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The current geopolitical shifts in the Middle East

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Syria’s three-party strategic system, with the minor addition of the United States and its now remote allies on the field, is undergoing a radical transformation.

This is also due to the clear signs that the United States is sending to everyone that concern, in particular, their quick leaving Syria.

President Trump is not entirely wrongly when he says that Syria “has always been an old friend” of Russia and hence the Syrian issue is in Russia’s traditional area of interest.

This is true but, if we all thought this way, in the mid-nineteenth century China would have been reduced to its  coastal regions only.

In geopolitics we do not talk with the logic of a golf club.

However, if the United States does no longer care about Syria, said country and its equilibria will still deal with the United States.

In fact, the United States will soon be bottled up in its  CENTCOM of Tampa, which could no longer operate directly and effectively in Northern Africa (with the jihad going on in Central Africa and in Mediterranean Africa),nor in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the play has gone too far with the agreement between the US contingents and the Taliban.

Exactly the Taliban, the Islamic “students” that the Pakistani allies, apparently very loyal to the United States, trained with their excellent intelligence services and sent to fight against the United States.

At the time, however, the United States was a close ally  of India and hence prevented Pakistan from having the  strategic depth it absolutely needed to oppose the first Indian nuclear salvo and respond to the second one.

And not even the United States could now use the Al Udeid Command located in Qatar, the CAOC that the United States itself  has put in difficulty, by following Saudi Arabia against the “terrorist” Qatar and hence – with a great leap in logic –  “Iran’s friend “. What about Saudi Arabia?

Hence the Americans have also been bottled up in their   beautiful and very recent Al Udeid base, controlled by all the Arab forces on the field as if they were hyperactive children.

Therefore, by now, the game in Syria involves only three countries, namely Iran, Israel and Russia.

While the reborn “Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate” is reconquering some areas around Deir Ezzor and is directly threatening  the Kurdish areas and the major Syrian cities of the region.

Another crazy variable, which could bring the United States back into play and prolong the time needed for the stabilization of the Syrian territory, which is exactly what the “Caliphate” wants.

Meanwhile, however, the two Kurdish groups have allied with the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad and now know that the real player of US interests in Syria is Turkey.

Iran, Israel and the Russian Federation. This is the starry sky above Syria. Hence much closer negotiations than in the past on the control of the Syrian territory between Israel and the Russian Federation, the only real regional actors interested in controlling the whole Syrian territory.

Here Iran’s intelligence and security policy comes into play, with good technical knowledge and the ability to play its political weight well.

The weight of Iranian intelligence services is lower than others’ in Syria, but it is certainly not negligible.

Clearly Russia does not care much that Iran takes its continuous line of connection between Iran and the Lebanese Central and Southern coasts.

However, that was an idea of the past. Currently the issue is much more complex. Today the Russian Federation cannot fail to put Israeli interests at the core of its strategic Middle East choices.

Nevertheless, if Iran takes its advanced control network on the border of the Bekaa-Golan Valley – that Israeli  re-conquered in 1975 – Russia will no longer hold Syria, which will have an immense territory – covered by Iranian lines southwards – to free itself from the Russian Federation’s control and then fall into Iran’s hands.  Exactly what Iran is waiting for.

Iran must not have stable bases or buffer areas in Syria. This is also in Russia’s interest. It would be a trouble for Russia and Israel altogether, if that happened.

Nor should we forget the level of pressure that the Lebanese-Iranian axis over (and inside) the Bekaa-Golan region could exert on the Russian bases of Latakia and Tartus, in the Mediterranean, in addition to Iran’s tension on the Russian facilities of Humeinim, on an airport, and finally on the T4 base (Thiyas) in the Homs Governorate, east of Palmira.

Let us not even forget the Russian base of Sharyat, at the 50th Air Brigade in the Homs area.

The “corridor” – as the Iran’s “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” currently calls it – runs from Iraq to Syria, precisely to DeirEzzor.

It is a real and powerful strategic target for Iran that has not -but absolutely wants-an outlet to the Mediterranean, under its full control and not under the now irrelevant organization of Lebanese security.

It goes up to the Southern Lebanese coasts, obviously passing not only through the capital city, but also through Deir Qanun, Kafra and, finally, the Litani river.

However, with a parallel connection between Beirut and the Hezbollah command of the Litani area.

