Tag: sectarian strife

FALL OF I.S. IN IRAQ & SYRIA, AMIDST ONGOING SECTARIAN CONFLICT, STRENGTHENS SHIITE AXIS

ISIS: Some Things Cannot Be Killed Off: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, BESA, Oct. 26, 2017 — As the city of Raqqa, the capital of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” falls to the Free Syrian Army, made up primarily of Kurdish and Syrian militias, the question is what the aftermath of ISIS will look like.

Real Threat to the West: Why Can’t Britain See It?: Melanie Phillips, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017 — Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has been making some remarkable comments.

Israel Takes On the Shia Crescent: Joseph Klein, Frontpage, Oct. 2, 2017 — Despite Israel's repeated warnings, Barack Obama's reckless appeasement of the Iranian regime has enabled its rise as a hegemonic threat in the Middle East region as well as a threat to international peace and security.

Why There Is No Peace in the Middle East: Philip Carl Salzman, Gatestone Institute, Oct. 14, 2017— Living as an anthropologist in a herding camp of the Yarahmadzai tribe of nomadic pastoralists in the deserts of Iranian Baluchistan clarified some of the inhibitions to peace in the Middle East.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 22, 2017

What Iraq’s Recent Moves Against Kurds Mean for Israel and Region: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017

The U.S. is on a Collision Course with Iran in the Middle East: Liz Sly, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2017

Between the Iranian Threat and the Palestinian State Threat: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, Arutz Sheva, Oct. 22, 2017

 

 

 

ISIS: SOME THINGS CANNOT BE KILLED OFF

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

BESA, Oct. 26, 2017

 

As the city of Raqqa, the capital of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” falls to the Free Syrian Army, made up primarily of Kurdish and Syrian militias, the question is what the aftermath of ISIS will look like. The answer is threefold and involves the organization, its members, and its ideology.

 

The organization may well be routed and eradicated. The large swathe of territory it controlled will be divided among Syria, Iran, Turkey, and the Kurds, and its government institutions will become relics of the past. The attempt to reestablish the Islamic caliphate failed because the Muslim world – not only the “infidels” – despised its gruesome, seventh-century execution methods.

 

Most of the organization’s members are already elsewhere, however, and they carry a sense of righteousness in their hearts. They feel betrayed and will seek revenge against all those who attacked them. Those include the Kurds and the coalition countries; Muslims who stood by and did not help them, such as former Soviet bloc countries; and countries that helped but then abandoned them along the way, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

 

These jihadists have dispersed in many countries. They are establishing proxies in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Mali, the Philippines, and elsewhere, with each branch adjusting its structure and activities to the environment in which it operates. Variables include the degree to which local governments effectively wield power, the degree to which the local Muslim population is supportive, and the degree to which a terrorist organizational infrastructure already exists and can be utilized. We saw a similar phenomenon after the defeat of al-Qaida in Afghanistan in late 2001, when one of its offshoots settled in Iraq and joined with the local Sunni population and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army to form ISIS. Beginning in April 2003, it began exploiting the weak central government in Baghdad, and in March 2011, the government in Damascus.

 

Every local proxy, however, will suffer from the same fundamental problems prevalent in any radical Islamic group. There will be disagreements within the group over Sharia law and its implementation; over ruling a territory or remaining a non-sovereign jihadist entity; the severity of punishment for offenders; the title of leader (whether he will be named caliph or not) and his authority; the group’s relations with similarly minded organizations; the status structure within the organization (Arabs versus non-Arabs, Muslims by birth versus Muslims by conversion), and more. There will also be the problem of hostility between the Islamic organization and the local population, Muslim or otherwise, over which it wants to rule. In addition, the international community’s traditionally negative view of Islamic terrorist organizations could lead to all-out war.

 

Another question is how the Islamic world will be affected by the dashed dream of a caliphate. The fall of ISIS will assuredly bolster those who oppose political Islam. On the other hand, the fall of the Sunni organization strengthens the Shiite axis. The slow crawl of Sunni leaders (Turkey and Saudi Arabia) towards Iran is one sign of the Shiite axis’s growing power at the expense of the Sunnis. (US President Donald Trump’s recent speech might slow this trend down, depending on the action the US takes.)

 

The idea of an Islamic caliphate is not dead. It is alive and well in religious scriptures, textbooks, Friday sermons, internet forums, and the hearts of many millions. In the near or distant future it will be resurrected, shake off the memory of recent events, and begin anew. There will always be people who dream of ancient glory, of the resurrection of ancestral Salafism and its forefathers – the prophet Muhammad and his cohort, who “lived an ideal and proper lifestyle and showed us the right path for any place, time and environment.”

 

What is clear is that the fight against the “heretic, permissive, hedonistic, materialistic, drugged and inebriated West” will persist through lone-wolf or small-cell terrorist attacks. Countries around the world will continue to suffer from ramming attacks, stabbings, shootings, rapes, violence against women and children, public vandalism, and other variances of jihad against all those who do not belong to the religion of Muhammad. ISIS may well disappear as an organization, but the world is likely to continue feeling the evil ideology this organization has instilled in the hearts and minds of too many Muslims.     

 

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REAL THREAT TO THE WEST: WHY CAN’T BRITAIN SEE IT?

                                       Melanie Phillips

Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017

 

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has been making some remarkable comments. In an interview with The Guardian, the recently designated heir to the Saudi throne said the desert kingdom had been “not normal” for the past 30 years. He blamed the extremist Wahhabi form of Islam, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with” and which had created a problem around the world.

 

“Now is the time to get rid of it,” he said. Saudi Arabia would now revert to “what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of the Saudis are younger than 30. Honestly, we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts. We will destroy them now and immediately.”

 

Open to all religions? Churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia? An end to the Wahhabi extremism which has spawned jihadism across the globe? Can he be serious? We know the prince is a reformer. Aware that the oil weapon is fast disappearing as the price of crude falls, he wants to open up the economy. That means modernization. Recently, Saudi women were given the right to drive. Religious police have been reined in and deprived of their powers of arrest. Small moves maybe, but anathema to the hard-line clerics.

 

Is it possible, though, to close Pandora’s jihadi box? Was Saudi Arabia ever religiously moderate? The prince says it became extreme only in response to the 1979 Iranian revolution. That is not quite true. The creed of Wahhabi Islam, which seeks to proselytize via the sword both non-Muslims and not-extreme-enough Muslims to its ferocious dogma, was imposed under the chieftain Muhammad al-Saud in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

After the Iranian revolution, an attempt was made to overthrow the House of Saud on the grounds that it had deviated from the true Wahhabi path. In a deal made with the clerics, the Saudi rulers not only hardened religious rules at home but poured money into spreading the jihad through mosques, madrasas and universities across the world.

