Jaish al Fatah is an “umbrella” organization of jihadists who fight against the Shiites, but not necessarily against Isis.
Assad’ Syrian Arab Army has completely liberated sixteen suburbs of Aleppo, while the anti-jihadist forces still attack some districts, including Karam al-Tarab and Amiriyah, so as to make Aleppo definitively safe and then move forward towards Idlib, still held by the jihadists.
Obviously Bashar al-Assad’s forces must also harshly oppose the expansion of the Turkish military forces operating in Northern Syria.
Furthermore, the Russian Aerospace Forces keep on bombing the Hama Province.
Finally, Assad’ Syrian Arab Army also fights against Isis in the Eastern region of Homs.
Hence this is the picture of the current situation there.
Nevertheless, some pro-Turkish militants, backed by the Turkish army, have attacked the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Army in the village of Azrak, near Aleppo.
Turkey and the Kurdish YPG have clashed also in Sheik Nazir, Qert Weran and Oshali.
In short, Turkey keeps on creating protection buffer zones also in favour of Isis, which can use the Turkish flank to defend itself from the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish YPG.
In essence this is the Turkish, Kurdish and jihadist military framework of Greater Syria.
It is worth recalling, however, that on December 1 last President Vladimir Putin adopted the new Russian strategic doctrine.
This changes many factors.
Let us see its main aspects: Russia does not accept NATO’s expansion eastwards; it supports the agreements for a balanced reduction of armaments and it does not accept the “global missile defence system” that the United States are supposed to perfect and finalize within 2020.
In short, it is a doctrine designed to make the global strategic balance increasingly multipolar.
Furthermore Russia does not accept any US attempt to put pressure on it and reserves its right to militarily respond to military actions deemed unfriendly.
With reference to Syria, Russia’s ultimate goal is to build a broad international coalition to be defined within the UN framework.
The explicit fight against the jihad and everybody’s acceptance of a united, independent and intact Syria should be at the basis of this coalition.
The very important aspects of the media policy will be studied separately in another article.
Hence, on the Syrian military ground, the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian and Iranian allies are recording successes in North Aleppo, while the Russian aircrafts are bombing the ISIS rear-lines and have significantly reduced the Isis operating mass and materials.
Hence if the Russian air forces continue to carry out their operations, Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army will be in a position to press victoriously on Idlib northwards and on Raqqa eastwards.
After the breakup of the jihadist front in north-east Aleppo, the defences of the moderate “insurgents”, as the Americans call them, are supposed to collapse in the short term.
However, despite the many Turkish actions, Syria’s air responses – supported by Russia – have not allowed Turkey to reach its true goal in Syria, namely the creation of a Turkish enclave between Raqqa, Manbij and al Bab.
An emplacement that EU analysts consider “irrelevant”, as we will see later on.
Soon the jihadist pocket in Western Ghouta – the old oasis near which Damascus was founded, the area from which many jihadists will leave as “refugees” towards puerile Europe – will be eliminated.
And the fundamental political and strategic factor is that now the Egyptian forces are entering the Syrian region.
The reason is simple: President al-Sisi rightly believes that every jihadist success in Syria is a vital threat to Egypt.
The United States have always supported the Muslim Brotherhood – suffice to read the very detailed book by Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, published in 2010.
Al-Sisi’s only other option was turn to Russia.
Hence the US strategy of negotiating with the Islamic fundamentalism and de facto relinquishing the US traditional friendship with the Maghreb countries and with Iraq, the country “liberated” a few years ago, was formidable in its inanity.
Hence now Egypt is entering the Syrian scene, siding with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s alliance with Iran – an intra-Islamic religious paradox which has its own perfect strategic logicality.
Stressing Islam’s religious differences too much makes us forget the extreme pragmatism – not to say cynicism – of the Arab and Islamic political elites.
Hence a few weeks ago a high-level Egyptian delegation had arrived in Syria to discuss the operations that the Egyptian forces should carry out under the Russian and Syrian command.
Some sources maintain that Egyptian aircrafts and helicopters are already deployed in the Hama base.
And it is worth recalling that Egypt has independent access to Syria by sea.
The two “Mistral” ships that France had built for Russia and that it could not sell to it, were later sold to Egypt.
Ironically, those two ships – not sold to Russia due to the current restrictions on trade with this country – will go to Syria to fight in favour of Russia and Assad, thanks to the EU stupidity and the inability of whole Europe to think strategically.
Each of the two French “command and power projection” frigates can accommodate a battalion of 900 soldiers with all their equipment.
Hence a situation would materialize in which a brigade – protected by the Russian air force – is fully autonomous and can operate freely on Syrian territory, being also equipped with Russian attack helicopters.
Therefore the Egyptian forces would be the real “game changer” in the Syrian war, because even the Hezbollah brigades and the Iranian “volunteers” need the Syrian support and logistics.
Hence Egypt can carry out its operations in Syria on its own, in close coordination with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Numerically the Iranian situation in Syria is as follows: 4,000 Iraqi units and 4,000 Shiite units sent directly from the Shiite republic, coordinated by 400 Pasdaran operational units in Iran.
Hezbollah has also sent 2,000 units of its special forces, namely “Ridwan” units, from the Lebanon.
In this particular situation, the 4,000 Egyptian units would be a significant increase of military and operational efficacy.
Obviously no one could prevent Egypt from taking part in the Syrian war, considering that forces and soldiers pass through the Suez Canal.
This is a real blackmail even for the countries which fund and support the jihad, since anyway their oil passes through the Egyptian waterway.
Hence this new complexion of anti-jihadist forces would allow a fast and powerful attack on Raqqa, which would be final and would close the game in Syria, except for some jihad “remnants” in the South.
Furthermore, President-Elect Donald Trump does no longer intend to support the “good” and “moderate” jihadists – hence the Turkish and Saudi game could soon be put to an end.
The era of President Obama – who only aimed at eliminating Assad and did not view the jihad as a real threat which, furthermore, strangely operated ever more often with “US-made” weapons – is over.
The European Union has published a new document on Syria, entitled “The First Trump Test: European Policy and the Siege of Aleppo”.
The EU analysts maintain that unfortunately President Assad is still there and so it is impossible not to accept his political presence.
Hence they think that we must swallow the bitter pill of accepting Assad still in power, as if they could send him away from there – which is not the case – and as if the jihad were an irrelevant operation.
Finally, EU analysts maintain that if Turkey remained interested in its Northern corridor, so as to counter the Kurds, it should no longer create many problems in putting in place a vague, bombastic and non-existent “transition”, which should be managed by the Europeans, who pretend to have powers and abilities they do not have and take actions for no reason or purpose.
We all know, however, that Turkey wants its corridor to trigger off a second fight against the Kurds and Assad – which is not harmless at all, as the EU strategy claims.
The winner does not need to sit at the negotiating table, which the losers need to reduce damage.
Hence it is not clear who should participate in the “transition” led – alas – by the Europeans.
Finally the EU analysts that drafted the Document on Syria believe that currently Europe should resume President Obama’s Syrian policy, namely to reach any bad deal so as to put an end to violence and help the Syrian people.
Nevertheless bad deals worsen the situation – and then, what about jihadists? Are they to be blamed for the Syrian disaster or rather the Russians and the “tyrant” Assad?
It seems that the EU still does not consider the holy war which, however, will certain not pay heed to the EU “humanitarian” requests.
Yet another proof of European inanity while, as President Putin maintains, it would be enough not to provide European aid to President Erdogan for three months and his regime would collapse.
Certainly the European Union will do nothing of this sort. Simply it will take no action at all.
Papal visit to Iraq: Breaking historic ground pockmarked by religious and political minefields
When Pope Francis sets foot in Iraq on Friday, he will be breaking historic ground while manoeuvring religious and political minefields. So will his foremost religious counterpart, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, one of the Shia Muslim world’s foremost scholars and leaders.
The three-day visit contrasts starkly with past papal trips to the Middle East that included Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, states that, unlike neighbouring Iran, are more accustomed to inter-faith interactions because of their Sunni Muslim history and colonial experience or in the case of Shia-majority Azerbaijan a modern history of secular and communist rule.
Unlike in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis is venturing in Iraq into a Shia-majority country that has been wracked by sectarian violence in which neighbouring Iran wields significant religious and political influence and that is home to religious scholars that compete with their counterparts in the Islamic republic. As a result, Iraqi Shiite clerics often walk a tightrope.
Scheduled to last 40 minutes, Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s meeting with the pope, a high point of the visit, constitutes a double-edged sword for a 90-year-old religious leader born in Iran who has a complex relationship with the Islamic republic.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani has long opposed Iran’s system of direct rule by clerics. As a result, he has eschewed executive and political authority while playing a key role in reconciling Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, promoting inter-tribal and ethnic peace, and facilitating the drafting and ratification of a post-US invasion constitution.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s influence, however, has been evident at key junctures in recent Iraqi history. Responding to an edict by the ayatollah, Iraqis flocked to the polls in 2005 despite the risk of jihadist attacks. Large numbers enlisted in 2017 to fight the Islamic State after Ayatollah Al-Sistani rallied the country. The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in 2019, four days after Ayatollah Al-Sistani expressed support for protesters demanding sweeping reforms.
To avoid controversy, Ayatollah Al-Sistani is likely to downplay the very aspects of a meeting with the pope that political and religious interlocutors of the head of the Catholic church usually bask in: the ability to leverage the encounter to enhance their legitimacy and position themselves as moderate and tolerant peacemakers.
With state-controlled media in Iran largely refraining from mentioning the visit and Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claiming the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world, Ayatollah Al-Sisi is likely to avoid projecting the encounter as a recognition by the pope that he is Shiite Islam’s chief interlocutor or that the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, rather than Iran’s Qom, is the unrivalled capital of Shiite learning.
Sources close to Ayatollah Al-Sistani, who rarely receives foreign dignitaries, have described his encounter on Saturday with the pope as a “private meeting.”
“Khamenei will not like it,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Islamic scholar who studied in Qom and is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Critics are likely to note that Ayatollah Al-Sistani was meeting the pope but had failed to receive in December Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, who is touted as a potential presidential candidate in elections scheduled for June and/or successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.
Mr. Khalaji noted that Iran has long downplayed Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s significance that is boosted by the fact that he maintains a major presence not only in Najaf but also in Qom where he has a seminary, a library, and a clerical staff.
Shiite scholars suggest that is one reason why Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani are unlikely to issue a Shiite-Christian equivalent of the Declaration of Human Fraternity that was signed in Abu Dhabi two years ago by the pontiff and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based historic cathedral of Islamic learning.
“Al-Sistani does not want to provoke Khamenei. There is no theological basis to do so. Muslims cannot be brothers of Christians. Mainstream Islamic theological schools see modern Christianity as inauthentic. They view Jesus as the divine prophet, not as the incarnation of God and his son. In short, for official Islam, today’s Christianity is nothing short of heresy,” Mr. Khalaji said, referring to schools of thought predominant in Iran. “Sunnis are a little bit more flexible,” he added.
Mr. Khalaji noted further that Shiite religious seminaries have no intellectual tradition of debate about inter-faith dialogue nor do any of the offices of religious leaders have departments concerned with interacting with other faith groups. “The whole discourse is absent in Shia Islam,” Mr. Khalaji said.
That has not stopped Ayatollah Al-Sistani from maintaining discreet contacts with the Vatican over the years.
In a bid to popularize the concept of inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a multi-religious prayer meeting in Ur, the presumed birthplace of Abraham, revered as the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
By the same token, Pope Francis, concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and particularly Iraq that has seen the diverse minority shrink from 1.2 million before the 2003 US invasion to at most 300,000 today, will want to build on the Shiite leader’s past calls for protection of the minority faith group from attacks by militants and condemnation of “heinous crimes” committed against them.
The pope hopes that a reiteration by Ayatollah Al-Sistani of his empathy for the plight of Christians would go a long way in reducing pressure on the community from Iranian-backed militias that has stopped many from returning to homes they abandoned as they fled areas conquered by the Islamic State.
The pope’s visit, little more than a month after a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 32 people and days after rockets hit an airbase housing US troops, has sparked hope among some Iraqis that it will steer the country away from further violence.
That hope was boosted by a pledge by Saraya Awliyat Al-Dam (Custodians of the Blood), the pro-Iranian group believed to have attacked the airbase, to suspend its operations during the pope’ visit “as a sign of respect for Imam Al-Sistani.”
Said Middle East scholar Hayder al-Khoei: “There will be no signing of a document, but both (Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani) are advocates of interfaith dialogue and condemn violence committed in the name of religion. The meeting will undoubtedly strengthen the voices and organizations who still believe in dialogue.”
Iraq Opens Hands to the Pope Francis’ Historic Visit
The world looks forward to Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq which is considered the first papal trip represented by the Roman Catholic Church to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, despite spreading the second wave of COVID-19 and the security situation in Iraq. This expected visit has an important impact on highlighting the challenges and disasters of humiliation, the sectarian war and displacing people, Yazidis persecution, and fleeing the Christian minorities that faced Iraq during all these past years after the US invasion occurred in 2003.
The three-day-visit is considered as the message of peace after years of war and violence, referring that the Pope’s visit is as a pilgrim to the cradle of civilization. The papal visit includes Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul- Qaraqosh, and Ur city. The trip comes after 18 months as the pandemic restricts his movement, and it is the first visit to the Middle East when he visited the U.A.E in February 2019 where he met and celebrated in front of 180,000 people at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi.
The papal visit was intended to occur twenty years ago when St. John Paul II tried to visit Mesopotamia during Saddam’s regime, but the endeavors failed to complete that proposed trip. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. The people waited for St. John Paul II who was not permitted to go. We cannot disappoint them twice”, said the Pope.
In a video message addressed by the Pope to the people of Iraq, he expressed his happiness and longing to meet the people who suffered from war, scourges, and death during all these years. “I long to meet you, to look at your faces and to visit your blessed ancient land and the cradle of civilization,” the Pope said.
It is expected that the purpose of the Pope’s visit is to preserve the rest of the Christians in Iraq. According to the estimation of the charity aid of the Church in Need, the numbers of Christians have decreased from 1.4 million to under 250,000 since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially in the cities of northern Iraq. Many Christians were killed and fled from 2014 to 2017 due to the Islamic State occupation and due to their atrocities, persecution, and violence against the Christian areas. The Pope yearns for meeting the dwindling Christian communities in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and Nineveh plains where these regions had suffered from the atrocities of ISIS in 2014 and people had been compelled to flee.
The world is waiting for the most significant historic meeting between the 90-year-old Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the 84-year-old Pope Francis in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. The expected meeting is seen as a real chance to enhance the bonds of fraternity between the Muslims and Christians and to lighten the impact of the islamophobia concept that swept Europe and America due to the terrorism actions that happened in Europe. This expected meeting that will be by Saturday signifies a historic moment when the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets Pope Francis, illustrating the fraternal bonds to make people live in peace and tranquility.
Back in February 2019, the Pontiff Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and the most prestigious leader in Sunni Islam, agreed and signed the declaration of fraternity, affirming peace among all nations. The two parties in this document adhere to fight extremism in every place in the world. If the Pontiff and the Grand Ayatollah sign a document like the declaration of fraternity, this will give Najaf’s Marjiya a very great impact, and this move will be seen as the first step to decrease the religious tensions and fill the gap of the clash of civilization. This document, if it is enacted, will have a great impact to make peace prevailing and encouraging Muslims and Christians to live in peaceful coexistence.
Ur, which is the oldest city in the world, is to be visited by the pontiff. It is considered the biblical birthplace of Ibraham, the common prophet to the Christians, Muslims, and Judaism and the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is expected that there will be prayers in Ziggurat where this place is one of UNESCO world heritage sites. This visit to this historic site will help the landmark to polarize people from Iraq and outside to visit it after years of negligence and ignorance attention to its importance and the vital role that can help Iraq to increase the public income.
The papal visit has many different messages to the people of Iraq. Firstly, the expected meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reflects the fraternal and human stances, and this meeting underlines the important role played by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the US-led-invasion in 2003. Secondly, his visit to Ur to pray there is a message of the peaceful coexistence between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, trying to point out that all these three religions emerged from one source. Thirdly, the Pope endeavors to be with the Christians who suffer from the past events of persecution, humiliation, and atrocities. His presence among them is a message of tranquility, serenity, peace, and contentment to live in Iraq with the Muslims and to abandon fighting against others. Finally, the Pope’s visit to Iraq pays the world’s attention to the religious importance of Iraq and the significant role that can be played by Iraq.
Restart Iran Policy by Stopping Tehran’s Influence Operations
Another US administration is trying to figure out its Iran policy. And, as always, the very regime at the core of the riddle is influencing the policy outcome. Through the years, the clerical rulers of Iran have honed the art of exploiting America’s democratic public sphere to mislead, deceive, confuse, and influence the public and government.
Yet Washington still does not have a proper taxonomy of policy antidotes when it comes to Tehran’s influence operations.
Arguments dictated by Iranian intelligence services echo in think tanks and many government agencies. These include the extremely misguided supposition that the murderous regime can be reformed or is a reliable negotiating partner for the West; or that there is no other alternative but to deal with the status quo.
How has Tehran been able to deceive some in the US into believing such nonsense? First, by relying on the policy of appeasement pursued by Western governments. And second, through its sophisticated influence operations facilitated by that policy.
Consider three recent instances.
First. Just last month, an Iranian “political scientist” was charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered agent of Iran and secretly receiving money from its mission in New York. “For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public … for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective polic1y analysis and expertise,” the Justice Department noted.
Afrasiabi has an extensive body of published work and television appearances. In July 2020, according to the Justice Department, he linked many of his books and hundreds of articles in an email written to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, saying: “Without [Zarif’s] support none of this would have been possible!”
Second. Across the Atlantic, one of Zarif’s official diplomats in Europe, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted and given a 20-year prison sentence by a Belgian court on February 4 for trying to bomb an opposition rally in the outskirts of Paris in June 2018.
Court documents revealed that Assadi crisscrossed Europe as Tehran’s intelligence station chief, paying and directing many agents in at least 11 European countries.
Assadi’s terrorist plot in 2018 was foiled at the last minute. The main target was Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Hundreds of Western lawmakers and former officials were also in attendance.
Third. Unable to harm its opposition through terrorism, the regime has expanded its influence operations against NCRI’s main constituent organization the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which Tehran considers its arch nemesis.
For decades, the mullahs have misled, deceived, and confused America’s Iran policy by disseminating considerable disinformation about the democratic opposition. This has in turn resulted in bungled American responses to Tehran’s threats.
In a breaking revelation this month, a former Iranian intelligence operative wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General, outlining in glaring detail how the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) recruits, pays, and controls dozens of agents across Europe to influence policy.
Forty-one-year-old Hadi Sani-Khani wrote that he was approached by intelligence agents who lured him into the Iranian embassy in Tirana, Albania (MEK’s headquarters). He said he wants to go back to Iran. On one condition, the embassy responded: Cooperate with the regime’s intelligence against the MEK. He subsequently met with the regime’s intelligence chief, Fereidoun Zandi, who coordinated a network of paid agents in Albania since 2014. The intelligence chief was later expelled by Albanian authorities along with the regime’s ambassador.
Khani was paid 500 euros per month to write and publish anti-MEK articles and also send copious amounts of similar propaganda to members of the European parliament. Dozens of websites are operated by Tehran’s intelligence, some of which are, astonishingly, undeclared sources for unsuspecting Western journalists, think tanks and government agencies when it comes to the MEK.
In many cases, reporters have met directly with the regime’s intelligence agents for their stories. In September 2018, for example, according to Khani, a reporter from German newspaper Der Spiegel traveled to Albania. Khani recalls: “We met the Der Spiegel reporter in a Café in Ramsa district in Zagozi square. Each of us then told her lies about the MEK which we had been given in preparation of the meeting. … [Later on,] she occasionally asked me questions about the MEK which I then raised with the embassy and provided her the response I received.”
Der Spiegel published the story on February 16, 2019, parts of which were copied from websites affiliated with Iran’s intelligence service. Following a lawsuit, a court in Hamburg ordered Der Spiegel to remove the defamatory segments of its article.
These same agents also met with a New York Times correspondent at the same Café, who subsequently wrote a piece against the MEK, regurgitating the very same allegations.
The mullahs’ influence operations are a serious obstacle to formulating an effective US policy toward Tehran. As long as the regime’s agents are allowed to exploit America’s public sphere, cultivate important relationships, infiltrate the media and think tanks, and influence serious policy deliberations in Washington through a flood of falsehoods, America will be at a substantial disadvantage.
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