Iran defies Washington as it announces successful missile test

AFP reports: Iran has said it successfully tested a new medium-range missile, in defiance of warnings from the US that such activities were grounds for abandoning the countries’ landmark nuclear deal.

State television carried footage of the launch of the Khoramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Friday. It also carried in-flight video from the nose-cone of the missile, which has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000km) and can carry multiple warheads.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defence capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” said the country’s defence minister, Amir Hatami. [Continue reading…]

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Bernie Sanders calls for rethink on U.S. aid to Israel, Iran policy

Times of Israel reports: US senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for Washington to adopt a friendlier approach to Iran, and said he would consider supporting slashing US aid to Israel over the Jewish state’s policies towards the Palestinians.

In an interview Thursday with The Intercept, the Jewish senator said the US was “complicit” in what he termed Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, but was not the only guilty party, and urged Washington to play a more fair role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Certainly the United States is complicit, but it’s not to say… that Israel is the only party at fault,” he said.

“In terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the United States has got to play a much more even-handed role. Clearly that is not the case right now,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world another Rocket Man

Jeffrey Lewis writes: President Trump made quite the scene at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He didn’t bang his shoe, as Nikita Khrushchev did in 1960, or wear a pistol like Yasser Arafat in 1974. But in his own way, Trump unsettled the audience in the room and those watching on television with an extraordinary, bellicose speech.

The early headlines focused on his mocking of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and his warning that the United States would “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. But perhaps more worrisome was Trump’s veiled threat to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which he referred to as “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded with a threat of his own: “If, under any conditions, the United States chooses to break this agreement . . . it means that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country.”

It’s all very reminiscent of when the United States sought to walk away from a nuclear agreement with North Korea in 2002, squandering the best opportunity to forestall North Korea’s nuclear program. And if Trump refuses to certify Iran as being in compliance with the deal by the next deadline, Oct. 15, the result may be the same: Another country with long-range nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States.

The deal made with Iran in 2015 is remarkably similar to the agreement negotiated with North Korea in 1994 — in its gen­esis, its concept and the political resistance it has met.

The stories begin with nuclear ambitions. In both cases, those ambitions were revealed through strong U.S. intelligence capabilities in tandem with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In both cases, the sensitivity of IAEA techniques, such as environmental sampling, caught the governments by surprise, revealing far more about their nuclear programs than Pyongyang and Tehran ever anticipated. [Continue reading…]

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Birth of a second Hezbollah? Where Iran stands in a post-war Syria

Shahir Shahidsaless writes: Iran’s doctrine in Syria and Iraq is that “if we don’t defend our strongholds outside of our borders we will have to fight our enemies inside our borders”. Accordingly, Iran heavily invested in Syria. Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, has previously estimated that Iran spends $6bn annually in the Syrian war.

According to IRGC officials, the largest Iranian contribution has been the organising of the National Defence Forces (NDF), a pro-government militia. According to several independent reports, at any given time, there are an estimated 50,000 National Defence Force fighters under arms in Syria.

In May 2014, Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, who had reportedly supervised the funding for the NDF, said that Iran had organised roughly 70,000 pro-Assad NDF fighters into 42 groups and 128 battalions. Hamedani was killed near Aleppo in 2015.

In addition, numerous reports confirm that the Fatemiyoun Brigade – composed of thousands of Afghan Shias who fight under the auspices of Hezbollah Afghanistan, the Zaynabiyoun Brigade (the Pakistani version of Fatemiyoun), Hezbollah of Lebanon, and the militia group Kataib Hezbollah of Iraq – are actively involved in the Syrian war under the Iranian IRGC’s direct control.

Modelled after the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the experience of coordinating with proxy militias in Iraq, this large, battle-hardened paramilitary base in Syria will provide assurance to Iran by emerging as a decisive political force in Syria once the war is settled, no matter which government is in power as it happened in Lebanon and Iraq.

This simply means the birth of a second Hezbollah and an Iranian foothold right in Israel’s backyard with Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Iranian president aptly describes Trump as a ‘rogue newcomer’ to world politics

The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted President Trump on Wednesday for his “ignorant, absurd and hateful” speech before the United Nations a day earlier and vowed Iran would not be the first to walk away from the historic 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani, during a 23-minute address at the U.N. General Assembly, never mentioned Trump by name. Instead he referred to him obliquely, at one point saying it would be a pity if the nuclear deal were undone by “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.”

