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Notes and Comments

Iran’s (Most Recent) Act of War, The Egypt Front, and The Pakistan Front

IRAN’S (MOST RECENT) ACT OF WAR: FDD senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht writes that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei:

probably approved a strike in Washington because he no longer fears American military might. Iran’s advancing nuclear-weapons program has undoubtedly fortified his spine, as American presidents have called it “unacceptable” yet done nothing about it. And neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama retaliated against Iran’s murderous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

The Obama administration will be tempted to respond against Iran with further unilateral and multilateral sanctions. More sanctions aren’t a bad idea—targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards and the sale of gasoline made from Iranian crude can hurt Tehran financially. But they will not scare it. The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don’t, we are asking for it.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the U.S. failed to take Secretary of State George Shultz’s wise counsel after Khomeini’s minions bombed us in Lebanon. We didn’t make terrorism a casus belli, instead treating it as a crime, only lobbing a few missiles at Afghan rock huts and a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. But we should treat it as a casus belli. The price we will pay now will surely be less than the price we will pay later.

More here.  
FDD senior fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi explains that the Quds Forces are

rogue, but no more so than the regime that directs its actions. … [T]he only question about the thwarted plot in Washington is why the regime chose to escalate matters now—not whether the regime was behind it. …

The same Qods Force allegedly involved in the Washington plot also appear to have been behind two terror attacks in Buenos Aires: one against the Israeli embassy in 1992 and one against a Jewish cultural center in 1994, which left more than a hundred people dead. …

Iranian agents couldn’t have carried out such an operation unless core members of Iran’s leadership, likely including Khamenei himself, had given them their blessing. Every member of the Pasdaran is bound by oath to the Supreme Leader. That oath is not limited to personal loyalty. Rather, it is a solemn commitment to uphold the foundational religious doctrine of the Islamic Republic, according to which the Supreme Leader is God’s shadow on earth and the final interpreter of Islamic justice. When the Qods Force carries out operations like the U.S. government reported this week, it is to fulfill its duties under that oath, not to violate it.

More here.  
FDD Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen adds that

if you are interested in identifying Iranian acts of war against the United States, there is a target-rich environment for you to mine. Iran declared war on the United States in 1979, and has waged war against us, our citizens, and especially our military – wherever they are located – ever since. …

[Iran’s rulers] do not fear us, they do not believe that Obama is capable of doing anything that would threaten their grip on power, and they viewed the operation as both a provocation and a humiliation of him and his administration. …

Iran is at war with us. We have yet to respond. Our best response is to support democratic revolution in Iran and bring down this murderous regime. The longer we dither, the more ambitious they will become, until one day some president, perhaps even this one, fearful of going down in history as a monumental coward, will take the military option from that tabletop and unleash it, thereby demonstrating the utter failure of decades of American non-policy.

More here.  
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin quotes FDD’s Jon Schanzer on

a number of things that the plot confirms:

1. Chairman Mike Rogers [of the House Select Committee on Intelligence] notes that this plot was approved at the highest levels of the regime. This underscores how dangerous this regime is, and how much more dangerous it will be if it gets nuclear weapons.

2. We know that the plot was executed by the Qods Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This makes it impossible to deny the close relationship between the IRGC and Iran’s most powerful leaders. The IRGC is a terrorist group controlled completely by Iran’s leaders.

3. While some analysts say that Iran only sponsors regional “resistance” groups, it is clear that it is still in the terrorism game. Thus, the attacks in Argentina of the 1990s are not ancient history. They are examples of what Iran is still capable of doing if their plans are not disrupted.

Finally, I would argue that this is a defining moment for the Obama presidency. How he responds to this attempted assault on US soil will say much about his ability to handle the challenge of Iran for the rest of his presidency. Thus far, the response has been more sanctions. I sincerely hope to see more decisive action in the coming days.

More here.  
FDD Executive Editor Mark Dubowitz proposes:

The U.S., Canada and the European Union must accelerate the pace of designations of Iranian officials involved in human rights abuses, including religious repression. They should impose lifetime travel bans on these Iranian officials instead of the temporary bans that they too often lift when officials travel on government business.

Assets of sanctioned human rights abusers should be immediately seized. Iranian officials travel regularly to Europe and Canada, and are thought to have billions of dollars in assets in European and Canadian banks. Canada is reportedly a favorite destination for Iranian officials’ money, as its bank secrecy laws enable them to prevent authorities from tracing and seizing their assets.

The United States and its allies also should see to it that any Iranian official sanctioned for human rights abuses receives more attention than a single press release. Senior government officials should announce human rights sanctions at high-profile press conferences and release photos of the abusers along with details of their crimes. This may help increase the “name and shame” value of these penalties.

More here.  
In my column, I add:

Short term, Iran must be made to pay a price. The sanctions implemented so far have been only a shot across the bow. There is much more that can be done to isolate Iran economically and diplomatically. In addition, the millions of Iranians who oppose the theocratic regime should be supported and empowered. And there are other measures, more painful, that can be taken. We need to make clear that they are very much on the table.

Longer term, we need to finally recognize that Iran and other self-proclaimed jihadi regimes and groups are waging a war — a real war, not a metaphoric war. In response, America’s economic policies must become national-security policies. As Bernie Marcus, the entrepreneur who founded Home Depot recently said: “If the country is not strong economically, we can’t be strong period.”

Energy policy also must become national-security policy. Right now, 97 percent of all transportation systems in the United States can run only on petroleum-based products. That makes oil a strategic commodity, one whose price is manipulated by OPEC, a conspiracy in restraint of trade dominated by Iran and other regimes hostile to America.

More (with an audio link) here.  
Former National Security Agency expert John Schindler estimates that the number of American troops killed or maimed by Quds Force weapons in recent years

is at least in the many hundreds. …

For decades the U.S. government has been reluctant to address Iran’s robust state terrorism program in any detail, even when it targets Americans and close U.S. allies. While Iran often uses cutouts for its terrorism, above all Hezbollah, Tehran’s footprint has frequently been detected by U.S. intelligence. Although the Reagan administration knew of Iranian intelligence’s key role behind the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemen, it did nothing against Tehran, setting a pattern which has held to the present day. …

The Quds Force’s tight relationship with Hezbollah has been officially minimized by most Western governments, although it is an open secret that has been well understood by U.S. intelligence for decades. Hezbollah’s operations wing since its creation almost thirty years ago has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pasdaran, while its founder and head until his death in 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, arguably the most prolific terrorist of modern times, was exceptionally close to Tehran and loyally followed the orders of the regime.

The Quds Force has had dealings with many terrorist groups over the years, including Hamas, and most intriguingly with al-Qaeda. Although U.S. intelligence has been aware of some sort of Iranian relationship with al-Qaeda since 1996, mainly through Hezbollah intermediaries, this question has been considered too hot to touch by many U.S. officials, despite its obvious importance. Even the 9/11 Commission largely punted on this knotty issue, viewing only a limited amount of information during its investigation, despite the fact that the National Security Agency possessed considerable detailed reporting indicating an operational relationship between the 9/11 plotters, Hezbollah, and Iranian intelligence. … Although the commission report recommended further investigation of Iran’s ties to al-Qaeda, since the commission closed down in 2004 there has been no reexamination of the NSA files in question [3]. …

To be fair to U.S. officials and investigators, their unwillingness to think hard about the Quds Force and its dirty work abroad mirrors the unfortunate habits of most terrorism scholars, who prefer to ignore the major issue of state sponsorship and involvement in international terrorism. Few outside experts acknowledge, much less explore, the fact—well understood by counterintelligence officers—that many intelligence services conduct terrorism through proxies, and most terrorist groups have discreet ties to one or more secret services. …

[T]his week’s revelations ought to force an overdue investigation of Iran’s long-standing ties to international terrorism as well as to the broader issue of state linkages to terrorism.

More here.
David Ignatius says the one answer to the puzzle of Iran’s shoddy tradecraft is that

Iranians are stressed, at home and abroad, in ways that are leading them to engage in riskier behavior.

Officials say Quds Force operations have been more aggressive in several theaters: in Syria, where the Iranian operatives are working covertly to help protect the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad; in Iraq, where the Quds Force this year stepped up attacks against departing U.S. forces; in Afghanistan, where they have been arming the Taliban; in Azerbaijan, where they have been more aggressive in projecting Iranian influence; and in Bahrain, where their operatives worked to support and manipulate last spring’s uprising against the Khalifa government. (Shakuri, who was indicted Tuesday, is said to have helped plan Quds Force operations in Bahrain.)

But why the use of Mexican drug cartels? U.S. officials say that isn’t as implausible as it sounds. The Iranians don’t have the infrastructure to operate smoothly in the United States. They would want to use proxies, and ones that would give them “deniability.”

More here.  
Jamie Fly suggests that an appropriate response

would be targeted strikes against key regime facilities that support Iran’s illicit activities.

As President Clinton told the American people in June 1993 when he announced cruise missile strikes on Iraq after it was revealed that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had plotted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush:

From the first days of our revolution, America’s security has depended on the clarity of this message: Don’t tread on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sovereignty; to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism; to deter further violence against our people; and to affirm the expectation of civilized behavior among nations.

Or as President Reagan justified his air strikes against the regime of Moammar Qaddafi in April 1986:

We Americans are slow to anger. We always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force—and we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qadhafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong. I warned that there should be no place on Earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.

Until now, the president has chosen to be the hapless victim of Iran’s machinations. It is time for President Obama to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and stand up to tyrants who kill Americans and threaten our interests.

It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.

More here.  
Andy McCarthy notes:

Iran’s sharia state has been killing and plotting to kill Americans for more than 30 years. Critics who see that observation as war-mongering repeat the folly that gave us 9/11: When the other side is already at war with you, you cannot make the war go away by ignoring it — that only emboldens the enemy. I don’t want war with Iran. I want to win the war Iran has instigated.

It is one thing to pretend that a jihadist campaign by a sub-sovereign terror network is just a crime spree for which trial in the civilian justice system is an adequate response. Iran, however, is a state actor — not even arguably amenable to court prosecution. A state aggressor must get a political response, not a legal one. There is a range of possible political responses, of course, but given its three-decade campaign of aggression, the response to Iran must be military — and decisive. The regime must be destroyed. …

In 1996, the regime orchestrated the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 members of our Air Force. The 9/11 Commission found “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11,” including “future 9/11 hijackers”; its report adds that senior Hezbollah commanders actually accompanied these future hijackers on some of these transit flights — although our government has studiously resisted probing whether Iran was directly complicit in the slaughter of almost 3,000 Americans or whether this was just, as the commission put it, “a remarkable coincidence.” What is certain, though, is that the regime gave al-Qaeda operatives safe haven when our armed forces were unleashed to attack their Afghan sanctuary in late 2001. As our generals have repeatedly acknowledged, Iran supplies and directs terror cells in Afghanistan and Iraq that target American.…

Iran is at war with us, and the longer we ignore it the more difficult it will become to do what needs doing. Millions of Iranians are already struggling to overthrow the tyrants, and if we’d given them the right kind of encouragement, they might have accomplished that by now. They are a proud and sophisticated people, with a rich history and their own ideas about what comes after the Khomeini nightmare. We don’t have to own Iran just because we have to break it. But we do have to break it.

More here.  
Juan Zarate proposes:

We should pursue our Iran policy on three separate tracks simultaneously. Our approach should attempt to (a) slow the Iranian nuclear clock, (b) create and exacerbate fissures within the Iranian regime and Iranian society, and (c) build other forms of leverage that could affect the regime’s decision-making and enhance our credibility with allies.

More here.  
FDD’s Ben Weinthal reports:

The European Union has thus far failed to confront the Iranian and Syrian regimes to the full extent of its ability. Though they are loath to admit it, European countries are Iran’s and Syria’s best customers, providing the EU with significant leverage. Meaningful energy sanctions could deliver a one-two punch to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s ongoing campaign to snuff out his country’s democratic reformers. ...

If the EU decided to reduce its Iranian gas imports, the measures could jolt Iran’s fragile energy market, prompting secondary pain to the cash-strapped Syrian regime that Iran is aiding. Iran’s highly vulnerable energy sector has long been considered its Achilles’ heel. The country finances its nuclear program with invaluable revenue from its energy sector. A staggering 70 percent of Iran’s governmental revenues derive from its petroleum business, which makes up 80 percent of the country’s export activities. ...

Germany continues to lend political legitimacy to Iran’s leaders. Last October, a cross-section of German parliamentarians ranging from the Greens to Merkel’s Christian Democrats visited Iran and met with Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the head of Iran’s parliamentary cultural committee, who supported Iran’s fatwa against British novelist Salman Rushdie. The delegation also chatted with then-Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who delivered a key speech at Tehran’s 2006 Holocaust denial conference, and Mohammad Javad Larijani, who heads the Iranian human rights council and famously called for Israel’s destruction at a German foreign ministry-sponsored event in Berlin in 2008. During their almost one-week stay in Iran, the German deputies uttered not a word of criticism of Iran’s nuclear and human rights violations.

The United States has deployed every measure in its power short of military force to persuade the Iranian and Syrian regimes to change their policies. For all its humanitarian sentiment, however, Europe has done nothing of the kind.

More here.  
FDD fellow Lee Smith reports:

Even as the administration has shown its evidence to U.S. lawmakers, foreign diplomats, and the press, however, a contrary theory has been building among former Western intelligence officials and policymakers as well as in various media and academic circles. It holds that the plot is too far-fetched to be true. The administration is playing wag the dog, say some. A tenured Ivy League academic hints that perhaps someone with an interest in seeing U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate is behind the plot—by which he of course means Israel.

The Iranians, this perverse notion holds, are too “smart” to get tied up in a keystone cops scenario managed by a clumsy oaf with a prison record like Arbabsiar, a dual U.S.-Iranian national. …

[T]hose still inclined to believe that the terror plot against the United States sounds fishy because the Iranians can’t be this stupid can satisfy themselves by seeing it from the perspective of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Without having to resort to their most skillful operatives, the Quds Force took a shot at proving they have both the will and wherewithal to kill an American client in the U.S. capital without risking a thing. Let the skeptics doubt Iran’s hand if they like, the Revolutionary Guard must be thinking—is it any wonder these Americans will do nothing to protect their troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan from us? ….

Why would the Iranians fear American retaliation for plotting to attack the American homeland when all the evidence shows that Washington will look the other way no matter what Tehran does? The reality is that the Islamic regime is not clever or subtle and relies on nothing but brute force to ensure its rule domestically and project power externally. After oil, gas, and pistachios, all the Islamic Republic exports is terror.

The botched culture that the Islamic Republic has imposed on Iran does not produce deep thinkers and subtle strategists, but rather a nation in which drug addiction and alcoholism are rampant. The collapse of Iran’s birth rate over the last 20 years, from 7.0 to below replacement at 1.9, is the fastest decline ever recorded. The Islamic Republic is dying. And so is the supreme leader. We are witnessing a culture in its death throes, and its leaders mean to take as many people with it as possible—especially Americans. That’s why the Quds Force is zeroing in on the U.S. homeland.

For decades, U.S. officials have ignored every sign that the Islamic regime was making war against American citizens, diplomats, soldiers, interests, and allies. There was nothing subtle or clever about the regime-led chants of “Death to America.” Tehran’s campaign against us has always been out in the open. Last week it just got closer to home.

More here.  
Matthew Levitt writes that Iran’s use of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy

goes back as far as the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Writing in 1986, the CIA assessed in a now declassified report titled “Iranian Support for International Terrorism” that while Iran’s support for terrorism was meant to further its national interest, it also stemmed from the clerical regime’s perception “that it has a religious duty to export its Islamic revolution and to wage, by whatever means, a constant struggle against the perceived oppressor states.”

More here.  
Former CIA officer Fred Fleitz notes that

President Obama and Vice President Biden have stated that “no option is off the table,” to imply that U.S. military action against Iran is a possibility. No one, especially the Iranians, believe this.

This terrorist incident is a grave violation of international protocol and deserves a robust Reagan-esque response until Iran provides the United States with a full explanation, an apology, and all those involved are held accountable. These responses should include:

Immediately expel all Iranians from Iran’s large mission to the UN in New York and all Iranian UN employees in New York. This will immediately benefit U.S. security since almost all Iranian diplomatic and UN personnel are spies.

More here.  
Additional FDD analysis, commentary and policy options are available here.  

For two decades, Carlos [the Jackal] (nee Ilich Ramerez Sanchez) was able to carry out dramatic terrorist operations because he had hidden state sponsorship for them. Consider, for example, his kidnapping of the OPEC ministers in Vienna in 1975. The operation was conceived of and backed by Saddam Hussein. Iraq provided him with the weapons, explosives, and other equipment by using its diplomatic pouch to transport them to its Embassy in Vienna, as well as the false documentation and money he needed. It also arranged his escape to Algeria with his hostages. In other operations, he was assisted by Syria, Yemen, the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Sudan. Only when he lost this state sponsorship was he extradited from Sudan to France and arrested.

State sponsorship of terrorism did not end with the Cold War. As late as April 2001, the US designated seven governments— Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan— as “state sponsors of international terrorism” and also cited Pakistani for its “support to terrorist groups and elements active in Kashmir,” as well as the Taliban, which it noted “ continues to harbor terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.” One reason that Iran headed the list was the FBI had concluded in 1999 that it used local Saudi terrorists to mask its role in killing 19 Americans with a giant truck bomb blow up the US military residences at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. …

The 911 Commission learned from documents which the CIA it only a few days before its report was due to be published that the international travels of at least 8 of the hijackers who took part in the 9-11 attack were “apparently facilitated” by Iran. These men were allowed to transit through Iran without their passports being stamped and without obtaining transit visas. If their passports had been stamped by Iran they may not have been permitted entry to the US.

More here.  
THE EGYPT FRONT: FDD’s Lee Smith concludes that recent attacks on Egypt’s ancient Christian community

are proof not only of the army’s brutality and much of the majority Muslim community’s hatred of their non-Muslim neighbors, but also of a now-mobilized minority’s courage and pride. This Coptic awakening has been several decades in the making. …

The Copts are proud of the fact that in spite of the Arab conquests and other violent encroachments on their community they did not fall like other long-forgotten and long-gone regional minorities. …

[T]he international community’s indifference hardly spares Copts the contempt and suspicion of many of their Muslim compatriots, while the country’s elite ignores Muslims’ open hatred of Christians and instead blames Israel for Egypt’s sectarian strife. (Here, the “moderate” Islamist candidate for president Abdel Moneim al-Fotouh says Zionists were behind Sunday’s events.) …

For most of the last century, the community was politically quiescent, at least until 1977 when the Coptic Pope, Shenouda, opposed President Anwar Sadat’s plan to incorporate more aspects of sharia into the Egyptian constitution in order to placate his growing Islamist problem. …

So where do the Copts go from here? Their status and that of other regional Christian communities suggests that the Muslim fundamentalists had it right—first the Saturday people will go and then the Sunday people. …

There are no mountains for the Copts to hide among, like the Kurds, Druze, Maronites, and Alawites, nor are there sufficiently large enough concentrations of Copts to make the sort of lasting self-defense that might turn into self-determination plausible. To be sure, as we saw on Sunday, the Copts will fight, but as we also witnessed, they won’t win.

More here.  
Does building a church in Egypt “emasculate” Muslims? Andrew Bostom discusses here.  
Bret Stephens reports:

In the wake of Sunday’s clashes in Cairo that left 24 dead and some 200 wounded, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf wasted no time hinting at the culprit. “What’s happening is not sectarian tension,” he said. “There are hidden hands involved and we will not leave them.”

Translation from the Absurdic: It’s a Zio-American plot. If only that were true.

What is true is that Egypt is in the early stages of Thomas Hobbes’s bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all. Gone is Mr. Sharaf’s narrative, a popular staple when Hosni Mubarak was still in power, of a united Egyptian nation undercut by the sinister meddling of outside forces. Gone as well is the Arab Spring narrative of tech-savvy, pro-democracy protesters standing tall and proud against the dinosaur Mubarak regime. Gone even is the narrative of the liberal secularists versus the Muslim Brotherhood. …

There are estimates that 100,000 Copts have fled Egypt since the February revolution; the number is probably exaggerated, but the trend line is clear.

“Will the Middle East be emptied of its Christians, like the earlier pogroms emptied the Middle East of its Jews?” asks Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian Copt and research fellow at the Hudson Institute. “Iraq had 1.5 million Christians; they could be absorbed by other countries. But how will the world deal with eight million Copts?”

More here.  
PREDATORS: Victor Davis Hanson that under President Bush, drones

killed around 400 suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under President Obama, in less than three years, Predators have taken out more than 2,200. …

[T]here are lots of questions that arise from this latest American advantage. Waterboarding, which once sparked a liberal furor, is now a dead issue. How can anyone object to harshly interrogating a few known terrorists when routinely blowing apart more than 2,000 suspected ones — and anyone in their vicinity?

More here.  
UNITED AUTOCRATS: Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

China and Russia, each with veto power at the Security Council, are committed to protecting anti-democratic regimes around the globe for reasons of basic self-preservation. Just as the 22 states that comprise the Arab League look after Palestinian interests at the UN, China and Russia look after the interests of autocrats and fascists. (There is significant overlap, of course, between the Arab League and the more informally organized but still potent League of Autocrats.)

What’s most maddening about the UN is that even its democratic members sometimes crumple before the diktats of autocrats. South Africa -- home of Nelson Mandela! -- abstained on the Syria [sanctions] vote. South Africa, in fact, is becoming an expert at caving to China, its largest trading partner. On Oct.4, the Dalai Lama said that he had canceled a trip to South Africa, which he had hoped to visit to celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday, because its government “seems to find it inconvenient to issue a visa.” China’s influence was clear.

More here.  
OCCUPY WALL STREET: To protest injustice and inequality and, while they’re at it, bashing Jews. More here.  
HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR: Arthur Herman on why the Japanese did not want Obama to apologize for the way Truman ended World War II:

In a September 2009 cable prior to Obama’s official visit to Tokyo, our ambassador informs Washington that Tokyo had denied Obama’s bid to go to Hiroshima to publicly apologize for America’s dropping the atom bomb there -- in short, to turn the defeat of Japan into a matter of national humiliation for America.

The Japanese government told the ambassador this would be a “non-starter,” because the gesture would encourage domestic anti-nuclear groups and leftist groups opposed to Japan’s military cooperation with the United States.

More here.  
THE SYRIAN FRONT: What do Alawis believe?

Alawis believe all humans were once stars, that by a seven-step process of metempsychosis, a pious soul can regain his place in the Milky Way and that impious souls come back as animals. Alawis celebrate the Zoroastrian holiday Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring, and sometimes celebrate Christmas. It’s not very Islamic to drink wine. It’s very un-Islamic to read esoteric meanings into the Koran. Alawis use wine in their rituals and believe that the manifest meaning of the Koran (and the Sharia) is a veil that covers truer, deeper meanings. Traditionally, Alawis have not built mosques but have rather prayed in the family home, or out of doors. They are said to worship the sun and the moon because these are aspects of the divine; the air, because god has dispersed himself into the ether; the stars, because one’s ancestors abide there; and the fourth Caliph, Ali, because he is the patron of their sect. …

[B]ut, these days, Alawis in Syria describe their beliefs in the same terms Sunni Muslims use. They believe in a single god, that one should pray to Mecca (never to the sun), and that Christmas is for Christians. One’s ancestors, for their part, are in their graves, awaiting the day of judgment, which is where Sunni Islam believes them to be. It’s true that you hear rumors of still-extant Alawi rites now and then, but it’s hard to find anyone who takes these ceremonies seriously. …

It might seem unfair to accuse the most famous Alawi of them all, Hafez Al Assad, of killing Alawism but he is almost certainly the guilty party. More than any other bit of evidence, his motive damns him. When he assumed control of the country in 1971, he came with visions of a Baathist utopia shining in his eyes. He needed three and a half million ultra-loyal, ultra-motivated helpers to persuade the Sunnis (74 percent) and the Christians (10 percent) to love the Baathists. The variety of ultra-loyalism Hafez Al Assad valued precluded loyalty to a religious sect. The solution: Cancel Alawism. If the Alawis wanted a religious identity, Hafez Al Assad declared, they could very well be Sunnis.

In 2005, a Syrian dissident, “Karfan,” at the website Syria Exposed, described Assad’s program of “Sunnifaction.” “The extreme policy,” he wrote, “took the shape of so many aspects that everybody here [in Syria] knows very well”:

More here.  
The New York Times reports:

The Syrian economy is buckling under the pressure of sanctions by the West and a continuing popular uprising. Syria’s currency is weakening, its recession is expanding, its tourism industry is wrecked and international sanctions are affecting most essential sectors.

American and Turkish officials say that the government can probably survive through the end of the year. But they now believe it is possible that the toll of the sanctions and protests could bring down Mr. Assad in 6 to 18 months. “We’re all waiting for the thing that will crack them,” an Obama administration official said. “And it will be the economy that will wake everybody up, both those who support him, and Assad and his circle.”

Revenues from oil and gas exports, which account for up to a third of state revenues and are the single biggest source of foreign currency, will dry up at the beginning of November, when an EU ban on imports will fully come into force.

More here.  
THE TURKISH FRONT: Turkey is no longer an ally of America or a friend of Israel. Michael Rubin writes:

Like his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, [Turkish Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip] Erdogan roughs up and imprisons those who challenge him. In 2002, the year before Erdogan became prime minister, Turkey ranked 99th in the world in press freedom out of 139 nations rated by Reporters Without Borders. By 2010, it ranked 138th out of 178, barely nosing out Russia and finishing below even Zimbabwe. Nor can American officials any longer say that America’s relationship with Turkey bolsters national security. Just one year ago, the Turkish air force held secret war games with its Chinese counterparts without first informing the Pentagon. Erdogan has also deferred final approval of a new NATO anti-missile warning system. Meanwhile, Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s new intelligence chief, makes little secret of his preference for Tehran over Washington.

More recently, Erdogan’s anti-Israel incitement propelled Turkey to a leadership role within the Islamic bloc at the expense of the Middle East peace process, and for the first time raised the possibility that Israel and Turkey, historic friends in trade, diplomacy, and defense, might clash in the Eastern Mediterranean. Making matters worse, Egemen Bagis, Erdogan’s longtime confidant and current minister for European Union affairs, threatened this month to use the Turkish navy against Cyprus should that island nation drill for oil in international waters.

While diplomats and generals too often ascribe tensions between Turkey and the West to a reaction to the Iraq War, disappointment with the slow pace of the European Union–accession process, or anger at the death of nine Turks killed in a clash with Israeli forces aboard the blockade-challenging Mavi Marmara, in reality, Turkey’s break from the West was the result of a deliberate and steady strategy initiated by Erdogan upon assuming the reins of government. …

Turkey has become a danger and a liability to the United States. As Erdogan has consolidated control of the media, his government has fed Turks a steady diet of anti-Americanism and religious incitement. In the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, Turkey remains the most anti-American country surveyed, more anti-American than Pakistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. …

Rather than be a partner upon which the United States can rely, Turkey today endorses Iran’s nuclear program, supports — and may even supply — terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and actively undermines the peace process. As Erdogan approaches the end of his first decade of rule, the question for American and European policymakers should not be whether Turkey should join the European Union, but whether it even belongs in NATO.

More here.  
THE PAKISTAN FRONT: FDD’s Tom Joscelyn reports:

During congressional testimony on Thursday, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of sponsoring terrorist attacks on an American embassy and coalition forces. The allegations, while startling, are hardly surprising. (See, for example, here, here and here.) Pakistan’s ISI has long sponsored the main insurgency groups, including the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network, seeking to overthrow the post-Taliban Afghan government. But now, the ISI is apparently orchestrating brazen attacks against American forces.

“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted [a Sept. 10] truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”

The truck bomb attack Mullen referenced was, as the New York Times reports, “one of the worst for foreign forces in a single episode in the 10-year-old war.”

The attack on the American embassy occurred on September 13, and was a complex, coordinated assault involving suicide bombers and rocket attacks. It also coincided with a simultaneous assault on the nearby NATO headquarters.

Make no mistake about it: Mullen’s charges directly implicate Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency in the war against American forces, America’s allies, the Afghan government and the Afghan people. …

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan remains one of the most problematic state sponsors of terrorism in the world. The Obama administration deserves credit for exposing and making plain Pakistan’s role in this war. But the president’s decision to withdraw significant American forces from Afghanistan has probably emboldened Pakistan’s terror sponsorship. The American-led surge of forces was our only real hope for influencing Pakistan’s behavior—by showing Pakistan and the region that America was committed to the fight. As American forces prepare to draw down, Pakistan’s terror sponsorship is only getting worse.

So we are left to wonder: What will the U.S. government do about this “growing problem,” as Mullen put it? Pakistan cannot be allowed to sponsor terrorist attacks against Western forces and Afghans with impunity.

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PIRATES OF SOMALIA: John Bolton says to treat them like terrorists:

It is nonsensical to engage in legal contortions, cramming piracy or terrorism into inappropriate criminal-justice models suitable within civil societies but not the state of nature prevailing in Somalia.

Nor is this a call for pre-emption - the long list of pirate attacks is already far too real. This is classic self-defense, exactly what Thomas Jefferson did against the Barbary pirates, legitimate then and equally so today.

Obviously, we will not stoop to the pirates’ level, thereby corrupting our own integrity and ideals. We should strive mightily to avoid unnecessarily endangering pirate families, but the bases must be destroyed, the hostages and captured ships released and as many pirates as possible apprehended, dispersed or, if necessary, killed in action.

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MUSLIM TEACHER WINS LAWSUIT: Against a school district that refused to give her leave so she could travel to Mecca:

A Muslim woman has won her fight against a west suburban school district after being denied unpaid leave to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced it settled Safoorah Khan’s religious discrimination lawsuit against the Berkeley School District, forcing the district to pay $75,000 in lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

The district also will have to develop a policy accommodating religions consistent with the Civil Rights Acts to ensure something similar will not happen again.

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--Cliff May