Author Archive

Prepare for a bad Iran deal

April 16, 2014

Prepare for a bad Iran deal – Artaxes’ brainbench.

Why the likelyhood of a bad deal with Iran has increased

By Charles Artaxes

Before I begin I want to make clear for the reader not familiar with my writings that the name Obavez refers to the US president who reminds me more of Hugo Chavez than of an US president.

We are living in a strange world. While in the recent weeks we were hearing and reading statements from the US, China and Iran expressing optimism that a deal with Iran could be struck by the deadline set for July 20, 2014 we see no indication that the positions of both sides have moved even nearly close enough to bridge the gap between them.
Far from it, the Iranians have moved further away by increasing their demands by claiming that they need substantially more centrifuges and by claiming that they have the right to enrich uranium up to 90%.

Of particular interest were the statements of Rouhani who said “We will witness the sanctions shattering in the coming months.” and the statements made in an opinion piece published in the Russian online edition of RIA Novosti claiming that “The head of the Center for Modern Iranian Studies, Radzhab Safarov, said he was “90 percent sure” that an agreement to lift sanctions against Iran will be reached during the April 7-9 meeting in Vienna, paving the way for military cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.”.
Now, all these statements could just be expressions made for politcal purposes not grounded in reality or it could be that these people know something that we don’t know.
Be it as it may. Although April 9 has passed and although such optimism seems to fly in the face of reality there are recent global developments that have increased the likelyhood of an US deal with Iran considerably.

Of these developments the two most important are the the crisis in Ukraine and the collapse of the MidEast peace process.
With the annexation of Crimea being a fait accompli Putin seems well on his way to annexing more parts of Ukraine since the recent escalation in eastern Ukraine and the massive concentration of Russian troops inidicates that a Russian invasion is just a matter of time.
This of course will have implications for the P5+1 negotiations with Iran because Russia has already indicated that it might retaliate by sabotaging the negotiations if the West tries to punish Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.
But in contrast to many commenters and op-ed writers I see Russia not sabotaging the negotiations directly but in indirect ways.
It would be bad publicity for the Russians to sabotage the negotiations directly.
It would be much smarter to undermine the sanctions regime and simultaniously encourage the Iranians in secret to be more intransigent and to increase their demands and also play for time.
If the sanctions were to be undermined there would be less economic pressure on the Iranians enabling them to drag the the negotiations for much longer.
As Reuters reported Russia and Iran are working on a oil-for-goods deal worth $20 billion. That would be precisely the way to undermine sanctions.
The other possible way for Russia to retaliate is to encourage Assad to stall the implementation of the deal on the destruction of his chemical weapons.
Assad just missed yet another deadline for handing over his vast bulk of chemical weapons which means that their removal falls further behind schedule.
From the Balkan wars in the 1990s to Syria to Iran, Russia used such crises to present itself as an important global player whose help is needed to resolve these crises thus compensating for its loss of superpower status.
But in all these crises Russia was never a part of the solution but part of the problem. In the case of Syria and Iran Russia is not interested in solving these crises (except on its terms). On the contrary, the crises ensure that Russia is needed as a ‘partner’ who ‘helps solving’ these crises and moreover they provide them a means to blackmail the West. If the West takes actions against Russia’s expansion in the Ukraine, Russia can retaliate by withdrawing its ‘cooperation’ or worsening these crises.
In the case of the former Yugoslavia the Gordian knot was cut by unilateral NATO action but absent Obavez’ willingness for military action this option is not available.
This leaves the West helpless against Russia’s moves.

So far the record of the Obavez administration has been atrocious, with disaster piling upon disaster and scandal piling upon scandal and the greatest of all disasters, ObavezCare, is assumed by many to cost the Democrats dearly in the 2014 elections.
Like many presidents before him Obavez has in his second term only one field were he could score major political points: foreign policy.
But the problem is that his foreign policy is equally disastrous and one of the two major foreign policy initiatives, the MidEast peace process, is already a total failure.
While some have declared the MidEast peace process already dead and others say that it was a stillbirth I think we can savely say that it is in a deep coma from which it’s not going to wake up anytime soon and even if it wakes up it will be so badly damaged that it can never sufficiently recover.
Therefore we don’t need to wait for the official death certificate to aknowledge that it is a total disaster for the Obavez administration.
That leaves only one field where the Obavez administration could be successful: a deal with Iran.
This increases the chances that the US administration might be so desperate for a success that it might accept any deal, a very bad deal even by their own standards.

All these developments might lead to a surprising result where Iran sides with the US and not with Russia.
If Iran were to strike a deal with the US it would achieve a tremendous result: It would be totally free from sanctions and would be treated not much differently from any other nuclear state like for example Japan.
Iran would be free to trade unhindered with the rest of the world enabling the mullah regime to end its dependence on Russia and buy military hardware and expertise from whichever country is willing to sell it.
The economic boost would not only stabilize the mullah regime but it would also provide the money to develop its nuclear program and all the military aspects of it even faster.
Of course an acceptable deal for Iran would have to be ‘an offer they can’t refuse’ giving them pretty much everything they want.
Needless to say that such a deal would bring not more freedom to the Iranian people and neither would Iran cease to see America as ‘the big satan’ and enemy number one.
There are those who see Iran as a mere pawn of Russia but I beg to differ. The Iranians have much bigger ambitions and taking their history with the mighty Persian empires of the past into account they certainly see themselves not as pawns but as a great power rising again and taking its rightful place in the world.
They are just cunningly playing their game.

Does all this sound strange to you?
Well, it might after all be not that farfetched.
I want to quote the Russian op-ed I mentioned earlier: “The expert said that the standoff over Crimea, the worst since the end of the Cold War, would contribute to the Iranian talks, because “there will be a bitter struggle between Russia and the West to win Iran round.”.
Given that Putin has tight control over the Russian media and given that RIA Novosti is run by the Russian state it is reasonable to assume that it does not contradict the views of the Russian goverment.

What does this mean for Israel?

In a very interesting interview with the New York Time’s Ethan Bronner Israel’s former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin spoke on a wide range of topics (including Syria, Egypt and Iran).

He repeated his four conditions that are necessary for a military strike on Iran.
1. Israel can do it.
2. Bombing Iran is less dangerous than all the other alternatives.
3. Legitimacy (meaning there are no other alternatives)
4. No red light from the US

With regards to #4 he said that a red light would have to be taken very seriously into consideration.
Interestingly he mentioned also that a bad deal could be defined as a good deal.
As we have seen with the interrim deal this deal would be sold to the public as a great or at least an acceptable deal.
And that is the danger for the legitimacy of any Israeli strike.
This is why Israel must prepare for such an outcome ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Here is the full interview with Amos Yadlin.


Hezbollah reorganizes ranks in light of leaks

April 3, 2014

Hezbollah reorganizes ranks in light of leaks – The Daily Star.

April 01, 2014 12:38 AM 
The Daily Star

File - Hezbollah members parade in Teffahta during a ceremony commemorating three slain Hezbollah leaders, Imad Mughniyeh, Abbas Musawi and Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

File – Hezbollah members parade in Teffahta during a ceremony commemorating three slain Hezbollah leaders, Imad Mughniyeh, Abbas Musawi and Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

Information made available to The Daily Star revealed that a high-ranking Iranian lieutenant colonel, identified as Mahmoud A., arrived recently in Lebanon to provide counsel as Hezbollah radically reforms its security apparatus.

The changes are a response to violations committed within party ranks, documented by Israeli as well as Western intelligence, as well as the party’s missteps in dealing with the sensitive security situation in Lebanon – not to mention the conflict in neighboring Syria, where the party has suffered from almost daily information leaks.

The colonel is expected to be involved in a series of changes and new appointments in a number of leading security posts, as well as reorganizing groups and cells in line with amendments relating to the party’s communication structure.

Information made available by reliable sources said that Hezbollah arrested one of its field commanders in Syria, after it was alleged that he was dealing with the Israeli Mossad and played a role in leaking information to agents, leading to the Israeli raid on the Janta area.

The commander has been moved to Haret Hreik and his case – supervised by the Iranian colonel – is being investigated.

The sources also confirmed that Hezbollah’s security apparatus was able to detect a cell within the party working for Israeli agents. The cell included a Lebanese man identified as M.A., who hails from the southern Nabatieh town of Harouf, and is thought to be a notorious Israeli informant within the party’s electronic communications department.

The sources said the detainee’s maternal uncle was assassinated in Germany by jihadist organizations charged with working for Israel after he fled Lebanon following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000.

His grandfather was also assassinated by a Palestinian resistance faction in 1980.

According to the information available, among those involved with working for Israel is a Hezbollah sheikh who is still being investigated but whose name has not yet been released, because identifying him publicly could have a negative impact on the party’s political, military and social environment.

The sources add that an Iranian intelligence official, known as “Habari,” was the one who first relayed information about these informant cells to the party. Habari also discovered that Russian intelligence had uncovered a Palestinian double agent working for both Mossad and Russian intelligence services.

In the meantime, Hezbollah has worked to reinforce its positions in Yabroud after taking control of the border city, and has placed Burkan rockets and military units in the area.

Additionally, an engineering team is working to clear landmines placed in the area by Syrian rebels. The party has also found tens of stolen cars carrying Lebanese license plates, some of which had already been rigged with explosives and were ready to be detonated by suicide bombers.

Hezbollah has also been able to apprehend Abu Zahraa, a Nusra Front leader whose real name is Mahmoud Abdallah and who is believed by Iran to be in possession of “delicate information.”

Meanwhile, a number of Iranian military officials reached Yabroud to study how the geography of the area can be exploited in the future. Hezbollah sources believe the city could be a valuable launching pad for military operations toward Rankous and Flita, as well as a strategic stronghold vis-a-vis the Lebanese village of Arsal.

Off Topic: Admiral Warns that Risk of Nuclear Conflict Is Growing

April 3, 2014

Off Topic: Admiral Warns that Risk of Nuclear Conflict Is Growing – The Washington Free Beacon.

(Hope and Change works like a charm. But hey, there’s nothing you can’t fix with the famous reset button. Meanwhile: House Lawmakers Push to Keep Ballistic Missile Silos Viable. – Artaxes)

Stratcom: Large-scale Russian strategic nuclear buildup has been underway for over a decade

The Russian navy's Varyag missile cruiser / AP

The Russian navy’s Varyag missile cruiser / AP 

April 3, 2014 4:59 am

Russia is engaged in a large-scale buildup of strategic nuclear forces that has been underway for a decade, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) told Congress on Wednesday.

“Russia has maintained and continues to modernize their strategic deterrent capability,” Adm. Cecil Haney, the Stratcom commander told the House Armed Services Committee.

The blunt comments came in response to reports that Russian strategic nuclear forces recently held a large-scale nuclear exercise coinciding with saber-rattling conventional military deployments close to Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine.

Haney said the Russians conduct periodic nuclear war games and in 2013 produced a YouTube video that highlighted “every aspect of their capability.”

“But on a day-to-day basis, they exercise and have a readiness posture of their capability, which we monitor very closely,” Haney said.

State Department cables sent to Washington earlier this year included dire warnings that Russia is vastly increasing its nuclear arsenal under policies similar to those Moscow followed during the Soviet era.

The cables, according to officials familiar with them, also stated that the Russian strategic nuclear forces buildup appears aimed at achieving nuclear superiority over the United States and not nuclear parity.

The nuclear modernization has been “continuous” and includes adding fixed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and mobile ICBMs, along with a new class of strategic missile submarines, Haney said in testimony.

“Russia has articulated their value in having strategic capability, and as such, each area they have invested in both in terms of nuclear strategic capability as well as space capability and cyberspace capability in terms of things,” Haney said.

“And as a result, we have seen them demonstrate their capability through a variety of exercises and operations. They maintain their readiness of that capability on a continuous fashion. And it’s a capability I don’t see them backing away from.”

By contrast, Haney testified to the committee that U.S. nuclear forces are in urgent need of modernization to update aging nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and support and production infrastructure, most of which were made decades ago.

Under budget sequestration, which could be re-imposed in 2016, U.S. nuclear force modernization will be undermined.

Russia “drew down” some conventional military forces since the end of the Cold War but “the one area that they maintained was their strategic capability,” the four-star admiral said, adding: “Their modernization has been occurring over the last decade or so.”

While Moscow has been aggressively upgrading its nuclear forces, “in our case we have sustained existing programs,” he said.

“I want to be careful in terms of comparing apples to oranges. It’s just as we look to our future, you can only sustain what we have for so long.”

Asked by Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.) if the U.S. nuclear modernization program is insufficient, Haney said: “I would say we have plans for our modernization that we must continue to work through and as long as we stay on course on those plans, we will be fine.”

“Sequestration as written today puts uncertainty in those plans in terms of what will be funded into the future, he added.

Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio) told Haney at the hearing that Russian actions in Ukraine should prompt the United States to quickly upgrade its nuclear forces.

“Putin has allowed us, in his most recent actions, to understand that we have been pursuing a false narrative with respect to Russia — both with respect to our conventional forces in Europe and our strategic forces,” Turner said.

“We now see that there have been some actions that Russia has been taking, specifically under the leadership of Putin, that perhaps we have ignored or that we have diminished in importance,” Turner added. “As we review those issues again, certainly our nuclear deterrent comes to mind as an issue that needs to be reviewed, in light of Russia’s actions and Russia’s doctrine.”

U.S. officials have identified the new weapons in the Russian strategic arsenal as a new mobile ICBM called the Yars-M to be deployed later this year that will use a more powerful fuel, allowing it to better defeat missile defenses. The missile will have a range of up to 6,835 miles and have 10 warheads.

Additionally, Moscow announced plans for a new rail-mobile ICBM to be fielded by 2020. The Soviet Union was the first to deploy a rail-mobile SS24 in the 1980s.

New missile submarines that have been deployed include a more modern Bulava missile.

A Russian strategic nuclear bomber is set for deployment by 2020. The bomber will be equipped with a new Kh-102 air-launched cruise missile. Moscow also is working on a new Kaliber submarine-launched cruise missile.

Russian strategic forces also are working on a new hypersonic strategic vehicle that is designed to be launched by a ballistic missile and maneuvers at very high speed. The vehicle is designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses.

On other issues, Haney described the current security environment as “more complex, dynamic, and uncertain than at any time in recent history.”

“Nation states such as Russia and China are investing in long-term and wide-ranging military modernization programs to include extensive modernization of their strategic capabilities,” he stated in prepared testimony.

“Nuclear weapons ambitions and the proliferation of weapon and nuclear technologies continues, increasing risk that countries will resort to nuclear coercion in regional crises or nuclear use in future conflicts.”

Although a major conflict with nuclear arms is remote, “the existential threat posed by a nuclear attack requires the U.S. to maintain a credible and capable deterrent force,” he said.

Building new strategic submarines is the “top modernization priority,” Haney said.

Missile submarines and the Trident II D5 missile is the most survivable leg of the U.S. three-pronged nuclear deterrent. The other two are strategic bombers and Minuteman III ICBMs.

Haney also said further arms talks with Russia and resulting cuts, an Obama administration national security priority, should be mutual and not unilateral.

“I agree with the statement you made there: Any additional reductions in nuclear weapons require it to be non-unilateral and it has to be in a verifiable manner so that we can get the benefits such as those we have gotten from the New START Treaty where we have had access and the ability to be able to verify what Russia has in a very methodical way and a very open and transparent way,” Haney said in response to questioning from Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.).

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.) said that under the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia, the United States cut its warhead arsenal by 103 while Russia increased its warheads.

“To me, it is a remarkable situation that we’re decreasing and they are increasing,” Lamborn said.

Haney responded by stating that Russia has a large tactical nuclear arsenal and that arms agreements so far were limited to strategic arms that have “come down appropriately” and allowed for information exchanges and other details of the strategic forces.

“But is the imbalance roughly 10-to-1 when it comes to tactical warhead and weapons?” Lamborn asked.

“I would rather not put a number to it in this open forum, sir,” Haney said.

Kerry Lauds Nonexistent Iranian Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons – MEMRI

April 3, 2014

Kerry Lauds Nonexistent Iranian Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons – MEMRI.

(Yet another phantasy on which the phantasy based approach of current US foreign policy is based. – Artaxes)

U.S. Secretary Of State Kerry In New And Unprecedented Statement: ‘President Obama And I Are Both Extremely Welcoming And Grateful For The Fact That [Iranian] Supreme Leader [Khamenei] Has Issued A [Nonexistent] Fatwa’ Banning Nuclear Weapons


In a March 22, 2014 Voice of America interview marking Norooz, the Persian New Year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and President Obama were “grateful” that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the possession, development, and use of nuclear weapons. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Supreme Leader Khamenei, who is [sic] fatwa is mentioned, is being mentioned again in the President’s Norwuz message, [but he] still says Americans are not trustworthy. How important is this fatwa in your opinion, the nuclear fatwa?

John Kerry: Well, I have great respect for a fatwa. A fatwa is a very highly regarded message of religious importance. And when any fatwa is issued, I think people take it seriously, and so do we, even though it’s not our practice. But we have great respect for what it means. And – but the trick here – the trick – the art, the requirement here, is to translate the fatwa into a legally binding, globally recognized, international understanding. And so I hope that’s achievable. And I think it’s a good starting place. And President Obama and I both are extremely welcoming and grateful for the fact that the supreme leader has issued a fatwa declaring that [emphasis MEMRI’s]. That’s an important statement. But now we need to take that and put it into a sort of understandable legal structure, if you will, that goes beyond an article of faith within a religious belief or a process into a more secular process that everybody can attach a meaning to.”[1]

No Such Fatwa Was Ever Issued; No One Ever Saw It And The U.S. Administration Never Asked To See It

While U.S. administration officials affirm, praise, and frequently refer to a fatwa issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that bans nuclear weapons, this fatwa has never been seen, and as a number of MEMRI reports have pointed out, the fatwa in fact does not exist. Additionally, the U.S. administration has never even requested to see this fatwa or sought to have it published in a public forum.

MEMRI has published the following reports on the nonexistent fatwa:

Kerry Calls For “Translat[ing] The [Nonexistent] Fatwa Into A Legally Binding, Globally Recognized, International Understanding”

It should be mentioned that while Secretary of State Kerry skips the step of obtaining proof of the fatwa’s existence, he calls on Iran to “translate the fatwa into a legally binding, globally recognized, international understanding” and to “put it into a sort of understandable legal structure… that goes beyond an article of faith within a religious belief or a process into a more secular process that everybody can attach a meaning to.”

Iran’s Official Position: The Fatwa Is An Alternative To Everything Kerry Proposes In His Statement

However, the official Iranian position is that this fatwa – which MEMRI has proven to be nonexistent – is an actual alternative to everything that Kerry proposes in his statements above, and that it is also a preferred alternative to international law.

