Monday December 9, 2013, no161
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
Western countries will inevitably return to Damascus
By Ghaleb Kandil
The French and Belgian Ministers of Interior, Manuel Valls and Joelle Milquet, warned Friday December 6 in Brussels, against the increasing high number of Europeans who travel to Syria to fight in the ranks of groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. They said that these young people are becoming a threat to the European Union countries, the U.S., and their Canadian and Australian allies.
According to information provided by the two ministers, between 1500 and 2000 Europeans traveled to Syria, while in June they were 600. Milquet said 100-150 Belgians fight in the ranks of extremist groups. Manuel Valls stated more than 400 French passed travelled to Syria, where currently 184 of his fellow citizens are fighting. The others returned to France, where they are tracked by security. The minister said 14 French died fighting in Syria and 100 are trying to go to this country.
Commenting on the facilities provided by the governments of EU to European terrorists traveling to Syria, Manuel Valls said: " When the conflict broke out in Syria, it was not easy to deal with this issue, because it was to fight a regime condemned by all (in fact, targeted by all states of NATO, Israel, the Gulf countries, Turkey and by agents of the West), which made it difficult to criticize. The prerogatives of the Minister of the Interior were limited to criticizing the facilities granted to the combatants willing to travel to Syria and not to take action against them. The situation today has changed and most of these fighters have expressed their intention to join the ranks of organizations close to Al-Qaeda."
The situation has certainly changed in Syria and what the Minister did not say is that the aggression against Syria failed. And the terrorists mobilized by the West to destroy the Syrian state failed to beat the Syrian army. Today, the danger is great to see these terrorists back to Europe and create Al-Qaeda networks after having acquired the necessary experience on the Syrian ground. These terrorists are backed by Saudi Arabia, an ally of France and the client of its president in very attractive arming deals. François Hollande and his ministers must take responsibility for every drop of French blood that will be shed by terrorists back in France after their defeat in Syria.
Manuel Valls tried to minimize the danger of this new terrorism, supported, armed and politically covered by NATO. He said: "Today, we do not see a direct and imminent danger to our two countries and our interests. Nevertheless, we must not take lightly the issue because Islamist fighters are strengthened and becoming dangerous. "
The most important in all this is that France and Belgium are working to coordinate operations within the European Union to develop a common structure dedicated to monitoring and tracking down terrorists returning from Syria. The two ministers held three meetings with British, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Danish counterparts.
Why is France which has supported this coordination? The question naturally arises. The answer is that the danger of terrorists returned from Syria requires close coordination with the Syrian authorities in the field of exchange of information. Western volunteers who support "NATO's revolutionaries" are evolving in new and organized structures and are only known by Syrian authorities for they fought them on Syrian soil for the last three years. And given that France is the most hostile and extremist country in the anti-Syrian alliance, it is necessary to help France restore contact with Syria under the pretext of coordination in the fight against terrorism. This process takes place with the blessing of the United States, who's Minister of Interior attended the enlarged meeting in Brussels in the presence of representatives of Canada and Australia, which preceded the meeting of European Ministers of interior. This gives the impression that the threat of terrorism affects all Western countries that participated in the aggression against Syria.
It is no secret that many European anti-terrorist officials, including Germans, went to Damascus to discuss ways to coordinate action against terrorists. The Syrian government has set a well defined policy framework to study Western demands. It involves dismantling the alliance hostile to Syria. This is the difficulty that Francois Hollande faces, he who has transformed the French government in a mercenary working for Bandar bin Sultan. That is why the United States are trying to cover the reversal of France by giving him an Nato mandate to coordinate western efforts against terrorism.
France has been leading the campaign of lies on the presence of so-called moderate among active terrorists on Syrian soil, spent Saudi money and organized arms transactions financed by the Saudis and Qataris. These weapons are now in the hands of various Al-Qaeda branches. France faces now the moment of truth: she must pay the bills for the lies she conveyed to cover its partnership with Bandar, Hamads and Erdogan, in a war that has resulted in the emergence of a new generation of Al-Qaeda terrorists, whose crimes will not remain confined to Syria.
The entire West is on the verge of a new era, where it'll begs the favor of President Bashar Al-Assad, the only one able to provide information on the fight against terrorism. But this requires a political price: the end of support for aggression against Syria.
Whoever poured the poison will swallow ... Such is the Syrian curse.
