Iran Spends Billions to Prop Up Assad

ASKING FOR A LOAN? SOURCE: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

ASKING FOR A LOAN? SOURCE: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Bloomberg View, by Eli Lake, June 9, 2015:

Iran is spending billions of dollars a year to prop up the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, according to the U.N.’s envoy to Syria and other outside experts. These estimates are far higher than what the Barack Obama administration, busy negotiating a nuclear deal with the Tehran government, has implied Iran spends on its policy to destabilize the Middle East.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told me that the envoy estimates Iran spends $6 billion annually on Assad’s government. Other experts I spoke to put the number even higher. Nadim Shehadi, the director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, said his research shows that Iran spent between $14 and $15 billion in military and economic aid to the Damascus regime in 2012 and 2013, even though Iran’s banks and businesses were cut off from the international financial system.

Such figures undermine recent claims from Obama and his top officials suggesting that Iran spends a relative pittance to challenge U.S. interests and allies in the region. While the administration has never disclosed its own estimates on how much Iran spends to back Syria and other allies in the Middle East, Obama himself has played down the financial dimension of the regime’s support.

“The great danger that the region has faced from Iran is not because they have so much money. Their budget — their military budget is $15 billion compared to $150 billion for the Gulf States,” he said in an interview last week with Israel’s Channel 2.

But experts see it another way. The Christian Science Monitor last month reported that de Mastura told a think tank in Washington that Iran was spending three times its official military budget–$35 billion annually–to support Assad in Syria. When asked about that earlier event, Jessy Chahine, the spokeswoman for de Mistura, e-mailed me: “The Special Envoy has estimated Iran spends $6 billion annually on supporting the Assad regime in Syria. So it’s $6 billion not $35 billion.”

Either way, that figure is significant. Many members of Congress and close U.S. regional allies have raised concerns that Iran will see a windfall of cash as a condition of any nuclear deal it signs this summer. Obama himself has said there is at least $150 billion worth of Iranian money being held in overseas banks as part of the crippling sanctions. If Iran spends billions of its limited resources today to support its proxies in the Middle East, it would follow that it will spend even more once sanctions are lifted.

The Obama administration disagrees. It says the amount Iran spends on mischief in the region is so low that any future sanctions relief will not make a difference in its behavior. Speaking at a conference this weekend sponsored by the Jerusalem Post, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that even as Iran’s economy has suffered from sanctions in recent years, it has been able to maintain its “small” level of assistance to terrorists and other proxies. “The unfortunate truth remains that the cost of this support is sufficiently small, that we will need to remain vigilant with or without a nuclear deal to use our other tools to deter the funding of terror and regional destabilization,” he said.

Shehadi and other experts acknowledged that their figures were estimates, because the Tehran regime does not publicize budgets for its Revolutionary Guard Corps or the full subsidies it provides to allies. Nonetheless, Shehadi says, Iranian support to Syria today is substantial, especially when factoring in the line of credit, oil subsidies and other kinds of economic assistance Iran provides the Syrian regime.

Steven Heydemann, who was the vice president for applied research on conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace until last month, told me earlier this year that the value of Iranian oil transfers, lines of credit, military personnel costs and subsidies for weapons for the Syrian government was likely between $3.5 and $4 billion annually. He said that did not factor in how much Iran spent on supporting Hezbollah and other militias fighting Assad’s opponents in Syria. Heydamann said he estimated the total support from Iran for Assad would be between $15 and $20 billion annually.

A Pentagon report released last week was quite clear about what Iran hopes to achieve with its spending: “Iran has not substantively changed its national security and military strategies over the past year. However, Tehran has adjusted its approach to achieve its enduring objectives, by increasing its diplomatic outreach and decreasing its bellicose rhetoric.” The report says Iran’s strategy is intended to preserve its Islamic system of governance, protect it from outside threats, attain economic prosperity and “establish Iran as the dominant regional power.”

If Iran ends up accepting a deal on its nuclear program, it will see an infusion of cash to pursue that regional agenda. Shehadi said this fits a pattern for dictatorships in the Middle East: they preoccupy the international community with proliferation issues while, behind the scene, they continue to commit atrocities.

“In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein was massacring his people and we were worried about the weapons inspectors,” Shehadi said. “Bashar al-Assad did that too. He kept us busy with chemical weapons when he massacred his people. Iran is keeping us busy with a nuclear deal and we are giving them carte blanche in Syria and the region.”

Also see:

America is Losing the War Against Sunni Jihadists and Empowering The Shia Caliphate

isis-640x480Breitbartby DR. SEBASTIAN GORKA, March 13, 2015:

With its support of the Baghdad government and the wrong rebels in Syria, the US Administration is doing the unthinkable: strengthening the spread of Tehran’s control in the Middle East and at the same time also helping the Sunni extremists to grow in power.

The American strategy against Global Jihad is having the opposite effect of that intended. And even key government officials are beginning to openly admit the failure of our policies.

The Director of National Intelligence, retired General James Clapper, recently testified that the terrorist threat is worse than at any other time in history and Major General Michael Nagata, responsible for planning our response to the civil war in Syria, has stated that the Islamic State is now more dangerous than Al Qaeda.

Seemingly just to prove the broader point about the global appeal of Jihad against the “infidel,” ISIS has just accepted the African terrorist group Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance, meaning that the Sunni Caliphate established last year in Mosul by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi now officially covers any territory that Boko Haram controls in Nigeria.

The spread of ISIS influence is not just about territorial control, it is about the staggering success of its international call to holy war, with an estimated 19,000 westerners having left their homes to wage jihad. The visual below, based upon a British think-tank’s unclassified research, shows just how international a recruitment wave this is, with almost every country on the map sending recruits to fight in just Syria alone.

image

Given all the evidence, even the most influential liberal commentators and pundits have admitted the failure of the Obama strategy against “Violent Extremism.” Writing recently in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman stated: “When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam” and added that as a nation “We’ve entered the theater of the absurd.” The left wing Atlantic magazine even dedicated 11,000 words to an article proving the Islamic roots of ISIS and the religious justification for its violence.

Fourteen years after the September 11th attacks and half way through President Obama’s second term, how can we explain a failure so egregious that even the pillars of the liberal left are finally prepared to call it out? The key mistakes upon which the current strategy is built are:

  • The White House’s belief in the ability to “degrade and destroy” ISIS through air power alone
  • The belief that Iran can be leveraged as an ally against ISIS
  • Gambling on Islamic rebels such as the Free Syrian Army as a way to remove President Assad of Syria, and mostly important:
  • The belief that ideology is irrelevant to the enemy we face and that this war can be won solely through military means or local proxies.

Each one of these premises is flawed and is undermining US national interests as well as the safety and stability of our regional allies.

Firstly, in the history of modern military air power, since the first hand grenade was thrown out of a biplane over a century ago, the number of insurgencies like ISIS that have been defeated by airstrikes alone is zero. Insurgents are defined by their capability to hold ground. This is what separates a rag-tag terrorist group from a real threat like the Islamic State. As a result, their control of territory by ground forces can only be countered by other ground forces contesting the same space and eventually destroying or pushing them out. This is not a call for the deployment of US troops, but for the recognition of the fact that only a ground response– for example, made up of Iraqi, Kurdish, Jordanian and Egyptian units– can defeat ISIS. (According to my sources even Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser, has admitted that US airstrikes are not working because we do not have the intelligence on the ground to know what to hit.) Any such response on the ground will not happen without US leadership and support, and in this President Sisi of Egypt will play the pivotal role even if the Obama Administration doesn’t like the former General. Without Egypt’s military might, the Islamic State will continue to grow and threaten the US even more than it already does.

By bringing Iran into our plans against ISIS, we are in fact strengthening a rival brand of Jihad. The war today in Syria and Iraq is not about the corruption of the former Maliki government in Baghdad or the human rights record of President Assad of Syria. It is about whose version of Islam will dominate the region. One only has to read or listen to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s sermon from the Grand Mosque Mosul in which he declared the Islamic State. The speech is about reestablishing the theocratic empire of Islam – the Caliphate – under Sunni control. ISIS even posted their real intent on social media:

Iran, on the other hand, also believes in the need to re-establish the Caliphate, but under its control as a Shia empire, and the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, must be understood as the re-ignition of a 1,400 year old argument about who should control Islam. In fact, that is how the Sunni and Shia division of Islam occurred after the death of Mohammad, and those are the stakes for Tehran. The fact that the mullahs now control five regional capitals– Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and now Sanaa– means that despite ISIS’s growth, the Shia extremists are winning. The White House’s belief that Tehran is an altruistic foe of Sunni jihadists like ISIS is driven by shortsightedness and a lack of understanding of the historic battle that is in play, and will simply strengthen the Shia proto-Caliphate, eventually even to include Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons should the nascent deal the President is pushing come to fruition.

By contrast, in Syria, since 2011, the administration has been driven by its pathological hatred of Assad and the belief that, despite his enjoying the support of both Beijing and Moscow, Assad can be removed through the support of indigenous rebels such as the Free Syria Army. Speaking to the few true moderates that have organizational capability in theater, the sad truth is that we have chosen the wrong rebels. The more organized and loudest rebel groups are not the moderates but the true jihadists, some of whom have in fact formally allied themselves with ISIS. (This is not just a failure of the White House, but also the Republicans in Congress, especially Senator John McCain, who has the uncanny knack of supporting those who would kill us after they have killed all the Shia in the region).

Most disturbing of all is the Administrations willful dismissal of the real center of gravity in this war: the ideology of Global Jihadism. With its constant refrain that “upstream causes” such as poverty and lack of education are the real reason for terrorist violence, the White House displays a total ignorance of the groups we face today, from Al Qaeda to ISIS, from the Fort Hood shooter to the Tsarnaev brothers who killed and maimed hundreds at the Boston bombing.

As political correctness has been forced onto the practice of national security in general and counterterrorism specifically, we see absurd conclusions being drawn and fantastical policies being implemented. The recent international summit on “Combating Violent Extremism” hosted by the President and the White House assiduously preached repeatedly that religion has nothing to do with ISIS or Al Qaeda and concluded with this visual that all we need is more community outreach:

White House Summit

Of course, if poverty and lack of education were the drivers of terrorist violence, then half of the population of India would be terrorists. But they aren’t. Why? Because terrorist violence does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a spark, a narrative that acts as the justification to violence and the catalyst to mobilize people to do horrific acts against their fellow man. That ideology can be secular – for example, the communist terrorism of the Weather Underground led by Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers – or religious, such as ISIS. How else, for example, can one understand why the Islamic state would behead the 21 Coptic Christians whose murder they filmed on the shores of Libya, but instead burn alive the Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh? These decisions were not random.

For the jihadists of ISIS, the Copts are kuffar, infidels, and as the Koran teaches, the infidel must be “smitten on the neck” (e.g. Koran Ch. 47 V. 4). However, Lt. Kaseasbeh was a Muslim, a Jordanian Sunni, who in taking arms up against the Caliphate made himself an “apostate” and as a result he had to be killed not as an infidel but as one who committed the sin of leaving Islam and therefore, he was to be treated as if he were in hell, i.e. burnt alive. Religion is therefore so important to this war that it even defines the way in which the terrorists will kill you should you be captured.

Today, the Global Jihad has two brands. It is a war of the “Sunni Coke” versus the “Shia Pepsi” which also targets the local minorities caught in the middle, most especially the ancient Christians of the region.(Incredibly, the Parliament of the European Union seems to understand the threat better than the White House based upon the resolution it just issued against ISIS.) The powers that be have allowed politics and ideology to distort and pervert the practice of national security to such an extent that, incredibly, we are not only helping the Sunni Jihadists, but also the Shia extremists of Iran. Whichever side wins the war for the crown of the Caliph is irrelevant, since once their immediate foe is vanquished we, the infidel West, will be their next target.

Sebastian Gorka Ph.D. is the Major General Matthew C. Horner Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University. You can see his briefing from the Global Counterterrorism Summit on Why ISIS is Much More Dangerous than Al Qaeda here and follow him on Twitter at: @SebGorka.

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

State Department Testimony: Rebels Cannot Defeat Assad

homs-syria-rebel-reutersBreitbart, by FRANCES MARTEL:

The Islamic State has gained momentum in both Syria and Iraq while allegedly “moderate” groups against President Bashar al-Assad in the former nation have suffered increasing setbacks. With the outlook dire, even the U.S. State Department is admitting that a military overthrow of Assad appears far from a viable reality.

Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, senior State Department official Brett McGurk said the State Department “do not see a situation in which the rebels are able to remove [Assad] from power,” instead noting that Assad’s removal would have to be a “democratic” process.

The admission raises questions regarding President Obama’s continued push to arm and support “moderate” rebels against Assad, citing the use of chemical weapons against civilians, among other human rights violations. The President initially allowed for weapons to reach Syrian rebels who were considered “moderate” in June 2013, in response to allegations and accrued evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians. At the time, a poll found that 70% of Americans opposed the President’s action.

A year later, Assad appeared nowhere closer to falling, yet the President once again called arming moderate rebels– this time engaging Congress. The President and Congress finally agreed to a $500 million program to train and arm rebels vetted to be moderate.

At the moment, the program is not expected to begin until March, according to Foreign Policy. It aims to train 5,000 rebels per year, but many have criticized it as a slow reaction to a crisis that is bleeding millions of refugees into the outside world a day, not counting those displaced within Syria. A particularly troubling report this week from McClatchyindicates that there is currently little to no support to rebels on the ground from the United States at all– many rebel leaders say they have received nothing– leaving unanswered questions as to where the funding has been going.

Meanwhile, both Assad and the Islamic State have been making gains, as well as the Syrian jihadist group the Al Nusra Front. Al-Nusra, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, alleged this week that they had used a United Nations vehicle in a terrorist attack in Syria, a milestone for the group’s fight against the West. In Jordan and Afghanistan, the Islamic State’s popularity is only growing, posing the serious danger of a new influx of foreign jihadis into the Syrian war theater.

President Assad remains in power, with increasing confidence. In a recent interview with Paris Match magazine, Assad went so far as to blame the United States for the creation of ISIS, and call airstrikes against ISIS targets within Syria by US and coalition forces “illegal,” despite the consensus that they have helped his army. Of his own rule, Assad remained confident that “we as Syrians will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state”– which is to say, accept his removal from power as long as the United States has a role to play.

The situation leaves reasonable doubt regarding the potential for rebel groups to remove Assad, making McGurk’s comments an almost necessary reality from the State Department. Nonetheless, such comments do not appear to be currently interfering with President Obama’s plans to spend $500 million on training and arming rebels that even his State Department see little potential for victory in.

Also see:

Iran and US Fighting On Same Side Rattles Israeli Defense Officials

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
December 11, 2014

1065 (1)Confirmation that Iran has joined the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Syria won muted praise from U.S. officials last week. And that development has increased anxiety among Israeli defense officials that budding cooperation between Tehran and Washington will lead to dangerous comprises about Iran’s nuclear program and inadequate action confronting the Islamic Republic’s global terrorist network.

The biggest threat from that network lies just over Israel’s northern border in Lebanon.

On Sunday, according to international media reports, Israeli Air Force jets bombed targets in and around Damascus. The strikes likely targeted advanced weapons that were destined for Hizballah depots in southern Lebanon, often hidden in apartment buildings in Shi’ite villages.

With more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, Hizballah has the largest arsenal of any terrorist organization in the world, and its heavy involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime is giving it plenty of experience in ground warfare.

Israel did not confirm any involvement in the recent air strikes, but it is deeply involved in a covert war against an international Iranian-led weapons smuggling network that is designed to provide Hizballah and other radical terror entities around the Middle East with an array of sophisticated arms.

This network is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which oversees the smuggling of powerful weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon, often via Syria. The Iranian network also attempts to send arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, to radical Shi’ite militias in Iraq that fight the Islamic State, and to Shi’ite Houthi rebels that have taken over Yemen’s capital.

Iran’s Quds Force and Hizballah, both backers of the Assad regime, have set up terrorism sleeper cells around the Middle East and beyond, according to Israeli intelligence assessments. Some of these cells are routinely activated and ordered to strike Israeli and Jewish targets.

Israeli intelligence agencies quietly work to stop the planned attacks, any one of which, if successful, could spark a wider regional conflict.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program and develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

According to international media reports, Israel targeted shipments of Hizballah-bound weapons in Syria five times in 2013, and once in Lebanon in 2014. This has led Hizballah to retaliate by planting two bombs on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon appeared to hint at Israel’s role in the latest Syria strikes, by saying that “those who seek to arm Israel’s enemies will know that we can reach anywhere, at any time, and through any means to thwart their plans.”

As this covert, high-stakes struggle continues to rage against the background of Iran’s creeping nuclear program, a growing number of Israeli defense officials are expressing concern that the Obama administration may be willing to cooperate with Iran and its radical Shi’ite allies in the war against the Islamic State.

The officials stress the flourishing defense ties between Israel and the U.S., which are absolutely vital for Israeli security, and express gratitude for continuous American defense assistance.

However, some have become highly critical of the way the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State sees Iran as a de facto member.

Israeli defense officials wonder out loud whether the West, led by the U.S., is falling into a dangerous trap, by teaming up with the radical Shi’ite axis in the Middle East.

To be sure, no one within the Israeli defense establishment doubts the need to tackle the Sunni Islamic State. Israel is quietly providing any assistance necessary to the anti-ISIL coalition.

Yet it is the prospect of tactical cooperation between the U.S. and Iran against IS, and the danger that the cooperation could lead to Western concessions to Iran over its nuclear program that haunts some.

The failure by Washington to take tangible steps against Iran’s global terrorism network is also a source of concern. This network is growing in Syria, along with Iran’s presence there, and over the past 12 months, all of the cross-border terror attacks launched from Syria into northern Israel have been the work of elements linked to either Hezbollah or Iran, one senior military official has said.

These worries seem to be bolstered by comments like those recently made by Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed Iranian air strikes on Islamic State positions in Iraq, describing them as “positive.”

Unlike the Islamic State, the Shi’ite radical axis enjoys state sponsorship from an Islamic Republic that is three to six months away from nuclear weapons.

This situation makes it a more urgent problem for global security, and would seem to justify a stance that views both radical Sunnis and radical Shi’ites as threats to international peace.

