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Strong demands –who are they aimed at?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the Trump administration will embark on an “unprecedented” pressure campaign against Iran meant to fundamentally change its foreign policy. Delivering his first major foreign policy address as top diplomat at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, Pompeo listed 12 sweeping and uncompromising conditions for a new nuclear deal with Tehran after President Donald Trump withdrew from an existing one earlier this month.

Pompeo said that the JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws. Therefore the list of US demands is long” because Iran’s activities are bold in scope, “We didn’t create the list – they did.” There were reported to be twelve demands, but a thorough reading of his speech makes it 15:  (the number doesn’t matter the message does)

  1. We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness. The departments of Treasury and Commerce are already working on the sanctions.
  2. I will work closely with the Department of Defense and our regional allies to deter Iranian aggression.
  3. We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and we will crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.
  4. We will also advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people. The regime must improve how it treats its citizens. It must protect the human rights of every Iranian. It must cease wasting Iran’s wealth abroad. We ask that our international partners continue to add their voice to ours in condemning Iran’s treatment of its own citizens.
  5. Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
  6. Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.
  7. Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all nuclear sites throughout the entire country.
  8. Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
  9. Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges.
  10. Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  11. Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.
  12. Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.
  13. Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.
  14. Iran must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.

These demands are broad in scope and in essence call for the end of Iran’s goal as to the creation of a caliphate across the Middle East from Egypt to Afghanistan.  There are some wide ranging and probably on their face impossible to achieve.  The center of gravity of his remarks appears to be a call for regime change. He said that we ask the Iranian people: Is this what you want your country to be known for, for being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaida? The United States believe you deserve better.

With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.

With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.When one sees this hard line approach to Iran (North Korea’s partner or client in weapons building) he must wonder how Kim Jun Un he sees the on again of again upcoming summit.  Kim responded negatively to President Trump’s Libya analogy, with cause.  Things went well for Libya for about 10 years before the revolution stared and was supported by NATO with arms and air support until the government was overthrown and Qaddafi killed.

In this complex world such examples provide the wrong message to both the Iranians and the North Koreans.

As things progress in the processes that have been started with North Korea and Iran we will watch them with interest and report on them when needed and appropriate.

Attack on Syria–Many Dimensions

As the Saturday morning quarterbacks seek to portray the coalition missile strikes in ways that support their own agendas it seems necessary to attempt to provide a multi-dimensional view on the strikes.  These dimensions include:

·         The military implications of the strike

·         The diplomatic messages

·         The domestic political reaction

In response to the Syrian attack on its own people using chlorine gas a coalition of British, French and American naval and air forces launched missile attacks against 3 chemical production and storage facilities.  The objective of the attack was two fold:

1.       Seriously degrade/reduce Syria’s chemical weapons capability

2.       Deter Syria from future chemical weapon usage

Reports indicate that the missiles hit and severely damaged their targets.  The ability and methodology used for the attacks indicate the ability to synchronize target engagement between multiple platforms and national assets.  The US attacks came from naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean ocean.  Air assets launched missiles while over Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean.  While launching the missiles each element of the attacking force took air defense, naval and cyber efforts to protect the force.  Reportedly all missiles hit their targets while the Syrian missile defense efforts were an abysmal failure.  The Syrians reportedly launched over 40 air defense missiles and none of them successfully engaged a target.  (The Russian disinformation campaign reported that there were 103 missiles and 71 shot down.)

Militarily the mission was accomplished.  However, some pundits are seeking to use this description of the reaction was to be expected as no matter what President Trump and our allies do there will be detractors who are looking for opportunities to speak against the President.

The diplomatic messages of this strike go far beyond the Syrian government.  The clear pronouncement that the intent was not to target Syrian President Assad tells Kim Jung Un of North Korea that the US can accomplish its military objectives without necessarily threatening the regime leadership. (This is not to say that decapitation isn’t an option.)  With the upcoming denuclearization discussions between President Trump and Kim Jun Un it is clear that Kim not necessarily feel personally threatened.

The preparations for the North Korea / United ‘States historic meeting are ongoing using multiple different avenues for the preparation of the meeting.  Reportedly CIA Director/Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is leading the back channel preparatory talks.  The summit will follow a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart.

Israel is touting the strikes as a message for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Russia is certainly evaluating President Trump’s resolve to not condone chemical weapon usage.  The same is true for Iran as the May Iran nuclear agreement review approaches.  John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Advisor also tends to show an increased hardline by the administration on the major issues facing the United States.  Certainly potential adversaries are viewing this whole set of events as a new entity.

The continuing fight against ISIS may have had an unintentional consequence.  The net winner of ISIS’s destruction is clearly President Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.   The anti- Assad forces were not capable of filling the vacuum created by the damage to ISIS.  The continuing conflict in the region is extremely complex given all of the players.  This has been a subject of previous articles and one that we will return to in the future.

True to form the hard left politicians like Nancy Pelosi are condemning the attacks as uncivilized.  This condemnation is to be expected.  The other side of the aisle has been supportive the attacks.  However, there seems to be a universal return to the discussion of the war fighting powers of the President.  This is a continual power struggle between the executive and the legislature.  This debate is probably more posturing than reality but may continue for several weeks and then return to its traditionally dormant status.

The attack against Syria may be the opening gambit in several future conflicts–Russia‘s desire to increase its posture in the Middle-East, Iran’s goal of forming a Caliphate across the region and its conflict with the Gulf Cooperative Council, and Israel’s continual struggle for survival.  These are all issues we will be watching closely.

Coup and counter coup in Saudi Arabia

Recent events in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are confusing to some and of concern to others.  The conservative monarchy has been upended by its new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (known to the media as MbS).

The 32-year-old prince, acting under the auspices of his father, King Salman, has been busy since replacing his uncle in June of 2017 as crown prince,  Domestically, he has launched a radical transformation of the kingdom by making sweeping arrests of dissidents, Islamists, and even members of the royal family.  He has even given women the right to drive.

His upheaval would not have been possible without upsetting the balance of power arrangements which have maintained stability in the kingdom.  KSA was built on balances of power with balances of power the National Guard, lead by the previous crown prince was located in and around Riyadh. Conversely the Army is located on the periphery of the country and oriented outward. The army and the national guard are basically the same size.  The air defense forces are separate from the air force.  The Mutaween (also called the Islamic Secret Police) offset the secret police.  There were also coalitions within the royal family, however their conflicts rarely came to light until the current coup or counter coup by MbS.

In 2015 MbS was appointed by his father as Minister of Defense.  On April 22, of this year Prince Fahd Bin Turki was promoted to Lieutenant General (LTG) and appointed commander of the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF).  LTG Fahd had once been the commander of the Saudi Special Forces.  This is one of MbS’s steps to upset the balance of power. He selected LTG Fahd and I am sure cemented his loyalty.  LTG Fahd also comes from a different wing of the royal family thus securing additional loyalty within the family.

Next he had the commander of the National Guard placed under arrest along with the Commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces.  He assumed control of the ministry of the interior.  In another move to upset the balance he had the role of the Mudaween dialed back extensively.

He also assumed control of the economic planning agency. He has pushed the sale of Saudi ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil Company, suggesting that it would bring several trillion dollars if placed on the open market.  He is also pushing for decreased dependence on oil as a source of income for the kingdom.

Finally, he arrested numerous princes and other financial leaders on grounds of corruption and froze their assets, thus potentially recouping many billions of dollars if their gains are found to be the results of corruption. It is interesting to note that the royals who are imprisoned in the Ritz Hotel in downtown Riyadh are guarded by Saudi Special Forces on the outer perimeter.  On the inside it has been reported that the security is provided by contractors who would be loyal to whoever was paying the bill.  (Another example of the balances of power being upset)

On the international front he launched a blockade against its neighbor Qatar, tightened the ongoing siege on Yemen, threatened to torpedo the fragile government in Lebanon, and sought to shore up a coalition against archrival Iran, which leads the Shia sect of Islam. On Sunday, he chaired the first-ever meeting of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Coalition of 41 Muslim countries where the group declared a global war on terrorism.

Some have suggested that : “He is dragging the country — with Western critics kicking and screaming — into the 21st century.”

In many ways MbS may be  seeking to fulfill a longstanding Saudi dream of leading the Arab world, and has sought to rebuild strong ties with the Trump administration, with over $7 billion worth of precision munitions having been purchased recently.

Any domestic forces that might have been arrayed against MbS are now  weak, with most of his rivals held in luxury prisons, keeping a low profile, or under house arrest. Civil society is fragmented after decades of repression and cooptation. Saudi Arabia has always been politically restrictive, and could yet become even more so under MbS.  However because he could be the dominant figure in the lives of Saudi citizens for the next half century, no one wants to cross him.

If MbS becoming the crown prince was the coup, then the counter coup was the upset of the balance of power by either muting or gaining control of the balancers.  Finally if there was a group of royals and financial leaders who were plotting a counter coup then the latest efforts might be called a counter counter coup.

The international activities of the next few months as MbS seeks to counter the growing influence of Iran will be important to watch.