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Ed Webb

The Israel-Hezbollah Channel - 0 views

  • Israel and Lebanon have a long history of tension: officially, they have been at war without interruption since 1948, and they have not agreed on an officially demarcated border—nor, after several wars, have they formally agreed to a cease-fire. Nevertheless, a strange forum for conflict management has grown up between them. Since 2006, when UNIFIL was reauthorized by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, peacekeepers have presided over more than one hundred tripartite meetings, which bring together officers from Israel, Lebanon, and UNIFIL to manage disputes and technical issues along the Blue Line.5 The primary belligerents along the border are Hezbollah and the Israeli military, but the Lebanese military serves as Hezbollah’s interlocutors in what has become known as the Tripartite Process.
  • In a region rife with standing conflicts between belligerents who have little or no direct channels of communication, UNIFIL provides a rare example of conflict management in an extremely unstable and opaque environment. Its track record offers some suggestions of promising approaches to manage and mitigate conflict, while avoiding unwanted escalation. But it also offers stark warnings of the limitations of a narrow and indirect approach in the absence of enduring cease-fires, treaties, or other more robust conflict-resolution mechanisms
  • its newly muscular force with strong international political backing created perhaps the only sustained, regular, and efficacious channel of communications between Middle East belligerents in an active conflict
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  • UNIFIL makes a precarious model for conflict management. Despite its successes, both Israel and Hezbollah routinely attack UNIFIL’s legitimacy in public. The population of southern Lebanon expresses widespread skepticism about the peacekeeping mission’s intentions and loyalties, despite the benefits they reap from UNIFIL, which not only reduces conflict but serves as the area’s largest employer.11 Many residents of southern Lebanon and supporters of Hezbollah believe that UNIFIL serves Israeli and American interests and is unlikely to act to protect civilians during future conflicts
  • The original UNIFIL mission deployed in 1978 with three missions: to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, to restore “international peace and security,” and to restore the authority of the government of Lebanon in the border region. None of these missions were achieved. Israel never fully withdrew, and in 1982 extended its occupation deeper into Lebanese territory. On the Lebanese side, state authority no longer existed, as the nation was riven by the 1975–90 civil war. A quisling militia eventually known as the South Lebanon Army served as an Israeli proxy.13 Hezbollah formed in 1982 in response to the Israeli occupation, and over the following decade grew into the dominant local force fighting Israel. Lebanon’s national army was reconstituted after the Taif Agreement of 1989 paved the way for an end to the country’s civil war. Even as other militias disbanded or had their fighters absorbed into the regular military, Hezbollah alone maintained an autonomous militia. Israel still occupied about one-tenth of Lebanon’s territory, along the southern border, and Hezbollah continued to lead the armed resistance. In 2000, Israel finally withdrew from most of Lebanese territory, but continued to occupy high ground on the mountain of Jabal al-Sheikh, known as Shebaa Farms, as well as the village of Ghajar, which contains critical water sources.14 Later, it also claimed some Lebanese territorial waters in an area where underwater oil and gas exploration is underway.15 Citing Israel’s continuing occupation, as well as the Israeli air force’s daily overflights of Lebanon, Hezbollah spurned calls from some of its Lebanese rivals to disarm or integrate into the national army.16 Tensions regularly flared along the border, and finally boiled over into war in July 2006.
  • Initially, Hezbollah preferred a UN resolution that would leave it sovereign in southern Lebanon. But Lebanon’s government, and significant quarters of Lebanese public opinion, wanted to reassert state sovereignty in the zone of southern Lebanon that hitherto had been solely under Hezbollah’s control. Israel and the United States, by contrast, entered the cease-fire negotiations with unrealistic hopes that they could achieve through peacekeeping what they had failed to do through violence: disarm Hezbollah
  • UNSCR 1701, which led to a cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006
  • Immediately upon implementing the cease-fire, UNIFIL peacekeepers initiated a process that was not specified in the new mandate but which has become, in the eleven years since the cessation of hostilities until the time of this writing, the most successful element of the mission: the standing, direct negotiations between the Israeli and Lebanese militaries, under UN auspices
  • this somewhat informal mechanism has now met more than one hundred times without a single walkout from either side. It appears to be the only place where Israeli and Lebanese officials formally and directly interact
  • In the context of the Middle East, this forum is especially remarkable. Most of the region’s running conflicts lack even tactical communication between adversaries. Relatively straightforward arrangements such as temporary cease-fires, prisoner exchanges, or safe passage for civilians have been tortuous and at times virtually impossible in regional conflicts. Belligerents often refuse to recognize each other even on a most basic level. If Israel and Lebanon (and, by extension, Hezbollah) have managed to build a rudimentary channel despite their history and the political obstacles to communication, then perhaps—using a similar approach—other belligerents in the region might also inaugurate conflict-­management channels or CBMs.
  • Its approximately 10,500 troops generate economic activity for southern Lebanon; after the Lebanese government, UNIFIL is the largest employer in the area.
  • Hezbollah is a regional military power, operating in tandem with Iran as infantry or trainers in Iraq, Yemen, and possibly elsewhere. In Syria, Hezbollah has played perhaps the most critical military role on the government’s side. Inside Lebanon, Hezbollah has moved from being a strong faction to being the strongest, today holding the balance of power domestically, with the ability to dominate the complex political negotiations that determine who holds the presidency. In 2013, the European Union as a whole joined Israel, the United States, and some individual European governments in listing Hezbollah’s “armed wing” as a terrorist group. (Hezbollah itself denies it has any separate armed wing, making such a designation tantamount to naming the entire organization.)
  • UNIFIL’s best direct relationship is with the Lebanese Army. It cannot officially communicate with Hezbollah, and its channels to the Israeli military, while stronger than before 2006, are still limited
  • On one hand, Hezbollah and Israel have both benefited from UNIFIL’s core functions: development projects for poor denizens of the border region; demarcation of the Blue Line; deconfliction, de-escalation, conflict management, and communication between belligerents; intelligence gathering; and a unique forum in which armies from two nations at war routinely meet for direct talks and resolve technical issues even as the political conflict between their governments continues unabated. On the other hand, both belligerents routinely have undermined UNIFIL, attacking its legitimacy and performance in public forums while praising it in private; engaging in prohibited military operations; and refusing to extend any political support to the negotiations that they joined at a military level.
