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. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict→
Strategic Analysis: Israel eyes the Islamic Republic
Tensions are soaring in the Middle East. But as the world awaits and debates the possibility of a highly speculated unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, the reality is that the Iranian threat to Israel goes far beyond a nuclear device.
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. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Israel eyes the Islamic Republic→
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. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Why Netanyahu can’t sell a unilateral strike→
Intelligence Analysis: Who will fight for Iran’s nuclear program?
Last week Iran sent a high-level envoy, Saeed Jalili, on a particularly controversial public-relations tour to Lebanon and Syria, the most explosive corner of the region. After ruffling feathers during a Beirut stopover, Mr. Jalili traveled to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al- Assad, where he declared the ties between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to be an “axis of resistance.”
Jalili is an iconic figure, whose position as the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also affords him the role of chief negotiator for Iran’s contentious nuclear program. Amidst a deadlock in negotiations and a rehashing of threatening rhetoric, Jalili’s visit was meant to remind the Israelis that Iran’s proxies on Israel’s northern doorstep remain ready and willing to plunge the region into chaos if Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities.
It appears however, that Iran’s allies in the eastern Mediterranean may not be as keen about going to war for the ayatollahs as Tehran would like – and the Israelis know it.
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→
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 Bets Big on the Syrian Uprising
This past week has witnessed a remarkable shift in the Israeli government’s approach to the Syrian conflict. Politicians and defense officials alike have taken turns slamming Bashar al-Assad’s regime, bringing an end to Israel’s year-long policy of disciplined ambiguity on the Syrian unrest.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the charge, adding his voice to the chorus of national leaders who condemned Mr. Assad for the latest massacre near Hama last week. Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that “the axis [of evil] is rearing its ugly head”—a reference to Iran and Hezbollah. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, declared that “on behalf of the Israeli people and the Jewish people, I say directly to the Syrian people: we hear your cries. We are horrified by the crimes of the Assad regime. We extend our hand to you.” Kadima Party Chairman and Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz has now called for international intervention in Syria, and denounced Russia for deadlocking such efforts at the U.N.
Intelligence Analysis: Jordan’s Covert War Against an Islamist Spillover
The Jordanian regime has been growing increasingly concerned about the possible spillover effects of violence in Syria, especially since Jordan’s Jihadist-Salafist Sheikh Abu Muhammad Tahawi recently released a fatwa calling for jihad in Syria. In his fatwa, Tahawi stressed that Alawites and Shiites are currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis.
Fatwas of this sort, usually play on the sentiments harbored deep within historical sectarian feuds between the Sunni and the Shiite faiths. They also serve the purpose of mobilizing Sunni extremists in a bloody ‘Jihad’ against the other factions of Islam, which radical Salafists classify as “outsiders”.
According to media reports, Jordanian Jihadist-Salafists seem to have responded to Sheikh Tahawi’s call as a group of over 30 Jihadists tried to enter Syria a few weeks ago. All but seven, including Abu Anas Sahabi, an explosives specialist, were caught by Jordanian intelligence services. On April 15 a Jihadi-Salafi demonstration resulted in violent clashes with police, leaving dozens of wounded officers and numerous civilian casualties. In response, authorities cracked down on Salafists during a raid in al-Zarqa and other towns located near the Syrian border. Approximately 147 individuals were arrested by Jordanian authorities and charged with terrorist activities.
The latest bloodshed in Cairo underscores worrying trends and emerging realities regarding Egypt’s internal security and political future. The recent clashes in the vicinity of Cairo’s Abbasseya Square illustrate the readiness of prominent political groups to forcefully impose their views, demands, and ideologies as they battle for the country’s new identity. Sadly for Egypt, this process has just begun and is not likely to end anytime soon; indeed, the bloody volatility in Egypt has not subsided since the events of January 2011.
Under these circumstances – from a security point of view – what is most important to note here is how the volatile political situation directly translates into an erosion of the security condition on the ground. Violence in downtown Cairo is often centered on political disputes, involving opposing factions, who are more prone to resolve their differences by force, as they believe this the most optimum course of action to achieve their goals.
The recent wave of suicide bombings in Syria, along with Lebanon’s seizure of a weapons-laden cargo ship intended for Syrian rebels, underscores the infiltration of not only Sunni-jihadist ideology into Syria, but also weapons, tactics, and fighters from throughout the Middle East. Those forces, along with radical Syrian Islamists, are likely set to intensify their attacks on both civilian and government targets in an attempt to turn Syria, although unlikely, into the new Iraq.
Unlike Egypt, the Syrian government proved to be far too entrenched to be removed by civilian protests and international pressure alone. This realization and an increasingly brutal government crackdown spawned an inevitable militarization of the conflict, additionally fueled and intensified by Sunni elements throughout the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Libya. Although Sunni militants are no longer able to defeat Syria’s well-armed, motivated, and efficient fighting force in battle, they are leaning towards a strategy where bombings and other asymmetrical attacks on government and civilian targets alike are likely to become the norm for the near future in Syria.