Tag Archives: Assad

US, UK, France missile strikes against Syrian government likely attempt to deter Damascus from further use of chemical weapons – Syria Analysis

Executive Summary

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, UK, and France fired more than 100 cruise missiles against Syrian government facilities in Homs Province and near Damascus.

The strikes are likely an effort by the West to deter the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, as well as to send a message to Iran and Russia, amidst their perceived expansion across the Middle East.

The attacks are unlikely to significantly impact the Syrian conflict on-the-ground in the long-term, given pro-government forces’ overall superiority over rebel forces.

While tensions will increase between the parties, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the West remains unlikely at this time.

Iranian-backed groups may target US interests and allies across the region over the coming days.

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Current Situation

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, France, and the UK conducted multiple strikes against Syrian military facilities across Syria, with approximately 120 cruise missiles fired at these targets.

The strikes, which were carried out from naval vessels in response to the suspected chemical attack by the Syrian government against the town of Douma on April 7, targeted government military facilities in Homs Province and the Damascus area. Near Damascus, US Tomahawk missiles hit Kiswah Military Base, Mezzeh Airbase, Dumayr Airbase, as well as a scientific research facility in Barzeh District. In Homs Province, the attacks, which involved the UK’s Shadow Storm cruise missiles, targeted a scientific research facility in Qusayr District. At the time of writing, while French forces also carried out missile attacks, their exact targets and scale are yet to be known.

According to pro-government forces, the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) air defense systems intercepted the “majority of the US fired missiles at the Damascus’ area”.

While at the time of writing the exact number of casualties is unconfirmed, according to pro-government media outlets, three civilians were wounded as a result of the attack.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated,“Right now, this is a one-time shot”. UK Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force”. However, May also stated that the strikes were not about “regime change”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson condemned the missile attacks. The spokesperson further stressed that there were no Russian casualties as a result of the strikes.

Assessments & Forecast

Assessments: Strikes likely symbolic and meant to deter Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, send message to Moscow, Tehran 

The strike highlights our previous assessments that the Western response to the chemical weapons attack will be localized and target facilities linked to the use of chemical weapon, although they were larger than last year’s US response to the Khan Shaykhun incident. The use of cruise missiles, which allow attacking targets from a standoff distance, was likely meant to avoid any potential risks associated with operating in or near Syrian government airspace.Because the strikes hit research centers and storage facilities, the West’s response will likely impede the short-term capabilities of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons. However, in the medium-term, particularly in light of recent reports that the Syrian government transferred some of their weapons and forces away from multiple bases, these capabilities were likely not be significantly damaged and it is therefore possible that further attacks using chemical agents may be witnessed across Syria over the coming weeks and months.

In spite of the still relatively limited scope of the strike, the West’s operations in Syria are likely symbolic and meant to deter the Syrian government from using such weapons, especially because of the large number of targeted bases and installations. The strikes also aim to prevent the “normalization” of the usage of chemical agents across the globe, as these type of weapons had been used persistently throughout the Syrian conflict. Despite the low likelihood that many missiles were actually intercepted, if at all, these claims by the Syrian government, as well as the lack of significant casualties among pro-government forces, will likely be capitalized on to bolster its image among its troops and supporters across the country. Coupled with the aforementioned assessments regarding the potential for further chemical attacks by the SAA, the strikes’ deterrence impact will also be limited.

Globally, the development comes amidst an uptick in tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s perceived aggressive policies across the globe. These include Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, alleged interference in elections in Western countries, as well as most recently, the suspected attempted assassination of a Russian national in the UK. The West likely used these attacks to deter Moscow from engaging in further actions perceived as hostile towards the West and its allies. In the Middle East, the strikes occurred amidst growing concerns among Western allies, chiefly Israel and Saudi Arabia, regarding Iran’s growing regional influence, including in Syria. The Western strike against Tehran’s important ally, is likely an attempt to intimidate Iran and send a message that its actions are not unnoticed.

