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Are tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? – Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis

Background & Current Situation

Background of Incident

On July 14, three Arab-Israelis conducted a shooting attack inside the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem, in which they killed two Israeli Policemen and wounded a third. All three militants were subsequently shot and killed. In the aftermath of the attack, Israel closed the compound to all visitors in order to search it for additional weapons that may have been hidden on the premises. The compound was reopened by Israel on July 16 after metal detectors were placed at its entrances. Additionally, during the overnight hours of July 22-23, Israeli authorities placed closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras inside the compound as added security measures to prevent future attacks.

Response by Arab Leaders

The Arab and Muslim world widely condemned these added security measures, claiming that they were an Israeli attempt to alter the status quo at the religious site. As a result, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf closed all mosques in Jerusalem on July 21 and called all Muslims to instead hold mass prayers in the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound. In response, Israel allowed only women and men over the age of 50 to access the Old City on that day in order to mitigate the threat of unrest. Furthermore, on July 22, the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA “froze all relations with Israel in response to the measures in Jerusalem”. Meanwhile, Hamas, which praised the July 14 attack, criticized the PA’s announced measures as “ineffective”.

Unrest in Jerusalem and West BankAre tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? - Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis | MAX Security

Nonetheless, since July 16, clashes at varying intensities between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces have taken place on a near-daily basis in the vicinity of the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Additionally, there has been a significant uptick in incidents of unrest in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories. During the week of July 14-20, 32 instances of unrest were recorded in East Jerusalem, compared to an average of approximately six such incidents per week in the preceding four months.


Demonstrations in MENA Region

Moreover, demonstrations over this issue took place in several locations in the region. This was most prominent in Jordan’s Amman, where weekly Friday protests drew gatherings in the high-hundreds, and in Turkey, including in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, with crowds in the low hundreds in each event. Additional small scale demonstrations took place in Bahrain and Morocco.

Lone-wolf attacks following the event

Lastly, On July 21, three Israelis were killed when a militant entered their house in the West Bank Israeli town of Halamish. Additionally, on July 23 a Jordanian of Palestinian origin stabbed an Israeli security officer inside the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman, Jordan, and was subsequently shot and killed along with a bystander. Finally, on July 24 a Palestinian conducted a stabbing attack in Petah Tikva, Israel, and claimed to have done so “for al-Aqsa”.

Are tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? - Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

While the events in Jerusalem garnered significant attention in the Arab and Muslim world and led to major incidents of unrest, unless unexpected events unfold, it is likely that the situation will be resolved in the coming days or weeks, particularly as it is in the interest of the majority of the actors involved in the process.

In this context, Israel likely has no interest in causing an escalation in violence with the Palestinians, as well as with the Arab and Muslim world as a whole. That said, this is unlikely to deter Israel from ensuring that security is maintained in the compound, especially after the recent attacks and subsequent domestic criticism on lack of effective security at such a sensitive locale. Similarly, an escalation would be counter to the interests of the PA, as such a development will likely empower Hamas at the expense of the PA, and will threaten the latter’s hold in the West Bank. As a result, Abbas’ announcement of “freezing all relations with Israel” was likely meant to pertain to the hardliners in the West Bank and offset any potential influence by Hamas, and to a degree, serve as leverage against Israel, rather than being an effort to encourage additional hostilities.

A political solution regarding the situation in the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound will likely be reached in the coming days or weeks with mediation by the US and Jordan. Such a solution may include the complete removal of metal detectors at the compound, while the CCTV cameras, or an alternative means of monitoring the security situation at the site, remain in place. This is particularly likely as Israel demanded that such monitoring devices should be placed at the compound for months before the recent hostilities started, but was rejected by the Waqf due to claims that this will compromise the status quo at the site. Such a compromise may leave both sides content, as the PA will achieve the symbolic victory of having the metal detectors removed, which have become a symbol of the recent hostilities, while Israel will maintain the additional security measures that it had previously sought.

