Monitor Mideast

The Rift Within: Will Hamas Defend Syria?

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The emerging rift between the political and military arm of Hamas in light of recent calls for an attack or invasion on Syria has the organization in disarray, Kuwaiti daily Al-Anba reports. Recently, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas vowed to stand by Syria during an act of aggression by foreign powers.


Hamas’ political arm, which has aligned itself with Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and against Iran and Syria reacted strongly against these calls by its own militia.  As disagreements grew, the military leadership declared their willingness to break loose from the political leadership abroad, referring to Khaled Mesh’al. It triggered mass resentment from the Hamas’ political chief, who underlined the mandate of the Al-Qassam Brigades to follow the Hamas leadership unconditionally.


Even within Hamas’ political organization, senior members such as Imad al-Alami and Mahmoud al-Zahar dispute Mesh’al and Haniyah’s alignment with Qatar. The former two served as prominent members influencing key positions within the political and military wing in addition to playing a pivotal role in sustaining relations with Iran and Hezbollah after the fallout with Assad.


In more recent months, fighters of the military wing in Gaza erected banners near the border with Israel bearing words of Thanks to Tehran in Arabic, English, Farsi and Hebrew. The military wing intended to thank Iran for its recent assistance during the conflict in Gaza, despite the fallout with the Syrian government by the Hamas political bureau. The symbolic gesture turned into a fiasco after some members of the political arm attempted to remove the banners. What followed was an intervention of Al-Qassam military personnel who then prevented the removal.


In light of these developments, Zahar and a number of senior cohorts within the political arm are deemed more in line with the Al-Qassam Brigades, spawning discussions on a Hamas leadership reshuffle and whether it will support Syria during an act of aggression.



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Obama: We’re Going Into Syria

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U.S. President Barack Obama stated that the decision to conduct a limited military operation in Syria has been made. This does however not include a ground intervention. Obama further noted that the attacks in Ghouta was the worst massacre in the 21st century committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


Obama further noted that Assad shelled an area of ​​Damascus where more than a thousand people, including women and children were situated, citing it as a crime against human dignity. He moved on to point out that this alleged crime was a violation of the International Treaty for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and poses a threat to the neighboring countries of Syria.


Syria has dismissed calls by Washington, stating that the United States, Germany, France and a number of other countries had supplied militants with chemical components in order to induce a foreign intervention.


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Hunting the Dahieh Bombers

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Lebanese security forces seized a car after a suspect was found to be carrying explosive materials. A ‘new’, silver-colored Audi with forged plates was filled with explosive compounds in the trunk. The car contained 4 boxes of dynamite and 3 nitrate bags including fuses and other material.


The total weight of the explosives was an estimated 250 kilograms. The car was not yet set to be used immediately for a terror attack. Lebanese civilians of the Dahieh district in Lebanon were warned to remain at home after terrorists planned and carried out an attack on August 16 in Lebanon’s southern suburb. Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah have been hunting the culprits since the bomb attack was initiated.


The Kuwaiti Al-Rai newspaper said on Friday evening that the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau carried out three raids in ‪Beirut‬ to arrest suspects linked to Thursday’s ‪Dahieh‬ blast. A ‪Lebanese‬ national, ‪Syrians‬, and ‪Palestinians‬ were arrested in a raid in the Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood.


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On Anniversary of July War, Deadly Bomb Blast Rocks Beirut

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An explosion rocked the Southern Suburbs of Beirut on the Anniversary of the July War 2006 at 6:18 PM Lebanese time. This is the second bomb penetrating Dahieh, Beirut’s Southern Suburbs in recent months. The explosion took place in the Ruwais area of Dahieh covering the main road of Ruwais and Bir al-Abed. Immediately after the blast, ambulances and fire brigades were seen rushing to the scene. Residents of the Southern Suburbs stated that they were paying the price for their victory over Israel in 2006.


Dozens of cars were damaged by the explosion. Fire fighters and civil defense workers shuffled to evacuate a number of citizens trapped inside of the buildings surrounding the area. Al-Mayadeen initially maintained that 10 civilians were reportedly deceased and 80 were injured. However, casualties have now risen to 21 deceased and 336 injured. Dahieh is one of the more densely populated areas of Beirut. Salafist groups and/or Israel are believed to be behind the attack on the residential area.


Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper reported that on Friday night, the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau carried out three raids in Beirut to arrest suspects linked to Thursday’s Dahieh blast. A Lebanese national, Syrians, and Palestinians were arrested in a raid in the Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood.



Although Dahieh is predominantly Shia, Sunni and Christian communities also reside in the area. The Shia are a persecuted group throughout the Middle East, despite their political or apolitical affiliation. The building near which the explosion went off had been destroyed once before during the July War of 2006 and was apparently rebuilt. Al-Akhbar reported on a video was posted online less than half and hour after the explosion. In the video, a hooded man flanked by two other weapon-toting men wearing hoods claims the Aisha Brigades for External Mission were responsible for the Ruwais blast.


Immediately after the blast, the Washington Post, the Daily Star, CNN, Fox News, the New York Times and the BBC controversially referred to Beirut’s southern suburb as a “Hezbollah stronghold”. The effort to name and frame a civilian area became contested with netizens openly expressing their anger over the reporting. Reducing the area to a “Hezbollah stronghold” was flagged by these critics as a deliberate attempt to frame the terror attacks against civilians in an area as justified and acceptable.


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The ‘Curse of Lebanon’

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Lebanese news sources have reported that the Israeli military force that infiltrated 400 meters into the Labbouneh border-area of Southern Lebanon a week ago, was an elite commando unit comprised of 100 soldiers. However, the elite unit was ambushed by Hezbollah, causing Israel to later admit that four of its soldiers were injured. Coincidentally, this ambush occurred during the early days of August, days during which elite forces of the IDF, such as the Egoz and Golani brigades, suffered a similar, larger-scale military defeat by the Lebanese movement 7 years ago. In 2006, Israeli forces were compelled to withdraw from their confrontation with Hezbollah without having acquired the war objectives outlined by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.


What were the objectives in 2006? To return the two captured soldiers – this was more the pretext used for the war rather than being a primary objective; to stop the missile fire from Southern Lebanon onto Israel – again, this was an important, but nevertheless secondary goal; to eliminate Hezbollah’s military power, or at the very least, to significantly weaken it in order to remove the movement from the equations of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This proved to be the inevitable objective of Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006.


However, Israel failed to return its two kidnapped soldiers; Hezbollah continued to fire hundreds of missiles on Israel on a daily basis, and this was maintained until the very last day; and finally, the movement in Lebanon is considered to be more powerful today than at any other time in its 33-year history. Some analysts suggest that the Labbouneh operation was meant to test the readiness and capabilities of Hezbollah in light of the party’s increasing involvement in Syria – a test that the movement has apparently passed with flying colors.


Yet another powerful message was sent as well: a reminder about the ‘Curse from Lebanon’, which was conceived of by the Israelis as a result of their traumatizing experience in Southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, and heightened by Israel’s memorable collapse at the hands of Hezbollah in 2006. The curse from Lebanon, emanating from Hezbollah’s ability to continuously embarrass Israel’s efforts on various levels, continues to haunt the Israeli political and military apparatuses, in addition to Israeli society in general, which had grown accustomed to their ‘invincible army’ subduing its Arab opponents over the past six decades.



From our contributor H. Kobeissi

Posted in Levant, meg

Jordan’s Defensive Democracy Strategy

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The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been following a precise branding strategy. The country became one of the most attractive business and touristic destinations in the Middle East. One slogan dominates the center stage and is the core of the official ideology: Jordan is a haven in the war-torn Middle East. This is a great leap for a country with little historical importance (except archeological), without a coherent national identity and deprived of natural resources. Amman, Jordan’s capital, is trying to be Beirut and Dubai at once – a liberal cosmopolitan city like Beirut and a business hub like Dubai. What is the cost of such a transformation?


Defensive democratization characterizes regimes which respond to threats by cyclic political liberalization are usually aborted when stability is restored. In addition, Jordan’s economic liberalization is taking place not only at the expense of the deprived, but also at that of political liberalization, thus leading to growth without development. In fact, political activity is nearly non-existent in the traditional monarchy. Today, frustration is the key word in many Jordanian cities and among a number of Jordanian groups.


Zarqa, a mostly poor city a couple of minutes outside Amman, is also home to the very infamous Zarqawi (who holds the city’s name) – an Al-Qaeda militant killed in 2006. Many young Jordanians are recruited to join organizations linked to Al-Qaeda fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even Amman’s luxurious hotels were not spared by violence in the 2006 bombings. Every summer, a number of tourists are subject to violent acts (stabbing, shooting) in the more popular areas of Eastern Amman. At the same time, the king of Jordan seems to believe that the most prominent threat comes from Tehran and its Shia crescent – putting an end to the construction of the first Shia mosque in the country in 2006.


Observers, scholars and diplomats in the West are rarely concerned with Jordan’s political development process (unlike that of its neighbors). On the contrary, many praise the Hashemite’s unique management of the country failing to perceive Jordan’s “defensive democratization” as such. When King Abdullah II arrived to the throne, his focus was on fostering Jordan’s modern identity. He launched national campaigns such as “Jordan First” and the “National Agenda” promoting social cohesion. His business plans however slightly shook the traditional support base. He concentrated on pleasing the business elite (majorly Palestinian) at the expense of the tribal leaders.


The Hashemite Kingdom, alien to the region where it established its reign since 1946, sought legitimacy through a support base among tribal chiefs and minorities. These groups were integrated in the state machine through governmental, administrative and military jobs. Facing regional and internal threats, specifically those created by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knowing that an estimated 70% of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, the government has constantly responded with authoritarian measures (martial law, banning of political activities and parties, suffocating civil society, growing role of intelligence, etc.). During the 1980’s, the government was not capable of financing his support base anymore. The IMF recommended the restriction of governmental expenditures. At that point, King Hussein launched a liberalization process that was enhanced by the signature of the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Once economic prosperity was re-established, political liberalization came to a halt, specifically to paralyze the Muslim Brotherhood which was radically opposed to the peace process with Israel.


Western media, diplomats and scholars seldom have anything to say about Jordan’s democratic development and political liberalization. This is principally explained by the fact that Jordan is a vassal state serving the interest of mainly the USA in the Middle East. It comes as no surprise that according to the Jordan-US free trade agreement, products exported to the USA from Jordan should have a minimum requirement of value added in Israel.


By our contributor: M. Marji

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The Tea Serving Scandal Anniversary

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It was on this day during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon by Israel, that one of the most obscure scandals took place in Lebanese military history. It would not only bring shame upon the Lebanese Army as an institution but more importantly, would add enormous value to Hezbollah’s political and military credibility within Lebanon and beyond.


The conflict, referred to as the July War of 2006 was sparked when an Israeli convoy was conducting a routine border inspection near Lebanon. Hezbollah special forces ambushed the convoy, taking Israeli soldiers captive. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the movement would later confirm that two men were indeed captured, citing his intention to free Lebanese citizens in Israeli jails. Following the abduction of the two soldiers, Israel rejected negotiations and initially ordered large scale bombardments on Lebanese territory. Following the initial phase, IDF special forces were deployed deep into Hezbollah territory. The IDF carried out massive incursions on residential areas and conducted ground assaults on key flash points in an attempt to subdue Hezbollah completely. Bombardments were additionally endorsed in an effort to punish residents living in southern areas for their unrelenting support to the movement. Marjayoun, an important Lebanese district in South Lebanon was one of the areas targeted by the IDF. What ensued in this strategic area between Israeli forces and a segment of the Lebanese army during the July War would significantly damage the reputation of Lebanon’s national army, and strongly bolster Hezbollah’s military and political credibility.



General Daoud’s Tea Party

Whilst Israel was already engaged in ground assaults on Lebanese soil, the Lebanese national army openly stated that it would protect Lebanese territory from any foreign invasion. In doing so, it strengthened Hezbollah’s determination to successfully engage in large scale asymmetrical incursions against Israeli forces, causing its most prestigious tank, the Merkava II, III and IV series to be dethroned. In addition, large segments of Israeli military personnel dispatched deep inside the Hezbollah heartland were left demoralized as Hezbollah sustained its rocket capability and continued to displace Israeli citizens throughout the invasion. As Israeli forces entered Marjayoun, they raided Lebanese army barracks located in the area whilst joint Lebanese security forces were located there. When higher echelons of the Lebanese military establishment urged Lebanese military personnel not to act against the Israeli raids into the barrack, the army allowed the IDF complete access without objection. Israeli ground forces carried out searches and identity checks after having entered the premises.


A Lebanese general, Adnan Daoud and his entourage were subsequently taped as they served tea to IDF forces. The odd encounter became one of the most notorious national scandals to date. The official political stance, which was modest and vague with regard to this incident disappointed many Lebanese. More than anything, it had belittled the image of Lebanese security officers in duty. General Daoud, acting under the orders of his superiors was eventually held responsible for the entire debacle.


Following the scandal, internal Security Forces General Adnan Daoud was placed under house arrest after two local television stations broadcast videotape of him having tea with Israeli Army officers whilst occupying the South. New TV and Al-Manar played the tape, which originally aired on Israeli television and showed Daoud having tea with smiling Israeli soldiers, taking them for a stroll in the courtyard of the Marjayoun barracks. While some would argue that an outgunned Daoud had no choice but to comply and was rendered inactive by his superiors, others say the Marjayoun tea party once again accentuates the vulnerability of the national army. More importantly, it illustrated that at the advent of an Israeli invasion, Hezbollah is the only force that has the military and ideological capacity to guarantee its total commitment to the protection of Lebanese territory. In retrospect, while many Lebanese mark August 11, 2006 as a grim day riddled with betrayal, others have viewed it as a blessing in disguise.


Sources: MEPanorama/As-Safir



Posted in Levant, meg

Saddam Batallion in Syria

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A regiment of the FSA, the Free Syrian Army fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, announced that it has set up two battalions called ‘Martyr Saddam Hussein’ in the cities of Idlib and Deir al-Zour in Syria.


Within higher and lower echelons of the FSA, Saddam is a revered figure for his battle against the Shi’a uprisings and Iran, which the fighters consider a hostile Shi’a state. Activists also claim the label is an attempt to deliberately taunt Shi’a and Alawite communities.


Naming the FSA battalions after Saddam Hussein has been met with overwhelming outrage and condemnation in the region, notably among Syria’s Kurds who, in the 1980s experienced the Halabja massacre. The massacre, which was carried out using mustard gas had historically been recalled as a genocide by the community.


Source: MEPanorama

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Protests in Syria Bad Omen for the West

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As the current crisis in Egypt continues, and the United States scrambles in its damage control efforts, one sign in particular points to the recent unrest in Arab countries being far more than simply an angry reaction to authoritarianism. That sign is that — even with the Tunisian revolts spreading to neighboring Egypt as well as to Jordan, Yemen, and other Arab countries — the people of Syria have not revolted against their leader, Bashar al-Assad. Recent efforts to organize a protest in Damascus failed.

Bashar was appointed president of Syria by his predecessor (and father) Hafiz al-Assad. Barring the collapse of his regime, he will likely be president for life and appoint a successor. There is no more “freedom of speech” in Syria than in Mubarak’s Egypt or Ben Ali’s Tunisia. If the current string of uprisings are truly reflective of Arabs’ democratic aspirations (which American officials and media outlets are suggesting), then wouldn’t it be natural for the flames of democratic revolt to spread to Syria? One would certainly think so.
Something is missing from this narrative. The people want more than simple “free speech.” These recent revolts reveal something else about the sentiments of Muslims in the world today.
This Gallup poll may offer some insight that other sources have curiously ignored. According to the poll, an astounding 88 percent of Egyptians want Islamic law to be a source of legislation in their country.

Far from reflecting an upsurge in democratic aspirations, these poll results seem to validate the idea which Iranian leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei alluded to in his recent speech: that the revolts are the manifestation of an “Islamic awakening.”
Perhaps, then, the reason for the failure of the planned Syria protest owes to Assad’s reconciling of his secular government with his staunchly religious population? Assad’s father became a pariah in the Arab world for aligning his country with Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, and Syria has further made itself an outcast among Arab countries by supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Secular Syria — though remaining secular — has managed to Islamify itself enough to appease the people. This calculated move has resulted in Assad becoming arguably the most popular head of state in the Arab world.
This is a bad omen for policymakers in the US, whose efforts to pick up the pieces of the Egyptian crisis are ever more likely looking like they will be in vain.

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