Ali Harb, Middle East Eye, May 19 2019:… Speaking at a 2017 gathering for Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was on the US list of terrorist groups as recently as 2012, Bolton went so far as to promise the Iranian government would fall by 2019 with Trump in office. Bolton MEK Iran Policy at odds with Trump
America first vs America only: How John Bolton is fuelling Iran ‘hysteria’
Bolton MEK Iran Policy at odds with Trump
As Trump calls for dialogue with Iran, his national security adviser is beating drums of war
By Ali Harb in Washington
Despite the drums of war resonating ever louder this week, President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he isn’t seeking a military conflict with Iran, instead urging the leaders in Tehran to engage in direct negotiations with Washington.
Still, Trump’s seemingly conciliatory posture has not stopped a stream of threats from members of his administration.
Nor has it stemmed the flow of US media reports about the United States’s alleged military plans, or purported Iranian schemes to attack American troops in the Middle East.
According to former US officials and analysts, the culprit behind the current crisis is most likely Trump’s top aide: National Security Advisor John Bolton.
“He’s been an advocate of regime change in Iran for decades, and that’s one of his main goals,” Peter Bergen, director of the national security studies programme at the New America Foundation, told Middle East Eye.
The latest round of escalation can be traced back to 5 May, when Bolton said Washington was sending a naval strike group to the Gulf with the aim of sending a “clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime”.
Bolton, who has served in every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, is known for his neo-conservative, hawkish foreign policy views.
He was a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq when he served in the State Department in the lead-up to the 2003 US-led invasion.
And as US ambassador to the United Nations between 2005 and 2006, he often defended then-president George W Bush’s foreign interventions.
Wherever there is a government seen as hostile to Washington, Bolton has adopted a hard line against it.
For example, weeks before Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in June 2018, Bolton drew Pyongyang’s ire by suggesting the “Libya model” for denuclearising North Korea.
Although the administration later clarified that Bolton was calling on Pyongyang to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons as Tripoli did in the mid-2000s, the remarks were interpreted as a call for military strikes against North Korea.
Bolton “seemingly hasn’t met a war he doesn’t love,” Bergen wrote in a CNN column this week.
Still, Bolton’s fondness for military interventions remains at odds with Trump’s “America first” foreign policy and pledge to stop foreign wars and put an end to US-led “nation-building”.
“The world view of regime-change is that if anyone has a different foreign policy than we do, it must be because they’re wrong, and if they hold to it, they must be removed,” former US diplomat Christopher Hill said.
“So, it is a statement not only of ‘America first’ but ‘America only’.”
Indeed, in a 1994 speech, Bolton said that the United States is “the only real power left in the world”.
Hill, who served as the head of the US delegation for multilateral negotiations with North Korea in 2005 and as US ambassador to Iraq in 2010, said the recent impasse with Iran is largely coming “from the US side”.
And Bolton in particular is “trying to whip up hysteria,” Hill told MEE.
“I would support the British general who said there was nothing new in the threat level. However, I do not rule out that Iran may be responding to some of this.”
Regime change in Iran
This month’s tensions come a year after Trump pulled the US from the multinational Iran nuclear deal that saw Tehran significantly scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
“The strategy seems to be to put additional sanctions on Iran to essentially tank the Iranian economy to produce some kind of popular uprising to replace the regime – or prepare some kind of military conflict,” Bergen said of the administration’s policy on Iran.
The Trump adm
inistration’s stated policy is to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran to force Tehran to change its regional behaviour and end its nuclear programme.
But Bolton has said in the past that sanctions alone do not work.
“The inconvenient truth is that only military action … can accomplish what is required,” he wrote in a 2015 column published in the New York Times.
The article, titled “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran,” did not only call for targeting Iran’s nuclear facility. It also advocated US-led efforts to topple the Iranian government.
“Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran,” Bolton wrote.
It wasn’t the first – nor would it be the last – time Bolton called for regime-change in Iran. In early 2017, days before Trump took office, Bolton backed the incoming president’s pledge to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and presented a different approach.
“The alternative policy is regime change in Iran,” he said in an interview with Fox News at the time.
Speaking at a 2017 gathering for Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was on the US list of terrorist groups as recently as 2012, Bolton went so far as to promise the Iranian government would fall by 2019 with Trump in office.
“I have said for over 10 years since coming to these events that the declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton said.
“The behaviour and objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran.”
Some of Bolton’s critics say his views on Iran may not be driven by only ideology.
