Posted tagged ‘Russia and Iran’

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief

February 14, 2017

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief, DEBKAfile, February 14, 2016

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Michael Flynn’s abrupt resignation as National Security Adviser Monday night, Feb. 13, was a crippling blow to Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy, less than a month after he entered the White House. Flynn was the architect and prime mover of the president’s plans for close cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was brought down by misinforming Vice President Mike Pence – and very likely the president too – on the content of the conversation he held with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.

Although retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg takes over as acting NSA, the White House is urgently considering a permanent replacement to fill Flynn’s large shoes. Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ name has come up, but his indiscretions over state secrets still count against him. Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, is a strong contender, although more may emerge.

Even before picking his next national security adviser, Trump will need to determine how to proceed with his détente with Putin, the highly sensitive details of which were managed personally and confidentially by Mike Flynn as the centerpiece of the new administration’s foreign policy.

His contacts with Moscow were under heavy fire from the president’s friends and foes alike, both before and after the November election. It was defended stalwartly by Trump himself, Pence and Flynn. However, neither the president nor the vice president can tell exactly what Flynn promised the Russians and to what deals he committed them. Therefore, his successor will be required to start building Washington’s ties with Moscow from scratch.

While Flynn’s departure has caused havoc in the Trump administration, it is a catastrophe for the Middle East, because a core objective of the US-Russian partnership, which he shaped as a model for other regions, was to have been to clip Iran’s wings and cut down its standing down as premier Middle East power conferred by Barack Obama.

(How the Flynn mechanism was to work plus detailed analysis of the fallout from his departure will be covered exclusively in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out next Friday).

Flynn alone was privy to arrangements concluded with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, President Putin in Moscow, Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisis in Cairo and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Some of his output began taking shape on the day he stepped down, when Syrian rebel groups led by Jordanian special operations officers attacked Syrian army positions in the southern town of Daraa. This was the start of an operation to drive Syrian government forces and their Iranian and Hizballah allies from the lands bordering on Jordan and Israel.

In Cairo, too, President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and his host, El-Sisi were hashing out a plan for the Egyptian army and Gulf forces to go into action against Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon.

Wednesday, Feb. 15, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to visit the White House for his first meeting with Trump as president. They too were scheduled to discuss US operations against Hizballah and the role Israel would play.

In the coming hours, Trump will have to decide whether to go ahead with these initiatives in the absence of Flynn and his detailed knowledge of how they should go forward, or simply put them on hold until his successor is in place and has time for a full study of their complicated ins and outs. At the same time, a different national security adviser in the White house might have different plans to those laid out by his predecessor.

Pro-Kremlin Pravda.ru: ‘ Iran Is Becoming A Major Problem, First And Foremost For Russia’s Interests’

February 13, 2017

Pro-Kremlin Pravda.ru: ‘ Iran Is Becoming A Major Problem, First And Foremost For Russia’s Interests’, MEMRI

On January 22, 2017, the Russian media outlet Pravda.ru published an analysis on Russia-Iran relations. According to the article’s author, Dmitri Nersesov, Iran is becoming a problem for Russian interests. Nersesov also added that Iran wants Russia to choose between Iran and Washington. “Iran wants Russia to recognize that Teheran holds the key to the regulation of the Syrian crisis. Should Russia decide that the real strategy is built on the cooperation between Moscow and Washington, rather than Moscow and Teheran; the Islamic Republic will be extremely disappointed,” Nersesov wrote.

Below are excerpts from Pravda.ru’s article:[1]

putrou(Source: Islam.ru)

‘Observers Testify That Iranian Internal Propaganda Blames Russia For The Rise Of Iranian Military Losses In Syria’

“After the strange story of the Russian ACF [Air-Cosmos Force – in 2015, the Military Air Force and the Cosmos Defense were united] usage of the Iranian Hamadan military airbase, it became absolutely clear that Tehran cannot be fully trusted.[2] Events of the last several days only strengthen that feeling. Russian-Iranian contradictions appear not only in the vicinity of Syria, but also start influence the Russian-U.S. relations. And that is very serious…

“The point is that Moscow intended the Astana negotiations to become the initial platform for establishing a practical dialogue with the new American administration. That is what the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov sought to convey at his press-conference. Lavrov said: ‘We consider it right to invite the representatives of the UN and the new U.S. administration to this meeting. We expect that new American administration can accept this invitation and will be represented by its experts of any possible level’… The fact that inviting the Americans was coordinated with Ankara must not be ignored.

