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Ed Webb

After Soleimani | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The Trump administration assassinated Soleimani to compel change in Iran’s behavior and to throw a wrench in the gears of Iran’s expansive regional influence. Twelve months is too short a period to measure its impact in the realms of longstanding policy and force posture. Outside of some signs of disunity among some of Iraq’s Shiite militias, not much has changed. The impact of Soleimani’s death is therefore impossible to accurately gauge. What we can say is that his death unleashed an emotional and political wave that has surged from his legacy. It is driven almost entirely by his benefactors in Tehran and clients across the region and it is fueled by their desire to shape the memory of the man, myth and legend they helped create.
  • To some, his death was small justice, an emphatic ending to the life of a man who served as the backbone of Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people and facilitated the empowerment of corrupt, coercive militias in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. To others, particularly his supporters and patrons, Soleimani was a hero: a leader in the war against ISIS and a champion of the Shiite Muslim minority.
  • To appreciate the complexity threaded throughout varying perceptions of Soleimani, it’s essential to understand what he symbolizes to Iran, to his military, and to the foreign groups he worked so closely with.
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  • The 1979 revolution was fueled by both desperate frustration and an abundance of hope. Across the various ideologies and sentiments that shaped the revolutionary movement, there was a common desire to break Iran’s subservience to foreign powers. This desire is often described as anti-Americanism or even anti-imperialism, and while that accurately reflects the language used by the revolutionaries at the time, it is also a reductive view.
  • under the stewardship of Khomeini, the architect of Iran’s theocracy and first supreme leader, justice was perceived much more broadly. It was primarily about two things: establishing an Islamic system at home and overturning the U.S. dominated status quo in the region, with an emphasis on countering Israel.
  • Prior to the revolution, the Shah had situated Iran as a bulwark to the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Iran’s regional relations were driven by Cold War considerations and by the Shah’s desire to transform Iran into the predominant power in the Persian Gulf.
  • The 1953 coup d’etat was just one in a string of indignities that had been eroding the Iranian national character since the 18th century. It also marked the United States’ entrance into the Middle East, and the beginning of the love-hate relationship between Washington and Tehran.
  • When war came to Iran, IRGC units were among the first to deploy. With little training and spare resources, their response was sporadic and innovative.What they lacked in capabilities and training, they compensated with zeal and fearlessness. Eventually the IRGC began to use the tactic of “human wave” assaults that showcased those qualities on the battlefield. IRGC forces would charge en masse into Iraqi defenses, overwhelming the defenders by being able to absorb mass casualties without relenting the advance. Iraqis fired until they ran out of ammunition and then were forced to retreat. The IRGC used this tactic to impressive effect, winning battle after battle and eventually forcing a full-scale Iraqi retreat in the summer of 1982
  • Whereas much of the region and foreign powers were supporting Iraq, Iran was virtually alone in fighting the war, with only Syria providing it any meaningful political support. The war ended as a stalemate in 1988. Iran saw itself as up against the world and it could not overcome the vast amount of support buttressing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
  • as Khamenei’s main support base, the IRGC grew into a formidable political actor within Iran, and the primary strategic arm of the regime. Many of the young men who joined the IRGC during the war also rose to become commanders and officers with it. This included Soleimani, who became a rising star in the IRGC’s Quds Force division, which was responsible for all foreign activities and operations
  • the IRGC shot down a passenger jet, killing everyone on board. The narrative of the assassination was instantly overtaken by the grief and shock of the everyday Iranians who struggled to make sense of a preventable tragedy. Iran’s leaders attempted to skirt blame and cover up the IRGC’s catastrophic error. Family members who spoke out and demanded answers were cruelly silenced. Soleimani’s image was everywhere, yet justice was nowhere to be seen.
  • Iran knew that both Israel and the United States had to factor in potential attacks by Hezbollah were they ever to strike Iran, and Syria was the lynchpin for Iran’s sustained influence on the Lebanese organization. Syria was therefore key to Iran’s larger deterrence strategy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel
  • The irony of Soleimani’s successes in Syria and Iraq is that they prepared the ground for the rise of ISIS. The Islamic State’s explosion into Iraq should have been recognized as the product of Soleimani’s myopic view of Iraq and Syria as simply battlegrounds for Iran’s advancement. Yet, Soleimani and the IRGC seized the moment and self-consciously rebranded their enterprise. Iran was the first outside state to support Iraq’s war against ISIS, and Soleimani let the whole world know of his role. What appeared on social media as authentic and spontaneous pictures of Soleimani on the frontlines with Iraqi troops and commanders, was actually a deliberate effort by the IRGC to recast Soleimani’s image. He was no longer a shadow commander, but a MacArthur-esque figure almost single-handedly fighting the dark forces of ISIS. A national hero in Iran, and the savior of Iraq and Syria.
  • He was killed because he was important. He was killed because Iran was important.
  • The IRGC increased their investment in Soleimani after his death, using his persona to rebrand themselves and the regime to a new generation. Soleimani became the archetype of the Islamic Republic’s self-conception. His figure symbolizes how the regime desires to be seen by the Iranian people and by the world. Soleimani has been cast as brave, selfless and humble; a warrior, a believer and a patriot. His is a transnational community that connects Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen with Iran. He justifies Iran’s regional activities by casting them as an essential part of Iranian patriotism and national identity. To be Iranian in the narrative promoted by the regime is to be part of a larger Islamic enterprise. Not the umma or global Islamic community, but rather, the resistance: the militant groups and personalities who share the Islamic Republic’s enemies and its political aspirations.
  • mythologizing of Soleimani has not only been aspirational, it has also been driven by concerns within the IRGC that the regime is losing support and legitimacy among the Iranian people. This is particularly true for the younger generations, which know nothing of the Shah’s brutality, the sense of injustice that enveloped Iran during its war with Iraq, or the hope that accompanied President Khatami’s reformist platform in the 1990s. Instead, what they know is Iran’s 21st century experience, which has been one of near-constant antagonism and increasing privation.
  • the explosion of protests across Iran in 2018 and 2019. Iran has experienced episodic protest movements in the past, but these protests were different
  • The IRGC confronted the protests head-on and with unrelenting brutality. Using machine guns, tanks, and direct fire to murder Iranian youths in the streets and hunt them down in alleyways.
  • There was indeed something personal about Soleimani’s death. No matter what he represented, he was an Iranian. That he was singled out and murdered by a foreign power sat uncomfortably with most of his compatriots, regardless of their politics
  • It wasn’t until the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq that Iran was provided an opportunity to change its regional position. Soleimani, who had by then become the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, saw opportunity and peril in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Iran’s allies benefited from the end of the Baathist regime, but a longstanding U.S. military presence in Iraq was also a threat to Iran. Soleimani championed a policy that sought to exploit both the political landscape and the shadows of the new Iraqi frontier. He encouraged political participation of Iran’s Shiite allies while also developing an insurgent network that waged war against the U.S. and coalition forces, killing or maiming hundreds of servicemembers in the process. The effort was largely effective. When U.S. forces departed Iraq in late 2011, Soleimani’s clients were among the most powerful political actors in Iraq and Iran was the most influential outside power in the country.
  • Just as Apple carried on without Steve Jobs, the IRGC will retain the ability to manage its proxies and exert influence beyond Iran’s borders without Soleimani at the helm. The law of inertia also applies. Unless the IRGC and its proxies are challenged directly, momentum will carry them forward.
  • Both Lebanon and Iraq have been hit by intense protest movements over the last year, with much of the anger of the younger generations being aimed at the political elite and their foreign backers. Even though Iran’s influence has helped empower Shiite elites in each country, an increasing number of younger Shiites appear to have soured on Iran and blame it for their country’s morass. This is especially true in Iraq, where young Shiites make up the vast majority of the protest movement that has railed against government corruption and the political power of Iran-backed militias
  • while Soleimani helped expand Iranian influence in the region, that influence rests on shaky ground. The height of Iran’s influence — at least as presently expressed through the IRGC — has probably passed.
Ed Webb

Zarif's Beefs | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • three hours and 11 minutes of Zarif’s supposedly confidential interview was published by the London-based and Saudi-linked satellite outlet Iran International. Millions were shocked to hear Iran’s top diplomat speak more openly than he ever has and admit to what many had long suspected: that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the powerful and elite military force, controls all major aspects of Iranian foreign policy; that its slain Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, ran his own show when it came to the Iranian intervention in Syria; and that Soleimani went as far as colluding with Russia to disrupt the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015.
  • very little in the interview was completely unexpected to those who closely follow Iran
  • We not only learn that Zarif is not in charge of Iran’s embassies in the region (not news) but also that the IRGC didn’t even bother to inform him and other cabinet ministers of their major decisions
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  • When the nuclear negotiations that led to the 2015 deal were going on, Zarif’s team faced a propaganda campaign of opposition from the IRGC and its long tentacles in Iranian media. Despite Zarif’s personal loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the latter’s continued open support for him and for the talks, the IRGC constantly attacked Zarif. It has long been axiomatic that the Guards’ interest lies in closer ties with Russia and China and avoiding Iran’s integration in the global economy.But in the interview, Zarif gives details as to how the IRGC actively worked to sabotage the deal’s implementation after it was reached. According to him, Soleimani’s celebrated trip to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in July 2015, was done on the initiative of Moscow with the expressed aim of “destroying” the nuclear deal.
  • Zarif’s sharp words against Russia are not news for those who know him. He has long emphasized the need for Iran to have better relations with the West. In the interview, he also says what many on the Iranian street have long believed (although this is sometimes mocked by certain pundits as unsophisticated thinking): If Iran relies too much on Russia and China, to the detriment of its ties with the West, they will take advantage of Iran.
  • Ironically, Zarif is, in a sense, more of a true believer than many in the IRGC. He genuinely appears to be under the illusion that the ideals of the Islamic Republic still have popular support and that Iran should rely on them instead of brute force. Few in the IRGC think so, and many seem to be aware of how widely discredited these ideals are among average Iranians.
  • The manner of the audio file’s leak and its source has been a source of incessant chatter in the Iranian public sphere. Some Zarif supporters (including the Rouhani administration itself) have claimed it was a treacherous act aimed at undermining him as a credible diplomat. On the other side, “Akhbar o Tahlilha,” the public bulletin of the IRGC’s Political Department, attacked Zarif, defended Soleimani, and mockingly asked the foreign minister: “Why should a Foreign Ministry that is incapable of keeping a voice file confidential be trusted with secret military information?”
  • the hard-liners’ favorite moderate for a reason. He has never wavered from supporting the first principles of Khomeinism and has repeatedly defended its support for groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • Speaking for the entire Iranian regime on the world stage has been at the heart of Zarif’s lifelong ambition. His experience and knowledge of America’s culture and political system have kept him at the top of that portfolio for decades, making him, in essence, too valuable to get rid of. Even prior ructions with the IRGC couldn’t sink him. For instance, following the Iran-Iraq War negotiation debacle in 1988, many of the New York Boys were marginalized or even driven to exile. Not Zarif, who got promoted and served for 10 years as Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Following the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election to the presidency in 2005, Zarif also stayed on as Iran’s envoy to the U.N. — at the insistence of Khamenei.
  • Zarif’s own account shows the degree to which he is used by the IRGC and the military establishment, without him ever being allowed to play a role outside their plans. It hardly inspires confidence. In fact, his account seems to confirm that the process of the IRGC’s domination of Iranian politics is much more advanced than previously imagined
  • the next supreme leader is likely to be a pliant figure, controlled by the IRGC. Iran will thus turn into a military dictatorship, akin to Egypt or Algeria
  • Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, has launched his own, long-shot candidacy, with the promise that he will “drive back the IRGC to the barracks” and abolish the position of Supreme Leader. Even if he is somehow allowed to run for the presidency (and that is very unlikely), he will have an uphill task in convincing people that he has what it takes to confront Khamenei and the IRGC.
Ed Webb

IRGC warns Saudi Arabia it must 'control' media 'provoking our youth' | - 0 views

  • The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has warned the Saudi royal family that it will “pay the price” unless it reins in the media outlets it allegedly funds. The warning comes as Tehran accuses foreign-based Persian-language networks—and especially the TV channel Iran International—of spreading fake news and inciting unrest.
  • the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency reported hours after his speech that the main target was Iran International. Tasnim maintained that there is "no doubt" that London-based Iran International "is linked to the crown prince," referring to Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MbS). Tasnim also named Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath as other news networks funded by the Kingdom and targeted by Salami in his speech.
  • MP Mohammad Ali Naqdali—the secretary of the parliament’s legal and judicial commission—urged Iranian authorities on Oct. 8 to file a complaint against Iran International with the UK media regulator, Ofcom. The lawmaker called on the foreign ministry and judiciary to complain about Iran International over its alleged role in "encouraging further protests” in Iran. Naqdali also criticized other Persian-language outlets based in the UK, describing them as "lie-producing factories."
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  • Tehran has previously lodged a complaint against Iran International over its programming, but Ofcom ruled that the London-based television network had not broken any rules.
  • British newspaper The Guardian reported in Oct. 2018 that Iran International had financial ties to MbS. The Guardian charged that the TV network was "being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince." A month later, Iran International issued a statement denying any links to any governments, including Saudi Arabia, and insisted that it "does not advocate any movement or party or government." Some of Iran International's high-profile staff have stirred controversy for often expressing opinions on social media that may be in contravention of the outlet's editorial guidelines.
  • Iranian authorities have long taken issued with foreign-based Persian-language news networks, accusing them of being tasked with attacking the Islamic Republic. Salami's warning to the Saudi royal family comes as Tehran and Riyadh are working toward mending relations and re-establishing diplomatic ties. The IRGC commander's apparent criticism of Saudi media indicates that it will be brought up in the anticipated next round of talks between the two sides in Iraq.
Ed Webb

From Iraq to Lebanon, Iran Is Facing a Backlash - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of the protests in early October, various security forces, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, have killed more than 400 Iraqis and wounded some 20,000 others. Not only is there good reason to believe that much of the brutality has taken place at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, but the available evidence seems to confirm it. Aware of the anti-Iranian mood on the Iraqi streets—exemplified by protesters beating their shoes against portraits of Khamenei, just as they had done with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003—an unnerved Khamenei did not hesitate to intervene.
  • Suleimani called for a heavy-handed approach to deal with people on the streets, reportedly saying, “we in Iran know how to deal with protests,” an implicit reference to prior violent suppressions of peaceful demonstrations in Iran and, more aggressively, in Syria. The death toll in Iraq surpassed 100 the day after his departure, confirming the power of Iran’s word.
  • Tehran has invested heavily in hard and soft power tools to expand its influence in Iraq. This investment has eventually paid dividends. Some of the most prominent individuals in Iraq today—including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Amiri, former government officials and leaders of the most powerful Iranian-backed militias—were initially recruited by the IRGC in the early 1980s to spread the Islamic Revolution into Iraq
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  • Tehran planned to replicate its “Hezbollah model” in Iraq: nurturing militancy to gain control of territory, while encouraging these militants to take advantage of a newly created democracy as a way to penetrate political institutions. These efforts were bolstered by close cross-border clerical and personal relationships.
  • Leaked Iranian intelligence cables shed light on the scale and nature of Iran’s systematic and deep-rooted interference in Iraq, from its network of militant agents to its oversight of political institutions. The cables confirm what protesters already knew: Tehran has been committing enormous resources to imposing a command-and-control structure on Baghdad. Viewed within the broader context of worsening economic conditions and unresponsive, corrupt governance, protesters see Iran as the source of their grievances, fuelling anti-Iranian sentiment on the streets.
  • The protests in Lebanon, which have been uniquely secular despite the fragile sectarian composition of its population, are driven by charges of corruption and a desire to replace a rigid and unresponsive establishment—of which Hezbollah has become an intrinsic part.
  • A recent Asda’a BCW survey suggests that two-thirds of young Arabs consider Iran an enemy of their country.
  • The soaring levels of public discontent in Iran have been consistently overlooked by policymakers and commentators. The most recent protests in Iran, which were brutally repressed by the regime, caught many in the West off guard—but signs of widespread discontent have been in place for many years.
  • In 2009, there was a genuine belief that the Islamic Republic could be reformed, expressed primarily in the demand that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate, be installed as president. Now, the moderate pro-reform slogans that were heard on Iranian streets in 2009 have been replaced with more hostile chants, such as “Death to Khamenei” and “Mullahs have to get lost”—signaling a broader rejection of the entire Islamic revolutionary system.
  • as protesters in Iraq chant, “Iran out, Baghdad free,” in Iran they cry, “no to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran”—reflecting a growing desire in both countries for governments that put domestic interests above regional considerations
  • The IRGC and Iran’s Shiite proxies will not stand down without a fight. While the combination of pressure in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran may help weaken the regime in Tehran, it will probably be a deadly affair.
Ed Webb

Khamenei names new chief for Iran's Revolutionary Guards - Reuters - 0 views

  • Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has replaced the head of the influential Revolutionary Guards Corps, state TV reported on Sunday, days after the United States designated the elite group a foreign terrorist organization.
  • On April 13, Salami was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying that he and the IRGC were proud of being designated a terrorist group by Washington.
  • Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, the Guards also command the Basij, a religious volunteer paramilitary force, and control Iran’s missile programs. The Guards’ overseas Quds forces have fought Iran’s proxy wars in the region.
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  • Salami, born in 1960, said in January that Iran’s strategy was to wipe “the Zionist regime” (Israel) off the political map, Iran’s state TV reported.
Ed Webb

Iran's Cleric Spymaster Is Caught in the Middle | Provocateurs | OZY - 0 views

  • the 65-year-old cleric, Alavi. An unlikely spy chief, he is emblematic of the multiple power centers vying for control within Iran. He is widely seen as close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. Yet at the same time, as a minister, he is the sword arm of reformist President Hassan Rouhani’s turf war with Tehran’s hardliners. And there’s a third ball he needs to juggle: the IRGC
  • When threats against Iran mount, the IRGC’s influence grows: It has virtually taken control of large parts of the country’s domestic and foreign policy in recent years
  • Alavi is the point man to watch on Iran’s restless youth who seek more political openness. His agents also recently came down heavily on Christians after he controversially claimed that Christianity was gaining popularity in Iran. The cross from a 100-year-old Assyrian Presbyterian church was taken away and the building padlocked.The move was a sign of how Alavi’s religious background influences his intelligence work. Even Alavi had expressed surprise when Rouhani appointed him as the intelligence minister in 2013. Due to his proximity with Khamenei, he was expecting some other assignment that would fit his experience as a religious teacher. Just before his present job as spy-in-chief of the Iranian government, Khamenei had designated Alavi as the head of the political conscience of the army — making sure its religious commitment remained steadfast.
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  • With the IRGC’s profile expected to rise amid the tensions with the U.S., Alavi’s role as a principal troubleshooter for Khamenei and Rouhani — who have their own significant differences — is only expected to grow. The best way to check the IRGC’s legitimacy? Demonstrate that the government intelligence forces are adept at tackling the U.S.
  • Some professionals in the intelligence business who have scrutinized Alavi closely find him “an ordinary cleric.” “Either he conceals his smarts associated with a professional intelligence boss or he is a simple religious preacher in the wrong job,” says a diplomat who met him years ago and asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
  • Contrary to the common view in the West, Iran is a noisy democracy where Rouhani can be chased by aggressive reporters during press conferences in Tehran. Normally, the criticism against government ministers is sharp, but much has changed since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal Tehran negotiated with global powers, which had promised sanctions relief in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. Now dissent is seen as subversion
  • Rouhani, who came in on the platform plank of signing the nuclear deal and reviving the battered economy, suddenly has to compete with fundamentalists, and that means turning Iran into a police state. “Iranian intelligence is very good. No intrusion by a foreign agency lasts beyond 24 hours,” claims an intelligence source who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Ed Webb

Arrest of Telegram channel operator surprises Iranians - 0 views

  • The arrest of an operator of a popular Telegram channel on Oct. 14 shocked many Iranian dissidents abroad. Rohollah Zam, the administrator of Amad News, was residing in France as a political refugee when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization announced his arrest and shortly thereafter aired a video confession. Many dissidents and observers abroad wondered how someone could be apprehended by the IRGC in the relative safety of Europe. According to BBC Persian, Zam was arrested in Iraq and handed over to Iranian authorities. Zam reportedly flew to Iraq on Oct. 12, according to BBC Persian. One day after his arrival his wife, Mahsa Razani, lost contact with him. It is not yet clear what Zam was doing in Iraq or why he thought he would be safe in a country that has an extradition agreement with Iran.
  • In the video, Zam looks into the camera and says that he “regrets” his activities of the last few years. He added “it was a mistake to trust the French government,” adding, “In general trusting governments is not wise, especially those who show they have a bad relationship with the Islamic Republic, such as the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.” Zam added that he would need to “apologize to the system as a whole” for his actions.
  • Zam is the son of Mohammad Ali Zam, an influential cleric who has held important media positions within various institutions in the Islamic Republic. Mohammad Ali told the Iranian press that he had no knowledge of his son’s arrest until he saw it on the news.
Ed Webb

Pentagon turns to irregular tactics to counter Iran - 0 views

  • The Pentagon is trying to put the finishing touches on a plan to use irregular warfare tactics to temper Iran’s military escalation in the Middle East
  • “Iran utilizes, principally through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Quds Force, an economy of force and capital model that prioritizes relatively low-cost operations,” said Mick Mulroy, the Pentagon’s top Middle East policy official. “We can do much more to combat this strategy by calibrating our responses and levying a counter-cost imposition strategy against Iran, whose pockets are much shallower than ours.”
  • “Every time we deploy conventional forces they actually take unconventional action,” Mulroy added. “So conventional overmatch has not deterred.”
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  • the Pentagon might seek to utilize cyberattacks and electronic warfare to target Tehran’s financial systems and computer networks
  • max pressure is not working
  • the so-called Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy would be a potential shift from the Pentagon’s response to Iranian provocations
  • the Trump administration has mostly deployed conventional US units to Saudi Arabia. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Friday that the United States planned to deploy or extend the tours of 3,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia after Iran allegedly attacked an oil field last month.
  • Raytheon won a $384 million deal from the US Army to build a new 360-degree radar that will help the Patriot batteries intercept drone swarms and cruise missiles, which were used to target the Abqaiq facility.
  • the Pentagon, which opposed the initial decision to exit the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and fought back against declaring the IRGC a terror group, has also reportedly used secret digital strikes to take aim at Iran’s supposed “propaganda” capabilities and spy groups, to challenge Iran below the level of armed conflict.
Ed Webb

The Other Regional Counter-Revolution: Iran's Role in the Shifting Political Landscape ... - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s role as a counter-revolutionary force in the Middle East is widely understood and thoroughly documented. Historian Rosie Bsheer calls the Saudi kingdom “a counter-revolutionary state par excellence,” indeed one that was “consolidated as such.”[2] The Saudi monarchy has gone into counter-revolutionary overdrive since the onset of the Arab uprisings, scrambling to thwart popular movements and keep the region’s dictators in power — from Egypt and Bahrain to Yemen and Sudan (and beyond)
  • less understood is the counter-revolutionary role that Iran plays in the region’s politics
  • Iran as a “revolutionary” state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East
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  • The defining slogan of Lebanon’s uprising — “all of them means all of them” (kellon yani kellon) — called out the country’s entire ruling class, which includes Hezbollah. One pointed variation on the slogan was “All of them means all of them, and Nasrallah is one of them.”
  • Hezbollah’s attacks on the demonstrators were not only physical but rhetorical, framing the popular revolt as part of a foreign plot against Hezbollah and its regional allies in the “Axis of Resistance” — accusations that were “met with ridicule
  • Hezbollah is “now viewed by many demonstrators as part of the corrupt and morally bankrupt political establishment that must be replaced,”
  • The Lebanese writer and podcaster Joey Ayoub captures the Orwellian upside-down-ness of this ideological sleight of hand in his formulation “Hezbollah’s Resistance™ against resistance.”[33] Hezbollah, he shows, tries to have it both ways: on the one hand, defending the status quo and maintaining Lebanon’s “sectarian-capitalist structures,” while at the same time banking on its membership in the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” That is, posturing as a force for “resistance” — a zombie category amid Lebanon’s current political landscape — while attacking people engaged in actual resistance to the ruling system and undermining progressive social movements.
  • Tehran also intervened politically, maneuvering to keep Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi in power in the face of demands from protesters that he step down.[66] (Mahdi eventually did resign, in late November 2019 — a major victory for the protest movement that Tehran endeavored to circumvent.)
  • The protests that erupted in Iraq in October 2019 were arguably the “biggest grassroots socio-political mobilization” in the country’s history.[37] At root, that mobilization was “about the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized demanding a new system,” notes the Iraqi sociologist Zahra Ali.[38] The Tishreen (October) uprising, as it came to be known, quickly spread to “cities and towns across central and southern Iraq”[39] and eventually “engulfed virtually the whole country (though they were most concentrated in Baghdad and the Shia-dominated southern governorates).”
  • the 2019 protests represented “the most serious challenge yet to the post-2003 political order,” the Iraq scholar Fanar Haddad observes
  • the movement “classified itself as a ‘revolution’ in terms of discourse, demands, and objectives.” “[E]ven if the current movement fails to achieve a political revolution,” Haddad argues, “and even if it is not a revolution, it is undoubtedly a revolutionary movement that has already achieved a cultural revolution.”
  • As Berman, Clarke, and Majed note: A movement demanding wholesale political change represented a real threat to the system of cronyism and rapaciousness that has enriched Iraq’s politicians over the last two decades, and these elites quickly mobilized an array of state and non-state security agents in an attempt to quash this challenge.[54] Mohammad al Basri, a figure affiliated with Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, expressed this mindset with rare bluntness: “Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood.”
  • Iran is deeply implicated in this counter-revolutionary repression — both indirectly, as the chief political ally and patron of the Iraqi government over the last 15 years, and directly, through the web of militias and paramilitary forces coordinated by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which have opened fire on protesters
  • The parallels between the Iraqi and Lebanese revolts are manifold, starting with their timing: mass protests engulfed both countries starting in October 2019. Iraqi and Lebanese protesters were conscious of the connections between their struggles: “in the different protest squares people are shouting: ‘One revolution, from Baghdad to Beirut,’” notes Sami Adnan, an activist in Baghdad with the group Workers Against Sectarianism.[34] It’s also important to see the two upheavals in their wider regional context, as part of the “second wave” of Arab uprisings that also included momentous popular movements in Algeria and Sudan — or, as some argue, the uprisings that have been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010.
  • Iraqi protesters weren’t just rebelling against Iran’s local allies, but against Iran itself. Protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square smashed banners of Khamenei with their shoes.[67] Others put up a white banner with red Xs drawn through photographs of Khamenei and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional policy.[68] “Images of Ayatollah Khomeini were removed from cities like Najaf, and pro-Iran political parties with prominent militias that were involved in the violence against the protesters had their branch offices attacked and burned,” Alkinani notes.[69] Most spectacularly, protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Karbala and Najaf amid chants of “Iran out of Iraq”.[70]
  • in the face of popular uprisings expressing emancipatory demands, Iran sides not with the protesters but with the ruling establishments they’re protesting against
  • Iran’s official narrative is that its role in Syria is all about fighting terrorism — specifically Al Qaeda and ISIS. But this is a classic case of reading history backwards. In fact, Iran rushed to the defense of the Assad regime as soon as the uprising began — when there was no Al Qaeda or ISIS presence whatsoever (the only jihadists were the ones the regime intentionally let out of its prisons as part of its jihadization strategy).[78] “From the very moment Assad faced popular protests, the Quds Force and Tehran were ready to do all they could to save the rule of the Baath Party,” notes Arash Azizi. Indeed, the Islamic Republic’s emissaries “were pushing on Assad to suppress the uprising mercilessly.”[79] And that is precisely what the regime did
  • The Islamic Republic’s “first reaction” to the demonstrations in Syria “was to open its own playbook and show Assad pages from the post-election protests in 2009,” he observes. “Decision-makers appear to have hoped that Assad would use enough brute force — arrests, beatings, and a limited amount of killings — to spread fear and quickly re-establish control.”
  • Iran helped flip the script and present the Syrian protests not as part of the wave of Arab uprisings — which it decidedly was — but as a foreign-inspired terrorist plot. This rhetorical framing was awkward for the Islamic Republic, which had voiced support for other Arab uprisings — those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya. This put Tehran in a bind, praising the people of the region for rising up against the dictators that oppressed them but siding with the dictator in Syria.[84] Amin Saikal characterizes this Syrian exception as “an intervention that ran counter to Tehran’s declared rhetoric of supporting the downtrodden masses.”
  • the Islamic Republic intensified its support for the Assad regime in 2011 but its stalwart support for the dynastic dictatorship in Damascus goes back several decades — and while the Assad regime exponentially heightened its level of repression in 2011, violence has been at the very core of its rule throughout
  • “[t]he ‘revolutionary’ slogans of Iran’s ‘resistance’ are empty rhetoric that merely back whatever policies benefit the corrupt ruling elite in Tehran.”
  • the so-called Axis of Resistance, “ostensibly dedicated to furthering the emancipatory aspirations of the Arab and Muslim masses,” has in reality “played a critical role in containing regional revolution and preventing the emergence of a more democratically oriented regional order.”
  • The Islamic Republic “sounds more and more like those same sclerotic rulers it once railed against,” Daragahi observes — “suspicious of any new development that threatens the status quo it dominates.”
  • We need to retire zombie categories — like that of Iran as a “revolutionary” force in the Middle East, and the fiction of the “Axis of Resistance”
  • Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region.
Ed Webb

