The main proxy
These sites in Lebanon and Syria are intended to produce missiles with state-of-the-art capabilities. Tehran has specifically pressed the gas pedal on these measures during the past year in Lebanon. The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy and offspring from 1982 to this day, will most likely be the principal benefactor of these new missiles, enabling it to threaten specific targets. This goes parallel to Tehran’s repeated efforts, especially during the ongoing six-year war in Syrian, to smuggle strategic, game-changing weapons into Lebanon. These attempts have been greeted with numerous Israeli airstrikes against various targets in Syria in recent years, such as advanced weapons caches or convoys that reports indicate were headed for none other than Hezbollah. Already entangled in the Assad/Iran war against the Syrian people, Hezbollah has yet to show any retaliation against Israel in response to these airstrikes. While these assertions may not be new, the changing times in the Middle East are further providing grounds for dire action as “tomorrow” may prove to be too late. To add to the regional concerns stirred by Iran, the al-Shabaab terror network, a known affiliate of the al-Qaeda network, has raised the stakes by taking control of uranium mines in Africa. Reports indicate its intention is providing Iran with such crucial sensitive supplies. This can be described as yet another failure of Obama’s highly flawed, back-channelled deal with Tehran that left the regime’s pivotal threats unaddressed.
The bigger picture
Iran has been taking advantage of the overall Middle East situation to extend its sphere of reach and influence through Hezbollah and a slate of other proxies. Tehran has also focused on propping the Assad regime in Syria, holding on its foothold in Yemen through supporting the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and maintaining its strategic presence in Iraq after the fall of ISIS. The latter is specifically important considering the upcoming 2018 parliamentary elections. And even more disturbing about Syria are recent blueprints of de-escalation zones across the country. The southern de-escalation zone in particular would provide Iran and its company of proxies the highly sought opportunity to consolidate their stretch across these sensitive areas. These measures are also aimed at limiting Saudi influence in Syria, considered a red line for Tehran. Iran took advantage of strategic policy mistakes in Iraq. This should not be repeated in Syria. Assad in Damascus has since 2011 relied on Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah for its very survival. The Syrian regime has maintained its strategic positioning thanks to Iran’s crucial role in delivering economic and military assistance through the years. Iran is now seeking to place itself as the ultimate winner of the Syria war, and a glimpse at post-2003 war Iraq and the status of Lebanon provides a prelude of the devastation to come. As such, all the more important to launch global initiatives to counter Iran’s hostile aims.
Understanding the reality
Assad may now threaten to look East after the war rather than West in retaliation to those who stood against him. Yet he should be reminded of how he must face accountability for his horrific crimes against humanity, mostly at the behest of the ruling regime in Iran. In a recent Paris visit, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Assad leaving Syria is a high probability. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called on world powers to impose a transition plan in Syria. The French top diplomat also made it crystal clear there is no place for Assad in Syria’s future. All this goes parallel to the necessity of displaying an allied, international determination that Iran’s threats against the security of the region and beyond will not go tolerated. As a recent New York Times piece explains, “The Trump administration has so far seemed willing to cede Syria to Russia, save for the defeat of the Islamic State. But Washington should understand what this really means: ceding it to Iran.”
Iran: ANALYSIS: Iran’s deft use of ‘politics of the apocalypse’ (8 Sep 17) – Before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in Iran through a violent revolution in 1979, his plan was in place for his own form of Shiite utopia, which would be led by clerics that adhered to the Twelver Shiite Muslim tradition of Muhammed al-Mahdi. Traditionally known as the Hidden Imam, Muhammed al-Mahdi is believed by Twelver Shiites to be their messiah, and is said by his followers to be awaiting his return to earth, at a time when they will be suffering great tribulation. Responding to this, through a rigid form of theocratic political rule, Khomeini was determined to put in place a clerical government that would prepare for the Mahdi’s reappearance. Having studied for years in exile, Khomeini became heavily influenced by various Sufi mystics, and had also studied the works of philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. As is evident from his own poetry, he openly criticized spirituality and religion. Adding his accumulated knowledge to that of past Persian dynasties, Khomeini knew exactly how to manipulate the Iranian masses, and exploiting their jealously guarded perception of their Persian identity, and that of the misrule of Mohammed Reza Shah, he propelled himself to power. Once in power, Khomeini brought a Communist-style discipline into being, and moving away from the commonly held concept of religion of simply being the belief of the state and an ethical guide for the people, he introduced the notion of political control into Shiism, using a fanatically charged security system to dominate all aspects of everyday life. Such was the rigidity of the political force put in place by Khomeini that his carefully crafted ideology took away a citizen’s individual identity, and through mass indoctrination replaced it with a collectivist society, where the state dominated all, and the people were fully subdued.
