The New Iran Deal

Hussain H Zaidi
March 5, 2017     
While running for the office of the US president, Donald Trump had put down the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, as “the worst deal in history”. Trump’s presence in the White House casts a pall over the fate of the agreement. He has already branded Iran as “the world’s number one terrorist state” and his administration has put the country ‘on notice’ over its missile programme.
Let’s also not forget that on some other issues, such as opting out of the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Treaty and going tough on immigration, the maverick US leader has turned out to be as good as his word.
Not so fast, some analysts would hasten to caution. It is one thing, they point out, to decry an international agreement and another to walk out of it unilaterally, especially when it has some other signatories as well (in this case China, Russia, France, the UK and Germany). By all accounts, the Trump administration would keep a strict watch on Iran’s nuclear activities and slap new sanctions on the country – as it did on January 29 – if the latter is suspected of derogating from its commitments. But it would not denounce the agreement altogether.
The JCPA represents a trade-off: Iran will curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting or softening of international sanctions that had crippled its economy. The agreement embodies a comprehensive set of measures designed to ensure transparency and verification in its execution. Most of the sanctions have already gone as Iran has complied with the provisions of the agreement to the satisfaction of the multilateral nuclear watchdog.
Some sanctions, though, are still in force. The US citizens, natural as well as legal, are still forbidden to do business with Iranian companies; thus effectively preventing Iranian banks and other financial institutions from doing business with their counterparts in other countries. These restrictions constitute the foremost obstacle to Iran’s foreign trade. The notable exclusion from the US sanctions is the aviation sector, which paved the way for the recent $17 billion deal between the US giant, Boeing, and Iran Air for the sale of civil aircraft.
If the JCPA falls apart, Iran will feel free to resume its nuclear ambitions. It can also quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which recognises only five de jure nuclear powers. The only other way for Washington to ensure that Tehran does not go nuclear is to attack and occupy Iran. Despite all his rant and rave, Trump is wise enough not to risk plunging his country into another war in the restive Middle East. So the JCPA represents the only credible way of ensuring a check on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Notwithstanding the importance of the JCPA, Iran’s capability as well as its willingness to go nuclear has never been the key issue in Tehran-Washington relations. While the JCPA was being negotiated, a lot more was on the table besides the question whether Iran’s nuclear programme was peaceful or clandestine. Iran is not the only country suspected of making nuclear weapons and even if its nuclear programme is peaceful, the danger the weapons of mass destruction pose to the world will not ratchet down significantly. Both India and Pakistan declared themselves nuclear powers in 1998. But in both cases, the nuclear programme never gave rise to that much opposition.
Therefore, in order to foretell the future of the JCPA, one needs to go beyond the nuclear question to look at the whole gamut of Tehran-Washington relations.
The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran dealt a double blow to American interests in the region. One, it marked the end of a strategic ally; and two, it signalled the collapse of the US-sponsored regional security system that had Iran as one of its linchpins. On its part, the new Iranian regime saw in the US a powerful threat to its existence – the ousted Shah being a strong American ally – and declared the US, ‘the Great Satan’. Those fears were confirmed when Washington fully supported Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980.
Meanwhile, Washington became increasingly wary of Tehran, accusing it of seeking to export the Islamic revolution to the pro-American Middle Eastern monarchies, supporting Muslim resistance movements in the region, seeking to eliminate Israel and developing nuclear weapons. If for Iran, the US was the ‘Great Satan’, for Washington, Tehran was a ‘rogue state’ and part of the ‘axis of evil’.
The question before the Americans was how to deal with Iran: through direct military action or through sanctions. As a matter of principle, the US usually resorts to military action against a ‘rogue’ state when the purpose is regime change – as done in Iraq or contemplated in Syria – but Iran was not yet ripe for such change as revolutionary ideals, despite all the criticism, remained a potent force for an ethnically homogeneous nation.
Not only did the US place Iran under severe economic and military sanctions, it also prevailed upon its allies, particularly those in Western Europe, to get tough on Tehran. Washington was also instrumental in getting the UN Security Council to impose the curbs on Tehran designed to stop it from enriching uranium. The economic sanctions, which mainly targeted the oil industry, the mainstay of the Iranian economy, and the banks, finally worked and forced Tehran to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme.
Ironically, at the same time, by pulling down Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the US helped to rack up Iran’s influence in the region. With Hussein at the helm, Iraq, a Shia majority state, was Iran’s arch enemy and arguably the strongest check on its regional ambitions. Now Iraq is an Iranian ally and probably the only country where Tehran and Washington have made a common cause against an enemy (Daesh).
The election of a moderate Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president in 2013 raised the hope that Tehran and the West could do business. The landslide victory of Rouhani also signalled that a clergy-dominated, aggressive Iranian establishment was prepared, albeit reluctantly, for a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy.
This paved the way for the July 2015 pact between Iran and the P-6.
The agreement reflected the West’s belief that increased engagement with Iran, in addition to taming its nuclear ambitions, would also contribute to the opening up of the country’s economy and social milieu ushering in greater respect for human rights and freedom of expression. Iran is also potentially a big market for Western capital, goods and services: both Boeing and Air Bus have subsequently closed massive deals to export aircraft to Iran.
As the West saw it, in the long-run Iran’s reintegration into the international economy and comity of nations would create stakes strong enough to hold its regional ambitions in check.
As long as Washington adheres to this premise, the nuclear deal will not unravel; notwithstanding Iran’s support to the Assad regime in Syria, and the apprehension of Tehran’s Gulf neighbours and Israel that a rejuvenated Iran may be a more serious ‘threat’ to their stability and interests.
The writer is a freelance countributor.

Iran Simulates Attack on US Forces

Director Farhad Azimi told local media his 80-minute “Battle of the Persian Gulf II” is “a response to the gibberish of Hollywood and American politicians”.
 Four years in the making, its expensive graphics, thumping soundtrack and barrages of missiles are a slick addition to Iran’s propaganda efforts, clearly aimed at teenage boys.
The star of the show is a commander whose salt-and-pepper beard was explicitly modelled on Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s external operations arm, the Qods Force.
His high profile has led to speculation he may emerge as a presidential candidate one day, although he has so far denied any desire to move into politics.
“Battle of the Persian Gulf II” cost some five billion rials ($140,000 130 million euros) to make, part of increasing military propaganda efforts that in many ways mirror the close involvement of the Pentagon in Hollywood’s more gung-ho blockbusters.
It comes at a time of mounting tensions after President Donald Trump warned that any Iranian boats harassing the US Navy — a regular occurrence in the Gulf, according to the Pentagon — would be “shot out of the water”.
Azimi said he wanted to highlight Iran’s defensive capabilities.
“If one bullet is fired by the enemy toward Iran, we will respond firmly,” he said.
The film has premiered in Iran’s second city Mashhad and is due to arrive in Tehran next week. The makers are also hoping to show the film in China and Russia.
© AFP 2017

The "Limited" Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

There’s no such thing as ‘limited’ nuclear war

 March 3
Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, represents California in the U.S. Senate.
Last month, it was revealed that a Pentagon advisory committee authored a report calling for the United States to invest in new nuclear weapons and consider resuming nuclear testing. The report even suggested researching less-powerful nuclear weapons that could be deployed without resorting to full-scale nuclear war. This is terrifying and deserves a swift, full-throated rebuke.
The report comes from the Defense Science Board, a committee made up of civilian experts. The board recommended “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use.”
Let me be crystal clear: There is no such thing as “limited use” nuclear weapons, and for a Pentagon advisory board to promote their development is absolutely unacceptable. This is even more problematic given President Trump’s comments in support of a nuclear arms race.
As Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work testified in 2015, “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”
Nuclear weapons present us with a paradox: We spend billions of dollars building and maintaining them in the hope that we never have to use them. The sole purpose of nuclear weapons must be to deter their use by others. Designing new low-yield nuclear weapons for limited strikes dangerously lowers the threshold for their use. Such a recommendation undermines the stability created by deterrence, thereby increasing the likelihood of sparking an unwinnable nuclear war.
Congress has stopped these reckless efforts in the past. During the George W. Bush administration, attempts to build a new nuclear “bunker buster” weapon were halted thanks to the leadership of then-Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio).
Today, proponents of building new low-yield nuclear weapons claim that our nuclear arsenal is somehow insufficient to meet evolving threats around the globe. That is simply not true.
First, we already have low-yield weapons: One such bomb, the B61 gravity bomb, is currently being modernized at an estimated cost of as much as $10 billion. Second, our existing arsenal of deployed strategic weapons is more than adequate to deter aggression against us and our allies.
Our nuclear arsenal consists of approximately 4,000 stockpiled warheads, enough to destroy the world several times over. That’s roughly the same number of warheads as Russia and almost four times more than all other countries combined.
We currently have two warheads in reserve for every warhead deployed, a “hedge” of 2 to 1. As we modernize our stockpile, we should strive to reduce both hedge and deployed warheads. In fact, a 2013 report by the Defense Department stated that our deployed arsenal could be further reduced by one-third while maintaining deterrence.
The Defense Science Board also suggested we should consider resuming nuclear testing to have confidence in our nuclear deterrent. That is also a wrongheaded position.
The Energy Department has ensured the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear stockpile for decades without conducting nuclear tests. The department’s work has taught us more about our stockpile than we could ever learn from relying primarily on explosive testing. In fact, the National Nuclear Security Administration has reported that the country is in a better position to maintain the nuclear arsenal than it was before the testing ban went into effect more than 20 years ago.
Resuming nuclear testing would only encourage others to follow suit. The world is made far less safe if other nations begin testing and continue to pursue new nuclear weapons and capabilities. Instead of following the panel’s recommendations, the Pentagon should follow its own 2013 guidance and further reduce our nuclear arsenal in concert with other nations.
To start, we can lead the way by working with Russia to develop a global ban on nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. These weapons are particularly dangerous because they can be mistaken for conventional cruise missiles, increasing the likelihood of an accidental nuclear exchange.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, victory is not measured by who has the most warheads, but by how long we last before someone uses one. This latest proposal may lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and the secretary of defense would be wise to reject it.

Beware of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

moqtada-al-sadr-264x300Beware of Muqtada al-Sadr

Also available in العربية
October 19, 2016
Whether the popular Shiite cleric’s motivations are ideological or political, Washington should make sure that neither his loyal militias nor any rogue splinter groups are tempted into further acts of violence against American personnel and interests.
This September, a McClatchy article outlined the kidnapping of three American defense contractors in Iraq, noting how they were held for thirty-one days and tortured after being snatched in January. Yet they were not taken by the Islamic State, nor by Iranian-backed stalwarts such as Kataib Hezbollah or Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), as many analysts and columnists speculated at the time. The true culprits belonged to Saraya al-Salam (the Peace Companies, or SAS), a Shiite militia headed by influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is still unknown if this was a warning to the United States from Sadr himself, a rogue move by a splinter group, or a sign of a larger Sadrist effort against American forces in Iraq. Yet the news likely came as a surprise to many observers given Sadr’s high-profile focus on nonviolent political action in recent months, not to mention Washington’s repeated attempts to engage him. U.S. officials have been mum on the incident thus far — whether or not they remain so, they should keep a close eye on Sadr’s camp as the battle for Mosul and other important developments unfold.


Sadr has a strong ideological heritage of anti-Americanism. His late father, Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was known for his fiery rhetoric against the United States. And after the younger Sadr declared the existence of Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army, or JAM) following the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the group was involved in numerous bloody clashes with coalition forces, as was its partial successor Liwa al-Youm al-Mawud (the Promised Day Brigades, or LYM).
Since 2014, Sadr has rebuffed numerous U.S. attempts to engage him, according to Iraq-based contacts from the State Department. He has also issued sporadic threats against U.S. forces. On July 21, Alaa Aboud — the spokesman for SAS, the latest successor to JAM — stated there was no need for American participation in the battle for Mosul, and that Sadr’s forces were “thirsty for American blood.”
Despite such rhetoric, the decision to target Americans in January (and perhaps down the road) may have more to do with internal Iraqi politics than anti-Western ideology. Most notably, Sadr’s hostile posture could be a means of gaining leverage in his complex and often tumultuous relationship with Iran.


In the Iraqi political arena, Sadr has continually used forces under his control to demonstrate that he can project power anytime he likes. This includes the anticorruption protests he fomented earlier this year against Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government, during which his supporters took over Baghdad’s Green Zone. Sadr has also criticized the government’s cooperation with the United States.
Other protests this year have seen his supporters allegedly ripping down the banners of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, raiding their offices, and yelling anti-Iranian slogans. Further highlighting Sadr’s rupture with Tehran and Baghdad, SAS has been acting independently of the government-recognized umbrella network for Shiite militias, al-Hashd al-Shabi (aka the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs). Sadr himself has called the dominant Iranian-backed elements in the PMUs “brazen militias.”
To be sure, Sadr has publicly apologized for the anti-Iranian chants heard during this year’s demonstrations, and Tehran continues to provide direct military support to his forces. Sadr even attended an October 18 reconciliation event with leading Iranian proxy commanders, including two who split from his camp: AAH chief Qais al-Khazali and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba leader Akram Kaabi. There, he expressed support for Iraqi operations in Mosul and rejected Turkey’s involvement in the battle. Yet the divisions with Tehran are still deep, and more reports are emerging of assassination campaigns pitting Sadr loyalists against Iranian-controlled splinter groups, particularly AAH.
As Iran and Sadr compete to build loyalty within Iraq’s Shiite community, taking a stronger line against the United States plays to the widespread anti-Americanism among the general population. Going up against the world’s foremost military power could also help them demonstrate strength to domestic constituents and each other.
In the near term, if Sadr feels he is being pushed into a corner by Tehran or Baghdad, taking violent action against U.S. forces may give him an easy way to gain attention and bolster his claims that he is the only true Iraqi “nationalist” willing to oppose foreign “occupiers.” Such attacks could also be used to demonstrate the impotence of the Abadi government and sow divisions between Baghdad and Washington.


For over a decade, splinter groups and individual defectors have continually plagued Sadr’s ranks. Indeed, the potential for more such splinters to form — including some that claim to carry Sadr’s banner — makes it uniquely difficult to assess threats arising from the cleric’s camp.
While autonomous cells within SAS and LYM could cause their own problems, groups sponsored by Tehran seem to pose the greatest challenge. As tensions rise, such groups could take action against American forces and then blame the attacks on Sadr. In that scenario, he might have to face the repercussions of the attacks, which could in turn spur him to adopt an even more hostile position toward the United States.
Following Sadr’s restructuring of JAM in 2008 and the creation of LYM, he often (correctly) asserted that splinter groups, not his own fighters, were the ones targeting U.S. forces. Some of these groups were disparate cells linked to the then-developing Iranian proxy AAH, while others were localized JAM factions that disagreed with halting their armed activities.
When SAS was announced in mid-2014, Sadr stated that it would be the only militia to represent his name and cause. Yet LYM was allowed to continue, showing that Sadr still had to deal with powerful and at times autonomous elements within his militia apparatuses. Accordingly, the cleric has often used a tactic he honed during JAM’s heyday: freezing his militias and monitoring which factions adhere to his orders. In February-March 2015, for example, he froze both SAS and LYM, claiming it was a gesture to encourage political interactions rather than violence between different Iraqi parties. In November 2015, he ordered a freeze on SAS elements in Diyala, claiming they were engaged in criminal activities. And this May, he called for his cadres to withdraw their armed presence from sections of Baghdad hit by Islamic State bombings. While this was likely meant to show the government that it needed him and demonstrate its impotence in protecting the capital, particularly those neighborhoods guarded by Iranian-backed forces, it may also have been another loyalty test for Sadr’s forces.
Whatever the case, more splinters emerged following the Islamic State’s 2014 advance in Iraq, this time with multiple new formalized groups declaring their presence. When the Iranian proxy Kataib al-Imam Ali (the Imam Ali Battalions, or KIA) was announced in late June of that year, former JAM commander Shebl al-Zaidi recorded video of himself and his fighters holding the severed heads of what they claimed were their Islamic State enemies. He then stated that KIA was aligned with SAS and was an integral element of JAM. Three months later, Sadr countered these claims and the attempted smearing of his campaign in a public address, declaring that his militias had a more cleaned-up reputation. Yet as of late 2015, some KIA-linked elements were still putting up martyrdom posters for fallen commanders that featured photos of Sadr.
Other splinter groups fighting in Syria have similarly claimed loyalty to Sadr even though he publicly opposed any armed Shiite intervention next door. On closer inspection, it is clear that these groups are no longer loyal to him — for many of them, Syria still serves as a good tool for recruiting fighters and further weakening his control.
Another major Sadrist splinter commander, Ahmed Hajji al-Saadi, announced on social media in 2014 that he was operating with SAS in Iraq — a curious assertion given his close relations with numerous Iranian-backed Shiite jihadist organizations and his claim to fame as cofounder of Syria’s first major transnational Shiite jihadist group, Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA). The LAFA offshoot Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein has also claimed to be Sadrist despite its open loyalties to Bashar al-Assad and Tehran. Other Iran-backed groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, such as Qaeda Quwat Abu Fadl al-Abbas and the newer Jaish al-Muwamal (Army of the Hopeful), have banked on their respective JAM and SAS legacies to recruit and craft militant networks.


