Friday, January 31, 2014

The Year of Iran: Tehran’s Challenge to American Hegemony in 2014

The Year of Iran: Tehran’s Challenge to American Hegemony in 2014 (Leveretts in The World Financial Review)

'US Officials concede: The US may not have the will or the means to insist on the outcomes it wants'

'... US officials realize that the point under discussion in foreign policy circles around the world is not the level of US activity in the world. This remains high. Next week, for example, Kerry will engage in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and Deputy Secretary of State Burns has just concluded the latest round of the US-China Asia Pacific Consultations. US reaction to world events, for example in Egypt, South Sudan orUkraine, remains instantaneous and global. The real point, these same officials concede in private, is whether the US has the will or the means to insist on the outcomes it wants. Here the evidence is more ambiguous. On issues as diverse as putting the Joint Plan of Action with Iran into operation, negotiating bilateral security agreement with Afghan President Karzai, steering the Geneva II conference on Syria, managing the direction of the Arab Spring or mediating between the increasingly bitter exchanges between China and Japan senior Administration policy-makers acknowledge some tangible loss of leverage...'

Reuters Allows Anonymous to Blame Syria for Delays Mostly US Fault

"... Yesterday, Reuters granted anonymity to “sources”, including two who are each identified as “a senior Western diplomat”, to blame Syria for delays in shipping its chemical weapons-related materials out of the country. Only when we get to the very last paragraph of the article, though, do we get to the fact that these chemicals are to be destroyed aboard the Cape Ray, a ship which the US has outfitted with equipment for destroying the chemicals at sea. The article does note that the Cape Ray is now in transit to the region, but it fails to note that even though theoriginal plan was for the Cape Ray to begin its work by the end of December, the ship did not leave the US until January 27. Allowing for transit time to get to the region, it would appear that the US delay in supplying the Cape Ray can account for the bulk of the 6-8 weeks by which Syria is reported to be behind schedule..."

Public Finally Realizes Military Failed in Iraq & Afghanistan, But Will Pentagon & Pols Learn?

Public Finally Realizes Military Failed in Iraq & Afghanistan, But Will Pentagon & Pols Learn?

Monday, January 27, 2014
"... The Saudi-owned "news" channel al-Arabiya aired in its show "al-Hadath" (the Event) a report showing captured fighters from al-Qaeda’s "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL). Then al-Arabiya made the mistake of showing, in one of the interviews with one of the fighters captured by the "Free Syrian Army" (FSA), him responding to a question as to why his group monitors the movements of the Western-backed FSA by stating that those were orders coming from the leadership of ISIL, specifically from Prince Abdul Rahman al-Faisal, who is the son of late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and the brother of current Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal..."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cracks in the Alliance?

"... But the problem runs deeper still. Just too much bad blood has built up between these two allies during Netanyahu’s term. The feud is not only over Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians but on the related matter of US handling of what Israel considers its strategic environment in the wake of the Arab Spring.Netanyahu is angry that the US has not taken a more decisive hand in shoring up Israeli interests in Egypt and Syria, and near-apoplectic at what he sees as a cave-in on Iran and what Israel claims is its ambition to build a nuclear weapon.He appears ready to repay the White House in kind, rousing pro-Israel lobby groups in Washington to retaliate on almost-home turf, in Congress, through initiatives such as a bill threatening to step up sanctions against Iran, subverting Obama’s diplomatic efforts..."

Cairo rocked by deadly explosions

"... The first blast at the police HQ, at about 6:15am local time, killed four and injured about 70 others, according to state sources. The blast, reportedly a bomb in a vechicle, also damaged the nearby Museum of Islamic Art building.In a second blast hours later, a small IED was detonated next to police vehicles near the Behooth metro station in the Dokki district. One person was reported killed in the explosion.A third blast hit a police directorate in Talbiya, in Giza. The explosion was caused by a crude home-made device, police said, and there were no casualties..."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting..."

(Reuters) - Iran has halted its most sensitive nuclear operations under a preliminary deal with world powers, winning some relief from economic sanctions on Monday in a ground-breaking exchange that could ease a threat of war.
The United States and European Union both suspended some trade and other restrictions against the OPEC oil producer after the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its side of an agreement made on November 24.
The announcements, which coincided with a diplomatic row over Iran's role at peace talks on Syria, will allow six months of negotiation on a definitive accord that the West hopes can end fears of Tehran developing nuclear weapons and Iran wants to end sanctions that are crippling its economy.
Iranian officials hailed a warming of ties that will also see their new president make a pitch to international business leaders at Davos later this week: "The iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting," the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian state television..."

A homebred 'revolution' indeed!

"... The decision was apparently eased by a surprise message of support from commanders of some of the biggest rebel groups fighting on the ground, who had been summoned by their international sponsors to a parallel meeting in Ankara, the Turkish capital...But the arrival of the message at the secret location outside Istanbul where the coalition members were meeting helped them overcome their misgivings and take a decision on the controversial issue, said Abdulrahman Haj, one of those who participated in the vote... Turkey and Qatar hosted the Saturday meeting, at which rebel commanders were threatened with a cutoff of aid if they did not support the peace talks, according to rebel officials who spoke to people at the meeting..."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Syria's Head of NSB Mamluk hosts plethora of European spooks

"... Des responsables espagnols des services de renseignements étaient, il y a une semaine, en visite à Damas, où ils ont rencontré le général Ali Mamlouk, (Head of National Security Bureau & special adviser to Pres. Assad) l'un des principaux dirigeants des services locaux.Les Espagnols sont, comme d'autres pays européens, très préoccupés par l'afflux de leurs ressortissants en Syrie pour accomplir le djihad, la guerre sainte, contre l'armée de Bachar el-Assad.
Les services espagnols ont arrêté récemment un membre du Front al-Nosra, lié à Al Qaida, qui était en charge d'une filière de recrutement de jeunes désireux d'aller se battre en Syrie.
Ce n'est pas la première fois que les grandes oreilles de Madrid font le chemin de Damas, depuis que la révolte a été lancée contre le régime syrien, il y a bientôt trois ans.
Elles ont été suivies ces derniers mois par plusieurs services européens, les Allemands, les Italiens, un émissaire britannique et même par des Français..."

'Western intelligence services have reached out to Assad for information about foreign, European extremists'

'As the US enters next week’s Geneva II conference on Syria, US policy is quietly undergoing a profound transformation. Having started from a firm position that the departure of President Assad constituted a non-negotiable Western demand, the debate inside the Administration is now more nuanced. As Secretary of State Kerry works closely with his Russian counterparts and as doubts have grown about the orientation of the rebel fighters, we are advised that Western intelligence services have reached out to Assad for information about foreign, especially European, extremists inside the rebel ranks. There is now a growing body of opinion inside US diplomatic and intelligence circles that sees Assad’s survival as – at least – a necessary evil. With this debate in the background, US expectations for the conference are far from unified. Some of this confusion was reflected in the pre-conference discussion about possible Iranian inclusion – as was wanted by the UN. Our conversations with State Department officials suggest that this was also Kerry’s preference. However, with an uphill battle with Congress to defend the Joint Plan of Action, the implementation of which starts on January 20th, he included that further outreach to Tehran was premature. With regard to the preliminary nuclear accord with Iran, White House officials are lobbying strongly against a Senate bill – which enjoys significant Democratic support – that sets conditions for the talks and imposes new sanctions should the talks fail. The White House hopes that, despite the current majority support for the bill, they are optimistic that they will be able to postpone legislative action for at least a month. To compound US foreign policy travails, the bombing in Kabul involving IMF and UN officials and the escalating violence in Iraq have prompted calls for areassertion of US airpower there. We very much doubt that the Administration will pay attention. Away from the Middle East, a number of senior State Department visits are underway to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. Secretary of State Hagel has met Japan's newly appointed National Security Adviser. Despite some suggestions that the South and East China Seas are the new crisis zones where activist US engagement is required, we still see the Middle East as drawing the majority of top-level attention for the foreseeable future.'

The US, Saudia & minions to attend GVA II

"... The secret ballot was a result of pressure from Western and Arab sponsors of the opposition..."

Our good friends in Syria

"... A top official of a major Syrian rebel group acknowledged Friday that he considers himself a member of al Qaida, an admission that undercuts Western hopes that the new Islamic Front would prove to be an acceptable counter to the rising influence of other al Qaida affiliates in Syria...Ahrar al Sham is one of the most militarily effective groups fighting to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad and is one of the largest groups aligned with the [Saudi controlled] Islamic Front, a coalition of rebel groups that announced its formation in September as a counter to the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Council. Ahrar al Sham’s leader, Hassan Aboud, is the political chief of the Islamic Front.
Some analysts of jihadi organizations said al Suri’s admission makes it likely the United States will move to designate Ahrar al Sham a foreign terrorist organization..."

Read more here:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Saudi Arabia: A Retrograde Rentier Dictatorship and Global Terrorism

"... In reality, Bandar bin Sultan is the protégé and successor of Bin Laden; he has deepened and systematized global terrorism. Bandar’s terror network has murdered far more innocent victims than Bin Laden. That, of course, is to be expected; after all he has billions of dollars from the Saudi treasury, training from the CIA and the handshake of Netanyahu!"

CIA's Riedel: 'There was no al Qaeda in Iraq (and consequently, in Syria) before Bush-Cheney!'

... and by association, widening the Shia'-Sunni schism
"... There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11—the terror organization moved into Iraq only when Osama bin Laden saw George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were getting ready to invade Iraq in 2003.  He set a trap.  By 2006 Al-Qaeda in Iraq had plunged the country into civil war, pitting Shia against Sunni...."

Pressure by Russia & China ...

"... The weeks of bargaining to put the November agreement in force were more difficult than anticipated, with one brief walkout by Iranian envoys and rancor among the bloc of nations that negotiated the deal. Russia and China, long Iran’s protectors at the United Nations, pushed the United States to accept technical concessions that further make clear that Iran will retain the ability to enrich uranium, a key Iranian demand, once a final set of restrictions on its program is approved..."

Iran nuclear deal to take effect this month

"... "With today's agreement, we have made concrete progress. I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme," the White House said in a statement.Iran will get a first installment of $550m of $4.2bn being unblocked under the nuclear deal around February 1, a US official said Sunday..."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Iran says Hezbollah's missile power improved

"... In comments posted on the Guard's website,, Hajizadeh said: "Hezbollah's capability has improved so tremendously in recent years that it can hit and destroy any target in the occupied lands with very little inaccuracy and pinpoint ability."...
Hajizadeh also said that the deceased Hezbollah commander Hassan Al Laqis had played a key role in boosting the group's military strength but added no further details..."

Sharon might be dead ...

... but many of those who butchered Arabs are still alive, including but not limited to,  Netanyahu, Olmert, Barak, Peres ... etc.

All eyes on the US Congress (aka. Israeli Occupied territories)

"... The EU has reported "very good progress" at talks with Iran on the implementation of a deal on Iran's nuclear programme.Earlier Iran's deputy foreign minister was quoted as telling state media all outstanding issues had been resolved.In November Iran agreed a deal to freeze its nuclear programme in return for sanctions being eased.In recent weeks Iranian negotiators have been meeting with representatives of the "P5+1" group (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) to discuss how technical details of the deal would be implemented."We found solutions for all the points of disagreement," Iran's deputy Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister earlier told state television, according to AFP.However, Mr Araqchi also said implementation of the agreement depended "on the final ratification of the capitals".
He added that no further meetings at expert level were planned for the moment.For its part the US state department also said "good progress" had been made."There have been a few outstanding issues, but at this point, the reports that everything has been finalised are incorrect," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, according to Reuters..."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Robert Gates: "“We must not make our vital interests in the entire Middle East, the Persian Gulf ... hostage to another nation’s decisions..."

"...Regarding the Bush administration, the most compelling parts of this book concern Iran and Mr. Gates’s worries about “the influence of the Israelis and the Saudis” on the White House, particularly the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and “their shared desire to have problems like Iran ‘taken care of’ while Bush was still president.” Mr. Gates repeatedly warned of the dangers of “looking for another war” when America was already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point, he says, he was so worried that Mr. Bush might be persuaded by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Olmert “to act or enable the Israelis to act” (that is, to take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon) that he made an intense private call to Mr. Bush in which he argued “we must not make our vital interests in the entire Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia hostage to another nation’s decisions — no matter how close an ally.” ..."

Still harping ...

"... Any discussion of a U.S. attack on Iran is sure to elicit opposition in the United States. But the White House would be wrong to heed the arguments of those who would voice moral objections to such an attack. If the rules that govern the international system, including the nuclear nonproliferation regime, are to have any meaning, they must be enforced. Some people are comfortable with military intervention for humanitarian reasons but place nuclear proliferation in a different category. Yet the spread of nuclear weapons poses a grave threat to international peace and security. If the United States believes that it is imperative to prevent nuclear war and stop additional countries from acquiring the world’s deadliest weapons, then it must be willing, in principle, to use force to achieve that objective..."

