Lebanon's Fall Would be Iran's Gain: John Bolton, Pittsburgh Tribune, Nov. 11, 2017— Almost unnoticed in the coverage of President Trump's Asia trip, Lebanon is slipping under Iran's control.
The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017— The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough.
In Shadowy Covert Wars, Iran Takes Center Stage: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, November 14, 2017— In the shadowy world of covert proxy wars, Iran is taking center stage, both as a target and as a player.
On the Left, the Missing Debate over the Iran Deal: Matthew RJ Brodsky, National Review, Oct. 26, 2017— President Trump’s decision to remain in the nuclear agreement with Iran while working to fix its numerous flaws has temporarily put to bed an ideological debate…
Trump, Iran, and a Fast-Changing Middle East (Interview): Daniel Pipes, L'Informale (Italy), Nov. 13, 2017
Is the JCPOA Working?: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon, Algemeiner, Nov. 7, 2017
Report: Iran Establishing Permanent Military Presence in Syria Near Israeli Border: Avital Zippel, Jerusalem Online, Nov. 11, 2017
Will There be a Russian-Turkish-Iranian Alliance?: Jonathan Adelman, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2017
Pittsburgh Tribune, Nov. 11, 2017
Almost unnoticed in the coverage of President Trump's Asia trip, Lebanon is slipping under Iran's control. On Nov. 3, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, resigned, citing fears of assassination by Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group funded and controlled by Iran. No one can say Hariri's fears are unjustified since his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was murdered in 2005 — almost certainly at Syrian or Iranian direction.
While the full ramifications of Saad Hariri's resignation remain to be seen, Tehran's ayatollahs have now significantly extended their malign reach in the Middle East. This is bad for the people of Lebanon; bad for Israel, with which Lebanon shares a common border and a contentious history; bad for Arab states like Jordan and the oil-producing Arabian Peninsula monarchies; and bad for America and its vital national interests in this critical region.
Sadly, Iran's progress was foreseeable from the inception of Barack Obama's strategy of using Iraqi military forces and Shia militia units as critical elements in the campaign to eradicate the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Baghdad government is effectively Iran's satellite. Accordingly, Obama's decision to provide that regime with military assistance and advice strengthened Iran's hand even further and materially contributed to its efforts to establish dominance in Iraq's Shia regions. Moreover, Iran itself, supported by Russian forces in Syria, aided and directed the Bashar Assad regime in fighting against both ISIS and the Syrian opposition. Iran also ordered Hezbollah to deploy from Lebanon into Syria, thus effectively creating a Shia-dominated arc of control from Iran itself to the Mediterranean.
Apparently, neither the Pentagon, nor the State Department, nor the National Security Council advised the new Trump administration of the implications of facilitating Iran's Middle East grand strategy. Obama's approach is, ironically, easier to understand, given his determination to secure his “legacy” by conceding vital U.S. national interests to nail down the Iran nuclear deal. Seeing Iran enhance its hegemonic aspirations throughout the region was, in his view, just another small price to pay to grease the way for the nuclear deal. Trump's advisers have no such excuse.
Hariri's resignation shows the inevitable consequences of blindly following Obama's approach. Very little now stands in the way of Hezbollah's total domination of the Lebanese government, thereby posing an immediate threat to Israel. In recent years, Tehran continued supplying the Assad regime and Hezbollah with weapons systems dangerous to Israel. Even more Israeli self-defense strikes are now likely, as Iran's conventional threat on Israel's borders grows.
Nearby Arab states also see the potential dangers of an unbroken Shia military arc of control on their northern periphery. The Middle East thus faces an advancing Syria, backed by Iran's imminent nuclear-weapons capability, deliverable throughout the region — and likely able to reach America in short order. The Trump administration cannot continue idly watching Iran advance without opposition. Washington and its regional allies need a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iran, not a series of ad hoc responses to regional developments. Time is fast running out.
Khaled Abu Toameh
Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017
The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia. Hariri, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, said he feared for his life. Hariri has good reason to be afraid of Hezbollah, the powerful Shia terror group and Iranian proxy that effectively controls Lebanon.
Indications show that Iran and Hezbollah are also planning to extend their control to the Gaza Strip. Iran already provides Hamas with financial and military aid. It is precisely the support of Iran that has enabled Hamas to hold in power in the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. It is also thanks to Iran that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another major terror group in the Gaza Strip, are in possession of thousands of missiles and rockets. It is Iranian money that allows Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to continue digging terror tunnels under the border with Israel.
Relations between Iran and Hamas have grown stronger in the past few weeks. Last month, a senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to attend the funeral of the father of the senior Iranian security official, Qasem Soleimani. A few weeks earlier, another senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to brief Iranian leaders on the latest developments surrounding the "reconciliation" agreement reached between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA).
It was the first time senior Hamas officials visited Iran since relations between the two sides became strained in 2011. That year, Iran suspended its ties with Hamas over the latter's refusal to support Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, against his opponents in its civil war. The sudden rapprochement between Hamas and Iran has raised concerns among Abbas and his Palestinian Authority officials regarding Hamas's sincerity in implementing the "reconciliation" agreement. President Abbas and his officials wonder why Hamas rushed into arms of Iran immediately after reaching the "reconciliation" accord under the auspices of the Egyptian authorities.
Iran and Hezbollah are no fans of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is terrified that Hamas is trying to bring Iran and its Hezbollah proxy into the Gaza Strip. Abbas and his PA are eager to return to the Gaza Strip, but the presence of Iran there creates a serious problem. Like Hariri, Abbas would have good reason to fear for his life if Hamas brings the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip.
Abbas's fear is also not unjustified. Earlier this week, a senior Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, disclosed that his movement and Hezbollah were working towards strengthening their relations. "Relations between Hamas and Hezbollah were never cut off," Abu Marzouk stated. "We have ongoing contacts and understandings. But we preferred to keep them away from the spotlight. Hamas and Hezbollah are in one line in the fight against Israel, and we coordinate our positions regarding the Palestinian cause. Hamas will continue to cooperate with resistance groups that support the Palestinian resistance."
The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran has managed to take control of large parts of Syria. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran already controls Lebanon. Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip. They know that the only way to access the Gaza Strip is through the Hamas door. Iran wants to see Hezbollah inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price: allowing Iran and Hezbollah to set foot in the Gaza Strip. Judging from the remarks of Abu Marzouk, Hamas appears to be happy to pay the price.
Hariri, Abbas and many Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, felt betrayed by the Obama Administration's policy of détente towards Iran — a policy that emboldened the Iranians and gave them a green light to meddle in the internal affairs of Arab countries to try to establish, as they seem to have done, a "Shiite Crescent" from Persia through Yemen and now Lebanon, clear to the Mediterranean Sea. The Sunni Arabs are apparently particularly worried about the nuclear deal signed between the Obama Administration and Iran. They feel that the Obama Administration's attempt to appease the Iranians has emboldened the country that is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran has since taken advantage of the nuclear deal to threaten and try to terrorize America, its friends and its Arab allies…
… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Dr. James M. Dorsey
BESA, November 14, 2017
In the shadowy world of covert proxy wars, Iran is taking center stage, both as a target and as a player. In the latest signal of escalating proxy wars, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) announced that it had “dismantled a terrorist team” that was “affiliated with global arrogance,” a reference to the US and its allies, in the Islamic Republic’s northwestern province of East Azerbaijan. The announcement came weeks after Iran said it had eliminated an armed group in a frontier area of the province of West Azerbaijan that borders on Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. It also followed Iran’s assertion two months ago that it had disbanded some 100 “terrorist groups” in the south, southeast, and west of the country.
To be sure, intermittent political violence in Iran cannot be reduced exclusively to potential foreign exploitation of minority ethnic and religious grievances in a bid to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Nor can foreign exploitation be established beyond doubt despite multiple indications that it is a policy option under discussion in the US and Saudi Arabia. There is, moreover, little doubt that Iran’s detractors had no connection to a June 7 attack on the Iranian parliament and the grave of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran that killed 12 people and was claimed by ISIS, despite Iran’s claims that Saudi Arabia was responsible.
Nor can revived agitation by Kurds, Baloch, and Azeris be simply written off as foreign creations rather than expressions of longstanding and deep-seated grievances, even if the revival may in part have been inspired by secessionist trends among Iraqi and Syrian Kurds as well as developments in Catalonia. There is, however, also no reason to exclude the possibility of the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, seeking to exploit those grievances.
Iran is by no means a country wracked by political violence. Still, violence is gradually mounting. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) announced in January that it was resuming its armed struggle not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but [as] a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” PDKI militants, operating from Iraqi Kurdistan, have since repeatedly clashed with Iranian forces.
Pakistani militants in the province of Balochistan reported a massive flow of Saudi funds in the last few years to Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative groups, while a Saudi think tank believed to be supported by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman published a blueprint for support of the Baloch and called for “immediate counter measures” against Iran. Without a doubt, US and Saudi moves to counter Iran go beyond potential exploitation of ethnic and religious grievances. Supported by the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia recently forged close ties to the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi – despite Al-Abadi’s rejection of demands that he roll back the power of Iranian-backed Shiites who played a key role in the fight against IS.
Similarly, US President Donald J. Trump appears to be goading Iran into walking away from the 2015 nuclear agreement. Trump earlier this month refused to certify to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the accord. The US has also sought to limit the benefits Iran should garner from the accord. The Trump administration, in its latest move, blocked Iranian participation in ITER, a multibillion-dollar fusion experiment in France. Increased scientific cooperation was part of the agreement’s bid to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
Included in the recent release of 470,000 documents captured during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, in which he was killed, was the Al Qaeda’s leader’s personal diary. The diary and other documents provide evidence of Iran’s complex relationship with the jihadist group and serve to strengthen justification of the Trump administration’s tougher approach towards Iran. Iran has not restricted its opportunistic, albeit calibrated, support for militants to Al Qaeda, but has played both sides of the divide in Afghanistan. In an indication that ties to the Taliban could strengthen because of US pressure on Pakistan to halt its support for militants, including the Taliban, Taliban fighters are looking to Iran as an alternative safe haven. “Many Taliban want to leave Pakistan for Iran. They don’t trust Pakistan anymore,” an Afghan fighter told The Guardian.
In a bid to counter Saudi influence in Afghanistan that dates back to the US-Saudi-backed jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, Iran played, in the wake of the US ousting of the Taliban, a key role in the Bonn conference that united disparate Afghan factions behind the government of Hamid Karzai. Iran has since allowed the Taliban to open a regional office in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Late last year, Iran hosted several senior Taliban figures at an Islamic Unity conference.
The record of past efforts to engineer regime change in Iran through covert wars is mixed at best and dismal on balance. There is little reason to assume that a potential new round will fare any better. If anything, the attempts persuaded Iran to keep its lines open to Sunni Muslim jihadists, who are hardly natural allies for a Shiite Muslim regime. At the same time, the two-year-old experience with implementation of the nuclear agreement, as well as Iranian support for not only the Taliban but also the government in Kabul, suggests grey areas in which reduction rather than escalation of conflict may be possible.
Matthew RJ Brodsky
National Review, Oct. 26, 2017
President Trump’s decision to remain in the nuclear agreement with Iran while working to fix its numerous flaws has temporarily put to bed an ideological debate…between the two main conservative camps, known as “the Walkers” and “the Fixers.” The fix-it approach adopted by the president was developed in think tanks such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the Institute for Science and International Security, and it involves a comprehensive strategy called “decertify, pressure, and fix.” With the writing on the wall, the Walkers, who favored withdrawing from the agreement, have joined with the Fixers, albeit skeptically, and they reserve the right to say “I told you so” later.
Mark Dubowitz of FDD recently wrote that the president’s choice “moved the debate on the fatally flawed nuclear deal from ‘keep it or nix it’ to ‘fix it or nix it.’” The problem, however, is that movement is discernible only on the political right. Across the political aisle, no such debate or internal discussion is taking place. To grasp why, it is crucial to understand that for “the Vanguard,” the leading camp on the left, the Iran deal was always about much more than the nuclear file. The reason that they and “the Believers” they spawned are so vocal in their opposition to tinkering with the agreement today is that Trump was elected, which gives him the authority to kill their deal and shine a light on its shortcomings. In the meantime, they are simply regurgitating the old lines without taking stock of their handiwork two years on.
The Underpinnings From the outset, the Obama administration set out to lessen the American footprint abroad — especially in the Middle East. Part of that endeavor included trading traditional alliances for new ones that could bear the burden of the Middle East maladies in America’s absence. To that end Barack Obama, shortly after taking office in 2009, began a process designed ultimately to reestablish full U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran.
For the Vanguard, reaching a nuclear accord with Iran was identified as the means to lock in America’s strategic shift. In that sense, the deal was about transforming Iran so that it could “take its rightful place in the community of nations” and become a constructive regional player as America withdrew. Iran and its proxies were seen as a more cohesive and capable unit to inherit the Middle East than the mix of Sunni states, most of whom were working at cross-purposes. The years of Arab upheaval that began in 2011 only reinforced that notion.
Adopting this new approach, they believed, would help bring stability to the Middle East, allowing the U.S. to correct its unfortunate plague of foreign-intervention, which sprung from “a mindset out of step with the traditions of American foreign policy.” Doing so would “restore America’s standing in the world,” which was a promise that candidate Obama made in September 2008. It was to be “the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy,” as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told progressive activists in January 2014. “This is health care for us, just to put it in context.”
Of course, flipping Iran from the dark side wouldn’t be easy, nor would convincing skeptical Americans that the deal they were cooking up would be in their interest. It required a group of core believers who could carry the Obama administration’s message, which was initially based on the fiction of an ongoing struggle between Iranian moderates and hardliners, epitomized by the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president. He defeated the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. According to the Vanguard’s logic, anyone elected short of Caligula could be considered a moderate compared to Mr. “wipe Israel off the map” Ahmadinejad. That election served as the pretext that Obama needed to sell America on the idea that the winds of change were blowing in Tehran, allowing him to keep his goal of a grand bargain hidden. In reality, the Obama administration sat on the sidelines a few years earlier in June 2009 and watched the regime brutally crush the Green Revolution with techniques that it later exported and perfected for Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian slaughterhouse.
Marketing this new formula under the guise of a nuclear deal necessitated an avoidance of any back-and-forth discussion of the merits of the agreement itself, a willingness to attack all those who raised important questions about its shortcomings or sought to improve the deal, and the circumvention of Congress, which, if presented with it as a treaty, would surely have voted it down. Most of all, once the Vanguard caved on all of the promises it had made regarding what would be in deal, it had to rest its case on the bottom-line assertion that those who were opposed to it offered only war as a solution. The debate today should be over whether to ‘fix it or nix it,’ despite the Vanguard’s continuing attempts to kneecap the efforts of those trying to strengthen the agreement.
For this monumental task, Obama turned to Ben Rhodes, who developed, ran, and subsequently bragged to David Samuels of the New York Times about his creation of an echo chamber designed to sell their alternative facts about the Iran deal to the American people. Rhodes handpicked newly minted experts who then began popping up at think tanks. They didn’t think like the American foreign-policy establishment — “the blob,” as Rhodes called them — they simply acted as parrots. To spread their centralized hot takes, the Vanguard relied on “hundreds of often-clueless reporters,” as Samuels described Rhodes’s understanding of them. As Believers, they were only too willing to oblige. Together, they generated a feedback loop of misinformation, amplification, and reiteration.
And it all worked brilliantly. Barack Obama and his Vanguard’s echo chamber sold the JCPOA lemon in 2015 as an exclusive choice between the deal they cooked up or war. Those who opposed the agreement were smeared as warmongers who shared a common cause with the Iranian-regime hardliners. They scolded and undermined the Fixers then as they do now and then bypassed Congress to seal the deal at the United Nations. And they did so claiming that they had reached the best agreement possible, having exhausted the limits of U.S. leverage in search of a deal, and that to turn down what was now available would leave America with no other option besides war. All of that is garbage…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Trump, Iran, and a Fast-Changing Middle East (Interview): Daniel Pipes, L'Informale (Italy), Nov. 13, 2017—Donald Trump decertified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, leaving it up to the U.S. Congress whether to sanction Tehran or not. Do you agree with John Bolton, Martin Sherman, and others that it is futile to "fix" the deal and necessary to "nix" it?
Is the JCPOA Working?: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon, Algemeiner, Nov. 7, 2017—All JCPOA supporters rely on the notion that “the agreement is working” and on the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran is in compliance with the agreement eight times since it came into force in January 2016.
Report: Iran Establishing Permanent Military Presence in Syria Near Israeli Border: Avital Zippel, Jerusalem Online, Nov. 11, 2017—An intelligence source told the BBC that Iran is establishing a permanent military base in Syria, according to a report issued on Friday. The official claimed that the construction has significantly progressed, which may be a result of recent gains made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army.
Will There be a Russian-Turkish-Iranian Alliance?: Jonathan Adelman, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2017—With the winding down of the war in Syria, some pundits have seen an alliance of Russia with Turkey and Iran in the Middle East as possible and even likely. They see a rising authoritarian Russia and Iran uniting with an authoritarian Turkey to dominate the Middle East.