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The changing strategic Middle-East situation

The recent announcement of normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel is now being followed with discussions between Oman and Israel.  These changes suggest a new coalition between all of the Middle-Eastern states that see a threat in Iran.  When one considers the oft repeated relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia the future coalition will only grow.  (Many reports that the Saudis offered Israel refueling and recovery airfields for any attack on Iran.)

What is driving this significant change in strategic relations?  There are several factors:

  • The US is no longer dependent on oil from the region
  • US reduction of deployed forces in the region
  • The Iranian nuclear growth towards nuclear weapons continues after a temporary setback because of numerous explosions throughout its nuclear weapon and delivery development system.
  • The Israeli agreement to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank—this was important as it was meant to appease the Arab support for a Palestinian state. (Political cover)

What should we look forward to as this situation develops?

  • Iranian severe reactions to include terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and other Iranian funded organizations against Israel and probably UAE forces in Yemen.
  • Increased pressure by Iran against Iraq—the meeting between the President and the Iraqi Prime Minister tomorrow should provide some indicator as to the direction Iraq will follow
  • Some additional form of military coordination between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Israel to secure the Straits of Hormuz and the flow of oil to Europe and Asia.
  • More GCC states joining the loose coalition that the Oman, UAE and Israel cooperation will create.
  • Increased pressure on Qatar to sever its support of more radical Arab causes.
  • Continued US naval and air presence in the area.

This historic breakthrough by acceptance of Israel as a recognized player in Middle-Eastern strategic affairs can only have stabilizing influences on the entire region over the long term. These may be preceded by the Iranian caused unrest noted above.

We will watch the future events for tells on what is to come next.

Attack kills Quds Force leader

As was to be expected after the US attack on General Qassem Soleimani the media speculation, comparisons with the Clinton impeachment and scare mongering has dominated the “news” media.

First we should establish the known facts:

  • A US strike[i] killed General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in Baghdad
    • The Quds have been responsible for the death of hundreds of US personnel in Iraq.
    • The attack unfolded early on Friday local time in a precision strike on two cars that were carrying Soleimani
    • Soleimani had just arrived in Baghdad on a flight from Syria and was leaving the airport when he was hit
  • The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Iranian militias in Iraq which led the attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.
  • Both the US Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State have stated unequivocally that the Iranians, using their proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the militias in Iraq were plotting attacks against US personnel and interests in the region.[ii]
    • The attack has therefore been categorized as a deterrent or preemptive attack.[iii]

The media hype has focused on the unrest that this attack is going to create.  The speculation includes:

  • Terrorist activities in the middle-east against US military and other targets
  • Attacks by “sleeper” cells in the US
  • Efforts by Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz
  • Attacks against Israel by Iranian proxies
  • Cyber-attacks anywhere in the world

The media has even gone so far in at least one case to refer to the attack as an assassination.  Of course this is an attempt to create another article of impeachment as assassination is against a US avowed practice as outlined in an Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan.  This attempt is far fetched, but shows how desperate some “pundits” are.  The General was a military combatant on a battlefield and had just been responsible for an attack on a US embassy.  End of the assassination impeachment idea!

Each of the above attacks by Iran is possible.  One can be sure that US, Israeli and Saudi forces are watching for any and all such attacks.  One can also expect that any indicator of the possibility of a given type of attack could cause another pre-preemptive effort.

What if this attack, when coupled with the effect of the embargoes against Iran, is the tipping point that causes Iran to truly seek accommodation by pledging to withdraw its support of proxy forces throughout the region and agreement to adhere to a realistic regime of inspections and limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the embargo.  Most will find this unlikely.  It does clearly define the US goal vis-à-vis Iran.

A possible scenario is that Iran does seek revenge by one of the above types of attacks and it is soundly stopped or pre-empted.  How many such rebuffs can Iran tolerate before internal domestic pressures cause political change?

Finally. Might this attack convince the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he is also at risk and be another cause of an Iranian reversal of policy?  Only time will tell, but all of the gloom and doom punditry is most likely just irresponsible punditry.

A follow up attack today killed another Quds Force leader.


