A Holy War on the Arabian Peninsula?

When we last engaged I was opining that the Intelligence Community (IC) seems least prepared to warn effectively against what it perceives as the most immediate and likely threat to the homeland – – –  the self-radicalized Islamic Jihadi “lone wolf” already residing  in the United States.  Then in the midst of the sentencing phase of Boston Marathon Bomber Tamerian Tsarnaev trial and the 20th Anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an eccentric Tampa area mailman flew his homemade gyrocopter down the Mall to a landing on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  This act witnessed by thousands and seen by millions on TV seems to have more than anything else galvanized national concern about the threats “lone wolves” (whether foreign or domestic) can pose to national security.  Perhaps Postman Pat (a.k.a Doug Hughes) literally flying his gyrocopter under the radar into the restricted airspace of Washington D.C. after posting his intentions to social media and informing the press will make it obvious that DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis Directorate (I&A) needs to be aggressively applying modern analytics to the big data sets of human terrain information it has access to for discerning potential “lone wolves” in order to nominate them for investigation.   And yes, those charged with stopping the “lone wolves” among us should expect a high false positive rate from these DHS profiles.  Such is the nature of this threat.

Turning to the Iranian “nuclear agreement.” you won’t find me taking any kind of public stance on whether I think the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” (a.k.a “The Framework Agreement”) is a good deal or a bad deal, as it is just too early, at least for me, to tell.  What is clear though is that Tehran is anxious to have the economic sanctions imposed against it for its pursuit of a nuclear weapon lifted as soon as possible.  When asked about whether Iran “can be trusted” to formally agree to the provisions of “The Framework Agreement” and then not cheat on its implementation in return for sanctions being lifted, the President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense all have stated for the record that “verification” not “trust” is what the US will depend on for assuring Iran’s compliance.

The Framework agreement certainly puts the IC in the political and policy cross hairs of national security. Despite an excellent track record of keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear development, and if the New York Times is to be believed for having even slowed it down with STUXNET malware, there will be many ready to assert that the Iranians can hide from IC sensors their continuing enrichment of fissile material to weapons grade levels.  Moreover, the IC will be put in the position of having to prove a negative where the absence of evidence that Iran is not enriching uranium doesn’t mean they aren’t.  Even with international inspectors in country, there is the reasonable potential that Iran could move its nuclear weapons enrichment capabilities to undetected locations inside of Iran or off shore to North Korea.  Given these circumstances, the stage is set so that if the Framework Agreement keeps Iran from going nuclear with the benefit of IC monitoring it will be a policy success, but if Iran can continue its nuclear enrichment program without detection it will be an intelligence failure.

Before wrapping up, I want to take note that war has broken out between Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Houthi proxies in what is now the failed state of Yemen, where Aden also remains the home base of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  As in Iraq where Tehran is supporting Shite military action against Sunni ISIS, Iran is providing military equipment and “advisers” to its Shia Houthi allies in Yemen.  More ominously, the Iranian Navy has deployed the destroyer ALBORZ and the logistics support ship BUSHER to the Gulf of Aden “to protect the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests on the high seas.”  Subsequent reporting indicates Iran is sending a convoy of merchant ships to Yemen, presumably bringing war supplies for the Houthis.

The presence of Iranian naval forces in the region leads to the open question of whether Saudi Arabia will challenge them, and if so will the US Fifth Fleet become directly involved?  Having spent some tension filled time in this region (Iranian Hostage rescue 1979; Tanker War/Ernest Will escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers 1987) the potential for the unexpected to happen at sea is considerable.  The standing USN order post STARK to “defend yourself” makes for a volatile situation that can turn strategic almost immediately because of tactical decisions made by ship captains operating under almost constant stress.  It is probably premature, but you don’t need to be Robert Kaplan to see that Iranian military success at rolling back ISIS in Iraq and establishing Houthi control over at least part of Yemen looks like a pincer that could envelope Mecca and Medina wresting them from Saudi Arabia’s Sunni control for the Shia Mullah’s in Qom.  Extrapolating from the current situation it is not farfetched to infer the likelihood for a bloody religious war been Sunnis and Shiites playing out on the Saudi Peninsula before the next US Presidential election.

Assuming no outside intervention, I would expect a “holy war” on the Arabian Peninsula to settle into a drawn out stalemate between the Sunni forces of Saudi Arabia and the Shia forces of Iran that will negatively impact the supply and price of oil.  The more discouraging option, of course, is Iran over time becoming the dominant power on the Arabian Peninsula and reestablishing the Persian Empire with control of all the significant energy resources from the Red Sea to Afghanistan.  Such a greater Persia, with or without nuclear weapons, would shift Iran from being a regional actor to a strategic competitor with global economic and religious clout.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

11 comments on “A Holy War on the Arabian Peninsula?

  1. Collin Agee says:

    Do we really need to apply Big Data Analytics to identify “threats” like Hughes? He didn’t try to conceal his plan–he openly revealed it–but nobody was paying attention. After the fact, Hughes said he fully expected to be stopped en route.

    • mazzajm1 says:

      Collin with so much information openly available perhaps we don’t need a $70 billion IC to warn of imminent danger? FBI, Secret Service, Capitol Police, DHS, FAA, and NORAD all missed Postman Hughes’ publicly announced plan joemaz

  2. Pete Speer says:

    Shi’a is not run from Qom. Iran is run from the Supreme Council of Shi’a prelates from Qom. The most respected religious leader still resides at Najaf in Iraq — Grand Ayatollah al Sistani. Shi’a does not have a unified policy any more than Sunni does Far radical Sunni are the organizers of al Qaeda and ISIL. There are more peaceful Sunni nations — Indonesia, for instance.

    In Iran, it is the IRGC who are turning into the secular leaders — slowly to be sure. The essential interests in Iran are not religious, At this stage of their revolution, is it the Mullahs who are the prime movers in the Houthi “revolution”? or is it the IRGC whose duties have included negotiating with Sunni nations? We need to look carefully at the progression of the Iranian revolution.

    • mazzajm1 says:

      Thanks Pete. Given your comments perhaps I don’t understand the role religion played in the formation and governance of the Ottoman Empire. So far the progression of the Iranian Revolution has not been a good predictor of future direction


  3. Dave McDonald says:

    Ah, but there is outside intervention, is there not? As always it has been, and always would seem destined to be in that part of the world. At the crux in the coming decades is how American leadership will be applied, and with what other world leaders will we choose to organize the most appropriate outside interventions? That, I would think, will more likely determine whether a drawn-out stalemate or a resolute, hegemonic, rising Iran will shape the strategic calculus in the region. And I’m not sure I entirely accept that these two outcomes should be our only choices – although history suggests that drawn-out stalemates might be as good as it gets in some parts of the world. Our current foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran comes across to me as naïve in the extreme, and therefore quite dangerous. If one does not conclude naivete, inspired by a foundational liberal internationalist world view, and seemingly immune to rationally factoring in all real-world experiences, one would have to otherwise conclude malevolent intent. The operative outside intervention at the moment is that this current crop of American leaders is doggedly architecting an approach destined to undermine the best interests of the U.S., Israel and the West. So, for the moment, I’ll stick with the theory that this administration is naïve; there are clues in other contexts that this might be so. The notion that there is actually a “framework for agreement” with Iran on the matter of its nuclear ambitions is ridiculous on its face. What exactly is this framework? A framework to continue negotiating past one another? A framework to allow Iran to buy time, evade sanctions, make progress in reinvigorating its economy, expand and consolidate its gains in the regions, miss no opportunity to poke the U.S. and the West squarely in the eye, and press ahead, as N. Korea has done, in pursuing aggressively its own interests, notwithstanding the incessant yammering of a weakened and morally-confused declining world power? Each day reveals new evidence that this so-called “framework” is either non-existent or a complete farce, and there is nothing close to a deal, certainly nothing close to actual agreement. And even if various “fixes” get cobbled together, and there is a “deal” this June, it strikes me that Iran then has the go-ahead to continue its hegemonic rise in the region, with the prospect that, eventually (and probably soon), it will in fact be a nuclear power. If it then truly emerged as a “Greater Persian Empire,” in the old (pre-7th century) sense of a culturally-enlightened and inclusive Persia, the world might figure out an accommodation for such a strategic power serving to consolidate and stabilize a region seemingly doomed to chaos (or stalemate). But, notwithstanding the wistful wishes of a few remaining Zoroastrians and cultural Sassanids, Iran is in fact not Persia anymore, and it hasn’t been since the Islamic conquests. A rising, nuclear-enabled Iran will be Islamist, hegemonic, intolerant and aggressive at its core, and would be nothing short of disastrous for the world.

    • mazzajm1 says:

      Dave thanks! US policy towards Iran and not been well informed or effective going back to how we dealt with the Shah’s departure in 1979. I have no expectation the situation is going to improve any time soon even with a change of administrations. There is certainly historical precedent for Iran to be an intolerant and aggressive regional hegemon, but that does not mean the US is/should be the only choice to counter this. joemaz

    • mazzajm1 says:

      All my apologies for my tardy relies to you comments. You may or may not know there was technical issue with comments being posted, which has obviously been corrected.

      Any comment to the Mazzint blog matters deeply to me and if you comment I am committed to responding to you if nothing else to thank you


  4. Stephen H. Franke says:


    Correction to a name in your post.

    Djokhar Tsarnaev is the bomb-maker found guilty in US Court. The other bomb-maker was his brother Tamerlin, who was KIA in a shoot-out with local police in Watertown, MA.

    Observation: The Iranians (“Twelver” Shiites and Persians) would find the Yemeni Houthis (“Fiver Shiites and Arabs) to be a mysterious, recalcitrant and obdurate population to try to influence.

    FWIW, Yemen has long been awash in small arms (almost all of now-obsolete-but-still-functional and rugged Soviet design) and ammunition, which have been readily available for decades.

    Today is Tuesday, 21 April 2015.


    Stephen H. Franke
    Arabian Peninsula and Gulf specialist (aka “Gulfie”)
    San Pedro, California

  5. John casciano says:

    Joe, not an intelligence failure, but a policy maker failure

    • mazzajm1 says:

      John this is a the reality of the career we chose. Things go wrong the intel was bad, old, incomplete, etc. Things go right its the result of the brilliance of the operator or policy dude


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