Iran’s General Soleimani warns Trump war would ‘destroy all you possess’

BBC News reports:

An Iranian special forces commander has warned President Donald Trump if the US attacks Iran it “will destroy all that you possess”.

Major General Qassem Soleimani vowed that if Mr Trump started a war, the Islamic Republic would end it, Iranian news agency Tasnim reported.

It follows Mr Trump’s all-caps-lock tweet warning Iran’s president to “never, ever” threaten the US.

Tensions have risen since the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran deal.

Maj Gen Soleimani – who leads the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – was quoted on Thursday as saying: “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats.

“Talk to me, not to the president [Hassan Rouhani]. It is not in our president’s dignity to respond to you.

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.

“If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.” [Continue reading…]

Remembering May Scaff, icon of the Syrian revolution

Budour Hassan writes:

“When the Syrian revolution started, I became like a newborn making her first steps, rediscovering herself and rediscovering her country,” Syrian actress May Scaff told me when we met in Paris on April 28 this year. “Like all Syrians who took to the street, I found my voice for the first time.”

May never contemplated the idea that she would breathe her last in a country other than Syria or in a city other than her native Damascus. Few things scared her more than the thought of dying outside the country with which she had fallen in love all over again after the uprising.

Though she had been living in the French capital for three years, Paris, for her, was a temporary exile. “Don’t say if we return to Syria or if the regime falls,” she implored her friends. “Say when – when we return to Syria and when the regime falls for this moment will come. It has to.”

If this moment does come, though, May will not be there to witness it. May, an actress, a revolutionary, and a single mother, was pronounced dead on July 23 at the age of 49. Paris, not Damascus, will be her final resting place. Detention, death threats, separation from her mother and sister, and permanent exile and alienation were the price she paid for speaking truth to power.

At a time when most of her colleagues sided with the Syrian regime to maintain their privileges or remained silent to avoid state reprisal, May chose not to make a compromise with her beliefs. [Continue reading…]

U.S. launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders


Reuters reports:

The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, U.S. officials familiar with the matter said.

More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions. The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations. [Continue reading…]

ISIS makes comeback in Iraq with switch to guerrilla tactics

Reuters reports:

Months after Iraq declared victory over Islamic State, its fighters are making a comeback with a scatter-gun campaign of kidnap and killing.

With its dream of a Caliphate in the Middle East now dead, Islamic State has switched to hit-and-run attacks aimed at undermining the government in Baghdad, according to military, intelligence and government officials interviewed by Reuters.

Islamic State was reinventing itself months before Baghdad announced in December that it had defeated the group, according to intelligence officials who said it would adopt guerrilla tactics when it could no longer hold territory.

Iraq has now seen an increase in kidnappings and killings, mainly in the provinces of Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salahuddin, since it held an election in May, indicating the government will come under renewed pressure from a group that once occupied a third of the country during a three-year reign of terror. [Continue reading…]

How Israel torched its way to Iran’s nuclear secrets

The New York Times reports on Israel’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archive:

David Albright, a former inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said in an interview that the documents contained “great information.”

“Iran conducted many more high-explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development than previously known,” he told Congress last month.

But the archive also shows that after a burst of activity, a political mandate delivered at the end of 2003 slowed the program dramatically, just as American officials had concluded in a 2007 intelligence report.

Israel has long claimed that the program continued after 2003, and some documents show senior officials in the Iranian program — including two who were later assassinated, presumably by Israeli agents — debating how to split it into overt and covert elements.

One of the scientists warned that work on neutrons that create the chain reaction for a nuclear explosion must be hidden. “‘Neutrons’ research could not be considered ‘overt’ and needs to be concealed,” his notes read. “We cannot excuse such activities as defensive. Neutron activities are sensitive, and we have no explanation for them.” That caution, the documents show, came from Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian nuclear physicist at the University of Tehran, who was assassinated in January 2010.

