Israel and Hezbollah have been engaging in fierce fighting this month, with Israel’s military shelling in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in early September representing the most significant Israeli operation against the terrorist group since the 2006 Lebanon War. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, and is a major political actor in Lebanon. The conflict between the Iranian-aligned group and Israel comes amidst rising tensions between Iran and the US, particularly in regard to the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker at the beginning of July. This has further sparked fear of possible military escalation between Israel and Hezbollah.
Last month, alleged Israeli attacks in Lebanon reinforced existing rifts between the two countries, further building tension between Israel, the US and Iranian-aligned regions. Lebanese President Michael Aoun called the crashing of two Israeli drones near the Hezbollah media office in the Hezbollah-dominated southern Beirut district of Dahia a “declaration of war.” Israeli forces also killed two Hezbollah members in a strike against targets in Syria. After the Lebanese army fired at two Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace, the UN Security Council subsequently warned that violations of the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon in the latter country’s south could lead to “new conflict that none of the parties or region can afford.”
In September, violence has escalated. On 1 September, Hezbollah fired several anti-rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for the Israeli drone attack in Beirut last month. Israeli military sources confirmed that rockets had been fired at an Israeli army base and military vehicles. The Israeli army responded by attacking targets in southern Lebanon. On 9 September, Hezbollah revealed that it had shot down an Israeli unmanned aircraft outside the southern town of Ramyah. The group said in a statement that it had “confronted” the drone with “appropriate weapons” as it was heading towards the town. Israel has also recently accused Hezbollah of building a precision-missile factory in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, just days after the cross-border flare-up. In a statement accompanied by satellite images, the Israeli military said that Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, had brought specialised equipment to a weapons factory near the village of al-Nabi Shaith, in the Bekaa Valley, with the intention to set up a production line for precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah has previously admitted to possessing such weapons, which could be used to damage and destroy key Israeli infrastructure.
The fighting has triggered fears of a full-blown conflict. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has cautioned the Lebanese government that if it doesn’t stop Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel, the terror group will drag both countries into war, stating: “We say clearly to the Lebanese government and its allies around the world: Hezbollah’s aggression must be stopped before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that neither Lebanon nor Israel want.” Indeed, if the conflicts continue, it is likely that tensions may escalate, marking the start of another military conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Shia militia. Heiko Wimmen, the project director for Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group, said that any miscalculation could spark a war. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, agrees that the fighting could lead to another full-blown conflict. “The next war will be devastating for both sides and that’s why both sides want to avoid it,” Yadlin said. “[However], even without planning for a full-scale war, we can find ourselves there.” Others have suggested that Hezbollah fighters are eager to reopen old wounds with the Israelis due to the Syrian conflict winding down.
Indeed, Hezbollah is a formidable opponent both politically and militarily, with an estimated 40,000 to 150,000 rockets and missiles which are said to outmatch the weapons capabilities of most countries. The group also yields significant political clout in Lebanon, having secured a majority in Lebanon’s government where it influences most of the country’s domestic policy. A full-blown conflict would therefore have worrying repercussions for the rest of the Middle East and the worldwide community. The last time hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel flared into open conflict, approximately 1,300 Lebanese and 150 Israelis were killed.
9 July – Roadside bomb kills 1, injures 4
An Egyptian soldier was killed after a roadside bomb targeted armoured vehicle in El-Arish, in the Sinai Peninsula. The attack also wounded four soldiers.
Egypt experienced a short period of peace immediately following Egyptian President al-Sisi’s election; however, bombings and protests have resumed. On the one year anniversary of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, the nation experienced a series of bombings in Kerdasa, Abbaseya, and Imbaba. Security forces and government buildings have been regularly targeted, but several incidents have killed and wounded civilian bystanders.
In Alexandria, police forces arrested four suspects on 7 June in connection with bomb blasts in a train station in Alexandria earlier in the week. The explosion took place between two of the cars of a train heading to Sidi Gaber neighbourhood, injuring seven. The suspects were reportedly “young members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were trained by high profile leaders to attack police facilities and public transportations”, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry. In a statement released on Friday, the ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to create “a state of chaos”.
10 July – Islamic State seizes nuclear materials
Iraq’s envoy, in a letter to the UN, has warned that the militant group ISIS has seized nuclear materials in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The group obtained approximately 40 kilograms of uranium compounds, used for scientific research at a university. The UN atomic agency (IAEA) has said the low-grade material is not a significant security risk. US officials echoed these remarks, stating that the uranium was not believed to be enriched, and unlikely to be useful for weapons development.
The letter sent to the UN by Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim called for international assistance to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”. Al-Alhakim added, “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state […] These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts.” Despite the uranium’s lack of utility, an IAEA spokesperson said “any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern”.