"The Lebanese Armed Forces cannot effectively police Sunni extremism!"

... so, which 'Army' could? HEAVILY Loaded question!  
"...While Sunni extremism in Lebanon is a multifaceted issue, the country’s current political vacuum has allowed it to grow. Lebanon has been without a government since the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in March over a dispute with Hezbollah. This inability to form a government acceptable to all parties, a common theme in Beirut, has a direct impact on Lebanon’s security situation. Without the guidance of a cross-sectarian executive branch, the country’s main guarantor of security, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), cannot effectively police Sunni extremism and other violent symptoms of the Syrian civil war. Thus, it seems that the Lebanese state will be unable to deal with the growth of violent Salafism and the exacerbation of Sunni-Shia tensions.  "

Syrian government front row seat to 'rebels'' slugfest

"... Unless the main Islamic Front factions decisively join the battle against the ISIL, it will probably be very difficult to root out Baghdadi’s men from northwestern Syria, if that is indeed the goal of this offensive. The SRF and the Mujahideen Army may have gained an early victory through the element of surprise, but it is hard to imagine that they could eliminate the ISIL from the area without active support from Islamic Front groups like Ahrar al-Sham, the Suqour al-Sham Brigades, and the Tawhid Brigade.In any case, there’s a sharp limit to how much time, blood, and treasure these groups can spend chasing the ISIL around the Idlib Province because apart from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there also remains that other enemy to worry about—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mideast 'Drivers for 2014'

    ".... As compared to former Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of State Kerry will enjoy more autonomy from the White House to pursue foreign policy initiatives, for example over the Middle East Peace Process. As a decade of expeditionary wars comes to an end, Kerry also will be able to wrest back some degree of foreign policy leadership from the Pentagon and Intelligence Community, though he will still have to contend with powerful foreign affairs committee chairs in both the Senate and House 
   US public opinion will put a low priority on foreign policy. Skepticism about the value of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing steadily. This will constrain pressures from certain parts of the Administration and Congress to undertake humanitarian interventions – for example in Syria, Lebanon or Africa – or counter-terrorist missions – for example in the Sahel. Drones will remain the power projection instrument of choice...
  Iran will be a major agenda item – and will be politically red-hot. While Administration officials have no illusions about the difficulties involved in reaching a final agreement with Tehran, they are motivated to do so. If negotiations fail – still the most probable scenario – we see the emergence of a containment approach rather than military action. This will further strain relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia..."

'The simple truth that the USA is not fit to run the world!'

"... In the course of its precipitous withdrawal, "une chute vertigineuse" I have heard it called, the US abandoned its Sunni tribal allies in Anbar Province to their fate.  We are good at abandonment.  Maliki reneged on all his political undertakings.  The Sunni tribes grew more and more embittered and now some of them are siding with the AQ galaxy of enemies of humanity.  Not all are doing that, but some.
At the bottom of this mess, the mess in Egypt, the mess in Afghanistan, the mess in Vietnam, and all the various messes I participated in, is
the simple truth that the USA is not fit to run the world...."

The US treats the Iraqi Army like the Syrian branches of al Qaeda

"... Current and former U.S. officials say the F16s and Apaches would change the situation on the ground by giving Iraqi commanders the ability to destroy al-Qaeda targets from the air and prevent reinforcements from reaching the cities. Baghdad has spent years pressing Congress and the White House for permission to buy dozens of the aircraft. So far, though, Washington has said no.
"It's beyond shortsighted," a U.S. military official with multiple tours in Iraq said in an interview. "Airpower can be a game-changer, and we're damaging our own interests by leaving the Iraqi army to slug this out on the ground. If we see them as an ally, we should treat them like one."..."

Monday, January 6, 2014

'Syria's western-backed rebels get helping hand from al Qaeda'

"... “Operations that were really carried out by Al Nusra are publicly presented by the FSA as their own,” he said.A leading FSA commander involved in operations in Deraa said Al Nusra had strengthened FSA units and played a decisive role in key rebel victories in the south.The face of Al Nusra cannot be to the front. It must be behind the FSA, for the sake of Jordan and the international community,” he said..."

Bahrain Royal re-joins al Qaeda in Syria

"... Citing undisclosed sources, the Bahrain Mirror reported that Sheikh Salman was not appropriately rehabilitated following his release from Guantanamo and was "alienated" from his family. This purportedly explains his trip to Syria, where he has "joined the fight."
But Sheikh Salman first traveled to the Taliban's Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, indicating that he has long been drawn to the jihadist cause.Sheikh Ibrahim bin Mohammad al-Khalifa, Sheikh Salman's father, was quoted in 2002 as saying that his son was detained by the Americans because he was "accused of sympathizing with al Qaeda."

Friday, January 3, 2014

"After Petraeus Paid Them For Peace, Are Sunnis of Anbar Now Paid by Bandar For Killing?"

"... Although there likely are many factors that contributed to the eventual outbreak of violence in Iraq that elevated civilian death rates, one possibility that intrigues me is that the timing fits reasonably well to be a part of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan’s play for regional dominance. ....  back in July, Bandar was feeling confident that Assad would be overthrown and that those who established a new government would be firmly under Saudi control. That would suggest that Bandar felt he already had the proper forces in place and under his control.As we know, things didn’t quite go the way Bandar expected in Syria, as the US backed off an attack at the last minute and chose a diplomatic approach with Syria..."

'Bandar's Charge D'Affaires'

"... Lebanese military authorities have arrested the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the offshoot of al-Qaeda that claimed responsibility for the double suicide bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November, according to Lebanese news media.The leader, Majid al-Majid, is a Saudi national whose radical Sunni group is closely allied with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The reports did not say when the arrest took place...."

Just on Time … Bandar’s Promised Terror Attacks?

"...Back in July, Bandar bin Sultan met with Vladimir Putin. As part of an effort to buy off Putin’s support of Bashar al-Assad, Bandar allegedly promised to be able to prevent terrorist attacks tied to the Sochi Olympics.
"... As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.” [my emphasis]
But Bandar has made such threats before, with more reliable countries. And Bandar’s surrogates have been issuing implicit threats since his July “warning.”
So as we follow the aftermath of the two attacks in Volgograd in two days, and as we get closer to the February start date for the Olympics, it’s worth remembering that Bandar boasted of controlling the Islamic terrorists in Russia...."

Iran, the United States, & the Middle East in 2014

"...  Iran’s strategy does not depend on Washington getting things right.  Indeed, Iranian strategy takes seriously the very real (even likely) prospect that Washington is not capable of negotiating a nuclear settlement grounded in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and respectful of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear rights.  Likewise, Iranian strategy takes seriously the very real (even likely) prospect that Washington cannot disenthrall itself from Obama’s extremely foolish declaration in August 2011 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go—and therefore that the United States will not contribute constructively to the quest for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict.If the United States can truly reform its approach to the Middle East, certainly Iran can work with that.  But if Washington continues down its counter-productive path in the region, Tehran can play off America’s accumulating policy failures and the deepening illegitimacy of its regional posture to advance the Islamic Republic’s strategic position..."

'Piece by piece'

So, says Israelis of all colors!
"... The analyst, Ronen Bergman, who has close contacts with Israeli intelligence officials, said Thursday that despite Israel’s undeclared campaign of airstrikes in Syria to stop new deliveries, most of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles given to Hezbollah by its allies Iran and Syria have been disassembled and moved to Lebanon.American intelligence analysts have also concluded that members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, are smuggling components of advanced Russian-made antiship missile systems piecemeal into Lebanon from war-stricken Syria to avoid an Israeli air campaign, a United States official said Thursday..."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

WSJ & US Intelligence Agencies: 'We Was Wrong & Messrs. Assad, Nasrallah & Soleimani have "won"!'

"... In the early days of the Syrian rebellion, U.S. intelligence agencies made a prediction: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's days were numbered, an assessment repeated publicly by President Barack Obama and top U.S. intelligence officials.Mr. Obama said so as recently as March 22, at a press conference in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah: "I'm confident that Assad will go. It's not a question of if, it's when."
Behind the scenes, though, U.S. intelligence services had already begun to pick up indications that this long-held assumption was wrong.
That winter and early spring, U.S. and Israeli spy agencies received intelligence that Iran and the Assad regime were pressing the reluctant leader of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon to commit to sending his fighters into Syria en masse, current and former U.S. officials said.
The resulting Hezbollah surge to bolster Mr. Assad represented a turning point in the Syria conflict, giving the Syrian leader enough strength to survive, though not enough to prevail.
U.S. intelligence agencies and administration speechwriters quickly dialed back pronouncements about Mr. Assad's impending departure from public remarks.
Now, at the end of 2013, Syria stands as a tale of mismatched commitments, and an example of America's inability to steer events from a distance. In many ways, Syria as it was known before simply doesn't exist any longer, U.S. officials say. Its place has been taken by a shattered state riven into sectarian enclaves, radicalized by war and positioned to send worrisome ripples out across the Middle East for years to come, say current and former officials.
In fact, U.S. officials think the chances of steering the outcome have shrunk dramatically. The intelligence assessments that once showed Mr. Assad on the verge of defeat now say he could remain in power for the foreseeable future in key parts of the country bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast. The U.S. doesn't think he will be able to retake the whole country again, U.S. intelligence agencies believe. Areas outside his control are fracturing into warring enclaves along ethnic and sectarian lines, abutting a new al Qaeda-affiliated haven that sweeps from Syria into Iraq.
The civil war could last another decade or more, based on a Central Intelligence Agency analysis of the history of insurgencies that recently departed Deputy Director Michael Morell privately shared with lawmakers, according to congressional officials......
Mr. Obama's limited covert engagement in Syria has been part of a deliberate effort to avoid further entanglement in the Middle East and take the U.S. off a war footing, senior U.S. officials say.....
The first hints that those long-held assumptions were wrong came in the second half of 2012, when the CIA realized that the Syrian military was starting to change its tactics with help from Iranian advisers, who had cracked the opposition's battlefield communications.
Next came the Hezbollah push.
U.S. intelligence officials misjudged the extent to which Hezbollah was prepared to double down in support of Mr. Assad.
U.S. intelligence initially showed that Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, resisted repeated appeals from Iranian leaders, including the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, for sending Hezbollah fighters in large numbers into Syria to reinforce the Assad regime, current and former U.S. officials say.
U.S. spy agencies believed Hezbollah's leadership at the time was riven by internal debate, worried that intervening in an uprising next door would be "bad for the brand" and spark a backlash at home, according to an official briefed on the intelligence....
Within the CIA, many analysts, including Mr. Morell, agreed the odds were bad, given the mismatch in commitments, officials said. Mr. Nasrallah had gone all in; the same couldn't be said of the Americans, these officials said.....
By mid-summer, U.S. spy agencies had watched the size of Hezbollah's deployments in Syria grow, and concluded that the war's momentum was shifting in favor of the Assad regime, though the U.S. didn't think his forces would be strong enough to retake the country....
The U.S.'s caution didn't sit well with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi prince and intelligence official who had become the leader of an international effort to aid the rebels.
If Iran and Hezbollah prevailed in shoring up Mr. Assad, the Saudis warned the White House, they would be emboldened to think "they can walk on water," and take actions elsewhere that could jeopardize Saudi security, one diplomat close to the Saudis said.
The administration's decision to avoid military strikes and subsequent negotiations over ending Syria's chemical weapons program gave Mr. Assad considerable staying power, administration officials say. Mr. Kerry privately acknowledged to allies that the administration's decision to not retaliate militarily for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack hurt the morale of the opposition, which had anticipated a strike. He called this a "non-strike effect," according to a senior administration official.
Saudi officials fumed at the U.S. for failing to launch strikes against Mr. Assad over the chemical weapons attack, and Prince Bandar threatened to scale back cooperation with the CIA.
The frustration was mutual. In private meetings with U.S. officials, Mr. Kerry singled out Prince Bandar as "the problem," complaining about his conduct, according to meeting participants....
A former senior Obama administration official said Saudi leaders misread U.S. sentiment. The White House, the former official said, had no obligation to come to the rescue "when they picked a fight they couldn't win."
After Mr. Obama's decision not to strike in response to the chemical weapons attack, the U.S. learned that Russian, Iranian, and Chinese officials were discussing how weak the U.S. now looked on the international stage, said one former official briefed on the intelligence.
Now, some senior Obama administration and Pentagon officials say the window of opportunity for strengthening the moderate opposition may have closed. Once Syria's chemical weapons have been fully removed, "the pressure on Assad to leave will be diminished," said one senior administration official.
A longtime American diplomat in the region said that, for now, it looks like Messrs. Assad, Nasrallah and Soleimani have "won"."