Ramadi’s fall opens ISIS road to Baghdad. Jordan warns US air strikes won’t stop the terrorists’ advance

DEBKAfile, May 18, 2015:

Mideast-Jordan-King-A_Horo-e1363781864263Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned the Obama administration in an urgent message that US air strikes alone won’t stop the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq and Syria and, what is more, they leave his kingdom next door exposed to the Islamist peril. ISIS would at present have no difficulty in invading southern Jordan, where the army is thin on the ground, and seizing local towns and villages whose inhabitants are already sympathetic to the extremist group. The bulk of the Jordanian army is concentrated in the north on the Syrian border. Even a limited Islamist incursion in the south would also pose a threat to northern Saudi Arabia, the king pointed out.

Abdullah offered the view that the US Delta Special Forces operation in eastern Syria Saturday was designed less to be an effective assault on ISIS’s core strength and more as a pallliative to minimize the Islamist peril facing Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that US officials refused to heed Abdullah’s warning and tried to play it down, in the same way as Secretary John Kerry tried Monday, May 18, to de-emphasize to the ISIS conquest of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province.

At a news conference in Seoul, Kerry dismissed the Islamists’ feat as a “target of opportunity” and expressed confidence that, in the coming days, the loss “can be reversed.”

The Secretary of State’s words were unlikely to scare the Islamists, who had caused more than 500 deaths in the battle for the town and witnessed panicky Iraqi soldiers fleeing Ramadi in Humvees and tanks.

Baghdad, only 110 km southeast of Ramadi, has more reason to be frightened, in the absence of any sizeable Iraqi military strength in the area for standing in the enemy’s path to the capital.

The Baghdad government tried announcing that substantial military reinforcements had been ordered to set out and halt the Islamists’ advance. This was just whistling in the dark. In the last two days, the remnants of the Iraqi army have gone to pieces – just like in the early days of the ISIS offensive, when the troops fled Mosul and Falujah. They are running away from any possible engagement with the Islamist enemy.

The Baghdad-sourced reports that Shiite paramilitaries were preparing to deploy to Iraq’s western province of Anbar after Islamic State militants overran Ramadi were likewise no more than an attempt to boost morale. Sending armed Shiites into the Ramadi area of Anbar would make no sense, because its overwhelmingly Sunni population would line up behind fellow-Sunni Islamist State conquerors rather than help the Shiite militias to fight them.

Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, who arrived precipitately in Baghdad Monday, shortly after Ramadi’s fall, faces this difficulty. Our military sources expect him to focus on a desperate effort to deploy Shiite militias as an obstacle in ISIS’s path to Baghdad, now that the road is clear of defenders all the way from Ramadi.
In Amman, King Abdullah Sunday made a clean sweep of senior security officials, firing the Minister of Interior, the head of internal security (Muhabarat) and a number of high police officers. They were accused officially of using excessive violence to disperse demonstrations in the southern town of Maan.

The real reason for their dismissal, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources disclose, is the decline of these officials’ authority in the Maan district,  in the face of the rising influence of extremist groups identified with Al Qaeda and ISIS, in particular.

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Israel’s Peace Fantasists in Action

1ef9b765-5e3e-47eb-bb2e-87e35fc8c7a6_16x9_600x338-450x253Frontpage, by Caroline Glick, may 15, 2015:

The Saudis are in play, casting about for partners.

In a clear vote of no-confidence in US President Barack Obama’s leadership, Saudi King Salman led several Arab leaders in blowing off Obama’s Camp David summit this week. The summit was meant to compensate the Sunni Arabs for Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Salman’s decision is further proof that US-Saudi relations have jumped the tracks. For 70 years the Saudis subcontracted their national security to the US military. Deals were closed with a wink and a nod. That’s all over now.

Obama has destroyed Washington’s credibility. Salman views its gentleman’s agreements as worthless. All he wants now is military hardware. And for that, he can send a stand-in.

The Saudis never put all their eggs in America’s basket. For 70 years the Saudis played a double game, maintaining strategic alliances both with the liberal West and the most reactionary forces in the Islamic world. The Saudis pocketed petrodollars from America and Europe and transferred them to terrorists and jihadist preachers in mosques in the US, Europe and worldwide.

Iran isn’t the Saudis’ only concern. Although for outsiders the worldview of the theocracy governing Saudi Arabia seems all but identical to the worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis consider the Brotherhood a mortal foe. The Saudis claim that their tribal, top-down regime is the genuine expression of Islam. The Brotherhood’s populist, grassroots organization rejects their legitimacy.

And so, since the Arab revolutionary wave began in late 2010, the Saudis opposed the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are the primary bankrollers of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s regime.

During Operation Protective Edge last summer, the Saudis sided with Sisi and Israel against Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Turkish and Qatari state sponsors. Although Saudi Arabia had previously been a major funder of Hamas, that backing ended in 2005 when, following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas forged strategic ties with Iran.

For the past five years, the Saudis worked against both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. But in recent months they began reconsidering their two-war approach.

With the Iranian-backed Houthis’ takeover of Yemen and the US’s conclusion of its framework nuclear deal with Iran, the Saudis apparently determined that weakening Iran takes precedence over fighting the Brotherhood. With its Houthi proxies in Yemen deployed along the Saudi border abutting Shi’ite-majority border provinces, and fighting for control over the Bab el Mandab, Iran now poses an immediate and existential threat to Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, as the Saudis see it, the threat posed by the Brotherhood has severely diminished since Sisi began his campaign to destroy its infrastructure in Egypt. So long as Sisi continues weakening the Brotherhood in Egypt and Libya, the Saudis feel safe working with the Brotherhood and its state sponsors Turkey and Qatar in Syria and Yemen. To this end, much to Washington’s dismay, the Saudis are willing to back a consortium of rebel groups in Syria that include the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoots are not the only strange bedfellows the Saudis are willing to work with in their bid to neutralize Iran.

They have also signaled a willingness to work with Israel.

Read more

Also see:

Failed State: Saudi Coalition Increases Ground Presence as Iran Begins targeting the Kingdom, US

yemen+map1May 7, 2015 /

As of this writing most of the Southern Yemeni city of Aden remains contested with heavy fighting all throughout the area. Our sources who remain in the country have informed us that additional UAE SOF personnel have been seen in the city fighting alongside the remnants of the pro-Hadi faction. We’ve also been made aware that the Saudi SOF personnel have also recently conducted a seaborne insertion into the area to bolster the push to seize their main objective: Aden International Airport. UAE SOF personnel on the ground have embedded with what remains of the pro-Hadi faction and appear to be rallying them for an assault on the Houthi forces located at the airport. Central to this strategy is the preservation of the runway, which makes it highly likely that the intent is to use the airport as a hub for bringing in supplies and follow-on forces for a larger ground campaign. We doubt the Houthis will be able to maintain their hold on the Southern part of the country in light of the Saudi-led coalition’s decision to double-down on the ongoing campaign. Already the coalition controls the surrounding airspace, requiring the IRGC-Qods Force to have flights come through Oman (we’re unsure as to why the Saudis haven’t applied more pressure on the Omani government). The Houthis’ hold on the South becomes even less likely if former President Saleh’s forces were to defect. Saleh himself is an opportunist, so if the Saudis were smart they’d be running an effective IO campaign offering economic incentives targeting military units aligned with Saleh. However, this campaign is unlikely to completely reverse the Houthi’s gains. A stalemate is much more likely.

