The West’s relationship with General Soleimani and the Iranian Quds force has been chequered and been going on for many years. There is no doubt he and his organisation, has been responsible for the death and injury of hundreds of British, American and other allied military personnel and civilians over the years.
The excellent BBC documentary released last year, Shadow Commander: Iran’s Military Mastermind, quotes General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, as saying, “We saw Soleimani as a very capable, charismatic, skilled, professionally competent, diabolically evil human being.” The programme describes how components for the devastatingly efficient killing devices used by the Iranian backed, Sadarist Militias in Iraq, that killed so many – the EFP IED (Explosively formed Projectile, Improvised Explosive Device, the roadside bomb that devastated so many convoys), came from or through Iran and through Quds force networks controlled by Soleimani.
Yet during the same time we read reports of US intelligence operations buying chemical weapons, according to Bush and Blair that eventually never existed, from an unnamed individual in the Amara region of Iraq (under British control) to ensure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. The operation was called Operation Averice. The BBC documentary was very clear, nothing moved without Soleimani’s Quds force knowledge, none of the commentary has identified the ‘seller’ or where the US taxpayer’s money, used to buy these chemical weapons, went? It is highly probable it found its way to Soleimani’s Quds force and additional investigations throw doubt on the numbers reported in the New York times. It is believed the actual number of chemical weapons purchased was significantly higher.
There has been little commentary or analysis of the second ‘commander’ killed in the US drone strike, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group. That group was hated by many across Iraq, was a designated terror organisation by the US and had been founded by Soleimani’s Quds and used to support the fight against ISIS in Iraq and support Bashar Al Assad’s fight against ISIS in Syria, but only in battles where US supported organisations were not engaged. Complex is an understatement. However, one has to ask over the years, what is the relationship the US and the West has had in any form with Soleimani and his Quds? We can safely assess US taxpayers’ dollars possibly went to them.
Soleimani’s influence, in keeping areas of the Middle East in a less than stable position with the proxy war in Yemen, where his proxy forces are the Houthi’s and are fighting a Saudi led coalition. Additionally, his proxy insurgency keeping Israel occupied with Hezbollah, a long-standing terror exporter and Hezbollah backed militias, is clear. What remains unclear is, charismatic that he was, ruthless and evil that he was, he was one man and will have groomed successors in his own image, to his own thinking, following his own doctrine. He is and was replaceable and has been replaced. We wait to see the cut of the cloth of his successor, but his first task will be planning revenge for the death of his old boss.
So, what will that revenge look like? There has been much speculation and increasing sabre rattling rhetoric with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, warning of “severe revenge” for the attack and referring to Soleimani as having been “martyred;” Khamenei had a close personal relationship with Soleimani. The US Presidents response on twitter was that the US will strike 52 Iranian sites “very fast and very hard” if Tehran follows through with its vow of revenge.
The first thing to recognise about the revenge planning is timescales. The Iranian culture is such that planning is looked at in multigenerational timescales, not the timescale a Fox News headline or Twitter post, lasts in people memories. That makes potential Iranian responses all the more concerning; they will carefully choose the time and the place, or times and places for their revenge.
The second thing to recognise is that this isn’t a diplomatic issue that can be talked away, this isn’t something that will be forgotten because it was one evil man in the Wests eyes, this isn’t something that a solution could be bought through easing of sanctions or the like. This is a matter of honour, and national honour for Iran. This is a matter of honour for the Shi’a people and the military and paramilitary forces of the Houthi’s and Hezbollah. The conflicts and instability across the Middle East is as much a wider Sunni, Shi’a historical civil war as they are for power in different countries, hence the Quds force involvement supporting the Shi’a fight. The role of the Quds force is the extension of Iranian influence outside Iran.
The hoisting of a red flag on Jamkaran Mosque, one of the one of the most significant mosques in the city of Qom in Iran, is a significant symbol of this. Red flags, to the Shiite population are traditionally used to symbolise both blood spilled unjustly and serve as a call to avenge a person who is slain. Tradition has it that they can only be lowered when that death has been avenged.
The third thing to recognise is that the Iranians will do very careful consequence management when it comes to revenge attacks. It is highly unlikely that regular Iranian forces will attack US or UK interests at sea or in the air. It is highly likely that Iranian cyber capabilities will target the west, but that will not be seen as sufficient ‘revenge.’ It is highly likely that Iran will covertly encourage, enable, facilitate terror attacks across the globe using proxy organisations and often without them knowing who is ‘encouraging and enabling them. None of this will point directly back to Iran but everyone will know who is behind it; I doubt it will cross the threshold for Trumps 52 targets.
The fourth thing to recognise is President Trump has a re-election campaign to run this year and that, with the impeachment trial going ahead, will split his thinking – Iran will be aware of that and will exploit it.
The final thing to recognise is that Iran has proxies with Hezbollah and the Houthis that it can use to carry out a spectacular or several spectacular revenge attacks and Hezbollah have a global reach! Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the drone strikes on Saudi Aramco facilities, saying 10 drones had been deployed in the attack in September last year. Would similar or more spectacular attacks from them or Hezbollah cross Trumps 52 target threshold?
The Iranians will have noted the Wests response to the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, the Russian ‘rebel’ downing of MH17 in 2014, the US response, or lack thereof in real terms, to the shooting down of a US RQ-4A Global Hawk in international airspace over the Gulf in June last year and more, and will carefully weave this into their revenge planning and who executes the inevitable spectacular ensuring sufficient plausible deniability to reduce the probability of crossing Trumps 52 target threshold.
Two things come out of this. The first is the revenge, when, not if, will have consequences for non-Americans and possibly civilians even though Americans will be targeted. The second is, the increased chaos and instability, especially in Iraq, compounded by the Iraqi parliament asking for US forces to leave Iraq, is now being exploited by the rump of ISIS and they are regrouping and growing in influence again.
Has the killing of Soleimani in this way made the world safer in any way, evil that was, the answer is no. Could it have been done differently and the same message of ‘we can’t let you continue to destabilise the region’ be sent to Iran, definitely.
This blog was written by Philip Ingram MBE, who experienced 13 service personnel killed by Solemani’s IEDs and other weapons when he was in Iraq, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence. He is available for further analysis or comment.
Soleimani attack – an oh S**t moment for the world?
***Updated 03 1930Z Jan 20***
The US Secretary of Defense, Dr Mark T. Esper prepared a statement on 02 Jan 2020 outlining the concerns the US had for Iranian backed activities across the region in recent months. Citing concerns with actions in November and through December, the statement was released just after the US carried out an air attack on a convoy leaving Baghdad Airport in Iraq, killing General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds force and an Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Forces, amongst others.
The Iranian Quds force is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), set up approximately 40 years ago, answering to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and separate from Iran’s conventional military who answer to the political government under Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani. The Quds force themselves are a secretive organisation responsible for irregular and overseas operations and Soleimani will have reported directly to the Supreme Leader, without consultation with the President. In essence, Soleimani is more important than Iran’s President.
So, what do we know? We know that the US and allied countries have been interested in Soleimani for some time and will have declared him as a ‘High Value Target’ and as such will have a constantly updated targeting pack against him, updated with new intelligence as it came in. That targeting pack does not automatically mean it is there to kill or capture him, but is continuously refined so any action, could be expedited in a timely manner.
Mark Esper’s pre-prepared statement cites a number of what in military parlance are tactical incidents, puts them into an operational framework and used that to explain a grand strategic action. That is the equivalent of using a Trident D5 missile to crack a nut – the nut will be vapourised, Soleimani was, however, there will be fallout from the immediate blast and shock wave, immediate damage from the radiation and then longer-term implications from the radioactive fallout!
