Resources

Review Category : Middle East

Three-Dimensional Chess, Middle East Style

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri recently shocked the international community by announcing his resignation. Hariri, a Sunni political leader, made this announcement from Saudi Arabia, where some speculate that he is being held under house arrest, while others believe he is there on his own accord because he fears for his very life. These fears are not unfounded. In 2005, his father, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was assassinated by a car bomb that is believed to have been planted by Hezbollah.

The Middle East is a mysterious region where suspicion hangs heavily in the air—under normal conditions. But the entire region, as of late, is mired in extraordinary circumstances. Since the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015, Iran has been vastly emboldened, empowered and enriched. The Iranians have been on the march throughout the region, sowing acts of aggression in Sana’a, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. They are attempting to establish a Shi’a crescent stretching from Tehran throughout the Middle East.

Lebanon has become a puppet state of Iran, and the Lebanese Armed Forces has now become dominated by Hezbollah. An important fact that many people do not know is that we still have a line item in the U.S. Defense Appropriations budget for $100 million towards Lebanon’s military.

There is no doubt that under today’s circumstances, that earmark falls, whether directly or indirectly, into the hands of Hezbollah. Unless and until Lebanon could rid itself of the presence of Hezbollah, American taxpayers’ dollars will be going into the hands of an organization that has been listed by our own State Department as a terrorist group.

Saad Harari knows how to read the tea leaves. The same week of his surprise announcement, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a missile that had been aimed to land at King Khalid National Airport near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The missile was intercepted by Saudi-owned U.S. Patriot batteries.

Nov. 4, meanwhile, marked the most aggressive Saudi shakedown in recent memory. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, 32, purged the government of 11 members of the Saudi royal family and other business elites—in what he described as a “corruption crackdown,” but which may well be a rouse to consolidate his power and quash his political rivals, many of whom are in his own family. As Reuters reported, the Riyadh Ritz Carlton has been turned into a temporary—albeit luxurious—prison.

Adding to the intrigue, a day after the crown prince announced his palace purge, a helicopter carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin mysteriously crashed, killing a potential rival to the crown prince’s power.

The aggressive and ambitious young Saudi prince is not taking Iranian aggression in the region lightly. Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon. This sends a somewhat ominous message. In fact, on Nov. 6, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Gulf affairs wrote that Lebanon “has declared war on Riyadh.”

Some feel that this might be an indicator of a new war emerging between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims—the latest chapter in a 14-century-old dispute as to who will carry the mantle of Islam. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are experts at fighting proxy wars on someone else’s soil. As a joke that is making its rounds around Beirut goes, “The Saudis are willing to fight the Iranians, down to the very last Lebanese.”

In the meantime, there are at least 100,000 missiles staring down Israel from the Jewish state’s north. On Nov. 11, the Israeli Air Force intercepted a drone that fell on the demilitarized zone just north of the Golan Heights. A day earlier, the BBC reported that Iran has established a new  military base just south of Damascus.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated unequivocally last Saturday, “We will not allow the establishment of a Shi’ite axis in Syria as an operating base.”

Watch this space. In the Middle East, one cannot play checkers or chess. The game is three-dimensional chess, where the loss of a pawn on one board affects the positioning of the knights, queens and kings on two other boards.

Originally published at JNS.org.

Photo credit: State Department

Read More →

State Dept. Undermining Kurds, Our Long Time Allies

“The United States is deeply disappointed that the Kurdistan Regional Government decided to conduct today a unilateral referendum on independence, including in areas outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in September.

The United States State Department says what the State Department says, but what they say is usually wrong.

Read More →

The Enemies of Kurdistan are the Enemies of the US

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains,” goes a traditional Kurdish saying. No friends but the mountains and Israel would be more accurate.

Israel stood alone when its political leadership embraced the Kurdish quest for self-determination. A “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Kurds. The deep affinity is mutual. Israeli flags were raised during pro-independence rallies in the Kurdistan region, the US and across Europe.

Read More →

VIDEO: “The Balfour Declaration: 100 Years Later”

“The Balfour Declaration: 100 Years Later”
October 24, 2017

Featuring Members of Congress:
Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. Ilean Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Rep. Brian Mast, Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Steve Russell, Rep. Don Bacon, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Joe Wilson, & Senator James Inhofe

Edwin Black
New York Times Best-selling Author

Read More →

The Palestinian Dane-geld

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was the terror group that introduced the world to airline hijackings. Because of the PLO and other terror groups, the average air traveler must go through long security lines and metal detectors, remove his shoes and belt, and refrain from bringing large bottles of liquid onto the plane, among other items.

Read More →

Letter: 45 National Security Experts Urge President Trump to Withdraw From Nuclear Deal with Iran

September 21, 2017

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC

Dear President Trump:

We are writing to you as national security experts, many who worked in the nuclear weapons, arms control, nonproliferation and intelligence fields, to express our strong opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and to ask that you withdraw the United States from this dangerous agreement as soon as possible.

We also call on your administration to declare to Congress next month that Iran has not been complying with this agreement and that it is not in the national security interests of the United States.

We strongly supported your statements during the 2016 presidential campaign that the JCPOA was one of the worst international agreements ever negotiated and as president that you would either withdraw from or renegotiate this deal.  Your campaign statements accurately reflected that the JCPOA is a fraud since it allows Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program while the agreement is in effect by permitting it to enrich uranium, operate and develop advanced uranium centrifuges and operate a heavy-water reactor.  Such limited restrictions as the deal actually imposes on Iran’s enrichment program will expire in eight years.  In addition, the JCPOA’s inspection provisions are wholly inadequate.

We also note that a joint July 11, 2017 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from Senators Cruz, Rubio, Cotton and Perdue outlined significant violations of the JCPOA by Iran, the most important of which is Iran’s refusal to permit IAEA inspections of military facilities.

In addition, although the JCPOA did not require Iran to halt its belligerent and destabilizing behavior, President Obama and Secretary Kerry repeatedly claimed it would lead to an improvement.  This has not happened.  To the contrary, after the JCPOA, Iran’s behavior has significantly worsened.  Tehran stepped up its ballistic missile program and missile launches.  There was a 90% increase in Iran’s 2016-2017 military budget.  Iran has increased its support to terrorist groups and sent troops into Syria.  Harassment of shipping in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea also increased, including missiles fired at U.S. and Gulf state ships by the Houthi rebels, an Iranian proxy in Yemen.

Moreover, in light of major advances in North Korea’s nuclear program, we are very concerned that North Korea and Iran are actively sharing nuclear weapons technology and that Iran is providing funding for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  CIA Director Mike Pompeo suggested this possibility during a September 11 Fox News interview.

We are unconvinced by doom-and-gloom predictions of the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA.  The sky did not fall when you withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.  Claims that Iran will step up its nuclear program or engage in more belligerent behavior must be considered against the backdrop of what Iran is allowed to do under the JCPOA and its actual conduct since this “political understanding” was announced.

Some Iran deal advocates argue that the United States should remain in the JCPOA and instead try to amend it to fix its flaws over several years.  A few contend you could decertify the agreement to Congress, but remain in the deal and then try to amend it.  Since Iran has made it clear it will not agree to changes to the JCPOA, we believe these proposals are unrealistic.  Continuing to legitimate the agreement is not conducive to its renegotiation.  The day will never come when the mullahs agree to amend the sweetheart deal they got in the JCPOA.

Ambassador John Bolton has drawn up a plan to implement a far more effective, comprehensive and multilateral approach to address the threat from Iran.  This approach includes strict new sanctions to bar permanently the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.  He also calls for new sanctions in response to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and efforts to destabilize the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Unlike the JCPOA, which was negotiated with no input from America’s allies in the Middle East, Ambassador Bolton outlines a multilateral campaign to forge a new comprehensive approach to the threat from Iran that includes the Gulf States and Israel to assure that their security interests are taken into account.

We agree with Ambassador John Bolton that strong international sanctions, a tough negotiating strategy and a decisive American president who will not engage in appeasement is the best approach to rein in Iran’s belligerent behavior and induce it to joining negotiations on a better agreement.

As national security experts who understand the urgency of addressing the growing threat from Iran, we urge you to implement the Bolton plan, withdraw from the dangerous Iran nuclear deal and not certify Iranian compliance to Congress next month.  It is time to move beyond President Obama’s appeasement of Iran and to begin work on a comprehensive new approach that fully addresses the menace that the Iranian regime increasingly poses to American and international security.

Read More →

Is Kirkuk a Melting Pot, or a Pressure Cooker?

Kirkuk, the oil rich province in dispute for nearly a century, may be the upcoming scene of one of Iraq’s longest-brewing post-ISIS conflicts. Located in northern Iraq under the de jure authority of the central government, the province is currently protected by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces. Kirkuk may provide a battleground for an upcoming struggle that may be necessary to formalize the divorce between Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. The President of the KRG, Masoud Barzani has shown no sign of parting ways with the city, promising to protect and return it to Kurdistan. Barzani vowed “any force that thinks of taking Kirkuk by force will be faced by the whole of Kurdistan. We will defend it until the last one of us.” Whether through force or dialogue, the Kurds seem determined to push back external meddling.

The city of Kirkuk itself has historically housed a Kurdish majority with a Turkoman minority from the Ottoman Empire, later facing an influx of Arabs, first accompanying the British with the discovery of oil, then with Saddam Hussein’s Arabization campaign. Over time, the lack of Kurdish influence over the city has weakened Kurdish culture, diminishing Kurdish hopes of regaining what they believe is, historically, theirs. It was not until 2014 that this all changed; with the rise of ISIS came the collapse of the Iraqi army. The region witnessed their retreat, first from Mosul and later Kirkuk, leaving a security vacuum waiting to be filled –  the Kurds seized the moment, declaring to protect the city and promising to never again lose hold of Baba Gurgur (the Kurdish name for Kirkuk, meaning Father of Eternal Fire).

There are ethnic, religious, and resource-based struggles inflicting the whole of Iraq – especially the city of Kirkuk. This can only mean one thing: the city is ripe for conflict. As the Kurds gear up for an upcoming independence referendum on September 25th, their military gains have made them vulnerable on multiple fronts. Under the protection of the Peshmerga, Kirkuk’s society and security has improved dramatically; the city has witnessed infrastructural developments including new roads, malls, and hotels, as well as remarkable social harmony where Arabs, Turkmans and Kurds are seen living side-by-side in peace. The Governor of Kirkuk, Dr. Najmadin Karim – a Kurd himself – has managed to create a sort of sanctuary city, distant from the preconceived narratives of a conflicted province riddled with historic grievances. The governor has taken it two steps further, first by raising the Kurdish national flag alongside the Iraqi flag on government buildings – signaling a strong Kurdish authority – and second by announcing that Kirkuk, a disputed territory under the Iraqi Constitution Article 140, will officially take part in the Kurdish independence referendum.

The Kurds are not historically known to have kind neighbors. The call to include Kirkuk in what is already a controversial referendum has received the unwanted attention of Iran, Turkey, Baghdad and their proxies. This is a worrying development for the Kurds – external influence has the ability to unravel the cohesion established by the Kurds inside the city.

Baghdad deems that Kurds have taken advantage of the collapse of the country since 2014, and that these attempts by Governor Dr. Karim will only benefit ISIS. A Sunni Iraqi MP Mohammed Karbouli stated that this issue, “would trigger ethnic fighting and extend the life of the Islamic State” while Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s spokesperson Saad Hadithi called the decision “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Iran, playing a major role in shaping internal Iraqi politics since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 under the Obama Administration, is also opposed to the move. Iran has threatened to unleash its Shiite proxy, the infamous Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) if necessary. The PMF is legally the responsibility of the central government of Baghdad, but is fully funded by Tehran. Shiite nationalism has threatened to further ignite conflict based on ethnic lines.

Turkey, an economic partner to the KRG and a strong influencer among the city’s Turkman minority, has warned through its Foreign Ministry that “the persistent pursuit of this dangerous movement will not serve the interests of the KRG or Iraq.” The rival Turks staunchly believe Kirkuk is historically Turkish, purging Kurdish claims and recently reaffirmed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, that “Kirkuk is Turkish. It will not be subjected to assimilationist aims and ethnic cleansing.”

In what was thought to be an upcoming victory among Iraqis and Kurds with the defeat of ISIS near, the reality seems to hint that Iraq will return to its normal pre-ISIS discords established by Saddam and left by former PM Nouri Maliki. But this “normal” has a new face, one that is fashioned by external coercions. Differing historical powers have ruled Kirkuk at one point or another throughout its history, but none are willing to lessen their hold.

Kurds face a challenging dilemma – they must calculate the value of Kirkuk. For Kurds living inside the city, the participation in the independence referendum means two things. First, it is reclaiming a long historical right, in essence correcting a false narrative forced by Arabs and Turks. Second, the push to be a part of an independent Kurdistan acts as a bridge – one that may once again unite them with their fellow countrymen.

The Kurds require support from the US if they are willing to risk the stability achieved in both Kirkuk and the KRG, a backing they do not have. Possible military action against Kirkuk is not in any parties’ interest. Since 2014, Kurds have established a safe haven protecting all minorities, and disrupting the stability would only be perceived as an attack on the city’s citizens and not the Kurdish authority. This would likely only strengthen the position of the Kurds. Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara may have to accept the reality on the ground – that Kurds have proven to be a highly effective fighting forces against ISIS. The Kurds have successfully governed Kirkuk looking beyond ethnic divisions and embraced the diversity, something both Arabs and Turks have failed to do throughout history.

If the dispute over Kirkuk takes a violent path it will inevitably continue to destabilize not only the KRG but Iraq too and will likely spillover to Turkey and Iran, giving birth to another sectarian and ethnic war no side can afford – or wants. A peaceful solution through open dialogue is certainly the right path. If confronted, do Kurds have it in them to continue onto another war, post-ISIS?  The next war may be more difficult, costly, and will no longer be held to a coalition between the PMF, Iraqi Army, and the Peshmerga. Their fighting forces will likely be far more isolated. Nonetheless, it carries with it the very real possibility of defining a future Kurdish state.

Originally published at Raddington Report.

Read More →