Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Eye on Iran: Syrian Rebels Say U.S., Allies Sending More Arms To Fend Off Iran Threat

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Syrian rebels say the United States and its allies are sending them more arms to try to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iran-backed militias aiming to open an overland supply route between Iraq and Syria. The stakes are high as Iran seeks to secure its influence from Tehran to Beirut in a "Shi'ite crescent" of Iranian influence through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where Sunni Arab states have lost out in power struggles with Iran. Tensions escalated in the southeastern region of Syria, known as the Badia, this month when government forces supported by Iraqi Shi'ite militias deployed in a challenge to rebels backed by President Bashar al-Assad's enemies. This has coincided with a march toward the Syrian border by Shi'ite militias from Iraq. They reached the frontier adjoining northern Syria on Monday. A top Iraqi militia commander said a wider operation to take the area from Sunni jihadist Islamic State would start on Tuesday and this would help Syria's army.

An influx of cash that was the byproduct of the deal Iran struck with a group of world powers to curtail its nuclear program may not be changing the way Iran goes about wielding influence across the Middle East and beyond. A top U.S. military official says rather than using any additional monies to invest more heavily in conventional forces, there are indications Tehran continues to focus on cultivating special operators to help lead and direct proxy forces. "If anything, increased defense dollars in Iran are likely to go toward increasing that network, looking for ways to expand it," U.S. Special Operation Forces Vice Commander Lieutenant General Thomas Trask told an audience in Washington late Tuesday.

Just 10 days after President Donald Trump called on Muslim countries to stand united against Iran, a public feud between Qatar and some of its Gulf Arab neighbors is jolting his attempt to tip the regional balance of power against Tehran. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are incensed by Qatar's conciliatory line on Iran, their regional arch rival, and its support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy. The bickering among the Sunni states erupted after Trump attended a summit of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia where he denounced Shi'ite Iran's "destabilizing interventions" in Arab lands, where Tehran is locked in a tussle with Riyadh for influence.


The lawyer for a charity formed to promote the history and culture of Iran told a jury on Tuesday that the U.S. government was trying to destroy it by seeking to seize a skyscraper that provides most of its revenue. "This misguided case is looking to wipe us off the face of the planet," attorney John Gleeson told jurors at the start of a civil trial to determine the fate of the 36-story office building near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. "Something is deeply wrong in this case." Gleeson urged jurors to reject the arguments of Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell, who said the building's operation has violated U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Iran in 1995. The U.S. government wants to turn over proceeds from a sale of the building and other properties to holders of more than $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran, including claims brought by the estates of victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Jurors in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday settled in for a weeks-long trial to decide the fate of a Manhattan office tower built for the shah of Iran, which the U.S. government is trying to seize for the benefit of people who have won terrorism-related court judgments against Iran. The government claims the nonprofit Alavi Foundation, the majority owner of 650 Fifth Avenue, knowingly acted on behalf of the government of Iran, violating U.S. sanctions. In an opening statement on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell told jurors that Alavi knew that its co-owner, Assa Corp, was backed by Iran's state-controlled Bank Melli and was an agent of Iran's government. He urged jurors to hold Alavi "accountable" for funneling money to Iran and providing other services.

Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in eastern Syria is surrounded by some of the world's strongest military powers. Their forces are advancing on several fronts. The battlefield odds aren't even close. That's why the commanders of those armies -- in Washington, Moscow and Tehran, as well as Damascus and Ankara -- are looking beyond the coming showdown with the jihadists. When they're killed or driven out, who'll take over? It's an especially sharp dilemma for President Donald Trump. Because for the second time this century, the U.S. risks defeating one Middle Eastern enemy only to see another one, Iran, emerge as the big winner. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled Iran's bitter rival Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a sympathetic Shiite-led government. In Syria today, Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad has survived six years of civil war during which U.S. leaders repeatedly insisted that he had to go. His army, fighting alongside militias loyal to Tehran, is driving into Islamic State-held territory, setting up a race with U.S.-backed forces to liberate it. Even the areas where the Americans arrive first may eventually revert to Assad's control.


Hezbollah and Hamas Movement officials were reluctant Tuesday to confirm a media report that meetings were taking place in Lebanon between members of the Palestinian group and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to restore financial ties with Iran. Hamas officials refused to confirm or deny the report, insisting the movement had always been engaged in discussions with its allies. "Relations between Hamas and all Arab and Islamic powers didn't stop at any period in time," a source from Hamas told The Daily Star. "We have wide Islamic and Arab relations and we preserve these relations in order to support Palestine, the resistance and the continuation of coordination between the Hamas Movement and all these parties." However, the source did not outright deny that the talks, reported by Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat Tuesday, were taking place. A Hezbollah official contacted about the meeting declined to comment, but also did not outright deny the claims.


Iran-backed militias in Iraq have advanced against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) on the nation's border with Syria, where the units hope to link up with a parallel anti-ISIS offensive run by the Syrian army and its allies. Armed groups under the umbrella of the majority-Shiite Muslim Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also called Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, have strategically pushed westward, battling the remains of ISIS' self-proclaimed Sunni caliphate along the Syrian border. The militias are part of an alliance that includes the Iraqi military, Kurdish forces and a U.S.-led coalition currently battling ISIS in its final Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. As partner forces engage the remnants of ISIS' control in Mosul, the PMF have successfully cut ISIS off outside the city and on Monday retook a number of villages on the Syrian border, Reuters reported.


For Iranian viewers sitting down for this year's primetime historical drama during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there was a shock: you could see women's hair. The director's trick: popping across the border to neighbouring Armenia to film women without headscarves in front of a "green screen" and then super-imposing them into the background of Iranian scenes. "This is a technical achievement for our cinema and television that can be of service in future," director Jalil Saman said in Wednesday's Haft-e Sobh newspaper. The month of Ramadan, which started on Saturday, is always a showcase for high-profile TV serials and this year it is Saman's "Nafas" (or "Breath"), about a nurse being dragged into the revolutionary tumult of the late 1970s, that has garnered the most attention. Iranian TV can show foreign films with unscarved women -- although too much leg or cleavage gets blurred out or hidden behind a digitally inserted object such as a lamp.


Iran's election watchdog certified President Hassan Rouhani's reelection as fair on Tuesday, dismissing claims by the defeated hardline candidate who had asked for investigation into alleged widespread fraud. "The Guardian Council confirmed today in a letter the results of the 12th presidential election in Iran," Salman Samani, the spokesman of the interior ministry, was quoted as saying by the state media Rouhani easily secured reelection for a second term in the May 19 vote, winning more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.


In early April 2017, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated that Iran has initiated "mass production" of several advanced centrifuges, in particular the IR-2, IR-4, and IR-6.3. The mass production of any of these centrifuges (or their components) would greatly expand Iran's ability to sneak-out or breakout to nuclear weapons or surge the size of its centrifuge program if the deal fails or after key nuclear limitations end. Therefore, the
statement deserves careful scrutiny to determine its veracity, and if true, a determination of where all these components are being made and in what number. Furthermore, the international community needs to understand whether the IAEA is able to verify or disprove Salehi's statement under current arrangements. This activity would contradict Iran's commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and possibly rise to the level of a material breach of the JCPOA.

During his trip to the Middle East last week, President Donald Trump had one consistent theme and he never wavered from it: The region needs to unite to stop Iran. Mutual antipathy for Tehran has driven Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia to make common cause with Israel. It was also the motivation for the massive $110 billion arms deal Trump struck with the Saudis, who believe that President Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran has endangered their security. But while Trump talks tough about the Iranians, the normally bellicose Islamist regime has been restrained, at least by its standards, in response. Why? The Iranians may be unhappy with Trump's effort to orchestrate the creation of a Middle East NATO that would oppose their dream of regional hegemony, but they are actually quite pleased with other elements of his administration's Iran policy. For all of Trump's bluster, his decision not only to leave the nuclear agreement in place but to erect no obstacles to a major U.S. commercial deal with Iran may have convinced the ayatollahs that the president isn't quite as hostile as he wants to seem.

Pro-Iranian regime analysts and commentators pretend and promote that the regime is a regional power and should not be ignored. Such a claim is usually made under the guise of deceitful patriotism at a time when crisis and instability is rampant in the Middle East and this regime is the main reason behind it. The Iranian regime claims that it is a regional power and commentators some times bargain intentionally in its favor, assuming that such claims may be true. The reality on the ground is that Iranian regime, or its proxies, are present in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and are involved in killings, ethnic cleansing, destruction and instability in these countries. The fight to liberate Mosul from ISIS is a case in point. Heads of tribes of Arab Nineveh Province in Iraq demanded from the international community to kick out militants belonging to Hashad al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, from Mosul and its surroundings in order to end the dominance of the region by the Iranian regime and its proxies.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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