Trump’s Strategy Includes Restricting Iran’s Support for ‘Hezbollah,’ Hamas

Trump

Riyadh, London – US President Donald Trump’s strategy to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region includes curbing its support for terrorist organizations and militants in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a US official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the US State Department said that the strategy included four key elements or objectives.

He pointed out that the first strategic goal is “to neutralize the destabilizing activities by Iran, especially its support for terrorism and insurgents, with a focus on its activities in the Middle East in particular and also in Afghanistan.”

Earlier this week, Trump announced the possibility of terminating the Iranian nuclear deal once and for all, because he was “tired of achieving benefits at [his] country’s expenses”. The European Union, for its part, called on the US Congress to maintain the agreement.

Trump’s new strategy – according to the US official – includes putting an end to Iran’s subversive activities in Syria and its support for terrorism through groups such as “Hezbollah”, Hamas, the Taliban and Iraqi Shi’ite factions, noting that Tehran was seeking to fuel ethnic and sectarian strife in Iraq.

The US president said on Monday that a total termination of the Iran nuclear deal was a very real possibility.

“It might be a total termination. That’s a very real possibility,” Trump said before a Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday welcomed European support for the nuclear deal between his country and international powers.

Rouhani said in a statement on the Iranian presidency website that the consensus on the support for the agreement, especially by the Europeans, “is an important political achievement for Iran,” according to the German news agency.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

Israeli Intelligence Accuses Hezbollah of Recruiting Palestinians for Operations in Settlements

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via a screen during a rally marking Al-Quds day in Beirut's southern suburbs

Tel Aviv- Israeli intelligence accused Hezbollah of recruiting Palestinians to carry out operations in Israeli settlements and other sites.

It revealed that one man was brought to court on charges of carrying out terrorist acts and that the official in charge of this file from Hezbollah is called Mohammed Ataya.

“Hezbollah recruited a Palestinian man to carry out attacks against Israel in the West Bank,” Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic-language spokesperson, said Monday.

“This is another failed attempt by Mohammad Ataya, commander of the Hezbollah unit that recruits Palestinians to carry out terror attacks,” he added in a tweet moments later.

Ataya directs Hezbollah’s 113 Unit, which aims to compile intelligence and build up operational capabilities to carry out what it describes as revenge attacks against Israel.

According to the results of the investigation, he was recruited by Hezbollah in May 2017 through a Lebanese “profile” on Facebook.

He was supposed to receive money from the Lebanese officer in charge from Hezbollah to buy a laptop to communicate with him through a secret program.

Badawi planned to carry out the operations after receiving the money, but he was arrested before he could do so.

The statement pointed out that investigations with Badawi showed he had worked in arms trade and threw stones at Israeli military forces, who were working in the area of his residence.

“The method used by Hezbollah to recruit Badawi is a well-known method for the activity of this organization, as was evident during other investigations conducted during the last year,” the statement stressed.

The New Bloc against Tehran

Iran

The pace of developments has taken us by surprise. Ever since Washington announced its decision against Iran’s government, Britain and Germany shifted their stance from insisting on remaining loyal to the commitments of the nuclear deal to announcing that they support Trump’s plan to confront Tehran’s regime in the Middle East.

The problem is not related to an agreement over nuclear activity as much as it is about the wars, which Iran is regionally managing. It is unreasonable to let the regime loose in the region and allow it to spread chaos, threaten other regimes and dominate Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. All this would basically be its reward for decreasing uranium enrichment!

Britain and Germany criticized Iranian practices and announced they will join the US in confronting Tehran’s policy. This position foils Iran’s attempts to adopt the entire agreement in one package to impose it on everyone without distinguishing between preventing nuclear activity, which qualifies it for military supremacy, and between the dangerous practices of the regime, which is benefiting from the nuclear deal itself.

We must acknowledge that the White House wittingly managed the battle with its European allies who completely rejected backing down from the agreement and refused to take any action that may lead to tense relations with Tehran.

However, President Trump put two options before them: correct the mistakes related to the agreement or cancel it altogether. He insisted on refusing the previous situation. This stance is in harmony with the Republican Party’s view and his government, of course, supported the decision.

The wheel will begin to turn again to pressure Tehran’s regime, which will be responsible for the next economic and political crisis it will suffer from – that is if it refuses to change its behavior and to suspend its military and militant activities in the region.

The US and governments that support it it do not oppose Iran’s right to establish a civil nuclear program, but Washington expects Tehran rein in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its intelligence apparatuses in the region.

Iran must withdraw the militias, which the IRGC established and trained and which consist of powerless refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other countries. It also developed “Hezbollah’s” roles and turned the party members into mercenaries who launch wars on its behalf in the region.

It is preparing the Houthi Ansar Allah group in Yemen for this same purpose. Iran also used a naval network to smuggle weapons to conflict areas in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon and used ships to smuggle supplies to fund the Yemeni war. It tried to do the same in Syria via the Mediterranean Sea. Iran also has activities in Afghanistan as it has supported the war there ever since the American invasion of the country following the September 11 attacks.

Iran could not have expanded in this manner in the region if those who signed the agreement hadn’t submitted to its conditions and hadn’t lifted sanctions randomly. Tehran could not have expanded in Syria if the former US administration, under Barack Obama, hadn’t been lenient with it out of fear that it may not sign the deal.

The challenge will be in proposing a new project to Tehran. This can include lifting sanctions in exchange of keeping the deal and getting Iran to commit to withdrawing all its foreign militias from conflict zones and pledging to stop supporting local militias allied with it, like the Houthis, the League of Righteous People, “Hezbollah in Iraq” and others.

To pressure Iran, Washington said it will revive its support of the Iranian opposition that is seeking to topple the regime. Obama’s administration had stopped doing that and had suspended supporting academic, political and media activities directed against Tehran in order to please Rouhani’s government.

Now that the political confrontation is back on, Tehran is faced before a new equation: stop wars or be sanctioned again. All this will be accompanied with the formation of a new bloc, whose aims are to pressure Iran and guarantee the implementation of sanctions.

Blowing up the Nuclear Agreement

It was a matter of time before the clock ticks to reconsider the Iranian nuclear agreement, repeatedly described by US President Donald Trump as “the worst deal ever”. It is the worst. Trump needed 10 months to start an actual confrontation with Iran, while Obama took eight years to throw the safety buoy to Iran.

Iran was delighted by the agreement since it is the greatest winner. Iran was allowed to exceed the limited heavy water quantities, which means that it would move on with its nuclear project. Even more dangerous is its terrorist arm IRGC, described by Trump as “the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia”.

Trump added that Iran spreads death, destruction, and chaos and doesn’t abide by the agreement spirit, but benefits from lifting the economic sanctions. Reimposing sanctions on Iran and its military militias (IRGC) was Trump’s new strategy to face a nuclear deal that has flaws and which undermined the regions’ states.

Washington didn’t announce withdrawing from the agreement since this scenario is seen by US officials as a knock out that would make European partners slam the US. Washington, however, chose a modest solution by neither withdrawing from the deal nor permitting it to continue with its dangerous impact on the world and region’s security and stability.

Trump decertified that Iran committed to the deal, describing it as an extremist regime. He added that the topic will be referred to the Congress and US allies will be consulted on ways to amend the deal. This step probably aims at dragging Iran to breach the deal or withdraw it, decreasing Washington’s responsibility infront of European allies.

More than two years since signing the deal, Iran has earned a huge amount of money. The White House affirmed earlier that Iran has recovered USD50 billion of its foreign assets then started its attempts to open the nuclear door. It insisted on dealing with the missile file separately from the nuclear one. IRGC conducted several experiments on ballistic missiles, a matter described by Washington as a violation of the agreement.

Iran manipulated the world via the bad nuclear deal, its militias expanded more and it exploited its IRGC in strengthening its militias. If Iran was left to go on with its subversive strategy during the agreement deal without confronting it, then it would have been impossible to halt its terrorism around the world at a point where its militant arms would have expanded and become a reality such as “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

When enthusiasm was at its peak after announcing the nuclear deal in 2015, Saudi Arabia remained among the few states that sensed danger. It was frank in expressing concerns over Iran not abiding by the deal and warned the Iranians of their intervention policy in the region. The kingdom considered that using the lift of economic sanctions term to cause tension will be faced decisively by the region states.

Back then, it was said that Riyadh is being strict towards the chance to contain Iran and return it to a normal state to the international community. Here is the US proving that Riyadh was right and affirming that it wasn’t a strict stance but a forecast vision to an infidel state that was granted several chances but remained adamant to its project of sabotage.

In her book “Hard Choices”, former United States Secretary of State and one of the main sponsors of this agreement Hillary Clinton said that nothing makes the US trust the Iranians. She added that despite reaching a nuclear agreement, Iran remains a threat to the international community, US, and allies – due to its hostile attitude and support to terrorism.

This reveals that the agreement was a purpose for the Obama administration and not a means to terminate the danger of Iran.

Maybe it is finally time to snatch the winning card from Iran, which it has been exploiting to spread terrorism in the world.

Lebanese Government Distances Itself from ‘Hezbollah’-Tel Aviv Row

Lebanon

Beirut — The Lebanese government is trying to stay away from the recent escalating debate between “Hezbollah” and Israel, which has highlighted a high probability of war between the two sides, despite recent accusations by Tel Aviv that the Lebanese Army has become an integral part of “Hezbollah”.

While the Cabinet, which convened on Thursday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, did not tackle the new development, nor did it issue any direct official response to the Israeli statements, President Michel Aoun stressed before his visitors that Lebanon would face mounting pressure through unity and solidarity among all the Lebanese people.

“Lebanon has been able to save itself since the Israeli aggression back in 2006, when Israel did not aim to occupy Lebanon, but to cause internal strife. The Lebanese have enough awareness and we have surpassed this stage,” he stated.

The President went on to say that Lebanon today faced a new reality and was currently under great pressure.

“We will face this pressure with our unity, solidarity, and national will, which have achieved countless victories in the past,” he noted.

However, Aoun did not comment on recent statements by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who warned that the next “war in the north will not only be the Lebanese front, but rather a united front made up of Syria and Lebanon.”

Lieberman also said: “The Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of “Hezbollah”.”

Earlier this week, Washington has offered up to $7 million for information leading to the detention of Talal Hamiyah, head of “Hezbollah’s” foreign operations, and up to $5 million for Fouad Shukr, a top “Hezbollah” military operative.

Although sources close to “Hezbollah” said that “the drums of war are nothing but drums of pressure and blackmail,” stressing at the same time that the possibility of an actual war should not be neglected, military experts are divided between those who assert that “psychological warfare will not turn into a military confrontation,” and those who talk about a 50 percent probability of war, as a result of continued escalation by the parties to the conflict.

Retired Brigadier General Dr. Mohammad Ramal ruled out a scenario in which Israel would launch a war soon, stressing that it was “not ready and seriously considers “Hezbollah’s” threats to target the infrastructure and the Israeli society as a whole.”

For his part, the head of the Middle East and Gulf Center for Military Analysis, Riad Kahwaji, noted that the size and frequency of Israeli maneuvers, in addition to the American-Israeli position against Iran and Hezbollah, which is taking an upward trend, “all indicate the 50 percent possibility of war, which is not a low percentage at all.”

US Measures against Hezbollah Leaders Embarrass Lebanese Government

Beirut – The United States stepped up its measures against Lebanon’s Hezbollah group by offering multimillion-dollar rewards for the arrest of two of its officials.

Washington has offered up to $7 million for information leading to the detention of Talal Hamiyah, head of Hezbollah’s foreign operations, and up to $5 million for Fouad Shukr, a top Hezbollah military operative.

The new escalatory steps put further pressure on the Lebanese government, especially in the wake of recent warnings by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said: “The next war in the north will not only be the Lebanese front, but rather a united front made up of Syria and Lebanon.”

“The Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah,” he added.

While no official stance was issued by Lebanon in response to the new US measures, Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday that foreign threats affect all the Lebanese people, underlining the importance of preserving unity to face challenges ahead.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, sources from Hezbollah said the US rewards and the Israeli threats would not affect the “resistance work against Israeli and extremist groups.”

The sources noted that the new measures were part of a political media campaign with well-known objectives, which came in parallel with the new financial sanctions imposed on the group.

Director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs Sami Nader said that the new steps against Hezbollah would embarrass the Lebanese government, which would soon have to give an official stance on the matter.

Nader told Asharq Al-Awsat that the most dangerous part of the US escalatory steps was its call on its European allies to stop separating between Hezbollah’s military and political wings, an approach that European countries have used so far in their relation with Lebanon and its government.

Nathan Sales, the US counterterrorism coordinator, said in a press conference that the rewards were the first offered by the United States for Hezbollah operatives in a decade.

Hamiyah has been on the department’s foreign terrorist list since 2015 and Shukr was added in 2013. The United States named Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.

Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the National Counter Terrorism Center, blamed the group for a list of attacks around the world, and said it maintains a presence in “nearly every corner of the globe.”

He added that US intelligence agencies warned that the group was seeking an ability to strike inside “the homeland.”

Future Movement: Hezbollah’s Campaign against Saudi Arabia Harms Lebanon

Hezbollah fighters put Lebanese and Hezbollah flags at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border

Beirut- The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc warned against the campaign launched by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, stressing that such policy would “damage the interests of Lebanon, and distort relations with Arab brothers, especially in the Gulf.”

The bloc held its weekly meeting in Beirut on Tuesday, headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.

In a statement issued afterward, it stressed “the restoration of the full authority of the state on its soil, the serious implementation of the Constitution and the Taif Agreement, and the need to strengthen Arab-Lebanese relations for the sake of Lebanon and its people.”

The bloc underlined the necessity to maintain the rule of law and order and promote the work of state institutions.

On Hezbollah, the Future deputies said: “The bloc strongly condemns the speech made by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on more than one subject, including his campaign against Saudi Arabia and Arab Gulf states.”

While it lauded the reconciliation launched at the Palestinian level to promote the rapprochement between the Fatah and Hamas movements, the bloc expressed its concern over “the spread of trends and attempts in more than one country to promote separation such as in Iraq and Catalonia in Spain.”

The Future Bloc warned that these changes “necessitate Arab States to preserve the unity of their countries in order to guarantee national stability, within the framework of a civil state in which all people have equal rights and duties”.

Israel’s Lieberman: Next War Will Take Place on 3 Fronts

Lieberman

Tel Aviv – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced on Tuesday that the next war his country wages will most likely take place on three fronts at the same time.

He explained that the northern front will no longer be limited to a war against the “Hezbollah” group in Lebanon, but it will also encompass Syria.

“In the next war in the north of the country, Lebanon will not be the only front,” Lieberman said in a speech to soldiers.

Lebanon and Syria would constitute “one front” against his country, he explained, while making implicit threats to the Lebanese government and army.

The minister added that the Lebanese army had lost “its independence by becoming an integral part of ‘Hezbollah’.”

Lieberman evoked the possibility of a simultaneous conflict in the north and in the south with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“The battle will take place on the northern and southern fronts,” he said.

“There is no longer war on one front. It’s our basic assumption and it is what our military is preparing for.”

He stated however that his country was exerting great efforts to prevent a new war, but given the “new Middle East, chances of avoiding such a conflict are slim.”

“We have to prepare for any possible scenario, because the new reality presents us with new challenges. In the past, we used to speak of a Lebanese front, but this is no longer the case,” continued Lieberman.

The new northern front now includes Lebanon and Syria, he stressed.

“I hope that our enemies on the other side would think very well before making any move against Israel,” warned the minister.

Trump’s New Policy Will Focus on Iran’s Meddlers

Iran

After more than nine months in office, President Donald Trump finally has an Iran policy.

Last month before the opening of the UN General Assembly, Trump approved the long-awaited strategy to deal with Iran, according to administration officials. These officials tell me it will outline a new aggressive approach to countering Iranian threats all over the globe and endeavor to use the leverage of Trump’s threats over the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to spur US allies to begin to address its flaws.

On Wednesday at a press conference to dispel news reports that he considered quitting his post over the summer, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted the new policy was coming. Speaking of the Iran nuclear agreement, he said, “the JCPOA represents only a small part of the issues we have to address with Iran.”

The centerpiece of Trump’s new Iran strategy will be the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, placing it in the same category as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Congress mandated this designation over the summer, but allowed Trump to waive the requirement.

The designation would be significant.

The Revolutionary Guard in Iran controls a large portion of the state’s economy. Iranian economist and businessman Bijan Khajehpour, in an article in al-Monitor in August, estimated that the guard was responsible for 15 percent of Iran’s gross domestic product. (He also acknowledged that it’s difficult to arrive at a precise statistic because there are no official statistics on the web of companies it controls and its stake in enterprises with state and semi-state entities in Iran’s economy.)

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization could create problems for foreign companies seeking to invest in Iran. While the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama issued rules requiring private companies to do due diligence and avoid investment in the Revolutionary Guard, the rules were weakened in the final months of the administration. The new designation will make life harder for those companies.

“It’s important because it means if you are doing business with Iran in key sectors of its economy, you run a significant risk you are doing business with a terrorist organization,” Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told me this week.

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard is one element of what administration officials have described as a whole-government approach to pushing back against Iran’s regional aggression.

This includes a new policy on countering Iran’s threats to shipping lanes in the Arab Gulf and particularly the threat of anti-ship missiles and the harassment of US Navy vessels. It will include a new emphasis on countering Iranian networks inside Latin America; Iran’s development of ballistic missiles; Iranian human rights violations against its own citizens; and support for terrorist groups and proxies in the Middle East.

Two US intelligence officials tell me that an element of the strategy that will not be publicized includes a ramping up of intelligence operations against the Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian proxies like “Hezbollah” in the Middle East.

Already, CIA Director Mike Pompeo has approved new authorities for US intelligence officers to begin tracking and targeting Iranian agents abroad. These kinds of programs include psychological operations, such as placing funds in secret accounts belonging to Iranian officers in order to create the impression such officers are working for foreign powers.

Obama wound many of these programs down in his second term, particularly after the formal negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal began in 2013. Pompeo is winding them back up, according to these officials. As The New York Times reported in June, Pompeo has placed the CIA officer, nicknamed the “dark prince,” who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden, in charge of the agency’s Iran operations.

Despite the administration’s crystallizing policy on Iran, US officials tell me there is still no formal plan on how to secure Syrian and Iraqi territory after the ISIS is driven out. This is particularly important in Syria today as Iran’s proxies and the Revolutionary Guard have already begun to take over some of these areas as the war against ISIS has turned. In Iraq, militias loyal to the Revolutionary Guard still play a key part in the state’s war against the terrorist group. Since 2014, the US has at times provided air support in operations that include these militias.

Dubowitz told me that for now he is assessing how comprehensive the new effort against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will be. “I’m looking for measures that will drain the Guard Corps’ resources and have an economic impact on their funding of aggression abroad and patronage networks at home,” he said.

If Dubowitz gets his wish, it’s likely the Iranians themselves will accuse Trump of violating the nuclear deal forged by his predecessor, and threaten to pull out. Unlike Obama, Trump would probably consider that a favor.

Bloomberg

2 Killed in Armed Clash between ‘Hezbollah’ Supporters in Lebanon’s Sidon

Sidon

Beirut – A dispute between owners of power generators in the Lebanese southern city of Sidon escalated on Monday into an armed clash that left two people dead before the army intervened to contain the unrest.

The perpetrators were arrested as authorities in the city scrambled to contain the fallout from the clash, denying that it was politically motivated as evidence that both sides were affiliated with the “Hezbollah” armed group.

The incident occurred in the Barrad neighborhood in central Sidon when a verbal dispute erupted between a member of the Shehadeh family and Walid al-Saddiq, an owner of a power generator that provides electricity to subscribers.

The dispute turned into an armed clash after one of the Shehadeh members, a Palestinian, opened fire at Saddiq’s office, killing two people. The victims have been identified as Lebanese Ibrahim al-Janzoury and Palestinian Seraj Abdulaziz. Mohammed al-Rifai and Hassan Taleb were also wounded in the attack.

The situation escalated when relatives of the Shehadeh and Saddiq families intervened and a shootout ensued.

Relatives of the deceased also attempted to block the roads in the area to protest the death of their loved ones. Angry protesters set fire to stores and houses belonging to the Shehadeh family. No one from the family was wounded as they had fled the scene in anticipation of a retaliation.

The army soon intervene and deployed heavily in the area to end the clash and the perpetrators were arrested.

A security source denied to Asharq Al-Awsat that the attack was politically motivated, saying that the army had taken the decision to thwart any security incident and prevent its escalation.

All those involved in the shootout and the consequent acts of revenge have been detained, it added.

Judge Aouni Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that the competition to gain new electricity subscribers is the only cause for the clash.

The Army Command issued a statement on Monday night, identifying the shooters as Palestinians Omar Ahmed Shehadeh, Mustapha Shehadeh and his brother Ahmed, Mahmoud Abou Rashed, Ibrahim al-Farran and Eyad Wehbe and Lebanese Abdul Hussein Saleh.

A number of mobile phones, cameras, ammunition and military gear were seized in their possession, said the statement.

Sidon municipal chief Mohammed al-Saudi hinted that the attackers are all affiliated to the same political side.

“The incident has purely financial motives,” he explained.

He later told Asharq Al-Awsat that he ruled out political motives, because the attackers are close to “Hezbollah”.

The security by-council in the South held a meeting in the Sidon Serail to tackle the clash, calling for the formation of a security committee and handing over of the wanted Lebanese suspects to the Lebanese authorities.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Saniora condemned in a statement the “reckless” Sidon clash, blaming it on groups that seek the “easy route of violence and weapons to commit crimes and create unrest.”

MP Bahia Hariri and Mufti of Sidon and nearby provinces Sheikh Salim Sousan also condemned the unrest, rejecting the “spread of arms, whose proliferation is threatening the security and stability of the city and the safety of its residents.”