Reports: ‘Limited’ ground force arrives in Yemen’s Aden
http://www.dw.de/reports-limited-ground-force-arrives-in-yemens-aden/a-18426013

Yemen’s foreign minister: Aden troops were Gulf-trained locals
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/04/yemen-security-idUSL5N0XV1VI20150504

GCC SOF Teams Alerted For Deployment, AQAP Gains Strength and Iran Preps For Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6056

Yemen isn’t on Verge of Civil War – It Already is – and the Saudi Arabia Will Get Involved
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5810

Rising Smoke

Aden fighting in the distance
Source: Getty Images/AFP/Saleh al-Obeidi

We’ve been covering the Saudi-led coalition’s SOF operations for some time now – and we’ve also been covering the IRGC-Qods Force’s activity in the country. In our piece titled “AQAP and Qods Force Make Their Moves in Yemen as Saudis Struggle to Maintain Coalition,” We mentioned the presence of a senior member of the IRGC-Qods Force’s External Operations Division setting up shop in Sadah. This individual has been identified as BG Abdolreza Shahlai. Never heard of him? Don’t feel bad, most people haven’t – but you’ve probably heard about the operations that he had intimate involvement. He was the architect of the IRGC-Qods Force’s program that provided lethal aid to Shia proxy groups in Iraq during OIF in addition to being one of the primary planners for the 2007 attack on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center (PJCC) that killed five US Soldiers (check out “The Hezbollah Presence in Iraq” for more details). Indeed, the OIF-era put this guy on the map and led to the start of a strong friendship with Qods Force commander GEN Suleimani. Shahlai is currently a member of Suleimani’s inner circle and holds considerable sway in advocating the more “outside the box” proposals. In fact he gained the most notoriety from his involvement in planning the failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US in New York City. That particular operation called for the Qods Force to facilitate a third party – which was the Mexican drug cartel known as Los Zetas – to carry out the operation. His family member Mansur Arbabsiar was the primary facilitator.He’s also a strong advocate of taking more direct action against the US and serves as “Suleimani’s Fist” in overseeing operations inside American borders, Europe and Africa. He’s also no stranger to Yemen, having deployed to the country several times since 2011 to oversee training on the production of Explosively-Formed Projectiles (EFPs) and their implementation. Shahlai’s African connections have also been put to good use with his efforts to establish alternate facilitation ratlines into Yemen coming from Djibouti and Sudan. Needless to say, he’s become quite close to Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi.

AQAP and Qods Force Make Their Moves in Yemen as Saudis Struggle to Maintain Coalition
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6078

The Hezbollah Presence in Iraq
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=358

Who is IRGC Commander Abdolreza Shahlai, mastermind of attack on Camp Liberty
http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/terrorism-a-fundamentalism/12861-who-is-irgc-commander-abdolreza-shahlai-mastermind-of-attack-on-camp-liberty

Treasury Sanctions Five Individuals Tied to Iranian Plot to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States
http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/pages/tg1320.aspx

Man Sentenced in Plot to Kill Saudi Ambassador
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/nyregion/mansour-arbabsiar-sentenced-for-plot-to-kill-saudi-ambassador.html?_r=0

mansur Abrbsiar

Mansur Arbabsiar
Source: Associated Press

Like his colleagues, Shahlai entered Yemen via Oman (YES, he flew Mahan Air). Since setting up shop in Sadah, he’s been accelerating the program to establish a Houthi intel proxy to serve as an action arm for operations inside Saudi Arabia. In fact, he’s already got the ball rolling on targeting the Kingdom. Currently, Saudi Arabia is under heavy threat from cyber attacks targeting critical infrastructure like the infamous “Shamoon” virus that was unleashed by the IRGC-Qods Force Cyber Warfare Division against ARAMCO (check out “Iran Steps Up Cyber Attacks Against the US and its Allies” for more details). We assess that the Saudi oil, gas, telecommunications and aviation sectors are at the most risk for a repeat of the Shamoon incident. Our contacts in the oil industry report that as recently as MAR 15 ARAMCO was made aware of malicious activity against their infrastructure and were reassessing security practices in addition to working on identifying where they may have been compromised. We believe this malicious activity were probing operations being conducted to identify exploitable opportunities.

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

Iran Steps Up Cyber Attacks Against the US and its Allies
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3560

The recent attack launched by the Houthis against the Saudi border town of Najran that killed at least two civilians led to the capture of five Saudi military personnel was merely the opening act of this new phase of the campaign that we’ve been warning about. The next step of this new phase in the Yemen portion of Iran’s campaign may involve the targeting of US citizens stuck in Yemen. Some were lucky and able to leave the country, but many others remain trapped. It would be quite the coup for the Houthis to kidnap a few of them to demonstrate how the Obama administration abandoned them – then pressure the US into ending its support of the Saudi campaign. The five Saudi military personnel were possibly abducted with this in mind as well, although we doubt the Saudis will meet any demands. This country has been a failed state for quite some time, only US Secretary of State John Kerry is in denial. He recently made the claim that Yemen can “avoid ending up a failed state.” The problem with this statement is that Yemen is engaged in a civil war with military personnel from multiple regional powers operating on the ground alongside select factions. He hopes that there will be a “political” solution to this war. Unfortunately, The Iranians and Saudis are already in the process of escalating the violence. Only in the world of “Hope and Change” can a nation at war with itself and experiencing shortages in food, fuel, medical supplies be considered a “success story.” We can assure you that the Obama administration is every bit as wrong about Iran as they are about Yemen. The $1 million dollar question is whether they’ll figure it out before it’s too late? We doubt it.

Washington to Americans Stuck in Yemen: You’re on Your Own
http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/04/21/washington-to-americans-stuck-in-yemen-youre-on-your-own-evacuation/

Deaths as Yemeni rebels fire rockets into Saudi Arabia
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/cloneofcoalition-considers-yemen-humanitarian-tr-150505130815877.html

John Kerry: Yemen not yet a failed state, may ‘hold itself together’ with peace talk
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/2/kerry-yemen-not-yet-failed-state-may-hold-itself-t/

qods force_houthi

Iraqi Shia during a pro-Houthi rally in Baghdad carrying portraits of Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi and IRGC-Qods Force commander GEN Suleimani
Source: Rudaw

Other Related Articles:

The Yemen Octagon: GCC vs Iran vs Houthis vs AQAP vs Islamic State
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5931

Today’s Middle East: The Burning Fuse of the 21st Century’s “Great Game”
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6193

President Obama’s Yemen “Success” Story
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4751

Poised to Fill Yemen’s Power Vacuum: Iran Tightens Grip on The Peninsula
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4517

IRGC-Qods Force: The Arabian Peninsula Campaign and Failure of Obama’s Foreign Policy
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4478

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

Yemen’s Houthi Rebels: the Hand of Iran?
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1992

Saudis Arrest 93 ISIS Affiliates, Help Stop Terrorist Attacks

BD_244smallweb_944_1CSP, by Aaron Kliegman, April 28, 2015:

The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry said Tuesday that it has arrested 93 people linked to Islamic State (ISIS), stopping several planned terrorist attacks including one on the United States Embassy in Riyadh. The arrests started in December, and most of those detained are Saudis.

