Posts Tagged ‘IRGC’

U.S. sanctions individuals, entities for Iran-linked counterfeiting

November 20, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned a network of individuals and companies it said counterfeited Yemeni bank notes potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force.

 Image result for Yemen, currency, photos

The network circumvented European export restrictions in order to provide the counterfeiting supplies and equipment, according to a Treasury statement.

President Donald Trump last month declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a supporter of terrorism and authorized Treasury to impose tough sanctions limiting its access to goods and funding.

Republican Trump has been critical of the 2015 agreement his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, reached with Iran and said the United States must take stronger steps to ensure the country does not acquire nuclear weapons.

The counterfeiting scheme exposed the “deep levels of deception” that the Qods Force, a Revolutionary Guard unit carrying out missions outside the country, employs “against companies in Europe, governments in the Gulf, and the rest of the world to support its destabilizing activities,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

According to Treasury, Pardavesh Tasvir Rayan Co.  is a printing operation controlled by businessman Reza Heidari and owned by Tejarat Almas Mobin Holding that procured equipment and materials to print counterfeit Yemeni rial bank notes.

Qods Force used the currency to support its activities.

Heidari used front companies and other methods to keep European suppliers in the dark about their ultimate customer. He coordinated with Mahmoud Seif, Tejarat’s managing director, on the logistics of procuring materials and moving them into Iran, Treasury said.

Treasury sanctioned both men and both companies, as well as ForEnt Technik GmbH, which Heidari owns, and Printing Trade Center GmbH for serving as front companies in the operation.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, editing by G Crosse and Cynthia Osterman

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Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

November 18, 2017
  • 18 November 2017
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. REUTERS/EPA

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, but it’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.

How come Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get along?

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.

The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Map showing Sunni distribution in Middle East

This religious schism is reflected in the wider map of the Middle East, where other countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

Map showing Shia distribution in Middle East

In the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.

Graphic

Fast-forward to 2011 and uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.

Iran’s critics say it is intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, and achieve control of a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean.

How have things suddenly got worse?

The strategic rivalry is heating up because Iran is in many ways winning the regional struggle.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence and the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young and impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is exacerbating regional tensions.

Five things about Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, but after nearly three years this is proving a costly gamble.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc and controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.

There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), Salman bin Adbulaziz (centre) and Donald Trump put their hands on an illuminated globe, Riyadh (21/05/17)

The Jewish state is fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border. EPA photo

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting that it did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.

Who are their regional allies?

Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.

Map showing who supports whom

In the pro-Saudi camp are the other major Sunni actors in the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

In the Iranian camp is Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, and where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?

This is in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.

Syria is an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.

Houthi rebels in Sanaa (file photo)
Yemen is one of a number of battlegrounds fuelling Iranian-Saudi tensions. Reuters photo

But having become bogged down in Yemen and essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.

Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos but few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.

Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah and this could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.

Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah and deliver a heavy blow to the group this way!

Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

So far Tehran and Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is really geared up for a direct war with the other but one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital from Yemen could upset the apple cart.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is in the waters of the Gulf, where they face each other across a maritime border.

But here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US and other Western powers, freedom of navigation in the Gulf is essential and any conflict that sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping and oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval and air forces.

Graphic showing military balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For a long time the US and its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force in the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat and the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems it necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.

The danger is that Saudi Arabia’s new activism is fast making it a further source of volatility in the region.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42008809

Syria army renews assault on last IS-held town

November 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | The Syrian army deploys artillery near Albu Kamal, the last town in the country still held by the Islamic State group, on November 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Syrian army on Thursday entered Albu Kamal, the last town in the country held by the Islamic State group, several days after the jihadists recaptured it, a monitor said.

The town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the border with Iraq was initially captured by the army and allied forces a month ago but IS retook it in a counterattack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the new offensive had successfully penetrated the town, with troops backed by Russian air strikes advancing from the west, east and south.

“Fighting is ongoing inside the town, there is artillery fire and there are Russian air strikes,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The first assault on Albu Kamal was spearheaded by Syrian government allies, including Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite fighters, and advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Observatory said.

“This time, the military operation is being led directly by regime forces,” Abdel Rahman said, adding that troops had taken the town’s eastern, southern and western suburbs.

IS still holds around 25 percent of the countryside of Deir Ezzor province but are under attack not only by government forces but also by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.

The jihadists once controlled a territory the size of Britain, proclaiming a “caliphate” in 2014 that spanned Syria and Iraq.

But they have successively lost all their key strongholds, including Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq

Germany Rolls Out The Red Carpet For Iran’s Businesses — Finds Some Critics

November 15, 2017
BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 NOVEMBER 15, 2017 09:48

“Rather than attending cushy meetings in the West, Iranian officials should be indicted for crimes against humanity.

German politicians under fire for rolling out red carpet for Iranian business

An employee of the chancellery sweeps the red carpet in front of the honour guard before a welcoming ceremony at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 2, 2016. . (photo credit:REUTERS)

A German forum to promote business and banking in the Islamic Republic of Iran, featuring politicians and government bodies, slated to begin on Wednesday, faced sharp criticism from human rights experts and an NGO seeking to stop Iranian terrorism and its illicit nuclear activity.

Ulrike Becker, a spokeswoman for the NGO Stop the Bomb, said: “This banking forum is scandalous. German bankers and politicians in Frankfurt are rolling out the red carpet for a regime which is responsible for the flight of millions [of refugees] from Syria and Iraq.”

Becker said the 5th Banking and Business Forum Iran Europe, which runs from November 15-16 in Frankfurt, seeks to lift financial restrictions against business with Iran.

Ali Divandari, director of the Monetary and Research Institute in Iran, is slated to deliver the opening address. He is also listed as a representative of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesman of the German Green Party, and Tarek Al-Wazir, the Green Party economic minister for the state of Hesse, where the forum is taking place, are also scheduled to speak.

Nouripour helped navigate a pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) initiative targeting the Jewish state in 2013 in the Bundestag. Nouripour denies that he supports BDS.

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Missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit:NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)

Nasrin Amirsedghi, a leading Iranian dissident and public intellectual in Germany, told The Jerusalem Post that “Historically examined, the party, the Greens, have always since their founding in 1980 supported terrorists… It is obvious that they continue to go this way. They idolized Ruhollah Khomeini [the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran] and actively helped the mullahs sit firmly in the saddle today.”

Amirsedghi, a human-rights expert on Iran, said that Al-Wazir and Nouripour are “supporting terrorists” and “that is, for me, a scandal.”

Becker slammed federal German agencies involved in the Iran business forum: “The list of speakers shows that the initiative for boosting Iran’s business comes from the government. Institutions such as the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) and the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA) that are responsible for risk control of foreign trade, are involved in propaganda for trade with Iran.”

Sabine Reimer, a BaFin spokeswoman, told the Post that, “as a supervisory agency, we take a neutral position.”

Sarah Ott, a spokeswoman for BAFA, told the Post, “as the central agency responsible for permits, BAFA implements, in the framework of political guidelines, the security and foreign policy interests of the Federal Republic of Germany in the field of foreign trade. BAFA also regularly and neutrally informs, at a series of events from different institutions, about current legal developments and proceedings. BAFA contributes to sharpening, as much as possible, the awareness of existing regulations and restrictions in foreign trade law.”

She added that Iran’s involvement in terrorist finance prompted the international financial regulator Financial Action Task Force to label Iran a “high risk” country for business.

Julie Lenarz, a senior fellow for The Israel Project, based in Washington, told the Post that “Iran hasn’t stopped being a threat to international peace and security. It’s a pariah state, ruled by a fanatical mullah regime with malign nuclear ambitions, and should be isolated as the world’s largest exporter of terrorism.

“Key sectors of the Iranian economy are controlled by the IRGC [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps], the country’s driving force behind Islamic extremism, war crimes in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and annihilationist threats against the state of Israel,” she said. “Rather than attending cushy meetings in the West, Iranian officials should be indicted for crimes against humanity.”

Lenarz added that, “If you do business with the IRGC, you sponsor Tehran’s aggression abroad and violence against their own people.” Large European banks have avoided business deals with Iran because of the volatility of Iran’s financial system. Oberbank, a mid-size Austrian bank, established business ties with Tehran in September. Michael Busser, a spokesman for the State of Hesse, did not immediately answer a Post press query. The German Green Party declined to comment.

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Tensions between Iran and Saudis could draw US into another war

November 14, 2017

By Ralph Pters
New York Post

While our eyes are fixed on North Korea, the Middle East threatens to explode. If it does, we’ll be drawn in — and the carnage and cost will make Iraq seem like spring break.

Choose your powder keg, starting with Yemen. Ruptured by civil war, the entire country’s running out of water; famine is biting; and cholera’s spreading like a medieval plague. Yemeni factions fight like rabid dogs let loose in a butcher’s shop, while Islamist fanatics spread through the desolate hinterlands.

Worsening all, Iran has backed the Shia-aligned Houthi rebels to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Two-and-a-half years ago, Iran’s involvement drew in the Saudi military. Today, neither side is winning; the dying continues; and the frustrated Saudis have blocked not only trade but relief supplies.

Yemen is dying, the plaything of powerful neighbors, and we can’t even find it on a map. But Yemen may well find us.

Launched from Yemen, an Iranian-supplied missile targeted the Saudi capital this month. A US-built air-defense system brought it down, but the attack signaled that Iran is raising the stakes.

Given their triumphs in Syria and Iraq, Iran’s militants feel invincible. No sentiment is more dangerous.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia is reeling. Riyadh’s struggling to find an effective response to Iran’s empire-building. In its latest — appallingly clumsy — move, the kingdom essentially kidnapped Saad Hariri, the man the Saudis themselves had backed as Lebanon’s prime minister. Riyadh forced the younger Hariri to resign on Saudi soil and continues to hold Hariri under apparent house arrest.

As Lebanon’s senior Sunni political leader, Hariri’s sin was that he failed to stand up to Iran as Lebanon-based Hezbollah provided shock troops to Syria’s Assad regime. But there was little Hariri could do. Hezbollah’s now the strongest force in Lebanon — its veterans far overmatch the Lebanese military. And the Lebanese, recalling their own brutal civil war, don’t want their country torn apart again.

The Saudis simply don’t know what to do. Riyadh had bet that we’d take care of Iran, that Tehran would push us too far and our military would whip Iran’s Quds Force and the region’s Shia militias back into their pens. But we backed down again and again, while the Iranians consistently stepped up.

Long viewed as the keystone Arab power, Saudi Arabia’s now strategically destitute. Despite the hundreds of billions spent on weaponry, the Saudi military performs poorly. The Iranians are willing to fight it out in close combat on the ground. The Saudis want to fight safely from the air. And so the Iranians are respected and feared, while the Saudis are disdained.

Plus, Tehran has been building a web of alliances, while the Saudis have never excelled at attracting friends.

Our principle Middle Eastern ally outside of Israel, Saudi Arabia could, with one grand misstep, provoke a regional war it could not win. And we’d be forced to save the kingdom, a repugnant use of American blood.

Nor is Saudi Arabia tranquil domestically. In recent years, dynastic changes empowered the 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (known to Saudis as “MbS”), who grasps the need for social and economic modernization. His foreign misadventures, though, from the Yemen quagmire to an untimely spat with Qatar and the stumbling interference in Lebanon threaten to derail reform. Popular with younger Saudis, MbS seeks to grant women more rights (beginning with the right to drive); to diversify and revitalize the economy on a vast scale; and to reduce corruption.

That last effort is essential to the Saudi future, but it’s fraught with peril. The recent arrests of over 200 princes, officials and billionaire businessmen has been touted as an anti-corruption sweep, but also appears to be a draconian move to sideline rivals. MbS is gambling at several tables simultaneously. And every other player is a cheat.

We should applaud real reform but always remain alert: Saudi internal modernization in the face of unprecedented external challenges could prove destabilizing. The shah of Iran didn’t fall because of his (much-exaggerated) oppression, but because he sought to change his country faster than it could bear.

With his catastrophic rush to abandon Iraq and subsequent cowardice, President Barack Obama became Iran’s enabler. Now, if the Saudis blunder, President Trump may be forced to act as Tehran’s great disabler. And we may find ourselves in the kind of war even victors lose.

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

http://nypost.com/2017/11/13/tensions-between-iran-and-saudis-could-draw-us-into-another-war/

Despite Israeli Demands, Syria Cease-fire Deal Allows Iranian Forces Near Northern Border

November 13, 2017

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Israeli defense figures are troubled by the fact that Russia and the U.S. seem unwilling to take genuine measures to kick Iran out of southern Syria

ByAmos Harel
Haaretz
Nov 13, 2017 7:03 AM

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FILE PHOTO: Iran’s army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looks into binoculars as he visits the Iranian military near Aleppo, Syria on October 20 2017. Uncredited/AP
Analysis Israel is in no hurry to do the Saudis’ bidding in Lebanon

Israel made no official response on Sunday to the trilateral agreement between Russia, America and Jordan on a cease-fire in southern Syria. The agreement, signed over the weekend, requires all foreign forces, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Shi’ite militias operated by Iran, to leave Syria.

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But it does not set deadlines, and secret understandings among the parties provide for the IRGC and Iran’s proxy forces to withdraw only a short distance from the Israeli border, at least in the near term. Israeli defense figures are troubled by this and by the fact that the superpowers seem unwilling to take genuine measures to kick Iran out of Syria in general, and southern Syria in particular.

Israel Channel 2 News reported Sunday night that army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Eisenkot secretly flew to Brussels on Thursday to meet with Gen. Curtiss Scaparrotti, head of the U.S. army’s European Command. The meeting dealt mainly with Iranian moves in the Middle East, and especially Syria.

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Two men, not specified which group of rebels, ride a motorcycle towards an abandoned UN base at Syria’s Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Nov. 28, 2016Ariel Schalit / AP

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Eisenkot and Scaparrotti had met just two weeks earlier at an international gathering of chiefs of staff hosted by Washington. A second meeting so soon afterward presumably reflects the extent of Israel’s concern over recent developments.

Over the weekend, the BBC, quoting Western intelligence sources, reported that satellite photos show the Iranians are secretly building a base near Damascus. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday that Israel won’t allow Syria to become “a forward base” for “the Shi’ite axis.”

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The site of an Iranian military compound in Syria, January, 2017.  Airbus, McKenzie Intelligence Services via BBC

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Israel’s repeated statements to this effect — which have been made, inter alia, in recent meetings with American, Russian and European politicians — attest to the growing concern of Israeli military and political leaders about Iran’s moves in Syria. Tehran seeks to reap the fruits of its support for the Assad regime, which has gained the upper hand in Syria’s civil war. Israel is presumably trying to warn Iran that it would view certain moves as crossing a red line and would consider military action to thwart them.

But the trilateral agreement provides only a partial answer to Israel’s concerns. Its attached map, which has not yet been published, specifies how far away the IRGC and the Shi’ite militias, including Hezbollah, must stay from the Israeli border. In September, Haaretz reported that Israel wanted them kept 50 to 60 kilometers away, but the Russians initially agreed to only five kilometers.

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The new map reflects a complicated compromise. In most areas it will apparently keep the Shi’ites 20 kilometers from the border, but in some places the distance will shrink to just five kilometers. Add in the fact that no timetable for removing foreign forces from Syria is even visible on the horizon, and Israel’s concerns are understandable.

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The tension with Iran is joined by the developing crisis in Lebanon over the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is still in Riyadh. Senior Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have accused Saudi Arabia over the last few days of holding Hariri against his will, and Hezbollah has accused Riyadh of trying to foment a war between it and Israel. Sunday evening, Hariri gave an interview from Riyadh to the Lebanese television station Al-Mustaqbal in which he denied he was being detained by the Saudis and promised to return to Lebanon in a few days.

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High alert in the south

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A picture taken from the eastern outskirts of Gaza Strip shows an Israeli drilling machine stationed on the Israeli side of the border on November 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMSMAHMUD HAMS/AFP

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Though the situation in the north is so far confined to an exchange of verbal threats, on the Gaza border, the IDF is genuinely on high alert. It has beefed up its forces along the border in preparation for the possibility that Islamic Jihad might try to carry out an attack to avenge Israel’s destruction of a cross-border attack tunnel two weeks ago, in which at least 12 of the group’s operatives were killed.

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On Saturday, the army coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned that Islamic Jihad was “playing with fire” by planning a revenge attack. He threatened that if such an attack took place, Israel’s response would also target the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, and he urged Islamic Jihad’s headquarters in Damascus to “take matters into your own hands,” or in other words, to restrain the group’s military wing in Gaza and the West Bank.

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“There are those who still amuse themselves these days by trying to renew attacks against Israel. We will take a very firm stance against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any area,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday.

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Islamic Jihad responded with a threat of its own, calling the Israeli statements “a declaration of war.”

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read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.822442

Saudi Shakeup Gives the U.S. an Opening With Iran

November 11, 2017
This can go two ways: toward either war or a new understanding of the balance of Middle Eastern power.
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By Amir Handjani And Alireza Nader
Bloomberg News
Hybrid warfare?

 Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty Images

The latest political earthquake in Saudi Arabia has led to much speculation over the future of the kingdom and the Gulf Arab states. But most analyses have ignored the far bigger issue looming over the region’s upheavals: Prospects for a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran are rapidly escalating.

Just as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was consolidating absolute power last weekend– cracking down on the last royal relatives, billionaire investors, Wahhabi clerics and rights advocates who posed a threat to his reign — the kingdom announced it was holding Iran responsible for a missile attack on Riyadh by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The group does have ties to Tehran, but Saudi claims remain unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, a close Saudi ally, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, abruptly resigned his post while on a visit to Riyadh, citing fears of an Iranian attempt on his life. The Lebanese army and Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, deny any such plot. Lebanon is increasingly becoming a flashpoint in the cold war between Tehran and Riyadh.

If Saudi Arabia forces a showdown with Iran, the U.S. would find itself in the middle of it. Statements by President Donald Trump and his national security team point to a more aggressive U.S posture toward Tehran. This pushback includes de-certifying Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact despite overwhelming evidence of Iran’s compliance, as well as imposing sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hezbollah, and Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The Trump administration’s desire to isolate and pressure Iran reflects outdated thinking that does not take into account the shifting realities of today’s Middle East. The most likely outcome is it will inadvertently strengthen Iran’s hand in the region, much as President George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq did in 2003.

Iran is now, arguably, the most powerful regional actor in the Middle East. Tehran is a decisive player in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and its influence extends to Yemen and Afghanistan. Pushing back on Iranian power would mean confronting Iranian forces in countries where they are embedded with local militias or have been invited by host governments, as is the case in Iraq and Syria.

Furthermore, Iran is no longer a global pariah. It has a strong partnership with Russia in Syria and increasingly shared interest with Turkey on issues relating to Kurdish independence and strengthening the central government in Baghdad. Both Turkey and Iran back Qatar in its dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That quarrel has created openings for Iran to project itself as a stabilizing force in the Middle East to other major powers such as China and India.

With the Arab world and the Gulf Cooperation Council deeply divided, Washington’s attempts to isolate Iran run counter to European, Russian, and Chinese attempts to cajole Tehran to play a more constructive regional role, one befitting its status as a rising power.

U.S. attempts to undermine the nuclear deal will likely only draw other global actors to Iran’s side, especially as European countries could view Tehran as a more responsible partner in upholding commitments, in contrast to Washington’s new unpredictability.

Iran is also increasingly turning to Asia as a source of credit and commerce. China views Iran as a critical component of its One Belt One Road economic initiative, which seeks to connect Beijing to the Middle East and Europe. Japan, South Korea and India also see Tehran as an untapped market worthy of short-term risks in exchange for future economic gain. All are now buyers of Iranian crude and petrochemicals, and all are looking to make substantial investments in the Iranian economy.

U.S. sanctions against Iran are unlikely to reverse its influence in the Middle East. The Syrian government is heavily dependent on Iran while the Iraqi government views it as a partner in combatting Sunni Jihadism and Kurdish separatism. Sanctions will undoubtedly slow Iran’s economic growth, as they have for the past 40 years, but they will not fundamentally alter Iran’s ability to project influence.

It’s unlikely that the U.S. and Iran will stop antagonizing each other any time soon. But the Trump administration could treat Iran not as a rogue threat but as it would treat any major rival, such as Russia or China. Where suitable Washington could engage with Tehran. When otherwise necessary, it could make clear that it will not compromise on the security and stability of its allies.

Washington and Tehran need to come to an understanding so as not to further enflame the region. This would entail the Trump administration abandoning its attempts to undermine the nuclear agreement and calling for regime change in Iran. Continuing to demonize Iran for all the ills of the Middle East is counterproductive and will only lead to further escalation. This strategy was employed during the George W. Bush administration with disastrous consequences.

The Trump administration should re-establish high level contact that existed during the previous administration and broaden the scope of diplomatic engagement to include regional security issues. The should take place at the ministerial level, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If nothing else, this would ease some tension and provide a pressure valve for airing grievances.

It can also resolve crises that may arise in the Persian Gulf, where both navies operate. In 2016, Iran’s capture of U.S. sailors was resolved peacefully because of the rapport established between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. It is difficult to imagine in today’s contentious climate such an incident settled without a shot being fired. Diplomatic channels to deconflict between hostile countries are necessary.

It is unlikely that the U.S. could dissuade Iran from some of its most troublesome activities such as supporting Hezbollah or Hamas, but there is a middle ground in which the two sides can live with the existing realities on the ground. For example, the U.S. and Iran have a shared interest in preventing the reemergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Neither side wants the political uncertainty in Lebanon (now imminent because of Harriri’s resignation) to spiral out of control. Both Tehran and Washington want to strengthen the central government in Afghanistan.  Ultimately, both countries have a vested interest in seeing the sectarian violence that has engulfed the region come to an end.

U.S. policymakers should not assume they can reverse the trends of the last 15 years. The U.S. invasion of Iraq showed how poor planning and erroneous assumptions can backfire. At the time, the Bush administration wrongly predicted that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein would unleash democratic movements across the region and diminish Iranian influence. Similarly, possibly faulty assumptions when it comes to Iran could pave the way for the permanent erosion of American power in an increasingly unpredictable Middle East.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-11-11/saudi-shakeup-gives-the-u-s-an-opening-with-iran

Iran alarmed at rising tensions with Saudi Arabia — A Pandora’s box where a conflict may start but might end up in Israel, the U.S. or elsewhere

November 11, 2017

Tehran muzzles hardline newspaper but doubles down on regional ambitions

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File photo: Hossein Shariatmadari of the Iranian newspaper Kayhan

By  in Tehran
Financial Times (FT)

The depth of Iran’s alarm at rising tensions with Saudi Arabia, its main regional rival, became clear this week with the temporary closure of a newspaper closely allied with hardliners.

On Monday, a headline in Kayhan hailed a ballistic missile attack by Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Riyadh, an assault that Saudi Arabia said was an “act of war” by the Islamic Republic. The daily even suggested that Dubai would be the next target of the Yemeni rebels, which are engaged in a bitter proxy war with their Saudi-backed rivals.

The report prompted alarm in Tehran, where the official line is that it is not involved in the civil war in Yemen.

The Supreme National Security Council on Wednesday accused the state-run paper of acting against national security, and the hardline judiciary ordered a two-day closure — a rare punishment for Kayhan whose editor is appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

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Missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit:NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)

The decision to close the paper highlights a tactical shift by the Islamic Republic, keen not to anger Saudi Arabia or the US even as it doubles down on its regional ambitions.

“This was a clear message to the world that the headline did not reflect Iran’s policy,” said a senior adviser to the Iranian foreign ministry.

“While Iran has not taken the possibility of direct military confrontation with Saudi Arabia seriously and has no intention of retreating from its regional policies, it wants to avoid any escalation because the opposite front — US, Israel and Saudi Arabia — is bigger and stronger.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia, self-proclaimed custodians of Shia and Sunnis in the Islamic world respectively, are locked in a power struggle that has intensified since the conflict in Syria. The election of Donald Trump, who is determined to rein in Iran and has deepened the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, has shifted the balance in their proxy wars.

In the past week alone, Iranian officials and political observers have been shocked by the missile attack on Riyadh and the sudden resignation of Saad al-Hariri as Lebanese prime minister. Riyadh had pushed for him to go in apparent protest at Tehran’s backing of the Hizbollah militia.

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Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Iran’s carefully calculated approach towards the US and Saudi Arabia, which Hassan Rouhani, the centrist president, and the hardline Revolutionary Guards  both support, is designed to limit the chances of military confrontation and safeguard the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 with major powers. Mr Trump has refused to certify the nuclear accord, leaving the decision to Congress, which has until the end of this year to decide whether to re-impose crippling sanctions.

At the same time, Iranian analysts say Riyadh is determined to undermine Tehran’s support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah, its main proxy force, reduce its influence in neighbouring Iraq and cut aid to the Houthis. This, they say, would help Saudis ease tense political infighting.

“Saudis are pushing to create an international consensus against Iran,” said Saeed Laylaz, a reform-minded analyst. “Saudi’s young leaders need to have controllable levels of crises with Iran to help smooth the succession of the crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman] from his father and his social and economic reforms.”

While Iran has made the conscious decision not to react angrily to any provocations, there is no sign that it is considering any retreat on its regional policies.

“Iran is aware that taking one step back means the Saudi-US-Israel alliance will become more aggressive,” said the adviser. “We cannot sit back and recognise Saudi hegemony in the region. Any concessions by either side can happen only through talks not conflicts.”

With the two sides already active in Yemen, some in Tehran now fear Lebanon could become a new pressure point.

“Iranian leaders think they are playing a chess game with the US and Israel which may show itself in a Iran-Saudi power struggle in Lebanon — a Pandora’s box where a conflict may start but might end up in Israel,” said Nasser Hadian, a reform-minded university professor of international relations.

“No one in Iran believes that Saudi Arabia, which could not even succeed in a Yemen with absolutely no power, would dare to strike Iran.”

The rivalry could also intensify in Iraq. More than 2m Iranian pilgrims went to southern Iraq on Thursday to mark the 40th day of martyrdom of Hossein, the third Imam of the Shia, in a display of power. “This gathering shows our potential but we are not going to use it unless necessary,” said the adviser.

“In the worst-case scenario, if there will be any military confrontation, Iran will respond with all its visible and invisible forces around the world and target Saudi Arabia, US and Israel which will create a big mess for everyone for a long time.”

https://www.ft.com/content/3ae0a1c6-c52d-11e7-b2bb-322b2cb39656

Former CIA Director Jim Woosey: Iran Needs To Be Taken Down a Notch

November 10, 2017
BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 NOVEMBER 10, 2017 12:39

“The hell with proportionality.”

EX-CIA CHIEF James Woolsey

EX-CIA CHIEF James Woolsey. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The US should destroy virtually all of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps infrastructure as well as Iran’s nuclear facilities to reduce its terrorist and nuclear threats, former CIA director James Woolsey told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.

“The next time the IRGC looks cross-eyed at us… we should turn loose six to 12 MOAB [GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast] bombs on their facilities,” said Woolsey, who was CIA director from 1993 to 1995 during the Clinton administration. He spoke to the Post in the famous Rotunda Room of the Pierre Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

MOAB bombs, with 18,000 pounds of TNT, are the second-largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal, and the largest ever used, after one was dropped on a suspected Islamic State target in Afghanistan in April.

“Given what a source of terrorism the IRGC is… instead of talking and proportionality – the hell with proportionality. We should destroy virtually everything we can that has to do with the IRGC,” he said.

Woolsey, wearing a gray charcoal coat and a red sweater, said, “I think their seizing of a US ship [in January 2016] was an act of war. We went to war on less than that in the War of 1812,” noting that the US attacked England because it had captured or killed a relatively small number of sailors.

The intensity of Woolsey’s aggressive program contrasted with the heavenly blue sky displaying the Greek gods in paintings on the dome-shaped ceiling above and across the walls below.

The former CIA director did qualify that he “would not use MOABs against civilian facilities, but against military facilities… and we would be wise to take out everything related to their nuclear program.”

Pressed that this approach could drag the US into a highly volatile and unpredictable war with Iran and its proxies, he was unfazed.

He suggested that taking a strong approach might also correct what he saw as a failure of the Reagan administration when it withdrew from Lebanon in response to the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of a US barracks.

Regarding the Iran deal, unlike former CIA director Michael Hayden, who told the Post in October that he was in favor of fixing the deal but against Trump’s decertification of the deal, Woolsey was disappointed that Trump did not scrap the deal entirely.

Though Hayden was a Republican appointee and Woolsey a Democratic one, on the Iran deal, Woolsey outflanked Hayden from the right, saying that “the Iran nuclear deal is worse than worthless.”

Explaining his view, he called the deal’s provisions for nuclear inspections weak regarding military nuclear facilities. He discussed a scenario where “the US or the IAEA got recordings from overflying airplanes or satellites that there is a spot 100 miles north of Tehran which is highly radioactive.”

“You tell the Iranians you are going to inspect the next day. The next morning they say you cannot go, because it is a military facility. You respond that it was not a declared military facility yesterday. They say, ‘We can make it a military facility anytime we want.’” In other words, the Iranians could arbitrarily use the military facility definition to skirt inspections.

What specifically would Woolsey suggest Trump do with the deal?

“I would deal with the deal under American constitutional law. Any really major international agreement must be a treaty. You are committing the entire American people to something. This should have been a treaty. Its executive agreement status should be canceled, and it should be submitted to the Senate. If approved, it goes into effect, and if not, not.”

But for Woolsey, all of the above is treating the symptoms without confronting the heart of the issue: how to weaken Iran’s damaging influence.

To reduce Iran’s power in the long term “and bring about a saner world,” Woolsey suggested “undermining OPEC, ending the cartel” and bringing the price of oil down to a historic low of $30 a barrel.

Essentially, his idea is to “return oil to a free market, which in turn could lead to competition against oil products in the realm of transportation and fuel markets for cars.”

If the US, Israel and other allies “want to damage Iran and keep them from running the Gulf, they need to break Iran’s economy, and getting the price of oil down is the only thing that does that.”

OPEC is an organization of 14 oil-rich countries, mostly developing countries in the Middle East, which work together to control the price of oil in order to spread their economic and geopolitical influence.

Woolsey said that the beauty of the idea is that it is just applying free market principles and is not even Iran-specific; rather, it would have the impact of reducing the power of Iran, as well as other countries such as Russia, to use their strength in oil as a weapon economically and to pay for their foreign adventurism.

He cited energy experts Gal Luft and Anne Korin’s 2009 book Turning Oil Into Salt in arguing that a simple technical fix, which according to General Motors costs only $70 per car, should be added to every new vehicle sold in the US.

“Flex fuel vehicles” would ensure that cars could run on different combinations of gasoline and a range of alcohol fuels such as methanol or ethanol.

Standards ensuring new cars are flex fuel vehicles would open the transportation fuel market to fuels made from energy sources other than oil, and the price of methanol made from natural gas is competitive on a per-mile basis with gasoline.

Woolsey contended that such a standard could virtually cap the price of oil, with consumers choosing the most economic fuel on a per-mile cost basis, creating a shield against OPEC trying to inflate the price of oil.

He said that Israel and China are both “doing a lot with methanol,” and that, working together with the US, they could undermine the basis of Iranian and Russian power.

But this flexible fuel plan for undermining Iran and Russia in the long term would have no obvious timeline on it, making it unattractive to a president like Donald Trump who is eager to show off quick photo ops.

Woolsey, who consulted for the Trump campaign at certain stages, said he would pitch Trump by saying, “You are undermining the country’s enemies, working together with our good friend Israel and our sometimes friend China…

“Every soccer mom, as she drives home from taking kids to play soccer after school, stops to get groceries before dinner. She will save $2-$3 on what she buys for dinner. That means her family gets a better meal, as opposed to if she has to spend that extra $3 on petroleum fuels…. You are for soccer moms, aren’t you Mr. President? Aren’t they called constituents?” he added with a flicker in his eye.

The former CIA director dismissed possible objections from oil-heavy allies such as Saudi Arabia, Canada and Norway, saying they can eventually “all get along” without oil being such a centerpiece of their economy.

This concept of financially attacking adversaries is also a major part of how Woolsey conceives of fighting terrorism.

Commenting on a new book called Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters by Shurat Hadin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel Katz, he said, “Offense is the key thing, not just to play defense. You need to go after terrorists with litigation. You have to take it to the terrorists and the relevant states who support terrorism. You need to make it financially unattractive to stay in the business,” he said.

Groups like Shurat Hadin, which promote that kind of litigation, “are a big part of that, along with law enforcement.”

Harpoon tells the story of legendary Mossad director Meir Dagan, his top-secret task force and of Darshan-Leitner, who collectively waged parallel cloak-and-dagger and litigation campaigns targeting the finances that funded attacks against Israel.

Woolsey’s quote on the book’s back cover talks about the need “to ‘follow the money.’ This is the story of how the Mossad led this movement and substantially effected investigations of terrorism and similarly important matters and how this influenced the CIA’s later work in the same field.”

He confirmed that the CIA was significantly and positively influenced by the Mossad and Shurat Hadin’s work in this area. He added that he worked well and closely with then-Mossad director Shabtai Shavit, and this despite the fresh Jonathan Pollard controversy which hung over them at the time.

Continuing his grim – or realistic, depending on your perspective – sizing up of various security challenges, the former CIA director was extremely negative about the ongoing Palestinian efforts at reconciliation between the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas.

He said, “I don’t trust either of those organizations. Israel should take zero risk while incitement in education of Palestinian kids continues.” Whether Israel attempts to negotiate a deal with the Palestinian Authority or with a PA-Hamas national unity government, peace negotiations “will not likely succeed. Some degree of negotiation sometimes should be maintained, in case something unexpected happens, and you want to be able to take advantage of that.”

He noted that such an unexpected event “happened to me in early fall 1989 when I was picked to take over the European negotiation over conventional forces. One week after I took over the job, I was sitting in my apartment in Vienna…. I had misheated something in the microwave and was watching CNN. Then the Berlin Wall goes down. I said, ‘That might have an effect on the talks!’”

Despite that positive example, he returned to his theme that he does not “see any reasonable chance of success, given what the Palestinians teach their kids, the hatred they propagate against Israel.”

Recounting happier times between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, “I remember going over there as CIA director in 1994, seeing some of the joint training between Fatah and the Israelis. It was quite dramatic. And there was also the handshake in the garden,” between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

However, Woolsey has an additional off-camera memory from his attendance at the ceremony, reflecting his and other US officials’ distrust of Arafat even in the best of times.

He said that after “the handshake,” Arafat starts down one side of the attendees and “starts grabbing each Arab ambassador and planting a wet kiss on their mouths – not their cheeks.”

Colin Powell, then-head of the US armed forces, was standing next to Woolsey and said, “Damn, Jim, he is going to kiss us.”

To avoid an Arafat kiss on the mouth, Powell saluted and elevated to his straightest height, towering over the short Arafat, who could not reach him. Woolsey then seized the moment by grabbing Arafat’s hand to shake it, and then handing him off to then-US secretary of defense Les Aspin.

Woolsey said he told Powell, “I never thought I would have to shake hands with that son of a bitch – but at least he didn’t kiss us!”

About the Oslo negotiations, which he witnessed up close, he said, “I thought it was worth trying at the time. But Arafat was never serious about it; it was nothing but a ploy for him.”

Woolsey said that the only chance for peace with the Palestinians would be if they changed “what they teach their kids” and got a new leader on the scene with the bold drive for peace of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

Reviewing his current successor at the CIA, director Mike Pompeo, he said, “So far, so good.”

Asked about allegations that Pompeo has politicized aspects of intelligence related to Iran, or that his public views as a congressman act to pressure CIA analysts on the issue, Woolsey said that, if that was an issue, “it will go away with time… and people can discount what someone’s views were” before they were director.

Woolsey was critical of Trump for leaking Israeli intelligence to Russia and for his propensity for broadcasting so much of his national security strategy.

He contrasted Trump with former president Ronald Reagan, recalling that Reagan’s administration once discovered that Russia was stealing small electronic US government devices and that Reagan quietly ordered some of them booby-trapped.

“Reagan could look at some reconnaissance satellite feeds of Russian oil and gas pipelines going up in smoke – boom, boom, boom from the boobytraps!” he said with a big smile. “But they did not publicize it. The whole thing was very classified until years later.”

In intelligence you need to “speak softly, carry a big stick and sometimes use the big stick.”

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What Team Obama didn’t want you to know about the al Qaeda-Iran alliance

November 3, 2017

The New York Post
Editorial Board

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo has just released hundreds of thousands of documents, long withheld by the Obama administration, that were seized in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

There are no surprise revelations — but they more fully document the years-long extensive cooperation between al Qaeda and Iran that was still ongoing when bin Laden met his end.

And that raises even more disturbing questions about the nuclear deal Team Obama cut — and the real reason these documents weren’t disclosed until now.

Particularly a 19-page assessment by a senior jihadist of the Qaeda-Tehran ties: how Iran supplied “everything [we] needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon,” as well safe haven for other jihadis.

Yes, there were occasional conflicts and jealousies — but not enough to sever the relationship, which bin Laden himself described as post-2001 al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel and communication.”

The Obama White House had this information for nearly five years before negotiating the nuclear deal — talks in which it refused to address Iran’s continuing sponsorship of terror even as it agreed to provide it with more than $100 billion in sanctions relief and hostage ransom payments.

Secretary of State John Kerry himself admitted that much of the money would go to supporting terrorist groups.

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And that includes al Qaeda — which, the documents show, was very much under bin Laden’s control until the moment a Navy SEAL team took him out.

To ensure passage of the nuke deal, did Obama and his CIA directors withhold anything that could undercut their claims about encouraging Iranian “moderates”?

It sure looks that way.

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