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Ed Webb

Under Sisi, firms owned by Egypt's military have flourished - 0 views

  • Maadi is one of dozens of military-owned companies that have flourished since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces chief, became president in 2014, a year after leading the military in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
  • In interviews conducted over the course of a year, the chairmen of nine military-owned firms described how their businesses are expanding and discussed their plans for future growth. Figures from the Ministry of Military Production - one of three main bodies that oversee military firms - show that revenues at its firms are rising sharply. The ministry’s figures and the chairmen’s accounts give rare insight into the way the military is growing in economic influence.
  • Some Egyptian businessmen and foreign investors say they are unsettled by the military’s push into civilian activities and complain about tax and other advantages granted to military-owned firms
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  • In 2016, the military and other security institutions were given exemptions in a new value-added tax (VAT) law enacted as part of IMF-inspired reforms. The law states that the military does not have to pay VAT on goods, equipment, machinery, services and raw materials needed for the purposes of armament, defense and national security.The Ministry of Defense has the right to decide which goods and services qualify. Civilian businessmen complain that this can leave the system open to abuse. Receipts for a cup of coffee at private sector hotels, for example, add 14 percent VAT. Receipts at military hotels do not. Employees at the military-owned Al-Masah Hotel in Cairo told Reuters that no VAT was charged when renting venues for weddings and conferences.
  • The Ministry of Military Production is projecting that operating revenues from its 20 firms will reach 15 billion Egyptian pounds in 2018/2019, five times higher than in 2013/2014, according to a ministry chart. The ministry does not disclose what happens to the revenues. The chairmen of two of the firms said profits go to the ministry or are reinvested in the business.
  • “I don’t want to be a local shop. I want to be a company that has the capacity to export and compete internationally.”
  • Egypt’s military, the biggest in the Arab world, has advantages.It enjoys financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, staunch supporters of Sisi since he toppled the group they see as a threat to the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood. Western powers see Cairo as a bulwark against Islamist militancy. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the United States alone.
  • The chairmen of two military engineering companies, Abu Zaabal Engineering Industries Co and Helwan Engineering Industries Co, said in recent years it had become much easier to access financing through the Ministry of Military Production.
  • The Ministry of Military Production signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s GCL Group last week to build a solar panel factory worth up to $2 billion. The military has taken over much of the construction of intercity roads from the Ministry of Transport and now controls the toll stations along most major highways.
  • Economists and investors say reforms tied to a $12 billion three-year IMF program signed in Nov. 2016 should lay the ground for economic expansion. But foreign investors are still shying away from Egypt, apart from those focusing on the more resilient energy sector. Non-oil foreign direct investment fell to about $3 billion in 2017 from $4.7 billion in 2016, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank statistics.  
  • foreign investors were reluctant to invest in sectors where the military is expanding or in one they might enter, worried that competing against the military with its special privileges could expose their investment to risk. If an investor had a business dispute with the military, the commercial officer said, there was no point in taking it to arbitration. “You just leave the country,” he said.
  • Among projects the Ministry of Military Production announced in 2017 was a plan to plant 20 million palm trees with an Emirati company and build a factory to make sugar from their dates. It agreed with a Saudi company to jointly manufacture elevators. The military inaugurated the Middle East’s biggest fish farm on the Nile Delta east of Alexandria.
  • In 2015, the defense minister issued a decree exempting nearly 600 hotels, resorts and other properties owned by the military from real estate taxes
  • Military companies receive an exemption from import tariffs under a 1986 law and from income taxes under a 2005 law. Cargoes sent to military companies do not have to be inspected.
  • At bustling Cairo squares, people line up to buy subsidized meat and other food handed out from trucks sponsored by the military. Sisi said he had instructed the military to enter the market “to supply more chicken to push down prices.”Some disagree with such measures on the grounds the military’s mission is to protect the country from external threats.“We have reached a point where they are competing even with street vendors,”
Ed Webb

(Re)introducing Conscription in the Gulf: From Soft Power to Nation-Building - Arab Ref... - 0 views

  • In the Middle East, the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring of 2011, and the subsequent foreign interventions in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, brought military preparedness and competence to the surface again. This led to a return of compulsory military service not only in countries that are at war and/or under the threat of military intervention but also in other countries. This was the case of certain Gulf countries including Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which historically seldom resorted to conscription.
  • Qatar introduced conscription in 2013, followed by the UAE in 2014. Kuwait, on the other hand, reintroduced it in 2014, having practiced conscription between 1961 and 2001. Until recently, these countries’ militaries were formed by a national officer corps, foreign - mostly Western- expert non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and foreign contract soldiers coming from different countries (Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Oman)
  • In 2018, not long after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, the Qatari government amended the National Service Law, introducing national service for women and extending its duration for men. While the national service remains voluntary for women over the age of 18, men are now expected to serve a year instead of three or four months. The new law gives eligible men only 60 days after they come of age to apply to the military and stipulates harsher punishment (up to three years in jail plus a fine) for those who fail to do so.
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  • Since the beginning of the 2020s, several articles5Jean-Loup Samaan, “The Rise of the Emirati Defense Industry,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 May 2019 https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79121;  Elenora Ardemagni, “The UAE’s Military Training-Focused Foreign Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 22 October 2020, https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/83033; Melissa Dalton and Hijab Shah, “Evolving UAE Military and Foreign Security Cooperation: Path Toward Military Professionalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 January 2021,  https://carnegie-mec.org/2021/01/12/evolving-uae-military-and-foreign-security-cooperation-path-toward-military-professionalism-pub-83549; Elenora Ardemagni, “ Building New Gulf States Through Conscription,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 25 April 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/76178; Elenora Ardemagni, “Gulf Monarchies’ Militarized Nationalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 February 2019,https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/78472; Zoltan Barany, “Big News! Conscription in the Gulf,” Middle East Institute, 25 January 2017, https://www.mei.edu/publications/big-news-conscription-gulf; Dr. Eman Ahmed Abdel Halim, “Implementation of Military Conscription in the Gulf,” Future for Advanced Research Studies, 12 December 2016, https://futureuae.com/m/Mainpage/Item/2250/pressing-threats-implementation-of-military-conscription-in-the-gulf were written on the economic, social, and geopolitical reasons behind Gulf countries’ shift in military recruitment strategy. The security problems originating from Iran and Yemen, the willingness to exercise soft power in the region along with the volatile energy sector, and the ruptures within the rentier state model are put forward as the main justifications behind the Gulf countries’ developing defense industries and growing their armies. In this context, compulsory military service does play an important role, be it to increase the size of the army, cause deterrence in the region or create new job opportunities and a qualified workforce out of young citizens.
  • can also create intangible moral advantages, and thus have significant effects on these countries’ civil-military relations. The biggest reason for this is the symbiotic relationship that has formed over time between compulsory military service and national sentiment.  In this sense, introducing conscription shows an effort to turn these societies into nations where individuals would be bound to one another by national sentiment and not the rentier state model they have so far known.
  • To raise obedient and productive citizens who wore the same uniform, spoke the same language, and sang the same anthems, education became an important tool in the nation-building process.11Ayşe Gül Altınay and Tanıl Bora, “Ordu, Militarizm ve Milliyetçilik,” Iletişim Yayınları, (2002): 140. In Prussia, this “new form of nationalist socialization” was provided through military establishments with the hope that, after their discharge from military service, men would remain loyal to the state and transfer their sentiment and what they “learned” to the rest of the population.12
  • mandatory military service in these countries should not be seen as a way to efficiently raise strong and competent armies. First, like their Gulf neighbors, neither Qatar, Kuwait, nor the UAE is populated enough to sustain a competent standing army. Most of their populations are made of ex-pats who are not subject to conscription laws. Second, their current system of outsourcing military needs has proven to be efficient in the long run, with all three countries continuing to invest in contracting foreign soldiers to efficiently populate their armies. Therefore, the new conscription laws should be seen as a symbolic move to strengthen nationalistic bonds and ambitions.
  • paradoxically, the exact nationalistic sentiment and loyalty that the Gulf countries try to channel among their citizens can backfire if the people (including the conscripts) were to ever resent the rulers and their policies. This is rather contrary to the long-established coup-proofing strategies25After gaining their independence, most countries in the region (or rather individual leaders) have engaged in various coup-proofing measures to keep their militaries in check. There were different types of coup-measuring strategies. For example, until 2011, Hosni Mubarak, a military man himself, tried to keep the Egyptian military at bay by giving officers and the military institution economic benefits and providing an unfair competition. In Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took a different approach and choose to ouster the military as an institution completely and empowered the police force. In Sudan and Libya, former presidents Bashar and Gaddafi took a more social approach and tried to counterbalance different groups of society, especially the tribal establishments, as a buffer against the military. In the Gulf, the ruling monarchs resorted to using foreign soldiers to keep the military away from social and political affairs as much as possible. that Arab countries followed over the years. However, given the low numbers of citizens that will be drafted each year, the risk of such revolts taking place remains low.
  • In Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar, there are legal sanctions in place against anyone who fails to enlist when they become eligible and conscientious objection is not recognized. This could cause or further the feeling of oppression and resentment and trigger protests and turmoil in these countries. However, at this stage, this risk is low but still a possibility as seen in Thailand, Israel, and Armenia
Ed Webb

The F-35 Triangle: America, Israel, the United Arab Emirates - War on the Rocks - 0 views

  • deepen what were heretofore covert ties across the full spectrum of civilian sectors from business to science to agriculture and even space. The Emirati-Israeli agreement builds upon years of “under the table” cooperation between security and intelligence professionals driven toward strategic alignment by a shared perception of the major regional threat — Iran.
  • the U.S. sweetener appears to be a commitment to sell it F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, as well as other advanced weaponry long sought by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
  • When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it secured the second largest military aid package in the Middle East after Israel, which continues today. When Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994, the announcement came along with debt relief and the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft — and, like Egypt, Jordan remains a top recipient of American assistance
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  • Reactions to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 have largely focused on whether Israel will support such a sale and the related requirement in U.S. domestic law to ensure Israel’s military superiority against all other countries in the Middle East. The longstanding policy term, later codified in law, is “qualitative military edge.” From the Emirati point of view, if they have entered into full diplomatic relations with Israel — with a promised “warm peace,” in the words of Emirati officials — and both countries share the same threat perspective, then Israel should have confidence that these advanced weapons will not be turned against it and should therefore not object to the sale. Moreover, unlike Egypt and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates has never attacked Israel.
  • Weapons sales are a leading area of competition in the Middle East, and in the words of the former Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Tina Kaidanow: Arms transfers are foreign policy. When we transfer a system or a capability to a foreign partner, we are affecting regional — or foreign internal — balances of power; we are sending a signal of support; and we are establishing or sustaining relationships that may last for generations and provide benefits for an extended period of time.
  • selling the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates would say much more about the Washington’s partnership with Abu Dhabi than it would about the evolving Emirati-Israeli relationship
  • Selling the F-35 to a country ought to be a signal that the United States has the highest measure of confidence in that country’s warfighting capabilities, decision-making on the use of force, and commitments to protecting sensitive technology. The Emirati record on each of these issues does not, however, inspire the highest confidence. The record is mixed.
  • As former government officials serving in the State and Defense Departments as well as in Congress, we are confident that the process going forward will be messy and time-consuming, specifically because the current case breaks precedent in so many ways.
  • Since the Yemen war’s inception in 2015, members of Congress have raised concerns about the conflict and U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition, in which Abu Dhabi was a partner and to which it contributed forces until withdrawing in the summer of 2019. These concerns, and the Trump administration’s refusal to address them, culminated in Congress mandating a report on steps taken by both governments to reduce civilian casualties and comply with laws and agreements governing the use of U.S.-origin weapons — indicating skepticism that either country was doing so
  • Reflecting a long-held U.S. policy view, during his nomination hearing Washington’s envoy to Abu Dhabi noted that the country “is a moderating and stabilizing force in one of the world’s most volatile regions.” The United Arab Emirates stands out among other militaries in the region for having contributed military forces to many U.S.-led coalitions since the first Gulf War — Kosovo (late 1990s), Somalia (1992), Afghanistan (since 2003), Libya (2011) and the anti-ISIL coalition (2014 to 2015). Indeed, Jared Kushner set a new precedent for framing the American-Emirati partnership when he effectively equated it with that of America and Israel, terming them comparably “special” during his most recent visit to the Middle East.
  • Emirati regional policies have been the subject of increasing congressional concern in recent years, largely focused on the country’s actions in Yemen and Libya. Since the beginning the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 intervention in Yemen, most congressional action focused on the Saudi role in the conflict and not the Emirati one. But in 2018, congressional concern peaked in response to Emirati plans to launch an offensive to seize the Yemeni port of Hudaydah. The Trump administration subsequently declined to provide military support for the Emirati operation, given the risks of worsening an already severe humanitarian crisis, concerns regarding the complexities of the proposed military operation, and the likelihood of mass civilian casualties
  • In both Yemen and Libya, Abu Dhabi has not succeeded in leveraging its robust military investments toward political processes that would end the conflicts. In both contexts the divergent policies of the United States and United Arab Emirates — including use of military force, conduct in combat, and utilization of U.S. defense articles — should be considered as part of the F-35 deliberations.
  • competitors in the global arms export industry — particularly Russia and China — also leverage arms sales, but by and large with no strings attached for their use. Both governments use arms sales to challenge U.S. market dominance and to undermine American partnerships in the region
  • protecting Israel’s military superiority consists of both legal requirements and longstanding political and process steps that, while not mandated by law, have paved the way for decades of bipartisan congressional consent to arms sales in the Middle East, including of advanced fighter aircraft. The requirement to protect Israel’s “qualitative military edge” is enshrined in 2008 naval vessel transfer legislation, although it had been implemented as a matter of policy between Washington and Jerusalem since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Presumably, the United Arab Emirates and Israel entering into formal relations affirms that the former does not pose such a military threat. The Israeli perspective at the moment, however, has been complicated by the continuing murk over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blessed the U.S. commitment to sell the Emirati government the F-35 — without the knowledge of his own defense minister. Tensions in Netanyahu’s fragile governing coalition and a larger uproar in Israel’s defense establishment have prompted an awkward pas de deux among American, Emirati, and Israeli officials. Netanyahu — responding to concerns raised by the Israeli defense establishment — stated emphatically during an Aug. 24 joint press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had not consented to any arms deal as part of normalization. Given Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, it is safe to say that no one in either country finds this claim credible. The public spat over Israeli consent to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 escalated when Netanyahu publicly vowed to go to Congress in opposition to the sale, and the United Arab Emirates in response cancelled a planned meeting between the Israeli and Emirati ambassadors to the United Nations.
  • extensive discussions should be expected between Israeli and U.S. technical and military experts to agree on the appropriate mix of offsets to ensure Israel’s military superiority. The offsets may involve discussions of quantity (how many F-35s the Emiratis will acquire versus the Israelis), technical variations in the F-35 platform, or additional sales and assistance to Israel. This challenge is not insurmountable, but it will be time-consuming and extend pass the upcoming American electoral cycle
  • The standard for this level of consultation with Israel before moving forward with arms sales packages to others in the region was set by the Obama administration — first in 2011 with the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, and later in 2013 with the sale of F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates along with stand-off weapons to both the Saudis and the Emiratis. Concurrent with 2013 sales, the Obama administration negotiated a package for Israel to maintain its military edge that included V-22 Osprey aircraft, advanced refueling tankers, and anti-air defense missiles.
  • Though Israel has no legal right to  block the United States from selling a weapon to another country in the Middle East, Israeli support is critical, particularly during the period of congressional notification. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will consult with the Israeli government, and will prefer to support a sale that earns a clear green light from the Israeli government. Members are likely be left unsatisfied by ambiguous and lukewarm Israel responses to the question of selling the F-35 to the Emiratis, precisely because technical talks have not yet begun. All parties risk being stuck between the divisive politics of the moment, and the deliberative, lengthy policy considerations that such arms transfer packages usually entail, opening the door to a further erosion of bipartisanship on a key issue of national security importance — the what, when, and how of a decision by the United States to provide advanced weapons systems to partner states in the Middle East.
  • Arab capitals are closely following whether the United States will follow through on its apparent commitment to sell the F-35 (and assorted other high-end systems) to Abu Dhabi, and whether American deliverables are sufficiently compelling to consider bringing their own relations with Israel into the daylight
  • The historical record from Egypt to Jordan and now the United Arab Emirates — across administrations of both political parties — is that formal relations with Israel facilitate strategic consistency from Washington
  • Will Egypt and Jordan request the F-35 in light of their existing peace treaties with Israel? Will countries in closer geographic proximity, like Saudi Arabia, request the F-35 and additional advanced U.S. weapons as part of their normalization package?
  • For Israel, Iran and Turkey represent sobering examples in that regard — previously solid security partners within seemingly stable governance structures that became hostile.
  • military edge risks eroding as Arab governments, whether blocked from purchasing certain weapons from the United States or in addition to acquiring them, turn to China, Russia, and other weapons exporters not obligated to maintain Israel’s military superiority
  • Competition in the Middle East between the United States and its adversaries is intensifying — particularly in the weapons sales arena
  • Washington may find itself in an escalating — and unsustainable — cycle of supplementing and upgrading support, technology, and other military offsets to Israel.
Ed Webb

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This C... - 0 views

  • “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
  • The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE
  • The UAE, with vast wealth but only about 1 million citizens, relies on migrant workers from all over the world to do everything from cleaning its toilets to teaching its university students. Its military is no different, paying lavish sums to eager US defense companies and former generals. The US Department of Defense has approved at least $27 billion in arms sales and defense services to the UAE since 2009.
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  • Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.
  • militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters
  • “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”
  • US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country
  • with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.
  • The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office
  • Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable
  • Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?
  • Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
  • the country embeds foreigners in its military and gave the rank of major general to an American lieutenant colonel, Stephen Toumajan, placing him in command of a branch of its armed forces.
  • The US draws the line at combat; it does not hire mercenaries to carry out attacks or engage directly in warfare. But that line can get blurry. Private firms provide heavily armed security details to protect diplomats in war zones or intelligence officers in the field. Such contractors can engage in firefights, as they did in Benghazi, Libya, when two contractors died in 2012 defending a CIA post. But, officially, the mission was protection, not warfare
  • The people Spear did target, he and Gilmore said, were legitimate because they were selected by the government of the UAE, an ally of the United States that was engaged in a military action supported by the US. Gilmore said that he and Golan told the UAE they would never act against US interests. And Golan claimed that, based on his military experience, he could tell if a target was a terrorist after just a week or two of surveillance.
  • A little-known consequence of the war on terror, and in particular the 17 combined years of US warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. Some special operations reservists are known to engage in for-profit soldiering, said a high-level SEAL officer who asked not to be named. “I know a number of them who do this sort of thing,” he said. If the soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing.
  • Gilmore said some were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics, and some were out-and-out terrorists — but he conceded he couldn’t be sure.BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the target cards. On it is a man’s name, photograph, telephone number, and other information. At the top right is the insignia of the UAE Presidential Guard.
  • During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Later in the Vietnam War, the US launched the Phoenix program, in which the CIA often teamed up with US military units to “neutralize” — or, critics say, assassinate — Viet Cong leaders. Even so, targeted killings were not a central pillar of US military strategy in Vietnam. And after Congress exposed CIA activities in the 1970s, the US banned assassinations of foreign leaders.
  • Under President George W. Bush, the CIA and the military used drones to kill terrorists, and the CIA developed covert assassination capabilities. President Barack Obama halted the agency’s secret assassination program but drastically ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Soon the CIA and the military were using the aircraft — piloted remotely using video monitors — to kill people whose names the US didn’t even know, through “signature strikes” based solely on a target’s associations and activities. President Donald Trump has further loosened the rules for drone strikes.
  • Only a uniformed officer can push the button that fires the drone’s missile and kills the target
  • Elisabeth Kendall, an expert on Yemen at the University of Oxford, points out that unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, which try to seize power through violence, Al-Islah participates in the political process. But, she said, the US rationale for drone strikes has legitimized other countries’ pursuit of their own assassinations: “The whole very watery, vague notion of a war on terror has left the door wide open to any regime saying, ‘This is all a war on terror.’ ”
  • Golan said he models his assassination business on Israel’s targeted killing program, which has been underway since the country was founded, and which, despite some high-profile errors and embarrassments, he claims is done properly. He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution.
  • Golan and Gilmore had another condition: They wanted to be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces. And they wanted their weapons — and their target list — to come from uniformed military officers. That was “for juridical reasons,” Golan said. “Because if the shit hits the fan,” he explained, the UAE uniform and dog tags would mark “the difference between a mercenary and a military man.”
  • Gilmore acknowledged that some of the targets may have been people who merely fell out of favor with the ruling family. Referring to the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Gilmore said, “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
  • Even though it failed to kill Mayo, the mercenaries’ bomb attack seems to have ushered in a new phase in the UAE’s war against Al-Islah. “It was the exclamation point that set the tone that Al-Islah was now going to be targeted,”
  • As 2016 progressed, those watching the deteriorating situation in Yemen began to notice that members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden, were dropping dead at an alarming pace. “It does appear to be a targeted campaign,” said Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation, who in 2016 served on a UN panel investigating the Yemen war. “There have been 25 to 30 assassinations,” he said, though a few appear to be the work of ISIS.
  • One new member of the team, hired in early 2016, was the veteran of SEAL Team 6, Daniel Corbett, according to three sources and confirmed by photos. Corbett was a superb soldier, say those who know him, and had served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was still in the reserves, so the US military could deploy him at any moment; he collected a government salary; and he was supposed to report for monthly drills. And yet he was in Yemen on a private contract to work for a foreign military. It is unclear if he himself was involved in missions to assassinate anyone.
  • In a mysterious development, Corbett is currently in jail in Serbia, where he is being investigated for illegal handgun possession. The American veteran has been held there since February 2018.
  • “some variety of the future of warfare.”
Ed Webb

The IDF's Unlawful Attack on Al Jalaa Tower - 2 views

  • On May 15, 2021, early in the afternoon, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) informed residents of the Al Jalaa tower that it planned to destroy their building. The building had 11 floors, around 60 residential apartments, and offices for doctors, lawyers, and journalists including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. Residents grabbed what belongings they could carry and ran down the stairs. Children and the elderly took turns using the single working elevator. An hour later, the IDF levelled the building and crushed everything inside. The now-former residents joined more than 77,000 Gazans displaced from their homes amidst ongoing airstrikes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Initially, the IDF claimed that the building “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization.” Later, the IDF tweeted that Hamas members took “items” out of the building before it was destroyed. The IDF said it was “willing to pay that price to not harm any civilians.” Officials who were involved in the decision reportedly now “completely regret” it. Hamas operatives simply moved their computers out, leaving only empty offices behind.
  • Given the sheer scale of destruction, suffering, and death, any starting point for legal analysis may seem arbitrary. But the IDF, a former IDF legal adviser, and one leading scholar publicly defended the legality of the airstrike on Al Jalaa tower. Their legal claims call for a response. The IDF also destroyed four other residential towers, and hundreds of other residential units across Gaza. Examining the attack on Al Jalaa tower may shed light on these other attacks as well.
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  • the tower was not a military objective (a “lawful target”) at the time of the airstrike. The expected harm to civilians and civilian objects was also excessive (or “disproportionate”) in relation to the military advantage anticipated from destroying any equipment Hamas may have left behind
  • International law prohibits attacks on civilian objects. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives. Military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage. According to the IDF and subsequent reports, Hamas members left with their equipment before the airstrike. They were not using the building or any part of it when it was destroyed. No one suggests that the tower made any effective contribution to military action by its nature or location.
  • If attacking forces are allowed to level any building their adversary might intend to use in the future, then the principle of distinction will lose much of its meaning and legal effect in urban warfare.
  • Based on IDF statements as well as video of the attack, it appears that the attack was directed at the building’s base, not at particular offices or their contents. Since the building was a civilian object at the time of the attack, it was unlawful to make the building as such the object of attack
  • The expected harm to civilians and civilian objects was excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. The IDF and its defenders do not argue otherwise. They do not deny that the destruction of dozens of civilian homes and offices would be excessive in relation to the destruction of whatever military equipment may have been left in the building. They argue that the civilian homes and offices were not civilian objects at all.
  • the IDF’s reported position that, if members of an armed group use any part of a civilian building for military activities, then the entire building—including all the civilian apartments inside—becomes a military objective. Since the proportionality rule only protects civilian objects, the IDF argues that expected damage to civilian apartments inside such a building carries no weight in determining the proportionality of an attack. This view is grotesque.
  • To my knowledge, no one thinks it is morally acceptable to destroy dozens of civilian apartments to obtain a minor or uncertain military advantage by destroying military equipment that the adversary has abandoned but may retrieve. The IDF may think it has found a loophole in the law. It hasn’t. But it is worth remembering that basic moral principles have no loopholes.
  • No part of Al Jalaa tower, let alone all of it, was a military objective at the time of the attack
  • The IDF emphasized that it notified the civilian residents that it planned to attack. The IDF may have thought that the tower, or part of it, was a military objective at the time of the notification and therefore it must remain a military objective at the time of the attack. This inference is obviously invalid. Attacking forces do not acquire a legal right to carry out an attack at one moment in time, which they then retain even if circumstances change. The law of armed conflict applies at all times, but never more than at the moment an attack is carried out.
  • It was an unlawful attack. One of many, and not the worst, I suspect.
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

State Department Considers Cutting Aid to Egypt After Death of U.S. Citizen Mustafa Kassem - 0 views

