Want to know what the most valuable skill is for an intelligence officer? It’s not how to drive a sports car at high speed through the streets of Monaco, although that does sound like fun. It’s not how to make the perfect martini, although a good martini is always welcome. It’s not even how to proficiently use a handgun, although in extremis it would be a good idea to know how to do so. No, it’s something very simple. It’s knowing how to listen.
Maybe our leaders ought to cultivate that skill a little more.
Speaking in the fall of 2014 Iranian lawmaker Ali Reza Zakani, a member of the nation’s parliament and a close confidant of Supreme Leader Khameini, bragged that the Iranians had already taken control of three Arab capitals, Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad, and that Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, would soon be the fourth.
Apparently, no one bothered to pay attention.
There is a huge, dangerous, virulently anti-American menace growing in the Middle East. It possesses vast military power, huge oil resources, and a great deal of advanced technology. It views the world in apocalyptic terms, and it knows to a moral certainty that it is on the side of God and that we are followers of Satan.
No, it is not the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, although that monstrous creation is a severe danger in its own right. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is gathering steam and on the march across the Middle East. As shown by the quote above, the Iranians have been crystal clear about their intentions. They are flexing their muscles and seizing control of Arab governments wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.
In Beirut, Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors hold sway. For years Lebanon has been plagued by the existence of this powerful Shia group within its borders. Increasingly, however, we are no longer talking about a nation state threatened by violent extremists. We are talking about a terrorist group that controls a nation state. Hezbollah is becoming the reality, and Lebanon the fiction.
In Syria, Assad hangs on only by virtue of the support he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters are on the ground inside Syria. The Iranians have provided and continue to provide massive support to Assad’s regime. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps trains, equips, and guides the forces fighting to keep Assad in power. Syria, always an ally of Tehran, is increasingly a puppet.
The same transformation is taking place in Baghdad. While we speak only in terms of ISIS and Sunni extremists, Iran is rapidly taking control of Iraq and the government in Baghdad. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel are on the ground. Senior Iranian commanders are increasingly involved in directing Iraqi military efforts. At the same time we are attempting to persuade Iraqi Sunnis to trust their government, Baghdad is becoming a client of Tehran.
And now we come to Yemen. For years it has been well known that Iran has been arming and training the Shia Houthi rebels who just seized control of the capital. Iranian ships headed to Yemen have been stopped at sea carrying massive quantities of weapons, equipment, and explosives. Press reports have documented the scale of the effort and its goal, to overthrow the government in Sanaa and seize control.
That goal has now been realized. Another Middle Eastern nation has fallen under the control of the mullahs in Tehran. This is, however, not the end of anything. It is simply another step along the way in what the Iranians refer to as the “grand jihad” — the conquest of the entire Middle East by the Shia forces of the Islamic Republic.
If that sounds perhaps too fantastic, maybe we ought to listen again to what our adversaries have to say. Zakani’s remarks regarding the impending fall of Yemen did not end with that prediction. He went on to state that the seizure of Sanaa would be just one more step in the logical progression of the Iranian revolution, and, just to be as clear as possible added, “The turn of Saudi Arabia will inevitably come.”
There is unrest amongst the Shia in Bahrain, a tiny island nation just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. All indications are that the Iranians are stoking those fires and providing support. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States have already had in the recent past to intervene militarily in response.
When Israeli helicopter gunships took out a group of Hezbollah fighters in the Golan Heights recently they got an unexpected bonus. They killed an Iranian general who was accompanying the team. Intriguingly, press reports suggest he was a missile expert and was working with Hezbollah on upgrading their capacity to launch missile attacks on Israeli territory.
Iran and Russia have signed a new defense pact. As part of that agreement, the Russians will sell to the Iranians their most sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems, which can pose a threat to even the most advanced American aircraft.
Meanwhile, we seem almost oblivious. Asked about the fall of Sanaa and Iran’s role in it, White House press spokesman Josh Earnest replied that it was unclear what role Iran may have played in the uprising. Apparently, the fact that the Houthi rebels routinely display pictures of Khamenei and the Ayatollah Khomeini did not help him resolve the ambiguity.
In fact, undeterred by the advance of Iranian-backed forces in the Middle East, President Obama has persisted in clinging to the delusion that the Iranians have changed their tune, want to engage in dialogue, and are interested only in peaceful coexistence. Negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, which has been for many years a transparent cover for illicit efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, are pressing ahead.
Efforts by the U.S. Congress to impose, conditionally, additional sanctions on Iran are being strenuously opposed by the White House, which claims that such actions might push the Iranians away from the negotiating table and heighten tensions.
What facts support the fantastic conclusion that the Iranians want to ease tensions or learn to coexist remains unclear. Yet, we are pressing ahead, closing our eyes, covering our ears and choosing to ignore the reality of what is transpiring. Four Arab capitals have fallen. The “grand jihad” continues.
What will be number five?
This column appeared first in Epic Times.
Charles S. Faddis, president of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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