Tag Archives: Security

Israel’s March 23rd election results likely to prolong political stagnation; may pose challenges to strategic business operations – Israel Analysis

Executive Summary:

  • On March 23, Israel held its fourth round of parliamentary elections in the past two years, which produced another stalemate. Rather than the left and right, the political fault lines in Israel are currently divided along the pro-Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc. At present, neither has been able to form a viable coalition.
  • Even if either bloc succeeds in forming a coalition through complex political maneuvering, any potential government’s longevity will likely be limited in time. Therefore, the years-long period of political deadlock in Israel is likely to persist due to the lack of a conclusive outcome.
  • The political stagnation will hinder the implementation of a long-term budget and comprehensive government planning, which will disrupt proper governance, cause some economic damage, limit the ability for strategic long-term security planning, and hamper Israel’s foreign relations with key allies.
  • This is liable to pose challenges for long-term strategic business operations in Israel, especially those requiring high-level government collaboration. However, regardless of the political situation, essential services and infrastructure remain operational and the country is largely functioning as normal. The highly successful COVID-19 vaccine campaign has significantly reduced restrictions on business and commercial activities, with domestic and foreign companies and organizations able to operate without major hindrance.
  • Those operating or residing in Israel are advised to remain abreast of the ongoing political situation, which is liable to result in some challenges to long-term business operations requiring state collaboration. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44-20-3540-0434 for more information.

Result of Israel's general elections (seats)


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Implications of the political deadlock

As well as leading to an unprecedented situation in which four elections have been held in the past two years, the political stalemate has had, and will continue to have, an impact on the functioning and governance of Israel in various fields. These range from budgetary and economic issues to foreign relations and long-term security doctrines. Below are the primary areas in which the political deadlock is liable to impact until a conclusive outcome is reached and a stable government is formed.

Economy, budget, and domestic governance

  1. The political situation in Israel has had an impact on the country’s economic functioning and ability to strategically plan ahead. As a result of the political stalemate, the Knesset has not passed an annual budget or comprehensive spending plans since March 2018, which has hindered the capacity of ministries and other government-funded organizations to operate effectively. This concern has been shared by Israel’s economic leadership, as evidenced by comments on April 9 by Bank of Israel Governor, Amir Yaron, who reiterated that “without a stable government that operates long-term” Israel will not be able to implement a multi-year economic plan to effectively emerge from the COVID-19 health and economic crises. This view highlights the importance of both the formation of a stable and cohesive government as well as its longevity for proper governance and economic growth. This is particularly in light of the pandemic, which had a severe impact on the Israeli workforce, with unemployment reaching a high of 27 percent early on in the health crisis and falling to 9.8 percent by March amid the opening up of the economy. Prior to the pandemic, unemployment had reached a record low of 3.8 percent.
  2. FORECAST: Payments to furloughed workers in Israel are set to expire at the end of June. Many furloughed workers have preferred to continue receiving state payments instead of returning to the workforce and will thus likely be compelled to return to part-time unemployment when these payments end in June. That said, parts of the population will likely remain indefinitely unemployed. This will require government-funded training programs and investment, potentially in cooperation with the private sector, to assist these individuals to reenter the workforce. This is especially because several sectors, particularly those depending on tourism, continue to operate at lower than pre-pandemic capacity and there are therefore fewer jobs in these fields. In the absence of a stable government able to strategically implement such initiatives, hundreds of thousands of people are liable to be in a precarious final situation, which will place strain on the government and the wider economy as their consumption will be reduced.
  3. The political situation has partly impaired Israel’s ability to respond to pressing needs in a timely manner. This is most saliently evidenced by a reported delay in Israeli payments to vaccine production companies as the Israeli cabinet has not convened to pass this budget due to political infighting in the current Likud-Blue & White caretaker coalition. This is due to the cancellation of a cabinet meeting by Defense Minister Gantz as a result of Netanyahu’s alleged refusal to permit the appointment of a Justice Minister, which also hinders the Knesset’s ability to pass key legislation. The void in the Justice Ministry is one of multiple senior roles, including in the security and defense sectors, that have not been filled due to government infighting. The fact that this led to Gantz’s cancellation of the cabinet meeting underscores the potential for multiple other issues of an important and strategic nature to be hindered or delayed due to political stagnation. The ministers were slated to vote on a 2.1 billion USD procurement of new vaccine doses, which is essential for Israel to sustainably combat the COVID-19 pandemic over the long-term and keep the economy open and thus provide crucial income for individuals and revenue for the state. FORECAST: Although the government will likely find a solution to this specific issue, the development highlights multiple aspects of the current political impasse on proper governance.
  4. The failure to pass a budget has impacted the government’s capacity to fund infrastructure projects and major national initiatives. This has affected multiple sectors and fields. For instance, the lack of a budget hindered the start of the academic year as the Knesset was forced to pass a special budget in order for schools to open while other state-funded educational services were impacted. More generally, the lack of a long-term budget poses challenges in terms of structural economic reforms and for ministries to provide essential services, including physical and mental healthcare, social provision, and education, which require increased investment in order to meet rising inflation and demand.
  5. FORECAST: Although the government has managed to pass a series of short-term spending plans and special budgets to cover specific needs, the longer the political deadlock continues, the more that certain services and infrastructure plans will be impacted. Furthermore, even if a coalition is formed, if its primary components lack a shared vision beyond replacing the current Netanyahu-led government, this will also hinder state funding and the passing of a viable long-term budget due to disagreement over policy and economic priorities. Taken as a whole, the political situation will continue to have a relative impact on the functioning of the state over the coming months at least. It may also reduce the desire of international firms to commit to invest and set up offices in Israel until a stable government is in place that can facilitate such operations and work in collaboration. This is also evidenced by a warning by an international credit ratings agency from March 31 indicating that while the present situation does not pose immediate risks to Israel’s economic rating, shown by the fact it kept Israel’s credit rating at AA-, if the political situation persists, it will elevate the fiscal risks due to the difficulty in reducing the deficit. Bank of Israel governor Yaron reinforced this concern, stating that “credit ratings companies are worried by the government’s instability and the failure to pass a budget.”
  6. Regardless of the political situation, essential services and infrastructure remain operational and the country is largely functioning as normal. The highly successful COVID-19 vaccine campaign has significantly reduced restrictions on business and commercial activities, with domestic and foreign companies and organizations able to operate without a major hindrance. FORECAST: The political stagnation in the country is more likely to pose a challenge to foreign companies potentially seeking to initiate major investments or launch large-scale projects within Israel. This is because government ministries face both budgetary issues and obstacles in the decision-making process. This may also affect collaboration with ministries or state-funded organizations, but routine operations of existing companies within Israel will continue regardless, albeit delays can be expected when receiving permits, regulatory approvals, or other activities that depend on legislation.

