Iranian motives Exposed

The Mullah Islamist regime lives and breathes on hate..hate for the West, especially Americans. It is indicative of the imbecilic policy of the Obama-Biden regime that this is not understood.


Recently we learned that the Biden regime launched an “attack” on Iraqi surrogate militia in Syra. It was  political theatre…nothing more than a domestic political act. The Iraqi government , totally infested with Iranian agents,  was told before the raid that it would occur …when, where, and how. The damage, if any, was minimal. This sort of mosquito bite strategy only encourages Iranian adventurism and imperialism. The London based Syrian  for Human Rights, claimed …based on local reports…that 22 people were killed. This is nonsense.  The compliant and state-run  Biden press saw this as a “carefully calibrated , defensive measure”  presumably in retaliation for the Iranian controlled  Iraqi militia rocketing of an Irbil American base, killing  a civilian contractor, and wounding several other personnel. This was one of three attacks on American bases since Biden became president.

WaNG AND Family

Wang is a Chinese-American and naturalized citizen, who was sent to China with a university grant and was arrested by the Iranian authorities for “spying.” He spent 4o months in prison under content interrogation by the Iranian security thugs. He was released on a prisoner swap for the Iranian agent, Massoud Suliemani, who was working on Gods Knows what at the Mayo Clinic.

Iranian “scientist” Masood Soleimani


The Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2021

What I Learned in an Iranian Prison 

U.S. foreign policy isn’t to blame for the mullahs’ deep-rooted hatred of America and Americans. 

By Wang Xiyue

Iran, Europe and many American progressives are pressuring the Biden administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Official groupthink has coalesced around a singularly misguided belief: The U.S. has so badly mistreated Iran in the past that it must engage and appease the Islamic Republic now. I understand this view because I was once taught to believe it. This mindset is what convinced me in 2016 that I could safely do research for my dissertation in Iran. My optimism was misplaced. Not long after I arrived, I was imprisoned by Iran’s brutal regime and held hostage for more than three years.

When I went to Iran, I shared the prevailing academic view of the Middle East. I had absorbed the oft-repeated lesson that political Islam arose in response to Western colonialism and imperialism, and that the West—particularly America’s Middle East behavior—was chiefly responsible for the region’s chaos. My professors taught that the U.S. had treated Iran with a mixture of Orientalist condescension and imperialist aggression since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979. I believed America’s role in the 1953 coup that removed Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh explained everything that had gone wrong in Iran. Convinced that the mullahs’ hostility toward the U.S. was exaggerated, I often dismissed allegations of the regime’s malign behavior as American propaganda.

Since it was obvious that American foreign policy itself was the problem, and that the regime would happily normalize relations once the U.S. pivoted away from disrespect, I assumed I’d be left alone in Iran if I remained apolitical and focused on historical research. Imagine my shock when the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence arrested me on false espionage charges in August 2016, shortly after the implementation of the JCPOA—during what appeared to be a period of rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. I was thrown into solitary confinement, forced to confess things my interrogator knew I had not done, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

My interrogator made clear that my sole “crime” was being an American. He told me I was to be used as a pawn in exchange for U.S.-held Iranian prisoners and the release of frozen Iranian assets. (I was released in a 2019 prisoner swap.)

My terrible 40-month imprisonment was a period of intense re-education about the relationship between Iran and the U.S. The Islamic Republic is an ambitious power, but not a constructive one. It’s a spoiler, projecting influence by exporting revolution and terrorism via its proxies in the Middle East. Domestically, the mullahs have failed to deliver on their political and economic promises to the Iranian people, on whom they maintain their grip through oppression.

Nothing I’d learned during my years in the ivory towers of academia had prepared me for the reality I encountered in an Iranian prison. I learned what many Iranians already know: The regime’s hostility toward the U.S. isn’t reactive, but proactive, rooted in a fierce anti-Americanism enmeshed in its anti-imperialist ideology. As I witnessed firsthand, Tehran isn’t interested in normalizing relations with Washington. It survives and thrives on its self-perpetuated hostility against the West; a posture that has been integral to the regime’s identity.

The regime didn’t regard President Obama’s engagement as a goodwill gesture, but rather as an “iron fist under a velvet glove.” Iran’s revolutionary regime retains power through conspiracy and intrigue, and views everything through that lens. The notion that it will be difficult for the U.S. to regain Iran’s trust after quitting the JCPOA is incorrect. The Iranian regime has never trusted the U.S., and never will.

When I was being interrogated in Evin Prison in summer 2016, my interrogator boasted that he and his hard-line colleagues were eager to see Donald Trump elected, not because the regime viewed him as the type of pragmatic leader they could deal with, but because it would justify a more confrontational stance against the Great Satan.

The menace of the Islamic Republic can’t be appeased. It must be countered and restrained. Only the U.S. has the capacity to lead such an endeavor. For 42 years Iran has demonstrated that it changes its behavior only in response to strength in the form of American-led international pressure. If the Biden administration returns to the JCPOA without extracting concessions from Tehran beyond the nuclear threat, it will relinquish all U.S. leverage over the regime.

Diplomacy can’t succeed without leverage. Only by showing strength of will can President Biden hope for genuine progress in containing the Iranian threat to peace.

Mr. Wang is a doctoral candidate in history at Princeton and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Appeared in the February 25, 2021, print edition.



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Program on Egypt. Video Into the Hands of Soldiers

Al Arabaya, an affiliate of Al Jazeera presented a very good video entitled Into the Arms of Soldiers, a book written by David Kirkpatrick, a New York Times correspondent, shown a few days ago. In the video I participated in a moderate amount and as usual much of what I had to say was not in the program. This is normal of course, Al Jazeera has its own gospel to peddle just like The Washington Post and New York  Times, and in its own way it probably less dishonest than either the WaPO or NYT. It is a mouthpiece of the Qatari Royal Family and a very professional one. It is favorable disposed toward the Muslim Brotherhood and viscerally opposed to the regime of general Al Sisi in Egypt. It was highly enthused by the revolution which deposed Hosni Mubarak but very unhappy with the military “coup” or second revolution  ( depending on your viewpoint) which deposed the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed  Morsi  almost a year later. The program is at


I appear at 7.3, 11.23 ands 17.39 to dispense my wisdom. Basically the words I was allowed to say were important, but not what I thought was most important.  In the program I depicted, quite accurately, the Obama administration policy toward Egypt as incoherent and disastrous for the overall image of the United States in the Middle East. The  various would be  managers of our policy toward the Mubarak, Morsi and al Sisi regimes all had Lone Ranger ideas toward Egypt and the Middle East. Obama was asleep at the wheel  and there was no firm leadership to conduct a sensible policy toward the Middle East.

Obama in one of his first trips overseas was to Egypt to presumably “reset” our policy toward the Middle East. According to an Egyptian writer Tareq Heggy, Obama was received as a “rock star”  by the Egyptian audience. As the months worn on, however,  the adulation turned to contempt, especially because of  his wishy-washy policies toward Syria  and Egypt, and later his subservience to Iranian pretensions.  Ben Rhodes, the aspiring novelist, celebrity wannabe, and deputy National security advisor under Obama, parading as a foreign policy expert,  was in accord with Obama’s view of the future They saw the Muslim Brotherhood as the dawn of a new Middle East,  which with proper  guidance would be “people we can work with.” Clinton, Kerry and General Dempsey,  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff who also viewed himself as an expert in Middle East affairs, all had conflicting views.

This was part of the overwhelming hubris of Obama and his advisors in dealing with the Middle East, in which they saw themselves as experts but were in reality clueless. His expeditious  and senseless evacuation of troops from Iraq, leading to the near triumph of the ISIS, was only one facet of his hapless policy toward the Arab World.

The points I wanted to make were these;

The military leadership involved in industry, commerce, or politics always has a grave deleterious effect on the capabilities and effectiveness of the military. The Egyptian army has shown in its campaigns against the Islamists in Sinai, that its effectiveness has suffered a great deal

The army is not the only problem. The extremely powerful intelligence community of Egypt first created by President Nasser, has the dossier on every business, military, political, and religious figure in Egypt. To a large extent they form the backbone of the deep state that overturned Mubarak after he became a burden, and put al Sisi in power.

The book Into the Hands of Soldiers, by Kirkpatrick, was a good reporting narrative, but it lacked an analysis of the military.  A Far better  and evenly balanced book was Inside Egypt by John Bradley. The best analysis of why the 2011 revolution failed is depicted by Samuel Tadros, Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt.

Other books I suggested but were not in the presentation are.

Militarizing the Nation by Zeinab Abu-Magd

Once upon a Revolution by Thanassis Cambanis

The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture, by Dalia Said Mostafa

A History of the Egyptian Intelligence Service by Owen Sirrs

Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen: Egypts Road to Revolt by Hazem  Kandil









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The Palestinian Issue Arises Once More

For quite some time the Palestinian issue has been relegated to a secondary importance  as the ISIS, the Arab Spring, the wars in Syria and Iraq, and basic instability throughout the Arab World has edged it out of the International attention. This has been a basic departure from the mind- numbing  torrent of news, opinions,  analyses, that characterized the Palestinian issue for decades, as the Fedayeen guerrilla fighter, or terrorist, was gracing the covers of European and American publications. It  was an era  in which it became an axiom that “freedom fighters” were destined to win, in that journalists conflated  the struggle in Palestine to that being waged against colonialists throughout Africa and  corrupt dictatorships of South America.  The Franz Fanons and Che Guevaras of the world were lauded as the men of the future. The sentimentality in which the Western intellectuals, aided by a generally ignorant media-  confusing fashion for facts- viewed  the guerrilla wars throughout the world, generally distorted the reality of these wars.   Often led, as they were, by upper class elitists who scrupulously avoided any combat themselves,  they fitted in with the zeitgeist of the era. They were won, not by insurgent superior proficiency in strategy , tactics, or will to win, but more often  through the  weaknesses and lack of will of the colonial, and despotic  regimes. The British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese simply decided the colonial possessions were not worth the cost in casualties or money.


Now the issue is re- emerging as the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the Palestinian  “state” in the West Bank are trying to mend fences and present a more united front to bargain (or war) against the Israelis. To be sure there has been no diminution of feeling or desire among the Palestinians for an independent state, and as the opinion surveys always show, there is little enthusiasm for a Palestinian Arab state alongside a Jewish state. So the existentialism of the struggle, Muslim versus Jewish, continues unabated, despite the pathetic attempts of every American administration to broker some sort of lasting “peace.” Many Israelis see the famous Oslo agreements as the crux of todays problem, giving away too much of  Israeli concerns, and Palestinian activists  see it as only a veneer covering the objective of a united Arab Palestinian state, built on the ruins of a Zionist state.

Realistic analysts of the struggle try to inject reality, generally to deaf ears, depicting the picture of a political and cultural environment in which Palestinians and Israelis live in separate worlds. There is no real common ground, despite occasional human interest stories to the contrary. At a conference a few years ago, a  young Palestinian scholar pointed out that every  square yard of the contested land has a Jewish name and a Muslim Arab name. They have no common vocabulary, even if some  Israelis speak Arabic and some Arabs speak Hebrew. In certain urban area areas, Israelis and Palestinians live cheek by jowl but have minimal, if any neighborly communication. They avoid each other like the plague.

Since the early days of the  Jewish – Arab conflict, the Palestinians have always been divided into clans , political factions, and hitching their fortunes to fickle or unstable bigger Allies, like the USSR, Iraq, or Nasser’s Egypt. An early clan rivalry, the Nashabhibi-Hussaini battle divided the Palestinians  just as the Gaza – Palestinian National Authority (PNA) conflict does  today.

The two Palestinian enclaves have been divided since 1948 war of Israeli independence. They have been separated  for a half century. While the Gaza enclave has been virtually isolated with only minimal contact with an unfriendly Egyptian government,  most recently virtually fenced off from any contact at all, the PNA segment has been more exposed to Western influence through the Israelis, and a number of international agencies and a more  westernized Jordan.

Despite their physical separation the PNA regime governed Gaza until the battle of Gaza in 2007 in which the corrupt PNA government was bloodily  ejected by the HAMAS and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ).  HAMAS is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot and the  PIJ is an even more radical offspring of the Islamist movement. Since that time Islamic law has been the  governing legal environment of  Gaza- a sort of  Sunni version of the Shi’a rule in Iran.  The ejection of the PNA was the inevitable result of the endemic corruption of the Palestinian Liberation Organization ( PLO)  under Yasir Arafat. In 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected president for a five year term but it has turned into a “president for Life ” job as reconciliation efforts always failed.

Under the benevolent auspices of the new ottoman Sultan of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, this past fall, the two enclaves were encouraged to mend fences and as a result new elections have been set up with the Palestinian Legislative Council  (PLC)on 22 May 2021, and the presidency on 31 July 2021.  The PLC like most Arab parliaments have very little power, which is mostly placed in the presidency.

Likely Results

Hamas will win the presidency and probably the PLC as well as the Palestinian folks are fed up with the corruption and incompetence off the PNA. Public opinion surveys quite definitely say that compromise with Israel is a non starter and almost half say they want war again. But of course, they say many things which  fit into the mode  of Palestinian politically correct language. Almost all say they must return to 1948 borders ( West Bank) which was in the hands of Jordan ( they have subsequently washed their hands of ruling Palestine again).

So What will this mean in practical terms? Very little  for a number of reasons; political, cultural ,and outside influences. 

