Iran Is Winning Strategic Struggle for Influence, even as US Cripples Its Economy

By Darius Shahtahmesibi

Source

Assad Khamenei 3619a

A new report has confirmed what some analysts have been saying for some time: that Iran is winning the regional struggle for strategic influence.

The 217-page report, published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is entitled “Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East” and details Tehran’s use of proxy forces and networks throughout the region and the effects and benefits of its “minimum output” foreign policy strategy.

It is probably worth mentioning at this point that H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former national security adviser, was once an employee of the IISS. As was James Steinberg, a former US deputy secretary of state. Furthermore, at the end of 2016, the Guardian revealed that the organization had received £25 million ($32 million) from the Bahraini royal family (apparently almost half of its total income has come from Bahrain). Iran and Bahrain aren’t exactly close friends.

Notwithstanding the potential motives and bias of the IISS, the report definitely arrives at some interesting conclusions.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East in its favor,” the report explains.

But here’s the crazy part. Iran is, and has been for years, completely pummeled to the ground by US-imposed sanctions. Many commentators have for some time now been predicting an impending collapse of the Iranian economy.

On top of that, and likely because of this fact, Iran’s military budget has consistently been low (especially when compared to the United States or any of Washington’s major allied powers in the region). This flies completely in the face of allegations that Iran is a regional aggressor and the number-one state sponsor of terrorism (with what money?), but don’t let this get in the way of a good story.

According to the US Defense Department’s annual review of the country, “Iran’s military doctrine is defensive. It is designed to deter an attack, survive an initial strike, retaliate against an aggressor, and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests.”

In other words, despite being under the constant threat of war, whether from the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia, Iran is not looking for a fight. It maintains a much lower military expenditure than Saudi Arabia, Israel, and especially Washington, yet as the recent IISS report notes, it has emerged from the rubble of a war-torn Middle East region as a victor.

As Foreign Affairs (the Council on Foreign Relations’ magazine) explained in a recent article:

“Iran now enters its second year under maximum pressure strikingly confident in its economic stability and regional position.”

It is likely with this newfound confidence that Iran is beginning to dictate some shots of its own to the international community, particularly when it comes to the future of uranium enrichment. Foreign Affairs also explains that Iran has essentially weathered the storm of US sanctions and come up trumps all on its lonesome. Many of the people predicted to come to Tehran’s aid during the United States’ maximum pressure campaign have been nowhere to be seen.

According to the IISS report, Iran has been winning the regional geopolitical struggle for influence by developing asymmetric warfare, such as swarm tactics, drones and cyber-attacks. It has relied upon the Quds arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to increase its operations throughout the Middle East, as well as to provide training, support and weapons to other actors allied to Tehran. The report also notes Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, its role in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as its role (supposedly) in Yemen.

As my Kung Fu instructor once told me, you serve yourself in a confrontation best by using minimum output for maximum gain. Winning the lottery doesn’t entail that you then go to a casino and put all your money down on your first gamble. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you have to expend it.

In comparison, Saudi Arabia has expended time, effort, billions of dollars and the lives of many innocent civilians waging a genocidal war in Yemen – and it’s still losing. As Bloomberg once explained:

“Saudi Arabia has better weapons than its enemies in Yemen, no surprise in a war that pits one of the richest Arab countries against the poorest. And still the Saudis are struggling to impose their will.”

Not only is it losing a war, it’s also losing an economic battle. At the beginning of the conflict, Reuters estimated that the war would cost Saudi Arabia approximately $175 million per month. However, even by the end of the first year of the war, the kingdom had to increase its defense spending by $5.3 billion. This trend has continued right throughout the conflict. At the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia had to announce a projected increase of 6.7 percent in defense spending for 2017, bringing its total budget to around $50.8 billion.

If the IISS report’s findings are correct, there may be a deep lesson in here for the US and its allies. Perhaps it’s not that Iran has emerged victorious despite the fact it has not spent billions of dollars invading other nations at any one time; but because it hasn’t been.

At the end of the day, how much influence can you exert when you forcibly invade, occupy and kill those countries you seek to influence?

Agreed on Four-Point US/Iran Deal?

By Stephen Lendman

Source

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Trump and Iranian President Rouhani “agreed on a four-point document brokered by Emmanuel Macron in New York last week as a basis for a meeting and relaunching negotiations between the US and Iran” — citing unnamed French officials, adding:

“(D)ays of shuttle diplomacy by Macron on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly” preceded the plan.

Reportedly, Iran agreed to abide by what it’s adhered to since its 1979 revolution, Politico failed to explain, quoting from the text it saw: 

Tehran agreed it “will never acquire a nuclear weapon (and will) fully comply with its nuclear obligations and commitments and will accept a negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear activities.”

