Posted tagged ‘Iranian proxies’

How Iran Tried to Turn Arab States into Fading Ghosts

November 12, 2017

How Iran Tried to Turn Arab States into Fading Ghosts, Gatestone InstituteAmir Taheri, November 12, 2017

Tehran also exerts political influence through at least part of the Ad-Daawa (“The Call”) party. However, Iran’s hope of creating a second Lebanon in Iraq has not succeeded because many Iraqis resent Iranian domination while the grand ayatollahs of Najaf regard the Khomeinist regime in Tehran as an abomination.

The mullah’s scheme in Syria has also run into trouble because of Russian intervention and President Vladimir Putin’s determination that Syria’s future is decided in Moscow and not in Tehran.

Hariri’s resignation may be a sign that the Arabs are no longer prepared to grin and bear it as Tehran dismantles their state structures by creating doubles to their armies and transforming their governments into puppets with their strings pulled from the Iranian Embassy.

Tehran’s scheme for dominating the Arab states may have reached its limits; the rapid advance of the mullahs may now be followed with a roll-back. And that could mean the return of political frontiers and loyalties based on citizenship not religious sect.

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If history is a stage on which the fate of nations is played out, knowing when to step in and when to bow out is of crucial importance. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and, even worse, in the wrong context, could lead to loss and grief.

These may have been some of the thoughts that Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri may have had in mind when he decided to throw in the towel rather than pretend to exercise an office without being able to do so in any effective manner. Hariri realized that he was in office but not in power.

Whatever the reason for Hariri’s departure, I think he was right to withdraw from a scenario aimed at turning Lebanon into a ghost of a state with a ghost of a president and ghost prime minister and parliament.

Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. (Image source: kremlin.ru)

That scenario was written in Tehran in the early 1980s with the creation of the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah by then Iranian Ambassador to Damascus Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-pour. The original idea had taken shape in 1975, when Ayatollah Hadi Ghaffari created the first branch of Hezbollah in Tehran to fight the Shah. By 1977, clandestine branches had been created in Turkey and Kuwait.

The hope was to fade out political frontiers, often created by accidents of history or designs of empires, and replace them with religious frontiers. The aim was to create an archipelago of Shi’ite communities across the Middle East, linked together through a network of religious-political organizations controlled by Iran.

The rationale for this was that throughout Islamic history, the element binding people together was allegiance to a version of the religion (Arabic: Mazhab) rather than political concepts such as citizenship of a state.

The fall of the Shah and the seizure of power in Tehran by mullahs gave the scheme a new impetus by putting Iran’s resources at its disposal.

However, very soon it became apparent that the grand design could not be realized without destroying or at least weakening Western-style state structures already in place. The states targeted had more or less strong armed forces that would resist an Iranian takeover.

This was precisely what happened in Turkey, where attempts by the Hezbollah branch to make a splash were crushed by the army.

In Iraq, a premature takeover bid by Khomeini gave Saddam Hussein an excuse to invade Iran and start an eight-year war.

In Syria, according to the memoirs of General Hussein Hamadani, who led the Iranian military contingent there, the national army did all it could to prevent Tehran from creating power bases of its own. The situation in Syria changed only when the nation was plunged into civil war by President Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless repression of peaceful protests.

The mullahs learned from their experience in Iran.

Soon after they seized power by a combination of freakish circumstances, Khomeini realized that he would never win the loyalty of existing state structures, while being unable to destroy them altogether.

Thus, he developed the strategy known as “parallelism” (movazi-sazi in Persian).

He created the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a parallel to the national army. Islamic courts were set up as parallels to state courts based on laws inspired by the Napoleonic Code. The Majlis (parliament) found its parallel in the Assembly of Experts.

Applied to other Middle Eastern countries, this strategy was known as tohi-sazi or “emptying of content”.

The first place this was put into practice was Lebanon.

Iran created a Shi’ite militia to “parallel” the regular Lebanese army. Then, through Hezbollah, Tehran also recruited allies among other Lebanese communities and transformed the Lebanese parliament into a toothless bulldog. Finally, Tehran succeeded in propelling its candidate into the presidency, and secured effective power of veto in the Council of Ministers.

All that costs a lot of money.

