Sat. May 18th, 2024

Iran-Israel tensions are shining a fresh light on Robert Malley

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts May4,2024

While Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of an explosive regional war after both nations traded attacks in recent weeks, it would be a tremendous mistake to think that the risk of a wider war has receded.  

Quite simply, as a fanatical nuclear threshold state allied with Russia and China, Iran poses one of, if not the greatest threat to global peace and security. The U.S. must begin treating Iran like an actual enemy instead of a nation that will abandon its goals with enough diplomatic sweet talk.  

To that point, Iran has shown that they have no fear of Biden’s loosely enforced sanctions, recently hitting a five-year high in oil exports — with China being the biggest buyer — and continuing to supply Russian forces with drones to use against Ukraine. 

And, while Iran’s continued belligerence cannot be fully attributed to President Biden — former Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump all failed to bring the Mullahs to heel — there are serious and legitimate questions over this administration’s approach to the Islamic Republic, beginning with the strange and troubling situation surrounding Robert Malley.  

Malley, the former U.S. envoy to Iran who Biden tasked with reviving the Iranian nuclear deal had his security clearance quietly revoked last year before ultimately being suspended and investigated by the FBI for mishandling classified information. 

The nature of the allegations against Malley — that he provided Iran with a confidential State Department memo — were so serious that Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referred to them as potential “treason.” 

As questions swirled about Malley’s suspension, Semafor and Tablet Magazine published in-depth exposés fingering Malley as playing a vital role in a years-long Iranian intelligence operation against the United States.  

According to one report, Malley “helped to fund, support, and direct an Iranian intelligence operation designed to influence the United States and allied governments.” Unfortunately, that just scratches the surface of what Malley is accused of.  

Leaked emails cited by Semafor and Tabletpaint an even more troubling picture, including the role Malley played in knowingly bringing what Tablet refers to as an “Iranian agent of influence” into the highest levels of the U.S. government. 

Tablet notes that Malley personally “supported and advanced” operatives from the Iran Experts Initiative — a group of pro-regime academics from the Iranian diaspora tasked with promoting Iranian interests — as they sought to influence American policy towards Iran, first as independent experts, and then as government officials.  

Per Tablet, Malley, while head of the International Crisis Group think tank from 2018-2021, hired Iran Experts Initiative operatives who received funding and instructions from handlers in Tehran, including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials and then-Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. 

It is worth noting that, per Tablet, no Iran Experts Initiative operatives denied the accuracy of these leaked emails. 

Upon joining the Biden administration, Malley brought many of these operatives into the government, including attempting to recruit Ali Vaez, Malley’s top deputy at International Crisis Group.  

While Vaez was ultimately denied a security clearance — which Tablet attributes to emails sent to Zarif declaring that it was Vaez’s “patriotic duty” to steer U.S. policy in a way more favorable to Tehran — it does not answer why Malley initially wanted to bring Vaez into the administration, or why Malley continued working with Vaez after his clearance was denied. 

Moreover, as the leaked emails reveal, Malley’s hand-picked Iran Experts Initiative operatives reported directly to the Iranian government while holding active roles in the State Department. In 2021, one agent, Ariana Tabatabai emailed Mostafa Zahrani, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps official, seeking his guidance on crafting her congressional testimony and another time asking for Zahrani’s advice on whether or not she should attend conferences in Saudi Arabia and Israel.  

To that end, why Tabatabai still has her security clearance and Pentagon job is a serious question of national security, particularly as tensions between Iran, the U.S. and Israel are on the verge of exploding. 

Further, as the Biden administration is increasingly adamant that Israel inform the U.S. prior to strikes on targets that Iran may consider escalatory, Malley and his protégés’ efforts on behalf of Iran raise another dangerous question of whether Israel can trust that the Pentagon won’t leak sensitive information to Iran.   

It should go without saying that in the conflict between Israel and Iran, the U.S. should fully stand next to Israel, our greatest ally in the region against a regime hellbent on spreading death and destruction in pursuit of a worldwide Shia caliphate. However, reports of American officials in the State Department and Pentagon leaking information on Israeli military actions threaten to erode any remaining trust between Jerusalem and Washington.  

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post described Israel’s concerns surrounding “the role of American security and diplomatic sources in managing sensitive information,” saying “the disclosures undermine Israel’s strategic restraint and potentially provoke Iranian responses that could spiral into broader conflicts” 

Certainly, Malley’s past lends credibility to both Israel’s concerns, as well as the questions over Malley’s influence on American policy towards the Middle East. In 2008, he was forced to resign as an advisor to then-President Obama after it came to light that he met with members of Hamas — the terrorist group that sparked the current war on Oct.7 with the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.  

Politico has also reported that Malley’s willingness “to bend to Iranian wishes” was well known in government circles. 

Similarly, Malley’s actions raise questions as to why, after having his security clearance revoked, being placed on leave and being the subject of an FBI investigation, he is allowed to hold teaching positions at Yale and Princeton Universities, both of which are the sites of unprecedented anti-Israel protests in recent weeks.  

At the very least, there must be a thorough investigation into whether Malley’s undisclosed efforts to advance Iranian interests violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

Ultimately, Iran’s brazen attack on Israel and its support for terrorist groups demands transparency and a total recalibration of U.S. policy towards the Islamic regime. Americans deserve to know the full extent of Malley’s cooperation with a hostile foreign government, and the impact his proteges continue to have on American policy.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant and the founder and partner at Schoen Cooperman Research. He served as an adviser to President Clinton and the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.” Saul Mangel is a senior strategist at Schoen Cooperman Research.  

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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One thought on “Iran-Israel tensions are shining a fresh light on Robert Malley”
  1. Quite simply, as a fanatical nuclear threshold state allied with Russia and China, Iran poses one of, if not the greatest threat to global peace and security. The U.S. must begin treating Iran like an actual enemy instead of a nation that will abandon its goals with enough diplomatic sweet talk.

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