The Rising Conflict between Israel and HezbollahSeptember 15, 2019 in Israel, Lebanon
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.
Why is it taking so long to defeat ISIS?March 4, 2015 in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Turkey, United States
In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has metastasised into one of the most horrific fighting groups of this century. The group has become renowned for rampant murder, the pillaging of villages and cities, widely publicised beheadings, the theft of oil and artefacts, and more recently of human organs.
Since they appeared on the world stage, ISIS has come to remind many of a combination of the worst villains Hollywood has ever imagined. More terrifying, the group’s combination of savvy marketing and recruiting, has resulted in numerous would-be fighters attempting to travel to ISIS strongholds to join the group.
The Debate: What does ISIS want?
ISIS seeks to form a caliphate that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Their ideology has sparked numerous debates on whether they are a political group with a religious foundation, or a religious groups with a political foundation.
There is no denying that ISIS perceives themselves as an Islamic group; it’s in their name. However ISIS has modified their interpretation to create their own version of Islam. Their brand of Islam is a combination of fundamentalism similar to Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, but it is coupled with “violent Salafism” which deviated from evangelical Salafism in the 1960s and 70s. Further, the group has enacted a series of its own rulings or “fatwas” that are often in direct contradiction to Islam (for example, the burning of humans is strictly forbidden in ever interpretation of Islam—except for that which is held by ISIS).
ISIS has based its ideology on an apocalyptic message. Their magazine, Dabiq refers to a city in Syria that is said to be a site of great fighting during Armageddon (Malahim). The magazine states, “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” However the mention of this end-times battle is not found in the Qur’an. It is believed to be in one of the “lesser” Hadiths. This is an important point: in Islam, the Hadith is a collection of stories recounted of the prophet Muhammad. Each Hadith, over time, has been studied carefully to determine whether it can be verified and whether it is consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. Greater Hadiths are those which have extensive historical and scholarly evidence to support them. Lesser Hadiths have limited evidence to support them.
Despite their religious ideology, at the core of ISIS beliefs is an equal mix of political ideology. ISIS conducts itself as a state; collecting taxes and implementing its own version of judicial law and social controls. It grew out of region wide crisis in Iraq and flourished in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Here too, their political ideology has been the source of great debate. Some argue that US intervention was responsible for the creation of ISIS; others argue that former Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki institutionalised sectarian division in the nation, instigating a violent response among militant Sunni groups which already existed in the nation. The political goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni Islam to a place of (at least) equality, and their political message initially gained the support of non-militant Sunni Muslims who were marginalised by the nation’s government. In addition, ISIS often calls for the erasure of the Sykes-Picot lines which, in 1916, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control or influence.
The question of what ISIS really wants has made it difficult to know how to deal with them. ISIS governs itself as an extreme Islamic caliphate, organises like a modern state, and fights like a guerrilla insurgency.
Impact of Global Politics
ISIS is believed to have amassed over 200,000 fighters, with potential members coming from as many as 90 nations. As stated earlier, ISIS has developed a savvy social media presence, and nations are stopping people on a near daily basis from travelling to the region.
Despite a US led coalition of forty nations that have agreed to fight ISIS, the battle against the terrorist group has become. However since the initiation of the coalition in August 2014, ISIS has continued to grow.
In part, ISIS has thrived because of the complexity of international politics. The main fighting forces on the ground are the Kurdish Peshmerga, who belong to a political movement known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has sought an autonomous Kurdish state in parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government reached its zenith in 2005 when the PKK conducted a series of bombings, leading them to become a designated terrorist group in Turkey, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. The EU Court removed its status as terrorist organisation in April 2008. However, the designation by the US and Turkey has brought with it problems of arming the PKK; the only group that has successfully battled ISIS on the ground.
To add to the complexity, another nation that has a vested interest in defeating ISIS is Iran, which is on the US “enemies” list. As such, Iran, with over 500,000 active troops, is not a member of the coalition. Iran has been facing heavy sanctions that have been put in place by the west; the US has taken the lead in negotiating nuclear reduction in Iran. The US believes that Iran could use nuclear infrastructure to build weapons which could be a direct threat to Israel. Iran maintains that the facilities are part of their energy infrastructure.
