Tag Archives | Saudi Arabia

Iran Charges Shahkuri is Agent of Terrorist MEK

Today the government of Iran charged that one of the men named as a defendant in Iran Plot case is a member of MEK, a terrorist group fighting against the Islamic government that was sheltered by Saddam Hussein in a base in Iraq.

The defendant, Gholam Shakuri, identified by the Justice Department as an operative of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, is actually a “key member” of the Mujahedeen Khalq, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported.

The MEK began as an nationalist/Marxist oriented group that fought against the Shah in 1979.  According to Juan Cole:

The People’s Holy Jihadis was one of two prominent guerrilla groups active in Iran in the 1970s against the government of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the then king and a close US ally. The other was the Fedayan-i Khalq or ‘those who sacrifice themselves for the people,’ a Marxist group. The MEK for its part mixed Islam and Marxism and was headed by the charismatic Massoud Rajavi, to whom members had a fanatic devotion. I remember when I was in Iran in summer, 1976, the newspapers were full of jeremiads about the Islamic Marxists, and I was shown a bombed-out second story apartment in South Tehran, allegedly MEK work.

The MEK later turned to terrorism to fight the new Islamic Republic’s clerical leaders, killing scores of innocent Iranians as well as government officials and earning the condemnation of legitimate opposition movements such as 2009′s Green movement that protested election fraud.  Iran said that international police agency, Interpol, is a seeking Shahkuri.

What about the Al Quds connection?  The FBI charges that Shahkuri is a deputy prominant Al Quds commander Shalai, who has previously been linked to American deaths in Iraq.


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Iran Plot: Who is Gholam Shakuri?

On Wednesday, American officials, who say the plot was endorsed by top Iranian authorities, were exploring why the sophisticated Quds Force might have chosen to rely on so amateurish an agent as Mr. Arbabsiar. – New York Times

This sort of says it all.  “exploring why” indeed!  It’s just too ridiculous.

Sometime in the past two years, Mr. Arbabsiar, whose friends called him Jack, began spending time in his native Iran, and investigators say he formed a relationship with members of the Quds Force. But Mr. Hosseini, who last saw his old roommate about two months ago, said Mr. Arbabsiar appeared to be chasing money, not political intrigue.

There’s really only one questions left.  Who is Gholam Shakuri, the alleged Al Quds member behind the plot?

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The Iranian Plot

Yesterday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the arrest of an Iranian American citizen, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, as the central character in a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington.  Arbabsiar was the go between a member of the Al Quds division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and what he thought was a Mexican drug cartel which was to supply to assassins.  However, Arbabsiar was actually dealing with an FBI informant and not the Mexican cartel.  The plot was disrupted after the Al Quds member wired $1oo,ooo to a US bank account.

Immediately, independent national security and Iranian experts raised doubts about this plot being carried out by the Iranian government.  First, Iranian intelligence services are highly professional and almost always use proxies so black ops can’t be traced back to the government.  Second, any Iranian spy would know that transferring $100,000 as a ‘down payment’ for the assassination to a US bank account raises an immediate red flag.  Third, using a drug cartel would again be counter to how Iran normally operates.  Fourth, why on US soil?

However, according to Bloomberg:

After he was arrested, Arbabsiar agreed to phone Shakuri in Iran in calls that were monitored, the U.S. said in the criminal complaint. During the calls, Shakuri told Arbabsiar to move forward with the plot “as quickly as possible.”

Shakuri also told Arbabsiar during the call that he would consult with his superiors about whether they would be willing to pay additional money for the hit men.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in regional rivalry with much animosity between them.  But killing the Saudi Ambassador on US soil is not in Iran’s interest – or so it would seem.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government denounced the charges as fabrications made by the US.  Ayatollah Khamenie charged ‘“the corrupted capitalist system shows no mercy to any nation, including the American people.”

UN Ambassador Rice is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the plot today.  There is speculation among those who study Iran that the plot may have been set in motion by a rogue groups in Al Quds acting as a drug cartel within Iran.








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Drone and Insurgencies

The co-called War on Terror has conditioned Americans to take for granted two far-reaching changes in Pentagon strategy.  The first is that state-to-state warfare is unlikely for the near-term future.  Therefore, the military is focusing on smaller, expeditionary strike forces that can enter and leave a country with speed and flexibility, with or without that country’s government approving or even knowing about the mission.  The second is the use of drone planes to target terrorists, either bands of fighters or individuals.  The killing of Bin Laden and al-Awlaki are examples of both.

Some people praise drone warfare because drone precision causes less  ‘collateral damage’, a/k/a civilian death and casualties.  We’ve come a long way since Dresden and Hiroshima! Or have we?

Some of us were shocked when we grew up and learned an Anglo-American coup overthrew the parliamentary government of newly independent Iran in 1953.  Or that the CIA helped the brutal Belgium regime assassinate Patrice Lumumba, one of the most respected and talented leaders coming out of the African independence movements, as he assumed leadership of Congo in 1961. Or that the Gulf of Tonkin  ‘incident’ that ‘started the Vietnam War’ never happened.  Many of us became committed anti-interventionists.

However, two years ago, some of those same anti-interventionists were arguing the merits of counter-insurgency (COIN) vs. counter-terrorism in Afghanistan.  A smaller number refused to consider either, saying the US should leave Afghanistan as fast as possible.

The War on Terror has legitimized targeted, cross-border actions, including assassinations, that were once CIA directed special and black ops.  At the same time, with the use of sophisticated remote technology, the US is capable of taking out the bad guys antiseptically.  Not only are there fewer civilian casualties, but no American lives are in danger.   Drones are directed remotely by pilots who go back to their homes after work.

In fact, the military made the killings of bin Laden and  al-Awliki, set against the intensified ‘search and destroy’ anti-terrorist operations ordered by President Obama shortly after coming to office,  look almost easy.   And that’s the point.  US drone technology is unfettered at this time.  Although the US has sold drones or their technology to several countries, none has so far been able to weaponize them for combat.   We’ve entered the post-’mutually assured casualties’ (if not destruction) era of warfare.   American soldiers can bomb or blow up the enemy remotely with blood only spilled on the other side.

It’s a matter of time before other countries weaponize drones.  Still, the US military seems confident that its next weapons systems will be ready to neutralize the drone combat it initiated in the first place when that need arises.

The conventional arms race is out of control, but the US alone has 52% of the global market, followed by a distant 19% for Russia.  It’s impossible to tell how, by and against whom this technology will be used in the future.

It’s difficult to believe that US military sales to other states are geared towards protection of those states, when the same systems are sold to their declared enemy (Saudi Arabia and Israel).  And why would the US sell drones, even for surveillance, to other countries? We are stuck in a self-proliferating cycle of military innovation,  arms sales, more innovation, more sales. Very few of these weapons are ever used; they just drain money from other needs.  Some are used against the buyer’s own citizens.  Most are used by the US.

Food for thought.








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Saudis Theaten Relations with US after UN Veto

Once again, Saudi Arabia has gone on record in a major American newspaper that an American UN veto of Palestinian statehood would US relations with the Arab world in danger.  Saudi Prince Faisel writes that both the US and Israel are missing a chance to further isolate not just Iran but Syrian dictator Assad by not resolving the Palestinian statehood crisis.  He makes the case in usually strong language:

American support for Palestinian statehood is therefore crucial, and a veto will have profound negative consequences. In addition to causing substantial damage to American-Saudi relations and provoking uproar among Muslims worldwide, the United States would further undermine its relations with the Muslim world, empower Iran and threaten regional stability. Let us hope that the United States chooses the path of justice and peace.

Of course, political posturing will be on over-drive in the days leading up to the September 20th opening UN session and the Saudis have their own fears of contagion from Arab Spring.  But Saudi Arabia has already bucked US policy on the Arab Spring by invading Bahrain.  It promises a continued independent course if the US vetoes a Security Council resolution on statehood.

Is a UN veto so important that the US is willing to risk the wrath not ‘just’ of the Arab public but frayed relations with the oil states?  Is Israel so important that the US bets its influence and standing in the Arab world on a veto benefiting Israel only?  Is the Obama Administration naive enough to think that the Oslo process is still the road to a two-state solution if Saudi Arabia and other Arab states want to use the UN and Arab Peace Plan to get two states co-existing in peace? For goodness sake, Israel’s made a mockery of Oslo by refusing to halt settlements on Palestinian land throughout the so-called Oslo process of the last twenty years.

There is no excuse for what a mess this Administration has made of Arab-Israeli policy.  Special envoy Dennis Ross, the longtime peace process negotiator, should resign immediately.  He hasn’t produced a thing in over 20 years of work on this issue.  Obama needs to listen to fresh voices.  Immediately

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The Gods at Play: Multinationals Circling Libya

British businesses are scrambling to return to Libya in anticipation of the end to the country’s civil war, but they are concerned that European and North American rivals are already stealing a march as a new race to turn a profit out of the war-torn nation begins.After five months of fighting in the world’s 12th-largest oil producer, industry figures are acutely aware that billions could be made in the coming years from rebuilding Libya. Immediate focus will fall on the country’s oil fields that are currently producing a 10th of the 1.6 million barrels a day that were exported pre-revolution.

There is also intense lobbying for the multibillion-pound reconstruction contracts that are likely to be offered once fighting ends. The Independent conducted a straw poll of more than 20 Western companies with previous business commitments in Libya. None would talk publicly about its plans but many admitted privately that they were keen to return once security allowed.  - The Independent, UK

According to the CIA, Libya ranks 18th in the world in oil production, behind other regional players Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Emirates, Algeria, Iraq and Iran.  The next largest producer that underwent upheaval in the Arab Spring is Egypt, ranked 29th.  It is no co-incidence that France and Britain urged Western help to the rebels.  Libya is not a major oil producer but what it does produce, Europe needs.

I am reminded of the scene from Jason and the Argonauts  in which the gods were gathered around a globe deciding the fates of mortals.  I can see Britain, France, Germany, the US, Italy and others debating:

US: Let’s leave Tunisia alone and see where it goes.

ALL:  Agreed!

(a few days later)

SAUDI ARABIA:  Ok, guys, now it’s spread to Egypt.  When are  you going to stop these kids from upsetting our plans.

FRANCE:  Hold on.  The group at Tahrir keeps growing even when the militias whipped their horses through the crowds.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Oh, come on!  The last thing we need is to alarm Israel!

US:  But the army isn’t shooting!  Doesn’t that mean Mubarak’s toast?

BRITAIN:  Being the ranking colonial power, we pass on this one.

US:  We’re talking to the military.  After all, we give them $3 billion/year in mostly military aid.  And those generals want to keep it! Yes they do!

ALL: So what are you saying?

US:  I don’t know about you guys but we’re cutting Mubarak loose.  It’s a risk but we’re getting emails demanding an English language Al Jazeera!  They’re more popular than CNN, for gods sake.

ALL (except Saudi Arabia):  We see what you mean.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Well, Bahrain is in our neighborhood and we’re sending in troops.


US:  Hey, they have a point.  Our 5th fleet is stationed there.  So, we’ll call for reform, you invade.

SAUDI ARABIA: Deal!  (high fives all around)

SAUDI ARABIA: (aside)  Give them the ‘democratic’ role and they always bite.

ALL:  What about Yemen?

US:     Let’s do nothing!

ALL:  Agreed!

ITALY:  Hey, we just heard Libya is being liberated by the non-violent opposition.

ALL:  Good!

ITALY:  But Qaddafi’s going to bomb them.

FRANCE:  It may not be a lot, but Libya has oil.

BRITAIN:  No shit!

ITALY, FRANCE, BRITAIN:  These guys are good.  Let’s give them some help.

NATO:  Brilliant!  They fight on the ground. We’ll bomb from the sky!  They take the casualties, the folks back home won’t complain!

GERMANY:  Are you c-r-a-z-y?  Leave us out.

FRANCE:  ooo-kkkkayyyy! But that means we get first dibs on the oil.  What about you, US?

US: Are you c-r-a-z-y?  We can’t bomb yet another Muslim country?

FRANCE:  Or can you?  What if the Arab League and UN endorse the bombing…..

US:  Well, maybe….

CLINTON: Sure tootin’!  We humanitarians need this conflict.  We know we can’t touch Syria (everyone laughs, as if the Syrians would oppose Bashar!).  And besides, it could give a new face to intervention, a humanitarian face!

FRANCE, GERMANY: Didn’t you try that with Iraq?

OBAMA:  Wait, she’s right!  As long as the rebels ask politely and the UN and even Arab League front their cause, how can we refuse to intervene?

ALL:  Agreed!




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The Scoop on Syria?

Last week, Bashar al-Assad called an emergency meeting of his Baath Party leadership.  Many took this as a sign that Assad is reaching for a way out of his mess, something like a negotiated settlement, and that the Baaths may propose a change in the Syrian Constitution which currently gives the Presidency to the Baath Party leader.  Joshua Landis, whose site Syria Comment draws response from a global readership, is skeptical:

I find the notion that the Assad family will look for a soft landing hard to believe, largely because there is no soft landing for this regime. From the opening days of this uprising I have predicted that Assad and his loyalists would try to fight their way out. The arguments against Assad negotiating an end to his regime are many. Here are a few. Close to a million Syrians will lose a great deal when this regime goes down — their jobs, their privileges, and some, if not many, will lose their lives. Syria’s allies also stand to lose a lot. Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas and are deeply invested in the Assad regime. It is widely reported that Iran has begun to send substantial amounts of money to prop up the regime and soften the blow of Western sanctions. Had Bashar and his family been willing to cut their losses, they would have done so months ago, before the level of anger and the possibility of wide spread revenge among top regime figures had risen to the present levels. If they negotiate today, most top figures will be unable to avoid the hangman’s noose.

In the meantime, Assad continued his scorched-earth military campaign against dissidents, doubling down against the opposition and the US and EU announced more sanctions against the regime.  In addition, Saudi Arabia has switched its tacit support of Assad and now calls for him to terminate Syria’s campaign against opponents.  Landis, among others, concludes that the Saudis believe the fall of Assad would do more to weaken their arch-enemy Iran than it would bring chaos to the region.

The Arab Spring is a Spring because key autocrats integrally involved in ME (Middle East) balance of power have not – and cannot – survive it.  Assad may go down fighting but there is little question he will go down.

And believe this if you can!  Former President Mubarak, ill and on trial for corruption and crimes against the Egyptian nation, has called for Assad to step down!  Fighting the opposition with repression led to his overthrow and trial.  He has little to lose in warning Assad of his fate.

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Growing Isolation of Assad

Over the weekend Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait withdrew ambassadors to Sytia and yesterday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Syrian President Bashir al-Asad and pushed him to cease killing civilians at once and to implement reforms.  Assad replied that he will not quit fighting the ‘terrorists.’

Turkey has declared the Syrian conflict to be a ‘nearly internal’ problem for Turks given the 500 miles of border the countries share.  Over the past few years, Turkey has reached out to Assad and other neighboring Arab states in an attempt to increase its leverage in the area.  However, according to some analysts, the check-checkmate duo to watch are Saudi Arabia and Tehran.  How far will Tehran go in supporting al-Assad, a long-time friend?

Almost the entire world is against the Assad regime’s brutal suppression of protests and large-scale killings of civilians.  Assad seems immune to those condemnations.  However, according to Syria Comment  rumors are swirling that Syria’s business elite are preparing for life without Assad.  Losing the support of one of his most loyal constituencies would weaken Assad in ways a hundred international condemnations couldn’t.

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