Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Iran sends Hezbollah GPS parts to turn rockets into precision missiles — report

October 20, 2018

Most recent shipment arrived in Beirut on Tuesday; Lebanon has previously denied Netanyahu’s claim that Iran operates weapons factories on its soil

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Iran has delivered advanced GPS components to Hezbollah which will allow the terrorist group to make previously unguided rockets into precision guided-missiles, thus increasing the threat to Israel, Fox News reported Friday.

According to the media outlet, American and western intelligence services believe Iran has been increasing its shipments to Hezbollah, with one flight arriving in Beirut as recently as three days ago with the parts to convert weaponry at Iranian factories in Lebanon.

The existence of these factories was revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month. The Israeli military later released satellite images of three sites in Beirut that it said were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has said Netanyahu’s allegations are “baseless.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showing a diagram of what he said was Hezbollah terror group sites near Beirut during his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)

Fox News tracked Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm flight number QFZ-9950, which departed Tehran International Airport on Tuesday at 9:33 a.m. before flying to an unknown destination, according to flight data. Later that same day, the Boeing 747 jet reportedly landed in Damascus before its final leg to Beirut.

On Wednesday evening the plane reportedly took off from Beirut to Doha before returning to Tehran.

Illustrative: A Qeshm Fars Air cargo plane (Wikimedia commons)

Western intelligence sources said the plane was carrying weapons components, including GPS technology, to make precision-guided missiles in the Iranian factories located near the airport in Beirut.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Israel is determined not to let it happen,” for Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Fox News. “This is a source of concern because if the Iranians, on the one hand, are determined to build this precision project with ballistic missiles, and the Israelis are determined not to let it happen—this is a recipe for collision.”

“The Iranians are building a formidable military presence in Syria with ballistic missiles, precise ballistic missiles, UAV, air defense. Israel is not going to allow Iran to duplicate Hezbollah in Syria,” Yadlin said.

The target of the Israeli airstrike last month, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles, which was en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.

In response to that incident, Russia delivered the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria. Netanyahu has said he has told Russia that Israel must continue to hit hostile targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s decision. There have been no reports of Israeli strikes in Syria since the downing of the Russian plane.

According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.

Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017. Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not abide such facilities.

In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will cannot accept this threat.”

One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.

A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles.

In May, Netanyahu said Israel was “operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli Air Force has largely abstained from conducting raids inside Lebanon itself, though it has indicated that it was prepared to do so.

Earlier this year, IAF chief Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying next to Beirut’s airport, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.

Israel fought a punishing war with Hezbollah in 2006. Jerusalem believes the group has since re-armed with tens of thousands of missiles that can threaten all of Israel.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.


U.S. Sanctions Iran Finance Network in Bid to Sever Tehran’s Global Ties

October 17, 2018

Image result for Basij militia, photos

Washington’s latest action sets the stage for next phase of economy-crippling sanctions and are a warning shot to companies and governments still engaged with Iran


Members of Iran’s Basij militia marched in a parade in Tehran in April.
Members of Iran’s Basij militia marched in a parade in Tehran in April. PHOTO: ATTA KENARE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—The U.S. sanctioned a multibillion-dollar network of Iranian companies, banks and funds accused of financing the country’s elite paramilitary unit, ratcheting up global pressure on Tehran and sending a warning to governments and companies considering continued engagement with Iran.

By targeting the Basij militia’s financing network and citing the group’s alleged use of child soldiers and other human-rights abuses, the U.S. hopes to not only choke off funding to the prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unit, but also scare off any business dealings with the country.

“The IRGC is pervasive within the Iranian economy,” a senior administration official said. “This is precisely the kind of activity that we have warned other companies and governments about extensively.”

Many firms are pulling out of Iran as the U.S. rolls out an escalating and economy-crippling sanctions campaign meant to force Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear and security deal that addresses an array of U.S. concerns.

But from China to Europe, some governments and companies are considering maintaining financial and trade ties with Tehran as a way to keep the country’s critical oil supplies flowing and to oppose Washington’s decision this year to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S. Treasury’s sanctions say the Basij’s ownership and control of banks and companies is integrated across the entire Iranian economy. All of those institutions are already targeted under the coming round of hardest-hitting U.S. sanctions coming into force Nov. 5, the second phase of Washington’s new pressure campaign meant to cut Iran from financial and trade ties to the world.

But the sanctions announced Tuesday link a unit condemned by human-rights groups and blacklisted by many Western governments, including the European Union, to corporations and financial institutions that do business in Europe and around the globe.

Besides intending to raise the political pressure on countries in Europe and elsewhere, Tuesday’s effort is also meant as a warning shot before the full set of sanctions come into force. Given the opacity of Iran’s economy and the extent of the IRGC’s involvement in the country’s economy, companies or banks risk U.S. penalties and reputational damage if they preserve their Iran ties.

Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, didn’t address the specific U.S. allegations or the details linking Iran’s military unit to an economywide network of companies and financial institutions, when asked about the action by the Journal. He called the sanctions part of a “unilateral campaign of bellicosity against Iran.”

Image result for Mehr Eqtesad Bank, photos

The Treasury said a nexus of the Basij network is the Mehr Eqtesad Bank, which U.S. officials say provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the militia’s foundation through dividends and interest-free credit lines. The bank didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bank Mellat—an institution targeted under the Obama administration for its role in helping finance Iran’s nuclear program—funneled similar amounts to Mehr Eqtesad Bank, the U.S. said on in its Tuesday announcement. Bank Mellat, which the U.S. says is owned by the Basij foundation, has subsidiaries in Germany, the U.K., Turkey and South Korea, according to the institution’s website. The bank didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mehr Eqtesad Bank’s investment firm owns or controls many Iranian companies, including the largest manufacturer of tractors in the Middle East and North Africa, the country’s multibillion-dollar zinc and lead conglomerate, as well as engineering, investment, chemical and metal smelting firms, U.S. officials said.

“This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “The international community must understand that business entanglements with the [Basij] network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences.”

The watchdog group Human Rights Watch has accused the Basij of torture, particularly of political prisoners, including beatings and rape, and tied the elite unit to the recruitment of Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria, where Tehran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as he prosecutes a war against Syrian opposition forces.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that has backed more aggressive sanctions against Tehran, said Treasury’s action should be red flag to companies. Besides revealing the depth of the Basij network’s involvement in Iran’s economy and stigmatizing financial institutions linked to the unit, he said the sanctions set the stage for the next phase of sanctions becoming effective in early November.

Image result for John Bolton, Photos

One company caught in the crosshairs of some U.S. policy hawks, including national security adviser John Bolton, is the financial messaging firm SWIFT. The Brussels-based company acts as the global banking system’s infrastructure, allowing institutions to carry out interbank transactions. Under U.S. law, SWIFT is supposed to sever ties with Iranian banks.

But European politicians, pushing back against Washington’s Iran policy and seeking to keep Tehran in the nuclear accord, have sought to protect the institution from U.S. action if it keeps those channels open.

“We’re going to make sure, whether it’s through SWIFT or through other means, that sanctions are enforced,” the senior U.S. official said. “If there are prohibited transactions, going through SWIFT or any other entity, we’re going to make sure we enforce those sanctions quite vigorously.”

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said it has been consulting with U.S. and European officials.

Some U.S. policy makers favor sanctioning SWIFT if it doesn’t disconnect Iran from the global financial system to deepen Tehran’s global isolation. Others argue that the sanctions against transactions with Iranian banks has the same effect, without deepening the rift between the U.S. and Europe by action against an ally’s firm.

Write to Ian Talley at

Appeared in the October 17, 2018, print edition as ‘Sanctions Take Aim At Iran Network.’

Assad regime renews threat to attack Idlib after militants refuse to pull out

October 16, 2018

The Assad regime renewed its threat on Monday to launch an offensive in Idlib province in northwest Syria after militants defied a Russia-Turkey deal for them to pull out.

The fighters failed to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for them to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last opposition stronghold.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem said at a press conference in Damascus with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

A Syrian rebel-fighter from the National Liberation Front (NLF) walks in a street in the rebel-held al-Rashidin district of western Aleppo’s countryside near Idlib province on October 15, 2018. (AFP / Aaref Watad)

“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there are other options.”

Al-Moualem said it was now up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which averted a regime offensive last month, was being fulfilled. “We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” he said.

When Idlib was recaptured from the opposition, the regime would turn its attention to territory held by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the minister said. “After Idlib, our target is east of the Euphrates,” which must also return to Syrian sovereignty, he said.

Civilians in Idlib said they were concerned about an increase in violence if the Russian-Turkish accord collapsed. “We fear the deal’s sponsors will fail to implement all its points, and that the bombardment and battles will return,” one said.

The deal provides for a 15-20 km horseshoe-shaped buffer zone around opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

The dominant militant force in the region is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch. The group has signaled that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it has not explicitly said so.

“We value the efforts of all those striving — at home and abroad — to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Assad regime on Monday reopened a vital border post with Jordan and a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Two white jeeps crossed into Israeli-occupied territory during a low-key ceremony to mark the reopening of the Quneitra crossing in the Golan, four years after it was closed when Syrian opposition forces seized nearby territory.

In the south, and three years after it too was closed, a black metal border gate opened at the Nassib crossing into Jordan as police and customs officials stood nearby.

The Jordan crossing was previously a major trading route, while the remote Quneitra post is used primarily by a UN force that monitors a cease-fire line separating Israeli-occupied parts of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Syrian businessman Hisham Falyoun, who lives in Jordan with his wife and children, was the first person to cross the border in his black Mercedes SUV.

“I wanted to be the first person to cross to show everyone that Syria is safe, Syria is back,” said Falyoun, who was hoping to surprise his parents in Damascus.

Arab News

Jihadists fail to quit Syria buffer, throwing deal into doubt

October 15, 2018

Jihadists in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a Monday deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion, casting fresh doubt over a deal to avert bloodshed.

A Russian-Turkish truce agreement reached nearly a month ago for the northwestern region gave “radical fighters” until October 15 to leave a proposed demilitarised area between government and opposition forces.

Syrian protesters wave their national flag as they demonstrate against the regime and its ally Russia, in the rebel-held city of Idlib on September 7, 2018
Protesters in the city of Idlib called for international help to stop the expected offensive. AFP photo

The accord was a last-ditch effort to stave off a regime onslaught on Idlib, the largest rebel stronghold left in war-ravaged Syria and home to around three million people.

But the target date for the withdrawal came and went without any hardliners leaving.

“We did not document the withdrawal of any jihadist fighters from the entire demilitarised zone,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, said on Monday morning.

Jihadists had until midnight Sunday to Monday to pull out, according to Abdel Rahman and two rebel commanders in Idlib.

Syria’s government said it would take “time” to judge if the deal had failed.

“We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told reporters in Damascus.

Image result for Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, photos

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem

Hours before the cut-off time, Idlib’s jihadist heavyweight Hayat Tahrir al-Sham vowed to continue fighting.

“We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution,” said HTS, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s onetime Syria branch.


What Trump Can Do About Saudi Arabia

October 11, 2018

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi? The Saudis need to provide the U.S. with answers.

Is it already too late?  Photographer: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who has been missing since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, we remain in the allegation-and-denial phase. The Turkish police allege murder, and the Saudi government denies foul play.

As we wait for more information, it’s best to prepare for the worst. The Turkish government has provided specifics and evidence — such as video of Khashoggi entering the consulate and the names of 15 Saudi agents that it says flew to Istanbul in pursuit of him. The Saudis have issued blanket denials.

And even though the Turks have done the same kind of thing, it also fits a pattern for the Saudis under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For more than a year, he has been purging his critics. Wealthy members of the royal family have had their assets confiscated. Others have died in mysterious helicopter crashes. As Reporters Without Borders has documented, at least 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been arrested or disappeared since September 2017.

That’s not unusual in autocratic states. But if the Saudis abducted or murdered Khashoggi in Turkey, it crosses another line. It’s the kind of sinister statecraft to be expected from Russia, North Korea and Iran — not from a U.S. ally.

So if the Saudis did this, what should the U.S. do about it? One approach would be a slap on the wrist. Have an assistant secretary of state make a speech about how terrible this is without threatening any substantive repercussions. The Saudis are on the front lines of a regional war with Iran, after all, and the U.S. can’t risk weakening its side in the conflict. No one wants the Houthis and their Iranian patrons to control Yemen’s Port of Aden. As an early Trump administration memo put it: “Allies should be treated differently — and better — than adversaries.”

Another strategy would be to recognize that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have divergent interests and downgrade the relationship. Recall the U.S.’s top diplomat (the post of ambassador is currently vacant), support a resolution condemning its actions at the United Nations and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Maybe the president could even give a speech about the venality of this crime. America cannot allow this kind of lawlessness to become normalized.

If other nations are to take the liberal world order seriously, then the anchor of that system — the U.S. — must punish the outliers, friend and foe alike. Besides, the Saudi-led war in Yemen has been waged at a horrendous human cost. Why deepen ties with a despot who disappears reporters and bombs civilians?

There are problems with both tacks. A slap on the wrist lets the Saudis off too easily. Indeed, the relatively muted response from the Trump administration to the Prince Mohammed’s purges up to now may have led his government to believe it could get away with it.

There is also a deeper problem with the slap on the wrist. It lets the Saudis believe the U.S. needs them more than they need us. It effectively puts the Saudis in control of the alliance, despite the fact that they are a much weaker power. As Robert Kagan told me in an interview this week: “Unless are you willing to punish them for this misbehavior, then they own you.”

What about the more severe response? Saudi Arabia would definitely get the message — and other U.S. allies would understand there are consequences if America recalled its top diplomat and supported a UN resolution. But that risks undermining Prince Mohammed, and the U.S. has an interest in his success with promised reforms like greater women’s equality, a more open economy and a less radical clergy. What’s more, less U.S. military engagement in Yemen will likely lead to more civilian casualties.

Which course it chooses will say a lot about the Trump administration’s values. The first priority for U.S. officials should be to join the rest of the world in demanding a full accounting of what happened in Istanbul.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump should suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He should also denounce the Saudis in public and threaten them with the more severe options in private. Finally, the State Department should investigate all cases of missing and detained journalists and dissidents in Saudi Arabia and release the results to the public.

Trump can do all this while also making it clear that the U.S. remains committed to helping its allies counter Iran in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. None of those allies, however, is indispensable. And if Saudi Arabia wants to act like Iran, eventually America and the world will be forced to treat it as such.

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

Erdogan says Turkey-U.S. deal on Syria’s Manbij ‘not dead’ — U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson?

October 11, 2018

The deal between Turkey and the United States regarding the northern Syrian town of Manbij is delayed “but not completely dead”, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday.

Image result for Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, photos

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (R) and General Hulusi Akar

Turkey and the United States reached a deal in May over Manbij after months of disagreement. Under the deal, the Kurdish YPG militia would withdraw from Manbij and Turkish and U.S. forces would maintain security and stability around the town.

Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday during his flight back from a visit to Hungary that the implementation of the deal had been delayed.

“There is a delay but (the deal) is not completely dead. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis say they will take concrete steps,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by Hurriyet.

The NATO allies have been carrying out coordinated but independent patrols in the region as part of the deal.

On Tuesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted by state-run Anadolu news agency as saying that joint training of U.S. and Turkish soldiers for patrols in Manbij had begun.

Washington’s support for the YPG militia in the fight against the Islamic State group has infuriated Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK, considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

Ankara fears advances by the YPG in Syria will embolden Kurdish militants at home.

Relations between Turkey and the United States were further strained over the past few months by the trial of U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey on terrorism charges, which he denies.

Asked about Brunson’s trial, Erdogan said he was not in a position to interfere with the judiciary.

“Whatever the judiciary decides on, I have to abide by that decision. Those who are involved with this also need to abide by the judiciary’s decision,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by Hurriyet.

The next session in Brunson’s trial will be held on Friday. The trial sparked a row between Ankara and Washington that helped send the lira down around 40 percent against the dollar this year.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Paul Tait


How Trump Can Get a Better Deal on Iran

October 11, 2018

The United States needs to keep Europe on board, go beyond sanctions, and ensure lasting bipartisan support for its new policy.


Foreign Policy | 

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini during a meeting at the European Union Headquarters in Brussels on May 25, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini during a meeting at the European Union Headquarters in Brussels on May 25, 2017. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Apparently, one of the top leaders of a “corrupt dictatorship” responsible for sowing “chaos, death, and destruction” can also be an “absolutely lovely man.” At least U.S. President Donald Trump seems to think so, having uttered all of these words in reference to President Hassan Rouhani’s Iran in the course of a single day at last month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.

This pairing of criticism and compliments is a paradox with a purpose. Trump is not content with having discarded the Iran nuclear deal inked in 2015 by his predecessor; he wants to negotiate a better one.

Trump is not content with having discarded the Iran nuclear deal inked in 2015 by his predecessor; he wants to negotiate a better one.

And in echoes of his policy toward North Korea, he intends to squeeze Iran as hard as possible until it agrees to come to the table.

It is a simple strategy, but not without significant risks. The clearest is that rather than or prior to knuckling under, Iran will escalate by ramping up its nuclear activities and provoking a crisis. Taking a page from North Korea’s playbook, Tehran may calculate that the United States will feel pressure to pay simply for a return to the status quo ante.

A less alarming but perhaps likelier risk is that Tehran will simply hold out, seeking merely to endure for a time rather than bargaining to relieve crushing economic pressure, as authoritarian regimes from Venezuela to Iraq have done in the past.

If it takes this route, Iran will likely be counting on three things working in its favor: that the United States will be isolated internationally, that the Trump administration’s approach will prove polarizing domestically and will be discarded by his successor, and that Washington will be unwilling to go beyond sanctions to challenge Iran across the region.

If the Trump administration wants to maximize pressure on Iran, it must frustrate Tehran’s expectations on all three fronts while dissuading it from expanding its nuclear pursuits.

If the Trump administration wants to maximize pressure on Iran, it must frustrate Tehran’s expectations on all three fronts while dissuading it from expanding its nuclear pursuits.

Doing this will require a strategy that is at once multilateral—a comprehensive plan supported by U.S. allies that goes beyond sanctions to utilize all policy tools available including diplomatic, intelligence, and military means—and sustainable, garnering sufficient bipartisan domestic support to seem likely to outlast Trump’s tenure in office.The first step in such a strategy must be to heal the rift between the United States and its allies—particularly France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, which negotiated the nuclear deal alongside Washington.

Despite their discord over the U.S. withdrawal from the deal and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions, the United States and its allies in Europe and elsewhere agree more than they disagree on Iran. None wishes to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon, and all are alarmed by the country’s development and proliferation of missiles and other weapons and fielding of proxy forces throughout the Middle East.

Given this overlap, negotiating a modus vivendi between the United States and Europe should be achievable. The Trump administration should show modest flexibility in its application of sanctions, and the European Union should join the United States in imposing costs on Iran targeting areas of mutual concern such as Iran’s missile program and activities in Syria.

Some will complain about any compromise regarding U.S. unilateral measures, but such objections are misguided. The United States and its allies standing together would deprive Iran of strategic advantage and more than offset any marginal decrease in U.S. pressure.

The United States and its allies standing together would deprive Iran of strategic advantage and more than offset any marginal decrease in U.S. pressure.

And flexibility on the implementation of new sanctions could enable European powers to dissuade Iran from ramping up its nuclear activities and give them space to cajole Iran back to negotiations over the list of concerns the United States and its allies share.

But a common U.S.-European diplomatic front will not be enough. Faced with economic pressure, Iran—as we have already seen in Iraq—may respond on the ground in areas where it supports proxies and where it perceives a comparative advantage over Western states that are weary of the Middle East. It may also question whether Trump, who has been harshly critical of past U.S. interventions in the region, would respond resolutely to an Iranian nuclear breakout, whereby it seeks to rapidly build a nuclear weapon.

Countering Iran in the region need not, and indeed should not, be strictly a military activity. Indeed, any Iran policy has to account for the reality that Washington’s top priorities increasingly lie outside the Middle East. But the application of limited force—retaining the small U.S. troop presence in Syria or expanding allied efforts to interdict Iranian arms shipments—can amplify the effect of diplomacy.

That diplomacy should aim both to resolve conflicts like Yemen’s, which Iran has exploited to expand its regional influence, and, just as critically, to deny Tehran new opportunities for meddling that arise from squabbling among U.S. allies or internal tensions within regional states.

Finally, the Trump administration must secure bipartisan support for its strategy toward Iran. Republicans should understand that dissuading Iran from pursuing the actions enumerated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely to be a long-term endeavor.

Democrats should recognize that merely stepping back into the nuclear deal, should they win back the White House, may not be so easy—especially as the agreement’s restrictions approach their expiration dates—and that they will in any event require a strategy for addressing the nonnuclear challenges Iran poses.

The increasing volatility of U.S. foreign policy on critical issues such as Iran not only encourages allies and adversaries alike to hold out for a more favorable future policy, but it also diminishes Washington’s ability to lead.

The increasing volatility of U.S. foreign policy on critical issues such as Iran not only encourages allies and adversaries alike to hold out for a more favorable future policy, but it also diminishes Washington’s ability to lead.

Both parties must assume responsibility for reversing this trend.At the moment, the Trump administration appears isolated on Iran. But in reality, the concerns it has articulated regarding Iranian policies are widely shared in the United States and abroad, and U.S. allies are eager for American leadership on thorny regional issues such as Syria and Yemen.

Trump may never get his made-for-TV moment with an Iranian leader. But if he can rally his allies rather than alienate them, and if his offer to Tehran of a diplomatic offramp is genuine, he can ensure that Iran pays a price for challenging U.S. interests—and perhaps even coax it back to the negotiating table.

Israel’s Netanyahu: Erdogan in Turkey is “Unpredictable and Reckless”

October 11, 2018

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu views the future of Turkey with great pessimism, both in terms of its relations with Israel and its economy, according to a Channel 10 report on Wednesday.

“Turkey is becoming undemocratic,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with the foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus during their visit to Israel last month, the reports said, based on accounts from Israeli officials familiar with the September meeting.

“Erdogan calls me ‘Hitler’ every two weeks. It’s a systemic problem – I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel,” he told them.

erdogan israel

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the Turkey-Africa Economy and Business Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday. (Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters)

“Erdogan is making economic decisions that make no sense. The situation there is getting worse. Turkey wanted to advance reconciliation with Israel two years ago because of the situation in Syria. Now [after the removal of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara] there isn’t even intelligence cooperation with Turkey on Syria.”

Netanyahu warned the Greeks and Cypriots to be on their guard that Erdogan is liable to act against their natural gas drilling operations in the Mediterranean, according to the report.

“Erdogan is unpredictable and reckless. We’re worried and watching to see if he does something in the region [about the gas] … I’m pessimistic. It’s an oxymoron that a member of NATO has [Russian] S-400 missiles. I’m worried about them having F-35 planes.”

See also:

Netanyahu says Turkey becoming ‘undemocratic’ under ‘reckless’ Erdogan

Pompeo says Syria won’t get a dollar in reconstruction aid if Iran forces stay

October 11, 2018

In signs of a shift, he tells Jewish policy group that a new key role of US troops in Syria will be to ensure Tehran withdraws its forces; backs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets

October 11, 2018


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — The United States will refuse any additional reconstruction assistance to war-torn Syria so long as Iranian troops are present in the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Speaking to a pro-Israel group, Pompeo vowed to press forward with US President Donald Trump’s push to isolate Iran, boasting of imposing “some of the harshest sanctions in history.”

“The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there,” Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

“If Syria doesn’t ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not receive one single dollar from the United States for reconstruction,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s remarks come as the Trump administration shifts its reasoning for US involvement in Syria’s brutal civil war, which a war monitor says has killed close to 365,000 people since 2011.

The United States has some 2,000 troops in Syria, mainly training and advising rebels, after former president Barack Obama authorized the mission to defeat the Islamic State extremist group, or IS.

This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces take up positions on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria. Syrian government forces backed by Russia also operate in the area. The U.S. military’s new mission, “reassure and deter,” is designed to prevent the Syria conflict from escalating through confrontation between the Turkish troops and the rival Syrian Kurdish forces. (Arab 24 network, via AP)

Pompeo said that fighting IS “continues to be a top priority” but listed rolling back Iran as another.

National security adviser, John Bolton, said last month that US troops would stay “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”

Iran, ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, has deployed both troops, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and other militias to prop up Assad, a secular leader who belongs to the Alawite sect and is facing down hardline Sunni Muslim forces.

Pompeo did not make similar demands for a withdrawal by Russia, which has long considered Syria a major ally.

Trump in August already pulled out of Syria’s immediate reconstruction, suspending $230 million after pledges by Gulf Arab allies.

Department of State


.@SecPompeo at @jinsadc: —like all nations—has the right to defend its sovereignty. That means we will continue to stand up for its right to target Iranian-backed militias within for as long as the threat remains.

“Iran has seen instability in Syria as a golden opportunity to tip the regional balance of power in its favor,” Pompeo said.

He warned that Iran, a sworn foe of Israel, would open a new front against the Jewish state if it remained in Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria. It has launched numerous attacks on targets it says are a threat to its security.

Tehran has provided steady political, financial, and military backing to Assad as he has fought back a seven-year uprising. It has also sought to build missile factories in Syria and uses its bases there to convey advanced weapons to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

And Pompeo said that the US fully supports the Israeli strikes.

“Israel, like all nations, has the right to defend its sovereignty,” Pompeo said.  “That means we will continue to stand up for its right to target Iranian-backed militias within Syria for as long as the threat remains.”


Rand Paul battles Fox News host over US military policy

October 10, 2018

Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday fought on the air with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade over what the Kentucky Republican called an overly interventionist U.S. military policy.

Paul said he wants President Trump’s next ambassador to the United Nations to reflect Trump’s own position that the U.S. needs to stop using its military so frequently around the world.

“I’m of the opinion we need to have a strong national defense, we need to balance our budget, but we don’t need to be in everybody’s civil war,” Paul said. “And the president agrees with me.”

“Well, the only problem is when we leave Iraq, in comes ISIS,” Kilmeade replied. “If we leave Afghanistan, out comes al Qaeda, and then buildings start falling here, so you’ve got to be responsible.”

Image result for Rand Paul, Photos

Rand Paul

“The other half of that, Brian, though, is we went into… Iraq, toppled the regime there, and guess what?” Paul said. “It made Iran stronger. So really, we tipped the balance of power in favor of Iran when we went into Iraq, so we have to think of the unintended consequences of always intervening in everyone’s civil war.”

“Well, we don’t always intervene in everyone’s civil war,” Kilmeade said.

“Well, we’re involved in about seven civil wars right now, particularly the Yemen civil war,” Paul fired back.

Paul said it’s been a mistake to arm Saudi Arabia, which he said is making things worse in Yemen.

“That was a mistake,” Kilmeade said. “Should we give Yemen to Iran, would that be better?”

“No,” Paul said. “I think we should understand that the world’s a little more complicated than that, Brian. That there’s civil war there with many different factions in Yemen, and this isn’t Iran, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There are many different factions …”

“You’re oversimplifying,” Brian said. “You’re oversimplifying, senator.”

“No, the Sunnis and the Shia have been at war with each other for 1,000 [years], they will be at war with each other for another 1,000 years. It doesn’t mean we always have to intercede,” Paul said.

The exchange ended with an eye roll from Kilmeade.

Paul is pushing the Senate to vote on his language that would block arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the disappearance of a reporter, Jamal Khashoggi. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has said he is looking to block arm sales to Saudi Arabia over that country’s backing of armed forces in Yemen.