Source: Lori Arnold | ChristianHeadlines.com Contributor
The Trump administration today announced new sanctions for Iran even as it appeared to step back from initial claims that it ordered the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani because of an “imminent strike” he was planning on U.S. personnel.
“This was gonna happen, and American lives were at risk,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said when asked for his definition of “imminent.”
The new sanctions cover construction, manufacturing, textiles, mining, steel and iron, while other sanctions target specific Iranian officials, USA Today reported.
“The president has been very clear: we will continue to apply economic sanctions until Iran stops its terrorist activities and commit that it will never have nuclear weapons,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.
The world is anxiously waiting to see if there will be more fallout after the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Soleimani and several others. On Wednesday, in retaliation for the general’s death, Iran launched dozens of missile strikes at Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops. There were no casualties in the attacks, although U.S. intelligence and other world leaders believe Iran accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner that crashed near Tehran, hours after the missiles were launched. The crash killed all 176 passengers.
So how did the United States get to this point? Are the U.S. and Iran so different? Are Christians really being persecuted by the Islamic country?
1. GENERAL QASSEM SOLEIMANI WAS TARGETED FOR PLANNING AN ‘IMMINENT’ ATTACK ON U.S. SOLDIERS
Although some critics of President Trump’s action have labeled the drone strike an assassination, most agree Soleimani was a terrorist mastermind.
CNN reported Jan. 3—the day of the attack that killed Soleimani—that a congressional source revealed that American intelligence had determined the general “was in multiple countries in the region planning specific attacks on U.S. interests, including U.S. personnel.” That source added that the Iranian plans were developing beyond normal chatter.
Meanwhile, a senior administration official told CNN they had evidence Soleimani traveled to Baghdad to execute future hits on American interests.
Tony Shaffer, a former intelligence officer with the Department of Defense, outlined the case against the general in an opinion piece for Real Clear Politics. It is important to note that Shaffer is a member of the Trump 2020 advisory board.
In the article, Shaffer said his opinion is shaped by his experience going “toe-to-toe with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Afghanistan.” That experience included interrogating an IRGC “enabler.”
“As the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, Soleimani was among America’s most vociferous and aggressive foes,” Shaffer wrote. “He was personally responsible for the deaths of thousands, including the killing and maiming of hundreds of American soldiers. He was an evil, remorseless man, and his death is a positive development for the entire world—including his own country.”
Shaffer maintains Iran was funding terrorist activity in Afghanistan and that Soleimani was directing those operations.
“Yet previous administrations refused to act on intelligence that would have allowed us to take him out far sooner,” Shaffer wrote, later adding, “Had it not been for the timely strike ordered by President Trump, Soleimani would have carried out further atrocities against U.S. troops and American interests—including an ‘imminent’ attack that the administration claims Soleimani was preparing to launch at the time of his death.
“This man was a terrorist in charge of an IRGC element that had been declared a terrorist organization. He was traveling, in violation of U.N. sanctions, to Iraq, with the apparent intent of inflicting harm on U.S. service members in the region. He was in a combat zone as a combatant in uniform—the legal basis to target him could not have been clearer, and the same goes for the moral justification.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chris McGrath/Staff, pictured is Iranian General Qassem Soleimani
2. THE RANCOR IN U.S.-IRANIAN RELATIONS PRE-DATES THE 1979 IRANIAN HOSTAGE CRISIS
When discussing the source of the protracted conflict between America and Iran, most people point to the Iranian revolution that ended the Shah’s rule, ultimately leading protestors to storm the U.S. embassy and taking 52 Americans hostage, an ordeal that lasted 444 days. Their capture prompted the United States to impose sweeping—and debilitating—financial sanctions and curtail diplomatic ties.
But relations actually began to deteriorate more than two decades earlier when, in 1953, the CIA assisted in a military coup that successfully removed Iranian leader, Mohammad Mossadegh.
“At the height of Cold War tensions, Mossadegh pledged to nationalize Iran’s oil fields, which was widely seen as both popular in Iran and a victory for the then USSR,” a CNN report said. “The British, who controlled the oil fields, enlisted the help of the CIA to overthrow Mossadegh.”
Within the last year, tensions have escalated further as Iran has responded to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign by attacking facilities used by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, seizing commercial ships, causing infrastructural destruction in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and downing a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle, according to a paper by the Congressional Research Service.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Express/Stringer, picture are Americans arriving home after being held hostage in Iran in 1979.
3. IRAN’S GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE IS SIMILAR IN SOME WAYS TO AMERICA’S THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT
According to PBS, Iran has a president, who is popularly elected, as well as a separate legislature and judiciary. But what sets Iran apart is that Iran’s Islamic theocracy is really ruled by a Supreme Leader who “exerts ideological and political control over a system dominated by clerics who shadow every major function of the state.”
The Supreme Leader serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As commander-in-chief, he controls the Islamic Republic’s intelligence and security operations. Additionally, he is empowered to appoint and dismiss the leaders who oversee the judiciary, the state radio and television networks.
As the country’s second-highest ranking official, the president is responsible for setting the country’s economic policies and oversees the Supreme National Security Council and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, although the Supreme Leader still controls foreign and domestic security.
Iran’s 290-member Parliament is a unicameral legislative body that drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the country’s budget.
The 12-member Council of Guardians, appointed by the Supreme Leader, oversees the activities of Parliament and determines which candidates are qualified to run for public office. The council also reviews all legislation to ensure it complies with Sharia law.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Majid Saeedi/Stringer, pictured is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
4. DESPITE GOVERNMENT PROHIBITIONS AGAINST SHARING THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH IS GROWING
According to Open Doors USA, it is illegal for Christians to share their faith, convert or preach in Iran.
“Therefore, church services in Persian (or Farsi), the national language, are not allowed,” the Open Doors USA report states. “Converts from Islam face persecution from the government; if they attend an underground house church, they face the constant threat of arrest. Iranian society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted.”
The worldwide ministry, which tracks persecution through an annual report called the World Watch List, ranks Iran as the No. 9 biggest threat globally. In a nation of 82 million residents, Christianity represents less than 1 percent, with an estimated 800,000 adherents.
Despite the oppression, a documentary released last year says the “Fastest Growing Church” in the world is in Iran, according to a Sept. 27 story by Christian Headlines. Sheep Among Wolves Volume II, produced by Alliance International Studios, says the underground church in Iran is “spreading like a wildfire,” despite lacking buildings, property or central leadership. Their success, according to the video, is focusing on discipleship, not church planting.
“The seismic shift that’s happened in the church of Iran is when all these church planters found out that converts run away from persecution, but disciples would die for the Lord in persecution,” an unnamed church leader said in the documentary.
“Disciples forsake the world and cling to Jesus ’till he comes. Converts don’t. Disciples aren’t engaged in a culture war. Converts are. Disciples cherish, obey, and share the word of God. Converts don’t. Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else. Converts don’t. Converts run when the fire comes. Disciples don’t.”
Photo courtesy: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash
5. IRANIANS ARE NOT ARABS
According to the American Iranian Council, many people wrongly use Persian and Arab interchangeably, but both are distinct ethnicities.
“The Middle East is regularly portrayed as a monolithic region, with a largely homogeneous population and little demographic or cultural diversity,” according to a fact sheet on its website. “This false impression has enabled the proliferation of numerous intercultural misunderstandings. One of the most common is the conflation of Middle Eastern ethnic groups. Many people continue to believe that ‘Persian’ and ‘Arab’ are interchangeable terms, when, in reality, they are labels for two distinct ethnicities. That is to say, Persians are not Arabs. … They each occupy different geographic spaces, speak different languages, and experience different cultures.
“For starters, Persians primarily live in Iran, and constitute roughly 60 percent of the population there. Persians arrived in southern Iran around 1000 B.C.E., and experienced an extraordinary ascendance in political strength and intellectual vibrancy under the Achaemenian dynasty five centuries later.”
Culture Trip adds this assessment:
“The Encyclopedia Britannica defines an Arab as ‘one whose native language is Arabic.’ The reference book says the term historically included the “nomadic Semitic inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula” and in modern usage encompasses the Arabic-speaking people stretching from Mauritania to southwestern Iran. With the exception of various minority ethnic groups in Iran (one of which is Arab), Iranians are Persian.
“Persian history largely begins with King Cyrus the Great, who is credited with the liberation of Babylon in 528 BC, and the oldest known charter of human rights, referred to as the Cyrus Cylinder, which is housed in London’s British Museum. Persian and Arab histories only merge in the 7th century with the Islamic conquest of Persia.”