Syria Has Changed The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YOUR TIMES)

Syria Changed the World

Istanbul- The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.

These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.

Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.

The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat. The Syrian regime’s response to rebellion, continuing year after year, threatens to normalize levels of state brutality not seen in decades. All the while Bashar al-Assad invokes an excuse increasingly popular among the world’s governments since Sept. 11: He is “fighting terror.”

“Syria did not cause everything,” said the Syrian dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a secular leftist who spent nearly two decades as a political prisoner under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez. “But yes, Syria changed the world.”

The United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. Aid agencies are overwhelmed. Even a United States missile strike on a Syrian military air base, ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held town, seems little more than a blip in the turmoil, the latest unilateral intervention in the war. Two weeks later, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, continues its scorched-earth bombings.

There remains no consensus on what should have been or could still be done for Syria, or whether a more, or less, muscular international approach would have brought better results.

The Obama White House kept Syria at arm’s length, determined, understandably, to avoid the mistakes of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And Western leaders surmised that unlike the 1990s civil war in Bosnia, the Syrian conflict could burn in isolation from their countries.

Moral or not, that calculation was incorrect. The crisis has crossed Europe’s doorstep and is roiling its politics.

The conflict began in 2011, with political protests. Syrian security forces cracked down, and with Western support stronger in rhetoric than reality, some of Assad’s opponents took up arms. The regime responded with mass detentions, torture, starvation sieges and bombing of rebel-held areas. Extremist jihadists arose, with ISIS eventually declaring a caliphate and fomenting violence in Europe.

More than five million Syrians have fled their country. Hundreds of thousands joined a refugee trail across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Images of crowds of desperate refugees — and of the extreme violence they had faced at home — were used by politicians to fuel fears of Islam, and of Muslims. That lifted far-right European parties already riding on resentment of immigrants, from Finland to Hungary.

The refugee crisis has posed one of the biggest challenges in memory to the cohesion of the European Union and some of its core values: freedom of movement, common borders, pluralism. It heightened anxieties over identity and culture, feeding off economic insecurity and mistrust of governing elites that grew over decades with globalization and financial crises.

Suddenly European countries were erecting fences and internment camps to stop migrants. While Germany welcomed refugees, other countries resisted sharing the burden. The far right spoke of protecting white, Christian Europe. Even the Brexit campaign played, in part, on fears of the refugees.

In the United States, as in Europe, right-wing extremists are among those embracing authoritarian, indiscriminately violent responses to perceived “Islamist” threats. White nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, post adoring pictures on social media of Assad, who portrays himself as a bulwark against extremism.

In my decade of covering violence against civilians in the Middle East, mass murder by states has often seemed less gripping to Western audiences than far smaller numbers of theatrically staged killings — horrific as they are — by ISIS and its Qaeda predecessors.

The United States’ own “war on terror” played a part in making violations of humanitarian and legal norms routine: detentions at Guantánamo Bay, the torture at Abu Ghraib and the continuing drone and air wars with mounting civilian tolls in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Then, too, Syria’s war broke out when the global stage was set for division and ineffectiveness. Russia was eager for a bigger role, the United States was retreating, Europe was consumed with internal problems. Russia and the United States saw opposite interests in Syria, deadlocking the Security Council.

The New York Times

Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

For four decades Tehranis have heard so many weird slogans chanted in their streets that almost nothing comes as a surprise to them. And, yet, last week many Tehranis were surprised to hear a group of youths, all adorned with suitable beards, shouting: “Russian Embassy is a Nest of Spies!”

“Nest of Spies” was first launched in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini as a label for the US Embassy which had been raided and which diplomats were held hostage by the so-called “Students Following the Lead of Imam”. The operation that provoked a 444-day long stand-off between Tehran and Washington had been quietly encouraged by KGB elements in Tehran working through the Tudeh (Communist) Party and its smaller left-wing affiliates as a means of driving the US out of Iran.

At the time no one could imagine that one-day it would be the Russian Embassy’s turn to be thus labelled. True, Iran already has a history of raiding the Russian Embassy. In 1829, a mob, led by mullahs, attacked the Tsarist Embassy ostensibly to release two Georgian slave girls who had sought refuge there. Alexander Griboidev, the Embassy’s ambassador was seized, sentenced to death with a fatwa and beheaded. (Griboidev was more than a diplomat and had made a name as a poet and playwright.)

It is, of course, unlikely that the regime would allow anyone today to raid the Russian Embassy and seize its diplomats as hostages. Nevertheless, the anger expressed by the small bunch of demonstrators is real.

But why has the Russian Embassy become a target for militant anger some four decades later?

The question is all the more pertinent as the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has launched what he calls a “Looking East” strategy based on an alliance between Tehran and Moscow. That strategy is in direct violation of Khomeini’s famous: “Neither East nor West” slogan (Na sharqi, na gharbi!) Khomeini insisted that unless Russia converted to Islam it should not expect to be treated any differently than other “Infidel” powers. (The ayatollah sent a formal letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev inviting him to embrace Shiism.)

However, two years ago, in a four-hour long summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Khamenei agreed that his Islamic Republic would take no position on major international issues without “coordinating” with Moscow. That historic accord was quickly put into effect in Syria where Putin provided air cover for an alliance of forces assembled by Iran around the beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin played a key role in exempting Iran from cuts in its oil production under an agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers to stabilize prices.

Putin also lifted the ban on sale of advanced surface-to-air missile systems that Iran says it needs to face any US air attack. At the same time, Moscow has done quite a lot to shield the Islamic Republic against further concessions on the thorny issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Putin went even further by tacitly acknowledging Iran’s lead in shaping policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan.

Working in favor of strategic alliance with Moscow are several elements within the Islamic regime. These include the remnants of the Tudeh, the People Fedayeen Militia and assorted groups of anti-West activists. However, the proposed alliance also enjoys support from powerful clerics who believe they need Russian support to face any future clash with the US.

“By courageously defending the Syrian government, Russia has proved it is a true friend,” says Ayatollah Muhammadi Golpayegani who heads Khamenei’s personal cabinet.

However, to sweeten the bitter pill of alliance with Russia, a power which has a 200-year long history of enmity and war with Iran, the mullahs also claim they could seize the opportunity to spread their brand of Islam in the Russian Federation where Shi’ite account for less than three per cent of the estimated 30 million Muslims. (The only place where Shi’ites are in a majority is Darband in Dagestan.)

In his typically sly way, Putin has encouraged such illusions. He has promised to let Qom set up seminaries in both Darband and Moscow to train Russian Shi’ite mullahs. Putin has also set up something called Strategic Committee for the Spread of Islam led by Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minikhanov.(Tatarstan is the largest Muslim majority republic in the Russian federation.)

Having allegedly tried to influence the latest presidential election in the US and the current presidential election in France, Putin is also accused of trying to do the same in Iran. Last week he sent a 60-man delegation, led by Minikhanov, to Mash’had, Iran’s largest “holy” city to meet Ayatollah Ibrahim Raisi, the man regarded as one of the two candidates most likely to win the presidency. Minikhanov was accompanied by Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti Kamil Sami Gulen who told reporters that Putin wants Iran and Russia to work together to “present the true face of Islam to young people” and “counter propaganda by terrorist circles.”

Kremlin-controlled satellite TV channels have played up the meetings, casting Raisi as a statesman of international standing.

However, to hedge his bets, Putin had already received the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani during a hastily arrange visit to Moscow last month. However, some observers claim that Putin regards Rouhani and his faction as “too close to the Americans.”

Some senior members of Rouhani’s administration who are rumored to be US citizens or holders of “Green Cards”, may cast doubt on their sincerity to embrace a strategic alliance with Moscow.

There are signs that not everyone in the regime is happy about tying Iran’s future to that of the Putin regime. The slogan “Russian Embassy is Nest of Spies” is just one small example of that unhappiness. Other examples include a series of features published by the official media, including IRNA, about Russian historic aggression against in Iran.

One curious feature published by IRNA even claimed that US President Harry S Truman helped Iran recover two of its provinces occupied by Russian despot Stalin in 1946. Another feature, published by a news agency close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard narrates the “shameful” history of pro-Russian factions in Iran from the 19th century onwards.

An old Persian saying claims Russia is a big bear to admire from afar; if he embraces you he will crush you.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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World’s biggest bombs: India’s SPICE no match for America’s MOAB or Russian FOAB

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

World’s biggest bombs: India’s SPICE no match for America’s MOAB or Russian FOAB

INDIA Updated: Apr 14, 2017 12:03 IST

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US

A Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon is prepared for testing at the Eglin Air Force Armament Centre in March 11, 2003. (REUTERS)

Less than three months after Donald Trump took over as President, an MC-130 aircraft operated by the United States Air Force Special Operations Command dropped one of the biggest conventional bombs in country’s arsenal in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday.Deployed by the US military for the first time in combat, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) is one of the most powerful non-nuclear weapons in the possession of any military worldwide. The 21,000-lb MOAB’s sheer destructive power has earned it the nickname ‘Mother of All Bombs’.

Neither India nor Pakistan nor even China possesses non-nuclear bombs that are in the league of MOAB, developed in the early 2000s. In fact, their stockpile doesn’t come anywhere close to MOAB-like munitions.

Read | US drops GBU-43 bomb in Afghanistan: What we know about the ‘mother of all bombs’

The rare strike against Islamic State fighters with a weapon of this size has turned the spotlight on the world’s biggest and largest contemporary non-nuclear bombs, primarily held only by the militaries of Russia and the US.

Here’s a quick look at some of these deadly air-delivered monster munitions whose efficiency and power almost match nuclear weapons, and the smaller bombs that the air forces of India, China and Pakistan hold in their inventories:

Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power: Also known as the ‘Father of All Bombs’ (FOAB), it is the Russian answer to the American bomb. Moscow successfully tested the weapon in 2007; four years after the US developed the MOAB. It is reportedly the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, capable of unleashing 44 tons of explosives compared to 11 tons in the GBU-43 MOAB. At 15,650 lb, the FOAB is lighter than the American bomb but the former’s significantly higher blast yield makes it far more lethal.

GBU-43 MOAB: Designed to destroy underground facilities, caves and tunnels, the US had developed the GPS-guided bomb for the 2003 invasion of Iraq but it was never used in combat until Thursday evening. Just like the Russian bomb, the 30-foot MOAB detonates before hitting the ground and causes unthinkable destruction by sending deadly shockwaves up to a distance of over a mile in all directions. The GBU-43 MOAB, however, is not the heaviest conventional munition in the American arsenal.

GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator: Known by its acronym MOP, the 30,000-lb American bomb is perhaps the heaviest conventional weapon in the world. However, the bunker buster bomb’s explosive power doesn’t match that of the MOAB or the FOAB. Manufactured by US defence giant Boeing, the GBU-57A/B MOP is designed to obliterate underground nuclear facilities and deeply buried enemy targets.

GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrator: The air forces of Israel and South Korea have the 5,000-lb GBU-28 bunker buster munitions supplied by the US in their inventories. The bombs were deployed by the USAF during Operation Desert Storm to carry out strikes against Iraqi bunkers, military installations and high value strategic targets in 1991. The GBU-28, a variant of the Paveway III bomb, can reportedly blast through six metres of concrete.

Read more

GBU-24 Paveway II bombs: The French Air Force’s Rafale omni-role fighters can carry a number of bombs from the US Paveway family of munitions. The heaviest air-to-surface conventional weapon the fighter can be equipped with is the GBU-24 Paveway II 2,000-lb laser-guided bomb.

INDIA

SPICE: The Israel-manufactured SPICE (smart precise impact and cost effective) bomb is the biggest conventional bomb that can be delivered by the Indian Air Force. Manufactured by Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, the 2000-lb precision guided bombs are used on the French-origin Mirage 2000 fighters.

The IAF’s Jaguar deep-strike penetration aircraft can be fitted with 1,000-lb bombs for destroying the enemy’s ammunition dumps during combat. In one configuration, a Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter can carry 26 bombs of 550-lb class to destroy a concentration of enemy armour and personnel. The fighter can also carry 1,000-lb HSLD (high speed, low drag) bombs to destroy enemy airfields. Indian fighter planes can also drop indigenously produced 1,000-lb bombs fitted with Israel Aircraft Industries-produced Griffin laser-guided systems

CHINA AND PAKISTAN

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has a variety of conventional bombs ranging in the 500 lb to 3,000-lb class. Most of these general purpose bombs have been developed by the China’s North Industries Corporation. Most of the designs are reportedly based on bombs earlier imported from Russia.

Some of the designs also reportedly draw inspiration from the US Mk 80/82/83/84 bombs. Some other bombs in the Chinese inventory are also suspected to have been copied from Western designs. The conventional bombs with Pakistan Air Force are in the 250 lb to 2,000-lb class, with the design again based on the US Mk 80 series bombs and mated to laser guided systems of American origin. Former IAF vice chief Air Marshal KK Nohwar told HT on Friday, “India, China and Pakistan largely have a similar stockpile of lighter non-nuclear bombs. It’s nowhere close to the mega bombs that the Russians and the Americans can deploy in combat.”

How Will Iran’s Ali Khamenei And President Donald Trump Deal With Each Other?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)

How Will Khamenei And Trump Deal With Each Other?

12/02/2016 09:44 am ET

During his campaign for presidency and afterwards, President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to military intervention in other countries, as well as nation building such as, for example, what happened in Afghanistan. On January 20 Trump will begin his term as the president. He believes that the main threat in the Middle East is the Daesh (also known as the ISIS or ISIL), not the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and that in order to destroy Daesh, his administration will be willing to work with Russia and other nations. The Guardian recently reported that Donald Trump, Jr., recently met in Paris with Randa Kassis, a pro-Syrian government activist who believes that the war in Syria can be ended through cooperation between the U.S., Russia and the Syrian Government. Trump also met with Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D. Hawaii) who is strongly against U.S. intervention in Syria.

But, although Iran has been fighting the Daesh fiercely, both in Syria and in Iraq, Trump has taken a hard-line toward that country, with members of the national security team that he has picked so far all being strongly anti-Iran.

On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei missed a golden opportunity to resolve most, if not all, issues between Iran and the United States with the Obama administration, and to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thus, he now has to wait to see what policy the incoming Trump administration will take toward Iran.

Khamenei’s strong suspicion of the United States

Iran’s recent history was reset when the CIA coup of 1953 in Iran that toppled the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and contributed to Iran’s intellectuals’ opposition to both the United States and the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This anti-American third-world discourse was born in that era, and a tall and strong wall of distrust and suspicion was built between the two countries with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, and the Iran-Iraq of 1980-1988 during which the United States supported Iraq.

President Obama wanted to pursue diplomatic negotiations with Iran to resolve the issues between the two nations but, aside from the nuclear negotiations, Khamenei’s strong suspicion about the U.S. intentions and his claim that the U.S. is interested only in deceiving Iran prevented a diplomatic breakthrough. In a speech on 20 October Khamenei said,

“When the Americans get together with our officials, they complain about my suspicion about the U.S. Well, should I be optimistic? Can one trust you [the U.S.], given the situation that you have created [in the Middle East]?” To back up his claim he recalled that Secretary of State John Kerry had said that so long as Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, the American sanctions against Iran will not end. Khamenei also said, “In my private and public meetings with the officials I have always repeated that our problems with the U.S. will not be resolved if we retreat from our position regarding Iran’s nuclear program, because then they [the U.S.] will ask us about our long-range missiles. After that they will ask about our support for Hezbollah and Hamas. They will then pressure us to support human rights the way they do. If you back down about all of these and accept what they demand, the U.S. will ask why our religion is mixed with our government. They [may even] ask us why Iran is such a large country with a large population. The Americans will never let us alone.”