Foreign Relations

  1. The political situation is also somewhat affecting Israel’s ability to forge relations and gain international influence. As a result of political infighting, the current caretaker government, even when it managed to convene on a fairly regular basis, struggled to project a united message to the international community regarding Israel’s policies as senior members of the Likud and Blue and White parties frequently undermined each other. This is particularly the case in sensitive issues of foreign and defense policy, with the latter portfolios being held by Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, respectively, but many diplomatic and security matters being directed by Netanyahu. These competing points of authority have likely posed problems for various states when dealing with Israel. FORECAST: The failure to establish a viable and stable government led by ministers appointed for the long-term will likely pose a challenge for Israel’s efforts to forge relations in essential sectors such as trade and commerce. Foreign governments may be reluctant to commit to such agreements with caretaker officials, while the latter may be restricted by legal obstacles placed upon an interim government.
  2. The current impasse has resulted in a situation wherein 36 new ambassadorial appointees, which have been approved by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) appointments committee are not yet fulfilling their roles. This situation has been ongoing since November 2020 and many of the ambassadors are reportedly ready and set to be posted on diplomatic missions on an immediate basis. Reports state that this delay is due to a refusal by Netanyahu to bring their approval to the cabinet for its consent. The absence of new ambassadors is a significant issue that is liable to harm Israel’s diplomatic, trade, and security interests. This situation can hinder Israel’s ability to conduct diplomatic campaigns and strategic discourse with other international actors as well as to advance visits of economic delegations to other countries.
  3. Most importantly for Israel, the lack of government can undermine the country’s relations with key strategic allies such as the US. Continued political paralysis within Israel has likely somewhat hindered its ability to build strategies and coordinate with its allies on matters of essential policy and national security. This is because these allies may be reluctant to engage in long-term planning in the absence of a stable government, especially one that may be perceived as volatile and potentially liable to fall as soon as a political crisis emerges. This may impact Israel’s positions on the Iranian nuclear agreement, especially amid international efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); and any US engagement with the Palestinians.
  4. Another area that the political situation can impact in terms of foreign policy is the pre-election, US-brokered normalization trend that was recorded, consisting of diplomatic agreements between Israel and four Arab states (the UAEBahrain, Sudan, and Morocco). These deals are extremely important and strategic for Israel’s diplomatic, security, and economic interests as they enable Jerusalem to garner additional international support against its adversaries and forge trade and investment relations. FORECAST: This trend is likely to slow down or be suspended altogether in the absence of a stable Israel government that other potential Arab states perceive to be a long-term partner. The regional actors that are most likely to reach a normalization agreement with Israel tend to be relatively risk-averse and attach great importance to stability. Thus, if the political deadlock continues or an unstable government is formed, further normalization agreements are unlikely.

Security

  1. In terms of security, the political deadlock will have an impact on the procurement of military hardware and weaponry. It may also impact the development of advanced security doctrines based on these weapon systems and long-term, large-scale organizational planning. This is due to various budgetary obstacles and challenges posed to the decision-making process. However, over the past two years, despite the political stalemate, Israel has continued to act to safeguard its security interests across multiple arenas. Military activity, both overt and covert, has been reported in various theaters of operation throughout the Middle East region. That said, although these operations are informed by a guiding strategy that has been formulated by previous governments and continues to be updated by Israel’s security agencies, especially vis-a-vis the regional threat posed by Iran and its proxies, the lack of a cohesive government is liable to affect proper governance and the decision-making process. This is shown for instance by the Israeli government’s apparent lack of strategy regarding the best way to manage the threat of militant groups based in the Gaza Strip, which is an issue that periodically emerges with a potentially decisive operation indefinitely put on hold until a stable government is formed. Taken as a whole, despite the political situation dictate, Israel can continue to respond to any threats to its national security and continue to formulate a military strategy to defend these interests.
  2. FORECAST: This situation will impact Israel’s security in the strategic realm and possibly lead to long-term damage as Israel’s adversaries can gain an edge on delays to procure and develop weaponry due to budgetary and decision-making challenges. However, the ability of Israel’s security apparatus to mitigate and thwart security within Israel itself will remain intact over the coming period. The Israeli security agencies have proven during this period of relative political instability and throughout periods of far greater security volatility that the vast majority of local and regional threats, namely along its northern borders and vis-a-vis Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza, are manageable. Thus, the political situation will not lead to a fundamental destabilizing of the security environment within Israel over the coming period.

Election Results and Political Blocs

  • On March 23, Israel held its fourth round of elections for its parliament (the Knesset) in the past two years.
  • During this two-year political deadlock, a government was formed in May 2020, which was led by Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party alongside Benny Gantz, his political rival from the“Blue and White” party. The government’s functioning was hindered by in-fighting and discord between the rival political factions, which eventually led to the dispersal of the Knesset in December 2020, resulting in the March election.
  • The results of the election can be seen below. The political fault lines within Israel since the first election in March 2019 have revolved around the parties’ willingness to join or rejection of a government led by PM Netanyahu, who is on trial having been officially indicted in November 2019 for breach of trust, bribery, and fraud.
  • The debate on Netanyahu’s political and legal status has transcended the traditional left-right discourse within the Israeli political landscape. In this context, parties that are part of the right-wing political camp in Israel, such as former Likud member Gidon Saar’s “New Hope”, have formally declared themselves to be part of the “anti-Netanyahu” or “change” bloc. Other parties, such as Naftali Bennett’s right-wing “Yamina” and Mansour Abbas’ Islamist “Raam”, remain unaffiliated with either of the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs.
  • This has resulted in a situation that neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc, primarily made up of right-wing and religious/ultra-Orthodox parties nor the ideologically diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc has been able to form a coalition, which requires a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.
  • On April 6, Netanyahu was given a four-week mandate to form a government by President Reuven Rivlin. He has until May 4 to try to assemble a viable coalition and can thereafter request a 14-day extension at the discretion of the president. If he fails, Rivlin can ask a second person or return the mandate to the Knesset. If these alternatives fail to yield a government, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and another election will be held.

Affiliations of political parties

These are the various political parties and their affiliations and policies.

Pro-Netanyahu blog: Parties, leaders, policies

Anti-Netanyahu bloc: Parties, leaders, policies

Unaffiliated Parties: Leaders, policies


Main options for government coalitions – likelihood and longevity

Option 1: Pro-Netanyahu bloc & Yamina government plus Raam external support in Knesset

  • Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Coalition Components: Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, “Religious Zionism”, and Yamina (59 seats)
  • External support for government votes: Raam (4 seats)

Netanyahu-Led government, Raam supporting from outside

Analysis:

This option is somewhat feasible as it includes various political parties with broadly similar ideological agendas and worldviews in government. Although the Raam party would likely not be a formal part of the government, but an external support bloc, its inclusion poses the greatest challenge to the formation of the government. The “Religious Zionism” party has explicitly stated and reiterated that it will not be part of a government that depends on Raam’s support and this is likely to hinder any progress on this option. This is compounded by major concessions that Netanyahu may have to make to Bennett for the latter to join a government led by the former. In terms of longevity, the Raam party’s leadership is able to cooperate with the religious factions in this potential government, particularly over social policy and support for religious institutions. However, its overall Islamist agenda and links to the Palestinian cause are liable to create complications for the government’s functioning, which would be exacerbated during periods of escalation or religious sensitivities.

Option 2: Pro-Netanyahu bloc & Yamina government plus defectors from the anti-Netanyahu bloc

  • Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Coalition Components: Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, “Religious Zionism”, Yamina + 2 members of anti-Netanyahu bloc shift allegiances (61 seats)

Pro-Netanyahu bloc, Yamina, Defectors from anti-Netanyahu bloc

Analysis:

This government is unlikely due to the reluctance of members of the center or center-right parties to renege on their pledges not to join a government led by Netanyahu amid his indictment on corruption charges. The “Blue and White” party has insisted it will not join a Netanyahu-led government following its previous power-sharing experience with the incumbent prime minister while “New Hope” members, more likely to defect, have so far insisted they will not join the pro-Netanyahu bloc. Although individual members of these parties may choose to join Netanyahu under the pretext of preventing another round of elections, the parties themselves are unlikely to do so due to the potential for a fifth vote and the impact this would have on voters who will perceive this as the violation of election pledges. In terms of longevity, a government made up of the Netanyahu bloc, Yamina, and two defectors from the anti-Netanyahu bloc would likely be more stable on key policies than a Raam-backed coalition. However, with legislation pertaining to Netanyahu’s legal complications, this government would likely face substantial hurdles as several members of Yamina and most potential defectors are unlikely to support any perceived efforts by Netanyahu or his supporters to release him from or evade the legal process.

