Bahrain says 24 of its officers have been killed. Most clashes involve youths throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, but there has been a series of bombings in recent years. An analysis of years of statements by Bahrain's public prosecutor on Ashtar Brigades suspects suggests that the group operates in cells of fewer than 10 young men overseen by émigré militants like Sanadi based in Iran. Recruited on religious pilgrimages or study trips to Iran, Bahrain's prosecutor has said, the suspects were given weapons and explosives training in Iran or neighbouring Iraq. Iran denies the accusation. Sanadi has powerful allies in Iran, where he has lived since he went into exile in 2012. The official website of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published an editorial by Sanadi in December criticizing the US. The US State Department put Sanadi on its proscribed "terrorist" list on the 17 Mar 17. His name appears alongside leaders in al Qaeda and ISIS. The US cited Sanadi's links to the Ashtar Brigades which, it said, "receives funding and support from the Government of Iran." Bahrain accuses Sanadi of having organized deadly attacks on police and smuggling arms from Iran. According to Bahraini security dossiers on Ghasra and Sanadi Bahraini authorities consider the Ashtar Brigades to be the armed wing of Sanadi's Islamic Wafa Movement, a political party that is banned in Bahrain. Wafa and the Ashtar Brigades did not respond to requests for comment about their relationship. A Wafa party representative contacted by Reuters agreed to relay questions to Sanadi but did not ultimately reply. Sanadi, the security documents say, receives funding from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commissioned Ghasra to organize the military training of Bahraini militants in Iran by the IRGC and in Iraq by the Hezbollah Brigades militia. The Ashtar Brigades announced an alliance with the Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades via an online statement in Feb 17. Sanadi spoke of his relationship with Ghasra in a communication to his followers on messaging app Telegram, dated in March and seen by Reuters. "I found him a lover of (Shi'ites), ready for the highest sacrifice and dedicated to the choice of resistance.” Ghasra's brother Yasser, speaking to Reuters from Iran, acknowledged that his brother Reda was a fighter but denied he received Iranian help. He declined to comment on links between his brother and Sanadi.
Proud to be an enemy
Speaking to Iranian state TV channel al-Alam in March Sanadi said: "I'm proud that America considers me an enemy." While not commenting directly on the state department accusations, he said the US was using "so-called terrorism and an imaginary danger they claim is coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran" to sell arms to Gulf allies and maintain influence. Sanadi is the only official of his party to have eluded a long-term jail sentence, though he spent six months behind bars amid 2011 protests on rioting charges. Six months later he departed legally for Iran. In Jan 17 Sanadi called on Bahrain's opposition to abandon mostly peaceful protests in public squares and to take up arms. "From today and hereafter, the period has changed. We in the Islamic Wafa Movement announce that we have begun a new phase as a tribute to the martyrs: one grip on the squares and one grip on the trigger!" he said in a speech in Qom. Iran's promotion of Sanadi appears to point to an endorsement of his agenda. Next to an Iranian flag, Sanadi delivered a sermon at Friday prayers in the country's most prestigious mosque in Qom in Sep 16 - an exceptional honour. Sanadi also took to the main stage at a 2013 conference of Ahl al-Bayt, a Qom-based global fraternity of scholars founded by Khamenei in 1990. "We are truly thankful to the Iranians, especially the leader of all Muslims, Ayatollah Khamenei," Sanadi declared. For his part, Iran’s Supreme Leader in a speech last summer called Bahraini “youth to fight against the ruling system.”
Iran/Iraq – In a sign of the growing regional influence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a close advisor to its foreign operations commander began his new role as ambassador to Iraq on the 19 Apr 17 state media reported. General Iraj Masjedi was formally the senior advisor to Major General Qassem Soleimani, who oversees Iranian operations in Iraq and Syria, state news agency IRNA reported. "Iran seeks an advanced, powerful, secure and integrated Iraq," Masjedi said after he offered his credentials to Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari. The Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force has military advisors in Iraq and Syria, and oversees thousands of volunteer fighters and Shiite militias fighting rebel Sunni groups including the so-called Islamic State. Born in Iran's Arab-majority southern province of Khuzestan, Masjedi has been a Guards member for 35 years and is "deeply familiar with Iraq's political, security and tribal atmosphere," said the ISNA news agency. His appointment is likely to receive criticism from Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia, which is concerned about the increasing influence of the Guards across the region.
Iran/Saudi Arabia/Yemen – Iranian and international media outlets said on the 20 Apr 17 have published a video clip of an Iranian hard-line cleric in which he indicated that Iran’s support for the Houthi militias comes with the aim of attacking Saudi Arabia. Mehdi Taeb, head of the Ammar Strategic Base – an organization established to fight “soft wars” against Iran) and a lobbyist group close to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei – was quoted as saying that “Iran’s catering of missiles to the Houthis was carried out in stages by the Revolutionary Guards and the support and assistance of the Iranian navy”. In a speech published on a local news website Taeb pointed fingers at Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and accused him of obstructing the continued shipments of arms to the Houthis saying: “Suddenly, we received an order to stop sending shipments, because the Americans will suspend the negotiations on the nuclear file if we continue to provide the Houthis with weapons”. Taeb who was speaking with members of the Ammar Foundation along with a number of officers and members of the Revolutionary Guards claimed that “the nuclear negotiations between Tehran and the six major countries have come in the way of preventing three times the provision of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles to the Houthis”. The Ammar Foundation is an associate of the IRGC intelligence service, headed by Hussein Taeb, Mehdi’s brother, which is a parallel institution to the Iranian intelligence ministry and had a prominent role in the bloody repression of the Green Movement protests in 2009. “The Rowhani nuclear agreement has hindered the path of military assistance to the Houthis in Yemen,” Mehdi was quoted as saying, adding that “Khamenei was the one who ordered Iranian naval to be stationed at Bab al-Mandeb to facilitate weapons supplies without anyone knowing”. This is not the first time that Iranian officials have admitted to targeting Saudi Arabia by supporting the Houthi militias. Iran has provided the Houthis with a number of short and long-range missiles to strike targets in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi air defences have thwarted them in the kingdom, and official Iranian media outlets have acknowledged supplying the Yemeni militias and insurgents with these missiles. The Iranian assistance to the Houthis is not restricted to missiles only. The Arab coalition and international forces seized heavy and light weapons, explosives, shells and other types of armament in the two years’ time after the onset of the Decisive Storm Operation.
Iran/United States – Three months into its term, the Trump administration has fired rhetorical opening shots in its dealings with Iran, an issue likely to shape Washington’s Middle East policy in the coming years. Statements by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Defence Secretary James Mattis suggest that Washington is determined to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East. Observers say the Trump administration is likely to avoid a direct military showdown with Tehran and is not expected to end the nuclear agreement with Tehran, even though US President Donald Trump has called the accord the “worst deal ever.” Tillerson, in a speech in Washington, warned of “Iran’s alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilising more than one country at a time.” He renewed US accusations that Iran was responsible “for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon and continuing to support attacks against Israel.” The international agreement designed to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” Tillerson charged. He said the administration was reviewing American policies towards Tehran. In a statement issued a day before Tillerson’s speech, the State Department confirmed “that Iran is compliant through April 18 with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is known. Iran rejected Tillerson’s speech and pointed to the State Department statement. “Worn-out US accusations can’t mask its admission of Iran’s compliance w/JCPOA,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted on Twitter. Mattis used a visit to Saudi Arabia to criticise Iran’s role in the conflict in Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthi rebels have been fighting a coalition led by Riyadh. “We will have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilise yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it,” Mattis said. The tough talk by Tillerson and Mattis masks an acceptance of political realities, analysts said. They said the Trump administration is aware that a unilateral decision to walk away from the JCPOA would leave the United States isolated, as its partners, especially the European countries involved, would stick to the agreement. One reason behind the rhetoric from the administration is that Washington wants to reassure US allies in the Middle East who felt betrayed by US President Barack Obama’s decision to cut the nuclear deal with Iran. “America’s message is: There’s a new sheriff in town,” said Alex Vatanka, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. For all its fiery words, the US administration is expected to keep JCPOA alive. “All the indications are that the Trump administration will abide by the agreement,” said Gary Samore, executive director for research at Harvard’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. For Iran, there was “no advantage to be gained by blowing up the agreement” either, he added. By accepting the JCPOA, the US government is inviting questions about how this position can be squared with Trump’s campaign pledge to tear up the agreement. Given that promise, it was unclear what the purpose of the review mentioned by Tillerson would be, Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, said. “What is there to review?” he asked. With the JCPOA secure at least for now, Washington is embarking on efforts to limit Iran’s regional influence, especially in Yemen, Samore said. Trump is also facing the challenge to weaken Tehran’s roles in the Syrian conflict and in Iraq. As Washington grapples with different and complex situations connected to Iran at the same time, working out a comprehensive plan to deal with the country will be difficult. “There is no Trump grand strategy on Iran,” Vatanka said. The challenge was to find an approach making sure that “if you do something on the nuclear issue, you don’t hurt yourself elsewhere.” The acceptance of the nuclear deal by both countries and a willingness on both sides to steer clear of a direct military confrontation is creating a framework for US-Iranian relations, Vatanka said. Iran’s upcoming presidential election is unlikely to change this, he said, adding: “Even the most hard-line candidate would stick to the agreement.” Rubin said the United States should concentrate on the year 2025 when the JCPOA expires and limits on Iranian research of nuclear enrichment are lifted. Unfortunately, Washington was not ready to do so, Rubin said: “That is a question that Trump is not interested in and the administration is not yet staffed to handle.”
Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.
Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly
Iran/United States – The US Navy says a guided-missile destroyer fired a flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in a tense encounter in the Gulf. Lt. Ian McConnaughey of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says the incident happened on the 24 Apr 17. He says the Iranian boat came within 1,000 meters (yards) of the USS Mahan. The lieutenant says the Mahan "made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship's whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel's intentions." The Iranian vessel later sailed away. Iranian authorities did not immediately report the incident on the 26 Apr 17. The US Navy and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the waters of the Gulf. On the 25 Apr 17 Emirati soldier Sgt. Abdullah Mohammed Issa Al Hammadi was killed after an Iranian boat entered Emirati territory the UAE’s official news agency WAM reported.
Iran – Nine Iranian border guards were killed on the 26 Apr 17 near Mirjaveh district after clashes with the armed Balochi insurgent group Army of Justice, the prosecutor general of Zahedan province announced. Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Movahedi Rad confirming the news on the 27 Apr 17 saying two other border guards were injured during the clashes. He said that “the terrorists managed to escape into Pakistan territory after attacking the border guards in the Zero border point”. Iran’s Internal Security Forces Spokesman Brig. Gen. Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi said Tehran blames the Pakistani government for the attack and said the “police would pursue the case until the matter was resolved and called on the Iranian diplomatic community to follow the case seriously”. Mirjaveh is located 75 km east of the provincial capital city of Zahedan. It is the main road crossing point between Iran and Pakistan.
Iraq/Da’esh – Fighters have killed at least 10 off duty Iraqi soldiers and injured another 20 in an ambush in a part of the country's western Anbar province. Major Emad al-Dulaimi said on the 24 Apr 17 that the attack occurred the night before near the town of Rutba. He said the assailants were armed with assault rifles and rockets. It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack but Dulaimi blamed Da’esh. Da’esh has carried out many similar attacks targeting Iraqi forces in the past months in what many see as an effort to divert attention from the ongoing battle between Iraqi forces and ISIL. Rutba lies about 390km west of Baghdad. It is the last sizeable town on the way to the border with Jordan. Just a day earlier, Da’esh killed three Iraqi police officers when suicide bombers targeted a police station in Hamam al-Alil, a town located about 30km south of Mosul. The police station has been used as a staging ground for operations in Mosul.
Israel/Syria – Israeli forces have attacked pro-Syrian government groups in the countryside of Quneitra, two days after carrying out similar strikes in the same region. The attack occurred on the 23 Apr 17 targeting fighters loyal to the Syrian government in the Naba al-Fawwar area of Quneitra province, which is located in the 30 percent of the Golan Heights that is not under Israeli occupation. Three fighters from the pro-government National Defence Forces (NDF) were killed and at least two more were wounded in the attack. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the attack but did not have additional details. Rebel forces and other armed groups battling Syria's Bashar al-Assad government and its allies control much of the Quneitra area. The Israeli army said on the 21 Apr 17 that it had targeted positions inside Syria in retaliation for mortar fire that hit the northern part of the occupied Golan Heights. "The Israeli army targeted the source of the fire," an army statement said without giving further details. Syria's official news agency SANA said Israel struck a Syrian army position in Quneitra province on the Golan plateau on the 23 Apr 17, "causing damage". SANA said the Israeli fire came "after a bid by terrorist groups to infiltrate Syrian military positions was foiled".
Saudi Arabia/Yemen – The Saudi coast guard fired on an unmanned boat rigged with explosives, thwarting an attack on one of the kingdom's oil terminals that authorities on the 26 Apr 17 blamed on Yemeni Huthi rebels. The boat, sent from a small island off the Yemeni coast, was targeting a petroleum products distribution terminal run by Saudi oil giant Aramco when it was intercepted on the 25 Apr 17, the interior ministry said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency. "The boat was spotted when it departed from a small island in Yemeni waters and gained speed after entering Saudi waters," the ministry said. After determining that the boat was unmanned, a coast guard unit opened fire on its engine and stopped it 1.5 miles (2.8 kilometres) from the terminal in the southern region of Jazan, the statement said. The boat was loaded with "strong explosive material," it said. The ministry vowed to foil all "terrorist attempts" against the kingdom and to "reach those behind them from the Huthi militias." It accused the rebels of "threatening the security of waterways and offshore installations with explosive-laden boats and naval mines." Two Saudi sailors were killed in a rebel "suicide" boat strike on a frigate patrolling off the Yemeni coast in January, the coalition said at the time. The rebels said they hit the ship with a guided missile. 361 COMMENT: This appears to be a new tactic used by the Houthis. In this case it was stopped by in reality apart from a suicide attack there is the possibility of this type of attack could be a similar to a new ‘missile system’. If the terrorists attach a type of steering mechanism and remotely control the small boat from a distance, navies around Yemeni waters will have problems as well as any oil platforms ion the region. The use of drones from an oil platform would be useful to patrol the rig from height and giving oil rigs and shipping advanced warning. COMMENT ENDS
Syria/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on the armed Syrian opposition to wage guerrilla warfare against the government of Bashar al-Assad and its allies. In an audio tape titled "Syria will only bow to God", released on the internet on the 23 Apr 17 Zawahiri urged Syrian rebels to "have patience and prepare themselves for a long war against the Crusaders and their Shia allies". He urged them to adopt a "guerrilla warfare" strategy because it would "weaken and drain the enemy". The rebels' enemies "are targeting them because they are trying to establish an Islamic rule in Syria, as the West and its allies were doing everything they can to stop it". Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group, announced in July 2016 that it was ending its formal ties with al-Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fath al-Sham, or the Conquest of Syria Front. On January 28 of this year, it merged with four other groups to form a new organisation called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Assembly for the Liberation of Syria.