Trump “Confirms” Khamenei’s Pessimism about the U.S.

In another speech on November 3 Khamenei said,

“I want to correct two mistakes today. The Americans created two erroneous claims and then propagated them among Iranians through their organizations and those Iranians that are linked to the CIA – the same people ‘who feel the scent of the pleasures of this world; who regret their [revolutionary] past, and those who have run out of breath [and can no longer continue on the revolutionary path]’. Imam Khomeini said “scream all you can at the U.S.” The first erroneous claim by the pro-U.S. Iranians is that they say that this [what Khomeini suggested] is not rational, and is only due to fanaticism and pride. The second mistake, which is even more dangerous than the first one, is that they [the same Iranians] claim that having [diplomatic] relations with the U.S. will solve all of all problems. One can counter their argument with 10-15 reasons to show that, not only will compromise with the U.S. not solve our problems, but it will also worsen them. A good example is the nuclear agreement [with P5+1]. Through lies, bad faith, and deception U.S. has not ended its sanctions against Iran, and [in fact] it has strengthened them.”

Khamenei then said that the U.S. cannot solve its own problems and, therefore, cannot be expected to solve Iran’s problems. He then recalled the presidential debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton and said,

“Did you watch the debates? Did you see the facts they [the candidates] talked about. Did you hear them? Americans themselves made the revelations. The things that we have been saying [about the problems that the U.S. is facing], and much more, which many people did not believe, were revealed by them [Trump and Clinton]. The interesting thing is that the candidate who expressed them more bluntly [Trump] also received more attention. Because that man spoke more clearly, more bluntly, he received more attention. The other side [Clinton] said that this is populism, it is demagogic. Why is it demagogic? The [American] people listened to him [Trump] and realized that he was right; they had experienced those facts [expressed by Trump] in their own lives. Human rights and dignity have been destroyed in that country [U.S.]. There is racism. Just a few days ago the same man [Trump] said that if you are people of color, if you are black or red [American-Indian] and are walking in streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, California, or elsewhere, you cannot be sure that you will be alive even for a few more minutes. You see, this was said by someone who may go to the White House as the next President of the United States to run that country. This is American racism. He [Trump] also spoke about poverty in the United States. He said that 44 million people go hungry every day in the U.S. He declared, as have others, that less than 1 percent of the Americans owe more than 90 percent of the wealth. Human values have been destroyed there. Discrimination, deep [economic] gaps, rift among people, racism, and violation of human rights [all exist in the U.S.]….. What the two respected candidates for the Presidency of the United States, one of whom will be the next President, are saying is not baseless. They both are bad, but together they are making revelations that may destroy the United States, and they have succeeded.”

Khamenei then explained that when people shout “death to America” and “scream as much as you can at America,” they mean death to racism, discrimination and violation of human rights.

Khamenei has been warning about two issues. One is U.S. “penetrating” and gaining “influence” in the main centers of decision-making in the Islamic Republic, while the second one is what he calls the danger of senior officials becoming “infatuated” by the United States. In a speech on 17 November Khamenei claimed that some senior Iranian officials are attracted to the U.S., but he believes that the U.S. has nothing attractive to offer. “You saw that the same criticisms that I have been levelling at them [the U.S.] were brought up by Trump,” Khamenei said, adding,

“In these [American] elections several of the most prominent political figures talked about issues that we had also talked about, and said much more. The new President of the United States says that if we had spent the funds that we spent on wars here in the United Stated, we could have rebuilt the country twice over, and fixed all the roads, bridges, and cities, and we would not have had poverty in the United States. Those that are infatuated with an illusion [the U.S.], can they understand this? There is so much failure and destruction [in the U.S.] and they spend all that money on dishonorable wars. Were those wars honorable?”

Khamenei then pointed out that a defensive war against the enemy, while respecting humane laws of war, is honorable. But, he believes that “the U.S. wars of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that have murdered tens of thousands of civilian people, particularly women and children, are dishonorable.” He then asked in the same speech, “Why does Iranian elite not have the political wisdom [to understand this] and admit them?”


Not Pre-judging Trump, but Threatening to Retaliate if He Violates the Nuclear Accord

In his speech of 17 November Khamenei said that he does not want to prejudge Trump, but “we are ready for anything.” A week later on 24 November he repeated that he does not want to prejudge Trump, because [as a Persian proverb goes] “this watermelon has not been cut yet.” But, he claimed that the Obama administration did not deliver on its promises and obligations toward the nuclear agreement, but that, “The U.S. Congress renewed the U.S. sanctions against Iran for another 10 years, which is a violation of the nuclear agreement,” adding, “If the [Congress-approved] sanctions become law, it will definitely violate the nuclear agreement, and they should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will react to it.” He then added that the U.S. has used the nuclear agreement as a tool to pressure Iran. President Hassan Rouhani had promised that the sanctions will be lifted if a nuclear agreement is reached, but, “The nuclear compromise has been used against Iran,” Khamenei said, adding, “If the Congress-approved sanctions are also approved by the Senate and become law, it will imply that the United States has violated the nuclear agreement, and the deal with P5+1 will become one with P4+1, as the United States has effectively left the agreement behind.”

Trump and Iran

Although Trump has professed his opposition to many wars multiple times, his national security team has three characteristics:

One, some of them are close to the Tea Party and the Evangelical Christians. Mike Pompeo, who is to be Director of the CIA, said in 2014, “This threat to America” is from a minority of Muslims “who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. They abhor Christians, and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Two, they are strongly linked with the pro-Israel right wingers. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of States, and a strong critic of the U.S. policy toward the Middle East, said recently that if the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem [as Trump has promised], a war with Iran will become more likely.

Three, they have strong connections with the military-industrial complex and many private security and intelligence firms. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, has an intelligence consulting and lobbying firm. He is strongly anti-Iranand has claimed repeatedly that Iran is more dangerous than Daesh. He has also said that Islam is like a “cancer” that “has to be excised from every Muslim.” Interestingly, since Trump electoral victory, the value of the stocks of military firms has gone up dramatically.

Given these facts, and Trump’s lack of experience, there is considerable concern about his foreign policy. But, the situation for Iran is more critical. Marine General James Mattis, who is said to be the leading candidate for running the Pentagon, has claimed that Iran uses Daesh to expand its influence. The leading candidates for Secretary of State – Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Mitt Romney, are all strongly anti-Iran, and have called for “regime change” in Iran. In 2015 Giuliani called for bombing of Iran.

If during his first few months in office Trump takes on an aggressive posture toward Iran, it will hurt the re-election chances of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the elections for which will be in early June 2017. IN that case, hardliners may defeat Rouhani in the elections. Khamenei and the military hardliners have been constantly reminding Rouhani that the nuclear agreement with P5+1 has had no fruits for Iran, other than forcing it to retreat from its positions. Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said on 26 November that, “[Although] there is no longer any sanctions against selling oil, we still have not received the proceeds from our previous sales. Senior officials had predicted that we would receive them between February and September, but that has not happened yet.” In a speech on 27 November Khamenei criticized the Rouhani administration for the nuclear negotiations “that was done in haste,” allowing the U.S. to gain some influence. He emphasized again that the renewal of the ten-year sanctions by Congress will be a violation of the nuclear accord.

What is Trump’s policy toward Iran? Will he try to resolve the issues between the U.S. and Iran through diplomacy, or will he follow those who present a demonic image of Iran? Wil he eliminate all those who favor negotiations with Iran, and empower those who want war with that nation?

To have peace and democracy, there is no way other than negotiations. U.S. wars in the Middle East have resulted in destruction of several nations, killing of hundreds of thousands of people, and the growth of terrorist groups, not to mention its financial cost that has so far been $3 – 4 billion. It is time for diplomacy in the Middle East. Without peace and security there can never be any democracy, respect for human rights, and economic developments; they will all be marginalized. Any thinking person knows that there are deep differences between an Iran that can make a transition to democracy and respect for human rights, and an Iran that can be transformed to another Syria.

This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei

There Is No “Red Line” Concerning Chemical Weapon Usage In Syrian Civil War

(This article is courtesy of the BBC)

Syria conflict: Government helicopters ‘drop chlorine’ on Aleppo

Media captionDozens were treated for breathing difficulties, as Jeremy Bowen reports

Syrian government forces have been accused of dropping barrel bombs containing chlorine from helicopters on a suburb of Aleppo, injuring 80 people.

Volunteer emergency workers say people suffered breathing difficulties after an attack on the Sukkari area.

The reports could not be independently verified. AUN-led inquiry concluded last month the that government had used chlorine on at least two occasions.

The Syrian government has always denied using chemical weapons.

It comes as Syrian opposition leaders prepare to meet in London on Wednesday to launch a new plan for a political transition to try to end the five-year civil war.

The umbrella group representing opposition factions, the High Negotiations Committee, will be hosted by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group of countries, which have supported the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, will also attend.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the BBC that he still believed in a political solution to the conflict, and that Mr Assad was not in a “position of advantage or victory”, despite his forces’ recent advances.

Media captionSaudi Arabia FM is not optimistic about Syrian peace plan

“But if Bashar al-Assad continues to be obstinate and continues to drag his feet and continues to refuse to engage seriously, then obviously there will have to be a Plan B which will involve more stepped up military activity,” he said.

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Can the opposition plan work? – BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet

This new plan is the Syrian opposition’s most comprehensive answer to that question: What happens if President Assad goes?

It’s meant to reassure the president’s foreign backers, like Russia and Iran, that there can be a stable transition which avoids the collapse of state institutions, and violent chaos that’s shattered neighbouring states like Iraq. That’s a concern shared in many capitals, and most of all Damascus.

But the demand for President Assad and his closest Syrian allies to step down has always been rejected in Damascus, and will be again. It’s never clear how much Moscow and Tehran are able and willing to change that. This plan is meant to test that.

But the Syrian army, backed by powerful outside support, is making gains on the ground, through force, or local deals which amount to surrender. If this plan doesn’t work it will be back to Plan B – more military support to all sides in a devastating war.

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Distressed children

A volunteer emergency response worker from the Syria Civil Defence said he had reached the scene of the Aleppo attack on Tuesday shortly after a helicopter had dropped barrels containing what he said were four chlorine cylinders.

The Syria Civil Defence, an organisation that operates in rebel-held areas and is also known as the “White Helmets”, posted video on its Facebook page showing distressed children using oxygen masks to breathe.

UGC image shows civilians in hospital gowns with breathing masks, reportedly after a Chlorine attack in a suburb of Aleppo, Tuesday 6 September 2016Image copyrightUGC
Image captionImages taken by the rescuers show civilians with breathing masks in an unidentified local hospital
Child uses oxygen mask after alleged chlorine gas attack in Aleppo. 6 Sept 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionChildren with breathing difficulties were pictured being treated

Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use in weapons is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. If high concentrations of the chemical enter the lungs it can cause death.

Opposition activists and medics accused the government of another chlorine attack in Aleppo in August.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, has accused rebels of firing shells containing “toxic gas” at government-held areas in Aleppo.

Brutal fighting

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Tuesday that a brief period of relief early this year for civilians caught up in the war in Syria had been replaced by an even more brutal resumption in fighting.

Its 12th report said the cessation of hostilities in February had allowed some towns to receive their first aid in years but it only lasted a few weeks.

Men inspect a damaged site after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo on 27 AugustImage copyright Reuters
Image captionAleppo has been repeatedly targeted by government forces, activists say, as they try to recapture parts of the city

The report says 600,000 Syrians now live under siege with up to 300,000 trapped in the city of Aleppo.

On Sunday, Syrian government forces were reported to have recaptured parts of Aleppo city which were lost to rebels last month, placing rebel-held districts in the city’s east once again under siege.

A monitoring group said government troops had recaptured two military academy sites in the Ramouseh district, in the south of the city, and severed a recently established rebel supply line.