US and Iran Exchange Warnings

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Some things never change. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, animosity between Iran and the United States continue on. Now it appears as if tension between the two nations is on the rise again after President Trump’s warnings on Wednesday. Trump warned Iran and its proxies against attacking US troops in Iraq. The president spoke of receiving information which suggested a sneak attack against US forces could be in the works. On Twitter, Trump posted the following: “Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” The president did not elaborate further on the information mentioned in his post.

Hours before Trump’s tweet, Iran had earlier warned the US about taking provocative actions in Iraq. General Yahya Rahim Safavi made the statement and concluded with, “Any US action will mark an even larger strategic failure in the current president’s record.” Given the context of the statements coming out of Tehran and Washington it is safe to assume that some type of action against US troops in Iraq has at least been considered by Iran’s leadership.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to suffer tremendously from the COVID-19 pandemic. 3,000 Iranians have died from the virus, and nearly 50,000 are confirmed to be infected. The situation has grown so bad inside of Iran that the UN, and China have asked the US to ease sanctions on Iran for the time being. The Trump administration did offer humanitarian aid to Iran in order to help the nation contend with the coronavirus outbreak but Tehran rejected the offer.

With the multitude of problems facing Iran right now its difficult to believe the government could be looking for trouble. Yet if Iran’s leaders view the United States as being overly distracted by the pandemic, it could sense an opportunity developing to inflict damage upon US forces in Iraq and possibly get away with it.

Iran Crisis: 8 January Evening Update

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President Trump’s address to the nation this morning laid out the US position in clear terms. Barring any further action by Iran, this crisis is and the ball is now in Tehran’s court. Trump opened the door to future negotiations, calling for a new, revised nuclear deal to replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA) that was implemented in January of 2016. Trump pointed out that Iran is standing down, a move that certainly helps to reduce tension, and open a pathway for future discussion. The president went on to call for NATO to adopt a larger role in the region, likely hinting at an increased naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Last summer an effort was made to create a multinational naval force to escort oil tankers through the Gulf and Red Sea waters, however, many European allies of the US balked.

Iran’s internal dynamics are certain to play a large role in the coming weeks and months. As I spoke about this morning, the regime’s priority for the moment is likely centered on survival. Hence the moves to arrest many IRGC commanders who were seen as excessively loyal to Qasem Soleimani. With them out of the picture, Iran’s security apparatus will become a trustworthy instrument with loyalty to the regime and not simply one man. This is a signal that a thawing of US-Iran tensions could be coming in the future, and the regime wants to assure that its vaunted IRGC will not act on its own to stoke the flames.

Alas, it is time to move on to other hotspots around the world. Libya, and North Korea first and foremost. We will continue to monitor and discuss Iran in the coming weeks, but for now, with this crisis concluded, other topics can be highlighted and talked about.

Waiting For Iran’s Response

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The world waits anxiously for Iran’s response to the US killing of General Qasem Soleimani on Friday. Iran’s leaders wasted little time vowing revenge against the United States, and punctuating those words with symbolic acts designed to inflame the passions of the Iranian people, and of Muslims worldwide. Today, Iran raised a red flag over the Holy Dome Jamkarān Mosque as a representation of a severe battle to come. At this point Iran is almost entirely obligated to retaliate, and Tehran understands this. Soleimani was a senior member of the regime, and largely responsible for the expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East. His death cannot go unanswered.

As Iran considers its next move, the US intelligence community, and the Pentagon are trying to locate clues which might give a hint about what is coming, when, and where. Iran’s fiery rhetoric in the last 24 hours makes it clear emotions are running high. Statements about striking vital US targets have filled the airwaves, and world wide web. Tehran’s first instinct has likely been to strike a high-value, high-visibility US target in the region. An attack that will put the United States, and the world on notice, as well as showcase Iran’s capabilities.