In Iraq, the Iraqi military fell apart with alarming speed when ISIS first came onto the scene. It has been reported that when ISIS militants sought to overtake a region, the generals left first, leaving the soldiers uncertain of what to do; and so they left as well. Under Maliki, it is believed that the Sunni members of the army were unhappy to fight for a nation that had alienated them. With a new president in place, the 350,000 member army is currently being trained by Western forces in order to engage in battle against ISIS. However in the meanwhile, Shiite militias have been remobilised to fill the vacuum, however their presence has left Sunni Muslims in a precarious situation.
The Syrian army is believed by many to be the most likely to contain the ISIS threat. In early February, Syrian forces together with the Kurdish fighters repelled an ISIS advance in north-eastern Syria. However, Syrian troops have been divided between fighting in a protracted civil war and fighting ISIS forces. This has decreased their ability to focus on a single target.
Why are more Arab ground troops not involved?
ISIS has overtly stated that they seek to gain ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, ISIS has established a presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and along the Libyan coastline. In mid-February, Egyptian conducted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Derna, Libya, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals. Shortly after the airstrikes, Egyptian President Sisi called for a joint Arab military force to tackle extremist groups in the region, and called for a United Nations mandate for foreign intervention in Libya. Sisi’s call raises an important question: why have Arab nations —particularly those at greatest risk from ISIS— not sent in ground troops to fight ISIS?
In short, many Arab militaries have not acted as fighting forces for some time. For example the Egyptian army had not engaged in ground war since the three-day border war with Libya in 1977. Further, the Egyptian military has not been deployed to a foreign nation since the North Yemen civil war of the 1960s, where it was defeated. The story is similar for many militaries in the region. Another problem arises from the history of Arab cooperation in defence. Divisions along political lines (Turkey and the Kurds, for example), prevent full trust and therefore full cooperation. Western analysts espouse hope that the GCC Peninsula Shield, a 40,000-strong force made up of countries in the Persian Gulf, will be deployed to fight ISIS, however the group is designed to prevent political unrest in existing regimes. It is a force for suppression, not battle. The GCC Peninsula shield was most recently deployed to quell unrest in Bahrain in 2011. Their targets were unarmed, disorganised civilians. It is unlikely that they are prepared to engage in battle against armed, methodical militants.
This does not mean that the battle against ISIS cannot be won. However it will require renewed training of security forces, the updating of weaponry, and the combined efforts of both Middle Eastern and Western forces. The biggest advantage that ISIS has is the political divides that keep forces from uniting. As long as nations around the world debate whether to send forces, or to interfere on sovereign land, or base their involvement on political conditions, ISIS will continue to thrive.
Lebanon’s battle with ISIS: a proxy war for Saudi Arabia and IranNovember 6, 2014 in Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria
On Wednesday, Lebanon’s Parliament voted to extend their terms in office to 2017, arguing that the nation’s fragile security situation makes it too difficult to hold elections. The lawmakers, who were elected to four-year terms in 2009, voted last year to remain in office, citing the same security threats. The decision has been denounced by foreign diplomats and human rights organizations who feel that the vote undermines the democratic process. However to many Lebanese citizens, the decision does not come as a surprise.
Lebanon’s government has been paralysed by disagreements among powerful political blocs, and decisively split on the issue of Syria’s civil war. The Prime Minister appointed a new cabinet in February, but the group has been unable to achieve much. Nearly two decades after the end of their own civil war, policymakers have only agreed to prevent new battles from erupting within the nation.
Lebanon has been without a president since May. The Lebanese Parliament does not elect the president; rather the chosen leader is “rubber stamped” after a regional consensus is met. Currently, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is forestalling that agreement, and Lebanon’s growing battle with ISIS has become a proxy battle between the two nations.
ISIS relies upon a strategy of destabilising a region and entrenching themselves, while avoiding local organised fighting forces until they are ready to engage. This strategy is currently being enacted on the Syrian border with Lebanon. Last week, the terror group killed 11 soldiers north of Tripoli, and ISIS leaders have threatened to plunge the country into another civil war.
