Archive for the ‘Houthi’ category

Hizballah’s Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region’s Sectarian Strife

November 15, 2017

Hizballah’s Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region’s Sectarian Strife, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin,November 14, 2017

Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime. Yet Hizballah’s meddling in other regions of the Middle East usually does not receive as much attention.

That changed drastically earlier this month, when Saudi Arabia publicly accused the Shi’ite terrorist organization of firing a ballistic missile at its capital, Riyadh, from Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is alarmed at the rapid expansion of Iran and its proxies. It is leading a coalition of Sunni states in a war against the Iranian-supported Shi’ite Houthi radical organization, Ansar Allah, which has taken over parts of Yemen.

“It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hizballah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” charged Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. A Saudi air defense battery shot the missile down before it struck Riyadh’s airport, but the incident has seen Saudi- Iranian tensions, which were already high, spike.

A United States Air Force source has reportedly confirmed the Saudi information about the Iranian origins of the missile.

Iran denied the Saudi accusation, and played down its links with the Houthis. But this denial flies in the face of mounting evidence of an important Hizballah and Iranian role in assisting Ansar Allah in Yemen.

Some of this evidence comes from Hizballah itself, or more precisely, its unofficial mouthpiece in Lebanon, the Al-Akhbar newspaper. Editor Ibrahim Al-Amin published a boastful article in July 2017 detailing Hizballah’s spread across the region.

“In Yemen, Hizbullah has become a direct partner in strengthening the military capabilities of the Houthi Ansar Allah, who consider Hizballah to be their truthful ally,” Al-Amin wrote.

The same article proudly said that in Iraq, Hizballah’s “experts are present in the biggest operations rooms … [Hassan] Nasrallah serves as the commander of the Popular Mobilization Units [the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias] in Iraq.”

Hizballah’s activities around the Middle East have become a controversial topic in Lebanon, where a portion of the population opposes its monopoly on political and military power, its militant ideology, and Iran’s proxy control of the country.

Last year, Future TV, a station owned by the recently retired Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who quit in protest of Iran’s takeover of Lebanon), broadcast what it said was a video of a Hizballah operative providing military-terrorist training to Houthi fighters.

“So I have (for example) the assassination, God willing, of the head of the Saudi Border Guard,” the Hizballah operative says in the video. “We take a group, a special unit, it goes in, assassinates, kills and plants a large bomb. This is what we call a special operation. I have a special operation in Riyadh”.

At this stage in the video, the Hizballah member briefing the Houthis is interrupted with a question: “[Is this] a suicide operation?”

He replies: “Possibly a martyrdom operation. We do not call it suicide. We call it a special operation.”

An examination of the flag used by Ansar Allah finds that its red and green colors are influenced by the Iranian flag, and more importantly, the motto etched on the flag: “Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon The Jews, Victory to Islam” is inspired by official Iranian mottos.

The Houthis have been influenced by Hizballah in more than one way, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel.

“The group’s use of militant anashid (jihadist anthems) in its videos further portrays it as more in line with Hizballah’s models of ‘resistance,'” he told the IPT. “Images depicting Houthi fighters with the sun as a background further draw a parallel to other Shi’ite jihadist groups, giving the Houthis spiritual legitimacy within the context of a Shi’ite jihadist organization.”

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the current Houthi leader, delivers speeches in a style inspired by Hizballah’s Nasrallah, Karmon said.

Houthi leaders also appointed a prominent Iranian-educated religious figure with close links to the Islamic Republic as the top Islamic authority in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

A May 2015 Financial Times report, “Lebanon’s Hizballah and Yemen’s Houthis open up on links,” cited Hizballah members saying they have “played a more active role on the ground in Yemen. A Houthi official in Beirut said relations with the Lebanese movement span over a decade, while a Hizballah commander said Houthis and Hizballah trained together for the past 10 years in Iran, then in Lebanon and in Yemen.”

The report added that Hizballah helped create the Houthi Al-Masira television channel, which is based in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a district under Hizballah control.

Earlier this year, Karmon assessed that “[a] physical Iranian presence based on a strategic cooperation with the Houthis, both ground and naval,” in Yemeni ports on the Red Sea, as well as control over other strategic waterways “represent a direct threat to Israel’s security and interests.”The Houthi takeover of Yemen’s capital and other regions increased Shi’ite Iran’s influence there, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported.

Based on publicly available information, it seems safe to conclude that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps uses Hizballah to strengthen the Houthis militarily in Yemen, and to help Iran increase its influence over this poor, war-torn state, which is also experiencing a humanitarian disaster on a grand scale due to the ongoing conflict.

Hizballah’s role as a regional proliferator of terrorism, radicalism, and high-level operational capabilities is a constant threat to the Middle East and beyond.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

Iran threatens to hit Saudi, Abu Dhabi and Dubai air and sea ports, ships more missiles to Yemeni Houthis

November 8, 2017

Iran threatens to hit Saudi, Abu Dhabi and Dubai air and sea ports, ships more missiles to Yemeni Houthis, DEBKAfile, November 8, 2017

Our sources also report that Iranian experts have managed of late to lengthen the range of the ballistic missiles shipped to Yemen. The Burkan 2H, which Yemeni Houthis aimed at Riyadh airport last Saturday, Nov. 4 – and was intercepted – had a range of 1,000km.  The latest model of this missile has an extended range of between 1,500 and 1,600km. But it remains to be seen if Tehran is also providing the Houthis with the high-precision missiles delivered to the Lebanese Hizballah.

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Military tensions rise in the Gulf region amid Iranian threats and supplies of extended-range missiles to the Yemeni insurgents.

Tehran has warned Riyadh that unless the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports is lifted, Revolutionary Guards missiles supplied to the Yemeni Houthi insurgents will be loosed against the seaports and airfields of Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The warning was forwarded to their governments through the Omani back channel.

The Iranians informed Riyadh that by cutting off Yemen’s lifeline, the oil kingdom exposed itself and its allies to retaliation in kind.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources add that, to give their warning sharp teeth, the Revolutionary Guards have been pumping fresh supplies of new surface missiles to Yemen by sea. Although the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates maintain fleets in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea routes of access around Yemen, none ran interference to the missile shipments. Such action would entail halting the Iranian freighters and confronting the missile-armed Iranian warships and submarines escorting them.

Our sources also report that Iranian experts have managed of late to lengthen the range of the ballistic missiles shipped to Yemen. The Burkan 2H, which Yemeni Houthis aimed at Riyadh airport last Saturday, Nov. 4 – and was intercepted – had a range of 1,000km.  The latest model of this missile has an extended range of between 1,500 and 1,600km. But it remains to be seen if Tehran is also providing the Houthis with the high-precision missiles delivered to the Lebanese Hizballah.

In an interview on Sunday, Nov. 6, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir charged that Hizballah officers posted to Yemen had actually fired the Burkan missile at Riyadh airport from northern Yemen. The Saudis have not disclosed details on how and at what point it was intercepted.

Within range of the extended-range missiles are the UAE’s Khalifa Port, Zayed Port and Mirfa Port, the backbone of the emirate’s free trade zone and the main source of its prosperous economy. With the rising military tension in the Gulf region in the last few days, air defense missile batteries have been deployed at those ports and the UAE air force, one of the largest in the Gulf, placed on high alert.

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen

November 29, 2016

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen, Front Page MagazineJoseph Puder, November 29, 2016

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Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.” 

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Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians.  8,146 of them men, 597 women, and 903 children, from January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 in 16 Yemeni provinces.  According to Shami Al-Daheri, a military analyst and strategic expert, the Houthis are being led by Iran and follow Tehran’s orders.  “They are moving in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria following Tehran’s orders.  If the country sees there is pressure on its supporters in Iraq, it issues orders to the Houthis in Yemen to carry out more criminal acts in order to divert attention and ease pressure on its proxies in these countries.”

The brutality of the Iran led campaign in Syria, and U.S. voices calling for some form of intervention, might have prompted Tehran to give the Houthis a green light to attack American naval ships. The Houthis fired three missiles at the U.S. Navy ship USS Mason last month, in all probability following Tehran’s orders. In retaliation, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, destroying three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  These radar installations were active during previous attacks, and attempted attacks on ships navigating the Red Sea. The USS Mason did not sustain any damage.  U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said that he suspected Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic to be behind the twice launched missiles by the Houthi rebels against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.

Al-Arabiya TV (August 16, 2016) claimed that Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that missiles made in Tehran were also recently used in Yemen by Houthi militias in cross border attacks against Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis it seems, were able to intercept the Iranian manufactured Zelzal-3 rockets, also delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad regime forces in Syria.  The rockets were fired into the Saudi border city of Najran, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.  The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis in an effort to restore the internationally-recognized Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The conflict in Yemen has its recent roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring a measure of stability to Yemen following an uprising in November, 2011 (The Year of the Arab Spring) that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.  President Hadi had to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the South, the loyalty of many of the army officers to the former President Saleh, as well as, unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.

The Zaidi-Shiite Houthi minority captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa on September 21, 2014. They were helped by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have provided the rebel Houthis with arms, training, and money.  As fellow Shiite-Muslims, the Houthis became another Iranian proxy harnessed to destabilize the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia.  Since 2004, the Houthis have fought the central government of Yemen from their stronghold of Saadah in northern Yemen.  The Houthis are named after Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who headed the insurgency in 2004 and was subsequently killed by Yemeni army forces.  The Houthis, who are allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, against Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the legitimate President of Yemen, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.

The Houthis launched a series of military rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decade. Recently, sensing the new president’s (Hadi) weakness, they took control of their Northern heartland of Saadah province and neighboring areas.  Disillusioned by the transition of power and Hadi’s weakness, many Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the Houthi onslaught.  In January, 2015, the Houthis surrounded the Presidential palace in Sanaa, placing President Hadi and his cabinet under virtual house arrest. The following month, President Hadi managed to escape to the Southern port city of Aden.

Yemen is another flashpoint in the conflict between Shiite-Muslim Iran and Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia, over regional power and influence.  Sanaa, along with Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut are Arab capitals now forming the so called Shiite “arc of influence.”   In Baghdad, the site of the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate, the Shiites dominate the government of Haider al-Abadi.  In Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad Sunni Caliphate, Bashar Assad, an Alawi (offshoot of Shiite Islam) dictator, is ruling over a Sunni majority in a state of civil war.  Iran, its Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi Shiite militias, and the Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah, are fighting Sunni Islamists, and genuine Syrian Sunnis, who are frustrated with being ruled by a minority dictator.  Beirut is dominated by Hezbollah, the only group allowed to carry arms, whose power exceeds that of the Lebanese army, and whose masters in Tehran set its priorities.

Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.”

Gen. Lamb asserted that “the tragedy of Yemen is that it has become, over the decades, a sphere of contested influence between the grand masters of Empire and superpowers: East against West, Communism versus Capitalism.  Today, it is Iranian backed Shiite revivalism against Sunni status quo, an emerging order versus an existing order.”  According to Gen. Lamb, Tehran has dissuaded the Houthis from accepting a U.N. peace plan in favor of creating its own “supreme political council” to challenge the legitimate Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

It is tempting for Tehran to enter the exposed underbelly of Saudi Arabia though the Houthis control of Northern Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia. It is however, too expensive a proposition for the Islamic Republic to have to fund another proxy – a failing state like Yemen.  While Hezbollah requires millions of dollars in support, Yemen would require billions.  Iran is spending a great deal in support of the Assad regime in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and loyalist Iraqi Shiite militias.  Iran would nevertheless like to control the sea lanes into the Red Sea and have access to the Bab Al Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.  This would provide it with a strategic vantage point in threatening the U.S. and the West.

Iran’s meddling in Yemen is another example of its Shiite revivalism, and its challenge of the existing Middle East order, regardless of the cost in human lives that its proxies (Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi Shiite militias) are inflicting.

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

October 14, 2016

Kerry Negotiating Ceasefire W/Death to America Terrorists After They Attack US Ships, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Greenfield

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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.

Column One: From Yemen to Turtle Bay

October 14, 2016

Column One: From Yemen to Turtle Bay, Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick, October 13, 2016

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As far as Obama is concerned, Iran is a partner, not an adversary.

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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 Tomahawks destroy Iran’s radar bases in Yemen

October 13, 2016

US Tomahawks destroy Iran’s radar bases in Yemen, DEBKAfile, October 13, 2016

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Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by US Navy destroyer USS Nitze early Thursday, Oct. 13, destroyed three Iranian-Yemeni coastal radar stations, after C-802 anti-ship missiles supplied by Iran to Yemeni Houthi rebels were fired at US naval vessels off the Yemeni coast. The stations were built and  operated  by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) for their Yemeni proxies to back up a threat to blockade the Red Sea.

From Oct. 9, the new missiles four times targeted the US flotilla shortly after it arrived to patrol the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Neither the US nor Iran has acknowledged their mounting confrontation over control of these strategic waters, which Tehran is waging through its Yemeni proxy.

DEBKAfile was first to disclose this confrontation in a special report Wednesday. (see below)

Iran’s Guards are repeating the mode of operation they employed a decade ago at another Middle East flashpoint. On July 14, 2006, Hizballah used an earlier version of the C-802 to attack and cripple the Israeli Hanit missile ship on the day this Iranian Lebanese proxy launched the Second Lebanese War against Israel. Rev Guards seized control of Lebanese shore radar station to guide their aim.

A highly advanced radar installation is required for the use of the C-802. Two radar stations set up outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports, Mokha and Hudaydah earlier this month were operated by Rev. Guards missile and radar teams until they were destroyed Thursday, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. The third station was added for triangulation. The destruction of all three by a US Tomahawk has knocked out the Houthis’ ability to use C-802 missiles and Iran’s threat to blockade the Red Sea.

To drive this lesson home, the US Pentagon issued the following statement:

“Destroying these radar sites will degrade their ability to track and target ships in the future. These radars were active during previous attacks and attempted attacks on ships in the Red Sea, including last week’s attack on the USA-flagged vessel “Swift-2”, and during attempted attacks on USS Mason and other ships as recently as yesterday.

The official was referring to the United Arab Emirates US-flagged transport ship that was badly damaged last week in the Bab al-Mandeb strait by a Houthi missile..

DEBKAfile reported earlier:

Contrary to Tehran’s assurance to Washington in August that Iranian arms supplies to Yemeni Houthi rebels had been suspended, the rebels took delivery last week of the largest consignment of Iranian weapons to date.

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the shipment included highly sophisticated Scud D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 800km; and C-802 anti-ship missiles (an upgraded version of the Chinese YJ-8 NATO-named CSS-N-8 and renamed by Iran Saccade).

They came with Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and radar systems to fine-tune the targeting of these missiles by Iran’s Yemeni proxies.

The Scuds were given to the Houthi forces fighting in northern Yemen on the Saudi border, while the C-802s were delivered to the Houthis’ Ansar Allah faction, which is under direct Iranian Rev Guards command.

The missiles were posted at special launch bases constructed by Iran outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports of Mokha and Hudaydah.

Since no more than 62km of Red Sea water divides the Saudi and African coasts, the Iranian missiles are well able to block shipping and tanker traffic plying to and from the Gulf of Suez and the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the threat of blockade hangs imminently over one-third of Saudi and Gulf Emirate oil exports.

The same threat hangs over Israeli civilian and naval shipping from its southern port of Eilat through the Gulf of Aden and out to the Indian Ocean.

One of the most troubling aspects of this pivotal new menace to an international waterway was that US, Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies missed the huge consignment of Iranian missiles as it headed towards Yemen. Neither did they pick up on the construction by Iranian military engineers of three ballistic missile bases – one facing Saudi Arabia and two Red Sea traffic.

Tehran’s Yemeni proxies moreover landed large-scale military strength on Perim island in the mouth of the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the chokepoint for ingress and egress from the Red Sea.

Since the strait is just 20km wide, control of this island empowers this force to regulate shipping movements through this strategic strait.
Tehran wasted no time after all its assets were in place to begin using them:

1. On Oct. 1, Iran’s Houthi surrogates launched C-8-1 missiles against a United Arab Emirates transport HSV-2 Swift logistics catamaran as it was about to pass through the strait. The ship, on lease from the US Navy, was badly damaged. No information was released about casualties.

uae_hsv-2_1-1-16-1

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources discerned that the aim of this attack was to choke off the movements of UAE warships from the southern Yemeni port of Aden, where large Emirate and Saudi forces are concentrated, to the Eritrean port of Assab, where the UAE has established a large naval base.

This attack did finally evoke a US response. The guided missile destroyers, USS Mason and USS Nitze, were dispatched to the Red Sea, along with the USS Ponceafloat forward staging base, to patrol the strait opposite the Yemeni coast

2. This did not deter Tehran or its Yemeni pawns: On Oct. 9, they fired an additional barrage of C-802 at the American flotilla, which according to a US spokesman, missed aim.

The Mason hit back with two Standard Missile-2s and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile.

There has been no official word about whether these weapons destroyed a Yemeni launching site. But the event itself was a landmark as the first direct Iranian-Houthi attack of its kind on an American naval vessel.

3. That same day, the Houthis fired Scud-D missiles at the Saudi town of Ta’if, 700 km from the Yemeni border and only 70km from the Muslim shrine city Mecca. This was meant as a direct assault on the Saudi royal house and its claim to legitimacy, by virtue of its role as Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam.

In America’s heated presidential campaign, the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton boasts repeatedly that as Secretary of State she helped “put the lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot.”

That is factually true. America did not fire a single shot. Iran did the shooting and still does, constantly upgrading its arsenal with sophisticated ballistic missiles.

First Iranian-Yemeni missile attack on US flotilla

October 12, 2016

First Iranian-Yemeni missile attack on US flotilla, DEBKAfile, October 12, 2016

uss_mason_fires__9-10-16_an_sm-2

Contrary to Tehran’s assurance to Washington in August that Iranian arms supplies to Yemeni Houthi rebels had been suspended, the rebels took delivery last week of the largest consignment of Iranian weapons to date.

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the shipment included highly sophisticated Scud D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 800km; and C-802 anti-ship missiles (an upgraded version of the Chinese YJ-8 NATO-named CSS-N-8 and renamed by Iran Saccade).

They came with Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and radar systems to fine-tune the targeting of these missiles by Iran’s Yemeni proxies.

The Scuds were given to the Houthi forces fighting in northern Yemen on the Saudi border, while the C-802s were delivered to the Houthis’ Ansar Allah faction, which is under direct Iranian Rev Guards command.

The missiles were posted at special launch bases constructed by Iran outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports of Mokha and Hudaydah.

Since no more than 62km of Red Sea water divides the Saudi and African coasts, the Iranian missiles are well able to block shipping and tanker traffic plying to and from the Gulf of Suez and the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the threat of blockade hangs imminently over one-third of Saudi and Gulf Emirate oil exports.

The same threat hangs over Israeli civilian and naval shipping from its southern port of Eilat through the Gulf of Aden and out to the Indian Ocean.

One of the most troubling aspects of this pivotal new menace to an international waterway was that US, Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies missed the huge consignment of Iranian missiles as it headed towards Yemen. Neither did they pick up on the construction by Iranian military engineers of three ballistic missile bases – one facing Saudi Arabia and two Red Sea traffic.

Tehran’s Yemeni proxies moreover landed large-scale military strength on Perim island in the mouth of the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the chokepoint for ingress and egress from the Red Sea.

Since the strait is just 20km wide, control of this island empowers this force to regulate shipping movements through this strategic strait.

Tehran wasted no time after all its assets were in place to begin using them:

1. On Oct. 1, Iran’s Houthi surrogates launched C-8-1 missiles against a United Arab Emirates transport HSV-2 Swift logistics catamaran as it was about to pass through the strait. The ship, on lease from the US Navy, was badly damaged. No information was released about casualties.

uae_hsv-2_1-1-16

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources discerned that the aim of this attack was to choke off the movements of UAE warships from the southern Yemeni port of Aden, where large Emirate and Saudi forces are concentrated, to the Eritrean port of Assab, where the UAE has established a large naval base.

This attack did finally evoke a US response. The guided missile destroyers, USS Mason and USS Nitze, were dispatched to the Red Sea, along with the USS Ponce afloat forward staging base, to patrol the strait opposite the Yemeni coast

2. This did not deter Tehran or its Yemeni pawns: On Oct. 9, they fired an additional barrage of C-802 at the American flotilla, which according to a US spokesman, missed aim.

The Mason hit back with two Standard Missile-2s and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile.

There has been no official word about whether these weapons destroyed a Yemeni launching site. But the event itself was a landmark as the first direct Iranian-Houthi attack of its kind on an American naval vessel.

3. That same day, the Houthis fired Scud-D missiles at the Saudi town of Ta’if, 700 km from the Yemeni border and only 70km from the Muslim shrine city Mecca. This was meant as a direct assault on the Saudi royal house and its claim to legitimacy, by virtue of its role as Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam.

In America’s heated presidential campaign, the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton boasts repeatedly that as Secretary of State she helped “put the lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot.”

That is factually true. America did not fire a single shot. Iran did the shooting and still does, constantly upgrading its arsenal with sophisticated ballistic missiles.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Politicized UN

February 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Politicized UN, Gatestone InstituteRichard Kemp and Jasper Reid, February 16, 2016

♦ The UN’s assertion that the Saudi-led coalition has committed war crimes in Yemen is unlikely to be true. UN experts have not been to Yemen, depending instead on hearsay evidence and analysis of photographs.

♦ The UN has a pattern of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against the armed forces of sovereign states. Without any military expertise, and never having visited Gaza, a UN commission convicted the Israel Defense Force of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians in the 2014 conflict. It was an assessment roundly rejected by America’s most senior military officer, General Martin Dempsey, and an independent commission.

♦ The Houthis have learned many lessons from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, groups also supported by Iran. Those lessons include the falsification of civilian casualty figures and their causes. The UN swallowed the fake Gaza figures hook, line and sinker, and are now making the same error in Yemen.

♦ The Houthis exploit gullible or compliant reporters and human rights groups to facilitate their propaganda, including false testimony and fabrication of imagery.

♦ Forensic analysis shows that rather than deliberately targeting civilians, the Saudis and their allies have taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian casualties.

The United Nations, Amnesty International and other groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in Yemen. A leaked UN report claims the bombing campaign against Iranian-supported Houthi insurgents seeking violently to topple the legitimate government of Yemen has conducted deliberate, widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets.

If the UN’s assertion is true, and the coalition is deliberately and disproportionately killing thousands of innocent civilians, it is a war crime. But it is unlikely to be true. The UN has produced no actual evidence of war crimes. None of their allegations is based on investigation on the ground. Their experts have not been to Yemen, depending instead on hearsay evidence and analysis of photographs.

The UN has a pattern of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against the armed forces of sovereign states. Only last year, without any military expertise, and never having visited Gaza, a UN commission convicted the Israel Defense Force of deliberately targeting innocent Palestinian civilians in the 2014 conflict. It was an assessment roundly rejected by America’s most senior military officer, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey’s own findings were confirmed by an independent commission of experienced senior military officers and officials from nine countries. The High Level Military Group found that Israel had not committed war crimes, but had in fact set a bar for avoiding civilian casualties so high that other armed forces would struggle to reach it.

