The Trump administration this week appeared to take a possible step nearer to backing efforts plotted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to destabilize Iran; presumably topple its Islamic authorities; and power Qatar to fall into line with Gulf insurance policies that concentrate on Iran, political Islam, and militants; with the appointment of a seasoned covert operations officer as head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iran operations.
The appointment of Michael D’Andrea, a hard-charging, chain-smoking operative, alternatively nicknamed the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, whose observe document contains overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, advised that the CIA was prone to take a extra operational strategy in confronting Iran in step with President Donald J. Trump’s Saudi and UAE-backed laborious line in direction of the Islamic republic, which includes a attainable push for regime change.
Mr. D’Andrea took up his new publish at a second that the US focus gave the impression to be shifting to Iran because the Islamic State suffered important defeats with the close to fall of Mosul in Iraq and the approaching fall of Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria.
Saudi assist of militant teams in Pakistani Balochistan that function throughout the border within the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan is abetted by a US coverage that enables militancy to fester by failing to acknowledge hyperlinks between a number of conflicts in South and Central Asia.
Balochistan serves as a protected haven for the Afghan Taliban and as a transit station within the smuggling of medicine from Afghanistan to Iran and past. It can also be the point of interest of at the very least two regional proxy wars: the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the perennial dispute between Pakistan and India. Pakistan accuses Indian intelligence of supporting Baloch separatists in retaliation for Islamabad’s backing of militants in Kashmir.
Mohammad Baksh Sajdi, the assistant commissioner of the Baloch district of Kharran, in an indication of the affect of Saudi-inspired, anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, lately banned barbers from “cutting beards in a fashionable way which is against the principles of Islam according to all religious scholars.” An identical edict was issued in Balochistan’s Omara district. A Justice of the Peace in Kharran re-imposed the ban after it was cancelled by the federal government as a result of it was unlawful.
Mr. D’Andrea, who transformed to Islam to marry his Muslim spouse slightly than out of non secular conviction, brings a formidable covert operations document to difficult Iran. Mr. D’Andrea was reportedly concerned in using torture in interrogations of suspected militants below President George W. Bush.
He additionally performed a key position within the focusing on in 2008 of Imad Mugniyah, the worldwide operations chief for Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah who maintained shut ties to Iran. Mr. Mugniyah was assassinated in Damascus in an operation carried out along with Israel’s intelligence company, Mossad. Mr. D’Andrea was additionally concerned within the ramping up of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen that concentrate on Islamist militants.
The New York Times famous that Mr. D’Andrea’s appointment got here as some US officers, together with Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, have been pushing for a US coverage of regime change in Iran.
Mike Pompeo, an advocate previously of navy motion in opposition to Iranian nuclear services, wrote final summer season earlier than his appointment by Mr. Trump as CIA director that “Congress must act to change Iranian behaviour, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.”
Other senior Trump administration officers, together with Defense Secretary General (retired) James Mattis and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, are believed to be hardliners relating to Iran.
Mr. D’Andrea’s appointment stroked with an rising Saudi technique to escalate the dominion’s proxy battle with Iran by fomenting unrest among the many Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities in addition to to confront along with the United States Iranian-backed teams in Syria and Yemen. The Trump administration has already stepped up assist for Saudi Arabia’s two-year outdated, ill-fated intervention in Yemen.
Iran is unlikely to face by idly if Saudi Arabia and the US have been to provoke covert operations in opposition to it. “There’s just one small problem: Iran is unlikely to back down,” mentioned US Naval Postgraduate School Iran professional Afshon Ostovar. Mr. Ostovar famous that Iran’s skill to function by means of proxy teams like Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shiite militia, Palestine’s Islamic Jihad, and militias in Iraq was “its most strategic asset.”
As a outcome, the US-Saudi-UAE technique dangers Iran retaliating by trying to stir hassle amongst Shiites in Bahrain, house to a low-level insurgency for the reason that island’s Sunni Muslim minority regime brutally squashed a preferred rebellion in 2011 with the assist of Saudi troops, and in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich, predominantly Shiite Eastern province.
To make certain, Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Bahrainis and Saudis first and Shiites second. But a long time of discriminatory insurance policies in each areas have left their toll, and provide Iran potential alternative to stir the pot.
Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported this week that authorities had foiled an assault on US forces based mostly in Qatar. The newspaper mentioned the foiled try was deliberate by an Al Qaeda unit headed by a Qatari nationwide.
Okaz’s report got here within the wake of a suicide bombing in Qatif within the Eastern Province and a Saudi and UAE-sponsored media marketing campaign in opposition to Qatar due to its ties to Iran and alleged assist for militants. Saudi Shiite activists accused a US-trained Saudi inside ministry unit of getting instigated the Qatif bombing in an effort to bolster the dominion’s declare that it’s a sufferer of Iran-inspired political violence.
Qatar introduced amid the Saudi-UAE marketing campaign that six of its troopers had been wounded in Yemen “while conducting their duties within the Qatari contingent defending the southern borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
In a transfer paying homage to previous Qatari efforts to placate UAE and Saudi criticism, Qatar was reported to have expelled a number of officers of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, who have been concerned within the group’s actions on the Israeli occupied West Bank.
In the most recent episode of the Gulf cyberwar, leaked mails from the e-mail account of the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, whose authenticity was confirmed by Huffpost and The Intercept, confirmed the UAE methods to affect Iran’s home state of affairs.
The UAE was additionally urgent the Trump administration in cooperation with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies to maneuver its US air power base, the most important within the Middle East, out of Qatar.
The emails additionally revealed efforts to influence US firms to not pursue alternatives in Iran. Various media reviews advised that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been gunning for the removing of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani as emir of Qatar.
A proposed agenda for a gathering this week between senior UAE officers and Foundation executives included dialogue of attainable US and UAE “policies to positively impact Iranian internal situation”. Among the checklist of insurance policies have been “political, economic, military, intelligence, and cyber tools,” and efforts “contain and defeat Iranian aggression.” The agenda additionally included countering Qatari assist for Islamist and militant teams; its “destabilizing role in Egypt, Syria, Libya, the Gulf;” and “Al Jazeera as an instrument of regional instability.”
The Foundation, which has performed a number one position in arguing in opposition to the 2015 settlement that ended the Iranian nuclear disaster and lifted crippling worldwide sanctions in opposition to the Islamic republic, enjoys funding from rich US conservatives, together with playing mogul Sheldon Adelson, who supported Mr. Trump’s election marketing campaign and is an in depth affiliate of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
The Saudis backed by the US are prone to be fishing in murky ponds in Iran. Baloch teams are largely delineated alongside both nationalist or Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative traces with Pakistani intelligence backing spiritual teams in opposition to the nationalists.
However, communities just like the Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan, Iran’s oil-rich province that Arabs name Ahwaz after the area’s fundamental metropolis, are deeply divided and factitious and infrequently a cesspool of non-public, political and ideological rivalries. Various of the Ahwazi and Baloch teams preserve hyperlinks with each other. Yet, finding out who’s who is usually an nearly unimaginable activity.
In an assertion of ethnic identification, 1000’s of Iranian Arabs attended in March 2017 an Asian soccer competitors match between Esteghlal Ahvaz FC, the native staff within the Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz, and Qatar’s Lekhwiya SC wearing conventional Arab garb.
Ahwaz Monitor, an Iranian Arab web site, mentioned the followers have been protesting authorities efforts to suppress their identification. It mentioned the followers cheered their staff in Arabic slightly than Farsi and chanted “Arabic is my identity and honour” and “Al Ahwaz for Ahwazis and all Gulf state residents are dearest to us.” Fans additionally reportedly recited poetry celebrating their area’s Arab heritage.
The web site created final summer season by Iranian Arab activists is emblematic of the factitiousness of exile Iranian ethnic minority teams. Yasser Abadi, an Ahwazi activist, who based the web site, rejected allegations that it was Saudi-backed or had hyperlinks to militant Saudi-backed teams like Jundullah in Balochistan or the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (Harakat Al-Nizal L’Tahrir al-Ahwaz) that has claimed accountability for a sequence of assaults in Khuzestan.
Al Nizal is believed to have shut ties to Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in addition to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s spokesmen seem on Wesal TV, a Saudi-based, virulently anti-Shiite satellite tv for pc broadcaster.
Mr. Abadi insisted that he had funded the positioning himself, paying GBP 350 for 3 years of Internet internet hosting. The website “doesn’t need Saudi or Arab League support or encouragement,” Mr. Abadi mentioned.
Mr. Abadi described Saudi coverage in direction of Khuzestan as “volatile’ and geared towards “militarizing the region.” Mr. Abadi mentioned most Ahwazis rejected violence due to the dying and destruction they see elsewhere within the Middle East. He mentioned his group relied on “Arab influence,” which he outlined as oblique “media support, Arab votes in UN sub-committees against Iranian practices…publications, and legal support.”
Iran watchers famous that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has allowed some voice of dissent to be heard. “The more that this happens, the less the Saudi-backed separatists win. What the separatists want is the polarisation of views and to incite the regime to attack the (Iranian Arab) community, thereby securing a popular backlash. In recent weeks, they have conducted more murders, mostly of security personnel but also of non-security officials. They want mass arrests and public executions in order to establish themselves as the vanguard of the Ahwazi resistance,” one professional mentioned.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow on the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the creator of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer weblog, a e-book with the identical title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics within the Middle East and North Africa in addition to Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.