Iran In Latin America: Identifying The Problem and How We Need To Confront It

Center for Security Policy, by Luis Fleischman, Feb. 1, 2018:

Originally posted on the London Center for policy research

Last December, Politico uncovered a story with serious and far-reaching implications.The Obama Administration undermined and blocked a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) program in its eagerness to secure a nuclear deal with Iran.This program targeted a billion dollar per year Hezbollah cocaine and arms trafficking operation in Latin America and the United States.

The Hezbollah operation also involved arms trafficking and money laundering. According to the report, cocaine trafficking originated inLatin America, specifically through Venezuela and Mexico, with profits generated in the U.S. and laundered through the purchase of used cars. According to U.S. agents involved in the investigation, the criminal operation was directed and planned by Hezbollah’s innermost circle and “its state sponsors in Iran.”

According to Politico, the money collected by Hezbollah went directly toward its military activities in the Middle East, particularly to the Assad regime in Syria where more than half a million people have been killed and millions more have been displaced. Furthermore,the drug profits aggravated issues at home; tons of cocaine were sold in the U.S.at a time when drug addiction constitutes one of America’s most pressing crises, having claimed close to 50,000 American lives in the past year alone.

The DEA sought approval to continue investigations, order arrests, extraditions and prosecutions of suspects, and impose financial sanctions on some of the operation’s major players. However, the Departments of Justice and Treasury rejected, delayed, or blocked those requests. Likewise, the State Department rejected requests to pursue cooperation with countries that could have helped target key suspects involved in those criminal activities.

The story reported by Politico is not merely about a criminal operation; rather, it follows a larger trend that has serious security implications for the entire Western Hemisphere. Iran has had a presence in Latin America for decades. However, its role in the region expanded and intensified after Hugo Chavez took the reins of the Venezuelan state in 1999. Chavez based his rule on a revolutionary transnational agenda that included a quasi-socialist authoritarian revolution at home, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy aimed at spreading his revolution throughout the region.

Unlike Napoleonic France or the Soviet Union, Venezuela did not have armies to expand its revolution by force. Rather, Chavez began to funnel money to candidates in different countries in the region who held views akin to his ideology and proceeded to establish alliances with regional guerilla movements to organize subversion across Latin America.Indeed, Chavez believed that to expand the revolution abroad, he needed to count on the power of asymmetric warfare. Thus, Chavez saw groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a necessary force that could create subversion abroad and expand his so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.” The FARC took part in the rebellion that toppled the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia. Likewise, theystrengthened relationswith the Shining Path guerrilla Maoist movement in Peru and other subversive groups in the region. Theyalso trainedmembers of the Paraguayan Popular Army (EPP) who kidnapped and murdered the daughter of a former Paraguayan president.Chavez followed the same trajectory and established relationships with other militant groups, such as the Basque ETA and most importantly, the Iranian backed paramilitary, Hezbollah.As such, the alliance between Venezuela and Iran has strong foundations. They both are anti-American and seek to reduce U.S. power in their respective regions and, if possible, in the world. Chavez defined the Islamic and the Bolivarian revolutions as “sister revolutions.” Venezuela needed Iran’s subversive capabilities and its “valuable” experience in building a totalitarian-revolutionary regime to complement what Cuba had already been doing.

Hezbollah and Iran’s IslamicRevolutionary GuardsCorps (IRGC) have also established a presence in the region, training “soldiers of the revolution” in Venezuelan camps, and even helping to design and build the ALBA school, a military training camp in Bolivia. The school’s main purpose is to ideologically indoctrinate soldiers and strengthen the bonds between the armed forces and the new Latin American revolutions. The revolution promoted a civic-military alliance, a situation that has enabled the regime to survive. Venezuela’s own Vice President,Tarek Al Aissami, has been a key liaison between Venezuela and Iran.

For its part, Iran needed Venezuela to expand its presence in Latin America. According to the late Argentinean prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Iran has a presence in 12 countries in the region including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Uruguay. Iranhas sought to increase political alliances in the region for which Venezuela and its allies provided a great opportunity. Italso sought a strategic position in the region to increase deterring capabilities against the U.S. Additionally, Iran has aspired to reach out to the Muslim community in Latin America. Indeed, Iran has established a number of networks in the region with mosques and even a TV channel(HispanTV) in Spanish.(HispanTVhas given wide coverage to groups that promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories). Iran also sought to use Latin American countries, particularly Venezuelan banks, to curbthe effect of international sanctions.

Moreover,Venezuela issued passports to Iranians and Hezbollah members to facilitate their free travel around the region and the world. Likewise, several Caribbean countries thatallied with Chavez established dangerous liaisons with Iran. Guyana signed an agreement with Iran in which Iran would map Guyana’s mineral resources, including uranium. Dominica signed an agreement with Iran that enabled citizens of Iran, parts of the Middle East and Central Asia to obtain a second citizenship and a passport. The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis have also sold passports to Iranians.

These could have potentially harmful consequences. In 2007, a Hezbollah member stationed in Guyana attempted to carry out a terrorist attack at Kennedy Airport.Likewise, in 2011 Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. Furthermore, sophisticated tunnels built along the U.S.-Mexican border have been designed in the image of the tunnels found along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Intelligence officials have raised the possibility that Hezbollah has been enlisted by drug cartels to design and improve the tunnels along America’s southern border.