To help prevent or prepare for potential troubles with Sadr and his splinters, U.S. policymakers should consider renewing their focus on the shifting moves made within his often opaque camp. This includes assessing which figures and networks Iran is using to foster more splinter groups. In the event American personnel are attacked again, such information could be beneficial in planning an appropriate, targeted response.
While Washington has remained publicly silent about Saraya al-Salam’s kidnapping of American contractors in January, seemingly preferring to work behind the scenes, it may not have the luxury of doing so in the future. If Sadr is truly embarking on a path of further conflict, U.S. forces will need to respond in a measured way — not only to discourage escalation, but also to send a strong signal of American power and resolve.
Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Washington Institute report The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.

Nuclear Iran: Courtesy of Obama

Image result for obama iran deal

Hey America: Remember When Obama’s Admin Gave Iran 116 Metric Tons of Uranium as a ‘Thank You’

Posted on March 4, 2017
Barack Obama’s administration, with the help of the rest of the P5+1 signatories of the Iran deal, has gifted Iran with enough uranium to make 10 simple nuclear bombs, a nuclear arms expert said Monday.
The transfer of 116 metric tons of uranium will come from Russia as a “thank you” in exchange for Iran’s export of tons of reactor coolant, the Associated Press reported in an exclusive.
David Albright, whose Institute of Science and International Security often briefs U.S. lawmakers on Iran’s nuclear program, says the shipment could be enriched to enough weapons-grade uranium for more than 10 simple nuclear bombs, “depending on the efficiency of the enrichment process and the design of the nuclear weapon.”
The shipment is the first since the Iran deal was implemented in July 2015. However, it is by no means the only time Iran was gifted with uranium that could possibly be used to build a nuclear weapon once the terms of the Iran deal begin to expire in less than a decade. In 2015, Iran received another shipment as part of the negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal in exchange for enriched uranium it sent to Russia. They are prohibited from storing more than about 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium under the terms of the Iran deal. Conventional wisdom holds this is not enough to produce a weapon.
The AP reported Monday that Iran has not said what purpose they have in mind for the uranium they’ve just received:
Uranium can be enriched to levels ranging from reactor fuel or medical and research purposes to the core of an atomic bomb. Iran says it has no interest in such weapons and its activities are being closely monitored under the nuclear pact to make sure they remain peaceful…
…Tehran has not said what it would do with the uranium but could choose to store it or turn it into low-enriched uranium and then export it for use as reactor fuel.
Without confirming the reported agreement, U.S. officials argued that such shipments would neither endanger nor violate the Iran nuclear deal.