Archive for the ‘Syria – chemical weapons attack’ category

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack

April 24, 2017

WATCH: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Announces Sanctions After Syria Chemical Attack, Fox News via YouTube, April 24, 2017

 

Assad’s Air Force Chemical Attack & Possible Link to Iran’s IRGC Ground Forces Operations

April 22, 2017

Assad’s Air Force Chemical Attack & Possible Link to Iran’s IRGC Ground Forces Operations, Iran News Update, April 21, 2017

“The goal of chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was changing the balance of power in favor of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” writes the NCRI, adding, “The IRGC conflict zone was on average 20 km away from Khan Sheikhoun.”

The National Council of Resistance of Iran writes,”The role of the clerical regime and the IRGC in recent chemical attack proves once again that the only way to end war and bloodshed in Syria is to evict the mullahs’ regime and to expel the IRGC and its mercenaries from the country.”

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When looking at the events before and after Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, and the operations of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in the northern province of Hama, questions arise as to the goal of the attack.

Beginning March 21, 2017, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition began to advance in the north of Hama, and reached within three kilometers of the city of Hama. According to an article published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the IRGC dispatched its forces in Damascus and its suburbs, using its highest ranking commanders. These forces were present in the North and West of the city of Hama and around the town of Soran. They include battalions of the 19th Fajr Shiraz Division, battalions of the division known as Nabi Akram of Kermanshah, Saberine special battalions of Tehran province, and Ninawa brigade forces in Golestan province.

Dozens of IRGC forces and their mercenaries, including some IRGC commanders, were killed in the region less than two weeks before the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun. The NCRI reports that some of them include:

• Revolutionary Guards Corps Brigadier General Abdullah Khoshnoud from 19th Fajr Division on March 29 in the outskirts of Hama;

• Colonel Morad Abbasifar, from the division known as Nabi Akram who had close relationship with Qasem Soleimani, in late March in the town of Moardas in northeast of city of Hama;

• Mohammad Jannati known as Haj Haidar, a commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, in late March in Tarabee near the city of Halfaya;

• Saeed Khaja Salehani, an IRGC officer, on March 25 in north of Hama;

• Hossein Moez Gholami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, Abuzar Farahbakhsh and Ghodratollah Aboudi from 19th Fajr Division in Hama province.

A large number of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries sent by the IRGC to Hama province were also killed. So high were the losses, that on March 31, four days before the chemical attack, Qassem Soleimani visited the IRGC forces to boost their morale.

“The goal of chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was changing the balance of power in favor of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” writes the NCRI, adding, “The IRGC conflict zone was on average 20 km away from Khan Sheikhoun.”

The IRGC forces continued their assault after the chemical attack, and last week, the bodies of a number of Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries were returned to Iran.

Bashar al-Assad’s ground force is weakened, and so offensive ground operations in Syria are now carried out by the IRGC, with support from Assad’s air force.

In his memoirs, Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, who commanded the IRGC forces and was killed in October 2015 near the city of Aleppo, wrote, “In March 2013 (opposition) was quite close to a victory … they tightened the noose and got closer to the Syrian Presidential Palace such that they were set to occupy the palace… Bashar al-Assad also thought it was over and was pursuing to go to another country.” Hamadani goes on to tell how the IRGC saved Bashar al-Assad from being overthrown.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran writes,”The role of the clerical regime and the IRGC in recent chemical attack proves once again that the only way to end war and bloodshed in Syria is to evict the mullahs’ regime and to expel the IRGC and its mercenaries from the country.”

We’re turning a blind eye to Iran’s genocidal liars

April 18, 2017

We’re turning a blind eye to Iran’s genocidal liars, The Australian, Michael Oren, April 19, 2017

(Please see also, What North Korea Should Teach Us about Iran. DM)

In responding forcibly to North Korean and Syrian outrages, President Trump has taken a major step towards restoring America’s deterrence power. His determination to redress the flaws in the JCPOA and to stand up to Iran will greatly accelerate that process. The US, Israel and the world will all be safer.

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The US has signed agreements with three rogue regimes strictly limiting their unconventional military capacities. Two of those regimes — Syria and North Korea — brazenly violated the agreements, provoking game-changing responses from Donald Trump. But the third agreement — with Iran — is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn’t even have to break it. Honouring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives.

The framework agreements with North Korea and Syria, concluded respectively in 1994 and 2013, were similar in many ways. Both recognised that the regimes already possessed weapons of mass destruction or at least the means to produce them. Both ­assumed that the regimes would surrender their arsenals under an international treaty and open their facilities to inspectors. And both believed these repressive states, if properly engaged, could be brought into the community of nations.

All those assumptions were wrong. After withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Pyongyang tested five atomic weapons and developed ­intercontinental missiles capable of carrying them. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, less than a year after signing the framework, reverted to gassing his own people. Bolstered by the inaction of the US and backed by other powers, North Korea and Syria broke their commitments with impunity.

Or so it seemed. By ordering a Tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian air base, and a US Navy strike force to patrol near North Korea’s coast, the Trump administration has upheld the frame­­works and placed their violators on notice. This reassertion of power is welcomed by all of ­America’s allies, Israel among them. But for us the most dangerous agreement of all is the one that may never need military enforcement. For us, the existential threat looms in a decade, when the agreement with Iran expires.

Like the frameworks with North Korea and Syria, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015 assumed that Iran would fulfil its obligations and open its facilities to inspectors. The JCPOA assumed that Iran would moderate its behaviour and join the international community. Yet unlike its North Korean and Syrian allies, Iran was the largest state sponsor of terror and openly vowed to destroy another state: Israel. Unlike them, Iran systematically lied about its unconventional weapons program for 30 years. And unlike Damascus and Pyongyang, which are permanently barred from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Tehran can look forward to building them swiftly and legitimately in the late 2020s, once the JCPOA expires.

This, for Israel and our neighbouring Sunni states, is the appalling flaw of the JCPOA. The regime most committed to our destruction has been granted a free pass to develop military nuclear capabilities. Iran could follow the Syrian and North Korean examples and cheat. Or, while enjoying hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it can adhere to the agreement and deactivate parts of its nuclear facilities rather than dismantle them. It can develop new technologies for producing atomic bombs while testing intercontinental ballistic missiles. It can continue massacring Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and bankrolling Hamas and Hezbollah. The JCPOA enables Iran to do all that merely by complying.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be as dangerous as “50 North Koreas”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN in 2013, and Iran is certainly many times more dangerous than Syria. Yet Iran alone has been granted immunity for butchering civilians and threatening genocide. Iran alone has been guaranteed a ­future nuclear capability. And the Iranian regime — which brutally crushed a popular uprising in 2009 — has amassed a million-man force to suppress any future opposition. Rather than moderating, the present regime promises to be more radical yet in another 10 years.

How can the US and its allies pre-empt catastrophe? Many steps are possible, but they begin with penalising Iran for the conventions it already violates, such as UN restrictions on missile development. The remaining American sanctions on Iran must stay staunchly in place and congress must pass further punitive legislation. Above all, a strong link must be established between the JCPOA and Iran’s support for terror, its pledges to annihilate ­Israel and overthrow pro-American Arab governments, and its complicity in massacres. As long as the ayatollahs oppress their own population and export their ­tyranny abroad, no restrictions on their nuclear program can ever be allowed to expire.

In responding forcibly to North Korean and Syrian outrages, President Trump has taken a major step towards restoring America’s deterrence power. His determination to redress the flaws in the JCPOA and to stand up to Iran will greatly accelerate that process. The US, Israel and the world will all be safer.

Michael Oren is Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, a member of the Knesset and a former ambassador to Washington.

Reading Iran’s Reaction To US Missile Strikes In Syria

April 14, 2017

Reading Iran’s Reaction To US Missile Strikes In Syria, Long War Journal, April 14, 2017

Seyyed Hossein Taghavi-Hosseini, the spokesperson for the Iranian parliament’s hawkish National Security and Foreign Policy Committee exclaimed: “The truth is that the Americans and some regional countries which are supporters of terrorism and terrorist groups were defeated in the Syrian arena… [therefore] the Americans entered so as to revive the terrorists and develop a support umbrella for them.” Taghavi-Hosseini’s comments are designed to alter international public opinion. Should Taghavi-Hosseini’s erroneous narrative go unchecked, Iran, along with its Russian partners, could more aggressively look to offer themselves as guarantors of the regional order.

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On the evening of Thursday April 6, Washington time, President Donald Trump ordered the US military to respond to the Assad regime’s recent use of chemical weapons which had “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children.” In so doing, the US launched 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles at the Shayrat Airfield in Homs belonging to the Syrian government.  The strikes, according to a Pentagon press statement, were delivered from two US destroyers stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to a more recent Department of Defense evaluation, “20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft” were wrecked by strike.

To date, international reactions have been somewhat predictable. US partners and allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, endorsed the kinetic action. Conversely, government officials from the Syrian Arab Republic and Islamic Republic of Iran admonished the move. Such censures nonetheless provide insight into Iran’s framing of the war in Syria, as well as the methods of argumentation Iran has long used to support the Assad regime. As always, vitriolic anti-Americanism featured prominently in Tehran’s diplomatic response.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, called the strike a “strategic mistake.” He also ominously warned that the US was about “to repeat their past mistakes” in the region. “Former American officials created DAESH or helped it, and current American officials are in a state of strengthening DAESH or groups like it,” he alleged.

The conspiracy theory that the US has had a hand in the creation of the Islamic State is as old as the group itself, and is a narrative both favored and promoted by regime elites in Tehran. Over time it has even made itself manifest in elements of the Iranian population. On April 8, part of the headline above the fold on the front cover of the hardline Kayhan newspaper – whose editor-in-chief is a close Khamenei confidant – read: “America formally stood beside DAESH.”

Several other Iranian officials also framed American involvement in the region as a boost to such groups. Seyyed Hossein Taghavi-Hosseini, the spokesperson for the Iranian parliament’s hawkish National Security and Foreign Policy Committee exclaimed: “The truth is that the Americans and some regional countries which are supporters of terrorism and terrorist groups were defeated in the Syrian arena… [therefore] the Americans entered so as to revive the terrorists and develop a support umbrella for them.” Taghavi-Hosseini’s comments are designed to alter international public opinion. Should Taghavi-Hosseini’s erroneous narrative go unchecked, Iran, along with its Russian partners, could more aggressively look to offer themselves as guarantors of the regional order.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the Chairman of the same parliamentary committee, cited themes about perceived US desperation in his post-strike commentary. He told members of the Iranian press that, “The recent American action in Syria is indicative of the defeat of the statesmen and government of this arrogant country in the region and in the world.” Despite the obvious imbalance in capability, Iranian officials have often sought to position themselves as more adept than the US in the region, whom they accuse of being in retreat and decline. While Iran’s military assistance has been critical in the form of money, men, and munitions to the Assad regime, Iran lacks the conventional military power to project force in the region, and has therefore had to rely on tried and true asymmetric methods. For conventional force projection, Iran has turned to another state: the Russian Federation.

In a telephone call with Iran’s closest state partners, Syria and Russia, the latter of whom has provided air power and advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles to the beleaguered Assad regime, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani similarly took to condemning the strike. Rouhani reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “We condemn America’s missile attack on Syria and believe it to be a case of gross violation of the sovereignty of an independent country which makes it necessary for this unilateral action to be investigated and condemned by the United Nations Security Council.”

The citing of the Assad regime as “independent” is in line with the Islamic Republic’s anti-Western and anti-imperialist governing ideologies. But it also draws from the lexicon of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself. At least twice in 2016 (once in July and once in October), the Iranian press reported comments by Assad attempting to frame his regime’s actions as measures needed to keep Syria independent because the West “cannot tolerate” or “does not accept” a sovereign Syrian state. The irony being that the longer the Assad regime lives on, the more reliant it will be on foreign patrons like Moscow and Tehran should they decide to reconquer lost territory or merely govern and hold the territory it presently controls.

Similarly, Tehran has long insisted on the “territorial integrity” of Syria, as well as that of Iraq, where it is using the campaign against the Islamic State to cement its presence through armed networks. These armed networks are seldom mentioned by Iranian diplomats.

Formally, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif and its Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi also critiqued the strike. Zarif took to one of Iran’s new favorite mediums – Twitter – to berate the US for “impetuous unilateralism based on self-serving allegations.” Zarif bandwagoned on the argument made by Kayhan about the US and Salafist-terrorist groups. He purported that “Not even two decades have passed since the events of the 11th of September and America’s armed forces now fight beside al-Qaeda and DAESH in Yemen and Syria in a [unified] front.” This gross mischaracterization of recent US actions in the Middle East notwithstanding, Zarif also drew on Iran’s harrowing experiences during the Iran-Iraq War to bolster an argument against chemical weapons and WMD-use more generally.

In so doing, Zarif failed to mention that one of the strategic drivers of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program was its own eight-year conflict with Iraq. The same logic also helped guide Iran to develop and retaliate against Iraq’s chemical attacks by weaponizing pathogens of its own.

While Iranian military and religious elites also commented on the strike along themes already noted in this article, Iran’s regional proxies also weighed-in on the matter. Lebanese Hezbollah issued a press release calling the move a transgression of “Syrian sovereignty” that was ultimately in the “service of the Zionist entity.” Another militia, the Iran-linked Nujaba movement of Iraq noted via its spokesman that, “This missile attack does not change the rules of the Syrian conflict.” The spokesperson for Nujaba echoed themes about how American military action in Syria was merely a “tool… used to save terrorist groups.”

Conversely, Muqatada al-Sadr, the infamous Iraqi Shiite cleric who led the Mahdi Army (which despite being “disbanded” has been partially reconstituted into the “Peace Brigades” and is believed to be active in Syria) did not tow Tehran’s line on the strike and Assad’s future. According to reporting by Reuters, the cleric said, “it would be fair for President Bashar al-Assad to offer his resignation and step down in love for Syria, to spare it the woes of war and terrorism …and take a historic, heroic decision before it is too late.”

Despite the marked difference in tone by the leader of a prominent Shiite militia, Iranian officials have not seen the strike as inhibiting their support for Assad. While Iranian capabilities (presently comprised of ground assets often delivered by plane) do not appear to be impaired by the strike, there has been no overt escalation by Tehran at the time of this writing in the Syrian theater. Tehran also lacks the capability to respond on the same scope and scale as 59 cruise missile strikes against US assets without launching a major war. Rather, Iran appears to have fallen back on gloating, intimidation, and misinformation tactics that so often characterize Persian-language reporting. Nonetheless, Iranian officials would be wise to not write off the strike. US military power was just demonstrated on a key Iranian partner with exceeding ease. At a minimum, that should remind both Damascus and Tehran to be cognizant of escalation dynamics as the Syrian conflict drags on.

Yet, whatever the proximate cause for varying levels of Iranian activity in Syria, the root cause for the country’s continued involvement there remains the survival of the Islamic Revolution and its rejectionist message. To export this revolution and keep conflict away from Iranian territory, Tehran has continuously and successfully relied on a diverse array of non-state actors, terrorists, and armed religious networks across jurisdictions of weak central authority. But the Assad regime (both in its present incarnation under Bashar and previously under his deceased father, Hafez), has long represented the enduring value of a pro-Iranian state on Israel’s doorstep. Put differently, Tehran’s relationship with Damascus has permitted the Islamic Republic to inject hard- and soft-power into the Levantine theater for over three decades.

Time will tell if Iran will ultimately read the strike as a show of American resolve or indecision. But until then, sentiments such as those from 2013 by Hojjat al-Eslam Mehdi Taeb, the leader of the Ammar Base – an organization tasked with fighting the “soft war” – appear to be guiding Iran’s approach to the country: “Syria… is a strategic province for Iran… If we lose Syria, we will be unable to keep Tehran.”

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports: Gas Attack Intended To Save Iranian/Syrian Frontline In Khan Sheikhoun Region From Breakdown

April 13, 2017

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports: Gas Attack Intended To Save Iranian/Syrian Frontline In Khan Sheikhoun Region From Breakdown, MEMRI, April 13, 2017

Introduction

The April 4 Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, just one day after the U.S. administration changed its position vis-à-vis Syrian President Al-Assad, declaring that his removal from power was no longer a priority, raised questions regarding the underlying motive for the attack. Indeed, the initial Russian claim that the attack had been fabricated by opponents of the Syrian regime was based on its being so clearly against Syrian interests.

While it is now largely accepted that the Syrian regime carried out the attack, the motivation underlying it remains enigmatic, giving rise to conspiracy theories.

 

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports Provides The Explanation: To Prevent Breakdown Of Iranian/Syrian Frontline

On April 7, 2017, WarReports, an Iranian research group dedicated to monitoring and covering Iran’s role in the war in Syria and Iraq,[1] published a report on its Facebook page, explaining why the Syrian regime had carried out the gas attack.[2] It claimed that the attack had been “in support of the Iranian-affiliated ground forces, Hizbullah, and the Syrian army, all of which were stationed several kilometers behind the frontline.” According to the report, in the past three weeks there had been 21 casualties from among the IRGC forces and the Fatimiyun Afghani Shi’ite militia located in Hama.[3] The report included a map of the region, showing the retreat southward of the Iranian-backed forces from the Khan Sheikhoun region, a retreat that threatened to turn into a complete breakdown of the front. The attack, therefore, was intended to curb the rebel thrust in Khan Sheikhoun, thus preventing this breakdown.

The report further stated that hitting the civilian population in the rebel-held areas was a known tactic of the Syrian regime, intended to crush the fighting spirit of the forces and to stop their operations. This was the case in the August 2013 gas attack on Ghouta, Damascus, and the October 2015 cluster-bomb attack on the civilization population of eastern Aleppo.

It should be noted that in a recent White House intelligence briefing, officials gave the same rationale for the Syrian regime attack, without providing further details: “They were losing in a particularly important area. That’s what drove [the attack].”[4]

 

Map legend:

Red areas:              territory held by Iranian/Syrian-regime forces

Green areas:          territory held by the Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly JNS) armed rebels

Red circle:              Khan Sheikhoun

Red arrows:           distance from Khan Sheikhoun to the Iranian-backed forces

Black dotted line: opposition frontline prior to March 21 operations and Iranian forces retreat

Red dotted line:     current opposition frontline following the Iranian forces retreat

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[1] https://warreports.org/about-us/; Twitter: @warreports. Facebook: Persian.war.news.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/persian.war.news/posts/1905690939688134.

[3] The website provided a link to the image of one of the IRGC members killed there. https://goo.gl/iunWwn

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/11/white-house-offers-more-proof-syrian-gas-attack-ci/.