Mr. Netanyahu argues that the trove proves that the 2015 agreement, with its sunset clauses allowing the Iranians to produce nuclear fuel again after 2030, was naïve. The fact that the Iranians went to such lengths to preserve what they had learned, and hid the archive’s contents from international inspectors in an undeclared site despite an agreement to reveal past research, is evidence of their future intent, he has said.

But the same material could also be interpreted as a strong argument for maintaining and extending the nuclear accord as long as possible. The deal deprived the Iranians of the nuclear fuel they would need to turn the designs into reality.

Former members of the Obama administration, who negotiated the deal, say the archive proves what they had suspected all along: that Iran had advanced fuel capability, warhead designs and a plan to build them rapidly. That was why they negotiated the accord, which forced the country to ship 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country. Iran would never have agreed to a permanent ban, they said.

The warehouse the Israelis penetrated was put into use only after the 2015 accord was reached with the United States, European powers, Russia and China. That pact granted broad rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit suspected nuclear sites, including on military bases.

So the Iranians, Israeli officials said in interviews, systematically went about collecting thousands of pages spread around the country documenting how to build a weapon, how to fit it on a missile and how to detonate it. They consolidated them at the warehouse, in a commercial district with no past relationship to the nuclear program, and far from the declared archives of the Ministry of Defense. There were no round-the-clock guards or anything else that would tip off neighbors, or spies, that something unusual was happening there. [Continue reading…]

Estonia girds for war with Russia

Molly K. McKew writes:

Pretty much no one in the Western alliance is looking forward to the next few days.

NATO heads of state are due to meet Wednesday in Brussels beneath the disinterested gaze of President Donald Trump before he jets off to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. In between, British Prime Minister Theresa May — who faces a pending collision with the brick wall of Brexit — meets first with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then with Trump herself. It’s a rapid-fire series of what would usually be staid diplomatic photo-ops that could, in this iteration, seriously disrupt the international order that has made the United States a global superpower since the end of World War II.

While the president and other Republican envoys make reassuring entreaties to the Kremlin, Trump continues to view himself as the disruptor of NATO. In the weeks leading up to the NATO summit, the president again berated America’s allies for their defense spending. To push back, supporters of the transatlantic framework that is the architecture of American power in the world are on an information blitz, heralding increased defense spending across the alliance.

All this has been accompanied by the usual cycle of pre-summit reports about NATO’s defensive vulnerabilities — including the choke point of the Suwalki Gap between Poland and Lithuania. And, as usual, it’s the allies to the north of that gap that are trying to stay focused on what matters most: the fundamental transformation of the alliance that is needed. [Continue reading…]

A Russian-backed offensive in Syria makes a mockery of Trump

Dexter Filkins reports:

A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in southern Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing heavy fighting and finding borders locked tight. More than three hundred thousand civilians are on the move—some on tractors, some on foot—trying to escape a Russian-backed Syrian Army offensive aimed at reconquering the city of Dara’a and the surrounding area, where the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad began seven years ago.

The refugees are fleeing Dara’a in two waves: to the east, toward the nearby Jordanian border, and to the west, toward Israel. Both borders are closed, and the refugees are piling up at the frontiers. The Kingdom of Jordan, which has already taken in nearly a million and a half Syrians, fears that to take in any more would put its very survival at risk. (Jordan’s total population is about ten million.) For its part, Israel has accepted almost no Syrian refugees since the war began. Both countries are providing some help to those fleeing—the Jordanians inside a “safety zone” within their own territory, where other relief groups are also operating, the Israelis by sending relief supplies to camps across the border and by treating small numbers of Syrians in Israeli hospitals. It’s better than nothing, but, against the need, hardly enough.