  • “It’s a conflict-management institution, not a conflict-resolution institution,” observed Timur Goksel, a UNIFIL veteran who worked with the mission over the course of two decades and has been based in both Israel and Lebanon. “It offers adversaries a way out. They can use UNIFIL as an excuse. It opens a way out of major conflict. This is what UNIFIL is all about.”
  • The disputed village of Ghajar, which has long been a flashpoint between the two sides, exemplifies the limits of the existing channels of communication and negotiation. The Blue Line passes directly through the village. Its inhabitants are Alawites who previously lived under Syrian rule on territory that today is claimed by Lebanon.36 Israel currently controls the entire village. Israeli presence in the northern half of Ghajar entails a permanent violation of the Blue Line. The situation is further complicated by the lack of pressure from the village’s residents, who appear content to operate as part of Israel. Israel has committed in principle to withdrawing from the northern portion of the village, but the details of how to do that have eluded all parties.37
  • Hezbollah operates in southern Lebanon with full independence. It might defer to the Lebanese Army or UNIFIL in order to avoid embarrassment or minor mishaps, but it can freely circumvent even the most symbolic of checks
  • Hezbollah continues to hold sovereign power of arms and operates without limitation from the government of Lebanon, UNIFIL, or any other force
  • Hezbollah has greatly increased its military capacity since joining the Syrian war as a pivotal combatant in 2012. The Lebanese nonstate actor has emerged as the premier urban combat and infantry force on the side of the Syrian government. It has engaged in wide-scale maneuver warfare, and has engaged in integrated warfare, involving air force support, with professional forces from Iran, Russia, and Syria. Hezbollah has helped form new militias and has led coordinated assaults with militia support involving groups and fighters from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere.45 Reports suggest that Hezbollah has also acquired a new arsenal of long-range missiles and land-to-sea missiles, which greatly increases its deterrent capacity against Israel and could enable it to threaten more Israeli targets than it could in 2006
  • With the Syrian war potentially entering a closing phase, from which Hezbollah and the Syrian government will emerge victorious, several analysts have refocused their attention on the latent Israel-Hezbollah conflict
  • Israel and Lebanon are formally still at war, and no closer to a permanent cease-fire than they were when UNSCR 1701 came into force on August 14, 2006. Whereas the Israeli government and military are unitary actors on one side of the Blue Line, the other side has a bedeviling array of potential belligerents with competing interests. These possible participants include but are not limited to Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Palestinian factions, the Syrian government, and possibly some Syrian rebel factions, although most Syrian rebels in the Golan have either cooperated with Israel or remained neutral. UNIFIL can call the Lebanese Army to settle a crisis, but then must rely on the Lebanese Army, itself strained by pressures stemming from the war in Syria, to make effective contact with other players
  • Whether technical talks and a bare-bones conflict-management channel can, in fact, shift the political opportunities is precisely the question raised by UNIFIL’s record since 2006. UNIFIL’s example suggests that military-military talks have utility but are unlikely to drive political resolution. The UNIFIL model may be a promising approach for conflicts between belligerents with strained or nonexistent diplomatic relations, but it is a model for managing conflict and avoiding unintended escalations, not for resolving conflict and reversing escalations that are intentional or are based on mistrust and miscalculation
  • “It’s the only mission that speaks to two countries that are still at war,” noted one UNIFIL official. “This works if parties don’t want to go to war. It can’t prevent a war from happening.”
  • Unless a government or nonstate actor has openly and expressly deputized a military channel to negotiate a political resolution, there is no evidence that technical talks will prompt a political dialogue—simply because some participants hope for it to do so—much less a resolution
  • UNIFIL’s record as an arbiter or honest broker does not appear to have changed any policy position on the part of Hezbollah or the government of Israel. A technical channel cannot create a new political climate
  • UNIFIL’s conflict-management paradigm may, paradoxically, increase risks by leaving political problems unresolved. “There is no doubt the UNIFIL mission has acted as shock absorber for local tensions and maintained a negative peace, that is, it has prevented the escalation of minor incidents into large-scale conflict,” the researcher Vanessa Newby concluded after conducting fifty interviews of UNIFIL officials and others who deal with the mission.54 “But its presence appears to be sustaining the conditions of conflict more than it is resolving them.”
  • successfully bolstered the Lebanese military’s function and standing as a state institution
  • If either Hezbollah or Israel shifted its cost-benefit calculus and decided it was more preferable to go to war than maintain the status quo (as Israel had in advance of the summer of 2006), then UNIFIL’s mechanisms would provide almost no peacemaking or conflict-avoidance potential
  • Many of the Middle East’s conflict areas are plagued with similar problems and thus are ripe for UNIFIL-like channels, managed by neutral third parties that can avoid accidental escalations, act as a clearing house for airing grievances and seeking technical solutions to relatively small technical problems, and potentially manage aspects of open conflict if it emerges. Such channels could pave the way for delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen or exchanging prisoners in Syria. The model is for a standing body that is not ad hoc nor of limited duration, and thus can establish trust over multiple iterations of dialogue and conflict management.
  • the UNIFIL case illustrates the broader problem with applying a military (or security, or conflict-management) paradigm to inherently political problems. Such a forum can be an effective long-term intermediary, but only for tactical matters. The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is a political one
  • The field of critical security studies has pushed the field of academic political science to incorporate political concerns into its definition of security, but minimized the hard security concerns that make life dangerous in conflict zones.55 The balance of security and politics is not merely a theoretical concern; it drives the persistence of deadly conflict in the Middle East. Both hard security and political grievance must be addressed, even if unfairly, in order to resolve a conflict. A similar dynamic shapes the need to address process as well as policy. A satisfactory forum is required for belligerents to talk at all. Forums like UNIFIL, or the Madrid Peace Conference (where parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict met in 1991), create the space and relationships that are a precondition for any substantial negotiation. Yet process does not suffice if no common policy framework can be reached on the central matters of dispute. No amount of tripartite meetings at the UNIFIL headquarters will compel the political leadership in Israel or Hezbollah to reformulate their core goals
  • The Middle East needs more UNIFILs, but it is crucial to keep in mind the limitations of a conflict-management approach if such forums are to be useful for advancing long-term security. They are no substitute for politics.
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Bush White House Wanted to Destroy the Syrian Sta... - 0 views

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Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Gover... - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

With Lebanon making fragile progress, now is the wrong time to pull US assistance - 0 views

  • The proxies of Iran and Syria in Lebanon, after years of solidarity, show tentative signs of diverging. With even Shia protesters on the street, and with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s calls to disperse unheeded, Hezbollah’s façade of invincibility is showing cracks. The Lebanese army and security forces have responded with admirable courage, restraint, and independence in defying calls by Hezbollah leaders and private pleas from the presidential palace to clear the streets. In contrast with unprecedented and overt criticism of Hezbollah, public support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is soaring.
  • rather than reinforcing them, the White House, in an astonishingly ill-timed decision, suspended $105 million in U.S. security assistance to the very institutions that have defied Hezbollah’s demands to end the protests
  • some of Syria’s traditional allies in Lebanon, including Bashar al-Assad’s childhood friend Sleiman Franjieh, have remained conspicuously silent or even sent relatives to join the demonstrations
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  • LAF pride and capabilities, both linked to years of sustained U.S. support, endanger Hezbollah’s “resistance” narrative.
  • For years, Iranian and Syrian interests and tactics in Lebanon have largely coincided: They seek to discredit and divide the so-called “March 14” movement that emerged against Damascus and Tehran in the aftermath of the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005; “resist” U.S. and French efforts to bolster’s Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence; and use Lebanon to threaten Israel.
  • Hezbollah has expanded its influence in, and in some cases control over, Lebanon’s domestic institutions via its 2006 memorandum of understanding with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party.
  • Since 2006, Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassile, have been reliable fronts for Hezbollah’s and thus Iran’s interests in Lebanon
  • gives both Damascus and Tehran the gift of a unifying message to the Lebanese about America’s unreliability as a partner.
  • The value of Hezbollah’s FPM-provided Christian veneer has declined precipitously, with Bassile now a favorite target of the protesters as a symbol of everything that ails Lebanon
  • it would not be the first time that regional actors used Lebanon as the theater for their competition
  • Two Lebanese politicians speculated about a connection to what is happening in the Alawite regions of Syria, where Bashar al-Assad may view Iranian influence and Shia proselytizing as a threat to his secular, Alawite base
  • Assad, who would have considered Hezbollah a junior partner during the pre-2005 Syrian occupation of Lebanon, may also resent the current strength and presence of Hezbollah in Syria: Who’s the junior partner now? How much control can Assad exert over Hezbollah inside Syria? Given that Assad still needs Iran’s and Hezbollah’s help in Syria, he can, according to this theory, use Lebanon to send a message.
  • The presumed candidacy of Lebanese Army Commander Joseph Aoun, with his enhanced credibility for independence, would be more aligned with the sentiments of the street. But the Lebanese president is elected by parliament, not the people. While the current Lebanese parliament reflects the very establishment that the protesters wish to topple, one hopes that the members of parliament will think about protesters’ views if they are put in a position as to whether to choose between Damascus, Tehran, or their own Lebanese constituents.
  • There’s an argument for the United States maintaining a low profile, to undercut Nasrallah’s predictable arguments about a U.S. conspiracy, and a guiding principle should always be “do no harm” when trends emerge that are clearly in U.S. interests. Instead, the White House suspension of security assistance at this of all times, gives Damascus’ and Tehran’s Lebanese allies a message around which to re-unite: that the United States is an unreliable partner and that the LAF will not get needed assistance, meaning Hezbollah’s arsenal remains essential to Lebanon’s security. American officials who are seeking to promote U.S. interests in Lebanon face a strange set of bedfellows — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and apparently the White House — and face the difficult task of pushing back against all four.
Ed Webb

BBC News - Hezbollah military commander 'killed in Syria' - 0 views

  • Hezbollah said Ali Hussein Nassif was buried in the Bekaa valley on Monday and had been killed "performing his jihadist duty", but did not say where. Rebels said Nassif and several of his men had been killed in an ambush by the Free Syrian Army. Other reports said they had died in clashes on the border. There has been no confirmation that he was Hezbollah's commander in Syria.
  • Lebanese officials also believe members of Hezbollah's military wing, the Islamic Resistance, are fighting in the Syrian conflict, citing as evidence a number of quiet burials of "martyrs" in Hezbollah-dominated areas.
  • after another senior Hezbollah military commander, Musa Ali Shahimi, was reportedly killed fighting in Syria in August, there was a public funeral attended by two Hezbollah MPs in the capital, Beirut
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  • Hezbollah's al-Manar TV, and the pro-Syrian regime Lebanese newspaper al-Diyar, have both reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered thousands more troops sent to the northern city of Aleppo to finish the battle against rebels there
  • Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries had reached 311,500
  • Last week, the UN and other humanitarian agencies launched an appeal for $487m (£301m) to help up to 710,000 Syrians who they estimate will have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq by the end of the year
Ed Webb

Thanks to Trump, Iran Is Winning the Battle for the Middle East's Future - 0 views

  • a world undergoing major change, as China, Russia, and regional powers such as Iran seek to supplant U.S. military hegemony.  Nowhere is this shift more apparent than in the Middle East, where the incoherence of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has been on full display. However, these rapid changes also present a lesson on the overreach of past U.S. interventions and an opportunity for the United States to extricate itself from regional conflicts and push local powers toward cooperation.
  • a recent interview aired on Iranian state television with Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  In the rare interview, reportedly the first given by Suleimani in more than 20 years, the elusive commander outlined the regional landscape leading up to the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War
  • According to Suleimani, Israel’s goal was to “get rid of Hezbollah forever.” He lamented the “willingness of Arab countries and their discreet announcement of cooperation” with Israel at the time, which he claimed was aimed at “obliterating Hezbollah and changing the demography in southern Lebanon.”
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  • Over the past decade and a half, the wars waged by Washington and its allies against the Iran-led camp have all been unsuccessful. Hezbollah fought Israel to a bloody stalemate in 2006. Iranian influence in Iraq has been consolidated. Iran and its allies have won the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed to bring Iran to heel.
  • At a time when Trump is pushing uncompromising unilateralism, the rest of the world has made clear its desire for a rules-based order grounded in multilateralism, as evident in efforts to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the advent of new regional institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In the Middle East, the United States and its major European and regional allies no longer share a cohesive, united vision. This is evident not just in Trump’s haphazard approach to the troop withdrawal from Syria but in his drive to undo the Iran nuclear deal.
  • The coalition of Arab states and Israel that the Trump administration had mobilized against Iran now shows serious signs of splintering
  • for the Gulf states, the forecast is clear: The United States is leaving the Middle East. They have long feared losing the U.S. security umbrella, which was at the root of their rage against former President Barack Obama’s diplomacy with Iran. However, after inciting Trump to escalation and conflict with Iran, his refusal to deploy U.S. military power after the aforementioned attacks is spurring a fundamental recalculation of their security strategies
  • the Emirati government has reached a new maritime agreement with Iran and has reportedly sent a senior official to Tehran to improve ties. Even Saudi Arabia, the leader of the anti-Iran bloc, is communicating to Iran a desire for de-escalation and an end to the war in Yemen
  • It in fact makes little sense for the United States to bear most of the cost of securing the Gulf. In a 2010 study, Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University, found that from 1976 to 2007, the United States spent $6.8 trillion on protecting the oil flow from the Persian Gulf. “[O]n an annual basis the Persian Gulf mission now costs about as much as did the Cold War,” Stern wrote. This expenditure is even more striking given that, in recent years, the United States has received less than 10 percent of Gulf hydrocarbons. In effect, Washington has given the major importers of Gulf energy (i.e., China, India, and Japan) a free ride when it comes to their energy security.
  • push for the creation of a collective security system in the Gulf
  • A Gulf security system could help ease the security dilemmas between Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries through institutionalized forums for regular dialogue and the facilitation of nonaggression pacts. For such a system to be successful in assuming the burden for ensuring the free flow of Gulf energy, it will require external powers, particularly the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the European Union, and the other major importers of Gulf hydrocarbons, to play a helpful role in promoting regional dialogue
  • it was not Suleimani’s victories that led to the current juncture but self-defeating moves by successive U.S. administrations afflicted with hubris and a desire to transform the Middle East
Ed Webb

Ex-Hezbollah leader slams Iran Supreme Leader for Iraq, Lebanon protest deaths - Middle... - 0 views

  • Former Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, a key ally of Iran, criticised Iran’s supreme leader Sunday for being behind corruption in Lebanon and Iraq, where anti-government and corruption protests are ongoing.Subhi al-Tufayli, speaking to Arab and social media, delivered remarks on recent mass protests held in Lebanon and Iraq.
  • In 1988, Al-Tufayli, one of the founding members of Hezbollah, who is a religious scholar, survived an assassination attempt, which is suspected to have been conducted by Israel and the USHezbollah and he diverged paths after the former took part in 1992 general elections of Lebanon.
  • Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since October 17 by a wave of rallies against the ruling elite that led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister on October  29.
Ed Webb

Emerging Strategy Calls for Weakening, Not Routing, Taliban - washingtonpost.com - 0 views

  • Some inside the White House have cited Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese political movement, as an example of what the Taliban could become. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, but the group has political support within Lebanon and participates, sometimes through intimidation, in the political process. Some White House advisers have noted that although Hezbollah is a source of regional instability, it is not a threat to the United States. The senior administration official said the Hezbollah example has not been cited specifically to President Obama and has been raised only informally outside the Situation Room meetings.
  • White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that "there is clearly a difference between" the Taliban and "an entity that, through a global, transnational jihadist network, would seek to strike the U.S. homeland." "I think the Taliban are, obviously, exceedingly bad people that have done awful things," Gibbs said. "Their capability is somewhat different, though, on that continuum of transnational threats."
Ed Webb

Why Biden's Airstrikes on Iran Militias Matter | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • hitting Iranian proxies in Syria was not as much of an eye roll-worthy operation as has been argued. For one thing, Biden has signaled he’s learned from President Barack Obama’s past failures of acquiescing to Iranian belligerence in an effort to curry diplomatic favor with Tehran, which the Iranians correctly viewed as a license to carry on without fear of material consequence
  • helpfully spotlighted an awkward question for armed groups created to defend Iraq from foreign occupiers, and which are now legally bundled into Baghdad’s central security apparatus: What are they doing in Syria in the first place?
  • Starting in late 2012, Iraqi Shiite fighters were sent by the thousands to Syria. Some came as volunteers on what they believed was a mission from God to “defend” the Sayyida Zaynab Shrine south of Damascus. Others desired adventure. Still others wanted a paycheck. Whatever the motive, for Iran this mass recruitment and deployment had but one strategic objective: Save the then-embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from a protest movement-turned-incipient Sunni insurgency. By 2016, over 20 organizations were used to mobilize and deploy, at a minimum, 10,000 to 15,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters.
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  • open recruitment of Iraqi Shiites to fight in Syria has significantly ebbed, particularly following the cessation of Iraqi operations to crush the Islamic State in Mosul in 2017
  • The Iraqi groups that still operate in Syria are primarily centered in Damascus or in areas of eastern Syria near Deir ez-Zor. In fact, this zone has become a major geostrategic hotbed for Iranian activity in the Middle East because it is where the so-called land bridge linking Tehran to the Mediterranean is to be constructed
  • Among the hardcore groups deployed there are Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Kataib Hezbollah (one of the militias targeted Thursday), Saraya al-Jihad, Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as an Iranian-run Afghan and Pakistani faction
  • they’ve even reportedly offered payments to local Sunnis to join their paramilitaries or even convert to Shiism
  • Kataib Hezbollah, in particular, is a central spoke in Tehran’s wheel of aggression in Iraq and therefore a source of enormous resentment among Iraqis. To the Pentagon, it’s one of the most notorious terrorist outfits in Iraq.
  • The other named group targeted by U.S. forces on Thursday, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, is simply a splinter from Kataib Hezbollah. It was formed in early 2013, ostensibly due to a leadership dispute within the ranks of its parent organization. Since then, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada has posted candidates for Iraqi parliament in national elections and recruited thousands of fighters for combat in Iraq and Syria, all while remaining completely under Iranian control
  • Iran has always understood that its real power rested with its proxy groups across the region. It’s a smart assumption, predicated on the historical fact that Iran was able, in the last half decade, to extend its influence well beyond its borders with impunity, counting on America’s desperation for a nuclear deal. In other words, it got to do much of what it wanted a bomb to do, without the benefit of a bomb. 
  • The Middle East is greatly transformed from what it was before Trump became president. Turkey has emerged as a major interventionist power, one increasingly at odds with Iran in northern Iraq. Gulf states, meanwhile, have normalized their relations with Israel in either de jure or de facto manners. And with the destruction of ISIS’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq has come a new slate of socioeconomic grievances aimed at central governments and the non-state or para-state structures keeping them afloat. Containing Iran, in short, means undermining the militias, and it seldom matters where along the Soleimani “land bridge” one finds them, as the Israelis know all too well
Ed Webb

The Associated Press: Israel says commandos intercept arms shipment - 1 views

  • Israeli commandos seized a ship Wednesday that defense officials said was carrying more than 60 tons of missiles, rockets and anti-tank weapons bound for Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.The pre-dawn seizure near Cyprus was a rare interception of a suspected arms shipment by Israel, which has long accused Iran of arming its enemies. Israel offered no evidence to support its claim that the weapons came from Iran and were meant for Hezbollah.
  • Eli Shaked, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, said the growing arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah are changing the balance of power between Israel and the Iranian-backed militant groups.
Ed Webb

JERUSALEM: Iran: Israeli air strike killed general advising Syrian government forces | ... - 1 views

  • A statement on the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said that Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed when Israeli planes bombed a convoy in southern Syria, where troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have been fighting rebels that include al Qaida’s Nusra Front.
  • Also killed were five Iranians, according to the AFP news agency, and six members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, including a prominent Hezbollah operative, Jihad Mughniyah, whose father, Imad Mughniyah, was the group’s military chief until he was assassinated in 2008.
  • The statement said Allahdadi had been helping the Syrian government “confront the takfiri Salafist terrorists,” using religious terms to refer to the Sunni Muslim rebels who’ve been trying to topple Assad for nearly four years.
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  • Israeli commentators said that with Hezbollah embroiled in the fighting in Syria, the group was unlikely to open a second front with Israel, which could wreak serious damage in Lebanon
Ed Webb

The Other Regional Counter-Revolution: Iran's Role in the Shifting Political Landscape ... - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s role as a counter-revolutionary force in the Middle East is widely understood and thoroughly documented. Historian Rosie Bsheer calls the Saudi kingdom “a counter-revolutionary state par excellence,” indeed one that was “consolidated as such.”[2] The Saudi monarchy has gone into counter-revolutionary overdrive since the onset of the Arab uprisings, scrambling to thwart popular movements and keep the region’s dictators in power — from Egypt and Bahrain to Yemen and Sudan (and beyond)
  • less understood is the counter-revolutionary role that Iran plays in the region’s politics
  • Iran as a “revolutionary” state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East
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  • The defining slogan of Lebanon’s uprising — “all of them means all of them” (kellon yani kellon) — called out the country’s entire ruling class, which includes Hezbollah. One pointed variation on the slogan was “All of them means all of them, and Nasrallah is one of them.”
  • Hezbollah’s attacks on the demonstrators were not only physical but rhetorical, framing the popular revolt as part of a foreign plot against Hezbollah and its regional allies in the “Axis of Resistance” — accusations that were “met with ridicule
  • Hezbollah is “now viewed by many demonstrators as part of the corrupt and morally bankrupt political establishment that must be replaced,”
  • The Lebanese writer and podcaster Joey Ayoub captures the Orwellian upside-down-ness of this ideological sleight of hand in his formulation “Hezbollah’s Resistance™ against resistance.”[33] Hezbollah, he shows, tries to have it both ways: on the one hand, defending the status quo and maintaining Lebanon’s “sectarian-capitalist structures,” while at the same time banking on its membership in the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” That is, posturing as a force for “resistance” — a zombie category amid Lebanon’s current political landscape — while attacking people engaged in actual resistance to the ruling system and undermining progressive social movements.
  • Tehran also intervened politically, maneuvering to keep Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi in power in the face of demands from protesters that he step down.[66] (Mahdi eventually did resign, in late November 2019 — a major victory for the protest movement that Tehran endeavored to circumvent.)
  • The protests that erupted in Iraq in October 2019 were arguably the “biggest grassroots socio-political mobilization” in the country’s history.[37] At root, that mobilization was “about the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized demanding a new system,” notes the Iraqi sociologist Zahra Ali.[38] The Tishreen (October) uprising, as it came to be known, quickly spread to “cities and towns across central and southern Iraq”[39] and eventually “engulfed virtually the whole country (though they were most concentrated in Baghdad and the Shia-dominated southern governorates).”
  • the 2019 protests represented “the most serious challenge yet to the post-2003 political order,” the Iraq scholar Fanar Haddad observes
  • the movement “classified itself as a ‘revolution’ in terms of discourse, demands, and objectives.” “[E]ven if the current movement fails to achieve a political revolution,” Haddad argues, “and even if it is not a revolution, it is undoubtedly a revolutionary movement that has already achieved a cultural revolution.”
  • As Berman, Clarke, and Majed note: A movement demanding wholesale political change represented a real threat to the system of cronyism and rapaciousness that has enriched Iraq’s politicians over the last two decades, and these elites quickly mobilized an array of state and non-state security agents in an attempt to quash this challenge.[54] Mohammad al Basri, a figure affiliated with Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, expressed this mindset with rare bluntness: “Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood.”
  • Iran is deeply implicated in this counter-revolutionary repression — both indirectly, as the chief political ally and patron of the Iraqi government over the last 15 years, and directly, through the web of militias and paramilitary forces coordinated by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which have opened fire on protesters
  • The parallels between the Iraqi and Lebanese revolts are manifold, starting with their timing: mass protests engulfed both countries starting in October 2019. Iraqi and Lebanese protesters were conscious of the connections between their struggles: “in the different protest squares people are shouting: ‘One revolution, from Baghdad to Beirut,’” notes Sami Adnan, an activist in Baghdad with the group Workers Against Sectarianism.[34] It’s also important to see the two upheavals in their wider regional context, as part of the “second wave” of Arab uprisings that also included momentous popular movements in Algeria and Sudan — or, as some argue, the uprisings that have been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010.
  • Iraqi protesters weren’t just rebelling against Iran’s local allies, but against Iran itself. Protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square smashed banners of Khamenei with their shoes.[67] Others put up a white banner with red Xs drawn through photographs of Khamenei and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional policy.[68] “Images of Ayatollah Khomeini were removed from cities like Najaf, and pro-Iran political parties with prominent militias that were involved in the violence against the protesters had their branch offices attacked and burned,” Alkinani notes.[69] Most spectacularly, protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Karbala and Najaf amid chants of “Iran out of Iraq”.[70]
  • in the face of popular uprisings expressing emancipatory demands, Iran sides not with the protesters but with the ruling establishments they’re protesting against
  • Iran’s official narrative is that its role in Syria is all about fighting terrorism — specifically Al Qaeda and ISIS. But this is a classic case of reading history backwards. In fact, Iran rushed to the defense of the Assad regime as soon as the uprising began — when there was no Al Qaeda or ISIS presence whatsoever (the only jihadists were the ones the regime intentionally let out of its prisons as part of its jihadization strategy).[78] “From the very moment Assad faced popular protests, the Quds Force and Tehran were ready to do all they could to save the rule of the Baath Party,” notes Arash Azizi. Indeed, the Islamic Republic’s emissaries “were pushing on Assad to suppress the uprising mercilessly.”[79] And that is precisely what the regime did
  • The Islamic Republic’s “first reaction” to the demonstrations in Syria “was to open its own playbook and show Assad pages from the post-election protests in 2009,” he observes. “Decision-makers appear to have hoped that Assad would use enough brute force — arrests, beatings, and a limited amount of killings — to spread fear and quickly re-establish control.”
  • Iran helped flip the script and present the Syrian protests not as part of the wave of Arab uprisings — which it decidedly was — but as a foreign-inspired terrorist plot. This rhetorical framing was awkward for the Islamic Republic, which had voiced support for other Arab uprisings — those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya. This put Tehran in a bind, praising the people of the region for rising up against the dictators that oppressed them but siding with the dictator in Syria.[84] Amin Saikal characterizes this Syrian exception as “an intervention that ran counter to Tehran’s declared rhetoric of supporting the downtrodden masses.”
  • the Islamic Republic intensified its support for the Assad regime in 2011 but its stalwart support for the dynastic dictatorship in Damascus goes back several decades — and while the Assad regime exponentially heightened its level of repression in 2011, violence has been at the very core of its rule throughout
  • “[t]he ‘revolutionary’ slogans of Iran’s ‘resistance’ are empty rhetoric that merely back whatever policies benefit the corrupt ruling elite in Tehran.”
  • the so-called Axis of Resistance, “ostensibly dedicated to furthering the emancipatory aspirations of the Arab and Muslim masses,” has in reality “played a critical role in containing regional revolution and preventing the emergence of a more democratically oriented regional order.”
  • The Islamic Republic “sounds more and more like those same sclerotic rulers it once railed against,” Daragahi observes — “suspicious of any new development that threatens the status quo it dominates.”
  • We need to retire zombie categories — like that of Iran as a “revolutionary” force in the Middle East, and the fiction of the “Axis of Resistance”
  • Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region.
Ed Webb