Hassan Nasrallah, General Secretary of Hezbollah
«The Tripoli blasts were employed to launch political accusations while we did not accuse anyone following the Bir al-Abed and Rweiss blasts until we knew the identity of those who sent the cars and those who carried out the attacks. What we understood from what the judiciary said is that Ali Eid's driver is accused of smuggling a person to Syria. Let us assume that that is correct, would that mean that Ali Eid is behind the bombings? The aim of accusing Sheikh Hashem Minqara was to humiliate our allies and it turned out that he is not involved. Any bombing that targets civilians is condemned and I was saddened by the Tripoli bombings more than I was saddened by the Dahieh blasts. A lot of these groups that have the Qaida ideology are linked to the Saudi intelligence and in my opinion, the bombing has to do with the Saudi anger against Iran in the region. We believe the statement in which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on the Iranian embassy, because it is a well-known group and its emir is Saudi and it is linked to the Saudi intelligence. The Iranian embassy bombing has to do with targeting Iran by those who consider it to be an enemy since 1979 and by those who teach at their institutes that it is an enemy. Hundreds of martyrs would have fallen had the armed groups seized control of the border area with Lebanon and consequently Lebanese areas (...) According to my information, the number of troops lost by the regime is greater than the number of fighters lost by the rival camp. I expect very fierce confrontations in Syria ahead of the Geneva conference and a major standoff might arise, but the same as they failed in Eastern Ghouta, all these attempts will fail. The endeavor to topple the Syrian regime militarily has ended and things are heading to peace talks in Geneva. Most European countries are reopening channels of communication with the regime and there is only the obstacle of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is still insisting on fighting till the last drop of blood in Syria (...) Claims that we have lost 350 or 500 or 1,000 fighters in Eastern Ghouta are wishful thinking. We knew that martyrs would fall and some fighters might be captured. There is not a single Hizbullah captive in Syria today and some bodies of martyrs are still missing. Our presence in Syria is very modest and it is limited to Damascus and Qusayr, while the Syrian army is carrying out the operations in Qalamoun and our participation there is very modest. We are not fighting on behalf of the Syrians. There is not a single Hizbullah fighter in Daraa, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, Hasakeh, Idlib, Latakia or Tartus. We have a limited presence in Homs and Damascus near the (Lebanese) border. I'm surprised by claims that Iran is occupying Syria because there are only dozens of experts who have been in Syria since 1982. There are exaggerations in Lebanon about the level of Hizbullah's military intervention and we say that those fighting with the regime are mainly the army and the National Defense committees. The day will come when everyone will thank us for our intervention (in Syria) and they will thank the young men who were martyred. What are the guarantees that can be offered by the March 14 camp? Do they believe that their scheme has succeeded? Let them ask Saad Hariri and Oqab Saqr. Ask March 14 about their guarantees if the armed groups seize control of Syria. We are fighting in Syria to defend Lebanon. Let us observe how these groups are fighting each other and how ISIL and Nusra are executing FSA commanders. Should we abandon our responsibilities, the Lebanese-Syrian border would be invaded and I give you the example of the booby-trapped cars that are coming from Yabrud and Nabak. As time progressed, we had to increase the numbers (of fighters in Damascus) ahead of the major intervention in Qusayr. Had it not been for Hizbullah's intervention in Qusayr's countryside, the armed groups would have invaded all these towns, but we went there and ended the battle. Things deteriorated in Syria but we did not immediately send forces to Syria. We took gradual steps, which began in the towns inhabited by Lebanese residents in Qusayr. When the Syrian army retreated from these towns, the residents sought our help because shameful things had happened there. They had two options: the displacement of 30,000 people or defending their areas. I must note that the Lebanese government did not offer any help (...) There would have been no problems in Lebanon had March 14's relation with Saudi Arabia been like our relation with Iran, because Iran does not interfere in our decisions at all, neither in the issue of cabinet nor in the other domestic issues. We don't ask Iran and we don't take its permission, while Saudi Arabia dictates to March 14. Right now, Iran is the most important state in the region and it is consulting with us and it sometimes endorses our viewpoint on certain issues. Iran's stance on the Palestinian cause is ideological and it did not change during the Geneva negotiations (...) Despite the acute dispute with the Turks over Syria, we did not sever our contacts with the Turkish ambassador to Lebanon and meetings took place with Turkish officials. The new development is taking place between the Turks and the Iranians and between the Turks and the Iraqis. We sat with the Qatari envoy and told him that the military choice in Syria is futile and the attempt to oust Assad militarily is an act of madness, that's why I call on all countries to contribute towards finding a political solution. We also spoke of neutralizing Lebanon in the Syrian crisis.»
Michel Sleiman, Lebanese President
«It is not acceptable to ruin the historic ties with a dear state and its people – here I mean Saudi Arabia – by making reckless accusations against it without judicial, real or concrete basis. This involvement [in Syria], by any side, is also condemned ... Our enemy waits and achieves one goal after another and it fulfilled one goal just today. Let’s draw a lesson from what our country is going through these days.»
Fouad Siniora, Former Prime Minister
«Lebanon received $1186 million from donor countries, of which $746 million was from Saudi Arabia – about 63% of all donations. Saudi Arabia funded the construction of 55,190 residential blocks in 208 towns and 36 buildings in Beirut’s Dahiyeh.»
Nabih Berry, Speaker of The House
«The so-called Arab Spring is no spring at all and has pushed us back to the Middle Ages.»
Alexander Zasypkin, Russian ambassador to Lebanon
«Why should we ask Hezbullah to withdraw its fighters from Syria when two years ago our calls on armed groups from northern Lebanon to withdraw was left unheeded? Moscow backed the policy of disassociation at a time when armed groups from northern Lebanon were involved in the conflict. Russia backed the United Nations' Security Council's support for the Baabda Declaration. We supported the policy of disassociation in order to avert any escalation in Lebanon. We are continuing on demanding that the Baabda Declaration be implemented and respected by all powers. A real war is taking place in Syria and we want stability in Lebanon. The arrival of extremists to power in Syria is the most dangerous development that may happen to Lebanon. Their assumption of any position will mark the beginning of their expansion in all directions, because extremists seek to expand their power. We are aware that terrorist attacks are happening in Lebanon from time to time and we cannot explain them. We believe however that some Lebanese authorities, with the support of the international community, can overcome these problems. We combat terrorism wherever it may be and we combat all who support terrorists.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«Hezbollah revealed its true face, made its project public, and put its strategy into practice. It is acting against the constitution and the laws. Hezbollah doesn’t want the cover or support of anyone, and is pursuing what it believes in, regardless of the opinions of others in this country.»
Omrane al-Zohbi, Syrian Information Minister
«If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva II to hand the keys to Damascus over, then he might as well not go. The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one. He is the leader of Syria... And he will remain the president of Syria.»
Diplomacy with Iran must be backed up by US military might, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday in a speech addressed to Gulf allies anxious over a nuclear deal with Tehran. Hagel promised the United States would maintain a 35,000-strong force in the Gulf region, as well as an armada of ships and warplanes, despite the recent deal with Tehran. Speaking at a security conference in Bahrain, he said the interim deal with Iran to roll back its nuclear program was a risk worth taking but that Western diplomacy should not be "misinterpreted." The Pentagon "will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region - or to its military planning - as a result of the interim agreement with Iran," he added. In a trip meant to reassure Gulf allies wary of America's diplomatic opening with Iran, Hagel enumerated an array of US weaponry and resources deployed in the region. "We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf," he said. The military footprint includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said. "Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach," said Hagel, in an apparent reference to "bunker buster" bombs designed to penetrate deeply buried targets. "Questions have been raised about America's intentions, strategy, and commitment to the region," he said. He promised the United States "will remain fully committed to the security of our allies and our partners in the region."
In an interview with the daily As Safir, Ambassador of France to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli, rejected any link between the double attack against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and Hezbollah involvement in the war in Syria. "The attack targeted the Iranian chancery, not Hezbollah," he said. The diplomat also expressed "concern" of France because of the French involvement in the fighting in Syria. "France has made efforts to combat extremists in Mali and it does not encourage the development of a similar extremism in Syria," said Paoli.
The pan-Arab satellite channel al-Mayadeen reported that the Lebanese national Ahmad Hojeiri and thirteen other armed men from Ersal were killed in an ambush by the Syrian Army, near the region Mazareh Rima, in the Syrian Qalamoun.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
Helme Moussa (December 6, 2013)
For the second consecutive day, the hypothesis of the involvement of the Israeli enemy in the assassination of Hassan al-Lakkis has increased. Sources said that investigators collected evidence showing that Israeli fingerprints in the crime are the most visible.
At the same time a statement of the Lebanese Army reported "a rental car involved in a terrorist act on the night of December 3" ( the night of the crime), suggesting that it was indeed the assassination of al- Lakkis.
Safe information note that the murderers used probably a rental car they parked near the Boulevard Camille Chamoun, where they joined the building occupied by the martyr to commit their crime, before exiting via a path which has not yet been clearly defined.
Israeli media have a great interest in the assassination of al- Lakkis, because of the importance of the man and potential impact of this operation. According to the media, al-Lakkis "is one of the closest people to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and assumed various and important responsibilities. He led firepower during the July 2006 war, has developed and modernized methods of combat and telecommunication networks of Hezbollah. "This is why his assassination is a blow and could cause severe response, according to Israeli assessments.