  1. Political. As one of my favorite writers, Malcolm Muggeridge  observed, “I have never really been able to understand how anyone can believe in the possibility of compromise  in the matters of power , which is an absolutist passion.”  An integral factor in the eternal conflict of the Arabs, which Rapheal Patai  ( The Arab Mind) described as their dualism and proneness to conflict, is evident in Palestinian history. An important factor here is the Palestinian Security Forces ( PSF). This internal security force is lauded by the liberal observers as a force for peace  in the occupied PNA areas. However, this notion is severely tested by the fact that in Ifitadah II, (Palestinian Uprisingsagainst the Israelis in beginning in  2000) the primary force used by the Palestinians was the PSF. Since that time the PSF has been primarily  a domestic security force to keep President Mahmoud Abbas in power, killing and detaining sympathizers of the Islamist regime in Gaza. The US has had a prominent role in training and financing the PSF in the belief that this favored the peace between Israel and Palestine. In that 15 years has passed without another bloody intifada, there is a good argument for this role of PSF.  However  it bodes poorly for any integration of Gaza and the PNA.    It has been a force tied to the fortunes of the PNA and for the last 13 years has been mostly employed in eliminating rivals to Mahmoud Abbas. How they will accept an Islamist president from Gaza is a very critical question. My opinion is they will not!  I base that on the two years I did briefings for American trainers ( mostly ex-law enforcement people) going to monitor training given to the PSF. The PSF, with about ten battalions including a “presidential guard battalion” is a force for the PNA, by the PNA, and of the PNA.
  2. Culturally.  From biblical times were has been a cultural and to some degree ethnic difference between the Arabs of Gaza and those of the West Bank ( or Galilee , Judea,  and Samaria as the Israelis choose to call it) . Some research points to a definite difference  in  origins of the two  groups of Palestinians. The West Bank Palestinians  were referred to as “mountain Arabs,” the original inhabitants of the region while the Arabs of the Gaza were referred to as “coastal Plains  Arabs,” who are a collection of clans that at some point emigrated into the Gaza Strip from other parts of the Middle East. Hence , according to these scholars, they have a weaker social structure and less cohesiveness than those of the West Bank. Obviously, the half century of isolation from the West Bank and and the pervasiveness of Islamist thinking in the  education system  has had an imprint of considerable importance on society.
  3. Internationally. The Islamist regime of Gaza has been a favorite of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood regime of Erdogan but at the same time, The Iranians have made inroads into the Sunni Arab Gazan military forces.  Admiration for the Iranian successes …real or imagined…have had an impressive effect on Arab imagination, spurred by the  Qassem Solemani effect. The West will be primarily pushing to keep the PNA breathing and hopefully keeping the peace , however tenuous  it may be, with Israel.   So as usual, the Palestinians will use and be used by contending outside Arab and international interests.







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The Legal Spy; My Time as Military Attache in Jordan 1970-1972. Part two

After months of sporadic clashes between the Jordanian Arab Army and the fedayeen, the inevitable showdown was hastened by the Popular Front for Palestine (PFLP) hijacking the aircraft and flying into Dawson Field which was promptly  renamed the al Thawra  (revolutionary) airfield by the Fedayeen (6 September 1970) the Palestinians, by holding   the hostages,  had control of the airfield with the  Jordan Arab Army (JAA) forming an outer circle around the airfield. Ambassador Brown arrived at the embassy and we were instructed to gather there.

top. Myself with Ambassador Brown.  Haircuts were not easy to get.Bottom. Wife on right, Me and Ambassador Brown’s wife greeting someone

The Defense Attache Office was in an outlying building about 100 yards away and the area was controlled by the fedayeen. Eventually one by one we sprinted from the DAO building to the Embassy and remained there throughout the siege crisis. At the embassy we had a squad of Bedouin soldiers from the Ministry of Interior. They were stalwart loyal troops. When they heard the Jordanian National anthem played on the radio they got to their feet and stood at attention. They were continually shot at by snipers in addition to occasional mortar  rounds. One was hit in the leg and we brought him inside the embassy. Amidst  his loud lamentations and prayers, the Embassy Security Officer patched him up, and later an an armored personnel carrier got through to pick him up and  he was transported to the army hospital.

Portrait of Hume Horan, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia before the Saudi government asked him to leave after making comments they didn’t like. read more about him at; Political officer and Arabist extraordinaire



We had a contingent of Marine guards, but they generally were stationed inside the embassy. The marines performed a valuable service giving us a sense of security as well as a myriad of other duties. As our isolated time in the Embassy went on we discovered the problem of water. Food was plentiful. We had plenty of C-rations and canned food but not much water. The water system, which only worked sporadically in the best of times,  was supplemented by water trucks that came and filled the water tank on the roof. The water trucks no longer arrived and the water tank on the roof was riddled with bullet holes and fragmentation damage from the mortars that hit the building…thanks to the stone structure did very little damage.

The Book written by Jack O’ Connell. He was tight with the King an d had faith in the JAA when few in DOS or CIA did.



We needed water not just for drinking but also cooking and most of all keeping the commodes working.  so the Marines went out at night and foraged through the houses in the neighborhood homes, mostly unoccupied as the people fled the area,  to get cans of water. In one case they ran into some fedayeen occupying a house. Oddly there was no confrontation. One  marine (We were all in civilian clothing) calmly  told them they needed the water, and the Fedayeen said they had no quarrel with Americans only the Jordanian Army. That was only partially true, of course. The PFLP, PDFLP and PFLP-GC targeted Americans.

George Habash leader of the PFLP as a graduate of the American University of Beirut

At this time a curious incident occurred.  A deserter from the US  Army in Europe showed up at the embassy to renounce his citizenship. He was Palestinian American  and wanted to fight for the Fedayeen.  I later heard, after the war, he wanted to undo his action but Im not sure he was able to do so.

Nayef Hawatmeh leader of the PDFLP

The problem of sorting out who was who among the Fedayeen was a vital part of staying alive. My driver saved me a number of times by avoiding PFLP or PDFLP checkpoints. They normally flew the flag of their organization at the checkpoints.  Both organizations were headed by Christians and were by far the most extreme organizations  following a radical marxist line. The Fateh, the main  organization within the PLO, was normally semi-disciplined and after some bullshit  interrogation, hurling American slang insults…. to impress the girls standing around……normally let us pass. One Sergeant assigned to the embassy was taken by the PFLP and kept in a tiger cage for a few days. He was later released under the terms of one of the umpteen peace pacts between King  Hussein and Arafat.

Al Hussein Refugee camp Note that the usual tent city has evolved into stone houses and an urban jungle

Digression. After the JAA took control Amman it was found that my driver had given the Fedayeen sketches of the DAO office. He was fired but some months  after, as  I came out of my house,  he was literally on his knees begging  for his job back. He had a family and lived in a refugee camp totally controlled by the Fedayeen. What would any person have done in his situation?  I asked the  security folks in the embassy to rehire him but they refused.

On 16 September the JAA moved against the Fedayeen. One can read a number of reasons why the King finally acquiesced to the demands of the army, as for months he had been submitting to the demands of the Fedayeen, even dismissing relatives and favorites in the military to meet Fedayeen ultimatums.  I know our CIA chief pushed him to move against the Fedayeen, and the army down to last private were staining at the leash to take on the Fedayeen, making it obvious they were going  to move against them with the King or without him.

PLK the Plucky little King


The CIA chief was receiving very little information or instructions from Langley,  and as usual the State was having discussions, conferences, round tables and doing nothing.   Finally on the morning of the 16th of September the roar of artillery and explosions were deafening. The JAA went on the offensive  shelling the Fedayeen strongholds which were, of course, in the middle of civilian neighborhoods.There were no plans to evacuate the civilians from the Fedayeen neighborhoods and the Fedayeen were happy to keep them there as bait for the journalists seeking  cover JAA “atrocities.” To be sure there was bad blood  and no doubt neither side paid much attention to the laws of war.  My friends in the  JAA armor told me that they would  pull down the trousers of  captured Fedayeen and set them of the rear engines of their tanks. People were killed on the basis of their accent…the bedouin dialect being detectable from the west bank Palestinian. One example of the intense animosity between the PLO and the JAA was the fact that toward the end of the PLO insurrection, surviving Fedayeen. waded across the Jordan River to surrender to the Israelis  rather than the JAA

Captain Sayil of the second armored car regiment. My best buddy having a few in the desert


From our perch on Jebel Luweideh  we clearly see the advance of the JAA up the Palestinian stronghold on Ashrafiah. They were being stoutly resisted by the Fedayeen and the  m-48 tanks were being hit by RPG’s and getting knocked out. Amman is a city of stone and even the 106 Recoilless  Rifles  rounds were bouncing off the stone houses.

The King with his officers



The JAA, composed mostly of East bank Jordanians, were untrained in urban warfare and resorted to indiscriminate shelling and the use of the twin barrel Bofors 40 mm guns  mounted in tandem on an APC to pour fire into the refugee camp. However this was not a camp of tents. The camp had been there so long it had evolved into a stone house community, and despite the shelling  not a lot of visible  damage was apparent. There were considerable civilian casualties however and the journalists hyped the action to a frenzy in news print .”Amman on fire with Bedouin soldiers raping and looting” read  Newsweek. Journalists, as usual, were getting most of their information at the bar at the Intercontinental hotel. The JAA  and the  Government of Jordan (GOJ )was incompetent on press relations and the journalists  got all their information from the Fedayeen spokesmen.. some of whom were very slick and Western educated. We, being holed up in the embassy without any phone service, were out of the picture.

Hawker Hunter used against the Syrians in 71

The operation lasted 10 days and as the mortaring  and sniping at  the Embassy went on, we were issued M1A Carbines.  Not everyone took them but I must say the feel of the rifle and a pocket full of ammo made me  feel more confident.  A few days into the siege one of the secretaries and I were looking out the window ( all were shattered by then) when a round hit just a few inches from the ledge, spraying cinders into the secretary’s face  and mine. The cinders  were in my eyes and a  made few small cuts on my face. As I write this I am thinking that had I been  in Vietnam I would have received a John Kerry Purple Heart.

On 20 September , The Syrians invaded  north Jordan support of the Palestinians using armor with hastily repainted PLO  colors and flags. It was aimed at supporting a “free State” created in Irbid. Meanwhile there was an Iraqi Division-size force  sitting in the desert east of Amman. It  was expected that they too would join the Palestinians. Things were looking very poor for Jordan.  At this point, with American support  questionable and the British  and European governments wimping their way towards an understanding with the Palestinians…..and many Israelis saying “no problem….Jordan can become the Palestinian state they want,” Golda Meier indomitable as always, however  refused. She had met the PLK ( Plucky Little King.. as the Brits referred to him) on an Island in the Gulf of Aqaba earlier in 1969. According to Jack O’Connell in his book King’s Counsel, they had a  great social gathering.

One Tough Lady Golda Meier

Among the things  us military folks and the Marines were doing in the embassy was destroying all documents. One of the “burn before reading” messages  I saw was a message from King Hussein to Golda Meier  channeled through American communications asking for support. There was a full paragraph of personal endearments and warm words in the typical Arab florid style.  I do not know the response, but as its happened, It seems that King Hussein, rightly or wrongly, was confident of Israeli support and  loosed  his Air Force  on the Syrians, knocking out many tanks (according to  Ihsan (Sam) Shordom),  a fellow I knew well, and the  RJAF  top ace. He called it a “Turkey Shoot.” The Syrians did not put up their air force, grounded by  fratricidal Syrian politics and a well founded fear that the Israelis would shoot them down. The Syrians retreated in ignominy, and Hafez Assad the Syrian  Air Force chief who had disobeyed orders of the Syrian Government  to put up their Air Force, used  the Syrian humiliation to become  the President of Syria.

Note: Despite claims the Jordanians had destroyed up to Syrian 75 armored vehicles   when I went up to the Irbid area I couldn’t find any knocked out armor but was told the Jordanians allowed the Syrians to drag them back across the border.

Digression. One  can read all sorts of palaver and wringing of hands in the Western capitols on what was  to be  done to save Jordan or  whether it was worth it. The  Airborne Bde. was alerted in Italy for deployment to save Americans in Jordan ,: there were shipment of arms to Tel Aviv and Evacuation plans for being discussed for the Americans left in Amman. etc.  In fact at that time I knew very little or do not remember much about this.I was getting tons of messages requesting info on topographic features, port facilities, hyway  characteristics.  I was lucky in that I had been in Jordan a couple of times before and had at least a general idea of what was needed.  The recipients of my information were more grateful that they should have been.  Actually the intel folks who  labored  in Arlington Hall, gathering details were in my experience the super Intel people.  For example, Little old ladies spent all their time analyzing and putting together detailed info on the hyways in Jordan….no long treatises on the likely  future of some obscure Fedayeen organization.

Finally the US got into the act and we were told to ask the GOJ  what they needed. The list we receivedcould have outfitted the  Soviet army for a decade. What they got was a lot of small  and medium arms and tons of ammunition. It had to be flown in of course and the regular  Amman airport was still of questionable safety. So the new Air Force MAP ( Military Assistance Program), LTC Ted, a salt of the earth guy, and myself were flown by a RJAF helicopter to several sites in the desert. There colonel Ted using a pocket knife stuck it in the  ground to see if the salt flat would support a heavily loaded  C-141. Finally he decided the best place would be to use the  the Dawson Airfield, renamed the Thawra airfield  by the Fedayeen and which we remained the Raja’iyya  ( reactionary) airfield.

