Egypt seizes Bab el Mandeb ahead of Iran. Saudis bomb Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis. US launches air strikes over Tikrit

Yemen3_1DEBKAfile Special Report March 26, 2015:

In a surprise step, Egyptian marine naval and marine forces Thursday morning, March 26, seized control of the strategic Bab El-Mandeb Straits to foil Tehran’s plans to grab this important energy shipping gateway between the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, DEBKAfile’s military sources report from the Gulf. Egypt disguised the raid as a counter-piracy operation. It rounded off the Saudi-led air strikes launched the same morning against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. These operations signaled the start of a major Sunni Arab revolt against Iran’s approaching takeover of Yemen, through its Houthi proxy, and advances in other strategic positions in the Middle East, with Washington’s support.
Thursday morning too, the US launched the US launched its first air strikes against Islamic State positions in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, rallying to the aid of the Iranian-commanded Iraqi operation, which had failed to dislodge the jihadis in two weeks of fighting.

The separate operations in Yemen and Iraq attested to the widening breach between the Sunni Arab camp and the Obama administration and the former’s resolve to thwart US strategy for buying a nuclear deal with Tehran by empowering Iran to attain the rank of leading Middle East power.
DEBKAfile reported earlier Thursday morning:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are now leading war action in four Mid East arenas: Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon,while building Shiite “popular” armies deferring to Tehran in three: Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The formal announcements coming from Riyadh and Washington attempted to gloss over the open breach. The Saudis Wednesday indicated that their military buildup on the Yemeni was “purely defensive,” while Washington subsequently declared support for the Saudi-Gulf-Egyptian air strikes after they began.

According to our Washington sources, President Obama decided Wednesday to accede to the Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi’s request for air support to de-stall the Tikrit operation against ISIS. Iran’s Al Qods Brigades chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who commanded the operation from the start has departed the scene.

Nothing has been said to indicate whether the Iranian forces, including Revolutionary Guards officers, remain in the area. It appears that the Obama administration prefers as little as possible to be mentioned about US-Iranian battlefield coordination in Iraq versus the Islamists, especially since it was not exactly a big success. At the same time, US air strikes launched to support ground forces are bound to be coordinated with their commanders, who in this case happen to be mostly Iranian. In the last two weeks of the Tikrit operation, liaison between the US and Iranian military in Iraq was routed through the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister in Baghdad.

Early Thursday, Riyadh reported that the Saudi Royal Air Force had taken out Houthi air defenses, destroyed numerous Houthi fighter planes and were imposing a wide no-fly zone over Yemen.

Egypt is providing political and military support for Saudi-GCC operation against Houthi fighters in Yemen, the Egyptian state news agency said Thursday. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying this support could involve Egyptian air, naval and ground forces, if necessary.

DEBKAfile’s military sources add: The Saudis declared Yemeni air space a no-fly zone to achieve to goals: (1) To deny the Yemeni forces advancing on the key port city of Aden access to air cover which would undoubtedly have been forthcoming from mutinous elements of the Yemeni air force. Without it, the rebel advance would be severely hobbled, and, (2) to prevent Iranian warplanes from landing at Yemeni air bases with deliveries of military equipment and ammunition  their Houthi proxies.
Gulf sources disclose that Saudi Arabia has placed 100 warplanes and 150,000 troops with heavy weapons at the disposal of the operation against Iran’s Yemeni proxy, the Zaydi Houthis, as well as pressing into service Pakistani, Moroccan and Jordanian military units. This force is a sign that Riyadh intends of following up its air action with a ground invasion across the border into Yemen to crush the revolt in its backyard.

Developing…

Also see:

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Leftist think tank misunderstands reasons for Jihad against Christians

CAP-300x240Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod, Mar 17th, 2015:

Center for American Progress (CAP) Senior Fellow Brian Katulis described at a March 12 CAP panel persecution of Middle East Christians as a topic “near and dear to our hearts” at a CAP that is “strongly supportive of the values of pluralism.”  Yet CAP’s report on this issue presented by the panel revealed that the George Soros-funded CAP still has difficulty jumping over its leftist biases while grappling with Islam’s darker aspects that even CAP can no longer ignore.

“You can’t help but see this issue staring you in the face,” Katulis said of current persecution faced by Middle East Christians before an audience of over 60 filling CAP’s conference hall in Washington, DC.  He described current Middle East Christian tribulations as part of a “longer term trend in the region” of Christian exodus.  The Middle East Institute’s Paul Salem, a Christian from Lebanon, agreed that from the Ottoman Empire’s end until today the “overall trends are worrisome, are negative” for the region’s Christians.  These comments relativized his assessment that the “twentieth century was actually a great leap forward for Christians” after the fall of the Ottoman Empire with its repressive Islamic dhimmi regulations for Christians.  Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Professor Elizabeth Prodromou described a “century long process…of Christian decline.”

Prodromou explained that regional conditions for Christians “have declined so precipitously” even without actual violence from the Middle East’s Muslim majority.  “Separate and unequal” legal regimes discriminating against Christians in favor of Muslims have afflicted Middle Eastern Christians for over a century.  “Property rights regimes…have been used throughout the twentieth century to disenfranchise Christians.”  Laws required, for example, that religious schools have a minimum number of students, a stipulation increasingly prohibitive for declining Christian populations.

The Plight of Christians in the Middle East, which Katulis had coauthored, reflected panelist comments about pervasive Muslim hostility against Christians throughout Middle Eastern history.  CAP’s report noted the “particularly devastating year” of 1915 and its Ottoman genocides of numerous Christian communities including the Armenians.  CAP referred curiously vaguely to “those events” that “resulted in the death and forced migration of millions of Christians.”

Today “Christians have migrated from the region in increasing numbers,” read the report, as part of a “longer-term exodus related to violence, persecution, and lack of economic opportunities.”  “Islamist groups” such as the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS as well as “institutional discrimination found in the legal codes and official practices of many Middle Eastern countries” plagued together Christians.  Under blasphemy laws, for example, Christians and others “are often threatened with imprisonment for any perceived negative comments against Islam or proselytizing for other religions.”

Yet CAP determined strangely that “understanding these conflicts as primarily rooted in religious or theological disputes is incorrect.”  The report asserted that “most of what is happening to Christians in the Middle East is the result of wider regional trends related to struggles for power and the use of religion as a tool to build influence.”  Katulis in his panel comments spoke of a “misuse of religion.”  This “use of religion for political purposes is common in many countries in the Middle East,” the report stated, as if no actual religious fervor motivated regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran or groups like ISIS.

References to Islamic ideology nonetheless appeared in CAP’s report, even as it contradictorily denied Muslim motives for Middle Eastern power struggles.  The report mentioned “Shia-Sunni sectarian struggles” and how groups like ISIS “follow an ultra-orthodox” but somehow “skewed interpretation of Islam.”  The report’s solitary reference to Islamic law or sharia noted that “Christians were faced with stark options from ISIS:  pay a jizya tax or religious levy imposed in previous eras of Islamic rule, convert, or die.”

desecrationThe report made the small concession that the “status of Christians living in Israel is generally better than their counterparts in the occupied territories and conflict-ridden places such as Iraq.”  CAP ignored thereby that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country whose Christian population has grown in recent decades and that Israeli Christians outperform the country’s Jewish majority in education.  Nonetheless, in CAP’s relativizing judgment “Christians living in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and Israel share the concerns about equal citizenship under the law faced by Christians across the Middle East.”CAP noted that the Israeli-Palestinian “lands where Christianity was born have witnessed a substantial dwindling of the presence of the native Christian community over the past century.”  The report mentioned the “rise of Islamist extremists” under Hamas, but related Palestinian Christian suffering more “to the broader factors that affect all Palestinians” like “restrictions on movement” under “Israeli occupation.”  This analysis does not explain why only the Christian population of the Palestinian territories, and not the Muslim, isdeclining.

CAP contradicts here the Christian human rights organization Open Doors, previously praised by CAP panelist and religious freedom expert Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute.  Its 2015 World Watch List (WWL) names the Palestinian territories and all Middle Eastern countries except for Israel among the 50 most oppressive societies worldwide for Christians.  While Open Doors notes Israeli-Palestinian conflict effects upon Palestinian Christians, “Islamic extremism” is the driving force behind the Palestinian territories number 26 spot on the WWL.

The WWL also qualifies CAP’s positive assessment of Jordan as “one of the few safe havens for Christians fleeing conflict and repression in other parts of the region.”  Like Shea previously, CAP praises that the “Hashemite monarchy in Jordan has sent the message of tolerance and inclusivity” with “numerous conferences…promoting interfaith dialogue.”  “Islamic extremism,” the main source of Christian persecution in 40 of 50 WWL countries, however, brings Jordan into the number 30 spot.

CAP’s one-sided praise for Jordan combined with unwarranted criticism of Israel reflects the report’s inadequacies.  The report and insightful comments from Prodromou showed how Islamic animosity towards Christians appeared throughout various historical periods and political regimes.  CAP, however, largely avoided affiliating hostility against Christians with Islamic doctrine, leaving unexplained this phenomenon’s persistence.  CAP also did not investigate whether Islam presents similar hostilities towards Jews, something that would call into question the report’s invocation of a two-state solution for Palestine.  CAP seemed to shun any politically incorrect taint of “Islamophobia,” the subject of past CAP reports (see here and here).  While it is encouraging that even a leftist think tank like CAP has acknowledged rational concerns about Islam, successfully countering them will demand deeper probing of this faith than CAP has provided.

IRAN ASCENDANT

 RezaShrine

Philos Project, by Andrew Harrod, March 17, 2015:

Iran is now the rising power of the Middle East.

That’s what Hudson Institute scholar Michael Doran had to say on a February 20 panel commemorating a decade since the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. While Sunni atrocities at the hands of ISIS have captured the world’s attention, Doran and his fellow panelists argued that the Iranian-led Shiite alliance now expanding in the region is actually a far greater threat.

Doran’s colleague Lee Smith opened the panel by noting that Hariri’s Hezbollah “murderers still walk free” while the Obama administration cooperates with the Hezbollah’s patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He noted that Persian Iran currently dominates four Arab capitals in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Obama’s heavy focus on countering Sunni extremism “left the door open” to Iranian regional domination, Doran observed.

How is Iran making such tremendous gains? Doran described Iran’s “winning formula” of projecting its revolutionary power around the region through its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an organization that specializes in a mix of special operations, intelligence gathering, and aid distribution.  While the United States had difficulty channeling America’s “awesome power” during the 2006 Iraq war surge, the IRGC has successfully mounted similar operations all around the region. Doran pointed out that the Iranians “are just smarter than we are” in the Middle East, and are more willing “to kick you in the groin.” Meanwhile, Lebanese journalist Hussain Abdul Hussain recalled that the United States has “always been willing to bail” on allies, especially in his country.

What is the IRGC doing exactly? Foundation for the Defense of Democracies analyst Tony Badran explained that Iran’s export of revolution entails not so much the creation of a wider Islamic republic but the creation of a “militia movement…parallel to the state.”  This movement becomes an interlocutor with the outside world while also infiltrating existing state institutions. Take Hezbollah for example. Mythology notwithstanding, Hezbollah now effectively controls the Lebanese armed forces, once dominated by the country’s Christian population, and ensures that only an Iran-based policy will succeed in the country. The real power in Lebanon, Doran concurred, lies in militias like Hezbollah.

Badran explained how Iran wields Hezbollah, the “crown jewel” of the IRGC, as an “expeditionary force” around the region. Hussain elaborated that in this “Iranian era,” when states are collapsing everywhere, Syria’s dictator Bashir al-Assad has become an “Iranian viceroy” who is “totally dependent” upon Hezbollah.  Doran noted that the security sector in Iraq is now totally under the thumb of the Iranians, making that country’s elected officials almost irrelevant.

But Iran’s growing influence doesn’t stop at the borders of the Middle East. Doran also analyzed how Iranian influence prevented Obama from pursuing regime change in Syria despite consistent urgings from his National Security Council (NSC).  Overthrowing Assad could prompt Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq to turn from fighting ISIS to fighting the Americans.  Iran might also cancel its nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the United States. Thus, it is Iranian red lines, not American ones, that are dictating America’s activity (or non-activity) in Syria.

The view from Israel is a complex one. Badran noted that Israeli policymakers are divided over whether ISIS or the Iranian coalition is the greater threat in Syria.  Therefore, the Israelis have refrained from attempting to shift Syria’s internal power balance. But if the Israelis did ultimately move against Assad, Doran felt “almost certain” that they would find themselves at loggerheads with the Obama administration.

Doran saw “only one choice” of American policy towards Iran — opposition and not accommodation — but worried about finding regional allies who would prove up to the task.  Who would stand against Iran? ISIS?  Talking about confronting Iran, Badran said, means “you really are talking about Israel” since the Gulf States are still too weak and disorganized to be taken seriously.

All hope is not lost, however. Doran emphasized that Americans “are a great power,” even though “we may not feel like it.” At any rate, we’re a “hell of a lot stronger” than Iran. Hussain considered “far-fetched” the prospect of two million Alawites under Assad in Syria and one million Shiites in Lebanon, only one-third the population, controlling these two countries as minorities.  Hezbollah, Badran observed, is “very small” with only about 5,000 fighters, 1,000 of whom are now dead after fighting in Syria.

Hussain considered the 2006 Iraq surge a “brilliant model” that could be applicable to Lebanon and Syria.  Aided by the US, Sunni tribes in these countries, as well as Shiite tribes in Lebanon opposed to Hezbollah, could confront Iranian alliance together. In the meantime, Hussain found Obama’s NSC so incompetent that he advocated abolishing it.

The Hudson Institute panel demonstrated once again that the West has many foes and few friends in the Middle East.  While the  Sunni jihadists of ISIS transfix the world with decapitations, an even more powerful Iranian-led Shiite alliance endangers the delicate balance of the region.  Trying to counter both of these threats at the same time presents numerous dilemmas, and inexperienced outsiders must beware the Middle East’s shifting political sands.