 

The prince’s reformist agenda goes hand in hand with the kingdom’s tactical alliance with America in the common fight against Saudi Arabia’s arch enemy, Iran – in which it is cooperating below-the-radar with Israel, too. To the British government, with its close economic ties with Saudi Arabia, these reformist noises come as a relief, since Saudi human rights abuses continue to cause it severe embarrassment. Nevertheless, Britain is not on the same page as Saudi Arabia in trying to constrain Iran. Perversely, Britain remains intent upon a course of action that is instead empowering Iran by continuing to support the cynical and dangerous nuclear deal the UK helped US president Barack Obama broker in 2015.

 

President Donald Trump has now refused to certify Iran’s compliance with that deal, saying Iran has breached it several times by exceeding the limits it set on heavy water and centrifuge testing. More remarkably, the deal’s own terms allow Iran to make a mockery of its fundamental purpose in constraining Iran’s nuclear weapons program, for the inspection procedure takes place only at sites where Iran has agreed to allow inspection. These exclude its military sites. The deal’s proponents can claim that a robust inspection is being applied, while Iran is able to evade inspection of the sites that really matter.

 

Recently the International Atomic Energy Authority stated it could not verify that Iran is “fully implementing the agreement” by not engaging in activities that would allow it to make a nuclear explosive device. When it came to inspections, said the IAEA, “our tools are limited.” According to the Institute for Science and International Security, as of the last quarterly report released in August, the IAEA had not visited any military site in Iran since implementation of the deal.

 

In any event, the deal does not prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons, because its “sunset clause” allows it to do so in 10 or 15 years’ time – and reports suggest it has the capacity to develop them extremely quickly. Worse still, the deal allows Iran to develop ballistic missiles. Sanctions relief has enabled it to pour money into its proxy army Hezbollah, promote Hamas terrorism and spread its influence and terrorism into Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

 

Yet the British government not only helped create but still implacably supports this terrible capitulation to Iranian power. Parting company with Trump, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the nuclear deal is “a crucial agreement that neutralized Iran’s nuclear threat” which has “undoubtedly made the world a safer place.” What planet is he living on? Iran is marching toward regional hegemony. In Iraq, there are reports that its Quds Force has been coordinating with Iraqi government officials to recruit the most effective ISIS fighters and release them from Iraqi prisons. These fighters are being organized, trained, and equipped to attack US and other regional forces.

 

Despite all this, however, the threat that worries Britain most is not Iran, but the prospect of war against Iran. The fact that Iran has been waging war against the West since 1979, in the course of which it has repeatedly attacked Western targets, murdered countless civilians and been responsible for the deaths of many British and American soldiers in Iraq, is brushed aside. Unless it really does reform itself, Saudi Arabia will continue to pose a threat from its religious extremism. Nevertheless, it is an ally against the greater enemy at this time: Iran. The Iranian regime must be defeated. It is shocking that, unlike President Trump, Britain is intent on appeasing it.                                                                    

 

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ISRAEL TAKES ON THE SHIA CRESCENT                                                   

Joseph Klein

Frontpage, Oct. 2, 2017

 

Despite Israel's repeated warnings, Barack Obama's reckless appeasement of the Iranian regime has enabled its rise as a hegemonic threat in the Middle East region as well as a threat to international peace and security. In 2009, Obama turned his back on millions of dissidents in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, who were peacefully protesting the rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. In 2011, Obama precipitously removed the remaining U.S. combat troops from Iraq, giving rise to ISIS’s re-emergence in Iraq from its bases in Syria. The radical Shiite Iranian regime purported to come to the “rescue” of both countries from the Sunni terrorists, turning Iraq into a virtual vassal state of the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the process. Obama's disastrous nuclear deal with Iran legitimized Iran's path to eventually becoming a nuclear-armed state, while immediately filling its coffers with billions of dollars to fund its aggression.

 

Meanwhile, Syria has become ground zero for Iran's execution of its regional ambitions, which is to establish its Shiite Crescent connecting with its allies, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This plan has included the establishment of a land route that Iranian-backed militias secured in June, beginning on Iran’s border with Iraq and running across Iraq and Syria all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. This road makes Iran’s job easier in supplying arms by land, as well as by air and sea, to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to equip Iran’s own forces fighting inside of Syria in support of Assad. This helps explain why Iran has placed so much importance on helping the Syrian regime establish control over the Deir ez-Zor area in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border.

 

“Everything depends now on the Americans’ willingness to stop this,” said an Iraqi Kurdish official who was quoted in a New Yorker article. However, U.S.-led coalition forces apparently have done next to nothing to stop this major advance in Iran’s Shiite Crescent expansion. “Obama ran down our options in Syria so thoroughly, by the time this administration took over,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Iranian influence is spreading because they are so heavily involved in regime activities,” Tabler added. “It’s a new monster.”

 

Furthermore, Iran has funded and armed its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, which has sent its militia from its home base of Lebanon to fight alongside Assad's forces.  And Iran has used Syria as a transit point for shipment of sophisticated rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon for future use against Israeli population centers. Despite the fact that Hezbollah has American blood on its hands, the U.S.-led coalition has chosen not to do anything about Hezbollah’s presence in Syria, bought and paid for by Iran.

 

While Israel chose not to take sides in Syria's civil war with military intervention of its own, it has bombed weapons storage facilities and convoys inside Syria for its own protection. Just recently, on September 7th, Israeli jets struck a Syrian weapons facility near Masyaf, which was reported to have been used for the production of chemical weapons and the storage of missiles. Israel will also do what is necessary to repel Iranian-backed forces if they edge too close to areas near the Golan Heights, shrinking the buffer between Israel and Iranian controlled territories.

 

However, such tactical measures may not be enough to thwart Iran’s larger ambitions. In light of intelligence reports that Assad may be ready to invite Iran to set up military bases in Syria, Israeli leaders have concluded that they cannot wait until the Trump administration decides to deal more forcefully with Iran's growing use of Syria as a staging area for carrying out its expansionist Shiite Crescent strategy.  “Their overriding concern in Syria is the free reign that all the major players there seem willing to afford Iran and its various proxies in the country,” wrote Jonathan Spyer in an article for Foreign Policy. As long as nobody else is addressing the concern Iran’s growing control raises in a satisfactory manner, “Israel is determined to continue addressing it on its own.”

 

At least, Israel has a more sympathetic ear in the Trump administration than it did in the Obama administration for raising its concerns about Iran’s growing threat, not only to Israel but to U.S. interests in the region and beyond. President Trump’s sharp denunciation of the Iranian regime during his address to the UN General Assembly represented a welcome departure from the Obama administration’s milquetoast approach to Iran.

 

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to drive ISIS from its bases of operation in Syria, the Trump administration has proclaimed its intention not to allow Iran to turn Syria into its own satellite, as Iran has essentially done in Iraq. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the “so called liberation of areas by Assad’s forces and Iranian proxies could actually accelerate the cycle of violence and perpetuate conflict rather than get us to a sustainable outcome.” He claimed that the Trump administration’s “objectives are to weaken Iranian influence across the region broadly,” without discussing the means to accomplish those objectives. Whether the Trump administration follows through remains to be seen. In the meantime, Israel will have to deal with the fallout of Iran’s ambitions in Syria itself.

                                                                       

 

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WHY THERE IS NO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Philip Carl Salzman

Gatestone Institute, Oct. 14, 2017

 

Living as an anthropologist in a herding camp of the Yarahmadzai tribe of nomadic pastoralists in the deserts of Iranian Baluchistan clarified some of the inhibitions to peace in the Middle East. What one sees is strong, kin-based, group loyalty defense and solidarity, and the political opposition of lineages, whether large or small. This raised the question how unity and peace could arrive in a system based on opposition.

 

Peace is not possible in the Middle East because values and goals other than peace are more important to Middle Easterners. Most important to Middle Easterners are loyalty to kin, clan, and cult, and the honour which is won by such loyalty. These are the cultural imperatives, the primary values, held and celebrated. When conflict arises and conflict-parties form based on loyal allegiance, the conflict is regarded as appropriate and proper.

 

The results of absolute commitment to kin and cult groups, and the structural opposition to all others, can be seen throughout Middle Eastern history, including contemporary events, where conflict has been rife. Turks, Arabs and Iranians have launched military campaigns to suppress Kurds. Meanwhile, Christians, Yazidis, Baha'is and Jews, among others, have been, and continue to be ethnically cleansed. Arabs and Persians, and Sunnis and Shiites, each try to gain power over the other in a competition that has been one of the main underlying factors of the Iraq-Iran war, the Saddam Hussein regime, and the current catastrophe in Syria. Turks invaded Greek Orthodox Cyprus in 1974 and have occupied it since. Multiple Muslim states have invaded the minuscule Jewish state of Israel three times, and Palestinians daily celebrate the murder of Jews.

 

Some Middle Easterners, and some in the West, prefer to attribute the problems of the Middle East to outsiders, such as Western imperialists, but it seems odd to suggest that the local inhabitants have no agency and no responsibility for their activities in this disastrous region, high not only in conflict and brutality, but low by all world standards in human development.

 

If one looks to local conditions to understand local conflicts, the first thing to understand is that Arab culture, through the ages and at the present time, has been built on the foundation of Bedouin tribal culture. Most of the population of northern Arabia at the time of the emergence of Islam was Bedouin, and during the period of rapid expansion following the adoption of Islam, the Arab Muslim army consisted of Bedouin tribal units. The Bedouin, nomadic and pastoral for the most part, were formed into tribes, which are regional defense and security groups.

 

Bedouin tribes were organized by basing groups on descent through the male line. Close relatives in conflict activated only small groups, while distant relatives in conflict activated large groups. If, for example, members of cousin groups were in conflict, no one else was involved. But if members of tribal sections were in conflict, all cousins and larger groups in a tribal section would unite in opposition to the other tribal section. So, what group a tribesmen thought himself a member of was circumstantial, depending on who was involved in a conflict.

 

Relations between descent groups were always oppositional in principle, with tribes as a whole seeing themselves in opposition to other tribes. The main structural relation between groups at the same genealogical and demographic level could be said to be balanced opposition. The strongest political norm among tribesmen was loyalty to, and active support of, one's kin group, small or large. One must always support closer kin against more distant kin. Loyalty was rewarded with honour. Not supporting your kin was dishonourable. The systemic result was often a stand-off, the threat of full scale conflict with another group of the same size and determination acting as deterrence against frivolous adventures. That there were not more conflicts than the many making up tribal history, is due to that deterrence…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    

 

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

 

The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 22, 2017—Iraqi forces took Kirkuk city from the Kurds this week with hardly a shot fired. Twenty-two Kurdish fighters were killed in the sporadic and disorganized resistance, while seven Iraqi soldiers also lost their lives.

What Iraq’s Recent Moves Against Kurds Mean for Israel and Region: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017—On Sunday, Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi began a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is meeting the king of Saudi Arabia and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The U.S. is on a Collision Course with Iran in the Middle East: Liz Sly, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2017—President Trump’s assertive new strategy toward Iran is already colliding with the reality of Tehran’s vastly expanded influence in the Middle East as a result of the Islamic State war.

Between the Iranian Threat and the Palestinian State Threat: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, Arutz Sheva, Oct. 22, 2017—The greatest threat to Israel’s existence is neither Shiite militias on the Golan border nor the Iranian nuclear threat, which are of physical and military nature.

 

 

 

IRAN IN THE SHADOWS: DESPITE A HOPEFUL ELECTION, IRAQ’S ARMY STYMIED BY MILITANT SUNNI ISLAMISTS

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail: rob@isranet.org

 

Why Iraq Is Moving Closer to Full-Scale Sectarian War: Kimberly Kagan, Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2014—  Initial reports of high turnout and relative security during Iraq’s parliamentary elections have buoyed optimism that things might not be so bad there after all.

Iraq’s Elections May Accelerate its Descent: Washington Post, May 1, 2014 — Iraq’s best days in the past decade have been its elections, and somewhat surprisingly, Wednesday was one of them.

Fledgling Iraqi Military Is Outmatched on Battlefield: Matt Bradley & Ali A. Nabhan, Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2014 — Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country.

Getting Rid of National Borders in the Middle East Won’t End Sectarian Warfare: Lee Smith, Tablet, Apr. 30, 2014— If you didn’t know any better, you might think that democracy was flowering all over the Middle East.

 

On Topic Links

 

While We Weren’t Looking, Hope Sprung in Iraq: Amir Taheri, New York Post, May 3, 2014

Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Give Obama Poor Grades: Adam O’Neal, Real Clear Politics, Mar. 30, 2014

Why do the Troops Think So Little of Obama?: Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2014

Iraqi Election Could Lead to Partition: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Al-Monitor, Apr. 30, 2014

ISIS Shifts Tactics in Fallujah: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Apr. 26, 2014

 

 

WHY IRAQ IS MOVING CLOSER TO

FULL-SCALE SECTARIAN WAR                                      

Kimberly Kagan

Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2014

                                     

Initial reports of high turnout and relative security during Iraq’s parliamentary elections have buoyed optimism that things might not be so bad there after all. Unfortunately, a smooth election and even the formation of a new government are not likely to reverse the negative security trends that are bringing Iraq ever closer to full-scale sectarian war.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has established havens in Anbar, Diyala, and southern Baghdad in many of the locations from which al-Qaeda in Iraq, its ancestor, threatened the capital in 2006. ISIS drove the Iraqi Security Forces from Fallujah in January. The Iraqi army has operated from the city’s outskirts but lacks the urban warfare capability to clear its interiors. It is shelling the city. Nearly 73,000 Iraqi families from Anbar have fled their homes, according to United Nations figures on internally displaced persons.

 

ISIS has been advancing on Baghdad since January. The gunmen who have controlled the Fallujah dam have twice flooded areas between Fallujah and Baghdad. ISIS destroyed an oil pipeline near the Tigris in ways that contaminated the capital’s water supply. Shi’a militias have mobilized to counter the growing threat from ISIS and to serve the political parties with which they are affiliated. Militias have engaged in retaliatory executions and sectarian killings in several provinces. Some militias have forcibly displaced residents of Sunni villages; they have razed Sunni homes in Diyala province. Sunni families in remote areas have fled their villages en masse.

 

Cooperative relationships exist between Shi’a militias and the Iraqi Security Forces. These conditions do not bode well for any Iraqi government. Should Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki win a third term, he would do so having lost a province to terrorists and having entrusted terrain to militias. Meanwhile, competitors for power have organized militias with which to engage Mr. Maliki and one another.

 

The Iraqi people have shown their extraordinary resiliency in the face of danger. Iraqis voted in large numbers despite terrorist and militia violence in 2006 and 2010. But American troops were in Iraq then to ensure that the millions of Iraqis could overcome their terrorist foes. Without American support, it is far from clear that the terrorists won’t win this time.

 

                                                                       

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IRAQ’S ELECTIONS MAY ACCELERATE ITS DESCENT              

Washington Post, May 1, 2014

 

Iraq’s best days in the past decade have been its elections, and somewhat surprisingly, Wednesday was one of them. Though the country is sliding into civil war — the United Nations reported that 750 people were killed by political violence in April — about 12 million people went to the polls to vote in the first parliamentary elections held without the presence of U.S. troops. The turnout, a reported 58 percent, was higher than in most U.S. presidential elections. Iraqis remain eager to practice democracy, even if their rulers are not.

 

Unfortunately, the voting appears more likely to accelerate than arrest Iraq’s descent into the mass bloodshed and disintegration that has overtaken neighboring Syria. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki , in office eight years, appears confident that his Shiite party will win a plurality of votes, allowing him to continue what has been an increasingly authoritarian and sectarian rule. With heavy backing from Iran, Iraq’s strongman hopes to corral dissident Shiite parties and perhaps Kurds into a new coalition, though that process could take months. Even if he fails, Mr. Maliki’s opponents may lack the muscle to remove him from office.

 

The Baghdad government and its U.S.-trained Army, meanwhile, are losing control over much of the country. Mr. Maliki built support among Shiites before the election by launching a military campaign against Sunni tribes in Anbar province; the result was the takeover of Fallujah by al-Qaeda and waves of bombings against Shiites in Baghdad. Without U.S. support, the army appears to lack the means to recapture Fallujah and other Sunni-populated areas, though Mr. Maliki, like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, has resorted to using Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The prosperous, autonomous Kurdistan region, with its own oil reserves, has become a de facto independent state.

 

At least some of this trouble could have been avoided had the Obama administration managed Iraq better. Eager to withdraw all U.S. forces during his first term, Mr. Obama backed Mr. Maliki following the 2010 election even after it became clear his coalition had been brokered by Iran. Just as the absence of U.S. military advisers and trainers has contributed to the Iraqi army’s loss of effectiveness, the absence of U.S. political brokers — generals as well as diplomats — has accelerated the sectarian crumbling of the American-built democratic system.

 

Most Americans may share Mr. Obama’s readiness to dismiss this mess. But Iraq’s failure will do more than reverse the gains won by the hundreds of thousands of Americans who served there over nine years. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are close to consolidating control of a wide swath of territory extending across western Iraq and northern Syria. U.S. intelligence chiefs have told Congress that the extremists, who have attracted thousands of recruits from around the Middle East and Europe, aspire to launch attacks against the U.S. homeland. The Obama administration may hope that a new Iraqi government can eliminate this threat; the odds are that it will not.

                                                                                   

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FLEDGLING IRAQI MILITARY

IS OUTMATCHED ON BATTLEFIELD                                                     

Matt Bradley & Ali A. Nabhan                                                          

Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2014

 

Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country. In coordinated predawn attacks, gunmen blew up two bridges in a village outside the eastern town of Qara Tepe. They detonated a fuel tanker at a police base close to nearby Injana, shot 12 soldiers and incinerated their bodies. By afternoon, militants had attacked four other police and army checkpoints.

 

Instead of bolstering their ranks, some police and military checkpoints simply packed up and left. Lacking protection, hundreds of villagers fled their homes for larger towns. "The security forces are weak, and they are putting the responsibility for their weakness on us," says Aziz Latif, a farmer who fled the village of New Sari Tepe after it was attacked on March 21. "They are not professional."

 

More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts. "You can see how terrorism is eating our flesh. We're almost helpless," says Staff General Mohammed Khalaf Saied Al Dulaimi, commander of 12th division of the Iraqi army based in the northern city of Kirkuk. "We're facing a good, well-trained enemy. The attacks in this area were huge." The insurgents are able to launch surprise raids, seize urban ground and hold their positions for days, weeks or even months, even far beyond their strongholds in the west. The growing disorder and violence threaten to open the country to interference by its neighbors and dash what little hope remains that ordinary Iraqis might benefit from their oil wealth.

 

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he and the Iraqi army have the upper hand in the fight against terrorism. His spokesman said in an email that militant groups are "surrounded in certain areas, but the process of ending such battles does not happen easily." Wednesday's vote is expected to extend Mr. Maliki's divisive eight-year tenure, which has alienated some of Iraq's already disparate ethnic and sectarian groups.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, a militant group that grew out of al Qaeda but has broken with it, has declared voting stations and voters as targets, particularly in Baghdad. ISIS, which is expanding, has already staked out positions on the capital's outskirts. "I see them gunning for Baghdad," says Jessica Lewis, research director for the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. military intelligence officer. Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has proved unable to resolve the gridlock among the country's three main political blocs: Arab Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. With his army unprepared to handle the fallout, foreign diplomats, politicians and analysts say Mr. Maliki is governing over a state that is failing in slow motion. "Partnership failed in Baghdad," says Fouad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdistan's regional president, Massoud Barzani. "After the election, if we cannot work together as three groups—Sunnis, Shias and Kurds—then Iraq is headed toward collapse."

 

Parliament hasn't met for nearly a month because of walkouts over a budget dispute between Mr. Maliki's allies and the Kurdish north. Iraq's Sunni minority, meanwhile, is accusing Mr. Maliki's military of ethnic cleansing under the guise of the fight against terrorism—a claim that has fueled Sunni calls for an autonomous region. As stresses build, Mr. Maliki appears to be expanding his own writ as part of his push for a third term. Last month, he threatened to use a pliant judiciary to declare the gridlocked parliament constitutionally illegitimate. That would grant him sole authority to control the country's nearly $150 billion budget by presidential decree.

 

The latest violence began in late December when Mr. Maliki ordered security forces to disperse an anti-Maliki protest camp in Ramadi that he claimed was an incubator for al Qaeda. The raid was akin to batting a hornet's nest. Thousands of well-armed Islamist militants rose up in early January in the surrounding province of Anbar and seized Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Fallujah, a restive city less than an hour from Baghdad. ISIS's massive, sophisticated weapons arsenal suggested that the group had been importing weapons from Syria, says Gen. Dulaimi. The militants displayed the kind of battle acumen lacking in Iraq's troops. Many ISIS fighters have returned battle-hardened from the conflict in neighboring Syria. "The security forces were surprised that the militants were better equipped than the security forces themselves," says Gen. Dulaimi. "Our soldiers don't have anything more than AK-47s."

 

Iraq is still reeling from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority's decision in May 2003 to disband ousted President Saddam Hussein's army. The military had long acted as an adhesive bonding together young Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The move created a bitter underclass of well-trained young Iraqi men. Now, the leadership of the militias is populated by veteran generals from that disbanded army. Despite nearly a decade of training from U.S. troops, the Iraqi army remains, by comparison, poorly equipped and far less motivated, say Iraqi politicians, Gen. Dulaimi and Hisham Hashemi, an Iraqi researcher on armed groups who is in regular touch with militants in Anbar…

 

Gen. Dulaimi blames Iraq's losses on the U.S. Had Washington delivered Apache helicopters Baghdad has been requesting for several years, the army could have quickly ended the skirmish in which he was caught up, he says. Iraq's few armed helicopters aren't even outfitted with directed missiles—an anachronism in a modern fighting force, he says. Requests for ammunition and sophisticated air power have gone unanswered, he says. Thirty-six F-16 jet fighters ordered in 2011 and last year—Iraq has no jet fighters in its tiny air fleet—have yet to be delivered, in part because of congressional objections to supporting the Maliki regime…

 

American soldiers who helped train the Iraqi military say that Iraqis abandoned the organizational and educational infrastructure U.S. forces had hoped would perpetuate a professional military. "The whole concept of developing a professionalized security force just stopped right there with the [end of the] U.S. presence," says Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, who was the chief of the U.S. military's Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, which is in charge of training troops, from September 2011 until May 2013.

Gen. Caslen and his predecessors helped build and run an Iraqi military academy to feed trained personnel into Iraq's officer corps. On a visit about a year after U.S. troops left in December 2011, Gen. Caslen says, the academy was all but vacant…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]

 

Contents

GETTING RID OF NATIONAL BORDERS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

WON’T END SECTARIAN WARFARE                        

Lee Smith

Tablet, Apr. 30, 2014

 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that democracy was flowering all over the Middle East. Syria has a presidential election scheduled in June; today, Lebanon’s Parliament will have a second round of voting to choose a new president, while Iraqis are heading to the polls to choose a parliament that will in turn be responsible for selecting a prime minister. But in reality, all three countries are in danger of coming apart at the seams. Syria is in the midst of a protracted and vicious civil war that has, in turn, added to Lebanon’s own instability. Iraq, now free of American influence, has gone from being an authoritarian state under Saddam Hussein’s nominally secular control to an authoritarian state under the auspices of Nouri al-Maliki, who will almost certainly be given a third term as premier, having cemented his control by pursuing openly sectarian policies favoring Shiites and targeting Sunni Muslims.

 

Thus, Maliki has enlisted Iraq in the larger regional conflict between Sunnis and Shiites being fought in Syria and, increasingly, in Lebanon, where Iran and its proxies are squared off against Saudi Arabia and its own allies. More than three years after the Arab Spring, Arabs throughout the Middle East are now plainly more beholden to their confessional sects or tribes than they are to the larger, national polities they inhabit—that is, to their states. The obvious question, then, is whether the Arab state system, established nearly a century ago in a secret deal between the British and the French, is falling apart. Have the borders imposed on the Arabic-speaking Middle East in 1916 by the French diplomat François George-Picot and his British counterpart Mark Sykes amid the demolition of the Ottoman Empire by World War I outlived their usefulness?

 

The mythology surrounding the Sykes-Picot lines is rich. The essential case against them is that they are artificial boundaries that served, and continue to serve, the interests of the Great Powers but are consequently bad for the actual people whose citizenship, and identity, is supposed to be contingent on them. Indeed, many argue that the Sykes-Picot agreement is the primary cause of Middle Easterners’ woes. Frontiers randomly separating parcels of land, families, tribes, and most important, it now seems, confessional sects have not only divided the Arabs and kept them politically weak, but set them murderously at each other’s throats. That’s the assessment offered by a number of regional experts as well as journalists. It’s a narrative premised on a number of dubious assumptions—primarily, that the Arabs were once long ago in the misty past a nation united. The legend of Arab nationalism holds that it was only foreign conquerors and occupiers who neutralized the Arabs by dividing them, starting with the Mongols in their 1258 invasion of Baghdad.

 

The reality of course is somewhat different. Shiite and Sunni jurists and clerics have conducted a long-running rhetorical war against each other, characterized by slurs and pamphleteering, that is evidence of sectarian conflict that long predates the Mongols, let alone the British or the Americans. Indeed, tribal warfare in the region predates the advent of Islam, the spread of which was partly encouraged to put an end to tribal conflict by uniting the Arabic-speaking tribes, from the Arabian peninsula to the Fertile Crescent, under the banner of a tribe designated not by its blood but its faith in one God, Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.

 

But just because tribe or faith often resonate more plangently than secular citizenship for Middle Easterners doesn’t mean that states, or their borders, don’t matter any more. Indeed, it is because many of these states have relied on tribal and religious affiliation to build legitimacy that national identities today register, sometimes deeply. For instance, one of the titles of the king of Saudi Arabia is guardian of the two Holy Shrines, which, by asserting sovereignty over Mecca and Medina, ties the modern kingdom to the origins of Islam. Syrian borders may have been drawn by the European powers, but Syria, what Arabs call Bilad al-Sham, or “country of the north,” is also revered as the capital of the first Arab empire, the Umayyad caliphate of 661 to 750, and hence the historical heartland of Sunni Arabism. Conversely, Baghdad, long a rival of Damascus, was the seat of the Abbasid empire, from 750 to 1258, and that history in turn confers legitimacy on modern Iraq.

 

Indeed, even those jihadists who would seem to be least invested in the Arab state system have a stake in preserving the borders drawn by the despicable infidels. Sunni extremist groups in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, may be content for the time being to have wrested some cantons from the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allied forces. However, the war they are waging against what in their opinion is a heretical regime is not simply for the purpose of imposing sharia law in selected hamlets in the Syrian desert. What they want is Sykes-Picot Syria—that is to say, Syria as we know it today, with Damascus as the capital.

 

This is true even of the one regional nation-state that has done most to upset the Westphalian order: the Islamic Republic of Iran. The wars Tehran fights are typically waged through clandestine means and most often through terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, its long arm in Lebanon. But the reality is that the Islamic Resistance is incapable of functioning without Lebanese institutions. Not only does Hezbollah help itself to parts of the country’s budget through various schemes and ministries its members and allies hold. It has also infiltrated the Lebanese Armed Forces—which it tasks with performing delicate functions, like arresting and firing on Sunnis, for which the party of God wants plausible deniability.

 

But what Hezbollah can’t possibly live without—and, accordingly, what matters to its patron state Iran—are Lebanon’s borders and the status they confer in international forums. Imagine if Hezbollah, governing its own little statelet on the eastern Mediterranean, fired a barrage of rockets on Israel: The Israeli Air Force would turn Hezbollahstan into a parking lot in a matter of minutes. What prevents Israel from doing so now is the rest of Lebanon—the more than 3 million people who are effectively captives of Hezbollah. Borders aren’t moving. Rather, populations are moving to accommodate borders. We all know about the exodus of Arab refugees from Israel in 1948 and 1967, as well as the often forced emigration of Jews from Arab lands to Israel in the years after the Jewish state was established—but Christians have been in flight from Lebanon since that country’s 15-year-long civil war, from 1975 to 1990, and the subsequent Syrian occupation, from 1990 to 2005, one of the aims of which was to disempower the Christian community. In Iraq, Assyrian Christians fled in large numbers after the fall of Saddam, largely to Syria, and then on to the West.

 

But the Christians’ trail of tears pales in comparison to the departure of Sunnis from Syria. Conservative estimates show that there are more than half a million refugees now in Turkey and Jordan and nearly a million more in Lebanon, which is still home to another 450,000 Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967. It’s not difficult to imagine how this crisis may come to shape the region. Take Lebanon: With roughly one-third of Lebanon’s population now made up of Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom are Sunnis, the country’s sectarian balance between Shiites, Christians and Sunnis is now tipped in favor of the Sunnis, perhaps irrevocably. That in turn may force Hezbollah to move in the other direction, from what is certain to be a Sunni-majority Lebanon to a Syria or Iraq ruled by Shiites. Even if, or when, Assad falls, the Syrian conflict hasn’t erased borders. What it’s done is destroy homes and families—and confessional communities with longstanding and in some cases ancient ties to the lands they’re now leaving. The real Middle East crisis isn’t about the failure of democracy in its nation-states, but the private disasters its citizens are facing.

 

While We Weren’t Looking, Hope Sprung in Iraq: Amir Taheri, New York Post, May 3, 2014—In one of those ironies of history, with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in disarray, some relatively good pieces of news are coming from places that Obama turned his back on.

Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Give Obama Poor Grades: Adam O’Neal, Real Clear Politics, Mar. 30, 2014 —Just 32 percent of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why do the Troops Think So Little of Obama?: Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2014—In the flood of polling we see every week there is occasionally some eye-popping nugget of data that washes up on the political landscape.

Iraqi Election Could Lead to Partition: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Al-Monitor, Apr. 30, 2014—Today, with the country locked in a fateful election, the parties to Iraq's conflict are using the issue of partition to threaten their opponents — and the electorate.

ISIS Shifts Tactics in Fallujah: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Apr. 26, 2014—Three months after the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) decided to avoid public appearances and maintain a low profile in Fallujah, the group put on a military parade in the center of the city to showcase its strength. The move signaled the start of an armed conflict to control the city.

 

 

                               

 

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LEBANESE RELIGIO-POLITICAL CRISIS RADICALIZED BY SYRIAN CIVIL WAR, HEZBOLLAH—AL-NUSRAH CONFLICT

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Uncertainty over Electoral Law Prolongs Lebanon Political Crisis: Nasser Chararah,Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013—There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

The Imminent Hezbollah-Nusra War: Hanin Ghaddar, NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013—Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

How Hezbollah Slowly Infiltrated Europe: Alexandre Levy, LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013—While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

 

Hezbollah Campaigns for Preemptive War in Syria: Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013—Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

On Topic Links

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013

Hizbollah cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013

 

 

UNCERTAINTY OVER ELECTORAL LAW
PROLONGS LEBANON POLITICAL CRISIS

Nasser Chararah

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013

 

There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

For instance, the provisions of the current electoral law, dubbed the “1960 law,” are in direct conflict with the Lebanese constitution, according to which Lebanese people have equal representation quotas. Pursuant to the current electoral law, certain MPs could secure a place in parliament with thousands of votes in some constituencies, while others may need tens of thousands of votes to win a seat. This is not to mention that according to the current law, a significant part of Christian MPs are elected by Muslim votes.

 

During the past months, there has been a need to formulate a new, fairer electoral law. However, intense political disputes in the country — which are connected to regional differences — have prevented the drafting of a new electoral law.

 

With the expiration of the constitutional deadline to amend the electoral law, and given that the term of the current parliament will come to an end in the second half of June, not to mention that political factions have yet to reach a consensus on a new electoral law, Lebanon stands today at a crossroads. It can either opt to extend the term of parliament to try to formulate a new electoral law and therefore hold elections on this basis; or it can hold elections based on the 1960 law, given that is the only legitimate solution in the absence of consensus on any other law.

 

In any case, both solutions reflect the depth of the political and constitutional crisis that Lebanon has been going through. The most dangerous implication of the current crisis is that it could lead the political system to a structural crisis that would be difficult to overcome with cosmetic solutions. This is not to mention that, in light of domestic and regional considerations, it is impossible to make any substantial changes to the system.

 

There have been several key signs emerging from the current crisis indicating the nature of challenges threatening Lebanon’s political stability and coexistence, according to its current rules that are not likely to be remedied in light of the internal and external situation.

 

First, a significant part of Lebanese Christians believe that balanced sectarian representation can be mended with their Sunni partners in peace. This representation was disturbed when Maronites were forced to relinquish some of their major political and constitutional power — which they had during the first Republic (1983-1989) — as the result of drafting the constitution of Taif.

 

Thus, the Orthodox electoral law has been put forth, according to which each sectarian group would elect its own candidates on a proportional basis. The major Christian political bloc (including the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada movement, the Kataeb Party, and even Bikirki [the seat of the Maronite Patriarchy] indirectly) was expecting that the Sunni partners would accept the Orthodox proposal as an acknowledgement that the Taif Agreement needed to be amended in terms of fixing the Christian representation and not in terms of restoring the powers of the Maronite President of the Republic.

 

Nevertheless, the Orthodox proposal was rejected as the quorum was not reached during the parliament session due to the opposition of the Sunni bloc that is mainly allied with the Druze and some Christian parties. This indicated that Sunni partners (the biggest community in the country) have refused to establish a new settlement with Christians. Sunnis continue to insist that Christians relinquish powers under the Taif Agreement so as to reflect the new balances of power in the country and that they have to be realistic about this fact.

 

This also demonstrates that the Taif Agreement, which has served as a constitutional chart for the Second Republic in Lebanon, is no longer unanimously agreed upon by all Lebanese. It has become in the eyes of a large part of Christians an agreement that reflects their existence under a political system that reproduces their defeat in the civil war, which broke out during the 1970s and 1980s and resulted in the Taif Agreement under Arab and International auspices.

 

Moreover, [rejecting the Orthodox proposal] indicates that the country is going through a crisis that has been gripping the political system at all levels. This is especially true, since the crisis of a new electoral law that can produce a just sectarian representation, coincided with the crisis of the resigned government of Najib Mikati, about two month ago, which is now limited to managing day-to-day state affairs.

 

These overlapping crises suggest that Lebanon’s various institutions are no longer able to uphold the state’s affairs. The legitimacy of the Constitutional Council, which is in charge of monitoring constitutional legitimacy, has become disreputable. Meanwhile, parliament is paralyzed as a result of sharp divisions, preventing it from producing legislation.

 

Moreover, the military council (which is similar to the Government of the Lebanese Army) has been also become paralyzed. Thus, the military institution is likely to embark on the path of vacuum, as most of its members are retired, while no constitutional provision has been set yet to [choose] any alternatives.

 

What’s more, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces is set to retire in September. Thus, all leaders of the military institutions will soon become leaders by proxy. Hence, current events clearly indicate that the Lebanese crisis has gone beyond the political situation and has gripped the entire political system, undermining the state and sectarian coexistence.

 

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse and for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, as well as the author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.

 

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THE IMMINENT HEZBOLLAH-NUSRA WAR

Hanin Ghaddar

NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013

 

The Syrian Salafist group Jabhat Al-Nusra declared in Jordan that it has set the confrontation with Hezbollah militants in Syria as a top priority. Jordan-based al-Qaeda-affiliate Mohammad Al Shalabi, alias Abi Sayyaf, said that Jabhat al-Nusra has taken a decision to fight Hezbollah militants, who have become "our Jihadists’ main target" across Syria. This came after Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah declared last week that Hezbollah will stand by Syria and help it become a state of resistance. He announced that Hezbollah is ready to receive any sort of qualitative weapons even if it is going to disrupt the regional balance. 

 

For the Syrian rebels, al-Nusra and others, this is a declaration of war against them, knowing that what Nasrallah really means is that Hezbollah is now in charge of Syria, upon Iran’s decision. Hezbollah and Iran are running the show and if the Syrian rebels want to prevail, they need to target Hezbollah, not Assad or the Syrian regime. Assad has been pushed to the background to make way for Hezbollah. Therefore, it is not strange that Al-Nusra has decided to shift its priority to fighting Hezbollah as its main enemy.

 

Al-Nusra’s main mission is not to free Syria of its dictatorship and move to build a modern democratic state. Their goal is the umma and they will fight the enemies of the umma wherever they are. Therefore, their fight against Hezbollah will not stay in Syria and will eventually move to Lebanon. They do not differentiate between Hezbollah and the Shiite community just as they do not differentiate between Assad and Alawites.  This will lead to two dangerous consequences for Lebanon.

 

One, Shiites will be targeted by al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist groups, especially that the sectarian tension among Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites has already reached unprecedented levels. In fact, while Hezbollah sends its fighters to Syria, many Lebanese Sunni groups are also moving to Syria to fight alongside the rebels.

 

What’s happening is that the Lebanese Sunni-Shiite civil war is already taking place, but in Syria. It is only a matter of time before it moves to Lebanon. These fighters will return to Lebanon with increased hatred toward each other; hatred rigged with blood and a desire for revenge. Al-Nusra are not organized enough to fight against Hezbollah in a conventional war, but they could cause great damage by organizing bomb attacks and suicide bombers against Hezbollah’s bases and public squares in the southern suburbs of Beirut or the South.

 

Their fighting tactics are usually based on bomb attacks, not bombing cities with rockets. They are an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, and they don’t usually dissociate between a militant and a civilian. They just target a place aiming at the maximum damage. Therefore, Hezbollah’s supporters and the Shiite community in general will be in danger.

 

Also, there are plenty of Lebanese jihadist and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that had a presence in Lebanon before the Syrian conflict and can now be mobilized to target Hezbollah. Organizations like Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham or Osbat al-Ansar have had bases in Lebanon for years, but they never engaged Hezbollah in direct confrontations. However, after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadists reportedly regrouped in a new radical organization inspired by the emergence and successful military operations of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

 

Two, Lebanon will become al-Nusra’s alternative battlefield. There are no state institutions to control their growing presence in Lebanon or the spread of arms. The current void in government is not helping and Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam seems to be incapable of forming a government that does not meet Hezbollah’s conditions, one that facilitates its involvement in Syria. So how can we protect Lebanon and the Shiites from the looming disaster?

 

Let’s start with the reality that the Shiite community in Lebanon is not one single bloc that supports Hezbollah. The diversity among the Shiites is wider than it is among other sectarian communities, for religious reasons related to the diversity of religious references (Marja’) and different interpretations of the Qur’an. On the political level, this community has never been as divided over Hezbollah as it is today. The feeling that Hezbollah is dragging them to hell is translating into serious discussion and refutation inside the community.

 

There is an urgent need to repeat this over and over. Every Lebanese official and media outlet should aim to highlight this diversity. Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

That’s why it is also important to safeguard Lebanon today by fighting Hezbollah’s hegemony over state institutions. A government that empowers Hezbollah and maintains Iran’s control over state institutions should not be an option. PM-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman should not succumb to any threats. A government to save Lebanon is urgently needed now, more than ever. If this is not achieved, Lebanon will be naturally linked to Hezbollah and the Hezbollah-Nusra war will not spare anyone. If we lose this chance, we lose everything.

 

 Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW.

 

 

HOW HEZBOLLAH SLOWLY INFILTRATED EUROPE

Alexandre Levy

LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013

 

While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island. The man – a self-confessed member of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group – was a scout for the organization, tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of Israeli tourists on the island, in view of organizing a terrorist attack.

 

In front of the judges, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub denied being a terrorist, saying he had only “gathered information about Jews.” “That's what my organization does around the world,” he added. According to reports from the Cyprus police, the Hezbollah agent was particularly meticulous. He took notes on everything: flight schedules, bus license plates, the numbers of security guards, hotels, kosher restaurants etc. Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was arrested on July 7, 2012 by the Cyprus police. But it is only two weeks later that his activities started making sense, says Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

 

On the other side of the Bosporus, in Burgas, on the Bulgarian coast, a bus transporting Israeli tourists was blown up, killing seven people, including the bomber. “It is clear that Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was preparing another attack that was supposed to take place around the same time,” says Levitt. In Feb. 2013, Bulgarian authorities announced their investigations led them to believe that the Hezbollah was behind the bus bombing. Bulgaria had suddenly become a pawn on the dangerous chessboard that is the Middle-Eastern conflict.

 

Bulgaria’s announcement also had important consequences from a European point of view. Some major countries of the EU, including France and Germany, have not designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, so as to preserve the fragile political equilibrium in Lebanon. In light of the events in Cyprus and Burgas, some are “reviewing” their stance, while others “are not sufficiently convinced,” according to Bulgarian Prime Minister Marin Raikov.

 

But in the U.S., there is no doubt. Early 2013, the U.S. Congress invited the EU to blacklist Hezbollah. An invitation reiterated by some of Washington’s top officials, to Israel's utmost satisfaction. For Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah is a key ally of Iran – maybe even its military proxy – playing “a central role in Iran’s shadow war with the West.” Taking advantage of the leniency of some European capitals, Hezbollah has strengthened its network in Europe, recruiting and positioning agents all across the continent. Bi-nationals with ties with Lebanon have the ideal profile. Recruited at age 19, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub had a Swedish passport and did not arouse the suspicion of European police. This allowed him to travel frequently from Turkey to the Netherlands, through Lyon, in east-central France, carrying mysterious packages for Hezbollah.

 

It was the same for the men who operated in Bulgaria: one of them was Canadian, the other Australian; they had entered the country legally. Nothing in their attitude betrayed the true objective of their stay. Bulgarian investigators describe them as smart-looking youths, dressed head to toe with big-brand clothes. They rented cars and booked hotel rooms with fake U.S. drivers’ licenses. That was their only mistake. “The documents were made by a forger in Lebanon, known by our colleagues from Western intelligence services,” explains Bulgaria’s organized crime czar, Stanimir Florov. Money transfers from Lebanon, as well as a photo on which relatives of one of the terrorists posed with high-ranking Hezbollah militants, convinced Bulgarian officials: All the tracks lead back to Beirut.

 

Counter-terrorism experts also noted a “professionalization” of Hezbollah agents abroad. “Using fake IDs, speaking foreign languages, conspiracy techniques and coded communications… as well as a secrecy between members, which is the best way to protect other members, ” explains a European police official.

 

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub has always claimed he had never been face-to-face with his Lebanese handler and that he did not know the real purpose of his mission. This could also be the case for the young man who died in the explosion of the bomb he carried in his backpack, in front of the Israeli tourists’ bus at the Burgas airport. First described as a “suicide bomber,” he was “probably fooled by the other two team members, who managed to escape the bombing,” says a Bulgarian investigator. Nothing, not even his DNA was able to establish his true identity.

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HEZBOLLAH CAMPAIGNS FOR PREEMPTIVE WAR IN SYRIA

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013

 

Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

Hezbollah admits to thus far losing 32 fighters in the battle for Qusair, but some believe the actual figure to be much higher. On May 20, the party buried two brothers who had fought in Qusair, and a rumor circulated that their father died from sorrow during the funeral. The fact that such a story was making the rounds among Hezbollah’s base reflects the prevailing anxiety.

 

Most of the party’s militia members come from the same societal group, so when one of them is killed, it affects an entire community. Hezbollah’s participation in the Qusair fighting thus stands to affect the party’s relationship with its base.

 

The organization's propaganda machine is busy in its strongholds — the Bekaa Valley, south Lebanon, and Beirut’s southern suburbs — trying to preempt feelings of frustration. The campaign is focused on convincing Hezbollah supporters that Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has wisely decided to fight Sunni takfiris in Syria because if they succeed in bringing down the Syrian regime, they will then target Lebanon and subjugate the Shiites.

 

In short, the propaganda campaign is about making the argument for a preemptive war. Hezbollah must fight the Sunni takfirists now, on Syrian ground beside the Syrian army, because if Hezbollah waits until the takfiris bring down the Bashar al-Assad government, it would be forced to fight them alone in Lebanon.

 

Another argument Hezbollah is making is that the party has a duty to defend sacred Shiite shrines in Syria, such as Sayyeda Zeinab in Damascus, which Syrian opposition militants have tried to destroy on more than one occasion.

 

Another part of the propaganda campaign involves promoting stories of heroic acts by party members in Qusair and portraying Hezbollah fighters as militarily superior, even to those in the Syrian army. Such boasting about Hezbollah’s strength and military competence is intended to raise the morale of the base and shift attention away from news reports of Hezbollah losses.

 

So goes the effort to convince Hezbollah supporters that the price of losing their sons is worth it.

 

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013—Three of Europe’s most powerful countries — Britain, Germany and France — have thrown their weight behind a push for the European Union to designate the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the group’s fund-raising activities on the Continent.

 

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013—Many officers do not deny that the Lebanese security services do not possess documented information on the numbers and locations of the “organized takfiri networks” in Lebanon. The head of one of those security services told As-Safir that “monitoring and information-gathering on terrorist networks cannot be precise, since they are located within the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Ain al-Hilweh.”

 

Hizbollah Cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013 —Hizbollah is being drawn into the Syrian quagmire. as revealed by this week's reports of party members being killed fighting in the strategic Syrian town of Qusair. Victory in Qusair is vital for the Syrian regime, as it would clear a corridor between Damascus and the coast, the stronghold of the Alawite community.

 

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