Recently, the Iranian regime signed a new agreement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad affirming ongoing military cooperation, including the transfer of weapons needed to bolster Syria’s air defense. Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, specifically celebrated this development as a sign of achievements by the “Axis of Resistance” against Western regional influence. “The signed agreement strengthens our will and our determination to cooperate in the face of American pressure,” he noted.
At roughly the same time, Iran-backed militias in Iraq threatened to escalate their conflict with the Iraqi government following a raid on armed groups, apparently directed by the country’s new Prime Minister. That in turn was evidently a response to the assassination of Hisham al-Hashimi, a government advisor who had just published a study investigating the extent of Iranian influence within Iraq’s so-called Popular Mobilization Forces.
The study noted that 44 out of the 67 Shiite factions in the PMF are recognizably loyal to Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Hashimi was killed by gunmen on motorcycles just days after the publication, and although no one has taken responsibility for the assassination, it followed a modus operandi that has been observed in a number of Iranian terrorist operations dating back to the 1980s. It is also known that Hashimi received death threats from Iran-backed militias.
All of this goes to show that Tehran is not relinquishing its grip on the surrounding region. Riddled with domestic and international crises, the Iranian regime is dedicating even more resources to its imperialist projects in the Middle East. And this trend continues despite the fact that the overall availability of those resources is shrinking as a result of severe US sanctions and multiple domestic crises including the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In an nutshell, while regime’s apologists whine about “U.S. sanctions preventing regime from helping people” the regime sends billions of dollars to its proxy forces.
Syria and Iraq are far from the only targets of the Iranian regime’s direct foreign intervention. The regime’s support of the Houthi rebels appears equally undiminished in Yemen, as evidenced by recurring seizures of weapons caches bring smuggled across the Gulf of Oman. What’s more, the United Nations recently confirmed that weapons deployed against Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure on behalf of the Houthi had originated in Iran.
Meanwhile, development of similar Iranian weaponry is ongoing, and is frequently highlighted as a point of pride by the clerical regime. Last Sunday, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ naval forces added to a long series of public remarks and bogus claims of power by the regime’s officials.
“We have missile-launching floating cities which we will display whenever our leaders see fit,” said Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, before going on to claim that Iran’s entire southern shoreline was equipped with weapons. Tangsiri also stated that the IRGC was working on construction of additional underground missile sites. This comes in the wake of a successful space launch that American officials have decried as covert test of ballistic missile technology. And even more recently, Iranian naval forces carried out exercises involving short and medium-range cruise missiles.
On the other hand, the space launch followed several failed attempts at the same, and a previous naval exercise in May resulted in an accident that killed 19 Iranian sailors. The failures and mistakes also underscore Tehran’s apparent willingness to waste resources on pursuing its warmongering policies even at times when those resources are desperately needed elsewhere.
According to official statistics from the regime’s Health Ministry, approximately 14,000 people have died in Iran from coronavirus infection. But the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK) has examined hospital records and eyewitness testimony in order to determine that the actual death toll is over 71,300. This situation is as attributable to the regime’s misplaced priorities as it is to the simple incompetence of health officials in addressing the crisis.
In the interest of maintaining its pre-existing support for regional allies and proxies, the IRGC has reportedly sold personal protective equipment and other medical goods on the black market, while also gifting some of those same resources to groups like Hezbollah and PMF militias. Furthermore, the regime declined to provide ordinary Iranians with the financial support they would have needed to weather the pandemic, and instead began ordering people back to work as early as April 11, following a brief and weakly enforced shutdown that came nowhere near to bringing the infection rate under control.
The Iranian regime tries to blame the dire public health crisis on US sanctions to at least have a temporary hold on sanctions enforcement. But there’s no reason to believe that those sanctions are a significant cause of the Iranian people’s problems, either with respect to the pandemic or any other ongoing issue. In fact, Tehran’s behavior, both historical and recent, strongly suggests that the benefits of sanctions relief would be distributed almost entirely among Iran’s projects of foreign intervention and antagonism.
The escalating pressure on the regime has been credited with encouraging the Iranian people to rise up against their government on two recent occasions, in January 2018 and November 2019. These nationwide protest movements went a long way toward challenging old assumptions about the stability of the regime’s hold on power, even as Tehran used its influence over Syria, Iraq, and other countries to project an image of strength and readiness for war.
For Iran’s democratic Resistance movement and the Iranian population, that image is directly contradicted by the rapid growth in domestic expressions of dissent. Unfortunately, most Western governments remain inclined to take Iran’s paramilitary threats seriously, as opposed to viewing them as acts of desperation and markers of a political vulnerability that is becoming ever more difficult to conceal.
On July 17, the National Council of Resistance of Iran will be hosting its annual gathering of Iranian expatriates, dissidents, and their various political supporters. Individual gatherings in numerous countries will be networked together online and watch the proceedings via a live video stream. A wide range of vital revelations about Iranian affairs and the current status of the Iranian regime will be discussed in the summit.
These include but are not limited to the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak, recent trends in Iranian human rights abuses and terrorist activities, disinformation campaigns directed against the NCRI and the MEK, and hidden signs of sanctions’ impact on the regime’s strategy for maintaining its power. And of course, the Free Iran Global Summit will also host discussions of Iran’s military strength, or lack thereof, in order to convey the message that regime change can be achieved by the Iranian people without escalating the risk of open conflict between the current regime and its “enemies” in the US and Europe.