Rouhani denied that Iran had ever sought to obtain nuclear weapons and said the ballistic missiles it has been testing would be used only for defensive purposes.

“Iran does not seek to restore its ancient empire, impose its official religion on others or export its revolution through the force of arms,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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How far could the dangerous endgame in eastern Syria go?

The Washington Post reports: The war against the Islamic State always promised to get messy in its final stages, as the militants retreat and rival forces converge from different directions. That moment has arrived.

World powers and their local allies are scrambling to control the remote desert province of Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, in an accelerating race that is being compared to the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Under Islamic State control since 2014, the province is three times the size of Lebanon and consists mostly of empty desert. It also happens to contain most of Syria’s oil resources. But much more is at stake: the future contours of postwar Syria; Kurdish aspirations to some form of autonomy; and the competition for influence in the Middle East among the United States, Iran and Russia.

On the ground the combatants fall into two camps: one backed by Russia and Iran, the other by the United States and its allies.

Advancing from the north are the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a Kurdish-led coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces that is expanding the boundaries of the autonomous area they have carved out farther north. They are accompanied by American Special Operations troops and backed by U.S. airstrikes.

Making rapid progress from the east are the Syrian government and its allies, accompanied by Russian and Iranian advisers and backed by Russian airstrikes. They’re fulfilling President Bashar al-Assad’s goal of reasserting Syrian sovereignty over every inch of Syria — and also making sure the United States stays out. [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Netanyahu ready united assault against Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in New York on Monday, at the start of a week in which they intend to launch a concerted assault at the United Nations against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The US and Israeli leaders are expected to use their speeches to the UN general assembly on Tuesday to highlight the threat to Middle East stability and security represented by Tehran.

While anxiety about Iran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is widely shared, Trump and Netanyahu’s antipathy to the multilateral deal agreed in Vienna two years ago binds them together, even as it sets them apart from the overwhelming majority of other world leaders attending the annual UN summit.

Western allies in Europe – most notably the UK, France and Germany, co-signatories of the 2015 deal – remain committed to the agreement and have signalled they are willing to disagree sharply and openly with Trump on the issue.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN who made herself the principal channel for the president’s critique of the deal, has been a lonely voice against it on the security council.

The stance taken by Netanyahu and Trump has also set them apart from their most senior national security advisers. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signals he will choose approach on Iran that preserves nuclear deal

The New York Times reports: President Trump kept the Iran nuclear deal alive on Thursday as a critical deadline lapsed, a sign that he is stepping back from his threat to abandon an agreement he repeatedly disparaged. He is moving instead to push back on Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East in other ways.

Thursday’s congressionally imposed deadline, to renew an exemption to sanctions on Iran suspended under the 2015 deal, was significant because had the president reimposed economic punishments on Iran, he would have effectively violated the accord, allowing Tehran to walk away and ending the agreement. But Mr. Trump was convinced by top Cabinet members and aides that he would also blow up alliances and free Iran to produce nuclear weapons material.

The move was more consequential than the decision the president faces in October about whether to recertify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the deal, which has no effect on the nuclear agreement itself.

Though Mr. Trump insisted that he has not settled on an overall Iran strategy and that he would announce one next month, administration officials said they were already trying to refocus on using military and economic leverage to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.

The approach, which aides said Mr. Trump came to reluctantly in a series of National Security Council meetings, is part of a pattern that has emerged in the president’s attempts to keep his campaign promises. Falling short in some cases, including on his hard line on immigration, Mr. Trump has portrayed the outcome as consistent with his stated objectives. [Continue reading…]

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After Russia, Iran seeks deal for long-term Syria garrison, says Israel

Reuters reports: The Israeli intelligence minister said on Monday that President Bashar al-Assad was ready to permit Iran to set up military bases in Syria that would pose a long-term threat to neighbouring Israel.

While formally neutral on the six-year-old Syrian civil war, Israel worries that Assad’s recent gains have given his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies a foothold on its northern front.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied Russia, Assad’s most powerful backer, and the United States to curb the Iranian presence in Syria — as well as hinting that Israel could launch preemptive strikes against its arch-foe there.

In July, Moscow ratified a deal under which Damascus allowed the Russian air base in Syria’s Latakia Province to remain for almost half a century. Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said Iran could soon gain similar rights. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s next self-inflicted crisis is a nuclear Iran

Jeffrey Lewis writes: Oct. 15, 2017. Put it in your calendar.

By that date, President Donald Trump must yet again certify that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Indeed, owing to the infinite wisdom of the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” the U.S. Senate, the president must make such a certification every 90 days. Trump has done so twice, although each time at the last possible moment and only following a knock-down, drag-out fight in which a bunch of globalist cucks, also known as Trump’s national security team, implored him not to walk away from the agreement. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.”

Which is a weird thing to say because, you know, it is up to him whether to certify that Iran is in compliance. If Trump simply does nothing, Congress can reimpose sanctions on an expedited basis, which it would almost certainly do, thereby possibly collapsing the agreement.

The Iranians, of course, have noticed this little carnival of bellicosity. Both President Hassan Rouhani and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the nuclear energy program, recently said that if the United States reimposes sanctions, Iran could quickly resume a limited number of nuclear activities. These statements were widely misquoted, as Ariane Tabatabai notes, but they remind us that Iran is contemplating its options.

So it is time for a stark warning: If the United States walks away from the JCPOA, Iran could have a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) much more quickly than you might think, possibly before Trump leaves office.

The United States walked away from the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 2003. Three years later, North Korea exploded its first nuclear weapon. This summer, North Korea started testing long-range missiles that can carry those nuclear weapons to cities in the United States like New York and Los Angeles.

If the United States walks away from the JCPOA, Iran could do the same thing — only faster. This is admittedly a worst-case scenario, but as you may have noticed last November, unlikely, even unthinkable things occasionally do happen. [Continue reading…]

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Iran, Turkey move to re-establish role as regional backbone

Ali Hashem writes: Iran and Turkey are among the oldest rivals in the Middle East. This rivalry between the former Ottoman and Persian empires has calmed in recent decades, yet, with the spark of the Arab Spring, the two nations with opposing alliances revived their bitter race for influence and power in the region.

It was clear that the 1823 and 1847 Treaties of Erzurum still have an effect on today’s Turkey and Iran. Therefore, despite all the tension, blood and proxy collision, Ankara and Tehran remained resilient and have always looked for ways to reach compromises. Political relations between the two preserved a level of warmth. Now that the wars in Iraq and Syria, from an Iranian point of view, are coming closer to an end, a common threat in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region is prompting both sides to put aside differences and unify efforts to prevent a domino effect that might harm their national security — namely the Kurdish dream of an independent state.

On Aug. 15, Iran’s Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri made a rare official visit to Turkey to meet his counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, and senior Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Bagheri, the visit was “necessary to exchange views and more cooperation on the military subjects and different regional issues, issues related to the two countries’ security, security of borders and fighting against terrorism.” [Continue reading…]

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Yearning for the end of the world

As a child in Iran, Dina Nayeri belonged to a secret Christian church where the Rapture was welcomed as a rescue. She writes: In my mid-20s, after years of grappling with my identity as a refugee and my place in the world, I stopped believing in the Rapture. By then I had embraced all the secular, corporeal things I had secretly desired: a rigorous education, travel, great food, the admission that I do believe in science and that the Bible is at most a metaphor to me. I watched that old movie, A Thief in the Night, on my laptop and was fumed at the heavy-handed messages that had colonised my adolescent brain. The Christian characters benefit from the goodwill and love of their secular friends, then dismiss human love as insufficient. Ever blase, their lives never progress; they only wait. This was the detail in the movie that struck me most as an adult: the two primary Christian characters don’t have jobs or romances. They live in the next life.

This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection. For me, waiting for the Rapture and for political asylum felt much the same: the constant anticipation of a new start, of vanishing, of having already smelled the tiny yellow roses that draped our garden walls or tasted my grandmother’s celery stew for the final time. Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse.

When I said this to my mother recently, she balked. Though she believes in the Rapture – it is her “living hope” – and has suffered long bouts as a refugee, she doesn’t like the comparison. “I didn’t choose to leave my home,” she said. “Being a refugee is being homeless, not having hope. In those years I lived in constant numbness, because while you’re waiting, there is nothing. No way back and no way forward. With the Rapture, going back isn’t an option, but what’s ahead is beautiful.”

The Rapture story offers a known future that you don’t have to build yourself. It happens in an instant: before you’re done with one life, you’re whisked into another. And that is everything – skipping that in-between space, the country of purgatory where the refugee lingers. “If you’ve ever been a refugee,” my mother says, “you know how much that matters.”