It will also “refrain from any aggression and will seek genuine peace and respect in the region through negotiations.”

The above has always been Islamic Republic policy throughout its 40-year history. Claims otherwise are fabricated, no credible evidence ever supporting them.

The deal requires the US to “lift all the sanctions re-imposed since 2017…Iran will have full ability to export its oil and freely use its revenues.”

While the document says nothing about Iran’s ballistic program,  Politico quoted an unnamed French official saying “(i)t was clear to all that the negotiation over regional issues would necessarily include their ballistic program” — a nonstarter for Tehran.

Its ruling authorities won’t relinquish or compromise on what would self-inflict weakness, its ballistic and cruise missiles maintained and developed solely for self-defense against genuinely feared US and/or Israeli aggression.

Further, Politico should have highlighted that time and again, Trump and Pompeo stressed that (illegally imposed) US sanctions won’t be lifted. His regime imposed new ones instead, intended to crush Iran’s economy and immiserate its people.

Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif stressed that Tehran will continue pulling back from its voluntary JCPOA commitments, as permitted under the deal when other signatories breach it — clearly the case by the US and Europe.

Rouhani refused to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly because he escalated sanctions war/economic terrorism. 

His actions repeatedly belie his hollow words, why he, his regime, and most others in Washington can never be trusted.

The US history of breaching treaties, bilateral agreements, and other deals shows what Iran is up against.

Years of good faith Tehran talks preceded agreement on the JCPOA, flagrantly breached by Trump months into his first year in office, compounded by all-out economic terrorism.

It’s part of longstanding US policy, seeking to replace all independent governments it doesn’t control with pro-Western puppet regimes.

The US doesn’t negotiate. It makes one-sided demands in return for empty promises, proved time and again – notably with Iran, North Korea, and Russia most recently.

Agreements can’t work unless all sides fulfill their obligations, clearly not how the US operates, notably with hardliners in change, reality under Trump.

The unnamed French official Politico quoted said Rouhani “agreed on the principles of the document, and he thanked the president because there is the explicit mention of the sanctions, (but) he wanted Trump to say before entering the meeting that he was lifting the sanctions.”

Trump publicly rejected the idea, showing his hardline position remains unchanged.

According to Politico, Rouhani reportedly said “France had prepared a plan that could be acceptable, because it was basically based on the demand that Iran must not seek nuclear weapons, which we had already said it wasn’t, requiring the US to lift all its sanctions,” adding: 

“These were the principles that the French had run by the Americans and then by us, so the principles that are being reported in newspapers around the world are right.” 

Politico unfairly criticized Iran, saying its “insistence on the US taking a first step…has consistently been a major hurdle in attempts to broker a resumption of negotiations.”

The broadsheet should have stressed that no one should negotiate with a gun at their head, along with explaining that unilaterally imposed US sanctions on any nation flagrantly violate the UN Charter.

The US, especially the Trump regime, bears full responsibility for hostile relations toward Iran, a nonbelligerent nation threatening no one.

Politico also quoted Macron’s reinvention of reality, claiming Trump can “change things — if he is convinced — very quickly, and he is not administration-driven, he decides alone and quickly,” adding: 

“President Rouhani is someone who needs to line up a whole system before negotiating. It’s almost the opposite.”

As long as US economic terrorism continues, along with falsely accusing Iran for things it had nothing to do with, Rouhani/Trump talks will accomplish nothing but further betrayal by the US.

What Politico should have explained, it ignored.

Promoting War, Opposing Peace, How Establishment Media Operate

By Stephen Lendman

Source

Establishment media never met a US war of aggression against a nonbelligerent/nonthreatening state they didn’t wholeheartedly cheerlead.

When the US goes to war or in their run-up, they operate as virtual Pentagon press agents — complicit in US high crimes of war and against humanity by their actions.

Since Iranians ended a generation of US-imposed fascist dictatorship in 1979, establishment media have been militantly hostile toward Tehran.

They joined the anti-Iran chorus in support of the Trump regime’s war by other means on the country, targeting its economy, harming its ordinary people most — reporting US disinformation, Big Lies and fake news about the country.

Not a shred of credible evidence suggests Iran seeks nuclear weapons, a nation at peace with its neighbors that never attacked another country preemptively, threatening none now, fostering cooperative relations worldwide.

No evidence suggests Iran had anything to do with striking key Saudi oil facilities on September 14 — what Yemeni Houthis claimed responsibility for.

The NYT is militantly hostile toward nonbelligerent Iran. In one article, it contradicted itself about the week ago attack on Saudi oil facilities, saying:

The “attack (came) from an unknown source, evidently using missiles and drones…Trump…blames Iran,” adding:

“The Iranian government ordered it because it views Trump as a weak negotiator who is afraid of war.”

More meaningless mumbo jumbo rubbish followed, including nonsense that “Iran may be betting that Trump will back down (by) escalating the situation…”

It’s hard believing editors allow the above rubbish to be published, not remotely reflecting reality.

Separately, the Times slammed Trump for not retaliating after Iran downed its spy drone last June — failing to explain it entered Iranian airspace illegally, didn’t respond to multiple demands to leave, before IRGC forces acted in self-defense, the legal right of all nations to hostile actions.

Attacking Iran earlier or any time preemptively is naked aggression under international law, ignored by the Times in its piece.

The Times: “Three months later, some of Mr. Trump’s own allies fear the failure to follow through was taken by Iran as a sign of weakness, emboldening it to attack oil facilities in Saudi Arabia this month (sic).”

Instead of stressing there’s no evidence supporting the claim, the Times also failed to ask obvious questions:

What was a US spy drone doing in Iranian airspace illegally? Why did it ignore repeated Iranian demands to leave? The incident was a hostile US action the Times and other establishment media failed to explain.

The Times quoted far-right official of the undemocratic Foundation for Defense of Democracies Reuel Gerecht, saying Trump’s “repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions has been a serious mistake.”

Anything advancing peace over war warrants high praise, a notion rejected by the Times and other hawkish US media. 

Trump’s reluctance to strike Iran militarily hasn’t deterred his aggression in multiple theaters. Nor did it soften his all-out war on Tehran by other means — the same high crimes committed against Venezuelan social democracy, the real thing absent in the West.

CNN, the most distrusted name in television propaganda masquerading as news, slammed nonexistent Iranian “malign activity (not) thinning out,” claiming what doesn’t exist is “expanding.”

The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed Yemeni Houthis “warned foreign diplomats that Iran is preparing a follow-up strike to the missile and drone attack that crippled Saudi Arabia’s oil industry a week ago” —  citing unnamed sources that lied or don’t exist.

On Saturday, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam debunked the Journal’s Big Lie. Another followed, saying:

“In recent days, (so-called) people familiar with the matter said Iran let Houthi fighters know that they wanted their support in carrying out more attacks across the region (sic).”

The London Guardian accused Trump of “dithering over Iran,” saying it “makes America look weak and foolish” — promoting war like other Western chickhawk media instead of denouncing aggression.

Anti-Iran propaganda war wages. Without establishment media support, it would fall flat.

Unexplained is why nonbelligerent Iran at peace with its neighbors would change policy.

What possible strategic aim could it achieve by becoming an aggressor, giving the US a pretext for possible war?

Iran would have much to lose and nothing to gain by attacking the Saudis or another regional country.

What’s obvious goes unreported by establishment media, falsely blaming Iran instead about what no evidence suggests it had anything to do with.

A Major Conventional War Against Iran Is an Impossibility. Crisis within the US Command Structure

Global Research, August 03, 2019
Global Research 8 July 2019

Updated, July 21, 2019

In this article, we examine America’s war strategies, including its ability to launch an all out theater war against the Islamic Republic on Iran.

A follow-up article will focus on the History of US War Plans against Iran as well as the complexities underlying the Structure of Military Alliances. 

**

Under present conditions, an Iraq style all out Blitzkrieg involving the simultaneous deployment of ground, air and naval  forces is an impossibility. 

For several reasons. US hegemony in the Middle East has been weakened largely as a result of the evolving structure of military alliances.

The US does not have the ability to carry out such a project.

There are two main factors which determine America’s military agenda in relation to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

1. Iran’s Military

There is the issue of Iran’s military capabilities (ground forces, navy, air force, missile defense), namely its ability to effectively resist and respond to an all out conventional war involving the deployment of US and Allied forces. Within the realm of conventional warfare,  Iran has sizeable military capabilities. Iran is to acquire Russia’s S400 state of the art air defense system.

Iran is ranked as “a major military power” in the Middle East, with an estimated 534,000 active personnel in the army, navy, air force and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It has advanced ballistic missile capabilities as well as a national defense industry. In the case of a US air attack, Iran would target US military facilities in the Persian Gulf.

2. Evolving Structure of Military Alliances

The second consideration has to do with the evolving structure of military alliances (2003-2019) which is largely to the detriment of the United States.

Several of America’s staunchest allies are sleeping with the enemy.

Countries which have borders with Iran including Turkey and Pakistan have military cooperation agreements with Iran. While this in itself excludes the possibility of a ground war, it also affects the planning of US and allied naval and air operations.

Until recently both Turkey (NATO heavyweight) and Pakistan were among America’s faithful allies, hosting US military bases.

From a broader military standpoint, Turkey is actively cooperating with both Iran and Russia. Moreover, Ankara has acquired (July 12, 2019) ahead of schedule Russia’s state of the art S-400 air defense system while de facto opting out from the integrated US-NATO-Israel air defense system.

