Archive for the ‘Shiite vs Sunni’ category

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.

Reflections on Trump’s First State Visit to the Middle East

May 19, 2017

Reflections on Trump’s First State Visit to the Middle East, The National InterestAhmed Charai, May 19, 2017

King Salman of Saudi Arabia in 2013. Flickr/Secretary of Defense

The Trump administration, working alongside its Arab allies, should promote moderate or quietist forms of Islam, and not remain neutral on religious matters. This means working with Islamic leaders, many of whom are state-funded imams, to challenge jihad on a religious basis and offer a form of faith shorn of violence.

These strategic insights come together in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI has used his religious role as commander of the faithful to inspire religious leaders to combat jihadism and urge tolerance and peace.

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President Trump is visiting the Middle East. He will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel, then visit the Vatican. Given the sequence of the first two, some observers speculated that he will attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, perhaps within a broader, regional framework. But different potential outcomes for Arab-Israeli relations, short of a peace settlement, may also be in the offing.

Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have proven themselves to be invaluable partners to the United States in the struggle against ISIS. An American-brokered framework whereby direct cooperation between the two is formalized—rather than a reliance on the United States as an intermediary—may create a framework to broaden the cooperation. Heightened partnership to counter the shared threat of Iran would be an obvious next step. The Trump administration’s new strategy is the creation of a regional alliance, focused on the Gulf countries but also including countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. A multilateral approach in which Israel plays a more direct and visible role in the coalition would signify a breakthrough. It would bolster confidence among Arab publics that broader cooperation and conflict resolution are warranted.

Donald Trump made the eradication of the Islamic State a priority during his campaign. He has been criticized for his more muscular strategy, as well as the desire to augment intelligence, economic and communications measures to put the screw to the organization.

It seems possible that the president is making a clean break with the Obama administration’s policy of disengagement from the Middle East. For Trump, the rubric of a “war on terrorism” seems to be appealing. Arabs appreciate the fact that, unlikely his predecessor, Trump appears to be recognizing the Shia extremist terror threat as represented by Iran and its proxy militias alongside the widely recognized Sunni jihadist threat.

In the view of this administration, this alliance should function like NATO, as an alliance (perhaps supported by the West) with multiple objectives. The eradication of Islamic State is the main objective, but the containment of Iranian influence in the region is also on the menu.

The use of a massively powerful bomb against the Islamic State in Afghanistan provided a mighty demonstration of strength, but may also have been intended to send a message about the president’s commitment to confront his adversaries with some of the most powerful tools in his arsenal.

But of course, matters are not so simple.

At the geostrategic level, Russia and the pro-Iranian Shia arc cannot be ignored politically. The alliance between the two poses layers of complexity, whereby American and Russian accounts in the Baltic states and vis à vis NATO may be dragged into the diplomatic mix. Moscow cannot be excluded from the equation in any prospective political resolution in Syria. As for Iran, Russia wields heavy influence on its government and its security sector. Trump faces a Twister-like game of challenges in navigating the array of alliances, rivalries and hostilities among the players. Yet his aspiration to eradicate the Islamic State and block Iranian expansion in the region depends on his effective management of these quandaries.

Nor do Trump’s aspirations allow for neglect of the broader counterterrorism challenge beyond military action, intelligence work and even diplomacy. He must wage an ideological war, and challenge extremist strands within Arab and Islamic societies that guarantee the perpetuation of conflict—whatever the outcomes on the battlefield—unless they are addressed.

The Trump administration, working alongside its Arab allies, should promote moderate or quietist forms of Islam, and not remain neutral on religious matters. This means working with Islamic leaders, many of whom are state-funded imams, to challenge jihad on a religious basis and offer a form of faith shorn of violence.

These strategic insights come together in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI has used his religious role as commander of the faithful to inspire religious leaders to combat jihadism and urge tolerance and peace.

King Mohammed VI has demonstrated his commitment to deeper cooperation with neighboring countries by embarking on several state visits and signing an unprecedented number of economic-partnership conventions. He has also expressed support for joint efforts to combat radicalization, and officials from Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Tunisia, and Guinea have indicated a willingness to train their imams in Morocco.

If Trump is looking for a healthy example of Muslim leaders bringing peace through Islam, Morocco is a good place to start.

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis

April 30, 2017

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis, Washington Times, Seth J. Frantzman, April 30, 2017

An Iraqi Special Forces vehicle displays a Shiite flag bearing the likeness of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali with Arabic words reading “At your service Hussein” in Mosul, Iraq. State

HAMAM AL-ALIL, Iraq — The road to Mosul is littered with the detritus from almost three years of war: burned M1117 armored vehicles, sandbagged berms and trenches from defensive positions once manned against Islamic State fighters, houses pancaked by airstrikes. The long supply line of the Iraqi army stretches through villages, with bulldozers, camouflaged trucks and temporary base camps.

Particularly noticeable are the frequent checkpoints manned by young armed men. But the fighters often aren’t from the Iraqi army or the Federal Police, but are members of various Iran-supported Shiite militias in the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units.

While taking part in the U.S.-backed assault on the Islamic State group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, many of these units fly flags celebrating Shiite religious figures such as the Imam Hussein, and some have posters of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Life in those areas under control of the Shiite militias provides a window into Iran’s influence and the sectarian tensions that still dog Iraq as the campaign for Mosul enters its seventh grinding month.

A tour of these areas shows that Shiite militias and Iran have been empowered in the fight and that Iraq remains a state even more divided along religious and ethnic lines.

The battle for Mosul, once a city of more than 2 million residents, began in mid-October. In a lightning assault in 2014, the Islamic State, a radical Sunni Muslim group, took the city, expelled Christians and massacred Shiite and other minorities, and dynamited shrines and archaeological sites as part of its Salafi policy. When the Iraqi army began its campaign last fall, Mosul’s population had been reduced to around 1 million people.

Complicating the battle has been the presence of thousands of fighters allied with the Popular Mobilization Units. Composed of numerous militias that answered a 2014 fatwa by Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to fight the Islamic State, the units have many leaders with shadowy pro-Iranian pasts.

Qais Khazali was a follower of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who attacked U.S. troops in Karbala in 2007 and now runs the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia. Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, fought alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, also fought with the Iranians in the 1980s.

In December, the PMU was incorporated as an official paramilitary force of the Iraqi government. But fears remain that its role in northern Iraq will inflame tensions with Sunni Arabs and the Kurdish population.

In an October speech, Mr. Khazali called the battle for Mosul the “revenge for the killing of Hussein.” He was referring to a historic killing that Shiites blame on Sunnis and tying it to the modern sectarian war with the Islamic State.

“If they exact widespread revenge against the Sunnis and expel them, this might create a conducive environment for ISIS to come back,” Kawa Hassan, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Brussels-based EastWest Institute, told a European Parliament hearing in November.

Quietly expanding

The worst fears of mass revenge killings and expulsions have not been realized in or around Mosul to date. Instead, Shiite militias are more quietly extending their presence and visible control in a new part of the country, as a tour of the region repeatedly demonstrates.

Driving out of the Kurdish autonomous region from Irbil, the closest major city to Mosul, one leaves the Kurdish flags behind and immediately enters the uncertain terrain of militias. In the Christian town of Hamdaniyeh, the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a Christian militia paid by and affiliated with the PMU, guards the entrance and exit. Its members are relaxed and friendly. Most of them live in the Kurdish region, where they fled the Islamic State and have only recently returned.

After Hamdaniyeh, the road crosses hillocks and fields with long-dilapidated chicken coops and the militias are from a Shabak unit. The Shabak are a local minority, some of whom are Shiite and recently joined the PMU’s Badr Organization.

For some Shabak and Iraqi Christians, the PMU are liberators. Last year, the PMU released a video showing the church bells of Mosul ringing again, sending the message that they would liberate the city from the Islamic State and make it safe for Christians. Militia members hand out “Imam Hussein” flags to children in local hamlets.

But in some Sunni Arab villages, there is obvious fear of the militia members who wander the streets, rifles over their shoulders, peering into mud-caked compounds.

Leaving the Shabak behind, the road skirts the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which Islamic State fighters blew up in 2015. A floating pontoon bridge over the Tigris is all that connects the western and eastern sides today. Airstrikes have demolished the old bridges.

The pontoon bridge is in such bad shape that it washed out during flooding in April and took days to repair. Civilians trod this road, and Iraqi nongovernmental organizations bring food to some of the estimated 160,000 civilians who have fled the battle of Mosul for refugee camps.

One car flying a white flag drove by with a corpse in the back, transported for burial across the river.

But each civilian vehicle, often packed with people, must pass a strict checkpoint on both sides. The checkpoint stops are tense. Soldiers and militia members ask where the Arab passengers are from and check the cargo. They are looking for Islamic State fighters. A Shiite flag with the sketch of a sword dripping blood flutters on the bridge.

As the road from the Tigris nears Mosul, it merges with a large highway that runs to Baghdad and the presence of the militias appears to thin out. The Iraqi army and Federal Police take the lead at checkpoints. Many vehicles of the Iraqi armed forces display Shiite flags, but the militias are not playing an official role in the battle for the city — only in rural areas around it.

A massive new United Nations camp at Hamam al-Alil is largely unoccupied. A giant sign by the PMU indicates that Shiite militias control access to the camp and claim they are “confirming the [safety]” of the camps and will provide aid equally.

The Shiite militias know that they are viewed by many with suspicion and are accused of discrimination and sectarianism. When a reporter tries to enter an older part of the Hamam al-Alil camp, militia members wearing black balaclavas and masks with skulls on them block the way.

Civilians in these neighborhoods have transitioned from Islamic State rule to another form of religious rule, with militarized checkpoints controlling their movements. A young man who fled one of these villages when the Shiite arrived and now lives in a reformatory in Irbil said the Shiite militias don’t belong in his Sunni village or northern Iraq.

In many ways, civilian life has an air of normalcy — even in Mosul with the sound of gunfire in the background. Women in black abayas wait for food to be distributed. Men stand around smoking, observing. Children play, some with visible burns from the war.

Most of these people have lived with years of war. Since the 1980s and particularly since 2003, they have witnessed rounds of violence. In January 2008, for instance, the city was hit by more than a dozen attacks a day, including improvised explosive devices, car bombs and shootings.

By contrast, life under the Islamic State was relatively peaceful for many pious Sunnis, many of whom greeted the takeover warmly in 2014.

“This too shall pass,” seemed to be the overall feeling in and around Mosul. Saddam came and went, then the Americans, the jihadis, the Americans, the Islamic State and now the Shiite militias. If Shiite militias continue to hoist flags over Sunni mosques in the city and the militias continue to man dozens of checkpoints in the rural countryside, then it is likely only a matter of time before insurgent attacks begin again.

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran

April 20, 2017

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran, The Jerusalem Center via YouTube, April 20, 2017

(Please see also Taliban Decry ‘Detriments for the Environment’ from U.S. MOAB Explosion. — DM)

The blurb beneath the video states,

The West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, thrive, and be used to plan attacks against the West.

The U.S. decision to drop an 11-ton bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs,” in Afghanistan against an ISIS target brought back into focus that entire war and the fact that, aside from the problem of ISIS, there has still been a problem in Afghanistan of the Taliban.

How did the Taliban become so significant over the last number of years since the 9/11 attacks? It’s important to remember that the Taliban are as much a problem as the terror organizations that have congregated on Afghan soil. Taliban policies since the late 1990s involved a number of acts which they undertook which have undermined not just the security of the Middle East but also the security of the world. Of course it was the Taliban who gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. They were originally located or protected by the regime in Sudan, but then in the mid-90s, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan where the Taliban had taken control and offered him a location for his training camps. It was there that bin Laden planned and implemented the horrible attack on the United States – against New York and against Washington, D.C.

One thing we’ve learned from this entire experience is that the West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, to thrive, and to be used to plan attacks against the West. That is the first lesson from the experience the West has had with the Taliban.

There’s a second experience with the Taliban that should be recalled. In March 2001, the Taliban decided to dynamite Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan that were 2,000 years old. These statues were located along the Silk Route and they were treasured by adherents of Buddhism, but all of a sudden the Taliban decided to attack these religious sites. The Taliban attack actually induced a debate in many radical Islamic circles about whether it was the right thing to do. At first, for example, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi , thought it would be a mistake for the Taliban to attack the Buddhas because it would set up Muslims to be assaulted in Buddhist countries. Later, later Qaradawi and others said, “You know what? The attack on these pre-Islamic sites was the right thing to do” and there was even a discussion about destroying pre-Islamic sites in Egypt like the pyramids and the Sphinx.

It isn’t surprising that the derivatives of al-Qaeda that have grown, like ISIS, have been attacking pre-Islamic religious sites all over the Middle East, destroying the heritage of mankind in tens of cities that were once manned and lived in by ancient empires – the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians. This tendency to attack religious sites of other faiths is a very dangerous trend that really had its first modern example with the attacks of the Taliban, and they remind us of a disastrous effects of the Taliban in the years that came afterward.

A third feature of the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an opportunity we have to learn what are the exact relations between Shiites and Sunnis. Taliban, of course, are radical Sunnis and almost everybody who starts learning about the Middle East begins thinking that Sunnis are at war with Shiites, and that’s how you understand the politics of the Middle East. But it doesn’t always work that way because the Taliban today are equipped and even trained by Iranian forces. Iran is an essential ally of the Taliban despite the fact that the Taliban are radical Sunnis and the Iranians are radical Shiites.

So if there are those who think that they could allow Iran to expand its influence around the area of the Middle East and South Asia and it won’t affect them because their enemies are essentially Sunni, they’re making a big mistake, because an expanded Iran will also enhance radical Sunnism as it has with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

 

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

April 11, 2017

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, April 11, 2017

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

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The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

U.S. Options in Syria Don’t Include Ground Troops

April 10, 2017

U.S. Options in Syria Don’t Include Ground Troops, PJ Media, David P. Goldman, April 10, 2017

FILE – In this file image provided on Friday, April 7, 2017 by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. missile attack has caused heavy damage to one of Syria’s biggest and most strategic air bases, used to launch warplanes to strike opposition-held areas in central, northern and southern Syria. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

The war has already displaced half of Syria’s 22 million people, and Iran plans to replace Sunnis with Shi’ite immigrants in order to change the demographic balance. The Sunni side of the conflict has become globalized with fighters from the Russian Caucasus, China’s Xinjiang Province, as well as Southeast Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year estimated that 40,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries were in Syria; Russia cited a figure of 30,000. Whatever the number is today, it would not be difficult to add a zero to it.

Russia and China must be frightened of America’s prowess, especially in military technology. A Reagan-style effort to established unquestioned U.S. supremacy in military technology is the Big Stick we require. Tomahawk missiles are not a Big Stick. They speak loudly. Trump was magnificently right to send the signal to Moscow and Beijing, especially (as Secretary Tillerson said) in the light of Russia’s duplicity or incompetence in the matter of Syrian poison gas. Now we need to get to work.

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Writing in the Washington Post, neo-conservatives Reuel Gerecht and Ray Takeyh propose to send U.S. ground troops to fight Iran and its proxies in Iran and Syria:

It is way past time for Washington to stoke the volcano under Tehran and to challenge the regime on the limes of its Shiite empire. This will be costly and will entail the use of more American troops in both Syria and Iraq. But if we don’t do this, we will not see an end to the sectarian warfare that nurtures jihadists. We will be counting down the clock on the nuclear accord, waiting for advanced centrifuges to come on line. As with the Soviet Union vs. Ronald Reagan, to confront American resolution, the mullahs will have to pour money into their foreign ventures or suffer humiliating retreat.

They’re nuts.

It isn’t Iran that we would be fighting: It’s an international mercenary army that already includes thousands of fighters recruited from the three million Hazara Afghans now seeking refuge in Iran, from the persecuted Pakistani Shi’ites who comprise a fifth of that country’s huge population, and elsewhere. As I reported recently in Asia Times:

The IRGC’s foreign legions include volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Shi’ites are an oppressed minority often subject to violent repression by the Sunni majority. IRGC-controlled forces include the Fatemiyoun Militia recruited mainly from Shi’ite Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, with reported manpower of perhaps 12,000 to 14,000 fighters, of whom 3,000 to 4,000 are now in Syria. Iranians also command the Zeinabiyoun militia composed of Pakistani Shi’ites, with perhaps 1,500 fighters in Syria.

The manpower pool from which these fighters are drawn is virtually bottomless. The war has already displaced half of Syria’s 22 million people, and Iran plans to replace Sunnis with Shi’ite immigrants in order to change the demographic balance. The Sunni side of the conflict has become globalized with fighters from the Russian Caucasus, China’s Xinjiang Province, as well as Southeast Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year estimated that 40,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries were in Syria; Russia cited a figure of 30,000. Whatever the number is today, it would not be difficult to add a zero to it.

Russia and China, as I explained in the cited Asia Times essay, blame the U.S. for opening the Pandora’s Box of Sunni radicalism by destroying the Iraqi State and supporting majority (that is, Shi’ite) rule in Iraq. Sadly, they are broadly correct to believe so. Thanks to the advice of Gerecht and his co-thinkers at the Weekly Standard and Commentary, the Bush administration pushed Iraq’s and Syria’s Sunnis into the hands of non-state actors like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

A seventh of Russia’s population is Muslim, and 90% of them are Sunnis. China has a restive Muslim population among the Uyghurs in its far West, and all of them are Sunnis. Moscow and Beijing therefore support Shi’ite terrorists as a counterweight to Sunni jihadists. A Eurasian Muslim civil war is unfolding as a result. Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum thinks America should let Sunnis and Shi’ites exhaust each other. If it were just Syria, that would make sense, but the Syrian conflict is the nodal point for a much larger and more dangerous conflagration. If the 300 million Muslims of Southeast Asia were to become involved, the consequences would be horrific.

Gerecht and Tayekh want the U.S. to back the anti-regime forces whom Obama left twisting in the wind during the 2009 demonstrations against Iran’s rigged elections. That is the right thing to do. The Trump administration should create a special task force for regime change in Iran and recruit PJ Media’s Michael Ledeen to run it. Iran is vulnerable to subversion. With 40% youth unemployment and extreme levels of social pathology (the rate of venereal disease infection is twenty times that of the U.S.), Iranians are miserable under the theocratic regime.

But I don’t know if that will work: Iran gets all its money from oil, and the mullahs have the oil, the money, and all the guns. If we can’t overthrow the Iranian regime, we will have two choices.

The first is to bomb Iran — destroy nuclear facilities and Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps bases. That risks war with Russia and China. It is an option, but a dangerous one, and not anyone’s first choice. We could have done this before Iran became a Russian-Chinese ally.

The second is to cut a deal with Russia and China: We muzzle the Sunni jihadists whom we (or our allies like Saudi Arabia) supported, and Russia and China cut Iran off at the knees. I sketched out such a deal in August 2016. It won’t happen easily, or any time soon, because Russia and China are not sufficiently afraid of us to want to come to the table. Russia would demand other concessions (e.g., recognition of its acquisition of territory by force in Ukraine). As the use of poison gas despite past Russian assurances makes clear, one can’t trust the Russians unless, of course, they really are scared of us.

So it all comes down to Grand Strategy: Russia and China must be frightened of America’s prowess, especially in military technology. A Reagan-style effort to established unquestioned U.S. supremacy in military technology is the Big Stick we require. Tomahawk missiles are not a Big Stick. They speak loudly. Trump was magnificently right to send the signal to Moscow and Beijing, especially (as Secretary Tillerson said) in the light of Russia’s duplicity or incompetence in the matter of Syrian poison gas. Now we need to get to work.

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Update: Christina Lin, a former senior U.S. Defense Department analyst and fellow at SAIS (and frequent Asia Times contributor), told The Diplomat in an interview today:

As a recent Israeli intelligence report documented, there are thousands of Chinese Uyghurs fighting in the ranks of al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS in Syria, namely in the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) based in Idlib — an al-Qaeda stronghold. The August 30, 2016 bombing of the Chinese embassy in  Krgyzstan, planned by TIP in Syria and financed by Al Nusra, signals increasing threats to Chinese citizens and interests overseas if Syria becomes a terrorist safe haven.

Because of “inter-mingling” with Ahrar al Sham and other so called “moderate” jihadists, TIP and Nusra enjoy U.S. and its allies’ protection even though they are designated as terrorist organizations. The have procured advanced Western weapons such as U.S.-supplied anti-tank TOW missiles, Grad missiles, and likely anti-aircraft MANPADS, and drones that they used to record their recent suicide campaigns against the Syrian army. These Western weapons enhance their war fighting capabilities to launch future attacks on China and Chinese interests, so Beijing will likely step up its military support to the Syrian army. Chinese military advisers are already on the ground in Syria, according to media reports.

Lies and Hypocrisy over Aleppo

December 21, 2016

Lies and Hypocrisy over Aleppo, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Greenfield, December 21, 2016

aleppo4

There are no good guys in an Islamic civil war. Both sides operate by Mohammed’s ancient Islamic rules that treat the property and women of conquered populations as the rightful loot of the attackers. The atrocities of Shiites and Sunnis, Iranians and Alawites, ISIS, Al-Nusra and the countless Sunni bands are not aberrations from civilized norms, they are the entire horrid purpose of this Islamic conflict.

There are no innocent victims in an Islamic civil war because neither side believes in anything except demonstrating the Allahu Akbaring supremacy of their religious doctrine by subjugating the other.

Aleppo was once a great center of civilization. Under Islam, it became a sad remnant of its former past. Whoever wins in Aleppo, it is a victory for Islamist triumphalism and a defeat for human civilization.

The bigger question is not who wins in Aleppo, but who will win in Paris, Brussels and Rome.

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250,000 Christians lived in Aleppo before the Sunni-Shiite Islamic civil war began. Today their numbers have fallen to 40,000.

There were no worldwide protests over this ethnic cleansing of Christians from Aleppo as there are over the fall of the Sunni Islamic state whose Jihadis are euphemistically described as rebels. There were no photos of crying Christian children blanketing every media outlet. But today you can hardly open a newspaper without seeing a teary Sunni Muslim kid allegedly being evacuated from Aleppo.

Given a chance, the weeping Sunni Muslims did to their Christian neighbors in Aleppo what they had done to them back during the Aleppo Massacre a hundred years ago when they were upset that the decline of Islamic Sharia power led to Christians gaining some civil rights. The Jewish population of Aleppo, which had once made up 5% of the city, had already been wiped out in the 1947 Muslim riots.

The last Jewish family was evacuated from Aleppo to escape the Sunni Jihadis two years ago.

The destruction of the Jewish and Christian communities of Aleppo happened without a fraction of the hysterical tumult over the defeat of the Sunni Jihadis and their fellow Muslim religious dependents.

“Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later,” Samantha Power declared at the United Nations.

Why doesn’t the ethnic cleansing of 210,000 Christians stain Power’s conscience? Or the church bombings by Islamists in Egypt, the stabbings of Jewish women in Israel and the Boko Haram genocide of Christians in Nigeria? True modern evil is the righteous conviction of liberals that only Muslim lives matter and that their Christian, Jewish and other non-Muslim victims somehow have it coming.

The fall of the Sunni theocracy is denounced as an outrage that will stain the conscience of the world. Journalists have taken a break from their ski vacations to lecture us on how we should have done something. That “something” being the thing they didn’t want us to do in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had butchered hundreds of thousands, but that is somehow now a moral imperative in Syria.

Why do the Sunni Muslims of Aleppo matter while the ethnically cleansed Christians of Aleppo don’t? And why was removing Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, a crime that liberals still howl about while removing Assad, an Alawite Shiite, is a moral imperative? Because the “righteousness” axis of our foreign policy is controlled by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Saudis and the rest of their Sunni Gulfie ilk.

The Muslim Brotherhood set our agenda for the Arab Spring. It’s why our government and our human rights organization backed the popular overthrow of Mubarak, but fought the popular overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi. Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, an organization which despite its name has solicited money from the Saudis, the sugar daddies of the Sunni Jihad, sneers at Copts for supporting the “persecution” of the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s not just Orwellian. It’s evil.

The outrage over Aleppo is a surreal partnership between Islamist butchers and their left-wing enablers.

“Are you truly incapable of shame?” Samantha Power demanded of Syria, Russia and Iran at the UN.

It goes without saying that three brutal dictatorships whose crimes run the gamut from raping teenage girls so that they won’t die as virgins and be allowed into Islamic paradise to radioactive poisonings of its political opponents have nothing that resembles shame or conscience.

But where is Samantha Power’s shame? The Iranian advance in Aleppo is funded by illegal cash shipments that Obama put on unmarked cargo planes and delivered to Iran’s Shiite Jihadists. Iran’s military budget increased 39% thanks to Obama’s cargo pallets full of Swiss Francs and Euros.

The barrel bombs that Power so angrily condemns were bought and paid for by her own boss. They were enabled by every American liberal who switched from defending the proposed Iranian nuclear genocide of millions of Jews to bewailing the Iranian attack on the Muslim Brotherhood in Aleppo.

Where is their shame? Is the American leftist even capable of shame anymore?

Obama’s inaction in Syria wasn’t caused by any philosophical struggle over the limits of intervention, as his media lackeys would have us to believe. The truth is uglier, simpler and more outrageous.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to back the Sunni or Shiite Islamists. Russia, which went all in on the Shiites, won. Obama tried to play both Islamist sides, funneling arms to the Sunni Jihadists in Syria and cash pallets to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He backed the Shiite regime in Baghdad over the Sunnis in Iraq. But he aided the Sunni Jihadis in Syria over the Shiite government in Damascus. Yet he was afraid to go all in for fear of trashing the Iran nuke sellout that even he admits will create a Shiite bomb in a little over a decade.

All the noise over Aleppo doesn’t testify to an atrocity, but to the enormous power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi lobby to control not only our politicians, but our national narratives.

There is no doubt that the Shiite Jihadist gangs will extract their blood price from Sunnis in Aleppo, that money and gems will disappear, women will be raped and bodies will wind up in mass graves. But the death toll will fall far short of the hysterical rhetoric about Rwanda. And what will happen to Sunnis in Aleppo is the same thing that happened to Shiites when Sunni Jihadists seized a town or village.

There are no good guys in an Islamic civil war. Both sides operate by Mohammed’s ancient Islamic rules that treat the property and women of conquered populations as the rightful loot of the attackers. The atrocities of Shiites and Sunnis, Iranians and Alawites, ISIS, Al-Nusra and the countless Sunni bands are not aberrations from civilized norms, they are the entire horrid purpose of this Islamic conflict.

There are no innocent victims in an Islamic civil war because neither side believes in anything except demonstrating the Allahu Akbaring supremacy of their religious doctrine by subjugating the other.

Beheading captives, raping their wives and looting their belongings was how Islamic Jihadis, dating back to Mohammed, knew that Allah was on their side and favored their murderous cause.

The Jewish population of the Middle East now exists almost entirely in Israel, protected by guns wielded, as often as not, by the descendants of Jewish refugees from Islamic oppression in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran. The Christian population, lacking an independent state of its own, continues to dwindle, dependent on the shaky goodwill of dictators like Mubarak or Assad who find them temporarily useful.

There is no future for non-Muslims in the Muslim world. Christians and Jews in the Middle East first achieved civil rights when European powers gained sway over the region. As Muslim migrants swarm into Europe, Jews and Christians now face Muslim persecution in France, Sweden and Germany.

But the media is far less interested in the tears on the face of 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego in Toulouse when a Muslim terrorist grabbed her by the hair, put a gun to her head in the schoolyard where she had been playing moments ago and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. He switched guns and shot her. Then, as she lay bleeding, he lifted up her little head and shot the dying Jewish girl two more times.

Muslims in France consider the Muslim terrorist who did this a hero. A child was even named after him.

The Sunni Muslim Jihadis fleeing Aleppo like rats are the same breed of Allah’s killers as the murderer of a little girl in Toulouse, as the hijackers of September 11, as the San Bernardino shooters, the Boston Marathon bombers, the Benghazi militias, the rapists of Yazidi girls and the bombers of Coptic churches.

They are human predators that have nothing that resembles a conscience as we understand it. Their religious doctrine has taught them that preying on non-Muslims and the wrong kind of Muslims is their duty. They believe that their rapes and murders are proof that they love Allah and Allah loves them.

It is as impossible for us to coexist with Islamic supremacists as it was for the Christians and Jews of Aleppo. You can share a room with a tiger, but eventually the tiger will try to eat you.

Aleppo is a tragedy, but not because of the hypocritical theater of lies that the media has put on for us. The tragedy of Aleppo isn’t that of the Sunni Jihadis who failed to conquer the city and complete their ethnic cleansing of the last Christians living there, but of the endless war of Islam against non-Muslims.

And of the collaboration of those who call themselves liberals in that war against human civilization.

Aleppo was once a great center of civilization. Under Islam, it became a sad remnant of its former past. Whoever wins in Aleppo, it is a victory for Islamist triumphalism and a defeat for human civilization.

The bigger question is not who wins in Aleppo, but who will win in Paris, Brussels and Rome.