Assessments: Strikes unlikely to impact on-ground situation in medium-to long-term; retaliation by Iranian-backed elements against US interests, allies possible across region 

FORECAST: In the short-term, the US-led operations may slightly impact the situation on-the-ground in the vicinity of the targeted facilities. In addition to hindering their operational capabilities, the strikes also led pro-government forces to reportedly transfer some of their weapons and vehicles away from bases. This now forces them to redeploy and reorganize. During this period of time, rebel forces may exploit the possible disarray from the strike and launch assaults on government-held territories and capture some areas from the Syrian government. This is especially likely on fronts near targeted facilities, such as the rebel enclave in the Dumayr area, northern Daraa Province, and northern Homs Province. Nonetheless, in the medium- to long-term, given the strikes’ limited scale and overall superiority of pro-government forces vis-a-vis rebel forces, the developments are unlikely to significantly impact the situation on-ground, with the SAA and its allies likely reversing any possible short-term gains by rebel forces.

The attack by the US, France, and the UK does not represent a shift in the West’s policy regarding the Syrian conflict. This is highlighted by the statements of these countries’ officials that the strikes are a singular, isolated response. However, should the use of chemical weapons persist, additional missile strikes, as well as air raids to a lesser degree, may reoccur over the coming months, targeting the Syrian government’s military facilities.

The operations are liable to increase the already heightened tensions between Moscow and the West. However, particularly given the lack of reports about Russian casualties as a result of the missile attacks, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the US, UK, and France remains highly unlikely at this time. Instead, Moscow’s response will focus on diplomatic measures against these three countries, such as sanctions. This assessment is highlighted by the April 13 bill by Russia’s Duma to implement sanctions on US alcohol, tobacco, and agro-products. Additionally, cyber attacks by Russian hackers against government institutions in the UK, US, and France may also be witnessed over the coming days.

The events are unlikely to have a significant impact on regional dynamics as a whole. However, it remains possible that a localized retaliation by pro-government forces and Iranian-backed militias will take place against US troops and their backed forces in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria and factions within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in southern Homs Province. Should this occur, it will likely include mortar fire and IED detonations. Attacks against US interests may also occur in Iraq, where such actions have occurred in the past. Iranian-backed elements throughout the region may also seek to target countries that are considered Western allies. This mainly includes Saudi Arabia, as the Shiite Houthis may be directed by Tehran to intensify their ballistic missile attacks deep in Saudi territory. Additionally, albeit to a much lesser degree, it cannot be ruled out that Iranian-backed groups, such as Hezbollah and some Palestinian factions, will target Israel, including in the form of IED and anti-tank guided missile attacks against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops along the border with Syria.


We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Avoid all travel to outlying areas and cities including Daraa, Homs, Hama, and Idlib due to persistent fighting and heightened risk of kidnapping targeting foreigners, particularly in combat zones and rebel held areas.

Those seeking to enter Syria are advised to confirm the status of their crossing points and final destinations, remaining aware of recent kidnapping incidents and the nature of military forces deployed in those areas.

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare

Executive Summary

In light of the recent events in Syria, where on April 4 the Assad regime is alleged to have used sarin gas to attack a rebel-controlled town in the Idlib Province, killing nearly 100 people and wounding hundreds more, it is necessary to review the possibility of chemical attacks by militant groups or individuals in non-conflict zones.
While being considered a “red line” in the past, use of chemical weapons in recent years did not result in significant ramifications, prompting more widespread use.
Growing media coverage amidst lack of response likely fueled this process, despite negative public opinion.
Militant groups likely to expand use of crude chemical weapons in near future, mostly for psychological effects, while attempting to deploy military grade weapons in non-conflict regions.
With this in mind, as a security manager, it is necessary to review protocols for dealing with such incidents to ensure that your offices and employees are as prepared as possible.

Historical Use and Normalization of Chemical Weapons

Following the conclusion of the World War II, the use of chemical warfare, along with biological warfare, was perceived as a “red line” by most of the countries worldwide, and second in severity only to the deployment of nuclear weapons. However, despite this perception, such weapons were at periods used without significant ramifications to the parties responsible, with the most notable example being the deployment of chemical weapons by the Iraqi government during the war with Iran, and most prominently the 1988 Halbaja attack, which reportedly saw the use of blister, nerve and possibly blood agents.
This fact led to a waning of the perception of possible consequences as a result of initiating a chemical attack, prompting various actors who maintained, or obtained large stockpiles of weapon-grade chemical weapons to being less constrained in their use. Furthermore, western militaries made legal use of chemical weapons in conventional warfare, mainly of white phosphorus to conceal movement, which at times nonetheless had lethal effects in the area of deployment.
As the media continually developed over time, these incidents received more coverage than in the past, however despite of the overall negative public attention such incidents typically did not result in significant negative implications. Instead, the increased media attention, along with general lack of accountability likely prompted a growing number of actors to employ chemical warfare due to the high lethality rates, cost effectiveness and psychological effects. These developments led to an almost normalization and acceptance of the use of such unconventional weapons, which is best exemplified by indications that the Islamic State (IS) conducted at least 52 different chemical attacks in Iraq and Syria, as per a report issued in late 2016. The Syrian government also has used chemical weapons on numerous occasions, most recently on April 4 in a rebel-controlled area of the Idlib Province, with nearly 100 people killed and 200 wounded.

Potential Applications by Militant Groups, Individuals

While thus far most of the applications of chemical warfare were in conflict areas, they are not strictly limited to there. There are precedents of militants attempting to or making successful use of chemical agents in attacks, mostly in an unsophisticated capacity, with the most prominent example being two successful attack in 1994-1995 in Japan using Sarin nerve agents. Furthermore, there were attempts to integrate chemical and biological agents into suicide bombings, mostly by Palestinian militants during the Second Intifada in 2000-2005.
As components needed to construct crude chemical weapons, mainly of the relatively less effective choking agents such as chlorine, can be extracted from everyday materials, it is likely that militants will continue pursuing implementing such elements in their attacks. As these are liable to be mostly crude, they will not necessarily cause attacks to be more lethal in their immediate effect. However militants will seek to capitalize on the psychological effects associated with the use of such weapons, especially as these are considered unconventional and attract significant more public attention given the perception of chemical weapons being more dangerous than conventional weapons.
Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security
Nonetheless, the growing battlefield application vis-a-vis instability of regimes that had chemical weapons stockpiles, particularly in the Middle East, increases the potential that militant groups will be able to deploy military grade weapons in an attack removed from current battlefields. If such an attack will materialize, its effects and lethality will be significantly larger than the crude devices mentioned before, however given the high profile and complexity of delivering and using a military grade weapon, such an attack remains at a lower likelihood.
Additionally, IS in particular is known to have capabilities for self-manufacturing of chemical weapons, leading to two additional threats. First, the possibility that rockets with chemical warheads will be fired at areas adjacent to IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and other conflict zones, given proliferations of those means. Furthermore, and posing a higher risk, is the possibility that one of the experts employed in IS’s chemical warfare program will return to his home state, where he will implement his knowledge and expertise to conduct a domestic large scale chemical attack.
As the use of chemical warfare remains rare, all countries facing this risk are either under-skilled or not prepared at all in the prevention, mitigation and treatment. While given the increase in the threat of application of chemical weapons resources may be invested into improving capabilities, this process may be prolonged and not fully effective even when completed, thus contributing the larger potential effects.

Implications for Security Managers

Chemical attacks can bring about a large amount of casualties, although the chances and likelihood for an attack of such scale remain low. That being said, you still must be able to instruct your employees on the best ways to react in various scenarios. In this context, there are a number of measures that both individuals and firms can take to prepare for a possible chemical attack, and to equip employees with the best possible information and behavioral recommendations.

To best prepare your employees and office, it is advised to:

  1. Create a procedure and plan for employee behavior in case of a chemical attack, and instruct employees on such procedures.
  2. Mention the possibility of such a scenario during your periodic employees’ awareness training in order to mentally prepare them.
  3. Ensure supply of sufficient first aid tools in the office, including first aid kits with surgical masks and atropine syringes.

