Top U.S. Commander: Iran’s Heightened Threat Since Nuclear Deal May Require Military Action

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, March 30, 2017:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. needs to consider military action to disrupt Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, which have intensified since the Islamic Republic signed a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, a top American commander warned American lawmakers.

Former President Barack Obama and other supporters of the nuclear deal argued that it would promote peace and avoid military confrontation.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee about the security challenges facing his area of responsibility (AOR).

The Central Region, or CENTCOM AOR, spans more than 4 million square miles that cover 20 predominantly Muslim nations that stretch from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia.

In his written testimony, Gen. Votel declared:

Iran poses the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interests of our partners and allies.

We have not seen any improvement in Iran’s behavior since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), addressing Iran’s nuclear program, was finalized in July 2015.

Over the past year, after the nuclear deal was signed, the U.S. military has been dealing with Iran and its proxies carrying out “a range of malign activities” in the Central Region, namely in “Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, the Sinai, and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait [located between Yemen and Djibouti and Eritrea] and in other parts of our area of responsibility,” declared Gen. Votel.

Democrat Congresswoman Jacky Rosen from Nevada asked the top U.S. general during the hearing, “Do you believe Iran has increased destabilizing activity since the JCPOA?”

“I do believe they have,” responded Gen. Votel, adding in his written remarks:

Unfortunately, the [nuclear] agreement has led some to believe that we have largely addressed the Iranian problem set and that is not the case. In addition to its nuclear weapons potential, Iran presents several credible threats. They have a robust theater ballistic missile program, and we remain concerned about their cyber and maritime activities, as well as the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) and their network of affiliates, [including their narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah].

Since the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran has been “clearly focused” on expanding its influence and power in the Central Region, noted Votel.

“Recognizing that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Central Region, we must seize opportunities to both reassure our allies and shape Iran’s behavior,” he pointed out, adding, “Through both messaging and actions, we must also be clear in our communications and ensure the credibility of U.S. intentions.”

To disrupt Iran’s growing threat, the U.S. must consider military action and other ways, proclaimed Gen. Votel.

“I’ve had an opportunity to talk with some of our regional partners about it,” he said. “I think we need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt through military means or other means, their activities.”

“In addition to ready military actions, we must support the broader USG [U.S. Government] strategy with regard to Iran which should include new diplomatic initiatives that provide Iran with viable alternatives to its present course,” he conceded.

The U.S. general did stress that Iran must be aware that there will be consequences if it continues its malign and provocative activities.

“The point that I would emphasize to you is that while there may be other more strategic or consequential threats or regions in our world, today, the central region has come to represent the nexus for many of the security challenges our nation faces,” warned the CENTCOM commander.

“Most importantly, the threats in this region continue to pose the most direct threat to the U.S. homeland and the global economy. Thus it must remain a priority and be resourced accordingly,” added Gen. Votel.

The Af-Pak region is home to the largest concentration of U.S. and United Nations-designated terrorist groups — 13 in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan, according to the U.S. military.

Moreover, “the Middle East remains the global epicenter of terrorism and violent Islamist extremism,” wrote Gen. Votel.

Citing the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2016 Global Terrorism Index, he testified that “the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) AOR accounted for 78% of all terrorism incidents worldwide.”

Also see:

Major warning signs for conservatives about Trump’s Mideast policy

num_skyman | Shutterstock

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, March 15, 2017:

As conservatives fight the efforts of their own party and president to promote Obamacare 2.0 here at home, there are some major problems with the direction in foreign policy of this Trump administration. We can dismiss all reports of liberal policies and leftist personnel emanating from this administration as “fake news” — or we can demand a course correction before this becomes the third term of Obama’s State Department. The choice is ours.

The final dramatic act of the Obama administration was to instigate a public feud between former Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over where Jews can live in their own homeland. As conservatives, we swore to ourselves that once Trump assumed power we’d be done with the illogical and immoral Oslo Accords, along with its maniacal idea of creating a new Arab terror state.

Trump himself also promised a new direction:

The reason this issue is important is not just because of our relationship with Israel ; it’s that the obsession with a Palestinian state and the recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists has served as the fulcrum of our entire Middle East policy for 24 years, preventing us from acting in our own self-interests.

The failure to understand the danger of the PLO is not just bad for Israel. It’s also dangerous for America because it demonstrates that our political elites don’t understand the Islamic threat and will continue the past mistakes of both the Clinton/Obama leftists and the establishment neo-conservatives who support the nation building agenda in the Arab world.

Well, that nightmare is now upon us.

During Trump’s second week in office, I took a lot of flak for criticizing the White House’s statement on Israel’s construction in the so-called settlements. Some conservatives felt that Trump’s statement was a breath of fresh air because, while he did rebuke the construction, he implied that building within the “settlement blocks” is OK.

Obviously, as I noted at the time, this statement is nonsense. Why are we getting involved in any of this Kerry-style dictating of terms? Weren’t we supposed to break from the entire Oslo Accords? Why should we legitimize any notion of a Palestinian state and how does that put America’s interests first? Weren’t we done with nation building in terror states among existing nations, much less trying to create a new one? I warned that absent a course correction, this policy would grow legs and irrevocably suck the president into the globalist swamp of the PLO cause.

It has. Consider the following troubling observations:

  • This week, Trump dispatched Jason Greenblatt, his top lawyer and envoy to the Middle East, to pressure Netanyahu into halting construction, even for a city designed to house displaced Israelis who were uprooted by a very painful evacuation. As the Times of Israel is reporting, Greenblatt is now obsessing over every last neighborhood with the maniacal precision of John Kerry to prevent Israel from building even within existing “settlements.” The pressure is reportedly so strong that Netanyahu has now held off on his plans to fully annex Ma’ale Adumim, the largest suburb of Jerusalem, which has always been a “consensus” area (even to those who buy into the premise of a Palestinian state). Greenblatt later met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (whose term of office expired eight years ago!) and treated him like a peace partner.
  • The inimitable Caroline Glick gives a riveting account of the sharp turn of the White House on Israel — embracing the PLO, inviting Abbas to the White House, and taking an active (almost obsessive) role in promoting a Palestinian state. It’s almost as if Trump has made it his life’s mission (or, son-in-law Jared Kushner’s mission) to ram through the “peace process” even more than Obama.
  • My colleague, Jordan Schachtel has already reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appointed a Kerry acolyte as the Israel-Palestinian policy official in the State Department. Michael Ratney was Obama’s consul to Jerusalem who “oversaw grants to OneVoice, a leftist non-profit that President Obama allegedly used to try to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s 2015 election.” Ratney oversaw a program the Times of Israel said was “in effect setting up an armed Palestinian militia in the consulate.” Martin Indyk — Obama’s anti-Israel apologist — praised the appointment, tweeting that Ratney was a “valued member of Kerry’s peace team.”
  • Trump decided to keep Obama’s National Security Council Adviser, Yael Lempert, for Israel policy. She accompanied Greenblatt on his trip to Israel, where he graciously met with Abbas and pressured Netanyahu on settlements. Lempert was literally Obama’s point person in the White House orchestrating his war against Israel. This decision is Orwellian.
  • Talk about the fox guarding the hen house? Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, the Iran director for Obama’s National Security Council, has been given the portfolio over the Persian Gulf region on the policy planning staff at the State Department. This individual was an essential figure in pushing through the Iran deal and has ties to Tehran.
  • Defense Secretary James Mattis wanted to appoint Anne Patterson to the No. 3 position in the Pentagon. Patterson was Obama’s ambassador to Egypt, who had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and embodied John Kerry’s foreign policy. Although conservatives successfully prevented that from happening, Mattis’ motivations, along with a number of troubling statements on policy, reveal that he fundamentally doesn’t share a conservative worldview.

Folks, this is not “deep state” sabotage of Pres. Trump’s agenda. This is Trump sabotaging himself by allowing Jared in the White House and top officials in State to promote the very worst elements of the Clinton/Bush/Obama foreign policy. And it’s not just about Israel. Anyone who believes in creating a new terror state and partnering with PLO terrorists clearly does not understand the broader Islamic threat. This could lead us into nation-building in Syria and other insufferable Arab countries, a notion Trump explicitly rejected with his popular denunciation of the Iraq war.

There is nothing to “negotiate” and nobody with which we can “cut deals.” This is not a matter of convincing Carrier to keep its plant in Indiana. Some things don’t work with negotiations; Islamo-fascists elements are one good example.

What is so disappointing is that foreign policy is the one area where the president has wide latitude to change course without the cumbersome legislative process. Almost 60 days into the new administration, there is no major accomplishment that has gotten past Congress, including the much-promised FULL repeal of Obamacare. Again, foreign policy is the one area where Donald Trump can unilaterally make his mark.

However, absent a dramatic change of course, the pink unicorn of the PLO “peace process” will ensnare President Trump into untenable diplomatic quicksand. As Caroline Glick warns, “The PLO is the Siren that drowns U.S. administrations.” Trump must understand that if he is “serious about embracing the PLO and intends to have his top advisers devote themselves to Abbas and his henchmen,” he is setting himself up “to fail and be humiliated.”

Make no mistake: The “two-state solution” is the Obamacare of foreign policy. Failure to repeal it will be as catastrophic for foreign policy as Obamacare is for domestic policy. Except this time, we won’t be able to blame a parliamentarian.

Interview with Angelo M. Codevilla on ‘Romancing the Sunni: A US Policy Tragedy’

Published on Jan 1, 2016 by Asia Times

Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, and a member of the Hoover Institution’s working group on military history, answers Asia Times questions on how the US government’s foreign policy mess has created a monster like the ISIS. Today, the Daesh/ISIS — a sub-sect of Sunni Islam — murders and encourages murdering Americans.

READ THE THREE-PART SERIES HERE:

PART 1: http://atimes.com/2015/12/romancing-t…

PART 2: http://atimes.com/2015/12/romancing-t…

PART 3: http://atimes.com/2015/12/romancing-t…

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, and a member of the Hoover Institution’s working group on military history. He is the author of fourteen books, including  Informing Statecraft, War, ends And Means, The Character of Nations, Advice to War Presidents, and To Make and Keep Peace.  He served on President Ronald Reagan’s transition teams for the Department of State and the Intelligence agencies. He was a US naval officer and a US foreign service officer. As a staff member of the US Senate Intelligence committee, he supervised the intelligence agencies’ budgets with emphasis on collection systems and counterintelligence. He was instrumental in developing technologies for modern anti-missile defense. Codevilla has taught ancient and modern political thought and international affairs at major universities.

A new approach to U.S. Middle East strategy

Shattered Middle East Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Shattered Middle East Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Washington Times, by , February 14, 2017:

The Trump administration has a unique opportunity to implement a new strategic policy to bring some semblance of stability to the current Middle East chaos. Under the pledge of putting “America first,” our core national security interest in the region should include the following:

• Eliminating the Islamic State as an identifiable entity.

• Preventing Iran from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon capability.

• Preventing Iran from achieving regional hegemony.

• Supporting Iranians in their efforts to remove the corrupt Iranian theocracy.

• Keeping open vital sea lanes and strategic choke points.

  • Defending U.S. bases and facilities.

• Re-emphasizing our support for our friends and allies while assisting threatened minorities (Christians, Assyrians/Chaldeans, Kurds and Yazidis).

Our strategy in the past has been reactive, but now must be driven by our vital core objectives. In that sense, it is not in the U.S. interest to become involved in a 1,300-year-old, intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Shiites and Sunnis. From a Western perspective, there is no good side in this conflict. Both want to kill us.

It also must be recognized that much of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement nation-state system formed in the Middle East after World War I is coming asunder. Syria and Iraq are fractured states and a readjustment of a regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni will evolve out of the current crisis with or without U.S. involvement. Our invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army removed the main blocking force to the expansion of Iran’s Shiite Crescent and ensured the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.

A Sunni entity that clearly is not ISIS should be assisted to coalesce in what used to be Iraq. Such an entity could involve Anbar Province and the Nineveh Plain, where Assyrians/Turkman/Yazidis are unifying in an effort at preservation and stabilization.

In areas outside of Alawite and Kurdish control and areas liberated from ISIS in the former Syria, Syrian Free Army (SFA) commanders believe that with U.S. and other Western support, they could pry off significant forces from jihadi militias to create a force to defeat Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and ISIS. This approach should be explored. In implementing a new strategy, we must proceed in a manner that gains cooperation from those whose involvement is essential. This includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Turkey. The Gulf states must be persuaded to end support for Sunni jihadis, which can only happen if they are assured that they will not be threatened or surrounded by Iran’s Shiite Crescent.

The Trump administration’s recent declaration putting Iran “on notice” is a step in the right direction, as were U.S. Treasury sanctions on 12 entities for supporting Iran’s illicit ballistic missile program. Further, President Trump’s call for establishing safe zones in Syria, e.g., one in the northern Kurdish area, one along the Turkish border, and one on the Jordanian border, could help relieve economic pressure on Jordan and Turkey, which are providing support to millions of refugees. In return, we should expect Turkey and Jordan’s support for our new regional strategy.

President Obama’s policy that deliberately empowered Iran to advance its geostrategic ambitions and move toward a deliverable nuclear weapons capability is over. Our so-called nuclear agreement with Iran must also be terminated and Iran’s joint venture relationship, using North Korea as its off-site laboratory to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, must end. Holding Iran accountable to the agreement is a pipe dream. There is no agreement. Further, a clear, unambiguous declaration from the Trump administration with appropriate follow-on action will go a long way to gain Saudi and GCC cooperation.

With regard to Syria, Bashar Assad must go. It appears Russia may support such action as it reportedly proposed Alawite Gen. Manas Tlass (formerly with the Hafez Assad regime) as his replacement at the Astana talks. SFA commanders may accept this as long as the Assad clan is out of power and in exile. Under such an arrangement, the Alawites would keep control of Damascus and their coastal strip heartland, but lose the rest of former Syria. This is the de facto current situation on the ground today.

Russia may find such an arrangement acceptable, provided it keeps its bases in Latakia and Tartus. While these are major concessions, issues involving Ukraine/Crimea must also be part of the discussion, as well as Libya. The bottom line in the trade-offs must be Russia’s commitment to help in getting Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias out of what formerly was Syria.

Turkey also may be helpful in the overall realignment but must be managed carefully, as Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) is moving toward an authoritarian neo-Ottoman jihad state. Clearly, the No. 1 Turkish concern is the Kurds. One option may be to not allow the Kurdish northern-Syria enclave “Rojava” to extend to the Turkish border. There would instead be a safe zone there, guaranteed jointly by Russia and Turkey. Gas and oil pipelines also are major factors that must be included in discussions with both Russia and Turkey.

Since we have no vital objectives in Afghanistan, we should stop wasting our national treasure to support a corrupt tribal society.

If this new strategic approach is followed, our vital core strategic objectives will most likely stand a better chance of being achieved while gradually bringing the current chaos under control.

• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. Clare Lopez is vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy.

Trump Administration Intel – White Hats Confer With Reform Agents Within Political Islam…

The Last Refuge,  by sundance:

To understand the activity within any intelligence action any observer must do two things:

  • #1 You must stay elevated. If you try to get into the weeds you will be lost because your insight will be lacking specificity briefs.
  • #2 You must always reflect upon the recent historic context of the engagement you are observing. Including, most importantly, the engagements of the parties therein.

The recent example of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo traveling to Saudi Arabia last weekend, at the request of President Donald Trump, to personally present Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef with an award named after former CIA director George Tenet, is an example of the need for this approach.

pompeo-and-crown-prince

If you want to understand what’s going on, you must understand the recent relationship of the parties.  It begins with understanding modern political Islam.

Within “political Islam” there are various factions. However, again with the intent to remain elevated, let us just approach two larger congregations as: “Authentic supporters” and “Reform Agents”.

sisi

The modern extremist elements fall under the category of “Authentic Supporters” or Salafists (politically, The Muslim Brotherhood).   The “Reform Agents” are represented by people like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah III.

Within “Political Islam” these two elements (Authentic -vs- Reform) are fighting for the heart, soul, intellect and -in larger measures- the future of Islam in a modern world.

All the various Muslim factions fall along a continuum of authenticity to the principles of Islam. The more authentic the expression, the more violent and confrontational the group. The more moderate the expression, the reformers, the less violent… etc.

Over the course of the past decade each political side has surged and/or retreated during the larger struggle for the heart of those who adhere to the Muslim faith. The so-called “Arab Spring” was a surge of the Authentic group, and was empowered/emboldened by the foreign policy activity of exterior nations. In particular, the ideological sympathy of former President Barack Obama.

In the face of the growth of the various Authentic expressions, the Reform elements were in a retreating position attempting to contain the internal damage being carried out by the extremist groups. Reformers and more moderate voices were simply trying to hold on to the construct of a civil society amid the growing crisis created by emotional demands of extremists requiring adherence to Sharia, the authentic political law of Islam.

On January 19th 2015, three days before Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died from a lung infection, Egypt’s President Fattah al-Sisi was urgently summoned to met with him.

It was only a few weeks earlier (New Years Day 2015) when al-Sisi delivered an impassioned speech to a scholarly audience in Al-Azhar University in Cairo comprised of Islam’s most important religious leaders.

As the most notable and visible reformer (<- important link) President Fattah al-Sisi made the case for “a religious revolution in Islam that would displace violent jihad from the center of Muslim discourse“:

“The corpus of texts and ideas that we have made sacred over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. You cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You must step outside yourselves and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.” –LINK

el-sisi-in-saudiPresident al-Sisi’s visit to Saudi Arabia to visit with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was a meeting specifically requested by an aging 90-year-old Saudi King to recognize Sisi for his courage and leadership.

King Abdulaziz was intent on honoring his friend.

Saudi Arabia had been coping with the same internal conflict as all other Muslim nations who were caught between the internal struggle.

President Sisi left Saudi Arabia with the full support of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and upon his death a few days later the new Saudi King Salman; who  honored Sisi in a similar fashion as did his brother.

With the support of Saudi Arabia, the demands of al-Sisi to remove the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood gained traction. The Gulf States finally, and collectively, pressured Qatar to stop aiding/financing extremism.

Under pressure Qatar conceded and expelled The Brotherhood along with the five leading voices of leadership within the Muslim Brotherhood. Recep Erdogan gave them refuge in Turkey.

This was the origin of the turning tide, when the Reform Agents began to stabilize and reassert their politics and internal domestic economies – the underlying wedge issue used by The Brotherhood to stir turmoil.

Unstable Yemen is to Saudi Arabia -> as unstable Libya is to Egypt -> as unstable Syria is to Jordan… and so it goes.

Each unstable nation being stirred by the extremist voices of various agents operating under the umbrella of the destabilizing politics expressed by The Muslim Brotherhood.

Remove the destabilizing agents and the Reformers believe they will be able to stop the extremists. This is the longer-term objective of those within the fight inside political Islam.

Now look again at the nations of Trump’s visa restrictions and you’ll note the presence of the destabilizing agents: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran [and Sudan, Somalia].

This is the necessary backdrop to understand events as they unfold and relate to President Donald Trump and his own foreign policy objectives and engagements.

It is not accidental that newly appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled to meet with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef, after a phone call between Saudi King Salman and President Trump took place.

trump4

Director Pompeo’s visit was to recognize the efforts of Saudi Arabia in the larger fight against Islamic extremism/terrorism.  However, based on internal consumption, Pompeo could not be seen publicly in this regard with King Salman himself.  The visible face of Saudi Reform is the crown prince.

  • Jan 20th – President Trump takes office.
  • Jan 26th – President Trump has a phone call with King Salman
  • Jan 26th – On the same day, State Dept. Nominee Rex Tillerson visits State Dept. HQ and the media report on the resignation of many existing State Department personnel.
  • Feb 1st – Secretary Rex Tillerson is confirmed by the Senate.
  • Feb 2nd – The three Muslim Awan brothers are terminated amid accusations they accessed congressional intelligence committee computers without permission.
  • Feb 8th – FOX reports administration considering labeling The Muslim Brotherhood as an official terrorist organization.
  • Feb 11th – CIA Director Pompeo travels to Saudi Arabia to deliver thanks.

By all appearances it seems the Trump administration was given a head’s up of sorts as to specific [Muslim Brotherhood] agents within the U.S. State Department. And also with key Democrat staffers, in highly sensitive intelligence positions, amid Congress.

Additionally:

To wit, Egyptian media announce that Fattah el-Sisi will be traveling to Washington DC to meet with President Trump:

[…]  Informed sources said that the presidency is currently coordinating with the US to arrange a visit next month. The sources referred to the visit as the first official one for an Egyptian president to Washington since 2009, as the last visit since then was paid by former President Hosni Mubarak.

Meanwhile, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu will leave Washington next Monday going back to Tel Aviv. Israeli TV reported on Sunday that Netanyahu is planning to form the ‘Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian’ axis.  (read more)

It is ironic, but not coincidental, that no official Egyptian delegation has visited the United States since President Obama traveled to Cairo and started “The Islamist Spring” which led to the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood extremism in Egypt.

dawn-of-the-muslim-brotherhood

Irony, because now the Trump administration is facing the internal extremist purging of the Muslim Brotherhood embeds remaining within the U.S. government leftover from President Obama’s aftermath…. and now, President Fattah el-Sisi, the destroyer of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt comes to officially visit President Trump in Washington.

I hope everyone can clearly see what’s going on in the bigger picture.

After eight years of Obama’s intense political embedding of extremist sympathy in every aspect of governance, and culture – President Trump is now tasked with removing it, all of it; and finding allies amid those who have already mounted the same effort.

sisi-trump

It is also important to remember the political enterprise of The Muslim Brotherhood not only employs congressional staffers, but also has key connections to elected officials within both parties.   Representative Adam Kinzinger and John McCain are two of the more obvious sympathizers on the right side of the UniParty.

Again, reference the seven states of turmoil/concern and you’ll notice a pattern:

Senator John McCain and Senator John Kerry in Cairo, Egypt – 2011

john-mccain-and-john-kerry-in-cairo-on-sunday-egypt-stock-exchange

What came next?…  The installation of the Muslim Brotherhood:

morsi-kerry

Senator John McCain and Ambassador Christopher Stephens, Benghazi Libya 2012

mccainbenghazicourthouse

What came next?…. The rise of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood

alqaedaoverbenghazi

Senator John McCain travels to Syria in 2013

john-mccain-isis

What came next?  Yup, you guessed it – Muslim Brotherhood (via ISIS)

Isis soldiers in Syria

 

The Mirage of the Mid-East ‘Moderate Alliance’

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league’s headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Jerusalem Post, by Jonathan Spyer, February 3, 2017:

In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or ‘camps.’  These camps are identified in a variety of ways.  But the most usual depiction notes a tight, hierarchical bloc of states and movements dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  An alliance of ‘moderate’ states opposed to Iran and including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Israel itself is seen as the principal adversary and barrier to the hegemonic ambitions of the Iran-led bloc.  Some depictions also posit the existence of a smaller alliance of states and entities associated with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam (Qatar, Turkey, the Hamas enclave in Gaza).  The picture is then completed with the addition of the rival Salafi Islamist regional networks of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

This picture is pleasing to the eye both in its coherence and elegant simplicity. It posits a powerful regional alliance of which Israel is seen as a member.  It is much more questionable, however, whether it conforms to reality.

Specifically, while the bloc led by Iran and the transnational networks of the Salafi jihadis are certainly observable, it is far more doubtful if anything resembling an alliance of ‘moderate’ states really exists at all.

Iran stands at the head of an alliance, which has made significant gains across the region over the last half decade.  Its Lebanese client Hizballah is increasingly absorbing the institutions of the Lebanese state.  Its clients in Yemen (the Ansar Allah movement or ‘Houthis’) control the capital and a large swathe of the country.  Bashar Assad of Syria is no longer in danger of being overthrown and now dominates the main cities and coastline of his country, as well as the majority of its population.  In Iraq, the Shia militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi are emerging as a key political and military player.

The Iranian alliance is characterized by a pyramid-type structure, with Iran itself at the top.  In the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Teheran has an agency perfectly suited for the management of this bloc.  As the Syrian war has shown, Teheran is able to muster proxies and clients from across the region and as far afield as Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to deploy them in support of a beleaguered member of its team.  This is what an alliance looks like.

By contrast, the so-called moderate bloc in fact consists of countries who disagree bitterly on important issues, while agreeing on some others.

Observe:  Saudi Arabia was the first country to express support for the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013.  The friendship between Cairo and Riyadh looked set to form a new Sunni Arab bulwark against both the Iranian advance and the ambitions of Sunni radical political Islam.  That is not the way it has turned out.     On a number of key regional files, the two are now on opposite sides.

In Syria, Saudi Arabia was and remains among the key supporters of the rebellion. The Assad regime, as a client of Iran, was a natural enemy for the Saudis.  The Egyptians, however, saw and see the Syrian war entirely differently –  as a battle between a strong, military regime and a rebellion based on Sunni political Islam. In November, 2016, President Sisi said that Assad’s forces were Syrian government forces were “best positioned to combat terrorism and restore stability” in the country.  Sisi identified this stance as part of a broader strategy according to which ‘“Our priority is to support national armies…and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq.’

This places Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supposedly the twin anchors of the ‘moderate’ bloc at loggerheads in two key areas.  In Libya, in line with this orientation, too, Egypt fully supports General Khalifa Haftar and his forces.  Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is largely indifferent to events in that area.

In Yemen, meanwhile, the Egyptians have offered only half hearted support to Saudi Arabia’s war effort against the Houthis.

This, in turn, relates to a further key difference between the two – regarding relations with Iran.

While the Saudis see the Iran-led regional bloc as the key regional threat to their interests, the Egyptians are drawing closer to Teheran.  The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1980.  But the Iranians acknowledged their common stance on Syria, when Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically requested of John Kerry to invite Egypt to send a delegation to talks on Syria in the Swiss city of Lausanne on October 15, 2016.  In the same month, to the Saudis’ fury, Cairo voted for a Russian backed UN Security Council resolution allowing the continuation of the bombing of rebel held eastern Aleppo.

In turn, when Saudi oil giant Aramco announced the cessation of fuel transfers to Egypt, Sisi declared that ‘“Egypt would not bow to anyone but God,’ and the government of Iraq agreed to step in to make good the shortfall, at the request of Iran and Russia.

So the core Egyptian-Saudi alliance is fraying.

Israel views its chief concerns as Iranian expansionism and Sunni political Islam, Egypt is concerned only with the latter of these.  Saudi Arabia meanwhile, is increasingly concerned only with the former.  Representatives of King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz met late last year with officials of the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul, London and Riyadh.  On the agenda was the possible removal of the Brotherhood – Egypt’s key enemy – from Saudi Arabia’s list of terror organizations.  King Salman has taken a far more forgiving view of Sunni political Islam than his predecessor, King Abdullah.  This in turn has led to Saudi rapprochement with Turkey.

Thus, the three main corners of the ‘moderate’ alliance are drifting in different directions – Riyadh appears headed toward rapprochement with political Islam while maintaining opposition to Iran, Egypt toward Russia, Syria, Iraq and a stance of support for strong states.  Israel will seek to maintain good relations with each (and with smaller players in the ‘alliance’ such as Jordan and the UAE), on the basis of undoubted areas of shared interest and concern.  But any notion of a united bloc of western aligned countries standing as a wall against Iranian and Sunni Islamist advancement is today little more than a mirage.

What might change this would be the return of the superpower that was once the patron of all three countries – the United States.  Alliances work when they have leaders.  Only Washington could-re-fashion the disparate enemies of Iran and Sunni political Islam once more into a coherent unit.  It remains to be seen if the Trump Administration is interested in playing this role.

Clinton and Trump offer diverse ME scenarios

foreign-policy

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 1, 2016:

Whoever is elected US president on Nov. 8, he or she will land in the middle of a foreign policy shambles and face a pressing need to rebuild America’s fences in most parts of the world, including the war-ridden, messy Middle East. The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump, whose approaches are so different in every respect, will both find it impossible to isolate America from the Middle East

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence experts postulate divergent developments in response to the alternative results of the Nov. 8 presidential election, depending on the winner.

If it is Hillary Clinton, then –

  • Russia will deepen its expansion in the region, including in Syria and Iraq. The Russian naval units speeding to the Mediterranean at this moment are part of Moscow’s ramped up deployment in readiness for Clinton’s entry to the White House.
  • Vladimir Putin will not forgive the Democratic candidate in a hurry for her anti-Russian campaign gimmicks of depicting Donald Trump as his friend and alleging that Russian intelligence hacked DNC emails to turn the race against her.
    The Russian leader is not the forgiving sort when it comes to his reputation – and still less so when Russian intelligence, his alma mater, is impugned.
  • The high tensions expected to prevail between the Kremlin and the Clinton White House may well ignite a limited military conflagration between US and Russian forces in the Middle East.
  • Syrian rebels are counting on Clinton giving them arms and funds – in contrast to Barack Obama, and are therefore tenaciously holding out, despite their inferior resources against Russian-backed Syrian and pro-Iranian forces. They see her focusing on Bashar Assad’s ouster and, even more, on empowering the rebels to hamper Russia’s military designs in Syria. In this, she will find support from her friends in the Gulf emirates. The Syrian opposition believes that the sharper the tensions between Washington and Moscow, the better for their cause.
  • Clinton has a dilemma with regard to Iran. As co-author of the nuclear deal, she will also try to improve relations with Tehran. But by doing so, she risks alienating her friends, the Arab Gulf leaders.
  • She will soon discover that Iran’s rulers and military chiefs have no wish to cozy up to Washington, certainly not at the expense of their highly profitable ties with Moscow and Beijing.
  •  Clinton will no doubt try to repair the damage to US relations with Israel that piled up during Obama’s term of office.

If it is Donald Trump, then –

  • He will go for a US-Russian summit with Vladimir Putin to lay out a new world power order for the distribution of spheres of influence in different world regions, including the Middle East. He may make the summit trilateral by inviting Xi Jinping of China.
  • This summit will also seek economic understandings, a prospect which is already unnerving international markets. Trump will ask the Russian and Chinese leaders to share wholly or partly in the plans he put before the voter for strengthening the American economy.
  • The Republican candidate has said repeatedly that he would be glad to leave the war on ISIS in the Middle East to Putin and Tehran. In any case, his military advisers, led by Ret. Army Gen. Mike Flynn, perceive Moscow as already in control of the current military situation in consequence of Obama’s policies.
  • This policy however will put the Trump administration at odds with the Arab world, the Gulf emirates and Israel, all of which fear Iran’s continued drive for expansion across the Middle East under a supportive Russian umbrella.
  • He may try to compensate for this lack of equilibrium by taking a strong line against Tehran – even revoking the nuclear deal, which the outgoing president saw as his crowning foreign policy achievement. This could spark a US-Iranian showdown in the Gulf region. On the other hand, Iran is perfectly capable of dumping the nuclear accord on its own initiative.
  • During Trump’s first year as president, the traditional US-Saudi partnership for political, military and economic policies may start crumbling – especial on oil pricing. This alliance between the royal house of Saud and the US dates from the first encounter between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud 71 years ago. DEBKAfile’s Saudi experts estimate that after some initial rough patches, Donald Trump and King Salman will be able to find common ground and so put relations on a firmer footing than before. This would repair the discord with Riyadh engendered by the Obama administration and during Clinton’s term as Secretary of State.
  • Trump will endeavor to improve ties with Israel. In so doing, he will try and contain Binyamin Netanyahu’s ongoing understandings with Putin on the Middle East.