Despite the official denial of Israel, more and more articles and reports suggest that Israel is behind the assassination of Hassan Lakkis. The most notable article published in Yediot Aharonot is signed by Ronin Bergmann, who returned on a text he published two years ago under the title "The shadow army". In this article, Bergmann cites the name of al-Lakkis as part of a "coordinating committee" composed of senior Syrian and Iranian officials and representatives from Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In this article, the author states that the Hezbollah delegates in this committee is al-Lakkis.
Bergmann says al-Lakkis is a militant Hezbollah since the age of 19 and his training comes mainly from the extensive technical experience he has accumulated in the development of methods of combat.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Jean Aziz (7 december, 2013)
It seems that the sound of the presidential battle is now louder than any other sound in Beirut. All attitudes and actions, whether overt or covert, are now proceeding according to the rhythm of the most important electoral event in Lebanon come spring.
Day after day, it is reinforced that it may indeed be possible to hold presidential elections. It also seems that any hope of President Michel Suleiman staying in the Baabda palace for one second after midnight on 24 May 2014 is quickly receding.
Among the external actors influencing the Lebanese presidential issue, it seems that Washington is genuinely interested in seeing a new president elected. Visitors to Washington have reported back that the United States firmly believes in the need to hold presidential elections in Lebanon within the constitutional deadlines. The Americans are already asking questions about some of the possible candidates, all under the pretense of their concern for Lebanon’s “stability.” In truth, stability is the linchpin of Washington’s current approach to all aspects of Lebanese politics.
What the US wants is the maximum possible level of stability in Lebanon for a multitude of reasons: There is zero ability to cope with any chaos. Indeed, chaos could threaten the very foundations of the Lebanese political system.
The current regional and international landscape does not allow for any party to successfully broker a new Lebanese accord. As things stand, adding chaos in Lebanon to the crisis in Syria could lead to disasters that affect the entire region.
All this harms Washington’s interests in the region, from Israel’s security to direct Western interests, not to mention the emerging Lebanese strategic factor, namely, Lebanon’s promising natural gas resources that have come to occupy center stage in Washington’s Lebanon policy. To be sure, gas is now synonymous to the name Lebanon in the dictionary of the US administration, so much so that US officials could soon be calling Lebanon the homeland of natural gas instead of the cedars.
In Moscow, the capital of the resurgent global power, there is no less interest in Lebanon’s presidential elections. All that motivates US interest in Lebanon, from stability, security, to interests and influence, are all also present in the Russian thinking. But what sets Moscow apart is that it is also concerned with the Lebanese presidential event from the standpoint of its Tsarist-like commitment to the question of Christian communities in the region. The Kremlin’s policy harkens back to the era of the double-headed eagle, representing the church and the state, as it summons all the icons of Holy Russia – from its Christianization at the hands of Vladimir the Great, to the secrets of the Virgin’s apparition in Fátima, and the salvation of Europe at the hands of Russia. It in this particular context that the Russians look to the next presidency of Lebanon: Christian communities in the Orient are at risk, and Lebanon is the last bastion for the political presence of those native communities.
Preserving those communities requires preserving their political presence in their homelands. This means that commitment to the Christians of the Orient requires first electing a Lebanese president who is a strong, legitimate representative of his community and country, so that his presence can have a positive impact on all Christians of the region. It’s noteworthy that the world Orthodox capital has initiated an unprecedented coordination in this matter with the world Catholic capital. Putin’s last visit to the Vatican cannot be far from this. It is enough proof to recall the role of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev in arranging the visit. To be sure, the bishop, who is in charge of foreign relations at the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, had traveled directly from Beirut to Rome in preparation for the meeting between Pope Francis and the Russian president.
Meanwhile, Riyadh has erected a major “presidential barricade” in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, shooting down any attempt to circumvent Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s machinations. For its part, Tehran seems reassured by how things are going, as though it knows that the final say will belong to it and Washington.
Al Akhbar (December 5, 2013)
Israeli intelligence has assassinated Hassan al-Laqqis. A deadly breach has taken out one of the leading minds of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon. The executioners snuck under cover of darkness and struck a blow to Hezbollah deep inside its stronghold.
The five bullets did not penetrate the head of Hassan al-Laqqis alone but also the heart of the Resistance itself. The assailants followed Laqqis, snuck in, and struck down the head of Hezbollah’s air defense division, and one of the Resistance’s most important “electronic minds.”
The perpetrators fired five shots – one of which missed – killing Laqqis after several botched assassination attempts in the past. There is no doubt that this is a Mossad operation, no matter who carried it out directly – whether takfiri groups or collaborators.
The boldness of the perpetrators alone was enough to establish that they were not Israelis, but rather agents. However, the identity of the target proves conclusively that the mastermind is Israel. The loss is a major one, but this is what happens in war.
At midnight on Wednesday, December 4, a guard at the Shaheen Residential Complex in the St. Therese district, located southeast of Beirut in Hadath, was awoken by a strange noise. The man heard the sound of glass breaking. He hesitated for a moment, and then went to check it out.
There was no one there, except Laqqis, who was sitting behind the wheel of his car covered in his own blood. Another neighbor of Laqqis heard the same noise. He went out on his balcony and saw two men running through the field adjacent to the complex.
He could not make out their faces. He did not dwell on it much because he did not know what had happened, but he had a hunch that something terrible had just taken place.
Laqqis’s neighbors did not know who he was. They suddenly learned the true identity of the shadowy man who lived on the second floor as being one of the people credited for achieving Hezbollah’s victory in July 2006.
The crime scene did not differ much from other crime scenes, with the exception of the presence of Hezbollah personnel. At the entrance of the complex, a man in his twenties was checking the identities of the journalists who flocked to the scene.
Despite the sheer number of journalists, police officers, and Hezbollah personnel, deep silence engulfed the place. The complex consists of three buildings with surveillance cameras placed at each corner. It is not easy to enter without being spotted, and the balconies overlook the main yard.
The complex is surrounded by buildings from all sides, though one side is adjacent to a field littered with a few trees. This was the deadly weak spot, as witnesses reported that the perpetrators had infiltrated the complex through that opening to shoot Laqqis, before leaving the same way.
Initial information indicates that the two men were expecting Laqqis. Perhaps they hid behind a car or in the field. Then, as soon as his vehicle arrived, one of them approached and fired from a silenced pistol at the victim’s head and neck.
There is no official security information yet, but analyzing surveillance tapes, if the cameras were indeed operational, may reveal the identity of the perpetrators, especially since there is a camera located right where Laqqis had parked his car.
Again, this is war. It is an open-ended security battle between the Resistance’s security services and Israel’s. It is nothing new for Israel to strike the Resistance in the latter’s backyard, but the modus operandi is new.
The target, meanwhile, happens to be the second most important Hezbollah commander to be assassinated, after the group’s military leader Imad Mughniyeh. Israel has not carried out assassinations this bold and direct before. Most previous assassinations would be carried out by means of explosives planted in the cars of Resistance officials or along a route they took regularly.
This is odd, bearing in mind that Laqqis’s assassination is the first to take place against Hezbollah targets since Mughniyeh’s assassination in 2008, and the first in Beirut’s southern suburb since the assassination of Hezbollah leader Ghalib Awali in 2004.
In this regard, reports have confirmed that only Israel knew Laqqis and the nature of his work. Accordingly, all indications point that Israel supplied the perpetrators with information about the man’s place of residence and movements.
The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown, although sources do not discount the possibility of them being radical extremists, “because the operation is closer to being a suicide attack as it was possible the men would have been intercepted and engaged.” Concerning questions about the relationship between the Mossad and the takfiri groups, sources say, “There could be indirect coordination through agents, but it could also be direct.”
According to reports, Israel has tried to take out Laqqis more than once, including through direct Israeli bombardment of a residential complex in al-Hajjaj Street in Chiyah during the July War, based on intelligence reports that Laqqis was present inside. It is worth noting that Laqqis’s son was killed in addition to 40 others in that air strike, which took place on the 27th day of the war.
According to the same reports, the car that the Israeli air force pursued and strafed along the Camille Chamoun Highway in the area of St. Therese during the war was being driven by Laqqis, who was injured in the process.
Later on Wednesday, Hezbollah announced Laqqis’s death officially, stating, “Martyred commander Hassan al-Laqqis spent his youth and all his life in the Resistance, since its early days and until his last hours. He was a creative striver who made many sacrifices, and a leader and a lover of martyrdom. He was the father of the martyr who died with a gathering of martyrs during the aggression of July 2006.”
Hezbollah then accused Israel of being behind the assassination, stating, “[Israel] had tried to get to the martyr many times, in many regions, and failed,” that is, before this crime. Though a statement was posted on Twitter claiming responsibility for the murder on behalf of the “Free Sunni Brigade-Baalbeck,” sources close to Hezbollah questioned its authenticity, saying that the group in question does not exist.
Al Akhbar (December 5, 2013)
Who made the decision to strike such a painful blow to the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon by assassinating one of its military commanders, Hassan al-Laqqis? Who planned the operation, and who decided on carrying it out at this particular time? On what basis, and in whose interest? And what were the intended goals of this potentially explosive action?
All indications are that Israel was behind the assassination, with a slim possibility that another party was involved. That’s why it did not take long for Hezbollah – based on its long experience with the Israelis – to point the finger at Tel Aviv, even though the occupation’s Foreign Ministry was quick to deny its involvement.
On the same day as the attack, Western diplomatic sources were reported to be worried that Israel’s intent goes beyond removing one of its opponents, suggesting that the Western-Iranian nuclear agreement was the real target of the operation. Israel is angry that its Western allies would go so far in exposing its strategic interests to danger, revealing deep contradictions in their relationship to the Zionist state for the first time.
But let us look at how Israel conceived of this particular adventure.
First, Israel knows well that it could not have carried out such an attack against Iran directly, given that the West is not in a position to back such an action after having reached the conclusion that the military option in dealing with Tehran is no longer possible.
And if Israel had chosen instead to eliminate an Iranian nuclear scientist, as it has on more than one occasion, it would have only put it in an awkward position with its Western allies, without achieving much politically or otherwise.
Tel Aviv’s intent was to send a message to the West that Israel is not prepared to fall into line with the priorities of its allies, by maintaining its margin of deterrence against its enemies, while at the same time telling Iran that the war on its nuclear program and regional influence is not over.
Second, Israel has come to understand that Damascus and its allies have made a strategic decision that the occasional Zionist airstrikes on Syrian targets are not worthy of a response – at the given time, at least – in light of the global war being waged on the country.
Israel was therefore left with limited and potentially dangerous options that nevertheless served its goals, and it decided to assassinate a prominent military leader in the Resistance, sending a direct message to Hezbollah that the Zionist state is still capable of striking painful blows without anyone’s help. In the case of Iran, Tel Aviv wants to make it clear that it rejects all that was agreed to with the West.
The assassination was also intended as a message of solidarity to Israel’s “new allies,” such as Saudi Arabia, telling them “our enemy is one” and encouraging them to stand up to Western pressures on Iran and Syria. It’s as if Tel Aviv wants to reassure Riyadh: “We are with you in the trenches, not just through statements.”
But how did Israel consider Hezbollah’s response to a crime of such proportions?
Here, we can only speculate. Was the assassination intended to spark a regional war that Israel believes is in its favor, given that Hezbollah and Iran are busy defending the now exhausted regime in Damascus? It is also possible that Tel Aviv calculated that, like the Syrian regime, the Lebanese Resistance is in not prepared to risk a wider war at this time and therefore will not respond in kind.
But there are indications that Israel may have miscalculated on this last point. The way Hezbollah announced the martyrdom of Laqqis, and the speed with which he was buried in unexceptional circumstances – without, for example, any positions declared by Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah – all suggest to those who know how the Resistance operates that in fact its response is not long in coming. Let us wait and see.
Al Akhbar (December 4, 2013)
MP Walid Jumblatt is convinced that the crisis in Syria, which has also spilled into parts of Lebanon, is a game being played by powerful international and regional forces that render any internal solution impossible in both countries. “We are impotent,” he declares, “and I don’t have a solution – we are living in the shadow of an international struggle.”
He believes Lebanon is at the mercy of the Syrian crisis next door, which has opened the gates of hell and unleashed the wrath of the takfiris on his country.
“If the Future Movement thinks it has any sway over the Chechens, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or al-Nusra Front, then I beg your pardon,” Jumblatt complains. “There are forces much bigger than us fighting it out in Syria. President [Barack Obama] boasts that he killed Bin Laden, but a hundred like him emerge every morning due to a flaw in Islamic thought.”
For him, what is happening in Tripoli, Lebanon today is not unlike daily events in many parts of Syria, insisting that that the city’s leaders are incapable of maintaining any semblance of control over the security situation. Jumblatt says he supports Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri’s proposal to restructure the northern city’s security forces and place them under the army’s direct command.
He urges the contending forces in Tripoli to sit together and find a way to come to an agreement. “There is no other way than to sit with your opponents to discuss your problems. What is happening in Tripoli is no longer tolerable. They want to cleanse the city’s markets of the Alawis, unless the intention is to find an excuse for the Syrian regime to intervene on behalf of the Alawi towns and villages in North Lebanon.”
As for Syria, Jumblatt bitterly admits, “It is no longer a struggle for reform, progress and democracy, but between two sides that want to wipe each other out,” blaming the West for derailing the revolution. “Of course, I support the idea of toppling the regime,” he adds, “but who is the alternative?”
He repeats his demand that Hezbollah redirect its resistance activities away from Syria to Israel, maintaining: “Their decision is in Tehran. As for the opposing side, they are under the influence of the Saudis, among others. That means that all the local parties are not prepared to sit together before the Iranians and Saudis do.”
The Independent (British Daily, December 18, 2013)
Donors in Saudi Arabia have notoriously played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining Sunni jihadist groups over the past 30 years. But, for all the supposed determination of the United States and its allies since 9/11 to fight "the war on terror", they have showed astonishing restraint when it comes to pressuring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies to turn off the financial tap that keeps the jihadists in business.
Compare two US pronouncements stressing the significance of these donations and basing their conclusions on the best intelligence available to the US government. The first is in the 9/11 Commission Report which found that Osama bin Laden did not fund al-Qa'ida because from 1994 he had little money of his own but relied on his ties to wealthy Saudi individuals established during the Afghan war in the 1980s. Quoting, among other sources, a CIA analytic report dated 14 November 2002, the commission concluded that "al-Qa'ida appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia".
Seven years pass after the CIA report was written during which the US invades Iraq fighting, among others, the newly established Iraq franchise of al-Qa'ida, and becomes engaged in a bloody war in Afghanistan with the resurgent Taliban. American drones are fired at supposed al-Qa'ida-linked targets located everywhere from Waziristan in north-west Pakistan to the hill villages of Yemen. But during this time Washington can manage no more than a few gentle reproofs to Saudi Arabia on its promotion of fanatical and sectarian Sunni militancy outside its own borders.
Evidence for this is a fascinating telegram on "terrorist finance" from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US embassies, dated 30 December 2009 and released by WikiLeaks the following year. She says firmly that "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide". Eight years after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Mrs Clinton reiterates in the same message that "Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups". Saudi Arabia was most important in sustaining these groups, but it was not quite alone since "al-Qa'ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point".
Why did the US and its European allies treat Saudi Arabia with such restraint when the kingdom was so central to al-Qa'ida and other even more sectarian Sunni jihadist organisations? An obvious explanation is that the US, Britain and others did not want to offend a close ally and that the Saudi royal family had judiciously used its money to buy its way into the international ruling class. Unconvincing attempts were made to link Iran and Iraq to al-Qa'ida when the real culprits were in plain sight.
But there is another compelling reason why the Western powers have been so laggard in denouncing Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf for spreading bigotry and religious hate. Al-Qa'ida members or al-Qa'ida-influenced groups have always held two very different views about who is their main opponent. For Osama bin Laden the chief enemy was the Americans, but for the great majority of Sunni jihadists, including the al-Qa'ida franchises in Iraq and Syria, the target is the Shia. It is the Shia who have been dying in their thousands in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and even in countries where there are few of them to kill, such as Egypt.
Pakistani papers no longer pay much attention to hundreds of Shia butchered from Quetta to Lahore. In Iraq, most of the 7,000 or more people killed this year are Shia civilians killed by the bombs of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, part of an umbrella organisation called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which also encompasses Syria. In overwhelmingly Sunni Libya, militants in the eastern town of Derna killed an Iraqi professor who admitted on video to being a Shia before being executed by his captors.
Suppose a hundredth part of this merciless onslaught had been directed against Western targets rather than against Shia Muslims, would the Americans and the British be so accommodating to the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis? It is this that gives a sense of phoniness to boasts by the vastly expanded security bureaucracies in Washington and London about their success in combating terror justifying vast budgets for themselves and restricted civil liberties for everybody else. All the drones in the world fired into Pashtun villages in Pakistan or their counterparts in Yemen or Somalia are not going to make much difference if the Sunni jihadists in Iraq and Syria ever decide – as Osama bin Laden did before them – that their main enemies are to be found not among the Shia but in the United States and Britain.
Instead of the fumbling amateur efforts of the shoe and underpants bombers, security services would have to face jihadist movements in Iraq, Syria and Libya fielding hundreds of bomb-makers and suicide bombers. Only gradually this year, videos from Syria of non-Sunnis being decapitated for sectarian motives alone have begun to shake the basic indifference of the Western powers to Sunni jihadism so long as it is not directed against themselves.
Saudi Arabia as a government for a long time took a back seat to Qatar in funding rebels in Syria, and it is only since this summer that they have taken over the file. They wish to marginalise the al-Qa'ida franchisees such as Isil and the al-Nusra Front while buying up and arming enough Sunni war-bands to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The directors of Saudi policy in Syria – the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan – plan to spend billions raising a militant Sunni army some 40,000 to 50,000 strong. Already local warlords are uniting to share in Saudi largesse for which their enthusiasm is probably greater than their willingness to fight.
The Saudi initiative is partly fuelled by rage in Riyadh at President Obama's decision not to go to war with Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on 21 August. Nothing but an all-out air attack by the US similar to that of Nato in Libya in 2011 would overthrow Assad, so the US has essentially decided he will stay for the moment. Saudi anger has been further exacerbated by the successful US-led negotiations on an interim deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.
By stepping out of the shadows in Syria, the Saudis are probably making a mistake. Their money will only buy them so much. The artificial unity of rebel groups with their hands out for Saudi money is not going to last. They will be discredited in the eyes of more fanatical jihadis as well as Syrians in general as pawns of Saudi and other intelligence services.
A divided opposition will be even more fragmented. Jordan may accommodate the Saudis and a multitude of foreign intelligence services, but it will not want to be the rallying point for an anti-Assad army.
The Saudi plan looks doomed from the start, though it could get a lot more Syrians killed before it fails. Yazid Sayegh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre highlights succinctly the risks involved in the venture: "Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate mujahedin groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Al-Qa'ida followed, and the blowback subsequently reached Saudi Arabia."
The Washington Post (American daily, December 3, 2013)
As al-Qaeda grows more powerful in Syria — seeking “complete control over the liberated areas,” according to a new Syrian rebel intelligence report — moderate opposition leaders are voicing new interest in a political settlement of the grinding civil war. But a peace agreement may just be a prelude to a new war against the terrorists.
This search for a political transition has also drawn together a disparate group of nations, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. These nations met quietly in Geneva on Nov. 21 to discuss ways to provide humanitarian relief for thousands of civilians who face the threat of starvation this winter.
Negotiations have focused on providing supplies to civilians trapped in three areas: the old city of Homs, in central Syria; the town of Darayya, about six miles southwest of Damascus; and the town of Moadamiyeh, about eight miles southwest of the capital. A relief working group has been coordinated by Valerie Amos, the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator.
The raw materials for peace negotiations are there. But as always in the tragic Syrian conflict, the forces of sectarian hatred and political inertia seem stronger. The two-year failure to find an exit is leading to what observers predict could be a humanitarian disaster this winter, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives.
Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of the moderate Free Syrian Army, said in a telephone interviewMonday that he’s prepared to join the so-called Geneva 2 peace negotiations scheduled for jan 21 if the Syrian regime will agree to confidence-building measures such as a humanitarian relief corridor to besieged areas.
Idriss didn’t demand as a precondition that President Bashar al-Assad resign before negotiations begin. Instead, he said, Assad’s departure should come “at the end of negotiations.” This position was echoed by Monser Akbik, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Council, the moderate rebels’ political arm.
Idriss stressed the threat posed by the al-Qaeda affiliate known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," or ISIS. He said that the group was “very dangerous for the future of Syria” and that, after Assad’s departure, the Free Syrian Army would be ready to join the regular Syrian army in fighting them.
An intelligence report prepared for the State Department by Idriss’s colleagues paints a frightening picture of the growth of ISIS. According to this document, the group now includes about 5,500 foreign fighters, who “form the main backbone of ISIS in its sensitive operations.”
These foreign jihadists are recruited from their home countries by a network headed by a fighter known as Abu Ahmad al-Iraqi. Once they reach Syria, “the fighters are constantly fitted with explosive vests and threaten all who dare to confront them,” according to the intelligence report. The “most dangerous and barbaric” of these al-Qaeda fighters are about 250 Chechens, based in the suburbs of Aleppo and coordinated by an operative known as Abu Omar al-Chechani, the report says.
Joining this core group of foreign fighters are about 2,000 young ideological recruits, drawn mostly from northern Syria. Another 15,000 fighters support the group “out of fear or greed.” These include fighters from 14 Sunni tribes in the Raqqah area and eight tribes from Deir al-Zour, both in the northeast. “ISIS employs the policy of kidnapping in the areas in which it is deployed,” warns the intelligence report. The group’s prisons hold more than 35 foreign journalists, 60 Syrian political activists and more than 100 Free Syrian Army fighters. It also controls key areas along the Turkish-Syrian border, where it lies in wait for kidnap victims.
Idriss said the Free Syrian Army is trying to fight a two-front war, battling al-Qaeda fighters at 24 locations over the past six months and fighting Assad’s army. The CIA is said to be training about 200 fighters for Idriss each month, though the commander wouldn’t acknowledge this support. Asked about U.S. tactical advice to stage more “hit and run” operations, Idriss said he had advised his recruits “to fight in small groups and hit targets and move-and not try to control the land.”
The two tracks — fighting and negotiating — sound good in principle. But the rebels haven’t been strong enough to make either approach work, and the United States hasn’t been ready to provide the necessary additional firepower. There’s more support now for a political settlement at a Geneva 2, but it’s clear that even if Assad leaves, a second Syrian war against al-Qaeda is ahead.