Option 3: Anti-Netanyahu bloc plus external support from Raam

  • Prime Minister: Naftali Bennett/Yair Lapid (Rotation)
  • Coalition Components: Yesh Atid, Blue & White, Yisrael Beitenu, Labor, Meretz, Yamina, New Hope (58 seats)
  • External support for government votes: Raam (4 seats)

Anti-Netanyahu bloc with support from Raam

Analysis:

In terms of the likelihood of formation, this government faces multiple challenges due to the ideological diversity of the parties it would include and the pressure within both the left-leaning (Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz) and right-leaning factions of the potential coalition (Yamina, New Hope) to extract concessions from the other. The former parties seek to ensure Yesh Atid’s Labor is the prime minister (PM) or first in any rotation, while the latter right-leaning bloc insists on Bennett as PM and first in the rotation. The right-leaning parties will also aim to block the left-leaning parties from holding key cabinet posts and thus advancing a left-wing agenda as well as blocking their entry to the security cabinet. Even if this government does materialize, it would likely be hindered by major in-fighting and its longevity is thus very low.

Option 4: Netanyahu chooses/forced to sit aside; right-wing government formed

  • Prime Minister: Consensus among right-wing parties
  • Coalition components: Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yamina, New Hope, Religious Zionism (65 seats)

Right-wing government without Netanyahu

Analysis:

This option is extremely unlikely due to Netanyahu’s widespread popularity among the Likud party and the Ultra-Orthodox parties that support the Likud. Members and voters of these parties would consider any attempt to coerce Netanyahu to step down as anti-democratic, which would create major tensions within Israeli society. Netanyahu also continues to hold significant support among parliamentarians in his and other supporting parties, while even some of his detractors may oppose legislation that prevents him from being prime minister due to its targeted nature. This is evidenced by the failure of anti-Netanyahu parties to pass such legislation over the past years despite their overall opposition to his continued premiership. Taken as a whole, this option is highly unlikely and its longevity is thus negligible.


BOTTOM LINE

Overall, given that all of the above-mentioned options pose considerable challenges to political actors in terms of both the formation of a viable coalition and the longevity of any government, the most likely scenario is either a fifth election with a similar outcome along pro- and anti-Netanyahu lines or an unstable government that fails to complete its term and thus elections are again called.


Recommendations:

In light of the current situation:

  1. Those operating or residing in Israel, or seeking to do so, are advised to remain abreast of the ongoing political situation, which is liable to have an impact on business continuity.
  2. It is advised to allot for obstacles to cooperation with public sector bodies and ministries as well as other state-funded organizations.
  3. Allot for disruptions to processes that require government permits, regulatory approvals, or other activities that are liable to depend on legislation.
  4. More generally, allot for continued restrictions on entry to Israel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44-20-3540-0434 for guidance on entry to Israel amid the current limitations.

General Recommendations:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Remain cognizant of the situation along with the Lebanese and Syrian border areas, as minor hostilities between various groups can escalate into a broader conflict. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. As a general precaution, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly in the vicinity of Damascus Gate, due to the increased potential for acts of militancy and civil unrest. For those seeking to travel to the Old City, it is advised to contact us for a security-oriented travel guide.

Former Crown Prince’s April 3 video message expressing criticism of state governance constitutes unprecedented, highly notable development – Jordan Analysis

Executive Summary

  • On April 3, an international news agency released a video of an address by former Crown Prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who claimed to be under house arrest and stated that the Kingdom had become “stymied in corruption.” This followed a report on April 3 of an alleged plot to “unseat” the King, which prompted the arrest of up to 20 senior officials.
  • Although the foiling of a coup plot remains unconfirmed, the very public expression of criticism by a prominent member of the royal family directed towards King Abdullah II due to the alleged endemic state corruption constitutes a highly notable and unprecedented event within Jordan, which has largely been one of the most stable states within the Middle East over recent years.
  • The dissemination of the video by Prince Hamzah is likely to legitimize other actors who may harbor anti-monarchy sentiments within Jordan and may foment protests. However, the King’s current control of the state security apparatus renders it unlikely that any efforts to unseat him or undermine his rule will succeed, at least at the current juncture.
  • Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.

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Please be advised:

Video by Prince Hamzah bin Hussein

  • During the night hours of April 3, a prominent international news agency released a six-minute-long video message by Jordan’s former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II. In the video, Prince Hamzah, sat with a picture of his father, the late King Hussein in the background, and alleged the following:
    • He was placed under house arrest after he was visited by the Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF). He stated that the Chief of Staff informed him that he is not allowed to “go out [and] to communicate with people.”
    • The Chief of Staff stated that the reason behind the move was that in meetings in which Prince Hamzah participated, “or on social media, relating to visits that I have made, there had been criticism of the government, or the King [Abdullah II].” The Chief of Staff allegedly stated that Prince Hamzah was not himself critical of the King at these meetings in answer to this question.
    • Several people he knows, including his friends, have also been arrested by authorities. His security detail has also been removed.
    • His own internet and telephone have been cut and that he released this video using a satellite internet connection, which he was informed is going to be cut off as well.
    • “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption, and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse by the year. I am not responsible for the lack of faith that people have in their institutions.”

Other Related Developments, Statements

  • During the evening hours of April 3, Jordan’s official news agency reported that following a security investigation, several Jordanians, including officials, were “arrested for security reasons.” The report added that “an investigation is underway.”
  • An unconfirmed report in a prominent US-based news agency indicates that former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, and up to 20 other officials, were detained “amid an ongoing investigation into an alleged plot to unseat King Abdullah II.”
  • Jordan’s official news agency reported during the night hours of April 3 that Prince Hamzah is neither under house arrest nor has he been detained “as reported by some media outlets.”
  • Several prominent news outlets in Jordan published reports on the developments on April 4. The news agencies largely voiced support for the monarchy.
  • On April 4, Queen Noor, the widow of Prince Hamzah’s father, the late King Hussein, and mother of Hamza, published a message on social media condemning the actions against her son, stating that she is “praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.”
  • During the afternoon hours of April 4, the President of the Jordanian Senate, Faisal al-Fayez stated that “the King is a red line” and that “we will confront every trembling hand seeking to tamper with the security of Jordan” in response to what he said were “malicious plots being hatched in secret.”

International Responses

  • An Israeli diplomatic correspondent reported that Jordanian officials sent a message to Israel that “the situation is under control” and that there is no threat to the stability of Jordan against the backdrop of the development.
  • Several governments, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, extended their public support to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

 

Former Crown Prince’s Video & Reported Foiling of Coup Plot

  1. This ongoing development is highly notable given that public criticism of Jordan’s state governance from within the Jordanian royal family is largely unprecedented. This is given that such accusations of endemic corruption and nepotism, implicitly accuses the monarch. Moreover, although unconfirmed, if even parts of the report that elements within Jordan sought to stage an “alleged plot to unseat” the King are true, this would constitute an even more noteworthy development. This is because the Kingdom of Jordan has overall been one of the most stable states within the Middle East region over recent years and a strategic partner to the West. Although protests against the Prime Minister-led government and its policies are periodically recorded, public expressions of dissent within the upper echelons of the Kingdom against the monarch, and certainly calls for his removal, remain marginalized and extremely rare in Jordan.
  2. Based on the current information and Prince Hamzah’s indication of the stipulated reason for his arrest, namely, criticism towards Jordanian authorities during meetings he had participated in, it is less likely that Jordanian authorities were responding to an imminent armed coup attempt. It is more likely that the operation was an effort to curtail criticism of the monarchy from within the royal family and higher political echelons of the country. This is partially supported by the lack of reported armed conflict in Jordan, although it is unlikely at this stage that any coup plot within Jordan, especially one tied to members of the royal family itself, would have involved the use of force. Regardless, if any coup plot were imminent, the plotters would have likely used the April 3 arrest raids, as well as Prince Hamzah’s video message, as justification to execute their plan, prior to a likely prolonged crackdown by authorities on perceived dissidents following the current events.
  3. Given the reported scale of arrests and seniority of the arrestees as well as the public and direct criticism by the Prince regarding the functioning of the state, it remains possible that such a plan existed, albeit in a nascent stage. In this context, the current arrests highlight the monarch’s ability to monitor and clamp down on prominent forces within the Kingdom that express criticism towards him. The public nature of the detentions and the high-profile targets also constitute a show of force by Abdullah II and an effort to convey the message that public criticism towards the functioning of the monarchy is intolerable, especially from within the royal family. This is because such expressions of perceived dissent point to a lack of cohesion within the monarchy, which has constituted a source of stability within the Kingdom. To this end, the King and his supporters within the political system have used all means at their disposal to protect the monarch amid an overall effort to secure the stability of the state.
  4. The very fact that the arrests were carried out, likely at the King’s direct behest, and the April 4 publications in several of Jordan’s news agencies largely voicing support for the monarch, affirm that Abdullah II retains control over state security forces and indicates that influential figures within the country continue to defer to his rule. FORECAST: Taken as a whole, the materialization, successful or otherwise, of an organized coup against the current monarch and systematic effort to unseat him is unlikely at the current juncture, particularly one that uses military force. The King evidently continues to maintain control over the most critical and influential organs within the security and governmental apparatus, which will help to ensure any future organized dissidents or plots are swiftly repressed. In this context, going forward, to cement his control further, the King is liable to act with increased caution and vigilance and only allow a group of specific loyalists to be privy to the running of the state.

Background, Timing, and Potential Impact of Developments

  1. It cannot be ruled out that other dissident groups or individuals seeking to overthrow King Abdullah II have organized themselves within Jordan and have aspirations to gather support with the aim of ending his rule. This is indicated by the video message transmitted by Prince Hamzah, which suggests these elements hold support among influential factions within the monarchy itself. This is especially given that Hamzah is known to maintain strong relations with certain tribal leaders and is popular among segments of the wider population. The video release itself indicates that Prince Hamzah is undeterred by his placement under alleged house arrest and is willing to continue expressing his grievances towards how the Kingdom is being ruled. This points towards a level of confidence or resolve harbored by the Prince and perception that he has support for his actions within the Kingdom. This also indicates that a rift within Jordan’s high-ranking political echelon is gaining traction, as was also highlighted by the arrests of other senior officials.
  2. The fact that Prince Hamzah’s statements in the video were made in English signals an effort to reach out to Western actors. This is likely important for the Prince given the overall support that regional and international powers, such as the US and UK, extend to the Kingdom and the monarchy. He thus likely aims to undermine the King on the international as well as domestic level, which will increase the spotlight on the alleged failings of the current monarch’s governance and policies. The picture of his father, late King Hussein, which was apparent in the background during his remarks, further constitutes a symbolic measure by the Prince to project his credentials and legitimacy. Hamzah’s motivation also likely derives from the fact that his designation as Crown Prince was revoked by King Abdullah II himself and he therefore likely harbors very personal grievances against the current monarch, beyond his denunciations pertaining to policy and governance.
  3. The timing of the development is also crucial. It comes amid significant manifestations of unrest in Jordan over the recent weeks, particularly against the backdrop of public criticism over the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, its resultant adverse economic impact, and the prolonged travel and business restrictions it entails. Most significantly, after seven people died from oxygen depletion in a hospital in Salt on March 13, anti-government protests were recorded in multiple cities in which some protesters chanted slogans such as “Salt, rise up, let’s topple the regime.” Reports also indicated that riot police dispersed and arrested activists in Amman on March 24 during protests that were set to mark the tenth anniversary of the “Arab Spring.” Taken as a whole, these instances highlight the prevalence of some anti-monarchy sentiments among segments of the Jordanian population and may have emboldened the arrestees to take action in the more immediate future, at a time that is perceived to be more favorable to their cause.
  4. In this context, Prince Hamzah’s appeal to the “loss of hope that is apparent in pretty much every Jordanian” and his statement that “the situation will improve if we are able to come together and make our voice heard” is likely aimed at highlighting the perceived wrongdoings by his half-brother and thus undermine the latter’s legitimacy. FORECAST: In light of these comments, segments of the Jordanian population will likely perceive Prince Hamzah’s remarks as a legitimization of criticism of the King and his policies and a direct call to rise up i.e. “come together and make our voice heard”. This may foment anti-monarchy sentiments and calls for protests in the Kingdom over the coming days and weeks. This may manifest in protests in major Jordanian cities, including in cities that already witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks, such as Amman and Salt.
  5. FORECAST: As a measure to restrict further possible developments, including the emergence of a movement against the monarchy, as well as to repress any potential attempts to unseat the King either from within the royal family itself or by external elements, Jordanian authorities will likely implement elevated security protocols throughout the country, particularly in and around Amman, over the coming days and weeks. Measures will likely include a significant physical presence of security forces in and around central cities and the establishment of roadblocks and checkpoints near strategic facilities linked to the monarchy, such as the royal palaces. The government may also attempt to clamp down on any calls or circulation of anti-monarchy content on the internet and may employ restrictive cyber measures, as was reported on March 15 amid protests to condemn the government’s incompetence over the medical failure in Salt. Furthermore, Jordanian authorities will likely resort to further arrests of high-ranking officials that may be perceived to have participated in activities that undermine the state authorities and the monarchy in Jordan over the coming days and weeks.
  6. FORECAST: All of these actions taken together, and the monarchy’s continued control over key state security apparatus, will likely succeed in curbing any emerging movement against the King within Jordan, at least at the current juncture. Regardless, the development will have major implications within the upper echelons of the Jordanian political landscape and will significantly raise tensions between supporters and detractors of both King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza, who will likely be perceived as a traitor by some of the King’s supporters. These tensions also pose a potential threat to the security environment within Jordan over the coming weeks and months.

Recommendations:

  1. Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.
  2. Those operating or residing in Jordan on April 4 and over the coming days, particularly in Amman, are advised to maintain heightened vigilance given the aforementioned developments. This is particularly given the prospects for further arrests in Jordan over the coming hours and days.
  3. Keep a low profile and refrain from publishing or circulating any material pertaining to the current development, as this may be perceived by state authorities as potentially supportive of any anti-government or anti-monarchy plot.
  4. Maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of the Fourth Circle, al-Husseini Mosque and al-Nakheel Square, given that the area is the traditional route of opposition marches.
  5. Please be advised that there is a heightened risk for foreigners traveling outside of major urban centers in Jordan due to instances of civil unrest in the Kingdom’s more remote areas.
  6. Those operating or residing in Jordan are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of the Jordanian-Syrian border, while avoiding nonessential travel to the vicinity of the Jordanian-Iraqi border due to an increased risk of militancy and potential for spillover violence.

New unified interim government to face challenges, security situation in country to remain largely static over coming months – Libya Analysis

Executive Summary

  • A new unified interim government for Libya, known as the Government of National Unity (GNU), was voted in on February 5, approved by the House of Representatives (HoR) on March 10, and officially sworn in on March 16. The GNU’s main prerogative is the organization of national elections in Libya on December 24. Its mandate will end on this date.
  • This development is a strategic gamechanger for the political landscape of Libya as this is the first time that the country has had a unified government since 2014. It represents a major breakthrough in the political deadlock that has characterized Libya over recent years.
  • However, there are several challenges that lie ahead for the GNU, which will hinder its ability to effectively dispense its duties over the coming months. This includes challenges arising from local skepticism surrounding the GNU’s legitimacy, political infighting within and between various state institutions, and the proliferation of local militias across the country.
  • Therefore, while the formation of the GNU will at least partly stabilize the country in the coming months, the security situation of Libya will remain largely static due to the prevalence of militant groups and militias as well as the lack of a unified security apparatus under the GNU’s command.
  • It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli at this time due to the current political instability and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. Travel to Benghazi, Misrata, and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only, while adhering to all security precautions. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Read more about the on-ground implications of this development for Libya

Download full report - New unified interim government to face challenges, security situation in country to remain largely static over coming months - Libya Analysis


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Far-right groups to continue successful radicalization and recruitment campaigns in 2021; raising the potential for attacks and unrest

Executive Summary:

  • While successful far-right militant attacks have decreased in 2020, Europe continues to see significant levels of radicalization.
  • A number of arrests and investigations have been made among law enforcement and security forces, as far-right extremists continue to attempt to gain access to training, weapons, and highly trained recruits.
  • Far-right extremists are capitalizing on COVID-19-related grievances, infiltrating anti-lockdown protests and rallies in an attempt to become more visible and push their agenda.
  • Radicalization among children and youth has seen a significant increase during COVID-19, as far-right groups target vulnerable individuals, both online and through physical events.
  • The development of transnational links among far-right groups across the region has heightened the risk of far-right militant attacks.
  • While extremist groups are increasingly likely to attempt large scale coordinated attacks and campaigns, radicalized lone wolf attackers are still more likely to succeed due to lesser surveillance.
  • Travel to Europe may continue while maintaining vigilance for militant-related activity.

Current situation

Notable Far-right Incidents in Europe

  • Europe has witnessed a number of notable incidents linked to the far-right in 2020:
  • On December 12, Austrian authorities seized dozens of weapons, explosives, and 100,000 rounds of ammunition that were intended to be used to set up an armed far-right extremist militia in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria. Five suspects were arrested in Austria and two in Bavaria.
  • On December 10, two individuals were arrested in Andalusia and Navarre in Spain for selling drugs to buy weapons to instigate a “future race war,” a focal point in white supremacist ideology.
  • On October 4, a Jewish student was seriously injured in an attack outside a synagogue in Hamburg. The assailant wore military-style clothing, similar to that of the German army. A note with a swastika was found in the suspect’s possession.
  • On February 19, eleven people were killed and five injured in a far-right attack at two shisha bars in HanauGermany. The perpetrator, Tobias Rathjen, published his manifesto online, purporting right-wing extremist views and expressing hatred for migrants.

Far-Right Radicalization in 2020

  • Far-right radicalization in Europe in 2020 has seen a shift in trends as a result of the COVID-19 pandemicSuch reports have found that far-right extremists are using the COVID-19 pandemic to purport conspiracy theories and disinformation on social media. Major theories have included the claim that COVID-19 is a bioweapon, that the pandemic was orchestrated to influence US politics, and that COVID-19 was created by Big Pharma to push a mass vaccination program. Central figures targeted by these theories have included George Soros and Bill Gates.  Moreover, the pandemic is being used to repurpose pre-existing extremist tropes as an opportunity to attack a range of minority communities. In addition to theories claiming that the virus was created by the “Jewish elite,” others claim that migrants brought COVID-19 to Europe, exacerbating existing anti-migrant sentiments.
  • In October, Germany released its first nationwide report on right-wing extremism in the security services, revealing hundreds of related incidents across the police and military. In total, there were 1,064 cases among military personnel and 370 incidents among police and intelligence officers between January 2017 and March 2020. On December 9, German intelligence agents in Baden-Wuerttemberg put the Querdenken 711 group, which has organized and participated in anti-lockdown protests, on a watch-list due to its links to far-right extremism and growing concerns regarding radicalization.
  • On December 5, Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles called on the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation on an online chat group in which retired military officials appeared to be disseminating far-right content, including support for military uprisings and mass executions
  • In December 2020, the UK released a report stating that a total of 17 under 18-year-olds have been arrested for militancy related charges between January and the end of September 2020, compared to 11 in 2019. The number of referrals of right-wing extremist content rose by 43 percent between 2019 and 2020. Nearly 1,500 children aged 15 and under have been identified as being at risk of radicalization. A total of 682 children were referred to the government’s counter-terrorism program over concerns about their involvement with the far-right in 2017-2018. The figure shows a five-fold increase since 2014-15. Of the 682 children, 24 were under the age of ten. In total, the government recorded 1,404 referrals related to right-wing radicalization, 62 percent of which were related to individuals under the age of 20.
  • In May, the Council of the European Union issued a report on far-right extremist groups exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to radicalize, recruit, and fundraise for their cause. Similar reports were issued by the United Nations in April.

Assessments & Forecast

Far-right groups are using COVID-19 to repurpose existing narratives and enter the mainstream 

  1. That far-right extremists are infiltrating anti-lockdown protests and rallies throughout Western Europe, as evidenced by extremists attending protests in Germany, Spain, and the UK, indicates such groups are taking advantage of COVID-19 related anxieties and grievances in the public to become more visible and push their agenda. This is evident by far-right groups criticizing COVID-19 restrictions, particularly reimposed lockdowns during the second wave of the pandemic, as well as concerns regarding COVID-19 vaccines, to undermine government officials.
  2. Considering that anti-lockdown protests have witnessed unrest, including clashes, these demonstrations present a threat to bystanders. Most notably, these anti-lockdown protests hold a high potential for radicalization. This was evident in the German region of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s decision to put the Querdenken 711 group under surveillance due to its ties to the far-right and increasing risk of radicalization.
  3. The dissemination of COVID-19-related conspiracy theories and disinformation online reiterates the continued use of online platforms by far-right extremists to purport their ideologies. That discussions of far-right conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 have surged, with one major social media platform seeing posts increase by 815 percent and another by 750 in March alone, further suggests far-right groups are capitalizing on public concerns. Given that many of these posts do not appear to be overtly far-right in nature, with a significant number focusing on lockdown measures and anti-government sentiments, the pandemic has allowed far-right extremists to increase their public base as well as their exposure, with the content being increasingly shared and normalized online. Further, far-right extremists globally are utilizing similar COVID-19-related conspiracy theories, allowing movements to form transnational links and share strategies.
  4. FORECAST: As lockdowns are eased, and countries begin to roll out mass vaccination programs, it is likely that far-right extremists will increase discourse on vaccinations, with disinformation and protests related to COVID-19 vaccines expected to increase. Governments are likely to increase surveillance among groups and forums sharing such information in the near term, as well as potentially restrict related protests and rallies, due to the potential for being hotbeds of radicalization.

 

Far-right extremist groups to increase membership base by appealing to vulnerable groups both online and through physical events 

  1. Reports by law enforcement agencies regarding increased radicalization among children and youth indicate that far-right extremists are utilizing various strategies aimed at recruiting children. In particular, online strategies, such as first-person shooting video games, videos, and online forums, are providing vulnerable individuals with a sense of belonging. Given that the pandemic has exacerbated grievances and led to an increase in internet usage, the risk for radicalization among vulnerable segments of the population has risen.
  2. The widespread use of remote teaching since March has resulted in less monitoring, both with regard to online activity and changes in behavior among youth. With that, the pandemic has not only increased the potential for radicalization but also the ability to monitor such activity. In the UK, the closures of schools and reductions in social care and mental health provision have led to a decrease in referrals to police about possible radicalization for the country’s PREVENT counter-terrorism program.
  3. In addition to online tactics, far-right extremist groups continue to focus on violent sports, particularly mixed martial arts (MMA), as well as music and music festivals. Given MMA’s general popularity, the far-right’s use of the sport offers an ideal recruitment tactic, with MMA events serving as fundraising and propaganda dissemination opportunities.
  4. Considering that these events, such as the white supremacist Shield and Sword MMA festival held in Ostritz, Germany, as well as music festivals regionwide, are often attended by individuals from multiple countries, they provide far-right groups with the possibility of forming transnational links.
  5. FORECAST: As COVID-19 related restrictions and concerns continue, far-right extremists are expected to focus primarily on online methods of radicalization, given the potential for events, such as MMA and music festivals, being canceled. Moreover, considering that remote learning is liable to continue for an extended period, it is likely that far-right groups will primarily focus on vulnerable youth.
  6. FORECAST: Additionally, far-right extremists are likely to utilize recent Islamist militant attacks in Austria and France as a way to increase anti-Islam and anti-Migrant sentiments, potentially attracting new members.

