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Hezbollah Suffers Syria Blowback in Beirut Bombings: Fouad Ajami, Bloomberg, Nov. 20, 2013 Hassan Nasrallah, the dreadful Shiite cleric who commands the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement, couldn’t get what he wanted.
Libya’s Resurgent Violence: Editorial Board, New York Times, Nov. 20, 2013 — One year ago, officials in the transition government in Libya spoke of making progress toward integrating rival militias into a cohesive security force that could stabilize the country as it seeks to become a democracy.
Russia and Egypt: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 14, 2013 — Just as the red carpet was being rolled out in Cairo in honor of the visiting Russian foreign and defense ministers, Egypt’s headliners were busy declaring that nothing had altered in their country’s geopolitical orientation.
A Saudi-Israel Alliance Against Iran?: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Nov. 17, 2013 — The administration is again floating rumors of an impending nuclear agreement with Iran this weekend, leaving Israel and other nations worried about the prospect assessing their options.
U.S. Should Be Wary of Iran’s Goal to Dominate the Middle East: Joseph Lieberman & Vance Serchuk, Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2013
Egypt and Israel Spar Over Gaza as Sinai Crisis Escalates: Geoffrey Aronson, Al-Monitor, Nov. 20, 2013
Beirut Attack Marks Militant Resurgence: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 21, 2013
U.S. Officials Warn of Insurgents Streaming Into Syria: Greg Miller, Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2013
Tunisia Islamists Seek Jihad in Syria With One Eye on Home: Patrick Markey & Tarek Amara, Reuters, Nov. 18, 2013
Bloomberg, Nov. 20, 2013
Hassan Nasrallah, the dreadful Shiite cleric who commands the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement, couldn’t get what he wanted. He had plunged his militia into the war in Syria, he had helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and he had bragged about the prowess of his fighters. Yet he had asked that the fight for Syria be waged only on Syrian soil. The two bombings that hit the Iranian embassy in a Hezbollah neighborhood of Beirut on Tuesday should have delivered to Nasrallah a truth known to all protagonists in this fight. There are no easy victories, no way that the fire could rage in Syria while life went on as usual in Beirut.
It was Nasrallah — and by extension his Iranian paymasters — who wrote the grim new rules of the Syrian war. Assad hadn’t been able to prevail against the Sunni rebellion. The Russian weapons and Iranian money, deployed on his behalf, hadn’t sufficed. The Iranian desire for a measure of deniability had come up against the incompetence of Assad’s armed forces: The dictator’s supporters were barbarians, but defections from the ranks, and the flagrant sectarian base of his regime, had forced the Iranians into the open. This is when Iran decreed the entry of Hezbollah into the fight.
It didn’t matter whether Nasrallah and his lieutenants were enthusiastic about this new mission beyond Lebanon’s borders. The Hezbollah leaders are at once players in the Lebanese political game and self-professed soldiers in Iran’s revolutionary brigades. The effective leader of Hezbollah isn’t Nasrallah in his bunker, but Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, in Tehran. Iran’s power and money and protection raised Nasrallah, a child of Beirut’s most wretched slum, to his position as mightiest warlord in Lebanon.
Iran may have been pressed for money at home, hobbled by sanctions, but the money kept coming to Beirut. There was money for Hezbollah’s gunmen, there was a television station, Al Manar, that spread Iran’s message. A vast relief network enabled Nasrallah to pose as a benefactor of impoverished Shiites and to ask his followers for ever greater sacrifices. Nasrallah’s mission was clear: He and his fighters were to make Iran a power of the Mediterranean and, by way of Lebanon, a veritable neighbor of Israel.
Once Iran had committed itself to Assad’s survival, Hezbollah forces were on their way to Syria. This war kept no secrets. At first, Hezbollah fighters who fell in battle were given quiet burials. Their death notices were ambiguous — they died while performing “jihadi duty.” A vicious battle last May for Qusayr, a town near the Lebanese border, shattered the ambiguity. Hezbollah fighters prevailed at a price. Their triumphalism was abhorrent. They defied the sensibilities of Sunnis everywhere. They raised Shiite banners atop a Sunni mosque. There had been an unwritten pact that all parties to the sectarian feuds of Lebanon would keep a distance from Syria’s struggle, lest the divisions tear Lebanon apart.
For the Sunnis of Lebanon, once masters of the coastal cities of Beirut, Sidon and Tripoli, Qusayr was a summons to battle. They had watched Hezbollah gunmen overrun their beloved West Beirut; they had seen Shiite squatters from the southern hinterland and Bekaa Valley swamp Beirut and alter its demography. They had bristled at the emergence of Iran and its embassy and its agents as a power in their midst. The two suicide bombers who struck the Iranian embassy, one on a motorcycle and the other behind the wheel of a car loaded with more than 100 pounds of explosives, were Lebanese members of al-Qaeda, “two heroes of the Sunnis of Beirut,” according to a statement on Twitter.
The Sunni jihad in Syria had come to Beirut, and Nasrallah and his Iranian masters have to accept that this was the war they made. Iran plays a double game. It feigns respectability in regional affairs; it even wants a role in the negotiations over Syria, if and when these negotiations materialize. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, described Syria in an article under his name in the Washington Post as a “civilizational jewel,” even as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah fighters have heaped grief and loss on Syrian civilians.
But the attack in Beirut is a stark confirmation that Iran has run out of deniability for its deeds in Syria
New York Times, Nov. 20, 2013
One year ago, officials in the transition government in Libya spoke of making progress toward integrating rival militias into a cohesive security force that could stabilize the country as it seeks to become a democracy. Today, the situation teeters toward civil war as rival militias provoke a rising tide of violence and Libya, awash in arms, continues to serve as a base for the smuggling of weapons into places like Mali. Militia fighters on Friday killed dozens of people in Tripoli when they fired on unarmed demonstrators protesting against the militias.
After the rebels helped oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, they banded into hundreds, some say thousands, of militias, each with its own ideology and regional alliance. Riven by feuds, they have largely refused government pleas to disarm or integrate into the country’s official armed forces. On Monday, the militias from the anti-Qaddafi stronghold of Misurata, who were blamed for most of Friday’s violence, withdrew from Tripoli and the Libyan army took up positions around the capital. The government has announced plans to remove all militias from the capital and eventually integrate them into the official security forces. Whether this can be accomplished remains unknown. Not only do the militias vastly exceed the army and police forces in size and arsenals, they have often been enlisted by the government to bolster its own security needs because the army and police are so weak. The withdrawal of the Misurata fighters still leaves other rival militias competing for influence in the city.
Gaining control of the militias is a huge challenge. Since last spring, the United States, Britain and Italy have been planning a multiyear program to train and equip a Libyan force of about 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers and a separate, smaller unit for specialized counterterrorism missions. This would give the government a core of strengthened forces around which to build its national security structure. On Saturday, however, the leader of the United States Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven, said no final decision on the training mission had been made. The project won’t deliver immediate results, but it needs to begin soon.
Despite the recent violence, hundreds of university students on Tuesday marched in Tripoli, chanting against the militias and demanding that the army and police assert themselves. There were reports that religious figures, including the grand mufti of Libya, has sided with the protesters and spoken out against the militias as well. If such groups form the backbone of a national reconciliation movement that unifies Libya’s tribal, regional and political groups there might be hope for a permanent, democratic structure. Libya will need the United States and Europe as more active partners in that difficult task.
Jerusalem Post, Nov. 14, 2013
Just as the red carpet was being rolled out in Cairo in honor of the visiting Russian foreign and defense ministers, Egypt’s headliners were busy declaring that nothing had altered in their country’s geopolitical orientation. According to them, all is as it was – they still are officially allies of the US, still cooperate with its intelligence agencies and would still welcome American economic largesse. But the very fact that the Egyptian leadership felt bound to articulate and accentuate a business-as-usual message indicates that its business agenda is anything but usual. The very fact that high-level and high-profile Russian visits are taking place for the first time in a very long time, replete with pomp and circumstance, attests quite loudly that things are hardly quite what they were.
It is not difficult to pinpoint the triggers for change. The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime was greeted with undisguised American displeasure and was followed by Washington’s decision to suspend much of the $1.3 billion earmarked for military aid to Egypt each year. The US not only withheld cash subsidies but indefinitely deferred the delivery of large-scale military systems. Egyptian government spokesmen described this as “wrongheaded” and vowed that Cairo would “not surrender to American pressure.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to punctuate the American moves with the assurance that this wasn’t “a withdrawal from our relationship.” Yet he was as unconvincing as the official Egyptian assurances that the Russian ministerial visits signify no policy departure on Cairo’s part. The more persistent the denials, the clearer it is that a marked shift is taking place in international ties that until recently bound the world’s single superpower with the most populous Arab state. The Russian ministerial visits were preceded by a visit by the chief of Russian intelligence and by Russian naval vessels. More important, the visits by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu involve a major sale to Egypt of sophisticated Russian military hardware – clearly a counter move to the American halting of weapons supplies.
The Egyptians are essentially saying that they can shop elsewhere and not have to shell out cash. According to reliable reports, another exasperated American ally, Saudi Arabia, is footing the bill for this transaction to the tune of $4b. The Russians may receive additional compensation in the form of access for their navy to port facilities on the Mediterranean. Like it or not, this smacks of a return – if not fully in substance then at least in appearance – to the days of the Cold War when Egypt enjoyed unstinting Soviet support, enabling Moscow and Cairo to thumb their noses at Washington.
Egypt’s latest rulers might be realistic enough not to expect the same now, and likewise today’s Kremlin likely does not expect to wield quite the same clout as yesteryear, but the direction is unmistakable. Russia is eager for a toehold in Egypt and Egypt has every reason to play along to spite US President Barack Obama and Kerry, who are resented for what are regarded in Cairo as their sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama and Kerry may proclaim ad infinitum that they were only supporting democratic rule in Egypt but this will not wash. For one thing, the deposed Mohamed Morsi violated his country’s constitution and limited the authority of the courts in clear contravention of democratic precepts. But, far more telling, Muslim Brotherhood adherents denounce the Obama administration with vituperation that markedly exceeds that of their political antagonists in Egypt. Obama and Kerry figured this out a tad tardily and on his recent stopover in Cairo, Kerry sought to talk his Egyptian interlocutors out of the Russian deal by offering to restore full military aid. Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, however, made it clear that Egypt intends to take whatever it can get from both sides.
The Russian reappearance in this region is entirely made-in-America and it was hardly unavoidable. This serious-cum-superfluous complication in already too problematical an arena constitutes yet another spectacular US foreign policy flop, arising from a fundamental failure to fathom the Middle East’s intricacies.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Commentary, Nov. 17, 2013
The administration is again floating rumors of an impending nuclear agreement with Iran this weekend, leaving Israel and other nations worried about the prospect assessing their options. Given the proven lack of professionalism and incompetence of the Obama foreign-policy team and Iran’s predilection for stringing Western interlocutors along, any assumption that an accord is a certainty when the parties meet again in Geneva later this week is unjustified. But given Secretary of State John Kerry’s obvious zeal for a deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia are looking to France for some assurances that it will continue to play the unlikely role of the diplomatic conscience of the West, as it did at the last meeting of the P5+1 talks. French President Francois Hollande reiterated his demands for a tougher deal that would make it harder for Iran to break any pact intended to spike their nuclear ambitions during a visit to Israel.
The French are still apparently holding out for conditions that Iran may never accept, such as putting all of their nuclear facilities under international control, ceasing construction of the plutonium plant at Arak and reduction of their existing uranium stockpiles. But France is still accepting the principle that Tehran can go on enriching uranium, albeit at low levels. Which means that Israel must still be pondering the very real possibility that it will be faced with a situation in which it will not be able to rely on the U.S. to act against Iran.
It is in that context that the story published today by Britain’s Sunday Times about Israel and Saudi Arabia preparing to cooperate on a strike against Iran must be understood. According to the paper, both countries rightly believe a Western deal with Iran would likely be a disaster that would expose them to a deadly threat. Accordingly, they are, if this report is to be believed, exploring the possibility of the Saudis offering the Israelis the use of their air space for strikes on Iran as well as providing rescue aircraft, tanker planes, and drones to facilitate a possible attack. Let’s state upfront that these details should be viewed with some skepticism.
There will be those who will file this story along with last year’s much-publicized rumor about Azerbaijan preparing to help Israel hit Iran. When that story was first floated, it was leaked by Obama administration sources that probably hoped to reduce any cooperation between the Azeris and Israel by exposing it. But the fact that the Saudis are almost as panicked by Washington’s desire for détente with Iran as the Israelis is not exactly a secret. Whether they have gone so far as to do some planning about how to help the Israelis hit their hated Iranian enemy may be debated. Certainly doing so would expose Riyadh to considerable criticism in the Muslim and Arab worlds. But even if the story is exaggerated or inaccurate, it says something about the current situation that an alliance of this sort between Jerusalem and a sworn enemy of Zionism is even thinkable.
The point here is that when Kerry assured the world that he was neither blind nor stupid, it’s obvious that the Israelis and Saudis are prepared to answer in the affirmative with respect to both adjectives. By rushing to a deal that would, even in its most stringent form, effectively guarantee Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, the West is setting in motion a train of events that could very well lead to the Islamist regime eventually achieving its nuclear ambition. The Israelis and the Saudis both know Iran is, like North Korea, perfectly capable of cheating and evading international observers in such a manner as to use its considerable existing uranium stockpile to create a bomb. Moreover, they have also, like Iran, probably already come to the conclusion that the Obama administration has no intention of ever making good on any threat to use force against Iran.
Iran is probably still more interested in employing its traditional delaying tactics that give them more time to work on their nuclear project than in signing a deal, no matter how favorable it might be to their cause. But they’d be smart to snatch the kind of lopsided nuclear deal Kerry is trying to sell them. The Israelis and Saudis know this and have to consider the possibility that President Obama is about to leave them both on their own and that France won’t hold out indefinitely for better terms. So even if you don’t believe that the Mossad has already begun talks with Saudi officials, there’s no doubt both countries are clearly thinking about how they will survive a Western betrayal on Iran.
U.S. Should Be Wary of Iran’s Goal to Dominate the Middle East: Joseph Lieberman & Vance Serchuk, Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2013 — As nuclear negotiators in Geneva renew their attempts to strike a deal with Iran, predictions of a diplomatic breakthrough are rife.
Egypt and Israel Spar Over Gaza as Sinai Crisis Escalates: Geoffrey Aronson, Al-Monitor, Nov. 20, 2013 — Former Palestinian strongman Mohammed Dahlan was in Cairo recently where, according to a well-informed Palestinian source, he met with Egypt's military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Beirut Attack Marks Militant Resurgence: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 21, 2013 — As new details emerged about twin suicide bombings near the Iranian Embassy here, Lebanese officials described an outburst of violence that reveals the resurgence of al Qaeda-inspired groups in their country, a toxic byproduct of the Syrian war.
U.S. Officials Warn of Insurgents Streaming Into Syria: Greg Miller, Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2013 — The number of foreign fighters flowing into Syria is growing as the civil war stretches into its third year, raising concern that insurgents trained by Al-Qaeda-linked groups will spread their ideology and return to their native countries determined to mount attacks on Western targets, senior U.S. intelligence officials said Wednesday.
Tunisia Islamists Seek Jihad in Syria With One Eye on Home: Patrick Markey & Tarek Amara, Reuters, Nov. 18, 2013 — Aymen Saadi's brief call to jihad began with dreams of fighting for an Islamic state in Syria and ended with a botched suicide bombing attempt in a crowd of foreign tourists in Tunisia.
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