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The Desert of Mirrors: Who’s Really Who in the Middle East?

February 2nd, 2014 - 10:30 am

It’s the Middle Eastern version of the old Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s On First?”  Just when we thought we had at least most of the killers in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq sorted out, things suddenly became baffling.  Incomprehensible, even.  Some days you can’t tell the players even WITH a scorecard.

In Syria, some three years ago, a bunch of non-fanatics defected from Assad’s regular army, and started fighting against his regime.  There were more defections, and the opposition grew stronger, despite the regime’s violent counter-attacks.  It began to look like Assad might fall.  Then his two big allies, Russia and Iran, shipped in weapons and fighters and the tide turned.  It began to look like the opposition might be wiped out.  Then various Islamist fanatics–including two or three that could reliably be called “al-Qaeda”–rallied to the opposition cause, and did well enough for the conventional wisdom to embrace the thought that nobody was strong enough to win.  Then the various opposition groups started killing one another, tilting the battlefield back in Assad’s (and Iran’s, and Russia’s) favor.

I’m not going to make you memorize the names of all the groups.  I just want you to focus for a moment on the Abbott and Costello theme:  whose side is al-Qaeda on?  At first it seemed pretty clear:  al-Qaeda was fighting alongside the opposition, against Assad, which is to say, against Iran and Russia.  The AQ leaders often said so, in just those words.  But now comes word that the al-Qaeda forces are getting at least some support from Iran.  That word comes from the U.S. Treasury and State Departments and other good sources, by way of Tom Joscelyn, my friend and colleague at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and he’s as good as it gets.

The key AQ leader in this baffling story is Yasin al-Suri, who was branded as a senior AQ operative in Iran (where he’d been active since 2005, which suggests he gets on well with the mullahs) by the Treasury in 2011.  Treasury offered a $10 million reward for help capturing al-Suri, and the Iranians arrested him.  But that was then.  Now he’s out of jail, and hard at work:

“As head al Qaeda facilitator in Iran, al Suri is responsible for overseeing al Qaeda efforts to transfer experienced operatives and leaders from Pakistan to Syria, organizing and maintaining routes by which new recruits can travel to Syria via Turkey and assisting in the movement of al Qaeda external operatives to the West,” an unnamed State Department official told Al Jazeera.

An official at Treasury confirmed the claim.  The U.S. government officials are not the only ones talking about collusion between Iran/Assad and the opposition.  Michel Kilo, an opposition leader whose anti-Assad credentials are very credible, goes so far as to claim that the Islamist groups were actually organized and directed from Damascus.

“There are photos that have been found of several emirs of ISIS with [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” said Kilo, who spoke with Al-Monitor on the sidelines of the Geneva II talks.

“The pictures were taken before they became emirs in ISIS (a leading Islamist anti-Assad group), when they were all officers in the Syrian special service. There are documents sent by the special service to ISIS telling them to capture or kidnap people in Raqqa and Jarabalus, and these documents will be published. And you will see how the regime fabricated these extremist groups that did not exist in our country at the beginning of the revolution.”

So one group of Islamist killers has its leader in Tehran, and another has long-standing connections between its leaders and Damascus.  Yet there is no doubt that both groups are fighting.  They’ve been effective.  They’ve certainly killed Syrians, and almost certainly they’ve killed Iranians too.  Nowadays they are also killing other opposition fighters in other groups.  Just today, for example, the leader of one of the Islamist groups was killed by a car bomb set by another Islamist group.

Is there any way to make sense of this, or should we just say that it’s a classic Hobbesian conflict, “the war of every man against every man”?  It could very well be just that.  But maybe not.

I don’t know the answer (although I think that the keys to unlocking the mystery are probably in the Iranian and/or Russian archives), but it reminds me of one of the greatest of all grand deceptions, the Soviet-created “Trust” just after the Revolution.  That was organized by the Soviet intelligence service, which created a phony opposition movement whose “leaders” contacted Western governments with offers to topple the Bolshevik regime.  The “Trust” leaders provided the Western strategists with secret documents, and even assassinated Soviet officials in order to establish the bona fides of the Trust.  The West bought the deception, and funded the Trust, giving the Soviets money, knowledge of Western plans, and the ability to manipulate Western anti-Soviet operations.  The Trust’s most celebrated victim was the British official “Reilly Ace of Spies,” who was lured to a meeting, arrested, tortured, and executed.

Stratagems of this sort are not all that unusual, and it would not surprise me to learn that Iran sponsored al-Qaeda groups in Syria and Iraq, posing (and indeed often acting) as anti-Assad or anti-Maliki forces, in order to penetrate the opposition, manipulate its actions, and foment fighting among the various groups, all to the ultimate advantage of Khamenei/Maliki/Assad.

As Tom Joscelyn, scratching his talented mind, remarks,

The Iranian regime…has mastered duplicity and may have unknown reasons for keeping tabs on al Qaeda’s operations. Al Qaeda has also been willing to work with Iran on multiple occasions since the early 1990s, despite the two sides’ fundamentally different theologies and sometime vehement disagreements.

Iranian policy rarely moves in straight lines;  it’s more like gyres and spirals.  They’re very flexible, to put it mildly.  Remember that before 9/11 the Iranians were prime targets of Taliban killers.  Today Iran trains Taliban killers in both Pakistan and Iran itself.  So flexibility concerning al-Qaeda shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Top Rated Comments   
Thank you Michael for the great article about the current situation in Syria! In fact the situation in Syria is very complicated. In the beginning the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has deceived the Syrian people under the pretext of the fighting against the regime and yet most of its victims are from opposition fighters. But in the end, many felt that ISIS is just a phony and fabricated opposition was created by the regime and its major ally in Tehran in order to maintain the regime's survival. They did not heading to the front lines to fight the regime after they took over vast areas of the north and east of Syria and also over the main oil fields in Syria. They even did not fire a single bullet toward the regime's forces, their real battle is against the Free Syria Army militias and rarely aginst Jabhat al-Nusra which is Al-Qaeda branch in Syria although al-Nusra is considered to be loyal ally of the Islamic state ISIS. ISIS rejects any other competitor because it is the only Islamic fighting group, which wants to dominate on the ground and by force. they have money and arms, in addition to the main weapon is terror and torture. It eradicating any resistance to its authority, whether it came from civil activists or other militias. The leaders of ISIS are outsiders from diverse nationalities, its fighters from Muslim various nationalities including Europeans, mostly Chechens, North Caucasian, Arabs and Syrian citizens as well.
However, regardless of whether ISIS or other Islamist groups would serve the interests of al-Assad or not!? Today the situation in Syria is more than horrible, the Syrian people suffering the dominance of these extremist groups. Syria today has become a battleground for these primitive creatures who imposing the puritanical Sharia law and its draconian sharia punishments on the hearts and minds of the Syrians, such as wearing the veil, forbidden smoking and shaving the beard, forbidden music and any other simple pleasures that many find intolerable "i.e. imposing the nasty values of the rule of Taliban." All of them wants to establish an Islamic state in the region which is not substantially different in ideology and authority from Taliban. They want Syria and Iraq to return into a life of the Middle Ages. The West, and above all the Israelis, they must not allow this great evil to take place in Syria or Iraq, because ultimately will be a great threat to the Western world! The Syrian people want a real freedom and a civilian state that guarantees justice and human rights NOT a state of contempt, hatred and terrorism, the Caliphate State. The same is true of Iraqis.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
And yet, Michael, we are told that the Geneva deal is one that we should trust....to give diplomacy a chance.

It's not that simple. An Israeli publication has written that Valerie Jarrett has been secretly meeting with Iran for a year.

Benghazi is not merely a puzzle, it's an unexplored oddity. What were we up to and which faction turned on us...and why?

The communists are not merely in Russia and China now. Nor are the radical Islamists.

Nothing is as it appears.

We are baby birds, having learned how to fly at speed...we are hurtling through space and the path ahead looks very clear to our naive and untrained eyes. As clear as a picture window. Where our little necks may find that NOTHING abroad ...or at home is, ....tragically...as it appears.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is no more or less insane than the deceptions of this Obama Admin and the penetration of Islam into the upper echelons of American policy-making, or the Admin's support of the Ikhwan. Doesn't it get tiring to posit the US as an innocent in all this - at a time when Kerry is bludgeoning us to relinquish land and resources necessary to our survival? Not to mention US support for mujahadeen and 'al-Qaeda' in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Balkans, etc., over the years...
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (37)
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The Party of Mirrors: Who’s Really Who in the GOP? Reading this article, reminded me of my suspicions of the liberal and leftists minded (and hearted) people posing as Republicans. Not only will they present themselves as Republicans and appear agree with your position, but when it comes time to vote, they vote the Democratic ticket.

I wonder how many politicians are coming in on the GOP ticket, but are actually playing the Lefts Democratic agenda.

The GOP needs to clean house and stick to a foundation of protecting our Constitutional rights and EQUAL application of the those rights. Less federal government and federal government interventions in the lives of the people.

Lets get back to the roots of our Republican forefathers, and also remind the people of the Democratic party that fought to keep slavery in America. How the Democrats from past to present have been transitioning the free to modern slaves of the federal and state programs; with OBAMACARE being the finale, that will shackle and whip the People in this Country to submit to total Federalism.

Michael, your point is well taken regarding the terrorist and how confusing it can be to keep track of the who's who, The key is trying to figure out their agenda; and even that changes from one aspect or agenda to another. This I can somewhat understand coming from an terrorists and anarchists. Their agenda is terrorism and killing. The terrorist should be considered insane, as they are not your average humans with love and a desire to live in harmony. They have as much conscience as a serial killer. If there agenda is met or accomplished. they seek another agenda to satisfy their need to kill and create terror. Then this is enforced by being supported by Governments such as Russia, Iran, and yes, even the U.S. at times, because they can be used as chess pieces when needed by those Governments for their agendas. Then when the agenda is met for the supporting Government, or the terrorist become rogue, the support stops and sometimes retribution is handed down to punish or silence the terrorist.

Think of it as a Chess game; black on one side, white on the other. As the game proceeds, the player on the black side starts moving some of the white pieces. Then the player on the white side, starts moving some of the Black pieces. We call this cheating. But in Politics, the old cliché goes; "All's Fair in Love and War".
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
my friend's ex-wife makes $85 /hr on the computer . She has been without a job for eight months but last month her pay was $16032 just working on the computer for a few hours. have a peek here.......http://www.work71.com
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
there is a photo of a Middle Eastern child who, as he was dying, said that he would definitely tell God what is going on, on Earth.

The Middle East is - in my opinion - fated to go through what Europe went through between 1618 and 1648. France and the Hapsburg Empires financed the bloodbath, that resulted in killing some 30% of Central Europe's population. Today, financing is coming into Syria and Lebanon from Russia and Iran and the US. In Europe, the War finally ran out of people to kill, the Catholic Church and the Protestants lost their power to rule countries, and the Enlightenment came into being.

We opine that Islam has not had its "Enlightenment". Well, give it time, give it a couple of generations, and it will come to its "Enlightenment."
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
The saying, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bull" is my first take on reading this, Michael.

Spinning tops are not at this level of creating confusion, thereby dissuading outsiders from intervening.

Well, I still say that our friends from Morocco to Pakistan (and elsewhere, where needed) still deserve our backing, and frankly carving out enclaves for them (instead of leaving them to the less than tender mercies of their oppressors) is something to look at.

After all, why should the current borders be maintained?
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
"it would not surprise me to learn that Iran sponsored Al Qaeda groups in Syria and Iraq..."

Dear Michael, I think the extremist Islamic groups were sponsored in Syria and Iraq by Iran just AFTER the fall of Saddam's regime. Al-Qaeda in the beginning was sponsored by Saddam's regime because the intelligence information that discovered by the Iraqi intelligence service and the Jordanian confirm that there was a secret relationship between Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda. According to an interview by Arab newspaper London-based "al-Hayat" in 2005 with a former Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr. Ayad Allawi, who told about that relationship. The intelligence information confirms that Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is at present the leader of Al-Qaeda and it is very likely he lives today in Iran under the protection of Iran's mullahs. At that time al-Zawahiri was the second strongman in al-Qaeda, he visited Iraq under an assumed name in September 1999, where was summoned by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, vice-president and deputy chairman of the Iraqi revolutionary command council for attending the ninth Islamic Conference that was held in Baghdad under the chairmanship of al-Douri, but in reality the invisible aim of inviting of the senior members of al-Qaida into Iraq was in order to meet the Iraqi officials.
The intelligence information also indicates that the Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was responsible for a series of bombings, the kidnapping and beheadings of hostages, and a suicide attacks during the Iraq War, probably he entered Iraq secretly during the same period. The senior official's remarks come after statements to Al-Hayat newspaper by King of Jordan Abdallah II in which he said that Saddam Hussain refused to extradite al-Zarqawi to the Jordanian authorities despite the latter's repeated requests. At that time, al-Zawahiri came and left but al-Zarqawi stayed and started to form terrorist cells when he moved to the camps of the Ansaar al-Islam in the Halabjah area where the relationship grew up between him and the terrorist organization.
Mr. Allawi added that "King Husayn learned that wanted Jordanians had entered Iraq at that time and was dismayed. But Saddam denied their presence or that the Iraqi intelligence had any knowledge about them." , Allawi pointed out that the intelligence organs tried later "to establish relationship between Sabri al-Banna (Abu-Nidal), leader of the "Fatah-Revolutionary Council" organization, and the armed Islamic groups but Abu-Nidal was not enthusiastic about the idea of having a relationship with the repudiationist groups. It is believed that his stand was one of the reasons that made the regime kill him in the summer of 2002."
At the same time the intelligence information confirms that al-Zarqawi had cells INSIDE SYRIA territories.
However, there is a lot of intelligence information that confirms that Syrian regime was trained and sent Islamist militants into Iraq across its borders since the USA entered Iraq.
The news was a big and very important because this testimony was by an important and rational figures in the region as "the King of Jordan Abdallah II and Dr. Ayad Allawi" with what they had said about the activities of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, exactly about a senior member of al-Qaeda and his relationship with Saddam Hussein regime.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you Michael for the great article about the current situation in Syria! In fact the situation in Syria is very complicated. In the beginning the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has deceived the Syrian people under the pretext of the fighting against the regime and yet most of its victims are from opposition fighters. But in the end, many felt that ISIS is just a phony and fabricated opposition was created by the regime and its major ally in Tehran in order to maintain the regime's survival. They did not heading to the front lines to fight the regime after they took over vast areas of the north and east of Syria and also over the main oil fields in Syria. They even did not fire a single bullet toward the regime's forces, their real battle is against the Free Syria Army militias and rarely aginst Jabhat al-Nusra which is Al-Qaeda branch in Syria although al-Nusra is considered to be loyal ally of the Islamic state ISIS. ISIS rejects any other competitor because it is the only Islamic fighting group, which wants to dominate on the ground and by force. they have money and arms, in addition to the main weapon is terror and torture. It eradicating any resistance to its authority, whether it came from civil activists or other militias. The leaders of ISIS are outsiders from diverse nationalities, its fighters from Muslim various nationalities including Europeans, mostly Chechens, North Caucasian, Arabs and Syrian citizens as well.
However, regardless of whether ISIS or other Islamist groups would serve the interests of al-Assad or not!? Today the situation in Syria is more than horrible, the Syrian people suffering the dominance of these extremist groups. Syria today has become a battleground for these primitive creatures who imposing the puritanical Sharia law and its draconian sharia punishments on the hearts and minds of the Syrians, such as wearing the veil, forbidden smoking and shaving the beard, forbidden music and any other simple pleasures that many find intolerable "i.e. imposing the nasty values of the rule of Taliban." All of them wants to establish an Islamic state in the region which is not substantially different in ideology and authority from Taliban. They want Syria and Iraq to return into a life of the Middle Ages. The West, and above all the Israelis, they must not allow this great evil to take place in Syria or Iraq, because ultimately will be a great threat to the Western world! The Syrian people want a real freedom and a civilian state that guarantees justice and human rights NOT a state of contempt, hatred and terrorism, the Caliphate State. The same is true of Iraqis.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are a powerful nation. Unfortunately we are incapable of projecting our power in a smart or useful way. Our bureaucrats in the State Dept. learned the Middle East game from the British and the French, whom history shows were losers. We need to disengage and enjoy the chaos in which the Muslims live and die, intervening only to fuel the fire. If we were a better nation we would have dealt a long time ago with our domestic enemies, the America haters in politics and Academia until we had a consensus on the good that we represent for humanity. I think the “Tree of Liberty” needs to be watered in buckets of blood from time to time.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yesterday Al Queda disavowed ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL, replacing the word "Syria" with the word "Levant") which means it's either gone renegade or been bought off by Assad.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
so Zawahiri is stepping up the war within the "opposition."
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
Taqiyya makes it difficult to trust anyone. Now what?
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
verify, if you can...
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
watch the feet instead of the lips, that's what. and study history.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
These complexities and back-stabbings du jour are why I continuously advocate isolation and quarantine of all Muslim controlled "entities" and areas from Morocco eastwards to and including Indonesia and the southern Philippines. That total landmass is probably no greater than that of the Soviet empire and Red China during the Cold. War.

Todays "allies" in those arenas are tomorrow's throat slitters.

Frankly, we Westerners are simply not wired to be able to understand the butchering mentalities of the Muslims.

Thomas Jefferson [anyone remember that name?] didn't "reach out" to the Muslim Barbary maritime pirates for negotiations and discussions and conferences, he dispatched our Marines to the shores of Tripoli.

Next time they have a Saddam Hussein in that arena, they can handle him themselves, and we will save our young American blood and shiploads of cash.

They're simply not worth our efforts.

Future transient Malikis and Karzais?......that means you.
10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
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