Radicalization in law enforcement and security forces likely to continue throughout Europe

  1. The instances of far-right activity within law enforcement and security forces, most notably in Germany, where security services recorded more than 1,400 cases of suspected far-right extremism in the three years as of March 2020, suggest far-right groups are attempting to infiltrate these forces.
  2. Reports indicate that individuals with far-right and nationalist views are often attracted to joining the police and armed forces, as they often see themselves as individuals able to “defend their communities”. Furthermore, many of the concepts common among far-right ideologies overlap with those often found within military structures, such as strong national identity and physical “superiority”. Consequently, the potential for radicalization is considerably higher among armed forces and security forces, given the presence that groups are able to recruit trained people. As such, it is possible that law enforcement screening for far-right sentiments is lacking.
  3. Additionally, it is likely that far-right extremists are infiltrating security forces in an attempt to gain access to tactical training and weapons. As such, the infiltration and radicalization within security forces present a significant threat, given the potential access to weapons.
  4. FORECAST: Instances related to far-right activity among security forces are likely to surface in the near term. Consequently, Western European countries are liable to increase surveillance among their law enforcement and security forces in an attempt to stifle concerns among the public. Potential raids and arrests, particularly in Austria and Germany, in suspected cases of far-right activity are likely.

Transnational links throughout the region to increase the potential for militant attacks

  1. The arrests in Austria and Bavaria highlight increasing transnational links among far-right groups. Considering that multiple far-right groups, including the Nordic Resistance Movement, have shared an interest in coordinating and focusing efforts on establishing transnational links, networks between far-right extremists are likely being developed. The fact that Austrian authorities seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition highlights how this increasing cooperation raises the risk of far-right militant attacks across the continent, particularly in Austria and Germany.
  2. The arrests of two German and one British national in Malaga, Spain in connection to an international arms ring reiterates ties between criminal and militant groups, as well as transnational links. Such links heighten the threat level for potential militant attacks, given that extremist groups have access to firearms and explosives necessary for staging attacks across the region.
  3. Additionally, the presence of youth gangs in various urban areas, including London and Berlin, has increased the prevalence of knives, guns, and grenades. As a result, these weapons are becoming more available for radicalized individuals, particularly youth.
  4. FORECAST: Given the potential for transnational links, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, far-right groups are expected to increase coordination throughout Western Europe. While fragmentation among far-right extremists is expected to continue, the threat posed by the far-right is liable to increase in the coming months. Considering the growing focus on creating a so-called “race war,” far-right militant groups are likely to attempt large scale coordinated attacks and campaigns in an attempt to bring this goal into fruition.
  5. FORECAST: Based on recent developments, militant groups are expected to attempt a series of attacks throughout Western Europe. While these groups pose a threat, attacks carried out by radicalized lone wolf attackers are still more likely to succeed due to lesser surveillance. Given that the risk for far-right radicalization has risen due to the pandemic, it is possible that lone wolf attacks are likely to increase as well. Such attacks are expected to target Muslim and Jewish individuals, as well as political opponents and migrants. While extremist groups may plot attacks, these are less likely to come to fruition due to increased surveillance by law enforcement.

Recommendations

  1. Travel to Europe may continue while maintaining vigilance for militant-related activity.
  2. Security plans should be updated to reflect the relevant threats associated with far-right militancy, particularly with regard to online radicalization among vulnerable groups. Pay attention to differing threats from organized cells and lone-wolf individuals.
  3. Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services, including among fringe groups with potential ties to far-right extremists. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.
  4. Alert authorities immediately upon witnessing suspicious items or behavior.

Global Travel Risk Map 2020

US Air Strike Kills IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani – Situation Analysis

US Confirms Killing IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani in Air Strikes Near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport on January 3

Please be Advised:

The US Department of Defense (DoD) released a statement announcing that the US military, on the orders of the US President, Donald Trump, had taken “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” by killing Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)- Quds Force (QF) commander during airstrikes near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport during the early morning hours of January 3.

The statement announces that “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more”. The airstrikes aimed to deter future Iranian attacks against US assets in the region.

Iran’s national news agency have confirmed that the US airstrikes resulted in the death of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soliemani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU).

Iraq’s national news agency reported that the US airstrikes targeted the convoy of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis traveling near the Baghdad International Airport.

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei released a eulogy on January 3 for Qassem Soleimani and declared a three-days of mourning in Iran. The statement announces that the killing of Soleimani is a “criminal act” and “will reinforce the motives of the resistance against the US and Israel”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the US airstrikes “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation” and held the US responsible for “all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

Prominent Iraq Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, released a statement during the morning hours of January 3 giving orders for “readiness” to the Shiite militias in Iraq, particularly the Mahdi Army, “to protect Iraq”.

Reports indicate that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has convened during the morning hours of January 3 to discuss the development.

US Embassy in Baghdad on January 3 issued an advisory urging US citizens to depart Iraq immediately due to “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region”. Consular services in the US Embassy in Baghdad have been suspended until further notice. However, the US Consulate in Erbil remains operational at the time of writing.

Iraqi President has reportedly condemned the US airstrikes and called US action as a “blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

Developments Near the Baghdad International Airport and Green Zone:

Reports indicate that three rockets fired by unidentified perpetrators landed in the Baghdad International Airport cargo area during the overnight hours of January 2-3 that resulted in several civilian casualties and the destruction of two vehicles.

Reports indicate that US military personnel arrested Hadi al-Amiri the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as well as Qais Khazali, the founder and leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite paramilitary group that is a part of the Iran-backed PMU in Baghdad during the morning hours of January 3. Iraq’s national news agency reported that a senior member of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq has denied the arrest of Qais Khazali.

Picture material on social media indicate that Iraqis gathered at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square during the early morning hours of January 3 to celebrate the death of Soleimani.

At the time of writing, operations have resumed at the Baghdad International Airport following a temporary ceasure of operations during the morning of January 3 after the US airstrikes.

Reports indicate that US military personnel have bolstered security protocols in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and the Iraqi security officials have completely locked down the Green Zone following the US airstrikes.

Other Related Developments:

Iran’s state-sponsored news agency reported that the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, who is considered as a “guardian of US interests in Iran” has been summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on January 3 to strongly protest the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

Reports indicate that Israel has closed access to Hermon ski resort, located in the Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, due to the risk of attack by Iran and its proxies. Additional reports indicate that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are on alert following the US airstrikes.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official in the Gaza Strip reportedly released a statement calling the development a “great tragedy” and extended PIJ’s support to Iran.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon reportedly released a statement condemning the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and stated that “punishment of Soleimani’s killers is responsibility of all fighters”.

Reports indicate that foreign oil companies have commenced the evacuation of its employees holding a US citizenship via the Basra Airport following the advisory issued by the US Embassy in Baghdad that urges US nationals to depart the country immediately.

Iran has reportedly appointed Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the next IRGC Quds force chief on January 3.

UK has reportedly increased security protocols at its military bases across the Middle East following the US airstrikes.

Reports quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the US airstrikes in Iraq are a “reckless move” that will escalate tensions in the region.

Assessments & Forecast:

The development comes amid a marked increase in tensions in Iraq over the past two months following an uptick in attacks against US assets by Iran-backed forces in the country. Most recently, on December 31, hundreds of Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) members and supporters besieged and attempted to breach the US Embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone to condemn US’s December 29 airstrikes that targeted five Kataib Hezbollah assets in Iraq. The continued risk posed to US-linked interests in Iraq is further evidenced by the statement issued by the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on January 2, that holds Iran and its backed proxies in Iraq responsible for perpetuating the attacks and warned that “attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing.” Given this context, the recent US airstrikes constitute a decisive action against Iran and its proxies to deter further such attacks against US interests in the region.

Furthermore, the US airstrikes constitutes a highly symbolic and notable development given the high-profile nature of the target, namely, IRGC-QF commander, Qassem Soleimani. This is given that Soleimani is considered to be highly influential within the Iraqi political and security dynamics, and is perceived to be responsible for the destabilizing activities carried out by Iran-linked elements in Iraq. Moreover, on April 18, 2019 the US designated the IRGC, including its extraterritorial wing, the QF as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Therefore, the killing of Soleimani in the US airstrikes is likely aimed to adversely impact the IRGC’s leadership structure and mitigate the threat that the group is perceived to pose to the region’s security and stability. Regardless, the killing of Soleimani is liable to have a significant impact on the morale of the IRGC and Iran-backed fighters operating regionwide.

However, the development is unlikely to significantly alter Iran’s policy within the regional setting, such as its support for proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Rather, as evidenced by the statement released by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the incident will likely prompt Iran and its proxies to increasingly target the interests of the US and its allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region. Furthermore, the statement issued by Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr calls for “readiness” from Shiite militias in Iraq to “protect Iraq” indicating the fact that Iran and its proxies will seek to take revenge against the US, and its allies, over the coming days.

FORECAST: Over the short term, there remains a heightened potential for attacks perpetrated by Iran-backed elements based out of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip. Such attacks may also be directed at critical infrastructures, such as oil facilities, and other strategic infrastructures affiliated with the US or its allies in the region, where relevant. Given precedent, attacks targeting Israel may likely manifest in the form of rocket attacks or localized ground attacks, such as placing of IEDs, from Syria, or less likely from Lebanon. Such instances are likely to be limited in scale, and are unlikely to trigger a large-scale escalation and a broad deterioration of the security situation in Israel in the short term. Cross-border hostilities along the Gaza Strip-Israel border may also increase over the coming days. This is bolstered by the statement released by the PIJ official calling the death of Soleimani in the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and affirming the militant group’s support for Iran.

FORECAST: Given precedent, there also remains a significant potential for Iran-perpetrated security incidents in the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, especially near the Strait of Hormuz, which indicates a general risk of navigation through these waters over the coming days and weeks. A similar risk exists in the Red Sea, given that the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been known to conduct attacks against foreign vessels in this area. Additionally, an uptick in cross-border hostilities into Saudi Arabia perpetrated by the Shiite group may be witnessed over the coming days, despite a significant downtick in such activity over the recent months. This may manifest in the form of missile, rocket or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launches towards military and civilian assets in Saudi Arabia.

FORECAST: In the longer term, over the coming weeks and months, the development is liable to further heighten tensions between the US and its allies, on the one side, and Iran and its proxies on the other, which will likely result in increasing hostile rhetoric towards the other party and potentially a more significant retaliation by Iran against US interests. Given that Iran-backed proxies, such as Hezbollah, are known to operate in Latin America, as well as other African, Asian and European countries, the risk for attacks by such elements against the interests of the US and its allies in the aforementioned regions cannot be ruled out.

Recommendations:

Travelers are advised to regularly review their emergency and contingency procedures as a basic security precaution, as the current tensions between Iran on one side and the US and its Gulf allies on the other will likely lead to additional hostilities. For on-ground or intelligence assistance contact us at: [email protected] or +44 20-3540-043.

Foreigners, particularly US nationals, conducting travel in Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are advised to maintain a low profile due to the increased potential for militant attacks while practicing extra vigilance near US and Western diplomatic missions and interests across the region.

Ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

For those conducting essential operations in Baghdad, it is advised to restrict travel to the Green Zone and ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated. Contact us for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those managing or operating vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz are advised to take necessary precautions, including reviewing security protocols and adhering to international instructions, in light of the potential for security incidents in the area.

Securing Dredging Operations in a Hostile Environment

Large Dredging Project in the Middle East Requires Security Consulting

MAX Security was contacted to propose and provide consulting to a large dredging project in the Middle East.  This part of the Middle East involved complicated risks and threats.  The MAX operations team needed to ensure that the project could be completed efficiently and safely.

RISK, THREAT, & VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT (RTVA)

Given the instability of the region and the numerous incidents that had taken place within it, MAX conducted a comprehensive RTVA to gain a complete picture of the threats facing the project and the likelihood of each threat’s occurrence during the operations.  It was determined that criminal and terror activity such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices), sabotage, active shooting incidents, theft and extortion were the main threats against the project and its team.  The availability of local security forces was also deemed inadequate and their deployment in case of emergency could not be counted on.  By understanding the various threats to the project, MAX was able to design specially tailored procedures to ensure the safety of the workers, project managers, equipment, and dredging sites.

SOLUTIONS EMPLOYED

With the threats in mind, the MAX operations team developed several solutions to ensure project security.  With both water and land-based areas to secure, regular patrols (boat, foot, and vehicle) were implemented throughout both terrain environments.  Security perimeters were created with access controls and checkpoints, and clear guidelines on the reporting of abnormal events were established.  Coordination and communication were also enhanced between the project coordinators and local security forces.  For extra layers of protection, all movements by project staff were assisted by MAX Security personnel, and a quick reaction force was retained in the event of serious security incidents. A MAX Security senior operations manager was embedded within the project staff to supervise the security implementation.

 

 

MAX’S VALUE

With decades of experience in planning and executing large-scale security projects, MAX was able to assist in ensuring the safety of workers, project managers, and the construction site.  Providing effective physical security solutions means planning every small detail around the client’s needs and tailoring those to the operating environment.  MAX’s operators along with a world-class intelligence team create a synergy unmatched in the industry and can account for every detail from the macro to the micro to create the safest atmosphere possible.

The more chaotic the world becomes, the more you can rely on MAX to keep your business running as usual.

For more information on our operations services email [email protected]

Protecting Critical Infrastructure in Nigeria

Engineering Firm Repairs Critical Infrastructure in Nigeria

MAX was contacted to provide services to an engineering firm hired by the Nigerian government to repair dams and turbines critical to the nation’s water supply. The company needed to work on two dams in remote areas of the country and hired MAX to provide security and safety solutions during routine and emergency situations.

ADVANCE PLANNING

Prior to any work beginning, it was necessary to conduct a pre-mission RTVA (Risk, Threat, and Vulnerability Assessment) in order to understand the security situation and design a comprehensive operational plan. Given that many African nations (this one included) are rooted in tribal culture, it was a key aspect to build relationships with the tribal leaders and peoples nearest to the areas of operation in order to move freely and safely, as well as understand the local customs and cultures. Local security forces and law enforcement were also consulted and included in the project as drivers and security agents, as well as consultants on local laws and regulations. Building and maintaining these relationships allowed the client and MAX team to move and work without interfering with society.

PREPARATION & TRAINING

When working with a local team, one of the major challenges that i required to be addressed is training. The MAX ground team spent several months training the local drivers and agents in effective security strategies, operating in a convoy, driving armored and unarmored vehicles, armed and unarmed engagements, and first aid. It was also critical for the team to understand that the goal was to assist the client in maintaining standard business operations. Therefore, the goal of providing security was to allow the engineering team to complete their tasks without feeling suffocated by EP agents. Working in remote environments such as this creates the need for the team to be self-sufficient and MAX was able to meet that requirement. Planning for proper food, water, and fuel consumption allowed the security and engineering teams to operate as normally as possible in a challenging environment. Driving routes always had multiple options, emergency services were always on call, communications equipment was readily available, and every possible contingency was planned for.

MAX’S VALUE

Providing physical security does not mean providing only EP agents; it is planning every small detail and event to ensure the client can operate normally in an abnormal situation. MAX’s experienced operators along with a world-class intelligence team create a synergy unmatched in the industry and can account for every detail from the macro to the micro to ensure our clients’ safety.

For more information on our operation services email [email protected]

AQIM-OIB claims attack against National Guard patrol in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou on July 8 – Tunisia Alert

Please be advised

According to the Ministry of Interior (MoI), a group of militants killed six National Guardsmen in an ambush targeting two vehicles patrolling the Tunisian-Algerian border near Ain Soltane village, located in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou District, during the morning hours of July 8.

