The White Helmets prepare provocation in Syrian Idlib

The imminent threat of offensive launched by Assad’s forces in the North-West of Syria makes the insurgents and their patrons from Western powers nervous. Mainstream mass-media citing statements of some Western officials ones again turn back to the well-known scenario of Assad’s intention to use chemical weapons.

 

Syrian sources (https://sana.sy/en/?p=14523) note the activity of The White Helmets, the NGO based on the territory controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and over groups close to it. The White Helmets are reported to traffic chemicals to the town of Jisr al-Shughur. This town is one of the targets of Assad’s forces offensive.

 

By the way, the White Helmets have already learned how to deal with chemical weapons from the British private military company named “Olive” which is considered to be one of the main suppliers of mercenaries to the Middle East (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/ 03 / britain-g4s-at-center-of-global-mercenary-industry-says-charity).

The most likely provocation scenario seems to be some kind of this:

  1. Active information work is being carried out to create the necessary information picture for the provocation before the onset of the offensive by the Syrian army.
  2. Materials for the provocation can be stored in one of the settlements that can become targets of the offensive of the Syrian army (http://www.comite-valmy.org/spip.php?article10309).
  3. The mechanism of the provocation can be the following: chlorine or sarin is sprayed in the main directions of mechanized units of the Syrian army appearance. This may happen in one of the towns of Idlib.
  4. Then follows the stage of the “crime” fixing performed by the White Helmets (the operators may be ordinary militants) who start to promote the “war crime of Assad” through media.

 

There are no prerequisites for the militants to hold off the impending offensive of the Syrian army without “chemical provocation. The White Helmets and their “allies” have a motive, skilled executors, human resources, equipment, chemicals and a political order for delaying the final stage of the Syrian war.

The Syrians will have to do much in this field to prevent the possible consequences of the attack. Since this is a classic “false flag operation”, special services of foreign countries are sure to be in charge of it at certain stages of its implementation.

Haftar’s return boosts hope for peace in Libya

t is a measure of the status of Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar that his homecoming last Thursday after medical treatment in Paris saw a greeting line of military top brass stretching from the aircraft steps into the arrivals terminal.

Army, navy and air force chiefs lined up with politicians to shake the field marshal’s hand, underlining their support after weeks of speculation about the commander’s future.

The 75-year-old field marshal was hospitalised in Paris with an undisclosed condition on April 11, and the rumour mill went into overdrive over whether he was incapacitated. The speculation was dampened two days later when the UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, tweeted: “SRSG Ghassan Salame and Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar communicated today via phone and discussed the general situation in Libya and the latest political developments in the country.”

Mr Salame’s tweet emphasised the pivotal role the field marshal has played in Libyan politics since civil war broke out in July 2014. Later that same year Libya’s parliament, the House of Representatives, based in the eastern town of Tobruk, appointed him its army commander and he has since led his troops to two key victories.

The first of those came in September 2016 when the Libyan National Army captured oil ports of the so-called Oil Crescent, home to two thirds of Libya’s oil production. A year later, he finally captured Benghazi, Libya’s second city, from militias after a three-year struggle.

Those victories have won the field marshal support across much of Libya, particularly in the east of the country, with many seeing him as a bulwark against militias who have brought chaos to the country.

He has also used his time in charge to rebuild armed forces who were left devastated by the 2011 revolution in which Muammar Qaddafi was deposed and killed. Meanwhile, the LNA is massing forces for an assault on the coastal town of Derna, the last eastern town held by militias.

Publicly, the field marshal insists that it is business as usual, telling a press conference after his arrival: “I want to reassure you that I am in good health.”

He joked: “I should be addressing you standing up but I am obliged to do so sitting down.”

Speculation that there was a power struggle under way during his absence was heightened after the LNA’s second-in-command, chief of staff, Abdul Razzak Al Nazouri, survived a car-bomb attack on April 18 in Benghazi.

Diplomats recognise that, with the LNA the single most powerful military formation in Libya, its commander has a pivotal role to play in any peace deal. Any such deal may hinge on the Field Marshal Haftar’s key demand, which is that Tripoli militias dissolve.

 

Last July, in an initiative begun by the UAE and Egypt, French President Emmanuel Macron invited him to Paris for talks with Fayez Al Serraj, head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) for talks.

The Field Marshall is sceptical about GNA, which has failed to rid Tripoli of militias who periodically battle each other in the city. Earlier this month militia rockets struck a plane waiting to take off from the city-centre Mitiga airport.

In December Field Marshal Haftar declared the GNA was no longer legitimate, having come to the end of its two-year mandate announced when it was set up in December 2015. In the same speech, to newly graduating soldiers, he also dismissed past UN-led peace efforts as “just ink on paper.”

But a more robust peace effort may be under way, after talks were held last week in Morocco between the speaker of parliament, Aguila Saleh, and the newly appointed head of Tripoli’s State Council, Khaled Al Mishri, in Morocco.

The talks are to be resumed soon and are exploring the idea of reforming the GNA to make it more inclusive. UN envoy Mr Salame also favours reform of the GNA, hoping it can unify Libya and boost his call for elections later this year.

Field Marshal Haftar has given his support for an elected government, saying the army operates in “full compliance with the orders of the free Libyan people”.

His return, in apparent good health, means his role in any peace process remains crucial.

Uneasy Calm Falls Over Gaza After Scores Killed in Protests

Right now: Gaza is largely quiet, a day after protests against Israel turned bloody.

• The death toll in the protests on Monday, in which Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators, reached 60 overnight.

• The center of Gaza City was quiet, after the militant group Hamas called for a general strike.

• A spokesman for the United Nations Human Rights office criticized Israel, saying, “It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured.”

Gaza awoke on Tuesday to a grim agenda: Funerals for protesters killed along the fence bordering Israel, including one for an 8-month-old baby girl overcome by tear gas; and still-frenzied work treating the thousands of people wounded, in hospitals so overrun with patients that tents were set up in their courtyards.

There was also uncertainty about whether the demonstrations would grow, fade, or give way to an outright armed conflict.

A day after scores of people were killed in the protests against Israel — the death toll reached 60 overnight — Nakba, a day that commemorates the expulsion or flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes upon the creation of the state of Israel, began in a more subdued way.

At the border fence, few protesters had gathered by late morning. In downtown Gaza City, the streets were quiet as Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls the territory, had ordered a general strike.

Shops were closed, though the streets were not entirely deserted because people were streaming to mosques for midday funerals of those killed on Monday.

Across the fence in Israel, a tense, almost pastoral calm prevailed along the borderline at midday, in contrast to the bloody scenes that played out on the same hour the day before. Opposite a protest site between Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip, the only trace of the previous day’s events were scorched patches of ground where flaming kites had set golden wheat fields on fire.

The emergency firefighting teams were sitting idle. No new fires had been registered. No protesters could be seen across the barrier.

Soldiers and other onlookers were left to wonder whether some kind of a deal had been struck overnight: After all, they noted, the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into Gaza, a main point to transport goods into the territory that had been damaged three times by protesters, was abruptly reopened just days after Israeli officials said it had been almost completely destroyed.

Israeli Palestinians planned demonstrations for Tuesday evening in Umm el-Fahm, Majd el-Krum and in the Negev, and marches were set to take place in the cities of Haifa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and a handful of smaller places.

United Nations human rights officials said on Tuesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators was unjustified and called for an independent investigation into what could be grave breaches of international law.

“We condemn the appalling deadly violence in Gaza yesterday,” Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told reporters. “We are extremely worried about what may happen later today,” he said. “We urge maximum restraint. Enough is enough.”

International law allowed for the use of lethal force only as a last resort in the face of an immediate threat to life or serious injury, Mr. Colville noted. Those laws “appear to have been ignored again and again,” he added.

“An attempt to approach, or crossing or damaging the green line fence do not amount to a threat to life or serious injury and are not sufficient grounds for the use of live ammunition,” he said. “It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured.”

The United Nations Human Rights office called for independent and transparent investigations into all cases of death and injury since March 30, a period in which it said 112 Palestinians had been killed, including 14 children, and thousands more wounded.

In the West Bank, sirens sounded at noon for 70 seconds to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe.

As in past years, this was a holiday for Palestinians, with schools and government offices closed, though bakeries, gas stations and pharmacies, among other shops, remained open.

In Clock Square in Ramallah, also known as Yasir Arafat Square — where a statue shows a young man clambering up a pole to raise the flag of Palestine over Jerusalem — life briefly came to a halt.

A short while later, a small group of Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed at a checkpoint between Ramallah and the Jewish settlement of Beit El.

Violence was also reported in the early afternoon in Hebron and Bethlehem, where police officers were said to be firing rubber bullets at protesters.

The White House staunchly defended Israel’s actions, while several nations condemned them, but much of the official reaction around the world was more muted, voicing horror at the bloodshed but not assigning blame.

“I am profoundly alarmed and concerned by the sharp escalation of violence and the number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is imperative that everyone shows the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life.”

South Africa and Turkey recalled their ambassadors to Israel in protest, and Turkey also withdrew its ambassador to the United States.

Kuwait called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to discuss the Gaza violence, which it blamed on Israel. The government of Saudi Arabia, whose icy relations with Israel have thawed in recent years, issued “strong condemnation and denunciation of the deadly targeting of unarmed Palestinians by the Israeli Forces of Occupation,” according to the official news agency S.P.A.

Among major Western powers, there was much criticism of the relocation of the American Embassy, but only France directly assailed Israel’s actions.

In a phone call on Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Emmanuel Macron “deplored the large number of deaths of Palestinian civilians today and over the past few weeks,” the Élysée Palace said in a statement. “He condemned the violence of Israeli armed forces against demonstrators. He called on all authorities to exercise restraint and to de-escalate tensions, and insisted on the need for protests in the coming days to remain peaceful.”

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, said, “It is inexcusable that civilians, journalists and children have been victims,” but avoided pointing fingers, saying that “all parties to the conflict have a responsibility” to prevent such casualties. Similarly, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain urged restraint on all sides, but Mrs. May made no public statement about Gaza.

The German government made no statement on the matter.

But the Trump administration echoed the Israeli stance, that the organizers of the protests were to blame for the deaths and injuries, not Israel.

“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Monday.

Gaza and Jerusalem: Images of Violence and Ceremony

The scenes were barely 40 miles apart: in Gaza, a chaotic panorama of smoke, fleeing figures and tear gas on the deadliest day since mass protests at the border fence with Israel began; in Jerusalem, Ivanka Trump and other American officials celebrating President Trump’s formal relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv.

Israeli soldiers and snipers used barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory. By Monday evening, 52 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and more than 2,400 were injured, the Health Ministry said.

The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel.

American and Israeli officials celebrated President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, invoked a resolution to generations of conflict. “When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and will remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth,” he said.

At Least 28 Palestinians Die in Protests as U.S. Prepares to Open Jerusalem Embassy

Right Now: Palestinian officials say at least 28 people have died in the latest round of protests.

• At least 1,000 Palestinian demonstrators were also wounded along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported, as the mass protests that began on March 30 and that had already left dozens dead erupted again.

• The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv was set for Monday, timed to the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel — a move that many Israelis have celebrated but that has enraged Palestinians.

A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza quickly turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the Gaza protests, which spread on Monday to the West Bank, in opposition to the embassy move.

By 3 p.m., 28 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and at least one thousand were injured in Gaza, the Health Ministry said, as seven weeks of demonstrations reached a climax there. Israeli soldiers and snipers were using barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.

The Israeli military said some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and many were flying flaming kites into Israel. Outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, just across from protests east of Gaza City, emergency workers raced to try to extinguish a rapidly spreading wildfire caused by one incendiary kite, as four others could be seen sailing overhead.

Even as American and Israeli officials prepared to celebrate President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem — which previous American administrations have been unwilling to do — thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in protest.

In the West Bank, Palestinians marched at midday in cities from Hebron to Nablus. Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released bunches of black balloons that carried aloft black Palestinian flags, bespeaking their disdain for the American move.

Clashes pitting demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets began even before hundreds of marchers had arrived there from Ramallah.

Many Israelis see the relocation of the embassy as simply acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future.

The embassy opening was set to begin at 4 p.m., with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, among the dignitaries attending, as well as a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.

The mass protests in Gaza, promoted by Hamas, were expected to peak on Tuesday with an effort by thousands of people to cross the fence, despite warnings from Israel, possibly setting the stage for more bloodshed.

The demonstrations were originally meant to protest the economic blockade by Israel of Gaza, the impoverished region governed by Hamas. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, have joined in the economic squeeze that has left Gazans increasingly desperate.

The timing is no accident — May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.

Some of the demonstrators have thrown gasoline bombs or rolled burning tires toward Israeli soldiers, and Israeli security forces have said that some of the Palestinians who were killed were armed with semiautomatic rifles.

The demonstrations at the Gaza fence have taken place primarily on Fridays since March 30, and have already left dozens of people dead and thousands injured.

At Least 28 Palestinians Die in Protests as U.S. Prepares to Open Jerusalem Embassy

Right Now: Palestinian officials say at least 28 people have died in the latest round of protests.

• At least 1,000 Palestinian demonstrators were also wounded along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported, as the mass protests that began on March 30 and that had already left dozens dead erupted again.

• The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv was set for Monday, timed to the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel — a move that many Israelis have celebrated but that has enraged Palestinians.

A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza quickly turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the Gaza protests, which spread on Monday to the West Bank, in opposition to the embassy move.

By 3 p.m., 28 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and at least one thousand were injured in Gaza, the Health Ministry said, as seven weeks of demonstrations reached a climax there. Israeli soldiers and snipers were using barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.

The Israeli military said some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and many were flying flaming kites into Israel. Outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, just across from protests east of Gaza City, emergency workers raced to try to extinguish a rapidly spreading wildfire caused by one incendiary kite, as four others could be seen sailing overhead.

Even as American and Israeli officials prepared to celebrate President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem — which previous American administrations have been unwilling to do — thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in protest.

In the West Bank, Palestinians marched at midday in cities from Hebron to Nablus. Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released bunches of black balloons that carried aloft black Palestinian flags, bespeaking their disdain for the American move.

Clashes pitting demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets began even before hundreds of marchers had arrived there from Ramallah.

Many Israelis see the relocation of the embassy as simply acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future.

The embassy opening was set to begin at 4 p.m., with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, among the dignitaries attending, as well as a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.

The mass protests in Gaza, promoted by Hamas, were expected to peak on Tuesday with an effort by thousands of people to cross the fence, despite warnings from Israel, possibly setting the stage for more bloodshed.

The demonstrations were originally meant to protest the economic blockade by Israel of Gaza, the impoverished region governed by Hamas. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, have joined in the economic squeeze that has left Gazans increasingly desperate.

The timing is no accident — May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.

Some of the demonstrators have thrown gasoline bombs or rolled burning tires toward Israeli soldiers, and Israeli security forces have said that some of the Palestinians who were killed were armed with semiautomatic rifles.

The demonstrations at the Gaza fence have taken place primarily on Fridays since March 30, and have already left dozens of people dead and thousands injured.

With Demise of Nuclear Deal, Iran’s Foes See an Opportunity. Others See Risk of War.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — After the United States toppled Iraq’s dictatorship in 2003, Iran sent arms to militias and backed political parties there, bringing Iraq into its orbit.

After the Arab Spring uprisings early this decade battered the governments of Syria and Yemen, Iran deployed fighters and supported militias. In the chaos of Syria’s long-burning civil war, Iran seized the opportunity to build a military infrastructure there.

In 2015, President Obama offered Iran what might have been the biggest opportunity of all: trading its nuclear program for the lifting of sanctions that had stifled Iran’s economy, paving the way for its reintegration into the international system.

Now President Trump, Israel and the Sunni Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf want to change all that.

Last week, Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the international nuclear deal with Iran, reimposing onerous American sanctions and threatening more penalties to punish Iran for its regional behavior. After falling out of favor since the Iraq war, talk of regime change in Tehran has returned to Washington in a way not seen since George W. Bush branded Iran part of the “axis of evil” in 2002.

But as frustrated as Mr. Trump and his allies were that the Iran nuclear agreement did not curb what they regard as regional troublemaking by Iran, it is far from clear that vacating the deal will either.

“If we are going to confront Iran and roll back this Iranian network, what are we going to put on the table?” said Randa Slim, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “And if Iran has gained influence and equities from these achievements, how is it going to fight back?”

Iran now maintains a network of powerful militias that defend Iran’s interests far beyond its borders.

Even as Mr. Trump scrapped American participation in the nuclear deal, Iranian-backed political parties were contesting parliamentary elections in Lebanon and Iraq, and Iranian-aligned rebels in Yemen were firing ballistic missiles at the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The onetime “axis of evil” member has built what it calls an “axis of resistance,” stretching through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Iranian forces or allied militias are now basically on the doorsteps of Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s most important regional adversaries.

An alliance against Iran has tightened, with the United States, Israel and the Gulf countries united in opposition. But if they are now more committed than ever to challenging Iran’s reach, their abilities are limited.

The United States is hesitant to get entangled in new wars in the Middle East. Mr. Trump has cut some foreign aid in Syria and said he wants to bring home the roughly 2,000 American troops deployed there fighting the Islamic State.

Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have spent billions of dollars on advanced weapons over the years but have yet to prove they can use them effectively. They are bogged down in an aerial war against Iranian-aligned rebels in Yemen, and their reliance on checkbook diplomacy has left them with little influence in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

By contrast, Iran has devised creative ways to nurture strategic relationships that do not require big military spending, which it cannot afford anyway.

“It is not only the money that greases the network; it is the ideology and the willingness of the Iranians to put their own skin in the game,” said Ms. Slim, the analyst. “The Saudis do not have that kind of toolbox.”

That leaves Israel, which has a powerful military but little ability to build alliances with Arab countries, a legacy of its creation as a Jewish state that is still reviled in the region over the treatment of the Palestinians.

The most recent flare up since Mr. Trump’s abandoning of the nuclear agreement came Thursday, when Iranian forces in Syria fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel for the first time, according to the Israelis, and Israel’s warplanes bombed Iranian military targets in Syria.

Analysts said neither side wanted to escalate into a full-fledged war, which could quickly spiral into a regionwide conflagration, and by dawn, quiet had returned. But the risk of a broader war could not be ruled out.

“We may be O.K. for the next month or so, but we have a big structural problem,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy in Washington. “Iran wants to build infrastructure in Syria. Israel is dead set against that. So it’s a real witches’ brew. This is a preview of a serious long-term flash point.”

His worry was echoed by Ryan C. Crocker, a former United States ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries.

“There is real potential for a much bigger fight than we have seen so far, led by Israel,” Mr. Crocker said. “And will anything good come of it? Not at all.”

Iran would struggle to defend itself against a direct, multifront attack by Israel, the United States and the Gulf countries.

As a Persian, Shiite-led state, it is a sectarian and ethnic minority in a predominantly Sunni, Arab region. Spurned internationally since a revolutionary Islamic government seized power in 1979, it has no access to Western weapons. And Iran’s poor economy means that its regional foes have outspent it on conventional weapons.

Instead, Iran has invested where it could: in relationships with substate actors that mostly share Iran’s Shiite faith and sense of underdog status.

The prototype for that strategy was Hezbollah, which officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps helped create in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Supporting Hezbollah gave Iran a means to fight the Israelis near Israel’s northern border, and later gave Iran a hand in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah, which Israel and the United States have long regarded as a terrorist organization, has since grown into a regional force in its own right.

“Iran is actually not as strong as we think,” said Bassel F. Salloukh, a political-science professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. “Its economy is quite weak, it is surrounded, so it has to project power in order to protect itself, and that strategy has worked very well, so they are duplicating it elsewhere.”

Another element of Iran’s power is what enemies call its aspirations and ability to build a nuclear bomb — a weapon Iran always has denied it wants despite past evidence of Iranian research on nuclear bomb-making.

Under the nuclear agreement of 2015, Iran reiterated its pledge to never “seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” So far, Iran has said it intends to abide by the agreement, despite the American withdrawal.

Iran’s regional military network could not protect it from a conventional attack, but acts as a deterrent by threatening significant costs on Iran’s foes.

Iran can strike Israel directly through Hezbollah, which is believed to have more than 100,000 missiles and rockets, some capable of hitting major Israeli cities and sensitive infrastructure. And Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen has bogged down Saudi Arabia in a costly war there and made Saudi cities vulnerable to ballistic missiles from Yemen.

Those substate actors are difficult to defeat militarily, and wars against them could exacerbate the failed-state dynamics that Iran has proved adept at exploiting.

Syria remains the most likely flash point, but all of the parties say they do not want a broader war and they appear to be taking steps to prevent clashes from escalating. In its airstrikes in Syria, Israel has made efforts to target weapons and not people, assuming high death tolls could put pressure on Iran and its allies to retaliate.

Iran’s response to Israeli strikes so far has also been limited. The rocket attack on Thursday was aimed at Israeli military installations, not cities.

It remains unclear how Iran will respond to the new effort to roll back its influence. While some within the Iranian hierarchy want to preserve the nuclear agreement even without the United States, some have vowed confrontation.

“Resistance is the only way to confront these enemies, not diplomacy,” Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said last week. “Exiting the deal and their concerns over Iran’s missile work are excuses to bring our nation to its knees.”

U.S. Takes a Risk: Old Iraqi Enemies Are Now Allies

MOSUL, Iraq — Iraq’s interior minister, Qassim al-Araji, has a troubled history with the United States. He was detained twice by the Americans at the notorious Camp Bucca prison during the Iraq war and held for 23 months, accused of smuggling Iranian-made bombs that had become effective killers of American troops.

As a former commander of an Iranian-backed militia, his loyalties are open to question. But when he met with the United States ambassador last year, he had a surprising message: He and other former Shiite militants wanted the Americans to stay. Iraq needed their help, he said, to stabilize the country and combat the threat of the Islamic State.

He even jokingly praised the superiority of American jails over Iraqi ones. “You have some things to teach us,” he told the American ambassador, Douglas J. Silliman.

The request represented a monumental switch for some of Iraq’s most influential Shiite leaders, and an opportunity for the United States to achieve its elusive security goals in the region, albeit with some unlikely partners.

But the evolving alliance means that the United States military is taking a risk: training, sharing intelligence and planning missions with former members of Iranian-backed militias that once fought and killed Americans.

Several former militia commanders have risen to high-level political positions. Now, a coalition of them is expected to be among the biggest winners in parliamentary elections this Saturday, giving them even more prominent roles in the new government and possibly determining the future of the American presence in Iraq.

The United States has expanded secretive military ventures and counterterrorism missions in remote corners of the world, but in Iraq it is taking a different tack. Here, the United States is reducing its troop presence and gambling that common interests with former adversaries will help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. The bet seemed to pay off with the announcement this week that a joint Iraqi-American intelligence sting captured five senior Islamic State leaders.

And as President Trump pursues a confrontational approach with Iran, the American military hopes to use its evolving Iraqi partnerships to peel away Shiite factions from Iran’s orbit and chip away at Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region.

“This is a time when Iraqi patriots can build their nation,” said Lt. General Paul E. Funk II, the commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “There is an opportunity here. We will do all we can to give them all the help they need and want.”

Last year, Congress appropriated $3.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, with a priority on units under Mr. Araji’s Interior Ministry. They include border guards monitoring the long Syrian-Iraqi frontier, a place where American and Iraqi commanders fear that Islamic State remnants could regroup, and which Iran sees as part of its corridor to move fighters and weapons to Syria and Lebanon. The funds also equip the Iraqi SWAT teams responsible for arresting and detaining terrorism suspects, and train a national police force in charge of daily security.

It was the Islamic State’s conquest of a third of Iraqi territory in 2014 that first brought together once-rival Iraqi militias and security forces with an American-led military coalition in a united effort to defeat a common enemy. The United States wanted to prevent the Islamic State from building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and the Shiite militias saw the Sunni extremist group as a sectarian threat.

After Iraq’s regular armed forces crumbled in the face of the Islamic State blitz, a coalition of Iranian-financed Shiite militias took up front-line positions against the extremists. The militias never worked directly with the Americans, but a joint command helped coordinate their efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

Now, some of the most influential militia leaders are working directly with the Americans and pressing for a continued American military presence.

For some of these former militants, America’s display of superior equipment and skills side by side with them in battle brought a newfound respect. Others say they had an ideological reckoning, a realization that years of sectarianism and interference from Iraq’s neighbors had made their nation vulnerable to invasion. Partnering with the world’s superpower, they said, was the best way to bring Iraq back up from its knees.

“We all made mistakes in the past, the Americans, as well as us,” said Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization, the largest of the Shiite militias that helped battle the Islamic State and the leader of the electoral alliance of former militia members, known as Fatah. “Now, we need their help. We can’t let our country become a playground for other powers and their agendas.”

The vote on Saturday could determine whether the United States military stays in Iraq or leaves.

Most polls show that the front-runners are the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, Washington’s closest ally in Iraq, and Mr. Ameri, whose electoral list includes the interior minister, Mr. Araji. If either of them lead the new government, the military partnership is likely to continue.

However, Iraqi political analysts say that the previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who demanded the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 and still has close ties to Iran, could play spoiler. They believe he has a good chance of being included in a new coalition government, giving Iran a way to foil America’s growing influence.

So far this year, the American-led coalition has trained six brigades of Iraqi border units, about a quarter of the estimated force required to seal the largely barren, desert frontier with Syria, as well as six brigades of federal police and a special Baghdad-based police force.

The tight-knit nature of the partnership is already on display in several of Iraq’s security hot spots.

On the streets of Mosul, once the largest city in the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate, Iraqi counterterrorism police receive intelligence from American Special Forces deployed at the regional Iraqi command headquarters there and allow the Americans access to Islamic State detainees. On the dusty Syrian border, American and coalition forces provide air surveillance for the border guards newly equipped with American communications and tactical gear. And on Iraqi bases outside Baghdad, coalition teams from Italy, Canada, Denmark and France are training law enforcement units.

But the partnership means that the United States is working with some Iraqis who previously received financing, training and arms from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, considered a terrorist organization by the American government.

Critics say it’s giving the fox the keys to the henhouse.

“It’s crazy,” Michael Pregent, a retired military intelligence officer in Iraq who now works at the Hudson Institute, a policy research organization. “Americans are sitting with a lieutenant of Qassim Suleimani,” the leader of the Revolutionary Guards, “giving him direct access to American intelligence, weapons and equipment.”

Indeed, Mr. Ameri, the leader of the political alliance of former militia members and a possible next Iraqi prime minister, has a long history of ties to Iran. When Gen. David Petraeus commanded American forces in Iraq during the so-called surge of 2007, and Iranian-armed Shiite militias were killing American forces, he used Mr. Ameri as a liaison to Mr. Suleimani.

But many current and retired American officials who served in Iraq acknowledge that while there is a risk, you work with the partners you have.

“It’s like trying to do business or build relationships in Vietnam without dealing with the former Viet Cong,” said Douglas Ollivant, a retired Army officer and National Security Council adviser for Iraq under two White House administrations. “At some point, America needs to work with men who previously were on the other side.”

Iran, a Shiite theocracy, still wields great power over Iraq, which has a Shiite majority. Iran has extended its influence into Iraq’s political, economic and cultural spheres, and the Shiite militias it bolstered in Iraq give it a low-cost paramilitary force to protect its interests there.

Mr. Ameri led the coalition of Iranian-backed militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, to defend against the Islamic State’s advances toward Baghdad in 2014. Those militias were credited with helping to turn the tide against the extremist group, but some units were also accused of grave human rights abuses, including illegal detentions and extrajudicial killings.

Several other members of Mr. Ameri’s electoral coalition lead prominent Iranian-backed factions that have antagonistic histories with the Americans.

One of them, Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, led the militia that ambushed and killed five American soldiers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in 2007. He spent three years as an American detainee. More recently, his men fought on behalf of the government in Syria and he has been filmed in Lebanon with Hezbollah commanders touring the Israeli border.

But a regional campaign manager for Mr. Khazali’s group, Habib al-Hillawi, publicly apologized for the American deaths this month. “Times are different now,” he said on the sideline of a campaign rally.

And in a recent interview in his office in Baghdad, Mr. Khazali said that he supported a continued — albeit limited — American presence in Iraq. “Limited and specific training missions would be acceptable to us, as well as an American force proportional to that mission,” he said.

Mr. Araji, the interior minister, says his views have evolved to match Iraq’s political realities.

A secret cable from the United States Embassy in Baghdad in 2007 said the Americans had “good information” that he had been involved in smuggling the Iranian-engineered bombs to Iraq, leading to his imprisonment.

But Mr. Araji denied any wrongdoing, and was ultimately released without charges. In an interview, he said that American intelligence officials had concluded he had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

When he took over the Interior Ministry — which controls the nation’s intelligence agencies, elite counterterrorism forces, border guards, civil defense forces and regular traffic cops — he and like-minded colleagues in the army and government sought to broker new relationships with the coalition.

That agency, too, has a deeply checkered past. While Washington had previously allocated billions of dollars to help Iraq’s domestic law enforcement, the Interior Ministry had been considered too dysfunctional, sectarian and corrupt to build durable partnerships.

A decade ago, rival Shiite militias controlled the Baghdad police, a division of the Interior Ministry, and they were often implicated in kidnappings, killings and even ethnic cleansing of Sunni neighborhoods.

Mr. Araji set a new tone when, as minister, he tried to clean house. He started internal investigations and ousted about 30,000 people who had broken the law, abused their power or “didn’t display the type of behavior conducive to a professional security force,” he said.

He also promoted several long-serving Sunnis to key positions in an effort to integrate the mostly Shiite ministry.

“There have been steps to stamp out favoritism,” said Gen. Ammar al-Kubaisi, a Sunni who heads the Border Guards 2nd Division, responsible for the Syrian frontier. “We still need to work on this, but sectarianism is going away.”

Notably, for the Americans, Mr. Araji publicly supported the international military coalition at critical moments, namely in the aftermath of a 2017 coalition airstrike in Mosul that killed more than 100 civilians.

“My most important goal is to bring security to Iraq,” he said during an angry debate in Parliament. “Iraq is in need of the friendship of the Americans.”

As a safeguard, Iraqi officials have accepted a key requirement for the coalition training: American vetting of each training candidate. Military commanders say this security check, which can take up to two months, is meant to root out former Shiite militia members involved in violence against American forces, or suspected of human rights abuses and other crimes.

Mr. Araji said he did not consider this vetting an infringement on Iraq’s sovereignty, but part of the process of building a stronger nation. People rejected for training know it is a black mark that will sideline their careers, he said in an interview this month at his Baghdad office. “We have zero tolerance for people who have the wrong attitudes.”

Mr. Ameri and Mr. Araji have cooperated with Iraqi army commanders and Prime Minister Abadi to formulate a multiyear training schedule with the international coalition.

So far, training has been approved through 2018. American and Iraqi commanders agree that it is vital for the missions to continue through at least 2020, but further plans have been frozen until after the election.

American commanders, worrying that anti-American political factions could make the coalition training a wedge issue, halted news media access to training operations during Iraq’s election campaign.

Last week, they announced the closing of America’s ground forces command in Iraq, which had been active since 2014. This move is expected to decrease the number of American troops deployed here, currently about 5,000, which was already a fraction of the 170,000 troops serving in Iraq at the peak of American involvement in 2007.

Whoever leads the new Iraqi government will have to tackle the thorny question of what to do with the now-institutionalized militias, either by trying to integrate them into the army’s command structure or leaving them quasi-independent and a potential tool of Iran’s.

Mr. Ameri, as a political and military leader with credibility in the pro-American and pro-Iranian camps, may be best positioned to bring the militias into the fold of the American-trained domestic security forces.

If he wants to.

Mr. Ameri, who is introduced at his campaign events as the “sheikh of the holy warriors,” is vague on the question. In a recent interview, he said only that he believed the state should control the monopoly of force.

For now, the Americans are gambling on his sense of Iraqi patriotism, says Michael Knights, the senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and expert on Iraqi security forces.

“Who is Hadi al-Ameri?” Mr. Knights said. “That is the fundamental question. Is he more loyal to Iran than Iraq? We will only know it when it’s too late.”

Iran ‘Needs Nuclear Power,’ Supreme Leader Insists

TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday hinted at stepping up his country’s nuclear program, signaling a possible escalation in an already volatile relationship with Washington after President Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that the United States would leave the agreement, under which Iran agreed to strict limits for 15 years on its development of nuclear fuel, to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, in return for an easing of economic sanctions. In withdrawing from the deal, Washington would reimpose sanctions.

Iran has always insisted that its uranium enrichment was intended only to operate nuclear power plants and conduct research, but it also put Iran closer to producing fuel that could be used in atomic bombs.

“Last night, you heard the president of America making petty and mindless statements,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told a group of teachers in his Tehran office, according to the semiofficial news agency Fars. “There were perhaps more than 10 lies in his statements.”

“He threatened both the system and the nation that ‘I will do this and that,’ ” the ayatollah added. “I say on behalf of the nation of Iran: ‘Mr. Trump, you won’t do a damn thing!’ ”

The other parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the European Union — continue to support it. Western intelligence agencies say that Tehran has long had an eye toward — and at times has actively pursued — nuclear weapons.

Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement on Wednesday that Iran was “subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime” and that his nuclear watchdog agency “can confirm that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented by Iran.”

It was Ayatollah Khamenei who ultimately approved the compromises made in the nuclear agreement in 2015, though he also warned at the time against trusting the Americans.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that his country would continue to abide by the agreement, but Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual leader for the past 29 years, wields the ultimate power in the nation. On Wednesday, the ayatollah seemed to suggest that Iran, too, could abandon the deal.

“When the nuclear issue started, some of the elders of the country said, ‘Why the insistence on keeping the nuclear power, let it go,’ ” the ayatollah said. “Of course, this was a wrong thing to say. The country needs nuclear power and according to experts, the country will need 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity.”

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States say they want to halt Iran’s development of missiles, but if Tehran were to agree to those demands, “they will bring up other things,” the ayatollah said.

Reacting to reports that Mr. Trump wants to force “regime change” in Iran, the ayatollah said, “wait for the day when Trump is dead, his corpse is fed on by snakes and insects, but the system of the Islamic Republic will still be standing.”

Iranian officials involved in nuclear negotiations say the focus will now be on how European parties to the deal react to Mr. Trump’s announcement. The sanctions that the American president promised to revive actively discourage and punish European companies and Asian buyers of oil that do business with Iran.

European officials — still committed to the Iran deal but eager to avoid American penalties — appeared to be unsure of how to respond. “It falls to the U.S. administration to spell out their view of the way ahead,” Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said.

Ali Khorram, a former Iranian ambassador to China and adviser to the country’s nuclear negotiating team, said that Mr. Trump had “violated all international norms that come with such an agreement.”

“If European companies are banned by America to do business with Iran, it is up to Europe to negotiate a solution with the U.S.,” he added.

Iranian military commanders welcomed Mr. Trump’s decision, the semiofficial news agency ISNA reported. “Iranian people never favored the nuclear deal,” the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, was quoted as saying.

Iran already faces a severe economic crisis, with high unemployment, drought, and a weakening currency.

But Iranian hard-liners expressed joy at Mr. Trump’s decision. “Now all Iranians blame the United States for their troubles,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst.

On social media, many Iranian users shared a hashtag, #untr_US_table, to signal their anger at the United States.

Oil markets were jittery on Wednesday, with Brent crude up nearly 3 percent at nearly $77 a barrel, the highest level since late 2014. Traders expressed fear that American sanctions would cut Iranian oil exports, shrinking supplies in an already tight market.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and an adversary of Iran’s, tried to calm the markets. The Energy Ministry released a statement saying that the kingdom “would work with major producers within and outside OPEC as well as major consumers to mitigate the impact of any potential shortages.”

The actions of Saudi Arabia, which applauded President Trump’s decision, will be closely watched as the Iran confrontation plays out. Saudi Arabia is the only oil producer that can quickly add large volumes to its output.

Europe, Again Humiliated by Trump, Struggles to Defend Its Interests

BRUSSELS — It is by now a familiar, humiliating pattern. European leaders cajole, argue and beg, trying to persuade President Trump to change his mind on a vital issue for the trans-Atlantic alliance. Mr. Trump appears to enjoy the show, dangling them, before ultimately choosing not to listen.

Instead, he demands compliance, seemingly bent on providing just the split with powerful and important allies that China, Iran and Russia would like to exploit.

Such is the case with the efforts to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Both the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made the pilgrimage to Washington to urge Mr. Trump not to scrap the agreement. Their failure is very similar to what happened with the Paris climate accord, and to what is happening now with unilateral American sanctions imposed on steel and aluminum imports, and to Mr. Trump’s decision to move the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

And with each breach, it becomes clearer that trans-Atlantic relations are in trouble, and that the options are not good for the United States’ closest European allies.

However angry and humiliated, those allies do not yet seem ready to confront Mr. Trump, wishing to believe that he and his aides can be influenced over time. It is reminiscent of what Samuel Johnson said of second marriages: a triumph of hope over experience.

But there are signs that patience is wearing thin, and that many are searching for solutions as Mr. Trump, in the name of “America First,” creates a vacuum of trans-Atlantic leadership that the Europeans have so far seemed incapable or unwilling to fill.

“The allies are certainly sick of this but don’t seem to have an alternative,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a former career State Department official now at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“The Europeans are invested down a path of trying to please the president, not out of belief but more hope against hope that they will convince him,” he added. “And they only pursue this at such a level of embarrassment because they don’t have an alternative.”

That is at least for now. After their statement on Tuesday regretting Mr. Trump’s response and promising to work with Iran to preserve the deal, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany are to meet on Monday with Iranian officials “to consider the entire situation,” said the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Mr. Le Drian said that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, planned to speak to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, by telephone on Wednesday about “our wish to stay in the agreement,” potentially widening a breach with the Trump administration.

But the real question for the Europeans, Mr. Shapiro said, “is not if they stick with the deal but will they stand up to the American effort to unravel it and take active measures to protect their companies and banks trading in Iran?” That would be “an extremely confrontational stance,” he said, “and it’s not clear that their companies really want that.”

While some think that they should double down on what has now become a pattern — keep talking to Mr. Trump and his aides, hoping to convince them of the need for trans-Atlantic solidarity — others have had enough.

There are increasing voices for rupture. In Britain, Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party spokeswoman on foreign affairs, said on Tuesday that it was time for Europeans to stop “this long and unnecessary indulgence of Donald Trump.”

A senior adviser to the European Union, Nathalie Tocci, said that the Iran deal was a lost cause, because “Trump and Europe have fundamentally different objectives.”

She said that Mr. Trump “is not interested in keeping a nuclear nonproliferation agreement but in regime change in Iran — it’s as simple as that.”

“We have to stop being wimps,” she added.

On climate and trade, on international law, and on the importance of multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, the rift with the Trump administration is real, said Ms. Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Relations and a close adviser to the European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

“Can’t we defend what our own interests are?” Ms. Tocci asked. “There is something as fundamental at stake here as the trans-Atlantic bond, because Europe can’t exist in a nonmultilateral space,” a world of competing nationalism and protectionism.

“Isn’t it wiser,” she asked, “to temporarily part ways with the Trump administration?” After all, she noted, something similar happened in 2003 over the American-led invasion of Iraq, yet relations were repaired when a new president came along.

Ivo H. Daalder, a former American ambassador to NATO, sees such as break as inevitable. “At some point — after having pushed the Europeans on NATO, Paris, the Jerusalem embassy move, trade and now Iran — the Europeans will come to the conclusion that they’re better off going their own way,” he said. “And that point is rapidly approaching.”

But whatever the mutterings in Berlin, London and Paris, European governments currently show no palpable sign that they are ready to make that sort of separation.

A year ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany spoke of a more self-reliant Europe, saying: “We have to know that we Europeans must fight for our own future and destiny,” and that “we in Europe have to take our fate into our own hands.” The French have often talked of “strategic autonomy” for Europe.

But little has happened, other than a modest effort by the European Union to improve its efficiency and cooperation in military spending, a program known as Pesco.

The European Union has instead been preoccupied with other dangers — populism, migration, Islamophobia — and the challenge to its values of democracy and rule of law from member states like Hungary and Poland.

On the Iran deal, Britain, France and Germany have already said that they will uphold the terms and will work to keep Iran in the agreement.

To that end, senior officials of the three countries and of the European Union met with an Iranian counterpart in Brussels on Tuesday, before Mr. Trump announced his decision.

European officials are “working on plans to protect the interests of European companies,” Maja Kocijancic, a European Union spokeswoman for foreign affairs, said after the meeting.

That is likely to include euro-based financing for some companies and efforts at legislation to block secondary sanctions from the United States.

But Mr. Shapiro pointed out that European companies feel too vulnerable to risk American sanctions. “What they might lose in Iran is dwarfed by the American market and the reach of the American banking system,” he said.

Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Europe was “increasingly irrelevant.”

“From Washington’s perspective, the Europeans seem happy to kick the can down the road, which is effectively hollowing out the deal the Europeans spent 10 years trying to conclude,” she said.

If the Europeans “are not willing or able to put more teeth into talks with Washington,” she said, “we risk becoming irrelevant on the political side, too.”

There are also calmer voices, more resigned to adaptation. “Nobody thinks the trans-Atlantic alliance is over,” said Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to Washington.

“But how do we make it work with a U.S. leadership that doesn’t want to play the role of leader?” he asked. “How do we move ahead in a world, not without the U.S., but with an American leadership not willing to play its traditional role?”

The hard part for Europe, Mr. Vimont said, would be saving the partnership with Washington while avoiding “the slow drift toward confrontation between Iran and its neighbors and Washington.”

With Europe pushed by the United States to side with Iran on the nuclear deal and to side with China on the trade deal, he said, “it’s going to be very tricky.”