The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis

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Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 22, 2016:

A techtonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and countermoves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

Also see:

Trump Counter-Terror Speech: What’s Right; What Needs Work

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo: video screenshot)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo: video screenshot)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 16, 2016:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump outlined his proposed counter-terrorism strategy yesterday. He laid out an impressive ideology-based strategy that includes uplifting Muslim reformers; however, he also vindicated decades of Islamist propaganda by emphasizing his opinion that the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil from its people, which would have required a long-term military occupation to protect it.

What Was Right

The parts of the speech about waging an ideological war on radical Islam were a breath of fresh air.

Criticizing of the past two administrations for not identifying the enemy is not an inconsequential squabbling over semantics. It’s an organizing principle. It is necessary for distinguishing friend from foe and waging the war of ideas. Confronting this ideology should be enthusiastically received by liberals/progressives and conservatives alike.

Trump explained, “Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.”

“My administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith. Our administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East and will amplify their voices. This includes speaking out against the horrible practice of honor killings…” he continued.

When it comes to outlining the radical Islamic beliefs that we must confront, Trump knocked it out of the park, saying:

“A Trump Administration will establish a clear principle that will govern all decisions pertaining to immigration: We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people. In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test of the threats we face today.

“In addition to screening out all members of sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles—or who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.

“Those who do not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.”

He also called for deporting non-citizens who preach hatred, teaching our values and patriotism to newcomers and wisely talked about why assimilation is an “expression of compassion,” rather than “an act of hostility.”

Casting aside his ridiculous and offensive idea of a ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S., he instead advocated “extreme” ideological vetting based around American values.

Dr. Daniel Pipes has some recommendations on a vetting process can separate Islamists from Muslims we should embrace showing that this process is possible by using background checks, link analysis of what groups potential immigrants have associated with and questioning.

What Needs Work

Although this may be coming at a later date, Trump did not provide details of his counter-terrorism strategy except for his plan to halt inappropriate immigration. Trump pledged to uplift moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, something that is extremely necessary, yet did not mention embracing the Iranian opposition.

If Trump wants to be an ally with Muslim reformers and pro-human rights, his plan for a temporary ban on immigration from unstable countries known for exporting terrorism has to be amended to account for persecuted minorities or reformist Muslims fleeing those countries. For example, immigration for persecuted Coptic Christian from Egypt or a Muslim who is swarmed with death threats for challenging honor killings in Pakistan must fall into a special category.

Interestingly, Trump sees “secular” dictators like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad, Muammar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak as net pluses. In other speeches, he has blasted the pursuit of regime changes and undermining of governments.

Isn’t this a contradiction to promoting Muslim reformers?

Playing Into the Hands of Islamists

In the speech Trump firmly stated his opinion that the United States should have seized Iraqi’s oil production capabilites, which have required an indefinite occupation of the country.

“I was saying this constantly and to whoever would listen: Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil. I said, ‘don’t let someone else get it.’…In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils,” he said.

For decades, one of the main—and most fruitful—Islamist talking points is that the West, particularly the U.S., is scheming to steal oil from the Muslims and is happy to lie and slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents to get it.

This breeds relentless hostility to American and the West and favorability towards Islamism. If that propaganda is seen as an undeniable fact (though statements such as these), then it becomes almost impossible for moderate Muslim reformers to succeed.

Those who argue that violent jihad against America is permissible use this very argument.

Until now, when speaking to the masses, Islamists had to block statement after statement from American politicians that America is not after the oil of the Muslims.

Now, jihadis have clips of an American presidential candidate supported by about 41% of the country advocating what they’ve claimed all along—that the U.S. wants to militarily conquer their land and take their resources.

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Prof. Ryan Mauro, Clarion Project’s national security analyst, appears on “The Thom Hartmann Show,” the #1 progressive radio show, to discuss Donald Trump’s counter-terrorism speech on August 15.

Russia Deploys Jets, Heavy Bombers to Iran

russia-airstrikesCounterJihad, by Bruce Cornibe, Aug. 16, 2016:

Russia has deployed long-range Tupolev 22M3 heavy bombers to a military airfield in Iran.  These bombers, already in use against opposition and Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Syria, will have a shorter deployment to target and thus a quicker turnaround time from the Iranian airfield.  The base, Hamedan Airfield, is located in Western Iran near the Iraqi border.

Though openly intended for combat against ISIS and the Syrian opposition, the Russian deployment represents a further cementing of both the growing alliance between Russia and Iran, and of Iran’s strategic defense-in-depth for its nuclear program.  Russia has been securing Iran against a military option should it walk away from its promises on the so-called ‘nuclear deal.’  The reason this is significant is that the deal front-loads Western payments and other benefits for Iran, but becomes less and less sweet as the deal progresses in time.  Iran will obtain large cash payments and assistance in building new fission plants in the first years of the deal, for example.  However, its incentive to continue to abide by the deal is reduced as these benefits are paid off.

Russia’s major contribution to Iran’s strategic defense so far has come in missile sales and protection of Iran’s internal development of ballistic missiles.  The air defense missiles sold by Russia to Iran, the S-300, are thought capable of defeating all fourth generation fighters.  That means Iran should be able to protect itself against all American fighter-bombers except the F-22 and F-35, and the B-2.  It should also be able to protect itself against air strikes by the entire Israeli Air Force fleet.

Their ballistic missiles are wildly inaccurate and carry a small payload, making them ideal only for nuclear weapons use.  Iran however denies any intent to develop nuclear weapons, even though the missiles it is developing are really not sensible for use with any other weapons.  Thus, the frequently-stated claim that these ballistic missiles will provide an offsetting counter-strike capability to Iran is not true.  They are not accurate enough for that.  What would provide a convincing counter-strike capability are Russian heavy bombers operating from Iran in alliance with Iran.

Iran and Russia are using the war against ISIS to reshape control of the northern Middle East in their joint interest.  The failure of the United States strategy has been clear for some time, and this new move only tightens their control.

The news comes a week after it was announced that Iran’s Qassem Suliemani, commander of the elite Quds Force, would be guiding the assault on ISIS positions in Mosul.  Suleimani is under an international travel ban due to his leadership of an Iranian plot to assassinate diplomats worldwide.  His presence in Iraq shows that the Iraqi government is willing to allow Iran to violate international law in order to receive its support.  Syria and Russia have also allowed Suleimani to travel to their countries.

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From Russian outlet, RT:

Also see:

Israeli-Saudi Ties Warming; Hizballah and Iran Livid

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

PJ MEDIA, BY P. DAVID HORNIK, AUGUST 7, 2016:

The Israeli society that I encountered embraces a culture of peace, has accomplishments it wants to (protect), wants coexistence, and wants peace.

Those words weren’t spoken by an enthused congressman after a trip to Israel. They were spoken to BBC Arabic by Abd al-Mujid al-Hakim, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Policy in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, and a member of a Saudi delegation that recently visited Israel.

The delegation, which included academics and businessmen, was led by Dr. Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi general and former top adviser to the Saudi government. About a year earlier Eshki had shaken hands and shared a stage in Washington with Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold—seen as a major breakthrough at the time. But a public visit to Israel of this kind, which could only have been carried out with the approval of the highest level of the Saudi government, is a historical first and still has a taste of the surreal to it.

During the visit Eshki met again with Gold; with Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, responsible for Israeli administration of the territories; with Palestinian officials in Ramallah; and with opposition Members of Knesset.

One of those opposition MKs, Issawi Frej of the far-left, mostly Jewish Meretz Party, said:

The Saudis want to open up to Israel. It’s a strategic move for them. They want to continue what former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat started (with the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty). They want to get closer with Israel, and we could feel it clearly.

What’s going on?

Israeli commentator Yossi Melman, while noting that the visit marks a new plateau in the increasingly overt Israeli-Saudi ties, points out:

[O]n a covert level, according to foreign reports, the ties being cultivated are even more fascinating. Intelligence Online reported that Israel is selling intelligence equipment, as well as control and command centers, to the Saudi security forces. Previously, it had been reported in the foreign media that the heads of the Mossad, the organization responsible for Israel’s covert ties, met with their Saudi counterparts. Media outlets affiliated with Hezbollah even reported that officers from the two countries’ armies had met.

What’s going on, in other words, is that Israel and Saudi Arabia have common enemies in the region, and with American power withdrawing, Israel’s power constantly growing, ISIS threatening, and the Obama administration having paved a path to nuclear weapons for Iran, the Saudis—like Egypt, Jordan, and other Sunni states—are casting their troubled gaze toward Jerusalem.

Or as Melman puts it:

Israel and the Saudis share a fear for Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s efforts to increase its influence in the region. They also both have an interest in weakening the standing of Hezbollah, “the forward headquarters” of Iran on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks often of Israel’s ties with the “Sunni Bloc,” and hints that the Saudis are included in this group.

It appears that he need hint no more.

Last week’s Saudi visit to Jerusalem—a dramatic, even stunning confirmation of Israel’s cooperation with that bloc—did not go unnoticed, of course, by the rival Shiite bloc. And they’re not happy about it.

Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah accused the Saudis of “normalizing for free, without receiving anything in return…. It seems the future of Palestine and the fate of its children have become a trivial matter for some Arab states recently.”

The Saudi visit, he said, “couldn’t have taken place without the agreement of the Saudi government. We know how things work there. In Saudi Arabia a person will be lashed for so much as tweeting.”

But if Nasrallah is not pleased with this development, his boss—Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei—is even less thrilled.

As Khamenei tweeted on Monday: “Revelation of Saudi government’s relations with Zionist regime was stab in the back of Islamic Ummah.”

None of this means that the Sunni Arab part of the Ummah is ready to warmly embrace Israel. While in Israel last week, Dr. Eshki—like Egyptian and Jordanian officials before him—said that real “normalization” would have to await a resolution of the Palestinian issue. It’s code for: “We’re not really ready to accept a Jewish state in our midst.”

Still, considering that Israel and Sunni Arab states used to fight wars every few years, a reality of nonbelligerency and pragmatic ties is a major improvement for Israel. Whoever is the next U.S. president might want to cooperate with the Israeli-Sunni alliance against Iran instead of giving the mullahs a “sunset clause” leading to nuclear night.

Israel’s let-down: Putin-Erdogan hook-up with Iran

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DEBKAfile Exclusive Report, August 9, 2016:

The talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Reccep Erdogen in St. Petersburg scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 9, are causing trepidation among Israel’s policy-makers and military leaders. Their summit takes place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, concluding nine months of hostility between the two capitals that was sparked by Turkish jets shooting down a Russian SU-24 warplane over the Syrian border on Nov. 24, 2015.

The feud was put to rest on July 17 – two days after Erdogan suppressed the attempted military coup against his rule. The Turkish ruler decided there and then to exploit the episode to expand his strength and use it not only for a massive settling of accounts with his critics, but also as a springboard for parlaying his reconciliation with Moscow for a strategic pact with Russia.

In Israel, the worry is that while turning his back on the United States and NATO, Eerdogan will go all the way to bond with Russia to which Iran is also attached as a partner. Indeed, Erdogan has scheduled a trip to Tehran and a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani a few days after his talks with Putin.
The Turkish president’s latest moves look like spawning another new Middle East bloc that would consist of Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and indirectly the Lebanese Hizballah terrorist group.

This prospect would upend Israel’s key policies for Turkey and Syria.
The Israeli détente with Ankara in recent months hinged on Turkey’s continuing to maintain its close military and intelligence ties with the United States and its integration in an anti-Iran Sunni alliance in partnership with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

But the Putin-Erdogan meeting Tuesday threatens to throw American, Israeli and moderate Arab rulers’ plans to the four winds. Turkey appears to have opted to line up with a Russian-Shiite front led by Tehran in preference to an anti-Iran Sunni alliance.
Therefore, the expanded military and intelligence cooperation which the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement was to have heralded will be low key at best for two reasons:

1. Israel will beware of sharing its military technology with Turkey lest it find its way to Iran. During the talks with Ankara for patching up their quarrel Israel was constantly on the lookout for indications that Turkey was prepared to break off its ties with Iran.

2. For the sake of keeping Iran and Hizballah away from its borders, Israel entered into arrangements with Russia, some of them never published, at the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria last September. Those arrangements included coordination of their air force operations over Syria.

Now, Israel finds itself suddenly up against a Russian-Turkish partnership aimed at strengthening Iranian domination of Syria – the exact reverse of the Netanyahu government’s objective in resolving its dispute with Ankara and forging deals with Moscow.

Also see:

Gorka: Every Part of the World That Obama & Hillary Have Touched Is ‘On Fire’

gorka1Fox News Insider, June 15, 2016:

Tonight on Hannity, Dr. Sebastian Gorka weighed in on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy failures, which he said made things worse at every turn.

Gorka: “Wherever you look, the world is on fire. In the Middle East. In Africa. In South Asia. Wherever they have touched a region, our enemies are emboldened and our friends and allies are fearful. Whoever the next president is, it will be a job of Herculean proportions to win back the confidence of everybody who no longer trusts us because of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy and the national security policy of Barack Obama.”

Shortly before that, Sean Hannity listed the human rights abuses of several countries that have donated millions to the Clinton Foundation. Gorka commended Hannity and his team, saying that if other so-called progressive media outlets also published that information, Clinton’s campaign would “go down in flames.”

He said that it exposes Clinton as “a person who loves power more than anything else,” and that that obsession extends to the entire Democratic Party.

“For the Democrat party today, reality is optional,” he said. “It has been kidnapped by the Alinskyites. For them, it is just the cause. You say whatever you like as long as you can maintain power. It’s not about truth, Sean, anymore, it’s about staying in power and getting the millions.”

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Fueling Both Sides of an Arms Race

ISAUDThe US administration’s policy is funding vast increases in the stockpiles of both Sunni and Shia powers.

CounterJihad, June 15, 2016

Eli Lake of Bloomberg has an important piece on the recklessness of American policy in the Middle East under President Barack Obama.

One of the unexpected results of President Barack Obama’s new opening to Iran is that U.S. taxpayers are now funding both sides of the Middle East’s arms race. The U.S. is deliberately subsidizing defense spending for allies like Egypt and Israel. Now the U.S. is… paying for some of Iran’s military expenditures as well.

It all starts with $1.7 billion the U.S. Treasury transferred to Iran’s Central Bank in January, during a delicate prisoner swap and the implementation of last summer’s nuclear deal… For months it was unclear what Iran’s government would do with this money. But last month the mystery was solved when Iran’s Guardian Council approved the government’s 2017 budget that instructed Iran’s Central Bank to transfer the $1.7 billion to the military.

Emphasis added.

The article, if anything, understates the importance of Obama’s so-called “Iran deal” to the flourishing arms race in the Middle East.  In fact, a great deal of the Sunni side of the arms race resulted from bribes the US administration provided them to make them less vehemently opposed to the deal.  The US offered Sunni states billions in arms deals in order to calm their fears of an increasingly aggressive, unbound Iran.

The US is also funding Iran by funding Iraq.  The Iraqi government has been receiving American military assistance since its liberation in 2003.  Reuters has reported that it has seen contracts for $195 million from the Iraqi government for Iranian arms. Doubtless that money is coming out of the “train and equip” funds that the US Department of State has been providing to Baghdad.  In 2014 the US provided nearly as much money to the Iraqi government, which is effectively fighting as an ally of Iran, as the $1.7 billion it provided to Iran directly last year.

Meanwhile, the Russians have been profiting off of all of this American money.  Russia has been transferring its advanced S-300 missile systems to Iran in return for cash payments.  These missile systems are considered by defense experts to be capable of taking down up to fourth generation fighter aircraft, to include American F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s, which jointly make up the major bulk of America’s fighter fleet (71% as of 2012, with an additional 15% being A-10 attack aircraft).  Such fighters would also encompass the entire fighter fleet of Israel’s air force, as well as the Sunni air forces that are arming up right now.

Iran, conversely, has adopted a strategy chiefly of preferring unmanned missiles as a counterbalance to regional air or American air forces.  They have had success in both extending the umbrella of their missiles’ reach, and in improving their accuracy.  As Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently said, “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.”

In addition to these big-ticket items, small arms sales to the Middle East have doubled.  Though ‘small arms’ sounds as if it were less important than big-ticket items like missiles and bombs, in fact small arms typically cause the majority of fatalities in any conflict.

For now the race to arm the Middle East for an upcoming war is an exciting business venture:  even Canada has greatly increased its participation in making money off the Middle East’s hunger for weapons.  As Willy Stern recently pointed out in his analysis of Hezbollah arms stockpiles in Lebanon, however, it points to an incredibly bloody future war.  The US government has, either recklessly or for reasons they have not disclosed, decided to pour money and arms into both sides of this upcoming conflict.

Also see:

Inconvenient Genocide

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Frontpage, Caroline Glick, April 8, 2016:

The Christian communities of Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon are well on the way to joining their Jewish cousins. The Jewish communities of these states predated Islam by a millennium, and were vibrant until the 20th century. But the Arab world’s war on the Jewish state, and more generally on Jews, wiped out the Jewish populations several decades ago.

And now the Christian communities, which like the Jews, predate Islam, are being targeted for eradication.

The ongoing genocide of Middle Eastern Christians at the hands of Sunni jihadists is a moral outrage. Does it also affect Israeli national interests? What do we learn from the indifference of Western governments – led by the Obama administration – to their annihilation? True, after years of deliberately playing down the issue and denying the problem, the Obama administration is finally admitting it exists.

Embarrassed by the US House of Representatives’ unanimous adoption of a resolution last month recognizing that Middle Eastern Christians are being targeted for genocide, the State Department finally acknowledged the obvious on March 25, when Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Islamic State is conducting a “genocide of Christians, Yazidis and Shi’ites.”

Kerry’s belated move, which State Department lawyers were quick to insist has no operational significance, raises two questions.

First, what took the Obama administration so long? Persecution of Christians in Iraq began immediately after the US-led coalition brought down Saddam Hussein in 2003. With the rise of Islamic State in 2012, the process of destroying the Christian community went into high gear. And now these ancient communities are on the brink of extinction.

In Iraq, Christians comprised 8 percent of the population in 2003. Today less than 1% of Iraqis are Christians. In Syria, the Christian community has lost between half and two-thirds of its members in the past five years.

One of the appalling aspects of ISIS’s deliberate, open targeting of Christians for destruction is how little resistance it has received from local Sunni populations. As Raymond Ibrahim from the David Horowitz Freedom Center has scrupulously documented, the local Sunnis have not stood up for their Christian neighbors, who have lived side-by-side with them for hundreds of years. Rather, in areas that have been conquered by ISIS, the local Sunnis have collaborated with their genocidal masters in raping and murdering Christian neighbors, plundering their property, destroying their churches, and driving them from their ancestral homes.

Although precise data is hard to come by, it is clear that thousands of Christians have been slaughtered. Thousands of Christian women and girls have been sold as sex slaves in ISIS slave markets, subjected to continuous, violent rape and beatings. Nuns and priests have been enslaved, crucified, mutilated, kidnapped and held for ransom, as have lay members of Christian communities. Christians have been burned alive.

For years, the administration said that the persecution doesn’t amount to genocide because according to ISIS’s propaganda, Christians are allowed to remain in their homes if they agree to live as dhimmis – that is, without any human rights, and subjected to confiscatory taxation.

But as Nina Shea from the Hudson Institute has reported, these claims were shown to be false in Mosul, Nineveh and other places where ISIS has claimed that such practices were instituted.

The jihadist genocide of Christians isn’t limited to Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram – ISIS’s affiliate in Nigeria – is undertaking a systematic campaign to annihilate Christianity in Africa. ISIS’s affiliates in Sinai and Libya have similarly targeted Christians, staging mass beheadings and other monstrous acts.

And of course, a region needn’t be under direct ISIS control for Christians to be targeted for destruction. The Easter massacre in Pakistan was further evidence that wherever radical Islamists gain power, they use it to murder Christians.

And as Larry Franklin from the Gatestone Institute noted in a recent article, the exodus of Christians from the Palestinian Authority is the direct consequence of deliberate persecution of Christians by the PA.

Given the prevalence of Christian persecution, why is the West – which is overwhelmingly Christian – so reticent about mentioning it? And why are Western leaders loathe to do anything to stop it? There are two ways to end genocide. First, you can defeat those conducting it on the battlefield.

If you destroy the forces conducting the genocide, then the genocide ends.

The second way you can stop genocide is by evacuating the targeted population and providing its members with refuge.

After stipulating that ISIS is carrying out a genocide, Kerry made clear that the US will not defeat ISIS to end it. Instead, Kerry said, “We must bear in mind… that the best response to genocide is a reaffirmation of the fundamental right to survive of every group targeted for destruction. What Daesh [ISIS] wants to erase, we must preserve. That requires defeating Daesh, but it also requires the rejection of discrimination and bigotry.”

Kerry then explained that the US’s plan is to cultivate the formation of a multicultural society in Syria. Given the brutal nature of the war, Kerry’s plan is tantamount to saying the US intends to defeat ISIS and rescue those it is currently exterminating by bringing unicorns and leprechauns to the slave markets of Raqqa. Substantively, Kerry’s plan is to deny Christians refuge, and to abandon them to the mercy of their murderers.

While delusional, Kerry’s statement was in line with the Obama administration’s timid, feckless military campaign against ISIS. Everyone knows that the US military could take down ISIS in a matter of weeks if Obama ordered it to do so.

But rather than act decisively, the US has limited its operations to timorous aerial bombing.

By conducting a barely there campaign, Obama tells the world that although he will be happy to take credit for any defeat ISIS suffers, he will not allow the US to lead the fight against the jihadist death machine.

As for providing refuge to the populations targeted with genocide, the raw data make clear that Obama does just the opposite. He is providing refuge for Sunni Muslims, who are not being targeted for genocide, which is being conducted by Sunni Muslims.

As Ibrahim has documented, although Christians made up 10% of the Syrian population in 2011, they comprise a mere 2.7% of the Syrian refugees the Obama administration has allowed into the US. And when presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz called for the US to provide refuge to Christians, who pose no security threat and are targeted with genocide and persecution while banning Muslim immigration, Obama accused him of bigotry.

Despite the fact that FBI Director James Comey told Congress that the US lacked the capacity to effectively screen Muslims from Syria for ties to jihadist groups, Obama said that a policy of saving those marked for extinction over those who come from the population conducting the genocide is “shameful,” and “not American.”

Beyond refusing to take the necessary steps to ensure that persecuted Christians are rescued from annihilation, the State Department has been rejecting visa requests from Christian activists and leaders from persecuted communities to visit the US to share information about their suffering with the American public. This, at the same time that the administration has welcomed Muslim jihad sympathizers, including Muslim Brotherhood members, to Washington.

For instance, last May, the State Department denied a visa to Sister Diana Momeka, an Iraqi nun and ISIS survivor. Momeka was the only Christian member of a delegation of persecuted minorities. Representatives of every other group received visas. It took a public outcry to force the State Department to reverse its decision.

Also last year, the State Department gave visas to all Muslim regional governors in northern Nigeria to participate in a conference sponsored by the US Institute of Peace. They denied a visa to the region’s only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang. Christian activists alleged that Jang was denied a visa because he spoke up to US officials about anti-Christian persecution in 12 states in northern Nigeria that have instituted Sharia law.

What accounts for this behavior? The answer is not ignorance, but ideologically- motivated bigotry. The Aid to the Church in Need organization explained in its 2015 report on Christian persecution, “Christians have been targeted [because]… Christianity [is seen] as a foreign ‘colonial’ import. Christians are seen as linked to the West, which is perceived as corrupt and exploitative.”

In another report, the group explained that the Western media has avoided covering the story of the Islamic genocide of Middle East Christians because of “misplaced embarrassment about the 19th-century colonial powers evangelizing ‘the natives’ in far flung places.”

In other words, Middle Eastern Christians, whose communities predate Islam, are targeted because they are perceived as Western implants.

And the West ignores their suffering, because the Left in the West perceives them as Western implants.

In both cases, prejudices, rooted on the one hand in jihadist Islam, and on the other hand in Western self-hatred and post-colonialism, reach the same bigoted conclusion: the only “authentic” people in the Middle East are Muslims.

Everybody else is a colonial implant. And as such, they deserve what they get.

This then brings us back to Israel, and the Jews.

The same ideological prejudice that refuses to recognize that the Islamic State is Islamic, refuses to recognize that jihad is unique to Islam, refuses to recognize that Christians as religious minorities are being targeted for annihilation, and refuses to recognize that the Christians of the Middle East are ancient peoples who have lived in their communities since the dawn of Christianity, also refuse to recognize the rights of the Jewish people as the indigenous people of the land of Israel.

This is the reason that Western governments, led by the Obama administration, are unwilling to defeat ISIS. This is why they are giving preference to Muslim asylum-seekers, who they are incapable of screening, over Christians, who it is unnecessary to screen.

This is the reason that the same governments are far more willing to attack Jews for living beyond the 1949 armistice lines, in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – the cradle of Jewish civilization and the heartland of the land of Israel, than they are willing to end their support for the PA which sponsors and celebrates terrorism. This is why the same governments eagerly embrace every allegation of Israeli racism, real or imagined, while they ignore, or even fund racist Palestinian efforts to deny Jewish history, a history which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Jews are the indigenous people of the land of Israel.

The reason Obama refuses to protect Middle East Christians from extinction is because he cannot rescue them – either on the ground or by ensuring they can flee to safety – without abandoning his ideological faith that the only “natives” of the Middle East are the Muslims.

Caroline Glick is the Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Israel Security Project and the Senior Contributing Editor of The Jerusalem Post. For more information on Ms. Glick’s work, visit carolineglick.com

Also see:

CPAC 2016—Countering the Global Jihad Panel Exposes Islamist Influence Operations

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AIM, by James Simpson  —   March 18, 2016
On assignment to CPAC 2016 for Capital Research Center
This report is exclusive to Accuracy in Media

After a number of years of noted absence, the Center for Security Policy returned to CPAC this year. On Thursday, March 3, the Center presented a “Countering Global Jihad” panel. The panel was moderated by CSP President, Frank Gaffney, and included CSP Vice President Jim Hanson; Danish historian, journalist and author, Lars Hedegaard; British activist and politician, Paul Weston; four-star Admiral James “Ace” Lyons, Jr. (Ret.); and Middle East expert and former CIA case officer, Clare Lopez.

Jim Hanson

CSP VP Jim Hanson outlined a new CSP initiative, the Counterjihad Campaign (www.counterjihad.com). Its purpose is to provide Americans with the facts and the wherewithal to push back in the face of the Red-Green Axis: the leftist/Islamist effort to smear and intimidate Americans who dare to stand up to them.

Hanson related his experience as a second generation immigrant whose family believes in the American values of hard work and patriotism. His family immigrated legally, and enthusiastically assimilated to pursue the American dream. Hanson says that today, “The problem is that we are dealing with a large cohort [of Muslims] who do not, and will not [assimilate]… They’re proudly saying ‘not only will we not assimilate, but we are going to, in some ways, take over your culture.’”

Hanson took a special shot at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). SPLC put CSP on its “Hate Watch” list, calling CSP leaders the standard “Islamophobe” for their excellent work cataloging the subversive activities of Islamist individuals and groups. I have written extensively about the SPLC, its communist heritage and calculated “hate” accusations—as advocated by Lenin, Herbert Marcuse and Saul Alinsky—designed to intimidate and silence people. This is a malevolent organization created for the sole purpose of silencing anyone who does not buckle under to the left’s agenda—and makes big bucks while they’re at it. But Hanson put SPLC in its place:

“The bottom line is, it’s not true…When I was in Army Special Forces, one of the main missions was humanitarian assistance. I have built schools, dug wells, immunized hundreds of Muslim kids. And yet I’m anti-Muslim? No…”

It’s not ‘hate’ to love freedom. It’s not ‘hate” to believe that women should not be subjugated… It’s not hate to think that homosexuals shouldn’t be thrown off roofs. It’s love of freedom… That’s something we should be able to stand up proudly and say. That’s American. The people trying to stop that are the political Left—the politically correct police—and the Islamist groups…who are actually pushing an agenda that is not religion. They are doing it under the guise of religious freedom. They believe their totalitarian ideology [Sharia] is mandatory. You can either submit or be conquered. The Counterjihad is for you…to tell you what’s happening and empower you to act.”

Lars Hedegaard

Danish historian, journalist and author, Lars Hedegaard, talked about the ongoing mass migrant invasion into Europe. His was a gripping and engaging testimony:

The vast majority have nothing to do with being refugees, they are simply migrants who want to come to our countries and take advantage of our welfare states…in Denmark, where I come from, people don’t have to work. They can come into our country and claim any benefit that a Dane can claim—meaning free housing, free health service, free education, money if you don’t have any…They can also claim the protection of our laws and any of the benefits that accrue to us. And we have to pay for it…Every dime we can save goes to these foreigners, who come uninvited, and claim all the benefits from day one. And this is just one example. The same thing goes for Britain, Sweden, Germany and other countries.

Hedegaard identifies the Schengen Agreement as a main cause of the problem. This agreement, signed in 1995, allows for free, unchecked travel among most European Union countries. Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are excepted. Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are candidate countries (although they’d be wise to reconsider the wisdom of joining now). The European Union was supposed to ensure that the EU’s outer borders would seal off EU countries from the outside. But, Hedegaard says, “The European Union, which is a master con artist, did not keep its part of the promise. The outer borders do not exist. Currently anyone can get into Europe…”

Paul Weston

Paul Weston is a former UK Independent Party member and leads Liberty Great Britain, a political party he co-founded in 2013. Weston also spoke about the migrant crisis in Europe. He says Britain is not yet lost, but will be gone in 20 years or so. Sweden is “literally a lost country,” with perhaps five or ten years left. He says:

Malmo, Sweden is now the rape capital of the European continent. Aside from South Africa, I think it’s the rape capital of the world. It is that bad. So we look to Sweden in the way that you need to look to us. And we had, over the last 12 months, 12 mass transit bombings planned for England that our intelligence services, MI5, MI6, managed to stop…and despite this, we keep on saying, ‘you can come into our country…and we have no idea who these people are…

Weston noted how British political leaders refused to acknowledge the terrorist attacks in Britain as motivated by Islam. He said, “This denial of what Islam is, is going to be the downfall of Europe.” He finished dramatically, by saying that we Americans desperately need to retain our First Amendment rights, despite Obama’s efforts to clamp down. “Because unless we can talk about this, unless we can bring it out into the open, you in America will go the same way. You need to stand up and look at what we’re doing and say ‘this is never going to happen here.’”

Admiral James “Ace” Lyons

“Ace” Lyons is President and CEO of LION Associates LLC, a global security, trade, defense and procurement consultancy. A career naval officer, Lyons was, among other titles, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the largest military command in the world. He also served as Senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations. As the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1983 to 1985, he advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff and created the U.S. Navy SEAL Red Cell anti-terrorism unit, established in response to the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut. Lyons’ irascible nature, irreverent sense of humor, and forthright, politically incorrect manner endear him to audiences wherever he speaks. This day was no exception.

Marine Barracks Bombing Betrayal

Lyons reveals military history with the unique perspective of being part of that history. For example, he was Deputy CNO when the Beirut, Lebanon Marine barracks was bombed on October 23, 1983. 220 U.S. Marines were killed—the largest one-day Marine loss since Iwo Jima. Twenty-one other servicemen were killed and 60 Americans wounded. The pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) bomb caused a blast equivalent to 21,000 lbs of TNT, and was considered to be the largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated. Seconds after the Marine barracks attack, another facility housing French paratroopers was also bombed, killing 58 paratroopers and four Lebanese civilians.

As Ace explained, the bombings were carried out by Islamic Amal, a Hezbollah-allied splinter group of the Amal militia headed by Nabih Berri. They were headquartered in a Lebanese army barracks captured in mid-September with the help of Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces. Lyons says the U.S. government knew all this, and had inside sources providing accurate intelligence. Admiral Lyons was tasked with developing a devastating response. “We had the photographs.  We had it nailed down. We had the planes loaded…” he said.

He fingers then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for stopping the raid. According to Lyons, Weinberger told Reagan there was a risk of hitting Lebanese forces. “In other words,” Lyons says, “he sabotaged the strike.” Weinberger also prevented the U.S. military from participating with the French in their planned retaliatory attack in November. As Lyons recalls, “The secretary of defense would not issue the execute order! Unheard of!” He said that George Shultz and National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane “pleaded with Weinberger to release the execute message, and he refused to do it.”

Middle East expert Ken Timmerman, who was reached for comment on this article, recalled the French raid. “I was having a late lunch in the mountains, on my way back to Beirut after another day of covering the siege of Tripoli (Lebanon) in November, 1983, when the French Super Étendards flew overhead for Baalbek on the botched retaliation strike. I recognized the planes, and remember thinking at the time, wonder what they are up to…”

Lyons says to an echo of laughs, “the French dropped two 500 lb bombs and killed a goat.” One assumes he is joking to make a point, but in fact not. According to Timmerman, someone in the French government leaked the attack plan to the Iranians. The planes arrived at Baalbek, dropped their bombs and managed to kill a shepherd and his flock of goats. The targets were long gone.

Apparently the government also had warnings a month earlier that a major attack was in the works, and the military could have been prepared. Lyons relates that NSA had intercepted a message from Tehran to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus, Syria, on September 24, 1983, saying “take a spectacular action against the U.S. Marines.” However, Lyons did not see message until two days after the bombing.

Timmerman says the note was held up by none other than Colin Powell, at the time Weinberger’s military aide. Powell most likely kept it from the DoD chief, Timmerman says, because he believed a strike on Baalbek risked getting the U.S. sucked deeper into Lebanon, at a time Weinberger was lobbying hard to get the U.S. to withdraw from Lebanon. For his part, Weinberger claimed as late as 2001 that “[W]e still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing…” In 2003, the DC Circuit Court sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit holding Iran responsible for the attack. But in case you had any lingering doubts about Obama’s loyalties, in 2012 he blocked legislation that would have held Iran accountable for the attack.

Lyons hypothesized that the Iranians may have influenced Weinberger’s decision through behind-the-scenes lobbying. While that must remain conjecture, the Iran lobby is forthright these days. In fact, the Obama administration could almost be called a subsidiary of the Iranian government. Recall that prior to the 2008 election Obama had established a secret back-channel communication with Iran through former ambassador William G. Miller. His message was clear: “hold out against the Bush administration on nuclear talks because you will get a much better deal with me.”

Both Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden appear to have been heavily influenced by the Iranian lobby, as have Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Al Franken (D-MN) through the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC). Biden and Kerry have also been befriended by the American Iranian Council (AIC) and theIranian Muslim Association of North America (IMAN). AIC founder, Housang Amirahmadi, once said he intended to “conquer Obama’s mind.” Biden even suggested sending $200 million to Iran, just for yucks. The nuclear deal includes unfreezing Iranian assets valued between $100 and $150 billion, and the Obama administration will pay $1.7 billion to settle a suit over undelivered military equipment ordered by the Shah prior to the Mullahs’ takeover. Some of these funds will likely be used for terrorist activities, Kerry has admitted.

The bombing remains an open sore for the U.S. Marine Corps, as it should for all Americans. As Timmerman said, “This was a lost opportunity. At the time, a powerful strike on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops in Lebanon would have taught Iran not to mess with the United States. Had we struck then, when Iran was severely weakened by its war with Iraq, we might have prevented 30 more years of Iranian state terrorism. As it was, they learned we were weak, and that they could attack us with impunity.”

Ken Timmerman is a rare example of true journalism. He has risked life and limb researching his stories in the Middle East and has developed a network of sources that cannot be made sitting behind a desk in Washington, D.C. Timmerman’s books read like thrillers. His most recent, Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi, brings his deep Middle East expertise into play and is one of the most authoritative books, if not the most authoritative, on the subject.

In his concluding remarks, Lyons offered some pithy reflections on our current state of affairs:

  •  “Their [The Muslim Brotherhood’s] penetration into our systems is as deep, or deeper, than the Communists of the 30s, 40s and 50s.”
  • “The Communists had Harry Hopkins as their man in the White House… The Islamists have President Obama.”
  • “On Libya, we changed sides… we provided the armament for the al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood militias.”
  •  “Qaddafi was our guy in Libya. He was beating down the al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood militias.”
  • “There was no humanitarian crisis in Benghazi. (The pretext for our involvement in Libya’s civil war was the Responsibility to Protect doctrine—a new idea promoted by George Soros and other radicals that justifies military intervention in any conflict where civilian lives are threatened, i.e. practically anywhere.)
  • “Qaddafi was ready to abdicate. He entered into negotiations with Carter Ham the AFRICOM commander… for two days. He was ready to go… Ham was directed to cut off negotiations.”
  • “Here’s the President who received the Nobel Peace Prize for giving a speech. But he couldn’t give three days to work out a truce and save the lives of tens of thousands of people.”
  • “We had forces that were ready to respond [in Benghazi]… They were enroute…”

Clare Lopez

Clare Lopez is a preeminent Middle East expert. A former CIA case officer for 20 years, she speaks several languages, including Spanish, Bulgarian, French, German, and Russian, and currently is studying Farsi. She has extensive expertise in counterintelligence, counternarcotics, and counter-proliferation issues. Clare used this forum to call for a change in policy that would explicitly identify Sharia as an “enemy threat doctrine, with the priority objective to counter it and defeat the forces of Islamic jihad globally.”

Clare backed up Lyons’ testimony regarding Iranian lobbying efforts, saying:

“Within the global jihad movement threats are myriad, including the deep, systemic, institutionalized penetration by the Muslim Brotherhood…of our national security leadership and apparatus. But Iran is far and away the most critical, dangerous and immediate U.S. adversary in this entire region. The Tehran leadership succeeded in blinding our U.S. leadership to its threat, by an equally deep…penetration of the intelligence community, the White House, the Department of State, and that is by the Iran lobby.”

Clare covered a lot of ground in her remarks. Here are some of the points she made:

  • Iran’s WMD program, especially its nuclear and Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) programs pose an immediate threat to the U.S. mainland, “right now, today.”
  • Iran’s behavior has gotten worse since the nuclear dear was concluded—a deal which was never signed.
  • Iran relies on proxy forces for its expansion of power and terrorism, including: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, the Islamic State and the Taliban.
  • Many of these proxies will be receiving “massive” infusions of the money released by Obama following the nuclear deal.
  • Money is also being sent to both the Houthis in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.
  • A letter written by Osama bin Laden and seized during the raid on his Pakistani compound, was released recently. It says, “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel and communication.”
  • Hamas is working very closely with the Islamic State in the Sinai.

Clare concluded with a call for regime change in Iran and a sea change in U.S. policy. Good ideas that should be considered once President Obama leaves office. There is much more in her presentation.

Conclusion

It was good to see CSP back at CPAC. CSP is one of the few DC organizations willing to confront head-on the difficult subject of Islamist infiltration in the U.S. The Muslim Brotherhood and its sister organizations have pretty well figured out the DC racket and their tentacles have become deeply entrenched in the Washington establishment of both parties. Thus, ironically, CSP is criticized by the establishment when it should be welcomed by them. This is a travesty, because the MB’s goal, aggressively pursued by front groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), is transforming our schools and our government, blinding us to the dangers of Islamic radicalism, creating fertile ground for terrorist attacks in the U.S. and threatening our cherished rights—most immediately the First Amendment.

James Simpson is an economist, businessman and investigative journalist. His articles have been published at American Thinker, Accuracy in MediaBreitbart, PJ Media, Washington Times, WorldNetDaily and others. His regular column is DC Independent Examiner. Follow Jim on TwitterFacebook

A Counterjihad Security Architecture for America

Stand Up America, by Clare Lopez, Feb. 25, 2016:

Chairman’s Note – Our thanks to Clare Lopez as the senior editor and members of the Legacy National Security Advisory group for all the research and time to develop this important and critical document. Counterjihad security architecture and strategies are more necessary now than ever before.

Paul E. Vallely; Chairman – Stand Up America US

LEGACYLegacy National Security Advisory Group

For far too long, United States foreign policy, especially in the critical region of the Middle East and North Africa, has been pursued with apparent scant attention, much less priority, given to core, compelling U.S. national security objectives in the fight to defeat the Global Jihad Movement. This paper, therefore, offers a blueprint for a counterjihad security architecture for America that identifies those objectives and outlines the measures necessary to provide for the common defense of our Constitution, Republic, and society in this existential struggle of our time.

The U.S. has limited national security objectives in the MENA region, but they are important and must be precisely defined. The following are those objectives:

  1. We must defend U.S. diplomatic, intelligence, and military assets, facilities, and equipment, and ensure the security of our personnel serving abroad.
  2. We must keep open the naval, maritime, and commercial sea-lanes and defend the free passage of oil and other commercial goods.
  3. We must prevent control of the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, Red Sea, and Suez Canal by jihadist or other forces hostile to the U.S., the West in general, and our partners and allies.
  4. We must defend and support our regional allies, primary among which are Egypt, the Jewish State of Israel, Jordan, and the Kurdish people.

It is in U.S. national security interests to seek regional stability, including a balance of power between local Shi’ite and Sunni Islamic forces, however rough or imperfect that balance may be. We must avoid actions that would further destabilize the region, unless compelled in defense of other core U.S. national security objectives. We should refrain from involvement in historical, intra-Islamic sectarian struggles, again, unless compelled in defense of other core U.S. national security objectives. We must accept the reality that Sunni-Shi’ite relations are and will remain messy. We must understand that fashionable policies like ‘exporting democracy,’ ‘COIN (Counterinsurgency)-winning hearts and minds’ and ‘nation building’ are futile among societies in thrall to Islamic Law (shariah). Sometimes accepting local strongman rule that supports U.S. and Western interests, even though not democratic, is the lesser of two evils when the alternative would be either chaos or an Islamic jihad-and-shariah takeover.

We must rebuild the U.S. military ASAP. This includes re-establishing the presence of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea and the Second Fleet in the Atlantic Ocean. Sequestration has decimated the readiness of the U.S. military to respond effectively to key national security requirements, set back modernization of our forces, and hollowed out our overall military capabilities. This must be reversed on an accelerated basis.  Given the known penetration of the U.S. military by operatives and sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood, we must carefully vet all Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military for jihadist sympathies and/or Muslim Brotherhood connections.

We must acknowledge the enemy threat doctrine of Islamic Law (shariah) is pursued as a matter of doctrine and faith by the Global Islamic Movement including devout Muslims across the world. The White House must formulate, publish, and implement a new National Security Strategy that defines Islamic Law (shariah) as an enemy threat doctrine. It must be a priority objective of this new National Security Strategy to deter and defeat Islamic jihad globally. To do this, it will be necessary that U.S. national security leadership understand that the shariah threat is advanced by way of jihad, which may be kinetic or non-kinetic (head, heart, hands, including funding). The U.S. Intelligence Community, with new leadership at the White House, National Security Council, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence, and other key positions, must acknowledge, identify, and remove the jihadist penetration of and influence operations against the U.S. government, especially at top levels of national security. Such a revised National Security Strategy will include consideration of nation states, sub-national jihad groups, individual jihadis, transnational jihadist organizations like the Islamic State/Caliphate, Muslim Brotherhood and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), associated criminal, gang, and narcotrafficking groups in its overall threat matrix because they all work together, if only on an ad hoc, opportunistic basis.

Guided by such understanding of the Global Jihad Movement (GJM) threat and a new National Security Strategy designed to counter and defeat it, the next task of the U.S. President and his national security team will be to name, define, prioritize, confront, and defeat threats to U.S. national security objectives from U.S. adversaries in the MENA and Central Asian regions, their sponsors, and proxies. Iran is far and away the most critical, dangerous U.S. adversary in the region. Its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs, especially nuclear and Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) programs and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) delivery systems, pose an existential threat to the U.S. mainland as well as to regional allies like Israel. The expansionist, revolutionary geo-strategic objectives of the Tehran regime derive from the Islamic canon and are expressed in both the Iranian constitution and military doctrine (details of which are now in U.S. possession). The Shi’ite Twelver eschatology of the top Iranian leadership, both clerical and military, actively seeks Armageddon to hasten return of 12th Imam and launch the Islamic End Times.

Iran’s preferred tactic for expansion, power projection, and terror operations relies on proxy forces: Al-Qa’eda, HAMAS, Hizballah, Iraqi Shi’ite terror militias, the Islamic State (IS) and the Taliban. We must develop plans for regime change in Iran to end the mullahs’ pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons, an EMP-kill-shot capability, support for terrorism, revolutionary expansionism, and appalling human rights abuses against their own people.

iran.small_At the same time, we must understand the Sunni Islamic State, its objectives, and what it represents for the region, vulnerable target areas across the globe, and for individual Muslims worldwide. It must be acknowledged that the Islamic State embodies the hopes and dreams of hundreds of millions among the Muslim ummah that had been without a Caliphate since 1924, for the first time since the early days of Islam. Thus, we must acknowledge that the identifiable, self-declared ambitions of the forces of jihad focus on establishment of that global Caliphate (Islamic governance) under Islamic Law (shariah).

Since its lightening expansion during 2014, the Islamic State generally has been contained in geographic terms in its core area of operations in the former states of Iraq and Syria, both of which have been dominated by Iranian satrap regimes essentially since President George W. Bush removed the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 and dismantled his Sunni-majority army. It is not in the best interests of U.S. national security to intervene in this intra-Islamic Shi’ite-Sunni fight in any way that tips the advantage to either set of Islamic jihadis, whether Shi’ite or Sunni, but all of whom are dedicated enemies of the U.S., Israel, and the West.

The former states of Iraq and Syria were artificial constructs to begin with, drawn on maps by colonial powers in the 20th century. That they now are splintering along pre-colonial ethnic, sectarian, and tribal lines is likely unavoidable but not a process that threatens core, compelling U.S. national security interests in the region or calls for U.S. involvement to oppose.  On the other hand, jihadist groups and individuals outside of this Middle Eastern region that have been pledging bayat (allegiance) to IS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and that generally pre-date the formation of IS, should be targeted by Western powers on a case-by-case basis where their elimination would not simply accrue to the benefit of other jihadist groups or states. Islamic State as well as other jihadist affiliates in Libya and elsewhere must be countered and defeated; the U.S. should provide broad-spectrum assistance against IS forces as requested by local allies and partners and/or as in the best interests of the U.S., to eradicate such presence in their territories. This assistance may include diplomatic, financial, intelligence, military, and political measures.

Many jihadist pro-shariah groups and individuals already have made the hijra (migration) to the West and live among us with the intent of ‘destroying [our] miserable house from within’ (as stated in the Muslim Brotherhood’s 1991 report, ‘The Explanatory Memorandum’). Physical annihilation of the Islamic State’s Middle East Caliphate is a necessary ultimate objective that will set back the Global Jihad Movement but not destroy it, principally because the GJM already has a presence worldwide and because the ideology of jihad derives directly from the Qur’an, hadiths, Sirat, and shariah of the Islamic canon.

Fellow jihadist organization and sometime Islamic State rival Al-Qa’eda is not dead: it is vibrant and currently engaged in savage rivalry with the IS and others over dominance of the Global Jihad Movement. AQ regional affiliates have multiplied since 9/11 and today include: Al-Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Taliban, among numerous other jihadist groups. The AQ-IS rivalry is likely to impel each to seek to out-do the other with terror operations targeting the U.S., the West, Israel, and other allies.

U.S. national security leadership, military officers and personnel, and local law enforcement officers must read and study the AQ Timeline for Conquest of the West (as published in August 2005 by Der Spiegel). We are now in Phase Six of Seven (2016-2020 is the time of ‘total confrontation’). This timeline should be made required reading at all service academies, Staff/Command and War Colleges and throughout the Pentagon. The U.S. must re-establish all training curriculum materials and instructors previously purged under Muslim Brotherhood influence that accurately teach the threat from Islamic jihad and shariah.

US President Barack Obama and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington. Photo: REUTERS

US President Barack Obama and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington. Photo: REUTERS

The Turkish regime under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harbors neo-Ottoman jihadist aspirations and under current leadership cannot be considered a viable NATO or Western ally unless its behavior significantly turns toward supporting U.S. and NATO objectives. Rather, Turkey is a destabilizing force in the Middle East, especially because of its apparently fixed resolve to oust the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Further, this jihadist Turkish leadership views Israel as a Jewish enemy and Iran and Saudi Arabia both as Islamic rivals for regional domination. Turkey has supported IS since its inception because it views the group as a capable proxy force against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey also supports other jihadist militias including Ahrar al-Sham. Ankara’s permission for IS and other jihadis to use Turkey as a gateway to Syrian battlefields, establish terror training camps on its territory, and find safehaven there, eventually will threaten Turkey itself. Turkey’s enduring enmity towards the Kurds, both within Turkey and elsewhere, ensures ongoing, destabilizing efforts by Ankara to attack, counter, and degrade the Kurds’ equally determined nationalist aspirations. Pro-West, anti-jihadist Kurds are a natural ally for the U.S. and should be recognized and aided as such.

Russia is not a Middle East regional power but seeks to project power and influence there. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s KGB-controlled Kremlin is not a U.S. partner: it is an adversary whose expansionist ambitions and longtime collaboration with Islamic terror groups and regimes like Iran’s must be countered firmly.

Putin’s Middle East objectives center on sea access to the southeastern littoral of the Mediterranean Sea, oil interests, and foreign military sales, to include elements of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and other large scale weaponry and armaments. Despite protestations of seeking to forestall chaotic destabilization, Moscow’s Middle East regional objectives and behavior run counter to U.S. national security interests.

These include Russian support for Iran’s nuclear, other WMD, and ballistic missile programs; its determination to ensure that Bashar al-Assad or other Moscow-friendly regime will retain power in Damascus; its historical intelligence and military ties to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hizballah, PFLP, PLO, Iranian Khomeinists and their successors, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qa’eda; the supply of advanced military hardware and associated capabilities to forces inimical to U.S. national security interests in the region; the destabilizing, catastrophic human rights effects of savage bombing in civilian areas and against U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups like the Syrian Free Army; and displacement of historical U.S. influence with regional governments (e.g., Egypt).

Saudi Arabia is a font of global jihad ideology. Despite the necessity of working with the Saudis to counter other, more dangerous regional threats like Iran and IS, Riyadh royals must be recognized for the civilizational adversary that they are, who have backed, exported, and funded jihad worldwide for decades. A principal reason why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not fielded a serious military force to counter IS is that Saudi regime depends for legitimacy on its Wahhabi clerical establishment which finds more in common with IS’ pure practice of Islam than with dissolute Saudi princes. That Saudi Arabia at some point may face attack from Iran and/or IS, or that its eastern oil fields region may come under Iranian and/or IS frontal and/or subversive pressure adds complexity to defense of U.S. interests in the region, but should not blind us to the essential jihadist nature of the Saudi leadership.

America needs a new U.S. National Security Strategy to defeat the Global Jihad Movement. To accomplish this, we must first name the jihadist Iranian regime the number one most immediately critical threat to U.S. national security in the Middle East region and perhaps in the world. We must develop plans to destroy Iran’s key nuclear infrastructure, including key military and civilian facilities, e.g., power grids, IRGC, IRGC-Qods Force, Bassij, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) command centers, etc. We must end official collaboration with and/or support for the Iranian regime, its puppet regimes in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus, and/or any of its proxies, including Hizballah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, and the Taliban. We must declare formal U.S. government commitment to regime change in Tehran, support for the free expression of the will of the Iranian people, and our willingness to work with Iranian opposition groups, especially the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MeK) and its political umbrella group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

We must abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and declare Iran’s nuclear weapons program illicit and in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and multiple UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions. We must declare Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program a valid target for possible military and/or other offensive action unless any and all suspect sites are immediately opened to IAEA inspections that include U.S. nationals on the teams.

iran-nuclear-dealWe must declare Iran’s ballistic missile program in violation of UNSC Resolutions and subject to possible military and/or other offensive action until/unless verifiably dismantled. We must demand full accounting for Iran’s past nuclear weapons program work and should withhold funding for the IAEA until it reverses its capitulation to Tehran regime on the so-called Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. We must demand immediate and unconditional release of all U.S. hostages held by the Iranians and/or any of their terror proxies.

It is absolutely critical that we secure the U.S. civilian electric grid ASAP. Its continued vulnerability to EMP attack by Iran, North Korea, or other adversary, to cyber-attack, physical terrorist attack, or to periodic massive solar flares called Coronal Mass Ejections is unconscionable when the technical capability exists to harden the grid and the actual financial cost is so affordable, relative to the threat that life as we know it in America could end. Both the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) and the SHIELD Act must be passed out of Congress and signed by the President without any further delay.

The U.S. should announce a return to full, vocal official diplomatic commitment to the survival of the Jewish State of Israel within secure borders and end all funding for the Palestinian Authority and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWRA). We must renew and upgrade the U.S. defense relationship with Israel and accelerate approval for sales of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) and other bunker-busting munitions to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The U.S. should provide the IDF with enhanced air refueling capability and consider other, enhanced collaboration on and funding for the Iron Dome, Arrow, David’s Sling, Magic Wand, and other missile defense systems as well as other defensive measures.

The Department of State should open bilateral discussions on countering Iran’s existential threat to Israel, including the possibility of Israel ‘taking its bomb out of the basement’ and announcing commitment to the principle of anticipatory self-defense under international law. And symbolically, but most important of all, the U.S. should move its official Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish State of Israel. Our very visible and strong relationship with Israel must be seen as unequivocal in the eyes of the international community.

The U.S. should declare official support for the national aspirations of the Kurdish people, whether in autonomous zones or something more formal (to be the subject of discussions). We should upgrade immediately U.S. military and weapons assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga that are fighting forces of the Damascus regime as well as IS. We should expand the U.S. economic commitment to Kurdish-controlled areas for development & infrastructure projects.

FILE – This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

FILE – This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

In terms of a broader U.S. regional strategy, we should announce a ‘non-intervention’ policy for the intra-Islamic Shi’ite-Sunni struggle. This should not, however, necessarily obviate continued U.S. air strikes, or the targeted deployment of Special Operations forces against IS in the Caliphate area of operations on a limited basis. We should arm, back, fund, and train U.S. regional allies, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Kurds, and other minority groups including Christians and Yazidis. We should consider expansion of the U.S. military commitment to counter IS in other areas outside of its Middle East core area of operations such as in North and West Africa; Egypt/Sinai Peninsula, and elsewhere. It is most important that we ensure U.S. actions do not tip the balance in favor of either Shi’ite or Sunni jihadist enemies.

Domestically, the President should seek Congressional legislation to designate a new listing for Hostile Foreign Powers, to which all jihadist entities, whether kinetic or subversive, national, sub-national or transnational, would be named. The new listing would be the basis to purge all U.S. federal, state, and local bureaucracies of pro-shariah jihadist influences, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, its front organizations, and associated individuals. We must re-establish an official U.S. government-wide training curriculum to instruct on Islamic doctrine, law, scriptures and their role as inspirational sources for Islamic terrorism.

The Department of Justice must begin prosecution of the 200-plus unindicted co-conspirators in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation HAMAS terror funding trial. The President must instruct the FBI to investigate and the Department of Justice to prosecute sedition and material support for terrorism aggressively. If found guilty of subversion and / or sedition of the United States of America, mosques and the associated imams or mullahs that preach sedition and jihad must be closed, and their religious leaders, if indicted, will be prosecuted and, if necessary deported or imprisoned.

It is critical that the U.S. develop comprehensive immigration and refugee resettlement policy reform. We should prioritize funding for refugees already in safe camps in the Middle East to remain near their former homes so as to improve the likelihood they will go home whenever the situation permits. The President and State Governors should seek Congressional legislation that requires involvement by state and local jurisdictions in every step of the immigration and refugee resettlement process. The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State must begin to apply discriminatory vetting to exclude those who favor or harbor jihadist ideology or are unlikely to assimilate well into US society. Federal agencies should selectively favor immigration, refugee processing, and visas for Middle East Christians, Yazidis, and others persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Finally, candidates for public office, Congressional representatives, defense and national security officials, and all who accept the responsibilities incumbent on those who take the oath of office to ‘protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic’ should see the Secure Freedom Strategy, published by the Center for Security Policy in 2015, for a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to defeating the Global Jihad Movement: http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/the-secure-freedom-strategy/

Why is the West So Obsessed with Protecting the Territorial Integrity of Syria and Iraq?

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

American Thinker, by Adam Turner, Feb. 20, 2016:

This week, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond asked, “Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the north-west of Syria?”

sy-mapObviously, the Russians are not committed to the Syrian peace process and want an Alawite state. Their national interest is in keeping their client state, Syria, and the Russian bases within it, in existence. The Russians have little interest in a peace process to create a more democratic — and certainly Sunni Arab (74% of the population) dominated — Syria, where they would probably lose both their client and their bases. The easiest way for the Russians to do this now is to cut off the Alawite portions of the state and thereby create an Alawite majority/plurality state.

The U.S., and the rest of the West, needs to understand what these Russian interests are, and try to make the best of the situation. Thanks to the U.S.’s fecklessness in the region, we have already allowed Russia to take a dominant role in Syria, and there is probably little chance of us pressuring them to leave. Besides, the creation of a separate Alawite nation is not necessarily in opposition to Western interests. The West has long sought to promote peace; boost the number of democratic nations; and also protect minority rights (whether religious, gender, ethnic, or tribal) throughout the Middle East. Some revamped borderlines, including the creation of an Alawite state, may well maximize these Western interests.

Syria was one of the many Middle Eastern states that were created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Unfortunately, the post-World War I Sykes-Picot lines were drawn solely for the benefit of the colonial powers, and not based on the idea of creating stable, united, and democratic nations. So, the end result of Sykes-Picot has been the creation a Middle East plagued by violence, genocide, and persecution. And with the Obama Administration’s decisions to: 1) pull the U.S. from the region; and 2) favor Islamist Iran, which has long sought to promote instability throughout the rest of the region and thereby boost Iranian power, things have gotten even worse.

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

Dividing Syria into different nations — whether officially or de facto — might help ameliorate the bloody civil war that has (so far) reportedly killed up to 470,000 Syrians and driven millions more into exile. An Alawite state in the west of Syria would satisfy the Russians, but also protect the Alawite and Shia population (13%) from slaughter at the hands of Sunni Islamist groups. (Perhaps an agreement could also be reached with Putin to remove Assad, and replace him with another, less bloodthirsty, Alawite.) An Alawite state could also include Syrian Christians (10%), who mostly live near the Alawites, and also are endangered by the Islamists. A Kurdish state in the north would be positive for the West, since the Syrian Kurds (10%): 1) have proven to be the most effective fighters against ISIS; 2) are largely secular; and 3) have had some success creating a region where other minorities are protected. A Druze state, in a portion of the south where they are a majority, might also be a good idea. The Druze (3%), as a minority, generally do not discriminate against other groups, have faced threats from the Syrian Sunni Islamists, and have long been known as fierce and competent fighters.

Syria’s division would also impact Iraq. The remainder of the Syrian state is Sunni dominated, and should probably be added to the Sunni portions of Iraq to create one state. “This ‘Sunni-stan’ has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiations with the Kurds, to be sure) and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad.” This would also allow the West to “empower viable Sunni leaders, including tribal authorities” to fight against ISIS, in a replay of what happened in Iraq in 2007. Currently the Sunni Arabs who dominate in those regions so fear being controlled by Shia Iraqis, Alawite Syrians or Shia Iranians that they will not oppose Sunni ISIS. Of course, by separating Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and Sunnis from non-Sunnis in Syria, this should also decrease the religious violence and discrimination currently occurring in Syria and Iraq.

If the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq are separated from the rest of Iraq, this will also result in the creation of a separate Kurdish state in the north, since Sunni Iraq is between Iraqi Kurdistan and Shia Iraq. (Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan could also unite as one state). Once again, the West would benefit from a Kurdish state; Iraqi Kurdistan “is a uniquely strong, stable, and democratic house” that generally has a good record of respecting minority rights.

25bolton-blog427Two nations will object to these map changes in Iraq and Syria. Iran wants to maximize its control over the Middle East. But contrary to the belief of President Obama, the U.S. does not have national interests in empowering the Shia Islamist Iran. Turkey would also object. But the concerns of that undemocratic, discriminatory Sunni Islamist regime should be immaterial to the West, especially since the Russians would be happy to stick it to the Turks by backing a Kurdish state.

It is time to redraw the lines in the Middle East to ameliorate violence and promote democracy and human rights. I hope the next U.S. president will have the courage and foresight to do so.

Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security.

Middle East Strategic Outlook, February

Gatestone Institute, by Shmuel Bar, February 7, 2016

  • The EU-Turkey agreement of 25 November, which provided Turkey with 3 billion euros over two years in order to stop the flow of refugees to Europe, has not achieved that goal. Speaking privately, EU officials complain that Turkey has not taken any concrete measures to reduce the flow of refugees. In our assessment, Turkey will continue to prevaricate on steps to stem the flow of refugees as pressure on the EU to give more concessions.
  • During the coming year there will certainly be further terrorist attacks that will push European public opinion further to the right.
  • We assess that Iran will continue in indirect channels with a parallel nuclear program, realized long before the 10-year target of the JCPOA.
  • The demand for unification of Kurdistan — Iraqi and Syrian — will also begin to be heard. It is highly likely that Russia will take advantage of the trend and support the Kurds, effectively turning an American ally into a Russian one.

The announcement by the IAEA that Iran has fulfilled its obligations according to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has triggered “Implementation Day” and the removal of the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. The JCPOA, however, did not deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program, and the sanctions related to it are still nominally in force. These sanctions are minor and will not have any real effect on the Iranian missile program. The missile program will mature during this period and will include Ghadr missiles with ranges of 1,650-1,950 km, which may be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The question now is: whither the Iranian nuclear program? After the lifting of sanctions, and taking into account the impracticality of “snap-back” of sanctions, we assess that Iran will now initiate a parallel nuclear program. This will, of course, be far slower than the program that was dismantled by the JCPOA, but it will be realized long before the 10-year target of the JCPOA. One possibility for Iran to continue its nuclear program is through North Korea. The wording of the JCPOA is ambiguous on nuclear Iranian nuclear cooperation with other countries that are not a party to the agreement. North Korea could produce the whole chain of nuclear weapons and put it at Iran’s disposal in return for Iranian funding. North Korea would certainly profit economically from such collaboration and would not risk further sanctions. Such cooperation would be difficult to detect, and even if detected, may not reach the threshold of a material breach of the JCPOA.

The most immediate reward that Iran will receive is the release of frozen Iranian funds ($100-$150 billion). In addition, Iran may now market oil stored offshore in tankers (about 50 billion barrels) and is preparing to increase its production by 500 thousand bpd (from 2.8 million bpd). It is doubtful that Iran can truly increase its production as planned. Even if it does, the addition of Iranian oil is likely to drive prices down even further, counter-balancing much of the potential profit. Sanctions relief also is not a quick fix for the Iranian economy. While it removes legal impediments for investment and business in Iran, the risks that Western companies will face due to residual non-nuclear sanctions (that may be enhanced and enforced by a future American administration), lack of government protection, corruption, and the weakness of the Iranian market cannot be removed by decree. Therefore, European banks and investors may not hurry to invest in Iran at the levels needed to jump-start the Iranian economy after years of sanctions.

The Iranian regime’s goal is not only to block the path to the reformists or reformist-minded, but also to the extremists on the right to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Such a balance could help the Iranian system maintain its “centrist” orientation and guarantee the continuity in the event of Khamenei’s death and the appointment of a new successor (or a triumvirate of several potential leaders). It will also facilitate the eventual takeover of the regime by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) after the demise of Khamenei. The backing that the Guardian Council received from the Supreme Leader for the results of its vetting process, in the face of Rouhani’s condemnation of the disapproval of almost all reformists, is also indicative of the balance of power in the regime.

The Iranian seizure of two US Navy patrol boats on January 12 and the publication of drone pictures of a US Navy aircraft carrier underlined the sense of immunity that Iran has achieved. These actions should be seen in the context of Iran’s attempt to change the rules of the game in the Persian Gulf, while testing the waters of American tolerance and sending to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States an indirect message that Iran is ready and willing to risk conflict with the US and that the US is a paper tiger that cannot be relied upon in a confrontation between the Gulf States and Iran. In our assessment, Iran will continue with shows of force such as seizing of naval vessels of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, stop and search operations of commercial vessels en route to the Gulf States, naval exercises — including missile tests close to Gulf sea-lanes and to the territorial waters of the Gulf States — in international waterways that implicitly interrupt and threaten shipping in the Gulf, “spooking” of Gulf aircraft and even false flag operations of mining, piracy or attacks by proxies in the Gulf and the Red Sea along the Yemeni coast. We may expect as a result possible frontier skirmishes on the shared littoral borders of Iran and Saudi Arabia, gas fields and disputed islands and in the international waters of the Gulf.

The Iranian seizure of two US Navy patrol boats on January 12 underlined the sense of immunity that Iran has achieved.

Saudi Arabia is drawing up its own map of interests and areas of influence that it is projecting as “no-go zones” for Iran — a Saudi “Monroe Doctrine” for the region. The most critical of these are: Yemen (due to the potential for threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Straits), subversion in the Gulf States (primarily Bahrain), the Strait of Hormuz and the international waters of the Gulf. To this list one must add the obvious: any Iranian-inspired or -planned attack on the Saudi homeland itself — government facilities, oil installations etc. — would be perceived as crossing a red line. While neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran is interested in direct conflict, and both would prefer to continue to work through proxies and in areas outside their respective sovereign territories, the dynamic nature of the situation can easily lend itself to misreading of such red lines and such miscalculation may lead to direct confrontation between them. While all-out direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia remains a low probability, this assessment should be revisited again in the near future.

In Syria, American positions have undergone a strategic shift that reflects the new balance of power created by the Russian intervention. On the military side, the Russian presence imposes a heavy constraint on the American activities, and U.S. officials caution that the success of the Ramadi operation will not be followed by a concerted effort to roll back the “Islamic State” in the Syrian theater. In regards to a political solution, the US has accepted the Russian-Iranian four-point-plan that envisages Bashar al-Assad remaining in office during a transition period and being allowed to run for President in “internationally supervised elections”. In our assessment, the Syrian opposition and their Arab supporters cannot accept any blueprint that would leave any doubt regarding Bashar al-Assad relinquishing power before any process begins. These developments will only feed the sense of the Sunni Arabs that the United States has turned its back on them and is supporting Iranian-Russian hegemony in the region. On this background, the prospects that the Syrian “peace talks” in Geneva will achieve any progress towards resolution or even mitigation of the civil war are close to nil.

Last month’s visit by Chinese President Xi Jin Ping to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran was the first such visit of a Chinese President in the region since 2002, and the first foreign head of state to visit Iran since the announcement of “Implementation Day” of the JCPOA. The Chinese emphasis in all the visits was on economic cooperation, development and stability, but above all — in an implicit stab at the US and Russia — emphasizing that China does not seek proxies, to fill a power vacuum or hegemony in the region. The leitmotif of the visit was the integration of the Middle Eastern partners (i.e. the Arabs in general and Iran) into China’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” In spite of the inclusion of Iran in the visit, President Xi took care not to offend the Arabs. The agreements with Saudi Arabia included nuclear cooperation in a scope far greater than that which was offered to Iran, and the joint statement reflected the Saudi position on Yemen, stating, “both sides stressed support for the legitimate regime of Yemen.”

The “Arab Policy Paper” published on the eve of the visit stresses China’s commitment to “non-intervention and opposition to interference in the affairs of other countries”. This is seen by the Arab policy communities as a sign of implicit Chinese support for their position vis-à-vis Iran’s activities in the region, though they would have welcomed more explicit statements of support. There is no expectation in the region that China is going to play the “Big Power” card in the region. Taking sides in this conflict would be out of character for China. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states will attempt to convince China to refrain from demonstrations of rapprochement with Iran and to support the Arab positions vis-à-vis Iranian provocations in the Gulf, Syria and Yemen. While China may show a slight implicit leaning towards the Arab position on these issues, it is not likely to take a clear anti-Iranian/pro-Arab position in the near future.

The European Union-Turkey agreement of 25 November, which provided Turkey with 3 billion euros over two years in order to stop the flow of refugees to Europe, has not achieved that goal. Speaking privately, EU officials complain that Turkey has not taken any concrete measures to reduce the flow of refugees. In our assessment, Turkey will continue to prevaricate on steps to stem the flow of refugees as pressure on the EU to give more concessions. Turkey has already signaled that the sum will not suffice for the task of maintaining the refugees inside Turkey alone, and certainly not for other security measures such as blocking the border with Turkey to prevent passage to and fro of “Islamic State” foreign fighters.

Aside from the 3 billion euros, the EU commitments will also not be easily implemented; visa waivers for Turkish citizens in general will encounter massive opposition within the EU. The road to Turkish accession to the EU must also go through complex negotiations on various aspects of compatibility of Turkey to the standards of the EU. All these discussions will encounter a veto by Cyprus, pending a peace deal with Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. This veto may be resolved if a referendum on unification of Cyprus takes place and supports re-unification later this year. However, the real obstacle towards Turkish accession is not technical or due to the Cyprus question; it revolves around the shift in European public opinion towards absorption of immigrants from Muslim countries. During the coming year, there will certainly be further terrorist attacks that will push European public opinion further to the right. Under these circumstances, Turkish accession or even visa waiver will be very unlikely.

In our assessment, the trend towards Kurdish independence will eventually lead to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. The events in Syrian Kurdistan will also affect the pace and direction of the independence movement in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Unification of the parts of Syrian Kurdistan in the face of Turkish opposition and under Russian protection will give impetus to the demand to create a political fait accompli of independence in Iraqi Kurdistan. As the principle of Kurdish independence in Iraq gains more and more support and becomes a reality, the irredentist demand for unification of Kurdistan — Iraqi and Syrian — will also begin to be heard. This is the fulfillment of the Kurdish nightmare that Turkey has always feared. With the deterioration of relations between the AKP government and the Turkish Kurds inside Turkey, such a political reality of independent Kurdistan will add fire to the flames of the Kurdish rebellion in southern Turkey. It is highly likely that Russia will take advantage of the trend and support the Kurds, effectively turning an American ally into a Russian one. If this happens, the US will have lost an important potential ally in the new map of the Middle East.

The large number of players on the ground that may take a part in the campaign for Mosul will only complicate the campaign further and — if the city or part of it is retaken, will increase the chances of internal fighting between the components of the ad-hoc alliance of Iraqi government forces, Shiite militias, Sunni militias, Kurdish Peshmarga, Turks and American forces.

On this background, the Syrian “Peace Talks” in Geneva started (29 January) as “proximity talks” in which the UN representatives shuttle between the rooms of the opposing parties. The Saudi supported High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of the Syrian opposition ceded their original conditions — cessation of the attacks on civilians — though they refuse to meet with the regime representatives while the latter refuse to meet with “terrorists”. The Syrian regime representation is low-level as an indication that there is no intention to hold real negotiations. Furthermore, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose military wing, the YPG, is the most effective fighting force on the ground against the “Islamic State,” were not included in the opposition delegation because of the Turkish threat to boycott the Geneva negotiations if it participates. Under these conditions, the prospects that the talks will achieve any progress towards resolution or even mitigation of the civil war are close to nil.

Dr. Shmuel Bar is a senior research fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Studies at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and a veteran of Israel’s intelligence community.

Aleppo siege marks dramatic upheaval on Syrian battlefield

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CNN, by Tim Lister, Feb. 7, 2016:

The images from Aleppo, Idlib and Syria’s border with Turkey can be described in one word: despair.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the relentless bombing and shelling that has paved the way for dramatic battlefield gains by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies. Hundreds of thousands more remain trapped, awaiting their fate with trepidation.

In the space of a few weeks, the Syrian battlefield has been transformed, the balance of forces pulverized and the prospects for peace talks — already dark — virtually extinguished. Another tide of displaced civilians converge on the Turkish border, trapped by the advance of regime forces.

Last week, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, supported by Iranian and Lebanese Shia militia, severed the main road from Aleppo to the Turkish border, a narrow corridor through which the rebels and NGOs alike moved supplies. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that several villages in the area were hit by airstrikes on Sunday.

A defining battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, seems imminent. Regime forces and their allies on the ground, supported by Russian bombers in the air, are tightening the noose around the eastern half of the city, still held by a coalition of rebel groups. It’s estimated some 320,000 people still live, or subsist, there — under continual bombardment.

Shortages of diesel and food are reported, but many people simply don’t dare or can’t afford to leave. One civil defense worker told the Guardian newspaper: “They think, ‘We can die in our own homes, we don’t need to go to other places to die.’ “

Russian revolution

Beyond the humanitarian catastrophe that looms, the plight of Aleppo symbolizes the rapid transformation of the Syrian battlefield since the regime, Iran and Russia came together. For much of 2015, Assad’s forces were on the defensive, as rebel groups consolidated and took major towns in Idlib, the Aleppo countryside and began to attack regime strongholds in Latakia.

It was the very real possibility of regime collapse that prompted Russian intervention in September. Russian airstrikes and Iranian militia have since bolstered regime troops and reversed the tide. Aleppo is their most prized target.

“Should the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the start of the uprising in 2011,” says Emile Hokayem in Foreign Policy.

The Institute for the Study of War says a successful regime offensive around Aleppo would “shatter opposition morale, fundamentally challenge Turkish strategic ambitions and deny the opposition its most valuable bargaining chip before the international community.”

Rebel groups have made desperate appeals for help in defending the city.

The notoriously fractious resistance groups are declaring alliances to bolster their collective resistance. One of the most important groups, Ahrar al Sham, announced at the weekend: “We extend our hands to all factions of the Syrian revolution … and we announce our acceptance for unity with them without any prerequisites.”

But even briefly united, they can’t shoot down planes, and they don’t have T-90 tanks.

Since Russia began its air campaign, most of its strikes have been on cities and towns held by the rebels in western Syria. The aim: to link regime-held territory from the capital to the coast. These are not areas where ISIS has much of a presence; al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and elements of the Free Syrian Army are the main groups.

Resistance has been fierce, but the sheer scale of the assault has gradually pried one town after another — or rather their ruins — from rebel hands.

In the process, senior rebel commanders have been killed in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

Some commentators believe that the Assad regime and Russia set out to hoodwink the West by agreeing to the Geneva peace process while stepping up their military campaign, to create “facts on the ground” that would vastly change the balance in the negotiations.

“Their ultimate objective is to force the world to make an unconscionable choice between Assad and ISIS,” says Hokayem. For now, ISIS is waiting out the battle for Aleppo and watching its rivals get pummeled. It is crowing that it is the only real defender of Sunni Muslims against the Shia-dominated forces now on the offensive.

The Syrian Kurds, whose attitude toward the Assad regime might be described as ambivalent, also appear to be taking advantage of the situation, chipping away at rebel-held villages north of Aleppo. According to diplomats in the region, they are being encouraged by Russia — keen to antagonize Turkey at any opportunity.

For Aleppo, read Grozny

Some analysts compare Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in Syria with the Russian campaign in Chechnya in 1999, which he directed as Prime Minister. All opposition figures were marked as terrorists, and Russian forces destroyed cities such as Grozny in which insurgents lived, as well as the insurgents themselves. By some estimates, 80% of Grozny was rendered uninhabitable. Human Rights Watch published a report on the Chechen campaign in 2000 entitled “Welcome to Hell” and accusing Russian forces of egregious human rights violations.

Putin pursued an exclusively military solution against the Chechen insurgency, and ultimately it worked. It took six years and an unknown number of Russian military casualties, but today acts of resistance in Chechnya are few and far between, and the republic is run by a Putin loyalist.

The same approach is apparent in Syria. After his meeting with Putin at the United Nations in September, U.S. President Barack Obama said of the Russians’ view of the rebels: “From their perspective, they’re all terrorists.”

But Chechnya is not the only precedent.

Jihadists, some of them from the Caucasus, have threatened to turn Syria into another Afghanistan for the Russians. While they may be driven from territory they hold, they are unlikely to be driven from Syria and could revert to insurgency tactics such as ambushes, assassinations and suicide bombings.

To some analysts, the regime advance will only radicalize what remains of rebel forces in Syria. Hokayem speaks of a “widespread and understandable feeling of betrayal in the rebellion, whose U.S.-friendly elements are increasingly losing face within opposition circles.”

Last month, Osama Abu Zeid, a senior adviser to the moderate Free Syrian Army, complained that “the U.S. is gradually moving from a neutral position toward being a partner in crime as it allows Assad and his allies to kill Syrians.”

Several rebel groups, as well as Turkish officials, blame Washington for the failure to establish a “safe-haven” inside Syria last year. Some in Washington take the same view.

In an Op-Ed for The Washington Post, two former senior officials, Nicholas Burns and James Jeffries, urge the Obama administration to “dramatically expand funding for the moderate Sunni and Kurdish forces that pose an alternative to Assad’s government and the Islamic State” and “reconsider what it has rejected in the past: the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, along with a no-fly zone to enforce it.”

But they acknowledge that “defending the zone, preventing it from being overwhelmed by refugees, grounding it in a convincing legal justification and keeping out jihadist groups would be daunting tasks.”

Europe’s next nightmare

The United Nations estimated Friday that 40,000 people have already been displaced by the fighting in Aleppo. But the current exodus is by no means the first since the Russian air campaign began. In just three weeks in October, the United Nations reported the displacement of 120,000 people from Aleppo, Hama and Idlib. Nor will it be the last.

Turkey — which already has 2.5 million Syrian refugees on its soil — says it is close to capacity. The European Union is pouring cash ($3.3 billion) into a vastly expanded program to house refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, trying to forestall another surge of refugees across the Mediterranean. But it may not be enough.

Some EU officials see Europe’s expensive and divisive refugee crisis as an intended consequence of Russian policy.

“Putin likes to cast himself as a man of order, but his policies have brought more chaos, and Europe is set to pay an increasing price,” says Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède.

A ‘painful year’

The main supporters of the rebels in northwest Syria — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — are now short of options. They could send weapons across the border into Idlib, but the province is largely controlled by al Nusra.

They seem unlikely to walk away from a struggle in which they have invested so heavily and watch their Shia enemies — Hezbollah, the Alawite-led regime, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — claim victory.

Fabrice Balanche at the Washington Institute speculates they may try to “set up a new rebel umbrella group similar to Jaish al-Fatah, and/or send anti-aircraft missiles to certain brigades…(or) open a new front in northern Lebanon.”

“The question is, do Riyadh and Ankara have the means and willingness to conduct such a bold, dangerous action?” Balanche asks.

It is hard to find anyone who believes the situation in Syria will get better before it gets much worse.

“The conditions are in place,” says Hokayem, “for a disastrous collapse of the Geneva talks — now delayed until late February — and a painful, bloody year in Syria.”

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In Sinai, ISIS Grows with Iran’s Help

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The Tower, by Arik Agassi, January 2016:

Most people assume that the Sunni terrorist group ISIS is the natural and mortal enemy of Shia Iran, but this is not always the case. In fact, in at least one part of the Middle East, Iran has become a crucial, if indirect, sponsor of its supposed enemy.

As the world’s eyes are focused on ISIS terrorism in Europe, the Middle East, and even the U.S., the group’s branch in the Sinai has become one of the most powerful, dangerous, and effective in the region. Recent reports indicate that Iran, through the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, is primarily responsible for this.

The Iran-Hamas-ISIS axis is part of Iran’s strategy of using proxy forces against U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel as part of a larger strategy to achieve hegemony over the Middle East. This has resulted in one of the region’s best kept secrets: An intensive cooperation mechanism between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS, based on money, weapons, military equipment, and training.

Iran’s foreign policy goal of hegemony over the Middle East is based on its primary ideological pillar – exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries using terrorism and political subversion. In pursuing its ambitions, Iran has often put aside its religious differences with radical Sunni groups like ISIS and Hamas. The Islamic Republic is more than willing to cooperate with these groups as long as doing so helps promote its larger interests.

“By directly supporting Hamas in Gaza and indirectly supporting ISIS in the Sinai, Iran is able to gain foothold against Israel and Egypt to destabilize them, undermine America’s regional influence, create another Iranian power base in a Sunni-dominated region, and project its power and influence in its pursuit of regional hegemony,” Major (res.) Dan Feferman, a former senior IDF intelligence officer and Iran specialist, told the Tower. When asked why Iran would indirectly fund a serious rival such as ISIS, Feferman said that Lebanon, Iraq, and especially Syria are more important to Iran than the Sinai, as Iran wants to preserve its influence in states affected by the Syrian civil war – so Iran fights ISIS in those counties. In places where Iran does not have a strong influence, such as Egypt, it feels comfortable supporting ISIS, albeit indirectly.

“Just like Iran needs ISIS in Syria and Iraq to maintain its relevance among world powers such as Russia and the United States, it has no problem with ISIS gaining strength in Sinai for the time being,” added Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and former head of Israeli intelligence’s Research and Assessment Division added. “If ISIS gains more power in the Sinai and Iran is able to help demean that power in the future, it will once again position itself as an address to world powers and thus demand something in return. Moreover, as long as Iran is able to weaken the moderate Sunni Arab state alliance of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan by indirectly supporting ISIS Sinai through Hamas, it won’t stop doing so.”

But Iran’s support of ISIS via Hamas goes deeper than mere strategic considerations. Despite the deep ideological rifts between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS in Sinai, as well as the traditional animosity between Shias, Sunnis, and Salafists, all three groups see each other as temporary partners in

1. The destruction of the state of Israel.
2. Undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority.
3. Opposing and destabilizing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Western-oriented regime, especially in regard to its peace treaty with Israel.
4. Harming U.S. interests in the region and undermining its presence in the Middle East as a whole.
5. Bridging the Sunni-Shia divide and reconstituting a Muslim caliphate.

For Iran, Hamas and ISIS serve different aspects of these ambitions. Iran uses Hamas to deepen the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by supporting Palestinian terror and a rejectionist approach to the peace process. It uses ISIS in the Sinai against al-Sisi and to further its vision of a caliphate dominated by Iran.

Iran could not support ISIS in Sinai or pursue its ambitions against Israel and Egypt without Hamas. The relationship between the terrorist organization and Iran is deep and of long standing. Indeed, Iran has provided funding, weapons, training, technology, and political support to Hamas for decades.

This relationship began almost simultaneously with the founding of Hamas, and has intensified every time the peace process appeared to be gaining momentum. In October 1991, Iran convened a conference in Tehran whose purpose was to unite various radical organizations led by Hamas who were hostile to the PLO’s negotiations with Israel at the Madrid peace summit. The groups gathered in Tehran called for the destruction of Israel and pledged to make every possible effort to sabotage the newborn peace process, which was seen as a direct threat to their strategic goals.

Iran-Hamas relations were officially formalized in October 1992, when a Hamas delegation led by then-Secretary General Mousa Abu-Marzuq visited Tehran for talks. Iran permitted Hamas to open an office in Tehran, provided it with millions of dollars in cash, and agreed to have the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps train thousands of Hamas members in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.

This initially lukewarm relationship became a full-blown alliance when the second intifada began in 2000. Iran began funding, recruiting, directing, training, and supporting Palestinian terrorists and building the infrastructure to support them. This included carrying out suicide bombings, paying the families of terrorists, and providing monthly salaries to terrorists in Israeli jails.

Hamas soldiers take part in a military parade marking the first anniversary of the killing of Hamas’s military commanders Mohammed Abu Shammala and Raed al-Attar, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 21, 2015. Abu Shammala and al-Attar were killed by an Israeli air strike during a 50-day war between the terror group and Israel the previous summer. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90

Hamas soldiers take part in a military parade marking the first anniversary of the killing of Hamas’s military commanders Mohammed Abu Shammala and Raed al-Attar, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 21, 2015. Abu Shammala and al-Attar were killed by an Israeli air strike during a 50-day war between the terror group and Israel the previous summer. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90

The Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 created a new reality. Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, which resulted in a significant increase in Iranian funding. Immediately following the elections, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal visited Iran and secured an estimated $20 million per month from the Islamic Republic – enough to cover Hamas’ entire budget. This was followed by a visit from Hamas’ former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which Iran pledged $250 million in aid. The funds were earmarked to pay the wages of civil servants, bankroll Hamas security forces, and compensate Palestinian families that lost their homes during Israeli military operations.

In June 2007, Hamas carried out a putsch in the Gaza Strip, neutralized Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s military and political power, and set up a radical Islamic government. Following the takeover, Iran became a patron of the new Gaza regime, providing Hamas with military, financial, political, and media support. Iran saw the establishment of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip as a way to wage an armed campaign against Israel and advance its influence in the Palestinian arena. The exposure of the Israeli home front to rocket fire during three rounds of armed confrontation between Israel and Hamas showed the Iranians the great benefits they could reap by constructing a military infrastructure for Hamas.

As a result, Iranian money, equipment, and military expertise keep flowing to Hamas and then to ISIS.

Despite some rifts between Iran and Hamas’ political wing since 2012 (stemming from Hamas moving its headquarters from Syria and refusing to follow the Iranian line by supporting President Bashar al-Assad), the Times of Israel reported in September that, boosted by the nuclear deal, Iran has increased its funding to Hamas’ military wing with literally “suitcases of cash” sent directly to leaders in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Telegraph quoted top senior Western intelligence officials in April saying that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have transferred tens of millions of dollars to Hamas.

Read more

Listen to Kyle Shideler, Director of the Center for Security Policy’s Threat Information Office, discuss the relationship between ISIS and Hamas in this Secure Freedom Podcast:

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We’ve Got It Wrong: ISIS Is Not the Main Problem in the Middle East

ISIS-Sunni-Shia-Iran.sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY JONATHAN SPYER JANUARY 19, 2016:

On a recent reporting trip to Iraq and northern Syria, two things were made apparent to me — one of them relatively encouraging, the other far less so. The encouraging news is that ISIS is currently in a state of retreat. Not headlong rout, but contraction.

The bad news?

Our single-minded focus on ISIS as if it were the main or sole source of regional dysfunction is the result of faulty analysis, which in turn is producing flawed policy.

Regarding the first issue, 2015 was not a particularly good year for ISIS. In the course of it, the jihadis lost Kobani and then a large area to its east, bringing the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG and their allies to within 30 km of the Caliphate’s “capital” in Raqqa city.

In late December, the jihadis lost the last bridge over the Euphrates that they controlled, at the Tishreen Dam. This matters because it isolates Raqqa, making it difficult for the Islamic State to rush reinforcements from Aleppo province to the city in the event of an attack.

Similarly, the Kurdish YPG advanced south of the town of al-Hawl to Raqqa’s east.

In Iraq, the Iraqi Shia militias and government forces have now recaptured Ramadi city (lost earlier in 2015) following the expulsion of ISIS from Tikrit and Baiji.

The Kurdish Pesh Merga, meanwhile, have revenged the humiliation they suffered at the hands of ISIS in the summer of 2014. The Kurds have now driven the jihadis back across the plain between Erbil and Mosul, bringing them to the banks of the Tigris river. They have also liberated the town of Sinjar.

The city of Mosul nestles on the western side of the river. It remains ISIS’s most substantial conquest. Its recapture does not appear immediately imminent, yet the general trend has been clear. The main slogan of ISIS is “Baqiya wa’tatamaddad,” “Remaining and Expanding.” At the present time, however, the Islamic State may be said to be remaining, but retreating.

This situation is reflected in the confidence of the fighters facing ISIS along the long front line. In interviews as I traversed the lines, I heard the same details again and again regarding changing ISIS tactics, all clearly designed to preserve manpower.

This stalling of the Islamic State is the background to their turn towards international terror, which was also a notable element of the latter half of 2015. The downing of the Russian airliner in October, the events in Paris in November, and the series of suicide bombings in Turkey since July attest to a need that the Islamic State has for achievement and for action. They need to keep the flow of recruits coming and to maintain the image of victory essential to it.

Regarding the second issue: seen from close up, the Islamic State is very obviously only a part,and not necessarily the main part, of a much larger problem. When talking both with those fighting with ISIS and with those who sympathize with it in the region, this observation stands out as a stark difference in perception between the Middle Eastern view of ISIS and the view of it presented in Western media. The latter tends to present ISIS as a strange and unique development, a dreadfully evil organization of unclear origins, which is the natural enemy of all mainstream forces in the Middle East.

From closer up, the situation looks rather different.

ISIS has the same ideological roots and similar practices as other Salafi jihadi organizations active in the Syrian arena. ISIS treats non-Muslims brutally in the areas it controls, and adheres to a rigid and fanatical ideology based on a literalist interpretation and application of religious texts. But this description also applies to Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.

Nusra opposes ISIS, and is part of a rebel alliance supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. In March 2015, when Nusra captured Idleb City in northern Syria, the city’s 150 Christian families were forced to flee to Turkey. Nusra has also forcibly converted a small Druze community in Idleb. The alliance Nusra was a part of also included Muslim Brotherhood-oriented groups, such as the Faylaq al-Sham militia, which apparently had no problem operating alongside the jihadis.

ISIS is not a unique organization; rather, it exists at one of the most extreme points along a continuum of movements committed to Sunni political Islam.

Meanwhile, the inchoate mass of Sunni Islamist groups — of which ISIS constitutes a single component — is engaged in a region-wide struggle with a much more centralized bloc of states and movements organized around the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is committed to a Shia version of political Islam.

The Middle East — in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and to a lesser extent Lebanon, all along the sectarian faultline of the region — is witnessing a clash between rival models of political Islam, of which ISIS is but a single manifestation.

The local players find sponsorship and support from powerful regional states, themselves committed to various different versions of political Islam: Iran for the Shias; Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Muslim Brotherhood-supporting Qatar for the Sunnis.

The long awakening of political Islam as the dominant form of popular politics in the Middle East started decades ago. But the eclipse of the political order in the region, and of the nationalist dictatorships in Iraq, Syria, Egypt (temporarily), Tunisia, and Yemen in recent years, has brought it to a new level of intensity.

States, indifferent to any norms and rules, using terror and subversion to advance their interests, jihadi armed groups, and the refugee crises and disorder that result from all this are the practical manifestations of it.

This, and not the fate of a single, fairly ramshackle jihadi entity in the badlands of eastern Syria and western Iraq, is the matter at hand in the Middle East.

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