Middle East Security Initiative

  • Dealing With Saudi Arabia Requires Lessons From Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign

    Gruesome details of the possible premeditated killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi state actors are gradually being revealed. This has invited inevitable comparisons between the brutality of Saudi Arabia to its regional rival, Iran.

    While the comparisons have prompted a fair number of social media snipes and tu quoque arguments, the parallels here are important to consider for a range of reasons.

    Primary among them are the lessons it imparts for how the international community’s handling of Tehran’s own practice of killing dissidents abroad during the 1980s and 1990s should provide every incentive for a more robust response from the United States and other involved actors to the events involving Khashoggi.

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  • Dagres Quoted in Washington Post on Khashoggi


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  • Iran’s Environmentalists Are Caught Up in a Political Power Struggle

    The family of Kavous Seyed Emami, a prominent environmentalist and professor at Tehran’s Imam Sadegh University, broke the horrific news on February 10 that he had died under suspicious circumstances while in detention. Iranian authorities claimed he had committed suicide.

    Only a few weeks earlier, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence arm had arrested Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian citizen, and seven other environmental activists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that works to conserve and protect endangered species in Iran.

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  • Iranian Crackdown on Corruption May Only Be Superficial

    Since the 1979 revolution, Azadi Square has been the beating heart for major demonstrations in Iran’s capital. So when the Iranian judiciary announced on September 24 that “financial corruptors” would be hung in the square—a first—it was seen as a dire warning to corrupt traders and government officials that they would be made an example of for the rest of the country.

    Weeks later on October 1, three men were sentenced to death for financial corruption. They included a gold dealer nicknamed the “sultan of coins” by Iranian media for collecting two tons worth of gold coins and selling them at inflated rates. The men are currently...

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  • Iran Can’t Fulfill Its Hopes of a Shia Corridor Without Iraq

    Since the Iranian regime seized power in 1979, its goal has been for Iran to become a regional power and to restore the Shias as the rulers of the Muslim world. A cornerstone of its strategy is to build and control a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

    To extend its power and influence, Iran arms and supports proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Syria.

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  • Sanctions or Liquidity—Which One Is More Dangerous for Iran’s Economy?

    The Iranian rial was traded at 150,000 against the US dollar on October 2, indicating a 12 percent appreciation in just one day. Bonbast, a website which tracks free market rates in Iran, stopped posting rates for the day, while state news agencies reported that the free market rial value kept appreciating as high as 80,000 rials.

    The surprising trend of the rial recovery continued until Shargh Daily reported on October 4 about the re-emergence of a multi-tier foreign exchange market. This included an official rate of 42,000 rials, a secondary market rate of 90,000 rials, a Central Bank-enforced rate of 95,000 rials—which banks and currency exchange offices use to buy foreign currency from Iranians standing in queues—and a free market rate of about 145,000 rials.

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  • How Iran and the Gulf Arab States Can Start a Dialogue Again

    It’s hard to overstate the regional impact of the rivalry between Iran and several Gulf Arab states—most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—bordering in recent years on enmity.

    While these countries haven’t come close to direct warfare, tensions have impacted many regional conflicts in the Middle East including in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, and festering instability in countries like Lebanon, Bahrain, and even among the Palestinians.

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  • The Hidden Message of Iran’s Syria Strikes: A View From Israel

    An unusual strategic event took place this week in the Middle East. For the second time in over a year, Iran fired ballistic missiles on targets in Syria, a country that borders Israel.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who never misses an opportunity to respond in the strongest terms—usually within hours—to any Iranian testing of its ballistic missile capabilities, chose a relatively muted response.

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  • China: Iran’s Lifeline to Overcome Oil Sanctions

    The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May has thrown a previously established, delicate geopolitical balance into disarray. The remaining signatories of the JCPOA—Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia—are exploring options to circumvent the resumption of US sanctions on Tehran primarily by establishing a channel to allow financial transactions to cover exports from Iran.

    But for all parties of the JCPOA, the key Iranian commodity of interest is crude oil, particularly for Beijing. In 2017, one-third of Iran’s oil exports were sold to China—more than any other country. This relationship between the two countries softens the blow of US sanctions on Iran by giving Tehran a lifeline when facing economic hardship, to an extent.

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  • Netanyahu’s UNGA Accusations Give Iranians a Rare Good Laugh

    “I really, really think someone set him up,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister said in an initial reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 27.

    In an interview with state media, Abbas Araghchi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is seated next to Araghchi, are both unable to control their laughter at Netanyahu’s latest accusation that Iran is housing a secret warehouse for a nuclear weapons program that Iran, according to the CIA and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ended more than a decade ago.

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