For example, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization director and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who is very well acquainted with the nuclear negotiations, said at a February 19, 2014 Iranian National Conference on Nuclear Law in Tehran marking “Khamenei’s issuing of his historic fatwa banning nuclear weapons”: “This historic fatwa can be treated as a legitimate document, with validity equal to the validity of the text of international treaties.”[2]

Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, who is close to Khamenei, told the Omani parliamentary speaker on December 5, 2013 that Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa “is more important than [state] law, because unlike the law it cannot be changed.”[3]

Additionally, in an article in the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs periodical, Iranian Foreign Ministry official Sirjani-Shahabi Farhad[4] stated that this fatwa means that Iran’s commitment to a ban on nuclear weapons is greater and more comprehensive than what the NPT requires. Furthermore, he claimed that the fatwa “complements and offers additional and incontrovertible assurances nationally and internationally over and above those provided by the NPT,” because while the NPT is “intrinsically discriminatory” the fatwa is not.

He wrote: “The commitment undertaken by Iran via the fatwa, is, in some important respects, more comprehensive and more long-lasting than that [which] Iran has undertaken under the NPT… The fatwa’s commitment is unilateral and unconditional. Moreover, the commitment undertaken by Iran, via the fatwa is, in some respects, more comprehensive than that via the NPT.

“Guided by the Supreme Leader’s fatwa, the Islamic Republic of Iran would unilaterally, for all times and under all circumstances, refrain from producing, acquiring, stockpiling and using all sorts of WMD, including nuclear weapons. Although [its] terminology differ[s] from [that of] the NPT, to which Iran has been committed since its inception in 1968, the fatwa bans Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with measures and wordings clearly both not less comprehensive or less restrictive than those set by the NPT.

“In this sense, I believe, with regards to Iran, [that] the fatwa complements and offers additional and incontrovertible assurances nationally and internationally over and above those provided by the NPT. Though the NPT is intrinsically discriminatory – dividing the member states into nuclear-haves and nuclear-have-nots, this weakness is further amplified, through a politically selective treatment of its articles…”[5]



[1], March 22, 2014.

[2] Kayhan (Iran), February 19, 2014.

[3] ISNA (Iran), December 5, 2013.

[4] Sirjani-Shahabi Farhad served as Deputy Permanent Representative at the Geneva Mission (1982-1985) and Ambassador to Zimbabwe (1986-1989). He was Director of the United Nations Department (1989-1993) and Director of Disarmament and International Security Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1996-1998). He also served as Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, Vienna (1998-2008). Currently he serves as Senior Expert at the Legal and International Department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and is also a member of the academic board of the School of International Relations affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

[5] Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, Summer 2013.

War Across the Borders

April 2, 2014

War Across the Borders – PJ Media

(A good overview of the actors involved. – Artaxes)

One sectarian conflict in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

March 28, 2014 – 12:28 am
By Jonathan Spyer

It has become a commonplace to claim that the unrest in the Arab world is challenging the state borders laid down in the Arab world following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

This claim, however, is only very partially valid. It holds true in a specific section of the Middle East, namely the contiguous land area stretching from Iran’s western borders to the Mediterranean Sea, and taking in the states currently known as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

In this area, a single sectarian war is currently taking place. The nominal governments in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut may claim to rule in the name of the Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese peoples. But the reality of power distribution in each of these areas shows something quite different.

In each of these areas, local, long suppressed differences between communities are combining with the region-wide cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia to produce conflict, discord and latent or open civil war.

In each case, sectarian forces are linking up with their fellow sect members (or co-ethnics, if that’s a word, in the case of the Kurds) in the neighboring “country” against local representatives of the rival sect.

Let’s take a look at the rival coalitions. These are not simply theoretical constructs. The cooperation between the relevant sides is largely overt, and has been extensively verified.

On one side, there are the Shia (and Alawi) allies of Iran. These are the Maliki government in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hizballah, the Iranian proxy force which dominates Lebanon.

Both Hizballah and the Maliki government, at the behest of Iran, have played a vital role in the survival of Bashar Assad and his current resurgence.

Hizballah’s role is well-documented. The movement maintains around 5,000 fighters at any one time in Syria. They have just completed a spearhead role in a nearly year long campaign to drive the rebels from the area adjoining the Lebanese border. They are also deployed in Damascus.

Assad’s Achilles heel throughout has been the lack of committed fighters willing to engage on his behalf. Hizballah, working closely with Iran, has played a vital role in filling that gap.

In addition, Hizballah is working hard to suppress any Sunni thoughts of insurrection in Lebanon itself. Its forces cooperated with the Lebanese Army in crushing Sunni Islamists in Sidon in June, 2013. It also offers support to Alawi elements engaged in a long running mini-war with pro-Syrian rebel Sunnis in the city of Tripoli.

Maliki’s role on behalf of Assad is less well-reported but no less striking.

It is first of all worth remembering that the Iraqi prime minister spent from 1982-90 in exile in Iran, and his political roots and allegiances are, unambiguously, to Shia Islamism.

