While President Obama sought “common ground” with the GOP controlled Congress in 2015 at yesterday’s news conference, he was deepening his detente strategy with Iran in a dangerous gambit to secure their aid in the fight against ISIS. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that a secret letter had been sent by the President to Ayatollah Khamenei seeking to enlist Iran’s support in the war against ISIS in exchange for the quid pro quo of the supreme Ruler’s assent to a nuclear deal, “Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran’s Khamenei about Fighting Islamic State.” The supposed deadline for a deal between the P5+1 and Iran is less than a month away on November 24, 2014; however that deadline may be moved. The October letter was the fourth such direct communiqué with Iran’s Supreme Ruler by this Administration. Obama’s letter to the Ayatollah has been acknowledged by Administration “senior officials.”
There have been indications that the P5+1 deal under discussion would preserve Iran’s capability for nuclear enrichments with more than 19,000 centrifuges and allow for replacement with a new generation of faster ones. We heard from Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon during his recent visit to Washington that Iran was perhaps less than a year from achieving ‘break out’, meaning being able to assemble a nuclear device.
Speaker John Boehner of the US House of Representatives was cited in the WSJ report saying:
“I don’t trust the Iranians, I don’t think we need to bring them into this,” Mr. Boehner said. Referring to the continuing nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, Mr. Boehner said he” would hope that the negotiations that are underway are serious negotiations, but I have my doubts.”
Obama’s October letter to Ayatollah Khamenei reflects this Administration’s offer to enlist Iran in the coalition fighting to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, further exacerbating relations with Sunni allies in the air campaign and isolating Israel.
The WSJ Report revealed that both Sunni allies and Israel had not been notified of this latest Administration outreach to Iran’s Supreme Ruler:
In a sign of the sensitivity of the Iran diplomacy, the White House didn’t tell its Middle East allies – including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates-about Mr. Obama’s October letter to Mr. Khamenei, according to the people briefed on the correspondence.
Leaders from these countries have voiced growing concern in recent weeks that the U.S. is preparing to significantly soften its demands in the nuclear talks with Tehran. They said they worry the deal could allow Iran to gain the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the future.
Arab leaders also fear Washington’s emerging rapprochement with Tehran could come at the expense of their security and economic interests across the Middle East. These leaders have accused the U.S. of keeping them in the dark about its diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
Meanwhile, Ian’s Quds Force Commander, Gen. Qassem Suleymani has been a highly visible ‘item’ in Iraq. He has been advising Iraqi Shiite militia and national security forces in recent operations with Kurdish Peshmerga pushing back ISIS. Both Iraqi Shia militia and Hezbollah veterans of the Syrian civil war conflict and even the 2006 War with Israel have been involved in training and advising this effort. The trigger for their involvement was ISIS’ threat to destroy a revered Iranian Shia pilgrimage Mosque in Samarra in June. The ISIS advance was halted by Shia militia with help from Suleymani’s Quds Force. Al Arabiyya and IRNA reported in August 2014 funerals for Iranian and Hezbollah commanders killed in this not so shadow war by Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq against ISIS.
Yesterday, AP reported on Quds Force and Hezbollah cadres under the direction of Gen. Suleymani supporting Iraqi national security forces and Peshmerga wresting the embattled town of Jurf al-Sakher last week, “Top Iranian general, and Hezbollah lead Iraq ground war.” The Iraqi town is located south of Baghdad on the road to another revered Shia pilgrimage site in Karbala. Jurf-al Sakher had been occupied by ISIS since August. Note these excerpts from the AP article:
Photos soon emerged on independent Iraqi news websites revealing a more discrete presence – the powerful Iranian general Qassem Suleymani – whose name has become synonymous with the handful of victories attributed to Iraqi ground forces. Local commanders said Lebanon’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah group was also on the front lines.
Militia commanders told The Associated Press that dozens of advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese Hezbollah were on the front lines in Jurf al-Sakher, providing weapons training to some 7,000 troops and militia fighters, and coordinating with military commanders ahead of the operation.
Suleymani’s Quds Force, the special operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been involved for years in training and financing Iraq’s Shiite militias. It has long worked with Hezbollah in Lebanon and has been aiding Assad’s forces.
In June, Revolutionary Guard advisers under Suleymani provided guidance for Shiite militiamen in shelling Sunni insurgent positions around Samarra, a Sunni-majority city north of Baghdad that is the home to a revered Shiite shrine, local commanders said. Suleymani was also seen as playing a key role in relieving the Islamic siege of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli. And a top Revolutionary Guard general said in September that Suleymani had even helped Kurdish fighters defend their regional capital Irbil.
According to Ken Timmerman, veteran Iran watcher and author of Dark Forces, Gen. Suleymani may also have been involved with planning the insertion of Quds Force operatives to support local Islamist militia in the 9/11-12/2012 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. This and other allegations may be heard by the House Select Committee on Benghazi under the chairmanship of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). Suggestions have also been raised that the republican-controlled Senate might conduct its own Benghazi investigations when the 214th Session begins in January 2015.
Moreover, disclosure of this letter to Ayatollah Khamenei might complicate the President’s announced request for Congressional passage of amended war powers authorization for the fight against ISIS. This raises the question of how can the Administration provide training and equipment to alleged Syrian opposition forces fighting the Assad regime, while simultaneously reaching out to Iran and its proxy Hezbollah both actively involved in Syria fighting those rebel forces. Congress rushed before a mid-July 214 recess to appropriate $500 million diverted from Defense appropriations for overseas covert operations to fund training and equipping of ‘vetted’ Syrian opposition forces. The sponsor of the funding proposal, outgoing Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, was cited by The Hill at the time saying, “Syria is a kaleidoscope of ever-changing circumstances and loyalties. Our friends today could be our enemies tomorrow”.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.