Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Next Proxy War

How the United States can use the Syrian civil war to prepare the region -- for Iran.


In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman argued for stepped-up U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war. They called for providing Syria's rebels with weapons, training, and intelligence. They also called on the United States to support the establishment of safe zones inside Syria, to be protected by U.S. air power and other capabilities (but not American ground troops). Failure to take these steps, they argued, would prolong Syria's bloody civil war, boost the role of Islamic radicals such as al Qaeda, increase the chance that Syria's chemical weapons will end up in dangerous hands, and cause the U.S. to be shut out of the country after the Assad regime falls.

A key step in formulating effective strategy is confining oneself to realistic and obtainable goals. Significantly shortening Syria's war, determining which factions come out on top, and seizing control of Syria's most threatening weapons in the midst of chaotic combat are goals very likely beyond the grasp of U.S. policymakers, at least at reasonable cost. The senators' rationale for U.S. intervention implies an ability to influence events in Syria beyond what seems feasible. Should U.S. intervention fail to rapidly end the war or quickly seize Syria's chemical weapons, the United States would risk finding itself climbing a ladder of escalation, with increasing use of air power and even ground troops in an effort to achieve the campaign's goals. Once committed in a large and visible way, U.S. prestige would be at risk, forcing policymakers to continue adding resources in the hope of achieving overly ambitious objectives.

However, that does not mean that the United States should avoid the conflict. In fact, there are important and achievable objectives in Syria, obtainable with little risk and for a modest price. Rather than attempting to influence the course of Syria's civil war, something largely beyond Washington's control, U.S. policymakers should instead focus on strengthening America's diplomatic position and on building irregular warfare capabilities that will be crucial in future conflicts in the region. Modest and carefully circumscribed intervention in Syria, in coordination with America's Sunni allies who are already players in the war, will bolster critical relationships and irregular warfare capabilities the United States and its allies will need for the future.

The conflict in Syria is just one front in the ongoing competition between Iran and America's Sunni allies on the west side of the Persian Gulf. That competition has played out in the past with proxy warfare in Lebanon and Yemen, and Iraq may become the next surrogate battlefield. Should Iran become a nuclear weapons state, the competition will almost certainly intensify. Regardless of the outcome in Syria, U.S. allies around the Persian Gulf must brace for deepening security competition with Iran.

The Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are building up their conventional military forces, in particular coordinated missile defenses to counter the threat from Iran's ballistic missiles. However, the actual fighting in recent years has been conducted by insurgent militias that have usually been armed and trained by Iran and some of the Sunni countries. For example, Qatar, whose special forces played a large role in the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, is a major sponsor, alongside Saudi Arabia, of the rebels in Syria. On the other side, the capture this week of 48 Iranian Revolutionary Guard advisers by the Syrian rebels illustrates Iran's role in the country.

This kind of irregular warfare will very likely continue to be the most common manifestation of the security competition between Iran and the Sunni countries. Hezbollah in Lebanon, various Shiite militias in Iraq, and the current training and support Iran is supplying to pro-Assad militias in Syria demonstrate Iran's experience with this form of warfare. The Sunni countries have a strong interest in stepping up their own irregular warfare capabilities if they are to keep pace with Iran during the ongoing security competition.

The civil war in Syria provides an opportunity for the United States and its Sunni allies to do just that. For the United States, supporting Syria's rebels would constitute a classic unconventional warfare campaign, a basic Special Forces mission. Such missions are typically covert and usually performed in cooperation with regional allies. So, U.S. and GCC intelligence officers and special forces could use an unconventional warfare campaign in Syria as an opportunity to exchange skills and training, share resources, improve trust, and establish combined operational procedures. Such field experience would be highly useful in future contingencies. Equally important, it would reassure the Sunni countries that the United States will be a reliable ally against Iran.

Normally, the goals of a combined U.S.-GCC unconventional warfare campaign in Syria would be the overthrow of the Assad regime and the establishment of a government friendly to U.S. and Gulf Sunni interests. However, policymakers should recognize that unconventional warfare campaigns are fragile projects with no assurance of success. They can take years to run their course with plenty of opportunity for embarrassments along the way. The Syrian war is proving to be just as dirty as any other modern proxy war, with both sides apparently guilty of war crimes. Rather than committing to the goal of overthrowing the Assad regime, an elusive task that could result in an unpleasant spiral of escalation, the U.S. should limit itself to the goal of growing coalition irregular warfare expertise.

But to improve the odds of achieving this limited goal, policymakers should expand U.S. participation beyond its current limits. They should not rule out providing lethal assistance to the rebels not available through other partners. U.S. special forces advisers and trainers should be allowed to visit rebel sanctuary camps in Turkey and Syria. Finally, U.S. policymakers should consider the limited use of air power -- for example, drones for intelligence-gathering and close air support. Since the principal U.S. goal would be the buildup of GCC irregular warfare capacity, GCC intelligence and special forces officers should have the lead, with U.S. officers supporting them. This approach would do the most to build overall alliance special operations capacity while limiting U.S. exposure and risk.

Some will no doubt criticize this approach as an exploitation of the humanitarian disaster in Syria to allow the U.S. and its allies to refine some unpleasant techniques. A historical analogy would be the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, another very ugly civil war, which Europe's great powers used to tune up their military doctrines before World War II. By this view, intervention would only accelerate Syria's suffering and make the United States an accessory to a dirty war.

However, to the extent U.S. intervention in support of its Sunni allies shortens the war and hastens the end of the Assad regime, it will save lives and reduce the suffering in Syria. U.S. intervention cannot assure such a result and U.S. policymakers should not commit U.S. prestige to such an outcome. But as we saw in the Balkans in the early 1990s, standing aside while a civil war rages has its own moral problems. By contrast, when outside adviser assistance to the Croatian and Bosnian militias was finally allowed, the fighting soon ended. No one can guarantee a similar result in Syria. On the other hand, we can see what Syria is going through right now. Although ending the war should not be a goal of the very limited intervention discussed here, the odds of ending the fighting on favorable terms would seem to be higher than with no intervention at all.

