Why Soleimani Misreads Lebanon

Illustration: Tim McDonagh
By Amir Taheri
Source: Asharq AlAwsat

 

The way the state-controlled media in Tehran put it the wave of protests in Lebanon is about “showing solidarity with Palestine.” Photos of a dozen people burning Israeli and American flags in Beirut come with surrealistic captions about “Lebanese resistance fighters” calling for Jihad against “baby-killing Zionists” and the American “Great Satan.”

What is certain is that the uprising has shaken the parallel universe created by Major-General Qassem Soleimani’s Madison Avenue depiction of Lebanon as the bridgehead for the conquest of the Middle East by Khomeinist ideology. Those familiar with Tehran propaganda know that the mullahs regard Lebanon as their most successful attempt at empire building, worth every cent of the billions of dollars invested there.

Tehran media often boast that Lebanon is the only country where the Islamic Republic controls all levers of power, from the presidency to security services, passing by the Council of Ministers and parliament. More importantly, perhaps, Tehran has forged alliances with powerful figures and groups within every one of the ethnic and sectarian “families” that constitute Lebanon.

In Iraq, Iran has to contend with the presence of powerful Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties and personalities that, while prepared to accommodate Tehran, refuse to act as puppets.

In Yemen, though dependent on Tehran’s money any arms for survival, the Houthis try not to be dragged into the Khomeinist strategy of regional hegemony.

In Syria, Tehran has to contend with Bashar al-Assad and remnants of his constituency who regard the Iranian presence as no more than an evil necessity for survival.

In Gaza, Tehran owes its sporadic influence to fat checks signed for Hamas, the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood. However, ideological rivalry between Khomeinism and Ikhwanism, casts a permanent shadow on relations between the two outfits. Moreover, Tehran is forced to contend with the presence of powerful rivals in Iraq, in the shape of the United States, and in Syria in the shape of Russia, and now also Turkey.

In his first press interview, headlined by the Tehran media last month, Gen. Soleimani held up Lebanon as the shining example of his success in empire building, vocalizing the parallel universe narrative that has driven the mullahs away from reality.

The 6,000-word interview, slated as an account of the 33-day war between Israel and the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, pursues three objectives. The first is to establish Soleimani’s image as a master strategist who could take on the powerful Israeli army and push it to the edge of destruction.

“If the 33-day war had not been stopped, the Zionist regime’s army would have disintegrated,” he asserts without pushing his tongue into his cheek.

However, why did the general decide to stop the war and thus save the Israeli army?

Soleimani claims that the architect of the ceasefire that saved the Israelis was the then Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad, aided by ex-US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Soleimani does not explain why he and his boss in Tehran, “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, agreed to a plan concocted by the Qatari sheikh and the American diplomat to save the Israeli army on the brink of disintegration.

Soleimani’s second aim is to hammer in the claim that the war forced Israel to abandon what he calls “the Ben Gurion strategy of pre-emptive war” that meant taking the Arab states to the dentist every 10 years and destroy their armies before they could attempt biting the Jewish state.

In other word, if Soleimani is to be believed, Arabs could now sleep in peace, sure that Israel will never launch pre-emptive war against them.

The irony is that in the past 18 months Israel has carried out more than 300 attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq causing hundreds of deaths while Soleimani and his mercenaries maintained as low a profile as they could get away with.

Of Soleimani’s three possible aims the most important, perhaps, is the third one.

In nonchalant manner, he depicts Lebanon as just a piece of territory without a government of its own, its only justification being a glacis for the Islamic Republic. He speaks of his frequent comings and goings to Lebanon without ever mentioning being invited, let alone given a visa, by any Lebanese authority. Nor does he bother to say who authorized the stream of arms, including thousands of missiles, brought to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. There is no reference to any agreement by any authority to let a foreign military unit conduct a war against a neighboring country from Lebanese territory.

As far as the running of the war is concerned, Soleimani claims that a three-man committee, consisting of himself, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and the late Imad Mughniyah. When the three-man committee could not decide a major issue Soleimani would rush to Tehran, and on one occasion, all the way to Mash’had, to obtain instructions from Khamenei. No one talked to the Lebanese president, prime minister, defense minister, or army chief, not to mention the Lebanese man-in-the-street who was never told who started the war and why.

Unwittingly, Soleimani shows that, though it risked the lives of all Lebanese citizens regardless of sectarian differences, the war that Hezbollah triggered was designed to defeat “a sinister anti-Shiite plot” by the Israelis to capture 30,000 Lebanese Shiites, keep them in a camp and giving their villages to non-Shiites to change the demographic balance along the ceasefire line.

To show the alleged cowardice of non-Shiite Lebanese, Soleimani speaks of “Sunni and Christian brothers sitting in their villages, smoking hookah and drinking tea” while Hezbollah Shiites fought to destroy the “Zionist enemy”. However, lest people see that as a sectarian war, Soleimani states “under all circumstances the main protector of the Lebanese nation is Hezbollah.”

I think Soleimani is wrong to write-off Lebanon as a nation-state and reinvent it as an Iranian bridgehead. Having known Lebanon for more than half a century, I can tell him that there is such a thing as “Lebanese-ness” that transcends sectarian and political divides. The Lebanese look to the Mediterranean and the exciting possibilities of the modern world rather than the recesses of the Iranian Plateau under the mullahs with their antediluvian ideology. As a matter of taste, Lebanese-ness is closer to the beach than to the bunker.

Reza Pahlavi: “Italy should stop financing the Teheran terrorist regime”

Reza Pahlavi
By Paolo Mastrolilli 
Source: La Stampa (Italy)

Paolo Mastrolilli: Your biography describes you as “a leader and advocate of the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights for his countrymen”. Could you please describe your personal values?

Reza Pahlavi: «For 40 years I have been clear in my convictions, my values, and the values I envision for the future of Iran. This vision is centered around my belief in the equality of all people. Men, women, young, old, religious, atheistic, or any other label— we are all citizens. We all have fundamental rights based on our humanity and these are not to be violated. From this stems my belief in democracy and the viability of a secular democracy in my country, where all citizens will have a say in creating our future, together».

Paolo Mastrolilli: You said in several occasions that Iran must become a secular, parliamentary democracy, for all freedom-loving individuals and political ideologies. You called for a separation of religion and state, for free and fair elections, and you said that the final form of the state has to be decided by the people. Could you describe your vision for the future of Iran and how to achieve it?

Reza Pahlavi: «The future of Iran will be based on freedom, security, and human dignity. It starts with freedom. In the free Iran, each citizen will play a part in building our democracy from the very first days. We will, together, choose a system of government in a popular referendum. We will elect representatives to a constituent assembly, and the parliament, etc. Security is also critical. We will deliver security from arbitrary state violence, from economic destitution, and from foreign entanglements and terrorism. Finally, human dignity. Each Iranian will be treated with the dignity befitting him or her as a citizen and as a human, without regard to his or her race, creed, or station in society». 

Paolo Mastrolilli: What do you think of the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, and of the decision by the Trump administration to abandon it?

Reza Pahlavi: «The deal was inherently flawed because it ignored the critical component, the Iranian people. The Western powers in America and Europe have mistakenly believed they can change the regime’s behavior. They cannot. This regime is irreformable. It is poisoned from the core. The only way to end the regime’s rogue behavior is to support the people in their efforts to establish a free, secular democracy. Negotiating with this regime is futile and is an affront to the Iranian people». 

Paolo Mastrolilli: Is the “maximum pressure strategy” implemented by Washington working to weaken the regime, or would you like to see a more assertive role played by the United States to change the regime?

Reza Pahlavi: «Targeted sanctions on the regime are necessary, should continue, and should be enhanced. The West should consistently sanction the regime’s terror arms which kill my compatriots at home wreak havoc abroad. In terms of overt regime change, this must be directed by the people in a massive campaign of civil disobedience. The sanctions can help weaken the regime’s ability to respond to such a popular movement, but the people must play the leading role».

Paolo Mastrolilli: Iran has been recently accused of several military operations, including the attacks against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Do you think the United States should consider a military reaction?

Reza Pahlavi: «What Saudi Arabia and its allies choose to do is their predicament as well as their prerogative. My personal opinion has always been that war is ultimately a lose-lose proposition. I have recently addressed my compatriots in an interview with a Persian network in which I told them that under no circumstances should they allow the regime to believe that it can count on their support if it tries to impose a war. Anything short of that could only embolden the regime to escalate the confrontation which would have disastrous consequences».

Paolo Mastrolilli: President Trump said recently that he would be open to the possibility of meeting President Rohani. What do you think about it?

Reza Pahlavi: Negotiating with this regime is futile. President Trump and all Western leaders should instead engage the Iranian opposition and support the people.

Paolo Mastrolilli: The European countries have been trying to save the nuclear agreement, what message would you like to send them?

Reza Pahlavi: «The European leadership should know that this regime will eventually be gone. When it is and as a people we have established for ourselves a true representative democracy, we will not forget those who helped the regime and were silent in our fight for freedom. They should engage the people of Iran and stop coddling the regime. By financially engaging the Islamic Republic, you are indirectly supporting the murder of my people and also global terror».

Paolo Mastrolilli: Italy has a long-standing bilateral relation with Iran. For example, Italy is still allowing Mahan Air to operate flights in Rome and Milan. What message would you like to send to the new Italian government?

Reza Pahlavi: «Prior to Italy’s history of coddling the regime, we had good relations. We had profitable and extended relations and engagements both economically and culturally. Unfortunately, the Italian government like many of its European counterparts has coddled this regime economically and in other ways. The new Italian government should stop indirectly funding the regime’s campaign of domestic and global terror and think of the future, instead. 

Paolo Mastrolilli: In a recent message sent to the Iranian people, you said that «civil disobedience is the first step toward the reconstruction of Iran. » Are you encouraging protests?

Reza Pahlavi: «Yes. The only way to peacefully transition to democracy is for the people to engage in widespread and united civil disobedience. One component of that is protest, others are workers strikes, student movements, among others».

Paolo Mastrolilli: What is the mood among the Iranian people, as far as you can tell, is it true that there have been recently protests aimed at changing the regime?

Reza Pahlavi: «The Iranian people want to overthrow this regime. For 40 years they have suffered, every day from oppression, corruption, and indignity. They have had enough». 

Paolo Mastrolilli: You said that you are ready to serve your country. In which form do you envision your service for the future of Iran?

Reza Pahlavi:«I will serve my country in any way I can. As of now, that means uniting the opposition and expressing the desires of my countrymen abroad. My only goal is to set my country free».

Iran says U.S. bases and aircraft carriers within range of its missiles: Tasnim

Source: Reuters
Head of the Islamic regime’s IRGC Aerospace Force Amirali Hajizadeh

 

DUBAI – An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Sunday that U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region were within range of Iranian missiles after the U.S. accused Iran of leading attacks on Saudi oil plants, raising tensions in the Middle East.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it attacked two Saudi Aramco oil plants on Saturday at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, knocking out more than half the Kingdom’s output.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of being behind the attacks, ruling out Yemeni involvement and denouncing Tehran for engaging in false diplomacy.

Pompeo, said on Twitter on Saturday that there was no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.

“Everybody should know that all American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometres around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Force Amirali Hajizadeh said on Sunday.

The official Tasnim news agency also quoted him saying that “Iran has always been ready for a “full-fledged” war”, without mentioning Saturday’s attacks in Saudi Arabia.

One of the plants attacked is the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that Washington was ready to work with the kingdom to guarantee its security, according to the White House.