Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

CJCS Dunford Talks Turkey, Iran, Afghan Troop Numbers & Daesh – Breaking Defense

Breaking Defense contributor James Kitfield spokewithGen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during Dunfords swing throughJapan, Singapore, Australia, Wake Island, and Hawaii. BD readers know that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised Sen. John McCain yesterday that America would get a new Afghan strategy by mid-July. In this second part of Kitfields interview, Dunford talks Turkey, Kurds, Daesh (ISIS) and whether the US will boost the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan. Read on! The Editor.

BD: Just while you were meeting with your Asian counterparts in Singapore and Sydney, Australia, there were terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in London, Melbourne, and Kabul. What are we and our allies doing to try and contain the threat from ISIS foreign fighters returning to their home regions and launching attacks?

Dunford: One of the issues we talked about with our allies is that there are three pieces of connective tissue that unites these terrorist groups: the flow of foreign fighters, the flow of resources, and a common ideology. And we need to cut that connective tissue. A primary way we are doing that is through a broad intelligence and information sharing network that we have established with the members of the anti-ISIS coalition, who all share a common view of this threat of ISIS foreign fighters.

A critical part of that effort is Operation Gallant Phoenix, an intelligence sharing arrangement that started out with eight or so countries, and has since expanded to 19nations who have committed to sharing this intelligence. Were in the process of trying to expand that initiative to even more countries. Gallant Phoenix allows allied nations not only to share intelligence on the foreign fighter threat, but also to get that information back to their law enforcement and homeland security agencies so they have visibility on the movement of foreign fighters in order to deal with this challenge.

BD: Is the United States annihilation battle plan in Iraq and Syria that youve spoken of also designed to contain the foreign fighter threat?

Dunford: Yes. When Secretary Mattis looked at our anti-ISIS campaign, he concluded that in some instances we were essentially just pushing the enemy from one location to another. He asked me and the military chain-of-command to make a conscious effort not to allow ISIS fighters to just flee from one location to another, but rather to deliberately seek to annihilate the enemy. That was the commanders intent, and our commanders on the ground have tried to meet that goal of annihilating the enemy in order to mitigate the risk of these terrorists showing up someplace else.

BD: Has that worked in the battles to retake Mosul and Raqqa, the twin capitals of ISIS self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria?

Dunford: Were certainly emphasizing it to a greater degree, and having some success. But I would never claim that means that all enemy fighters are being killed. One tactic they have adopted is to mix in with the civilian population, and that makes targeting them very difficult. We cant just indiscriminately bomb people who are leaving these cities. Even with this annihilation battle plan, we have to be very careful about civilian casualties.

BD: How do you see ISF and coalition operations unfolding after Mosul is recaptured?

Dunford: Well, we will obviously take our cue from [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider] Abadi, who will decide on the sequence of operations after Mosul is recaptured. But there are some major areas where ISIS is still present that are under consideration. Iraqi Security Forces will still need to clear ISIS out of territory west of Mosul to the Syrian border, for instance, and there are also pockets of ISIS fighters southeast in Kirkuk Province and in the middle Euphrates River Valley. Of course its going to take the Iraqis some time to regenerate their forces after the battle for Mosul, so our plan is to continue keeping pressure on those ISIS forces until the main ISF forces are ready again.

BD: How have you handled Turkeys objections to the U.S. decision to arm the SDF, which include Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists?

Dunford: I will tell you that the coalition is also enthusiastic about the growth of the SDF. [U.S. special envoy Brett] McGurk has led the effort to empower an Arab component of the SDF that will provide security and governance in Raqqa after the operation to recapture the city is finished, which answers some of Turkeys concerns.

Weve made other assurances to Turkey, including making sure the arming and equipping of the SDF is done in a way that is narrowly focused on its ability to recapture Raqqa. Were also helped the Turkish military rebuild after the challenges theyve faced in recent months, and were sharing intelligence with Ankara about the [Iraqi Kurdish terrorist group] PKK. Secretary Tillerson is also working very closely with his Turkish counterpart to make sure that the Geneva Process is front and center in our negotiations about Syrias future, which also addresses Turkish issues. So we have done everything we could to address Turkish concerns, and I personally have made on the order of nine visits to Turkey to speak with my counterpart there. I think the Turks appreciate that.

BD: What is the status of the Astana Plan that Turkey signed last month with Russia and Iran, which calls for the creation of four de-escalation zones in Syria?

Dunford: Well, the United States was an observer at those talks, but we decided not to formally participate in a process which includes Iran as a guarantor. Secretary Tillerson has said publicly that we welcome any agreement that results in a cessation of hostilities, but we believe the Geneva Process and not Astana is the right vehicle for reaching a political solution in Syria. And while there was some indication of reduced violence in some areas after the Astana Plan was signed, we also saw the Syrian regime conduct major offensive operations in one of the de-escalation zones just in recent days. So its fair to say that negotiations for a ceasefire remain a work in progress.

BD: Speaking of Iran, have you seen any letup in its destabilizing activities in the region?

Dunford: No, I havent seen any change in Irans behavior. The Republican Guards Quds Force continues to exert a malign influence in Iraq and Syria through proxy forces and militias, and in Lebanon through Lebanese Hezbollah. Irans support for [Shiite rebels] in Yemen has also been unhelpful, and Tehran continues to pose a threat to close allies like Israel and Jordan. So mitigating the malign influence of Iran remains a major U.S. objective in the region.

In talking about Iran its also important to zero in on one of the most important issues for the United States, and thats freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb. By harassing U.S. and international maritime activities in the Persian Gulf and supplying advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen on the Red Sea coast, Iran is posing a threat to two waterways that are absolutely crucial to global commerce. Since the 1970s and [President Jimmy Carters Carter Doctrine], the United States has been committed to keeping those vital waterways open.

Jim Mattis testifies before SASC

BD: Will you recommend a troop increase for Afghanistan to President Trump, and why is Afghanistan still important after U.S. forces have spent more than 15years fighting there?

Dunford: Because there are still roughly 17 extremists groups operating in and around Afghanistan. From personal experience, and from reading the intelligence and talking to my commanders on the ground, I have absolutely no doubt that, if given the space to reconstitute and grow stronger, those organizations will follow through on their intent to attack the United States and the West. They are already doing it inside Afghanistan. So we continue to need an effective counterterrorism platform and posture in that region, and the Afghan government has proven to be a good counterterrorism partner. The United States, our NATO allies and coalition partners, and the Afghans themselves are fighting together against a common enemy.

As for troop numbers, were analyzing what is necessary to enable the Afghan Security Forces to take the fight to the enemy. One of my greatest concerns is the number of casualties that they experienced in 2015 and 2016. They need additional medical personnel and medevac capability. They also need additional airpower, because that is the greatest asymmetric advantage they have over the Taliban. We need to help the Afghan Security Forces be able to deliver aviation at the right time and place. They also need more trainers and educators and help with maintenance. So those are the areas we are looking at to possibly prop up our support, based on the lessons of 2015 and 2016.

BD: It sounds like you are going to support General Nicholsons request for more forces (in Afghanistan)?

Dunford: I havent taken a public position yet because I havent had a chance to talk with the president on the issue. So Ill make my recommendation to him first. But its fair to say that based on what weve learned in the past two years, I believe we need to make some adjustments to our force posture.

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CJCS Dunford Talks Turkey, Iran, Afghan Troop Numbers & Daesh – Breaking Defense

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June 16, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Surely Some Mistake. Why Did ISIS Attack Iran? – Newsweek

Last week ISIS staged an unprecedented terrorist attack in the heart of Iran. At least 17 people were killed and dozens more were injured at two symbolic locations of the Islamic Republic: the parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The reaction from Irans clerical rulers was predictable; they variously blamed their regional and international enemies the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Ignored by Iranian officials and by most expert commentators, however, was any recognition that Tehrans domestic and regional policies were contributing factors. In other words, the expansion of ISIS into Iran was a classic case of Iranian regime blowback.

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The conventional wisdom suggests that Iran would remain immune to ISIS as a global terrorist threat. Given Irans majority Shia population and the fact that ISIS is a deeply anti-Shia cult informed by an extremist Sunni neo-Wahhabism, it has been widely assumed that Iranian recruits to ISIS would be difficult to find.

A gunman is seen entering Iranian parliament building in a still image taken from close circuit television (CCTV), taken on June 7, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. IRIB/Handout via Reuters

We now know that Iranian Kurds were behind the ISIS attack in Tehran. The reasons are broadly similar to what we have learned about the politics and psychology of Islamic radicalization. Marginalized, angry and alienated populations exposed to salafi ideology are susceptible to ISIS recruitment.

Approximately eight percent of Irans population is Sunni, mainly representing Arab, Baluchi, Turkmen and Kurdish minorities. They live on Irans periphery and suffer disproportionately from unemployment and discrimination.

Credible reporting suggests that a small number from these groups have joined ISIS due to the same socio-economic push and pull factors that drives ISIS recruitment worldwide. According to the distinguished Iranian journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the border towns and villages and tribes along Irans east, west and southern borders are poor and vulnerable to extremism.

This has produced social conditions where young unemployed men can be wooed and recruited. In other words, Iran now has a homegrown terrorist problem of its own. Its regional foreign policy has also been a contributing factor.

ISIS has a genocidal view toward Shia Muslims. Partly because of this, Iran and its proxies are fighting ISIS on various battlefields across the Middle East. At the same time, Irans sectarian foreign policy has indirectly contributed to the rise ISIS.

In Iraq, Tehrans critical support for Shia majoritarianism significantly contributed to Sunni marginalization, indirectly amplifying the ideological appeal of ISIS. Then there is Syria.

When the Arab Spring protests reached Syria in 2011, ISIS didnt exist. Peaceful protesters chanting non-sectarian slogans were confronting the 41-year rule of the House of Assad. From the outset, they were met with state-sanctioned repression that rapidly extended to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Gradually, the uprising militarized and then radicalized as regional actors entered the fray. The subsequent melee is responsible for the worst refugee crisis of the 21 st century and for killing nearly half a million people.

The Assad regime backed by Iran (and Russia) bears the lions share of responsibility for this state of affairs. It is from the killing fields of Syria that the ISIS variant of salafi-jihadism arose and expanded.

Today, Iran justifies it support for Assad by claiming it is fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. In doing so, however, it conveniently reads the Syrian conflict backward instead of forward.

From the inception of the conflict, and prior to the rise of salafi-jihadism in Syria, Iran strongly backed the Assad regime. Its early intervention had nothing to do with combating religious extremism for the simple reason that this problem barely existed in the early months of the Syrian uprising.

In the past six years, this changed and Iran stepped up its intervention. Mostly notably, it recruited a pan-Shia militia that, along with Hezbollah, has done the bulk of the fighting in defense of the Assad regime.

Irans critical role in Syria has significantly contributed to the spread of sectarianism across the Middle East: ISIS has been a key beneficiary of this. Now the blowback has come to Tehran.

ISIS is fundamentally the product of political authoritarianism in the Sunni Arab world. Its theological home is in Saudi Arabia. The legacy of political tyranny in the Arab world, buttressed by the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, created social conditions that allowed this extremist cult not only to emerge but also to proliferate. Irans role in this equation has been generally unrecognized.

Though indirect, Irans contribution has been significant. Its domestic policies discriminating against ethnic/religious minorities, and its sectarian foreign policy in Iraq and Syria are key elements that has contributed to ISIS expansion. In other words, Irans chickens have come home to roost.

Nader Hashemiis the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. His latest book isSectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East.

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Surely Some Mistake. Why Did ISIS Attack Iran? – Newsweek

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June 15, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

The Qatar Crisis Is Pushing Hamas Back to Iran – The Atlantic

BEIRUT Three years after the last war in Gaza, the leaders of Israel and Palestine seem to be lurching toward another round of fightingalthough not for the reasons you may think.

On Sunday, the Israeli security cabinet agreed, at the request of the Palestinian president, to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to the blockaded territory by 40 percent. The officials came to the decision even after top Israeli generals warned it would lead to a humanitarian crisis in the strip, where 1.9 million people are bracing for a scorching summer with perhaps only three hours of power per day. Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, warned of an explosion.

Blackouts are not the only issue, however: If there is a fresh round of fighting, it may be sparked by a diplomatic crisis happening some 1,100 miles awayone that both the Israeli defense minister and U.S. President Donald Trump have goaded on.

Qatar: The Gulf’s Problem Child

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and several of its allies decided, with little warning, to blockade Qatar, in an effort to punish the tiny emirate of 2.7 million residents for supporting the wrong groups across the regionnamely the Muslim Brotherhoodand to reinforce an alliance against Riyadhs real nemesis: Iran. There are already signs that the effort may backfire. Turkey has doubled down on ties with Qatar, fast-tracking a bill that allows it to deploy troops there. Iran rushed to establish an air bridge to Doha, flying in shipments of food.

There is, of course, ample reason to criticize Qatars role in the region. The emirate has reportedly paid hefty ransoms to al-Qaedas affiliate in Syria, and looked the other way as private citizens funneled millions to jihadists across the Middle East. Al Jazeeras Arabic service, once the boldest news channel in the area, has degenerated into a sort of propaganda outlet for Sunni Islamists, peddling conspiracy theories and sectarian vitriol about Christians in Egypt, Alawites in Syria, and other groups.

But all this hardly begins to explain this regions fraught politics. For all the talk of brotherly unity, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council is a dysfunctional, divided alliance. Saudi Arabia tries to set the tone: It is larger than the other five members of the council, combined, and draws diplomatic and religious clout from its custodianship of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Its main fear is Iran, followed by political Islam.

Several of Saudi Arabias neighbors feel differently. The first tentative steps toward the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers took place in Oman, where the sultan hosted secret talks between American and Iranian officials at a seaside villa. Oman has also declined to take part in the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has decimated the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, with a looming famine and a recent cholera outbreak. Kuwait, with an Islamist-dominated parliament and a large ethnic-Iranian minority, often prefers to mediate regional disputes, rather than join them.

There are even budding tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its closest ideological ally in the Gulf. The Emiratis have deployed thousands of troops to the south of Yemen, trained up a 30,000-man Yemeni militia, and spent about $2 billion to support Yemens battered economy. On the northern front, the Saudis have mostly fought from the air, and they have little to show for it. Militias backed by the two sides engaged in a firefight earlier this year during a battle for control of the airport in Aden.

The case of Hamas is yet another marker of the complexity of this crisis. In recent years, the group has struck an uneasy balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the latter was once Hamass biggest patron, supplying it with money and weapons, the two sides parted ways in 2012 when the Palestinians backed the uprising against Bashar al-Assads regime in Syria. Soon, Tehran, which backs the Assad regime, cut off military aid to Hamas. The former leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, was forced to leave his longtime base in Damascus, decamping for Doha, where the group received an enthusiastic welcome.

Since then, Meshaal has tried to steer Hamas closer to the Gulf states. He met with King Salman on a rare visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015, and pushed back against the leaders of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, who wanted to pivot back to Iran. He thought such a move would empower the comparatively moderate political wing of Hamas, and perhaps win the group a measure of international recognition. Now, though, the Saudis and their allies are demanding that Qatar cut ties with Hamas and expel its leaders from Dohaquite possibly pushing it back towards Iran.

This tension is no mere academic matter. Gaza has been devastated by three wars over the past decade. Even hawkish Israeli politicians agree that the only way to prevent a fourth flare-up is to improve living conditions in the strip. But that wont happen if Hamas is pushed away from the Gulf and back towards Irana shift that would be welcomed by the groups hardliners, who have advocated it for years. The Arab states have been abusing the Palestinian cause since the creation of Israel in 1948, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, told me. This is a fixed policy.

Qatar, by contrast, has been one of the few states to provide consistent support, repairing the main coastal highway and building thousands of new homes for families displaced during the wars. It has also spent tens of millions of dollars on fuel for Gazas sole power plant. The exchange of funds is managed by a Qatari official who works in one of Gazas upscale, half-empty seaside hotels. A cutback in Qatari aid, then, would worsen the already-dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where nearly half the population is unemployed and three-quarters depend on aid to survive.

Financial aid from Iran, on the other hand, has been mostly diverted to military projects. Tehran also played a key role in helping Hamas produce rockets domestically, inside Gaza. In 2012, the head of the Revolutionary Guard admitted that his forces taught Hamas how to produce a variant of the Fajr-5, a long-range projectile that has been used to strike the Tel Aviv suburbs. The resumption of Iranian aid would give the Qassam Brigades access to both cash and blueprints. Its become much more difficult for [Hamas] to rearm recently, an Israeli intelligence official told me. So theyll be looking for the next big thing.

The pressure on Hamas might also cause a rupture with Egypt, which has been deeply hostile toward Hamas since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup. He has rightly accused the group of collaborating with the Islamic State branch on Sinai, which controls what little remains of a once-thriving cross-border tunnel trade. The issues in this relationship go back a long time, and theyve been hard to fix, Daoud Shihab, a member of Islamic Jihad, which has helped to mediate between the two sides, told me.

Earlier this year, however, the talks between Egypt and Hamas finally started to bear fruit. Hamas agreed to stop sheltering jihadists, and publicly cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has allowed some commercial traffic across the Gaza border for the first time in a decade. It should be a win-win for both sides. But boosting the Qassam Brigades, which relies on the smuggling tunnels to import arms, threatens to upset the fragile dtente.

The timing of all this could not be worse, with Hamas already under pressure from the electricity crisis. Over the past three months, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has also reduced the salaries paid to tens of thousands of civil servants in Gaza, and suspended shipments of medicine and baby formula to hospitals. The public is seething.

Qatar has already expelled several Hamas officials, including Saleh al-Arouri, a prominent figure from the military wing. Israel accuses him of plotting attacks in the occupied West Bank (a charge his colleagues do not dispute). Sources in Gaza say Hamas pocketed millions by charging families for Qatari-built homes, which were meant to be distributed free of charge. The United States and its allies could press Qatar on these issuesbut a complete severance of ties, as the Gulf states have so far demanded, would have dire consequences.

Doha may yet accede to its neighbors demands. Israel and its allies would see this as a victory: Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, said the crisis gives Israel new opportunities to work with Arab states; President Trump continues to take credit for starting it. Their optimism may not last.

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The Qatar Crisis Is Pushing Hamas Back to Iran – The Atlantic

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June 14, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran bans women’s Zumba aerobics classes – Los Angeles Times

Iran has banned women from dancing, cycling, watching soccer matches, listening to certain music and now Zumba.

Thats right. The Islamic Republics Shiite leaders announced this week that, under religious law, the 17-year-old Colombian dance aerobics craze is forbidden.

Ali Majdara, the head of public sports in Iran, issued a statement Sunday banning Zumba and any harmonious movement or body shaking instruction. The ban applies to public and private gyms, clubs and classes. The announcement came just days after Majdaras Iran Sport for All federation provoked an outcry on Twitter by calling for the ban.

Critics took to Twitter as well, but to express displeasure and dismay using the Persian language hashtag #Zumba. Has Colombia summoned the Iranian ambassador yet? one Twitter user joked.

Unbelievable, said Zumba teacher Sepideh Abozari. The authorities are worried about a Zumba pandemic?

Tehran-based cleric Hossain Ghayyomi explained the reasoning behind the ban.

Any harmonious movement or rhythmic exercise, if it is for pleasure seeking, is haram, forbidden under Shiite leaders interpretation of Islam, Ghayyomi said. Even jobs related to these rhythmic movements are haram. For instance, since Islam says dancing or music is haram, then renting a place to teach dancing or cutting wood to make musical instruments is haram too.

While some have tried to justify teaching or listening to music as legal under Islamic law in Iran, he said, They could not change the mainstream of the clerical establishment.

Theres also the fear among religious leaders that Zumba is corrupting Iranian men, who can watch videos of classes posted online. Some Iranian Zumba instructors videos already have been deemed pornographic and blocked by authorities since the ban.

As Zumba has spread to more than 180 countries, it has been banned by other conservative Muslim leaders for being un-Islamic, including by a fatwa, or religious edict, in parts of Malaysia.

But Irans ban comes at a time when the dance fitness trend has gone mainstream here. In Tehran and other large cities, most public and private gyms offer womens Zumba classes. Many women, whose exercise opportunities already have been curtailed by the state, were aghast at the Zumba ban.

Abozari said the classes are incredibly popular, not just among wealthy women, but also among the middle class and the poor.

Even in low-income areas on the outskirts of Tehran where I live … women pay as much as a month cash subsidy to participate in Zumba class to keep fit in body and mind and tune in to the happy rhythm, said Abozari, 38, who teaches Zumba in her spare time to children too poor to pay for lessons.

At issue isnt just womens rights, she said: Its about the economy. She noted that middle-class and wealthy women in north Tehran often pay for private Zumba classes at home, and those jobs where pay is negotiable and usually generous will now disappear.

Malihe Agheli, 38, a mother of two who works at a bank in Tehran, said the gym at her office already refused to offer Zumba or other rhythmic workouts. She has been paying a steep price, $50 for eight private classes a month. While Zumba classes still may be offered underground, she said, After being banned, it will be more expensive.

Zohre Safavizadeh, who has taken Zumba classes at her Tehran gym in the past, likes the music and the ambiance.

I feel wonderful the body rhythm and the music in background are fascinating, she said.

But as often happens in Iran, theres a political element, even with Zumba. Safavizadeh sees the ban as a backlash by hard-liners to the reelection last month of moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

The hard-liners want to undo what was promised by President Rouhani, she said, and as a result, We as women are deprived small happiness.

Rouhani won after promising to unite Iran. But terrorist attacks by Islamic State militants in the capital this month that killed 17 people gave hard-line Shiite leaders an opening to crack down. Some analysts said the Zumba ban may be the beginning of efforts by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other hard-liners to reexert influence and sideline Rouhani.

Tehran-based analyst Nader Karimi Juni wasnt optimistic that Rouhani will make much headway against the supreme leaders bans, including Zumba.

For the supreme leader, America and Israel are archenemies, the eternal foes, Juni said. So whatever lifestyle, tastes or athletic activities are associated with what he calls corrupted Western culture is haram and should be banned.

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Iran bans women’s Zumba aerobics classes – Los Angeles Times

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June 13, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

America and Iran Hurtle Toward Confrontation in Syria – The Atlantic

The assault on Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic States self-declared caliphate, is about to begin, and the end of ISIS is in sight. But so is the end of the tacit tactical alliance between Iran and the United States.

For a time, the old adversaries cooperated against their common enemy. The United States provided the Iraqi government and Iranian-backed Shiite militias with air support to help them seize control over the Iraqi cities of Tikrit in April 2015 and large parts of Mosul by February 2017. However, as these same Iraqi Shiite militias pursue fleeing ISIS elements to oil-rich Deir Ezzour in neighboring Syria, they confront United States special-operations forces and an American-backed coalition of Syrian rebel groups.

In Iraq, the U.S. is working with Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in a joint struggle against ISIS. In Syria however, the United States supports the moderate opposition to Bashar al-Assads regime, while Iran and its Shiite proxies are engaged in a relentless effort to eliminate opposition forces and secure the survival of the very same regime.

The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s ISIS Plan

On Tuesday, June 6, U.S.-led coalition fighter jets bombed Syrian government soldiers and, according to some reports, Shiite Iraqi militia members in the al-Tanf region in southeastern Homs province, where since May 2015 a contingent of U.S. troops has been training Syrian opposition forces. It was the second time in less than a month that coalition forces had attacked Syrian regime forces and their allies as they headed toward the al-Tanf garrison. On May 18, coalition planes pounded a convoy headed toward al-Tanf.

The scene is set for a zero-sum game: Iran and its allied Shiite militias want the area to establish an overland corridor to the Syrian-Israeli border, the Mediterranean, and Lebanon. In the first year of the Syrian Civil War, the late Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani likened such an overland corridor to a string of pearls [reshteh-ye morvarid] that would connect Iran with its regional allies all the way from western Afghanistan to Lebanon, allowing Tehran to consolidate its sphere of influence across the Levant and facilitate arms shipments to Hezbollah. The American strategy is not clear, but the United States needs to control the area to cut Irans expansionism, which is causing alarm among Washingtons key Arab allies and Israel. Unrestricted Iranian access to Lebanese Hezbollah is not only likely to further strengthen the organization, but risks emboldening the group to provoke another war with Israel.

Iran and its Shiite coalition, which has sacrificed blood and treasure to maintain control over Syria, is not likely to restrain itself in the endgame against ISIS. Four hundred and ninety Iranians, 1,063 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, 653 Afghans, 144 Pakistanis, and at least 94 Iraqi Shia, by my count, have sacrificed their lives in Syria, and they did not do so just to back off at the last moment. Nor is the Trump administration in a position to back off; it has promised Americas Sunni allies it will contain and curtail Irans power.

Potential for escalation of the conflict between Tehran and Washington is very real. The brazen acts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Forcewhich is tasked with exporting Irans revolution beyond Irans bordersand attempts at testing or tarnishing American power and prestige, risk provoking heavy-handed responses. In the Persian Gulf and Shat al-Arab waterway, for example, the IRGC Navy engages in systematic provocations against the Americas Fifth Fleet, and has previously taken British and American sailors as prisoners of warreleasing them only after extensive use of their photos in humiliating positions in government-controlled media. There are still no reports of Iranian casualties among those killed in Americas recent bombardments of Syrian government and allied Shiite convoys headed to Syria. But the U.S. military response is not likely to deter the IRGC, and it is doubtful if the IRGC leadership would have any other choice but responding in kind in an attempt to avoid losing face in front of the Iranian public.

Such dynamics are not only likely to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States, but could also fuel the vicious cycle of violence for which Tehran is ill-prepared.

There are, however, also a few mitigating factors. Even after the implosion of the Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliphate, disgruntled Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are likely to rebel against Iran and its Shiite proxies. Regional Sunni powers are just as likely to come to their aid in an attempt to reestablish the regional balance of power. Given such prospects, Tehran is not likely to want an all-out war against Washington. The question is whether Tehrans leadershipor Washingtonscan prevent it.

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America and Iran Hurtle Toward Confrontation in Syria – The Atlantic

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June 9, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s pressure on Iran may be stoking sectarian tensions in Mideast – Washington Post

President Trump has for weeks pressed disparate forces throughout the Middle East to band together with Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism and punish Iran, long viewed by hawks inside his administration as the main source of instability and terrorism in the region.

But in his push to empower the Saudis, Trump may have unleashed problems, including increased sectarianism and regional strife, that are as bad as the one he was trying to fix, inflaming tensions that could imperil the battle against the Islamic State and other critical U.S. priorities.

Thats the fundamental problem in the Middle East, said Phil Gordon, a former official in the Obama White House who focused on the region. Solving one problem in the region inevitably exacerbates others and can easily lead to escalation.

Trump administration officials, meanwhile, attributed rising regional tensions to the failed policies of the Obama administration, which in recent years had unnerved traditional U.S. allies in the region with policies that appeared to empower Iran.

The signs of that escalation were apparent Wednesday when Irans leaders blamed Saudi Arabia for an attack by the Islamic State in Tehran that left 12 people dead and wounded 42 others. The stunning assault capped several days of spiraling tensions that kicked off when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a group of Arab allies to move against Qatar a U.S. partner and host of the main American air base in the region which had sought accommodation with Iran.

Trump immediately celebrated the Saudis move and even took some credit for it on Twitter.

During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology, Trump said on Tuesday. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

[As ISIS loses ground in Syria, a scramble between U.S. and Iran for control]

The danger for the United States and the Trump administration is that the spiraling tensions and saber-rattling throughout the region could imperil some of its key initiatives.

Sunni-led monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist movement that both have been accused over the years of at least indirectly financing.

Qatar is also part of a fragile, Saudi-led coalition fighting against Houthi rebels, in Yemen, backed by Irans Shiite government.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made rolling back Iran in Yemen and reaching a negotiated settlement with the rebels a top priority as a step toward containing it across the region. A split among the Arab partners fighting there would be a significant boon for Iran, said analysts.

Yet Trump appeared to take Saudi Arabias side this week in a dispute with Qatar that his own senior national security advisers tried to quell with evenhandedness.

Qatar is an artificial crisis, said Michele Dunne, a Middle East expert at the State Department from 1986 to 2003 and director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

All of the issues being cited support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera, which has been critical of both the Saudis and the U.A.E. have been going on for years now, Dunne said. Why, all of a sudden, is there a crisis over it now? It does seem as though the Trump administrations approach to the region has sent a message to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates that they can call the shots in the region, and the U.S. will stick with them.

Dunne and Christopher Davidson, associate professor in Middle East politics at Durham University in England, suggested that Saudi Arabias long-range plan, in addition to forcing Qatar to mitigate its more open attitude toward both Iran and political Islam, may include inviting the United States to move its air operations in the region from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar back to Saudi Arabia.

So far, Davidson said: Qatar is sticking to its guns. Turkey has pledged to support them, and there is provocative news that Iran might support them, too.

Senior Trump administration officials criticized the idea that Trumps backing for the Saudis on his recent trip or his latest tweets condemning Qatar for terrorism financing had contributed to instability or sectarian tension in the region. Instead, one White House official said that it was the previous administrations chilly relationship with Saudi Arabia and its deal with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program that had unleashed sectarianism.

From the opening moments of his trip to the Middle East, Trump made clear that he was determined to take the opposite approach of his predecessor. President Barack Obama assiduously avoided taking sides in the regions sectarian conflicts and infuriated the Saudis by suggesting that they would have to share the region with Iran.

The Saudis interpreted that as the president telling them that the Iranians are a predator, and they should acquiesce to their ambitions and surrender to them, said Dennis Ross, who served as a senior Middle East adviser to Republican and Democrat presidents. That is not my interpretation. That is literally what I was told in the region.

Since taking office, Trump has flipped the script, prioritizing the battle against all forms of terrorism over sectarian and regional tensions. The result for now is a stepped-up battle against the Islamic State that has involved deeper U.S. military involvement, some impressive battlefield gains and greater civilian casualties.

Both Trump and the Saudis described the presidents meetings in the kingdom last month as the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Arab relations, the fight against terrorism and a much harder line on Iran.

People have said there has really never been anything even close in history, Trump said.

His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, amplified that message and spoke hopefully of a new alliance involving Israel and Americas Arab partners all friends of America but too often adversaries of each other to roll back Iranian influence.

In a meeting with reporters, McMaster described Iran as the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world and a malign influence that has perpetuated civil wars throughout the region.

These are really, really good reasons to focus on a concerted effort to counter Irans destructive activities, McMaster said.

The long-term bet is that the United States allies will be willing to take a harder line against Sunni Arab terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, if the United States is also taking a harder line against Iran, which the Saudis and the Emiratis see as an existential threat.

In recent days, though, it has been hard to divine the exact policy that the administration is pursuing, especially regarding the dispute between the Qataris and the powerful Saudi-led bloc opposing them, is promoting more or less stability.

What they are doing vis-a-vis Qatar is really unprecedented, Ross said. This is not symbolic. You break diplomatic relations, deny Qatari planes the ability to operate in your airspace, call back nationals. This is a very tough response.

The policy looks very much like a work in progress, Ross said.

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Trump suggests Iran bears some responsibility for terror attacks in Tehran – Chicago Tribune

President DonaldTrumpon Wednesday offered solace to the victims of the twin terrorist attacks inIranwhile suggesting Tehran bears some culpability, saying “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

Hours after conciliatory comments from his State Department, the president said in a one-paragraph statement that the United States grieves and prays for the innocent victims of the assault againstIran’sParliament and the shrine ofIran’srevolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that killed at least 12 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Trumpadded his broadside againstIran, which the U.S. has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984.

“We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” he said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had said the U.S. is sending thoughts and prayers to the Iranian people following the attacks.

“The depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world,” said Nauert, who said the U.S. is expressing condolences to the victims and their families.

The U.S. statement of solidarity with the attack’s victims is notable because of the deep distrust between the U.S. andIran. The two countries don’t maintain diplomatic relations, and theTrumpadministration has emphasized the need to counterIran’sinfluence.

The distrust ofIranwas evident on Wednesday when shortly after the condemnation, Republicans and Democrats in Congress acted in a procedural vote to move forward on a new set of sanctions onIran, including on its elite Revolutionary Guards. The strong bipartisan vote was 92-7.

The bill would impose mandatory sanctions on people involved inIran’sballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure also would apply terrorism sanctions to the country’s Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo.

A few senators pleaded for a delay until next week of the previously scheduled vote in light of the attacks inIran.

“Let us tell the people ofIranthat while we have serious disagreements with them on a number of issues, that today when they are mourning, when they are dealing with the shock of a terrorist attack, today is not the day to go forward with this piece of legislation,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also pushed for a delay, but Republicans and Democrats pressed ahead.

The bill is a “carefully crafted response toIran’songoing aggression in the Middle East,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said.

Last month, the Foreign Relations Committee backed the measure despite concerns from former Secretary of State John Kerry and several Democrats that it could nonetheless lead to the unraveling of the nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama administration.

Kerry cautioned lawmakers to “tread carefully” in pushing ahead with new sanctions againstIranin the wake of President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election to another four-year term. Rouhani is a political moderate who scored a resounding victory over a hard-line opponent.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s Republican chairman and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he recently reviewed top-secret intelligence that detailed Tehran’s support for terrorism and other destabilizing actions.

“It is astounding whatIrancontinues to do around the world,” said Corker, urging his colleagues to confront the threat Tehran poses.

In exchange forIranrolling back its nuclear program, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil, trade and financial sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy. As part of the July 2015 multinational accord,Iranalso regained access to frozen assets held abroad.

Israel and congressional Republicans have long assailed the agreement as a windfall toIran. They’ve argued the deal only delayedIran’spursuit of nuclear weapons and failed to allow the kind of inspections of its atomic sites that would guarantee Tehran was not cheating. Lifting economic sanctions savedIran’seconomy, GOP lawmakers added, and allowed the country to funnel more money to terrorist groups.

Yet the nuclear deal remains in place despiteTrump’spledge during the presidential campaign to discard or renegotiate the pact. Instead, the State Department took a key step last week toward preserving the pact by issuing a waiver to keep the sanctions from snapping back into place. And theTrumpadministration notified Congress last month thatIranis complying with the terms of the agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that as theIranlegislation moves forward, lawmakers will have an opportunity to offer amendments that would authorize new sanctions on Russia.

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Trump’s Russia scandal is more like Iran-Contra than Watergate which isn’t good news – Salon

As the scandal surrounding President Donald Trumps apparent entanglements with Russia has grown increasingly serious the comparisons to Watergate have grown increasingly frequent. It goes beyond comparison, as cable news shows populate their coverage with people who were connected to Richard Nixons 1970s scandal, from onetime White House counsel John Dean to former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who helped draft some of the impeachment language, to an array of former prosecutors involved in the case.

Its valuable to have people like that on hand, people whove been through it all, as the layers of deception and denial are stripped away. At the same time, its a fundamental distortion of perspective to use Watergate as the primaryframe of reference for the unfolding scandal.

For multiple reasons, wed be much better served to use Ronald Reagans Iran-Contrascandal as our primary reference frame, and use Watergate only as a supplement. Iran-Contra was as messy, complicated and ill-defined as Watergate is neat and tidy, at least in the popular elite version and that contrast is part of my point: The Trump-Russia scandal is perhaps even messier and more complicated than Iran-Contra was, and we shouldnt try to pretend otherwise.

But the short version of Iran-Contrais that the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran, in hopes of getting hostages released, and used some of the proceeds to illegally fund the right-wing drug-dealing terrorists in Nicaragua known as the Contras (in other words, the counterrevolutionaries opposed to that nations leftist Sandinista government).Writing here on its 25th anniversary, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives offered a slightly expanded bill of particulars:

The Reagan administration had been negotiating with terrorists (despite Reagans repeated public position that he would never do so). There were illegal arms transfers to Iran, flagrant lying to Congress, soliciting third country funding to circumvent the Congressional ban on financing the contra war in Nicaragua, White House bribes to various generals in Honduras, illegal propaganda and psychological operations directed by the CIA against the U.S. press and public, collaboration with drug kingpins such as Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and violating the checks and balances of the constitution.

Altogether, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, a lifelong Republican appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight Eisenhower, investigated several dozen individuals and indicted a dozen of them, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John Poindexter and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. Pardons by President George H.W. Bush effectively ended the prosecutions and effected a final layer of coverup over the whole affair. Walsh considered charging both Reagan and Bush, but did not, for reasons having nothing to do with culpability. He found Reagan suffering from early signs of dementia disorderduring an interview, and saw faint prospects of success with Bush, given the extent of the coverup protecting him.

The Iran-Contra affairs are not a warning for our days alone, Kornbluh quotes historian Theodore Draper writing at the time. If the story of the affairs is not fully known and understood, a similar usurpation of power by a small strategically placed group within the government may well reoccur before we are prepared to recognize what is happening.

Clearly, the warning has gone unheeded until now. Its time we did better, and Iran-Contra can help us on at least five counts. First, Watergate perpetuates the illusion that the system worked, whereas Iran-Contra shows clearly how and why it did not. Second, Watergate was a narrowly focused domestic affair, while Iran-Contra was a far-flung enterprise involving significant foreign actors. Third, Watergate fostered the misleading impression that impeachment turned on breaking the law, while Iran-Contra made it clear that it was about abuse of power and the political elites collective willingness to restrain it. Fourth, Watergate was a relatively self-contained scandal, while Iran-Contra was connected with multiple other illegal international enterprises a coalition of high-level international lawlessness. Fifth, Watergate occurred at the end of an era, in which a different set of norms and institutional constraints still held sway, while Iran-Contra reflected how badly those norms and constraints had been eroded in Watergates aftermath.

Both the scandal and the world we live in today are even further removed from Iran-Contra than Iran-Contra was from Watergate, so I am not proposing that Iran-Contra is an ideal framework for understanding the Trump-Russia scandal. Rather, it is a better framework, which can help us better understand the evolutionary trajectories that make this situation so different from what came before, though still similar in some respects. Lets go through those five different counts, one by one.

First, the illusion that the system worked. This claim seems so self-evident to political elites that no one ever thinks to explain it. But what does it mean? That Nixon was forced to resign? That seems like an appallingly low bar in light of all thats happened since. The destructive forces that Nixon unleashed were only briefly restrained, if at all. Public confidence in government which began falling during the Vietnam War declined as a result of Watergate, and was not restored by its conclusion. Political polarization intensified, and institutions continued to erode.

The press also failed. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post are legendary figures. But they werent part of the White House press corps, or even the political press. They were metropolitan reporters assigned to cover a burglary story in June 1972, which they did to devastating effect, but not until after the 1972 election. The presss failure to cover Watergate before the election was a key factor that led sociologist Carl Jensen to establish Project Censored in 1975. The burglary sparked one of the biggest political coverups in modern history, Jensen later recalled. And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the coverup. Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues, and second, the news media sometimes indulge in self-censorship.

Yet elites today are blind to all the above failures. So lets consider Iran-Contrainstead. No jail time was served by anyone, not even the lowliest underling, while Reagan and Bush escaped so thoroughly that their involvement is scarcely even remembered by elites, while the heroic prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, was subject to hostility and contempt. His book, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up,was a damning indictment of how the system failed, with detailed descriptions of how the multi-layer coverup unfolded over time. But elites had no appetite to face up to it. As one reviewer explained the antipathy:

On one front, the Washington media wants to perpetuate the myth that it remains the heroic Watergate press corps of All the Presidents Men. On another, the national Democratic establishment wants to forget how it crumbled in the face of pressures from the Reagan-Bush administrations. And, of course, the Republicans want to protect the legacy of their last two presidents.

Those were the words of investigative reporter Robert Parry, another key figure in the historical comparison. He was the Woodward and Bernstein of Iran-Contra. He co-wrote a December 1985 AP story reporting that three Contra groups had engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua. The story almost didnt run, due to Reagan administration pressure, but it drew the attention of Sen. John Kerry, who chaired a subcommittee thatspent the next few years producing a damning report, Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, released on April 13, 1989.

Well pick up that strand again later. After that, Parry and his collaborator Brian Barger worked for months on a followup story, in which they exposed the illegal Contra-supporting side of the scandal. But the rest of the Beltway media relied heavily on Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council as a favorite inside source, and he effortlessly waved them off the story. In the face of that pushback, AP pulled Parry and Barger off the story, only to have it explode again after two Mideast newspapers blew the whistle on the Iranian arms sale side of the scandal.

Ill have more to say about Parry and his discoveries below, but the mere fact that hes not as famous as Woodward and Bernstein speaks volumes about how different the political climate had become. In Watergate, Nixon had only a handful of allies in his fight to hold back the truth. In Iran-Contra, there was a well-coordinated, multi-level defense system in place. If anything it was the prosecutors and investigative reporters who were isolated and ultimately scorned by the political establishment.

The second way in which Iran-Contra is a more useful reference frame is the matter of scope. Although Watergate had some foreign policy origins the plumbers started out burglarizing Daniel Ellsbergs psychiatrists office in response to the Pentagon Papers it was an overwhelmingly domestic affair with a narrow focus. Iran-Contra was a vast, far-flung enterprise with significant foreign actors: Middle East arms dealers, Iranian government officials, Central American paramilitary groups, etc. There were also no clearly defined outer edges to the scandal. In fact, there were additional overlapping scandals involving some of the same individuals and similar or related activities. The broader framework of criminality in which Iran-Contraarose, and the importance of foreign actors, potentially quite hostile to America as a whole, as well as profound uncertainty of how far the scandals go, all set Iran-Contraapart from Watergate but are essentially the same situation we confront today.

The third way that Iran-Contra is a more useful reference frame is in terms of focus: What is the scandal about? Watergate fostered the misleading impression that the question of impeachment turned on breaking the law. But, Iran-Contramade clear that it was about abuse of power, and the elites collective willingness to restrain it. Impeachment was never intended to punish specific violations of law. Its purpose is protect the whole framework of the rule of law from the encroachments of tyranny. It was certainly appropriate for Walsh, as a prosecutor, to carefully weigh whether it made sense to prosecute not just based on his belief that crimes had been committed but on multiple other factors; it was also appropriate for Congress to weigh its responsibilities. At the very beginning of the process, Democratic senators said they were not interested in impeachment, thus setting the tone for an extended pageant of delays, digressions and denials.

Even worse, congressional committees took testimony heedlessly ignoring prosecutorial needs. Most notably, Oliver Norths convictions for accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of a congressional inquiry and destruction of documents were all overturned on appeal because North had been granted congressional immunity, even though Walsh built his case independent of that testimony. Everyone involved but especially those with key congressional power needs to be clear about the nature and purpose of impeachment and other oversight responsibilities, and their relationship to law enforcement. The more these issues get muddled, the more damaging it is to the rule of law and the health of our democracy.

The fourth way in which Iran-Contra is a better reference frame is in terms of background. Watergate was a relatively self-contained scandal. Although Nixon engaged in several different sorts of activity that led to drafting impeachment charges, there was little to connect them, beyond Nixons own exaggerated sense that when the president does it, its not illegal. In contrast, the Iran-Contra affair.

The broader context of Iran-Contra can be thought of as two additional overlapping scandals: one involving the Contra drug-dealing, the other an earlier Iranian arms deal linked to meddling in the 1980 election, the so-called October Surprise in which Iran and the Reagan campaign colluded to prevent the release of the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran until after Election Day. Both these scandals were much more intensively suppressed than Iran-Contraitself, but they call attention to the broader framework of criminality in which the whole affairarose, which is significantly more extensive today.

As mentioned above, Parry co-wrote a 1985 story about Contra drug involvement that was virtually ignored by political elites, except for John Kerrys subcommittee. The resulting 1989 report covered drug trafficking in the Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras and Panama, with the longest chapter devoted to the Contras. It stated that The war against Nicaragua contributed to weakening an already inadequate law enforcement capability in the region which was exploited easily by a variety of mercenaries, pilots, and others involved in drug smuggling. It did not find that Contra leaders were personally involved in drug trafficking, but there was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras, and Contra supporters.

Awareness of the criminality reached all the way to the National Security Council. Norths notebooks were made available to the subcommittee in redacted form, but 16examples were cited which discernibly concern narcotics or terrorism. In addition, it noted that numerous other entries referred to individuals or events that apparently related to narcotics, terrorism, or international operations, but whose ambiguities cannot be resolved without the production of the deleted materials by North and his attorneys.

In short, the illegal conduct involved in the Iran-Contrascandal took place against a background of widely tolerated criminality. Beyond that, The logic of having drug money pay for the pressing needs of the Contras appealed to a number of people who became involved in the covert war. Indeed, senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras funding problems.

Throughout the 1980s, there were repeated rumors and scattered bits of evidence pointing to a secret deal struck between Iran and the Reagan campaign to prevent the release of hostages before Election Day in 1980, an October surprise that could have benefited Jimmy Carter. In fact, theres undisputed evidence that arms transfers to Iran began well before thenegotiations for release of hostages, using Israel as a go-between. One such arms shipment was shot down aboard an Argentinian CL-4 turboprop near the Soviet-Turkish border on July 18, 1981. Irans president during this period, Abolhassan Banisadr, was a primary source affirming that these were connected to the October Surprise deal, but it wasnt until after Iran-Contra came to light that pressure started to build for a full investigation.

Robert Parry played a significant role investigating this scandal as well. He was involved in a 1991 PBS Frontline documentary that helped to build support for a congressional investigation. That investigation, however, was severely crippled both by outside media criticism promoting coverup narratives (detailed by Parry here), and by the leader of the investigation himself, Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat. In a detailed dissection of the resulting reports weaknesses, Parry decribes how Hamilton suppressed a dissent from Rep. Mervyn Dymally, D-Calif.:

[W]hen Dymally submitted his dissent, he received a terse phone call in early January 1993 from the task forces Democratic chairman Lee Hamilton, who vowed to come down hard on Dymally if the dissent were not withdrawn.

The next day, Hamilton, who was becoming chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, fired the entire staff of the Africa subcommittee, which Dymally had chaired before his retirement from Congress which had just taken effect. Hoping to save the jobs of his former staffers, Dymally agreed to withdraw the dissent but still refused to put his name on the task forces conclusions.

To this day, Hamilton enjoys an elevated reputation for his Beltway bipartisanship, of which this is a classic example: He beat up on other Democrats for the sake of a unified coverup. Parry went on to publish a book based on his research, Trick or Treason, in 1993. But two years later he discovered much more information. In 1995, he began publishing an eight-part series, the October Surprise X-Files, based on his investigation of the neglected work product of Hamiltons task force. The first story in that series, Russias Report, revealed that the task force had received a last-minute response from Russia (in its post-Soviet, pre-Putin glasnost phase), which provided strong confirmation:

To the shock of the task force, the six-page Russian report stated, as fact, that [CIA director William] Casey, George Bush and other Republicans had met secretly with Iranian officials in Europe during the 1980 presidential campaign. The Russians depicted the hostage negotiations that year as a two-way competition between the Carter White House and the Reagan campaign to outbid one another for Irans cooperation on the hostages. The Russians asserted that the Reagan team had disrupted Carters hostage negotiations after all, the exact opposite of the task force conclusion.

What these examples show is both the existence of much wider criminality andmuch more intense bipartisan denial. Ignoring either of these two aspects surrounding Iran-Contraonly further misleads us in any effort to make sense of the unfolding Trump-Russia scandal.

The fifth and final way in which Iran-Contra is a better reference frame is a reflection on all the above, and how hostile Washington had become to exposing the truth and defending democratic norms. Watergate occurred at the end of an era in which a different set of norms and institutional constraints still held sway. Its delusional to pretend that those norms and constraints still hold. The bungled non-resolution of the Iran-Contrascandal, not to mention the two related scandals discussed above, shows just how badly those norms and constraints had been eroded in Watergates aftermath. Things have only gotten worse since then.

Part of the explanation simply goes back to who controls Congress. During Watergate, it was all Democrats, across the board. During Iran-Contra, Democrats had just won back the Senate after Republicans had controlled it for six years, and were particularly eager to prove how fair and bipartisan they could be. Republicans took every advantage they could as a result. Now Congress is entirely in Republican hands, and you can see the results for yourself every day.

But its not just the numbers. Its also the kinds of people involved, and the nature of the power blocs behind them. From a big-picture perspective, as I wrote in 2013, scandal narratives function differently for conservatives and liberals based on essential differences across the centuries in how they define things. This is largely based on the distinction between logos,which is concerned with how the world works, and mythos,which is concerned with making meaningful sense of the world.

Liberals generally understand scandal in terms of logos:a breaking of the rules, once hidden, brought into the light. It is very much about the facts of the case, an empirical investigative process. Conservatives generally understand scandal in terms of mythos, as unmasking a violation of the sacred order of things, that sacred order being that conservatives and those they favor are on top, and everyone else is beneath them. In this view, the very existence of liberalism is scandalous, because liberalism posits a fundamental equality of people, rather than an immutable hierarchy. For conservatives, scandal is a spectacle or a morality play, whose facts are largely determined by how well they resonate with pre-established meanings.

So the very idea of investigating conservative scandals is itself a scandal in conservative eyes. This, above all, is the change in overarching attitude that distorts everything we are living through, and makes the Watergate model so woefully outdated when it comes to understanding what were up against now.

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If Trump Wants a Fight in the Middle East, Iran Will Give Him One – Foreign Policy (blog)


Foreign Policy (blog)
If Trump Wants a Fight in the Middle East, Iran Will Give Him One
Foreign Policy (blog)
As President Donald Trump's recent Middle East tour demonstrated, the one thing uniting the United States, Israel, and much of the Arab world is opposition to Iran's regional activities. Whereas the Obama administration seemed to acknowledge that
Target IranThe News International

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CJCS Dunford Talks Turkey, Iran, Afghan Troop Numbers & Daesh – Breaking Defense

Breaking Defense contributor James Kitfield spokewithGen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during Dunfords swing throughJapan, Singapore, Australia, Wake Island, and Hawaii. BD readers know that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised Sen. John McCain yesterday that America would get a new Afghan strategy by mid-July. In this second part of Kitfields interview, Dunford talks Turkey, Kurds, Daesh (ISIS) and whether the US will boost the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan. Read on! The Editor. BD: Just while you were meeting with your Asian counterparts in Singapore and Sydney, Australia, there were terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in London, Melbourne, and Kabul. What are we and our allies doing to try and contain the threat from ISIS foreign fighters returning to their home regions and launching attacks? Dunford: One of the issues we talked about with our allies is that there are three pieces of connective tissue that unites these terrorist groups: the flow of foreign fighters, the flow of resources, and a common ideology. And we need to cut that connective tissue. A primary way we are doing that is through a broad intelligence and information sharing network that we have established with the members of the anti-ISIS coalition, who all share a common view of this threat of ISIS foreign fighters. A critical part of that effort is Operation Gallant Phoenix, an intelligence sharing arrangement that started out with eight or so countries, and has since expanded to 19nations who have committed to sharing this intelligence. Were in the process of trying to expand that initiative to even more countries. Gallant Phoenix allows allied nations not only to share intelligence on the foreign fighter threat, but also to get that information back to their law enforcement and homeland security agencies so they have visibility on the movement of foreign fighters in order to deal with this challenge. BD: Is the United States annihilation battle plan in Iraq and Syria that youve spoken of also designed to contain the foreign fighter threat? Dunford: Yes. When Secretary Mattis looked at our anti-ISIS campaign, he concluded that in some instances we were essentially just pushing the enemy from one location to another. He asked me and the military chain-of-command to make a conscious effort not to allow ISIS fighters to just flee from one location to another, but rather to deliberately seek to annihilate the enemy. That was the commanders intent, and our commanders on the ground have tried to meet that goal of annihilating the enemy in order to mitigate the risk of these terrorists showing up someplace else. BD: Has that worked in the battles to retake Mosul and Raqqa, the twin capitals of ISIS self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria? Dunford: Were certainly emphasizing it to a greater degree, and having some success. But I would never claim that means that all enemy fighters are being killed. One tactic they have adopted is to mix in with the civilian population, and that makes targeting them very difficult. We cant just indiscriminately bomb people who are leaving these cities. Even with this annihilation battle plan, we have to be very careful about civilian casualties. BD: How do you see ISF and coalition operations unfolding after Mosul is recaptured? Dunford: Well, we will obviously take our cue from [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider] Abadi, who will decide on the sequence of operations after Mosul is recaptured. But there are some major areas where ISIS is still present that are under consideration. Iraqi Security Forces will still need to clear ISIS out of territory west of Mosul to the Syrian border, for instance, and there are also pockets of ISIS fighters southeast in Kirkuk Province and in the middle Euphrates River Valley. Of course its going to take the Iraqis some time to regenerate their forces after the battle for Mosul, so our plan is to continue keeping pressure on those ISIS forces until the main ISF forces are ready again. BD: How have you handled Turkeys objections to the U.S. decision to arm the SDF, which include Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists? Dunford: I will tell you that the coalition is also enthusiastic about the growth of the SDF. [U.S. special envoy Brett] McGurk has led the effort to empower an Arab component of the SDF that will provide security and governance in Raqqa after the operation to recapture the city is finished, which answers some of Turkeys concerns. Weve made other assurances to Turkey, including making sure the arming and equipping of the SDF is done in a way that is narrowly focused on its ability to recapture Raqqa. Were also helped the Turkish military rebuild after the challenges theyve faced in recent months, and were sharing intelligence with Ankara about the [Iraqi Kurdish terrorist group] PKK. Secretary Tillerson is also working very closely with his Turkish counterpart to make sure that the Geneva Process is front and center in our negotiations about Syrias future, which also addresses Turkish issues. So we have done everything we could to address Turkish concerns, and I personally have made on the order of nine visits to Turkey to speak with my counterpart there. I think the Turks appreciate that. BD: What is the status of the Astana Plan that Turkey signed last month with Russia and Iran, which calls for the creation of four de-escalation zones in Syria? Dunford: Well, the United States was an observer at those talks, but we decided not to formally participate in a process which includes Iran as a guarantor. Secretary Tillerson has said publicly that we welcome any agreement that results in a cessation of hostilities, but we believe the Geneva Process and not Astana is the right vehicle for reaching a political solution in Syria. And while there was some indication of reduced violence in some areas after the Astana Plan was signed, we also saw the Syrian regime conduct major offensive operations in one of the de-escalation zones just in recent days. So its fair to say that negotiations for a ceasefire remain a work in progress. BD: Speaking of Iran, have you seen any letup in its destabilizing activities in the region? Dunford: No, I havent seen any change in Irans behavior. The Republican Guards Quds Force continues to exert a malign influence in Iraq and Syria through proxy forces and militias, and in Lebanon through Lebanese Hezbollah. Irans support for [Shiite rebels] in Yemen has also been unhelpful, and Tehran continues to pose a threat to close allies like Israel and Jordan. So mitigating the malign influence of Iran remains a major U.S. objective in the region. In talking about Iran its also important to zero in on one of the most important issues for the United States, and thats freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb. By harassing U.S. and international maritime activities in the Persian Gulf and supplying advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen on the Red Sea coast, Iran is posing a threat to two waterways that are absolutely crucial to global commerce. Since the 1970s and [President Jimmy Carters Carter Doctrine], the United States has been committed to keeping those vital waterways open. Jim Mattis testifies before SASC BD: Will you recommend a troop increase for Afghanistan to President Trump, and why is Afghanistan still important after U.S. forces have spent more than 15years fighting there? Dunford: Because there are still roughly 17 extremists groups operating in and around Afghanistan. From personal experience, and from reading the intelligence and talking to my commanders on the ground, I have absolutely no doubt that, if given the space to reconstitute and grow stronger, those organizations will follow through on their intent to attack the United States and the West. They are already doing it inside Afghanistan. So we continue to need an effective counterterrorism platform and posture in that region, and the Afghan government has proven to be a good counterterrorism partner. The United States, our NATO allies and coalition partners, and the Afghans themselves are fighting together against a common enemy. As for troop numbers, were analyzing what is necessary to enable the Afghan Security Forces to take the fight to the enemy. One of my greatest concerns is the number of casualties that they experienced in 2015 and 2016. They need additional medical personnel and medevac capability. They also need additional airpower, because that is the greatest asymmetric advantage they have over the Taliban. We need to help the Afghan Security Forces be able to deliver aviation at the right time and place. They also need more trainers and educators and help with maintenance. So those are the areas we are looking at to possibly prop up our support, based on the lessons of 2015 and 2016. BD: It sounds like you are going to support General Nicholsons request for more forces (in Afghanistan)? Dunford: I havent taken a public position yet because I havent had a chance to talk with the president on the issue. So Ill make my recommendation to him first. But its fair to say that based on what weve learned in the past two years, I believe we need to make some adjustments to our force posture.

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June 16, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Surely Some Mistake. Why Did ISIS Attack Iran? – Newsweek

Last week ISIS staged an unprecedented terrorist attack in the heart of Iran. At least 17 people were killed and dozens more were injured at two symbolic locations of the Islamic Republic: the parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini. The reaction from Irans clerical rulers was predictable; they variously blamed their regional and international enemies the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Ignored by Iranian officials and by most expert commentators, however, was any recognition that Tehrans domestic and regional policies were contributing factors. In other words, the expansion of ISIS into Iran was a classic case of Iranian regime blowback. Daily Emails and Alerts- Get the best of Newsweek delivered to your inbox The conventional wisdom suggests that Iran would remain immune to ISIS as a global terrorist threat. Given Irans majority Shia population and the fact that ISIS is a deeply anti-Shia cult informed by an extremist Sunni neo-Wahhabism, it has been widely assumed that Iranian recruits to ISIS would be difficult to find. A gunman is seen entering Iranian parliament building in a still image taken from close circuit television (CCTV), taken on June 7, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. IRIB/Handout via Reuters We now know that Iranian Kurds were behind the ISIS attack in Tehran. The reasons are broadly similar to what we have learned about the politics and psychology of Islamic radicalization. Marginalized, angry and alienated populations exposed to salafi ideology are susceptible to ISIS recruitment. Approximately eight percent of Irans population is Sunni, mainly representing Arab, Baluchi, Turkmen and Kurdish minorities. They live on Irans periphery and suffer disproportionately from unemployment and discrimination. Credible reporting suggests that a small number from these groups have joined ISIS due to the same socio-economic push and pull factors that drives ISIS recruitment worldwide. According to the distinguished Iranian journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the border towns and villages and tribes along Irans east, west and southern borders are poor and vulnerable to extremism. This has produced social conditions where young unemployed men can be wooed and recruited. In other words, Iran now has a homegrown terrorist problem of its own. Its regional foreign policy has also been a contributing factor. ISIS has a genocidal view toward Shia Muslims. Partly because of this, Iran and its proxies are fighting ISIS on various battlefields across the Middle East. At the same time, Irans sectarian foreign policy has indirectly contributed to the rise ISIS. In Iraq, Tehrans critical support for Shia majoritarianism significantly contributed to Sunni marginalization, indirectly amplifying the ideological appeal of ISIS. Then there is Syria. When the Arab Spring protests reached Syria in 2011, ISIS didnt exist. Peaceful protesters chanting non-sectarian slogans were confronting the 41-year rule of the House of Assad. From the outset, they were met with state-sanctioned repression that rapidly extended to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Gradually, the uprising militarized and then radicalized as regional actors entered the fray. The subsequent melee is responsible for the worst refugee crisis of the 21 st century and for killing nearly half a million people. The Assad regime backed by Iran (and Russia) bears the lions share of responsibility for this state of affairs. It is from the killing fields of Syria that the ISIS variant of salafi-jihadism arose and expanded. Today, Iran justifies it support for Assad by claiming it is fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. In doing so, however, it conveniently reads the Syrian conflict backward instead of forward. From the inception of the conflict, and prior to the rise of salafi-jihadism in Syria, Iran strongly backed the Assad regime. Its early intervention had nothing to do with combating religious extremism for the simple reason that this problem barely existed in the early months of the Syrian uprising. In the past six years, this changed and Iran stepped up its intervention. Mostly notably, it recruited a pan-Shia militia that, along with Hezbollah, has done the bulk of the fighting in defense of the Assad regime. Irans critical role in Syria has significantly contributed to the spread of sectarianism across the Middle East: ISIS has been a key beneficiary of this. Now the blowback has come to Tehran. ISIS is fundamentally the product of political authoritarianism in the Sunni Arab world. Its theological home is in Saudi Arabia. The legacy of political tyranny in the Arab world, buttressed by the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, created social conditions that allowed this extremist cult not only to emerge but also to proliferate. Irans role in this equation has been generally unrecognized. Though indirect, Irans contribution has been significant. Its domestic policies discriminating against ethnic/religious minorities, and its sectarian foreign policy in Iraq and Syria are key elements that has contributed to ISIS expansion. In other words, Irans chickens have come home to roost. Nader Hashemiis the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. His latest book isSectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East.

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June 15, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

The Qatar Crisis Is Pushing Hamas Back to Iran – The Atlantic

BEIRUT Three years after the last war in Gaza, the leaders of Israel and Palestine seem to be lurching toward another round of fightingalthough not for the reasons you may think. On Sunday, the Israeli security cabinet agreed, at the request of the Palestinian president, to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to the blockaded territory by 40 percent. The officials came to the decision even after top Israeli generals warned it would lead to a humanitarian crisis in the strip, where 1.9 million people are bracing for a scorching summer with perhaps only three hours of power per day. Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, warned of an explosion. Blackouts are not the only issue, however: If there is a fresh round of fighting, it may be sparked by a diplomatic crisis happening some 1,100 miles awayone that both the Israeli defense minister and U.S. President Donald Trump have goaded on. Qatar: The Gulf’s Problem Child On June 5, Saudi Arabia and several of its allies decided, with little warning, to blockade Qatar, in an effort to punish the tiny emirate of 2.7 million residents for supporting the wrong groups across the regionnamely the Muslim Brotherhoodand to reinforce an alliance against Riyadhs real nemesis: Iran. There are already signs that the effort may backfire. Turkey has doubled down on ties with Qatar, fast-tracking a bill that allows it to deploy troops there. Iran rushed to establish an air bridge to Doha, flying in shipments of food. There is, of course, ample reason to criticize Qatars role in the region. The emirate has reportedly paid hefty ransoms to al-Qaedas affiliate in Syria, and looked the other way as private citizens funneled millions to jihadists across the Middle East. Al Jazeeras Arabic service, once the boldest news channel in the area, has degenerated into a sort of propaganda outlet for Sunni Islamists, peddling conspiracy theories and sectarian vitriol about Christians in Egypt, Alawites in Syria, and other groups. But all this hardly begins to explain this regions fraught politics. For all the talk of brotherly unity, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council is a dysfunctional, divided alliance. Saudi Arabia tries to set the tone: It is larger than the other five members of the council, combined, and draws diplomatic and religious clout from its custodianship of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Its main fear is Iran, followed by political Islam. Several of Saudi Arabias neighbors feel differently. The first tentative steps toward the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers took place in Oman, where the sultan hosted secret talks between American and Iranian officials at a seaside villa. Oman has also declined to take part in the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has decimated the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, with a looming famine and a recent cholera outbreak. Kuwait, with an Islamist-dominated parliament and a large ethnic-Iranian minority, often prefers to mediate regional disputes, rather than join them. There are even budding tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its closest ideological ally in the Gulf. The Emiratis have deployed thousands of troops to the south of Yemen, trained up a 30,000-man Yemeni militia, and spent about $2 billion to support Yemens battered economy. On the northern front, the Saudis have mostly fought from the air, and they have little to show for it. Militias backed by the two sides engaged in a firefight earlier this year during a battle for control of the airport in Aden. The case of Hamas is yet another marker of the complexity of this crisis. In recent years, the group has struck an uneasy balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the latter was once Hamass biggest patron, supplying it with money and weapons, the two sides parted ways in 2012 when the Palestinians backed the uprising against Bashar al-Assads regime in Syria. Soon, Tehran, which backs the Assad regime, cut off military aid to Hamas. The former leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, was forced to leave his longtime base in Damascus, decamping for Doha, where the group received an enthusiastic welcome. Since then, Meshaal has tried to steer Hamas closer to the Gulf states. He met with King Salman on a rare visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015, and pushed back against the leaders of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, who wanted to pivot back to Iran. He thought such a move would empower the comparatively moderate political wing of Hamas, and perhaps win the group a measure of international recognition. Now, though, the Saudis and their allies are demanding that Qatar cut ties with Hamas and expel its leaders from Dohaquite possibly pushing it back towards Iran. This tension is no mere academic matter. Gaza has been devastated by three wars over the past decade. Even hawkish Israeli politicians agree that the only way to prevent a fourth flare-up is to improve living conditions in the strip. But that wont happen if Hamas is pushed away from the Gulf and back towards Irana shift that would be welcomed by the groups hardliners, who have advocated it for years. The Arab states have been abusing the Palestinian cause since the creation of Israel in 1948, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, told me. This is a fixed policy. Qatar, by contrast, has been one of the few states to provide consistent support, repairing the main coastal highway and building thousands of new homes for families displaced during the wars. It has also spent tens of millions of dollars on fuel for Gazas sole power plant. The exchange of funds is managed by a Qatari official who works in one of Gazas upscale, half-empty seaside hotels. A cutback in Qatari aid, then, would worsen the already-dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where nearly half the population is unemployed and three-quarters depend on aid to survive. Financial aid from Iran, on the other hand, has been mostly diverted to military projects. Tehran also played a key role in helping Hamas produce rockets domestically, inside Gaza. In 2012, the head of the Revolutionary Guard admitted that his forces taught Hamas how to produce a variant of the Fajr-5, a long-range projectile that has been used to strike the Tel Aviv suburbs. The resumption of Iranian aid would give the Qassam Brigades access to both cash and blueprints. Its become much more difficult for [Hamas] to rearm recently, an Israeli intelligence official told me. So theyll be looking for the next big thing. The pressure on Hamas might also cause a rupture with Egypt, which has been deeply hostile toward Hamas since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup. He has rightly accused the group of collaborating with the Islamic State branch on Sinai, which controls what little remains of a once-thriving cross-border tunnel trade. The issues in this relationship go back a long time, and theyve been hard to fix, Daoud Shihab, a member of Islamic Jihad, which has helped to mediate between the two sides, told me. Earlier this year, however, the talks between Egypt and Hamas finally started to bear fruit. Hamas agreed to stop sheltering jihadists, and publicly cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has allowed some commercial traffic across the Gaza border for the first time in a decade. It should be a win-win for both sides. But boosting the Qassam Brigades, which relies on the smuggling tunnels to import arms, threatens to upset the fragile dtente. The timing of all this could not be worse, with Hamas already under pressure from the electricity crisis. Over the past three months, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has also reduced the salaries paid to tens of thousands of civil servants in Gaza, and suspended shipments of medicine and baby formula to hospitals. The public is seething. Qatar has already expelled several Hamas officials, including Saleh al-Arouri, a prominent figure from the military wing. Israel accuses him of plotting attacks in the occupied West Bank (a charge his colleagues do not dispute). Sources in Gaza say Hamas pocketed millions by charging families for Qatari-built homes, which were meant to be distributed free of charge. The United States and its allies could press Qatar on these issuesbut a complete severance of ties, as the Gulf states have so far demanded, would have dire consequences. Doha may yet accede to its neighbors demands. Israel and its allies would see this as a victory: Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, said the crisis gives Israel new opportunities to work with Arab states; President Trump continues to take credit for starting it. Their optimism may not last.

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June 14, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran bans women’s Zumba aerobics classes – Los Angeles Times

Iran has banned women from dancing, cycling, watching soccer matches, listening to certain music and now Zumba. Thats right. The Islamic Republics Shiite leaders announced this week that, under religious law, the 17-year-old Colombian dance aerobics craze is forbidden. Ali Majdara, the head of public sports in Iran, issued a statement Sunday banning Zumba and any harmonious movement or body shaking instruction. The ban applies to public and private gyms, clubs and classes. The announcement came just days after Majdaras Iran Sport for All federation provoked an outcry on Twitter by calling for the ban. Critics took to Twitter as well, but to express displeasure and dismay using the Persian language hashtag #Zumba. Has Colombia summoned the Iranian ambassador yet? one Twitter user joked. Unbelievable, said Zumba teacher Sepideh Abozari. The authorities are worried about a Zumba pandemic? Tehran-based cleric Hossain Ghayyomi explained the reasoning behind the ban. Any harmonious movement or rhythmic exercise, if it is for pleasure seeking, is haram, forbidden under Shiite leaders interpretation of Islam, Ghayyomi said. Even jobs related to these rhythmic movements are haram. For instance, since Islam says dancing or music is haram, then renting a place to teach dancing or cutting wood to make musical instruments is haram too. While some have tried to justify teaching or listening to music as legal under Islamic law in Iran, he said, They could not change the mainstream of the clerical establishment. Theres also the fear among religious leaders that Zumba is corrupting Iranian men, who can watch videos of classes posted online. Some Iranian Zumba instructors videos already have been deemed pornographic and blocked by authorities since the ban. As Zumba has spread to more than 180 countries, it has been banned by other conservative Muslim leaders for being un-Islamic, including by a fatwa, or religious edict, in parts of Malaysia. But Irans ban comes at a time when the dance fitness trend has gone mainstream here. In Tehran and other large cities, most public and private gyms offer womens Zumba classes. Many women, whose exercise opportunities already have been curtailed by the state, were aghast at the Zumba ban. Abozari said the classes are incredibly popular, not just among wealthy women, but also among the middle class and the poor. Even in low-income areas on the outskirts of Tehran where I live … women pay as much as a month cash subsidy to participate in Zumba class to keep fit in body and mind and tune in to the happy rhythm, said Abozari, 38, who teaches Zumba in her spare time to children too poor to pay for lessons. At issue isnt just womens rights, she said: Its about the economy. She noted that middle-class and wealthy women in north Tehran often pay for private Zumba classes at home, and those jobs where pay is negotiable and usually generous will now disappear. Malihe Agheli, 38, a mother of two who works at a bank in Tehran, said the gym at her office already refused to offer Zumba or other rhythmic workouts. She has been paying a steep price, $50 for eight private classes a month. While Zumba classes still may be offered underground, she said, After being banned, it will be more expensive. Zohre Safavizadeh, who has taken Zumba classes at her Tehran gym in the past, likes the music and the ambiance. I feel wonderful the body rhythm and the music in background are fascinating, she said. But as often happens in Iran, theres a political element, even with Zumba. Safavizadeh sees the ban as a backlash by hard-liners to the reelection last month of moderate President Hassan Rouhani. The hard-liners want to undo what was promised by President Rouhani, she said, and as a result, We as women are deprived small happiness. Rouhani won after promising to unite Iran. But terrorist attacks by Islamic State militants in the capital this month that killed 17 people gave hard-line Shiite leaders an opening to crack down. Some analysts said the Zumba ban may be the beginning of efforts by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other hard-liners to reexert influence and sideline Rouhani. Tehran-based analyst Nader Karimi Juni wasnt optimistic that Rouhani will make much headway against the supreme leaders bans, including Zumba. For the supreme leader, America and Israel are archenemies, the eternal foes, Juni said. So whatever lifestyle, tastes or athletic activities are associated with what he calls corrupted Western culture is haram and should be banned. ALSO North Korea releases American student reportedly in coma as Dennis Rodman returns to the reclusive nation Corpses being dumped in Iraq show signs of torture, execution and Iraqi forces may be responsible A Palestinian village was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. Now it’s behind a wall and orphaned

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June 13, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

America and Iran Hurtle Toward Confrontation in Syria – The Atlantic

The assault on Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic States self-declared caliphate, is about to begin, and the end of ISIS is in sight. But so is the end of the tacit tactical alliance between Iran and the United States. For a time, the old adversaries cooperated against their common enemy. The United States provided the Iraqi government and Iranian-backed Shiite militias with air support to help them seize control over the Iraqi cities of Tikrit in April 2015 and large parts of Mosul by February 2017. However, as these same Iraqi Shiite militias pursue fleeing ISIS elements to oil-rich Deir Ezzour in neighboring Syria, they confront United States special-operations forces and an American-backed coalition of Syrian rebel groups. In Iraq, the U.S. is working with Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in a joint struggle against ISIS. In Syria however, the United States supports the moderate opposition to Bashar al-Assads regime, while Iran and its Shiite proxies are engaged in a relentless effort to eliminate opposition forces and secure the survival of the very same regime. The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s ISIS Plan On Tuesday, June 6, U.S.-led coalition fighter jets bombed Syrian government soldiers and, according to some reports, Shiite Iraqi militia members in the al-Tanf region in southeastern Homs province, where since May 2015 a contingent of U.S. troops has been training Syrian opposition forces. It was the second time in less than a month that coalition forces had attacked Syrian regime forces and their allies as they headed toward the al-Tanf garrison. On May 18, coalition planes pounded a convoy headed toward al-Tanf. The scene is set for a zero-sum game: Iran and its allied Shiite militias want the area to establish an overland corridor to the Syrian-Israeli border, the Mediterranean, and Lebanon. In the first year of the Syrian Civil War, the late Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani likened such an overland corridor to a string of pearls [reshteh-ye morvarid] that would connect Iran with its regional allies all the way from western Afghanistan to Lebanon, allowing Tehran to consolidate its sphere of influence across the Levant and facilitate arms shipments to Hezbollah. The American strategy is not clear, but the United States needs to control the area to cut Irans expansionism, which is causing alarm among Washingtons key Arab allies and Israel. Unrestricted Iranian access to Lebanese Hezbollah is not only likely to further strengthen the organization, but risks emboldening the group to provoke another war with Israel. Iran and its Shiite coalition, which has sacrificed blood and treasure to maintain control over Syria, is not likely to restrain itself in the endgame against ISIS. Four hundred and ninety Iranians, 1,063 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, 653 Afghans, 144 Pakistanis, and at least 94 Iraqi Shia, by my count, have sacrificed their lives in Syria, and they did not do so just to back off at the last moment. Nor is the Trump administration in a position to back off; it has promised Americas Sunni allies it will contain and curtail Irans power. Potential for escalation of the conflict between Tehran and Washington is very real. The brazen acts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Forcewhich is tasked with exporting Irans revolution beyond Irans bordersand attempts at testing or tarnishing American power and prestige, risk provoking heavy-handed responses. In the Persian Gulf and Shat al-Arab waterway, for example, the IRGC Navy engages in systematic provocations against the Americas Fifth Fleet, and has previously taken British and American sailors as prisoners of warreleasing them only after extensive use of their photos in humiliating positions in government-controlled media. There are still no reports of Iranian casualties among those killed in Americas recent bombardments of Syrian government and allied Shiite convoys headed to Syria. But the U.S. military response is not likely to deter the IRGC, and it is doubtful if the IRGC leadership would have any other choice but responding in kind in an attempt to avoid losing face in front of the Iranian public. Such dynamics are not only likely to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States, but could also fuel the vicious cycle of violence for which Tehran is ill-prepared. There are, however, also a few mitigating factors. Even after the implosion of the Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliphate, disgruntled Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are likely to rebel against Iran and its Shiite proxies. Regional Sunni powers are just as likely to come to their aid in an attempt to reestablish the regional balance of power. Given such prospects, Tehran is not likely to want an all-out war against Washington. The question is whether Tehrans leadershipor Washingtonscan prevent it.

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June 9, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s pressure on Iran may be stoking sectarian tensions in Mideast – Washington Post

President Trump has for weeks pressed disparate forces throughout the Middle East to band together with Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism and punish Iran, long viewed by hawks inside his administration as the main source of instability and terrorism in the region. But in his push to empower the Saudis, Trump may have unleashed problems, including increased sectarianism and regional strife, that are as bad as the one he was trying to fix, inflaming tensions that could imperil the battle against the Islamic State and other critical U.S. priorities. Thats the fundamental problem in the Middle East, said Phil Gordon, a former official in the Obama White House who focused on the region. Solving one problem in the region inevitably exacerbates others and can easily lead to escalation. Trump administration officials, meanwhile, attributed rising regional tensions to the failed policies of the Obama administration, which in recent years had unnerved traditional U.S. allies in the region with policies that appeared to empower Iran. The signs of that escalation were apparent Wednesday when Irans leaders blamed Saudi Arabia for an attack by the Islamic State in Tehran that left 12 people dead and wounded 42 others. The stunning assault capped several days of spiraling tensions that kicked off when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a group of Arab allies to move against Qatar a U.S. partner and host of the main American air base in the region which had sought accommodation with Iran. Trump immediately celebrated the Saudis move and even took some credit for it on Twitter. During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology, Trump said on Tuesday. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look! [As ISIS loses ground in Syria, a scramble between U.S. and Iran for control] The danger for the United States and the Trump administration is that the spiraling tensions and saber-rattling throughout the region could imperil some of its key initiatives. Sunni-led monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist movement that both have been accused over the years of at least indirectly financing. Qatar is also part of a fragile, Saudi-led coalition fighting against Houthi rebels, in Yemen, backed by Irans Shiite government. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made rolling back Iran in Yemen and reaching a negotiated settlement with the rebels a top priority as a step toward containing it across the region. A split among the Arab partners fighting there would be a significant boon for Iran, said analysts. Yet Trump appeared to take Saudi Arabias side this week in a dispute with Qatar that his own senior national security advisers tried to quell with evenhandedness. Qatar is an artificial crisis, said Michele Dunne, a Middle East expert at the State Department from 1986 to 2003 and director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. All of the issues being cited support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera, which has been critical of both the Saudis and the U.A.E. have been going on for years now, Dunne said. Why, all of a sudden, is there a crisis over it now? It does seem as though the Trump administrations approach to the region has sent a message to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates that they can call the shots in the region, and the U.S. will stick with them. Dunne and Christopher Davidson, associate professor in Middle East politics at Durham University in England, suggested that Saudi Arabias long-range plan, in addition to forcing Qatar to mitigate its more open attitude toward both Iran and political Islam, may include inviting the United States to move its air operations in the region from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar back to Saudi Arabia. So far, Davidson said: Qatar is sticking to its guns. Turkey has pledged to support them, and there is provocative news that Iran might support them, too. Senior Trump administration officials criticized the idea that Trumps backing for the Saudis on his recent trip or his latest tweets condemning Qatar for terrorism financing had contributed to instability or sectarian tension in the region. Instead, one White House official said that it was the previous administrations chilly relationship with Saudi Arabia and its deal with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program that had unleashed sectarianism. From the opening moments of his trip to the Middle East, Trump made clear that he was determined to take the opposite approach of his predecessor. President Barack Obama assiduously avoided taking sides in the regions sectarian conflicts and infuriated the Saudis by suggesting that they would have to share the region with Iran. The Saudis interpreted that as the president telling them that the Iranians are a predator, and they should acquiesce to their ambitions and surrender to them, said Dennis Ross, who served as a senior Middle East adviser to Republican and Democrat presidents. That is not my interpretation. That is literally what I was told in the region. Since taking office, Trump has flipped the script, prioritizing the battle against all forms of terrorism over sectarian and regional tensions. The result for now is a stepped-up battle against the Islamic State that has involved deeper U.S. military involvement, some impressive battlefield gains and greater civilian casualties. Both Trump and the Saudis described the presidents meetings in the kingdom last month as the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Arab relations, the fight against terrorism and a much harder line on Iran. People have said there has really never been anything even close in history, Trump said. His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, amplified that message and spoke hopefully of a new alliance involving Israel and Americas Arab partners all friends of America but too often adversaries of each other to roll back Iranian influence. In a meeting with reporters, McMaster described Iran as the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world and a malign influence that has perpetuated civil wars throughout the region. These are really, really good reasons to focus on a concerted effort to counter Irans destructive activities, McMaster said. The long-term bet is that the United States allies will be willing to take a harder line against Sunni Arab terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, if the United States is also taking a harder line against Iran, which the Saudis and the Emiratis see as an existential threat. In recent days, though, it has been hard to divine the exact policy that the administration is pursuing, especially regarding the dispute between the Qataris and the powerful Saudi-led bloc opposing them, is promoting more or less stability. What they are doing vis-a-vis Qatar is really unprecedented, Ross said. This is not symbolic. You break diplomatic relations, deny Qatari planes the ability to operate in your airspace, call back nationals. This is a very tough response. The policy looks very much like a work in progress, Ross said.

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June 7, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump suggests Iran bears some responsibility for terror attacks in Tehran – Chicago Tribune

President DonaldTrumpon Wednesday offered solace to the victims of the twin terrorist attacks inIranwhile suggesting Tehran bears some culpability, saying “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” Hours after conciliatory comments from his State Department, the president said in a one-paragraph statement that the United States grieves and prays for the innocent victims of the assault againstIran’sParliament and the shrine ofIran’srevolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that killed at least 12 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Trumpadded his broadside againstIran, which the U.S. has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” he said. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had said the U.S. is sending thoughts and prayers to the Iranian people following the attacks. “The depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world,” said Nauert, who said the U.S. is expressing condolences to the victims and their families. The U.S. statement of solidarity with the attack’s victims is notable because of the deep distrust between the U.S. andIran. The two countries don’t maintain diplomatic relations, and theTrumpadministration has emphasized the need to counterIran’sinfluence. The distrust ofIranwas evident on Wednesday when shortly after the condemnation, Republicans and Democrats in Congress acted in a procedural vote to move forward on a new set of sanctions onIran, including on its elite Revolutionary Guards. The strong bipartisan vote was 92-7. The bill would impose mandatory sanctions on people involved inIran’sballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure also would apply terrorism sanctions to the country’s Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo. A few senators pleaded for a delay until next week of the previously scheduled vote in light of the attacks inIran. “Let us tell the people ofIranthat while we have serious disagreements with them on a number of issues, that today when they are mourning, when they are dealing with the shock of a terrorist attack, today is not the day to go forward with this piece of legislation,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also pushed for a delay, but Republicans and Democrats pressed ahead. The bill is a “carefully crafted response toIran’songoing aggression in the Middle East,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said. Last month, the Foreign Relations Committee backed the measure despite concerns from former Secretary of State John Kerry and several Democrats that it could nonetheless lead to the unraveling of the nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama administration. Kerry cautioned lawmakers to “tread carefully” in pushing ahead with new sanctions againstIranin the wake of President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election to another four-year term. Rouhani is a political moderate who scored a resounding victory over a hard-line opponent. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s Republican chairman and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he recently reviewed top-secret intelligence that detailed Tehran’s support for terrorism and other destabilizing actions. “It is astounding whatIrancontinues to do around the world,” said Corker, urging his colleagues to confront the threat Tehran poses. In exchange forIranrolling back its nuclear program, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to suspend wide-ranging oil, trade and financial sanctions that had choked the Iranian economy. As part of the July 2015 multinational accord,Iranalso regained access to frozen assets held abroad. Israel and congressional Republicans have long assailed the agreement as a windfall toIran. They’ve argued the deal only delayedIran’spursuit of nuclear weapons and failed to allow the kind of inspections of its atomic sites that would guarantee Tehran was not cheating. Lifting economic sanctions savedIran’seconomy, GOP lawmakers added, and allowed the country to funnel more money to terrorist groups. Yet the nuclear deal remains in place despiteTrump’spledge during the presidential campaign to discard or renegotiate the pact. Instead, the State Department took a key step last week toward preserving the pact by issuing a waiver to keep the sanctions from snapping back into place. And theTrumpadministration notified Congress last month thatIranis complying with the terms of the agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that as theIranlegislation moves forward, lawmakers will have an opportunity to offer amendments that would authorize new sanctions on Russia.

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June 7, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s Russia scandal is more like Iran-Contra than Watergate which isn’t good news – Salon

As the scandal surrounding President Donald Trumps apparent entanglements with Russia has grown increasingly serious the comparisons to Watergate have grown increasingly frequent. It goes beyond comparison, as cable news shows populate their coverage with people who were connected to Richard Nixons 1970s scandal, from onetime White House counsel John Dean to former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who helped draft some of the impeachment language, to an array of former prosecutors involved in the case. Its valuable to have people like that on hand, people whove been through it all, as the layers of deception and denial are stripped away. At the same time, its a fundamental distortion of perspective to use Watergate as the primaryframe of reference for the unfolding scandal. For multiple reasons, wed be much better served to use Ronald Reagans Iran-Contrascandal as our primary reference frame, and use Watergate only as a supplement. Iran-Contra was as messy, complicated and ill-defined as Watergate is neat and tidy, at least in the popular elite version and that contrast is part of my point: The Trump-Russia scandal is perhaps even messier and more complicated than Iran-Contra was, and we shouldnt try to pretend otherwise. But the short version of Iran-Contrais that the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran, in hopes of getting hostages released, and used some of the proceeds to illegally fund the right-wing drug-dealing terrorists in Nicaragua known as the Contras (in other words, the counterrevolutionaries opposed to that nations leftist Sandinista government).Writing here on its 25th anniversary, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives offered a slightly expanded bill of particulars: The Reagan administration had been negotiating with terrorists (despite Reagans repeated public position that he would never do so). There were illegal arms transfers to Iran, flagrant lying to Congress, soliciting third country funding to circumvent the Congressional ban on financing the contra war in Nicaragua, White House bribes to various generals in Honduras, illegal propaganda and psychological operations directed by the CIA against the U.S. press and public, collaboration with drug kingpins such as Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and violating the checks and balances of the constitution. Altogether, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, a lifelong Republican appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight Eisenhower, investigated several dozen individuals and indicted a dozen of them, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John Poindexter and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. Pardons by President George H.W. Bush effectively ended the prosecutions and effected a final layer of coverup over the whole affair. Walsh considered charging both Reagan and Bush, but did not, for reasons having nothing to do with culpability. He found Reagan suffering from early signs of dementia disorderduring an interview, and saw faint prospects of success with Bush, given the extent of the coverup protecting him. The Iran-Contra affairs are not a warning for our days alone, Kornbluh quotes historian Theodore Draper writing at the time. If the story of the affairs is not fully known and understood, a similar usurpation of power by a small strategically placed group within the government may well reoccur before we are prepared to recognize what is happening. Clearly, the warning has gone unheeded until now. Its time we did better, and Iran-Contra can help us on at least five counts. First, Watergate perpetuates the illusion that the system worked, whereas Iran-Contra shows clearly how and why it did not. Second, Watergate was a narrowly focused domestic affair, while Iran-Contra was a far-flung enterprise involving significant foreign actors. Third, Watergate fostered the misleading impression that impeachment turned on breaking the law, while Iran-Contra made it clear that it was about abuse of power and the political elites collective willingness to restrain it. Fourth, Watergate was a relatively self-contained scandal, while Iran-Contra was connected with multiple other illegal international enterprises a coalition of high-level international lawlessness. Fifth, Watergate occurred at the end of an era, in which a different set of norms and institutional constraints still held sway, while Iran-Contra reflected how badly those norms and constraints had been eroded in Watergates aftermath. Both the scandal and the world we live in today are even further removed from Iran-Contra than Iran-Contra was from Watergate, so I am not proposing that Iran-Contra is an ideal framework for understanding the Trump-Russia scandal. Rather, it is a better framework, which can help us better understand the evolutionary trajectories that make this situation so different from what came before, though still similar in some respects. Lets go through those five different counts, one by one. First, the illusion that the system worked. This claim seems so self-evident to political elites that no one ever thinks to explain it. But what does it mean? That Nixon was forced to resign? That seems like an appallingly low bar in light of all thats happened since. The destructive forces that Nixon unleashed were only briefly restrained, if at all. Public confidence in government which began falling during the Vietnam War declined as a result of Watergate, and was not restored by its conclusion. Political polarization intensified, and institutions continued to erode. The press also failed. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post are legendary figures. But they werent part of the White House press corps, or even the political press. They were metropolitan reporters assigned to cover a burglary story in June 1972, which they did to devastating effect, but not until after the 1972 election. The presss failure to cover Watergate before the election was a key factor that led sociologist Carl Jensen to establish Project Censored in 1975. The burglary sparked one of the biggest political coverups in modern history, Jensen later recalled. And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the coverup. Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues, and second, the news media sometimes indulge in self-censorship. Yet elites today are blind to all the above failures. So lets consider Iran-Contrainstead. No jail time was served by anyone, not even the lowliest underling, while Reagan and Bush escaped so thoroughly that their involvement is scarcely even remembered by elites, while the heroic prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, was subject to hostility and contempt. His book, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up,was a damning indictment of how the system failed, with detailed descriptions of how the multi-layer coverup unfolded over time. But elites had no appetite to face up to it. As one reviewer explained the antipathy: On one front, the Washington media wants to perpetuate the myth that it remains the heroic Watergate press corps of All the Presidents Men. On another, the national Democratic establishment wants to forget how it crumbled in the face of pressures from the Reagan-Bush administrations. And, of course, the Republicans want to protect the legacy of their last two presidents. Those were the words of investigative reporter Robert Parry, another key figure in the historical comparison. He was the Woodward and Bernstein of Iran-Contra. He co-wrote a December 1985 AP story reporting that three Contra groups had engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua. The story almost didnt run, due to Reagan administration pressure, but it drew the attention of Sen. John Kerry, who chaired a subcommittee thatspent the next few years producing a damning report, Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, released on April 13, 1989. Well pick up that strand again later. After that, Parry and his collaborator Brian Barger worked for months on a followup story, in which they exposed the illegal Contra-supporting side of the scandal. But the rest of the Beltway media relied heavily on Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council as a favorite inside source, and he effortlessly waved them off the story. In the face of that pushback, AP pulled Parry and Barger off the story, only to have it explode again after two Mideast newspapers blew the whistle on the Iranian arms sale side of the scandal. Ill have more to say about Parry and his discoveries below, but the mere fact that hes not as famous as Woodward and Bernstein speaks volumes about how different the political climate had become. In Watergate, Nixon had only a handful of allies in his fight to hold back the truth. In Iran-Contra, there was a well-coordinated, multi-level defense system in place. If anything it was the prosecutors and investigative reporters who were isolated and ultimately scorned by the political establishment. The second way in which Iran-Contra is a more useful reference frame is the matter of scope. Although Watergate had some foreign policy origins the plumbers started out burglarizing Daniel Ellsbergs psychiatrists office in response to the Pentagon Papers it was an overwhelmingly domestic affair with a narrow focus. Iran-Contra was a vast, far-flung enterprise with significant foreign actors: Middle East arms dealers, Iranian government officials, Central American paramilitary groups, etc. There were also no clearly defined outer edges to the scandal. In fact, there were additional overlapping scandals involving some of the same individuals and similar or related activities. The broader framework of criminality in which Iran-Contraarose, and the importance of foreign actors, potentially quite hostile to America as a whole, as well as profound uncertainty of how far the scandals go, all set Iran-Contraapart from Watergate but are essentially the same situation we confront today. The third way that Iran-Contra is a more useful reference frame is in terms of focus: What is the scandal about? Watergate fostered the misleading impression that the question of impeachment turned on breaking the law. But, Iran-Contramade clear that it was about abuse of power, and the elites collective willingness to restrain it. Impeachment was never intended to punish specific violations of law. Its purpose is protect the whole framework of the rule of law from the encroachments of tyranny. It was certainly appropriate for Walsh, as a prosecutor, to carefully weigh whether it made sense to prosecute not just based on his belief that crimes had been committed but on multiple other factors; it was also appropriate for Congress to weigh its responsibilities. At the very beginning of the process, Democratic senators said they were not interested in impeachment, thus setting the tone for an extended pageant of delays, digressions and denials. Even worse, congressional committees took testimony heedlessly ignoring prosecutorial needs. Most notably, Oliver Norths convictions for accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of a congressional inquiry and destruction of documents were all overturned on appeal because North had been granted congressional immunity, even though Walsh built his case independent of that testimony. Everyone involved but especially those with key congressional power needs to be clear about the nature and purpose of impeachment and other oversight responsibilities, and their relationship to law enforcement. The more these issues get muddled, the more damaging it is to the rule of law and the health of our democracy. The fourth way in which Iran-Contra is a better reference frame is in terms of background. Watergate was a relatively self-contained scandal. Although Nixon engaged in several different sorts of activity that led to drafting impeachment charges, there was little to connect them, beyond Nixons own exaggerated sense that when the president does it, its not illegal. In contrast, the Iran-Contra affair. The broader context of Iran-Contra can be thought of as two additional overlapping scandals: one involving the Contra drug-dealing, the other an earlier Iranian arms deal linked to meddling in the 1980 election, the so-called October Surprise in which Iran and the Reagan campaign colluded to prevent the release of the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran until after Election Day. Both these scandals were much more intensively suppressed than Iran-Contraitself, but they call attention to the broader framework of criminality in which the whole affairarose, which is significantly more extensive today. As mentioned above, Parry co-wrote a 1985 story about Contra drug involvement that was virtually ignored by political elites, except for John Kerrys subcommittee. The resulting 1989 report covered drug trafficking in the Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras and Panama, with the longest chapter devoted to the Contras. It stated that The war against Nicaragua contributed to weakening an already inadequate law enforcement capability in the region which was exploited easily by a variety of mercenaries, pilots, and others involved in drug smuggling. It did not find that Contra leaders were personally involved in drug trafficking, but there was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras, and Contra supporters. Awareness of the criminality reached all the way to the National Security Council. Norths notebooks were made available to the subcommittee in redacted form, but 16examples were cited which discernibly concern narcotics or terrorism. In addition, it noted that numerous other entries referred to individuals or events that apparently related to narcotics, terrorism, or international operations, but whose ambiguities cannot be resolved without the production of the deleted materials by North and his attorneys. In short, the illegal conduct involved in the Iran-Contrascandal took place against a background of widely tolerated criminality. Beyond that, The logic of having drug money pay for the pressing needs of the Contras appealed to a number of people who became involved in the covert war. Indeed, senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras funding problems. Throughout the 1980s, there were repeated rumors and scattered bits of evidence pointing to a secret deal struck between Iran and the Reagan campaign to prevent the release of hostages before Election Day in 1980, an October surprise that could have benefited Jimmy Carter. In fact, theres undisputed evidence that arms transfers to Iran began well before thenegotiations for release of hostages, using Israel as a go-between. One such arms shipment was shot down aboard an Argentinian CL-4 turboprop near the Soviet-Turkish border on July 18, 1981. Irans president during this period, Abolhassan Banisadr, was a primary source affirming that these were connected to the October Surprise deal, but it wasnt until after Iran-Contra came to light that pressure started to build for a full investigation. Robert Parry played a significant role investigating this scandal as well. He was involved in a 1991 PBS Frontline documentary that helped to build support for a congressional investigation. That investigation, however, was severely crippled both by outside media criticism promoting coverup narratives (detailed by Parry here), and by the leader of the investigation himself, Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat. In a detailed dissection of the resulting reports weaknesses, Parry decribes how Hamilton suppressed a dissent from Rep. Mervyn Dymally, D-Calif.: [W]hen Dymally submitted his dissent, he received a terse phone call in early January 1993 from the task forces Democratic chairman Lee Hamilton, who vowed to come down hard on Dymally if the dissent were not withdrawn. The next day, Hamilton, who was becoming chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, fired the entire staff of the Africa subcommittee, which Dymally had chaired before his retirement from Congress which had just taken effect. Hoping to save the jobs of his former staffers, Dymally agreed to withdraw the dissent but still refused to put his name on the task forces conclusions. To this day, Hamilton enjoys an elevated reputation for his Beltway bipartisanship, of which this is a classic example: He beat up on other Democrats for the sake of a unified coverup. Parry went on to publish a book based on his research, Trick or Treason, in 1993. But two years later he discovered much more information. In 1995, he began publishing an eight-part series, the October Surprise X-Files, based on his investigation of the neglected work product of Hamiltons task force. The first story in that series, Russias Report, revealed that the task force had received a last-minute response from Russia (in its post-Soviet, pre-Putin glasnost phase), which provided strong confirmation: To the shock of the task force, the six-page Russian report stated, as fact, that [CIA director William] Casey, George Bush and other Republicans had met secretly with Iranian officials in Europe during the 1980 presidential campaign. The Russians depicted the hostage negotiations that year as a two-way competition between the Carter White House and the Reagan campaign to outbid one another for Irans cooperation on the hostages. The Russians asserted that the Reagan team had disrupted Carters hostage negotiations after all, the exact opposite of the task force conclusion. What these examples show is both the existence of much wider criminality andmuch more intense bipartisan denial. Ignoring either of these two aspects surrounding Iran-Contraonly further misleads us in any effort to make sense of the unfolding Trump-Russia scandal. The fifth and final way in which Iran-Contra is a better reference frame is a reflection on all the above, and how hostile Washington had become to exposing the truth and defending democratic norms. Watergate occurred at the end of an era in which a different set of norms and institutional constraints still held sway. Its delusional to pretend that those norms and constraints still hold. The bungled non-resolution of the Iran-Contrascandal, not to mention the two related scandals discussed above, shows just how badly those norms and constraints had been eroded in Watergates aftermath. Things have only gotten worse since then. Part of the explanation simply goes back to who controls Congress. During Watergate, it was all Democrats, across the board. During Iran-Contra, Democrats had just won back the Senate after Republicans had controlled it for six years, and were particularly eager to prove how fair and bipartisan they could be. Republicans took every advantage they could as a result. Now Congress is entirely in Republican hands, and you can see the results for yourself every day. But its not just the numbers. Its also the kinds of people involved, and the nature of the power blocs behind them. From a big-picture perspective, as I wrote in 2013, scandal narratives function differently for conservatives and liberals based on essential differences across the centuries in how they define things. This is largely based on the distinction between logos,which is concerned with how the world works, and mythos,which is concerned with making meaningful sense of the world. Liberals generally understand scandal in terms of logos:a breaking of the rules, once hidden, brought into the light. It is very much about the facts of the case, an empirical investigative process. Conservatives generally understand scandal in terms of mythos, as unmasking a violation of the sacred order of things, that sacred order being that conservatives and those they favor are on top, and everyone else is beneath them. In this view, the very existence of liberalism is scandalous, because liberalism posits a fundamental equality of people, rather than an immutable hierarchy. For conservatives, scandal is a spectacle or a morality play, whose facts are largely determined by how well they resonate with pre-established meanings. So the very idea of investigating conservative scandals is itself a scandal in conservative eyes. This, above all, is the change in overarching attitude that distorts everything we are living through, and makes the Watergate model so woefully outdated when it comes to understanding what were up against now.

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June 4, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

If Trump Wants a Fight in the Middle East, Iran Will Give Him One – Foreign Policy (blog)

Foreign Policy (blog) If Trump Wants a Fight in the Middle East, Iran Will Give Him One Foreign Policy (blog) As President Donald Trump's recent Middle East tour demonstrated, the one thing uniting the United States, Israel, and much of the Arab world is opposition to Iran's regional activities. Whereas the Obama administration seemed to acknowledge that … Target Iran The News International all 3 news articles »

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June 2, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed


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