Posted tagged ‘Obama and Iraq’

Israel Takes on the SHIA Crescent

October 2, 2017

Israel Takes on the SHIA Crescent, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, October 2, 2017

At least, Israel has a more sympathetic ear in the Trump administration than it did in the Obama administration for raising its concerns about Iran’s growing threat, not only to Israel but to U.S. interests in the region and beyond. President Trump’s sharp denunciation of the Iranian regime during his address to the UN General Assembly represented a welcome departure from the Obama administration’s milquetoast approach to Iran. 

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to drive ISIS from its bases of operation in Syria, the Trump administration has proclaimed its intention not to allow Iran to turn Syria into its own satellite, as Iran has essentially done in Iraq. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the “so called liberation of areas by Assad’s forces and Iranian proxies could actually accelerate the cycle of violence and perpetuate conflict rather than get us to a sustainable outcome.” He claimed that the Trump administration’s “objectives are to weaken Iranian influence across the region broadly,” without discussing the means to accomplish those objectives.

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Despite Israel’s repeated warnings, Barack Obama’s reckless appeasement of the Iranian regime has enabled its rise as a hegemonic threat in the Middle East region as well as a threat to international peace and security. In 2009, Obama turned his back on millions of dissidents in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, who were peacefully protesting the rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. In 2011, Obama precipitously removed the remaining U.S. combat troops from Iraq, giving rise to ISIS’s re-emergence in Iraq from its bases in Syria. The radical Shiite Iranian regime purported to come to the “rescue” of both countries from the Sunni terrorists, turning Iraq into a virtual vassal state of the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the process. Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran legitimized Iran’s path to eventually becoming a nuclear-armed state, while immediately filling its coffers with billions of dollars to fund its aggression. 

Meanwhile, Syria has become ground zero for Iran’s execution of its regional ambitions, which is to establish its Shiite Crescent connecting with its allies, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This plan has included the establishment of a land route that Iranian-backed militias secured in June, beginning on Iran’s border with Iraq and running across Iraq and Syria all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. This road makes Iran’s job easier in supplying arms by land, as well as by air and sea, to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to equip Iran’s own forces fighting inside of Syria in support of Assad. This helps explain why Iran has placed so much importance on helping the Syrian regime establish control over the Deir ez-Zor area in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border.

“Everything depends now on the Americans’ willingness to stop this,” said an Iraqi Kurdish official who was quoted in a New Yorker article. However, U.S.-led coalition forces apparently have done next to nothing to stop this major advance in Iran’s Shiite Crescent expansion. “Obama ran down our options in Syria so thoroughly, by the time this administration took over,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Iranian influence is spreading because they are so heavily involved in regime activities,” Tabler added. “It’s a new monster.”

Furthermore, Iran has funded and armed its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, which has sent its militia from its home base of Lebanon to fight alongside Assad’s forces.  And Iran has used Syria as a transit point for shipment of sophisticated rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon for future use against Israeli population centers. Despite the fact that Hezbollah has American blood on its hands, the U.S.-led coalition has chosen not to do anything about Hezbollah’s presence in Syria, bought and paid for by Iran.

While Israel chose not to take sides in Syria’s civil war with military intervention of its own, it has bombed weapons storage facilities and convoys inside Syria for its own protection. Just recently, on September 7th, Israeli jets struck a Syrian weapons facility near Masyaf, which was reported to have been used for the production of chemical weapons and the storage of missiles. Israel will also do what is necessary to repel Iranian-backed forces if they edge too close to areas near the Golan Heights, shrinking the buffer between Israel and Iranian controlled territories.

However, such tactical measures may not be enough to thwart Iran’s larger ambitions. In light of intelligence reports that Assad may be ready to invite Iran to set up military bases in Syria, Israeli leaders have concluded that they cannot wait until the Trump administration decides to deal more forcefully with Iran’s growing use of Syria as a staging area for carrying out its expansionist Shiite Crescent strategy.  “Their overriding concern in Syria is the free reign that all the major players there seem willing to afford Iran and its various proxies in the country,” wrote Jonathan Spyer in an article for Foreign Policy. As long as nobody else is addressing the concern Iran’s growing control raises in a satisfactory manner, “Israel is determined to continue addressing it on its own.”

At least, Israel has a more sympathetic ear in the Trump administration than it did in the Obama administration for raising its concerns about Iran’s growing threat, not only to Israel but to U.S. interests in the region and beyond. President Trump’s sharp denunciation of the Iranian regime during his address to the UN General Assembly represented a welcome departure from the Obama administration’s milquetoast approach to Iran.

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to drive ISIS from its bases of operation in Syria, the Trump administration has proclaimed its intention not to allow Iran to turn Syria into its own satellite, as Iran has essentially done in Iraq. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the “so called liberation of areas by Assad’s forces and Iranian proxies could actually accelerate the cycle of violence and perpetuate conflict rather than get us to a sustainable outcome.” He claimed that the Trump administration’s “objectives are to weaken Iranian influence across the region broadly,” without discussing the means to accomplish those objectives.

Whether the Trump administration follows through remains to be seen. In the meantime, Israel will have to deal with the fallout of Iran’s ambitions in Syria itself.

Propping up US-Iraqi Mosul flop exposed Baghdad

December 31, 2016

Propping up US-Iraqi Mosul flop exposed Baghdad, DEBKAfile, December 31, 2016

(I receive frequent daily Google alerts on Iraq. Most deal with terrorist attacks in and near Baghdad, sometimes resulting in a few deaths and sometimes resulting in many.  —  DM)

mosul_iraq_destroyed_tank_12-16Iraqi tank blown up by ISIS bomber in Mosul battle

This week, another 1,700 US special operations forces and 4,000 members of the Iraqi federal police and counter-terrorism service (CTS) were urgently sent out to reinforce the crumbling front lines. Their deployment was officially characterized as marking the launch of “the second phase of the operation to retake Mosul.”

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The US-backed Iraqi campaign launched in October to liberate Mosul from the clutches of the Islamic State is on its last legs, although the Obama administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi are making every effort to disguise the debacle.

AS DEBKAfile has been reporting for three weeks, the Iraqi army’s Mosul operation has run aground, despite solid US military backing, giving the advantage to Islamic State fighters occupying Iraq’s biggest city since the summer of 2015.

This development has major security ramifications – not only for Iraq, but also for Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West at large.

The jihadists staunched the Iraqi army’s advance by releasing in its path hundreds of suicide killers in waves on foot and in bomb cars. This tactic has inflicted crippling losses on the two elite Iraqi divisions leading the offensive, the Golden Division, which is the backbone of Iraq’s Special Operations forces, and the 9th Armored Division. Devastating losses forced both to pull back from the battlefield.

This week, another 1,700 US special operations forces and 4,000 members of the Iraqi federal police and counter-terrorism service (CTS) were urgently sent out to reinforce the crumbling front lines. Their deployment was officially characterized as marking the launch of “the second phase of the operation to retake Mosul.”

Their real function was to prop up the few positions Iraqi forces have captured so far and save the Mosul offensive from crashing.

Western military observers noted Saturday, Dec. 31, that more and more American troops are to be seen on the embattled city’s front lines. US combatants are therefore fighting face to face with ISIS jihadists, a development the Obama administration is loath to admit, never having released the number of American lives lost in the Mosul offensive.

Our military sources add that the Iraqi counter-terrorism force sent to Mosul was previously posted in Baghdad to secure the capital against Islamist terrorist operations and ISIS attempts to seize the center and Iraqi’s national government centers. Its transfer to Mosul, 356km to the north, exposed central Baghdad to terror.

And, inevitably, on Saturday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up on a main street of the capital, killing 28 people and injuring 40 in their first major attack there in three months since the onset of the Mosul offensive..

This happened the day after the Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook released an unwelcome report that US security agencies “do think [Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi is alive and is still leading” the Islamic group and the battle for Mosul.

ISIS for its part issued a menacing new communiqué that jacked up its threat against neighboring Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his security forces, in the wake of its terrorist-cum-hostage assault earlier this month on the southern town of Karak, in which 10 people were killed and 29 injured.

The communiqué reads:“All Jordanian soldiers, police, mosque preachers, information activists and regime supporters are legitimate targets for the muhahideen’s bullets and knives. All of Jordan is an open battlefield!”

ISIS is informing the world of its coming targets, say DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources, which are:

1. The overthrow of the Hashemite king and his rule, and

2. The seizure of southern Jordan.

If Baghdadi succeeds in this scheme, he will gain control of a large stretch of land adjacent to Israel and Egyptian Sinai to the west and Saudi Arabia to the south, thereby bringing both under threat and placing itself close enough to block the port of Aqaba, Jordan’s only outlet to the sea.

From the desert region of southern Jordan, ISIS will also achieve proximity to the Sinai desert – through Israeli and Egyptian Bedouin – and be able to control the main Middle East arms-smuggling route and the Sinai center of operations of this illicit and enormously profitable trade

Mosul offensive folds, waiting now for Trump

December 5, 2016

Mosul offensive folds, waiting now for Trump, DEBKAfile, December 5, 2016

qayyarah_iraqi_forces_12-16

Altogether 54,000 Iraqi troops and 5,000 US servicemen – supported by 90 warplanes and 150 heavy artillery pieces – were invested in the Mosul campaign when it was launched in October. They proved unable to beat 9,000 jihadists.

Aware of the crisis on the Mosul front, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for sending out US reinforcements in the hope of turning the tide of the stalled battle. Those plans repose in their pending trays to await the decisions of the incoming US President Donald Trump and the new Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis.

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The failure of the US-backed Iraqi army offensive to liberate Mosul – nine weeks after it began – could no longer be denied when a delegation of ISIS chiefs arrived there Sunday, Dec. 4, traveling unhindered from Raqqa, Syria.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that they arrived to discuss how to synchronize the operations of the two jihadist strongholds, after the Islamist leaders occupying Mosul changed course about leaving the city and decided to stay put.

This decision followed their assessment that the Iraqi army and its American backers were incapable of bringing their offensive to a successful conclusion. It was also evident in Washington that the US commanders in the field would not be able to meet Barack Obama’s presidential directive to capture Mosul by the end of December, so that he could exit the White House next month with a successful Mosul campaign behind hm.

Altogether 54,000 Iraqi troops and 5,000 US servicemen – supported by 90 warplanes and 150 heavy artillery pieces – were invested in the Mosul campaign when it was launched in October. They proved unable to beat 9,000 jihadists.

Iraqi forces have gained no more than one-tenth of the territory assigned them. This lack of progress has damped their initial impetus and sapped their morale. While Baghdad keeps on pumping out reports of good progress and new fronts opening up, the Iraqi army has come to a virtual standstill and does nothing more than exchange fire with ISIS fighters.

The first sign that ISIS had reversed its tactics and decided to hold out against the Iraqi assault came in the form of a slickly-produced video released by the jihadists on Dec. 27 to display their defenses inside Mosul. It showed commando units in battle formation, sniper positions in place, bomb cars parked at key points and well-barricaded streets. In the terrain from which they pulled back, they had strewn shells and rockets loaded with poisonous chemicals as a warning message to Iraqi troops that they would storm the city at their peril.

Our sources report meanwhile that some of the ISIS fighters who quit Mosul in the early stage of the Iraqi offensive are turning back, along with some of the administration officials.

The Kurdish Peshmerga, which three weeks ago turned their backs on the campaign, now realize they will have to live with ISIS as a dangerous next-door neighbor, after all. They are bending their energies to establishing a strong line of defense against Mosul, to secure their capital Irbil and other towns of the semiautonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq.

Aware of the crisis on the Mosul front, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for sending out US reinforcements in the hope of turning the tide of the stalled battle. Those plans repose in their pending trays to await the decisions of the incoming US President Donald Trump and the new Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis.