A day before the letter was received, Iraqi officials confirmed that ISIS had militants captured the Muthanna complex, an abandoned chemical weapons factory northwest of Baghdad. The complex houses remnants of rockets containing nerve agents, including sarin gas. ISIS is now in control of an area between Iraq and Syria that is approximately the size of Belgium.
8 July – Israel, Palestine attacks continue
An Israeli military spokesman has said that since Monday, Israeli air forces attacked 750 targets and dropped 800 tons of bombs. Palestinian militants fired 230 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. On 9 July, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel has expanded Operation Protective Edge in response to the continuing rocket attacks, he has also called on reservists suggested that a ground phase could occur. Fighting has escalated after three Israeli teens that went missing were found dead. The Israeli government accused Hamas, which has denied responsibility. Retaliatory attacks on Palestinians have left 75 dead, including 15 children.
7 July – ISIS Leader suggests Jordan is next target
ISIS leader and self proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has suggested that Jordan will be the next target for ISIS, and refugees who have fled there could be first in the line of fire. The Jordanian military has been on the offensive for several weeks as ISIS gained traction in Iraq, but it is now believed that Syrian civilians at the Azraq camp near the Iraqi border are in the danger zone.
Oraib al-Rantawi, a Jordanian political analyst, called the threat by ISIS “real and imminent”, adding, “We cannot afford the luxury of just waiting and monitoring. The danger is strategic – and getting closer.”
The US Department of Defence has awarded a contract to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to supply twenty Javelin Block 1 tactical missiles to Jordan’s military, to be completed by 30 September.
7 July – 28 arrested in Lebanon for suicide bomb plot
Twenty-eight people, reportedly members of the militant group ISIS, have been charged with buying equipment to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Beirut. Seven of the group are in custody. The names and nationalities of those charged have not been released.
Lebanon has been in the crossfire of sectarian violence do to conflicts in Syria and the ISIS insurgencies in Iraq and Syria. The nation has suffered a series of attacks in recent weeks. On 20 June, Lebanon’s General Security service narrowly escaped a suicide bombing near the Syrian border. On 23 June, a suicide bomber blew up his car near an army checkpoint in Beirut, killing himself and a security officer. Two days later, a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Saudi embassy, wounding three security officers.
Lebanese authorities have carried out a series of security raids in the capital and other parts of the country in recent weeks. In mid June, security forces detained 17 people at a Beirut hotel on suspicion of planning attacks; the French foreign ministry confirmed that at least one of the men detained was a French National. All were released the following day.
15 June – Hiftar facing dwindling support
Libya’s rogue general, Khalifa Hifter, is losing support for his revolt against militants in Eastern Libya. Many Libyans initially supported Hifter’s plan to drive extremists out of Benghazi, particularly as the weakened government had failed to take significant action in the region. However, Hifter troops have been unable to gain the advantage against the rebels, and many believe his actions are laying the ground for his political aspirations.
In Benghazi, the militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for a great deal of violence in the region. Hifter initially set out to target this group, but his mission expanded to include other Islamists in the region. Hifter’s expanded mission and subsequent standoff has resulted in damage to homes, farms, and livestock. One tribe in Benghazi has demanded that Hifter’s troops leave the area or it would join the fight against him, officials and residents there said.
Hifter also oversaw the storming of the GNC building in Tripoli in May, convincing some that the 71 year old general has political goals. He called for an emergency government to replace the GNC and guide the country toward new elections. Since then, Hifter has made blanket indictments of Libya’s nonmilitant Islamists as well as the insurgents. Many believe he is styling himself after Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, led a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the past year. During a recent news conference, Hifter called the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood an “epidemic” that “the Libyan soil will not absorb.” Many Islamist supporters who disagree with militant actions now feel targeted.
One member of Libya’s General National Congress said, “Hifter inserted himself into a scenario where he is the cavalier on a white horse who came to save the day.” He added, however, “Hifter’s military power is actually quite limited. He hasn’t been able to control the situation.”
An anonymous former member of a brigade in Benghazi said, “Both sides — Ansar al-Sharia and Hifter — are illegal bodies working outside the state. So it’s a dilemma for everybody, and we don’t like either of them. We are worried about where this violence will take us.”
10 July – ISIS to Qatar: “Cancel the World Cup or we’ll bomb it”
In a message posted on an ISIS media forum, the group has warned FIFA, the governing body of world football, that they will bomb the World Cup if it is held in Qatar in 2022. The group said they would target the event with long-range Scud missiles. The full message reads:
“Dear Joseph, [Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, President of FIFA]
We had sent a message to you back in 2010, when you decided or were bribed by the former Amir of Qatar to have the 2022 world cup in Qatar. Now, after the establishment of the Caliphate state, we declare that there will be no world cup in Qatar since Qatar will be part of the Caliphate under the rule of the Caliph Ibrahim Bin Awad Alqarshi (Al Baghdady’s full name) who doesn’t allow corruption and diversion from Islam in the land of the Muslims. This is why we suggest that you will decide upon a replacement country instead of Qatar. The Islamic state has long-rang scud missiles that can easily reach Qatar, as the Americans already know.
