Iran’s proxy missile attacks

Missile Attack Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Missile Attack Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Islamic regime seeks control of Middle East waterways

Washington Times, by James A. Lyons, October 25, 2016:

The recent missile attacks attributed to Yemeni Houthi rebels, with assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah, demonstrate Iran’s classic use of proxies to promote its political agenda. The Houthi rebels denied any involvement in the missile attacks. However, they certainly were not fired by camel herders. The Houthis never would have launched an attack on the U.S. Navy without being ordered to do so by their Iranian sponsors. To think otherwise would be delusional.

Iran has the failed to honor the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons agreement. There is actually no agreement, since nothing has been signed. With Russia’s support in Syria, Iran clearly feels emboldened to challenge the United States directly. And with the $150 billion sanctions relief windfall, plus planeloads of hard cash totaling more than $33 billion, Iran can easily expand its role as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, which is what we are witnessing in Yemen. The Iranian use of proxies has cost thousands of American lives, but, fortunately, this time they failed.

Clearly, Iran wants to be able to control the strategic Bab al Mandab Strait, which would give it de facto control of the Suez Canal. More than 10 percent of the world’s maritime shipping passes through that strait on a daily basis. Such control, when combined with control of the Strait of Hormuz, would give Iran control of all Arab oil shipments as well as all Israeli shipping emanating to and from the port of Eilat in the Red Sea. Iran would also like to see our 71-year alliance with Saudi Arabia terminated.

With the help of the IRGC and the Iranian proxy terrorist group Hezbollah, two radar sites were recently constructed outside of Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports, Mokha and Hudaydah, which are currently under the control of the Houthi rebels. These sites, according to various reports, were operated by IRGC and Hezbollah radar and missile teams. The missiles fired were an upgraded version of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile. It should be remembered that on July 14, 2006, Hezbollah successfully fired a C-802 missile against the Israeli missile ship INS Hanit, inflicting heavy damage.

Despite Iran’s assurance about not providing weapons, the Houthis received a delivery the week prior to the missile attacks, the largest shipment of Iranian weapons to date. Obviously, this shipment, apparently undetected by our intelligence resources, included Scud D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 800 kilometers as well as the upgraded Chinese C-802 anti-ship missiles. The Scuds went to the northern border to be used against Saudi Arabia, and the C-802 anti-ship missiles went to the Houthi’s Ansar Allah faction, which is under the direct control of the IRGC.

The same day missiles were fired against the USS Mason, Oct. 9, the Houthis, with the assistance of the IRGC, fired Scud-D missiles at the Saudi town of Ta’if, which is 700 kilometers from the Yemeni border — but, more importantly, only 70 kilometers from the holy city of Mecca. The message to the Saudis was clear. Iran intends to challenge the Saudis’ control of Islam’s most holy sites.

The Red Sea is a very narrow strategic body of water. It is only 62 kilometers from the Saudi coast to Africa. All shipping can be threatened and easily attacked with the current inventory of missiles transferred to Yemen.

The Houthis have also landed and taken control of Perim Island in the mouth of the Bab al Mandab Straits. Since the main maritime route is only 20 kilometers wide at this point, it serves as a natural choke point and a threat to all shipping as long as it remains under Houthi-Iranian control.

How did we get involved in this classic Sunni-Shia sectarian war? Very briefly, in late 2014, Shia Houthi rebel forces captured the capital city of Sana’a. The Houthis, backed by Iran, are fighting against the internationally recognized government of Yemen’s Sunni president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In March 2015, the Saudis led a campaign to overthrow the Houthi rebels. President Obama, in an attempt to get Saudi Arabia’s support for his nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, agreed to support the Saudi effort. We proceeded to provide limited intelligence, in-flight refueling, command and control guidance and some weapons.

The missile attack on our forces in the vicinity of the Bab al Mandab Straits is another manifestation of Iran’s contempt for America and disregard for international norms. Further, with little to fear from an Obama administration response, they clearly have been emboldened to further their hegemonic objectives by challenging our forces directly. While the Houthi’s missile attack on the United Arab Emirate’s HSV-2 Swift Catamaran vessel was successful on Oct. 1, their attack on the USS Mason was, fortunately, a failure. While it took us four days to respond, the USS Nitze’s tomahawk missile strikes destroyed the three Iranian radar sites, which eliminated the immediate threat to shipping in the area.

This was a minimum response — a tit for tat — which will most likely invite more attacks, since C-802 missiles can be fired without radar. When an enemy attacks one of our U.S. Navy ships, our response must be overwhelming. =We should have destroyed not only the radar sites but also any missile-launching sites and any associated ammo storage sites. Any known Iranian installations should have been destroyed. Electrical utility grids that provide power to support Houthi rebels and Iranian forces in the two areas should also be destroyed. The Houthi installation on Perim Island should be eliminated. The message must be clear: “Don’t tread on me.”

James A. Lyons, a U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

Kerry Negotiating Ceasefire w/Death to America Terrorists After They Attack US Ships

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Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, October 14, 2016:

John Kerry never changes. Whatever happens, he can always be found rushing to appease the enemies of this country. After Iranian backed Houthi Islamic Jihadists attacked a US ship, Kerry has jumped into action to do his usual thing

As the U.S. launched missile attacks Thursday on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, behind the scenes Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to negotiate a temporary cease-fire and reinvigorate a political process to end the country’s civil war.

The conflict has dragged on for over two years now, since the Shiite rebels seized control of the capital of Sanaa in September of 2014. The conflict escalated in March 2015 and since then over 4,000 civilians have been killed, the U.N. has said.

“What the Secretary has been pushing hard for is to get back … to a cessation of hostilities, a 72-hour cessation of hostilities which can at least then create some kind of climate where a political dialogue or a dialogue can begin again,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said Thursday.

Here’s whom Kerry wants a dialogue with. The Houthis are not “rebels”, they’re Islamic Jihadists, backed by Iran. Their slogan is, “Allah Akbar, Death to America, Death to Israel, A curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.”

But part of that is Kerry and Obama’s slogan too. Meanwhile Obama’s NSC put out a statement warning the Saudis about further attacks on the Houthis.

U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged. In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led Coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen’s tragic conflict. We call upon the Saudi-led Coalition, the Yemeni government, the Houthis and the Saleh-aligned forces to commit publicly to an immediate cessation of hostilities and implement this cessation based on the April 10th terms.

Maybe Kerry and the Houthis can bond over their mutual hatred of America.

Glick: From Yemen to Turtle Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama has never discussed that strategy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Russian media reporting:

Also see:

Iranian Proxies Fire Missiles At US Navy Ships

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The USS Mason, purpose-designed for missile defense, fired three missiles in order to protect itself and its fellow ships.

CounterJihad, October 12, 2016:

The USS Mason, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, fired three missiles in self-defense against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who launched cruise missiles at it and other US navy warships.  The Arleigh-Burke destroyers are built around the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, and are also equipped with weapons and countermeasures designed to handle cruise missiles.  The attack represents the first time these systems have actually been used in combat to protect a Navy ship.

The attack on the Mason comes after the outright destruction of a UAE warship by a similar missile attack carried out by the Houthi rebels.  The HSV-2 Swift, designed by the US Navy but in use by the UAE’s government, was destroyed by an explosively-formed penetrator (EFP) warhead.  This warhead follows the same form as the infamous roadside bomb that was characteristically used by Iranian proxy forces in the murder of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The EFP involves a copper plate that is worked in such a way as to collapse into a slug when fired from a tube by a high explosive.  That slug can then punch through the strongest armor.  In the roadside bomb, it would be used to attack American armored troop transports in order to kill the soldiers inside.  The cruise missile warhead is designed to go off once the outer part of the warship penetrates ship armor, sending EFPs in multiple directions to punch holes through the hull in many places.

The Swift was engaged in transporting medical aid at the time it was destroyed by Iranian proxy forces.  The deployment of the Mason and its fellow ships was in response to the destruction of the Swift.  In addition to another destroyer, the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce has been sent to assist the coalition operating against the Houthi in Yemen.  They are part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group.

