Intelligence Analysis: Iranian influence in the Gaza Strip
For Iran and the Assad regime, intermission is over. The swift ending of the Gaza conflict is likely to thrust the bloodshed in Syria and the Iranian nuclear crisis back onto center stage, with an ever-invigorated Western-Arab alliance raising the curtain and directing the spotlight. Yet, in their overly-romantic portrayal of successful U.S. shuttle diplomacy and Egypt’s emergence as a responsible mediator, global punditry has underestimated the Ayatollahs’ continued ability to plunge the Gaza Strip back into chaos at their leisure.
Iran purposefully and undoubtedly fired the first shots of this latest escalation, which began four days prior to Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari on November 14. On November 10, militants from the Iranian-backed Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) fired an advanced Kornet missile at an IDF border patrol, igniting four days of hostilities between Israel and other Gaza-based militant groups, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The use of such a highly accurate weapon was a game changer, prompting the IDF to plan Jabari’s killing soon after as a response.
While alliances between militant groups in the Gaza Strip are about as stable as quicksand, Israel has long maintained that it holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the coastal enclave. This includes attacks from the PRC, whose successful use of a highly-sophisticated Kornet missile underscores just how advanced even fringe militant groups in the Gaza Strip have become under Iranian direction.
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Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict
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.
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Strategic Analysis: Israel eyes the Islamic Republic
Decades of proxy wars with Iran, attacks, genocidal rhetoric and Tehran’s dangerous obsession with the “Zionist entity”, highlight that the primary perceived threat to Israel stems not from a nuclear device, but from the Islamic regime and the revolutionary ideology behind it. Therefore, as long as the Iranian state remains committed to Israel’s destruction, Israelis will feel continually threatened and the conflict between Iran and Israel will persist – with or without a nuclear bomb.
State-sanctioned anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish ideology has been a staple of the Islamic regime since its founding in 1979. Thus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent calls for Israel’s destruction and more importantly Ayatollah Khameini’s prediction of it are not new developments. But for Israelis, such threats are not easy to dismiss, despite Iran’s ability or inability to make good on them. Israel’s critics often respond to its concerns over Iran with allegations of warmongering, citing lack of clear intelligence. But for better or for worse, the collective history of Israel’s Jewish population and their peculiar situation in the volatile Middle East, underline why Israel takes Iran’s threats seriously and even considers acting against it in the first place.
In line with the “Begin Doctrine”, Israel has proven throughout its history that it is willing to undertake daring operations far beyond its borders, even against opposition from its closest ally – the US. In 1981, Israel attacked Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, while destroying Syria’s reactor in 2007. Both times, Washington was either not involved or adamantly against any unilateral Israeli attack. At present, Israelis are highly divided on how to act against Iran, but they do not disagree that Iran is a dangerous and determined enemy and one that must be curtailed. Israel does have options. It is just a question of what should be done, when, or how.
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Strategic Analysis: Why Netanyahu can’t sell a unilateral strike
Over the past four years, Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in propelling the Iranian threat into the forefront in both Israel and around the world. The crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program now overshadows potentially crippling political and diplomatic issues in Israel, such as growing economic disparity and the stalled peace process with the Palestinians. Yet, Netanyahu has failed to convince the Israeli public that Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped- or delayed- at all costs.
A recent poll conducted by Tel Aviv University showed that only 27% of Jewish Israelis support a unilateral strike by their government on Iranian nuclear facilities. Those results come amidst an ongoing chorus of criticism against such preventative action from Israel’s most distinguished ex-military chiefs and politicians, including President Shimon Peres. To garner this much needed public support for such a crucial decision, Netanyahu must stop speaking to Israelis’ hearts and minds on the Iranian threat, and start speaking to their wallets.
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Strategic Analysis: Curbing the rise of Kurdistan
On July 27, thousands of Iraqi troops, tanks, and artillery set out to seize the FishKhabur border crossing with Syria in Iraq’s northern Zumar district. But the days when Iraq could impose its will over the scrappy and restive Kurdish north are over. Blocking them were some 3,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, along with artillery – intent on proving that Baghdad’s supremacy is no more. A tense standoff between the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga ensued, only to alleviate with American pressure and a fragile agreement between the two sides. The standoff reflected the situation at large: Iraqi Kurdistan is determined to rid itself of Baghdad, establish itself as a regional player, and use its burgeoning clout to serve as the protector of Kurds throughout the region. Most importantly, attempts by rival states to thwart Kurdish ambitions threaten to ignite a new round of Kurdish wars in a region already in flames.
This border area is disputed by the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). FishKhabur has been under Kurdish military control for years, which Iraq claims is illegal and violates the country’s constitution. The KRG disputes this and is determined not to forfeit their only border crossing with Syria, nor to allow Baghdad to reestablish its influence in an area already “Arabized” and largely depopulated of ethnic Kurds. Despite Baghdad’s official protestations, the reality is much more strategic. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Curbing the rise of Kurdistan
Intelligence Analysis: Syria’s Threatened Christians
Earlier this month, reports came from the Syrian city of Qusayr of an ominous warning to the town’s Christians: Either join the Sunni-led opposition against Bashar al-Assad or leave. Soon after, thousands of Christians fled the town.
After decades of protection by a secular-leaning dictatorship, the Qusayr ultimatum warned of a dark future for Syria’s Christian community. As the 15-month conflict rages with no end in sight, Syria’s many minorities have come face to face with the emerging threat posed by radical Sunni Islamists. These elements have established themselves as a key factor in Syria’s future, backed by immense political and economic support from the Arab world and indifference from the West.
Throughout the years, Christians, like many other minorities in the region, have lent their support to those regimes that have guaranteed their security and religious freedom. In Iraq, Christians rose to the highest levels of society under Saddam Hussein’s regime, while in Egypt, Coptic Christians were protected from ultraconservative Salafists under Hosni Mubarak. As secular leaders from the secretive Alawite sect, the Assad dynasty largely preserved Christian life, protecting Syria’s minorities from what was perceived as a collective threat from the country’s Sunni majority.
Political Analysis: Israel Looking East
In 1992, Israel broadly expanded its international relations, taking advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. Notwithstanding, improving ties with the eastern powerhouses of China and India was not a primary focus up until few years ago. Recently, Israeli leaders have made successive high profile visits to China, while engaging in considerable public diplomacy efforts vis-à-vis the Chinese people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even greeted the Chinese people in their native Mandarin during their New Year’s Festival.
The growing cooperation with China is based on bilateral agreements in the fields of technology, green energy, agriculture, and water conservation. Enhancing relations with China in these fields is exactly how Minister of Trade and Labor Shalom Simchon planned for Israel to become one of the world’s top-15 economies. Simchon underlined that a Free Trade Agreement with China is currently on the agenda and is expected to be agreed upon in the foreseeable future.
Iran’s religious gateway into Iraq
Iran has long sought to spread its Islamic revolution into neighboring Iraq. With Saddam and the US out and Shiites in control, Iraq’s leaders are now intent on rebuilding their country as a regional Shiite power. But first, they must pacify radical Sunni elements and unite its various Shiite sects who remain divided over various issues. Those divides, however, have opened the door for Iran’s long-awaited ascendancy in Iraq. In doing so, Iranian revolutionary Shi’ite Islam – arguably above anything else – has become the Islamic Republic’s foremost strategy of attaining influence in Iraq.
As is the case with most religious groups, Shiites are not monolithic and there are notable ideological and political differences among them. For centuries, Iraq has historically been the premier source for Shiite ideology, much of it stemming from the southern city of Najaf. However, Saddam’s secular dictatorship systematically targeted leading Shiite clergymen, thereby forcing many into exile in neighboring Iran. That said, the return of thousands of Iraqi Shiites and clergymen – many now learned in Iranian dogma – have become a major catalyst for spreading Tehran’s religious message throughout Iraq. With their return, Iran has sought to supplant or push aside the traditional Shiite leaders from the “quietist” religious school in Najaf with revolutionary Islamic teachers who have trained and studied revolutionary Islam in Qom, Iran.
The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?
After almost a century of fighting and with little to show for, the traditionally nomadic and ethnic Tuareg people of North Africa are suddenly on the verge of accomplishing one of their premier goals- securing the territory needed to establish the state of Azawad within today’s northern Mali. The Tuaregs, who number some 1.2 million people in the region, are one of the many distinct ethnic groups who continue to shake North Africa’s geo-political future. In doing so, the Tuaregs have utilized their primary military front, the secular-nationalist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) to accomplish their military objectives. Furthermore, their latest offensive and the subsequent seizure of large swaths of territory has surprised many with the speed and firepower deployed. To that point, their latest gains are primarily due to two major developments – the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the alliance between Islamists and Tuaregs in Mali.
Even before Mali started hitting the headlines this past week, town after town along the northern Mali-Algeria border began to fall to the Tuareg-Islamist insurgents. Moreover, some 200,000 people have been displaced in the last three months alone. To that point, Malian soldiers – mainly ethnic sub-Saharan Africans – who once had the upper hand against the formerly lightly armed Tuareg insurgents were now facing a heavily armed, reinforced, and highly motivated fighting force. Simply put, the Mali army found itself outgunned and undersupplied to fight against a determined enemy in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Since the rebellion began in January, the mounting military defeats pressed the country’s junior officers and soldiers to seek a solution. Therefore, the now disgruntled and demoralized army decided to launch their coup d’état and seized power on March 22 from the Western-backed, now deposed President. Since then, little has gone the junta’s way, as the mutineers, including their leader – US military trained Captain Sanogo – were undoubtedly surprised, not only by the international outcry against them, but also the rebel offensive in the north that has seized territory roughly the size of France in just one week.
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