Report says Syrians in Deir Ezzor are joining Iranian militias for the pay and benefits, notes importance of local city to Tehran’s efforts to set up land corridor through Mideast

 

Iraqi Shiite fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces secure the border area with Syria in al-Qaim in Iraq's Anbar province, opposite Al-Bukamal in Syria's Deir Ezzor region, on November 12, 2018. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Illustrative: Iraqi Shiite fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces secure the border area with Syria in al-Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province, opposite Al-Bukamal in Syria’s Deir Ezzor region, on November 12, 2018. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Iran is enlisting militiamen in part of eastern Syria, looking to cement its influence in an area with a key border crossing for moving weapons to allied groups, according to a report Friday.

The Washington Post said Iran is outcompeting Syria in signing up fighters in Deir Ezzor province, offering better salaries and conditions to former rebels and army deserters than the Syrian military.

Citing local experts, the report said Iran — a leading backer of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war — has also been building schools and distributing food, and has even tried to convert some mosques in the predominately Sunni-area to Shiite Islam, the Islamic Republic’s official religion.

“They have more influence than the army,” a former militia member identified as Abu Khadija was quoted as saying.

Abu Khadija said he joined a militia for the pay and benefits rather than on religious or ideological grounds, adding that many young Syrians saw the Iranian-backed armed groups as “the only solution to escape the army.”

“They are trying to win people over, unlike the army,” he said. “If the army wants something from someone, they break down the front door. The Iranians don’t do such things.”

This photo released by ImageSat International on May 13, 2020, shows apparent construction on an underground weapons storage facility on a military base suspected of being controlled by Iran in eastern Syria’s al-Bukamal region. (ImageSat International)

The report noted the importance to Iran of Al-Bukamal, a city in the province along the border with Iraq. Controlling the city is critical to Iranian efforts to establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea, which could allow Tehran to more easily transport weapons, fighters and materiel throughout the Middle East.

“The Iranians want to create a popular base loyal to them in case they have to leave someday,” Syria-based analyst Ammar al-Hamad told the newspaper.

In 2020, a private Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm released photos it said showed that Iran was constructing a new underground weapons storage facility at the Imam Ali base in the al-Bukamal region of Syria, which is believed to be run by Iranian forces.

The border area has been the site of several airstrikes attributed to Israel, which has vowed to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria over the course of the country’s civil war, targeting what it says are suspected arms shipments believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, which is fighting alongside Syrian government force.

Agencies contributed to this report.


Officials at Iran nuclear talks seek help from political bosses

Diplomats say negotiations are progressing but moving too slowly to reach an agreement before restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities contained in the 2015 deal have been irreversibly hollowed out.

A meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna last week (photo credit: EEAS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna last week
(photo credit: EEAS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Negotiators at talks to salvage the Iran nuclear deal will ask their political superiors to take decisions to resolve various thorny issues that remain as they return to their capitals for a break of a few days, officials said on Friday.

Western diplomats say the negotiations, which have been in their eighth round since Dec. 27, are making progress but moving too slowly to reach an agreement before restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities contained in the landmark 2015 deal have been irreversibly hollowed out. The hardest issues remain, they say.

The United States and its allies France, Germany and Britain, the so-called E3, have said since mid-December that weeks not months remain to reach an agreement at the talks in Vienna on bringing Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the deal.

“Participants will go back to capitals for consultations and instructions… Political decisions are needed now,” the talks’ coordinator, Enrique Mora of the European Union, said on Twitter.

A separate EU statement said talks would resume next week.

“January has been the most intensive period of these talks to date,” negotiators from the so-called E3 of France, Britain and Germany said in a statement. “Everyone knows we are reaching the final stage, which requires political decisions.”

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, re-imposing US economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran responded by breaching many of the nuclear restrictions.

How much any political decisions will accelerate the talks remains to be seen. Russia’s top envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, who is often the most optimistic delegate, tweeted: “My instinct tells me that agreement will be reached soon after mid February.”

A French presidential official told reporters the main sticking points included the guarantees Iran is seeking to ensure there is no second US withdrawal from the deal.

“The negotiation today remains difficult because the question of guarantees and the modalities to put Iran’s nuclear program back under control need to be clarified, but there are a few indications that the negotiation can conclude (positively),” the official said.


Going ballistic in Vienna – opinion

That the first JCPOA was a total failure, thanks to Iranian violations and loophole-manipulations, did not put a dent in Team Biden’s resolve to resuscitate it. This isn’t surprising.

 MEMBERS OF the JCPOA Joint Commission convene in Vienna last month. (photo credit: EU Delegation in Vienna/European External Action Service/Reuters)
MEMBERS OF the JCPOA Joint Commission convene in Vienna last month.
(photo credit: EU Delegation in Vienna/European External Action Service/Reuters)

It was clear from the outset that the nuclear talks in Vienna would turn out to be a farce. Promoted by the administration of US President Joe Biden as a means of returning to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from which former president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, the move to go back to the literal and figurative table was born of a pipe dream, at best. At worst, it stemmed from cynical disregard for the consequences of a hegemonic regime in Tehran armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The fantasy on the part of American and European liberals is that achieving a new and improved JCPOA is the safest — or only — way to prevent Iran from building atomic bombs. Western “pragmatists,” meanwhile, are concerned more about trade with the Islamic Republic than matters of war and peace.

The far-left apologists for a Russia-China-Iran axis possess a mixture of the above, but with a heavier ideological bent. Members of this camp, which includes radical Islamists, have an inverted view of good and evil. They see the West in general, particularly the United States, as an embodiment of the latter.

But all share a desire for a deal to be forged with the mullah-led government of Ebrahim (“the butcher”) Raisi, along the lines of the one signed between the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, Britain, the US and Germany) and his “moderate” predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.

That the first JCPOA was a total failure, thanks to Iranian violations and loophole-manipulations, did not put a dent in Team Biden’s resolve to resuscitate it. This isn’t surprising.

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia, the following day, about the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. He first said it was too early to know ‘why’ the gunman ‘was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.’  (credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)US PRESIDENT Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia, the following day, about the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. He first said it was too early to know ‘why’ the gunman ‘was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.’ (credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)

The current White House, after all, contains many of the same people responsible for concocting the agreement in the first place. And had the deal been merely pointless — since no contract with or among radical Islamists is ever worth the paper on which it’s written — the years wasted on forcing its fruition could have been considered a pathetic exercise in futility.

Unfortunately, however, even if Iran had honored its commitments, the JCPOA provided the regime with cherished time and space to continue pursuing its nuclear agenda without the financial constraints of sanctions. It also enabled Tehran to charge full speed ahead with advanced drone and ballistic-missile development.

Two years after Trump withdrew from the deal, his administration adopted a “maximum pressure” policy that involved imposing a slew of additional sanctions on Iran in the remaining 10 weeks before Biden’s inauguration. According to an Axios report, the plan, coordinated with Israel and some Gulf states, was not aimed at the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, as the assumption was that when Biden took the helm, he would cancel such sanctions in the framework of negotiations over a resumption of the JCPOA. Instead, it was directed at Iran’s ballistic-missile development, human-rights abuses at home and terrorism-funding abroad.

One figure instrumental in the above was Elliott Abrams, whom Trump appointed in September 2020 to replace Brian Hook as US Special Representative for Iran. The person picked by the Biden administration to fill that position couldn’t have constituted a starker contrast or a better fit for the State Department, headed by Secretary of American Appeasement Antony Blinken.

A “conflict resolution” expert and advocate of engagement with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, Robert Malley — head of the Middle East desk of former president Barack Obama’s National Security Council — was a key negotiator of the JCPOA. Among the leftist groups and individuals who championed his decision to accept the post were Code Pink, J Street and prominent Israel-basher Peter Beinart.

Perhaps they weren’t so happy to read reports that Malley told Blinken that he wanted to put together a team with a “broad diversity of viewpoints on how best to renegotiate the Iran deal.” If so, they needn’t have worried, since only those determined to concede to Tehran’s bullying appear now to be remaining on board.

As The Wall Street Journal revealed on Monday, Malley’s second-in-command, Richard Nephew, has quit the team over what he considers to be its weak stance toward Iran in the Vienna talks. Though another throwback to the Obama administration, where he served as principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department, even Nephew is unable to stomach the current level of capitulation.

Nor is he alone in this respect. According to the WSJ report, another member of Malley’s team has also left, and for apparently the same reason. So much for the charade of “viewpoint diversity.”

Indeed, Biden has no intention of pulling out of the process, regardless of the stunts pulled by Tehran. These include brazenly denying International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to crucial nuclear facilities, and boasting about achieving 60% uranium enrichment.

As if this weren’t sufficient cause for Washington to put a stop to the unrequited courtship, Tehran still refuses to permit the US delegation to enter the venue at the Hotel Palais Coburg where the talks are conducted. Malley’s guys, then, are forced to convey messages through intermediaries in another room.

IT’S NOT a novel ploy. Humiliating America has been integral to Iran’s dealings with Democratic administrations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and ushered in the reign of the ayatollahs.

Imagine the disdain of the honchos in Tehran listening to Blinken last week fumble his way through a response to the mockery being made of his country.

“My own assessment, talking to all of our colleagues, is that returning to mutual compliance [with Iran] remains possible,” he said on January 20 at a press conference in Berlin. “There is real urgency, and it’s really now a matter of weeks whe[n] we determine whether or not we can return to mutual compliance with the agreement.”

Seriously? A “return to mutual compliance?” Does Blinken actually believe that Iran ever fulfilled its already meager obligations?

Despite the stupidity regularly exhibited by him and his boss, the real explanation for their behavior is far more dangerous than delusion. Any acknowledgment that Iran cannot be stopped through diplomacy would require serious action — something that they’re not willing to take, not even the kind that Nephew, author of the 2017 book The Art of Sanctions, was pushing for, to no avail.

Alluding to a potential military operation by repeating some version of the mantra that “all options are on the table” is a way of pretending to mean business. Iran certainly doesn’t buy such “tough talk” from the likes of Biden.

On the contrary, Raisi realizes that the more his regime spits in Washington’s face, the better his chances are of getting what he wants. This isn’t only because of his Islamist ideology; it’s a function of observation.

For one thing, he sees the US team infighting, with its weak side winning the battle. For another, watching America genuflect rather than call the shots is enough for him to conclude that Iran is on a sure path to sanctions-relief and nuclear warheads. From Tehran’s point of view, the Vienna gatherings are proving to be a great success.