Trump and His Supervisors are ALL Clueless

Neither Mattis nor Trump Recognizes the Scope of This Fight

By Michael Ledeen December 24, 2018

Like all presidents beginning with Jimmy Carter, President Trump isn’t promoting the downfall of the Iranian regime. He loves sanctions, somehow believes that economic misery will eventually provoke the Iranian people to rise against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his henchmen, and periodically sends our troops to kill proxies and members of the Revolutionary Guards.

General Mattis did not, so far as I can tell, challenge this policy. He was an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic when he led Centcom, but he was opposed to Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal, and never, so far as I can tell, called for American support of the ongoing uprising of the Iranian people against the regime.

I am a Marine dad, and I am full of admiration for General/Secretary Mattis’ many fine words warning of the Iranian threat to us, as well as his outstanding leadership on the Iraqi battlefield. But I have been disappointed by his lack of action against the mullahs.

It should be obvious that an effective Syria policy must include defeating Iran — Syria, and also Lebanon, are run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and I was dismayed and surprised that Mattis’ resignation letter did not deal with Iran. I am afraid this means that Mattis agrees with Trump that we should not challenge Tehran. Like the president, Mattis seems to favor some sort of deal. So while I am impressed by the dignity and coherence of his resignation, I am not impressed with his policy views, any more than I was when he called John Kerry “valiant” in a public conversation with a CNN talking head at the Aspen Institute.

Nor do I admire Mattis’ — and Trump’s, and Pompeo’s, and most of the pundits’ and journalists’ — failure to see the world for what it is. How often have you heard warnings that the withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan will make war more likely? They don’t seem to realize that the war is on, right here and now. Nor do they see that it’s a global war, and that we face a coalition of radical Islamist and radical Leftist regimes, from China and North Korea and Cuba to Russia, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Our enemies, who fear and despise freedom, are well aware that this is a big war. Listen to the Taliban, as quoted by my fine colleagues Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn:

For years, the Taliban and al Qaeda have told their followers that victory is on the horizon. “Verily, Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar has been quoted as saying.

More recently, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri claimed that the Taliban’s resurrected Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be the “nucleus” of a new caliphate.

Such is the importance that Osama bin Laden’s successor has placed on the Afghan jihad. Similarly, the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar, predicted in 2017 that Trump’s “America First” policy meant that America would retreat from Afghanistan, thereby signaling the loss of its global leadership position.

Today, their predictions look prophetic.

Israel Struggles to Control Syria (Revelation 11:2)

FILE PHOTO: Surface-to-air missile fire lights up the sky over Damascus as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, April 14, 2018. Hassan Ammar,AP

Israel Says Missile Fired From Syria Intercepted; Reports of IDF Strikes Near Damascus

Sound of loud explosions reported in Damascus ■ Iranian and Hezbollah arms depots reportedly targeted ■ Incident comes days after Netanyahu said may expand military action after U.S. pullout from Syria

Jack Khoury

Yaniv Kubovich

Noa Shpigel

Israel struck an arms depot west Syria’s capital city of Damascus from Lebanese airspace, Syrian state media reported late Tuesday night. According to reports three soldiers were wounded in the attack which aimed at Hezbollah depots.

“The aggression originated from above the Lebanese territories and a number of hostile targets were downed,” Syrian TV added. SANA state media reported that missiles were indeed intercepted.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the targets were arms depots that belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their allies, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

The Israeli military spokesman said shortly after that an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems.

Residents in the area of northern city of Hadera, south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, reported seeing a trail in the sky, and residents of Hefer Valley Regional Council, between Netanya and Hadera, reported hearing a loud explosion.

The sound of loud explosions also echoed through Syrian capital city of Damascus, a witness told DPA.

Syrian air defense activity near Damascus, December 25, 2018. SANA

Residents in the area also said that explosions took place around the Al Mezzeh Military Airport west of the capital, reportedly targeted by Israel before, and in the areas of Kesawa and Jimraya, which are located north-west of Damascus.

The residents added that there were at least two rounds of strikes in Kesawa and Jimraya.

Lebanese residents near the border with neighbouring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky, hinting that Israeli planes were using Lebanese airspace to hit targets inside Syria.

Lebanese state-run National News Agency said Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon, and other media outlets reported that residents near the border with neighboring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky.

The incident comes two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the American military withdrawal from Syria will not affect Israel’s policy toward the war-torn country.

