The Iran Nuclear Deal Has Bolstered the Islamic State’s Propaganda War: Olivier Guitta, National Post, Aug. 5, 2015 — While almost everything has been said and written about the consequences of the recent P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, not much has been covered about how the deal will impact the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL).
The Teheran Formula: Jonathan Spyer, PJ Media, Aug. 1, 2015— In late June, I traveled to Iraq with the purpose of investigating the role being played by the Iranian-supported Shia militias in that country.
Mullah Omar’s Death and the Future of Global Islamic Radicalism: Max Boot, Commentary, July 29, 2015 — The death of Osama bin Laden had serious geostrategic implications — beyond the important fact that it helped to ensure Barack Obama’s reelection.
Naftali Bennett on Israel’s Jewish Terrorists: Naftali Bennett, New York Times, Aug. 7, 2015— Israel is under attack. This time though, the threat is not from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas. It comes from a fringe group within Israel, which needs to be eradicated swiftly and forcefully.
The Taliban After Omar: Carter Malkasian, Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2015
Islamic State is Led By More Than 100 of Saddam’s Former Officers: Hamza Hendawi & Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Times of Israel, Aug. 9, 2015
Losing in Iraq Again: Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2015
The Expulsion of Baghdad’s Jews and the Unraveling of the Middle East: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 2, 2015
National Post, Aug. 5, 2015
While almost everything has been said and written about the consequences of the recent P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, not much has been covered about how the deal will impact the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL). Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy who took part in the negotiations with Iran, believes that the nuclear deal is a disaster for ISIL. She is sadly mistaken. Contrary to what Mogherini and other diplomats think, the Iran nuclear deal has made the West much less safe, largely because it strengthens ISIL. To understand why, one has to look at the propaganda war ISIL has been waging against the West since 2013.
The lack of intervention against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in the summer of 2013 was the first Western gift to ISIL. It allowed jihadists to recruit many young Westerners who wanted to help their fellow Muslims fight the bloody dictator. The second gift was handed ISIL in August 2014, when U.S. President Barack Obama decided to intervene militarily in Iraq against ISIL, in support of the region’s Shia population. ISIL quickly made the case that a Sunni life was worth nothing compared to a Shia life for the West.
This is a very strong argument that proved to many that the West had a double standard — letting Assad butcher and gas 200,000 people, while rushing to save the Shias in Iraq and rewarding Iran. This narrative led to both a huge ramp-up in the number of Western recruits travelling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL, and a rise in the number of ISIL-inspired terror plots in the West.
The West had, for the past year, said it was not co-operating with Iran in Iraq, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were on the ground and Iranian jets were bombing ISIL targets. Then it was revealed that U.S. troops and Iran-backed Shia militias were actually sharing the same base in Iraq. ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al Adnani warned repeatedly of a Western plan to hand over the Muslim world to Iran.
What could pass as a conspiracy theory a few months back is now ringing true for a majority of Sunnis, following the Iran deal. In fact, the nuclear deal with Iran is the best propaganda and recruiting tool for ISIL, because it allows the group to argue that the West is now a pawn of Iran and the Shias. Unsurprisingly, within a few hours of the announcement of the deal in Vienna, ISIL released a video clip that made the case that the U.S. betrayed Saudi Arabia, in order to directly work with the terrorist regime in Iran.
The West is doubly at risk here: first, because it has waged war against ISIL since August 2014, and secondly because it is now the consenting ally of Iran, the sworn enemy of the Islamic State. The recent deal only serves to make matters worse, because it will lift many of the sanctions now levelled against Iran, which will allow the regime to further prop-up Assad.
French President François Hollande recently revealed that jihadist terrorist plots are being foiled in France on a weekly basis. Scotland Yard also mentioned that an average of one potential terrorist is arrested every day in the United Kingdom. The nuclear deal with Iran is only worsening this bleak situation and actually endangering Western security by helping ISIL recruit even more members in the West, some of whom have been trying to hit Western targets.
PJ Media, Aug. 1, 2015
In late June, I traveled to Iraq with the purpose of investigating the role being played by the Iranian-supported Shia militias in that country. Close observation of the militias, their activities, and their links to Tehran is invaluable in understanding what is likely to happen in the Middle East following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement between the P5 + 1 powers and Tehran.
An Iranian stealth takeover of Iraq is currently under way. Tehran’s actions in Iraq lay bare the nature of Iranian regional strategy. They show that Iran has no peers at present in the promotion of a very 21st century way of war, which combines the recruitment and manipulation of sectarian loyalties; the establishment and patient sponsoring of political and paramilitary front groups; and the engagement of these groups in irregular and clandestine warfare, all in tune with an Iran-led agenda. With the conclusion of the nuclear deal, and thanks to the cash about to flow into Iranian coffers, the stage is now set for an exponential increase in the scale and effect of these activities across the region. So what is going on in Iraq, and what may be learned from it?
Power in Baghdad today is effectively held by a gathering of Shia militias known as the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization). This initiative brings together tens of armed groups, including some very small and newly formed ones. However, its main components ought to be familiar to Americans who remember the Iraqi Shia insurgency against the U.S. in the middle of the last decade. They are: the Badr Organization, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Kataeb Hizballah, and the Sarayat al-Salam (which is the new name for the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr). All of these are militias of long-standing. All of them are openly pro-Iranian in nature. All of them have their own well-documented links to the Iranian government and to the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The Hashed al-Shaabi was founded on June 15, 2014, following a fatwa by venerated Iraqi Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani a day earlier. Sistani called for a limited jihad at a time when the forces of ISIS were juggernauting toward Baghdad. The militias came together, under the auspices of Quds Force kingpin Qassem Suleimani and his Iraqi right-hand man Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Because of the parlous performance of the Iraqi Army, the Shia militias have become in effect the sole force standing between ISIS and the Iraqi capital. Therein lies the source of their strength. Political power grows, as another master strategist of irregular warfare taught, from the barrel of a gun. In the case of Iraq, no instrument exists in the hands of the elected government to oppose the will of the militias. The militias, meanwhile, in their political iteration, are also part of the government.
In the course of my visit, I travelled deep into Anbar Province with fighters of the Kataeb Hizballah, reaching just eight miles from Ramadi City. I also went to Baiji, the key front to the capital’s north, accompanying fighters from the Badr Corps. In all areas, I observed close cooperation between the militias, the army, and the federal police. The latter are essentially under the control of the militias. Mohammed Ghabban, of Badr, is the interior minister. The Interior Ministry controls the police. Badr’s leader, Hadi al-Ameri, serves as the transport minister. In theory, the Hashd al-Shaabi committee answers to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi. In practice, no one views the committee as playing anything other than a liaison role.
The real decision-making structure for the militias’ alliance goes through Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and Hadi al-Ameri, to Qassem Suleimani, and directly on to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. No one in Iraq imagines that any of these men are taking orders from Abadi, who has no armed force of his own, whose political party (Dawa) remains dominated by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his associates, and whose government is dependent on the military protection of the Shia militias and their political support. When I interviewed al-Muhandis in Baiji, he was quite open regarding the source of the militias’ strength:
We rely on capacity and capabilities provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The genius of the Iranian method is that it is not possible to locate a precise point where the Iranian influence ends and the “government” begins. Everything is entwined. This pro-Iranian military and political activity depends at ground level on the successful employment and manipulation of religious fervor. This is what makes the Hashed fighters able to stand against the rival jihadis of ISIS. Says Major General Juma’a Enad, operational commander in Salah al-Din Province: The Hashed strong point is the spiritual side, the jihad fatwa. Like ISIS.
So this is Tehran’s formula. The possession of a powerful state body (the IRGC’s Quds Force) whose sole raison d’etre is the creation and sponsorship of local political-military organizations to serve the Iranian interest. The existence of a population in a given country available for indoctrination and mobilization. The creation of proxy bodies and the subsequent shepherding of them to both political and military influence, with each element complementing the other. And finally, the reaping of the benefit of all this in terms of power and influence.
This formula has at the present time brought Iran domination of Lebanon and large parts of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Current events in Iraq form a perfect study of the application of this method, and the results it can bring. Is Iran likely to change this winning formula as a result of the sudden provision of increased monies resulting from the nuclear deal? This is certainly the hope of the authors of the agreement. It is hard to see on what it is based. The deal itself proves that Iran can continue to push down this road while paying only a minor price, so why change? Expect further manifestations of the Tehran formula in the Middle East in the period ahead.
Commentary, July 29, 2015
The death of Osama bin Laden had serious geostrategic implications — beyond the important fact that it helped to ensure Barack Obama’s reelection. Although al-Qaeda central survived his demise, it was never the same without him. His successor, Ayman Zawahiri, was never Bin Laden’s equal in charisma and he has faded from view. That has pushed power to the periphery — not only to al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen) and the al-Nusra Front (Syria) but also to a new and rival jihadist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Will the death of Mullah Omar, assuming that he really has died, have similar implications? It could. To understand why requires a short review of Omar’s history and significance. Little is known about Omar; there are perhaps one or two pictures of him extant, and that’s about it. We do know that he fought as a mujahideen soldier against the Soviets in the 1980s, losing an eye in the process. Afterward he became a village mullah outside Kandahar. After the fall of the Soviet-allied Najibullah regime in 1992, chaos reigned in Afghanistan as different muj factions fought for control. To quell the anarchy, Omar mobilized a few dozen followers among religious students (“taliban”) recruited out of Afghan madrassahs and the refugee camps in Pakistan. By the end of 1994 he had captured Kandahar, one of the three biggest cities in Afghanistan. In 1996 he donned a cloak supposedly belonging to the prophet Mohammad and proclaimed himself “Commander of the Faithful.” Later that year Kabul fell to Omar’s men. The savage rule of the Taliban had begun.
On its face, this is an extraordinary rags-to-riches story that far exceeds the slow slog of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other eventual dictators who required many years, even decades, to seize power. And perhaps it is true that Omar was an organizational genius and one of the 20th Century’s greatest insurgent leaders. But more likely he was simply a convenient front man for a movement that was guided and supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
After the fall of the Taliban in the fall of 2001, Omar fled along with Osama bin Laden and other Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders to Pakistan. The likelihood is that he has been living as a ward of the state ever since. That would seem to be consistent with reports that he died a couple of years ago in a hospital near Karachi. If there was little chance that the ISI was ignorant of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, there was even less chance with Mullah Omar. The Taliban’s Quetta Shura, its governing council, is firmly under the ISI’s thumb.
With Pakistani support, the Taliban staged a dismaying resurgence. By 2005, they were once again a major threat to the government in Kabul, and so they have remained. It is hard to know what if anything Mullah Omar contributed to this long and brutal guerrilla war because he has been virtually invisible throughout. Indeed rumors of his death have circulated for years. Whether this time they are accurate remains to be seen. In any case, there is little doubt that the Taliban have a deep bench of commanders, including Omar’s son Yaqub, who will be able to carry on their fight without him — as long as they continue to enjoy Pakistani support.
So why might Omar’s death matter? Not because it is likely to presage a change of Taliban policy. The government of Afghanistan has already expressed its hope that with Omar gone, the Taliban might take peace talks more seriously. And no doubt some Taliban leaders would like to conclude a peace treaty. But the obstacle standing in the way has not been Mullah Omar but rather the ISI, which doesn’t want to see its Afghan proxies give up the fight. Until Pakistan changes its policy, peace will be impossible. No, the real significance of Omar’s death is likely to lie elsewhere, in a matter of Islamic law. In 2001 Osama bin Laden formally pledged allegiance (bayat) to Mullah Omar in his role as “commander of the faithful” and emir of the Islamic state of Afghanistan. That pledge, as the invaluable Long War Journal noted, was publically renewed by al-Qaeda in 2014.
But by that time a new rival “commander of the faithful” had arisen: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, proclaimed himself not only “commander of the faithful” but also as caliph of a new Islamic State whose boundaries are essentially infinite. The last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, had been formally abolished in 1924 along with the sultanate based in Istanbul. Now Baghdadi is claiming that all Muslims owe him allegiance — a more far-reaching claim than Mullah Omar ever made and one that al-Qaeda is likely to continue resisting. But the spell that the Islamic State has cast is strong at the moment, and with Mullah Omar gone, it is possible that some significant jihadists will shift their allegiance from the Taliban/al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.
This should be of concern not least because of indications that Islamic State is organizing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, just yesterday USA Today published an article about an ISIS document captured in Pakistan that lays out a campaign to trigger a war with India and thus provoke an Armageddon. The goal may be far-fetched, but ISIS’s ambitions are real, and it is possible that ISIS will benefit from Mullah Omar’s demise (assuming he is indeed gone). If that were to happen, it would be worrisome. Bad as the Taliban are, ISIS is even worse.
New York Times, Aug. 7, 2015
Israel is under attack. This time though, the threat is not from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas. It comes from a fringe group within Israel, which needs to be eradicated swiftly and forcefully. Last week, an ultra-Orthodox man brutally stabbed six participants at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, including 16-year-old Shira Banki who a few days later died of her injuries. The attacker, Yishai Schlissel, had been released from prison just weeks before for committing a similar attack at a gay pride parade a decade earlier. This should never have happened.
A day later, Israelis awoke to news that an 18-month-old Palestinian boy, Ali Dawabsha, had been burned to death in a firebomb attack on his home in the West Bank village of Duma. His family is still hospitalized, fighting for their lives. Shira’s murderer and the suspected perpetrators of the heinous and unforgivable firebombing that killed Ali are radical Jewish extremists who claim to act in the name of God but do the exact opposite — they desecrate God, our religion and the Jewish people.
They represent no one but themselves. They are terrorists. And just as Israel has done in our previous wars on terror, we will defeat them with all the means at our disposal. I am the leader of Israel’s right-wing camp and it is no secret that I have genuine disagreements with our Palestinian neighbors. I believe in the legitimacy of the settlements in the West Bank and I am opposed to conceding our national homeland and dividing Jerusalem. I believe that a Palestinian state, if established, would be taken over by ISIS, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and would turn into a launching pad for attacks against our citizens, just like what happened in Gaza. It is a risk Israel cannot take.
But at the same time, I believe in coexistence and working together with our neighbors to create stability, economic prosperity and a safe, secure future for all of our children, Israeli and Palestinian, without regard for their religion or sexual orientation. We can do that by working together to improve our economies, the infrastructure we jointly use and in improving our bilateral ties.
The terrorists who killed Shira and Ali do not represent Israel or its people. They are a fringe group, made up of radical extremists who do not only seek to kill. Their ultimate goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. They act against and threaten the very premise of what the Zionist movement envisioned when returning to the Land of Israel after 2,000 years in exile — a Jewish and democratic state committed to equality and freedom for all its citizens. They are anarchists, a fifth column within Israel and like Hamas and Hezbollah, they must face the full force of Israel’s justice system and its defense establishment.
But they are also a tiny group. They do not represent the 400,000 residents of Jewish communities throughout the West Bank, the overwhelming majority of whom are law-abiding citizens and have condemned these acts of violence. The government I am a member of has already authorized our security forces to use all measures — even extraordinary ones — to apprehend Ali’s murderers. The model is very similar to how we combat terrorist groups that operate along and inside our borders — superior intelligence, legal action like administrative detentions and if needed, military force. Terror is terror even when it originates from within.
As Israel’s education minister, I also believe that the effort needs to be taken into our homes and schools. We need to teach more tolerance, respect and appreciation of all people. This can be accomplished by learning more about Arabs, their culture and history and by teaching Arabic to Jewish students. The same needs to happen on the Palestinian side. Textbooks there need to stop publishing maps that pretend there is no State of Israel. They need to stop praising martyrdom, stop naming town squares for mass murderers and begin teaching tolerance and coexistence. For attacks like this to stop, we need to speak respectfully about one another and appreciate the differences among us. That is the only real way to attain a genuine and durable peace.
A few weeks ago, the Jewish people marked the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, a fast commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temple that used to stand in Jerusalem. The Roman destruction of the Temple also led to the loss of our people’s previous commonwealth and it took us 2,000 years to re-establish an independent Jewish state. These extremists threaten Zionism, our future and our statehood. We must do everything in our power to stop them.
The Taliban After Omar: Carter Malkasian, Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2015—The world learned last week that Taliban leader Mohammad Omar is dead and may have been dead since April 2013. The announcement was bad news for peace talks and good news for the Islamic State.
Islamic State is Led By More Than 100 of Saddam’s Former Officers: Hamza Hendawi & Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Times of Israel, Aug. 9, 2015 —While attending the Iraqi army’s artillery school nearly 20 years ago, Ali Omran remembers one major well. An Islamic hard-liner, he once chided Omran for wearing an Iraqi flag pin into the bathroom because it included the words “God is great.”
Losing in Iraq Again: Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2015—No matter how much the Pentagon and White House downplay it, the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State on Sunday shows that President Obama’s strategy is failing.
The Expulsion of Baghdad’s Jews and the Unraveling of the Middle East: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 2, 2015—A few hours in the Shorja open market in Baghdad can teach you a lot – about the Middle East’s past, its present and its apparent future. What’s to be found there is informative. What is absent – equally so.