The militants reportedly detonated an IED against the patrol, which was then followed by gunfire against the National Guardsmen. The assailants reportedly fled the scene following the attack and are still at large.
The attack was later claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-affiliated Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (OIB). According to their statement, nine National Guardsmen, including an officer, were killed in the attack. The militants seized eight rifles, a handgun, and a machine gun before fleeing the scene of the attack.

According to reports, a man was arrested in Kairouan Governorate for expressing support for the AQIM-OIB claimed attack on July 9.

In addition, members of the security services of Beja staged a protest in front of the National Guard’s headquarters demanding that the Minister of Interior (MoI) support new legislation meant to protect servicemen on July 9.

Tunisia Alert (UPDATE): AQIM-OIB claims attack against National Guard patrol in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou on July 8; avoid all travel to area | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

The attack is highly notable since it is the largest militant attack on Tunisian soil since March 2016, when Islamic State (IS) militants infiltrated Medenine Governorate’s Ben Guerdane from Libya. This incident highlights the increased risk of militancy near Tunisia’s western borders with Algeria, with the latest attack in the area recorded on May 31, when security forces foiled an AQIM-OIB attack in Kasserine Governorate. Although, AQIM-OIB is known to maintain an operational base along the Tunisian-Algerian border, the majority of its attacks over the past year have been mainly focused in the southwest, namely Kasserine Governorate, rather than in Jendouba, which is located in the northwestern part of the country.

Furthermore, all of these attacks have been of a lower sophistication, mainly involving the use of landmines or shootings. However, the latest attack utilized a relatively more sophisticated modus operandi. The multi-pronged nature of attack highlights the militant group’s resilience to security forces’ ongoing operations in western Tunisia, as well as their fighters’ abilities to regroup in the aftermath of such operations. It is also indicative of their ability to plan and execute coordinated attacks in order to achieve maximum casualties.

The timing of the attack is further significant. It was likely conducted in response to several developments that undermine the group’s interests in the area. These developments include the recent heightened security protocols put in place by Tunisian security forces along the border area in coordination with their Algerian counterparts.

This has led to a decline in the militant group’s abilities to operate along the border area, as witnessed in February, when Tunisian security forces neutralized a leader of AQIM-OIB in Kasserine Governorate based on intelligence from the Algerian intelligence apparatus. The militant had reportedly been sent from Algeria to reorganize the Tunisian affiliate.

Security protocols along the western border have also hindered smuggling operations, which provide militant groups with supplies and revenue, and cement their codependence with local smugglers, as the latter also depends on these operations as a source of income. Mitigating these operations not only damages the militant group’s supply lines, but also erodes their influence over the local population, as its members inevitably seek other sources of income.

Therefore, the attack likely seeks to compel security forces to divert resources away from Kasserine Governorate, which is AQIM-OIB’s primary area of operations in the country, towards Jendouba Governorate. This will overstretch the resources at the disposal of the Tunisian security apparatus, thus allowing militants to operate more freely in the area.

The latest attack follows the June 3 IS-claimed attack against a gas pipeline near Kasserine Governorate’s Sbeitla. In light of the ongoing competition between IS and AQIM over weapons, supplies, and personnel in western Tunisia, it is highly likely that the latest attack was meant to be symbolic in nature. This would project AQIM-OIB as the more prominent Sunni jihadist group in the country, allowing it to attract supporters and recruits at the expense of IS.

FORECAST: In response, the Tunisian Armed Forces (TAF) will launch intensified counter-militancy operations in western Tunisia, including in Jendouba, Kef, and Kasserine governorates. These will likely include increased security patrols as well as artillery shelling against potential militant hideouts in the mountainous regions. Security protocols will also be elevated along the Algerian border in order to prevent militants from crossing into Algeria and evading arrests.

However, this increase in security presence may provide militants with additional targets, leading to further clashes between security personnel and militants. Moreover, the increase in AQIM-OIB activity may prompt IS to heighten operations in the country in the near term. Overall, given the continued entrenchment of militants in western Tunisia’s mountainous areas due to their demonstrated ability to adapt and evolve, further similar sporadic attacks are likely to take place in the coming weeks and months.

Recommendations

Travel to Tunis may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Those operating or residing in Tunisia are advised that we maintain operational capabilities in the country.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those operating or residing in Jendouba District on July 8 should avoid all travel to the Ghardimaou District in light of the anticipated counter-militancy operations following the attack, as well as the likelihood for further clashes in the area over the coming days.

Avoid all travel to the Kasserine, Kef, and Jendouba Governorates, in addition to all border areas, due to jihadist activity and military closures. Furthermore, avoid all travel to within 50 km from the border with Libya, due to the increased threat of attacks originating from Libya targeting Tunisian interests.

 

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city – Russia Analysis

Please be advised

On May 6, the Islamic State (IS)-linked media group, al-Amaq, claimed that a shooting attack which took place in Nizhny Novgorod, western Russia, was committed by a ‘soldier’ of the Sunni-jihadist group. According to a statement from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on May 4, an assailant opened fire on police officers during an identity check and barricaded himself inside an apartment in the city. The statement indicated that the perpetrator was later neutralized by security forces.

From 14 June to 15 July 2018, Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in a number of cities, including in Nizhny Novgorod. In the run-up to the tournament, Russian security forces have carried out a large number of raids and arrests, looking to neutralize militant cells made up of both Central Asian migrants, mostly based in major cities, and North Caucasian militants, mostly from the Republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 38 militant counter militancy raids have been recorded in Russia, the majority focusing on reportedly IS-linked militants. At least five of the raids occurred in or near World Cup cities, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Rostov-on-Don.

On April 17, three suspected IS-linked militants were arrested near Rostov-on-Don by FSB agents. A number of reports suggested the possibility that the militants were embedded in the city to wait until the start of the World Cup and carry out an attack during the tournament.

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city - Russia Analysis | MAX Security
Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city | MAX Security

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Assessments

The claim from IS and the reports from the FSB indicate the first case of a successful attack occurring in a World Cup host city in 2018. The most recent Islamist militant attack in one of the host cities was in St. Petersburg in mid-2017. The incident underscores previous assessments that militants, from both Caucasian and Central Asian origins, are looking to focus their operations on the World Cup, so as to maximize exposure during the tournament. In addition, the developments come following the publication IS’ official newsletter, Al-Naba, on May 4 which called on its supporters to conduct attacks across Russia, underscoring the group’s continued interest in projecting its militant capabilities in the country. This assessment gains further credence considering IS’ repeated threats to the World Cup.

While there is no indication as to the origin of the militant at the time of writing, there are three main possibilities, all of which have been previously recorded in Russia. In the event that the attacker was a lone-wolf Central Asian migrant, who was locally radicalized within Russia through online and on ground Islamist networks, the incident highlights that lone-wolves in major cities are heeding to IS’ demands to carry out attacks on World Cup cities, demonstrating the threat in any city with a significant Central Asian diaspora community. In the event that the militant had links to Caucasian militant cells, it highlights attempts by the Caucasian Emirate pro-IS group to embed radicals within major cities, prior to the tournament, who will then carry out attacks. This is likely designed to occur before security in the North Caucasus becomes overwhelming around the time of the World Cup. The third option is that the militant may have had connections with both Central Asian militant networks and Caucasian cells, which would constitute a significant threat as such an assailant would be able to utilize the covert nature of the loosely linked Central Asian networks and the expertise of the well established Caucasian groups.

Going forward, a significant increase in counter-militancy operations in major cities and the North Caucasus will occur in the run-up to the World Cup. Furthermore, the potential for both minor and major attacks in all host cities remains before and during the tournament, likely looking to specifically target stadiums and locales with international attention, so as to maximize exposure.

Recommendations

Travel to Russia may continue while maintaining vigilant given the elevated risk of militancy and crime, particularly in major cities and World Cup host cities. (Click for our special report on threats to the 2018 World Cup).

Remain cognizant of any suspicious individuals or items that look out of place. Immediately alert authorities if identified.

Avoid all nonessential travel to the North Caucasus region, given the high risk of militancy and kidnapping.