Meanwhile, the incident in Jordan may cause diplomatic complications between the Hashemite Kingdom and Israel, and therefore, may adversely affect negotiations as Jordan de-facto controls the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which has authority over the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound. Nonetheless, it is in the interest of Jordan as well to prevent a further escalation in hostilities. Therefore, any effect that the situation may have will likely be limited to prolonging the negotiations and possibly forcing Israel into making further concessions.

Regionally, unrest revolving around the issue has likely reached its peak and such demonstrations are beginning to lose momentum. With this in mind, demonstrations will likely continue until the political issue is resolved, however, will gradually decline in their scope and scale, and will mostly affect Turkey and Jordan, the latter mainly on Fridays which are the preferred day of such gatherings. Additionally, in the period leading to the eventual likely agreement, the threat of low-level, “lone-wolf” attacks against Israeli or Israeli-affiliated targets, similar to that witnessed in Jordan on July 23, will be heightened, but will likely revert following the eventual settling of the issue. Furthermore, there is an increased threat of lone-wolf attacks in general, particularly in Western Europe, by individuals motivated by the perceived violation of the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound and claims of harm against the holy site.

Locally, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, incidents of unrest are likely to experience a similar trend as the regional ones, with the coming Friday possibly experiencing a last peak in such activities before these gradually reduce until the conclusion of the political issue. The only likely exception to this is East Jerusalem, where protests and acts of unrest are likely to persist at a high rate in the coming weeks, as the population in this area is under greater influence from Islamist organizations, compared to mainstream political ones like the PA, and may not be satisfied with any potential compromise.

In terms of militancy, the coming weeks will likely continue to witness a relative heightened rate of “lone-wolf” attacks against Israelis, mostly consisting of stabbing, vehicular, Molotov cocktail, and low-level shooting attacks, focusing on Jerusalem, the West Bank, and to a lesser degree, Israel. While these are likely to eventually reduce in their scope and scale, given precedent, it remains possible that they will persist at a high rate, causing a lingering heightened threat of militancy over the coming months. Furthermore, while it is in the interest of Hamas to cause an escalation in the West Bank as mentioned above, a significant escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip will be against the organization’s interests as a potential Israeli response will pose a significant threat to it, and is therefore unlikely to take place. Nonetheless, limited attacks, mostly in the form of low-level and short range surface-to-surface rockets against Israel, will likely be initiated at a relatively higher rate by Salafist militant groups based in the Gaza Strip.



Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross border violence. Those traveling in the 40 km area surrounding the Gaza Strip should continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.

In major Israeli cities, remain vigilant in crowded commercial areas or public transport hubs, as these locations have been targeted by militant groups in the past. Alert authorities to suspicious, unattended packages in these areas. As a general precaution, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly in the vicinity of Lions’ Gate, due to the reported clashes and a recent heightening of tensions between East Jerusalem residents and Israeli security forces.

Palestinian Territories

Business-essential travel to Ramallah can continue at this time while adhering to basic security precautions regarding the threats of civil unrest and militancy. Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options. Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest. We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip at this time due to continuous border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity. If travel is essential, prior to entering Palestinian-controlled areas from Jerusalem-area checkpoints, confirm that crossings remain open and no unrest is taking place. Crossings near the cities of Jenin, Qalqilya, and Tul Karem remain less prone to violence.


Maintain heightened vigilance given the potential for demonstrations and associated acts of unrest related to the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound tensions. Avoid the vicinity of any such gatherings. Additionally avoid the immediate vicinity of Israeli diplomatic missions, due to the increased risk for acts of militancy targeting these locales. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

New Hamas charter likely effort to improve public image, versus major policy shift by group toward Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Palestinian Territories Analysis

Current Situation

On May 1, Hamas’ Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal revealed during a press conference in Doha, Qatar a revised version of the group’s charter, accepting the idea of a Palestinian state according to the June 4, 1967 borders. However, according to the charter, the group still does not recognize the state of Israel. In addition, the new charter stresses that the “struggle is against the occupation and not against the Jews”. Meanwhile, according to Mashaal’s summary of the changes to the charter, Hamas will not abandon armed struggle nor “give up one parcel of Palestinian land,” and “strives to liberate all Palestinian lands from the river to the sea” (referring to the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, including the state of Israel).

