IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

Thirty-five years ago, Iran-sponsored terrorists drove a truck laden with explosives into the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. service members — 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers — and injuring many others, some severely. It was the single deadliest day for the Marines since World War II. The U.S. Embassy in Beirut had been victimized six months earlier by a terrorist bombing that left 63 people dead, including 17 Americans, among them several U.S. soldiers and a U.S. Marine.  

At the time of the October 1983 attack, I served as the Marine Corps Senate liaison in the Russell Senate Office Building. The tragedy began several weeks of intense work to try to understand what had happened, and to respond to the deep concerns of senators, their staffs and the public at large regarding the welfare of the Marines and their families. The country’s pain, which intensified as the magnitude of the losses became clear, remains undiminished to this day.

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As a new round of crushing US sanctions against Iran goes into effect and the Iranian people’s frustration with their country’s economic and political situation grows, various foreign-based groups calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic have ratcheted up their rhetoric and activities. At the center of credible opposition forces in exile sits Reza Pahlavi, the last heir apparent to the throne of the Iranian monarchy.

Since his forced exile began in the United States following the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted his father, the well-spoken 58-year-old Pahlavi has consistently used his profile to oppose the policies and actions of the Islamic Republic. Though his message has evolved through the years, Pahlavi has most notably been calling for a referendum through which the Iranian people could decide their form of government within a secular democratic context.

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A recent abduction of border security forces along the Iran-Pakistan border in southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province is testing Iran-Pakistan relations.

Iran has suggested that Saudi Arabia was behind the abduction, which it believes was aimed at sabotaging its relationship with Islamabad. Pakistan needs Saudi money more than ever as it struggles economically. So just how resilient are Iran-Pakistan ties?

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Iran’s substantial natural gas reserves provide Russia with a significant strategic opportunity to solidify its role in the international arena.

Although US secondary sanctions against Iran’s petroleum sector resumed on November 5, Russia will most likely defy them by continuing to invest in Iran’s natural gas sector. Russia may also seek to influence the flow of Iran’s natural gas into the European market, where it could undermine Russia’s political-economic interests if not coordinated with Moscow.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s administration will reimpose sanctions on Iran’s central bank, oil sales, and shipping companies on November 5. These sanctions, the last of those the US lifted in 2016 as a consequence of the Iran nuclear deal, are likely to be coupled with new sanctions that are designed to achieve greater pressure than what the Obama administration imposed on Iran to enter negotiations over its nuclear program. 

The sanctions that snap back into place on November 5 largely mirror those that the Obama administration lifted in January 2016. While fewer in numbers than those reimposed on August 6 by Executive Order (EO) 13846 issued by Trump, they are among the most powerful as they expand the primary blocking sanctions available for US designations and represent the bulk of the secondary sanctions on Iran. 

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IranSource interviewed several ex-heads of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, to ask their thoughts on Iran. Three of the six living directors agreed to speak.* They painted varying pictures of Iran as a nation and threat in addition to mixed views on the US decision to quit the nuclear agreement in May.

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The European Union’s announcement in September 2018 that it would begin to create a special payments channel with Iran in response to the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) once again raises the question of the role of the US dollar (USD) in the international economic order. Under the surface of discussions of alternative payment mechanisms is the legitimate question of the negative impacts of US coercive economic statecraft on the USD status as the leading global reserve currency.

Some argue that if Iran shifted to euro-denominated transactions, it could spark a broader shift within energy exporting countries that would eventually weaken the USD as the reserve currency, as well as undermine the impact of future unilateral US sanctions. William Rich of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Treasury diplomat in the United Arab Emirates, however, argues that the proposed Europe-Iran payment mechanism is “impractical because such a process would be inefficient and costly and could not guarantee European firms protection from US sanctions, reputational damage, or Iranian misuse.  It is most effective as public messaging to the Iranians that Europe is trying to resist American pressure.”

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Much of the Iranian opposition abroad is thrilled with anticipation these days.

It is looking forward to the resumption of US secondary sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and Central Bank on November 5, and the hard blow the Iranian economy is expected to take as a result. The opposition, along with some key members of the Trump administration, appears to hope that the economic pressure will prompt nationwide street protests and ultimately lead to the overthrow of the Islamic Republic and its replacement by a more democratic, secular government.

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As part of the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the US Treasury Department will restore sanctions on a number of key Iranian sectors and activities on November 5.

Here’s what you need to know about this second set of sanctions:

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With international attention glued to the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the past few weeks, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States have struggled to gain the upper hand over the narrative while Iran has largely been a contented bystander.

The crime has weakened the position of Iran’s arch rival at least temporarily and severely undermined, if not, destroyed the “reformist image” of powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Subsequent denials and clumsy cover-ups have further damaged Saudi Arabia’s reputation and could indeed upset the power balance in the Middle East.

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