“The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy: We will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli army said soldiers fired toward several gunmen approaching Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. No Israeli forces were wounded and it is unclear whether the gunmen were hit.

In an abrupt policy shift, U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.

The decision was followed on Thursday by the surprise departure of U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who in a resignation letter to Trump laid bare the growing divide between the two over foreign policy.

“I would like to reassure those who are concerned. Our cooperation with the U.S. will continue in full and finds expression in many areas: Operations, intelligence and many other security spheres,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot also commented on Trump’s decision Sunday, saying it is “significant,” but should not be overblown.

“The Russian presence in Syria since the end of 2015 created a new situation,” Eisenkot told a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

“It required us to enter a dialogue to create a system to prevent friction, and it has been a factor affecting how we have used force. Through the entire period, I as chief of staff have felt that there has been an understanding regarding Israel’s security needs.”

Although Russia and Israel established a system to avoid friction between Israeli aircraft operating in Syria and Russian military planes in the area,  a Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during an Israeli airstrike in September. The Russians blamed Israel for the mishaps, a claim that Israel vigorously denied.

A former head of military intelligence said in November that Israeli strikes on Syria “have been cut almost to zero” since the Russian plane was shot down. Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, interviewed on Radio 103, said Iran was “changing tactics” and has been reducing its presence in Syria in favor of Iraq and Lebanon.

“Apart from the Russians’ anger with us, I assume they also passed stern messages to the Iranians,” he said. “Russia’s strategy is to stabilize Syria, and Iran was disrupting that by developing its precision missile facilities.”

Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October. That came after the September 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli airstrike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions.

AP, DPA and Reuters contributed to this report.

Trump Delivers Syria to Iran

Trump Delivers a Victory to Iran

The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has ruined the administration’s efforts to contain the Islamic republic.

Reuel Marc Gerecht Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitz Chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

During the presidential campaign, the outlier in Donald Trump’s foreign-policy orations was his treatment of Iran. On Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia (remember President Barack Obama’s “off-mic” tête-à-tête with President Dmitry Medvedev?), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump largely followed his predecessor. Differences existed, certainly in style and manner, but the overlap between the two men on most of the big foreign-policy questions was profound.

When it came to the clerical regime in Iran, however, the two men were polar opposites. Trump thought the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was “the worst deal ever.” He also let loose against Tehran’s Islamic radicalism, terrorism, quest for regional hegemony, and fondness for sowing mayhem in the Middle East. Trump’s serrated rhetoric stood in contrast to the comments of Obama, his secretary of state, and other senior officials, who had muted their criticisms of Tehran in their pursuit of the atomic accord and, as important, a new strategic realignment, wherein a less interventionist America might, so the theory went, find a modus vivendi with a richer, commercially engaged, and moderating Islamic Republic.

As president, Trump followed through. The nuclear deal went down, the sanctions came back, and despite moments of wobbliness concerning troop deployments in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Trump administration held fast in the Middle East. National-Security Advisers H. R. McMaster and John Bolton, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and, perhaps most of all, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a new approach to the Islamic Republic. The Trump administration wasn’t inclined to roll back the clerical regime, but it did seem ready to contest and contain Iran’s Shiite imperialism in Syria, Yemen, and even in Iraq, in which the president had never evinced much interest.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, concurrently with his intention to drastically reduce the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the likely soon-to-be-announced further drawdown of U.S. personnel in Iraq, has made mincemeat of the administration’s efforts to contain Iran. If you add up who wins locally by this decision (the clerical regime in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,  Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite radicals, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and who loses (Jordan, Israel, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs, everyone in Lebanon resisting Hezbollah, the vast majority of the Iraqi Shia, the Gulf States), it becomes clear that the interests of the United States have been routed.

Before Trump pulled the plug in Syria, the rhetorical center of the president’s Iran policy was the “New Iran Strategy” speech by Pompeo at the Heritage Foundation on May 21, 2018. The 12 demands that Pompeo issued to Tehran are not historically provocative—they were, until the coming of Obama, essentially what the United States had always sought: to deny the mullahs nuclear weapons and stop them from spreading their version of Islamic militancy. Washington hadn’t been brilliantly successful in countering Tehran and only occasionally efficient in bringing real pain to the mullahs and their praetorians, the Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers since they first drew blood in Lebanon in 1983. But Pompeo, by redrawing the lines, clearly signaled that the United States wasn’t giving up, that a campaign of “maximum pressure” was still coming. It is clear now, however, that the secretary’s speech was a bridge too far for Trump, who may never have read it.

To be fair to the president: The administration’s developing approach was probably never his. A close read of Pompeo’s Heritage speech reveals the tactical quandary that has always been at the core of the Trump presidency’s approach. The secretary put forth a lot of “don’ts” for the regime: “Iran must end support to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad … respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government … end its military support for the Houthi militia [in Yemen] … must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria … end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan … cease harboring senior al-Qaeda leaders … and end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.” But he did not clearly indicate that the United States would do anything to punish the Islamic Republic for its malign actions other than use sanctions.

It is an excellent guess that Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, and Haley were willing to apply more pressure than just sanctions, and would have given speeches to that effect if they’d been allowed to do so. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was more reticent about committing U.S. troops to an anti-Iran mission, would have likely been more forward-leaning if he had trusted Trump to stay the course in Syria and Iraq. All these officials certainly agreed that U.S. forces in Syria, which don’t cost much and have incurred few casualties, should stay. Those troops and civilians were the hinge of long-term Iranian containment—a low-cost use of American soldiers, backed up by allied European special-operations units, that had checked the advance of much larger and more costly Iranian, Russian, and Syrian-regime forces.

To their credit, Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, Haley, and Mattis removed the rhetorical legerdemain surrounding the reasons for American troops being in Syria: They were there to squash the Islamic State and prevent its rebirth, and they were there to check Russia and Iran, which controls Syrian-regime ground forces as well as the indispensable foreign Shiite militias. This American engagement was easily the best bang for the buck that Washington had gotten in the region since 2001.

Nor were Bolton, McMaster, Pompeo, Haley, and Mattis operating outside congressional authorization: At any time, Congress could have cut off funding for U.S. forces if it thought they were straying too far from their original mandate. Congress didn’t do so. Syria may be the one locale where congressional Democrats and Republicans largely agreed about the use of American military power. And if the president were ever serious about rebuilding a transatlantic alliance against the Islamic Republic, Syria was the place to do it.

But Trump just couldn’t buy in. It’s ironic that the president snapped when discussing Syria with Turkey’s President Erdoğan, who is modern Turkey’s first real Islamist ruler and certainly not a friend of the United States. The president’s tweets are a muddle: At one moment, he thinks the Islamic State is destroyed, and therefore our soldiers can come home; at another, he suggests that ending the Islamic State isn’t even America’s business because the group is aligned against the Syrian regime, Iran, and Russia. (“Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals?”) All one can conclude is that the president just wants out of Syria, regardless of the consequences. Even more than Obama, Trump is post-post-9/11.

Which leaves the administration’s Iran policy centered on sanctions. Sanctions have many things going for them as a foreign-policy tool. Against Iran, they eliminated the surreality under Obama of the United States returning money that could be used to support the clerics’ imperialism for, at best, a short-term surcease to our nuclear anxieties. Tehran now has tens of billions less in hard currency to further its ambitions than it did when Trump took office. And Trump was right: Iranian aggression abroad got much worse after the nuclear deal was concluded.

But sanctions aren’t strategy. If they encourage Americans to stop thinking about the other factors required to counter the Islamic Republic, they become a delusion, an appealing, inexpensive choice for those not quite ready to admit they no longer have the intestinal fortitude to play hardball in the Middle East. Without the complementary use of other instruments of national power, they serve the same purpose that nuclear diplomacy and the JCPOA did for Obama: They are cover for our continuing retreat.

When Trump won the presidential election, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, speculated on the potential upside of his victory: Trump might actually follow through on what he’d preached—an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Surrounded by Bolton, Pompeo, and Mattis, Trump’s promise seemed to dim. But Khamenei, who is the most accomplished dictator in modern Middle Eastern history, in part because he can see and exploit the weaknesses and strengths in both his enemies and friends, appears again to have seen his adversary correctly: Trump’s desire to be done with the Muslim Middle East (and so much else) is deep.

And unlike the Iranian cleric, who imbibed radical European literature and melded it to the revolutionary Islamist ethos of his heroes, Sayyid Qutb and Ruhollah Khomeini, Trump has no grand vision. He has the sense of a populist politician who knows America will, without leaders arguing otherwise, always go with less, not more, in foreign affairs. Trump has gutted and left powerless his senior officials, who have tried hard to give some coherence and mundane effect to his waves of emotion and disconnected data points. It’s hard to think of a time when an American president has so publicly stripped his most senior advisers of their credibility.

Although Khamenei didn’t say so, it’s a good guess that if given the choice between dealing with American sanctions or America staying in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he’d take the former. Trump’s withdrawal has severely weakened his own Iran policy, signaling boredom, fickleness, fatigue, and fear. He’s weakened American allies in the region and probably obliged the Kurds who fought with us in Syria to seek protection from Iran and Russia. The great Iranian-American tug-of-war, which has defined so much of Khamenei’s life, may well be over. It is odd and wry that many Americans, on the right and left, may believe that what is good for Khamenei could possibly be good for the United States, too.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served as a Iranian-targets officer in the CIA, and is the author of Know Thine Enemy: A Spy’s Journey into Revolutionary Iran.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he heads its Center for Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

Iran and Korean Nuclear Collusion

Iran’s NUCLEAR cooperation with North Korea EXPOSED – ‘Exact’ names and locations REVEALED

Iran and North Korea are cooperating on nuclear weapons, an NCRI document has claimed (Image: GETTY)

IRAN is cooperating with North Korea on nuclear weapons by conducting clandestine deals with the dictatorship to further its global military ambitions, an Iranian Resistance document has claimed.

By SAM STEVENSON

PUBLISHED: 06:04, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

UPDATED: 13:43, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says expert

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says a Press TV expert as it announces plan to increase its military range. The announcement is being considered as a show of defiance against the US which has branded the country as a security threat.

The extraordinary claims were made in a paper composed by the official Iranian Resistance movement. The document asserts numerous Iranian officials have travelled to North Korea to discuss nuclear weapons. It comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Iran for violation of United Nations (UN) resolutions this week.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

In exchange for obtaining military, nuclear and missile equipment, the Iranian regime sends oil to North Korea, the explosive paper claims.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

Missile and nuclear experts from North Korea have had a consistent presence in Iran since the Iran-Iraq war, the NCRI paper states.

The document, entitled ‘Iran’s Ballistic Buildup: The march towards nuclear-capable missiles’, purports to know the “exact location of the place where North Koreans stay”, contending it is: “End of Babaie Highway heading to the east, past Morvarid Hall, at Khomeini complex.”

It also mentions specific individuals whom it claims are involved.

According to compiled reports, IRGC delegates and commanders regularly visit North Korea, with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh allegedly present during the third nuclear test conducted by North Korea on February 12, 2013.

The Pakistani Horn Ready to Take Over Afghanistanvxj

Pakistan praises plan for US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan | Fox News

December 22, 2018

Pakistan’s foreign minister has welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw half the U.S.’s troops from Afghanistan.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday told reporters in the central city of Multan that the decision is good for ongoing peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the U.S.

Qureshi says Pakistan welcomes the peace discussions that took place earlier this week in Abu Dhabi and will continue to support the Afghan peace process. The minister said Pakistan has released some Taliban to help facilitate the talks.

The latest talks between the Taliban and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad focused on the withdrawal of NATO troops, the release of prisoners and halting attacks on civilians by pro-government forces.

Khalilzad has tweeted that talks held in United Arab Emirates were “productive.”

Iran Takes Over the Syrian Bridge

Iran repopulates Syria with Shia Muslims to help tighten regime’s control

New communities are settling in areas where Sunnis have fled or been forced out as Tehran seeks an arc of control stretching from its borders to Israel

Martin Chulov

First published on Fri 13 Jan 2017 08.23 EST

In the valleys between Damascus and Lebanon, where whole communities had abandoned their lives to war, a change is taking place. For the first time since the conflict broke out, people are starting to return.

But the people settling in are not the same as those who fled during the past six years.

The new arrivals have a different allegiance and faith to the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who once lived there. They are, according to those who have sent them, the vanguard of a move to repopulate the area with Shia Muslims not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq.

The population swaps are central to a plan to make demographic changes to parts of Syria, realigning the country into zones of influence that backers of Bashar al-Assad, led by Iran, can directly control and use to advance broader interests. Iran is stepping up its efforts as the heat of the conflict starts to dissipate and is pursuing a very different vision to Russia, Assad’s other main backer.

Russia, in an alliance with Turkey, is using a nominal ceasefire to push for a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition. Iran, meanwhile, has begun to move on a project that will fundamentally alter the social landscape of Syria, as well as reinforcing the Hezbollah stronghold of north-eastern Lebanon, and consolidating its influence from Tehran to Israel’s northern border.

Iran and the regime don’t want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border,” said one senior Lebanese leader. “This represents a historic shift in populations.”

Key for Iran are the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya, where Damascus residents took summer breaks before the war. Since mid-2015 their fate has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between senior Iranian officials and members of Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant anti-Assad opposition group in the area and one of the most powerful in Syria.

Talks in Istanbul have centred on a swap of residents from two Shia villages west of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya, which have both been bitterly contested over the past three years. Opposition groups, among them jihadis, had besieged both villages throughout the siege of Aleppo, attempting to tie their fate to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city.

The swap, according to its architects, was to be a litmus test for more extensive population shifts, along the southern approaches to Damascus and in the Alawite heartland of Syria’s north-west, from where Assad draws much of his support.

Labib al-Nahas, the chief of foreign relations for Ahrar al-Sham, who led negotiations in Istanbul, said Tehran was seeking to create areas it could control. “Iran was very ready to make a full swap between the north and south. They wanted a geographical continuation into Lebanon. Full sectarian segregation is at the heart of the Iranian project in Syria. They are looking for geographical zones that they can fully dominate and influence. This will have repercussions on the entire region.

“[The sieges of] Madaya and Zabadani became the key issue to prevent the opposition from retaking Fua and Kefraya, which have exclusive populations of Shia. Hezbollah consider this a security zone and a natural extension of their territory in Lebanon. They have had very direct orders from the spiritual leadership of Iran to protect them at any cost.”

Iran has been especially active around all four towns through its Hezbollah proxies. Along the ridgelines between Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and into the outskirts of Damascus, Hezbollah has been a dominant presence, laying siege to Madaya and Zabadani and reinforcing the Syrian capital. Wadi Barada to the north-west, where ongoing fighting is in breach of the Russian-brokered ceasefire, is also part of the calculations, sources within the Lebanon-based movement have confirmed.

Elsewhere in Syria, demographic swaps are also reshaping the geopolitical fabric of communities that, before the war, had coexisted for centuries. In Darayya, south-west of Damascus, more than 300 Iraqi Shia families moved into neighbourhoods abandoned by rebels last August as part of a surrender deal. Up to 700 rebel fighters were relocated to Idlib province and state media announced within days that the Iraqis had arrived.

The Sayeda Zainab mosque has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah. Photograph: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Shia shrines in Darayya and Damascus have been a raison d’etre for the presence of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia groups. The Sayeda Zainab mosque on the capital’s western approach has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah and populated by families of the militant group, who have moved in since late 2012. Tehran has also bought large numbers of homes near the Zainab mosque, and a tract of land, which it is using to create a security buffer – a microcosm of its grander project.

Abu Mazen Darkoush, a former FSA commander who fled Zabadani for Wadi Barada said Damascus’s largest Islamic shrine, the Umayyad mosque, was now also a security zone controlled by Iranian proxies. “There are many Shia who were brought into the area around the mosque. It is a Sunni area but they plan for it to be secured by Shias, then surrounded by them.”

Senior officials in neighbouring Lebanon have been monitoring what they believe has been a systematic torching of Land Registry offices in areas of Syria recaptured on behalf of the regime. A lack of records make it difficult for residents to prove home ownership. Offices are confirmed to have been burned in Zabadani, Darayya, Syria’s fourth city, Homs, and Qusayr on the Lebanese border, which was seized by Hezbollah in early 2013.

Darkoush said whole neighbourhoods had been cleansed of their original inhabitants in Homs, and that many residents had been denied permission to return to their homes, with officials citing lack of proof that they had indeed lived there.

“The first step in the plan has been achieved,” he said. “It involved expelling the inhabitants of these areas and burning up anything which connects them to their land and homes. The second step will be replacing the original inhabitants with newcomers from Iraq and Lebanon.”

In Zabadani, Amir Berhan, director of the town’s hospital, said: “The displacement from here started in 2012 but increased dramatically in 2015. Now most of our people have already been taken to Idlib. There is a clear and obvious plan to move Sunnis from between Damascus and Homs. They have burned their homes and fields. They are telling people ‘this place is not for you anymore’.

“This is leading to the fragmentation of families. The concept of family life and ties to the land is being dissolved by all this deportation and exile. It is shredding Syrian society.”

At stake in postwar Syria, with the war beginning to ebb, is more than who lives where when the fighting finally stops. A sense of identity is also up for grabs, as is the bigger question of who gets to define the national character.

“This is not just altering the demographic balance,” said Labib al-Nahas. “This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that.”

Additional reporting by Suzan Haidamous

Syria is the Iranian Dream

Members of the Syrian opposition receive training from the U.S. Army Oct. 22, at the Tanf military outpost in southern Syria. (Lolita Baldor/AP)

U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians’

By Liz Sly, Loveday Morris

December 21, 2018 at 7:09 PM

BEIRUT —One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.

The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.

Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.

“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”

A top Iranian official gloated Friday that the United States has admitted failure in its attempts to “overrun” the Middle East, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

From left, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu join hands following consultations this month on Syria at the United Nations in Geneva. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

“The Americans have come to the conclusion that they can exercise power neither in Iraq and Syria nor in the entire region,” said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of ground forces of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, at a news conference in Tehran.

The most immediate impact will be in Syria, where U.S. troops have been serving as a buffer against Iranian expansion throughout the country as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — backed by Iranian-trained and funded militias consolidates control over areas that rebelled against him in 2011.

The area in northeastern Syria where most of an estimated 2,000 U.S. troops are based is now up for grabs, with both Turkey and the Syrian government vying for control.

The Syrian Kurds, who manage the area, say they are hoping to reach a deal with Assad, which would head off a feared Turkish incursion — and bring the Iranian-allied government into areas overseen by the U.S. military.

Of more immediate concern to Israel is a much smaller toehold the U.S. military has maintained at Tanf, a tiny territory in Syria along the border of Iraq and Jordan.

The Trump administration has not said whether the withdrawal plan includes Tanf, where around 250 U.S. Special Forces are based alongside a Pentagon-trained unit of former Free Syrian Army rebels.

The rebel commander, Muhannad al-Talla, said the rebels had been told to prepare for a U.S. pullout, although they were not given a date.

The U.S. base is located at the border crossing between Iraq and Syria, along the shortest link between Tehran and the Syrian capital of Damascus, a route Iran could use to sustain the growing arsenal of missiles and rockets that its ally Hezbollah is building in Lebanon.

The unilateral decision to withdraw, without a plan for what comes next, has called into question the Israeli assumption that it can count on the United States to protect Israel against Iran, Israeli analysts said.

The sense now in Israel is that Israel is essentially alone in the task of back-walling the Iranian military presence in Syria,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group. “This decision feeds the notion that is prevalent in the region, even if it’s not entirely correct, that the U.S. is withdrawing. Many people draw delight from this, specifically in Tehran and Moscow.”

Iran is already close to restoring another land route across Iraq through Syria and into Lebanon via the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing linking the Syrian town of Bukamal and the Iraqi town of Qaim. This location is a crossroads of geopolitical conflict where the forces of the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Iranian-backed militias, Russia, the United States and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are battling for control.

With the United States withdrawing its troops from the Syrian side of the border, Israel is concerned about whether it will also pull out from Iraq, where around 5,200 U.S. troops are based and mostly provide training and advice to the Iraqi Army, said Brig. Gen. Eli Ben Meir, who formerly headed the Israeli military’s research analysis division. The United States maintains a base just across the border from Bukamal, in Qaim, which will continue to act as a deterrent to Iran’s unfettered access to the area after troops leave Syria, while the U.S. presence in Iraq more broadly exerts some restraint on Iran’s ability to exercise full control.

“The most important thing from Israel’s aspect and Israeli strategy is how the U.S. military existence in Iraq, and especially on the Iraqi-Syrian border, will reshape, if at all, because of this withdrawal,” Meir said in a conference call with journalists in Israel. “Iran wants to be more involved in what’s going on in Syria, but there is Iraq that is between.”

The decision to withdraw from Syria on the grounds that the Islamic State has been defeated, as Trump claimed, is also likely to bolster demands from Iran’s Shiite Iraqi allies for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s former foreign minister. He predicted an intensified effort in the Iraqi parliament, where Iran-backed militia groups control at least a third of its seats and could count on support from others opposed to the U.S. presence to push for a U.S. withdrawal.

“The logic is that if the U.S. has defeated ISIS in Syria and is withdrawing, ISIS is defeated in Iraq and they should also withdraw from Iraq,” he said.

Morris reported from Jerusalem. Zakaria Zakaria in Brazil contributed to this report.

Liz Sly is The Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, covering Lebanon, Syria and the wider region. She has spent more than 17 years covering the Middle East, including the first and second Iraq wars. Other postings include Washington, Africa, China, Afghanistan and Italy.

Loveday Morris is The Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. She was previously based in Baghdad and Beirut for The Post.

America Prepares for War in the Persian Gulf

US aircraft carrier enters Persian Gulf after long absence

By JON GAMBRELL –

12/21/18 2:46 PM

ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS IN THE PERSIAN GULF — — A U.S. aircraft carrier sailed into the Persian Gulf on Friday, becoming the first since America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May and breaking the longest carrier absence in the volatile region since at least the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The arrival of the USS John C. Stennis comes as Iranian officials have returned to repeatedly threatening to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels shadowed the Stennis and its strike group, at one point launching rockets away from it and flying a drone nearby.

The long absence of a carrier, however, could become a standard practice here as now-outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to shake up naval operations and American air bases spanning the region can scramble fighter jets and drones.

“We are trying to be more operationally unpredictable,” said Lt. Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for U.S.’ Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. “Now we’re switching it up because our adversaries are watching closely. We want to be operationally unpredictable to our enemies, but strategically predictable to our partners.”

The Navy invited journalists to ride on the nuclear-powered Stennis, whose homeport is Bremerton, Washington, as it transited the Strait of Hormuz. The strait at its narrowest point is 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide, in the waters between Iran and Oman.

Despite being so narrow and within the territorial waters of those two nations, the strait is viewed as an international transit route. American forces routinely travel through the area, despite sometimes tense encounters with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For Iran’s part, they compare the American presence to Tehran sending warships to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tensions have been high since President Donald Trump’s May withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal, which saw sanctions lifted for Tehran limiting its uranium enrichment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within the country’s Shiite theocracy whose major achievement was the deal, has repeatedly warned any attempt to stop Iran’s export of crude oil could see it close off the strait.

However, the 5th Fleet says it has not seen any “unsafe and unprofessional” actions by Iranian naval forces in the Persian Gulf since August 2017 before the Stennis’ transit through the strait.

Throughout its trip Friday, some 30 Iranian Revolution Guard vessels trailed the Stennis and its strike group. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the American ships. Photographers and videographers on the Iranian boats could clearly be seen also filming the Stennis while journalists on board the aircraft carrier filmed them.

“The Iranian craft drove in front of our ship and stopped . and tried to capture their own sort of picture of what was going on,” said Capt. Randy Peck, the commanding officer of the Stennis.

There was no immediate mention of the Stennis’ arrival to the Persian Gulf in Iranian state media.

The long gap between carrier deployments in the Persian Gulf represents a change in U.S. military strategy dating back to the first Gulf War in 1991 and the overflights of Iraq that followed for years after. Mattis, as the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, himself demanded two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf as he led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since then, Mattis has said he wants a more unpredictable Navy to respond to Russia and China, which he sees as the “great power competition” America now faces.

“The way you do this is we ensure that preparation for great power competition drives not simply a rotation schedule that allows me to tell you, three years from now, which aircraft carrier will be where,” Mattis told a U.S. House committee in April. “That’s a great way to run a shipping line. It’s no way to run a Navy.”

It’s unclear, however, whether Mattis’ strategy will continue. The defense secretary resigned Thursday after clashing with Trump over the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

The U.S. military also operates air bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as a major Army base in Kuwait and its Navy base in Bahrain. That offers the American military a variety of locations both in the Persian Gulf, as well as other bases in the wider Mideast, to launch strikes.

“Carriers were needed to support many of the initial strikes in Afghanistan in 2001, some attacks in Iraq in 2003, and most tactical missions in Syria in 2011,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “After access to adequate ground bases was obtained for today’s operations in Syria and Iraq, carrier-based aircraft were not as essential for these missions.”

“The U.S. does not need carriers in the Persian Gulf,” he added.

As military operations wind down in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, that likely will mean less need for airstrikes as well. However, the 5th Fleet still maintains a fleet of 21 ships from Bahrain and other Navy ships will continue to transit the strait.

“The American Navy is showing they’re committed to regional stability all across the globe but particularly in the Gulf region,” Peck said. “It’s a very economically important area for the entire world, so we’re going to continue to go wherever we can internationally, in international waters.”

Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.

Iranian Nukes Abound Despite Iran Deal

Image result for iran nuclear plantsWeapons experts: Iranian nuclear archive shows that Iran lied about uranium mine

Nuclear weapons experts, who have reviewed the Iranian nuclear archive that Israel recovered from a Tehran warehouse, concluded that Iran lied that a uranium mine was under control of its civilian atomic energy agency in a paper published jointly by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Institute for Science and International Security on Wednesday.

The paper — written by David Albright, a former weapons inspector and president of the institute; Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Frank Pabian, a former inspector for the IAEA; and Andrea Stricker, a senior policy analyst at the institute — asserts that Iran falsely told the IAEA that its uranium mine at Gchine was under civilian control, when it, in fact, remained under the auspices of its military nuclear weapons program.

“The site was originally part of the AMAD plan to produce nuclear weapons. It was military-owned and created to produce uranium for Iran’s covert nuclear fuel cycle and five initially-planned nuclear weapons,” the paper charged in its conclusion. “Gchine is but another egregious example of Iran’s deceptions to the IAEA and the international community.”

In reviewing the files recovered from Iran’s nuclear archive, the team has previously learned not only that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had progressed further than previously thought, but that Iran possessed “advanced capabilities” to develop nuclear weapons. What the experts concluded, was that “that Washington and the IAEA were constantly underestimating how close Tehran was to a bomb” prior to negotiating the deal that was finalized in 2015.

In a previous paper published by the institute, Albright, Heinonen, and Pabian argued that the new information contained in the archive “necessitates calling for more action by the IAEA and the Joint Commission, which administers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”

In an op-ed published in October in The Hill, Josh Block, the President and CEO of The Israel Project, noted that the IAEA had failed to follow through on the Israeli revelations and the implications of those failures on the agency’s overall knowledge of Iran’s nuclear weapons work.

“The gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge — of Iran’s past nuclear work, of its military sites, of items mentioned in Section T of the nuclear deal, and of the nuclear sites discovered by Israeli intelligence — raise questions about the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program,” Block argued.

The documents and files that Israel smuggled out of Tehran in January, and which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicized at the end of April, consists of some 100,000 pages and covers Iran’s nuclear weapons program during the years of 1999 to 2003.

Trump to Hand Afghanistan to the Pakistani Horn (Daniel 8:8)


Days after President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria, the White House is now considering plans to pull 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, nearly half the total number currently deployed to the country in the 17-year-long conflict.

Trump has long been skeptical of military involvement abroad, Afghanistan included. He campaigned on removing US troops from the region but faced objections from his Cabinet and advisers once in office. In 2017, Trump deployed an additional 3,000 troops, bringing the total up to about 14,000. This signaled a continuation of, rather than a break from, US policy.

Now, Trump may dramatically draw down US involvement, though many in his administration are, once again, warning it could make the situation on the ground in Afghanistan even more precarious. This time around, though, Trump seems to have overruled their objections.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly opposed the move. And this decision, combined with Trump’s rash action on Syria, apparently pushed the retired four-star general to finally break with the president and submit his resignation late Thursday.

Afghanistan is the US’s longest-running conflict, with more than 2,400 Americans killed in nearly two decades, not to mention the roughly 31,000 Afghan civilians who have died in the war. The quagmire has deepened of late, with the Taliban continuing to wage attacks on Afghan and allied troops. The group has stubbornly resisted any attempts to beat it back, and instead has managed to increase control.

The timing of this is also odd: The US is currently attempting to broker talks between the Afghan government, which the US backs, and the Taliban. The Taliban has long wanted the US to leave Afghanistan before any peace talks, and the group may consider this a victory ahead of any potential discussions.

Trump has not tweeted about his Afghanistan decision, so, at least as of right now, it’s not final. NBC News reports that Trump asked the Pentagon to come up with plans for a partial withdrawal and is still weighing his options; however, other reports suggest that Trump’s mind is all but made up.

The strategic issues surrounding involvement in Afghanistan and Syria are vastly different, and fatigue with intervention in Afghanistan has grown stronger, with many now willing to admit the US has all but lost.

But the larger issue right now doesn’t seem to be whether Trump’s decisions are the right or wrong ones, but rather how he’s going about making them.

By all accounts, members of Trump’s own administration were blindsided by his decision to leave Syria, as were allies and coalition partners also fighting ISIS.

Afghan officials told the New York Times that “they had received no indication in recent days that the Americans would pull troops.” That lack of communication and coordination with US partners is what Mattis objected to in his resignation letter, as it turns America into an unreliable — and unpredictable — partner.