If a chemical attack takes place in your vicinity, it is recommended to do several things, and employees should be instructed in such protocol:

  1. Identify the location of the attack and remove yourself from that area as quickly as possible, avoiding the contaminated area if feasible and moving upwind of the site. If it is not possible to avoid the impacted area, shelter in place, moving to a higher floor.
  2. Cover your nose and mouth, using a surgical mask or handkerchief if a gas mask is not available. Additionally attempt to cover exposed skin on the arms and legs. If you do become exposed to an agent, once in a safe area, remove any impacted clothing and wash yourself thoroughly with soap.
  3. If you are outside, it is advised find clean air, either by removing yourself from the area or going inside a nearby building.
  4. If you are in a building in the vicinity of an attack, it is advised to close all windows and doors and shut all ventilation, including central heating or air conditioning systems, while seeking shelter in an internal room and sealing the room with plastic and duct tape.
  5. Remain cognizant of authorities’ warnings and instructions.

MAX Security provides awareness training and crisis contingency planning.

Notable Chemical Weapons Developments Worldwide

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security

Special Report: The growing potential for militant chemical attacks, and how you can prepare | MAX Security

Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for a recent bombing attack near the Israeli border.

On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.

Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Using Chemical Weapons to Break the Stalemate in Syria

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s stepped up military efforts – new Russian anti-aircraft missiles; imported fighters from Lebanon and Iran; and lately, increased use of chemical weapons – are having their desired effect. Today, Syria‘s main opposition group announced it will not take part in peace talks even as the regime appears to be gaining in military strength.

Syrian rebels fight with gas masks in Damascus.
Syrian rebels fight with gas masks in Damascus.

Particularly disturbing are reports of the Assad regime’s increased use of chemical weapons. Since March, the trickle of reports has become a flash flood. What’s now clear is that Mr. Assad, absent outside intervention, is willing to make the use of unconventional weapons more conventional as he seeks to end his government’s military stalemate with rebels.

On May 26, rebel fighters and civilians in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta, Qaboun, and Jobar reported that numerous residents suffered from respiratory problems, nausea, and other symptoms of chemical nerve agents. Three people were reportedly killed in the suspected attack while at least 70 others were reported injured. Recently-posted video footage from the area portrayed both Syrian rebels and military troops fighting with gas masks. Continue reading Using Chemical Weapons to Break the Stalemate in Syria

Intelligence Analysis: Assad regime gains push back prospects for rebel victory

While many pundits continually debate a timeframe for Assad’s downfall, the regime is on the offensive, pushing back their estimations. In recent weeks, Assad’s forces have succeeded in securing several tactical victories, mainly in Damascus, Idlib Province, and around Homs, all the while preventing additional rebel gains around Deraa. Overall, those tactical developments are likely to further secure the capital’s northern and southern flanks and supply lines to other government-controlled cities while furthering the process of isolating and eliminating opposition strongholds around Damascus. The rebels, therefore, will not be taking Syria’s capital anytime soon.

Syria (Map created using Google Earth)
Syria (Map created using Google Earth)

Syrian military and loyalist gains in Damascus are likely to continue in the near term, as tenuous advances in Homs and Idlib provinces and the continued holding of strategic areas in southern Syria will inhibit rebel efforts to bring more fighters and supplies to the four Damascus fronts. While not given the publicity it deserves, much of Assad’s recent successes in the Homs region could be credited to Hezbollah’s increased intervention from Lebanon. This intervention has furthered tensions in Lebanon, but burgeoned Assad’s strength between Damascus, the Alawite stronghold of Latakia, and Homs. It now appears that both Hezbollah and Syrian government troops are set to enter the main rebel-held town in the area, al-Qusayr. Rebel fighters inside Damascus, meanwhile, are increasingly finding themselves isolated and outgunned. They are left mostly defending positions determined following the stalling of their last capital offensive that began in November 2012.

The latest regime offensives in Damascus were a likely answer to rebel gains near Jordan and Israel, and thus meant to preempt another rebel attempt to ride their momentum for a push into the heart of Damascus. By taking the initiative, regime troops and loyalist militias have become increasingly able to isolate opposition bastions in the capital’s outskirts. Layered defenses in the capital, barrages of indirect fire, long supply lines, and local opposition to rebel gains are also likely contributing to the opposition’s general inability to move beyond their initial strongholds.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Assad regime gains push back prospects for rebel victory

Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.

Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.

PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member.
PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member

Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists

The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.

On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.

Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.

On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.

Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists

Strategic Analysis: Prospects for a negotiated solution in Syria

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s a lesson that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), likely learned when he sparked a firestorm within the Syrian opposition after declaring his willingness to enter into negotiations with the Assad regime on January 30. As part of his stated conditions, al-Khatib demanded the release of 160,000 political prisoners being held by the Assad regime and the renewal of expired passports for Syrian dissidents abroad.

The Syrian National Coalition meets in Doha, Qatar.

Until al-Khatib’s remarks, the SNC’s official stance had been to reject all negotiations with the Assad regime unless the embattled dictator agrees to relinquish power. It this comes as no surprise that other SNC officials and their backers in the region were quick to denounce al-Khatib’s statements as unrepresentative of the coalition’s policies. On February 5, the Coalition came together to issue an official rejection of al-Khatib’s proposal, even after it had been softened to include demanding that Assad cede power as an outcome.

Their outrage did little to stop al-Khatib from reiterating his willingness to negotiate during a security conference in Munich, where he also met with Russian and Iranian officials.

The locally-based Syrian-based National Coordination Committee, which initially organized non-violent protests, offered its support for al-Khatib, reiterating its stance that a political solution must be found to end the conflict. The Assad regime has yet to offer an official response, although a regime source described the development as positive.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Prospects for a negotiated solution in Syria

Intelligence Analysis: Tensions along the Israeli-Syrian border

“This is a Syrian matter which may turn into an Israeli matter.” So noted IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz near the site where three of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tanks had penetrated the U.N.-designated demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights one day prior. Gantz’s prophecy wasn’t bluster, but rather a rare public admission of what Israeli leaders have long feared: Israel will inevitably join its Arab neighbors in becoming embroiled in the Syrian civil war.

View of a UN peacekeeping base in the demilitarized zone along the Israeli-Syrian border.

Saturday’s incursion didn’t infringe on Israel’s sovereignty, but nonetheless constituted violation of the countries’ long-standing ceasefire agreement, putting IDF command centers across northern Israel on high alert. In another reminder of the border’s volatility, a stray Syrian bullet hit an Israeli army vehicle Monday, causing no injuries.

Thus far, of the five nations bordering Syria (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey), Israel has emerged relatively unscathed from the Syrian conflict, despite its perpetual state of war with Syria, which has spanned six decades.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Tensions along the Israeli-Syrian border

Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict

Shiite Muslims commemorate the Ashura holiday, the date marking the death of Hussein at the Battle of Karbala.

While discussing the bloodshed in Syria at a September 7 conference held in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan drew a chilling parallel. “What happened in Karbala 1,332 years ago is what is happening in Syria today,” he said, comparing the Syrian revolution to the most divisive event in Islamic history, the Battle of Karbala.

Those in the West with any interests in the region have much to learn from Erdogan’s history lesson. What was originally depicted as a popular uprising against tyranny is now undeniably a war for religious supremacy in the Middle East. In this war, those Syrians who originally took to the streets in their aspirations for democracy have become the only guaranteed losers.

In the year 680 AD, Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and 70 of his followers confronted 1,500 fighters from the Umayyad Caliphate in present day Iraq. Hussein had embarked on a crusade to wrest control of the caliphate from his archrival Yazid I, only to be slaughtered along with his family. Hussein’s followers would eventually form the Shiite sect of Islam, and remain locked in a bitter rivalry with Yazid’s fellow Abu Bakr supporters, whose descendants comprise the Sunni sect.
Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict