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Iran and the Taliban: A tactical alliance?

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Iran and the Taliban A tactical alliance

However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran has had covert contacts with the Taliban, the most dangerous terror group in Afghanistan, for many years. But recently, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), went public with the relationship, claiming that contacts had been made with the aim of “curbing the security problems in Afghanistan.”

The announcement came as a surprise not because the public was unaware of Iran’s secret relations with the Taliban, but because Tehran has always tried to keep its ties to terror groups an “open secret” in an attempt to maintain plausible deniability. Why did Tehran decide to go public about the Taliban connection now?

A review of the relationship’s history may help to explain the mullahs’ thinking. Relations between Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. During the period of Taliban rule, Iran saw the group as a threat to its interests. The two sides almost came to a direct clash in September 1998, when Taliban forces kidnapped and killed nine Iranian diplomats and one journalist in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) vowed revenge and prepared to launch an all-out attack. But the crisis ended without a major clash, perhaps due to the fear that Islamabad would retaliate in support of the Taliban or that Afghanistan might become a quagmire for Iranian forces similar to that experienced by the Soviet Union in 1979-89.

The 2001 US-led military operation that led to the collapse of Taliban rule prompted the Iranian leadership to reconsider its original calculation and recalibrate its approach. It welcomed high-level Taliban figures who escaped to Iran (e.g., Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Naim Barich) and began extending support to Taliban fighters.

While the two sides are on different ends of the religious spectrum, Tehran views the Taliban as a useful point of leverage against the US. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO force composed of American, British, Canadian, and other troops, was created by the UN in 2002 and tasked with training the fledgling Afghan army and protecting the government of Hamid Karzai and his successor, Ashraf Ghani. The Iranian regime viewed the ISAF with concern, as it feared the US might use Afghanistan as a base from which to launch a kinetic attack on Iran. The Taliban insurgency thus became viewed by Tehran as a tool with which to keep American forces preoccupied.

To assist in the Taliban’s fighting of the ISAF, Iran allowed the Afghan terror group to open an office in Tehran and invited its leaders to attend a two-day International Islamic Unity Conference held by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Tehran.

Iran’s support for the Taliban did not terminate even when President Barack Obama assured the mullahs that the military option was no longer official US policy towards Iran. Intelligence reports indicate that Tehran’s military and financial support for the Taliban has in fact escalated ever since. Afghan military officials have accused the Revolutionary Guards of providing military, financial, and logistical support to the terror group, to the extent that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to capture districts in western Afghanistan, including the provinces of Farah and Ghor, and the Taywara district. There are also reports indicating that Quds Force operatives had a “physical presence” in Ghor assisting Taliban fighters in their offensive against the central government.

Fighting ISAF was only one of the goals of the Quds Force in Afghanistan. Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran has been a profitable business for the Quds Force, which is known for its extensive ties to drug cartels in South America. In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (DOT) designated Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Baghbani, the chief of the Quds Force in the Zahedan office, a narcotics trafficker. The DOT document noted that in return for Iranian business, Afghan traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban.

Financial incentives aside, the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan – especially in provinces that border Iran, such as Herat, Farah, and Nimruz – rattled the Iranian regime, prompting the leadership to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. Unlike al Qaeda and the more malleable Taliban, the radical anti-Shiite ISIS poses a real threat to Iran’s interests in Afghanistan. Providing better training for the Taliban was thus not only a way to undermine the American-led ISAF, but a barrier to a new ISIS caliphate across the Afghan border.

Various reports indicate that the IRGC created a training camp in South Khorasan province (Khorasan Jonobi) to train Taliban fighters, providing them with weapons and explosives. The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (Komite Emdad Imam Khomeini) in the same province is said to be donating untold amounts of capital to the terror group in addition to calling for volunteers to fight alongside Taliban forces.

Some observers have directly linked improvements in the Taliban’s performance, and ISIS’s consequent inability to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan, to Iranian support. Since mid-2017, Taliban and ISIS forces have regularly clashed in eastern Nangarhar province, with the Taliban easily defeating ISIS thanks to the military support it has received from the Quds Force. As one commentator put it, the “scale, quality, and length of training is unprecedented and marks not only a shift in the proxy war between the United States and Iran in Afghanistan but also a potential change in Iran’s ability and will to affect the outcome of the Afghan war.”

Other commentators have noted that Iran’s backing of the Taliban’s assaults on government forces were linked to water issues. Iran has been attempting to enable the Taliban to derail energy projects that are currently under construction, namely the Poze Lich Hydropower plant in Ghor, and the Bakhshabad and Salma dams in the neighboring province of Farah and Herat, respectively. The construction of these dams, which would massively boost local energy and water supplies, is not acceptable to Iran. On July 5, 2017, President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran “cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which will damage our environment.” According to Rouhani, “construction of several dams in Afghanistan would affect Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces,” and Tehran “is not going to stand idly by.”

It is worthy of note that the publicizing by Iran of its ties to the Taliban came days after reports appeared on talks between the US and the Taliban over proposals for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. Iran is sending a message to Washington and Kabul that if its concerns are not addressed, it can sabotage any attempt at a permanent peace in Afghanistan. Certainly, given Iran’s ties to the Taliban and the new regional arrangements (i.e., Trump’s decision to withdraw half of US forces from Afghanistan), Iran will be able to further expand its political, economic, and sectarian influence in that country.

Dr. Farhad Rezaei is a member of the  Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in Washington, DC and the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: The Politics of Counter-Proliferation Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, NY). @Farhadrezaeii


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The realities of the two-state solution

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The realities of the two-state solution

The belief that a two-state solution is possible and that it is the solution most likely to bring peace is discussed by observers outside of Israel as an almost foregone conclusion. This outsider view too often wholly ignores the unfortunate realities on the ground in Israel. If either side has ever truly considered the possibility of a two-state agreement, it has been in terms of how it will further either side’s overall goals.

And so, as in most discussions related to deeply held beliefs or viewpoints that affect a significant pivot point in history, we must understand perspective before a real solution, or recognition that there may be no immediate solution, can be found.

First, I would like to state that I find it troubling and seriously disconcerting that so often discussions related to propositions for Middle Eastern peace revolve almost exclusively around the actions and policies of Israel, while little to no discussion occurs in regards to the activities and policies of Palestinian organizations and their supporters across the Islamic world. This is especially troubling considering the majority of actions engaged by Israel and its allies, throughout its short but tumultuous history, have been enacted in response to efforts by their enemies and detractors. To understand why Israel has done and continues to do what it’s doing is to understand the motivations of those that Israel sees as enemies to their very existence.

Why do I say very existence? Major Islamic powers, both within Israel and without, have stated unequivocally that their primary reason for organization is to destroy Israel wholly. These are not charters stating a goal of resisting, impeding, or leveraging for a future two-state arrangement. These are specific statements of intention for total annihilation. Iran has called for the destruction of Israel ever since their revolution in 1979, and many experts believe it is for this purpose they have pursued nuclear capabilities. Hamas, the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood currently in political control of the Gaza Strip within Israel, has maintained the Hamas Charter calling for the destruction of Israel for over thirty years. And this is all occurring in a region that has a historical consistency of armed and political opposition to the very existence of Israel, dating back to 1948 when every major Islamic country that bordered Israel declared war upon its creation as a country.

Indeed, Israel’s tactics can easily be seen as harsh. Indeed, their continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza can be seen as colonial supremacy and even a false sense of cultural superiority. It is true that many Israelis honestly hope for the failure of the two-state solution process. But when it is understood that the two-state option is honestly not viewed by either the Israelis or the Palestinians as a final solution, the whole perspective changes. Israelis often see the two-state option as an appeasement to terrorists and the concession of a base of operations for continued militant attacks against them, and they have only entertained its proposal as an option in hopes of gaining concessions that would stymie outside influence amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinians and their allies often view the two-state solution as a victory in splintering the autonomy of an avowed enemy and the creation of leverage for continued disintegration of what they see as an illegitimate state on lands they continue to view as their own.

I do not pretend to know the answer to the question that so many of the world’s foremost leaders have failed to answer: the question of finding peace in the Middle East. But I think it only takes a little common sense to see that current propositions for a two-state solution choose to ignore the factors demonstrating its failings out of a desperate and foolish belief that any agreement is a good agreement.

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General Jack Keans on Trump’s plan to send more troops to Middle East

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General Jack Keans on Trumps plan to send more troops to Middle East

As the Pentagon sends 1000 more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran’s latest round of aggressions, many Democrats and media talking heads are attacking the whole mess. They’re blaming the President for antagonizing the Iranians, first by pulling out of the nuclear deal and then by imposing harsh sanctions on them. But as General Jack Keans told Shannon Bream on Fox News last night, the Iranians have been the ones antagonizing the whole time.

Where did all the money go that the Obama administration sent them? Over $100 billion is apparently gone as the people continue to struggle to survive, yet nothing seems to have come from the generous gift.

If the sanctions were really the problem, why won’t Iran stop engaging in proxy wars, funding terrorism, and continuing their development of nuclear weapons? They were testing ballistic missiles even before the sanctions. They were engaged in Yemen before the sanctions. And yes, they never stopped funding terrorism. If they would stop these things, the sanctions could be lifted, but Iran refuses.

Keans is correct in asserting the President has made the right moves. The only question that remains is whether or not Iran will comply or if they’ll continue down the road to war.

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An open letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

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An open letter to Sen Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

Dear Senator Graham,

It is being reported in the news that you are planning to introduce a nonbinding resolution in the Senate, together with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calling on President Trump to support a “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If true, it would be a tragic error.

As a longtime supporter of Israel, I am sure that you’re aware that the GOP removed the two-state solution from its platform in 2016. I’m sure that you also know that the president’s Middle East team has been discussing Israel’s right to retain parts of Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank). By supporting the two-state solution at this time, you are not only going against the growing sentiment in your party that opposes a Palestinian (Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) state and the danger it would be to Israel’s survival, but you are also taking a stand against the obvious democratic wishes of the Israeli people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently made it clear that he no longer supports such a path to resolving the conflict by announcing his intention to annex the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank).

In a recent interview with the McClatchy news service, you were quoted as saying “I don’t want to get in the way of Jared,” referring to Deal of the Century architect Jared Kushner, “but I can’t envision a one-state solution. It won’t work. I mean, you’d have to disenfranchise the Palestinians. That won’t work. If you let them vote as one state, they’ll overwhelm the Israelis. That won’t work. So, if you want to have a democratic, secure Jewish state, I think you have to have two states to make that work.”

Sen. Graham, with all due respect, you are echoing the common wisdom that has prevailed for the past forty years, but the facts on the ground have changed. Recent polling shows that Israelis understand the new reality, but the world is lagging beyond, with the very noticeable exception being the growing number of realists in the GOP. President Trump, as well, has expressed a remarkable willingness to explore “new ideas”, since the “land for peace” formula clearly hasn’t worked. This was proven by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which simply gave Iranian-backed Hamas the land from which they are now firing rockets at Israeli cities. Doing the same in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem (which is the primary Palestinian demand) would be suicidal for Israel.

However, you have mentioned that a Palestinian state must be created, because of the demographic danger; that without creating a separate Palestinian state, Israel would be “overwhelmed” by the Palestinian vote. This presumes that in a one-state solution, all the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria would be given automatic citizenship. Yes, you and I seem to agree, granting such instant citizenship would be the definition of foolishness. No self-preserving country in its right mind would grant citizenship (and the right to vote in national elections) without a lengthy process of vetting such non-citizens, as is done in the United States and most free countries.

In my peace plan, which is pointedly called Peace for Peace (as opposed to the failed land for peace formula), I call for Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, alongside a path to loyal citizenship for the non-citizens, mostly Arabs (or Palestinians, if you prefer), now residing in the areas that Israel recaptured in the defensive Six Day War of 1967. Such a process would include a three-year comprehensive good citizenship course, followed by two-three years of national service, culminating with an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel.

Many non-citizens in Judea and Samaria, many of whom I know personally, would seize at the opportunity to become loyal Israeli citizens. Many others would refuse, thereby minimizing the demographic danger to Israel, but the truth be told, noted demographers such as Yoram Ettinger have shown that the Jewish birth rates in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem have been sky-rocketing for the past two decades, way beyond that of the Arabs. Israel is undergoing a social renaissance, in which the traditional family is having a resurgence and having large Jewish families is fashionable once again. Therefore, when we examine the current reality, we see that the demographic threat is greatly exaggerated by those who cling to the land for peace agenda.

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned Israel’s historical rights to these areas, which I have documented extensively in my most recent book, “Trump and the Jews”, but you haven’t disputed those rights. I also haven’t mentioned that we can’t make peace with a Palestinian Authority that for years has been giving salary payments to each and every terrorist that has killed or wounded an Israeli. This includes the three Fatah terrorists who shot and wounded me and my then three-year-old son in December of 2001 and their salaries continue to this day.

Given the new, pragmatic approach of President Trump, I am strongly urging you to rethink the dual mantras of land for peace and the two-state solution. As Donald would say, it’s time for new ideas.

Bio: David Rubin, former Mayor of Shiloh Israel, is the author of the new book, “Trump and the Jews”. Rubin is the founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, established after he and his then three-year-old son were wounded in a terror attack. He can be found at www.DavidRubinIsrael.com or at www.ShilohIsraelChildren.org.

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