Unfortunately for the regime in Tehran, its eyes are bigger than its stomach. If it wants to challenge the US militarily in the Persian Gulf region, the fight will be brief and the end result not in Iran’s favor. Since late spring, the US has been quietly building up its forces in the region in dribs and drabs. A handful of fighters here, a battery of Patriots there. The media has been so obsessed with the impeachment soap opera in Washington that it has barely noticed the movement of forces. Suffice to say, the US has enough hardware on hand around the Persian Gulf to fulfill a host of offensive, and defensive operations should Iran decide to respond militarily, and on a large scale.

On Friday, Iran declared a three-day public mourning period for Soleimani’s death. Once it draws to an close, Iran probably will not waste much time before retaliating. Until then, the waiting game goes on.

Targeting Soleimani was the Right Choice

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President Trump made the right decision in ordering the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general officer and commander of the Quds force. He was a legitimate target, a man responsible for previous attacks against US interests in the region. The US government was current on Soleimani’s activities, and keenly aware of the reasons for Soleimani’s presence in Baghdad  Even more significant than his status as a legitimate target, is the fact that Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans. To not take advantage of the opportunity to neutralize him would’ve been irresponsible at the very least. The Trump administration’s handling of Iran has been strikingly different from how the Obama administration dealt with Iran. It’s more than fair to say President Trump’s approach has been far more effective. In this case, the president wasted no time, took decisive action, and dealt a considerable blow to Iran’s Quds force, and to Tehran’s shadowy activities across the region.

Having said all of that, we are going to see an Iranian response and possibly soon. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wasted little time in vowing revenge for the killing of Soleimani. This morning has seen much speculation in media circles as to what form Iranian retaliation will take. This matter has also been analyzed at length on this side of the fence by the US intelligence community, Pentagon, and outside advisers brought in to consult.

In short, the conclusion drawn is that the coming Iranian action will not adversely affect the calculus in the Persian Gulf area for US forces, or national interests. In all likelihood, the response will follow along the same lines of previous action, meaning attacks against US embassies, rocket strikes on bases where US troops are stationed, and perhaps a resumption of strikes against oil tankers operating in the Strait of Hormuz and Red Sea. Iran may also seek to punish US allies in the region for what Tehran views as their complicity in the killing of Soleimani. The coming 24-36 hours will reveal much about the direction Iran has chosen.

In any event, it did not take long for 2020 to produce its first geopolitical crisis.

Iran Preparing to Crackdown on Protests

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Over the last 24 hours signs have been emerging from inside of Iran that indicate the government could be preparing to crackdown on the protests which have erupted across the country since Friday. The protests were sparked by a nationwide increase of fuel prices and began in a number of Iranian cities. Government-controlled media, most notably Press TV, has attempted to downplay the severity of the protests, but reports from journalists inside of the country have painted a different picture. Protesters and riot police have clashed violently in many areas, and there has been damage to government buildings.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazil has warned that security forces will take action against the protesters if the ‘vandalism’ doesn’t end. “Under any circumstances, the country’s security and the people’s calm are the top priority for the law enforcement and our security and military forces,” Fazli said, making the position of the government quite clear. If the protesters do not end the demonstrations themselves, the Iranian government will do it for them.

Today, Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei gave a live speech to the nation. He stated his support for the fuel price raises, and blamed Iran’s foreign foes for the protests. Khamenei did not mention nations by name, but its almost certain he was referring to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and of course the United States.  He also went on to caution officials about raising the prices of other goods.

The most alarming indication of a coming crackdown is the shut down of all internet access in Iran at the order of the government. Digital communication lines between journalists outside of the country, and their sources inside of it have gone dark. There has been some activity on Twitter, though its difficult to determine if the tweets are coming from government agents posing as protesters, or bona fide protesters. Restricting internet access serves two purposes for the Iranian government. It prevents its citizens from communicating with each other, as well as the outside world. And it keeps domestic events under a blanket away from the prying eyes of the social media world, which has become a major priority for many beleagured governments across the world right now.