  • In a memo sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by the agency’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in early March and described to Foreign Policy, the nation’s most senior diplomat was given the option to cut up to $300 million in U.S. military aid to Egypt over the death of Mustafa Kassem, a dual American and Egyptian citizen who appealed unsuccessfully to U.S. President Donald Trump to secure his release in his final days.
  • In a letter sent late last month, Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chris Van Hollen also urged Pompeo to withhold $300 million in military assistance to Cairo and to sanction any Egyptian official “directly or indirectly responsible” for Kassem’s imprisonment and death
  • In two years on the job, Pompeo has twice decided to overlook human rights considerations to greenlight military aid to Egypt, leading some experts to cast doubt on whether the Trump administration will make cuts even after the death of a U.S. citizen.
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  • Under Trump, the United States has been largely reluctant to challenge Egypt, the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, which provides the Department of Defense with overflight rights and the ability to navigate the Suez Canal.
  • Kassem had been on a liquid-only hunger strike and had not received proper medical treatment before dying of heart failure in January.
  • a State Department official said the agency would not comment on internal deliberations. “We remain deeply saddened by the needless death in custody of Moustafa Kassem and we are reviewing our options and consulting with Congress,” the official said. “In the wake of the tragic and avoidable death of Moustafa Kassem, we will continue to emphasize to Egypt our concerns regarding the treatment of detainees, including U.S. citizens.”
  • In his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy, a long-standing critic of Egypt’s human rights record, has held up $105 million in military aid to Cairo to purchase Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles. Leahy imposed the funding freeze on Egypt two years ago in response to its detention of Kassem, its failure to fully cover the medical costs for an American citizen wounded in a botched 2015 Apache helicopter raid, and its refusal to permit adequate U.S. oversight of its use of American military assistance in its counterterrorism operations in Sinai.
  • The dual citizen—held without charges for much of his six-year detention—insisted he had been wrongly arrested during an August 2013 visit to his birth country that coincided with the deadly Rabaa Square massacre against demonstrators protesting the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi. Kassem’s advocates said he was not involved in the Rabaa Square demonstrations. He was in prison for over five years before an Egyptian court, without due process, sentenced him to 15 years in prison in 2018.
  • There are at least three other American citizens—Reem Dessouky, Khaled Hassan, and Mohammed al-Amash—and two permanent residents—Ola Qaradawi and Hossam Khalaf—detained in Egypt on charges related to their political views, according to a bipartisan group of foreign-policy experts called the Working Group on Egypt that tracks the issue
  • “It is incomprehensible that Egypt, a close ally of the United States that receives some $1.5 billion annually in assistance from American taxpayers, would be less responsive than Iran, Lebanon, and other countries to repeated calls for the humanitarian release of detained Americans,”
  • Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham stopped a provision in the final version of the State Department’s appropriations bill last year that would have withheld nearly $14 million in military aid until Egypt paid off the medical expenses for April Corley, an American mistakenly injured in an attack by Egyptian military forces in the nation’s western desert in 2015.
  • The United States and Egypt set up a structured process of defense meetings to properly resource the nation’s military after the Obama administration suspended aid amid massacres after Morsi’s ouster, but the forum “has long devolved into a grab bag of weapons requests,”
  • “By sending this amount of military assistance for such a long time—when you add it up its $40 billion over decades—what the United States has ended up doing is feeding the beast that’s devouring the whole country,” she said, referring to the Egyptian military.
Ed Webb

Is US redesigning southern flank? - 0 views

  • In parallel with Turkey’s growing defense and security rapprochement with Russia, the United States is forging closer military bonds with Greece, heralding shifts in geostrategic balances in the Balkans, the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean
  • Pompeo and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias inked a protocol expanding the scope of the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which relates to the use of Greek military facilities by US forces
  • The transfer of US military technologies to Greece in the fields of drones, smart munitions and army aviation; A more active use by the US Navy, including submarines, and the US Air Force of the military port and airbase at Souda Bay on the island of Crete, which is considered a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean;
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  • The establishment of military facilities at the port of Alexandroupolis, which allows control over the northern Aegean, dominates Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula and eastern Thrace region and is very close to the Turkish border, and opening them to the use of the US Navy;
  • Augmenting the fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are already operating out of Larissa, located halfway down Greece’s eastern side near the Aegean coast, and stationing KC-135 tankers there;
  • Enabling the Greek military to access intelligence gathered by the Reapers and through other means and establishing a mechanism for further military intelligence sharing;
  • Pilotage, maintenance and operational training at the Stefanovikeio airbase near the Aegean for the seven MH-60R Seahawk helicopters that the United has recently agreed to supply to Greece. 
  • the United States is seeking to turn up pressure on Russia in the Balkans, the Black and Aegean seas and the eastern Mediterranean and create an anti-access area-denial shield, centered in Greece, to limit Russia’s access to warm waters
  • Pompeo’s visits to North Macedonia and Montenegro, in addition to Greece, were significant in this context. Pompeo’s tour was important also in terms of controlling China’s growing infrastructure and technology investments in the Balkans
  • the strategy of containing Russian access to warm waters through the Turkish Straits and the Black Sea has become meaningless, giving way to a new strategy of containing Russia through an anti-access area-denial shield in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean
  • the United States is seeking to counterbalance the geostrategic superiority that Russia has attained in the eastern Mediterranean in the past four years
  • Tensions in the region have grown over hydrocarbon reserves, with Greece, the Greek Cypriots, Israel and Egypt forming a bloc against Turkey
  • the US Air Force’s increasing presence in Larissa, from where Greece controls all its air operations in the Aegean, appears to reflect an American effort for a closer monitoring of the Aegean, where Turkey and Greece are embroiled in long-standing territorial disputes. 
  • Many in the anti-US camp in Ankara, which now has the upper hand, believe that the US military has been taking gradual yet decisive steps to encircle Turkey in the Aegean by strengthening its presence in the region through the bases provided by Greece
  • What needs to be done to break the siege “is to give the United States a diplomatic note and a short time to leave the eastern bank of the Euphrates [in Syria] and launch an operation afterwards,” Dilek wrote in an Oct. 5 article, days before Turkey did launch a military offensive in the said region.
  • For Atlanticists, a breed near extinction in Ankara, however, the visible increase in US military cooperation with Greece stems from Turkey’s misguided strategic choices in recent years and shows that Washington has given up hope on Ankara, leaving Turkey to Russia and trying to build a new axis with Greece to contain Russia in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean and curb China's trade surge in the region.
  • A retired Turkish ambassador, known as an Atlanticist, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “For two centuries, Russia has been seeking to overcome Turkey and the Straits to reach the warm waters and attain a lasting military presence in the Mediterranean basin. Because of Ankara’s mistaken diplomatic choices and ill-conceived policies in Syria, Russia in the past five years has managed to secure access to the warm waters — something it has been trying to do since Ottoman times — and establish a lasting military presence in Syria. We have to adjust to the grim reality of having Russia as a neighbor in Syria. The United States, too, appears to have found the way to attain a lasting presence by enhancing cooperation with Greece. With the big powers moving their rivalry to our region, the existing problems will become more complicated.”
  • the crisis of confidence between Turkey and the United States is becoming increasingly ossified, shaping the strategic choices and geostrategic orientations of the two sides
Ed Webb

Reimagining US Engagement with a Turbulent Middle East - MERIP - 1 views

  • the debate about US foreign policy needs to be not only about redefining US interests and strategy but also focused on how to transform America’s self-identity and the domestic political and economic structures that shape US interactions abroad
  • US foreign policy toward the Middle East has always been driven as much by domestic politics and American self-identity as by different conceptions of strategic interest
  • a diverse set of policy makers, scholars and large segments of the US public, have grown deeply concerned about the high economic and human cost of US interventions in the Middle East. Trump even sought office vowing to end endless wars. America’s overly militarized approach, they argue, has not brought stability or peace to the region. Many also suggest that the longstanding US national interests at stake, such as the flow of oil and Israeli security, no longer seem to be at risk while many US goals—such as a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, the rollback of Iranian influence and the elimination of terrorism—no longer look achievable.
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  • Calls for the United States to pull back reject US intervention and hegemony in the Middle East, but they also seek to insulate the United States from the damage past policies have inflicted on the region and distance Americans from the peoples impacted.
  • The decline of US hegemony and its dominance of global economic and political systems, Schweller explains, has led Americans to “demand a more narrowly self-interested foreign policy” that seeks to insulate Americans from “the vagaries of markets and globalization.” The animating logic of America First, however, does not focus on the country’s global role as much as on the view embraced by Trump’s populist support base that US policy should counter the (perceived) threats posed by transnational flows and interdependence.
  • Much of the mainstream foreign policy debate in opposition to Trump has revolved around voices advocating for the US to return to a more modest, more multilateral version of its role as a global hegemon that seeks to rebuild the liberal international order.[4] Others are calling for an all-out mobilization against the rise of China and Russia.[5]
  • Support for restraint has accelerated with recognition of the declining strategic importance of the Middle East and the absence of major threats from the region to core US interests. With the massive expansion of US domestic energy production, Americans increasingly question the US military presence in the Persian Gulf and security commitment to allies in the region. Meanwhile, with unchallenged Israeli control over Palestinian territories, its military capacity that includes nuclear weapons and growing ties between Israel and Arab Gulf states, Israel is in a more secure strategic position than it has ever been. Advocates of restraint also understand that Iran has a limited ability to project conventional military power and even if it wielded a nuclear weapon, its use could be deterred. Lastly, restraint recognizes that the hyper-militarized approach of the global war on terror engages US forces in continuous military operations that are politically unaccountable and often exacerbate the political and socioeconomic conditions that foster armed non-state actors and political violence in the first place.
  • restraint fails to address the legacies of past US involvement in the region. The hope of insulating the United States from regional instability and future conflicts is also unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.
  • the Israeli right and their US supporters—including the evangelical right and Islamophobic populists—have been unconstrained in their efforts to shape US goals and policies based on a close identification with the Israeli right and Israeli militarism at the expense of the Palestinians
  • While advocates of restraint have long opposed excessive US backing of Israel, without the mobilization of domestic political forces that seek to dissociate the United States from Israeli militarism and support Palestinian human rights, a future US president dedicated to restraint will likely find little strategic value or political support for reversing current policies beyond trimming the price tag.
  • maintain close ties to the Saudi regime and other Arab Gulf states through flows of petrodollar recycling in the form of massive arms sales that sustain American jobs, corporate profits and campaign donations
  • Americans inside and outside of government will not quickly abandon the benefits they receive from economic, military and political ties to Gulf rulers
  • today US ties to the Gulf are being shaped by invented security rationales and material interests. Networks of arms sales, private military contractors, logistics firms and Gulf-funded think tanks—often with cooperation from Israel and its backers—have defined US policies by portraying Iran as a strategic threat, supporting arms sales in the name of so-called economic security and defending the strategic importance of protecting the rule of autocratic elites. At the same time, many segments of the US military and national security state have deeply rooted interests in maintaining bases and military-to-military ties in the region
  • In the foreseeable future, the Middle East will likely experience more instability and conflict due to, in large part, the legacy of US policies over the past two decades, which include the invasion of Iraq, interventions in Libya and Syria, the fostering of proxy wars, the promotion of neoliberal economic reforms, massive arms sales and support for aggressive actions by regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia
  • the increased capacities for self-organization by armed non-state actors has helped sustain the regional environment of turbulence
  • It is unlikely that the United States could reclaim the diplomatic credibility needed to rebuild norms of restraint and balancing after having embraced militarism and unilateralism for so long
  • developments in the region will likely impact other US interests relating to the global economy, rivalry with China, climate change, nuclear proliferation and refugee flows
  • while the ideological and media infrastructure that mobilized fears to build the spurious case for the Iraq war have been temporarily disrupted, similar processes could be activated in the future to convert fears, such as of an Iranian cyberwar capability, a Chinese naval base in the region, or a resurgence of ISIS, into a strategic threat requiring a US response
  • the work of forging an alternative path for the United States in the Middle East, one that embraces sustainable anti-imperialism and demilitarization, must go beyond redefining US strategic interests to transforming domestic political, economic and ideological forces that shape US ties to the Middle East
  • In Notes on a Foreign Country, Suzy Hansen tries to diagnose the current era of anxiety and confusion felt by Americans living in an era when aspects of US exceptionalism and global hegemony are waning. She writes, “It is also perhaps the first time Americans are confronting a powerlessness that the rest of the world has always felt, not only within their own borders but as pawns in a larger international game. Globalization, it turns out, has not meant the Americanization of the world; it has made Americans, in some ways, more like everyone else.”
  • The effort to envision an alternative, post-exceptionalist US role in the world requires refashioning the debate so that Americans come to view the insecurities experienced by societies abroad as counterparts to the challenges Americans face at home.
  • Within the turbulent Middle East regional system, efforts to promote security would require not only an end to US military primacy and dominance but also a limit on regional and external interventions, the demobilization of the numerous armed non-state militias and proxy forces and a reversal of processes of state erosion and territorial fragmentation.
  • Americans need to envision a new internationalism that no longer seeks to remake the world in the American image but defines a new way for living within it
Ed Webb