Welcome to the Syrian Jihad - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • in today's Arab world, there is nothing particularly distinctive about his comments at all. For many months, Arab and Muslim figures of all stripes have been loudly calling for support to the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels, as have many Arab governments (and the United States and its allies, of course). The Muslim Brotherhood's branches have strongly supported the Syrian opposition -- acquiring too much power along the way, in the minds of some. Egyptian Salafis have described providing arms and funds to the Syrian rebels as "a form of worship" and killing Assad as a religious obligation. As the killing and destruction has escalated, such support for Syria's rebels has rapidly morphed into extreme anti-Shiite and anti-Alawi rhetoric
  • In January 2007, for example, he tried to use his influence to rein in spiraling sectarian rage following the execution of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Qaradawi was only weeks past a controversial appearance at a Doha conference on Sunni-Shiite relations, in which he had made a number of controversial remarks viewed by many as overly provocative toward the Shiite. But at that crucial moment, Qaradawi invited former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani on al-Jazeera to push back against the rabid sectarianism then roiling the Middle East.
  • Qaradawi has long been described as among the most influential clerics in the Sunni world. A savvy political opportunist, he has long been one of the best barometers for the mood of a major swathe of the Arab mainstream, uncannily attuned to shifts in the political mood. He cleverly triangulated Arab politics, adopting populist positions on foreign policy while pushing for democratic reforms across the region and advancing a "centrist" Islamist ideology. In recent years, the Egyptian-born cleric has strongly supported most of the Arab uprisings, including a controversial late February 2011 appeal to Libya's army to kill Muammar al-Qaddafi.  In Egypt, he was welcomed the Friday following Mubarak's fall to lead prayer and deliver a pro-revolutionary speech in Tahrir. But he disappointed many observers by describing Bahrain's uprising as "sectarian," in line with the Arab Gulf country's collective stance intended to delegitimize it.
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  • Team Saudi is now celebrating Qaradawi's capitulation to their own anti-Hezbollah, anti-Shiite prejudices. No words could have been sweeter to Qaradawi's Saudi critics than his recent reversal on Hezbollah: "I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me."
  • Qaradawi's alignment with the Saudi position has less to do with his theology or his personal views on the Shiites than with his calculation of regional political trends
  • His core doctrine of wasatiyya was always better understood as "centrism" than as "moderation" (whatever that might mean)
  • like it or not, his broad themes -- such as support for "resistance" from Palestine to Iraq, criticism of al Qaeda, calls for democracy, denunciations of most Arab regimes, and conservative social values -- generally seemed to reflect mainstream Arab political views.
  • Like al-Jazeera, Qaradawi's stances now seem to more closely follow Qatari foreign policy, and his influence has waned along with his host station and Qatar itself, which has experienced a regional backlash
  • Qaradawi now finds himself speaking to a narrower, more partisan audience. What does it say about his influence that his preferred candidate in Egypt's presidential election, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Islamist reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, won less than 20 percent of the vote?
  • Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists
  • The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground
  • Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along
Ed Webb

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/01/31/181636/israelis-missiles-were-at-syrian.html#emln... - 0 views

  • President Barack Obama has warned the regime of President Bashar Assad that it views the use of chemical weapons against anti-Assad rebels as a “red line” for possible military intervention. Israel’s threshold for taking action, as demonstrated Wednesday, appears to be much lower – and aimed at a much wider variety of potential threats.Israeli officials have made it known for months that they fear that Syria’s sophisticated weapons systems might be passed willingly to the Islamist militants in Hezbollah, Israel’s arch-foe in Lebanon, or fall into the hands of al Qaida-linked militants who are now the vanguard of the anti-Assad rebellion.
  • Israeli officials told McClatchy that Wednesday’s attack was aimed at a convoy of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles that Israel feared were being sent to Lebanon. Russia apparently provided the weapons to Syria after Israeli aircraft destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007. One official told McClatchy that the missiles would have been a “game changer” had they fallen under the control of Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in 2006
  • Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, the U.N. group that’s charged with monitoring Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon, told McClatchy that "nothing had changed in the area under UNIFIL’s mandate in recent weeks." "We can certainly confirm that there were a high number of Israeli overflights that UNIFIL recorded yesterday. But that is all we have, and these air violations have continued on an almost daily basis. So we cannot draw any further conclusions on this basis," Tenenti said. “We have not seen or witnessed smuggling of any weapons into southern Lebanon," he said.
Ed Webb

Lebanon's sectarian nightmare | openDemocracy - 0 views

  •  
    For the Hezbollah, after almost two years of quiet support, joining the battle in Syria in support of its sole Arab ally is no longer a matter of choice. The party sees it as a matter of survival. For Hezbollah's enemies, of whom there are now many in Lebanon, the party's support of the Syrian regime & its active involvement in the Syrian civil war is nothing short of treason and a prelude to all our sectarian conflict.
Ed Webb

Moscow Relishes Revamped Role in Mideast as Israel Seeks Assurances in Syria | Foreign ... - 1 views

  • Israel fears the Kremlin’s buildup could further escalate the Syrian civil war and embolden Iran and Hezbollah, its two greatest foes in the Middle East, both of which have joined Moscow in supporting Damascus. Amid uncertainty over Russia’s role in Syria, Netanyahu’s visit is meant to prevent a scenario in which the Israeli army and Russian forces accidentally fire at each other. The Israeli prime minister also seeks assurances from Putin that advanced weapons in Syria won’t be used to help arm Hezbollah, with whom Israel fought a devastating war in 2006.
  • Israel and Russia will establish a coordination mechanism to prevent clashes between their forces on the Syrian border
  • In the past, Israel and Russia have managed to agree on security issues through concessions to one another. Israel halted military supplies to Georgia after a war in 2008 with Russia. In exchange, Moscow shelved plans to supply the S-300 air defense system to Iran and Syria.
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  • Russia is Israel’s top oil supplier
  • Israel also has remained neutral in the Ukraine conflict, refusing to support American and European efforts to denounce Russia’s annexation of Crimea or join the Western sanctions regime against Moscow
  • Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, visited Moscow in July to coordinate Russian and Iranian support for Assad. Moreover, Russian officials now say they expect to agree to terms on the delivery of the S-300s to Iran by the end of the year, though it is unclear when it will go ahead
Ed Webb

Iran Meets U.S. and Allies for Nuclear Talks in Geneva - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • an “extraordinarily difficult process”
  • Washington would still like to begin bilateral talks with Iran on a broader relationship, including trade and Tehran’s support for Palestinian, Lebanese and Iraqi insurgent and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
  • Washington buzzed over a quiet visit on Wednesday by the Iranian foreign minister to the unofficial embassy in Washington, the first trip to the capital by an Iranian of that rank in a decade.
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  • the six countries’ demand for “full and unfettered access” for inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iran’s uranium enrichment plant near Qum
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