These actions can place the U.S. at the mercy of terrorist attacks not just by Hezbollah, but by any other terrorist group that establishes an alliance with Iran, including the Islamic State or al Qaeda. There has been evidence of a relationship betweenIran and al Qaeda over the past several years;therefore,similar cooperation should not be ruled out in Latin America.Indeed, in August 2016 the U.S.Southern Command reported the infiltration of 30,000Sunni individuals from the Middle East, which is the equivalent of 10 percent of the total illegal smuggling coming from the southern border.

In 2016, an officer who worked in the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad charged that the embassy sold passports to whomever would pay. The officer witnessed embassy officials selling Venezuelan passports to individuals from the Middle East, including criminals and terrorists from Iraq and Syria.Given reports of ISIS activity in these countries, it would not be surprising if some of these passports were sold to affiliated individuals.

The drug cartels also play a role in the Venezuelan and Iranian schemes. Venezuela has opened its airports and seaports to drug trafficking. Chavez, like his mentor Fidel Castro, saw drug trafficking as a means to corrupt and destabilize American society—the main consumer of drugs, as well as generating large quantities in profits.Spanish journalist Emilio Blasco has estimated that 95 percent of Colombian drugs bound for Europe and the U.S. depart from Venezuela. Blasco, who authored the book Boomerang Chavez in 2015, also claimed that Diosdado Cabello, a former general, Minister of Interior, and speaker of the Venezuelan National Assembly, directed these drug operations alongsideVice President Al Aissami and Hugo Carvajal, a former director of military intelligence.

For Iran, their involvement in drug trafficking served as a source of revenue and as a means to deepen its logistical penetration in the region. Other actions indicate that there is indeed a link. There were reports that indicated that the assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador mentioned above was carried out with the help of Mexico’s Los Zetas, a notoriously violent drug cartel. Furthermore, there have been reports that members of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel received weapons and explosive training in Iran.

According to Rafael Isea, a former Deputy Minister of Finance and President of the Bank of Economic and Social Development, current Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, then foreign Minister, travelled to Damascus in 2007 to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The purpose of his trip was to negotiate the installation of Hezbollah cells in Venezuela. This agreement protected Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and money laundering activities as well as its arms supplies and provision of passports. These passports and visas were prepared by Ghazi Nasr El Din, a counselor in the Venezuelan embassy in Syria, who was born in Lebanon and later became a Venezuelan citizen. El Din, who was blacklisted by the FBI, helped Hezbollah raise money and repeatedly facilitated the travel of more than 300 Hezbollah members. Their role, according to Isea, was to participate in drug trafficking and money laundering to secure funding for Hezbollah.

Therefore, what was uncovered by Politico in December was not just a criminal activity aimed at securing financial support for Iran’s wars in the Middle East. This isthe tip of the iceberg. There is an ominous marriageof conveniencebetween Iran, transnational crime, and regional states led by Venezuela that may have severe consequences for the United States and the region.The Trump Administration will have to take a holistic approach by focusing its energies on Iran, Venezuela and transnational crime. In terms of Iran, I outlined a strategy in a recent article. In terms of Venezuela, Trump must extend sanctions to the entire political and military operation. However, the current policy of gradual sanctions on a handful of military officers and politicians is insufficient and ineffective. The entire military and political elite must feel the effect of economic sanctions and restriction of movement.

The Venezuelan military, like many other authoritarian regimes, has been given control of parts of the economy and food distribution. It has been reported that some officers practice “food-trafficking,” taking advantage of the people’s desperate need for food. If the army abandons Maduro, this could be a good first step towards regime change. This is why heavy sanctions must be applied over the entire armed forces, and not just on a few officers. Supporters of the regime continue to desert Mr. Maduro; it is important to make sure that more members of the military do the same.

Finally, the Trump Administration must intensify the war on drugs and cartels that operate across many countries in Latin America.  Venezuela and its ally regimes in Ecuador and Bolivia expelled the DEA years ago. The crackdown on the cartels must be uncompromising.The challenge is significant.This important fight was lost in the last decade as former president Barack Obama attempted to seek normalization with Cuba and reconciliation with Venezuela.  Part of such appeasement was to surrender to several Latin American governments that opposed the U.S war on drugs.Now, we have no choice but to confront all these challenges heads on.

Also see:

WATCH: Tillerson Says U.S. and Argentina Will Cooperate to Fight Hezbollah’s Illicit Activities in Latin America

Trump May Be Laying The Groundwork To De-Certify Iran Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during ceremonies in honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 16th anniversary of the attack at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts – UP1ED9B13ALNJ

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept. 12, 2017:

The Trump administration appears to be gearing up for a more aggressive stance towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, which may begin with U.S. de-certification of the regime’s compliance with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a proposal developed by his senior national advisors to confront Iranian-backed militias in war-zones like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The proposal would have the U.S. intercept Iranian arms shipments to malign terror groups and allow U.S. ships to act more “forcefully” when harassed by the Islamic Republic in the Persian gulf.

The proposal was characterized as a “broad strategy” and echoes concerns Trump has floated in the past in connection with the nuclear deal. The president himself said in July he “would be surprised” if he certified Iran’s compliance to Congress in the coming months saying “I think they’re taking advantage of this country.”