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

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Ed Webb

Scholars, Spies and the Gulf Military Industrial Complex | MERIP - 0 views

  • Until recently, there was little practical knowledge about what it meant for an academic to analyze the military activities of the Gulf states because there wasn’t much to study, other than some symbolic joint training exercises, sociological inquiry about the composition of the region’s armed forces, and limited Emirati participation in non-combat operations in places like Kosovo. The bulk of scholarship examined the Gulf in the context of petrodollar recycling (the exchange of the Gulf’s surplus oil capital for expensive Western military equipment) or the Gulf as the object of military intervention, but never as its agent.
  • Academic research is not espionage—but many parties (notably US and European governments) are implicated in the process that has allowed them to be conflated
  • The history of the United States and European states undermining regional governments—including its only democratically-elected ones—using covert agents posing as scholars, bureaucrats and businessmen is well-documented. Its legacy is clear in the region’s contemporary politics, where authoritarians and reactionary nationalists frequently paint democratic opposition forces as foreign agents and provocateurs. It’s also visible in the political staying power of religious conservatives, who were actively supported by the US and its allies in order to undermine leftist forces that threatened to nationalize oil fields and expropriate Western corporate property.
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  • Another element of this legacy is the paranoia that makes it difficult for regional governments to distinguish between academic researchers and spies
  • Imagine if Syria had imprisoned a British PhD student and kept them in solitary confinement for seven months with one consular visit—or if Iran covered up the brutal murder of an Italian PhD student by their police forces, as happened in Egypt in 2016. The double standards pertaining to academic freedom and the rule of law in countries formally allied with the United States and Europe and those characterized as rogue actors is so obvious it barely merits pointing out. The Emirati authorities certainly recognize this, and will continue to exploit this double standard so long as it remains intact.
  • Oil money, along with a new generation of rulers eager to use military intervention to demonstrate their power to domestic and foreign audiences, has made the Gulf not just a major weapons customer but an industry partner. The story of the UAE today is no longer Dubai’s position as a global finance hub, but Abu Dhabi’s position as an emerging player in high-tech weapons development.
  • it is no coincidence that two decades of research and funding for domestic weapons development in the UAE is now manifested in armed interventions in Yemen, Libya and the horn of Africa
  • Matt’s arrest and detention, therefore, is a clear message from UAE authorities that research into the country’s growing arms industry is off-limits, in much the same way that researchers and activists working on labor rights have found themselves surveilled, intimidated and imprisoned
  • The slow erosion of public funding for universities has bled dry the resources reserved to support PhD students, meanwhile trustees and consultants urge the adoption of for-profit business practices that generate return on investment, including partnering with defense technology firms for research grants.[3] The fact that educational institutions must go begging—hat in hand—to billionaire philanthropists and weapons conglomerates reflects both the growing share of defense industry involvement in industrial and research activities as well as the failure of our political system to levy sufficient taxes on the ultra-rich to directly fund basic investments in public education.
  • what does the weakening of US and European governments vis-à-vis their Gulf counterparts mean for the protection of students and scholars conducting overseas research?
  • Before my research on the Gulf, my focus was on the role of regional militaries (primarily Egypt and Jordan) in their domestic economies. The more I studied these cases the more I realized their military economies are not some peculiarity of third world political development, but a legacy of colonial militarization, the obstacles facing newly-independent states trying to industrialize their economies, and the extraordinary organizational and financial resources that weapons producers dedicate to proliferating their products all over the globe.
  • I do not know of any studies estimating the total number of academics and non-government researchers working on security and military-related issues across the globe, but I expect it is in the tens of thousands at the very least. At my home institution alone—The George Washington University—there are maybe a dozen faculty working on everything from the psychology of drone operators to the role gender plays in government defense contracting—and I’m pretty sure none of these people are spies. This kind of security studies—which examines topics like defense technology, the global arms industry and government contracting—is a growing field, not least due to the proliferation of information about these issues coming from the booming private sector. And as multinational defense firms and their complementary industry partners continue to chase investment shifting from the core capitalist countries to emerging regional powers like the Gulf States these latter sites will become increasingly important targets for such research.
  • Matt’s case should make us question not only the safety of Western researchers and our students but, more importantly, the continued harassment, intimidation and imprisonment of academics and democratic activists across the Middle East.
Ed Webb

Black Box: Military Budgets in the Arab World - POMED - 0 views

  • As the double whammy of the pandemic and the collapse in oil prices slams Middle Eastern economies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are already providing several Arab governments with billions of dollars in emergency financing and anticipate requests from others. Many Arab states are especially vulnerable to such external shocks because of long-standing economic mismanagement, often exacerbated by exorbitant military spending.
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) laments that many Arab governments lack any semblance of transparency in their military budgets, making it impossible to know or even estimate the region’s defense expenditures. Among other problems, this opacity makes it difficult for international financial institutions (IFIs) to factor Arab defense budgets into the requirements for adjusting public spending that normally accompany their support.
  • only four Arab countries—Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Tunisia—have made all of their military spending data public over the past five years. While it is expected that war-ravaged countries such as Yemen or Libya would have trouble producing a full accounting, other states have the capacity but simply choose not to release the information.
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  • While we may not know exactly how much Arab regimes spend on their militaries, we do know that they are among the world’s leading importers of arms—an industry rife with corruption—and the largest recipients of military aid. As SIPRI has documented, six of the top 10 importers of major arms were Arab countries, totaling nearly one-third of all global imports ($146 billion) between 2015 and 2019. In 2017—the last year for which full data are available—four of the top 10 purchasers of U.S. arms were Arab countries, and nearly one-third of all U.S. weapons sales ($36.6 billion), along with roughly $5 billion in U.S. security aid, went to Arab regimes.
  • When IFIs provide assistance, even emergency aid, to Arab governments, they should condition the funds on transparent budgets, including a full accounting of military expenditures
Ed Webb

U.S. Refuses to Help Wounded Survivor of Drone Bombing - 0 views

  • Al Manthari has paid the price for America’s shoot-first-ask-no-questions-later system of remote warfare. The irreparable damage to his body left Al Manthari unable to walk or work, robbing him of dignity and causing his daughters — ages 8 and 14 at the time of the strike — to drop out of school to help care for him. The psychological impact of the strike has been profound, leaving Al Manthari traumatized and in need of treatment. And the financial impact has been ruinous.
  • While the U.S. has millions of dollars in funds earmarked for civilian victims of U.S. attacks, the military ignored pleas on Al Manthari’s behalf, leaving the 56-year-old to rely on a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year to save his life
  • “It is appalling that innocent people, civilians who have no connection to armed groups, are left to fend for themselves,” said Aisha Dennis, project manager on extrajudicial executions at Reprieve. “It is heartening that ordinary people, particularly Americans, have stepped in to support Mr. Al Manthari where their government has failed. But it is not — it must not be — their job to do this. It is the duty of the people dropping the bombs, in this case the U.S. government, to face the wreckage they are causing to families and communities and address it with humanity.”
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  • Basim Razzo, who survived a 2015 airstrike in Iraq that killed his wife, daughter, and two other family members and destroyed two homes he valued at $500,000, was offered a “condolence payment” of $15,000, which an Army attorney said was the capped limit. Razzo rejected it as “an insult.” But after Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto was killed by a U.S. drone strike that same year while being held hostage by Al Qaeda, the U.S. paid his family $1.3 million as a “donation in the memory” of their son.
  • Between 2003 and 2006, the Defense Department paid out more than $30 million in solatia and condolence payments to “Iraqi and Afghan civilians who are killed, injured, or incur property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces’ actions during combat,” according to the Government Accountability Office. But in more recent years, the sums paid out have plummeted. From 2015 to 2019, for example, the U.S. paid just $2 million to civilians in Afghanistan.
  • Since at least World War I, the U.S. military has been paying compensation for harm to civilians. During the Vietnam War, solatia payments, as they are called, were a means for the military to make reparations for civilian injuries or deaths without having to admit guilt. In 1968, for example, the going rate for adult lives was $33. Children merited half that.
  • In March, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to open a new investigation into the airstrike that disabled Al Manthari, as well as 11 other U.S. attacks in Yemen. The Pentagon did not respond to repeated requests for comment on what actions, if any, Austin has taken in response to the request. In a letter to Murphy and Warren shared with The Intercept, Colin H. Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official, did not even address the issue of new investigations.
  • The total cost exceeded $21,000. The average per capita income in Yemen is around $2,200.
  • The U.S. has conducted more than 91,000 airstrikes across seven major conflict zones and killed as many as 48,308 civilians, according to a 2021 analysis by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. But only a tiny fraction have received any type of reparations. In 2020, Congress began providing the Defense Department $3 million each year to pay for deaths, injuries, or damages resulting from U.S. or allied military actions, but in the time since, the U.S. has not announced a single ex gratia payment, leaving victims like Al Manthari to fend for themselves.
  • “Payments would be a drop in the bucket for the U.S. military, but there is clearly no system to help people. It’s even unclear that allocated funding, like the USAID Marla Fund, is currently being used for that purpose.”
  • “If we, as a U.S. legal action charity, cannot get a substantive response from CENTCOM, what hope do civilians harmed by U.S. drone strikes living in Somalia, Syria, or Afghanistan have to access accountability?”
  • “When I spoke with a CENTCOM lawyer, he was very clear that they did not want the public to have the perception that there is an official process. They also shy away from using the word ‘claims’ because, I think, they are concerned that it suggests some sort of a legal application.”
  • Asked if the fact that the U.S. military has taken no further action against a man previously deemed too dangerous to live was a tacit admission that Al Manthari is — as two independent investigations found — innocent of any terrorist ties, a U.S. military spokesperson demurred. “I’ll follow up with policy,” he said on June 6. “I’ll get back to you.” He never did.
  • “Far too many cases have been erroneously dismissed despite painstaking research from human rights groups and journalists. And even when the U.S. government confirms it caused civilian casualties, it has rarely made ex gratia payments or other amends. … The result is that civil society groups and journalists have had to fill this gap, from conducting rigorous investigations the government should be doing, to setting up crowdfunding campaigns to support victims. That’s just not how accountability is supposed to work.”
Ed Webb

'A mass assassination factory': Inside Israel's calculated bombing of Gaza - 0 views

  • The Israeli army’s expanded authorization for bombing non-military targets, the loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties, and the use of an artificial intelligence system to generate more potential targets than ever before, appear to have contributed to the destructive nature of the initial stages of Israel’s current war on the Gaza Strip, an investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call reveals
  • The investigation by +972 and Local Call is based on conversations with seven current and former members of Israel’s intelligence community — including military intelligence and air force personnel who were involved in Israeli operations in the besieged Strip — in addition to Palestinian testimonies, data, and documentation from the Gaza Strip, and official statements by the IDF Spokesperson and other Israeli state institutions.
  • The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to “create a shock” that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and “lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,”
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  • the Israeli army has files on the vast majority of potential targets in Gaza — including homes — which stipulate the number of civilians who are likely to be killed in an attack on a particular target. This number is calculated and known in advance to the army’s intelligence units, who also know shortly before carrying out an attack roughly how many civilians are certain to be killed
  • “The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,”
  • another reason for the large number of targets, and the extensive harm to civilian life in Gaza, is the widespread use of a system called “Habsora” (“The Gospel”), which is largely built on artificial intelligence and can “generate” targets almost automatically at a rate that far exceeds what was previously possible. This AI system, as described by a former intelligence officer, essentially facilitates a “mass assassination factory.”
  • the increasing use of AI-based systems like Habsora allows the army to carry out strikes on residential homes where a single Hamas member lives on a massive scale, even those who are junior Hamas operatives. Yet testimonies of Palestinians in Gaza suggest that since October 7, the army has also attacked many private residences where there was no known or apparent member of Hamas or any other militant group residing. Such strikes, sources confirmed to +972 and Local Call, can knowingly kill entire families in the process.
  • “I remember thinking that it was like if [Palestinian militants] would bomb all the private residences of our families when [Israeli soldiers] go back to sleep at home on the weekend,” one source, who was critical of this practice, recalled.
  • there are “cases in which we shell based on a wide cellular pinpointing of where the target is, killing civilians. This is often done to save time, instead of doing a little more work to get a more accurate pinpointing,”
  • Over 300 families have lost 10 or more family members in Israeli bombings in the past two months — a number that is 15 times higher than the figure from what was previously Israel’s deadliest war on Gaza, in 2014
  • “There is a feeling that senior officials in the army are aware of their failure on October 7, and are busy with the question of how to provide the Israeli public with an image [of victory] that will salvage their reputation.”
  • “The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” said IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari on Oct. 9.
  • “We are asked to look for high-rise buildings with half a floor that can be attributed to Hamas,” said one source who took part in previous Israeli offensives in Gaza. “Sometimes it is a militant group’s spokesperson’s office, or a point where operatives meet. I understood that the floor is an excuse that allows the army to cause a lot of destruction in Gaza. That is what they told us. “If they would tell the whole world that the [Islamic Jihad] offices on the 10th floor are not important as a target, but that its existence is a justification to bring down the entire high-rise with the aim of pressuring civilian families who live in it in order to put pressure on terrorist organizations, this would itself be seen as terrorism. So they do not say it,” the source added.
  • at least until the current war, army protocols allowed for attacking power targets only when the buildings were empty of residents at the time of the strike. However, testimonies and videos from Gaza suggest that since October 7, some of these targets have been attacked without prior notice being given to their occupants, killing entire families as a result.
  • As documented by Al Mezan and numerous images coming out of Gaza, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, the Palestinian Bar Association, a UN building for an educational program for outstanding students, a building belonging to the Palestine Telecommunications Company, the Ministry of National Economy, the Ministry of Culture, roads, and dozens of high-rise buildings and homes — especially in Gaza’s northern neighborhoods.
  • “Hamas is everywhere in Gaza; there is no building that does not have something of Hamas in it, so if you want to find a way to turn a high-rise into a target, you will be able to do so,”
  • for the most part, when it comes to power targets, it is clear that the target doesn’t have military value that justifies an attack that would bring down the entire empty building in the middle of a city, with the help of six planes and bombs weighing several tons
  • Although it is unprecedented for the Israeli army to attack more than 1,000 power targets in five days, the idea of causing mass devastation to civilian areas for strategic purposes was formulated in previous military operations in Gaza, honed by the so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” from the Second Lebanon War of 2006.
  • According to the doctrine — developed by former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who is now a Knesset member and part of the current war cabinet — in a war against guerrilla groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, Israel must use disproportionate and overwhelming force while targeting civilian and government infrastructure in order to establish deterrence and force the civilian population to pressure the groups to end their attacks. The concept of “power targets” seems to have emanated from this same logic.
  • Previous operations have also shown how striking these targets is meant not only to harm Palestinian morale, but also to raise the morale inside Israel. Haaretz revealed that during Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit conducted a psy-op against Israeli citizens in order to boost awareness of the IDF’s operations in Gaza and the damage they caused to Palestinians. Soldiers, who used fake social media accounts to conceal the campaign’s origin, uploaded images and clips of the army’s strikes in Gaza to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok in order to demonstrate the army’s prowess to the Israeli public.
  • since October 7, Israel has attacked high-rises with their residents still inside, or without having taken significant steps to evacuate them, leading to many civilian deaths.
  • evidence from Gaza suggests that some high-rises — which we assume to have been power targets — were toppled without prior warning. +972 and Local Call located at least two cases during the current war in which entire residential high-rises were bombed and collapsed without warning, and one case in which, according to the evidence, a high-rise building collapsed on civilians who were inside.
  • According to intelligence sources, Habsora generates, among other things, automatic recommendations for attacking private residences where people suspected of being Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives live. Israel then carries out large-scale assassination operations through the heavy shelling of these residential homes.
  • the Habsora system enables the army to run a “mass assassination factory,” in which the “emphasis is on quantity and not on quality.” A human eye “will go over the targets before each attack, but it need not spend a lot of time on them.” Since Israel estimates that there are approximately 30,000 Hamas members in Gaza, and they are all marked for death, the number of potential targets is enormous.
  • A senior military official in charge of the target bank told the Jerusalem Post earlier this year that, thanks to the army’s AI systems, for the first time the military can generate new targets at a faster rate than it attacks. Another source said the drive to automatically generate large numbers of targets is a realization of the Dahiya Doctrine.
  • Five different sources confirmed that the number of civilians who may be killed in attacks on private residences is known in advance to Israeli intelligence, and appears clearly in the target file under the category of “collateral damage.” 
  • “That is a lot of houses. Hamas members who don’t really matter for anything live in homes across Gaza. So they mark the home and bomb the house and kill everyone there.”
  • On Oct. 22, the Israeli Air Force bombed the home of the Palestinian journalist Ahmed Alnaouq in the city of Deir al-Balah. Ahmed is a close friend and colleague of mine; four years ago, we founded a Hebrew Facebook page called “Across the Wall,” with the aim of bringing Palestinian voices from Gaza to the Israeli public. The strike on Oct. 22 collapsed blocks of concrete onto Ahmed’s entire family, killing his father, brothers, sisters, and all of their children, including babies. Only his 12-year-old niece, Malak, survived and remained in a critical condition, her body covered in burns. A few days later, Malak died. Twenty-one members of Ahmed’s family were killed in total, buried under their home. None of them were militants. The youngest was 2 years old; the oldest, his father, was 75. Ahmed, who is currently living in the UK, is now alone out of his entire family.
  • According to former Israeli intelligence officers, in many cases in which a private residence is bombed, the goal is the “assassination of Hamas or Jihad operatives,” and such targets are attacked when the operative enters the home. Intelligence researchers know if the operative’s family members or neighbors may also die in an attack, and they know how to calculate how many of them may die. Each of the sources said that these are private homes, where in the majority of cases, no military activity is carried out.
  • there is ample evidence that, in many cases, none were military or political operatives belonging to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
  • The bombing of family homes where Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives supposedly live likely became a more concerted IDF policy during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Back then, 606 Palestinians — about a quarter of the civilian deaths during the 51 days of fighting — were members of families whose homes were bombed. A UN report defined it in 2015 as both a potential war crime and “a new pattern” of action that “led to the death of entire families.”
  • according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, by Nov. 29, Israel had killed 50 Palestinian journalists in Gaza, some of them in their homes with their families
  • The intelligence officers interviewed for this article said that the way Hamas designed the tunnel network in Gaza knowingly exploits the civilian population and infrastructure above ground. These claims were also the basis of the media campaign that Israel conducted vis-a-vis the attacks and raids on Al-Shifa Hospital and the tunnels that were discovered under it.
  • Hamas leaders “understand that Israeli harm to civilians gives them legitimacy in fighting.”
  • while it’s hard to imagine now, the idea of dropping a one-ton bomb aimed at killing a Hamas operative yet ending up killing an entire family as “collateral damage” was not always so readily accepted by large swathes of Israeli society. In 2002, for example, the Israeli Air Force bombed the home of Salah Mustafa Muhammad Shehade, then the head of the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. The bomb killed him, his wife Eman, his 14-year-old daughter Laila, and 14 other civilians, including 11 children. The killing caused a public uproar in both Israel and the world, and Israel was accused of committing war crimes.
  • Fifteen years after insisting that the army was taking pains to minimize civilian harm, Gallant, now Defense Minister, has clearly changed his tune. “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” he said after October 7.
Ed Webb

Is Iran becoming a major regional arms producer? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle ... - 0 views

  • during the past few years, in spite of extensive sanctions on exports of conventional military equipment, Iran has managed to become self-sufficient in the production of a vast range of weapons and military equipment. Indeed, a large portion of Iran’s military equipment is presently met by domestic production. Given this capacity, Iran appears now ready to establish a serious and effective presence in the international armament market.
  • deliveries of weapons to Iraq have increased so much that all semi-heavy artillery equipment, sniper weapons and many other types of personal and armored weapons presently used by Iraqi paramilitary forces are Iranian-made. In addition, over the past year, Iran has also started sending the T-72S main battle tank to Iraq.
  • Iranian-made military equipment is officially and extensively now in use in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Since Iranian-made arms and equipment have yet to be tested, it is not possible to compare them with the originals they’re modeled after. However, the expansion of terrorism in the region has given Iran an opportunity to test its military equipment in action and learn about possible defects
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  • The JCPOA, and the prospect of the lifting of conventional arms-related sanctions in the next five years, have resulted in the Iranian armed forces seeking a way to expand their domestic military industrial capabilities and become part of the international arms market. For instance, Iran’s minister of defense participates in most military exhibitions in the region. He is also constantly in contact with countries such as China and Russia regarding the transfer of the most advanced military equipment technology to Iran. In this vein, it appears that the sanctions related to conventional weapons trade are already being dropped, and that in the near future Iran will become a serious rival of both Western and Eastern arms firms that are presently providing conventional weapons to regional states
  • if the current trajectory of arms deliveries continues, it appears that countries such as Iran, Russia and China are set to become the Middle East’s main weapons suppliers.
Ed Webb

Why the U.S. (still) can't train the Iraqi military - The Washington Post - 1 views

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    Research on military effectiveness suggests that even very brave, highly motivated soldiers won't be successful in their efforts to take territory if they fail to master these key skills. It also suggests that these skills are particularly unlikely to develop in regimes that are more concerned with maintaining power, especially in the face of political threats from their own military organizations, than combating conventionally powerful adversaries. This problem has historically plagued most Iraqi efforts to generate effective military forces, dating to the time of Saddam Hussein.
Ed Webb

Russian Mercenaries in Great-Power Competition: Strategic Supermen or Weak Link? | RAND - 2 views

  • Russia's worst-kept secret is its increasingly heavy reliance on private security contractors—really, mercenaries—to maintain a Russia-favorable global status quo and to undermine its competitors' interests. This reliance on mercenaries stems from a known capability gap
  • Russia's military has strictly limited ability to project ground power worldwide. It has almost no organic ability to project and sustain ground power more than a few hundred kilometers beyond its own borders. Russian strategic lift is anemic compared to Soviet-era lift. Available forces are often tied down in one of the many frozen conflicts that ring Russia's western and southern borders.
  • Even a strong de facto dictator like Vladimir Putin cannot deploy one-year conscripts beyond Russia's borders without incurring significant political risk
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  • Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is not a global ground combat power.
  • Russia has employed heavily armed mercenaries from the notorious Wagner Group and a range of other (PDF) government-cozy (and perhaps government-run) companies as the tip of the Russian foreign policy spear. In effect, Russia has outsourced its foreign policy in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, Burundi, and other global hot spots.
  • Dmitry Utkin, former commander of the Russian military intelligence directorate's (GRU's) Spetsnaz special forces units, allegedly founded the Wagner Group in 2014. Wagner and an elite GRU Spetsnaz unit reportedly share a military base in the Russian town of Molkino.
  • RAND's work on will to fight—the disposition and decision to fight, act, or persevere in conflict and war—and on Russian state power suggests that Russia is using mercenaries due in great part to its inherent military and civil weaknesses. Russian mercenaries (in fact, all mercenaries) also have behavioral limitations and vulnerabilities to influence. Dependence on mercenaries also reflects a vulnerability in Russian national will to fight. Both of these weaknesses can be exploited.
  • The employment of private forces within the spectrum of both domestic and interstate rivalry has been more norm than anomaly throughout most of recorded history.
  • Mercenary soldiers with the Wagner Group (formerly Moran Security Group, and then Slavonic Corps Limited) and other Russian mercenary groups like Patriot, took the lead in some of the more dangerous frontline operations in Syria while uniformed Russian soldiers guarded air and naval bases along Syria's coastline
  • In February 2018, Russian-hired mercenaries led (or at least closely accompanied) a Syrian militia force armed with artillery and heavy tanks to seize an oilfield near the city of Deir az-Zour in northeastern Syria. American Special Operations Forces and Marines decimated them with hours of precision air attacks, killing perhaps (PDF) hundreds and causing the rest of the force—including the mercenaries—to flee. As Russian-hired mercenary personnel retreated from the battlefield at Deir az-Zour, other teams of Russian private military actors had to call in helicopter teams to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield in the absence of state support.
  • Russian mercenaries have also performed poorly in Africa. In Mozambique, Wagner mercenaries stumbled through the kinds of partner-building efforts at which U.S. special operations forces tend to excel. They offended the locals and reportedly double-crossed allies to make money. Islamic State insurgents have successfully attacked and killed them on poorly secured roads. Mercenary disinformation tactics in Mozambique backfired. What was billed as a Russian power play in a former Soviet client state looks like a disaster in the making.
  • Wagner sent hundreds of trainers and security personnel to the Central African Republic to help Russian commercial interests secure mining rights and to support a complex regional diplomatic push to increase Russian influence. There has been little pretense in this operation: It is primarily a money-making venture. In one case, Wagner mercenaries reportedly helped the rebels they were hired to fight in order to help a Russian mining company gain access to diamond mines. Wagner has been linked to the suspicious deaths of three journalists who were nosing around its CAR operations. This Russian mercenary-led deployment has been partially successful in countering French influence, but it is not clear that reported successes on the ground outweigh the lasting, negative consequences of Wagner's cutthroat behavior.
  • Russia sent mercenaries and probably some active military forces to support Khalifa Haftar's anti-government forces in Libya. In early 2020, 1,000 Wagner mercenaries reportedly fled the front lines between pro- and anti-government forces after suffering a resounding defeat. Combat losses for Wagner in Libya are unknown but possibly significant.
  • as individuals and as a group, Russian mercenaries have repeatedly shown that they will pursue self-interest and commercial interests over state interests, and that they will quickly abandon partner forces—and perhaps each other—when the tactical risks fail to outweigh the financial rewards.
  • There is no shortage of genuine tough guys in groups like Wagner and Patriot. Under the will to fight factor of quality, many Russian mercenaries would earn high marks for fitness and resilience. But outright toughness and even elite military training alone cannot sustain the will to fight of an individual primarily motivated by money.
  • Together, the weaknesses within Russian mercenary forces and within the Russian state in relation to press-ganged youths, conscripts, and casualties may offer ready opportunities for exploitation in great-power competition. These broader weaknesses in Russian national will to fight could be examined to identify more ways to prevent Russia from aggressively undermining Western democracy.
Ed Webb

Growing demand for Russian arms in the Middle East: The Syria Effect? - 1 views

  • For Russia, the military and political engagement in Syria is an opportunity not only to showcase the operational capabilities of their weapons but also the political “muscle” behind them. 
  • A quick look on arms transfers databases reveals a growing demand for Russian arms in the Middle East. In 2012, Russia delivered weapons to four countries (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE – in addition to Syria and Iran). Five years later, in 2017, it delivered weapons to eight countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey – in addition to Syria and Iran), and sales grew in variety, size and value. Compared to 2012, the sales, according to announced figures and estimates, at least doubled in size, both because of the expansion to new markets and increased sales to traditional partners
  • The Russian military industrial complex showcased the best it has to offer in Syria, deploying a vast array of naval, air and ground weapon systems. Furthermore, the conflict has served as a major testing ground
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  • “Combat-proven” is in itself a major marketing argument
  • the heavy supersonic strategic bomber Tu-160, new generation fighter jet Su-34 or the first Russian stealth fighter ever constructed, the Su-57
  • The S-400 air defense system is not just another advanced piece of equipment. The decision to acquire it is the basis or starting point of a strategic relation between the provider, Russia, and the client.
  • most of the contracted weapons, such as air defense systems or fighter jets, are highly advanced pieces of technology and there is only a handful of producers capable of supplying them. Generally speaking, Russian weapons are highly efficient and cost-effective. Where Russia lags in technological innovation, it makes up for in costs. At the same time, American (and Western) companies go through a much stricter process of arms export control, and arms deals to third countries often involve some form of political conditionality. Middle Eastern countries might therefore prefer, under certain circumstances, to avoid the uncertainty and bureaucracy and choose the straightforward option of dealing with other providers, such as Russia, which also puts forward the time factor and its ability to deliver supplies quickly
  • At the end of 2017, it was announced that a deal was reportedly reached allowing Russia to use Egypt’s air space and air bases
  • As a member of NATO and U.S. ally, the decision to purchase the S-400 air defense system puts a strain on Ankara’s relations with its western allies. Specifically, the U.S. is exerting strong pressures on Turkey, threatening to cancel the planned sale of F-35 jets, in order to discourage it from moving forward with the S-400 deal, but with little success so far
  • Algeria is a regular client. Algiers is the largest military spender in Africa, and despite efforts to reduce military imports, it continues to import Russian weapons and remains one of Russia’s most important clients in the region.
  • a number of countries in the region have recently signed MoUs with Russia for closer military cooperation, in anticipation of future arms deals
  • arms deals are generally lengthy processes. Some of the deals concluded lately have been years in the making, before even the start of the Russian intervention in Syria. Not all can be solely attributed to the “marketing effect of war”. That said, the “combat-proven” label is an undeniable marketing argument. In Russia’s case, the massive military engagement in Syria, coupled with increased influence in the region, allowed Russia to position itself as a desired political and military partner
Ed Webb

Turkey Rattled by Weak Hand in Libya as Russia and Egypt Advance - 0 views

  • By assisting Egypt to protect its western border, Moscow has re-forged the military links of its former alliance with Cairo
  • The 75-year-old Haftar, who retains the loyalty of the parliament in Tobruk, is a central actor in the Libyan civil war. A former ally of deposed Libyan strong man Moammar Gadhafi who received his military training in the Soviet Union, Haftar maintains deep ties with Russia. Haftar’s forces control most of Libya’s oil facilities, particularly after they captured the ports along Libya’s “Oil Crescent” in September 2016, resulting in a rise in oil production from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over 700,000 bpd in January 2017.  On February 21, 2018 Russian oil giant Rosneft signed an investment and crude oil purchasing agreement with Libya’s National Oil Corporation, paving the way for a major Russian role in Libya’s oil industry.
  • In January 2017, Haftar was invited aboard Russia’s aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean in order to conduct a video conference with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu
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  • During Ahmet Davutoğlu’s tenure as Turkey’s prime minister, relations between Ankara and the Tobruk-based parliament deteriorated to the point where all Turkish firms were expelled from Libya. 
  • Ankara's efforts to gain influence in Libya pale in comparison to the security assets that Moscow and Egypt may be preparing for a more expanded military presence in Libya. On November 7, 2018, Haftar and his senior staff visited Moscow for their latest meeting with Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu. Following the session, the Libyan Armed Forces released a video showing the presence of Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and linked to several Russian private military companies, including the Wagner Group that allegedly participated in operations in Syria. Prigozhin's presence at the Haftar-Shoigu meeting has suggested to observers within Russia and beyond that Moscow may be gearing up for some form of increased intervention in Libya with operations similar to those conducted in Syria.
  • from November 3 to 16, Egypt hosted a two-week long joint exercise with the militaries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan. Dubbed Arab Shield 1, the exercise involved land, naval, and air forces as well as Special Forces and took place at Egypt's base in Marsa Matrouh. While some view the exercises as a step toward creating an 'Arab NATO' to confront Iran, the massive joint Arab exercise on Egypt's Mediterranean coast sent a clear signal to Turkey and demonstrated the sort of coalition Egypt could muster should it decide to expand its military footprint in Libya
  • both Russia and Egypt have strategic incentives to escalate their support for the aging Libyan commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.  In April 2018, the general suffered a stroke and required hospitalization in an intensive care unit in Paris.  Although two of Haftar's sons are commanders in the Libyan National Army, it is unclear whether either one of them could maintain the loyalty of the coalition of diverse factions that have united under the figure of Khalifa Haftar.  It would behoove both Moscow and Cairo to press their current advantage and deepen their respective positions in preparation for a post-Haftar era.
  • Moscow’s military presence in Libya would enable the Kremlin to complete a Russian ring around the southern half of the eastern Mediterranean. It is worth noting that Vladimir Putin's Russia is more popular than NATO in Greece and among Greek Cypriots. With only 195 nautical miles (360 km) separating Tobruk and Crete, Turkey thus faces the prospect of eventually finding itself encircled by a Russian presence among all of its regional adversaries
  • The change in the balance of power in North Africa in favor of Russia and Egypt inevitably and severely undermines Turkey's already challenging strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Ed Webb

Military audit confirms US tanks ended up with Iran-backed militias - 0 views

  • As many as nine US tanks provided to Iraq’s military for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) have ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militants, a government audit revealed on Monday.The latest quarterly inspector general report for the US mission in Iraq and Syria confirms a string of on-the-ground reports that M1 Abrams battle tanks and other lethal equipment provided by the US government have ended up with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The news adds credence to recent reporting by Iraq’s Al-Ghad news agency that Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics has suspended maintenance support for 160 of its tanks amid allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke an agreement on their use.
  • In 2015, Iraqi Hezbollah brigades showed up in YouTube videos driving American-made M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and Canadian MRAP all-terrain vehicles, sparking concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz
  • The State Department gave Iraq’s military $3.8 billion from 2015 to 2017 as it cleared out IS strongholds such as Mosul, Tal Afar and Fallujah. Iraq’s military now possesses more than 250 battle tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers. But even as support to Iraq’s military increased to root out IS in urban centers, the Defense Department has had limited “direct insight” into how effective more than 120,000 US-trained troops in Iraq will be, according to the inspector general report. That’s “mainly because the US military relied on Iraqi information and self-reporting to determine the skill and readiness of ISF troops,” the report found.
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