Moreover, last September the UN said that a US airstrike against a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was “inexcusable” and “possibly a war crime.” Few military forces in the world take greater precautions to prevent civilian casualties on the battlefield than the US. Anyone who has actually experienced combat knows that while such incidents are tragic, when carried out by Western forces, they are far more likely to be the result of human error or the chaos of battle than deliberate war crimes.

There is every reason to believe that the UN is again crying wolf. There is no doubt that thousands are dying in Yemen in horrific circumstances. But we cannot just accept the UN’s figures and its attribution of the proportion of deaths being inflicted by the Saudi coalition. Most of the data comes from the Houthi insurgents, either directly or via non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and is simply accepted as fact. The Houthis have learned many lessons from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, groups also supported by Iran. Those lessons include the falsification and distortion of civilian casualty figures and their causes. The UN swallowed the fake Gaza figures hook, line and sinker, and are now making the same error in Yemen.

As with Israel’s defensive campaign in Gaza in 2014, and the continued U.S. military support to the Afghan regime, the Saudis’ war to defend the government of Yemen and curb Iranian aggression in the region is lawful and legitimate. Therefore, the illegality of civilian deaths must be assessed according to the laws of armed conflict, in particular whether adequate precautions were taken to avoid them, whether they were proportionate to the military objectives and whether they were necessary to achieve legitimate military goals. The UN cannot possibly make such judgements without a more far-reaching and thorough investigation, and especially not on the basis of information provided by Saudi Arabia’s enemies and by interpreting photographs.

Most of us do not like the way that the Saudi regime runs their country according to the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, and we abhor their record on human rights. But the Saudi military ethos is well known and understood by Western military leaders, including from the U.S. and UK, who have worked closely with them for many years. The reality is, as our officers currently serving alongside them will attest, that the Saudis and their allies are not deliberately trying to kill innocent civilians. Indeed, they are doing their best to minimize civilian casualties. The question is whether their best is good enough.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies have the most sophisticated Western combat equipment, including planes, attack helicopters, drones and precision-guided munitions. But they lack battle experience. The exception to this is the Emirati forces within the coalition. They have had many years of combat experience alongside Western militaries, including in Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan. Because of that, they have acquitted themselves in Yemen with great professionalism and effectiveness at sea, on the ground and in the air.

But the lack of experience of the other coalition members puts them many years behind our own forces in wielding the highly complex 21st century capabilities of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication and targeting.

Yet the coalition faces the same tough challenges that we face on battlefields everywhere. Their Houthi adversaries fight according to the well-developed doctrine of their backers, the Iranian Quds Force. Like Hizballah, Hamas, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, their techniques include deliberately killing civilians, fighting from within the population and forcing innocents to become human shields.

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Completely ignoring the laws of war, they exploit their enemies’ adherence to them. They lure their opponents to attack and kill civilians. They exploit gullible or compliant reporters, international organizations and human rights groups to facilitate their propaganda, including false testimony and systematic fabrication of imagery. The aim is to instigate international condemnation in order to constrain their militarily superior enemies.

We have seen credible forensic analysis of strikes in Yemen that directly contradict the findings of the UN. Forensic analysis shows that rather than deliberately targeting civilians, the Saudis and their allies have taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian deaths. Of note, they have learned much from Israel’s conduct of operations in Gaza. This has included the use of guided munitions to conduct precision attacks against insurgents while seeking to reduce collateral damage.

Why would coalition forces spend vast amounts of money in a cripplingly expensive conflict firing precision strike munitions, and put their valuable pilots at risk, if they wanted to massacre civilians? Why not use much cheaper unguided munitions or Assad’s indiscriminate barrel-bombs?

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths caused by the Saudi-led coalition have been due not to deliberate targeting, but to inexperienced pilots and unsophisticated intelligence and targeting capabilities in the face of an enemy that fights from within the civilian population. And to that the friction, confusion, stress and fog of war that leads even the most sophisticated, experienced and restrained military forces, such as American, British and Israeli, to sometimes kill civilians unintentionally. Contrary to the UN’s claim, this is unlikely to amount to war crimes.

Like every conflict in the Middle East, the war in Yemen is almost intractable, takes a heavy toll on innocent civilians, and is unlikely to end in anything approaching a perfect solution. But Saudi Arabia and its allies are making considerable efforts to restore stability to the country and its legitimate government.

Instability in Yemen undermines Western interests, including oil supplies. Instability also allows Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — proven and lethal threats to the US and the West — to flourish there.

By confronting the Houthis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is also confronting Iran, which represents an even greater threat to the region and to the world. Emboldened by U.S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, enriched by the release of billions of dollars of previously frozen funds, encouraged by the imminent boost in oil revenues, Iranian imperial aggression is today rampant in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

However unpalatable to many, Saudi Arabia is and will remain a vital ally of the West. We must continue to support them in the fight in Yemen. We must not allow the false, ill-informed and increasingly shrill condemnations by the UN, human rights groups and the media to undermine Saudi’s fighting effectiveness as they have sought to do against other legitimate government forces fighting lawless insurgents in so many other places.

Russia and US woo Saudis to help save Assad – albeit putting Israel and Jordan in danger from S. Syria

August 9, 2015

Russia and US woo Saudis to help save Assad – albeit putting Israel and Jordan in danger from S. Syria, DEBKAfile, August 9, 2015

Lavrov_Kerry_and_al-Jubeir-_Doha_3.8.15Lavrov, Kerry, Al-Jubeir at Doha

[N]either Israel nor Jordan has been co-opted to this big power initiative, as though they are not concerned. However, both have a big stake in Saudi Arabia’s next decisions. If Riyadh is won over by US-Russian blandishments and goes back on its decision to boycott Assad, the Saudi-Israeli-Jordanian effort to support Syrian rebel control of southern Syria will fall apart. This will open up both countries to new perils on their  northern borders.

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Building on the nuclear accord signed in Vienna last month, the Obama administration has been in close communion with Moscow and Tehran on regional moves to save the Assad regime, as the key to their next regional policies, including a united front against the Islamic State.. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners are being assiduously wooed to join the new alignment being set up for this purpose. The live wire in getting them all together is Omani Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, the secret broker who brought Iran and the United States to the negotiating table for a nuclear accord. This was first reported in the last DEBKA Weekly.