Driven by an extremist religious-ideological doctrine, the Iranian-led axis views moderate Sunni governments which partner with the West – like Egypt and Jordan – as enemies, seeks to push American influence out of the Middle East, and promotes the idea of Iranian hegemony as a first step to establishing eventual Iranian global dominance.

Iran views itself as the authentic Islamic caliphate, and seeks to export its influence as far as possible. Eventually, it would like to fuel conflict across the region through its proxies under a nuclear umbrella.

“The success of the Iranian revolution influences to this day the ambition for an Islamic caliphate,” Ya’alon said this month, in an attempt to illustrate the imminent danger posed by Iran’s role in the world.

Disappointment in Israel has been expressed over what one official said was the West’s “support” for radical Shi’ites, and its willingness to ignore Iranian threats.

Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have expressed concern about the U.S. agreeing to a “bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear program since talks started. Thus far, those fears have not yet been realized.

The Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a report last week that explicitly warned about Iranian-American cooperation against IS, which it said could occur at Israel’s expense.

“Despite Iran’s basic hostility towards the United States, and despite Iran’s subversion of American interests in the Middle East, it might collaborate with the United States against ISIS and the global jihad in Syria and Iraq, the common enemy,” the reportsaid. “Such collaboration might occur at Israel’s expense and harm its vital interests (for example, Iran’s concessions on the nuclear issue). In addition, collaborating against ISIS might increase Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, and might also strengthen Hizballah’s status in Lebanon, possibly strengthening the Iranian-led radical camp in the Middle East.”

The report is another signal of concerns in Jerusalem that Washington’s war on IS could lead it to make concessions to Tehran on a nuclear program.

Such an outcome would entrench and legitimize Iran’s position as a state on the threshold of nuclear arms possession, an outcome that, in Jerusalem’s eyes, would jeopardize both regional and international security to an unacceptable degree.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

By Jeff Stein:

Nothing has come in for more mockery during the Obama administration’s halting steps into the Syrian civil war than its employment of “moderate” to describe the kind of rebels it is willing to back. In one of the more widely cited japes, The New Yorker’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, presented a “Moderate Syrian Application Form,” in which applicants were asked to describe themselves as either “A) Moderate, B) Very moderate, C) Crazy moderate or D) Other.”

After Senator John McCain unwittingly posed with Syrians “on our side” who turned out to be kidnappers, Jon Stewart cracked, “Not everyone is going to be wearing their ‘HELLO I’M A TERRORIST’ name badge.”

Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.

Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.

“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”

No, says former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who still travels the region for the Soufan Group, a private intelligence organization headed by FBI, CIA and MI6 veterans. “Syria is a vetting nightmare,” he told Newsweek, “with no way to discern the loyalties of not only those being vetted but also of those bringing the people to our attention.”

A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.

“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

Read more at Newsweek

The Poison Tree

Arab protesters wave Islamic flags in front of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel / AP

Arab protesters wave Islamic flags in front of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel / AP

By Matthew Continetti:

Last month, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu made a connection between the Islamic State and Hamas. These terrorist entities, Netanyahu said, have a lot in common. Separated by geography, they nonetheless share ideology and tactics and goals: Islamism, terrorism, the destruction of Israel, and the establishment of a global caliphate.

And yet, Netanyahu observed, the very nations now campaigning against the Islamic State treated Hamas like a legitimate combatant during last summer’s Israel-Gaza war. “They evidently don’t understand,” he said, “that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

The State Department dismissed Netanyahu’s metaphor. “Obviously, we’ve designated both as terrorist organizations,” said spokesman Jen Psaki. “But ISIL poses a different threat to Western interests and to the United States.”

Psaki was wrong, of course. She’s always wrong. And, after the events of the last 48 hours, there ought not to be any doubt as to just how wrong she was. As news broke that a convert to Islam had murdered a soldier and stormed the Canadian parliament, one read of another attack in Jerusalem, where a Palestinian terrorist ran his car over passengers disembarking from light rail, injuring seven, and killing 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, who held a U.S. passport.

Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hamas—these awful people are literally baby killers. And yet they produce a remarkable amount of dissension, confusion, willful ignorance, and moral equivalence on the part of the men and women who conduct U.S. foreign policy. “ISIL is not ‘Islamic,’” President Obama said of the terrorist army imposing sharia law across Syria and Iraq. “Obviously, we’re shaken by it,” President Obama said of the attack in Canada. “We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident,” the State Department said of the murder of a Jewish child.

“Not Islamic,” despite the fact that the Caliphate grounds its barbarous activities in Islamic law. “Shaken,” not stirred to action. “All sides,” not the side that targets civilians again and again and again. The evasions continue. They create space for the poison tree to grow.

The persistent denial of the ideological unity of Islamic terrorism—the studied avoidance of politically incorrect facts that has characterized our response to the Ft. Hood shooting, the Benghazi attack, the Boston Marathon bombing, the march of the caliphate across Syria and Iraq, and the crimes of Hamas—is not random. Behind it is a set of ideas with a long history, and with great purchase among the holders of graduate degrees who staff the Department of Justice, the National Security Council, Foggy Bottom, and the diplomatic corps. These ideas are why, in the words of John McCain, the terrorists “are winning, and we’re not.”

A report by Katherine Gorka of the Council on Global Security, “The Bad Science Behind America’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” analyzes the soil from which the poison tree draws strength. Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Gorka writes, U.S. policymakers have faced a dilemma: “how to talk about Islam in a way that is instructive in dealing with Muslims who are enemies but not destructive to those who are friends.” For decades, the preferred solution has been to declare America’s friendship with Islam, and to distinguish between jihadists and everyday Muslims.

One of Gorka’s earliest examples of this policy comes from former Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian, who said in 1992, “The U.S. government does not view Islam as the next ‘ism’ confronting the West or threatening world peace.” Similar assurances were uttered by officials in the Clinton administration, by Clinton himself, and by President George W. Bush. The policy was meant to delegitimize terrorism by denying the terrorists’ claim that they are acting according to religious precepts. “Policymakers believed that by tempering their language with regard to Islam, they might forestall further radicalization of moderate Muslims and indeed even potentially win moderates into the American circle of friendship.”

George W. Bush, Gorka notes, combined his rhetorical appeals to moderate Muslims with denunciations of the immorality of terrorism and illiberalism. And yet, for the government at large, downplaying the religious and ideological component to terrorist activities became an end in itself.

The Global War on Terror was renamed the “global struggle against violent extremism.” In 2008 the Department of Homeland Security published a lexicon of terrorism that said, “Our terminology must be properly calibrated to diminish the recruitment efforts of extremists who argue that the West is at war with Islam.” State Department guidelines issued in 2008 said, “Never use the terms jihadist or mujahedeen to describe a terrorist.”

Then came Obama. As a candidate, he stressed his experiences in Indonesia and Pakistan. He told Nick Kristof of the New York Times that the call of the muezzin is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.” In one of his first major addresses as president, he traveled to Cairo to inaugurate a new beginning with the Muslim world. His counterterrorism adviser, now director of the CIA, called jihad a “legitimate tenet of Islam,” and referred to Jerusalem as “Al Quds.”

The change in the manner in which the government treated Islamism was profound. “Whereas the 9/11 Commission report, published under the presidency of George W. Bush in July 2004 as a bipartisan product, had used the word Islam 322 times, Muslim 145 times, jihad 126 times, and jihadist 32 times,” Gorka writes, “the National Intelligence Strategy of the United States, issued by the Obama administration in August 2009, used the term Islam 0 times, Muslim 0 times, jihad 0 times.” The omission is stunning.

Read more at Washington Free Beacon

Why Turkey and the Administration have Doomed The Kurds in Kobani

ISIS Flag atop hill overlooking Kobani, Syria Source: AFP

ISIS Flag atop hill overlooking Kobani, Syria Source: AFP

By Jerry Gordon:

This was a tough day in Kobani, Syria for the 2 to 3,000 Kurdish YPG fighters desperately trying to stave off with light arms the onslaught of ISIS forces equipped with US and Russian tanks and artillery pouring fire into the shrinking city center.   According to a Bloomberg October 4, 2014 report, those fighters in Kobani   “feel furious and deserted by the US” according to Faysal Sariyildiz, a pro-Kurdish legislator.  The siege is now past 14 days, and many believe the end of the Kurdish town bestride the Turkish border may be at hand. The desperation of the brave YPG fighters was reflected in a female commander who undertook the first suicide attack on an ISIS outpost in the eastern area of Kobani, detonating a grenade, killing her and a number of Salafist jihadis.  Flags of ISIS emblazoned with the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith now do the hilltops overlooking the embattled town.

But no coalition ‘partner’, neither the Turks ringing  the border with  tanks, while  tending to the huddled mass of more than 180,000 Kurdish refugees, nor the US-led coalition of allegedly 40 countries are coming to the relief of these valiant Kurdish YPG fighters.  The possible imminent fall of Kobani  underscores the failure of the Obama strategy of relying solely on an air campaign  that so far has been a failure to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.   A Wall Street Journal  analysis indicated that  ISIS has proven to be resilient in the face of the coalition air assaults, held onto territory and potentially may expand it further with the imminent fall of Kobani.  A Pentagon briefing today estimated the cost of the air campaign to date at over $1.1 billion.

It was a tough day for Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson fending off questions from reporters during the Daily Press Briefing  about why no US relief or resources aren’t coming to the aid of the embattled Kurds in Kobani.   Moreover, there were nagging questions as to why Vice President Biden had to apologize to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis for telling the truth. The truth about their complicit behavior that allowed ISIS to metastasize into the terrorist Army of the self-declared Caliphate of the Islamic State.

The fiasco of the Obama strategy of military assistance was underscored in a New York Times report on the sources of ammunition obtained from ISIS caches and analyzed by a private group Conflict Armament Research that revealed sources were US, Russian and Chinese.  A spokesperson for CRA commented, “The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition.”

Last Sunday, the Lisa Benson Show interviewed US Army Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ernie Audino, Dr. Jala Abbas and Washington, DC-based Kurdish Human Rights.org leader about the lack of Administration support for besieged Kobani.   Their concerns about the looming humanitarian disaster in Kobani were also reflected in a letter circulating among Kurdish Americans presenting pleas for help to both the Administration and Congress. It noted:

Kobani has been surrounded for almost two weeks; the latest reports indicate that the city is under heavy bombardment and parts of the city may have fallen

If democratic nations fail to provide immediate military support to Kurdish fighters, Kobani will suffer the same tragic fate as Shingal referring to the massacres of Christian and other minorities in Iraq this summer.

Perhaps  the most insightful analysis of this looming disaster in Kobani came from  former Reagan era OMB Director and veteran Wall Street banker,  David Stockman , in his Contra Corner blog commentary, The Siege Of Kobani: Obama’s Syrian Fiasco In Motion .  Stockman is as disturbed as many Americans about why the valiant Kurds in Kobani are being abandoned to their doomed fate.  He clearly is in command of Kurdish history in the modern era and the failure at the Treaty of Versailles following WWI to the present to recognize a non-Arab ethnic state of more than 30 million Kurds drawn from enclaves in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.  Stockman is unforgiving about the current duplicity of the Islamist regime of President Erdogan of Turkey, the Saudis and the baleful failure of the Administration to exert leadership in the face of the provocative barbarism of ISIS and even its acolytes here in the US.  Stockman presents the real-politick behind the doomed plight of the PYG fighters trapped in Kobani.

Stockman addresses these central questions:

Self-evidently the lightly armed Kurdish militias desperately holding out in Kobani are fighting the right enemy—-that is, the Islamic State. So why has Obama’s grand coalition not been able to relieve the siege?  Why haven’t American bombers and cruise missiles, for instance, been able to destroy the American tanks and artillery which a terrifying band of butchers has brought to bear on several hundred thousand innocent Syrian Kurds who have made this enclave their home for more than a century? Why has not NATO ally Turkey, with a 600,000 man military, 3,500 tanks and 1,000 modern aircraft and helicopters, done anything meaningful to help the imperiled Kurds?

Read more at New English Review

Also see:

Iran Orders Elite Troops: Lay Off U.S. Forces in Iraq

1412594766052.cachedBy Eli Lake:
The last time Iranian and American forces were in Iraq, the two sides quietly fought each other. Now Iran’s Quds Force officers in Iraq are purposely leaving the Americans alone.
Pay no attention to the Shi’ite militias threatening to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The elite Iranian forces backing those militias have been ordered not to attack the Americans.

That’s the conclusion of the latest U.S. intelligence assessment for Iraq. And it represents a stunning turnaround for Iran’s Quds Force, once considered America’s most dangerous foe in the region.

U.S. intelligence officials tell The Daily Beast that the apparent Iranian decision not to target American troops inside Iraq reflects Iran’s desire to strike a nuclear bargain with the United States and the rest of the international community before the current negotiations expire at the end of November.

“They are not going after Americans,” one senior U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast familiar with the recent assessments. “They want the nuclear talks to succeed and an incident between our guys and their guys would not be good for those talks.”

The Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, are believed to have hundreds of troops in Iraq. As the primary arm of the Iranian state that supports allied terrorist organizations, their operatives worried Obama’s predecessor so much that the Treasury Department began sanctioning its members in 2007 for sabotaging the government of Iraq. The U.S. military accused the Quds Force of orchestrating cells of terrorists in Iraq. In 2012, Wired magazine dubbed Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani the most dangerous person on the planet. In 2013, the New Yorker arrived at a similar conclusion, and claimed he has “directed Assad’s war in Syria.”

More recently, the Treasury Department has accused the Quds Force of international heroin trafficking and conducting terrorism and intelligence operations against the Afghanistan government. That’s why it’s so extraordinary that the Quds Force would be perceived to be laying off U.S. forces in Iraq.

But in some ways, the assessment is not surprising. Both Iran and the United States share a common enemy in the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In late August, U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias broke the ISIS siege on the town of Amerli. Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, was photographed in Amerli, after the town was liberated from ISIS.

The latest assessments from the U.S. intelligence community also interpret Iran’s behavior in part as linked to the ongoing negotiations between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

A U.S. intelligence official said the Quds Force behavior was the equivalent of a confidence building measure, a diplomatic term that refers to a concession offered to improve the atmosphere of negotiations. (Iran had already offered to play a more “active role” in the regional fight against ISIS, in exchange for nuclear concessions.)

Read more at The Daily Beast

Attack ISIS in Syria Even If It Helps Assad

islamic-state-flag-plane-apCenter for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz:

Three questions are being raised by pundits and politicians about how Iran and Syria’s Assad regime should figure into possible military action by the United States and its allies against ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State.

  • Is it a mistake to attack ISIS in Syria since ISIS is also an enemy of the Assad regime and such attacks may ensure Assad holds on to power?
  • Should the U.S. team up with the Assad regime to attack ISIS in Syria?
  • Should the U.S. work with Iran to destroy ISIS?

Some are arguing we should not bomb ISIS in Syria because that would strengthen Assad. Others argue since the ISIS threat is so dire, we should work with Assad to destroy it.

A few believe we should work with Iran against ISIS.

These difficult questions reflect how messy the situations in Iraq and Syria have become as a result of numerous policy mistakes by the United States and Europe over the last few years.

Doing anything to prop up the brutal Assad dictatorship is obviously an unpalatable course of action. Some experts have proposed clever ways to prevent the Syrian army from benefiting from U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria by also bombing Syrian airfields and attacking the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias to buy time to train and arm the moderate Syrian rebels of the Free Syrian Army — FSA.

Such proposals are fantasies. Attacking the Syrian army would get the United States into a war with Syria and put U.S. planes at risk of being shot down by Syrian air defenses. Moreover, the Free Syrian Army is badly outmatched by ISIS and the Syrian army. After withholding arms since 2011 from the FSA, attempting to arm and train these rebels now to make them a force capable of taking on ISIS and the Syrian army would take many months, assuming this is even possible.

The truth is the United States and Europe effectively conceded the Syrian civil war to Assad years ago. If the West had attacked Syrian forces in 2011 when they began their bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters or created humanitarian safe zones in Syria in 2011 or 2012, the Syrian rebels may have defeated the Assad regime before it was shored up by Iran and Russia.

Given the seriousness of the ISIS threat and the likelihood that Assad is not going to be defeated, attacking ISIS in Syria even though this may benefit the Assad government is the right move. However, the U.S. should not do anything to further legitimize Assad by allying with him to defeat ISIS. We should instead warn Damascus that we will retaliate against any Syrian government attacks on Western aircraft. I believe the Assad government probably would go along with this.

There is a temptation to team up with Iran to combat ISIS.

I suspect senior Obama officials are already exploring this idea with Iranian diplomats on the margins of ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program. This would be a serious mistake. Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis. America’s policy should be reduce Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria and do nothing to increase its influence.

To defeat the ISIS terrorist army, the United States will need to make some difficult decisions that will have significant downsides. Boosting Assad by attacking ISIS in Syria is a price the U.S. and its allies should be prepared to pay given the situation on the ground in Syria and American and regional security interests.

That is as far as we should go.

The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with the Syrian or Iranian government to defeat ISIS because of the destabilizing impact of such actions and to avoid legitimizing these regimes.

US official: Islamic State threatens to outpace al-Qaeda

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testifies before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2013.  (photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testifies before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Matthew Olsen, a senior US counterterrorism official, says it will not be possible to defeat the Islamic State without a new government in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

by Barbara Slavin,

Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Sept. 3 that the Islamic State (IS) “poses a multifaceted threat” to the United States but there was no “credible information” at present that the group was planning to attack in the United States or had a cell of fighters here capable of doing so.

However, in rare, wide-ranging public comments that followed the beheading of a second American journalist in Syria by IS, Olsen told a packed audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington that the terrorist group was “an extremely dangerous organization” that was “threatening to outpace al-Qaeda as the dominant voice of influence in the global jihadist movement” because of its territorial advances, financial resources and sophisticated propaganda.

Olsen also said, in response to a question from Al-Monitor, that IS could not be defeated while Bashar al-Assad remains at the helm of the government in Syria.

“As long as Assad is in that position — a ruler with no legitimacy in his own country — we have seen that Syria is a magnet for extremism,” Olsen said. “Part of the broader strategy over the long term is a political transition in Syria.”

Olsen’s comments seemed partly intended to counteract an impression left by President Barack Obama at a news conference last week that the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with IS, which grew out of an al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq formed after the 2003 US invasion and which controls a Britain-sized chunk of territory spanning Iraq and Syria.

Since Obama’s comments, administration officials and the president himself have been at pains to explain that he was referring to the lack of a broad regional coalition as well as reliable ground forces that could justify extending US air strikes from Iraq into Syria.

Obama, speaking earlier Sept. 3 in Estonia, said a coalition including Sunni countries would be required “so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted” and might conduct in the future. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are traveling in the Middle East later this week, in part for organizing such a coalition.

Obama said, “It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that’s going to work, that we’re very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are; we’ve made the case to Congress and we’ve made the case to the American people; and, we’ve got allies behind us so that it’s not just a one-off, but it’s something that over time is going to be effective.”

Asked by Al-Monitor if Iran could be part of the coalition given its hostility toward IS and contribution of weapons and advisers to Iraq, Olsen punted. “Obviously, Iran has interests in that region as well,” was all he would say.

Olsen said IS, while only one of a number of terrorist groups that have appeared in the last few years as offshoots of al-Qaeda and chaotic Arab uprisings, had benefited from the failure of the Syrian and Iraqi states to govern effectively and from the disaffection of Sunnis in both countries. IS “has proven to be an effective fighting force,” Olsen said, which “employs a battlefield strategy that is both complex and adaptive” and mixes terrorism with paramilitary assaults.

IS has also distinguished itself by surpassing al-Qaeda in the use of social media such as filming and distributing the horrifying videos of a British jihadist beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

IS “disseminates timely and high quality content on multiple platforms,” Olsen said, while protecting its own private communications from Western prying through encryption and by avoiding the Internet.

In terms of the IS threat to the US homeland, however, Olsen said it was more potential than real. “At this point, we have no credible information that ISIL [another acronym for IS] is preparing to attack the US,” Olsen said.

He said his main concern was that an IS sympathizer “could conduct a self-directed, limited attack with little or no warning” but that such an attack would likely be “limited in scale and scope.”

US law enforcement and intelligence authorities are closely monitoring the movements of Americans and Europeans seeking to join the jihadist cause in Syria and foreign fighters trying to return to their countries of origin.

Read more at Al-Monitor

The Dark State Rises: Can Barack & Bashar Tag-Team Caliphate? (Pt. 2)

Obama once said Assad had to go. Now can they work together to defeat a common enemy? Does Assad even want to stamp out the Islamic State? (Pt. 2 of 3)

Partnering with Syria’s Assad Against ISIL Will Preserve His Rule

Bashar AssadBy Daniel Wiser:

An alliance between U.S. forces and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to eliminate Islamic militants would play right into the hands of the brutal authoritarian leader, experts say.

Reports indicate that Assad helped facilitate the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the jihadist group that now controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria and recently beheaded American journalist James Foley.

The International Business Times reported over the weekend that U.S. intelligence agencies have provided Assad’s forces with information—using the German intelligence service as an intermediary—that would help them target ISIL leaders in airstrikes. Agence France Presse (AFP) then reportedon Tuesday that the United States was offering intelligence to Syria through Iraqi and Russian agents.

Foreign drones conducted surveillance over eastern Syria on Monday, according to a Syrian human rights group, while Syrian warplanes targeted ISIL in the same region on Tuesday.

Both White House and State Department officials have vigorously denied the reports.

“As a matter of U.S. policy, we have not recognized” Assad as the leader of Syria, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. “There are no plans to change that policy and there are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also tweeted: “Claim in this story that US is sharing intel with the Assad regime is false.”

While U.S. officials publicly deny that they are partnering with Assad against ISIL, some foreign policy experts are pushing the Obama administration to do so. The terrorist group has attracted thousands of foreign fighters who could return to Europe or the United States and launch attacks, U.S. intelligence officials say.

Other experts warn that allying with Assad would preserve his grip on power despite the administration’s long-stated goal of urging him to step down.

Frederic Hof, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former adviser on Syria for the Obama administration, wrote recently that Assad appears to have formed a tacit alliance with ISIL to defeat more moderate rebels also battling his government.

“By reportedly conducting airstrikes on ISIS positions in eastern Syria, the Assad regime is begging for readmission to polite society by attacking the very forces whose existence it has facilitated over the years,” Hof said. “Yet it is doing so in a selective way that preserves its de facto collaboration with ISIS in western Syria against the nationalist Syrian opposition.”

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels say their opposition movement is now on the verge of collapseas both Assad’s forces and ISIL militants converge on one of their last strongholds in the northwestern city of Aleppo.

That appears to have been Assad’s strategy all along, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.

Syrian intelligence assisted militants in al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—the precursor to ISIL—with travel across the Syrian border into Iraq as long as they pledged to only attack U.S. troops during the Iraq War, according to the Journal. Assad’s regime also released several high-level terrorist detainees in May 2011 that would later lead to jihadist groups, including ISIL.

Additionally, ISIL sold crude to Assad’s government as militants seized oil-rich provinces in northern and eastern Syria, according to a January report in the New York Times. Both Syrian forces and ISIL have also cooperated in the fight against nationalist rebels in Aleppo.

“When the Syrian army is not fighting the Islamic State, this makes the group stronger,” Izzat Shahbandar, a former Iraqi lawmaker and ally of Assad who met with him in Damascus, told the Journal. “And sometimes, the army gives them a safe path to allow the Islamic State to attack the FSA and seize their weapons.”

“It’s a strategy to eliminate the FSA and have the two main players face each other in Syria: Assad and the Islamic State,” Shahbandar added. “And now [Damascus] is asking the world to help, and the world can’t say no.”

read more at Washington Free Beacon

Also see:

ISIL Moving Seized U.S. Tanks, Humvees to Syria

A captured Iraqi T-55 tank in Syria via ISIL social media

A captured Iraqi T-55 tank in Syria via ISIL social media

By Bill Gertz:

Syrian and Iraqi terrorist forces obtained significant numbers of tanks, trucks, and U.S.-origin Humvees in recent military operations in Iraq and those arms are being shipped to al Qaeda rebels in Syria, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. intelligence agencies reported this week that photos of the equipment transfers were posted online by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, the ultra-violent terror group that broke away from al Qaeda but shares its goals and philosophy.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks confirmed the weapons transfers and expressed concerns about the captured arms.

“We’re aware of reports of some equipment—namely Humvees—and the pictures that have been posted online,” Speaks said in an email. “We are certainly concerned about these reports and are consulting with the Iraqi government to obtain solid confirmation on what assets may have fallen into ISIL’s hands.”

Speaks added that the loss of the equipment to the terrorist group is “really a matter for the Iraqi government to speak to publicly” because “it is their equipment.”

Exact numbers of captured arms and equipment are not known. The insurgents raided all the arms depots and vehicles belonging to Iraq’s Second Division, based in Mosul, which included a motorized brigade and several infantry brigades.

A defense official warned that ISIL claims that they have captured advanced weaponry, such as Blackhawk helicopters, are suspect.

“We do know that they made false claims last week, particularly with Blackhawk helicopters, which have never been sold to Iraq,” the official said.

U.S.-made Humvees enroute from Iraq to Syria via ISIL social media

U.S.-made Humvees enroute from Iraq to Syria via ISIL social media

The seized weapons are said to include Russian-made T-55 tanks and one report said U.S. M-1 Abrams tanks were taken. Numerous Humvees were shown on flatbed trucks being transported from the Nineveh province, in northwestern Iraq, to ISIL-controlled areas of Syria, including the Al Shadadi area and the town of Tall Hamis.

The ISIL notified people in the region where the tanks were seen to be alert for possible U.S. airstrikes, presumably against the captured weaponry.

One online posting by ISIL fighters showed a captured Iraqi T-55 tank reportedly in Deir ez-Zor, Syria.

Other online photos of captured Iraqi military equipment showed towed artillery, trucks, and troop transports being transferred to Syria from Iraq.

The weaponry is expected to provide ISIL with a major advantage over other rebel groups in Syria in their civil war with the forces of the Bashar al Assad regime in Damascus, as well as against other rival rebel groups, including the official al Qaeda affiliate, Al Nusra Front.

In a statement posted through its Twitter account, ISIL on June 12 provided a “field report” with photos of its capture of Iraqi weapons and conquests of Iraqi military outposts.

The weapons were taken from military bases on the border with Syria and moved to areas in Syria controlled by ISIL that the group is calling its “caliphate.”

One photo carried a caption in Arabic that read “Transferring the spoils to the Islamic State’s headquarters in Wilayah [territory under the Islamic caliphate] Al-Barakah” in the Al Hasakah province in northeastern Syria.

A U.S. official familiar with intelligence assessment of the ongoing conflict in Iraq said the ISIL has seized key cities, including Mosul and Tikrit, but is not expected to attempt a further drive to the capital of Baghdad, which is more heavily defended.

Read more at Free Beacon

***************

Published June 17, 2014 by Right Sightings:

On the road to Baghdad, ISIS had commandeered a vast array of weapons that now must be added to the list of deep concerns for those attempting to defend the city. Jessie Jane Duff, Gunnery Sergeant USMC (Ret.) joins FNC’s Harris Faulkner to define what the defenders must contend against in the days ahead.

Hizballah: Iran’s Other Looming Threat to the West

timthumb (2)By Clare Lopez:

Exclusive to Accuracy in Media.

The single most important fact to understand about Hizballah is that its chain of command goes directly to the Iranian Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by way of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force. That Iranian connection, as well as Hizballah’s close and long-standing relationship with al-Qa’eda, the global reach of this Shi’ite jihadist group, and above all, its extensive presence and criminal activities in the Western Hemisphere, including inside the United States, all merit a closer look. With U.S. national security directly in Hizballah’s cross-hairs, it’s more important than ever to understand what this group is, who leads it, what has motivated them along a bloody 30-year trail of terrorism, and what damage this group is capable of inflicting on American interests.

For even as Hizballah is an Islamic terror organization, an Iranian proxy for power projection, a Transnational Criminal Organization, and a Lebanese military, political, and social domestic entity, it is above all a direct threat to U.S. national security. After all, and despite a complete media blackout on the topic that prevails to this day, on Iranian orders and working together with al-Qa’eda, Hizballah participated in the worst strike ever against the American homeland: the attacks of 9/11. There is no threshold, ideological or otherwise, that Hizballah has not already crossed or would not cross again, given a direct order from Tehran.

images-1Word out of London in late 2013 is that the U.S. is engaged in secret, indirect negotiations with Hizballah, with British diplomats acting as intermediaries. Those talks followed closely on the U.S. capitulation to Iran over its nuclear weapons program during November 2013 discussions in Geneva and reflect a White House policy of seeking to normalize relations with the regime designated by the Department of State as the number one global state sponsor of terror. Hizballah remains a designated terror organization on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list. And while the story about the U.S.-Hizballah talks in London made the Israeli and U.K. media, not one major U.S. media outlet thought it significant to report that the U.S. administration is reaching out to mend relations with what many describe as the most dangerous Islamic terror organization in the world.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Hizballah the “A Team” and al-Qa’eda the “B Team.” Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that Hizballah makes “al-Qa’eda look like a minor league team.” And former CIA Director George Tenet testified in 2003 that Hizballah was every bit al-Qa’eda’s “equal, if not a far more capable organization.”

And yet, since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the biggest share of counterterrorism bandwidth among national security agencies and the media alike has been devoted to al-Qa’eda “and its affiliates,” as they’re often called. Current internecine civil war in Syria aside, for many years Hizballah happens to have been one of those affiliates, but many would never know that from either the media coverage or official government attention paid to this Shi’ite jihadist group that works mostly for the Iranian mullahs. So, when it’s discussed at all, as on each year’s remembrance of the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, Hizballah continues to be thought of primarily as a Lebanese terror outfit. However, as Tony Badran pointed out in an important historical look back in his November 25, 2013 Weekly Standard essay, “The Secret History of Hezbollah,” a critical Iranian connection has been there from the beginning.

Media coverage of the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011 often cites Hizballah as somehow mixed up in supporting the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad against a conglomeration of al-Qa’eda- and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated militias. But what that coverage often ignores is that Hizballah’s contribution of thousands of fighters to the survival of the Assad regime is not necessarily in the best interests (or any interests) of Hizballah’s supposed home team, the Lebanese Shi’ites. The reason Hizballah fights on, even after its Syrian adventures have drawn probable Sunni al-Qa’eda retaliation deep into the very heart of its Beirut stronghold in the Dahiyeh, is because Iran wants it to.

Read more: Family Security Matters