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Iran–China strategic agreement could be a game-changer

29 Mar 2021 | Amin Saikal

The signing of a 25-year cooperation agreement between the oil-rich and regionally influential, but US sanctioned, Islamic Republic of Iran and the globally powerful, but US pressured, People’s Republic of China inserts a new strategic pincer in the Middle East for the United States and its allies. Former US President Donald Trump must bear most of the responsibility for this development, which President Joe Biden now has to handle.

The agreement is the culmination of growing economic, trade and military ties between the two countries since the advent of the Iranian Islamic regime following the revolutionary overthrow of the Shah’s pro-Western monarchy 41 years ago. Although the contents of the deal haven’t been fully disclosed, it will certainly involve massive Chinese investment in Iran’s infrastructural, industrial, economic and petrochemical sectors. It will also strengthen military, intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation, and links Iran substantially to China’s Belt and Road Initiative as an instrument of global influence.

China–Iran trade amounted to some US$31 billion in 2016 following the conclusion of the landmark multilateral Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. However, it declined after Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 despite opposition from the other signatories (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. The trade volume is now nonetheless set to reach new heights. Underpinning this exponential elevation of relations is the two sides’ mutual interest in countering the US and its allies.

Deeper and wider cooperation between China and Iran, especially when considered in the context of their close ties with Russia and the trio’s adversarial relations with the US, carries a strong potential for changing the regional strategic landscape. So far, China has been careful not to partner with Iran to an extent that could jeopardise its lucrative relations with the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Iran’s regional archrival) and its Arab allies. In 2019, China imported some 17% of its oil needs from Saudi Arabia alone, not to mention 10% from Iraq, smaller amounts from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and only 3% from US-sanctioned Iran. China also enjoys reasonable military and intelligence cooperation with Israel, another main regional adversary of Iran.

However, Beijing’s conclusion of the deal with Tehran, which has been in the making since 2016, is bound to deeply concern the Gulf Arab states, Israel and indeed the US. These countries are already troubled by a perceived Iranian threat, given Tehran’s expanding influence across the Levant (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) and Yemen as well as its support for the Palestinian cause against Israeli occupation.

The US is also concerned by Iranian leverage in Afghanistan, where American and allied forces have been fighting the Taliban-led insurgency for two decades without much success, and from which Washington wants to extricate itself with some face-saving measures as soon as possible.

When combined with Iran’s close ties with Russia, the China–Iran deal potentially generates a strong axis that can only boost Tehran’s regional position and bargaining power in any negotiations with the Biden administration regarding the JCPOA. Biden has favoured a return of the US to the JCPOA, but on the condition that Iran restore some of the commitments it withdrew in retaliation for Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement. But Tehran has rejected this condition and demanded that the US first lift all of its sanctions.

Although the two sides have been posturing so far, it will come as no surprise if Tehran holds out until Washington blinks.
The Iranians have traditionally been wary of an alliance with any world power, although during the Shah’s rule their country drifted into the US’s orbit—something that substantially contributed to the consolidation of a situation that caused the revolution and demise of the Shah, bringing to power the anti-US Islamic regime. However, America’s constant hammering to pressure and isolate the Islamic regime, especially under Trump, has steadily driven Tehran to look to the East and to reach the point of concluding the agreement with China.

With Turkey also tilting away from the US towards China and Iran, despite Ankara’s and Tehran’s differences in Syria, the de facto alliances emerging in a strategically and economically vital region of the world poses a greater challenge to the Biden administration than may have been anticipated. If Biden had thought that his main foreign policy targets were going to be Russia and China, the Middle East may prove to be just as difficult to handle.

Author
Amin Saikal is adjunct professor of social sciences at the Centre for Muslim States at the University of Western Australia and author of Iran rising: the survival and future of the Islamic Republic. Image: Pool/Supreme Leader Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.
 

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Opinion

The China-Iran pact is a game-changer


China is making bold moves in the Middle East that are fast shifting the region's balance of power


by MK Bhadrakumar April 2, 2021

This is part 1 of a three-part series on China’s recent moves in the Middle East.


When China and Iran, two of the United States’ main adversaries in the contemporary world situation, enter into a 25-year strategic pact, it is pointless to split hairs and speculate whether the development affects American strategies.


Of course, it does. The West Asian region is all about geopolitics – starting from oil and jihad to petrodollar.


The region served as the crossroads of empires for centuries between Europe and Asia. And in modern history, foreign intruders conflated new poignant realities – failed states, humiliated peoples, crippled economies, extreme inequality and poverty, devastated environments, plundered resources, conflicted geographies and violent radicalism.


The historic China-Iran agreement signed on March 27 in Tehran during the visit of China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been under negotiation since the 2016 visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tehran.

Numerous visits by Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif to China in the recent years testified to the high importance Tehran attached to the negotiations culminating in the formal signing ceremony in Tehran Saturday, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between these two “civilization states” of the 21st century that enjoyed vast historical continuity and cultural unity across a large geographic region through millennia.


The text of the agreed document has not yet been put in the public domain but broadly, we can glean from the joint statement issued on March 27 that the agreement reached during Xi’s visit to increase bilateral trade to US$600 billion in the next decade has been acted upon.


In fact, the joint statement begins by invoking Xi’s visit.


Two supplementary documents signed by the two countries pertain to the “MOU on Jointly Promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” and the “MOU on Reinforcement of Industrial and Mineral Capacities and Investment”, whereby both sides “shall expand cooperation and mutual investments in various areas including transportation, railway, ports, energy, industry, commerce and services.”

The joint statement says that given their relative economic advantages, both sides shall enhance their cooperation in the field of energy. Iran will supply oil and gas to China, while the Chinese side “shall consider financing and investing in the up-and-downstream projects of the energy industries” in Iran.

Again, wide-ranging economic cooperation is envisaged covering investment and trade exchanges, banking, financing, mining, transportation, communications, space, manufacturing industries, development of ports, upgrade and expansion of Iran’s railway networks, the introduction of express railway systems in Iran, agriculture, water resources, protection of the environment, food security, fighting desertification, water desalination, use of nuclear energy, etc.


A bilateral “MOU on Strengthening of Investment Cooperation” is devoted to this aspect and the exchange of know-how and technology.


Yet the scope of the pact by far transcends trade and investment. A commentator in the Chinese state media noted: “As it stands, this deal will totally upend the prevailing geopolitical landscape in the West Asian region that has for so long been subject to US hegemony.”


The joint statement states that the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signifies “a major agreement in all areas of bilateral relations and regional and international issues.”


It adds: “Currently the regional and international situation is experiencing deep and complex developments. Under such circumstances, the two sides emphasize the importance of cooperation between the developing countries on international affairs and are committed to joint efforts towards realization of peace, stability and development in the region and the world at large.”

Interestingly, the joint statement highlights that “China attaches importance to Iran’s effective role as the regional power and evaluates positively Iran’s role in activities under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and supports Iran’s application for full membership of the Organization.”


Of course, it is a way of telling the world that China does not accept the isolation of Iran from the world community. Conceivably, China and Russia are on the same page here.


The US has contributed significantly in providing a raison d’être for such a pact. Neither China nor Iran is expecting any goodwill from the US. They perceive that the adversarial mindset in America is only hardening under President Joe Biden’s watch.


As for Tehran, it no longer pins hope that Biden will revive the JCPOA or lift sanctions anytime soon. Thus, without doubt, pushing back against the US unilateralism and sanctions is a leitmotif of the China-Iran strategic partnership.


China’s interest lies in “broad-basing” this leitmotif to embrace its relationships with the regional states as a whole. Wang’s regional tour covered Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, UAE and Oman. The fact that he traveled to Iran via Saudi Arabia is both symbolic and of substantive importance.