Hence, the Russian strategic thinking is currently simple: to prevent Iran’s further expansion to Syria, as well as to mainly avoid the persistence of the conflict in that area, and to maintain good relations with Israel.

In fact – and this is particularly interesting to us – the Russian Federation has partially deactivated its S-300 missile defenses that operate in Syria and will also do so in the future.

The S-300s are a sequence of long-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Russia.

As clearly seen in Syria, they operate very effectively against aircraft, cruise ships and ballistic missiles.

Its radars are capable of chasing over 100 targets simultaneously, since they can engage in battle 24-36 of them at the same time.

The missile range of the S-300sis between 150 and 200 kilometers, with fully automatic operation.

Hence what does Iran want?

Firstly, it wants Russia not to selectively deprive the S-300 systems in the case of aircraft, missiles and carriers arriving in the corridor or the Bekaa-Golan region from Israel.

In addition, some experts of the Iranian intelligence services have noted a strong correlation between the organization of the Israeli attack forces and the timing and positions of the new Hezbollah and Pasdaran launching points.

In fact, in mid-January, Russia announced that the training of Syrian troops for using the S-300s would be completed in March, when the S-300 batteries should become operational.

But they will probably be “operated” selectively and, in any case, always under the immediate and active control of the Russian Supreme Command.

Iran, however, hopes for a miracle, i.e. that the weapons of a quasi-ally of Israel – namely Russia that is currently in Syria – become the best defense against Israel’s attacks on the Iranian-Lebanese “corridor”.

For Iran, the optimal target would be the dual and simultaneous attack between the Bekaa-Golan region and the Litani river, coordinated by actions south of the Israeli border supported by the Palestinian Islamic jihad.

We will talk about it later.

In fact, we should not forget the many small organizations of the radical Palestinian universe, which can no longer be connected with the Sunni axis that, indeed, does no longer wants to annoy Israel.

This happens precisely against Iran. It is a broad political-military axis mainly orphan of Hamas, which is now a criminal-business organization still devoted to raise funds among the most gullible and naïve Western “democrats”.

Or even worse.

Two Islamist Norths and a South, with a new master, namely Iran, simultaneously allied against the Jewish State.

This is the strategic dream of the Shiite Republic of Iran.

Russia, however, still wants to carry out joint actions with Iran, but always outside Syria.

Moreover, since the beginning of the Russian conflict in Syria, in 2015, it has been openly recognizing the central role played by Israel.

In fact, Russia wants its cake (the common interests with Iran, especially in the oil sector) and eat it, too (the full and reliable alliance with Israel).

Russia still wants to do much business with Iran in Venezuela, where both actors operate with great care.

Russia, however, also wants to collaborate with Iran for the Arab League’s recent and future peace initiatives, which should create a new climate of stability throughout the Greater Middle East.

It would be nice to believe it.

Conversely, also based on the official documents of the meetings with Russia, Iran immediately wants to use the “corridor” for a diagonal attack against Israel and later acquire Syria as large part of a Shiite territory. It also wants to operate as an ally of Russia – only and always in oil terms – between Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates, which are areas in which the Russian Federation has been working very well in recent years. Iran, however, is working worse there.

Hence Iran could strengthen its positions in Syria, especially to force Russia to surrender there, as well as to also force it into a harsher position towards Israel.

Nevertheless, should Iran do so, it could lead to the strong tendency – in agreement between Russia and Israel – to immediately and harshly close the “corridor” and quickly get rid of the massive presence of Pasdaran and Hezbollah.

Hence, also Iran must consider its strategic equation well.

Moreover, reverting to the positions on the ground, Russia is taking additional five months to train the Syrians to use the S-300s.

With ongoing connections of the equipment both with the Humeinym base in Syria, but above all with the Russian Central Air Command in Moscow.

Putin will leave not even his field knife uncontrolled on the Syrian territory.

We have already seen the results of Russia’s very strict tactical and operational control of the Syrian forces, which would have certainly not achieved these excellent and quick results if they had not had patient and constant guardians from Moscow.

Obviously Russia does not want any relationship between its weapons on the Syrian territory and any attack against Israeli targets.

This implies that Russia wants to be absolutely sure that no Syrian and Iranian force, whether airborne or not, can use the S-300s against the Jewish State.

This approach has always been part of the Russian “Grand Strategy”, unlike the relationship between Russia and Iran that has been cold and only technical throughout the development of the Syrian wars.

