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EXCLUSIVE: Former American diplomat says Iran proxies can evade sanctions

Bahrain News
Wed, 12 Sep 2018
By Sandeep Singh Grewal
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IRAN-BACKED proxy groups operating in the region, including Bahrain, will be the last to be hit by the latest US sanctions, according to a former American diplomat.

US President Donald Trump reimposed punitive economic measures on Tehran in August, after withdrawing in May from a 2015 deal to relax sanctions to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

However, Iran was accused of failing to be honest about its nuclear ambitions, supporting terrorist groups and acting in an increasingly hostile way across the Middle East.

The Islamic republic will continue to wage a “dangerous campaign of subversion” against GCC and the Arab countries, said former US ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli.

In an exclusive interview with the GDN, he spoke about regional developments, growing Iranian influence and Bahrain’s achievements over the years.

“There is no doubt at the highest levels of the US government that Iran is waging a sophisticated, capable and dangerous campaign of subversion against its GCC neighbours and the Arab world.

“We see this first and foremost in Bahrain, but also in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

“What has changed in the last two years is that the US government has become much more focused on confronting this campaign and more aggressive in the steps it is willing to take in challenging Iran.

“Examples include the lifting of restrictions on arms sales to the region, imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and designating Iranian proxies, such as the Al Ashtar Brigades, as foreign terrorist organisations.”

The US State Department last month imposed new sanctions on an Iran-based terrorist behind a spate of attacks in Bahrain.

Qassim Abdulla Ali Ahmed, also known as Qassim Al Muamen, was labelled a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).

He is the third member of the terror organisation Saraya Al Ashtar (Al Ashtar Brigades) blacklisted for terror crimes by the US administration.

In May last year, Ahmad Hasan Yusuf and Alsayed Murtadha Majeed Ramadhan Alawi were also designated as SDGT.

British Home Office also declared Al Ashtar Brigades and Al Mukhtar Brigades as Proscribed Terrorist Organisations.

Mr Ereli, who was envoy to Manama from 2007-2011, said the US administration under former president Barack Obama thought Iran would change its hostile behaviour.

Problem

“The problem with the Obama Administration – and there were many – was that it believed Iran could be reformed.

“Obama was of the view that the forces of ‘moderation’ in Iran would be strengthened by engagement with the West and that this would be the most effective way of changing Iran’s irresponsible international behaviour.

“The (Donald) Trump Administration concluded – correctly, in my opinion – that offering Iran concessions only emboldened the regime.

“Instead of using the economic benefits from sanctions relief to help its citizens, Iran gave the money to support (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General) Qassem Suleimani and his terrorist clients who are waging war against America and its allies.”

After the sanctions were reimposed, the Iranian rial lost about two-thirds of its value this year because of a weak economy, financial difficulties at local banks and heavy demand for dollars among Iranians.

“The Iranian currency is in free fall, having lost over 50 per cent of its value against the dollar,” said Mr Ereli.

“Major foreign investors, such as Total, Renault, Siemens and Maersk, have announced they are pulling out of Iran.

“In November, a second wave of US sanctions targeting the sale of Iranian oil and access to the international banking system will take effect.”

However, Mr Ereli pointed out the clerical regime in Iran has developed sophisticated means for both evading sanctions and creating economic workarounds to protect its most important state institutions.

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which provides support to foreign proxies in the region, will be the last to feel the pain of sanctions.

“Moreover, while supporting Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Hashd Al Shaabi in Iraq or Bashar Al Assad in Syria requires significant funds, the cost to Iran of financing the insurgency in Bahrain and Yemen is very low.

Influence

“For this reason, I believe that, while important and necessary, sanctions alone will not solve the problem of malign Iranian influence.”

He said Iran’s current government is run by religious authorities who remain committed to the principles of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

“As long as they are in power, they will continue to use all the tools at their disposal – political, economic and military – to destabilise the region.

“Nothing less than a change of regime will succeed in restoring an acceptable level of peace to the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant.”

Bahrain cut all diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016, citing Tehran’s interference in its domestic affairs.

The move came after demonstrators stormed and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

sandy@gdn.com.bh

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