MENA Update (16 February 2013)February 16, 2013 in Algeria, Egypt, Iran-Israel, MENA, Tunisia
Algeria: Algeria and the US agreed to work together to prevent criminal access to black market nuclear materials, citing fears that supplies from Gaddafi’s stock are within reach of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Officials from both nations discussed security measures including border patrol, strategic trade controls and illicit transfer of conventional weapons, as well as constant monitoring of smuggling threats and trends.
Algerian Colonel Djamel Abdessalem Z’ghida announced that ground border surveillance in the southwest has been strengthened for the fight against trafficking and other criminal networks. Ground forces are supported by daily aerial surveillance.
The agreement between Algeria and the US is an unusual act of cooperation for Algeria, whose government prefers to conduct domestic security affairs unilaterally. US officials hope these efforts increase cooperation on a regional and international scale.
Internal reports by British Petroleum (BP) in 2011 and 2012 warned of risk of attack against gas plants in Africa. The reports anticipated the increasing likelihood of attacks in Africa following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
A May 2011 report, distributed immediately following bin Laden’s death, indicated that renewed terror activity could arise from within Algeria’s Al Qaeda franchise. The BP internal newsletter stated, “[Al Qaeda] affiliates and other groups will seek to fill the leadership and motivational void left by OBL.” However a report from January 2012 made no indication of threats to Algeria, rather focusing on other African and Middle Eastern nations, warning of a new brand of Islamic terrorism and “fostered by weak or nonexistent central governments, easily-crossed borders, ready availability of weapons and explosives, and simmering ethnic, religious and economic fissures.”
The militant group which conducted the terrorist storming of the Ain Amenas gas compound are led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a breakaway commander from AQIM. Both AQIM, and Belmokhtar’s group, called “Those Who Sign With Blood” originated in Algeria.
BP’s latest security assessment focuses on a standoff between Iran and the West, suggesting that Iran could use militia’s controlled by Irack to attack Western interests in Iran.
Bahrain: Rioters have blocked roads and clashed with security forces following the death of a teenage boy during the protests for second anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising. The boy is reported to have died from “close range birdshot”. Hundreds of opposition demonstrators threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.
On Saturday, police discovered a bomb on the Bahraini end of the King Fahd causeway, a 25km stretch which links Saudi Arabia to the island country. The route is used by thousands of people each day.
The protests occur in the midst of reconciliation talks between the predominantly Sunni government and Shi’ia opposition parties. The opposition wants to put an end to the Bahraini monarchy’s political domination and full power in parliament. The next round of talks is scheduled for Sunday, yet there is no word from either side whether the discussions will continue in the wake of the protests.
Egypt: On Friday, Egyptian security officials seized two tons of explosives hidden in a truck carrying fruits and vegetables. The explosives were confiscated in the main Suez Canal transport tunnel which connects Sinai to the rest of Egypt. The explosives were packed in 100 plastic bags, and are a type used for demolishing stones in quarries. The driver was been taken in for questioning, and said he was unaware he was transporting explosives. A businessman had asked him to take the goods to Sinai for collection.
Since the 2011, and particularly the Libyan revolution, Egypt’s Interior Ministry has confiscated hundreds of weapons smuggled from Libya, some of which are meant to be delivered to Gaza. Sinai has increasingly become a haven for Islamist militants who have benefitted from lack of security in the area following the Egyptian Revolution.
The explosives designed for demolishing stones may be an indication that Egyptian attempts to block smuggling tunnels in the Sinai are being met with strong resistance. On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces began flooding smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, in an effort to shut them down. The network of tunnels provides an estimated 30% of all goods received into the region, circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007.
Hamas released a statement Saturday condemning the Egyptian government for the actions. Khalil El-Haya, a senior Hamas official, added that people in Gaza consider Egyptian actions equal to a renewal of the Israeli blockade.
Iran-Israel: Brigadier General Hassan Shateri (also known as Hessam Khoshnevis), of Iran’s Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed on Tuesday in Syria, while heading back to Lebanon. Shateri had been engaged in civilian reconstruction in Lebanon for the last seven years, and is the first Iranian general killed in Syria. The Iranian government has accused opponents of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad of the murder. Syrian rebels have accused Iran of sending forces to assist Assad in suppressing the uprising.
An Iranian envoy to Beirut has connected the killing with the Israeli government, stating that the killing had strengthened Iran’s resolve against Israel. Ali Shirazi, a representative of Ayatollah Khomenei to the Guards’ elite Quds force, stated, “Our enemies should also know that we will quickly get revenge for (the death of) Haj Hassan (Shateri) from the Israelis, and the enemies cannot shut off the Iranian people with such stupid acts.”
The Israeli government has not commented on the killing; however Israel has considered military action against Tehran if the Iranian government continues with a nuclear program. Iran claims that the nuclear program is peaceful.
On Friday, the chief UN nuclear inspector announced hopes to reach an agreement with Iran in March which allows them to probe into Iranian nuclear research activities.
Tunisia: Thousands of Tunisians responded to a call by the ruling Islamist Ennahda party and poured into the streets to support the ruling party. Demonstrators denounced Prime Minister Jebaili’s plans for a temporary “technocratic” government and chanted against the secular opposition parties.
The rally was called by Ennahda to denounce Prime Minister Jebali’s suggestion following the assassination of opposition leader Shokri Belaid on 6 February, which resulted in bloody classes between government supporters and opposition. Jebaili has threatedn to resign if he fails to gain support to form a new government.
Religious and political tensions have risen over several months in what was a “proudly secular” Muslim nation. Talks regarding a new administration have been rescheduled for Monday. A previous deadline for a new administration had been cancelled with no new date scheduled as of yet.