Depressing Deductions From the War in Syria: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, May 5, 2016— For the past five years, a war in which everyone is fighting everyone else has been raging in what was once called Syria.
The Islamic State Is Targeting Syria's Alawite Heartland – And Russia: Fabrice Balanche, Washington Institute, May 27, 2016— On May 23, the Islamic State (IS) perpetrated suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh, killing 154 people and wounding more than 300.
Syrian Quagmire Delays Hizballah's Pursuit of Ultimate Objective: Yaakov Lappin, IPT, May 27, 2016— A brutal Sunni-Shi'ite war is raging across the Middle East, and the Lebanese terror organization Hizballah, originally formed to wage jihad on Israel, now finds itself in the middle.
While Ascendant, Israel’s Jihadi Neighbor Isn’t a Serious Threat: Dov Leiber, Times of Israel, May 23, 2016— Despite a pairing up of two Islamic State-linked militant groups on Israel’s northern border and a show of boldness by the new alliance, their threat to the Jewish state remains minimal, experts on jihadi groups in Syria told The Times of Israel.
Is Syria Another Afghanistan for Russia?: Micah Halpern, Observer, May 26, 2016
The ISIS Challenge in Syria; Implications for Israeli Security: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, May 8, 2016
Israel's Need to Take a Stand against the Assad Regime: A Moral Imperative and Strategic Necessity: Amos Yadlin, INSS, May 22, 2016
Life Under the Islamic State: Fines, Taxes and Punishments: Sarah Almukhtar, New York Times, May 26, 2016
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Arutz Sheva, May 5, 2016
For the past five years, a war in which everyone is fighting everyone else has been raging in what was once called Syria. At least half a million people are dead, two million injured, five million – about half the population – have become refugees, some within the country, others outside it. And there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. The ceasefire is falling apart, the mass murders continue, and it's as if Syria is located on some other planet and no one sees or hears what is going on there.
This is nothing new. What's new is the disclosure by military and defense analyst Amos Harel that the Haaretz newspaper ran as its headline on May 2: "The escalation in Syria: Assad has begun using chemical weapons again." The subtitle said: "The Syrian army used chemical weapons, most probably deadly sarin gas against ISIS fighters who attacked government property near Damascus." Chemical weapons? Sarin? Wasn’t an agreement signed in September 2013, barely three years ago – between the USA and Russia – in which it was agreed that all the chemical weapons in Assad's possession after the massacre of August 2013 would be destroyed?
As a result of the agreement and the destruction of the poisonous substances the US government managed to avoid fulfilling its commitment to act against Assad if he crossed certain red lines, that is, if he used chemical weapons against his own citizenry. The Americans even set aside a special ship whose purpose was to destroy the poisonous gases and liquids out at sea, but it has now become clear that Assad held on to a substantial amount of chemical weapons allowing him to wage chemical warfare against his enemies. He may have held on to the means of manufacturing chemical weapons as well. If so, why bother to sign agreements that are not worth the paper they are printed on in today's world?
None the less shocking is the fact that the world has done nothing, despite realizing that the agreement is a worthless piece of paper, even though the agreement stipulates that the UN Security Council will enforce it if Assad does not live up to his commitment. The impression I get is that much of the West would not lose any sleep if the Arab world, and the entire Muslim world with it, was wiped off the map in a war of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, this agreement joins a good many others that the West has signed, but not enforced. An important example is the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the Western Powers promised to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine if it gives up the nuclear weaponry it was supposed to have received as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union. What did the countries who signed the memorandum do about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and against its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine, in 2014? Not a thing. What is the Budapest Memorandum worth? Nothing. What are commitments and agreements made by the West worth? Everyone knows the answer to that question by now.
The issue is even worse when it affects the lives of so many in the third world and in particular, those in the Arab states. The West does nothing to stop the mass murders in Syria, has done nothing about the mass murders in Iraq, Libya and Yemen that have been going on unchecked for the past several years. The problem in Yemen is clear and so is its solution: a strong stand against Iran, which supports the rebels, and against Saudi Arabia, which supports the president, would have brought the hostilities to an end a long time ago, but the world – and particularly the Western part of it – are sick and tired of the Arab world's problems. The impression I get is that much of the West would not lose any sleep if the Arab world, and the entire Muslim world with it, was wiped off the map in an all-out war of mass destruction.
The war in Syria gave the world Islamic State, once called Daesh or ISIL. The entire world was aware of the thousands of volunteers, radical Muslims eager for battle, who were flooding into the Jihad fields of Syria and Iraq by way of Turkey. Every intelligence agency knew that Erdogan was helping them infiltrate into Syria to join those battling his arch-enemy, Assad. What did the world do to convince or force Turkey to cease doing this? Nothing. So who is to blame for the rapid expansion of Islamic State? Turkey alone? Or is the answer an entire slew of Western states that knew all too well the part Turkey played in smuggling Jihadists into Syria, knew that Turkey purchases Islamic State oil – because some of them do the same – knew about the arms smuggling through Turkey to Islamic State – and did nothing about it?
Worst of all is the way the world behaves towards Iran, a country which should be held responsible for a good part of the Syrian catastrophe. Iran supports Assad, a mass murderer, in every way it can: thousands of Iranian soldiers and others who came through Iran are actively fighting the rebels, massive amounts of cash travel from Iran to Syria in order to allow Assad to buy supporters in a country where there is hardly anything left to purchase with that money. Iran has injected its Lebanese cohorts, the Hezbollah, into the fray and that terrorist organization has lost thousands of fighters on the land that was once Syria.
Why is the world silent in the face of Iranian aid to mass murder? Why did the world run to sign a nuclear pact with Iran and remove the economic sanctions placed upon it? So that the hundreds of billions of dollars Iran receives can add to the fires of terror it fans in Syria, Iraq and any other place where it can buy friends?
In the Middle East, the most miserable place on this earth, Israel can survive not by the strength of its rights but by right of its strength. The West's behavior, led by the United States, in the face of the mass murders taking place in the Middle East, must turn on not only a red light but a powerful projector in order to open the eyes of Israel and its friends all over the world. The most important conclusion that Jews and Israelis must reach is to never rely on any commitment, on any agreement, oral or signed, when it comes to our own security, because when the moment of truth arrives our friends are liable to behave exactly as they did seventy years ago. Then, they were well aware that millions of Jews were being systematically murdered and did nothing to stop the genocidal Nazi machine.
Politicians, academics, artists and many public figures in the West lose no opportunity to attack Israel for what that country is forced to do to fight terror, but are struck dumb when the subject is crimes against humanity perpetrated anywhere else in the Middle East. The double standard with which they judge Israel has to be the basis of Israel's political and military behavior, especially when the subject is "Peace agreements" signed in the Middle East – pieces of paper that only the US and Europe view with a modicum of seriousness and have no intention of enforcing anyway…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Washington Institute, May 27, 2016
On May 23, the Islamic State (IS) perpetrated suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh, killing 154 people and wounding more than 300. This was the first time either coastal city had been targeted by such attacks since the beginning of the war. Tartus in particular had seemed like a haven up until Monday. It was still an attractive tourist destination because of its wide beaches, and it was in the middle of a construction boom given the arrival of internally displaced people (IDPs) from other parts of Syria — not just the Assad regime's fellow Alawites from Damascus, but also members of the Sunni majority from all across the country. Many Syrian refugees had even returned from Lebanon to Tartus because they considered life to be cheaper and safer there.
IS operatives can conduct simultaneous attacks of this nature rather easily given the corruption and nonchalance at coastal security checkpoints. I saw this problem firsthand when I visited Tartus and Latakia last month. After I crossed the border from Beirut via taxi, nobody asked me for my passport or searched my suitcase. The driver was known at each checkpoint, and by giving 100-200 Syrian pounds (10-20 cents) to those who stopped us, he was able to quietly proceed without hassle. Thanks to rampant corruption, he had also obtained a special permit to use military roads, further enabling him to avoid stringent controls. So it would be quite simple for terrorists to regularly infiltrate the Alawite heartland, which is also home to Russia's main bases in Syria. Moreover, IS could readily establish sleeper cell among its fellow Sunnis in these areas, who number in the hundreds of thousands (both locals and IDPs).
Through the latest attacks, the Islamic State is attempting to send different messages. The first is for the Alawites — IS wants to show them that the Assad regime cannot protect them. After all, the group has not attacked the nearby coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, which have larger Sunni populations. In Latakia's case, IDP flows have made Sunnis the majority, and IS likely prefers to avoid the risk of heavy Sunni casualties there. Regime security efforts are also more serious in Banias and Latakia, where Sunni neighborhoods erupted into armed rebellion in 2011-2012, which was not the case in Jableh and Tartus.
Sending such violent signals to the Alawites could have multiple ripple effects. IS leaders likely hope that Alawite soldiers serving in hotspots on the eastern front (e.g., Deir al-Zour, Palmyra) will refuse to fight if their families back in Tartus and other cities are not given better protection; the regime might even decide to redeploy eastern troops to the coast. The group also aims to spark discontent against the regime and Alawite reprisals against Sunnis. On February 21, IS attacks in Homs affected Alawite neighborhoods and provoked strong discontent against local authorities and the security apparatus, with people denouncing the corruption and inefficiency of officers. For now, such antipathy does not extend to Bashar al-Assad himself, but that could change if attacks continue. Meanwhile, Alawite reprisals against Sunnis could undermine the regime and its army, since many Sunnis are still fighting on Assad's side. On Monday, Alawites attacked al-Karnak camp in Tartus, home to 400 Sunni families from Aleppo and Idlib; according to unofficial sources, seven Sunnis were killed.
Yet the Islamic State's most important message is presumably to Moscow. Russia's only naval base in Syria is located in Tartus, while Jableh is close to Hmeimim, Russia's main air base. Moscow is also attempting to rehabilitate the old Soviet submarine base in Jableh. IS has already shown a pattern of targeting Russian infrastructure, most recently Tiyas airfield between Homs and Palmyra, according to the BBC. IS leaders are well aware that Moscow's assistance enabled the Syrian army to retake Palmyra and set its sights on Deir al-Zour, so they aim to increase the price of the Russian intervention and force a withdrawal from the Syrian theater, or at least from the eastern fronts.
Finally, Monday's bombings send a message to other rebel groups. Although the Islamic State's goals and methods often differ from those of Syria's various anti-Assad factions, it still wants to be regarded as the leader of the fight against the regime, Russia, and the Alawite community. It will therefore continue trying to show that it is more effective and more ruthless than al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, currently its main rival for that title.
IPT, May 27, 2016
A brutal Sunni-Shi'ite war is raging across the Middle East, and the Lebanese terror organization Hizballah, originally formed to wage jihad on Israel, now finds itself in the middle. Hizballah is a formidable component of the Middle East's Iranian-led Shi'ite axis. The axis is a transnational network of allies and proxies that once was focused on fomenting attacks on Israel. It still does that, but the axis is primarily engaged in an altogether different, day-to-day fight against Sunni organizations, as well as against the Sunni states like Saudi Arabia that back some of these groups.
This war is raging in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other battlegrounds, and it has reshaped the Middle East, making it almost unrecognizable. For example, in the second half of the 20th century, Syria often would send military forces into Lebanon to dominate it. Today, Lebanese Hizballah formations dominate and shape events inside Syria. The radical Shi'ite axis is led by Iran's extraterritorial Quds Force unit, which answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The Quds Force arms and funds the Assad regime, and a series of militias and terror organizations that stretch across Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and even the Gaza Strip.
An examination of some of the paradoxes that define Hizballah today sheds light on the new reality facing the Iranian axis. The first contradiction is one of capabilities. Hizballah is by far the most heavily armed terrorist organization in the world, yet it cannot use most of its weapons – a vast arsenal of 120,000 surface-to-surface rockets and missiles – in almost any of the battles it now fights against Sunni rebels in Syria. These weapons are reserved for use against Israel, and in any case, would not be very effective in the kind of counter-insurgency warfare Hizballah is fighting against irregular rebel forces.
Additionally, Hizballah finds itself caught in a difficult political situation. It saved the Assad regime from full collapse, yet it faces pressure from Iran to send even more forces out of its home turf of Lebanon, and into Syria. This leads to a second paradox defining Hizballah today, which revolves around the issue of money. Hizballah's masters in Tehran have reduced the group's annual budget, and the organization is facing the fallout of a U.S.-led campaign to get Lebanese banks to stop working with it. Seventy percent of Hizballah's $1 billion budget comes from Iran, a decrease from recent years. Nevertheless, the budget enables Hizballah to continue building up a surface-to-surface rocket and missile arsenal that dwarfs most states. As a result of being stretched between Syria's warzones and positions in southern Lebanon, which were built for war with Israel, Hizballah, like its Iranian backers, currently is not interested in a war with Israel.
Hizballah has played down past recent incidents that could lead to conflict with Israel, and was quick to say that the assassination earlier this month of the group's operations chief, Mustafa Badreddine, was carried out by Syrian rebels, not Israel. It took Hizballah more than seven years to rebuild the southern Beirut stronghold of Dahiya after the 2006 war with Israel. Yet today, Hizballah, like the wider Iranian axis of which it is a part, is focused on its war against the Sunnis, who are bent on toppling Assad from power. The Sunni world is itself divided into pragmatic regional powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and the genocidal ISIS and al-Qaida jihadists. The pragmatic Sunni elements have come to view Israel as a silent and highly valuable potential partner in a new regional realignment that is forming to fight both ISIS and the Iranian axis…
All of this has come at a very high price. More than 1,500 Hizballah members have been killed in Syria, and more than 5,500 have been wounded, forcing the organization to set up costly rehabilitation programs for Syria veterans. Recent weeks have seen many Hizballah casualties fall in Syria. So far in 2016, it has lost over 60 members in Syria's war. Last year, it lost more than 540 fighters, and in 2014, around 360 Hizballah members were killed battling Sunni insurgents. In the past, when Iran feared that Israel might imminently strike the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, one of Hizballah's main roles was to deter Israeli decision makers from ordering a strike. Today, Iran views Hizballah as the powerful Shi'ite combatant that will defend Iranian interests in Syria against the Sunnis.
For now, Iran is abiding by the Joint Plan of Action over its nuclear weapons program, opening up its economy to new investment, and flooding Iranian defense industries with cash for developing new weapons. Many of these weapons will end up in Hizballah's hands. Yet none of the above developments has caused Hizballah and Iran to give up their quest to destroy Israel. Iran has not given up on the goal of eventually acquiring nuclear weapons, and Hizballah genuinely believes it has a divine mission to destroy Israel one day…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Times of Israel, May 23, 2016
Despite a pairing up of two Islamic State-linked militant groups on Israel’s northern border and a show of boldness by the new alliance, their threat to the Jewish state remains minimal, experts on jihadi groups in Syria told The Times of Israel. As the Syrian civil war rages into its fifth year, with some estimates putting the death toll at nearly half a million people, small to medium-sized militant groups continue to jockey for power, switch allegiances and swap control of territory. This volatile situation extends all the way to Israel’s doorstep.
The two most powerful Sunni groups that now control territory on Israel’s northern border are the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, which is estimated to have several thousand fighters, and the IS-linked Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (YMB), which according to most estimates, has up to 1,000 members. An IDF officer told The Times of Israel in March that the Israeli army was keeping a close eye on both groups, afraid they might carry out an attack — a car bomb, rocket launching, or kidnapping — in order to score propaganda points with their benefactors; both Islamic State and al-Qaeda have threatened Israel in the past.
The overall assessment, however, remains that these jihadi groups are too pre-occupied fighting each other and reinforcing their grip on their respective territory to open a battlefront with the Middle East’s most powerful military. Of the two groups, the IDF officer suggested that though al-Nusra was more powerful, the group is considered less of a threat than YMB. Al-Nusra has gained a reputation for being a somewhat rational actor in Syria, especially in comparison to the Islamic State group, whose brazen ideology makes their affiliate on Israel’s northern border a looser canon.
Since The Times of Israel spoke with the IDF in March, there have been two important interconnected changes on the southern Syrian battlefield. First, YMB sprung an unexpected offensive against Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in the southern Daraa province in late March-early April. The IS-linked group managed to take the towns of Tasil and Sahm al-Jawlan, and nearly split in half FSA’s territory. This could have been a disaster for the moderate fighters, as it would have cut off their northern forces from logistical support they receive from Jordan. Second, during this Daraa offensive, YMB joined forces with another, smaller IS-linked group called the Islamic Muthanna Movement (IMM)…
In an article published on Sunday, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq, examined the danger Syrian groups pose to Israel’s northern border. In the piece, he addressed the new alliance between the IS-linked groups and their brazen attack in Daraa. The immediate cause for the change of dynamics in YMB, Tamimi wrote, was the appointment of a new leader for the group in March. The replacement chief was likely sent by central Islamic State leadership, and is not a native of the Yarmouk Valley, but a Saudi by the name of Abu Abdallah al-Madani.
The new appointment cemented the transition of the group from moderate and FSA-affiliated to an IS affiliate, and set the groundwork for the bold offensive that sent the local militia fighting out if its native heartland. Despite the new leadership for YMB and their military alliance with IMM, Tamimi’s overall assessment of the jihadi threat to Israel mirrored the IDF’s. “The risk posed to Israel by the various Sunni jihadi groups in southern Syria is low,” as these groups have “far greater priorities than to focus their energies on Israel,” he wrote…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Is Syria Another Afghanistan for Russia?: Micah Halpern, Observer, May 26, 2016—ISIS attacked a Russian military base in Syria on May 14th. Four Mi-24 attack helicopters were burned, 20 trucks were destroyed, a storage depot was hit and a MIG-25 fighter jet was damaged. The base is known as T-4, sometimes also called Tiyas in Homs province.
The ISIS Challenge in Syria; Implications for Israeli Security: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, May 8, 2016—ISIS captured the world’s attention when it routed the Iraqi army in Mosul and took control over the city in early June 2014. At one point, its advance southward reached to within 75 km of Israel’s border on the Golan Heights.
Israel's Need to Take a Stand against the Assad Regime: A Moral Imperative and Strategic Necessity: Amos Yadlin, INSS, May 22, 2016—For the past five years, Israel has chosen not to take sides in the events underway in Syria. Yet while there were – and still are – some good reasons for this policy, the time has come for Israel to reassess its position on the civil war that rages across its border.
Life Under the Islamic State: Fines, Taxes and Punishments: Sarah Almukhtar, New York Times, May 26, 2016—The Islamic State is losing territory and, with it, population and resources. Its revenue has fallen almost 30 percent since last year, and it is increasing taxes and punishments to help make up for the losses, according to the IHS Conflict Monitor.