It has to be said at the outset, that the Quds force have been responsible for many atrocities across the region resulting in the deaths of many Americans and innocent people. They are ruthless, capable and operate outside any legal or moral compass we would recognise in the West and have infiltrated many organisations across the Middle East and further. They are the main element enabling a proxy conflict with the Saudis in Yemen. Their wider destabilising influence has regional (operational) and global (strategic) implications that have been going on for too long. The Quds force are seen by many as a state-owned terror organisation, but they are so much more. They are a mixture between the Russian GRU, the CIA of the 1970’s, Mossad and a global terror organisation and have an influence and autonomy far beyond their size an Iran’s political and military needs.
It seems that Soleimani was tracked on a flight from Damascus in Syria to Baghdad whilst Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was tracked in a convoy going to meet his flight and pick him up. It is probable that they both were being tracked using human intelligence (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) with a degree of fidelity that gave their exact movements and planned movements to the US intelligence machinery allowing the targeting pack to be updated. Given the actions against the US embassy in Baghdad over the proceeding days, coordinated by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis militias, that targeting pack, and any options, would have been discussed at least daily.
The US will not have reacted without thinking through the implications and briefing those to the executive decision maker. The response to the downing of a US RQ-4A Global Hawk in international airspace by IRGC forces in June 2019 was measured and proportionate, designed to minimise any potential escalation. The response was a cyber-attack on Iranian air defence assets. The equivalent of a slap on the wrists.
However, given what was going on with the US Embassy, the deployment of troops from Kuwait to protect the Embassy, the deployment of additional troops from 82nd Airborne Division into the region to reconstitute a reserve the decision making process and review process will have been at the forefront of President Trumps mind. It is widely reported that President Trump gave the order personally and given the profile of the target that is what would be expected.
However, that does not necessarily mean it was the preferred option of the US military of diplomatic corps. President Trump is known for having premade up his mind before he speaks to his advisors, he has stopped listening to regional specialists and has ensured his inner circle of advisors are what can only be described as sycophants. He will have been running an emotional high from his concerns about the US embassy in Baghdad.
I am reminded of a UK General, just back from Afghanistan who I briefed weekly on Afghanistan intelligence matters. One brief indicated that the Taliban were changing their tactics from conventional military type attacks to more IED based attacks as they couldn’t sustain their casualty rate. The General ‘blew his top’ in public with me accusing me of inventing “defeatist intelligence reporting” and ordering me never to say such things again as he had been there, and he knew that would never happen. I do hope he has the moral courage to look the families of all those who died to IEDs and admit he was wrong, he never said it to me, and I didn’t stop my assessments from my intelligence enabled perspective, bollockings or not.
At this stage we do not know if President Trump properly listened to and took heed of wider fall out, or if he shot from the hip! A statement from the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
This is a clear indication that the UK knew nothing of the attack beforehand, wants to show support to its ally the US and then run for the bunkers! Iran cannot and will not let this go. In a statement appointing Soleimani’s successor the supreme leader describes his death as “martyrdom of the glorious general,” in a previous statement announcing three days of mourning he said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack.
It is probable that there will be several layers of retaliation; the immediate, a decisive act and then long-term actions, just like the Trident analogy I mentioned. The immediate will be to show strength and will probably happen just after the 3 days of mourning. It will be decisive act will be to send a clear message to the US that Iran will not stand back and do nothing and is likely to be spectacular in nature. Then we will possibly see a massive increase in proxy terror using AQ, ISIS and other organisations, often without their direct knowledge, as plausibly deniable outlets targeting terror at the US and its allies across the globe. Alongside we will likely see greater cooperation’s with the Russians and increasing activity in the proxy wars across the region including in Yemen.
A key question is, is the killing of this commander, evil that he is, going to make things safer for US troops, diplomats or other personnel within the Gulf region? To answer that it is worth asking if the threat comes from one man, and the answer clearly is no? The Quds force is approx 15,000 strong and as an organisation it is bigger than one personality. Soleimani has been replaced already, so the Quds Force activity will continue but now with greater murderous intent and a cause to seek revenge for. So, the killing of one man and his entourage in reality, has made the region and the world a more dangerous place for US interests and the interests of their allies. Mike Pompeo’s assertion that the US airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani was to disrupt an “imminent attack” could be true in the very short term however, his statement that Americans “are safer in the region” after the strike and demise of Soleimani is definitely not true.
Two things are certain, we don’t have the full picture and the world has suddenly become a less safe place.
This blog was written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence who has served in and studied the Middle East from a wider intelligence perspective. It will be updated as new information emerges.
The Grey Hare Media team can confirm that high level talks have left Gatwick and Heathrow vulnerable to drone incursions as detection and disruption technologies, boosted after last year’s 3 days of disruption at Gatwick airport in the middle of the Christmas getaway, have been switched off. Investigations can also reveal that similar activities have been ordered at all airports across the globe.
A spokesman for Dubai airport, one of the worlds busiest hubs said, “We have our fingers crossed that there won’t be any disruption to normal airport operations as any closure we estimate costs us $100,000 per minute.” The full cost of the Gatwick closure has not been released yet, but EasyJet estimate it cost the airline approximately £15 million.
However, the US/Canada joint air defence establishment NORAD has indicated that it has deployed a global monitoring system, able to ensure that any threat through the lack of local capabilities can be mitigated. It has taken very careful negotiations to convince the Russian, Chinese and other governments that this is for positive not sinister purposes. Every country less North Korea has agreed to the new protocol that is for a short period of 31 hours only.
The reason for this global cooperation is that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have a special SANTA tracking facility that is made ready once a year to ensure that SANTA is kept safe and should there be any mishaps, then the right help can be provided quickly. Not many people realise that according to observations from the International Space Station SANTA has only 31 hours to visit every home across the globe. This seemingly extended Christmas day is thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth. SANTA travels from East to West.
This joint US/ Canadian facility will not be affected by any of President Trump’s tweets nor relations between himself and the Canadian PM. It is a vital global service ensuring the safety of happiness and joy.
What NORAD have confirmed is that Santa makes 822.6 visits per second allowing him 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house….. phew…..
So, the chances of children seeing him are very remote, however, he has specialist stealth technologies that keep him invisible, and they can’t be compromised which is why the new drone detection technologies are being switched off.
Santa’s sleigh moves at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. This makes Rudolf a very special type of reindeer as a conventional reindeer can run at a maximum of about 15 miles per hour. His defining feature is his red nose but at 650 miles per second and with special stealth technologies, only Santa and the other reindeers should be able to see it.
However, the Grey Hare spies’ team have been informed that Santa’s stealth technology was hacked at the same time his naughty list was last year and the hackers still have not been caught. It is believed that the rapidly deployed drone detection technologies sent to Gatwick were used to enable the hackers to get into Santa’s stealth systems and ultimately the naughty list database.
Santa isn’t quiet in the run up to Christmas, whilst his elves and Mrs Clause are getting the present production working at full tilt, Santa does a series of practice runs to let his reindeers stretch their legs and confirm they still remember where to go and practice his emergency plans.
Part of their emergency plans are landing (covertly) for quick repairs so present delivery can continue. He also has spare sleighs covertly deployed in case of catastrophic failure. The Grey Hare spies saw HMS Big Lizzie being used last year as a CSSDP, covert spare sleigh deployment platform, and this year, given the increasing age of the sleighs SANTA asked if HMS Prince of Wales (POW) could host another with an Elf repair team – the code word to listen out for if you are a radio ham should there be any problems is “execute operation LizziePOW.”
Hopefully there will be no disruption and joy can be delivered to all. A very Merry Christmas to one and all from the Grey Hare Media Team.
In a letter to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, released on Thursday 24th May, the US President Donal Trump said, “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have the long-planned meeting.”
So, what does this mean? What led up to this and what will Kim Jong Un’s response be? Philip Ingram MBE an intelligence and military planning expert gives his thoughts.
When looking at any issue from an intelligence perspective it is important that you put your own views, opinions, and prejudices to one side and look at it from the perspective of those involved. It is only then that you can get a true understanding of what has happened and why. You then look for the unusual, ‘the things you know you don’t know,’ to paraphrase another American.
My first perspective is Donal Trump. Over the past weeks and certainly since Mike Pompeo’s visit to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un and start the work for what had the potential to be a ground-breaking summit, Trump, and his staff will have come slow realisation that they were being played.
Kim Jong Un, by making all of the noises he did with regard to the Olympics, his disarmament rhetoric and statements, with his meetings with the South Korean Leader Moon Jae-in and ‘destruction’ of his nuclear test facilities at Punggye-ri – Trump saw what he wanted to see, his name in lights, a Nobel Prize and a large ‘I saved the world’ badge on his lapel. Mr Kim saw recognition.
Trump saw this through the one lens that is the most dangerous for any leader to have, it is the lens of EGO and it is his ego that led him to see what he wanted to see. The dangerous issue with this, if a leader blinded by his own perspective isn’t dangerous enough, is that his staff are clearly so scared of disagreeing with him that they fell into a group think scenario and everyone believed. That is a damning criticism of the US intelligence machine as Intelligence should always act as a commander’s conscience.
Trump got out of the summit by getting Mike Pence to say North Korea “may end like Libya”, knowing that this would enrage Kim and Kim’s response through a North Korean official, Choe Son-hui, was to refer to US Vice-President Mike Pence’s comments as “stupid”. A quick diplomatic tussle to give an excuse to cancel the talks. However, Kim’s response was to use Trump’s language back at him and keep the option for dialogue open.
From Kim Jong Un’s perspective, his nuclear rhetoric, turned into a capable nuclear reality (so who helped him? Read my Blog The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong) had allowed him to join the ‘big boys club’ and show he was a leader of global importance by getting the US President to come to him and showing the world his conventional and nuclear capabilities.
Kim never had any intention of getting rid of his nuclear capability, he wanted to cement his place at the top table, ease sanctions so he could make more money and swan around the world like the global leader he sees himself as.
He has probably been given a quite scolding by his elder ‘grandfather’ type figure Xi Jinping telling him to calm the rhetoric down and showing how he can make more money. But he has the ear of Mr Xi.
He has given Putin the idea of using a nerve agent as an assassins’ weapon and shown he can be a plausibly deniable outlet for cyber-attacks. He had nothing to lose by having talks with Moon and Trump and everything to gain. He had a smug feeling in his belly and with his new Russian installed internet pipe, he had the ear of Mr Putin.
However, Kim Jong Un like Donald Trump has an ego and his petulant, childlike ego has just been smacked very hard. Not only will he be reeling from the letter that reads like it is scolding an errant school child by comparing asset sizes, but it was sent on the day he was showing the world’s journalists the supposed destruction of his nuclear test facilities. This could not have been worse from a timing perspective. Very publicly, and almost certainly known by the North Korean population, Donald Trump has caused Kim Jong Un to lose face, something that is culturally unacceptable.
Xi Jinping has no doubt told Kim to count to 100 if he gets wound up by Trump and this is probably why North Korea has said it is still willing to talk “at any time in any form” and vice-foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan said Mr Trump’s decision was “extremely regrettable”. North Korea is trying to and probably maintaining the higher moral ground. Xi Jinping will want to use his influence to undo any potential trade tariffs between China and the US and will be working his diplomatic links with President Trump hard. Once that is off the table he will probably let Kim Jong Un have more of a free rein again.
However, I suspect Kim Jong Un has gone well past 100 and is still reeling. He will be planning his next action; his ego will not let the loss of face subside and unless Trump puts his ego to one side and reaches for an olive branch again; rather than progressing peace this could sink any opportunities whilst Trump remains in the White House and could make the doomsday clock tick even closer to midnight. The one saving grace is that Xi Jinping is taking a long-term view and is acting as the quiet hand of sense.
One person who remains smiling at the continuing international hiatus is Vladimir Putin. His global freedom of manoeuvre just got a little easier…
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE
It may have been a fortuitous accident that the scenario used in many of the NATO HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) practice war scenarios centered around the country of Zagros, a fictitious country but not on the maps used, as they had to be real. Zagros, in reality, was Iran, renamed for anonymity purposes after the Zagros mountains that dominate its Western Border with Iraq. With NATO’s largest military power having unilaterally pulled out of the Iran Nuclear deal, what are the chances of a regional or global conflict? What is going on? Philip Ingram MBE a former senior military planner and intelligence officer looks at the wider issues.
With reports of Iranian missiles being fired directly at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights and Israeli response through air strikes, all less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal where Iran agreed a long-term deal, what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on its nuclear programme with the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
The deal, negotiated under President Obama’s time in the White House came after years of tension over Iran’s reported efforts to use what it referred to as an entirely peaceful nuclear programme, to develop a nuclear weapon. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
During his election campaign, Trump promised to “tear up the deal on Day One”, it took him another 473 days to fulfill that promise! In October last year, President Trump made a major statement on his Iran Strategy where he outlined how he intended to “confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions.” He stated that his policy was based on [Iran’s] “continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world,” but many think it was because Obama had been involved with it.
There is little doubt that President Trump’s assessment of Iran’s interference is accurate, as Iran is engaged in proxy wars in Syria, supporting Bashar al Assad, in Yemen against Saudi Arabia and globally with its ‘sponsorship’ of Hezbollah and support of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Iran’s tentacles have a global influence and their activities are nefarious. With Trumps action and the Iranian immediate reaction in attacking Israeli forces, we are on the cusp of the long-standing proxy wars turning into an intense actual conflict. HQ ARRC, get your Zagros maps out…
However, what is really going on, do we have a new world order emerging, and can Trump’s tactics work?
This is where I have some real issues with the way things are emerging. President Trump is a bully, he uses deliberately inflammatory language and aggressive tactics to achieve his aim. We saw this with the way he ‘dealt’ with North Korea, referring to Kim Jong Un as ‘Rocket Man”, saying his nuclear button was bigger than the North Korean Leaders, sailing 3 US Carrier Groups to the seas around North Korea and increasing US manoeuvres in South Korea whilst deploying sophisticated anti-missile systems.
Trump genuinely believes his approach has caused Kim Jong Un to have a change of heart and suddenly become a cooperative ‘nice guy’. The reality is Kim Jong Un is wholly reliant on China and Xi Jinping in his meetings with Kim Jong Un will have told him to rein his petulant school boy tactics in, but that was only after the N Korean nuclear and missile technologies had been developed to an advanced stage.
Simple logic indicates that President Trump and the rest of the world, in breathing a sigh of relief that the prospect of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula seems to have receded, are seeing what they want to see and missing the answer to the question, why such a change of heart? My analysis in the article “The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong” goes some way to examine this.
So, emboldened by his perceived success in North Korea, Trump has embarked on the same tactics with a bigger and thornier problem child, Iran. Like the self-centered petulant bully, he is, Trump sees the only way forward as his way and those in his gang have to continuously, on the surface at least, continue to stroke his sycophantic ego, otherwise, he goes into ‘The Apprentice’ mode and fires them.
Iran, Russia, China, North Korea are all countries that have the luxury of not having to think or plan their strategies in Presidential Terms. They can take a 15 or 20 or 25-year view to an issue that the US President has in his 2, 3 or 4-year plan and this immediately sets the conditions for Trump to be ‘played’ and global groupthink to keep the rest of the world sitting there, blinkered. The best way to wind a bully up is play him before you punch him hard!
We can’t look at what is going on without looking at the Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Syrian relations and where they fit together. The first thing to note about this group is that there are two of the P5, China, and Russia who historically see the other three members of the P5, a key backbone to NATO, as an alliance with potentially aggressive tendencies against them. It makes sense for Russia and China to have an unholy alliance and with a very large common border, a political friendship is a very cost-effective way of ensuring defence.
China is the elder statesman in this relationship, they have what the other want, very long-term political stability, a growing economy, endless people resources, real global political clout and money, money to buy natural resources, weapons, and favour. It also has an inherent mistrust of anything foreign and in particular western and a mistrust of how western influences are influencing Chinese domestic feeling. China also has a quietly developing global reach in particular through Africa and a developing influence elsewhere.
Russia has a stable leadership but constitutionally it requires a little more manipulation than President Xi enjoys in China. Russia has fantastic weapons technologies and access to natural resources as well as a strategic reach into Europe. Its military has been revamped to provide a capable power projection capability under a long established strategic nuclear umbrella. It needs money and technology, both of which China can provide in exchange for weapons technology, nuclear technology and access to natural resources. A marriage made in heaven.
Iran is fascinating. It remains under the control of what is often referred to as a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and has forced an extreme state forced extreme state control of its people and connections with the outside world. It has in effect 3 power blocks all manoeuvring, manipulating and influencing. They are the Religious leadership under Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, also known as the supreme leader with ‘control’ of the military and judiciary, the political leadership under the President of Iran who is Hassan Rouhani, and I deliberately separate out the military and in particular the Quods force, a special forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responsible for their extraterritorial operations.
Iran has what both Russia and China need and that is oil. Iran needs the ability of China and Russia to break international sanctions, help with technology and military hardware. Iran also has the ability to project its power globally, but this isn’t on any conventional way but is through the use of its backed terror organisations and in particular Hezbollah who supply, train and assist other global terror networks. The influence that brings can ensure peaceful Chinese expansion through Africa with little interference from terror groups, continued pressure on the West through proxy wars and a plausibly deniable outlet for ‘black’ Russian foreign policy needs.
Syria, Russia’s strategic ally in the Mediterranean providing basing, intelligence reach and unique training facilities is the battleground for Iran’s continuation of its proxy war against the Saudis who back the US-led coalition bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The complexities are never ending! The way the Iranian’s influence is through a network of Quods force overt and covert activities, like the rhizomes of Japanese knotweed invading a garden, spreading out underground, destabilising foundations and surfacing when it needs to or can. It works seamlessly with backed terror organisations and once established is very difficult to remove.
Kim Jong Un has been the petulant gang outsider who has thrown every teddy he has around and smashed all of his toys until his potential as a plausibly deniable outlet for other state-sponsored activity was really seen. His petulance was reined in by Xi Jinping, his potential was seen by Putin and that is why Russia has vastly improved North Koreas internet connectivity. They have also probably provided a testing ground for further Russian nuclear warhead testing and tweaks to missile technology. They provide a regime that because of its threatening stance, can be used in any way to manipulate global thinking. Back to The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong…….
Now we have a better understanding of the players we have to ask what is Trump achieving by withdrawing from the JCPOA? We in the 24 hrs since he has, we have seen direct attacks on Israeli assets by Iran and Israeli retaliation, we have seen ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia and we have seen Germany and France trying to diplomatically distance themselves from the US position and work out if there were any way to placate Iran with the UK trying to find a position between the US and European position but condemning the US position whilst everyone tries to work out how to salvage the billions of dollars’ worth of deals European companies had recently put in place with Iran. We have seen Iran make a clear statement that it will begin to enrich Uranium at a pace and Saudi Arabia say if Iran gets nuclear weapons then they will too.
If Presidents Putin and Xi wanted anything it would be greater western destabilisation thereby giving greater opportunities for Russian and Chinese influence across the globe. President Trump has handed them that on a plate and stuck a knife into the cracks of international cooperation and is wiggling it hard. The tactics of winding the bully up by playing him before punching him hard is working!
What is clear is this isn’t a proxy war anymore and we are standing is a volatile hydrocarbon filled bath whilst international players throw lighted matches at each other. The world has just become a little more unstable and the doomsday clock has probably clicked a second closer to the cry that all in HQ ARRC looked forward to when fighting in Zagros, “ENDEX” – end of exercise, is closer, but here it, is not time to go home as it could be the end of world order as we know it. Let’s hope that that is not the punch and the real reason is the 15, 20 or 25-year view sees the balance of power shifting to the new alliance.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE