Monday December 23, 2013, no163
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
Hassan Nasrallah wants to save Lebanon from Saudi Claws
By Ghaleb Kandil
Strong messages launched by Hezbollah Secretary General, in his speech on Friday, December 20, constitute a deterrent shield against regional and Lebanese forces, who expressed positions and took steps showing the existence of a decision to explode Lebanon, after their defeat in Syria. These messages are reinforced by reliable information, in possession of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose accuracy of statements is known by his friends as his enemies, and still emits diagnostics based on solid evidence.
Suicide attacks against the Lebanese Army in Saida are a dangerous signal of the direction in which the actions of terrorist groups-Takfirists and their regional support, including Saudi Arabia are going. This country is trying by any means to evade the political price for his defeat in Syria, by causing an internal Lebanese war.
As Sayyed Nasrallah said, the Lebanese Army plays the role of firefighter extinguishes fires lit in Lebanon. Just as it is ready, alongside the Resistance, to face any Israeli aggression against Lebanon. Itinerant incidents in different Lebanese regions require it to maintain a large deployment to prevent any security degradation or internal confrontation, as is the case with Tripoli and in the region of Ersal, whose heights were invaded by Lebanese-Syrian Takfirists groups. The situation is no better in Sidon, where terrorist cells are located in some of its neighborhoods and the camp of Ain el-Hilweh. It is clear that the latest attack against the army constitutes a change in the objectives and the procedure of Takfirists.
The campaign of denigration launched by the Future Movement and its partners against the military, makes the situation even more dangerous. This means that the suicide bombers who targeted the army and critics of it, serve a single objective: to destroy the safety valve that prevents the fire from spreading throughout the territory.
The most dangerous element of this situation described by Sayyed Nasrallah is the 14-March speech in Tripoli, characterized by a warlike and aggressive tone encouraging internal confrontation. Leaders of this coalition have called Hezbollah apostate, spreading a climate of hatred and intolerance towards a major political and religious component of Lebanon. This is practically a call for the elimination of the other. Again, there is a clear desire to push things to the point of no return, to the explosion.
These warlike acts are complemented by the intentions expressed by the President of the Republic, Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate, Tammam Salam, of forming a so-called neutral government or fait accompli cabinet, causing a large political crisis.
Lebanon seems therefore faced with a comprehensive plan, which predicts a flashover and absolute chaos, especially if the Saudis manage to neutralize the Lebanese Army through suicide bombings and political campaigns.
In his speech, the Hezbollah leader revealed a deterrent equation facing flashover of Lebanon, while reaffirming his priority, which is to face any Israeli aggression, and to continue to defend the axis of resistance and Syrian land.
"We warn against the formation of a government of a fait accompli." Dismantling the lie of neutrality and total availability to face any escalation attempt: these are the main messages directed by Hassan Nasrallah , who has shown even a greater determination than he had expressed on the eve of dangerous and stupid decisions made by the government of Fouad Siniora, in May 2008.
Through this deterrent tone and warnings, Sayyed Nasrallah opens wide the way for a peaceful political settlement, whose elements are known to all: a national unity government and a presidential election to date, far from external interference. And for those who have not understood, an invitation to listen accurately its allusions to the interference of France in the presidential process by the mouth of his ambassador in Beirut, Patrice Paoli, who has not excluded an extension of Sleiman's mandate.
The army, people and resistance are ready to face terrorism, Israeli aggression and those who seek to undermine the stability and security of Lebanon. The red lines and the warning are clear: "Do not provoke us ... do not play with us ," said Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Geneva 2 and the American dead-lock
By Ghaled Kandil
Russian determination to hold the Geneva Conference 2 on schedule creates great confusion and deep concern among Americans who have lost a lot of cards in the Syrian equation.
First, the United States lost their bet to keep a military force called "opposition", after the disappearance of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the ground. Militia units have either joined the extremist terrorist groups, or reinstated by thousands the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army, to benefit from the presidential amnesty for those who have deserted. The return of these deserters is the result of change in the popular mood, which supports now more than ever the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad, the state and the national army.
Therefore, the seat of political opposition created and supported by the forces of aggression, called the Syrian National Coalition (or coalition of Doha, more precisely), loses its value at the Geneva Conference 2 (to be held in Montreux), after the death of the so-called FSA. To overcome this loss, the United States, in accordance with Bandar bin Sultan and Qatar, announced the beginning of a dialogue between its ambassador Robert Ford and the Islamic Front, and expressed their approval towards the attempt of al-Jazeera TV to improve the image of the leader of the qaïdiste al-Nosra Front, Abou Mohammad al-Julani.
Second, all data and information available about the composition of the Islamic Front, led by Zahrane Allouche, show that this is a takifirist group that vehicles the same ideology that al- Qaeda. Its pillar is the qaïdistes Brigades "Ahrar al-Sham". In addition, the program and the political speech of the Islamic Front are Takfirists and advocate the elimination of opponents and not dialogue with them. This front is a copy of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and al- Nosra.
Attempts by the United States to present al-Nosra and Islamic Front as potential partners in any political solution to the Syrian crisis are absurd and ridiculous and prove the moral, intellectual and political failure of American and the West. This camp is present at the Geneva conference with a political puppet without military arms on the ground, and Takfirists armed rebels that are insolvent at the negotiating table.
Active armed groups in Syria are only facades of a terrorist-takfirist mixture counting in its ranks thousands of Saudi extremists, foreign Takfirists and multinational mercenaries. This mixture cannot be related to the political future of Syria as a civil and multi-confessional state.
Third, the refusal of the United States that Iran participate to Geneva talks and the doubts expressed by France on the holding of the conference as scheduled, on the pretext that the opposition is not ready, illustrate the failure of the West.
Inside and outside Syria there are patriotic opposition movements, which supports the Army combat against terrorism and is ready to dialogue with the national government led by President Bashar al-Assad. This opposition is ready to agree on a political process based on the principle of the struggle against the Takfirists and the rejection of any foreign intervention. However, this opposition invited to Geneva 2 is closer today to Russia, while the West, afraid to see the cards falling from his hands one after the other, is today without initiative.
The launch date of the conference is confirmed, but the international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that the negotiations will last long. In the meantime, Americans, French, Saudis, Qataris and Turks will see new political agents and armed groups disappearing from their tool box. The world will be faced with the following choice: the Syrian state, led by its President-resistant Bashar al-Assad, or Takfirists-terrorist groups and mercenaries working for Bandar bin Sultan.
Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah
«The assassination of Hassan al-Laqis was not an incident we can let pass. We have accounts to settle with Israel. When there is a will and a decision, we will retaliate against the killers… at a time of our choosing. The perpetrators of Laqis’ assassination will never be safe, anywhere in the world. March 14 alliance speech (accusing 'fanatic Shiites following Tehran’s Vilayet al-Faqih policy that is behind explosions and rendered people Takfiris') is dangerous and unprecedented. It either aimed to declare war against Hezbollah or launch a psychological campaign against us. We don’t war with you since our battle is with the Israeli, but nobody should play games with us. I call on all political parties in Lebanon to leave some room for reconciliation. Hezbollah does not advise anyone to form a fait accompli government. We support a political, and not neutral, cabinet. We would consult with our political allies to decide on a presidential candidate to represent the March 8 coalition (...) The battle for Syria is an existential one. The Syrian war is a battle for all the Resistance projects in the region. Our will cannot be shaken. A regional figure is aiming to drag Lebanon into an explosion due to his failure to depose the Syrian regime.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«There is some chaos in the Syrian revolution, but this does not mean that it is not a democratic revolution for the sake of achieving a democratic state in Syria. And we as Christians cannot be but with the Syrian revolution. We realized that some figures or Lebanese Christian groups, whenever something happens in Maaloula try to portray the conflict in Syria as anti-Christian and this a big hoax. This scheme aimed at portraying the Assad regime as the protector of minorities in an effort to keep the regime last longer.»
Wael al-Halqi, Syrian Prime Minister
«The Lebanese government has interfered in Syrian internal affairs. Part of what Syria has been a victim of can be attributed to the policies of this government. The government failed to disassociate itself from Syria. It helped facilitate the infiltration of gunmen into Syria. Terrorist activity would still be ongoing had it not been for Hizbullah's presence on either side of the Lebanese-Syrian border, especially Syria's al-Qusayr. The current relations do not represent the historic history between the two countries. There has been no contact with the Lebanese government ever since I became prime minster, except for the contact with the foreign ministry.»
Abou Mohammad al-Julani, Al-Nosra Front leader
«Lebanon’s Sunnis are requesting that the mujahideen intervene to lift up the injustice they are suffering from at the hands of Hezbollah and similar militias. We were looking for an excuse to enter in order to protect Lebanon’s Sunnis from the violence of Hezbollah. When the latter disclosed his involvement in the Syrian war, he opened the door wide for us to enter Lebanon and wake the Sunnis up.»
As Safir daily reported that sophisticated equipment have been installed in the perimeter of Roumieh prison to scramble the signal of the mobile phones used by fundamentalist prisoners who pledged allegiance to al-Nosra Front from building B of this prison. However, no decision has yet been made to put on these equipments, although they cost about 650000 dollars to the Telecommunications Ministry.
Quoting informed sources, Al Liwaa daily reported that the Lebanese soldier who killed an Israeli officer at the border did so after the provocative behavior of the latter, who used, for weeks, to urinate before Lebanese soldiers. This is what would have pushed Adel Ibrahim Hassan to open fire, probably to intimidate and not to kill him.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
Malak Akil (December 20, 2013)
Ambassadors who visit General Michel Aoun invariably ask him the following question: "Are you a candidate for the Presidency?" The situation is not the same today at the end of the term of Emile Lahoud. General Aoun does not receive calls to put pressure on him, like he received in late 2007 by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who asked not to be a candidate for president. But he will probably receive multiple exploratory visits. The Ambassador of France Patrice Paoli said his country favor an extension of President Michel Sleiman term on vacuum or anarchy. Numerous visits of ambassadors of the United States, France, Great Britain, Iran, Qatar, Russia, etc. to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader are attempts to test the pulse of Michel Aoun. All these diplomats are entitled to the following speech from the interlocutor: "I am not a candidate. The people nominated me. I do not accept to become a president of crisis management, and I will not accept this mission if I am subject to an agreement and that my request clearly.
As Safir (December 20, 2013)
The Defence Minister , Fayez Ghosn, warned against the delicate and dangerous period, "especially after the last series of bombings and attacks, which prove that certain terrorist groups have decided to directly target the army to break it before finishing because."
According to the minister, "these terrorist groups have no objectives other than to kill, destroy and undermine security and stability." "The Lebanese of all horizons have closed ranks behind the army, except a small minority who has not realized the seriousness of the danger to which the country is facing," said M. Ghosn.
The Minister revealed that the terrorists who attacked the army in Sidon were four, a Lebanese, a Palestinian and two others whose identities are under investigation. "Why these men had on them explosives, dynamite and false identity papers? he asked. How some people can justify attacks against the army and denounce the fact that a soldier is defending himself against terrorists." The Defence Minister has confirmed the continued infiltration of armed men from Syria to Lebanon, stressing the dangers of this phenomenon. "The army took the firm decision that there is no place for terrorism in our country and it will work for its eradication," he has said.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily, close to March-14 Coalition)
(December 19, 2013)
The positions of the Progressive Socialist Party leader, Walid Jumblatt, about the governmental issue are unchanged (he is still favorable to the 9-9-6 formula) and the contacts between the President of the Republic, Michel Sleiman, and Speaker of the House Nabih Berry, are not interrupted.
According to well informed sources, Mr. Berry is currently conducting a comprehensive review of the legal and constitutional position with the approach of the presidential election date, including issues of holding an election meeting in Parliament, and the government position all angles and aspects.
For his part, Michel Sleiman is sticking to his position that the caretaker government is not allowed to manage the period of the presidential vacuum in case it happens. Therefore, the priority remains for him to form a government able to gain the confidence of Parliament, whatever the obstacles are. It is a point of convergence between him and Prime Minister-designate, Tammam Salam.
AL Anbaa (Kuwaiti daily)
(December 17, 2013)
Security sources said that "strict security measures will be taken around churches in different Lebanese regions, including Sidon, the coast of Iqlim el-Kharroub and North Lebanon, in anticipation of any security incident during the week of festivities. "Some sources believe that the attacks against the Lebanese Army checkpoints in Sidon aim to push the army to evacuate its checkpoints to smuggle weapons and car bombs. But this information was not confirmed by official sources.
Western embassies in Lebanon have also advised the holder of a Lebanese nationalities of these countries not to come to Lebanon to spend the holiday, as they usually do every year. They also called on their nationals in Lebanon to be vigilance.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Laith al-Khatib (20 December, 2013)
The situation in eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, has dramatically changed since the beginning of the crisis over two years ago. What began as a few peaceful protests eventually grew to include a local armed presence, then brigades encompassing varied factions and fronts.
Eastern Ghouta has historically been a battleground for Damascus’ wars, most recently in the 1930s when Syrian nationalists chose it as a base to attack French troops. This region in rural Damascus is renowned as a sphere for patriotic armed struggles, a place where the French mandate received severe blows decades ago.
However, the war today is much more complicated, as dozens of armed groups have formed and thousands of Syrian and foreign fighters engage in a large regional war. Some of the battles are fought against the state and its regular army, others are fought among the opposition factions themselves.
Eastern Ghouta residents primarily work in agriculture and furniture making. As you travel deeper into the region, you notice that residents are mostly peasants living the simple life.
A few years before the crisis, Ghouta residents received two severe blows. Amid the Turkish-Syrian rapprochement, Turkish goods were allowed to penetrate Syrian markets, particularly home furniture, closing thousands of Ghouta’s workshops.
The second blow was the government’s decision to acquire agricultural lands, mainly in the town of Douma, disturbing decades of affinity between Ghouta and the authority, which was built on the principles of agricultural reform and protection of national industry.
The uprising quickly reached Ghouta, and a big protest erupted in Douma on 25 March 2011, followed by larger protests in many Ghouta towns including Harasta, Zamalka, Jobar, Arbin, Ayn Terma, and Kfarbatna.
Peaceful protests soon turned into armed clashes with security forces. It all started in September 2011 when a man named Abdel-Ghafour Darwish formed the first armed brigade in Ghouta: the Abu Obeida al-Jarah Brigade, under the wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The brigade began to attack security headquarters before the intervention of the Syrian army, while other groups, such as the Abu Said Ataya group in Jobar, focused on “protecting protesters.”
S. Bilal, a Jobar resident, told Al-Akhbar, “Protecting protesters was more of a formal framework. In Jobar, for example, protests were used as bait to draw in shabiha [regime thugs] so that protesters’ protection committees could hunt them down.”
He mentioned an incident at Jobar’s Big Mosque, where people pretended to attend the funeral services of a fallen martyr. As usual, a bus with security men on board arrived to keep the funeral from turning into a protest, but they were ambushed by a protesters’ protection committee. A number of police officers were killed and many others injured. It was later revealed that the coffin was actually empty.
The Syrian army got involved, and bloody clashes erupted. S. Bilal said, “The FSA received severe blows, and the disparity in size, organization, and experience between both parties became evident. FSA men looked almost amateur compared with the regular army. They were mostly civilians, former protesters only good at throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.”
This called for the “establishment of military and local councils focusing on obtaining financial support and encouraging defections from the army.” Indeed, these actions were fruitful and the FSA started advancing in rural Damascus. Hussam Salameh, a civil protester said, “The revolution lost most of its pioneer protesters, the original freedom advocates.”
“First, a number of Ghouta locals who were killed in the protests, including our organizers and leaders. We needed backup, and that is when the opportunists came in, following the money. Finally, the Islamists came along, and since day one they have pushed toward an armed conflict as a pretext to foreign military intervention,” Salameh explained.
He believes that Ghouta residents were marginalized and replaced by foreigners or Syrian adherents to the “Islamist” ideology. “All protesters I knew from the beginning of the events are now martyrs, prisoners, living abroad, or staying in their houses,” he said.
According to Abu Ahmad, a FSA fighter, opposition newcomers formed their own “brigades,” while “the FSA was fighting on the front.” These brigades imitated al-Nusra Front by “restricting themselves to limited operations that would bring them the largest amount of financial support.”
“For them, an operation is launching a RPG and taping it while shouting ‘God is great.’ Each video brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars from rich Gulf emirs and sheikhs,” he said.
He revealed that a commander in the Fatah al-Sham Brigade in Harasta, Abu Mouhanad, used to attack army posts without making advances. When the FSA offered to support him, he refused and threatened to kill anyone who approached his territory. It was later revealed that the man intentionally stalled because it brought him and his group more support.
With that support, Ghouta entered the era of the brigades, led by the Army of Islam. The list of brigades that dominate Ghouta is seemingly endless. In eastern Ghouta there is the Islam Brigade, later known as the Army of Islam. Jobar is dominated by Haron al-Rashid Battalion, affiliated with al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade and the Sham al-Rassoul Brigade. Harasta has the Capital’s Armors, Fatah al-Sham, Um al-Qora, and Douma Martyrs Brigades.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has a limited presence in rural Damascus. Though ISIS never publicly announced a presence in eastern Ghouta, many incidents may be traced back to the faction, including the death of one of its leaders, Abu Suleiman al-Ansari, in eastern Ghouta, and the death of 10 Saudis belonging to ISIS.
Douma’s Army of Islam is the most prominent military formation in eastern Ghouta. Although its leader Zahran Alloush claims that 90 percent of its arms come from profits earned by vanquishing regular army troops, informed sources reveal that the Army of Islam has close ties with Saudi Arabia.
Alloush, 43, is the son of Salafi preacher Abdullah Alloush. He studied Sharia in Saudi Arabia and visited the country as recently as last Eid al-Adha. Observers say that the Army of Islam plays a vital role in eastern Ghouta, controlling all financial channels which give its military and media advantages.
F. Asaad, a FSA fighter from Assali, told Al-Akhbar, “Our support from the military council had stopped so we asked the Army of Islam for assistance. They took three weeks to reply. Finally, they asked us to attribute all our operations to the Army of Islam in Assali. We approved and we got the support.”
The Army of Islam also plays a crucial intelligence and logistic role. Familiar sources confirm that through its huge information database, it can control all operations in eastern Ghouta. “It has critical information about the armed opposition structure and has conducted detailed studies about its members, on top of its information about the state’s security bodies and the regular army,” said a source.
These capabilities may prove that the Army of Islam is backed by regional intelligence agencies. Observers also estimate that the Army of Islam is more of an operation center for the armed opposition rather than a simple military force on the ground. Today, eastern Ghouta has turned into a stronghold of the Army of Islam.
However, this army has yet to lift the siege imposed by the Syrian army on Ghouta. It has recently fought vicious battles alongside al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, and took over several towns only to have the army counterattack. Last week, the Army of Islam was accused of committing a massacre of civilians in Adra.
The current battles in Ghouta will determine the fate of the Army of Islam, and Ghouta will soon confront two choices: Either the Syrian army turns it into a defense line for Damascus, or Zahran Alloush and his men will turn it into a base for their operations targeting Damascus.
What Makes a Brigade a Brigade?
Some observers believe that names like “brigade” and “battalion,” liwaaand katiba in Arabic respectively, have religious and historical rather than military affiliations, since they correspond to military formations dating back to the first Arab Islamic state. For example, 10 militants can form an opposition battalion, while a battalion in a regular army, like the Syrian army, has about 500 individuals and its commander holds either a colonel rank or higher. while the highest rank in most opposition brigades is lieutenant.
Al Akhbar (December 20, 2013)
International relations are not governed by emotions or ethics but rather by state interests. This was clear in the case of the Western-Iranian deal. Neither Israeli nor Gulf pressure succeeded in dissuading Washington from reaching a deal with Iran. The same principle will soon inform the West’s relationship with Syria, as recent leaks seem to indicate.
According to these leaks, a US official met recently with parties from the Syrian opposition and told them the following:
First, Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to step down before Geneva II. So the opposition should try live with the idea that he might stay in power for a considerable time, pending the outcome of negotiations, some of which will take place publicly in Geneva but most of which will take place among US-Russian and US-Iranian contacts.
Second, the understanding arrived at between the West and Iran is more serious than some might believe. It is necessary to get used to the idea that Tehran will play a role in regional and international negotiations regarding Syria. It is impossible to get anywhere in Syria if Iran feels its interests are threatened. Tehran is currently helping tremendously in combating terrorism.
Third, the Syrian army is playing a prominent role in combating global terrorism. It is best to find a quick formula for an understanding between the regular Syrian army, and the Free Syrian Army and moderate parties within the ranks of the insurgents. This has become an urgent demand from the West, as it fears a geographic expansion in terrorist activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that he and the Americans previously concurred that “the [Syrian] government and the opposition should agree on a mechanism to fight terrorism.”
Fourth, Lebanon must be spared the repercussions of terrorism, and the war in Syria must not be allowed to spillover for two reasons: There is an attempt by the West to neutralize Lebanon and protect it, and there is the concern that taking the fight to Lebanon would divert attention from what is happening in Syria. The same advice was given to those in Lebanon who hurled accusations at the Lebanese army recently.
Major French pressures were brought to bear on Washington recently regarding Lebanon. Paris insists on the need to renew Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s term in office and wants Washington to persuade Iran on the matter. Yet Tehran is not persuaded; it usually leaves such matters in the hands of its ally Hezbollah, as does Assad.
Some members of the Syrian opposition present at the meeting objected to the US position. One opposition figure asked if Washington and the West are willing to accept Assad remaining in power. The answer was clear: President Barack Obama has not changed his opinion on the need for Assad to step down, but it is better that he step down as a result of negotiations, not foreign military action. The need for a political solution has become a point of international consensus, and the priority now is to combat terrorism.
Washington is convinced that the opposition has failed to create a military force that is not a source of concern for the West, thus allowing Salafi groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front to take center stage.
The response to these leaks came from the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, in his December 17 opinion piece for The New York Times: “We continue to show our determination through our support for the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition. It is too easy for some in the West to use the threat of al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations in Syria as an excuse for hesitation and inaction. Al-Qaeda’s activities are a symptom of the international community’s failure to intervene. They should not become a justification for inaction.”
Saudi Arabia cannot afford to lose its role in Syria. Qatar was able to do so and its position changed. The Qatari ambassador to Lebanon met Hezbollah officials, and their talks were highly significant. None of it, however, will be leaked.
A New York Times online debate posed the question in August 2013: “Should the United States continue to view Saudi Arabia as a stabilizing force in the region, or is it a dangerous ally whose policies will lead to more bloodshed and repression?” The newspaper was referring in particular to the Saudi role in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Some might say that this is just newspaper talk. Though true, it is also true that there is a general atmosphere in the United States encouraging rapprochement with Iran and exhibiting discontent with the regional roles of countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The same could be said about Turkey, which will soon receive Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is up to his ears in a corruption scandal that has shaken his government.
At this moment, no one is better suited than Iran to help Turkey improve its position in the region, and no one is better suited than Turkey to stop sending weapons and fighters to Syria. The rapprochement between the two can bring pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia. Afterall, Ankara and Riyadh had collided over current developments in Egypt because of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tehran has come a long way in its rapprochement with the Gulf states. It even resumed its flights to Bahrain on December 15. A strange development, given that Bahrain falls within the Saudi security sphere, which had prompted the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force in Bahrain in 2011 to prevent the toppling of the Bahraini regime.
The plot thickens. The current escalation between Russia and the West because of Ukraine brought Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiery language back to the forefront. He announced it is unacceptable that, while the Iranian nuclear dilemma is being addressed, the missile defense system is still in place. The Russian foreign minister declared that “a cold war mentality still dominates some in NATO.”
It is hard to imagine that Washington will exacerbate the schism with Moscow at this sensitive moment in international politics. To that end, it is necessary to pressure the Europeans to ease off of Ukraine. It is also necessary to keep alive the common understandings arrived at between the West, Russia, and Iran. Moscow and Tehran are not about to abandon their Syrian ally, and Western security officials continue to flock to Syria. Perhaps before too long, we will see diplomatic and not just security officials in Syria.
There are no ethics or constants in international relations, only interests. Who would have imagined that the prominent Syrian communist opposition figure Michel Kilo would become one of Saudi Arabia and the West’s most prominent allies? Who would imagine that Kilo would play a role in dealing a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood inside the Syrian National Coalition before and after his Riyadh turn? Politics is a matter of interests, nothing more.
Al Akhbar (December 19, 2013)
The US administration wants to meet with Syria’s Islamic Front. Washington is flirting with this al-Qaeda affiliate as it hurries to score extra points before Geneva II. The Islamic Front remains a winning card against Moscow, which is skeptical about the Syrian opposition’s representation.
US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford could be shaking the same hands of those who held the hands of al-Nusra Front's emirs a few days ago.
Sources from the Syrian opposition and Western diplomatic circles informed Al-Akhbar that a meeting was held in Istanbul December 18 between representatives of the US administration and "intermediaries linked to the Islamic Front, not representatives."
The United States wants to keep pace with the changes in the Syrian arena so it became necessary to create links with the Islamic Front, which rose to notoriety after announcing its creation a few weeks ago. "There is an effort afoot among all of the supporting nations of the Syrian opposition to want to broaden the base of the moderate opposition and broaden the base of representation of the Syrian people in the Geneva II negotiation," US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on December 17.
Washington is close to announcing the death of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The US administration will not protect its pawns who fail to achieve their set objectives, and will simply change the players or move them to another team.
In October 2012, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was time to move beyond the Syrian National Council (SNC). "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom,” she announced from Zagreb without blinking an eye.
The SNC had been given a grace period of several weeks to expand its ranks, without success. It was placed back on the shelf and the Syrian National Coalition became the sole representative of the Syrian opposition.
Today, the FSA, the coalition's own military wing, is facing a similar situation. The "Friends of Syria" group demanded that the military formations be unified under the command of deserting General Salim Idriss, then the West saw countless armed groups breaking from the FSA command and joining other entities.
What the West wanted to see in the FSA, it saw in the Army of Islam, which began as the Battalions of Islam, then became the Brigade of Islam, and finally decided on Army of Islam last September, which included 43 different military formations.
The Army of Islam became an important component in the Islamic Front. Based on the numbers in the ranks of its "brigades" alone, it could be considered the most influential force in the Syrian opposition's arena.
On their own and with the exception of al-Qaeda's three organizations (al-Nusra Front, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Green Battalion), four organizations sit on the throne of Syrian opposition groups: Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Army of Islam, and Suqour al-Sham. These groups merged with several other factions to form the Islamic Front.
The decision to meet with leaders in the Islamic Front was leaked by Washington through its "sources," then through the State Department spokesperson, and then Kerry.
Remarkably, Kerry used the term "moderate" to describe the Islamic Front. Yet its founding document says that democracy is "founded on the basis that legislation is the right of the people through their representative institutions, while in Islam 'only God rules.' This does not mean that we seek a despotic authoritarian regime. However, this nation's affairs will not be remedied except by shura, in concept and application."
The Islamic Front considers the civil state "an ambiguous description, which has become fashionable among many people. It is a rejected concept because of its distortion and wasting of rights."
Putting aside the "theoretical aspect" of this nascent front, its brigades are brothers in arms with the main arm of al-Qaeda in Syria, al-Nusra Front, which has been on the US terrorism list since December 2012.
The alliance on the ground preceded Washington's position and was not influenced by it. For example, al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham participated in the Aleppo "rescue" operation in August 2012. In a video broadcast by jihadi media organizations, al-Nusra guerrillas appear in their Afghani garb alongside "their brothers in Ahrar al-Sham." They prepare for their operation and implement it together.
Last September, Abou Anas, "the emir of al-Nusra Front in the western region of Dera," appeared in a recorded video speaking about the cooperation of his group with "Islamic brigades, such as Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qadisiya Brigade in liberating al-Binayat checkpoint in Dera." In his name and that of Ahrar al-Sham and those brigades, he assured the Syrians that they "will continue in the path of revolution and liberation."
Shoulder to shoulder with al-Qaeda's Syrian offspring, Ahrar al-Sham carried out a joint operation against military equipment belonging to the seventh division of the Syrian army in western Ghouta last August, under the name of the United Banner Alliance (with several other Islamist groups).
In another example, during the raid on the town of Maaloula at the beginning of last September when a car bomb went off at a Syrian army checkpoint, al-Nusra issued a statement: "Eight brothers from Ahrar al-Sham joined the operation ... Suqour al-Sham joined our brigade, which protected the Maaloula checkpoint, in covering us at the Jabadin checkpoint and jointly used mortar shells and locally-made missiles."
A few days ago, during an attack on a neighborhood in Adra outside Damascus, the two fronts could not be distinguished from each other, working jointly during and following the attack.
Afterward, the Islamic Front accepted the mediation of its brothers in al-Nusra with the Syrian Rebel Front (SRF) following the events of Bab al-Hawa at the borders. Abu Hamza al-Daradawi, one of "al-Nusra's Sharia scholars," is now considered trustworthy by Washington's "moderates."
Islamic Front military spokesperson, Captain Islam Alloush, described toAl-Akhbar the conflict in Syria: "The fighters are on two sides. The first is Bashar, his soldiers, and those who support them, and the second side is all who fight this regime."
This separation is reminiscent of Bin Laden's division of the world into "a good side and an evil side." Replying to whether the Islamic Front is fighting alongside al-Nusra, Alloush said, "Of course, there are battles we conduct jointly."
Washington wants to negotiate with leaders who are allied with al-Qaeda. A UN official who is closely following the situation in Syria maintains that the Army of Islam – one of the main components of the Islamic Front – is nothing but a parallel organization for al-Nusra.
While Washington is still insisting on dialogue, Ambassador Ford indicated on December 18 that the Islamic Front refused to meet with representatives from the US administration. "We are ready to sit with them because we talk to all parties and political groups in Syria," he said.
However, weeks before the Islamic Front was formed, according to a December 17 tweet from Ahrar al-Sham commander Hassan Abboud, “several rebels met with representatives of the Friends of Syria conference and informed them that the revolution continues, and the solution passes through the overthrow of the regime.”
The Islamic Front might be acting stubborn in public and rejecting announced meetings, but for the past two days, the phrase "Washington recommends the Islamic Front" was abundant in the media.
In the end, Washington is keen on courting entities that "represent the Syrians" after the collapse of the coalition's stature. It wants to say that it supports a force with a representative weight in Geneva to reply to Russian criticism that it is "sticking to a group that only represents itself."
The United States needs a "political and popular weight" to counter the Russian alliance in preparation for the Geneva II conference.
"God is great. The mujahideen of al-Nusra and the Islamic Front liberated BEMO Bank and the Syriatel building," blared walkie talkies in Deir al-Zour on December 17 and 18. But the echo will not reach the "decision-makers" in Washington.
Al Akhbar (December 18, 2013)
On Tuesday, December 17, the sixth car bomb to be dispatched by the Syrian opposition into Lebanon detonated in the Bekaa Valley town of Labweh. The car bomb had come from Syria’s Qalamoun region, making its way into the town through the Syrian opposition’s “Lebanese strongholds” in the wilderness border region surrounding the Eastern Lebanon Mountains.
But the “preemptive” intelligence war that Hezbollah is waging against its enemies in the Syrian opposition – led by al-Qaeda affiliates the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front – has enabled it to thwart several terror plots. The biggest part of this war is playing out inside Syrian territory, where the Syrian army, together with Hezbollah, has been able to disrupt a number of routes used to move car bombs to Lebanon.
The villages of Qara and Nabk both acted as important staging points for the groups that send death-laden cars to Lebanon. As the two villages were liberated, two major routes for smuggling car bombs were severed, and thousands of rockets were stopped from reaching the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Driving out the militants from the Rima Farms near Yabroud has also disrupted a third route used for car bombs. But in the Qalamoun region, two routes remain active: one from Yabroud and another from Rankous. Sources on the ground confirm that the other villages and towns in the Qalamoun region, such as Karras al-Ayn, Asal al-Ward, and Falita, will not hold up in case the Syrian army liberates Yabroud and “contains” the relatively remote town of Rankous.
So far, the main anti-Hezbollah factions in the war are basing their operations in the Qalamoun region. For instance, ISIS imports cars obtained legally from Lebanon into Qalamoun, before sending them back rigged with explosives. Security officials believe that ISIS has so far refrained from preparing car bombs in Lebanon to avoid jeopardizing its freedom of movement in certain areas of Lebanon where the radical group has active cells.
According to sources on the ground, expelling the group and its allies in the Syrian opposition from Qalamoun would plug the main source of car bombs sent to Lebanon. Yet no security officials claim that if the opposition were successfully expelled it would completely stop it from carrying out terror attacks in Lebanon. However, the Syrian opposition would indeed have to find new staging grounds for its cross-border operations.
Until that happens, the Lebanese town of Ersal will remain the principal corridor for explosives coming from the Qalamoun Mountains.
The town is no longer under the control of Mayor Ali Houjeiri, thanks to the sway al-Nusra and ISIS, which have found supporters among the town’s residents and Syrian refugees. Naturally, we are not talking here about all Ersal residents, but about a strong and cohesive group clustered around a certain prominent figure in the town.
No one has yet stepped in to deter these people. The faction affiliated with the mayor in Ersal is powerless to stand up to al-Nusra’s supporters and does not want a conflagration to erupt in the town.
Hezbollah alone is trying to stop car bombs from traversing the Eastern Mountain Range. Over the past several months, Hezbollah quietly stopped several planned attacks from taking place, thwarting a terror plot in Maamoura and then Maqneh.
On Tuesday morning, a car blew up, but not where the terrorists intended, according to security officials. A long time will pass before the details of the operation come to light. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s shadow war for deterrence will last for a longer time.
Agence France-Presse (AFP, December 19, 2013)
Abductions, torture, killing, sharia courts, secret prisons with “inhuman” conditions – that’s what an Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Syria is accused of in the latest report by Amnesty International. Victims included children as young as eight.
According to the Amnesty report, people were seized by masked men, held for weeks on end in solitary confinement at unknown locations and tried by self-styled Islamic sharia courts, which frequently pass death sentences or impose harsh corporal punishment.
Former detainees described being beaten with rubber generator belts or cables, tortured with electric shocks and being forced into a painful stress position known as the "scorpion" in which the detainee's wrists are bound over one shoulder.
All the prisoners detained by the group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham) were held in “cruel and inhuman conditions.”
For instance, two 14-year-olds were among those sentenced to floggings, and one of the fathers was forced to listen to his son's screams of pain as the boy was tortured in a nearby room.
Another example provided by Amnesty concerns a child of about 14 receive a flogging of more than 90 lashes during interrogation at Sadd al-Ba’ath, an ISIS prison in al-Raqqa governorate. Another child of about 14 who ISIS accused of stealing a motorbike repeatedly received severe corporal punishment over several days.
Some people were held by ISIS for common crimes like theft, while others were detained for smoking, sex outside of marriage, or because they challenged the group's rule or belong to other armed organizations.
Dozens of people have allegedly been detained over the past few months.
"After years in which they were prey to the brutality of (President Bashar al-Assad's) regime, the people of Raqa and Aleppo are now suffering under a new form of tyranny imposed on them by ISIS, in which arbitrary detention, torture and executions have become the order of the day," Philip Luther, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in the report.
Amnesty has called on Turkey and Gulf states that support the mainstream rebels to curb the flow of arms and aid to ISIS and other organizations accused of human rights violations.
“The Turkish government, in particular, should prevent its territory being used by ISIS to bring in arms and recruits to Syria. As well, Gulf states that have voiced support for the armed groups fighting against the Syrian government should take action to prevent arms flows, equipment or other support reaching ISIS in view of its appalling human rights record,” Luther said.
ISIS is notoriously known for orchestrating and conducting scores of suicide bombings and other attacks in Syria and Iraq.
The organization is reported to include big numbers of foreign fighters.
It’s not the first time that the Syrian rebel factions become known for human rights violations and extreme violence. On Wednesday, Russia cona massacre in the town of Adra, 20 kilometers north of Damascus, where jihadist rebel groups executed dozens of civilians, including children, beheading them or burning them alive. At least 80 people reportedly were killed.