Iran Threatens to Walk Away From Nuke Deal, Retaliate Against U.S. for New Sanctions

Ali Khamenei / AP

Ali Khamenei / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, December 2, 2016:

Iran is threatening to walk away from the nuclear deal with the United States and pursue forms of retaliation, including a national boycott of American goods, as a result of Congress’s overwhelming vote on Thursday to level new sanctions against Iran for another 10 years, according to multiple comments by senior Iranian officials.

Following the Senate’s 99-0 vote to renew economic sanctions on Tehran, senior Iranian officials said the United States is in violation of last summer’s nuclear deal and that Iran is prepared to retaliate, which could include abandoning the agreement.

The comments come as the Obama administration scrambles to preserve the deal in its final months in office, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has been assembling a cabinet filled with fierce opponents of the accord.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t see any necessity to reveal this issue [its reactions] but we have made necessary predictions before, meaning that we are well prepared to show reaction,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying on Friday in the country’s state-controlled press.

The new sanctions, Salahi said, “explicitly violate the nuclear deal.”

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani hotly criticized the United States during Iran’s weekly national Friday prayer service, urging the country’s leaders to retaliate against America.

“Nothing but hostility is expected from the U.S., but as said before, now it’s time for retaliation,” the cleric was quoted as saying.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered similar remarks last month, as the Obama administration was working behind-the-scenes to prevent Congress from pursuing the new sanctions.

“If this extension is implemented and comes into force, it will certainly be a violation of the nuclear deal and they should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will certainly show reaction,” Khamenei said at the time.

Iran’s Parliament is now taking steps to counter the sanctions by enacting its own national boycott of U.S. goods.

The “double-urgency plan” would ban all U.S. consumer goods from Iran.

“Given the U.S. hostile measure, meaning extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for another 10 years, a double-urgency plan to ban purchase of the U.S.-made consumer goods has been prepared in the parliament,” Mohammad Reza Tabesh, a senior Iranian parliament member, was quoted as telling Iran’s state-controlled press on Friday.

The plan is expected to overwhelmingly pass Iran’s Parliament.

Iran’s military is also taking increasingly hostile steps on the heels of the sanctions vote.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s naval faction is increasing patrols outside of Iranian waters in a bid to stop any vessels from coming near the Islamic Republic.

“The Iranian Navy, along with the IRGC Navy, are monitoring all moves by the regional and trans-regional states in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman, and the Northern parts of the Indian Ocean, and do not allow any vessel to approach the Islamic Republic of Iran’s borders or inflict damage on our interests and resources,” Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the commander of Iran’s Navy, said during a Friday speech.

The comments come as Iran makes provocative maneuvers against U.S. forces in the region. Late last month, Iranian vessels pointed an anti-aircraft weapon at U.S. helicopters that were flying nearby in a move the Pentagon described as highly provocative and dangerous.

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Yes, Trump’s Going to Dump the Iran Deal

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Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, November 14, 2016:

In the days following Donald Trump’s victory, a variety of experts — mostly Trump critics — pronounced that, despite Trump’s frequent statements during the presidential campaign that the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is one of “the worst deals ever made by any country in history,” he has no choice but to stick with the agreement after he assumes office.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was one of the first to insist as much, claiming a Trump administration cannot back out of the nuclear deal because it is not a bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran but “an international understanding annexed to a Security Council resolution.”

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (which The Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith once described as “the tip of the spear of the Iran lobby” in the United States) echoed Zarif’s statement. In a November 11 Foreign Policy article, he argued Trump can undermine the Iran deal but cannot directly dismantle it because the JCPOA is a multilateral agreement “codified by the UN Security Council.” Any attempt by a Trump administration to renegotiate the deal would violate international law and isolate the United States, Parsi said.

Even some conservative experts have suggested Trump probably won’t try to significantly modify or discard the nuclear agreement, but will instead try to goad Iran into withdrawing by strictly enforcing the deal.

But Trump senior national-security adviser Walid Phares poured cold water on speculation that Trump plans to walk back his statements about the Iran deal, when he commented on Facebook over the weekend that the “Iran Deal will be dismantled.”

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This firm statement by Phares confirmed previous statements he and Mr. Trump have made that the deal is a dangerous agreement that needs to be either significantly renegotiated or abandoned. As an expert who has followed the Iran nuclear program for many years inside and outside of government, I would like to expand on their statements by offering three key points about the nature of the deal and ten guidelines for renegotiating it.

1. The Iran deal is a dangerous fraud.

Donald Trump was exactly right when he called the Iran deal a “horrible” and “disastrous” agreement. The U.S. agreed to huge concessions to get this agreement, from no restrictions on Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism to no inspections of military facilities. There were secret side deals withheld from Congress that permitted Iran to inspect itself for past nuclear-weapons work and receive secret planeloads of cash in exchange for freeing U.S. hostages. To get the $150 billion in sanctions relief Iran wanted, there was another secret side deal — also withheld from the U.S. Congress — which granted Tehran exemptions for failing to meet some of the agreement’s key requirements.

So what did the United States get for these concessions?

Not much. The Obama administration claims the deal keeps Iran a year away from a nuclear deal for ten to 15 years. But in fact, the time to an Iranian nuclear bomb will drop dramatically under the deal, since Iran will be able to enrich uranium, develop advanced centrifuges, and, with Chinese assistance, finish construction of a heavy-water nuclear reactor that will produce one-quarter of a weapon’s worth of plutonium per year.

It will be very hard to verify the agreement since military sites — where Iran is likely to conduct covert nuclear-weapons work — are off limits to inspectors. The deal dumbed down the IAEA’s quarterly Iran reports, making it difficult for the world to know the true extent of Iran’s compliance. Certainly, there already have been reports of significant Iranian cheating.

Further, the deal was supposed to improve Iran’s international behavior.

Instead, from ballistic-missile tests to increased support to Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Tehran’s behavior in the Middle East has significantly worsened. Just in the last year, Iran has captured and held at gunpoint ten U.S. sailors and fired anti-ship missiles at American and UAE ships. Is this what a new era of cooperation with Iran was supposed to look like?

2. The deal is not legally binding on us.

Knowing that a bipartisan majority of Congress opposed the nuclear deal and that the U.S. Senate would never ratify it as a treaty, the Obama administration arranged to go around the Senate by negotiating the deal as an executive agreement endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. Because Security Council resolutions are binding on all U.N. members, it could therefore be argued that the nuclear deal was binding on the United States even though it had not been ratified by the Senate.

But that is not how our constitutional order works. American presidents historically have decided which international agreements are to be treated as treaties, but the Iran deal specified that it be ratified by the Iranian parliament.

If President Obama wanted to make a long-term international agreement binding on the United States, he needs consent from Congress. Anything else is a serious affront to the Constitution, and no U.N. endorsement changes that.

(This is not the only example of President Obama’s lawless approach to international agreements: The Paris climate-change agreement was deliberately negotiated to make it binding on the United States without Senate ratification and difficult for a future U.S. president to cancel. The same principles apply, however, and I expect President Trump pull out of the climate agreement as soon as possible.)

3. It’s not a true multilateral agreement.

The Obama administration also attempted to entrench the Iran deal making it a multilateral agreement, but this was just window-dressing.

The deal is technically a multilateral pact agreed to by Iran, the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but it is actually a bilateral agreement negotiated almost entirely between the United States and Iran. Iran has only looked to the United States for additional concessions since the deal was announced, and if we want to end the deal, we can.

So it is clear the deal must be either discarded or substantially renegotiated, and that we have every right to do so.

The first steps to renegotiation should be (1) assembling a new anti-Iran coalition of our European allies, Israel, and the Gulf states, and (2) imposing new sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear program, ballistic-missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and belligerent behavior. Russia and China could be allowed into the new coalition, but they should not be given a veto over any new agreement. This coalition also must be kept out of the United Nations.

Building the new coalition and renegotiating the agreement won’t be the easiest task, but given Iran’s belligerent behavior and the power new U.S. sanctions can have, a strong president and secretary of state can do it.

An agreement that truly addresses the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and the wider threats Iran poses will require reversing all of the irresponsible concessions made to Iran by the Obama administration.

