Reza Alghurabi, American Herald Tribune, January 05 2020:… Early on December 31, Iranian news sources, as well as some anti-Iran groups, reported an explosion in front of the building of a construction institute affiliated with the IRGC. A few hours later, a spokesperson for the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization (MEK, a.k.a MKO, NCRI, PMOI, etc.) claimed responsibility for the attack in an announcement. Some Iranian sources released footage of the building showing it was intact and denied the bombing. Some others, quoting informed sources, described the incident as merely a biker throwing a lit firecracker near the building. Has the MEK Re-Entered Its Military-Terrorist Phase?
Has the MEK Re-Entered Its Military-Terrorist Phase?
Early on December 31, Iranian news sources, as well as some anti-Iran groups, reported an explosion in front of the building of a construction institute affiliated with the IRGC.
A few hours later, a spokesperson for the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization (MEK, a.k.a MKO, NCRI, PMOI, etc.) claimed responsibility for the attack in an announcement. Some Iranian sources released footage of the building showing it was intact and denied the bombing. Some others, quoting informed sources, described the incident as merely a biker throwing a lit firecracker near the building.
Regardless of whether or not the attack has occurred or how much damage it has caused, MEK claiming responsibility for the attack indicates the group’s plans and intentions to return to its violent phase.
MEK’s announcement reminds political observers and Iran analysts of the group’s bloody operations in the country and its brutal squad of assassins in different parts of Iran during the 1980s. Operations in which according to a 1994 US state department report on the MEK, thousands of civilians were murdered and various political, economic and military centers were damaged.
The MEK has adopted a violent approach against its opponents since it was established in 1965. The group’s harsh, violent and terrorist attitude, has been recruited in the face of domestic critics, the Shah’s government, and then the Islamic Republic of Iran. MEK’s military treatment of Iraqi ethnic minorities, especially Turkmen and Kurds, when the group was located in Iraq at the invitation of Saddam Hussein, was also part of a brutal approach taken by the group’s leaders from the outset. This procedure continued until 2003.
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK which was listed by the US as a terrorist group, was forcibly disarmed by the US Army and the group’s military wing was forced to hand over its heavy and semi-heavy weapons to the US forces in Iraq.
The MEK has since tried to adapt its tactics to the new situation. So in order to get out of the terrorist lists in the UK, EU and US, a new approach was taken that was more like a tactical change than a strategical one; entering a phase of political and propaganda activities against Iran to persuade the West that the MEK is the only alternative to the Islamic Republic.
In the 16 years since the forced disarmament, the MEK has established extensive contacts with former Western political figures and launched massive propaganda efforts against Tehran. But none of these activities of the MEK could bring them their desired outcome, which is the acceptance of the group as an alternative to the Islamic Republic and the overthrow of the Iranian political system.
Therefore, in recent years, the MEK has sought to direct its regime-change activities within Iran by organizing its forces who are titled by the group as ‘insurgent cells’. In the past few years, the actions of these cells have been limited to installing images of the group’s leaders and burning pictures of Iranian high-ranking officials in low-lying, low-traffic areas. The MEK has not made any successful gains from the formation of these cells so far.
Although the December 31 operation caused neither casualties nor damage, it was a significant act in several respects.
The first issue is the use of a bomb in the operation and claiming responsibility for the blast by a MEK spokesperson in the group’s official media, a phenomenon that has been unprecedented in recent years since the MEK’s tactical shift and entering into the phase of political propaganda.
In a video released hours after the explosion on MEK’s website, the group claimed responsibility for the attack and attributed it to its own military branch, the National Liberation Army (NLA). The NLA was the MEK’s military wing in the Iraq-Iran war, which served alongside Saddam Hussein’s army and conducted cross-border raids into Iran during the last stages of the war. In addition to border attacks on Iran, the NLA served Saddam in the brutal repression of Iraqi Kurds during 1991.
Therefore, citing this infamous military branch and attributing the attack to it, means a shift in the MEK’s tactics and its re-entering to the armed and terrorist phase.
Another important point is the MEK spokesperson’s sharp statement, in which he spoke of the need to demolish the centers affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. This threat resembles two deadly terrorist operations by the group in the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and Prime Minister in 1981.
This is probably why the spokesperson, for the first time since the group’s disarmament in 2003, has called upon (the US) for the return of their weapons.
It seems unlikely that the MEK’s spokesperson be unaware of the political and legal burden of these threats. It is clear that the MEK is seriously seeking to change its strategy and return to the phase of violent and terrorist acts. This action, as it was said, stems from the MEK’s foundation which is based on achieving results through violent acts. It also demonstrates that the group’s decade-long political and propaganda activities to persuade Western governments to overthrow Iran’s political system have so far failed. So the MEK’s return to phase of terrorist acts could be its response to this failure.
It appears that continuation of this approach by the MEK, will put Western sponsors of the group in an unfavorable position and it will cause further damage to Iran’s relations with them. The MEK is turning from a refugee group in Albania to a group that, in addition to carrying out anti-Iranian actions, is now on its way into armed phase, an approach which could lead to Tirana’s direct confrontation with Tehran.
Tehran’s recent confrontations with Western powers such as Washington and London in the Persian Gulf in the battle of tankers and UAVs demonstrate that Iranians, who now benefit military balance in the West Asian region, do not easily overlook their security threats. Whether this threat is posed by the MEK through terrorist operations, similar to what they did during the 1980s and saw its consequences, or by its Western sponsors through providing facilities for the terrorist group.
Has the MEK Re-Entered Its Military-Terrorist Phase?
MEK And ISIS Alternatives For Iran?
Tom O’connor, Newsweek, December 11 2019:… Until 2012, MEK was a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, something that represents the blurred lines that have long defined Washington’s Middle East policies. In fighting ISIS, the U.S. partnered with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group widely seen as tied to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and although Trump has adopted a hard-line stance against Iran, the Pentagon was forced to continue at least indirect collaboration with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia umbrella that includes the outlawed, Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, among other groups . MEK And ISIS Alternatives For Iran?
MEK And ISIS Alternatives For Iran?
IF IRAN FALLS, ISIS MAY RISE AGAIN
As disorder deepens in Iran amid widespread protests, fears are rising that the fall of Iran’s revolutionary Shiite Islamic Republic could lead to disaster in the region and the re-emergence of an even greater foe of the United States—the Islamic State militant group known as ISIS.
Violent protests sparked by a cut in gas subsidies continue to erupt across Iran, fueled further by a forceful crackdown on protesters from the government. The unrest, coupled with crippling U.S. sanctions and costly campaigns across the Middle East, has incensed those fighting for regime change from within the country, opening an opportunity for Iran’s enemies both at home and abroad to capitalize on this discord and vulnerability.
“Different groups hostile to the Iranian government, including ISIS, separatists or other ones, have and will take advantage of any unrest in the country,” Abas Aslani, a visiting scholar at the Istanbul-based Center for Middle East Strategic Studies and editor-in-chief of the Iran Front Page outlet, told Newsweek.
“They could find a way in this situation to bring more damage to the country,” he added. “This will not be limited to the groups, but also some foreign countries inside and outside the region will also use the opportunity for weakening or changing the regime in Iran and bring instability to the country.”
Iran has remained steadfast in the face of its foes foreign and domestic, and few expect the full demise of the government. But even those inside and outside Iran who support the rallies that continue day and night against the clerics running the nation fear the chaos alone could foster conditions for ISIS to breed.
“Any collapse or weakening of a state in the region is likely to fuel into more instability in the region,” Aslani told Newsweek. “This is also a concern of even opponents in Iran, in so that they are not sure in the case of the collapse of the current system in the country who will replace them and how the situation will be.”
To Iran, the fight against ISIS has always been an existential one. Just as the Pentagon began coordinating its own involvement in June 2014, Iran had begun mobilizing mostly Shiite Muslim militias in both Iraq and Syria to beat back lightning gains made by the Sunni Muslim insurgents that reveled in the slaughter of those deemed to be outside of their ultraconservative ideology.
This proved vital in turning the tide against the jihadis, who have been largely defeated in recent years.
“Iran was critical in providing logistical and advisory support to Iraqi paramilitary forces who battled ISIS in Iraq, particularly during the early days of the campaign,” Rodger Shanahan, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute’s West Asia Program and former director of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre, told Newsweek.
As for Syria, where ISIS spread amid an ongoing civil war, Shanahan said Iran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad “also meant that it has contributed to the anti-ISIS campaign, although it is fair to say that that was by no means the aim of their support for Assad and the targeting of ISIS has been sporadic at best.”
In fighting ISIS abroad, Iran managed to help dismantle the jihadis and broaden the Islamic Republic’s own support network of partnered forces also hostile to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Establishing this so-called Axis of Resistance proved a major strategic victory, but it came at a steep price.
These campaigns cost Iran capital, both human and financial, and strict U.S. sanctions have choked up Tehran’s access to disposable income. Although the Iranian government is believed to still have access to considerable wealth to run its operations, the dual effects of a U.S.-imposed trade siege and domestic mismanagement have made life more difficult for everyday Iranians unable to take advantage of the economic reforms promised by President Hassan Rouhani.
The Rouhani administration’s decision to cut fuel subsidies last month and ultimately transition to a welfare-based system had actually been in the works for some time and was supported by the International Monetary Fund. Still, the sudden shift was seismic for Iranians accustomed to cheap fuel and people have taken to the streets to protest in massive numbers.
The government’s reaction on the ground was swift and, against who officials claimed were rioters, deadly.
Amnesty International has estimated that more than 200 Iranians have been killed during the unrest and Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, placed the casualties at “many hundreds, perhaps over a thousand”—a figure far higher than other estimates provided by human rights monitors. No conclusive count exists and the Iranian government has disputed these numbers.
Some of the fiercest resistance to the crackdown in recent weeks has emerged in Iran’s western Khuzestan province, where Arab separatist groups such as the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz have reported “violent clashes between residents, occupation forces and militias” in western towns and cities. While protesters took their frustrations with the country’s economic situation to the streets here, too, another potentially more serious peril loomed: separatist groups in key border areas.
Those groups are “the biggest non-state threat to Iran today,” Ariane Tabatabai, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation and an adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told Newsweek. The most volatile border areas are Sistan-Baluchistan, Khuzestan and Kurdistan. Watchers worry that any escalation of insurgencies in these parts could propel Iran toward the sectarian strife seen in Syria.
“That’s part of what’s deterring many Iranians from outright pushing for regime collapse: The lessons of Syria loom large,” she added.
Insurgencies were waged by separatist Arab, Baluch and Kurdish militias for decades before ISIS, Al-Qaeda or even the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the pro-West shah, who long-enjoyed the CIA maintaining his rule. The Islamic Republic has managed to keep these restive communities in line, but deadly attacks persist, such as a February bus bombing that killed up to 27 members of the Revolutionary Guard.
The operation was claimed by Jaish ul-Adl, which along with fellow Sunni Islamist group Ansar Al-Furqan, has taken advantage of previous periods of unrest in an attempt to undermine the Iranian government. ISIS, notorious for its ability to build bridges across continents, has actively sought to exploit these national struggles as it does in countries as far away as the Philippines.
The group’s reach within Iran remains fairly insignificant, Tabatabai added. She explained, however, that “ISIS has mostly focused its efforts in the areas with significant Kurdish and Arab minority populations—because these are populations that have been historically neglected if not repressed by the central authority.”
While eradicating adversarial forces and projecting its own influence abroad were integral motivations for Tehran’s entrance into the fight against ISIS, so was disrupting any potential nexus between the influential jihadi group and other opponents of Iran within the country itself. Shanahan told Newsweek that from the beginning, “Iran was concerned at the threat ISIS posed to Iranian territory, and the possibility of support for low-level insurgencies amongst Arab and Baluch Sunni groups inside Iran.”
“They have limited support inside Iran but they may well seek to exploit security agencies’ focus on the protests to undertake some local tactical actions,” he added, noting that the current demonstrations were “about Iranians’ dissatisfaction with the system as a whole, with the lifting of fuel subsidies as the catalyst—it’s not about minority rights.”
Even with limited success in its infiltration, ISIS managed to strike at the heart of the Islamic Republic in June 2017 when several Sunni Kurdish militants aligned with the group staged twin attacks on the Iranian parliament and the shrine to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 18 people.
An attack last September at a Revolutionary Guard parade in Ahvaz commemorating the Iran-Iraq War—during which Saddam Hussein, too, tried to foster Arab separatism in Khuzestan—killed two dozen people, half of them soldiers, and was claimed by both ISIS and Ahvazi Arab separatists.
In response, Iran launched Zulfiqar and Qiam missiles that flew hundreds of miles across Iraq and into the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, an ISIS stronghold at the time assaulted by two rival campaigns led by the Syrian government and the U.S.-backed, majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. The unprecedented strike was seen not only as a message to ISIS, but as a testament of Iran’s missile prowess directed toward its top three national foes.
Iran has often blamed the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia for fomenting discord within the country in an attempt to overthrow a government they view as destabilizing to the region. No conclusive evidence of such a conspiracy regarding the current demonstrations has emerged, although top Washington figures—such as former national security adviser John Bolton, a devout war hawk—have openly courted opposition forces like Ahvazi Arab separatists and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, or Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).
Until 2012, MEK was a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, something that represents the blurred lines that have long defined Washington’s Middle East policies. In fighting ISIS, the U.S. partnered with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group widely seen as tied to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and although Trump has adopted a hard-line stance against Iran, the Pentagon was forced to continue at least indirect collaboration with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia umbrella that includes the outlawed, Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, among other groups
Until 2012, MEK was a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, something that represents the blurred lines that have long defined Washington’s Middle East policies. In fighting ISIS, the U.S. partnered with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group widely seen as tied to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and although Trump has adopted a hard-line stance against Iran, the Pentagon was forced to continue at least indirect collaboration with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia umbrella that includes the outlawed, Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, among other groups.
All three experts interviewed by Newsweek said they believed the collapse of the Iranian government was unlikely in the near future, despite the “maximum pressure” campaign by the U.S. against it. Even for Washington, this may not necessarily be a bad thing: It has repeatedly learned that an enemy government’s loss of control often had far-reaching repercussions in the form of mass refugee flows, the formation of new, more powerful enemies, and costly military interventions to fight them.
The fall of Iran—a nation whose population is higher than all three of those war-torn nations combined—would likely have even more devastating side effects and give ISIS and other underground forces new room to operate.
For now, the threat of ISIS appears to be under control. But worsening economic woes resulting from U.S. restrictions and political infighting among Iran’s own hard-liners and moderates ensure the militant group will continue to root for, if not actively seek out, Iran’s capitulation.
MEK And ISIS Alternatives For Iran?