Wednesday, Aug. 7, Obama threw out his first hint on this development: “The window has opened a crack for us to get a political resolution in Syria, partly because both Russia and Iran, I think, recognize that the trend lines are not good for Assad,” he said. “Neither of those patrons are particularly sentimental; they don’t seem concerned about the humanitarian disaster that’s been wrought by Assad and this conflict over the last several years, but they are concerned about the potential collapse of the Syrian state. And that means, I think, the prospect of more serious discussions than we’ve had in the past.”

The US president then affirmed more strongly in a CNN interview Sunday, Aug. 9:  “Is there the possibility that having begun conversations around this narrow issue [the nuclear accord with Iran] that you start getting some broader discussions about Syria, for example, and the ability of all the parties involved to try to arrive at a political transition that keeps the country intact and does not further fuel the growth of ISIL and other terrorist organizations? I think that’s possible,” Obama said. “But I don’t think it happens immediately.”

The administration and its prospective partners are united by the will to destroy ISIS – in its Syrian stronghold, for starters – but are divided on much else, DEBKA file reports. And so the process is moving forward in careful steps.

Their initial focus is on Syria, the bloody battleground which in less than five years has left at least 300,000 dead and more than 10 million people homeless.

The plan the group started out with in the last ten days was a swap as simple as it was ruthless: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would slow their assistance to Syrian rebel groups, against whom President Bashar Assad’s army and allies would hold their fire; Iran, for its part, was to start withdrawing its support from the Yemeni Houthis insurgents.

The informal truce in Syria would be the stage for the Assad regime and rebel groups to start discussing a new government with room for opposition parties. The Islamists of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front would not be invited.

In Yemen, Tehran would cut back on the arms and intelligence which have enabled the Houthi insurgents to stand up to the combined forces of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The pro-Western Yemeni President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi would be restored to his palace in Sanaa and invite the insurgent leader, Abdu Malik Al-Houthi, to discuss his partnership in a new government.

This deal was tantamount to a joint US-Russian guarantee of Bashar Assad survival in power in return for a Tehran-Riyadh compact for Hadi’s reinstatement in Sanaa.

These arrangements were debated back and forth in exchanges, some semi-secret, among the leading actors for most of July. The visit to Riyadh of the Syrian intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk was set up by Moscow as a major push forward.

The plan was for the entire enterprise to be brought out in the open and sealed in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Aug. 3 at a conference attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and other top Gulf diplomats.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was not there. But he put a strong oar into the proceedings by calling in at Muscat, Oman the day before the conference and subsequently on Friday Aug. 7. Assad also kept his hand in by sending his foreign minister Walid Moallem to Tehran and Muscat last week.

But then, at Doha, just as the package was ready to unveil, the Saudi foreign minister pulled away and blew it up with two provisions: a) Riyadh would not countenance Bashar Assad being allowed to stay in office, and: b) Saudi Arabia would not do business with any representative of the Assad regime.

This put a large spoke in the main wheel of the initiative and also scuttled some of the secondary plans depending on it.

But by then, a lot was happening in the Yemeni and Syrian war arenas:

1. Saudi and UAE armored forces had landed in Aden and were closing in on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The Houthi rebels, trained and armed by Iran, were forced to retreat without negotiations on their future role in government.

2. Syrian rebel leaders, sensing the approaching betrayal, sent a secret delegation to Tehran to discuss terms for opening negotiations with Assad. They too were left at sea about the deals in play among Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Riyadh over their future.

Saturday, Aug.8, the Russians, egged on by the Americans, set about winning Riyadh into the fold, Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir was invited to pay a visit to Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 11, for talks about the Syrian conflict and the war on the Islamic State.

Refusing to accept that the new initiative had been grounded in Doha, Moscow presented the visit as continuing the ongoing dialogue on the issues raised at that encounter.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources note that neither Israel nor Jordan has been co-opted to this big power initiative, as though they are not concerned. However, both have a big stake in Saudi Arabia’s next decisions. If Riyadh is won over by US-Russian blandishments and goes back on its decision to boycott Assad, the Saudi-Israeli-Jordanian effort to support Syrian rebel control of southern Syria will fall apart. This will open up both countries to new perils on their  northern borders.

The Iran Delusion: A Primer for the Perplexed

July 8, 2015

The Iran Delusion: A Primer for the Perplexed, World AffairsMichael J. Totten, Summer 2015

Totten_Iran

US foreign policy in the Middle East is focused on two things right now: containing ISIS and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. These are both worthy goals, but if sanctions are lifted on Iran as part of a nuclear deal, whether or not it gets the bomb, Tehran will certainly have more money and resources to funnel to Hezbollah, the Assad regime, Iraq’s Shia militias, the Houthis in Yemen, and—perhaps—to Saudi Arabia’s disaffected Shia minority. The region will become even less stable than it already is. ISIS and al-Qaeda will likely grow stronger than they already are.

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The chattering class has spent months bickering about whether or not the United States should sign on to a nuclear deal with Iran, and everyone from the French and the Israelis to the Saudis has weighed in with “no” votes. Hardly anyone aside from the Saudis, however, seems to recognize that the Iranian government’s ultimate goal is regional hegemony and that its nuclear weapons program is simply a means to that end.

What do these shatter zones have in common? The Iranian government backs militias and terrorist armies in all of them. As Kaplan writes, “The instability Iran will cause will not come from its implosion, but from a strong, internally coherent nation that explodes outward from a natural geographic platform to shatter the region around it.”

That’s why Iran is a problem for American foreign policy makers in the first place; and that’s why trading sanctions relief for an international weapons inspection regime will have no effect on any of it whatsoever.

Iran has been a regional power since the time of the Persian Empire, and its Islamic leaders have played an entirely pernicious role in the Middle East since they seized power from Mohammad Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, and held 66 American diplomats hostage for 444 days.

In 1982, they went international. When the Israelis invaded Lebanon to dislodge Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Army, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders forged a network of terrorist and guerrilla cells among their coreligionists in Lebanon’s Shia population.

Hezbollah, the poisoned fruit of these efforts, initially had no name. It was a hidden force that struck from the shadows. It left a hell of a mark, though, for an organization of anonymous nobodies when it blew up the American Embassy in Beirut and hit French and American peacekeeping troops—who were there at the invitation of the Lebanese government—with suicide truck bombers in 1983 that killed 368 people.

When Hezbollah’s leaders finally sent out a birth announcement in their 1985 Open Letter, they weren’t the least bit shy about telling the world who they worked for. “We are,” they wrote, “the Party of God (Hizb Allah), the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran . . . We obey the orders of one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and faqih [jurist] who fulfills all the necessary conditions: Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini. God save him!”

The Israelis fought a grinding counterinsurgency against Hezbollah for 18 years in southern Lebanon before withdrawing in 2000, and they fought a devastating war in 2006 along the border that killed thousands and produced more than a million refugees in both countries. Hezbollah was better armed and equipped than the Lebanese government even then, but today its missiles can reach Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and even the Dimona nuclear power plant all the way down in the southern part of the country. 

Until September 11, 2001, no terrorist organization in the world had killed more Americans than Hezbollah. Hamas in Gaza isn’t even qualified as a batboy in the league Hezbollah plays in.

Hezbollah is more than just an anti-Western and anti-Jewish terrorist organization. It is also a ruthless sectarian Shia militia that imposes its will at gunpoint on Lebanon’s Sunnis, Christians, and Druze. It has toppled elected governments, invaded and occupied parts of Beirut, and, according to a United Nations indictment, assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah is, for all intents and purposes, the foreign legion of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The parts of the country it occupies—the northern Bekaa Valley, the Israeli border region, and the suburbs south of Beirut—constitute a de facto Iranian-controlled state-within-a-state inside Lebanon. 

After the United States demolished Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003, Iran’s rulers duplicated their Lebanon strategy in Iraq by sponsoring a smorgasbord of sectarian Shia militias and death squads that waged war against the Iraqi government, the American military, Sunni civilians, and politically moderate Shias. 

Unlike Lebanon—which is more or less evenly divided between Christians, Sunnis, and Shias—Iraq has an outright Shia majority that feels a gravitational pull toward their fellow Shias in Iran and a revulsion for the Sunni minority that backed Hussein’s brutal totalitarianism and today tolerates the even more deranged occupation by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. 

The central government, then, is firmly aligned with Tehran. Iran’s clients don’t run a Hezbollah-style state-within-a-state in Iraq. They don’t have to. Now that Hussein is out of the way, Iraq’s Shias can dominate Baghdad with the weight of sheer demographics alone. But Iran isn’t content with merely having strong diplomatic relations with its neighbor. It still sponsors sectarian Shia militias in the center and south of the country that outperform the American-trained national army. They may one day even supplant Iraq’s national army as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has more or less supplanted the Iranian national army. Iraq’s Shia militias are already the most powerful armed force outside the Kurdish autonomous region and ISIS-held territory.

When ISIS took complete control of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, in May of 2015, the Iraqi soldiers tasked with protecting it dropped their weapons and ran as they had earlier in Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah. So Iraq’s central government tasked its Iranian-backed Shia militias with taking it back. 

On the one hand, we can hardly fault Baghdad for sending in whatever competent fighting force is available when it needs to liberate a city from a psychopathic terrorist army, but the only reason ISIS gained a foothold among Iraq’s Sunnis in the first place is because the Baghdad government spent years acting like the sectarian dictatorship that it is, by treating the Sunni minority like second-class citizens, and by trumping up bogus charges against Sunni officials in the capital. When ISIS promised to protect Iraq’s Sunnis from the Iranian-backed Shia rulers in Baghdad, the narrative seemed almost plausible. So ISIS, after being vomited out of Anbar Province in 2007, was allowed to come back.

Most of Iraq’s Sunnis fear and loathe ISIS. They previously fought ISIS under its former name, al-Qaeda in Iraq. But they fear and loathe the central government and its Shiite militias even more. They’d rather be oppressed by “their own” than by “the other” if they had to choose. But they have to choose because Iran has made Iraq its second national project after Lebanon.

It doesn’t have to be this way. At least some of the tribal Sunni militias would gladly fight ISIS as they did in the past with American backing. If they did, residents of Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul would view them as liberators and protectors rather than potential oppressors, but Tehran and Baghdad will have none of it.

“All attempts to send arms and ammunition must be through the central government,” Adnan al-Assadi, a member of Parliament, told CNN back in May. “That is why we refused the American proposal to arm the tribes in Anbar. We want to make sure that the weapons would not end up in the wrong hands, especially ISIS.”

That may appear reasonable on the surface, but ISIS can seize weapons from Shia militias just as easily as it can seize weapons from Sunni militias. The real reason for the government’s reluctance ought to be obvious: Iraq’s Shias do not want to arm Iraq’s Sunnis. They’d rather have ISIS controlling huge swaths of the country than a genuinely popular Sunni movement with staying power that’s implacably hostile to the Iranian-backed project in Mesopotamia.

The catastrophe in Iraq is bad enough, but the Iranian handiwork in Syria is looking even more apocalyptic nowadays. ISIS wouldn’t even exist, of course, if it weren’t for the predatory regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the close alliance that has existed between Damascus and Tehran since the 1979 revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power.

Syria’s government is dominated by the Alawites, who make up just 15 percent of the population. Their religion is a heterodox blend of Christianity, Gnosticism, and Shia Islam. They aren’t Shias. They aren’t even Muslims. Their Arab Socialist Baath Party is and has always been as secular as the Communist Party was in the Soviet Union (and it was in fact a client of the Soviet Union). A marriage between an aggressively secular Alawite regime and Iran’s clerical Islamic Republic was hardly inevitable, but it’s certainly logical. The two nations had a common enemy wedged between them in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and both have been threatened by the region’s Sunni Arab majority since their inception. 

Hezbollah is their first child, and the three of them together make up the core of what analyst Lee Smith calls the Resistance Bloc in his book, The Strong Horse. The Party of God, as it calls itself, wouldn’t exist without Iranian money and weapons, nor would it exist without Damascus as the logistics hub that connects them. And it would have expired decades ago if Syria hadn’t conquered and effectively annexed Lebanon at the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990.

Every armed faction in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, signed on to the Syrian-brokered Taif Agreement, which required the disarmament of every militia in the country. But the Assads governed Lebanon with the same crooked and cynical dishonesty they perfected at home, and as the occupying power they not only allowed Hezbollah to hold onto its arsenal, but also allowed Hezbollah to import rockets and even missiles from Iran.

“For Syria,” historian William Harris wrote in The New Face of Lebanon, “Hezbollah could persist as both a check on the Lebanese regime and as a means to bother Israel when convenient.”

The Party of God is now a powerful force unto itself, but it rightly views the potential downfall of the Assad regime as the beginning of its own end. The fact that Assad might be replaced by the anti-Shia genocidaires of ISIS compelled its fighters to invade Syria without an exit strategy—with the help of Iranian commanders, of course—to either prop up their co-patron or die.

Rather than going all-in, the Iranians could have cut their losses in Syria and pressured Assad into leaving the country. ISIS would be hiding under rocks right now had that happened. Hardly any Sunnis in Syria would tolerate such a deranged revolution if they had no one to revolt against. But the Resistance Bloc will only back down if it’s forced to back down. If ISIS devours Syria and Iraq as a result, then so be it.

And while the Resistance Bloc is fighting for its survival in the Levant, it’s expanding into the Arabian Peninsula.

The Shia-dominated Houthi movement took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, earlier this year following the revolution that toppled former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and its fighters are well on their way to taking the port city of Aden, in the Sunni part of the country.

The Houthis, of course, are backed by Iran.

They’re no more likely to conquer every inch of that country than Iran’s other regional proxies are to conquer every inch of anywhere else. Shias make up slightly less than half of Yemen’s population, and their natural “territory” is restricted to the northwestern region in and around the capital. Taking and holding it all is likely impossible. No government—Sunni, Shia, or otherwise—has managed to control all of Yemen for long. 

And the Saudis are doing their damnedest to make sure it stays that way. Their fighter jets have been pounding Houthi positions throughout the country since March.

Saudi Arabia is more alarmed at Iranian expansion in the region than anyone else, and for good reason. It’s the only Arab country with a substantial Shia minority that hasn’t yet been hit by Iranian-backed revolution, upheaval, or sectarian strife, although events in Yemen could quickly change that.

In the city and province of Najran, in the southwestern corner just over the Yemeni border, Shias are the largest religious group, and they’re linked by sect, tribe, and custom to the Houthis.

Not only is the border there porous and poorly defined, but that part of Saudi Arabia once belonged to Yemen. The Saudis conquered and annexed it in 1934. Najran is almost identical architecturally to the Yemeni capital, and you can walk from Najran to Yemen is a little over an hour. 

Will the Houthis be content to let Najran remain in Saudi hands now that they have Iranian guns, money, power, and wind at their back? Maybe. But the Saudis won’t bet their sovereignty on a maybe.

Roughly 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s citizens are Shias. They’re not a large minority, but Syria’s Alawites are no larger and they’ve been ruling the entire country since 1971. And Shias make up the absolute majority in the Eastern Province, the country’s largest, where most of the oil is concentrated. 

Support among Yemen’s Sunnis for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda on earth—is rising for purely sectarian reasons just as it has in Syria and Iraq. Iran can’t intervene anywhere in the region right now without provoking a psychotic backlash that’s as dangerous to Tehran and its interests as it is to America’s.

If Iranian adventurism spreads to Saudi Arabia, watch out. Everywhere in the entire Middle East where Sunnis and Shias live adjacent to one another will have turned into a shatter zone.

The entire world’s oil patch will have turned into a shatter zone.

US foreign policy in the Middle East is focused on two things right now: containing ISIS and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. These are both worthy goals, but if sanctions are lifted on Iran as part of a nuclear deal, whether or not it gets the bomb, Tehran will certainly have more money and resources to funnel to Hezbollah, the Assad regime, Iraq’s Shia militias, the Houthis in Yemen, and—perhaps—to Saudi Arabia’s disaffected Shia minority. The region will become even less stable than it already is. ISIS and al-Qaeda will likely grow stronger than they already are.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think that won’t affect us. It’s not just about the oil, although until every car in the world is powered by green energy we can’t pretend the global economy won’t crash if gasoline becomes scarce. We also have security concerns in the region. What happens in the Middle East hasn’t stayed in the Middle East now for decades. 

The head-choppers of ISIS are problematic for obvious reasons. Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said, “I’ll see you in New York,” to American military personnel when they (foolishly) released him from Iraq’s Camp Bucca prison in 2004. But the Iranian-led Resistance Bloc has behaved just as atrociously since 1979 and will continue to do so with or without nuclear weapons.

US involvement in Syria and Iraq is minimal now, but even the little we are doing makes little sense. We’re against ISIS in both countries, which is entirely fine and appropriate, but in Iraq we’re using air power to cover advances by Shia militias and therefore furthering Iranian interests, and in Syria we’re working against Iranian interests by undermining Assad and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the nuclear deal Washington is negotiating with Tehran places a grand total of zero requirements on Iran’s rulers to roll back in their necklace of shatter zones.

We don’t have to choose between ISIS and Iran’s revolutionary regime. They’re both murderous Islamist powers with global ambitions, and they’re both implacably hostile to us and our interests. Resisting both simultaneously wouldn’t make our foreign policy even a whit more complicated. It would, however, make our foreign policy much more coherent.