According to Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki, authorities disrupted a plot by ISIS affiliates to target the U.S. Embassy with a suicide car bomb in March, but the embassy did not comment on the issue. U.S. officials, however, simultaneously stopped all consular services and diplomatic missions in Jiddah and Dhahran starting March 15th for a week, indicating probable awareness of the threat.

Furthermore, the arrests included a cell of 65 people in March who were planning attacks on prisons, security forces, and residential compounds. Authorities stopped another group of 15 Saudis who called themselves “Soldiers of the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” and were led by a bomb-making expert.

The same day that al-Turki made his statement, Saudi police arrested suspected ISIS operative Nawaf al-Enezi, a Saudi citizen, for killing two police officers in Riyadh. He was reportedly one of two men ordered by ISIS in Syria to shoot police officers; the other one is in custody. Al-Turki said that al-Enezi’s attack was the fifth one by ISIS on Saudi soil.

Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the jihadist group has called on its supporters to carryout attacks throughout the Sunni Arab state. Riyadh is a leading power in the Middle East as the region’s largest country by area, the world’s largest oil exporter, and the guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites – Mecca and Medina.

ISIS’s expansion throughout the region has secured it territory to operate within the failed states of Iraq and Syria, which it has used to move into Africa and central Asia. Furthermore, the threat of foreign fighters flowing in from around the world, including the West, is another destabilizing force.

Saudi Arabia, which supplied some 2,500 of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria has a vested interest in stopping ISIS and must, along with the other Arab states in the region, actively confront the threat the jihadist group poses.

However, Saudi Arabia has a record of funding terrorism, exporting jihadist ideology, and enforcing Sharia law in its territory no different to ISIS’s own reputation for brutality. In fact 92% of Saudi subjects polled stated that Islamic State “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.”

If Saudi Arabia views ISIS as a national security threat and in direct opposition to its goal of regional stability then it must amend its own behavior and state ideology. Unfortunately, so far there’s little evidence they intend to do so.

A Game of Chicken in the Gulf of Aden

shipsNER, by Jerry Gordon and Ilana Freedman, April 24, 2015:

On the morning of April 21, 2015,   newspapers and media reporters trumpeted a headline that the Saudis were ending their month long air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.  The halt reflected concerns of the Obama Administration over the deteriorating situation in Yemen and the increasing role of Iran. The operation, named “Decisive Resolve”, allegedly led by the Saudi coalition with US administration backing, had destroyed a missile base, armored vehicles, and planes held by Houthi forces. The Houthi militias were allegedly allied with Yemeni strongman and former president of Yemen for over thirty years, 73-year old Ali Abdullah Saleh.  Saleh, who has survived political isolation, sanctions, civil war, and assassin attempts, created an alliance with the Houthis, his former enemies, in a bid to return to power in Yemen. Latest reports indicate that Saleh has left Yemen, perhaps to join party members in discussions with Saudi Arabia and coalition members of the Gulf Cooperation Council about resolving the conflict.

Saudi Air Strikes in Yemen WSJ 4-22-15

Since the Saudi air strikes began on March 26, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed. The Saudis were seeking to restore the internationally-recognized and US-backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who served as president of Yemen from February 2012 until January 2015, when he was forced to resign after Houthi rebels raided his home and put him under house arrest. He subsequently escaped and fled to Saudi Arabia just as the Kingdom-led coalition began an air campaign against Houthi rebels on March 26, 2015.

Only hours after the first announcement of the cessation of Saudi air strikes, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir appeared at an Embassy press conference to announce the resumption of limited air attacks.  The Ambassador told reporters:

The Houthis should be under no illusion that we will continue to use force in order to stop them from taking Yemen over by aggressive action. We are determined to protect the Yemeni people and counter any aggressive moves that the Houthis may undertake. When the Houthis or their allies make aggressive moves there will be a response. The decision to calm matters now rests entirely with them.

In view of continued Houthi fighting in the central city of Taiz and against secessionist forces in Aden on the southern coast. This phase of the Saudi operation in Yemen was named “Renewal of Hope”, and was launched amid reports that the Houthis have surrounded the city of Aden on three sides.  In a later press conference on April 22nd, al-Jubeir said, “We will not allow them to take Yemen by force.”

The Houthis quickly put out a statement seeking the lifting of Saudi air and naval operations, and offering to hold political talks under UN auspices.  The defiant Houthi threatened to invade Saudi Arabia if the bombing continues.

A flotilla of nine Iranian vessels, seven commercial vessels escorted by two Iranian frigates, exited the Persian Gulf slow steaming down the Sea of Arabia towards a rendezvous in the Gulf of Aden. Nine US vessels were already positioned there. Nevertheless, that group has been joined by the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), an aircraft carrier capable of carrying 90 F/A-18 fighter jets and helicopters. The Roosevelt was accompanied by the USS Normandy (CG-60), a guided-missile escort ship. They came from the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain in the Gulf, presumably to shadow the Iranian flotilla.

The Saudis, with the aid of Egyptian naval vessels, have established a virtual blockade of Yemen preventing deliveries of food, civilian goods, and weapons from Houthi ally, Iran.   The UN Security Council passed a resolution barring the supply of advanced missiles to Yemen.

Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter made his first comments on the dispatch of the US carrier and guided missile cruiser to the Arabian Sea while on a trip to California.  Carter told them that “he was not prepared to say whether the U.S. would be willing to forcibly stop and board one of the Iranian ships if it tries to cross into Yemen.”  Further, he said:

We have options. We’re not at that point. We’re at the point of trying to get the parties back to the table.

Still, he said the U.S. is making it clear to Iran that “obviously fanning the flames or contributing to it by any party is not welcome to us.”

President Obama in an MSNBC interview said:

Right now, their ships are in international waters. What we’ve said to them is that if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem. And we’re not sending them obscure messages — we send them very direct messages about it.

On the other hand, senior defense and military officials told NBC News that American warships were prepared to intercept the convoy of Iranian ships, because they were suspected of carrying weapons to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen.

Several versions of their mission have already been floated by various government offices. The White House, Pentagon and State Department have issued statements to the effect the US carrier battle group is there to monitoring sea lanes. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, “the principle goal is to maintain freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea”.

On the other hand, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren suggested that there could be a flight of refugees across the narrow Bab al Mandab that separates Yemen from the horn of Africa. The US naval vessels might be conveniently positioned to prevent a disaster similar to the one last weekend in the Mediterranean that witnessed over 700 people attempting to flee from war-torn Libya, drowned when the overloaded fishing boat capsized.

The stories may be inconsistent, but one thing is clear. If history is any measure, the Iranian flotilla is certain to be carrying weapons and supplies to aid the Houthi forces, not the humanitarian assistance they claim is to alleviate the Saudi and Egyptian blockade of Yemeni ports.  The US administration has been clear that the shadowing US naval forces have not been given orders to enable them to hail and board Iranian vessels. They are concerned that boarding the Iranian ships might create an incident that could threaten a successful outcome in the ongoing nuclear in which President Obama and  Secretary of State Kerry have invested so much effort. The negotiations the Administration appears committed to closing a deal offering so-called signing bonuses of $30 to 50 billion in release of oil revenues.

These statements by Pentagon and Administration spokespersons reflect the quandary in which the Administration now finds itself, and they can’t seem to get their story straight.  In the midst of problematic negotiations on a possible nuclear agreement with Iran, which the Administration appears to want to complete at all costs, the US is also allegedly backing Saudi Arabia with both intelligence and weapons in the fight against the Iran-backed Houthi.  The American position in this conflict is far from clear.

One possibility not mentioned in any of the media is the possibility that the American presence is neither to stop the Iranian ships, nor to board them, but to keep the other countries’ naval officers from boarding them. The purpose of this mission would be to maintain our nuclear negotiations with Iran moving forward without the suggestion of our threatening them in another theater.

The situation in the region is extremely complicated and America’s mission there is uncertain. While appearing to support the Saudi position, the US has also provided intelligence to the Houthi, ostensibly to ward off threat of a resurgent AQAP. And while appearing to be a deterrent to Iranian arms delivery to the Houthis, the massive American presence on the scene may be, in fact, a deterrent to other ships whose mission is to board the Iranian cargo ships should they approach the port in Aden.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is existentially concerned about Iranian expansion of its hegemony into Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, where Iranian Quds Force and Revolutionary Guard “consultants’ have been active in expanding their control. In Iraq, they have been training Shia militia in the war against the Islamic State.

In response to the Iranian threat, Saudi Arabia has undertaken action to subjugate the restive Shia majority in Bahrain, home port for the US Fifth Fleet, and in the oil rich Eastern Province with a large Shia population.  The Saudis are spending billions to complete security fences on its northern and Southern borders, and the Kingdom has reportedly mobilized 150,000 troops for possible action in Yemen.

The situation is the Arabian Sea is fluid. The latest reports indicate that despite the strong words from Iran, their ships have now turned around and are heading back toward the Strait of Hormuz. At this writing, they are reported to be heading east in the Arabian Sea, south of Salalah, Oman.

Failed US Policy    Less than a year ago, President Obama hailed Yemen as a foreign policy ‘success’ story in its drone campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But with the fall of Yemen’s capital Sana’a to Houthi forces and the flight of ousted President Hadi to Saudi Arabia, the vacuum in the country has been filled by open conflict between Sunni tribes loyal to AQAP, those units loyal to Hadi, and secessionist forces in Aden. America’s precipitous and humiliating departure from Yemen was more than proof that our policy had been anything but successful.

Effectively Yemen is a failed state.  When the mobs attacked it, the US Embassy closed in panic, leaving 4,000 American citizens stranded in a country that was rapidly falling into chaos and bloody fighting. The US special operations contingent decamped to Camp Lemonnier across the Bab al Mandab at AFRICOM headquarters in Djibouti.  The former US special ops Yemen bases were overrun and destroyed. Without local intelligence from within Yemen, the counterterrorism drone campaign against the AQAP was effectively been shut down.

The current game of chicken on the high seas in the Gulf of Aden is a dangerous one, not the least because it is difficult to understand what the end game is supposed to be. The problem now is that the Iranian Ayatollah and his Revolutionary Guards commanders may relish such a confrontation with the US, Saudi and Egyptian naval contingents to see who would blink first in the game of chicken.  Some might consider the Iranian flotilla as a possible causus belli. After all the UN Security Council adopted a resolution barring the shipment of missiles into Yemen.

The dangerous confrontation seems, for the moment, to be averted. Iran’s ships have turned back, perhaps temporarily. We don’t know why, or what their long range game plan may bring.

The irony the Administration found itself in over the looming confrontation in the Gulf of Aden was that the US might have had to rely on the Saudis and the Egyptians, both of whom America had supplied weapons to, but over whom the US now has little to no control.  The looming question is whether a satisfactory denouement with Iran would even be possible were Iran already a nuclear state.

That Iran is on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons is no longer the question. All evidence points to this being the case, ongoing talks with P5+1 and the so-called 13 year ‘deal’ notwithstanding.  Latest reports say that Iran is on the ‘nuclear threshold’ with less than three months before it has full nuclear weapons capability. The Iranian nuclear threshold concerns the Saudis, Gulf Emirates, Egypt, and Israel. Israel has not been diffident in the past about intercepting and boarding commercial vessels carrying illicit cargoes of missiles from Iran supplying proxies Hamas and Hezbollah.

In the game of chicken still being played out in the Arabian Sea, it remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration has the resolve to stare down this latest move by Iran, or is the President more than likely blink first?

Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst, specializing in Islamic and related sources of terrorism and their impact on the Western world. Jerry Gordon is a Senior Editor at the New English Review

***

Also see:

The Watchman: Iran, ISIS and What Can Be Done

isis-and-iran

Published on Apr 21, 2015 by CBN News

On this week’s episode of The Watchman, we sit down with national security expert and former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon to discuss the threats posed by Iran and ISIS and how America should counter them.

Iranian General Threatens Strikes on Saudi Arabian Soil

Iran-Reveals-New-Missiles-HP_1

Clarion Project, April 21, 2015:

The commander of the ground troops in the Iranian army, General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, threatened Saudi Arabia with military strikes if it doesn’t stop the fighting in Yemen.

According to the Iranian Arabic language channel El-Alam, Pourdastan said that the Islamic Republic is not interested in getting into a conflict with Saudi Arabia. He called on Riyadh to stop fighting against her brothers in Yemen and said “by doing so she is entering a war of attrition which might expose her to severe strikes.”

Pourdastan reportedly claimed that his country will bomb Saudi Arabia if she won’t stop her attacks.

He added that “the Saudi army needs combat experience and that is why it is a weak army. If she will stand against a war of attrition she will be struck very hard and will be defeated. That’s why Riyadh should drop the option and turn to a diplomatic option and to negotiation.”

Pourdistan praised the successes of the Shiite aligned Yemini forces fighting against President Hadi, saying “The next stage will be carrying out strikes against Saudi Arabia.”

Pourdistan declared “the Islamic Republic is not interested in a confrontation with Saudi Arabia for she is a friend nation and our neighbor. The military advisor in the Saudi Embassy is currently in Iran. We invited him to the ceremonies of the Army Day that was on Saturday.

We want to have relations with Saudi Arabia and we don’t want bloody relations. There are still tables for dialogue and they can solve the problems. There is no need to use weapons or military equipment.”

Yet he also threatened Saudi Arabia saying “explosions might occur in Saudi Arabia through rockets falling on the ground. It is clear that dealing with that will be very hard for the Saudi officials.”

He suggested that forces in Yemen strike Saudi Arabia. He said “Based on the military purchases and the abilities of the Yemeni army, it is capable of inflicting painful strikes on Saudi Arabia.”

For more information about Iran’s regional ambitions see Clarion Project’s Factsheet: Iranian Regional Hegemony

Also see:

How the FBI is whitewashing the Saudi connection to 9/11

DECADE-US DOMESTIC NEWSNew York Post, by Paul Sperry, April 12, 2015:

Just 15 days before the 9/11 attacks, a well-connected Saudi family suddenly abandoned their luxury home in Sarasota, Fla., leaving behind jewelry, clothes, opulent furniture, a driveway full of cars — including a brand new Chrysler PT Cruiser — and even a refrigerator full of food.

About the only thing not left behind was a forwarding address. The occupants simply vanished without notifying their neighbors, realtor or even mail carrier.

The 3,300-square-foot home on Escondito Circle belonged to Esam Ghazzawi, a Saudi adviser to the nephew of then-King Fahd. But at the time, it was occupied by his daughter and son-in-law, who beat a hasty retreat back to Saudi Arabia just two weeks before the attacks after nearly a six-year stay here.

Neighbors took note of the troubling coincidence and called the FBI, which opened an investigation that led to the startling discovery that at least one “family member” trained at the same flight school as some of the 9/11 hijackers in nearby Venice, Fla.

The investigation into the prominent Saudi family’s ties to the hijackers started on Sept. 19, 2001, and remained active for several years. It was led by the FBI’s Tampa field office but also involved the bureau’s field offices in New York and Washington, and also the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force.

Agents identified persons of interest in the case, establishing their ties to other terrorists, sympathies with Osama bin Laden and anti-American remarks. They looked into their bank accounts, colleges and places of employment. They tracked at least one suspect’s re-entry into the US.

The Saudi-9/11 connection in Florida was no small part of the overall 9/11 investigation. Yet it was never shared with Congress. Nor was it mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Now it’s being whitewashed again, in a newly released report by the 9/11 Review Commission, set up last year by Congress to assess “any evidence now known to the FBI that was not considered by the 9/11 Commission.” Though the FBI acknowledges the Saudi family was investigated, it maintains the probe was a dead end.

The review panel highlighted one local FBI report generated from the investigation that said Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, the prominent Saudi couple who “fled” their home, had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

But: “The FBI told the Review Commission that the communication was ‘poorly written’ and wholly unsubstantiated,” the panel noted in its 128-page report. “When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did.”

How strange. Yet panelists did not interview the unidentified agent for themselves. They just accepted headquarters’ impeachment of his work.

Odder still, the agent’s report was just one of many other FBI communications detailing ties between the Saudi family and the hijackers. In fact, the Tampa office of the FBI recently was ordered to turn over more than 80,000 pages of documents filling some 27 boxes from its 9/11 investigation to a federal judge hearing a Freedom of Information Act case filed by local journalists over the Sarasota angle. The judge is sorting through the boxes to determine which documents should remain classified. Most are marked “SECRET/NOFORN,” meaning no foreign nationals — a classification reserved for highly sensitive materials.

“The report provides no plausible explanation for the contradiction between the FBI’s current claim that it found nothing and its 2002 memo finding ‘many connections’ between the Sarasota family and the 9/11 terrorists,” Thomas Julin, the attorney who filed the FOIA lawsuit against the FBI, told the Miami Herald.

The panel’s report also doesn’t explain why visitor security logs for the gated Sarasota community and photos of license tags matched vehicles driven by the hijackers, including 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta.

The three-member review panel was appointed by FBI Director James Comey, who also officially released the findings.

Former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, who in 2002 chaired the congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11, maintains the FBI is covering up a Saudi support cell in Sarasota for the hijackers. He says the al-Hijjis’ “urgent” pre-9/11 exit suggests “someone may have tipped them off” about the coming attacks.

Graham has been working with a 14-member group in Congress to urge President Obama to declassify 28 pages of the final report of his inquiry which were originally redacted, wholesale, by President George W. Bush.

“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier,” he said, adding, “I am speaking of the kingdom,” or government, of Saudi Arabia, not just wealthy individual Saudi donors.

Sources who have read the censored Saudi section say it cites CIA and FBI case files that directly implicate officials of the Saudi Embassy in Washington and its consulate in Los Angeles in the attacks — which, if true, would make 9/11 not just an act of terrorism, but an act of war by a foreign government. The section allegedly identifies high-level Saudi officials and intelligence agents by name, and details their financial transactions and other dealings with the San Diego hijackers. It zeroes in on the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi Embassy, among other Saudi entities.

The review commission, however, concludes there is “no evidence” that any Saudi official provided assistance to the hijackers, even though the panel failed to interview Graham or his two key investigators — former Justice Department attorney Dana Lesemann and FBI investigator Michael Jacobson — who ran down FBI leads tying Saudi officials to the San Diego hijackers and documented their findings in the 28 pages.

Graham smells a rat: “This is a pervasive pattern of covering up the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11 by all of the agencies of the federal government which have access to information that might illuminate Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11.”

Paul Sperry is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”

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Khamenei Smashes Terms of Nuclear Agreement

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Kamenei (Photo: © Reuters)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Kamenei (Photo: © Reuters)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, April 12, 2015:

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ended his eerie silence since the nuclear framework agreement was announced with a fiery speech accompanied with “Death to America” chants. Khamenei essentially smashed the viability of the nuclear framework to pieces, signalled a major escalations in the war in Yemen and essentially endorsed a violent jihad against the Saudi royal family.

Wishful thinkers can’t dismiss the speech as theater for a domestic audience. Khamenei tweeted highlights in English to make sure the world, especially Americans, saw them. The threats and demands are so unequivocal that failing to follow through would sacrifice his entire credibility and prestige.

The Iranian Supreme Leader is unsatisfied with the nuclear framework agreement even though it generously permits Iran to retain the ability to produce nuclear weapons while getting major sanctions relief.

First, he said that the fact sheet published by the U.S. contains lies and does not reflect what Iran agreed to. The statement obliges the regime to seek significant revisions shortly after it gave President Obama the go ahead to make a high-profile victory lap.

Khamenei’s demands are inescapably incompatible with America’s requirements for a deal.

First, Iran is demanding that all sanctions be lifted on the first day that a final deal is signed. The framework only agrees to lift sanctions in phases and only those related to nuclear activity, not terrorism or human rights. Doing so would unfreeze the assets of individuals and entities involved in terrorism around the world, sparking a massive growth in Iran’s terrorist apparatus and proxy warfare.

The inherently flawed hope by the West that “moderate” President Rouhani and other Iranian figures can reign in Khamenei can be immediately ruled out, since Rouhani said the same exact thing.

Read more

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Obama issues dire prediction for Saudis

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman interviews President Obama

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman interviews President Obama

WND, by Aaron Klein, April 7, 2015:

TEL AVIV – In his sit-down interview with the New York Times over the weekend, President Obama issued a dire, largely unreported prediction about the future of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies of the United States.

“I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading,” said Obama. “It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.”

While the president’s remarks were mostly overlooked by the U.S. and Western media, the comments received headline coverage in news outlets run by Iran and by the Hezbollah jihadist organization.

Obama sat down Saturday with Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who asked about “protecting our Sunni Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia.”

Obama explained he thinks “that our friends in the region, our traditional Sunni states, have some very real external threats, but they also have some internal threats.”

He highlighted the “threat” of “populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances.”

“And so,” Obama said, “part of our job is to work with these states and say, ‘How can we build your defense capabilities against external threats, but also, how can we strengthen the body politic in these countries, so that Sunni youth feel that they’ve got something other than [ISIS] to choose from?’

“And that’s going to be a generation process … and ultimately it will be up to the societies to do that.”

Obama warned of a possible Arab Spring-style revolution in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and other Sunni-majority countries.

“I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries. … That’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that we have to have.”

And what about Iranians dissatisfied and disillusioned with the Shiite theocratic regime?

Obama told Friedman the best hope for democratic change in Iran is through the accomplishment of a final nuclear deal.

“But if we’re able to get this done,” he said, “then what may happen – and I’m not counting on it – but what may happen is that those forces inside of Iran that say, ‘We don’t need to view ourselves entirely through the lens of our war machine.’

“’Let’s excel in science and technology and job creation and developing our people,’ that those folks get stronger. … I say that emphasizing that the nuclear deal that we’ve put together is not based on the idea that somehow the regime changes.”

Obama was widely criticized in 2009 for not interfering when Iran brutalized civilian opposition protesters challenging the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who tallied nearly 60 percent amid widespread reports of vote irregularities.

While the U.S. and Western media largely glossed over Obama’s comments about a possible uprising in Sunni states, the remarks received top coverage in Iranian regime and Hezbollah-linked newspapers.

Al-Manar, a Lebanese satellite television station affiliated with Hezbollah, led with the headline “Obama to ’Gulf States’: Biggest Threat is from inside own Countries, not Iran.”

Al-Manar is banned in the U.S., France, Spain and Germany and was named by the State Department as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.”

Iran’s state-run Press TV led with Obama’s remarks, reporting Obama “says what threatens the Arab governments is the increasing dissatisfaction inside their countries, not the growing influence of Iran in the region.”

The Tehran Times published the headline, “Obama says threat against Arabs comes from within not Iran.”

With additional research by Joshua Klein.

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Houthis Capture Aden, What’s Next For The Saudis?

CSP, by Sean MacCormac, April 2, 2015:

Houthi rebels seized the Maasheeq presidential palace in Aden after an intense battle through the city’s commercial center today, despite stiff resistance from Saudi air support over the past two days. Early reports about a possibly Saudi-led amphibious landing at Aden were false; a port official indicates that the warship was a Chinese vessel sent to the area to evacuate foreign nationals. The loss of Aden, the last real stronghold of pro-Hadi forces, is a major blow to the Saudi-led coalition. Fighting is still underway as loyalist forces still maintain control of several sectors of Aden. As long as Aden remains in rebel hands, President Hadi will find it nearly impossible to return to Yemen. Furthermore, with Aden in Houthi control, Iran may find it a convenient port and base for any operations near the Bab el-Mandeb strait, and to protect shipping from east Africa to Iran.

The fall of Aden comes just hours after Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula conducted a raid on the Hadrawmawt prison complex in the coastal city of Mukalla in southeast Yemen. 300 prisoners were freed, including Al-Qaeda top regional commander Khalid Batarfi. Whatever the ideological leanings of the prisoners, past events have shown that these prison breaks make excellent recruitment opportunities for Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda militants were also able to seize Mukalla’s radio headquarters and also engaged in combat with security forces throughout the city.

Saudi Arabia has also confirmed the first Saudi casualty since their entrance into the conflict a week ago. Border guard Cpl. Ali Yahya al-Maliki was confirmed killed along with ten other Saudis wounded when his observation post in Asir province was fired upon. With the situation in Yemen deteriorating even further, and the inability of the airstrikes to put an end to the Houthi rebellion, Saudi Arabia and their Gulf State allies may be forced to send ground troops into Yemen.

***

Published on Apr 2, 2015 by Wrath0fKhan

Al-Qaeda fighters attacked a prison in the coastal Yemeni city of al-Mukallah, freeing nearly 200 prisoners. CNN’s Ian Lee reports.

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Saudis Bolster Yemeni Border Attempt to Downplay Likelihood of Ground Invasion

3950970906CSP, by Sean MacCormac, April 1, 2015:

Saudi Arabia’s incursion into Yemen via air strikes may portend a change in the kingdom’s foreign policy. With Washington unwilling to get directly involved further in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia may take it into their own hands to quell the Houthi uprising in the Middle East in order to prevent Iran, the key supporter of the Houthis, from gaining a foothold close to Saudi soil. Previously, Saudi Arabia has been content and dependent on the United States to provide defense, despite a well funded (albeit of dubious competence) military. But with a more confident Iran getting involved in Yemen and Iraq, and the United States more and more on board with Iran concerning the balance of power in the Middle East, the Saudis feel that they cannot count on direct assistance in these harsh times.

With the Houthis capturing a naval base overlooking the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on the Red Sea, the Saudis have good reason to be worried. 3.8 million barrels of petroleum and other refined petroleum products pass through the Bab el-Mandeb strait each day, making it the fourth busiest chokepoint in the world.

There has already been significant shelling and exchanged fire over the border by Houthi fighters and Saudi military as of Tuesday. Locals have stated that the combat was the heaviest seen since the beginning of hostilities between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis last week. Saudi Arabia has stated that ground troops will only be used if necessary in Yemen, restricting their current military actions to airstrikes and a blockade of Yemeni ports.Spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri stated that “limited ground operations” in specific areas were a possibility, but were by no means guaranteed or a first choice of action. Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen, currently seeking asylum in Saudi Arabia, has however called for an immediate ground intervention in Yemen.

Despite what the official line is over the current Saudi forces on the border being sufficient to hold off the Houthi threat, the Saudis have been moving heavy military equipment down near the Yemeni border, undoubtedly to support these “limited ground operations.” Saudi Arabia can ill afford the conflict in Yemen and its attendant Iranian influence spilling over into its oil-rich, and heavily Shia, Eastern province.

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Why Yemen Matters

by Daniel Pipes
Washington Times
March 28, 2015

The Middle East witnessed something radically new two days ago, when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia responded to a plea by Yemen’s president and led a 10-country coalition to intervene in the air and on the ground in the country. “Operation Decisive Storm” prompts many reflections:

Saudi and Egypt in alliance: Half a century ago, Riyadh and Cairo were active in a Yemen war, but then they supported opposing sides, respectively the status-quo forces and the revolutionaries. Their now being allies points to continuity in Saudia along with profound changes in Egypt.

Arabic-speakers getting their act together: Through Israel’s early decades, Arabs dreamt of uniting militarily against it but the realities of infighting and rivalries smashed every such hope. Even on the three occasions (1948-49, 1967, 1973) when they did join forces, they did so at cross purposes and ineffectively. How striking, then that finally they should coalesce not against Israel but against Iran. This implicitly points to their understanding that the Islamic Republic of Iran poses a real threat, whereas anti-Zionism amounts to mere indulgence. It also points to panic and the need to take action resulting from a stark American retreat.

Arab leaders have a long history of meeting but not cooperating. From the right: King Hussein of Jordan, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Yasir Arafat of the PLO, and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya in September 1970.

Yemen at the center of attention: Yemen played a peripheral role in the Bible, in the rise of Islam, and in modern times; it’s never been the focus of world concern – until suddenly now. Yemen resembles other once-marginal countries – the Koreas, Cuba, the Vietnams, Afghanistan – which out of nowhere became the focus of global concern.

The Middle East cold war went hot: The Iranian and Saudi regimes have headed dueling blocs for about a decade. They did combat as the U.S. and Soviet governments once did – via contending ideologies, espionage, aid, trade, and covert action. On March 26, that cold war went hot, where it’s likely long to remain.

Can the Saudi-led coalition win? Highly unlikely, as these are rookies taking on Iran’s battle-hardened allies in a forbidding terrain.

Islamists dominate: The leaders of both blocs share much: both aspire universally to apply the sacred law of Islam (the Shari’a), both despise infidels, and both turned faith into ideology. Their falling out confirms Islamism as the Middle East’s only game, permitting its proponents the luxury to fight each other.

The Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance in decline: A third alliance of Sunni revisionists somewhere between the Shi’i revolutionaries and the Sunni status-quotians has been active during recent years in many countries – Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya. But now, in part thanks to diplomacy initiated by the brand-new King Salman of Saudi Arabia, its members are gravitating toward their Sunni co-religionists.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has done something unprecedented in putting together a military coalition.

Isolated Iran: Yes, a belligerent Tehran now boasts of dominating four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Sana’a) but that’s also its problem: abrupt Iranian gains have many in the region (including such previously friendly states as Pakistan and Sudan) fearing Iran.

Sidelining the Arab-Israeli conflict: If the Obama administration and European leaders remain obsessed with Palestinians, seeing them as key to the region, regional players have far more urgent priorities. Not only does Israel hardly concern them but the Jewish state serves as a tacit auxiliary of the Saudi-led bloc. Does this change mark a long-term shift in Arab attitudes toward Israel? Probably not; when the Iran crisis fades, expect attention to return to the Palestinians and Israel, as it always does.

American policy in disarray: Middle East hands rightly scoffed in 2009 when Barack Obama and his fellow naïfs expected that by leaving Iraq, smiling at Tehran, and trying harder at Arab-Israeli negotiations they would fix the region, permitting a “pivot” to East Asia. Instead, the incompetents squatting atop the U.S. government cannot keep up with fast-moving, adverse events, many of its own creation (anarchy in Libya, tensions with traditional allies, a more bellicose Iran).

Impact on a deal with Iran: Although Washington has folded on many positions in negotiations with Iran and done the mullah’s regime many favors (for example, not listing it or its Hizbullah ally as terrorist), it drew a line in Yemen, offering the anti-Iran coalition some support. Will Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i now stomp out of the talks? Highly unlikely, for the deal offered him is too sweet to turn down.

American diplomats meet again with their Iranian counterparts to capitulate on yet another difference.

In sum, Salman’s skilled diplomacy and his readiness to use force in Yemen responds to the deadly combination of Arab anarchy, Iranian aggression, and Obama weakness in a way that will shape the region for years.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

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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…

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1a98a643-0240-4cf6-8929-fa817e6736ea

Yemen isn’t on Verge of Civil War, It Already is – And Saudi Arabia Will Get Involved

March 21, 2015: Members of a militia group loyal to Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, known as the Popular Committees, chew qat as they sit next to their tank, guarding a major intersection in Aden, Yemen. (AP)

March 21, 2015: Members of a militia group loyal to Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, known as the Popular Committees, chew qat as they sit next to their tank, guarding a major intersection in Aden, Yemen. (AP)

March 25, 2015 / /

Once again the American media is a day late and a dollar short in covering foreign policy matters. Now every major media outlet in the country is openly asking the question of whether or not Yemen is “on the edge of a civil war.” The problem with that is they’re still behind the power curve. Why? Because Yemen already is in a civil war and it has been going on for the last several months, only you wouldn’t guess from American media outlets since they were focused on more important things like Bruce Jenner’s transition into “womanhood” – but we digress. Follow-on forces continue to be flown into Taiz for the main Houthi push to take Aden, which we assess can begin within days. This will be a multi-pronged offensive, as we’re already seeing with forces elsewhere moving to isolate pro-Hadi forces in other areas. Hadi’s forces were able to temporarily halt the Houthi advance – although this will change as Hadi’s forces continue to get worn down. Those areas weren’t even one of the major objectives. If anything the forces currently advancing have the port of al-Mukha as one of their primary objectives prior to the main push for Aden being initiated.

What Yemen’s Coming Apart at the Seams Means to Arabian Peninsula

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5737

Forces Loyal to President Hadi Halt Houthi Push Towards Yemen’s Aden

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/hadi-forces-check-houthi-push-towards-yemens-aden-n329681

hadi faction

Pro-Hadi forces manning a checkpoint in Aden
Source: al-Jazeera

The Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia are reported to have agreed to a possible deployment of ground troops to support Hadi’s faction and confront the growing Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf nations had previously sent a multi-nation ground force to support the Bahraini government against Iranian proxies a few years ago, so there’s a precedence for this sort of thing. Also, Saudi Arabia has waged limited air campaigns along the Yemeni border off and on in the past for lesser reasons. The current buildup of Saudi ground forces suggests that they may be planning a proactive defense of the border region to keep the Houthis on their side of the border, but will likely initiate a ground campaign if Aden is perceived to be on the verge of falling – which might happen in the coming days. We assess that the violence will exceed anything the Saudis dealt with in previous operations that they conducted against the Houthis in 2009 and 2010. If it comes to that (and let’s be honest, does anybody truly think “negotiations” with Iran and its proxies will succeed?), we expect the initial ground deployments to consist of SOF personnel to perform an advise and assist role. That ground presence will likely grow in both role and numbers as the violence continues to escalate. Currently, the Saudis are providing financial support to Hadi’s faction and may be looking to provide lethal aid to keep the loyal military units in Aden propped up.

Saudis Vow “Necessary Measures” in Yemen if Peace Talks Fail

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8b9fa25a-d17f-11e4-86c8-00144feab7de.html#axzz3VMsKd8Ml

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia building up military near Yemen border – U.S. officials

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/24/us-yemen-security-usa-saudi-idUSKBN0MK2S120150324

Gulf states send forces to Bahrain following protests

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-12729786

Analysis: What is behind Saudi offensive in Yemen

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/saudi-arabia/091114/saudi-arabia-offensive-yemen-houthis

Saudi Forces Bomb Yemeni Rebels on Southern Border

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB125746088928732009

KSA capable of deterring attackers: Saudi King

http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/11/08/90588.html

Saudi jets bomb Yemeni Houthis

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2009/11/20091151323886933.html

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 6.28.06 PM

The Saudi Army: Ready to rock and roll
Source: thefewgoodmen.com

Saudi Arabia’s actions are hardly surprising given the clear and present threat the Iranian regime and its proxies pose to the region. Houthi fighters are reportedly serving in the ranks of the Iranian regime’s “Foreign Legion” known as the Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) in Syria against anti-Assad forces. Those Houthi fighters reportedly received pre-deployment training at Hezbollah camps in Lebanon much like Iraqi proxies such as Kitab Hezbollah (KH) and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS). Should the Saudis get involved militarily, and we think its only a matter of time before they do, we could very well see the Houthis applying what they learned from that Hezbollah training. We’ll also likely see more from the IRGC-Qods Force and its proxies like what we saw in 2009 with Hezbollah operatives shot down a Yemeni fighter jet in 2009. Its been a few years since that incident and the Iranian regime now has firm control of Sanaa’s international airport with regular flights coming and going between there and Tehran – meaning more weapons (and Qods Force personnel) are being brought into the fight.