The attack is part of a game of increasing attacks on American forces intended to drive them out of the region.  Iran has led the effort here, both through its actual warships and through proxy units like the Houthi, its Iraq-based Shia militias, and the Syrian air force.  In addition to Iran and its proxies, the Russians have been aggressively seeking to drive American warships from contested waters.  Last year Iran went so far as to intercept and kidnap American sailors operating in US Navy boats near Iran.

The conflict in Yemen is explosive because it pits Sunnis against Shias, on the border with Saudi Arabia, in a way that would allow Iranian influence to flank the Saudis.  A coalition of Sunni powers is fighting against the tribal Houthi, who participate in a form of Shia Islam that is rather milder and less apocalyptic than Iran’s own.  The civil war in Yemen has drug on for years, and shows no sign of being resolved.  The increasingly aggressive tactics, now targeting even US ships, may be intended to derail support for the Sunni coalition in a way that would allow for a Houthi victory.

Also see:

Pete Hoekstra: Obama-Clinton Foreign Policy ‘Not Only Engaging with Radical Jihadist Groups Overseas,’ but Allowing Them to ‘Spread Their Doctrine Around the United States’

T.J. Kirkpatrick-Pool/Getty Images

T.J. Kirkpatrick-Pool/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Oct. 4, 2016:

Pete Hoekstra, former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Breitbart News Daily Tuesday morning to discuss his Washington Examiner op-ed, “Obama Rolls Dice on Foreign Policy in Secretive Presidential Decree.”

Hoekstra told SiriusXM host Alex Marlow that a presidential directive is “developed by an inter-agency group within the executive branch, usually headed by the State Department, and it then outlines U.S. foreign policy in whatever area it was tasked to study.”

“In this case, back in 2009 and 2010, this group got together, and they articulated a new policy for the United States government towards the Middle East, especially toward various Muslim groups in the Middle East,” Hoekstra continued. “This directive, we believe, specifically directed U.S. government agencies – State Department employees, ambassadors, and those types of things – to begin engaging with radical jihadist groups, believing that if we would engage with radical jihadist groups, they would change their behavior toward the United States.”

“It led to the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt. It led to the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. Libya obviously ended up with catastrophic results, and we almost lost Egypt at the same time,” he recalled.

Marlow found it remarkable that so little was being made of Hillary Clinton’s role in crafting Obama’s disastrous foreign policy in the current election cycle.

“You’re absolutely right,” said Hoekstra, elaborating:

Take a look. When President Obama – we completed this study at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, where I now spend my time – in 2008, 2009, when this President and Hillary Clinton took over the government, there were roughly 3,300 people per year who were losing their lives as a result of radical jihadism. Today, that number is approaching almost 30,000 people per year. Iraq is a failed state. Syria is a failed state. Yemen is a failed state. Libya is a failed state. And Afghanistan is a failed state.

“The media doesn’t want to talk about it,” he observed. “Obviously, Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to talk about it because their role in national security has destabilized the Middle East and northern Africa. It has led to increasing deaths in massive refugee flows throughout the Middle East, Europe, and again Northern Africa.”

When Marlow observed that regime-change philosophy under both Bush and Obama has been criticized by some conservatives, Hoekstra noted there were some important differences between the two administrations:

Under the Bush administration, at least we removed dictators who were hostile to the United States – Afghanistan and Iraq.

Egypt and Libya, we actually removed a President Mubarak who for – what, 20 or 25 years? – had done everything the United States had asked him to do to maintain stability in the Middle East.

In Libya, we had a wonderful experience where Qaddafi actually flipped sides, turned over his nuclear weapons, paid reparations, and joined us in the fight against radical jihadists. And after eight years of doing everything America asked him to do, Hillary Clinton declared that he needed to go. The United States, along with NATO, we removed Qaddafi, and it has now been a failed state.

The other thing is, which you’ll see on this, is not only are we engaging with radical jihadist groups overseas, in this regime change, we’re also allowing some of these same people to come into the United States, providing them access to the White House, providing them access to the State Department, and allowing them to go around the country and make speeches, and spread their doctrine around the United States.

So this PSD-11 had nothing to do with national security. There’s no sources or methods. It’s just a strategy. But obviously, this is something that we think the Obama administration ought to make public, and I doubt that they will make it public because the results of this policy have not been very good.

Hoekstra suspected this dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy was “probably a creation of Ben Rhodes, the person who worked for the President as an assistant national security adviser”:

This was the whole spin back in 2009, 2010, that there’s this Arab Spring moving through the Middle East, the forces for democracy and reform, free markets, and those types of things.

As David Ignatius – a liberal columnist – wrote, this is really a gamble, a roll of the dice as he described it, by the Obama administration, embracing these forces of change in the Middle East with the expectation that positive things would happen.

Well, if they would have peeled back the layers on these groups at all, they would have recognized it was not a roll of the dice; it was a high-risk, high-gamble, and it didn’t pay off. So the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, decided to throw out 30 years of foreign policy that brought some stability to the Middle East, and the result was, they failed. And the results have been horrendous.

Concerning the seven major Obama foreign interventions Hoekstra covered in his Washington Examiner piece, he said, “The only one that has any tentative success, you could argue, would be Tunisia – but even there, Tunisia is close to the tipping point, in terms of going in the wrong direction.”

LISTEN:

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda fights on

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn Sept. 11, 2016:

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Except it wasn’t.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

Writing in The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell explains how the Abbottabad cache upended the US intelligence community’s assumptions regarding al Qaeda. “The one thing that surprised me was that the analysts made clear that our pre-raid understanding of Bin Laden’s role in the organization had been wrong,” Morell writes. “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qaeda, while Bin Laden was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Laden himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.”*

Consider some examples from the small set of documents released already.

During the last year and a half of his life, Osama bin Laden: oversaw al Qaeda’s “external work,” that is, its operations targeting the West; directed negotiations with the Pakistani state over a proposed ceasefire between the jihadists and parts of the government; ordered his men to evacuate northern Pakistan for safe havens in Afghanistan; instructed Shabaab to keep its role as an al Qaeda branch secret and offered advice concerning how its nascent emirate in East Africa should be run; received status reports on his fighters’ operations in at least eight different Afghan provinces; discussed al Qaeda’s war strategy in Yemen with the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other subordinates; received updates from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including details on a proposed truce with the government of Mauritania; authorized the relocation of veteran jihadists to Libya, where they could take advantage of the uprising against Muammar al Qaddafi’s regime; corresponded with the Taliban’s leadership; and generally made decisions that impacted al Qaeda’s operations everywhere around the globe.

Again, these are just a handful of examples culled from the publicly-available files recovered in bin Laden’s compound. The overwhelming majority of these documents remain classified and, therefore, unavailable to the American public.

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

The story of how bin Laden’s role was missed should raise a large red flag. Al Qaeda is still not well-understood and has been consistently misjudged. Not long after bin Laden was killed, a meme spread about his successor: Ayman al Zawahiri. Many ran with the idea that Zawahiri is an ineffectual and unpopular leader who lacked bin Laden’s charisma and was, therefore, incapable of guiding al Qaeda’s global network. This, too, was wrong.

There is no question that the Islamic State, which disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders and was disowned by al Qaeda’s “general command” in 2014, has cut into al Qaeda’s share of the jihadist market and undermined the group’s leadership position. But close observers will notice something interesting about al Qaeda’s response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, al Qaeda grew its largest paramilitary force ever.

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, warned about the rise of Al Nusrah Front during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 28. “With direct ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Nusra[h] is now al [Qaeda’s] largest formal affiliate in history,” McGurk said. US officials previously contacted by The Long War Journal said Nusrah could easily have 10,000 or more fighters in its ranks.

It is worth repeating that Nusrah grew in size and stature, while being openly loyal to Zawahiri, after the Islamic State became its own jihadist menace. Far from being irrelevant, Zawahiri ensured al Qaeda’s survival in the Levant and oversaw its growth.

image-posted-by-tilmidh-usamah-bin-ladin-1024x348

On July 28, Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani announced that his organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or the “Conquest of the Levant Front”) and would have no “no affiliation to any external [foreign] entity.” This was widely interpreted as Al Nusrah’s “break” from al Qaeda. But Julani never actually said that and al Qaeda itself isn’t an “external entity” with respect to Syria as the group moved much of its leadership to the country long ago. Al Nusrah’s rebranding was explicitly approved by Abu Khayr al Masri, one of Zawahiri’s top deputies, in an audio message released just hours prior to Julani’s announcement. Masri was likely inside Syria at the time.

Julani, who was dressed like Osama bin Laden during his appearance (as pictured above), heaped praise on bin Laden, Zawahiri and Masri. “Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group,” Julani said of Zawahiri and Masri.

Most importantly, Al Nusrah’s relaunch as JFS is entirely consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding strategy in Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda never wanted to formally announce its role in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime, correctly calculating that clandestine influence is preferable to an overt presence for many reasons. This helps explain why Nusrah was never officially renamed as “Al Qaeda in the Levant” in the first place. However, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there is such widespread ignorance of al Qaeda’s goals and strategy that Nusrah’s name change is enough to fool many.

Al Qaeda has grown in South Asia as well. In Sept. 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which brought together elements of several existing jihadist organizations. AQIS quickly got to work, attempting to execute an audacious plan that would have used Pakistani arms against American and Indian ships. The plot failed, but revealed that al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s military.

Pakistani officials recently told the Washington Post that they suspect AQIS has a few thousand members in the city of Karachi alone. And al Qaeda remains closely allied with the Taliban while maintaining a significant presence inside Afghanistan. In October 2015, for instance, Afghan and American forces conducted a massive operation against two large al Qaeda training camps in the southern part of the country. One of the camps was approximately 30 square miles in size. Gen. John F. Campbell, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, explained that the camp was run by AQIS and is “probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

With Zawahiri as its emir, al Qaeda raised its “largest formal affiliate in history” in Syria and operated its “largest training” camp ever in Afghanistan. These two facts alone undermine the widely-held assumption that al Qaeda is on death’s door.

Elsewhere, al Qaeda’s other regional branches remain openly loyal to Zawahiri.

From April 2015 to April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled a large swath of territory along Yemen’s southern coast, including the key port city of Mukalla. An Arab-led coalition helped reclaim some of this turf earlier this year, but AQAP’s forces simply melted away, living to fight another day. AQAP continues to wage a prolific insurgency in the country, as does Shabaab across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Shabaab’s leaders announced their fealty to Zawahiri in February 2012 and remain faithful to him. They have taken a number of steps to stymie the growth of the Islamic State in Somalia and neighboring countries. Shabaab also exports terrorism throughout East Africa, executing a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to operate in West and North Africa, often working in conjunction with front groups. Like al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere, AQIM prefers to mask the extent of its influence, working through organizations such as Ansar al Sharia and Ansar Dine to achieve its goals. Late last year, Al Murabitoon rejoined AQIM’s ranks. Al Murabitoon is led by Mohktar Belmokhtar, who has been reportedly killed on several occasions. Al Qaeda claims that Belmokhtar is still alive and has praised him for rejoining AQIM after his contentious relations with AQIM’s hierarchy in the past. While Belmokhtar’s status cannot be confirmed, several statements have been released in his name in recent months. And Al Murabitoon’s merger with AQIM has led to an increase in high-profile attacks in West Africa.

In sum, AQAP, AQIM, AQIS and Shabaab are formal branches of al Qaeda and have made their allegiance to Zawahiri clear. Jabhat Fath al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusrah, is an obvious al Qaeda project in Syria. Other organizations continue to serve al Qaeda’s agenda as well.

Al Qaeda’s veterans and a “new generation” of jihadist leadership

As the brief summary above shows, Al Qaeda’s geographic footprint has expanded greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some US officials argue that al Qaeda has been “decimated” because of the drone campaign and counterterrorism raids. They narrowly focus on the leadership layer of al Qaeda, while ignoring the bigger picture. But even their analysis of al Qaeda’s managers is misleading.

Al Qaeda has lost dozens of key men, but there is no telling how many veterans remain active to this day. Experienced operatives continue to serve in key positions, often returning to the fight after being detained or only revealing their hidden hand when it becomes necessary. Moreover, al Qaeda knew it was going to lose personnel and took steps to groom a new generation of jihadists capable of filling in.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

Last year, several veterans were reportedly released from Iran, where they were held under murky circumstances. One of them was Abu Khayr al Masri, who paved the way for Al Nusrah’s rebranding in July. Another is Saif al Adel, who has long been wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At least two others freed by Iran, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Khalid al Aruri, returned to al Qaeda as well.

Masri, Al Adel, and Aruri may all be based inside Syria, or move back and forth to the country from Turkey, where other senior members are based. Mohammed Islambouli is an important leader within al Qaeda. After leaving Iran several years ago, Islambouli returned to Egypt and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he lives today.

Sitting to Julani’s right during his much ballyhooed announcement was one of Islambouli’s longtime compatriots, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The diminutive Mabrouk is another Zawahiri subordinate. He was freed from an Egyptian prison in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Al Qaeda moved some of its senior leadership to Syria and several others from this cadre are easy to identify. But al Qaeda has also relied on personnel in Yemen to guide its global network. One of Zawahiri’s lieutenants, Hossam Abdul Raouf, confirmed this in an audio message last October. Raouf explained that the “weight” of al Qaeda has been shifted to Syria and Yemen, because that is where its efforts are most needed.

The American drone campaign took out several key AQAP leaders in 2015, but they were quickly replaced. Qasim al Raymi, who was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s, succeeded Nasir al Wuhayshi as AQAP’s emir last summer. Raymi quickly renewed his allegiance to Zawahiri, whom Raymi described as the “the eminent sheikh” and “the beloved father.” Another al Qaeda lifer, Ibrahim Abu Salih, emerged from the shadows last year. Salih was not public figure beforehand, but he has been working towards al Qaeda’s goals in Yemen since the early 1990s. Ibrahim al Qosi (an ex-Guantanamo detainee) and Khalid al Batarfi have stepped forward to lead AQAP and are probably also part of al Qaeda’s management team.

This old school talent has helped buttress al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. They’ve been joined by men who signed up for al Qaeda’s cause after the 9/11 attacks as well. In July, the US Treasury Department designated three jihadists who are based in Iran. One of them, known as Abu Hamza al Khalidi, was listed in bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders. Today, he plays a crucial role as the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, meaning he is the equivalent of al Qaeda’s defense minister. Treasury has repeatedly identified other al Qaeda members based in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some members of the “new generation” are more famous than others. Such is the case with Osama’s son,Hamzah bin Laden, who is now regularly featured in propaganda.

This brief survey of al Qaeda is not intended to be exhaustive, yet it is still sufficient to demonstrate that the organization’s bench is far from empty. Moreover, many of the men who lead al Qaeda today are probably unknown to the public.

The threat to the West

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” His statement underscored how the threats have become more geographically dispersed over time. With great success, the US worked for years to limit al Qaeda’s ability to strike the West from northern Pakistan. But today, al Qaeda’s “external operations” work is carried out across several countries.

During the past fifteen years, Al Qaeda has failed to execute another mass casualty attack in the US on the scale of the 9/11 hijackings. Its most recent attack in Europe came in January 2015, when a pair of brothers backed by AQAP conducted a military-style assault on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. AQAP made it clear that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Thanks to vigilance and luck, al Qaeda hasn’t been able to replicate a 9/11-style assault inside the US. Part of the reason is that America’s defenses, as well as those of its partner nations, have improved. Operations such as the 9/11 hijackings are also difficult to carry out in the first place. Even the 9/11 plan experienced interruptions despite a relatively lax security environment. (Most famously, for example, the would-be 20th hijacker was denied entry into the US at an Orlando airport in the summer of 2001.)

But there is another aspect to evaluating the al Qaeda threat that is seldom appreciated. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda is only interested in attacking the West. This is flat false. Most of the organization’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in Muslim majority countries.

The story in Syria has been telling. Although al Qaeda may have more resources in Syria than anywhere else, Zawahiri did not order his men to carry out a strike in the West. Al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” laid the groundwork for such operations, but Zawahiri did not give this cadre the green light to actually carry them out. Zawahiri’s stand down order is well known. In an interview that aired in May 2015, for instance, Julani explained that the “directives that come to us from Dr. Ayman [al Zawahiri], may Allah protect him, are that Al Nusrah Front’s mission in Syria is to topple [Bashar al Assad’s] regime” and defeat its allies. “We have received guidance to not use Syria as a base for attacks against the West or Europe so that the real battle is not confused,” Julani said. However, he conceded that “maybe” the mother al Qaeda organization is plotting against the West, just “not from Syria.” Julani emphasized that this “directive” came from Zawahiri himself.