Photos released earlier this month show ISIS militants parading a Scud ballistic missile through the streets of Raqqa in Syria. It is likely the insurgents captured the missile from a Syrian military base in 2013. However experts do not believe the missile is operable. One astute blogger wrote, “The only danger that Islamic State scud is to anyone at the moment is if they accidentally run over a pedestrian showing it off”.
8 July – Saudi Arabia faces security crisis on two borders
Three mortar bombs landed inside Saudi Arabia, near a block of flats outside the northern town of Arar, near the Iraqi border. There were no casualties reported, however the mortars stoked fears in citizens who are facing ISIS on their Iraqi border. Last week, King Abdullah announced an increase in security after Islamic State declared a caliphate and made advances in Iraq. The kingdom is deploying 30,000 troops to its borders. Saudi authorities fear that the militant group could radicalise their citizens.
In the south, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, has long had the goal of bringing down the House of Saud and establishing a cross-border caliphate in Islam’s holy city of Mecca. Over the weekend, six Saudi members of al Qaeda launched an attack on al-Sharurah, near the border with Yemen. Two of the militants grabbed 10 hostages and shut themselves into a government building where they blew themselves up on Saturday. Five attackers were killed and one was captured in clashes with security forces. Four border guards and one hostage were also killed.
8 July – Popular Radical Australian Cleric joins Islamic State
Musa Cerantonio, a radical Muslim cleric who renounced his Australian citizenship last year, has travelled to Syria to support the newly established Islamic State, making him the third cleric from Australia to travel to Syria to support the jihadist cause. Cerantonio left Australia in 2013 and was believed to be hiding in the Philippines, possibly taking shelter with one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the area. The cleric openly supported ISIS prior to their declaration of a caliphate, and subsequently travelled to Syria to fulfil the request made by the Islamic State on 1 July for Muslims, especially those with needed skills, to join the caliphate.
Cerantonio, a popular figure in radicalised circles, relies on effective social media to spread his message. He has re-tweeted ISIS statements as well as his own support for the group while calling for the death of Western leaders. A 2014 by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation concluded that one in four foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account and that his Facebook page was the third-most ‘liked’ page among radicalised militants.
Meanwhile, a UN report released on Tuesday suggests that the Middle East could become embroiled in wider sectarian warfare. The report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds.” The report adds, “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern.”
9 July – Tunisia raises terror alert level
Tunisia has raised its security alert level in cities and at sensitive sites, especially during iftar, the breaking of fast at sunset during Ramadan. The move came following a landmine blast that killed four soldiers July 2nd on Jebel Ouergha, El Kef province. A mine blast in the same area wounded six troops a day earlier.
During the funeral of the four slain soldiers, Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi vowed that security forces would track down and besiege the terrorists to prevent new attacks on civilian and military targets. He stated that the war on terror “is of concern to all Tunisian people and requires that all be mobilised to protect our homeland.”
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa echoed these sentiments: “We are no longer waiting for terrorism to come to us, but have gone to its hotbeds in order to confront it and eliminate them.”
Security forces have begun to storm terrorist hideouts in the mountains along the Algerian border, between Jendouba and El Kef provinces. Tunisian forces have been fighting al-Qaeda affiliated militants barricaded in the mountains for over a year.
8 July – Thousands of families flee fighting in Amran
As many as ten thousand families have fled the Yemeni city of Amran, 30 miles north of the capital Sanaa. The families evacuated to escape a battle between Shi’a rebels and the military. Clashes broke out last week between Yemeni troops and the Houthis, a rebel group which seeks greater autonomy for northern Yemen. The attack ended a ceasefire that had been set in place on 23 June. Local officials claim that over 200 people had been killed and 100 wounded on Tuesday as rebel groups captured the area. The officials also reported dozens of bodies were lying in the streets.
The Houthis, a Shi’a group, have said their fight was against members of the Sunni Islamist Islah political party. The Houthis claim to have no intention of attacking Sanaa, but Amran has long been a stronghold of the the Bani al-Ahmar tribe, whose members hold prominent positions of the party.
The Houthis have accused the Yemeni government of breaking the ceasefire and blame army units loyal to Islah for advancing in the Jawf province. The government responded that the advance was prompted by the failure of Houthis to vacate positions as they had promised.
The Yemeni Red Crescent has issued a call for help. It is believed that nearly 5,000 families remain trapped inside the city.