- Russia builds up military presence in Syria amid reports of a second trip to Moscow by IRGC's Suleimani
Russia is actively increasing its military presence in Syria in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime amid reports of a second trip by IRGC general Qassem Suleimani to Moscow. Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, was quoted as saying, “We have seen movement of people and things that would suggest the air base south of Latakia [a city on the Mediterranean coast] could be used as a forward air operating base.” The New York Times reported that the Russian military has delivered six T-90 tanks, 15 howitzers, 35 armored personnel carriers, 200 marines, and prefabricated housing for up to 1,500 people, with more to come. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated, “We provide and will continue to provide military assistance [to the Assad regime]. We call on other countries to join with us.” Captain Davis said, “We welcome Russia participating in the global anti-ISIL efforts, but to do that via the Assad regime is unhelpful and potentially destabilizing.” Reports have also surfaced indicating that Russian personnel and equipment arrived in Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city, from Latakia on Monday.
Stephen J. Blank, an expert on the Russian military, told the Times, “This is the most important Russian power projection in the region in decades.” Writing in Haaretz, journalist Anshel Pfeffer described the division in labor among pro-Assad forces in Syria: Russians are securing the Mediterranean coast, Hezbollah the Beirut-Damascus highway and Syria-Lebanon border, and Iran is focused on protecting Damascus. Amos Harel, Haaretz's military and defense analyst, emphasized that increased cooperation between Russia and Iran, as indicated by Suleimani’s reported visits to Moscow, will have the effect of giving Assad a better chance to survive. The Russian presence, Harel wrote, will force Israel to reconsider its regional strategy as it could constrain Israeli efforts to prevent the transfer of more advanced weapons systems from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Tuesday that Suleimani, a U.S.-designated terrorist, had visited Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria. Last month, Western intelligence sources said that Suleimani had visited Russia to meet with President Putin and the Russian Defense Minister. This was in violation of a travel ban on Suleimani as well as UN Security Council resolutions that prevent him from leaving Iranian soil.
A prominent Iranian dissident has exposed the extensive commercial and political links between National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and a number of key figures in the Iranian regime, including current President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Writing in the Daily Beast under the pseudonym “Alex Shirazi,” the dissident – who concealed his identity out of fear of reprisals against his family in Iran – chronicled NIAC’s evolution within the broader ambitions of the Namazis, a little-known but influential Iranian family that first rose to prominence under the Shah and returned to Iranian public life following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Under the 1989-97 Presidency of Hashemi Rasfanjani, who combined doctrinal orthodoxy with an eye for a smart deal, the Namazis were again in their element.
Continued American sanctions against Iran blunted the Namazis goal of bringing international business back to Iran, though the family profited from its association with Rafsanjani and his relatives. Not much changed during an ensuing decade that was dominated by the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who accelerated Iran’s uranium enrichment activities at the same time that Iranian forces were supporting Shi’a militias against U.S. troops in Iraq.
During this time, Bijan Khajehpour developed a relationship with Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator for the regime with slowly growing political influence – Rouhani’s 2013 election was a major boost for the Namazi family. Meanwhile, Bijan’s relative Siamak Namazi had already teamed up with Trita Parsi, a Swedish-Iranian academic and political activist who presently heads NIAC. Urging political dialogue and educational exchanges between the U.S. and Iran, Namazi and Parsi’s efforts culminated in the creation of NIAC in 2001. At the same time that Parsi was at NIAC’s helm, writes Shirazi, he continued to work as a paid consultant for the Namazis’ company.
Shirazi also quotes Carl Gershman, the president of the Congressionally-financed National Endowment for Democracy, as regretting a decision to fund NIAC and its Iranian partner Hamyaran, a regime-sanctioned NGO, to the tune of $200,000 between 2002 and 2006.
During the Obama Administration’s second term, NIAC has nonetheless emerged as a notable influence on Iran policy, with Parsi openly touting his connections to the regime’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif.
Despite these connections to senior figures within a regime whose slogan is “Death to America,” NIAC officials like its Research Director Reza Marashi have taunted Jewish opponents of the Iran nuclear deal with the smear of dual loyalty. After Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) came out against the deal, Marashi accused him of putting “Israel’s interests before America’s interests.”
NIAC’s targeting of its critics has also landed the lobby group in legal hot water. In March this year, NIAC was fined $200,000 by a judge who found that “in the process of suing blogger Hassan Diaoleslam, a critic of the group, [NIAC] had “‘flouted multiple court orders.” (via TheTower.org)