Regular overflights and ground convoys have used Iraqi territory since the start of the Syrian civil war to carry vital Iranian arms and supplies from Iran to Assad’s forces in Syria.

A western intelligence report obtained by Reuters in late 2012 confirmed this, noting that “planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels.”

It also asserted that Iran was “continuing to assist the regime in Damascus by sending trucks overland via Iraq” to Syria.

In addition, Iraqi Shia volunteers from the Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades and other formations have helped to fill Bashar’s gap in available and committed infantry.

The Maliki government has made no effort to stop the flow of such fighters across the border – even as it engages in a U.S.-supported counter insurgency against Sunni jihadis in western Anbar province in Iraq.

So the Iran-led regional bloc is running a well-coordinated, well-documented single war in three countries.

The Sunni Arab side of the line is predictably more chaotic and disunited. On this side, too, there are discernible links, but no single, clear alliance.

Unlike among the pro-Iran bloc, only the most radical fringe of the Sunnis cross the borders to engage in combat. There is no Sunni equivalent to the Qods Force cadres active in Syria and Lebanon.

Among the Sunni radicals, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group now controls a single contiguous area stretching from eastern Syria to western Anbar province in Iraq, and taking in Fallujah city in Iraq.

Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda, is now active also in Lebanon. It has on a number of occasions penetrated Hizballah’s security sanctum in the Dahiyeh neighborhood of south Beirut.

More broadly, Saudi Arabia is the patron of the Sunni interest in both Lebanon and Syria.

It is currently backing rebel forces in the south of Syria, and pro-Saudis dominate the Syrian National Coalition, which purports to be the political leadership of the rebellion.

It also supports and promotes the March 14th movement in Lebanon, and recently pledged $3 billion for the Lebanese Armed Forces – presumably in a bid to build a force that could balance Hizballah.

But both Qatar and Turkey also play an important role in backing the Syrian rebels, and have their own clients among the fighting groups.

Saudi and Turkish fear and distrust of radical Sunni Islamist fighting groups prevent the emergence of a clear “Sunni Islamist international” to rival the Shia international of Iran.

Still, it is undeniable that cooperation exists among the various Sunni forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

It’s just that it’s a complicated and sometimes chaotic criss-crossing of various rival interests and outlooks on the Sunni side, rather than a coherent single bloc.

And finally, of course, there is a single contiguous area of Kurdish control stretching from the Iraq-Iran border all the way to deep within Syria. This zone of control is divided between the Iraqi Kurds of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Syrian Kurds of the rival, PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Once again, it is a contiguous area of control based on ethnic affiliation.

None of this means that the official borders of these three countries are going to officially disappear in the immediate future. The U.S. administration and others are committed to their survival, so they are likely to survive for now, in the semi-fictional and porous state in which they currently exist.

This, however, should not obscure the more crucial point that the entire area between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea is currently the site of a single war, following a single dynamic, fought between protagonists defined by ethnic and sectarian loyalty.

Arab state’s ‘Iran problem’ is reflected in Washington – Al Arabiya

April 2, 2014

Arab state’s ‘Iran problem’ is reflected in Washington – Al Arabiya.

Ministers threaten retaliation over Abbas’s UN move

April 2, 2014

Ministers threaten retaliation over Abbas’s UN move – The Times of Israel.

‘Annexation’ and ‘financial sanctions’ on the table, tourism minister says; Feiglin: Cancel ‘infernal’ Oslo accords

April 2, 2014, 11:04 am

Uzi Landau, October 2012 (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Uzi Landau, October 2012 (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Israel could retaliate for the Palestinian Authority’s moves to join UN agencies by annexing territory or with financial sanctions, right-wing ministers warned Wednesday.

“If they are now threatening [to go to UN institutions], they must know something simple: They will pay a heavy price,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told Israel Radio. “One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas that will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution.”
Israel could also hurt the Palestinians economically by acting “to block financial aid to them,” the minister added.
Landau’s remarks were referring to the so-called settlement blocs, areas of the West Bank that Israel hopes to retain in any future peace deal.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday made a public show of beginning steps to join several UN agencies, abandoning a pledge to freeze such action for the duration of peace talks, which are scheduled to end April 29.

Abbas made his announcement just hours after Israel reissued tenders for hundreds of homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and as Washington was working around the clock to resolve a major dispute over Palestinian prisoners.

Likud MK Moshe Feiglin addresses the Knesset plenum during a debate of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, Tuesday, February 25, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

Likud MK Moshe Feiglin addresses the Knesset plenum during a debate of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, Tuesday, February 25, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin (Likud) called for Israel to “announce the cancellation of the infernal [Oslo] agreements and to exercise Israeli sovereignty over all the territory.”

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis characterized Abbas’s move as “extortion.”

“The Palestinians are removing their mask to reveal their true face… that the last thing that interests them is a diplomatic solution,” he said.

“The only thing that interests them is dancing in the streets with heinous murderers,” he added, referring to demands that Israel release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were convicted of murdering Israelis.

He added that the US also understands that “nothing satisfies Abbas and that Palestinian extortion knows no bounds.”

The standoff came soon after US Secretary of State John Kerry left Israelafter a lightning visit on Tuesday.

He had been due to fly back to the region on Wednesday for talks in Ramallah with Abbas, but he canceled his visit following the Palestinian leader’s announcement, while attempting to remain optimistic.

“It is completely premature tonight to draw… any final judgement about today’s events and where things are,” he said in Brussels.

The top US diplomat had hoped to convince the Palestinians to extend the faltering talks beyond their April 29 deadline, with the sides discussing a proposal which would have included a limited freeze on settlement construction.

Fighting Rages Near Syria’s Chemical-Arms Transit Port

April 1, 2014

Fighting Rages Near Syria’s Chemical-Arms Transit Port – Global Security Newswire.

A Syrian opposition fighter checks a rocket launcher amid fighting last week in the country's disputed Latakia province. The Syrian government reported progress in efforts to retake territory near a seaport hosting the removal of its chemical weapons.

A Syrian opposition fighter checks a rocket launcher amid fighting last week in the country’s disputed Latakia province. The Syrian government reported progress in efforts to retake territory near a seaport hosting the removal of its chemical weapons. (Amr Radwan al-Homsi/AFP/Getty Images)

Syria’s regime is fighting to retake land near a critical seaport hosting the removal of chemical weapons from the divided country, the Associated Press reports.

Syrian state media said government loyalists seized Observatory 45, an elevated point overlooking the northern reaches of Syria’s Latakia province, AP said on Monday. However, the regime’s claims of progress in the area were disputed by some nearby observers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-rebel organization operating out of the United Kingdom, also said militants had beaten back government forces, the Daily Star reported.

President Bashar Assad’s government is shipping hundreds of tons of chemical-arms materials out of the provincial capital to the south under a plan to eliminate all of the warfare substances by June. The regime agreed to relinquish its chemical arsenal last year, amid threats of a foreign military response to a nerve-gas attack on rebel territory in August.

Several jurisdictions and a checkpoint along the Turkish-Syrian border last month fell under the control of militant rebels, including members of the al-Nusra Front, an organization tied to al-Qaida. The March rebel push gave the opposition its first access to the Mediterranean Sea, where cargo vessels under armed escort are transporting Assad’s chemical weapons to international destruction points.

Regime forces employed ground-launched munitions and air-dropped bombs as they battled for northern sections of the province, which the British-based watchdog group said were seeing the heaviest fighting.

Meanwhile, a top Assad spokesman asserted that Turkey had deployed its own forces into Latakia, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported on Monday.

Obama makes a pilgrimage to Riyadh

March 31, 2014

Obama makes a pilgrimage to Riyadh – Israel Hayom.

By Zalman Shoval

Toward the end of World War II, then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Quincy, which was anchored at Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal, and forged the U.S.-Saudi Quincy Agreement, based on the idea of security in exchange for oil.

Now, 69 years later, the agreement is beginning to unravel, and U.S. President Barack Obama hurried to Riyadh on Friday to try to tighten it up once again.

Despite advances in independent energy production, the U.S. still imports 15 percent of the oil it consumes from Saudi Arabia.

However, it is doubtful that Obama succeeded in his efforts, as the “unraveling” is of his doing and the Saudis are increasingly losing their faith in his foreign policy in general, and his Middle East policy in particular. The Saudi elite resents what it sees as Washington’s negative role in the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and criticizes its chilly relationship with the new Egyptian leadership, headed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The Saudis are angered by Washington’s refusal to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels and its reversal on Syria’s chemical weapons. They wonder about what they see as a complete misunderstanding on the part of the Americans of the implications of the Arab Spring, and, like Israel, they are skeptical and concerned about Obama’s decision to shrink the U.S. military and the consequences this will have on America’s allies in the Middle East.

This is only a partial list, but what bothers Riyadh more than anything, and what causes it to question the United States’ leadership abilities, is the Obama administration’s policy on the Iranian nuclear issue, a policy it sees as mistaken and indecisive to the point of being at peace with a nuclear Iran. Obama seemingly tried to convince the Saudi leadership that his Iran policy works to Saudi Arabia’s benefit and to the benefit of its allies in the Gulf.

However, one can assume that his claim did not have much of an effect on King Abdullah and the Saudi elite, who see their rivalry with Iran as centering on regional hegemony and influence in the Middle East. They see Tehran’s standing in the region growing stronger, between achieving nuclear weapons and newfound harmony with the United States.

Riyadh is also worried that if America and its partners declare that negotiations with Iran have reached a favorable outcome (without waiting to see if Tehran has truly curbed its nuclear ambitions), Washington will have another argument to support transferring the focus of its foreign policy and security from the Middle East to the Far East, leaving Iran’s subversive activities in the region to continue unchecked.

The Saudi elite sees two conflict fronts around it that sometimes work together, and sometimes separately: Between the Sunni camp, under its own leadership, and the Shiite crescent under Iran’s leadership, and between the moderate Sunni camp under its leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood who represent a political Islam that endangers the long-standing Sunni regimes. The conflicts within the Sunni camp recently saw the return of Saudi, Egyptian and Gulf state ambassadors from Qatar, which adopted a policy in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a stance expressed most notably in Doha-based Al Jazeera news reports.

We don’t know if the Abdullah-Obama meeting pushed some of the obstacles between the two countries out of the way, but according to the clues in statements released afterwards, it seems that despite the smiles, the disagreements persist, particularly regarding the Iranian issue.

So, what are the implications for Israel? Although there is no talk of any kind of official relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel emerging in the foreseeable future, and the former’s recent refusal to grant the Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief a visa testifies to this, their parallel interests on issues including Iran, Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood is creating a new reality with many possibilities. To add flourish to its new situation, Israel can consider re-examining the Saudi peace initiative, on the condition that they remove the clauses and definitions that made it seem like a diktat rather than a possible basis for negotiations.

Palestinians reject Israeli proposal as ‘blackmail’

March 31, 2014

Palestinians reject Israeli proposal as ‘blackmail’ – Ynet.

Proposal reportedly includes release of 420 additional prisoners chosen by Israel, and partial settlement freeze that doesn’t include East Jerusalem, existing tenders.

Latest Update: 03.31.14, 20:17 / Israel News

The Palestinians have rejected an Israeli proposal to extend the crumbling peace talks beyond April 29, saying it was akin to “blackmail,” an official in Ramallah told AFP on Monday.

“Israel is practicing a policy of blackmail and linking its agreement to releasing the fourth batch of prisoners with the Palestinians accepting to extend the negotiations,” the official said following a late-night meeting between the two sides and US envoy Martin Indyk.

The Israeli proposal, the Palestinian source said, “included the release of 420 other prisoners chosen by Israel, not including those convicted of serious crime, sick prisoners, women, children or leaders like Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat.”

This offer also included a partial settlement freeze, but not in East Jerusalem or for tenders already launched, the sources said.
A source close to the talks told Reuters that under the proposed arrangement to extend peace talks, Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy analyst caught spying for Israel in the 1980s, could be released by mid-April.

But the White House said it had no new information to offer on Pollard.

“He is a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence, and I don’t have any update on his situation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters when asked whether Pollard’s release was something that could be offered as an incentive to Israel.

US Secretary of State John Kerry broke from his travel schedule for the second time in a week to return to the Middle East on Monday to discuss fragile peace talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“After consulting with his team, Secretary Kerry decided it would be productive to return to the region,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

He intends to meet with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday night, and return to Brussels for a NATO meeting.

Kerry had interrupted a visit to Rome last week to go to Amman for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to convince him to prolong the talks beyond an end-April deadline and to press Israel to release the prisoners.

Officials said he was expected to travel to both Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming hours

The fate of the US-brokered peace process could be decided within days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week, warning that “either the matter will be resolved or it will blow up”.

Netanyahu’s remarks to ministers from his Likud party came as US officials were working around the clock to prevent a collapse of the negotiations over a dispute about Palestinian prisoners.

“In any case, there won’t be any deal without Israel knowing clearly what it will get in exchange,” Netanyahu said.

According to a Palestinian official who spoke with AFP, Israel presented Abbas with a draft agreement on Sunday to push forward with the talks. Abbas was to examine the proposal, he said.

Israel did not make good on its commitment to free 26 Palestinian prisoners on March 29, a key plank in the original US-brokered terms to relaunch the peace process, citing lack of progress in talks, which Israel claims was a condition for the release.

Under the deal that relaunched the peace talks, Israel agreed to release 104 prisoners, held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords, in exchange for the Palestinians freezing all efforts to seek further international recognition.

So far, Israel has freed 78 of them in three batches, and the last group – which the Palestinians insist includes 14 Arab Israelis jailed for nationalist attacks – was to have been released on March 29.
Israel, on Friday, informed the Palestinians it would not free the, with the US State Department confirming it was working “intensively” to resolve the dispute.

The Palestinians say they will not even consider extending the talks without the prisoners being freed, but Israel has refused to release them without a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks, prompting a fresh crisis of confidence.

“The ball is now in Israel’s court,” Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian prisoners’ minister, told Voice of Palestine radio, saying the leadership was expecting an answer from the Israeli government within 24 hours.

“We agreed to the fourth batch,” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters on Sunday, while stressing it would not happen as long as Abbas was preparing to “blow up the negotiations” the very next day.

First Published:  03.31.14, 18:32