Additionally, Hamas distances itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and pan-Islamic notions. This contradicts the previous charter which indicated the group’s role in the global Islamist militancy theater. Furthermore, the new document defines the group as follows: “The Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ is a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement. Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Its frame of reference is Islam, which determines its principles, objectives and means”. Lastly, the group dismissed all previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), including the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Assessments & Forecast

Newly published charter likely attempt to improve image among international community, regional powers, Palestinian residents of West Bank, not reflective of major policy shift

We assess that the newly published charter is an attempt by the Islamist Palestinian faction to rebrand itself, rather than forming a new strategic approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is despite the stated acceptance of the June 4, 1967 borders, which is largely viewed as the main component of the “two-state solution”, as opposed to the group’s previous charter version. This assessment is backed by the group’s emphasis on not “giving up one parcel of Palestinian land,” and that it “strives to liberate all Palestinian lands”.

As part of this effort at rebranding, the group seeks to project a more moderate stance to the international community, particularly to Western countries, as some of these countries designate it as a terror organization. This attempt to project a more moderate stance is reflected by the group’s statement concerning their “struggle against the occupation and not against the Jews”, as opposed to the previous charter, which called for a “campaign against the Jews in Palestine”. With this in mind, by issuing this revised charter, Hamas likely strives at bolstering its image and increasing its legitimacy as a political entity in the eyes of the international community. This potential shift in Hamas’ approach towards the West may partially be explained by the group’s likely perception that some of the current Western governments have altered their stances towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a more pro-Israeli attitude, particularly that of the Trump administration. This is further relevant regarding the charter’s distancing of Hamas from the global Islamist militancy theater, in a likely effort to alienate itself from jihadist elements globally, thus further enhancing its legitimacy in the international community.

This is also relevant with regard to the region’s leading Arab countries, most notably Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with which Hamas has made persistent efforts at rapprochement over the past several months. By distancing itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian group likely seeks to improve its relations with such Arab states in light of the decreasing popularity and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood organization across the region, as it is has been banned and designated as a terror organization in these countries. This is further likely within the context of the ongoing economic and energy crisis in the Gaza Strip. In this respect, Hamas potentially desires financial support from some of the GCC countries to alleviate this crisis.

Meanwhile, domestically, we assess that the new revised charter is part of the group’s efforts to increase its support among the Palestinian people, particularly those living in the West Bank. By expressing its willingness to accept the idea of June 4, 1967 borders, Hamas positions itself closer to the general consensus of Palestinians in the West Bank surrounding the potential resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Over the past several years, multiple opinion polls among Palestinians have indicated that a majority support the “two state solution” without the renouncement of the “Right of Return”, namely the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel’s 1949 Armistice (Green Line) territory, including during a recent poll in February.

Furthermore, while in its previous charter the group emphasized the Palestinian national movement as a tool to promote the Islamist agenda, the current version emphasizes instead that Islam remains a guideline and a component within the Palestinian national identity, thus elevating the status of the “local” component of the movement at the expense of the “global”. Because religion constitutes a smaller component of the identities of large segments of Palestinians living in the West Bank, in comparison to those in the Gaza Strip, Hamas likely attempts through this new rhetoric to appeal more to these Palestinians, as a part of such efforts to gain support in the West Bank.

Current status quo of Israeli-Palestinian conflict unlikely to change, due to lack of negotiations, tensions between Hamas-Fatah, future hostilities between Israel and Hamas

Given that we assess that Hamas has not changed its stance regarding Israel or the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the charter is unlikely to affect or improve the prospect for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is underlined by Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, its rejection of previous agreements between Israel and the PLO, as well as issues mentioned in the new charter, including the “liberation” of all of Palestine as defined by the group, as well as the insistence on the “Right of Return”, which Israel traditionally rejects. As a result, even if negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) eventually materialize, potentially although not likely including Hamas backing the Fatah-led PA, we assess that they are unlikely to bear fruit in the coming month and years.