“What about Tehran?

“The following was stated there: ‘We did not invite them, we are against their presence’. These words by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are cited by the news agencies. Thus Iran had publicly rejected its allies’ initiative… It seems like that this position of the Iranian leadership does not specifically relate to Syria’s problems. Zarif’s words are a message to Moscow and Washington. We shall try to decipher it.

“The Iranians want Moscow to clearly understand that they intend to control as strictly as possible the implementation of its strategy in Syria, and in the long term– in the Middle East generally. Tehran is able to create problems in fulfilling the combat tasks (by blocking access to the Hamadan airbase), in reaching ceasefire and humanitarian pauses (frequently the pro-Iran Shi’ite units have frustrated these initiatives), and renewing Russia-U.S. contacts on Syria.

“Simultaneously, Tehran’s demarche seemingly forces Moscow to make a choice: between us [Iran], or Ankara define your choice Russians! You can definitely negotiate with the Turks the ceasefire between the Syrian [factions], you can even conduct joint airstrikes against terrorists, but without us, the Iranians, you will not attain any practical goals. Take into account that today Turkey is weak, and it will stay like this indefinitely. And Iran is only getting stronger, as the sanctions against it had been removed, and you will compete with Western corporations for the right to participate in strengthening Iran!

“The Iranians present Moscow with a similar choice regarding the relations with Washington: will Iran or remain Russia’s leading partner in Syria and in the region generally or [will it be] Washington? If Moscow does not fully and decisively acknowledge that the keys to managing the Middle East are in Tehran, and only the intimate team work with Iran makes possible to promote the Russian interests here; if Moscow will ‘suddenly’ decide that the ‘real strategy’ is built not along the Tehran-Moscow axis, but along the Moscow-Washington one – the Islamic Republic will be very disappointed. And will find – definitely find! – the means to punish the ‘arrogant Russians’.

“In this context one should note that during the recent funeral of Hashemi Rafsanjani…was accompanied by the chanting of anti-Russian slogans. Observers testify that Iranian internal propaganda blames Russia precisely for the rise of Iranian military losses in Syria. This should not come as a surprise, because the Russian ACF were kicked out of the Hamadan [military airbase] for ‘ungentlemanly behavior’ and ‘arrogance’. Iran quite willingly believes that any foreigner only thinks about showing them his ‘arrogance’, and they do not forgive this sin. All the more so when it is Russia – the ‘small Satan’ for those who inherited Imam Khomeini’s set of values…

‘It Depends On The U.S. When Iran Will Become A Full-Fledged Nuclear Power’

“Washington? What message did Tehran send to the new president Trump?

“The main thesis is the same: Iran is the leading player in the regional arena, it has the capacity to exert a critical influence on Russia’s position and actions even with regards to Russian-American contacts. In a language resembling Trump’s, it sounds something like this: Tehran is the blocking shareholder in Syria and in the Middle East. Draw your conclusions, Mr. President!

“To talk this way with great powers, Iran must hold strong trump cards. It has them. The main one is the notorious ‘nuclear program’ and the famous deal about it.

“What is the heart of the matter? Ten years of struggle (since Bush-junior) against Iran getting the nuclear missiles brought Iran to the threshold of owning such a weapon. It has the carriers. The warheads which it ostensibly does not have (yet?) can be almost surely made within 15 years, when the limitations imposed as part of the ‘deal’ expire.

“That ‘deal’ was Obama’s favorite baby, his fundamental foreign policy achievement (by his own admission). This achievement means that now it depends on the U.S. when Iran will become a full-fledged nuclear power. For Tehran, just after signing the ‘deal’ (the full text of which no one has seen) had promptly warned everybody: any act which the Iranians will consider to be its violation will mean the abnegation of agreements, and then the Islamic Republic of Iran  will consider itself free to implement its nuclear program.