As a result, this latest wave of displaced Syrians, who number three hundred and twenty-five thousand, are withering in the sun; most have no shelter, food, or water. Daytime temperatures are nearing a hundred degrees. Women on the run are giving birth; children are dying not just from dehydration brought on by diarrhea but from scorpion bites. [Continue reading…]

Israeli, Saudi, and Emirati officials privately pushed for Trump to strike a ‘grand bargain’ with Putin

Adam Entous reports:

During a private meeting shortly before the November, 2016, election, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, floated to a longtime American interlocutor what sounded, at the time, like an unlikely grand bargain. The Emirati leader told the American that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Current and former U.S. officials said that bin Zayed, known as M.B.Z., was not the only leader in the region who favored rapprochement between the former Cold War adversaries. While America’s closest allies in Europe viewed with a sense of dread Trump’s interest in partnering with Putin, three countries that enjoyed unparallelled influence with the incoming Administration—Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.—privately embraced the goal. Officials from the three countries have repeatedly encouraged their American counterparts to consider ending the Ukraine-related sanctions in return for Putin’s help in removing Iranian forces from Syria.

Experts say that such a deal would be unworkable, even if Trump were interested. They say Putin has neither the interest nor the ability to pressure Iranian forces to leave Syria. Administration officials have said that Syria and Ukraine will be among the topics that Trump and Putin will discuss at their summit in Helsinki on July 16th. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment. [Continue reading…]

Is Trump handing Putin a victory in Syria?

David Ignatius writes:

The catastrophic war in Syria is nearing what could be a diplomatic endgame, as the United States , Russia and Israel shape a deal that would preserve power for Syrian President Bashar al -Assad in exchange for Russian pledges to restrain Iranian influence.

Checking Iranian power has become the only major Trump administration goal in Syria, now that the Islamic State is nearly vanquished. President Trump appears ready to embrace a policy that will validate Assad, an authoritarian leader who has gassed his own people, and abandon a Syrian opposition that was partly trained and supplied by the United States.

Trump’s Syria policy has bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball. The most consistent feature has been his mistrust of Middle East military commitments made by his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Step by step, he seems to be undoing them.

The diplomatic discussions about Syria come as Trump prepares for a July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign diplomats and administration officials are unsure just what will be on the agenda, but the Syria package will probably be in play. [Continue reading…]

How Trump, Netanyahu, and the Gulf states plan to fight Iran

Adam Entous writes:

On the afternoon of December 14, 2016, Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, rode from his Embassy to the White House to attend a Hanukkah party. The Obama Administration was in its final days, and among the guests were some of the President’s most ardent Jewish supporters, who were there to bid him farewell. But Dermer, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not share their sense of loss. For the Israeli leadership, the Trump Presidency could not come soon enough.

Netanyahu believed that Barack Obama had “no special feeling” for the Jewish state, as one of his aides once put it, and he resented Obama’s argument that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was a violation of basic human rights and an obstacle to security, not least for Israel itself. He also believed that Obama’s attempt to foster a kind of balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East was naïve, and that it underestimated the depth of Iran’s malign intentions throughout the region.

Obama was hardly anti-Israel. His Administration had provided the country with immense military and intelligence support. He had also protected Netanyahu in the United Nations Security Council, when, in 2011, he issued his only veto, blocking a resolution condemning Jewish settlement building. And Obama opposed efforts by the Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court, after Netanyahu shouted over the telephone to the President’s advisers that “this is a nuclear warhead aimed at my crotch!” (Netanyahu’s office disputes the American account of the call.)

Some of Netanyahu’s supporters believed that the Prime Minister bore comparison to Richard Nixon, whose anti-Communist credentials gave him the political capacity to open the door to diplomatic relations with China. Dennis Ross, an adviser on Middle Eastern affairs during Obama’s first term, frequently told the President and members of the national-security team that there were two Netanyahus—the “strategic Bibi,” who was willing to make concessions, and the “political Bibi,” who pursued his immediate electoral interest. Ross made the point so often that, during one exchange in the Oval Office, Obama stopped him with a palm in front of his face: he had heard enough.

Over time, Obama and his advisers came to believe that Netanyahu had been playing them, occasionally feigning interest in a two-state solution while expanding settlements in the West Bank, thus making the creation of a viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult to conceive. By Obama’s second term, his aides no longer bothered to mask their frustration with the Israelis. “They were never sincere in their commitment to peace,” Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisers, told me. “They used us as cover, to make it look like they were in a peace process. They were running a play, killing time, waiting out the Administration.” [Continue reading…]