The “insider” access in this instance was a network connection with no user credentials that was obtained through multiple avenues that included spearphishing an employee’s public email address and also by plugging into a network port in a publicly accessible building (one frequented by hundreds of thousands of visitors per year). As with most environments, the attack team was able to move laterally without detection and engage in levels of compromise that, had it been a real attacker, would have been consequential and catastrophic for the company. It would have literally been a billion dollar breach.

What enterprise executives need to realize is that in today’s environment, every cyber attacker is a potential insider. Given the prevalence of BYOD (bring your own device), supply chain integrity issues, foreign travel, and the plethora of successful spearphishing campaigns, executive leadership needs to operate on a presumption of breach basis and work on reducing their attack surface through red teaming, early detection of attacks, thwarting lateral movement through the enclaving of critical systems, and having robust incident management plans in place before the breach occurs.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been operating on a presumption of breach basis since before the release of the 2011 Defense Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace and it is an important concept to understand at the corporate board level as well. A presumption of breach approach shifts your network security focus away from a perimeter defense mentality. Given the inevitability of a successful attack that breaches the internal network, corporations needs to develop a strategy for dealing with attackers inside the firewall. They need to think of every attacker as potential insider.


What are your organization’s critical operating capabilities? What security measures have been taken to segment critical operations and data from the more benign components of the corporate network and to ensure that critical operations continue during a breach? What technologies and countermeasures do you have in place to detect and prevent lateral movement once an attacker has established an internal foothold?

The recent billion dollar breach campaign reported in the New York Times is a perfect example of an attacker acting like an insider within the target organization. According to reports, the attackers took weeks and months to study their targets’ business processes, understand the organizational structure including which individuals had appropriate authorities, and probed critical internal systems not only for technical vulnerabilties but logic errors that could be exploited for financial gain. In recent incidents investigated by FusionX, we’ve seen attackers engage in sophisticated impersonation campaigns understanding their target down to the exact hours an executive would be on an international flight and unable to interfere with the impersonation. This attack sequencing could accurately be described as Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield.

Red teaming plays a critical role in understanding how an attacker will target your internal network and exercises your ability to detect and respond to an attack. Consider it in this context; if you were slated to box Mike Tyson would you want to train using a static punching bag or a live sparring partner? With the live sparring partner, you have an ability to replicate your opponent, make mistakes and derive lessons learned that position you for greater success when you step in the ring. Most organizations spend millions of dollars on security detection technologies, 24/7 security operations centers, and have articulated response policies but never exercise them by simulating the real tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) of a human attacker. In the boxing world, fighters volunteer for their bouts. In the cyber domain, you are going to fight Mike Tyson whether you want to or not.


Here are some key questions that the management team should be asking their Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) from a presumption of breach perspective:
Have we identified which systems and data are most critical to our organization?

What threat models have we developed to inform the risk management process for not only our most critical systems but all enterprise information assets?

How does threat intelligence inform and influence our ongoing security posture, detection capabilities, and risk management process?

Are the critical systems and data subject to a more advanced security policy to include system and data protection profiles, enclaving, and additional monitoring?

Do we have a comprehensive incident management policy?

Have we engaged in red teaming to test the incident management policy, but also our ability to detect and respond to advanced attacks?
Thinking about your security posture from a presumption of breach perspective is just one of the mechanisms organizations need to employ to address the capabilities of modern attackers. It is readily apparent that the old security models have already failed.

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Bin Laden’s sister, stepmother killed in UK plane crash


LONDON: Members of Osama bin Laden’s family were among four people who died when a private jet crashed in Britain, Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London said Saturday.

The Saudi-registered plane ploughed into a car auction site and burst into flames in southern England on Friday.

While the embassy did not comment on the identities of the dead, a source close to the family speaking to AFP and Saudi media indicated that they were Bin Laden’s mother, his sister Sanaa, the sister’s husband Zuhair Hashem, and a Jordanian pilot.

Local police said the pilot and three passengers died when the Phenom 300 jet attempted to land at Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire and that no one was injured on the ground.

The Saudi ambassador “offered his condolences to the sons of the late Mohammed bin Laden and their relations for the grave incident of the crash of the plane carrying members of the family at Blackbushe airport,” read a statement posted on the embassy’s official Twitter account.

gdt-bM6C_biggerSaudi Embassy UK ‏@SaudiEmbassyUK 17h17 hours ago
سمو سفير خادم الحرمين الشريفين الامير محمد بن نواف يعزي أسرة بن لادن. pic.twitter.com/iHr1RlGWLC

The embassy also said it would work with British authorities to investigate the incident and repatriate the bodies for burial in Saudi Arabia.

Osama Bin Laden’s father Mohammed was a construction industry magnate and his numerous descendants constitute a prominent family with wide-ranging business interests.

Mohammed Bin Laden himself died in a plane crash in Saudi Arabia in 1967.

His son Osama, the late supreme leader of the al Qaeda network, was shot dead by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

Footage of the aftermath of Friday’s crash showed plumes of black smoke rising into the sky and several cars on fire in the outdoor area of British Car Auctions, where vehicles were parked awaiting sale.

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement Friday that the plane was registered in the Gulf state, and that it would work with British investigators to determine the cause of the crash.

The BBC reported that the aircraft had taken off from Milan’s Malpensa airport in Italy.

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The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps: An Overview Aug

By Alireza Nader
(via The Iran Primer)

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is Iran’s most powerful security and military organization, responsible for the protection and survival of the regime.
The Guards are also currently Iran’s most powerful economic actor, reinforcing their influence over political decisions.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards have formed a symbiotic relationship that buttresses the supreme leader’s authority and preserves the status quo.
U.S. and international sanctions against Iran compelled the Guards to support nuclear negotiations. However, they will strongly resist major political and even economic reforms after a nuclear deal.


The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a.k.a The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Persian: سپاه پاسداران انقلاب اسلامی ‎ / Sepāh-e Pāsdārān-e Enqelāb-e Eslāmi, or Sepāh for short) was created after the 1979 revolution to enforce Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s concept of an Islamic state ruled by a velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist). The Guards played a crucial role not only in crushing early opposition to Khomeini’s vision, but also in repelling Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. Since then, the Guards have functioned as both the primary internal and external security force. The IRGC has now eclipsed the Artesh, or conventional forces. It operates substantial and independent land, sea and air forces. It commands burgeoning missile forces. It runs asymmetric warfare through the elite Qods Force and proxy groups, such as Hezbollah. And it would most likely command a nuclear arsenal, if the regime chooses to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Over time, the Guards have also been transformed into a leading economic and political actor. The IRGC and its associated companies are involved in many sectors of Iran’s economy, allowing it to amass unprecedented power. The Guards’ ascendance could not have happened without the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei relied on the Guards to buttress his declining authority and to block political reform. As guarantor of the revolution’s core principles, the IRGC played a key role in marginalizing reformist and pragmatic conservative factions seen to challenge those principles.

Military and security role

The IRGC has played an important role in suppressing groups that opposed Khomeini’s objectives, such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) Organization. The MEK, a leftist group founded in the 1960s, backed the revolution but then split from the theocrats; it was the largest Iranian opposition group until the 2009 election spawned the Green Movement. The Guards were also responsible for putting down various leftist and ethnic insurgencies that broke out after the revolution.

Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran actually proved to be a boon for Khomeini and the Guards, as it helped unite the nation around the new regime and bolstered the Guards as Iran’s premier military force. The Artesh was the shah’s main prop; they were also trained and supplied by the Unites States, so were viewed with suspicion by the regime. The Guards, loyal to velayat-e faqih, took the lead in repelling Iraq, although their involvement may have actually prolonged the conflict because of their ideological commitment and lack of military experience. Nevertheless, the Guards’ role in Iran’s so-called “holy defense” against Iraq has been used over the years to burnish their credentials as defender of the revolution and the nation.

The Guards forces now number up to 150,000 men divided into land, sea and air forces. The IRGC land forces are estimated to number between 100,000 and 125,000. The IRGC’s navy may total as many as 20,000, though some estimates are significantly lower. Another 20,000 are in the IRGC naval forces. And the Qods Force totals around 5,000. The Basij militia, which is subordinate to the Guards, can also mobilize hundreds of thousands of its members to defend Iran against a foreign invasion.

The Guards are also in charge of executing Iran’s strategy of asymmetric warfare in the event of a U.S. or Israeli attack. The IRGC’s secretive Qods Force has trained and equipped proxy groups, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraqi Shiite insurgents, and even elements of the Taliban. Some surrogates have already been used to target U.S. and other Western forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan; they could be used against U.S. targets outside Iran in the event of a future conflict.

The Guards, especially Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, are in charge of Iran’s policies in Iraq and are leading Iraqi Shia militias in their fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. Soleimani, in particular, has assumed a very public role in combatting ISIS. This is perhaps a way for the Iranian government to demonstrate to Iraqi Shiites and the rest of the region that Iran is a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Over the last decade, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have trained, equipped, and aided Syria’s security and military forces. Iran has played a crucial role in buttressing President Bashar al Assad, through military advice, provision of weapons, and funding of the cash-strapped Syrian government. Some Iranians have been killed in Syria, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi in January 2015. But Iran does not appear to be committing major ground forces to the conflict. Tehran instead prefers to recruit Shiite militias from across the Middle East and even Afghanistan to fight in places like Damascus and Aleppo. Iran’s profile in Syria is lower than its profile in Iraq.

The Guards have also developed an asymmetric naval strategy for use against the U.S. Navy, which has a superior conventional force. The Guards have hundreds of fast attack boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, and naval mines. Together they impede U.S. operations in the Gulf, disrupt shipping, and impose a painful cost on U.S. forces in the event of an armed conflict. The Guards also operate hundreds of ballistic missiles that can target U.S. forces stationed in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, in addition to Israel and beyond.

The Guards are also Iran’s most powerful internal security force, at times cooperating and competing with the ministry of intelligence and other security organizations. The Guards’ intelligence organization appears to have eclipsed the ministry of intelligence in scope and authority, especially after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Other security organizations such as the Basij and the Law Enforcement Forces have become subordinate to the Guards.

Economic giant

The Guards’ involvement in the Iranian economy began during Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency. Reconstruction of Iran’s economy, battered by nearly 10 years of war and revolution, was one of his major priorities. The IRGC had the manpower to engage in reconstruction activities. Rafsanjani may have also hoped to co-opt the Guards by giving them a slice of the economic pie.

Over the next 25 years, however, the Guards became Iran’s largest economic force. The Guards currently dominate most sectors of the economy, from energy to construction, telecommunication to auto making, and even banking and finance. Khatam al Anabia (the Seal of the Prophets), the Guards’ construction headquarters, is involved in much of the Guards’ official economic activities. But the IRGC is also linked to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of companies that appear to be private in nature but are run by IRGC veterans. So the Guards’ economic influence activities encompass a broad network of current and former members rather than a single official or centrally administered organization.

The IRGC has taken advantage of its national security authority to extend its control. The Guards prevented a Turkish company from building the Imam Khomeini international airport in 2004 on national security grounds. The takeover of the Telecommunications Company of Iran by a Guards-affiliated consortium in 2009 may have also been motivated by security concerns, especially after the presidential election and subsequent unrest.

The Guards have arguably benefitted from international sanctions and Iran’s isolation, which hurt their domestic and foreign business competitors by increasing business costs. The IRGC’s ability to tap into state funds and its relatively vast independent resources have provided a decisive advantage. Under Ahmadinejad, the Guards were awarded hundreds of no-bid government contracts in addition to billions of dollars in loans for construction, infrastructure and energy projects. Some of the Guards may have become rich from the sanctions regime, but overall the Guards, like the rest of the country, have felt the heavy burden of sanctions. This made the Guards support President Rouhani’s nuclear negotiations despite some of their objections and criticisms.

Political role

One of the key issues dividing reformist and conservative factions has been the role of the Guards in Iranian politics. Reformists and even some conservatives contend that Khomeini explicitly forbid the Guards’ involvement in politics. The Guards, they argue, were established only to protect the regime. The Guards’ political ascent began during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami between 1997 and 2005. Khatami and his supporters envisioned a series of political, social, and economic reforms to make the Islamic Republic a more “modern” Islamic system. But the reformist agenda threatened the conservative ideology, political power and ideological authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini in 1989. Reformist intellectuals questioned Khamenei’s leadership, and even the efficacy of having a supreme leader. Khamenei viewed the Guards as an effective bulwark against the reformist agenda.

The Guards’ rank and file has historically reflected Iranian society and politics at large. Many Guards members supported Khatami in 1995 and Mir Hussein Mousavi in 2009. Nevertheless, the Guards’ top leadership is comprised of conservatives and “principlists” deeply opposed to political reforms. The IRGC leadership’s opposition to Khatami’s reforms was manifested in the “chain murder” of reform intellectuals. The Guards also wrote a letter to Khatami threatening a coup d’etat if he did not rein in the 1999 student demonstrations.

The 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guard and a “principlist,” could not have been possible without the active support of Khamenei and the Guards. Allegations of fraud and ballot-stuffing by the Guards and Basij surrounded Ahmadinejad’s victory over Rafsanjani. After the election, Ahmadinejad awarded the IRGC even more government loans and contracts. Guard members also won increasing control of Iran’s internal and national security organizations. IRGC ideologues loyal to Ahmadinejad and the political status quo were also appointed to replace reformists, pragmatic conservatives and technocrats in the bureaucracy.

The 2009 presidential election confirmed the Guards’ role as Iran’s preeminent power broker, after the supreme leader. Senior Guards officials indicated they would not tolerate a reformist such as former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s leading opponent. Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli, a former Guards officer turned businessman who was responsible for supervising the election, played a crucial role in Ahmadinejad’s re-election. And after the disputed poll, the Guards were in charge of crushing the mass protests that flared for six months. The reformist and Green Movement accused the Guards of conducting a coup.

But the Guards are not a united or monolithic force. And not all IRGC members are ideologues. Many respect Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s, for his devotion to the revolution and his conduct during the Iran-Iraq War.

Rouhani has expressed appreciation for the Guards’ role in protecting the revolution and even their involvement in some economic activities. But overall, he is eager to curtail the Guards’ political and economic power. Rouhani’s agenda of decreasing Iran’s isolation and privatizing the economy cannot be achieved with the Guards as Iran’s primary political and economic actor. The nuclear deal could lead to a big rupture between the Guards and Rouhani.

Trend Lines

The nuclear deal could pose a threat to the Guards if Rouhani pursues significant political and economic reforms. While the top Guards echelon mostly supports the nuclear agreement, they are against domestic reforms.
The nuclear deal could empower Rouhani, but the Guards are likely to benefit from an easing of sanctions and a less economically isolated Iran. The deal, however, is not going to allow Rouhani to completely sideline the Guards from their dominant political, economic, and security roles in Iran.

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Iran and the Gulf States

Afshin Molavi

The Persian Gulf states hold some two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is the largest Gulf oil producer, Iran a distant second.
Iran’s population of 80.8 million is larger than the seven other Gulf states combined.
A large population of Iranian nationals lives in the emirate of Dubai, Iran’s most important regional trade partner. Smaller populations live and work in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.
After World War II, Gulf geopolitics were dominated for five decades by a triangular balance of power among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Iraq corner of the triangle began to weaken, and Iran exploited this weakness by developing broad political, economic, social, and militia networks that deeply influenced the Iraqi state.
The region has experienced three “Gulf wars”: the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 fought to a brutal stalemate, the successful 1991 U.S.-led coalition to roll back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and the 2003 U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The 2003 war created an opening for Iran to expand its regional influence.
By 2015, the traditional post-World War II balance of power no longer existed. It was replaced by robust Saudi-Iranian competition across the Middle East, most notably in Syria and Lebanon, but also in Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain. The Saudi-Iran conflict is colored by sectarianism and Persian-Arab rivalry, though not driven by it. More traditional geopolitical concerns prevail.
Persian Iran is the only non-Arab country in the Gulf region. Its predominant religion, Shiite Islam, is shared by a majority of Iraqis and Bahrainis and significant minorities in other Gulf states.
Modern Iranian leaders—from shahs to ayatollahs—have sought a dominant role in the Gulf region because of Iran’s economic and demographic weight, as well as the value of Persian Gulf oil shipping lanes. In the 1960s and 1970s, Iran was the pre-eminent Gulf power and guarantor of U.S. national interests in the region.
Iran’s 1979 revolution dramatically altered Tehran’s regional stance. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the overthrow of existing pro-American monarchs in the Gulf. Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran pulled the Gulf Arabs and the United States into the brutal eight-year conflict, mostly on Baghdad’s side.
The end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, and the rise of more pragmatic leadership in Tehran led to an easing of tensions between Iran and the Gulf Arab states. The two subsequent “Gulf wars” in 1991 and 2003 weakened Iraq, thereby strengthening Iran’s relative regional power as it poured resources into shaping post-Saddam Iraq. Iran’s relationship with the smaller states of the lower Persian Gulf has historically been centered on trade. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai has emerged as Iran’s most vital Gulf trade partner and an occasional outlet to skirt sanctions.
Despite Dubai’s robust trade with Iran, the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, remains wary of the Islamic Republic and has maintained cool relations with Tehran. Kuwait and Bahrain generally side with Riyadh on Iran matters, though Qatar has reached out tactically – but not strategically – to Tehran.
The sultanate of Oman stands apart from its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbors, and has maintained a cordial – even collaborative – relationship with Iran. As a result, Muscat has played a vital intermediary role in opening negotiations between the United States and Iran – much to the chagrin of it GCC partners.
The monarchy          1941-1979
In 1968, Britain declared its intention to abandon all military outposts in the Persian Gulf. Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi sought to fill the British vacuum and become the “policeman of the Gulf.” Washington encouraged Tehran by adopting a “twin pillar” policy, anointing both Saudi Arabia and Iran as guarantors of U.S. national security interests in the region. The Nixon administration opened the floodgates to U.S. arms purchases to Iran.
Although they were all pro-Western regimes, the Persian monarchy had tense exchanges with the Arab sheikhs across the Gulf. In 1968, the shah declared Bahrain a historic Iranian territory, only to pull back after a U. N. mission found that Bahrainis preferred independence. In 1971, Iran seized three strategic Persian Gulf islands—Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs—claimed by the newly formed union of seven emirates, known as the UAE. The shah also refused to participate in the Arab oil embargoes of 1967 and 1973. He continued to sell oil to the West and Israel, a source of contention between Riyadh and Tehran. The shah also had serious ideological differences with socialist and Soviet-allied Iraq. The two countries had a serious dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway that required international mediation to resolve in 1975. Yet the shah’s Iran—with its large conventional army, high-tech weapons, large population and strong ties to Washington—seemed like the biggest power on the bloc in the 1970s.
Decade of conflict       1979-1988
Iran’s 1979 revolution dramatically altered regional geo-politics. Ayatollah Khomeini declared his intent to overthrow Gulf monarchs. Iran was implicated in a coup plot in Bahrain, unrest in Kuwait, and attacks on U.S. facilities in the Gulf states. In 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, sensing weakness from revolutionary chaos, attacked Iran to prevent the newly formed Islamic Republic from inspiring Iraq’s own Shiite majority and to gain strategic depth on its border.
The Iran-Iraq War turned out to be a defining feature of Iran-Gulf Arab relations throughout the 1980s. In 1981, the five smaller states of the Gulf—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE—joined with Saudi Arabia in what was billed a security and political alliance, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Gulf states sided largely with Iraq, although each state—and even emirates within states—charted their own path regarding Iran. Oman was the most notable outlier.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait underwrote Saddam’s war efforts to the tune of an estimated $40 billion. The new UAE federation was split. The emirates of Dubai, Sharjah and Umm Al-Quwain remained neutral, fearful of jeopardizing trade and commercial links with Iran. Indeed, Dubai flourished as a re-supply entrepot (trading post) for the Iranian military. But the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, supported the Saudi-Kuwaiti position.
After 1984, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were pulled into the war after Iraq struck Iran’s main oil export terminal and Iran retaliated by striking at tankers of Gulf nations allied to Iraq. The United States intervened by re-flagging Kuwait and Saudi tankers, which in turn raised tensions between Tehran and Washington. After a U.S.-flagged ship was hit, the U.S. Navy bombarded an Iranian oil platform in October 1987. U.S.-Iran tensions ultimately led to the accidental shooting down of an Iranian civilian passenger plane by the USS Vincennes, killing 290 passengers and crew, in July 1988.
The war finally ended when Iran accepted U.N. Resolution 598 in August 1988. Ayatollah Khomeini said accepting the terms was akin to drinking “a poisoned chalice.” There was no clear victor, but the triangular balance of power between the Gulf big trio—Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia—largely remained intact.
Rafsanjani’s bridge-building      1989-1997
Shortly after he assumed the presidency in 1989, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani proclaimed, “Iran needs to stop making enemies.” He signaled a substantive shift in foreign policy from an aggressive revolutionary state to a new pragmatic coexistence. Rafsanjani saw the GCC states not as ripe pawns to be toppled, but as cash-rich investors to entice. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, suggested shortly thereafter that the two countries could see “a future of positive relations.”
But the third piece of the triangular balance of power, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, seethed at the sight of his fellow Arab states making conciliatory gestures to Iran. He also seethed at the war debt that he accrued, which he expected Kuwait to forgive since he had fought the dreaded “Persian menace” and “the scourge of Khomeini” on behalf of all Arabs. Unable to come to terms with Kuwait, Saddam Hussein invaded in August 1990.
President George H. W. Bush organized an international coalition to liberate Kuwait and protect its Saudi ally. Iran treaded a fine line during the 1991 Gulf War, neither siding with Washington nor hindering its war effort, despite U.S.-Iran tensions. Tehran’s neutrality in the Gulf War did not sway Washington. In 1993, the Clinton administration announced its policy of “dual containment,” targeting both Iraq and Iran. But Rasfanjani’s position did alter GCC perceptions of Iran. Trade increased. Direct flight links were restored. And money began flowing more freely across borders. The Rafsanjani era offered Iran and the region a soft landing from the war’s ravages and the revolution’s zealotry.
Khatami’s rapprochement             1997-2005
The 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami introduced a period of outreach in his attempt to launch a “dialogue of civilizations.” In December 1997, Tehran hosted the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit. Among the delegates was Crown Prince Abdullah, the de-facto Saudi head of state, and the most senior Saudi visitor to Iran since the 1979 revolution. The Saudi-Iran détente was accelerating. When President Clinton also initiated an outreach to Iran, several GCC states lined up to play intermediary between Washington and Tehran, although a breakthrough never occurred.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City and Washington D.C. altered the dynamics of U.S.-Iran relations. Within the next two years, President George W. Bush launched two wars on Iran’s borders—in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. The U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein particularly rocked the region—and ended up dramatically changing the balance of power in Iran’s favor.
For Iran, the U.S.-led war knocked out a primary rival. Tehran also sensed an opportunity to shape and influence post-Saddam Iraq. Over the next two years, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and ministry of intelligence began a sophisticated campaign using both hard and soft power. Tehran’s growing role distressed the GCC states. In 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal expressed some of the frustration, “We fought a war together to keep Iran from occupying Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait. Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason.”
Rising oil prices also gave Tehran new economic leverage. Flush with new cash, Iranians looked for regional investment opportunities and increasingly turned to Dubai, which emerged as Iran’s offshore business center – its Hong Kong.
By the end of Khatami’s term in 2005, most of the GCC states were again wary of Iran. Iraq was being shaped more by Iran than any other regional state. Sunni Arab states from as far as Egypt and Jordan began to whisper about fears of a Shiite crescent taking hold of the region. The Gulf was in deep flux.
Ahmadinejad’s brinkmanship     2005-2013
The surprise election of the populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 again changed the dynamics of Iranian foreign policy—this time back to the hardline positions of the early revolution. The regime immediately announced a resumption of uranium enrichment. And Iran’s controversial nuclear program immediately became the focal point of its foreign policy and world diplomacy. Iran’s Gulf neighbors were at least as alarmed as Israel and the United States.
Saudi Arabia and Iran increasingly found themselves vying for regional influence in proxy battles in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and even Afghanistan. The days of détente seemed a distant memory. In Iraq, Saudi Arabia’s Sunni monarchy tried to protect the Sunni minority while Iran worked with an array of Shiite groups and the two major Kurdish parties to influence the budding Iraqi state. Iraq’s March 2010 elections seemed to indicate that Iran’s efforts had paid off. Immediately after the disputed elections, three of the top four candidates turned up in Tehran for “consultations” with Iranian officials.
A microcosm of the rivalry played out in the UAE. For years, Iran’s top GCC trade partner was oil-less Dubai in the UAE, the Gulf’s rising commercial center which was home to as many Iranians as Emiratis. Tehran’s rival was oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the politically powerful UAE capital allied with the United States. Dubai’s 2008 financial crisis and Abu Dhabi’s subsequent bail-out of its over-leveraged brother tipped the balance in Abu Dhabi’s favor.
Rouhani’s Reintegration Amid Disintegration 2013 – present
Hassan Rouhani overwhelmingly won the June 2013 presidential election with a mandate to improve Iran’s economy, unlock the nuclear dispute with the West, remove sanctions, and reintegrate Iran into the international community and global economy. On July 14, 2015, Rouhani’s negotiating team completed a final nuclear deal with the world’s six major powers.
Rouhani’s efforts to reintegrate Iran into the world community and exorcise its pariah status came amid a unique moment of regional disintegration and geopolitical disorder, posing significant challenges for the Islamic Republic. The deadly Syrian civil war devolved into a dangerous stew of rising Islamist extremism, sectarian hatred, unprecedented levels of migration, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by a host of actors from President Bashar al Assad’s government to so-called “Islamic State” militants.
Iran maintained – and amplified – its support for Assad with weapons, advice, and money. It also closely coordinated with Lebanese Hezbollah, who fought on Assad’s behalf. Meanwhile, a Riyadh-Ankara-Doha axis formed to support the Syrian opposition, creating a direct proxy battle with Iran.
In Iraq, the rise of the Sunni extremist “Islamic State” posed a challenge to Iran on two levels: first, the group threatened the rule of Iran’s allied government in Baghdad; second, the group’s venomous ideology exacerbated anti-Shiite views percolating across the Sunni world.
In late March 2015, Saudi Arabia began a robust bombing campaign in Yemen. Its origins – Riyadh says – are in Iranian support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who took over large parts of the country in late 2014. While Iran undoubtedly maintains influence over Lebanese Hezbollah and has deep ties in Iraq, its Houthi alliance is more shallow. Still, the GCC and other Sunni states see the war in regional terms as yet another Saudi-Iran proxy battleground.
To quell rising Gulf concerns about a possible nuclear deal with Iran, President Barack Obama gathered GCC leaders in Camp David in May 2015 to assure them of America’s “ironclad” commitment to their security. The absence of King Salman of Saudi Arabia from the meetings was widely interpreted as a snub.
Rouhani has made outreach to the Gulf states a priority, but amid regional turmoil, his initiatives have landed off the mark. Rouhani, however, hails from the Rafsanjani camp that believes in pragmatic engagement with Gulf Arab states, not confrontation. But the powerful IRGC is less interested in rapprochement with GCC states. This view is seemingly shared by Iran’s most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trade relations between Iran and the UAE have weathered the storm of sanctions, battered but not beaten. The UAE remains a vital trade lifeline for Iran, its second largest trade partner after China. Most of this total trade – valued at some $25 billion – comprises re-exports to Iran from Dubai ports.
Iran and Oman serve as joint “policemen of the Straits of Hormuz,” the world’s most important oil chokepoint. Some two-fifths of the world’s globally traded oil passes through the Strait, which at its narrowest point is only 21 miles wide.
Iran’s threats to “close down the Strait” in the event of military conflict ring hollow, as a closure would damage Iran’s own oil industry, the most vital source of state revenues.
Qatar’s tactical outreach to Iran over the past few years has been strained by the Syrian civil war where the countries are on opposite sides.
The name of the body of water linking these eight states has occasionally sparked diplomatic spats. For Iranians, it is indisputably the Persian Gulf. For many Arab states, it is either “the Gulf” or, more provocatively, “the Arabian Gulf.” Most official atlases refer to the body of water as the Persian Gulf.
Trend Lines
The world’s major oil players have largely abandoned Iran, but are circling again amid talk of sanctions removal. Still, they will tread with caution in the immediate aftermath of any deal, cognizant that implementation is full of obstacles.
Iraq has surpassed Iran as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ second largest producer. Despite Abu Dhabi’s misgivings about a nuclear deal, UAE-based companies are gearing up for trade and investment opportunities with Iran. If Iran achieves greater integration and if sanctions begin to fall, the most immediate regional beneficiary will be Dubai. The Persian Gulf commercial city-state is best positioned to grow its Iran trade and services network, and its logistics facilities from Dubai International Airport to the Jebel Ali container port will be well-placed to serve the Iranian market.
Rising anti-Shiite sentiment prevalent across social media in several Gulf states and anti-Iran media messaging will continue to erode what little is left of Iranian soft power. Salafist jihadism will fuel new recruits not only satisfied with targeting Shiites, but also Iranian interests.
Saudi-Iran rivalry will continue to play out across a disintegrating region.

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Syria: IED & AT Weapon Compilation


Jan 13, 2014 by vlogger

A compilation of attacks by the Free Syrian Army on Syrian Army tanks and APCs using IEDs and antitank weapons. The attacks were conducted by the Brigade Sham Falcons.

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Airstrikes in Syria targeted the Nusra Front today, believed to have been conducted by US-led coalition warplanes in response to an attack by the al-Qaeda affiliated group on Western-backed rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

The abduction of moderate Syrian opposition leaders by the Nusra Front highlights the challenges faced by the Obama administration in recruiting and training local insurgent groups to fight ISIS, reports Karam Shoumali et al. [New York Times]

“[W]hen we are threatened, we will act unreservedly, with any means at our disposal, until the enemy is defeated,” says Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, making the case for the Turkish role in the conflict in Iraq and Syria, in an op-ed at the Washington Post.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military partners conducted nine airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on July 29. Separately, forces carried out a further 22 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

There is a new “sense of urgency” among many parties to the Syrian conflict to see the war brought to a close, according to UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, speaking with NPR’s Melissa Block.

Kurdish rebels reportedly attacked a Turkish police station in the south of the country, killing two, amidst increasing violence between the two groups. Turkey has been engaged in an aerial campaign against PKK fighters in northern Iraq. [AP]


The Taliban has named the successor to deceased leader Mullah Mohammad Omar following revelations from the Kabul government regarding his death in 2013. The group appointed the effective no. 2, Mullah Akhtar Mansour to fill the role. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah and Margherita Stancati]

The Taliban reacted to the disclosure by pulling out of peace talks with the Afghan government scheduled for this Friday. [AP]

Why would the Afghan government choose now to reveal Omar’s death, on the eve of peace talks which it wants to succeed? Michael Kugelman looks into the situation. [Foreign Policy]

The foggy details around Omar’s death may illustrate the “competing and often hidden agendas in the counterterrorism partnership” between the US and Pakistan. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The revelation of Omar’s death “deprives the Taliban of their most powerful talisman,” writes Michael Semple, suggesting that the impact on Afghan politics will be far reaching. [Politico]


President Obama reached out to liberals yesterday, speaking on the phone with affiliates of activist groups. The president emphasized the role which their voice has to play in supporting the nuclear accord, saying “I can’t carry it by myself.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem and Jordan Fabian]

President Obama’s failure to hand over details of agreements between the IAEA and Iran is “not acceptable,” according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Four Democrats expressed their support for the nuclear deal yesterday, including Rep Dan Kildee, who represents US hostage Amir Hekmati held in Iran. [AP]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a firm supporter of the deal, expressed confidence that the Democrats could sustain a veto of a GOP disapproval measure, describing the agreement as a “diplomatic masterpiece.” [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

Americans are becoming skeptical of the Iran nuclear deal as they learn more details, says Prime Minister Netanyahu. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

The Obama administration is preventing the public from access to 17 unclassified documents dealing with the Iran nuclear agreement, reports Tim Mak, raising the question of transparency in government. [The Daily Beast]

“Diplomacy is rarely about optimal outcomes.” Nicholas Kristof argues for why the Iran deal naysayers are wrong. [New York Times]


A Palestinian baby died during an arson attack by Jewish extremists in the West Bank, described by the IDF as “Jewish terror,” and sparking an escalation in tensions in the region. [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury, et al] During the attack, graffiti was sprayed on the walls of the Palestinian family home. [BBC]

The Israeli government legalized the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike; the practice is prevalent among Palestinian detainees as a mode of political statement. [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid]


More people and institutions will be hit by sanctions after the Obama administration includes 26 more targets on the list, to counter Russian support for Ukrainian rebels. [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear]

A Ukrainian war hero has been accused of killing two Russian journalists, in a high-profile trial that is likely to escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine. [Washington Post’s Andrew Roth]


A suicide bomber launched a fatal attack in northeast Nigeria, killing at least 10 people. [AP’s Haruna Umar]

Chad killed 117 Boko Haram insurgents, in a two-week campaign targeting islands on Lake Chad. [Reuters’ Madjiasra Nako]

The Nigerian President appointed Major General Iliya Abbah to lead the Multinational Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. [Wall Street Journal’s Gbenga Akingbule]


Hundreds of private-sector contractors are at the center of the US military drone program, taken on to alleviate the work load of the overstretched military, report Abigail Fielding-Smith et al. [The Guardian]

The US can continue to hold suspected Taliban fighters in Guantanamo, despite the declared end to the conflict in Afganistan, a federal judge ruled in a case that might have long-term implications. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]

Low-risk Guantanamo inmates should be set free, even if the plan to close Guantanamo falters, argues the New York Times’ Editorial Board.

Islamic extremist group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, is expanding its influence amongst Pakistan’s poor in Karachi. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah and Syed Shoaib Hasan]

A ceasefire in Yemen scheduled for this week has failed, following continued bombing and ground fighting. [Wall Street Journal’s Mohammed Al-Kibsi and Asa Fitch] And the deliberate targeting of civilians and healthworkers in Yemen is compromising humanitarian efforts in the conflict-torn country, according to the head of Medicins San Frontieres. [The Guardian’s Sam Jones]

Psychologists will be effectively banned from participating in national security interrogations, according to a new ethics policy recommendation from the American Psychologist Association. [New York Times’ James Risen]

Secretary of State John Kerry must speak out on the failure of democracy in Egypt, argues the Washington Post’s Editorial Board.

American-Cuban relations are still abnormal, especially given the on-going trade embargo, despite the opening of embassies. [Washington Post’s Nick Mirof]

Saudi Arabia should be dismissed from 9/11 lawsuits as it was uninvolved in the attacks, according to an argument heard by a Manhattan federal judge. [AP]

An NSA map depicts targets of Chinese government cyber attacks, revealing assaults across industries throughout the country. [NBC’s Robert Windrem]

Saudi Arabia and Egypt signed the “Cairo Declaration,” intended to strengthen economic and military relations between the two countries, including a joint Arab military force. [Al Jazeera]

Four Indian nationals have been detained in Libya, in a city known to be under the control of ISIS. [Reuters’ Krista Mahr et al]

Ethnic Albanian former guerrillas might be tried for war crimes, after the Kosovo government, under Western pressure, requested parliament to reconsider the establishment of an ad hoc court. [Reuters’ Fatos Bytyci]

The US spied on Japanese officials and corporations, as far back as eight years ago, according to Wikileaks. [BBC]

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Why it matters that we were not told that UK pilots are involved in air strikes in Syria.


By Robert Perkins on 20 Jul 2015

Has the government been lying to us?

That’s the question people are asking after last week’s revelation that UK pilots have been involved in carrying out air strikes in Syria, in spite of assurances that Parliament would vote on any such expansion of the anti-ISIS bombing campaign. The news comes as further proof of a worrying lack of transparency in both the UK and the wider coalition’s operations in Iraq and Syria.

Last week’s news resulted from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the activist NGO Reprieve. The FOI showed that a small number of UK pilots have been embedded with US and other forces in Syria, and have flown ‘strike missions’ against Islamic State targets in the country. It is not clear when these strikes took place, or how many there have been, although the total number is reported to be in the single figures.

The fact that this has happened at all is a significant expansion of the UK’s current role in the bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria, and has taken place without the explicit consent of the British Parliament. To this point, air strikes against ISIS targets have only been authorised in Iraq, where they were at the request of the country’s government.


In 2013 the UK Parliament voted against British air strikes in Syria. The ‘no-vote’ rejected a proposed military intervention against Syrian government assets, after the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on 21 August 2013. Speaking at the time, Kate Hoey MP said “The question is how bombing, no matter how strategic, how precise and how short, will make things if not better for the Syrian people, at least not worse. I believe that it will not do so and I have yet to be persuaded by anyone who has spoken in this debate that it would make things better for the Syrian people.” A diplomatic response was ultimately used to pressure President Assad into destroying or removing his stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The current air campaign is aimed not at the Assad regime, but at Islamic State militant groups who have seized swathes of territory across eastern Syria and neighbouring Iraq, carrying out a string of barbaric atrocities as they establish a self-proclaimed Caliphate.

Earlier last week Michael Fallon, the UK Minister of Defence, mused in Parliament that it was logical that UK bombing efforts in Iraq should be expanded into Syria. Yet as of this moment, any such proposal has not been put to the vote.

The argument that such a move is a good idea will likely meet with opposition in Parliament for a number of reasons, including the morality of military intervention for humanitarian purposes and the strategic short-sightedness of bombing the people you are trying to help. Arguments against might also focus on the muddled sovereignty issues in a country at civil war since 2011, and the implicit support it might offer to the Syrian state forces, who have killed thousands of civilians over years of bombing populated areas with heavy explosive weapons.


These are important debates to be had, and which must not be pre-empted.

Government statements after the Reprieve revelations tried to downplay the significance of the news, saying that strikes were carried out as part of a long-standing accepted policy of embedding UK forces with other nations. Such a policy is in fact common practice in NATO operations, and means in this case that the UK personnel would have been subject to the rules of engagement of their host nations.

The nuances of whether actions of an embed exceeds the mandate given by Parliament in the initial vote is a matter for Parliament itself to decide, but this defence rings alarm bells that this might become a precedent for circumventing Parliament’s oversight mechanism.

In previous investigations into rules of engagement used by international coalitions in Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan since 2008, AOAV has shown the importance of strong rules of engagement in affecting how explosive weapons like aerial bombs and missiles can be used, and how these rules can massively limit civilian casualties, or create conditions that raise threat to civilians on the ground.

So the news that UK forces may be working within a different country’s rules of war without Parliamentary consent or oversight is alarming. As Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, said last week, it is deeply worrying that “the UK seems to have turned over its personnel to the US wholesale, without the slightest idea as to what they are actually doing, and whether it is legal.”

Fog of war

It also reflects a wider lack of accountability in the coalition’s conduct.

AOAV’s data on coalition air strikes suggests that the majority of reported civilian casualties are coming from Syria, even if the majority of attacks are in Iraq. However, the reporting of civilian, or any, casualties from coalition airstrikes is extremely limited.

Security conditions on the ground make it impossible for independent journalists and investigators to assess impacts, and the coalition itself, while providing detailed information on the frequency of attacks, are vague as their consequences.

Coalition spokesmen have acknowledged the challenges in knowing definitively if civilians have been killed or injured in their air strikes. Public officials have only acknowledged a handful of civilian casualties to date, while simultaneously claiming that thousands of ISIS fighters have died.

Without transparency it is extremely difficult to draw effective assessments of the impacts of the international coalition’s use of explosive weapons on civilians in Iraq and Syria. There is a duty for coalition actors to fully investigate and acknowledge any civilian harm that may arise from their campaign, and work towards the fulfilment of the rights of any such victims.

Users of explosive weapons should recognise their responsibility to collect and publish data on the impacts of their use on civilians. Accurate and disaggregated data is necessary in order to develop effective programs of redress for civilian harm.

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Iraqi Ummah Party Leader Mithal Al-Alusi: ISIS Is An Arab-Muslim Creation; I Long For Peace With Israel


In an interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai that was published July 5, 2015, Sunni Iraqi MP and leader of the Ummah Party Mithal Al-Alusi said that the Arabs and Muslims are responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS). Arguing that ISIS the organization is an Arab and Muslim creation because it was they who allowed extremist views, a vengeance mentality, and nullification of the other, he called for combating this approach, and for uniting the Arab and Muslim ranks in the struggle against ISIS.
The newspaper asked Al-Alusi, who has visited Israel several times, about his position vis-à-vis the country, and he replied that he supports peace with Israel and longs for an Iraqi Embassy in Israel with an Iraqi flag flying atop it. He also called Iran an “insane actor” that is gambling with the lives of the Iranian people in its attempts to take over the region.
Following are excerpts from the interview:

24221Mithal Al-Alusi (Source: Al-Rai, Kuwait, July 5, 2015)

Iraq Should Rebuild Its Relations With Arab Countries
“Q: Iraq has been fighting ISIS and dealing with internal political crises. Is this the appropriate time to rebuild its relations with Arab countries?”
“A: Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, and must rebuild its relations with Arab [countries]. The previous [Ba’thist] regime, even 50 years ago, did not act as a country but rather in accordance with the path of an absolutist ruler [i.e. Saddam Hussein], and this did not express the Iraqi state’s level or ambitions. The current regime has also erred. Iraq should understand the importance of relations with the countries of the region. Saddam [Hussein] committed a crime when he invaded Kuwait, [when he launched] the Iran-Iraq war and internal wars, and [when he] killed Iraqis. It is time for us to act as a country, and no foreign minister, prime minister, or any other politician should do what he wishes.”
End Ties With The U.S.
“Q: Is there a strategic dimension to Iraq’s policy? Why do some parties insist on ending ties with the U.S.?”
“A: It might seem strange that this demand is made by democratic liberals whom I help lead, [but] I am among those who want to end ties with it. These ties are characterized by patronage and ambiguity. The Iraqis should not demand that the U.S. be their mother, father, and sponsor. [On the other hand,] the Americans should understand that U.S.-Iraq relations are an interest far removed from occupation and liberation, and from ideological aspects…”
“Q: Is it the U.S. that wishes to relinquish Iraq?”
“A: No. It would be an injustice [to say that]. The U.S. has paid, and is still paying, a heavy price in Iraq. It is unfair and unjust to attack it like this. The Obama administration claims that what is happening in Iraq is the legacy of Bush, and that the Iraqis have failed and do not want to succeed, because he hears from Iraqi politicians and leaders that they do not want the U.S.”
ISIS Is A Product Of Extremist Islam, We Must Unite To Fight It
“Q: What is the future of the war against ISIS, which is spreading to Iraq’s neighbors and to other countries in the region?”
“A: I am glad to see ISIS spreading to the Gulf states. This might be a shocking statement, but I mean no offense and certainly do not relish the death of anyone, either from the Gulf or from Israel. But we must all understand that ISIS is the disease of this generation, and could continue [to exist] for another 100 years. This crisis is not only Iraq’s. We must fight our internal mentality – the mentality of vengeance and nullification of the other [that] created ISIS, the criminal terrorist organization that harms Islam and that committed a criminal terrorist act in Kuwait against our Kuwaiti sons, friends, neighbors, and brothers, and the [terrorist] actions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere. All these are the victims of ISIS. We must understand that this group is a terrorist organization that all must combat. We must all stand on a united front. If we agree to this, [it means] that we agree to a new world, without militias and weapons.”
“Q: You have argued that [ISIS] will exist for 100 years. Will this become part of the political reality?”
“A: Terrorism is absolutely not going to end in less than 100 years… What drives a teenager from Europe – the continent of music, culture, art, and liberty – to grow his ‘beard’ and to adopt views that call for crime, killing, and cruelty, to leave behind happiness and freedom in order to join an exiled barbaric group? There is a global rebel movement that emerged because of a failure of culture, an economic crisis, or a lack of understanding. The propagandists of extremist Islam have exploited this to establish ISIS, and we must fight them by punishing anyone who commits a crime.”
“Q: Who created ISIS?”
“A: It is our creation, not a Western or European or Crusader or Jewish or Israeli creation. It is a creation of the Arabs and Muslims, because we have failed to protect our society and have allowed these extremist views –to exist].”
“Q: Do you believe that the post-2003 circumstances in Iraq are what created ISIS, specifically after the dismantling of the previous entities?”
“A: There is no doubt that ISIS is the first phase in the development that was created from Al-Qaeda. And there is no doubt that [Al-Qaeda in Iraq founder] Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi played a significant role that made the creation of ISIS possible – as did the eight years of failure by the [Iraqi] government, and the great lies that it, and the parliament, told when they announced educational, security, and economic achievements, as well as reconciliation [among sectarian groups in Iraq]. It was all a lie. ISIS constitutes a reaction and a rebellion by the failed, the foolish, the criminal, and the wretched. ISIS has a pathetic lunatic [i.e. Al-Baghdadi] who should [be committed to] a psychiatric hospital – but at this time he is the leader of ISIS – [an organization] that was created as a result of the Arab-Islamic failure.”
Iraq Is Suffering From A Crisis And A Dangerous Social Struggle
“Q: Will Al-Anbar remains in the hands of ISIS and suffer the same fate as Mosul?”
“A: The government has announced goals [including the liberation of Mosul and Al-Anbar], and Iraqi political forces [have also] stated that the liberation of Mosul and Al-Anbar is near. This is not true. We must acknowledge that most ISIS fighters – more than 90% of them – are Iraqis. They are members of the Abu Nimr, Abu Fahd, Abu Risha, and other tribes. There is a crisis and a dangerous social struggle, which will not be resolved solely by military means. We require a strategic action center to lay out the military foundations. We must prove to the citizens that the state and independent judiciary can deter the corrupt. Therefore, so long as the people see a government that cannot enact reforms, Al-Anbar and Mosul will not be liberated, and we [will] not [be able to] defend Baghdad.”
Iran Will Not Take Over The Region
“Q: Isn’t Iran is the most influential [country] in the region?”
“A: No. It is the most insane actor, which gambles with the lives of its sons, its people, and its history in order to [realize] the Iranian leaders’ false vision. It is inconceivable that Iran will control the region someday, and it does not have the power to do so.”
Iraq Is Not Ripe For True National Reconciliation
“Q: In light of the existence and continued expansion of ISIS, do you believe that Iraq’s political scene would be forced to discuss solutions such as true reconciliation for deeply rooted crises?”
“A: Before we launch a project of national reconciliation, we must understand that rejecting the other is inhuman, savage, and not much different than ISIS itself. The Iraqi parties are not the only ones responsible for this failure – we all are. Reconciliation is a lofty project that will place citizenship, peace, and human rights at the top [of the agenda]. However, do we currently treat Christians and Muslims equally? When has the country [truly] been ripe [for reconciliation]? I believe that reconciliation is nonexistent.”
Peace With Israel Is In Our Interest
“Q: Do you support normalization with Israel?”
“A: Yes. Israel is a state and I support peace with it. I want to see an [Iraqi] embassy [in Israel] and the Iraqi flag flying atop it. This is in our interest. I do not want to tie our interests [solely] to Abu Maze

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The Army of Justice and the Threat of Sunni Militancy in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province of Iran

The Jamestown Foundation

Fourteen border guards in the southeastern Iranian region of Saravan were assassinated and five seriously wounded on October 25 by a shadowy militant Sunni group known as Jaysh al-Adl (JA – Army of Justice) (IRNA, October 25; Mehr News, October 25). In retaliation, Iranian authorities hung 16 Balochis (al-Akhbar, November 7). [1] A public prosecutor believed to have been involved in the execution of the Baluch insurgents was assassinated on November 6 and JA claimed responsibility, describing the killing at revenge against judicial authorities in a statement posted on the group’s website (al-Jazeera, November 7; Shafaf News [Tehran], November 12). [2]

Fourteen border guards in the southeastern Iranian region of Saravan were assassinated and five seriously wounded on October 25 by a shadowy militant Sunni group known as Jaysh al-Adl (JA – Army of Justice) (IRNA, October 25; Mehr News, October 25). Two weeks later, following the mass JA claimed responsibility for the assassination of a Zabol-based prosecutor believed to have been involved in the mass execution of Baluch insurgents as retaliation for the October 25 attack on the border guards (al-Jazeera, November 7; Shafaf News [Tehran], November 12).

The latest series of attacks by JA have not been isolated incidents. The armed Sunni group has carried out several military operations against the Iranian forces since 2012. The latest was on December 5, when four members of JA were killed by Iranian security guards in a series of skirmishes along the border between Iran and Pakistan (JamNews [Tehran], December 5). The militant group warns of future attacks against Iranian officials, while the Iranian state calls for a firmer response to such attacks.

JA describes itself as a “political-military” movement of the “Ahle Sunnat-e Iran” (Sunnis of Iran), with the aspiration of freeing the Baluch people from the hegemony of the Iranian government. The leader of the group, Abdul Rahim Mollahzadeh (a.k.a. Salah al-din Farogi), comes from Rasak, a southeastern border town in the impoverished Sarbaz County wiwhose local population has close cultural connections with the Pakistani region of Baluchistan (Shafaf, November 12).

The movement maintains that it is a clandestine group that focuses on attacking military bases and deliberately avoids harming civilians in order to uphold a just war against the “Safavi” regime in Iran. The reference is to the Safavid Empire, which established Shia Islam as the state religion in sixteenth-century Iran.

The origin of the JA goes back to 2012, when the organization first emerged as an offshoot of Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni militant organization of Baluch ethnic background founded by Abdolmalek Rigi, who was executed by the Islamic Republic in 2010 (al-Arabiya, October 29; JameJam News, October 29; Shafaf, November 12). While Jundallah disintegrated with the death of Rigi, JA emerged as a new Baluch militant movement with strong sectarian ideological overtones. Unlike Jundallah, whose primary demand was that Tehran improve the lives of Iranian Sunnis, JA appears to be more of a separatist movement, demanding that the Iranian regime leave the Sistan-Baluchistan province.

In terms of organization, JA appears to be a tightly knit group of Sunni Baluch fighters who may have both rural and urban support in the Iranian and Pakistani border region. The group is based in three military camps near the Iranian-Pakistani border (JamNews December 2013). In operational terms, the group engages in activities such as the use of explosives against Iranian border guards, hostage-taking operations and assassination attacks against high-ranking government officials in the province.

The group has employed social media as a way to propagate its ideology and to express demands on the Iranian state. Videos and clips of military operations are posted online sporadically, often days or weeks after a military conflict between the organization and the Iranian military forces took place. JA leader Salah al-din Farogi and other commanders post anti-government statements on Facebook and YouTube, speaking of the oppressive nature of the Iranian regime and its efforts to marginalize Baluch, Arab and Kurdish populations. The videotaped confessions of prisoners purported to be Iranian intelligence officers are also posted on the group’s Facebook and blog sites.

According to the Iranian state, JA is a foreign-backed militia that is modeled after the militant-political organization Sazman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran (People’s Mujahideen of Iran), a dissident-militant group known for its terrorist operations before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution (Mashreq News, October 27). Tehran accuses JA of taking support from Israel and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, which seek to destabilize the unity of Islamic Iran (ShiaNews, November 18).

In reality, JA is a political-military movement that reflects a recent wave of radicalization among the younger Baluch population. The trend towards militancy and sectarianism is largely due to a combination of domestic and regional grievances. Such grievances play an integral part in shaping the conditions upon which the JA has risen to challenge the Iranian state, though its success in legitimizing its operations among the local population remains unknown.

Sistan-Baluchistan is the most poverty-stricken region in Iran. The province has considerable infrastructural, educational and economic problems that are primarily caused by the unequal distribution of wealth. The decline of the Iranian economy, the fall of the national currency, the subsequent rise of inflation and increasing unemployment have contributed to growing poverty in the province.

Since the mid-2000s, the Islamic Republic has seen an upsurge in Sunni separatist militancy, partly in response to the economic conditions of the Sunni-majority province. Groups such as Harakat Ansar Iran (HAI) have increasingly adopted sectarian agendas in their militant operations against the Iranian state. Their anti-Shia outlook reflects the views of a Salafi militant movement that sees Shia Iran as responsible for the Muslim predicament, especially in Syria, where sectarian conflict has led to a bloody civil war and a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. [3]

Sistan-Baluchistan borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries that also face instability due to drug-trafficking and secessionist insurgency movements. In February 2013, Iran signed a security agreement with Pakistan to prevent the flow of organized crime and militant forces into its territories (Press TV [Tehran], November 5). However, the borders remain porous, allowing a flow of insurgents and drug smugglers in and out of the country.

The insecure borderland has seen a sharp rise in sectarian tensions since the dawn of the Syrian civil war in 2011, possibly exacerbated by a Saudi Arabian push to spread radical Sunnism as a counter-balance to Iran’s involvement in Syria. JA has repeatedly described its “revenge operations” in terms of retaliating against Iranian military involvement in Syria. For the Sunni Iranian militant group, their conflict with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and representatives of the Islamic Republic is one between “justice” and shirk (idolatry or polytheism), a major act of transgression in Islam that is often associated with Shiism by Sunni Salafists.

The regional dimension underlines the interplay between sectarianism and the regional proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The sectarian dimension in particular is the most problematic aspect of the security breakdown in southeastern Iran. The security crisis derives not only from the failure of the Iranian state to improve the life of the poverty-stricken province in terms of expanding economic projects to better the daily lives of the population, but also from the proliferation of separatist movements with sectarian agendas in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the years to come, the border regions between these three countries could enter a new era of possible ethnic-sectarian conflict with global security implications.

Nima Adelkah is an independent analyst based in New York. His current research agenda includes the Middle East, military strategy and technology, and nuclear proliferation among other defense and security issues.


1. Casualty reports are inconsistent. The semi-official site, Fars News, stated that 17 guards were killed and four were taken hostage (Fars News, October 26).

2. See jaishuladl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/blog-post_26.html.

3. See the Arabic and Persian political statement by the group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=125416294205692&story_fbid=490457414368243.

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Authoritarian populism and the rise of the security state in Iran

By Ali M Ansari, University of St Andrews


* This memo was prepared for “The Arab Thermidor: The Resurgence of the Security State” workshop held at the London School of Economics and Political Science Middle East Centre, October 10, 2014.

Debate persists as to the accuracy of the term “security state” to the contemporary Islamic Republic. At one extreme some continue to define the state as a functioning “Islamic Republic” albeit frayed at the edges and securitized inasmuch as its needs to respond – as Western states do – to the threats posed by terrorism and regional instability. Others argue that on the contrary, the Islamic Republic has become a militarized state in which the main decisions are now decreed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Perhaps the clearest advocate for the existence of a security or securitized state is President Hassan Rouhani, whose election platform in 2013 was in large part predicated on alleviating the excesses (if not dismantling altogether) of what was widely considered to be a “securitized” state (a term actually used by his mentor former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani).[1] Indeed Rouhani made extensive promises in his campaign to release political prisoners (at one stage caught up in the excitement of a rally he appeared to go further and promise to release all prisoners), as well as improve the position for students, academics, and the press.[2] Accepting its existence, the precise characteristics remain contested in what some regard as political rhetoric intended to damage the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while others see its bases within the fundamental structures and transformation of the Islamic Republic itself. It is perhaps best to see it as a product of a structural transformation of the state, both ideationally and materially, taken to excess by the ideological zeal of the Ahmadinejad presidency. A fundamental distinction of the Iranian security state is the arbitrary exercise of repressive power, reflecting perhaps the political culture from which it has emerged.


The constitution of the Islamic Republic is perhaps unique among modern constitutions in that it seeks to marry two quite different political ideas within one system. This is distinct from a system that seeks to combine different elements into a coherent whole drawing on its separate facets to deal with particular issues (as in, for example, the Roman Republican constitution which allowed for a temporary “dictatorship” in particular circumstances), or one that recognizes a separation of powers in which each constituent part recognizes its own limitations. On the contrary, the constitution of the Islamic Republic contains two contradictory pulls that are in explicit and deliberate tension with each other. We may term these the Islamic (authoritarian) wing centered on the Guardianship of the Jurist and the revolutionary organs of government, and the Republican (democratic) wing centered on the presidency and the orthodox institutions of government. Although the jurist, or Supreme Leader, enjoys constitutional precedence, considerable debate existed on the precise role of the jurist within the system and the balance of power between the two wings. The Iran-Iraq War and the charismatic authority of then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (which was accepted by broad portions of the revolutionary elite whether “Islamic” or “republican”) ensured that this difficult question was deferred, not least because Khomeini saw considerable merit in arbitrating between these tendencies in order to reinforce his own authority and power. After his death in 1989, the balance shifted emphatically toward the Republican wing in large part because of the forceful personality of the standard bearer of the republican side, Rafsanjani, and the weakness of Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The high tide of republicanism came under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, when a bold attempt to institutionalize the tendency established by his predecessor was attempted.

Rafsanjani has sought to establish a political settlement on the country in which the republican institutions would enjoy a pre-eminence over the revolutionary structures, which Rafsanjani sought (but failed) to curtail and subsume. A good example was the merger of the Revolutionary Guards within the military hierarchy and structure of the regular military. The intention was to integrate and discipline this hitherto and somewhat wayward force that owed its allegiance to the Supreme Leader and the “revolution” (loosely defined), as opposed to the state. The move was not popular and its limitations were to be revealed when it soon became apparent that for all practical purposes it was the military that was subsumed under the distinct political culture of the IRGC and not the other way around. Similarly, if more dramatically, the pro-Khatami Iranian press revealed in 1999 that “rogue” elements in the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (Etelaat) had been pursuing a policy of assassinating intellectuals in an effort to derail the Reform Movement and the drive toward republicanism. The emerging scandal resulted in the closure of the newspaper involved and a student uprising. Although observers have concentrated on the suppression of that uprising, less attention was paid to the government investigation that followed, which not only exonerated the students, but led to a wholesale purge of the Intelligence Ministry. With the dramatic landslide victory of the Reformists in the 2000 parliamentary elections, it seemed as if the Republican wing had triumphed. It was a triumph that proved to be both Pyrrhic and premature.

Constructing a culture of paranoia

The purging of the Ministry of Intelligence, apparent curbing of the power of the IRGC, along with the restrictions of the power of the Supreme Leader implicit in the institutionalization of the republican organs of government, all effectively conspired to yield a calculated, determined, and highly strategic backlash with the avowed intention of not only reversing the democratic trend but of eliminating it altogether. The strategy involved the provision of a renewed ideological justification for the establishment of an authoritarian security state in which an atmosphere of fear provided both the “problem” to be solved, and the solution. In sum, a culture of paranoia both justified the security state and sustained it.

Few events exemplified this process at work as well as the serial murders that took place in Kerman in 2002. There had been repeated attacks on what we might term the agents of change for a number of years and students and journalists roved especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the repressive state apparatus. But in the aftermath of the chain murders of 1998-99 the activities of state agents had been curtailed as far as wider society was concerned. Indeed, insofar as a culture of fear was encouraged the hardline state had targeted political opponents; the most obvious and egregious was the assassination attempt on the architect of reform, Saeed Hajarian in 2000 (in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary election victory). This attack at point blank range that failed to kill Hajarian (but left him as a paraplegic) had a profound effect on Khatami and arguably proved a turning point in his own willingness to pursue dramatic change. But the serial murders in Kerman targeted society in general with the aim of instilling widespread fear. In the aftermath of the chain murders, religious scholars such as the cleric Mohsen Kadivar, had publicly argued that in an Islamic state, assassinations and extra judicial killings authorized through the issue of a fatwa were illegal.[3] It was true that the head of the Ministry of Intelligence was traditionally a cleric able to issue fatwas just for this purpose but it was not intended for the prosecution of political enemies within, only in exceptional cases in which the security of the state may be threatened from without. But these murders only engaged agents of the state in the loosest sense and more worryingly suggested that the state had outsourced its “monopoly” of violence to vigilantes.

The vigilantes in question were members of the local Basij militia who had decided to take to heart the admonishment of a particularly hardline cleric to root out social corruption. Their idea of social corruption was the least broadly defined, and the hapless victims found themselves murdered on the most casual of social infringements. The local authorities, astonished at such behavior, had the Basijis arrested, charged, and convicted. This was tragic, but it was what happened subsequently that stunned the legal profession in Iran and alerted anyone paying attention that some quite astonishing developments had been taking place in the political fabric of the country. The Basijis appealed to the higher court in Tehran in 2007, which overturned the conviction on the basis that the burden of proof lay with the deceased. In other words, the motives of the assailants had been genuine and it was put to the victims to prove they had not been sinful! This judgment caused widespread consternation in the legal community.[4] After further appeals the convictions were eventually restored though the punishment meted out proved light (the payment of modest blood money), but the fact that the higher court in Tehran could issue such a ruling in the first place reflected just how diminished any sense of human security had become.

Authoritarian populism and the rise of the security state apparatus

The author of the original admonishment was reportedly Ayatollah Misbah-Yazdi, the hard-line cleric tasked with providing the ideological framework and justification for the elimination of reformism and the establishment of an authoritarian security state. One of the central pillars of his ideology was to declare all supporters of reformism – and Western ideas in general – to be heretics and therefore beyond the legal protection of Islam. With a wave of the theological wand major sections of Iranian society were deemed beyond the pale and therefore legitimate targets of the most repressive coercion and exercise of state terror. None of this was explicitly stated but just how widespread the sentiment was felt among key sections of the security forces was made clear during the presidential election crisis of 2009, when hitherto conservative Ayatollah Sanei (turned reformist) gave a now famous sermon on the uses and abuses of the term kufr.[5]

The construction of the security state had three dimensions; the first and arguably most important was an ideological framework. This was the task delegated to Misbah-Yazdi and he focused on consolidating the authority of the Supreme Leader as a counterweight to the popularity of reform. The concept of the velayat-i-faqih (the theological basis of the Supreme Leader) was redefined as pillar of the faith, belief in which was mandatory for all “true” Muslims. Moreover the Vali-e Faqih acted on behalf of and indeed in place of the Hidden Imam and enjoyed all the latter’s powers, such that by 2009, and much to the embarrassment of many mainstream commentators in Iran (lay and religious), Misbah-Yazdi could claim that obedience to the Supreme Leader (and whosoever he anointed – in this case the president) was therefore the equivalent of obedience to God.[6] It is a remarkable irony that in a theological innovation many orthodox Muslims would consider blasphemous, Misbah-Yazdi provided the device by which those who did not “believe” could be designated heretics. Belief in the Vali-e Faqih was necessary not only for the defense of Iran but for the wider Islamic world against the depredations of the materialist West (the Great Satan broadly defined) and effectively became a sanctuary against a violent and oppressive world, against which all “true” believers had to remain vigilant. This ideology was extended to a cult of personality around Khamenei in which the latter became not only the shield, but the route to salvation.[7] In simple political terms it allowed those in authority to define those within and those without. Given the suspension of rationality required to believe in such an ideology (and it was often taken to extremes to test that “faith,” the more blind the better), it is not surprising that those considered on the outside emanated in large part from the universities and journalism: those areas where critical thought had been encouraged.

A second important aspect was the expansion and entrenchment of the security apparatus. The purge in 2000 had resulted in many operatives simply moving to other institutions such that within a few years the Ministry of Intelligence became the least harmful of all the security establishments (Iranians joked that at least it had remain [technically] accountable). Many rogue elements went to work in a new intelligence wing of the hardline judiciary, still more went into the security services of the IRGC, and it was this organization that basically took over the running and oversight of the various intelligence and security organizations (as it had effectively taken over the running of the armed forces). These agencies were ultimately accountable to Khamenei who was in turn only accountable to God.

The final and perhaps most difficult and controversial element came with the desire to popularize this transformation and eradicate the social roots of reformism once and for all by providing for a popular authoritarian who would weaken the republican institutions of government. This was achieved by Ahmadinejad, a hitherto unknown political aspirant with a popular touch, well connected with the Basij militia (itself long since drawn under the wing of the IRGC), and a devotee of Misbah-Yazdi. Ahmadinejad’s function – the limitations of which he never fully appreciated – was to effectively replace Khatami and the reform movement in the hearts of the people. While he had limited success in this regard in large part because of his lack of empathy or sympathy with the very target groups (students and journalists) that Khatami had cultivated, the hardline press, and the Supreme Leader spared no effort in eulogizing the popularity of the new president as a man with the popular touch with “real” Iranians (a narrative seized upon and endorsed by sections of the Western media). Indeed as an extension of Misbah-Yazdi’s theological distinction between true believers and heretics, Ahmadinejad developed a notion of us and them, identifying “them” as rabble, societal rubbish, and ultimately in 2009 as seditionists (fitne-gar) an identifier that neatly combined the secular with the theological. Ahmadinejad’s main device in this period however was the near complete subjection of the republican organs of government to the revolutionary or shadow government identified with the Supreme Leader. Economic interests were effectively wholesale transferred to the IRGC while the mechanisms of accountability were diminished or removed. As with the army and the IRGC, a movement in one direction had effectively reversed into a consolidation of the Supreme Leader’s authority justified on the basis of an ever present threat that needed heightened security.


All these strands effectively came to a head during the presidential election crisis of 2009. A reformist reaction through the ballot box was effectively and ruthlessly crushed on the basis that reformists were at least Western fifth columnists determined to diminish of, not eradicate altogether, the office of the Supreme Leader, and at worst heretics. Faced with the prospect of a populace losing its fear of the authorities a determined strategy of terrorization was implemented by which arbitrary killings took place combined with abductions and tales of torture (along with threats to family members) and in the last measure, a narrative of impending anarchy if the protesters were left unchecked. The authorities constructed a complex paranoid narrative about the roots of seditions, which extended into the universities, and the entire world view of reformist or Western ideas, that needed to be ruthlessly uprooted. Show trials in the summer of 2009 went so far as to try the long dead German sociologist Max Weber for sedition![8] The tragic irony of all this was it was the very development of the securitized state through the first decade of the 21st century that generated the very existential reaction the authorities all feared: a culture of paranoia that has proved dangerously self defeating and that the election of Rouhani in 2013 has done little, as yet, to ameliorate.


[1] See for example Shaul Bakhash, “Election: What Rouhani Victory means for Iran,” USIP, Iran Primer, June 15, 2013 http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2013/jun/15/electionwhat-rouhani-victory-means-iran

[2] See for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0CluzrbPJk; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqj5i40jsf0; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yble-i9Tx-c; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFGmzJwPqmw.

[3] Kadivar M Baha’ye Azadi: defa’at Mohsen Kadivar (The Price of Freedom: the defence of Mohsen Kadivar) Ghazal, Tehran, 1378, p 188.

[4] Nehmat Ahmadi,‘Negahibehparvandeh-yeghatl-hayemahfeli-ekermanazaghaztakonoon’(A look at the file of Kerman serial murders from the beginning to the present), Etemad, 29 Farvardon 1386 / April 18, 2007.

[5] See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piTnluYQtos.

[6] “Misbah Yazdi: eta’at az rais jomhur, eta’at az khodast!” [Misbah Yazdi: obedi- ence to the President is obedience to God], Tabnak, August 13, 2009 http://www.tabnak. com/nbody.php?id=8792

[7] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZUyaL1wfyQ.

[8] For the full indictment against the Islamic Iran Participation Front, see “Matn kamel keifar khast aleye ozaye mosharekat va mojahedin enqelab” [The complete transcript of the indictment against the members of the Participation Front and the Islamic Mojahedeen], http://www.ayandenews.com August 25, 2009.

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