Furthermore, despite such efforts to appear more moderate, this shifting public image does not indicate an improved relationship with the PA, which is currently strained. Efforts by Hamas to appeal to Palestinians in the West Bank are not likely to be perceived positively by the PA, given that the PA continues to view Hamas as undermining its rule in the West Bank. As a result, tensions between the two parties will likely continue over the coming months, including in the form of additional arrest operations targeting Hamas activists and militants throughout the West Bank and potential implementation of political sanctions by the PA on Hamas’ political activity in this area.

Finally, with respect to security, the charter is unlikely to change the potential for large-scale hostilities and a future broad conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militant factions. This is highlighted by Hamas’ calls to not abandon armed struggle nor reduce its claims on Palestinian land, as well as its continued efforts to rebuild its militant capabilities, including by manufacturing rockets and explosives, ground maneuvers, test firing of rockets, and the construction of attack tunnels. As a result, in spite of this new document, we continue to assess that the likelihood for a broad conflict over the coming months remain low-medium at this time. Moreover, despite the abovementioned efforts to increase its foothold, in the short-term, the security environment in the West Bank is liable to remain at the same level. While Hamas will likely continue its attempts to conduct sophisticated acts of militancy against Israelis in the West Bank, given the Israeli security apparatus’ broad experience in mitigating this threat, the majority of such plans will likely be thwarted.


Business-essential travel to Ramallah can continue at this time while adhering to basic security precautions regarding the threats of civil unrest and militancy. Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options. Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest. We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip at this time due to continuous border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity. If travel is essential, prior to entering Palestinian-controlled areas from Jerusalem-area checkpoints, confirm that crossings remain open and no unrest is taking place. Crossings near the cities of Jenin, Qalqilya, and Tul Karem remain less prone to violence. Minimize night travel in major cities, as the majority of IDF and PA security operations occur at this time, particularly in the vicinities of Palestinian refugee camps.

Syria & Lebanon Special Report: Air defense disposition and regional impacts

Executive Summary

  • Recent engaging of Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft by surface-to-air missile launched from Syria is indicative of the remaining, albeit limited capabilities of the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SyADF).
  • Moreover, it likely points to a shift in the Syrian government’s approach to perceived violations of its sovereignty by Israel, taking a more proactive and aggressive military stance, likely due to recent successes and strong backing from Russia.
  • As the IAF’s volume of operations is unlikely to be hindered by this reemerging threat, similar incidents are liable to occur in the coming months. While not posing a direct threat, these still pose a very limited indirect threat to civil aviation, particularly in Israel’s northern areas.

Background: Syria

Prior to 2011, Syria maintained a strong air defense force – the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SyADF). Its  reference threats were primarily from Israel and to a lesser degree from Turkey, featuring a possible conflict with a superior air force, and lending to an investment in assets that would offset their enemies’ advantages, namely surface-to-air missiles. This was set up as a layered defense, with a variety of stationary, mobile, and man-portable systems allowing to cover the greatest possible ranges while offering redundancy and survivability of assets in case these systems would be targeted.

Following the commencement of the Syrian civil war, the Syrian government’s reference threat changed from that posed by a neighboring conventional military to that posed by domestic paramilitary forces that strictly rely on land warfare in regular and irregular fighting scenarios, namely rebels and militants. This induced a change in the Syrian Armed Forces’ force structure and resource allocations, which placed the SyADF at a lower priority compared to other forces deemed more valuable to the new type of conflict. Additionally, large numbers of the SyADF platforms were captured or destroyed by rival forces throughout the conflict, significantly damaging its capabilities. That being said, the SyADF was not disbanded and was still maintained as a fighting force, however not to a comparable level to that of the pre-war era.

