United States/Iran – President Donald Trump’s national security advisor signalled a toughening US stance on Iran on the 1 Feb 17 condemning a recent missile test and declaring America was “officially putting Iran on notice.” In his first public remarks since taking office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn accused former president Barack Obama’s administration of having “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions.” Citing a recent missile test and the actions of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, Flynn said “Iran is now feeling emboldened.” “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” he said without elaborating. Both Trump and Flynn have been vocal opponents of an international deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
United States/Yemen//al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda is gaining ground in Yemen and could benefit from military actions like the deadly raid by elite US forces ordered by President Donald Trump, the International Crisis Group warned on the 3 Feb 17. "The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been," ICG said in a report documenting the spread of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). "The first military actions by the Trump administration in Yemen bode poorly for the prospect of smartly and effectively countering AQAP," read the report, released after the 29 Jan 17 US air raid in central Yemen. While Washington has said at least 14 suspected jihadists and one US Navy SEAL were killed in the strike, ICG said the death toll included "many civilians, including at least 10 women and children". The think-tank warned that strikes like the 29 Jan 17 raid on Baida province could increase fear of or even hostility towards the United States among civilians, providing fertile ground for recruitment by AQAP. "The use of US soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics plays into AQAP's narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-US sentiment and with it AQAP's pool of recruits," said the Brussels-based ICG. With its key role in regional politics, Trump's White House also stands to impact efforts to find a political solution to Yemen's conflict which has killed more than 7,400 people since March 2015, according to the World Health Organization. "These efforts will be imperilled if states interested in fighting AQAP and Yemen's nascent Islamic State (IS) branch, such as the US, take military actions that ignore the local context or fail to restrain partners who tolerate or even encourage AQAP/IS activities," added the 35-page report. The US raid was said to have targeted the houses of three tribal chiefs linked to Al-Qaeda. The provincial official said Apache helicopters also hit a school, a mosque and a medical facility which were all used by Al-Qaeda militants. AQAP said in a statement that 30 people died in the raid, "only women and children with some tribal leaders who have no connections" to the group.
United States/Iran – Iran is to deploy missiles for a Revolutionary Guards exercise on the 4 Feb 17 in a show of defiance a day after the United States imposed sanctions over a ballistic missile test launch last weekend. Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated sharply since Donald Trump took office last month promising a tough line on what he sees as Iranian belligerency towards US interests and allies. Hours after the new US sanctions were announced, Pentagon chief James Mattis charged that Iran was "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world." The new sanctions are the first of Trump's presidency and target what US officials say is Iran's weapons procurement network in Lebanon and China. They are a response to Iran's test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile on the 29 Jan 17 as well as its support for Yemeni rebels who attacked a Saudi frigate.
Iran's medium-range missiles can reach 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles), sufficient to strike Israel or US bases in the Gulf. But the Revolutionary Guards said that the missiles deployed for the recent exercise would only be of very short range -- up to 75 kilometres (47 miles). They said the manoeuvres in the north-eastern province of Semnan were aimed at demonstrating their "complete preparedness to deal with the threats" and "humiliating sanctions" from Washington. "Different types of domestically produced radar and missile systems, command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems will be used in this exercise," the Guards' website said. The new sanctions do not yet mean that Washington has abandoned commitments it made to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear programme, US officials said. But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials said Friday's measures would not be the last. Iran's vice president on the 4 Feb 17 urged calm heads to prevail. "These are worn-out accusations against Iran and even the (accuser) himself is ashamed of saying it," state news agency IRNA quoted Eshagh Jahangiri as saying."If this nation is talked to respectfully and issues are resolved through negotiations and dialogue it can be a win for everyone." But General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who is overseeing the drills, struck a more strident tone. "If the enemy makes a mistake, our missiles will land on them," he was quoted as saying by the Guards' official site. Tehran also vowed to impose "legal limitations" on Americans it says are involved in creating and supporting "extreme terrorist groups." It said it would publish a list of names later. US intelligence and Treasury officials are constantly scrutinising Iran's networks, looking for evidence of extremist funding and advanced weapons procurement. But Mattis said Washington had no immediate plans to increase troop numbers in the Middle East. A defence official said the US Navy had sent a destroyer to waters off Yemen in response to the attack on the Saudi frigate. The USS Cole, which had been conducting operations in the Gulf, is now stationed in the Bab al-Mandab strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Tehran says its missiles do not breach UN resolutions because they are for defence purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on the 3 Feb 17 that Iran would "never initiate a war", despite facing threats, "but we can only rely on our own means of defence." The missile row is just one of a raft of issues souring relations between Tehran and the Trump White House.
United States/Iran/Militia Training Camps – The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has revealed the locations of 14 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force training camps, spread in various regions in Iran. According to NCRI, These IRGC training camps are designed to train members of sectarian militia members from Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. In a press conference in Washington on the 14 Feb 17 the deputy director of the US Representative Office of the NCRI, Reza Jafarzadeh, said the “Iranian extremist regime is sponsoring all extremism in the region.” Jafarzadeh said that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) was able to unveil details about several training camps across Iran, the most important of which is the training directorate of the Quds Force extended over 100 thousand square meters. This directorate includes several IRGC garrisons and is headquartered at the Imam Ali garrison. The commander of this directorate is General Rahimi, IRGC veteran close to Qassem Soleimani. Rahimi followed the Top Advisor to IRGC’s commander, Brigadier General Khosro Orouj who participated in the 33-days war in Lebanon with Hezbollah. The training is divided into two stages, the first of which is for 45 days where Malali regime agents from Syria are trained to be sent on military missions. As for those who are permanently recruited in the Quds Force, they will be trained for a period varying between 9 to 12 months in undisclosed and isolated units. During the past few years, the Quds Force has been secretly enrolling a number of mercenaries from Latin America (Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia) at the Imam Ali Garrison. The training camps that fall under the Quds Force are the Imam Ali Garrison, Mustaha Khomeini Garrison, Baadindeh Center in Varamin, Amel Center at the Malek Ashtar Camp, Semnan Center, Mashhad Center, Pazouki Garrison, Lowshan Garrison, Chamran Garison, the Telecabin Axis, Abadan and Ahvaz cities as well as the Shahrayar Garrison. In his press conference, Jafarzadeh also spoke about nuclear weapons, saying that the IRGC has been working on acquiring nuclear weapons since 1984. He highlighted that the IRGC is a key source in exporting terrorist networks and that this is “more dangerous than obtaining a nuclear bomb.” He added that Article 151 of the Iranian constitution stresses that the mission of the IRGC is to protect the revolution and its achievements and thus, “protect the dictatorship that is based on oppression, exporting terrorism and extremism, as well as acquiring a nuclear bomb.”
United States/Iran/IRGC – The slate of sanctions slapped on Iran by the new Trump White House in response to Tehran’s January 29th ballistic missile test is a welcome development. There are hopes such a move will signal to the mullahs to begin curbing, and eventually ending, their support for global terror, testing of ballistic missiles and the ongoing domestic crackdown An article printed in Al-Arabiya English published on the 15 Feb 17 reported. While the Trump administration’s actions to this day may be considered lacking the necessary might to make Iran’s regime truly feel the pain, they represent a key U-turn from his predecessor’s appeasement drive. And now, while long overdue, there is serious talk of labelling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. This necessity has become more vital following a press conference held on the 14 Feb 17 by Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Washington. Citing based on information obtained by the social network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) inside Iran, NCRI US Representative Office Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh revealed with details and specific locations how the IRGC Quds Force has assigned a major branch to increase the number militia members trained to take part in Tehran’s proxy wars already threatening Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan and beyond. “Da’esh and the Tehran regime armed with its Revolutionary Guards are two sides of the same coin, with the distinction that the Revolutionary Guards has at its disposal a nation state with all its strategic resources,” Jafarzadeh said. The IRGC’s role in fomenting crises across the region and terrorism on a global scale is undeniable. This includes provocative meddling in Saudi Arabia, and goes in line with the necessity to designate this entity as an organization focused on global terrorism. Iran has a long history of aggravating instability and shedding blood. The 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon that left over 240 dead and the 1994 Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, resulting in 85 deaths and hundreds injured, are two hallmarks of the Iranian regime’s terrorist nature. Iran’s mullahs are the godfathers of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the force behind many of its international terrorist attacks, and it is only a logical conclusion that the entity providing the arms, training and finances would be none other than the IRGC. As we entered the new millennium, and the presence of international troops led by the United States became ever more present in the Middle East, the IRGC launched intensified countermeasures by resorting to organizing and dispatching Shiite militias on a mission to wreak havoc. Iran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon are different fronts coordinated by the IRGC as unconventional means to tilt the region’s balance of power in its favour, boosted by a failed appeasement policy during the Obama presidency. The IRGC was also able to take advantage of the Obama doctrine to advance Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile drive, emboldening the mullahs into testing the new Trump administration with a medium-range ballistic missile test. By taking advantage of loopholes in the Obama administration’s ironically cherished nuclear accord with Iran, the IRGC has pursued the nuclear program – now claiming to have tested new centrifuge designs – and their troubling ballistic missile aspiration threatening US interests and strategic allies across the Middle East. Parallel to all these troubling activities, and not of any less importance, has been the IRGC’s leading role in the mullahs’ domestic crackdown. The main IRGC entity in implementing this policy is the paramilitary Basij militias that roam the streets to enforce a climate of fear and oppression, leading to an array of violations of human rights in Iran. Iran continues to top the list in executions per capita, and such a trend has intensified during the tenure of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani. Iran’s jails are also known as dungeons where many such executions are performed, and the IRGC enjoys specific wards used to torture inmates for coerced confessions. Iran as a regime is designated as the leading state sponsor of terrorism by the US State Department, and also described most recently by Defence Secretary James Mattis. The IRGC, known as the main entity pursuing the mullahs’ policies, meets the necessary legal index of a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designation.
a) A foreign organization
b) Involved in terrorism or terrorist engagement, or retaining the ability and intention to engage in terrorism or launch terrorist activities
c) US nationals and/or national security is threatened through the organization’s terrorism or terrorist engagements.
Initiatives have also been instigated in both chambers of Congress, as the “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Terrorist Designation Act” underscores how the IRGC meets the designation criteria of an FTO. Tuesday’s revelations by the NCRI in Washington according to MEK-obtained information highlight the major role the IRGC enjoys in Iran’s vast terrorism apparatus, and the utmost necessity for the Trump administration to issue an FTO designation for the IRGC as it rightfully deserves. Such a move will have the new US administration stand along its allies in the Middle East and signal to the Iranian people the true support they now enjoy in America.
(Heshmat Alavi (the writer of the article) is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime's support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program. He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi & blogs at IranCommentary.)
United States/Venezuela – The Trump administration on the 13 Feb 17 announced it had imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s vice-president, Tareck El Aissami, charging that he was a major drug trafficker. The announcement, made on the Treasury Department’s website, is likely to worsen the already-tense relations between the United States and Venezuela. El Aissami is the most senior Venezuelan official – and one of the most senior Latin American official — to have been charged of drug offenses by the United States. The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States has also imposed sanctions on Samark López, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman believed to be El Aissami’s main front man in the drug business. Thirteen of the companies owned or controlled by López, including five in Florida, have been blocked and both men are barred from entering the United States. The punitive measures against Venezuela’s vice-president follow a letter, sent last week by a bipartisan group of thirty-four lawmakers to President Donald Trump, urged him to increase the pressure on Venezuela’s leftist government by imposing sanctioning on top government and business figures top officials accused of human rights violations, corruption, criminal activity — and for association with terrorist groups, as is the case with El Aissami, who has been accused of ties to Hezbollah. As the government of President Nicolás Maduro became more repressive, the U.S. Congress, in 2014, passed a bill authorizing the president to freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of Venezuelans opposing the government. In the case of El Aissami, the Treasury Department also relied on laws allowing the United States to go after the assets of anyone designated a drug kingpin. El Aissami has caught the eye of U.S. law enforcement years ago, when, as interior minister in the government of Hugi Chavez, he ordered his underlings to issue dozens of fraudulent Venezuelan passports to people from the Middle East, including members of Hezbollah. Venezuela’s top drug kingpin, Walid Makled, while in Colombian jail, provide information about bribes he paid to El Aissami’s brother in order to have Venezuelan officials turn a blind eye to cocaine shipments through Venezuela. El Aissami was named vice-president last month. Since El Aissami became vice-president, Maduro has given him control of an “anti-coup commando unit” to go after officials and opponents suspected of anti-government sentiments. In sanctioning El Aissami, the administration has activated a plan which has been in the works for months. It was held up for a few months to allow the Vatican to mediate between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, and the gain the release of an American citizen being held in a Venezuelan jail on trumped-up charges. “This was an overdue step to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan regime and signal that top officials will suffer consequences if they continue to engage in massive corruption, abuse human rights and [the dismantling of] democracy,” said Mark Feierstein, who served as Barack Obama’s top national security adviser on Latin America. “The sanctions in and of themselves will not bring about a democratic transition,” Feierstein said. “That will require the Venezuelan opposition to remobilize its followers and U.S. diplomatic efforts to marshal governments in the region to isolate Maduro.” Last fall Maduro described Trump as a “bandit” and “mental patient” during the campaign. Last month he said: “He won’t be worse than Obama, that’s the only thing I dare to say.”