Such negotiations must start from the following ten guidelines:

  1. Iran must cease all uranium enrichment and uranium-enrichment research.
  2. Iran cannot have a heavy-water reactor or a plant to produce heavy water.
  3. Iran agrees to robust verification, including “anytime, anywhere” inspections by IAEA inspectors of all declared and suspect nuclear sites.
  4. Iran must fully and truthfully answer all questions about its past nuclear-weapons-related work.
  5. Iran must agree to limitations on its ballistic-missile program.
  6. Sanctions will only be lifted in stages, in response to Iranian compliance with the agreement.
  7. Iran must agree to end its meddling in regional conflicts and its sponsorship of terror.
  8. Threats by Iran to ships in the Persian Gulf, U.S. naval vessels, and American troops must stop.
  9. Iran must cease its hostility toward Israel.
  10. Iran must release all U.S. prisoners.

Renegotiating or terminating the Iran deal will not just end the threat from a dangerous international agreement.

It will signify that this agreement was an aberration by an incompetent U.S. president who tried to subvert the U.S. Constitution, and it would send a powerful message to the world that the Obama administration’s policies of American weakness and appeasement are over.

Trump critics have argued that renegotiating or terminating the nuclear deal would isolate the United States and hurt America’s global stature. But in reality, President Obama’s foreign policy has already undermined America’s reputation around the world.

Fixing or killing the Iran nuclear deal will be President Trump’s first step toward restoring America’s global leadership.

When the Trump Team Comes Looking for the Secrets of Obama’s Iran File

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PJ Media, by Claudia Rosett, November 11, 2016:

Thursday’s cordial meeting between President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama was a reassuring ritual of democracy. But Obama was far from convincing when he told Trump “we are now going to do everything we can to help you succeed.” There are some highly disparate ideas here about what constitutes success, both foreign and domestic. There are also big areas in which one might reasonably wonder if Obama and his team are in a quandary over the prospect of a Trump administration inheriting the internal records of the most transparent administration ever.

Take, for instance, the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s signature foreign policy legacy, the chief accomplishment of his second term. The Obama administration’s Iran file has been a realm of murk, crammed with dangerous concessions and secret side deals for terror-sponsoring Tehran — to a degree that has left some critics wondering if Obama’s real aim was to empower Iran as the hegemon of the Middle East (equipped with ballistic missiles to complement its “exclusively peaceful” nuclear program).

The cherry on top — officially separate from the nuclear deal, but highly coincident — was the Obama administration’s secret conveyance to Iran early this year of cash totaling $1.7 billion for the settlement of an old claim against the United States.

Like Obama’s other legacy achievement, the unaffordable Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, these Iran dealings were so intricate, extensive and opaque that we are still discovering just how duplicitous the official narratives were. Obama never submitted the Iran nuclear deal as a treaty for ratification by the Senate. Instead, he rushed the deal to the United Nations Security Council for approval less than a week after the final text was announced, and left Congress wrestling through the ensuing weeks, during the summer of 2015, to try to extract vital details from the elusive Obama and his team, subject to a legislative bargain so convoluted that the process, and the deal, never came to a vote.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the $1.7 billion “settlement” paid to Iran, which Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, apparently with no prior notice to Congress, announced this past January.  Obama and Kerry did not mention at the time that the administration was shelling out the funds in cash, to be airlifted into Iran — a form of payment especially handy for Iran’s illicit ventures, such as terrorism and procurement for its ballistic missile program (the usual role of ballistic missiles — which Iran has continued testing — being to carry nuclear weapons, which Obama has assured us Iran under his deal is not developing).

Obama and his team also neglected to mention that $1.3 billion of his administration’s cash bonanza for Tehran had come from the pockets of American taxpayers, via an obscure channel at Treasury called the Judgment Fund. It took months before such specifics came to light, which they did thanks not to the administration, but to the efforts of the press, and a number of persistent questioners in Congress — to whom the administration sent tardy and evasive replies.

Questions continue to swirl around this cash-for-Iran arrangement. Was it a ransom for American prisoners released by Iran on the same day the Obama administration announced the $1.7 billion settlement? (The Obama administration has repeatedly asked the public to swallow the logical fallacy that because it is not U.S. policy to pay ransom, this was not a ransom).

Why did the administration — until outed in August and September in a series of stories by the press — make a secret of the cash, the conduits and the dates of delivery? What were — what are — the full terms of this confidential arrangement? Which, according to a Sept. 29 report in The Wall Street Journal, included, as part of a package of three secret documents signed in Geneva, U.S. backing for the lifting of UN sanctions on two Iranian state banks blacklisted for financing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Why have the relevant texts of all this wheeling and dealing been kept secret? Why has the administration repeatedly stonewalled questions from Congress? What were the machinations behind Obama’s claim, after The Wall Street Journal on August 3 broke the story of the first tranche of $400 million in cash for Iran, that the U.S. government had no choice but to pay Iran with a mountain of hard-currency banknotes? Based on what internal calculus did the administration refuse to provide public confirmation for another few weeks — until after the news broke in the press — that the additional $1.3 billion in taxpayers funds had also been paid in cash? On the basis of what information, precisely, did Attorney General Loretta Lynch certify that Treasury paying out those tax dollars to Iran was in the interest of the United States?

The government of terror-sponsoring Iran knows the answers to many of these questions. The American public does not. But we can reasonably speculate that as this cash-for-Iran saga unfolded, it left a trail of records within the Obama administration. Classified, quite likely — but surely there are some illuminating documents that someone with the proper clearances might wish to read.

Once upon a time, we would have called this a paper trail; these days it would more likely be digital. But at the very least, there ought to be the secret texts, the related justifications, requisitions and all the to-and-fro that would presumably be involved in the State Department, the Pentagon and Treasury (at the behest of the Justice Department, on behalf of State, with the blessing of President Obama), secretly organizing cash shipments totaling $1.7 billion for Iran — and then, for months, despite persistent questions from Congress and the press, covering it up. Add to that the overlap — or was it, as appears more likely, the coordination? — of all that clandestinely conveyed cash with the return of American hostages. Then amplify this scene dramatically, to include the manufacturing of the mothership Iran nuclear deal itself, and the related handling of sanctions (which, as the 2014-2015 Iran talks stretched out from the initially planned six months to 17, appeared, despite administration protests to the contrary, to be ever more casually enforced).

Which brings us back to America’s presidential election a mere three days ago, in which it sure looks like Obama and his team were blind-sided by Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton. Misled by their own narratives, by their echo chamber in the press, by erroneous polls, by the same arrogance that begat the presidential rule of pen-and-phone and Ben-Rhodes-narratives, Obama and his team were expecting a handover to Hillary. She might not agree with them on everything, but as a former insider herself, as a candidate who was running to continue Obama’s trajectory and cement his legacies, she wasn’t someone whose access to the Iran file was likely to cause anyone currently in the White House to lose sleep (provided she’d really ditched her non-secure home-server proclivities).

And then Hillary lost.

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Former New York Times Reporter Declares Thou Shalt Not Criticize Obama’s Iran Deal

3337073081Center for Security Policy, by Fred  Fleitz, October 26, 2016:

In an October 23 Washington Post book review, former New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino is sharply critical of a new book on Iran by Wall Street Journal writer Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars, because he criticizes the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) instead of devoting his book to praising the deal as a magnificent achievement as all good reporters are expected to do. Sciolino accuses Solomon of having a “dark perspective” on the nuclear deal and claims “those who hope to sabotage the nuclear agreement under a new administration will find this book useful.”

Sciolino’s attack on Solomon’s book is strange because The Iran Wars is about much more than the nuclear deal and contains strong (and mostly unfair) criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s approach to Iran and the Iraq War. On the Iran deal, while Solomon is tough and factual, he often pulls his punches and leaves out some of the strongest criticisms.

For some reason Sciolino ignored Solomon’s dubious claims that the Bush administration invaded Iraq to weaken Iran and that Bush officials missed an historic opportunity for U.S.–Iran cooperation after the 9/11 attacks. She also omits Solomon’s credible account of how Iran and Syria exploited the aftermath of the Iraq War. As a card-carrying member of the foreign-policy establishment, one would think that Sciolino would jump to praise Solomon for making these points.

Instead, Sciolino devotes her entire article to attacking Solomon and his book. Her strongest criticism is that Solomon didn’t interview enough people, especially Iranians.

Sciolino sniffs that Solomon apparently only made one visit to Iran and that his book has a “paucity of official Iranian voices.” This is a ridiculous argument given how dangerous it is for American citizens to travel to Iran and the 2015 arrest of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who was held in an Iranian prison for 18 months before he was freed in January 2016.

Sciolino argues “other foreign voices might have enriched [Solomon’s] narrative” because the nuclear talks were such a long and complex international endeavor. In this vein she faults Solomon for reporting that Secretary Kerry’s negotiating team belittled the French for “insubordination during the nuclear talks” instead of explaining what she claims was France’s role in building the foundation for the nuclear deal through the 2003 France-Germany-U.K. EU-3 initiative.

It’s amusing that Sciolino mentioned France and the EU-3 talks since Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current president and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator in 2003, has admitted that Iran used these failed talks to buy time to expand its nuclear program and to conceal information about this program from the IAEA.

I have no doubt Sciolino complained about Solomon’s supposed lack of interviews to maintain the fiction that the JCPOA is legitimately a multilateral agreement when it is in fact, as Solomon details, a U.S.-Iran deal negotiated almost exclusively by American and Iranian negotiators. Other nations signed on as window dressing.

Sciolino also seems to prefer a book composed of quotes by apologists for the JCPOA rather than one that gives the facts about how the agreement was negotiated, what’s actually in the deal and its troubling and dangerous aftermath.  Sciolino probably believes that if Solomon had been spun more by U.S. and international diplomats, he would have written a book that hewed to the White House’s misleading narrative about the JCPOA instead of reporting on how the Obama administration repeatedly gave in to Iranian demands to get this very weak agreement.

As someone who also has written a recent book on the Iran nuclear deal, Obamabomb: A Dangerous and Growing National Security Fraud (now in its second edition), I had different problems with Solomon’s book.

First, I thought Solomon gave administration accounts too much credibility in light of widespread criticism (which he does not mention) of Obama officials repeatedly misleading and lying to Congress and the American people about the nuclear negotiations and the final deal.

Sciolino should have been pleased that Solomon does not mention New York Times reporter David Samuels’ May 5, 2016 profile of National Security Council advisor Ben Rhodes in which he reported that Rhodes oversaw a White House “echo chamber” to manipulate the news media by generating false narratives to promote the Iran deal which it distributed to know-nothing reporters.  Instead, Solomon innocuously refers to the echo chamber as the White House “anti-war room” which Solomon says Obama officials used mobilize a campaign to defend the JCPOA.

Solomon also does not cite any of the strong congressional critics of the JCPOA. He depicts congressional opposition as Republican when it was in fact bipartisan and included the top Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, for example, who made what may be the damning criticism of the nuclear deal when he said “If Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it.”  Unfortunately, this quote does not appear in Iran Wars.

However, I give Solomon credit for reporting that the White House tried to typecast all opponents of the JCPOA as warmongers and that Jewish leaders worried that the White House’s campaign defending the JCPOA “was taking on a not-so-subtle anti-Semitic tone with its references to moneyed lobbyists and their ties to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Sciolino should have been heartened that the words “secret side deals” appear nowhere in Solomon’s book. He makes no mention of how Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Congressman Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) accidently learned from IAEA officials about secret side deals to the JCPOA allowing Iran to inspect itself for evidence of past nuclear weapons-related work.  He also omits how the secret side deal issue intensified opposition to the JCPOA because the Obama administration refused to turn over secret side deal documents to Congress for a congressional review as required by law.

Solomon does make a brief reference to Associated Press reporter George Jahn writing about a leaked IAEA document on Iranian “self-inspections” and how Obama administration supporters tried to discredit this story by accusing Jahn of being an Israeli agent and the document being a forgery.

Solomon also disclosed how the Obama administration punished other journalists who wrote articles critical of the nuclear talks. Solomon says he was kicked off Secretary Kerry’s airplane for violating a “zone of silence” rule which barred journalists on Kerry’s plane from asking uncomfortable questions about U.S.–France differences in the nuclear talks. He said that New York Times reporter David Sangar was subjected to a coordinated White House–State Department Twitter assault after Sangar reported Iran might not have the technical capabilities to dispose of its nuclear stockpile as required by the JCPOA.

Solomon emailed me that his book had a July 2016 data cutoff which is why other secret JCPOA side deals that were withheld from Congress (several of which Solomon was the first to report on for the Wall Street Journal) are not mentioned in Iran Wars. These include the planeloads of $1.7 billion in cash flown to Iran in January 2016 as an apparent ransom payment to win the release of U.S. prisoners; exemptions granted to Iran on failing to meet several requirements of the nuclear deal so it would receive $150 billion in sanctions relief last January; and the lifting of UN sanctions on two Iranian banks that have financed Iran’s ballistic missile program.

While Solomon does not go as far as I would prefer in discussing the JCPOA’s enormous flaws and how it has worsened international security, he makes many important points. He notes that it will be difficult to verify this agreement since the Obama administration agreed to drop a longtime demand by the IAEA and the West that Iran answer questions about its past nuclear weapons-related work.  Solomon says the so-called snap-back provision which is supposed to re-impose sanctions in the event of Iranian cheating is unlikely to ever be used.  Solomon correctly portrays the decision to separate Iran’s missile program from the nuclear deal as a huge and dangerous U.S. concession.  Solomon also describes the significance of other huge concessions made by the Obama administration and how Arab states were “stunned” by the terms of the agreement.

Concerning the aftermath of the JCPOA, Solomon gets it half right. Sciolino should be pleased that Solomon agrees with her when he said Iran appears to be complying with the agreement and that the administration’s claim that it will take Iran a year to construct a nuclear bomb appears to be accurate.

There is strong evidence to the contrary, although not all of it was available before Solomon’s July 2016 data cutoff date. I explained much of this evidence in a July 14, 2016 NRO article, including how Iran has placed military facilities off-limits to IAEA inspectors, and is permitted to continue to enrich uranium and develop advanced centrifuges under the deal. I also discussed reports by German intelligence and the Institute for Science and International Security of Iranian cheating on the JCPOA. I therefore believe a strong case can be made that the JCPOA has failed to meet its goal of resolving international concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program since the agreement leaves too many avenues for Iran to cheat, has very weak verification and there are already multiple, credible reports of Iranian cheating.

On the other hand, I agree with Solomon that Iran’s behavior has become much more belligerent and destabilizing since the JCPOA was announced, including arresting American citizens, stepped up missile tests and increased support to Syria’s Assad regime and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  This behavior has worsened since Solomon’s book went to print due to an increase in naval incidents in the Persian Gulf between American and Iranian vessels and Houthi rebels firing anti-ship missiles at American and UAE ships.  Solomon was exactly right when he wrote, “There are also real risks that a much bigger and broader war is brewing in the region, and that the United States will inevitably be drawn in.”

In response to these criticisms of the nuclear deal’s aftermath, Sciolino accuses Solomon of “stressing the negative. Instead, she ignores reality by praising the deal for improving U.S.-Iran relations and making the Middle East and the world more secure by keeping Iran from producing a nuclear bomb over the term of the agreement.

It’s interesting that Sciolino won’t settle for Solomon concluding the JCPOA is working and his depiction of Obama administration Iran policy as generally positive but bumbling.  In Sciolino’s mind, this is a great agreement that no one should question.  This means she wants Solomon to be like other mainstream reporters and limit his writing to promoting this line and not confuse the American people with the facts about how this agreement came about, what was really agreed to and the agreement’s actual prospects.

Solomon’s book isn’t perfect but it is still an important contribution to mostly one-sided accounts of the JCPOA which roundly praising it as a legacy achievement for President Obama that avoided a war with Iran.  Since problems with the nuclear agreement are likely to continue to grow due to increased Iranian cheating and belligerent behavior – especially in the Persian Gulf — expect to see more articles by foreign policy Brahmin like Sciolino to enforce the Obama administration’s false narrative about the JCPOA against books like Jay Solomon’s that discuss inconvenient facts about the Iran nuclear agreement that the administration and its supporters do not want the American people to know.

The Battle of Mosul

7fb89ca7-549c-4fff-a20f-b1551b8a4554Townhall, by Cliff May, Oct 26, 2016:

Ayman al-Zawahiri was correct. Believed to be ensconced in the tribal lands of Pakistan, the leader of what’s sometimes called al Qaeda Central has dedicated his life to a jihad that he hopes and prays will lead to the founding of a new and mighty Islamic empire. But he understands the value of strategic patience.

In particular, he recognized that establishing a caliphate before conditions were favorable for its survival and expansion could only be unhelpful, causing Muslims to doubt whether spreading Islamic domination in the 21st century is a divinely blessed mission.

By contrast, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 45, has been a young man in a hurry. As leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, he chafed at taking orders from the 65-year-old successor to Osama bin Laden. In 2014, he broke with al Qaeda, declared a caliphate, the Islamic State, with himself as caliph. And now he and his fledgling empire are in peril.

A coalition of forces is closing in on Mosul, the only major Sunni-majority city in Iraq still under Islamic State control. It is probably only a matter of time — and blood — before Mosul is liberated, a term that should be used advisedly in the Middle East.

