Posted tagged ‘Iran – Saudi Arabia’

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing

May 20, 2017

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing, PBS via YouTube, May 20, 2017

 

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.

Iran’s latest terrorist plots

March 9, 2017

Iran’s latest terrorist plots, American ThinkerHeshmat Alavi, March 9, 2017

Iran is continuing its blatant belligerence against the international community, especially the Middle East, despite President Donald Trump and his administration threatening to take major action. During the past month alone Iran has test launched a number of ballistic missiles enjoying the capability of delivering a nuclear payload. This includes last weekend’s pair of ballistic missile launches.

Knowing its military capabilities are outdated and limited, Iran is resorting to a range of different terrorist measures in an attempt to maintain the leverage gained through the preposterous concessions they enjoyed during the Obama years.

The most recent scenario involves fast-attack vessels approaching a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in the Strait of Hormuz in a threatening manner described as “unsafe and unprofessional” in a recent statement.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, under major discussion in Washington to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization, has suffered a major blow after the discovery of a terrorist network in Bahrain. This unveils, yet again, further aspects of Iran’s unbridled meddling in the region.

The IRGC Bahrain network consists of 54 members focusing on planning and executing terrorist plots. To date, 25 such individuals have been arrested. These individuals were coordinating with Tehran to assassinate, terrorize, and target Bahrain security forces.

Following their raids, Bahrain authorities announced a significant cache of arms, explosives, and ammunition were also confiscated.

All individuals are reportedly Bahrain natives, further indicating the sophistication of Iran’s blueprints in using locals for such plots. Following their arrest, it was revealed the cells received support from both Iran and Lebanon, procuring arms or coordinates where such logistics were hidden. In the past weeks Bahrain witnessed two bomb blasts killing and injuring civilians, and most specifically, Shiite Muslims. This can be assumed as an attempt to instigate Shiite dissent in the small Gulf island.

It is crystal clear how the IRGC commanded this proxy group, as the individual calling the shots is currently in Iran. Other members of this group are even stationed in Iraq and directly involved in the attacks carried out in Bahrain.

Iran also has intentions to increase its use of suicidal drone boats in Yemen through the Houthi militias. The U.S. Navy command issued a recent warning over this threat against ships in the Red Sea. This warning follows a recent revelation of the Houthis obtaining drone boats in their attack against a Saudi Navy frigate.

Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander of the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet and head of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, accused Iran of supporting the Houthis in preparing such boats.

This new development can pose a major threat to shipping lines in strategic naval routes, Donegan said in an interview with Defense News, adding that terrorist groups can now obtain such lethal boats.

It is worth noting that the attack on the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah on January 30th was carried out with a remote-controlled drone suicide boat packed with explosives. This was the first such attack resembling actual suicide attacks in the past.

The U.S. has recently issued a warning that the Iran-backed Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah are placing underwater mines in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait passage near the entrance of Port Mokha.

The Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, narrowing to 25 kilometers in width at some points, is of grave importance for global shipping lines, providing access to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean Sea. Much of the world’s oil and other goods are transferred through these very strategic waterways.

More than 60 ships containing commercial goods pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait each day, carrying around 3.3 million barrels of crude oil. The U.S. Navy’s warning indicates the closing of such a crucial water passage can lead to major financial costs and a significant rise in global oil prices.

Further reports also indicate that Iran is having a tough time digesting a series of defeats suffered by the Houthis in Yemen. In response, Iran is weighing the possibility of dispatching Shiite militias from Iraq to Yemen, according to Khalij Online. As the fighting has decreased in Iraq, Tehran may dispatch units of the 140,000-strong Popular Mobilization Front, consisting of 54 different sectarian militia groups, to Yemen.

In an international scene undergoing drastic changes, all of them threatening Iran’s short and long-term interests, the mullahs in Tehran are desperately searching for a method to both keep a straight face and maintain their previous leverage across the Middle East.

Such developments gain even more importance as we inch closer to Iran’s presidential elections in May, when the regime in its entirety will face a major test.

Saudi spy chief visits Israel, Ramallah

February 22, 2017

Saudi spy chief visits Israel, Ramallah, DEBKAfile, February 22, 2017

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The director of Saudi Arabia’s General intelligence agency, Khalid Bin Ali Al Humaidan, paid surprise visits to Ramallah and Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 21-22. Neither Palestinian nor Israeli officials have confirmed that the visit took place.

Last week, DEBKA Weekly carried an exclusive report that Iranian engineers were working round the clock on a project dubbed “Riyadh First,” for adding an extra 100km to the intermediate range of the Scud-C (600km) and Scud-D (700km) surface missiles, to enable them to reach the Saudi capital and explode in the center of Riyadh. The project, which is going forward at the Al Ghadi base in Big Ganesh, 48km west or Tehran, was ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

This plan was behind the threat made by IRGC Air Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the start of an Iranian military exercise: “Should the enemy make a mistake, our roaring missiles will rain down on them,” he said.

Gen. Hajizadeh, who is in charge of the missile testing site, ordered all other work halted in order to concentrate on the fast-track “Riyadh First” Scud development project.

On Feb. 4, Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis fired a missile which they claimed was a homemade Borkan with a range of 800km into Saudi Arabia. It struck the al-Mazahimiyah military camp west of Riyadh.

According to our military sources, the Houthis don’t possess a missile of that range. Their attack was in fact the first test of the newly-extended Iranian Scud, as a dress rehearsal for the real strike.

If the visit by the Saudi spy chief is confirmed, he will have come for several missions. In Ramallah, he would have warned the Palestinians not to go through with their bid to strengthen direct ties with Tehran (which was first revealed by DEBKAfile on Feb. 13). The first meeting of Iranian and Palestinian delegations has already taken place in Brussels.

In Jerusalem, Al-Huymaidan may have explored security issues related to the US-Israeli-Arab regional conference proposed by US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they met in Washington on Feb. 15.

DEBKAfile’s sources note that the Saudi spy chief is a professional soldier and the first commoner to hold the post of Director of Saudi General Intelligence. Among his predecessors were high-ranking princes such as Bandar Bin Sultan, Turki Bin Faisal and Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz.

‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: We Must Form ‘Arab NATO’ To Confront Iran

February 22, 2017

‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: We Must Form ‘Arab NATO’ To Confront Iran, MEMRI, February 22, 2017

In February 2017, prominent Saudi journalist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and former director of Alarabiya TV, published two articles calling to take a firm position vis-à-vis Iran and even form an “Arab NATO” to confront the alliance Iran has formed with Iraq and Syria.

The following are excerpts from the articles, as published in English by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and Alarabiya, respectively:

alrashed‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (image: alarabiya.net)

In one article,[1] Al-Rashed criticized the claim that U.S. President Donald Trump’s declarations against the Iran agreement strengthen the radicals there. He argued that Iran’s belligerence since the signing of the agreement proves that openness and flexibility towards it, like the policy pursued by Obama, only encourage it to escalate its aggression. He added that the radical camp in Iran has controlled the country since the Islamic Revolution, while the moderate camp is merely a front used to encourage the West to be lenient with Iran. Hence, policy towards Iran should be firm:

“Nothing happened during three decades to prove that there’s real competition between radicals and moderates inside the [Iranian] ruling command. Major events rather confirmed that the authority was in fact under the control of the radicals, while moderates were just front men. President Hassan Rouhani and his FM Zarif both represented the moderates and they succeeded [in] winning over the administration of former president Barack Obama. They also managed to convince the administration that lifting sanctions and encouraging Iran’s openness were [in] the interest of moderate figures, the region and the whole world.

“Once again, evidence suggested this assumption was wrong. [The] Iranian leadership became more aggressive than ever and for the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the regime dared to expand its military activity outside its borders. It is currently participating in and funding four wars outside of Iran. All of this was possible due to the nuclear deal that paved the way for better relations, trade and activity and kept silent over Iran’s threats to the region.

“Trump’s extremist rhetoric is a natural outcome of the disappointment [that] prevailed [in] Washington due to Iran’s behavior after signing the deal. Things will keep on getting worse unless a strict international position against Iran’s adventures is taken and unless Iran is forced to end the chaos it is funding in the region and the world.

“Those familiar with the Iranian regime’s [actions] cannot believe the excuses being made by Iran’s allies which stipulate that being lenient with Iran [may cause it to have a] positive [attitude to] the rest of the world. The nature of the regime in Tehran is religious with a revolutionary ideology. It has a political agenda that has not changed much since it attacked the American embassy in Tehran and held diplomats hostage [in 1979]. The same logic leads us to conclude that Iran will dominate [by] using power via its proxies and militias across the region and [by] encouraging and supporting the rebellious behavior of certain local parties in neighboring countries.

“Iran has not changed much since it announced it plans to export revolutions to the world. The only change that happened is that its financial and military situations improved a lot thanks to the nuclear deal it signed with the West.”

In another article,[2] Al-Rashed wrote that Iran has exploited the political vacuum that formed in the region in recent years, as well as the Obama administration’s policy, including the nuclear agreement with it, to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In light of this, he advised: “Military cooperation, under any umbrella, is a good idea and a necessary step, especially if expanded beyond [military cooperation]. Establishing an alliance to confront Iran is an essential balance to respond to its military alliance that includes Iraq and Syria.

“Iran also cooperates with Russia and the latter has a military base in Iran. The Russians strongly participate in the war in Syria alongside this Iranian alliance. Tehran has strengthened its alliance by bringing armed militias from Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries into Syria and they are fighting there under its banner. Iranian forces, in the guise of ‘experts,’ are fighting in Iraq and to some extent manage the conflict there. Therefore, establishing an Arab NATO… remains a natural reaction to Iran’s ‘Warsaw Pact.'”

 

 

[1] For the Arabic version of this article see: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 12, 2017; for the English version see: english.aawsat.com, February 13, 2017. The English text has been lightly edited for clarity.

[2] For the Arabic version of the article see: -Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 20, 2017; for the English version see: alarabiya.net, February 21, 2017. The English text has been lightly edited for clarity.

Iran tests ballistic missile in defiance of UN resolution, US officials say

January 30, 2017

Iran tests ballistic missile in defiance of UN resolution, US officials say, Fox News, January 30, 2017

President Trump on Sunday spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, a conversation in which the two “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” the White House said in a statement.

A ballistic missile launch could potentially fall under “destabilizing regional activities.”

The launch also comes a day before Jordan’s King Abdullah arrived in Washington for meetings with Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis.

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Iran conducted a ballistic missile test in yet another apparent violation of a United Nations resolution, U.S. officials told Fox News on Monday.

The launch occurred at a well-known test site outside Semnan, about 140 miles east of Tehran, on Sunday.

The Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said. Iran defense minister Brigadier Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in September that Iran would start production of the missile.

U.N. resolution 2231 — put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed — calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct such tests. However, this is at least Iran’s second such test since July. The resolution bars Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years and went into effect July 20, 2015.

Iran is “called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” according to the text of the resolution.

The landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, however, does not include provisions preventing Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests, and Iran claims the tests are legitimate because they are not designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

President Trump on Sunday spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, a conversation in which the two “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” the White House said in a statement.

A ballistic missile launch could potentially fall under “destabilizing regional activities.”

The launch also comes a day before Jordan’s King Abdullah arrived in Washington for meetings with Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis.

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen

November 29, 2016

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen, Front Page MagazineJoseph Puder, November 29, 2016

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Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.” 

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Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians.  8,146 of them men, 597 women, and 903 children, from January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 in 16 Yemeni provinces.  According to Shami Al-Daheri, a military analyst and strategic expert, the Houthis are being led by Iran and follow Tehran’s orders.  “They are moving in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria following Tehran’s orders.  If the country sees there is pressure on its supporters in Iraq, it issues orders to the Houthis in Yemen to carry out more criminal acts in order to divert attention and ease pressure on its proxies in these countries.”

The brutality of the Iran led campaign in Syria, and U.S. voices calling for some form of intervention, might have prompted Tehran to give the Houthis a green light to attack American naval ships. The Houthis fired three missiles at the U.S. Navy ship USS Mason last month, in all probability following Tehran’s orders. In retaliation, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, destroying three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  These radar installations were active during previous attacks, and attempted attacks on ships navigating the Red Sea. The USS Mason did not sustain any damage.  U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said that he suspected Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic to be behind the twice launched missiles by the Houthi rebels against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.

Al-Arabiya TV (August 16, 2016) claimed that Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that missiles made in Tehran were also recently used in Yemen by Houthi militias in cross border attacks against Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis it seems, were able to intercept the Iranian manufactured Zelzal-3 rockets, also delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad regime forces in Syria.  The rockets were fired into the Saudi border city of Najran, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.  The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis in an effort to restore the internationally-recognized Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The conflict in Yemen has its recent roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring a measure of stability to Yemen following an uprising in November, 2011 (The Year of the Arab Spring) that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.  President Hadi had to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the South, the loyalty of many of the army officers to the former President Saleh, as well as, unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.

The Zaidi-Shiite Houthi minority captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa on September 21, 2014. They were helped by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have provided the rebel Houthis with arms, training, and money.  As fellow Shiite-Muslims, the Houthis became another Iranian proxy harnessed to destabilize the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia.  Since 2004, the Houthis have fought the central government of Yemen from their stronghold of Saadah in northern Yemen.  The Houthis are named after Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who headed the insurgency in 2004 and was subsequently killed by Yemeni army forces.  The Houthis, who are allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, against Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the legitimate President of Yemen, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.

The Houthis launched a series of military rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decade. Recently, sensing the new president’s (Hadi) weakness, they took control of their Northern heartland of Saadah province and neighboring areas.  Disillusioned by the transition of power and Hadi’s weakness, many Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the Houthi onslaught.  In January, 2015, the Houthis surrounded the Presidential palace in Sanaa, placing President Hadi and his cabinet under virtual house arrest. The following month, President Hadi managed to escape to the Southern port city of Aden.

Yemen is another flashpoint in the conflict between Shiite-Muslim Iran and Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia, over regional power and influence.  Sanaa, along with Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut are Arab capitals now forming the so called Shiite “arc of influence.”   In Baghdad, the site of the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate, the Shiites dominate the government of Haider al-Abadi.  In Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad Sunni Caliphate, Bashar Assad, an Alawi (offshoot of Shiite Islam) dictator, is ruling over a Sunni majority in a state of civil war.  Iran, its Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi Shiite militias, and the Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah, are fighting Sunni Islamists, and genuine Syrian Sunnis, who are frustrated with being ruled by a minority dictator.  Beirut is dominated by Hezbollah, the only group allowed to carry arms, whose power exceeds that of the Lebanese army, and whose masters in Tehran set its priorities.

Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.”

Gen. Lamb asserted that “the tragedy of Yemen is that it has become, over the decades, a sphere of contested influence between the grand masters of Empire and superpowers: East against West, Communism versus Capitalism.  Today, it is Iranian backed Shiite revivalism against Sunni status quo, an emerging order versus an existing order.”  According to Gen. Lamb, Tehran has dissuaded the Houthis from accepting a U.N. peace plan in favor of creating its own “supreme political council” to challenge the legitimate Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

It is tempting for Tehran to enter the exposed underbelly of Saudi Arabia though the Houthis control of Northern Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia. It is however, too expensive a proposition for the Islamic Republic to have to fund another proxy – a failing state like Yemen.  While Hezbollah requires millions of dollars in support, Yemen would require billions.  Iran is spending a great deal in support of the Assad regime in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and loyalist Iraqi Shiite militias.  Iran would nevertheless like to control the sea lanes into the Red Sea and have access to the Bab Al Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.  This would provide it with a strategic vantage point in threatening the U.S. and the West.

Iran’s meddling in Yemen is another example of its Shiite revivalism, and its challenge of the existing Middle East order, regardless of the cost in human lives that its proxies (Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi Shiite militias) are inflicting.