According to the current Iranian national budget, Iran is spending an average of $60 million a month in Lebanon, most of it through Hezbollah. Consequently, as President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech last month, nothing can be done in Lebanon without Iran’s say-so.

The Lebanese branch of Hezbollah has given Iran value for money to the point of sustaining thousands of casualties in combat in the 2006 mini-war with Israel and, more importantly, the campaign to crush Assad’s opponents in Syria.

In Iraq, the Iranian scheme has had partial results.

Tehran created the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of 17 Shi’ite militias, plus the Islamic Peshmergas (Kurdish fighters hired by Tehran) to parallel the Iraqi national army and the military force of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region government.

Tehran also exerts political influence through at least part of the Ad-Daawa (“The Call”) party. However, Iran’s hope of creating a second Lebanon in Iraq has not succeeded because many Iraqis resent Iranian domination while the grand ayatollahs of Najaf regard the Khomeinist regime in Tehran as an abomination.

The mullah’s scheme in Syria has also run into trouble because of Russian intervention and President Vladimir Putin’s determination that Syria’s future is decided in Moscow and not in Tehran.

Tehran’s scheme has had partial success in Yemen.

Iran’s surrogates, the Houthis, succeeded in creating a parallel army in the shape of Ansar Allah, but failed to fully clip the wings of the regular army. The Houthis also reduced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a shadow of his past but could not fully get rid of him. On top of that, the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention has dealt a decisive blow to Tehran’s hope of doing another Lebanon in Yemen.

In the case of Qatar and Oman, Tehran used Finlandization, allowing them to enjoy tranquility in exchange for splitting the Arab ranks and toeing the mullahs’ line on key issues.

When Muhammad Morsi took over as Egypt’s elected president, Tehran tried to sell its scenario in Cairo as well.

Former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati was sent to Egypt with a letter from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In it, Khamenei called on Morsi to disband the Egyptian army and create a parallel military force to “guard the revolution”. The proposed scheme was never applied either because, as Velayati and Khamenei claim, Morsi rejected it or the Egyptian army pre-empted it by deposing Morsi.

Hariri’s resignation may be a sign that the Arabs are no longer prepared to grin and bear it as Tehran dismantles their state structures by creating doubles to their armies and transforming their governments into puppets with their strings pulled from the Iranian Embassy.

Tehran’s scheme for dominating the Arab states may have reached its limits; the rapid advance of the mullahs may now be followed with a roll-back. And that could mean the return of political frontiers and loyalties based on citizenship not religious sect.

Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Iran threatens to hit Saudi, Abu Dhabi and Dubai air and sea ports, ships more missiles to Yemeni Houthis

November 8, 2017

Iran threatens to hit Saudi, Abu Dhabi and Dubai air and sea ports, ships more missiles to Yemeni Houthis, DEBKAfile, November 8, 2017

Our sources also report that Iranian experts have managed of late to lengthen the range of the ballistic missiles shipped to Yemen. The Burkan 2H, which Yemeni Houthis aimed at Riyadh airport last Saturday, Nov. 4 – and was intercepted – had a range of 1,000km.  The latest model of this missile has an extended range of between 1,500 and 1,600km. But it remains to be seen if Tehran is also providing the Houthis with the high-precision missiles delivered to the Lebanese Hizballah.

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Military tensions rise in the Gulf region amid Iranian threats and supplies of extended-range missiles to the Yemeni insurgents.

Tehran has warned Riyadh that unless the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports is lifted, Revolutionary Guards missiles supplied to the Yemeni Houthi insurgents will be loosed against the seaports and airfields of Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The warning was forwarded to their governments through the Omani back channel.

The Iranians informed Riyadh that by cutting off Yemen’s lifeline, the oil kingdom exposed itself and its allies to retaliation in kind.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources add that, to give their warning sharp teeth, the Revolutionary Guards have been pumping fresh supplies of new surface missiles to Yemen by sea. Although the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates maintain fleets in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea routes of access around Yemen, none ran interference to the missile shipments. Such action would entail halting the Iranian freighters and confronting the missile-armed Iranian warships and submarines escorting them.

Our sources also report that Iranian experts have managed of late to lengthen the range of the ballistic missiles shipped to Yemen. The Burkan 2H, which Yemeni Houthis aimed at Riyadh airport last Saturday, Nov. 4 – and was intercepted – had a range of 1,000km.  The latest model of this missile has an extended range of between 1,500 and 1,600km. But it remains to be seen if Tehran is also providing the Houthis with the high-precision missiles delivered to the Lebanese Hizballah.

