Turkey/Syria Update 16 October, 2019

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US pressure on Turkey is set to increase as Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepare to depart for Turkey today. The high-profile US delegation will arrive in Ankara to hold discussions on the Turkish military operation currently underway in northeastern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared the Turkish offensive will continue. He has also ruled out the possibility of a ceasefire even as US and international criticism continues to deepen. Erdogan had initially refused to meet with Pence but now has reversed course and agreed to meet with the vice president.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria US troops continue their withdrawal from the northeast. Russian troops are moving into the area in an effort to fill the void, and limit Turkish territorial gains. This new Russian presence in the former US protectorate area will open the door for Syrian government forces to make further territorial gains and bring even more parts of Syria under the control of Damascus.

The US withdrawal is raising questions among America’s allies across the Middle East, especially concerning the United States’ commitments to their security. Russia’s leadership is already moving to take advantage of the situation. Vladimir Putin was in Saudi Arabia Monday, and the United Arab Emirates yesterday, ostensibly on state visits. Timing is everything in international relations, and Putin’s visits came as US troops were leaving their bases near Manbij, and Russian forces were moving in.

UN General Assembly 2019: The Last Chance for Diplomacy?

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This week in New York, the chief diplomats of the United States, and Iran are entering the UN General Assembly with two specific mission goals, and guidelines regarding how to best achieve them. What transpires in Manhattan this week will almost assuredly affect the national interests of Iran, and the US. In the case of the former, the same holds true with regards to its economic wellbeing, and overall security.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s mission is to convince world leaders to pressure the United States into loosening the economic sanction noose it has fastened around Iran’s neck. Zarif has been dangling the possibility of talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump taking place on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week in exchange for a loosening of the sanctions. Washington has shown no interest in this approach, and its not likely that Zarif will find too many sympathetic world leaders who possess the clout, or willingness to persuade the US to go easier on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes into the General Assembly looking to lay the foundation for a diplomatic outcome to the crisis. Contrary to the opinions expressed by countless left-leaning journalists, politicians and talking heads, the United States does not want to begin a war with Iran. SecState, and the rest of the Trump administration’s national security team have left no stone unturned while searching for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Regrettably, none have been found. Despite its claims otherwise, Tehran has demonstrated no sincere desire to resolve the current issues through diplomatic means. The Iranian government only wants to return the US-Iran relationship to what it was previous to President Trump’s inauguration and that is not going to happen.

So, as the week begins and the drama starts to unfold in Manhattan, it will be useful to keep in mind that if there is no diplomatic breakthrough by Friday, the Trump administration will begrudgingly admit that diplomacy has failed. From that point on, the US focus will shift towards non-diplomatic means to contain Iran. And by non-diplomatic means, I’m referring to the application of military power, of course. 😊

21 September, 2019: Iran Update

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As the United States military prepares to move additional forces to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region, Iran is threatening to pursue and destroy any aggressor, and that war might be unavoidable. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview on Face The Nation, which will be shown Sunday morning.  In it, the diplomat stressed that should a conflict erupt between Iran and the United States, it will not be a limited war. Meanwhile, as the latest US troop movement prepares to get underway, the Pentagon revealed that the mission of the troops is defensive in nature and will focus on air and ballistic missile defense. Assistance was formally requested by the Saudis. Along with the deployment, the US has announced it will be providing additional military hardware to its Gulf allies. The purpose behind this move is simple. Should the current tension bring about a military confrontation, it is in Washington’s best interest for US allies in the Gulf region to be properly equipped and supplied.

 

On Friday, the Trump administration also raised economic pressure on Iran. A new round of sanctions will target Iran’s national bank, a move that has the potential to cut off Iran’s dwindling access to global markets. When it comes to hard currency, Iran is running short. Further US pressure will make matters worse, and likely spur Tehran to take action similar to last weekend’s attacks sometime in the near future.

 

The coming week will see a new realm in the US-Iran crisis open up. The UN General Assembly will be underway, and the situation in the Persian Gulf will undoubtedly be a major topic. It remains to be seen if Iran’s leadership will meet with President Trump. Another area to be watched carefully will be US efforts to build an anti-Iran coalition and how successful they are. On Monday, we’ll discuss the UN General Assembly in greater detail.

Iran Promises ‘All Out War’ If Attacked

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Less than twenty-four hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled the Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities to be an act of war, his Iranian counterpart warned the world that any US or Saudi military action against Iran will lead to an ‘all out war.’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went on to explain that while Iran does not wish for war, it is prepared to defend itself should war come. His comments today have escalated the war of words presently underway between the Iranian regime and the Trump administration.

Zarif’s verbal barrage comes on the heels of not only Pompeo’s words, but also Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it believes Iran ‘unquestionably sponsored’ the attacks. Riyadh stopped short of openly blaming Iran, however. In yesterday’s statements, the Saudi government did explain its intention to gather more information on the attack. Specifically, determining the launch points of the cruise missiles. As I hinted at in a post the other day, this explanation could be little more than a screen to hide what is taking place behind the scenes. The US has incontrovertible proof that Iran is entirely responsible for the attack and the intelligence has been shared with the Saudi leadership and its military.

The other Gulf States appear to be aligning themselves with the United States as the crisis escalates. Today the United Arab Emirates announced it would be joining the US-led maritime coalition now being put together. Bahrain has previously said it too would be a part of the effort. Kuwait has raised the alert level of its military and security services as a precautionary measure. The Kuwaitis are also investigating the detection of unidentified UAVs over its territory earlier in the week, in an attempt to determine if there is a link to Iranian actions and future intentions.

 

US Formally Withdraws from INF Treaty

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The collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was a foregone conclusion. The United States set a deadline for Russia to comply fully with the terms of the treaty. Non-compliance would result in a formal US withdrawal from INF. 2 August was the deadline date and it came without any indications of Russian compliance anywhere in sight. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Friday explaining the US move, as well as the reasons for it. He laid the blame squarely on Russia’s shoulders, specifically its fielding of a non-compliant ground-launched cruise missile, the SSC-X-8.

With the INF Treaty now effectively trashed, many people across Europe and the United States are raising fears of a new arms race in the making. Aside the fear, and anxiety sits the simple reality that the treaty was no longer effective. The United States had little choice but to walk away from the treaty. Russia’s development and fielding of new non-INF compliant cruise missile systems since 2014 means there has been an arms race underway since then yet only one nation has been taking part.

That changes after today. The US will test its own new non-INF compliant ground launched cruise missile in the coming weeks. It will be some time before the new missile can be fielded though, leaving the US at a distinct disadvantage for the foreseeable future. Russia has already deployed several battalions of cruise missiles that directly violate the terms of the treaty. These missiles are capable of reaching US and NATO bases across Europe with either nuclear or conventional payloads.

It will be some time before the fallout from the US withdrawal, and the death of INF, become apparent. Until then, it is evident the US-Russia relationship will enter a more adversarial phase and that is at least partly because of the INF Treaty’s demise.