Gaza/West Bank – Representatives from the Palestinian political parties of Hamas and Fatah are met on the 10 Oct 17 for reconciliation talks in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The talks come a week after Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited the Gaza Strip to kick-start the process of transferring administrative responsibility for the besieged territory from Hamas to the national consensus government. The meetings in Cairo are centred around implementing the 2011 Cairo Agreement between the two political parties, in hopes of ending a 10-year political schism. Leading the delegations are the deputy head of Hamas's political office, Saleh al-Arouri, and a member of the Fatah Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmad. A member of Hamas in the occupied West Bank, Hassan Yousef, said that Israel blocked a delegation from travelling to Cairo through Jordan to participate in the talks. Khalil al-Haya, a member of the Hamas delegation, said the mission would discuss forming a national unity government with the participation of all Palestinian political parties and preparing for legislative, presidential and national council elections. Haya said the negotiations would focus on ending Palestinian division "to confront intransigence and the Israeli project". The 2011 agreement stipulated that legislative, presidential and national council elections should be conducted within one year of its signing. The deal would see both Hamas and Fatah form a Palestinian government to appoint the prime minister and ministerial positions. Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmeh told the official PA radio that the Egyptian-brokered talks would stretch for three days and would focus on enabling the national consensus government to exercise its political, security and economic functions in Gaza. Other issues on the agenda include Gaza's electricity crisis, the salaries of PA employees in the coastal enclave, security and the administration of border crossings. Over the last few months, Hamas has been under heavy pressure from PA President Mahmoud Abbas' measures against Gaza, aimed at pressuring Hamas to relinquish control of the territory. Punitive measures included cutting the salaries of PA employees living in Gaza and requesting Israel to reduce the electricity supply to the territory. If the reconciliation efforts are successful, they could temporarily ease Gaza's dire humanitarian situation. Despite the latest Egyptian initiative to end the divide between the West Bank-based PA, led by Fatah, and the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, several potential obstacles could cause a national unity government to falter. Hamas' preferred method of armed resistance in facing Israel is among the main obstacles, analysts say. Last week, Abbas called on Hamas to surrender its weapons. Speaking to Egyptian television, Abbas called for "one state, one regime, one law and one weapon". Hamas, on several occasions, has stressed that the issue of armed resistance is not up for discussion. "The resistance's weapons are legal," spokesperson Hazem Qassem told the local Maan News Agency. "They are here to protect Palestinians and free their lands [from Israeli occupation]." Hamas has been Gaza's de facto ruler since 2007, when the party defeated Abbas' long-dominant Fatah party in parliamentary elections. Hamas then pushed Fatah out of Gaza in a bloody conflict. Hamas and Fatah have ruled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively ever since. Hamas' control over security and its nature as an armed resistance movement have constituted an obstacle for the PA, which cooperates with Israel on security-related matters as per the Oslo Accords. Ibrahim Abrash, a political analyst and Gaza's former culture minister, said some issues, such as Hamas' recognition of Israel and the 1967 borders, "will take time to iron out ... but the dire situation in Gaza cannot withhold waiting any longer". Abrash said that, while he believes Fatah is serious about carrying out presidential elections, the fear is that Israel will get involved. Abbas' term expired in 2009, and presidential elections have not been held since. "The last time Hamas joined elections in 2006, Israel carried out a campaign of arrests against Hamas parliamentarians. There needs to be some Arab and international guarantees that things would go smoothly," said Abrash. On the issue of armed resistance, Abrash said Israel would make it "very difficult" for the unity government to carry out its duties. "This would mean that the political system would be faulty, with some factions carrying weapons and others not. I think these issues will not be opened now, but in the end, this issue will explode if the root of it is not solved."
Al-Jazeera (12 Oct 17): Hamas and Fatah: How are the two groups different? – Hamas and Fatah are the two most dominant parties in the Palestinian political scene. On the 12 Oct 17 the two movements announced they had reached a deal to end a decade-long rift that brought them to an armed conflict in 2007. Hamas has been the de-facto ruler in the Gaza Strip since 2007 after defeating President Mahmoud Abbas' long-dominant Fatah party in parliamentary elections. Hamas then pushed Fatah out of Gaza when the latter refused to recognise the result of the vote. Hamas and Fatah have ruled the occupied Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively ever since. While the two groups work towards the same goal of building a Palestinian state on the 1967 territories, there are some stark differences.
What are their ideologies?
Fatah is a reverse acronym for Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya or Palestinian National Liberation Movement in Arabic. The word Fatah means conquer. The secular movement was founded in Kuwait in the late 1950s by diaspora Palestinians after the 1948 Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the Zionist movement aiming to create a Jewish modern state on historic Palestine. Fatah was founded by several people, most notably the late president of the Palestinian Authority - Yasser Arafat, aides Khalil al-Wazir and Salah Khalaf, and Mahmoud Abbas, who is the current President of the Palestinian Authority. The movement was premised on the armed struggle against Israel to liberate historic Palestine. The main military wing of the group was al-Asifah, or Storm. Al-Asifah fighters were mainly based in several Arab countries, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza. The group's armed struggle against the Israeli occupation began in 1965. Most of their armed operations were carried out from Jordan and Lebanon. Under Yasser Arafat, and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Fatah became the dominant party in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which comprises numerous Palestinian political parties. The PLO was created in 1964 with the goal to liberate Palestine and today acts as the representative of the Palestinian people at the United Nations. After being pushed out of Jordan and Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, the movement underwent a fundamental change, choosing to negotiate with Israel. "The Arabs basically helped in forcing Fatah to agree on taking a diplomatic route, after it was pushed out of Beirut," Nashat al-Aqtash, a ًWest Bank-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera. In the 1990s, the Fatah-led PLO officially renounced armed resistance and backed United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for building a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders (West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza), alongside an Israeli state. The PLO then signed the Oslo Accords, which led to the creation of the Palestinian National Authority, or Palestinian Authority, an interim self-governing body meant to lead to an independent Palestinian State. Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Resistance Movement. The word Hamas means zeal. The Hamas movement was founded in Gaza in 1987 by imam Sheikh Ahmed Yasin and aide Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi shortly after the start of the First Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. The movement started as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and created a military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to pursue an armed struggle against Israel with the aim of liberating historic Palestine. It also provided social welfare programmes Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation. Hamas defines itself as a "Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement", using Islam as its frame of reference. In 2017, Hamas issued a political document effectively claiming to break ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and said it would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with the return of Palestinian refugees. Though the move stirred fears among its loyalists that it was giving up on the Palestinian cause, Hamas added the following clause:
"Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea" but considers the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on 1967 borders "to be a formula of national consensus".
The movement believes that the "establishment of 'Israel' is entirely illegal". This sets it apart from the PLO, of which it is not a member. Hamas entered Palestinian politics as a political party in 2005 when it engaged in local elections, and won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 2006, beating Fatah. Since 2007, Israel has launched three wars against Hamas and the Strip. After Hamas won elections in that year, Israel imposed an airtight blockade. Civilians in Gaza have however borne the brunt of the fighting. In the last Israeli assault on the Strip, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 500 children, over a span of 50 days.
How do their objectives differ?
With the release of Hamas's political document in 2017, the objectives of the two parties are effectively the same - creating a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967. "There is no value to the clause in which Hamas says it will not give up on historic Palestine," said al-Aqtash, the political analyst. "Hamas has accepted a political compromise and they cannot go back on this." "All Palestinians dream of liberating historic Palestine, but today, they are working on a realistic solution," he added, explaining they are focusing on "what they can achieve as opposed to what they hope of achieving".
What are their strategies?
The biggest difference between the two movements today is their attitude towards Israel. While Hamas has clung to using armed resistance, Fatah believes in negotiating with Israel and has completely ruled out using attacks. The Oslo Accords gave Israel full control of the Palestinian economy, as well as civil and security matters in more than 60 percent of the West Bank. Under the agreements, the PA must coordinate with the Israeli occupation over security and any armed resistance attacks planned against Israelis. This is seen as highly controversial and seen by some as the PA collaborating with the Israeli occupation. In March, protests erupted in the West Bank after prominent Palestinian political activist Basil al-Araj was killed by Israeli forces in Ramallah after he was arrested by PA security personnel on allegations of planning an attack. Abbas, PA president, regularly and publicly condemns any operations of armed resistance carried out by Palestinians against Israelis. The issue of armed resistance has cast doubt over whether the unity agreement reached this week would succeed. "The PA does not believe in the legitimacy of Hamas' arms. This means that the PA wants to end the resistance in Gaza and Hamas refuses that. And if Fatah accepts the resistance, Israel will take measures against the PA," Abdulsattar Qassem, a Nablus-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera. "This will inevitably lead to the destruction of the potential new unity government."
How do they rally support?
Hamas' attraction lies in its ideology, compared with Fatah which has more international backing and is seen as more financially secure. In terms of garnering support, the two employ very different tactics. Hamas, like the Muslim Brotherhood, uses grassroots activism to inform people on its ideology, in places such as mosques and universities. Fatah, on the other hand, no longer carries out such exercises, and relies more on providing financial support to gain followers, according to those on the ground. Al-Aqtash says about half of Fatah loyalists "financially benefit from the PA and get rewards such as salaries and high positions - along with their families. "Their livelihood is tied to the existence of the PA." Many still view Fatah's Arafat as a Palestinian leader. In his time, before signing the Oslo Accords, the party supported armed resistance. "Many of those on the street who support Fatah do so from an emotional perspective - for the slogans and the history of the movement - without really understanding what the movement's current views are," said al-Aqtash. On the other hand, Hamas has a completely different loyalty base, says Ramallah-based activist Hazem Abu Helal. "Hamas has a distinct ideology and they have people working to promote their ideas, as opposed to Fatah which uses money to secure its followers," Abu Helal told Al Jazeera. "Today if you ask university students, the majority of them do not know what Fatah's ideology is. The movement does not have clear principles."
Hezbollah/United States – The US is offering multimillion-dollar rewards for two high-level officials of the Lebanese group Hezbollah as the US administration prepares to unveil a strategy to counter Iran's perceived regional influence it was reported on the 11 Oct 17. The US will pay up to $7m for information leading to the arrest of Talal Hamiyah, head of Hezbollah's foreign operations, and up to $5m for Fuad Shukr, a senior Hezbollah military officer, the US state department said on the 10 Oct 17. The rewards are the first offered by the US for Hezbollah officials in a decade, Nathan Sales, the US counterterrorism coordinator, said. "Today's rewards are another step to increase the pressure on them and their organisation," said Sales. Other people for whom the US is offering rewards include Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, and Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the commander of the Syrian armed group Tahrir al-Sham. Hamiyah has been on the department's foreign terrorist list since 2015 and Shukr was added in 2013. The US named Iran-backed Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997. Winning support for an intensified campaign against Hezbollah could prove difficult for the administration. Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's fragile coalition government and commands enormous support for the social services it provides. Sales indicated that as part of President Donald Trump's soon-to-be-unveiled Iran strategy, the US would press countries that have yet to designate Hezbollah as an international terrorist group to do so. "Additionally, some countries have chosen to designate only Hezbollah's military wing, leaving its so-called political wing untouched," he said, apparently referring to the 28-member European Union. "But that is a false distinction. Make no mistake. Hezbollah has no political wing. It is a single organisation, a terrorist organisation, and it is rotten to its core." Designating the group as a terrorist organisation is "not merely symbolic," Sales said. By not doing so, he said, countries "limit other governments' ability to freeze Hezbollah's assets, to shut down its front companies, to eliminate its fundraising and recruiting capabilities and to prosecute Hezbollah associated networks. The United States will need allies in this fight".
Hezbollah: ANALYSIS: Unravelling the global tentacles of Hezbollah’s sleeper cells by Tony Duheaume, al-Arabiya (12 Oct 17) – Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the viewpoint of Al Arabiya English.
The West has held itself back from confronting Iran for decades. One reason for this has to be the dread of an Iranian fight back, which would take the form of guerrilla warfare in a multitude of lands, including the US. This fear would have been high in 2008, when intelligence experts warned of Iranian sleeper cells poised to attack British targets, such as power stations, military bases, government buildings. There were also fears about assassination of high-profile figures, should the West go ahead and bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.
Sleeper cells lie in wait
Such a scenario would make perfect sense, as with Iran not able to match the West militarily in an all-out confrontation, the only way to effectively fight back would be through asymmetric (unconventional) warfare. One method of attack used in asymmetric warfare by the Iranian regime comes in the form of covert action in foreign lands through the use of sleeper cells. For decades, Hezbollah has been building up a network of sleeper cells in the Middle East, Americas and Europe, and should it decide to wage an insurgent war against any of its host countries, its military training would make it a very formidable opponent. These sleepers are expertly trained at Iran’s IRGC Quds Force specialist training camps, where they master the art of penetrating civilian groups. They are also taught how to recruit volunteers to aid their cause. In their host countries, they would also have easy access to automatic weapons and explosives, which can be supplied to them by criminal gangs involved in drugs smuggling, people smuggling and arms trafficking operations. As far as Hezbollah being aided by criminal gangs is concerned, Britain is the perfect example of a country being at risk from the terror group’s infiltration, as the Lebanese force was at one time well connected to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a one-time ethnic-Albanian paramilitary group. Although “disbanded” after the Bosnian conflict, the KLA was merged into a civilian group known as the Kosovo Protection Corps, while many other former members had ventured into building a worldwide criminal empire.
At the end of the Bosnian conflict, during which the KLA committed numerous atrocities, ex-members had become involved in the Albanian mafia, and having settled in England, their British arm fast set up a powerful criminal empire stretching across the full-length of the country, and across Europe. What makes the KLA so dangerous as far as Britain is concerned, are the very strong links it made with Iran by being trained at Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Force training facilities during the Bosnian War, where the fighters of the Albanian group bonded extremely well with Hezbollah factions who were fighting alongside them at the time. With the two groups still having strong connections due to their dealings in drugs trade, it would be quite conceivable for the Albanian mafia to be more than willing to supply Hezbollah cells with weapons. In such an event, with the Albanians having a long-established smuggling route into Britain, which extends back to their homeland, and is now a well-tried route for smuggling people, weapons and drugs, they would have no qualms about supplying weapons to any sleeper cell connected to Hezbollah. With Hezbollah heavily entrenched in South America, it has made lucrative deals with some of Latin America’s most powerful drug barons, and through its dealings with the KLA swaps heroin from Afghanistan with cocaine from South America, turning the two groups into one of Europe’s main sources of cocaine, making untold millions in profit for them both, and a hefty sum for the IRGC Quds Force which aids them. With Hezbollah also operating from countries that despise America, it can obtain arms on a vast scale, which turns the terror group into a very dangerous entity, perched precariously close to the US border. America has a lot to fear from Hezbollah. Intelligence sources have already pointed to a Hezbollah presence in the US, when as far back as 2010 the Tucson Police Department reported a heavy presence of Hezbollah operatives in the prison system, and how other inmates were being radicalised during their stay. With their long-standing partnership with some of Mexico’s toughest drug lords, they have access to the US through drug routes and intelligence has already pointed to sleeper cells being set up in various American states. It also has to be remembered, groups of Hezbollah operatives can easily enter countries under the guise of asylum seekers, and with millions of refugees having fled the violence in Syria, Iraq, various other hotspots in the Middle East, and a multitude of conflicts in North Africa — all places where Hezbollah operates quite freely. It would thus be easy for the Iranian Quds Force to infiltrate what would be a very small number of operatives into any targeted country, and with the Quds Force expertise behind such an operation, their entry would be assured.
These operatives, experts at concealing their identity and allegiance, lie low and settle quietly into their host community, avoiding any activities that make them stand out. Showing themselves to be moderates, they avoid political conversations. They are polite and friendly when approached, while many hide behind the guise of being happily married men with children. Gradually making friends, portraying themselves as avid supporters of community projects, they regularly attend mosques, representing themselves as devout Muslims, which enables them to pick further potential recruits, and eventually a sleeper cell is up and running. Over the years, a complex web of several types of organizations has been set up by the Quds Force, and operated from local Iranian embassies. They are designed to support sleepers entering a foreign land. Support networks tend to be manned by middle aged professionals from varied groups and organizations. They could be active members of aid organisations, they could work for human rights groups, they could be university lecturers, they could run import and export companies; but all will be “cleanskins” – people with no criminal convictions who can stay below the radar. With Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security also having setup a network of front companies across the globe, many Hezbollah operatives have been able to stay below the radar of any given country’s intelligence agency. Due to the terror group’s agents having access to these companies, they take on the role of legitimate employees, and are able to move with relative impunity from one country to another. Using this as a cover, they can carry out terrorist acts, or spy on the mullah’s perceived enemy’s military facilities or infrastructure, reconnoitring targets in readiness for when the order comes from Tehran to strike, setting off a worldwide confrontation.
Iran stokes protests in Bahrain
Over the years, one country in the Middle East that has felt the brunt of Hezbollah attacks is Bahrain, which has often faced protests whipped up by Iranian affiliated political groups. In March of this year, Bahrain authorities announced it had uncovered an international terrorist cell, arresting 25 suspects, and having confiscated machine guns and explosives from the group. It came to light that several members of the cell were due to receive training in explosives and firearms at Iranian Revolutionary Guard camps. With Bahrain’s Shiite opposition Al Wefaq, accused of instigating unrest in 2011, the Bahraini government picked up intelligence of a Hezbollah presence on the streets, whose activists were seen to be stirring up rioters, and during this period of unrest, broadcasts were coming through Hezbollah’s radio network, egging the protestors on. With Hezbollah being financed by the Iranian regime, it would never make such moves without the blessing of its Iranian backers, and with sleeper cells long known to be present in both Bahrain and its close neighbour Saudi Arabia, with both states being viewed inimically by the Iranian regime, it all points to Tehran being behind the Bahrain riots. Where Hezbollah is concerned, they have formed themselves into a formidable underground army. They are well financed by the Iranian regime and are supplied with all of the resources they need to conduct guerrilla warfare. While lying low in Shiite communities throughout the world, their sleeper cells remain comatose, waiting for the moment the order comes through from their Iranian puppet masters to awaken them.
Iran/the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC)/United States – Iran promised on the 9 Oct 17 to give a “crushing” response if the United States designated its elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. The pledge came a week before President Donald Trump announces a final decision on how he wants to contain the Islamic Republic. He is expected on the 15 Oct 17 to “decertify” a landmark 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, a step that by itself stops short of pulling out of the agreement but gives Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. Trump is also expected to designate Iran’s most powerful security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, as he rolls out a broader, more hawkish US strategy on Iran. “We are hopeful that the United States does not make this strategic mistake,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA. “If they do, Iran’s reaction would be firm, decisive and crushing and the United States should bear all its consequences,” he told a news conference reported by IRNA. Individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are already on the US list of foreign terrorist organisations, but the organisation as a whole is not. IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on the 8 Oct 17: “If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like the Da’esh terror group all around the world.”Jafari also said that additional sanctions would end chances for future dialogue with the United States and that the Americans would have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000km range of IRGC’s missiles.
US sanctions on the IRGC could affect conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran and Washington both support warring parties that oppose Da’esh. France said on the 9 Oct 17 it was worried that classifying the IRGC as a terrorist group could exacerbate tensions in the region. Germany said it was worried Trump would decide Iran is not respecting the nuclear deal, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, and fears such a step will worsen insecurity in the Middle East. A US pullout could unravel an accord seen by supporters as vital to preventing a Middle East arms race and tamping down regional tensions, since it limits Iran’s ability to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that damaged its oil-based economy. The UN nuclear watchdog’s inspectors have repeatedly declared Iran in compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal. Trump called Iran “a corrupt dictatorship” during his first speech to the UN General Assembly and said the nuclear deal was “the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into”. The other five world powers in the deal were Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The prospect of the United States reneging on the agreement has worried other partners that helped negotiate it. The Kremlin said that any US withdrawal from the nuclear deal would have “negative consequences”. British Prime Minister Theresa May, who supports the nuclear pact, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes it, agreed in a phone call on the 9 Oct 17 that they need to be “clear-eyed” about the threat Iran poses to the Middle East. “They agreed that... the international community should continue working together to push back against Iran’s destabilising regional activity,” May’s spokesman said.
Despite the nuclear deal, Washington still maintains its own more limited sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile programme and over accusations Tehran supports terrorism. Iran says it is developing missiles solely for defensive purposes and denies involvement in terrorism. The Trump administration aims to put more pressure on the IRGC, especially over recent missile tests and what Washington has called its “malign activities” across the Middle East. The US government imposed sanctions in July on 18 entities and people for supporting the IRGC in developing drones and military equipment. In Aug 17 Congress overwhelmingly approved the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” which imposed new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile programme, as well as sanctions on Russia and North Korea. In an interview aired on the night of the 7 Oct 17 Trump accused Iran of “funding North Korea” and “doing things with North Korea that are totally inappropriate”. Qasemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the US accusations were “baseless”. He added, “Israel and some specific countries are raising these accusations to create Iranophobia”.
Iran/United States/Iraq/Explosively Formed Penetrator (Projector) (EFP) – A lethal bomb generally associated with Iran and its proxies has re-emerged in Iraq after a six year hiatus, killing an American soldier it was reported on the 12 Oct 17. The Washington Post first reported that an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) was used in a roadside attack that occurred in Salah ad-Din province on the 1 Oct 17. The commander of Operation Inherent Resolve Land Component confirmed during his briefing today that a steel EFP struck a US vehicle at a dip in the road along Route Tampa. The bombing occurred as the Islamic State’s territorial control in Iraq wanes. An explosively formed penetrator (EFP) was the signature of the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, Iranian militias that targeted US and allied forces in Iraq. Composed of a milled concave plate typically formed of copper, EFPs are extremely lethal, even against thick armour. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran began producing and supplying EFPs to Iraqi Shiite insurgent groups, dramatically increasing US casualties. A US military officer explained to FDD’s Long War Journal in 2007: “The EFP is not an IED, in that there is nothing improvised about them. They are manufactured in factories, mostly I believe in Iran. The true IED can be put together by small insurgent cells with little or no support. The EFP indicates a large logistical network.” Iraqi groups eventually developed domestic production capabilities, according to various reports. On the 1 Oct 17 an EFP struck a US vehicle north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. The convoy was travelling south along Highway 1, known in American military parlance as Main Supply Route Tampa. The attack killed Spec. Alexander W. Missildine and wounded another soldier. The bombing occurred near Camp Speicher, the site of the Islamic State’s massacre of Iraqi Shiite air force recruits in 2014. The United States recovered the vehicle and investigated the attack in an attempt to determine the perpetrator. The Government of Iraq will conduct a second investigation. In a briefing today, Maj. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of CJFLCC-OIR, received many questions about the recent EFP attack and provided further details. The explosion occurred at a vulnerable dip in the road along Route Tampa, a location that has seen violence against civilians in the past few months. The EFP used was composed of steel, a slight anomaly as they are typically made of copper. Maj. Gen. White emphasized that the perpetrator remains unknown. CIA Director Mike Pompeo alluded to Iranian involvement. The attack occurred in an area controlled by Iranian militias and the “design of weapon system points to a singular agent,” according to Saagar Enjeti, a journalist with whom Pompeo spoke. Citing an anonymous US official, the Washington Post hypothesized that the Islamic State might have used a weapon associated with Iran in order to incriminate Iranian-aligned actors. The Islamic State has not, however, previously demonstrated EFP capability. In his briefing today, General White emphasized that the Iranian-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are a legitimate component of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). He described the PMF as “the fourth cohort of the ISF that are sanctioned by the Government of Iraq…they have been an integral part of the successes that the Iraqi Security Forces have had to date.” The PMF have benefited from American support to the ISF. The US has provided air power, Special Forces support, and training to the ISF. However, the PMF receives significant backing from Iran and its guerrilla forces, as its on-the-ground leadership is directly tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 361 COMMENT: During the war in Iraq Shiite militias would use the EFP against coalition forces and private security details and convoys. At first it was believed that they were manufacture in Iran and smuggled over the border from Iran and into Iraq, then distributed to the various Shiite factions. They could be used as a single unit or hidden in blocks alongside the road or in soil built up alongside the road in series and set off using a PIR. There was a twenty one day cycle where these would be brought into Iraq. Later when the Iraqi militias had their own production factories one of the main give-aways was abandoned vehicles with circles cut out of them. This was an indicator that they were being used for the manufacture of EFP’s. Private security vehicles were recovered after an incident as they could have been cut up and used. In some cases the Iraqi police were policeman by day and militia men at night as there were a number of cases where the EFP was planted near police check points. So far there has been no reports of Da’esh using the EFP which is a surprise considering it was used to devastating results in the past. There is even slight evidence that the Continuity and Real Irish republican Army have attempted to use them in the past, however, these facts may have been misconstrued as the Provisional IRA used a Mk12 rocket which was fired horizontally. The fact remains that an EFP was used against an American military vehicle. The questions that will need answering now are; will there be more? Who are the culprits using the device? Where are they coming from? COMMENT ENDS
Iran/United States/Nuclear Deal – President Donald Trump will unveil a new US Iran strategy on the 13 Oct 17 and is expected to withdraw backing from the Iran nuclear accord, undermining a landmark victory of multilateral diplomacy. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would unveil a broad plan to counter Iran at 1245 hrs local (1645 hrs GMT). She did not elaborate, but Trump is expected to declare to Congress that retaining the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement is no longer in the US national interest. This in itself does not mean the deal will collapse. US lawmakers will have 60 days to decide whether they want to "snap back" the sanctions Washington has suspended. But it will mark a clear break with America's allies, who have pleaded with Trump to respect the accord, and a fierce blow to the multilateral international order. The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US) at talks coordinated by the European Union. UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. So, while US officials still insist that "America First" does not mean "America Alone," on this issue they are starkly isolated. The other signatories all back the deal. "This is the worst deal. We got nothing," Trump thundered to Fox News on the 11 Oct 17. "We did it out of weakness when actually, we have great strength." Trump, whose address to this year's UN General Assembly was a hymn to national sovereignty, has been railing against the Iran deal since before he was elected.
In office, he has chafed at being required under US law to re-certify Iran's compliance with the accord every 90 days, declaring that Tehran has broken it "in spirit." Now, as he prepares to roll out a broader US strategy to combat Iran's expanding power in the Middle East, he feels the time has come to turn his back on the deal. Right up until the last minute, America's closest allies have urged Trump to think again. After his nationalist UN speech, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that the deal "doesn't belong to one country, it belongs to the international community." US allies have not been convinced by the argument that the deal fell short because it left Iran free to develop ballistic missiles and sponsor proxy militias in its region. "Mixing everything means risking everything," a French diplomatic source said. "The existential threat is the bomb. The nuclear deal is not meant to solve Lebanon's problems." Europe fears not only that Iran will resume the quest for the bomb but that the US is relinquishing its leadership role in a stable, rules-based international system. On the 10 Oct 17, British Prime Minister Theresa May called the White House to impress upon it her government's "strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners." In parallel, her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, told his US counterpart Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "that the nuclear deal was an historic achievement." "It was the culmination of 13 years of painstaking diplomacy and has increased security, both in the region and in the UK," he argued. But the US administration barely acknowledged the calls, and European diplomats in Washington privately complain that their message is not getting through.
'We will see'
One Western diplomat said that once Trump "decertifies" the deal their efforts will move to Congress, where they will urge US lawmakers not to re-impose sanctions. "Our embassy is working with the legislature," German foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said this week. "We are looking for dialogue, to explain our arguments." They will find some sympathetic ears in Congress but this won't move Trump. His most senior foreign policy advisers have also urged him to back the deal, to no avail. Last week, Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis was asked whether he believes the Iran deal remains in the US national interest. "Yes, senator, I do," he replied. "I believe at this point in time, absent indication to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with." Since that testimony, Mattis and Tillerson have had lunch with Trump and discussed Iran, but Trump later spoke once more against the deal on Fox television. "We will see what happens pretty soon," Trump warned. On the 12 Oct 17 in another dramatic sign of Washington's foreign policy direction, the US announced that it was withdrawing from the United Nations science and cultural organization UNESCO. France's UN ambassador expressed dismay, warning "we need an America that stays committed to world affairs."
Iran/United States/Nuclear Deal – U.S. President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on the 13 Oct 17 in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it. Trump announced the major shift in U.S. policy in a speech in which he detailed a more aggressive approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East. He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon, in effect throwing the fate of the deal to Congress. He singled out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said. Trump’s hardline remarks drew praise from Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, but was criticized by European allies. The move by Trump was part of his “America First” approach to international agreements which has led him to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. His Iran strategy angered Tehran and put Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord - Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union - some of which have benefited economically from renewed trade with Iran. Responding to Trump, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on the 13 Oct 17 on television that Tehran was committed to the deal and accused Trump of making baseless accusations. “The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure,” he said. “Iran and the deal are stronger than ever.” European allies have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say that putting it in limbo as Trump has done undermines U.S. credibility abroad, especially as international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with the accord. The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.” “The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said, referring to the deal by its formal name. U.S. Democrats expressed scepticism at Trump’s decision. Senator Ben Cardin said: “At a moment when the United States and its allies face a nuclear crisis with North Korea, the president has manufactured a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies and partners.” While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, he gave the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to re-impose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact. If Congress re-imposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker was working on amending the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act law to include “trigger points” that if crossed by Iran would automatically re-impose U.S. sanctions. The trigger points would address strengthening nuclear inspections, Iran’s ballistic missile program and eliminate the deal’s “sunset clauses” under which some of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire over time. Trump directed U.S. intelligence agencies to probe whether Iran might be working with North Korea on its weapons programs. The president, who took office in Jan 17 had reluctantly certified the agreement twice before but has repeatedly blasted it as “the worst deal ever.” It was negotiated under his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.” “We’ll see what happens over the next short period of time and I can do that instantaneously,” he told reporters when asked why he did not choose to scrap the deal now.
Ian/United States – The US military said on the 13 Oct 17 it was identifying new areas where it could work with allies to put pressure on Iran in support of President Donald Trump’s new strategy, which promises a far more confrontational approach to Tehran. Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it. He also promised to address Iran more broadly, including its support for extremist groups in the Middle East. Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defence Department spokesman said that the Pentagon was assessing the positioning of its forces as well as planning but offered few details. “We are identifying new areas where we will work with allies to put pressure on the Iranian regime, neutralize its destabilizing influences, and constrain its aggressive power projection, particularly its support for terrorist groups and militants,” he said. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said his first goal would to talk with US allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to gain a shared understanding of Iran’s actions. “Certainly we intend to dissuade them from shipping arms into places like Yemen and explosives into Bahrain and the other things they do with their surrogates, like Lebanese Hezbollah,” Mattis said. The US military has long been a strident critic of Iran, accusing it directly and indirectly of trying to undermine the United States and its allies, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The tensions escalated in recent months in Syria, where American pilots shot down two Iranian-made drones this summer. Still, a more aggressive approach to Iran could trigger a backlash from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and forces that it backs. That includes in Iraq, where US troops are fighting ISIS and trying to keep their distance from Shi’ite militia aligned with Iran. “US forces in Iraq are quite exposed, and coalition forces are quite exposed to the risk of attack if Iranian elements so choose,” said Jennifer Cafarella, lead intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, a think-tank in Washington. The US military is analyzing an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, that killed an American soldier in Iraq this month. The reappearance of the device, which Iran-backed Shi’ite militia routinely used to target American troops in Iraq before their withdrawal in 2011, has startled US officials.
Link to Iran?
CIA Director Mike Pompeo noted the device was detonated in an area controlled by a militia backed by Tehran. “We do not have evidence of a direct link to Iran, but we are closely examining this tragic incident,” Pompeo said on the 11 Oct 17. Cafarella said the killing of the US soldier may have been a warning from Iran. “I think it is possible that the Iranians have been attempting to signal their commitment to retaliate against the US strategy,” she said. Mattis said the United States was watching for any new provocations from Iran. Asked whether he thought Tehran might retaliate, he said: “It would be ill advised for them to attack us.” Reuters has previously reported that options to increase pressure on Iran include more aggressive US interceptions of Iranian arms shipments, such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen, It could also direct US naval forces to react more forcefully when harassed by armed IRGC speed boats. The Pentagon on the 13 Oct 17 detailed a series of major concern about Iran, including its ballistic missile development and cyber attacks against the United States and US allies. The Pentagon promised to review US security cooperation activities with allies in the region, something that could lead to alterations in US arms sales and military exercises. It also signalled a willingness to re-examine the positioning of the roughly 70,000 American troops the Pentagon says are stationed in the Middle East.
Still, Mattis said: “Right now we are not changing our posture.”
Iraq/Kurds – Baghdad has set a pre-dawn 15 Oct 17 deadline for Kurdish forces to abandon positions in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk they took during the fight-back against the Islamic State group, a senior Kurdish official said. The reported ultimatum comes as thousands of Iraqi troops and allied militia are locked in an armed standoff with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters near ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk. Tensions have soared between the erstwhile allies in the war against IS since a Kurdish vote for independence last month, drawing urgent appeals for calm from the US-led coalition supporting the campaign. "The deadline set for the Peshmerga to return to their pre-June 6, 2014 positions will expire during the night," the Kurdish official said. Asked at what time, he said 0200 hrs local on the 15 Oct 17 (2300 hrs GMT 14 Oct 17). The official's comments came as Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is himself a Kurd, was holding urgent talks with Kurdish leaders in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the south of the autonomous Kurdish region. No statements have emerged from the meetings. On the 13 Oct 17 Iraqi troops took over formerly Kurdish-held positions in the south of Kirkuk province, including in the mainly Shiite Turkmen town of Taza Khurmatu. In Jun 14 IS fighters swept through vast areas north and west of Baghdad, prompting many Iraqi army units to disintegrate and Kurdish forces to step in. They did so primarily in historically Kurdish-majority areas they had long sought to incorporate in their three-province autonomous region in the north against the strong opposition of Baghdad. The Kurds currently control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province which account for a significant share of the regional government's oil revenues. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on the 13 Oct 17 that Washington was working to reduce tensions between Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces, urging them to remain focused on the war against jihadists. "We are trying to tone everything down and to figure out how we go forward without losing sight of the enemy, and at the same time recognising that we have got to find a way to move forward," he told reporters. "Everybody stay focused on defeating ISIS. We can't turn on each other right now. We don't want to go to a shooting situation," he added, using an alternative acronym for IS.
Israel – Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on the 10 Oct 17 that Lebanon and Syria would constitute "one front" against his country if a new war were to break out. Hezbollah and Israel fought a devastating conflict in 2006, and the Lebanese Shiite group is currently backing President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the Syrian civil war. Both countries border Israel to its north. "In the next war in the north of the country, Lebanon will not be the only front," Lieberman said in a speech to soldiers. "There is now only one front in the north composed of Lebanon, Syria, Hezbollah, the Bashar al-Assad regime and all those who help his regime." Lieberman added that the Lebanese army had lost "its independence by becoming an integral part of Hezbollah, which gives it its orders." Israeli leaders frequently warn Lebanon that the country's army and civilian infrastructure would be overwhelmingly targeted if Hezbollah attacks from civilian areas. Hezbollah is also supported by Iran, Israel's arch-enemy which backs Assad in Syria as well. Israel's military believes Hezbollah has between 100,000 and 120,000 short- and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles, with the medium-range missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Lieberman evoked the possibility of a simultaneous conflict in the north and in the south with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. "The battle will take place on the northern and southern fronts," he said. "There is no longer war on one front. It's our basic assumption and it is what our military is preparing for." Since 2008, Israel has fought three wars with Hamas, which also receives support from Iran. Israel has sought to avoid becoming involved in the Syrian civil war, but acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are advanced weapons deliveries to Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia – A gunman on the 7 Oct 17 drove up to a gate of the king's palace in the Saudi city of Jeddah and opened fire, killing at least two security guards and wounding three others before being shot dead, according to officials. The attacker, identified by the interior ministry as Mansour al-Amri, a 28-year-old Saudi national, was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and three Molotov cocktails. Amri disembarked from his vehicle at a checkpoint outside the western gate to the Al-Salam Palace and started shooting, according to the Saudi Press Agency. Royal guards shot him dead on the spot. The palace, where the royal family conducts official business during the summer months, is located next to the King Abdulaziz Road and Andalus Road on the waterfront of the Red Sea coastal city. Saudi King Salman is currently outside the kingdom on a state visit to Russia.
Amri did not have a criminal record or any known connection to armed groups, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki, speaking by phone to al-Arabiya television. An investigation was under way to determine his motive for the attack, added Turki. Earlier on Saturday, the United States Embassy in Saudi Arabia had warned US citizens to exercise caution in the area around the palace after reports on social media of an attack there. "Due to the possibility of ongoing police activity, American citizens are advised to exercise caution when travelling through the area," the embassy had warned. Attackers have targeted Shia mosques in the country's eastern provinces where much of its Shia minority is based, as well as security forces. This week, Saudi police raided hideouts of a "terror" cell linked to ISIL, killing two people and arresting five, according to the national security agency. The State Security Agency said police raided three hideouts in the capital, Riyadh, and exchanged gunfire in one of them, the SPA news agency reported on the 5 Oct 17is in the country's eastern provinces where much of its Shia minority is based, as well as security forces. In July this year, Saudi authorities said they foiled an attack on the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, which they blamed on ISIL.
Syria/Da’esh – The Islamic State group on the 3 Oct 17 claimed a bomb attack at a police station in the Syrian capital Damascus a day earlier that killed at least 17 people. In a statement circulated on its social media accounts, the group said three of its fighters armed with guns, grenades and explosives were involved in the attack in the southern neighbourhood of Midan on the 2 Oct 17. The Syrian interior ministry said on the 2 Oct 17 that the attack involved two suicide bombers, one of whom managed to penetrate the police station and reach the first floor before his explosives detonated. But a monitor reported a third explosion involved a car bomb outside the police station, and the IS claim also referred to the third attacker blowing himself up separately from the other two. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least 17 people were killed in the attack, among them 13 police officers. Damascus has been largely insulated from the worst of the violence during the country's brutal six-year civil war, but several bomb attacks have shaken the city. The Midan police station has itself been targeted before. In Dec 16, three police officers were wounded when a seven-year-old girl walked into the police station wearing an explosive belt that was remotely detonated.
Syria/Russia/al-Qaeda – Russia's military says it has carried out airstrikes in Syria that critically wounded the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked group and killed 12 other militant commanders. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, said in a statement on the 4 Oct 17 that the airstrikes wounded Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee. He says the strikes took place on the 3 Oct 17 at an undisclosed location in Syria. Konashenkov says 50 other militants who were securing the gathering were also killed. There was no immediate comment from the militant group. Moscow has blamed the al-Qaeda-linked group for attacking Russian military police in Syria's western Hama province last week.