In an interview on Sunday, Nov. 6, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir charged that Hizballah officers posted to Yemen had actually fired the Burkan missile at Riyadh airport from northern Yemen. The Saudis have not disclosed details on how and at what point it was intercepted.

Within range of the extended-range missiles are the UAE’s Khalifa Port, Zayed Port and Mirfa Port, the backbone of the emirate’s free trade zone and the main source of its prosperous economy. With the rising military tension in the Gulf region in the last few days, air defense missile batteries have been deployed at those ports and the UAE air force, one of the largest in the Gulf, placed on high alert.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels threaten to attack Israel with missiles

October 1, 2017

Yemen’s Houthi rebels threaten to attack Israel with missiles, DEBKAfile, October 1, 2017

While Israel has no reason to fear an Iranian missile attack on its soil by Yemeni insurgents as yet,  its Red Sea shipping is definitely vulnerable to the P-20 (Chinese Silkworm) shore-to-ship weapon, a kind of cruise missile, which the Houthis have available for shooting at the Israeli war fleet and merchant vessels sailing in the Red Sea to and from the Gulf of Aqaba.

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Israel heard a new threat this week from an entirely new quarter, Yemen’s rebel Houthis. Their military spokesman, Col, Aziz Rashid, said Sunday, Oct. 1, in reference to Israeli bases in Eritrea: “Israel’s military bases in Africa are within range of Houthi missiles,” adding, if necessary, “Our forces would soon have missiles capable of reaching Israel itself.”

He did not need to spell out where those missiles come from. It is no secret that the Houthis are amply armed and supplied with intermediate range ballistic missiles from a single source, their sponsor, Iran.

Interestingly, the spokesman mentioned missiles able to cover the 1,720km distance between northern Yemen and the Israeli port of Eilat. However, according to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the Yemeni insurgents don’t have missiles with that sort of range. Tehran has given them Borkan-1 and Borkan-2 tactical ballistic missiles, whose ranges are respectively 800km and 1,400km. Both are short of the distance to Israel.

In the past year, the Houthis fired a number of missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia, leader of the coalition fighting their insurgency. Some were aimed at the capital Riyadh. Two fell short near the Yemeni border and one hit a military target outside the Saudi capital. But most of the others were either intercepted by Saudi anti-missile defenses or exploded on open ground far wide of target.

While Israel has no reason to fear an Iranian missile attack on its soil by Yemeni insurgents as yet,  its Red Sea shipping is definitely vulnerable to the P-20 (Chinese Silkworm) shore-to-ship weapon, a kind of cruise missile, which the Houthis have available for shooting at the Israeli war fleet and merchant vessels sailing in the Red Sea to and from the Gulf of Aqaba.

Exactly a year ago, a Houthi missile struck a United Arab Emirate warship and set it on fire. Ten days later, on Oct. 10, they launched missiles against the USS Mason destroyer and drew an American retaliatory blow to their missile batteries.

More recently, on September 14, the Houthi leader, Abdulmalek Badruddin Al-Houthi, declared that the UAE is within his forces’ missile range. He noted that he spoke from experience after a successful test launch at the oil emirates, which is 1,500km away. He did not say when the test took place or which missiles were fired. But he went on to boast that his army possessed drones capable of cruising through Saudi air space.

The Houthi spokesman’s threat Sunday of a missile attack on Israel was the second time in a month that the Yemeni insurgents had referred to new Iranian long-range missiles for attacking a nation accused of siding with Saudi Arabia.

They claim Israel has become involved in the Yemen war by providing the Saudis with intelligence from its reconnaissance fleet which is based at the Eritrean port of Assab just 97km across the sea from the Yemeni coast.

Israel has never acknowledged those bases, but foreign sources began reporting in 2012 the discovery of Israeli war ships and submarines in permanent berths at Assab port, as well as an early warning station built there.

The new Persian Empire

September 29, 2017

The new Persian Empire, Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May, September 29, 2017

Decades ago, Khomeini envisioned what now seems to be coming to pass. In his 1970 book, “Velayat-e faqih” (also known as “Islamic Government”) he wrote: “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam.” Over time, he expected Iran to become so powerful that “none of the governments existing in the world would be able to resist it; they would all capitulate.”

It’s essential that Trump and his advisers grasp what too many others still have not: Iran’s rulers represent a cause, the fulfillment of “a dream of imperial rule,” as Kissinger phrased it. If the United States does not stop them – if, on the contrary, they continue to manipulate Americans into assisting and enabling them in Syria and elsewhere – no one else will stand in their way.

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Eleven years ago, Henry Kissinger famously said that Iran’s rulers must “decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation.” If the latter, Iranian and American interests would be “compatible.” As for the former: “If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America is unavoidable.”

Since then, Iran’s rulers have left no room for doubt. They’ve been aggressively spreading their Islamic Revolution and constructing what can only be called a new Persian Empire. That will surprise no one who has seriously studied the ideology of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic. What might: Their project has received significant support from the United States.

I’m not suggesting that was the intention of American policymakers. But it’s certainly been the result. The toppling of Saddam Hussein by President George W. Bush in 2003 eliminated Iran’s archenemy and rival. That might not have been a serious dilemma had Iraq subsequently been transformed into a reliable American ally.

But you know what came next: an insurgency, waged by al-Qaida in Iraq reinforced by Saddam loyalists. Iranian-backed Shia militias also went to war against American troops in Iraq. Eventually, Bush ordered the “surge.” American troops under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus fought alongside Sunni tribes brutalized by al-Qaida and fearful of Iran. In the end, this alliance decimated jihadi forces in Iraq – Sunni and Shia alike.

By 2011, Iraq was, as then-President Barack Obama declared, “sovereign” and “stable.” He also called it “self-reliant,” which was incorrect. The U.S. military, in coordination with U.S. diplomats, had been balancing powers and brokering interests among Iraq’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. Once Obama withdrew American troops, the erosion of Iraq’s stability and sovereignty was inevitable.

Iran’s rulers began twisting arms in Baghdad, in particular encouraging Shia sectarianism. Iraq’s Sunnis now had no defender other than al-Qaida which, with the Americans gone, was revived and reincarnated as the Islamic State.

Which brings us to the present. The U.S. is playing a key role in the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Journalists are reporting that as a victory. Historians of the future may disagree. If the territories taken from the Islamic State are bequeathed to the Islamic republic, American troops will have served, objectively, as Iran’s expeditionary forces.

This would not be the only critical support the U.S. has given to the clerical regime. In the early years of the Obama administration, serious sanctions hobbled Iran’s economy and restricted its offensive capabilities. But the pressure was significantly relieved in exchange for an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Next came the final agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the lifting of most sanctions, coupled with the tens of billions of dollars in frozen oil revenues Iran received directly from the U.S. and the hundreds of billions more it will receive from European and Asian trade and investment.

This windfall has allowed Iran’s rulers to defend their Syrian satrap, Bashar al-Assad, both with their own elite forces and those of Hezbollah, their Lebanon-based proxy militia. They also have organized and funded Shia militias in Syria and Iraq.

Thousands of Afghan and Pakistani Shia are being recruited for those militias. They reportedly receive salaries of $600 a month and promises of future employment in Iran, assuming, of course, that they survive. Others may stay permanently in Syria. In other words, Iran’s imperial project is becoming a colonial project as well.

I’m among those who believe President Donald Trump was correct not to give up on Afghanistan. The consequences of defeat at the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaida would have been dire – if not immediately, then over the long term. That said, the strategic value of Afghanistan pales in comparison with that of Syria and Iraq, the heart of the Arab/Muslim Middle East. If we can’t win everywhere – though I hope that, as a superpower, we can – there’s no question where our priorities should lie.

Imagine what it will mean if Iran succeeds in becoming the hegemon in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; also Yemen, which sits on one of the world’s most strategic waterways. Imagine, too, if this incipient empire goes on to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to American targets – an eventuality delayed but not halted under the flawed JCPOA.

Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries would be seriously threatened. Using Syrian ports on the Mediterranean, Iran would extend its influence westward as well.

For Machiavellian reasons, Russia’s Vladimir Putin supports these ambitions. North Korea, a client of China, cooperates with Iran’s rulers – on missile development, illicit financial networks and perhaps nuclear weapons – even as it hones its own ability to threaten Americans.

