An Iranian Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Dr. Mansour Salsabili is the author of an article in The National Interest entitled "How Iran Became the Middle East's Moderate Force."  There, Salsabili claims that Iran, under Ali Khamenei's leadership, has changed radically since its founding in 1979 by Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini.  For him, Iran has matured politically and should be considered "moderate" and "rational."  This essay presents documents to refute these claims.

A reminder: Salsabili served as a diplomat for Iran's Foreign Ministry.  Iranian diplomats are trained in the same manner as those of the former USSR.  They are vetted for their Islamic knowledge and Islamic and regime loyalties.  No Iranian "diplomat" is assigned abroad until he passes rigorous inspection by VEVAK, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.  VEVAK has a special department that deals in disinformation, of which Salsabili seems to be a part.  But let's review the facts first.

Salsabili asserts that Iran's military acts constructively in the region and serves a peaceful and balancing role in resolving politico-cultural issues; "its highly educated and modernized society guarantees the irreversibility of the other two developments."  Really?  Iran is stoking the fires of war throughout the entire region – in Yemen,1 Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories (Gaza and the West Bank2), Sudan, and Iraq.3  Iran is building an "empire" by using its Shiite proxies and Hamas to attack its targets.

Ali Khedery,4 special assistant to five American ambassadors to Iraq and senior adviser to three commanders of CENTCOM, doesn't seem to think that Iran has acted peacefully.  Indeed, he says just the opposite: the U.S. needs to "curtail Iran's destabilizing regional hegemonic ambitions and its drive toward developing a nuclear weapon."

As regards Iranian youth and society in general, they find themselves under increasing pressure5 from the regime to adhere to strict Islamist practice.

Is Iran the U.S.'s "sole partner" against the Islamic State?  Nope.  Jordan6 is attacking IS, and the Kurds7 both in Syria and in Iraq are bearing the brunt of the ground war against IS.  Iran's IRGC Qods Force officers may have been leading the Iraqi militias in the battle for Tikrit, but that offense has stalled; the U.S. has had to step in and take it over.  

Salsabili claims that Iran has retreated from its goal of spreading the Shiite revolution beyond its borders to create a Shiite regional empire and wishes only to defend its own borders.  Iran's recent boasting of having conquered four Arab capitals tells a different story.

Salsabili continues his completely twisted presentation of history, claiming that Iran has acted moderately and cooperatively with the United States in a variety of situations over the last two decades.

Let's begin with the question of cooperation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Eric Park's report for CENTCOM demonstrates that Iran has provided explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to the Taliban; it's been quite some time since Iran had a major feud with the Taliban, so there goes the claim about anti-Taliban cooperation.  As regards "calming and controlling Shiite extremists in Iraq," Clay Wilson's report to Congress refutes Salsabili. So, too, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Iranian-backed Shiite militias "are killing our troops" in Iraq with sophisticated weapons that include lethal armor-piercing versions of IEDs and rocket-boosted mortars.

As regards making peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Geoffrey Gresh's report, indicates that Iran has sided with Armenia against Azerbaijan.  A 2014 report counters the claim that Iran forced Syria's Assad to remove his chemical weaponry.  Con Coughlin's essay on Chechnya from a decade ago and Kenneth Katzman's recent report on Bahrain demonstrate Iran's continued regional meddling.  

A two-decade history of naval cooperation in the Gulf?  Naval history scholar David Crist testifies that the U.S. Navy suggested that a hotline be set up between the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and the Revolutionary Guard in Bandar Abbas to help defuse accidental incidents arising at sea.  Iran refused to discuss the proposal, saying: "The only reason for conflict in the Persian Gulf is the presence of the U.S. Navy. If they leave, there is no conflict."8

Claiming that Khamenei is mellower than Khomeini isn't saying much; besides, the supreme leader hasn't issued a fatwa against the activities of the Qods Force or against the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  We're still waiting to hear Khamenei say that the massacre was a violation of Islamic law.

True, the youth of Iran today are very different from their parents, who backed the Islamic revolution in 1979, but they don't control their government, nor do they have the guns, as was demonstrated so sadly in the failure of the "Green Revolution" of 2009.

Sansabili requests an end to sanctions and respect for "legitimate technological needs."  A saner approach would require verifiable inspections upon demand and Iran's improved attitude towards its regional neighbors, Israel, and the United States.  As long as the regime refers to one as the "Little Satan" and the other as the "Great Satan," Iran has not changed its behavior or its attitude.

Iran doesn't deserve reward for its current bad conduct.  Sunset clauses at this point are simply putting a timer on an Iranian nuclear bomb.  No, thanks!  And the proposed treaty doesn't even deal with the question of Iran's development of ICBMs.

My deduction is that Dr. Salsabili works for VEVAK, given his essay, despite his professed interest in non-proliferation.  But whether he does or doesn't, his conclusions should be rejected completely.

Notes

1 See also: Nussaibah Younis, "The Saudi-Iran powerplay behind the Yemen conflict", The Guardian, March 27, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/29/iran-saudi-arabia-yemen-conflict, and Brian Bennett and Zaid al-Alayaa, "Iran-backed rebels loot Yemen files about U.S. spy operations", Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-us-intelligence-yemen-20150325-story.html#page=1, and Bruce Reidel, "Saudi anguish over Iranian gains", Gulf Pulse, Al-Monitor, March 23, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/saudi-iran-border-security-yemen-oman-is-houthi-zaydi.html.

2 See section "Official statements: Khamenei hailed the Iranian nuclear negotiations team and reiterated call to arm Palestinian resistance groups", especially bottom of the section presenting statements from the Office for the Preservation and Publication of the Works of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei.

3 See also: Michael B. Kelley, "Iran's Military Mastermind Is 'The Leader Of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, And Yemen'", Business Insider, December 5, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/ali-khedery-talks-qassem-suleimani-2014-12.

4 See especially page 3, Section 5: "Identify your enemies – and confront them".

5 See also: David Menashri, "Reform Versus Radicalism in the Islamic Republic", in Current Trends in Islamist ideology, Vol. 10, Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, October 18, 2010, http://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1289/menashri.pdf. See especially pp. 67-70.

6 See also: Micah Halpern, "The Cold War Between Jordan and Syria Heats Up", New York Observer, February 11, 2015, http://observer.com/2015/02/are-jordan-and-syria-burning-for-a-fight/.

7 See also: Jane Arraf, "Kurdish president weighs broader role in Islamic State fight", PBS, March 11, 2015,    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/kurdish-president-islamic-state-fight/. See also: Dilar Dirik, "The 'other' Kurds fighting the Islamic State", Aljazeera, September 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/09/other-kurds-fighting-islamic-stat-2014928753566705.html, and Vivian Salama and Bram Janssen, "Westerners join Kurds fighting Islamic State group in Iraq", AP, February 4, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/westerners-join-kurds-fighting-islamic-state-group-iraq-070100956.html.

8 David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, The Penguin Press, New York, 2012, p. 360.