State sponsor of terror Iran and communist China began holding a joint military exercise in the Persian Gulf this week, where provocative clashes between the U.S. Navy and ships from the Islamic Republic have escalated in recent years.
Soon after taking office, President Donald Trump slapped sanctions against individuals and corporate entities in both countries for assisting Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
In November 2016, the Islamic Republic announced that it had signed a military cooperation agreement with China, vowing to hold drills and “create a collective movement to confront” the threat of terrorism.
The U.S. Navy has experienced provocative interactions with both countries.
However, more dangerous confrontations have arisen between Iranian ships and the U.S. Navy in recent years.
In August 2016, Fox News reported that provocative clashes between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf have nearly doubled in the first half of 2016 to nineteen from ten during the same period the previous year.
Citing the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Reuters now reports that Iran and China began a joint naval drill in the Persian Gulf on Sunday.
“The military drill comes at a time of heightened tension between the Iranian and U.S. military in the Gulf and is likely to be a cause of concern for Washington,” it acknowledges, adding:
An Iranian destroyer and two Chinese destroyers are among the vessels that will participate in the exercise, which will take place in the eastern portion of the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman, according to IRNA. Some 700 Iranian navy personnel will be participating in the drill.
President Trump has taken a more confrontational approach to Iran than his predecessor.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has deemed Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
Meanwhile, the president has signaled a new approach towards China, willing to cooperate with the country when possible.
In May, Trump’s Treasury Department designated Chinese national Ruan Runling for sanctions, arguing that he “provided, or attempted to provide, financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of Iran’s Shiraz Electronics Industries.”
Shiraz supplies the Iranian military with missile guidance technology.
To the dismay of the United States, Iran announced at the start of the Trump administration it was conducting military drills involving ballistic missile tests.
At a time of heightened tensions with the United States in February, Shiite Iran carried drills involving short-range missiles.
Iran Says Its First Known Ballistic Missile Strike in Syria Sends Message to USA
(CNSNews.com) – Iranian lawmakers say the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ unprecedented firing of missiles at terrorist targets inside Syria sends a message not just to terrorists but also signals Iran’s dismissal of recent initiatives in the U.S. Congress targeting their country.
The IRGC announced earlier it had fired six missiles from Iranian soil, targeting ISIS positions in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria. If the reports are true, the projectiles would have flown from western Iran clear across northern Iraq, a distance of at least 400 miles.
The IRGC said Sunday night’s action was in retaliation for an ISIS-claimed suicide bombing and shooting attack in Tehran this month that cost the lives of 17 civilians. At the time of the attack, the IRGC vowed publicly to “take revenge on terrorists, their affiliates and their supporters.”
“A large number of Takfiri terrorists have been killed and their equipment, systems and weapons have been destroyed,” the IRGC claimed, using an epithet Shi’ites sometimes use for Sunni extremists.
The Tehran Times described the strikes as Iran’s “first direct military move in the region” since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
In fact IRGC forces as well as Iran’s Shi’ite proxies such as Hezbollah have been fighting for years alongside the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. But Iran is not known before now to have used ballistic missiles against a foreign target since the costly war with Iraq, when both sides deployed missiles of various types.
The Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission said in a statement Monday the missile strike marked the beginning of a “new and major” stage in Tehran’s war against terrorists who, it said, benefit from the backing of the U.S. and its regional allies.
(The regime in Tehran dismisses as fraudulent the efforts of the U.S.-led multinational coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described the terrorist group as a creation of the West and its allies.)
“In addition to delivering a shattering blow to Daesh [ISIS] and other notorious groups on the Syrian soil, the missile attack gave the sponsors of terrorists a warning that any plot against Iran will not only be decisively smashed inside the country, but also receive a response at places hundreds of kilometers away from the Iranian territories,” it said.
The statement added that the IRGC’s missile strike also delivered a message to the U.S. Congress: Iran pays no attention to its hostile bills.
Legislation overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. Senate last Thursday targets both Iran’s ballistic missile programs and the IRGC.
Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities – a threat not addressed during the nuclear deal negotiations – are prompting grave concerns in the West.
On Tuesday, the exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) plans a press conference in Washington to reveal new information on the regime’s rapidly-advancing missile program, including the locations of a dozen hitherto-unknown missile facilities.
According to the IRGC, the missiles fired on Sunday included the Zolfaqar, a new surface-to-surface missile which Iran has claimed can destroy targets around 450 miles away “with a zero margin of error.”
The Zolfaqar is the weapon which the IRGC unveiled at a military parade last fall, on a truck draped with a banner threatening to turn the Israeli population centers of Tel Aviv and Haifa “to dust.” Tel Aviv lies roughly 650 miles from the nearest Iranian territory.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Monday that Iran’s missile capabilities are designed to protect Iranian citizens “in lawful self-defense & advances common global fight to eradicate ISIS & extremist terror.”
The foreign ministry said the missile strike had been coordinated in advance with the Syrian government. It did not say whether Iraq’s consent was sought or granted.
Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi told the ISNA news agency that the strike was a warning to those who do not “realize the realities in the region and their limits.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who advises Khamenei on foreign affairs, said in a social media posting that the missile attack has sent the message that “the world’s most independent country will respond decisively to ill-wishers, terrorists and its enemies wherever they are.”
Senior military commanders also lined up to tout the firing as a major achievement and a message to Iran’s foes.
The Tasnim state news agency quoted IRGC spokesman Gen. Ramezan Sharif as saying Sunday’s strike was “only a tiny example of Iran’s punitive power over the terrorists and enemies.”
“Regional and international sponsors of terrorists” should be warned, he added.
Armed Forces chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri told a gathering in Tehran that Iran is now one of the world’s biggest missile powers, “thanks to the blood of martyrs and efforts made by domestic scientists.”
The Iranian Army’s Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan called the strike a “crushing response and a warning” to those seeking to ignite tensions in the region, with their troublemaking and ignorant ambitions.
Krauthammer: Iran Aims to Fill the ISIS Vacuum in Syria
(CNSNews.com) – Fox News political analyst Charles Krauthammer says that within a year, ISIS will be defeated in both Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqah (Syria), and the “maneuvering” to fill the ISIS vacuum in Syria has already begun:
“So what’s going on right now in Syria is the maneuvering. The Iranians want to inherit the territory that is going to be lost by ISIS,” Krauthammer told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Monday night.
“And they showed that by launching rockets today over Iraq into Syria, ostensibly at ISIS…but really a really “a demonstration to Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Arabs, and everybody in the region, of their reach.” (As CNSNews.com reported, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced it fired six missiles from Iranian soil Sunday night, targeting ISIS positions in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.)
Krauthammer said Iran’s objective “is to have, inherit the territory of ISIS, which gives them control of the entire northern part of the Middle East, from Iran, through Iraq, through Syria, to the Mediterranean. The Persians have not had that in 2,000 years, and it is within their grasp.”
Krauthammer noted that the Russians, the Iranians and Syria’s Assad regime are “all on one side.”
“And the maneuver is to make sure that they get the territory that ISIS loses. Our interest is to make sure that that doesn’t happen. That’s why we attacked the forces of Assad, who are hitting our allies on the ground, who are the Kurds, and there are these Syrian rebels, who together with the Kurds, are closing in on Raqqah. “
A U.S. fighter plane on Sunday shot down a Syrian jet after it dropped bombs near U.S.-backed rebels near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
“You were asking earlier, what is our objective in the region,” Krauthammer told Carlson. “It is simple. We don’t want to see Assad have a puppet regime which will be run by Iran and Russia, in control of all of Syria. We don’t want them to inherit the ISIS territory. We would like to see that held by pro-Western, pro-Saudi, Sunni forces.
And that would be — one settlement would be that you get a rump regime in Damascus running the west side of Syria, essentially, whereas the middle of Syria is controlled by the rebels. That is a far … more advantageous strategic ending to all of this. This I think it’s pretty high level chess,” Krauthammer said.
Tucker Carlson jumped in: “So the two sides will co-occupy the country and not continue a civil war? Why wouldn’t they be at war with each other perpetually forever?” he asked Krauthammer.
“They might be,” Krauthammer said, “except if Assad and the Russians decide the war is not winnable.”
Krauthammer noted that Assad is an Alawite, a minority sect that is “very much hated in the area.”
“For it to control all of Syria perpetually is perpetual war — it’s not in the Russian interest. The Russians might accept a settlement in which there is a de facto division of the country into ethnic enclaves which would probably be, for the Syrian people and for us, the best outcome.”
Dunford: U.S. State Department Leading the Effort to Install ‘Local Governance’ in Raqqah
(CNSNews.com) – Who’s going to control the Syrian city of Raqqah when U.S.-backed forces finally expel ISIS?
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. State Department is working on it:
First of all, we’re — we’re supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in seizing Raqqah. That’s a force of about 50,000, of which about 20,000 to 25,000 are Arab, and the balance are Kurdish.
Even as we support their efforts to seize Raqqah, there’s an ongoing effort, led by the State Department, to put together a — a governance body, so that as soon as Raqqah is seized, there is effective local governance.
That governance will local — will leverage Arab leaders who are from Raqqah. And we’ll also work on establishing a security force made up of local personnel, so that there is stabilization efforts that’ll follow the seizure of Raqqah.
The U.S. military is helping the Iraqis and the Syrian Democratic Forces destroy the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate that once stretched from Mosul in Iraq to Raqqah in Syria.
Watch video here
The operation to liberate Mosul is nearing an end, but efforts to liberate Raqqa are just beginning.
At a June 14 press briefing, Major General Joseph Martin, the commanding general of all coalition ground forces in Iraq, told reporters that Iraqi troops have liberated hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mosul, “and life is returning to normal in portions of the city.”
“I recently walked the streets of East and West Mosul, and I saw for myself that markets and their businesses are reopening. Civilians are moving around the city and living their lives,” Martin said.
But he said victory in Mosul “is not the end” of the fight to crush ISIS in Iraq.
Once the few remaining ISIS strongholds in Old Mosul are liberated, the campaign to eradicate ISIS in Iraq will continue, Martin said:
“It’s tough to tell exactly where we’ll go next, but if you look at — there’s other areas in Iraq, urban areas, that have yet to be liberated. And so lots of work to do. The city of Tal Afar comes to mind; the city of Hawijah.
“And then when you move down to the Euphrates River valley, you get cities — smaller cities but still cities nevertheless of Rihana, Rawah, Al-Qaim and Husaiba along the border of Iraq and Syria. And so those areas will have to be cleared,” Martin said.
“Where the Iraqis go will be their choice. And of course, we’ll wait for that choice. I can’t speculate as to what their next objective will be. But it will probably be another urban environment, continuing to set conditions for defeating Daesh across Iraq. And we’ll be there right beside their side, providing them joint and coalition fires each and every day, and our advisorship as well.”
Two weeks ago, at a June 8 news conference, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that Syrian Democratic Forces began their offensive to defeat ISIS in Raqqah on June 6.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, said there are an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters in Raqqah.
“Our goal is to defeat them, obviously, in Raqqah,” Dillon said. “And to not allow them sanctuary not just in Raqqah, but throughout the rest of Iraq and Syria, so that we do not have to — so they cannot finance; they do not have the ability to conduct battlefield operations; they don’t have the ability to finance, to recruit, and to plan other external attacks.”
Inherent Resolve Ground Forces Commander Briefs Reporters