At his meeting in Riyadh on March 24 with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Wang said China supports Saudi Arabia in safeguarding its sovereignty, national dignity, security and stability, and opposes interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs under any pretext.

Prince Mohammed affirmed in response that the rise of China is conducive to global peace, stability and prosperity, as well as a more balanced global development.


The Crown Prince expressed the hope that the two countries will boost anti-terrorism and security cooperation to uplift the bilateral ties to a higher level. Importantly, the Crown Prince said Saudi Arabia “firmly supports China’s legitimate position on the issues related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong, opposes interfering in China’s internal affairs under any pretext, and rejects the attempt by certain parties to sow dissension between China and the Islamic world.”


Plainly put, Saudi Arabia has undercut the current US campaign against China regarding Xinjiang. It is a snub to the Biden administration. In fact, Wang’s regional tour testifies to the ground reality that there are no takers for the US’ diatribes against China.


The regional states sense that the US is being driven by seething rivalry over a rising China poised to overtake it in a near future as the world’s number one superpower. They refuse to take sides in the rivalry.


The salience lies here: China has introduced, after careful assessment of the power dynamic in West Asia, certain common principles that are equally applicable across the region to provide the basis for its relationships with the regional countries.


The unspoken objective is to encourage the regional states to shift to independent foreign policies, shaking off the western yoke, especially US hegemony. But China’s method of doing this is radically different from the coercive and often violent tactics that western powers traditionally adopted in the region.

China has absolutely no interest in using coercion as an instrument of “persuasion,” even with Turkey, which has a vocal Uighur diaspora, who held a demonstration during Wang’s visit.


At the meeting with Wang, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan underscored Turkey’s deep interest in “boosting mutual trust, promoting the synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Turkey’s ‘Middle Corridor’ plan, enhancing cooperation in the fields including interconnection and intercommunication, infrastructure construction and investment, seeking more balanced development of bilateral trade and encouraging local currency settlement. China instead is offering equal relationships.”


Erdogan also voiced Turkey’s appreciation for China’s five-point initiative for achieving security and stability in the Middle East and its willingness to deepen communication and coordination with China on regional affairs. Fundamentally, China’s projection of a constructive agenda to develop “win-win” engagement with the regional states is gaining traction.
 

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April 2, 2021 Topic: Iran Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: IranIraqIranian ArmyBallistic MissilesMilitary
Missiles, Not Military: Why No One Cares About Iran’s Army

Iran is primarily a land power, and has invaded and suffered invasion from other peoples and countries over the past several thousand years.


by Kyle Mizokami

Here's What You Need to Remember: Much like China’s army in the 1980s, the Iranian Army and other ground forces are large but poorly armed. Iran’s sheer size, both in geography and population, are a deterrent to invasion.

One of the most powerful and influential countries in the Middle East is undoubtedly Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran sits astride several key strategic—and often volatile—regions, including the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Caucasus. Iran is primarily a land power, and has invaded and suffered invasion from other peoples and countries over the past several thousand years. As a result, Iran retains large ground forces, both in the Iranian Army itself and the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The commander in chief of the Iranian Armed Forces is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Like many states, there are two armies: the Iranian Army, loyal to the country itself, and the IRGC and its Basij militia, which is loyal to the regime and the spirit of the revolution. Unlike most states with two armies, the Iranian Army and the IRGC suffer from less role and capability duplication, in large extent due to the Iranian Revolution.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 deposed the monarchy under the shah and imposed a theocratic revolutionary state. The new rulers of Iran, skeptical of long-standing institutions historically loyal to the shah, allowed the Army to survive as an organization but developed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a counterweight. While the Army would guard the country’s borders and defend against external threats, the IRGC would guard the regime itself. As a result, the Army was arrayed generally towards Iran’s primary enemies at the time—Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia—and placed mostly near the Iranian border. The IRGC, on the other hand, maintains significant garrisons in Iran’s major cities and towns.

In 2013, the Center for Strategic and International Studies assessed the Islamic Iranian Ground Forces as consisting of 350,000 active duty troops, including 130,000 professionals and 220,000 draftees. These troops are organized into four armored divisions, two mechanized infantry divisions, four light infantry divisions, six artillery groups, two special forces/commando divisions, an airborne brigade, three to four commando brigades, an unknown number of aviation units, and other separate armored and infantry brigades.

The ground forces have a number of armored vehicles at their disposal, including 1,663 main battle tanks, 725 reconnaissance and infantry fighting vehicles, 640 armored personnel carriers, 2,322 towed and self-propelled howitzers, and 1,476 multiple rocket launchers. While the sheer amount of equipment sounds impressive, and many pieces, such as the UK’s Chieftain tank, American Sea Cobra attack helicopter and M113 armored personnel carrier, were first-rate weapons for their time, much of it is very dated by 2017 standards. This equipment has been supplemented by Russian equipment purchased during the 1990s to rearm the battle-worn Ground Forces. In general, however, the Ground Forces remain chronically underequipped, crippled by sanctions and a lack of domestic military technology.

Western sanctions and arms embargoes directed against Iran created a vacuum that the country’s nascent arms industry struggled to fill. Today Iran has an enthusiastic, if not quite cutting-edge military-industrial complex. It manufactures a slew of small arms and support weapons for the infantry and offers domestic copies of vehicles such as the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and T-72 main battle tank. Not all of its stated achievements pan out, however; Iran claims to have designed and built the Karrar (“Striker”) main battle tank in just one year, which it says is in some ways superior to the Russian T-90MS it had been attempting to purchase. This is almost certainly untrue.

The IRGC, an equal service alongside the Ground Forces, maintains land forces of its own. The hundred-thousand-strong Ground Forces of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution protects the theocratic regime, and as such is more lightly armed than the regular Iranian Army. The Basij paramilitary militia is a lightly armed force also meant to protect the revolution and regime. The Basij infamously acted as poorly trained cannon fodder in the Iran-Iraq War, sending young boys and old men against prepared Iraqi defenses. Today, it is described as a “combination of political party and military organisation” of four to five million that keeps tabs on dissenters and guards the regime.

The most important part of the IRGC, and possibly all of the Iranian Armed Forces, is the Quds Force. Consisting of fifteen to thirty thousand of the best IRGC troops, the Quds Force provides Tehran’s regime with an unconventional warfare capability, broadly similar to the CIA and U.S. Special Forces circa 1967. The Quds Force typically operates alongside nonstate actors such as Hezbollah, providing training, weapons and support. Analysts believe that the Quds Force armed elements of the Iraqi insurgency with IEDs built around explosively forged penetrators, allowing them to penetrate armored vehicles. According to retired U.S. Army general Stanley McChrystal, “We knew where all the factories were in Iran. The E.F.P.s killed hundreds of Americans.”

Much like China’s army in the 1980s, the Iranian Army and other ground forces are large but poorly armed. Iran’s sheer size, both in geography and population, are a deterrent to invasion. With Iraq struggling for its own survival, Tehran’s ground forces generally exist to secure the borders and keep the existing system of government in place. That being said, like the People’s Liberation Army, an injection of funding—and purpose—could turn Iran into the dominant land power in the Middle East.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This article first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader interest.
 

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WORLD
< U.S. And Iran Officials To Meet In Vienna, Potentially Discuss Nuclear Deal
April 3, 20217:54 AM ET

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Will the U.S. return to the Iran nuclear deal? And if so, how? There's a meeting about that in Vienna next week. The original deal was negotiated while Joe Biden was vice president. President Trump scrapped the agreement. Now President Biden wants to revive it. We're joined now by Negar Mortazavi, a journalist and analyst. Thanks so much for being with us.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: The original Iran deal placed tough but temporary limits on Iran's nuclear program. In exchange, U.S. and international sanctions were lifted. Will the discussions next week aim to return to that as if nothing happened?

MORTAZAVI: Well, it's something that the Iranians expected, to basically return to the existing deal. I must say that not all the limits are temporary, actually. Some of them are going to continue indefinitely on Iran's nuclear program. Basically, the goal is to ensure that the program stays a civil program and that it never turns into a nuclear weapons program. And it's something that the Iranian side had wanted to return to. They stayed in the deal when the Trump administration left. And it seems like it's something the Biden administration wants to also return to.

SIMON: Yeah. Help us understand how important it is for Iran to have sanctions lifted.

MORTAZAVI: Well, the economy has been devastated by sanctions - crippling sanctions, as they call them - imposed by the Trump administration. The Trump administration basically called this a campaign of maximum pressure. And it really was - has been maximum pressure, mostly on the Iranian people, actually, not so much on the Iranian state. And add to that a new layer, which is the pandemic. Iran has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East. It was one of the first countries after China to get the virus. And the combination of these sanctions and the pandemic has just devastated the economy. And it's something that many, many Iranians are really very much looking forward to - the sanctions relief.

SIMON: At the same time, what kind of agreement can the Iranian government come to that'll satisfy some of the hard-liners in the regime?

MORTAZAVI: Well, it seems like the hard-liners will be in line if a return to the JCPOA as it existed - existing deal - if a return to JCPOA is something that the two sides can agree on. Right now, the disagreement is on the technicality or the sequence of how a return to the deal should happen. But as far as going back to the deal, it seems like both sides, the Biden administration and also the high echelons of power in Iran, agree on to return to the existing deal. And then after that, there's interest, at least in Washington, to continue negotiations on other issues, which I think will be complicated. But it's not something that the Iranian side has completely said no to.

SIMON: And there's a presidential election coming up in Iran, too, right?

MORTAZAVI: Yes, in June. And that will be a game-changer because it will be the end of the current president, the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. And there's a very high chance that a hard-liner may become president of Iran, which will make, you know, negotiations, any kind of agreement more difficult with the United States.

SIMON: So any meeting they have in Vienna has to take into account the fact they don't know who's going to be running the Iranian government in just a couple months.

MORTAZAVI: Well, that is true. But because the supreme leader in Iran, which is the top person in power, will remain in power, and the president is essentially not the No. 1 person like here in the U.S., I think there will be continuity. At least on the Iranian side, we saw that even after President Trump pulled out of the deal, the Iranians stuck to their end of the deal. So I think there will be continuity if both sides agree on a framework to return to the deal as far as the JCPOA. I'm not so much worried about Iran pulling out of the deal if the United States stays in the deal, even with a change of presidency in Tehran.

SIMON: Negar Mortazavi is the host of "The Iran Podcast." Thanks so much for being with us.

MORTAZAVI: Thanks for having me, Scott.
 

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‘Worse than a jungle’: the cartel controlling Iraqi borders
0
BY JONATHAN EDWARDS ON APRIL 3, 2021NEWS





Along Iraq’s borders, a corrupt customs-evasion cartel is diverting billions of dollars away from state coffers to line the pockets of armed groups, political parties and crooked officials.

The prime beneficiaries are Iran-linked Shiite paramilitaries that intimidate federal officials who dare obstruct them, sometimes through chillingly specific death threats, a six-month AFP investigation has found.

The network is so well-oiled and entrenched that revenues are parcelled out among rival groups with remarkably little friction, part of a parallel system that Iraq’s finance minister has described as “state plunder”.

“It’s indescribable,” said one Iraqi customs worker. “Worse than a jungle. In a jungle, at least animals eat and get full. These guys are never satisfied.”

Like most of the government officials, port workers and importers interviewed for this story, this worker cited threats to his life and asked to speak anonymously.

The network they described arises from Iraq’s glacially slow bureaucracy, fractious politics, limited non-oil industry and endemic corruption that is itself largely a product of years of chaos in the wake of the 2003 US invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

Customs provide one of the few sources of state revenues, and to keep disparate groups and tribes happy, many of them close to Iran, entry points are divvied up among them and federal duties largely supplanted by bribes.

“There’s a kind of collusion between officials, political parties, gangs and corrupt businessmen,” Iraq’s Finance Minister Ali Allawi told AFP.

– ‘Designed to fail’ –

Iraq imports a vast majority of its goods — from food and electronics to natural gas — mostly from neighbours Iran and Turkey and from China.

Officially, the country of 40 million brought in $21 billion worth of non-oil goods in 2019, the latest year for which full government data is available.

Iraq has five official crossings along its 1,600-kilometre (1,000-mile) border with Iran and one on the nearly 370-km frontier with Turkey, while the single biggest and most lucrative gateway is the port of Umm Qasr in the southern province of Basra.



Duties on imports at these points of entry are meant to supplement state revenues from Iraq’s huge oil sector — but they don’t.

Iraq’s import system is infamously outdated and cumbersome, with a 2020 World Bank report citing frustrating delays, high compliance fees and frequent exploitation.

“If you want to do it the right way, you end up paying in the four figures for demurrage (docking fees) for a single month” in dollar terms, said an importer based in the region.

“It’s designed to fail,” he said.

An informal parallel system rose in its stead, in which parties and paramilitary groups have divided up Iraq’s land and sea crossings, said officials, port workers, importers and analysts.

– Paramilitary groups –

Many of Iraq’s entry points are informally controlled by groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful state-sponsored armed network close to Iran, as well as other armed factions, officials confirmed to AFP.

The Hashed’s members, their allies or their relatives work as border agents, inspectors or police, and are paid by importers who want to skip the official process entirely or get discounts.

“If you want a shortcut, you go to the militias or parties,” said an Iraqi intelligence agent who has investigated customs evasion.

He said importers effectively tell themselves: “I’d rather lose $100,000 (on a bribe) than lose my goods altogether.”

The Hashed publicly denies the claims. But sources close to its hardline member groups Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataeb Hezbollah acknowledged that customs posts are indeed parcelled out in the manner alleged.

They cited specific harbour berths, land crossings and products that matched what customs officials and the intelligence agent told AFP.

– $10,000 a day in bribes –

The Mandali crossing on the Iranian border, for example, is run by the Badr Organisation, an Iraqi movement founded in Iran, port workers, officials and analysts confirmed.

An official there boasted to AFP that a border operative can rake in $10,000 per day in bribes, the bulk of which is distributed to the overseeing armed group and complicit officials.

In other cases, an armed group controls a particular kind of trade.

“If I’m a cigarette trader,” he said, “I go to Kataeb Hezbollah’s economic office in the Jadriyah neighbourhood (of Baghdad), knock on the door, and say: ‘I want to coordinate with you’.”



One key figure is always the “mukhalles” — the state customs agent assigned to an incoming shipment who often doubles as a middleman for an armed group.

“There’s no such thing as a neutral mukhalles. They’re all backed by parties,” the intelligence agent said.

Once paid — in cash for smaller operations, and by bank wire for larger deals — the mukhalles tampers with paperwork.

By misrepresenting the type or amount of goods imported or their value, the customs fee is sharply reduced.
One importer told AFP that under-declaring quantities could score a trader discounts of up to 60 percent.

– Right connections –

For high-tariff goods, meanwhile, the favoured trick is to declare them as something else altogether.

Cigarette imports are taxed with a regular import tariff of 30 percent, plus a further 100 percent to encourage consumers to buy local brands.

To cut those fees, cigarettes are often recorded as tissues or plastic goods.



Facilitators also tamper with a shipment’s estimated total value, which is first marked on the import license but re-evaluated at the point of entry.

In one case described to AFP by an Umm Qasr official, metal reinforcements were valued by the customs agent so cheaply that the importer was charged $200,000 in duties, when he should have paid over $1 million.

With the right connections, some cargo slips through with no inspection at all.

“I’m not corrupt, but even I have had to wave through cargo I didn’t actually inspect because the shipment was linked to a powerful party,” said the customs worker quoted earlier.

One importer told AFP he paid $30,000 to a customs agent at Umm Qasr to allow through prohibited refurbished electrical equipment.

He said he also regularly bribed port police to warn him of surprise inspections. For an additional fee, the officer offered an extra service — to send patrols to hold up rival imports.

– ‘A real mafia’ –

With points of entry seen as cash cows, public servants pay their superiors for postings, especially at Umm Qasr.

“Minor clerks’ jobs in some outposts change hands for $50,000 to $100,000, and sometimes it goes up to multiples of that,” Allawi, the finance minister, lamented.

The subterfuge around the import system “contributes to state plunder,” he told AFP.

To protect their pillaging, parties and armed groups use their political influence and threats of violence.

A worker at Mandali told AFP he once delayed a shipment from Iran because of missing paperwork, but then allowed it through, duty-free, after the mukhalles handling the cargo brandished his credentials as a Hashed member.

The intelligence officer said an informant at Zerbatiya crossing, which likewise borders Iran and is managed by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, was repeatedly put on leave for blocking efforts to import Iranian produce customs-free and eventually relented.

“We came back later to talk to him again and found he had joined Asaib,” the intelligence officer said.

A senior member of Iraq’s border commission told AFP he receives regular calls from private numbers threatening his relatives by name, in an effort to intimidate him into halting cargo inspections.

The customs worker was among others who also said they contended with death threats.

“We can’t say anything because we’ll be killed,” he said. “People are afraid. This is a real mafia.”

– Spoil-sharing –

This parallel system has become the lifeblood of Iraqi parties and armed groups, including Iran-backed Hashed factions, said Renad Mansour of the Chatham House think tank.

They professionalised this financing stream after Iraq’s defeat of the Islamic State group in 2017.

That victory ended the allocation of large defence budgets to the anti-IS military campaign, which included the Hashed, sparking the need to find alternative funding sources.

They latched on tighter after Iran came under crippling sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump.



In March 2020, the US blacklisted Al Khamael Maritime Services (AKMS), a shipping company in Umm Qasr, for using Shiite paramilitary groups to help the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps “evade Iraqi government inspection protocol”.

It also sanctioned two Iraqis and two Iranians linked to AKMS for financing Kataeb and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

The spoil-sharing is surprisingly smooth, given the rivalries among parties and armed groups.

“One border point can make up to $120,000 a day,” said Mansour. “This doesn’t go only to one group, but is shared by many, which at times may even seem to be enemies when you zoom out.”

Turf wars are rare, but do happen. In February, the separate killings of two members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq were described to AFP by two Hashed sources as “economically motivated”.

But usually, the cartel operates smoothy.

“There’s no competition,” said the Iraqi intelligence agent. “They know if one of them goes down, they all will.”
– Trickling down –

The parallel system starves the state of a funding resource for schools, hospitals and other public services at a time when the poverty rate in Iraq has reached 40 percent.



“We should get seven billion dollars (a year) from customs,” Allawi told AFP. “In fact, just 10-12 percent of the customs resources reach the finance ministry.”

The cost of bribes ultimately also trickles down to the consumer, an Iraqi official said. “As a consumer, you’re the one who ends up paying for that corruption in the store.”

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, within weeks of taking office in May 2020, prioritised border reform, to shore up government revenues hit hard by depressed oil prices.

In highly-publicised trips to Umm Qasr and Mandali, he vowed to send new troops to each entry point and regularly swap senior customs staff to break up corrupt circuits.

There have been some modest victories. The border commission now reports daily seizures of cargo in cases where importers tried to evade customs fees.

And Iraq collected $818 million in duties in 2020, the commission said, slightly higher than the previous year’s $768 million, despite imports being hit by the coronavirus downturn.

– Stuttering reforms –

But importers, facilitators and even officials have laughed off the premier’s measures.

They told AFP that while some importers were now paying government tariffs, they also still paid facilitators to stop goods being arbitrarily held up.

“In the end, we’re paying double,” said an Arab businessman, who has imported into Iraq for over a decade.
The well-connected, meanwhile, were not affected.

“Nothing changed,” said an Iraqi importer, noting he brought in construction materials through Mandali without paying tariffs.

Security forces described chaos.
“The police there is all involved in the bribery,” a soldier, whose unit had been briefly deployed to Mandali, told AFP.

“The traders drop money like crazy. We arrested one guy but they got him out the next day.”

The senior border commission official admitted some promised deployments never happened.

“Other times, it’s a joke of a unit” consisting only of “about two dozen guys,” he told AFP.

But the main issue, importers and officials agreed, was that staff rotations did not extend to a crucial cog in the corruption machine: the mukhalles.

“The main facilitator of corruption is still there,” said the customs official. “One rotten apple will spoil the rest.”
– Threat of violence –

A US defence official told AFP that Kataeb Hezbollah, accused recently of firing rockets at the US embassy, was ordered to close its office inside Baghdad Airport’s arrivals terminal to stop it from smuggling in high-value goods.

“Now they’ve got a position just outside the airport, but they can still drive up to the plane and do what they need to do,” the official said. “Corruption still happens.”



Instead of brazenly phoning each other, facilitators have moved to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging apps.

“Our work has actually become harder because they’re taking more precautions,” the intelligence agent said.
The cartel remains intact.

Officials said they expect traders to react by increasingly avoiding official border crossings, relying on smuggling instead, or importing goods unofficially through Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.

Trying to dismantle the lucrative network completely, they warned, would bring violence Kadhemi may be unprepared for.

“A single berth at Umm Qasr is equivalent to a state budget,” the intelligence agent said, using deliberate exaggeration to emphasise the point.

“They won’t compromise easily.”
 

jward

passin' thru
Iraqi military official survives assassination attempt in Baghdad: state media

15 Hours ago 521 View


+ -

SULAIMANI — Deputy Director of Military Intelligence for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense Brigadier General Zaid al-Maksousi on Saturday (April 3) survived an assassination attempt south of Baghdad.
A source confirmed the incident to the state-run Iraqi News Agency (INA), saying the attack took place near Diyala Bridge, without giving further information.
Last month, security forces prevented an attack on the Iraqi Army Aviation Commander Samir al-Maliki when an explosive device was planted in front of his house west of Baghdad.
(NRT Digital Media)
نجاة العميد الركن زيد حوشي المكصوصي معاون مدير الاستخبارات من الموت باعجوبة  في بغداد



 

jward

passin' thru

EndGameWW3
@EndGameWW3

3h

Don't know how true this is but interesting.
In 2015 a long-range cruise missile was revealed under the name “Soumar”. The design closely resembles the Kh-55 that Iran acquired from Ukraine in 2001.[4] Because of the similarities media have speculated its range as between 2000 and 3000 km.

Terror Alarm
@terror_alarm

Replying to
@terror_alarm

Iran

: Iranian military vows support for Russia if Donbas is attacked according to Iranian national TV. Iran also unveils Soumar ballistic missile that can "target Ukraine and many other NATO states" according to Iranian Military speaker #Crimea #Donbass #Ukraine #Iran #Russia
View: https://twitter.com/terror_alarm/status/1378766416510398475?s=20
 

jward

passin' thru
Global: MilitaryInfo
@Global_Mil_Info



U.S. officials have said that Israel notified the U.S. that its forces had struck the Iranian Saviz at about 7:30 a.m. local time in retaliation for earlier Iranian strikes on Israeli vessels - NYT

7:10 PM · Apr 6, 2021·Twitter Web App
Iranian Spy Ship Attacked in Red Sea Near Yemen
April 6, 2021


Iranian vessel linked to intelligence collection and military operations targeted by unknown attackers; Israel could be behind the assault according to early indications.
Iranian Spy Ship Attacked in Red Sea Near Yemen 1
Iranian spy ship attacked in Red Sea (Archive: Pixabay)
An Iranian freighter suspected of serving as a platform for IRGC intelligence operations was attacked in the Red Sea Tuesday.
  • Western security services believe that the ship, identified as SAVIZ, is used for intelligence collection and as a command center to coordinate military activity by Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.
  • Iran said that the vessel was hit by sea mines, after initial information pointed to a missile strike. The ship sustained serious damage in the attack, according to a Ynet report citing Arab sources.
  • Saudi images published earlier revealed that the freighter carries speed boats that can be used to attack other ships, N12 News reported.
Is Israel behind the attack?
Several indications suggest that Israel is behind the attack, but officials in Jerusalem were not making any statements in the immediate aftermath of the assault.
  • Arab news sources said that Israel may be involved in the incident but offered no evidence. Unconfirmed reports said that an Israeli submarine was spotted in the area earlier today.
  • Previously, defense officials indicated that the security forces will retaliate for recent attacks on Israeli-owned vessels in the Gulf.
Israeli warning to Iran
Curiously, Walla! News posted a report on the weekend about secret IDF operations against Iranian arms smuggling via the Red Sea.
  • The newly revealed naval operations near the shores of Sudan and Yemen were carried out more than 10 years ago but were only cleared for publication now. The timing suggests that this was a warning/reminder to Tehran that the IDF is capable of operating against Iranian targets far from Israel’s shores.
  • According to the report, the army’s naval commando unit blew up several vessels carrying Iranian arms to Gaza, thereby terminating the smuggling route.
Notably, an earlier report revealed that navy forces attacked dozens of Iranian ships in recent years as part of Israel’s secret war against the Iran axis.
Iranian vessel attacked in the Red Sea: Reports
The semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim said the Saviz ship was targeted by limpet mines.
The alleged incident was the latest in a reported series of attacks on Israeli and Iranian-owned ships since late February [File: Marwan Naamani/AFP]

The alleged incident was the latest in a reported series of attacks on Israeli and Iranian-owned ships since late February [File: Marwan Naamani/AFP]
6 Apr 2021

The Iranian vessel, Saviz, was targeted by limpet mines in the Red Sea, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported on Tuesday, citing information obtained by its reporter.
“The vessel Iran Saviz has been stationed in the Red Sea for the past few years to support Iranian commandos sent on commercial vessel (anti-piracy) escort missions,” Tasnim reported.
Keep reading
Iranian ship hit in attack in Mediterranean, company saysIsraeli-owned vessel docked in Dubai after mysterious explosionExplosion hits Israeli-owned cargo ship in Gulf of OmanIran says initial nuclear talks with world powers ‘constructive’
Al Arabiya TV cited unnamed sources as saying the vessel was attacked off the coast of Eritrea and was affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, but provided no evidence to support the assertion.
There was no immediate official Iranian reaction to the incident.
It was the latest in a reported series of attacks on Israeli and Iranian-owned ships since late February in which the two arch-enemies accused each other of responsibility.
The incidents have occurred since US President Joe Biden took office in January with a commitment to rejoin world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran – abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in a move welcomed by Israel – if Tehran returns to full compliance with the deal.
Iran and the United States on Tuesday launched indirect talks in Vienna that included the other powers on ways to revive the deal. Both Iran and the US called the talks “constructive”.




‘Iranian belligerence’
Israeli officials declined to comment on Tuesday’s reported attack on the Iranian ship.
Earlier in the day, before news broke about the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in comments to lawmakers of his right-wing Likud party, said there should be no return to the “dangerous” nuclear accord.
“In parallel we must continue to fend off Iranian belligerence in our region,” he added.
And this threat is no theoretical matter. I’m not uttering it rhetorically. We must take action in the face of the fanatical regime in Iran, which simply threatens to wipe us off the face of the Earth.”

The Biden administration is not anticipating any changes on Iran policy amid the negotiations over reinstating the nuclear deal, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
There have been three other reported attacks on Iranian or Israeli-owned ships since February 25.
On March 25 a cargo ship owned by an Israeli company was damaged by a missile in the Arabian Sea in what was suspected to be an Iranian attack, according to a senior Israeli security official. The ship was able to continue its journey, he said.
Two weeks previously, Iranian state media quoted an Iranian investigator as saying Israel was highly likely to have been behind an explosion that caused a small fire on an Iranian container ship in the Mediterranean.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz declined to comment directly at the time but said Iran regularly sent weapons to its proxies in the region.
On February 26, Netanyahu blamed Iran for an explosion on board an Israeli-owned vehicle-carrier ship in the Gulf of Oman. A US official said the blast ripped holes in both sides of its hull and an Israeli official said limpet mines were used. Iran denied responsibility.





Source: Reuters

posted for fair use
please see source for videos
View: https://twitter.com/PeterCorless/status/1379593262588030978?s=20
View: https://twitter.com/PeterCorless/status/1379593262588030978?s=20
 
Last edited:

jward

passin' thru
Instant News Alerts
@InstaNewsAlerts

19m


Iran has produced 55 kg of uranium enriched to up to 20% - the point at which it is highly enriched - indicating quicker production than the 10 kg a month rate required by an Iranian law that created the process in January, Iranian authorities said on Wednesday. (Reuters)
 

colonel holman

Veteran Member

Hshmat Alavi
@HeshmatAlavi

11m


A U.N. panel has identified at least 13 North Korean missile experts suspected of traveling to #Iran to support the country’s weapons program & the two countries have exchanged critical parts for long-range missile programs as recently as 2020. #JCPOA
View: https://twitter.com/HeshmatAlavi/status/1379663864812482560?s=20
In the good ole days, these guys would have been snuffed on their way
 

cowboy

Veteran Member
I am seeing a lot of IR boats gray and fishing mixed in here and on south. Then the SA seem to be doing a lot of fishing also on their side. Whatever is, it seems more than a seasonal thing.

1617813304855.png





z
 

jward

passin' thru
Jason Brodsky
@JasonMBrodsky

35m


New: #Iran's military spokesman suspects #Israel AND U.S. were behind #Saviz attack. He warns, "#Iran will without a doubt respond after the investigation has concluded and we'll know exactly who struck." 1/3
Would note this is a familiar line the Iranians have used after previous incidents--e.g. after Natanz fire over the summer, #Iran also threatened a response but only after an investigation. Fast forward to April 2021, we're still waiting. 2/3
That doesn't mean there won't be a response, but it does't necessarily mean it will be immediate. 3/3
 

Housecarl

On TB every waking moment
Posted for fair use.....

Where will new round of strategic talks with US take Iraq?

Iraq and US agreed on shifting the anti-IS coalition to training and support only, working on ending the presence of any combat forces.

Hassan Ali Ahmed



Topics Covered
Iran-US tensions

Defense/Security cooperation

April 7, 2021
The latest round of strategic dialogue between Iraq and the United States, which could lead to a further withdrawal of US troops, took place April 7.

Iraqi officials say the talks, which began in June 2020, are aimed at establishing a more developed and diverse relationship with the United States, giving priority to education, technology, health and culture, as well as economics and security.

But Iraq also wants to end the presence of US combat troops, a sensitive topic for the country, although Iraqi officials acknowledge that they need US and international support for training and logistics, as well as the use of air power against Islamic State.

“The relationship between Washington and Baghdad must be based on Iraqi-American interests in the fields of economy, security, culture and health,” Kadhimi said in an interview with the Hadath TV channel March 27. He added, “Iraq does not need the presence of combat forces, but it needs international support and the international coalition's airstrikes against Islamic State hideouts.”

“The great development in the capabilities of our security forces paved the way for the departure of nearly 60% of the coalition forces during the past months of the life of this government,” Kadhimi said during a national security council meeting April 7.

Kadhimi became prime minister in May 2020.

Kadhimi added that Iraq is moving toward self-sufficiency where it only needs training, advisory roles, logistical support and intelligence cooperation.

In line with Kadhimi's statements, the first session of the talks April 7 highlighted the capability and progress of Iraqi forces, and both Iraq and the United States agreed on shifting the coalition forces to training and advisory tasks.

“In light of the development of the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, the two parties concluded that the mission of the US and coalition forces has now shifted to training and advisory tasks in a manner that allows the redeployment of the remainder of the combat forces outside Iraq,” the statement read.

In terms of setting a timetable for the redeployment, the two parties agreed on setting the timetable during upcoming technical talks.

“This shift in the nature of the missions of US and other international forces from combat operations to training, equipping and support reflects the success of our strategic partnership and ensures support for the ongoing efforts of Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS does not threaten Iraq's stability again,” the statement emphasized. ISIS and IS are abbreviations for the Islamic State.

Mahmoud al-Rubai, the spokesman of the Sadeqoun movement — which is the political wing of Asaib Ahl al-Haq — issued a statement about the strategic talks that said, “Provided that their numbers, missions and whereabouts are known, there is no objection to the presence of advisers for training and development purposes, as well as military technicians, according to the real need for the Iraqi armed forces, their weapons and their equipment, which is applicable in various countries of the world, and we are not against intelligence and information cooperation with countries of the world in order to fight IS and fight terrorism.”

“We leave the matter to be determined by the competent authorities,” Rubai said.

A source close to Iraqi militias told Al-Monitor that the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Ismail Ghaani, was in Iraq on April 4-6. He is said to have met with several militia leaders and to have put pressure on them to stop any acts outside of the Iraqi state.

This comes in conjunction with the resumption of negotiations between Iran and world powers on finding a pathway to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. It could be that Iran does not want to ruin the negotiations before they get started.
Although Iran was not willing to enter any direct dialogue with the United States on the nuclear deal, it finally accepted indirect talks with the United States in Vienna this week.

Prior to the US-Iraq strategic talks, the Coordinating Committee of the Iraqi Resistance Factions, which includes all Iran-backed militias, issued a statement demanding a clear timetable for departure of all US forces from Iraq. The committee said it supports the strategic talks only if they lead to setting a clear timetable for a US departure, and that otherwise militias will return to attacking US bases and forces in Iraq.

However, most Iraqis, including Shiite parties close to the militias, would see such attacks as acts of destruction that harm Iraqi security, as a majority backs having international support when such support does not include combat forces.

As both Iraq and the United States have agreed clearly that the combat mission of the coalition has been ended and their forces will be only doing training and providing technical support to Iraqi official forces, groups seen as acting against the coalition would be seen as chaotic forces who want to damage Iraq's security.

Under circumstances, only Iran-backed militias would be standing against the coalition as other anti-American groups such as the Sadrists would not get involved.

This by itself is a big achievement for Kadhimi's government in terms of dividing the resistance movement and marginalizing Iranian-backed militias.

It seems that the possibility or volume of attacks against the coalition could depend as much on the success of Iranian-US dialogue as opposed to the Iraqi-US one.

The Iraqi government, however, reassured its “commitment to protect the personnel and convoys of the international coalition and the diplomatic missions.” Moreover, the Iraqi government said, “All military bases in which the coalition is present are solely Iraqi bases and the coalition staff are exclusively there to support Iraq's efforts in the war against IS.”
 

Housecarl

On TB every waking moment
Posted for fair use.....

Israel resumes airstrikes against Iran’s proxy network in Syria

By Joe Truzman | April 8, 2021 | Joe.Truzman@longwarjournal.org | @Jtruzmah

After an almost three week lull, Israel resumed airstrikes in southern Syria as multiple explosions were reported in the suburbs of western Damascus shortly after midnight Thursday morning.


“At about 12:56 a.m., the Israeli enemy conducted airstrikes using missiles fired from the direction of Lebanese airspace targeting several locations in the environs of the city of Damascus. Syrian air defenses engaged the missiles and downed many of them. The attacks wounded four soldiers and caused material damage,” Syrian media reported, citing a military source.


Video shared on social media showed the airstrikes at close range and secondary explosions occurring after the blasts which suggests the presence of explosive material at the site.


The airstrikes occurred two days after the MV Saviz, an Iranian military vessel, suffered an explosion in the Red Sea. The New York Times, citing an unnamed American official, reported the U.S. was informed about the attack by Israel and its forces had carried out the attack against the vessel around 7:30 a.m. local time. Furthermore, the attack against the MV Saviz was reportedly done in retaliation for previous Iranian strikes against Israeli owned vessels.


Israel’s military actions inside and outside the Syrian theater in recent months indicates an evolving threat landscape. Flights from Tehran to Damascus International Airport transporting Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) destined for Hezbollah preceded by Israeli airstrikes and attacks against Iranian-affiliated maritime vessels transporting similar illicit cargo is an indication of the evolution of the ‘war between the wars’ campaign Israel is engaged in.


It appears Israel is not deterred from continuing military operations in Syria and abroad as the Biden administration attempts to negotiate a revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Furthermore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated Wednesday that a nuclear deal did ‘not obligate’ Israel and it would defend itself against Iran which is indicative of hostilities continuing indefinitely between the two countries.


Joe Truzman is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.
 

northern watch

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Russia to boost ties with Pakistan, supply military gear
Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow and Islamabad will boost ties in the fight against terrorism
By KATHY GANNON Associated Press
7 April 2021, 10:19


Sergey Lavrov, Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Image Icon
The Associated Press
In this photo handout photo released by Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, bumps elbows with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi prior their meeting, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Russia's foreign minister is in Pakistan for a two-day visit expected to focus on efforts to bring peace to neighboring Afghanistan. Lavrov's visit comes as a May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan in line with a deal Washington signed a year ago with the Taliban seems increasingly unlikely. (Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

ISLAMABAD -- Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Moscow and Islamabad will boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint exercises at sea and in the mountains.

Sergey Lavrov spoke on the second day of a two-day trip to Pakistan. It’s the first visit by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, part of a warming of frosty relations. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, where it seeks to inject itself as a key player in efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.

“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov said, without going into detail about the equipment.

Washington is reviewing an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban as it rethinks a May 1 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Moscow has stepped up its involvement there and hosted talks last month between the Taliban and senior Afghan government officials. Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Lavrov arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday from neighboring India, with which Moscow has had a long and solid relationship. The apparent reset in Pakistani-Russian relations, however, is by contrast a more recent phenomena.

Pakistan was a staging arena in the 1980s for anti-communist Afghan rebels aided by the U.S. to oust the Soviet Union, which in 1989 negotiated an end to its 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.

A statement from the Pakistani military after Lavrov's talks with Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said they discussed “enhanced defense and security cooperation, regional security, particularly the Afghan peace process.”

Bajwa also reportedly told Lavrov that Pakistan wants regional cooperation, though he did not mention Pakistan's uneasy relationship with neighbor India. Earlier this year the nuclear-armed neighbors renewed their commitment to a cease- fire along their troubled border which separates the disputed Kashmir territory.

Meanwhile Russia is also building a gas pipeline between the southern port city of Karachi and eastern Lahore. Pakistan's Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the Russian made COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine, and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan. He said Pakistan also wanted Russian expertise to modernize its antiquated railway system as well as its energy sector.

Lavrov also held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The visit underlines the waning influence of the United States in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, says Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center.

“There’s a good reason why this is the first Russian foreign minister visit to Islamabad for nearly a decade: Russia-Pakistan relations are on the ascent,” he said in an interview. He also noted a new 25-year development agreement between Iran and China.

Pakistan also is a key player in China's Belt and Road Initiative — a massive, cross-continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.

“America will soon be ceding important real estate to its top rivals,” said Kugelman. “That’s the cost of an impending U.S. withdrawal from the region. But with the U.S. intent on pulling back, it is seemingly a cost it is willing to bear."

Russia to boost ties with Pakistan, supply military gear - ABC News (go.com)
 

northern watch

Has No Life - Lives on TB
China to post 5,000 troops in Iran to protect massive investment. Iranians protest: “We’re not for sale”
Apr 3, 2021 @ 16:55
DEBKAFile



Beijing is preparing to transfer 5,000 Chinese troops to Iran to guard its $400bn investment in the country over the next 25 years. Military engineers are prospecting sites for their bases. This deployment was covered in the investment-cum-strategic accord signed in Tehran on March 27 by visiting Chinese FM Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif.

Gulf and the Western intelligence sources report that this substantial Chinese military presence in Iran, the first in the Gulf region, will mark out the formation of a strategic axis linking China, Iran and Pakistan, two of which are nuclear powers. It will add another section to the CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] project underway in Pakistan, as part of Beijing’s $8 trillion Border and Road Initiative (BRI) projects for spanning Asia and Europe. The CPEC is to provide a safe passage and a shorter route for Iranian oil, gas and petrochemicals, sold at cut-rate prices, to reach China.

The 5,000 Chinese troops to be posted in Iran, DEBKAfile sources reveal, will join the rarely noticed presence of 10,000 Chinese military personnel in the east African port of Djibouti,, so topping up Beijing’s military strength athwart more than one sensitive corner of the Middle East to 15,000 troops.

The locations of the new Chinese bases in Iran are still under discussion. One is likely to be a seaport – either on Iran’s Gulf coast or at Chabahar, an outlet to the Gulf of Oman where the Revolutionary Guards Crops (IRGC) navy maintains a large installation. This location would strengthen the Iran-China-Pakistan connection. Also under discussion is a site close to Iran’s key nuclear facilities, which would seriously complicate any Israeli plan for an air strike against its nuclear program.
The mew pact is a gamechanger in more than one respect. It draws some of the sting from the US sanctions imposed on both partners, by partially covering Iran’s losses from the US embargo on oil sales. The deal gives the IRGC access to sophisticated military hardware and points the oil-rich Gulf nations to an alternative source for cutting-edge weaponry after the Biden administration paused large-scale arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

While the deal serves the ends of the Islamic regime and the Guard, who will certainly get their cut of the Chinese bonanza, it has aroused some popular resentment. Last Tuesday, several hundred Iranians gathered outside parliament in Tehran, in Isfahan, Alborz and other towns to demand the annulment of the pact with China and the future deployment of Chinese troops in their country. Former President Ahmadinejad is said to have a finger in the movement. The protesters chanted such slogans as “Iran is not for sale,” “Death to those who sell the homeland,” and “We will fight, we will die and we will take Iran back.” They hoisted placards marked: “China, get out of Iran.” In Australia, Iranian expats demonstrated outside the Chinese Consulate.

Israel too has extensive economic ties with Beijing, to which Washington strongly objects, including the new port a Chinese firm is on contract to build in Haifa with a 25-year management lease. Jerusalem therefore has so far hesitated to respond to the massive Chinese investment in Iran. Beijing, in active expansionist mode in the region, this week indicated that invitations would be extended to Israeli and Palestinian delegates to use China’s good offices. China may next seek out a mediation role for the conflict between Israel and Iran.

China to post 5,000 troops in Iran to protect massive investment. Iranians protest: “We’re not for sale” - DEBKAfile
 

Housecarl

On TB every waking moment
China to post 5,000 troops in Iran to protect massive investment. Iranians protest: “We’re not for sale”
Apr 3, 2021 @ 16:55
DEBKAFile



Beijing is preparing to transfer 5,000 Chinese troops to Iran to guard its $400bn investment in the country over the next 25 years. Military engineers are prospecting sites for their bases. This deployment was covered in the investment-cum-strategic accord signed in Tehran on March 27 by visiting Chinese FM Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif.

Gulf and the Western intelligence sources report that this substantial Chinese military presence in Iran, the first in the Gulf region, will mark out the formation of a strategic axis linking China, Iran and Pakistan, two of which are nuclear powers. It will add another section to the CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] project underway in Pakistan, as part of Beijing’s $8 trillion Border and Road Initiative (BRI) projects for spanning Asia and Europe. The CPEC is to provide a safe passage and a shorter route for Iranian oil, gas and petrochemicals, sold at cut-rate prices, to reach China.

The 5,000 Chinese troops to be posted in Iran, DEBKAfile sources reveal, will join the rarely noticed presence of 10,000 Chinese military personnel in the east African port of Djibouti,, so topping up Beijing’s military strength athwart more than one sensitive corner of the Middle East to 15,000 troops.

The locations of the new Chinese bases in Iran are still under discussion. One is likely to be a seaport – either on Iran’s Gulf coast or at Chabahar, an outlet to the Gulf of Oman where the Revolutionary Guards Crops (IRGC) navy maintains a large installation. This location would strengthen the Iran-China-Pakistan connection. Also under discussion is a site close to Iran’s key nuclear facilities, which would seriously complicate any Israeli plan for an air strike against its nuclear program.
The mew pact is a gamechanger in more than one respect. It draws some of the sting from the US sanctions imposed on both partners, by partially covering Iran’s losses from the US embargo on oil sales. The deal gives the IRGC access to sophisticated military hardware and points the oil-rich Gulf nations to an alternative source for cutting-edge weaponry after the Biden administration paused large-scale arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

While the deal serves the ends of the Islamic regime and the Guard, who will certainly get their cut of the Chinese bonanza, it has aroused some popular resentment. Last Tuesday, several hundred Iranians gathered outside parliament in Tehran, in Isfahan, Alborz and other towns to demand the annulment of the pact with China and the future deployment of Chinese troops in their country. Former President Ahmadinejad is said to have a finger in the movement. The protesters chanted such slogans as “Iran is not for sale,” “Death to those who sell the homeland,” and “We will fight, we will die and we will take Iran back.” They hoisted placards marked: “China, get out of Iran.” In Australia, Iranian expats demonstrated outside the Chinese Consulate.

Israel too has extensive economic ties with Beijing, to which Washington strongly objects, including the new port a Chinese firm is on contract to build in Haifa with a 25-year management lease. Jerusalem therefore has so far hesitated to respond to the massive Chinese investment in Iran. Beijing, in active expansionist mode in the region, this week indicated that invitations would be extended to Israeli and Palestinian delegates to use China’s good offices. China may next seek out a mediation role for the conflict between Israel and Iran.

China to post 5,000 troops in Iran to protect massive investment. Iranians protest: “We’re not for sale” - DEBKAfile
Begs the question of whether the Israeli strategic forces can reach out and "touch" Beijing and other strategic regions of the PRC? Part of that answer is the mass of the satellites Israel has been putting into LEO with their own launchers for over 30 years, some over 300 kg.
 

Housecarl

On TB every waking moment
Posted for fair use.....

Iran says nuke program testing newest advanced centrifuge

By AMIR VAHDAT
today

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Saturday it has begun mechanical tests on its newest advanced nuclear centrifuge, even as the five world powers that remain in a foundering 2015 nuclear deal with Iran attempt to bring the U.S. back into the agreement.

Iran’s IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would have the ability to separate uranium isotopes more quickly than the current centrifuges being used, thereby enriching uranium at a faster pace. The announcement carried on state TV came on Iran’s 15th annual “Nuclear Day.”

The IR-9’s output is 50 times quicker than the first Iranian centrifuge, the IR-1. The country also announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges on Saturday, and is also developing IR-8 centrifuges.

Since January, Iran has begun enriching uranium at up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, though Iran’s leadership insists the country has no desire to develop a nuclear weapon.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear accord in 2018, accusing Iran of failing to live up to the agreement, opting for what he called a maximum-pressure campaign of stepped-up U.S. sanctions and other tough actions.

Iran responded by intensifying its enrichment of uranium and building centrifuges in plain violation of the accord, while insisting that its nuclear development is for civilian not military purposes.

Israel maintains Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Tehran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons, and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran also announced that it has finished repairs on an advanced centrifuge assembly plant that was destroyed by a mysterious explosion in July, state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Iran has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility as well as another one in November that killed top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. He had founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached 55 kilograms (121 pounds), moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels. The amount of the material was 17 kilograms in January.

Iran has installed 1,000 IR2 centrifuge machines and one cascade of 164 IR4 machines. Both are in operation and have more speed than the IR1 machines.

Since late February, Iran has ceased abiding by a confidential agreement with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog reached as part of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency has additional protocols with several countries it monitors.

Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”

However, Iran’s parliament passed a bill in December requiring the government to limit its cooperation with the IAEA and push its nuclear program beyond the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal. After the bill became law, Iran then began enriching uranium up to 20% purity and spinning advanced centrifuges — both barred by the deal.

Iran argues that the U.S.’s departure from the nuclear deal was the first violation of the deal by either county and therefore the U.S. must make the first move and remove sanctions before Iran returns to compliance.

President Joe Biden came into office saying that getting back into the accord and getting Iran’s nuclear program back under international restrictions was a priority. But Iran and the United States have disagreed over Iran’s demands that sanctions be lifted first. That deadlock has threatened to become an early foreign policy setback for the new U.S. president.

Talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the U.S. back into the deal with Iran broke Friday without any immediate signs of progress on issues dividing Washington and Tehran.

However, delegates spoke of a constructive atmosphere and resolved to continue the discussions.
 

Housecarl

On TB every waking moment
Posted for fair use.....

Why Dealing With Iran Is A Non-Starter – OpEd
April 10, 2021 Neville Teller 0 Comments
By Neville Teller


On Friday, April 2 all the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal except the US – that is, the EU, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and Iran – met in Brussels and, with the knowledge and acquiescence of Washington, agreed to set up talks in Vienna in the week commencing April 6, in an effort to rescue the Iran nuclear deal that Donald Trump abandoned almost three years ago. The US agreed to attend the talks, and American representatives are at Vienna..
Officials from Washington and Tehran are meeting directly. The EU is acting as mediator in separate negotiations with each side. The talks are trying focus on how to achieve simultaneous action by the US and Iran, so that Trump-era sanctions can be removed at the same time as Tehran starts to re-comply with the limits imposed on its nuclear program.

Iran is a proven source of state-sponsored terrorism, a rogue state, so of course most of the civilized world wants to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear arsenal – the consequences could be literally world-shattering. Iran itself could dominate the Middle East while, supplied by Iran with nuclear weapons, the extremist groups it is supporting – its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza – could become an infinitely greater threat than they currently are.

Joe Biden, who was vice-president throughout the eight years of Barak Obama’s administration, identified with and helped administer his Iran strategy. Its architects – Biden among them – believed that Iran could be coaxed out of its desire to become a nuclear power and be brought back into the comity of nations. Hence the intensive negotiations that led in 2015 to the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

This Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is considered by many Obama’s most significant foreign policy achievement. Biden, like some of its architects who surround him, is imbued with its philosophy despite its deleterious consequences for the US. For the deal, with its partial curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program, the lifting of sanctions on the regime, the injection of a huge financial “sweetener”, and the opening up of Iran to global trade, had the effect of boosting Iran’s power, influence and aggression across the Middle East.

The inevitable consequence was that by the time Obama left office, the US had lost the confidence, and much of the respect, of its erstwhile allies such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Egypt, all of whom had good reason to regard Iran as their prime opponent. The prestige of the US in much of the Middle East had sunk to a new low. Yet cajoling the Iranian regime into signing a deal that paused Iran’s ambitions for less than twenty years was Obama’s chosen path.

In the event, taking every concession offered in the nuclear deal, and subsequently reneging in several vital respects on the final agreement, Iran’s leaders budged not one inch from their ultimate ambition – to become the dominant political and religious power in the Middle East, to sweep aside all Western-style democracies, and to impose their own Shi’ite version of Islam on the world.

As president, Donald Trump had no time for the nuclear deal that was a keystone policy of Obama’s administration. He could not immediately “tear it up”, in his own words, since there were five other signatories in addition to the US. But finally, frustrated by Iran’s expansion of its missile capability, and by the evidence from Israel’s seizure of secret documents that demonstrated Iran’s continued adherence to its nuclear ambitions, Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018.

During his presidential election campaign Biden promised to return to the nuclear deal provided Iran returned to full compliance with its provisions. But even if the Vienna initiative brings the US and Iran back to compliance with the original deal, it will do nothing to remedy Biden’s false assumption that appeasement of the Iranian regime is the correct policy and will yield results.

For 42 years world leaders have been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to perceive the quintessential purposes that motivated the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, or to appreciate that these same objectives have driven the regime ever since and continue to be its raison d’être.

The regime’s original Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, affirmed repeatedly that the foundation stone of his philosophy, the very purpose of his revolution, was to destroy Western-style democracy and its way of life, and to impose Shia Islam on the whole world. He identified the United States and Israel as his prime targets.

“We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world,” said Khomeini. “We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.” By this he meant his strict Shia interpretation of Islam, for elsewhere he had declared that the holy city of Mecca, situated in the heart of Sunni Saudi Arabia, was in the hands of “a band of heretics”.

Ever since 1979 the world could have recognized, if it had had a mind to, that the Iranian regime has been engaged in a focused pursuit of these twin objectives, quite impervious to any other considerations. Instead wishful thinking has governed the approach of many of the world’s leaders to Iran, and continues to do so. The Biden administration maintains the tradition. It wants to believe in an accommodation with the regime. A clear-eyed look at the facts shows that this is simply not possible. This Iranian regime is not, and has no intention of ever becoming, one of the comity of civilized nations. To do so would be to negate the fundamental purposes underlying the revolution, purposes to which the ayatollahs remain unshakably committed. In the words of the founder of the Iranian revolution:
“We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”
Neville Teller

Neville Teller
Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."
 
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