Posted tagged ‘Iran and Israel’

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East

June 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) the defeat of Islamic State;

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

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

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

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

Defeating Islamic State

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

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

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

A New Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drive Hateful Ideology Out

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

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

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

New Israeli Partnership

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

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

Challenge and Roll Back Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Iranian Official Threatens Saudi Arabia Over Alleged Ties With Israel

June 20, 2017

Top Iranian Official Threatens Saudi Arabia Over Alleged Ties With Israel, AlgemeinerBen Cohen, June 20, 2017

(Please see also, IRGC Commanders: Our Main Aim Is Global Islamic Rule. — DM)

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. Photo: IRNA.

The speaker of the Iranian Parliament assailed Saudi Arabia on Tuesday over its alleged ties with Israel in a speech in Tehran to a group of ambassadors from Muslim nations.

“The dependence of some Muslim countries on Israel is catastrophic and a stain of shame, while the Muslim Ummah (global community) should be sensitive to the fate of Palestine,” Ali Larijani said, in remarks reported by the Iranian regime’s English-language mouthpiece, PressTV.

Larijani named Saudi Arabia specifically, asserting, “Eventually, all Saudi moves are in favor of Israel.”

Without producing evidence, Larijani claimed Iran had obtained documents showing that the Saudis provided Israel with intelligence during the 2006 war between the IDF and the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy.

“We have tried hard to make the Saudis understand that their measures are to the detriment of the Muslim Ummah, but they only make harsher remarks every day,” Larijani said. He warned Muslim states “not to be trapped in a bigger plot.”

Larijani has held several high offices in the Tehran regime, including serving as chief negotiator with the international community over Iran’s nuclear program, and as secretary of Iran’s National Security Council. A hardline Islamist, Larijani shocked an audience of world leaders and diplomats at the Munich Security Conference in 2009 when he endorsed Holocaust denial, praising the Iranian regime for having “different perspectives” on the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Larijani’s attack on Saudi Arabia comes at a time of growing rumor and speculation about Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning economic and security ties with Israel. Israeli officials have tended to play down such reports, among them a recent claim by the London Sunday Times that Jerusalem was preparing to announce commercial relations with Riyadh.

Larijani’s accusation that Saudi Arabia has betrayed Islam matches rhetoric from other regime officials promoting Iran as the leader of the Islamic world. In several speeches this year, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Ali Jafari — the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — has emphasized Iran’s place at the head of “the Islamic Revolution.”

“The Islamic Revolution is now in its third stage — that is, [the stage] of assembling the Islamic government, and with God’s help it will pass this stage successfully despite the ups and downs that constantly occur,” Ja’fari declared in a March 15 speech.

In another speech on April 30, the IRGC commander asserted, “In order to build the Islamic regime, there is no other path but to advance the Islamic Revolution. As the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic) said: ‘If this Islamic regime is defeated, Islam is defeated.’”

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.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran’s ‘Preferred Proxy,’ Arming in Gaza

June 5, 2017

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran’s ‘Preferred Proxy,’ Arming in Gaza, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, June 5, 2017

Iran provides PIJ with both “military and financial support,” ITIC noted in its report.

“PIJ is the preferred organization for Iran, due to the problematic nature of the relationship between Iran and Hamas,” ITIC Director Col. (ret.) Reuven Erlich, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Although Iran continues to fund Hamas’s military wing, relations between Shi’ite Tehran and the Sunni Islamist rulers of Gaza have been unstable since 2012, when the two found themselves on opposite sides of the sectarian war raging in Syria.

PIJ has around 5,000 members in its armed wing, the Quds Brigades. The organization has its own Gazan rocket production industry, and PIJ possesses the second largest arsenal of projectiles in Gaza, thanks to Iranian manufacturing knowledge. The organization has been working on improvements to its rocket launch systems. It also digs combat tunnels.

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest terrorist army in Gaza, recently issued a video threat about its willingness to end the three-year truce in place with Israel.

“If the Israeli enemy continues its normal game and plays with the lives of the Palestinian people, we will break the cease-fire,” PIJ leader Ramadan Shallah says in the video, according to an Algemeiner report.

The footage is laced with images of gunmen in camouflage, rising out of the ground, moving through tunnels, and watching areas of southern Israel near the Gaza border. It is interspersed with scenes from a rocket factory, and a close up shot appears of a senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer, who is placed in crosshairs, before a bullet is loaded into a rifle.

“Don’t try to test the resistance,” says the video’s last message.

PIJ remains Iran’s favored proxy in the Strip as relations between Tehran and Hamas continue to fluctuate.

The Gaza-based Al-Ansar charity, a Palestinian branch of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation, announced May 21 that it would provide financial grants to “families of martyrs” whose relatives were killed between 2002 and 2014.

A parallel Iranian funding channel is in place for families of “martyrs” killed in the 2014 conflict with Israel.

The Al-Ansar charity is “affiliated with PIJ,” according to a report released by the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC).

Iran provides PIJ with both “military and financial support,” ITIC noted in its report.

“PIJ is the preferred organization for Iran, due to the problematic nature of the relationship between Iran and Hamas,” ITIC Director Col. (ret.) Reuven Erlich, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Although Iran continues to fund Hamas’s military wing, relations between Shi’ite Tehran and the Sunni Islamist rulers of Gaza have been unstable since 2012, when the two found themselves on opposite sides of the sectarian war raging in Syria.

Thus, Iran does not currently fund Hamas’s non-violent operations, including the salaries for tens of thousands of Hamas government employees.

In recent days, a Hamas senior official even took the trouble to flatly deny Arabic media reports that Iran had resumed full-scale funding for his regime, describing the claims as “fake news.”

PIJ, which plays no governmental role, has no such issues with Iran, and it continues to enjoy a high level of Iranian financial support.

A snapshot of that support can be seen in the estimated $8.7 million that was transferred from the Iranian Martyrs Foundation to Gaza over the last three years. Not all the money went to families of those killed in conflict with Israel. “We can assume that some of that money also went towards financing groups like PIJ,” Erlich said.

The Al-Ansar charity is used by the Iranian Martyrs Foundation “as a pipeline to funnel funds into the Gaza Strip, in indirect support of terrorism. The money also serves to increase Iran’s influence among the Palestinian people, and sends a message to the Sunni Arab world, that it is Iran which is supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel,” the ITIC report said.

The Al-Ansar charity is fed with cash by a branch of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation in Lebanon. A second branch of the foundation in Lebanon supports Hizballah.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated the Iranian Martyrs Foundation and its branches in Lebanon as sponsors of terrorism. Israel banned the Al-Ansar charity in 2003, but it reestablished itself in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

The reelection of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to a second term is unlikely to dent Iranian funding for terror groups like PIJ, as Supreme Leader Khamanei, who is committed to arming and financing jihadists intent on fighting Israel, continues to exercise control over foreign affairs and military policies.

PIJ has around 5,000 members in its armed wing, the Quds Brigades. The organization has its own Gazan rocket production industry, and PIJ possesses the second largest arsenal of projectiles in Gaza, thanks to Iranian manufacturing knowledge. The organization has been working on improvements to its rocket launch systems. It also digs combat tunnels.

PIJ is a quarter of the size of Hamas’s 20,000 armed operatives, but that did not stop it from having numerous past run-ins and power struggles with Hamas.

Since the end of the 2014 conflict with Israel, however, Hamas has improved its ability to coordinate and control the other armed factions operating in its territory.

It remains unclear whether the latest PIJ threat to violate the ceasefire represents a warning of a possible split with Hamas’s leadership.

“What matters most is the ideological distinction between the PIJ and Hamas,” said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.

“While Hamas, [which is] the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, has a strategic cooperation with Iran, PIJ has a religious affinity with the Khomeinist doctrine and regime, since their [former] leaders Fathi Shaqaqi and ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Odah, from the inception of their group, acknowledged the importance of the Iranian revolution and its influence,” Karmon told the IPT.

“Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader,  wrote nothing on religious matters (and did not write about any other issues either),” Karmon noted. “Shaqaqi wrote 5 books in which he praised the Iranian revolution.”

“In this sense, the PIJ is the real proxy of Iran, and not Hamas,” he added.

PIJ leaders integrated themselves into the Iranian-Hizballah camp when Israel expelled them to Lebanon in 1988, Karmon noted. Then, PIJ leader Fathi Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta in 1995, representing a dramatic blow to the organization.

It took his successor, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who is still the current leader, five years following Shaqaqi’s assassination to build up the group’s infrastructure, with the aid of “major Iranian financial and military support,” Karmon said.

“Ironically, Shallah, who spent five years at Durham University [in Britain] writing a thesis on Islamic banking in Jordan, was called to lead the PIJ from the U.S., where he taught at the University of South Florida,” Karmon added.

When Hamas released a document that represented an update to its policies last month, feigning a softer stance and a willingness to accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, PIJ’s response was unequivocal.

“As partners with our Hamas brothers in the struggle for liberation, we feel concerned over the document,” said Islamic Jihad’s deputy leader, Ziad Al-Nakhala.

“We are opposed to Hamas’s acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders and we think this is a concession which damages our aims,” Al-Nakhala said, in comments posted on PIJ’s website.

Accepting a state on the 1967 borders would “lead to deadlock and can only produce half-solutions,” Al-Nakhala added.

Ultimately, the dispute between PIJ and Hamas is one over tactics, not strategy. In light of its acute isolation, Hamas is seeking to rebrand itself somewhat, without any intention of giving up its long-term goal of destroying Israel.

PIJ, enjoying firm Iranian backing, and lacking all of Hamas’s dilemmas of sovereignty, rejects the very idea of a rebranding. It insists on openly advertising its jihadist, Iranian-influenced ideology. Hoisted on Iran’s shoulders, PIJ prepares for the next round of fighting with Israel.

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

Syria & allies push back at US-held border post

May 20, 2017

Syria & allies push back at US-held border post, DEBKAfile, May 20, 2017

The US bombardment of that force Thursday underlined for Saudi Arabia and the dozens of Arab and Muslim rulers, gathered in Riyadh to meet the US president, his administration’s determination to prevent Iran and its Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah, from gaining control of Syria. American troops were accordingly engaged proactively in securing the border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

This clash of arms is likely to expand into an outright US showdown with the US and Syria, Iran and Hizballah in the next 24-48 hours ahead of President Trump’s visit to Israel, the second stop of his four-national trip.

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The Syrian-pro-Iranian-Hizballah force in southern Syria renewed its advance on the Iraqi border on Saturday, May 20, two days after sustaining heavy casualties from a US air strike on its convoys and in spite of US Defense Secretary James’ Mattis warning, “We will defend our troops.”

Syrian military sources reported the capture Saturday of the Suweida region and another 60 square kilometers. This offensive brought the Syrian army and its allies closer to the strategic Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian border intersection with Iraq and Jordan, which is held by US and other special operations units.

The US-led coalition force is also made up of elite units from Britain, Holland, Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as Jordan and a large contingent of the rebel Free Syria Army trained and armed by American instructors in Jordan.

The latest arrival to boost this force, DEBKAfile’s military sources report, was a unit of Norwegian special forces, which entered Syria from Iraq through the Al-Waleed border crossing in western Anbar. They arrived along with American reinforcements and linked up with the US and British forces deployed at Al Tanf.

However, the Syrian force and its allies to the US air strike moved fast enough Saturday to threaten the FSA troops fighting there with being trapped by a siege. They have pushed their offensive forward against the US-led force, despite their losses from an American air raid, as a show of defiance that was timed for President Donald Trump’s arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Another US air strike appears to be unavoidable for pushing them back. The danger is also rising of a major clash on the ground between US-led coalition special forces troops and the combined Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah force.

The US bombardment of that force Thursday underlined for Saudi Arabia and the dozens of Arab and Muslim rulers, gathered in Riyadh to meet the US president, his administration’s determination to prevent Iran and its Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah, from gaining control of Syria. American troops were accordingly engaged proactively in securing the border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

However, Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah are evidently not about to shirk a direct confrontation with Washington and the Trump administration, apparently with the support of Moscow.

This clash of arms is likely to expand into an outright US showdown with the US and Syria, Iran and Hizballah in the next 24-48 hours ahead of President Trump’s visit to Israel, the second stop of his four-national trip

Russian monitors for Syrian Golan – not Iranians

May 11, 2017

Russian monitors for Syrian Golan – not Iranians, DEBKAfile, May 11, 2017

The issue came up during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on May 11, and a day earlier, in a telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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Moscow this week responded to Israel’s concerns about posting Iranian and Turkish officers on its borders to monitor the potential “de-escalation” zones Russia is proposing for Syria. In respect of those concerns, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that Russia agreed in high-level contacts in the last few days to replace them with Russian military officers in the Mt. Hermon region and the areas where Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders meet. The proposal also calls for the expansion of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which supervises the cease-fire between Israel and Syria on the Golan.

(DEBKAfile was the first publication to reveal Israel’s concerns on May 3 and May 5.)

The Russian military are preparing to establish four ceasefire safe zones in Syria. The southernmost would be located along Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan. The issue came up during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on May 11, and a day earlier, in a telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was also involved in the exchanges on the ceasefire zones between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem during his visit to Israel this week as the guest of the Israeli chief of staff, Lieut. Gen. Gady Eisenkott. On Tuesday, May 9, Dunford said that “Israel is concerned about the possibility of having Iranian or Iranian-backed forces, such as Hizballah, so close to its border.” Both Putin and Lavrov promised that neither Iranian, pro-Iranian, nor Turkish officers would be placed in areas close to the Israeli border.

Our military sources report that during talks between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem on Thursday, May 11, the three sides agreed to continue to discuss the Russian proposal.

Another issue raised among them was who will deal with the ISIS forces in the Yarmouk area near the Israel-Jordan and Israel-Syria borders, including the bases established by the Khaled bin al-Walid army, which has sworn allegiance to ISIS.

The coming DEBKA Weekly out Friday, May 12, also reveals positive US-Russian dialogue on more Syrian issues.  If you are not already a subscriber, click here.

Iran in Syria: A Gathering Storm?

April 28, 2017

Iran in Syria: A Gathering Storm? Front Page MagazineP. David Hornik, April 28, 2017

A cyber attack on Israel, arms shipments to Hizballah, and provocative moves against the U.S. navy are—among much else—all in a week’s work for Iran. 

Israeli officials are, though, well aware that the current administration has a much more sober view of the problem than the previous one, and more hopeful that, this time around, the forces of civilization will push back against a regime that has been sowing discord and death for almost four decades.

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The Iranian regime, as it has made clear in countless threats, rallies, and missile displays, wants to destroy Israel, the “Little Satan.” 

Given Israel’s military might and, according to foreign reports, nuclear arsenal, Iran’s goal is probably unattainable. But the nearer Iran gets—or perceives itself to get—to that goal, the more warfare and instability is likely to ensue.

At present, thanks to Syria’s collapse into civil war and the Obama administration’s—at best—inept policy there, Iran is within reach of establishing a permanent military presence to Israel’s north—a surefire recipe for ongoing struggle and menace.

Israeli officials, Reuters reports, now estimate that Iran “commands at least 25,000 fighters in Syria, including members of its own Revolutionary Guard, Shi’ite militants from Iraq and recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Iran is also reportedly seeking a naval base in Syria, and, if it gains a lasting foothold in Israel’s northern neighbor, will undoubtedly want an airbase there as well.

The Reuters report notes that Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz has been on Capitol Hill urging stepped-up U.S. threats and sanctions on Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hizballah. Israel wants Russia to rein in Iran, too—though whether Russia is willing is still in dispute.

Of particular concern are Iran’s efforts to establish a beachhead for itself and Hizballah on the northern Golan Heights, directly across the border from the Israeli-controlled southern Golan.

Two years ago an Israeli airstrike on the northern Golan killed both Hizballah and Iranian commanders seeking to build a terror network there. Israel remains acutely concerned that such efforts will continue.

Iran’s naked aggression toward Israel was in evidence this week in a different kind of attack. The Israeli daily Haaretz reports:

Cybersecurity experts are convinced that Iran is behind the large-scale cyberattack revealed Wednesday by Israel’s Cyber Defense Authority. The attacks have been identified as being carried out by a hacker group known as OilRig, which has been tracked to Iran and is believed to be financed and directed by one of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence agencies.

OilRig…is known to have attacked in both government and private sector targets the past, focusing primarily on Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and Israel.

The recent attacks were aimed at at least 120 Israeli targets, including private companies, government departments, research institutes and hospitals…. It is unclear at this point whether the attack had any specific targets beyond creating damage in Israeli computer networks, and the extent of that damage is still being assessed.

Other reports, like this one, claim the cyberattack was successfully thwarted.

What is not in doubt is that the—for now—low-level war between Iran and Israel is not only continuing but intensifying. On Thursday it was reported that Israeli missiles fired from the Golan Heights hat hit and destroyed Iranian arms supplies in a Hizballah depot near Damascus International Airport.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, mentioned above, appeared to confirm that Israel was behind the strike, saying it “exactly matches our declared policy.”

Iran’s harassment of a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf this week suggests that its cockiness toward the “Great Satan,” too—after a period when it seemed to have waned—is returning.

A cyber attack on Israel, arms shipments to Hizballah, and provocative moves against the U.S. navy are—among much else—all in a week’s work for Iran.

Israeli officials are, though, well aware that the current administration has a much more sober view of the problem than the previous one, and more hopeful that, this time around, the forces of civilization will push back against a regime that has been sowing discord and death for almost four decades.