Also see:

American Embassy in Saudi Arabia Closed Amid Rising ISIS Threat

March 14, 2015 / /

The US State Department (DoS) announced the cancellation of all consular services for Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns” that our sources in-country say has to do with an increased threat from the Islamic State (IS) to abduct western oil workers in the eastern part of the country. Specifically, an IS cell operating in the eastern part of the country has become increasingly active since last SEP 14. Much of this is the spillover we discussed in our previous article titled, “Iranian Regime Consolidates Yemeni Gains, Forming Houthi Intel Proxy.” As the IRGC-Qods Force and its proxies increase their OP-Tempo inside Saudi Arabia, so has IS. We are aware of specific threats targeting two oil workers, a French citizen and a US citizen. There’s also a separate VBIED threat targeting either the consulate in Dharhan or the embassy itself (we’re still working to identify the target location).

US shuts down Saudi embassy amid security fears
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31893070

US Embassy Warns Oil Workers of Saudi Arabia Kidnap Threat
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/us-embassy-warns-oil-workers-saudi-arabia-kidnap-29636051

US Embassy in Saudi Arabia halts operations amid ‘heightened security concerns
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/03/14/us-embassy-in-saudi-arabia-halts-operations-amid-heightened-security-concerns/?intcmp=latestnews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+feedburner%2FidRmZ+%28FOXNews.com%29

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning
http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/saudi-arabia-travel-warning.html

Iranian Regime Consolidates Yemeni Gains, Forming Houthi Intel Proxy
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5580

Shia Proxy Threat to US ISIS Strategy in Saudi Arabia
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1837

riyadh

Source: BBC

In our piece titled “The Islamic State’s Arabian Peninsula Campaign,” we discussed how IS was forced into conducting operations inside the Saudi kingdom due to increased targeting by Saudi security forces and the IRGC-Qods Force. We saw that in the early-JAN 15 attack on a Saudi border post along the Iraqi border that IS took responsibility for in a video put out by their Anbar, Iraq-based media outlet. The individuals responsible for the attack were part of the Abdullah bin Sayid al-Sarhan attack network. This same network was also responsible for the deaths of five Shia locals under suspicions of being proxies for the IRGC-Qods Force back in NOV 14. The network was also responsible for a separate attack on two US citizens and a Danish national. This is the same part of Eastern Saudi Arabia that the French and American national IS is planning to abduct are located.

The Islamic State’s Arabian Peninsula Campaign
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4558

ISIS Claims Attack On Saudi Arabia Border, Signals Strategy Change In Militant Infiltration
http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-claims-attack-saudi-arabia-border-signals-strategy-change-militant-infiltration-1773754

Masked gunmen kill five in Saudi Arabia
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/04/masked-gunmen-kill-five-saudi-arabia

saudiborder

IS fighters along the Saudi-Iraq border
Source: International Business Times

The Saudis have detained over 150 IS fighters, facilitators and financiers over the past year. IS has already established a presence along the Iraq-Saudi border despite the ongoing project to erect a wall along the border. That presence enables them to send fighters and weapons across the border to and from the country at will, although Saudi military patrols have increased in recent months to interdict these smuggling operations. There are also elements of AQAP that have defected to the new IS-affiliate in Yemen, which suggests that the areas along the Southern border may be in play as well. Also keep in mind that Baghdadi specifically threatened Saudi Arabia in a NOV 14 video on “the next battlegrounds.” The current IS effort in Yemen, like their Iranian counterparts, appears to be connected to their operations in Saudi Arabia. We expect the threat to our fellow Americans and our country’s interests will continue to be threatened as the violence escalates on the Arabian Peninsula from IS, AQAP and the Iranian regime. We will continue to monitor develops in the country and update accordingly…

Saudi Arabia arrests first ISIS-related terror cell (this article has pics in it)
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/05/article55332025

Islamic State sets sights on Saudi Arabia
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30061109

ISIS gaining ground in Yemen, competing with al Qaeda
http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/politics/isis-gaining-ground-in-yemen/

Links to Other Related Articles:

Filipinos Among Arrested in Saudi Terror Sweep

Large-Scale Saudi Security Sweep Detains 88

Possible Cracks to The AQ Armor.

How Arab Spring Opened the Door to Terrorism’s Ugly March

ISIS Al-Qaeda Militants Fighting Syrian Civil WarDaily Signal, Sharyl Attkisson,  March 12, 2015:

It’s not your imagination. Global terrorism, dominated by Muslim extremist groups, is by far the worst it’s been in modern times.

In the past six years, the United States has added 21 names to its list of foreign terrorist organizations: all but one of them radical Muslim groups. That’s more than the previous 10 years combined.

At the same time, the number of terrorist acts has shattered previous records. Experts predict data for 2014, which is still being compiled, will likely reflect more than 15,000 terrorist attacks: a vast increase over 2013—which was already the deadliest year for global terrorism since data was first collected in 1970.

The Institute for Economics and Peace reported 10,000 terrorist incidents killed 18,000 people in 2013. Nine countries were added to the list of nations where more than 50 lives were lost to terrorist attacks in a single year.

Hundreds of people in the Turkish village of Suruc, near the border town of Kobane in northern Syria, accompany the coffins of three Kurdish fighters who died while battling ISIS militants. (Photo: Barbaros Kayan/Newscom)

Arab Spring Devolves Into Terrorist Winter

Eleven terrorist groups have been added to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations since the Arab Spring.

“Arab Spring” is the popular name given to the democratic wave of civil unrest in the Arab world that began in December 2010 and lasted through mid-2012.

It turns out the revolutionary movement created an ideal environment for terrorism to grow and thrive.

“Terrorists realized they could exploit the confusion and vacuum in power created by the uprisings,” says a U.S. intelligence officer stationed in Libya during the Arab Spring movement. He says terrorists used social media to stoke civil unrest and take advantage of the chaos.

In the Arab Spring’s wake, Egypt and Tunisia disbanded the security structures that had helped keep jihadists in check, and freed many Islamist and jihadist political prisoners. In Libya, parts of the country fell entirely outside government control, providing openings for violent terrorist movements.

“Many of the regimes weakened or deposed by the Arab Spring were among Washington’s most effective counterterrorism partners,” noted Juan Zarate in an analysis written in June 2011.

A senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Zarate said the political upheaval created “new space” for al-Qaeda and associated terrorist movements to operate where none existed before.

Graphic: Kelsey Harris

Predictions Fulfilled

The idea that revolutionary uprisings might open the door to terrorists was well-recognized by analysts such as Zarate at the time.

“The chaos and disappointment that follow revolutions will inevitably provide many opportunities for al-Qaeda to spread its influence,” Zarate predicted in an April 17, 2011, analysis. “Al-Qaeda’s leaders … know that this is a strategic moment. They are banking on the disillusionment that inevitably follows revolutions to reassert their prominence in the region.”

Two years later, on Aug. 5, 2013, Zarate warned, “we are now at risk of failing to imagine how the terrorist threat may be changing—well beyond the exclusive al-Qaeda prism.”

Al-Qaeda-Linked Groups: “The Most Lethal”

In the first nine months of 2014, nearly 13,000 terrorist attacks killed more than 31,000 people, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.44.03 PM

Far from fading away, al-Qaeda’s legacy has only grown, says START Executive Director William Braniff.

“It is clear that groups generally associated with al-Qaeda remain the most lethal groups in the world, and it is their violence that has driven global increases in activity and lethality,” Braniff reported in congressional testimony Feb. 13.

About half of the terrorist attacks and fatalities occurred in just three countries: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda spinoff ISIS was responsible for more terrorist activity than any other single group.

150310_Terrorists_Sharyl-v2

Today’s Landscape

ISIS has declared itself a “Caliphate,” which refers to an Islamic form of government led by an authoritative power considered a successor to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Braniff says ISIS sees the growth of its Caliphate as “the means to the end of a final, decisive military confrontation with the West.”

“In countries where terrorism crowds out nonviolent activism, civilians often have little choice but to align with extremist organizations out of concerns for self-preservation,” Braniff says. “This is one mechanism in which extremist ideologies and groups can gain sway over larger swathes of society.”

Zarate, author of “Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare,” says ISIS is “piggy-backing” off the work of al-Qaeda and beginning to advance the global agenda of Sharia rule.

Sharia calls for harsh punishments, such as stoning, amputation or execution, for offenses such as wine drinking and infidelity.

Most Muslim countries do not strictly employ these classic punishments, but the United Nations estimates thousands of women are killed each year in Sharia-justified “honor killings”: victims murdered for bringing “dishonor” to one’s family. ISIS has become known for employing other Sharia measures such as genital cutting, child marriage, stoning and execution by crucifixion.

ISIS fighters holding the Al-Qaeda flag with "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" written on it. (Photo: Medyan Dairieh/Newscom)

“I worry about what the strategic implications are if groups like ISIS have physical space, leadership and innovation to bring their wild imaginings to fruition,” says Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.

“Anytime we allow terrorist organizations with smart, committed and dedicated groups of individuals to adapt and think strategically about how to pursue their agenda to include attacking the U.S.—that’s a dangerous position to be in.”

Sharyl Attkisson, an Emmy award-winning investigative journalist, is a senior independent contributor to The Daily Signal. She is the author of “Stonewalled.” Send an email to Sharyl. – 

Obama Appoints Special Envoy For Middle East; Robert Malley Worked For Organization With Two Trustees Part Of Global Muslim Brotherhood

icg1By on March 10, 2015:

US media is reporting that President Obama has appointed former International Crisis Group executive as his new special assistant for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region. According to one report:

March 8, 2015 The White House has appointed Robert Malley as a new special assistant to President Barack Obama for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region.

Malley, who now works as Senior Director of National Security Council of the White House (NSC) on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf countries, will start his work in the new position on April 6, succeeding the retiring Philip Gordon, RIA Novosti reports.

In a statement, Susan Rice said Gordon ‘is leaving the White House to spend more time with his family and to carry out other professional endeavors. A a better replacement for Phil than Rob just cannot be found, he is one of the most respected experts in our country, who from February 2014 played a key role in shaping our policy on Iran, Iraq and the Gulf countries.’

Malley worked for Obama in his first run for president as a foreign policy advisor. He was later fired or meeting with the Palestinian group Hamas, which the U.S. State Department classifies as a terrorist organization. ‘He was one of literally hundreds of informal, outside advisors,’ Obama spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News.

Malley has been a criticized in the past as insufficiently supportive of Israel. In October 1998, he was appointed Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, a post he held until the end of the administration in 2001. He participated in the failed 2000 Camp David accords and said that Yasser Arafat was not the only one to blame for those talks breaking down, ABC noted.

In February 2014, the GMBDW reported that President Obama had selected Robert Malley as the senior director at the National Security Council responsible for devising US policy in the Middle East. As that report noted, Mr. Malley was formerly the program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group (ICG). As we also noted at that time and will repeat here, there are additional serious questions about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas within the ICG, founded in 1995 as “an international non-governmental organization on the initiative of a group of well known transatlantic figures who despaired at the international community’s failure to anticipate and respond effectively to the tragedies in the early 1990s of Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia. Notable members of the board have included former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, financier George Soros, former Nato commander Wesley Clark, and former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. In 2008 we reported that the International Crisis Group (ICG) had issued a report recommending that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood be integrated in Egyptian political life and that Brotherhood posted a statement on its website saying that the group agrees with the recommendations.

The GMBDW has also reported since 2007 on the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Hamas background of two of the ICG Trustees which may help to explain the ICG position on the Brotherhood. Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar is a current member of the ICG board. In 2003, Khanfar became head of the Al Jazeera Baghdad bureau and shortly thereafter became the station General Manager, serving until his resignation in 2011. A report in the Nation Magazine attributes the support by the Al Jazeera television station for Islamic movements to Khanfar’s influence. According to the Nation report, Al Jazeera coverage changed dramatically to a far more “populist/Islamist approach.” when Khanfar took over in March 2003. This change should not have been surprising given Khanfar’s background in the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. According to a report in a Mideast business publication, Wadah Khanfar was born and educated in Jordan where, consistent with a Muslim Brotherhood background, he was educated as an engineer and where he reportedly was arrested as part of the Brotherhood there. The same report indicates that he also was a student activist, organizing a student union, an activity also consistent with a Muslim Brotherhood background. In a TV interview, Khanfar stated that started his career as a journalist as an analyst on African affairs, mainly on Al Jazeera, while living in South Africa where he was doing graduate study in international politics and African studies at the time. He also described himself in the interview as “a researcher and consultant in Middle Eastern economics and political affairs.”

Read more

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Nearly Six Years After Obama’s Cairo Speech, Middle East in Total Disarray

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Breitbart, by FRED GEDRICH, March 2, 2015:

The Arab world is rife with political turmoil and violence. The Sunni Muslim Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other jihadi terrorists are continuing their savagery within its boundaries, and Iran’s theocratic terrorist rulers are still exporting and/or solidifying their brand of the Shiite Muslim Islamic Revolution to Arab countries and territories. And the Obama administration appears unable or unwilling to effectively deal with each emerging crisis there.

The competing goals of Sunni and Shiite jihadists are to dominate the Arab world, and their forces and surrogates are engaged in nasty fights for supremacy throughout the region. The area they seek to control generally spans 21 Middle East and North Africa countries as well as territories under Palestinian control in Gaza and the West Bank. Its riches include 364 million people, the world’s largest known oil and gas reserves which fuel developed world economies, and strategic waterways where the petroleum-based commerce flows. About 92 percent of the Arab World population is Muslim (336 million), of which 87 percent are Sunni Muslim and 13 percent Shiite Muslim.

In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo, Egypt and promised the Arab and greater Muslim world a ‘new beginning’ in relations with the United States.  However, hopefulness turned into hopelessness for tens of millions of Arab world residents after the speech and Arab Spring which followed. Consider the current state of affairs:

  • Freedom House –a non-profit global freedom watchdog – ranked Middle East and North Africa countries (e.g., most of the Arab world) in 2015 as the world’s most freedom-less area with only Tunisia granting citizens political rights and civil liberties to qualify as a free nation.
  • Freedom House also reported that not one Arab country or territory provided the necessary legal environment, political influences, and economic conditions to guarantee a truly free press.
  • The U.S. State Department reports that 29 of 59 groups on its Foreign Terrorist Organization List have gestated and operate in Arab countries and territories, all of which endanger local residents, Israel, and U.S. citizens and security interests. Twelve FTO’s were added during Obama’s presidency.
  • The U.S. State Department reports that three of four designated state sponsors of terror – Iran, Syria, and Sudan – apply their deadly trade in Arab countries. One of them, Iran, has an illegal nuclear weapons development program.
  • Four Arab states and one territory – Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Gaza– are heavily dependent on Iran’s terrorist leaders for their governments’ survival.
  • Five Arab countries – Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – are either failed states or don’t exercise sovereignty over their boundaries.
  • The average annual income of Arab world residents is $9,700, which is 26 percent below the global average of $13,100, with a wide income disparity between rich nations like Qatar and poor nations like Somalia.

The persons most responsible for perpetuating these conditions are an assortment of Islamic terror groups and extremists and authoritarian leaders. However, the Middle East and North African landscape is littered with the remnants of dubious Obama administration decisions that contributed to them ranging from the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; the Syrian ‘redline;’ the Libyan military misadventure; calling ISIS a junior al-Qaeda varsity team; unwillingness to admit jihadi terrorists are part of Islam; refusal to support Iran’s peaceful Green Revolutionaries, and thinking Iran’s terrorist state can be part of any peaceful Arab world solution.

Muslims consider the dominion of Islam as the central pillar of their global-domination political program. Sunnis and Shiites disagree sharply on which of them, and who, should lead. They agree that the prime basis of governance and administration of justice should be Islamic (Shariah) law as enunciated in the Koran and traditions of Muhammad, and further elaborated by classical Muslim legists.

The global Muslim population contains Islamists and jihadists.  An Islamist is any Muslim who wants to impose and enforce Shariah – whether by violent or nonviolent means. A jihadist is an Islamic terrorist.

Shariah law totally subordinates women and mandates many other human rights violations, such as relegating non-Muslim minorities to a much lower legal status than Muslims and dispensing cruel and unusual punishment. It also rejects freedom of speech and conscience and mandates aggressive jihad until the world is brought under Islamic hegemony.

In forging a path to some kind of durable regional peace, it is not only important to understand the aforementioned Arab world problems and radical Islamic-driven terrorism but to effectively do something about them. Egypt’s Muslim President, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, showed the way by removing the repressive Muslim Brothers from power during a popular revolution, publicly meeting with non-Muslims being persecuted by the various jihadists, and calling on clerics to reform Islam by eliminating rhetoric that fosters violence.

The Arab world is the epicenter of a global jihadist threat, and it is time for the U.S. and its allies, regional and otherwise, to also act diplomatically, economically, and militarily if necessary against all of those jihadist forces – including ISIS and Iran – operating there who are using violence and Shariah to acquire and retain power.  However, seeking to degrade and defeat the Sunni Muslim jihadist brand while leaving the Shiite Muslim jihadist brand intact, as the U.S. is currently doing, will only perpetuate problems for those Arabs and others who genuinely seek a better life and to live in freedom.

The time for decisive and effective action is now. Regional and world peace depends on it.

Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst and served in the U.S. departments of Defense and State.

World View: Reports Indicate Egypt, Italy, Russia Planning Military Action in Libya

Reuters

Reuters

Breitbart, by JOHN J. XENAKIS, March 1, 2015:

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Reports indicate Egypt, Italy, Russia planning military action in Libya
  • Egypt court declares Hamas to be a terrorist organization
  • Egypt and Turkey may try to create a ‘Sunni front’ with Saudi Arabia

Reports indicate Egypt, Italy, Russia planning military action in Libya

Russian warships in the Mediterranean (Russia Today)
Russian warships in the Mediterranean (Russia Today)

Various unconfirmed reports are emerging indicating that there may be joint international action planned in Libya as early as next week.

Egypt is already conducting air strikes against ISIS-linked targets in Derna, close to where Egyptian Coptics were massacred recently, as displayed in a gruesome video. Debka reports that Egypt’s president Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi is planning further action in Libya, including more air strikes and possible ground troops, within a few days. According to the report, Egyptian commando and marine forces are preparing for sea landings to seize Derna and destroy the terrorist elements there. If this attack is actually launched, it will be the first time in modern times that an Arab country has sent ground forces into another Arab country.

Al-Jazeera television reports that the Italian navy is getting ready to carry off sophisticated military drills off the coast of Libya as early as Monday. Although Italy claims that it will be a regular exercise, there are many more vessels taking part in this year’s exercise than have in the past, which Italy explains by saying that they are testing out sophisticated new technologies.

There are several reasons why Italy is pursuing this show of force:

  • Italy considers the flood of migrants from Libya into Italy to be an existential threat to Italy itself, because there may be ISIS-trained terrorists smuggled in, along with the other migrants. Italy may be planning some kind of military action in Libya in conjunction with Egypt’s air strikes and other operations.
  • The GreenStream pipeline is a gas pipeline running underneath the Mediterranan Sea from Libya to Sicily. The pipeline is vital to economic relations between Italy and Libya. In recent months, there have been attacks by gunmen on oil installations in Libya, forcing some ports to shut down. The new show of naval force may be related to threats of attack or sabotage on the pipeline.
  • For over a year, Italy ran a search and rescue program called “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”) that saved the lives of thousands of migrants attempting to travel from Libya to Italy. This program required Italian naval vessels near the Libyan coast. In November, the program ended and an EU program called Triton replaced it, but Triton restricts its operations to only 30 miles off the Italian coast. Triton has been considered unsatisfactory because many more migrants are drowning. Italy’s new show of naval force may be an attempt to restore a portion of the Mare Nostrum program.
  • Related to the last point, on Saturday there were large demonstrations in Rome by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party for the government to do more to keep immigrants out. The naval show of force may help to mollify the protestors.

Some reports indicate that Russia has hinted at a willingness to participate in a naval blockade of Libya to prevent arm supplies from leaving Libya for other countries. Russia could play a role in this because it already has a naval fleet in the Mediterranean.

These are all unconfirmed reports of possible military action in Libya by Egypt, Italy and Russia. There are no reports of possible participation by Nato or the United States. Debkaand Cairo Post

Egypt court declares Hamas to be a terrorist organization

Egypt on Saturday became the first Arab country to name Hamas as a terrorist organization. The U.S. and the European Union have named Hamas as a terror group. An EU court took Hamas off the list in December 2014, ruling that the designation was not based on solid legal evidence, but the EU is appealing the court’s decision.

According to a decision on Saturday from the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters:

It has been proven without any doubt that the movement has committed acts of sabotage, assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians and members of the armed forces and police in Egypt.

It has been also ascertained with documents that [Hamas] has carried out bombings that have taken lives and destroyed institutions and targeted civilians and the armed forces personnel. It has also been ascertained that this movement works for the interests of the terrorist Brotherhood organization [which Egypt has already declared to be a terrorist organization].

About a month ago, the same court declared Hamas’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, to be a terrorist organization. Saturday’s ruling makes the political wing a terrorist organization as well.

A Hamas spokesman denied all the charges and said that the ruling was “dangerous”:

History has recorded Egypt’s support to national liberty movements in the Arab world and Africa, particularly in Palestine. … This ruling serves the Israeli occupation. It’s a politicized decision that constitutes the beginning of Egypt evading its role toward the Palestinian cause. This is a coup against history and an Egyptian abuse of the Palestinian cause and resistance, which fights on behalf of the Arab nation. We call on Egypt to reconsider this dangerous decision.

Al Jazeera and Al Ahram (Cairo) and CS Monitor and Al Resalah (Palestine)

Egypt and Turkey may try to create a ‘Sunni front’ with Saudi Arabia

By coincidence or by planning, the presidents of both Egypt and Turkey will be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this week. Egypt’s Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will both be visiting King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the new king of Saudi Arabia, who has replaced King Abdullah, who died last month.

It is not known whether Erdogan will ever be in the same room as al-Sisi. The two have been bitter enemies ever since a coup by al-Sisi ousted Egypt’s elected president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, and later declared MB to be a terrorist organization. Erdogan’s own political party, the AKP, is an Islamist party like the Muslim Brotherhood, and they had good relations while Morsi was in power.

There has been some speculation that King Salman is going to completely reverse King Abdullah’s policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) had branded MB as a terrorist organization, but some are wondering if Salman is going to shift from that policy. The Saudi foreign minister recently said that his government has “no problem with the Muslim Brotherhood; our problem is with a small group affiliated to the organization,” suggesting that shift is in the works.

Other problems make an Egypt-Turkey rapprochement unlikely: Erdogan vitriolicly hates Israel and supports Hamas. Al-Sisi vitriolicly hates Hamas and works closely with Israel on military matters, especially in North Sinai. It does n0t seem likely that any meeting, if one even occurs, will be pleasant.

If King Salman is able to pull off a miracle and mediate a new relationship between Egypt and Turkey, then it would appear to be the establishment of a new “Sunni front” in the Mideast, to oppose Iran, Hezbollah and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Al Arabiya and Kurdistan and Arab Times

Syria’s Civil War Could Stabilize Its Region

by Daniel Pipes
The Washington Times
February 26, 2015

Population shifts resulting from Syria’s four-year long civil war have profoundly changed Syria and its three Arabic-speaking neighbors: Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Turkey and Israel have changed too, but less so.) Ironically, amid tragedy and horror, as populations adapt to the brutal imperatives of modern nationalism, all four countries are becoming a bit more stable. That’s because the fighting has pushed peoples to move from ethnic minority status to ethnic majority status, encouraging like to live with like.

Before looking at each country, some background:

First, along with the Balkans, the Middle East contains the most complex and unsettled ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national mix in the world. It’s a place where cross-border alliances deeply complicate local politics. If the Balkans set off World War I, the Middle East might well spark World War III.

Second, historic tensions between the two main Muslim sects, Sunni and Shi’i, had largely subsided before Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in 1979. Driven by Tehran’s aggression, they have since flared anew.

 

The brutal 8-year war, 1980-88 between Iran and Iraq did much to exacerbate Sunni-Shi’i hostility.

Third, the imperialist European powers nearly ignored the identity of the peoples living in the Middle East as they defined most of the region’s borders. Instead, they focused on rivers, ports, and other resources that served their economic interests. Today’s jumble of somewhat randomly-defined countries (e.g., Jordan) is the result.

Finally, Kurds were the major losers a century ago; lacking intellectuals to make their case, they found themselves divided among four different states and persecuted in them all. Today, they are organized for independence.

Returning to Syria and its Arab neighbors (and drawing on Pinhas Inbari’s “Demographic Upheaval: How the Syrian War is Reshaping the Region“):

Syria and Iraq have undergone strikingly similar developments. After the demise of monstrous dictators in 2000 and 2003, each has broken into the same three ethnic units – Shi’i Arab, Sunni Arab, and Kurd. Tehran dominates both Shi’i-oriented regimes, while several Sunni-majority states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar) back the Sunni rebels. The Kurds have withdrawn from the Arab civil wars to build their own autonomous areas. Once-ambitious dictatorships barely sustain functioning foreign policies. Also, the century-old boundary separating Syria and Iraq has largely vanished.

Syria: The part of Syria still ruled by Bashar al-Assad is becoming more Shi’i. An estimated half of the pre-war Syrian population of 22 million has been driven from its homes; of them, the 3 million refugees, mostly Sunni, who fled the country are unlikely to return both because of the continuing civil war and the Assad regime’s revocation of their citizenship. The regime appears also to have intentionally reduced its control over the area near the border with Jordan to encourage Sunnis to flee Syria. In another ploy to increase the Shi’i population, reports indicate it has welcomed and re-settled about 500,000 Iraqi Shi’is, conferring Syrian citizenship on some.

 

Bashar al-Assad must have been a better ophthalmologist than dictator.

Iraq: The Syrian civil war provided the Islamic State (or ISIS/ISIL) with an opportunity to move into Iraq, seizing such cities as Fallujah and Mosul, leading to an exodus of non-Sunnis (especially Shi’is and Yazidis), and remaking Iraq along ethnic lines. Given the country’s intermingled population, especially in the Baghdad area, it will be years – perhaps decades – before the sides sort themselves out. But the process appears inexorable.

Lebanon: Sunnis are growing more powerful, beating back the Iranian influence. The million new Sunni refugees from Syria now constitute 20 percent of the country’s population, roughly doubling the Sunni community. Also, Hizbullah, the dominant Shi’i organization in Lebanon, is neglecting its own constituency and losing influence domestically by fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria.

 

Hizbullah militiamen in Syria reduces the group’s influence in its home country, Lebanon.

Jordan: The recent influx of Syrian refugees follows an earlier wave of approximately one million Iraqi refugees. Together, the two groups have lowered the percentage of Palestinians in Jordan to the point that the latter probably no longer constitute a majority of the country’s population, a shift with major political implications. For one, it reduces the potential Palestinian threat to the Hashemite monarchy; for another, it undermines the Jordan-is-Palestine argument championed by some Israelis.

In brief, Iraq and Syria are devolving into their constituent religious and ethnic parts, Lebanon is becoming more Sunni, and Jordan less Palestinian. However gruesome the human cost of the Syrian civil war, its long-term impact potentially renders the Middle East a less combustible place, one less likely to trigger World War III.

Our Dangerous Historical Moment

Photo via NRO

Photo via NRO

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online, Feb. 19, 2015:

World War II was the most destructive war in history. What caused it?

The panic from the ongoing and worldwide Depression in the 1930s had empowered extremist movements the world over. Like-minded, violent dictators of otherwise quite different Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, and the Communist Soviet Union all wanted to attack their neighbors.

Yet World War II could have been prevented had Western Europe united to deter Germany. Instead, France, Britain, and the smaller European democracies appeased Hitler.

The United States turned isolationist. The Soviet Union collaborated with the Third Reich. And Italy and Japan eventually joined it.

The 1930s saw rampant anti-Semitism. Jews were blamed in fascist countries for the economic downturn. They were scapegoated in democracies for stirring up the fascists. The only safe havens for Jews from Europe were Jewish-settled Palestine and the United States.

Does all this sound depressingly familiar?

The aftershocks of the global financial meltdown of 2008 still paralyze the European Union while prompting all sorts of popular extremist movements and opportunistic terrorists.

After the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, America has turned inward. The Depression and the lingering unhappiness over World War I did the same to Americans in the 1930s.

Premodern monsters are on the move. The Islamic State is carving up Syria and Iraq to fashion a fascist caliphate.

Vladimir Putin gobbles up his neighbors in Ossetia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine, in crude imitation of the way Germany once swallowed Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

Theocratic Iran is turning Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon into a new Iranian version of Japan’s old Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The Western response to all this? Likewise, similar to the 1930s.

The NATO allies are terrified that Putin will next attack the NATO-member Baltic states — and that their own paralysis will mean the embarrassing end of the once-noble alliance.

The United States has now fled from four Middle Eastern countries. It forfeited its post-surge victory in Iraq. It was chased out of Libya after the killings of Americans in Benghazi. American red lines quickly turned pink in Syria. U.S. Marines just laid down their weapons and flew out of the closed American embassy in Yemen.

America has convinced its European partners to drop tough sanctions against Iran. In the manner of the Allies in 1938 at Munich, they prefer instead to charm Iran, in hopes it will stop making a nuclear bomb.

The Islamic State has used almost a year of unchallenged aggression to remake the map of the Middle East. President Obama had variously dismissed it as a jayvee team or merely akin to the problems that big-city mayors face.

Europeans pay out millions to ransom their citizens from radical Islamic hostage-beheaders. Americans handed over terrorist kingpins to get back a likely Army deserter.

Then we come to the return of the Jewish question. Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust, Jews are once again leaving France. They have learned that weak governments either will not or cannot protect them from Islamic terrorists.

In France, radical Islamists recently targeted a kosher market. In Denmark, they went after a synagogue. In South Africa, students demanded the expulsion of Jewish students from a university. A Jewish prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina was found mysteriously murdered.

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being blamed for stoking Middle Eastern tensions. Who cares that he resides over the region’s only true democracy, one that is stable and protects human rights? Obama-administration aides have called him a coward and worse. President Obama has dismissed the radical Islamists’ targeting of Jews in France merely as “randomly shoot[ing] a bunch of folks in a deli.”

Putin, the Islamic State, and Iran at first glance have as little in common as did Germany, Italy, and Japan. But like the old Axis, they are all authoritarians that share a desire to attack their neighbors. And they all hate the West.

The grandchildren of those who appeased the dictators of the 1930s once again prefer in the short term to turn a blind eye to the current fascists. And the grandchildren of the survivors of the Holocaust once again get blamed.

The 1930s should have taught us that aggressive autocrats do not have to like each other to share hatred of the West.

The 1930s should have demonstrated to us that old-time American isolationism and the same old European appeasement will not prevent but only guarantee a war.

And the 1930s should have reminded us that Jews are usually among the first — but not the last — to be targeted by terrorists, thugs, and autocrats.

Also see:

Has Iran Achieved Strategic Checkmate?

iran 2American Thinker, By James M. Waurishuk, Feb. 4, 2015:

The Iranian government may have already secured its greatest geopolitical leverage, achieving a strategic and economic chokehold on a sizable portion of the Middle East, to include Israel and Saudi Arabia at the same time.

I was thinking about this last week as President Obama’s was paying his respects following the death of King Abdullah and to the new Saudi Arabian king, Salman – it could not have come at a more crucial ime. Developments over the past several weeks have been momentous for Middle Eastern stability, which has been increasingly eroding since Obama’s policies (or lack thereof) have been in play over the past six years.

Recent developments threaten to spread instability to the region, and indeed the world. But the media coverage of the demise of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Iran’s further inroads and influence in Lebanon, and the concurrent collapse of the Yemeni government are hardly the most compelling stories, important and unsettling as they are. A less obvious and even more threatening development may have already taken place that can further destabilize the situation for years to come.

Western countries, tacitly led by the Obama administration, have been distracted by trying to justify to the Sunni Arab states their rationale for continuing negotiations with Iran with the goal to manage, perhaps even contain, Iran’s nuclear persistent attempts to acquire a nuclear WMD capability.

Long-standing U.S. allies in the Arab world remain skeptical and unwilling to sign on to Obama’s Iranian overtures. Further, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so intent on challenging current U.S. policy that he is willing to risk a complete severance of his relationship with President Obama, regardless of Obama’s distain for him, by encouraging the U.S. Congress to push for additional and stricter sanctions against Iran.

But it may already be too late. Iran may have already secured its greatest leverage, achieving a strategic and economic chokehold on both Saudi Arabia and Israel at the same time. It may never need a nuclear weapon to threaten its regional enemies and force their acceptance of its growing influence and regional strategies.

Thanks to events over the past weeks, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran and supplied and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have seized the Red Sea port of Hodeida, a mere 18 miles across the strait from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. For the first time, Iran now has the ability to control the Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and the Suez Canal to the north. Iran now is as close as it has ever been to controlling the strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Through it, over three million barrels of oil pass daily.

The straits in the Middle East are more than just geographical features. They are nothing less than critical lifelines for the region’s countries. The blocking of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt triggered the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Iran has in the past threatened to block the Straits of Hormuz if it was attacked by the West. Control of the southern entrance to the Red Sea by Iran’s allies makes the threat of an effective use of sanctions against Iran less likely. Iran is now poised to push back the West regarding nuclear negotiations.

The Obama administration’s strategy of essentially accommodating Iran’s nuclear ambitions through a policy of extensions and appeasement has at the same time ignored Tehran’s overall objective of asserting itself as the regional superpower. Failure to deal with the threat of an Iranian takeover of Yemen has now contributed to vastly increasing the cards that the Iranian regime can play. Further complacency will make it even more difficult to tackle this ever-increasing threat to regional and global stability.

James M. Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel served for nearly 30-years career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer — with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare.  He is the former Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central command, MacDill AFB, a former White House National Security Council staffer, and former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, DC. He lives in Tampa Bay, FL.

Replacement Theory: The Administration’s Crazy New Middle East Illusion

Phone-bench-975x320

The Obama administration’s latest approach to the Middle East may be its most dangerous yet, choosing terror-sponsor Iran over longtime Arab allies. And that’s on top of the president’s seeming desperation to strike a nuclear deal at any cost. What is going on?