The proposal’s leak to Reuters also comes just days after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley laid out a comprehensive way forward on Sept. 5 for the administration if it decides to de-certify the regime’s compliance.

Haley forcefully declared:

We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility toward the United States. We must consider its history of deception about its nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile technology. And we must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset. That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that North Korea only recently developed.

The administration has long held the view that Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal must be viewed in a broader lens that accounts for its malign activity in the Middle East and aggressive ballistic missile program. The administration’s stance echoes experts’ concerns that claims of Iranian compliance with the agreement are narrowly focused.

“While Iran might be complying with the letter of the JCPOA [Iran deal] it’s been routinely violating its spirit, and that’s very problematic,” United Against A Nuclear Iran Policy Director Jason Brodsky previously explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation. Brodsky claimed that while Iran’s violations of the U.N. resolution codifying the nuclear deal may not show explicit Iranian procurement or development of nuclear material, it demonstrates a regime that continues to pursue programs that pose a threat to the U.S.

If Trump decides not to certify Iran’s compliance, “it would signal one or more of the following three messages to Congress,” Haley said. “Either the Administration believes Iran is in violation of the deal; or the lifting of sanctions against Iran is not appropriate and proportional to the regime’s behavior; or the lifting of sanctions is not in the U.S. national security interest.”

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Haley: Iran Has Uninspected & Undeclared Nuclear Sites

Iran: Inspection of mass production of ballistic missiles (Photo: VAHID REZA ALAEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Sept. 10, 2017:

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed in August that Iran has “numerous undeclared [nuclear] sites that have not been inspected,” the first time the U.S. government has officially accused Iran of actively hiding parts of its nuclear program since the deal was enacted.

That is a big accusation, but it received very little attention. Peculiarly, the claim did not appear in her later remarks on September 5 to the American Enterprise Institute.

Iranian Opposition Group Reports Secret Nuke Work

The National Council of Resistance in Iran, a group that wants to replace the current regime with a secular democracy, publicly released detailed information about Iran’s alleged covert nuclear activities in April.

NCRI says that the newly-identified site is inside the Parchin military base, the place that Iran has been most resistant to granting outside access. It is known that Iran worked on the high explosives necessary for a nuclear weapon’s “trigger” at Parchin.

NCRI says that the effort was simply moved from one location within Parchin to another because the regime believes there is an “extremely low” chance of the IAEA inspectors entering the area.

The opposition group obviously has a political agenda, but it has a strong track record and it would want to avoid a self-inflicted wound by being caught in a lie.

A nuclear expert with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Frank Pabian, said in 2010 that NCRI is “right about 90 percent of the time.” In 2002, NCRI accurately revealed two secret nuclear sites; the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak.

The NCRI’s claim about activity in Parchin is substantiated by satellite imagery that discovered suspicious activity at Parchin in July 2015. Scientists assessed that “these activities could be related to refurbishment or clean-up prior to any IAEA inspection or the taking of environmental samples.”

Earlier in February 2015, NCRI identified an alleged secret uranium enrichment site that has been operating since 2008. The revelation happened as the U.S. and Iran came close to agreeing to the nuclear deal.

Iran Refuses Access to Military Sites

The U.S. government is publicly stating that the inspectors should have broad access to Iranian military sites suspected of housing nuclear activity. The inspectors have not visited a single one since the JCPOA went into effect.

However, the IAEA may only request access if it believes it has adequate evidence of nuclear work at a specific site. Under the deal, which has the official name of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the IAEA does not have the authority to inspect sites on a whim. And if it does request a visit, Iran can delay for up to 24 days or even longer without facing consequences.

As of now, the U.S. is not reported to have provided such intelligence to the IAEA or to have requested a specific inspection.

A quote from an anonymous IAEA official indicates that agency personnel want to prevent the Trump Administration from finding a pretext for abandoning the deal. An unidentified official said, “If they want to bring down the deal, they will. We just don’t want to give them an excuse to.”

By raising the issue of access to military sites, the U.S. has pushed Iran to unequivocally state that it will deny access to military sites altogether.

The Institute for Science and International Security’s analysis of the latest IAEA report is highly critical of the agency’s last report for omitting crucial details. The institute is considered one of the most reputable organizations on nuclear issues in the world.

It says that access to military sites is essential for verification, and that “it is likely that some of the conditions in Section T [of the JCPOA] are not currently being met and may in fact be violated by Iran.” Section T addresses dual-use equipment that can be used for pursuing nuclear weapons.

Iran’s refusal to grant access to any military sites means that Iran is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, an act that does not violate the JCPOA per se but does make Iran fall short of the standards set by Congress for continuing the deal.

The significance of Iran’s refusal to grant access to military sites can only be understood when the complicated arrangement is grasped.

Two Agreements: The JCPOA & Corker-Cardin

The continuation of the nuclear deal (the JCPOA) requires Iranian compliance with two sets of the standards:

The first is obviously the JCPOA itself.

The second is the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, also known as the Corker-Cardin bill which was passed under the Obama Administration so that Congress would could approve or reject U.S. participation in the deal. Iran must meet standards beyond the deal for congressional approval to continue.

The Corker-Cardin bill requires the administration to certify that Iran is meeting the following four benchmarks:

  • Iran is fully implementing the agreement,
  • Iran has not committed a material breach of the agreement,
  • Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program, and
  • Suspension of sanctions against Iran is appropriate and proportionate to measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and vital to U.S. national security interests.

Importantly, the Corker-Cardin bill also requires Iranian compliance with agreements “related” to the nuclear deal. That would include the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, which is referenced seven times in the JCPOA’s section on nuclear-related measures. Iran’s blanket refusal to grant access to military sites is a statement that it will not comply with the Additional Protocol.

“With Iran rejecting IAEA access to military sites, President Trump would now be lying to Congress and the American people if he recertifies Iranian compliance in October,” said Omri Ceren, the Israel Project’s senior adviser monitoring the deal, to the Clarion Project.

U.N. Ambassador Haley also said the U.S. has “devastating evidence of Iranian violations” of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which arguably qualifies as a JCPOA-related agreement. It prohibits ballistic missile testing and arming of terrorists that Iran is clearly engaged in.

Let’s review again where we are at for those who understandably find this confusing.

  • If the U.S. has sufficient evidence that Iran is conducting nuclear work at undisclosed sites, then Iran is in violation of the JCPOA itself.
  • The U.S. must then present this evidence to the IAEA, which—if convinced—will request an inspection that, according to Iran’s public statements, the regime will reject.
  • If access is denied past 24 days, the U.N. might declare Iran in violation of the JCPOA and then might reimpose sanctions, effectively ending the deal.
  • What is more likely to happen is that the Trump Administration will declare that Iran is not meeting the standards of the Corker-Cardin arrangement—the standards that must be met for Congress to authorize continued U.S. participation in the deal.

The Trump Administration has twice certified that Iran is meeting these standards, as is required every 90 days. Haley’s comments indicate that certification is unlikely in October.

The Trump Administration can declare Iran in violation of “related agreements” and/or state that the suspension of sanctions on Iran is no longer believed to be in America’s national security interests (the fourth benchmark).

So, does that mean the nuclear deal with Iran is probably over in October? Not necessarily.

The Next Step

As Haley explains, if President Trump does not certify that these benchmarks are being met, then Congress has a 60-day period to decide whether to re-impose sanctions that were lifted under the deal.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in the U.S. national security interest,” Haley said.

On the surface, it seems that killing the deal would be a no-brainer.

Haley pointed out that, because of the sanctions imposed on Iran prior to the deal, the Iranian GDP fell by over 4 percent. Two years after the deal, it grew by almost 5 percent. The deal is likely saving the Iranian regime and its ideology of Shiite Islamic Revolution as Western businesses flock to set up contracts.

Over the long-term, the agreement disarms the West more than it disarms the Iranian regime, resulting in an Iran on steroids. Its nuclear infrastructure remains, enabling the regime to quickly produce an arsenal of nuclear bombs.

In fact, last February, four top experts declared Iran a “nuclear missile state.”

The Iranian regime can match its words of “Death to America” with action by launching an apocalyptic Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) strike, an option advocated in its military manuals and one that its military has been rehearsing since at least 2008.

But, as Haley understands:

“The truth is, the Iran deal has so many flaws that it’s tempting to leave it. But the deal was constructed in a way that makes leaving it less attractive. It gave Iran what it wanted up-front, in exchange for temporary promises to deliver what we want. That’s not good.”

The deal has left us in a difficult position.

Even if the deal is scrapped, Iran has already greatly benefited from the influx of income. The lucrative international business contracts made in the wake of the agreement make it questionable whether the international community will partake in future sanctions, especially if the U.S. is seen as the party responsible for the deal’s collapse.

Iran may move quickly ahead in developing a nuclear arsenal while the U.S. is still heavily engaged in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Proponents of the deal will point out that at least it restricts what Iran does with its declared facilities. Yet, provoking Western action as a pretext for overtly making nukes may have been a part of Iran’s script all along.

If the deal isn’t scrapped, then the Iranian regime gets stronger by the day.

The regime is already increasing spending on ballistic missiles, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Qods Force responsible for supporting terrorists and extremist militias, drone development and expandingits military footprint in the region. Meetings with North Korean officials appear to be on the uptick, as are links with terrorist groups like the Taliban, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition , the regime continues to maintain its relationship with Al-Qaeda.

Whether President Trump certifies Iranian compliance or not—and whether Congress scraps the deal or not—we are headed for an increasingly bumpy road ahead.

Are Mattis & McMaster embracing Obama’s do-nothing Iran strategy?

traffic_analyzer | Getty Images

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, Sept. 12, 2017:

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis are known advocates for the nuclear deal with the terror state of Iran. But many also assumed that they at least sought a departure from the Obama-era strategy of allowing Iran to pursue its regional and global ambitions with full force.

McMaster purged the Iran hawks from his National Security Council. However, this effort was mostly written off as the national security adviser wanting to bring in his own people, rather than a clash of ideologies.

Mattis has publicly stated that Iran is the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism,” leading analysts to infer that as Pentagon chief, he would attempt to quash Iranian efforts to take over half of the Middle East.

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, Iran has doubled down on its anti-U.S. posture.

Iran continues to assert dominance over Iraq. Its own fighters and proxy units have infiltrated much of Syria. Tehran resumed its aggressive funding and arming of Hezbollah and Hamas. In the Gulf, its warships continue to recklessly confront U.S. vessels. And Iran-backed fighters and armed drones are targeting U.S. soldiers on the battlefield.

So what are our respected cabinet officials doing about the increasing Iranian threat? Apparently, they’ve decided to ignore it.

An insightful report from Reuters Monday night specifically names Mattis and McMaster as the cabinet officials who oppose taking a tough stance against Iran’s regional ambitions.

“Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite militias,” the Reuters report said. “The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.”

The Reuters report, however, leaves open the possibility that President Trump may overrule the restrictions recommended by Mattis and McMaster and allow our commanders in the field to target Iran’s proxies and its support for jihadi militias.

By singling out ISIS and ignoring the rest of America’s national security threats, Mattis and McMaster have apparently endorsed the Obama administration’s “balancing act” strategy that gives Tehran unchecked dominance over the land from its borders to the Mediterranean Sea.

Allowing Iran to conquer and hold territory and encroach further to the west puts our allies in Israel and in the Levant and the Gulf on high alert. By only focusing on ISIS, the U.S.-led coalition has shifted the balance of power in Iran’s favor. The “only ISIS” strategy has allowed Iran to station troops right across from Israel’s territory in the Golan Heights.

Defeating ISIS is a noble and worthy endeavor, but doing so without a grand strategy that holds Iran in check is hazardous and detrimental to U.S. national security interests. Iran is hell-bent on not only dominating the region, but also acquiring a nuclear weapon. By opposing action against Iran-backed forces, Mattis and McMaster are tying the hands of our commanders in the field, which was a primary complaint leveled against President Obama’s military strategy, one that President Trump campaigned on reversing.

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.

Ruthless Iranian militia vows to turn against U.S. troops once Islamic State is defeated in Iraq

Photo by: Hadi Mizban
In a show of support, Iraqi Hezbollah scouts parade with a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled. (Associated Press/File)

Washington Times, by Rowan Scarborough, Sept. 7, 2017:

The U.S. military is keeping a wary eye on Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq, which has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled.

With the Islamic State’s defeat in Iraq coming closer — the U.S. estimates that the once 25,000-strong terrorist group is down to a few thousand followers at most holding only pockets of resistance — the danger from the Hezbollah Brigades is fast approaching.

A commander in the Shiiite battalion, also known as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and the largest and most ruthless Iranian-trained militia fighting in Iraq and Syria, warned Americans on Sunday that they must leave Iraq or face a new war, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

Said the Fars headline, “Iraqi Popular Forces Warn to Target US Forces after Defeating ISIL Terrorists.”

Spokesman Jafar al-Hosseini issued a similar threat in March. His scripted messages on Beirut’s al-Mayadeen Arab-language TV station suggest the militia is not bluffing and is preparing for that day.

A military official told The Washington Times that the U.S. has plans to counter KH if it begins attacking Americans.

“Regarding the sense of Iranian malign influence, we’re trying alert NATO, the coalition, the State Department, the U.N. and the Gulf countries,” the military official said. “It’s a really big question. We’re very aware of it. We’re watching the move to post-ISIS. What the Iranians are saying is of significant concern.”

The Hezbollah Brigades of 5,000 fighters already has American blood on its hands.

Tehran organized the group in 2007 via its Quds Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to target American troops in Iraq.

Quds operatives schooled the Shiites in building improvised explosive devices and rocket systems that ultimately killed about 500 U.S. personnel, the Pentagon reported.

Analysts say Iran’s broader goal is not just the defeat of the Salafist Sunni Islamic State in Iraq but also to spread a crescent of Shiite hegemony across IraqSyria and Lebanon. Tehran finances and equips the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah.

The 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration provided Tehran with billions of dollars to increase the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps budget and pay various militias, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Standing in the way is the U.S. military, which wants to maintain some force presence in Iraq and nurture a more independent Baghdad not controlled by Tehran.

“With the Iranians, clearly the goal is a pathway all the way to Lebanese Hezbollah,” the military official said.

This is why scholars such as Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute say that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “has a history of saying what it means, no matter how inconvenient that might be for the wishful thinking in which so many in Washington and Europe engage.”

He added, “Iranian leaders aren’t willing to let U.S. forces stick around. They see U.S. commitment as weak, especially on the homefront, and they believe that so long as they use proxies, they can enjoy plausible deniability. After three decades of not being held to account for their actions, the Revolutionary Guards has grown cocky.”

The military official said the U.S.-led coalition’s downing of an armed drone in Syria in June shows how closely it watches Iran’s proxies. U.S. Central Command described the drone’s operators as “pro-regime.”

“Our actions speak for ourselves,” the U.S. source said. “We’ve shown that if they come even close to threatening any position, we’re going to take action in self-defense. We absolutely take it seriously.”

The official said U.S. commanders talk to the Russians about the Shiite militia activities because Russian officials “talk to people we don’t talk to.”

There is a big difference in the Iraq battlefield from what it was in 2007 and 2008. At the peak of the troop surge, over 157,000 Americans fought in Iraq, primarily against a Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda in Iraq.

Today, only about 5,000 U.S. military personnel are inside Iraq. As trainers and advisers, they maintain an arm’s length from ground combat.

“We really changed our strategy,” the official said. “The good news is there is not a lot of force presence to be targeted for that sort of thing. That makes it a little less complicated for us.”

If the Hezbollah Brigades turns from being an odd U.S. ally against the Islamic State to a direct foe, then American troops will be facing an organization so dangerous that the Obama administration added it to the official list of terrorist groups.

“Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the biggest and most vicious and dangerous Iraqi militia and terror groups,” said Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for the Iran opposition organization People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

“It was one of the main Iraqi militia groups that the Quds Force dispatched to Syria to assist the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in massacring the Syrian people,” he said. “At some points, up to 2,000 of Kata’ib Hezbollah forces were sent to Syria to help Assad.”

A report by the bipartisan Counter Extremism Project states, “KH earned a reputation for planting deadly roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) to attack U.S. and coalition forces.

“According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH is responsible for ‘some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout [the war.] The group is suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the May 27, 2016, abduction of more than 70 Sunni boys and men from al-Sijir, and the murder of 49 men from Saqlawiyah,” the project’s report stated.

The State Department

In June 2009, the State Department put the Hezbollah Brigades on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, calling the group “an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S. and coalition targets in Iraq.”

“KH has ideological ties to Lebanese [Hezbollah] and may have received support from that group. KH gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on U.S. and coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state. KH has been responsible for numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007, including improvised explosive device bombings, rocket propelled grenade attacks and sniper operations. In addition, KH has threatened the lives of Iraqi politicians and civilians that support the legitimate political process in Iraq,” the State Department wrote.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who commanded troops in Iraq, said American diplomacy post-Islamic State must persuade the Iraqi government to blunt KH’s anti-American messaging in the country and make U.S. troop security a top priority.

Part of KH’s propaganda war via Iranian media is to tell Shiites falsely that the U.S. created the Islamic State and is helping it on the battlefield.

Mr. Dubik, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, questioned whether the Trump administration is planning for a new Iraq.

“Reading between the public statements does not lead me to conclude we have a strategy beyond ‘eject ISIS,’” he said.

He said one important agreement would be to have U.S. intelligence and special operations forces working closely with Iraq’s counterterrorism squads to track Iran’s militias.

Washington must also issue a clear warning to Tehran, Mr. Dubik said, one that would “make clear our intent to expose their nefarious actions, something that at times we refused to do, and to protect our own forces.”

The Washington Times asked the joint Iraq task force if it had plans to deal with Iran-backed militias once the Islamic State is defeated, but the statement declined to specify.

“Force protection is a critical element of coalition operations. However, in order to ensure operational security, force protection and tactical surprise, we do not confirm or deny information about capabilities, force numbers, locations, or intent for future operations, in or out of Iraq and Syria. Forces are always prepared to act in self-defense and plan accordingly,” the command said.

Iranian Spy Service Threatening, Blackmailing Global Media Outlets

Iranian journalists follow the results of the Presidential election at the Interior Ministry’s press room in the capital Tehran on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, Sept. 6, 2017:

Iran’s clandestine spy network has been threatening and blackmailing scores of journalists, even going so far as to detain and threaten the family members of these reporters, in order to ensure positive coverage in global media outlets, according to a new report that estimates at least 50 international journalists have been threatened in just the past year.

Iran uses its network of spies and its hardline judiciary to threaten journalists with punishment and in many cases detain family members in order to use them as leverage against Western reporters, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, a watchdog group that advocates for freedom of the press.

Outlets such as the BBC and Voice of America have been subjected to threats and in some cases have had their computers hijacked by Iran, according to the report, which states that “all international media outlets with Persian-language services are concerned” about the Islamic Republic’s often-secret efforts to blackmail reporters in order to gain positive headlines.

The effort is just one part of how Iran blackmails, threatens, and manipulates journalists and dissident voices in order to suppress coverage of its human rights abuses and other illicit activities, such as an ongoing massive military buildup aimed at confronting Western nations such as the United States.

“In the past year, RSF has learned of ten families of journalists who have been summoned to such interviews, usually with intelligence ministry agents,” according to the report. “In all, at least 50 journalists based abroad have been threatened in some way in the same period. At least 16 of them have received death threats.”

During international nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Lausanne, and elsewhere, the Washington Free Beacon independently witnessed Iranian reporters allied with the country’s state-controlled media organizations monitoring reporters and snapping pictures of them as they worked.

This is part of Iran’s efforts to monitor and track reporters who cover the country for a range of influential outlets, sources told the Free Beacon.

“It was insane,” one writer who is critical of Iran and attended the nuclear negotiations in Vienna told the Free Beacon. “They would openly get in the faces of Iranian reporters from Western outlets and take pictures just to make sure that the journalists knew that the regime knew who they were and they were being watched. It’s impossible to imagine this didn’t significantly influences the coverage that came out of the nuclear talks, and even more broadly.”

Sources who spoke to RSF, often anonymously to avoid repercussions from Iran, such as imprisonment, told the organization that the country’s intelligence services have issued threats and in some cases detained the family members of these reporters.