Decades ago, Khomeini envisioned what now seems to be coming to pass. In his 1970 book, “Velayat-e faqih” (also known as “Islamic Government”) he wrote: “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam.” Over time, he expected Iran to become so powerful that “none of the governments existing in the world would be able to resist it; they would all capitulate.”

It’s essential that Trump and his advisers grasp what too many others still have not: Iran’s rulers represent a cause, the fulfillment of “a dream of imperial rule,” as Kissinger phrased it. If the United States does not stop them – if, on the contrary, they continue to manipulate Americans into assisting and enabling them in Syria and elsewhere – no one else will stand in their way.

Moscow: US-backed SDF faces “destruction.” Pro-Iranian Iraqi force crosses into Syria

September 21, 2017

Moscow: US-backed SDF faces “destruction.” Pro-Iranian Iraqi force crosses into Syria, DEBKAfile, September 21, 2017

Israel’s strategic situation took several steps back in the first week of the New Year, chiefly: The US pulled back from E. Syria under Russian threat, allowing Iran to move in.

In just one week, the dire perils, which many military and political experts warned against for years, are suddenly looming on Israel’s northern border.

        1. From Sept.15-17, Syrian and Hizballah forces crossed the Euphrates to the eastern bank on pontoon bridges provided by Russia.
        2. Last Saturday, Sept. 16, Russian jets bombed the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) in the Deir ez-Zour region, as a warning against their obstructing the eastward impetus of those Syrian and Hizballah units.
        3. On Monday, Sept. 18, US Marines began blowing up buildings at the Zaqaf military base in eastern Syria and then retreating to the Jordanian border. The US set up Zaqaf early this year in the Syrian Desert as a barrier against this very Syrian/Hizballah crossing to impede their advance to the Syrian-Iraqi border.
        4. The following day, on the heels of the US withdrawal, Hizballah troops took charge of the Zaqaf base.
        5. On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the Iraqi Hashd Al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units – PMU) crossed into Syria and linked up with the Syrian-Hizballah force. The PMU is under the direct command of Gen. Qassam Soleimani, head of Iranian military operations in Syria and Iraq.
        6. Iran, through its Iraqi, Lebanese and other foreign Shiite pawns, is now in control of 230km of the Syrian border, from Abu Kamal (still held by ISIS) in the north, to Al Tanf in the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle in the south – where, too, US and coalition special forces have begun packing up ready to exit.
          Iran in recent years imported some 20,000 Afghan and Pakistani Shiite fighters to reinforce the Syrian army and Hizballah in their battles for Bashar Assad. The new Iraq arrivals boost that figure by tens of thousands and more are coming in all the time.
        7. On Thursday, Sept. 21, the growing disconnect between Moscow and Washington over Syria suddenly erupted into an open breach with a crude threat from the Kremlin: “Russia has officially informed the United States via a special communications channel that Russian forces will strike immediately US-backed forces if they attack or shell Syrian or Russian task forces operating near the Deir Ez-Zour city. Any attempts at shelling from the areas where the militants of the Syrian Democratic Forces are based will be immediately curbed. Russian forces will suppress firing points in these areas using all means of destruction.”

      A threat of this degree of ruthlessness has not been encountered in the Middle East for decades, it may recall Moscow’s threat to Israel in 1956 to end its invasion of the Sinai without delay or else…

      Where do these menacing steps leave Israel?

        • The US has washed its hands of central and southeastern Syria.
        • Russia is wholly, unreservedly and openly in lockstep with the Syrian army, Iran and Hizballah in all their objectives in the war-torn country, and moreover, willing to threaten any pro-American entity with total military punishment. Is this an indirect message to Israel too?
          Iraqi Shiite forces are surging into Syria; they have given Tehran the gift of control of a 230km segment of the border.

      And what does the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott have to say about all this?  In an interview to Israeli media as recently as Wednesday, Sept. 19, when it was all happening, he said: “If Iran  does entrench itself in Syria, that will be bad news for the entire region, including the moderate Sunni camp, and even more for the countries of Europe.”

He went on to explain: “That is why we have given the Iranian threat and halting its expanding influence very high priority as an issue to be dealt with.”

Gen. Eisenkott underlined the IDF’s focus as being to prevent [Israel’s foes] from obtaining weaponry, i.e. missiles – of high targeting precision.

The trouble is that, while the IDF focuses on this objective, commendable in itself, Russia and Iran are focusing and in full flight on a far wider-ranging goal, the precise and systematic deepening of Iran’s military presence in Syria. Iran and Hizballah have already established military commands at Arnaba just 6 km from Israel’s Golan border.

Yet the IDF chief is still talking about this as an untoward event that may – or may not – come some time in the future.

Israeli Patriot missile downs Hizballah drone over Quneitra

September 19, 2017

Israeli Patriot missile downs Hizballah drone over Quneitra, DEBKAfile, September 19, 2017

An Israeli air force Patriot missile Tuesday shot down an Iran-made Hizballah drone over the Syrian border town of Quneitra in the demilitarized zone. The UAV took off from Damascus air port. The IAF first scrambled fighter jets, before launching the missile from a site near the Galilee town of Safed.

“Israel will not allow Iran, Hizballah or other forces to infiltrate or approach its territory in the Golan Heights,” the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report: This was the first time an IDF missile had intercepted a Hizballah drone in Syrian air space. In the past, fighter jets found it hard to down drones entering Golan air space and ended up shooting a Patriot missile. Hizballah’s purpose in sending the drone was apparently to test the state of readiness of IDF air defenses in northern Israel – but no less to see how the Russians would react when an Israeli UAV flew over a Russian-US de-escalation zone in southern Syria, that is under Russian surveillance.

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens

September 18, 2017

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens, DEBKAfile, September 18, 2017

Russian air crews in Syria are under new orders to respond directly and immediately to Iranian and Syrian demands for air bombardments, without confirmation from the high commands in Latakia or Moscow.

This has enormously empowered Syrian and Hizballah officers on the ground for taking the war into their own hands. It led directly to Russian planes suddenly bombing a pro-US Syrian force in the Deir ez-Zour province of eastern Syria on Saturday, Sept. 16, and accounts for Moscow’s repudiation of the attack after its confirmation by the Pentagon.

Before the new orders, requests for Russian air cover went through command channels and were not automatically approved.

The license now awarded to Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizballah commanders to contact the operations rooms of Russian air squadrons, without going through the main Russian air base at Hmeimim in Latakia or the Syrian high command in Damascus, dramatically boosts the autonomy of Syrian, Hizballah and Iranian commanders in the field. It also gives sharp teeth to Moscow’s decision in August to place the Russian and Syrian air defense commands under unified command.

Word of this game-changer was delivered by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, when he sat down with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in Damascus last Thursday, Sept. 14. According to DEBKAfile’s sources, they decided the next Syrian army and Hizballah steps after crossing to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, which were to head for the Syrian-Iraqi border and prepare to seize the towns of Abu Kamal and Mayedin from the Islamic State. The time table was established and Russian air, intelligence and logistic support laid on.

The Russian defense minister then flew to Tehran – this time in secret – to discuss Russia’s new operation plans for Syria with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Military leaders.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the actions set in train by Shoigu have radically ramped up Russia’s military cooperation in Syria with Iran, Syria and Hizballah. They were timed to take place shortly before President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at UN Center in New York on Monday, Sept. 19.

Although their conversation was generally billed as focusing on the Iranian nuclear deal, our sources expect this major turn in the Syrian crisis to figure large in their talks. Washington clearly has no practical plans for countering the assertive Russian-Iranian advances in Syria.

Their ruthlessness was demonstrated Saturday, Sept. 16, by a Russian bombardment of the US-backed Kurdish-led SDF near Deir ez-Zour. Moscow was telling Washington that the US would not be permitted to impede the Syrian-Hizballah initiative for the capture of areas east of the Euphrates and Russia was ready to confront US-backed forces on the ground if they got in the way – while ruling a clash in the air.

The Kremlin was also putting Washington on notice that, after investing massive military and financial resources in Syria, it had no intention to let pro-American forces share in the kudos of the final victory over the Islamic State in Syria, which belonged solely to the Russian-Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah war alliance.

For now, the Russian maneuver is heading for a successful outcome. The Pentagon, aside from a lame response to the Russian bombardment, has taken no counteraction.