Heritage Foundation Deputy Director: Iran’s Middle East Dream is an Illusion


London – Deputy director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation James Carafano declared that Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the Middle East will be met with regional and international opposition.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I believe that the Iranians will soon discover that they have stretched themselves thin in the region and they will be confronted with a wall of opposition.”

The priorities of the current US administration lie first in ensuring Europe’s security, then the stability and security of the Middle East and finally, preventing a third world war due to North Korea, he explained.

Washington is concerned with “removing the black flags fluttering over Mosul and Raqqa and what to do with Iran,” he added in his first interview with the Arab press.

On US ties with the Arab Gulf, Carafano said: “We are not trying to take control of the region. We, as partners, want a region that is more secure.”

After eight years of Barack Obama’s rule, people in the Middle East have grown skeptical of whether Washington can play an effective role in stemming Iran’s influence in the region.

Carafano remarked: “I am surprised that people criticize President Donald Trump at a time when his Middle East policy is much more traditional than his predecessor’s. His policy focuses on eliminating the threat of international terrorism and stopping Iran’s attempts at destabilizing the region.”

Washington seeks to halt Tehran’s meddling in partnership with other countries and in addressing illegal financial activities and doubling efforts to combat arms smuggling.

The US administration will assess the financial benefits that Iran will reap from the nuclear deal in order to prevent the transfer of funds to “Hezbollah” in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. It will also work with other countries, such as Jordan, and revive the Egyptian-Israeli relationship so that the region could “regain its confidence,” continued Carafano.

The confrontation with Iran will not be limited to curbing the weapons smuggling, but Washington will focus on political and economic development and support of the various players in the region. This is where the crisis with Qatar is significant, he said.

“At the end of the day, the US is not trying to isolate Qatar … but there should be greater unity over the security of the Gulf states,” he stressed.

“Ties between the US and Qatar are a reflection of our ties with Pakistan, with which we have a very important strategic relationship. There are sides inside Pakistan and in its military institution who are not only working against US interests, but against Pakistani ones as well. We call this ‘tough love,’” he added.

“The US will not stop having ties with Pakistan, but we will be clear over what we have differences over and we are pressuring them to do things that are not only good for us, but good for them as well. This ultimately helps everyone,” he continued.

“This is an exact copy of the type of relationship that binds us to Qatar. We will be clear and straight over the differences between us and them. I believe that being straight allows us to be confrontational. We will pressure the Qataris to implement not just what is in the interest of the US, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, but what will in the end benefit Doha,” he noted.

“This requires constant contact. There will be days when we smile to each other and others when we will be tense, but we will keep on monitoring the situation and hold people accountable for what they said they will do,” Carafano stated.

“I would like to be clear that we are not trying to take over the region as in the end we are not the guarantors of the region’s security, but we are partners to countries that want a more stable region, through providing job opportunities to the people so that they may have a future.”

“We are not doing this because we are good people, but because a peaceful Middle East means a better United States,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Asked if the US will turn to another Gulf country to set up another military base in addition to the one in Al Udaid in Qatar, Carafano responded that expanding bases is difficult and cannot be implemented on short notice.

Addressing the US withdrawal from Iraq, which was like offering Baghdad to Iran on a silver platter, he acknowledged that Washington was to blame for this development. The US policy towards Syria led to a geopolitical disaster that saw Iran aim to govern the predominantly Sunni population. Carafano also acknowledged that Washington committed errors in this regard.

“We have contributed to the instability in the region. We are not rectifying issues because the situation is bad, but because we have an interest to reach peace in the region. How will we do that? I said that we will be good partners to a number of regional countries because we have a common goal.”

Furthermore, he stated that Iran is a living a “great illusion” after the Mosul victory against ISIS because it believes that the road has been cleared for them to expand further in the Middle East.

Asked if the US will allow it to expand its power, Carafano replied: “No, I believe that this is a disaster, which means we are replacing one problem with another. I assert that the US will remain, and strongly, in Iraq.”

“We want a stable Iraq, but it is unrealistic to believe that we will purge all Iraqi regions from Iranian influence. We cannot however stand aside and allow it to become an Iranian affiliate. This will result in a catastrophe for the Iraqi people. They did not get rid of Saddam Hussein to be ruled by someone in Iran,” he noted.

“Allowing Iran to have an open road from Iraq to Syria that reaches the front doors of Jordan and Israel will be a major destabilizing force in the region. I assert that this will not happen and we will not allow it to happen. I will not be surprised if military presence is once again restored in Iraq and even at the request of the Iraqis themselves,” Carafano added.

“The Iranians have expanded too much and they back Shi’ite militias, the Syrian regime and the Houthis, Hamas and ‘Hezbollah.’ As soon as the funds that have flowed from the nuclear deal dry up however, it will not be able to do any of that. They have not made economic reforms and the majority of the money was wasted in corruption. I believe that the Iranians will soon discover that they have stretched themselves thin and they will be faced with a wall of opposition,” he continued.

The Iranians believe that they are still building a bridge towards the Arab Middle East. The aide of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Akbar Wilayati, said that the highway of resistance will start from Tehran, pass through Mosul to Beirut and then reach the Mediterranean.

“This will be like Poland advancing on Moscow. The Iranians are exposed and this is a major error that they are committing. This approach is not sustainable. This highway may work in theory, but it will not be transformed into reality because the Americans will not stand idly by. Neither will Turkey, Israel and the Arab Sunnis of course,” he stressed.

Asked if the Trump administration is addressing this issue, Carafano said that the officials there are aware of it.

On whether southern Syria will turn into a US-Iranian confrontation zone due to the Popular Mobilization Forces’ efforts to cut the border between Syria and Iraq to only allow an Iranian presence there, he said that Israel will stand against a conflict.

“I don’t think the Iranians want this confrontation either. If the world looked the other way, Tehran will be able to do whatever it wants, but in the current situation, the Iranians cannot fight and they do not want to start a third world war. No one wants it …. They are pressuring vital interests of US allies in the region, specifically Jordan and Israel, so no one will allow them to achieve their strategy,” Carafano stated.

Asked if it was feasible to establish an “Arab NATO”, he said that official should not waste time in establishing such a security alliance, explaining: “It may be achieved one day, but after all of these threats and dangers have been eliminated.”

He did reveal however that the US has been aiming, “and for a long time now,” to set up regional missile defense infrastructure for the Gulf Cooperation Council to confront Iran.

Turning to Syria and asked what Washington’s long-term stance on the country is, Carafano replied: “Honestly, the US does not care and is not focusing on Syria. It is not asking about its future beyond providing stability in Iraq and then the stability of Jordan and protecting Israel and finally defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda. It is true that we do not like regime head Bashar Assad and would like to see him go, but we will not waste our time in finding a way to change the regime in Damascus.”

“If I were to guess, Syria is headed towards ‘Balkanization’ similar to what happened in Yugoslavia at the end of the Cold War. Division in Libya will not however improve the situation. Iraq as a united state will also remain better. I greatly admire Kurdistan and think it will be more secure as part of a united Iraq, not as an independent country.”

“I think the Libyans prefer a united Libya and the Iraqis prefer a united Iraq. I do not however believe that anyone will feel safe in a united Syria, which is why it will be ‘Balkanized’,” Carafano stated.

On the role the US can play in curbing the ambitions of the Syrian regime and force it to respect ceasefire agreements, he said that it is necessary for Washington to keep its forces on the ground and “interact with the region.”

“This will limit Iran’s influence in destabilizing the region and help find a solution for refugees to return to their homes. It will also provide space for Egypt and Jordan to work in Syria and Iraq and ease the threat of international terrorism.”

“I believe that the US contribution in destroying terrorism confirms that the terrorists can be defeated. The humiliating defeat of ISIS has been achieved and it did not take place under the American flag, but by locals. The people fought for their country because they do not want the likes of ISIS. It has been rejected by the people because terrorism is not the way of the future,” Carafano said.

General Jones: A Gulf NATO Delivers Powerful Message to Iran


London – General James Jones, former supreme allied commander of NATO, has always been involved in the Middle East affairs, problems and causes. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jones expressed relief towards the “tremendously successful” meeting between Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, and US President Donald Trump where both agreed upon “risks threatening the Gulf.”

Jones suggested forming a Gulf coalition similar to the NATO.

“The NATO succeeded in facing the existential threat posed, then, by the Soviet Union and helped in dissociating it,” Jones added as he affirmed that US will be pleased to join this dialogue if the idea of a Gulf NATO was endorsed by Saudi deputy crown prince and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

When asked to evaluate US-Saudi relations and to point out how they will differ compared to the presidential tenure of Barack Obama, General Jones replied that “Trump and the government were clear that Iran is a state that can’t be trusted and that it represents a threat to the region and is a source of terrorism. I think that the common vision of Saudi deputy crown prince and other Gulf leaders towards Iran enhanced the ties with the new US administration.”

“How can the US cooperate with the Saudi kingdom and the Arabian Gulf countries to limit the Iranian intervention in their affairs and to halt Iran’s terrorist operations?”

Jones answer was as follows, “I see that if we are facing an existential threat then we should be decisive, double the sanctions and do all that we should to make Iran change its attitude radically.”

“When the NATO was established in 1949 the European population was more than 350 million but this is not the case of the GCC countries, right?”

General Jones replied, “We are in a different century now in which it is unnecessary to rage wars by land armies but through armies of high techniques and psychological potentials. If the US decided to sign on such a thing then the balance of power will be in favor of the Gulf countries. So, I don’t think it is a matter of number but a national insistence to form a coalition.”

Commenting on whether Syria will be the first test of the US-Russian partnership, he suggested to wait and see, not denying that Syria is part of the first test.

Answering a question on US-Turkish ties, Jones assured that the communication and military cooperation are ongoing and that the two states are in a pursuit to reach an agreement.

He added, “Turkey is a strategic and vital country that should be considered by the US and other countries. The Turkish Army is the second biggest army in the NATO and I hope that relations develop during Trump presidency.”

Ex-Trump Advisor: Arabs Needed to Defeat ISIS, US Will Halt Iran Expansion


London – Former advisor to US President Donald Trump, Dr. Walid Phares, stressed that Washington needs an Arab and Gulf role in defeating ISIS and that they should play a political role in Syria and Iraq.

Lebanese-born Phares served as Trump’s advisor for Middle Eastern affairs during his presidential campaign. He still acts as an aide in the administration, either directly or through Congress.

Talking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the issues in the Middle East, he asserted that the US “will soon put a halt to Iran’s expansion in the Arab world.”

He kicked off the interview by hailing last week’s meeting in Washington between Trump and Saudi deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, saying that it signifies a renewed partnership between the two sides on the economic, political, security and defense levels.

“The meeting also served as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to offer Trump a project for strategic partnership in the region not only with the kingdom, but with other moderate countries,” Phares explained.

“This partnership will be the cornerstone for confronting ISIS and its allies and Iran’s expansion,” he added.

“The partnership will emerge soon and coordination will begin on the security level, because the US needs the Arab and Gulf role in combating ISIS, and later on the political level that will help resolve the Syrian and Iraqi crises. In return, the Gulf needs the US in regions that are witnessing Iranian meddling, especially in Yemen and surrounding areas,” he said.

He remarked that Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen will stand against this partnership.

Commenting on “Hezbollah” chief Hassan Nasrallah’s threats that the party will strike Israeli nuclear plants, Phares warned that such attacks will lead to the spread of harmful radiation in the region and the world and will be considered international terrorist acts.

“It would be taking an unprecedented risk … and it will incur disastrous results,” he stressed, while noting that the response to a nuclear attack will be against “Hezbollah”, not the Lebanese people.

Addressing a potential talks between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said that such a meeting is “inevitable” and that it will tackle the solution to the crisis in Syria, which starts with the withdrawal of all armed foreign forces, specifically ISIS and al-Qaeda, as well as “Hezbollah” and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

“This is the only course to reach a political solution in Syria. There can be no other one as long as these forces are still in the country,” Phares asserted.

He explained that Washington’s allies will agree to this solution, but Iran will not. He noted that it is in Russia’s interest to achieve the withdrawal of foreign forces.

He emphasized that ISIS can be defeated through the US-led alliance and that moderate Sunni Arab forces must take control of the areas the militant group had occupied. He warned that the arrival of regime forces in these areas will pave the way to future problems, similar to the ones in Iraq.

Arab and Gulf countries can play a role in policing the transition from ISIS to the moderate powers. They should not necessarily have forces on the ground, but they should be able to take political decisions and later produce a “comprehensive political solution.”

Asked about recent uproar over Iran’s claims that it can destroy Israel in minutes and “Hezbollah’s” nuclear threat, he said: “These forces are facing a problem. In Lebanon, the majority of the people rejects ‘Hezbollah’ and we saw that in the 2005 Cedar Revolution. In 2009 in Iran, we saw that the majority of the youth do not want the regime, but freedom and progress. We are witnessing the same thing in Iraq, where the majority is moderate, but it is being oppressed.”

“These forces are therefore trying to delude their popular bases that they are headed towards a holy war. The Palestinians themselves want to resolve the conflict through peaceful negotiations. They do not want Iran waging another war where they will lose more than they have lost in the past.”

He expressed optimism that the opposition in Iran will be able to spark a revolt that will be greater than the one of 2009.

Meanwhile, Phares revealed that Trump is eager to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying that the president had expressed surprise that for decades US leaders had failed to achieve peace even though Washington “has the means to do so”.

Trump voiced a “firm determination to reach a peaceful solution” to the conflict, while highlighting the role moderate Arabs can play to that end, said Phares.

Asked by Asharq Al-Awsat if Trump will be able to do so before “Hezbollah” wages a new war on Israel, he replied: “The party relies primarily on propaganda. If it fails, then it will take a risk. The decision to take a risk against Israel is not taken by Nasrallah, but by the Iranian capital.”

“This is not 2006 or 1999, but it understands that this is 2017 and it is involved in many wars and therefore cannot guarantee the support of Arab people if it committed the error of waging this battle,” he warned, saying that it will be the beginning of a strategic loss for it in Lebanon and Syria.

Gen. Kimmitt: Trump Aware of Risks Posed by Iran’s ‘Detrimental’ Influence in Gulf


London – United States General Mark Kimmitt accused Iran for ongoing attempts to expand its harmful influence, reaffirming that the President Donald Trump administration fully recognizes the dangers of Iranian sway growing in the region.

Gen. Kimmitt noted that the concern is now spurred not from a ‘Shia’a Crescent’ but from ‘Shia’a banding.’

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Gen. Kimmitt underscored strategic US red lines drawn with respect to Iran’s ballistic missiles test-firings, saying that it is not far-fetched for Washington to grant its Gulf-based ships and forces the green light for self-defense.

Addressing Syria developments, Kimmit said that all concerned parties agree that additional US assistance is needed and essential for a Raqqa offensive. He added that US Marines will provide support, however will not have a front line role.

US-backed Syrian forces had announced Thursday that they were closing in on ISIS-held Raqqa , the symbolic ISIS capital, and expected to reach the city outskirts in a few weeks, as a US Marines artillery unit deployed to help the campaign.

Subsequent to retiring from the Army, Kimmitt served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, responsible for military policy development, planning, guidance and oversight for the region.

When asked about Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford holding a military summit with his Russian and Turkish counterparts to prevent clashes between their countries’ forces and the factions they support in Syria, and to sort out the next steps in the anti-ISIS campaign, Gen. Kimmitt said that the meeting’s details were not disclosed.

However, Kimmitt said that he suspects the counterparts to have agreed or differed on three topics.

First of all being the issue involved with categorizing terrorist organizations. Russians, for a while now, had deemed any movement opposing Bashar al-Assad–the Russian-backed Syria regime head– as a viable target irrespective of it being solely a rebel force or an actual terrorist group.

Hopefully the three parties have agreed to that particular issue, Gen. Kimmitt said.

Second of all, Gen. Kimmitt expressed his hope on principal potential rows during adjacent military operations behind settled as well.

Focus must solely be directed to the fight against ISIS, and any aerial or land-based confrontation might divert efforts away from the chief target, Gen. Kimmitt explained.

Lastly, the three military chiefs could have agreed on a military solution not being sufficient to settle the Syria crisis, and that military operations are a mere mean to an end. The end being a diplomatic Syria settlement.

While in the Army, Kimmitt had command and staff assignments throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, including planning positions within both Allied and Joint service commands. He served in hot zones, such as Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Burt: Trump Will Not Allow Iran to Achieve Victory


London – U.S. Ambassador Richard Burt, who worked as an advisor to former U.S. Presidents Georges H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, said that President-elect Donald Trump would not allow Iran to achieve victory in Syria and Iraq.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Burt said that the new U.S. Administration would be strong enough to face Iranian threats.

“I believe that Gulf States, led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were concerned over the Iranian challenge”, the former presidential advisor said.

He added that the whole U.S. Administration, including the Pentagon, had negative concerns over Iran’s policies in the region.

Asked whether Trump would allow Iran to achieve victory in Iraq and Syrian, Burt said: “I think the clear answer to this question is no.”

On whether the world would be safer with the new president, Burt said he believed the world would be much safer in the wake of Trump’s victory.

He noted that Trump “believes in strength and does not want to engage in unnecessary wars.”

He added that the new president was confident that “in order to avoid a war, one should be strong”.

Burt also said that as a businessman, Trump knew how to build strong economic relationships and promote prosperity, which would decrease the chances of conflicts in the world.

Asked about Trump’s stance on crises in the Islamic world, the former presidential advisor said that enhancing living standards could solve conflicts in the Middle East.

He stressed in this regard that the United States would deploy fresh efforts to promote investments in the Middle East and enhance skills.

One of the main reasons behind terrorism is unemployment and misery, Burt said.

The new Trump Administration will work to encourage stability and restore prosperity in the region, he added.

“President Trump wants to spread a policy that supports stability in the countries and will not engage in a failed military conflict,” Burt stated.

The Iran Wars: Obama Appeased Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose for a photograph before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear programme in Lausanne March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

London –Wall Street Journal chief foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon issued a book entitled: In “The Iran Wars” which took him ten years to be done. Solomon tells the story of Iran’s nuclear program and its projection of power in the region, and the American struggle to contain the country.

The book is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and speaks about secret messages between U.S. and Iranian negotiators who used to meet secretly in Oman in what he described as “secret deals that reshaped the Middle East.”

The book unveils the hypocrisy of the U.S. foreign policy and President Obama’s obsession to reach a deal with Iran no matter the results, to which John Kerry’s enthusiasm was very helpful.

Solomon relates the promise Obama gave to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei saying that if the nuclear deal was achieved, both countries can work against ISIS and U.S. won’t target Bashar Assad’s regime.

Asharq Al-Awsat met with author and chief foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon.

When asked about Obama’s promise to Khamenei, Solomon said that the White House insists that policy towards Iran has nothing to do with that towards Syria. Yet, Obama announced certain targets in Syria and then retreated from his decision. He added that the book revealed high-level secret meetings in Oman between U.S and Iran.

The author said in his book that officials at the Pentagon expressed their fear that operations in Syria could collapse the nuclear talks.

In his book, Solomon mentioned that Obama began writing to Khamenei one month after becoming president which he considered to be a calculated move. He added that Obama thought he could negotiate with Iran or even North Korea without conditions.

Between 2009 and 2015, according to Solomon, Obama sent five letters to Khamenei in which Obama assured the Supreme Leader that they do not want to change the regime in Iran and that the nuclear agreement could be reached amicably.

When asked if Khamenei responded to any of those letters, Solomon said that the Supreme Leader responded to at least the first one but didn’t commit to anything. According to his sources, Solomon said he knew that Khamenei responded to the letter about ISIS in which Khamenei said that cooperation depends on the type of the American operations.

In the book, the author wrote that Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that in case an agreement wasn’t reached, a war will happen. Solomon explained that Kerry was convinced of that. In the even that an agreement wasn’t reached, Iran would rush to enhance their nuclear program and U.S. would have to respond to that and relations would fall apart.

Solomon wrote in his book that Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif used to communicate three times a day. He also said that Zarif admitted to speaking with Kerry two or three times a day. He added that they still communicate, but he is not sure of how frequent.

The author said that Kerry would continue to communicate with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov despite what Russia does.

When asked if that is humiliating to the U.S foreign policy, Solomon said it is since it means U.S. has no power.

According to the author, since his first day as a president Obama’s focus was on Iran. He added that the interesting thing is that Kerry was willing to relinquish few things to Iran about Uranium.

During his second presidency, Obama organized a foreign policy team that agrees with his vision which is why he wasn’t worried in 2015 since he knows the team unlike the pervious one with Hillary Clinton.

The author added that the White House hoped there would a photo of Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani at the U.N. Yet, he was informed by the Iranians that they coordinated Rouhani’s program so that he won’t be in New York when Obama is. They were afraid he’d be attacked in Iran.

He also ruled out the possibility of Kerry visiting Iran after the presidential elections on November 08.

Solomon said that Kerry is eager to visit Iran to give the agreement legitimacy as this administration’s biggest achievements. But, and according to Solomon, Revolutionary Guard do not welcome Kerry’s visit.

The author believes that no matter who wins in the presidential elections, the new president will not create a new crisis. He added that despite his objection to the agreement, Khamenei was afraid of financial crisis which was gone after the agreement.

But Solomon heard from Clinton’s team that they will impose commitment to the agreement more forcefully and will question Iran’s missile technology and human rights.

The author said that polls show that Hillary Clinton is more likely to be the president.

The nuclear agreement didn’t include Iran’s missile program, but Solomon said that after the agreement, the statements were less intense. So instead of saying Iran should not develop weapons and missiles, the Security Council said it preferred if Iran didn’t do that.

According to the author, this means that Security Council doesn’t want Iran to do that, but it is not forbidden.

When asked about comprises President Obama gave to Iran, Solomon said it is interesting how the president dealt. In Yemen, the White House was against military operation but didn’t stand against it because they wanted Saudi Arabia’s support for the deal with Iran.

The author believes it will be hard for U.S. to play double: supporting Saudi Arabia from one side, while criticizing it from the other.

When asked if we should believe that Iran can win in any war against the U.S., Solomon doesn’t believe so. He said that Iranians can expand their power but they are not giant “gorillas”. He added that their economy is bad currently, but Iran is a master in inequivalent wars in which it leads Shiite militias.

He said that Iran wants a land bridge that links it to the Middle East starting from Iran, passing through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. But he believes that it all depends on the internal situation as no one believes Khamenei will remain the Supreme Leader for 20 years.

Battle is in Aleppo, but the Conflict is in Iran!

Certainly Iran would have preferred to maintain the policy of caution and was not satisfied with Russia’s announcement on using a military base on its territories. This step was supposed to stay discrete, but the Russian ministries of defense and foreign affairs surprised the Islamic Republic; Tehran has no time to waste in defending its position and has had to protect its ally Bashar al-Assad given that Russia’s air force is important to protect the regime in Syria.
Therefore, Moscow will continue to use the Iranian base only after finding a good way to avoid embarrassing the Syrian “self-sufficient revolution” and soothing the parliament and the people.

Because of Bashar Assad, Syria has been stuck between caught in the crossfire of two countries; one that has lived the obsession of recalling its past and another that lacks credibility; Russia feels that it’s time to fulfill its old ambitions despite its economic and financial crisis.

Following the decision of using the Iranian military base, a source in the defense ministry revealed that the only aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” has been under maintenance and that it will be ready for long-term operation on the Syrian coast by the end of September. In an attempt to expand its power in the Middle East, Moscow also called on Ankara to provide it with a gateway in İncirlik base. The NATO base hosts around 50 nuclear warheads.

Igor Morozov, member of the Russian upper house of parliament, said that the İncirlik will be the second base used by his country, which points to another achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another Russian official said that Russia may not need this base, but this decision will reveal Turkey’s intentions concerning the coordination with Moscow to combat terrorism.

As for Iran, and while it is seeking along with Russia to reduce regional ambitions, political observers expect a bigger Russian determination. A Russian source says that Russian air raids may expand to include Iraq; Russia aims at controlling the whole region and to kick the United States out of it. On Monday, a spokesman from the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia had stopped using its territories.

During a press conference on Saturday, Minister of Defense Hussein Dahkan announced that his country is ready to provide Russia with another airbase and has defended Moscow’s use for Hamadan airbase considering that it corresponds with the international procedures of traditional wars. Dahkan has sought to appease the Iranian opposition by announcing that Tehran has received the full S-300 missiles deal.

The Iranian airbase plays an important role for Russia, because more strikes will lead to the seizure of more territories; an Iranian official said that the Russian-Iranian understanding has determined Syria as a core target; however, it goes far beyond to a strategic agreement that confronts countries that support terrorism and work on toppling Assad.

Although the Russian use of the Iranian airbase ensures many strategic benefits in the battle field, observers didn’t pay much attention to these details; they considered that the main reason behind this use was linked to the timing and the relapse of Assad following the advance of rebels in the Aleppo battle, which required a prompt intervention. Observers also saw that it may be a response to complaints of Hezbollah and the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution about weak Russian air coverage. However, observers expect improvement of relations between Tehran and Moscow, particularly in their coordination to save Assad’s regime.

The agreement between Russia and Iran can’t be considered as an alliance; however both countries are using their cooperation to send a message to the United States, the West, and the Arabian Gulf to emphasize their influence in the region and stress their main role in establishing the new regional regime.

This cooperation is ongoing, which means that both countries don’t intend to lessen their support for Assad, and that they are ready to enhance their military cooperation with new means when needed.

The war in Syria reached a critical phase; Iran’s permission for Russia to use its territories indicates that they are seeking more strategic achievements. However, the battle of Aleppo will not be decisive; yet it will blow the internal conflict in Iran between Ali Shamkhani and Qasem Soleimani, which was sparked by President Hassan Rouhani, who has backed Shamkhani.

Bruce Riedel: U.S. Iraq Invasion Paved Way to Regional Divide, Syria, Libya to Disappear

Bruce Riedel

London- 30 years after serving at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) , senior former national intelligence officer for the Mid-East and a member of President Obama’s transition team Bruce Riedel has come to be a renowned counter-terrorism expert.

Serving four different U.S. administrations, Riedel has many published works on his days spent dealing with Middle East, Eastern Asia, Gulf security and Arab-Israeli struggles. Riedel’s companions cite him as a man of high intelligence, who is well informed and poised.

Spending most of his years in the Middle-East, Riedel reiterated deep disappointment with bearing witness to great cities like Damascus and Baghdad being reduced to battle arenas.

In his first interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic printing daily, Riedel said that Iraq’s 2003 invasion had paved the way to take apart Arab states. He added that the Lebanon 70’s war was a taste of what is to come.

The intelligence expert highlighted that Syria and Libya are underway to dissolution and that Iraq will be losing its Kurdish North.

Riedel said that what Iran promotes to be an Islamic revolution in truth is sectarian-based upheaval—so long Iran-backed Shi’ite Iraqi militias roam, there will always be ISIS, he said.

Riedel says that Iran’s genuine ‘affection’ for Iraq is so great that it wishes to see three states rise within the country; a Shi’ite Iraq, a smaller Sunni Iraq and a Kurdish Iraq.

The separation of Iraq would facilitate Iranian exploitation of the territory.

Effectively, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pushes forward with the separation of Iraq, deploying militant units to the heated zone and throwing off national balance.

The IRGC is a branch of Iran’s Armed Forces devoted to serve Iranian religious-founded political agenda with a military leverage—the entity actively carries out Iranian orders beyond national borders partaking in wars in the Middle East.

On that note, Riedel failed to see the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani flashing out the red card on IRGC operations.

When asked on whether the Middle East is having its borders redefined by U.S. and Russian power, Riedel said that with the evident chaos engulfing the whole region, it is not clear whether the Russians or the Americans are doing so.

He believes that the destruction and mayhem are playing the chief role in shifting territories even more than foreign influence is.

Riedel asserted that the Middle East is being set off from within. For two chief reasons, the Middle East is being self-destructive.

The first reason is that U.S. former President George W. Bush and British former Prime Minister Tony Blair made the monumentally disastrous decision to invade Iraq, the second reason being the failure of the Arab Spring.

As to whether the first brought about the other or vice versa, Riedel believes that the invasion of Iraq was the first step taken towards breaking down the power balance in the region, while the Arab Spring regrettably fast-tracked the process.

As for the redefined topography, Riedel believes that Syria and Libya heading towards absolute dissolution. Iraq would lose its Kurdish North– the rest of the areas will be at a better aligned state not by peace but in arms, he said.

Riedel made the serious notion that it would not be surprising for him to see parts and parcels of Libya join other countries.

Whether the Libya broken-off territory will be joining its neighboring country, Egypt, he said the possibility is present—yet the annexation will not be official at the beginning, Riedel added.

Moreover, Riedel forecast a different future for the orthodox uniformed Yemen known. He believes that South will separate from its North once again and will fall under Saudi protection.

Syria’s forecast did not look any brighter in Riedel’s opinion, the state will dissolve into smaller states according to sect. All future Syrian states exhibit Islam as a main feature; however, according to Riedel some would prove to be more extreme than others.

Riedel labeled the future of Syria as a country not to only be dangerous but rather short to horrific.

Al-Qaeda Leaders Fight Iran in Syria…and Iran Welcomes Them!

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in the southern countryside of Idlib.

Mullah Omar successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was targeted by a drone as soon as he returned from his secret visit to Iran. This may not be his first visit to Iran as it is said that he was there in February and March for medical treatment.

EU Special Representative in Afghanistan Franz Michael Mellbin revealed that Iran is working with Taliban on creating a buffer zone on the Iranian – Afghani borders to keep ISIS from that area. According to Mellbin, Iran wants to secure its 527 miles borders. The zone is expected to be between Helmand province in the south till Kunduz in the north which Taliban controls a great part of.

On the latest developments, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that his country wants Iran to work constructively with the Afghani government and international community to promote Afghanistan’s sovereignty and unity.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad said that Iran refused to give Washington al-Qaeda groups that resorted to it.

Since the beginning of this year, al-Bina’a ISIS bulletin published a series of testimonies of “The Lebanese Abu Obeida” who disassociated himself from al-Qaeda to join ISIS after a series of members left in 2014. “Abu Obeida” was an important security official in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He later joined ISIS and revealed many of al-Qaeda’s internal acts and connections. During one of its issues, The Lebanese spoke of the relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran. Due to the significance of the information he revealed, one of al-Qaeda’s members “Abu Karima al-Khorasani” responded to his allegations.

During issue number 19 of al-Bina’a, “Abu Obeida” is asked how he succeeded to travel from Khorasan (i.e.: Pakistan and Afghanistan) to Center of the Caliphate in Raqqa after his struggle with the leadership. He responded that it was an easy task as coordinators from al-Qaeda overlooked the arrangements of members entering Iran. He explained that travelers stay in “Guest Houses” until their travel arrangements to Syria are done, adding that Iranian government and security forces are aware of this. Abu Obeida stressed that it was easy and that as soon as a traveler entered the “Guest House”, intelligence knew of his arrival. He explained that supervisors of these homes meet with Iranian Intelligence every week and that all the houses and their phones are monitored. Abu Obeida said that his stay was long in the House until al-Qaeda coordinators made sure he wouldn’t travel to the land of ISIS, “but that’s exactly what I did.” He went on to say that he ran away after Iranian Intelligence knew through coordinators that he was in one of the houses.

Al-Qaeda responded on the internet to these testimonies through “Abu Karima al-Khorasani” saying that “Abu Obeida” was a security official for few months in al-Qaeda before he was expelled for deceiving the organization. Al-Khorasani said that the Shari’a court ruled that “Abu Obeida” be punished harshly for his crimes. Abu Obeida’s testimony that al-Qaeda works with Pakistani Intelligence stimulated al-Khorasani to respond saying that al-Qaeda’s first operation in the Indian Subcontinent was against the Pakistani Navy Headquarters. Yet al-Khorasani didn’t deny there are safe houses in Iran. Addressing “Abu Obeida”, he said, “People who live in house of glass, should not throw stones at others.” He then questioned allegations of “Abu Obeida” saying: “The Lebanese spoke of the Iranian Intelligence. If that is true, why did he go to ISIS through the road used by the intelligence? How was he able to move freely in Tehran streets?” He then addressed ISIS asking them to issue a Fatwa against “your comrade who came to you through the channels of the Iranian Intelligence willingly, then give us a Fatwa on “The Lebanese” who met with the Iranian Intelligence before he fled away to you.”

Al-Khorasani aimed to increase the doubts regarding ISIS because they are welcoming supporters through the deal between al-Qaeda and Iran. Al-Khorasani issued the problematic nature of the past of “Abu Obeida”. He claimed that “The Lebanese” is a former member of an organization supported by Iran and before joining al-Qaeda he concealed that fact. He also said that after giving his testimonies to al-Bina’a, “Abu Obeida” left ISIS due to disagreements with al-Baghdadi’s men.