Relevant systems:

Stationary: SA-2, SA-5 – maximum range 240 km.
Semi-mobile: SA-3 – maximum range 35 km.
Semi-mobile: Russian operated in Syrian territory: SA-23 – maximum range 250 km.
Mobile: SA-6, SA-8, SA-9, SA-11, SA-13, SA-17, SA-19, SA-22 – maximum range 35 km.
Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS): SA-7, SA-14, SA-16, SA-18, SA-24- maximum range 5 km.

Syria & Lebanon Special Report: Air defense disposition and regional impacts | MAX Security

Background: Hezbollah

Historically, Hezbollah, due to its status as an organization committed to guerilla warfare in the military sphere and the difficulties associated with operating high-profile weapons system resulting from Israel’s longstanding aerial superiority over Lebanon, was not able to acquire surface-to-air platforms. Instead, the organization made efforts to acquire man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), which are of lower profile however also have significantly limited capabilities.

That said, due to Hezbollah’s large-scale intervention in the Syrian conflict in support of the government, the organization increasingly adopted conventional tactics and weapons systems, including being trained and gaining experience in the operation of surface-to-air missile systems. Additionally, operating in Syria made it more difficult for Israel to acquire the same level of intelligence and take comparable measures against Hezbollah as it does in Lebanon. As a result, Hezbollah constantly makes significant efforts to acquire mobile surface-to-air systems in order to offset Israel’s relative advantages against the group, in preparation for a future possible broad conflict between the sides. Such mobile systems have reduced ranges compared to the stationary ones, but also require less infrastructure and support to operate, and have a lower profile increasing the survivability rate.

In this context, there are unconfirmed reports that the group was able to acquire an SA-8 and according to reports, the IAF foiled several Hezbollah attempts to acquire SA-17s, however it cannot be ruled out that such an attempt was successful at some point in time. Additionally, even if acquired by Hezbollah, it remains possible that such systems are still in Syria, and were not yet deployed to Lebanon. Lastly, there are unconfirmed reports that Iran had exported Shahab Thaqeb platforms, a copy of the chinese HQ-7, to Hezbollah.

Relevant systems:

Mobile: SA-8, SA-17, Shahab Thaqeb- maximum range 8/25 km.
MANPADS: SA-7, SA-14, SA-16, SA-18, QW-1, Misagh-1, Misagh-2 maximum range 5.2 km.

Assessments & Forecast

The remaining capabilities of the SyADF, limited as they currently are, were portrayed in the recent firing of an SA-5 against an Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft on March 17. This retaliatory action is notable as the overwhelming majority of previous airstrikes against pro-Syrian government targets that were attributed to the IAF, as recent as November 30 2016, did not encounter any direct countermeasures by the SyADF.

Furthermore, the incident comes amidst ongoing general positive momentum for the Syrian government and its allies (including Hezbollah) in the ongoing Syrian conflict, which yielded several strategic successes. This likely contributed to a shift in the Syrian government’s position regarding what it perceives as a violation of its sovereignty by Israel, placing it as a “red line” which warrants immediate countermeasures, possibly followed by a more calculated retaliation, which Israel likely preempted in a subsequent airstrike on March 19. The calculated nature of events are further evident in the immediate summoning of the Israeli ambassador by Russia, which backs the Syrian government, as well as the seeming coordination with the Syrian Foreign Minister, who sent letters to the UN’s Secretary General and President of the Security Council accusing Israel of violating Syrian sovereignty and UN resolutions. Moreover, this serves as indication of the strong support lent to the Syrian government by Russia, which is a major factor contributing to the aforementioned shift in strategy.

With this in mind, further similar incidents in which IAF aircraft are engaged by the SyADF following airstrikes against targets in Syria are likely to occur in the coming weeks and months, following the aforementioned shift in the Syrian government’s strategy. This is particularly likely since the IAF is liable to maintain its current strategy of limited scale and scope operations in Syria in order to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring what Israel perceives as “game changing” weapons systems, or to eliminate fighters perceived as planning direct military action against Israel, both of which designated as “red lines” by Israel. To a lesser extent such a response may be conducted by Hezbollah should they be able to acquire relevant weapons systems, given the strong cooperation between the Syrian government and Hezbollah, as well as due to the IAF’s use of Lebanese airspace to conduct at least some of its airstrikes in Syrian territory. However, Hezbollah is more likely to retain such valuable assets for use as a strategic surprise in a possible future round of hostilities with Israel and not to expose them and thus risk losing them in what Hezbollah perceives as a less important scenario.