The Islamic State is believed to have fewer than 7,000 fighters in Mosul. How many will seek martyrdom (after using human shields for as long as possible) and how many will run from the more than 30,000 coalition troops — troops much better equipped and supported by American air power? Hard to say.

Those who flee may head for towns along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that remain Islamic State strongholds. Others will try to reach Syria, especially Raqqa, the caliphate’s de facto capital, northeast of Damascus.

An offensive against Raqqa is being contemplated. But who will lead that effort? And who will govern Raqqa after the Islamic State is gone? These are difficult questions that ought to be answered within a broader strategic framework.

Imagine that the Battle of Mosul is followed by a Battle of Raqqa and that the Islamic State ends up with little or no territory still under its control. What do its surviving fighters do then? Perhaps some will slink back to wherever they came from, defeated and disillusioned. Others may become guerrillas, perpetrating acts of terrorism within the region and plotting a comeback. Still others could decide to put their skills and experience to use in a more distant land, perhaps one that mistakes them for refugees.

We don’t know how much destruction will be visited on Mosul over the days ahead, but it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people will be displaced. The agencies charged with caring for them are already burdened to the breaking point.

Mosul and the nearby Nineveh Plain are the historic homeland of the Assyrian Christians. The U.S. Congress, the Obama administration and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have all recognized that these and other Christian communities of the Middle East, as well as Yazidis and other religious minorities, are facing genocide. Such recognition should guarantee that saving Christians and their communities is a high priority. That does not appear to be the case at present. It’s easy to champion diversity for Washington, Toronto and Berlin. To do so for Muslim-majority lands is more challenging.

Though the forces assembled for the Battle of Mosul view the Islamic State as their common enemy, their alliance remains tenuous. The Peshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, is constituted of tough fighters whose most important mission is consolidating and defending historically Kurdish lands. Elements of the Iraqi military are reportedly flying Shia flags, a sight not reassuring to Mosul’s Sunnis. Also joining the coalition are Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias, the most powerful of which are controlled by Iran. Just a few years ago, they were killing American troops, using such weapons as EFPs, explosively formed penetrators — highly lethal bombs supplied by Iran’s ruling mullahs.

If the Battle of Mosul goes as expected, the Islamic State’s loss, while significant, also will be al Qaeda’s gain. Dr. Zawahiri (he was a physician before he was a revolutionary) should have an easier time attracting recruits and funds once it becomes indisputable that the rival founded by Dr. Baghdadi (he was a theologian before he was a revolutionary) has not lived up to its promise.

Also benefiting from the decline of the Islamic State will be the Islamic Republic of Iran, which aims to establish a new Persian empire, albeit one based on religious allegiance. Most immediately, the clerical regime is attempting to construct what has been called a “Shia crescent” including Iraq, where its influence has only grown since the 2011 withdrawal of American troops, and Syria, where it is defending the dictatorship of its client, Bashar Assad (with significant Russian assistance). Beyond Syria is Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran’s foreign legion, is more powerful than the national armed forces and is preparing for a future showdown with Israel. In addition, Iran provides support to Houthis fighting a civil war in Yemen, and to Hamas in Gaza.

So while the Battle of Mosul is likely to be a military victory for the alliance President Obama supports, it would be unwise for him to claim — once again — that “the tide of war is receding.” The free peoples of the world, as well as those who might like to be, are in for an extended conflict, one that will have to be fought on multiple battlefields against a list of jihadi groups and regimes. Perhaps the next American administration will develop a serious strategy to defeat our enemies. I’m not suggesting that’s probable, only that it’s not impossible.
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Also see:

MOSUL: Iraqi Military Displays Shi’ite Flags In Advance on Sunni Region

jihad-flagThe flags belie the Baghdad government’s promise that it will repair sectarian relations if it regains control of the Sunni regions of Iraq. Iran’s Shi’a militias are set to join the fray, which can only deepen the rift.

CounterJihad, October 24, 2016:

Here are CounterJihad we have been warning for some time about the growing influence of Shi’a militias within Iraq, as they proclaim that their first loyalty is to Iran and its clerical leadership.  The power that these sectarian militas are exercising within Iraq makes it difficult to believe that the government in Baghdad will be able to remain independent from Iran, as the militias are a dagger pressed at Baghdad’s throat.

This story is worse than that.  This story is about the flying of sectarian flags by Baghdad’s own official state military.

Iraqi soldiers fighting to retake the largely Sunni city of Mosul from Islamic State are mounting Shiite flags on their vehicles and raising them atop buildings, stoking the sectarian divisions that Iraq’s government has vowed to repair….  Flying on tanks or over government checkpoints and homes in recently reclaimed Sunni villages, they often dwarf Iraqi flags next to them.

The flags are rankling Sunnis as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters taking part in the assault. Sunnis said the display undermines the message of national unity against Islamic State and reinforces their long-held impression that they don’t belong in Iraq’s state and security structure.

Further testing the alliance, Iraqi Shiite militias said Friday they were set to join the battle to dislodge Islamic State from Mosul.

This development underlines just how we got to a caliphate in western Iraq to begin with.  The Sunni forces fighting against the Baghdad government were brought to the peace table out of an outrage with al Qaeda in Iraq’s brutality against them.  They agreed to support the Baghdad government in return for fair treatment, instead of being suppressed as an ethnic minority.

The US military, which in those days had multiple divisions within Iraq, conducted patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq.  The agreements the US military negotiated for the Sunnis were designed to effect a reconciliation between the government and the tribes.  Agreements included promises of jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government agreed to provide in return for the support of these former enemies.  The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.

Instead, our Secretary of State — one Hillary Clinton — failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept.  In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.

The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.

The Baghdad government is responsible for the actions that undermined Sunni faith in the system it represented.  It compounded the problem by allowing these Iranian-backed Shi’a militias to conduct punitive war crimes against Sunni villages that had supported Saddam’s regime.  At least the militias were plausibly acting on their own, however, rather than as agents of the state.

Shi’a flags above Iraq’s army as it proceeds into Mosul means that no peace is possible regardless of the outcome of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).  This is the endorsement of a sectarian war by the official arm of the Baghdad government.  Even if ISIS loses, the Sunnis will have to fight on in order to avoid being subjugated by a central government that has become their actual enemy.

Also see:

Iran Seeking ‘Many Billions of Dollars’ in Ransom to Free U.S. Hostages

 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Source close to IRGC puts bounty on remaining U.S. hostages

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, October 19, 2016:

Iran is seeking “many billions of dollars” in payments from the United States in exchange for the release of several U.S. hostages still being detained in Iran, according to reports by Iran’s state-controlled press that are reigniting debate over the Obama administration’s decision earlier this year to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash.

Senior Iranian officials, including the country’s president, have been floating the possibility of further payments from the United States for months. Since the White House agreed to pay Tehran $1.7 billion in cash earlier this year as part of a deal bound up in the release of American hostages, Iran has captured several more U.S. citizens.

Future payments to Iran could reach as much as $2 billion, according to sources familiar with the matter, who said that Iran is detaining U.S. citizens in Iran’s notorious Evin prison where inmates are routinely tortured and abused.

Iranian news sources close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been handling prisoner swaps with the United States, reported on Tuesday that Iran expects “many billions of dollars to release” those U.S. citizens still being detained.”

“We should wait and see, the U.S. will offer … many billions of dollars to release” American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer, who was abducted by Iran after the United States paid Iran the $1.7 billion, according to the country’s Mashregh News outlet, which has close ties to the IRGC’s intelligence apparatus.

The Persian language news report was independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon.

Six hostages have been sentenced to 10 years in prison by Iran in the past months, including the Namazis.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News in late September that his government is in talks with the United States to secure future payouts, a disclosure that may have played a role in the White House’s recent decision to veto legislation to block future ransom payments to Iran.

“We’re currently conducting conversations and various dialogues in order to return this money to Iran,” Rouhani was quoted as saying. “Perhaps these dialogues can be still conducted simultaneously on parallel tracks while we’re conducting those same conversations in order to free the sums of money that are still owed to us.”

One senior congressional adviser familiar with the issue told the Free Beacon that Iranian officials have been pressing for another $2 billion from the United States for months.

“Iranian officials including Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif have been bragging for months that they’re going to force the U.S. to pay them several billion dollars more,” the source said. “Now officials across the spectrum in Iran—from IRGC hardliners to the ostensibly moderate President Rouhani—are talking about those billions, and maybe several more, alongside chatter about the U.S. hostages.”

