Archive for the ‘Russia and Iran’ category

ANALYSIS: How the tide is turning against Iran

August 28, 2017

ANALYSIS: How the tide is turning against Iran, Al Arabiya, Heshmat Alavi, August 28, 2017

(But please see, Iran, operating from Syria, will destroy Europe and North America. — DM)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech to the parliament in Tehran on August 20, 2017, (AFP)

As ISIS is losing ground in its two last enclaves of Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, there are many rightfully concerning reports of Iran seeking to chip further control in Syria.

All the while, there are also signs of contradictory remarks heard from senior Iranian officials, parallel to indications on the ground of how international counterparts are seeking their own interests that fall completely against those of Tehran’s.

Such incoherency signals nothing but troubling times ahead for Iran in losing its grasp of strategic interests across the Middle East, including Syria.

‘Not tantamount to meddling’

Similar sentiments were heard recently from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. Zarif exerted himself to defend Tehran’s carnage in other countries under the pretext of a mandate to defend human rights.

“The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic, based on the constitution, is a policy that is naturally founded on human rights. What is the meaning of human rights? It means defending the rights of innocent against oppressors… We have this definition in our constitution. This is not tantamount to meddling,” he claimed.

Zarif’s remarks were followed by Suleimani’s insight. “There were friends in high places, in our country’s domestic and foreign hierarchy, who argued not to get involved in Syria and Iraq, and sit back and respectfully defend the revolution. One individual asked you mean we go and defend dictators? The leader (referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) provided a clear response in saying when you look at the countries we have relations with, who is a dictator and who is not? We simply look at our interests,” he explained.

A troubling slate

The relations Khamenei refers to promote an image into the very nature of his establishment. Bashar Al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria can be read as a reign of death and destruction. With Iran’s support and in the absence of a coordinated global response over 500,000 have been killed, scores more injured, over 12 million are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge abroad, and swathes of the country is left in ruins.

Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, another figure described as Tehran’s puppet, has a similar report card unfortunately gone neglected. The Sunni community was the main target of Al-Maliki’s Iran-backed wrath, fueling the rise of ISIS.

In Yemen the Houthis and ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Salah have also been at the receiving end of Iran’s support. As the Saudi-led coalition advances against Iran’s disastrous efforts, signs of major rifts, and even reports of clashes between the two forces, constitute a major quagmire for Tehran.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy offspring brought to life by the IRGC back in the early 1980s, are known to instigate the Syrian war by supporting Al-Assad, and pursuing Tehran’s interest wherever needed across the Middle East.

Looking abroad, Iran has established cozy relations with North Korea and Venezuela, both dictators whose people are starving. The Pyongyang-Tehran axis is especially raising concerns considering their close nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration.

Iran’s own dictatorship

This is a regime provoking a variety of bellicosities. Recent threats by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi of relaunching certain nuclear activities are reminders of the dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Extending equally to such concerns, and not receiving adequate consideration, is Iran’s ongoing human rights violations. Over 100 executions were reported in the month of July alone. This comes after more than 3,000 were sent to the gallows during Rouhani’s first term.

President Hassan Rouhani with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis at his office in Tehran, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

More recent cases include the ongoing hunger strike of dozens of political prisoners in a jail west of Tehran going on for nearly four weeks now. These inmates are protesting prison guards resorting to violence and other repressive measures used to impose further pressures.

Concerned of this and the overall situation in Iran, Amnesty International in a statement demanded Iranian authorities “allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of Raja’i Shahr Prison and other prisons across the country.”

While this and many other such cases deserve an international inquiry, they do signal a significant change in tone of courage in Iran’s powder keg society against the ruling regime.

From others’ perspectives

Fortunately, there is an end to be seen in the Syrian war. However, six years after the spark of that revolution, the Syrian people have suffered tremendously mainly due to Obama’s compelling kowtowing to Iran.

The war has been draining Iran, forcing it to seek the support of other parties, including Russia. The more parties with stakes in Syria, and with the US taking a far more active stance, the more Iran sees its future in the country threatened.

As the Levant’s forthcoming is being blueprinted, high on the agenda must be thwarting Iran’s interests. With ISIS defeated in Iraq, there will be no legitimacy for Iran’s presence in Iraq in any shape or form. The same argument goes for Syria.

The international community, coming to realize Iran’s destructive nature, should take the initiative and demand the eviction of all Iranian elements from Syria, including IRGC members and foreign proxy members transferred from abroad.

Peace is the end

All said and done, comprehending Iran’s regime thrives on the mentality of spreading crises across the region is vital. Ceasefire and reconciliation are not in this regime’s nature, knowing increasing public demands will follow.

This regime has failed to provide in elementary needs inside Iran for the past four decades. Thus, satellite states abroad will be no exception. Peace and tranquility in the Middle East hinges on containing Iran’s influence from all its neighboring countries and a complete end to its lethal meddling.

A new chapter is being written in this flashpoint region’s history.

Iran, operating from Syria, will destroy Europe and North America

August 28, 2017

Iran, operating from Syria, will destroy Europe and North America, Israel National News, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, August 27, 2017

(In most places where the American military is currently involved, Muslims are fighting other Muslims. If Israel is put at risk it is quite likely that America will intervene to help her, if an anti-Israel government does not return to power. — DM) 

This ethnic cleansing is the Ayatollah’s dream come true, the dream that sees a Shiite crescent drawn from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. This will cover the eastern Arab world from the north, while the war in Yemen is being fought in order to create a parallel southern crescent, entrapping Saudi Arabia and Jordan between the two. With the help of Allah, both those countries and Israel, the Small Satan, will soon fall into the hands of the Shiites, while Europe and America do nothing because who cares when Muslims fight other Muslims?

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Iran and Russia plan to destroy Western Europe, the US and Canada by means of a new wave of millions of Syrian Sunnis fleeing to the West to escape the Shiite takeover of Syria.

In my weekly column two months ago, I claimed that Iran is the real victor in the Syrian civil war.  Using the war against ISIS as a smokescreen, it is taking over large swathes of Syrian territory, mainly in the scarcely populated middle and eastern parts of the country. In the more fertile and densely populated west of Syria, there are  Iraqi, Afghan, and Iranian Shiite militias augmenting  Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who were given carte blanche to do whatever Hassan Nasrallah decides to do there.

Assad’s strength continues to increase as ISIS and the other rebel forces lose ground.  The brutality of Russian involvement and the cruelty of Shiite militias overcame the anti-Assad forces, the turning point occurring when in 2015, Turkey’ s Erdogan was forced by Russia to cease his aid to the rebels and ISIS. Today, although Erdogan is an unwilling ally of Russia, Alawite Assad still sees him, justifiably, as an Islamist enemy.

The Kurds of northeast Syria, treated as below third class citizens until 2011, will never agree to live under Arab mercy once again and it is reasonable to assume that should Syria remain an undivided country under Assad’s rule, the Kurds will preserve relative autonomy in their region – or fight the regime for their rights.

That is certainly a problem, but the main issue facing a united Syria is going to be the drastic demographic changes the country is going to face.

First of all, about half of Syria’s citizens – close to 10 million – are refugees, half located in Syria and the other half in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, other Arab countries, Europe, North and South America, Australia and even Israel.  Syrian refugees who reached points outside the Arab world will in all probability stay put, benefitting from the secure and orderly lives they can now lead. On the other hand, the 3.5 million now in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are awaiting the end of hostilities in order to return to their homes.

Those expectations may be dashed, however, because Syrian reality is totally changed, and large parts of its cities are in ruins after six and a half years of a cruel and bloody war.  Countless bombs dropped from planes and helicopters, artillery and tank barrages, mines and explosives planted by both sides have made much of urban Syria, where most of the fighting took place, unsafe to live in. In Homs, Aleppo, Adlib, Hamat and many other cities, entire neighborhoods will have to be razed and their infrastructure rebuilt from scratch. Decades and billions of dollars are needed to rebuild the country and I, for one, do not see the world’s nations standing on line to donate the necessary funds.  Refugees will not agree to switch their tents in Jordan for ruined buildings lacking basic infrastructure in a desolate and destroyed Syria.

The other reason the refugees will not return is their justified fear of the new lords of the land – the Shiites. Iran has been moving Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to Syria for a long time in a clear attempt to change the demographic makeup of the country from the Sunni majority it had before the civil war broke out in 2011. The issue could not be more clear because it is no secret that the pre-civil war Sunni majority considered the Alawite rulers heretic idol worshippers who had no right to live in Syria, much less rule over it.

The Alawites know well that the Sunnis rebelled against them twice: The first time was from 1976 to 1982, a rebellion that took the lives of 50,000 citizens. The second time, slowly drawing to an end, has cost the lives of half a million men, women, children and aged citizens of Syria.  The Alawites intend to prevent a third rebellion and the best way to do that is to change the majority of the population to Shiites instead of Sunnis.  They will not allow the Sunni refugees to return to their homes, leaving them eternal refugees whose lands have been taken over by the enemy. Iran, meanwhile, will populate Syria with Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

This ethnic cleansing is the Ayatollah’s dream come true, the dream that sees a Shiite crescent drawn from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. This will cover the eastern Arab world from the north, while the war in Yemen is being fought in order to create a parallel southern crescent, entrapping Saudi Arabia and Jordan between the two. With the help of Allah, both those countries and Israel, the Small Satan, will soon fall into the hands of the Shiites, while Europe and America do nothing because who cares when Muslims fight other Muslims?

The Shiite majority in Syria will play along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, their natural allies, and it is possible that some form of federation might be created between the two in order to push the Lebanese Christians out of the picture, “persuading” them to flee to other countries, leaving Lebanon to its “rightful” Shiite masters. This explains Nasrallah’s eager willingness to fight on Syrian soil as well as the opposition of those against Nasrallah to his involvement there.

The reasons are obvious:

1. Former ISIS and rebel forces will infiltrate along with the refugees, because they, too,  are Sunni. They are filled with fury and hatred for the Western countries  who were part of the coalition that fought ISIS or stood by without aiding the rebels. Some of them will continue their Jihad on European and North American soil. Expect shootings, explosives and ramming attacks against citizens of these countries.

2. Some of the refugees will not find work and live on the economic and social fringes of society, in poverty-stricken Islamist neighborhoods which have already existed for years in many European cities, and where the local police fear to tread. Poverty and life on the fringe of society will turn some of the Muslim young people into easy prey for terrorist organization recruiters who arouse the desire for Jihad by describing the accepting host countries as decadent societies infected with permissiveness, prostitution, alcohol, drugs, materialism and corruption.  They present the countries that allowed the immigrants entry as having done so to take advantage of them as industrial slaves, garage hands, cashiers and other degrading occupations, while the privileged citizens are lawyers, accountant, businessmen and homeowners who take advantage of the migrants in humiliating ways. It is only a matter of time until young Muslims, especially those who were taught that “everyone is equal” in Western schools, enlist in terrorist organizations.

3. Countries which allow in refugees will suffer a higher crime rate as a result, including violence in public places, sexual attacks and harassment, housebreaking, car theft, substance abuse, unreported work to avoid paying taxes and illegal construction. This will all occur at the same time these countries expend a larger part of their budgets on social services for the refugees, from child allowances to unemployment, health and old age benefits. At this point in time, the percentage of second and third generation immigrants populating the prisons in Western Europe is significantly larger than their percentage in the general population.

4. Increased economic, social and security problems in Europe and North America as a result of the rise in the number of migrants will lead to a rise in the strength of the right and the extreme right.  This will in turn lead to more social tensions in the West. Members of Parliament whose only wish is to be re-elected will adapt their parliamentary activity – especially the laws they promote – to the expectations of the rapidly Islamizing constituencies, sacrificing their own people’s interests on the altar of their political careers. Many Europeans, aware of their elected leaders’ betrayal, will despair and leave those socially and economically deteriorating countries. This will increase the rate at which Europe turns into an Islamic region..

And that is how the agreements Iran and Russia will soon coerce Syria into accepting  are going to start a chain reaction increasing the number of refugees and pulling  Europe down to a point of no return, without the world understanding what  is going on. The Atlantic Ocean is not wide enough to protect North America from this debacle crossing the sea.

This is how the Iranian Ayatollahs intend to destroy the heretic, permissive, drunk and materialistic  West.  More of the unfortunate Syrian millions will find themselves exiled to the heretic countries hated by the Ayatollahs, and Iran will operate from Syrian soil to vanquish Europe and America.

Tehran’s New Scheme for Iraq

July 31, 2017

Tehran’s New Scheme for Iraq, Gatestone InstituteAmir Taheri, July 31, 2017

The apparent de-sectarianization of pro-Iran Shiite parties will make it difficult for Allawi and other genuinely non-sectarian Shiite politicians, who are hostile to Iranian influence in Baghdad, to appeal to the Shiite majority on the basis of citizenship and “uruqah“.

The new “de-sectarianization” gambit will also put pressure on Kurdish parties at a time some of them are campaigning for an “independence” referendum. It would be more difficult to sell the idea of an “independent” mini-state of Kurdistan to international public opinion at a time that Iraq is seen to be moving towards a non-religious democratic and pluralist political system.

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In his visit to Moscow last week, Iraqi Vice President Nuri Al-Maliki peddled what he presented as his big idea: inviting Russia to build “a significant presence” in Iraq to counter-balance that of the United States.

Since Maliki is reputed to be Tehran’s candidate as the next Iraqi Prime Minister his “invitation” to Russia cannot be dismissed as a mere personal whim.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Iraqi Vice President Nuri Al-Maliki in Moscow, on July 25, 2017. (Image source: kremlin.ru)

With ISIS driven out of Mosul and, hopefully, soon to be driven other pockets of territory it still controls in Iraq, the decks are being cleared for the forthcoming general election that would decide the shape of the next government in Baghdad. Fancying itself as the “big winner” in Iraq, Iran’s leadership is working on a strategy to make that fancy a reality.

That strategy has three key elements.

The first is to create a new, supposedly “liberal” and “non-sectarian” Shi’ite coalition to dominate the next parliament and, through that, the next government in Baghdad. That requires a reshuffling of political cards and the discarding of some old outfits.

In an editorial last Tuesday, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, argued that “old formations” that had come into being during the struggle against Saddam Hussein and the subsequent post-liberation crisis were no longer capable of dealing with “new realities in Iraq.”

It was on the basis of that analysis that Ammar al-Hakim, a leading politician-cum-cleric announced his separation from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the formation of a new party named “National Wisdom Movement” (Tayar al-Hikmah al-Watani).

Hakim, who hails from an old and respected dynasty of clerics originally from Shiraz, argues that time has come to “break barriers of sects and ethnicities” in favor of the concept of “citizenship”. Thus he comes close to advocating the concept of “uruqah” (Iraqi-ness) that has long been a theme of such Iraqi Shiite politicians as Ayyad Allawi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Sources in Tehran expect the “new model” to be adopted by other Shiite parties and groups. Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi is reportedly studying the creating of a new “secular” formation away from his original political home in the Ad-Da’awah (“The Call”) Party, which has always been a clearly sectarian formation.

Talks are already under way for the merger of Abadi’s support base with the Sadrist Movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, scion of another distinguished clerical dynasty originally from Mahallat, southwest of Tehran. According to unconfirmed reports the new Abadi-Sadr coalition will be called “Freedom and Reconstruction”, a clearly non-sectarian identity.

Tehran’s hope is that Maliki will transform his wing of the Ad-Dawah into yet another “non-sectarian” outfit to support his bid for premiership, presumably with support from Hakim.

The apparent de-sectarianization of pro-Iran Shiite parties will make it difficult for Allawi and other genuinely non-sectarian Shiite politicians, who are hostile to Iranian influence in Baghdad, to appeal to the Shiite majority on the basis of citizenship and “uruqah“.

The new “de-sectarianization” gambit will also put pressure on Kurdish parties at a time some of them are campaigning for an “independence” referendum. It would be more difficult to sell the idea of an “independent” mini-state of Kurdistan to international public opinion at a time that Iraq is seen to be moving towards a non-religious democratic and pluralist political system.

The gambit will also make it more difficult for Arab Sunni sectarians to garner support in the name of resisting a Shiite sectarian takeover of government in Baghdad. Salim al-Juburi, a leading Arab Sunni politician and Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, is reportedly moving towards the creation of a non-sectarian party of his own.

The second element of the Iranian strategy is to almost oblige the clerical authority in Najaf (Marja’iyah) to endorse, even reluctantly, a Shiite political leadership clearly committed to Iran. Tehran knows that no government in Baghdad would have a chance of success without at least tacit blessing from Grand Ayatollah Ai-Muhammad Sistani.

Sistani has consistently refused to play the sectarian card and has advised politicians of all shades to think in terms of national rather than religious considerations. Thus, Tehran’s decision to “de-sectarianize” the Iraqi parties it supports will be a concession to Sistani.

Tehran is offering yet another concession to Sistani by abandoning its campaign to influence the Grand Ayatollah’s succession. The initial Iranian candidate for succession, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahrudi, a former senior official of the Islamic Republic, has been quietly cast aside and is reported to be in declining health.

Without formally saying so, Iran now admits that the issue of Sistani’s succession must be sorted out by the “howzah” (seminary) in Najaf possibly with some input from Qom and certainly not through diktat from Tehran.

The third element of the strategy is to draw Russia into Iraq as a façade for Iranian influence.

Iranian leaders know that the vast majority of Iraqis resent the emergence of Iran as arbiter of their destiny. Russia, however, is seen as remote enough not to pose a direct threat to the internal balance of power in Iraq. Yet, because Russia has no local support base in Iraq, it would have to rely on Iranian guidance and goodwill to play a leading role there.

A new Baghdad government composed of “non-sectarian” Shiite leaders, promising a better deal for Arab Sunnis and Kurds, and backed by Russia, will be a better cover for the spread and consolidation of Iranian influence in Iraq.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the new Iranian strategy will work. Many Iraqis, including some among those reputedly close to Iran, believe that Iraq itself can and must aspire after becoming a major player in the Middle East rather than playing Sancho Panza to the “Supreme Guide” in Tehran.

Iraqi leaders also see no logic in turning the United States and Arab states into enemies just to suit Tehran’s doomed empire-building project, especially at a time that the Islamic Republic seems to be heading for the choppy waters of Ayatollah Khamenei’s succession.

Remember:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Often go awry
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy.

Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah

July 18, 2017

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah, Washington Times, Assad Hanna and Jacob Wirtschafter, July 17, 2017

Hezbollah supporters mourned their commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in an explosion last year in Damascus.

ISTANBUL — The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian government have enjoyed a close, fruitful relationship for nearly 40 years. But six years into the Syrian civil war, there are signs that battle fatigue and diverging strategic visions are fraying their alliance.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is coming under increasing pressure from pro-Russian factions in his ruling circle to dump pro-Iranian Hezbollah, as a U.S.-Russia accord to establish a de-escalation zone in southern Syria gets underway this week.

It’s a different kind of proxy war playing out in Syria: Instead of Sunni versus Shiite, or the U.S. versus Russia, it’s Russia versus Iran.

“There is a pro-Moscow faction that wants Syria to be secular and includes officers who trained in Russia,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, publisher of the largest anti-Assad Syrian news portal and leader of the country’s exiled Christian community based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “Those who support Iran are people bought by the Iranians or [who] reached their positions of power with Iranian help.”

Incidents of rivalry and strain between Hezbollah forces and Syrian government allies have been increasing since June 2016, when they openly clashed during what was supposed to be a joint operation in the Aleppo countryside.

Hezbollah has balked at implementing Russian-brokered cease-fire agreements, such as one in December in Aleppo, and occasional firefights have broken out between the two forces in the northwestern suburbs of Damascus on the road from the capital to Beirut.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has ordered aerial bombings of Shiite militia positions when Iran-backed forces interfered with plans to evacuate civilians to safe areas.

“The Hezbollah message has been: ‘Don’t think you can make a deal without us. We are on the ground, and we control what’s going on,’” said Ahmad Hardan, a 20-year-old ambulance driver from Aleppo detained by Lebanese Shiite fighters as he and his family fled their home.

“They took all the young men from the cars and drove us to the opposite side of the road. All those who tried to resist were killed,” Mr. Hardan said. “But suddenly there were Russian fighter jets in the sky, the Hezbollah troops started shooting in the air, and then they let the evacuation proceed.”

The situation is new for the two longtime Middle East allies. Hezbollah and the Assad regime have been close since the mid-1980s, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, became a patron of the Lebanese Shiite faction. He allowed Syria to be the transit point for Iranian weapons as Hezbollah armed itself against Israel and its domestic rivals in Lebanon.

The power dynamic reversed as the Syrian civil war turned into a sectarian bloodbath, with many Russian-trained Sunni officers deserting to the rebel side. Mr. Assad turned to Hezbollah for ideologically motivated and battle-tested reinforcements.

‘An Iranian pawn’

But over the years, Hezbollah’s role has been shrinking in Syria’s war, which began in 2011.

Nawar Oliver, an analyst at the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said Hezbollah’s estimated 10,000-member force in Syria is just one component that includes a 70,000-strong contingent of local Shiite militias deployed with Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani fighters.

“The number decreased from an apex of about 15,000 to 20,000 because Hezbollah started recruiting and funding local Shiite militias in order to pull back some of their troops from Syria,” said Mr. Oliver, pointing to more than 1,000 Lebanese battle casualties and a desire to prepare for a likely conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Moscow wants Mr. Assad to change the arrangement with Hezbollah and other Iranian-funded Shiite militias that give Tehran nominal control of the country in exchange for little direct supervision by the regime’s officer corps.

“The Russians have been pressuring the Syrian regime to integrate the militias it created since the inception of the uprising into its armed forces,” said Hilal Khashan, a politics professor at the American University of Beirut.

Command and control functions over Hezbollah fighters are directed by an officer corps drawn from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Hezbollah operates in Syria simply as an Iranian pawn,” Mr. Khashan said. “It uses Hezbollah as part of its scheme to establish a ground corridor from Iran to Lebanon. This is not something that sits well with the Russians, who are keen on limiting Tehran’s preponderance. Russia will not allow Iranian influence in Syria to become similar to Iraq.”

A tentative U.S.-Russia consensus on Syria seems destined to further strain the Hezbollah-Iran-Assad alliance.

Last month, the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar broadcast footage of what it said was an Iranian drone tailing an American drone over eastern Syria. The announcer’s voice-over included a warning that Hezbollah will strike at U.S. positions inside Syria if America crosses any “red lines.”

“Of course, there are no free lunches in this area,” said Mordechai Kedar, a former Syria desk officer for Israel’s military intelligence agency. “Hezbollah wants to take its share in what seems to be the division of Syria. Three things will be required to get them to leave: Assad’s army will have to regain its power and self-confidence, the Russians have to demand it and the Iranians have to consent.”

For the rebels and other anti-regime figures, it’s crucial that Hezbollah is forced out of Syria.

“Getting Hezbollah and the Iranians out is now our No. 1 priority,” said Mr. Abdul Nour, the anti-Assad news portal editor. “They want to convert all of Syria to Shiism, which is an ideology that [will lead to] them fighting with the majority of Sunnis in the country forever — and we don’t want that.”

Iran’s Foreign Legion in Syria

June 12, 2017

Iran’s Foreign Legion in Syria, Front Page MagazineJoseph Puder, June 12, 2017

(Please see also, Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead. — DM)

The Iranian strategy, it appears, is to consolidate is forces in southwestern Syria facing the Druze area of Dar’aa, and gradually move their commanded forces toward the Israeli border in the Golan.  Iran has sought for a long time now to establish its proxies, including Hezbollah units in the Golan facing Israel.  Israel however, was able to dislodge these Iranian efforts.  Nevertheless, the Iranian cooperation with Russia in Syria, and the lucrative arms deals between them, may persuade Russia to consider the Iranian efforts.

Iran is the leading state-sponsor of international terrorism, and the IS attack has given Tehran a taste of its own deadly medicine.  The oppression of Sunnis in Shiite Iran is likely to drive Sunni Baluch and Ahwazi Arabs into doing the IS’s bidding, translated into acts of terror in the heart of Tehran.  It demonstrates a hard truth – that Sunni jihadists can assemble a foreign legion, just as the Iranian jihadists have done in Syria.

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Arab News reported (6/7/2017) that “Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in the Iranian capital.  Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility and released a video purporting to show gunmen inside the parliament.”  The twin attacks on Wednesday killed 12 Iranians, and embarrassed the radical Islamist regime by showing its vulnerability at home.  IS terrorists hit the most potent symbols of Iran’s Islamic Republic on Wednesday.  It has brought into sharp focus the high cost of Tehran’s involvement in Syria, which according to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) leadership, was meant to ward off terrorist attacks at the home front.  With an economy that has barely recovered from sanctions imposed on it by the international community, the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can hardly justify the huge cost to the treasury of exporting its revolution and backing Assad in Syria with Iranian cash, if not in blood.

Given the Sunni-Shiite conflict engulfing the Middle East, it was inevitable that IS will ultimately strike at Iran – the patrons of Shiite-Islam.  The antecedents of IS in Iraq proved that the Sunnis who ruled in Iraq albeit, as a minority with a Shiite majority, won’t easily allow Shiites to disenfranchise them.  In Syria however, the Sunnis are the majority, and have been ruled for almost 50 years by the Alawite (Shiite) clan of the Assads.  It was never a question of whether or if IS will strike at Iran but rather when.  The array of Shiite militias fighting IS, and non-Islamist Sunni militias, under the command of Maj. General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Division of the IRGC, is clear enough reason why Iran is, and will continue to be a target.

To expand its influence throughout the Middle East region, and extend the Shiite Crescent, the Ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran has devoted huge resources to protect its turf in Syria, and maintain it as a bridge to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.  In essence, it means the preservation of the Bashar Assad, Alawi-led (Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam) regime.  The Syrian dictator who has now earned the moniker “the butcher of Damascus” can count on the Iranian ‘Foreign Legion’ made up of Shiite fighters from Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. They provide the manpower that serves the Iranian agenda in Syria.  Besides Hezbollah, there is the Afghan “Fatimiyoun and Khadem  el-‘Aqila Brigades; the Pakistani Zainebiyoun Brigade; Yemeni Houtis “Liwa Al-Saada Brigade, the Iraqi Shiite militia Al-Nujaba Movement.  The Iraqi Shiite contingent is the largest force engaged in the defense of the Assad regime.  It is estimated to number around 40,000 fighters.

According to the Qatari based outlet, Al-Jazeera (1/22/2016), “Some 20,000 Afghan Shia fighters alone are said to be fighting alongside Iran to help save the government of the Syrian President Assad.”  Iran, the publication pointed out, recruited tens of thousands of Afghan Shiite fighters, offering them salaries to join the fight to save President Bashar Assad.  The Afghan Shiites are refugees from the ongoing war in Afghanistan between the government of Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban.  They escaped to Iran due to economic and political hardship, and sought asylum there.  Given the inability of young Afghanis to find work in Iran, they are easily manipulated into being cannon-fodder for the Iranians.  Unlike an Iranian fighter, an Afghan illegal migrant killed in action would not be a burden on the Iranian treasury.  Moreover, its foreign mercenaries provide Iran with deniability with regards to their intervention in Syria.

Captured Afghan Shiite fighters revealed that they are attracted to Syria by the promise of a financial reward.  The Iranian regime paid recruits supposedly between $500 and $1,000 a month.  Some Afghans claimed that they joined the fighting brigades as a way to escape prison sentences or even the death penalty for drug trafficking, one of the few outlets for Afghan refugees in Iran. Anas al-Abdah, the secretary of the opposition Syrian Coalition committee told Al-Jazeera that “Iran considers itself the one and only reference point for all Shia people in the whole world.  It organizes them into political, social and military organizations, both in their local communities and abroad…This is part of the main mission of the Iranian regime in terms of exporting the revolution.  Iran recruits, motivates, organizes, finances, and trains Shias from all over the world to help support Bashar al-Assad’s regime from collapsing.”

In Israel, there is particular attention being paid to the Al Nujaba group.  Israeli Col. (retired) Dr. Jacques Neriah, suggested that at “The end of February, 2017, the leader of Al-Nujaba’, Akram el-Q’aabi, declared in an unprecedented announcement that his forces were to fight together with the Syrian army to ‘liberate’ the Golan.  El-Q’aabi justified his position by stating that the terrorism of ISIS is but a part of a grand plan designed by the Zionists, supervised by the Americans with Turkish-Gulf implementation. Therefore, it was time to decapitate the head of the Zionist snake.”  Neriah added, “The Brigade announced in March, 2017 the creation of “The Liberation of the Golan Brigade” (Liwa’ Tahrir el-Jolan). The Brigade whose members have fought in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq will have one mission: to assist the Syrian army in liberating its “stolen lands.” According to the spokesman of the Al-Nujaba, ‘The creation of this Brigade was but a step toward liberating the holy places in occupied Palestine.”

The Iranian strategy, it appears, is to consolidate is forces in southwestern Syria facing the Druze area of Dar’aa, and gradually move their commanded forces toward the Israeli border in the Golan.  Iran has sought for a long time now to establish its proxies, including Hezbollah units in the Golan facing Israel.  Israel however, was able to dislodge these Iranian efforts.  Nevertheless, the Iranian cooperation with Russia in Syria, and the lucrative arms deals between them, may persuade Russia to consider the Iranian efforts.

As a result of the IS twin attacks in Tehran, the Golan front is a secondary priority for now. The IRGC, whose position in Iran has strengthened, despite the overwhelming reelection victory of the more “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani in the recent elections, will now increase its operations in Syria and Iraq, and more Iranian resources will be spent there.  Iranian President Rouhani will now find it more difficult to reduce spending on foreign arenas such as Syria, as he has promised to do in his election campaign.

Iran is the leading state-sponsor of international terrorism, and the IS attack has given Tehran a taste of its own deadly medicine.  The oppression of Sunnis in Shiite Iran is likely to drive Sunni Baluch and Ahwazi Arabs into doing the IS’s bidding, translated into acts of terror in the heart of Tehran.  It demonstrates a hard truth – that Sunni jihadists can assemble a foreign legion, just as the Iranian jihadists have done in Syria.

One missile takes out ISIS command on Golan edge

June 8, 2017

One missile takes out ISIS command on Golan edge, DEBKAfile, June 8, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources report concerns in the US military commend lest Iranian general Qassem Soleimani decides to drop a division of Iranian special forces by helicopter, in order to catch the garrison off guard and capture the border crossing.

This concern increased after the Islamic State conducted a surprise bombing-cum-shooting attack on prize Iranian regime targets in Tehran on June 7. The Revolutionary Guards are bent on revenge and looking for an outstanding military success to cover this humiliation.

The US commanders are also under pressure on another score: the Iranians and Syrians have sent secret messages to Moscow complaining bitterly about the US air strike. They both made it clear that they command sufficient air and artillery fire power to overwhelm and wipe the ground with the American force in Syria.  Both Damascus and Tehran appear to be spoiling for a major showdown between their armies, using Hizballah and other Shiite proxies, and the US-led contingent.

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A single mystery missile, which could have been fired from the ground or the air early Wednesday morning, June 7, wiped out the entire top Islamic State command on the Syrian Golan, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. All 16 officers of the 2,000-strong Khaled Ibn al Waleed army, the ISIS operations arm on the Syrian Golan, were present in the targeted building in the town of al-Shagara, located in the triangle where the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders meet opposite the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The unidentified missile blew up in the middle of a hall where the top command echelon were gathered to break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan and draw up plans. None of them survived.

Among them were the group’s chief, Gen. Abu Mohammed al-Makdessi; commander of operations, Gen. Abu Udai al-Homsi; and the group’s explosives expert who doubled as its religious leader, Abu Ali Shabat.

They operated under these aliases to conceal their real identities as former high Iraqi army officers who served in the late Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. They were also in senior command positions at the ISIS Syrian command center in Raqqa, when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided to transfer them to the Syrian Golan to spearhead attacks that were planned to take place inside Israel and Jordan.

It took Al-Baghdad just a few hours to replace Magdessi as Khaled Ibn al-Waleed chief with a new man, Mohamed al-Refaei-Abu Hshem al-Askari.

On Tuesday, June 6, the day before the mysterious missile decapitated the Islamic State’s Golan force, US warplanes acted on another front to bomb a convoy of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces that were traveling eastward from the southern town of Derra in the direction of the Al-Tanf border crossing.

Al Tanf, where US and Jordanian special forces units have established a garrison, is located in the triangle where the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi borders converge. The US planes destroyed several tanks, troop carriers, artillery pieces and antiaircraft systems, causing also fatalities and injuries, and so halted the convoy’s advance on the strategic crossing.

This was the second US air strike in three weeks on a similar target. The first was on May 18.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report concerns in the US military commend lest Iranian general Qassem Soleimani decides to drop a division of Iranian special forces by helicopter, in order to catch the garrison off guard and capture the border crossing.

This concern increased after the Islamic State conducted a surprise bombing-cum-shooting attack on prize Iranian regime targets in Tehran on June 7. The Revolutionary Guards are bent on revenge and looking for an outstanding military success to cover this humiliation.

The US commanders are also under pressure on another score: the Iranians and Syrians have sent secret messages to Moscow complaining bitterly about the US air strike. They both made it clear that they command sufficient air and artillery fire power to overwhelm and wipe the ground with the American force in Syria.  Both Damascus and Tehran appear to be spoiling for a major showdown between their armies, using Hizballah and other Shiite proxies, and the US-led contingent.

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops

May 27, 2017

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops, DEBKAfile, May 27, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin acted to strengthen the military alliance he had set up with Iran and Turkey for working together in Syria – as a counterweight to President Donald Trump’s spectacular success in forging a Sunni Arab bloc during his four days in the Middle East.

It was a tough call. Putin’s allies demanded action to prevent a Syrian rebel force, backed by US, Western and Jordanian special forces, from taking control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Russian leader had to find a way to satisfy them without getting into a clash of arms with American troops.

On Saturday, May 27, as Trump flew home from his nine-day trip, Putin turned the dilemma over with his two allies, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the newly-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

Three days earlier, the Russian president was put on the spot by Iran’s National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani, who arrived in Moscow Wednesday, May 24. He slapped down a demand from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an answer as to how the Russian leader proposed to put a stop to the takeover by American special forces and their allies of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour and the Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle. (See attached map)

Shamkhani warned Putin that without fast action, the Americans would block the routes from Baghdad to Damascus against the passage of Iranian and Russian forces.

The Russian leader took a couple of days to come up with a stratagem, which he revealed to Erdogan during their conversation on Saturday.

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

The Russian siege on Raqqa was therefore a move against the US-backed SDF and the Kurds, without getting entangled in a direct showdown with the US forces in the South: Putin had installed a Russian-backed foothold in northern Syria to counter the US-led front in the south.

Immediately after the Putin-Erdogan phone call, a Russian military source in Moscow released this story: “Russian intelligence drones have set up a perimeter around the city ([Raqqa] to monitor possible terrorist escape routes, with combat aircraft and special forces units engaged in preventing militants’ escape.” The report went on to warn that any attempts by ISIS fighters to leave the town “will be squashed.”

Putin’s maneuver in Syria was designed to achieve three goals:

1. To counterbalance the America-led takeover of the Syrian-Iraqi border in the south, the Russians would assert control of the northern section of that same border.

2.  To showcase the Russian army as the great champions fighting the Islamic State terrorists, compared with the American troops and their allies who had turned aside from this mission, although President Trump had made it the centerpiece of his nine-day trip.

Putin was careful not to name his objective as the conquest of Raqqa, but only a siege operation.

3. To hit US allies, such as the Syrian Kurds in the north, without tangling with the Americans in combat.