.Also as it turned out the Iraqis -for much debated reasons – were observed to be withdrawing their troops from Jordan and as  the Jordanian army was  overrunning Fedayeen bases and units—-and only tepid support from President Nasser of Egypt, forthcoming,  Arafat decided to come to terms.. So under the weary eye of President Nasser in Cairo, Hussein and Arafat basically agreed to a pact which ended Palestinian hopes of overthrowing the  Hashemite regime. Next day 28 September Nasser died. I had not heard the news but went I went out of the embassy to test the new peaceful atmosphere, I saw all these black flags flying from the homes. Mostly from the homes of Palestinians since most East bank Jordanians had little sadness for  his death.

A few weeks later,  the “Amman agreement” was signed which ended the Palestinian state within a state. and their arms were to be handed over to the GOJ. As the military attache it was my job and see if this was actually being carried out. That was a spooky job since I was driving  alone in a rented Volkswagen…….. thankfully without  diplomatic plates. Going into parts of Amman I had been warned by my JAA friends to never enter, was to say the least, stressful.Driving around the  urban jungle,  such as downtown Amman,  known enemy territory  and especially when you know you are not welcome, is downright unsettling.. I received quite a few scowls and distasteful grimaces but the armed fedayeen were gone to ground.

Fedayeen who waded across Jordan River to surrender to Israelis rather than face wrath of JAA

But I did actually observe that some arms collection was taking place, although I had doubts that many were collected. In fact the clashes between the JAA and various groups of Fedayeen continued until June  1971 in the Ajlun area. My next mission was to ascertain if  in fact the Iraqis were withdrawing. That was  easy, as I drove out toward the   Iraqi encampments, I could follow the line of their withdrawal by the numerous broken down vehicles  pointing eastward for many miles. The withdrawal of the Iraqis took then wind out of the Palestinian sails.

Emerging from the embassy was like emerging from Hitler’s bunker and seeing that the General Walter Wenks XII army had reached Berlin and driven the Russians all the way  back to the Caucasus. The fresh air and the smell of musakhan, my favorite Palestinian dish wafted in the breeze. After a year of sporadic violence, in which children were constantly  being picked up from school as soon as the shooting began,  Amman sprang to life. Jordanians were a people  who did not depend on government largesse, and families worked together to set up shop and get on with their lives.

The US army  sent in a MASH unit to handle Jordanian, Palestinian, and civilian  casualties, and the USAF sent in a surgical unit as well. They set up in. an amazingly short time and was the best thing we did for Jordan. It made me proud what the military can do if freed of political indecision.

The C-141 airlift was coming in the Dawson field,  and renamed by us embassy military folks  as Rajaiy’ya  (reactionary)  airfield was given  a high tech radio and a frequency to contact the aircraft going in but I was only able to contact one and I realized I had nothing tell him.

After a time families began to return and mine came in from Beirut. Also I received a new boss.  Col M was a strait forward  armor officer, not quite comfortable as attache in a culture that was mysterious  to him. However he was a very professional and a  good boss. He listened to what we had to say.  He began to inject some order into the Defense Attache Office, after months of free wheeling activity. My own activities were somewhat  curtailed, such as several hours  day at the cite sportive, swimming, playing squash, a game I loved, and tennis which I did not… and talking  and listening to what the word on the street was.

I spent many hours in the desert with   Sayil, Mejid, Adil,  Nayil, and  several other Bedouin  and Circassian officers, most of whom were in the armored car regiment that surrounded the palace or were  special forces.We went out drank beer, and fired various weapons to argue about their capabilities, the G-3, the M-14, the AK-47. The M-16 had not arrived there yet. Nayil from As Salt loved Tom Jones music and played it constantly in his car. He also enjoyed firing his AK 47 from his balcony sending the war weary citizens  scurrying for cover.I never quite used to the Jordanian  officers drinking scotch  shooting and then  replacing their pistols in the holster with the hammer to the rear.. But of course InShAllah.. all will be well.


I finally convinced my boss that an hour in the office is a wasted hour. , An attache has to be out driving around, talking to people, going  hunting in the  Azraq marshes….. and most beneficial going to parties and giving parties. There seems an American cultural trait that if one has fun in his work he  can’t be doing a good job.  He finally agreed with  some reservations. The colonel who was a bachelor was not comfortable at social occasions and gave me his representational money, which combined with mine, enabled me to put on some really  extravaganza  parties, made more attractive to the young Jordanian officers by the presence of the winsome Greek girls who were airline hostesses for Jordanian Air Lines. The abundance of beer and  scotch, with boxes of American cigarettes were great inducements.   Plus we had a fantastic Palestinian cook, Ali, a celebrity cook who once worked for the Belgian Ambassador. He began to mingle with guests as Jordanian ladies tried to hire him away from us.  The family  loved the guy, who lived in a refugee camp and had eight daughters. He never seemed to hear the cannon announcing the time for Iftar during Ramadan and when he asked my daughters they always assured him they had heard it. Of course  half way through his meal it sounded.

The Bedouin officers did not come to these parties, being cautious about drinking alcohol in front of non  tribal officers. Most of the officers who attended were Air Force and more sophisticated combat service support  types. Sometimes the Junior Pakistani officers from their training team came but they would not touch alcohol. Their commander General Zia al Haq, who later  became the president of Pakistan ( and was later assassinated in a plane crash) never attended the parties  but I spent quite a bit of time with him. I found him to be more British than the British.;  Immaculately groomed, articulate, and a great leader. I use to play (badly) tennis with him and enjoyed his company. I never recognized the man so vilified later in the Western press. At one point in the civil war, Zia took command of a Jordanian division, when the Jordanian commander  abandoned his post. (There were a number of Palestinian  desertions during the war, but less than anticipated.)

Well after a year, we settled down to a more usual function of embassy personnel. There were lots of parades, conferences,. diplomatic functions to attend. I remember one in particular when the military attaches were taken out to the desert for some exhibition and Tahseen  Shordom , a good drinking buddy of mine,  and the Circassian commander of the Special Forces invited  me to rappel  off a cliff. Thanks to my Ranger training I did so but with a typical Arab addition…. Tahseen firing his ak-47  hitting  on either side of me as I rappelled down. I was worried about ricochets but tried not to show it.

My fellow military attaches were a mixed lot. The French attache built up my ego by bringing his report, to be sent to Paris , to be vetted by me. The Taiwan attache retired and opened a restaurant. The Russian Attache was a drunk and routinely pinched the rear end of comely Attache wives. His assistant spoke Arabic very well but seemed to suffer from angst that I spoke it better. I didn’t.  But the Jordanians always told him I did. The Iraqis were sullen, uncommunicative assholes.  It doesn’t pain a bit to know they were probably executed in one of the numerous coups.The Iranian was nice but obviously not happy in his assignment. The Indian was a Colonel Bogie type and  like many British educated Indians  knew everything about everything.  I remember he once dashed triumphantly into my office with a piece of paper detailing the tail numbers of  Pakistani F-104’s shot down by the Indians in the 1971 war. They were aircraft we had given to the Jordanians with the stipulation that were not to be conveyed to any other country.  Yo Hum so what else is new?  The British were …… British. Envious that   Glubb Pasha  had been replaced by us amateur Americans.  I like their style. I’m a bit of an anglophile…despite the disdain  in which they seem to view us.

Zia al Haq head of Pakistani Training mission in Jordan

I did enjoy the parties thrown by Princess Muna, the King’s second wife, a  very nice  British lady in which dodge ball was the primary event, but I did care  much  for the silly British games. One in particular  was  the parties thrown by the British air attache ( without Jordanians) in which  the wives  were standing on chairs and their blindfolded  husbands  would go down the line feeling the ladies legs to see if they could identify their wife. Generally  the American  wives were too prudish or sober (or both) to take part.

princess Muna with future King Abdullah looking at Camera

Well…. all good things come to an end and it came time to go back to the real army.  Anyway the routine of diplomatic receptions and attending official functions  was a comedown from  my previous more exciting experiences, but I did learn  a few  more things , one from the British military attache. It was always a chore coming up with what to say to the  people coming through a reception line, and I learned from the British colonel that it is immaterial to speak anything intelligible when greeting the  guests. He just smiled and with a boisterous voice  and a hearty and congenial disposition  spoke some unknown tongue…HOWHEWAHOWNICEHEWHO.

I cannot to say I added much to the Jordanian  triumph although I was able to make the PLO hit list along with Jack O’Connell. In retrospect, I relate my time there to the hilarious  story of Malcolm Muggeridge  in some obscure African Portuguese colony  during WWII as an agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Despite his justifiably humble recounting of his service there, he was amused to find in the German intelligence files after the war, how the Germans  had him identified as a master spy with agents over all of Africa. I wonder what the Russkies wrote about me? A master  linguist and James Bond super spy?

Queen Alia. Killed in helicopter crash


Anyway  when I revisited  Jordan  several times, years later, it was not the same.  One old friend had just been released from jail for allegedly having compromising photos of Queen Alia before she became the wife of the King. He looked like a ghost. We had met Alia…  Pre-Queen days…. at a picnic one time and  she was indeed a vivacious,  “forward thinking” and attractive woman. Another friend was in prison for trying to sell information to the Libyans.  Amman now had glassy  shopping malls, American fast foods, Islamists  had replaced the marxists as the primary pain in the ass, and the young gallants had nargillas  (water pipes) mounted in their Mercedes.  Many of the young ladies in miniskirts common in  the seventies, were now pretending to be holier than A’isha the Prophets (PBUN)  favorite wife. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, You Can’t go Home Again.

Oh BTW… Why the “legal spy.” At a reception General Sharif  Zayd Bin Shaker, Commander of the JAA  introducing embassy staff to guests pointed me out and told then I was the “legal spy.”

Sharif bin Shaker. Cousin of the King and bee noir of PLO












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The Legal Spy; My time as Army attache in Jordan 70- 72; Part 0ne

Well it all began in about July of 1970. I had received orders to report to the Defense  Intelligence Agency for a new assignment in Washington, but before we departed we prepared for one more trip- to Israel wrapping up my wonderful tour at the American University of Beirut after 2 1/2 years in the Arab Studies  MA program and my Foreign Area Specialty assignment. We… my wife and I… left our little darlings  with Therese, a very young,  very excellent maid, baby sitter, and Lebanese guide into the  intricate labyrinth  of Lebanon.  We flew to Cyprus and then to Tel Aviv. We had to use a piece of insert paper in our passport  for entrance into Israel. When we exited Israel they would stamp the piece of paper and take it…therefore no Israeli stamp in our visa…part of the  make believe world the Arabs live in.

In out visit to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Army Attache there told me that my orders had been changed. The Army Attache in Jordan,  Major Bob Perry had been murdered by a gang of Palestinian thugs in his home in front of his wife and kids.

So we returned to Beirut and shortly thereafter I departed for Jordan. When I arrived in Amman the wives had already been evacuated and the new embassy personnel came without spouses.

Amman and parts of Jordan were in chaos, King Hussein had lost control of the situation and Palestinian thugs of the 12 different wings of the Palestinian Liberation Organization were patrolling the streets, setting up roadblocks, harassing residents and foreigners. the message below lays out the situation. The US  Embassy was also in disarray as the Ambassador had been declared persona non Grata and was not at the Embassy. The leadership at the Embassy…,. both State and military ……. did not inspire confidence..

The message from the Deputy at the Embassy pretty well lays out the situation. The Fedayeen were there Palestinian gangs roaming about creating chaos. The second memo was to Dr Kissinger concerning what we were too do about it, BTW The documents were declassified later.

Things going to hell in Amman
so what do we do about it? as it turned out not much.


I arrived in the Airport near Amman and went through two customs, one of the Government of Jordan (GOJ) and one of the PLO. A very strange situation and not reassuring. There upon  to the Embassy then located in Jebel Luweibdeh , a middle class mostly Palestinian neighborhood.  After desultory briefings and and briefs forecasting  a coming calamity,, I went to my quarters  in the up scale Jebel Amman. The home of the military boss. It was spacious and the Palestinian cook was a nice loyal fellow.l My boss in his hasty departure left behind his Saluki dog. He kept it on the roof. The cook would take it out for a walk with gunfire going every which a way. Once it got away and me and the cook chased it around the neighborhood  midst the fire works as the Jordanian Army exchanged fire with the fedayeen every night. The Saluki,  one of the fastest animals alive, was finally cornered and put back in his cage. We shipped it out on a military Aircraft a few days later,

Back in Beirut, since we had already given up our apartment near Hamra street, my wife with three kids, was walking the streets looking for l’Ajar, or a Louer, signs in the windows. There were no realtors one could turn to for help and as we military students at the Embassy were merely hanger ons,  there was very little help there.Happily she found one on Rue Mexique in the  Armenian district, with an accommodating concierge who was very protective.