Who knows what could happen if the Hezbollah bases on the Mediterranean were to prevent or harm the Russian operations between Latakia and Tartus.

Russia knows all too well it cannot trust Iran, but it will still try to make it carry out operations outside its great unitarian and Mediterranean Shiite dream-although this will certainly be very difficult.

What would happen if the Israeli aircraft, searching for Iranian targets on the Galilee-Bekaa-Golan line, bombed an S-300 or something else and created a severe dispute with Russia?

What would happen if all this could also trigger a short-term struggle between Shiite powers, in the North, in addition to local Syrian populations, also hit by the “Zionist entity”?

This, too, would be the incident preferred by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which is now trying to unleash a great all-out clash, on Syrian Southern borders, to lay all the blame on Israel. This would make Hezbollah and Pasdaran shift from the guerrilla warfare phase to the “people’s war” phase, which is more suitable for them.

Or we could also think of a mediation in which the bases of the precision-guided missiles brought from the “corridor” to Northern Lebanon and the Bekaa region are destroyed by Israel’s quick operations, which eliminate them all, while the S-300s around Damascus are still silent.

Clearly time is pressing.

Everything still depends on Russia’s ability to blackmail Iran, which – indeed -is fading ever more.

A possible solution could be a strong demonstration action by Israel on the skies of the advanced Hezbollah missile positions, not envisaging the use of S-300s, thus also allowing to reduce risks significantly.

While the “corridor” – which annoys both Russia and Israel – would be well closed in the meantime.

All this can only be done by the end of March.

Another option could be a bilateral operation between the North and the South, between Russia and Israel, but only on the “corridor”, which isolates the batteries of Hezbollah missiles and makes it clear to the “Party of God” that the missiles are no longer needed. It should also make clear that the missiles will not be repaired or “fueled” and that their communications with Iran will be very problematic.

Obviously if the United States does not fully leave Syria, there will be no argument that will make Iran go away from Bashar al-Assad’ Syria.

It is their favourite counterargument.

Like two blind people, lost in their dream of the great Shiite region or the even greater Middle East “democracy”, Iran and the United States justify each other, but without being able to do much any longer.

Furthermore, in a few choice words, Russia asked Netanyahu to use his influence on President Trump to immediately make the remaining US troops – that are there without a precise strategic idea – withdraw from Syria.

Inter alia, the demand to the Israeli Prime Minister implied the Russian request to make the American soldiers withdraw also from the Al Tanf base.

It is a large base located on the border between Syria and Iraq, in the Homs Governorate.

Clearly for the Russians who operate much in that area, the Al Tanf base –  the old headquarters of a “coalition against terrorism” organized by the United States and later left to the “Free Syrian Army”, which is now an umbrella of terrorist groups that is currently self-named  “Revolutionary Commando Army” – is a constant danger.

It is also obvious that this old base is only a remnant – however currently jihadist, albeit certainly “moderate” – of an old set of US forces in Syria.

The request for Netanyahu to put pressure on President   Trump, with a view to putting an end to these two issues, had been made to Israel about six months ago, in late September, but without results. Clearly Israel does not fully trust Russia yet. And Russia does not want other “godfathers” for Israel in the global world, since the United States has now been “branded” or blocked outside the Middle East.

Also upon Russia’s explicit direct requests, President Trump has not yet clarified the issue of the Al Tanf base, thus being vague about its possible future use, although associating the timing for its closure with that of the now certain evacuation of all US troops from Syria.

Both Israel and Jordan, however, have made an explicit request to the United States to keep the Al Tanf base open.

Why?

Simply because this position is excellent to prevent Russia (and probably also Iran) from closing a base where also Jordanian illegal forces operate, since Al Tanf is right on Jordan’s border.

Israel does not want to be sealed in that important region  by a base in Russian hands, with dangerous friends, while it does not even want to deprive its friendly country, namely Jordan, of a very useful base for possible bilateral operations.

Nevertheless, if Israel were to accept Russian pressure for the Al Tanf base – which is only an annoying mirage for it -Russia could make a nice gift to Israel.

In fact, it could prevent pro-Iran forces from slipping between the Jordanian and Israeli borders, thus recreating, elsewhere, another more artisanal and less sophisticated “corridor”.

Hence, Israel will ask Putin for some things before scrapping the Al Tanf base: firstly, to create an effective, controllable and real distance of at least 80 kilometers between the Iranian and pro-Shiite lines and Israel’s Northern borders.

How? Currently the control systems are manifold and very accurate, but the point is that we must be able to react before the start of the operation and 80 kilometers are always too few.

However, if the Russian Federation could guarantee an effective and armed line of control between its Iranian allies and the Israeli border, the negotiations could be made. Basically, it would be convenient also for Russia.

Hence, how can we convince Putin? Reminding him that being fooled by an ally is certainly not the best way to become the hegemonic country of the Greater Middle East.

Others did the same and we saw how they ended up.

Israel’ second request to Russia is to stop arms trafficking, by air, from Iran to Syria and Hezbollah.

So far Russia has never accepted this.

It must also be made clear, however, that if Russia does notget carried away by Iran in Syria, there could be a successful diarchy between Israel and the Russian Federation in the future, with all the allies they have in common in the Gulf, and no power outside the region could bother them.

For Russia the message could also be persuasive – and even credible.

Finally Israel wants the factories near the Syrian-Iranian bases on the Syrian territory, which usually produce   precision materials for Hezbollah missile launches, to be completely and permanently scrapped.

Easier said than done. Iran could re-establish them elsewhere, in Jordan or in the Lebanon, or even in Iraq.

In that case, however, they could easily be checked in due time, even for a future targeted attack.

Here, probably, an agreement could easily be reached.

Not even Russia likes this production of weapons, which it cannot fully control.

And here comes Russia’s trump card: if no global negotiations with Iran are made, there will be no military operation on the Syrian skies that will enable Israel to have peace.

This is true – but it is also true that the Israeli air operations give Russia the strong power to be credible with Iran.

There is no way out. Either we make Iran understand that its “corridor” does not work or cannot work – and hence it can only give few and not even effective missiles to the Shiite Lebanese – or nothing can be done about it.

This is a possible agreement of convenience between Israel and Russia.

Furthermore, in any case, the missile operations of the Lebanese Shiites could be used not only for a real war, but above all to terrorize, change and distort the behaviour of the Israeli population and government.

As already mentioned, the leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Committees, operating south of the Israeli border, were cheerfully hosted by Hezbollah in Beirut on January 30 last.

Hence the issue here would be to have -from the Palestinian Resistance Committees and before the elections scheduled in Israel on April 9 – a series of missile attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, a perfect point for the real attack, but also for distracting Israel in relation to a strong action from the North.

The timing gap between the two is essential for the success of the Iranian-Shiite-Palestinian operation.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Resistance Committees are small organizations in Hamas’ hands.

This means that Hamas has become Hezbollah’s direct counterpart in the South.

In this case, the issue lies in avoiding – with the usual intelligence operations – mass missile attacks, which should take place about three weeks before the elections. The right psychopolitical timing.

We could also envisage, however, a quick and surgical attack by Israel on Hamas before their operations, with a view to belittling them vis-à-vis their funders and associate the fate of Hamas with that of these new pro-Shiite groups.

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

Iran: How to Avoid a War

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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Upon closer inspection, it appears that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a relative near dearth of human rights organizations operating freely within that country.

Although Iran has apparently allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, as all as some foreign nations to inspect from time to time its weapons facilities and nuclear power apparati, there does not seem to be a corresponding level of interest generated both externally or internally in investigating the various human rights complaints and abuses within Iran.

To be sure, this is the ultimate Achilles Heel of Iran – and a massive glaring fact that Western powers such as the United States, Israel, and other nations seize on to justify bombing the current government of Iran into oblivion.

On a more sick and hypocritical level the fact that Gulf States nations such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also constantly issue clarion calls for regime change or war with Iran, when they themselves host numerous and countless violations of human rights against women, minorities, religious organizations, and “heretics,” still this only underscores the geopolitical reasons that these aggressive nations want to change or destroy the current Iranian regime.

In order to both diffuse and defray these attacks, Iran has no other real choice other than to augment and increase their internal human rights organizations to both monitor as well as organically implement change in their country, subject to the will of their governed people.

By doing so, Iran could effectively accomplish 2 goals: (1) maintain their current government with relative stability; and (2) organically grow and develop to adequately and accurately transform their government into one that faithfully represents the interests and aspirations of its people, rather than appearing to subjugate and suppress them.

To be sure, Iran would be giving up some of its internal and external sovereignty by allowing more human rights monitoring agencies to actively police and report on its internal human rights conflicts and complaints, but it would go miles towards placating its enemies, removing their arguments for regime change/outright disastrous war, and would also allow for Iran to approach modernity with the rest of the world, rather than being trapped in a society/culture which really has nothing in common with the rest of the civilized world, any more.

In a similar vein, if the Iranian regime is truly serious about joining the league of modern nations, then they should not be afraid or closed off with regards to implementing this.

A nation must be confident in itself, its government, and its own culture, but should also evolve and reflect global change as it presents itself by and for the will of its people, not repressing them as such.

Iran has apparently had a troubling history with appointing human rights organizations in the past, as is reflected by its handling and treatment of the Human Rights Activists in Iran (also known as “HRAI” and “HRA”) which is a non-political non-governmental organization composed of advocates who defend human rights in Iran, which was founded in 2006.

This HRAI organization supposedly was set up to keep the Iranian community and the world informed by monitoring human rights violations in the country and disseminating the news about such abuses.

Additionally, HRAI was allegedly enacted to strive to improve the current state of affairs in a peaceful manner and support strict adherence to human rights principles.

However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has apparently moved to both dismantle and arrest many of the organization’s leaders and representatives, beginning in 2010.

Specifically, on March 2, 2010, the government of Iran moved to break up HRAI.

During the subsequent reconstruction of the organization, the organization apparently registered as a United States non-profit organization and was invited to attend the annual NGO Conference sponsored by the United Nations.

While the Iranian government may have a reason to distrust the impetus/motivations of the United States, Israel and the Gulf States, it really has no reason to distrust the United Nations, which has historically been its only real honest broker/ally.

Adding insult to injury, the HRAI has also been invited to join the World Movement for Democracy and to participate in the human rights events sponsored by the governments of Canada, the United States and the European Union.

The Islamic Republic of Iran can not (and should not) avoid this issue any further.

Merely parroting the mantra that “Saudi Arabia engages in more (or less) human rights abuses” is no longer adequate to stave off and prevent the war drum that is heading Iran’s way.

There are simply too many financial, oil and gas, military industrial complex, geopolitical, and human rights reasons and powers fixated on either regime change or outright war with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If Iran is truly a confident nation that values it past history and desired future, it must drastically increase and augment its human rights organizations (to get on par with the United States, Europe, and Israel) and move forward to finally embrace its place in the sun as its leaders supposedly state that they want.

If not, then it deserves exactly what it is probably going to get, more war, destabilization, destruction, disorientation, and disarray, similar to what happened to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other nations with closed door human rights policies.

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The new strategic axis between the Russian Federation and Iran

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On February 11 last the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, arrived in Beirut, shortly after the establishment of a new Lebanese government that, although led by an old friend of Westerners, namely Hariri, is certainly one of the recent governments closest to Hezbollah.

Minister Javad Zarif offered the Iranian support to the new government – “support in all sectors”.

Besides the Foreign Minister, the Iranian delegation was composed of a select group of 30 Iranian businessmen, who met Lebanese and Palestinian businessmen.

It is the first sign of an Iranian “grip on the Lebanon” by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which will lead to many strategic, geopolitical and economic changes.

It is obvious that, at the end of clashes in Syria, Iran wants to secure a stable centre of power in the Mediterranean region, in close contact with Israel and towards the East Mediterranean gas area which – as often noted – will be very important in the future.

Nor should we forget that Zarif’s visit was scheduled precisely on the day of the 40thanniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Shite revolution – a political symbol which should certainly not be overlooked in a country with a large Shite population.

Same religion, same political leadership – this seems to be the meaning of this careful choice and coordination of dates.

Hence both Russia and Iranthink that the new stability in the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad is based above all in the Lebanon.

Both Russia and Iran, however, have indicated – at least indirectly in the case of Russia – Hezbollah, in particular, as their primary point of reference in the Lebanon.

For the Russian Ambassador to Beirut, currently only the United States can trigger a conflict with Iran, given its regional policy.

As to the probable future conflict between Israel and the Lebanon, Ambassador Zasypkyn believes that the situation is much more unstable and even more controllable.

In other words, Russia still relies on its power of political and military deterrence in Syria to avoid a clash between Hezbollah and Israel – a war that would put a strain on both its new hegemony in the Middle East and stability in Syria.

Just one day before Zarif’s visit to the Lebanon, the Russian envoy to Jerusalem had reassured the Israeli government that Hezbollah was a “stability force” throughout the region.

Probably Russia cannot yet do without Iran, both in Syria and in the Lebanon, and accepts – like it or not – that the primary link in the Lebanon is between the “Party of God” and the new government led by Hariri.

But how long can it last?

If Hezbollah decided to exert new pressure on Israel, Russia could quickly lose its grip on Southern Syria and miss its primary goal of becoming the rotating platform of the Greater Middle East.

Inter alia, the signals coming from the Lebanese Shiite military group are very clear: on February 7 last, Hassan Nasrallah openly called for the rearming of Lebanese forces (obviously) only by Iran and later made it clear that, in a possible US future attack to support Israel, Hezbollah would immediately fight on the Iranian side.

Nasrallah also asked to make the new Iranian “advanced” missiles available to the Lebanon, as well as sensor systems and tactical and signals intelligence.

It is therefore the request for a real strategic parity between Southern Lebanon and Israel.

This means that the Lebanese Shiites’ aim is to eliminate all kind of US interference in the region and later put pressure – not just at military level – on the Jewish State that, without the US support, would be forced to accept a downward and uncertain peace.

This is the first goal of both Iran and Hezbollah, but certainly not of the Russian Federation.

Nevertheless, in his Lebanese meetings, Javad Zarif – who implicitly accepted Hezbollah’s request for help – also made it clear that Bavar 373 – a missile launching and air defence system very similar to the Russian S-300 – was ready for the forces of the “Party of God”, but also for the Lebanese regular army.

“Bavar” means “belief”, albeit in a strictly religious sense, while the number 373 reminds of the soldiers belonging to the final ranks of the Twelfth Imam.

Iran is full of political symbols that must always be taken into account.

Bavar 373 is a well-copied surface-to-air missile system – probably from the Russian S-300 system that appeared in Iran for the first time in 2015.

The system uses the Iran-made missile called Sayyad-4 having a range of 150 kilometres. It also uses advanced radars that – as the analysts who saw Bavar 373 at work maintain – can saturate at least sixty targets at the same time.

It is therefore obvious to imagine what will immediately happen: sooner or later Israel will have the opportunity of destroying the Iranian networks in the Lebanon with a surgical operation. In all likelihood, however, Hariri’s government will refuse Iran’s offer, thus allowing Russian weapons and, above all, the S-300 missiles to arrive in the Lebanon.

It should be recalled that the S-300 missiles will be carefully monitored both from the Russian bases in Syria, which will never be abandoned by Russia, and simultaneously from the Russian missile site.

Obviously Iran does not object to the transfer of Russian weapons to the Lebanon. Quite the reverse.

Furthermore, the Shite regime will soon maintain that, since the United States still arm and train the Kurds against the so-called Caliphate, it also regularly and lawfully arms their Hezbollah units against the same enemy, and with equivalent devices and systems.

Hence Iran’s and Russia’s primary goal is the total expulsion of the United States from Syria and from the Lebanese and Israeli Mediterranean coast.

Once completed this operation, Russia will ask Israel for a new deployment of its potentials against Hezbollah and the Palestinian jihad forces, which are also in Iran’s calculations.

And possibly, in the future, in Russia’s calculations.

However, as far as we currently know, the final US withdrawal from Syria should be completed by the end of April.

But, again, what is the reason underlying this new Russian interest in the “Party of God”?

It is already clear that Russia does not want to remain alone in Syria.

The Russian Federation, however, does not even want Iran to undermine its regional hegemony, since it believes that everything Iran can ask is the stability of its “corridor” from Iraq to the Lebanon, but only under Russia’s control.

Hence taking Hezbollah away from Iran’s hands is vital for the Russian Federation, which desperately needs strategic buffers to control Syria by isolating Iran’s primary instrument, namely Hezbollah.

As already seen, also on February 11 last, in its talks with Netanyahu’s government, Russia maintained that “Hezbollah was a peace force”.

This also makes us understand that President Putin has no interest in stopping the Israeli operations against the tunnels of the Shiite military organization.

Again, for Russia, the possible conflict between Israel and Lebanon can only break out because of the United States, considering that Hezbollah supported only the lawful government of Damascus, unlike what the United States did since the beginning of hostilities.

Hence Russia believes that the United States should tone down its attacks on Iran, with a view to reducing the Shiite Republic’s pressure on Hezbollah and the current Lebanese government.

Is this hypothesis reasonable? Both yes and no.

Certainly, if the United States wants a prolonged war (this is the sense that Iran attributes to the US statements), the most likely reaction will be an Iranian attack that will set fire to the whole “corridor” and destabilize the Golan region.

Nevertheless, is it not equally probable that the US Presidency’s brags were just a strategic “trial balloon” and boasts for internal use?

As is currently probable, it is precisely Russia that wants the “Party of God” shift from a clear Iranian dominance to a stable (and hegemonic) Russian protection.

If this happened, Russia would avoid paying too high a Syrian price to Iran. It would also have a military organization at its disposal that could well secure the East Mediterranean region and keep – again on Russia’s behalf – peace and stability of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, whose Armed Forces it never liked much.

Three important considerations shall be made in this respect: the S-300 operating systems that Russia has left in Syria since last October are not yet operational.

This means that Russia has not yet decided what to do with them in Syria.

Furthermore, Iran has not yet completed the factory and has not yet started the production of “advanced” missiles on the Syrian territory.

It was, in fact, mere psyops to show to Israel and the USA a greater development stage than the real one and to underline the impending  danger of an Israeli attack.

Finally, Iran has not yet accepted the pressing Russian request to quickly move the centralized command of its forces in Syria, which operates from the Damascus International Airport area.

All Iranians are still there and they will stay there for a long time.

Therefore, in essence, Russia believes that all these post-truths are the result of an American and Israeli psywar operation, designed to clearly separate the Iranian, Russian and Lebanese interests and hence rebuild a security network in Syria and in the Lebanon.

Precisely in response to said alleged psyops, Russia is currently trying to place the whole “Party of God” movement under its wing, at a time when it knows very well that the Iranian support for Hezbollah is weak and economically unpredictable.

Hence a new Hezbollah, which would act as a watchdog in Syria and ensure the security of the coasts south of Latakia and Tartus. It would also enable Russia to have access to the wide universe of Sunni and Shite “resistance” movements opposing the Israeli expansion.

Russia wants a stable Israel, but small and less powerful than it currently is.

We have already seen important signs of this operation during the Sochi meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani held on February 14 last.

On that occasion President Putin clearly reaffirmed his support for Hezbollah, i.e. his “grip on the group”, and the possible use of this new protection for both Turkey and obviously Iran.

Probably Russia knows that Iran can no longer afford to support the very expensive “Party of God”, as well as the whole jihadist network south of Israel.

According to Russian plans, however, Iran and Turkey will never be able to use the new arrangement of the “Party of God” on their own.

In addition, Rosneft has already penetrated the complex and largely autonomous Lebanese natural gas market which, as already noted, has left the sphere of the Cairo Conference.

A twenty-year agreement between the Russian natural gas giant and the Lebanese government is already in place for a storage site in Tripoli.

As soon as the USA leaves the Middle East, Russia will immediately occupy the oil and gas sites and positions.

But it will do so on its own, without parallel agreements with Syria or Iran.

Moreover, from now on, the Lebanon explicitly wants Russia to manage the relations between the Lebanon and Syria that, as is well-known, have never been particularly peaceful.

The variable of the Lebanese real independence from Syria is the central point of Russia’s current posture and, hence, of its specific focus on Hezbollah.

The one billion US dollar agreement of military transfers from Russia to the Lebanon, which has been much discussed in Western capitals, is a first sign showing that Russia does not want Iran in the Lebanon, but can accept it among the other secondary players, above all in Syria.

The Russian-Lebanese trade has risen from 423 million in 2016 to the current 800 million, with a market dominated by Russian energy transfers to the Lebanese market.

In all likelihood, in the future Russia will support Hezbollah’s request that the Israeli deep-sea Leviathan gas field illegally acquires some of the resources of the Lebanese gas fields.

The threat is clear: if Russia fully supported the Lebanese requests, there would be the possibility of a beginning of hostilities between the “Party of God” and Israel. At the end of a short, but harsh confrontation, said hostilities would be mediated exactly by the Russian Federation.

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Middle East

Suicide attack in Iran frames visit to Pakistan by Saudi crown prince

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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This week’s suicide attack on Revolutionary Guards in Iran’s south-eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, the second in two months, could not have come at a more awkward moment for Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan.

The assault on a bus carrying the guards back from patrols on the province’s border with the troubled Pakistani region of Balochistan killed 27 people and wounded 13 others. It occurred days before Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was scheduled to visit Pakistan as part of a tour of Asian countries.

While Baluchistan is set to figure prominently in Prince Mohammed’s talks with Mr. Khan, the attack also coincided with a US-sponsored conference in Warsaw, widely seen as an effort by the Trump administration to further isolate Iran economically and diplomatically.

Inside the conference, dubbed The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that US policy was designed to force Iran to alter its regional and defense policies and not geared towards regime change in Tehran.

Yet, US President Donald J. Trump appeared to be sending mixed messages to the Iranians as well as sceptical European governments with his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, addressing a rally outside the conference organized by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group believed to enjoy Saudi backing.

Mr. Giuliani told the protesters who waved Iranian flags and giant yellow balloons emblazoned with the words, “Regime Change” that “we want to see a regime change in Iran.”

Mr. Trump appeared to fuel suspicion that Mr. Giuliani represented his true sentiment by tweeting on the eve of the Warsaw conference in a reference to the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution: “40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future.”

In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards blamed the attack on “mercenaries of intelligence agencies of world arrogance and domination,” a reference to Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.

Jaish-al-Adl (the Army of Justice), a Pakistan-based splinter group that traces its roots to Saudi-backed anti-Shiite groups with a history of attacks on Iranian and Shiite targets, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group says it is not seeking Baloch secession from Iran. Instead, it wants to “force the regime of the guardianship of jurisconsult (Iran) to respect the demands of the Muslim Baloch and Sunni society alongside the other compatriots of our country.”

Militants targeted a Revolutionary Guards headquarters in December in a rare suicide bombing in Chabahar, home to Iran’s Indian-backed port on the Arabian Sea, a mere 70 kilometres from the Chinese supported port of Gwadar, a crown jewel in the Pakistani leg of the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative.

The attacks coupled with indications that Saudi Arabia and the United States may be contemplating covert action against Iran using Pakistani Balochistan as a launching pad, and heightened Saudi economic and commercial interest in the province, frame Prince Mohammed’s upcoming talks in Islamabad.

During his visit, Prince Mohammed is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on a framework for US$10 billion in Saudi investments.

The memorandum includes a plan by Saudi national oil company Aramco to build a refinery in Gwadar as well as Saudi investment in Baluchistan’s Reko Diq copper and gold mine.

The investments would further enhance Saudi influence in Pakistan as well as the kingdom’s foothold in Balochistan.

They would come on the back of significant Saudi aid to help Pakistan evade a financial crisis that included a US$3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank to support the country’s balance of payments and another US$3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports.

Taken together, the refinery, a strategic oil reserve in Gwadar and the mine would also help Saudi Arabia in potential efforts to prevent Chabahar from emerging as a powerful Arabian Sea hub.

Saudi funds have been flowing for some time into the coffers of ultra-conservative anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim madrassahs or religious seminars in Balochistan. It remains unclear whether they originate with the Saudi government or Saudi nationals of Baloch descent and members of the two million-strong Pakistani Diaspora in the kingdom.

The funds help put in place potential building blocks for possible covert action should the kingdom and/or the United States decide to act on proposals to support irredentist activity.

The flow started at about the time that the Riyadh-based  International Institute for Iranian Studies, formerly known as the Arabian Gulf Centre for Iranian Studies, an allegedly Saudi government-backed think tank, published  a study that argued that Chabahar posed “a direct threat to the Arab Gulf states” that called for “immediate counter measures.”

If executed, covert action could jeopardize Indian hopes to use Chabahar to bypass Pakistan, significantly enhance its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian nations and create an anti-dote to Gwadar.

Pakistani analysts expect an estimated US$ 5 billion in Afghan trade to flow through Chabahar after India in December started handling the port’s operations.

Iranian concerns that the attacks represent a US and/or Saudi covert effort are grounded not only in more recent US and Saudi policies, including Mr. Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program despite confirmation of its adherence to the accord and re-imposition of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.

They are also rooted in US and Saudi backing of Iraq in the 1980s Gulf war, US overtures in the last year to Iranian Kurdish insurgents, the long-standing broad spectrum of support of former and serving US officials for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and in recent years of Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and ex-ambassador to the United States and Britain.

Said Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s Iran analyst: “The concern was never that the Trump admin would avert its eyes from Iran, but rather that is in inflicted by an unhealthy obsession with it. In hyping the threat emanating from Iran, Trump is more likely than not to mishandle it and thus further destabilize the Middle East.”

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