Opinion | In the Iran-U.S. shadow war, Biden scored an unheralded victory - The Washing... - 0 views

  • On Feb. 2, U.S. forces dropped more than 125 precision munitions on 85 targets in Iraq and Syria belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and its affiliated militia groups. The U.S. Air Force even deployed giant B-1 bombers that flew all the way from the continental United States. According to U.S. Central Command: “The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicle storage, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”Five days later, on Feb. 7, a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed a senior commander of Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most dangerous Iranian-backed terrorist groups. This demonstrated not only how precise U.S. weapons systems are but also how successful U.S. intelligence was in tracking the movements of senior Iranian operatives.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisementThe clear message was that other Iranian commanders would be next if they didn’t knock off their attacks against U.S. troops. And guess what? Iran did stop. Things could change at any moment, but a senior U.S. defense official told me last week that there hasn’t been an Iranian-directed attack against a U.S. military base in either Syria or Iraq since Feb. 4. By contrast, there were at least 170 such attacks between Oct. 7 and Feb. 4.
  • “We’re not under any illusions,” the defense official told me. “Iran continues to pose a serious threat to the United States and our interests in the region. Under certain circumstances, attacks could restart, but we demonstrated that we’re willing and able to defend our forces.”
  • there is no way for Washington to overthrow the Iranian regime without risking becoming embroiled in another Iraq- or Afghanistan-style quagmire
  • ...1 more annotation...
  • while the United States has convinced Iran to back off, at least a bit, in Syria and Iraq, it hasn’t had any such success with the Houthis
Ed Webb

Soleimani: US power in region has declined - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 2 views

  • Fars News reported Soleimani as saying, “America plans to preserve [IS] so that Muslims will continue to need the Americans, and in reality they have turned this into leverage.” While the US-led coalition has bombed IS fighters in Iraq and Syria, many people in the region believe not enough is being done and that the bombing campaign's tactical successes do not pose an existential threat to the terrorist group.
Ed Webb

The Associated Press: New Iran sanctions could strengthen Rev. Guard - 0 views

  • Tougher sanctions against Iran that the U.S. and its allies are considering to pressure it over its nuclear program might only strengthen its hard-line president and the Revolutionary Guard, boosting the elite force's economic and political muscle, experts warn.
Ed Webb

Pakistan detains 11 Iranian Guards on the border | Special Coverage | Reuters - 0 views

  • Pakistani forces detained 11 Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Monday for crossing into Pakistan days after an Iranian commander was reported saying his men should be allowed to confront terrorists in Pakistan. The Guards were arrested in the Mashkhel area on the border with Iran eight days after a suicide bomber killed 42 people, including six Revolutionary Guard commanders, in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. A Sunni Muslim group Jundollah (God's soldiers), claimed responsibility for the blast. Iran says the group operates from across the border in Pakistan.
  • Iranian border officials had told them that the encroachment was accidental and happened after the Guards launched an operation against Jundollah militants near the border.
  • the rise of Jundollah coincided with an explosion in drug smuggling from which it earned much of its funding
Ed Webb

The Iran Obsession Keeps Getting Worse | The American Conservative - 0 views

  • Military and intelligence officials are understandably wary of labeling part of another state’s military establishment as terrorists: Officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — which Mr. Pompeo ran in the Trump administration’s first year — oppose designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or the Iraqi militias as terrorist groups, fearing a backlash that could constrain American troops.
  • Iraqi opposition to a continued U.S. military presence in the country was on the rise even before Trump put his foot in his mouth about “watching Iran” from Iraq, and that opposition seems certain to increase if these proposed designations of Iraqi militias and officials go ahead.
  • The proposed terrorist designations are a good example of why the Trump administration is having such difficulty building international support for its “maximum pressure” campaign. They make a habit of insisting that other governments cooperate against Iran. Then, instead of giving them incentives to cooperate, they threaten them with penalties and drive the other governments to find workarounds to increase their cooperation with Iran instead. The U.S. is used to having its allies and clients fall in line when our government tells them what they are supposed to do, but that isn’t happening here.
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