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Iran’s moves in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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A recent article published on the Russian Pravda, which is certainly not just the result of grey propaganda, namely that kind of “grey” communication operations mixing truth and falsehood, may be useful to clarify what has really happened in Syria since 2011, the fatal and terrible year of the so-called “Arab springs”.

And even year of destabilization – against Iran and the Russian Federation – of the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, it is worth clarifying that said “springs” had evidently been prepared on the basis of Gene Sharp’s techniques and his “non-violent revolution”, with the addition of “rebels” parachuted by others.

This was certainly seen with the young people of Tahrir Square in Egypt, as well as with the Head of Google in Cairo, who enabled the protest to overcome the Internet blocks organized by Mukarak’s regime, while even at that time the Muslim Brotherhood militia protected the crowd from the Rais police attacks.

Moreover, at that time Gene Sharp’s books were explicitly recommended on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website in Egypt.

Summarized in very simple terms, Sharp’s theories and the theories of his Einstein Institute envisaged a series of mass actions which raised the political temperature and progressively isolated “the Tyrant”.

The idea that there only existed a “tyrant” to be toppled speaks volumes about the naïvety of these models, but the US theorists never relinquish their myths of the “noble savage”, namely the people, who is supposed to be manipulated by a single “wicked person”.

Firstly, Sharp thought there was the “conversion” of the peripheral members of the regime, then the destruction – again with the techniques he recommended – of the whole power system of the usual “Tyrant”, especially with the peaceful destabilization of the infrastructural and organizational links which kept his power alive, mainly through communication and information, or rather “misinformation”.

In the case of Syria, as Sharp’s recipes were not enough, as was also the case with Libya, there was – as also in the first phase of the French-British actions in front of the Benghazi coast – the violent action of “rebels “, based on the formula: “military infiltration + psychological warfare.”

In fact, the protests of March 2011 soon spread to several Syrian cities, precisely due to the contagion of the “Arab springs” – and it was by no mere coincidence that the revolt started from Deraa, a city very close to the Jordanian border, where US, British and Saudi instructors already operated.

We all remember that the protests began with the demolition of the Hafez al-Assad statue, as the end of the Iraqi regime had started with the demolition – again by US psyops connected with some local “rebels” – of the Saddam Hussein statue.

Obviously the very harsh repression by the Syrian Baathist regime started while the grey operations created – as it would also be the case for the uprising in Libya – local personages, previously unknown, operating under the label of “human rights defenders”, a concept completely unknown to the Arab world, regardless of its being secular or religious.

The news about the victims of repression (it happened also in Italy during the so called “Years of Lead”, the years of socio-political turmoil marked by a wave of terrorism) were emphasized, while there was a mobilization of the Al Jazeera networks, owned by the family of the Qatar’s Emir, traditionally linked to the funding for Al Qaeda, and Al Arabija, the satellite network located in the Emirates but owned by Saudi Arabia.

As is always the case now, many NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – both accused by US sources of raising funds coming from Saudi Arabia – added to this clearly Sharp-styled “media bubble”.

As happened also in Libya, within the Syrian insurgency, there were already groups engaging in firefights artfully, as the US Field Manual 3-05.30 and the State Department’ manuals, with the Joint Publication 3-132, taught.

Moreover, King Abdullah of Jordan officially stated that the British operators of the Special Air Service (SAS) had got organized, on the Jordanian territory, to operate in Southern Syria with a mechanized battalion composed of unidentified “rebels”.

Again according to Pravda, at that juncture there was the need to “break up the militia group” to employ and then disperse Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

The Syrian Forces, however, were not at all suitable for the jihad asymmetrical war. Conversely they had been conceived for a “final” confrontation with Israel and hence they were easily put in trouble by the “rebels”, trained by the “Brown Berets” (the Turkish Special Forces), the Saudis, the British SAS and, finally, by the Americans of the Delta Force – exactly the force that a future Head of the Italian intelligence SISDE had encircled by our Carabinieri forces in the Sigonella base.

After this useful digression, let us revert to the Iranian operations, and especially the Pasdaran operations in Syria.

The Iranian envoys in Syria included not only the Pasdaran elite brigades, but also the Afghan “volunteers” and other Shiite groups not officially recorded and filed as combatant structures, in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

In this respect, it is worth recalling that the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif has always denied, but only to the irrelevant EU authorities, any kind of Iranian boots on the ground operations on the Syrian soil.

The Iranian “Revolutionary Guards” brigades operating in Syria, however, are the Saberin units and the best-known Al Quds Force, both belonging to the Pasdaran, the “Revolutionary Guards”.

The Saberin units are basically the Iranian equivalent of the aforementioned British SAS.

But many Saberin leaders have already been killed.

Think of Farhad Hassounizadeh, killed in Southern Syria in 2015, or Abbas Abdollahi, killed in the Deraa Province in February 2015, or the over 300 Iranian soldiers who were killed – “several” soldiers, as the Iranian government said – in addition to the 13 “military advisers” to the Pasdaran who were killed, much more recently, in Khan Tuman, near Aleppo, by an alliance of jihadist groups linked to Jaish Al Nusra, the “front” which is the owner of Al-Qaeda in Syria, and Jaish Al Fatah, another Sunni jihadist organization acting as an “umbrella” organization for almost all the jihadist “rebels” operating around Aleppo.

A total of over 700 Iranian soldiers out of over 2,000 were killed in Syria, not to mention the Saberin units that formed the Iranian expeditionary force in the Syrian State.

Not to mention the old leader of the Hezbollah, Badreddine, killed earlier this May, an “assassination” for which the Iranians directly blamed the Israelis.

Furthermore, as many as 13 Shiite “militia groups” operate in Syria which, including the Pasdaran, total over 3,500 soldiers.

Therefore, over the last three years, 693 Iranians died in Syria, including the 13 ones killed in Aleppo recently.

Now, in all likelihood, after the Al Quds Brigade, it will be the turn of the Saberin, an IRGC brigade capable of carrying out OPFOR actions (OPposing FORce), as well as “hybrid” and asymmetric operations against the jihadists like those which led to the victory of the Russians in Crimea and in the part of Ukraine already de facto conquered by them.

With reference to the clash in Khan Touman, the battle of May 6 waged a few kilometers southwest of Aleppo on Road 5, the main highway to Damascus, this operation is likely to soon change the war in Syria.

Hence more Iranian soldiers in the region and maybe closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, but a probable victory for the jihadists which could cost Assad’ Syrian Arab Army exactly Aleppo, the “center of gravity” of the whole clash in the North.

And it is also the “gateway to Turkey”.

The available data points to an ambush organized against the Iranians (both Pasdaran and Hezbollah) by Jaysh Al Fatah, a group of Sunni “rebels” linked to the Al Nusra Front, which will probably conquer many of the ISIS positions, while the “Caliphate” is turning into an organization mainly operating outside the traditional borders of this war, namely Yemen, Sinai and, in the future, Jordan.

Due to the usual intelligence “gaps” on the ground, the leaders of the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah did not know that the Sunni “rebels” had acquired a supply of MILAN, the light anti-tank missiles manufactured in Europe, with a 2 kilometer range and a penetration rate of the armor of self-propelled units between 350 and 900 mm.

The MILAN missiles had been supplied by Turkey, but paid by Saudi Arabia.

Certainly it is a painful mystery how it is still possible to accept Turkey within NATO without President Erdogan being made accountable before the NATO Secretary-General for the Turkish operations in the Syrian war.

Clearly Turkey wages and fights a war against the Kurds, and sometimes not even by proxy, but the operations and the much-trumpeted “peace in Syria” are also in Turkey’s hands, faced with NATO’s empty gestures, as well as its all talk and no action.

Iran later admitted that 17 of their soldiers had been killed in the Khan Touman battle, and additional 22 soldiers had been injured, including 13 victims belonging to the 25th “Karbala” Division, usually stationed in Iran.

This was a clear sign of Iran’s overstretching.

Two brigade-Generals of the Iranian forces died.

Currently at least ten soldiers of the “Karbala” Division are prisoners of the Sunni jihadists.

Five of the seven soldiers were killed immediately, others – even though we do not know how many – were taken away from the clash region towards an unknown destination.

The Hezbollah also claimed that none of their soldiers was killed or emprisoned, but other sources revealed that at least 15 soldiers of the Lebanese “Party of God” were killed by the so-called “rebels”.

Other Iranian sources reveal that now the tension between the Iranian hierarchies for the material cost and human toll of their participation in the Syrian war is skyrocketing, with many leaders, even within the Pasdaran, who would like to limit the Iranian actions and involvement in Syria.

Moreover, it is not yet clear whether Rezaei, a historical leader of the Iranian IGRC, will replace or not General Qassam Soleimani, killed a few days ago, as Supreme Commander of Iran’s operations in Syria.

The fact is that the jihadist “rebels” receive significant amounts of advanced weapons from their regional Sunni allies, while the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah are forces better suited to guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency, rather than being prepared for a showdown and clash at high technological, materials and military levels.

Even the Head of the Hezbollah in Syria, Mustafa Badar ad-Din, was killed by a surface-to-surface missile near the Damascus International Airport, which proves again the penetration of the various rebel “fronts” in the military and political Syrian fabric.

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, however, firmly believes that Mustafa Bader al-Din was assassinated by the US Special Forces, and rather oddly, by the Russian ones.

The Party of God base near the Damascus Airport was top secret – hence, within the balance of factors between the various forces on the field, Russia is probably trying to favor only the Iranians at the Hezbollah expense.

Maybe an unwanted ally, but necessary for the quality and quantity of the Iranian engagement in Syria.

Moreover, no military tank, group of people or other entity can enter the airport in the Syrian capital without an explicit and careful recognition or permission by the Russian Special Forces, which initially did not report the fact to Assad’ Syrian Arab Army or to the Iranians, let alone the “Party of God”, which was informed by third parties.

It must also be added that, days earlier, the United States had deployed their Special Forces, with attack helicopters, in the Ramelan base, in Northern Syria, near the Kurdish city of Hasakah.

It is a choice that, probably in agreement with Russia, enables the US Central Command for Operations in the Middle East (CENTCOM) to strike anywhere in Syria.

Hence, is Moscow thinking of a backroom deal with the United States so as to soon finish the “work” in Syria, in exchange for the US guarantee that Alawistan, with their bases of Tartus and Latakia, will remain untouched?

Moreover, the leader of the Hezbollah in Syria attended the meetings with Bashar el Assad regularly, although – precisely for his final assignment in Syria, but as early as 2013 – he had been designated as “international terrorist” by the United States and the international organizations related to them.

Or, in his future plan of irrenounceable “Greater Syria” in the Lebanon, Bashar does not want to have particularly powerful Hezbollah, to whom to pay a price for their participation in the Syria’s “liberation” from the Sunni jihad?

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, Hassan Nasrallah – who probably made the mistake of naïvety – viewed the base in the Damascus airport as absolutely top secret, but forgetting that at least three intelligence services cooperated with the Hezbollah and that, after some aerial reconnaissance, the United States – experts of Electronic Intelligence and other similar technologies – could easily identify the Hezbollah command.

Obviously the supreme leader of the “Party of God” knows all too well that hitting the Lebanese leader means also striking at the heart of Bashar el Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

Moreover the commander killed, Bader Ad-Din, had already planned to evacuate the Hezbollah militiamen from the various war fronts still open inside Syria, so as to concentrate them only on the Syrian-Lebanese front.

A threat which has obviously not been taken lightly by Assad, the ophthalmologist who was trained in London and is proving to be even more shrewder than his father Hafez.

Bader’s action, however, could not please Assad and it might have favored his assassination, regardless of who materially perpetrated it.

Furthermore there are unchecked reports whereby Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite leader, met secretly, shortly before the assassination of Ad-Din – and it is worth recalling that Muqtada controls, with the Iranian support, much of the “green Zone” in Baghdad and many of the militiamen who have recently become members of the Iraqi Parliament – the Iranians and the Shiite leaders in Beirut (especially Nasrallah himself) to send Hezbollah forces directly to Iraq and, hence, inevitably dismantle and strip the real Syrian front of its defenses.

At the funeral of the “Party of God” General, in Beirut, the signals to Iran (and to Russia) were clear in the sense that they could not try to get away with it, as usual, by accusing the United States.

Hence, on the pro-Alawi front, some cracks and difficulties of understanding are starting to appear, which make us realize that now everyone is waging and fighting “their” war in Syria.

Bashar still wants to reunite the country and Iran thinks it cannot bear some costs, even in relation to the expected advantages and benefits. Russia wants to take quick action, because it has other open fronts with the West and does not want to manage too many of them at the same time. Iran wants its Shiite universe and is not interested in Syria only; the United States want to fight together some “jihad”, support their Saudi allies in the region against Iran and contain Russia.

Moreover, after the funeral-rites, the “Party of God” maintained that (unidentified) Syrian “rebels” had killed Ad-Din, with a salvo of artillery.

A patently false motivation which, however, shows that, for the Hezbollah, there is no strategic reason to still remain in Syria.

Hence a war which will probably be destined to create a Sunni Syrian area, protected by Saudi Arabia, with a para-Shiite “buffer region” constituted by Bashar El Assad; a decidedly pro-Russian Alawistan in the Mediterranean; an Iran which, thanks to a reduced operational burden of its actions in Syria, builds the great Shiite empire along its borders; and finally the United States which, as usual, submit to the wishes (and money) of the Saudis, their only true ally in the region, precisely when they are obviously walking out of the Greater Middle East.

Europe, as usual, will stand by idly without even understanding what is happening.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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