“Even some family members of the hostages talk that way, which is completely understandable given what they’re going through, but it doesn’t change the fact that the administration is gearing up to give Iran another ransom in the hundreds of millions and maybe again billions,” the source added.

Rumors of future ransom payments to Iran come as Congress continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the $1.7 billion cash payment, a portion of which was delivered by plane to Iran just hours before it released several U.S. prisoners.

The Free Beacon recently disclosed that details of this payment and other details bound up in the hostage release are being stored in a highly secure location on Capitol Hill, preventing many from accessing the documents, which are not classified but are being treated as such.

The three documents show that the cash payment was directly tied to the prisoner release, adding fuel to claims of a ransom payment, according to sources who have viewed them.

Iran experts who spoke to the Free Beacon said that Iran senses weakness in the United States and is angling to squeeze more money from the administration before it leaves office.

“Paying $1.7 billion to Iran to release the U.S. prisoners has encouraged Iran to arrest more Americans,” said Saeed Ghasseminejad, an associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Iran senses weakness in the U.S. leadership as it constantly tests the administration through a chain of provocative actions. To put an end to Iran’s abduction program, the administration should make it clear, by action and not words, that it does not reward Iran for its bad behavior.”

Conceding to Iran’s demands will only bolster the hardline regime, Ghasseminejad said.

“The administration must show strength in response to Iran’s other provocative actions in the region,” he said. “The administration also should warn American citizens and green card holders that Iran is a very dangerous place for them to travel or do business. However, such warning contradicts the administration’s continuous efforts to encourage investors and big banks to do business with Iran. The administration also should impose sanction on the entities and individuals involved in this abduction program.”

Sen. Rubio: Iran Deal an “Unfolding Disaster”

800px-marco_rubio_official_portrait_112th_congress

The Senator blasts ‘outrageous, illegal’ actions by the Obama administration.

CounterJihad, October 19, 2016:

It is not every day that you see a sitting Senator accuse the President of the United States of having broken the law.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida did so in a recent piece published by CNN.  Oddly enough, the accusations of lawlessness take a back seat to the charge that the President’s lawless policy on Iran is failing to achieve its aims.

Here are the claims of lawbreaking, with which he opens:

Outrageous, potentially illegal, actions by this administration have become so commonplace that many Americans have become numb to the recent news regarding this President’s policy toward Iran.  We now know the President authorized a$1.7 billion cash ransom payment to Iran, then his administrationlied about it to Congress….  This endangers every American overseas by incentivizing kidnappers and encouraging hostage-takers, and since Iran’s release of five US hostages in January, multiple American citizens have been thrown into Iranian jail cells. Providing cash to Iran has also allowed the mullahs to circumvent the international financial system as they shuttle much-needed resources to their terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

We recently learned President Obama dismantled a key part of the ballistic missile sanctions against Iran eight years early…. Once again, the White House lied to the American people about its concessions to the Iranian regime.

Senator Rubio in fact understates the case.  This is in keeping with his efforts to position himself as a responsible Republican, one acceptable to the press.  Rubio has recently rebuked Presidential candidate Donald Trump for claiming that the US election is rigged, and has likewise claimed that it is irresponsible to talk about the leaks provided by Wikileaks because they might be a Russian information warfare effort.  Both of these are very popular positions among the media, and are in fact the positions of the Clinton campaign as well as the Democratic leadership.  Asserting them allows Rubio to appear to be a bipartisan, centrist figure.

This makes all the more surprising his charge that the President is breaking the law, though it does help to explain why he has presented the case far more gently than he might have done.  Take the so-called “side deals” with Iran.  The administration classified those deals, which prevented public discussion of them.  Yet they were not classified from Iran, which of course knew what the deals contained because they were a party to them.  US law does not permit classification of information to avoid political embarrassment.  It appears that the administration violated the law even in negotiating the deal, then, in order to prevent a public debate on the wisdom of its side deals.

The administration also violated the law in not providing those deals to Congress.  The law governing the negotiations required a mandatory handover of all information, including side agreements, so that Congress could consider the deal and vote on whether to approve it.  (In the event, Congress never did vote to approve the deal:  the vote was filibustered by the President’s partisans in Congress).

As for lying to Congress, the administration certainly did that, as the French confirmed.

Rubio is also right about the “giant pallets of cash,” which certainly did land in the hands of America’s worst enemies in Iran:  the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran’s terror-supporting shadow army.  It certainly was a hostage payment, just as the Senator suggests.  And it has indeed provoked a wave of new arrests of Americans and those with American ties, a kind of hostage taking under color of law.  All of these charges are perfectly true.

Yet Rubio’s real criticism is that all of this lawbreaking and all of these lies by the administration have failed to achieve any of the goods that the deal was supposed to achieve.

Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles….  Earlier this year, Iran launched two missiles, one inscribed with “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew…. Iran has also maintained its support of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has destabilized the government in Lebanon and is working with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
A senior Iranian official has also stated that Tehran has been providing intelligence to Russia for military targeting, helping Moscow support Assad and his slaughter of innocent Syrians….
In Yemen, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels continue to prolong a conflict that has no end in sight…. In recent days, the Houthis fired missiles at US Navy ships on multiple occasions. However, even as American sailors are attacked by an Iranian proxy, potentially using Iranian-provided weapons, the administration pretends none of this is happening, and is reluctant to condemn Iran publicly.

There, too, he is correct.  It should be shocking that Iran was allowed to buy advanced S-300 missiles from Russia as a consequence of this deal.  These missiles can defeat almost all American, and all Israeli, aircraft that might be used against Iran’s nuclear sites.  How much more shocking, then, that Iran installed those S-300s around one of the very sites the deal was supposed to render harmless.  Could there be a clearer sign of their intent to continue to use that site for weapons development?

Iran’s Supreme Leader has told his people that only a traitor or a fool thinks Iran’s future lies in diplomacy instead of in missiles.  How much of that vast cash ransom went to supply those who are even now firing Iranian-made cruise missiles at US warships at sea?

The administration has indeed been lawless, and it has been foolish.  It is good to see a Senator pointing it out.  But what will the Senate do to hold the administration accountable?  What will it do to reverse this foolish course?

Glick: From Yemen to Turtle Bay

showimage-ashx_

Iran’s game is clear enough. It wishes to replace the US as the regional hegemon, at the US’s expense.

Truth Revolt, by Caroline Glick, October 14, 2016:

Off the coast of Yemen and at the UN Security Council we are seeing the strategic endgame of Barack Obama’s administration. And it isn’t pretty.

Since Sunday, Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen have attacked US naval craft three times in the Bab al-Mandab, the narrow straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Bab al-Mandab controls maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and ultimately controls the Suez Canal.

Whether the Iranians directed these assaults or simply green-lighted them is really beside the point. The point is that these are Iranian strikes on the US. The Houthis would never have exposed themselves to US military retaliation if they hadn’t been ordered to do so by their Iranian overlords.

The question is why has Iran chosen to open up an assault on the US? The simple answer is that Iran has challenged US power at the mouth of the Red Sea because it believes that doing so advances its strategic aims in the region.

Iran’s game is clear enough. It wishes to replace the US as the regional hegemon, at the US’s expense.

Since Obama entered office nearly eight years ago, Iran’s record in advancing its aims has been one of uninterrupted success.

Iran used the US withdrawal from Iraq as a means to exert its full control over the Iraqi government. It has used Obama’s strategic vertigo in Syria as a means to exert full control over the Assad regime and undertake the demographic transformation of Syria from a Sunni majority state to a Shi’ite plurality state.

In both cases, rather than oppose Iran’s power grabs, the Obama administration has welcomed them. As far as Obama is concerned, Iran is a partner, not an adversary.

Since like the US, Iran opposes al-Qaida and ISIS, Obama argues that the US has nothing to fear from the fact that Iranian-controlled Shiite militias are running the US-trained Iraqi military.

So, too, he has made clear that the US is content to stand by as the mullahs become the face of Syria.

In Yemen, the US position has been more ambivalent. In late 2014, Houthi rebel forces took over the capital city of Sanaa. In March 2015, the Saudis led a Sunni campaign to overthrow the Houthi government. In a bid to secure Saudi support for the nuclear agreement it was negotiating with the Iranians, the Obama administration agreed to support the Saudi campaign. To this end, the US military has provided intelligence, command and control guidance, and armaments to the Saudis.

Iran’s decision to openly assault US targets then amounts to a gamble on Tehran’s part that in the twilight of the Obama administration, the time is ripe to move in for the kill in Yemen. The Iranians are betting that at this point, with just three months to go in the White House, Obama will abandon the Saudis, and so transfer control over Arab oil to Iran.

For with the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand, and the Bab al-Mandab on the other, Iran will exercise effective control over all maritime oil flows from the Arab world.

It’s not a bad bet for the Iranians, given Obama’s consistent strategy in the Middle East.

Obama has never discussed that strategy.

Indeed, he has deliberately concealed it. But to understand the game he has been playing all along, the only thing you need to do listen to his foreign policy soul mate.

According to a New York Times profile published in May, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is the president’s alter ego. The two men’s minds have “melded.”

Rhodes’s first foreign policy position came in the course of his work for former congressman Lee Hamilton.

In 2006, then-president George W. Bush appointed former secretary of state James Baker and Hamilton to lead the Iraq Study Group. Bush tasked the group with offering a new strategy for winning the war in Iraq. The group released its report in late 2006.

The Iraq Study Group’s report contained two basic recommendations. First, it called for the administration to abandon Iraq to the Iranians.

The group argued that due to Iran’s opposition to al-Qaida, the Iranians would fight al-Qaida for the US.

The report’s second recommendation related to Israel. Baker, Hamilton and their colleagues argued that after turning Iraq over to Iran, the US would have to appease its Sunni allies.

The US, the Iraq Study Group report argued, should simultaneously placate the Sunnis and convince the Iranians of its sincerity by sticking it to Israel. To this end, the US should pressure Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria and give Judea and Samaria to the PLO.

Bush rejected the Iraq Study Group report. Instead he opted to win the war in Iraq by adopting the surge counterinsurgency strategy.

But once Bush was gone, and Rhodes’s intellectual twin replaced him, the Iraq Study Group recommendations became the unstated US strategy in the Middle East.

After taking office, Obama insisted that the US’s only enemy was al-Qaida. In 2014, Obama grudgingly expanded the list to include ISIS.

Obama has consistently justified empowering Iran in Iraq and Syria on the basis of this narrow definition of US enemies. Since Iran is also opposed to ISIS and al-Qaida, the US can leave the job of defeating them both to the Iranians, he has argued.

Obviously, Iran won’t do the US’s dirty work for free. So Obama has paid the mullahs off by giving them an open road to nuclear weapons through his nuclear deal, by abandoning sanctions against them, and by turning his back on their ballistic missile development.

Obama has also said nothing about the atrocities that Iranian-controlled militia have carried out against Sunnis in Iraq and has stopped operations against Hezbollah.

As for Israel, since his first days in office, Obama has been advancing the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. His consistent, and ever escalating condemnations of Israel, his repeated moves to pick fights with Jerusalem are all of a piece with the group’s recommended course of action. And there is every reason to believe that Obama intends to make good on his threats to cause an open rupture in the US alliance with Israel in his final days in office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night made this clear enough. In the course of their conversation, Netanyahu reportedly asked Kerry if Obama intended to enable an anti-Israel resolution to pass in the UN Security Council after the presidential election next month. By refusing to rule out the possibility, Kerry all but admitted that this is in fact Obama’s intention.

And this brings us back to Iran’s assaults on US ships along the coast of Yemen.

Early on Sunday morning, the US responded to the Houthi/Iranian missile assaults by attacking three radar stations in Houthi-controlled territory. The nature of the US moves gives credence to the fear that the US will surrender Yemen to Iran.

This is so for three reasons. First, the administration did not allow the USS Mason destroyer to respond to the sources of the missile attack against it immediately. Instead, the response was delayed until Obama himself could determine how best to “send a message.”

That is, he denied US forces the right to defend themselves.

Second, it is far from clear that destroying the radar stations will inhibit the Houthis/Iranians.

It is not apparent that radar stations are necessary for them to continue to assault US naval craft operating in the area.

Finally, the State Department responded to the attack by reaching out to the Houthis. In other words, the administration is continuing to view the Iranian proxy is a legitimate actor rather than an enemy despite its unprovoked missile assaults on the US Navy.

Then there is the New York Times’ position on Yemen.

The Times has repeatedly allowed the administration to use it as an advocate of policies the administration itself wishes to adopt. Last week for instance, the Times called for the US to turn on Israel at the Security Council.

On Tuesday, the Times published an editorial calling for the administration to end its military support for the Saudi campaign against the Houthis/Iran in Yemen.

Whereas the Iranian strategy makes sense, Obama’s strategy is nothing less than disastrous.

Although the Iraq Study Group, like Obama, is right that Iran also opposes ISIS, and to a degree, al-Qaida, they both ignored the hard reality that Iran also views the US as its enemy. Indeed, the regime’s entire identity is tied up in its hatred for the US and its strategic aim of destroying America.

Obama is not the only US president who has sought to convince the Iranians to abandon their hatred for America. Every president since 1979 has tried to convince the mullahs to abandon their hostility. And just like all of his predecessors, Obama has failed to convince them.

What distinguishes Obama from his predecessors is that he has based US policy on a deliberate denial of the basic reality of Iranian hostility. Not surprisingly, the Iranians have returned his favor by escalating their aggression against America.

The worst part about Obama’s strategy is that it is far from clear that his successor will be able to improve the situation.

If Hillary Clinton succeeds him, his successor is unlikely to even try. Not only has Clinton embraced Obama’s policies toward Iran.

Her senior advisers are almost all Obama administration alumni. Wendy Sherman, the leading candidate to serve as her secretary of state, was Obama’s chief negotiator with the Iranians.

If Donald Trump triumphs next month, assuming he wishes to reassert US power in the region, he won’t have an easy time undoing the damage that Obama has caused.

Time has not stood still as the US has engaged in strategic dementia. Not only has Iran been massively empowered, Russia has entered the Middle East as a strategic spoiler.

Moreover, since 2001, the US has spent more than a trillion dollars on its failed wars in the Middle East. That investment came in lieu of spending on weapons development. Today Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in Syria reportedly neutralize the US’s air force.

US naval craft in the Bab al-Mandab have little means to defend themselves against missile strikes.

The US’s trillion-dollar investment in the F-35 fighter jet has tethered its air wings to a plane that has yet to prove its capabilities, and may never live up to expectations.

Israel is justifiably worried about the implications of Obama’s intention to harm it at the UN.

But the harm Israel will absorb at the UN is nothing in comparison to the long-term damage that Obama’s embrace of the Iraq Study Group’s disastrous strategic framework has and will continue to cause Israel, the US and the entire Middle East.

 

US strikes three radar sites in Houthi-controlled part of Yemen

07b471aabad84e558627fb4f9d68508b_18Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, October 14, 2016:

The US has launched missiles against three radar sites in the Houthi-controlled part of Yemen. The strikes came in response to two attacks on the USS Mason, which operates in international waters off the Red Sea coast of Yemen. The Houthis are also thought to have fired rockets at an United Arab Emirates military vessel earlier this month.

The US military “targeted radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb,” according to a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. The Bab al-Mandeb is a strait located between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. “These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” Cook continued.

Cook added that the “United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world.”

Separately, the US Navy released a video, just over one minute long, of the USS Nitze launching Tomahawk cruise missiles at the radar sites. The cruise missile were fired just hours after the USS Mason was forced to respond to an incoming missile for the second time this week. No one was injured in the failed missile attacks, but the USS Mason had to employ “defensive countermeasures.”

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have been backed by Iran. And their rise to power in the country was a blow to the US government’s counterterrorism strategy. The Obama administration relied on President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government as a key, on the ground partner in the fight against al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

But in late 2014 and early 2015, the Houthis seized large swaths of Yemen from Hadi’s government. AQAP capitalized on the instability by launching its own offensive throughout the southern part of the country. The al Qaeda branch controlled contiguous territory along the coast from April 2015 until April 2016, when an Arab-led coalition moved to dislodge the jihadis. AQAP’s fighters slipped away from strategic locations, such as the port city of Mukalla, in order to fight another day. AQAP portrayed the move as an effort to protect local residents and civilian institutions, such as mosques and markets, from the ravages of war.

Subsequently, Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza released an audio message in which he accused Saudi Arabia of attacking al Qaeda’s men at a time when they were “preoccupied” with the Houthis. Hamza portrayed the ground assault launched by the Saudi-led coalition that entered Mukalla as boon to the Houthis, even though the Saudis are opposed to the Houthis’ expansion.

In addition to AQAP, the Islamic State took advantage of the turmoil in Yemen by establishing a small upstart branch comprised of AQAP defectors and others.

The State Department has formally accused Iran of backing the Houthis. In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, State said that “Iran actively supported members of the Houthi tribe in northern Yemen, including activities intended to build military capabilities, which could pose a greater threat to security and stability in Yemen and the surrounding region.” The report also cited an incident from July 2012, when Yemen’s Interior Ministry “arrested members of an alleged Iranian spy ring, headed by a former member of the IRGC” (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).

However, Foggy Bottom dropped the language about Iran’s sponsorship of the Houthis from the 2015 version of Country Reports on Terrorism. Asked why similar language was not included in the report for 2015, acting coordinator for counterterrorism Justin Siberell responded: “There’s a serious concern about Iran’s activities in Yemen, yes.”

In February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delivered the US Intelligence Community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” to Congress. Clapper noted that Iran “continues to back the [Houthis],” has shipped “lethal aid” to them, and referred to the “Iranian-backed [Houthi] insurgency.”

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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Russian media reporting:

Also see:

The Saudi-Iran Rivalry and Sectarian Strife in South Asia

sunni-vs-shia

Iran and Saudi Arabia are recruiting and radicalizing local Muslim populations in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

IPT, by Abha Shankar
The Diplomat
October 6, 2016

Note: This article originally was published at The Diplomat website.

Frank Gaffney: Hillary Clinton’s Iran Policy Is ‘Obama Bomb Fraud, Now Under New Management’

AP/Brendan Smialowski

AP/Brendan Smialowski

Breitbart, by John Hayward, October 5 2016:

Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney reviewed the national security segments of Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate on Wednesday morning’s Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Alex Marlow.

Marlow kicked off the discussion with “this insane notion that Iran has abandoned its nuclear armaments, the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and Hillary Clinton did that single-handedly, without firing a shot.”

“Well, it’s fraud, is what it is,” Gaffney said. “This is Obama bomb fraud, now under new management.”

He picked apart the dual falsehoods in Tim Kaine’s statement, arguing that Hillary Clinton was not the architect of the Iran nuclear deal, and the deal does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, by the admission of those who were its architects:

I think the American people have awakened, Alex, to the reality that not only was she not responsible for the deplorable outcome here – I mean, she started it off, and I guess in that sense is implicated – but this is Barack Obama and John Kerry’s doing. But anybody who has a lick of sense knows that what John Kerry and Barack Obama wrought is a fraud, in the sense that it does not put Iran out of the nuclear weapons business, with or without firing a shot.

And in fact, I’d go beyond what Mike Pence said in rebuttal, which is, you know, they’re ten years away from having whatever they want because the thing allows them to, at the end of its duration, go for it full-bore.

The real problem, Alex, as you know – and Breitbart’s done a wonderful job of reporting on this – is they’re allowed to have everything they need for a nuclear weapon now, and essentially at will, they can pop out of that agreement. They keep threatening to do it, and we keep making concessions, including ransoming hostages and sending planeloads of cash in the dark of night, and so on, to try to prevent them from exercising that very real option.

This is a case where, I think this is actually an indictment of the people who are saying, “Hey, this is going splendidly, and let’s just have four more years of it,” far from being a credit to those folks.

Gaffney described Pence’s comments on the destabilization of the world under Obama-Clinton foreign policy, from Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine to Iran’s ascendancy, as “one of the high points of the evening”:

It was as succinct and as devastating a takedown of the myth of Hillary Clinton’s fabulous success as secretary of state, and her principal bona fide, as she claims it to be, that she’ll be a great commander-in-chief.

She has made a hash-up of everything she’s touched. And whether it’s Russia, a “reset” that, in fact, has set the stage for infinitely worse behavior from the Russians – let me give you one example: A colleague of mine, Roger Robinson, and I had a conversation earlier this week on our show, Secure Freedom Radio, about the fact that what the Russians have put themselves in a position to do by seizing Crimea, Alex – and most people don’t have a clue about this – is, they’ve got their hands now on perhaps as much as $1 trillion of oil and gas reserves off the coast of Crimea. They’re using Ukrainian rigs that they’ve stolen to go begin tapping into that oil revenue that should otherwise have gone to Ukraine.

And, by the way, it looks as though they’re setting up to go after the oil that Romania has in a neighboring area of the Black Sea.

These are the sorts of things that are a direct legacy of the misbegotten notions about how they could deal with Vladimir Putin, that was all part of Hillary and Barack Obama’s “reset” policy.

And we talked a little bit about Iran; this is an unmitigated disaster. Just one data point: I’m afraid we’re beginning to see the Iranians translating the enormous wealth that we’ve given them not only into further action on their so-called “capped” nuclear weapons program, but on all of the other horrible things they do, from subversion in their own region and beyond, to threatening our forces, to supporting terrorism, and much more.

This is a disaster. It should be disqualifying, not a credential for higher office. And I thought Mike Pence nailed it in this quote and others.

Gaffney found Tim Kaine’s insistence that “we killed bin Laden” – something for which Hillary Clinton is now apparently responsible, although President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign portrayed it as a “gutsy call” he alone had the unique courage to make – both outrageous and dangerous:

Two quick points: In addition to al-Qaeda still being very much a force to reckon with, and of course, the Islamic State, there’s Boko Haram, there’s al-Shabaab, the Nusra Front, on and on.

But most especially, there’s the Muslim Brotherhood. This didn’t come up last night. Neither did Huma Abedin, who I consider to really be a Muslim Brotherhood influence operator at the very least, if not actually one of their own, who’s been working for Hillary Clinton all these years. And that didn’t get the attention it needs to, it has to, in the remaining days of this debate because the Brotherhood and enabling them to pursue jihad in our own country, as well as elsewhere, is one of Hillary’s worst legacies.

The other thing is, yesterday the Justice Department dropped its prosecution of a man that shouldn’t have been indicted in the first place, for running guns to Libya. That’s something Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were doing, and they decided they didn’t want Marc Turi’s discovery to expose Hillary Clinton’s terrible record on Libya, so they dropped the case just in time to prevent that from coming to light, in the course of the remaining days of this election.

These are the sorts of things that I hope we’ll get into, in the next two debates with the presidential candidates.

Gaffney said it was “a mistake, a strategic mistake of the first order, to remove Qaddafi, because he was helping to fight all of these jihadists – both the violent kind and the more stealthy kind of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“We now have them at our throats, Alex, in part because Libya has gone literally to the jihadis,” he argued, adding:

I think it’s a blight on Hillary’s record. It’s, I think, evidence of Huma Abedin’s insidious influence. It’s a mistake, of course, Barack Obama’s ultimately responsible for, but Hillary must be held accountable for it because I fear there’s going to be a lot more of that kind of mistake – that kind of belief, as you say, that the Muslim Brotherhood, if there is a good guy/bad guy division, they’re on the side of the good guys.”

“They’re anything but. They practice the same totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion,” Gaffney stressed. Elaborating, he said:

They call it sharia. They seek to impose it, just like al-Qaeda, just like the Islamic State and others, although with techniques that are more insidious, more dangerous for democratic countries like ours, namely by stealth. But the goal is the same: the domination worldwide of sharia. Hillary doesn’t get that – or worse, she has actually been an enabler of it, in important ways. That’s gotta come out, in the final days of this campaign.

LISTEN:

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Brutal ISIS Executions, Military Weakness, and A New Refugee Crisis

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America’s policy in Syria and Iraq has been “cool, rational, and wrong.” Is it already too late to fix it?

CounterJihad, Oct. 4, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS) has delivered a new propaganda video showing another gruesome mass execution of fellow Muslims.  The group proclaims that the video should serve as a warning to any Muslims thinking of coming to join any of the rebel armies fighting against them in the conflict.  Amid Nazi salutes, ISIS soldiers clad in stolen American-made 3 color DCU uniforms promised to fight the “apostates” whom they painted as being on the same side as the Americans.

Yet the Americans have done but little to support any allies in the region.  As the Economist notes, US President Barack Obama has kept American forces largely out of the conflict except in an advisory role.  This is because, they explain, he views an American intervention as likely to cause more harm than good.  His policy has been throughout “cool,” “rational,” and “wrong.”

As America has pulled back, others have stepped in—geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Islamic State (IS) has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq. A new generation of jihadists has been inspired to fight in Syria or attack the West. Turkey, rocked by Kurdish and jihadist violence (and a failed coup), has joined the fight in Syria. Jordan and Lebanon, bursting with refugees, fear they will be sucked in. The exodus of Syrians strengthens Europe’s xenophobic populists and endangers the European Union. A belligerent Russia feels emboldened….

None of this is in America’s interest. Being cool and calculating is not much use if everybody else thinks you are being weak. Even if America cannot fix Syria, it could have helped limit the damage, alleviate suffering and reduce the appeal of jihadism…. Mr Obama says that Mr Assad eventually must go, but has never willed the means to achieve that end. (Some rebel groups receive CIA weapons, but that is about it.)… [J]ihadism is fed by war and state failure: without a broader power-sharing agreement in Syria and Iraq any victory against IS will be short-lived; other jihadists will take its place.

Russia has been building pressure on the Obama administration in other ways.  Since the suspending of talks between the US and Russia, the Putin administration has announced major nuclear war games that will move tens of millions of people to civil defense shelters on very short notice.  They have suspended nuclear arms deals with the United States involving plutonium cleanup, suggesting that they fear the US will cheat.  The Russians have also deployed one of their advanced missile systems outside of their homeland for the first time.  The deployment was made without comment, but as one American official noted wryly, ““Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?”  Al Nusra Front is an al Qaeda linked organization that has been sometimes allied with, but more often at war with, the Islamic State.

All of this means that America’s window to take a more aggressive approach may be closing, if it has not already closed.  Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant.  This President has been badly outmaneuvered.  The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”

The threat is very real, as estimates are that the assault on Mosul might produce another million refugees headed for Europe and America, or perhaps half again that many.  The failure to take a more aggressive approach may end up bringing a flood tide of human suffering and terror.

After Islamic State, Fears of a ‘Shiite Crescent’ in Mideast

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The mullahs’ regime in Tehran is no less brutal, no less jihadi than the Islamic State – so why on earth should we of the West have anything to do w/propping up Tehran’s puppet regimes in Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus? Besides, bomb Raqqa into the ground tomorrow (not a bad idea!) & the global jihad would hardly skip a beat – that’s because jihad is wherever there is a cell, a community, or a network of faithful, devout Muslims obedient to shariah – and that means, already living among us. Jihad is upon us where we live now, not just ‘over there.’ – Clare Lopez

WSJ, by YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Sept. 29, 2016:

From the point of view of Sunni Arab regimes anxious about Iran’s regional ambitions, Islamic State—as repellent as it is—provides a silver lining. The extremist group’s firewall blocks territorial contiguity between Iran and its Arab proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

This means that now, as Islamic State is losing more and more land to Iranian allies, these Sunni countries—particularly Saudi Arabia—face a potentially more dangerous challenge: a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut that would reinforce a more capable and no less implacable enemy.

Pro-Iranian Shiite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraq’s Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are filling the void left by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they are much better equipped and trained than the Sunni extremist group. They are also just as hostile to the Saudi regime, openly talking about dismantling the kingdom and freeing Islam’s holy places from the House of Saud.

That rhetoric only intensified after January’s breakup in diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

Many Western officials see these Shiite militias—which currently refrain from attacking Western targets—as an undoubtedly preferable alternative to Islamic State’s murderous rule, and some of the groups operating in Iraq indirectly coordinate with U.S. air power. But that isn’t how those militias are viewed in Riyadh and other Gulf capitals.

Abuses committed by Iranian proxies in Sunni areas are just as bad as those of Islamic State, argued Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and a nephew of the current king.

“They are equally threatening, and one feeds off the other,” Prince Turki said in an interview. “Both of them are equally vicious, equally treacherous, and equally destructive.”

The West, he added, fundamentally misunderstood Iranian intentions in the region. “It’s wishful thinking that, if we try to embrace them, they may tango with us. That’s an illusion,” he said.

Fears over a “Shiite crescent” of Iranian influence in the Middle East aren’t new. They were first aired by Jordan’s King Abdullah a year after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought pro-Iranian politicians to power in Baghdad.

In the following years, the huge U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency there kept Iranian power in check. Then, just as the U.S. withdrawal and the taming of the insurgency seemed to herald a new era of Iranian prominence in the region, the 2011 upheaval of the Arab Spring unleashed the Syrian civil war.

The dramatic rise of Islamic State that followed created a Britain-sized Sunni statelet in Syria and Iraq—and severed all land communications in the middle of that “Shiite crescent.”

“Prior to 2011, Iran already had overwhelming influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So Iran has not significantly expanded its influence in the region, but rather it has been forced to provide military protection to pivotal allies it risked losing,” said Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group. “If this has caused panic in Riyadh, it’s mainly because the Arab world is in a state of disarray.”

In both Syria and Iraq, however, Shiite militias controlled by Iran now play a far greater role than in 2011. Last month, Iraq ended the brief tenure of the first Saudi ambassador to the country since 2003, expelling him over his criticism of the Shiite militias. These groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq, and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas.

In Syria, too, the survival of President Bashar al-Assad—allied with Iran but autonomous in many of his policies before 2011—has become impossible without the support of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy that has grown into a regional military force. Other Shiite militias in Syria are staffed by Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani recruits.

“Iran’s power has spread further afield than before in terms of direct military power. We have never had so many Shiite militias operating in so many different areas, and fighting in traditional Sunni strongholds,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

With Islamic State also under attack by U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces and a Turkish offensive, it’s possible that these Iranian proxies and allies would link up along the Iraq-Syrian border in coming months. The question is whether they would be able to hold that land and rule over the remaining Sunni populations without a degree of power-sharing—something that neither Baghdad nor Damascus seem ready for.

Absent that, it is likely that a new insurgency would bubble up soon in those areas—likely fomented by Sunni Arab states eager to break up the region’s “Shiite crescent” once again.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni Iraqi politician and the country’s former deputy prime minister, warned that keeping the Sunnis disenfranchised would lead to precisely such an outcome.

“Unless you start thinking about the conditions that created ISIS in the first place and try to overcome these conditions,” he said in an interview, “there will be a new ISIS again, maybe of a different kind.”

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Another Day, Another Secret Obama Side Deal with Iran

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Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, Sept. 30, 2016:

According to a September 30 Wall Street Journal article, the Obama administration signed a secret agreement with Iran to lift U.N. sanctions from two Iranian banks — Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International — that helped finance Iran’s ballistic-missile program. U.S. and Iranian officials signed this deal on January 17, 2016, the same day Iran released four U.S. prisoners.

U.S officials in January said the prisoners were swapped for the release of seven Iranian prisoners by the U.S. and the removal of 21 persons — mostly Iranian nationals — from an INTERPOL wanted list for violating U.S. laws barring transfers of WMD technology and weapons to Iran.

The American people and Congress did not learn until August that the U.S. prisoners were not allowed to leave Iran until a planeload of $400 million in cash sent by the United States had landed in Iran. This payment — and two more over the next month — has been strongly condemned by Republican congressmen as U.S. ransom payments to a state sponsor of terror.

Commenting on the $400 million cash payment to Iran, the prisoner swap and the lifting of sanctions from the Iranian banks, a senior U.S. official told the Journal, “The timing of all this isn’t coincidental. Everything was linked to some degree.”

The Journal also quoted unnamed Obama officials who justified lifting sanctions against the two Iranian banks to “harmonize the U.N. sanctions list with the U.S.’s” and because “Washington believed Iran had earned more sanctions relief because Tehran had been implementing the terms of the nuclear agreement.” The Obama administration lifted U.S. sanctions against Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International in July 2015. The U.N. Security Council voted to lift these sanctions on January 17, 2016.

This suggests the removal of sanctions against the Iranian banks was part of a broad ransom agreement to free U.S. prisoners held by Iran.

The secret agreement to lift sanctions against the Iranian banks also violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, passed in July 2015 which endorsed the JCPOA. This resolution stipulated that U.N. missile-related sanctions against Iran would remain in place for eight years. In addition, lifting sanctions against the two banks broke promises to Congress by Obama officials that the nuclear deal would only lift nuclear-related sanctions against Iran and that U.N. missile sanctions would remain in place for eight years.

The secret deal to lift missile sanctions against the Iranian banks joins a long list of secret JCPOA side deals that the Obama administration illegally withheld from the U.S. Congress and the American people. These include allowing Iran to inspect itself for nuclear weapons work; the dumbing down of IAEA Iran reports; exemptions granted to Iran on its JCPOA obligations so it would receive $150 billion in sanctions relief; sending Iran planeloads of $1.7 billion in cash to free four imprisoned Americans; and an agreement allowing Iran to construct advanced centrifuges in 2027. One has to wonder how many more secret side deals have yet to be disclosed.

I argue in my new book on the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is national-security fraud. This latest secret side deal is more compelling evidence of this.

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