Al-Qaeda in Iran is mentioned on the U.S. list of terrorist groups which only means that the statement of “The Lebanese” has been verified by an independent source (the US government). Since July 2010, U.S. Treasury has been targeting al-Qaeda network in Iran through a series of sanctions imposed on its main leaders. On July 28, 2010, U.S. Treasury named six members of the network including its extremist supervisor “The Syrian Yasin”. The State named “The Syrian” as one of the prominent leaders in al-Qaeda who lives in Tehran for the facilities provided to the organization.

The strange thing about the deal “Iran – al-Qaeda” is that they are on opposing sides in Syria. Yet, according to the U.S. government, al-Qaeda leaders are using Iran to send money and fighters from Turkey to Syria. Those members would then instantly join al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda official branch in Syria.

Al-Nusra is fighting to topple the Syrian regime and al-Qaeda is fighting Iranian Forces and appointed members (like Hezbollah) in Syria.

This raises an important question: Why would Iran allow al-Qaeda to continue its work through its network even though both are at war?

During one of his testimonies, “The Lebanese Abu Obeida” answers that saying: “it might be strange to say that Iran allowed fighters to pass to Syria even though they are fighting her army and militias. But this is the truth. Iran’s biggest fear is for these operations to happen on Iranian ground.” He then added, “Iran guaranteed the loyalty of al-Qaeda by hosting most of its leaders like Ateyyah Abdul Rahman who was allowed to travel freely. He was Osama bin Laden’s Chief of Staff who was killed in a drone in August 2011.”

U.S. Treasury mentioned weeks ago that Abdul Rahman was killed and was al-Qaeda envoy in Iran which allowed him to travel to Iran with permission from officials.

“The Lebanese” said that other members like “Seif al-Adel” and “Abu Mohammed al-Masri” are in Iran. In 2015, Iran swapped those two with an Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Yemen. “The Lebanese” said that some al-Qaeda officials consider Iran an ally in their war against U.S. as Iran uses them to double the pressure on U.S. and its allies in the Gulf.

In his testimonies, “The Lebanese” speaks of al-Qaeda’s rejection for ISIS’ approach and the role of Ayman al-Zawahiri, whether in Iran or Syria and the deep disagreements between branches of al-Qaeda and branches of ISIS.

It is important to interpret the role of Iran in the relationship with al-Qaeda and sending fighters to Syria. There may be many goals, but the clearest one is to extend the duration of war in Syria and destroy the Syrian opposition.

Khalilzad Warns of Inter-Shi’ite Strife in Iraq over Oil

London-Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has stressed the importance of confronting Iran’s expansionist policies in the region by resorting to the U.S. to strengthen the military capabilities of Gulf countries.

Khalilzad told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview that Iraqi Shi’ite officials have complained of Iran’s interference in their country’s affairs, saying the militias backed by Tehran might turn against each other in the future over a dispute on oil.

“It is wrong not to create safe and no-fly zones in Syria,” he said. “We have experience in such matters. We implemented it in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when Saddam moved against the Kurds and forced them to escape to Turkey.”

“We planned at the Pentagon to create a no-fly zone, a move that stopped many Kurds from heading to Turkey and then to Europe,” he said.

“The same should have been done in Syria,” the diplomat said, adding “it would have led to a possibility of a better settlement and would have led to the formation of a government that represents Syrians better.”

Asked what would happen if diplomacy fails in Syria, he said: “More conflicts and more refugees.”

“I think that it is not too late to take measures that would convince Bashar Assad to approve not just reaching a ceasefire but also a settlement acceptable by most Syrians.”

“I believe that there is a need for a regional settlement between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Khalilzad said. “But as long as there is no solution in Syria, there won’t be any solution in Iraq.”

Asked how a settlement could be reached with Iran, which has an expansionist policy, he said: “The settlement is possible if there is a change in Iranian policies. Change could take place if their (Iranians) activities in Iraq and Syria become costlier and if there is a balance of power in the region which stops Iran from seeking to control the region.”

Khalilzad said the negotiation between the three powers requires a U.S. move “to strengthen the capabilities of its traditional Arab allies.”

“Confronting Iran’s aggressive attitude and at the same time allowing it to participate (in resolving the regional disputes) is the right policy,” he said.

“Some parties in Iran, mainly the people, want better relations with the rest of the world, including the U.S.,” Khalilzad said.

When told about Iran’s disrespect for Iraqi sovereignty, he told his interviewer that Shi’ite Iraqi politicians want good relations with the U.S. and with Iran.

“They don’t want to be dependent on Iran and humiliated by it,” he said. “They want to be independent.”

“Some of them have expressed concern over the role that Iranian-backed militias play in Iraq … although they believe that they need the militias in their continuous fight with ISIS,” he said.

“They fear that such militias backed by Iran could be a source of instability for Shi’ites,” Khalilzad stated.

“As a result of Iranian policies, there could be inter-Shi’ite strife and for example some of these militias could fight each other because of oil,” he said.

“That’s why Iraqi Shi’ite leaders are concerned and are looking forward to a balance in relations, mainly with the U.S.” he added.