She’s right: I do know that. I understand now that eschatological promises provide closure, the end of mankind’s story on Earth, at once terrible and necessary. They are designed to assuage a universal fear: the fate of the refugee. To set off as an asylum seeker is to endure a carousel of embassy visits and interviews and application papers without any idea of what comes next. It’s life without a heaven or hell, just recurring cycles that lead nowhere. Refugees live out the ancient themes of purgatory and banishment literally, and that – not the guillotine’s blade or the antichrist or oblivion – is the ultimate nightmare: life without closure, forever in limbo.

But I also know that being rescued from the nightmare of waiting is not only the refugee’s greatest desire, but also her greatest dread, because then home is no longer home and she’s no longer who she once was; she is transformed. Maybe that’s why I was so much more afraid in Oklahoma than in Isfahan – by then, I had tasted that transformation. I knew what it was like to be taken away, never to smell the yellow roses or taste the celery stew again. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar restores diplomatic ties with Iran despite demands by Arab neighbors

The Washington Post reports: Qatar said Thursday it has restored diplomatic relations with Iran, marking a further break with Arab nations that have joined against Qatar for its links to Islamist groups and others perceived by U.S. allies as regional threats.

The decision ignores demands by Qatar’s neighbors — led by Saudi Arabia — to limit ties with Tehran and threatens to deepen the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades, which has complicated Washington’s policies in the Middle East.

Qatar hosts U.S. warplanes at a major air base and serves as a logistical hub for Pentagon operations.

“The State of Qatar expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields,” Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The brief statement made no mention of the tensions that have roiled the Persian Gulf since June, when Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar. The Arab bloc shut down borders, airspace, and shipping lanes after accusing the tiny, energy-rich nation of backing terrorism for ties with groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]

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To Iran’s dismay, Iraq engages Saudi Arabia

Al Monitor reports: Pictures displaying Iran’s Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani during the battles with the Islamic State stopped circulating online with the military phase that ended in the liberation of Mosul. The Iranian presence and support for the Iraqi forces were absent in the liberation battles.

Simultaneously, Iraqi officials visited Saudi Arabia and Arab Sunni states that cheer for the Saudi axis. Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Aug. 13-15, with clerics and politicians welcoming him as an Iraqi leader. Prominent Sunni Iraqi cleric Ahmed al-Kubaisi and leading politicians met with Sadr during his visit to the UAE. This was only a few days after his visit at the end of July to Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials had welcomed him.

In the wake of the visit, Saudi Arabia took various measures in favor of Iraq, such as announcing the opening of a Saudi Consulate in Najaf, where Sadr lives. Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not object to this proposition, as in the past he had called for openness in relations. [Continue reading…]

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Moderate appointed to head Iran’s Expediency Council

Al Monitor reports: On Aug. 14, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as the new chairman of the Expediency Council. Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had headed the council for decades, until his death in January.

The Expediency Council was established in 1988 to resolve differences or conflicts between the parliament and the Guardian Council, which is tasked with assessing and approving parliament bills based on their adherence to Islamic law.

Prior to Khamenei announcing the council’s new leader, rumors had circulated about the possible appointment of the conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, who temporarily chaired council sessions after Rafsanjani’s death, of Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative cleric defeated in the May presidential elections by the moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani. [Continue reading…]

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Rouhani 2.0 vs. the hawks in Washington and Tehran

Ali Vaez writes: The inauguration of Hassan Rouhani on Saturday as president of Iran for a second term may be a bittersweet moment for him.

He appears at once stronger and weaker: His 19-point margin of victory in May after a bruising campaign against hard-line opponents surely increased his confidence. Yet, perhaps for that very reason, the conservative establishment, led by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is trying to stymie his efforts to translate his electoral mandate into policies aimed at opening Iran economically and politically. This augurs trying times, made more difficult by the belligerent stance of President Trump toward Iran.

History suggests that Mr. Rouhani has reason for concern. All his predecessors over the past three decades suffered gradual obsolescence in their second terms. Without the option of a consecutive third term, they all followed the same script: an initial forceful push of their agenda, followed by a clash with the Iranian system’s custodians and the frustration of becoming premature lame ducks.

In some ways, though, 2017 seems different. This is no ordinary moment in Iran’s history. The men who led the revolution to victory in 1979 are dying off, and Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 78, has suggested that he may soon need a successor. Two competing visions are vying for the Islamic Republic’s future: that of the principlists, who seek to preserve its revolutionary nature, and that of the more pragmatic elements, who want the revolution to mellow. [Continue reading…]

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Iran says new U.S. sanctions violate nuclear deal

The New York Times reports: Furious over new American sanctions, Iran said on Tuesday that it had lodged a complaint with the commission that polices possible violations of the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The complaint, disclosed by the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, accused the United States of breaching the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.

Some analysts interpreted the move as posturing aimed at ensuring that if President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, as he has threatened, then his administration would be blamed and not Iran. [Continue reading…]

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Scuttling the Iran deal will lead to another North Korea

Jeffrey Lewis writes: If you like North Korea’s nuclear-armed ICBM, you are going to love America walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran.

On this week’s episode of the Federal Apprentice, the staff forced Donald Trump to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal brokered by his predecessor. None too happy with that outcome, Trump is reportedly exploring ways to collapse it. That’s a terrible idea. Two rocket tests launched last week in a single 24-hour span by Iran and North Korea help explain why. They offer a useful opportunity to compare two very different possibilities: what Iran looks like today, with the nuclear deal in place, and how things have turned out with North Korea following the collapse of efforts to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Last week, Iran launched a rocket called the “Simorgh” as part of a program to place satellites in orbit. The Simorgh itself is not an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but the technologies are broadly similar.

Space launches do not, however, violate the terms of the nuclear deal, contrary to the claims of some of the deal’s opponents. The text of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is silent on the subject missile launches. Accordingly, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the deal, toned down the tough language in previous resolutions. Iran is merely “called upon” — the diplomatic equivalent of a suggestion — to refrain from activities related to “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” (And the term “designed to be capable” is so ambiguous as to be almost meaningless.) Indeed, the fact that the deal contained no limits on Iran’s missile program was something opponents highlighted and supporters, like me, lamented.

These details, though, don’t matter. The Trump administration is already signaling that it intends to sabotage the nuclear deal by insisting on inspections in a transparent and cynical effort to push Iran out of the agreement. The JCPOA already provides for inspections, but Team Trump seems to be envisioning the equivalent of a safeguards colonoscopy, not to catch Iran cheating but to make life under the agreement a constant source of friction. Whether or not a space launch is legally permitted or prohibited, Team Trump is likely to decide that it is one more calumny to launch against what Trump modestly called the “worst deal ever.”

But a casual glance at North Korea helps illustrate why that is shortsighted.

According to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Trump administration won’t be talking about North Korea’s missile launch. After all, what’s to talk about? North Korea’s recent tests of an ICBM clearly violate various U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the United States isn’t going to do anything about it. North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM flew more than 3,700 kilometers in altitude, before landing in the Sea of Japan. Had North Korea fired the Hwasong-14 on a normal trajectory, it would have traveled far enough to hit most major U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles. The people who are promising you a better deal with Iran have exactly no plan to deal with North Korea. It’s the equivalent of repeal and replace, except that stripping 20 million people of health care looks like a walk in the park compared with blundering into nuclear war. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Iran’s mission to dominate the Middle East

Borzou Daragahi reports: Iran has built up a multinational network of tens of thousands of young men from across the Middle East, turning them into a well-drilled fighting machine that is outgunning the US on the battlefield, as Tehran outsmarts the White House in the corridors of power.

These men can be found leading the defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, recapturing land from ISIS in Iraq, and fighting for control of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The transnational militia of Shiite men — which has no official title — is now the dominant force in the region, enabling Iran to take full advantage in the absence of a coherent strategy from the Trump White House.

Over six months, BuzzFeed News spoke to researchers, officials, and militia fighters who described what they knew about the Iranian program, overseen by the secretive Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its infamous commander Qassem Suleimani — who often shows up on front lines in Iraq and Syria. Accounts by the fighters reveal the scale and structure of the program, and although many of the details could not be independently verified, BuzzFeed News was able to confirm all the fighters’ memberships in various armed groups. Their stories, collected independently, match one another — as well as accounts gathered by US military and intelligence officials.

Mustafa al-Freidawi is one of those men.

Freidawi, a compact man with a neatly trimmed black beard, fondly recalls his early days as a member of Iran’s militia. “It was a new adventure,” he said. “We were happy.” Speaking in a noisy restaurant in northern Baghdad earlier this year, Freidawi outlined how he was recruited, trained, and deployed to be part of a fighting force that aims to cement Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and beyond. [Continue reading…]

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