Tag: Syria Civil War


Results of the Brexit referendum is a rebuke to Western elites: Rex Murphy, National Post, June 24, 2016— It’s an old concept I grant you, but nonetheless worth restating. If you want to know what people really think and feel about an issue, have them vote on it, have a referendum.

Get Used to the new Europe: John O’Sullivan, The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2016 — When Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington following the decisive American victory at Yorktown, the British military band retreating from the scene played an old drinking song The World Turned Upside Down.

The Syrian Catastrophe: The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2016— A day after CIA Director John Brennan testified that ISIS now boasts far more fighters than al Qaeda had at its peak, there’s more disagreement in the Obama ranks. Fifty-one State Department diplomats have signed a letter that assails President Obama’s Syria policy—and calls for military strikes and the ouster of dictator Bashar Assad.

Leader of U.S. Supported Syrian Rebel Group Backs Al-Qaida: John Rossomando and Ravi Kumar, The Investigative Project on Terrorism, June 1, 2016— Al-Qaida and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are allies fighting alongside each other for the same cause and should not be viewed differently when it comes to toppling the Assad regime.


On Topic Links


Britain just gave the GOP a tremendous gift: Seth Lipsky, New York Post, Jun. 24, 2016

A Peasant Revolt Upends Britain’s Ruling Elite: Quentin Letts, The Wall Street Journal, Jun.24, 2016

Chemical Weapons Could Change the Game in Syria: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, June 7, 2016

51 State Dept. Diplomats Slam Obama on Syria, Urge Military Strike: Newsmax, Jun.17, 2016




Rex Murphy

National Post, June 24, 2016


It’s an old concept I grant you, but nonetheless worth restating. If you want to know what people really think and feel about an issue, have them vote on it, have a referendum. It’s a principle we might want to hang on to in Canada, if it comes to changing how we vote. But for now the most firm illustration of its wisdom is the just-known results of the Brexit referendum.


The often-ignored, sometimes quite rudely deplored British people have spoken and, to the horror of enlightened opinion, respectable party leaders, the ever-guiding liberal intelligentsia, have decided they don’t want “in” the European Union. The vote comes as a mighty shock to broad-minded continentalists and supranationalists everywhere, but particularly the high elites of British politics. The Guardian’s readership will need special help — grief counsellors are already overwhelmed.


The EU vote is the most dramatic illustration to date of how the “guiding elites” of many Western countries have lost the fealty and trust of their populations. Of the gap between ordinary citizens, facing the challenges of daily life, and the swaddled, well-off and pious tribes of those who govern them, and increasingly govern them with a mixture of moralistic superiority and witless condescension.


But a decade ago, “Euroskeptics” were a slender group, derided by their betters as xenophobes and bigots, a splinter faction of regressive nationalists and illiberal tribalists. That, at least, was the approved version from on high. And from those smug heights, they dismissed with icy contempt the concerns of ordinary people that the “EU project” was draining their national identity, dissolving centuries-old democratic systems, and forcing their submission to an alien, unelected and unaccountable Brussels super-government.


Above all, they dismissed concerns about changing the nature of their country by the new rules on immigration, and the abolition of all borders between the ancient states of Europe.


The Europe-firsters of the British establishment — journalistic, academic and political — were essentially taking the hoary line of Gertrude Stein about Oakland — “There is no there, there” — and telling the broad mass of one of the oldest, most successful nation-states the world has ever seen, that such was Great Britain. There are lessons here for the U.S., particularly now with the emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the presidential campaign


Events in Libya, and Syria, and the mass migration from the Middle East flowing from the disasters of those and other countries, continued global Islamic terror, the gruesome attacks on London’s streets, and in Paris and Brussels, too, accelerated and intensified the concern and alarm of those who saw their country drifting away from them, losing its coherence, shedding its core identity.


There are lessons here for the U.S., particularly now with the emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the presidential campaign. Barack Obama shocked a great slice of the American public with his executive order (since suspended by the Supreme Court) — a pure fiat from the Oval Office — to exempt five million illegal aliens, what Time magazine described as “the largest single immigration action in modern American history.” He did this with a wave of his imperious pen. It was a decree less fit for a president than an emperor, a clear flight of that “Caesarism” which all good Obamaphiles prefer to see only in demon Trump.


It was effected without the consultations and accommodations with a concerned electorate that should always precede great changes in a nation’s character and circumstance. Nothing gave more of an uplift to Trump and Sanders (they’ve both been riding the same wave of distrust of the governing class) than Obama’s highhanded and supercilious dismissal of working-class worries on immigration.


Obama also bears not a little blame — if blame is the word — for the Brexit vote. His inactions in Syria, his famous declaration of the “red line” and the retreat from it, coupled with the mess of his (and Hillary Clinton’s) intervention in Libya, are heavily responsible for the great migratory convulsions of the Middle East.


To cap things off, during his trip to Britain during the referendum, Obama warned that if the country were to leave the EU, in any future trade deal it “would be at the back of the queue.” This was seen both as interference and an insult. The words of a Telegraph columnist capture the sentiment this intrusion provoked: “(T)he condescending tones that Mr. Obama used (may produce) the reverse effect” from the one intended.


Indeed. There is a price for governing from on high, for being detached from voters’ expressed concerns and anxieties, and for characterizing those concerns and anxieties always as small-minded, or proceeding only from anti-liberal biases, or xenophobia and racism. Might it not also be possible that people in turbulent times, in an uncertain economy, increasingly apprehensive that their leaders are not listening to them and do not care to listen, will finally decline to follow those leaders? David Cameron has just now learned that the hard way. He has announced his resignation as prime minister.


And if enough Americans in the coming election start to feel that Washington has “evolved” into a home-grown version of Brussels, a regulation- and executive-order driven, citizen-detached administration, those citizens may choose Trump for their president. Not so much because they see him as “saviour” but as a rebuke to those “better” leaders who so scorn him. The Brexit vote is an item in a larger wave of change, one that has immediate relevance for most Western democracies.





John O’Sullivan

The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2016


When Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington following the decisive American victory at Yorktown, the British military band retreating from the scene played an old drinking song The World Turned Upside Down. That may be a myth; the story was originally told by someone who hadn’t been at Yorktown. But it’s a myth that has lasted right down to the present (being referenced most recently in the Broadway hit musical Hamilton) because it captures the widespread and serious consequences of Cornwallis’s defeat.

Well, it’s a bigger world today, but Brexit looks to be turning pretty much all of it upside down. Just consider some of the leading players and institutions hit by it:

David Cameron: He had been walking a tightrope as the Europhile leader of a Eurosceptic party who hoped to finesse the issue of Europe indefinitely. In order to fend off UKIP and a Tory rebellion, he promised a referendum, hoping that his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, would nix it in the next coalition. But he won an outright majority and had to keep the promise. Then, wanting the referendum out of the way, he held quick talks with the EU, asked for little, got less, and returned to London boasting of trivial concessions. Finally, he fought a tough campaign against half of his own party and lost it. It turned out that his Eurosceptic Tory opponents had a better sense of the Tory faithful (and U.K. voters generally) than he did. He fell off the tightrope with dignity, however, and will resign to allow a Eurosceptic to be elected Tory leader and prime minister who can conduct Brexit negotiations more plausibly than a Europhile.

Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Commission: If the European leaders negotiating with Prime Minister David Cameron over his package of concessions had been only slightly more generous, he might well have won yesterday’s referendum. A reformed Europe or a Europe à la carte was acceptable to many Brits who disliked an over-centralized and undemocratic one.

Such a looser Europe would also have solved or ameliorated their other problems such as the euro. But the Eurocrats calculated either that Mr. Cameron was bluffing or that the Brits would always halt at the brink of withdrawal. As a result Britain will soon be out of the EU, other euro-problems are growing worse, and the “contagion” of Euroscepticism has been given a boost throughout Europe.

Chancellor George Osborne, (Canadian) Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, the Lords of H.M. Treasury, the IMF, OECD, etc., etc.: Both men and institutions (and Christine Lagarde for the IMF) made extravagant predictions of the economic and financial disasters that would descend upon Britain following Brexit. One Tory commentator described Mr. Osborne as the first Chancellor to try to spook the markets. The financial markets were duly spooked – as always happens in response to a major uncertainty – but they seem now to be stabilizing. The reputations of institutions and their leaders are now on the line, however. If their long-term predictions (which were widely derided as simply made up) prove false, exaggerated, or misleading, they may need to follow Mr. Cameron into other professions.

President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department: Pressure on the U.K. to participate in an integrated European political entity has been a sustained theme in U.S. foreign policy since the early 1950s. Much of the time the Brits were reluctant or even hostile; Washington kept pressing. This time Mr. Obama made it personal. But the implied deal – you surrender your independence in order to advance our interests within the EU – is obviously a tad one-sided. And the referendum result is now an insuperable obstacle to Washington taking it up in future. Mr. Obama will simply have to learn several European telephone numbers – if only to ring more than one of the EU’s five presidents.

Almost all commentators inside and outside Britain: Opinion polls kept showing that large majorities of British voters were worried about loss of sovereignty, loss of democracy inside the EU, and their consequences in loss of U.K. control over immigration levels. Most commentators, including those who were otherwise acute in their observations, failed to take these concerns (especially democratic sovereignty) at all seriously.

They repeatedly discussed immigration in terms of racism, xenophobia, and fear of globalization, never seeing that many decent people were worried about loss of community. As journalist David Goodhart (not incidentally a social democrat) theorized, it was a case of “nowhere” people simply not grasping the outlook of “somewhere people.” They were still making the same mistake in their explanations of the result on Friday morning.

Almost every foreign leader: Everyone knew that Brexit was bound to fail. So they happily agreed to give Mr. Cameron a helping hand by saying what a bad thing it would be. The exception was Australia’s former prime minister, John Howard, who endorsed it. Moral: experience counts.

Now, everyone will have to adjust to a different Europe, a different Britain, and a different structure of international relations. This 52-48 victory for Brexit on a turnout of 72 per cent has more democratic authority than any election in Britain since 1945. The political reality is that it can’t be reversed. And if it works reasonably well – i.e., without the string of disasters predicted – then almost all its opponents will themselves have to adjust to it as the new dominant consensus of British politics.





The Editorial Board

The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2016


A day after CIA Director John Brennan testified that ISIS now boasts far more fighters than al Qaeda had at its peak, there’s more disagreement in the Obama ranks. Fifty-one State Department diplomats have signed a letter that assails President Obama’s Syria policy—and calls for military strikes and the ouster of dictator Bashar Assad.


This is remarkable. These rebels aren’t the “neocons” of liberal myth. They are career diplomats whose mission is to pursue the peace through diplomacy that Mr. Obama invokes as his highest foreign-policy principle. Yet they are indicting Mr. Obama’s Syrian diplomacy as a strategic and moral failure.


The 51 signers recognize that American priorities for Syria—a genuine cease-fire, relief for its suffering citizens and regime change—have failed because U.S. diplomacy is a wish list with nothing to back it up. A “judicious” use of military force, they say, would “undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic effort.”


The Russians understand this. When Mr. Obama was scrambling in 2013 for some way not to make good on his red-line threat over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Vladimir Putin offered a face-saving climbdown: Washington and Moscow would work together to remove the weapons and persuade Assad to negotiate a cease-fire.


Assad never has given up all of his chemical weapons, and Mr. Putin has since used the opening to play the military card Mr. Obama wouldn’t. He has used Russian forces to prop up Assad and attack the regime’s opponents—all the while claiming to want a cease-fire. In Oslo this week after months of Russian and Syrian deception, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite.”


Really? Russia seems to understand Messrs. Obama and Kerry very well.

So Syria burns. Assad’s war on his own countrymen has left more than 250,000 dead and created millions of refugees. A Pew Research Center analysis this week says the percentage of the Syrian population displaced from their homes has reached 60%—“unprecedented,” it says, “in recent history for a single country.”


The numbers don’t convey the full horror. The city of Aleppo, home to the greatest resistance to the Assad regime, has been pounded for months by Russian and Syrian warplanes. Almost every day brings some new crime: the bombing of a hospital, attacks on women and children, and the Assad government’s successful efforts to prevent aid convoys of food and medicine from reaching besieged civilians.


Two decades ago the world stood by as thousands of Bosnian Muslims were rounded up and killed in Srebrenica. Aleppo is President Obama’s Srebrenica—not that a fawning press corps has noticed.


Syria’s chaos has also incubated the rise of Islamic State, set America against its traditional allies, sent refugees pouring into Europe, invited the Russians back into the region, fed Iran’s influence in a nervous Arab world and spread instability across the region. But Mr. Obama carries on with business as usual.


And why should anyone expect anything different? This is the President who stayed silent in 2009 when Iranians took to the streets to demand their freedom; who ignored his generals when he withdrew too quickly from Iraq and Afghanistan; who in 2012 rejected the call from his CIA Director (David Petraeus), his Defense Secretary (Leon Panetta) and his Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) to arm moderate Syrian rebels. Now add the diplomatic rank and file to the list of those he ignores.


Two years ago the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, resigned because he said he could no longer defend Mr. Obama’s policy. The only difference between the dissent now and then seems to be that the men and women at the State Department handling Syria are determined to make clear that the wreckage the world is witnessing in Syria is Mr. Obama’s handiwork, not theirs. They understand that Syria didn’t merely “happen” on Mr. Obama’s watch. It has unfolded so horribly because of the President’s abdication.


Mr. Obama came to office in 2009 scoring George W. Bush for the high price of his interventions abroad. In the human and strategic tragedy that is today’s Syria, the world is learning that the failure to intervene can exact an even higher price.     







John Rossomando & Ravi Kumar

The Investigative Project on Terrorism, June 1, 2016



Al-Qaida and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are allies fighting alongside each other for the same cause and should not be viewed differently when it comes to toppling the Assad regime, said Anas al-Abdeh, president of the U.S.-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.


"They are all in the same trench," Al-Abdeh told the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat on May 23. "We cannot differentiate between fighters whether they are Al Nusra, Ahrar Al Sham or the Free Syrian Army," Al-Abdeh said.


Al-Abdeh has had an association with the U.S. government since at least 2009. Classified cables released by Wikileaks show that U.S. taxpayers gave up to $6 million to his former group, the Movement for Justice and Development in Syria, which al-Abdeh founded in 2006. The money funded the Syrian opposition channel Barada TV, headed by his brother, Malek al-Abdeh, and other activities inside Syria.


A secret 2009 State Department cable cited a Syrian source who described Movement for Justice and Development in Syria followers as "liberal, moderate Islamists," including ex-Muslim Brotherhood members.


Anas Al-Abdeh opposes the recent American effort to work with his group's Kurdish rival, the Syrian Democratic Forces, because he and his brother have supported Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkey represses its Kurdish minority, opposes the idea of a Kurdish state and has used the Syrian conflict to attack Kurdish opposition forces.


In an interview with Rudaw on Monday, Al Abdeh criticized the SDF's recent offensive against Raqqa, ISIS's capital in Syria, because it is not part of the Syrian Revolution and aligned with Turkey.

The U.S. government spent more than $500 million to train and equip the Syrian rebels only led to the training of four or five fighters. Also, American weapons that provided to Al-Abdeh's group found their way into the hands of pro Al- Qaeda groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra.






On Topic Links


Britain just gave the GOP a tremendous gift: Seth Lipsky, New York Post, Jun. 24, 2016— What a gift to the Republican Party. No sooner had Britons made their historic vote for independence than Donald Trump—already in Scotland—declared that they have “taken their country back” and called it a “great thing.”

A Peasant Revolt Upends Britain’s Ruling Elite: Quentin Letts, The Wall Street Journal, Jun.24, 2016—What indignation we had from London liberals when the result of Britain’s referendum on the European Union became clear early on Friday. By a majority of 52% in a high turnout, voters had opted to leave the Brussels-based union of 28 European countries.

