A leading Syrian opposition figure has warned of an Iranian takeover of the Middle East, facilitated by the inability of Western policymakers to understand the shifting dynamics in the region, especially with regard to their potential impact upon the State of Israel.
“Western strategy in Syria leads in one direction — an Iranian takeover,” Kamal al-Lubani told Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon on Friday.
Al-Lubani, who is currently visiting Israel, is a member of the political bureau of the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and long-standing critic of Iran’s expanding regional influence. In 2013, it was al-Lubani who rejected an offer from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to “mediate” between the Syrian opposition and the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad, pointing out that the proposal was “laughable” because Iran was “part of the problem.”
Four years on, al-Lubani remains convinced that Iran is the principal source of instability in the region. “The old-fashioned notion that we are witnessing a religious war of Sunni against Shia Muslims is a mistake,” al-Lubani said during the interview at a Tel Aviv hotel.
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Earlier this month, Iranian-born Islamic State (ISIS) operatives carried out a rare terrorist attack in Iran, a country where most of the terrorism is conducted by elements of the Iranian government against its own people. President Trump condemned the violence, but he also added “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
The comment was quickly condemned in certain sectors of the media. Vox said the statement “eschews any moral or ethical high ground, let alone humanity.” The Daily Mail called it “a diplomatic pouch full of Schadenfreude.”
It may be difficult to suppress schadenfreude over Iran’s falling victim to the particular brand of asymmetrical warfare it developed and then exported to the world. But hope is a better sentiment. Schadenfreude might feel good for a few minutes, but instead we should hope that the Iranian people will pause in their mourning to reflect on the situation in ways their leaders seem incapable of doing. For instance, showing zero self-awareness, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the attacks on “terror sponsoring despots.” Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah cited evidence of an “international, destructive plan.”
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Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi is a high-ranking prominent dissident clergyman in Iran. He has strongly called for separation of religion and state, and he condemns Islamic radicalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism. He is opposed to political Islam and the rule of Velayet-e-Faqih (Islamic custodianship over people), the theocratic system that governs Iran. Boroujerdi has many supporters and is known as Iran’s Mandela.
“He has long advocated for the abolishment of execution, and cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishments; such as torture, stoning and whipping. He rejected anti-Semitism and advocated religious freedom. He established charities and welfare centers to help the poor and assist victims of natural disasters. He condemned personal financial gain from religious activities. His call has been welcomed by an increasing number of followers to the point that, until his arrest, his gatherings surpassed the theocracy’s organized ceremonies, by their sheer size and numbers.”
For these humanitarian endeavors, he was sentenced to execution by the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, due to international pressure, in 2006, the Iranian regime changed the judgment to 11 years in Iran’s most notorious prison, Evin.
He spent 11 years enduring heinous conditions with no medical care or access to a lawyer. There was no fair and due process.
He was convicted of ambiguous charges such as “waging war against God”. As Amnesty International wrote in a report:
“He [Boroujerdi] was arrested at his home in Tehran on October 8, 2006, along with more than 300 of his followers. He and some of his followers were initially sentenced to death after an unfair trial in Branch 3 of the Special Court for the Clergy in June 2007. His sentence was commuted in August 2007 to eleven years in prison. In addition to this, Ayatollah Boroujerdi was defrocked (banned from wearing his clerical robes and thereby from practicing his clerical duties), and his house and all of his belongings were confiscated. He had reportedly been found guilty of at least 30 charges, including “waging war against God” (moharebeh); acts against national security; publicly calling political leadership by the clergy (velayat-e faqih) unlawful.”
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On a warm day last April, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe dressed her toddler Gabrielle, kissed her parents goodbye, and set off to catch her flight back home to London.
She never made it.
Instead, Islamic Revolutionary Guards apprehended the then-37-year-old at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport and transported her to Iran’s infamous Evin prison, where prisoners are routinely tortured and women subjected regularly to sexual abuse and rape.
In September, the dual British-Iranian citizen, who had been visiting her parents in Tehran before being apprehended, was sentenced to five years imprisonment on vague “national security charges.”
To date, no evidence has been produced to substantiate the charge. Her family believes it stems largely from her work as an executive with the Thomson-Reuters Foundation, whose mission, to “stand for free independent journalism, human rights, and the rule of law,” is not wholly compatible with the Iranian regime. Employees of charitable organizations are also a frequent target of Iranian officials, who often accuse them of being spies.
In the meantime, her daughter, who has British but not Iranian citizenship, remains with her grandparents, while Zaghari-Radcliffe’s British husband, Richard Ratcliffe, continues to fight from the UK for her release.
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