To date, al Qaeda has not lashed out at the West from inside Syria, even though it is certainly capable of doing so. Al Qaeda’s calculation has been that such an attack would be too costly for its strategic interests. It might get in the way of al Qaeda’s top priority in Syria, which is toppling the Assad regime. This calculation could easily change overnight and al Qaeda could use Syria as a launching pad against the West soon. But they haven’t thus far. It helps explain why there hasn’t been another 9/11-style plot by al Qaeda against the US in recent years. It also partially explains why al Qaeda hasn’t launched another large-scale operation in Europe for some time. Al Qaeda has more resources at its disposal today than ever, so the group doesn’t lack the capability. If Zawahiri and his advisors decided to make anti-Western attack planning more of a priority, then the probability of another 9/11-style event would go up. Even in that scenario, al Qaeda would have to successfully evade the West’s defenses. But the point is that al Qaeda hasn’t been attempting to hit the West nearly as much as some in the West assume.

In the meantime, it is easy to see how the al Qaeda threat has become more diverse, just as Clapper testified. AQAP has launched several thwarted plots aimed at the US, including the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing. In 2009, al Qaeda also plotted to strike trains in the New York City area. In 2010, a Mumbai-style assault in Europe was unraveled by security services. It is not hard to imagine al Qaeda trying something along those lines once again. Other organizations tied to al Qaeda, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have plotted against the US as well.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda lives. Fortunately, Zawahiri’s men have not replicated the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But the al Qaeda threat looms. It would be a mistake to assume that al Qaeda won’t try a large-scale operation again.

*The spellings of al Qaeda and bin Laden are changed in this quote from Morell to make them consistent with the rest of the text.

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

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Listen to John Batchelor interview Thomas Joscelyn:

watching-bin-laden-raid

Fifteen Years Later, Al Qaeda Grows

U.S. Transfers 9 Yemeni Detainees from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 19, 2016:

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The Pentagon has announced the transfer of nine Yemeni detainees out of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Saudi Arabia as President Barack Obama prepares to visit the Gulf kingdom and continues his efforts to shut down the U.S. military prison.

The Pentagon made the announcement of Saturday’s transfers in a statement.

All nine prisoners are from Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor, Yemen, home to a war that has been raging since March 2015 between a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, and Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

The Saudi alliance, primarily made up of Sunni-led nations, has also been trying to restore the internationally backed government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Overall, the majority of the 80 detainees who still remain at Guantánamo are from Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, and finds itself in the middle of a fragile United Nations-brokered ceasefire between warring sides. Peace negotiations were expected to resume Monday, but were delayed.

“Saudi Arabia runs a rehabilitation program to help former jihadists re-enter society. It has only taken in one other Yemeni prisoner, in 2007, and has mostly repatriated its own citizens from the facility,” reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). “The nine prisoners involved in the latest transfer had been in the Guantánamo detention center since 2002, and none had been charged with a crime.”

All nine prisoners arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday evening, the kingdom has reportedly confirmed. A Pentagon statement announcing the transfer indicated that at least one of the individuals will be released without restrictions.

The Pentagon reveals:

On April 17, 2015, the Periodic Review Board consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined continued law of war detention of [Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed] Al-Sabri does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Al-Sabri was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board.

Of the 80 detainees held at Guantánamo, 26 have been cleared for transfer.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the WSJ reports that the Obama administration expects to release all prisoners approved for transfer by the end of the summer.

“Many of the prisoners remaining at the facility are Yemeni and are difficult to relocate because the U.S. must find third countries to accept them because of unrest in Yemen,” notes the WSJ. “Saturday’s transfer comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia in coming days and is the largest single movement of prisoners in 2016.”

In a statement, the Pentagon expressed gratitude, thanking the Saudis for taking the prisoners:

The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.

Saudi Arabia confirmed that the nine detainees arrived in the kingdom Saturday evening.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reports that the Saudi ministry of interior said Yemeni President Hadi requested the transfer, which was approved by Saudi King Salman.

Data compiled by The New York Times (NYT) provides background information on the detainees:

  1. Ahmed Umar Abdullah al Hikimi is a 43-or 44-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  2. Abdul Rahman Mohamed Saleh Naser is a 35-or 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  3. Ali Yahya Mahdi al Raimi is a 32-or 33-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  4. Tarek Ali Abdullah Ahmed Baada is a 37-or 38-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to an undetermined country on April 16, 2016.
  5. Mohammed Abdullah al Hamiri is a 33-or 34-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  6. Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman is a 35-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  7. Abdul Rahman Umir al Qyati is a 39-or 40-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  8. Mansoor Muhammed Ali Qattaa is a 33-or 34-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  9. Mashur Abdallah Muqbil Ahmed al Sabri is a 37-or 38-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.

Soon after assuming the highest office of the land in 2009, President Obama, through executive order, established an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force to review all cases and release those deemed eligible based on various factors, including security issues.

As required by law, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter informed the Republican-controlled Congress of the Obama administration’s intent to release the prisoners Saturday to Saudi Arabia.

President Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantánamo prison, but has met resistance from a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon has submitted a proposal to Congress to close down the facility, which includes a provision to transfer prisoners deemed too dangerous for release to U.S. soil.

Transferring Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. is prohibited by law.

Also see:

CENTCOM: ISIS Being Dismantled in Syria But Spreading Regionally

CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin / AP

CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, March 9, 2016:

Thousands of Islamic State fighters and 160 of its leaders were killed in U.S. and allied military operations in Syria and Iraq over the past 18 months, the commander of the U.S. Central Command told Congress on Tuesday.

But the Islamist terror group has expanded to several regional states as U.S. forces enter a new phase of dismantling ISIS, also known as ISIL or Daesh, according to Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of 84,000 U.S. service members currently deployed in a zone stretching from North Africa to Southwest Asia.

“We are making progress militarily in our efforts to defeat ISIL, as demonstrated by the recent victories in Ramadi and Shaddadi,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony. “However, military success will be lasting only if corresponding political progress is achieved in both Iraq and Syria.”

The commander also stated that winning the conflict against ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot that emerged in 2014 and has engaged in a campaign of barbaric mass murders and executions, will not be easy.

“ISIL will remain difficult to defeat as long as [Syrian leader Bashar al] Assad remains in power,” Austin said. “He needs to be replaced and a stable, responsive government must be established to prevent safe haven for [violent groups] like ISIL.”

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) criticized the anti-ISIS war effort as insufficient. He noted that for 16 months none of the group’s fuel trucks were bombed, allowing the terrorists to generate millions of dollars in revenue. “This is what is so infuriating to so many of us,” McCain said.

On President Obama’s mishandling of the conflict, McCain said: “Once again American, credibility is disintegrating as the malign influence of Iran and Russia continues to grow. This administration’s great failure to date has not been that it makes mistakes. It is rather that it has failed or perhaps refused to learn from them. And unless we chart a new course, it may well be this administration’s lasting legacy.”

When asked by McCain if the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, the four-star general responded: “In part, I agree. I think the Taliban have become more active.”

In addition to the threat from terrorists, Austin warned that Iran and its surrogates posed a growing threat to the region through Tehran’s use of paramilitary forces and surrogates like the terrorist group Hezbollah.

“I would say clearly the most dangerous near-term threat is ISIL or Daesh, and we will deal with that threat as a part of an international coalition,” Austin said. “I would say the greatest mid- to long-term threat to stability in the region is clearly Iran, and we will need to work with our partners in the region to really counter the malign activity that we’ve seen Iran conduct over time.”

U.S. military operations also have taken place in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is engaged in a stalemate against an Iran-backed Islamist insurgency, and in Libya, where ISIS is seizing territory, mostly in the coastal city of Sirte.

Austin said military operations against ISIS in Syria are limited to supporting local forces with airstrikes and training and arming ground forces. “We are achieving good effects against the enemy; we completed Phase I of the military campaign—degrade—and are well into Phase II—dismantle,” he said.