“I don’t think you can ignore the fact that Bolton has made six-figure income from the Mojahedin-e Khalq and has publicly called for them as the successor regime,” Hill said.
“So I think it’s a little hard to sort out one’s personal interests with a national interest here.”
Regardless of Bolton’s motives, Trump ultimately remains in charge, and he appears to want dialogue – something that may not bode well for his senior adviser.
In fact, the New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump was “frustrated” by the perception that Bolton is leading the administration’s Middle East policy.
What that says about his future in the White House remains unclear, as the president has regularly disposed of close aides who are considered influential in his administration.
Eight months into his tenure, Trump fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon, while cabinet secretaries, chiefs of staff and top White House officials once seen as indispensable have come and gone. Bolton himself is Trump’s third national security adviser in less than three years.
Still, Trump’s invitations for Iranian leaders to call him to avoid a military conflict may not be effective, said Hill, who is currently the chief global adviser at the University of Denver.
“When you aggravate an agreement, calling it ‘the worst deal ever,’ and then say, ‘but I’ll just call them back and they’ll give me more concessions,’ you might be able to pull that off in the New York real estate market,” Hill said. “I’m just not sure the Iranian leadership wants to go along with this.”
Bolton MEK Iran Policy at odds with Trump
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
The New York Times, May 15 2019:… Bolton’s Alternative is Mujahedeen Khalq, M.E.K.. Tensions between the United States and Iran have sharply increased. John Bolton, the national security adviser, has long pushed for regime change in Iran. One of his chosen replacements is the dissident group Mujahedeen Khalq, known as M.E.K.
Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump’s New Claims of Threats From Iran
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
Tensions between the United States and Iran have sharply increased. John Bolton, the national security adviser, has long pushed for regime change in Iran. One of his chosen replacements is the dissident group Mujahedeen Khalq, known as M.E.K. CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
Bolton MEK Iran
WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration draws up war plans against Iran over what it says are threats to American troops and interests, a senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria.
A few hours later, the United States Central Command issued an unusual rebuke: The remarks from the British official — Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State — run “counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region.”
[To follow new military deployments to the Middle East, sign up for the weekly At War newsletter.]
The rare public dispute highlights a central problem for the Trump administration as it seeks to rally allies and global opinion against Iran.
Over the last year, Washington has said Iran is threatening United States interests in the Middle East, encouraging aggression by Shiite militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, shipping missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen and allowing its naval forces to behave belligerently in the Persian Gulf.
All are concerns that have been leveled against Iranian forces for years.
“We are aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them along with a whole range of others because of the environment we are in,” General Ghika said.
But he said, “No, there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria.”
Intelligence and military officials in Europe as well as in the United States said that over the past year, most aggressive moves have originated not in Tehran, but in Washington — where John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has prodded President Trump into backing Iran into a corner.
One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States.
Since May 2018, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the major powers agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran, demanded that allies choose between Iranian oil and doing business in the American market, and declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization.
And on Tuesday, the State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the American Embassy in Baghdad as a heightened security measure.
The anti-Iran push has proved difficult even among the allies, which remember a similar campaign against Iraq that was led in part by Mr. Bolton and was fueled by false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s efforts this week to recruit European countries to back the administration’s steely posture on Iran are being received coolly.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, called for “maximum restraint” after meeting on Monday in Brussels with Mr. Pompeo, a proponent of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
Iraqi officials said they were skeptical of the American intelligence that Mr. Pompeo presented last week on a surprise trip to Baghdad. Mr. Pompeo said the threat was to American “facilities” and military personnel in Iraq.
In September, Trump administration officials blamed Shiite militiaswith ties to Iran for firing a few rockets into the area near the United States Embassy in Baghdad and the American Consulate in Basra. There were no injuries, but Mr. Pompeo ordered the Basra Consulate closed.
Privately, several European officials described Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo as pushing an unsuspecting Mr. Trump through a series of steps that could put the United States on a course to war before the president realizes it.
While Mr. Trump has made no secret of his reluctance to engage in another military conflict in the Middle East, and has ordered American troops home from Syria, his secretary of state and his national security adviser have pushed a maximalist hard-line approach on Iran. Mr. Bolton, in particular, has repeatedly called for American military strikes against Tehran.
Officials said Mr. Trump was aware that Mr. Bolton’s instinctual approach to Iran could lead to war; aides suggested that the president’s own aversion to drawn-out overseas conflicts would be the best hope of putting the brakes on military escalation.
A spokesman for Mr. Bolton declined to comment.
The Trump administration is looking at plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dismissed that as “fake news.” “We have not planned for that,” he told reporters.
But he immediately added, “If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Some of the president’s critics accept that Iran continues to engage in what United States officials call “malign behavior,” be it in Yemen, Syria or the Palestinian territories. But they blamed the administration for aggravating the standoff with Tehran.
“This is a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
He pointed to Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, coupled with the administration’s failure to get any other nations to do so.
“None of the other signatories to the deal were persuaded by the case the U.S. was making,” Mr. Nasr said. “And that is because this administration’s policy on Iran, at a fundamental level, does not have credibility.”
That lack of trust has proved to be a major obstacle in convincing allies that Iranian behavior in the region warrants military action.
And while the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, has carefully cultivated a more acquiescent stance to Mr. Bolton’s demands than did his predecessor, Jim Mattis, many military officials and congressional representatives worry about the escalating tensions. Mr. Mattis had balked at Mr. Bolton’s request for military options against Iran after the rockets landed on the American Embassy grounds in Baghdad.
“Bolton did the same with President George W. Bush and Iraq,” Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts and an Iraq war veteran, said in a statement last week. “As someone sent four times to that misguided war, I have seen the costs of Bolton’s disastrous foreign policy in a way he never will — firsthand, and at the loss of thousands of American lives.”
One big worry is that the Trump administration has issued the most expansive type of warning to Iran, without drawing specific red lines. That has increased the chance of a military conflict over misinterpretations and miscalculations.
In a statement this month, Mr. Bolton outlined vague terms of what appeared to be conditions for military engagement, responding to what he said were “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
He said “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” And he warned that the administration was “fully prepared to respond to any attack” by the Iranian military or a “proxy” — one of the Middle East’s many Arab militias that are supported by Iran.
Those militias often do not operate under direct command and control from Iran, and they have varying levels of allegiance to the Iran military.
In Yemen’s civil war, the Houthis are Shiite-offshoot rebels who oppose a government backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni nations. The Houthis’ ties to Iran are murky. But the Trump administration labels the rebels as Iranian proxies, and Mr. Bolton’s statement left open the possibility that a Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E. — both United States allies — could set off an American military assault against Iran.
In statements, Iranian leaders have reacted with both belligerence and diplomatic restraint to a series of American actions that they see as provocative. In a tweet on Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, ridiculed Mr. Bolton and three anti-Iran foreign leaders in the Middle East as a “B Team.”
“In interviews in April, I predicted ‘accidents’ — not because I’m a genius — but because #B_Team is so brazenly following @AmbJohnBolton’s script,” Mr. Zarif said. “After all, half of B-Team were co-conspirators in disastrous Iraq war.”
The hard-line tactics against Iran could backfire in two ways, said Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group. If the sanctions crush its economy, then Iran could act with less restraint, he said. And if the sanctions do not work well, then some American officials will advocate military action, a move that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are likely to support.
“There will be people in Washington who will push for limited kinetic action against the Iranian regime to cut it down to size,” he said.
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MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX
Sohail Jannessar, Darren Loucaides, Foreign Policy, April 28 2019:… “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.” Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed.
Spain’s Vox Party Hates Muslims—Except the Ones Who Fund It (MEK)
(MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX)
The upstart far-right party is unapologetically Islamophobic, but without donations from Iranian exiles, it may have never gotten off the ground.
pain’s far-right party Vox launched its 2019 election campaign this month in the tiny town of Covadonga. Situated in a lush valley in the northern region of Asturias, with fewer than 100 inhabitants, Covadonga is sometimes referred to as the “cradle of Spain.” According to the historical narrative of Spanish conservatives, Covadonga was the site of the first victory by Christian Hispania against Spain’s then-Muslim rulers, and the start of the Reconquista, the 780-year process of reclaiming Iberian lands for Christendom.
“Europe is what it is thanks to Spain—thanks to our contribution, ever since the Middle Ages, of stopping the spread and the expanse of Islam,” Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox’s vice secretary of international relations and a candidate in the April 28 elections, told Foreign Policy over the phone on his way to Covadonga. At the campaign launch, Vox leader Santiago Abascal added: “History matters, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that,” to cries of “¡Viva España!”
While Spain’s right-wing has previously been relatively light on anti-Islam rhetoric, preferring to rail against secessionists in Catalonia and elsewhere, Vox has no such compunction. One of the party’s earliest controversies was a wildly Islamophobic video conjuring a future in which Muslims had imposed sharia in southern Spain, turning the Cathedral of Córdoba back into a mosque and forcing women to cover up. Recently, Vox’s No. 2, Javier Ortega Smith, was investigated by Spanish prosecutors for hate speech after he spoke of an “Islamist invasion” that was the “enemy of Europe.”
Given Vox’s staunch Islamophobia, it was an embarrassment for the party when reports of Iranian funding emerged in January.
Vox’s racist, homophobic, and sexist policies had already provided plenty of ammunition for its critics and rival parties; the claims that Vox had been established with the help of Iranian money in 2013 was less expected. However, Vox was not actually funded by Iran itself. The reality is even more surprising.
Documents leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País show that almost 1 million euros donated to Vox between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014 came via supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian group. The NCRI was set up in the 1980s by Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and a number of other Iranian dissidents and opposition groups. The MEK’s allies later abandoned the NCRI, making the organization functionally an alias for the MEK.
The MEK and NCRI dispute that they are synonymous, but many disagree, including Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, who refers to the NCRI as the MEK’s “front organization.” The MEK and NCRI also share the same leader, Maryam Rajavi. The U.S. government and a U.S. Court of Appeals decision affirm that the NCRI is an alias of the MEK, while a 2009 Rand Corp. report sponsored by the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense refers to the NCRI as an “MeK subsidiary.”
The MEK is billed by U.S. politicians like Rudy Giuliani and current National Security Advisor John Bolton as the legitimate opposition to the current Iranian government. But the MEK also happens to be a former Islamist-Marxist organization that was only taken off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations in 2012—raising the question of why supporters of such a group would want to back an Islamophobic, hard-right Spanish party like Vox.
In Spain, much has been made of Vox’s links to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who met a senior figure from the party in Washington last year, and has promised to tour Spain in the near future. But the mysterious MEK-linked funding points to another controversial relationship.
With Vox poised to win more than 10 percent of the vote in this weekend’s Spanish elections, the party could end up propping up a new right-wing government, as happened in regional elections in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia in December. It would be the first time a Spanish government has depended on a far-right party since Francisco Franco, and this would send shockwaves through Spain’s entire political system.
The question of Vox’s funding is now more burning than ever.
In 1953, a U.S.- and British-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and propped up a monarchical dictatorship led by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Waves of oppression followed, including scores of executions, thousands of incarcerations, and the choking of civil society. In the ensuing political vacuum, many radical groups popped up. One such group, the MEK, or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, combined both Marxism and Islamism. The MEK set about fighting the Western-backed dictatorship, staging attacks against the shah’s regime and U.S. targets. The shah responded in kind, torturing and executing opposition leaders, including those of the MEK.
In the months preceding the Islamic Revolution of 1979, thousands of prisoners were set free, including Massoud Rajavi, a prominent MEK figure. Rajavi was a young, charismatic orator, who rejuvenated the organization and even met Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, hoping to secure his endorsement for the MEK. Khomeini refused. Rajavi then tried to run as a candidate in Iran’s first-ever presidential election, but confronted with Khomeini’s disapproval, he was forced to drop out. The winner of that election, Abolhassan Banisadr, was not an ally of Khomeini either. The MEK saw an opening and allied itself with Banisadr.
In 1981, Rajavi and Banisadr fled Iran together after Banisadr was impeached and removed from office with Khomeini’s blessing and MEK followers had lost deadly street battles with Khomeini loyalists that had threatened to turn into a civil war. The MEK was now an official enemy of the Islamic Republic, which was at the time fighting a bloody war with Iraq, so the MEK came to see Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a viable ally. The MEK started helping Saddam in his war against Iran.
Since that moment, the group has been widely seen as a pariah among the Iranian public. Later, the MEK reportedly helped Saddam in his massacres of Kurds and Iraqi Shiites. As stated in the Rand report: “MEK officials strenuously deny any involvement in the atrocities against the Shia and Kurds. … However, the allegations of the group’s complicity with Saddam are corroborated by press reports that quote Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,’ as well as the timing of Saddam’s conferring the Rafedeen Medallion—a high honor in the Iraqi military—on Masoud Rajavi.” In return, Saddam gave the MEK near-unlimited funding and a stretch of land to build itself a city, about 60 miles north of Baghdad and just 50 miles away from the Iranian border.
When the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 overthrew Saddam, the MEK lost its biggest ally.
The country was now ruled by parties and people the MEK had helped suppress, friends of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and a United States at the height of its global war on terrorism and which had designated the MEK as a terrorist group. What’s more, the MEK had by now morphed into something resembling a cult, according to allegations by various people who have left the group.
Hassan Heyrani, a former member of the MEK’s political department who defected in 2018, told Foreign Policy about group rituals and routines designed to completely subjugate the individual self, including members’ sexual lives and the slightest hint of free thinking, while forcing near-religious worship of MEK leader Massoud Rajavi. Women were made to adhere to a strict dress code. Members were obliged to record the details of their daily activities and thoughts in personal notebooks and then share them in group meetings, with the risk of public shaming and punishments, according to Heyrani. The MEK did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but its representatives have denied such claims in the past.
Despite the MEK’s metamorphosis from an opposition group to designated terrorist organization, hawks in the George W. Bush administration decided that they could use the MEK in their redrawing of the Middle East. Instead of apprehending members of the group as terrorists, during the occupation the U.S. Army was instructed to defend the MEK’s base from possible attacks by Iraqi forces, various Iraqi militias, or forces loyal to the Iranian government.
The MEK quickly seized on Washington’s change of heart. The organization started an intense lobbying campaign to have itself removed from terrorist lists in the United States and European Union. A vast and impressive range of current and former U.S. politicians and officials ended up being linked to this effort, from Giuliani and Bolton on the right to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on the left. In Europe, the list included Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a now-retired Spanish politician, who previously served as one of the 14 vice presidents in the EU Parliament. The MEK was finally delisted by the U.S. government in 2012 and by the EU in 2009.
Spain’s Vidal-Quadras went on to help found Vox in late 2013. And supporters of the NCRI provided the funding needed to launch the right-wing party and contest the 2014 European elections, according to El País.
“From the day it was founded in December 2013—the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior—Vox started to receive Iranian funds,” said Joaquín Gil, one of the El País journalists who first reported on NCRI-linked funding of Vox. The donations came from dozens of individual sources, from several countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy in amounts ranging from 60 to 35,000 euros, totaling almost 972,000 euros, in the period from December 2013 to April 2014, shortly before the European parliamentary elections.
According to Gil, Vidal-Quadras said he had “asked his friends at NCRI … to instruct its followers to make a series of money transfers.” Vidal-Quadras told El País that he had informed the current leader of the party, Abascal, about his relationship with the organization and that the NCRI would finance the party. Vidal-Quadras has confirmed that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox and the group was willing to discuss the matter with Spanish journalists.
This money would be fundamental to the launch of the party—without it, Gil suggested, Vox wouldn’t exist. But the NCRI had already achieved the goal of having the MEK removed from the EU terrorist list years earlier, so why did its supporters agree to fund a fringe Spanish party? “It’s totally surreal,” Gil admitted.
When asked about the party’s links to the NCRI, Espinosa, the Vox vice secretary of international relations, told Foreign Policy: “We don’t have any relationship with them.” The funding of Vox by the NCRI came out of a “personal relationship” with Vidal-Quadras, who had supported the Iranian organization throughout his stint in the EU Parliament until 2014, when he lost his race to win a seat as part of the newly founded Vox. (Vidal-Quadras had previously been a lifetime member of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, or PP.) “They supported him,” Espinosa claimed. “Not the party so much as him. And when he left,” Espinosa added, “when the campaign was over, they never came back.” Like the NCRI and MEK, Vidal-Quadras did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
In December 2013, Spain’s electoral commission reminded the political parties that foreigners were not allowed to finance parties during the 2014 European elections campaign. Spain’s electoral law prohibits parties from receiving money from foreign entities or individuals 54 days before elections, although foreign funding is permitted outside of the campaign period.
While there is no evidence that Vox has broken Spanish or EU funding rules, Espinosa clearly had no qualms about accepting foreign funding:
“I try to get as much funding from abroad as I can—not to say that it’s significant, but I’d be lying if I told you nobody from abroad [had made donations].”
Espinosa, who was part of Vox’s European parliamentary candidates list in 2014 alongside Vidal-Quadras (Vox narrowly missed winning a seat), went on to emphasize that the noncampaign funding was entirely legal, transparent, and came through verified bank wires by “professionals—lawyers, bankers, dentists, doctors who live abroad.” Other parties remain suspicious.
Spain’s ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), currently in a minority in the Senate, has asked the Senate’s majority party, the PP, to request that Vox appear in front of the Commission of Investigation for Funding of Parties. The conservative PP, which would likely need Vox’s support to have any chance of forming a right-wing coalition government after the election, has expressed concerns about Vox’s funding but has stopped short of a Senate investigation, instead urging Spain’s Court of Auditors to investigate Vox. Espinosa told Foreign Policy that the party has presented all the related documents to the Court of Auditors.
Espinosa also insisted that Vox’s funding had never come from “foundations, organizations, parties”—only individuals. But while the donations to Vox technically came from followers of the MEK rather than directly from the organization, the distinction between “members,” as in those actually part of the MEK, and so-called “supporters” outside the organization itself is false, claimed Heyrani. “Those in other countries are also members. They have daily schedules. There are circles led by MEK offices in each country, and they act upon their orders,” he said. NCRI and MEK representatives have not responded to requests from Foreign Policy for comment on this allegation.
The MEK may have just been returning the favor to a long ally, Vidal-Quadras, who has been supportive of the MEK for years. But as one former member of the MEK executive committee told Foreign Policy, the financial resources the group gained under Saddam Hussein have likely run out—which suggests that it may have another source of funding today.
“Mojahedin [MEK] are the tool, not the funders. They aren’t that big. They facilitate,” said Massoud Khodabandeh, who once served in the MEK’s security department; Khodabandeh defected in 1996, a year before the MEK was designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.”
Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed.
Khodabandeh’s account raises the question of where the MEK’s money is coming from today. Heyrani, the recent MEK defector, also handled parts of the organization’s finances in Iraq and was blunt when asked about the current financial backing of the MEK: “Saudi Arabia. Without a doubt,” he said. Once the MEK was given a safe haven in Albania after U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with no U.S. Army to defend the group’s camp and the Iraqi government wanting them gone, one of the ranking members of the political department told Heyrani that Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud had finally laid a “golden egg.”
The so-called egg was the massive installation, or camp, based just outside Tirana, Albania, which has been used by the MEK as its base of operations since 2016. “Habib Rezaei [a top-ranking member] told me that we will bring some U.S. senators to parade in front of Albanians so that they know who they’re dealing with,” Heyrani said. (In August 2017, Republican Sens. Roy Blunt, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis visited the MEK in Albania and met with Maryam Rajavi.)
Saudi Arabia’s state-run television channels have given friendly coverage to the MEK, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, even appeared in July 2016 at an MEK rally in Paris.
“I want to topple the regime too,” the prince said, to cheers. It has also been widely reported that the MEK has collaborated with Israel’s Mossad, including in attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists, according to U.S. officials. The MEK has called the allegations of their role in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists “patently false.”
There is evidence that Gulf leaders, fearful of Iranian influence and Islamist movements at home, are warming to anti-Islam parties in Europe, as Ola Salem and Hassan Hassan have argued in Foreign Policy. Khodabandeh agreed. “It’s all over Europe,” he said. “Far-right, anti-EU parties have support that comes from lots of places. … There is outside backing. This backing is the same as [those backing] MEK.”
Experts in the United States have reached similar conclusions about the source of the MEK’s funds. “Group supporters claimed the money came from the contributions of ordinary Iranians in exile, but the sums seemed far too great,” wrote Benjamin, the former State Department counterterrorism official, who added that some believed Arab governments of the Persian Gulf to be behind the MEK “lucre,” as he put it.
Even so, a fringe party in Spain just getting off the ground does not seem to be a natural destination for supporters of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Iranian government, much less a party whose ideology was not known to the NCRI and MEK at the time of those donations, according to an NCRI spokesperson quoted in the El País report. Moreover, Spain’s governments and its royal family have long enjoyed amicable relations with the Gulf monarchies, reducing the likelihood of these governments wanting to prop up an extremist far-right party in Spain.
Ultimately, the revelations by El País about MEK-linked funding being used to establish Vox leave more questions than answers. As Benjamin wrote in 2016, the removal of the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist organizations ended “any hope of gathering more information from MEK proponents on their financial relations with the group, or where all that money came from.”
Renowned enemies of the Iranian government may have been happy to see their funding reach a European supporter of the MEK, given that the organization has been promoted internationally by some as the legitimate Iranian opposition-in-exile, but either these alleged financial backers didn’t realize their cash would ultimately be used to fund a far-right party—or they didn’t care.
Sohail Jannessari is a doctoral candidate in political science at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University and a contributor to BBC Persian TV and other Persian-language media. Twitter: @SoJannessari
Bolton MEK Iran
Alejo Vidal-Quadras: We (VOX) Received money from Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) terrorists
Eldiaro.es, Spain, January 16 2019:… The NCRI is the name adopted by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MeK, its acronym in English) to try to pretend it is part of a coalition of groups opposing the Iranian regime. Although originally inspired by Marxism, for years it has been adopted by neoconservative pundits as the alternative to the Iranian regime. According to El Pais, the far-right group received 800,000 euros in 146 donations from people linked to this group to finance that campaign. 80% of the funds that Vox used …
Link to the source (Spanish)
(Translated by Iran Interlink)
Alejo Vidal-Quadras: “Abascal knew about Iranian opponents’ financial support for Vox and was fine with it”
The former head of Vox’s list of candidates for the 2014 European Parliament elections, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, assures that the current leader of the far-right formation, Santiago Abascal, was aware that supporters of the National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI) contributed funds for that campaign and did not object to that support. “Santiago Abascal knew the economic support of Iranian opponents and it seemed good to him, all help, within the law, was welcome,” he told eldiario.es.
The NCRI is the name adopted by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MeK, its acronym in English) to try to pretend it is part of a coalition of groups opposing the Iranian regime. Although originally inspired by Marxism, for years it has been adopted by neoconservative pundits as the alternative to the Iranian regime. According to El Pais, the far-right group received 800,000 euros in 146 donations from people linked to this group to finance that campaign. 80% of the funds that Vox used to try to have representation in the European Parliament came from that group. Vidal-Quadras, who lacked 2,600 votes to enter the European Parliament, left Vox after that fiasco. Before he had spent thirty years in the PP, as an MEP, for which he was trained, between 1999 and 2014.
The Organic Law of the General Electoral System (LOREG) prohibits contributions to the electoral accounts of “funds coming from foreign entities or persons”, that is, they do not have Spanish nationality. However, in October 2013, months before these elections, the Central Electoral Board specified that this prohibition operates only during the electoral period: from the time the elections are formally convened until their conclusion.
The decree calling for these elections was published in the Official Gazette (BOE) on 31 March 2014, which set May 25 as the date for the poll. That is, any foreign donation in this period would have been irregular. Vidal-Quadras says that the law was “scrupulously” complied with. “I did not receive a euro when the elections were already called, if I had, I would have contravened the law and I always abide by the law,” he says.
Although his departure from the PP and signing up for Vox was not announced until January 27, 2014, Vidal-Quadras says that since the end of December 2013 the circles of the opposition to the Iranian regime already knew of his intention to leave for another party and try again to be a member of the European Parliament under other group. “That’s when that support began to be forged because I am a well-known person in that area,” he explains. In any case, Vox’s candidate was not formally announced to the European Parliament until April 10, with the elections already officially convened and, therefore, when the ban on the receipt of funds from abroad already operated.
Collaboration “without conditions”
Vidal-Quadras frames the “collaboration” of Iranian opponents in his frustrated attempt to be a member of Vox in his “years” relationship with the NCRI. He says that this “close relationship” began to be forged in 1999, when he arrived in Brussels as a PP member of the European Parliament. “I joined then with the Friends of a Free Iran platform, in which were other representatives of the PP and also socialists, liberals, greens … we staged public events, statements or press conferences to give them their support,” he says. “When I left the PP and launched myself at Vox, people from civil society, not the NCRI as an organization, lent me their financial support,” he adds. He insists that they did so “without conditions” as thanks for the 15 years he had been working with them.
When the European Union decided to remove the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK), the main opposition group to the Islamic regime in Tehran, from the European list of terrorist organizations, Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (considered the political wing of the Mojahedin), thanked a group of members of the European Parliament for their support, especially Vidal-Quadras. It was common for the then PP politician to participate actively in all kinds of acts of lobbying in Brussels for the Iranian opposition in exile, reports Marina Estévez.
Vidal-Quadras ascribes the contributions of funds to the period in which he was in Vox and links them “totally” to his person. “There was no donation while he was in the PP”, he says, although he reiterates that members of parliament also participated in activities for the Iranian opposition. On Monday, the party presided over by Pablo Casado announced that he was considering forcing Vox to appear before the Commission of Investigation into the Financing of Political Parties that he is driving solo in the Senate to explain receipt of funds from Iranians that the vice-secretary of Communication of the PP, Marta González, described as “worrying”.
And politicians who concern Pablo Casado, such as former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, have also lent their support to this group of Iranian opponents. In fact, not even its terrorist past, as the USA and the EU considered it until a few years ago, has prevented this organization from enjoying the support of Western leaders. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, for example, attended the annual meetings that the group organized in Paris in 2013 and 2014. Bolton MEK Iran
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, Tirana, Albania, Iranian.com, December 21 2018:… The Iranian Mojahedin who started to come to Albania as war refugees since 2013, have since the election of Donald Trump in the White House become very aggressive in the country. The MEK which runs a paramilitary camp in the village of Manza outside Durres, have been accused by various Albanian and Western media outlets of running illegal activities in Albania … Bolton MEK Iran
Fars News, Tehran, December 21 2018:… Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama decided to expel Iranian Ambassador Gholam Hossein Mohammadnia and another diplomat, as part of the US requests from Tirana that also include granting growing influence to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as MEK, NCRI and PMOI) terrorist organization in Albania. The move by the Albanian government came … Bolton MEK Iran
Gazeta Impakt, December 19 2018:… On December 15, 2018, at a time when all Albania is protesting demand that the Rama government be dismissed, Rama’s Minister of the Diaspora Pandeli Majko has gone to the annual meeting of Maryam Rajavi with her jihadists at the Mojahedin Camp in Manzas. At this meeting, Pandeli has attacked the government of Iran and has expressed his support for the Iranian terrorist group … Bolton MEK Iran
Families of Mojahedin Khalq (MEK, MKO) members, Nejat Society, December 19 2018:… After the fall of Saddam Hussein AI failed to say a single word except to promote MEK as a ‘human rights’ group. In 2005, Human Rights Watch wrote a damning report on the human rights abuses conducted by MEK against their own members. In 2009 the RAND Corporation conducted an in-depth study of MEK and revealed its cultic human rights abuses … Bolton MEK Iran
Eldar Mamedov, Lobelog, December 18 2018:… Vox received a donation of 500.000 euros from MEK, acting under the umbrella of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) This money allowed the party to kick-start its election campaign for the European Parliament. The person who played a key role was Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a veteran Spanish politician. At first sight, Vidal-Quadras and Rajavi would make strange bedfellows … Bolton MEK Iran
Philip Giraldi, American Herald Tribune, December 18 2017:… Colonel Martin should have considered that A study prepared by RAND for the U.S. government concluded that there were present “many of the typical characteristics of a cult, such as authoritarian control, confiscation of assets, sexual control (including mandatory divorce and celibacy), emotional isolation, forced labor, sleep deprivation, physical abuse and limited exit options … Bolton MEK Iran
Iran Interlink, December 16 2018:… Bolton MEK Iran. Viewers soon discovered that the presenter Sokol Balla had been involved in many sex scandals including filmed masturbating in front of an adolescent girl. The best gaffe of all was when the MEK wanted to show that their members are free to go shopping. But the lonely man trudging up the road looking thoroughly defeated with his two shopping bags is carrying supplies of Tena incontinence pants … Bolton MEK Iran
Nejat Society, December 16 2018:… the propaganda media of the Mujahedin Khalq (the MKO/ MEK/ PMOI/ the Cult of Rajavi) do not give a shit to the France protests but they exaggerate the workers protests in Khuzestan, Iran, because Maryam Rajavi is sheltered in France and launches her anti-Iran campaign from France territory. However, she should be asked what about the protests inside her group’s camp in Durres, Albania … Bolton MEK Iran
Iran Interlink, December 14 2018:… Bolton MEK Iran. Last week alone, MEK created ten new sites, with specific tags that will dominate Google News. The people inside MEK say the goal is to push down the recent damning media reports. The whole organisation has become one big click farm, not just Albania, including supporters. The informers say it’s all lies. MEK is trying to say we didn’t kill Americans, we weren’t with Saddam etc … Bolton MEK Iran
Iran Interlink, December 14 2018:… Dr. Mowaffak al Rubaie: The GOI does not deal with the MEK as an organization. We deal with the residents as individuals. The GOI has informed them that as members of a foreign terrorist organization they cannot remain in Iraq and must choose whether to return to their country of citizenship or some other country. Remaining in Iraq is not an option. The GOI has taken steps to assure their security while … Bolton MEK Iran
David William Pear, The Greenville Post, December 13 2018:… Bolton MEK Iran. The fact that Mujahideen-e-Khalq, MEK has killed US citizens in terrorist attacks did not hinder some US politicians from accepting large speaking fees at their conventions, even when MEK was still on the US terrorist list. The US has also instigated instability inside Iran and supported external attacks by terrorist groups such as Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK … Bolton MEK Iran
Tasnim News, December 13 2018:… Bolton MEK Iran. The US has extended its sponsorship of terrorism to a vicious terrorist cult, the MKO, that has murdered more than 17,000 Iranians and many Iraqis and who currently cozy up to the highest political figures in Washington to destabilize Iran through terrorist activities. Here, Mr. President, I would like to stress that according to the Charter, this Council represents all Member States thus its decision should … Bolton MEK Iran