding the ongoing talks,” Tabatabai told Zarif in the same email. “It could, for example, be published under a former official’s name, through the CSR or IPIS — of course after you and your team revised the piece.”

The foreign minister responded four days later, copying Zahrani. Zarif accepted the suggestion and recommended that “these articles or Op-Eds” be published under the names of various Iranian and non-Iranians abroad, as well as former officials. It’s unclear if, or how many, pieces were actually published through this process.

Adnan Tabatabai declined to comment about the IEI, saying the reporting by Iran International and Semafor was “based on falsehoods and factually wrong assumptions.” He also questioned the authenticity of the correspondence with Zarif. Iran International commissioned a forensic examination of the emails, and found no discrepancies in the metadata that would indicate they were inauthentic.

The IEI quickly pushed ahead with one of the initiative’s primary objectives — publishing opinion pieces and analyses in top-tier media in the U.S. and Europe, specifically targeting policy makers. Less than a month after the Vienna gathering, Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group, a close protégé of Robert Malley’s who is listed as part of the IEI, sent an article on defusing the nuclear crisis to Zahrani of IPIS, ahead of publication. “I look forward to your comments and feedback,” he wrote in Farsi on June 4, 2014, attaching a piece entitled, “The Conceptual Perils of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran.”

The emails show that the article was shared by Zahrani with Foreign Minister Zarif the day it arrived. It was then published 12 days later in the National Interest, under the title, “False Dilemmas in the Iran Talks,” with some minor wording changes. It’s unclear if Zarif made any fixes as no reply email from him is in the chain. While many think tanks and media outlets have policies against sharing articles before publication, ICG said in a statement to Semafor that it routinely and actively solicits the views of the primary actors involved in a conflict and shares relevant text with policymakers.

Ariane Tabatabai, the current Pentagon official, on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Zahrani in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal — a former ambassador to the U.S. — who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. “I am not interested in going, but then I thought maybe it would be better that I go and talk, rather than an Israeli like Emily Landau who goes and disseminates disinformation. I would like to ask your opinion too and see if you think I should accept the invitation and go.”

Zahrani replied the same day: “All things considered, it seems Saudi Arabia is a good case, but the second case [Israel] is better to be avoided. Thanks.” Tabatabai answered a few hours later: “Thank you very much for your advice. I will take action regarding Saudi Arabia and will keep you updated on the progress.” There’s no evidence Tabatabai went to the conference in Israel, though her books and research reports suggest she’s interviewed a number of senior Israeli officials.

Ariane Tabatabai told Zahrani that she was slated to give testimony before the U.S. Congress on the nuclear deal. On July 10, 2014, she wrote that she had been asked to appear before multiple congressional committees alongside two Harvard academics — Gary Samore and William Tobey — whom she viewed as hawkish on Iran. “I will bother you in the coming days. It will be a little difficult since both Will and Gary do not have favorable views on Iran,” she wrote.

Tabatabai shared a link with Zahrani to an article she’d published in the Boston Globe that outlined the “Five Myths about Iran’s Nuclear Program.” The piece explained why Iran needs nuclear power and highlighted a fatwa, or religious edict, that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei allegedly issued forbidding the development of nuclear weapons as un-Islamic. Some Western officials have questioned the legitimacy of the fatwa.

THE VIEW FROM TEHRAN

The Iranian officials behind the IEI — Zahrani and Khatibzadeh — boasted to their superiors in internal emails about the initiative’s successes. They tracked how often the academics in the IEI wrote or were cited in the media during the week after a preliminary nuclear agreement was reached between Tehran and world powers on April 2, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The media data was shared with others in the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran.

“Following our phone conversation, I attached here for your review only a few of the most significant works some of our friends published during the week after the Lausanne framework agreement was reached,” Khatibzadeh wrote in Farsi. “We were in constant contact and worked vigorously around the clock. Some friends performed as resourceful as a media outlet all by themselves.”

On April 14, 2015, Khatibzadeh emailed Zahrani, who then forwarded the message to Zarif and one of the foreign minister’s deputies on the nuclear negotiating team, Majid Takht-Ravanchi. Khatibzadeh attached 10 separate Word documents to the email, each referencing the media footprint of each IEI academic. These included Ariane Tabatabai and Ali Vaez, who have both worked closely with Malley over the past decade, and Dina Esfandiary, who was hired during his time at ICG. (Malley publicly welcomed Esfandiary to his team at ICG on Twitter in January of 2021, but stepped down to join Biden’s State Department before she started.)

Khatibzadeh, the future Foreign Ministry spokesman boasted in the email: “These are in addition to hundreds of tweets, posts and…on the internet that were definitely unique and trend-sending in their own right. It should be noted that these works were not only published in English, but also in several other international languages.”

The list shared by Khatibzadeh showed that in one week, Ariane Tabatabai published four articles, including in Foreign Policy, and gave interviews to the Huffington Post and Iran’s Fars News agency, which is linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, mostly supporting Tehran’s views on the nuclear talks. In an article for the National Interest co-written with Dina Esfandiary, they argued that Iran was “too powerful” to be contained and that “Tehran doesn’t need any agreement to be empowered and to strengthen its foothold in the region.”

Ali Vaez was also extremely prolific in his media outreach. The ICG analyst was cited in virtually all of the U.S.’s major newspapers, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post and Los Angeles Times, from the initiation of the IEI in March 2014 to the finalization of the Iran nuclear deal in July 2015.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry, the IPIS think tank, and Zarif, Zahrani, and Khatibzadeh didn’t respond to requests for comment.

JAY’S VIEW

Covering Iran, either as an academic or a journalist, is a minefield. Access to both the country and Iranian officials is tightly controlled. And even opportunities come with serious caveats. During my visits to Iran as a reporter, I needed to provide my questions and story ideas to the Foreign Ministry ahead of arrival and hire a government-appointed fixer. This individual provided translations, but also clearly monitored my movements and meetings. I assumed Iran’s intelligence services were closely tracking me.

Tehran also aggressively pushes its information operations overseas, sometimes with success, sometimes not. An Iranian academic and permanent U.S. resident who used to contact me with his insights on Tehran’s nuclear program, a man named Kaveh Afrasiabi, was arrested in a Boston suburb in 2021 for allegedly working as an unregistered agent for the Iranian regime. He’s allowed to return to Tehran as part of the prisoner-swap agreement reached this month between the Biden administration and Iran, though Afrasiabi said he plans to stay in the U.S.

UPDATE: Afrasiabi, whose case was in the pre-trial stage before he was pardoned, contacted me after the publication of this story and denied ever acting as an agent advancing Iran’s interests. “I strongly object to such unfair and false characterizations that have seriously marred my reputation,” he wrote in an email. “My part-time international affairs consulting for Iran’s mission under the UN guidelines had absolutely no bearing on my wealth of books and articles…These include numerous articles clearly at odds with and critical of Iran.” He added: “I was a national security asset to US, and never a threat.”

The Iranian regime is also factionalized, and navigating these fissures is hazardous for diplomats and journalists. The Iran Experts Initiative was born from a Rouhani administration eager to end Tehran’s pariah status following eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency in which he courted Holocaust denial and promoted the eradication of Israel. Rouhani’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had developed extensive ties to Western politicians and academics during his earlier tenure as Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations. Participants in the IEI, as well as most Western governments, saw Rouhani’s tenure and Zarif’s ascendence as an opening to try and integrate the Islamic Republic into the global economy and end the nuclear crisis. The Obama administration used both overt and covert channels to do this.

But Rouhani never represented the Islamic Republic’s more radical or hardline face, particularly the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC. And the election in 2021 of President Ebrahim Raisi, who’s been sanctioned by the U.S. for human rights abuses, largely closed the window on these channels. In fact, Raisi’s government has turned on Robert Malley and some IEI members in recent weeks, accusing them in state media of seeking to incite racial and ethnic unrest in the country. The Tehran Times, an English-language media outlet associated with Raisi’s office, has reveled in Malley’s suspension: It’s claimed in a string of columns that the diplomat’s disciplinary action is tied to the very types of outreach to Iran he and some of his colleagues pursued.

“Malley’s suspicious interactions with his aides of Iranian descent contributed to his downfall,” the Tehran Times wrote in a column published last month. The State Department has declined to comment on the reasons behind his suspension. The FBI is also investigating Malley, suggesting the diplomat’s actions may be more serious than just the mishandling of classified information.

Malley is hardly the first U.S. official to be ensnared in the machinations of the Islamic Republic. The opacity of Tehran’s system and the expansive work of its intelligence services can mask the government’s true intentions. The IEI emails offer a unique look into the Iranian system.

ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT

None of Malley’s associates whom Iranian diplomats cited as being part of the Iran Experts Initiative spoke directly to Semafor. But Vaez’s and Esfandiary’s current employer, the International Crisis Group, has a significantly different understanding of the IEI and Tehran’s role in it.

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

“To spell it out a bit more, it was a means to facilitate research discussions and not a more formal entity where participants could be directed by anyone,” she said. “The fact that participants were from a host of different think tanks demonstrates that it was merely an informal platform.” ICG also notes that all the work its staff publishes is vetted and agreed upon in-house; they dispute that Iran — or any government — could have directed any members of their team to take a position at odds with the organization’s official view.

Another European think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, confirmed that one of its senior fellows, Ellie Geranmayeh, also took part in the Iran Experts Initiative. An ECFR spokesman said a European government backed the IEI, but didn’t identify it, and stressed that that the think tank always covers the “core costs” of its staff’s research trips. “As part of its efforts to inform European policy, ECFR regularly engages with experts and think tanks across the world, including through research visits and workshops,” the spokesman said.

Malley didn’t respond to requests for comment. Both the State Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the substance of the correspondence related to the IEI, but said they support Ariane Tabatabai and the vetting process involved in the approval of her security clearance. “Dr. Tabatabai was thoroughly and properly vetted as a condition of her employment with the Department of Defense. We are honored to have her serve,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

https://www.semafor.com/article/09/25/2023/inside-irans-influence-operation

Amnesty International     |     September 21, 2023

Reacting to the news that Iran’s parliament has passed a new bill that would impose further draconian penalties severely violating women’s and girls’ rights as well as increasing  prison terms and fines for defying Iran’s degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws, Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said:

“This bill is a despicable assault on the human rights of women and girls that will further entrench violence and discrimination against them in Iran. If approved by Iran’s Guardian Council, it will further exacerbate the already suffocating surveillance and policing of women’s bodies and require the Islamic Republic’s various political, security and administrative arms to obsessively observe compliance with compulsory veiling laws and control women’s and girls’ lives.

“The Iranian authorities are doubling down on punishments against women and girls who claim their human rights to freedom of expression, religion, belief and bodily autonomy. This all-out assault is part of the authorities’ ongoing efforts to crush the spirit of resistance among those who dared to stand up against decades of oppression and inequality as part of the ‘Woman Life Freedom’ popular uprising.

“States must urgently call on the Iranian authorities to revoke the bill and abolish all degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws and regulations. They must also pursue legal pathways at the international level to hold Iranian officials accountable for ordering, planning and committing such widespread and systematic violations against women and girls.”

“The Iranian authorities are doubling down on punishments against women and girls who claim their human rights to freedom of expression, religion, belief and bodily autonomy.”

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International

Background:

On 20 September, Iran’s parliament approved the “Bill to Support the Culture of Chastity and Hijab”. The bill needs to be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council to become law. It would expand the powers and capabilities of intelligence and security bodies including the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij force and the police to control and further oppress women and girls.

The law equates unveiling to “nudity” and provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for anyone who defies compulsory veiling laws. The law also makes “insulting or ridiculing the hijab” a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence, travel ban and/or fine and encourages ordinary people, businesses, and pro-government vigilantes to enforce compulsory veiling.

In May 2023, the authorities presented the “Bill to Support the Culture of Chastity and Hijab” to parliament. In August 2023, parliamentarians voted for the revised bill, which was not made public at the time, to be adopted in a closed special internal committee, in order to expedite its passing, further evading transparency and public scrutiny. On 20 September, the special internal committee approved the text of the bill, which was then sent to the Guardian Council for final approval.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/09/iran-compulsory-veiling-bill-a-despicable-assault-on-rights-of-women-and-girls/

 

Khamenei knows he can’t offer concessions, since the smallest shift could trigger another uprising across the deprived and suppressed nation

Telegraph    |    Maryam Rajavi    |    September 17, 2023

Almost exactly a year ago, a remarkable nationwide uprising unfolded in Iran. It witnessed people from all walks of life chanting “death to [regime supreme leader Ali] Khamenei” and “down with the oppressor”. These powerful words reflected the popular rejection of the clerical regime. In mere days, the uprising became a firestorm of dissent that encompassed every province and shook the ruling theocracy to its core.

In response, the regime embarked on a campaign to ruthlessly suppress the revolt. The past year has been unmistakably characterized by the people’s uprising on the one hand, and the regime’s relentless crackdown on the other. However, when we contemplate the future of Iran, a fundamental question arises: which one of these forces will ultimately shape the nation’s destiny?

The mullahs want to convey the impression that the balance of power has reverted to its pre-uprising status. But the daily realities experienced by the people paint a starkly contrasting narrative. A bankrupt economy, unbridled inflation, chronic unemployment, and institutionalized discrimination are contributing to a situation in which Iranian society is primed to erupt again.

The events of September 2022 revealed widespread discontent transcending class, region, generation and gender. It was led by women. The middle and lower classes came to the streets in major urban centres and smaller towns. And in spite of the regime’s four-decade endeavor to exert control over universities, students played a leading role in the uprising, often receiving resolute support from fellow citizens. There was also unprecedented participation from high school students. This epitomized the people’s fervent longing to oust the theocracy, which, for over four decades, has clung to power through brutal repression. Despite its brutality, the regime has failed to eliminate the organised resistance.

Western analysts, taken aback by the profound societal discontent, might have been less surprised had they been attuned to recent developments in Iranian society. Several nationwide uprisings have unfolded since December 2017, steadily increasing in frequency, scale and social inclusiveness, while the demands of participants have grown progressively radical.

All of which is compounded by the fact that the regime is woefully incapable of enacting major economic, political or social changes. It knows that any substantial change would risk spiraling out of control, intensifying the populace’s desire for self-governance and liberty, and ultimately hastening its own disintegration. Consequently, the regime can only rely on short-term, constrained measures to stifle dissent or temporarily placate the public. It has no long-term strategy to avert enduring conflict.

Khamenei is acutely aware that a larger uprising looms on the horizon. Yet his response remains confined to consolidating power within loyalist ranks, poised to enforce future suppressive measures. This only serves to bolster the people’s calls for a comprehensive regime change, escalating social tensions and setting the stage for a more devastating revolt.

The Iranian people are resolute in their quest for freedom. The West must now recalibrate its policies consistent with this reality in mind, and abandon the politics of appeasement. It should refrain from offering concessions to the regime, designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, and acknowledge the Iranian people’s inalienable right to resist against tyranny.

Maryam Rajavi is the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/09/17/the-iranian-regime-is-primed-for-total-collapse

 

 

Global Consensus: NCRI Stands as Viable Democratic Alternative for Iran
Townhall     |     Ivan Sascha Sheehan     |     Jul 16, 2023

Picture the vibrant suburbs of Paris as they became the epicenter of an electrifying gathering earlier this month—the Free Iran World Summit 2023. The event boasted an extraordinary lineup of over 500 global leaders, luminaries, and influential personalities, including current and former officials, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and lawmakers from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. They united in resolute support of Iran’s main opposition movement and its transition plan as an alternative to the incumbent theocracy.

Among the attendees were a constellation of notable figures like 2024 US presidential candidate Mike Pence, former prime ministers Stephen Harper of Canada, Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, and Liz Truss of the UK, and seasoned former National Security Advisors Ambassador John Bolton and General James Jones. Joining them were several renowned members of the European foreign policy establishment, alongside sitting members of the US Congress Lance Gooden (R-TX) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA).

These prominent figures voiced unyielding support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the largest and most enduring opposition movement in Iran. They rallied behind the NCRI’s Ten-point Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for a future democratic republic, first outlined by the NCRI’s President-elect, Maryam Rajavi.

The timing of the NCRI event couldn’t have been more propitious. Amidst the formidable challenges of nuclear weapons development and terrorist by the regime, a central question emerges: What lies beyond the brittle regime as an alternative? Cunningly, the mullahs have spun a deceptive web, propagating the notion that no viable alternative exists—a ploy to perpetuate its iron grip on power.

However, the Iranian people have unveiled a clear vision and an authentic alternative. Speaking before thousands of impassioned attendees at the Free Iran event on July 1, former US vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman declared, “We can never acknowledge that there is no alternative to a totalitarian government, certainly not in Iran. … It is a democratic republic. … And Iran is closer to that today than ever before because the regime is weaker than it’s ever been before.”

This sentiment reverberates through the very core of the nationwide protests in Iran, as impassioned chants thunder: “Death to the tyrant, be it the Shah or the mullahs,” and “Monarchy, mullahs, 100 years of crime!” Iranians stand united in vehement rejection of a despotic return to monarchy-led dictatorship. Yet, the path to a democratic republic demands deft navigation to avoid the pitfalls encountered by nations in the throes of transformative regime change.

A political alternative is not something that can be spontaneously created overnight. Its creation requires patient cultivation and a meticulous struggle over time. A substantive alternative to the current regime embodies certain distinctive characteristics: a robust organizational structure, unwavering domestic and international support, competent leadership, a clear action plan for the future, and an unequivocal rejection of all forms of dictatorship. The NCRI has emerged as a paragon embodying these qualities.

Since 1981, the movement has weathered the storms of a prolonged and arduous struggle against the prevailing religious tyranny. With the help of its main constituent, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the coalition has defied the suffocating clutches of religious fascism, consolidating its organizational structure, crafting a comprehensive plan, and displaying unwavering resolve—paying the price of resistance day in and day out.

Kazem Gharibadai, deputy for legal affairs to the Judiciary Chief recently revealed that not a single meeting with European countries transpires without Tehran raising the issue of the MEK, which Tehran deeply fears as an existential threat. Such concern was palpable when, on June 10, President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran beseeched his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to halt and prohibit the Free Iran rally.

Eager to appease Tehran, French authorities complied, but the NCRI successfully contested the ban in court, embarrassing both the Islamic theocracy in Tehran and the advocates of appeasement in Paris. The very fact that the rally took place underscored the opposition’s impressive diplomatic and organizational capabilities.

The NCRI comprises a tapestry of opposition groups and individuals. The MEK has demonstrated remarkable prowess in intelligence-gathering and enjoys fervent grassroots support through its well-organized Resistance Units, which according to regime officials, lead nationwide protests. At the Free Iran rally this month, over 10,000 messages poured in from these units, prompting the regime to panic and hastily announce the arrest of Resistance Unit members—an unmistakable testament to their influence.

The NCRI commands significant international backing. The recent summit witnessed powerful endorsements from 3,600 lawmakers representing 40 countries, including majorities from France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Norway.

The movement’s Ten-Point Plan for a secular, democratic, and non-nuclear Iran has garnered widespread acclaim both at home and abroad. It stands as a tangible and pragmatic roadmap, capable of dexterously navigating the most pressing strategic concerns on the nation’s path to transformation.

Amidst the crucible of adversity, a glimmer of hope emerges in the form of the main organized Iranian opposition—a beacon of resilience and a viable alternative to the nightmarish status quo in Iran. To forge a more secure world and weaken authoritarian regimes across the globe, Western governments must resolutely heed the resounding support of countless luminaries who now rally behind this compelling alternative.

Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore and an associate professor in the College of Public Affairs. Dr. Sheehan specializes in global terrorism, counterterrorism, U.S. foreign policy, and international conflict management.

https://townhall.com/columnists/ivansaschasheehan/2023/07/16/global-consensus-ncri-stands-as-viable-democratic-alternative-for-iran-n2625763

 

 

Newsweek     |     Hamid Yazdan Panah     |     8/1/2023

Over the last year, Iran has witnessed an eruption of resistance against the ruling theocracy. The uprising sparked by the murder of Mahsa Zhina Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman, has rocked the regime to its core. The proto-revolution, which is still gestating, could be the first truly feminist revolution the world has seen. It deserves not only our full support, but also protection from those who seek to undermine or usurp its potential.

This includes those who appear fixated on the past, instead of supporting Iran’s bright future. Lisa Daftari provides an example of this in her recent piece for Newsweek entitled Why Jimmy Carter Owes the Iranian People an Apology. Daftari targets former President Jimmy Carter for his policies towards the deposed shah and ends with the claim that many young Iranians have a “nostalgia” for the former monarchy and seek the return of the shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi.

Iranians have been struggling for democratic change since 1905 and have a rich history of organizing nationwide to get it. Daftari’s argument attempts to place the shah’s failures at the feet of Carter, and set the stage for a return to the monarchy as opposed to daring to dream for more.

Let us begin with some facts. The former shah, who Daftari refers to as the “legitimate ruler of Iran,” was a monarch who ruled with an iron fist. His family came to power through a military coup against the Qajar dynasty, and like most classical dictators his regime was rife with corruptionrepression and decadence. During his reign he instituted one party rule in Irancracked down on free speech, and created the notorious SAVAK secret police force, to target dissidents.

The historical record is clear and uncontroversial, yet many are now attempting to use the heinous crimes of the Islamic Republic to whitewash the monarchy. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Many of the practices that have become synonymous with the Islamic Republic, such as the airing of televised confessions of political opponents began under the SAVAK. The agency itself was largely kept intact by the Islamic Republic and simply rebranded.

Daftari would have you believe that the shah was simply supplanted by Islamists hand-picked by the West, but the shah set the stage for his own downfall. Had he been more tolerant of liberal dissent or provided room for democratic change as many in the West urged, his regime would not have been toppled.

Perhaps the most ironic historical fact that Daftari ignores in her quest for an apology is that the shah already provided one. In November 1978, the shah appeared on national television and provided a feeble apology in an attempt to maintain his rule. In his speech, he acknowledged past mistakes, and stated “I make a commitment to be with you and your revolution against corruption and injustice in Iran.”

This apology was too little and too late for the people of Iran. The masses were against him, and he was deposed in no small part by the masses. The fact that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamist thugs hijacked the aspirations of the nation does not change the shah’s record, or the legitimate democratic aspirations possessed by ordinary Iranians.

What Daftari omits from her piece is the fact that Iranians on the street have made clear in their chants that it is possible to oppose both the past dictatorships and the current Islamic Republic. One of these chants states “Neither Monarchy, nor [Supreme] Leader, [we want] Democracy and Equality.”

The idea that a feminist revolution will culminate in the leadership of the exiled Reza Pahlavi as shah is dubious if not absurd. We should recognize that just like 1978, Iranians are beyond looking for an apology from anyone. They are ready for real freedom, not overthrowing a supreme leader to reinstitute a shah. Our goal should be to ensure that they succeed.

https://www.newsweek.com/if-iranians-are-nostalgic-it-isnt-shahs-brutality-opinion-1816492?amp=1

 

 

State Department says it has been ‘assured’ Albanian government did not violate any human rights

By Caitlin McFall    |   Fox News     |     6/20/2023

The State Department has found itself in a precarious position after dozens of Iranian dissidents seeking safe haven in Albania were reportedly injured Tuesday and one allegedly killed in a camp raid by state police after the inhabitants were accused of plotting cyberattacks against the Albanian government.

An alleged 1,000 Albanian police officers from the Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime unit descended upon the Ashraf-3 and Ashraf-4 camps located in Maneza in western Albania, which is home to at least 3,000 Iranian oppositionists from the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) – an Iranian resistance group that supports the establishment of a new government in Tehran.

According to reporting by the Albanian Daily News, the situation was initially described as “calm” as police officials looked for people they suspected of being “infiltrators of the regime of Iran.” But the situation apparently turned violent after the Iranian inhabitants refused to hand over personal computers and devices to the authorities. The police officers turned to tear gas and pepper spray against the camp residents and began breaking down doors to people’s homes before confiscating or destroying personal computers, according to a statement by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian political organization that is based in France and Albania.

The group called the raid “criminal and repressive” and claimed that some 100 camp inhabitants were injured in the attack, though Fox News Digital could not independently verify this account and local reporting put the number of those injured around three dozen. The individual killed was 65-year-old Ali Mostashari, an activist during the Iranian revolution and a senior MEK member, according to Ali Safavi a member of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee based in Paris. The circumstances around Mostashari’s death remain unclear.

“He escaped death several times when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the clerical regime’s security forces tried to apprehend him in the early 1980s. By murdering him, the Albanian police has done what the Iranian regime could not accomplish,” Safavi told Fox News Digital Tuesday.

The MEK and NCRI have called on the U.S., the U.N. and the European Union – which Albania applied for membership to in 2009 and was granted “candidate status” in 2014 – to condemn the raid and hold Albania accountable for human rights violations as defined under international treaties like the Refugee Convention, the World Declaration Human rights and the European Convention.

In a comment to Fox News Digital a State Department spokesperson said Washington had been assured “all actions were conducted in accordance with applicable laws, including with regard to the protection of the rights and freedoms of all persons in Albania.”

“We support the Government of Albania’s right to investigate any potential illegal activities within its territory,” the spokesperson added without commenting on how this could affect the U.S.’s ties to the Iranian dissidents there. The U.S. sits in a precarious position when it comes to the aggressive raids Tuesday as it has supported the Iranian dissidents abroad since at least 2009 when it led efforts to remove the oppositionists from Iraq after the Iraqi government became hostile toward the MEK.

At the time, the U.S. still designated the MEK as a terrorist organization over its militant campaigns that opposed the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, along with the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s, followed by an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. But by 2012 the State Department removed the MEK from its designated terrorist list over the group’s renouncement of violence and open cooperation with the U.S. in Iraq.

Some 2,700 MEK members were then transferred to Albania at the request of the U.S. beginning in 2014, according to EuroNews. The U.S. has also been a top supporter of the Albanian government and, following a July 2022 cyberattack, the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force organized an operational “hunt” to “identify, monitor and analyze adversary tactics, techniques and procedures” relating to the “malicious” assault.

Tehran was blamed for the attack and diplomatic relations were severed.

But the tensions between Albania and Iran over the cyberattack have also put pressure on the dissident community residing within Albanian borders. Albanian Minister of Interior Bledar Cuci on Tuesday rejected any accusation of wrongdoing and claimed the actions taken were in line with a decision made by Albania’s Special Court against Corruption and Organized Crime.

“The Court’s decision is a consequence of actions that openly violate the agreement and commitments made by the MEK group since 2014 when they were settled in Albania solely for humanitarian purposes,” he said in a statement first reported by EuroNews. “Unfortunately, this group did not adhere to these commitments and violated the agreement.”

“The actions of the State Police to enforce the law have been carried out as in any other part of the territory of the Republic of Albania.”

The minister also denied there were any fatalities or injuries as a result from the day’s raid and said that, according to state police officials, “there was resistance within the camp against the work of the State Police, which goes against the procedural framework of law enforcement.”

https://www.foxnews.com/world/biden-admin-walks-tightrope-albanian-police-raid-iranian-dissidents-killed-one-injured-dozens

 

The Sunday Post     |     By Struan Stevenson     |     June 13, 2023

Last month, 82 members of the Scottish parliament signed a statement affirming their support for protesters in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Their majority support was revealed at a special meeting in Westminster, on Wednesday, attended by MPs and peers from all parties. The document signed by the 82 MSPs also recognized the nature and importance of the underlying movement for regime change.

This declaration is of key importance, as it comes at a time when the Iranian regime is working tirelessly to promote the idea that the status quo has been reestablished across the country, following the most recent nationwide uprising that began last September, after the 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was killed by morality police’ in Tehran.

In fact, the clerical regime is still struggling to restore order, facing the dawning realization that it may never succeed in doing so.

Women continue to go about their daily lives without wearing the legally mandated hijab.

Meanwhile, videos continue to reach social media from cities and towns across the country, showing that young women and men are still chanting provocative, anti-government slogans on a nightly basis.

Many of the slogans call for “death to the dictator,” deliberately recognizing no difference between the current regime’s supreme leader and the Shah who was overthrown in 1979, despite the surprise re-emergence of the Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi. The recurring nationwide protests have been coordinated since at least 2014 by a network of “Resistance Units” affiliated with the leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, or MEK. This group stands at the head of a coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which in turn has designated someone to serve as transitional president after the mullahs are overthrown.

That official, Maryam Rajavi, has outlined a ten-point plan for Iran’s future, which lays the groundwork for the country’s transition to a secular-democratic system, of the kind that would fit seamlessly in the modern community of nations.

The plan provides 85 million repressed and impoverished Iranians with something worth fighting for, so it is little wonder that they have continued to push for regime change over the course of the past eight months, in open defiance of a brutal crackdown, which has left more than 750 people dead and precipitated a surge of executions by the regime, designed to terrorize the dissenters.

At the same time, Mrs. Rajavi’s ten-point plan also provides the UK and other Western powers with something concrete to support.

With the statement on Iran signed by the majority of members of the Scottish Parliament, that knowledge gap is now being filled and the international community will begin to understand what could be accomplished by the broad adoption of assertive policies toward the Iranian regime – specifically policies that aim to offer a viable, democratic alternative to that tyrannical regime.

Toward that end, this statement is urging the British government, the EU and its member states to sever existing ties with the Islamic Republic and to follow the US example in blacklisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The statement also asks Western governments, the International Criminal Court, and all other relevant bodies to demand legal accountability from those Iranian officials and institutions that have violated human rights en masse, both before and during the latest Iranian uprising. In a breakthrough that has rocked the Iranian regime and fired a shot across the bows of western appeasers, 109 former world leaders have joined Scotland’s MSPs in signing a similar joint statement of solidarity with the people of Iran, showing their support for the opposition NCRI and its key constituent organization – the MEK.

A solid majority of the Scottish Parliament, including members from all parties and a dozen different committee chairs, have now formally recognized that the Iranian people reject all forms of dictatorship and are working to establish a secular, democratic system based on the rule of law. It is fair to say that there is no cause more worthy of support from democratic governments.

https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/worldwide-backing-for-rajavis-plan-can-give-iran-a-new-future/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

Amnesty International     |     June 1, 2023
The Iranian authorities are carrying out a horrific state-sanctioned killing spree under the guise of judicial executions. Those executed include people convicted of drug-related offences, protesters, political dissidents, and members of oppressed ethnic minorities. Call for states to urgently intervene to pressure the Iranian authorities to halt all executions now.  

What is the problem? 
The Iranian authorities are ruthlessly carrying out an execution spree. Prisons across the country have become sites of mass state-sanctioned killings under the guise of judicial executions. Since the start of 2023, authorities have implemented hundreds of death sentences. In the month of May alone, authorities executed three people a day on average. This arbitrary deprivation of people’s lives must stop.

Authorities have executed individuals in relation to drug-related offences, protesters and political dissidents. The death penalty is also used to target oppressed minority groups. This year, members of Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority account for around 20% of recorded executions while making up only about 5% of Iran’s population.

In the first five months of this year, executions of people convicted of drug-related offences tripled compared to the same period last year, and are predominantly affecting the most impoverished communities. The authorities also executed individuals for their social media posts and for sexual relations between consenting adults.

The Iranian authorities are intensifying their use of the death penalty as a tool of political repression. They are using this ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment to torment and terrorize people in Iran and impose silence and subservience through brute force.

What can you do to help?
Sign the petition and urge states to immediately call on Iran to impose an official moratorium on all executions, send representatives to visit prisons holding people sentenced to death and seek attendance at trials of those charged with capital crimes. Given the crisis of impunity for mass arbitrary executions, states must also pursue meaningful pathways for holding Iranian officials to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/petition/stop-the-execution-spree-in-iran/

The Washington Post     |     Babak Dehghanpisheh     |      April 26, 2023

It was 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday when the teacher began receiving frantic calls. There had been a gas attack on the girls elementary school where she taught, in the Kurdish region of western Iran.

She had not been in class that April morning but rushed to the school and found a chaotic scene: Students and a few of her fellow teachers were having difficulty breathing and said their eyes were burning. Some of the teachers had been beaten by furious parents and were crying, she said. Agents from the Ministry of Intelligence had arrived to investigate.

The teacher spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that her name and the location of her school not be revealed, fearing retaliation from the government.

In recent months across Iran, about 300 suspected gas attacks have hit more than 100 girls schools, according to Amnesty International. Deputy Health Minister Saeed Karimi said last month that 13,000 students had been treated for symptoms of suspected poisoning, according to the Shargh daily newspaper. No deaths were reported.

The attacks began in November in the holy city of Qom. A lull occurred when schools were closed for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, in late March. But the attacks appear to have picked up again over the past couple of weeks as schools reopened, sparking widespread panic and confusion.

“The parents are really scared, and a lot of them won’t send their kids to school anymore,” the teacher said in a telephone interview. “Some parents have said they are willing to have their child held back a year at school just to keep them out of danger.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in early March that those behind the attacks must be brought to justice. Soon after, the Ministry of Interior announced that more than 100 people in 11 provinces had been arrested. “Among those arrested are individuals with hostile motives with the goal of creating fear and panic among the people and students and to close schools and create a negative view toward the authorities,” the ministry said in a statement in the publication Hamshahri.

No charges appear to have been filed against those arrested.

The head of the Iranian parliament’s education committee, Alireza Monadi, said last month that tests conducted by the Ministry of Health had detected nitrogen gas in schools in Qom. But there has been no official government statement identifying what gas or gases may have been used.

“These have been very organized and coordinated attacks. It can’t be random people doing that,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Norway-based organization Iran Human Rights. “It’s either groups with the blessing of the authorities or forces within the authorities.”

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment.

The teacher in the Kurdish region said her colleagues reported smelling bleach and rotten fruit before falling ill. After the suspected attacks, schoolgirls have been hospitalized with symptoms including heart palpitations, vomiting and numbness in their limbs, according to Amnesty.

Two weeks ago, a 65-year-old man took his elderly mother to a hospital in the northeast city of Mashhad and found the lobby filled with about a dozen schoolgirls who he said were coughing and panting. He filmed the scene on his phone and shared the video with The Post.

The man said in an interview that he talked to one of the girls, who described sitting in class when she smelled something like sewage before feeling dizzy and short of breath.

Women and girls have been at the forefront of the anti-government uprising that erupted in September after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict laws on female dress and died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police.”

As the protests spread, hundreds of girls took off their headscarves at school and chanted anti-government slogans. In one video widely shared on social media in October, dozens of schoolgirls, many of them without the hijab, confronted a Ministry of Education official in the city of Karaj and chased him off the campus.

Women burning their headscarves became a defining image of the demonstrations, which have died down in recent weeks amid an increasingly brutal government crackdown. At least 530 people have been killed by security forces and nearly 20,000 detained, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. But some women and girls continue to protest the hijab law more casually — refusing to cover themselves in public while going about their daily activities.

“The issue of hijab and women is an Achilles’ heel for the leaders of the Islamic republic,” Mohammad Habibi, a spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, told The Post in an interview from Tehran last month.

“The setting aside of forced hijab and the visibility of this at the social level was definitely not acceptable for the authorities, especially religious and extremist elements,” he added. “They could not accept this open social atmosphere.”

Habibi was arrested on April 5 and taken to Evin prison, his wife Khadijeh Pakzamir tweeted. On April 11, she tweeted that phone communication with him had been cut off.

Organized attacks against women have happened before in Iran. In 2014, at least four women were sprayed in the face with acid in the city of Isfahan in what many suspected was a campaign by religious extremists to enforce conservative dress codes. At the time, the government came under similar criticism for not pursuing the case more aggressively. Although arrests were made, no one was charged in the attacks.

The government has tried to point to other possible causes for the illnesses at girls schools, according to activists and health-care workers. Official meetings have been organized at hospitals to inform medical personnel about the Ministry of Health’s protocols for dealing with suspected poisoning cases.

Doctors have been told they should console the victims and their families and tell them it is a stress-related issue, a psychiatrist who attended two recent meetings at a hospital in northern Mazandaran province said in an interview. They also spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity, fearing backlash from the authorities.

The World Health Organization told The Post that it “has offered support to [Iran’s] Ministry of Health in the management of these events from a public health perspective” and that an expert team “is on standby for deployment should this be requested.”

The teacher at the elementary school in the Kurdish region said that two of her colleagues were hospitalized after the suspected gas attack. She said one of them told her last week that she was still experiencing terrible headaches and numbness in her hands and feet.

Intelligence agents have returned to the school several times, she said, interviewing administrators and confiscating CCTV footage. The principal of the school told her that agents appeared to be looking for footage of parents, some of whom chanted anti-government slogans and argued with them.

“Many people suspect the government is responsible,” said the teacher. “They say that the government is trying to discourage girls from coming to school or that the government doesn’t want the ‘woman, life, freedom’ movement to start up again.”

Panic spreads in Iran after new suspected poison attacks on girls schools