Thursday, June 22, 2017

Eye on Iran: U.S. On Collision Course With Syria And Iran Once De Facto Islamic State Capital Falls

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Trump administration officials, anticipating the defeat of the Islamic State in its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, are planning for what they see as the next stage of the war, a complex fight that will bring them into direct conflict with Syrian government and Iranian forces contesting control of a vast desert stretch in the eastern part of the country. To some extent, that clash has already begun. Unprecedented recent U.S. strikes against regime and Iranian-backed militia forces have been intended as warnings to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran that they will not be allowed to confront or impede the Americans and their local proxy forces. As regime and militia forces have begun advancing eastward, senior White House officials have been pushing the Pentagon to establish outposts in the desert region. The goal would be to prevent a Syrian or Iranian military presence that would interfere with the U.S. military's ability to break the Islamic State's hold on the Euphrates River valley south of Raqqa and into Iraq - a sparsely populated area where the militants could regroup and continue to plan terrorist operations against the West.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, former US Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill, called for reimposing FATF countermeasures against Iran. Lieberman chairs the anti-deal lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran, while Kirk is an adviser to the group. "Iran remains the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism [and] has done little to enact the anti-money laundering policies requested by the FATF," their op-ed states. "Over the past year, Iran has continued to provide money, weapons, training and troops to the cause of terrorism throughout the Middle East. From the Houthis in Yemen to propping up Bashar [al-]Assad's forces in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq, there's no shortage of examples of Iranian influence over some of the most violent groups in the world." While Iran has long provided support to militant organizations on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations, the money it gives generally does not go through banks.

The United Nations secretary general appears to have softened his predecessor's criticism of Iran last year over its missile tests, a volatile issue in Iran's relationships with other powers, including Israel and the United States. The milder language is contained in a report by the secretary general, António Guterres, to the United Nations Security Council that has not yet been released. A softening of the criticism would be significant partly because the United States has called Iran's missile tests unacceptable. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iran in February and May in response to what it described as "bad behavior" with respect to the tests. Mr. Guterres's relatively mild language in a passage of the report concerning those tests could complicate any American-led effort to further penalize Iran for them at the United Nations. A copy of the report, dated June 14, was seen by The New York Times on Wednesday.


In the hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria on June 18, Western intelligence sources guessed that these were Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles. The following day, this assessment changed to Zulfiqar ballistic missiles instead. These relatively sophisticated missiles have a maximum range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), are equipped with independent navigation systems and are able to adjust trajectory in the air. Zulfiqar solid-fuel propellant rockets are produced by the Iranian military industry. From Israel's viewpoint, the missiles that Iran launched June 18 failed to hit their target, but demonstrated the missile construction and launching capacities developed by Iran. These kinds of missiles constitute one of the greatest nightmares known to Israeli security systems. Should Hezbollah acquire them, for instance, they could be used to target Israeli air force bases and other strategic targets as well.

Iran said it won't hesitate to shore up its missile capability and presses ahead with the program in the future, its government spokesman said on Tuesday. "As explicitly stipulated by president, the government backs all missile activities of the Guards (IRGC) and (other) armed forces," Mohammad Bagher Nobakht told a press conference in Tehran. "The government sees no cap to boosting defense and missile capability, and backs up missile launches and research," he added. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fired missiles at Islamic State's major strongholds in eastern Syria, killing at least 50 ISIS militants, what Nobakht acclaimed as "a symbol of national clout." The IRGC had vowed revenge for the Tehran terrorist attacks which killed 18 people and accused Saudi Arabia and the U.S. of being indirectly behind the raids. Backing the missile operation, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: "Iran's missile capability protects its citizens in lawful self-defense & advances common global fight to eradicate ISIS and extremist terror."  


A senior Iranian leader and confidant of the Islamic Republic's president is threatening to "depose" President Donald Trump if he continues his policy of confronting Iran and its terror proxy groups in the Middle East, according to recent comments that come as Iranian military leaders threaten missile strikes on U.S. forces and bases in the region. Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leading Iranian politician and ally to President Hassan Rouhani, claimed this week that the Trump administration is too "fragile" to confront Iran and that if U.S. officials do "anything unwise against Iran," the Islamic Republic will see that Trump is "deposed," according to Farsi-language comments independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon. The threats come as Iranian politicians and military leaders amp up their rhetoric against the Trump administration following a series of strikes in Syria on Iranian-backed forces bolstering embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia's new crown prince and likely next king shares U.S. President Donald Trump's hawkish view of Iran, but a more confrontational approach toward Tehran carries a risk of escalation in an unstable region, current and former U.S. officials said. Iran will almost certainly respond to a more aggressive posture by the United States and its chief Sunni Arab ally in battlefields where Riyadh and Tehran are engaged in a regional tussle for influence. Saudi King Salman made his son Mohammed bin Salman next in line to the throne on Wednesday, handing the 31-year-old sweeping powers, in a succession shake-up. Prince Mohammed, widely referred to as "MbS," has ruled out any dialogue with arch rival Iran and pledged to protect his conservative kingdom from what he called Tehran's efforts to dominate the Muslim world. In the first meeting between Trump and MbS at the White House in March, the two leaders noted the importance of "confronting Iran's destabilizing regional activities." But that could have unintended consequences, said some current and former U.S. administration officials.


House Republicans are stalling a hugely popular bill to slap Iran and Russia with economic sanctions over a procedural issue they're blaming the Senate for creating. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says "the problem is the Senate screwed up." At issue is a constitutional requirement that legislation involving revenue originate in the House. The sanctions bill was crafted by the Senate, which passed the measure overwhelmingly last week and then sent it to the House for action. McCarthy says the Senate can repair the bill or the House can write its own sanctions legislation. He didn't provide a timetable for either pathway. Democratic lawmakers and aides are mystified over the delay. They fear the House is seeking to water the bill down at the Trump administration's behest.


Iran has begun exporting gas to Iraq, an Iranian official told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Wednesday, after a several years of delays. The neighbors, both members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, initially signed a deal in 2013 for Iran to supply Iraqi power stations, but officials in the past blamed poor security in Iraq for hampering implementation. Exports had started at approximately 7 million cubic meters per day and would eventually reach up to 35 million cubic meters per day, Amir Hossein Zamaninia, the deputy oil minister for trade and international affairs, told IRNA. Iran signed two contracts to export gas, one for the Iraqi capital Baghdad and the other for southern Iraqi city of Basra, IRNA reported. Iran, which has huge gas reserves alongside its oil resources, exports small amounts of gas to Turkey but production has struggled to keep pace with rising domestic consumption.

OPEC members are considering further oil output cuts but should wait until the effect of the current reduced level of production is made clear, Iran said on Wednesday, hinting at possible further OPEC action after oil sank to a seven-month low. OPEC and allied outside producers agreed on May 25 to extend an existing supply cut into 2018, but oil has declined sharply since on rising production from the United States and Nigeria and Libya, two OPEC members exempt from cutting output.  "We are in discussions with OPEC members to prepare ourselves for a new decision," Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said after a cabinet meeting, according to the website for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).  "But making decisions in this organization is very difficult because any decision will mean production cuts for the members." The reason for the discussion is an increase in the levels of United States production which members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had not predicted, Zanganeh said.

Iran's Airtour Airlines has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for 45 Airbus A320neo aircraft, Airbus said on Thursday, in a deal unveiled at the Paris Airshow. Iran has stepped up its orders of planes after international sanctions against Iran were lifted in return for curbs on the country's nuclear activities. The Airtour Airlines deal follows a similar one with Iranian airline Zagros that was also announced at the Paris Airshow.


Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered weekend missile strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, Revolutionary Guards said, contradicting a previous report that they were authorised by the country's security council. The Guards fired six mid-range surface to surface missiles from western Iran into Syria's Deir al Zour province on Sunday night, the first attack of its kind carried out by the Islamic Republic in years. The Guards statement, published on Wednesday by Sepah News, ran counter to a statement by President Hassan Rouhani who said earlier that the strikes were authorised by the Supreme National Security Council, which includes the heads of the three branches of government as well as the head of the Guards and other ministers. Senior Guard commanders said on Monday that the missile strikes were intended to send a message to "terrorists" who carried out attacks in Tehran two weeks ago as well as their regional and international supporters, a reference to Saudi Arabia and the United States. Khamenei's personal directive for the missile strikes, as reported by the Guards, highlighted their symbolic importance.


Pakistan's foreign ministry has confirmed the country's air force shot down an unmanned Iranian drone in southwestern Baluchistan province. The Pakistani Air Force initially declined comment, after reports emerged on Tuesday that one of its jets shot down the drone. But on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, released a statement on the matter. He says the drone was downed on Monday as it flew up to 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, inside Pakistani territory, in the Panjgur sector close to the Pakistani-Iranian border. Zakaria says Pakistani authorities have shared the information with Iran about striking down the drone. Iran has expressed concern over militants operating along the Pakistani border and warned that the country was willing to strike militants inside Pakistan - remarks that drew strong protests from Islamabad.


Tensions are mounting between Iran's supreme leader and the country's president after the latter's landslide victory in last month's election.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 78, has sharpened his criticism of the reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, including humiliating him in a meeting of the country's most senior officials.  A hardliner keen to preserve his legacy, Khamenei is believed to have tacitly backed Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani's rival, in the election. The president, who increased his mandate by 5m votes when he won his second term, fired back this week by saying that the political legitimacy of a religious leader is determined by the "people's will and invitation" - comments that supporters of Khamenei, whose position as supreme leader is a lifelong appointment, have received with disdain. Clerics sympathetic to Khamenei argue that the legitimacy of the leader, or the rule of the Islamic jurist (Velayat-e-Faghih) is divine.


Iran's missile program has accelerated since the signing of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers in 2015, a new report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed. According to NCRI's findings, which were made public at a press conference held at the council's Washington office on Tuesday, the scope of Iran's missile program is much more extensive than was previously thought. The report indicates that the Revolutionary Guards, which is in charge of Iran's ballistic missile program, has been carrying out operations at 42 locations, 12 of which were previously unknown. One of the reported missile complexes is tied to SPND, the organization in charge of pursuing the building of nuclear bombs. The information disclosed by the NCRI were obtained by the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the group that first revealed Iran's illicit nuclear program. In an interview with Fox News, Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's U.S. office, said, "The findings show the first full picture of the missile program of the Iranian regime, which is very extensive and costly. It also shows a close tie between the nuclear weapons program and the missile program."

Since the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran, the Iranian government has made dozens of arrests and highlighted the fact that ISIS claimed responsibility. The country's leaders have driven the narrative that Iran is yet another victim of this global terrorist network - even going so far as to launch missiles targeting ISIS operations in Syria. But it is increasingly apparent that, while outside terrorists may have played a role, the government's focus on their involvement hides a more complex truth, with significant implications for U.S. policy. Through recent news reports we've learned that those rounded-up as part of the attacks are all members of the Kurdish and Baluch ethnic minorities. The conflict with Iran's Kurdish and Baluch minorities is not new: Tehran has been battling for close to a decade a much larger insurgency with both groups, without any evidence of direct links to ISIS. Most recently, on the eve of the Tehran attacks, a Kurdish nationalist group - with no global terrorist connections - killed two Iranian border guards near the city of Urmiya.

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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