Is it Iran’s Middle East Now?


The Middle East is currently in the midst of widespread instability, civil strife and the collapse or contraction of state authority. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Tunisia and Egypt have all experienced major instability over the last half decade. The first four of these areas have effectively ceased to exist as unitary states, and are now partitioned de facto between warring entities, organised according to ethnic, sectarian or tribal loyalty. The Palestinian territories too are divided into areas controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

In this fractious landscape, powerful regional states are seeking to gain advantage, extend their own power, and diminish that of their rivals.

The collapse of states has in turn brought with it the decline of the national identities which supposedly underlay them, and the growth of sectarian identification as a political factor. The result is the emergence of Sunni-Shia conflict as a major overt presence in the Middle East. In Yemen, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in a more complex way in Syria, Sunni-Shia rivalries form a central dynamic, which are also important in terms of the geo-strategic rivalries among major states competing in the Middle East.

Perhaps the single best organised and most aggressive alliance active currently in the Middle East is the bloc of states and movements gathered around the Islamic Republic of Iran. Motivated by clear strategic goals and by powerful ideological motivations, and with long experience of subversion particularly relevant to the current period of instability in the Middle East, Iran and its allies are powerful players in the regional contest.

Prior to the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, signed on 14 July 2015, it had appeared that Iran might be approaching a point of overstretch. Tehran was committed to assist a large portfolio of clients engaged in conflict across the region, at a time when Tehran was itself subject to biting economic sanctions. The continued civil war in Syria and the opening of conflicts in Iraq and Yemen – in which the Iranians were heavily committed – seemed to introduce this possibility.

However, the conclusion of the nuclear agreement – and with it the prospect of release of impounded funds as part of sanctions relief – has immediate implications for the related subject of Iranian regional ambitions and outreach. The precise sum likely to become rapidly available to Iran following the signing of the agreement and sanctions relief remains unclear and disputed. Estimates range from $150 billion (the sum frequently quoted by opponents of the nuclear deal) to $56 billion (the likely sum according to US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew).

But even if one assumes the lower estimate, and combines this with additional sums likely to become available to Iran because of renewed economic ties with the outside world as an element of sanctions relief, it may be concluded that the risk of overstretch, and a consequent inability on the part of Iran to sustain its regional commitments, has effectively disappeared as a result of the signing of the JCPOA.

As a result, Iran is well placed in the current period to continue its practice of supporting proxy political-military organisations in a variety of regional locations, in pursuit of Iranian strategic goals.


Iran is currently actively supporting proxies in major conflicts in the following areas: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. In addition, there is evidence that Iranian agencies are active among Shia populations – as yet without major effect – in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Tehran also has a strategic relationship with (Sunni majority) Sudan.

Iranian aims

Iran’s strategic goal is to emerge as the dominant power in the Middle East and, eventually, the entire Islamic world. It seeks to roll back US influence in the region and to work towards Israel’s destruction.



In all areas of Iranian regional ‘outreach’, a common pattern exists. Iranian regional policy is characterised by the establishment and/or sponsorship of proxy political-military organisations. In every case noted, (with the partial exception of Lebanon) the result of the Iranian involvement is not Iranian strategic victory and the constitution of the state in question as an ally of Iran. Rather, Iranian outreach prevents the defeat and eclipse of the local Iranian ally, while ensuring division and continued conflict in the area in question.

This Iranian modus operandi – and its centrality in Iranian regional strategy – as well as the far reaching nature of Iranian goals as outlined above, mean the notion that a post JCPOA Iran can form a partner for stability in the region is deeply flawed, and will quickly be contradicted by the facts.

The export of chaos has the merit, perhaps, of keeping disorder far from Iran’s own borders by ensuring that rivals to Tehran are kept busy engaged in proxy conflicts elsewhere. However, it is difficult to see how it can result in regional hegemony and leadership.

This Iranian penchant for fomenting chaos also places them on a different trajectory to the Russians. This is important, because the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War, from September 2015 has been characterised in some quarters as the birth of a new strategic alliance between Tehran and Moscow. Ibrahim Amin, editor of the pro-Hezbollahal-Akhbar newspaper, happily called this supposed new bloc the ‘4 + 1’ alliance (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah).

But Russia has no interest in strategic support for Islamist proxies in the Middle East. Rather, it seeks powerful state allies, without particular concern as to their internal electoral arrangements or ideological proclivities. The Iranian model of creation and support of proxy Shia Islamist forces contrasts with Russia’s desire for powerful, centralised forces with which it can do business. This means that Russia and Iran have different and even opposed regional orientations, even if there is currently an overlap with regard to the Assad regime in Syria.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is likely to increase its support for its portfolio of proxy organisations across the region. The net effect of this will be to increase regional disorder and foment continued conflict. However, because of the built in limitations of Iranian methods and because of the sectarian nature of the conflicts in question (which means Iran finds it very difficult or impossible to pursue really lasting alliances with non-Shia Arab clients), it is unlikely that this will result in the attainment by Iran of its strategic goal of regional leadership/hegemony. Iran is a spoiler par excellence. But despite its ambitions and pretensions, it does not look like the founder of a new Middle Eastern order.

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Obama Admin: Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps Not a Terror Group

IRGC members march during a parade ceremony / AP

IRGC members march during a parade ceremony / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Nov. 9, 2015:

The State Department does not currently believe that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization despite the military organization’s efforts to procure nuclear materials and conduct terrorist operations across the globe, according to a State Department official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Obama administration officials last week were hesitant to address the issue during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. When asked to clarify its position on the corps, a State Department official told the Free Beacon that now is not the time to formally designate the military group as a terrorist organization.

Iranian officials have insisted that any new sanctions from the United States would be considered a violation of the recent nuclear deal and cause for Iran to walk away from the agreement.

The State Department maintains that the sanctions in place on the corps, which target certain individuals and actions, are enough to rein in the group’s rogue behavior. Iran itself is designated as a state sponsor of terror.

“We believe the sanctions we have in place remain the most appropriate and effective tools for targeting the IRGC, and we are making full use of such authorities with respect to the IRGC,” said a State Department official who was not authorized to speak on record. “In addition to Iran’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, we have a substantial set of sanctions already in place against the IRGC.”

These include targeted sanctions on the corps for “having engaged, or attempted to engage, in [nuclear] proliferation-related activities,” the source said. Other U.S. sanctions freeze “the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, thereby isolating them from the U.S. commercial and financial systems.”

The corps, which controls a vast number of businesses and assets in Iran, also has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for its human rights abuses.

“These sanctions also have ‘secondary’ effects, meaning that non-U.S. persons that engage in transactions with the IRGC or any other designated entity can also be sanctioned and cut off from the U.S. market,” the official said.

However, some lawmakers are seeking greater action and have urged the administration to formally designate the corps as a foreign terrorist organization, which would carry more weight and restrain the organization’s global terrorist activities.

Under the nuclear deal, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officials and businesses controlled by the group would have international sanctions on it eased. These include sanctions on at least one commander directly responsible for killing Americans.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) pressed Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of state in the bureau of near eastern affairs, during a hearing last week on Iran’s rogue activities.

Since the nuclear deal, “Iran has taken several provocative actions, including ballistic missile tests, the jailing of Americans on frivolous charges, and support for terrorist activities via the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” McCaul said.

The corps has been linked to terrorist operations across the Middle East and beyond, including arming terror proxy groups fighting against the United States and Israel.

“I sent a letter to the president of the United States requesting that the IRGC be placed on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list because they are the terror arm of Iran,” McCaul said. “This would not lift the sanctions. It would keep the sanctions in place on the very terrorist activities that Iran wants to take the $100 billion and ship them toward these activities. What is your response to whether or not designating the IRGC as an FTO [foreign terrorist organization], whether that is a good decision?”

Patterson sidestepped the question, but said that the State Department does not think the group can legally be categorized as a terrorist organization.

“I can’t answer that question, Mr. McCaul,” Patterson said. “I’ll have to get back to you. I would not think they would meet the legal criteria, but I don’t really know.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) recently spearheaded a legislative charge to designate the IRGC. His bill would require the IRGC to be formally designated and could mitigate the impact of sanctions relief set to be provided under the parameters of the nuclear agreement.

“Branches of the [Revolutionary Guard Corps] have murdered hundreds of Americans,” Cruz said in a statement at the time. “They have attacked our allies, notably Israel. They have provided material support for other designated terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet for years the United States has sanctioned [Revolutionary Guard Corps] entities while leaving the organization itself untouched.”

New Report Details Iranian Commander’s Involvement in Terrorist Activity and Regional Expansion

sulaymani-500x295by IPT News  •  Nov 4, 2015:

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force– Qassem Soleimani – continues to remain actively involved in promoting the Islamic Republic’s regional expansion and terrorist networks, according to an extensive report compiled by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

Click here to see the full report.

As the head of the Quds Force – the most powerful security organization in Iran –Soleimani is directly tasked with maintaining the fundamentalist regime in power and is responsible for exploiting Arab World turmoil in recent years to advance Iran’s regional hegemonic objectives. From September 2015, Iran increased its number of troops – mainly IRGC soldiers – in Syria from hundreds to thousands, to support Hizballah terrorists acting at Iran’s behest in propping up the Bashaar Assad regime.

In October 2015, Soleimani reportedly landed in northwestern Syria to brief Hizballah operatives and command a Syrian military offensive, indicating that Iran is diverting more resources from its presence in Iraq to Syria.

Despite Iran’s commitment to Syria, the Islamic Republic is actively establishing terrorist networks in the Golan Heights – using Hizballah, Druze, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives – to target Israel.

Emphasizing growing concern over Iranian terror bases on the Jewish state’s borders, Israel allegedly conducted an airstrike targeting a convoy of Hizballah and Iranian operatives in January 2015, killing Jihad Mughniyeh – son of slain Hizballah leader Imad Mughinyeh – and a senior IRGC general in the Golan Heights.

In August 2015, PIJ terrorists, reportedly under Iran’s direction, fired four rockets at Israeli territory, signalling the first missile attack striking the Upper Galilee from the Syrian Golan Heights since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In fact, since the 1990s, the Quds Force has invested significant resources in supporting Palestinian terrorist organizations, smuggling weapons into the West Bank and Gaza, and ordering attacks against Israel.

Since the end of 2006 war in Lebanon, the Quds Force also played a vital role in rebuilding Hizballah’s terrorist infrastructure, helping the terrorist organization amass an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets, including precision guided missiles that can strike any target in Israel. Iran’s continued support to Hezbollah also includes sophisticated air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.

The Israeli report assumes that the Quds Force directly oversees the ongoing transfer of advanced weapons from Iran through Syria to Lebanon, despite the Islamic Republic’s overwhelming commitment to ensure Assad’s survival amid an intensifying civil war.

Iran has also attempted to infiltrate intelligence agents into Israel. In September 2013, Ali Mansouri – under direction from the Quds Force – was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport and found to be in possession of pictures of important sites in Israel, such as its international airport and the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

In the past, Soleimani’s Quds Force was responsible for financing most of the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and providing them with weapons to specifically target American soldiers. With Hizballah’s assistance, the Quds Force supplied terrorists with powerful explosive devices that killed numerous American and coalition troops in Iraq.

After Iran and the West signed the nuclear agreement, Soleimani and the Quds Force were featured on a list of Iranian personnel and institutions that may be relieved of previously imposed international sanctions. Despite initial denials, the U.S. administration confirmed that Soleimani’s name would be removed from the list of UN Security Council sanctioned individuals, eight years following the nuclear deal’s signing. Adding to the confusion, the U.S. Treasury Department insisted that Soleimani will remain sanctioned in light of his ongoing involvement in terrorist activity.

Nevertheless, the Iranian commander’s recent trip to Russia to coordinate both countries efforts in Syria emphasizes the difficulty in enforcing personal sanctions.

Critics of the nuclear deal argue that ensuing sanctions relief will encourage Iran to enhance its regional expansion and global state sponsorship of terrorism.

Andrew Bostom on Iranian Nuke Deal Fiasco and Muslim Hijra Jihad Invasion of Europe/Eurabia

By Andrew Bostom, Nov. 3, 2015:

Friday October 30th I had an informative ~25-minute discussion (embedded below) with Janet Mefferd regarding the disastrous Iranian nuke deal (see here;here; here; and here) ramifications, and the equally dire Muslim jihad hijra invasion of Europe, the latter being a fulfillment of yet another dystopian Western European totalitarian ideology, i.e., Eurabia (see here; here; and here).

Eurabia-300x226Eurabian dhimm­itude illustrated—Cover art for the Report by the High-Level Advisory Group established at the initiative of the President of the European Commission,Dialogue between Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean Region,” Brussels, October 2003, As the report observed, “The orientation of this map corresponds to the world view of the Arab cartographers [i.e., Idrisi, from 1154 C.E.] of the Middle Ages”—that is, reinforcing Islamic jihad supremacism, and reversing the true geographical orientation of the Mediterranean Sea, with the North African Mediterranean littoral on top of the Southern European Mediterranean littoral.

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism ” (Prometheus, November, 2008) You can contact Dr. Bostom at

What the Arrests of Pro-Regime Americans Tells Us About Iranian Leadership in Turmoil


With the recent arrest and detention in Iran of Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, and Nizar Zakka, a U.S. legal resident, by intelligence operatives of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), murky jockeying for power at the top levels of the Tehran regime just got murkier.

Set against the backdrop of a nuclear ‘deal’ that nobody in Iran has either approved or signed and a generational shift underway between the by-now very wealthy founders of Khomeini’s 1979 revolution and a lean and hungry younger cohort of hardliners imbued with the zeal of true believers, the arrests seem at first glance to make little sense.

Namazi, a Dubai-based close associate of key Iran Lobby figure, Trita Parsi and his National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and Zakka, an IT executive with Beirut connections (and a checkered past involving Canadian accusations of running an illegal immigration racket), would appear to have all the right connections and credentials to stay out of this kind of trouble.

And yet, Namazi today sits in Evin Prison and Zakka was detained after being lured to a mid-September 2015 conference to promote entrepreneurship in Iran.

While some regime insiders, like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who have been close to the top leadership since the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah, now seek a more open business and political environment to develop and protect their economic equities, powerful factions within the IRGC, some of which own (collectively) as much as one-third of the Iranian economy, and some of whom (like former Pasdar President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) oppose any opening whatsoever to the U.S. or the West on ideological grounds, are determined to keep Iran (and its financial assets) firmly within their own grip.

The big question is, where does Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, stand?

If perennial reports about his ill-health are to be believed, he might not be standing at all for long. But at this writing, it is his word that – probably – still defines Iranian policy. Unless elements of the IRGC finally have grown powerful enough to challenge even the Supreme Leader. In any case, these recent arrests are likely as much about the gathering succession struggle as sending a signal to over-excited American officials panting after a nuclear deal that never was and probably never will be.

Adding Namazi and Zakka to the four American hostages already being held by the Tehran regime may not trouble the Obama White House or its hapless negotiating team, but ought to serve as notice on several counts:

  • There will be no gush of reciprocity from Tehran for the abundance of U.S. concessions made during the protracted talks over Iran’s nuclear weapons program
  • Any American hopes for a new dawn of mutual understanding with Tehran on its human rights abuses, regional geo-strategic aggression, support for terrorism, or commitment to development of nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile means to deliver them need to be dashed like pumpkins after Halloween
  • The internal succession struggle over who or what eventually will take the place of current Supreme Leader  is well-underway and we understand next to nothing about it
  • The entire nuclear negotiations process, not to mention more American citizens and U.S. policy in the Middle East itself, could well end up as collateral damage if U.S. national security leadership doesn’t soon get a lot more sober-minded about who and what it is we are dealing with in Tehran: a jihadist regime bent on hegemonic regional power, locked in by a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Clare Lopez is Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy. Ms. Lopez manages the Center’s counterjihad and shariah programs, bringing with her also an expertise on Iran, Hizballah, and southern border issues.

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Obama Beats ISIS at Word Games


Frontpage, by Daniel Greenfield, Nov. 2, 2015:

“Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas. We will never be at war with Islam,” Obama said.

Pelosi assured worried Americans on MSNBC that we were winning the war against ISIS on social media.

John Kerry took to calling ISIS by the derogatory Daesh epithet to prove it has nothing to do with Islam.

But winning the war of word games wasn’t enough to stop the bombings and beheadings. So American troops are back on the ground in Iraq and Syria to try and win the real non-Twitter war.

But we just can’t call it that.

While raids on ISIS targets are the core of the new strategy, they are referred to as “direct action on the ground” instead of “combat”. American soldiers aren’t “boots on the ground”, they’re just there providing “enhanced support”. The kind of enhanced support that only bullets can offer.

They’re fighting and dying as part of an “advise and assist” mission which is not to be confused with the traditional kind of “fighting and dying” mission.

When Obama announced his first withdrawal from Iraq, he left 50,000 American soldiers there who had been renamed the “advise and assist brigades”. During the election he had promised to have “all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.” And he kept his word, by renaming them so that they were no longer combat brigades; instead they were now advise and assist brigades.

Mission accomplished.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom is over,” Obama told Americans in his very own Mission Accomplished speech, a speech that despite ongoing fighting is still bafflingly billed as, “The End of Combat Operations in Iraq.”

“Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended…  This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office,” he insisted.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, a tacky Bush name redolent of patriotism, was renamed Operation New Dawn, which might have been anything from a health resort to a brand of fabric softener. There certainly wasn’t anything military or patriotic about it. Freedom was over, but Dawn was here.

Americans went on dying in Iraq. But the war was over. Except it went on anyway.

Five years later, the war is undeniably back on and so are the word games. We’re back to advising and assisting with bombs and bullets. American soldiers are being shot at and dying in enhanced support.

But we won’t beat ISIS with word games.

Obama excels at renaming things. In his teleprompter, spending becomes investing, unilateral rule becomes bipartisanship and broad violations of the Constitution become common sense solutions.

It’s a form of fraud that is most successful with true believers living in a media bubble. Obama supporters who wanted to believe that he had kept his word by withdrawing within 16 months, could point to the renaming of the mission. Talking about beating ISIS on social media impresses the media types who live on Twitter anyway and credit it with the overthrow of Mubarak and the Arab Spring.

The fraud falls apart when it comes up against the hard realities of the territory that ISIS controls. Word games may fool a few million New York Times readers, but no amount of rebranding will shake ISIS loose. Rebranding is the province of failing companies trying to sell a bad product with a new image. Obama has been selling his image while hoping that no one looks at the product he’s pushing.

Obama’s entire foreign policy has depended on jumping from one lie to another and from one word game to another so that no one realizes the full scope of the disaster that he has caused.

Call it whatever you will, the current plan for defeating ISIS involves putting American soldiers on the ground in direct combat with the terror group. In plain language, Obama has been slowly forced to reverse his withdrawals from Iraq. These reversals have happened because his existing strategy failed.

Lackadaisically bombing ISIS didn’t work. The occasional raids won’t work either. And that means that a more serious and extended presence on the ground becomes the next stage. But Obama isn’t willing to tell Americans the truth. Instead he’s playing more word games with American lives.

Obama has managed to withdraw twice from Iraq, both times under false pretenses, and then return to Iraq, once again under false pretenses. Concealing the truth is a much higher priority for him than national security. Lying to Americans is much more important than actually winning wars.

His administration places a great deal of value on word games. Its grounding in the arcana of left-wing theorizing has led its members into the academic fallacy of confusing nomenclature with reality. Many of them really do believe that you can do anything if you find the right name for it.

But wars aren’t won with names. They’re not won with Marxist theorizing or Google Hangouts. The administration’s entire skillset is built for defeating Republicans and fooling Americans.

It’s completely useless in the face of an armed fanatical enemy with no interest in common ground.

In the Obama mindset, actually winning wars is outdated in the era of smart power. Winning word games is a more intellectual hobby than getting down in the dirt and seizing actual territory. The future belongs to the most agile rebranders, not to those who are willing to die for a cause.

“It is the Soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It is the Soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech,” is a sentiment to be disdainfully dismissed by the White House.

The future isn’t supposed to belong to the best armies, but to community organizers who can convince people that it is in their best interests to do what they are told. Military solutions are in the realm of “horses and bayonets,” as Obama sneered at Romney to the glee of the community organizer media.

But when it comes to actually securing the territory in which there can be freedom of speech or the dominance of Islam, freedom of the press or Jihadist propaganda, the soldier is the final answer.

And it is an answer that Obama doesn’t like.

The refusal to even use the word “combat” is part political cynicism by an administration so thoroughly defined by its opposition to the Iraq War that it refuses to compromise what it considers its greatest achievement by admitting that its Iraq policy not only failed, but backfired so badly it has to be reversed. But it’s also part instinctual antipathy by the most anti-military administration in this country’s history.

General McChrystal was not wrong when he observed that Obama appeared “uncomfortable and intimidated” by military people. The general’s purging only provided further proof of his observations.

Obama doesn’t like military solutions and yet his attempts to solve military problems with non-military solutions and halfway military measures have failed miserably. But he would rather fail on his own ideological terms than succeed by setting aside his ideology and doing what works.

Thousands of Americans have died and were wounded because Obama refused to listen to reason in Afghanistan. ISIS is spreading because Obama has learned nothing from the disaster in Afghanistan.

Military operations have become only another way for Obama and his staffers to play word games, to rebrand their latest disaster and sell one more lie to an American people already swimming in deceit. Instead of accepting the role of the military on its own terms, Obama insists on forcing the military to conform to his botched ideological misinterpretation of international events and foreign relations.

But you can’t use the military to win word games. You can only use it to win wars.

Obama doesn’t want to defeat ISIS. He wants to prove that he was right all along about Iraq. He wants to show that the word game is mightier than the sword.

Each time he is forced to make a concession to reality, he cloaks it in more word games and lies that cloud the actual tactical objectivities. All the word games may make it seem like we’re winning in Washington D.C., but they don’t bring us any closer to victory in Iraq.

Obama is beating ISIS at word games, but losing on the battlefield.


National Security and Terrorism Correspondent for PJ Media, Patrick Poole, joins guest host Rep. Louie Gohmert to discuss the latest decision by the White House to send a small Special Operations force to Syria:

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The New Cold War: The Russia-Shia Alliance VS the Islamic State

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) meets with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (2nd L) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) meets with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (2nd L) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev.

By Brian Fairchild, October 31, 2015

The New Cold War:

In late-September 2015 Russia and Iran launched a clandestine strategic military campaign to support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.  Russia’s bold move took the West by surprise and changed the balance of power in the Middle East in Russia’s favor.  It will go down in history as the milestone depicting Russia’s first aggressive military action outside of its own sphere of influence since the fall of the Soviet Union, and, when viewed from a global strategic perspective, will be remembered as the first clear sign that a New Cold War had erupted between the US and Russia.

Russia’s Middle Eastern campaign is formed around the new “quadrilateral alliance”, which has divided the region into two sectarian blocs:  the Russian-led Shia Muslim alliance, which forms a powerful “Shia Crescent” stretching from Iraq, through Iran and Syria, to Lebanon, and the Sunni Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia with minimal backing by the United States.

Thus far, Russia’s campaign has been executed seamlessly. Upon entering Syria clandestinely, Russian forces immediately deployed sophisticated surface to air missile defense batteries as well as top-of the-line jet fighters to protect Russian and Syrian forces from the US coalition.  Once air defenses were in place, Moscow began a barrage of airstrikes targeting anti-Assad rebels in order to re-establish and consolidate Assad’s power.  The airstrikes were subsequently integrated with ground operations carried-out by Syrian military units, Iranian Quds forces, Shia militia from Syria and Iraq, and Hezbollah fighters.  There are also credible news reports that Cuban Special Forces have joined the fray for the first time since Cuba’s proxy wars in Angola and central Africa in the 1970’s on behalf of the Soviet Union.

The Russia-Shia Alliance and its Effect on Iraq, Jordan, and the Kurds:


In tandem with its military campaign, Russia launched a diplomatic campaign that has been just as effective.  Iraq is the geographical base for US coalition operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but American influence in Iraq has steadily diminished over the past year.

In early October 2015, Iraq secretly established a new Russia-Iran-Syria-Iraq intelligence center in the middle of Baghdad that surprised and angered American military commanders.  Worse, after Russia’s increasingly effective Syrian air campaign, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for Russia to begin unilateral airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq.  The Pentagon became so alarmed by the possibility that Russia might get a strategic foothold in Iraq that on October 21, 2015, it dispatched Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford to Baghdad to deliver an ultimatum to the Iraqi leadership.  Dunford told the Iraqi Prime Minister and Defense Minister that Iraq had to choose between cooperating with Russia or the US.  Upon his departure from Baghdad, General Dunford told the media that he received assurances that Iraq would not seek Russian assistance, but just three days later, Iraq officially authorized Russian airstrikes in-country.


On that same day, another of America’s most dependable allies, the Kingdom of Jordan, announced its agreement to create a new Russian-Jordanian military coordination center to target the Islamic State and that this center would go well beyond just a formal information exchange.  According to Jordan’s Ambassador to Russia:

  • “This time, we are talking about a specific form of cooperation — a center for military coordination between two countries. Now we will cooperate on a higher level. It will not be just in a format of information exchange: we see a necessity ‘to be on the ground’ as Jordan has a border with Syria”

The Kurds:

Moscow is attempting to undermine US relations with the Kurds.  Since the rise of the Islamic State, the US has sought to provide anti-Islamic State military support to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq via the Iraqi central government, but the Iraqi government has no desire to see the KRG gain additional power in the north so this mission has been largely ineffective.  The US has had a measure of success providing limited support to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but has balked at providing full support because any support whatsoever angers Turkey due to contacts between the YPG and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), a separatist organization, that seeks to overthrow the Turkish government.  On October 29, 2015, Turkish president Erdogan demonstrated this anger when he vehemently criticized US support for the YPG and stated that Turkey would attack the YPG on the Iraqi side of the border if it attempts to create a separatist Kurdish administrative zone.  Because Turkey is a NATO ally, Turkish threats cause the US significant political and diplomatic problems, but they will not deter Putin from moving to organize and utilize Kurdish forces in pursuit of his goals; in early October, he went out of his way to show disdain for Turkey and NATO by allowing his Syrian-based jets to illegally invade Turkish airspace.

No Kurdish group is happy with the current situation of getting limited support from the United States to fight the Islamic State, but all of them have expressed interest in cooperating with Russia.  Significantly, Sergey Ivanov, the head of the Kremlin administration, specifically urged cooperation between the Syrian Kurdish militia and the US-backed YPG.

The Russia-Shia Alliance and the Islamic State:

The Shia composition of the quadrilateral alliance is extremely significant because it plays directly into the Islamic State narrative.  The Islamic State and the majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, but in the heart of the Middle East, the Shia governments of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, with Russian support, dominate, and these countries surround the Islamic State’s new “caliphate” on three sides.  Understanding this strategic disadvantage, the Islamic State knows that it must muster as much international Sunni support as possible to survive, so it carries-out a relentless policy to polarize the international Sunni population against the Shia.

The chance to remove Bashar al-Assad, who represents the Shia Alawite sect, was the primary reason the Islamic State moved to Syria from Iraq, and removing al-Assad from power served as its initial rallying cry to the global Sunni community.  It was this rallying cry that created the dangerous “foreign fighter” phenomenon that subsequently brought more than 30,000 radical Sunni Muslims from around the world to the new caliphate.

The Islamic State repeatedly emphasizes in its official publications and statements its contention that Shia Muslims are not true Muslims and must be eradicated, and, in these communications, it refers to Shia Muslims as “Rafidah” (rejecters).  But of all the Shias in the world, the Islamic State has a particular hatred for the Shia Iranians, who are Persian rather than Arab, and who ruled Islam during the ancient Safavid (Persian) empire, which the Islamic State regards as religiously illegitimate.  It therefore refers to Iranians as the “Safavid Rafidah”.

Moreover, the Islamic State accuses the US and Russia of being modern day “crusaders” who have joined forces with the Iranians to destroy Sunni Islam, a contention made clear on March 12, 2015, when its spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani stated:

  • The Safavid Rāfidah (Shia Iranians) today have entered a new stage in their war against the Sunnis. They have begun to believe that it is within their power to take areas of the Sunnis and control them completely. They no longer want a single Muslim from the Sunnis living in the empire they desire…O Sunnis…if the Islamic State is broken…then there will be no Mecca for you thereafter nor Medina…Sunnis! The Crusader-Safavid (Christian-Iranian) alliance is clear today.  Here is Iran with its Great Satan America dividing the regions and roles amongst each other in the war against Islam and the Sunnis…We warned you before and continue to warn you that the war is a Crusader-Safavid was against Islam, and war against the Sunnis…”

The Shia Alliance and the Saudis:

Saudi Arabia considers itself to be the leader of the world’s Sunni population and the custodian of Islam’s two most holy places:  the mosques of Mecca and Medina where the prophet Muhammad received Allah’s revelations.  Because Iran is the Kingdom’s religious and regional nemesis the Islamic State’s anti-Shia narrative resonates greatly among many Saudis who are increasingly alarmed at Iran’s growing military influence and power.  In a letter signed by 53 Saudi Islamic scholars in early October 2015, the clerics lashed out at Iran, Syria and Russia and echoed the main points made by the Islamic State:

  • “The holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them … because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another”

Saudi King Salman was willing to allow this unofficial letter to be published because it permitted the Saudi government an indirect manner to issue a warning to Iran, but as the Russian-Iran alliance continued to make military gains throughout October, the Kingdom’s anxiety was such that it decided to allow its Foreign Minister to issue the following direct warning to Iran:

  • “We wish that Iran would change its policies and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen…We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people…”


The New Cold War:

Just one month ago, the US was the only major military player in the Middle East, but that has all changed.  Russia’s aggressive and well-planned military campaign in Syria has tilted the balance of power in the region away from the US and toward Russia and its new Shia-dominated quadrilateral alliance.  As a result, the US plan to effect regime change in Syria is now impossible, but more importantly, US influence in Iraq is steadily diminishing, and thus, the number of options available to American military commanders to degrade the Islamic State are also diminishing.

Five days after Iraq rejected General Dunford’s ultimatum and authorized Russian airstrikes in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ignored this fact in his testimony before the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee when he stated that the United States plans to increase the number of airstrikes in Iraq as well as direct action raids by US special operations forces in Iraq.

Unfortunately, such an increase in US military actions require Iraqi permission, and for the second time in a week, Iraq rejected the United States.  On October 28, 2015, Prime Minister al-Abadi’s spokesman told the media that Iraq has no intention of allowing increased American participation because:

  • “This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the U.S. Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations…”

If Iraq enforces this restriction, and limits the US to only training and arming Iraqi forces while allowing Russia to conduct aggressive operations in-country, the situation could become untenable for the United States, further reducing America’s ability to degrade the Islamic State.

The Islamic State:

Once Russia consolidates Assad rule in Syria, Putin will undoubtedly use the new Russia-Shia alliance to move against the Islamic State.  Because the alliance dominates the geographical terrain on three sides of the “caliphate” and has demonstrated a willingness to engage in unified military air and ground operations, it is likely that Russian airpower and Shia ground forces will succeed in dismantling many Islamic State elements in Syria and Iraq.

Such success by the Russia-Shia alliance, especially if it forces the evacuation of the capital of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Raqqa, Syria, will further polarize and enrage radical Sunnis and likely increase the number of foreign fighters from Europe and the Middle East.  It will also likely result in more domestic lone jihad attacks in the US and Russia, a call the Islamic State has already made in its October 13, 2015 statement:

  • “…the Islamic State is stronger today than yesterday, while at the same time America is getting weaker and weaker…America today is not just weakened, it has become powerless, forced to ally with Russia and Iran…Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims.”

If the Islamic State experiences set-backs and defeats in Syria and Iraq such defeats would likely motivate it to launch mass casualty attacks in the United States and Europe in order to prove to its followers that it remains relevant. Mass casualty attacks in tandem with increased lone jihad attacks would make an already bad domestic security situation, grave.

On October 23, 2015, FBI Director Comey revealed that the FBI is pursuing approximately 900 active cases against Islamic State extremists in the United States and that this number continues to expand.  Comey added that should the number of cases continue to increase, it won’t be long before the FBI lacks the adequate resources to “keep up”.   Europe, too, faces grave security challenges.  A few days after Comey’s revelations, the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, stated that the terror threat in the United Kingdom from the Islamic State and al Qaeda is the highest he has “ever seen”.

Brian Fairchild was a career officer in CIA’s Clandestine Service.  He has served in Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, and Afghanistan.  Mr. Fairchild writes periodic intelligence analyses on topics of strategic importance.

Clare Lopez on Tipping Point: Iran Supreme Leader: America Is Too Hostile

2366463388Center for Security Policy, Oct. 29, 2015:

The Center’s Clare Lopez appeared on One America News Network Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, to discuss Iran’s supreme leader and his statement that America is too hostile in Iran negotiations.

Also see:

European Influx of Militiamen Loyal To Iran Could Pose Problems

1249by John Rossomando
IPT News
October 19, 2015

Evidence uncovered on social media indicates that members of Iranian-trained Shiite militias may be entering Europe as refugees, a London-based Iraqi émigré group says. The Foreign Relations Bureau – Iraq (FRBI) identified images of 48 men on Facebook and Twitter who it says fought with Iranian-trained Shiite militias in Iraq and now are in Europe.

FRBI came into existence in 2014 and promotes women’s rights, equality, Iraqi independence from foreign control, and a non-sectarian approach to governance.

FRBI’s list shows pictures of militiamen in uniform and carrying weapons. Alongside those images are pictures showing the same people wearing Western street clothes and standing in places such as Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Greece and Finland. This same list also includes 16 people belonging to Iraq’s security services who similarly made their way to Europe and who FBRI accuses of crimes against the Iraqi people.

These militias engaged in serious human-rights abuses in places like Tikrit after they ousted the Islamic State, and Iraqi security forces similarly engaged in unlawful killings, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). FRBI refers to HRW’s research about human-rights abuses in Iraq as a reason why these men should not have been allowed into the E.U.

Images of these fighters began surfacing on social media in August and early September, said FRBI spokesman A. Al-Mahmoud.

“Our lists are compiled with the efforts of some of our affiliate analysts who follow social media of all sorts mainly militia related pages whom suddenly started posting images from within the EU as the refugee situation escalated,” Al-Mahmoud said in an email to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). “A public page was then set up on our website to document what can be from these accounts in hope that media would find it easier to have what they need all in one page.”

Thus far, FRBI has no evidence that the influx of Shiite militiamen into Europe has been organized or orchestrated by Iran or any organized crime syndicate in Europe, but the scale of the militiamen’s migration is unprecedented, Al-Mahmoud said.

They may have varying motivations, he said. Some may fear war crimes prosecutions and are trying to remake themselves into refugees. Others may no longer care about their government’s or clergy’s goals.

The men regularly posted images of themselves on the battlefield, Al-Mahmoud said, then suddenly began posting images showing them in Europe, which led FBRI to believe they had infiltrated the wave of refugees.

No matter the reasons for their move, FRBI fears these men are on a collision course with European values and trapped by a vicious sectarian ideology that makes them a potential threat to their host countries. It alleges that some of these men may have participated in war crimes in Iraq.

“[M]ost of the people who did join the militias do have sectarian leanings and they will export their irrational thought of non co-existence outside Iraq, which will collide with other open and liberal societies, so they will bring their problems with them,” Al-Mahmoud said. “Finally, the background they are from is very low and poor with minimal education; unskilled and foreign, they will quickly find it easy to get into the criminal/theft and drug world adding more problems to the European Union immigrant communities already suffering from stereotyping and media pressure.

“They were paid members of organizations that were trained to kill under religious banners; this is the first time they have come out of Iraq in such large numbers.”

The men belonged to deadly militias such as Al-Hashid al-Shaabi and its subsidiaries such as: Kataib Hizballah (aka Hizballah Iraq), Kataib Imam Ali militia, Saraya al-Salam militia (Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades) – all of which are trained and strongly influenced by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qods Force under the command of Gen. Qasem Soleimani. He emerged as a controversial figure in the discussions of the Iranian nuclear deal.

Kataib Imam Ali militia formed from splinter elements of al-Sadr’s militia that fought American forces during the Iraq War and remain “extremely anti-American,” said Phillip Smyth, an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute and an expert on Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. Kataib Imam Ali militiamen have been implicated in human-rights abuses similar to those carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS), he said. In one case, a video showed a militiaman dismembering the burned corpse of a Islamic State fighter as if he were “shwarma,” which sparked a reprisal video by the Islamic State in which two Shiite fighters were burned to death.

An IPT review of the information provided by FRBI lends credence to its contention that Shiite fighters have entered Europe among groups of refugees.

For example, the Facebook page of Al-Hashid al-Shaabi militia member Ali Spaakishows a clear progression from being on the battlefield in Iraq in June to making his way across Europe throughout September and on to Helsinki, Finland on Oct. 4. Spaaki’s Facebook page shows him getting off a ferry along with a crowd of people in a picture posted to his timeline on Sept. 20 in front of a Greek-flagged ferry and a large crowd. A related photo, also taken Sept. 20, shows him standing in front of a boat that reads “Bodrum” [Turkey] on its stern as its homeport, suggesting the ferry may have departed from that Turkish town. Bodrum has become a “magnet” for refugees, andlarge numbers of refugees have left the town hoping to make it to Greece since the summer, according to news reports. Spaaki’s departure date came weeks after the body of Aylan Kurdi, a toddler refugee, washed up onshore near Bodrum.

A similar story can be told by examining the Facebook page belonging to Al-Hashid Al-Shaabi fighter Mustafa Al-Azawi. There, he explicitly discusses his effort to enter Greece on the island of Lesbos on Sept. 17 via Izmir, Turkey, which news reports say is a common point of departure for refugees. Pictures on Al-Azawi’s timeline of himself posing on the shore of the island and of inner tubes and a crowd of likely refugees happened the same day a Getty Images photographer captured an image of migrants arriving on Lesbos. Days earlier, on Sept. 10, Al-Azawi posted Google Maps images of routes to Lesbos on Facebook, suggesting he planned his route to the island. Like Spaaki, Al-Azawi’s Facebook page shows his travel across Europe before making his to his final destination in Oulu, Finland on Oct. 3.

Al-Mahmoud also worries these militiamen could become entangled in organized crime and become involved in Iranian-controlled social organizations across Europe, and they will be used for Iran’s political ends.

“A lot of them believe in … Iran’s guiding ideology, and that political and social matters are presided over by Ayatollah Khamenei … so they follow what he says,” Smyth said. “They (Iraqi Shiite militiamen in Europe) do pose a risk.

“These groups believe that both America and the State of Israel are their existential foes.”

In the past, Hizballah supporters living in Europe, Canada or the United States have engaged in criminal activities. This includes cigarette smuggling in the U.S. andaccusations of organized crime in Canada and in the E.U. Hizballah supporters also plotted and carried out terrorist attacks in Argentina and Bulgaria. Although these Iraqi militias are not part of Hizballah, they are branches on the same Iranian Qods Force tree – first cousins in effect.

Shiites who support Hizballah and Iran in places like Sweden already have been recruited as foreign fighters by Iranian proxies to fight in Iraq, said Smyth, who traveled to Scandinavia last year on a related research trip. Having a passport from someplace like Sweden means a foreign fighter can come and go from hot zones like Iraq or Syria without the same hassles someone traveling on a Lebanese, Syrian or Iraqi passport.

While most attention has been given to Sunni foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups, Smyth said, not enough attention has been given to Shiite fighters with ties to Iran.

“You now have a new transnational threat that is loyal to the Iranians, that is anti-American, is anti-Western, is anti-Israel,” Smyth said. “There is a direct threat that’s there.”

It is hard to tell how many people on the FRBI list actually are refugees or if they are in the E.U. vacationing or are there for some other reason. But Smyth sees them as a national-security threat either way.

“Here are examples of these guys when they are out of uniform, when they are possibly still militiamen, and they are traveling to Europe, which says something. How did they get there with a visa? Why, after all of this has been publicized, are they all still going?” Smyth asked in a phone interview with the IPT. “There are already examples of Shia militiamen, Hizballah for instance, who have used Western passports to go different places and to engage in bad deeds.”

This also has U.S. Customs officials concerned. The ease in which these Shia militiamen have entered Europe raises fears that they will be able to travel to the U.S. on E.U. passports, said one Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent who spoke under the condition of not being named. Anyone with a passport from places like Germany, Sweden can easily get on a flight to the U.S. without the sorts of hassles they might experience traveling on an Iraqi or a Syrian passport.

A spokeswoman for Europe’s top law enforcement agency, EUROPOL, told the IPT her agency was unaware of any organized effort by terrorist organizations to infiltrate the E.U. However, none of the Shia militia groups whose members have made their way to Europe are listed as terror groups by the E.U.

“There are however concerns about the use of the Mediterranean routes. While the majority of irregular migrants and refugees are in search of safety, other groups such as returning foreign fighters and other individuals linked to IS (Islamic State), might make use of the services provided by the organized crime groups,” EUROPOL spokeswoman Agnieszka Biegaj wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Given the hazardous nature of the illegal migratory routes, from a terrorists’ perspective, it makes more sense to use regular travel methods and other resources such as false or genuine travel documents.”

Delusional White House on Iran Missile Test: UN Resolution Implementing Iran Deal ‘Altogether Separate’ from Iran Deal

20151015_ObamaDelusional_Family Security Matters, by Andrew McCarthy, Oct. 16, 2015:

In its continuing humiliation of President Obama – who clings to his Iran deal despite Iran’s continuing to call for “Death to America,” banning of further negotiations with the U.S., convicting of one of its American hostages of bogus espionage charges, joining with Russia to prop up Assad by bombing America-backed insurgents, and contemptuously asserting that it will ignore provisions of the deal to which it objects – the jihadist regime in Tehran tested a ballistic missile over the weekend in blatant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2231, which codifies the Iran deal.

The Obama White House response to Iran’s brazenness today is astonishing, even by delusional Obama standards. The president’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, acknowledged there were “strong indications that those missile tests did violate U.N. Security Council resolutions that pertain to Iran’s ballistic missile activities.” Nevertheless, he maintained with a straight face that “this is altogether separate from the nuclear agreement that Iran reached with the rest of the world.”

What? The resolution that implements the said nuclear agreement directs Iran, for approximately the next eight years,

not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology[.] [Annex B, Paragraph 3.]

This, mind you, is the resolution that Obama ran to the U.N. to get before Congress was permitted to review and vote on the Iran deal. Since that deal expressly prohibits the precise activity in which Iran has now engaged, how can this violation be “altogether separate” from the deal?

According to Earnest, they are separate because (a) nuclear activities are somehow separate from activities involving ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons; (b) Security Resolution 2231 that implements the Iran deal is somehow separate from other Security Council resolutions that ban Iran’s ballistic missile activities even though Resolution 2231, too, bans Iran’s ballistic missile activities; and (c) Iran’s pattern of violating international law pertaining to ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons is somehow irrelevant to the administration’s level of confidence that it will adhere to its commitments regarding nuclear weapons development, notwithstanding that it has a history of flouting those commitments, too.

Obama promised that if Iran cheated, the sanctions would instantly “snap back.” As I’ve pointed out before, there was never the remotest chance that this was true – indeed, the fine print of the Iran deal ensures that sanctions will not snap back by exempting commerce with Iran undertaken pursuant to the deal.

But here Iran is not just cheating. It is mocking its commitments in broad daylight. And what is Obama’s reaction? He takes on the role of Iran’s defense lawyer, parsing and nullifying the restrictions in his own deal.

The ink hasn’t yet dried and it is already manifest that Obama’s Iran deal is a farce that provides aid and comfort to a committed enemy of the United States. Is Congress planning to do anything about that?

A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.


Also see:

Thousands of Iranian Forces Deploy in Syria


Iran Truth, Oct. 15, 2015:

According to Reuters, the “hundreds” of Iranian troops that have been arriving in Syria since the Russian deployment of air support assets have grown to “thousands” on the verge of a major offensive.  This offensive is being led by Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and one of America’s most dangerous enemies.  IranTruth reported on his trip to Moscow in violation of international travel bans in August, when we warned that planning a military offensive was the reason Suleimani himself would need to go.

Quds Force has apparently been put in the lead of Iran’s overall effort in Syria, aligning the deployment of conventional regular forces with the networks of proxy forces that Iran has erected in Syria.  Two more top Iranian military officers,including a former head of Quds Force, were killed in Iran in recent days.  The first was General Farshad Hasounizad, described as a “defender of the Sayyeda Zeinab Shrine.”  This shrine features heavily in Iranian recruitment efforts pointed at forming new Shia militias across Syria and Iraq, as it is a specifically Shi’ite shrine that is said to be in danger of destruction by both ISIS and non-Islamic forces.  The other officer killed was Hassan Shemshadi, a regular from Iran’s 1st Brigade, 92nd Armored Division, considered the top armored unit in Iran’s regular forces.  Their deaths follow the loss of the IRGC’s Hussein Hamdani earlier in the conflict.  He was killed while in the role of military adviser to the Syrian army preparing to retake Aleppo.

“The big battle preparations in that area are clear,” said one of the officials. “There is a large mobilization of the Syrian army … elite Hezbollah fighters, and thousands of Iranians who arrived in stages in recent days,” said the official.

The second official, who is close to the Syrian government, said: “The decision to launch the battle of Aleppo has been taken … It is no longer hidden that thousands of Iranians are now in Syria and their role is fundamental.”

According to the Institute for the Study of War, initial gains have been limited.  It will take some time to organize an effective system for unifying the command of the numerous proxy forces with regular troops.  Russian airstrikes are intensifying, however, in what is likely battlespace preparation for a ground push.  ISW predicts that the campaign will go on much longer than the “three or four months” that Russian command has publicly predicted.

Russian propaganda tells a different story.  Russia Today is proclaiming that Russian airstrikes have destroyed “most” of the vehicles and ammunition stores of the Islamic State in their first weeks of operation. They cited Defence Ministry statements and provided published gun tape from bombing runs that allegedly show hits upon ISIS bunkers and other targets.  However, a review of these tapes does not show evidence of secondary explosions, which would indicate a hit upon ammunition stores.  It is unclear just how good Russian intelligence could be on ISIS’s stores and bunkers this early into their deployment.  Unless Russia has prepared with a solid human intelligence campaign within ISIS- and rebel-held areas of Syria, it will be dependent on locally-provided information.  American experience with such information in the Iraq war showed that it was often of questionable value until proper intelligence networks, including proper chains of custody and the services of analytical officers familiar with the sources and history of the conflict, were in place.

Given that ISIS was set up by a collection of former Ba’athist intelligence officers, it is unlikely that Russia will inherit a strong Syrian intelligence capacity.  ISIS has a robust counterintelligence plan, and made a careful study of ties of loyalty in their areas of operation before openly seizing control of those areas.  Purges of suspected enemies have been characteristic of ISIS operations.  It is unlikely that Syria can therefore provide Russia with adequate intelligence for an effective air campaign.

Unless Russia deploys significant intelligence operators to the region, it will thus be dependent on aerial surveillance and the limited intelligence provided by its partners for the success of its operations.  Of these, Quds Force proxies may provide the best information as they will be directly operating against ISIS and rebel forces.  Quds Force certainly has practice generating proper intelligence from battlefield information, but it will leave the Russians dependent on Iran in this critical capacity.  Iran will also control the overarching alignment of ground forces in these campaigns.  It is thus Iran, and not the apparently more powerful Russia, that is in the driver’s seat in Syria.

Also see:

Iran Violates Nuclear Agreement With Missile Test



Before debating whether or not to accept the deal last week, Iran tested a new, longer-range missile with a capacity for post-launch guidance to improve accuracy.  The missile, called the Emad, has a slightly shorter range at 1,700 km than Iran’s longest-range missile.  However, it has a precision guidance capacity that allows it to be directed in flight until it reaches its target.  Its range is adequate to bring all of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria under Iran’s nuclear umbrella, as well as parts of India, Turkey, and Egypt.

Accuracy is estimated to 500m, which is not adequate for conventional warheads, but would serve in the case of a nuclear warhead.  Its payload is 1,653 pounds, which is on the small side for modern thermonuclear weapons, but still adequate to destroy a city.

The Iran deal that the Iranian parliament began debating was interpreted by US Secretary of State John F. Kerry as having restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program that lasted eight years.  However, as Senator Robert Menendez pointed out to him, the actual language merely “calls upon” Iran not to engage in missile testing.  The actual restrictions that existed in previous UN Security Council language were removed in favor of the weaker, voluntary “calls upon” language.  Secretary Kerry either did not notice this or attempted to deceive Congress about the weakening of the language even after the facts were pointed out to him during testimony.

Iran’s own interpretation of the deal is that it is utterly nonbinding on its missile programs, in line with the interpretation offered by Senator Menendez.  It promised that it would carry out missile tests that would be “a thorn in the eye of our enemies,”an apparent reference to the United States and Israel.

In spite of the “completely voluntary” nature of the deal from Iran’s perspective, the debate in parliament over whether or not to adopt the deal has been quite explosive.  One hard-line member of parliament threatened to bury a member of the negotiating team in the concrete at the Arak heavy water reactor.  The concrete to which the member referred was supposedly going to be used to fill the caldera at that reactor as part of its decommissioning and redesign to a light-water reactor, a kind that produces less fissile material and where collection of that material is more readily detectable with satellites.  However, any concrete may be temporary:  Iran has interpreted the Arak sections of the deal not to require it to fully decommission the heavy water reactor, as Kerry had promised, but to merely suspend its operations there with the option to install a new caldera at any time it deems the deal to have failed.

Indeed, the Iranian regime has interpreted the deal in such a way that all nuclear activities are merely “suspended,” based on the fact that sanctions are allegedly only suspended and not removed.  In fact, snap back sanctions almost certainly do not existneither the international nor the American ones.  The legal infrastructure to support such sanctions is being dismantled, and investments being made by international powers are sufficiently lucrative that it is highly unlikely that a new infrastructure is going to be created.  The Security Council ruling endorsing the deal also calls upon the US administration to do its best to keep Congress from re-imposing sanctions without the approval of the Security Council.

The Iranian parliament finally agreed to “provisionally accept” the deal, rather than endorsing or rejecting it.  That means the voluntary nature of their compliance continues:  they can elect to reject the deal at any time.  In the meantime, they are electing to obey it, at least according to their own interpretation of its terms.

Also see:

How America Should Respond to Russia’s Syria Venture: A Guide

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Breitbart, by  ADMIRAL JAMES A. “ACE” LYONS, Oct. 8, 2015:

To respond to Russia’s military campaign in Syria, first, we have to be realistic about the facts on the ground. Iraq and Syria, for all practical purposes, are failed states.

There is no chance that either Iraq or Syria will ever be reconstituted as mandated by theSykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which basically divided up control or influence over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between France and England.

Since the combined remaining military forces of Hezbollah, the Iranian Quds Force and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have not been sufficient to assure Assad’s survival, Russia’s deployment of its air and marine ground forces to an airbase at Latakia, Syria should have come as no surprise. The preparations for this deployment clearly have gone on for some time. Our intelligence community certainly must have detected these preparations as well as the pre-deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries to the Latakia airbase about two months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives are very clear. Notwithstanding his statements that his main objective is to defeat the Islamic State, he intends to support the retention of Syrian President Assad in power at all costs. In that sense, he will confront all the Sunni militias, including Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, as well as ISIS, which threaten the Assad regime. The announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that Iraq intends to share intelligence with Syria and Russia, plus his statement that he would welcome Russian air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, clearly adds a new dimension to Russia’s involvement. Should Putin expand Russian involvement into Iraq, it would certainly provide some balance to the theory of an emerging Damascus-Baghdad-Beirut-Tehran-Moscow axis. Another complicating factor is the deployment of the Russian cruiser, Moskva, armed with 64 advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles. This is one of Russia’s most advanced air defense systems and may indicate that Russia is taking over air defense responsibilities for Syria.

The survival of both the Syrian and Iraqi regimes are key elements in the “unwritten plan” for Iranian regional hegemony.  However, President Obama’s apparent complicity with the Russian deployment of military forces and suggestion that they could be even a stabilizing factor fits right in with his “leading from behind” strategy. Our enemies clearly view this strategy as weakness and will continue to exploit the power vacuum created by our lack of leadership. It will provide further substance to a Tehran-Baghdad-Beirut-Damascus-Moscow axis for Iranian regional dominance.

Such a strategy certainly will not be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, UAE, Jordan, or for that matter, our ally Israel.  Clearly, Sunni opposition to Shiite domination will ensure that a chaotic situation will remain for the foreseeable future. Other complicating factors will be how long Israel decides to wait before launching a strike to destroy Iran’s key nuclear infrastructure, and how long it will be before Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies obtain their own nuclear weapons capability.

In the current complicated and dangerous situation, what is the most sensible course for the U.S. to follow to protect our interests and regional allies, given our lack of leadership, which is clearly evident? We have nothing to gain by further involving U.S. forces in what should be recognized as failed states – Syria and Iraq. In this sense, our principal objectives remain the prevention of Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability and the removal of the corrupt jihadist Iranian theocracy. Let’s not forget, the removal of Bashar al-Assad from Syria is a principal objective pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Leaders in the Middle East will follow the “strong horse.” With President Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy, Putin has become the strong horse!

There have been recent calls for the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over so-called moderate rebel areas. The window for such action was closed once Russia completed its military force deployment and commenced air strikes. It makes no sense to create a situation that elevates this classic Sunni-Shiite conflict into a potential direct U.S.-Russian conflict. With our current weak and inept leadership, the current chaotic situation needs to be kept at the lowest possible conflict level. Therefore, steps that the United Stated could take that would require no further commitment of U.S forces, but would complicate Russia’s and Iran’s ability to achieve their objectives, would be the following:

  1. To counter recent Russian and Chinese naval deployments off Syria, we should deploy a Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean. This would send a very positive signal to our NATO allies as well as to Egypt and Israel.
  2. We should establish a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Kurdistan by redistribution of in-theater air resources to include F-16’s, A-10’s, C-130 gunships and AH-1 attack helicopters.
  3. Provide direct military equipment to Kurdistan’s Peshmerga military forces.  With Baghdad clearly aligned with Tehran, Damascus and Moscow, it makes no sense to continue sending military equipment for the Peshmerga through Baghdad, from which it is never passed on.
  4. Support the establishment of a sovereign Kurdistan. They have been a loyal, reliable ally along with Israel. Such action would clearly complicate the situation for Iran, but also for Turkey, which should be manageable.
  5. We should be providing direct defensive military equipment to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. We should also provide more direct support in terms of NATO forces to the Baltic States to preempt potential Russian aggressive moves.

The above actions are what we should be doing to protect our interests in the region, as well as those of our allies. Such action would complicate and make it more costly for Russia and Iran to achieve their objectives and possibly prevent a nuclear arms race in this most unstable region.

James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired Admiral, has served as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior
U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money

3300795117Center for Security Policy, by John Cordero, Oct. 6, 2015:

As Vladimir Putin orders airstrikes against rebels of all stripes fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there are important strategic economic goals behind Russia’s actions in Syria.  The short term goal is easy to discern: prevent Assad’s collapse as no alternative suitable to Russian interests exists, preserve Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East at Tartus, and promote Russia both at home and abroad as a world power that counterbalances American hegemony.

Much of the media has focused on Putin as a personal driver of Russian behavior.  While forays into Georgia and Ukraine have accomplished the tactical goals of preventing increased European Union presence in Russia’s sphere of influence, these have come at a high cost both politically and economically in the form of isolation and sanctions. Putin seems to have concluded that intervening in Syria in the name of fighting terrorism can only help repair Russia’s battered image.

It is important to at least try to understand Putin’s motivation without delving too much into psychoanalysis.  He is on record as lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”  In power since 2000, the former KGB officer is an ardent Russian nationalist, a promoter of a personality cult concerned with his country’s standing and perception in the world.  With his career spent in the service of the state, he is not one to take a background role in world affairs. Putin has effectively used Russia’s alliance with Iran as an effective tool to undermine the US, both regionally in the Gulf and globally with the nuclear deal.

The current buildup at Tartus and Latakia is nothing new: since Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970, the Former Soviet Union and then Russia was and is a stalwart ally, long attempting to position Syria as a counterbalance to American and Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.

Russia’s actions are also a message to the world: unlike the US, which abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak during his time of need in Egypt, Russia is prepared to intervene, militarily if necessary, to preserve a friendly regime in danger.  Therefore, it pays for autocrats to court Moscow, especially if they possess valuable resources or are in prime strategic locations.

While Vladimir Putin ostensibly espouses the acceptable goal of a global alliance against IS, the strategic context is that he has entered into a sectarian alliance with Shia Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the proxy army Hezbollah (The P4+1) against the American-backed Sunni alliance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, all of whom insist that Assad has no future in Syria.

Through its airstrikes, Russia continues to advance the prior Syrian strategy of focusing efforts against pro-Western rebels, with the recognition that, while dangerous, the Islamic State is the one party in the conflict the West will never support.

The Islamic State will take advantage of both the respite, and the propaganda value of being the recognized number one enemy of the infidel coalition, which it uses to rally supporters simply by pointing out that its enemies are gathering to destroy the renewed Caliphate.

The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

Pipeline politics in the region have a long and varied history of Russian involvement.  TheBaku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was built only after Moscow’s demand for an alternative pipeline for Azeri oil to Russia was met.  During the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, US intelligence officials determined that an explosion on the pipeline near the Turkish-Georgian border was carried out via Russian government cyber warfare.  Days after the explosion, Russian fighter jets bombed positions in Georgia close to the pipeline. Although the BTC pipeline was built precisely to avoid Russian interference, the Kremlin has never let that stop them.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have also begun construction on a joint natural gas pipeline, theTANAP. This project’s stated goal is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas, a prospect that cannot please Moscow.   Both the BTC and TANAP bypass Armenia, a Russian ally and wary of its neighbors in the Caucasus.

As the endpoint for the Qatari project, Turkey is adamant in calling for Assad to step down or be removed, which dovetails with the proposed Sunni pipeline.  By clearing the way through Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can receive a handsome return on their investment in backing jihadis fighting Assad.  On the other hand, Iran will not sit idly by and leave potential billions of dollars in the hands of its ideological and regional enemies.

Russian intervention in Syria is just beginning. There is every possibility that it will expand as more targets are found, perhaps those that are in the way of the proposed Iranian pipeline, directly threatening Damascus and by extension, the Russian monopoly of gas exports to Europe.  For the time being, Putin has the world’s attention.


EXCLUSIVE: Russian jets ‘intercept’ US predator drones over Syria, officials say

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In fiery speech, Netanyahu challenges UN on moral grounds

New York – Armed with unfilltered criticism for the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an aggressive speech to the international body’s annual gathering in New York on Thursday, charging its members with hypocrisy in its treatment of Israel and with failure to contain extremism across the wider Middle East.

With defensive rhetoric, he targeted the assembly for passing more resolutions against Israel for its handling of the Palestinians last year than against the government of Syria, which has presided over a war claiming the lives of over 300,000 people. He criticized member states for “encouraging Palestinian rejectionism” instead of direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, one day after a Palestinian flag was raised at UN headquarters.

And yet the most poignant moment of the speech involved no remarks at all, as Netanyahu, in his seventh UN General Assembly address, asked the body if it had forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust just seventy years since its founding.

He quoted from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, from its president and its military commanders, all reiterating a familiar pledge: Israel, a state where six million Jews reside, must be annihilated, sooner rather than later.

“Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran’s rulers promise to destroy my country, murder my people,” Netanyahu said. “And the response from this body— the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here— has been absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence.”

Silence followed the charge as the prime minister surveyed the room with a stoic stare. None spoke or moved in the audience as Netanyahu, at the lectern, remained quiet for nearly a minute.

“As someone who knows that history, I refuse to be silent,” he finally said to applause from the hall. Repeating a line he has delivered in Washington, he added: “The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies— those days are over.”

The speech was Netanyahu’s first major address since the Iran nuclear deal survived a debate over its merits in the US Congress. Its architects from the United States, Europe, Russia and China met to discuss implementation of the deal earlier in the week.

“Ladies and gentlemen, check your enthusiasm at the door,” he said of the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “It makes war more likely.​”

He warned that international investors were preparing to flood a “radical theocracy with weapons and cash” and warned that, “when bad behavior is rewarded, it only gets worse.” The deal, he said, amounts to a marriage between radical Islam and nuclear power.

“Under this deal, If Iran doesn’t change its behavior— in fact, if it becomes even more dangerous in the years to come— the most important constraints will still be automatically lifted by year 10 and by year 15. That would place a militant Islamic terror regime weeks away from having the fissile material for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs,” he said. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

And the JCPOA, he continued, has already led Iran to rapidly expand its network of terrorist proxies worldwide and spend “billions of dollars on weapons and satellites.” As an example of that network, Netanyahu detailed a well-armed cell of Hezbollah that has been identified in Cyprus, and warned that the organization— listed by the United States and European Union as a terrorist organization— was setting up similar cells in the Western hemisphere.

“We will continue to act to stop the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syrian territory,” he said. Israel has periodically struck convoys traversing Syrian territory, but future missions have been complicated by a growing presence of Russian forces in the region.

While acknowledging that the deal is proceeding toward implementation— he asked the UN to enforce the JCPOA with “more rigor” than the six past Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue that Iran had “systematically violated”— Netanyahu retained Israel’s option to defend itself against Iranian aggression.

“We have, we are and we will” defend ourselves, Netanyahu said, once again earning some applause.

Netanyahu personally engaged in a bruising battle on Capitol Hill over the deal, pitted against US President Barack Obama, who lobbied for its survival. The support of only one third of one house in Congress was required to preserve the agreement, and 42 senators ultimately chose to endorse it.

In Thursday’s address, he thanked Congress for debating the deal on its merits and characterized the rift with Obama as a “disagreement within the family.” And he underscored that, in spite of the public battle, the US remains Israel’s most valuable ally.

Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the White House next month.

After spending the majority of his speech condemning Iran and the deal over its nuclear work, he turned to the Palestinian issue, responding largely to a speech delivered the day before by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In that address, Abbas appeared to disavow commitments made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords were first signed in 1993.

“I am prepared to immediately resume direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions whatsoever,” Netanyahu said. “Unfortunately, President Abbas said yesterday that he is not prepared to do this. I hope he changes his mind.”

Abbas, in his speech, said the international community should treat Palestine as an independent state occupied by a foreign power.

“Israel has destroyed the foundations upon which the political and security agreements are based,” Abbas said. “We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all its responsibilities as an occupying power.”

Shortly after Abbas’ speech, the Quartet on the Middle East— comprised of the UN, EU, US and Russia— released a statement reiterating its goals: A negotiated two-state outcome “that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for Statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967 and resolves all permanent status issues in order to end the conflict.”

The group warned that a continuation of the status quo may imperil the viability of a two-state plan.

The UN has adopted twenty resolutions condemning Israel in the past year— far more than on any other issue or against any other nation, including Syria, which has been the subject of one resolution. Netanyahu cited the figure as an example of the body’s “obsessive bashing of Israel.”

In his call for direct negotiations, Netanyahu said: “We owe it to our peoples to try.” Both he and Abbas were directly involved in a nine-month negotiations process brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry which, in July 2014, collapsed without results.

“President Abbas, here’s a good place to begin: Stop spreading lies about Israel’s alleged intentions on the Temple Mount. Israel is fully committed to maintaining the status quo there,” he said. Both the Quartet and UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon have condemned incitements to violence on the holy site in recent days.

“Don’t use the Palestinian state as a stepping stone to another Islamist dictatorship in the Middle East, but make its something real,” Netanyahu added. “We can do remarkable things.”

But the PA responded on Thursday evening by rejecting the premise of the prime minister’s argument: Netanyahu, PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat said, has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of genuine interest in peace.

“Members of his camp have continually sabotaged every attempt at a meaningful peace process.  The Palestinians have never placed conditions on peace,” said Erekat. “Palestinians have demanded that Israel abide by the obligations it has already made to the Palestinians, which Israel has yet to fulfill.”

“As Mr. Netanyahu tells the world he wants to negotiate for two-states, he has built the largest illegal settlement enterprise seen in modern history,” he continued.

Debate over Israeli-Palestinian peace has been a consistent topic in the UN’s annual debate, and this year has been no exception: Speeches by leaders from France to Lesotho have called for a settlement, using their precious time on the international stage.

One leader who avoided the issue was the president of the United States. In his Monday address, Obama did not mention either Israel or the Palestinians once.

For his part, on the issues of Palestine, Iran and the role of the international community, Netanyahu’s message had a common theme: Israel remains a democracy, with values consistent with the liberal tenets of the United Nations’ founding charter.

Both in silence and with fiery rhetoric, he called on fellow members to celebrate that tradition.

“Stand with Israel because Israel is not just defending itself,” he concluded. “More than ever, Israel is defending you.”