New Alliance Emerges in Eastern Mediterranean to Reshape Regional Security Landscape

Strategic Culture, by Peter Korzun, September 7, 2018: (H/T Warsclerotic)

The military-political landscape in Europe and the Mediterranean is changing. NATO is not as unified as it once was, and Turkey’s membership has become more of a formality than a real thing. A pro-US group consisting of Great Britain, Poland, and the Baltic States has emerged as part of a North Atlantic Alliance that is divided by differences and the open rift over the 2% financial contribution, a decree that is largely ignored, along with the other divisions that are weakening the bloc. Other groups are arising that also have common security interests. A new pact, an Arab NATO allied with the United States, will soon materialize in the Middle East.  Changes are coming, but they are hard to predict as everything is currently in a state of flux.

“The United States is interested in increasing its use of military bases and ports in Greece,” said General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), on Sept. 4 during his visit to Athens.  “If you look at geography, and you look at current operations in Libya, and you look at current operations in Syria, you look at potential other operations in the eastern Mediterranean, the geography of Greece and the opportunities here are pretty significant,” he added. According to the Military Times, “[N]o specific bases have been identified, but that Supreme Allied Commander Europe Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti is evaluating several options for increased US flight training, port calls to do forward-based ship repairs and additional multilateral exercises.” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross came to Greece right after the CJCS’s visit to take part in the annual Thessaloniki International Trade Fair.

Washington’s relations with Ankara continue to deteriorate. The idea of expelling Turkey from NATO is being discussed in the most prestigious American media outlets. The view that Ankara is more of an adversary than an ally is commonly held among American pundits.  General Dunford pointedly did not include Turkey on his itinerary, as top US military officials would normally do in order to maintain balance in their relationship with Athens and Ankara. This is a clear message to Turkey.

It was reported in May that the US military had started to operate MQ-9 aerial vehicles out of Greece’s Larissa military base.  That same month, the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier was one of the American ships making a port call. Greece’s Souda Bay naval base is being used to support US operations in Syria. US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt has often cited the strategic significance of the ports of Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki.

Washington is interested in helping the Greek military conduct more effective operations in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Greece is a crucial element in dealing with the challenges of the Eastern Med, the Maghreb, the Balkans, and the Black Sea region.

There can be no doubt that Ankara’s dispute with Cyprus and Israel over drilling rights in the Mediterranean was also on the agenda of the talks during Gen. Dunford’s visit, although no comments were made to the media in regard to this issue. Greece wants to transform Alexandroupoli into a hub for the gas being exported from Israel and Cyprus to Europe. The pipeline’s approximate length is between 1,300 to 2,000 kilometers, and it will begin in Israel and cross through the territories of Cyprus, Crete and Greece to eventually end in Italy. The hub will also have a rail link to Bulgaria. A floating LNG reception, storage, and regasification unit will be part of this project, to make it possible to bring in US LNG supplies.

The planned route of the EastMed pipeline, a project supported by the EU, will bypass Turkey, despite the increased cost. Ankara will hardly sit idly by and watch this turn of events. Turkey claims that part of the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is under Turkish jurisdiction.  According to Turkey’s President Erdogan, the “Eastern Mediterranean faces a security threat should Cyprus continue its unilateral operations of offshore oil and gas exploration in the region.” The countries involved in the project may need US protection and help in order for this to come to fruition.

For the US, strengthening its relations with Greece means expanding support for the emerging Greece-Israel-Cyprus Eastern Mediterranean Alliance (EMA) that has been driven by the discovery of hydrocarbons in Israeli and Cypriot waters and by opposition to Turkey. As Ambassador Pyatt put it, “Americans are back in a really big way.”

A year ago the US opened its first permanent military base in Israel run by the US military’s European Command (EUCOM). Officially, the primary mission of the air-defense facility located inside the Israeli Air Force’s Mashabim air base, west of the towns of Dimona and Yerucham, is to detect and warn of a possible ballistic missile attack from Iran. This is part of a broader process as a new military alliance with its own infrastructure emerges.

In 2015, Greece and Israel signed a military cooperation agreement. Bilateral and trilateral military drills, such as Nobel Dina, a multinational joint air and sea exercise conducted under the partnership of Greece, Israel, and the United States, have become routine. In March 2014, Israel opened a new military attaché office in Greece to signify this ever-closer relationship.

Israel has a strong defense and military relationship with Cyprus. The three nations are pledging deeper military ties, in keeping with the declaration they issued at the first-ever trilateral defense summit last year.  Both Greece and Cyprus are EU members and Israel needs allies within the bloc. Greece opposed the EU’s decision to label products from Israel’s settlements. In May, the leaders of the three allied Eastern Mediterranean nations paid a joint visit to Washington.

Albania, Greece’s neighbor, has recently offered to establish a US military base on its soil. Albania‘s defense minister, Olta Xhacka, made the proposal in April during her visit to Washington.

Of all the members of the emerging alliance, only Israel is not a NATO member, but it’s an enhanced partner and a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue. What we actually have is a new alliance within the alliance, which was unofficially established to counter Turkey, a full-fledged NATO member.  Under the circumstances, it would only be natural for Ankara to distance itself from NATO to move toward Russia, Iran, China, the SCO, and, perhaps, the Eurasian Union.

The alliance of the US and the three Eastern Mediterranean states has emerged as a political and military “petite entente,” a force to be reckoned with at a time when NATO is facing serious challenges to its unity and the EU’s future is in question.

The two large entities that bring together nations sharing the same “values,” or the desire to counter China or Russia, are giving way to smaller groups of countries pursuing shared regional interests, thus undermining the very concept of what is known as the United West.

The Iran Deal Wasn’t An ‘Alternative To War,’ It Was A Continuation Of War

The Federalist, by Ben Weingarten, My 16, 2018:

The central narrative of the Iran Deal echo chamber run by former President Barack Obama — that it was absolutely necessary to avoid war — is plainly wrong. The Iran Deal was not the “alternative to war.” It was part of the war Iran has been waging against the West and all who refuse to submit to its Khomeinist rule since 1979.

The Khamenei-Rouhani regime merely took advantage of an Obama administration willing to appease at all costs to make Iran the “strong horse” in the Middle East, along with European partners both greedy and fearful, in order to recapitalize and rapidly expand its operations under the veneer of a Swiss cheese “verification regime.”

All that this regime verified was how deluded the progressive Western national security foreign policy establishment was with respect to Tehran’s tyranny. It showed that the establishment was willing not only to legitimize Iran’s totalitarian mullocracy, but also to commit to protecting its nuclear infrastructure and even to subject itself to speech-stifling measures barring Western leaders from speaking out against the deal.

The Iran Deal was the poisonous fertilizer from which sprung an Iran confident enough to launch an armed drone over Israeli airspace, and for the first time to directly attackIsrael with a barrage of missiles from Syria.

The defensive actions that Israel is presently taking — striking at strategically significant Iranian military sites in Syria in response to Iranian aggression, presumably preparing to grapple with Iran proxy Hezbollah and the 150,000-plus missiles pointed at it from Lebanon, and if necessary striking Iran — reflect the cost of the world’s Chamberlainian bargain that enabled this dire reality.

The godsend of the Iran Deal for the Islamic revolutionary regime made it a question of when, not if Israeli military strikes would begin, because it made Iran’s existential threat to the Jewish state infinitely more acute. Our ally’s movements, and America’s potential comprehensive efforts to counter Iran’s malign influence are the natural defensive response to the jihadist regime’s unabated advance over the Obama years.

We in the West by dint of the Iran Deal helped subsidize — as even Iran colluder, Logan Act violator, and lobbyist-in-chief John Kerry admitted — the exportation of Iran’s bloody jihad, to the tune of billions of dollars. By facilitating trade through sanctions relief consistent with Iran’s constitution, which states that its “economy is a means that is not expected to do anything except better facilitate reaching the goal [of furthering and exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution],” we have underwritten the economy-controlling Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

But it’s worse than that.

In service of the Iran Deal, we not only allegedly spiked the Project Cassandra cars-for-cocaine terror financing scheme, enabled Iran’s gas-for-gold sanctions evasion operation, and paid Iransom, but also permitted the mushrooming of a broad array of additional malign activities in our own hemisphere. Seemingly unchecked by Western law enforcement and intelligence, we allowed Iran’s proxy forces in cahoots with other criminal networks to engage in widespread drug dealing, arms smuggling, money laundering and other illicit activities generating big money for the Khomeinist regime, while posing a clear and present danger to the U.S. homeland.

To channel former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the known unknowns and unknown unknowns of what the West was willing to sacrifice so as not to scuttle its Iran Deal appeasement are likely incalculably large. Meanwhile, we encouraged the growth of a Shia Crescent and commanded Israel to lay off, putting the Jewish nation’s existence at risk. This was the worst trade in history — Israel for Iran.

In short: The Iran Deal provided the Khomeinist crocodiles with a cover of peaceful engagement for gullible useful idiots and cowardly but avaricious trading partners, while it expanded its power globally. The Obama administration ceded the Middle East to Iran and its partner Russia, and sought to elevate its Sunni jihadist counterparts, whose goals often overlap with those of the Shia, while berating our Israeli ally and subordinating the Sunni monarchies.

The Iran Deal, and the concessions made in its run-up, was not the cessation of war. It was part of Iran’s war.

The pushback we are beginning to see from the Israelis, and perhaps by the U.S. government, is merely a necessary response to Iran’s ongoing attack. This is not as the Left and Islamic supremacists will argue “neocons” (often a thinly-veiled dog whistle for Jews) rushing to war, but rather the rational reaction to Iran’s accelerating march.

Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a formerly pro-Western, relatively liberal, relatively secular, modern nation. There is no need for invasion, occupation and re-casting of a Sharia dictatorship as a Jeffersonian democracy. Rather what is needed is a concerted set of actions to bring down the jihadist regime through means peaceful and militant, overt and covert, enabling the Iranian people to thwart the Islamic revolution.

The Iran Deal was not even a pause to war, it was the means to a far more deadly one — or from the mullah’s perspective to strengthening to such an extent that the West would not have the will to engage them, lest we open ourselves up to massive bloodshed and destruction.

Jettisoning it, snapping back sanctions, imposing far harsher ones and using every element of national power to collapse the mullocracy is the only way to reverse the gains of the jihadist march the West bankrolled.

Ben Weingarten is a senior contributor at The Federalist and senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. He is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media, a media consulting and production company dedicated to advancing conservative principles. You can find his work at benweingarten.com, and follow him on Twitter @bhweingarten.

The Waiting Period

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty

By Jonathan Spyer, The Australian,  

It is spring in Israel. On the face of it, all appears normal. Yet underlying the everyday is the hint of tension. The low buzz that presages violent events. We know it well in Israel and it has been all around for weeks.

Two nights ago, there was an eruption. The special forces unit (Quds) of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps launched 20 missiles at northern Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome shot down four of them. The others landed in Syria. Israel’s Air Force launched a counter attack. Iranian storage facilities and logistics sites in Syria were targeted along with five Syrian air defence systems.

As the smoke cleared, an uneasy calm returned. Probably not for long.

A series of milestones is approaching in coming weeks, any of which could precipitate further strife. The extended period in which Israel managed to keep itself largely one step removed from the chaos of the Middle East seems to be drawing to a close.

Donald Trump announced this week he will withdraw the US from the nuclear deal with Iran. The stage is set for a return to open confrontation between the US and Iran.

The US has commitments in the region (in Iraq and eastern Syria, in particular) which would be vulnerable to violent pushback by Iran through its proxies.

Israel’s ongoing efforts to roll back Iranian gains in Syria will constitute an element of this larger contest. This, in turn, will increase the chance of confrontation between Israel and Iran.

As Israeli Housing Minister (and former general) Yoav Gallant told Bloomberg News this week, “It’s clear that friction between Iran and the U.S. can lead to a situation in which Iran decides to deploy Hezbollah against Israel … That’s their tool.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week expressed Israel’s readiness for such a confrontation, if it comes. ‘“We don’t want an escalation, but we are prepared for every scenario. We don’t want confrontation, but if there needs to be one, it is better now than later,” the Prime Minister told reports following a meeting of Israel’s Cabinet.

With the situation regarding Iran at such a point of tension, other events which would normally command centre stage are being relegated to a secondary role. Nevertheless, the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14 is set to cause an uptick in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The opening will be followed on May 15 by the culmination of Hamas’s six-week “March of Return” campaign in the Gaza Strip. This series of marches to the border fence is intended to revive the fortunes of Hamas, whose Gaza domain is isolated and cash strapped. May 15 is also the anniversary of the State of Israel’s declaration of independence (though strictly speaking the declaration took place on the 14) and is remembered by Palestinians as the date of their Nakba (catastrophe).

It is possible there will be attempts to break through the border fence. Israeli communities are located as little as one kilometre from the fence, so the situation will be tense.

It is worth remembering that Gaza is not hermetically sealed off from the stand-off with Iran in the north. Teheran possesses its clients among the Palestinians, who may be directed to escalate the situation. The small Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation is a wholly owned franchise of Iran. Hamas’s relations with Teheran are more complex and the movement sought in recent years to distance itself from the Iranian regime. Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar has worked to patch up relations over the last year abd in August Sinwar declared that Iran was once again the largest backer of Hamas.

But it the northern tier of Syria and Lebanon that remains by far the gravest concern for Israel. It is here the ambitions and agendas of Iran appear most directly set on a course of potential collision with the Jewish state.

Iranian assistance has been vital to the cause of Bashar al Assad since the the uprising against him in early 2011. The Syrian president, whose regime rests on a narrow platform of sectarian support, was beset from the beginning by a problem of insufficient loyal manpower. It is the Iranians, not the Russians, who addressed this vital issue throughout the war.

However, Iran, in its usual fashion, did not elect to strengthen the existing, regime-controlled Syrian Arab Army. Rather, in accordance with similar methods pursued in Iraq and Lebanon, Iran has preferred to create its own, Revolutionary Guards-controlled structures in Syria. These defend the Assad regime, to be sure, but they are not under its sole control. Thus, Iran organised and created the National Defence Forces, consisting of Syrian volunteers, mainly from non-Sunni communities and now numbering 50,000 to 60,000 fighters.

Iran also mobilised its proxies throughout the region and brought them to Syria to plug the manpower gap. Thus, there are today about 6000 Lebanese Hizballah fighters on Syrian soil, along with perhaps 3000 Revolutionary Guards personnel and an additional 10,000 to 15,000 members of other Iran-supported Shia militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As the rebellion against Assad has continued to lose ground, so the construction of Iranian infrastructure in Syria has continued. The examples of Hizballah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilisation Units in Iraq indicate that Iran’s version of assistance is not dismantled when the threat has subsided.

Israel is concerned that this infrastructure, with its contiguous land link to Iraq and thence to Iran itself, is intended primarily for use as a tool of pressure and violence against the Jewish state. Iran is openly and noisily in favour of the destruction of Israel. It wishes to achieve this goal through a long-war strategy of attrition and harassment. Entrenchment in Syria would significantly increase the Iranian ability to pursue this strategy.

While the local and regional militias pose a challenge, the main worry in Jerusalem is the hardware that Iran is seeking to import and base in Syria. Consolidation of this infrastructure – UAV bases, surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft batteries – appears to be what Israel is most determined to prevent.

On April 9, Israeli aircraft struck at a drone facility maintained by the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace force at the T4 base near Palmyra. Fourteen people were killed, among them seven Iranians, including a Revolutionary Guards colonel, Mehdi Deghdan Yazdeli.

On April 30, Israeli aircraft carried out a larger scale raid on two points – the 47 Brigade base south west of Hama, and the Nayrab military airbase close to Aleppo. The New York Times reported that the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians, and destroyed 200 missiles.

On May 9, following reports of “irregular Iranian movements” in southern Syria, explosions were heard south of Damascus. Israel opened public bomb shelters in the Golan Heights. Regional media reported that Israel attacked an army base south of Damascus, where Iranian personnel were based. Nine militiamen were killed, according to the usually reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Then, in the early hours of May 10, the Iranians launched their 20 missiles, and Israel responded. The Iranian strike was not successful, and it is not clear whether Teheran will consider it to have constituted sufficient retaliation for the Israeli action on April 30. Given the scale of the Israeli response to the attack, this seems unlikely.

What form is further Iranian action likely to take?

Iran has a number of options. It possesses a global terror infrastructure and might seek to attack an Israeli facility or an Israeli or Jewish target abroad. In the past, Teheran and Hizballah have sought retribution in this way. The attack in 1994 on the Amia Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, and the murder of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012 are examples of this.

Alternatively, Iran could instruct its Lebanese Hizballah proxies to carry out an attack on Israeli forces across the border from Lebanon. This is how Teheran sought to retaliate for the killing by Israel of a number of Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah personnel close to the Golan Heights in January 2015.

Israeli planners were expecting Iran’s retaliation for the nine dead militiamen was likely to be carried out in Syria, probably with the help of Shia militia personnel on the ground. It was not the first time Iranian personnel have been killed by Israel on Syrian soil. But it was the first time Iranian facilities, not those of proxy groups, were targeted. The Iranian action on May 10 was the first time Israel was directly targeted in a real-time conventional military operation led by the Revolutionary Guards. This is likely to set the pattern for further events to come.

So where is all this heading? Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that allowing Iran to consolidate its infrastructure in Syria would be “agreeing to the Iranians placing a noose around our necks”. This, the defence minister said, would be prevented “at all costs”.

It is not entirely clear, of course, what “consolidation”, “entrenchment” and their prevention actually mean, or could entail. Does Israel require that all presence of the Iranians be removed from Syria, down to the last proxy fighter? If so, then conflict between Teheran and Jerusalem is a near inevitability, since there is no chance of Iran acquiescing to this except by coercion. On the other hand, if the Israeli intention is to prevent the Iranians from transferring certain weapons systems into Syria – advanced anti-aircraft systems, ballistic missiles, UAVs – then conflagration may not be so imminent.

Iran has an interest in keeping to what it is good at. What it is good at is developing paramilitary proxy political-military organisations. This is the key to its success in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. What it is much less good at is conventional warfare, particularly in the air. The country has a poorly equipped, Cold War-era air force. It possesses ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, to be sure. But Israel has in recent years developed in cooperation with the US some of the most advanced missile defence systems in the world. Iran’s own defences against Israeli retaliation, meanwhile, are far less developed.

This means that Iran may well prefer to absorb Israeli strikes, carrying out a token retaliation for form’s sake. Such an approach would derive not from pacific intentions. Rather, the Iranians would calculate that it is in their interests to continue to quietly build their strength in Syria, while absorbing periodic Israeli disruptions of their arrangements. Since the Iranians may well be engaged, as in Lebanon and Iraq, in a project concerned with the long-term transformation of these countries into clients/puppets of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the immediate settling of scores may not be deemed of paramount urgency.

Of course, this begs the question as to whether Israel will wish to acquiesce to the pursuit of such an Iranian strategy, with all it implies for the future security of Israel. In the meantime, following the fire and smoke of the night of May 10, and until the next move, we are back to the waiting period.

Also see:

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Trump’s Grand Strategy: Get the United States out of the Middle East, Now

Our troops in Syria are hostages to Obama’s deal with Iran, which mandates a state of perpetual war between America and the region’s Sunni majority. Donald Trump wants to withdraw from both.

Tablet Magazine, by Lee Smith, April 23, 2018:

“Mission Accomplished,” Donald Trump tweeted triumphantly after the recent limited strikes on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. Critics were quick to portray the President’s boast as hot air, and pontificate about the need for a comprehensive White House strategy to deal with Syria and other long-term regional issues.

But Trump does have a strategy, which the strikes and the President’s tweets have made plain—a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria and a U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal. Washington has plenty of allies to work with and through in the Middle East, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both share an American interest in rolling back Iran. Further, the White House can work against Iran and its partners in Syria through proxy forces on the ground.

The peculiar fact is that neither the Iran deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, nor the U.S. troop presence in Syria was designed to push back on the clerical regime. Quite the opposite—they are part of a strategy purposed, perhaps unintentionally, to relieve Tehran. But now Trump intends to get out of both—while reserving the prerogative to use force, as the strikes made plain.

There is little evidence to suggest that Trump is a grand strategist in the classical mode, but his instincts are right. Contrary to the horror and scorn with which both ideas have been greeted by the Beltway foreign-policy consensus, Trump’s grand Middle Eastern strategy makes sense.

The irony is that Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to accomplish the same goal of withdrawing the United States from the mire of what Trump rightly describes as a “troubled” region. The difference is that Obama’s mechanism for extricating America from the Middle East was the nuclear deal with Iran, which has paradoxically entailed not only more bloodshed but also continuing U.S. military engagement on the ground. Obama’s big mistake was his naïve belief in Iranian PR, which transformed a militarily weak, economically backwards, and politically unstable country into a technological powerhouse fronted by the dashing revolutionary fashion-plate, Qassem Suleimani.

Obama’s grand strategy was to “balance” traditional U.S. allies against Iran to create a kind of stasis while the U.S. snuck out the back door. The problem with that strategy was that Iran was simply unable to fill the stabilizing role Obama had in mind. It’s too weak, and there are many, many more Sunnis in the Middle East than Shiites. Not even Vladimir Putin’s military escalation in September 2015 followed by massive infusions of U.S. cash to Iran and its clients could win a decisive victory for the Assad regime, which Russia and Iran support.

Why is this glaringly obvious failure in judgment still so difficult for D.C. pundits and think-tankers to understand? In part, because it would acknowledge that Obama wasn’t so smart, which means they aren’t so smart, either. It would also force the chattering classes to acknowledge years of U.S. complicity in the Syrian genocide. Americans, especially those on both the left and the right who see demonstrating American virtue as a main goal of U.S. foreign policy, still cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that Obama didn’t simply stand idly by while the Iranians and their allies slaughtered and gassed Syrians, although that prospect would certainly be bad enough. Rather, America actively assisted in the slaughter.

The money that the Obama White House provided Iran—tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, the $1.7 billion ransom for American hostages—helped fund Iran’s Syrian campaign. The weapons and the soldiers who committed genocide inside Syria were partly paid for with U.S. dollars. American aid to the Iraqi army and Lebanese Armed Forces helped stabilized Iranian holdings while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its partners like Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, nearly all of whom were Sunnis, many of whose villages were then subjected to sectarian cleansing and replaced with Shia loyal to Iran. While D.C. partisans of “fighting ISIS” point to the prevention of a future terror attack on U.S. soil as the main rationale for their mission, it doesn’t take a genius to see how helping kill 500,000 Sunnis in Syria is more likely to produce future terror attacks than to prevent them.

Trump’s strategy is simple: Pull the plug. The Middle East is a “troubled place,” Trump said after the strikes. “We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”

What this means in practice is that the President is almost certain to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement next month. He’s given Secretary of Defense James Mattis six months to beat ISIS and then we’re out.

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Why are we funneling weapons to Hezbollah?

Bilal Hussein | AP Photo

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, Aug. 16, 2017:

What if I told you we were sending military hardware to ISIS? Would you march on Washington with an outpouring of righteous indignation?

Well, we are now arming Hezbollah, which is worse than arming ISIS, given that the caliphate is on the decline and Hezbollah and Iran are gaining more power by the day. Oh, and by the way, the last time I checked, we have a Republican in the White House.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon announced the planned shipment of 32 M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from America to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at an “investment” of $100 million.

Meanwhile, our soldiers have been working with them and training them on how to use a number of other weapons systems that have been transferred to the Lebanese army over the past year. They include howitzers, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, hellfire missiles, night vision devices, and thermal sights technology.

At this point, any thinking person should be asking that, given that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, and is a client state of Iran, doesn’t this mean that we are essentially arming Hezbollah?

Everyone knows that the Lebanese government is completely at the mercy of Hezbollah and Iran. Given that Hezbollah is much stronger than the LAF, is comprised of many Shiites, and is subject to the direction and veto power of its Iranian masters, it defies logic to think that they could possibly maintain control over U.S. aid without Hezbollah confiscating it.

As Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it.” This is why Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that “the Lebanese army is a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah” and that Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, “is another Nasrallah operative.”

Yet, Trump embraced Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in a recent visit to the White House and praised him as a partner in the war against terrorists. It’s yet another example of where the nuances of alliances and policy are lost on the president, which prompts him to support action that repudiates his campaign promises and stated objectives on Iran.

We were told by apologists of the Saudi arms deal that a complete embrace of Saudi Arabia was needed to combat Iran. Yet, here we are helping their strongest proxy that is directly controlled by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) figures on the ground.

This is a symptom of a broader disease inherent in our Middle East strategy over the past decade, whereby we arm multiple sides of Islamic civil wars, and often, fight ourselves and our own weapons by proxy. Aside from the immorality of ensuring that arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah, such a move has two distinct policy outcomes: It further muddles our involvement in Syria, and strengthens Hezbollah’s desire to open a second front against Israel on its eastern border.

According to the State Department, there are approximately 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. They are fighting alongside the IRGC and the Assad regime against other Islamic insurgents including ISIS. The irony is that our own military is fighting ISIS as well.

Yet, at the same time, we are launching air strikes against Shiite militias allied with Hezbollah, but now we are also almost directly arming Hezbollah. Oh, and we happen to be assisting some of the very same Shiite militias in Iraq! The Hezbollah Brigades, along with fellow Shiite militias, such as the Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, are benefiting from our support in Iraq, even though they are controlled by the Iranian Quds Force.

Is your head spinning yet? Rather than enable our enemies to fight with each other to the benefit of our security interests, we have them play ourselves against our own interests by supporting the worst elements of all sides by placing our weapons and special forces into the hands of our enemies. Two more soldiers died earlier this week in Iraq, very likely engaged in a mission that at least indirectly buttresses Iranian hegemony.

Welcome to the world of Islamic civil wars and our wrongheaded involvement on multiple and conflicting sides in each given theater, where there is no discernable strategic objective that places our interests first.

Instead, the sum of our actions is that we are directly aiding Iran in most theaters. Unlike Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, Iran is the one country in the Middle East that poses a direct threat to our interests. And if the Iranians are allowed to continue expanding their wealth and reach, they will succeed in threatening our homeland, just like North Korea.

More worrisome is that fact that Hezbollah, in its own right, poses a greater homeland security threat than the major Sunni terror groups, because it has a vast network inside our country and in Latin America. Several operatives have been arrested in recent months. Why in the world would we help them in the Middle East on numerous fronts, arm them … and then fight against them on other fronts?

Analysis: Following the Qatar “Deal”

In this July 11, 2017, photo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani sign a memorandum of understanding in Doha, Qatar. (Alexander W. Riedel/U.S. State Department via AP)

Security Studies Group, by Dr. Brad Patty, July 13, 2017:

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on the nation of Qatar recently because of Qatar’s relationship with a number of terrorist and terror-supporting entities.  These nations demanded that Qatar adhere to a 13-point plan if the blockade was to be lifted.  The 13 points include some very important steps, but also some steps that no sovereign nation could ever agree to, as they would effectively make Qatar subordinate to the other nations.

The matter is important to the United States because we have major military installations in Qatar, as well as treaties that could shatter our alliance with the Gulf states if Qatar should end up at war with those states.  That would profit Iran, chief of all, as it would disrupt the alliance opposing Iranian attempts at regional hegemony.  (For a fuller background, see SSG’s earlier posts here and also here.)

This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia to try to resolve the crisis.  He was not successful.  He did obtain a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with Qatar that the Saudis apparently rejected.  (Here is Qatar’s own Al Jazeera on the topic.)  This MOU is not a treaty or a deal, but it is a commitment to terms that Qatar would accept if others accepted them.  The Saudis apparently didn’t find the terms acceptable, but since the United States signed the MOU as well as Qatar, the Saudis will likely propose new terms that incorporate the MOU but ask for a bit more.  This is diplomacy as deal-making, very much the way the Trump administration views diplomacy.

So, how to know if the final deal is a good one from the perspective of the United States?  Resolving the crisis on any terms defuses the bomb threatening to blow up our regional alliances, but not every such deal is going to address America’s core interests.  Our interests are not the same as those of any of the Arab nations, though some of them overlap.  Thus, it is not necessary to obtain a deal that forces Qatar to submit to the whole 13 point proposal.  A deal that compromises by allowing Qatar to retain its sovereignty, while obtaining the parts of the 13 points that are American interests, is acceptable.

There are really only two things that America needs to insist upon.

  1. A complete end to support for terrorism.  The MOU is supposed to have obtained some Qatari commitments on this score, but the exact terms are not known.  It is easy to say what acceptable terms would be, however.  The terms are acceptable if and only if they commit Qatar to opposing all terrorism, rather than allowing Qatar to retain certain favored terrorists.  Some of the groups are favorites of Iran, like Hezbollah.  The Qataris might wish to keep up good relations with Iran by allowing Hezbollah to continue to operate.  There may be other groups whose terrorist activities Qatar would like to overlook in order to maintain what it considers to be a useful relationship.

    That won’t do.  All terrorist groups must be included.  The 13 points contains a list of groups Qatar has worked with that should serve as a minimum rather than a maximum.  No terror support of any kind is tolerable.  We won’t know how good the deal is on this point until its terms are known.  Secretary Tillerson at least sounds like he knows that this is important in his public statements.  “The US has one goal: to drive terrorism off the face of the Earth,” Tillerson said, adding: “The president said every country has an absolute duty to make sure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.”  We as citizens can judge whether he truly understands based on whether he allowed Qatar to carve out exceptions for some of the groups it has been hosting and financing.

  2. The second thing we must obtain is victory on breaking Qatari relations with Iran.  Iran has been making a major play to become the dominant power in the region since obtaining a de facto alliance with Russia in 2015.  This occurred immediately after the agreement to the “Iran Deal” on nuclear weapons, which gave Russia renewed confidence that Iran could be a major player on the world stage.  Russia subsequently deployed military forces to Syria alongside Iran following meetings in Moscow between Russia’s military leadership and Iran’s top unconventional warfare leader, Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    This Russian-Iranian axis is seeking to peel Qatar off from the alliance represented by the blockading nations.  Iran has been providing aid and support to Qatar during the blockade, as has Turkey.  Turkey is a US NATO ally, but that nation has been trending toward the Russian axis as its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has slipped towards dictatorial rule.  The moves accelerated following the abortive coup attempt against Erdoğan, which he blamed on an opposition movement hosted by the United States.  Turkey’s role in supporting Qatar thus has to be read as a play at least friendly to the Russian/Iranian axis in the Middle East.  If Qatar can be pulled the rest of the way in, so that it becomes aligned with Iran rather than the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran will have won a major strategic victory in its efforts to become the local hegemony.

    Those are really the only two things that the United States needs from Qatar.  If an American-backed deal obtains those two things, while also resolving the crisis with the blockading nations, it is a big win for the United States.  Anything less than that is going to be harmful to American interests in small ways or large.

Dr. Patty advised US Army units in Iraq on information operations as part of more than a decade’s involvements in America’s wars. His work has received formal commendations from the 30th Heavy Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division. Dr. Patty holds his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Georgia.

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Iranian missile factories in Lebanon

Photo: Tasnim News

Center for Security Policy, by Alex VanNess, July 11, 2017:

Reports show that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is building underground facilities for Hezbollah.  These facilities, which have been reported on as far back as March, are said to be 50 meters below ground to protect from potential Israeli airstrikes.

The factory located in northern Lebanon is said to be manufacturing Fateh 110 missile’s, a short-range surface-to-surface missile with a range of approximately 190 miles.  That range can threaten most of Israel.  The second factory is supposedly manufacturing small arms.

Center adjunct-fellow, Caroline Glick highlights Hezbollah’s growing belligerence her recent column:

Not only is Hezbollah building a missile industry. It is deploying its forces directly across the border with Israel – in material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from 2006, which set the terms of the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah at the end of the Second Lebanon War.

The missile facility is a marked upgrade in Hezbollah’s weapons manufacturing abilities.  Additionally, Hezbollah’s has also been battle hardened, having fought in Syria for the past several years.

Last month, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah raised the bar on his rhetoric, calling for fighters from different regions to join forces, saying the next war with Israel could “open the way for thousands, even hundreds of thousands of fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world to participate – from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan,”

Intentional or not, this situation will only escalate.  Israel would do well to take decisive action to neutralize this growing threat.

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