Posted tagged ‘Iranian proxies’

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing

May 20, 2017

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

 

Syria & allies push back at US-held border post

May 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Iraqi officers land in Syria, stir Israeli concern

May 17, 2017

Iraqi officers land in Syria, stir Israeli concern, DEBKAfile, May 17, 2017

Israel was deeply disquieted to discover that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had secretly pivoted his support away from the US-Jordanian campaign for control over the borders of Iraq and Syria, and switched instead to alignment with Moscow and Tehran.

Israeli policy-makers are worried that President Donald Trump will be constrained by the daily barrage of personal attacks descending on from fully focusing on the forces building up dangerously against US military plans in Syria.

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Israeli security chiefs were gravely concerned Wednesday, May 17, when they learned that a high-ranking Iraqi military delegation had arrived in Damascus, the first in decades during which the Iraqi and Syrian ruling regimes were at odds, for a discussion on the situation unfolding on the Syrian-Iraqi border – in particular the Al-Tanf crossing.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reported on May 15 and May 16 on the potential for a clash of arms over this strategic crossing, which is situated at the intersection of the Jordanian, Iraq, and Syrian borders and commands the No.1 Route linking Baghdad with Damascus and the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Wednesday saw a flurry of military activity in the area by US, British and Jordanian special forces, on the one hand, and Syrian, Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces, on the other. A race appeared to be quietly developing over who would reach the border first and seize control of the Al-Tanf crossing.

On this very subject, the Iraqi military delegation held separate talks in Damascus with senior officers of the Russian command in Syria and senior Iranian officers posted at Syrian General Staff headquarters. Concurrently, the Russian military command announced that Russia, Iran and Iraq were holding consultations on how to secure the border regions between Syria and Iraq.

Our forces add that the three groups of officers got down to brass talks, in fact, on ways to fit Iraqi army units into the Syrian-Iranian effort for guaranteeing full control by Damascus and Tehran of the sensitive border regions.

Israel was deeply disquieted to discover that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had secretly pivoted his support away from the US-Jordanian campaign for control over the borders of Iraq and Syria, and switched instead to alignment with Moscow and Tehran.

Israeli policy-makers are worried that President Donald Trump will be constrained by the daily barrage of personal attacks descending on from fully focusing on the forces building up dangerously against US military plans in Syria.

US, UK, Jordanian forces enter S. Syria

May 15, 2017

US, UK, Jordanian forces enter S. Syria, DEBKAfile, May 15, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources explain that Damascus and Tehran acted to pre-empt the US-Jordanian-Israeli military operations along the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria, lest they lead to the carving out of US-controlled security zones in southern Syria.

Iran continued to pour additional troops into Damascus through the Baghdad-Damascus highway, on the one hand, while, on the other, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi offered Washington two of his army’s divisions, which would be sent into Syria to support US military operations in the southeast.

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US special forces, together with British and Jordanian elite troops, moved into southern Syria late Sunday, May 14. They were acting to counter the Syrian-Iranian scheme to nullify the American plan for posting Jordanian forces in southeastern Syria, which timed for the days before US President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East.

The US-led armored force with British and Jordanian units crossed from northern Jordan through the Tanf Border-Crossing between the Hashemite Kingdom, Iraq and Syria, and took up positions capable of consolidating their control of the main road between Palmyra and Baghdad. Some of their moves were coordinated with Israel.
(See map).

This push aimed at countering the drive in the last few days by hundreds of Syrian troops, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Hizballah’s Radwan special forces, with tanks and heavy equipment, to take over the town of Sabaa Biyar. Located in sparsely desert territory, this town lies 110km west of the Syrian-Iraqi border, 95km north of the Syrian-Jordanian border and 128km east of Damascus.

Its high strategic importance for Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah lies in its command of the border between Syria, Iraq and Jordan and of Highway No. 1 which links the Jordanian capital of Amman with Baghdad.

DEBKAfile’s military sources explain that Damascus and Tehran acted to pre-empt the US-Jordanian-Israeli military operations along the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria, lest they lead to the carving out of US-controlled security zones in southern Syria.

Our military sources add that Moscow too eyes the new US-led military movements with mistrust, in view of its potential impact on the Russian plan for four ceasefire zones in Syria, in cooperation with Iranian and Turkish forces. The Russians are accordingly feeding Tehran and Damascus intelligence on the US-led movements.

On Sunday, too, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a large-scale military exercise in the Galilee and Golan regions close to its borders with Syria and Lebanon. The war game may well run over its final date in order to keep a substantial military force poised on along Israel’s northern borders, in case of attempts to disrupt the Trump visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel from May 22 to May 24.

Other military movements in the region this week were taken by the Iraqi army and Iraqi Shiite militias under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers. Iran continued to pour additional troops into Damascus through the Baghdad-Damascus highway, on the one hand, while, on the other, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi offered Washington two of his army’s divisions, which would be sent into Syria to support US military operations in the southeast.

For the time being, the Trump administration’s plans for an offensive against the Islamic State appear to have been put on a back burner.

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.