Needless to say the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is in crisis. Turkey’s exit from NATO is almost de facto. America can no longer rely on its staunchest allies. Moreover, US and Turkish supported militia are fighting one another in Syria.

Moreover, several NATO member states have taken a firm stance against Washington’s Iran policy:  “European allies are grappling with mounting disagreements over foreign policy and growing irritated with Washington’s arrogant leadership style.”

“The most important manifestation of growing European discontent with U.S. leadership is the move by France and other powers to create an independent, “Europeans only” defense capability” (See National Interest, May 24, 2019)

Iraq has also indicated that it will not cooperate with the US in the case of a ground war against Iran.

Under present conditions, none of Iran’s neigbouring states including Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia would allow US-Allied ground forces to transit through their territory. Neither would they cooperate with the US in the conduct of an air war.

In recent developments, Azerbaijan which in the wake of the Cold War became a US ally as well as a member of NATO’s partnership for peace has changed sides. The earlier US-Azeri military cooperation agreements are virtually defunct including the post-Soviet GUAM military alliance (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova).

Bilateral military and intelligence agreements between Iran and Azerbaijan were signed in December 2018. In turn, Iran collaborates extensively with Turkmenistan. With regard to Afghanistan, the internal situation with the Taliban controlling a large part of Afghan territory, would not favor a large scale deployment of US and allied ground forces on the Iran-Afghan border.


Visibly, the policy of strategic encirclement against Iran formulated in the wake of the Iraq war (2003) is no longer functional. Iran has friendly relations with neighbouring countries, which previously were within the US sphere of influence.

The US is increasingly isolated in the Middle East and does not have the support of its NATO allies

Under these conditions, a major conventional theater war by the US involving the deployment of ground forces would be suicide.

This does not mean, however, that war will not take place. In some regards, with the advances in military technologies, an Iraq-style war is obsolete.

We are nonetheless at a dangerous crossroads. Other diabolical forms of military intervention directed against Iran are currently on the drawing board of the Pentagon. These include:

  • various forms of “limited warfare”, ie. targeted missile attacks,
  • US and Allied support of terrorist paramilitary groups
  • so-called “bloody nose operations” (including the use of tactical nuclear weapons),
  • acts of political destabilization and color revolutions
  • false flag attacks and military threats,
  • sabotage, confiscation of financial assets, extensive economic sanctions,
  • electromagnetic and climatic warfare, environmental modification techniques (ENMOD)
  • cyberwarfare
  • chemical and biological warfare.

US Central Command Forward Headquarters Located in Enemy Territory

Another consideration has to do with the crisis within the US Command structure.

USCENTCOM is the theater-level Combatant Command for all operations in the broader Middle East region extending from Afghanistan to North Africa. It is the most important Combat Command of the Unified Command structure. It has led and coordinated several major Middle East war theaters including Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003). It is also involved in Syria.

In the case of a war with Iran, operations in the Middle East would be coordinated by US Central Command with headquarters in Tampa, Florida in permanent liaison with its forward command headquarters in Qatar.

In late June 2019, after Iran shot down a U.S. drone President Trump “called off the swiftly planned military strikes on Iran” while intimating in his tweet that “any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force.”

US Central Command (CENTCOM), confirmed the deployment of the US Air Force F-22 stealth fighters to the al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, intended to “defend American forces and interests” in the region against Iran. (See Michael Welch, Persian Peril, Global Research, June 30, 2019). Sounds scary?

“The base is technically Qatari property playing host to the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command.” With 11,000 US military personnel, it is described as “one of the U.S. military’s most enduring and most strategically positioned operations on the planet”   (Washington Times). Al-Udeid also hosts the US Air Force’s 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, considered to be “America’s most vital overseas air command”.

What both the media and military analysts fail to acknowledge is that US CENTCOM’s forward Middle East headquarters at the al-Udeid military base close to Doha de facto “lies in enemy territory”

Since the May 2017 split of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Qatar has become a staunch ally of both Iran and Turkey (which is also an ally of Iran). While they have no “official” military cooperation agreement with Iran, they share in joint ownership with Iran the largest Worldwide maritime gas fields (see map below).

The split of the GCC has led to a shift in military alliances: In May 2017 Saudi Arabia blocked Qatar’s only land border. In turn Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE have blocked air transportation as well as commercial maritime shipments to Doha.

What is unfolding since May 2017 is a shift in Qatar’s trade routes with the establishment of bilateral agreements with Iran, Turkey as well as Pakistan. In this regard, Russia, Iran, and Qatar provide over half of the world’s known gas reserves.

The Al-Udeid base near Doha is America’s largest military base in the Middle East. In turn, Turkey has now established its own military facility in Qatar. Turkey is no longer an ally of the US. Turkish proxy forces in Syria are fighting US supported militia.

Turkey is now aligned with Russia and Iran. Ankara has now confirmed that it will be acquiring Russia’s S-400 missile air defense system which requires military cooperation with Moscow.

Qatar is swarming with Iranian businessmen, security personnel and experts in the oil and gas industry (with possible links to Iran intelligence?), not to mention the presence of Russian and Chinese personnel.

Question. How on earth can you launch a war on Iran from the territory of a close ally of Iran?

From a strategic point of view it does not make sense. And this is but the tip of the iceberg.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric underlying the official US-Qatar military relationship, The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to both the Pentagon and NATO, confirms that Qatar is now a firm ally of both Iran and Turkey:

Put simply, for Qatar to maintain its independence, Doha will have essentially no choice but to maintain its strong partnership with Turkey, which has been an important ally from the perspective of military support and food security, as well as Iran. The odds are good that Iranian-Qatari ties will continue to strengthen even if Tehran and Doha agree to disagree on certain issues … On June 15 [2019], President Hassan Rouhani emphasizedthat improving relations with Qatar is a high priority for Iranian policymakers. … Rouhani told the Qatari emir that “stability and security of regional countries are intertwined” and Qatar’s head of state, in turn, stressed that Doha seeks a stronger partnership with the Islamic Republic. (Atlantic Council, June 2019, emphasis added)

What this latest statement by the Atlantic Council suggests is while Qatar hosts USCENTCOM’s forward headquarters, Iran and Qatar are (unofficially) collaborating in the area of “security” (i e. intelligence and military cooperation).

Sloppy military planning, sloppy US foreign policy? sloppy intelligence?

Trump’s statement confirms that they are planning to launch the war against Iran from their forward US Centcom headquarters at the Al Udeid military base, located in enemy territory. Is it rhetoric or sheer stupidity?

The Split of the GCC

The split of the GCC has resulted in the creation of a so-called Iran-Turkey-Qatar axis which has contributed to weakening US hegemony in the Middle East. While Turkey has entered into a military cooperation with Russia, Pakistan is allied with China. And Pakistan has become a major partner of Qatar.

Following the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is in disarray with Qatar siding with Iran and Turkey against Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Qatar is of utmost strategic significance because it shares with Iran the world’s largest maritime gas fields in the Persian Gulf. (see map above). Moreover, since the GCC split-up Kuwait is no longer aligned Saudi Arabia. It nonetheless maintains a close relationship with Washington. Kuwait hosts seven active US military facilities, the most important of which is Camp Doha.

Needless to say, the May 2017 split of the GCC has undermined Trump’s resolve to create an “Arab NATO” (overseen by Saudi Arabia) directed against Iran. This project is virtually defunct, following Egypt’s withdrawal in April 2019.

The Gulf of Oman 

With the 2017 split up of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Oman appears to be aligned with Iran. Under these circumstances, the transit of US war ships to the headquarters of the US Fifth fleet in Bahrain not to mention the conduct of naval operations in the Persian Gulf are potentially in jeopardy.

The Fifth Fleet is under the command of US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT). (NAVCENT’s area of responsibility consists of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea).

With the split up of the GCC, Oman is now aligned with Iran. Under these circumstances, the transit of US war ships to the headquarters of the US Fifth fleet in Bahrain not to mention the conduct of naval operations in the Persian Gulf would potentially be in jeopardy.

The strait of Hormuz which constitutes the entry point to the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman is controlled by Iran and the Sultanate of Oman (see map, Oman territory at the tip of the Strait).

The width of the strait at one point is of the order of 39 km. All major vessels must transit through Iran and/or Oman territorial waters, under so-called customary transit passage provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

More generally, the structure of alliances is in jeopardy. The US cannot reasonably wage a full-fledged conventional theatre war on Iran without the support of its longstanding allies which are now “sleeping with the enemy”.

Trump’s Fractured “Arab NATO”. History of the Split up of the GCC. 

Amidst the collapse of  America’s sphere of influence in the Middle East, Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) consisted at the outset of his presidency in an improvised attempt to rebuild the structure of military alliances. What the Trump administration had in mind was the formation of a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), or  “Arab NATO”. This US-sponsored blueprint was slated to include Egypt and Jordan together with the six member states of the GCC.

The draft of the MESA Alliance had been prepared in Washington prior to Trump’s historic May 2017 visit to Saudi Arabia, meeting up with King Salman, leaders of the GCC as well as “more than 50 high-ranking officials from the Arab and Islamic worlds in an unprecedented US-Islamic summit.”

The Riyadh Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the summit on May 21, 2017, announced the intention to establish MESA in Riyadh.” (Arab News, February 19, 2019). The stated mandate of the “Arab NATO”  was to “to combat Iranian hegemony” in the Middle East.

Two days later on May 23, 2017 following this historic meeting, Saudi Arabia ordered the blockade of Qatar, called for an embargo and suspension of diplomatic relations with Doha, on the grounds that The Emir of Qatar was allegedly collaborating with Tehran.

What was the hidden agenda? No doubt it had already been decided upon in Riyadh on May 21, 2017  with the tacit approval of US officials.

The  plan was to exclude Qatar from the proposed MESA Alliance and the GCC, while maintaining the GCC intact.

What happened was a Saudi embargo on Qatar (with the unofficial approval of Washington) which resulted in the   fracture of the GCC with Oman and Kuwait siding with Qatar. In other words,  the GCC was split down the middle. Saudi Arabia was weakened and the “Arab NATO” blueprint was defunct from the very outset.


May 21, 2017: US-Islamic Summit in Riyadh

May 23, 2017: The blockade and embargo of Qatar following alleged statements by the Emir of Qatar. Was this event staged?

June 5, 2019: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt sever diplomatic relations, cut off land, air and sea transportation with Qatar  accusing it of  supporting Iran.

June 7, 2017, Turkey’s parliament pass legislation allowing Turkish troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar

January 2018, Qatar initiates talks with Russia with a view to acquiring Russia’s  S-400 air defense system.


Flash forward to mid-April 2019: Trump is back in Riyadh: This time the Saudi Monarchy was entrusted by Washington to formally launching the failed Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) (first formulated in 2017) despite the fact that three of the invited GCC member states, namely Kuwait, Oman and Qatar were committed to the normalization of relations with Iran. In turn, the Egyptian government of President Sisi decided to boycott the Riyadh summit and withdraw from the “Arab NATO” proposal. Cairo also clarified its position vis a vis Tehran.  Egypt firmly objected to Trump’s plan because it “would increase tensions with Iran”.

Trump’s objective was to create an “Arab Block”. What he got in return was a truncated MESA “Arab Block” made up of a fractured GCC with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan.

Egypt withdraws.

Kuwait and Oman officially took a neutral stance.

Qatar sided with the enemy, thereby further jeopardizing America’s sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf.

An utter geopolitical failure. What kind of alliance is that.

And US Central Command’s Forward headquarters is still located in Qatar despite the fact that two years earlier on May 23, 2017, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was accused by Saudi Arabia and the UAE of collaborating with Iran.

It is unclear who gave the order to impose the embargo on Qatar. Saudi Arabia would not have taken that decision without consulting Washington. Visibly, Washington’s intent was to create an Arab NATO Alliance (An Arab Block) directed against Iran “to do the dirty work for us”.

Trump and the Emir of Qatar, UN General Assembly, October 2017, White House photo

The rest is history, the Pentagon decided to maintain US Central Command’s forward headquarters in Qatar, which happens to be Iran’s closest ally and partner.

A foreign policy blunder? Establishing your “official” headquarters in enemy territory, while “unofficially” redeploying part of the war planes, military personnel and command functions to other locations (e.g. in Saudi Arabia)?

No press reports, no questions in the US Congress. Nobody seemed to have noticed that Trump’s war on Iran, if it were to be carried out, would be conducted from the territory of Iran’s closest ally.

An impossibility?

***

Part II of this essay focuses on the history and contradictions of US war preparations directed against Iran starting in 1995 as well as the evolution of military alliances.

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The Spy Game: It Ain’t What It Used to Be

Image result for The Spy Game: It Ain’t What It Used to Be

August 1, 2019

The Tehran government has announced the arrest of seventeen Iranian citizens caught spying for America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Some of those arrested have already been sentenced to death. It is the third major roll-up of CIA agents in Iran that I have been aware of, the first occurring in 1991 involved 20 American agents. The second episode in 2011 led to the arrest of 30 spies. The earlier arrests reportedly eliminated what were presumed to be the entire networks of American agents operating inside Iran and it is to be presumed that the recent arrests will have the same impact.

The Iranians presented a considerable quantity of evidence, including photos and business cards of US government officials, to back up their claim of American spying but President Trump dismissed the report as “totally false” and “just more lies and propaganda” — while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken.”

Iran’s press release on the arrests together with a briefing by an intelligence official supplemented by local media coverage provided some of the details. The seventeen reportedly had “sophisticated training” but those who had sabotage missions did not succeed. Other objectives included “collecting information at the facilities they worked at, carrying out technical and intelligence activities and transferring and installing monitoring devices.”

Some of the agents had reportedly been recruited by falling into what is referred to as a “visa trap” set by the CIA for Iranians seeking to travel to the US. This has long been the preferred tool for recruiting Iranian agents. The intelligence official handed out a CD with a video recording of an alleged CIA case officer speaking to an Iranian target, which was presumably recorded secretly. The video shows a blonde woman who speaks Persian with an American accent. The disc also included names of several US embassy staff in Dubai, Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Austria who Iran claims were involved in the recruitment and training of the Iranian spies.

How exactly did the recruitments take place as there is no US Embassy in Tehran and few Americans resident in the country? Many of the Iranians were targeted when they walked into an American Embassy in a country to which they are free to travel, which includes Turkey and Dubai. In the words of the Iranian intelligence official, “Some were approached when they were applying for a visa, while others had visas from before and were pressured by the CIA in order to renew them.”

Others were targeted and recruited as spies while attending scientific conferences around the world. Those recruited received promises of money, eventual resettlement and a job in the US or medical assistance. To maintain contact with its agents inside Iran, the CIA would reportedly conceal spyware and instructions in containers that look like rocks, which would be planted in city parks or in rural areas. The Iranian agents would then recover the material, which might include false identification documents. It should be observed that fake rocks are a standard espionage tool. They are hollowed out to conceal spy-gear and communications. After they are in place, a signal is made to alert the agent that there is something ready to be picked-up. In the trade they are referred to as “dead drops.”

Why does the United States continue to spy on Iran with such ferocity? The Mullahs became a major intelligence target for Washington in the wake of the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis, in which fifty-two American diplomats and intelligence officers were held for 444 days. The CIA mounted a major intelligence operation run from Europe that collected a wide range of information on the Iranian government and, increasingly, on its technical capabilities, including a suspected nuclear development program. In 2015 the CIA under President Barack Obama and Director John Brennan ramped up collection efforts against Iran as part of the verification process for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). More recently, Mike Pompeo, when CIA Director, further increased efforts against Iran when the Trump Administration withdrew from that agreement in the belief that Iran represented a rogue nation and a threat to United States interests and allies. In reality, of course, there is no real American vital interest relating to Iran and Trump has been acting on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are hostile to Iran as a regional rival.

But running intelligence operations in a country without a US Embassy to serve as a base for spies proved difficult. Many spies have been caught, by one Iranian estimate, 290 agents arrested in recent years. Most often the exposure of the spies has been due to human error or technical problems in communications. Iran has benefited by boasting of those arrests and has long promoted its capacity to uncover American spy rings in the country. As the New York Times reports, Iran has recently aired a documentary featuring efforts to expose and rid the country of the CIA agents working there.

A recently produced and very popular Iranian fictional television series called “Gando” has also introduced the narrative of a perpetual fight against American spies into the country’s popular culture. The show features brave Iranian intelligence officials in pursuit of an American spy posing as a journalist.

According to a Yahoo News investigation, Iran was in 2009 enraged by reports that the CIA had possibly penetrated its nuclear program and its counter-intelligence agents immediately went on the hunt for moles. By 2011, Iranian officials had uncovered and arrested a network of 30 CIA sources, a fact that US officials later confirmed. Some of the accused informants were executed. The Iranian government was able to find the operatives because of failures in the systems and techniques that the CIA agents used to communicate with the agents. Once a flaw in communications is detected, it is possible to exploit that so one can sit back and wait and watch for all those linked to the network to reveal themselves.

One might observe that the continued massive American “maximum pressure” spying effort directed against Iran is a bit of an anachronism. It is agreed by nearly all observers that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and is unlikely to start one. The sanctions put in place against the country unilaterally by the US cannot produce a popular uprising that will bring down the regime, but they have indeed hurt the country’s economy badly and the people are suffering. Iran’s military cannot stand up against its neighbors, much less against the United States, and its ability to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors is extremely limited.

So, it is probably just as well that Iran has again rolled up most of the American spies in the country, though it will be a tragedy for the men and women involved. Many critics of the Agency have argued that the CIA has forgotten how to spy in an age of drones and electronic surveillance, which may be true. Certainly, the CIA record regarding Iran is nothing to brag about.

Also by this author

 

Regime Change in Iran: Been There, Done That

By Philip Giraldi
Source

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The failed coup attempt in Caracas in early May brings to mind the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and British intelligence in Iran in 1953 to overthrow the Mohammad Mossadeq government. It is quite astonishing how that regime-change long-ago operation parallels what is currently taking place in Venezuela and also with regards to Iran yet again.

Mossadeq was the democratically elected prime minister of Iran beginning in 1951, serving in a government in which the Shah with limited authority was the head of state presiding over a parliamentary system. Iran was nominally independent at the time, but it was heavily influenced by the neighboring Soviet Union, which retained control over several Iranian provinces after the Second World War ended, and Great Britain, which exploited the country’s oil resources through the mechanism of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which was owned by the British government. When Mossadeq, frustrated by lack of progress in negotiations with the British over sharing of oil revenues, eventually declared that he would nationalize the AIOC, London and Washington conspired to remove him.

The new National Iranian Oil Company was immediately attacked by the British, who used the Royal Navy to block export of oil from Iran’s Abadan refinery. Ships carrying Iranian oil were stopped and boarded with their shipments confiscated as “stolen property” in light of the British government’s former ownership claim on the AIOC.

By mid-1952, Britain’s blockade of Iranian oil exports had badly hurt the Iranian economy, which eventually led to government bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the American CIA, which was initially ambivalent about what the proper role in the Anglo-Iranian conflict might be, joined British agents in supporting groups inside Iran that were hostile to Mossadeq. In the Majlis parliamentary election in the spring of 1952, Mossadeq faced serious opposition funded by the Anglo-Americans, and the election eventually was suspended. By early 1953, pro-communist and pro-Shah mobs supported and coordinated by the U.S. and Britain roamed the streets, sometimes fighting each other. Fearing a communist takeover and also under pressure from London, which was threatening to withdraw from the Korean War as a quid pro quo, President Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed to carry out a joint coup d’état.

Losing popular support due to a sinking economy, as early as August 1952 a struggling Mossadeq began ruling by emergency powers and started to jail opponents, which only aggravated the crisis. A rigged referendum to dissolve parliament and grant Mossadeq authority to govern by decree passed with 99.9% approval but led to accusations that the prime minister was seeking “total and dictatorial power.” The New York Times reported, “A plebiscite more fantastic and farcical than any ever held under Hitler or Stalin is now being staged in Iran by Premier Mossadeq in an effort to make himself unchallenged dictator of the country.” The move by Mossadeq also led to the first coup attempt, which was organized by the CIA.

On Aug. 15, 1953, Col. Nemathollah Nassiri, the commander of the Shah’s Imperial Guard, delivered to Mossadeq a decree from the Shah dismissing him. Mossadeq, who had been warned of the plot, had Nassiri arrested, and the Shah and his family fled into exile in Italy. The first coup thus ended with a whimper, but it was lessons learned for the second, better organized successful attempt which followed a few days later, Operation Ajax, coordinated by Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA.

Exploiting pro-Shah sentiment in the military, the CIA and the British turned to their stables of recruited army officers while also exploiting agents infiltrated into the communist party Tudeh, which rose to the occasion by launching mass demonstrations, to include looting and arson, which quickly alienated the public and also provided a pretext for Western support of the coup as it could be promoted as “anti-communist.” Efforts were also made to turn influential clerics against Mossadeq. The Iranian people blamed the government for all their woes and rioting soon led to the calling out of the army to restore order. The army did so and then had Mossadeq arrested. He was condemned to death, but his sentence was later commuted to three years in solitary confinement followed by house arrest. He died in 1967.

End of story, but not quite. All the elements currently being used against Venezuela and Iran were there back in 1953 to bring down Mossadeq and also appear in a detailed 2018 Pentagon plandescribing how to bring about a coup in Caracas. Wrecking the countries’ economies through sanctions and exclusion from the global banking network creates a crisis where one need not have existed. Meanwhile, a sustained campaign of vilification by Western political leaders and the media establishes the narrative that the benevolent intention is to block extremism and restore democracy while also eliminating a threat to the United States. And, as a last resort, the threat or actual use of force to stop the export of commodities to further wreck the economy becomes a clearly stated policy option, currently also employing secondary sanctions for anyone who dares to trade with the designated victim. Recently, America’s unilaterally imposed global ban on the export and sale of Iranian oil began. Venezuela’s oil sales are also being blocked and even its electricity grid is being attacked in an attempt to starve the Venezuelan people into rebelling against their government.

But you also have to have spies, secret agents, to get the ball rolling, just as was true in 1953. One assumes that the CIA has been active in recruiting the agents of influence inside Venezuelan political opposition as well as military circles who will bring out increasingly larger mobs as the situation continues to deteriorate. How successful they have been is difficult to determine, but Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido failed the first time around, reportedly because the Venezuelan government was aware of what was happening and the contacts that CIA was relying on to bring out the army were in fact double agents.

The suffering Iranian and Venezuelan people have yet to rise up in revolt. No matter. It took more than one try to bring down Mossadeq, and National Security Advisor John Bolton has recently warned Iran that its government won’t have any more anniversaries to celebrate if it continues with its “threats.” The Trump administration is also reported to be preparing military options for dealing with Venezuela.

Bolton has even warned the Russians, who are assisting Venezuela’s government: “This is our hemisphere. It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part.”  He is seemingly unaware of the irony, that the Russians might make the same claim about Eurasia and the Iranians regarding the Persian Gulf, where Bolton and his neocon friends in Washington have been the source of nearly continuous conflict.

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