In further narrative I will not mention all the names for obvious reasons  but the chaos continued until the new Ambassador, L Dean Brown arrived. Short of stature, but a  no nonsense, take charge kind of guy, he sent my boss and the Charge  packing immediately and new life came back into the embassy. However he did not come until later. For a long time, we at the Embassy were subjected to searches by the Ashbal( teenage fedayeen) carrying AK- 47’s with the safety off  sticking the weapon in our faces and asking the same stupid questions  day after day as we traveled back and forth from Embassy to home. At this time American media has absorbed the Guerrilla Ethos and  were enamored  of the Palestinian terrorist in his tailored tight fitting tiger fatigues. Many Western journalists were in town  to help build up their largely underserved reputation. On the rare occasion when anybody from the media asked our opinion it was never printed. Also I noticed many Scandinavian chicks arrived en mass to help the Palestinian refugees,  primarily by shacking up with the cool well attired  leaders . One found her way into my attache house courtesy of the  administrative  warrant  officer who had moved in with me. When she appeared at breakfast I told the WO to  send her back to the refugees  she was ostensively there to help.  The WO said he was getting information on the conditions on the refugee camps.

Anyway I am not writing this chronologically but as my dim memory recollects  the events.

At this point I should mention the name of the guy who kept Jordan in the win column for the US. Jack O’Connell was the CIA station chief and had a close relationship with King Hussein  and was a tough CIA type of the old school, quite different from the many  dilettantes that hang around Langley these days.  He had faith in the Jordanians and their army ( JAA) . When many at the top of the CIA, and of course the squishy State Dept., were advocating kissing up to the PLO, O’ Connell stayed the course. He said stick with the King.

Abu Ammar Arafat

As the new people came in to the Embassy I have to say that the State people were the top of the line. They spoke Arabic  better than me and knew the culture. One I have to mention. Hume Horan, the political officer was a quintessential Arabist. He would  enthrall   Jordanians with his recital of Arab poetry and most of all he was  a pragmatic Arabist, not one of those who act as facilitators for the inexplicably  stupid  things the Arab leaders  often do, and not go gooey when  the word “Arab” is mentioned.The secretaries were very courageous and stayed the course. They we’re older gracious ladies who blended well with the Jordanians.I especially admired the CIA admin lady who always spoke with authority with few words. Jack later married her.

Because of the special situation I was welcomed into into the top floor of the Embassy into the CIA inner sanctum without the  usual security clearances required. They were a bunch of hard working folks  and they knew what the Fedayeen were doing before their own rank and file did. They were the communication people and as the new Ambassador L Dean. Brown made it clear nothing went from the Embassy without his approval. The CIA often were lone riders, sending in their own opinions oblivious of the opinion of the Ambassador. In the Defense Attache course run by DIA,  ( which happily I avoided) they taught the use of the one time code (OTC)  which was to enable us military types to send sneaky cables without the Ambassador approval. I never knew how to use one.

Late King Hussein

The junior CIA guys were ex-military and terrific guys to work with. One was an ex-Naval officer, the other an ex-Marine. Since they were part of the covert side of C IA Im not sure I can use their  names, even though one has passed on and the other  I lost track of after he left the Agency. They had excellent contacts with the civilian and military Jordanians. We shared sources.  I had great contacts with Jordanian Bedouin officers and I was happy to share the info. This is rarely true in my other experiences. To be clear I was not a secret agent. I never asked questions. I just let them talk. If I was sober enough—since they talked the most when in the midst of heavy drinking bouts  in the  desert– I made a few mental notes.

Laila Khalid two time plane hijacker Her second attempt ended in her Jail time but she was released by a fearful British government.


Of course the King and Chairman Arafat had made a number of pacts to stop the violence- so many in fact that it became a joke… I ran out of fingers and toes counting the peace agreements. But every day the violence got worse and there were several attempts on the life of the King. Just driving to and from the Embassy became an  adventure. As the violence increased it became obvious a confrontation was coming. I sent a message to DIA relating what I observed when I was standing near a Bedouin  soldier and a Palestinian Toyota came by with one fedayeen manning a 12.7 machine gun, the Palestinian manning it gave a smile to the Bedouin  in a way to suggest a Kiss my ass attitude. The face of the Jordanian was one of contempt hatred, and a barely concealed urge to kill. So much for Arabism I thought.

Now in the military office we had me as the chief honcho, since my boss had been fired, and three military training officers and NCO’s.They were a gregarious bunch. Like most military training assistance  officers, they were not career oriented and therefore much more fun to work with.

At this time I should mention this is not a narrative of the Jordanian civil war… it has been   covered better in Clinton Bailey’s Jordanian Palestinian Challenge 1948-1983 and  Avi Shlaim’s Lion Of Jordan The life of King Hussein.

Anyway the the final straw was when one of the Palestinian organizations hijacked four aircraft, forcing  three  to land at Dawson’s field, a salt flat dirt airstrip in the s desert formerly used as an RAF dispersal field. After terrorizing the passengers, taking about 50 hostage they blew up the planes. The stage was set and at that time our new ambassador, Dean Brown arrived in an Armored personnel carrier.

Part two whenever



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Islam in Decline? Again?

Recently I have seen several articles on the seeming decline in adherence to Islam by its followers in the Middle East. This may be true. Certainly the corruption within the clerical ranks of Islam would seem to  justify this decline. We have been in an era in which   many Islamic clerics have become politicians and verbal warriors, demanding death and hellfire for the “enemies of Islam.”  On the other hand, the politicians have become clerics , spewing bile and invective  toward their rivals and the West, in voicing selected  religious terminology. Spiritually, especially in terms of deep reflection there  seems to be a void here,  but not being a Muslim I cannot  vouch for that. In contrast to that however, how can we explain the number of Westerners from secular societies seeking  rebirth and solace in adopting Islam.? Actually I find that easy to explain.  Our materialistic society is admittedly rather empty. As Christianity has become a quaint antiquated  fashion, generally paganized to make it acceptable to the elite, the  thinking people wonder , “is this all there is is” ( apologies to Peggy Lee).  Even or priests and preachers, water down the bold and sometimes strident  strokes in the Good Book to  soften the rough edges. No use making people feel uncomfortable.

The problem with this decline of Islam is that we have been through this a number of times before.  The extraordinarily perceptive , Hilaire Belloc  ( The Great Heresies, 1937), in the 1930’s wrote about this in era in which secular revolutionary ideas  were becoming into vogue: communism, fascism, proto -democracy. Western pundits opined that Islam, a religion they saw as a religion of the peasants, and the uneducated, and was gradually -with increasing education- withering away.  The Middle East was under Western colonial powers,  evidencing the power of Western civilization over the Islamic.Belloc saw that was  a mirage– another fashionable idea–passing for wisdom– of the elite that had no substance-as we often see today. Belloc wrote, “May not Islam rise again?”

Hilaire Belloc.  famous quote by Belloc.  “the Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always outlives  her conquerers.”

He continued, ” In a sense the question is already answered because Islam never departed. It still commands the  fixed loyalty  and unquestioned adhesion of all the millions between The Atlantic and Indus, and further afield throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask  the question in  the sense “will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the the domination of the Europeans – still nominally Christians- and reaper again as the prime enemy of of our civilization?”

Of course Bolloc took a dim view of Islam, calling it not a religion, but a heresy of Catholic Christianity. So the modernists of this age denigrate  Belloc’s ideas, but it  is undeniable he was right in the temporal sense. ISIS is the living proof of that.

But next came the Abdul Nasser era of the 50’s and 60’s and again the “Neo-Arabists,” as they are often termed by folks  like me. They envisioned a new Arab world, run by “benevolent”military leaders, filled with socialist ideas of the East European programs, e.g.,  the industrial leap. Leaders like Nasser used Islam when necessary in his doctrinal, and military  tracts, but made fun of the clerics in his speeches, such as when he ridiculed  a cleric for demanding women wear the hijab. ( how things have changed!)

Bernard Lewis. I think I have every book he has written. Bete noire of the islamist  (political Islam) apologists


In 1967, the preeminent  American scholar of Islam , Bernard Lewis wrote an article in Commentary, ( Jan. 1967), “The Return. of Islam” in which he accurately forecast the next 50 years of strife in the Middle East and the collision of civilizations,  aptly described by Samuel Huntington, in his Clash of Civilizations, ( another book that  engenders  modernist  scholarly angst……. In fact I have learned that usually any book trashed by the princes of Middle East studies usually need a close look; ex: The Arab Mind. the best book -and most useful-on Arab culture written in the English language.

So why are  Western pundits and “experts”on Islam  ( most not all) so very wrong? Bernard Lewis defines it perfectly;

“We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in the consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology, the use of which in explaining Muslim political phenomena is about as accurate and as enlightening as an account of a cricket match by a baseball correspondent.”

I might add, as we see everyday in our mediocre main stream media ,  Western elitist references to religion are usually accompanied by titters of disdain. To  accept the power of religion would be to  negate  their entire belief system. ( whatever that may be). The other frequent error made as a result of the current zeitgeist,  corrupting the academic Middle East community, is the romanticizing of Islam.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have stern prescriptions and proscriptions and often a bloody history. Immersing them in a bowl of jelly may make them easier to digest but do not represent the reality.

Today this fatuous belief that Islam, meaning radical Islam, particularly that with nuclear power in their near future, like the Iranians, can be examined and understood  in terms of economics, politics, “discursive” interfaith  dialog,  etc. is a recipe for disaster. The Idea that we can lessen our defenses against ISIS and the many other militant Islamic movements  such as the Muslim Brotherhood, will be a fatal path to follow.






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Armenians Vanquished. Azerbaijanis Victorious . The big winners; Russia and Turkey . Big Losers ; the West and Iran

The shooting war has ended, thanks to the merciful intervention of Russia to end what became  a lop sided victory for the Azeris and a devastating humiliation for Armenia. Videos of the carnage shows that the Armenians left behind  many dead and there was evidence of a rout in some places. Most of their armor has been destroyed or damaged and unlike the Azerbaijanis, having very little money, they cannot replace them.  Some observers question whether they have any point in doing so as they are isolated in the world political environment, a history of war with the Islamic world, driven out of their homelands in Turkey, and getting only clucking noises of support from former “Christendom”, now   totally secular and indifferent to Eastern Christianity. Russia allowed the war to continue for 44 days in order to ensure that Armenia, which had been trying to steer an independent course, is now totally dependent on Moscow.

Azeri Victory parade with Putin and President Aliyev of Azerbaijan watching.



The first lesson from this is that  One of the worst things that can happen to an army is to have won a war against a rather hapless opponent. So it was in the Armenian victory over the Azeris in  1988-1994. in which the Armenians not only defended the  Armenian  enclave of  Artsakh ( Nagorno -Karabakh )but also seized a sizable piece of Azeri territory  which they have tenaciously held onto for 29 years.  The Armenians assumed this exaggerated sense of military superiority and disparaged the fighting qualities of  the Azeris.  They believed that their deficit in manpower and equipment  would be remedied by the valor of their soldiers. They fought bravely but uselessly.  This is a frequent feature of all nations and peoples ( as well illustrated in the book Knowing Ones Enemies)

Azeris celebrating

In the intervening period the the nation of Azerbaijan has gone  through  an extensive modernization period, especially the military, with the objective of regaining their territory. Look elsewhere for the rights and wrongs and moral high ground on this issue.Ill leave that to the international lawyers..however like most land disputes it is only settled by warfare. In the meantime Armenia rested on its military laurels, allowing the Azeris to get far ahead of them in military preparedness.The Azeris had a huge  quantitative and qualitative advantage over Armenia, a factor which owed much to their oil . On the other hand Armenia exists primarily on largess provided by the Armenian diaspora throughout the world, and Russian loans.

Armenian troops departing Azeri rec conquered areas

The  second lesson is that this war is what Samuel Huntington   ( The Clash of Civilizations) termed a “fault line conflict,” which tends to be typified by extreme brutality, long lasting , ( with perhaps  a time of peace but always returning to warfare) and  usually terminated by the complete destruction of one side and ethnic cleansing. The war between the Azeris and Armenians has a long and very bloody history as evidenced by mass slaughter of civilians by both sides dating  back to nineteenth century (see my previous blog on the conflict). The modernists, writing on these type of wars, shy away from any mention of culture or religion, evidencing “secular myopia” as Huntington termed it.   In this war there are number of allegations of war crimes, killing prisoners, decapitation of  the dead, cutting off ears, etc. It was a war over territory, and inevitably, identity.

Some have termed it a war of the drones, which is true to some extent it was. Azerbaijan was well supplied by Israel and Turkey with some of the latest in drones which wrecked a devastating toll on the Armenian armor with anti tank missiles. It was not  a matter of comparing  kind of tanks since both sides had  Russian built T-72’s , T-80’s and some older models  against Azeri  T-72’s and the newer T-90’s.

As in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Isreali war that the “experts” announced the end of armor as the sagger equipped Egyptians infantrymen knocked out many Israeli tanks. But the primary problem was that the Armenians were unprepared for combined arms warfare.  Heroics cannot replace training, doctrine, strategy and common sense.Specifically they lacked mobile air defense weaponry which could make short work of the drones. Astute military analysts are advocating that the great powers carefully assess the lessons of this war as there is much to be learned.

In this war the Azeris reclaimed 80% of the land lost to the Armenians in the earlier war. Only the intervention of the Russians prevented the total absorption of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. President Ilhan Aliyev of Azerbaijan claimed that his forces destroyed one billion dollars worth of Armenian military equipment. It is a fact that the Western orientation of Azerbaijan was the locomotive for the modernization of Azerbaijan guided by the wise policies of Aliyev who opened lucrative relations with Israel and the West.