Territorial gains by ISIS have been halted and a coalition of ethnic Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and others are pushing toward the ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria. They have retaken some 7,000 square miles of territory and cut ISIS’s resupply lines.

Some 40 percent of ISIS’s territory in Iraq has been retaken, and sales of oil by the group have been curbed.

Since August 2014, 10,700 airstrikes have been carried out against the group by 19 nations.

“Coalition airstrikes have removed several thousand enemy fighters from the battlefield, to include more than 160 of ISIL’s leaders,” Austin said.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that a senior ISIS leader, Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Chechen, was killed in an airstrike March 4 near Shaddadi, Syria.

“We have destroyed thousands of the enemy’s vehicles, tanks, and heavy weapon systems, along with training sites and storages facilities, command and control structures, and oil production facilities.”

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi remains at large, however, and Austin said the enemy hides among civilians, which has led the U.S.-led coalition to limit its attacks to precision strikes designed to prevent collateral damage.

As a result of operations against ISIS, the group has become less capable, more paranoid, and has suffered from morale problems and defections by its fighters, Austin said.

Battlefield gains by the coalition have forced ISIS to expand outside of Syria and Iraq to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as well as parts of Asia, Austin said, noting that “expansion is a necessary element of ISIL’s declared end-state of a global caliphate.”

The expansion “also demonstrates that we are degrading the enemy’s capability in Iraq and Syria; as a result, ISIL is attempting to gain a foothold in alternate locations,” he said.

The spread of ISIS also has made it difficult to focus international attention on gains against the group in Syria and Iraq. Austin said the group “must achieve real or perceived military victories and it must expand” to maintain its legitimacy.

As a result, greater efforts are needed to counter the group outside its strongholds and stem the flow of foreign fighters into the organization.

Russia’s support for the Assad regime has prolonged the Syria conflict, which has claimed an estimated 250,000 lives, Austin said. A current ceasefire in Syria has allowed humanitarian aid to reach parts of the country.

“Assad would almost certainly not be in power today were it not for the robust support provided to the regime by Iran and Russia,” he said.

Austin said the Russian strategy in Syria of a quick military intervention is not working. The intervention “bolstered and empowered” the regime but the Russians are “finding out is that this could go on for some time,” he said.

What the four-star general termed the Iranian Threat Network is becoming more powerful and contributing to destabilization throughout the region. An additional concern is a major expansion of Russian-Iranian cooperation.

“Russia’s cooperation with Iran appears to be expanding beyond near-term coordination for operations in Syria and is moving towards an emerging strategic partnership,” Austin said in his prepared testimony.

“The potential for a more traditional security cooperation arrangement between Russia, a state actor and member of the U.N. Security Council, and Iran is cause for significant concern given Iran’s existing relationship with the Syrian regime and Lebanese Hezbollah,” he added. “We already see indications of high-end weapon sales and economic cooperation between the two countries.”

The weapons include advanced S-300 air defense systems and coastal anti-ship cruise missiles. Austin said he is concerned the Russian weapons will “eventually wind up in the hands of Lebanese Hezbollah.”

Iran’s paramilitary Qods Force is also operating in the region, and Tehran’s ballistic missiles and cyber warfare capabilities continue to pose a threat, he said.

Austin said he is hopeful implementation of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the country’s recent elections will lead to more responsible behavior by the Iranians, but “we’ve not yet seen any indication that they intend to pursue a different path.”

“The fact remains that Iran today is a significant destabilizing force in the region,” he said.

On Libya, the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, Gen. David Rodriguez, who testified with Austin, was asked if U.S. military intervention in Libya could defeat ISIS, which has some 5,000 fighters currently based there.

“I think the answer to that is yes,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a question of how much risk we, the nation has to take with the readiness of the forces, and how much you’re going to commit.”

***

JONATHAN SPYER: CBN Interview: ISIS Losing Ground: Why That May Not Be a Good Thing

Also see:

AQAP Continues Their Push Through Weak Opposition in Yemen

CSP, by Kevin Samolsky, February 23, 2016:

Another town in Southern Yemen has fallen under control of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) over the weekend. Ahwar, a Southern city located in the Abyan Province, was seized by AQAP fighters after ousting the group of Popular Resistance Force fighters in the area.

The Popular Resistance Force (PRF) is group of militias that has aided the government in their fight against the Houthi rebels and AQAP. The group is made up of Southern militias, and have been able to provide adequate support to the national army when fighting the Houthis. However, when fighting AQAP their effect has been minimal.

The PRF lost both Zinjibar and Jaar to AQAP late last year. A PRF leader mentioned the lack of support the PRF receives from the government has allowed AQAP to be so effective in the region.

AQAP has taken significant territory within Yemen as the government and Saudi-led coalition of Gulf States continues to fight the Houthi rebels. By taking Ahwar, AQAP further solidifies its control of the Abyan province. The group also have predominant control over the Shabwa and Hadramount provinces.

Along with taking Ahwar, AQAP assassinated Sheikh Mazen al-Aqrab, gunned down in a drive-by in the capital of Aden. Al-Aqrab was one the PRF’s most senior commanders.

Ahwar serves as a strategic point between the cities of Zinjibar and Mukallah. By taking Ahwar, AQAP is creating a region of influence along the coast line. The government forces and Gulf Coalition are primarily focused on the Northwest portion of the country, and this leaves the rest of Yemen virtually ungoverned. AQAP, and to some degree the Islamic State (IS), has taken full advantage of this situation, and has quickly seized important cities in Yemen.

Soon after AQAP reclaimed the city of Azzan, AQAP senior field commander Jalal Baleedi was killed in a U.S. drone strike. While Baleedi was a high ranking officer, his death has had little impact on AQAP’s progress. The U.S. drone strike program continues to achieve tactical successes eliminating local AQ commanders, while not altering the strategic outcome, similar to the situation currently playing out in Somaliawith Al-Shabaab, with whom AQAP has close ties.

AQAP’s push through the Southern coast of Yemen is drawing the group closer to the current capital, Aden. After the government forces were expelled from Sanaa, they soon moved to Aden where they are still in control. While the government has control over the majority of the city, AQAP has been able to seize several neighborhoods on the outskirts. By controlling the entire Southern coast, AQAP may be attempting to cut the government off from its allies in the South, primarily the PRF.

If AQAP successfully establishes control over the Southern coast of Yemen it gives the group the ability to threaten a sizeable shipping lane, along with access to support their fellow Al Qaeda ally in Somalia, Al Shabaab.

The situation in Yemen is unlikely to change and AQAP will continue to poses a threat to Aden as long as the Saudi-led coalition remains focused exclusively on the Iranian-backed Houthis and the PRF militias remain a relatively weak force.

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Also see:

AQAP publishes insider’s account of 9/11 plot

Screen-Shot-2016-02-10-at-7.35.56-AM-768x523Long War Journal, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN, February 10, 2016:

Sometime before his death in a US drone strike in June 2015, Nasir al Wuhayshi recorded an insider’s account of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As the aide-de-camp to Osama bin Laden prior to the hijackings, Wuhayshi was well-placed to know such details. And al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which Wuhayshi led until his demise, has now published a version of his “untold story.”

A transcript of Wuhayshi’s discussion of the 9/11 plot was included in two editions of AQAP’s Al Masra newsletter. The first part was posted online on Jan. 31 and the second on Feb. 9. The summary below is based on the first half of Wuhayshi’s account.

Wuhayshi began by explaining al Qaeda’s rationale for attacking America. Prior to 9/11, the jihadists’ cause was not supported by the Muslim people, because the mujahideen’s “goals” were not widely understood. The jihadists were divided into many groups and fought “tit-for-tat” conflicts “with the tyrants.” (The “tyrants” were the dictators who ruled over many Muslim-majority countries.)

While the mujahideen had some successes, according to Wuhayshi, they were “besieged” by the tyrants until they found some breathing room in Afghanistan. The “sheikhs” studied this situation in meetings held in Kabul and Kandahar, because they wanted to understand why the jihadists were not victorious. And bin Laden concluded they should fight “the more manifest infidel enemy rather than the crueler infidel enemy,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Wuhayshi explained that the former was the “Crusader-Zionist movement” and the latter were the “apostates” ruling over Muslims.

While waging war against the “apostate” rulers was not likely to engender widespread support, no “two people” would “disagree” with the necessity of fighting “the Jews and Christians.” If you fight the “apostate governments in your land,” Wuhayshi elaborated, then everyone – the Muslim people, Islamic movements, and even jihadists – would be against you because they all have their own “priorities.” Divisions within the jihadists’ ranks only exacerbated the crisis, as even the mujahideen in their home countries could refuse to fight.

Wuhayshi then cited Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a prominent pro-al Qaeda ideologue, who warned that the “capability” to wage “combat” in Muslim-majority countries did “not yet exist.” So, for instance, if al Qaeda launched a “jihad against the House of Saud,” then “many jihadist movements” would oppose this decision. Al Qaeda’s fellow travelers would protest that they were “incapable” of defeating the Saudi government. And these jihadists would complain they did not want to “wage the battle prematurely,” or become entangled “in a difficult situation.”

For these reasons and more, according to Wuhayshi, bin Laden decided to “battle the more manifest enemy,” because “the people” would agree that the US “is an enemy” and this approach would not sow “discord and suspicion among the people.” Bin Laden believed that the “Islamic movement” would stand with al Qaeda “against the infidels.”

Wuhayshi’s explanation of bin Laden’s reasoning confirms that attacking the US was not al Qaeda’s end goal. It was a tactic, or a step, that bin Laden believed could unite the jihadists behind a common purpose and garner more popular support from “the people.”

Not all jihadists agreed with bin Laden’s strategy. In February 1998, bin Laden launched a “Global Islamic Front for Waging Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.” Wuhayshi claimed that a “majority of the groups agreed to” the initiative, but some, like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), opposed it. (However, some senior LIFG members were folded into al Qaeda.)

Gamaa Islamiya (IG), an Egyptian group, initially agreed to join the venture, but ultimately rejected it. As did other groups in the Arab Magreb, according to Wuhayshi. (Some senior IG leaders remained close to al Qaeda and eventually joined the organization.)

Although Wuhayshi claimed that a “majority” of jihadist organizations agreed with bin Laden’s proposal, only three ideologues joined bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri in signing the front’s infamous first fatwa.

In August 1998, just months after the “Global Islamic Front” was established, al Qaeda struck the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Wuhayshi, bin Laden held a series of meetings around this time, as he sought to convince as many people as possible that attacking America was the right course. Some jihadists objected, believing it would ensnare them in a trap. But bin Laden pressed forward, telling those who didn’t agree that they wanted to fight “lackeys” without confronting “the father of the lackeys.” Al Qaeda’s path “will lead to a welcome conclusion,” Wuhayshi quoted bin Laden as saying.

The “initiative against the Crusaders continued” after the US Embassy bombings, Wuhayshi said, and the number of people who supported it increased “dramatically.” During this period, the “Global Islamic Front” launched operations against the “Crusaders” on the ground and at sea, but the idea to strike “from the air with planes” had not yet been conceived.

The origins of the 9/11 plot

Wuhayshi traced the genesis of the 9/11 plot to both Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who would come to be known as the “mastermind” of the operation.

But he also credited Abdullah Azzam for popularizing the concept of martyrdom in the first place. Azzam was killed in 1989, but is still revered as the godfather of modern jihadism. After the mujahideen had defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, they considered “hitting the Americans,” Wuhayshi claimed. Azzam “spoke harshly about the Western military camp.” Azzam also “introduced” the jihadists to a “new tactic.” Wuhayshi recommended that people listen to Azzam’s “final speech,” in which he reportedly said: “God gave me life in order to transform you into bombs.”

Years later, on Oct. 31, 1999, bin Laden watched as the co-pilot of EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed the jet into the Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 200 people on board. Bin Laden, according to Wuhayshi, wondered why the co-pilot didn’t fly the plane into buildings. After this, Wuhayshi claimed, the basic idea for 9/11 had been planted in bin Laden’s mind.

In reality, the EgyptAir crash came after the outline of the 9/11 plot had been already sketched. For instance, the 9/11 Commission found that KSM “presented a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who would crash planes into buildings in the United States” as early as 1996. “This proposal eventually would become the 9/11 operation.” In March or April 1999, according to the Commission’s final report, bin Laden “summoned KSM to Kandahar…to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal,” which was referred to as the “planes operation.”

Indeed, Wuhayshi recounted how KSM and his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, plotted to attack multiple airliners in the mid-1990s. In the so-called Bojinka plot, KSM and Yousef even conceived a plan to blow up as many as one dozen airliners. Wuhayshi recalled how Yousef placed a bomb on board one jet as part of a test run. Their plot failed and Yousef was later captured in Pakistan. Yousef has been incarcerated for two decades after being convicted by an American court for his role in Bojinka and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Wuhayshi prayed for his release.

Wuhayshi told a story that, if true, means KSM had dreamed of attacking the US since his youth. When he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, KSM wrote a play in which a character “ponders how to down an American aircraft.” Wuhayshi claimed to have searched for this play online, but he and another “brother” failed to find it.

Still, Wuhayshi insisted that KSM wrote the play, showing he was already thinking of ways to strike America as a young man.

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

Iran / Saudi Feud Begins to Boil

iran 1Iran Truth, Jan. 4, 2015:

Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties to Iran, saying Iran must act like “a normal country” instead of “a revolution.”  The remarks came after an Iranian mob, allegedly made up of protesters, attacked the Saudi embassy.  The attack was in reprisal forSaudi Arabia’s execution of a Shi’ite clericSheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as part of a wave of executions allegedly aimed at crippling terror organizations within the Kingdom.  The Sheikh had accused the Saudi government of mistreating Shi’ites, and called for the secession of the eastern part of the country.  Others among the 47 executed included alleged al Qaeda leaders.  Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s top religious leader, said that the executions were “a mercy to the prisoners” because it would keep them from further damaging their souls via evil acts.

Although Iran says that a top police official went to the mob attacking the Saudi embassy to disperse it, the suspicion that the mob was a proxy by Iran’s government is highly credible.  Iran still celebrates as a national holiday the Iranian Revolution’s mob overrunning of the American Embassy in 1979, when the hostages seized and held for more than a year were used by the new Islamic Republic of Iran in an attempt to extort the United States.  In that environment, even without official organization the citizens of Iran know that mob attacks on the diplomatic enemies of their government will be welcomed and praised as authentic examples of the spirit of the revolution.  Saudi Arabia’s comments about Iran needing to act like a normal nation instead of a revolution are meant in that context.

The feud between the two nations has both ancient roots and contemporary flash points.  Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Islamic world as a whole, because it contains the holy city of Mecca and most of the important scenes of the life of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic religion.  However, it sides with the Sunni view of the proper leadership of Islam, a civil war between factions of the Islamic world that began hundreds of years ago shortly after Mohammed’s death.  Sunnis followed a claim that the leadership of the Islamic world should fall to those with the greatest degree of education and investment in the religious ideology.  Shi’a Islam believed that only blood descendants of Muhammad ought to lead Islam.  This led to a series of murders and bloodshed among the generation immediately after Muhammad, capped by the Battle of Karbala in the 61st year of the Islamic calendar, or A.D. 680.  The Shi’ite faction lost and their leader, Hassan ibn Ali, was killed.  The Shi’ite holy festivals of Ashura and Arba’een commemorate this defeat, and are still today marked by huge pilgrimages with self-flagellation and self-cutting by the pilgrims.

In terms of the current flash points, Iran and Saudi Arabia are backing opposite sides in a regional conflict dominated by the wars in Syria and Yemen.  Iran has beendeveloping a series of Shi’a militias ideologically loyal to its particular vision of that faith as a means of exerting its influence to dominate a crescent of the Middle east from Yemen and Afghanistan to the Levant.  The Saudi government officially bans support to terrorist groups, but has been allowing its citizens to route money through Kuwait to radical Sunni groups including al Nura Front and the Islamic State (ISIS).  Saudi Arabia is also leading a coalition of regional nations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, a band of Shi’ite tribes bent on replacing the admittedly corrupt and inefficient government there.

Saudi Arabia has diplomatic allies who are backing its play.  Bahrain, which happens also to be the headquarters of the United States Fifth Fleet, has joined Saudi Arabia in suspending diplomatic relations with Iran.  The UAE has downgraded its relationship.  Sudan has also cut off Iran.

Although Iran is framing its immediate conflict with Saudi Arabia as over what it describes as politically-motivated executions, Iran has executed three times as many persons as Saudi Arabia in recent years.  Many of these, possibly thousands of them, are of political dissidents opposed to the existing regime.  By contrast, Saudi Arabia executed fewer than fifty in the end-of-year purge.

Outside of the realms of diplomacy and war, the conflict also has ramifications for the global price of oil.  However, rising oil prices may be offset by the entry of Iran’s oil reserves into the global markets pending the full implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

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Also see:

Is it Iran’s Middle East Now?

405400143RUBIN CENTER,  NOVEMBER 7, 2015 BY JONATHAN SPYER:

The Middle East is currently in the midst of widespread instability, civil strife and the collapse or contraction of state authority. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Tunisia and Egypt have all experienced major instability over the last half decade. The first four of these areas have effectively ceased to exist as unitary states, and are now partitioned de facto between warring entities, organised according to ethnic, sectarian or tribal loyalty. The Palestinian territories too are divided into areas controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

In this fractious landscape, powerful regional states are seeking to gain advantage, extend their own power, and diminish that of their rivals.

The collapse of states has in turn brought with it the decline of the national identities which supposedly underlay them, and the growth of sectarian identification as a political factor. The result is the emergence of Sunni-Shia conflict as a major overt presence in the Middle East. In Yemen, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in a more complex way in Syria, Sunni-Shia rivalries form a central dynamic, which are also important in terms of the geo-strategic rivalries among major states competing in the Middle East.

Perhaps the single best organised and most aggressive alliance active currently in the Middle East is the bloc of states and movements gathered around the Islamic Republic of Iran. Motivated by clear strategic goals and by powerful ideological motivations, and with long experience of subversion particularly relevant to the current period of instability in the Middle East, Iran and its allies are powerful players in the regional contest.

Prior to the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, signed on 14 July 2015, it had appeared that Iran might be approaching a point of overstretch. Tehran was committed to assist a large portfolio of clients engaged in conflict across the region, at a time when Tehran was itself subject to biting economic sanctions. The continued civil war in Syria and the opening of conflicts in Iraq and Yemen – in which the Iranians were heavily committed – seemed to introduce this possibility.

However, the conclusion of the nuclear agreement – and with it the prospect of release of impounded funds as part of sanctions relief – has immediate implications for the related subject of Iranian regional ambitions and outreach. The precise sum likely to become rapidly available to Iran following the signing of the agreement and sanctions relief remains unclear and disputed. Estimates range from $150 billion (the sum frequently quoted by opponents of the nuclear deal) to $56 billion (the likely sum according to US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew).

But even if one assumes the lower estimate, and combines this with additional sums likely to become available to Iran because of renewed economic ties with the outside world as an element of sanctions relief, it may be concluded that the risk of overstretch, and a consequent inability on the part of Iran to sustain its regional commitments, has effectively disappeared as a result of the signing of the JCPOA.

As a result, Iran is well placed in the current period to continue its practice of supporting proxy political-military organisations in a variety of regional locations, in pursuit of Iranian strategic goals.

IRANIAN AMBITIONS IN THE ARAB WORLD

Iran is currently actively supporting proxies in major conflicts in the following areas: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. In addition, there is evidence that Iranian agencies are active among Shia populations – as yet without major effect – in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Tehran also has a strategic relationship with (Sunni majority) Sudan.

Iranian aims

Iran’s strategic goal is to emerge as the dominant power in the Middle East and, eventually, the entire Islamic world. It seeks to roll back US influence in the region and to work towards Israel’s destruction.

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CONCLUSION

In all areas of Iranian regional ‘outreach’, a common pattern exists. Iranian regional policy is characterised by the establishment and/or sponsorship of proxy political-military organisations. In every case noted, (with the partial exception of Lebanon) the result of the Iranian involvement is not Iranian strategic victory and the constitution of the state in question as an ally of Iran. Rather, Iranian outreach prevents the defeat and eclipse of the local Iranian ally, while ensuring division and continued conflict in the area in question.

This Iranian modus operandi – and its centrality in Iranian regional strategy – as well as the far reaching nature of Iranian goals as outlined above, mean the notion that a post JCPOA Iran can form a partner for stability in the region is deeply flawed, and will quickly be contradicted by the facts.

The export of chaos has the merit, perhaps, of keeping disorder far from Iran’s own borders by ensuring that rivals to Tehran are kept busy engaged in proxy conflicts elsewhere. However, it is difficult to see how it can result in regional hegemony and leadership.

This Iranian penchant for fomenting chaos also places them on a different trajectory to the Russians. This is important, because the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War, from September 2015 has been characterised in some quarters as the birth of a new strategic alliance between Tehran and Moscow. Ibrahim Amin, editor of the pro-Hezbollahal-Akhbar newspaper, happily called this supposed new bloc the ‘4 + 1’ alliance (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah).

But Russia has no interest in strategic support for Islamist proxies in the Middle East. Rather, it seeks powerful state allies, without particular concern as to their internal electoral arrangements or ideological proclivities. The Iranian model of creation and support of proxy Shia Islamist forces contrasts with Russia’s desire for powerful, centralised forces with which it can do business. This means that Russia and Iran have different and even opposed regional orientations, even if there is currently an overlap with regard to the Assad regime in Syria.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is likely to increase its support for its portfolio of proxy organisations across the region. The net effect of this will be to increase regional disorder and foment continued conflict. However, because of the built in limitations of Iranian methods and because of the sectarian nature of the conflicts in question (which means Iran finds it very difficult or impossible to pursue really lasting alliances with non-Shia Arab clients), it is unlikely that this will result in the attainment by Iran of its strategic goal of regional leadership/hegemony. Iran is a spoiler par excellence. But despite its ambitions and pretensions, it does not look like the founder of a new Middle Eastern order.

Read it all

Also see:

World View: The Arab World is Disintegrating into War

ISIS video

ISIS video

Breitbart, by JOHN J. XENAKIS, July 19, 2015:

Behind the scenes in the Iran nuclear deal

President Barack Obama and Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei (AFP)

President Barack Obama and Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei (AFP)

I like to reference Debka’s newsletter because it contains valuable insights into what’s going on, but it is written from Israel’s point of view, and sometimes gets things wrong. This week’s subscriber-only newsletter (sent to me by a subscriber) contains an analysis of the behind the scenes activities that led to the Iran nuclear deal:

  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has been talking about developing nuclear technology, but it really is a bluff, designed to get the US to negotiate the nuclear deal and remove sanctions. Iran has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon while Obama is in office, since the relationship with Obama is more important. — This is plausible, and probably true
  • The Shah of Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini in 1979 with the support of President Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. The Shah was double-crossed. — This is plausible, but I have no idea whether it’s true.
  • Brzezinski and his long-time associate Brent Scrowcroft were influential in the new Iran-US deal. — This is plausible.
  • Obama now expects Iran, perhaps naively, to shoulder most of the burden of fighting the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) in Iraq and Syria. — It’s plausible that Obama believes this.
  • Many Sunni Arab leaders, including Saudi’s new king Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, believe that Obama helped bring about the “Arab Spring” in order to help Iran’s rise. — It’s plausible that Arab leaders believe this, but it’s not possible for Obama or any politician to have caused or prevented the Arab Spring. For that matter, Carter and Brzezinski could not have caused or prevented Iran’s Great Islamic Revolution. These great events were caused by enormous generational changes that could not have been stopped any more than a tsunami can be stopped.
  • Obama turned his back on the Sunni Arab nations because he sees the Arab world as disintegrating into bloody, hopeless wars.
  • The continuing rhetorical fury of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran agreement has outlived its usefulness, according to some Israeli officials, who feel he should moderate his statements and instead focus on a new strategy to deal with the new world following the agreement.

Generally, the Debka view is consistent with my article “15-Jul-15 World View — Arab views of Iran nuclear deal,” including the fact that Iran is becoming America’s ally, and the Sunni Arabs will be America’s enemy. Debka

The Arab world is disintegrating into war

The same Debka newsletter points out that the number of conflicts in the Arab world is larger than the number of Arab nations involved in the conflicts:

  • Libya has fallen apart and is mired in tribal warfare and war with ISIS.
  • Egypt is plagued by frequent terrorist attacks by both ISIS (as “Sinai Province”) and the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Syria is mired in an endless war pitting Bashar al-Assad’s army plus Hezbollah plus Iran plus Shia militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan versus ISIS plus other jihadists and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
  • Iraq is in full-scale war with ISIS.
  • Lebanon is poised on a knife’s edge from the spillover of the Syrian war.
  • Jordan is ostensibly stable, but Bedouin tribes’ traditional loyalty to the crown is being undermined, and Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and ISIS are each poised to move in on Amman.
  • Yemen is in a civil war, in which Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are fighting the Iran-backed Houthis. The battle is being exploited by al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS to seize large swathes of land.
  • Saudi Arabia is caught up in three wars — Yemen, Iraq and Syria — with grave domestic challenges from the Shias in the east and from the 16-19 year old Sunni youths, nearly a third of whom are without jobs and have set up clandestine cells across the kingdom dedicated to toppling the House of Saud.

On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman have lined up behind the Iran nuclear deal and have maintained good relations with Iran. In particular, the UAE expects to gain from the Iran’s post-sanctions import and export trade by having Dubai become the biggest free port in the Gulf.

Debka says that the Arab governments are, like Israel, in a state of disarray after being swept aside by the Iran deal, and in a state of gloom over all the wars going on. The Arab nations need to focus on creating a new Arab regional structure to replace the outdated Arab League.

As we have been saying for many years, the Mideast is headed for a major regional ethnic and sectarian war with 100% certainty, and events seem to bring that war closer every week. This is particularly true of last week’s major event, the Iran nuclear deal.

It is impossible to predict the sequence of political events that will lead to this regional war, but the concept of “a new Arab regional structure” suggests one possibility. My expectation is that, sooner or later, the Arab states will unite with ISIS to fight Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and this new Arab regional structure may be the political mechanism that brings all these Sunni and Arab elements together to fight Iran. Debka

Saudi Arabia conducts major anti-terrorism sweep against ISIS

In a major anti-terrorism sweep across the country, Saudi Arabia has arrested 431 people believed to belong to ISIS cells, “as part of a scheme managed from troubled areas abroad and aimed at inciting sectarian strife and chaos.” According to the Saudi statement statement:

The number of arrested to date was 431 … detainees, most of them citizens, as well as participants holding other nationalities including Yemeni, Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Algerian, Nigerian, Chadian, and unidentified others.

What combines these cells (which were subjected to security restrictions by not making direct contacts among themselves) is the belonging to the terrorist ISIS organization in terms of the adoption of thought, takfir of society and bloodshed, and then exchanging roles to implement the plans and objectives dictated from abroad.

There have been several terrorist attacks on Shia mosques in eastern Saudi Arabia, and the purpose of the announcement in part was to make it clear to the Shias in the east that the government is doing something. The Saudis claim that they have thwarted six additional planned attacks on Shia mosques.

The fact that over 400 people have been arrested gives an idea of the scale of threat that the Saudis face in ISIS. Saudi Press Agency and AP and Arab News

Massive bomb attack in Iraq market kills over 130

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a massive bomb attack in a crowded open-air market in Khan Bani Saad, a mostly Shia town 20 miles northeast of Baghdad. The death toll is 130 and climbing, making it the biggest ISIS civilian terror attack in the country.

A man in a truck pulled up to the marketplace in the extreme summer heat and said he was selling ice at a discount to celebrate the end of Ramadan. He lured over 100 people to the truck, and the detonated at least one ton of explosives.

Khan Bani Saad is in Diyala province, which borders Iran. It’s the only province in Iraq where Iranian jets are known to have conducted airstrikes against ISIS earlier this year.CNN and AP

New AQAP Leader Named – What to Expect

Wuhayshi Source: Associated Press

Wuhayshi
Source: Associated Press

June 18, 2015 /

al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Emir Nasir al-Wuhayshi aka “Abu Basir” was confirmed to have been killed in Mukalla sometime around 09 JUN. AQAP had initially hid the news of Wuhayshi’s death because they’re concerned about intelligence assets operating in the area – especially since they were rounding up people they suspected of being “spies” prior to his death. When the airstrike occurred, they began to panic and suspect that someone was still on the ground directing the Saudi-led coalition – which led to even more people being executed. Wuhayshi is respected by the leadership of both AQ and the Islamic State (IS), and had actually served as a bit of a calming voice of reason in Yemen who advocated a truce so that they can target their primary threats: Iran and their Houthi proxies.

Yemen al-Qaeda chief al-Wuhayshi killed in US strike
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33143259

AQAP excutes “spies” blamed for leaders’ deaths
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/aqap-executes-alleged-spies-blamed-for-leaders-deaths.php

His successor has been identified as Qasim al-Raymi, who is one of the last surviving original members of AQAP. Raymi is one of the primary planners for external operations targeting the West (United States, France etc). He’s also a known “risk-taker” – more so than Wuhayshi ever was. This is no doubt a reflection of Raymi’s past experience in Afghanistan – where he first met Wuhayshi and Osama bin Laden. If the French don’t know who this guy is, he’s the individual who planned the attack on Charlie Hebdo Magazine. Here’s some of his other highlights:

– DEC 2014 attack targeting the Iranian Ambassador to Yemen.

– 05 DEC 2013 attack on the Yemeni Defense Ministry. He actually apologized for that one. Really.

– Tried to blow up an American airliner on 25 DEC 2009 (the infamous “underwear bomber incident”).

– Was the point-man in a 2007 attack in Marib that killed 8 Spanish tourists (we have no idea why anybody would vacation in Yemen but hey, whatever floats your boat).

– Several attempts to target the US Ambassador to Yemen.

New AQAP chief Rimi a veteran Al Qaeda fighter and recruiter
http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/new-aqap-chief-rimi-a-veteran-al-qaeda-fighter-and-recruiter

AQAP Claims Responsibility For Attack on Iran’s Ambassador to Yemen
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3476

Did Abdulmutallab Talk to Radical Cleric?
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-abdulmutallab-talk-to-radical-cleric/

Deadly attacks hit Yemen defence ministry in Sanaa
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25228729

rimi

Qasim al-Raymi
Source: The ISIS Study Group

Perhaps the most important thing about Raymi replacing Wuhayshi is that he doesn’t share his late-superior’s sentiments about a truce with IS. In fact, Raymi has serious beef with Yemeni IS Emir Abu Abdullah al-Harbi in recent weeks. The issues between the two stem from Harbi accusing Raymi of being an informant who has been feeding the Saudi-led coalition intelligence to coordinate their airstrikes – which is rather interesting considering AQAP’s sudden sense of urgency in trying to identify where the leaks are occurring within the organization. We suspect this is partly retaliation for Raymi accusing Harbi of “headhunting” his best guys after experiencing a wave of defections last month.

Despite the loss of Wuhayshi and other leaders, AQAP still retains the capability to conduct attacks outside of Yemen – the United States and Europe in particular. Raymi also brings the necessary continuity for launching such attacks. However, we assess that Raymi will instead choose to increase AQAP’s OP-tempo on the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen and Saudi Arabia) instead, at least for the near-term. Even before Wuhayshi’s death, Raymi has been successful in overseeing AQAP’s expansion in the country. With Wuhayshi gone, that expansion will accelerate. We suspect that he may decide halt the IS expansion into Yemen militarily by declaring war on Team Baghdadi before they become a bigger threat. Should Raymi be sent to meet Allah, we assess that either Abu Hamza al-Jarjubari or Khalid Batarfi will replace him.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 8.40.42 PM

Khalid Batarfi: Possible replacement for Raymi
Source: The ISIS Study Group

Other Related Articles:

Houthis w/IRGC Technicians Fired Missile into Saudi Arabia, AQAP Expansion Continues
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=7081

AQAP and Qods Force Make Their Moves in Yemen as Saudis Struggle to Maintain Coalition
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6078

GCC SOF Teams Alerted For Deployment, AQAP Gains Strength and Iran Preps For Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6056

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FDD Senior Fellow Bill Roggio discusses the death of the AQAP emir and the significance moving forward. – The Arlene Bynon Show (Sirius XM) – June 16, 2015

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Also see: