The moderator, Alejo Vidal Quadras, President of ISJ and former Vice President of European Parliament, was joined by panellists Adam Ereli, former US Ambassador to Bahrain, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria, Michael Pregent, a Middle East analyst and a Hudson Institute fellow, Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, a doctor and professeur agrégé in geography-geopolitics, research fellow at the Institute Thomas More in Paris and researcher at the Institut Français de Géopolitique (French Institute of Geopolitics – University-Paris VIII), and Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association and former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq.
Alejo Vidal Quadras started the discussion by saying that the Iranian regime’s strategy is clear – it wants to be the hegemonic power in the Middle East and it wants to control the region. The regime has been taking advantage of some European governments that believe Iran can help in the fight against ISIS. He emphasised that Iran’s goal is not to defeat ISIS – it is using the fight to advance its own interests.
On the ground in Syria, the Iranian regime has more troops than dictator Bashar al Assad. There is great tension in the region, particularly between Iran and the monarchies in the Middle East. In short, there are numerous risks emanating from the region and Iran is at the centre of it all.
Adam Ereli said that he wanted to focus on less theory and more practice. He said we are going through an information war with Iran, and Iran is very good at it. Iran is very patient and incredibly opportunistic.
He also said that in terms of timelines, Iran and the United States work very differently. Iran will look at events from hundreds or even thousands of years ago and focus on them, whereas the US deals with time in terms of election cycles. Iran uses time to its advantage and is full of “master tacticians”. The Iranian regime knows that it is futile to battle a superpower so it fights asymmetrically and uses proxies that it has trained and funded to wage war on its behalf.
Ereli describes Iran as an aggressive and hegemonistic power. He said that analysing the regime’s behaviour, it is clear to see that many actions are carried out defensively, not on the offensive as it first appears. What seems to be an offensive move is actually a defensive move because it is a reaction to the regime feeling threatened. He gave the example of the land bridge that Iran is pursuing with its neighbours.
He reiterated that the Iranian regime’s influence needs to be rolled back and this can be done by taking the fight back to the homeland where Iran is weakest.
Sid Ahmed Ghozali said that Iran has led expansionism that has made people confused about the regime and Persian culture and tradition.
He said that anyone who believes that there is an alliance between the Iranian regime and the West is either a hypocrite or naïve. He also made sure it was clear that this is not a Shia-Sunni war, saying that the actual differences between the two are “paper thin”. He said the that West seems to forget or be ignorant to the fact that the Iranian regime is using the Shia argument to extend its power over the region.
The former Prime Minister said that the biggest threat in the world comes from the Iranian regime. He said it is a “central issue” because it is a cruel and unreliable dictatorship that is using Islam to gain more power. He said that the regime’s goal is to create a caliphate over Muslim people and that it is using ballistic missiles to make it look legitimate to the rest of the world, especially its neighbours in the region and the West. It wants to be taken seriously.
Ghozali spoke about the Iranian Resistance saying that it is knowledgeable and legitimate and has been fighting against the regime for years so that the people of Iran can take their fate into their own hands. He paid tribute to the some 120,000 members of the opposition that have been killed.
Speaking about Western attempts to negotiate with the regime, Ghozali warned that it was futile. The regime must be overthrown and he said that it can only be done if people stand up to it, like Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the opposition, has been advising for years. And this applies to the people outside of Iran and the international community too. He pointed out that this can be done by educating the public – the Muslim population and the West alike. The people who believe the regime is moderate must be educated because it is very far away from moderate.
Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier agreed that the regime is after power, but added that it also has other goals. These goals, he said, cannot be achieved alone – it needs alliance with other countries so it turned to Russia.
Former President Obama’s priority was to get Iran to sign the nuclear deal. He said that, in his opinion, many people believed that the Iranian regime really could change. Partly, he said, because the Western world is weak and it forgets its history – people in the West are too focused on the internet and think that everyone’s goal is to reach a certain level of consumerism. And they expect Iran’s goal to be the same. He said that this is the way the US has approached the Iran situation, as well as a number of European countries. Thankfully, he said, President Trump has realised this so is taking foreign policy in a different direction.
Michael Pregent said that with regards to the Iran deal, he has spent a lot of time looking at the non-nuclear concessions that were made to Iran. He said that Qasem Soleimani and many other corrupt officials that directly support terrorism were taken off sanctions and as a result were able to re-energise the country’s drive for terrorism.
One way to deal with Iran – which has been proven effective – is to call its bluff. Obama said on numerous occasions that Iran would walk away from the deal if more sanctions were slapped on. This led to numerous acts of appeasement from the Obama administration (that Pregent believes started as far back as 2009 when Obama released anyone that Iran asked for). Because of the appeasement, the IRGC was empowered in 2015 and operations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen increased. It has huge amounts of funds to help it out too. However, Trump called Iran’s bluff and slapped Iran with numerous sanction. Iran didn’t walk away from the deal as Obama predicted.
Pregent also highlighted the importance of the NCRI that continues to provide vital pieces of intelligence, noting that Obama ignored everything he didn’t want to see.
Struan Stevenson started by saying that the threat of Islamic extremism is everywhere, mentioning the latest terrorist attacks in London and Manchester as an example. He said that if he was asked who the godfather of Islamic extremism is he would have to say the 1979 revolution in Iran.
He said that the mullahs are smart because they have infiltrated and become a huge influence in Iraq. They got Nouri al-Maliki into power and used him as their puppet. Iran’s Qasem Soleimani can be described as the head terrorist in the world and Iran has exploited the fight against Daesh to continue with the genocidal killing of thousands of Sunnis.
Stevenson spoke very critically of Obama’s administration and its appeasement of Iran and said that the British Baroness Ashton of the European Parliament used to follow Obama pathetically.
Speaking about the argument that the crises in the Middle East are based on a Shia-Sunni struggle, Stevenson said that his is absolutely not the case. He said that it is plain and simple terrorism and there are many factions and proxies that look to Iran as the godfather.
Stevenson had a couple of suggestions for President Trump. He said the single most effective way to deal with the regime is to invite the leader of the opposition, Maryam Rajavi, to Washington. He said that it would send a very clear signal to Iran that policies towards Iran will be nothing like Obama’s. He said that another way to bring the regime to a grinding halt would be to list the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organisation. As it controls 70% of the regime’s economy, it will undermine its financial resources and will leave it “teetering on the edge of a cliff”.