“Of all the ‘deal’ participants (the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, Iran), only the U.S. is interested and capable of provoking Iran to such a step, for even under Obama, Washington did not lift all the sanctions imposed on Iran. And Trump even claims the intent to renege on Iran’s nuclear program agreement. And if he will really do it, Tehran will have carte blanche to continue the work the result of which may become (with intolerably high probability) the appearance of her nuclear weapon.

“In view of this logic, Iran’s message to Trump is: ‘Mr. President! Upon your first signal, we shall do what your predecessors had steadily led us to! To build our blocking shares into controlling ones we need only a nuclear truncheon. When we get it depends on your decision’.

“Against this background, it is desirable to note a significant detail: several weeks ago, Iran announced the beginning of a program for building a nuclear navy. This means its transformation in the near future into an ocean power capable of ‘force projection’ in the Persian Gulf, in the Indian Ocean, and in the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

“It appears that all this suffices to understand: Iran is becoming a major problem, first and foremost for Russia’s interests. Surely, much can be explained by the upcoming May presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, it would be useful to find a way of making Tehran politicians understand that their behavior is becoming too provocative.

“Perhaps the launch of cruise missiles from the Caspian flotilla bears repetition?”

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[1] Pravda.ru, January 22, 2017.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6577, Russian Strategic Bombers Deployed To Iran; Russian Senator Says Nuclear Weapons, Heavy Bombers Will Not Be Permanently Deployed In Syria, August 16, 2016.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6589, Russia This Week – August 22-29, 2016, August 28, 2016.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6582, Russia This Week – August 15 – 22, 2016, August 21, 2016.

The Mainstream Media’s Pointless Fixation on Trump and Putin

February 7, 2017

The Mainstream Media’s Pointless Fixation on Trump and Putin, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, February 6, 2017

(According to several recent DEBKAfile articles, Trump and Putin are already working to restrain Iran in Syria. See, e.g., Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements. — DM)

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Meanwhile, in the real world, America and the rest of the West have two serious problems. You could even call them crucial — Iran and ISIS.  Putin can help with both.

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You would think the mainstream media had had a collective lobotomy or is suffering from some mass version of premature Alzheimer’s disease, considering how quickly they have forgotten the red reset button with Russia, the chummy open-mic whisper from Obama to Medvedev, and the even chummier backslapping between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in their zeal to poleax Donald Trump for his lax attitude toward Vladimir Putin.

Was Putin less an ex-KGB agent in those not so distant Obama days, less a killer? Surely those same media geniuses are not such historical illiterates they have never heard of the KGB’s bloodthirsty antecedents — the GRU, the NKVD, and the Cheka?  As we all know,  or should, Russians, Soviet and otherwise, have been offing each other for a long time — well before Donald Trump came on the scene, although you wouldn’t believe that, considering the swill currently being written by our residents of digital Grub Street.

Have they actually forgotten that FDR dealt regularly with Stalin (indeed was his ally), a dictator whose despotism dwarfed Putin’s and who ended up murdering more people than Hitler? Estimates range from 30 to 60 million.  Nevertheless, Franklin complimented Uncle Joe on more than one occasion over a number of years to get what the American president wanted.  (Attn.: youthful New York Times reporters — in case this surprises you, you can read about it in “Caught between Roosevelt and Stalin: American Ambassadors to Moscow” by Dennis J. Dunn or, more simply, in the columns of your own monstrous Walter Duranty.)

Roosevelt and Churchill sat with Stalin at Yalta, where they cozied up to the general secretary in manners the MSM, or even the fevered swamps of the alt-left, would not dare contemplate about our current president in their most extreme moments of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Yet now even the likes of Charles Krauthammer are all in a dither about Trump’s too friendly attitude toward Bad Vlad — Donald’s supposed (actually cherry-picked and virtually non-existent) declaration of moral equivalency between us and them — as are such Republican stalwarts as Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio. How virtuous of them to remind us ignorant folk of what we have all known for years — Putin’s ugly character and behavior. How astoundingly insightful.  Perhaps they will get a good mention on CNN.

Meanwhile, in the real world, America and the rest of the West have two serious problems. You could even call them crucial — Iran and ISIS.  Putin can help with both. And, as both Vlad and Donald undoubtedly know, Trump has considerable leverage to get that accomplished by muscling Putin economically, if and when Donald chooses to do so.

Horrifying as ISIS is, Iran in particular is becoming increasingly dangerous every day, firing off long-range test missiles right and left that soon will be capable of hitting Europe or even, in one report, Boston. They are also undoubtedly quietly continuing their nuclear research, waiting to mate their spanking new weapons of mass destruction with a 21st century delivery system and become the hegemon of the Middle East.  Obviously Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states are alarmed.  Israel always has been.  The rest of us should be too.

Anyone who believes or trusts in Obama’s Iran deal — clearly the biggest American foreign policy blunder in recent memory — to save us from this situation is, to be blunt, a fool. That deal is our Munich.

Iran must be reined in — and quickly.  Winnowing Russia away from the Islamic Republic is a key part of the solution, though not simple. First the Revolutionary Guards have to be extricated from Syria.  Putin is thought to be nervous about Iranian ambitions himself.  There is opportunity here for Trump.  Instead of blathering on endlessly about how he rates Putin on a scale of ten (Trump has already  stated several times he doesn’t know if he can get along with him), the media should start investigating what’s really happening here geopolitically  and not endlessly parse Trump’s language, looking for an opportunity to pounce.  I can’t imagine anything more useless and self-destructive.

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements

January 31, 2017

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements, DEBKAfile, January 31, 2017

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The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria.

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

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An order to remain stationary was issued Thursday night, Jan. 26, by the Russian Commander in Syria Lt. Gen. Alexander Zhuravlev to the high commands of the Syrian army and of the Iranian and Shiite forces positioned in Aleppo, as well as Hizballah units in all parts of Syria. Gen. Zhuravlev, acting on instructions from Moscow, prohibited any movement by those forces out of their current positions as of noon local time.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the order banned the opening of new battlefronts anywhere in Syria and the movement of Syrian air force units between bases.

This order has been obeyed to date.

The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria. There was no mention of penalties for disobedience, but the tone was peremptory. The three army commanders did not need reminding that the Russians are capable of using their electronic warfare systems to disrupt unauthorized military movements, jam their communications, and withhold fuel, ammo and spare parts to create havoc in their armies.

lieutenant_general_alexander_zhuravlev_120Russian Lt. Gen. General Alexander Zhuravlev

Moscow has never resorted to extreme action of this kind in previous Russian military interventions in Middle East lands.

The decision was taken shortly after the Kremlin was notified that US President Donald Trump had agreed to join forces with President Vladimir Putin in Syria.

Since then, the Trump administration has kept all dealings with Moscow over Syria under a cloak of secrecy, including the outcome of President Trump’s first phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. All other concerned parties, such as Israel, have been left groping in the dark about what happens next.

The Russian standstill order in Syria came shortly before the US presidential decree that barred Iranians from entering the United States (along with the nationals of six other terror-prone Muslim countries)

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

In his opening remarks, Foreign Minster Mohammed Zarif Javad said: that Iran and Russia “need to have far more extensive relations,” and “few countries in the world have relations as deep and historical as Iran and Russia.” This sounded like an appeal to Moscow for protection against the new US president. It most likely fell on deaf ears. Putin is fully engaged in promoting his new relations with Donald Trump.

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security

January 28, 2017

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security, DEBKAfile, January 28, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO *** Local Caption *** ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ???? ????

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

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It would be a mistake to take it for granted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks with President Donald Trump in Washington early next month will be plain sailing or produce an automatic shower of benefits for the Jewish state. It is understood in Jerusalem that a new order is unfolding close to Israel’s borders, which is not yet fully in the sights of its government, military and intelligence leaders. This process is going forward at dizzying speed in Syria, currently the central Middle East arena, where Presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to cooperate.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May picked up fast on the new power equation. After standing before the media with the US President Friday, Jan. 27, and declaring hopefully, “Britain and the US can once again lead the world together,” she decided to fly straight from Washington to Ankara Saturday, before returning home.

The outcome of her first meeting with President Erdogan was one of the fastest defense collaboration pacts ever negotiated for trade and the war on terror. The British leader lost no time in getting down to brass tacks on how British military and intelligence can be integrated in the joint US-Russian-Turkish military steps for Syria. Erdogan did not exactly receive her with open arms. He did not afford his visitor the courtesy of placing a British flag in the reception room in his palace.

Israel is in much the same position. Israel stayed out of military involvement in the Syrian civil war, according to a policy led by Netanyahu, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi (then Direct of Military Intelligence). This policy has left Israel out of today’s decision-making loop on Syria’s future.

Towards the end of 2015, shortly after Russia embarked on its massive military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Netanyahu took steps for safeguarding Israel’s security interests by setting up a direct line with the Russian president. It was translated into a military coordination mechanism between the Russian air force command in Syria and the Israeli air force, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff, in charge of this direct military link.

Any problems that could not be solved at the military level were promptly turned over to be addressed at meetings or in phone calls between Netanyahu and Putin.

In one example, the prime minister obtained an undertaking from the Russian president to keep Iranian forces and Iran’s Shiite surrogates, including the Lebanese Hizballah, away from the Syrian-Israeli border, or allow them to use borderlands to send terrorists into Israel.

Shortly after Trump’s election victory (Nov. 8, 2016), the spadework on his collaboration with Putin was quietly begun by their national security advisers, Michael Flynn, in New York and Nikiolai Platonovich Patrushev in Moscow.

Jerusalem knew what was going on, but was taken aback by the speed at which those close understandings ripened into US-Russian deals on the ground. Before Trump had finished his first week in the White House, US warplanes had escorted a Russian air strike against ISIS in Syria.

This rush of events injects further urgency into Netanyahu forthcoming talks with the US president.  Whereas in the second term of the Obama presidency, the Israeli leader was wont to travel to Moscow or Sochi to sort out security problems relating to Syria, henceforth he must directly engage Donald Trump as the lead player.

So when the Israeli premier travels to the White House next month, he will have to address four pressing concerns, all relating to the fast-moving Syrian scene:

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

Astana floored by Russian pick as Assad successor

January 23, 2017

Astana floored by Russian pick as Assad successor, DEBKAfile, January 23, 2017

(The rift between Russia and Iran deepens. — DM)

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Gen. Tlass, 53, son of the eminent Gen. Mustafa Tlass, defense minister under President Hafez Assad, was awarded high honors by his son Bashar as one of his closest friends. Although appointed commander of the prestigious 104thBrigade in the Syrian Republican Guard, Manas chose to defect and flee the country in 2012, not long after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising.

Iran threatens to be one of the main obstacles to any reduction in Assad’s powers. For Tehran, he stands as a bulwark against the expulsion of its own and Hizballah forces from the country. As long as he is in charge, Iran will have the use of a land bridge to Lebanon and its proxy, Hizballah, via Iraq and Syria.

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Syrian government and rebel groups launch a fresh peace conference in the Kazakh capital of Astana Monday, Jan.23 in freezing temperatures of minus 20 Centigrade. Although the event is jointly sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, Moscow is the real power-broker.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that the delegations on both sides of the table were caught off-balance by the arrival of Bashar Assad’s former close friend, Gen. Manas Tlass, whom Russia flew in from his place of exile in a Gulf emirate to a prominent seat with the opposition delegation.

Gen. Tlass, 53, son of the eminent Gen. Mustafa Tlass, defense minister under President Hafez Assad, was awarded high honors by his son Bashar as one of his closest friends. Although appointed commander of the prestigious 104th Brigade in the Syrian Republican Guard, Manas chose to defect and flee the country in 2012, not long after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising.

Our sources report that Moscow has chosen him as lead player in Syria’s post-Assad era, initially in the transition government in Damascus which is scheduled to start evolving from the peace process kicked off at Astana this week. This does not imply that Bashar Assad will be gone in a day – only that a new mechanism will be put in place to start curtailing his powers.

How quickly and how far this process will unfold cannot yet be determined.

Iran threatens to be one of the main obstacles to any reduction in Assad’s powers. For Tehran, he stands as a bulwark against the expulsion of its own and Hizballah forces from the country. As long as he is in charge, Iran will have the use of a land bridge to Lebanon and its proxy, Hizballah, via Iraq and Syria.

At the same time, Russia, Turkey and the Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are demanding the removal from Syrian soil of Iranian forces and pro-Iranian Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias (30,000 fighters in all)  as well as the 10,000 Hizballah combatants.

Neither Hizballah, nor the Shiite militias are represented at the Astana conference which leaves them deliberately at a disadvantage.

But Iran is preparing to make its removal from Syria as difficult as possible. One way is to start dominating Syria’s strategic infrastructure. And so, on Jan. 18. Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis, who was on a visit to Tehran, signed five accords granting Iran exclusive rights as the sole operator and developer of Syria’s country’s cell phone network.

And, according to our intelligence sources, a number of secret provisions were buried in those deals. One gave Iran permission to interlink the cell phone networks between Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon as a device to guarantee the Lebanese terror group’s permanent presence in Syria.

Deliberations at the Astana conference will focus at its first sessions Monday on stabilizing the ceasefire between government and Syrian rebel groups (excluding the jihadist ISIS and Nusra Front). This ceasefire has for the most part held up since it went into effect late last month.

The effort to turn the truce into a more permanent cessation of hostilities will be long and arduous, entailing negotiations on such tough issues as land swaps and rights to use main traffic and supply routes.  Only when they are resolved, can the two sides approach the next stage, a discussion of Syria’s political future, i.e. the fate of the regime headed by Bashar Assad.

Although Moscow invited the new Trump administration to send a representative to the Kazakh conference, it was declined. Washington only sent the US ambassador to Kazakhstan to attend as an observer.

This does not mean that President Donald Trump has decided to leave the resolution of the Syrian issue solely in Russian hands. Washington and Moscow are still in the middle of discussing this and other critical questions and no final decisions have been reached in either capital.

Domestic Protests and Trump Inauguration Both Threaten Iran’s Relations with Russia

January 14, 2017

Domestic Protests and Trump Inauguration Both Threaten Iran’s Relations with Russia, Iran News Update, January 13, 2017

(Fascinating article. Please see also, Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel. “The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct.” — DM)

deadmullah

With the US and Russia strongly at odds, it was understood that Moscow would defend its Iranian partners in disputes over the nuclear deal. But if the US and Russia begin to reconcile and engage in greater political coordination under the Trump administration, this situation could be threatened, especially at a time when Iran’s partnership with Russia is also being openly challenged at home.

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On Wednesday, Voice of America News published an article detailing some of the protests that were seen in Iran on the occasion of the state-organized funeral of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Various slogans were heard to be shouted as part of those protests, and Iranian state media muted the television broadcast of the funeral as a result. These included calls for the release of political prisoners including the Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. But the funeral also served as an outlet for critical sentiments about the Iranian regime’s relationship with Russia and the associated interventions in the Syrian Civil War.

VOA News noted that demonstrators could be heard shouting “Death to Russia” and “the Russian embassy is a den of spies,” in mimicry of slogans that have been used against the United States by supporters of the Islamic theocracy. The report suggested that these demonstrations reflected both a change in the Iranian government’s view of Russia and widespread popular anxiety about that change. That anxiety in turn adds to questions about the durability of the Iran-Russia alliance, which some analysts have characterized not as an alliance but as a tenuous “partnership of convenience.”

Although Iran and Russia have both been backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad virtually since the outset of the civil war aimed at ousting his government, it has frequently been suggested that the two countries’ interests in the region could begin to diverge in a way that threatened their cooperation. Russia’s partnership with Iran was already threatened by its friendly relations with Iran’s bitter enemy, Israel. And as the Syrian Civil War has dragged on, that threat has apparently intensified with Iran providing anti-Israeli Shiite paramilitary Hezbollah a permanent base in Syria.

Leaving aside the different perceptions of this situation by Tehran and Moscow, it has also been suggested that the latter could be more willing to accept a future for Syria in which Assad is not a long-term player. This difference is arguably reflected in the different degrees of hostility with which the two countries pursue moderate Syrian rebels. Although both have been accused of focusing their efforts on those moderate rebels instead of militant groups like ISIL, Russia guaranteed safe passage to the rebels and to civilians in rebel-controlled territory following the recent conquest of Aleppo. Iran, on the other hand, stopped fleeing Syrians at its own checkpoints and demanded concessions from the rebels to secure their release.

If such differences do reflect broader tensions in the Iran-Russia partnership, it is possible that these could be exploited by other interested parties, particularly incoming US President Donald Trump. Since winning election in November, Trump has continued to advocate for improved relations with Russia, while also maintaining a hard line on such issues as the Iran nuclear agreement.

His prospective Cabinet appointees have largely maintained this same line. The Weekly Standardreports that Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has called for a thorough review of the nuclear agreement, in the interest of strengthening its enforcement mechanisms and making sure that Tehran is held accountable to its provisions to a greater extent than it was under the Obama administration. Meanwhile, UPI reports that Trump’s Secretary of Defense pick, James Mattis, underscored the importance of such a review when he referred to Iran as the worst destabilizing force in the Middle East.

Speaking more concretely during his Senate confirmation hearing, Mattis described Iran’s “malign influence” as having grown as a result of recent policies, and suggested that it would be the responsibility of the incoming presidential administration to see that the United States counters that influence, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course this objective, if adopted by the administration itself, will have serious bearing on its strategy with regard to Syria, where improved relations with Russia could also play a part.

Although Mattis also expressed an interest in taking a fairly hard line on Russia, his comments to this effect are at odds with those of the president elect and in any event, they would have to be reconciled with the desire to undermine the power of a Middle Eastern government that could be significantly constrained by Russia.

The Voice of America article indicated that some Iranian officials are noticeably worried about the effects that improved relations between Moscow and Washington could have on Iran’s plans for its Russian partnership. These effects would probably not be limited to the Syrian Civil War but would also include changes in the ways in which the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is understood and enforced.

Earlier this week, the seven parties that had negotiated that agreement met in Geneva, for the last time before US President Barack Obama leaves office and Donald Trump is sworn in. There was some danger of Iran using this meeting to initiate conflict-resolution mechanisms built into the agreement, following comments by the Iranian Foreign Ministry promising “retaliation” and demanding “compensation” from the US for its reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act.

The provisions of that act remain suspended under the JCPOA, but US congressmen almost universally considered it important to keep the law in effect for the next ten years, so as to retain a credible threat of the “snap back” of economic sanctions in the event that Iran is caught cheating on the deal. The Iranians, on the other hand, had insisted that any additional sanctions activity – even unenforced activity – would be regarded as a violation of the spirit of the deal.

However, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Tehran had effectively backed down from its previous threats in the context of the meeting. This apparent change in tone may support a conclusion put forward in a previous Iran News Update article, which suggested that Iran was beginning to reorient its strategies regarding the JCPOA, so as to account for the change in prospective responses under the Trump administration as compared to the Obama administration.

Trump’s own threats to tear up or undermine the nuclear deal are one aspect of this, and they may necessitate that Tehran act differently in order to preserve that deal. Previously, the Iranians themselves had suggested a willingness to tear up the agreement, but some analysts took this to be a ploy to gain further concessions at a time when the Obama White House was paranoid about losing its foreign policy legacy. Some also viewed that ploy as successful, considering that Iran made several perceived violations, including two instances of exceeding heavy water limits, but faced no serious consequences under the deal.

But in times to come, the Iranian regime may have to treat more lightly if it wishes to preserve the agreement, which provided Iran with tens of billions of dollars in unfrozen assets, plus unspecified benefits from sanctions relief and new international business. The changing circumstances reflect not only the loss of a conciliatory opponent in the Obama administration, but also the prospective loss of a strong international backer in the Russian government.

With the US and Russia strongly at odds, it was understood that Moscow would defend its Iranian partners in disputes over the nuclear deal. But if the US and Russia begin to reconcile and engage in greater political coordination under the Trump administration, this situation could be threatened, especially at a time when Iran’s partnership with Russia is also being openly challenged at home.