“It is not just BBC Persian employees who are targeted,” the report states. “All international media outlets with Persian-language services are concerned, regardless of the country in which the media are based. Journalists with Radio Farda (Radio Free Europe’s Persian-language section), with such state-funded broadcasters as Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Radio France Internationale, and privately-owned broadcasters such as Manoto TV and Radio Zamaneh have also been threatened by Iran’s intelligence services or judicial system.”

Most of those who spoke to RSF about Iran’s activities to monitor and threaten the press “asked not to be identified” out of fear of reprisals from the regime. However, some did speak on record.

Arman Mostofi, the director of Radio Farda, was quoted as telling the organization that at least four of his reports have been targeted with death threats.

“These threats are obviously not signed,” Mostofi told RSF. “They sometimes take the form of a comment beneath an article. The journalist may subsequently be contacted in another way but it’s exactly the same message that will be transmitted. Sometimes the message includes information that only members of the intelligence services could know.”

Family members also have become the subject of threats, according to the report.

Fahimeh Khezr Heidari, a Radio Farda host, recounted efforts by anonymous individuals to force the broadcast’s cancellation.

“Ms. Khezr Heidari, Monday will be a horrible day for a member of your family because you did not take our last warning seriously. Thank you, my corrupt sister,” read one message sent at the reporter.

Mohammadreza Nikfar, editor-in-chief of Radio Zamaneh, disclosed that the family members of some reporters have been seized by Iranian intelligence agents.

“The family of one of our journalists was summoned by intelligence ministry agents,” Nikfar recounted. “After showing articles by him that had been posted on our website, they said: ‘Tell him to stop collaborating with Radio Zamaneh.'”

“Another journalist, a former prisoner of conscience, has been threatened several times by telephone. They tell him his family will suffer the consequences if he does not return to Iran,” Nikfar said.

The threats and intimidation tactics also extend to the cyber arena, according to others who experienced attempts by individuals to hack their computers.

At least five journalists have been arrested upon landing in Iran and handed harsh sentence’s ranging from three to 12 years in prison, according to the RSF report.

The tactics have a tangible effect on these reporters and the stories they file, RSF concluded.

“When your father calls and an intelligence ministry agent takes the phone and says, ‘your father is here and we’re talking about you,’ and you know that your family is being harassed and is in danger of being arrested, how can your write freely?” one reporter for an international outlet who declined to be named was quoted as telling RSF. “After members of my family had been summoned for questioning, I could no longer work as I had before.”

RSF, in a statement, formally condemned efforts “by the Iranian judicial system and intelligence services to influence the Persian-language sections of international media outlets by putting pressure on Iranian journalists based abroad and on their families still in Iran.”

In addition to the threats and blackmailing, the Iranian regime has used financial tactics to crackdown on Western media outlets.

Iran recently froze the assets of more than 150 BBC reporters, effectively barring them from conducting financial transactions in the country, according to RSF.

“Nowadays, the families of foreign-based journalists are ‘politely’ summoned to interviews with intelligence officials but the message is still the same: the journalists must ‘stop collaborating with enemy media’ without delay,” according to RSF.

Iran, operating from Syria, will destroy Europe and North America

There is a long term plan at work here aimed at destroying the West and it can work.

Israel National News, by Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Aug. 28, 2017:

Iran and Russia plan to destroy Western Europe, the US and Canada by means of a new wave of millions of Syrian Sunnis fleeing to the West to escape the Shiite takeover of Syria.

In my weekly column two months ago, I claimed that Iran is the real victor in the Syrian civil war.  Using the war against ISIS as a smokescreen, it is taking over large swathes of Syrian territory, mainly in the scarcely populated middle and eastern parts of the country. In the more fertile and densely populated west of Syria, there are  Iraqi, Afghan, and Iranian Shiite militias augmenting  Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who were given carte blanche to do whatever Hassan Nasrallah decides to do there.

Assad’s strength continues to increase as ISIS and the other rebel forces lose ground.  The brutality of Russian involvement and the cruelty of Shiite militias overcame the anti-Assad forces, the turning point occurring when in 2015, Turkey’ s Erdogan was forced by Russia to cease his aid to the rebels and ISIS. Today, although Erdogan is an unwilling ally of Russia, Alawite Assad still sees him, justifiably, as an Islamist enemy.

The Kurds of northeast Syria, treated as below third class citizens until 2011, will never agree to live under Arab mercy once again and it is reasonable to assume that should Syria remain an undivided country under Assad’s rule, the Kurds will preserve relative autonomy in their region – or fight the regime for their rights.

That is certainly a problem, but the main issue facing a united Syria is going to be the drastic demographic changes the country is going to face.

First of all, about half of Syria’s citizens – close to 10 million – are refugees, half located in Syria and the other half in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, other Arab countries, Europe, North and South America, Australia and even Israel.  Syrian refugees who reached points outside the Arab world will in all probability stay put, benefitting from the secure and orderly lives they can now lead. On the other hand, the 3.5 million now in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are awaiting the end of hostilities in order to return to their homes.

Those expectations may be dashed, however, because Syrian reality is totally changed, and large parts of its cities are in ruins after six and a half years of a cruel and bloody war.  Countless bombs dropped from planes and helicopters, artillery and tank barrages, mines and explosives planted by both sides have made much of urban Syria, where most of the fighting took place, unsafe to live in. In Homs, Aleppo, Adlib, Hamat and many other cities, entire neighborhoods will have to be razed and their infrastructure rebuilt from scratch. Decades and billions of dollars are needed to rebuild the country and I, for one, do not see the world’s nations standing on line to donate the necessary funds.  Refugees will not agree to switch their tents in Jordan for ruined buildings lacking basic infrastructure in a desolate and destroyed Syria.

The other reason the refugees will not return is their justified fear of the new lords of the land – the Shiites. Iran has been moving Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to Syria for a long time in a clear attempt to change the demographic makeup of the country from the Sunni majority it had before the civil war broke out in 2011. The issue could not be more clear because it is no secret that the pre-civil war Sunni majority considered the Alawite rulers heretic idol worshippers who had no right to live in Syria, much less rule over it.

The Alawites know well that the Sunnis rebelled against them twice: The first time was from 1976 to 1982, a rebellion that took the lives of 50,000 citizens. The second time, slowly drawing to an end, has cost the lives of half a million men, women, children and aged citizens of Syria.  The Alawites intend to prevent a third rebellion and the best way to do that is to change the majority of the population to Shiites instead of Sunnis.  They will not allow the Sunni refugees to return to their homes, leaving them eternal refugees whose lands have been taken over by the enemy. Iran, meanwhile, will populate Syria with Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

This ethnic cleansing is the Ayatollah’s dream come true, the dream that sees a Shiite crescent drawn from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. This will cover the eastern Arab world from the north, while the war in Yemen is being fought in order to create a parallel southern crescent, entrapping Saudi Arabia and Jordan between the two. With the help of Allah, both those countries and Israel, the Small Satan, will soon fall into the hands of the Shiites, while Europe and America do nothing because who cares when Muslims fight other Muslims?

The Shiite majority in Syria will play along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, their natural allies, and it is possible that some form of federation might be created between the two in order to push the Lebanese Christians out of the picture, “persuading” them to flee to other countries, leaving Lebanon to its “rightful” Shiite masters. This explains Nasrallah’s eager willingness to fight on Syrian soil as well as the opposition of those against Nasrallah to his involvement there.

The new demographic situation in Syria will convince the Sunni refugees that they have no place to which to return. They will try their best to be allowed to leave Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey for any country, preferably North America and Europe, willing to allow them entry.  I predict a process that is the exact opposite of the one the world expects to take place when “peace” breaks out in Syria:  Instead of refugees returning to their birthplace, expect the mass flight of Sunni refugees from the region, and expect a heightened incidence of Islamist terror in the countries that allow them in.

The reasons are obvious:

1. Former ISIS and rebel forces will infiltrate along with the refugees, because they, too,  are Sunni. They are filled with fury and hatred for the Western countries  who were part of the coalition that fought ISIS or stood by without aiding the rebels. Some of them will continue their Jihad on European and North American soil. Expect shootings, explosives and ramming attacks against citizens of these countries.

2. Some of the refugees will not find work and live on the economic and social fringes of society, in poverty-stricken Islamist neighborhoods which have already existed for years in many European cities, and where the local police fear to tread. Poverty and life on the fringe of society will turn some of the Muslim young people into easy prey for terrorist organization recruiters who arouse the desire for Jihad by describing the accepting host countries as decadent societies infected with permissiveness, prostitution, alcohol, drugs, materialism and corruption.  They present the countries that allowed the immigrants entry as having done so to take advantage of them as industrial slaves, garage hands, cashiers and other degrading occupations, while the privileged citizens are lawyers, accountant, businessmen and homeowners w ho take advantage of the migrants in humiliating ways. It is only a matter of time until young Muslims, especially those who were taught that “everyone is equal” in Western schools, enlist in terrorist organizations.

3. Countries which allow in refugees will suffer a higher crime rate as a result, including violence in public places, sexual attacks and harassment, housebreaking, car theft, substance abuse, unreported work to avoid paying taxes and illegal construction. This will all occur at the same time these countries expend a larger part of their budgets on social services for the refugees, from child allowances to unemployment, health and old age benefits. At this point in time, the percentage of second and third generation immigrants populating the prisons in Western Europe is significantly larger than their percentage in the general population.

4. Increased economic, social and security problems in Europe and North America as a result of the rise in the number of migrants will lead to a rise in the strength of the right and the extreme right.  This will in turn lead to more social tensions in the West. Members of Parliament whose only wish is to be re-elected will adapt their parliamentary activity – especially the laws they promote – to the expectations of the rapidly Islamizing constituencies, sacrificing their own people’s interests on the altar of their political careers. Many Europeans, aware of their elected leaders’ betrayal, will despair and leave those socially and economically deteriorating countries. This will increase the rate at which Europe turns into an Islamic region..

And that is how the agreements Iran and Russia will soon coerce Syria into accepting  are going to start a chain reaction increasing the number of refugees and pulling  Europe down to a point of no return, without the world understanding what  is going on. The Atlantic Ocean is not wide enough to protect North America from this debacle crossing the sea.

This is how the Iranian Ayatollahs intend to destroy the heretic, permissive, drunk and materialistic  West.  More of the unfortunate Syrian millions will find themselves exiled to the heretic  countries hated by the Ayatollahs, and Iran will operate from Syrian soil to vanquish Europe and America.

Writen in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant and op-ed editor of Arutz Sheva English site.

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