Archive for the ‘Iran and Israel’ category

US Diplomacy: When failure became an accepted option

August 15, 2017

US Diplomacy: When failure became an accepted option, Israel National News, Meir Jolovitz, August 15, 2017

(Please see also, President [Rouhani of Iran]: Iran Could Swiftly Return to Pre-JCPOA Conditions. — DM)

For what it’s worth, future historians will judge the North Korean crisis as the less significant one of our generation – simply because China is able to control it. The more formidable and dangerous threat is the nuclearization of Iran. The occasional terror attacks in Europe, murderous as they are, pale in comparison.

In kind, the geopolitical threat that has already been unleashed – remarkably with more support than opposition by the West – is the facilitation of an Iranian nuclear capability. With the overt and covert support of the Obama Administration – despite its denials – the Iranians were fast changing the rules of the game. Unless stopped forcibly in the next year or two, Iran will be in possession of the bomb. Correction: bombs.

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It’s been said by many, in various forms, that “hindsight is everyone’s favorite perspective.”  The problem is, few grasp when “it” is happening until “it” has happened.

Political analysts and pundits are seemingly in concert: the most disquieting crisis that confronts our world today is the realization that North Korea presents a horrifying threat that remains unchecked. It didn’t have to be.

When Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017, admitted this past week that the two-decade-old US strategy on preventing North Korea from obtaining a nuclear capability was a “failure,” our hindsight was offered some unclouded perspective.

And yet, it was her other comments that made us understand that the lessons of history remain unlearned. Rice, with a criticism directed at President Donald Trump, opined that pragmatism dictates that we should simply accept, and tolerate, a nuclear North Korea.  Worse was the quiet acquiescence:  “The fact of the matter is, that despite all of these efforts, the North Korean regime has been able to succeed in progressing with its program, both nuclear and missile. That’s a very unfortunate outcome; but we are where we are.” Rice added: “It will require being pragmatic.

Pause to laugh, and cry.

Trump, luckily, did not hire Rice as an adviser, and did what he thought was right.

In 1967, a couple of years before he achieved notoriety as the controversial founder and voice of the Jewish Defense League, Rabbi Meir Kahane coauthored a book – The Jewish Stake in Vietnam –  whose implications were largely ignored. One might still find it on the shelves of some antiquarian book store, but the book is largely lost. Its relevance, decades lately, offers food for serious thought.

While the book’s theoretical message was clear, the practical implications remain undeniable.

The radical rabbi argued that the anti-Vietnam war sentiment that had targeted the hearts and minds of a confused American population that was increasingly drawn to slogans of “peace,” “liberation,” and “democratic freedom” – would pressure its government to abandon an ally, South Vietnam. The implication, seemingly unthinkable even to Jewish liberals in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, was that if the United States could not stand firm in its commitment to support an ally in Southeast Asia, it would one day be willing to abandon its commitment to its only ally in the Middle East as well. Ergo, the Jewish state.

Times have changed, and with it, America’s foreign policy. Israel is no longer considered America’s only ally in a still-troubled Middle East. In fact, the United States counts many, mostly as a result of a misbegotten reinterpretation of what allies are, thanks in great measure to the US State Department’s purposeful redefinition of American interests in the region.

One recalls the comment most often attributed to Charles de Gaulle: “Nations don’t have friends, only interests.”

Despite the very strong relationship that ostensibly exists between President Trump and Israel – at great contrast with that of his predecessor – his State Department and the National Security Council are still adherents of ‘interests before friends’. And, they mistakenly and quite foolishly attribute American interests to the wrong side. Governed by the belief that the “occupied” territories and the settlements are the reason of the impasse to the conflict between Muslims and Jews, Trump is ready to dispatch his son-in-law to once again bridge the unbridgeable gap.

In an oil-thirsty world, the Muslim states (we include here of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran) seemed to have gained a leverage that was simply unthinkable in 1967. The Europeans seemed the first to turn the other cheek when Arab terror spread, still in its nascent stages – mostly one would think, because it was not their cheeks that were being most often slapped.

Over the years, the terror in Europe proliferated. And correlatively, so did the finger of blame that was directed at Israel. As long as the Muslim antipathy was directed at the Jewish State – and more telling, Jews everywhere – the Europeans would assuage the perpetrators. It was Israel that was called to make compromises, territorial and (axiomatically) ideological. The more threatening and damaging the terror, the more shrill the calls for Israeli capitulation.

Undeniably, the greatest threat to the ever-elusive peace in the Middle East, and the invariable spill-over of violence into a Europe that is fast becoming a battlefield, is the terror that so many of its nations have voluntarily imported with the jihadis who carry the torch of Islam.

For what it’s worth, future historians will judge the North Korean crisis as the less significant one of our generation – simply because China is able to control it. The more formidable and dangerous threat is the nuclearization of Iran. The occasional terror attacks in Europe, murderous as they are, pale in comparison.

In kind, the geopolitical threat that has already been unleashed – remarkably with more support than opposition by the West – is the facilitation of an Iranian nuclear capability. With the overt and covert support of the Obama Administration – despite its denials – the Iranians were fast changing the rules of the game. Unless stopped forcibly in the next year or two, Iran will be in possession of the bomb. Correction: bombs.

Meanwhile, the new Trump foreign policy team, despite its frequent criticism of the Obama-Iran nuke deal, has yet to do anything significant. Worse, it has twice certified that Iran remains compliant. Of a deal that Trump called “the worst in diplomatic history.”

Yes, allies are often sacrificed on the mantle of political expedience. The US national security apparatus prefers to call it pragmatism.

And count on it. Susan Rice will one day again be interviewed by the New York Times and CNN, in a joint appearance with President Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, admitting another failure. This will be the statement that they will issue: “The fact of the matter is, that despite all of these efforts, the Iranian regime been able to succeed in progressing with its program, both nuclear and missile. That’s a very unfortunate outcome; but we are where we are.” McMaster, resplendent in his uniform and its military regalia, will add: “It will require being pragmatic.”

After all, we are where we are!

Today, despite the unmistakable danger that Iran poses to Israel directly, it is more than simply a Jewish stake. This is an American interest. The message is quite clear. The practical implications are quite ominous. Let us hope Trump deals with Iran as he is dealing with North Korea.

Pause to cry.

Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.

Deadly False Narratives Drove the Temple Mount Crisis

August 2, 2017

Deadly False Narratives Drove the Temple Mount Crisis, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, August 2, 2017

Until the attack, Israel had been relying on intelligence alerts, rather than physical security measures, to defend the site. But the shootings led the Israel Police to ask the Israeli government to beef up security, and install metal detectors.

The government agreed, despite the misgivings of the Israeli defense establishment, which was concerned that the move would fuel the propaganda of fundamentalist forces, leading to unrest and instability.

Iran helped fuel the unrestIsrael Hayom reported, by sending protesters “tens of thousands of … prepackaged meals along with notes in each one citing a famous quote attributed to 1979 Iranian Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: ‘With the help of Allah, Palestine will be liberated! Jerusalem is ours.’ The note also depicted the Dome of the Rock and the Palestinian flag.”

Additionally, a senior Iranian official reportedly met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad representatives in Iran, offering them assistance for Palestinians injured in clashes. The IRGC released a statement, condemning “the Zionist regime’s  aggressive and criminal actions against Al-Aqsa mosque.”

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The crisis between Israel and the Palestinians that raged in recent weeks over the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa holy site in Jerusalem has died down, but the affair provides important clues about the rising ability of fundamentalist Islamists to seize control of the narrative.

Radical rhetoric espoused by those who sought to inflame religious conflict dominated the Temple Mount crisis.

“Israel wants more than ever before to implement its plan for complete control over al-Aksa Mosque,” Hamas politburo chief Ismael Haniyeh said, even after Israel moved to defuse the situation. Days earlier, Hamas had called for a “religious war” against Israel.

Islamists in Gaza, Jordan, east Jerusalem, and within the Israeli Arab community, had the upper hand in their ability to push their interpretation of events. They claim Israel wants to take over the holy site and destroy the mosque to make way for a third Temple. This baseless narrative sweeps away the terrorist attack that caused the crisis and presented three Palestinians killed in subsequent clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem as martyrs who died defending Islam.

Not to be outdone by their Islamist rivals, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders peddled the same falsehoods. Religious Affairs Minister Sheikh Yusuf Idai’is told the official PA television channel that Israel “has plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and establish the alleged Temple in its place.”

Those seeking religious strife were able to mobilize masses onto the streets, with the help of self-organizing demonstrators and rioters who were infected with the Islamist fervor, and spread it themselves on social media.

Together, these elements forced pragmatic Arab leaders – who do not subscribe to Islamist ideology – to adopt the Islamist narrative, and to deal with Israel as if it was guilty of the Islamic hard-liners’ fabricated accusations.

A recap: The crisis erupted when a terrorist jihadist cell, made up of three Arab-Israeli gunmen, used firearms smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – to shoot dead two Israeli police officers. Security forces then returned fire, killing the gunmen.

Until the attack, Israel had been relying on intelligence alerts, rather than physical security measures, to defend the site. But the shootings led the Israel Police to ask the Israeli government to beef up security, and install metal detectors.

The government agreed, despite the misgivings of the Israeli defense establishment, which was concerned that the move would fuel the propaganda of fundamentalist forces, leading to unrest and instability.

The defense establishment’s concerns came true. Rioting erupted in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Mass demonstrations were held in Israel’s eastern neighbor, Jordan, and included members of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

A Palestinian knife attacker, pledging to “die for Al-Aqsa” on his Facebook page, massacred three members of an Israeli family in their home in the West Bank.

All of these events were driven by incitement to religious violence. The unrest was sparked by the false accusation that Israel was seeking to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa, and that the site needed defending from Israelis schemes. It is a conspiracy theory that has been peddled by Palestinian hardliners for decades, dating back to the days of Hajj Amin Al Husseini in the 1920s and 30s.

Hamas in Gaza and Palestinian Islamic Jihad praised the Temple Mount shooters as “heroic,” and called for more attacks. They issued a rallying call to defend Al-Aqsa. A Salafist-jihadist group in Gaza fired two rockets at southern Israel.

Israel responded with tank fire at a Hamas military post.

Turkey, ruled by a pro-Hamas variant of the Muslim Brotherhood, exploited the tensions to urge all Muslims to “protect Jerusalem,” and called on Israel to end the crisis. Israel’s Foreign Ministry called it “absurd that the Turkish government, which occupies northern Cyprus, brutally represses the Kurdish minority and jails journalists, lectures Israel, the only true democracy in the region. The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed.”

Iran helped fuel the unrestIsrael Hayom reported, by sending protesters “tens of thousands of … prepackaged meals along with notes in each one citing a famous quote attributed to 1979 Iranian Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: ‘With the help of Allah, Palestine will be liberated! Jerusalem is ours.’ The note also depicted the Dome of the Rock and the Palestinian flag.”

Additionally, a senior Iranian official reportedly met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad representatives in Iran, offering them assistance for Palestinians injured in clashes. The IRGC released a statement, condemning “the Zionist regime’s  aggressive and criminal actions against Al-Aqsa mosque.”

In Israel, Sheikh Raed Saleh, the former leader of the now banned Islamic Movement – a sister organization to Hamas – led a funeral procession for the three Arab Israeli terrorists. Thousands of mourners marched belligerently by the coffins of the terrorists, shouting, “By fire and with blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa,” and, “You are the martyrs of Al-Aqsa.”

Palestinian social media buzzed with calls to defend Al-Aqsa. The Islamist narrative had won the day.

Israel tried to challenge this mythology by directly addressing Palestinians. “So that the truth is clear, when did the Temple Mount incidents erupt?” IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai asked in Arabic on Al Jazeera. “A week ago. After a terror attack was committed by three Muslims, who entered the Temple Mount with weapons and opened fire. Israel does not want to change the status quo. This is a clear message to the world from the Muslim world.”

His message appeared to largely fall on deaf ears. With the fundamentalist rhetoric leading the way, even pragmatic Arab leaders, some of whom rely on cooperation with Israel for the very stability of their rule, felt the need to play according to the radical playbook, in order to avoid being tagged as Israel’s ‘abettors.’

The most obvious example was Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. Without Israel’s steps to quell Hamas in the West Bank, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority would have faced multiple armed attempts by Islamists to depose him .

During the Temple Mount unrest, Abbas cut security coordination between his forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“Jerusalem is ours. It is our capital and our sovereignty. As long as the situation in occupied Jerusalem does not return to what it was before July 14 [when Israel installed metal detectors], there will be no changes [in our position],” Abbas said, according to a Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translation.

Promoting the lie that the Al-Aqsa Mosque required protection from Israel, Abbas told east Jerusalem Palestinians, “What you did was defend your honor, your religion and your holy sites. It was the true answer to those who wish to harm our holy sites and the principles of our faith. We supported you in what you did and are [still] doing. We decided to suspend the security coordination; [that decision] still holds. We [decided to] defend the holy sites; that still holds as well.”

The Fatah movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority, added fuel to the fire. With the full knowledge that it was risking new clashes, Fatah’s Central Committee called for mass protests.

Egypt and Jordan, both of whom are busy combating Islamist threats at home, called on Israel to remove the metal detectors.

The situation in Jordan became even more complicated when an Israeli embassy guard was stabbed by a local youth. The guard opened fire to defend himself, killing the attacker and accidentally shooting dead a second Jordanian citizen who was nearby.

Jordan’s King Abdullah refused to allow the Israeli guard to leave Amman, reversing his decision only after Israel said it would remove the metal detectors.

King Abdullah, one of the Arab worlds’ most moderate leaders, whose Kingdom shares many common interests with Israel, still felt the need to issue a statement vowing to prevent the “Judaization” of holy sites in Jerusalem.

Jordan controls the Jerusalem Islamic trust in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, called the Waqf. Behind the scenes, Jordan helped end the Temple Mount crisis, which threatened to destabilize it.

The Waqf told Islamic worshipers that they could re-enter the Temple Mount after Israel had removed the metal detectors.

Even after the crisis reached a resolution, the Palestinian Authority remained highly wary of being labeled as a collaborator with Israel.

An aide to Abbas said security coordination with Israel would only be resumed “gradually,” to avoid giving the impression that the Palestinian Authority is too enthusiastic about working with the Israeli military in the West Bank.

The crisis provides a clear indication of the influence that Islamist propaganda has on the area. Even Arab leaders who are directly threatened by radical forces feel they must march according to their drumbeat, or risk their very legitimacy.

Israel’s decision to dismantle the metal detectors was designed to prevent the Islamist pyromaniacs from using the Al-Aqsa crisis to set the region on fire.

The fact that the Islamists came so close to succeeding, however, is the latest indication of who is in charge of the popular narrative in the region.

Jordan’s intel tags Hizballah for Temple Mt. terror

July 20, 2017

Jordan’s intel tags Hizballah for Temple Mt. terror, DEBKAfile, July 20, 2017

Jordanian and Saudi intelligence services have come to the conclusion that the attack was the work of a Hizballah-run cell on orders from Iran. One of Hizballah’s signatures is the absence of any claim of responsibility.

Jordanian intelligence circles suspect that the Temple Mount attack was linked to the US-Russian deal for ceasefire zones in southwest Syria right up to the borders of Jordan and Israel. Both governments have demanded the exclusion of Iranian and Hizballah forces from those zones.

Hizballah not only maintains a presence in Daraa and the Syrian Golan, but has planted terrorist networks inside Israel and Jordan. The pro-Iranian terror group has long been suspected of recruiting networks in some Israeli Arab communities. By striking Temple Mount, Iran and Hizballah targeted both Israel and Jordan, which claims religious custodianship of its mosques.

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The Israeli police Thursday, July 20, released a video tape recording the movements of the terrorists heading for the murderous attack they committed on Temple Mount six days ago, when they shot dead two Israeli border guard police officers.

The film shows not three but four men who carefully stepped away from each other before entering the Al Aqsa Mosque. There, the three gunmen were handed their weapons by the fourth confederate, who made his escape among the crowds of worshippers exiting the mosque.

The police published the video Thursday ahead of Muslim Friday prayers – which brings tens of thousands of worshippers to Al Aqsa – as a reminder that the crime committed was a terrorist attack staged by Muslims at Islam’s third most sacred site – not the metal detectors Israel which installed for its safety. To drown this truth out, the Palestinians and Waqf officials have been raising a worldwide uproar over those detectors, as though nothing else happened to make them necessary.

The investigation going forward has established that the terrorists were far from amateurs. They acted coolly, with professional precision and were clearly highly trained and familiar with the terrain. It was a skilled terrorist cell that assaulted a shrine holy to three world faiths.

Even the absence of any claim of responsibility for the attack is a clue, especially since none of Israel’s investigators, be they police, security authorities or intelligence agencies, have so far thrown any light on the identity of the hand behind that cell.

However, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources report that Jordanian and Saudi intelligence services have come to the conclusion that the attack was the work of a Hizballah-run cell on orders from Iran. One of Hizballah’s signatures is the absence of any claim of responsibility.

On July 18, 2012, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver and injuring 32. No organization has ever claimed this attack. Israeli intelligence uncovered evidence that it was orchestrated by Hizballah, but was never able to lay hands on the perpetrators.

The difference this time was that the three gunmen on Temple Mount had no intention of committing suicide. They did not expect the Israel police detail to react quickly enough to gun them down, but had meant to elude pursuit by fleeing to safety into Al Aqsa mosque. There they planned either to escape through ancient subterranean tunnels leading outside the Old City walls, or barricade themselves inside the cavernous mosque for a long shootout with Israel police.

Jordanian intelligence circles suspect that the Temple Mount attack was linked to the US-Russian deal for ceasefire zones in southwest Syria right up to the borders of Jordan and Israel. Both governments have demanded the exclusion of Iranian and Hizballah forces from those zones.

Tehran found an answer to this demand by demonstrating that its Lebanese proxy is capable of reaching deep inside Israel without recourse to external territory, because Hizballah not only maintains a presence in Daraa and the Syrian Golan, but has planted terrorist networks inside Israel and Jordan. The pro-Iranian terror group has long been suspected of recruiting networks in some Israeli Arab communities. By striking Temple Mount, Iran and Hizballah targeted both Israel and Jordan, which claims religious custodianship of its mosques.

Qassem Soleimani boasts of Tehran’s expanded footprint throughout Middle East

July 7, 2017

Qassem Soleimani boasts of Tehran’s expanded footprint throughout Middle East, Long War Journal , July 6, 2017

Qassem Soleimani

“The Islamic Republic has been the victor of all events that have happened in the region,” Soleimani claimed.

On domestic politics, Soleimani had strong words for critics of the IRGC, indirectly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani. “In the Islamic Republic, we’re all responsible towards martyrs, society, religion and our country. The biggest betrayal is to cast doubt toward the foundations of this system.” He continued, saying “none today must weaken the corps.” This is likely a reference to Rouhani’s recent criticism of the IRGC during and since the presidential campaign. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: The Revolutionary Guard’s long shadow over Iran’s presidential election.]

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On July 3, Major General Qassem Soleimani, the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, spoke at an Iran-Iraq war veterans gathering in his home province of Kerman.

Soleimani praised the Islamic Republic’s decades-long effort to take the mantle of the Palestinian cause and boasted that Tehran’s influence in the Middle East has expanded as a result of the Syrian war. He excoriated Saudi Arabia, as well as domestic Iranian critics of the Guard Corps. And the general also lamented the drop in religious observance in Iran.

Soleimani hailed the importance of Qods Day, established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to call for Israel’s destruction and express support for Palestinians. Tehran-sponsored Qods Day celebrations were held in several countries last month. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Qods Day commemorations highlight Tehran’s global reach.]

“One of the important and valuable innovations of Imam Khomeini was making central the system’s policies on the Palestinian issues, and the Imam (may the almighty God be pleased with him) hoisted the flag of mahdavi in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Soleimani said. Mahdism is belief in the Mahdi, or the 12th Shiite Imam, who would rise before judgement day.

Soleimani then chastised “some Arab countries” who are “surrounding” the “oppressed” Palestinians. Tehran has accused Arab states of “selling out” the Palestinian cause, because these same Arab nations have expanded ties with Israel over shared concerns about Iranian power.

“The Islamic Republic’s global defense of the oppressed peoples of Iraq and Syria” has increased Iran’s global popularity, Soleimani claimed. Other evidence suggests the opposite has happened: over the past decade, Tehran’s regional policies have led to sharp drops in Iran’s favorability rating in the Middle East and around the globe.

“The target of the takfiri terrorists was to bring the Islamic Republic to the ground with these conspiracies and to make it kneel in front of this religious sedition,” Soleimani claimed. He elaborated: “Those who were behind this sedition and fanned it also had this imagination. This is while the greatness and strength of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the emergence of DAESH [the Islamic State] and toward the end of DAESH increased tens of times.”

Like other senior Iranian officials, Soleimani has claimed that the Islamic State was a conspiracy weaved by Tehran’s enemies to target the Islamic Republic. Although Iranian-backed forces and the Islamic State fight one anther in Iraq and Syria, Tehran has used the Sunni jihadist group’s rise to justify its involvement abroad and its own jihad to defend Shiite shrines from virulently anti-Shiite extremists.

Soleimani boasted about the Syrian regime’s rising fortunes, though he failed to mention that Russia’s military intervention was essential in turning the tide of war. “One day, Syria faced many problems, and today the Syrian government becomes stronger every day,” he stated. The “global belief today is that the Syrian system is undefeatable.”

Soleimani spoke about the expansion of Tehran’s operations in Syria during the war. “Several years ago in Syria, we didn’t have relations with individuals and movements more than the numbers of fingers, while we have relations with hundreds of thousands today,” he boasted. “While some countries that argued with us, ‘don’t defend Syria’s government,’ [they] are standing next to the Islamic Republic today and have changed their policies.”

The Qods Force chief lauded the rise of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a conglomeration of Iraqi militias dominated by IRGC-backed factions. He omitted the fact that US air support has been crucial in the anti-Islamic State campaign.

“The Iraqi army is moving as a national, powerful Islamic army. This is due to popular forces. Something similar happened in our country,” he said, referring to the formation of the IRGC and the Basij paramilitary. Tehran aspires to consolidate its gains in Iraq through the vehicle of the PMF. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Qods Force commander to advance Tehran’s influence as ambassador to Iraq.]

The Iranian general mocked Saudi Arabia: “If there’s a lot of oil in a country…but mad logic rules, terrible events happen, and mad things like war with Yemen happen and these ignorant individuals are incapable of extinguishing this fire.” As the civil war in Yemen enters its third year, Soleimani has overseen increasing Iranian support for Houthi fighters and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthi-Saleh alliance seeks to stymie the Saudi and UAE-led coalition.

“The Islamic Republic has been the victor of all events that have happened in the region,” Soleimani claimed.

He also praised the IRGC’s missile strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria last month, saying “this had several good benefits, one that it showed the Islamic Republic has the will to act, and the principle of will was more important than the result.” Israeli sources say Iran’s missile strikes were largely unsuccessful, with only one projectile striking their targets. Soleimani’s statement could be read as an admission that not all the missiles struck their targets. Regardless, he emphasized that the missile strikes highlighted the training of experts in building “precise” missiles.

“I have witnessed many scenes of missile raining down including American missiles,” he explained. He cited a Quranic verse in his praise, arguing “this movement of the corps was truly, ‘It was not you who threw when you threw; God is the One who threw.’”

On domestic politics, Soleimani had strong words for critics of the IRGC, indirectly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani. “In the Islamic Republic, we’re all responsible towards martyrs, society, religion and our country. The biggest betrayal is to cast doubt toward the foundations of this system.” He continued, saying “none today must weaken the corps.” This is likely a reference to Rouhani’s recent criticism of the IRGC during and since the presidential campaign. [See FDD’s Long War Journalreport: The Revolutionary Guard’s long shadow over Iran’s presidential election.]

“Do not compare the corps with me…target me, not the corps,” he said. “Without the corps, there wouldn’t be a country.”

Soleimani acknowledged the drop in religious observation in Iran, though he sought to deflect blame from the regime’s practice of shoving its version of religiosity down people’s throats. “We must not make people pessimistic toward religion and make society fear the devout, because turning people away from religion leads to higher divorce rate, and social corruption grows with reduction in values,” he said.

“How is it that some seek to make society afraid of the religiously devout? This is a wrong strategy and policy.”

A Revolutionary Guard commander once admitted that only five percent of Iran’s mosques are operational during the year.

Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Articles In Gulf Press: The Escalation In Gaza – A Result Of Qatar, Iran, Turkey Toying With Lives Of Innocent Palestinians

June 28, 2017

Articles In Gulf Press: The Escalation In Gaza – A Result Of Qatar, Iran, Turkey Toying With Lives Of Innocent Palestinians, MEMRI, June 28, 2017

Following the June 27, 2017 Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in response to the firing of a rocket from Gaza into Israel, articles in the Gulf press attacked Hamas and the countries that support it: Qatar, Iran and Turkey. The articles – published against the backdrop of the inter-Gulf tension and the Boycott imposed on Qatar, chiefly by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – blamed Hamas of the firing of the rocket into Israel, and claimed that it was escalating the situation in Gaza on purpose in order to serve the interests of its three patron countries. These countries, said the articles, place innocent Palestinians in danger in order to divert global attention away from the Gulf crisis. 

The following are excerpts from two articles on this topic:   

‘Al-Ittihad’ Editorial: Qatar, Iran, Turkey Use Gaza As Bargaining Chip, Toying With The Lives Of Its Innocent People

Muhammad Al-Hamadi, editor of the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, wrote: “On June 27, without any warning, the Arabs woke up to discover that Gaza had been bombarded. Why? What has happened that we don’t know about? What did the Gazan Palestinians do to find themselves under Israeli fire? Has a third intifada broken out? Has the battle for the liberation of Jerusalem begun?

“In practice, none [of the above] happened. All [that happened was] that those who trade in the Palestinian problem, who are themselves in trouble, remembered an old bargaining chip that they have long been using successfully, [and decided] to use it in the dire circumstances that have befallen their friend Qatar, which serves as their open bank [account]. They thought that [using this bargaining chip] would be a good way to divert the Arabs’ attention away from Qatar and focus it [instead] on Gaza and its residents who are being bombarded with missiles by the Israeli enemy.

“This conduct of Qatar and its allies, in Palestine and elsewhere, is despicable. How disgraceful it is that some are willing to toy with the lives of innocents and with the future of small children in Gaza in order to achieve political aims. For a long time now, some [elements] – chiefly Iran, Qatar and Turkey – have been toying with the Palestinian cause and they were successful, but the cost was high: hundreds and even thousands of innocent Palestinians who have been martyred or wounded and crippled. What was the [Palestinian’s] reward? The reward was a donation drive among Arab and Muslim countries that raised millions. [But only] a handful of riyals and dinars was handed out to the disaster-stricken Palestinians. It is always the case that the [Gazan] people get crumbs, while the rest goes to the loyal partner, Hamas.

“We have said from the beginning of the boycott of Qatar that the game is over, but Qatar apparently isn’t listening. Continuing this transparently [wicked] behavior will no longer avail [it], because the peoples are no longer fooled. If in the past they trusted the propaganda of the ideologically recruited Al-Jazeera channel, which serves certain goals, today the peoples no longer watch Al-Jazeera and are no longer influenced by it and by other Arab or foreign channels. Information has become very accessible, and [cyber]space has opened up in [this] era of new media. Nobody has a monopoly on the facts, and it is no longer possible to deceive the peoples. That is what the Palestinian people discovered on July 27. It discovered that there are those who want to exploit it and drag it into a new confrontation with the Israeli enemy, while those who plan [the confrontation] stay in five-star hotels in Doha and Istanbul and in other capitals that shelter the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and of terror.

“Our friends in Gaza informed us that the [Gaza] Strip was not bombarded and that only two Israeli missiles were fired in response to the rocket fired from Gaza into Israel. Everyone knows that Qatar is the one that is ‘bombarded’ and boycotted. Who gains from the firing of the rocket and from the situation in which Gaza is bombarded?”[i]

Saudi Columnist: Qatar, Iran Sponsor Hamas, Which Uses Gazans As Human Shields

Hani Al-Zahiri wrote in the Saudi ‘Okaz daily: “It has been centuries since our region has seen a political gamble as terrible as the Iranian and Qatari regimes’ [current] gamble with the lives and the cause of the Palestinians. These two [regimes] adopted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas organization, and supported it by every means when it staged an uprising against the legal Palestinian leadership [the PA] and took over Gaza, and then turned the innocent residents [of Gaza] into a human shield for the Hamas leadership.

“The state of the Gaza Strip in the face of the Israeli bombardments, which usually come in direct response to Hamas actions, reminds us of  [a situation in which] a man kidnaps a girl and then provokes [the soldiers in] a military base to open fire on him and uses the girl as a human shield. The kidnapper in this case is Hamas and the girl is Gaza and its helpless people. The portly Hamas leaders meet in Doha and Tehran, laugh around tables laden with delicacies and order their young [fighters] to open the gates of Hell to the Palestinians by [shooting] firecrackers – which they call ‘rockets’ – at Israeli [army] posts, so that Gaza will be bombarded and women, children and the elderly will die. Then Hamas [officials] will come out, condemn this on satellite channels, and demand support and funds to rescue the Palestinian people, before going back to their feast, safe and sound. In the meantime the entire world will watch the suffering of an unarmed people that has no means to defend itself.

“Everything that has happened to the Palestinians since Hamas took over them indicates that their second enemy, after Israel, is Qatar and Iran, which are using a tinderbox named Hamas to burn them in order to achieve purely political aims… The question now is why, on the day before yesterday [June 26], Qatar and its allies prompted Hamas to fire on Israeli positions, thus inviting Israel to respond by bombarding Gaza. The answer is clearly that this was a despicable attempt and a new political gamble by the Qatari regime, aimed at easing the noose of the Gulf boycott [of Qatar, a boycott] which prompted calls to sue [this regime] in the international [court] for the black [crime] of supporting terror. Today [Qatar] desperately needs to divert the world’s attention in another direction, even at the expense of the life and blood of a defenseless people… The Qataris and Iranians will exploit the event to utter phrases of pretended sympathy for the Palestinians, but only the people in Gaza know that they are the victims of this pair of plotters [Qatar and Iran].”[ii]

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[i] Al-Ittihad (UAE), June 28, 2017.

[ii] ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 28, 2017.

Syrian mortars again fall on Golan despite Israel’s warnings

June 25, 2017

Syrian mortars again fall on Golan despite Israel’s warnings, DEBKAfile, June 25, 2017

In the face of strong warnings by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Syrian mortars again spilled over to the Golan Sunday for the second day in a row. There was no damage or casualties this time too. IDF tanks opened fire on Syrian positions in the Quneitra area, which the Israeli air force targeted the day before. Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu stated at the weekly cabinet meeting: “Our policy is clear. We will not tolerate any kind of ‘trickle, not of mortars, rockets, or spillover fire [from the Syrian Civil War]. We shall respond forcefully to every attack.”

Netanyahu also repeated: “We also view with utmost gravity Iran’s attempts to establish itself militarily in Syria as well as its attempts to arm Hezbollah – via Syria and Lebanon – with advanced weaponry.

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East

June 22, 2017

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East, Gatestone InstitutePeter Huessy, June 22, 2017

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

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The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of such a doctrine from their communities.

What still has to be considered is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

The tectonic plates in the Middle East have shifted markedly with President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and his announced new regional policy.

The trip represented the beginning of a major but necessary shift in US security policy.

For much of the last nearly half-century, American Middle East policy has been centered on the “peace process” and how to bring Israel and the Palestinians to agreement on a “two-state” solution for two peoples — a phrase that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to say.

First was shuttle diplomacy during 1973-74 in the Nixon administration; then second, in 1978, the Camp David agreement and the recognition of Israel by Egypt, made palatable by $7 billion in new annual US assistance to the two nations; third, the anti-Hizballah doctrine, recently accurately described by National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, as Iran, since 1983, started spreading its terror to Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. This last effort was often excused by many American and European analysts as a result somehow, of supposed American bad faith. Fourth, came the birth, in 1992, of the “Oslo Accords” where some Israelis and Palestinians imagined that a two-state solution was just another round of negotiations away.

Ironically, during the decade after Oslo, little peace was achieved; instead, terror expanded dramatically. The Palestinians launched three wars, “Intifadas,” against Israel; Al Qaeda launched its terror attacks on U.S. Embassies in Africa; and Iran, Hizballah, and Al Qaeda together carried out the forerunner attacks against America of 9/11/2001.

Since 9/11, despite wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism has not only failed to recede; on the contrary, it has expanded. Iran has become the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and the Islamic State (ISIS) has tried to establish a transnational “Islamic caliphate.” Literally tens of thousands of terror attacks have been carried out since 9/11 by those claiming an Islamic duty to do so. These assaults on Western civilization have taken place on bridges, cafes, night clubs, offices, military recruitment centers, theaters, markets, and sporting events — not only across the West but also in countries where Muslims have often been the primary victims.

Particularly condemnable have been the improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, perpetrated to a great extent by Iran, according to U.S. military testimony before Congress.

All the while, we in the West keep trying to convince ourselves that, as a former American president thought, if there were a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, most of the terrorist attacks we see in Europe and the United States “would disappear.”

No matter how hard we may rhetorically push the “peace process”, there is no arc of history that bends naturally in that direction. Rather, nations such as the United States together with its allies must create those alliances best able to meet the challenges to peace and especially defeat the totalitarian elements at the core of Islamist ideology.

If anything, the so-called Middle East “peace process” has undercut chances of achieving a sound U.S. security policy. While the search for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian “problem” dominated American thinking about Middle East peace for so many decades, other far more serious threats materialized but were often ignored, not the least of which was the rise of Iran as the world’s most aggressive terrorist.

The United States has now moved in a markedly more promising and thoughtful direction.

The new American administration has put together an emerging coalition of nations led by the United States that seeks five objectives:

(1) the defeat of Islamic State;

(2) the formation of a coalition of the major Arab nations, especially Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to clean up in their own back yards financing terrorism and providing terrorists with sanctuary. As Elliott Abrams, an adviser to former U.S. President George W. Bush, cautions us, however, this will not be an easy effort: “Partnerships with repressive regimes may in some cases exacerbate rather than solve the problem for us” but, Abrams says, “gradual reform is exactly the right approach…”;

3) “driving out” sharia-inspired violence and human rights abuses from the region’s mosques and madrassas;

(4) a joint partnership with Israel as part of an emerging anti-Iran coalition — without letting relations with the Palestinian authority derail United States and Israeli security interests; and

(5) the adoption of a strategy directly to challenge Iran’s quest for regional and Islamic hegemony, while ending its role in terrorism.

Defeating Islamic State

Defeating ISIS began with an accelerated military campaign and a new American-led strategy to destroy the organization rather than to seek its containment. According to the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, “Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Dept. of Defense/Brigitte N. Brantley)

So far, the United States coalition has driven ISIS from 55,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria.

A New Coalition

Apart from a strategy to counter ISIS, the Trump administration also called on our allies in the Middle East to put together a new joint multi-state effort to stop financing terrorism. Leading the multi-state effort will be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, which together will supposedly open a new center dedicated to the elimination of terrorist financing. Positive results are not guaranteed, but it is a step in the right direction.

According to Abdul Hadi Habtoor, the center will exchange information about financing networks, adopt means to cut off funding from terrorist groups, and hopefully blacklist Iran’s jihadist army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). These measures in turn will help eliminate the sanctuaries from which terrorists plot and plan.

This move also places emphasis on the responsibility of states to eliminate terrorism. As President Trump said, each country — where it is sovereign — has to “carry the weight of their own self-defense“, be “pro-active” and responsible for “eradicating terrorism”, and “to deny all territory to the foot soldiers of evil”.

This determination was underscored by many Arab countries breaking diplomatic relations with Qatar for its support of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Most of Qatar’s Arab neighbors, including the Saudis, Egypt, and the UAE did so, while the US, although denouncing Qatar’s support of terrorism, continues to maintain access to, and use of, its critical military base there.

In short, the U.S. is playing good-cop, bad-cop in the region, while U.S. allies are putting together what Josh Rogin of the Washington Post described as “a regional security architecture encompassing countries on the periphery of Iran.”

Such an approach is not without risk: Turkey, allied with Iran and Qatar, has already has pledged to help Qatar defy the Gulf States’ trade cut-off. If Turkey, for example, seeks to move its promised aid shipments to Qatar through the Suez Canal, the ships could possibly be blocked by Egypt or attacked on the high seas. Does the U.S. then come to the assistance of a NATO member — Turkey — against an ally in the strategic coalition?

Drive Hateful Ideology Out

A companion challenge by the new American President underscored this new security effort. President Trump said to the assembled nations of the Islamic conference that they have to expel the ugly Islamist ideology from the mosques and madrassas that recruit terrorists and justify their actions.

Trump said: “Drive them out of your places of worship”. Such words had never been spoken so clearly by an American president, especially to the collection of nearly all the Islamic-majority countries (minus the Shi’ite bloc) gathered together.

The president’s audience doubtless understood that he was speaking of the doctrine of sharia (Islamic law). The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of the doctrine from their communities. It was a sharp but critical departure from the previous American administration’s message in Cairo in 2009, and placed the Islamic doctrine that seeks to establish the sharia throughout the world in a contained context.

New Israeli Partnership

With Israel, the administration has cemented the next part of its strategy. Here the Trump administration successfully improved our political and military relations with Israel. Markedly so. One part of that effort was enhanced missile-defense cooperation called for in the FY18 United States defense budget, specifically to deal with Iranian and Iranian-allied missile threats.

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

Challenge and Roll Back Iran

The final part of the administration’s strategy starts with a thorough review of our Iran strategy and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “nuclear deal”, with Iran. As Max Singer recently wrote, even if we discount what secretive nuclear capability Iran may now have, the Iranian regime will at the very least be much closer to producing nuclear weapons down the road than when the JCPOA was agreed to.

As Ambassador John Bolton has warned the nuclear deal with Iran did nothing to restrain Iranian harmful behavior: “Defiant missile launches… support for the genocidal Assad regime… backing of then Houthi insurgency in Yemen… worldwide support for terrorism… and commitment to the annihilation of Israel” continue.

In addition, uranium enrichment, heavy water production, the concealed military dimensions of warhead development and joint missile and nuclear work with North Korea all lend a critical urgency to countering Iran’s lethal efforts. The United States did not make these counter-efforts any easier by providing to Tehran $100 billion in escrowed Iranian funds, equivalent to nearly one quarter of the Islamic Republic’s annual GDP.

The United States’ and Europe’s easing of sanctions on Iran has helped reintegrate Iran into global markets via mechanisms such as the electronic payment system run by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT). That, in turn, has helped Iran expand dramatically its military modernization budget by 33%, including deals worth tens of billions of dollars in military hardware with China and Russia.

Added to that is Iranian financial- and weapons-support for foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Iran’s significant support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen includes weaponry, financing and logistical support, including advanced offensive missiles. The Houthis regularly attempt to carry out missile attacks against Saudi oil facilities.

Such Iran activity is described by the Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, as “the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interest of our partners and allies”.

As such, it can only be challenged through exactly the kind of military, political, and economic coalition the Trump administration is seeking to band together, which would include the Gulf Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

The administration’s five-step strategy has a chance to work. It creates a policy to destroy ISIS; oppose Islamic terrorism and specifically the imposition of sharia; adopt measures to go after the financing of such terrorism; implement improvements in Gulf allies’ military capabilities — including missile defenses — parallel with pushing NATO members to meet their military spending obligations; put back into place a sound and cooperative relationship with Israel; and specifically contain and roll back Iranian hegemonic ambitions and its terror-master ways.

What still has to be considered, however, is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of ISIS, as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

If successful, some modicum of peace may be brought to the Middle East. And the arc of history will have finally been shaped toward America’s interests and those of its allies, rather than — however inadvertently — toward its mortal enemies.

Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, and was the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation for more than 20 years.