Archive for October 7, 2019

Iran leader blames ‘enemies seeking to sow discord’ for Iraq unrest 

October 7, 2019

Source: Iran leader blames ‘enemies seeking to sow discord’ for Iraq unrest | The Times of Israel

Khamenei condemns ‘conspiracy’ to incite division between two majority-Shiite countries as death toll in Iraqi protests tops 100

In this photo from April, 6, 2019, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, speaks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)

In this photo from April, 6, 2019, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, speaks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “enemies” were trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad in a tweet on Monday following deadly unrest in neighboring Iraq.

“#Iran and #Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together… Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on his office’s Twitter account.

State news agency IRNA said the supreme leader was reacting to recent violence in Iraq.

More than 100 people have been killed in Iraq since clashes erupted last week between protesters and security forces, the majority of them demonstrators struck by bullets.

The Iraqi authorities have accused “saboteurs” and unidentified snipers of targeting the protesters.

Anti-government protesters set fires and close a street during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, October 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The unrest is the most serious challenge facing Iraq two years after the victory against the Islamic State terror group. The chaos also comes at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.

Iran has urged its citizens planning to take part in a major Shiite pilgrimage in Iraq to delay their travel into the country over the violence.

Tehran has close but complicated ties with Baghdad, with significant influence among its Shiite political groups.

The two countries fought a bloody war from 1980 to 1988 and Iran’s influence in the country grew after the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled veteran dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

The war against IS has given unprecedented clout to Iranian-backed militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which fought the extremist group alongside Iraq’s army and are now part of the country’s security forces. They have accumulated immense political and economic power, challenging the authority of the central government.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who came to power a year ago, promised to introduce change and fight corruption, but he has been unable to bring meaningful reform. He also been powerless to rein in the militias, and many Iraqis have grown frustrated with a government they see as increasingly subservient to Iran.

There are already indications that regional tension is at play. Some demonstrators in Baghdad have blamed Iranian-backed groups within the security forces for the violence. Media affiliated with the Iranian-backed groups have pointed toward the US and Saudi Arabia for the unrest.

In the first official statement from the government accounting for the violence, Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said Sunday that 104 people had been killed in the six days of unrest, including eight members of the security forces, and more than 6,000 wounded. He said an investigation was under way to determine who was behind the most deadly day of violence, in Baghdad on Friday.

Iraq’s most senior Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged the protesters and the security forces to end the violence while the country’s prime minister has called on the protesters to go home. Abdul-Mahdi also pledged to meet with the protesters wherever they are and without any armed forces, to hear their demands.


Netanyahu said pushing NIS 1b air defense plan to counter Iran threats 

October 7, 2019

Source: Netanyahu said pushing NIS 1b air defense plan to counter Iran threats | The Times of Israel

Project would specifically focus on threat of cruise missiles; much of the budget approval will have to wait until next government is sworn in

Illustrative: The Arrow 3 missile is launched from Palmachim air base in central Israel on December 10, 2015. (Defense Ministry)

Illustrative: The Arrow 3 missile is launched from Palmachim air base in central Israel on December 10, 2015. (Defense Ministry)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing to advance a huge air-defense project aimed at countering the threat of an attack from Iran, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.

The NIS 1 billion ($290 million) project would place particular focus on defending the country against cruise missile attacks, similar to strikes on Saudi oil facilities last month blamed on Iran.

Treasury officials told the Kan broadcaster that the air-defense project has been under discussion for some time, but that much of the funding can only be approved after the next government is sworn in. Coalition and unity government talks have made no progress since elections last month failed to resolve a political deadlock that began after previous elections in April.

The Finance Ministry has put forward some options for funding the defense project, including from the Defense Ministry’s existing budget. However, that option seems unlikely, the report said, and costs are more likely to be covered by cutbacks in civilian budgeting and tax increases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the 22nd Knesset, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On Sunday, the high-level security cabinet convened for the first time in two months, amid cryptic warnings by Israeli leaders in recent days of a growing security threat from Iran. The meeting began in the late afternoon and continued for nearly six hours.

The discussions are based on concerns that Iran, emboldened by a recent string of attacks that drew no military response from the West or its Middle Eastern foes, could set its sights on attacking Israel, Channel 12 reported.

Officials believe Iran may have publicized information about an allegedly foiled “Israel-Arab” plot to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a pretense to attack Israel, according to Channel 12.

Both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have mentioned crucial security needs in recent days as they called for the formation of a broad unity government.

Netanyahu, during a speech Thursday at the swearing-in of the new Knesset, also called for a “broad national unity government,” saying the country’s security challenges demanded political stability.

“This isn’t spin, it’s not a whim, this is not ‘Netanyahu trying to scare us,’” he said. “Anyone who knows the situation knows that Iran is getting stronger and is attacking around the world, saying clearly, ‘Israel will disappear.’ They believe it, they are working toward it, we need to take them seriously.”

Netanyahu has sought to press rival Blue and White to join a coalition led by him and including right-wing and Haredi parties. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has so far refused to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu, as long as the Likud leader faces corruption indictments, and is also unwilling to join a government made of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu were to step down.

A September 14 cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities knocked out half the kingdom’s oil production. Although Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran of being behind the attack.

Damage to the infrastructure at at Saudi Aramco’s Kuirais oil field in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia, on September 15, 2019. (US government/Digital Globe, including annotations, via AP)

Iran regularly threatens Israel, viewing the country as a powerful enemy allied with the United States and Sunni countries in the region against Tehran and its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has also thwarted Iranian operations in neighboring Syria where its fighters and those of Iranian proxy Hezbollah have been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since 2011.

Israel has vowed to prevent Iran’s regional proxy militias from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria that it says were to prevent deliver of weapons and to stop Iranian military entrenchment in that country.


Trump’s policy of inaction is whetting Iran’s appetite for aggression 

October 7, 2019

Source: Trump’s policy of inaction is whetting Iran’s appetite for aggression | The Times of Israel

Despite threats of a forceful response, US administration is pursuing the same policy of restraint as its predecessors did in the Gulf, but Tehran can sense weakness from afar

Iranian demonstrators carry a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and an effigy of US President Donald Trump, during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10, 2019. (Stringer/AFP)

Iranian demonstrators carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and an effigy of US President Donald Trump, during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10, 2019. (Stringer/AFP)

The Trump administration’s disregard for the unprecedented September 15 Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries and fields is reminiscent of the actions — or lack thereof — taken by former US president Barack Obama in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta al-Sharqiya, in the country’s southwest, which left hundreds of people dead.

Back then, it was clear that an American response was imminent because Obama himself had warned that an attack using unconventional weapons, especially on civilians, would constitute crossing a “red line,” the likes of which the US would not abide. But lo and behold, the Americans refrained from responding, choosing instead to hammer out a deal that significantly reduced Syria’s chemical stockpiles.

It is difficult to criticize this policy, as it resulted in actual achievements. Nonetheless, the lack of American response came with a price for Syria and the entire Middle East: Assad’s regime understood it could continue to butcher the Syrian people uninterrupted as long as it did not use chemical weapons. After a while, it became clear that chemical attacks were still being carried out but even then, the US government refrained from responding.

Fast forward six years and Iran has conducted a widespread attack on the Saudi oil industry. A combination of cruise missiles and combat drones targeted the state-owned oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia, causing severe damage and a rapid hike in oil prices.

Then-president Barack Obama meets with then president-elect Donald Trump to update him on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House, on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Jim Watson)

Washington was quick to announce that the US was gearing up to strike back on behalf of its Saudi allies, and President Donald Trump made it clear he knew exactly who was responsible for the attack. Iran’s fingerprints are all over this incident, it would appear, but the US has yet to respond.

During a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, workers fix the damage in Aramco’s oil separator at processing facility after the September 14 attack in Abqaiq, near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, September 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

This is not the first time that the United States has refrained from responding to Iranian aggression against its allies in the Middle East, even when such attacks involved American citizens and soldiers.

The 1980s provide ample examples for this policy: when the first massive suicide bombings struck American targets in the Middle East — the April 1983 attack on the US embassy in Beirut and, in October of that year, the attack against a Marine base in the Lebanese capital, which together left over 300 dead — US intelligence easily identified Iran as the driving force behind them.

Later, when US citizens including, in 1985, then-CIA station chief William Buckley, were abducted or murdered in Lebanon by Iranian proxy agents, the United States opted to bury its head in the sand and ignored the clearly hostile Iranian activity.

The 10-story apartment building, pictured March 16, 1984 in Beirut, Lebanon, where kidnapped US embassy political officer William Buckley lived on the top floor. (AP/Don Mell)

This disregard has not led Iran to refrain from engaging in future terrorist activities. On the contrary, the Iranian terrorism industry is present in almost every corner of the world, and it is especially rampant in the Middle East.

But even now, it seems that the administration led by Trump — who threatens to act but frequently does not — is again paralyzed.

Here, too, the considerations against a military response — the desire to avoid war and the fear of Iranian retaliation in the form of terrorist attacks — are understandable.

However, just as in Lebanon’s case in the 1980s and the more recent case in Syria, the decision to do nothing comes at a cost. And its implications may become evident in a potential conflict with Israel.

These implications are at the root of Israel’s concern over a military escalation vis-à-vis Iran and its regional proxies in the near future. There are some in Israel who believe that American inaction will lead Tehran to develop an even greater appetite for aggression and may tempt it to carry out similar hostilities against Israel, most likely in retaliation for the ongoing alleged Israeli strikes against Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq.

But this assessment, too, should be qualified: The Iranians may not be in such a rush to step into what is likely to be a very complex war with Israel. Iran understands that Saudi Arabia is radically different from Israel and that the IDF’s military capabilities considerably outweigh those of the Saudi army. Even if you consider Hezbollah’s sizable rocket arsenal in Lebanon, it is doubtful that the Iranians will want to “waste” it to attack Israel without a real cause.

The Trump administration may not be without its Israeli fans, especially among Likud and right-wing voters; nevertheless, it is pursuing the same policy of restraint as its predecessors. The problem is that Tehran, as everyone knows, can sense weakness from afar.