So what are the results?. Armenians are demoralized, rightly blaming their government for incompetence, particularly their bull headed president Nikol Pashinian. They are holding on to the more populated parts of Nagorno Karabakh by virtue of Russian “peacekeepers” deployed into the region.  Turkey has solidified their relationship with Azerbaijan, another step toward Turkish presidents pan-Turkish scheme of allied turkic solidarity up to the Chinese border. They were tightly won even into the Azeri victory, even importing Syrian Arab surrogates to fight for Azerbaijan, alongside Turkish military training teams.

The  Russians have secured a foothold in the ” soft underbelly” of Russia with peacekeepers basically guarding the remainder of the Nagorno-Karabakh
entity in place of Armenia. Azerbaijan has not given up  its claim to all of the Armenian enclave, which means the conflict remains unresolved. Moreover Russia alone drove the peace settlement , bypassing completely the earlier  Minsk settlement structure  composed of  France, the U.S. and Russia.  The West was totally excluded  from the latest  treaty.

Armenian soldiers light candles remembering dead conmrades

It is much more complicated with Iran. No doubt their large Azeri population is ecstatic  over their fellow Azeri victory in the war.The Azeri victory solidified Azeri ethic separatist inclinations. No doubt  quiet a few Persians are happy too,  happy that their fellow Shia   scored a victory over the Christian Armenians, but the more pragmatic  Iranian  rulers,  fear the idea of the Russians on their doorstep. Russian intervention in Iran dates back over two centuries. One Russian expert opined  on twitter that the Russian moves were predicated on putting pressure on Iran.


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Iraq Report: Situation going from bad to worse as Iran maintains control against little resistance.

The power struggle in Iraq today centers on the  struggle  between Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Both have militias as part  of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).There is a total of 67 Shi’ite factions  of which only four belong to the anti-Iranian Al Sistani faction. The PMU was originally established by Al Sistani to combat the threat of the ISIS in 2014 when it appeared the ISIS would overrun Baghdad. The Fatwa issued by Al Sistani has been used by the Pro-Iranian organizations to assume control of much Iraq’s political environment since then. Al Sistani’s religious doctrine emphasized , a “Quietist” religious role for Shi’a clerics, as opposed to the all encompassing Faqih Villayet doctrine of the Iranian  Shi’ite rulers.  The four factions of Al Sistani’s are seeking  to limit  PMU influence in  Government of Iraq, and curtail pro-Iranian activities. The pro-Iranian PMU have been involved in violence against Iraqi civilians and massive corruption.  One element of the PMU, Raba Allah, is  more of a street gang than militia, has been carrying out criminal acts against civilians.

Flag of the PMU


The four Sistani units, well trained and equipped, decided in Marc to withdraw from the PMU but there have been a number of mediation efforts by the Iraqi government to mend fences. The present situation is not clear.  However, the promotion of Abu Fadik, an Iranian loyalist, to the PMU deputy commander position, and the appointment of Abu Muntadher  Al -Husseini, from the pro-Iranian Badr organization as PMU as General Secretary, has basically derailed the conciliation.

This month the Al-Sistani factions, issued a statement pledging their allegiance to Iraq, and asking for integration into the Iraqi Armed Forces. This the Iranian  PMU, adamantly refuses to do, obviously under the orders of their Iranian masters.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose portrait is being held aloft by his Shiite supporters, has emerged in recent weeks to address the crisis facing Iraq.

While the split has had wide coverage on local media, the Iraqi government  has taken little notice, and the PMU has indicated it is simply a move by the four Al Sistani factions, without Al Sistani’s approval. This is an indication of the massive influence of Al Sistani, in that even the Iranian surrogates cannot openly defy the Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani.

Qais Al Khazali two time turncoat and murderer of 5 American soldiers now important figure in the PMU

The fact is however that Al Sistani is 90 years old and there does not seem to be any Iraqi   nationalist clerics who could take his place– in terms of devotion or influence. While the split of the pro Al-Sistani factions hurt Iranian pretensions, it does not  curtail Iranian influence in Iraq. The reason is simple: The inaction of the Iraqi government, and specifically the weakness of the Prime Minister Al- Kadhimi, who was elected with high expectations and hopes. But he has been a  woefully weak PM,  and seems to be hoping that a Biden administration will ease the pressure on Iran, thus giving him a period of tranquility for his rule, obviously submitting to greater Iranian control in order to maintain a Quisling type government.

Mustafa Al Khadimi a nice well meaning fellow but too weak to control Iraq

The conclusion — for the foreseeable future–is pretty clear, until a general on horseback, possibly a Sunni, arrives on the scene,  has the loyalty of the army, and can motivate it to get off its haunches and move against the Shia Iranian vassals, the Iranian stranglehold will tighten. Of course the  few vestiges of democracy  now in Iraq will gradually disappear, but then as it said- quite frequently -A thousand years of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.




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The Iranian fingers reach North Africa. The Polisario and Western Sahara issue re-emerges but not by accident

After many years of relative peace it is no longer quiet on the Western  Front.

The Western Saharan map. over a hundred thousand Sahrawi refugees live in Algeria The pink line is the Sand Wall.

The thumbnail sketch of the issue. 1884 Spain colonized Western Sahara, formerly populated by Muslim Berber tribes.Over time they became Arabized. IN 1934 It becomes a Spanish province known as Spanish Sahara. Many of the men served in General Franco'[s Moorish legions that July ultimately defeated the communist/socialist “republicans” for control of Spain in the Spanish civil war , 1936-39.It actually  began with a revolt by nationalist Army officers in Spanish Sahara.

It is a totally desert area, with one of the lowest population densities in the world. The  native tribespeople are generally bedouin tribes people, and some were fishermen.  Until Spain controlled it it was basically left untouched by foreigners, mostly because few thought it was with worth  much. The Spanish, however took great pride in being a colonial power, and when huge  high grade phosphate deposits ( 1.7 billion tons) were found in the region  it became much more important to the Franco regime.  Then in the early seventies, a one hundred mile conveyer system was built to bring the ore from the inland desert to the port constructed for it. ( al Aiun)

Generalissimo Franco

The Spanish rule of the region was marked by high handed methods, sometimes brutal, and through the elders of the  Arab Sahrawi tribes. The Spanish were not known as subscribing to the “Hearts and Minds” approach to foreign internal development.As it happened so often the taste for nationalism originated with Europeans, Spaniards who were still longing for the lost  “Republican” regime in Spain and that infected the Sahrawi youth.

The “Green March”

1973 Tribes in region began an insurgency against the Spanish and in 1975 the Spanish departed as General Franco lingered on his death bed so long it became a standing joke on late night TV. Immediately a three way battle began as Morocco, Mauritania and the newly formed Polisario Front , the armed wing of the proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic  Republic (SDAR) claimed the region. Poor Mauritania was unable to contend with the Polisario guerrilla warfare and gave up their claim in 1979.  Morocco did not, and so the warfare continued until 1991.  The United States brokered an accord in 1993 and an UN organization known as MINURSO deployed to oversee a referendum which has not happened. Bangladesh has contributed to most troops to theMINURSO.

Spanish Legion troops in Western Sahara

The war between the Polisario and Morocco was a bloody one with the Sahrawis inflicting many casualties on the Moroccan army of ill trained villagers lost in a desert environment. Again and again road bound Moroccan convoys were ambushed  and wiped out. Even with French active support, mostly air and special elite troop trainers,  and  American materiel aid, the Moroccans  were humiliated time and again. The Polisario perfected the operations conducted by David Stirling and his jeep transported troops in WWII. Special Air Services (SAS) troops drove through the desert and attacked German and Italian units and lines of communications hundreds of miles behind Enemy lines. The Polisario perfected this and many other tactics that were later used by the ISIS, using Toyota pick up trucks armed with heavy machine guns. They on several occasions crossed the border into Morocco and attacked Moroccan towns at one time traveling 500m kilometers through Moroccan territory with 1500 men and 200 jeeps. This tactic convinced  the Moroccan king that something had to be done.

Spanish and colonial troops

The Polisario, on the other hand were being  generously supplied with Soviet weaponry by Algeria, North Korea, and Libya,   supplying weapons, including some armor, and  sophisticated Air Defense  weapons. The Cubans were supplying  training teams. Of course world “elitist” opinion at the time held the attitude that revolutionary warfare was always destined to always win and that the revolutionaries were possessors of the holy grail.The war in Vietnam,  Palestine, and  in various South American countries had indelibly embedded that belief. The Polisario had the advantage of having the support of the Sahrawi people, the “informed” class in Europe ,and also the benefit of being able to run back into Algeria when being pursued by the Moroccans.

the sand wall “the Berm”

At this point It should be noted that Algeria and Morocco have been traditional enemies since the departure of the French.  They fought a border war in 1963 in which the Algerians were soundly trashed. Having spent time  in both countries I can attest to the vast difference in character. the Algerians having bought into socialism have suffered the inevitable effects that socialism always brings, principally inertia and a lack of individual initiative. They are not a happy people, usually at war with themselves. Crossing into Morocco was like traveling from a dark night into  bright sunshine. Morocco is not a shining example of a democracy but it has at least  a  generally benevolent authoritarian rule—-comparatively—-  in any event. Compared to most Arab countries, Morocco has enjoyed decades of stability although  the late King Hassan narrowly  escaped a couple of assassination attempts.

Sahrawi women

The Moroccan  military leadership was notoriously inept until a young General  by the name of Ahmad Dlimi  came on there scene. He is a great example of the” great man”theory in a smaller vein.. KingHassan retired his cronies in the military leadership, finally accepted the seriousness of the situation and took measures to stop the Polisario incursions and  devastating attacks on Moroccan army units.

The losing war war for Morocco changed radically when General Ahmad Dlimi convinced King Hassan to let him run the war (1979) He dismantled the many small Moroccan outposts which were  frequently being overrun by the Polisario, reorganized the army, concentrated on training, used lessons learned, ( something  most Arab armies disregard), replaced slow moving vehicles with jeeps and  Toyota  type vehicles, and made use of American Special Operations training  putting an offensive sprit back into the army. The Polisario did not fold their tents and creep away however, and their attacks continued, disappearing into the mountainous regions and the vast desert as well as fleeing back into Algeria.

MINURSO troops

In 1980 General Dlimi came up with the concept of the “strategy of walls” and the berms. The Moroccans over  the years have constructed a wall of 2,700 kilometers of sand and rocks,  with a 5 kilometer wide minefield in front of the wall. With the help of the Americans, many sensitive detection devices were installed and 300 fortified posts and and observation points.  It encloses about 80% of the Western Sahara leaving 20% of desert to the Polsario. About 150, 000 Moroccan soldiers man the berm and the Algerian border fortifications.

Sahrawis celebrating

All through the eighties the Polisario launched attacks against remote parts of the wall but gradually both sides realized then war was not winnable and in 1991 an accord was signed and the MINURSO,  ( United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara)the UN peacekeeping organization deployed to the Western Sahara, which today consists of 493  personnel, including 245 Military personnel. It has been mostly successful for the simple reason that returning to war was not an option for either side, so the cease fire held for 29 years……until the ” Abraham Accords” became a reality and as it appeared that Morocco might join the UAE and Bahrain in entering into the accord with Israel, Algeria and Iran got nervous. Morocco has never been in the forefront in the forever war against Israel and would seem to be on course to join 6the Accords, inciting Algerian officials to aver that they will will never allow the Zionist state (Israel) on their border, meaning watch out Morocco. So in early December this year  the Polisario set up road blocks on the main road from Morocco to the western part of North Africa, while Polisario officials made war noises and pledged never to allow Morocco to obtain full sovereignty over the Western Sahara.


Hezbollah, one of Iran’s most trusted surrogate  groups, and one of its best, has been involved in training Polisario groups and Iran has launched a full throated propaganda campaign to influence the direction of the opinion on Western  Sahara.

Polisario troops

I have not really gotten into the the rights and wrongs of the issue.  But there are a couple of points that should be noted. MINURSO is there to oversee a referendum of the native people, but it will never happen because Morocco  knows  it will lose…..despite the famous “Green march”in 1975 in which King Hassan sent thousands of Moroccans to settle in the Western Sahara. Morocco had been one of the most consistent American allies in the diplomatic arena, and President Trump recently offered his support to Morocco in their claim of ownership.

Birds of a feather; Iran’s long reach

My opinion was summarized in a statement made by Moammar Gaddafi in one of his lucid moments, “the last thing the Arab World needs is another small state.”







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Iranian Way of War

My Paper presented at the 13Th ASMEA conference (virtually) Without footnotes ….Slides inserted in the paper.


 Historical Considerations in Understanding Iran’s Military and Their Way of War

 By Norvell B DeAtkine


Academic and media angst at the early January killing of Qassim Al-Soleimani, head of the Iranian state-sponsored terror organization, al Quds, by an American missile, exposed the long history of American ignorance of Iranian strategic objectives at every level of foreign policymaking by successive administrations. Many saw the event as portending a spiral of violence leading inexorably to all-out war. However, the unpalatable truth is that Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, a fact well documented by David Crist in his book,The Twilight War.[1] The Iranians have mostly used surrogates to perpetrate a litany of terror attacks and provocations, which, until the killing of  Al – Soleimani, were usually met with angry denunciations but little action. In a region of the world where strength must be constantly demonstrated, the U.S. influence has declined precipitously. We have been unable to contend with an Iranian way of war that is ignored or submerged in a morass of academic and political wishful thinking. The fundamental problem is a prevalent one. Americans lack interest in history, and tend to view other peoples’ actions through the lens of our own culture. The manner in which different cultures fight should be the starting point in understanding our adversaries, especially one as crafty and intractable as Iran. There are many sources covering the direction of Iranian strategy, but generally they do not adequately cover the historical and cultural environment in which the Iranian way of war has developed.[2]


Way of war is best defined as a pattern of fighting which is recurrent in history of a people.   The weapons change, perhaps tactics, and newer ideologies are introduced, but underneath it all, the culture, inexorable, near immutable remains.  I hope to depict in this paper the continual cultural thread, which defines the Persian way of War. In doing this it critical to view the military history within the overall Persian culture. Military culture is a subculture of the general culture, and in fact it generally is more conservative and more resistant to change than other institutions. However, the concept that there is such a thing as a “way of war” is a contentious issue and applying it to specific peoples or cultures is fraught with the dangers of walking into an academic minefield, especially given the current academic inability to separate cultural studies from dark illusions of racism. This is particularly true in writing anything  seemingly critical of non- Western military cultures, which are apt to bring on charges of “military orientalism.[3] Nevertheless, one need not  be an anthropologist, or linguist in classical Greek, but merely a serious student of military history to understand that culture is the primary determinant of a way of war.  Edward T. Hall,[4] in his series of works on culture conclusively demonstrates that culture determines every aspect of our lives. It is illogical to assume that warfare is the exception.

This word “orientalism” has become a pejorative term in much of the Middle East scholarship, and has often clouded useful scholarship.  In other words, hoping to find continuity, in the current Iranian way of war to that waged by the Achaemenid Persians is too theoretical and fanciful.  Based on my personal on-the ground experience and many years studying warfare, it is true that one can find exceptions to a continuity of military culture, but they are rare.  It is not an aberration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) looked back to the era of  early Islamic conquests to model their method of warfare. [5]  The Islamist concept of war as envisioned by the Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik in his much-read book, The Quranic Concept of War, laid out a doctrine that was fundamental to the ISIS conduct of its operations.[6]


In examining ways of war, several American military historians turned it into an analytical industry that continues to pull in increasing numbers of young psychologists, historians and innumerable pundits.[7] In his book, The Western Way of War; Infantry Battle in Classical Greece,   American historian Victor Davis Hanson, defined a Western way of war, exemplified by the Greek method of fighting  the Persians, who have been described as fighting an “eastern way of war.”  The western way of war was predicated on the spirit and martial élan of the citizen soldiers disciplined by military training and city-state loyalty. They were citizens with leaders elected or appointed on the basis of a meritocracy. This was in contradistinction to the Persian habit of leaders appointed on the basis of loyalty to the King or part of the royal family – a system followed by most Middle East countries today based on loyalty to the regime as the major factor.




There are massive volumes of work on culture including a number of approaches which often tend to obfuscate more than clarify.   Using a definition presented to my classes at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School by redoubtable professor Gary Weaver, of the American University, culture is defined as a “way of life of a people passed down from one generation to the next through learning.”[8]   Culture is formed by a myriad of factors, e.g., history, language, religion, geography etc. The people of a culture are shaped by the culture in the form of a bell-shaped curve, some totally, some not at all, but the vast majority to a considerable degree, resulting in a predominately common world view.  Moreover, as studies indicate, cultures change very slowly, especially in more traditional societies.


The Greek view of the Persians was usually derogatory[9], but often  because the Persians preferred to fight their battles in a different manner, eschewing the all-out frontal assault.  Many historians[10] analyzing the warfare of that era, including John Keegan, in his History of Warfare, have depicted the Persian way of war as one of evasion, delay, and indirectness, particularly gifted in psychological warfare, and the use of intelligence.  Because of these attributes, the Persians were usually pictured as effeminate, weak, fighting for pay only, and linked together by chains to prevent fleeing from the battle. Unfortunately, we do not get a full picture of the other side of the story as the Arab invasion of Persia[11]destroyed much of the narratives of earlier Persian history. Moreover, the multilingual aspects of the Persian Empire inhibited a large volume of historical narratives being produced, so the Persian version is largely unrecorded.  in his book, Shadows in the Desert, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh, [12]gives a more balanced view and points to the superiority of the Greek armor with their longer spears, and better swords to the inferior fighting equipment of the Persians. The Persians depended upon their mounted and infantry archers to decimate the enemy before having to close for hand-to-hand combat.[13] One of the major problems of the ancient Persians warring against the Greeks was the multilingual nature of the huge Persian armies. The linguistic issue inhibited transferring commands to the diverse national units who fought with different equipment, doctrine, and varying loyalty to the Persian royal house. Against the Greeks this was fatal.


It was Russell Weigley, in his American Way of War[14] that brought the theory into concrete reality, especially for American veterans who observed on the ground the accuracy of his analysis of the American way of war in WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam, which could be compared to in a large degree, to the Iraqi wars.  He and his acolytes hammered on the thesis that Americans demanded a total military victory, crushing the enemy with the use of overwhelming firepower, relying on technology, and mostly ignoring any ambiguities surrounding the issues involved.  From these cultural attributes the fascination with technology of weapons of war permeated the American way of war.  As many have pointed out, American dependence on technology was one of the primary problems of their forces in Vietnam and Iraq.[15]


To a degree the “Persian “way of war is the epitome of an Eastern way of war[16], and while it as certain similarities to the Arab way of war it has significant differences.  The ancient Persian method of war was centered on the archers, many of whom were mounted. They could “cloud out the sun” with cascades of arrows. In a modern sense, their way of war was based on standoff weaponry, preferring to win by decimating the enemy without close combat.  Fast forwarding to Iraq, the vast majority of American casualties against the Iraqi surrogates of the Iranian regime resulted from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and mortars – not close quarter combat. Also, in the Persian- Greek wars, the Iranians depended on surrogates as much as possible. This was not to say that the ancient Persians lacked courage or ability. As Herodotus wrote, they were proud men and brave fighters, and esteemed courage more than any other nation[17]



The military historian, John Keegan while acknowledging the importance of technology and other factors, basically and unequivocally viewed way of war as rooted in culture. He wrote, “Culture is nevertheless, a prime determinant of the nature of warfare, as the history of its developments in Asia clearly demonstrates.”[18] He expanded the thesis of Victor Hanson, demonstrating that the Muslim disrespect  and ignorance of Western Christianity and European culture debilitated their ability to defeat Western armies beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of   Egypt in 1798.[19]  The tenacity of Middle Eastern cultural values is evident in only superficial absorption of Western doctrines, military ethos, and techniques, which  has continued in Middle Eastern military establishments to the present day.[20]   For instance, many of the deficiencies of the Egyptian army recorded by Winston Churchill in The River Wars were still apparent to this writer[21] a hundred years later. The June 2014 dissolution of the Iraqi army in the face of a numerical smaller ISIS force, gave rise, belatedly, to the exasperated, “It’s the culture, stupid!”


World View


The elite of Iran see themselves as perpetual victims, surrounded by enemies, in a virtual state of siege. From this, they perceive Iran as insecure, and this is aggravated by a hidden sense of inferiority.[22] This sense of inferiority is often disguised by bellicose pronouncements of military[23] and national superiority. The elites see Iran as the indispensable and leading power in the Middle East, kept from their natural role by surrounding regional enemies and international great powers, in the most part of the last century, by Russia and Great Britain, and now the United States.[24] As Sir Percy Sykes so undiplomatically wrote, “Persians are remarkably vain, and they think so highly of their barren desert country they cannot conceive of any power failing to covet it.”[25] The renown historian of Iran, Richard Frye, wrote, “The central fact of this culture ……is the rather intangible feeling among the people that Persian culture – traditions, outlook on life, and the like – will always survive political domination and the onslaught of new ideologies.”[26]


Despite the plethora of invasions by alien peoples, Arab, Turks. Mongols, Afghans, and the later era, control by imperial Russians and British forces, the Iranians were able to maintain their distinct Iranian culture. But politically each era of foreign domination brought with it the factionalism of those who resisted and those who bought into it. The long history of foreign involvement in Iran has produced a strong element of xenophobia.[27]


 The Influence of Iranian National Character on their Way of War


There are many critics to the whole idea of a “national character” or the “modal character” or other appellations used by anthropologists to characterize a people. The quest to understand their politics, daily living patterns, and especially the below the water “ice berg” effect that often bewilders casual observers, and infuriates those who view Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword as racist or pseudo-science.   Without getting into the exotica and esoterism of cultural studies my study of military culture indicates, the near immutability of cultural norms, despite generations of changes in technology, political rule, foreign domination, and the much-ballyhooed “the global village.” This can be demonstrated by the observations of Iranian/Persian culture over the centuries.  The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines all saw the Persians as an implacable enemy possessing imagination, guile, and a disarming ability to suborn factions of their allies. Their ability to turn the Greek city-states into warring factions, using propaganda and diplomacy, was unmatched.  The historians noted the Persian use of intelligence, and psychological warfare, including “psychological profiling.“ Unlike the Greeks, who often buried their heads in the sand and hoped for the best, the Persians maintained agents moving about the city states, gathering information, dispensing stories to add fuel to the fires of the perpetual city -state rivalries and jealousies. Backing up their “soft power” the Persians intimidated their enemies using their ponderous armies, “that drank the rivers dry”[28] as they passed, terrorizing towns that lay in their path.


Darius the Great spoke for all the Persians when he identified himself as the center of justice and righteousness. Tom Holland in his book Persian Fire, wrote, the hubris exhibited by Darius was, “Closely reflecting how they (Persians) saw themselves. No people had a greater faith in their own virtue.”[29]     Other observers added that the Persians were so convinced of their superiority, they were susceptible to ridicule, often reacting in a thoughtless manner and given to raging desires of reprisal and revenge. They could tolerate the occupier’s foreign cultures, but at the same time viewed them with contempt.[30] They used this feigned tolerance to undermine their enemies by cunningly using their own traditions against them. The quick and inventive Iranian mind was captured in   the seminal work on Iranian society by J.J. Morier, The Adventures of Haji Baba of Isphafan,“ In the preface Sir Walter Scott wrote, “the genius of the Persians is lively and volatile to degree much exceeding other nations of the East.” [31]


The topography of Iran is a critical factor in the formation of an Iranian character. Iran is very large country with population centers mostly along a very narrow ring[32] around the sparsely populated central barren areas of Iran. The vast distances have created an insular culture among the Iranians, with a strong element of provincialism.[33] Creating an Iranian identity is still an ongoing process.

The diversity of peoples and city-centric town dwellers was observed by Edward G. Browne’s, A Year Among the Persians, one in which the inhabitants of one small city could not find a generic word for city, only the name of their city.  In the passage of a century, that has changed only incrementally.[34]


Critical to the study of the Iranian   national character is the hubris and self-confidence of the elites, long commented on by visitors and observers. As aspect of this among the elite, is the appeal of irredentism. They feel their place in the world has been stymied by Western powers and seek to redress it.  Graham correctly assessed the Persian elite’s sense of their place in the world as beleaguered, yet being the center of the universe.[35] When I traveled in Iran in 1968 and 1969, the elite of Shiraz and Isphahan, were not reticent in speaking of Basra as a part of Iran.  To them it could be considered as a sort of Anschluss with Iraq. Of course, in the Iran -Iraq war, the Shi’a of Iraq, much to the chagrin of the Mullahs, turned out to be more Arab than Shi’a.


The Impact of the Shi’a Clerics


Shi’a clerics have an immense impact on the national character.[36]  They were never dominated by the political leaders of Iran, and now constitute a critical part of the ruling class.  Reza Shah tried to secularize Iran and limit the power of the clergy by undermining them, with some success, but he realized he did not have power to destroy their power.[37] His son, Mohamed Reza Shah, however, tried to confront the clergy head on with disastrous results.[38] The immense power of the mullahs, fueled by their religious endowment money and popularity among the poor and urban lower middle class was something that the governing elite and Western intelligence agencies missed in 1979.[39] Historically, the Shi’a clergy,  has been a restraining influence on modernization, and dichotomous in terms of a unifying force.[40] As one of the unifying forces among the rural and poor Iranian people, their influence conversely, has also been a divisive factor.  Many of the more educated class have been agitating for an abolition of the overall authoritarianism of a state-imposed religion for close to a century. In fact, the irony of the secular vs. religious battle in Iran is that current rulers of the “Islamic” regime have gained total control of the religious clergy as in the words one authority on the subject, Mehdi Klalagi,

“Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—the current supreme leader, or ruling jurist, of the Islamic Republic—has bureaucratized the seminaries and created a vast administration to handle every aspect of clerical life, including health insurance, student housing, curricula, clerical credentials and more. The establishment now has very strict rules regulating admissions, the issuance of credentials and granting permission to wear clerical clothing.”[41]

 Strategic Considerations.

 A critical aspect of the way of war is the military topography.   In this, despite the record of many foreign invasions, Iran enjoys a relatively favorable defensive military topography and climate. While psychologically paranoid about the aggressive intentions of the regional countries around them, and more emphatically, the Western powers, which in the Iranian mind includes Israel, the Iranians enjoy a favorable geostrategic environment that few in the Middle East do.  The Zagros, and Elburz Mountains, the forbidding interior, the lack of water, severe climatic conditions, and a mostly urban population, present tremendous obstacles to any modern invading army.  As those who have studied Middle Eastern urban warfare,[42]

including the Iraqi occupation of Khorramshahr, and the Iraqi retaking of Mosul from the ISIS can attest, it is a laborious and bloody operation. Therefore, paranoiac suspicions aside, the Iranian regime is relatively safe behind their topographical obstacles, giving them latitude to concentrate on their strategic offensive goals, fairly confident no one will be foolish enough to launch a land war against them. The addition of nuclear weapons, which will inevitably be added their arsenal, will give them additional freedom of maneuver.  Ironically, the nuclear agreement made by Western powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran by Western powers,[43] facilitated their capability to employ their unconventional way of war.[44] The relative safety offered by Iran’s military topography enables it to concentrate on its expansionist designs, an offensive strategy, rather than defensive posture.  It is a distinctly Iranian form of Lebensraum, ingathering the Shi’a of the world under the Iranian embrace. The weak Western and Gulf Arab response to Iranian provocations have created a vacuum in the Middle East and the West is not inclined to militarily challenge Iran.


Strategic Goals

 Michael Eisenstadt, an astute expert on Iran at the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy, defined the major strategic goals of Iran as first, attaining self-sufficiency, particularly in military industry, secondly, transforming Iran into a regional power projecting influence through the Middle East, and thirdly, building  up their military strength to preclude another tragedy such as the Iran-Iraq war.[45] Following the dictums of the early Persian kings, it is far better to intimidate enemies into submission that beat them into it. I would go a bit further. Iran wants to be on the world stage as a world power, perhaps a second tier, but a world power nonetheless.   Moreover, I would point out the fourth strategic goal as being the control of the Persian Gulf as a standalone objective. In my view it has been a primary goal of Iranian regimes for centuries. The view of Iranian elite, secular or religious, has always been that their well-being depends upon their control of the Gulf. Even using the term “Arab Gulf” infuriate them. To the Iranian elite, the Persian Gulf is considered a Persian lake. The media in Iran repeatedly hammered that theme.  From the time of the Achaemenid era, the Persians have regarded the Gulf as vital. An Iranian article from 1968 in their state – run media accurately conveys the Iranian historic view of the Gulf, and stands as an example of long-term objectives outliving regime change.  The media of Islamic regime could have been this written today:

“…Iran today represents the most important factor in the future of the Gulf, and that our population is more than twice the size of the Arab littoral states. Nevertheless, we are ready to collaborate with the sheikhdoms to safeguard the security of the Persian Gulf – but they must never forget, so long as Iran is there, the Persian Gulf will never be an Arab Gulf.”[46]


      Iranian Military Following the Achaemenid Empire

 After the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great in 331 BC  A measure of military glory was regained  by the successor dynasties, the  Greek Persian Seleucids, followed by the warlike  Parthians, a tribal nomad people from the East who destroyed the Seleucid dynasty  and created a diverse tolerant civilization and perfected long  distance warfare , being particularly adept on   horseback firing arrows that penetrated Roman armor. They were particularly famous for mastering the technique of being able to launch their arrows riding away from the battlefield, apparently quite effectively.[47]  The three Persian dynasties that followed the demise of the Achaemenid empire, the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian continually fought wars against the Romans, the Byzantines (Eastern Roman Empire) and later the Arabs.[48]

The following empire, Sassanians, revived the old Persian empire, as many Persians saw the Parthians as foreigners.  The Sassanians introduced a number of military reforms such as the use of heavily armed cavalry and reestablishing units of elephant-borne infantry.  In fact, the East Romans adopted the Sassanian reorganization of military administration. The Sassanians continued the Persian traditional effectiveness with propaganda, the use of intelligence and surrogates for certain types of warfare.[49]  Their type of warfare struck the Arabs, who were beginning their wars against the Persians,  as effeminate and degenerate.[50]  The long Byzantine wars against the Persians prompted Maurice, one or the Emperors of the Byzantines, to sum up the lessons learned in the wars against the Persians whom he depicts as “wicked, dissembling, and servile,”[51] in his treatise Strategikon. At the same time, he pictured them as brave patriotic, obedient, prosecuting war with precision and persistence inducing a war-weariness on their opponents.[52]


After the Arab invasion of 641 until the buildup under Shah Mohamed Pahlavi, the bright spots in Persian military were that achieved by Abbas the Great (1588-1629) and Nadir Shah (from 1736-1747).   It is important to note that from 1055 to 1501 the Persians were ruled by Turks, and traditionally the Persians have seen the Turks as warriors but a dull unimaginative people.[53] Most of the wars fought by the “Persian” empires were by Turkish tribes and mercenaries.  However, the Safavid dynasty was of great importance establishing Shi’ism as the state religion, and establishing a strong central government which lasted for 200 years, but they were not successful against the Ottoman Turks in warfare.[54]



The Persian/Iranian Military in the Modern Era

 After humiliation by the Afghans in 1722 and the demise of the Safavid dynasty, the advent of the Qajar dynasty with the exception of the reign of the Shah Abbas and massive European intervention in Iran, Persian rule did not extend much beyond Tehran for two centuries. Throughout the colonialist period, the military units were either under British, Russian, or Swedish command.  Under the Pahlavi’s, despite the attempt of Reza Shah to build up his military, most observers at the time opined that it was only useful for parades and ceremonies.[55] The Persian army was ineffective against tribal pro-German uprisings in World War I and even worse in World War II.[56] The Iranian flirtation with Germany incurred the invasion by Russian and British forces to which the Iranian resistance lasted only 48 hours.  Despite the exorbitant taxes levied on Iranian merchants to build an effective army, the majority simply fled before the Soviet and British attacks.


The massive military buildup under Shah Mohamed Pahlavi, beginning in the Sixties, and continuing until his departure in 1978, primarily with American equipment and trainers, at one time reaching 35000 military and contractor personnel. The American training missions in Iran (ARMISH and GENMISH) did manage to instill a degree of professionalism in the Iranian military, especially the air force, but following the revolution, as is usually the case in the Middle East, Western training quickly dissipated,  but did  endure long enough to give Iran an advantage in the Iran-Iraq War.[57] The increased size and assumed prowess of his army prompted the Shah, at the request of the Sultan of Oman, to test out his military by deploying units to fight the Dhofari rebels in Oman.  These units were a combination of recruits bolstered by Special Forces, some of the best Shah had.  The results were mixed.[58]

The rapid collapse of the Imperial government in 1979, was brought about by a number of factors,[59] one of the most salient being the poor health of the Shah, his perpetual indecisive nature, and the authoritarian nature of the regime in which officials were unable to take bold action on their own.[60] From the military point of view, the lack of discipline in the military and the lack of leadership exhibited by the officer corps, especially senior leadership was striking. In the run up to the “Islamic” revolution and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini the perfidy, cowardice, and treacherous nature of many senior leaders was repulsive.  But the cultural lesson imparted by General Robert Huyser’s  mission to put backbone into the Iranian military leadership was even more telling. The Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Staff, General Gharabaghi explained to him.

“You should understand that things are very different from your country. If you expect an individual to accomplish anything, you give him a specific order. Once the order is given, the person then has to be constantly supervised, otherwise you see no progress. People in my country have been trained that way for hundreds of years.”[61]

General Huyser’s observations, who had visited Iranian military prior to this visit, undercut his contention that the military could have created a military regime if allowed to by the Washington squabbling bureaucrats. I would suspect that General Huyser’s optimistic view of the Iranian military was colored by the very accomplished Iranian penchant for pageantry…the “dog and pony” shows always presented to VIPs, which were very impressive[62]


The Washington squabbling itself was true enough[63] and a difficult obstacle, but the real problem was explained by General Abbas Gharabaghi, and some of the other top military commanders; the military did not know how to work as a team because they had always simply awaited the Shah’s directives. No one wanted to take responsibility. Cross cultural analyses invariably point out that Iranian culture requires a visionary leader to lay out the plan and then direct the subordinates on how to accomplish it.[64] They eschew collective tasks and basically trust only their family or very close friends. Other experts on Iranian politics have pointed out the Shah’s regime was an edifice built on mistrust. He designed the structure that way – as most Middle Eastern leaders do.  One edge of the army sword points toward the enemy and the other toward the capitol


 The Iran-Iraq War

To some Western observers the Iranian military performance in the war was a surprise, fighting much better than had been expected [65](especially by Saddam Hussein) but my analysis is that the Iranians demonstrated their continued ineffectiveness fighting a conventional war. Their enemy, the Iraqi military, was “professional” in name only.  Iraq went to war with incompetent military leadership, mostly old and inadequate equipment, having only about a third of Iran’s eligible males to fight the war, a poor logistic system, total lack of strategic planning, and an army held together primarily with fear. The political leadership was unable to rouse a national war spirit in which most of the people referred to it as “Saddam’s war.” [66]

Despite the paeans of praise from Western pundits who had apparently expected the Iranians to crumble,[67] in conventional war Iranians were equally hapless., resorting to using young men in mass human wave attacks to open gaps in porous Iraqi defenses for the elite units to move through. While much of this ineffectiveness is laid at the door of Khomeini and his purge of the military, in reality, most of the senior army officer corps was deadwood anyway, and the Iranians would not have fared much better had all of them remained in the army. In fact, the imagination and effectiveness of the smaller Iranian units were a direct result of the field grade officer corps being drastically thinned allowing younger, more zealous officers to take the battle forward. The influence of years of American training given to the Iranians was valuable in this regard. Certainly, in the air force the Iranians were far superior in tactics and flying skill.


Where the Iranians did well were in the same fields as in Achaemenid times. They were superb in intelligence, propaganda, intrigue, deception and construction of military infrastructure to further their operations. They were much cleverer than their Iraqi opponents, usually one step ahead in planning and nimbler in meeting reverses.  They also had the immense advantage of fighting to defend the Motherland and Shi’a religion against the latter-day minions of Caliph Yazid[68] represented by the Saddam Hussein Sunni regime. Their tactics in the swamps of southern Iraq were extraordinarily well executed but were exceptions. In strategic planning and execution, however they exhibited the same problems that bedeviled the armies of Darius; over centralization, lack of coordination among elements of the ground forces, in this case the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)[69] and the Artesh (army), and an overwhelming hubris mixed with contempt for their Iraqi enemy.


The ingenuity of the Iranians at lower levels of command were respected by the Iraqis, e.g. the creation of bridges using cork just below water’s surface to conceal them from Iraqi detection, deception tactics, rapid reinforcement of penetrations of Iraqi lines, small unit infiltration tactics, and dependence on small unit leader’s initiative. The Iraqi officers professed a great degree of admiration for the Iranian imagination and ingenuity. which was obviously lacking on their side[70]


There was little Iranian command structure at the beginning of the war, and individual units were left to fight for their existence on their own, in urban areas like Khorramshahr.

However, later, as the Iranian command, reconstituted itself, the authoritarian nature of the Iranian culture reasserted itself and much of the small unit effectiveness was smothered under Iranian religious leader’s direction and lack of military knowledge.

As the war dragged on, the Iranian command structure reformed, and much less initiative at lower levels was apparent. The Iranians resorted to mass frontal “human wave” attacks, which they repeated again and again despite immense casualties, attacking Iraqis in well-fortified areas.  The Iranians were fighting out of their cultural parameters, mostly out of desperation, partly out of military ignorance. Conventional war and its requirement for combined arms requirements were well beyond them. They generally failed to bring their main advantageous cultural attributes in the fighting against the Iraqis.

In some areas the Iranian resemblance to early Persian Empire war fighting techniques is eerily similar.  The great king Xerxes moved huge armies of various nationalities to attack the Greeks, some of the contingents being little more than civilians with light weapons. This was repeated in the Iran-Iraq war. As Iraqi General Aladdin Makki told American interviewers, at the first (1982) battle of Basra, “They (Iranians) used thousands of people in a way we had never seen before:

Waves of civilians with light personal armor, wearing skirts or dishdashhara. had been told by their clergy that Najaf or Karbala was there.” As Makki continued, “they repeated this tactic five times.”[71]

 Iranian intelligence was excellent as might be expected, according to the head of Iraqi intelligence, Major General Mizher Rashid Rashid al Tarfa al Ubaydi. The Iraqi intelligence organization was riddled with Iranian spies – as they discovered after the war.[72] On the other hand, the noted volubility hubris of the Iranians, noted by all the observers of Iranian society through the years, was a major factor in the poor Iranian protection of sensitive information. They used non-secure communication between units, their mullahs gave away military information in their sermons, and the Iranian newspapers, anxious to present favorable narratives about operations, gave Iraqi analysts critical information.

 Following the war with Iran and Saddam’s ill-fated attack on Kuwait and involvement in subsequent wars against the West, Iraq was reduced to the level of an impoverished third world state, with three contending ethnic factions vying for control or self-governance.  The Iranian regime correctly saw their opportunity and renewed their bid for regional power reintroduced age-old Iranian imperialism rebranded as an alternate Islamist movement. A particular trend in the Arab world extolling Sunni triumphalism, as espoused by Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State presented the Iranian regime a ready-made opportunity to brand themselves as the protectors of Shi’ism, expanding their influence into Shi’a communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.


The Military Under the Islamist Regime

 the Iran – Iraq war and the IRGC absorbed the role of leading the Iranian worldwide offensive. Their specific function was as an expeditionary force using small detachments similar to the special operations force of the United States to assist and train other surrogates to do the dirty work of killing and destruction.[73] Their prize accomplishment was the training of the Hezbollah, and the reflected glory of purportedly driving the Israelis out of Lebanon. The successes of the Huthis in Yemen, Iraqi militia groups, the tenacity of the Hamas in Gaza, as well as their critical support of Assad in Syria, have added immensely to their reputation.

Their primary instrument was to constitute a force which contained all the attributes of those things Iranians have always excelled in, to wit; subversion, intrigue…in short…. political warfare executed with verve and professionalism.

The primary weapon of Iranian expansionism, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC), a force composed primarily of ethnic Persians, with impeccable Islamic credentials initially was formed to serve as a counterweight to an Iranian military, tgat was not trusted by the Islamic regime. However, as the Iran-Iraq war dragged on, the IRGC was equipped with heavy conventional weapons to fight as a spearhead in several major Iranian attacks. The hyped effectiveness of the IRGC in the Iran -Iraq war, was largely the result of a media campaign, not only in Iran but also in the Western world, that gave them a luster not wholly deserved. [74]


The IRGC, as part of the strategy and doctrine of the Islamist regime, has been written about and analyzed in copious amounts of literature, but usually based more on current indicators than historical and cultural factors[75]. With the secrecy that surrounds all of the Islamist regime in Iran, hard information is difficult to acquire and much of it is what they want us to know.  However, some observers view the future utility of the IRGC with skepticism. Ostovar wrote, “Conflict has driven the IRGC’s institutionalization as a military, security service, political entity, socio-cultural force, covert operator, economic conglomerate, media mogul and mechanism of foreign and strategic policy.” [76] 

They also have psychological operations units, and civil affairs units for the tactical and operational levels, presenting soft power force multipliers that are of utmost importance to the Iranian way of war.[77] Human intelligence work is a special forte of the IRGC as well.  However, like most Middle Eastern countries there are multiple intelligence and security organizations overlapping and watching each other.  No one, or any organization, is totally trusted.  The non-lethal branches of the IGRC are critical in that it is a basic premise of the Iranians that they will be at war against a superior conventional military force and have to win wars avoiding head on clashes with the modern hoplites, eschew conventional war, and win using other means.



 In the evolution of the Iranian Islamic regime, the IRGC, and its spawn, the Basij, has evolved from a force to safeguard the Islamic regime to become inextricably part of the regime.  The IRGC spawned the Quds force as the ultimate weapon to continue the irredentist aims of the regime. Unable or unwilling, and smart enough to avoid fighting a conventional war, the Quds force has expanded and matured into a first-class subversion and terrorist organization, to continue  Iranian illusionary dream of becoming not just a regional power but one recognized as a world power.[78] The Quds force working within the culture of Iranian penchant for intrigue, indirection, and subtle maneuvering, has become the premier Iranian tool for advancing Iranian national goals.

The elite Quds force trains surrogate forces, as they have in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. They are also particularly masters and specialists in terrorism, so much so that the US Department of State considers Iran the world’s premier sponsor of state terrorism. In the 2019 report correctly singled out Iran as one of the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent over 700 million a year to support terrorist groups that serve its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe.”[79]

The Quds force is far more than a terrorist organization however, as it assiduously cultivates allies in the Middle East and throughout the world. Iran depends on these allies to carry Iran’s water in regional conflicts. As Afshon Ostovar wrote,” at the spearhead of this effort, Quds has become a pillar of Iran’s strategic and foreign policy.”[80] Unlike many terrorist organizations, they do not generally crow about their successes.  They also are very adept, as one might expect, in covering their tracks. For instance, the Iranian terror attack on the Khobar Towers in 1996 went cold as it took a year to pin it on the Iranians. For a number of years, a number of Western academics maintained that Iran was on our side in the war against the ISIS. This fiction was maintained (and still is by some) until it became clear the Iranians, consistently downplayed the ISIS threat, and were assisting the travel of ISIS terrorists through Iran into Iraq.  The enduring strength of Iranian support among the Western “informed” class is demonstrated by the persistent lament that the Iranian terrorism is simply a defensive weapon of the weak, or fearful, very similar to the appellation applied for so many years –by some of the same people- to Soviet aggression[81].

The Quds force was buoyed in influence by the mythical persona of Qassem Soliemani who had become the Che Guevara of the Middle East, popping up all over the trouble spots. Western media has embellished his image and warrior reputation, but he was undoubtedly a key and important asset for the ambitious Iranian regime.  His enlarged ego and propensity to seize authority not given to him by the Islamic government, was illustrated by his communication in 2008 with General David Petraeus offering to meet and work out a security arrangement for Iraq.   The Supreme leader was not amused and he was passed over for command of the IRGC but remained in command of the Quds force. His loss to the ambitions of the Iranian regime is considerable but not irreparable.

The Basij

A very important, although less glamorous organization, is the Basij organization. In the Iran-Iraq war they were the fanatically loyal cannon fodder of the Islamic regime. Their mission was to run through the Iraqi minefields and barbed wire fortifications, opening a path for the IRGC and army infantry to advance through. Today, nearly four million of them are engaged in public works, businesses, producing propaganda, and in their morality role, similar to that of the shorta el Din of Saudi Arabia, harassing women for improper attire, and maintaining ideological and Islamic purity of Iranian society. To do so they are embedded throughout all the towns of Iran and civil institutions of Iranian society. It is a strictly volunteer organization, and like the former Ba’ath party membership in Iraq, it is very helpful to members in pursuing other more lucrative employment. Its central role in the Iranian power structure has inevitably evolved into an institution evidencing corruption and massive nepotism. The diversity and sociology of Iran has always mitigated against unity and it is one of the missions of the Basij to remedy that problem., The Basij will be the ideology commissars among the people, informing, providing networks of security neighborhood watches, propagandizing the people with entertainment such as festivals,[82]

They have become their own huge monolithic industry and public service practitioners. Free from competition in bidding for the massive government contracts, their agencies, contactors, and public officials are everywhere.[83] Nothing ensures public support for a Middle Eastern regime more than a capability to provide employment, not even the fear of the security apparatus.  This is the primary reason for the bloated bureaucracies in the Middle East.  Having connections with the Basij is an important   factor in gaining employment, university entrance, and social elevation. They will also perform the disagreeable tasks of putting down sectarian and tribal disturbances with extra judicial punishments handed out randomly.


Surrogate Warfare

The Iranians use surrogate organizations like Hezbollah, Amal and Hamas to do their dirty work. The bombing in 1983 of the Marine barracks in Beirut is one example. Another is the 1994 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina. When that is not possible, they pay organizations or individuals to carry out the terror attacks.   Multiple organizations such as the PFPLF, the Abu Nidal organization, none of whom are Shi’a in composition, have been used.   For quite a while they tried to cultivate the PLO under Arafat but their wholehearted support of the rival HAMAS organization in the Gaza undermined that alliance. The Iranians used a Libyan connection to carry out the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, apparently in revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship in July 1988. They usually maintain some plausible deniability, but their predilection to boast about their “successes” in these actions often undermine their credibility. All this is in consonance with great Persian empires who used the many dominated nations, and tribes as cannon fodder and auxiliaries.


The Shi’a factor in Iranian Military Culture

 Religion in the form of Islam is a great galvanizing factor in consideration of the Iranian Way of War. Islam and the near mystical power of the Prophet’s sayings and the Qur’an are difficult for Westerners to assess in estimating the combat abilities of Islamic armies.  However, the use of Qur’anic verses and slogans have been critical elements of success through the ages. Moreover, the Shi’a sense of martyrdom provides an additional emphasis to the power of Islam among the soldiers and officers. Shi’ism is the religion of sorrow and martyrdom. Martyrdom is a celebrated status among the Shi’a and is exemplified by one scene a Western observer recorded, noting the anguish of several Iranian soldiers, returned from Iraqi prisoner of war camps.  They were weeping at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, lamenting their guilt at being alive and not dying for their leader.[84]

The doctrine of the Shi’a revolves around the twelve Imams, all of whom, with the exception of the last, called the hidden Imam, were killed, allegedly by Sunni intrigue. The last Imam went into occultation (941 AD) and will someday reappear.  Until that time the Shi’a clergy evolved a system allowing clerics to guide the faithful until the Hidden Imam returns. With advent of Ayatollah Khomeini, this was further drastically modified to provide for a “government by the expert,” wilayet e- Faqih. This gave Khomeini, (the expert) dictatorial powers. So, in distinction from Sunni Islam, the Shi’a have a centralized hierarchy of authority, which crosses national borders. This gives the Iranians regime a particular and powerful source of power not available to the Sunni Arab leaders.[85] A third factor which gives the Shi’a clergy of Iran increased influence in all spheres of Iranian life is the use of Ijtihad a doctrine that evolved among the Shi’a scholars, providing the ability to basically reinterpret Islamic traditions and law – a factor theoretically not available to the Sunni. In this way the senior Shi’a clerics can and have

interpreted Islamic law to fit their military and political doctrine.[86] A fourth factor is the Shi’a use of taqiyya, which originally was to protect themselves from Sunni persecution often strays into a characteristic of Shi’a in a crisis allowing Shi’a to disavow their religion to protect themselves. [87]



The Artesh (Regular Army)

Most importantly many of the faults that plagued the Imperial army and the Islamic Iranian army in the Iran -Iraq war are still present. The mostly peasant soldiers are given mediocre training, suffer draconian punishment, are officered by second rate quality officers, and with the Islamic “Jihad” motivation fading, morale is low.[88]  Training is imparted largely by rote and most of the units are hollow in that they are severely under-equipped and under- manned.  The sectarianism of the Pahlavi era still exists and, in some areas, has been exacerbated by Basij fanatics imposing death sentences for “immorality.”  A major weakness is the lack of combined military operations, partially because of intra service and personal rivalries and also because the Islamic regime prefers it that way as a method of coup-proofing.  The embedded rivalry between the IRC and the regular armed forces remains as the primary obstacle to overall Iranian military effectiveness.[89]


The excessively large regular army (Artesh), an army of mostly rural peasants, barely literate, with health problems, particularly strength issues from lack of proper nutrition, exists primarily for intimidation purposes.[90] These weaknesses are compounded by leadership and command and control issues, the politicization of the officer corps, Iranian traditional distrust of anyone outside their family, unquestioning obedience to authority,  bureaucratized logistics system, a culture of people who generally waits for instructions, and a very thin layer of elite officers able to exercise initiative and operate without stultifying authority.[91]


In this article I have emphasized the Iranian use of deception, guile, indirection, and byzantine methods of warfare. Some would see this as simply a broad-brush demeaning of a people and their moral compass. It would require a thesis of considerable length to accurately compose   how the Iranian culture evolved into this type of warfare.  But suffice it to say that the Arab, Mongol, Turk, Afghan and more recently British and Russian rulers of Iran have left a residue of extreme xenophobia and a personality that hides behind subterfuge to maintain self-respect. It was Ibn Khaldun   who aptly described this characteristic among subjected peoples.[92]  Iran

way of war sets them apart from the Western made it difficult for Western leaders to recognize.  The subtle Iranian methods have prevailed from the time of the Achaemenids. Their irredentism, contrasted to the ham-fisted Turkish method of leveling Kurdish villages, is habitually concealed behind a benign face molded by the latest in soft power, and the ill-wlll residing in the Islamic world toward the West, especially the “great Satan”, the United States.    Behind this face will be an imaginative brain   featuring  programs of indirection, disorientation, dissimulation, Islamic piety, and the particular Iranian trait to be all things to all people. This approach allows the Iranians to support a Sunni Hamas organization as the ruling regime in the Gaza strip, a regime   beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that sees the Shi’a as little more than infidels.


Like the strategy of Darius, every Iranian move will be backed up by intimidating threats, belligerent boasts of power, and a well-advertised military with videos of Iranians firing missiles, conducting military training operations, [93] and a nuclear capability only coyly denied.    Meanwhile their well- funded lobbies and well-intentioned (some not so) supporters in Western capitols, will always be available to disseminate enough doubt to sabotage any strong reaction to Iranian provocations.[94] The elite of the Western world, comfortable in their environment, seemingly will grasp any exculpating argument, however weak, to avoid confronting Iran. The tepid Western response to numerous provocations has not gone unnoticed by the Islamic leadership.


 U.S. Army literature[95] on the Iranian methods of war-fighting concentrate on the traditional methods of war, apparently from study of Iranian training and operational manuals, going into detail on Iranian tactical offensive maneuver concepts, and movement to assembly areas etc.   There is also the usual bean counting e.g., numbers of tanks, artillery pieces etc. This is largely a waste of time except as exercises for tactical intelligence operators.   The Iranians are not going to fight a conventional war unless forced to do so as in the Iraq war. The grievous economic and human loss of the Iraqi war taught them the folly of that. Their culture society and economic structure cannot sustain one.

 It is very likely that the Islamic rulers in Iran will continue to instigate many small and perhaps some major disturbances in the Middle East and worldwide. The Islam regime survives on the fuel fed by their real and fabricated enemies. They need an enemy and the promotion of violence in order to stoke the flagging spirits of the faithful.  To always assume they will act as rational actors is a debatable point. [96]

An old Kurd addressed his people after hearing the great Persian Shah give fulsome promises of security and peace to his tribe.  (related in the great book describing the Persians, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Isphafan).

You have never had any dealings with them [Persians], and therefore you permit yourselves to be lulled into a sense of security by their flattering expressions and winning and amiable manners. But I have lived long among them and have learned the value of what they say. Their weapons are not such as you have been accustomed to meet in the bold encounter and open attack.; instead with spear and sword, theirs are treachery, deceit, falsehood…………Lying is their national vice.[97]





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