However, the new situation may entail further complication between Russia and Israel, given the former’s staunch support for the Syrian government, in which Russian forces currently in theater will confront IAF aircraft should the letter be perceived as posing a strategic threat to the Syrian government and Russian regional interests. Such a scenario would not be unprecedented, as Russian aircraft reportedly scrambled in the past to confront IAF aircraft in or near Syrian airspace, most recently as April 2016. While so far such incidents did not result in hostilities between Russian and Israeli forces, a recurrence of IAF airstrikes in Syria facing ground fire, as is currently expected, contributes to growing tensions between Israel and Russia, and through that the possibility, albeit a low-likelihood one, of direct hostilities between the sides, most likely as result of a spiral of mistakes and/or miscommunication.

Taken as a whole, at this time any possible firing of a surface-to-air missile from Syrian territory in response to an IAF airstrike is liable to target IAF military aircraft. However, while not posing a direct threat, such events will pose an indirect threat to civil aviation in the region to a limited degree. This is due to the fact that in case a missile misses its designated target due to maneuvering or countermeasures, and is not intercepted as was the case in the latest incident, the missile may automatically lock on and engage the nearest available target, regardless of if it is military or civilian. At the current state of affairs the Syrian government is uninterested in an escalation with Israel and thus the SyADF is unlikely to engage aircraft over central Israel, despite potentially having the capabilities to do so, as this too will be considered a “red line” by Israel, and therefore such a risk is limited to the northern areas of the country.

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This report was written by:

Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community

Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa


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

Strategic Analysis: Repercussions of peacekeeper kidnapping on stability in the Golan Heights

On March 6, Syrian rebel fighters in the Golan Heights region released footage of a UN peacekeepers’ convoy which they claimed to have detained. The incident occurred near the Israeli border, with approximately 20 Filipino troops detained and taken to a rebel-designated “safe area.” Intentional or not, the young, unsuspecting rebels speaking in the video may have set in motion a chain of events which may lead to a dangerous deterioration on the once-peaceful Israeli-Syrian border, with no turning back.

The convoy was seized by over 30 rebels after it allegedly entered a rebel combat zone near the UN-designated demilitarized zone which separates the Israeli and Syrian borders. In the video, rebels accused the UN force of assisting the Assad regime, while demanding the Syrian military withdraw from the nearby village of Jamla in exchange for their release. The rebels claimed to be part of the Yarmouk Brigade, a unit which includes radical jihadists and has taken part in recent fighting in the Golan Heights. The UN force has insisted that the troops did not enter a combat area.

There are currently over 1,000 foreign troops operating in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which has been in place in the Golan Height’s demilitarized zone since 1974, as part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria. Croatia recently withdrew all of its 100 troops from the UNDOF over concerns for their safety after it was reported that Croatian weapons were being delivered to rebel forces.

A UNDOF base in the Golan Heights
A UNDOF base in the Golan Heights

The seizure of UN troops was likely committed irrespective of the orders or policies of prominent opposition commanders or officials, both in Syria and abroad. Syrian rebels in the area likely sought to draw media attention to their plight, despite the long-term risks of loss of support from the international community. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Repercussions of peacekeeper kidnapping on stability in the Golan Heights

Iran: Emerging rift with American government over timetable for military action to increase potential for unilateral Israeli strike (September 7, 2012)

Current Situation
Sources reported on September 3 that the United States had informed Iran through European nations that the American government will not support an Israeli strike if Iran refrains from targeting U.S. interests in the region.  Washington has denied these reports.

  • In response, an Iranian naval commander announced on September 5 that Iran views any attack by Israel as an attack by the United States, as well.
  • Meanwhile, reports indicate that the United States has taken action to forestall an Israeli attack upon Iran’s nuclear facilities.  These steps include minesweeping drills in the Persian Gulf and the installation of new radar systems in Qatar.
  • American President Barack Obama is also allegedly mulling covert actions and cyber warfare tactics once rejected, as well as releasing official declarations of what may induce U.S. military action.
  • The latest findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicate that Iran has more than doubled the number of centrifuges at its nearly impenetrable Fordow facility since May 2012, though they have yet to become operational.  However, other reports question the sophistication of these centrifuges.
  • These developments come in light of Iranian announcements of a large-scale air defense drill planned for October, as well as reports that an American-Israeli military exercise also slated for October will be smaller in scale than originally expected.
  • During the week of September 5, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak asserted that his government and the Obama administration agree on the gravity of a nuclear Iran, albeit not on the timetable for a preventative strike. That statement came after the visit of the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Israel, while a US congressman confirmed that Prime Minister Netanyahu had indeed engaged in a heated argument with US Ambassador Shapiro over the timetable for a strike.

Assessments: Current American efforts to deter Israeli unilateral action unlikely to succeed given ongoing Iranian enrichment activity 

  1. These recent incidents reveal a two-pronged strategy to American policy toward Iran, the first facet of which is to ‘buy time’ in order to forestall an Israeli attack.   The planned military drills, anti-missile systems, and tentative plans for more intensive covert operations and cyber warfare each suggest attempts to persuade Israel that there are effective alternatives to a military strike.  These actions also may signal to Iran that the threat from the United States is both credible and great.
  2. The second facet of American strategy is based upon fears within the Obama administration that an Israeli strike will result in severe and negative ramifications for U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.  These efforts to negotiate with Iran suggest ongoing efforts to publicly and privately distance the United States from Israel in an attempt to secure American assets in the region in the event of an Israeli attack.  However, the September 5 statements by the Iranian military commander highlight the continuing tensions between the United States and Iran and the futility to diplomatically engage Tehran thus far.
  3. The latest IAEA report on the acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program has likely increased Jerusalem’s fears over Iranian nuclear advancement, namely that Tehran is inching closer toward nuclear weapons capabilities at facilities which are heavily defended from a military attack.  The Israeli’s likely interpret IAEA reports of increased enrichment activity at the Fordow facility that international efforts, American or otherwise, have been insufficient.

Assessments: Rift with Obama administration over credible military option to increase Israeli willingness to engage in unilateral action

  1. Reports of the back-channel American messaging to Iran will likely further increase tensions with Israel.  Israeli sources indicate that relations between the two states have recently declined, while unverified sources in the White House claim that Israel is viewed as attempting to force American participation in an unnecessary regional conflict.  U.S. efforts to procure safeguards from Iran, as well as the expectations of a downgraded American-Israeli military drill further reflect and may exacerbate already strained ties.
  2. The recent argument between PM Netnayahu and Ambassador Shapiro, in addition to Defense Minister Barak’s statements over the disconnect on the urgency of a strike suggests that the Israelis doubt American resolve to present a credible military option at this point. The Israeli government currently believes that a credible threat of military action by the Americans will be enough to deter their nuclear progress, as seen following the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. Following that conflict, the Israelis interpreted the halt in Iranian nuclear activity as a signal that a sufficient threat of military action would further halt Iranian nuclear progress.
  3. We assess that in absence of a credible military deterrent by the Americans, including concrete “red lines” for such action, the Israelis will be further inclined to consider unilateral military action. An announcement by the Americans for such red lines in the time leading up to the UN General Assembly in September 2012, in addition to increased military buildup in the Persian Gulf, will encourage the Israelis to reconsider such actions.

Assessments: Iran unlikely to launch unprovoked attack against American interests in Persian Gulf despite recent threats

  1. In the event of a strictly unilateral strike by Israel without American involvement, the Iranians are unlikely to launch attacks against American military installations, or Sunni Arab states which host them. Despite recent statements to the contrary, we assess that the Iranians remain fearful of drawing the United States and Persian Gulf nations into a broad conflict, which would likely result in the weakening of the Iranian military.
  2. The Iranian threats against American interests are further meant to deter the Americans attacking Iran on their own or from joining hostilities resulting from an Israeli-led Strike. Should the Americans openly join such a conflict or launch their own attack, the Iranians are likely to target American interests and military bases throughout the Persian Gulf, but refrain from attacking civilian populations of Sunni Arab host nations.

A military strike against Iran will significantly impact stability in the region, particularly in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as well as Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.  Those traveling in these nations are advised to regularly review their emergency and contingency procedures as a basic security precaution; please consult with Max Security Solutions for specific recommendations and assessments regarding the impact of a military strike on operations in these countries.

Israel: Recent incidents along Lebanese border reminder of ongoing tensions between the IDF, armed Lebanese factions (July 9, 2012)

Current Situation
Recent events occurring along the Israeli-Lebanese border highlight the elevated tensions between the Israeli military and various armed forces in southern Lebanon.

  • On July 9, Israeli officials condemned a Lebanese construction project near the shared border, charging that the project intends to divert water from the Haztbani River. The Haztbani River supplies 25% of the water for Israel’s Jordan river, a major source of water for the country.
  • On the week of July 8, Lebanese Army troops patrolling their side of the border allegedly threatened Israeli patrols on the other side, reportedly aiming their weapons in their direction. A Lebanese commander was reportedly overheard dividing targets to his troops. The standoff was quelled after UN peacekeepers arrived at the scene.
  • As the 6th anniversary of the 2006 Lebanon War is set to be marked on July 12, Israeli officers have made numerous statements indicating that another outbreak of hostilities will result in widespread damage to southern Lebanon- Hezbollah’s primary operating area.

Assessments: Tensions with the Lebanese Army




Assessments: Tensions with Hezbollah








Strategic Analysis: Regional implications of suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria

Since Israel’s brazen airstrike on Syrian territory Jan. 30, Israel’s enemies have yet to retaliate. Syria, Iran, and their proxy, Hezbollah, together comprise the region’s heavily-armed fighting force, and yet remain unwilling to make good on pledges to respond with aggression to any Israeli force.

Even Syria’s enemies have begun to take notice of the nonresponse, exploiting the Assad regime’s inaction for their own propaganda purposes. In Turkey, where relations with Israel are seriously strained, President Ahmet Davutoglu asked: “Why didn’t [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad even throw a pebble when Israeli jets were flying over his palace and playing with the dignity of his country?”

Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted a weapons convoy leaving the Jamraya research facility near Damascus on January 30.
Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted a weapons convoy leaving the Jamraya research facility near Damascus on January 30.

Depending on whom you ask, Israel either hit sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in Syria that were en-route to the Lebanese border and Hezbollah (this is the US and Israeli explanation), or it hit a symbolic military research center northwest of Damascus (the Syrian version). But at this point, speculation over which targets were hit, where they were located, or what exact purpose they served is irrelevant.

What is relevant, is that Israel clearly retains the strategic high ground against its enemies, with full knowledge that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are bogged down in the swamp of civil war, economic sanctions, or diplomatic isolation.

The Israeli strike against Syria has to be looked at in the context of last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel – when Hamas fired some 1,500 rockets from the Gaza Strip, including longer range Iranian-made missiles that reached Tel Aviv for the first time. Israel successfully protected itself with its anti-missile system, called Iron Dome. The Syria strike shows that the last round in the Gaza Strip emboldened the Israeli military to go after Hezbollah, a far more fearsome enemy.

Knowing that its Iron Dome system was battle tested, Israel was able to confidently deploy the anti-missile system near Israel’s strategic industrial centers in Haifa prior to the attacks on Syria. Tanks and troops had been moved to the border with Syria, backed by a political establishment that had spent months coordinating with regional and international allies through back channels to gain support for such action. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Regional implications of suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria