Iran’s Naval Commander: We Took Extensive Info From American Sailors’ Phones, Laptops

Iran state media

Iran state media

Washington Free Beacon, by Morgan Chalfant, Feb. 1, 2016:

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) naval commander claimed Monday that his men harvested extensive information from cell phones and laptops confiscated from the 10 American sailors held in custody last month, according to Iranian media.

The Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, reported that Admiral Ali Fadavi made the admission during a session of Iranian parliament.

“We have extracted extensive information from their [American sailors’] laptops and cell phones,” Fadavi reportedly said. He added that the information could be made public if a decision were made to release it.

The U.S. sailors and their two small Navy boats were arrested by Iran on January 12 for allegedly drifting into Iranian territorial waters. While Iran initially promised to release them promptly, the American personnel were held overnight and released the following morning. A preliminary report om the Pentagon on the events found that Iran returned two of the sailors’ cell phones without their SIM cards.

The U.S. Central Command report also confirmed that the sailors were arrested at gunpoint.

Following the sailors’ release, Iran state media released images and video of the sailors in captivity, their weapons and equipment seized by the IRGC. Some photos also showed Iranian personnel sifting through their weapons and viewing their documents.

Fadavi claimed Monday that the IRGC has more footage–spanning several hours–of the U.S. sailors in detention. He said that the video would humiliate the United States 100 times more than the footage previously released.

However, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last month that President Obama was not embarrassed by the footage of the sailors released by Iran.

Before his remarks Monday, Fadavi was honored by Iran’s supreme leader for arresting the American sailors. He and four other Iranian navy commanders were awarded the Order of Fat’h (Victory) medal for their actions.

Stuart Varney: Europe is Retreating From it’s Core Values

h/t @michaeldweiss

h/t @michaeldweiss

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The Dangerous Fantasy behind Obama’s Iran Deal

1896925188 (1)Center for security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, Jan. 27, 2016:

On January 16, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran had satisfied the conditions necessary to achieve a lifting of most international sanctions under its nuclear deal with the Obama administration. In exchange for reducing its number of operational uranium-enrichment centrifuges, sending most of its enriched uranium out of the country, and removing the core of a plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor, Iran received approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief, and the United States returned $400 million in Iranian funds it seized in 1979, plus $1.3 billion in interest. The same day, Iran released five Americans it had held prisoner in exchange for the release of seven Iranian criminals held by the United States.

The White House and its supporters did victory laps, arguing that Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and its willingness to swap prisoners had proven the wisdom of the president’s Iran policy. But there are many reasons to believe that these developments, far from strengthening American national security, are actually dangerous wins for Iran.

Before all else, it should be noted that American officials had to relax certain requirements of the deal so Iran could receive sanctions relief in the first place. Language barring the testing of ballistic missiles was removed from the agreement’s text and buried in the annex to a UN Security Council resolution. The U.S. also dropped a stipulation that Iran resolve questions about its past nuclear activities, choosing to address those questions in a secret side dealbetween the IAEA and Iran. As a result, even though Iran conducted two ballistic-missile tests last fall and did not fully cooperatewith an IAEA investigation into its nuclear history, the IAEA was able to certify that Tehran met the Implementation Day requirements to have sanctions lifted because these issues had been dropped from the agreement.

The steps Iran did take to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of sanctions are limited and easily reversible. Since Iran will continue enriching uranium and developing advanced centrifuges, they’ll continue to get closer to a nuclear weapon while the deal remains in effect. And although Tehran sent most of its enriched uranium out of the country, in return it received an equivalent amount of uranium ore from Kazakhstan, which can be converted into enriched uranium in a few months.

What’s more, the nuclear deal had weak verification provisions to begin with, and the Iranian parliament made them even weaker last October when it ratified an amended version of the deal that calls for Israel’s nuclear-weapons program to be dismantled, requires that sanctions be canceled rather than suspended, and forbids the IAEA from inspecting military installations or interviewing Iranian military officers and scientists. The United States, its European allies, and the IAEA have ignored the Iranian Parliament’s action, and it had no bearing on the lifting of sanctions, but there’s good reason to believe that Iran’s conception of the deal’s terms is quite different from that of its Western partners.

And indeed, though the Obama administration has ignored it, Iran’s belligerence abroad has continued unabated since the nuclear agreement was announced last July. In the last six months, Tehran has stepped up support for the genocidal Assad regime, fired rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier, and captured and humiliated U.S. sailors. It seems more than likely that the $100 billion-plus the regime received in sanctions relief will go toward its continued efforts to destabilize the Middle East, sponsor terrorism, and inch closer to a nuclear warhead.

There also are growing questions about the prisoner exchange. The five U.S. citizens released by Iran, several of them brutally mistreated while behind bars, were arrested because they are Americans, and thus made good bargaining chips in Iran’s efforts to influence U.S. policy. Iran is still holding at least two other American citizens hostage, and an Iranian official has claimed that the $1.7 billion payment the country received, supposedly a return of its frozen funds plus interest, was actually ransom for the five Americans’ release. (House Republicans plan to investigate this claim.) By contrast, the seven Iranians released by the United States, most of them dual citizens, were convicted of sending technology with military applications to Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. 14 other Iranians accused of similar crimes were removed from an INTERPOL wanted list at the same time.

So how can the White House justify such a lopsided deal?

Legendary national-security expert Richard Perle said it best in a recent interview with Secure Freedom Radio:

Their concept is that the terms of the agreement and the likely consequences if the Iranians choose to do what they are able to do under the agreement don’t matter because this agreement is somehow going to magically transform an Iranian regime that regards the United States as the great Satan and engages us through the subvention of terrorism in many places throughout the world. . . . And so for people who hold this view — and I believe the president is among them — the details of the agreement and the consequences of the agreement are of no significance. They are making an enormous and I think an improvident bet. This bet is that this agreement, which satisfies what the Iranians are looking for, will somehow lead the Iranians to become our friends. In this they are certainly mistaken.

That’s the utter absurdity of the Iran deal in a nutshell: Its details don’t matter, because it is meant only to transform Iran into an American ally, against all reason. Because Obama knows he could never sell such a utopian plan to the American people and the U.S. Congress, his administration used the mostly incoherent agreement as a pretext.

But giving Iran everything it wanted in a nuclear agreement won’t lead it to rejoin the community of civilized nations and become a friend of the U.S. All indications from Tehran say the opposite: the regime’s character remains unchanged, and if anything it has become a more influential and destabilizing actor in the Middle East since it signed the nuclear deal. As a result, America’s friends and allies in the region are increasingly worried about a growing threat to their security and U.S. credibility has been further diminished.

Here’s hoping Obama’s successor can repair the damage.

Pastor Saeed ‘Heartbroken’ To See What Iran Did to U.S. Marine

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Town Hall, by Cortney O’Brien, Jan 26, 2016:
In Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini was guilty as charged for being a Christian. He was imprisoned for three years for practicing his faith until earlier this month, when a prisoner swap guaranteed him and three other American prisoners’ return home, including U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and Nosratollah Khosrawi. A fifth American detainee was released separately. Abedini gave his first tell-all interview about the harrowing ordeal to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren. She shared the compelling conversation with her viewers Monday night.
Abedini offered some new details about how he came to be imprisoned. While he is convinced he was jailed simply for wearing his faith on his sleeve, he says a judge accused him of “using Christianity to remove the government.”
He denied the charge and tried to explain he just came to Iran to help build orphanages and to “pray,” and “love” his neighbors.
Yet, the judge would not relent, nor let Abedini’s lawyer talk. After ten frustrating minutes, Abedini was taken back to prison.
While in captivity, Abedini revealed that for two months he was in the same room as U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. The pastor said he could not hold back the tears witnessing how the Iranians had treated the veteran.
Abedini was “very heartbroken,” to see a fellow American in so much pain, he recalled.

Abedini didn’t exactly have a comfortable imprisonment, either. The pastor described being beaten during interrogations, as well as the emotional toll of watching other prisoners prepare for execution.

“The worst thing I saw was when they took some Sunnis for execution, it was in front of our eyes, and they took like tens of them to hang, every Wednesday,” he said.

Sadly, the whereabouts of another Iranian prisoner, Robert Levinson, remain unknown.

Watch all of Abedini and Susteren’s conversation below:

***

No incentive for Iran to change despite nuclear deal? Former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer Andrew Peek on the U.S. prisoner swap with Iran and the nuclear deal.

In Sinai, ISIS Grows with Iran’s Help

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The Tower, by Arik Agassi, January 2016:

Most people assume that the Sunni terrorist group ISIS is the natural and mortal enemy of Shia Iran, but this is not always the case. In fact, in at least one part of the Middle East, Iran has become a crucial, if indirect, sponsor of its supposed enemy.

As the world’s eyes are focused on ISIS terrorism in Europe, the Middle East, and even the U.S., the group’s branch in the Sinai has become one of the most powerful, dangerous, and effective in the region. Recent reports indicate that Iran, through the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, is primarily responsible for this.

The Iran-Hamas-ISIS axis is part of Iran’s strategy of using proxy forces against U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel as part of a larger strategy to achieve hegemony over the Middle East. This has resulted in one of the region’s best kept secrets: An intensive cooperation mechanism between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS, based on money, weapons, military equipment, and training.

Iran’s foreign policy goal of hegemony over the Middle East is based on its primary ideological pillar – exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries using terrorism and political subversion. In pursuing its ambitions, Iran has often put aside its religious differences with radical Sunni groups like ISIS and Hamas. The Islamic Republic is more than willing to cooperate with these groups as long as doing so helps promote its larger interests.

“By directly supporting Hamas in Gaza and indirectly supporting ISIS in the Sinai, Iran is able to gain foothold against Israel and Egypt to destabilize them, undermine America’s regional influence, create another Iranian power base in a Sunni-dominated region, and project its power and influence in its pursuit of regional hegemony,” Major (res.) Dan Feferman, a former senior IDF intelligence officer and Iran specialist, told the Tower. When asked why Iran would indirectly fund a serious rival such as ISIS, Feferman said that Lebanon, Iraq, and especially Syria are more important to Iran than the Sinai, as Iran wants to preserve its influence in states affected by the Syrian civil war – so Iran fights ISIS in those counties. In places where Iran does not have a strong influence, such as Egypt, it feels comfortable supporting ISIS, albeit indirectly.

“Just like Iran needs ISIS in Syria and Iraq to maintain its relevance among world powers such as Russia and the United States, it has no problem with ISIS gaining strength in Sinai for the time being,” added Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and former head of Israeli intelligence’s Research and Assessment Division added. “If ISIS gains more power in the Sinai and Iran is able to help demean that power in the future, it will once again position itself as an address to world powers and thus demand something in return. Moreover, as long as Iran is able to weaken the moderate Sunni Arab state alliance of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan by indirectly supporting ISIS Sinai through Hamas, it won’t stop doing so.”

But Iran’s support of ISIS via Hamas goes deeper than mere strategic considerations. Despite the deep ideological rifts between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS in Sinai, as well as the traditional animosity between Shias, Sunnis, and Salafists, all three groups see each other as temporary partners in

1. The destruction of the state of Israel.
2. Undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority.
3. Opposing and destabilizing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Western-oriented regime, especially in regard to its peace treaty with Israel.
4. Harming U.S. interests in the region and undermining its presence in the Middle East as a whole.
5. Bridging the Sunni-Shia divide and reconstituting a Muslim caliphate.

For Iran, Hamas and ISIS serve different aspects of these ambitions. Iran uses Hamas to deepen the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by supporting Palestinian terror and a rejectionist approach to the peace process. It uses ISIS in the Sinai against al-Sisi and to further its vision of a caliphate dominated by Iran.

Iran could not support ISIS in Sinai or pursue its ambitions against Israel and Egypt without Hamas. The relationship between the terrorist organization and Iran is deep and of long standing. Indeed, Iran has provided funding, weapons, training, technology, and political support to Hamas for decades.

This relationship began almost simultaneously with the founding of Hamas, and has intensified every time the peace process appeared to be gaining momentum. In October 1991, Iran convened a conference in Tehran whose purpose was to unite various radical organizations led by Hamas who were hostile to the PLO’s negotiations with Israel at the Madrid peace summit. The groups gathered in Tehran called for the destruction of Israel and pledged to make every possible effort to sabotage the newborn peace process, which was seen as a direct threat to their strategic goals.

Iran-Hamas relations were officially formalized in October 1992, when a Hamas delegation led by then-Secretary General Mousa Abu-Marzuq visited Tehran for talks. Iran permitted Hamas to open an office in Tehran, provided it with millions of dollars in cash, and agreed to have the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps train thousands of Hamas members in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.

This initially lukewarm relationship became a full-blown alliance when the second intifada began in 2000. Iran began funding, recruiting, directing, training, and supporting Palestinian terrorists and building the infrastructure to support them. This included carrying out suicide bombings, paying the families of terrorists, and providing monthly salaries to terrorists in Israeli jails.

Hamas soldiers take part in a military parade marking the first anniversary of the killing of Hamas’s military commanders Mohammed Abu Shammala and Raed al-Attar, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 21, 2015. Abu Shammala and al-Attar were killed by an Israeli air strike during a 50-day war between the terror group and Israel the previous summer. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90

Hamas soldiers take part in a military parade marking the first anniversary of the killing of Hamas’s military commanders Mohammed Abu Shammala and Raed al-Attar, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 21, 2015. Abu Shammala and al-Attar were killed by an Israeli air strike during a 50-day war between the terror group and Israel the previous summer. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90

The Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 created a new reality. Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, which resulted in a significant increase in Iranian funding. Immediately following the elections, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal visited Iran and secured an estimated $20 million per month from the Islamic Republic – enough to cover Hamas’ entire budget. This was followed by a visit from Hamas’ former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which Iran pledged $250 million in aid. The funds were earmarked to pay the wages of civil servants, bankroll Hamas security forces, and compensate Palestinian families that lost their homes during Israeli military operations.

In June 2007, Hamas carried out a putsch in the Gaza Strip, neutralized Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s military and political power, and set up a radical Islamic government. Following the takeover, Iran became a patron of the new Gaza regime, providing Hamas with military, financial, political, and media support. Iran saw the establishment of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip as a way to wage an armed campaign against Israel and advance its influence in the Palestinian arena. The exposure of the Israeli home front to rocket fire during three rounds of armed confrontation between Israel and Hamas showed the Iranians the great benefits they could reap by constructing a military infrastructure for Hamas.

As a result, Iranian money, equipment, and military expertise keep flowing to Hamas and then to ISIS.

Despite some rifts between Iran and Hamas’ political wing since 2012 (stemming from Hamas moving its headquarters from Syria and refusing to follow the Iranian line by supporting President Bashar al-Assad), the Times of Israel reported in September that, boosted by the nuclear deal, Iran has increased its funding to Hamas’ military wing with literally “suitcases of cash” sent directly to leaders in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Telegraph quoted top senior Western intelligence officials in April saying that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have transferred tens of millions of dollars to Hamas.

Read more

Listen to Kyle Shideler, Director of the Center for Security Policy’s Threat Information Office, discuss the relationship between ISIS and Hamas in this Secure Freedom Podcast:

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The Iran nuclear agreement is national security fraud

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Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz,  Jan. 19, 2016:

As the Obama administration celebrates what it claims is a great victory for its nuclear diplomacy with Iran, many Americans are scratching their heads and wondering how we got to this point given the many examples of Iranian bad faith and belligerent behavior since the nuclear deal was announced last July. For example…

  • Because the IAEA declared that Iran met the requirements to roll back its nuclear program to what the nuclear deal calls “Implementation Day,” it will receive approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief even through Iran is still designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror and was listed in a June 2015 State Department report as the world’s leading terrorist state.
  • Over the last six months, Iran increased its support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy.
  • Iran is threatening Saudi Arabia by backing a Shiite insurgency in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states broke off diplomatic relations with Iran this month after the Saudi embassy and a consulate in Iran were ransacked.
  • Iran tested ballistic missiles in October and November even though President Obama and Secretary Kerry said last July that under the deal Tehran would abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions for eight years calling on it to halt its missile program.  (The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iran for the missile tests yesterday but Foundation for Defense and Democracy Executive Director Mark Dubowitz called them “symbolic and ineffective.”)
  • Iran fired rockets last month near a U.S. aircraft carrier.  It also detained and humiliated 10 U.S. Navy sailors last week.
  • At the same time, few Americans understand that Iran keeps its nuclear infrastructure under the nuclear deal and will be allowed to expand it.
  • Iran will continue enriching uranium under the nuclear deal with 5,000 uranium centrifuges and will be developing more advanced centrifuges while the deal is in effect. This will occur even though when Barack Obama became president, his administration supported the Bush administration’s effort to stop the spread of uranium enrichment technology and strengthened a nuclear technology sharing agreement with the UAE which required it to not to pursue this technology.  
  • Although Iran agreed to remove the core of a plutonium-producing heavy water-reactor, it will be rebuilt and redesigned with Chinese assistance.  While the redesigned reactor will produce less plutonium, it also will help Iran to master this technology.
  • Although President Obama and Secretary Kerry said Iran sent all of its enriched uranium out of the country, they failed to mention that this was a swap for an equivalent amount of uranium ore that can be converted into enriched uranium in a few months.
  • President Obama said last July that the issue of Iran’s past nuclear weapons work would be addressed. The IAEA issued a report on this issue in December that said Iran failed to fully cooperate and provided some answers to investigators that were false. The report also said Iran engaged in nuclear weapons research until 2009.  Despite this report, the United States voted with other IAEA members last month to close the IAEA’s file on this issue.
  • Although nuclear deal has weak verification provisions, the Iranian parliament made them even weaker last October when it ratified an amended version of the deal containing new language on dismantling Israel’s nuclear weapons program, requiring that sanctions under the agreement be cancelled and not suspended, forbidding IAEA inspections of military installations, and barring IAEA interviews of Iranian military officers and scientists.

And then there is the issue of the “swap” of five American hostages for seven Iranian criminals held in U.S. prisons and the removal of 14 other Iranian criminal and terrorists from the INTERPOL wanted list.  As objectionable as this sounds, President Obama and Secretary Kerry failed to mention that Oman paid Iran $500,000 ransom each for the release of the Americans and that several were brutally mistreated while incarcerated.  At least two other innocent Americans plus a U.S. green card holder are still being by Iran.

Given these factors, how can the Obama administration claim Iran has complied with the nuclear agreement? 

How can it justify providing over $150 billion in sanctions relief that Tehran is likely to spend on terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East?  

How can the United States reward a state that used Americans as hostages to advance its policy goals?

How can Obama officials say this nuclear deal is a great diplomatic success?

The answer to these questions is this: because the Obama administration wanted a legacy nuclear agreement with Iran so badly they made any concession necessary to get one. 

When Iranian officials refused to give up their uranium enrichment program, the U.S. said they could keep it. 

When Iran balked on including restrictions on ballistic missile tests in the agreement, they were removed.  

To get around Tehran’s refusal to answer questions about its past nuclear weapons work, this issue was moved into a secret side deal between the IAEA and Iran.

The Obama administration also took Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its meddling in the Middle East off the table.  The deal drops U.N. and EU sanctions on Iranian terrorist individuals and entities.  Even worse, the U.S. encouraged Iran to play a more active role in Iraq which is driving tensions between the Shiite government and Iraqi Sunnis.

The Iran nuclear agreement is national security fraud. It will not stop or slow Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. 

The deal’s weak verification provision will not detect Iranian cheating. 

Seeing itself as the big winner in the nuclear deal, Iran probably will beemboldened to expand its efforts to destabilize its neighbors and sponsorship of terrorism using the estimated $150 billion in sanctions relief it won in the deal.

How did Iran reach the nuclear deal’s Implementation Day?  Because the Obama administration rigged the game by setting the bar so low that Iranian compliance was assured. 

That’s how desperate President Obama was to get his legacy nuclear deal with Iran. 

That’s what led to a disastrous agreement that will may do enormous damage to international security for decades to come.

Also see:

Gorka: ‘We’ve Sent a Message: Iran, You Can Get Away With Murder, Literally’

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Fox News Insider, Jan. 18, 2016:

On “Hannity” tonight, counterterrorism expert Sebastian Gorka said that President Obama’s prisoner swap with Iran sends a message to bad actors around the world that you can get something meaningful in exchange for American hostages.

“We sent a very clear message that [Iran] – which is the greatest state-sponsor of terrorism for the last 30 years – has carte blanche,” Gorka said.

He said that hundreds of Marines were killed in Beirut by an organization trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and many servicemen and women were maimed or killed in Iraq by IEDs created with the help of Iran.

“We’ve sent a message: Iran, you can get away with murder, literally,” Gorka said.

He added that exchanging Americans who were unjustly imprisoned for their religious beliefs for documented Iranian spies and terrorists is not a fair deal.

“That is empowering the message of the theocratic regime of the mullahs,” Gorka stated. “And they will draw the right conclusions: That we are no longer a leader and we are giving in to their message of terror.”

Cherry on Top: Iran to Get $1.7 Billion Settlement from U.S. in Addition to Sanctions Relief

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President Obama leaves the podium after speaking about the release of Americans by Iran on Jan. 17, 2016, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

PJ MEDIA, BY BRIDGET JOHNSON, JANUARY 17, 2016:

President Obama today declared at the White House that “Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb” and that their “tireless” negotiations paid off with several American hostages coming home.

Obama’s Cabinet Room statement came a day after the administration announced the lifting of sanctions on Iran for Implementation Day of the nuclear deal as well as the prisoner swap: seven to Iran, five to the U.S. The administration is claiming the fifth American, student Matthew Trevithick, was released not as part of the swap but as a goodwill gesture by Iran.

Obama called the clemency granted to six Iranian–Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial “a reciprocal humanitarian gesture,” and asserted none of them were “charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.” They were, however, involved in networks procuring illegal components for Iran deemed damaging to national security by the Justice Department and in one case hacked a defense contractor to steal millions in proprietary software.

“And their release is a one-time gesture to Iran given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play,” he said. “And it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States.”

“So, nuclear deal implemented. American families reunited. The third piece of this work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades. Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we’ve worked through a international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries. The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government. Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought,” Obama said.

That payout to Iran from the United States? $1.7 billion.

Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the settlement is $400 million debt and $1.3 billion in interest dating back to the Islamic revolution. That’s separate from the sanctions windfall Iran will receive.

“For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran,” Obama claimed. “So there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out. With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.”

The president then acknowledged a bit of Iran’s other bad behavior, such as “a violation of its international obligations” with illegal ballistic missile tests.

“But today’s progress — Americans coming home, an Iran that has rolled back its nuclear program and accepted unprecedented monitoring of that program — these things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom; with courage and resolve and patience,” Obama said. “America can do — and has done — big things when we work together. We can leave this world and make it safer and more secure for our children and our grandchildren for generations to come.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called it “a huge relief that these Americans are finally coming home,” and noted that “all of them should have been unconditionally released a long time ago — period.”

“Instead, a disturbing pattern is emerging where the Obama administration is willing to negotiate the release of spies, terrorists and now criminals. I fail to see how this trend will improve the long-term security of the United States and its citizens,” Royce said.

“The Obama administration will need to answer why this policy won’t encourage terrorist groups and regimes to step up their efforts to target Americans. And the Iranians still need to answer for Robert Levinson, an American citizen who has been missing in Iran since 2007.”

The Levinson family was still on a heartbreaking tweetstorm Sunday using the haghtag #WhatAboutBob.

“Let me just say Bob Levinson is still missing,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said this morning on CBS’Face the Nation. “The Iranians know where he is or we believe they do. And they’re not being cooperative about that. We should not forget Mr. Levinson and his situation.”

Obama said what he’s said before: that Iran “has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson — missing from Iran for more than eight years.”

“Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob,” he said. “Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family, and we will not rest until their family is whole again.”

Iran is also holding on to a couple more hostages: Since the Iran nuclear deal was inked last year, one American citizen, businessman Siamak Namazi, and one permanent U.S. resident, IT expert Nizar Zakka, were arrested by Iran. Iran’s Fars News Agency said they kept Namazi out of the deal because his charges were “not political.”

Zakka, a Lebanese-American, works in Washington as secretary-general of the Dupont Circle-based Ijma3 group, which lobbies for the information and communications technology industry in the Middle East. He last tweeted on Sept. 9 about Internet freedom and free expression.

Zakka received an invitation on Sept. 11 from Iran’s vice president for Women and Family Affairs to attend the 2nd International Conference & Exhibition on Women in Sustainable Development, titled “Entrepreneurship & Employment.” After the conference, while he was trying to return home to D.C., he was seized.

“For decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other. Ultimately, that did not advance America’s interests. Over the years, Iran moved closer and closer to having the ability to build a nuclear weapon,” Obama declared today.

“But from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the United States has never been afraid to pursue diplomacy with our adversaries. And as president, I decided that a strong, confident America could advance our national security by engaging directly with the Iranian government. We’ve seen the results.”

***

Also see:

Iran: U.S. ‘Extended Apology’ Over Captured Sailors

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Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Jan. 13, 2016:

The Obama administration is denying official Iranian reports claiming that U.S. officials “extended an apology” to the Islamic Republic following a Tuesday standoff over the capture of 10 U.S. sailors whose boats reportedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters.

The sailors were released by Iran early Wednesday morning after being arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and being put in detention for the night.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps, which released pictures of the U.S. sailors on their knees with hands over their heads, said Wednesday that it had conducted an investigation into the incident.

Iran asserts the sailors were released after the United States apologized, prompting a flurry of denials from senior Obama administration officials.

“Following technical and operational investigations and in interaction with relevant political and national security bodies of the country and after it became clear that the U.S. combat vessels’ illegal entry into the Islamic Republic of Iran’s waters was the result of an unintentional action and a mistake and after they extended an apology, the decision was made to release them,” the IRGC said in a statement that was carried by Iran’s state-controlled media.

Ali Fadavi, commander of the IRGC Navy, said that Tehran had missiles locked on the United States at the time of the incident.

“They were in sight of our missiles,” Fadavi said in Persian, according to a statement carried by the IRGC’s official news outlet. “If this had happened, it would have led to their annihilation.

“We had high preparedness with coast-to-sea missiles, rocket-firing fast boats, and various capabilities,” he said. “We prevented their additional irresponsible movement with the statements we broadcasted internationally. It was proven to them that the IRGC Navy has the first and final word.”

The U.S. cannot stand up to Iran, according to Fadavi.

“The result of that battle is the annihilation and sinking of their battleships,” he said. “This is while in those 40 minutes [when the U.S. sailors were apprehended], it was clear that Americans were under psychological pressure, to the extent that they did not behave in a manner expected from a professional and responsible force.”

The Obama administration denied that an apology was offered to Iran.

Vice President Joe Biden told CBS that “there was no looking for any apology.”

“When you have a problem with the boat, [do] you apologize the boat had a problem? No,” Biden said. “And there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice.”

Iran “realized [the sailors] were there in distress and said they would release them, and released them—like ordinary nations would do,” Biden said.

State Department Spokesman John Kirby also issued a denial on Twitter.

“Absolutely ZERO truth to rumors that @JohnKerry apologized to Iran over Sailors,” Kirby said. “Nothing to apologize for.”

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Secretary of State John Kerry thanked the Iranian for the way they handled the situation.

Kerry offered his “gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter.”

“I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement Wednesday. “Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved.”

However, Iran adopted a confrontational tone, accusing the United States of aggressive behavior. The country also released scores of pictures showing the arrest and incarceration of the U.S. sailors.

The IRGC blamed the United States for its “unprofessional moves,” saying that it defused the situation.

Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of Iran’s armed forces, said on Wednesday that the incident highlights just “how vulnerable” the United States is to Iran.

“The incident shows how vulnerable they are. Without the good faith and tact of our commanders, the Americans would have faced a new crisis,” Firouzabadi said in Persian language comments.

The military leader also lashed out at the U.S. Congress.

“It seems that those congressional representatives who come up with new plans against Iran every day do not have correct information and act against the interests of the American nation with their hands tied behind their back and far from reality,” Firouzabadi said.

“We hope that this incident in northern Persian Gulf—which probably won’t be the last mistake of U.S. forces in the region—will be a lesson for disrupters in Congress,” he said.

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Did North Korea Really Test an H-Bomb?

783680434Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, Jan. 6, 2016:

After reports of a small, magnitude 5.1 seismic event in the vicinity of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Tuesday, the state-controlled North Korean news service announced a successful test of a miniaturized hydrogen bomb — which it called a “hydrogen bomb for justice.” A North Korean television anchor said the test elevated North Korea’s “nuclear might to the next level.”

It is very unlikely that this was a test of a true H-bomb, a thermonuclear device in which a primary fission reaction ignites a much larger secondary fusion/fission reaction. The technical challenges of constructing a true H-bomb, which could be over 1000 times more powerful than North Korea’s previous three nuclear tests, are far beyond North Korean capabilities. The real meaning of this nuclear test, regardless of its type, may be an attempt by North Korea to get a nuclear deal similar to Iran’s before President Obama leaves office.

It is possible this was a test of a “boosted-fission” nuclear weapon. In such a device, a small fusion reaction of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, is initiated in the core. This reaction releases a flood of high-energy neutrons that causes a more efficient fission reaction by the weapon’s enriched uranium or plutonium fuel resulting in an explosive yield several times higher. Boosted fission enables states to construct smaller and lighter nuclear weapons and to make more efficient use of scarce nuclear fuel.

North Korea has been claiming for several years that it was engaged in nuclear-fusion research. In 2010, North Korean officials even said that their nation had mastered nuclear fusion. In January 2013, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that a “new higher level nuclear device” that North Korea was threatening to test might be a boosted-fission nuclear device. Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said his country had developed a hydrogen bomb.

Although most experts dismissed North Korea’s nuclear fusion claims as bravado, a boosted-fission nuclear test would be the next step in the development of a North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Building such a device would be technically challenging. India, which has a more advanced nuclear-weapons program than North Korea, reportedly conducted a failed test of a booted-fission nuclear device in 1998.

Determining what type of nuclear device this was will be difficult. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will try to analyze air samples for evidence of xenon gas, a by-product of nuclear explosions. This will help determine whether the explosion was nuclear and possibly whether enriched uranium or plutonium fuel was used. It probably will not determine whether North Korea detonated a boosted-fission device.

The small 5.1 magnitude of Tuesday’s seismic event suggests either this was not a boosted-fission device or that the boosted-fission reaction failed. 5.1 was the same magnitude of the seismic event that accompanied North Korea’s February 12, 2013 nuclear test and North Korea’s 2009 and 2006 nuclear tests caused seismic events measuring 4.3 and 4.7, respectively.

North Korea’s nuclear tests appear to represent a pattern of trying to get the world’s attention in order to force a resumption of multilateral talks that can be used to extract concessions from the United States and regional states. This could be the case with the North’s latest nuclear test. The North Korean regime knows President Obama entered office hoping to get nuclear agreements with both North Korea and Iran. The North Korean government probably views the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as a great victory for Tehran and is hoping this test will lure the Obama administration into resuming nuclear talks so it can get a similar deal.

Regardless of North Korea’s motivations for Tuesday’s nuclear test and whether it was a test of a boosted-fission nuclear device, this is still a very dangerous development. Every time North Korea conducts a nuclear test, it gains more experience and data for its effort to construct nuclear warheads for its ballistic missiles. North Korea has made major strides in its missile program over the last ten years, including the December 2012 launch of a rocket to place a satellite in orbit, which most experts believe was actually a test of an ICBM capable of hitting the United States.

I believe there is a strong possibility that North Korea and Iran are collaborating on their nuclear-weapon programs and that Tehran will benefit from any knowledge gained from this nuclear test. Iranian observers reportedly were present at previous North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests. Determining Iran’s possible role in the recent North Korean nuclear test will be a priority for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Former CIA director James Woolsey and former CIA analyst Peter Pry believe North Korea and Iran may be developing small nuclear warheads to use as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons to target the U.S. electrical grid. I agree with these concerns since EMP weapons are a way that rogue states with small nuclear-weapons programs could actually attack states with far superior military capabilities by greatly amplifying the destructive power of these weapons. Ted Koppel recently wrote about how devastating an EMP attack on the United States would be in his new book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.

Making this situation worse is the absence of American global leadership under President Obama. “Leading from behind,” the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the president’s dismissal of the global threat from ISIS, and numerous red lines drawn — and later ignored — have severely undermined America’s credibility on the world stage. The North Korean regime knows this. Its latest nuclear test may be an attempt to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s weakness before he leaves office.

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The Saudi-Iran spat: What comes next?

Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burn posters of King Salman of Saudi Arabia against the execution of Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Kerbala January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed al-Husseini.

Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burn posters of King Salman of Saudi Arabia against the execution of Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Kerbala January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed al-Husseini.

American Enterprise Institute, by Michael Rubin, Jan. 4, 2016:

Make no mistake: Saudi Arabia should be condemned without reservation for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, perhaps the country’s most prominent Shi‘ite cleric.

The murder is, alas, the sign of more trouble to come as Muhammad Bin Nayyef — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and interior minister — consolidates control against the backdrop of King Salman’s growing dementia. Nayyef is a sectarian warrior who seldom finds a fire upon which he cannot pour gasoline. There was also cynicism involved in the timing, coming so soon after Saudi Arabia implemented new austerity measures. That so many diplomats in Europe, Washington, and the United Nations also blessed Saudi ambitions to a leadership post on the United Nations Human Rights Council simply convinced Riyadh that they could get away with murder.

That does not mean the Islamic Republic of Iran is blameless. While they have now named the street on which the Saudi Embassy in Tehran sits for Nimr, they did nothing for Nimr during his imprisonment. Nor does Iran have the moral high ground on either religious freedom or executions. Indeed, Iran’s rate of executions in 2015 was an order of magnitude above Saudi Arabia’s. Even as Saudi Arabia is wrong for arresting and executing Nimr, there can be zero tolerance for the sacking and burning of embassies, a practice that has become all too common inside Iran. Iran’s refusal to protect diplomats on its territory risks far more than Saudi-Iranian peace, but rather threatens the mechanism of modern diplomacy.

So what comes next? Nothing good, especially at a time when American diplomatic influence is at its nadir. It’s not simply that neither side trusts the United States. Rather, both Riyadh and Tehran believe that the United States is actively supporting the other side. So here’s a quick look at the crystal ball:

  • That Syria peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry is engaged? Fahgettaboudit. At the very least Iran and Saudi Arabia are going to take their proxy war in Syria to a new level. That’s the best scenario. The worst is that Iran moves to undercut security in Bahrain and takes its proxy conflict to Iraq, which has quietly been making amends with Riyadh.
  • Nuclear proliferation? Expect Saudi Arabia to pursue that off-the-shelf bomb from Pakistan. And if Riyadh gets a nuclear capability, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — which continues to oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — is simply going to push forward with Iran’s nuclear capability, an easy move since Kerry designed his deal to leave Iran with an industrial program and a $100 billion cash infusion to boot.

So what should the United States do? Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution at this point, but here’s a few places to start:

  • President Obama argued that the United States could have more influence by working with the UN Human Rights Council than by ignoring it. All evidence is to the contrary, however. The Council is a parody of human rights advocacy and gives moral inversion UN imprimatur. It’s time to cut off all funding and support for the Council until human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia are purged from them.
  • Condemn, in unequivocal terms, the murder of Sheikh Nimr and the persecution of anyone on the basis of their religion. Demand that Iran release Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned simply because he is a Christian. Free the Bahai men, women, and children from Iranian prisons. Demand Tehran account for the missing Iranian Jews.
  • Crack down on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Desperation is seldom a successful negotiation tactic, as Obama and Kerry might realize if they had any experience in the private sector. By allowing Iran to cheat on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the UN Security Council Resolution which encoded it, Obama and Kerry are only convincing regional states that they must take matters into their own hands.

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Listen: 

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Dr. Sebastian Gorka discusses the risk of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia with Stuart Varney:

The Execution of Nimr al-Nimr and Obama’s Failed Policy in the Middle East

saudi protestorsNational Review, by Tom Rogan, Jan.4, 2016:

Without a doubt, the unlawfully shed blood of this innocent martyr will have a rapid effect and the divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians.”

That was how Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, responded to Saudi Arabia’s execution Saturday of a Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. Since then, Iranian protesters have — with their government’s permission — attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Saudi Arabia has cut diplomatic relations. Further escalation is likely.

wasn’t just any Saudi cleric. As I explained last year, he was a transnational representative of Shiite populism against Saudi oppression. But where the cleric was a powerful political activist in life, his execution makes him a martyr: a divine embodiment of Shiite theology and politics. To Shiite observers, Nimr al-Nimr’s execution echoes that of the ultimate Shiite martyr, Husayn ibn-Ali, at the seventh-century Battle of Karbala.

But Iran isn’t alone in threatening retaliation. Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki — who is engaged in a never-ending power struggle in Baghdad — warned that the execution would bring down the Saudi royal family. This political reaction reflects the deep scale of Shiite populist anger and illuminates the risk of unrestrained escalation. Other actors, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, are reacting with fury as well.

Yet we must remember that this execution wasn’t ordered just because the Saudis hated a cleric. Instead, the execution was motivated by Saudi Arabia’s regional political agenda. More specifically, as I explained last month, recent Saudi actions prove the government’s exceptional concern about two active developments: Iranian expansionism and America’s relative retreat from the Middle East.

In recent months, the Saudis have witnessed both President Obama’s acquiescence to Iran’s nuclear-deal non-compliance and his decision to yield to Russia and allow Assad to remain in power. This perceived betrayal of U.S. commitments to Saudi Arabia has meant the collapse of U.S. influence with reliable partners such as the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.

In short, by subordinating Saudi Arabia’s concerns to his legacy project with Iran, President Obama has eviscerated America’s tempering influence against Saudi sectarian paranoia. And by executing Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia has deliberately attacked the Iranian revolutionaries in a highly emotive way. The Saudis know the Iranians will retaliate, but they’re so concerned about showing resolve to Iran that such concerns have been overwhelmed.

Khamenei’s threat to Saudi politicians deserves special scrutiny, because we cannot assume the danger is limited to Saudi Arabia. After all, in 2011, Iranian leadership ordered the assassination of Adel al-Jubeir, who was then the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., The person they hired to carry out the murder — actually a U.S. informant — warned that the attack would kill other innocent diners. Their operations officer responded: “f*** ’em.” That Iran faced no meaningful consequences for the 2011 bomb plot — an act of war on America — also fuels the threat.

The U.S. must take a number of urgent steps. First, it should warn Iran in multiple forums that any attack — whether direct or indirect — on U.S. interests will meet U.S. reprisals. Considering that Khamenei is desperate to retain the economic rewards of his nuclear-deal Ponzi scheme, there is an opportunity for deterrence to influence his behavior, at least in the short term. Second, as I asserted recently, the U.S. must pressure the Saudi government not to execute Nimr al-Nimr’s young nephew, who is also in Saudi prison awaiting execution. If the younger al-Nimr is executed, the escalatory dynamic may become uncontrollable as Iranian hard-liner passions boil over. Don’t believe me? Recall how the hard-liners’ theological zeal manifested itself during the Iran–Iraq War: in the use of children as mine-clearance devices.

Of course, some will welcome escalation here, assuming it means Iranian and Saudi extremists will kill each other off. But that’s a very dangerous delusion. Aside from the moral consequences of a regional war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (think Syria’s immense suffering plus refugees, multiplied by at least five), the first casualty of escalation would be political moderation. The rot in political Islam would catalyze, terrorists would find ever-multiplying recruiting swamps, and America would face ever-increasing danger. Regional anarchy would not be containable in our globalized world.

Obama-administration officials must urgently reassess their Middle East policy. Absent credible U.S. influence, a great crisis is brewing.

— Tom Rogan is a writer for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.

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Iran / Saudi Feud Begins to Boil

iran 1Iran Truth, Jan. 4, 2015:

Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties to Iran, saying Iran must act like “a normal country” instead of “a revolution.”  The remarks came after an Iranian mob, allegedly made up of protesters, attacked the Saudi embassy.  The attack was in reprisal forSaudi Arabia’s execution of a Shi’ite clericSheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as part of a wave of executions allegedly aimed at crippling terror organizations within the Kingdom.  The Sheikh had accused the Saudi government of mistreating Shi’ites, and called for the secession of the eastern part of the country.  Others among the 47 executed included alleged al Qaeda leaders.  Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s top religious leader, said that the executions were “a mercy to the prisoners” because it would keep them from further damaging their souls via evil acts.

Although Iran says that a top police official went to the mob attacking the Saudi embassy to disperse it, the suspicion that the mob was a proxy by Iran’s government is highly credible.  Iran still celebrates as a national holiday the Iranian Revolution’s mob overrunning of the American Embassy in 1979, when the hostages seized and held for more than a year were used by the new Islamic Republic of Iran in an attempt to extort the United States.  In that environment, even without official organization the citizens of Iran know that mob attacks on the diplomatic enemies of their government will be welcomed and praised as authentic examples of the spirit of the revolution.  Saudi Arabia’s comments about Iran needing to act like a normal nation instead of a revolution are meant in that context.

The feud between the two nations has both ancient roots and contemporary flash points.  Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Islamic world as a whole, because it contains the holy city of Mecca and most of the important scenes of the life of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic religion.  However, it sides with the Sunni view of the proper leadership of Islam, a civil war between factions of the Islamic world that began hundreds of years ago shortly after Mohammed’s death.  Sunnis followed a claim that the leadership of the Islamic world should fall to those with the greatest degree of education and investment in the religious ideology.  Shi’a Islam believed that only blood descendants of Muhammad ought to lead Islam.  This led to a series of murders and bloodshed among the generation immediately after Muhammad, capped by the Battle of Karbala in the 61st year of the Islamic calendar, or A.D. 680.  The Shi’ite faction lost and their leader, Hassan ibn Ali, was killed.  The Shi’ite holy festivals of Ashura and Arba’een commemorate this defeat, and are still today marked by huge pilgrimages with self-flagellation and self-cutting by the pilgrims.

In terms of the current flash points, Iran and Saudi Arabia are backing opposite sides in a regional conflict dominated by the wars in Syria and Yemen.  Iran has beendeveloping a series of Shi’a militias ideologically loyal to its particular vision of that faith as a means of exerting its influence to dominate a crescent of the Middle east from Yemen and Afghanistan to the Levant.  The Saudi government officially bans support to terrorist groups, but has been allowing its citizens to route money through Kuwait to radical Sunni groups including al Nura Front and the Islamic State (ISIS).  Saudi Arabia is also leading a coalition of regional nations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, a band of Shi’ite tribes bent on replacing the admittedly corrupt and inefficient government there.