Obama vs Baghdad on Sunni cleansing of Mosul

October 20, 2016

Obama vs Baghdad on Sunni cleansing of Mosul, DEBKAfile, October 20, 2016

baaj_road_19-10-16

A major dispute on combat tactics which has sprung up between Washington and Baghdad hangs over the coalition’s Mosul offensive after three days of combat. Thursday, Oct. 20, President Barack Obama and US commanders challenged Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and is generals over a 500km long route, the Ba’aj Road, which does not appear on maps, but is pivotal for the offensive’s continuation, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report.

This route is a kind of “Burma road” developed by the Islamic State as a private corridor between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the terrorist group’s Syrian capital, during the terrorist group’s two years of control. It runs through the Iraqi town of Tal Afar before crossing into Syria and passing south of areas controlled by Syrian Kurdish militias, among which US special operations forces are embedded.

The argument flared over a demand by President Obama and US commanders that Iraqi government forces turn to the Syrian border and block the Ba’aja Road, and so cut off the ISIS fighters’ escape route from Mosul to Syria. The Americans can’t bomb the corridor because it is also packed with a stream of refugees in flight from the fighting in Mosul.

So long as it is open, ISIS is free to move thousands of fighters and masses of weapons, ammunition and other supplies between its two strongholds. This freedom of action, Obama warned Al-Abadi, would prolong the Mosul operation beyond the Dec. 20 deadline set by the coalition for its termination.

However, according to our sources, the Iraqi prime minister countered this demand with a proviso unacceptable to Washington. He was prepared to order Iraqi forces to block the Ba’aja Road provided Mosul’s entire population of 750,000 Sunni Muslims was expelled from the city. He argued that ISIS could not be defeated until then because the Sunnis were supporting and collaborating with the Islamist terrorists.

Obama fiercely opposes the mass Sunni expulsion, seeing it as an attempt by the Shiite Iraqi prime minister to cleanse Iraq’s second city of its Sunni inhabitants and using the Mosul offensive against ISIS as a pretext for such action.

mosul_soulemeni_19-10-16EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani greets Shiite fighters outside Mosul.

DEBKAfile’s sources add that Al-Abadi has found support for his side of the argument with the arrival of the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the command posts of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, who have not yet been thrown into the Mosul battle.

The Mosul offensive came up in the third US presidential debate in Las Vegas early Thursday. The Republican candidate Donald Trump, who appeared to have been updated on the state of play there, commented that the big winner from that offensive would be Iran.

Our military sources report that three days of combat have not brought any major coalition forces advances against ISIS. On some sectors Iraqi forces are moving forward slowly, backed by US air strikes and rocket artillery fire; on others, they are stalled by Islamist resistance.

The big Mosul offensive is stuck, halted by ISIS

October 19, 2016

The big Mosul offensive is stuck, halted by ISIS, DebkaFile, October 19, 2016

mosul_offensive_declaration_16-10-16-1

Less than a day after its launch, the big Mosul offensive prepared for more than a year by the US, the Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and others, ground to a halt Tuesday Oct. 17, DEBKAfile’s military sources report – although none of the parties admitted as much.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi said his troops were busy opening up corridors for some million civilians to escape, while US sources suggested that the Islamic State would use primitive chemical weapons against the advancing Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Both had the ring of cover stories to account for the spearhead forces, the Iraq army’s 9th Armored Division and the Federal Police special anti-terror units, being thrown back Tuesday on their way to Mosul from the east and the south, while still 10-15km short of the city. They sustained heavy losses in lives and hardware.

The 9th Division and its newly-supplied heavy US Abrahams tanks were stopped at al-Hamdaniyah outside Mosul and retreated, recalling a previous defeat at ISIS hands in June 2014, when troops of the same division fled under Islamist attack, leaving their tanks behind.

The Iraqi anti-terror force withdrew from the village of al-Houd outside Mosul, a move which left the Kurdish Peshmerga no option but to stop its sweep of the villages around the city or expose their flanks to ISIS suicide and car bomb assaults.

Tuesday night, both Iraqi and Kurdish commanders announced a pause in their advance and said they would meet Wednesday to decide how to proceed.

The Kurdish Peshmerga’s role in the battle of Mosul has run into a further major impediment, which likewise has not been publicly aired. It turned out Tuesday that at least 3,000 of the 12,000 Kurdish fighters taking part in the offensive came from the banned Turkish underground PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) which is fighting the Turkish government. They came down from their northern Iraqi strongholds in the Sinjar and Qandil mountains. Ankara thereupon warned Washington and Baghdad in a strong ultimatum that unless those fighters were pulled off the field, Turkish troops would step in to attack them.

A second front within a front would effectively torpedo the entire Mosul liberation campaign against ISIS before it gets underway.

The first bricks of the military Tower of Babel predicted by DEBKAfile in the background report below were set in place sooner than expected.

Sunday night, Oct. 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, supported by a bevy of generals, announced that the military operation to recapture Mosul from its two-year occupation by the Islamic State had begun.

Three formally approved participants are taking part in the operation, DEBKAfile’s military sources report:

1. American special operations, artillery and engineering units – equipped with floating bridges for crossing the Tigris River – plus the US air force for massive bombardment to crush enemy resistance.

2. Iraqi army armored divisions, special ops forces, regular troops and anti-terror police units.

3. The Iraqi Kurds’ Peshmerga.

The Iraqi prime minister pledged formally that only Iraqi fighters would enter Mosul, i.e. no Americans, Kurds or other non-Iraqi forces.

It was a pledge that neither the Iraqi Sunni and Shiite combatants nor the Kurdish and Turkmen fighters trusted him to uphold, after similar promises went by the wayside in the US-led coalition battles fought in the past two years to retake the Iraqi towns of Ramadi, Tikirit, Baiji and Fallujah from ISIS.

The first forces to enter those cities were by and large pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, especially the Bader Brigades and the Popular Mobilization Units, under Iran’s supreme Middle East commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Nonetheless, despite the ravages they wrought in those Sunni cities, US air support was forthcoming for their advance, while in Washington US officials pretended they were helping Iraqi government army units.

With regard to the Mosul campaign, Obama administration officials and military officers, like the Iraqi prime minister, insist there will be no repetition of the Iranian-backed Shiite invasion and conquest of yet another Sunni city, where a million inhabitants still remain.

mosul_offensive_17-10-16-1

They don’t explain how this will be prevented when those same pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite forces are already massing northeast of Mosul, near the Iraqi-Syria border, and standing by for the order to advance into the city.

Tehran quite obviously has no intention of being left out of the epic capture of Mosul.

Neither is another uninvited party, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. He too has positioned a Turkish military concentration in Iraq, in defiance of strong objections from Washington and Baghdad. Turkish troops stand ready to move forward to do Erdogan’s will and achieve three strategic goals:

a) To actively frustrate Kurdish Peshmerga entry to Mosul, although its 15,000 fighters out of the 25,000 invasion force are a vital element of the spearhead thrust into the city. Ankara has warned that if Kurds set foot in Mosul, Turkish troops will follow.

b)  To block the path of Syrian Kurdish YPG militiamen from entering Iraq and linking up with their Iraqi brothers-in-arms.

c) To provide backing, including Turkish air support, for the Iraqi Turkmen militias still present in the Turkmen quarter of Mosul.

DEBKAfile’s military sources count six assorted military groupings taking part in the liberation of Mosul. They have nothing in common aside from their determination to drive the Islamic State out.

They are utterly divided on the two main aspects of the offensive: How to achieve their common goal and what happens to Mosul after the Islamist invaders are gone.

The underlying US rationale for embarking on this high-wire operation is President Barack Obama’s aspiration to achieve Mosul’s liberation before his departure from the White House in January, in the hope that this landmark success will provide a major distraction from his administration’s failed policies in Syria.

The Islamic State might have been expected to take advantage of the prior warning of the offensive for a stand in defense of the Iraqi capital of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate and so exploit the conflicting interests of the invading force.

But ISIS leaders decided against waiting for the combined offensive. Indeed, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, thousands of jihadis made tracks out of the city two or three months ago, relocating the bulk of their combat strength and institutions in two new locations: in the western Iraqi desert province of Anbar at a site between the Jordanian and Saudi borders and eastern Syria. Several hundred fighters were left behind in Mosul to harass the US-Iraq-Kurdish armies as they advance into the city and exploit the invaders’ discord to retain a foothold in Mosul.

The Obama administration is pushing Iraq into further chaos

September 30, 2016

The Obama administration is pushing Iraq into further chaos, Washington Post, Editorial Board, September 29, 2016

mideast_islamic_state_analysis-6073a-1671A member of Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands guard near Islamic State group militant graffiti in Fallujah, Iraq, in June. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

Though the absence of such political solutions facilitated the rise of the Islamic State, the Obama administration is not pushing for them. It is not using its considerable leverage — U.S. air support will be vital to liberating Mosul — to insist on better political preparations or the exclusion of Shiite militias. Instead, eager for the operation to begin before President Obama leaves office, it has been encouraging Mr. Abadi to speed up the Mosul offensive, while leaving the Day After problem to the Iraqis. That is a highly risky course.

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AN ASSAULT by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on Mosul, the largest stronghold of the Islamic State, is expected within weeks — far sooner than seemed likely a few months ago. Unfortunately, the acceleration is not good news. The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is rushing the operation forward even though it lacks a strategy to secure and govern the multiethnic city of roughly 1 million people once the terrorists are driven out. It is recruiting sectarian militia forces that have a record of abusing civilians and seizing territory for themselves. Plans for protecting refugees, who may number in the hundreds of thousands, are sketchy.

In short, the Mosul offensive is setting the stage for a potentially catastrophic Day After problem. Though the United States has painfully experienced what such poor preparation can lead to, in Baghdad in 2003 and Libya a decade later, it is pushing the Abadi government to move still faster.

Military experts are more concerned about the aftermath than the fight itself. Brig. Gen. William F. Mullen, who was deputy commander for U.S. operations in Iraq until June, predicted last week that Islamic State defenses in Mosul could collapse quickly. “And then what?” he asked at a forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Iraqi government’s plan, he said, amounts to “chips will fall and we’ll sort it out when we get to that.”

“That’s not a good plan,” Mr. Mullen said. “This is going to be ugly.”

It’s not hard to foresee where the ugliness will come from. Though the Mosul attack is expected to be led by U.S.-trained Iraqi counterterrorism units, Mr. Abadi has said Shiite militia forces also will participate. Iraqi Kurdish units may also move in from the north. Controlled by Iran rather than the Baghdad government, several of the Shiite militias were accused of atrocities during and after operations in the Sunni cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. There is ample reason to fear similar abuses against Sunnis in Mosul.

Once the Islamic State is vanquished, the various forces may turn on one another. Kurdish and Shiite fighters already have sparred in nearby Diyala province. Turkey has threatened to intervene on behalf of ethnic Turks in the city. Though a Sunni police force is being trained, it is a fraction of the size needed to prevent human rights abuses and factional fighting.

Plans for governance are equally threadbare. Iraqi leaders reportedly want to restore the former provincial governor and council, but that could be contested by another former governor with his own Sunni force. More important, the Baghdad government has taken no serious steps to resolve long-standing disputes with Sunni and Kurdish leaders over territory, revenue and the delegation of powers to local governments.

Though the absence of such political solutions facilitated the rise of the Islamic State, the Obama administration is not pushing for them. It is not using its considerable leverage — U.S. air support will be vital to liberating Mosul — to insist on better political preparations or the exclusion of Shiite militias. Instead, eager for the operation to begin before President Obama leaves office, it has been encouraging Mr. Abadi to speed up the Mosul offensive, while leaving the Day After problem to the Iraqis. That is a highly risky course.

Iran’s Chess Board

June 3, 2016

Iran’s Chess Board, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, June 3, 2016

official_photo_of_hassan_rouhani_7th_president_of_iran_august_2013

Even if Obama’s successor disavows his actions, by the time Obama leaves office, America’s options will be more limited than ever before. Without war, his successor will likely be unable to stem Iran’s rise on the ruins of the Arab state system.

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Reprinted from jpost.com.

Strategic thinking has always been Israel’s Achilles’ heel. As a small state bereft of regional ambitions, so long as regional realities remained more or less static, Israel had little reason to be concerned about the great game of the Middle East.

But the ground is shifting in the lands around us. The Arab state system, which ensured the strategic status quo for decades, has collapsed.

So for the first time in four generations, strategy is again the dominant force shaping events that will impact Israel for generations to come.

To understand why, consider two events of the past week.

Early this week it was reported that after a two-year hiatus, Iran is restoring its financial support for Islamic Jihad. Iran will give the group, which is largely a creation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, $70 million.

On Wednesday Iranian media were the first to report on the arrest of a “reporter” for Iran’s Al-Alam news service. Bassam Safadi was arrested by Israel police in his home in Majdal Shams, the Druse village closest to the border with Syria on the Golan Heights. Safadi is suspected of inciting terrorism.

That is, he is suspected of being an Iranian agent.

There is nothing new about Iranian efforts to raise and run fronts against Israel within its territory and along its borders. Iran poses a strategic threat to Israel through its Hezbollah surrogate in Lebanon, which now reportedly controls the Lebanese Armed Forces.

In Gaza, Iran controls a vast assortment of terrorist groups, including Hamas.

In Judea and Samaria, seemingly on a weekly basis we hear about another Iranian cell whose members were arrested by the Shin Bet or the IDF.

But while we are well aware of the efforts Iran is making along our borders and even within them to threaten Israel, we have not connected these efforts to Iran’s actions in Iraq and Syria. Only when we connect Iran’s actions here with its actions in those theaters do we understand what is now happening, and how it will influence Israel’s long-term strategic environment.

The big question today is what will replace the Arab state system.

Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya no longer exist. On their detritus we see the fight whose results will likely determine the fates of the surviving Arab states, as well as of much of Europe and the rest of the world.

Israel’s strategic environment will be determined in great part by the results of Iran’s actions in Iraq and Syria. While Israel can do little to affect the shape of events in these areas, it must understand what they mean for us. Only by doing so, will we be able to develop the tools to secure our future in this new strategic arena.

Until 2003, Saddam Hussein was the chief obstacle to Iran’s rise as the regional hegemon.

US forces in Iraq replaced Hussein until they left the country in 2011. In the meantime, by installing a Shi’ite government in Baghdad, the US set the conditions for the rise of Islamic State in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province on the one hand, and for Iran’s control over Iraq’s Shi’ite-controlled government and armed forces on the other.

Today, ISIS is the only thing checking Iran’s westward advance. Ironically, the monstrous group also facilitates it. ISIS is so demonic that for Americans and other Westerners, empowering Iranian-controlled forces that fight ISIS seems a small price to pay to rid the world of the fanatical scourge.

As former US naval intelligence analyst J.E. Dyer explained this week in an alarming analysis of Iran’s recent moves in Iraq published on the Liberty Unyielding website, once Iranian- controlled forces defeat ISIS in Anbar province, they will be well placed to threaten Jordan and Israel from the east. This is particularly the case given that ISIS is serving inadvertently as an advance guard for Iran.

In Syria, Iran already controls wide swaths of the country directly and through its surrogates, the Syrian army, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias it has fielded in the country.

Since the start of the war in Syria, Israel has repeatedly taken action to block those forces from gaining and holding control over the border zone on the Golan Heights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprising recent announcement that Israel will never relinquish control over the Golan came in response to his concern that in exchange for a cease-fire in Syria, the US would place that control on the international diplomatic chopping block.

A week and a half ago, Iran began its move on Anbar province.

On May 22, Iraqi forces trained by the US military led Iraq’s offensive to wrest control over Fallujah and Mosul from ISIS, which has controlled the Sunni cities since 2014. Despite the fact that the lead forces are US-trained, the main forces involved in the offensive are trained, equipped and directed by Iran.

As Iraqi forces surrounded Fallujah in the weeks before the offensive began, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds forces, paid a public visit to the troops to demonstrate Iran’s dominant role.

The battle for Fallujah is a clear indication that Iran, rather than the US, is calling the shots in Iraq. According to media reports, the Pentagon wanted and expected for the forces to be concentrated in Mosul. But at the last minute, due to Soleimani’s intervention, the Iraqi government decided to make Fallujah the offensive’s center of gravity.

The Americans had no choice but to go along with the Iranian plan because, as Dyer noted, Iran is increasingly outflanking the US in Iraq. If things follow their current course, in the near future, Iran is liable to be in a position to force the US to choose between going to war or ceasing all air operations in Iraq.

On May 7, Asharq al-Awsat reported that the Revolutionary Guards is building a missile base in Suleimaniyah province, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

A senior IRGC general has made repeated visits to the area in recent weeks, signaling that the regime views this as an important project. The report further stated that Iran is renewing tunnel networks in the region, built during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Dyer warned that depending on the type of missiles Iran deploys – or has deployed – to the base, it may threaten all US air operations in Iraq. And the US has no easy means to block Iran’s actions.

To date, commentators have more or less agreed that US operations in Iraq and Syria make no sense. They are significant enough to endanger US forces, but they aren’t significant enough to determine the outcome of the war in either territory.

But there may be logic to this seemingly irrational deployment that is concealed from view. A close reading of David Samuels’s profile of President Barack Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes published last month in The New York Times, points to such a conclusion.

Samuels described Rhodes as second only to Obama in his influence over US foreign and defense policy. Rhodes boasted to Samuels that Obama’s moves toward Iran were determined by a strategic course he embraced before he entered office.

A fiction writer by training, Rhodes’s first “national security” job was as the chief note taker for the Iraq Study Group.

Then-president George W. Bush appointed the group, jointly chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, in 2006, to advise him on how to extricate the US from the war in Iraq.

In late 2006, the ISG published its recommendations.

Among other things, the ISG recommended withdrawing US forces from Iraq as quickly as possible. The retreat was to be enacted in cooperation with Iran and Syria – the principle sponsors of the insurgency.

The ISG argued that if given the proper incentives, Syria and Iran would fight al-Qaida in Iraq in place of the US. For such action, the ISG recommended that the US end its attempts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Responsibility for handling the threat, the ISG recommended, should be transferred to the US Security Council.

So, too, the ISG recommended that Bush pressure Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in the framework of a “peace process.”

Such action too would serve to convince Iran and Syria that they could trust the US and agree to serve as its heirs in Iraq.

Bush of course, rejected the ISG’s recommendations.

He decided instead to sue for victory in Iraq. Bush announced the surge in US forces shortly after the ISG published its report.

But now we see, that through Rhodes the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation became the blueprint for a new US strategy of retreat and Iranian ascendance in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

The chief components of that strategy have already been implemented. The US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 left Iran as the new power broker in the country. The nuclear pact with Iran facilitated Iran’s transformation into the regional hegemon.

Against this strategic shift, the US’s minimalist campaigns in Iraq and Syria against ISIS make sense.

The US forces aren’t there to defeat ISIS, but to conceal Iran’s rise.

When ISIS is defeated in Anbar and in Raqqa in Syria, its forces are liable to turn west, to Jordan.

The US is currently helping Jordan to complete a border fence along its border with Iraq. But then ISIS is already active in Jordan.

And if events in Iraq and Syria are any guide, where ISIS leads, Iran will follow.

Iran’s strategic game, as well as America’s, requires Israel to become a strategic player.

We must recognize that what is happening in Iraq is connected to what is happening here.

We need to understand the implications of the working alliance Obama has built with Iran.

Even if Obama’s successor disavows his actions, by the time Obama leaves office, America’s options will be more limited than ever before. Without war, his successor will likely be unable to stem Iran’s rise on the ruins of the Arab state system.

In this new strategic environment, Israel must stop viewing Gaza, Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and Lebanon as standalone battlefields. We must not be taken in by “regional peace plans” that would curtail our maneuver room. And we must bear in mind these new conditions as we negotiate a new US military assistance package.

The name of the game today is chess. The entire Middle East is one great board. When a pawn moves in Gaza, it affects the queen in Tehran.

And when a knight moves in Fallujah, it threatens the queen in Jerusalem.