By David Daoud:

The United States has entered a difficult period in its relations with its traditional Middle Eastern allies—especially Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf states. Much of the tension has resulted from what is often perceived as a confusing set of positions and shifts coming out of the White House: From the declared opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapons program, coupled with the easing of sanctions and a failed negotiation to stop the program; to declared support for Israel and deepened security ties, coupled with frequent public criticism and the desire for “daylight”; to declared support for the fall of the Assad regime in Syria, followed by a series of actions that can only be seen as propping it up (such as launching air strikes against ISIS, Assad’s main enemy); to the curious embrace of Qatar and Turkey—states that actively support the terror group and Iranian proxy Hamas—at the expense of traditional Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others whose overthrow is sought by Islamists. Things have gotten so bad that the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulazeez, publicly assailed U.S. policy. “For all their talk of ‘red lines,’” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “when it counted, our partners have seemed all too ready to concede our safety and risk our region’s stability.”

But contrary to the common perception, while fundamentally flawed and dangerous for America and our allies, the policy this White House is pursuing is not as confused as it may appear.

In an interview last spring with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, then with Bloomberg View, Obama himself opened a clear window into his vision of a parallel universe in which the clerical regime running the Islamic Republic of Iran is a “force for stability” in the Middle East of today and tomorrow.  It’s an idea that meets with ridicule among almost every party in the Middle East, legislators on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, and even former members of the President’s cabinet, and whose main constituency appears to be in Damascus, Tehran and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet, as the region unravels along sectarian lines, the President is quietly attempting to cement a new American regional vision in which Iran is to play a central role.

Considered by most a dangerous rogue state, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, and a regime whose human rights behavior is so heinous that as recently as this year, female victims of rape were stoned to death for “adultery,” Iran is now embraced—not entirely without reason—as the critical player in the region capable of reestablishing order. Energized by the administration’s overriding desire to strike a nuclear accord and the president’s desire to avoid becoming militarily involved in the region at almost any cost, this has led to a major effort to cultivate a far more accommodating policy toward the Islamic Republic and its allies and proxies in the region—a policy simultaneously intended to pressure America’s traditional allies to fall in line with this administration’s new direction.

Kerry ZarifMany interpret America’s softening stance toward Iran as an attempt to make Tehran more amenable to a deal on its nuclear program. But the Obama administration’s new approach to Iran doesn’t end with the nuclear issue, and assuming it does is to miss the true danger of it all. This White House views the nuclear deal currently being negotiated as only a first step toward a general détente and broader cooperation between the two countries. The perception permeating the Situation Room is that filling the power vacuum created by recent Middle Eastern upheavals with Iranian forces—especially its Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxy Hezbollah—will help stabilize the ungovernable spaces of the region in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Getting the nuclear deal out of the way is therefore essential to progress on positioning Tehran as “a force for stability” in the region, as the President has described it.

For the Islamic revolutionaries and clerical dictators running the country, this new approach is a welcome change from decades of American efforts to sideline Iran. But Tehran is receptive to Washington’s changes for entirely different reasons. Seizing on what it sees as American weakness under this administration, Tehran believes it can break free of the diplomatic and economic sanctions that have crippled its economy, and freeze Western efforts to stall its regional ambitions.  A nuclear deal in Iran’s favor may be with in its grasp, Tehran believes. And they may not even need to make such an agreement, if simply by negotiating with the West they can resurrect their economy and stall any U.S. action against their takeover of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, removing further obstacles to their regional hegemony.

And it is here, in Iran’s very different view of a possible rapprochement with the United States, that the real danger to regional and American interests lies. Contrary to the expectations of many U.S. policymakers, giving Iran free rein in the Middle East would not be a major diplomatic victory, but a strategic nightmare. Replacing the putative caliphate of the Islamic State with the brutal Imamate of the Islamic Republic, the IRGC, Hezbollah and the rest of Iran’s regional proxies, would be a strategic and moral catastrophe.

Read more at The Tower

Also  see:

Are we toast? Saudi king is dead; ISIS expands; we’re abandoning Yemen and Iran has a missile launcher

ImageSat-Internationals-satellite-image-show-missile-release-facility-in-Iran-300x180By Allen West, Jan. 23, 2015:

On Tuesday evening President Obama stated, “the shadow of crisis has passed and the state of the union is strong” — and of course the blind followers cheered.

Obama also hinted that we had “turned the page” on our fight against terrorism. Remember his unilateral declaration at the National War College that the war on terror had ended — and of course he has commanded that combat operations end in two theaters of operation; Iraq and Afghanistan.

But nothing could shine the light on President Obama’s naiveté (or approval?) more than the fact that just 48 hours after he dismissed the “shadow of crisis,” we are evacuating yet another U.S. Embassy — this time in Yemen.

It’s the same Yemen that just last fall, Obama referred to as the model of his success — just like Vice President Joe Biden once chimed that Iraq would be one of Obama’s greatest successes. When Obama said the shadow of crisis has passed, we had three U.S. Naval warships off the coast of Yemen ready to evacuate the embassy.

Also see:

RECOMMENDED READING: “Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Reconsider Ties To Wahhabi Clergy”

Saudi+Arabia+flagBy , Jan. 9, 2015:

An Arabian business magazine has published an article titled “Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Reconsider Ties To Wahhabi Clergy” that looks at what is said to be an “adjustment” to the Saudi relationship with so-called Wahabbi Islam. The Arabian Business.com report begins:

December 17, 2014 Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud royal family are trying to adjust their relationship with the country’s strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam as they increasingly view the teachings of some of its ultra-conservative clergy as a domestic security threat.

Radicalisation of Muslims in the world’s top oil exporter has led to domestic attacks and the involvement of Saudi citizens in jihadist movements in Iraq and Syria, while extreme religious practices have damaged efforts to boost employment.

Over the past decade the House of Saud has not only put in place measures to control clerics and their sermons, but has started to favour more modern clergy for top state positions.

Saudi rulers are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education and law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the most religiously conservative countries on earth, and the royal family are not cutting off the clergy or ditching Wahhabism’s basic precepts, analysts and diplomats say.

They are instead attempting to foster a reading of its teachings that distances it from Islamist militants such as Islamic State, and which better meets the demands of a modern economy. ‘

Read the rest here.

The GMBDW reported in March of last year that Saudi Arabia had formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and was among a group of Gulf countries that had recalled their envoys from Qatar over the issue. We also reported in May 2014 that the country had arrested nine university professors for their alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood and reported the same month that three well-known imams in Saudi Arabia’s Southern Province had been banned for life from delivering sermons after they were found to be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.  However, at the same time wediscussed certain inconsistencies related to the Saudi Muslim World League (MWL) which appeared to be operating outside of the new Saudi policy on the Brotherhood by maintaining ties to important figures in the Global Muslim Brotherhood. Should the above report prove to be accurate, it would lend further credence to the idea of a sea change in the relationship of Saudi Arabia to the Muslim Brotherhood

In May 2013, Ahram Online published a useful history of the tumultuous and sometimes difficult to understand relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Global Muslim Brotherhood.