Da’esh/India/Pakistan – An offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group based near the Afghan-Pakistan border is expanding to new areas, recruiting fighters and widening the reach of attacks in the region, members of the movement and Afghan officials said on the 2 Mar 17. Some members of the so-called "Khorasan Province" of ISIL, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the recent attack on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan that killed 90 people, and ISIL gunmen were blamed for the deaths of six local aid workers in the north of the country, far from their stronghold in eastern Afghanistan. Any expansion would pose a new challenge for US President Donald Trump, as he considers how many American troops to keep in Afghanistan where the main security threat remains the Taliban insurgency. Trump has vowed to "totally destroy" the Middle East-based ISIL, yet has spoken little of Afghanistan, where US forces have been posted for 15 years. Now he has not only the Taliban to consider, but also fighters swearing allegiance to ISIL, although US officials are generally less alarmed about its presence in Afghanistan than local officials. "Da’esh is not only a threat for Afghanistan but for the region and the whole world," said Shah Hussain Mortazawi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani's office. The extent of direct operational links between ISIL in Afghanistan and the Middle East remains unclear, although most fighters in the "Khorasan Province" are Afghans, Pakistanis or Central Asians. ISIL is suspected of carrying out several attacks on minority Shia Muslim targets in Afghanistan, and the February suicide bombing at the Pakistani shrine bore some of the hallmarks of the sectarian group. Known as the worst armed group assault in Pakistan for two years indicated that a group based in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar could strike deep into Pakistan territory. "Islamic State has no proper base in Pakistan, but it has sympathizers and links in Pakistan," one member of the group said based in Afghanistan. "Mostly the attackers and suicide bombers enter from Afghanistan to Pakistan." Western and Afghan security officials believe fighters frequently switch allegiances between armed groups, making it difficult to know who is to blame for violence. "Sometimes the Taliban commanders defect to Da’esh and sometimes the other way around," said Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, governor of the northern Afghan province of Sar-i-Pul, where ISIL and Taliban fighters are believed to be active. "The situation is very unclear." The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said US drone strikes and special forces operations had killed about a third of ISIL fighters in Afghanistan and cut their territory by two thirds. US officials say intelligence suggests ISIL is based overwhelmingly in Nangarhar and neighbouring Kunar province. They are sceptical about reports of an increased ISIL presence in the northwest, where gunmen may claim a connection to the group to boost their standing. "Certainly if you're a local official who's looking for more resources, by saying that ISIS is in your area, you're going to get more attention," said Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the main US military spokesman in Kabul. Nicholson, who has asked for thousands more troops in Afghanistan, said counter-terrorism forces planned a series of operations in 2017 to defeat ISIL in Afghanistan "and preclude the migration of terrorists from Iraq and Syria into Afghanistan". Estimating numbers is difficult. Cleveland said US officials believe the movement has only 700 fighters, but Afghan officials estimate it has around 1,500, with twice as many auxiliary helpers and up to 8,000 less active supporters. Those officials say fighters from Central Asian countries including Uzbekistan have come to Afghanistan, while fighters forced across the border by Pakistani military operations also gravitated towards ISIL. A US drone strike last year killed former local ISIL leader Hafiz Saeed Khan, once a member of the Pakistani Taliban. Several Afghan security officials believe a former Afghan Taliban commander, Abdul Haseeb Logari, has replaced him. ISIL began to be noticed in the region in early 2015, when loyalists took on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in a bid to become the leading rebel group, using tactics that stood out for their brutality.
Hezbollah Analysis (Written by: Tony Duheaume 3 Mar 17) (United States/Iran/Latin America) – When it comes to fighting terrorism, building walls and executing travel bans do nothing to deter hardened terrorists from pursuing their violent agendas, as it matters not what is put in their way, they will find their cannon fodder amongst the vulnerable, dispossessed and downtrodden on the streets of any inner city, including those of the US. The ones who suffer the most from such draconian restrictions of movement, are the hundreds of thousands of innocent migrant Muslims left to suffer in abysmal conditions, after escaping from the terrible surroundings of wars, and end up being stigmatized as a “public enemy”. What should scare the US government more than anything as far as Mexico and its own country is concerned, is the presence of Hezbollah in both areas as they are known to have constructed sophisticated tunnels along its border with the US, like the one that had tunnelled beneath the ground into San Diego, allowing both Hezbollah operatives and the Mexican mafia to cross into US territory unseen, to set up gangs within the US. These tunnels were a replica of the ones their Lebanese cousins had dug in Lebanon, which enabled them to transport rockets and other weapons into the country from Syria during past conflicts with Israel, and also to supply insurgents in Gaza. Also, throughout recent years in the US, there has been an upsurge in apprehended drug dealers, who are adorned with tattoos denoting Hezbollah symbols, showing how the US has become a prime target for the terror group’s drug enterprise, which has been made much easier by the fact that Americans of Lebanese descent are running various drug networks on the US side of the border. It was noted as far back as 2010, by the Tucson Police Department, how the presence of radical groups within the US prison system was on the increase, and how an upsurge of inmates were becoming radicalised during their incarceration, and how many Hezbollah tattoos were being found on incarcerated felons. With these reports flagging up serious concerns amongst the authorities during this period, a plea was put out to all American citizens through the internet, to report any person seen sporting such artwork on their bodies, in an effort to track these hardened terrorists, who are the real threat to US security, and are already on US soil.
Ideological and political sympathy
With Iran having found ideological and political sympathy among various administrations across Latin America, its hatred for the US has turned out to be a great asset in the area, as many of the more radical Latin American leaders share the same line of thought, and with many regimes living for the day that America suffers a series of attacks as bad as 9/11, the recent strengthening of ties with the Iranian leadership, has set them on the road to achieve this. To highlight Iran’s radical plans for the area, one of the regime’s long-standing ambassadors to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, who was a fanatical supporter of Ruhollah Khomeini’s ideology, and a fervent anti-Semitic, had spent his time in Mexico trawling deprived areas, actively seeking out and converting young Mexicans to embrace his former mentor’s radical form of Shiite Islam, filling their minds with religious fervour, while trying to persuade them to travel to Qom in Iran for religious study. This might have happened in Mexico, but it could quite easily be replicated in the downtown slums of a US inner city, where many youths feel they have no chance of finding work, and feel they are being harassed from pillar to post by a society that has no room for them. But as far as Ghadiri was concerned, one troubling statement made by him during his time in Mexico, was to urge his young recruits to access the servers of US defence installations, in a bid to bring mayhem to the military, and added to this was a statement was his views of wanting to see the annihilation of Israel’s “Zionist” regime, which showed the intentions of the Iranian administration when it came to influencing the politics of Latin America.
For decades, Hezbollah has been well entrenched in Mexico, and US intelligence reports suggest the terror group’s agents have a well-established sleeper cell network within the US itself, and it is believed that the only reason that Hezbollah has not carried out a “spectacular” on US soil comes two-fold:
• The first being that Iran needs to win friends and influence people within Latin America, and Hezbollah needs to fill its coffers with cash made on the misery of the West’s desperate army of drug addicts through its dealings in narcotic, and so it would be counterproductive to have the Americans hunting them down as a result of terror attacks, as this would disrupt their trafficking network, costing them a vast amount of US dollars.
• The second being that of the Iran deal, which the Iranian regime has adhered to insofar as it sees fit, by agreeing to curb certain aspects of its nuclear program, which gives it a chance to build up its armed forces, fuel foreign wars such as those in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and regain its prestige within the international community. So as long as this agreement remains in place, Iran will have billions of dollars pouring into its coffers from cash being returned after being impounded as a result of Western sanctions, imposed through the Iranian regime’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons. So with the Iranian Qods (Jerusalem) Force – which is an elite armed division, acting on behalf of its sister organization the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and takes on extra-territorial operations such as covert action in foreign lands on its behalf – known to direct Hezbollah operations, it has kept tight reins on the terror group’s present day terrorist activities. This is just to make certain there will be no serious attacks by its proxy on American soil, which will help to ensure that the Iran deal stays in place, and Iran won’t suffer any further stringent sanctions, or finds itself under military attack from the West. But should this change, with the West showing aggression against Iran, the Tehran regime would put out the word to awaken Hezbollah sleeper cells across the Western world, and terror attacks would begin, including vital targets on US soil.
It has been estimated that more Lebanese live abroad than in Lebanon itself, so with a vast number living in Latin America, as within the US itself, within every émigré community, there are a certain amount of criminal elements to be found, and with the cocaine trade being widespread throughout the Americas, many Lebanese émigrés have become hooked up in the trade, and Hezbollah has found a foothold through these criminal groups, to form ties with various narco terror gangs throughout both continents. It has been known for several years that dealing in drugs with the Mexican mafia is a lucrative source of income as far as Hezbollah is concerned, having come into contact with its leadership through its dealings with guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) for decades. Although entering into peace negotiations with the Colombian government, the FARC is still a designated terrorist group, said to have at one point produced 70 percent of the world’s cocaine, plus having been responsible for 90 percent of the drug on sale within the US. Being more brutal than the Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel was in its heyday, the Mexican mafia has operated with virtual impunity on the streets of Mexico, due to the fact that the police have found themselves totally outgunned when caught up in fire-fights with cartel foot soldiers, who dress like paramilitary troopers, and carry an awesome array of military weapons.
As far as the Mexican cartels are concerned, Hezbollah makes the perfect partner for any group that is at odds with its government. Not only is Hezbollah an insurgency group, whose talent in asymmetric and urban warfare is second to none, brought about through rigorous training at Qods Force training camps, it also has a talent in all other forms of insurgency expertise. Its list of techniques includes training snipers for assassinations, teaching the fundamentals of intelligence systems, methods of obtaining secure communications, and much more besides. So with expert bomb-makers within its ranks, with all of the knowledge you could ask for in both the design and the planting of explosive devices, it is no surprise that such techniques in bombings have taken a sudden upsurge on the streets of Mexico since Hezbollah arrived on the scene. But what makes Hezbollah so appealing to narco gangs, is the fact that its insurgency techniques have been well-honed through its wars in Lebanon against the Israeli army, and recently with its backing of Iranian troops in battle zones such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. So such is their experience on both the battlefield, and through bringing terror to the streets, it makes Hezbollah an essential ally as far as Mexican drug cartels are concerned. So with past Mexican governments not been able to control the situation the cartels have created on the streets, violence escalated rapidly, and with Hezbollah putting gang members through their paces in fully equipped training camps, the whole situation is now way out of hand, and having left the borders of the US at risk should the Iranian regime give the order to attack its foremost enemy, no wall will protect a country from sleeper cells that are already established on its soil.
Hezbollah/Israel – The renewed focus on Iran by the Trump administration has spurred an outbreak of sabre-rattling in Lebanon and Israel and raised concerns that the calm that has existed along the border for more than a decade may be coming to an end. In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that “there will be no red lines” in the next war with Israel and threatened to strike the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert and ammonia plants in Haifa with devastating results should Israel attack Lebanon. In response, an Israeli government minister promised that “all Lebanon would be hit” if Hezbollah attacked the Israeli home front. Since the last war between Hezbollah and Israel ended in August 2006, the border between the two countries has enjoyed its longest period of calm since the mid- 1960s but the inconclusive end to the 2006 conflict, when Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill, has long fuelled expectations of a second round. Even so, the calm endured — until the 2011 “Arab spring” upheaval and the war in Syria drew attention away from the Lebanon-Israel border. The anti-Iran (and by extension anti-Hezbollah) rhetoric emanating from the White House has raised fears that another conflict may be building up. However, both parties know that the scale of a new war will dwarf the 2006 conflict, a reality that has helped ensure a mutual deterrence. Hezbollah has expanded enormously in terms of manpower, weaponry and experience in the last decade. Israel has re-trained its army since its 2006 debacle and acquired new weapons and technologies. The traditional theatre of conflict has long been limited to south Lebanon and northern Israel. Next time, the entire territories of both countries will be the battleground. Israel will face barrages of missiles raining on its cities and towns as well as Hezbollah fighters storming across the border and possibly infiltrating by sea. Lebanon will likely witness a level of destruction unseen since its 1975-90 civil war. Some Israeli strategists argue that in the next conflict Israel should treat all Lebanon as the enemy, rather than just Hezbollah, and target the trappings of the state such as infrastructure and the Lebanese Army. “A war against Lebanon, which will inflict heavy damage on all of the country’s infrastructures, will spark an international outcry for a ceasefire after three days rather than after 33 days like in the second Lebanon war,” Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, wrote recently in the Yedioth Ahranoth daily. “It is only from a really short war that Israel will be able to emerge victorious and without serious damage to its home front.” The flaw in Eiland’s analysis is contained in the second sentence. It presupposes that Hezbollah, cowed by the destruction unleashed on Lebanon, will simply stop fighting or bow to political pressure to halt the combat. But it is not in Hezbollah’s character to hand Israel victory on a plate. The Party of God has an interest in extending a war for as long as it can. By prolonging the destruction in Lebanon, it would hope to foster international criticism of Israel, hasten diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire on terms perhaps more beneficial to Hezbollah and allow the organisation more time to inflict damage on the Israeli military and Israel’s home front. Israel’s population is unlikely to tolerate a war that brings normal life to a halt for weeks, placing tremendous pressure on the Israeli government to end the conflict. The focus on Hezbollah in recent years has been on the party’s intervention in Syria rather than its 3-decade struggle against Israel. But Hezbollah’s leadership is acutely aware that an Israeli government may conclude that there will never be a better time to launch an offensive against its old enemy than while Hezbollah is fighting in Syria. Hezbollah is still very focused on the front with Israel with many of its top fighters, especially anti-tank missile teams and rocket units, remaining in Lebanon rather than being deployed to Syria. For two months, plain-clothes Hezbollah units have been conducting a thorough but low-key survey of the Israeli border, taking extensive measurements of terrain, including slope gradients, and photographing Israel’s new defences on the other side of the frontier fence, sources in south Lebanon say. The survey, which is part operational planning and part psychological needling of Israeli troops, underlines that Hezbollah’s anti-Israel activities have not slowed despite the party’s heavy commitments in Syria. Both Israel and Hezbollah repeatedly say that they do not want a war and that mutual deterrence remains strong. However, Israel has pushed the envelope more than Hezbollah in recent years with assassinations of key Hezbollah figures and air strikes against suspected arms depots or convoys carrying new weapons from Syria. Hezbollah has been careful to tailor its reprisal operations so they do not upset the balance of terror but if another war does break out, it is likely to be the result of a miscalculation by one side or the other that quickly spirals out of control before either party can dial it back. - Nicholas Blanford is the author of Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel (Random House 2011). He lives in Beirut. (http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81844)
Iran/United States – Iran could purchase warships, submarines and missiles as early as 2020, when a United Nations resolution banning them from acquiring sophisticated weapons is lifted, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence and reported on the 2 Mar 17. The resolution's expiration will 'allow Iran to pursue foreign acquisitions that have been inaccessible since sanctions were imposed', according to a new assessment of Iran's naval forces. The weapons ban will be lifted in 2020 as part of an international deal struck in July 2015 between the United States, five allies and Iran in hopes of curtailing the country's nuclear program. The new 44-page assessment of Iran's naval strategy and capability, titled Iran's Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies, was obtained by Bloomberg News and is an update of a 2009 publication. The report describes Iran's current military strategy as 'ballistic missiles, naval forces, and proxies in the region.' 'Each of these potentially provides the means to target Iran's regional neighbours, or military forces based or operating in the region,' the report said. According to the publication, Iran is likely to continue to deploy weapons that its engineers have copied from foreign designs, including the 'Hoot' high-speed torpedo 'and potentially a supersonic' anti-ship cruise missile. When the ban expires, 'Iran may look to foreign acquisitions of ships and submarines with a wide array of weapons suites', the publication said, suggesting that Iran has already entered negotiations with Russia to acquire a coastal defence cruise missile. Iran's Navy already operates 14 North Korean-designed Yonoclass midget submarines produced in Iran that can carry two heavyweight torpedoes, according to the report. The report references two Iranian navies: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has been loyal to Iran's religious leadership since 2007, and is responsible for boats in the Persian Gulf, and the conventional force operating outside of the Persian Gulf. Since taking office in Jan 17 President Donald Trump has pledged to get tough with Iran, warning the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on the 29 Jan 17 that it was playing with fire and all US options were on the table. Trump said in Feb 17 that 'Iran has been put formally put on notice' for firing a ballistic missile, and later imposed new sanctions on Tehran. In Jan 17 a US Navy destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed. The vessels belonged to Iran's Revolutionary Guards which are not participating in the current war games. The chief of the UN atomic watchdog will hold talks on Iran's nuclear deal on the 28 Jan 17 for the first time with senior officials from the administration of Trump, who has branded it 'the worst deal in history'. The 2015 deal between Tehran and major powers placed restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The accord will be the main topic of Yukiya Amano's talks in Washington, officials involved in the dealings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on the 1 Mar 17. Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has called for a 'full review' of the accord, is among the senior US officials Amano will meet, they said. Amano, whose agency is in charge of policing those nuclear restrictions under the deal, has publicly argued in favour of the agreement, describing it as a 'net gain'. Trump's administration has not directly said the United States will back out of the UN agreement. During his nomination hearing, Defence Secretary James Mattis said that the deal 'is an imperfect arms control agreement - it's not a friendship treaty' but, 'when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.'
Iran/United States – Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz on the 5 Mar 17 forcing it to change direction, a US official said on the 6 Mar 17. The official said the boats came within 600 yards of the USNS Invincible, a tracking ship, and stopped. The Invincible and three ships from the British Royal Navy accompanying it had to change course. The official said attempts were made to communicate over radio, but there was no response and the interaction was "unsafe and unprofessional." The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps could not immediately be reached for a comment. Similar incidents happen occasionally, but the last serious one was in Jan 17 when a US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down. "Well I don't know how much of a pattern it is, we actually had seen quite an improvement in Iran's behaviour until recently," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters. Davis said that dangerous interactions were a matter of concern because they could lead to a "miscalculation or an accidental provocation."
Iran/Syria/Iraq – More than 2,000 fighters sent from Iran have been killed in Iraq and Syria, the head of Iran’s veterans’ affairs office said on the 7 Mar 17. “Some 2,100 martyrs have been martyred so far in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums,” Mohammad Ali Shahidi told the state-run IRNA news agency. Shahidi, who is head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs, was speaking at a conference on martyrdom culture in Tehran. The figure was more than double the number he gave in Nov 16 which referred only to Syria. Iran is, with Russia, the main military backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and also organizes militias fighting ISIS. Shahidi did not provide details on the nationalities of those killed. Iran oversees “volunteer” fighters recruited from among its own nationals as well as Shiite communities in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan. The families of those killed in battle are given Iranian citizenship under a law passed in May 16.
Iran/United States/United Nations/Syria – The United States supports the UN-led Syria peace talks, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on the 8 Mar 17 saying Syria could no longer be a “safe haven for terrorists” and that it was important “we get Iran and their proxies out.” Haley spoke to reporters after UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on 10 days of talks between the warring parties in Geneva, which ended last week. She did not respond to questions on whether the United States believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, should step down. All eyes have been on how Washington would approach ending the six-year war in Syria, given pledges by President Donald Trump to build closer ties with Russia, especially in the fight against ISIS. Trump’s Syria policy has been unclear. “The United States absolutely supports Staffan de Mistura and the work that he’s doing, we support the UN process, we support the talks in Geneva, we want to see them continue,” Haley said. “This is very much about a political solution now and that basically means that Syria can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists, we’ve got to make sure we get Iran and their proxies out, we’ve got to make sure that, as we move forward, we’re securing the borders for our allies as well,” she said.
Iran – Iran has successfully test-fired a naval missile which hit its target 250 kilometres away, local news agencies reported the 9 Mar 17. "We have this week tested the Hormuz-2 missile," the Fars and Tasnim agencies quoted the commander of the air wing of the elite Revolutionary Guards, General Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, as saying. "The missile succeeded in destroying its target 250 kilometres (155 miles) away," in the Gulf of Oman, Hadjizadeh added. According to the local news agencies the new Hormuz-2 missile has a maximum range of 300 kilometres. The missile test was carried out at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the United States. On the 8 Mar 17 a senior Revolutionary Guards official accused the United States of provoking tensions after two separate incidents in the Gulf last week. "A US Navy ship crossing the Strait of Hormuz changed its international route and approached to within 550 metres of Revolutionary Guards' boats in an unprofessional way," Mehdi Hashemi told the Guard's website Sepahnews. He said actions by the United States and the United Kingdom in recent days showed they have "harmful, illegitimate and provocative objectives". The Pentagon on the 6 Mar 17 blasted the "unprofessional" behaviour of the Iranian navy. The spike in tensions follows the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president. Washington imposed fresh sanctions on Iran following a missile test in late Jan 17.
Iran – In a provocative move, Iran announced sending the “45 Group” of the Iranian Naval Force, which consists of a ship and a destroyer to the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab it was reported on the 14 Mar 17. The tension caused by the continued friction between the Iranian gunboats and US forces located in international waters is due to the persistent attempts of Iran to assist and provide the Yemeni militia with weapons. Tasnim news agency, the subsidiary to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claimed that “Iranian warships are going to the Gulf of Aden and Bab al Mandab “in an effort to maintain the Iranian merchant ships,” currently docked at the Omani ports. Ever since Operation Decisive Storm, launched by the Arab coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia in March 2015 to regain legitimacy in Yemen, the Iranian navy has stepped up its provocative moves against US forces in the region. According to observers, Iran aims to control the corridors of international navigation in order to continue to tamper with and send weapons to its allies in the region like the Houthi Militia in Yemen, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the Hezbollah Militia in Lebanon. On the 8 Jan 17 there was a naval confrontation between an American destroyer and boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the area of the Strait of Hormuz. The US destroyer fired warning shots toward the boats. This was not a first. Very often, Iranian boats approach American ships in the region and do not answer wireless connections conducted by the American ship neither do they disclose their intentions.
Iran/Syria (15 Mar 17) – On March 15th the international community will unfortunately be marking a milestone of disastrous nature. The conflict in Syria began as peaceful demonstrations by a nation seeking freedom from the reign of a dictatorship and to establish true democracy. The regime in Iran, however, viewed such a development as a red line and placed its weight fully behind Bashar Assad and his ruthless killing machine.
Why is Syria so important for Iran?
Syria is of strategic significant for Iran, as the mullahs consider the country their 35th province. This reached the point that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched his Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to prop Assad’s lines in order to maintain their reach to the Mediterranean Sea and continue the flow of much needed weapons, including dangerous missiles, to the Lebanese Hezbollah. This Shiite group has provided Iran a platform to advance its agenda to a serious extent from the 1980s to this day. Hezbollah has transformed into a rogue military force while also taking control over a large swathe of the country’s political power. Hezbollah has taken actions forcing the West to see no other solution but to adopt a highly flawed appeasement policy in their faceoff with Iran. In short, Syria provides the Iranian regime crucial grounds to maintain all challengers and challenges at bay, meaning far from its own borders.
A glance at the 6-year war
Shortly after the Syrian protesters were gunned down by Assad’s forces, the Free Syrian Army began to form as a large swathe of Assad’s ranks and files defected. By June 30th, 2011, Assad was on the verge of being overthrown. Understanding the impact of such a blow, Iran began its covert support and its efforts were certainly not an unknown factor for the West, especially the U.S. under the Obama administration. Iran’s forces gradually took command of the war in Syria and by August 2013 the IRGC ordered Assad to launch a chemical attack against a Damascus suburb that rendered around 1,500 civilians killed, including many women and children. Irony lies in the fact that Tehran was involved in secret nuclear talks with Washington at the time, and senior regime officials came to the conclusion the international community, held back by the Obama White House, would not take any serious action against their killing crusade in Syria.
Iran established its Syria strategy on two principles:
a) Providing all-out support for Assad in quelling any and all forms of dissent,
b) Indirectly supporting extremist groups with the goal of creating rifts amongst opposition lines to deprive the Syrian opposition of meaningful international support demanding Assad’s ouster.
Iran: The Godfather of ISIS
It is now a known fact that ISIS is the rendered phenomenon of the lethal crackdown imposed by Iran’s dual puppets, former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syria’s Bashar Assad. Firstly, Iran’s policies in the Middle East have provoked deadly face offs between Shiites and Sunni communities that used to live alongside, and even within each other, for centuries. Iran’s support for Shiite proxy groups has been well-documented. However, it must be understood that Tehran also instigate sectarian hatred amongst Sunni to pursue its broad blueprint of maintaining the entire region in flames. Iran began to purge and literally cleanse the Sunni population in Iraq and beyond following the 2003 US-led invasion of this country. Secondly, Maliki and Assad have both been accused of facilitating the release of a joint sum of over 2,500 inmates from their prisons who went off to form ISIS. The Assad regime is also under severe scrutiny on evidence of purchasing oil from ISIS, providing the group much needed revenue to maintain its activities.
Iran rallying Russia to the rescue
The Syrian opposition was once again on the initiative in early 2015, delivering significant blows to the Assad apparatus in the country’s north and south. The Iran/Assad/Hezbollah alliance was no longer able to hold ground and the IRGC was becoming desperate in maintaining Syria. IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask for much needed air support for Iran’s army of proxy militias alongside IRGC officers and troops. Despite launching the so-called “Operation Moharram” in Aleppo, the IRGC failed to reach its objective and Hossein Hamedani, commander of all IRGC forces in Syria, was killed in battle, alongside dozens of other senior Iranian military officers. Sensing the threat, the IRGC doubled its troops in Syria to 60,000 and Khamenei even resorted to tasking units of his regular army to dispatch to Syria. Various gains were made, resulting in horrific cases such as the IRGC massacring Sunni locals in the city of Mayer. The siege on Aleppo began in late 2016, depriving 300,000 civilians in the eastern branch of the city of any food or water, while bombings and unspeakable war crimes continued. Finally, with the involvement of tens of thousands of militias, and reports indicate up to 25,000 IRGC troops, East Aleppo was retaken by pro-Assad forces and a ceasefire was reached on December 29th, 2016, allowing tens of thousands of civilians to leave the city – despite continuous reports of continued killings – alongside thousands of armed Syrian opposition members. While Iranian-related forces violated the ceasefire seeking their desired objective, being the Syrian opposition’s complete annihilation, the Syrian opposition was able to evacuate a large number of innocent civilians from Aleppo and preserve their armed forces. This downgraded Aleppo into a mere tactical gain Iran and Assad.
On Syria, Khamenei is the figure making the final calls and he has entrusted the Syria dossier to his most trusted senior commanders. The dilemma forced Tehran to also dispatch members of the IRGC and regular army ground forces alongside the Quds Force and its network of proxy militias. The IRGC navy and air force have also had their share of battle in Syria.
Iran has gone as far as sending over 70,000 foot-soldiers to Syria, literally dwarfing the number of soldiers fighting for Assad, being less than 50,000, according to IRGC reports. All Iranian ministries and government institutions have shares in the Syria war, adding to the IRGC dedicating vast economic resources to the Syria war. This goes part in parcel to the fact Iran has through the course of the past six years allocated above $100 billion to the Syria war. This massive capitol is used to procure weapons, provide for the Syrian army’s expenses and IRGC militia members’ salaries adding up to around $1 billion a year. And the casualties Iran and its forces have suffered, meaning excluding those of the Syrian army, add up to over 10,000, including 1,500 IRGC members. To add insult to injury, 70 IRGC deaths involved colonels or more senior ranks. This sheds light on Iran’s fundamentalist role and the importance of the Syria dossier for the mullahs, and exactly why the international community, from the Middle East, Europe and the US, should take very powerful actions to completely evict the Iranian regime from Syria. One right step in this path is to designate the IRGC, being the Iranian entity in charge of the mullahs’ Syria campaign, as a foreign terrorist organization. This will make Iran begin to understand its meddling across the region will have consequences, and the international community will no longer tolerate such atrocities.
Heshmat Alavi 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.
Israel/United States/Palestine – A US delegation is in Israel exploring the possibility of relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that Palestinian officials have strongly warned against. The delegation is led by Ron DeSantis, a Republican congressman, who is expected to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, during the two-day trip which ends on the 5 Mar 17. "The delegation is in Jerusalem to learn firsthand what it will mean to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," said Ruth Lieberman, a friend of DeSantis and a political adviser in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. US President Donald Trump repeatedly promised the move during his election campaign and pledged to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Palestinians criticised such promises as they hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of their future state, and have had the broad support of the international community for that aspiration. Those who have cautioned the US against such a move include Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas and Nabil Shaath, former Palestinian foreign minister. Shaath in Feb 17 said: "Moving the embassy is the same as recognising Jerusalem as Israel's united capital. It's a war crime." The US has two consulate-general buildings in West Jerusalem. One mainly deals with diplomacy with Palestinians, while another building issues visas to people who live in Jerusalem and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. "If the US were to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem it would be effectively recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," said Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from West Jerusalem. "It would also be taking away from the Palestinians the separate recognition that these consulate general offices give them." However, Trump's administration - like those of other US presidents such as Bill Clinton and George Bush who made similar promises - has "been rolling back on the idea[s] despite initial promises made during the campaign", he said. According to some reports in Arab news media, Palestinian officials have been informed that the move is not likely to happen. "This is after advice from Jordan's King Abdullah II, who suggested it would cause violence on the Arab streets," said the al-Jazeera correspondent. Other reports in Israeli news media suggest that David Friedman, the incoming US ambassador to Israel, might work out of an office in West Jerusalem as a compromise, while the embassy building would remain in Tel Aviv. Friedman is known to be a supporter of Israel's illegal Jewish-only settlements.
Jordon/Israel/Hamas/United States – The FBI has placed a Jordanian woman who assisted in the 2001 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem restaurant on its "Most Wanted Terrorist" list. The US case against Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi was filed under seal in 2013 but announced publicly by the justice department on the 14 Mar 17. The charge against al-Tamimi stems from an August 9, 2001, bombing at a Sbarro pizzeria that, in addition to killing 15 people, also injured some 120 others. Two of those killed were US nationals. After her capture, Tamimi, now in her mid-30s, pleaded guilty at trial in Israel and was sentenced in 2003 to 16 life prison terms. The criminal complaint unsealed on the 14 Mar 17 charged al-Tamimi, who worked as a journalist at a television station in the occupied West Bank, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the US against US nationals. Federal prosecutors accuse her of having agreed in the summer of 2001 to carry out attacks on behalf of the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement and having travelled with the restaurant bomber to Jerusalem. Prosecutors say that she instructed the bomber to detonate the explosive device, which was hidden in a guitar, in the area. Al-Tamimi was freed from prison in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. She was returned to Jordan, and though the justice department says it is working to bring her into custody, Jordanian courts have said their constitution does not allow for the extradition of Jordanian nationals. "This is the first time the US government has attempted to achieve the extradition and prosecute someone involved in a Palestinian attack against the Israeli occupation," Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC, said. "There have been civil wrongful death suits filed by relatives of Americans killed but this is the first time the government is taking such action." Mary McCord, the acting head of the justice department's national security division, called al-Tamimi an "unrepentant terrorist". "The charges unsealed today serve as a reminder that when terrorists target Americans anywhere in the world, we will never forget - and we will continue to seek to ensure that they are held accountable," McCord said. Al-Tamimi faces a possible execution or life in prison if she is captured, tried and convicted in the US.
Lebanon – Twin bombs killed 44 people in the Old City of Damascus on the 11 Mar 17 a monitoring group said, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the heart of the Syrian capital. A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Bab al-Saghir area, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw pilgrims from around the world, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria. Several Shiite pilgrims were among the dead. The director general of the capital's Al-Mujtahed hospital said earlier there were at least 28 people dead and 45 wounded the total would be much more later. Shiite shrines are a frequent target of attack for Sunni extremists of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS), not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq. The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of Damascus, Syria's most visited Shiite pilgrimage site, has been hit by several deadly bombings during the six-year-old civil war. Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in Jan 17 killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers. That attack was claimed by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front which said that it had targeted Russian military advisers working with the Syrian army. It was widely seen as an attempt to disrupt UN-brokered peace talks that took place the following month which to the anger of Fateh al-Sham were supported by its former Islamist rebel ally Ahrar al-Sham. Fateh al-Sham has been repeatedly bombed in its northwestern stronghold this year, not only by the Syrian army and its Russian ally but also by a US-led coalition battling IS in both Syria and Iraq.
Follow-on Report: Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), a group formed by al Qaeda’s branch in Syria and several other organizations, has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Damascus on the 11 Mar 17. Dozens were killed and many more wounded when the bombers struck Shiite pilgrims visiting holy sites in the Syrian capital. Many of the victims were from neighbouring Iraq. HTS portrays the attacks as a retaliatory strike against Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which fight Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria. In its statement, HTS claims that one of the bombers struck “Iranian militias” and the second hit Assad’s forces. The statement could be read as an attempt to draw a distinction between civilians and supposedly legitimate military targets. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reports that approximately “8 children under the age of eighteen and 11” women or girls were killed. Twenty (20) “members of the [Assad] regime forces and the militiamen loyal to them,” “including 16 members of [the] regime’s police and gunmen loyal to them,” are also among the dead. The death toll has steadily risen since the initial casualty reports. SOHR estimates 74 people perished.
Lebanon/Hezbollah/Iran – On the 11 Mar 17 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sources revealed to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that the IRGC has built weapons factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon and handed them over to the Shiite organization. This comes one week after Iranian Defence Minister Hussein Dehqan declared that Hezbollah “now possesses the capabilities to build and produce any projectile or missile” capable of reaching any location in Israel. However, it remains unclear how Hezbollah is acquiring the materials and domestically producing the sophisticated components necessary to manufacture advanced weapons such as ballistic and anti-ship missiles when the Iranians themselves experience difficulty in doing so at home. According to Al-Jarida, the IRGC source said the Revolutionary Guard began building the factories in Lebanon “after Israel destroyed an Iranian weapons factory in Sudan years ago which provided arms to Hezbollah” – likely referring to an Oct. 2012 air strike attributed to the Israelis on the Yarmouk weapons factory in Khartoum – “and targeted weapons shipments to Hezbollah from Syria.” The IRGC gradually handed over the factories to their Lebanese proxy, with Hezbollah assuming full control and oversight over them three months ago. Meanwhile, the IRGC established a special department in its Imam Hussein University – its official military college which hosts weapons research and development facilities – to train “hundreds” of Lebanese specialists in producing arms. The munitions factories are built at depths of at least 50 meters below ground, topped with multiple layers of reinforcement to prevent damage from Israeli air strikes. As an additional precaution, no single factory carries out the entire missile-producing process. Instead, they are produced as parts, independently, among the various factories and later assembled elsewhere. Echoing Dehqan, the source told Al-Jarida that Hezbollah could now use these factories to produce missiles with a range of “over 500 kilometres,” including surface-to-surface, land-based anti-ship missiles – perhaps copies of the Chinese-designed C-802s – and torpedoes launched from light water craft. In addition, and more realistically, the factories are said to produce aerial drones capable of carrying reconnaissance missions or carrying munitions, neither of which are unprecedented for Hezbollah and increasingly common among terror organizations. The Shiite group is also allegedly producing its own artillery, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, missile launchers and various types of ammunition including armour-piercing rounds. The real concern, however, arises from the claim that these factories are producing anti-tank missiles, particularly since the Israelis have signaled their intent to launch a massive combined arms ground operation against Hezbollah at the outset of any future war. Neither Dehqan’s nor Al-Jarida’s claims are entirely new. In late 2014, Hezbollah’s deputy chief Naim Qassim said that, under Iranian tutelage, Hezbollah already possessed the ability to “produce some of the components” of their rockets during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Months later, the IRGC Air Force’s Commander General Ami Ali Hajizadeh confirmed that Iran was exporting its missile producing technology to Hezbollah and their proxies in Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories. In fact, Iran appears to be pushing a broader effort to provide its proxies with more autonomous and domestic fighting capabilities. Outside of Lebanon, Hezbollah is using Syria as an alternate location to produce and test its weapons. The source indicated to Al Jarida that the Shiite group has already successfully combat tested these Lebanese-produced weapons in the Syrian battlefield, and according to the chief of Israeli military intelligence, weapons for Hezbollah are also being produced in Syria. 361 COMMENT: After the 2003 Iraq invasion and several years later insurgents were using Explosive Formed Projectiles (EFP) against military and contracted personnel. At first these were manufactured in Iran and smuggled over the border and distributed amongst various groups. Later the Iranians taught Iraqi insurgents on how to make their own. This along with those smuggled into the country caused the allied and private security contractors a lot of problems. With this experience in the past is more than possible that Iran is assisting Hezbollah in making rockets and other weapons to be used against Israel and to stock pile for future use. COMMENT ENDS
Oman – Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman has issued a royal decree on March 3rd appointing his cousin Sayyid Asaad bin Tariq Al Said as deputy prime minister for international cooperation and the sultan’s special representative, an apparent step towards nominating a successor it was reported on the 6 Mar 17. Along with Sayyid Asaad, the apparent successor to Sultan Qaboos, 77, the Sayyid’s son, Sayyid Taimur bin Asaad bin Tariq Al Said is now seen as second in line of succession, Omani sources said. Sayyid Taimur is considered close to the sultan. Sayyid Asaad, 63, is a career government official and the son of Tariq bin Taimur, Sultan Qaboos’s uncle, who was the sultanate’s first prime minister before the sultan took over the position himself. Sayyid Asaad has served as the sultan’s special representative since 2002. The appointment as deputy prime minister places Sayyid Asaad at the top of the list of potential successors even though a distant cousin, Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, serves as deputy premier for cabinet affairs. Sayyid Taimur serves as chairman of the Scientific Research Council, a ceremonial post. Sultan Qaboos’s royal decree said the decision was made “based on the public interest”. The sultan has rarely been seen in public since his return from a medical trip abroad in Apr 16. Article 6 of the Omani constitution states that a member of the ruling royal family must choose a new ruler within three days of the sultan’s death. The choice is usually based on the recommendation of the monarch himself as the Abadi sect of Islam prevents the formal appointment of a crown prince. If the royal family council cannot reach a consensus based on a sealed letter containing the late sultan’s choice as successor, then the sultanate’s top military officers, the head of the supreme court and the heads of the two chambers of Oman’s Consultative Council participate in a wider selection process with the royal family.Oman is an absolute monarchy, with the sultan’s position of utmost importance. Sultan Qaboos serves as prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces and police and minister of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance. Sultan Qaboos, the eighth sultan in the Al Said family dynasty, came to power on July 23rd, 1970, following a bloodless coup. In recent years, he has led the country through regional turmoil of the “Arab spring” in 2011 as well as current economic uncertainties because of low oil prices. The sultanate is known for its independent foreign policy, sometimes taking unilateral decisions that run counter to other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. When the war in Yemen broke out in March 2015, Oman was the only GCC member not to actively join the Saudi-led alliance fighting the Iran-backed Houthis, opting for a more intermediary diplomatic role in the conflict. Sources told The Arab Weekly that Sultan Qaboos had wanted to give the family branch of Sayyid Asaad and Sayyid Taimur ample time to prepare to govern.
Saudi Arabia/Da’esh – The Saudi interior ministry on the 8 Mar 17 reported that an ISIS loyalist was killed by security forces, while one other arrested in Riyadh. A ministry spokesperson said that the incident happened on the 7 Mar 17 at 1800 hrs local when a security patrol was inspecting an apartment in the al-Rayan neighbourhood in the Saudi capital. One of the people occupying the apartment was suspected as being an ISIS loyalist and had been reported to authorities.“Security forces were met with resistance when they attempted to arrest the suspect which led to his death,” the spokesperson said, adding that no other people were harmed during the operation. Another person accompanying the suspect was arrested.
Syria/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda has confirmed that top leader Abu Khayr al-Masri, believed to be the organisation's number two, was killed in an air strike by the US-led coalition in Syria. In a statement two branches of the jihadist group, including the powerful Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), called Masri a "hero" and said he was killed "during a Crusader drone strike" in Syria. "All of al-Sham (Syria) will bear witness to the latest crime of America and the Crusader alliance," the statement dated the 1 Mar 17 said, in reference to the US-led coalition bombing jihadists in Syria and Iraq. It also expressed its condolences to Qaeda's current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Masri is a son-in-law of Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and is believed to be Zawahiri's deputy. A US official said during this reporting period that Washington was investigating reports that Masri had been killed in a US strike in or around the city of Idlib in northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said earlier this week that a 26 Feb 17 coalition raid on the town of Mastumah in Idlib province had killed Masri. Egypt-born al-Masri, 59, was one of the most prominent figures in Al-Qaeda to have roots in the era before the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Soufan Group, a private security and intelligence consultancy. "It was in al-Masri's guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed briefed top Al-Qaeda leaders about the planning of the September 11, 2001 attacks," the Soufan Group said. His presence in Syria's north-western Idlib province underscores the importance that country has gained in Al-Qaeda's strategy, analysts said. Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute described al-Masri as "jihadi royalty," as a longstanding member of Al-Qaeda's central Shura Council and "one of Ayman al-Zawahiri's closest long-time confidants."
Syria – Twin bombs killed 30 people in the Old City of Damascus on the 11 Mar 17 a monitoring group said, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the heart of the Syrian capital. A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Bab al-Saghir area, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw pilgrims from around the world, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The director general of the capital's Al-Mujtahed hospital said there were 28 people dead and 45 wounded. Shiite shrines are a frequent target of attack for Sunni extremists of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS), not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq. The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of Damascus, Syria's most visited Shiite pilgrimage site, has been hit by several deadly bombings during the six-year-old civil war. Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in Jan 17 killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers. That attack was claimed by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front which said that it had targeted Russian military advisers working with the Syrian army. Fateh al-Sham has been repeatedly bombed in its north-western stronghold this year, not only by the Syrian army and its Russian ally but also by a US-led coalition battling IS in both Syria and Iraq. Such attacks are rare in Damascus, a stronghold of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian capital is sometimes the target of shelling by rebel groups who hold areas on the outskirts. On the 16 Dec 16 a seven-year-old girl wearing an explosive belt blew herself up outside a police station in Midan district, wounding three police officers. Two blasts near state security agencies in Kafr Sousa in December 2011 killed more than 40 people and wounded more than 150, the Syrian government said at the time.
Syria – Two bomb blasts hit Damascus 15 Mar 17 including a suicide attack at a central courthouse that left at least 25 dead, as Syria's war entered its seventh year with the regime now claiming the upper hand. There was no immediate claim of responsibility immediately after for the bombings, the second wave of deadly attacks in the capital in less than a week after twin bombings killed 74 on the 11 Mar 17. But they came with the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime increasingly divided and dispirited after a series of battlefield setbacks. Negotiations to end the conflict have meanwhile made little progress, with rebels this week declining to attend negotiations in Kazakhstan. The 15 Mar 17 first attack saw a suicide bomber rush inside the building and blow himself up when police tried to prevent him from entering the courthouse in the centre of Damascus, state media reported. Citing a police source, state news agency SANA put the initial death toll at 25 and said there were many wounded. The second blast hit not long after in the city's Rabweh area, an alert on state television said, but no further details were immediately available.
Syria – Two suicide bombings hit the Syrian capital Damascus on the 15 Mar 17 including an attack at a central courthouse that killed at least 32 people, as the country's war entered its seventh year. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, the second wave of deadly attacks in the capital in less than a week, after twin bombings on the 11 Mar 17 that killed 74 people. The 15 Mar 17 first attack saw a suicide bomber rush inside the building and blow himself up when police tried to prevent him from entering the courthouse in the centre of Damascus, state media reported. A police source said that 32 people were killed and 100 wounded. The second blast hit a restaurant in the city's western Rabweh district less than two hours later, and injured 25 people, the police source said. State media said the bomber had ducked into the restaurant after being chased by security services. 361 COMMENT: Although at the time of reporting this will probably be Da’esh in an effort to try and get the Assad forces diverted elsewhere and relive the pressure on the militant group in other locations. It will be difficult for the group to attack Baghdad now that Da’esh is nearly finished in Mosul but with small pockets of the group remaining in Syria the large cities will be easier to attack. COMMENT ENDS
Follow-on Report: Rebel factions, including Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate the Fateh al-Sham Front, issued rare denials of any involvement in twin suicide attacks that killed 32 people in Damascus on the 15 Mar 17 it was reported on the 16 Mar 17. The Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which is dominated by Fateh al-Sham, said it "denies any link to the Damascus explosions". "Our goals are confined to security branches and military barracks of the criminal regime and its allies," it said in a statement published on Telegram late on the 15 Mar 17. Fateh al-Sham had earlier claimed responsibility for twin bombings which killed 74 people on the 11 Mar 17 most of them Iraqi pilgrims who had travelled to the Syrian capital to visit Shiite shrines. It also claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 42 people in Syria's third city Homs last month.
Yemen/Houthis/Bab el-Mandeb – The US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) warned merchant ships from the dangers of mines that were set by Houthis and militias allied to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Bab al-Mandeb near the Mokha port entrance. A report issued (And reported on the 6 Mar 17) by the ONI stated that the attacks on ships in the strait, especially commercial ones, will trigger the involvement of other parties, pointing out that the US Navy will deploy all the needed efforts to protect the freedom of ships. Bab el-Mandeb, which is 25 kilometers wide, is a very important waterway for global navigation, through which merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden sail to the Red Sea, and then to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the most crowded waterways for oil transportation in the Middle East and other regions. More than 60 commercial ships cross the strait of Bab al-Mandeb with more than 3.3 million oil barrels per day. The US warning noted that the closure of this waterway would lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and global oil prices.
Yemen/Iran/Mines – Two Yemeni coastguards were killed and 8 others were wounded when their vessel hit a naval mine on the 10 Mar 17 near the international shipping passage of Bab al-Mandeb, in the south of the Red Sea, sources said. A Yemeni military source said that the explosion of the naval mine occurred when the vessel was undertaking a surveillance tour in the region. The US had previously warned of the presence of Iranian-made naval mines planted by Houthi militants in the Red Sea near Bab al-Mandeb. The sources confirmed that the wounded were dispatched to hospitals in Aden. The captain of the vessel Safwan al-Ozaybi was among those who were injured. Earlier this week, the US office of naval intelligence had warned commercial ships from the danger of mine planted by Houthis and Saleh militias in Bab al-Mandeb strait near Mokha port. (See 6 Mar 17 Yemen report). The 25-km-wide Bab al-Mandeb strait is important for international navigation because it links Aden to the Red Sea, Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the crowded oil passageways in the Middle East and other regions. The rebels have launched many attacks on Bab al-Mandeb; last month, the militia attacked a Saudi frigate and a relief Emirati ship. In October 2016, they attacked US patrol vessels.