Chemical Weapons Could Change the Game in Syria: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, June 7, 2016—The Syrian regime unleashed full military grade chemical weapons against IS several weeks ago, a move that occasioned little response from the wider world. The assault demonstrated that the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal has not been fulfilled.

51 State Dept. Diplomats Slam Obama on Syria, Urge Military Strike: Newsmax, Jun.17, 2016— More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo critical of U.S. policy in Syria, calling for military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's government to stop its persistent violations of a civil war ceasefire.







There are two key, related, and little-remarked dimensions of the current Middle Eastern migration crisis. These are, on the one hand,  the almost complete economic and political collapse of the Muslim societies and states furnishing the millions of desperate refugees.   The second dimension of the phenomenon is the immense strains the millions of Moslem refugees are putting on the European Union countries and the notion of a unified Europe and, indeed, on the much-vexed question of a ”European” identify itself.


The migrants are coming above all from a disintegrating Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Morocco, Tunisia,  Egypt, and other countries. Millions of refugees are already in under-funded camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Muslim failed states are risking their lives to reach Europe. For the latter (generally with more money than the refugee camp residents) their first stops after Turkey are in southern Europe (Greece, Italy, southern France, followed by journeys to points northwest(through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary to the promised lands of Germany, Sweden, and Austria. (Another route winds from Libya to France to Belgium, the Netherlands and (via Calais) to Great Britain.)


These desperate people—almost 440,000 so far this year, according to the UN–, largely young adult males but also including whole families and young couples with infants, cross treacherous waters from Turkey and North Africa to reach Italian, Greek and French ports, on flimsy boats and inflatable dinghies, often capsizing before reaching safety (almost 3,000 have already died this year). Western consciences, long dormant in regard to the refugees—in Syria, the civil war and its refugee tide is, after all, now in its fifth year–have finally been touched by the recent, tragic pictures of Ayan Kurdi, the three-year-old who drowned off Turkey with his five-year-old brother and mother.  


The European Union states, wholly unprepared for the onslaught and without a common policy or enforcement mechanism, are overwhelmed. UN refugee funding this year is only 37% of the estimated $4.5 billion need; its World Food Program is 63% underfunded, and available monies for Syrian relief are only 43% of requirement; the World Health Organization stands at only 27% of need. These figures are somewhat offset by Germany, which has said it would budget $4.5 billion in 2015, and by the EU, which is asking member-=states to allocate $1.1 billion for 160,000 refugees.  Even so, needs are immense and increasing, and total available funds are scarce. 


Already concerned with ever-increasing and partially unassimilated domestic Muslim populations, all but Germany and Sweden have resisted taking in additional tens of thousands of migrants. (The recent emergency European Union conference, called by Angela Merkel, to spread responsibility around by assigning shared quotas to all EU states, has failed over Hungarian-led eastern European resistance.)


Remarkably, Germany, the major exception, initially announced it would admit over 800,000 migrants this year alone (1% of its population). Berlin’s motives are variously attributed, to an inherited, compensatory guilt over the Nazi period, to a sense as Europe’s most powerful state, of economic and political noblesse oblige, to an aging population’s less-than-replacement rate and desperate need for young skilled and semi-skilled labor.


Indeed, Germany’s readiness to violate the EU’s “Dublin regulations” for the orderly processing of refugee claims (registration, processing, and internment in the first country of refuge) was denounced by Prime Minister Orban of Hungary. Quickly putting up razor-wire fences to block access to the tens of thousands of migrants, even as he pronounced the need to preserve Hungary’s (and Europe’s) “Christian heritage” from being swamped by the Muslim tidal-wave, Orban blamed Berlin’s open-door policy for creating the crisis in the first place.)


While the total world refugee population has been estimated at ca.37 million, Europe currently is looking at a potential flow of several million predominantly Muslim people annually (currently, Syrian refugees constitute the lion’s share, 51%, with Afghans second at 15%, followed by Iraqis and others). When tens of thousands piled up in and around Budapest, the conservative-nationalist regime there built its razor-wire walls to shut off the flow across its territory to Austria. (Now Croatia, which initially announced it would allow transit, connecting the flow to Slovenia and hence to northern Europe, has also reneged and closed its borders, creating a crisis in the formerly “borderless” (Schengen Agreement) European Union.        


Some years ago French-Jewish scholar Bat Ye’or wrote a study of Muslim immigration to France and Europe called "Eurabia". She argued that a kind of deal, explicit and implicit, between Western states and Arab regimes—acceptance of large-scale Muslim immigration in Europe in return for Western investment in the Middle East states—would change the face of the Old Continent. The result would be increasingly culturally mixed, and increasingly antisemitic and anti-Israel, European societies.


That vision has largely been realized, and in some ways even Bat Ye’or probably could not have envisioned. Who could have foreseen the total failure of the so-called “Arab Spring”, and the terrible ensuing, and ongoing, civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Somalia (not to mention conflicts in Nigeria [Boko Haram], Mali, Kenya, Algeria, and so on)? And how have predicted the further destabilizing impacts of the American pull-out from the region (engineered by Obama, Kerry and Hillary Clinton, and concretely sealed by the recent nuclear “deal” with Iran); of the Russian intervention in support of Assad in Syria (now radicalized by the introduction of jet fighters and tanks); and of Iran’s intervention in Syria (using Hezbollah proxies) and in Yemen. 


What is truly remarkable in all this, and again rarely remarked upon, is the evident attraction of Western secular (and formally/formerly Christian) Europe to the Muslim-world migrants and refugees. It is largely the relatively educated and fairly comfortable Syrian and other middle-class migrants, who have the money for travel, food, illegal smugglers, and the cellphones which keep them in touch with one another and the families left behind.


Europe is the magnet for these relatively well-off people seeking safety, stability and, as some say, liberty. And some, according to news reports, are even ready to convert to Christianity to assure their access to European status. (The poorer Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Libyans and others, pushed out by or fleeing from civil war and chaos, from ISIS, al-Nusra Front, the Taliban and the Shabab, remain in squalid conditions and under-funded Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps (2½ million in Turkey alone). Despite shared Muslim religious, and linguistic, identity, they are—as is usual in Arab lands—-excluded by their Arab “host” countries from education, job training, and becoming permanent citizens. Nor have the wealthiest, and sparsely inhabited, Arab states—Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates—yet to accept a single Syrian or other refugee.


This crisis, like the socio-political collapse of the Arab states which is its primary motor, shows no signs of letting up. In Syria, now approaching 300,000 war-related deaths, there are 12 million refugees, over 4 million of them external (some of this is a kind of ethnic cleansing, of Alawite Assad forcing millions of Sunni antagonists out).   No meaningful Western intervention is in the offing, no “boots on the ground” to stiffen Arab resistance to ISIS and compensate for the weak air campaigns so far launched, no prospect of a political deal which alone might end the civil war and stem the flood of migrants.


The size and implications of this modern version of the late classical and early medieval Voelkerwanderungen, the large-scale movement of peoples, whole Germanic tribes, across Europe, east to west, are staggering.  There is no way contemporary Europe, either western,  or less developed eastern, can enforce a general, shared policy. Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia are closing their borders; Denmark’s and Poland’s are already shut. Britain and France are resisting (indeed Britain may exit the European Union altogether in a coming referendum). And Germany—which already excludes Balkan immigrants (some of whom now are masquerading as Syrians)—is, faced with growing opposition within and without Chancellor Merkel’s own Christian Democratic party, closing the open doors of her earlier, high-mindedly moral, policy.


Europe’s record of being able to assimilate earlier Muslim immigrants is not good. Arab, Turkish, and African immigration, though smaller in annual scale, totalled over time hundreds of thousands, had already engendered rising national opposition and, increasingly, restrictive legislation.


Much of the marked rise in recent years of European antisemitic incidents and suburban violence and murder issues from Islamist immigrants and radicalized European-born Muslim youth (from the Charlie Hebdo murders to the attacks on synagogues and the Supermarché Kasher, to the killing of an anti-Islamist film-maker in Holland and the beheading of a British soldier in London) It reflects unsuccessful assimilation tied to the influence of Islamist sharia activism and  terrorist infiltration, worsened by the weak European economies’ inability to create sufficient jobs and social mobility.  


(Indeed, several observers of the recent wave of Muslim migrants in Greece, Macedonia and Hungary have noted a tendency—despite the fact that they are being pushed out of their own Arab-Muslim countries by  the violence and oppression of Arab regimes and the indifference of fellow Muslims—to blame “the Jews” or “Israel” for their predicament.


This should call to mind the largely-forgotten violent oppression and eviction of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands after 1948. In this regard, what warrant is there to think that the addition of millions of Muslims to European states already marked by existing tensions will not in fact worsen them?(What will many of the newcomers drawn to “Mother Merkel”’s Germany make of their new homeland’s “sacred relationship” of support for Jewish Israel?)


It is beyond Europe’s capacity, and the Europeans’ will, wholly to absorb this massive migration. And even if it were possible it could, when added to Europe’s already large and growing Muslim populations, well unbalance the European Union’s current populations. (Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban’s protest–mirrored by the views of Polish, Croatian, Slovakian and other officials–that the nature of “Christian Europe” demands limits on Muslim immigrants, may be politically incorrect, but it expresses a genuine and growing European concern. If ignored by current political elites, this could lead to an ultra-right-wing and nationalist reaction.)   


This deep crisis reveals deep cracks in European cultural identity and  “unity”. It is far more threatening than Greece’s potential bankruptcy and threatened turn from the euro to the drachma, and may well shatter, politically as well as culturally, the already-fragile European Union, It raises difficult questions about the limits of globalism and “diversity”, and the continuing role of national political and cultural identities, in Europe as much as in the Middle East.


And even as the post- or trans-national identity of “Europe” is being called into question, with a possible strengthening of national-traditional elements, the Arab states’ collapse means the end of “national” post-Ottoman Empire political constructs (“Iraq”, “Syria”, “Libya”) imposed by the West European powers in the early twentieth century (the Sykes-Picot treaty). However precarious and artificial such colonialist-era identities in fact were, they nevertheless created  order and survived a hundred years–what will replace them now? Al-Baghdadi’s bloody ISIS Caliphate? semi-anarchical local-regional tribal sheikhdoms?


As long as these failing Muslim states are wracked by civil war and unending violence and bloodshed–and no end is yet in sight–the desperate migrants, driven across dark seas and rivers and hostile lands like a whirling crowd of lost souls out of Dante’s Inferno, will, ironically, seek their future in a once-Christian Europe. Where will they go, who will accept them, and with what consequences? And when will it end?


(Professor Frederick Krantz is Director of

the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)






We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication.


The Syria Sham and the Iran Deal: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2015— Once upon a time Barack Obama chose multilateral diplomacy over military action for the sake of ridding a dangerous Middle Eastern regime of its weapons of mass destruction.

Syria’s Chemical Weapon Obfuscations: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Aug. 7, 2015 — While nearly all of the chemical weapons (CW) capabilities declared by Syria have been destroyed – certainly an appreciable achievement – it has become increasingly clear that the declared quantities, components, and facilities constitute but part of the full picture.

Syria's War Between Anti-Israel Forces Leaves Jerusalem With Difficult Choices: Moshe Maoz, Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2015 — For some time now two major Muslim forces have been fighting for control over the Fertile Crescent.

On Greek Island, Migrants Find That Paradise Quickly Turns Into Purgatory: Griff Witte, Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2015— The heaving rubber raft, packed with 49 people, had motored more than halfway across the narrow strait that separates Turkey from Greece when it began to rapidly fill with water.


On Topic Links


Syrian Rebels Make Fresh Gains: Sam Dagher, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2015

What Turkey Wants in Syria: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, July 31, 2015

Tend to Syria: Kenneth Bandler, Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2015

As Conditions Worsen, Greece Promises Ship to House Refugees: New York Times, Aug. 12, 2015



THE SYRIA SHAM AND THE IRAN DEAL                                                                                

Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2015


Once upon a time Barack Obama chose multilateral diplomacy over military action for the sake of ridding a dangerous Middle Eastern regime of its weapons of mass destruction. The critics mocked and raged and muttered, but everything worked out well and now the only thing that’s missing is someone who will give the president credit. Or so Mr. Obama would like you to believe.


“You’ll recall that that was the previous end of my presidency,” Mr. Obama told the New Yorker’s David Remnick of his September 2013 deal to get Syria’s Bashar Assad to hand over his WMD stockpile, “until it turned out that we are actually getting all the chemical weapons. And no one reports on that anymore.” Nor were these the only hosannas the president and his advisers sang to themselves for the Syria deal. “With 92.5% of the declared chemical weapons out of the country,” said Susan Rice in May 2014, the U.S. had achieved more than any “number of airstrikes that might have been contemplated would have done.” John Kerry also boasted of his diplomatic prowess in a March 2015 speech: “We cut a deal and were able to get all the chemical weapons out of Syria in the middle of the conflict.”


And there was Mr. Obama again, at a Camp David press conference in May: “Assad gave up his chemical weapons. That’s not speculation on our part. That, in fact, has been confirmed by the organization internationally that is charged with eliminating chemical weapons.” Note the certitude of these pronouncements, the lordly swagger. Now note the facts. “One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.” So note the Journal’s Adam Entous and Naftali Bendavid in a deeply reported July 23 exposé that reveals as much about the sham disarmament process in Syria as it foretells about the sham we are getting with Iran.


Start with the formal terms under which inspectors were forced to operate. The deal specified that Syria would give inspectors access to its “declared” chemical-weapons sites, much as Iran is expected to give U.N. inspectors unfettered access to its own declared sites. As for any undeclared sites, inspectors could request access provided they furnish evidence of their suspicions, giving the regime plenty of time to move, hide and deceive—yet another similarity with the Iran deal.


The agreement meant that inspectors were always playing by the regime’s rules, even as Washington pretended to dictate terms. Practical considerations tilted the game even further. “Because the regime was responsible for providing security, it had an effective veto over inspectors’ movements,” the Journal reported. “The team decided it couldn’t afford to antagonize its hosts, explains one of the inspectors, or it ‘would lose all access to all sites.’ ” In other words, the political need to get Mr. Assad to hand over his declared stockpile took precedence over keeping the regime honest. It helped Mr. Assad that he had an unwitting accomplice in the CIA, whose analysts certified that his chemical declaration “matched what they believed the regime had.” Intelligence analysts at the Pentagon were more skeptical. But their doubts were less congenial to a White House eager to claim a win, and hence not so widely advertised.


You can expect a similar pattern to emerge in the wake of the Iran deal. Western intelligence agencies will furnish policy makers with varying assessments; policy makers will choose which ones to believe according to their political preferences. Tehran will cheat in ambiguous and incremental ways; the administration will play down the violations for the sake of preserving the broader deal. Over time, defending the deal will become a matter of rationalizing it. As in: At least we destroyed Syria’s declared chemical stockpile. Or: At least we’ve got eyes on Iran’s declared nuclear sites.


Perhaps the most interesting details in the Journal story concerned the sophistication of the Syrian program. Chemical weapons-production facilities were hidden in the trailers of 18-wheel trucks—exactly of the kind that were rumored to have been moved to Syria from Iraq in 2003. Inspectors were impressed by the quality of Syrian-made munitions. The regime was also able elaborately to disguise its chemical research facilities, even during site visits by inspectors.


The CIA now admits that Syria retains significant quantities of its deadliest chemical weapons. When Mr. Obama announced the Syria deal, he warned that he would use military force in the event that Mr. Assad failed to honor his promises. The threat was hollow then. It is laughable now. What ties the Syrian sham to the Iranian one is an American president bent on conjuring political illusions at home at the expense of strategic facts abroad, his weakness apparent to everyone but himself.




SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPON OBFUSCATIONS                                                                                        

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham                                                                                            

BESA, Aug. 7, 2015


While nearly all of the chemical weapons (CW) capabilities declared by Syria have been destroyed – certainly an appreciable achievement – it has become increasingly clear that the declared quantities, components, and facilities constitute but part of the full picture. The operation to chemically disarm Syria, conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (led by the US but also involving Britain, Germany and Finland), has apparently reached a crossroads. The US Central Intelligence Agency initially accepted and trusted the Syrian declarations, whereas the US Defense Intelligence Agency doubted their reliability, to say the least. Recently, however, a shift has occurred, and the CIA is now fully convinced that the list of assets disclosed by the Syrian regime was incomplete.


Over the past year, after the elimination of its CW arsenal was supposed to have been completed, Syria has unveiled the existence of additional facilities. Further facilities were discovered by the inspectors; significant (and occasionally farcical) gaps and inconsistencies remained unexplained regarding the coherence of the data provided by Syria; and access by inspectors to certain installations and to several production plants was obstructed. Syria’s conduct has even included the concealment of highly-valued equipment within “large goods vehicles” (a tactic highly reminiscent of an Iraqi modus operandi).


The Syrian regime clearly intended to hide a series of facilities. The regime probably assumed that there was a low probability of these facilities being discovered by the West or seized by ISIS or rebels forces. Perhaps the regime had a planned timetable for rescuing the contents of these facilities (extraordinarily classified capabilities in particular), or considered them essential for the regime’s survival. These considerations could have been influenced by Russia and Iran, taking into account the fact that Russia joined, at least outwardly, the American effort to disarm Syria, and that Iran (together with Hezbollah) is the main foreign element fighting ISIS in Syria. Russia and Iran are most likely much more familiar with the real remaining Syrian CW capabilities – as well as with the related past and ongoing Syrian maneuvers – than Western intelligence organizations.


The last mentioned consideration – strategic essentiality for the survival of the regime – might be a crucial factor. Increasingly worried about his military position, Assad could expand the employment of CW (chiefly chlorine, during the last year) in order to aggressively defend his core territory. VX, in addition to sarin, could also be very useful for that purpose. Assad may resort to such an option, despite the fact that the international community would almost certainly not tolerate it. If this option becomes necessary for his survival, and is the only option open to him, he will expectedly exercise it – and international opinion be damned.

The full chemical disarming of Syria remains highly desirable for a number of reasons: To completely terminate Assad’s CW capacities; to prevent Assad from transferring such capacities to other parties (either inside or outside Syria), particularly Hezbollah; and to prevent the capture of CW by ISIS, an extremely fanatic and brutal organization.


However, the Syrian regime has repeatedly exploited, time and again, the civil war and the confrontations with ISIS and the rebels as an excuse for impeding inspections activities. Regime representatives have been able to prevent the inspectors reaching a specific location by simply stating that it is too dangerous. If an inspection team ignores this advice, there are a number of options to ensure it does not reach its destination, the ultimate one being a physical attack, deniable under the “fog” of the civil war.


In addition, The Wall Street Journal reports that inspectors admit they have methodically avoided challenging the regime, although challenging should be an integral part of their mission. They feared a deterioration of the security provided to them (by the regime, as against ISIS and the rebels); and, moreover, their mission has throughout been strictly oriented to the elimination of the declared CW capabilities, rather than concomitantly conducting a demanding search for undeclared ones. That is precisely what Damascus was expecting…                                                                                                                                            

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






Moshe Maoz                                     

Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2015


For some time now two major Muslim forces have been fighting for control over the Fertile Crescent. On the one hand, the radical Sunni ISIS wants to set up an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond; on the other, Shi’ite Iran aims to establish a “Shi’ite Crescent” in much the same space that would include a Shi’ite regime in Baghdad, a pseudo-Shi’ite Alawite regime in Damascus and the Shi’ite militia Hezbollah ever more prominent in Lebanon. These two rival forces are both hostile toward Israel and strongly supportive of the Palestinians.


After the capture of the cities of Ramadi west of Baghdad and Tadmur (Palmyra) northeast of Damascus in mid-May, it seems that ISIS is closing in on its territorial and ideological goals. It controls around 40 percent of Iraq and Syria in a contiguous swath that includes oil and gas fields and a number of small cities.


The ISIS fighters are highly motivated. Their fighting spirit and capacity for rapid movement in open pickup trucks enabled them to capture large unpopulated desert expanses and less densely populated rural and urban areas. But they have only limited access to heavy weapons and the composition of their fighting reserves is also problematic. Many are not Iraqis or Syrians but rather nationals of other Arab, Muslim or European countries. In the eyes of most Muslims in the region, especially the religious leaders, they are considered apostates who give Islam a bad name through the callousness and cruelty of their public executions, massacres, raping, pillaging and devastation of archaeological treasures.


Facing them is Iran, a full-fledged regional power determined to reinforce its Shi’ite-led axis. It provides its allies with arms, money and men in the struggle against ISIS and other Sunni groups. It backs local and outside Shi’ite militias like Hezbollah and deploys its own al-Quds and Revolutionary Guard forces in Iraq and Syria. In an emergency, the possibility that Iran might send in regular troops in the framework of “mutual defense treaties” with Iraq or Syria cannot be ruled out. Iran will undoubtedly make a supreme military effort to prevent the fall of Karbala and Najaf, cities holy to Shi’a, into radical Sunni hands or the collapse of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, a key link in the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut axis.


One shouldn’t expect great power opposition to Iran’s fight against ISIS. On the contrary, Washington mistakenly considers ISIS the more dangerous foe and even coordinates its aerial attacks against the radical Sunni group with Tehran and Baghdad, and probably with Damascus as well. Russia, too, even if it withdraws its support for Assad, will continue to help Iran through the supply of sophisticated weaponry.


Therefore, there is a reasonable chance that Iran will gradually be able to defeat and marginalize ISIS, especially in Iraq where around 60 percent of the population is Shi’ite. Moreover, among the Sunni supporters of ISIS, there are tribal heads and former Ba’ath party loyalists and officers forced out of positions of power by the previous Shi’ite government in Baghdad; they could well be prized away from ISIS by reintegrating them in the Iraqi state.


The Kurds in northern Iraq, about 20 percent of the population, are mainly Sunni but oppose both ISIS and direct Iraqi- Shi’ite rule. Therefore in the short term, given the weakness of the Iraqi army, Iraq will probably remain divided into three rival regions: the Kurds in the north, ISIS in the northwest, and the Shi’ite government around Baghdad and in the south. In the longer term, there could be a Shi’ite-Kurdish agreement on a new Iraqi federation, after jointly expelling ISIS from its strongholds. An alternative scenario might see Iraq breaking up and Iran taking over the southern part of the country.


In Syria, the balance of power is more complex. About 70 percent of the population is Sunni, including 10 percent Kurds, who in the main oppose the Alawite regime and its Shi’ite-Iranian patron. But many Sunnis, as well as Christians, Druse and Alawites, are opposed to ISIS because of its religious fanaticism and cruelty toward secular Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. Recent reports on tactical cooperation between ISIS and Assad are likely to further strengthen mainstream Sunni opposition to both.


For much of the fighting, the Sunni opposition has been fragmented into scores, even hundreds of uncoordinated and sometimes rival groups. Similarly, the aid they received from the region and the West was ineffectually disbursed. Recently, however, important Sunni opposition groups have developed an impressive degree of military cooperation and coordination. This includes moderate secular forces like the Free Syrian Army and various Islamic Fronts, the Muslim Brothers and even al-Qaedalinked Jabhat al-Nusra…

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




ON GREEK ISLAND, MIGRANTS FIND THAT PARADISE                                                                          

QUICKLY TURNS INTO PURGATORY                                                                                                

Griff Witte                                                                                                                          

Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2015


The heaving rubber raft, packed with 49 people, had motored more than halfway across the narrow strait that separates Turkey from Greece when it began to rapidly fill with water. “Whoever can swim, get out or we will all die!” yelled an Iraqi woman near the front, her belly swollen with an unborn child conceived amid war and now facing mortal peril at sea. Dutifully, four men jumped overboard into the wind-whipped waves as others blew whistles, flailed their arms and shouted prayers into the cloud-covered sky. Minutes later, the raft careered into the rocky shoreline. It was followed soon after by the four men, who had been plucked from the water by a passing fishing boat. “Union!” the refugees cheered as they set wobbly foot in this staggeringly beautiful new land.


Their crash landing on the Greek island of Lesbos, witnessed by a Washington Post reporter, had given the refugees from Iraq and Syria an all-important toehold in the European Union. With its aqua-green shoals, olive-tree-studded mountains and five-star resorts, it looks every bit the paradise they had dreamed Europe would be. But within hours, paradise for the new arrivals turned into purgatory. For it is here on this enchanting island that two of the continent’s great crises converge — an unparalleled flow of migrants from the war-saturated regions that ring the continent, and the struggle of an E.U. member that can barely support its own citizens, much less tens of thousands of desperate foreigners.


Having escaped failed states, the migrants find themselves in a failing one. Once they make their way off the beach, they are welcomed to Europe with a long, hot trek through the island’s mountainous interior followed by days and nights in fetid, crowded refugee camps that veteran international aid workers say are among the worst they have seen. “We ran away from war. We ran away from violence. We came to Europe because we want to live like human beings,” Zahra Jafari, an almond-eyed 30-year-old Afghan, said as she prepared for a night’s sleep amid the sand fleas and pervasive whiffs of excrement that mark life in the camps. “But here it smells so bad. There’s no water here. There’s no food here.” “This is the opposite of what we thought Europe would be,” she said. “It’s a disaster — just like my country.”


Local officials do not dispute that conditions in the camps are poor. They acknowledge being unprepared and overwhelmed by the scale of arrivals after years of managing much smaller flows. As the migrant numbers have surged this spring and summer, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, has fired off letter after letter to E.U. officials, the Greek government in Athens and international aid organizations seeking urgent assistance. Only the aid groups have come through with meaningful help, according to his spokesman. “The minister of interior visited, said ‘Keep up the good work,’ and he left,” said the spokesman, Marios Andriotios. But the Greek government, of course, is broke.


Europe’s absence has been more difficult for local officials and aid workers here to fathom. And yet it reflects the often dysfunctional and slow-footed way that the E.U. has responded to the migrant crisis, with many Northern European governments reluctant to share a burden that has been felt disproportionately along the continent’s southern flank among countries that are already deeply in debt. Until this year, Italy was the top destination for migrants seeking to enter Europe by sea. But now that dubious distinction is held by Greece — the E.U. country that can least afford the strain — with an increasing number of migrants forgoing the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean aboard rickety ships in favor of the quicker yet still perilous route through the Aegean in an overstuffed dinghy.


Nowhere has that shift been felt more acutely than here in Lesbos, where the number of arrivals in July alone was nearly three times the total from all of last year. Separated by just eight nautical miles from the Turkish coast, the island’s shores have become the landing spot for 20 or more rafts a day, each packed with dozens of men, women and children. The majority of the new arrivals are fleeing the war in Syria; Iraqis and Afghans make up most of the rest.


Lesbos has nothing to offer the migrants — a fact they know well. This is just the first stop in a far longer odyssey that they hope will take them to countries such as Germany, Sweden or Denmark, where they believe they will be able to receive asylum and find work. But first they must stay in the camps for up to a week to obtain the registration needed to travel through Greece legally.


For many, it is an unexpectedly grim welcome. The toilets — just five of them in one camp for a population of hundreds — are typically out of order. The men shower in the open for all to see. The women have no place to shower at all. With the tents often full, the only protection from the searing midday heat is thin mesh netting or the sparse shade of an olive tree. “At least there’s no violence here. No bombs exploding. No kidnappings,” said Haydar Majid, a 32-year-old Iraqi who said he had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. “But this place isn’t for humans. It’s for animals.”


Until several weeks ago, it was far worse. International aid groups such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Doctors Without Borders, which normally focus their work in the world’s poorest countries, have had to set up emergency operations in Lesbos because the conditions were so appalling and the E.U. was doing little to help. “The camps here don’t reach the minimum standard,” said Elisabetta Faga, emergency field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. “I’ve worked in camps in Congo, Mauritania, South Sudan. But here we are in Europe. I expect something better.”


Emily David, a senior official with the IRC’s emergency response team, said the deplorable situation in Lesbos and the perilous sea crossings point to the need for a shared European solution, including safer routes to the continent for those fleeing war and persecution. “Many of these people will qualify as refugees. So why aren’t there legal routes?” she asked as she surveyed an expanse of trash-strewn dirt and asphalt that has become home to as many as several thousand men, women and children at a time.


Yet such is the level of desperation among those uprooted from their homes that neither the abysmal camp conditions nor the death-defying crossings have been a deterrent. The tens of thousands who have already landed on Lesbos this year are probably only the beginning, with an even bigger wave predicted before winter weather makes the crossing more arduous. “Everyone’s expecting the numbers to increase radically in August, September and October,” said Andriotios. “We’re predicting mass arrivals.”…

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




On Topic


Syrian Rebels Make Fresh Gains: Sam Dagher, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2015—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lost more territory on Tuesday to Islamist insurgents and Kurdish militias, bolstering Turkey’s push to create a rebel-controlled buffer zone along the two countries’ shared border.

What Turkey Wants in Syria: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, July 31, 2015 —After several months of reluctant negotiations, Turkey has anxiously decided to join the allied battle against the radical Islamists who fight under the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Islamic State, ISIS, IS).

Tend to Syria: Kenneth Bandler, Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2015—Syrian President Bashar Assad, the only Arab leader to have weathered the Arab Spring popular uprisings and so far still not dislodged by civil war, is a survivor.

As Conditions Worsen, Greece Promises Ship to House Refugees: New York Times, Aug. 12, 2015 —Locked in a sunbaked football stadium without food, drinking water or sanitation, about 1,000 refugees queued for hours on Wednesday to register with Greek authorities on the island of Kos, which is now at the forefront of a humanitarian crisis sweeping the financially broken country.






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 




The Middle East: In the Shadow of the Gunmen: Jonathan Spyer, PJ Media, Apr. 4, 2015 — In a process of profound importance, five Arab states in the Middle East have effectively ceased to exist over the last decade. 

Syria’s Diabolic Lesson for Iran: Benny Avni, New York Post, Mar. 24, 2015— Wonder what might happen after we sign a nuke deal with Iran?

Tibi: Shame on Arab World for Ignoring Massacre of Palestinians at Syria Refugee Camp: Lahav Harkov & Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 6, 2015 — The Islamic State's violent takeover of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria is a mark of Cain on the foreheads of the international community and the Arab world specifically, MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) said Monday.

Canadians Support the War on Terror, Even if the Opposition Doesn’t: Chris Vander Doelen, National Post, Apr. 7, 2015 — On Monday the Canadian parliament voted to extend Canada’s military mission in the Middle East against the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS).


On Topic Links


Jihadist Cash Lures Syrian War Refugees as Aid Dwindles: Nafeesa Syeed & Dana Khraich, Bloomberg, Apr. 5, 2015

Islamic State Conquers Yarmouk in Macabre Win for Syrian Troops: Patrick Martin, Globe & Mail, Apr. 8, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal Gives Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Reason to Worry: Sam Dagher, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 8, 2015

14 Million Children Suffering as Result of War in Syria and Iraq, Unicef Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Mar. 12, 2015



THE MIDDLE EAST: IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUNMEN                                                                     

Jonathan Spyer               

PJ Media, Apr. 4, 2015


In a process of profound importance, five Arab states in the Middle East have effectively ceased to exist over the last decade.  The five states in question are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya.  It is possible that more will follow. The causes of their disappearance are not all the same. In two cases (Iraq, Libya) it was western military intervention which began the process of collapse.  In another case (Lebanon) it is intervention from a Middle Eastern state (Iran) which is at the root of the definitive hollowing out of the state. But in all these cases, the result has been remarkably similar — it is the ceding of power from strong central authorities to a variety of political-military organizations, usually but not always organized around a shared sectarian or ethnic origin.  The Middle East today is overshadowed by this process.  We are living in the time of the militias.


Observe:  in Syria, the clearest-cut case, the country is now effectively separated into separated ethnic and sectarian enclaves — an area dominated by Bashar Assad in the south and west, an area dominated by the Sunni jihadi Islamic State group in the east, three non-contiguous Kurdish enclaves across the north, an area under the domination of al-Qaeda and its allies in the northwest and a small area in the southwest held jointly by al-Qaeda and a variety of other Sunni Arab militias supported by the west.


The important point to note here is that the area controlled by Assad (around 40% of the total area of Syria) does not essentially differ in its militia-nature from the other areas. On the contrary, Assad has been able to survive because he is aligned with the force best designed to successfully exploit the fragmentation of Arab states and the emergence of militias seeking to impose their authority on the ruins of the state.


This force is Iran, and more specifically the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Qods Force. This force is a unique body.  It exists for the precise purpose of building proxy paramilitary organizations to serve the Iranian regional interest.  At a time like the present, the possession of such a force is an enormous advantage.


Assad’s large, mainly Sunni Arab conventional army became largely useless to him in 2011/12.  The IRGC stepped in and created for him one of its own preferred force types.  Today, this militia (the National Defense Forces) along with other Iranian-created or -sponsored militia forces from neighboring Iraq and Lebanon are largely responsible for Assad’s survival. But he survives as a warlord and militia chief, not as a “president” or the head of a state.


In Iraq, the  country is today separated into three areas, a Kurdish north, an area in the center controlled by Sunni jihadis and a Shia area in the south.  Again, the Shia south, which is still seen in the west as the “legitimate” government of Iraq, is in fact an area in which Shia militias are the key element, operating freely and acting according to their own will.  Often, this will is the product of the desires of the Qods Force, and its commander General Qassem Suleimani.


In Lebanon, in a notably different process,  an Iran-created militia, Hizballah, acquired the dominant role in the area once ruled by the state, because the state was a hollow construct long competed over by rival sectarian militias, and because Iranian and Syrian support enabled Hizballah to acquire a level of strength which no other homegrown political-military force could match.  It may well be that this is now changing, as al-Qaeda associated Sunni militias enter the arena.


In Yemen, where the state and central government was also weak, the Iranian supported militia Ansar Allah (the “Houthis”) seized the capital in January.  Sunni elements in the south, including one of the strongest franchises of al-Qaeda, are fighting against them.  A mobilization of Arab air and sea power is underway to prevent Iran’s proxies from seizing the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Control of this vital waterway, between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, would tilt the regional balance yet further in Iran’s favor.


Finally, in Libya, the western destruction of the Gadaffi regime has led to the splitting of the country between two rival governments — one supported by the Egyptians in Tobruk, another backed by Islamist militias in Tripoli.


Five Arab states, effectively no longer in existence.  In all, militia power has replaced ordered government.

What does all this mean for the region?  It means that a huge chunk of the long misgoverned Middle East has exchanged an age of despotic torpor for an age of chaos.  The Iranians, because of their matchless IRGC, are best equipped to make gains from this.


But nowhere (with the partial exception of tiny Lebanon) have the Iranians yet succeeded in keeping a country united under the control of their local proxy.  This is not a story of an unstoppable Iranian advance, like a juggernaut, across the region.  Their successes are notable, but partial in each area of operation.  Sunni and Kurdish forces prevent their complete victory and are likely to continue to do so.


Where will all this end — what will the landscape look like when the storm passes?  Impossible to say. But it may be said with certainty that the shadow of the gunmen is today hanging over the Middle East, all the way from the Iraq–Iran border to the Mediterranean coast and from the Gulf of Aden to Libya.





SYRIA’S DIABOLIC LESSON FOR IRAN                                                                                           

Benny Avni                                                                                                                   

New York Post, Mar. 24, 2015


Wonder what might happen after we sign a nuke deal with Iran? Take a look at Syria, where Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad is up to his old tricks — using chemical weapons despite his “deal” to get rid of them. And no one seems to care. Why would Iran be any different?


Last week, Syrian army helicopters dropped barrels filled with chlorine on a small Syrian village, killing six. A group backed by Western powers, the Syrian National Coalition, demanded urgent action. “Videos show medics rushing to treat choking victims, and children in burial shrouds foaming from the mouth,” the SNC wrote the UN Security Council, insisting it enforce a no-fly zone over Syria to stop future chemical attacks. The council (and everyone else) yawned.


Assad, of course, knew exactly what he was doing. Only days earlier, all 15 members of the council condemned chlorine use in Syria. British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant warned that “if we receive further credible reports of use of chlorine as a weapon, then this council will take action.” Secretary of State John Kerry huffed that the United States was “very concerned.” Assad must have been quivering in his sandals.


See, Assad knows what President Obama cares most about: “deals.” Getting the Syrian leader to sign a treaty that bans the use of chemical warfare is, in fact, the singular success Obama can point to in a miserable war that just marked its fourth anniversary. The war, by the way, has now exacted more than 210,000 deaths, and left millions homeless. As former CIA chief David Petraeus says, it’s created a Mideast “Chernobyl” that spews “radioactive instability and extremist ideology over the entire region.”


America stood aside as the horrors unfolded, with just one exception — Obama’s “red line”: No chemical weapons. Or else. Only, even that proved an idle threat. Instead, Russia concocted a “deal” that would let Obama off the hook. Assad agreed to remove all chemical agents and destroy all labs under the UN’s watchful eye. Ta-da: Obama’s “red line” had been defended, without a shot fired. Military intervention was averted. Diplomacy had won out. A specialized UN agency would verify it all.


It was all grand — except that Assad continues to use chemical weapons. And now, here we go again: Kerry appears on the verge of a deal with Assad’s senior partner, Iran, that will rely on the same sort of good faith, compliance and verification mechanisms. To see why this won’t work, look again at the Syrian deal: Assad was indeed forced to remove and destroy his chemical agents and production facilities, and that was touted as a victory.


But our UN ambassador, Samantha Power, now says “significant discrepancies remain with Syria’s declaration,” hinting at problems with our ability to verify Assad’s compliance. Indeed, Yukiya Amano, the head of the UN-affiliated atomic agency, indicated that verifying Tehran’s compliance may face similar problems, telling PBS on Monday that despite past agreements the agency can’t yet say Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.


Assad also found a loophole that allows him to use his favorite weapon without violating the deal: chlorine. Unlike, say, sarin, the possession of chlorine is perfectly legal: It’s used in swimming pools, after all. Fact is, chemical warfare has always played a major role in the Syrian army’s war doctrine. So now Assad’s choppers increasingly drop barrels full of chlorine on his enemies. And now the world’s attention is elsewhere. Indeed, Assad is now our tacit ally in the war against ISIS, so why bug him about some violations of his chemical deal?


Yes, Kerry did denounce last week’s chemical attack. But of far more importance to him were his meetings with Iranian officials in Switzerland, where he’s hoping to conclude a nuclear deal as early as this week. Any action against Iran’s ally, Assad, may complicate Kerry’s delicate negotiations. It’s certainly cause to worry. Seeing how easy it was for Assad to wave off the deal he’d made with America should be a lesson about what we can expect of Iran’s behavior. And seeing Assad’s victims offers a taste of the consequences.






PALESTINIANS AT SYRIA REFUGEE CAMP                                                                 

Lahav Harkov & Khaled Abu Toameh                                                                                            

Jerusalem Post, Apr. 6, 2015


The Islamic State's violent takeover of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria is a mark of Cain on the foreheads of the international community and the Arab world specifically, MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) said Monday. “What’s happening in the Yarmouk camp is a crime against humanity,” Tibi said. “Over a thousand Palestinians were killed.”


The Yarmouk camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was once home to over 100,000 residents, but now has only 18,000, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It was under siege by the Syrian government for over two years, and was a battleground before that, devastated by street fighting, air attacks and shelling. Islamic State has taken over 90 percent of Yarmouk, according to a Syrian human rights group, though the Syrian army surrounds the area, which is a few kilometers from President Bashar Assad’s palace. Hundreds of Palestinians fled the camp in recent days, adding to the tens of thousands who have left in the four years since the civil war in Syria began.


Tibi, who visited the camp once while on a trip to Syria, said it was “between a rock and a hard place after two years under siege by the [Syrian] government, and now ISIS is in there committing horrific crimes.” “ISIS is a fascist movement that is now publishing photos of heads it chopped off – including a photo of the imam of the mosque, a Hamas supporter – and claiming he is an apostate,” Tibi said in reference to reports from the camp that ISIS terrorists killed senior Hamas operative Sheikh Abu Salah Taha.


Reports have claimed that Taha had been captured and beheaded by Islamic State during fighting inside the camp.  However, a source in the camp denied that severed head belonged to the Hamas-affiliated imam, and said he was still alive. Tibi said the international community, including the Arab world, should be ashamed of allowing the violence in Yarmouk to take place. “I feel anger and great sadness about what is happening in what is left of the camp,” he stated. “There is a moral double standard. If other people were the victims, not Palestinians, it would be different.”


The Joint List MK called Yarmouk “another case where the refugees who suffered in the Nakba of 1948 are now suffering again,” using the Arabic term for “catastrophe,” which Palestinians and many Israeli-Arabs use to refer to the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. “The killing of Palestinians is terrible,” Tibi added.


Yarmouk’s residents are registered as either Palestinian refugees of the War of Independence or their descendants. They are granted refugee status by UNRWA in a policy that differs from the UN’s definition of refugees in other conflicts. Meanwhile, the PLO on Monday called for ending the “tragedy” of Yarmouk and pursuing efforts to evict Islamic State from the camp. The appeal came as a senior PLO delegation led by Ahmed Majdalani headed from Ramallah to Syria to discuss ways of ending the fighting.


Other Palestinian sources denied reports that fierce clashes had erupted between Islamic State and armed groups inside the camp early Monday. The sources said the two sides exchanged gunfire only for a brief period, adding that the situation had been “calm” since the Syrian army dropped eight barrels of explosives on parts of Yarmouk late Sunday night.


UNRWA has expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Yarmouk. “Never has the hour been more desperate in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus,” the UN organization said in a statement. “The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened.”          






EVEN IF THE OPPOSITION DOESN’T                                                                                               

Chris Vander Doelen                                           

National Post, Apr. 7, 2015


On Monday the Canadian parliament voted to extend Canada’s military mission in the Middle East against the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS). While all opposition parties rejected the extension,  the Conservatives, who hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons, easily prevailed.


Canada’s six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft, one C-150 refuelling aircraft and 600 Canadian support crew will remain in Kuwait. Fewer than 100 special forces members in northern Iraq will continue to help train the Kurdish peshmerga. What is new is that airstrikes will be expanded to target ISIS in northern Syria.


The government has argued that ISIS poses a double threat: the first is to civilians in the Middle East, the second is to Canada and its allies. Indeed, reports by journalists and human rights organizations have revealed a brutality that knows no bounds: children have been killed, sexually abused and forced to become child soldiers, while women have become sexual slaves.


Yet NDP leader Thomas Mulcair opposed the  extension without seriously referring to the group’s atrocities. Leading up to the vote he vowed that if the mission were extended “despite our opposition to it, yes, when we form government on Oct. 19, we would bring our troops back home,” adding: “when it is a UN mission, when it is a NATO mission, we are open to it. But here, this is an American-led mission. We think it’s wrong for Canada to be involved.”


Trudeau, who last fall opposed the initial mission and argued Canada should focus its efforts on delivering humanitarian aid to those fleeing ISIS, was much more circumspect than Mulcair, having taken a major hit in the polls for being seen as weak in confronting the jihadist group. No doubt many Liberals wondered what position the party would take, given that it played a leadership role in advancing the Responsibility to Protect (a mass atrocity prevention initiative) at the United Nations. In the end, Trudeau opposed it and argued it did not serve Canada’s “national interests.”


Yet the United Nations recently issued a report that said ISIS appears to have been carrying out a genocide in Iraq against the Yazidi minority. Like the Kurdish town of Kobane in Syria, many of the Yazidis in Iraq owe their lives to American airstrikes.


That is not the only reason to think that the fight against ISIS counts as a “just war.” The Vatican backs military action to prevent ISIS from continuing to massacre religious and ethnic minorities. “We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s top envoy at the United Nations in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”


As a signatory of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Canada is expected not to turn a blind eye to massive human suffering. Every generation or so we have witnessed groups emerge, drunk on an ideology based on supremacy and destruction, that eventually aim to put their ideas into action, resulting in the mass slaughter of civilians. ISIS has all the hallmarks of becoming the Khmer Rouge of the early 21st century, save for its ambitions are not confined to one country’s national borders.


While the bulk of ISIS’s forces are confined to a sizeable chunk of land in Iraq and Syria, its reach goes much further. Recently it claimed responsibility for the Bardo museum attack in Tunisia that left over 20 people dead. It also claimed responsibility for the bombing of two Shia mosques in Yemen. ISIS is also strongly entrenched in Libya and recently formed an alliance with Boko Haram, the group currently destabilizing Nigeria and Cameroon. To make matters worse, ISIS  is actively working to recruit new fighters and incite individuals in the West, including Canada, to carry terrorist attacks.


In a recent essay, Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul warned, “ISIS is dedicated to a contemporary holocaust. It has pledged itself to the murder of Shias, Jews, Christians, Copts, Yazidis and anyone it can, however fancifully, accuse of being a spy. It has wiped out the civilian populations of whole regions and towns. ISIS could very credibly abandon the label of Caliphate and call itself the Fourth Reich.”


To Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau: isolationism and humanitarian aid will do nothing to stop ISIS’s atrocities or protect Canada. Religious extremism is the defining issue of our time. Social democrats and liberals outside of Canada realize this. Do not wallow in denial for partisan political gain.





On Topic


Jihadist Cash Lures Syrian War Refugees as Aid Dwindles: Nafeesa Syeed & Dana Khraich, Bloomberg, Apr. 5, 2015 — Mohammad Deen, a Syrian refugee and father of six, struggles to find the money to meet his children’s needs and worries who else might step in with an offer to help.

Islamic State Conquers Yarmouk in Macabre Win for Syrian Troops: Patrick Martin, Globe & Mail, Apr. 8, 2015 —Islamic State fighters have taken control of Yarmouk, a mostly Palestinian neighbourhood in the southern suburbs of Damascus, after brushing aside what remained of resistance in this one-time centre of the Palestinian diaspora.

Iran Nuclear Deal Gives Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Reason to Worry: Sam Dagher, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 8, 2015 —Like Israel and Saudi Arabia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has his own reasons to be worried about Iran’s framework nuclear agreement with the U.S. and other world powers.

14 Million Children Suffering as Result of War in Syria and Iraq, Unicef Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Mar. 12, 2015 —Around 14 million children are suffering hardship and trauma from the war in Syria and Iraq, the United Nations children’s agency said on Thursday, highlighting the needs of children struggling to cope with severe violence, and the danger to the rest of the world of failing to help a generation preyed on by extremist groups.






















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Islamic State Fighters are Moving Ever Closer Towards Israel: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 27, 2014— Islamic State has suffered severe losses as a result of coalition air strikes in the last months.

Desperate for Soldiers, Assad’s Government Imposes Harsh Recruitment Measures: Hugh Naylor, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 28, 2014 — The Syrian regime has intensified efforts to reverse substantial manpower losses to its military with large-scale mobilizations of reservists as well as sweeping arrest campaigns and new regulations to stop desertions and draft-dodging.

Hezbollah Appears to Acknowledge a Spy at the Top: Anne Barnard, New York Times, Jan. 5, 2015— The admission from Hezbollah’s deputy chief was startling.

As Hezbollah Grows, Corruption Takes Root: Nicholas Blanford, Daily Star, Jan. 3, 2014— The revelation that yet another spy working for Israel has been exposed inside the ranks of Hezbollah raises serious questions about the integrity of the organization at a time when it faces allegations of corruption and mismanagement.


On Topic Links


Hezbollah: Sunnis, Shiites Will Unite Against Israel in Next War: Roi Kais, Ynet, Jan. 4, 2015

Inside the War Against Islamic State: Joseph Rago, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2014

The Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State:  Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2014

Research on the Islamic State: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, Dec. 16, 2015





Jonathan Spyer                                

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 27, 2014


Islamic State has suffered severe losses as a result of coalition air strikes in the last months. Over 1,000 of its fighters have been killed, and Kurdish peshmerga forces have driven the jihadists back on a wide front between the cities of Erbil and Mosul. The terror movement has also failed to conquer the symbolic town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) close to the Syrian-Turkish border (further south, Islamic State losses have been more modest and at least partially reversed). Yet despite these setbacks, there are no indications that Islamic State is anywhere close to collapse. And while American bombers and Kurdish fighters are preventing its advance further east, there are many indications the jihadists are continuing to advance their presence in a south and westerly direction – from the borders of their entity towards Damascus and Lebanon, and incidentally, in the direction of Israel.


A largely hidden contest is under way in Deraa province in southern Syria, between Islamic State and the rival jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra. Deraa, where the Syrian rebellion was born in March 2011, has been the site of major losses for the Assad regime over the last year. Nusra established itself as a major force in the area after its fighters were defeated by Islamic State further east. But now it appears that Islamic State is seeking to establish a foothold in this area, too. In recent weeks, reports have emerged that three rebel militias in Deraa have pledged bay’ah (allegiance) to Islamic State. The largest of these is the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade; the others are Saraya al-Jihad and Tawheed al-Junub. While the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade has since denied pledging formal allegiance to Islamic State, the reports have Nusra and the Western- supported rebel groups in the south nervous. They are acutely aware that in locales further east, such as al-Bukamal on the Syria-Iraq border, in the course of 2014 Islamic State came in not through conquest, but by recruiting the non-Islamic State groups that held the area to its flag. Nusra now fears that Islamic State wishes to repeat this process further south.


This fear is compounded by the appearance of Islamic State-linked fighters in the Damascus area in recent weeks. In the town of Bir al-Qasab, fighters affiliated with the terror movement have been battling other rebels since early December; Islamic State has engaged in resupplying these fighters from its own territory further east. Nusra and other rebel groups have begun to speculate about the possibility of a push by the jihadists either toward Deraa or Eastern Goutha, adjoining Damascus. Finally, further west, in the Qalamoun Mountains, Islamic State and Nusra fighters have clashed in recent weeks. Reports have surfaced that Islamic State has begun to demand that other rebel groups in the area, including Nusra, pledge bay’ah to it.


This is despite the notable fact that the Qalamoun area had been the scene in recent months of rare cooperation between Islamic State and Nusra, out of shared interest in extending the conflict into Lebanon. The events there come amid Lebanese media speculation as to the possibility of an imminent Islamic State push from Qalamoun toward the Sunni town of Arsal across the border (or even, in some versions, toward the Shi’ite towns of Baalbek and Hermel). Such an offensive would form part of the larger campaign against the regime and Hezbollah in this area.


So, what does this all amount to? First, it should be noted that Nusra’s presence in Quneitra Province, immediately adjoining the Golan Heights, is the point at which Syrian jihadists currently come closest to Israel. And while Nusra has not yet been the subject of hostile Western attention, it is no less anti-Western and anti-Jewish than its Islamic State rivals. The fact that it cooperates fully with groups supported by the Military Operations Command in Amman should in itself be a matter of concern for the West. But Nusra, unlike Islamic State, appears genuinely committed to the fight against Syria’s Assad regime. And at times, at least, it is prepared to set aside its own ambitions to pursue this general goal. This means, from Israel’s point of view, that while its presence close to the border is a matter of long-term concern, in the immediate future the al-Qaida franchise’s attentions are largely turned elsewhere. Such calculations could not be safely made regarding Islamic State, which by contrast works only for its own benefit.


Its sudden push into Iraq in June and then August show the extent to which it is able to abruptly change direction, catching its opponents by surprise. The record of Islamic State against other rebel groups thus far has been one of near uninterrupted success. Conversely, it is now being halted in its eastern advances by the US and its allies. But neither the US Air Force nor the Kurdish ground fighters are present further south and west, so there is a clear strategic logic to the current direction of Islamic State activity. As Islamic State loses ground further east, it seeks to recoup its losses elsewhere; this trend is bringing jihadists closer, toward the borders of both Israel and Jordan. It may be presumed this fact is not lost on Israeli defense planners – hence the reports of increased activity by Military Intelligence collection units and reinforcement of the military presence on the Golan Heights. The single war now raging in Syria, Iraq and increasingly Lebanon, is moving closer – toward Israel.






ASSAD’S GOVERNMENT IMPOSES HARSH RECRUITMENT MEASURES                                                                    

Hugh Naylor                                                                                                           

Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2014


The Syrian regime has intensified efforts to reverse substantial manpower losses to its military with large-scale mobilizations of reservists as well as sweeping arrest campaigns and new regulations to stop desertions and draft-dodging. The measures have been imposed in recent months because of soaring casualties among forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as apparent increases in desertions and evasions of compulsory military service, analysts say. Some speculate that the moves also could be part of stepped-up military efforts to win more ground from rebels in anticipation of possible peace talks, which Russia has attempted to restart to end nearly four years of conflict.


But the regime’s measures have added to already simmering anger among its support base over battlefield deaths during the conflict. The anger may be triggering a backlash that in turn could undermine Assad’s war aims, Syrians and analysts say. “These things have obviously angered core constituents, and they show just how desperate the regime is to come up with warm bodies to fill the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow and Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In October, the regime stepped up activations of reserve forces. Tens of thousands of reservists have been called up, and soldiers and militiamen have erected scores of checkpoints and increased raids on cafes and homes to apprehend those reservists who refuse to comply. Similar measures increasingly target those who avoid regular military service, a compulsory 18-month period for all men who are 18 and older. In recent weeks, the regime also began upping threats to dismiss and fine state employees who fail to fulfill military obligations, according to Syrian news Web sites and activists. In addition, they say, new restrictions imposed this fall have made it all but impossible for men in their 20s to leave the country.


Since the start of the uprising in 2011, Syrian authorities have used arrests and intimidation to halt desertions, defections and evasion of military service — but not to the extent seen recently, Syrians and analysts say. Men who are dragooned into the army appear to be deserting in larger numbers, they say, and the government’s crackdown is driving many of these men as well as more of the large number of draft-evaders to go into hiding or flee abroad. “I can’t go back. All these things would make it certain that I’d be forced into the military,” said Mustafa, 25, a Syrian from Damascus who fled to Lebanon in September because of the new measures. Citing safety concerns, he asked that only his first name be used. Joseph, a 34-year-old Christian from Damascus, learned two weeks ago that his name was on a list of thousands of people who would soon be activated for reserve duty. Having completed his compulsory military service in 2009, he wants to flee Syria. “Of course I don’t want to return to the military,” Joseph said by telephone from the capital. He also requested that only his first name be used.


A report issued this month by the Institute for the Study of War says the number of soldiers in the Syrian military has fallen by more than half since the start of the conflict, from roughly 325,000 to 150,000, because of casualties, defections and desertions. Combat fatalities alone have surpassed 44,000, according to the report, which used data from Syrian activists, monitoring groups and media reports. Christopher Kozak, a Syria analyst at the institute who wrote the report, said in an e-mail that reservist mobilizations and efforts to stop desertions appear to be partly related to the departure in recent months of pro-regime militiamen. Scores of these largely Shiite fighters, who come from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, left for Iraq in the summer to counter an offensive by the Islamic State, the extremist Sunni group. Iranian fighters in particular have been crucial in helping the Syrian regime restructure its forces. One such effort was the founding of the National Defense Force, a militia composed of paid volunteers. The foreign fighters helped the Assad regime win back strategic territory from rebels. Kozak wrote that these supplemental militias “are no longer sufficient to meet the regime’s projected needs — spurring the regime to reinvigorate its conscription efforts” in the military.


Imad Salamey, a politics professor at the Lebanese American University, said that efforts to boost numbers in the military are partly driven by concern that Assad’s allies, Iran and Russia, appear increasingly interested in a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war. In recent weeks, Russia, with Iranian backing, has engaged in diplomatic efforts to restart the Geneva peace talks that collapsed in February. “There is rising urgency in these countries for a settlement to the conflict and the regime senses this, so it’s trying to win as much ground as possible to strengthen its negotiating position,” he said. Yezid Sayigh, a Syria expert and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said economic crises in Iran and Russia because of falling oil prices could affect their support for the Assad regime, which until now has prevented its collapse. “The question for me really is whether Iran and Russia are going to push the regime harder to engage in diplomatic efforts,” he said. He added that a worsening problem for the regime is anger among its supporters over mounting casualties. Rare protests over the issue have been held by the minority Alawite population, which is the backbone of the Assad regime’s forces…

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







HEZBOLLAH APPEARS TO ACKNOWLEDGE A SPY AT THE TOP                                                                 

Anne Barnard                                                                                                              

New York Times, Jan. 5, 2014


The admission from Hezbollah’s deputy chief was startling. The group, he said over the weekend, is “battling espionage within its ranks” and has uncovered “some major infiltrations.” To analysts and even some Hezbollah loyalists, the remarks were immediately taken as confirmation of long-swirling reports that a senior operative had been caught spying for Israel, disrupting a series of assassination plots abroad. The accounts in the Lebanese and Arab news media, relying on unnamed sources, identify the mole as Mohammad Shawraba, the man charged with exacting revenge for Israel’s assassination of a top operative, Imad Mughniyeh, in 2008. They say Mr. Shawraba fed information to Israel that foiled five planned retaliation attempts.


The Hezbollah official, Naim Qassem, who is often called upon to handle difficult issues, made no mention of the specific allegations. In his remarks on Al-Nour, a Hezbollah-affiliated radio station, he added that Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful militant organization and political party, was able to contain any damage from espionage. This is not the first time that Hezbollah has admitted to spies within its ranks. But this breach, if confirmed, comes at a time when the party has grown from a tight, exclusive cell focused on fighting Israel to a much larger operation that has significantly expanded its mission, sending thousands of its Shiite fighters to Syria to prevent the overthrow of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, by Sunni insurgents. That, in turn, has angered Lebanese Sunnis, who call Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria an abuse of the national consensus that supports the group’s keeping an independent militia only for fighting Israel, known here as resistance.


Another complication of the Syria operation, with its heavy demands on logistics and manpower, is that it could have disrupted top officials’ focus on deterring Israeli espionage, said Randa Slim, a Lebanese analyst of Hezbollah affiliated with the Middle East Institute in Washington. The supposed breach, she added, is a blow that “goes right straight to their resistance brand.” Mr. Qassem’s reference to infiltration was “the first indirect confirmation, the first attempt by the party at controlling the narrative,” Ms. Slim said. “The spin is that we are like any other organization, we have our problems, and as Hezbollah grows, as it becomes influential, there will be more and more attempts at infiltration, but things are under control.” A Hezbollah spokesman said Sunday night that the party would have no comment on the spying allegations. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is set to deliver one of his frequent speeches on Friday. Mr. Qassem said that while Hezbollah aimed for “purity,” it was made up of human beings who can make mistakes. Analysts said the timing of his remarks, and his frequent role in reassuring constituents, appeared to lend some credence to the reports. Several Hezbollah loyalists spoke of the breach as an established fact after hearing the remarks.

Israeli officials, who rarely speak publicly on espionage matters, did not respond to a request for comment. Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, also refused to comment beyond saying that he was familiar with Mr. Shawraba and joking that his family should not expect him to come home soon. But the emergence of reports about the supposed mole, and Mr. Qassem’s seeming confirmation, suggest that Hezbollah has been working assiduously to launch attacks in response to Mr. Mughniyeh’s death — and that the absence of a major strike on Israel since then is not for lack of trying, as Ms. Slim put it, “but because the guy in charge of these plots is a spy.” They could also serve as a warning to Israel that Hezbollah has purged its ranks and is ready to resume efforts to avenge Mr. Mughniyeh’s death. These are likely to be aimed at high-level targets that Hezbollah would consider proportional in importance to Mr. Mughniyeh, Ms. Slim said, and if successful could lead to a new war between Hezbollah and Israel, ending the wary cease-fire that has persisted since 2006.


A Hezbollah fighter and party member in the Bekaa Valley town of Baalbek said the infiltration “won’t affect the whole party” but would have a strong effect on the areas in which Mr. Shawraba worked. Those were described in various accounts as heading Hezbollah’s activities outside Lebanon and running the security detail for Mr. Nasrallah. “The party now has to change everything about his post,” the fighter said. “It’s very normal to catch collaborators.” Talal al-Atrissi, a Lebanese analyst close to Hezbollah, called the breach “a loss but not a substantial loss” for the party. “The party works in tiny circles, not big circles,” he said. “Even party members don’t know each other.” Still, Lebanese and Arab news reports have given details of what they say are numerous consequences of the infiltration, as well as how Mr. Shawraba, said to be 42 and from the southern Lebanon town of Nabatiya, was caught. Mr. Shawraba was captured a month ago after a seven-month investigation and is now being tried, along with four accomplices, in a Hezbollah court, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. Some reports implicated him in the death of Mr. Mughniyeh himself, and others said he leaked information to Israel that led to the assassination of Hassan al-Laqees, another senior commander who was gunned down in Beirut in 2013. The Daily Star said Hezbollah began to suspect a mole when Bulgarian authorities fingered two Hezbollah operatives in a bombing that killed Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian tourist town of Burgas in 2012. The newspaper said their identities were passed to the Bulgarians by Israel, which learned them from Mr. Shawraba.


A Jerusalem-based newspaper, Al Manar, said Hezbollah narrowed down the tasks of Mr. Shawraba’s unit and revealed him by feeding him false information as a test. It said Mr. Shawraba told his handlers of weapons shipments for Hezbollah at a location in Damascus; Israeli warplanes soon bombed the location. Israel has struck several targets in Syria during the war there, aiming at Hezbollah arms. Hezbollah has previously acknowledged several spies, including two who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, and a trusted car dealer who fitted Hezbollah vehicles with GPS trackers used by the Israelis. In 2011, one of the original members of Hezbollah, Mohammad Slim, known as Abu Abed, defected to Israel, which lifted him over the border with a piece of construction equipment, The Daily Star reported. Hezbollah later denied that he had been a party member.                                                             





AS HEZBOLLAH GROWS, CORRUPTION TAKES ROOT                                                                         

Nicholas Blanford                                                                                     

Daily Star, Jan. 3, 2015


The revelation that yet another spy working for Israel has been exposed inside the ranks of Hezbollah raises serious questions about the integrity of the organization at a time when it faces allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Hezbollah once had an enviable reputation for financial probity in a country where sleaze and nepotism is endemic. Yet Hezbollah’s enormous expansion in manpower, military assets and cash generation since 2006 has perhaps inevitably led to a weakening of the party’s internal control mechanisms, making it susceptible to the lure of corruption and penetration by Israeli intelligence agencies. In the years ahead, the phenomenon of corruption will pose an even graver threat to Hezbollah than Israel’s military might.


The alleged arrest of Mohammad Shawraba, variously described as a former top official in Hezbollah’s external operations unit and Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s personal security chief, is said to have been the most serious infiltration yet of the party by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Shawraba reportedly offered Israel information that allowed it to thwart a number of attacks that were intended to serve as revenge of the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s former military commander. If the allegations are confirmed – and Hezbollah has not yet denied the reports – Shawraba would be only the latest of several Hezbollah members or Shiite figures trusted by the party to have been caught spying for Israel in the past eight years. Others include Mohammad “Abu Abed” Slim, one of the original members of Hezbollah who reportedly served in the party’s counter-intelligence apparatus and was financial chief for external operations. He defected to Israel in 2011, apparently by jumping on board the bucket of an Israeli poclain excavator which lifted him over the border fence near Rmeish. Hezbollah subsequently said Slim had never been a member of the party.


In 2009, Hezbollah arrested Marwan Faqih, a car dealer from Nabatiyah who was sufficiently well trusted by the party to supply the cadres with vehicles. Hezbollah discovered that Faqih’s cars were fitted with GPS transmitting devices that tracked the movements of the vehicles. The recorded GPS tracks presumably allowed the Israelis to build up a map of secret Hezbollah facilities across Lebanon. Then in 2012, Hussein Fahs, reportedly a top financial officer and head of Hezbollah’s communications network, was said to have fled to Israel, taking with him $5 million along with sensitive maps and documents, after Hezbollah discovered that he was involved in a massive fraud operation involving the party’s fiber-optic communications network. Fahs was an embezzler rather than an Israeli spy prior to his departure for Israel, although the distinction would have made little difference to Hezbollah, which had to assess and contain the damage caused by his defection.


Twenty years ago, however, allegations of corruption and Israel’s recruiting of Hezbollah officials were unheard of. That may in part be explained by the fact that it is only in the past decade or so that Hezbollah has fielded an effective counter-intelligence unit to track down spies within its ranks. But then again, Hezbollah was a much smaller organization in the 1990s with tighter discipline and internal controls and a deeper sense of personal security among the cadres. At the time, Hezbollah was focused on confronting Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon which won it a swath of admirers across the sectarian divide. Politically, Hezbollah had an effective parliamentary presence and was steadily building up its support base and challenging the Amal Movement’s then leadership of the Shiite community. Israel had few covert successes against Hezbollah in the 1990s due to the air-tight security in which the party operated. It assassinated then Hezbollah chief Sayyed Abbas Mussawi in 1992, although that operation backfired as Israel lost an embassy in Buenos Aires a month later and Mussawi was replaced by the even more effective Nasrallah. Israel was able to recruit some non-Shiite Lebanese agents in the 1990s.


Perhaps the most damaging for Hezbollah was Mahmoud Rafeh, a retired policeman from Hasbaya who, following his arrest in 2006, admitted responsibility for the 1999 road-side bomb assassination of Ali “Abu Hasan” Deeb, the head of Hezbollah’s special operations unit in south Lebanon, and the 2006 car bomb killing of Nidal and Mahmoud Majzoub, two top Islamic Jihad commanders. Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has grown immensely in political and martial power and its army of fighters is perhaps five times larger than before 2006, representing a genuine challenge for Israel in any future war. Yet, paradoxically, its rapid expansion has also made it more vulnerable internally. In some respects, Hezbollah has become a victim of its own success, turning from the relatively small streamlined resistance group of two decades ago into a sprawling bureaucracy with looser internal controls which is dissolving its previously impermeable wall of security. Even within Shiite circles, among Hezbollah’s general support base, there is talk of how the party has lost its aura of integrity compared to before 2006…

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




On Topic


Hezbollah: Sunnis, Shiites Will Unite Against Israel in Next War: Roi Kais, Ynet, Jan. 4, 2015—A top official from the terror group Hezbollah claims that despite deep internal divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, thousands of Sunnis will join the radical Shiite terror group in its next fight against Israel, Lebanon's Daily Star reported.

Inside the War Against Islamic State: Joseph Rago, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2014—Some six months ago, the Islamic State terrorist army poured south from Syria through Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valleys, conquering multiple cities including Mosul and the border city of al Qaim. Iraqi army regulars disintegrated, the offensive carved out a rump state controlling somewhere between a quarter and one-third of Iraq’s sovereign territory, and mass executions, repression and videotaped beheadings followed.

The Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic StateMaria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2014—Jomah, a 17-year-old Syrian who joined Islamic State last year, sat in a circle of trainees for a lesson in beheading, a course taught to boys as young as 8.

Research on the Islamic State: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, Dec. 16, 2015


























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CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
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How Should We Be Thinking About the Red Line Crisis?

How Should We Be Thinking About the Red Line Crisis?

Paul Merkley

The Bayview Review, Sept. 6, 2013



The Armageddon Question


It was bound to happen eventually. As the world contemplates the escalation of the civil war in Syrian and studies the implications of all those demonic elements that have raised their flags within Syria’s borders and are announcing their plans for at last accomplishing what the Prophet long ago declared to be Allah’s ultimate mandate for mankind, significant bits of Biblical vocabulary about How It All Ends have begun to slip from the lips of our proudly secularist statesmen.


Responding to a warning from one of his own veteran Tory Members that the tough language he is using about Assad’s use of chemical weapons could “create Armageddon,” Prime Minister David Cameron suggested: “In a way you have put the Armageddon question round the other way … If no action is taken following President Obama’s red line and if no  action is taken following this appalling use of chemical weapons,  you have to ask yourself what sort of Armageddon are the Syrian people going to be facing.”


I would suggest that the senior Tory MP has at least a partial grasp of the meaning of the word “Armageddon” and the Prime Minister does not grasp it at all.  David Cameron speaks of a limited catastrophe affecting large numbers of innocent people, whereas the Senior Tory MP, while off the mark in suggesting that we have it in our power to “create” Armageddon,”  does use the term in its contextual meaning: the great global war that marks the beginning of the end of everything. [“Syrians face ‘Armageddon’  without military action, says  David Cameron,” theguardian.com, September 4, 2013.]


This weekend, most people in our part of the world will give this present crisis as much attention, and no more, as it gives nowadays to other confusing crises figuring in the headlines. There are major sports events to be watched and God-only-knows how many new sitcoms to be discovered. There are new blockbuster movies to be viewed – leaving no time to wallow in reality. Many of the new movies, are about ultimate global catastrophes; but these are more interesting than the news, as the agents of disaster in the movie will be gigantic natural forces abetted by long-deceased pre-historic species of monsters resurrected from fossil remains by mad scientists (assisted by aliens.)

Background to the Present Red Line Crisis


When the “Arab Spring” began back in December 2011 with the spark of massive protest in Tunisia, that spread to  Algeria, to Morocco, to Sudan, to Egypt, to Yemen, to Jordan even to Bahrain, the consensus among Middle East commentators was that, of all the Arab regimes,  the one most likely to stay intact was that of Bashir al-Assad of Syria. The thinking here was that Syria had the most professional armed forces and that these were bound in extraordinary loyalty to their President by the fact that they were mainly recruited from a closely-bound sectarian minority called the Alawites. The Alawites, who derive from a branch of Shia Islam but are regarded by both Shiites and Sunnis as defectors from Islam (the worst kind of heretics), knew that they would  face the long pent-up rage of both Sunnis and Shiites should they ever relax their grip on power. This is sufficient explanation for the astonishing ruthlessness of Assad’s army and of the Shabiha, Assad’s all-Alawite version of Hitler’s Waffen-SS.


Popular insurrection against the regime started up rather later in Syria than in most places, but by the time it had became an irresistible force the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, had the recent history of Tunisia and Libya and Egypt to contemplate. From this history he drew the lesson that it would be foolish to quit under promise of quiet exile or retirement (as Mubarak did) or that democratic method would save Syria (as our leaders believed that it would save Egypt.) Western powers had already drawn from their  experience of intervention in Libya, the conclusion that political mayhem could not be halted by judicious application of political influence to the white hat side in an Arab  civil war.


Syria’s own recent history seem to provide the lesson that popular discontent is always manageable, if the ruler is ruthless enough. Most encouraging for Assad was an incident that had gone by without ever appearing on the front page of any major newspaper in the West in February, 1982.  This was the two-week campaign of massacre. by Hafez al-Assad’s military of at least 20,000 mainly Sunni civilians in the city of Hama who had dared to go into the streets in non-violent protest. The expert wisdom was that memory of that event was strong enough that no one in Syria would ever try that again. Thus, as public protest against the tyrant Assad spread throughout the land during 2012, it had to be significant that Hama was again, as thirty years ago, in the front ranks of this dangerous resistance.


By now, the Syrian conflict has exceeded all the others in all categories of loss. About 100,000 have been killed and six million made refugees (either internally or externally.) A large part of its Army defected fairly early on and formed the Free Syrian Army. Some long-serving political figures also defected fairly early, in order to participate in a Free Syrian government-in-exile in Turkey.

Escalation of the Possible Costs of Intervention.


Those (like myself) who said out loud in mid-2012 that Assad’s regime was doomed [“Iran’s Campaign to mobilize support for Assad’s doomed regime,” The Bayview Review, September 6, 2012.] need not, I believe, recant, but we do need to admit that the deathwatch has been prolonged beyond expectations. All efforts at diplomatic solution have failed. UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan was humiliated by Assad’s unresponsiveness, as was a delegation sent by the Arab League in early 2013. A collective response either of diplomatic or military character has been thwarted by the exercise of veto in the Security Council by both China and Russia. As each effort at a negotiated conclusion has been tried and failed the cost of failure has increased. And, more significantly, the risks of proceeding to more robust action have also increased – exponentially.


Until these last few days, the President of the United States and other Western leaders were relieved by knowledge that any policy more red-blooded than that of wringing hands and talking piously about suffering does not have broad support with the public and will therefore not have to be tried. That may still prove to be the case.


All proposals for our military to intervene and rescue the people of Syria have so far been stymied by the generally-acknowledged fact that no one of the elements now playing a major role in the crisis has both competence in government and commitment to the principles that are necessary for democratic method. None of them is committed to basic freedoms, including religious freedom. Not incidentally: all of them blame Syria’s troubles on the Zionists. All of them promise a more vigorous pursuit of war to the death against the Jews than was on offer from the Assad regime, a regime that was sleeplessly invested in support of terrorists organizations and dedicated to the eradication of Israel and the liquidation of the Jews.


Most sensible people concluded long ago that our interests are best served for the near future at least by deadlock among the several internal forces. The vacuum of authority that has developed in Syria as the domain of the government of Assad shrinks has made it possible for all of the Islamist groups to set up their tents and raise their flags and start developing mini-states, governed by gangs – as in Somalia.  These gangs all hate each other more than they hate us. Some of this mutual hatred follows from the Sunni/Shia split, going on for fourteen hundred years, some follows from recent history – as for example the three-way feud among ethnic Turks, Arabs and Kurds.


We do not have a dog in this race any more than we do in Egypt’s internal  politics. There is no such thing as an Arab democracy; there has never been a peaceful Arab kingdom or republic based on consent of the government and nurtured by respect for the freedoms that are all engrossed in UN charters.  Efforts to change this equation by intervention make things worse. Our salvation must lie in containment.


The Significance of the Red Line


Ironically, it was not until it became clear, just a matter of weeks ago,  that Assad might, against all expectations,  be regaining ground, and that there was a prospect of his imposing a peace (the peace of the grave)  upon the land, that we began to notice that our own security interests came into play. This is, I believe, the most efficient way of expressing the meaning of the concept of a RED LINE. By introducing chemical and perhaps other WMD Assad has brought into play weapons whose only real value is in killing masses of unarmed people; armies, after all, can be protected by gas masks or sheltered in large dedicated facilities. These are the weapons that rogue regimes, regimes that do not even in words recognize a rule of law in world affairs,  will depend upon to level the playing field when and if they decide it is time to punish us.


In  1925, the League of Nations called upon its members to sign a “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or other Gases, and of Biological Methods of Warfare. This convention, like other grandiose gestures intended to compel lawful behaviour upon dictators, was mocked by the Italians, the Japanese and the Germans – all of whom walked out of the League over the next few years rather than comply with declarations of that body which hindered their plans for greater empire.


Closing the Circle: Realism and Idealism in Convergence


An honest verdict on the performance of the United Nations as the Parliament of Mankind would have to be every bit a negative as that on the League. The UN’s “peacekeeping”  exercises almost always fail and unusually end up being hindrances to peace. And so today it has fallen  to the President  of the United States to call upon “the world” to fulfill its duty under these almost ninety-year old treaties. This situation has come about because the United Nations, which holds these treaties in trust for mankind refuses to acknowledge any such responsibility.  The bottom line is that the UN’s right to act is invested in the Security Council, where China and Russia exercise their veto power against all useful action.


Inherent in this most recent development is an intriguing and paradoxical turn of logic. Obama’s belated discovery of America’s “national security interest” in this oncoming scenario follows from his reckoning that Americans like everybody else on earth will suffer if these weapons get put to use in this conflict – a conflict that has hitherto seemed to be “local”.  For as long as I have been a student and a teacher of American History, there has been a conventional idea among academics that advocates of foreign  policy action – both the politicians and the academics –  fall into either the “idealist” or the “realist” camp. The first camp essentially coincides with the “universalists” and the second with “unilateralists”. The logic is that practitioners of American foreign policy are inclined either to  advocate unilateral action, depending on the goodness of American purposes for rationalization – or they argue for policies that they say are necessary outcomes of the responsibilities that Americans have as citizens of the world, as human beings for whom patriotism is secondary. But this has never been a clear dichotomy  – as this present episode dramatically reveals.


There seems little prospect today of the United States putting together a Coalition of the Willing for the task that it proposes; and there is no chance whatever of a mandate from the Parliament of Mankind. Paradoxically, this seems to leave the US with the self-imposed mandate of  upholding a commitment made by the League of Nations, nearly ninety years ago, and never rescinded, but likewise never honoured. As the United States does so, its is being chastised by the Secretary –General of the UN and it is  being denounced as a rogue-unilateralist  by UN Security Council members (China and Russia) who are preventing it international action. In fact, just today (September 6) the Russian President told the G20 conference meeting in St. Petersburg that “the U.S. decision will drive another nail into the coffin of international law.” The positive aspect – you might even call it the refreshing part of this – is that we have  at last  reached the point where we can speak frankly of our own self-defense – our own national defense. Everything depends on our recognizing that although this threat is not yet upon us it is over the hill.  These weapons, once distributed to the arsenals of rogue nations and Islamist gangs, are capable of reducing geographical distance to irrelevance and rendering irrelevant the massive military advantage of mighty nations.


We are compelled (ironically) by this demonstration of a great humanitarian crisis that does not affect us YET to take action clearly called for to defend ourselves. Here the cause of mankind (“righteousness”) and our own self-interest (“peace”) have (as the Psalmist says “kissed each other.”


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Jordan Jittery as Assad Troops Advance: Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor, June 9, 2013—Reports of a major military breakthrough by the Syrian army in Qusair, a strategic town close to the Syrian-Lebanese border, and surrounding areas last week [June 4-7] have given Jordan — which has felt the grave impact of more than two years of instability in its northern neighbor — the jitters.


Jordan is Reforming Without a Revolution: Hamada Faraenah, Al-Ayyam (P.A.)., June 9, 2013—Jordan is not safe from having major demonstrations by partisan and union bodies that oppose the government’s economic and social policies. Jordan has the factors that caused the Arab Spring wave, which started in Tunisia before moving to Egypt, Libya and Syria.


Ex-Jordanian Spy: Abdullah is Anti-Israel: Rachel Avraham, Jewish Press, May 19, 2013—Ouni Abed Botrous Hadaddeen is a former senior level Jordanian agent who is Christian. He defected from Jordan because he objected to the Jordanian monarchy’s practice of assassinating Jordanian citizens who have protested against the current regime.


Jordan, a Fake Country: Batya Medad, Jewish Press, June 10, 2013—Jordan’s land was supposed to be part of the Jewish State.  When the League of Nations assigned Great Britain the responsibility to prepare former Turkish land aka Mandated Palestine to be the Jewish State, it included both sides of the Jordan.


On Topic Links


Canadian Military in Jordan for Exercise: Lee Berthiaume, National Post, June 10, 2013

Jordan’s Secular Opposition: Plan B for Jordan: Mudar Zahran, Jewish Press, June 10, 2013

Jordan Threatens to Expel Syrian Envoy: Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2013

The Agreement on Jerusalem btw the P. A. and Jordan: Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, JCPA, Apr. 4, 2013

Jordan’s Syria Problem: Nicolas Pelham, New York Review of Books, Jan. 10, 2013




Osama Al Sharif

Al-Monitor, June 9, 2013


Reports of a major military breakthrough by the Syrian army in Qusair, a strategic town close to the Syrian-Lebanese border, and surrounding areas last week [June 4-7] have given Jordan — which has felt the grave impact of more than two years of instability in its northern neighbor — the jitters. Commentators have tried to analyze the effect of this victory by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime over rebel forces, who had to flee the town after a siege by the regular army and Hezbollah forces that lasted more than two weeks. The pressing question on everyone’s mind was this: Can Assad survive and win?


The answer to this question may determine the future stability of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. For months, since the eruption of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, Jordan has embraced a calculated position, calling for a political solution to the conflict and rejecting foreign intervention. But it also backed efforts to depose Assad and allow for a transitional phase so that the Syrian people could choose a new leadership. It was a tough line to follow.


Meanwhile, Jordan has opened its borders to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees whose presence exacerbated the country’s economic problems. It has also received defecting officers and senior officials, including a sitting prime minister. The Damascus regime did not appreciate Jordan’s position, especially after allegations that Amman had allowed Jihadists and shipments of weapons to cross into Syria. At one point, Assad threatened that the fire in Syria would not spare Jordan.


Jordanians remain divided, though not equally, in their perception of the Syrian debacle. The majority supported the uprising, but die-hard Arab nationalists and Baathists stood by the Damascus regime. Under pressure from the United States and Gulf countries, Jordan slowly abandoned its calculated policy on Syria and joined the anti-Assad camp. In May, Amman hosted a meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria core group and signed onto a statement that called for Assad to leave power. The thin red line had been crossed, and Jordan found itself on the opposite side.


Still, Jordan did not evict the Syrian ambassador in Amman, Bahjat Suleiman, or hand over the embassy to the opposition. It thought that it could still manage its relations with Damascus and stay within the enemies of Assad's group. Suleiman, an ardent critic of Jordan, launched a scathing attack on the government for hosting the Friends of Syria group and later for announcing that it will deploy a Patriot anti-missile system along its northern borders. The batteries will arrive in Jordan, along with F-16 jet fighters, as part of multinational military exercises that will be held here, under the name of Eager Lion, later in June.


After Suleiman’s attack on Jordan, which he posted on Facebook, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh warned the envoy that he risks being expelled if he does not stop criticizing his host. “This is a final warning,” Judeh told the Associated Press. “Failing to commit, Suleiman risks becoming persona non grata,” he said.

It was another indication that the tension between Amman and Damascus has reached a boiling point. Jordan’s parliament is also pressuring the government to expel the Syrian ambassador. Suleiman had said that the answer to the Patriot system was the Iskandar missiles — a variation of Scuds that could reach northern Jordan.


The possibility of Assad surviving the civil war has raised questions about the future stability of Jordan. Pundits in Amman are worried that a vindictive Assad could retaliate by destabilizing Jordan. In a major foreign policy speech last week, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain warned that Assad will not end the two-year-old civil war that has killed more than 80,000 Syrians as long as he is winning on the battlefield, and anyone who thinks otherwise is “delusional.” Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, McCain said, “Jordan cannot last under this present scenario as we’ve seen; fighting has started in Lebanon and this thing could spread and engulf the entire Middle East in a civil war.”


McCain called on the Obama administration to renew US leadership in the Middle East and develop a credible Syria strategy. While the battle for Qusair will not decide the fate of Syria, many Jordanians believe that recent victories against the rebels in the Damascus countryside and along the Damascus-Amman highway will pave the way for attempts to take over Aleppo, Deraa and Homs from the rebels.


Amman still supports a political deal, in the form of the Geneva II peace conference, but there are signs that the meeting faces many logistical difficulties. Jordan stands to lose the most from a major shift in the military situation in Syria. While few are talking about Assad’s political survival, Amman is worried that divisions within the Syrian National Coalition and the retreat of the Free Syrian Army could strengthen Assad’s position and might have dire effects on Jordan’s stability.


Even if that does not happen for now, Jordan is already facing grave challenges in hosting half a million Syrian refugees. This week, a senior UN official said that the number of refugees in Jordan could swell to one million by the end of the year. The UN is launching a historic appeal to collect more than $5 billion to help host countries deal with the Syrian refugee problem. Jordan was forced to abandon its calculated policy on Syria. Now it appears as one of the biggest regional losers if the Assad regime survives or if the war drags on for a few more years. Either way, Jordan is feeling the heat.


Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Amman, Jordan, who specializes in Middle East issues.





Hamada Faraenah

Al-Ayyam (P.A.)., June 9, 2013


Jordan is not safe from having major demonstrations by partisan and union bodies that oppose the government’s economic and social policies. Jordan has the factors that caused the Arab Spring wave, which started in Tunisia before moving to Egypt, Libya and Syria. The Arab Spring may keep moving to other countries, both monarchies and republics, because the same conditions exist in those countries. The people reject regimes built around a single person, family, party or ethnicity. The factors that lead to the Arab Spring are:


    The lack of independence and sovereignty standards. The placing of foreign interests above national interests. Foreign armies and unfair foreign agreements control the Arab order. Arab countries have a high debt burden. Some regimes receive military protection from the West. All that is helping maintain the occupation of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and southern Lebanon. There are foreign military bases in the Arabian Gulf. Binding agreements have been imposed on Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Djibouti and others.


    The lack of democracy, pluralism and peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box.


    The lack of social justice and the poor state of health services, housing and transportation. The unfair distribution of wealth. The high poverty rates and the widening gap between rich and poor, which causes conflict.


The above conditions do apply to Jordan. But the country has so far not experienced a popular revolution like other Arab countries. Rather, Jordan achieved positive, reasonable and balanced results for many reasons:


    The Jordanian opposition is weak and fragmented. It took contradictory positions, such as its position on the National Dialogue Committee or on whether to participate in the parliamentary elections. The opposition is composed of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as nationalist and leftist parties. There are also the youth who mistakenly think that they are a substitute for the two traditional camps. As a result, Jordanian demonstrators have been divided and did not attract the general population. Therefore, the impact of Jordanian demonstrators was limited.


    Most Jordanians fear the devastating effects of the Arab Spring, as happened in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Jordanians want reform and change, but most of them don’t want to see violence, like what happened in Maan for example. Jordanians are reluctant to join the protest movement, even though they do wish to see reform and gradual democratic change.


    That the Arab Spring allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to reach power in the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Tunisia has made the Jordanians wary of making moves that would replicate the same result in their country.


    The Jordanian leadership has been responsive to change. It did not clash with the protesters but tried to accommodate them. The king accurately read the changes sweeping the Arab world. He spoke about a constitutional monarchy, parliament and political parties — terms that used to be forbidden. He amended the constitution. As much as one-third of the constitution was changed. He issued a new electoral law. The new law allows for national electoral lists, created an independent supervisory body and redresses electoral transgressions through the courts.


Despite that, the king said that more changes will be made and that there will be further constitutional amendments. He described the election law as “not ideal.” Improving the electoral law is on the current parliament’s agenda.


Jordan is still at the heart of the change process. It has averted violence so far. Most Jordanians — including the king, the nationalists and the leftists — believe in gradual change toward a constitutional monarchy having an elected parliament, despite the forces pushing in the opposite direction. Those regressive forces include the conservatives, which are backward and reactionary, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not believe in religious, ethnic, ideological or partisan pluralism.






Rachel Avraham

Jewish Press, May 19th, 2013


Ouni Abed Botrous Hadaddeen is a former senior level Jordanian agent who is Christian. He defected from Jordan because he objected to the Jordanian monarchy’s practice of assassinating Jordanian citizens who have protested against the current regime. Ouni was born to the tribe of Hadadeen, which is supportive of the Hashemite dynasty that has traditionally filled significant positions within the Jordanian government and armed services.


While he worked as a senior level Jordanian intelligence “collaborator” (spy), Ouni was ordered by the Jordanian government to confront anti-government protests and to lead counter protests in support of the Jordanian monarchy. In addition, he was told to write articles within the Arab media in support of the Jordanian government to prevent Jordan’s power base from collapsing, as was the case in Egypt during the “Arab Spring.” Hadaddeen claims that supporting the current Jordanian regime is not in the best interest of Israel and has accused Jordan’s King Abdullah of manipulating the Jordanian people to have negative views and even hatred of Israel.


Hadaddeen is presently a political refugee in Norway, while his family remains within Jordan. He claims that the Jordanian government has constantly threatened to rape and murder his wife and three young daughters. When asked if the threats were credible, Ouni said that rape is a systematic tool used by the Jordanian intelligence and the fact that he is Christian, rather than from a Muslim tribe, makes the regime less concerned about repercussions. Despite the threats, Hadaddeen continues to be an outspoken advocate against the Jordanian monarchy, out of the belief that at this point only public exposure will help his family.


There is evidence to back up Ouni’s claim that the Jordanian regime is fomenting hatred for Israel among the Jordanian people. The Jordanian educational system, instead of teaching the country’s youth to peacefully co-exist with Israel, educates youngsters that Palestine was stolen by the Jews. A report published by Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia Today, states that in Jordanian school textbooks, “references to Zionists as agents of imperialism and proponents of expansionists’ schemes […] occur.” Many of the anti-Israel textbooks that are presently used within Palestinian schools were originally Jordanian textbooks.


However, according to Hadaddeen, it seems that the Jordanian regime doesn’t merely publish anti-Israel textbooks. “One of the main foundations of King Abdullah’s regime is establishing hatred for Israel under the table,” Hadaddeen reports. He says that:


During the protests, [Abdullah] would tell Jordanian intelligence operatives, with me only being one of them, to sneak into protests and chant anti-Israeli slogans, both to distract the attention of people from the king and to give the impression that if he falls, Israel will be next.


Furthermore, a year and a half ago, the Jordanian intelligence establishment organized a massive march to the Israeli border, where Jordanians were told to “cross the border into Palestine.” But when Jordanians began to attempt to cross the borders, Jordanian intelligence officials attacked the protesters. Hadaddeen said this was a ploy in order to convince the Israelis that it was in their best interest to keep the Jordanian king in power.


Hadaddeen said that after the Israeli diplomatic mission was evacuated, as a result of this march, Jordanian intelligence officers went into the streets and proclaimed, “Haha, the Israeli chickens have left.” Hadaddeen compares the Jordanian king to Yasser Arafat, claiming that they are both double-faced. Just as Arafat told westerners he was dedicated to peace yet called for shahids among his own people, the Jordanian king portrays himself as the lone front against the Islamists, while getting his intelligence people to organize Islamist, anti-Israel and pro-regime protests, as the secular opposition, opposed to terror, is persecuted.


Unlike the situation in Egypt during the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was and is on the same side as the regime. As Zaki Bani Rushied –leader of the Islamic Action Front Party—the Brotherhood’s political arm—informed the media, “The people of Jordan have chosen to reform the regime; people can choose to topple the regime or reform it, and here in Jordan we have chosen to reform the regime.”


Indeed, Hadaddeen asserts that in Jordan the Muslim Brotherhood is a “tool used by the king himself.” He said that the Jordanian king is “using the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorize Israel. He would meet them, and this is documented by media, and one day after they would start massive protests against Israel. It is not even a secret.”


Hadaddeen made the claim that in Jordan not a single Muslim Brotherhood member is in jail, and their members drive brand new German cars, in a country where such things are considered an extreme luxury. Hadaddeen described the cooperation between the Jordanian monarchy and members of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the Jordanian monarchy has supported the Muslim Brotherhood for decades.


Hadaddeen decided to abandon the Jordanian monarchy mainly because of the killings that have taken place “under the radar,” that have gone unreported in mainstream media. He claims that “they have been doing a lot of killing.” A Jordanian named Khairi Jameel, who was mildly injured while protesting against the Jordanian government, apparently was murdered by Jordanian intelligence upon boarding an ambulance.


Hadaddeen is certain that the regime attempted to make an example out of him. “I was there that day leading the pro-monarch counter-protests, and we were told by our intelligence officer someone was going to get killed that day. I saw Khary Jameel boarding the ambulance alive with a minor injury, pronounced dead hours later.” Hadaddeen believes that since that he is a Christian, he has dispelled the Jordanian government’s “facade to the western media” that all opposition members are Islamists.






Batya Medad

Jewish Press, June 10, 2013


Jordan’s land was supposed to be part of the Jewish State.  When the League of Nations assigned Great Britain the responsibility to prepare former Turkish land aka Mandated Palestine to be the Jewish State, it included both sides of the Jordan. But it didn’t take long for Britain to give Transjordan aka the East Bank of the Jordan to the Hashemites, from Saudi Arabia. They financially and diplomatically supported their new/fake/pet country for decades.


The inevitable is starting to happen.  There are serious cracks in the Hashemite Kingdom.  There’s a limit how long foreigners can rule.


For the last two years, Jordan has been witnessing regular protests calling for reform, with some demanding the king give up his powers. On November 15, 2012, massive protests broke out in Jordan after the Jordanian government, in compliance with the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, raised fuel prices. Protests, as The Independent noted, swept the country, “with most chanting for toppling the regime” despite the fact that protesters had previously “rarely targeted the king himself.”


For the first time, the Palestinians engaged fully in the protests; As Al-Jazeera reported, Palestinians, including those from refugee camps, have been fully involved, calling for toppling the regime in most of their major residential areas, including the Al-Baqqa refugee camp, the Al-Hussein refugee camp, close to downtown Amman, Douar Firas, Jabal Al-Nuzha, and the Hitteen refugee camp. [Mudar Zahran, Jewish Press, June 10, 2013]


And there’s also a limit how long a country without any real history, common culture etc can stay united and peaceful.  The land was pretty empty when Britain invented Jordan.  It was easy to give it to the Hashemites, because there had never been more than nomads, villages and towns.  There was no regional culture.  There had never been an independent country based only in that part of the work.  It had been part of the Biblical Jewish Kingdoms, from the time of Joshua, which even predates the kings.  Two and a half Jewish tribes lived there, their capital being Shiloh and later Jerusalem.


Anarchy on the other side of the Jordan, visible from my home in Shiloh, will probably last quite a while.  Actually, Israel is usually safer when Arabs fight each other.  The only thing that unites them is their aim to destroy the State of Israel and murder/terrorize Jews. Let them continue to fight each other.




Canadian Military in Jordan for Exercise Amid Reports Assad’s Forces in Syria on Verge of  Breakthrough:Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News June 10, 2013—Canada is one of 19 countries participating in a major military exercise in Jordan that is taking place amid reports government forces in neighbouring Syria are on the verge of a breakthrough against rebel forces.


Jordan’s Secular Opposition: Plan B for Jordan: Mudar Zahran, Jewish Press, June 10, 2013—For the last two years, Jordan has been witnessing regular protests calling for reform, with some demanding the king give up his powers.  On November 15, 2012, massive protests broke out in Jordan after the Jordanian government, in compliance with the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, raised fuel prices.


Jordan Threatens to Expel Syrian Envoy: Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2013—US ally Jordan threatened on Thursday to expel Syria's ambassador, after he warned the kingdom Syrian missiles could be used against Patriot batteries due to be deployed soon along their border.


The Agreement on Jerusalem between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan: Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, JCPA, Apr. 4, 2013—On March 31, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in his role as leader of the PLO, president of the state of Palestine, and chairman of the Palestinian Authority, signed an agreement on the safeguarding of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and its holy places with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.


Jordan’s Syria Problem: Nicolas Pelham, New York Review of Books, Jan. 10, 2013—While Jordan’s own secular monarchy contends with hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Syrian refugees, it is fearful that the conflict is also creating a powerful cause for its own restless Islamists.

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Syria’s Civil War is Spilling into Lebanon

Can Hezbollah Survive the Fall of Assad?

Armed to the Teeth

Lebanon’s First Defection From Assad


On Topic Links

Berri’s Desperate Attempts

Syria Spillover Or Frail Statehood?

What is Hezbollah’s Plan B?





Michael J. Totten

Gatestone Institute, August 31, 2012


Syria’s civil war was doomed from the very beginning to spill into Lebanon. Trouble started last year shortly after peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime turned violent, and it started again last week when sectarian clashes ripped through the northern city of Tripoli, the second-largest in Lebanon after Beirut, and turned parts of it into a war zone.


Sunni militiamen from Tripoli’s neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh are slugging it out again with militants from the adjacent Alawite stronghold of Jabal Mohsen. They have transformed their corner of Lebanon into a mirror of the Syrian war, in which Sunni rebels are waging pitched battles with the Alawite-dominated military and government…


Tensions are also increasing between Lebanon’s Sunnis, who support the Syrian uprising, and Lebanon’s Shias, who support the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Syrian rebels recently kidnapped a man they say is a Hezbollah member; his Lebanese clan members ran around southern Beirut with AK-47s and ski masks and kidnapped almost two dozen Syrian Sunnis and even a Turkish citizen in Lebanon .


Some reporters are describing the violence as some of the worst since the Lebanese civil war that raged from 1975-1990 — so far a bit of an exaggeration, with numbers still insignificant compared to the thousands killed, tortured, and maimed next-door in Syria. But the numbers could easily mushroom, transforming the entire Lebanese political scene for the worse.


Assad’s occupation of Lebanon was terminated seven years ago by the Beirut Spring, but the two countries still function to an extent as a single political unit. Syria may no longer have its smaller neighbor under direct military rule, but it has been deliberately exporting its violence, dysfunction, and terrorism since the 1970s. Its hegemony there was partially restored when Hezbollah invaded Beirut in 2008, forcing anti-Syrian parties to surrender much of their power at gunpoint.


Even if Assad had no interest in mucking around in Beirut’s internal affairs — even if Lebanon were entirely free of Syrian influence — we should still expect to see the conflict spill over. The Lebanese could not build a firewall even if the Syrians wanted to help them – but definitely not while terrified Syrian refugees are holing up in the county, and not when Hezbollah has a vested interest in keeping its patron and armorer in charge in Damascus, and not with Sunnis and Alawites living cheek-by-jowl in the north.


Lebanon, unlike most Arab countries, has a weak central government. The Lebanese designed it that way on purpose so that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to rule as a strongman; and the country is more or less evenly divided between Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, so that no single sectarian community could easily take control over the others.


The problem, of course, is that weak central government combined with sectarian centrifugal force constantly threaten to rip the country apart. As the army is just as riven by political sectarianism as the rest of the country, when civil conflict breaks out, the army does a terrible job. Its leadership does not dare take sides lest the officers and enlisted men under their command splinter apart into rival militias as they did during the civil war. Further, the Syrian regime left pieces of itself behind when it withdrew from Lebanon in the spring of 2005. Many of the army’s senior officers were promoted and appointed by Damascus; they still have their jobs and their loyalties, at least for now.


So while the violence in Lebanon is at the moment contained, it is barely contained. The real danger here is not that people will be kidnapped and killed by the dozen in isolated neighborhoods. The real danger is that if the situation does not calm down and stay down, the normally placid Sunni community will become increasingly radical.


For years the overwhelming majority of Lebanon’s Sunnis have thrown their support behind the Future Movement, the liberal, capitalist, and pro-peace party of Rafik and Saad Hariri. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly gets any more votes in Lebanon than it would in the United States. But conservative Sunnis are only willing to support moderates like the Hariris when they feel safe. If they feel physically threatened by Alawite militias, Hezbollah, or anyone else for too long, many will feel they have little choice but to back radical Sunni militias if no one else will protect them…. (Top)



Hanin Ghaddar

New York Times, Aug. 29, 2012

THE Syrian government has tried many times to transfer its crisis to Lebanon, but it has failed to cause a real explosion that would lead to another Lebanese civil war. It has, however, succeeded in inciting small outbreaks of violence that have pushed the country to the verge of a breakdown for the past 17 months.

Clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between Sunnis and Alawites have intensified in recent days — but this time the Lebanese Army intervened to stop the fighting.


Something fundamental has changed: the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, long Syria’s powerful proxy in Lebanon, has become a wounded beast. And it is walking a very thin line between protecting its assets and aiding a crumbling regime next door.


It seems that the Lebanese Army has finally received political cover, mainly from President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, to confront Hezbollah and its allies and to put an end to the violence. On Sunday, 18 armed men from a family with links to Hezbollah were arrested by the Lebanese Army. Two trucks and a warehouse full of weaponry were confiscated.


This arrest is politically significant. It means that the Lebanese prime minister and president are no longer willing to jeopardize stability in Lebanon by giving Hezbollah full cover, as they have usually done since June 2011, when a Hezbollah-dominated government came to power. Indeed, Syria is losing sway in Lebanon, and Hezbollah no longer exercises the same level of control over state institutions as it once did.

Today, Hezbollah is regarded by the Arab street as an ally of a dictator who is killing his people.


Losing regional popularity is one thing, but losing its constituency at home is something Hezbollah cannot tolerate. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2013, and Hezbollah prefers not to take any risks. It will do whatever it takes to maintain its control in Lebanon. So will Iran. Iran is doing its utmost to prolong Mr. Assad’s rule in Syria, and it would likely do much more to hang on to Lebanon. Tehran can’t afford to lose both.


The erosion of Hezbollah’s control started with the arrest on Aug. 9 of Bashar al-Assad’s friend and adviser, the former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, in connection with a seizure of explosives that were to be used in northern Lebanon. Lebanese authorities jointly charged him and the Damascus-based Syrian national security chief, Gen. Ali Mamluk, with plotting “terrorist attacks” and the assassination of political and religious figures in Lebanon.


While none of Syria’s allies in Lebanon spoke in defense of Mr. Samaha, a reaction came from the street a few days later. A Shiite family whose son was abducted in Syria began a wave of random kidnappings of Syrians; rioters blocked the road to the Beirut airport; dozens of Syrians were abducted, and their shops were vandalized.


The political storm that followed Mr. Samaha’s arrest subsided immediately. Hezbollah did not comment on the arrest, but in a speech following the events, its chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, told the public that he and his party were incapable of controlling the street, hinting at more chaos to come.


Meanwhile, the Lebanese government, which is still dominated by Hezbollah, has failed to address several basic domestic issues like public services and security. Many communities, including Shiites in the south and in Beirut’s southern suburbs, have taken to the streets in the past few months to protest increasing power outages.


Mr. Assad may not yet realize that he is a dead man walking, but Hezbollah does. That does not mean, however, that the party will change its stance on Syria as the Palestinian militant group Hamas has done. If it did, it would lose its supply lines from Iran. So Hezbollah’s main objective is to avoid a full explosion before the parliamentary elections. After all, an election victory would allow Hezbollah to maintain its political control over Lebanon democratically, without having to resort to arms. Tehran would also prefer to avoid any war that would force Hezbollah to get involved — namely, a war with Israel. That could lead to the party’s losing both its weapons and its supporters.  


Hezbollah has an interest in keeping the violence at a simmer for the moment, but the longer Mr. Assad stays, the greater the risk that sectarian tensions will boil over in Lebanon.  (Hanin Ghaddar is the editor of NOW Lebanon.) (Top)



Ana Maria Luca

NOW Lebanon, September 5, 2012


“Look at us, we are the Sunni army they’re talking about,” shouts Abu Osman, a well-built young man in his early 30s standing next to his group’s leader, Sheikh Bilal, who’s a few years younger than him. Abu Osman is a former policeman, but first and foremost, he says, he’s a Sunni from Zahrieh, a Sunni enclave near the flashpoint neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. The man is as big as a mountain. To his fellow fighters he’s a great asset when battling the Alawite boys up in Jabal Mohsen. He owns a Kalashnikov PKS machinegun, for which he says he paid $5,000.


The men gathered at the sheikh’s home to talk about security after the fighting that had taken place a week before with the militia members in Jabal Mohsen. The shooting has been over for days, but the fighters are still alert. “We know this is not over. Tripoli is a Sunni castle, and we’re defending it. If the Shiites and the Alawites didn’t work with Assad we would leave here in peace,” Sheikh Bilal says, referring to Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, who has allies among the Alawites and Shiites in North Lebanon. “But because of the money, they turned against Lebanon,” he says while the other men nod in agreement.
“We hate Assad and Hezbollah,” says Abu Shadi, a man in his late 30s who says he’s the group’s sniper. “We help the Syrian revolutionaries with whatever we can. We go from door to door and we gather each dollar and then we buy bread and give them to the refugees. We would give our food to these people. All the people here are willing to help the Syrians,” he says, adding that a year ago the boys in the neighborhood gathered their old weapons and sent them to Syria to arm the rebels fighting the Assad regime.


“It is our duty to do that. Our fathers had to fight the Syrian army here in Lebanon. They massacred 700 people in Tripoli,” says Sheikh Bilal, referring to the 1986 massacre of Islamist Tawhid fighters by the Syrian army and the Alawite Arab Democratic Party. “We’ve been fighting ever since here in Tabbaneh.

“The Alawite militia in Jabal Mohsen and Hezbollah’s members in Tripoli are trying to create problems here so that the Syrian government can take some rest. See what happened last week? The entire world was watching Tripoli, all the journalists were here. But we will not let them rest,” Abu Shadi shouts.
A younger fighter shows a video on his phone of how he and his comrades burned an Alawite man’s shop in Tripoli. “We are from Zahrieh, but we all fight in Bab al-Tabbaneh,” Abu Osman intervenes. Abu Shadi continues, “We don’t fight all at once. We take shifts. We’re professional fighters; we all have our own weapons.” Sheikh Bilal says he owns four Kalashnikovs and has pictures on his phone to prove how proficient he is in handling them. Abu Osman shows off a video of him using his PKS Kalashnikov during the fighting a week before. Abu Shadi brags he can shoot a bottle cap on top of the Alawite Mountain. The rest of the men talk about their RPGs and M16s.

“We are not a militia. There is no militia here. We are an army. We fight for ourselves. Nobody is arming us. No politician is giving us weapons. We are just defending our city,” Abu Shadi explains. “The militia is in Jabal Mohsen. They are more organized than us. We intercept their communications, their walkie-talkies,” he adds.


The fighters say weapons have become very expensive during the past year and a half since the Syrian uprising began. A Kalashnikov used to be $500 to $600. Now it’s three times as much. They also feel the cost of ammunition gets higher with every round of shooting. They say they pay $1,000 for a single RPG bomb and $40 for every bullet box. “The Alawites get them for free from the Syrians. The Syrian army gave all the weapons to the Alawite militia when they left Lebanon. Every time we fight, they open the depots and give away the guns for free,” Abu Shadi says. 


The conversation is interrupted by a new arrival to the group. The men start cheering. “Look, here we stand united, Christians and Sunnis. He’s Maroun, he’s Christian and he fights by our side in Tabbaneh,” Abu Osman says, springing from his chair and putting his arm over Maroun’s shoulders. Maroun grins and proves he is, indeed, a Christian by lifting the sleeve of his T-shirt and revealing a big blue cross tattooed on his arm. “We stand together. We hate Assad as much as the Sunnis do. In this neighborhood we are together and we defend it together,” Maroun says.


The sheikh notes that his mostly-Sunni army has no intention of invading Jabal Mohsen. “We don’t want another massacre. This fight is going to take at least a few more months. We know that when Assad is gone, the Alawite militias will stop fighting. They will run away. We know because we have experience. We have been fighting here for 30 years.”  *All names in this piece have been changed upon request from the interviewees. (Top)




Hanin Ghaddar ,

NOW Lebanon, August 14, 2012

The arrest of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s man in Lebanon, former Minister of Information Michel Semaha, after being caught plotting to carry out a series of bomb attacks was earth-shaking on two levels. One, the Syrian regime had to assign security operations to a politician instead of its usual militias, and two, none of its allies did anything to support Samaha. This shows that Lebanon is at a significant crossroad vis-à-vis its relation to Syria.

After Samaha was charged, everyone in Lebanon thought that hell will rise and that roads all over the country will be blocked with burning tires and raging mobs. Many people stayed home that night assuming that another May 7 will take place. Samaha is supposed to be a big deal. As it turned out, he’s not. Well, not anymore.

Syria's allies in Lebanon have been silent, bit the bullet and avoided all media, especially after the strong incriminating evidence against Samaha was leaked to media. Even the usual mouthpieces of the Syrian regime such as Wiam Wahhab said nothing.

Obviously, defending Samaha after he himself confessed did not make any sense. Moreover, pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah would do anything to protect the Syrian regime, but they will not sacrifice themselves for a falling Assad, especially not in Lebanon. Assad using Samaha to implement his terrorist attacks in Lebanon means that Hezbollah was not willing to go that far and that the Party of God still has an interest in safeguarding Lebanon from the imminent fire Assad has been threatening to unleash on his smaller neighbor.

Pro-regime media in Lebanon could not just ignore the issue. However, instead of chalking the whole thing up to the usual “universal conspiracy” against the resistance, Al-Akhbar and As-Safir columnists just criticized the ISF, mainly the Information Branch, for the aggressive way Samaha was taken in and published articles warning about the threat of the Salafists and reminding Lebanese about “terrorists” smuggling arms from Lebanon into Syria. The evidence against Samaha must have been too strong.

It is noteworthy that both Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Premier Najib Miqati have commended the ISF for their successful operation that saved Lebanon from "imminent danger." On the very local political level, this means that the current government, which is widely considered as Syria’s second government, is now showing clear signs of division among its factions.

So what does that tell us? First, the Syrian regime is certainly losing Lebanon, the government and its trusted allies. Second, no one is protected anymore. If Samaha was left to drown, then anyone, no matter how close they are to Assad, could face the same destiny.

But this arrest is not just about the man. It also means that the story Samaha has been selling as Assad’s media advisor, that Al-Qaeda or Salafist groups are behind the violence in Syria and that the minorities are endangered, is not credible anymore. As it turned out, the explosions he was planning were going to be attributed to Al-Qaeda, thereby strengthening the “fear the Islamists” feelings among Lebanese and Syrians. 

Samaha was not charged alone. General Ali Mamluk, the Syrian National Security chief, was also charged by the Lebanese authorities with preparing “terrorist attacks” through bombing campaigns, as well as assassination attempts against political and religious figures in Lebanon. Whatever Samaha and the Syrian regime’s officers and media said earlier in regard to this scenario should be taken with a huge grain of salt. It is obvious now that such attacks are fabricated and implemented by the regime’s dirty network.

Beyond Samaha, the most significant part is that this is the first time ever that the Syrian regime has been caught in the act in Lebanon, with strong evidence coming not from outsiders, but from the Lebanese authorities. Mamluk does not represent himself in this case. He stands for the Syrian regime, and the Syrian regime has been charged in Lebanon….

However, things will never be the same again between Lebanon and Syria. Assad’s aura in Lebanon is fading, and sooner or later, the government and political factions will have to do something to avoid further humiliation and risk, at least until elections. (Top)