As this gets posted the media is full of reportedly inflamed rhetoric from Iran and its proxies. Reportedly Iran has at least 35 targets on its target list, which could include US bases, ships, etc. and Saudi and Israeli targets.  We will follow such engagements, preemptions and reactions and report again in coming days.[iv]

[i] 1.  The speculation also abounds on the nature of the attack.  In one article the attack is described as an airstrike, a drone attack and a helicopter attack.  For sure it was one of these.  Each could launch precision munitions that could track and engage the two vehicle convoy.  The exact platform from which the munitions were launched may never be released.

2 ‘General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,’ the Pentagon statement said.

3..  Obviously, there was an ongoing surveillance of Soleimani using multiple means.  The New York Times reported that Friday’s attack drew upon a combination of highly classified information from informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance techniques. This shows how important the General’s activities were.

4. John Bolton is even reported as hoping that this will be the beginning of efforts to cause regime change in Iran. We will see.

The Caliphate is destroyed but ISIS lives

The last of the ISIS stronghold in /Syria and along the Syrian border with Iraq have fallen. The Caliphate is no more, but ISIS is not dead.  Also the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are not over.  In fact they may be just beginning.

With the fall of Raqqa, the titular capitol of the caliphate the ISIS dream of a caliphate stretching across the middle-east is ended, for now. ISIS can no longer sell oil and women.  It can no longer collect taxes and impress youths into their militias.  It no longer controls any major geographic areas in the middle-east.  But the conditions that allowed ISIS to rise so quickly are still very much present.  The Sunnis and the Shias are still antagonistic towards each other.  The Kurds don’t trust either group or the Turks cannot stand the new US supported Kurdish militias that have emerged victorious in their efforts.  The Free Syrians have captured areas from ISIS that the Syrians are going to want to have control of again.  The Russians, Iran and Hezbollah are still supporting Syria.  Iran, the US allies and others are still supporting Iraq.  The US and the Turks are still supporting the Free Syrians.

Additionally, ISIS has now established roots in Afghanistan, Africa, and the Philippines to name a few places. Each of these ISIS affiliates will continue to wreak havoc where and when they can.  The key for ISIS and its affiliates is to reestablish a source of resources now that its population and economic base is gone.  It must continue to recruit from the Islamic refugees and victims of the violence in Syria and Iraq who have been scattered all over the globe.  Continued recruitment is key because over time the existing followers will be found and dealt with.  Rooting out the cells in both Syria and Iraq and the rest of the world will be a very difficult struggle but over time attrition of the existing ISIS follower will occur and ISIS will wither without recruits.  It also needs resources.  The need for resources suggests crimes of violence—kidnappings, bank robberies, drugs, human trafficking, etc.

Thus though the ground war is won against ISIS the celebration will be brief and meaningless unless the root distrust and poverty are not dealt with.   This will be difficult because the cities like Mosul and Raqqa suffered severe damage.  Homes must be rebuilt. Businesses must be reestablished.  Social conflict must be minimized.   A different type of war is thus necessary—one to prevent the re-emergence of ISIS, probably in some other name.

Superimpose these conditions with the multi-sided power seekers who believe they have won their pieces of the geographic pie. The two key non-governmental players here are the Kurds and the Free Syrians.  The Kurds want their independence from Iraq and Iran (and Turkey?).  The Free Syrians want to over throw Assad and claim all of Syria.  This probably means renewed combat but by a different set of players.  How will the outsiders react?  Will the Russians and withdraw their support for Assad?  Will the US withdraw its support from the Kurds and the Free Syrians?  How will Iran try and gain control of Iraq in its own efforts to create a caliphate.  These are all unanswered questions that must be answered quickly.

There have been four significant phases of Islamist militancy over the past 50 years. The first two—growing threat and threat local efforts occurred in the late 1970s through the 90s. These were in large part ignored until they threatened western interests.  The third and the have combined great violence in Muslim-majority countries with a series of spectacular attacks in the west.

All four have followed a similar path– a slow, mostly unnoticed period of growth, a spectacular event or series of events that brought the new threat to western public attention, a phase of brutal conflict and sever casualties and then retreat to fight another day. We are now entering the fourth phase

However, a victory is a victory, and there are so few reasons for cheer these days. So nations should briefly celebrate the defeat of the Islamic State and its hateful so-called caliphate while keeping a watchful lookout for the next fight, which will be different but the same.