21 August 2007

Psychological War Games With Iran

Geopolitical Diary: Psychological War Games With Iran

U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of forces south of Baghdad, said on Sunday that about 50 members of an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were training Shiite militias in his area of responsibility, which includes the Iran-Iraq border. Lynch said his troops had not captured any Iranians or illegal weapons during two months of patrolling in the area, but was confident in his intelligence about the trainers, promising to go after them as well as their trainees.

It would be surprising to find that there were no Iranians inside Iraq training forces that were friendly to Iran. The Iranians ran covert operations inside Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and throughout the 1990s, when they worked with intensely organized Shia in the south. The Iranians have a deep interest in Iraq, and the probability that they would not be involved in training militias is low. Therefore there are two interesting things in Lynch's statement. The first is the assertion that this is the first unit of its type that has been found. The second, that Lynch has chosen to make a major statement about it now.

Both information and logic tell us that the Iranians have been in Iraq and, given the weapons that have flowed into Iraq from Iran, it is obvious that there is a covert system operating to get them there. It also is unlikely that the Iranians would be sending in weapons without also providing training. Therefore, Lynch's statement could be true only in the technical sense that the United States has intelligence on some special type of training group, perhaps larger than usual. To say that this is the first time U.S. intelligence has spotted Iranians training militias is a little hard to accept.

Which brings us to why he made the claim at this time. Major generals do not get to make statements that are not cleared by higher command. The United States has been playing psychological warfare games with the Iranians, as we pointed out last week, threatening to have the IRGC placed on the list of terrorist organizations. If it can be demonstrated that the IRGC, as opposed to Iranian intelligence, is doing the training, and it can be shown that the militias it is training have engaged in terrorist activities (not hard, given that this is Iraq), the United States now has proof that the IRGC is a terrorist organization. Lynch's statement comes across as justification for this very conclusion.

It is still not clear where the United States is going with this. One reader wrote in saying that the United States is a boa constrictor slowly strangling Iran with these measures. That is an interesting analogy, save that a boa constrictor is incredibly powerful and it crushes small creatures. The United States is not all that powerful right now, and Iran is not a small creature in this context.

Still, what we regarded as an interesting scheme out of Washington without much significance got more interesting. Lynch's statement, which we assume was cleared with Gen. David Petraeus, indicates that this particular maneuver had a broader buy-in than just the National Security Council. Now, what Washington intends to do once it designates the IRGC a terrorist group is not clear. We are still of the firm opinion that a nation losing a war in Iraq and barely holding on in Afghanistan really does not want to start a third war. But the shocking discovery that Iranians are training Shiite militia may well portend unexpected activity.-(stratfor)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.