Theocratic mind control
Khomeini was a clever operator and knew exactly how to enslave the population. He would at first free the people from the control of his arch enemy Mohammed Reza Shah, who had thrown Khomeini into exile. But from his position of refuge in Paris, Khomeini urged the masses to stand up for their rights, stoking up the anger of the millions that eventually took to the streets of Iran, calling for them to continue their protests, denouncing the Shah’s claims to a religious dynasty, and calling for true Shiite Islam to return to the public domain. Once Khomeini had overthrown the Shah to gain a firm hold on law and order, the masses had to be programmed to adhere fully to his ideology, and he did this by creating a personality cult for himself, which would set him up to be revered as God’s representative on earth until the appearance of Muhammed al-Mahdi. To the faithful, Khomeini was perceived as a messianic-type being, whose teachings would provide the right course Shiite Islam needed to adhere to, leading up to the reappearance of the Hidden Imam, a philosophy which would continue through to Ali Khamenei, who succeeded him to become today’s Supreme Leader. Devouts adhering to the beliefs of Twelver Shiism believe that Muhammed al-Mahdi will appear in the clouds as the final end-of-times battle is taking place between the Shiite faithful and the armies of the nonbelievers. The interpretation of the Iranian regime puts the contemporary West and surrounding Arab states among the non-believing adversaries, against whom the regime avers the Mahdi would propel the Twelvers to victory. During his term as Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had confided to friends, how an apparition of the Mahdi had appeared to him, sending him on a divine mission to bring about a cataclysmic confrontation with the West, which he was convinced would hasten the Hidden Imam’s second coming. Although during some of his most fervent outbursts, Ahmadinejad might have come across to the rest of the world as having been close to insane, he was in fact adhering to a radical form of religious thought, which was shared not only by many of the regime’s more fanatical hard-line hierarchy, but also by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a large number of commanders in the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the entire force of Basij and that of Iran’s proxy terror organisation Hezbollah.
The brew of prophecy in politics
Where the IRGC is concerned, they see themselves as the “Guardians of the Revolution”, an honour bestowed on them by Khomeini himself. So, due to the protective position bestowed upon them to defend Shiism and the ideology of the Revolution at all costs, they are the most radicalized followers. But the chilling part of this whole saga is that these zealous Iranians have enough military hardware behind them to start World War III, and their military arsenal will soon include a nuclear weapon, which they could use in their minds to precipitate the return of their Hidden Imam. While in office as Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so deeply immersed in Shiite apocalyptic theory, it virtually ruled all his political thinking, and such was his fanaticism toward the Mahdi’s arrival, he even called upon Allah to bring about the return of the Twelfth Imam during his September 2005 speech at the United Nations; a speech which baffled many members of the UN who were listening to him. As far as the Shiite faith is concerned for Iran’s clerical leadership to keep the masses conforming completely to the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Twelver vision of utopia, they realise they need to control minds, which in the end keeps the cap on law and order, which in turn holds the state together, and most important of all, keeps them in power. But to aid them in this task, they saw to it that the whole of Iran’s school system teaches only Shiite ideals. Persian Farsi is the only language taught to pupils, all forms of media are controlled by the state, and all other cultures except Persian have been almost entirely eradicated in the leadership’s bid to create a mind-controlled society. One Iranian policy that will never change is the one adhered to openly by Ahmadinejad, which is hell-bent on bringing about the return of the Hidden Imam through a catastrophic war with all nonbelievers.
Iran/Kurds: ANALYSIS: Revealing the brutal repression of Kurds in Iran (9 Sep 17) – Acts of brutality against the Kurdish population in Iran is a regular occurrence. For instance, just a few days ago (September 4, 2017), soldiers of Iran’s dreaded Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp of Iran (IRGC) shot dead two porters in cold blood in the western city of Baneh.
In protest against the killings, demonstrations broke out in the Kurdish city and a large number of residents gathered outside the governor’s office on Tuesday (September 5) demanding an end to the ongoing attacks against workers. According to reports by opposition groups, a number of shops and markets were closed in support of the protests, even as the regime’s security forces clashed with protesters. Video recordings of these clashes have also been released by certain opposition groups.
Khomeini’s repression of Iranian Kurds
The Kurdish workers killed by the IRGC, were porters who made a living by carrying heavy loads on their backs across the border with Iraq and Turkey. Since the overthrow of Shah’s dictatorial regime by a social revolution which was hijacked by Khomeini in 1979, the oppression against Kurds — like other minor communities in Iran — increased dramatically. The living condition of Kurds is reminiscent of the era of slavery because of the rampant poverty, unemployment and injustice. In August 1979, just five months since the fall of the Shah, Khomeini had ordered a military assault on Iranian Kurdistan. The people of Kurdistan were only demanding basic rights and freedoms for themselves and for all the people of Iran. But Khomeini's response to these demands was a military campaign and the massacre of people. He sent a special judge and Representative Sadeq Khalkhali to Kurdistan to carry out mass executions and send out a gruesome message of coercion. Khomeini, who was himself the son of an Indian immigrant, called the Kurds separatists and counter-revolutionaries, while they are legitimate Iranian citizens! This was the beginning of his betrayal of the Iranian people, who trusted him without fully knowing him.
Nearly 40 years have passed, but the achievements of the Khomeini regime in the age of great industrial and technological development is evident from the kidney selling, bone selling, infant selling and in the proliferation of porters. Why do Kurdish people work as porters? Why are people from different generations, including educated people and academics, engaged in this menial and life-threatening work? In the political theory of velayat-e faqih, there is no place for the welfare of people. Accordingly, no thought is given to their livelihood and sustenance. This flaw lies at the root of the social and economic malaise that afflicts the country. The regime only knows how to use the wealth of the Iranian people to suppress them and for exporting fundamentalism and terrorism abroad. For a regime whose ideology and politics are based on hostility towards it people and which has seized control of the immense wealth of Iran, which earns income from oil and gas and is systematically involved in the smuggling of weapons and narcotics, industrial production and business entrepreneurship have virtually ceased to exist. According to some Iranian media estimates: “The volume of smuggling operations stands at $25 billion, three times the country's development budget” and “[t]he smuggling of goods and currency has left 800,000 people unemployed. Smuggling destroys 1,75 million job opportunities a year”.
Workforce of porters
In the absence of industrial production, everything is under the discretion and control of a mafia system, as most Iranians live below the poverty line. In Kurdistan, the situation is even worse. Therefore people are forced to take menial and unskilled jobs and become porters to meet their basic needs. An Iranian newspaper writes: “Becoming a porter is not an occupation because it compromises with human dignity, and the debate is how much a person can take to make 70-80,000 Tomans ($20). In Sardasht, there is no industry, few factories, no jobs and there are over 8,000 injuries because of hazardous chemicals used in factories”. Some reports indicate that there are more than 68,000 porters working in Iran's outlying provinces. A porter sometimes has to lift about 100 to 150 kilos in the mountains and endure extreme heat, cold, rain and snow. They face a lot of dangers and physical hazards, the most threatening beingthe regular shooting by Iranian security forces who target them on an almost daily basis. According to human rights groups, a total of 212 porters were killed and injured by IRGC guards between 2013 and 2015. Iranian opposition groups have repeatedly called on international organizations to condemn the killings of these poor workers by the IRGC and other security forces.
Regime on a powder keg
After the latest shooting deaths of porters in Baneh, an activist said: ‘‘Let’s call for the withdrawal of all IRGC forces from Hamadan, Sanandaj, and so on. The governor must go, the killers must be punished. We have sent letters and reports to international human rights organizations for years, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Now we will defend ourselves for the rights of porters and we want the stop their killings.” Kurdish protest are not only against inequality and discrimination, they also reveal the growing anger and discontent of the people with the regime. It sends out a message to the world that the Iranian regime is sitting on a powder keg. People want to change this regime. They need to be supported by the international community by putting pressure on the Iranian regime to stop its violation of human rights.
F. Mahmoudi is a Kurdish-Iranian political and human rights activist.
Iran – The Iranian repressive and sectarian regime against Sunnis in the country warns of an upcoming civil war, according to a recent reformist opposition report and reported on the 11 Sep 17. First published on amadnews site, which is allied with the opposition, the report reflects the Revolutionary Guards’ continued and escalating activity in predominantly Sunni areas. It also noted that cleric’s activities and the Guard’s institutions are increasing in southern areas of the country, specifically in Sistan, Baluchistan and Khorasan provinces. According to the report, among these activities are calls of a sectarian nature. The most recent event called for was Eid al-Ghadeer, a Shiite celebration. Sunnis see this form of celebration in their areas as a form of provocation. The Iranian regime is also accused of working to eliminate Sunnis and disrupting development in their provinces.
Iran/Da’esh – The Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested a member of Islamic State and foiled a plan for suicide attacks, a Guards commander said on the 13 Sep 17. Col. Amin Yamini, the Guards commander for the western Tehran suburb of Shahriar, did not say when the arrest was made but said the attacks were being planned for a 10-day Shiite religious holiday that begins next week. The Islamic State member arrested was from the Syrian branch of the militant Sunni organization and had planned to organize about 300 people to carry out suicide attacks, Yamini said, according to Basij Press, the news site for the Tehran branch of the Guards. On the 7 Jun 17 Islamic State attacked the parliament in Tehran and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, south of the capital, killing 18 people and wounding more than 40. Iran has blamed Saudi Arabia for being behind the deadly attacks. Riyadh has denied any involvement. The Revolutionary Guards fired several missiles at Islamic State bases in Syria on June 18 in response to that attack. According to Yamini, the Guards tracked the Islamic State organizer, who had a cell phone and satellite phone, and set up a meeting with him in the western Tehran suburb of Andisheh by posing as Islamic State members. When the person showed up, he was arrested. Valuable information has been gleaned from his cell phone, Yamini said, according to Basij Press.
Iraq/Da’esh – Suicide bombers dressed as members of the Iraqi security forces killed seven people and wounded 12 in an attack on a power plant north of Baghdad on the 2 Sep 17 officials and a survivor said. Wearing military uniforms and armed with grenades, the three attackers entered the facility in Samarra, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the capital, said General Qassem al-Tamimi, head of a police unit in charge of protecting the vital installations. A police officer said one of the bombers detonated his explosives belt while the two others were shot dead by security reinforcements who rushed to the scene. He said seven people were killed and 12 wounded in the attack. "At 0200 hrs we were woken up by shots being fired," Abdel Salam Ahmed, one of the employees who was hit by gunfire in the legs, said from his hospital bed. "We ran into one of them (the jihadists). Some of us hid while two others kept running towards the exit, shouting 'we are employees' but they (the attackers) shot them dead," he said. Prefabricated houses where employees were sleeping were destroyed as explosions rang out in the power plant. Several tanker trucks were also damaged and the remains of one of the suicide bombers lay on the ground, the reporter said. The police official said security reinforcements evacuated the employees. The attack comes as Iraqi Shiites mark the first day of the Eid al-Adha feast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State jihadist group frequently carries out suicide bombings in Iraq.
Iraq/Da’esh – At least 60 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in two gun-and-car bomb attacks near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The attacks in the southern province of Thi Qar on the 14 Sep 17 started with unidentified assailants opening fire inside a restaurant on the main highway that links the capital Baghdad with the southern provinces. Shortly afterwards, an explosives-laden car targeted a security checkpoint in the same area. Thi Qar is located about 320km southeast of Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks, according to the group's Amaq propaganda website. Yahya al-Nassiri, the province's governor said the majority of the dead were probably Iranian visitors who were inside the restaurant. The latest attacks follow a series of setbacks that ISIL has faced at the hands of US-backed Iraqi forces. In Jul 17, Iraq retook control of Mosul, a key ISIL stronghold in the north, after a campaign of nearly nine months. In Aug 17 Iraqi forces dislodged ISIL from 70 percent of Tal Afar in northwest Iraq. ISIL still controls the town of Hawija in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and western areas in the country's largest province of Anbar. This was a message really from the ISIL group saying that you may have beaten us in Tal Afar and Mosul and surrounded us in Hawija, but we are still able to attack you in places that you wouldn't expect. "This is a real challenge for the Iraqis - do they move troops to the south or continue their battle up in Hawija?"
Israel/Syria – Israel attacked a military site in Syria’s Hama province early on the 7 Sep 17 the Syrian army said, and a war monitoring group said the target could be linked to chemical weapons production. The air strike killed two soldiers and caused damage near the town of Masyaf, an army statement said. It warned of the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region”. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the attack was on a facility of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, an agency which the United States describes as Syria’s chemical weapons manufacturer. It came the morning after U.N. investigators said the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin poison gas attack in Apr 17. Syria’s government denies using chemical arms. In 2013 it promised to surrender its chemical weapons, which it says it has done. The Observatory said strikes also hit a military camp next to the centre that was used to store ground-to-ground rockets and where personnel of Iran and its ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, had been seen more than once. An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to discuss reports of a strike in Syria. Syria’s foreign ministry has sent letters to the U.N. Security Council protesting against Israel’s “aggression” and saying anyone who attacked Syrian military sites was supporting terrorism, Syrian state TV reported. In an interview in Israel’s Haaretz daily last month on his retirement, former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel said Israel had hit arms convoys of the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies nearly 100 times in the past five years. Israel sees red lines in the shipment to Hezbollah of anti-aircraft missiles, precision ground-to-ground missiles and chemical weapons.
Israel/Iran/Syria – Israel's defence minister on the 7 Sep 17 issued a veiled warning to Syria, without confirming or denying what Damascus said was an Israeli air strike on its territory. Syria's army accused Israel of hitting one of its positions, killing two people in an attack earlier the same day that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons. "We are determined to prevent our enemies harming, or even creating an opportunity to harm, the security of Israeli citizens," Avigdor Lieberman said in Hebrew, in remarks broadcast on Israeli television. "We shall do everything in order not to allow the existence of a Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus." The site struck near Masyaf, between the central city of Hama and a port used by the Russian navy, is reportedly used by forces from Syria's allies Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. Israeli planes have previously carried out strikes believed to have targeted the transfer of weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006. Israel has long warned it would not allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and has accused Iran of building sites to produce "precision-guided missiles" in both Syria and Lebanon. In comments made earlier, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Herzl Halevi, did not mention Thursday's strike directly but warned his country's enemies "near and far". "Serious security threats to Israel are presented by armed organisations most of them financed and aided by Iran," he said in a public address. "We are dealing with these threats, both near and far, with determination and our enemies in every arena know very well the combination of (our) precise intelligence and operational capabilities."
Israel/Iran/Hezbollah: Iran’s ‘land corridors’ to Syria heighten prospect of war with Israel (11 Sep 17) – Israeli warplanes were reported to have attacked a heavily guarded Syrian Army base near the central city of Hama as Israel staged its largest all-arms military exercise in 20 years. The operation has been portrayed as a dress rehearsal for crushing Hezbollah, Syria’s key ally. The pre-dawn air strike September 7 on the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre at Masyaf, which has been closely linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme, marked a significant escalation in Israel’s aerial campaign against Syria. Since 2012, there have been nearly 100 raids, outgoing Israeli Air Force commander Major-General Amir Eshel said. The military action reflects Israel’s alarm at Iran’s growing military presence in Syria to support the regime of President Bashar Assad, especially Tehran’s strategy of building a land corridor, possibly two, across Iraq to Syria, putting Iranian forces on Israel’s volatile northern border. “The ultimate purpose of the corridors… is to expand Iran’s reach into the Golan Heights, with the goal of tightening the noose around Israel,” observed Ehud Yaari, a leading Israeli commentator on Middle East affairs, in a May 1 article for Foreign Affairs. That’s an eventuality Israel cannot accept. The September 7 raids follow increasingly hostile threats against Syria and Iran and a greatly expanded Hezbollah by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and senior generals dismayed at the Islamic Republic’s swelling power in the heart of the Arab world. This is dramatically changing the region’s military and geopolitical landscapes and heightening the prospect of, at the very least, another war with Hezbollah that promises to be the most destructive of their 35-year conflict. Because of the Syria war, Hezbollah has increased its military forces to an estimated 20,000 first-line fighters, ten times the number it fielded during its guerrilla war to end Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon in May 2000, with an expanded reserves of at least 10,000. “If Iran and Hezbollah were to expand their military presence near the Israel-controlled Golan Heights, Tel Aviv might come to the conclusion that it has no choice but to attack Hezbollah forces positioned there,” analyst Randa Slim, director of the Track II Dialogues Initiative at the Middle East Institute, noted in a post on the Cipher Brief website. American strategists are concerned that, with the possible end of the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, Tehran could deploy its Shia militias across the region. This move to enforce Iranian rule would be part of what US analysts Michael Eisenstadt and Michael Knights, Iraq specialists with Washington Institute for Near East Policy, call “Iranian efforts to remake parts of the region in its own image.” The land-bridge concept is largely the brainchild of Major- General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of al-Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which spearheads Iran’s expansionist adventures. He also is responsible for executing the Iranian strategy of wresting control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, key links in securing the planned corridor from the Islamic Republic to the Mediterranean. Control of this swathe of largely Sunni territory by Iran, the world’s only Shia power, has far wider and longer term geopolitical significance across the region and beyond that alarms the United States, Israel and the Arab monarchies of the Arabian Gulf. “The bloody quagmire involving (Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) offers more opportunities to consolidate power than what would surely be a riskier confrontation in the Gulf, where Iran would have to contend with the United States and its allies,” observed Yaari in the Foreign Affairs article. “Success in the narrower approach, moreover, could ultimately strengthen Tehran’s hand against Saudi Arabia and those in the Sunni bloc.” Israel, like the Gulf monarchies, which see themselves most at risk from Iran’s territorial ambitions, finds the US failure to confront Iran’s expansionist ambitions perplexing — and dangerous. “The Iranians publicly express their keen interest in opening up the Golan Heights to their proxies, and high-ranking IRGC officers are engaged there now in the establishment of a new militia — the Golan Regiment,” Yaari observed. Iran’s Arab adversaries, led by Saudi Arabia, are aghast at the US reluctance to curb what they see as the emergence of a new empire by their historic foes, the Persians, sharpening the 1,300-year-old Sunni-Shia rift at a time when the heavily armed Sunnis are in disarray and dismayed at US dithering. The US focus on eradicating ISIS — at least militarily — is a source of intense frustration by Washington’s traditional Arab — read Sunni — allies. As the Iranian juggernaut locks up Iraq and Syria, and with Hezbollah not only the most powerful armed force in divided Lebanon but increasingly dominant in government, a long-calculated takeover is almost complete. Indeed, with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) threatened with break-up over a worsening quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Iran seems to be the only power in the region that has a coherent strategy — plus the firepower to back it up. For this, it has created a veritable foreign legion of Shia fighters from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan who are the spearhead of Iran’s formidable military presence in Syria. US military historian Max Boot observed in a September 5 report for Foreign Policy that US Army Lieutenant-General Stephen Townsend, commander of US operations in Syria and Iraq, told him during a recent inspection tour of the Middle East flashpoints by General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, that “he had no mandate to stop the growth of Iranian influence.” Boot, who accompanied Vogel on the tour, added: “My fear is that US success in defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) will simply open up more space for Iran to dominate — and that in turn will lead to the rise of ISIS 2.0.” Iran’s strategists, who take a more long-term view of the region than the Americans as they struggle to disengage themselves from the Middle East’s ancient and bewilderingly complex rivalries, some thousands of years old, constantly outfox and stymie the Washington establishment. Yaari and supposedly others in Israel’s strategic fraternity say Iran seeks two land corridors from the Islamic Republic to the Mediterranean, dramatically expanding Tehran’s reach and giving it a strategic maritime alternative to the Gulf. That would enhance its economic as well as its military capabilities and essentially give it a regional superpower status able to dominate the global trade routes in the Arabian and Mediterranean seas, with Iran firmly in control of much of Syria, including the border with Israel and increasingly vulnerable Jordan. With impulsive US President Donald Trump possibly shackled by Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran for years to come, the Americans, it seems, are powerless to curb Iranian ambitions at a time when Tehran is driving to modernise its largely obsolete military — ironically, with funds made available by the nuclear deal. “For the last three years (Soleimani) has been kept busy setting up the building blocks for at least one, but more likely two, land corridors across the Levant (one in the north and one in the south), linking Iran to the Mediterranean…,” Yaari wrote. “The idea… would be to outsource the supervision of the corridors to proxy forces, such as Hezbollah and the various Shia militias Iran sponsors in Iraq and Syria to avoid using its own military to control the routes. Iran has a long-standing aversion towards investing manpower abroad.”
Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.
Saudi Arabia/Da’esh – Saudi Arabia has said that attempts by ISIS militants to attack the defence ministry have been foiled, the kingdom's Presidency of State Security confirmed to Al Arabiya News Channel on the 11 Sep 17. Two Yemeni nationals named Ahmed Yasser al-Kaldi and Ammar Ali Mohammed were arrested for plotting attacks targeting two headquarters of the Ministry of Defence in Riyadh. Below is a full translated statement from the Presidency of State Security regarding the ongoing investigation into the plots:
First: The arrest of the suicide bombers, Ahmed Yaser al-Kaldi and Ammar Ali Muhammad, before they reached the target location, neutralizing their danger and controlling them by the security men. The initial investigations revealed that they were of Yemeni nationality and their names differed from those recorded by the identity evidence that was seized. Two other Saudi nationals were also arrested and their relationship with the above-mentioned suicide bombers was confirmed who tried to provide assistance. The investigation's interest would require anonymity at the moment. Two explosive belts (each weighing 7 kg), and nine homemade grenades, firearms and white weapons were seized.
Second: Two explosive belts (each weighing 7 kg), and nine homemade grenades, firearms and white weapons were seized.
Third: Raid conducted on a safe house in Al-Rimal neighbourhood of Riyadh where a suicide bomber was trained at in how to wear explosive belts using them during an attack. The investigations into the plots are continuing in this case and the detainees are being held to cover all the details of this terrorist plot.
Syria/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda is creating its most powerful stronghold ever in north-west Syria at a time when world attention is almost entirely focused on the impending defeat of ISIS in the east of the country it was reported on the 11 Sep 17. It has established full control of Idlib province and of a vital Syrian-Turkish border crossing since July. “Idlib Province is the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” says Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the international coalition fighting ISIS. The al-Qaeda-linked movement, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which used to be called Jabhat al-Nusra, has long been the most powerful rebel group in western Syria. After the capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian army last December, it moved to eliminate its rivals in Idlib, including its powerful former Turkish-backed ally Ahrar al-Sham. HTS is estimated to have 30,000 experienced fighters whose numbers will grow as it integrates brigades from other defeated rebel groups and recruits young men from the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have sought refuge in Idlib from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Al-Qaeda is growing in strength in and around Idlib province just as ISIS is suffering defeat after defeat in eastern Syria and Iraq. Its latest setback was its failure on Tuesday to stop the Syrian army linking up with its enclave at Deir Ezzor, where ISIS has been besieging the government held part of the city for three years. Divided by the Euphrates, the city is the largest in eastern Syria and its complete recapture opens the way to the al-Omar oilfields that once provided half of Syria’s crude production. The end of the siege, supposing encircling ISIS forces are permanently driven back, frees up a Syrian army garrison of 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers as well as the 93,000 civilians trapped in the government-held zone who had been supplied with food by airdrops. Deir Ezzor is only the latest ISIS urban centre to be lost on the Syrian portion of the Euphrates valley which was the heartland of its territories in Syria. ISIS is everywhere on the retreat. Upriver from Deir Ezzor at Raqqa, the American-backed and Kurdish-run Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting their way into the city and has captured its old city quarter in the last few days. Despite its proven fighting prowess, ISIS is collapsing under the impact of ground attacks launched by different parties on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. What tips the balance against it in all cases is the massive firepower of the Russian and US air forces in support of ground assaults. ISIS’s defeat in eastern Syria will accelerate as local tribes, previously won over or intimidated by ISIS, join the winning side. The US and the Syrian Kurds may not like the return of Syrian government authority in eastern Syria, south of Raqqa, but they do not look as if they are prepared to fight hard to stop it. President Trump’s priority is to eradicate ISIS and al-Qaeda, regardless of who rules Syria in future. Bad news for ISIS is good news for HTS and al-Qaeda. Its defeat preoccupies its myriad enemies and largely monopolises their military efforts. Short of combat troops, the Syrian army is only really capable of making a maximum effort on one front at a time. The Syrian Kurds have an interest in fighting ISIS but not necessarily defeating it so decisively that the US would no longer need a Kurdish alliance and could return to the embrace of its old NATO ally Turkey. HTS stands to benefit politically and militarily from the decline of ISIS, the original creator and mentor of Jabhat al-Nusra, as the earliest of al-Qaeda’s incarnations in Syria was known. Under the name of al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of the movement split off in 2013 and the two sides fought a bloody inter-jihadi civil war. If ISIS is destroyed or rendered a marginal force, Sunni Arab jihadis refusing to surrender to Mr Assad’s army and intelligence service will have no alternative but to join HTS. Moreover, Sunni Arabs in eastern Syria may soon be looking for any effective vehicle for resistance, if Syrian government armed forces behave with their traditional mix of brutality and corruption. HTS will expect the many states now attacking ISIS, and battering to pieces its three-year-old caliphate, to turn on them next. But they will hope to delay the confrontation for as long as possible while they strengthen their movement. Ideologically similar but politically more astute than ISIS, they will seek to avoid provoking a final territorial battle which they are bound to lose. Some Syrian specialists warn against waiting too long. “The international community must seek urgently to counter-attack HTS, which grows stronger by the day, without waiting for the complete destruction of the Islamic State,” writes Fabrice Balanche in a study published by the Washington Institute for Near East Studies called Preventing a Jihadist Factory in Idlib. He says that HTS wants to dominate the whole Syrian rebellion and is close to succeeding. The open dominance of an extreme Islamic jihadi movement like HTS creates a problem for foreign powers, notably the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, previous funders and suppliers of the Syrian rebels. HTS, whose attempt to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda has convinced few, is listed in many countries as a terrorist organisation, unlike its former ally, the Ahrar al-Sham. It will be difficult for foreign powers to do business with it, though the armed opposition to Mr Assad has long been dominated by extreme jihadi groups. The difference is that today there are no longer any nominally independent groups through which anti-Assad states and private donors can channel arms, money and aid while still pretending that they were not supporting terrorism. ISIS declared war against the whole world in 2014 and inevitably paid the price of creating a multitude of enemies who are now crushing it in Syria and Iraq. Many of the members of this de facto alliance always disliked each other almost as much as they hated ISIS. It was only fear of the latter that forced them to cooperate, or at least not fight each other. It may not be possible to recreate the same unity of purpose against al-Qaeda.
Syria/al-Qaeda/Bin-Laden’s son – Hamza bin Laden, son and would-be heir of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has urged Muslims around the world to join the jihad in Syria against "crusaders" and Shiites it was reported on the 15 Sep 17. "The cause of Syria is the cause of the entire worldwide Muslim community," he said in an undated audio recording released on jihadist networks on the 14 Sep 17. "In order for the people of Syria to resist the Crusader, Shiite and international aggression, Muslims -- all Muslims -- must stand with them, support them and give them victory," he said. "Wakefulness is essential, as is quick, serious and organised movement, to support the people of blessed Syria before it is too late." Hamza, who is in his mid-20s, has become active as an Al-Qaeda propagandist since his father's death at the hands of US Special Forces in May 2011. Syria has been devastated by a six-year war and given an opening to jihadists including the Islamic State group and the Fateh al-Sham Front. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Sunni extremist group that last month seized control of the northern Syrian city of Idlib, is dominated by the Al-Qaeda offshoot, which officially broke ties with the network founded by Osama bin Laden. But experts say the name change was little more than a re-branding. The United States added Hamza bin Laden to its terrorist blacklist in Jan 17. The US Treasury estimates that he was born in 1989 in the Saudi city of Jeddah. His mother was Khairiah Sabar, one of the Al-Qaeda founder's three wives. Last year, the fifth anniversary of the death of the man who ordered the 9/11 attacks on the United States, experts began to note his son's increasing prominence in the movement. The State Department has designated him a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist", freezing any assets he holds in areas under US jurisdiction. In an undated audio message released in Aug 17 Hamza bin Laden urged his Saudi supporters to rebel and overthrow the kingdom's rulers. Experts believe he is preparing to take over the leadership of Al-Qaeda and exploit the Islamic State group's defeats in Syria and Iraq to unify the global jihadist movement under the banner of Al-Qaeda.