The Real News, December 22 2018:… The MEK has absolutely no base of support inside Iran. Whether people in Iran hate the Iranian government or like the Iranian government, they hate the MEK. Why? Well, let’s look at what the MEK did right after the revolution. They were part, initially, of trying to overthrow the Shah, but when they lost out, they then joined with Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq and were trained and equipped by Saddam …
Dispelling Myths About Iran, Trump’s Bogeyman
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, discusses myths and misconceptions about Iran and the Donald Trump administration’s dismantling of the nuclear agreement. She also talks about her book “Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Ben Norton.
One of the key elements of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has been increasing aggression against Iran. Trump has cozied up with the Saudi regime, but at the same time, has repeatedly called for the overthrow of Iran’s government. Well, joining us to discuss this is a leading figure in the U.S. peace movement who has been helping to lead the fight to save the Iran Nuclear Deal. I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin, who is a co-founder of the women-led peace movement, Code Pink, and also the author of a book on Iran that expels many of the myths about the country, called Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thanks for joining us, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Good to be here with you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: So let’s talk about Iran as a country before we talk about U.S. policy. There are a lot of myths about the country. Of course, there is a lot to criticize. It is a theocracy, but it’s also a democratic country. In fact, it’s probably the most democratic country in the region, or at least one of them. They have presidential elections with three fourths voter turnout, which are much bigger than the U.S. They certainly have issues repressing women, they have issues repressing worker’s rights. But compared to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, as you point out in your book, Iran actually looks much better. Why do you think there are so many myths and can you talk about some of the experiences you’ve had? You visited Iran for the first time in 2008 and you visited it several times since then, and you’ve seen that some of these myths are really ridiculous.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I’m glad you start out by saying that it is a problematic government, because we are working with civil society in Iran. And depending on what’s happening internally in the politics, there’s more space or less space for civil society to try to make reforms and changes in the government. Right now, is a very difficult time, and there are many people who would be our counterparts in Iran who are in prison. But as you say, the U.S. has put forward a very misguided view of Iran. First of all, they always say it’s the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world. And when we hear that, we should just say, “Stop, no, not true.” And then, in terms of internally in Iran, there are more avenues for women, for example, to study, to work. We are connected with a group of women business people that have enormous businesses. They have their own, very large factories, their own farms, their own–I’m friends with a woman who is an architect of some of the largest dams in the country.
So that’s sort of something that you don’t hear about, that women are so actively involved in the economy. There is a myth that the Jewish population is such a repressed population. Being a member of the Jewish community and an American, when I first went to Iran I was very concerned about being both. And as soon as you said that to people, there went, “Oh, first of all, we love America.” And it is a very pro-American population. And then, they love Jews. And it’s funny, whether it’s among these religious Iranians, they’re saying, “Oh, we have so much in common between our religions,” and I try not to say I’m a non-practicing Jew. Or if they’re coming from the secular side, they say, “Oh, we love Jewish sense of humor, Jewish movies, Jewish this.” So that’s another myth. I’m not sure what are the other ones you wanted to bring up, but there are lots of them.
BEN NORTON: Well, and as you point out in your book, Iran has the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. And what’s incredible is you cite a 2014 poll by the ADL, which is a pro-Israel group, and they have a vested interest in portraying Iran as an evil bogeyman, but they even were surprised to see that they surveyed anti-Semitic views in the Middle East and found that after Israel, Iran is the least anti-Semitic country in the region.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Absolutely. There’s even a designated position for the small population to have a member of parliament.
BEN NORTON: And what’s interesting is, in your book, you also talk about how Iranians are very careful to distinguish the American people from the American government, which many Americans are actually not. I mean, some Americans do it, but they’re not really privy to doing. Frequently, especially our politicians, conflate the Iranian people with the Iranian government. You hear racist rhetoric about how you can’t trust Iranians. And when we hear in Iran, frequently we see on Fox News and conservative media, they’ll show the signs that say Death to America, Death to Israel. They’re not saying Death to the American people, they’re saying American government policies, which as you point out, have destabilized their government, have imposed crippling sanctions on society that have led to large numbers of civilian deaths, that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953. They have good reason to be very critical and to even despise the American government. But they always are careful to distinguish it from Americans, like you.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yeah. And maybe that is partly because the Iranian diaspora, and there’s so many Iranians that are living in the United States and in Europe who go back and forth to Iran, and so there is a lot of American culture that gets infused in Iranian society. And people are very good at getting around restrictions of the government. The government restricts things like Facebook and Twitter, and yet it’s very easy for Iranians, and almost all of them do, just get around those restrictions. So there is a lot of back and forth. But things have gotten worse on the U.S. end with Trump, because Iran has been put into the Muslim ban. And so, in Trump’s trying to keep terrorists out of the United States, Iranians who have never been involved in a terrorist activity against Americans here in the United States, have been included in that ban, increasing the animosity towards Iranians in the United States and the equating Iranians with terror.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, let’s talk more about the Trump administration’s policies, and also the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama. For all of the many criticisms of Obama, who started the war in Yemen, which was launched by Saudi Arabia, the war in Libya, destroying that government.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: The drone strikes.
BEN NORTON: Absolutely, the drone war. One of the few positive elements of his foreign policy was an important breakthrough, the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was an international deal. Although corporate media outlets have portrayed it as a deal between the U.S. and Iran, it was much more. It was a deal between the U.S. and Iran, but the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So that includes China, the largest country in the world, Russia, also France and Britain, and the European Union and Germany.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: And approved by the Security Council in its totality.
BEN NORTON: Absolutely. So Obama was part of an international process that brought Europe, Russia and China together, and they agreed to a deal, a kind of rapprochement with Iran that would lift sanctions. And these sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy, they’ve led to large numbers of preventable deaths from people who can’t get medication and other forms of assistance in hospitals. But the Trump administration tore that deal up. And still, as of right now, in December 2018, all of the other parties to the agreement are abiding by it, including Iran. The United Nations has made it clear that even though Iran doesn’t have to continue staying in the agreement because the U.S. unilaterally violated it, Iran is still abiding by the agreement. Can you respond to Trump’s destruction, or attempt to derail, this important historic piece of legislation and why Iran is still abiding by its side of the deal?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s really tragic for the Iranian people, who put their hopes in pushing their government to make a deal with the international community, and then to see that the hardliners inside Iran who said, “Why are you doing that, you can’t trust the U.S.” were right, you couldn’t trust the U.S. In comes a new president and unilaterally withdraws from that deal, reimposes sanctions. And the important thing for people to understand about those sanctions, because we toss around the word sanctions all the time, you never know how grave these sanctions are and how crippling they are. Because it says not only are U.S. businesses prohibited from trading with Iran, but any other business around the world that wants to trade with Iran cannot use the U.S. dollar, which is the international currency, and cannot do business with the United States. And so, it has been devastating for the Iranian economy and it’s been devastating for the other countries who want to continue with the deal.
Now, Iran, the government, wants to continue with the deal if it sees some economic benefits, which was promised to it. And that’s why the Europeans are scrambling now to come up with a vehicle for allowing their companies to work with Iran without getting sanctioned by the U.S. But it’s very difficult, and it’s not clear whether this is going to function and whether the Iranian we’ll see enough benefit to the economy to justify staying within that deal. But we have to talk about what is the purpose of the U.S. pulling out, which is to cripple the Iranian economy and to encourage the Iranian people to rise up and overthrow their government.
BEN NORTON: The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, who is an anti-Iran hawk like many people Trump has surrounded himself with, he made that very clear. He essentially admitted that this is collective punishment, which is illegal under international law, but that’s another point. Let’s talk more about the Trump administration’s policies. Because not only do we have Pompeo, but we also have John Bolton, who is one of the most cartoonish hawks imaginable. This is a guy who cut his teeth supporting the Iraq war. He also has lobbied for many years for war on Iran. He has quite the range. I mean, it’s kind of pathological for Bolton.
And we’ve seen that part of the Trump administration’s policy has not only been imposing these crippling sanctions to try to strangle the economy and force the Iranian people to rise up, but the Trump administration has also been supporting other militant groups that have been trying to fight the Iranian government. Recently, we saw a horrific attack on a military parade in Iran by an Ahwazi Arab separatist group which has received support from Western governments as well. The attack was ostensibly targeting a military parade, but several civilians, including children, were killed in the attack. But even more egregious than that, we’ve also seen the Trump administration extend an olive branch to the MEK, the Mojahedin-e Khalq. Tell us about what the MEK is and why the Trump administration and John Bolton have been supporting this bizarre cult.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s absolutely astounding that this is the organization that they’ve chosen to be supporting as a “viable alternative” to the present government in Iran, because the MEK has absolutely no base of support inside Iran. Whether people in Iran hate the Iranian government or like the Iranian government, they hate the MEK. Why? Well, let’s look at what the MEK did right after the revolution. They were part, initially, of trying to overthrow the Shah, but when they lost out, they then joined with Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq and were trained and equipped by Saddam Hussein to go into Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted for over eight years, and a bloody horrible war, and they were blowing up suicide bombers, killing civilians and siding with the enemy.
So they are seen in Iran as a group that has no legitimacy. And on top of that, that they are a crazy group, that they are a cult-like group. And this is not just us saying this, this is the Rand Corporation, this is the U.S. government, internal documents. They were chased out of Iraq after the U.S. invasion, and they now have their base in Albania, which is really like they hold their own people, they’re imprisoned. If you decide, “Uh-oh, I’m seeing through this, this doesn’t look good for me anymore, I want to get out,” you can’t get out of there. And they have a reverence to the head of it, Maryam Rajavi, and her husband, who hasn’t been seen in the last seven years, and seems like he died, but they pretend that he’s still alive somewhere. It is a group that has been on the U.S. terrorist list until 2012, when they got a lot of money, and it seems like they get Saudi money, to pay off a lot of politicians to get themselves off that list.
You talked about John Bolton. It’s reported that he’s taken 180,000 dollars from the MEK. But it’s also people like Giuliani, like Newt Gingrich, and Democrats as well. There are a number of different Democrats, and they just had this holiday party in Washington, DC in the Rayburn building of Congress, where you saw the Democrats like Eliot Engel, who will be the head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the House, going there to give his support. Nancy Pelosi has gone to give her support to the MEK. So it’s very, very bizarre and dangerous.
BEN NORTON: Pelosi has, in fact, Tweeted support for the MEK’s ostensibly human rights front group. But let’s talk a little bit more about the MEK and then let’s talk about the Democratic Party’s response and the leadership’s response to the Trump administration’s unilateral destruction of the Iran nuclear deal. Specifically what’s incredible with the MEK is they are actually a cult in the sense that Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, who are a married couple, the new members in the 90s, they refused to let them get married.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: They had to get divorced.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, they had to get divorced and their loyalty was only to the MEK cult. They have all these bizarre–for all the criticisms of the Iranian government, and there are many, including repression of women, MEK has equally backward views on women’s liberation, and as you mentioned, is allied with Saudi Arabia. So maybe we could talk a bit more about that and how the Democratic Party has failed to stand up to many of these policies. We saw leaders of the Democratic Party under Obama actually side with Republicans against the Iran Nuclear Deal, most infamously Chuck Schumer. And now, even those who supported the JCPOA have been pretty mute.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, you would think … Well, first of all, on the MEK, when we confront these members of Congress and their support for the MEK, they say, “Well, the MEK has changed.” And they’ve changed because they’ve had these great PR firms that they’ve paid a lot of money to basically tell the MEK what to say. And they have all these different front groups. But you scratch under the surface and it is the MEK and it is this cult group and they torture people within their own organization who want to leave. So it is bizarre that so many people in the U.S. government would be supporting the MEK. But the real question is why isn’t the Democratic Party coming out and really criticizing Trump for having unilaterally withdrawn from a treaty that was working and continues to be working, and put the U.S. on a collision course with the international community.
And I think it’s because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of thing. We see now the Saudis working with Israel against Iran. And so many people in the Democratic Party are still beholden to the Israeli government and the lobby groups like AIPAC, and the Israeli government is determined to find a way to overthrow the Iranian regime. So the Democratic Party, unfortunately, I think through its allegiance to the Israeli government, doesn’t want to speak out against Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal and dangerous course that could potentially lead to another horrific war in the Middle East.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and let’s conclude. I want to talk about the prospects of a new war. The war in Iraq, an illegal invasion in 2003, was absolutely catastrophic. It led to well over one million deaths and it destabilized the entire region. Ironically, it actually empowered Iran. But before the war, we saw that a major U.S. general had actually acknowledged that there was a list that the Bush administration had drafted of seven countries in five years they wanted to topple or destabilize. Many of the countries on that list have been destabilized or overthrown. Libya, Syria has been largely devastated, Iraq of course, but Iran was always the cherry on top. And it seems like John Bolton and the people that Trump has voluntarily surrounded himself with would love to see a war on Iran. Of course, it could be even more catastrophic than the war on Iraq.
Do you think that that’s a possibility, and if it’s not even a possibility, if it’s not realistic, what other forms of indirect warfare is the Trump administration going to wage on Iran, and how can peace activists here in the United States try to stop and push for peace and diplomacy?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I would say that there is a war with Iran going on right now. And that is, one, through the proxy wars in the region and trying to goad Iran into retaliating. And the other is sanctions, which is war by other means. Supposedly, medicines and food are exempt from the sanctions, but they’re not because the banks don’t want to deal with Iran. So we see people who are dying from diseases like cancer diseases because they can’t get their medicines. We see people who are having a very difficult time making ends meet in Iran right now because of the sanctions. So the U.S. is waging war on Iran right now. Will it get into a hot war? It could easily happen. We’ve already seen the U.S. attacking Iran in Syria and Iran holding back and not countering that. But how long will they be able to hold back? Will the Revolutionary Guards be pushing for retaliation?
The U.S. sanctions and the U.S. strangling of Iran are actually strengthening the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. They’re hurting the reformists. And so, things are getting more and more tense. So I don’t think we should sit around and wait and contemplate the possibilities of getting into a war with Iran. I think we should think that things are so bad right now, what are we going to do to move the U.S. in a different direction? What are we going to do to pressure the Democrats once they’re in control of the House next year, to put forward legislation saying the U.S. should join the Iran Nuclear Deal? Let us say that we want to have diplomatic relations and trade with Iran. Let us counter all the efforts to be supporting the MEK. I think we have a lot of work to do to reverse course and stop a hot war, but also stop the war that’s going on right now.
BEN NORTON: We’ll have to end our conversation there. We were speaking with Medea Benjamin, who is the co-founder of the women-led peace group, Code Pink, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thanks so much for joining us, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you.
BEN NORTON: For The Real News Network, I’m Ben Norton.
MEK doesn’t look like a legitimate group (Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, NCRI, Maryam Rajavi cult, …)
Iran Didban (From CODPINK), July 25 2018:… Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin and national director Ariel Gold dropped in on MEK members in their Washington office, trying to meet with their officials. Ali Safavi, a senior member of MEK, surprised by the unexpected visit, did not let them in the office, saying, “go to our website”. He went onto say that they were “not allowed to film this” or “I will call the police.”…
MEK doesn’t look like a legitimate group (Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, NCRI, Maryam Rajavi cult, …)
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin and national director Ariel Gold dropped in on MEK members in their Washington office, trying to meet with their officials.
Ali Safavi, a senior member of MEK, surprised by the unexpected visit, did not let them in the office, saying, “go to our website”. He went onto say that they were “not allowed to film this” or “I will call the police.”
Benjamin said, “I think this organization is very secretive. This is the organization that John Bolton gets $ 180K from for speaking engagements.”
She added, “It’s the organization that Rudy Giuliani loves and says next year in Tehran. But they don’t even answer our e-mails and phone calls or agree to meet with us.”
“They don’t even give us a booklet explaining what their organization is about. So it’s very fishy. It doesn’t look like a legitimate group to me.”
CODEPINK Co-Founder Medea Benjamin and National Director Ariel Gold tried to meet with officials from the The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran office in D.C. As you can see, they were not receptive. Bolton wants to attack Iran & put these folks in power? It’s a repeat of the Iraqi National Congress debacle after the US invaded Iraq! Take action to support diplomacy with Iran: codepink.org/rouhani
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Meet the Organization Pushing Regime Change in Iran—and Its Willing American Accomplices (Mojahedin Khalq, Rajavi cult, MEK)
Christopher A. Preble, National Interest, July 17 2018:… Bolton skipped the meeting this year, but Giuliani’s work on behalf of the organization has caught people’s attention—and not for the first time. Daniel Benjamin, who coordinated counterterrorism efforts for the Obama administration explained to The Washington Post, “Plenty of us…found just the appearance of support for [an] organization that had American blood …
Meet the Organization Pushing Regime Change in Iran—and Its Willing American Accomplices (Mojahedin Khalq, Rajavi cult, MEK)
Will the U.S. media learn from when they supported the invasion of Iraq?
It is customary for pundits to lament how partisanship is destroying U.S. policymaking, but one area remains curiously bipartisan: Democrats and Republicans alike are quick to show their support for an organization publicly dedicated to regime change in Iran.
Late last month in Paris, for example, thirty-three senior U.S. officials and military officers, including Rudy Giuliani and former United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson, attended a meeting convened by the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI), an offshoot of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) .
The MEK was founded in 1965 as a hard-left opponent of the secular Shah of Iran. They gained attention in the early 1970s for several acts of terrorism, including attacks against the Shah’s primary patron, the United States. Civilians working for American companies operating in Iran in the 1970s, including Pepsi, PanAm, General Motors and Rockwell International, were all among the MEK’s victims. Unsurprisingly, the MEK was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 1997.
But, in recent years, the MEK has managed to rehabilitate its image. It switched sides after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in Iraq, hoping that the United States would perform a similar service in neighboring Iran. The MEK also successfully lobbied the Obama administration to be removed from the terrorist list. Today, the organization routinely feeds information to build support for regime change in Tehran.
This state of affairs is eerily reminiscent of a period in the late 1990s when a bipartisan coalition in Congress—responding to a concerted pressure campaign by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan’s Project for a New American Century—passed legislation calling for regime change in Iraq. The Iraq Liberation Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 31, 1998, also provided Iraqi exile groups direct financial assistance from the U.S. government. One of the leading beneficiaries of U.S. taxpayers’ largesse was the Iraqi National Congress (INC). In 2004, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayers concluded that the U.S. government steered more than $100 million to the group over a twelve-year period, with the Bush administration responsible for at least $39 million.
The INC and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi, proved to be one of the leading sources of false information that hawks deployed via a too-credulous media to build support for war with Iraq.
Years later, after U.S. troops had dislodged Saddam Hussein from power, and Chalabi and his cadre of followers were back in the country he had fled as a teenager, he famously boasted “we are heroes in error…What was said before is not important.”
But Chalabi and the INC were more popular in Washington, DC than in Baghdad—or anywhere else in Iraq, for that matter. When Iraqis went to the polls in December 2005, his party secured only 0.5 percent of the vote.
So, to recap, U.S. taxpayers funded the organization whose primary objective was to feed misleading information about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The resulting war claimed over 4,400 American lives and has cost, so far, $2 trillion , with some estimates of the eventual costs approaching $6 trillion. And Chalabi and his INC weren’t able to implement the pleasing, pluralist, vision for Iraq, that they promised. Instead, many tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and millions driven from their homes.
That doesn’t seem like a very good return on investment.
The source of the MEK’s funding is murkier, but the organization is flush with cash. MSNBC’s Richard Engel determined that Bolton was paid $40,000 for one speech in 2017.Others report that speakers at MEK gatherings receive up to $50,000 per speech.
At last year’s gathering in Paris, Bolton stated categorically “There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs, and that opposition is centered in this room today.” “The declared policy of the United States of America,” he continued, “should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.”
Bolton skipped the meeting this year, but Giuliani’s work on behalf of the organization has caught people’s attention—and not for the first time. Daniel Benjamin, who coordinated counterterrorism efforts for the Obama administration explained to The Washington Post, “Plenty of us…found just the appearance of support for [an] organization that had American blood on its hands to be outrageous.”
There is a tendency to dismiss the MEK as a fringe group. Ervand Abrahamian, a professor of Iranian history and politics at Baruch College, described it as “a cult organization.” “It’s like the Moonies,” he said to McClatchy.
Except that the Moonies aren’t trying to get the U.S. government to overthrow a foreign government, and John Bolton sits a few doors down from the President of the United States. Ahmed Chalabi would have lusted after the level of access that the MEK’s Maryam Rajavi now has.
That means that Americans might have to rely on the news media to do its job. It could begin by questioning information provided by expatriate advocates of regime change in Iran.
When the New York Times reviewed its coverage of the Iraq War in 2004, the editorscalled out Chalabi by name as a source for many inaccurate or misleading articles. They noted that “information” in their stories “that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.” The worst instances “shared a common feature,” the Times editors continued. “They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change’ in Iraq.”
Rob Reiner’s feature film, “Shock and Awe, ” tells the story of the Knight Ridder DC news bureau, one of the few outfits who, when presented with similar information from Iraqi exiles, and Bush administration officials, had the good sense to ask “Is it true?” Equally important, Knight Ridder reporters and editors dared to stand by their reporting when post-9/11 bloodlust cast full-throated support for the war as synonymous with patriotism—and skepticism as akin to treason.
Americans must wait to see which direction the U.S. news media will go in 2018, but I hope that they will be more like John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and Joe Galloway, and less like Judith Miller.
VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: We obtained never-before-seen footage of the MEK's secret base in Albania. The MEK is an Iranian opposition group with a history of terrorism. More recently it's paid thousands to @AmbJohnBolton & @RudyGiuliani. More tonight at 9PM ET @MSNBC @RichardEngel pic.twitter.com/teaGhQeVZy
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) May 25, 2018
On MSNBC @OARichardEngel I explained that no decent American intelligence officer would say MEK is trustworthy because it is a Destructive Cult.
Examining how @AmbJohnBolton and @RudyGiuliani were paid to speak for Maryam Rajavi. pic.twitter.com/U83F12h5ko
— Massoud khodabandeh (@ma_khodabandeh) May 27, 2018
.@realDonaldTrump has always been a gambler and a showman. But now — with high-stakes bets from #Iran to #NorthKorea — he's gambling with US national security. #OnAssignment pic.twitter.com/y2E5xApnQx
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) May 27, 2018
MEK expert @joanne_stocker estimates that @AmbJohnBolton has been paid upwards of $180K by the group to speak at its events. Now he's in a position to advocate for it from inside the White House. @RichardEngel #OnAssignment pic.twitter.com/kxoi2FQ5dn
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) May 27, 2018
"It's pretty remarkable that a group with American blood on its hands — even if it is a former terrorist group — has contacts like @RudyGiuliani and @AmbJohnBolton," says former State Dept. counterterrorism official @Benjamin05055. #OnAssignment @RichardEngel pic.twitter.com/EfX2sYQkOl
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) May 27, 2018
The Iran Protests, Regime Change, And The MEK
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Lobe log, January 17 2018:… The MEK is a fringe, cult-like group that was once on the U.S. terrorism list. Rajavi’s appearances, in which she talks as though she represented the Iranian people, provided Iran’s leaders with a gift. Among other angry Farsi commentary, she provoked a hashtag storm on Twitter, with Iranians of every political stripe telling Rajavi in English …
The Iran Protests, Regime Change, And The MEK
by Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh
When protests broke out in Iran at the end of 2017, most countries maintained a hands-off approach. After all, these countries maintain diplomatic and trade relations with the Iranian government. Even some influential U.S. observers recommended caution. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, for instance, tweeted: “With humility about how little we know about what’s happening inside Iran, this much is clear: it’s an Iranian moment and not anyone else’s. But the rights of people to protest peacefully and voice their aspirations are universal and governments everywhere should respect that.”
But other American observers, eager to exploit the protests for their own purposes of promoting regime change in Iran, quickly rushed in where the more cautious feared to tread. The first push came from the media. Lacking any organizations or opposition leaders to interview inside Iran, some American media substituted Iranian exiles as representatives of the people. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s Monarchists got some coverage.
But it was Maryam Rajavi, leader of the notorious Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), who received the most coverage, appearing by video link on Fox News and Voice of America.
The MEK is a fringe, cult-like group that was once on the U.S. terrorism list. Rajavi’s appearances, in which she talks as though she represented the Iranian people, provided Iran’s leaders with a gift. Among other angry Farsi commentary, she provoked a hashtag storm on Twitter, with Iranians of every political stripe telling Rajavi in English and Farsi to #shutuprajavi. It is hard to overstate how much Iranians both inside and outside the country hate the MEK.
Indeed, the Iranian media immediately translated Maryam Rajavi and the MEK’s social media output and video speeches into Farsi to inform all Iran’s citizens how the US was hoping to impose the MEK on the country through regime change. Some Iranians might want regime change but what comes after is just as important. No Iranian wants the MEK to substitute for the mullahs.
Later, what had begun as working-class protests against economic hardship and government corruption were quickly politicized by agitators who instigated violence. Iran’s Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khamenei attributed these incidents of violence to “foreign interference,” naming America, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their proxy, the MEK. Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), announced that the MEK trained a number of people involved in the violence. Iran’s intelligence service in the western Iranian province of Lorestan also said it had disbanded and arrested four members of a terrorist cell linked to the MEK in Boroujerd. Iran also claimed to have uncovered a network of agitators organized from Afghanistan and Iraqi Kurdistan that planned to launch violent actions later in 2018. The spontaneous and widespread working-class protests had apparently triggered the network into action ahead of schedule.
If the plan had been to provoke Iran’s security services into a harsh crackdown on the protesters, which the Western media could then present as human rights violations, it largely didn’t work. Instead, the establishment brought out its supporters in big counter-demonstrations. Above all, when the protests turned violent, ordinary people went home. They wanted no part in manufactured regime change. Iran’s hardliners know that the most effective way to denounce the protests without resorting to bans or violence is to blame the MEK. This allows them to spin their suppressive activities to the populace as counter-terrorism.
Iranians are not surprised by the involvement of the MEK in violence. They know the group and its history. A visitor to any war museum in Iran will find a section dedicated to the MEK’s military collaboration with Saddam Hussein. New Iranian films and TV docudramas educate a new generation about the MEK terrorism, which caused thousands of civilian deaths.
Nevertheless, the MEK’s backers have worked for years to whitewash the group’s past crimes for a Western audience. For anti-Iran elements in the United States, the MEK has been a useful tool by leaking faked information during the nuclear negotiations and posing as human rights advocates. This carefully constructed narrative of victimhood and supposedly democratic values has allowed the MEK to operate in political circles where they could push the regime change agenda.
Meanwhile, in Albania, the MEK was busy secretly reconstructing the terrorist training camp it had lost in Iraq. When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton negotiated an agreement to transfer 3,000 MEK fighters from Iraq to Albania, funding was earmarked to establish an Institute for De-Radicalisation so that the MEK could be successfully rehabilitated back into society. That didn’t happen. In this past year, Senator John McCain(R-AZ) and former UN ambassador John Bolton both visited Albania to promote the MEK and its regime-change agenda.
These and other MEK activities have driven a wedge between Europe and the Trump administration. Even before the protests, European parliamentarians had demanded a ban on the MEK, particularly after an incident of MEK violence on parliamentary premises. Relations between France and Iran now make it possible for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to directly demand that France curtail the MEK’s activities there.
In an attempt to maneuver her way out of this isolation and irrelevance, Maryam Rajavi recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal as though none of this had happened. It is just one more attempt by the MEK to portray itself as an influential representative of the Iranian people. But if the MEK had even one iota of influence inside Iran, the protests would have become much more violent. Instead, all the MEK seems to have accomplished is to provide Iran’s hardliners with a convenient rationale for suppressing an authentic civic movement for change.
Massoud Khodabandeh is the director of Middle East Strategy Consultants and has worked long-term with the authorities in Iraq to bring about a peaceful solution to the impasse at Camp Liberty and help rescue other victims of the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult. Among other publications, he co-authored the book “The Life of Camp Ashraf: Victims of Many Masters” with his wife Anne Singleton. They also published an academic paper on the MEK’s use of the Internet. Anne Khodabandeh is a UK expert in anti-terrorist activities and a long-standing activist in the field of deradicalization of extremists. She has written several articles and books on this subject, along with her husband, who is of Iranian origin. Photo: Maryam Rajavi (jalal4liberty via Flickr)
Trump and Iran Nuclear Deal: ‘On the Road to Nowhere’
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, November 06 2017:… Many analysts believe that MeK’s mysterious largesse originated in the treasury of the Saudi regime, a sworn enemy of the Iran’s Shia regime. NBC, quoting Obama administration sources, claimed the Mossad was an important funder as well. Meir Dagan, Israel’s former Mossad chief, publicly boasted of Israeli acts of terrorism sponsored inside Iran. Clearly, these sorts of operations need Iranian insiders …
Trump and Iran Nuclear Deal: ‘On the Road to Nowhere’
October 9, 2017 By Richard Silverstein
As the October 15thdeadline for Pres. Trump to certify Iranian compliance with the P5+1 nuclear deal, the administration through various media leaks made clear it will refuse to do so. His grounds for refusal are the flimsiest imaginable: Iran has engaged in objectionable behavior which the President wishes violated the deal, but doesn’t. That’s an exceedingly thin reed on which to hang an entire policy.
Trump and the GOP are locked into a rejectionist, even nihilist approach toward Iran. This should be familiar to many Americans, because It’s very similar to the one being used against North Korea. Threats, bellicosity, all substitute for a real policy. Furthermore, they elevate countries and foreign policy issues far above their real importance, even to the brink of nuclear war. Does anyone believe that whatever issues we may have with North Korea, it’s worth the death of tens of millions of Asians and Americans to prove a point?
In Iran’s case, the war hawks object to Iran’s missile tests and its support for fellow-Shia in Syria and Lebanon. They also side with their oil rich Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, who declare Iran to be a mortal threat. In truth, none of these Iranian actions violate the nuclear deal which, as its title suggests, only deals with nuclear issues.
If the Trump administration accepted the P5+1 agreement, and then sought to negotiate a separate one dealing with some of all of these issues, this would he a far more constructive approach. But the GOP knows that many of these issues involve far more players than just Iran, including Syria, Russia, Sunni Islamists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and their proteges, among them Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In other words, you can’t isolate Iran’s role without taking into account the roles of all the other parties intervening in Syria.
Iran’s missile tests, which so enflame Israel and the GOP, do not violate the JPOA. That doesn’t stop the anti-Iran media and GOP from declaring that they do. Of course, it would be possible to open a new round of negotiations to restrain them. But only in the context of an open process in which all parties are treated with respect. Something sorely lacking in current U.S. foreign policy. The current thinking seems to be that the U.S. will simply declare Iran must stop missile testing, Iran will acquiesce, and demand nothing from us in return. Nor should it have the right to do so.
But that’s simply not the way international negotiations work (as Trump, of all people, should understand). If one party wants the other to give away something, then you must give something in return. There simply is no sense of reciprocity in U.S. policy. Which is why it is doomed to failure. Iran will not be brow-beaten into submission. You might even reduce Iranians to eating grass as North Koreans once did during a famine, and they still wouldn’t buckle. So unless the U.S. is prepared to pursue a policy of outright sadism leading to the death of tens of thousands through starvation and plague, we are doomed to fail.
That’s what the worst elements of the neocon policy élite want to see. Former administration officials like Tom Ridge and Washington think tanks allied with the Israel Lobby have published screeds calling for violent overthrow of the Iranian regime. Their op-eds are bought and paid for by former terror groups like the MeK charged with assassinating U.S. diplomats. Ridge alone has earned tens of thousands of dollars for giving 15-minute speeches addressed to MeK gatherings around the globe. Scores of other past officials including Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Rendell, John Bolton, have also joined the gravy train.
When Sam Husseini questioned Ridge at an MeK press conference about this, it was not received kindly:
I asked Ridge about any financial arrangement between him or the other speakers and the MEK. He reacted with anger, questioning my motives and my affiliations. Rendell said in much calmer tone that no one was getting paid for today’s event but that people there had been paid for other speeches at other events. One of the speakers indicated that Ridge had personally paid for today’s event. Ridge in his remarks derided the notion that money would ever influence men of the stature of those speaking at the event. I asked if he was arguing that there was no problem of money influencing politics. Rendell cut that off.
Many analysts believe that MeK’s mysterious largesse originated in the treasury of the Saudi regime, a sworn enemy of the Iran’s Shia regime. NBC, quoting Obama administration sources, claimed the Mossad was an important funder as well. Meir Dagan, Israel’s former Mossad chief, publicly boasted of Israeli acts of terrorism sponsored inside Iran. Clearly, these sorts of operations need Iranian insiders and MeK is a likely culprit. The same NBC report asserted that the MeK participated in the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists. I reported here, based on a high-level Israeli former military officer, that the Mossad and MeK jointly coördinated the attacks. Other journalists have reported that the Saudis gave Israel $1-billion for various operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program including the assassinations and the Stuxnet malware attack.
It would be totally in character for the MeK to accept funding from Iran’s enemies, as it was once sheltered in Iraq by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
Returning to the U.S. president, the problem with the Trump approach is that he has no strategy, no ultimate vision for future relations between the U.S. and Iran. As the old Talking Heads song went: “We’re on the road to nowhere.” His policy is designed for media sound bytes and tweets. It’s pure posturing. This is something that could end up getting many millions killed. And for what? To mollify the ego of a madman? That would be our madman, not their’s.
It’s pitifully ironic that amidst all the gnashing of teeth about Iran’s supposed effort to attain nuclear weapons the GOP dominated Congress shows no sense of outrage for Israel’s 200 weapon stockpile and its refusal to join the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Unlike Israel, Iranian leaders have never contemplated or advocated using nuclear weapons against their enemies during wartime. Unlike Israel, Iran is a member of NPT and has permitted numerous inspections of its facilities by the IAEA, which has affirmed the country’s adherence to the JPOA. Israel on the other hand has never permitted legitimate inspections of its Dimona nuclear reactor, which produces its nuclear weapons.
This week, the Nobel committee awarded its Peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Iran, though it does not have nuclear weapons, has made clear that it will never use them or deploy them. Israeli leaders have urged their use during past wars. If Iran knew that its enemies heeded the call of this NGO for a nuclear ban, it would have no need for such weapons, even were it to be pursuing their production. The fault and burden here is on Israel which has them, not Iran which doesn’t.
One hopes that this award will increase pressure on Israel to abandon the folly of its own nuclear arsenal. In Israel’s case, nuclear weapons have enabled it to pursue a reckless, rejectionist policy toward its neighbors. WMD enables it to avoid dealing with a festering, decades-old political problem. Trump’s reckless decertification of the nuclear deal could lead Iran to follow the same path.
Iran terror attack: Who gains?
Richard Silverstein, Middle East Eye, june 08 2017:… The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a long-standing Iranian opposition group, has collaborated with the Israelis on those earlier operations. So they are likely to have played a role as well. The group retains thousands of secret supporters within Iran who would have helped smuggle arms into the country, stashed them once they arrived, located safe houses for the attackers, and helped scout out the targeted …
This piece originally ran on Tikun Olam.
Iran terror attack: Who gains?
No terror group could have executed on operation of this sort without the help of one or more state intelligence agencies
In the past, I had a well-informed Israeli source who confirmed Israeli participation in assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and explosions at missile bases. Unfortunately, this source passed away some time ago. So what I write here will be based on informed speculation.
Who gains from the rather spectacular terror attack on two of Iran’s most secure and hallowed institutions: the Majlis and Ayayollah Khomeni’s tomb? Of course, the Islamic State (IS) group, which has claimed responsibility, and with whom Iran is engaged in a vicious battle in Syria and Iraq. Nominally, that is likely the case.
But no terror group, no matter how adept could manage to organise and execute an operation of this sort. It required the help of one or more national intelligence agencies.
Those who have the most to gain and most capability are the Saudis and Israelis. Both hate the Iranians (for different reasons). Since they know they cannot yet sabotage the most important sign of Iranian reconciliation with the West– the P5+1 nuclear deal – the next best thing is a dramatic strike at the heart of Iran itself.
Handing a child to an Iranian security guard during terror attack (Fars/Omid Vahabzadeh via AP)
Not waiting for battle?
As I wrote earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s new king and crown prince are hardliners flexing their nation’s military might in Yemen and Syria. Iran is yet another enemy they long to defeat.
For this reason, the Gulf states’ newly declared attack and siege against Qatar, a result in some measure of its moderate stance regarding Iran, is part and parcel of this hardening of relations in the region. All of which is directed from Riyadh.
More support for the claim of Saudi support, if not direct involvement, comes from a statement which the kingdom’s deputy crown prince made in early May: “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran,” Salman added.
It’s more than a coincidence that just last month, Voice of Israel’s Persian service went off the air in Israel as a result of the transition to a new broadcasting model, despite the protests of veteran Israeli Persian hands like broadcaster Menashe Amir. On Wednesday, just hours after the terror attack, the Persian service (which is largely funded by the Israeli defence ministry) suddenly resumed operations. Trust me, developments like that in Israel are not accidental.
Meir Dagan, when he was Mossad chief, told an Israeli interviewer that Israel exploited internal ethnic grievances inside Iran to foment strife and terror attacks. Thus it’s no surprise that,according to Muhammad Sahimi, the editor of Iran News & Middle East Reports, the attackers in Tehran were reported to be Iranian (Sunni) Kurds who nurse longstanding aspirations for autonomy within Iran.
The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a long-standing Iranian opposition group, has collaborated with the Israelis on those earlier operations. So they are likely to have played a role as well. The group retains thousands of secret supporters within Iran who would have helped smuggle arms into the country, stashed them once they arrived, located safe houses for the attackers, and helped scout out the targeted sites.
Nor can we discount the newly unleashed terror capabilities of the CIA under its new director of Iran operations, “Ayatollah” Michael D’Andrea. It’s wholly credible that since Trump cannot yet abolish the nuclear deal, that he’s chosen the next best thing: appointing a CIA leader with a “knife in his teeth” primed to shed the blood of Iranians in the streets of Iran.
In terms of who gains, let’s not forget another major beneficiary: Iran’s hardliners in the Revolutionary Guard and clerical class. Their view of the world sees enemies everywhere, especially among Sunni Muslims and the West. Now they can spin a tale of all those parties uniting in desperate measures to spill the blood of Shia martyrs. A perfect script for the conservatives.
Pouring kerosene on a bonfire
But overall, what does this attack gain for anyone involved? Mainly, it serves to unite the anti-Iran coalition. It raises the flag of the rejectionists who see Iran as the ultimate evil. It also strengthens the rejectionists in Iran and weakens the moderates led by newly-re-elected President Hassan Rouhani.
Though Ayatollah Khamenei’s hand-picked candidate lost badly in the election, the supreme leader and his conservative allies will have little trouble arguing that such violence deserves an angry and forceful response: the opposite of the position the moderates would take.
This attack sets the tone for the coming years: tit-for-tat terror attacks against Iranian and Saudi targets, part of an ongoing intra-Muslim feud that could inflame the entire region, if not the world – with the US president doing his level best to pour kerosene on the bonfire.
Those Western nations who envision a different future must unite to fight back against this approach. They must produce a moderate, conciliatory policy which eases sanctions, promotes trade and cultural engagement, and establishes a viable alternative to this bloodbath. They must act now or face the consequences. Inaction means death.
This piece originally ran on Tikun Olam.
– Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Jihad 2.0: the Making of the Next Nightmare (Turning Albania to a centre for ISIS/Mojahedin Khalq)
Pepe Escobar, Sputnik news, June 01 2017:… Albania is being turned into the center of MKO. John Bolton was recently in Tirana, with other international supporters of MKO, and they are attacking Iran and calling for regime change.” The MKO’s wacky Marjam Rajavi has also visited Tirana, developing plans to “topple the Ayatollahs” in Iran. The key issue, as Jazexhi emphasizes, is that “after turning the Balkans into a recruiting centre for ISIS/Daesh during the Syria war, now the Americans are …
Jihad 2.0: the Making of the Next Nightmare
You are about to enter the ultimate minefield.
Let’s start with 28 EU leaders discussing the Western Balkans at a recent summit and blaming – what else – “Russian aggression” in the EU’s backyard.
Cue to a Montenegro prosecutor raging that “Russian state bodies” staged a coup attempt during the October 2016 elections to stop the country from joining NATO.
And cue to President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warning that Donald Trump’s anti-EU rhetoric could lead to war in the Balkans. Juncker, condescending as ever, maintains that, “If we leave them to themselves — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Albania, all of these countries — we will have a war again.”
The Balkans may be about to explode – all over again. Yet with a twist; unlike 1999, NATO won’t get away with bombing a defenseless Belgrade for 78 days. A new generation of Russian missiles would easily prevent it.
The 1999 tragedy in the Balkans was essentially stirred up by fake massacres in Kosovo set up by the BND – German intelligence — using local Albanians and BND agent provocateurs, who shot both sides to stir up a war and break up Yugoslavia.
All Eyes on Albania
What’s evolving at the current geopolitical juncture is even murkier.
The usual suspects do what they usually do; blame Russia, and damn any evidence.
So let a knowledgeable insider, Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, director of the Free Media Institute in Tirana, Albania, be our guide.
As Dr. Jazexhi explains, “after Brennan left Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, a close friend of George Soros, gathered all Albanian political parties in Macedonia and ordered them to support Zoran Zaev against Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski is seen as filo-Russian and anti-NATO, while Zaev is a lapdog of Soros. As a result, Gruevski was boycotted by Albanians and Zaev had their support to form a government. The promise of Zaev to Albanians is that Macedonia will adapt Albanian as an official language and create a third (half) Albanian state in the Balkans. Macedonians are resisting, but Tirana and Edi Rama are orchestrating Albanian political parties against Gruevski. The end game is to make Macedonia a NATO member.”
Jazexhi also details how, “in Albania, we have two major terrorist organizations being protected by the Americans and the Europeans.”
The first is what Ankara describes as the Fetullah Gulen Terror organization (FETO), allegedly instrumentalized by German intelligence; “Turkey is protesting why Albania hosts the FETO group but the Americans host them against Erdogan.”
The second is Mojahedin-e Khalq (MKO), which fights against Tehran; “Albania is being turned into the center of MKO. John Bolton was recently in Tirana, with other international supporters of MKO, and they are attacking Iran and calling for regime change.”
The MKO’s wacky Marjam Rajavi has also visited Tirana, developing plans to “topple the Ayatollahs” in Iran.
The key issue, as Jazexhi emphasizes, is that “after turning the Balkans into a recruiting center for ISIS/Daesh during the Syria war, now the Americans are turning Albania into a jihad 2.0 state.”
Meanwhile, the European Union and the Americans, who want to de-radicalize the Wahhabi Muslims of Europe, keep mum about the Iranian jihadis.”
The “Invisible” Enemy
But then there is the “invisible” enemy that really matters.
In late March, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic went to Beijing in his last official visit before the April 2 elections. Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that economic cooperation with Serbia – and the Balkans at large – is a priority for China.
No question. In 2014, Beijing created a fund that will invest 10 billion euros in Central and Eastern Europe. Last year, China Everbright bought Tirana’s airport in Albania. China Exim Bank is financing highway construction in both Macedonia and Montenegro.
In Serbia, China Road and Bridge Corporation built the 170 million euro Pupin bridge over the Danube in Belgrade – a.k.a. the “Sino-Serbian Friendship Bridge”, inaugurated in 2014 and 85% financed by a China Exim Bank loan.
And the cherry in the (infrastructure development) cake is the 350 km, $2.89 billion high-speed rail line between Athens and Budapest, via Macedonia and Belgrade.
The EU has set off alarm bells on the flagship $1.8 billion Budapest-Belgrade stretch, investigating whether the Hungarian section violated strict EU laws according to which public tenders are a must for large transportation projects.
Inbuilt is the proverbial Western haughtiness, ruling that the Chinese could not possibly be capable of building high-speed rail infrastructure as well if not better – and for a lower cost – than in Europe.
Budapest-Belgrade happens to be the crucial stretch of the Land Sea Express Route that Beijing pledged to build, way back in 2014, with Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia. That’s the crux of the Southeastern Europe node of the New Silk Roads, now Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); a trade corridor between the container port of Pireus, in the Mediterranean – co-owned by China Ocean Shipping Company since 2010 – all the way to Central Europe.
NATO’s official spin is that it must be planted in the Balkans to fight the “threat of terrorism.” According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, “I recently visited Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, and I’m encouraged to see how focused they are on countering the threat of foreign fighters.”
Jihad 2.0 may be directed against Slavs in Macedonia, against Iran and against Turkey. Not to mention against the Russian underbelly. The invisible angle is that they can always be deployed to jeopardize China’s drive to integrate southeast Europe as a key node of the New Silk Roads.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.
Albania’s Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Elona Gjebrea praises Maryam Rajavi for keeping modern slaves in Tirana
Massoud and Anne Khodabandeh, Huffpost, May 18 2017:… In Albania, Elona Gjebrea also has close ties to the United States on the issue of people trafficking and slavery. The US embassy in Tirana, Albania acknowledged the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report in June 2016 by saying, “The United States appreciates the close cooperation with the Government of Albania, civil society and especially National …
Albania’s Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Elona Gjebrea praises Maryam Rajavi for keeping modern slaves in Tirana
Co-authored by Anne Khodabandeh
As democratic elections go, Albania’s upcoming parliamentary elections are as bad as it gets. Protests and turmoil have characterised the leadup to the June election. The official opposition is continuing a three-month boycott of parliament and is threatening to boycott the election itself. The protest is rooted in accusations of corruption and bias in the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Ongoing and apparently unsolvable problems with the narco-trade and drug cartels, arms smuggling and people trafficking, add fuel to the corruption charges. Politicians from all sides appear unable to either successfully expose these crimes or escape accusations of collusion with them.
One example of the complexity of Albania’s difficulties can be found by examining the activities of Albania’s deputy Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, Dr Elona Gjebrea, who is also the Deputy Minister of the Interior. In March 2017, Gjebrea attended a Conference held by the Welsh Government and the UK Crown Prosecution Service which focused on the problem of Albanian slavery victims in the UK. More victims of modern slavery from Albania end up in the UK than from any other country – 17% of all UK cases. The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 in the UK has greatly enabled anti-slavery groups and campaigners in confronting this problem.
In Albania, Elona Gjebrea also has close ties to the United States on the issue of people trafficking and slavery. The US embassy in Tirana, Albania acknowledged the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report in June 2016 by saying, “The United States appreciates the close cooperation with the Government of Albania, civil society and especially National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Elona Gjebrea on our shared goal of combatting the global phenomenon of Human Trafficking.”
In December 2016, the United States allocated an additional $3m funding to support Albania’s “criminal justice system in the fight against organized crime and corruption”. Deputy Interior Minister Gjebrea welcomed the agreement and the resources.
So far, so good. Albania is apparently taking a strong stance against modern slavery and the US backs these efforts. But there is another side to this story. On January 16, 2017 Gjebrea, along with some other Albanian personalities, attended a clandestine music concert in Tirana hosted by the Iranian exile Mojahedin Khalq organisation (MEK) which is now based in Albania. Gjebrea claimed the Albanian people were in “solidarity with the Mojahedin”. Then, in March, she attended the MEK’s New Year rally with 3,000 of its members and leader Maryam Rajavi. She again heaped praise on the MEK and its leader.
Gjebrea’s open support for the group is shocking for several reasons. Not least because the MEK is a highly controversial group with a violent background. The entire MEK was forcefully transferred from Iraq to Albania by the Americans to satisfy Iraqi demands to rid their country of the final remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. Even up until 2016 the MEK were linked to insurgents like Al Qaida in Iraq and Daesh. America paid several million dollars to Albania’s government and promised help to de-radicalise the terrorists.
This did not happen. Instead of de-radicalisation, the organisational structure which had operated in Iraq for three decades was allowed to continue in Albania. The 3,000 MEK members were consolidated and isolated behind closed doors and shuttered windows in dedicated apartment blocks. This led to speculation about the future of the group. In rallies, such as the one Gjebrea attended, the MEK continues with its promise of regime change in Iran – which in the past the MEK has pursued through violence and terrorism. When John Bolton or Senator John McCain lobby for the MEK it is clear they are following an anti-Iran political agenda. But does Gjebrea share that agenda toward Iran? Does Albania? Politicians from both government and opposition would benefit from a more informed and thoughtful approach if they are not to antagonise Iran as a potential trading partner for their country.
But the really shocking aspect of Gjebrea’s support for the MEK can only be based either in ignorance or as a result of corruption. It is well known that the MEK operates as a mind control cult. It is organised as a totalitarian system headed by an authoritarian leader who demands total unquestioning obedience from every member at every level. The group operates outside legal, moral or cultural norms. One of the defining characteristics of this cultic state – long exposed byexpert analysis of the evidence– is that the members are held in a state of modern slavery. They endure forced labour and forced military service. In a sense, they are modern day Gladiators, fighting not for the ancient Romans but for their modern masters, those who pay for the MEK as mercenaries.
Let us remind ourselves that Elona Gjebrea is Albania’s deputy anti-trafficking coordinator. Her role is to prevent slavery and trafficking. How then does she explain her support for modern slavery in Albania itself? When she praises Maryam Rajavi is she sincerely unaware that the cheering, flag waving, applauding audience are actually slaves who have no choice but to obey Rajavi’s dictates? Is she genuinely unaware that MEK members who have worked for decades without pay are still denied their individual UNHCR refugee allowance in Albania because it is paid directly to the MEK leader? Maryam Rajavi is no other than a slave gang-master.
Gjebrea is only one of several high-profile personalities who have recently succumbed to the persuasive lure of the MEK. But what huge irony that in her role at the Interior Ministry, she has not only failed to ensure that MEK members are de-radicalised and returned to normal life, she has endorsed and encouraged the continuation of their slavery in her own country. When such a shocking situation so openly exists, it is not hard to see why the parliamentary elections are so fraught with anger and disaffection. For a country so beholden to America for help and support, it is a shame better guidance cannot be proffered to get Albania’s democracy back on track.
GAZETA IMPAKT – May 18, 2017
Ndërsa zgjedhjet demokratike ecin përpara, zgjedhjet e ardhshme parlamentare të Shqipërisë janë aq keq sa s’bëhet. Protestat dhe trazirat kanë karakterizuar rrugën drejt zgjedhjeve të qershorit. Opozita zyrtare po vazhdon një bojkot tre mujor të parlamentit dhe po kërcënon të bojkotojë vetë zgjedhjet. Protesta është e rrënjosur në akuzat për korrupsion dhe njëanshmëri në qeverinë e Kryeministrit Edi Rama.
Problemet e vazhdueshme dhe me sa duket të pazgjidhshme me tregtinë narkotike dhe aleancat e drogës, trafikimin e armëve dhe të njerëzve, i hedhin më shumë benzinë akuzave për korrupsion. Politikanët nga të gjitha anët duken të paaftë për t’i zbuluar me sukses këto krime ose për të shpëtuar nga akuzat për bashkëpunim me to.
Një shembull i kompleksitetit të vështirësive të Shqipërisë mund të gjendet duke shqyrtuar aktivitetet e zv/Koordinatores Shqiptare kundër Trafikimit, Dr. Elona Gjebrea, e cila është gjithashtu zv/Ministre e Brendshme. Në mars të vitit 2017, Gjebrea ndoqi një konferencë të mbajtur nga qeveria e Uellsit dhe Shërbimi i Prokurorisë së Mbretërisë së Bashkuar, e cila u përqendrua në problemin e viktimave të skllavërisë shqiptare në Mbretërinë e Bashkuar. Viktima të skllavërisë moderne përfundojnë në Britani të Madhe nga Shqipëria më shumë sesa nga çdo vend tjetër – 17% e të gjitha rasteve në Mbretërinë e Bashkuar. Futja e Aktit të Skllavërisë Moderne në vitin 2015 në Britani të Madhe u ka mundësuar aktiviteteve dhe grupeve kundër skllavërisë përballimin e këtij problemi.
Në Shqipëri, Elona Gjebrea ka gjithashtu lidhje të ngushta me Shtetet e Bashkuara për çështjen e trafikimit dhe skllavërisë së njerëzve. Ambasada e SHBA-së në Tiranë pranoi raportin vjetor të Trafikimit të Personave të Departamentit të Shtetit në qershor të vitit 2016, që thoshte se “Shtetet e Bashkuara vlerësojnë bashkëpunimin e ngushtë me qeverinë shqiptare, shoqërinë civile dhe veçanërisht me Koordinatoren Kombëtare të Antitrafikimit, Elona Gjebrea, në qëllimin tonë të përbashkët të luftimit të fenomenit global të trafikimit të qenieve njerëzore”.
Në dhjetor të vitit 2016, Shtetet e Bashkuara ndanë një fond shtesë prej 3 milionë dollarësh për të mbështetur “sistemin e drejtësisë penale në Shqipëri në luftën kundër krimit të organizuar dhe korrupsionit”. Zv/ministrja e Brendshme Gjebrea përshëndeti marrëveshjen dhe burimet.
Deri më tani, shumë mirë. Shqipëria duket se po mban një qëndrim të fortë kundër skllavërisë moderne dhe SHBA-ja po i mbështet këto përpjekje. Por ka një anë tjetër në këtë histori. Më 16 janar 2017, Gjebrea, së bashku me disa personalitete të tjera shqiptare, morën pjesë në një koncert muzikor klandestin në Tiranë të organizuar nga organizata iraniane Mojahedin Khalq (MEK), e cila tani është e vendosur në Shqipëri. Gjebrea pretendoi se populli shqiptar ishte në “solidaritet me muxhahedinët”. Pastaj, në mars, ajo mori pjesë në tubimin e Vitit të Ri të MEK-ut me 3.000 anëtarët e tij dhe me udhëheqësen Marjam Raxhavi. Ajo përsëri vërshoi lëvdata për MEK dhe udhëheqësen e tij.
Mbështetja e hapur e Gjebresë për grupin është tronditëse për disa arsye. Jo më pak sepse MEK është një grup shumë i diskutueshëm me një sfond të dhunshëm. I gjithë MEK u transferua me forcë nga Iraku në Shqipëri nga amerikanët për të kënaqur kërkesat e Irakut për të çliruar vendin e tyre nga mbetjet përfundimtare të regjimit të Sadam Huseinit. Deri në vitin 2016, MEK-u ishte i lidhur me kryengritësit si Al Kaeda dhe Daesh. Amerika pagoi disa miliona dollarë për qeverinë e Shqipërisë dhe premtoi ndihmë për de-radikalizimin e terroristëve.
Kjo nuk ndodhi. Në vend të de-radikalizimit, struktura organizative e cila kishte vepruar në Irak për tre dekada u lejua të vazhdonte edhe në Shqipëri. 3,000 anëtarët e MEK-ut u konsoliduan dhe u izoluan mbrapa dyerve dhe dritareve të mbyllura në blloqe banimi të dedikuara. Kjo çoi në spekulime për të ardhmen e grupit. Në tubime, të tilla si ai ku mori pjesë Gjebrea, MEK vazhdon me premtimin e ndryshimit të regjimit në Iran – gjë që në të kaluarën MEK e ka ndjekur përmes dhunës dhe terrorizmit. Kur Xhon Bolton apo Senatori Xhon Mekejn lobojnë për MEK-un, është e qartë se po ndjekin një axhendë politike anti-Iraniane. Por a e ndan edhe Gjebrea këtë axhendë ndaj Iranit? Po Shqipëria? Politikanët nga qeveria dhe opozita do të përfitonin nga një qasje më e informuar dhe e mirëmenduar nëse nuk duan të antagonizojnë Iranin si një partner tregtar potencial për vendin e tyre.
Por aspekti me të vërtetë tronditës i mbështetjes së Gjebresë për MEK-un mund të bazohet vetëm në injorancë ose si rezultat i korrupsionit. Është e ditur mirë se MEK vepron si një kult i kontrollit të mendjes. Ai është i organizuar si një sistem totalitar i udhëhequr nga një udhëheqës autoritar i cili kërkon bindje totale të padiskutueshme nga çdo anëtar në çdo nivel. Grupi vepron jashtë normave ligjore, morale ose kulturore. Një nga karakteristikat përcaktuese të këtij shteti kultik – e ekspozuar gjatë analizës së provave nga ekspertët – është se anëtarët mbahen në një gjendje skllavërie moderne. Ata durojnë punën e detyruar dhe ushtrojnë detyrën ushtarake. Në njëfarë kuptimi, ata janë gladiatorë modernë, që luftojnë jo për romakët e lashtë, por për mjeshtrat e tyre modernë, ata që paguajnë MEK-un si mercenar.
Le të rikujtojmë se Elona Gjebrea është zëvendës koordinatore e anti-trafikimit në Shqipëri. Roli i saj është të parandalojë skllavërinë dhe trafikimin. Si e shpjegon atëherë mbështetjen e saj për skllavërinë moderne në vetë Shqipërinë? Kur ajo lavdëron Marjam Raxhavin, a është sinqerisht e pavetëdijshme se tifozët të cilët tundin flamujt, auditori që duartroket janë në të vërtetë skllevër që nuk kanë zgjidhje tjetër veçse t’i binden diktateve të Raxhavit? A është vërtet e pavetëdijshme se anëtarëve të MEK-ut që kanë punuar për dekada pa pagë, ende u mohohen pagesat individuale të refugjatëve të UNHCR-së në Shqipëri, sepse ato i paguhen drejtpërdrejt udhëheqëses së MEK-ut? Marjam Raxhavi nuk është tjetër veçse mjeshtria e një bande skllevërish.
Gjebrea është vetëm një nga disa personalitetet e profilit të lartë të cilët kohët e fundit i janë nënshtruar magjisë bindëse të MEK-ut. Por ç’ironi e madhe është që në rolin e saj në Ministrinë e Brendshme, ajo jo vetëm që dështoi të siguronte që anëtarët e MEK-ut të de-radikalizoheshin dhe të ktheheshin në jetën normale, por ajo ka miratuar dhe inkurajuar vazhdimin e skllavërisë së tyre në vendin e saj. Kur një situatë e tillë tronditëse ekziston kaq haptazi, nuk është e vështirë të kuptohet pse zgjedhjet parlamentare janë aq të mbushura me zemërim dhe pakënaqësi. Për një vend aq të vëmendshëm ndaj Amerikës për ndihmë dhe përkrahje, është një turp që nuk mund të ofrohet një drejtim më i mirë për të rikthyer demokracinë e Shqipërisë në rrugën e duhur. / © Gazeta Impakt
Trump’s MEK version of events won’t secure victory against Iran, lets ISIS off the hook
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, February 07 2017:… He also signals that his war is not with ISIS but with the country Iran. Donald Trump rose to victory in part on the promise to take on ISIS and defeat the group. Yet ISIS cannot be defeated except by a coalition of forces that includes Iran. The facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq demonstrate unequivocally that ISIS forces in Aleppo and Mosul have been defeated largely due to the involvement of Iran. Trump clearly has no intention of defeating terrorism.
Trump’s MEK version of events won’t secure victory against Iran, lets ISIS off the hook
They say actions speak louder than words. Looking behind the Twitter storm which creates a smoke and mirrors effect to disguise the Trump administration’s true intents, one fact is blindingly clear; for this government, Iranians are first in the firing line.
This, of itself, is not unexpected. On the campaign trail Trump threatened to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran. So it was already clear he’s no fan of Iranians.
His first act as president has been to issue a direct and belligerent challenge to Iran – he included Iran in the Muslim ban and then declared that Iran is “on notice” after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile which it says is defensive. Iran is clearly in the crosshairs for Trump and his team.
And the evidence stacks up. As a barometer for any individual or even government’s aggressive approach to Iran, support for the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK aka Rajavi cult) is as accurate an indicator as any. The group has advocated violent regime change against Iran for three decades. Its supporters are in doubt that this is a rallying cry for a US-led war.
Even before taking office, revelations about potential Trump administration advisers and officials giving support to the terrorist MEK cult caused concern among foreign policy experts. After all, anti-Iran pundits can choose from literally thousands of civil groups and personalities to act as advisors and partners in challenging Iran. The MEK’s dirty past includes the anti-Imperialistinspired murder of six Americans in pre-revolution Iran which it later celebrated insongs and publications. (The family of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jack Turner – “We were the first victims of terror before there was ever a war on terror” – is currently seeking redress for his death.) The new president has apparently brushed aside such concerns and has chosen to surround himself with people who have advocated for the MEK.
By not denouncing the MEK Trump has done several things. One is to signal that he is at war not with Iran but with Iranians. The MEK is hated more profoundly than any of Iran’s current political leaders by Iranians inside and outside the country.
He also signals that his war is not with ISIS but with the country Iran. Donald Trump rose to victory in part on the promise to take on ISIS and defeat the group. Yet ISIS cannot be defeated except by a coalition of forces that includes Iran. The facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq demonstrate unequivocally that ISIS forces in Aleppo and Mosul have been defeated largely due to the involvement of Iran. Trump clearly has no intention of defeating terrorism.
But most importantly, this tolerance, even warmth, shown toward the MEK in American foreign policy circles is a message that can be read from afar and by everyone else in the world: the American war box is virtually empty. Aside from a handful of puny sanctions, bringing the MEK into the equation means that not only does the America not have a stick to wave at Iran, it appears foolish enough, befuddled by ideological zeal perhaps, to tie its fate to the most unlucky and doom-laden group there ever was.
Laughably, parasitically, the MEK has consistently tied its fate to whichever it assumed was the winning side. However, the choice of MEK sponsors no longer looks so astute. Ayatollah Khomeini quickly saw through the MEK’s smarmy overtures to share power and promptly exiled them from Iran. The next step was to ally with Saddam Hussein against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war – a feat of spectacular treachery for which no Iranian will ever forgive them. After Saddam’s fall the MEK believed that the chaos in Iraq which gave rise to the insurrection of Al Qaida in Iraq would somehow carry them forward. The MEK even flirted with support for ISIS and the Syrian Free Army hoping they would find a home in the new Caliphate. Instead, the MEK were evicted from their base and sent into deeper exile in Albania, a country with no axe to grind against Iran. Long term sponsors have included Israel – which tasked MEK operatives with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists – and the anti-Shia Saudi Arabia. Both countries are bogged down with interminable troubles of their own. And now the MEK are hoping to cosy up with the Trump administration.
The Obama administration kept the MEK at arms’ length and never entertained direct support for the group. When the government of Iraq held the US, along with the UN, responsible for removing the MEK from Iraq to a third country, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was forced to agree to remove the MEK from the US terrorism list before any third country would legally be able to accept them on their territory.
Since 2001 Trump’s predecessors have built up strong homeland defences and led counter-terrorism efforts particularly against the threat of ISIS to the US and Europe. It is now likely that this legacy will be squandered by an administration with an overriding hatred of Iran. Instead of understanding the benefit of developing strategic partnerships with countries like Iran and Iraq in the global fight against terrorism, the Trump administration would rather rain down terror on the Iranian people.
But the biggest delusion would be to believe that the MEK could be a reliable or effective partner in any sense. If Donald Trump has any insight into his own modus operandi – the erratic demands and refusal to take criticism – he will have a direct view of how the MEK operates. Aligning America’s foreign policy with the whims of a mind control cult will not secure victory over Iran. Instead, it will diminish America’s standing in the world, and it will certainly not make the world a better or safer place.
Some related documents:
Lets create another Vietnam for America(pdf).
(Mojahedin English language paper April 1980)
Letter to Imam (Khomeini) (pdf).
(Mojahedin English Language paper April 1980)
Some questions unanswered regarding the US military invasion of Iran (pdf).
(Mojahedin English Language paper June 1980)
link to one of the Mojahedin Khalq songs
advocating terror and killing Americans
(In Persian written and distributed after the Iranian Revolution)
National Geographic, March 04 2017:… Leading MEK members squirm under the knowing gaze of Michael Ware. Watch the shifty looks and glances as the MEK representatives try to lie about their true intentions. They admit to wanting regime change, but claim to be pacifists. Ware asks ‘Why does a political organization still need to have a para-military organization?’ He then cleverly gets them to …
Associated Press, February 16 2017:… The group at one point successfully infiltrated the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, according to a State Department report. And a series of bombings attributed to the MEK accompanied visits by presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to Iran, including one to target an American cultural center. In 1973, MEK assailants wearing motorcycle helmets shot dead U.S. Army Lt. …
Iran Interlink, February 15 2017:… The following OpEd by MEK advocate Col. Wes Martin was published first in The Hill, followed by Mojahedin Khalq’s “Iran Probe” and the “NCRI” websites. Iran Interlink has published it here as indication of how hysteria has become the new normal in American published writing. A form of madness appears to have infected US politics and now all and sundry are dancing …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, February 07 2017:… He also signals that his war is not with ISIS but with the country Iran. Donald Trump rose to victory in part on the promise to take on ISIS and defeat the group. Yet ISIS cannot be defeated except by a coalition of forces that includes Iran. The facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq demonstrate unequivocally that ISIS forces in Aleppo and Mosul have been defeated largely due to the involvement
Gazeta Impakt, Albania, Translated by Iran Interlink, January 01 2017:… According to Fatos Klosi, former director of the National Intelligence Service, the American CIA chief has warned Albania that Donald Trump will renounce support for the MEK terrorists and it will be the Albanian Government itself which must deal with internal security and must confront a group trained militarily from the time of Saddam Hussein …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, December 24 2016:… That can only happen if journalists and investigatory bodies (human rights, nuclear experts, war crimes, etc) are able to base their work on facts and not the fake and fictionalised fantasies of stooges like the MEK, which are clearly designed to misinform on these issues. The information laundry cycle is not difficult to follow – the Washington Times takes its report …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, November 12 2016:… In particular, Rudi Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. Putting aside their weak personalities as well as their individual neoconservative agendas, the common thread which links these names together is their decade long support for the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist organisation (also known as Saddam’s Private Army or Rajavi cult). It is certain that …
Iran Interlink, October 30 2016:… Local observers in Tirana are reporting that the Mojahedin Khalq cultic terror group (MEK) is buying and creating several sandwich and kebab shops in the city and is using the MEK members to work in these fast-food businesses. On the surface this may look like a positive move. In an article titled ‘Albania: What would a de-radicalization program for the Mojahedin Khalq involve’, it was …
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Iran Interlink, October 16 2016:… In spite of American promises, no de-radicalisation programme is in place to deal with over 2500 members of the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist group who have relocated to Tirana from Iraq. The MEK has a long history of violent and criminal activity. This has not stopped now they are in Tirana. Unless the Albanian government introduces its own programme, it must accept …
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington post (and Top Topic), October 09 2016:… For the local citizens, mystery surrounds their arrival and their lifestyle. Should these secretive and covert neighbours be treated with suspicion or kindness? At a local level, the first thing neighbouring families need to be aware of is that among all MEK members, sexual relations have been banned for over 25 years. This means there are no marriages or children or young people in the organisation. More troubling …
Massoud & Anne Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, July 14 2016:… Whether Rajavi is already dead or now killable is not known – only he can answer this – but he and his whole organisation are certainly now, body and soul, in the capable hands of the Saudi Prince. If he is still alive, Rajavi’s only role is to act as go-between to instruct his wife what she must do on behalf of the Saudis. If he is dead
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, July 08 2016:… Clearly this message is not aimed at Iranians. The clamour for regime change in Iran does not emanate from inside the country in spite of its many social, civic and political problems. Who then is Maryam Rajavi’s constituency? Fro
Massoud Khodabandeh, Toptopic, July 03 2016:… So, back to the recent advertising campaign. Any publicity campaign will be successful if it is newsworthy. Maryam, however, simply churns out the same scenario ad infinitum. Starting with describing a terrible situation in Iran – based on news items that can be gleaned from any serious report