Posted tagged ‘Iran and Syria’

Trump Admin to Hit Iran With New Sanctions as Tehran Threatens Attacks on U.S. Bases

July 17, 2017

Trump Admin to Hit Iran With New Sanctions as Tehran Threatens Attacks on U.S. Bases, Washington Free Beacon, July 17, 2017

(Please see also, Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: On Course, Underground, Uninspected. — DM)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images

The Trump administration is expected to ratchet up pressure on Iran with a slew of new sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s illicit ballistic missile program and regional support for terrorism as the landmark Iranian nuclear deal hits its two-year anniversary, according to senior U.S. officials who deemed Iran in violation of the agreement’s “spirit.”

News of the new sanctions comes on the same day that Iranian military leaders threatened attacks on U.S. forces and bases in the Middle East should America move forward with new sanctions, particularly ones targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC.

The new sanctions are part of a larger White House effort to counter Iran’s massive military buildup and rogue militant activities across the Middle East, specifically in Syria, where Iranian-backed forces have launched a series of direct attacks on American forces in recent weeks.

U.S. official dubbed Iran “the most dangerous threat to U.S. interests” and promised a series of new efforts both militarily and policy oriented to combat the Islamic Republic’s illicit activities.

The new sanctions are being leveled outside the purview of the nuclear deal, meaning that they are all non-nuclear related and do not violate conditions of the deal barring the United States from engaging in such activity.

The Trump administration is continuing to perform a full-scale review of its Iran policy, including the nuclear deal. The review is set to be completed in about a month’s time, according to the administration.

The White House must make a decision by Tuesday on whether it will recertify that Iran is in compliance with the deal. The administration is likely to again certify Iran as in compliance of the agreement, despite mounting evidence this not the case. Deliberations in the White House had not concluded as of late Monday morning, but officials signaled they were leaning towards certifying Iran as not in technical violation.

U.S. officials were hesitant to deem Iran in direct violation of the deal, but said Tehran “is in default on the spirit of that agreements,” according to senior administration officials who spoke on background.

“Years of concessions … have resulted in the unintended effect of empowering Iran across the region,” one senior administration official said about the package of new sanctions on multiple Iranian individuals and entities tied to the country’s ballistic missile program and proliferation efforts.

“What we’re saying is Iran is in default of the spirit of the JCPOA,” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran deal’s official title. “We need to ensure more aggressively they are in compliance with the letter of the JCPOA.”

U.S. officials said that Iran has obfuscated key details of its nuclear program, and continues to engage in activities that could be in violation of the agreement.

“Iran has been less than forthcoming, walking up to the edge of violating the JCPOA,” one senior U.S. official said. “That behavior has to stop.”

Officials also criticized key flaws in the deal that allow Iran to engage in critical nuclear work within the next decade.

The United States plans to “ramp up our efforts to verify reports” of Iran’s alleged violations, officials said.

As part of the effort to combat Iran’s activities, the Trump administration is expected to announce an additional package of sanctions that includes 16 Iranian entities and individuals found to be supporting Tehran’s illicit and criminal activities in the region. This includes seven entities and five individuals found to be supporting the Iranian military and criminal organizations.

Sanctions also have been leveled on three networks designated as supporting Iran’s military procurement and another two organizations supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program.

As news of the expected new package of sanctions came, Iranian military leaders issued new threats warning of attacks on U.S. regional bases should the Trump administration move forward with plans to sanction the IRGC and designate it as a terror group.

“Putting the IRGC in one single class with the terrorist groups and imposing similar sanctions against the IRGC poses a major risk to the U.S., its bases and forces deployed in the region,” Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, warned on Monday during remarks before IRGC commanders.

Baqeri also lashed out at sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, stating, “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s missile power is defensive and is never negotiable at any level.”

Report: Iran Building Long-Range Ballistic Missiles in Syria

July 12, 2017

Report: Iran Building Long-Range Ballistic Missiles in Syria, Washinton Free Beacon , July 12, 2017

A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. AFP / TASNIM NEWS / Mahmood Hosseini (Photo credit should read MAHMOOD HOSSEINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran is said to be building new long-range ballistic missiles at a Syrian weapons factory identified by the United States as developing non-conventional weaponry, according to regional reports alleging that Russia and North Korea are aiding in the endeavor.

The Syrian opposition news website Zamanalwsl.net recently published multiple reports and pictures of a weapons factory in Syria that it claims is under direct control of Iran.

The reports appear to confirm other recent news articles indicating that Iran has begun manufacturing advanced missile technology in Syria with permission from embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

The reports claim that Iran is constructing long-range ballistic missiles in a factory operating under the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the United States had identified as the key government agency behind the country’s contested non-conventional weapons work, including chemical weapons.

Assad is reported to have visited the Iranian factory recently, where he met with Iranian and Syrian weapons experts, according to a translation of the articles conducted by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI.

“The facility is producing long-range missiles as well as M600 ballistic missiles, which are a Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh 110 missile,” according to MEMRI’s readout of the report. “This facility has a branch in western Hama province for producing chemicals, and that that there is a Russian military base in the region, where North Korean officers once served.”

The facility is said to be shrouded in secrecy, despite evidence that agents from Russia, North Korea, and Iran are freely moving around the site.

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones

July 5, 2017

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones, DEBKAfile, July 5, 2017

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

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The fifth round of Russian-initiated Syrian peace talks taking place Tuesday, July 4, in the Kazakh capital of Astana was designed to prepare the ground for the Trump-Putin summit Friday on the sidelines of the Hamburg G20 summit, by laying out proposals for deconfliction zones in Syria.

To support this move, Moscow twisted the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s arm to declare a unilateral ceasefire in southern Syria.

However, the ploy was soon aborted. The Astana conference quickly broke down when Iran and Turkey, two of the three sponsors along with Russia, rejected the formula for deconfliction zones on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Jordan and Israel, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Present at Astana along with the three sponsors were leading Syrian opposition and rebel groups, as well as UN envoy for Syrian affairs Staffan de Minstura, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, and Jordanian Foreign Ministry adviser Nawaf Uasfi Tal.

The Iranina and Turkish delegates had no objections to the two demilitarized zones proposed for the Damascus and Homs areas, but withheld their consent for the zones in eastern and southern Syria, and refused to accept the formula for forces policing the latter deconfliction zones, their identity, powers as truce monitors and the types of arms they were allowed to carry.

Iran and Turkey demanded the deployment of their own troops along with Russians in the two safe zones, which border on Israel, Jordan and Iraq, and wanted them armed for “self-defense.” The representatives of the US and Jordan refused, proposing instead that an international force be established to supervise the zones. Turkey and Iran rejected this out of hand.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

By knuckling under to Tehran on this venue, the Russians have shown their hand as supporters of Iran’s military objectives in Syria, which they have hitherto tried to disguise.

The failure of the Astana peace track calls into question the ceasefire declared on Sunday by Damascus on all the warfronts of southeastern Syria, including the battle for Daraa, 1 km from the Jordanian border, and the fighting for the Quneitra region, just 3 km from Israel’s Golan.  That front was the source of the mortar shells that strayed across the border into the Golan last week.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

Syrian mortars again fall on Golan despite Israel’s warnings

June 25, 2017

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

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

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

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering.

June 19, 2017

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering., Washington ExaminerTom Rogan, June 19, 2017

(Please see also, Missile strike on ISIS turning Iran into a world power. — DM)

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

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On Sunday, an F-18 fighter jet (almost certainly from the Mediterranean-deployed USS George H.W. Bush carrier strike group), downed a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet.

It was the right decision for both tactical and strategic reasons.

For a start, the Syrian jet was bombing United States allies (the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces) on the ground. It was warned, but did not retreat.

Yet it’s not just relevant who the Syrians were bombing, it’s also important where they were doing so. Because the Su-22 was striking targets in north-central Syria, proximate to the Islamic State capital, Raqqa, and a town and dam, Taqba.

That locale matters for two reasons.

First, because the Syrian axis (Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and other associated Shiite militias) are determined to displace U.S./allied forces from that area. The Assad axis recognizes that if it secures Taqba, it can push east of the Euphrates river and degrade anti-regime forces operating there with U.S. protection. As I’ve explained, this area of northern Syria is crucial for the future of the Syrian civil war.

Second, had the U.S. allowed axis forces to displace Kurdish forces from the area, the axis would have been able to disrupt the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State. While the axis argue that they support the U.S.-led effort to defeat the Islamic State, the reality is different.

After all, the axis have vested interests in allowing the Islamic State to survive in some form. While the Islamic State is indeed their enemy, its existence allows the axis to pretend that the choice in Syria is between Assad, and the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Russia, especially, uses this narrative to delegitimate and attack more-moderate U.S.-supported Syrian rebel groups. Ever notice that the Russians always claim they are bombing “terrorists” in Syria? The Islamic State gives them that excuse.

Absent the threat of the Islamic State, the axis powers know that the world would view the Syrian regime much more harshly. Absent international jihadist groups in Syria, the regime would no longer be able to claim “we’re the best of a bad bunch.”

Still, there’s a broader issue at stake here.

This latest axis push against U.S. interests is just the tip of the iceberg. As I noted recently, the axis is also threatening a major U.S. base in south-eastern Syria. Collectively, these efforts are designed to test the Trump administration’s commitment to U.S. interests in Syria. Put simply, by escalating their threat against the U.S., and by dangling the prospect of future U.S. casualties, the Assad axis wishes for the Trump administration to back away from its resistance to Assad’s regime. They believe that, as was the case with President Barack Obama’s red lines, the U.S. can ultimately be compelled to yield.

For that reason, the U.S. response on Sunday was the right one.

A two-person U.S. aircrew in an advanced multirole fighter met a Soviet-era aircraft and outmatched it.

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

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.

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria

May 31, 2017

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria, DEBKAfile, May 31, 2017

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

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Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the strongest Iraqi Shiite militia, the Badr Brigades, said Wednesday, May 31, that his forces are preparing to enter Syria. The advanced capabilities of this powerful Iranian-led militia, would tilt the Syrian war strongly in Iran’s favor, with alarming ramifications for the US, Israel and Jordan.

Al-Amri, in making this announcement, cited Iran’s new slogan: “Iraq’s security will be maintained only if Syria’s security is preserved.” In other words, the Syrian conflict would end only when pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including Hizballah, control Syria like they control Iraq.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Badr Brigades’ path into Syria was secured this week when an Iraqi Shiite conglomerate breached the Iraqi-Syrian border in the north, on the orders of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. This opened Iran’s coveted overland corridor through Iraq to Syria.

The combat capabilities of the Badr Brigades, estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 strong, are impressive. One of the most professional and well-trained military forces in Iraq, its recruits receive instruction at special camps operated by Revolutionary Guard Corps on Iranian soil. The militia consists of special forces, tank, mechanized infantry, artillery and antiaircraft units. The high quality of their munitions may be seen in the photo at the top of the story.

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Intelligence sources expect the Badr Brigades to first head south towards the Deir ez-Zor area to link up with the Syrian Arab Army and Hizballah forces, which are threatening the US special forces and allied hold on a key crossing that commands the triangle where the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi borders meet.

They would need to cover 230km from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor, the while fighting small, scattered ISIS concentrations. Wednesday, May 31, Russia came down on the side of Tehran, with a cruise missile strike on ISIS targets around Palmyra. They were fired from the missile frigate Admiral Essen and the submarine Krasnodar for the purpose of softening jihadi resistance to the Badr Brigades’ southward advance.

The consequences of this massive pro-Iranian intervention in the Syrian war are dire for the US, Israel and Jordan. For Washington, it lays the ground for Tehran’s domination of Syria – in the face of President Donald Trump’s solemn vows to prevent this happening.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

Jordan’s foreboding comes from its judgment that pro-Iranian Shiite militias sitting on its borders are a greater threat even that ISIS.

Read more about this pivotal development in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly. If you are not yet a subscriber, click here to sign on.