John Brennan’s Careful Dodge of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Abuses

In his appearance as the Council on Foreign Relations today, a woman with Human Rights Watch listed (starting at 56:30) a number of abuses our “partners” in the fight against ISIL engage in, including,

  • The ABC report of egregious abuses committed by some of Iraq’s elite military units
  • Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS like atrocities
  • Beheadings and violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia

She then asked, “How do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance”?

After clearing his throat, Brennan responded,

It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas. It is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of I-S-I-L or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped. In an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses and this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

Brennan changed a question that twice explicitly included Saudi Arabia to one that included only Syria and Iraq. Which he would have to do — because the US is not about to stop working with “entities” like Saudi Arabia, even if they do behead as many people as ISIL.


The Raiding of Ukraine’s Gold


At present, Ukraine is teetering on the brink of a default. Its rapidly dwindling gold and foreign exchange reserves are an indication of the country’s catastrophic financial situation. According to official data, on 1 February 2015 Ukraine’s international reserves amounted to $6,419.7 million. This is a triflingly small amount for a country like Ukraine. Given that the country’s average monthly imports last year were at the $5 billion level, Ukraine only has enough gold and foreign exchange reserves to cover imports for a little more than a month (in line with IMF recommendations, a country should have a minimum reserve equivalent to three months of imports).

The core of any country’s international reserves is monetary gold. It is the most qualitative part of reserves, is independent of the political climate and is an emergency world currency. The issue of Ukraine’s gold, however, is shrouded in a mist of uncertainty and disinformation.

There are the official statistics of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), of course, which are duplicated in the reports of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This information for the past four years can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1.

Ukraine’s gold reserves (monetary gold)

Date Millions of US dollars
On 01.01.2015 1249.0
On 01.01.2012 1385.3
On 01.01.2013 1890.4
On 01.01.2014 1640.2
On 01.01.2015 911.1
On 01.02.2015 967.3

According to this data, on 1 February 2015, the amount of monetary gold in Ukraine’s international reserves was equal to 15.1 per cent. The other main components of the international reserves were as follows: foreign cash and deposits – 20.8 per cent, and investments in securities – 63.9 per cent. The information in Table 1 is given in value terms, while the NBU’s monetary gold is defined as physical gold (standard bullion), gold swaps and gold deposits. To be more convincing, Ukraine’s monetary authorities are also providing information on gold in physical terms – in troy ounces and tonnes. According to the NBU, the country’s gold reserves equalled 0.76 million ounces on 1 January 2015 and 0.77 million on 1 February.

As Table 1 shows, there have been fairly significant fluctuations in the value of gold reserves over the last four years. Last year saw a sharp decline of almost 45 per cent. Let us look more closely at what happened to Ukraine’s gold reserves in 2014. Ukraine’s monetary authorities and the IMF are accounting for the decline in gold reserves as sales of the metal, and unusually large sales took place in the autumn. According to the IMF, Ukraine sold nearly 16 tonnes of gold in October and November, and in December the level of gold reserves came to a stop at the 23.64-tonne mark. The NBU explained that the sale of a third of its gold reserves was related to optimising the structure of international reserves.

However, many experts today do not have a great deal of trust in the official information being provided by the NBU and IMF. Gold specialists know that statistics on gold reserves and gold transactions can be fairly misleading. The falsification of gold reserve statistics began in the 1990s and was designed to conceal illegal gold transactions which involved, among others, the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Falsified statistics allow the theft of gold from the reserves of central banks and treasuries and its relocation to the vaults of the largest private funds and banks to be covered up.

Much has already been written about this shadow market of precious metal. The Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee, an international non-governmental organisation, investigates the secret transactions of the so-called ‘gold trust’, which steals gold and then uses this stolen gold to manipulate the gold market, thereby influencing the overall situation in the global financial and foreign exchange market. The ‘gold trust’ (also referred to as the ‘gold cartel’) is the most important tool of the global financial oligarchy building a new world order.

One of the methods allowing for the falsification of gold statistics is the equating of gold deposits with physical gold and their unification under the common name of ‘monetary gold’. There may not actually be any physical gold in the vaults of a central bank, it may have been moved to another country, but it is possible to formalise this transaction as the placement of gold in a gold deposit account. It is more than likely that this gold will never return to the central bank, but it will continue to be listed on its balance sheet as ‘monetary gold’.

There is speculation that this is what has been done with Ukraine’s gold reserves. According to GATA experts, the global financial oligarchy carries out raids on the gold reserves of any country that has found itself in a difficult economic situation. In this regard, Ukraine is an ideal target for such gold raids.

The fact that there is virtually no physical gold left in Ukraine was let slip by the president of the National Bank of Ukraine, Valeriya Hontareva. In November 2014, she admitted that following the autumn sales of the precious metal, gold accounted for less than 1 per cent of the NBU’s international reserves. Most probably, it was physical gold in the vaults of the NBU that the official was referring to. According to official statistics, however, at that point in time gold accounted for nearly 8 per cent of all Ukrainian reserves ($988.6 million in value terms).

Let us recall events that took place in Kiev a year ago, at the beginning of March. On 7 March, shortly after the uprising and Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s puppet government came to power, an unmarked transport plane took off from Boryspil International Airport in Kiev. Witnesses (airport staff) reported that four trucks and two Volkswagen minibuses drove up to the plane before it took off. None of the vehicles had license plates. Fifteen people in black uniforms, masks and body armour stepped out of the vehicles, some armed with machine guns. They loaded nearly 40 boxes into the plane. The loading was done in a hurry and the plane took off soon after it had been completed. The witnesses reported it to airport officials, but were told not to meddle in other people’s affairs. Sometime later, Ukrainian media received information from an official with the disbanded Ministry of Revenues and Duties. The official stated that on the orders of the new Ukrainian authorities, all of the country’s gold reserves had been taken to the US. You will recall that on the eve of the events of 7 March 2014, the value of the gold in the NBU’s reserves was $1.8 billion, which is equal to approximately 40 tonnes of metal.

According to one of the versions of 7 March, however, it was not monetary gold that was removed from the country, but objects of cultural and historical value. This was also gold, so-called Scythian gold. Pavel Zarifullin, the head of Moscow’s Lev Gumilev Centre, claims it was done on the basis of an agreement between the US authorities and Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Washington promised to help Yatsenyuk obtain an IMF loan, and the Scythian gold was to fulfil the function of securing future credit. According to Zarifullin, the value of the stolen cultural objects far exceeds the value of the gold that the objects are made from, and is as much as $20 billion.

The authorities of Ukraine and the US have opted to remain silent on the mysterious goings on at Boryspil airport. Oleg Tsarov, a former People’s Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, has asked the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to look into evidence that «Russian art was stolen from the National Museum of Kiev by so-called ‘local defence’ militants». Similar requests by deputies have been sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and to Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting President of Ukraine at the time. So far, however, there has been no response.

Authorities in the US are not responding to such questions either. One of the founders and the head of GATA, Chris Powell, has queried the Federal Reserve Bank of New York about Ukraine’s gold (this Federal Reserve System bank specialises in storing the gold of other countries). The response was as follows: «Any inquiry regarding gold accounts should be directed to the account holder. You may want to contact the National Bank of Ukraine to discuss this report». Powell then queried the US State Department, but from there was referred back to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. After this, Powell sent out queries to the National Bank of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Embassy in the US and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN. The responses were vague and cleared up nothing. As a result, the head of GATA concluded that: «The difficulty in getting a straight answer here is pretty good evidence that the Ukrainian gold indeed has been sent to the United States». On GATA’s website, Powell writes that the Ukrainian gold will linger in the vaults of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for a while. The stolen property will then move from hand to hand, ultimately ending up in the vaults of banks that belong to a small handful of representatives of the global financial oligarchy

US to provide $70 million to militants in Syria: State Department

PressTV – The US State Department has announced that Washington would provide about $70 million in additional “non-lethal” aid to groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In a statement on Friday, the State Department said the Obama administration is working with Congress over the assistance.

According to the State Department, the new aid would bring total US support to the anti-government groups to about $400 million.

The announcement came one day after the United States called on the Syrian president to step down and accused his government of being authoritarian and brutal against the Syrian people.

“For four years the Assad regime has answered Syrians’ calls for freedom and reform with unrelenting brutality, authoritarianism and destruction,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

The United States and its regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

The United Nations said more than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the turmoil that has gripped Syria for nearly four years.

A political activist told Press TV that the US and Europe “underestimated” the solid power base of President Assad within the Arab country.

President Assad “has no intention of stepping down and he has a very solid base of power in the country,” said Jennifer Loewenstein, who is the Associate director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“But the Americans and other Western powers underestimated his strength… and the alliance of those people associated with his government,” Loewenstein said on Friday.

If bankers want the gain, they should feel the pain

Rona Fairhead before the Public Accounts Committee
Rona Fairhead giving her ‘30,000 feet defence’ to the Commons public accounts committee: ‘If you can’t rely on experts, then what can you do?’ Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Students at Harvard Business School probably know little of Millwall Football Club. Nevertheless the corporate titans of the future might do well to learn from the luckless London team, now sunk at the bottom of the English game’s second tier and set to be relegated to its third.

Which is not to say that the financial masters of the universe are not already expert in one aspect of Millwall lore. Paying themselves squillions and ignoring the protest and revulsion that come with it, they made Millwall’s chant – “No one likes us, we don’t care” – their own years ago. But the Millwall lesson I have in mind is more recent.

On Tuesday the club sacked its manager, Ian Holloway. After a run of defeats, Holloway lost the fans and was gone. It followed a brutal, basic logic: the boss gets the credit when the team do well, so he gets the blame when they do badly. That’s why he gets the big money. Here’s what Holloway did not say when challenged over Millwall’s terrible loss of form. “Ah, but that was nothing to do with me. As the senior management figure, I cannot be held responsible for every little transaction, every pass and tackle, on the pitch. I have to rely on those who report to me. If the team has been performing badly, prime responsibility lies with those on the ground, namely the players.”

If Holloway had tried that, he’d have been run out of town. No manager would dare utter the words. Bear that in mind as you recall the evidence given by HSBC’s top brasswhen they appeared before the public accounts committee of the House of Commons this week.

The star witness was Rona Fairhead, now chair of the BBC Trust, but crucially chair of HSBC’s audit committee until 2010 – in place during the period when, as the Guardian recently revealed, the bank’s Swiss arm was engaged in assisting clients with the most egregious tax evasion.

Asked why she hadn’t spotted this misconduct, Fairhead promptly passed the buck to the outside experts who were meant to keep her informed. “If you can’t rely on experts, then what can you do?” she asked plaintively, in a variation of that age-old complaint of the privileged, “You just can’t get the staff”. The notion that – for the £500,000-plus she was paid for doing between 75 and 100 days work a year for HSBC – she ought to have done her own digging to get to the truth seemed beyond her. Nor did it apparently cross her mind that if the information supply to her audit committee was wayward, that too might be her responsibility.

We shouldn’t single out Fairhead. Alongside her was Chris Meares, a past head of the bank’s private banking operation. As the man on the touchline, barking instructions to the players, surely he would admit responsibility. But no. MPs asked him again and again if he was culpable for what happened while he was at the top, but Meares conceded only that he may have been responsible for “control failings”. He was not in “day to day” charge of the Swiss operation and so couldn’t take the blame.

In the corporate universe, they call this “the 30,000 feet defence”. It argues that those who operate at such a high altitude can’t possibly be held to account for – or even know about – the antics of the little people below.

It made an early appearance 20 years ago, when rogue trader Nick Leeson brought down Barings. In those relatively innocent days, the bank’s chairman and deputy chairman felt compelled to resign swiftly – but they avoided punishment by arguing that they were far too senior to know what was going on. And who can forget the Murdochs, father and son, telling a Commons committee in 2011 that they were shocked, shocked, to learn how their bestselling British newspaper had been getting its front-page stories? They were far too elevated to know of such things. The courts eventually accepted that the same was true of the former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks.

Other defences are available, of course. Some insist any failure is collective. Note the official report into the RBS disaster, and its verdict of “multiple poor decisions” by the whole board. That was handy. For if everyone is responsible, then no one is.

Or it somehow doesn’t involve human beings at all. It’s a “system failure”, akin to a computer breakdown. Stephen Green, the former HSBC head, spoke of “failures of implementation” when the bank was exposed for its regarding the bank’s role in Mexican money-laundering – a phrase conveniently free of human agency or culpability.

No wonder Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Commons Treasury committee, speaks of an “accountability firewall” when it comes to the banking industry: you can’t get anyone to admit to anything. (Let’s hope Tyrie doesn’t give up on interrogating Green, if not in this parliament then in the next, no matter howembarrassing to a Tory leadership that made the former HSBC boss a trade minister.)

In a way, the buck-passing has a logic. In an organisation such as HSBC, with 300,000 employees, it’s a Herculean task for one individual to know what they’re all up to. But that’s why these top jobs get Herculean rewards. The implicit deal for top chief executives and chairmen should be quite simple. Either you’re blessed with an extraordinary managerial talent that enables you to watch over so many people at once that you deserve these stratospheric sums of money – or you’re not, in which case you should be paid on a par with lesser mortals.

At present the financial uber-class expect to have the best of both worlds – all the rewards of being in charge without paying the price of responsibility. It’s an individual version of the injustice laid bare during the great crash: that while gains are privatised, losses are socialised. The bankers get the big bonuses when things go right, the taxpayers bail them out when things go wrong.

All this only grows more infuriating with the knowledge that the public realm still insists on accountability from the person at the top: just ask the last director general of the BBC. Some parts of the commercial sphere are the same, as Ian Holloway can testify. But the upper echelons of corporate life remain out of reach. That feeds the deeper sense, which lingers still, that those responsible for the calamity of 2008 have never been held properly to account for the damage they wrought.

We have so few tools available to us – chief among them Margaret Hodge and her committee, committed to shaming the apparently shameless – that the high rollers can seem to be immune behind their accountability firewall. We need stronger weapons in our arsenal. To adapt the old Millwall chant: no one likes them – it’s time we made them care.

John Brennan Predicts the Dissolution of the Nation-State Structure

Rather than asking John Brennan challenging questions about the CIA reform, Charlie Rose instead asked John Brennan what he saw as the challenge to CIA’s analytical function over the next 15 years (around 39:50).

The world is becoming more and more challenging. Nation-states are under increasing challenge and threat. More and more, we see individuals in different corners of the world who are identifying with sub-national groups and organizations. And so just the authority of nation-states and governments I think is being looked at in a different way than it did just 20 years ago. And so this is one of the things that we really have to be able to understand and anticipate and work with foreign governments because if you’re going to have basically the dissolution of the nation-state structure that we’ve had for centuries, it’s really going to be even a more chaotic world.

I don’t actually disagree with Brennan. I’ve been saying we’re headed for NeoFeudalism for over a decade.

That said, the policies of the US government are really fostering this change. Drones — as well as increased reliance on paramilitary forces — are one thing that contributes to this. So do trade agreements, especially the ones the US is trying to force on Asia and Europe right now. US demands that its corporations help the US spy in other countries is another factor.

Yet, nevertheless, the government is pursuing these policies even while recognizing that the dissolution of the nation-state system will bring much more chaos.

Brennan describes it like a bug, but US policy suggests it’s a feature.

When the facts on C-51 are against you, insult the witnesses

Photo: mtsrs/flickr

Last night’s hearing into Bill C-51, omnibus anti-terrorism legislation, began as the morning’s, with witnesses expressing their opposition to all or parts of it. It ended with Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy accusing one presenter — yes, the group representing Muslims — of supporting terrorism. But hey, where logic fails, try deflection. The news today is guaranteed to be about Ablonczy’s comments and not, or much less so, the expert testimony of Kent Roach, Craig Forcese, Alex Neve (Amnesty International), Ihsaan Gardee (NCCM) and others who, to put it bluntly, tore C-51 a new one today.

The National Airlines Council of Canada, represented by Executive Director Marc-André O’Rourke, started us off with a relatively benign request to clarify one line in the entire bill. Canada’s airlines are worried C-51 gives the Minister of Public Safety too much authority to complicate their lives. That’s because it authorizes the minister to ask the airlines to do “anything” the government thinks could reasonably stop someone from engaging in a prohibited act (see Section 9 [1] of the Secure Air Travel Act). There are examples listed in the legislation, like denying someone the right to board, or performing screening against a watch-list (things airline workers do now), but the “anything” still bugs them.

As O’Rourke explained, the airline employees are the ones telling people they’re on one of several watch-lists, they can’t say which, and that there’s nothing they can do to take them off or otherwise help them further. As civil liberties experts explained at this morning’s hearing, the process is right out of Kafka. The industry would appreciate if the police could step in if the plan is to expand the number of people on the no-fly list, said O’Rourke, and help offset any additional costs that come with additional screening.

The presentation was somewhat overshadowed by the following one-two blow from legal experts Craig Forcese and Kent Roach. You can read the whole thing here, and by now their detailed disassembly of C-51 is surely worrying the government as it continues to convince other experts, editorial boards, and the general public there is something seriously wrong here. “We should not be a country that shares total and secret information about peaceful protests,” said Roach regarding C-51’s first section on information sharing with its expanded definition of what is a threat to Canada, which, he added, risks “drowning” the 17 agencies listed with all kinds of redundant information about Canada’s various protest movements. Roach later also cautions about the lack of caveats on the sharing of information with foreign governments, in fact the “anti-caveat” nature of Section 6 of the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act.

Forcese focused on the bill’s provisions for expanding CSIS powers, giving them the ability to disrupt what the agency considers to be threats to Canada (under the CSIS Act definition, where terrorism plays only a small role), suggesting it needed to be narrowed or risk being abused. “Will our most successful anti-terrorism tool, Criminal Law, be degraded by CSIS operations that muddy waters?” he asked, pointing out that CSIS is not held to the same standards as Canada’s police forces, and that C-51 doesn’t ensure, as the Air India inquiry recommended, that CSIS be required to share information on possible threats with the RCMP. “I do not doubt CSIS’s integrity. I do doubt its infallibility,” he said.

NDP MP Craig Scott asked if anything in C-51 would prevent CSIS from detaining, kidnapping or rendering someone in Canada or abroad — whether it was included in the prohibition on causing bodily harm or death. Forcese carefully replied that these limited prohibitions would not necessarily stop CSIS from detaining someone, and that it was an example of why the rules for CSIS activities must be further defined in the legislation. Subsequently, the NDP’s Rosane Doré Lefebvre asked Roach and Forcese to confirm or contradict Minister Blaney’s statements from Tuesday that C-51 merely gives CSIS the authority to do what spy agencies in other allied (Five Eyes) countries can do. Forcese said that in Australia, the U.K. and United States, security officials are not allowed to break domestic laws or the equivalent of Charter rights in their counter-terrorism or other investigations. Lawyers 1, Blaney 0.

After the break, it was Ihsaan Gardee’s turn to present the concerns of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, which says it is dedicated to protecting the human rights and civil liberties of Muslim Canadians “and by extension all Canadians.” He told committee that his organization is as committed as anyone to Canada’s security, and that Muslims are just as targeted by potential terrorist attacks as anyone else. But Muslims in Canada also fear “who is watching, who is tracking and what assumptions are being made” when they are simply going about their business, enjoying the freedoms everyone enjoys in Canada. Gardee explained how many calls he receives from Muslims who have been denied a boarding pass, declared “too dangerous to fly,” and cautioned that “You can’t simply spy and arrest your way out of this problem,” referring to this new wave of so-called radicalization of young Muslim men and women

Enter Ablonczy, who rather than ask a question of Gardee accused his organization of supporting terrorism, as former Harper media officer Jason Macdonald did just over a year ago. The NCCM sued the PMO for Macdonald’s statement, which was never redacted. Both Gardee and, later, the NDP’s Scott publicly recognized Ablonczy could get away with her comments only because of parliamentary privilege. Outside committee, they could have attracted another lawsuit. But Gardee calmly countered he was there to address Bill C-51, not answer to ridiculous (and “slanderous”) accusations.

Iran’s advances create alarm in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

Arabs believe Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a are in effect under Iranian control – and power may shift further if US sanctions are eased

Hassan Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, visiting Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran this year. Photograph: Presidential official handout/EPA

The commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been working overtime recently, flaunting their achievements across the Middle East and flexing muscles as international negotiations over the country’s nuclear programme enter their critical and perhaps final phase.

On Wednesday it was the turn of Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s most senior officer. “The Islamic revolution is advancing with good speed, its example being the ever-increasing export of the revolution,” he declared. “Not only Palestine and Lebanon acknowledge the influential role of the Islamic Republic but so do the people of Iraq and Syria. They appreciate the nation of Iran.”

Last month a similarly boastful message was delivered by General Qassem Suleimani, who leads the IRGC’s elite Quds force — and who is regularly photographed leading the fightback of Iraqi Shia miltias against the Sunni jihadis of the Islamic State (Isis) as well as against western and Arab-backed rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in southernSyria. “Imperialists and Zionists have admitted defeat at the hands of the Islamic Republic and the resistance movement,” Suleimani said.

Iran’s advances are fuelling alarm in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, where Tehran has been a strategic rival since the days of the Shah, and which now, it is said with dismay, in effect controls four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut and in the last month Sana’a in Yemen – which is uncomfortably close to home.

Iran’s regional position has certainly improved. Its high-profile role fighting Isis in Iraq, Assad’s retention of control in Syria with the help of its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebel takeover in Yemen have all been deeply discomfiting for the Saudis. Anti-government protests in Shia-majority Bahrain are also often blamed on Tehran — though that ignores the domestic roots of the unrest.

In Riyadh King Salman has dropped his preoccupation with the Muslim Brotherhood in favour of building a united Sunni Arab front to confront the Iranians, diplomats say, though translating that strategy into action is another matter. The message from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is that whatever the outcome of the nuclear talks, Iran is bent on expanding its power and influence. “The Iranians have scored major victories but only where there are Shia minorities,” a senior Gulf official told the Guardian. “Our concern is that the nuclear issue will become a tool of their foreign policy.”

Arab alarm is shared by Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu used identical arguments in his recent speech to the US Congress, timed to influence next week’s nuclear endgame in Geneva. “The Saudis will be incredibly worried that we are getting close to a point where the Iranians will be players because of the nuclear issue and the way the Americans have effectively ended up on the same side as the Iranians in Iraq,” said one veteran Saudi-watcher. “But the noise they are making is in inverse proportion to their ability to do anything about it.”

Arab governments are not reassured by the promises of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, that Washington is not seeking a “grand bargain” with Tehran that will allow it to “destabilise” the Middle East, bolstered by the easing of economic sanctions. Saud Al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned of Tehran’s “hegemonic” ambitions as the IRGC supported the military operation to retake the Iraqi town of Tikrit from Isis. In Gulf capitals Hassan Rouhani, the emollient Iranian president, is seen as less important than the hardline supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It is hard to disentangle propaganda from reality. But independent analysts argue that Iran is inflating its gains for both foreign and domestic consumption. “If you listen to Suleimani there is a degree of exaggeration,” argues Ali Ansari of St Andrews University. “It’s rhetorical reassurance. He is saying to Iranians: ‘We are powerful and and everyone is worried about this’ – partly to make the point that they are not really under pressure. People outside can see what Iran’s strengths and weaknesses are. But there is this belief that you need to negotiate from a position of strength and that if you are weak you will be trampled on.”

Iran-watcher Hossein Rassam also detects a domestic calculation in the IRGC statements. “Critics of Rouhani’s policy of rapprochement with the international community inside Iran can turn to the supreme leader and say there wasn’t really much need for that softer tone because now we have more bargaining chips in our hands. Iran is the only power in the region which can actually fight Isis and the west needs us for that.”

Meir Litvak, an Israeli expert on Iran, sees both genuine belief and posturing in Tehran’s stance. “The Iranians believe they have been able to save the Assad regime from total collapse and there is at least stalemate in Syria,” he said. “That means they have been able to maintain the link with Hezbollah and maybe open a second front by proxy against Israel on the Golan Heights. The Houthi rebellion in Yemen was initially a genuinely domestic affair but the Iranian regime saw it as an opportunity. And it has become a bonus for it – even if they are not that active in Yemen. But if the Saudis are scared that’s a plus for the Iranians.”

Arab diplomatic sources say they expect to see an IRGC and Hezbollah presence in Yemen, helped by a new agreement on regular flights between Tehran and Sana’a.

Iran’s role in Bahrain, where the Shia majority remains locked in confrontation with the Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy, is more about scoring propaganda points than material support – despite claims in Manama about Iran’s sinister role.

Still, in the heartlands of Iranian influence, Iraq and Syria, there have been significant costs as well as benefits, including the deaths of two senior IRGC commanders. Continuing sanctions and low oil prices – seen in Tehran as a deliberate strategy by the Saudis – have also made it harder to shell out billions of dollars to subsidise the Assad regime.

Iran’s great advantage, suggests Emile Hokayem, an analyst, is its commitment and competence, in Syria and beyond. “The expertise, experience and strategic patience it deployed in support of the Syrian regime to a great extent facilitated Assad’s recovery from serious setbacks in 2012. In contrast, the war in Syria has exposed not only the political and operational limitations of the Gulf states, but also the rivalries among them.”