Saudi Arabia has diplomatic allies who are backing its play.  Bahrain, which happens also to be the headquarters of the United States Fifth Fleet, has joined Saudi Arabia in suspending diplomatic relations with Iran.  The UAE has downgraded its relationship.  Sudan has also cut off Iran.

Although Iran is framing its immediate conflict with Saudi Arabia as over what it describes as politically-motivated executions, Iran has executed three times as many persons as Saudi Arabia in recent years.  Many of these, possibly thousands of them, are of political dissidents opposed to the existing regime.  By contrast, Saudi Arabia executed fewer than fifty in the end-of-year purge.

Outside of the realms of diplomacy and war, the conflict also has ramifications for the global price of oil.  However, rising oil prices may be offset by the entry of Iran’s oil reserves into the global markets pending the full implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

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Did the White House Use the NSA to Spy on Congress about the Iran Deal?

1636300814Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, Dec. 30, 2015:

According to a bombshell Wall Street Journal article by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, published online late Monday, the National Security Agency provided the White House with intercepted Israeli communications containing details of private discussions between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. lawmakers and American Jewish groups on the Iran nuclear deal. If true, this could be the biggest scandal of the Obama presidency.

The Journal article explains that President Obama decided to stop NSA collection against certain foreign leaders after the backlash against Edward Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA had eavesdropped on German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone and monitored communications of the heads of state of other close U.S. allies.

According to the Journal story, President Obama did not halt NSA spying against Netanyahu. This is not a surprise, given the president’s chilly relations with the Israeli leader and Israel’s aggressive spying against the United States. It’s also not a surprise that the Obama administration sought intelligence on Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine the nuclear deal. But it is stunning to learn that NSA sent the White House intelligence on private discussions with U.S. congressmen on a major policy dispute between the White House and Congress.

According to the Journal article, to avoid a paper trail that would show that they wanted the NSA to report on Netanyahu’s interactions with Congress, Obama officials decided to let the agency decide how much of this intelligence to provide and what to withhold. The article cited an unnamed U.S. official who explained, “We didn’t say, ‘Do it.’ We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’”

This suggests major misconduct by the NSA and the White House of a sort not seen since Watergate. First, intercepts of congressmen’s communications regarding a dispute between Congress and the White House should have been destroyed and never left the NSA building. The Journal article said a 2011 NSA directive requires direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress to be destroyed, but gives the NSA director the authority to waive this requirement if he determines the communications contain “significant foreign intelligence.”

Netanyahu’s discussions with members of Congress on a policy dispute between Congress and the president do not qualify as foreign intelligence. Destroying this kind of information should not have been a close call for NSA. Congress should immediately ask NSA director Michael Rogers and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to verify the Journal story and explain why intercepts of private discussions of members of Congress were provided to the White House. If this did happen, both officials should resign.

Second, the White House bears significant responsibility for this scandal. By encouraging and accepting this intelligence, the White House used the NSA as an illegitimate means to undermine its legislative opponents. This represented a major abuse of presidential power, since it employed the enormous capabilities of an American intelligence service against the U.S. Congress. It also probably violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles and the Fourth Amendment, since surveillance may have been conducted against U.S. citizens without a warrant.

The claim that Obama officials did not directly instruct the NSA to collect this information but simply accepted what the NSA sent them is preposterous. If the Journal article is accurate, Obama officials knew they were receiving intelligence on the private conversations of U.S. congressmen on a major policy dispute. These officials knew they were not supposed to have this intelligence but did not cut it off, because they wanted to use it to defeat efforts by Netanyahu and Congress to derail the Iran nuclear deal. This story is another indication of how desperate the Obama administration was to get a nuclear deal with Iran.

It is truly bizarre that Obama officials would be parties to such a gross misuse of U.S. intelligence after the controversy caused by NSA collection of phone records under the metadata program and so-called warrantless wiretaps by the Bush administration. These initiatives might have pushed the envelope of the law and intelligence charters, but they were carried out to defend the nation against terrorism and targeted terrorist suspects. By contrast, the Journal article discusses domestic intelligence activities that clearly are prohibited: targeting U.S. citizens over a policy dispute, and targeting the legislative branch of government.

Congress should be outraged over this story, especially in light of how narrow the votes were in September to disapprove the Iran deal. The Obama administration won these votes because it did a better job than the congressmen and American Jewish groups who opposed the Iran deal of persuading Democratic members to support it. The Journal story suggests that NSA collection against American opponents of the deal may have helped the Obama administration win this battle for Democratic support.

Congressional anger over the Journal story might force intelligence officials to resign. However, I believe there is no chance anyone in the Obama White House will be held accountable, since the Obama Justice Department will refuse to investigate and Obama officials probably will feign ignorance. Still, I hope the congressional intelligence committees will conduct full investigations.

The story will damage relations between the Obama White House and Congress, but since these relations are already so poor, it is hard to see how much farther they can sink. The Journal story could inflict serious damage on the reputation of the U.S. intelligence community, which has been struggling to defend itself against unfair and misleading attacks by privacy advocates, liberals, and libertarians, sparked by the Snowden leaks.

I am one of many conservatives who have fought over the last few years to defend U.S. intelligence agencies against these attacks, which have weakened U.S. intelligence programs and undermined the morale of intelligence personnel. But the Journal article describes a bona fide abuse of intelligence for which I can offer no defense.

If it is true that the NSA provided intercepts of the private discussions of congressmen with Netanyahu on the Iran deal, this will be a huge gift to the U.S. intelligence community’s critics, who will say this story confirms their claims about how American intelligence agencies routinely violate the law and the privacy rights of Americans. It also could cause the U.S. intelligence community to lose congressional support, and Congress to pass more legislation restricting important counterterrorist intelligence programs.

National-security-minded Americans should call on Congress to fully investigate this matter and hold the Obama administration and intelligence officials accountable to the greatest extent possible. But the best response to this outrage will be to make it a top issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. This fiasco represents a serious lack of leadership and ethics by the Obama administration that will never be fixed by the ethically challenged Hillary Clinton. It may be the best reason yet why we need a new president who will implement comprehensive government reform and hold himself and his administration to a much higher ethical standard.

Is it Iran’s Middle East Now?

405400143RUBIN CENTER,  NOVEMBER 7, 2015 BY JONATHAN SPYER:

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.

IRANIAN AMBITIONS IN THE ARAB WORLD

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.

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CONCLUSION

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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