US military review asserts tough line against Iran

US Defense Secretary James Mattis. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2018

US military review asserts tough line against Iran

NEW YORK: The US military will focus on threats from China, Russia and the “rogue states” of Iran and North Korea, according to a strategy document released on Friday that marks a shift from the fight against extremist militants.

The National Defense Strategy, the first of its kind since at least 2014, is a planning blueprint for the US Department of Defense that will likely be reflected in future budget requests. The Pentagon released an 11-page version of the plan on Friday.

While it highlights Moscow and Beijing as chief global military concerns, it will be pored over by Washington’s allies in the Middle East for signs of policy shifts on Syria and Iraq after the crumbling of Daesh’s self-declared caliphate.

Speaking in Washington to launch the review, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Tehran and Pyongyang of destabilizing their respective regions by pursuing nuclear weapons or sponsoring terrorism.

“Rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran persist in taking outlaw actions that threaten regional and even global stability,” Mattis said.

“Oppressing their own people and shredding their dignity and human rights, they push their warped views outward.”

The unclassified summary of the strategy defines Iran as the “most significant challenge to Middle East stability” by using terrorism, proxy militias and arms to create an “arc of influence and instability while vying for regional hegemony.”

The document said: “The Department will sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the US, and consolidate our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.”

It added: “We will develop enduring coalitions to consolidate gains we have made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, to support the lasting defeat of terrorists as we sever their sources of strength and counterbalance Iran.”

His comments followed Rex Tillerson’s speech on Thursday, in which the secretary of state signalled an open-ended military presence in Syria as part of a broader strategy to prevent Daesh’s resurgence, challenge Syrian President Bashar Assad and curtail Iran’s influence.

Sigurd Neubauer, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, said US President Donald Trump had hired Mattis to run the Department of Defense because he wanted to challenge Tehran and bolster the region’s longstanding US allies.

“Mattis was selected in part for his expertise in the Middle East, where he witnessed Iran’s destructive role in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and was alarmed by the Obama administration’s naive approach to negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran,” Neubauer told Arab News.

“It’s therefore expected that the US National Defense Strategy, which cites Tehran as Washington’s premier regional adversary, would have Mattis’ fingerprints all over it. This outlook makes the Trump administration popular in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE.”

Globally, the strategy review represents a toughening resolve by the Trump administration to address challenges from Russia and China, despite the president’s calls for improved ties with Moscow and Beijing.

Pentagon officials told reporters that, while cash-strapped, Russia is far more brazen than China in its use of military power, having annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and intervened in Syria to support its ally Assad.

China was described as economically and militarily ascendant by the document, and has embarked on far-reaching military modernization that is in “deep contravention to our interests,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Elbridge Colby.

The document describes international alliances as critical to the US military, by far the world’s best-funded.

But it also stresses a need for burden-sharing — a nod to Trump’s haranguing of allies who, he says, let Washington pick up the military bills.

In spending terms, America’s military outlay per year far outpaces China and Russia, the rivals cited by Mattis.

The US spends $587.8 billion per year on its military, China $161.7 billion and Russia $44.6 billion.

Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US Embassy and the killings in Gaza. (Reuters)
Updated 25 May 2018

Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

  • The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements.
  • They are working to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine, says Hanan Ashrawi

AMMAN, Jordan: Israel’s decision to build thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank has “ended the two-state solution,” according to Palestinian officials.

The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements. The work is likely to be approved at a planning committee meting next week.

The timing of Lieberman’s announcement is regarded as particularly provocative by Palestinian officials, still angered by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the killing of 60 protesters in Gaza on May 15.

In a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian president, said: “The continuation of the settlement policy, statements by American officials supporting settlements, and incitement by Israeli ministers have ended the two-state solution and ended the American role in the region.”

The 2,500 houses, which are illegal under international law, will be spread across the occupied West Bank, with construction work due to begin immediately after approval is granted. The new houses will include 400 dwellings in Ariel, north of Jerusalem, and 460 in Ma’ale Adumim, a city already inhabited by about 40,000 people. Lieberman also said that “in coming months” he would push for the approval of another 1,400 settler houses now in the preliminary stages of planning.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said the plans reveal “the real nature of Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness.”

She said: “Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately working to enhance its extremist Jewish settler population and to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine.”

In an appeal to the International Criminal Court earlier this week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry branded Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.” 

Ashrawi called for the legal body to “open an immediate criminal investigation into Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.”

According to a June 2017 article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, more than 380,000 settlers live in the West Bank, with more than 40 percent based outside official settlements. Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US embassy and the killings in Gaza.

Khalil Tufakji, director of the maps and survey department at the Arab Studies Society, a Jerusalem-based NGO, told Arab News that the houses were designed to placate demands from the Israeli rightwing to create “a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”