Lebanon, a member of the US led coalition to combat ISIS, has received approximately $1 billion in training and equipment from the US since 2006. However the US has been constrained in providing further support as the threat of ISIS encroaches upon the Lebanese border. This is in part due to an American domestic law that guarantees that the US will provide Israel a “qualitative military edge” over its neighbours in the region.
In the absence of US support, Saudi Arabia and Iran have offered competing aid packages to Lebanon; the combined offers amount to billions of dollars in arms from the two opposing nations. However, the offers of assistance are being perceived as political one-upmanship between the foes. Lebanon’s acceptance of either aid package amounts to tacit approval of either the Shiite or Sunni dominated governments.
On Tuesday, France and Saudi Arabia signed a contract to give $3 billion worth of French-made weapons to Lebanon’s military. In August the kingdom provided a $1 billion grant for emergency aid to Lebanon’s military and intelligence agencies. The combined pledges are more than twice the Lebanese estimated annual military budget. The aid, which is set to arrive in the first quarter of 2015, will include training, as well as land, sea and air equipment, including armoured vehicles, heavy artillery, anti-tank missiles, mortars and assault weapons.
In September, Ali Shamkhani, secretary to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council offered a package consisting of antitank weapons, artillery and heavy machine guns. Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel’s delegation declined to formally respond to Iran’s offer, which could violate a 2007 U.N. Security Council resolution restricting Iranian arms trade.
The Saudi government believes that the Iranian weapons will be directed toward Hezbollah; a Shiite dominated political organization that is opposed by Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah supports President Assad, whose troops are battling Sunni opposition, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom believes that Iran is more interested in countering Saudi backing than assisting the Lebanese military.
The 65,000-strong Lebanese military (arguably the least sectarian organization in the country), is less effective than Hezbollah, whose armed wing is better equipped and organized, and battle hardened after wars with Israel. However as many Hezbollah fighters have deployed to the war in Syria, the group has become increasingly reliant on the Lebanese military. The Lebanese military has not prevented Shiite Hezbollah fighters from entering Syria to confront Sunni militants fighting against Assad, and they deploy to areas that Hezbollah has cleared and set up checkpoints.
Because of this relationship, Tehran now has a perceived interest in supporting the Lebanese military. However, this relationship has also led the Sunni Muslim community in Lebanon to believe that the army is now taking orders from Hezbollah.
As ISIS moves closer to Lebanon’s border, they benefit from the Lebanese military’s unwillingness to cooperate with Assad. Experts believe that Syria has the only Arab military currently capable of confronting ISIL. More worrisome, Hezbollah has shown a reluctance to battle ISIS, arguing that their involvement will enflame already strained sectarian tensions in Lebanon. It is this enticement that leads ISIS to believe they can ignite a second civil war. ISIS has expressed interest to create new supply routes between Lebanon and Syria as winter unfolds.
In recent weeks, the Lebanese army has suffered setbacks along its long border with Syria. Lebanon shares a short border and rocky relationship with Israel on its only other border. Israel is not a member of the ISIS coalition. The nearest ally, Jordan, does not have the capacity to confront ISIS in Lebanon and protect its own borders with Syria.
Meanwhile, in the absence of a president and a split parliament, the Lebanese policymakers are in gridlock, agreeing only to preserve civil peace and avoid civil or sectarian clashes. However in the face of a growing threat, it is likely that peace will become more difficult to maintain. The nation is relying on a consensus between Saudi Arabia and Iran before it can put its government in working order, and it appears that consensus is not forthcoming.
MENA Security UpdateJuly 10, 2014 in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
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.
MENA Update: 17 June 17, 2014June 17, 2014 in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, MENA, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
17 June – Egypt’s New Cabinet Sworn In
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb was sworn in on Tuesday, retaining his position at the head of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s new government. Al-Sisi also retained key economic and security ministers, and created a new post for Investment Minister to attract funds to the Egyptian economy. