Presenting the Iranian regime as a victim, NIAC’s new pro-Tehran campaign

Jan 28th, 2016

SaudisIranian Forum, 26 January 2016

NIAC’s current campaign against Saudi Arabia is very similar to NIAC’s usual anti-Israeli drive which the organization has continued for more than a decade. According to NIAC, the Saudi’s and Israeli belligerent policies toward Iran are not in response to the Iranian actions or its expansionist polices. Saudi Arabia, like Israel, is a fading regional power that fears Iran’s ascending position in the region, thus, it tries to create smoke screens and crisis to isolate Iran, stop its ascend and prevent US-Iran rapprochement. Israel and Saudis are presented as the root cause of regional problems.

Accordingly, Iran is presented as a country that pursues a regional policy devoid of ideology and based on national interests. Iran seeks its legitimate place in the region and could be a valuable partner for the international community to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

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On January 2nd, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry announced the execution of 47people convicted of terrorism charges, including Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr and a convicted al-Qaeda leader Faris al-Zahrani. Instantaneously, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Khamenei, vowed that the Saudis would face “divine revenge” for the execution of the Shiite leader. A few hours later, plain-clothed members of the Iranian para-military “Bassij” force, ransacked and torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. The Bassij organization is under the Supreme Leader’s direct command.

The attacks intended to boost regime supporters within Iran, its proxy radical Shiites groups in the region, to present Iran as the sole defender of Shiites and at the same time, weaken and marginalize the moderate Shiite religious leaders in the Arab world who oppose Tehran’s regional policies. Iran’s motives could be better understood when compared with Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a death fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie in 1989, a move designed to present Iran as the leader and defender of the Islamic Nation. The attacks against the Saudi embassy and consulate were also meant to discredit the Iranian President Rouhani as a powerless leader who can not even protect foreign embassies.

As the attacks were condemned by the international community and Arab states in the strongest terms, the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif unleashed a PR campaign in the West to counter the negative outcome of Iranian behavior. This campaign which attempts to present Iran as a victim has been relayed by pro-regime advocates in the West, with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington-based advocacy and lobbying organization at the helm.

The outline of the Iranian PR campaign is well illustrated in Zarif’s op-ed titled “Saudi Arabia’s Reckless Extremism”, published by the New York Times. Zarif presented Saudi Arabia as a reckless and destabilizing actor in the region that exacerbates sectarian tensions, nourishes terrorism and provokes Iran: “Regrettably, immediately after the successful conclusion of the first interim nuclear agreement between Iran and E3/EU+3 in November 2013, Saudi Arabia focused all its resources to prevent or defeat a comprehensive deal, and preclude normalization in the region. Today, there are indications that some in Saudi Arabia are on a mission to drag the entire region to conflict, fearing that removal of the smokescreen of the manufactured Iranian nuclear threat would expose the real global threat posed by extremists and their sponsors… The Saudi strategy to derail the nuclear agreement and maintain and even exacerbate tension in the region has focused on three inter-related domains:  PR and pressure in the West, promotion and even active engagement in war and violence in the region and direct provocation against Iran.”

 

NIAC campaign

Similarly, NIAC and its president Trita Parsi launched a media campaign to defend the Iranian regime. This was not the first time that Parsi was helping zarif. In 2006-2007, he collaborated with Zarif, then Iranian ambassador to the UN in New York to influence American public opinion and decision makers.

NIAC’s current campaign against Saudi Arabia is very similar to NIAC’s usual anti-Israeli drive which the organization has continued for more than a decade. According to NIAC, the Saudi’s and Israeli belligerent policies toward Iran are not in response to the Iranian actions or its expansionist polices. Saudi Arabia, like Israel, is a fading regional power that fears Iran’s ascending position in the region, thus, it tries to create smoke screens and crisis to isolate Iran, stop its ascend and prevent US-Iran rapprochement. Israel and Saudis are presented as the root cause of regional problems.

Accordingly, Iran is presented as a country that pursues a regional policy devoid of ideology and based on national interests. Iran seeks its legitimate place in the region and could be a valuable partner for the international community to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

In order to understand NIAC’s current pro-Tehran efforts, it is helpful to review its anti-Israeli campaign, best illustrated in Parsi’s book, “Treacherous Alliance – The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US” published in 2007. (Read a short review of Parsi’s book here)

The book goes beyond scholarly work as it represents a manifest for the Iranian regime’s anti-Israeli campaign and theorizes and legitimizes a large scale pro-Tehran lobby in the US. The book has had an important impact to shape the debate about the Israeli influence on US policy toward Iran.

 

NIAC’s current campaign to blame Saudis and present Iran as victim

NIAC’s current defense of the Iranian regime presents Saudi Arabia as the party responsible for the current crisis between the two countries. In an article titled: “The logic behind escalating tensions in the Middle East” Parsi explained that: “The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the story of a declining state desperately seeking to reverse the balance of power shifting in favor of its rising rival.”

In another article titled, “The Privilege Saudi Arabia Enjoyed Under U.S.-Led Order in the Mideast Is Over” published in the Huffington Post, Parsi added that: “Riyadh fears that its geopolitical decline will be exacerbated by Iran’s ascendancy… Iran’s power or military capabilities cannot explain Saudi Arabia’s sense of insecurity. Rather, Hadian argues, Saudi’s sense of vulnerability is inherent in the very political nature of the Saudi regime Riyadh fears that its geopolitical decline will be exacerbated by Iran’s ascendancy.” He concluded that: “[f]riends of Saudi Arabia need to intervene once more and convince Riyadh of the inevitable: Iran is part of the region; it is a major power and long-term stability necessitates its inclusion in any security order. The influence and privilege Saudi Arabia enjoyed under American order will no longer be the same — because that order is no more.”

In another article titled, “Will the U.S. fall for Saudi Arabia’s deliberate provocation in killing of Shi’ite cleric?” Parsi continued the same logic and stated: “[f]rom the Saudi perspective, geopolitical trends in the region have gone against its interests for more than a decade now. The rise of Iran – and Washington’s decision to negotiate and compromise with Tehran over its nuclear program – has only added to the Saudi panic… To follow through on this way of thinking, Riyadh’s calculation with the deliberate provocation of executing Nimr may have been to manufacture a crisis — perhaps even war — that it hopes can change the geopolitical trajectory of the region back to the Saudi’s advantage. The prize would be to force the United States to side with Saudi Arabia and thwart its slow but critical warm-up in relations with Tehran.”

Similar to Foreign Minister Zarif’s attacj against the Saudis, NIAC’s director of research, Reza Marashi published an article titled: “Saudi Arabia Is the George W. Bush of the Middle Eastand wrote:Saudi Arabia murdered a political dissident, poured gasoline on fiery sectarianism, incited a diplomatic crisis, and now claims to be the victim. Saudi Arabia has cut its ties to Iran while plunging neck deep into two reckless wars of choice. You could say that Saudi Arabia has become the George W. Bush of the Middle East.”

NIAC’s campaign also attempts to present Iran as a victim, that at worst has merely fallen into Saudi Arabia’s trap. In his article, Parsi wrote: “By allowing protestors to torch the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response, Iran seems to have walked right into the Saudi trap. If Saudi Arabia succeeds in forcing the United States into the conflict by siding with the kingdom, then its objectives will have been met.”

In another article, Parsi explained that the Saudis rejected Iran’s request for détente and places the blame for torching the Saudi embassy on a minority of hardliners in Iran: “There is a duality in Iran’s conduct. There’s the more mature and prudent approach lead by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Their leadership gave much of the international community hope that Iran can act as a responsible rising power. But there is also a reactionary and intransigent segment led by a powerful minority of hardliners who see their own power protected through Iran’s continued isolation and conflict with the outside world.”

It is difficult to understand how an unknown minority of hardliners in Iran can ransack and torch a foreign embassy and a consulate for almost ten hours when the Supreme Leader, the powerful Revolutionary Guards and the Rouhani government are all against such incendiary action.

By placing blame on Israel and Saudi Arabia while defending the Iranian regime, NIAC seeks to manipulate public opinion and influence US policy makers, which is of direct benefit to Iran.

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