Iranian Regime Consolidates Houthi Gains, Begins Work Forming Houthi Intel Proxy

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5580

Yemen’s Houthi Rebels: The Hand of Iran?

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1992

Shia Proxy Threat to US ISIS Strategy in Saudi Arabia

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1837

Yemeni Fighter Planes Shot down by Hezbollah’s Elements

http://www.yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=1391

Syrian Army Takes Advantage of US Airstrikes in Counter-Offensive

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2788

hezbollah_24 mar

Hezbollah has been operating in Yemen for several years now – and their OP-Tempo is steadily increasing
Source: al-akhbar.com

As of this writing Hadi has the support of roughly 5,000 Yemeni Army personnel against a Houthi force numbering from 13,000-15,000 men. Those pro-Hadi Army personnel suffer from a lack of ammo, equipment and poor morale, so its debatable just how long they can hold out with no external support – which is a big reason why we assess the Saudis will become more involved. Here, air support will be key for both sides and the Saudis and UAE will be the most likely participants of any Gulf-led air campaign. However, the Saudis are not as capable as their UAE counterparts in terms of conducting sustained external operations.

Forming the bulk of Hadi’s supporters are the “Popular Committees” led by Abdul-Latif al-Sayid al-Bafqeeh. His faction had been working closely with the military in combatting AQAP in the Abyan-area when the Houthis launched their offensive to take Sanaa. Hadi didn’t order his security forces to combat the Houthis when they stormed Sanaa because he couldn’t trust his own men and didn’t know how strong his support was in the capital – which ultimately led to his and several Arab nations’ diplomatic missions being relocated to Aden. Bafqeeh is considered a local hero in the South for his opposition to AQAP and the Houthis. Although his estimated 6,700-man force adds much-needed bodies to Hadi’s beleaguered loyalist Army force, they’re not as well-trained as former President Saleh’s forces or even the Houthis. These Popular Committees were able to keep the Houthis from seizing Aden’s airport and are currently engaged in several battles north of the city – but they’re plagued by the same ammo and equipment shortage as the pro-Hadi Army units. There’s also some questions regarding Bafqeeh’s true allegiances, as he’s previously worked with AQAP when Saleh was in power. He claims to have left the group due to the leadership refusing to provide sufficient financial support. He also had this rather interesting comment when describing his reasons for his previous AQAP associations:

“when the regime was oppressive and brutal … People then joined al-Qaida to avenge themselves against the government. I and my men pulled out before we got involved with them.”

This pretty much cuts to the heart of what we’ve been saying about AQAP and the Islamic State (IS) being viewed more favorably by a local populace who feel threatened by the Iranian regime – which is every bit as bad as the two Sunni jihadist organizations. The problem with Bafqeeh is that he’s already shown that his allegiances are subject to change – so what will happen should IS offer him cash incentives to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi like they have with others? Something to think about as the Saudis ramp up their lethal aid to the Pro-Hadi crew. This will become a bigger factor later on as IS continues to gain more momentum in follow-on attacks to last week’s Sanaa Mosque bombings, especially if Hadi’s faction becomes even more weakened than it is. They have everybody’s attention now, and are fashioning themselves as the “protectors of the Sunni populace” against the Iranian regime. In the end people are people and like everybody else, the Yemeni Sunnis want to be part of a “winner.” Unfortunately, the factions they view as being the “strongest” just might be AQAP and IS.

abdul

Abdul-Latif al-Sayid al-Bafqeeh
Source: Associated Press

This great news for Iran’s strategic campaign to dominate the Middle East as it allows the Qods Force’s objective of forcing Saudi Arabia and the terror financiers residing there to divert resources from the anti-Assad war effort in Syria back closer to home. Control of key Yemeni real estate also allows the Iranian regime to have more options in disrupting international shipping if they so desire. Using Sanaa as a major support hub, the Qods Force and Hezbollah will be able to provide greater levels of material support to cells operating inside Saudi Arabia to destabilize the new King’s government while targeting IS support nodes throughout the country. With all the fighting taking place in the country, if this isn’t a civil war already, then what is it? Now think about this – President Obama’s “Yemen Success Story” being touted as the “model for future operations in the War Against Terror” has seen millions of dollars in equipment “disappearing,” Hadi being run out of the capital, parliament dissolved, US embassy evacuated and the last of our troops pulled out of the country. The cherry on top is that IS now has a foothold in the country and Iran emerged as the big winner by supporting terrorism and fomenting regional unrest. What we’re seeing in Yemen is Iran exporting their “Islamic Revolution” to the Arabian Peninsula by implementing the “Lebanon Model.” We were also told during the 2008 US Presidential election that he was going to “fundamentally transform America – and the world.” Is this the “fundamental transformation” he was talking about?

A veteran militia leader in southern Yemen emerges as key ally of president against rebels

http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/03/24/in-south-yemen-a-militia-leader-is-presidents-top-ally?page=2

BRIEF CLASHES IN ADEN AS POPULAR COMMITTEES SET UP CHECKPOINTS

http://www.yementimes.com/en/1861/news/4902/Brief-clashes-in-Aden-as-popular-committees-set-up-checkpoints.htm

YEMEN’S USE OF MILITIAS TO MAINTAIN STABILITY IN ABYAN PROVINCE

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/yemens-use-of-militias-to-maintain-stability-in-abyan-province

Millions in U.S. military equipment lost as Yemen heads down Syria’s path

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/03/24/millions-in-u-s-military-equipment-lost-as-yemen-heads-down-syrias-path/

UPDATE – Reporting that just broke a little while ago suggests that Hadi fled his Aden-based residence. No word yet on his current whereabouts, but if he leaves the country, he could be making a mad dash for either Saudi Arabia or UAE. Should that happen, it would signal the Saudis to initiate the first phase of their military intervention. Oh, and the airfield our troops were stationed at has fallen to the Houthis now. More to follow…

Officials tell AP: Yemen president flees Aden home

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c55bb2a7eabe4311b2eb40ba1c3f2abd/report-rebels-seize-yemen-air-base-used-al-qaida-fight

Other Related Articles:

Poised to Fill Yemen’s Power Vacuum – Iran Tightens Grip on the Peninsula

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4517

The Islamic State’s Arabian Peninsula Campaign

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4558

President Obama’s Yemen “Success” Story

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4751

IRGC-Qods Force: The Arabian Peninsula Campaign and the Failure of Obama’s Foreign Policy

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4478