"A gruesome and unapologetic killer" (& Iran TV: "Obama looks colored, but he's really a Jew")

June 27, 2021

Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi holds a news conference in Tehran following his victory in last week's rigged elections.


Raisi with Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon in February 2018 (Photo courtesy Al-Arabiya newspaper).



[Note by Tom Gross]

Below, I attach three opinion pieces on Iran's new hardline president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who may be the most ruthless person ever to become president of the Islamic Republic, and is widely believed to be being groomed to succeed 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran's Supreme Leader. The fourth piece below is on the U.S. government seizure of Iran's foreign media websites last week.

Last week, Amnesty International called for Raisi to be investigated for "crimes against humanity" for his key role in the past murder of thousands of Iranian political prisoners.


(I mention Raisi's role in these killings in an interview I gave last week.)


Israel's new Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to meet today (Sunday) with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Rome, to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat.

During a speech at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots on Thursday, Israel's new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to hint at Israel's role in Wednesday's drone attack on an Iranian nuclear centrifuge production facility outside Tehran.



The writers of the four pieces below are subscribers to this list. In the first piece, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Iranian-targets officer for the CIA, writes: "The mullahs' hope is that Raisi is ruthless enough to overcome rising resistance to their rule."

Simon Henderson notes in his piece for The Hill: "Nuclear weapons have spread surprisingly slowly since the end of World War II and never have been used in anger. This template looks like it's changing."



David Pollock writes in the final piece below:

This week, seemingly out of the blue, the U.S. government announced that it had seized the websites of several dozens of Iran's foreign media platforms, including its English-language flagship Press TV and its Arabic-language one, Al-Alam. The practical effects are minor, because Iran quickly announced that much of this is already back online, under different domain names. But the symbolic significance of this unusual move - and for me, its personal resonance as well - are well worth noting?

On Press TV, during President Obama's first year in office, I was featured on a panel about his new approach to U.S. policy in the Middle East. It was a call-in talk show, and the first caller, an American, responded to my comments as follows: "That guy is a Jew-snake. And Obama, he looks colored, but he's really a Jew too. We have no choice but to get rid of him."

I looked hard at the show's moderator, an African American, and at both my fellow panelists, also Americans. I asked them if they had anything to say to this caller. They all demurred. Afterward, I wrote to the moderator, who replied that the channel's legal department had no problem with what had just occurred on air. I called the Secret Service, to report that Press TV had just broadcast an explicit death threat against the president - only to be told they would do nothing about it.



In Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's clerics have groomed and promoted their ruthless enforcer
By Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh
The Washington Post
June 25, 2021


This month, Iran held the most boring - and most consequential - presidential election in its history. Boring because the election was rigged virtually from the start. What made it consequential is not because the winner, Ebrahim Raisi, is a gruesome and unapologetic killer who has spent his entire career inside the regime's coercive institutions. Nor is it because Raisi is the first Iranian president to fit that description. Both former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, the current president, were instrumental in building and using the Iranian police state. Unlike Raisi, who has had little involvement in foreign affairs, these two supposedly "pragmatic" clerics advanced operations abroad that killed Americans, Israelis and Jews around the world.

What is instead most striking about Raisi is that he has been groomed for this moment - a moment when the regime teeters on the brink of illegitimacy and needs a brutal enforcer. Raisi isn't a clever, well-read mullah, as were so many of the Islamic republic's founding fathers. But he is the quintessence of a mature Islamic Republic of Iran: He's all about compulsion sustaining a creed that ever-smaller numbers of Iranians embrace. The mullahs' hope is that Raisi is ruthless enough to overcome rising resistance to their rule.

This election, if you can even call it that, was really all about who will succeed the 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the rahbar, the overlord of Iran's theocracy. Khamenei has long eyed Raisi as his successor, and his promotion to the presidency presages his ultimate ascension. The theocracy's stage-managed presidential election - now utterly stripped of any democratic pretense - has deepened the legitimacy crisis that has plagued the regime since 1999, when it crushed the "Islamic left," first-generation revolutionaries who wanted to believe that the state could reform itself. With Khamenei and Raisi at the helm, or with Raisi as the supreme leader, it's not hard to envision the police state pushing a disgruntled, angry society to the breaking point.


The story of Ebrahim Raisi tracks that of modern Iran itself. He was born in 1960 to a clerical family in Mashhad, in northeast Iran, now home to 3 million people. He began his theological training in the shrine city of Qom at age 15. Qom's seminary was then the hotbed of anti-shah agitation, and many aspiring mullahs looked to the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for guidance and inspiration. Raisi was a member of the Haqqani Circle, a radical school of thought that produced many disciples who would go on to work in key sectors of the Islamic republic, particularly its repressive institutions.

After the improbable success of Iran's 1979 revolution, the coalition of secularists, liberals, Marxist Muslims and clerically led Islamists that displaced the Pahlavi monarchy soon collapsed, with competing factions fighting on the streets. Amid this power struggle, Khomeini (by now, returned to Iran) needed enforcers - men who had little compunction about ordering death sentences in religious tribunals. While still in his early 20s, Raisi was appointed prosecutor of Karaj, near Tehran, which saw its share of opposition activity and, after his arrival, executions by firing squad. Thus began his career on the republic's dark side.

Khomeini would often summon Raisi when he needed special missions completed with efficiency and cruelty. This led to his service on the so-called death commission in 1988, which still defines his legacy. As Khomeini approached the end of his life, he grew apprehensive about the vitality of his revolution. He feared the Islamic republic would become less religiously driven in his absence and decided to test the mettle of his disciples. In 1988, shortly after the cease-fire with Iraq, the rahbar ordered one more bloodletting. In a span of few months, thousands of leftist prisoners were executed; the exact number is unknown, but most experts say a minimum of 5,000 were killed. Raisi was one of the commission judges overseeing the slaughter. Apostasy and the denigration of Islam were the usual charges hurled at the victims in hearings that often lasted minutes.

The 1988 executions sparked a debate within the regime, just as Khomeini had intended. The supreme leader wanted to separate the true believers from the skeptics. His heir-apparent, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, objected to the killings, and in a secret recording released in 2016, he can be heard chastising Raisi and his fellow executioners. "In my view, the biggest atrocity in the Islamic republic, for which the history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands, and in future your names will go down in history as criminals." Montazeri fell from grace and ultimately died in 2009 under house arrest. Raisi publicly defended the killings as "one of the proud achievements of the system."

Khomeini died in 1989, but his successor, Khamenei, also found Raisi a useful agent. In a succession of promotions, Raisi became the head of the General Inspection Office as well as a member of the Special Court of the Clergy, which is perhaps the most important institution in the republic: It is responsible for prosecuting troublesome mullahs.

Then came a series of harder tests: In the 1990s, the political elite fragmented over the reform movement led by President Muhammad Khatami, who called for greater harmony between religious convictions and democratic principles. Lower-level government officials and intellectuals aligned with Khatami were bolder and more explicit in their ambitions. But Raisi displayed a steady hand in battling the reformers. The judiciary and the intelligence services jailed dissidents, shuttered reformist newspapers and conducted targeted assassinations.

In 2009, the Islamic republic faced a popular insurrection. The fraudulent presidential election that returned populist, conservative firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power sparked the pro-democracy Green Movement, which, in turn, shook the foundations of the theocracy. Once more, many stalwarts of the revolution proved unsteady, including former president Rafsanjani, who was essentially purged. Not so Raisi, who as chief deputy of the judiciary remained a reliable critic of those who showed the protesters any quarter, to say nothing of the protesters themselves. "Those who have proposed the elections were fraudulent," ruled Raisi, "and created doubt in the public's mind have undoubtedly committed a grave crime and naturally will have to answer for the crime they have committed." As late as 2014, Raisi scolded his fellow conservatives for going soft on Green Movement leaders, who had remained under house arrest. "The system of the Islamic Republic has treated the leaders of sedition with kindness. ?Those who sympathize with the leaders of sedition should know that the Iranian nation will never go through this kind of oppression."

The regime learned lessons from the Green Movement. Stuffing ballot boxes provoked million-man marches on the streets of Tehran; henceforth, the theocracy would manipulate elections by narrowing the choice of candidates.

By 2016, there were unmistakable public signs that Khamenei was grooming Raisi to succeed him. When it comes to personnel, Khamenei has always displayed a keen eye for talent and loyalty. And Raisi's promotions all required the personal approval of the supreme leader.

But to rise in the Islamic republic's theocracy, Raisi needed to move beyond the regime's courts and dungeons and burnish his managerial skills. Khamenei appointed him as the head of one of Iran's largest charitable organizations, the Astan-e Qods Foundation in Mashhad, which runs the Imam Reza Shrine. The shrine is visited by millions of pilgrims a year and has an estimated $15 billion in assets. Through the foundation, the supreme leader has access to vast discretionary funds. This job gave Raisi a more benign public profile as well as the power of patronage. He also became an important player in the regime's shadowy financial empire.

Nonetheless, his public image remained flat: Raisi managed to win only 38.5 percent of the vote in his first run for office in 2017, getting trounced by the incumbent, Rouhani. As a consolation prize, he became the head of the judiciary, where he brandished his credentials as a corruption fighter, which in the Islamic republic means he became responsible for harassing those who've fallen out of favor.

In the 2021 election, Khamenei sacrificed popular legitimacy to ensure that a reliable disciple won. After the protest movements of 2017-2020, when even the poor started taking to the streets to express their anger, an elderly supreme leader likely wanted to see a version of himself in the presidency - a cleric with a proven capacity to repress and liquidate those willing to challenge the theocracy. An Iranian president doesn't have much power - the rahbar has such a large shadow government that it has shrunk the influence and perks of the presidency. Nonetheless, in troubled times, if the supreme leader were to die, having an ideologically sound and bureaucratically accomplished cleric as president would guarantee continuity.

Which helps explain why, this year, the Guardian Council disqualified a high number of presidential candidates - not only did "moderates" get axed, but even the hard-line former speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, was removed from the ballot. As a result, Raisi ran nearly uncontested, with no real competitors. He ran an uninspiring campaign, talking mostly about corruption and the need for sound management. Crisscrossing the country, he often visited prisons. The presidential debates, which sometimes spark public curiosity and social media buzz, were insipid. The handpicked candidates united in attacking Rouhani, who has become unpopular, especially within official circles where mocking him has become routine. In the end, with half the electorate staying home and approximately 3.7 million Iranians turning in blank or protest ballots, Raisi was declared the winner.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard called Raisi's victory "a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran" and called for investigation of "his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law."


The Islamic republic was never a typical authoritarian state: Embedded in its structure are a series of elected institutions. If in previous presidential races the Guardian Council may have pruned the choice of candidates, the public got some diversity and occasionally a provocative candidate who rattled the establishment such as Ahmadinejad, or historic men of the revolution, like Rafsanjani, who outshone Khamenei. The elections may not have altered the essential demarcations of power, but they offered the Iranian people an acceptable and orderly means of expressing their grievances. The regime even tolerated some critical press.

Thus, the genius of the Islamic republic was that it offered the masses an opportunity to participate in national affairs - while being cleverly hemmed in on all sides by clerical fiat. An Iranian could cast a ballot that might actually have a small impact on his life. (Khatami's victory in 1997 for a year or two softened the surveillance of the morals police; Ahmadinejad's first triumph gave lower-class Iranians a fillip of pride and increased welfare payments.) The elected institutions of Iran may not have governed the theocracy, but they did provide an important safety valve.

Raisi's win in a fully rigged election strips the system of its off-ramps. The once-popular reformist notion that the theocracy could liberalize itself through its own constitutional provisions has died - except perhaps abroad among Western leftists. The Republic of Virtue is drowning in corruption and class divisions that are as pronounced as those in the last days of the shah. The government and the crony-capitalist class have never generated sufficient jobs. Khamenei's idea of a "resistance economy," in which Iran somehow weans itself off oil, relies on internal markets and trades heavily with China, has proved insufficient and impractical. A mismanaged pandemic has aggravated all of these problems.

The clerical oligarchs have no answers to Iran's most convulsive dilemmas. They intend to rule by brute force, in part because they have minimal hold on a public that no longer can be counted on to choose the divine path over all others. As we learned from leaked conversations of Revolutionary Guard commanders, after the pro-democracy Green Movement was crushed, the regime came to see itself as unattractive to ever larger swaths of the population. The gap between state and society has never been wider. In Raisi, a political cleric recently promoted to "ayatollah," the state has groomed, promoted and found its enforcer.

The Iranian people are hardly docile subjects. A nation that saw massive protests once a decade now sees them more frequently. In the latest nationwide revolts of 2019 and 2020, sparked by a drop in fuel subsidies, even the working classes joined the protests. Iran's ethnic minorities, who probably make up 50 percent of the country's population, have also become increasingly vocal in expressing their grievances. And the demonstrators, both Persian and non-Persian, have become explicit in their opposition to the very nature of the clerical regime. Given the violence unleashed by the security forces in 2019, Khamenei and his men obviously view these demonstrations as potential rebellions.

Raisi is an awkward, perhaps paralyzing, problem for the Biden administration's diplomatic strategy. First, there is the issue of human rights, which the White House says is a new priority for the United States. A revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which would release tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, will perforce be transacted with a new president who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in no uncertain terms in 2019: "Previously, as deputy prosecutor general of Tehran. Raisi participated in the so-called 'death commission' that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988."

And then there is the substance of the nuclear deal. The talks in Vienna will likely succeed and both parties will resume their compliance with an accord whose key provisions are rapidly expiring. The White House insists that once the agreement is revived, it will seek to remedy its deficiencies with additional discussions that will extend the deal's timelines and even address Iran's malign regional activities and its ever-improving ballistic missiles. Raisi has made it clear, however, that he won't concede to any additional agreements. And Raisi isn't clever: He isn't going to argue with Khamenei about the wisdom of short-term nuclear concessions for long-term economic power. Raisi, like Khamenei, thinks first and foremost about culture and nefarious, debilitating foreign influences.

These two clerics, who will likely reinforce each other's hardest impulses, both understand what Washington appears to have missed: The era of arms-control diplomacy has ended. The Islamic republic's nuclear trajectory will not be impacted by further negotiated restraints.

In the coming months, many in Washington will assure themselves that at least this nuclear accord imposes some limits on the clerical regime's ambitions. The program, we will be assured, is back in the box even as Iran's atomic infrastructure grows in sophistication and size. The arms-controllers and proponents of accommodation will surely dust off their old talking points. The opening to China will be invoked. Strategic breakthroughs, we will be reminded, require compacts with unsavory actors. Some may even go further and argue that only a hard-liner with close ties to Khamenei can negotiate an accord.

Such postulations, however, miss the reason Raisi was elevated to the presidency. He is there to seal the system, not open it. Repression at home and imperialism abroad remain the regime's essential priorities. Such ambitions require Shiite proxy forces across the region, missile deployments and the ultimate strategic weapon. The notion of trading carrots and sticks is abhorrent to a man who abjures compromise with enemies both near and abroad.

Khamenei's and Raisi's designs will, however, make the Islamist system more vulnerable to internal unrest. Sanctions relief will provide some respite to the regime's internal problems. American arms control will pave a bit longer path to the Iranian bomb while allowing the clerical regime a much-needed financial cushion against its own imperialism and incompetence.

But whatever the Biden administration does, it won't change an irrefragable truth that bedevils the Iranian theocracy: A regime that does not address the grievances and expectations of its citizens will confront, if the past is future, increasing opposition. In the past few years, Iran has been rocked by demonstrations driven by all the social classes. The big dilemma for the Biden administration may not be the potential for arms control in the 21st century but how to deal with a mass murderer facing a mass uprising.



Iran Bets on Religion, Repression and Revolution
By Bret Stephens
New York Times
June 22, 2021


In the summer of 1988, Iran's supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered the secret executions of thousands of political prisoners. Iran then denied reports of the slaughter, calling them "nothing but propaganda" based on "forgeries." It also ruthlessly suppressed efforts by the families of the disappeared to find out what had happened to their relatives, including the location of their burial sites.

More than 30 years later, the world still doesn't know how many prisoners were murdered, though a landmark 2017 report from Amnesty International put the minimum number at "around 5,000." Other reports suggest a figure as high as 30,000.

But one point is not seriously in doubt: Among the handful of Iranian leaders most involved in the "death commissions" was Ebrahim Raisi. At the time of the massacres, Raisi, the son of a cleric and the product of a clerical education, was deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, later rising to become Iran's chief justice. In 2018 he called the massacres "one of the proud achievements of the system."

Last week he was elected president of Iran in a rigged process in which centrist candidates were disqualified before the vote took place.

What does this mean for the world outside Iran?

One awkward question is how Western leaders should deal with a foreign leader who is currently under U.S. Treasury Department sanctions for his human-rights abuses. Progressives sometimes call for the arrest of Israeli leaders traveling abroad for alleged crimes against Palestinians. It'll be interesting to see if these same progressives have any consistency in their principles by calling for Raisi's arrest should he travel abroad, perhaps to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

A second question is what his election means for a restored Iran nuclear deal, which the Biden administration is keen to restart after the Trump administration withdrew from it in 2018. Negotiators in Vienna have reportedly already completed the revised accord.

According to one analysis, Iran will most likely move quickly to finalize an agreement while the departing, ostensibly moderate government of Hassan Rouhani remains in office, the better for it to receive the blame for the deal's shortcomings (as Iranian hard-liners see them) while Raisi's government reaps the benefits of sanctions' relief.

That may well be, to the extent that the Kabuki theater of Iranian politics matters much on questions dictated by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The Kabuki extends to the deal itself, which Iran will pretend to honor and the West will pretend to verify and enforce.

The one thing it will achieve is a fleeting diplomatic victory for the Biden administration, since the Raisi government will never concede to additional demands for additional curbs on Iran's nuclear and military programs. In the meantime, billions of dollars of new money will flow to Iran's malevolent proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Gaza and Yemen.

But the important question raised by Raisi's elevation is not about the nuclear deal. It's about the kind of regime we are dealing with.

Several years ago, Henry Kissinger asked whether Iran was "a nation or a cause." If Iran's ambitions are defined by normal considerations of national security, prosperity and self-respect, then the U.S. can negotiate with it on the basis of objective self-interest, its and ours. Alternatively, if Iran's ambitions are fundamentally ideological - to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution to every part of the Middle East and beyond - then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will be bent on dominance and subversion, not stability.

This is why Raisi's rise matters. Although he's often described as "ultraconservative," it's more accurate to say that he's "ultrarevolutionary," in the sense that he remains the loyal and unrepentant Khomeinist he became as a young man. That makes it possible, even likely, that he will succeed Khamenei when the supreme leader, who is 82 and rumored to be suffering from prostate cancer, dies.

Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression and revolution.

The Biden team will make the argument that, whatever its flaws, the deal on the table in Vienna is still the best option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, on the view that military action is unthinkable and the Trump administration's policy of maximum sanctions didn't stop Iran's uranium enrichment drive. The argument makes a certain amount of sense - at least if the true goal of U.S. policy is to find a face-saving exit from the Middle East, akin to what the 1973 Paris Peace Accords did for the U.S. and Indochina.

But if long experience in the Middle East has taught us anything, it's that the region doesn't easily leave the rest of the world alone. A less-restricted Iran means more regional mayhem. It means Arab states more likely to acquire nuclear capabilities of their own. It means a nervous Israel, more willing to take its chances. Whatever else happens in Vienna, Raisi's presidency means that the 42-year crisis with Iran is about to get worse.



Have we already failed to ensure that Iran 'never gets a nuclear weapon'?
By Simon Henderson, Opinion Contributor
The Hill (Washington)
June 25, 2021


What is a nuclear weapon? The answer is both technical and political - all the more so because, on Wednesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan met the visiting Israeli Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and "affirmed the president's commitment to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon."

The term "nuclear weapon" is usually used to describe atomic bombs and the much more powerful hydrogen bombs. Strictly speaking, both the first U.S. atomic bomb and the first hydrogen bomb were not capable of being delivered on a target so are often labeled as being "devices." So, is there an agreed definition of "nuclear weapon" between the U.S. and Israel, or was Sullivan being ambiguous? Would Iran be allowed to have capability, or even a device or two?

To be cynical, Iran's nuclear weapons program (few seriously judge that Tehran doesn't have one) is the slowest in world history. The transfer of centrifuge enrichment technology from Pakistan dates to at least the mid-1990s, more than 25 years ago. By contrast, Pakistan started its pursuit of enriched uranium needed for an atomic bomb in 1976, and probably achieved a workable design by 1983, having received blueprints and two bomb's worth of high enriched uranium from China a couple of years earlier in the most egregious act of proliferation so far. But Pakistan did not carry out an actual test explosion until 1998 - a 22-year time span. To my mind, the game-changer is a crude but successful nuclear test explosion in some remote corner of the Iranian desert.

Part of the delay has been due to the assumed efforts of the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency, which last year is credited with blowing up the centrifuge assembly plant at Iran's main Natanz facility, and earlier this summer apparently caused a power failure at Natanz, which had a catastrophic effect on hundreds of spinning centrifuges. An incident this week at a supposed centrifuge part assembly plant outside Tehran is also being credited to Israel.

But there also has been more than the occasional smokescreen by Iran. The controversial 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Report on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities asserted that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and as of mid-2007 had not restarted it. But in its November 2011 safeguards report on Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported: "There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement that was a delaying tactic rather than a diplomatic solution, prompted Iran to break its commitments and bring into operation more efficient centrifuges, and to build up its stockpiles of semi-enriched uranium. Tehran's recent announcement that it was enriching to 60 percent of the isotope uranium-235, the actual explosive material, was a shocker. Most of the hard work of enrichment needed to achieve the magic figure of 90 percent has been done at that point.

So, one perhaps should consider the possibility - even the probability - that the U.S.-led efforts to stop Iran from becoming a quasi-nuclear power have failed. Israel's definition of that status would appear to be the ability of Tehran to enrich to 90 percent. The U.S. view instead might be for Iran to have a nuclear-tipped missile strike force. A possible midway point for some would be for Iran to have enough highly-enriched uranium for at least one test explosion, known in jargon as a "significant quantity."

We are probably running out of time for such ambiguity to continue. And there is little sign that Israel's new leader, Naftali Bennett, will take much of a different attitude on the issue from his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. The election of President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran does not provide much comfort either. A revived JCPOA, which is being negotiated in meetings in Vienna, is beginning to look increasingly inadequate for the challenge, even if an agreement of sorts can be reached.

For the moment we have firm ambiguity, rather than anything more solid. Nuclear weapons have spread surprisingly slowly since the end of World War II and never have been used in anger. This template looks like it's changing.



Iran's propaganda outlets take a hit
By David Pollock
Newslooks website
June 25, 2021


U.S. website seizures are unlikely to have much direct impact on Iran's media, nuclear, or terrorist activities, but they should serve as another wake-up call about the regime's ultimate objectives and modus operandi.


This week, seemingly out of the blue, the U.S. government announced that it had seized the websites of several dozens of Iran's foreign media platforms, including its English-language flagship Press TV and its Arabic-language one, Al-Alam. The practical effects are minor, because Iran quickly announced that much of this is already back online, under different domain names. But the symbolic significance of this unusual move - and for me, its personal resonance as well - are well worth noting.

The official American announcement explaining this step was a bit confusing, even to experts on sanctions and related enforcement measures. What is clear is that this represents an unusual move. The U.S. has previously shut down and sanctioned media operations of designated terrorist groups or non-state militias, most notably Hezbollah's Al-Manar television. It has also recently requested some other, government-sponsored outlets, like Russia's RT or Qatar's Al-Jazeera, to register as foreign agents. Seizing official websites outright, however - even those of an adversary state with whom the U.S. has no diplomatic relations - is very rare.

Some therefore speculated that this was merely an obsolescent carryover from the Trump Administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran's regime. Others, at the opposite end of the logical spectrum, wondered if it could even be a Biden Administration effort at political cover for upcoming concessions in the Iran nuclear negotiations. A few saw a link to Iran's newly crowned president, Ebrahim Raisi, who is already under U.S. sanctions for his role in Tehran's hostile regime, or perhaps to wider current concerns about disinformation, false flag information warfare, and electoral interference. And still others, myself included, thought it might simply reflect inadequate coordination among the various federal agencies dealing with different aspects of Iranian affairs.

In any case, the impact on the nuclear negotiations, or on other important issues, appears to be negligible. A few low-level Iranian officials merely protested verbally against the U.S. action. Similarly, little has surfaced from senior American officials; the State Department referred questions about this issue to the Justice Department, which has almost nothing to add to its original terse and obscure statement.

Nevertheless, the U.S. move against Iran's leading foreign broadcasters serves as a vivid reminder of how poisonous their propaganda really is. Regardless of any nuclear deal, this and related dimensions of Iran's non-nuclear yet hardly conventional threats to the region and to U.S. interests are almost certain to continue apace. Support for terrorism, subversion, sectarian strife, civil war crimes verging on genocide in Syria and Yemen, and even the eventual destruction of Israel or Arab states allied with the U.S. are hallmarks of Iran's foreign policy. And Iran's foreign media and social media platforms are actively complicit in this campaign.

I know, because until a few years ago I was a frequent guest speaker on both Press TV and Al-Alam. I had thought to provide a small dose of reason and goodwill to offset their openly adversarial and lopsided discussion. Yet in vain, as the following two anecdotes, one from each of these two major Iranian outlets, will amply illustrate.

On Press TV, during President Obama's first year in office, I was featured on a panel about his new approach to U.S. policy in the Middle East. It was a call-in talk show, and the first caller, an American, responded to my comments as follows: "That guy is a Jew-snake. And Obama, he looks colored, but he's really a Jew too. We have no choice but to get rid of him."

I looked hard at the show's moderator, an African American, and at both my fellow panelists, also Americans. I asked them if they had anything to say to this caller. They all demurred. Afterward, I wrote to the moderator, who replied that the channel's legal department had no problem with what had just occurred on air. I called the Secret Service, to report that Press TV had just broadcast an explicit death threat against the president - only to be told they would do nothing about it. I soon stopped answering Press TV's calls.

Still, I kept appearing on Al-Alam, headquartered in Beirut but broadcasting from a rented studio at the National Press Club, right in downtown Washington, DC. My rationale was that, since I was speaking in Arabic, I might have greater credibility and possibly some positive impact with that audience. Once in a while I did get a sympathetic chuckle, as when I remarked that "Iran is indeed ready to fight for Assad's regime - to the last Arab soldier."

Eventually, though, as the enormity of Assad's atrocities and Iran's collaboration with them became increasingly apparent, Al-Alam's denials grew ever more strident and extreme. Finally, they started cutting me off in mid-sentence whenever I cited these incriminating facts. That's when I stopped answering Al-Alam's calls as well.

Which brings us back to the latest website incident, and its implications for future policy. This atypical American action will, as argued above, probably have only minimal direct impact on Iran's media "outreach," on its nuclear program, or on its material support for terrorism. To those on the receiving end, however, it should serve as one more wake-up call about the Tehran regime's ultimate objectives and modus operandi. My own very limited personal experience aside, the non-nuclear threats Iran poses to Americans, Arabs, Israelis, and others are deadly serious. No nuclear agreement can confront those threats. On the contrary, some of the resources Iran will gain from sanctions relief will no doubt once again be applied to such abhorrent propaganda, and much worse. Thus, once that agreement is revived, the U.S. and its friends and allies must become more vigilant, creative, and resolute about meeting that challenge - in both words and deeds.


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