Furthermore, irregular warfare is the future for which the U.S. and its allies must prepare. When Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman -- the most hawkish elected officials in Washington -- rule out the use of conventional ground troops, policymakers should conclude that they have a depleted toolbox for addressing future security challenges. With the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh, policymakers will be highly reluctant to employ conventional ground forces in future contingencies. Among the few remaining tools will be intelligence and special operations officers pursuing irregular warfare techniques alongside allies. Supporting the Sunni allies in Syria will sharpen irregular warfare skills, improve operational relationships, and prepare the United States and its allies for future contingencies. And it may even end the war and save some lives.

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy on 10/08/2012
-Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal

Friday, August 10, 2012

How Iran’s Spies Are Losing The Shadow War With U.S. And Israel

In Syria and around the world, Iran’s covert operatives are in trouble.

By Christopher Dickey

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, its infamous expeditionary unit, the Quds Force, and the network of Hezbollah operatives it supports around the world, are starting to look like the proverbial gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They’re still dangerous, to be sure, but a series of recent incidents widely attributed to these groups suggest that as spies, assassins, and terrorists, they just aren’t what they used to be. And Tehran is getting worried.

According to sources in the Iranian capital, concerns about IRGC inadequacies are fueling the bitter infighting among Iran’s elites at a critical time: the war in Syria threatens to bring down Iran’s most vital Arab ally, the confrontation with Israel and the West over Iran’s nuclear program has provoked devastating sanctions, and a military attack on Iran by Israel still looms as a distinct possibility. This is a bad moment for the Iranians to discover their fearsome covert operatives are essentially incompetent.

Last weekend, for instance, Syrian rebels captured a group of 48 Iranians who were alleged to be IRGC members on “a reconnaissance mission” in Damascus. Rumors have circulated extensively in Tehran (a very rumor-prone city) that the head of the Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani himself, was wounded recently when his convoy was attacked in Damascus. Over the last year, at least nine apparent Iranian assassination and bomb plots around the world have failed or been thwarted. The grim attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last month, which killed seven people and wounded 30, appears to have been the exceptional “success” for these murderers rather than the rule.

On almost every front in a wide-ranging covert war with Israel and the United States, Iran appears to be suffering major setbacks. Its nuclear program was disrupted by the Stuxnet computer worm in 2010 and at least one virus since. Its scientists have been attacked and five of them murdered. According to one source, recent leaks provided Western intelligence services with detailed information about work on the Iranian nuclear program at the Parchin military complex, which may have encouraged the Americans and their allies to toughen their stand in the faltering talks meant to defuse the crisis.

As always in covert wars, denial is part of the picture, and sometimes a kind of perverse affirmation. The Iranian government denies any connection to the various alleged plots over the last year in the United States, Cyprus, India, Thailand, and Bulgaria, even though they are widely seen as attempted retaliation for the attacks on its scientists. (Iranian state television broadcast a documentary film on Sunday, Terror Club, that included “confessions” by Iranians who said they had been trained in Israel to carry out the murders of Iran’s nuclear scientists. Israel has never officially acknowledged a role in the killings.) Last month, intelligence analysts at the New York City Police Department prepared a detailed chronology of nine alleged Iran-backed plots in other cities around the world this year, all of them apparently aimed at Jewish targets. The NYPD stepped up security around several similar sites in New York City.

Some of the alleged IRGC plots appear so convoluted it’s hard to believe they were ever serious, or, indeed, ever existed. Would the Iranians really have tried to hire members of a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a crowded D.C. restaurant last year? Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American former used-car salesman from Texas, whose lawyers say is bipolar, is awaiting trial in New York for his alleged role as a middleman in that plot.

The Iranian government insists the Iranian citizens who are now “hostages” in Syrian rebel hands were mere religious pilgrims visiting the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in Damascus. But Tehran says it will hold the United States responsible for their treatment.

The back and forth of denial and recrimination is reminiscent of events 30 years ago in Lebanon, when Iranian agents were captured by hostile militias and the retaliation came in the form of multiple Iranian-backed kidnappings that targeted American journalists, a CIA station chief, an American colonel, and other Westerners.

Back then, however, the Iranians and their agents working under the government’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) showed impressive, if frightening, tradecraft. Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, the Iranians pulled off a series of assassinations targeting opponents of the regime in Paris, Geneva, Rome, Vienna, and elsewhere. Sometimes they used guns and sometimes car bombs, as in two attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina that took more than 100 lives in the early '90s. On August 6, 1981, Iranian agents murdered a former Iranian prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, in his own heavily guarded house outside of Paris with a knife from his kitchen, then calmly walked out the front door.

In recent years, however, especially since the political upheaval following rigged presidential elections in 2009, the MOIS has been pushed aside in many areas by the separate, independent, and much clumsier IRGC. “You read about ‘the elite IRGC’ and the ‘elite Quds Force,’” says a veteran American operative in the counterterror wars. “Well, there is nothing ‘elite’ about the IRGC.  It’s not the MOIS, which has a certain elegance.”

“They are using Hezbollah operatives where they can find them, or borrow them, and they are willing to use criminal elements,” says the American operative. “That’s what happens when you try to push out nine plots in six months. One maybe, or two. But nine—you get sloppy.”

According to one of our correspondents in the region who is in close contact with various governmental sources in Iran, senior leaders of the regular Iranian army, which has been sidelined for decades as the IRGC gained strength, are now accusing the IRGC of squandering precious military resources and political capital in its efforts to save the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been a major Assad supporter, according to these sources, supplying expensive military hardware to help bolster the regime. His IRGC allies advised al-Assad early on to hang tough and forget about reforms, much as they had done when suppressing the popular protests in Iran in 2009.

Any Iranian leadership might have taken this stand—reluctant to lose such a strategically important ally and a critical link to the powerful Hezbollah forces in Lebanon--but Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have become rivals, and Khamenei may use the record of IRGC failures to force out commanders who haven’t supported him in these intramural fights.

According to our correspondent, who is not named for security reasons, a “mole hunt” has begun inside the Quds Force, looking for the source or sources of mismanagement and potentially disastrous leaks to hostile intelligence forces. As in many bureaucracies, it is easier to blame conspirators than incompetents. Meanwhile, the deadly game of spy and counterspy continues.

-This commentary was published first in The Daily Beast on 07/08/2012
-Christopher Dickey is the Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of six books, including Summer of Deliverance and, most recently, Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force—the NYPD

The Palestine Mitt Romney Doesn’t Know

By Zahi Khouri

U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney

I am a proud American. I am a hardworking businessman and job creator. I am a faithful Christian.
And I am Palestinian.

Much as my multiple identities might drive Mitt Romney to head scratching, it is he who needs a lesson in, to borrow his recent words, “culture and a few other things.”

Were he to spend a day with me in the Holy Land, I could take him to the Jerusalem neighborhood where my family home has stood for five centuries. I could show him the orange trees in Jaffa that my family helped introduce to the world in the 1930s.

That’s right: Jaffa oranges are a Palestinian, not Israeli, trademark. Yet like so many “cultural” markers claimed by the self-professed Jewish state, even the fruit trees my people have tended for centuries have been expropriated.

Romney might be duped into thinking that oranges, falafel and hummus — staples of Palestinian cuisine for generations — are Israeli products. But how dare he claim that a state built at the expense of another people’s history and accomplishments is guided by “the hand of providence”?

Israel did not make the desert bloom. Instead, thanks to a deal struck with the British viceroys of Mandate Palestine, it made away with a land, a set of institutions and, indeed, a culture that was not its own.

It did so at the expense of my people. Like more than three-quarters of Palestine’s population, my family was forced to leave this land after Israel’s creation in 1948. Even though we had to abandon our successful businesses and centuries-old homes, however, we did not become the “uncultured” victims that Romney’s caricature suggests.

Most of us went to other Arab countries, where Palestinians became known for our business acumen and management know-how, and helped to build nascent private and public sectors. Ask our fellow Arabs in Lebanon, Jordan or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region and they will tell you: Palestinian culture, with its premium on education and hard work, has been a force for hope, development and prosperity.

Despite their circumstances, Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal occupation share the same culture and proudly claim the same remarkable achievements. I, for one, returned to Palestine in 1993 to launch the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in the West Bank. It was granted a Best Country Bottling Operation award in May by Coca-Cola, a testament to my colleagues’ ingenuity and determination. But these traits alone cannot overcome the stifling effects of Israel’s occupation.

If Romney got one thing right, it’s that Israelis far outdo Palestinians in net wealth. In fact, his estimates of the disparity were too conservative: Israel’s per capita gross domestic product is roughly $32,000 to the Palestinians’ $1,500.

Remarkably, that $1,500 figure is roughly half of what Palestinians claimed in 1993, when the Oslo accords were signed. In other words, the U.S.-sponsored peace process has made us poorer.

How is that possible?

Palestinians have no say in our economic development. Every resource — water, land, soil, minerals, airspace, humans — is controlled and commandeered by Israel, which then deigns to sell us back a small portion.

In the West Bank, for example, Israeli settlers consume on average 4.3 times the amount of water as Palestinians. In the Jordan Valley alone, some 9,000 settlers in Israeli agricultural settlements use one-quarter the amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, about 2.5 million people.

Palestinians have no control over our borders. This means we cannot import or export without being subject to discriminatory measures by our occupier. It also means that, without Israeli permission, we cannot hire experts to enhance our employees’ skills or send employees for overseas training.

Worse, we are restricted within the territories ostensibly under our “control.” At any given time, there are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers to movement within the occupied West Bank — an area smaller than Delaware — hindering Palestinians and their goods from moving between their own towns and cities and the outside world.

Palestinian development of all kinds is severely hindered by the Israeli occupation. Yet Palestinians have not given up. Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world. Our youth continue to graduate from our universities, opening businesses and gaining skills. Our private sector innovates and grows.

All of this is happening on the 22 percent of historic Palestine that is the West Bank and Gaza. If Romney had any historical perspective, he would dispose of his racist judgments about Palestinian culture and instead imagine our potential without Israel’s imposed hindrances.

-This commentary was published first in The Washington Post on 10/08/2012
-Zahi Khouri is a Palestinian American businessman and founder of Palestinian National Beverage Co.

Saudi Women Olympians Deserve Praise, Not Insults

Judoka Wojdan and Sarah Attar participated in london despite a lack of training and experience.

By Faisal J. Abbas

As Sarah Attar finished last in her 800-metre race on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s first female participation at the Olympics came to a seemingly ignominious end.

Last Friday, the other Saudi contender, 16-year-old judoka Wojdan Ali Shaherkani, made her international debut at the London ExCel Centre, in a match which was certainly not even. The inexperienced Saudi faced Puerto Rico’s Melissa Mojica, who is ranked 13th in the world. The challenge ended in a mere 82 seconds, when Mojica performed an impeccable match-ending ippon throw.

After she picked herself off the floor, the young Saudi martial artiste received a much-deserved standing ovation from the crowd as she left the arena alongside her father, coach and judo referee, Ali Shaherkani.

Many will say the Saudi women lost their London Olympic battles, but Wojdan and Sarah won a much bigger ‘war’ for women in their home country. After all, up until a few weeks ago, nobody (including the two athletes themselves) even anticipated that Saudi Arabia — where a ban is imposed on women’s sports — would have a female presence in London 2012.

Participation by Sarah (who was born and raised in California) and Wojdan came only as a result of months of negotiations between their government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
No infrastructure

The IOC went out of its way to ensure that by the time the 2012 Games were inaugurated, it would be the first tournament to ever have female representation on all participating teams.

With no real infrastructure for female athletes in Saudi Arabia, sports officials had to scramble to secure whomever they could find. For its part, the IOC made exceptions and allowed the two Saudi women to participate based on ‘special invitations’ and not on merit or competiveness.

This is why the results achieved by Wojdan and Sarah were not surprising; hardly anybody actually anticipated they would contest for a medal.

The surprise came from the appalling comments made about the pair on social media sites, blogs and web-forums.

Many ultra-conservatives, who oppose allowing women to engage in sports publically, used extremely offensive terms questioning Wojdan’s and Sarah’s morality.

Others made further comments disassociating Wojdan from being Muslim and even from being Saudi. One racist comment described her as Tarsh Bahar (sea remnants), a local derogatory term used to describe people who came to Makkah from outside Saudi Arabia, but decide to stay and become Saudi.

Such comments are utterly unacceptable towards anyone, let alone a person who took it upon herself to respond to the call of duty when she knew she didn’t stand a chance against superior competition.
Wojdan knew she had no experience, she knew she lacked the training and she knew she was facing the world’s 13th best judo player. She still didn’t shy away from the competition.

If anything, she has proven to be more of a man than most of the mice who were squeaking rubbish against her on Twitter.

As for the ‘Father of the Pride’, Ali Shaherkani, he was well-advised to pursue in a court of law those who insulted his daughter, as he announced he would.

In most civilised countries, most of these hateful comments against Wojdan would easily be categorised as libelous; she would be able to claim for serious damages and demand a public apology as well.

Public support

We also must remember the many supporters of the two Saudi athletes, who went public with their encouragement and gratitude.

Activist Manal Al Sharif, who led a campaign to allow Saudi women to drive, described Wojdan’s participation in the London Olympics as historic. “For us Saudi women judoka Wojdan is a champion,” she said on Twitter.

The praise wasn’t limited to Saudis, as UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan tweeted: “Thank you, Wojdan Shaherkani”.

Yet there needs to be more gratitude for these courageous women. Even though Wojdan and Sarah are officially Olympians, they have not yet been officially recognised by the Saudi government as Olympic competitors.

It was virtually impossible for these two female Saudi athletes to bring home a gold medal, but there is nothing stopping the Saudi government from awarding them with a medal of honour.
After all, if it wasn’t for the courage and patriotism of these honourable young ladies, Saudi Arabia wouldn’t even have had an Olympic presence this year.

-This commentary was published in GULF NEWS on 10/08/2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Syria: Mistaking Symptoms For Causes

 By Kori Schake

Obama administration counterterrorism official John Brennan was out on the hustings yesterday trying to once again get the administration credit for what they're not doing. In this case, it was to foster the illusion that the administration is actively exploring options for intervening in Syria's civil war. "Various options that are being talked about ... are things that the United States government has been looking at very carefully, trying to understand the implications, trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this." This is little enough seventeen months into a popular uprising against one of the world's worst governments. Italians gave us the concept of festina lente, to hurry up slowly; the Obama administration wants to laurel itself for boldly acting cautiously.

But Brennan's comments are also illustrative for how they characterize the problem in Syria. While at pains to pretend the Obama administration is considering no-fly zones to prevent the Syrian military from killing civilians in refugee camps -- although the administration seems comfortable enough with the Syrian military killing civilians in their homes -- Brennan attested that the administration is "quite busy making sure that we're able to do everything possible that's going to advance the interests of peace in Syria and not, again, do anything that's going to contribute to more violence." That's incredibly revealing: the administration believes that violence is the problem, not the injustice and repression the regime of Bashir al-Assad is imposing on its long-suffering population.

The Obama administration seems not to understand that violence has political causes, and that "preventing violence" only reinforces the grip of those in power. They are diagnosing symptoms, not diseases. As no less a source than Elie Wiesel said, "we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." The Obama administration applauds itself for "new pragmatism." That should be called what it is: a studied neutrality to the claims of a people against their government, an even-handedness between repressors and repressed.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 09/08/2012

The Other Reasons For Invading Syria

By Micah Zenko

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs during clashes with Syrian army in Aleppo (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs during clashes with Syrian army in Aleppo (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

As the fighting between the ever-weakening regime of President Bashar al-Assad and hundreds of armed opposition groups spreads and intensifies, pundits and policymakers are increasing their calls to intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war. The primary reason given for picking sides in this conflict is to protect unarmed civilians from the brutal and often indiscriminate force waged by Assad’s security forces. In tandem with this humanitarian impulse is the notion that giving weapons, intelligence, and logistics support to a select few, carefully vetted armed rebels will rapidly lead to regime change in Syria. Above all else, intervention proponents never claim that regime change will be very difficult, or require a single U.S. boot on the ground. As Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Palmer wrote last month: “No one is arguing for military intervention on the order of Afghanistan or Iraq.”

However, there are a range of other justifications that intervention proponents put forth, having nothing to do with protecting civilians or regime change in Syria. To attempt to gather support from different audiences, such proponents routinely provide a laundry list of justifications that rationalize the inherent risks and uncertain ultimate costs of military operations. For example, according to U.S. officials, the Libya intervention was necessary to repay European support for the war in Afghanistan, and send messages of resolve to other dictators, such as Assad, who it turns-out was not receptive.

Consider just three other reasons that intervention proponents have offered for invading Syria:

Syrians have especially long memories. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in a recent op-ed titled “We Will Pay a High Price if We do not Arm Syria’s Rebels”:

“Sooner or later some combination of the opposition groups will indeed control Syria. And when they do, their memories of who did what during the struggle to achieve a democratic Syria are going to matter far more to the U.S. and Europe than policy makers presently calculate…The eventual winners in Syria will matter a great deal to the health, wealth and stability of what is still the most geo-strategically important region in the world. Syrians will remember those who remember them, those who cared enough to help save their lives.”

Though Slaughter does not hypothesize what the “eventual winners” will do to America if President Obama does not authorize arming them today, it is a remarkable rationale that makes several assumptions. First, that the post-Assad political leaders of Syria will be the same individuals who received U.S. weapons. According to Rep. Mike Rodgers, Chairman of the House Permanent Intelligence Committee, there are at least 300 rebel groups in Syria, a quarter of whom “may be inspired” by Al Qaeda. Second, any country not arming the Syrian rebels will be remembered for their lack of enthusiasm, and suffer the wrath of Damascus for some period of time. Third, Syria’s political leaders will closely align their policy preferences with the United States, because the Obama administration armed them—rather than say the preferences of the Qataris or Saudis, who are providing weapons to Syrian rebel groups. Senator Marco Rubio echoed this notion when he contended: “Empowering and supporting Syria’s opposition today will give us our best chance of influencing it tomorrow.”

Consider some recent history. The United States provided battlefield intelligence, money, and weapons and ammunition (up to 65,000 tons a year by 1987) to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, some of whom later became members the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Not surprisingly, once the Taliban came to power it was not willingly directed by the United States, refusing repeated requests by the Clinton administration to kick out Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda leadership. In Rwanda, the United States didn’t provide arms or intervene militarily during the genocide in 1994, yet somehow Paul Kagame’s government finds itself able to accept $200M in U.S. foreign assistance every year. Likewise, the future leaders of Syria will act in their own national interests with whoever it needs to, regardless of who is arming or funding the revolution today.

Iran. In an op-ed that represents the opinion of many intervention proponents, Danielle Pletka wrote: “Ousting Tehran’s last reliable satellite regime and replacing it with a Sunni, democratic government would reassure our friends in the region that Washington is determined to stand up to Iran when necessary.” Described more vividly by James Dobbins at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week: “There’s nothing more effective I think to put the Iranian threat in some perspective and reduce its pressure on Israel than to flip Syria.” It is doubtful that Syria’s opposition will appreciate that their revolution is used to “flip” their country’s relationship with Iran. Furthermore, to restate the point about country’s acting in their own national interests, one often repeated side-benefit of regime change in Iraq was that a non-Saddam Hussein leader in Baghdad would both cooperate closely with America and serve as a bulwark against Iran—neither happened.

A transformative moment. As a Washington lobbyist hired by the Syrian opposition to drum up support on Capitol Hill admitted: “There is a window of opportunity. What we do now will affect the region for the next 20 to 30 years.” This sort of grandiose thinking echoes President George H.W. Bush who kicked-off the first Gulf War in 1991 by proclaiming “We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order.” It also reflects what many neo-conservative Bush administration officials proposed would be the tremendous spill-over gains from the shock-and-awe campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein. The costs ($810 billion and counting) and horrendous human consequences of the 2003 Gulf War should dissuade anybody that Washington can channel a revolution in Syria along a course that benefits only the interests of America and its allies in the Middle East.

The nine-month run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was a notable case of “justification fatigue,” where the intellectual arguments favoring regime change were more developed than the political-military plans to rebuild the country once Saddam fell. Whether in Syria, or elsewhere, citizens should carefully judge the merits of the many justifications offered, and decide for themselves whether it is worth the costs and consequences of intervening in another country.

-This commentary was published first on CFR Blog on 07/08/2012
-Micah Zenko is a Douglas Dillon Fellow and expert on Conflict prevention; U.S. national security policy; military planning and operations; nuclear weapons policy

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fiasco In The Levant

Unless the United States gets serious now about its postwar planning, Syria could spin out of control.


As bad as things are in Syria, they could get much worse once Bashar al-Assad's regime falls, as it eventually must. Like Iraq, Syria is a country divided by religion and ethnicity, held together by a brutal regime drawn from a minority element of the population. And as in Iraq, that minority has profited handsomely at the expense of the majority, meaning that it will not cede power easily and that when it finally does, at least some elements of the majority will see it as time for payback. In other words, Syria after Assad could very well be al Qaeda's dream come true.

Already, al Qaeda is positioning itself to engage in sectarian violence. As my Rand Corp. colleague Seth Jones has pointed out, al Qaeda makes up a small part of the resistance movement, but its strength appears to be rising. Since December, it has conducted roughly two dozen attacks, primarily against Syrian security service targets.

More ominously, al Qaeda may be poised to make inroads with more moderate fighters who are cash-strapped and desperate for military backing. Over the weekend, NBC's Richard Engel reported from Aleppo that one rebel brigade doesn't "have enough weapons to fight and they're dying." Al Qaeda, he said, has offered weapons and money, which the rebels are seriously considering. "They'd rather have support from the United States, the U.N., or Europe, but it hasn't come."

The State Department, through the U.S. Institute of Peace, is assisting Syrian émigrés and more recent refugees to plan for postwar reconstruction. This is certainly a useful exercise. Yet planning divorced from resources and power, as these efforts necessarily are, will likely have only a limited impact. What is more important for the U.S. government to do at this stage than drafting plans is forging relationships with those likely to next govern Syria. These relationships should be developed at multiple levels: diplomatic, covert, military, economic, and political.

To avoid Iraq-like sectarian violence in Syria, it will be important to work during the civil war to unify the opposition, marginalize al Qaeda and other extremist elements already increasingly active there, stimulate defections from the regime -- particularly from its Alawite core -- and encourage the inclusion of Alawites within the opposition leadership. I expect that Barack Obama's administration is already advising the Syrian opposition along these lines.

But the United States' ability to shape future events in Syria will only be as great as the support it gives the rebels in their fight to topple Assad. Decisive assistance right now will do more to forge a relationship with the eventual rulers of Syria than mere promises of postwar aid. The new Syrian leadership will be formed in the crucible of war, and in all likelihood it will prove resistant to postwar overtures by governments that did not support it from the outset. It would, for instance, be a great mistake to allow rebel leaders to conclude that al Qaeda did more to help their cause than the United States.

Having helped organize multinational military operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, I would be the last to understate the complexities, dangers, and costs associated with any greater American involvement in Syria's civil war. For this reason, I do not believe the United States should become the chief standard-bearer for an external military intervention. I do believe, however, that the United States should up its assistance to the rebels to include lethal equipment and training. It should also remain open to even greater involvement if the Syrian opposition requests it and other regional powers call for and are prepared to participate in any such effort, much as it did in Libya when those conditions were met.

-This commentary was first published in Foreign Policy on 08/08/2012
-James Dobbins heads the Rand Corp.'s International Security and Defense Policy Center. He served as special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo during Bill Clinton's administration and was the George W. Bush administration's first post-9/11 envoy for Afghanistan

With Prince Bandar, The Saudis Go To The Battle Stations

By David Ignatius

Prince Bandar Bin Sultan

By appointing Prince Bandar bin Sultan as its new intelligence chief, Saudi Arabia has installed what looks like a war Cabinet at a time of rising tensions with Iran and internal dissent from its Shiite minority.

The Saudis have also heightened their alert level in other ways to prepare for possible regional conflict. Some Saudi military and security personnel were mobilized last month – called back from summer leave or told to cancel planned vacations. One explanation of the mobilization making the rounds in Riyadh is that the Saudis expected that Turkey might retaliate against Syria for the shoot-down of one of its fighters in late June.

The installation of a new intelligence chief came as Saudi Arabia was stepping up its support for insurgents in Syria seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. In this covert effort, the Saudis are working with the United States, France, Turkey, Jordan and other nations that want Assad out.

Bandar will succeed Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, who was barely visible in the West during his years as Saudi intelligence chief. This led to comment that Muqrin had been fired, but he is said to retain the confidence of King Abdullah, who will use him as a special emissary to Pakistan and other Muslim nations where Muqrin’s traditional Saudi demeanor will be useful.

Bandar, the flamboyant former ambassador to Washington, had appeared to be sidelined in the past several years because of poor health and personal issues. His appointment as intelligence chief probably signals the desire of both King Abdullah and the new Crown Prince Salman to have an experienced covert operator to handle sensitive foreign contacts at a time of rising tensions.

Bandar would be a useful intermediary, for example, if Saudi Arabia sought nuclear weapons or ballistic missile technology from China to defend against such threats from Iran. Bandar was the go-between in a secret 1987 missile deal with China, known as “East Wind.” Bandar has also been active in secret missions with Syria and Lebanon for decades, and The Wall Street Journal reported that he helped arrange a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Gen. Manaf Tlass, the highest-ranking Syrian defector.

Bandar is especially well-placed to manage intelligence liaison with the U.S., given his several decades here as ambassador. He maintained close relations with the CIA during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and was said to have helped organize secret funding for joint Saudi-American covert actions in the Middle East. During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Bandar was so close to President George H. W. Bush that he became known as “Bandar Bush,” a moniker that continued under President George W. Bush.

Bandar continued to play a behind-the-scenes role even after he left Washington in 2005. He was said to have supported Vice President Dick Cheney’s confrontational policy against Iran, to the consternation of Prince Turki al-Faisal, his successor as ambassador, who was working with less hawkish members of the Bush administration.

Interestingly, Bandar has been a special target for Iranian media attacks in recent days. Iran’s Press TV on Aug. 2 described him as “the linchpin in the ‘dastardly subterfuges’ of the CIA and Mossad against Syria.” Press TV also carried an uncorroborated report on July 31 claiming that Bandar had been assassinated; the rumor was rebutted Friday by a source who said that Bandar had been in telephone contact with non-Saudis.

At home, the Saudis have been struggling to contain Shiite protests in Al-Qatif, in the kingdom’s oil-rich eastern province. Those protests, which the Saudis believe are Iran-inspired, led to two deaths in early July, according to a July 9 BBC report. The demonstrations continued last week and there were reports of more casualties.

The Saudis haven’t been able to stop the insurgency in Al-Qatif; indeed, it appears to be worsening. The protesters may hope to provoke the Saudis into a bloody crackdown, which would leave scores dead and encourage much wider demonstrations and international outcry. So far, the Saudis have avoided such an escalation through relatively restrained tactics. Saudi reformers argue that the best way to quell Shiite protests is to give them the full economic and political rights of citizenship.

Iran’s Press TV on July 27 featured an interview with an analyst headlined: “Collapse of Al-Saud regime becomes more realistic than before.” The information may have been Tehran’s propaganda, but it helps explain why the Saudi monarchy is going to battle stations.

-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 07/08/2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror

By Nicole Tung in Aleppo, Syria

Men carry Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria

War has come to Aleppo on full scale. In the southwestern neighborhoods of Bustan al-Qasr, Sikari and Salaheddine, explosions rock buildings on a daily basis, and on almost every street you look, glass, debris and rubble litter the place. It is a far cry from the Aleppo I visited almost three weeks ago, when nightly demonstrations filled the air with defiance and protesters slipped into the pink, blue and fluorescent lights of these working-class neighborhoods. Now, Salaheddine is emptied of its residents who have fled to schools, mosques and parks around the city. But Bustan al-Qasr is different. Most of its residents stayed, and in a densely populated area frequently hit hard by shells, airstrikes and helicopter attacks, it means a high casualty rate.

Civilians have tried to go about their daily business as Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters patrol the streets and head out for missions in nearby neighborhoods. Some afternoons are quiet in Bustan al-Qasr, but shells land consistently in the distance and then suddenly, the explosions visit this area. At about 2:30 p.m. today, a MiG-29 screamed overhead, flying extremely low, with the distinct sound of an impact a few seconds later. Out on the streets, civilians ran in all directions fleeing the scene. An apartment block had been hit, and the injured were being carried out. Two girls with paled, shocked faces came running out, unable to make sense of what had just happened. And then a man, covered in dust, dressed only in an undershirt and trousers, stumbled out after them, his face in disbelief. He was screaming over the telephone in the middle of the street, and on the shop shutter behind him graffiti was scrawled: “Zero hour has come, God, Syria, Freedom.”

The MiG returned, screamed overhead again, sending the man and the crowd nearby scrambling for cover. FSA fighters raised their AK-47s and tried to shoot at the plane in a futile attempt to do something. The second bomb dropped just half a block away, and the street instantly became filled with dust and debris, falling like confetti. FSA fighters joined the fray, and instantly more men, women and children were running. One man held a green telephone, clutching it in one hand and holding a girl in the other as they ran. Chaos. Men, armed and unarmed, ran toward the other damaged building to search for injured and then a third bomb dropped on a building across the street, sending more debris raining down. People came pouring out of the apartments screaming, their hands on their heads, all unable to understand. They looked at the cars on the street, flattened by falling concrete, turned their heads toward the sky and ran back inside as they heard the plane again. This time, there was no explosion.

On a bloodied mattress, the lifeless body of Abdul Latif Qureya was being hurried by five men toward a pickup truck that would take him to the secret field hospital. And then another mattress, this time with a man who miraculously survived, was carried out. More women and children came out, carrying few possessions and the clothes on their backs as they fled.

At the secret field hospital, the bodies began arriving. Qureya’s was already there, then his children and extended family began coming in. Lying near him was Bara’a, 8. Then came Hatem, 15, who was barely alive as he was plucked from the rubble of his apartment. But he didn’t make it, and he was dead on arrival. Qureya’s wife Wahiba was cut in half, and her body remained missing. Somewhere in the apartment was his other son Mahmoud. And then Qureya’s niece Takreet, 7, came in, her purple T-shirt and her face covered in dust. She too was lifeless, her mouth slightly ajar, probably as she took her last breath. A few minutes later, a man ran through the door holding a small blanketed body, Youssef, 1, Qureya’s nephew. He was limp in his underwear and undershirt.

In total, seven of the Qureya family were killed. Five of them were children under 15 years old. Two more bodies, of men, were brought in. One was Samer Bassar, 37, dressed in a beige djellaba and holding prayer beads, covered in blood. Another man was unidentified.

Horror visits Aleppo in many forms. Today, it was by way of a warplane.

-This report was published first in TIME on 06/08/2012
-Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt

Monday, August 6, 2012

Capture the Flag

What the rebel banner says about Syria's civil war.


Deep in the Syrian Archives in Damascus, one can find black-and-white photographs of a military parade that took place in the Syrian capital on Syria's 17th Independence Day: April 17, 1963. The event occurred only 40 days after the Baath Party seized power. Members of Syria's top brass were dressed in their military attire, with colorful decorations of medals across their uniforms, and led by the two co-creators of the Baath regime: Deputy Chief of Staff Salah Jadid and Air Force Commander Hafez al-Assad. Behind them fluttered the official Syrian flag: a standard with three stripes of green, white, and black and three red stars drawn across the middle.

Nearly half a century later, this same flag is being waved by those seeking to destroy the regime Assad created and obliterate the Baath Party he commanded. But the symbol of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad is being trashed by regime officials, who claim that it is the "flag of the French Mandate" imposed on Syria from 1920 to 1946. According to state-run media, Syrian rebels are using it to restore Western hegemony over Syria, part of a "galactic" Qatari, Israeli, Saudi, and American plot against Damascus.

From 1932 to 1963 (with one short 1958-1961 interruption), the "revolutionary flag" was Syria's official flag, which explains why it still strikes a nostalgic chord among elderly Syrians. The struggle to return to it speaks volumes about anti-regime Syrians' national identity and their desire to break with everything that reminds them of 49 years of Baath Party rule -- even if it means bringing down Syria's oldest surviving state symbol.

Attacking the flag as a symbol of colonialism lacks credibility. For years, after all, it had been hailed by state-run Syrian TV on Independence Day as a symbol of Syria's long fight against the French Mandate, rather than a sign of subservience to it. It had been created in 1932 -- during the era of Syria's first democratically elected civilian president, Muhammad Ali al-Abid -- by a parliamentary committee headed by the respected Ibrahim Hananu, one of the leaders of the anti-French revolts in the 1920s, whose name has been immortalized in Syrian history books, even by the Baathists themselves. The colors referred to rulers in Syria's past -- white for the Umayyads, black for the Abbasids, and green for the Fatimid dynasties of Islam.

The flag was hoisted on government buildings on the day of Syria's independence from France in 1946, and it remained Syria's flag until 1958, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser abolished it upon the creation of the United Arab Republic. Syrians returned to the green-white-black standard when the union was dissolved in 1961, and it remained in use for almost a year after the Baathists came to power in 1963.

This long history explains why the flag remains such a potent symbol. It had been used by 12 Syrian presidents, starting with Abid and up to Amin al-Hafez in 1964. It survived 14 years of French occupation, one war with Israel, and six coups. The Syrian regime cannot write it off so easily.

That may explain why Syrian officialdom, taken completely aback by the audacity of a new flag, was slow in reacting to the new symbol. After initial hesitation on how to react to the flag controversy, pro-regime commentators began appearing on talk shows, in a clearly systematic campaign, trashing the old flag as having been "created and imposed by the French high commissioner in 1932, against the will of the Syrian people." The story was baseless, of course, and they could not document their argument. They also failed to answer why, if this were true, the people of Syria maintained the "commissioner's flag" 17 years after the end of the French Mandate.

Commentators also invented an imaginary story that the three stars in the middle of the old flag were a reference to three sectarian states created during the Mandate: the Alawite state, the Druze state, and the Sunni state (though no such states ever existed in Syrian history). "Those carrying the Mandate flag" they barked on TV, "want to divide Syria along sectarian lines and create three confessional states in our midst." In reality, however, the three stars on the old flag, according to the official 1932 decree, referred to "three revolts against the Mandate" -- those of the Alawites, the Druze, and northern Syria, headed by Hananu himself. They are symbols of unity, not federalism.

Along with the smear campaign came an attempt by the Syrian regime at increasing popular allegiance to the existing flag. Countless red, white, and black tricolor flags were manufactured for pro-Assad rallies in Damascus -- with some people going as far as placing a photo of Assad between the flag's two green stars. Meanwhile, a state-run campaign was launched to carry the "longest flag in the world" across the Mezzeh Autostrade, the urban artery that runs through the heart of Damascus.

Paying the price for years of Baathism

Syrian officials grumbled. How people could abandon their flag that easily? After all, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts had not challenged the existing flag. Even the Lebanese did not think of changing their cedar flag after years of civil war -- it continued to represent every faction of the complex Lebanese system, ranging from Maronite nationalists to Shiite Islamists. Why was Syria different?

The answer, of course, can be found in the Syrian regime's own malpractices. Until 2003, the regime never promoted true allegiance to the Syrian flag. Long before the outbreak of the revolt, Syrian officials were always seemingly more interested in marketing the flag of the Baath Party, as well as the image of the president, rather than Syrian state symbols. That flag, which is the same as that of Palestine, was copied from the 1916 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. It consists of the same tricolors as the old Syrian flag -- a black, white, and green horizontal triband -- plus a red triangle on the left side. Syrians growing up in the 1980s often had a hard time identifying the official flag of Syria because the Baath flag -- along with photos of Hafez al-Assad -- flew higher at public rallies and in government offices. The Syrian flag fluttering on government buildings was more often than not miserable and torn into pieces by so much neglect.

The result? Generation after generation came of age with little attachment to the Syrian flag -- respect for state symbols had been forced upon them, rather than developed with explanation, emotion, and humanity. People felt that the flag meant very little to Syrian officialdom, giving them little reason to hold it in reverence if state officials were themselves seemingly more committed to Baathism than "Syrianism." The same applied to the Baath Party anthem, which was blasted at rallies either side by side with the official Syrian national anthem, or sometimes instead of it. During these ceremonies at state-run schools, the words of the national anthem lost their meaning, and so did the spirit of the flag.

When Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000, that began to change -- reportedly upon the advice of the Turks, who attached great importance to the Turkish flag after Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to the premiership in 2003. Erdogan firmly believed in the power of the flag to unite all Turks and bridge the gap between his country's Ottoman past and secular present. After 2003, accordingly, Syria's official flag began to take precedence over that of the Baath Party. The regime took to the idea and milked it dry, using the flag's tricolor at every presidential event and even manufacturing it into jackets, watches, bracelets, and caps. The flag became yet another loyalty test to measure fealty to the regime, the state, and the president.

When protests broke out in March 2011, Syrian officials resorted to the flag in any attempt to find a state symbol that Syrians could rally around. But by then it was too late -- the two flags had already emerged in Syria, one for the pro-regime street, and one for the opposition. Soon the country would have two armies as well, one for each flag. The state's abuse of the Syrian flag from 2003 to 2010 made it difficult for the flag to serve as a unifying force in 2011. Syrians wanted a new symbol, and they found it in the independence flag.

The red-striped flag is no more the flag of the regime, however, than the green-striped one is that of the French Mandate. Both assessments are flawed and need to be revisited calmly and seriously by Syria's new regime, which will likely include figures from the outgoing era uninvolved in the violence and destruction of the past 16 months. Some obviously want to maintain the current flag -- as happened in Egypt -- while others will push for a Libya-like flag change. A national referendum is vital at some point in the future.

Amid the tumult in Syria today, the colors of the flag may not seem like the most pressing issue. But this controversy raises an important issue for Syria's future -- how Syrians relate to each other as citizens of a common nation. They simply cannot go on judging each other's patriotism by the color of the flag they are waving. Neither banner can be eliminated from Syrian history. Millions still identify with the current flag, regardless of their views of the regime. Likewise, not everybody who opposes Assad feels at ease with the revolution's flag. And all of these people are going to have to work together to build a new Syria.

-This commentary was first published in Foreign Policy on 06/08/2012
-Sami Moubayed is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and author of Syria and the USA: Washington's Relations with Damascus from Wilson to Eisenhower

British Bank Accused Of Hiding Transactions With Iranians


Thwarting controls against money laundering, Standard Chartered Bank enabled Iranian banks and corporations to hide roughly 60,000 transactions worth at least $250 billion within the bank, New York State’s banking regulator charged Monday.

The New York State Department of Financial Services accused the British bank, which it called a “rogue institution,” of hiding the transactions to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from January 2001 through 2010.

Under United States law, transactions with Iranian banks are strictly monitored and subject to sanctions because of government concerns about the use of American banks to finance Iran’s nuclear programs and terrorist organizations.

The highest levels of management knew that Standard Chartered was deliberately falsifying records to allow billions of dollars in transactions to flood through the bank, according to the regulatory filing.

The bank “left the U.S. financial system vulnerable to terrorists, weapons dealers, drug kingpins and corrupt regimes,” the agency said in an order sent to the bank Monday. At the most extreme, the agency’s enforcement actions against the bank could include the revocation of its license to operate in New York.

Beyond the dealings with Iran, the department said it discovered evidence that Standard Chartered operated “similar schemes” to do business with other countries under United States sanctions, including Burma, Libya and Sudan.

During a nine-month investigation, the department, led by Benjamin M. Lawsky, said that it reviewed more than 30,000 bank documents, including internal e-mails. It investigated the bank because it had routed the transactions through its New York operations. Under the order, Standard Chartered will have to pay for an independent monitor to ensure its operations comply with state law. 

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for Standard Chartered said the bank was reviewing its “historical U.S. sanctions compliance and is discussing that review with U.S. enforcement agencies and regulators.” He added that the bank “cannot predict when this review and these discussions will be completed or what the outcome will be.”

The department contends that Standard Chartered systematically scrubbed any identifying information from the transactions for powerful Iranian institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran and Bank Saderat, that are legally subject to sanctions under United States law.

The department accused the bank of undermining the safety of New York’s financial system through a range of violations including “falsifying business records” and “obstructing governmental administration,” according to the order.

Suspecting that Iranian banks were using their financial institutions to finance its nuclear weapons program, the United States Treasury Department banned certain transactions between Iranian banks and United States financial institutions in 2008. The regulator said the bank engaged in so-called U-turn transactions, where a foreign institution routes money to an American bank, which then transfers the money immediately to a separate foreign institution.

 The accusations are the latest to strike British banks. In July, a United States Senate panel found that HSBC was used by Iranians looking to evade sanctions and by Mexican drug cartels to funnel money back into the United States.

Together, the allegations raise concerns that there is a broader pattern of illegal money freely flowing into the United States through international financial institutions.

 In the Standard Chartered investigation, the order said that the bank’s management created a formalized operating manual that showed staff members how to strip off any information from the transactions that might tie them to the sanctioned Iranian institution. The manual was called “Quality Operating Procedure Iranian Bank Processing.”

Under a strategy called Project Gazelle, which the regulator said was approved at the highest echelon of the bank, Standard Chartered falsified or omitted client identification in paperwork authorizing transactions, the order said. To drum up more revenue, the bank wanted to forge “new relationships with Iranian companies,” bank e-mails show.

The order says that executives at Standard Chartered sidelined concerns raised by its management in the United States. Concerned that the bank’s practices ran afoul of regulators and could lead to criminal liability, executives at Standard Chartered urged a thorough accounting of the bank’s Iranian business, according to an e-mail uncovered as part of the investigation.

Rather than quashing the program once concerns were raised, executives at Standard Chartered got better at shielding the wire transfers and other transactions, according to the order. What’s more, the regulator said Monday, the bank responded to calls for a review with outright hostility. A London executive of the bank was quoted in the document as having directed an expletive at Americans and adding, “Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?”
By falsifying records and lying to regulators, the regulator said, Standard Chartered conducted a widespread conspiracy continuing for almost 10 years.

-This story was published first in The New York Times on 06/08/2012