Sunday, 11 June 2017

US’ Plan to Destabilize Iran: “Dark Prince” Appointed as Head of the CIA

The Trump administration, this week, appeared to take a potential step closer to backing efforts plotted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to destabilize Iran; possibly topple its Islamic government; and force Qatar to fall into line with Gulf policies that target Iran, political Islam, and militants; with the appointment of a seasoned covert operations officer as head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iran operations.

The appointment of Michael D’Andrea, a hard-charging, chain-smoking operative, alternatively nicknamed the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, whose track record includes overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, suggested that the CIA was likely to take a more operational approach in confronting Iran in line with President Donald J. Trump’s Saudi and UAE-backed hard line towards the Islamic Republic, which involves a possible push for regime change.

Read more: US-Saudi arms deal: Is this setting the stage for a Saudi-Iranian war?

Mr. D’Andrea took up his new post at a moment that the US focus appeared to be shifting to Iran as the Islamic State suffered significant defeats with the near fall of Mosul in Iraq and the imminent fall of Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria.
Mr. D’Andrea, who converted to Islam to marry his Muslim wife rather than out of religious conviction, brings an impressive covert operations record to challenge Iran. Mr. D’Andrea was reportedly involved in the use of torture in interrogations of suspected militants under President George W. Bush.

He also played a key role in the targeting in 2008 of Imad Mugniyah, the international operations chief for Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah who maintained close ties to Iran. Mr. Mugniyah was assassinated in Damascus in an operation carried out together with Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. Mr. D’Andrea was also involved in the ramping up of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen that target Islamist militants.

The New York Times noted that Mr. D’Andrea’s appointment came as some US officials, including Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, were pushing for a US policy of regime change in Iran.

Mike Pompeo, an advocate in the past of military action against Iranian nuclear facilities, wrote last summer before his appointment by Mr. Trump as CIA director that “Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.”

Other senior Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary General (retired) James Mattis and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, are believed to be hardliners when it comes to Iran.

Mr. D’Andrea’s appointment stroked with an emerging Saudi strategy to escalate the kingdom’s proxy war with Iran by fomenting unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities as well as to confront together with the United States Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Yemen. The Trump administration has already stepped up support for Saudi Arabia’s two-year-old, ill-fated intervention in Yemen.

Iran is unlikely to stand by idly if Saudi Arabia and the US were to initiate covert operations against it. “There’s just one small problem: Iran is unlikely to back down,” said US Naval Postgraduate School Iran expert Afshon Ostovar. Mr. Ostovar noted that Iran’s ability to operate through proxy groups like Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shiite militia, Palestine’s Islamic Jihad, and militias in Iraq was “its most strategic asset.”

As a result, the US-Saudi-UAE strategy risks Iran retaliating by attempting to stir trouble among Shiites in Bahrain, home to a low-level insurgency since the island’s Sunni Muslim minority regime brutally squashed a popular uprising in 2011 with the support of Saudi troops, and in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich, predominantly Shiite Eastern Province.

To be sure, Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Bahrainis and Saudis first and Shiites second. But decades of discriminatory policies in both regions have left their toll, and offer Iran potential opportunity to stir the pot.

Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported this week that authorities had foiled an attack on US forces based in Qatar. The newspaper said the foiled attempt was planned by an Al Qaeda unit headed by a Qatari national.

Okaz’s report came in the wake of a suicide bombing in Qatif in the Eastern Province and a Saudi and UAE-sponsored media campaign against Qatar because of its ties to Iran and alleged support for militants. Saudi Shiite activists accused a US-trained Saudi interior ministry unit of having instigated the Qatif bombing in an effort to bolster the kingdom’s claim that it is a victim of Iran-inspired political violence.

Qatar announced amid the Saudi-UAE campaign that six of its soldiers had been wounded in Yemen “while conducting their duties within the Qatari contingent defending the southern borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Read more: Islamic Military Alliance: Seeking Non-Muslim help against a Muslim sect

In a move reminiscent of past Qatari efforts to placate UAE and Saudi criticism, Qatar was reported to have expelled several officials of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, who were involved in the group’s activities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In the latest episode of the Gulf cyberwar, leaked emails from the account of the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, whose authenticity was confirmed by HuffPost and The Intercept, showed the UAE looking at ways to influence Iran’s domestic situation.
The agenda also included countering Qatari support for Islamist and militant groups; its “destabilizing role in Egypt, Syria, Libya, the Gulf;” and “Al Jazeera as an instrument of regional instability.”
The UAE was also pressing the Trump administration in cooperation with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies to move its US air force base, the largest in the Middle East, out of Qatar.

The emails also revealed efforts to persuade US companies not to pursue opportunities in Iran.
Various media reports suggested that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were gunning for the removal of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani as emir of Qatar.

And, as pointed out in a previous post, the Saudis may also want to simply get their hands on Qatar's gas fields.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, June 11th, 2017.]

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