Archive for March 12, 2019

Iran’s play for Iraqi influence is all about access to Israel

March 12, 2019

Source: Iran’s play for Iraqi influence is all about access to Israel

 

The rise of Shia Muslims in Iraq has helped secure more influence for Iran in the rebuilding Middle Eastern nation. As the break from American influences continues in Iraq, their former enemies in Iran are making a play to get closer to the country, eventually make it a full blown ally, and have more direct access to their enemies in Israel.

This is the short- and long-term goal of nearly everything Iran has been doing for the past decade. They’ve expanded their influence in Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Getting a foothold in Iraq would accelerate their plans greatly as they attempt to fill voids the United States has left since the end of the Iraq war.

It was bound to happen. We cannot stay entrenched in the Middle East indefinitely and the hard press by both Iran and Russia to expand their influence in the region is impossible to stave off without our presence. Israel’s been living in relative security, but it’s been on borrowed time. Just as they knew the United States’ mission there was unsustainable, so too have they been preparing for this inevitability.

Meanwhile, Iran is hoping to get the footholds they desire at a faster pace than Israel can prepare for them. This may end up working; if Israel is forced to fight a multi-front war with Iran, they may not have the military might to sustain. The specter of the United States will always loom over the region, but it’s conceivable that a future President might not be quick enough to respond to Israel’s calls for help, or may choose to ignore them altogether.

This is one of the reasons the push towards antisemitism in the United States is so appalling. Normalized antisemitism isn’t really about harming Jews in America. It’s about recreating the rift that started with President Obama and that could grow once again with a future President who shares the growing hatred for Israel within the Democratic Party.

Iraq is a pawn in the Middle East. We rightly chose to stop playing with them, but one can argue our presence their ended up harming them to the point that Iran can make a stronger move now. All of this is bad for Israel. This situation must be monitored.

 

It’s all about appearances in Iranian president’s Iraq visit 

March 12, 2019

Source: It’s all about appearances in Iranian president’s Iraq visit – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

From Iran’s point of view, nothing could be going better in this visit.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 MARCH 12, 2019 13:42
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Baghdad, Iraq

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took a massive delegation with him to Baghdad on Monday. He showed them off at a long table in meetings with Iraqi officials; at least 16 men were present on each side. Together they are signing a variety of agreements that aim to cement the Iranian alliance with Iraq.

It’s all about appearances in this visit. Iran wants to show its power in Iraq and illustrate that it is the country’s strongest partner. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, said that on the first day of the Iran-Iraq summit, business leaders and officials had agreed on new visa arrangements, a new railway and joint industrial zones that aimed to increase trade to $20 billion. “Two more days, two more cities” he tweeted.

Haydar al-Khoei, an Iraq-based analyst, illustrated the symbolism in this visit by juxtaposing it with US President Donald Trump’s visit in December last year. Rouhani welcomed him with an actual red carpet. Trump spoke to US troops and left. Baxtiyar Goran, a journalist and commentator from the Kurdistan region of Iran, said the contrast is that the “US doesn’t recognize Iraq’s sovereignty: Iran controls Iraq’s sovereignty.”

This represents the debate taking place in Iraq today. After the defeat of ISIS, the question is not only who will control Iraq but also whether Baghdad can retake its sovereignty and act independently after years of war and instability. Some Iraqi lawmakers, especially those linked to Shi’ite political parties, are trying to get the US to leave Iraq. At a Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee meeting, according to Iraq watcher David M. Witty, a statement noted that “Iraq will not become a milk cow for the US. We will not comply with US demands that we pay for US presence in Iraq. We will vote on a law soon requiring the end of foreign forces in Iraq.”

From Iran’s point of view, nothing could be going better in this visit. Tehran will showcase its alliance and meet with sectors of society, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shi’ite cleric who helped raise the militias that fought ISIS. Zarif says that the US cannot stop Iran’s increasing relations with Iraq. But he seeks to downplay the view that Iran is too heavy-handed there. “We are not here to take action against any country or interfere in any country,” he said.

 

US officials reportedly in Mideast peace talks with Jordan’s king 

March 12, 2019

Source: US officials reportedly in Mideast peace talks with Jordan’s king – Israel Hayom

U.S. secretary of state and White House senior advisers Kushner, Greenblatt discuss Middle East peace with King Abdullah in Washington, American source says • Abdullah also meets with U.S. vice president to discuss Islamic State, U.S. presence in Syria.  

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff // published on 12/03/2019
   
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt discussed Middle East peace prospects with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday in Washington, an American source familiar with the meeting said.

The 45-minute meeting took place at the Jordanian ambassador’s residence in Washington, the source said.

Kushner and Greenblatt returned recently from a tour of Persian Gulf states during which they sought support from Arab leaders on the economic portion of a Middle East peace proposal that U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to unveil in coming months.

That trip, however, did not include a stop in Jordan.

The release of the Trump peace plan has been delayed repeatedly. White House officials have said they plan to unveil the so-called “deal of the century” sometime after April 9, when Israel is set to hold elections that will decide the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abdullah also met Vice President Mike Pence on Monday.

Pence’s office said he and the king discussed the fight against the Islamic State group and Trump’s decision to maintain a residual U.S. presence in Syria.

Abdullah was set to meet lawmakers, including members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The king also met on Monday with U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to discuss military and defense cooperation between Jordan and the U.S.

“The meeting covered the latest developments in the Middle East, efforts to reach political solutions to regional crises, and efforts to fight terrorism within a holistic approach and Jordanian-US cooperation in this regard,” the Jordanian Embassy said in a statement.

 

Al-Qaida commander warns Arab states over ties with Israel 

March 12, 2019

Source: Al-Qaida commander warns Arab states over ties with Israel – Israel Hayom

Senior commander of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula accuses Arab, Persian Gulf states of trying to please Jews and Christians in support of U.S. peace deal he says will finalize “sale of Palestine to the Jews,” displace Muslims to Sinai Peninsula.

JNS and Israel Hayom Staff // published on 12/03/2019
   
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen in 2014 


Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula senior commander Khaled Batarfi has accused Arab states of rushing to normalize relations with Israel, according to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

In a video published on the Telegram channel of the terrorist group’s media arm, Monday, Batarfi called on Muslims to confront their governments militarily and intellectually.

Batarfi accused the governments of Arab and Persian Gulf state government of acting to please Jews and Christians, saying they have “diligently tried to promote the so-called ‘deal of the century.'”

He said Egypt’s transfer of Tiran and Sanafir Islands to Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s multibillion-dollar Neom City project had been planned “to boost the deal and finalize the sale of Palestine to the Jews and the displacement of the Muslims to the Sinai [Peninsula].”

Batarfi condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and U.S. President Donald Trump’s praise of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as Trump’s acknowledgment of the important role Ryadh plays in the region.

Batarfi asserted that the leaders of the Christians of the Jews “have become lawyers defending Al-Saud” because they are the ones who benefit the most from the Saudi royal family.

He accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of “secularizing” Saudi Arabia and promoting “debauchery” by creating the General Entertainment Authority. He condemned the imprisonment of religious clerics and reformers, as well as the hosting of Western priests and rabbis.

Addressing Muslims, Batarfi accused the Saudi crown prince and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of secularizing their societies in order to “facilitate the normalization, promote co-existence with the West and Israel … and to please their Crusader master Trump to keep them in their thrones.”

He cited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate’s position against political Islamist groups and their support of regimes and groups that oppose the Arab Spring as proof that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi intend to “thwart all the attempts at Islam-inspired projects.”

He then condemned the UAE and Bahrain’s reopening of their embassies in Syria, as well as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to Damascus, saying that these actions prove that Arab governments are not concerned about those the Syrian regime killed and that all they care about is “pleasing the Jews and the Christians to secure their thrones.”

Batarfi urged Muslims not to remain silent on “this major crime” and to prepare to act to remove these governments from power.

“Remember,” he said, “We have scholars, men and women languishing in the prisons of those tyrants, whose crimes were refusing to remain silent against the falsehood of these rulers, and they are awaiting our support for them, and we will be asked if we have let them down.”

 

Rouhani is in Baghdad to harness Iraq’s banks for beating US anti-Iran oil sanctions – DEBKAfile

March 12, 2019

Source: Rouhani is in Baghdad to harness Iraq’s banks for beating US anti-Iran oil sanctions – DEBKAfile

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani started a visit to Baghdad on Monday, March 11, for the main purpose of harnessing Iraq’s banks as Tehran’s main mechanism for beating the US sanction on its oil sales.

This is revealed exclusively by DEBKAfile. Rouhani will formalize the deal, which has been in discussion for more than a month between Tehran and Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. They agreed in principle to set up a mechanism for enabling Iran’s foreign clients to purchase oil and gas, in defiance of President Donald Trump’s sanctions, by registering the transactions as purchases of Iraqi oil. Payment is to be deposited in Iraqi banks in Baghdad and Basra, then quietly transferred in euros to banks in Tehran.

Prime Minister Mahdi does not expect the Trump administration to make trouble over this subterfuge. He is under enormous pressure from Iran and the Iraqi Shiite militias under the thumb of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani to order US forces to withdraw from Iraq. He therefore believes he holds over Washington’s head a threat to give into Iran’s pressure and order the 5,200 American troops to pack up and leave their bases, should the US take action against the Iraqi banks which collude in busting US sanctions.

This order would undermine the Trump administration’s strategy in the Middle East and the Gulf. The US grants substantial financial and military support to Baghdad to secure a linchpin for this strategy against Tehran’s grab for dominant influence in the Iraqi capital.

However, the deal is in the bag. On Feb. 6, the governor of the Iraqi central bank Abdolnasser Hemmat and his Iranian counterpart Ali Mohsen Ismail al-Alaq reached an agreement in principle. Rouhani, who is accompanied on his three-day visit to Baghdad by foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and oil minister Bijan Zangeneh, is to add the government’s seal to the transaction.

Meanwhile, Washington warned the Mahdi government against conniving with Tehran to beat America’s anti-Iran sanctions. On Friday, March 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the Iraqi prime minister with a caution. If Iraqi banks go through with the sanctions-busting deal with Tehran, the US will block their access to the international financial markets ruled by the US dollar.

Washington and Baghdad are on the brink of a showdown. It is marked by the impending activation of Iraqi banks for breaking the US embargo on Iranian oil sales, plus Baghdad’s threat to demand the removal of US forces. This impasse is the reason why the US has in recent days sent additional forces to fortify its bases in Iraq, as DEBKAfile’s military sources first reported on March 9. The extra units have been drawn from US bases in Israel and Jordan.