Posted tagged ‘Iran – Middle East’

Trump Breaks the Diplomatic Mold

May 23, 2017

Trump Breaks the Diplomatic Mold, Commentary Magazine. May 22, 2017

President Donald Trump walks with Saudi King Salman at the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Upon arrival, Trump received a royal welcome. Saudi King Salman braved the 101-degree heat of the tarmac to greet the presidential plane personally. A brass band serenaded the two world leaders as cannons issued celebratory volleys and seven Saudi jets streamed trails of red, white, and blue overhead. The president and the king joined one another in the presidential limo and rode off together to an extravagant ceremony at the Saudi Court, where attention was even lavished upon the president’s aides.

The intentional contrast this reception struck with Barack Obama’s 2014 trip to the Saudi Kingdom was stark. Upon Obama’s arrival, King Salman dispatched only his distant nephew, the provincial governor of Riyadh, to meet the leader of the free world. The Obama White House did its best to save face, but the snub was a clear indication that tensions surrounding Iran nuclear deal, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, and Obama’s explicit antipathy toward the Saudi Kingdom as a nation unworthy of an alliance with America.

As COMMENTARY’s Evelyn C. Gordon discussed, in exchange for Israeli technology and intelligence, a relaxation of the Gaza blockade, and the cessation of settlement construction in “some areas,” this Sunni alliance would “establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.” And all of this would occur with existing Palestinian realities utterly unchanged. Even if no further progress toward peace in the region is secured, that bell cannot be un-rung.

A truly successful presidency in the Middle East may begin first with the abandonment of that burdensome, dog-eared diplomatic playbook.

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There is perhaps nothing a global class of calcified diplomatic professionals appreciates more than subtlety and nuance. Donald Trump’s tour of the world’s three major religious capitals is about as unsubtle and unnuanced as you can get. To many seasoned diplomats, this administration’s naïve effort to forge peace in this fashion is downright dangerous—possibly more than the administration even knows. Maybe. Or maybe the president and his team are dispensing with ossified convention in a field that could desperately use some fresh thinking. With the first leg of Trump’s world theological tour complete, it is not impossible that something new is taking shape.

In Saudi Arabia this weekend, Donald Trump danced with swords, touched an ominous glowing orb, and delivered a narrowly tailored and reasonably well-received speech on radical Islamic terrorism in the heart of the Islamic world. Among many other regional power brokers, the president also met with the leaders of Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. What Trump did in the Saudi Kingdom is, however, less interesting than how the Saudis responded to him.

Upon arrival, Trump received a royal welcome. Saudi King Salman braved the 101-degree heat of the tarmac to greet the presidential plane personally. A brass band serenaded the two world leaders as cannons issued celebratory volleys and seven Saudi jets streamed trails of red, white, and blue overhead. The president and the king joined one another in the presidential limo and rode off together to an extravagant ceremony at the Saudi Court, where attention was even lavished upon the president’s aides.

The intentional contrast this reception struck with Barack Obama’s 2014 trip to the Saudi Kingdom was stark. Upon Obama’s arrival, King Salman dispatched only his distant nephew, the provincial governor of Riyadh, to meet the leader of the free world. The Obama White House did its best to save face, but the snub was a clear indication that tensions surrounding Iran nuclear deal, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, and Obama’s explicit antipathy toward the Saudi Kingdom as a nation unworthy of an alliance with America.

From Saudi Arabia, Trump traveled directly to Israel—itself a shift in convention—where he was also greeted warmly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife met the president and first lady at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Using his remarks alongside Trump to issue a veiled rebuke of Obama, Netanyahu noted: “We appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”

President Obama entered office with the objective of creating a new power balance in the region that would allow the United States to withdraw confidently. The former president’s stated belief that America’s alliance toward Israel “erodes our credibility with the Arab states” in combination with his mistrust toward Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt left him with few ways of achieving that goal. There’s a cosmic irony in the fact that Obama’s navel-gazing paved the way for a radically new and promising dynamic to emerge in the Middle East. Conceptually, the strategy Trump is pursuing in the Middle East is wildly divergent from his predecessors. He is effectively abandoning the idea that there can be no resolution of the Arab World’s hostility toward Israel without first creating a Palestinian state.

As recently as February, administration sources began providing details to the press about a proposed pan-Sunni military alliance designed to both counter Islamist extremism and a resurgent Iran. That alliance would include states with unfrozen relations with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, and nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which do not recognize the Jewish state. According to a recent bombshell report, however, the prospect of a radical relaxation in tensions between Israel and the Arab World is real.

As COMMENTARY’s Evelyn C. Gordon discussed, in exchange for Israeli technology and intelligence, a relaxation of the Gaza blockade, and the cessation of settlement construction in “some areas,” this Sunni alliance would “establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.” And all of this would occur with existing Palestinian realities utterly unchanged. Even if no further progress toward peace in the region is secured, that bell cannot be un-rung.

Donald Trump isn’t the first American president to benefit from warm feelings solely because he isn’t the last guy to have occupied the Oval Office. When it comes to the Middle East, crises and chaos have a habit of scuttling even the best-laid plans. Iranian power projection into places like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria has, however, created new avenues of cooperation between adversarial powers with a common enemy in Tehran. If Trump can translate this new reality into tangible accomplishment (a big “if”), he will have the makings of a potent argument for his presidency and a second term.

On foreign affairs, in particular, President Donald Trump has invited the wrath of the critics. He is “the world’s most undiplomatic” diplomat who has embraced illiberal and strategically inept “lame-stream diplomacy.” Indeed, his “rejection of traditional diplomacy for his own distinctive, brusque style has incurred costs without any visible offsetting benefits.” In his article “Is This the End of the Free World,” Abe Greenwald demonstrated that Trump has an appalling and lamentably familiar habit of alienating America’s natural allies. It’s a nasty feature of a distorted worldview, and it may result in the continued loss of allied faith in American vision and authority. For now, however, not only is the Middle East obviously thrilled for the Obama era to be over but that has provided Donald Trump with the opportunity for a real diplomatic triumph. A truly successful presidency in the Middle East may begin first with the abandonment of that burdensome, dog-eared diplomatic playbook.

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

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But of course, matters are not so simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Secure and Stabilize the Middle East

May 14, 2017

How to Secure and Stabilize the Middle East, Clarion ProjectShahriar Kia, May 14, 2017

An Iranian protester during the Green Revolution (Photo: Reuters)

The opinions below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Clarion Project.

In contrast to other countries that lack a opposition that can be trusted, Iran enjoys an internationally-recognized alternative based on democratic values acknowledged across the globe.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its pivotal member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), is the largest and most organized opposition in the face of the Iranian regime. The NCRI enjoys widespread support inside Iran and throughout the world, with the ability to organize an uprising against the regime in Tehran. Senior Iranian regime officials have acknowledged the time and again that the main threat compromising Iran’s entire regime apparatus is none other than the PMOI/MEK. To this end, they have focused their entire efforts on physically obliterating this Iranian opposition group.

In 2009, when the Iranian people took to the streets and demanded fundamental change, their efforts went unsupported due to Obama’s appeasement policy that sought to sign the nuclear deal with Tehran at all costs. This was an opportunity that enjoyed the potential of significantly decreasing existing Middle East crises. Today, the regime in Tehran is facing crises far more dangerous than 2009.

The correct Iran policy is supporting regime change by the Iranian people and their organized and legitimate resistance. By adopting such a stance, the international community can begin to confront Iran’s notorious influence in the region and its nuclear ambitions in order to spread security in a non-nuclear Middle East free of terrorism.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced at a press conference on April 19 that the White House is evaluating its policy on Iran. This policy overview will not merely cover the Iran nuclear deal, but will be a comprehensive look at all Iran-related issues.

At a press conference, Tillerson formalized Iran’s provocative and destructive measures in different fields.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel … An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea, and take the world along with it … Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, the region, and the world …” he said.

“Iran continues to have one of the world’s worst human rights records,” Tillerson added.

Defense Secretary James Mattis adopted a similar approach on April 22 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, saying, “But we’re talking about the Mideast at an inflection point. And I would just point out right now that among the many challenges the Mideast faces, I think Iran is actually foremost … The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Iran’s meddling has neutralized all efforts to resolve the region’s crises, said Bahrain Interior Minister Rashed bin Abdullah at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) session, adding the region faces threats that demand cooperation to confront. He emphasized the need for unity in Gulf positions regarding strategic matters.

What is the right Iran policy?

Supporters of the Iran appeasement approach believe the correct policy is to engage the mullahs’ regime and continue dialogue. They justify this approach for two reasons: first, to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and second, to attempt to establish change from within by supporting so-called “moderates” inside the regime apparatus.

This is the policy pursued during the Obama years without any political or strategic reservation, and also that of previous administrations throughout the past few decades.

However, rapprochement with Tehran not only failed to contain the mullahs’ ambitions and terrorism; in fact, it further encouraged the regime and plunged the entire Middle East into insecurity and instability.

The Wall Street Journal wrote in a recent piece, “President Donald Trump’s hard-line view on Iran was at odds with State Department diplomats.”

Yet, the solution placed forward by Obama and the State Department’s experienced diplomats resulted in Iran escalating its flagrant human rights violations and expanding its devious influence throughout the Middle East.

Others believe the right Iran policy is a military solution and the U.S. must launch airstrikes targeting Iran’s nuclear sites. Although this can deliver significant blows to Iran’s ambitions and disrupt the mullahs’ efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, the consequences on regional security and stability are controversial, placing the U.S. and its allies in yet another Middle East war.

What is the durable solution? Can we avoid war while bringing an end to the spread of extremism and terrorism across the globe?

Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in today’s world. Since the appeasement policy adopted by previous U.S. administrations has been fruitless in containing Iran and actually led to the current dangerous circumstances, the only viable long-term solution is to adopt a firm policy that hinges on regime change.

In contrast to other countries that lack a opposition that can be trusted, Iran enjoys an internationally-recognized alternative based on democratic values acknowledged across the globe.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its pivotal member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), is the largest and most organized opposition in the face of the Iranian regime. The NCRI enjoys widespread support inside Iran and throughout the world, with the ability to organize an uprising against the regime in Tehran. Senior Iranian regime officials have acknowledged the time and again that the main threat compromising Iran’s entire regime apparatus is none other than the PMOI/MEK. To this end, they have focused their entire efforts on physically obliterating this Iranian opposition group.

Following a visit paid by Senator John McCain to Albania and his meeting with Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, an analysis posted on April 27 in Iran Dideban, a state-sponsored outlet, made vivid the regime’s concern that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) failed to quell and destroy the PMOI/MEK.

“The IRGC’s involvement in Syria led to serious neglect. This inattention has surfaced, resulting in this group [MEK] gaining a more open hand to play a role in on-the-ground developments … It is worth noting this group has significant experience in organizing campaigns and can pose a potential security threat for the country. The use of social domestic networks inside the country and influencing grayscale correspondents are among the efforts of this group. This has launched a wave of disappointment among forces loyal to the establishment and state.”

In 2009, when the Iranian people took to the streets and demanded fundamental change, their efforts went unsupported due to Obama’s appeasement policy that sought to sign the nuclear deal with Tehran at all costs. This was an opportunity that enjoyed the potential of significantly decreasing existing Middle East crises. Today, the regime in Tehran is facing crises far more dangerous than 2009.

The correct Iran policy is supporting regime change by the Iranian people and their organized and legitimate resistance. By adopting such a stance, the international community can begin to confront Iran’s notorious influence in the region and its nuclear ambitions in order to spread security in a non-nuclear Middle East free of terrorism.

Iran: Destabilizing the Middle East Through Proxy Allies

May 11, 2017

Iran: Destabilizing the Middle East Through Proxy Allies, Clarion ProjectAmir Basiri, May 11, 2017

An Iranian Shiite militia in Iraq (Photo: Reuters)

It is a known fact throughout the region that the Islamic Republic of Iran founded the Lebanese Hezbollah as an offspring to expand its influence in the Middle East and gain a foothold on the shores of the Mediterranean.

U.S. National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster recently accused Tehran of imposing the “Hezbollah model” to gain influence over various Middle East states, destabilizing the region through the process.

Such a blueprint includes targeting vulnerable governments across the region through a variety of plots while, at the same time, backing armed militia groups stationed in those countries. Hezbollah has already managed to consolidate its influence over the government of Lebanon after Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, took control over the country’s presidency last year.

It has also become quite obvious that the United States, despite the highly flawed nuclear deal which supposedly aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear program, enjoys the leverage of pressuring Iran through the use of comprehensive sanctions. Tehran will likely not forget this obvious factor and knows the Trump administration can kick-start new sanctions whnever it deems necessary.

The new administration has already slapped the Iranian regime with two series of sanctions in the past three months and more can be expected.

The reference made by Trump’s national security adviser to “militias and other illegal armed groups” backed by Iran refers to the vast variety of Shiite militias in Iraq under the Baghdad-backed umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These groups have their parallel in Yemen with the Houthis, who are focusing their efforts on ousting the Western-backed government.

British researchers discovered evidence indicating without a doubt how Tehran is deeply involved in keeping a “weapons pipeline” up and running for Houthis.

At the same time, Tehran continues to harass the Saudis from their southern border and threaten international shipping lines passing through the strategic Bab el Mandab waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

This goes in line with a conglomerate of Shiite foot-soldiers Iran has rallied from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries for the bloodbath raging on in Syria after six long years.

Iran has abetted the barbaric tactics of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, further demonstrating its ill intentions across the region. The PMU and Hezbollah have boosted Tehran’s efforts and role in keeping Assad in power. They have all been accused of having played atrocious roles in unspeakable war crimes, with the Khan Shaykhoun chemical attack by Assad in Idlib Province of northern Syria acting as yet another stark reminder of this reality.

Iran’s destabilizing role in nations across the Arab and Islamic worlds has been on the rise significantly with news reports seen in recent months.

The Iraqi Parliament legitimized the PMU last November through the adoption of a law aimed at maintaining this entity’s command structure and hierarchy. Iraqi Sunnis, alongside all minorities in the country including Christians, Yazidi and others, are now left extremely concerned, knowing how this measure can actually legalize the brutal retaliation measures conducted by the Shiite militias.

While Iran’s “medddling” has become obvious to the international community, officially Tehran has continued to deny its role of fueling these Middle East conflicts.

In March, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi denied “any intervention in the internal affairs of Arab countries.” The irony lies in the fact that despite such remarks, Alireza Zakani, known to be a close confidante of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is also known to have boasted in remarks dating back to November 2014 of Iran controlling four Arab capitals following the Houthis’ capture of the Yemeni capital. The list included Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus.

Following eight years of the Obama administration’s disastrous Iran engagement policy, it is high time to make it crystal clear to Iran that such a trend will no longer be tolerated and must come to an end.

The Real War in ‘Syria’ and the Strategy for Long-Term Victory

April 7, 2017

The Real War in ‘Syria’ and the Strategy for Long-Term Victory, PJ MediaMichael Ledeen, April 6, 2017

(Iran is ripe for regime change and the sooner the better. Please see also, Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis? and All 15 Arab Summit resolutions blast Iran.– DM)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters, RTX34BQA)

Punishing Assad would be satisfying, but we’ve got a big war to win. It’s smarter and more effective to go after the regime in Tehran. Not militarily, but rather supporting the tens of millions of Iranians who detest the Khamenei regime. Call it political warfare, or subversion, or democratic revolution. It worked against the Soviet Empire, and there are good reasons to believe it would work in Iran as well. Most Iranians, suffering under the failed regime, want a freely chosen government that will address their problems instead of dispatching their husbands and sons sent to the battlefield.

Regime change in Iran would be devastating to Assad and Putin, and its positive effects would be felt in North Africa and our own hemisphere, striking at the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Latin America. And it would remind the tyrants that America’s greatest weapon is political. We are the most revolutionary country in the world, and we should act like it.

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Of course I loathe Assad. And of course I despise the Obamans for that phony red line and the subsequent retreat-and-bogus-Russian-deal. But just carrying out vengeance against Assad isn’t good enough. It fails to address the central problem of our time: the global anti-American alliance.

There is no Syria any more, and the enemy forces on the Middle Eastern battlefield come from various jihadi groups, and three regimes: Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus. We have to defeat them all, and other members of the enemy alliance, including Cuba and North Korea. Nikki Haley has it right: “The truth is that Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace.”

Indeed, they are waging war, and the principal force driving that war is not Assad, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s killers have been alongside Assad’s from the very beginning, as the survival of the Syrian dictator is crucial to Iranian ambitions and quite likely also the survival of the Islamic Republic itself. Listen to Defense Secretary James Mattis a few days ago (from Reuters):

Asked about comments Mattis made in 2012 that the three primary threats the United States faced were “Iran, Iran, Iran,” Mattis told reporters that Iran’s behavior had not changed in the years since.

“At the time when I spoke about Iran I was a commander of US central command and that (Iran) was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today,” Mattis said.

True, and Mattis’ characteristically strong language points the way to the best American action in the region, namely bringing down the Tehran regime. Lashing out at Assad isn’t nearly good enough. After all, what strategic objective would we accomplish by smashing, even removing, Assad? The Iranian and Russian fighters would still be there, as would the Islamist forces. The demands on our military would dramatically expand. We do not want to occupy a significant land mass in what used to be called Syria, nor do we seem to have sorted out what we want to do with the Turks and the Kurds.

Punishing Assad would be satisfying, but we’ve got a big war to win. It’s smarter and more effective to go after the regime in Tehran. Not militarily, but rather supporting the tens of millions of Iranians who detest the Khamenei regime. Call it political warfare, or subversion, or democratic revolution. It worked against the Soviet Empire, and there are good reasons to believe it would work in Iran as well. Most Iranians, suffering under the failed regime, want a freely chosen government that will address their problems instead of dispatching their husbands and sons sent to the battlefield.

Regime change in Iran would be devastating to Assad and Putin, and its positive effects would be felt in North Africa and our own hemisphere, striking at the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Latin America. And it would remind the tyrants that America’s greatest weapon is political. We are the most revolutionary country in the world, and we should act like it.

Forging a new approach to Iran

March 6, 2017

Forging a new approach to Iran, Washington Times, Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran, March 5, 2017

iranianoctopusIllustration on the continuing threat of Iran by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

By identifying the gross overreach by the Iranian regime and promising a swift, punitive response, the White House’s stance marked the end of a longstanding American policy of naive appeasement. In so doing, the Trump administration has rightly recognized the true source of instability and existential threat the region faces. Now, instead of issuing broad statements, it must act on a smart strategy for dismantling the key pillars of Iran’s international terror network and stunting the regime’s emboldened overreach.

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Even as the Trump administration seeks to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Iran continues its blatant defiance of international norms. Promising “roaring missiles” if threatened, Tehran has test fired several ballistic weapons capable of delivering nuclear material in just the past month. A fundamentally weak regime with dated military capabilities, Iran is attempting to call the United States’ bluff, perhaps to gain leverage in any subsequent re-evaluations of the nuclear deal Tehran struck with the Obama administration. Several blistering statements from the White House backed by a round of sanctions presage the administration’s muscular new approach. But if it hopes to secure the region, it must systematically target the core destabilizing activities of the regime.

In a steady stream of denunciations, the White House pledged tougher U.S. action if the mullahs continue to violate international norms through illicit missile tests, making clear that the Obama era of appeasement is over. “Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened,” an official White House statement read. “We are officially putting Iran on notice.” While many Iranian officials dismissed President Trump’s tough talk on the nuclear deal as empty campaign rhetoric, the president’s appointment of fellow anti-regime hardliner Gen. James Mattis demonstrates his intention to deliver.

Perhaps more importantly, the White House has also challenged the regime’s extended proxy offensives against U.S. allies and friends in the neighborhood. Such actions “underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East,” the White House statement continued. Contrary to President Obama’s Middle East policy of abandoning friends and allies and trying to make friends with the adversaries, the Trump administration will fully support its friends. Specifically, this stance challenges Iran’s practice of hiding behind Hezbollah and Houthis militants as it funds and trains them.

Holding a vastly dated arsenal of weapons, Iran is no match for U.S. firepower, leaving only backchannel mercenaries to promote regional dominance. The White House acknowledged this dynamic, specifically characterizing the affront against Saudi forces as being “conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants.” This link was never recognized by the Obama administration. Such oversight left Iran free to grow and strengthen its hand in these groups, which terrorize the region and undermine our partners. If the Trump administration will craft a strategy for stunting Iran’s proxy network, particularly by cutting funding and armament flows, the region would be far safer and more stable.

Noting Mr. Trump’s concerns about the nuclear deal being “weak and ineffective”, the Trump administration addressed a third key issue in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Rapidly losing money and influence, the nuclear deal allowed the regime to avoid military confrontation over its development program for which it was grossly unprepared. And despite the intention of weakening the regime and strengthening the Iranian people, rushed U.S. concessions granted the regime an eleventh-hour trickle of lifeblood, both financially and symbolically. By rolling sanctions back, destabilizing behavior was ostensibly met with an influx of funds. As such, the deal signaled that military action against Iran was highly improbable, thus essentially greenlighting the illicit activity that effected warnings and sanctions from the White House over the past month. And despite official remarks by Iranian officials denouncing these statements as naive and weak, the regime would be in dire straits if America turns off the faucet opened by the nuclear deal.

Finally, the administration’s condemnation for Iran’s broader support for terrorism demonstrated clear perspective on the direct threat it poses to international security. In addition to supporting Hezbollah, Iran is currently involved in a life-and-death battle in Syria that includes continuous weapon and militant transfer from Iran to Syria. President Bashar Assad’s downfall in Syria would destroy the linchpin of Iran’s terror apparatus.

Further, any sustainable resolution calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria, culling both activity in the country and a pipeline to Hezbollah via the porous borders between Syria and Libya. As Iran finds itself backed into a corner by its regional export of terror, Mr. Trump and his team have many cards to play.

By identifying the gross overreach by the Iranian regime and promising a swift, punitive response, the White House’s stance marked the end of a longstanding American policy of naive appeasement. In so doing, the Trump administration has rightly recognized the true source of instability and existential threat the region faces. Now, instead of issuing broad statements, it must act on a smart strategy for dismantling the key pillars of Iran’s international terror network and stunting the regime’s emboldened overreach.

Ahead of Netanyahu-Trump talks, Abbas woos Iran

February 13, 2017

Ahead of Netanyahu-Trump talks, Abbas woos Iran, DEBKAfile, February 13, 2017

He is warning Trump that the US embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem and the strengthening of US-Israeli ties would be countered by a parallel enhancement of Palestinian relations with Tehran. The message to Vladmir Putin is that, even though he is fully engaged in Syria, he can’t afford to abandon the Palestinians; Abdel-Fatteh El- Sisi, the Gulf rulers and Jordan’s monarch are put on notice that if they have a problem with rising Iranian influence in Baghdad, they had better be prepared to find Tehran’s imprint in Ramallah too.

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EXCLUSIVE: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has pivoted towards Iran in a move to pre-empt a possibly impending US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the friendly talks scheduled to take place in Washington Wednesday, Feb. 15, between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

This is revealed by DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources.

Our sources report that the Abbas has opened a direct channel of communications between Ramallah and Tehran as a permanent fixture. Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub is in charge of the Palestinian end of the relationship and will lead the first official Palestinian delegation to Tehran.

For some months now, he has served as Abbas’s senior spokesman and the Palestinian Authority’s “foreign minister.” In the third week of January, Rajoub declared: “In our opinion moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a declaration of war on the Muslims.”

Two weeks ago, Palestinian and Iranian delegations met secretly for the first time in a European country. Two more encounters followed and dealt with such urgent matters as the fate of Palestinians stranded on Syria’s battlefronts and in former refugee camps. They also discussed the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and their problematic relations with Iran’s Shiite surrogate, Hizballah.

At their third meeting, the Iranian delegates asked where the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah stood vis-a-vis a political resolution of the Syrian conflict. They decided to talk about this some more at the next Iranian-Palestinian meeting on a date this month and a location yet to be arranged.

As part of his pivot towards Tehran, Abbas made sure to send the Palestinian Authority’s warm congratulations to Iran’s rulers on the anniversary of their Islamic revolution: He asked God “to bring more stability and prosperity to Iran and its brotherly people as they celebrate this occasion, and more progress and advancement the brotherly relations between our peoples.”

Abu Mazen’s pro-Iranian shift is intended as a signal to five parties, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report: President Trump, the Presidents of Russian and Egypt, the rulers of the Gulf Emirates and King Abdullah of Jordan.

He is warning Trump that the US embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem and the strengthening of US-Israeli ties would be countered by a parallel enhancement of Palestinian relations with Tehran. The message to Vladmir Putin is that, even though he is fully engaged in Syria, he can’t afford to abandon the Palestinians; Abdel-Fatteh El- Sisi, the Gulf rulers and Jordan’s monarch are put on notice that if they have a problem with rising Iranian influence in Baghdad, they had better be prepared to find Tehran’s imprint in Ramallah too.