D-Day for Iran’s terror campaign

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In this file photo taken on May 08, 2018 US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
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This combination of file photos created on July 23, 2018 shows US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting on July 18, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC; and a handout photo provided by the Iranian presidency shows President Hassan Rouhani giving a speech on Iranian TV in Tehran. (AFP)
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Taliban militants with a captured Afghan army armored vehicle. (AFP)
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Iran tests a long-range Emad missile in 2015. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2018
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D-Day for Iran’s terror campaign

  • The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has identified as many as 23 ballistic missile launches by Iran since the end of the July 2015 nuclear deal
  • Iran’s annual financial backing to the Lebanese Hezbollah now totals a staggering $700 million

DUBAI: D-Day looms for the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror, as the US is set to reimpose sanctions against Iran on Sunday. The move could be the final nail in the coffin of a flawed nuclear deal that emboldened Iran’s actions in the region, according to experts who commended US President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the ill-fated agreement.
The 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saw Tehran agree to curtail its nuclear weapons program in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, on May 8 this year, Trump announced his decision to end US participation in the plan, describing it as “disastrous” and “defective at its core.” In doing so, he acknowledged that it failed to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and address its provocative regional activities in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

Moments after announcing the US would pull out of the deal, Trump signed a fresh two-part set of sanctions against Iran and warned countries against pursuing any cooperation with Tehran on its controversial nuclear weapons program. The second part of those sanctions — designed to reduce Iran’s exports of oil to zero — comes into effect on Monday.
Iran is the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Additional sanctions that kick in on Monday directly target countries that buy oil from it by blocking them from access to US markets and financial institutions.
Iran’s biggest energy buyers, including China and US allies such as India, Turkey and South Korea, are working to get around the sanctions or make up the shortfall elsewhere.
Dr. Dalia Dassa Kaye, director for the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation, told Arab News that the sanctions “will work in inflicting more pain on Iran.”
Dr. Sanam Vakil, senior consulting research fellow at Chatham House for the MENA region, said there had been early indications that the original deal was flawed.
“The deal was not comprehensive enough, did not include Iran’s regional activities and it had a shorter time frame than many people wanted,” she said.
The heart of the nuclear deal, negotiated over almost two years by the Obama administration, was that Iran would curb its nuclear program in return for the relaxation of sanctions that had crippled its economy.
But after coming to power, Trump described the agreement among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — known as P5+1 — as a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” rejecting claims that the Iranian regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Vakil said the agreement was sold as a transactional deal that many thought would lead to “transformational changes in Iran’s behavior.”
“However, Iran’s regional policy has always been detached from its nuclear program,” explained Vakil. “There is no correlation between sanctions and the commitment to the nuclear deal and Iran’s commitment to its regional allies. Actually, while Iran entered into the agreement, it also entered into the Syrian war.”
However, Vakil believes that it is possible another nuclear deal “will be back on the table,” providing it addresses Iran’s state-funded terror. “I think the deal will try to address all the outstanding issues that the US has raised. What is clearly important is a compromise. The original nuclear deal was not enough of a compromise for President Trump. The next (deal) will have to be a compromise to all parties.
“The US has issued 12 demands as a launchpad for negotiations, and Iran’s regimes around terrorism in the region will be included in those discussions. This is not just an Iran issue, this is a regional and international issue, and if the US wants to get involved in a long-term concession with Iran, it is going to have to take its regional activities into account.”
A report, “Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities,” compiled by the US State Department’s Iran Action Group and released in September, highlights Iran’s terror campaign in the region, including providing funding, training and weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq and Al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain.
Beyond these US-designated terror groups, Iran has provided weapons and support to Shiite militant groups in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Iran’s annual financial backing to the Lebanese Hezbollah now totals a staggering $700 million. Since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Iran has supplied Hezbollah with thousands of rockets, missiles and small arms. Hezbollah now has more than 100,000 rockets or missiles in its stockpile. Iran also provides up to $100 million annually in support to Palestinian terrorist groups and, since 2012, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars aiding the Houthis.
Harris Breslow, an associate professor with the department of mass communication at the UAE’s American University of Sharjah, told Arab News that Trump’s argument has always been that the JCPOA did not cover Iran’s behavior in the region.
“The agreement just covered nuclear weapons activity, so, as a result, some people argued that Iran saw this as an opportunity to do whatever it wanted, as long as it didn’t involve nuclear weaponry,” said Breslow.
Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has highlighted many core problems of JCPOA — firstly, that it was sold, in part, as a way for Iran to recoup billions of dollars in lost sanction revenue.
“From the beginning there was a real fear that the Iranians would divert large sums to their destabilizing regional ambitions and terrorist proxies. In the past two years, that has certainly been the case, with Tehran expanding its ballistic missile program and extending its regional influence by channeling funds and weapons to Hezbollah, the Houthis and thousands of Shiite militia traveling from as far away as Afghanistan to fight in Syria and Iraq,” he said.
Satloff said a secondary issue was Iran’s ballistic missile program. “Given that the Iranians are exploiting a loophole that the Obama administration permitted in the relevant UN Security Council resolution to plow ahead with developing missiles potentially capable of delivering nuclear weapons, it is wholly false for advocates of the deal to argue that the JCPOA has halted, frozen or suspended Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Such a program has three main parts — development, weaponization and delivery — and ballistic missiles are an integral part of that. Critical aspects of the program are moving ahead, deal or no deal.”
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has identified as many as 23 ballistic missile launches by Iran since the end of the July 2015 nuclear deal.
Satloff also said one of the biggest flaws in the JCPOA was the expiration of all restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of nuclear material 15 years into the agreement.
Breslow said, optimistically, the sanctions would lead to the P5+1 re-examining Iran’s terror campaign in the Middle East.
“Trump is trying to steer the global agreement from America,” he said. “He wants to negotiate a better deal. However, the realistic may say this will make Iran hard-line. Whether a new deal is revisited, and revisited in a way where there is a better deal on the table, remains to be seen.”


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.