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Iran Doesn’t Give Up Efforts to Build its “Media Empire”

Journalists and analysts have been watching Iran’s expansionist policy in the Greater Middle East, for extended periods of time.

However, the Iranian expansion is active not only in the offline sphere but also in the online cyberspace arena. The Iranian intelligence services (inspired by their Russian counterparts) actively set up and develop their online media, through which they spread Iranian propaganda and misinformation.

For example, the investigation of Reuters revealed 70 websites on 16 languages, covering 15 countries. All these “independent media outlets” are developed and controlled by Iran.

Most of these websites started to operate in 2012. I, on several occasions, have written that information and ideological wars, as well as psychological operations (during which the Iranians use a network of fake media outlets), are a part of Iran’s global strategy of Hybrid War.

Using their fake news websites, the Iranians wage information war and propaganda against the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Individuals and separate organizations sometimes become their targets as well. Moreover, these websites are used to promote the “Iranian Shiism” and glorify the Iranian Mullocracy.

The Iranian propagandist media network works actively in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Alongside with the Iranian recruits and IRGC members, the Iranian websites try to influence the population and public opinion in these countries.

However, the Iranian propagandists focus not only on Southern and Western directions; their Northern neighbors are also of particular interest, for example, Azerbaijan, which is situated on the Northern borders of Iran. Taking into account 30 million Azerbaijanis living in Iran (the second largest ethnic group after Persians), deprived of their fundamental rights, secular independent Azerbaijan at the borders is seen as a threat for the Iranian regime.

Since the 1990s, Iran has been trying to create a caste of religious people in Azerbaijan, loyal to the regime. It is nearly impossible to create such a caste without pro-Iranian media outlets.

For almost 25 years, Azerbaijan’s intelligence services have been confronting the Iranian efforts to create the Fifth Column in the country. Many Iranian agents, including a group of terrorists, intending to organize a terrorist attack against the Embassy of Israel in Baku (2006), or another group, planning terrorist attacks during Eurovision in Baku (2012), have been located and arrested, during this time. Azerbaijan and its secular state organization are often subjected to harassment by the Iranian propaganda and Mullocracy.

During the last 5-7 years, the Iranian propaganda has created a number of websites in Azerbaijani language; most of them are blocked in Azerbaijan. However, some of them were working inside the country. On June 12, Polad Aslanov, an Azerbaijani citizen, was detained by the State Security Service of Azerbaijan, while attempting to cross the border with Iran. He is suspected of collaborating with the Iranian intelligence services, receiving money from them and inducing several Azerbaijani journalists to cooperate with the Iranian intelligence services. It is noteworthy that Aslanov is a chief-editor of two little-known information websites, standing out for their sympathy for Iran.

On his Facebook account, there are photos from his multiple visits to Iran, even photos from meetings with Iranian religious figures. So Aslanov did not hide his particular relevance to Iran. Ironically, the name of his father is Israil, but it seems irony went right over his head since their motto is Death to Israel. I assume, we and other countries that are of interest for Iran, have many other arrests and revelations ahead.

Why has Azerbaijan not become a part of the Shia Crescent?

The Shia Crescent is a term which enriched researchers and journalists’ vocabulary, thanks to the King of Jordan Abdullah II.
The Shia Crescent refers to countries and territories populated by Shiites or which have significant Shiite communities.
It is no secret that in its global strategy of a hybrid war, the Iranian regime, in most cases, relies on the Shiite population and Shiite communities from the Middle East to Africa and South America.

There are three countries populated predominantly by Muslim-Shiites – Iran, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. The Iranian regime, which recruits Pakistani and Afghan Shiites for the war in Syria and uses Shiite communities in South America to organize drug trafficking could not ignore the neighboring countries with predominantly Shiite population. One of such countries is Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan shares borders with Iran on the North side. Azerbaijan is the former Soviet Republic which regained its independence in 1991. Although more than 90% of Azerbaijan’s population is Muslims, predominantly Shiites, Azerbaijan is a secular country and a member of the Council of Europe and OSCE.

Azerbaijan became the first democratic republic in the Muslim world in 1918, and at the same time, women gained the right to vote. For example, in Turkey women gained the right to vote in 1926, in 1945 in France and 1971 in Switzerland at the federal level.

All these facts, of course, annoy the Iranian clerical regime. Mullocracy and the Iranian elite have plans for Azerbaijan, in a bad way. From one side, Azerbaijan is a small country, rich in oil and gas, with a predominantly Shiite population. From another side, there are more Azerbaijanis in Iran, on the territory often called South Azerbaijan, than in independent Azerbaijan. Between 25 and 30 million people, by various estimations. Independent Azerbaijan at the border andsystematic repressions and offense by the Iranian regime against Azerbaijanis living in Iran, deprivation of fundamental rights, obviously, led to separatist considerations. That is why the weakening of Azerbaijan, its isolation and destabilization is one of the main objectives of the Iranian mullocracy. Since 1991, the Iranian authorities have been trying to get their agents of influence inside the country, stir up sectarian hatred among citizens, establish groups in the Azerbaijani society, loyal to Iran and its regime.

Despite this, Azerbaijan remains the land of tolerance and, in a way, multiculturalism.

Azerbaijan is situated in a very sensitive region, where the interests of many world and region geopolitical players intertwine. Two of the five neighbors of Azerbaijan are under the international sanctions due to their aggressive policy and support of terrorism (Russia and Iran). Since 1991, Azerbaijan has been at war with another neighbor (Armenia).

Iranian-controlled Hezbollah was even trying to organize terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

However, the consequent and pre-emptive activity of the Azerbaijani authorities, in particular, intelligence services, could prevent the activities of the Iranian networks. The efforts of the Iranian propaganda machine were significantly limited and pro-Iranian groups, which emerged in the country in the 1990s, were marginalized.

In large parts of the Azerbaijani society, including intellectuals, there is deep aversion and mistrust towards the Iranian mullahs. It is the result of historical processes, as well as the secular nature of the Azerbaijani society. That is why it is harder for Iran to do what they do in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. As some Arab authors write, Iran failed with Azerbaijani Shiites. Unlike certain Arab countries, in which Iran could achieve success, Azerbaijan has a stable Government, and the national identity of many citizens is at a high level. This factor, of course, played a significant role.

However, that does not mean that Iran has given up its plan “to turn Azerbaijan into Iraq.” Iran continues its subversive activities, but in a more concealed form, having changed its tactics and expectations.

While the Iranian regime’s elite bash US, their children reap its benefits

A distinguishing feature of the world’s pariahs is their hypocrisy.

During the 20th century, the examples of hypocrisy could be witnessed in the Eastern bloc countries, where the elites were living separately from the people, positioning themselves as the working class advocates.

For example, while the country was desolated by famine, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il became the biggest private buyer of Hennessy Paradis cognac.

Iran’s theocratic regime decided to follow the “good traditions” of the Eastern bloc and North Korea. Moreover, mullahs decided to go far and send their children to the US for education.

It turns out that their favorite slogans like “death to America” and epithets like “Great Satan” are only propagandist tricks to fool their people.

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Sanctions will remain inefficient as long as Iranian backdoors are open

Almost since its establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been under a permanently sanctioned regime.

In different periods, the sanctions were softened but never lifted. A new package of tough sanctions, this time American, reached Iran on November 5 of this year.

However, despite the sanctions that Iran has been under for almost 40 years, the Iranian regime still finds power and leverages to spread its influence in the Middle East. It is possible partly due to the network of backdoors, from China to South America, created for different purposes for over decades.

It is notable that both the EU and the US have information about these backdoors, but they have not been able to close all of them yet.


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How effective can US sanctions on Iran really be?

US President Donald Trump kept his promise, and new US sanctions are in full force. Their stated goal is to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. The sanctions cover even the shipping industry of Iran, citizens and companies from third countries doing business with Iran are also at risk of being sanctioned.

To me, total suspension of the Iranian oil export does not seem to be realistic. At least, a whole sea and land blockade is necessary to achieve this goal. At the same time, there are many allies and partners of the US among Iranian oil purchasers, and they could not give up Iranian oil immediately. It seems Washington understands this very well.

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Place and role of Hezbollah in Syrian war

One of the pro-Iranian actors involved in the Syrian civil war is Hezbollah. The organization has been involved in the Syrian war since the very beginning.

Whereas previously Hezbollah could gain favor with a particular part of the non-Shiite population of Lebanon through confrontation with Israel, now the participation of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict was ambiguously interpreted in Lebanon and affected the sympathies of the Lebanese.

Many Lebanese politicians and public persons condemned Hezbollah and encouraged not to fight against the Syrian people. It is noteworthy that Hezbollah has long ceased to be a marginal pro-Iranian group and right now it has serious control over Lebanon’s domestic and foreign policy.

On the one hand, the war in Syria is a tribute to Iran’s loyalty; on the other hand, it is a guarantee of their survival. If Assad’s regime falls in Syria, Hezbollah will be cut off the weapon supplies from Iran.

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October 18, 2018, “Al Arabiya”

For ‘Greater Iran’, Afghan, Pakistani fighters give their lives in Syria

As is known, the Iranian regime widely uses people from the Shiite communities of the neighboring countries in the Syrian war; mainly Iraq, Afghanistan, and Shiites from Pakistan to a lesser degree. This article is about Afghan and Pakistani fighters, who give their lives for “Greater Iran.”

Afghans fighting in Syria are probably one of the militant units controlled by Tehran. They are often used to attack opponents’ positions, and they have the highest rate of losses. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a few million of Afghans have lived in Iran. Most of them do not have any documents, and they remain in the country illegally.

That makes it difficult for them to integrate into the Iranian society and puts them in a vulnerable position. It is needless to say that the majority of Afghans live in extreme poverty in Iran. The Iranian regime could always exploit vulnerable groups.

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September 20, 2018, “Al Arabiya”

Minorities in Iran are an Effective Force to Change the Regime

Iran is one of the topical issues of the world media. A large number of experts, politicians, journalists express some possible scenarios of regime change in Iran.

Speaking about the possible regime change in Iran, it should be borne in mind that the current Iranian regime itself seized power through mass protests, culminating in the armed seizure of power. For 40 years, this regime has done everything in order not to be deprived of power in the same way. I am almost sure that the versions of the “orange revolutions” tested in Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics will not work here. The regime has made sure that no serious opposition remains inside the country.

There are, of course, some opposition groups outside the country, but they are either mostly marginal or, in terms of “ultranationalism,” exceed the current regime. All this certainly complicates the change of government in Iran, even if the economy collapses.

In such a situation, the circles wishing to overthrow the current regime have fewer options. It is also worth taking into account that the countries interested in changing the regime in Iran, in particular, the neighboring countries, should be careful in order to prevent the replacement of some fanatics with others.

In such a situation, I believe that it is worth paying attention to the minorities in Iran, this tactic had already been tested by the Western powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the Ottoman Empire.

Iran is a multiethnic country where the current regime and the Shah’s regime tried to assimilate the peoples inhabiting the country, to force these peoples to abandon their national identity. If the latter two Shahs pursued the policy of “Persianization” then the current regime came up with an amorphous mixture that absorbed “Persian identity, Iranian nationalism, and Shiism.”

Of course, not all minorities in Iran agree with such an approach. This is a tough task to force people to abandon their national identity through imposing religious dogmas and language.

The number of minorities in Iran is a matter of national security for the Iranian regime. The rise of nationalistic sentiments among the Iranian minorities poses a much greater threat to the regime than the pressure from the US. Speaking about Iranian minorities, it is worth noting three main groups: Azerbaijanis, Kurds, and Arabs.

These are tens of millions of people living under the repressive regime, which is trying to assimilate them. Each of these groups has its specifics and its specific problems.

Let us start with the most significant and, perhaps, the most promising group, Azerbaijanis or Azerbaijani Turks as they are called in some sources. Approximately 30 million Azerbaijanis are living in Iran. However, not all of them live in Southern Azerbaijan (an area densely populated by Azerbaijanis in the north-west of Iran). Millions of Azerbaijanis live in other parts of Iran, for example, according to various estimates, a quarter to a third of the population of Tehran consists of immigrants of Azerbaijani origin and their first- or second-generation offspring. A large number of Azerbaijanis are represented in the Iranian army, bureaucracy, business, as well as the supreme leader Ali Khamenei is of Azerbaijani origin. However, the emergence of an independent and the secular Azerbaijan Republic in the northern part of historical Azerbaijan in 1991, provided a new impetus to Azerbaijani nationalism and self-identification in the south. Since then, more and more Azerbaijanis living in Iran have begun to pay particular attention to their national identity. As Professor Brenda Shaffer has written; “The independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan paved the way to renewed intensive interaction between the Azerbaijanis on both sides of the Araz river. In the Republic, the impact of the interaction has been twofold.” As a result of repressions, racist attacks by the regime and the economic collapse of Iran, nationalistic sentiments among Azerbaijanis have been growing at a high rate in the past 3-5 years. Many Azerbaijanis, both ordinary citizens, and activists can now openly say that they do not see Iran as their country and they do not consider themselves part of Iran. Azerbaijanis have severe problems concerning education. For example, although the Azerbaijani population of Iran is more than the total population of Norway, Sweden and Finland combined, they do not have the right to be educated in their native language. This, as well as many other factors, contributes to the growth of nationalism and the desire to secede from Iran, Southern Azerbaijan has been shaken several times by large-scale mass protests.

Another large ethnic group in Iran is the Kurds, they have a short experience of statehood in Iran (Republic of Mahabad), but this does not in the least affect their desire to get out of Tehran’s control. In the north of Iraq, there is a de facto independent Kurdistan, which borders on the territories densely populated by the Kurds in Iran. The Kurdish militia controls part of northern Syria, PKK is active in Turkey. PJAK is active in Iran and carries out an armed struggle against the Iranian regime. About 8-10 million Kurds are living in Iran, it is quite a significant figure. It should be noted that in some parts of Southern Azerbaijan where Kurds and Azerbaijanis live together, the Iranian regime is constantly trying to maintain ethnic tension. Apparently, the mullahs are guided by the principle of “divide and rule.”

The Arabs living in Iran are also a large ethnic group that is under permanent repressions of the Iranian regime. The population of Ahwazi Arabs is estimated to be between 5 and 7 million. Although more than 80% of Iranian oil is extracted on the lands of Ahwazis, people living on this land suffer from extreme poverty. In recent years, in addition to poverty and unemployment, the region has also faced water shortages. The widespread water crisis in Iran has made unusable a significant amount of agricultural land in the territories densely populated by the Ahwazis . The protests of the Ahwazis against discrimination and repression are brutally suppressed by the regime. Besides, it is worth noting that one of the pillars of the Persian nationalism is “Arabophobia,” and the Ahwazis have often been exposed to racist insults. This factor also contributes to the preservation of tension in the Ahwaz region.

I have touched upon only three main minorities in Iran. There are also other peoples, although small in number, but in some cases exposed to even more persecution by the regime. When considering possible ways of changing the regime in Iran, minorities and their potential must be seriously studied.

September 4, 2018 “Herald Report”

Is Washington losing Turkey?

It seems that the relations between Washington and Ankara have only been poor in recent times.

There are a lot of unresolved issues and disputes, which intermittently cause crises, between the two countries.

The reason for the last negative turn of events was the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor who worked in Turkey’s Aegean region. In fact, the pastor was arrested in October 2016, as part of an investigation into the coup attempt that took place in July 2016. The Turkish authorities accuse the pastor of having links with the Gulen Movement, which was declared a terrorist organization in Turkey. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has dedicated several tweets to Brunson, in which he expressed confidence in his innocence and called for his immediate release.

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August 22, 2018 “Modern Diplomacy”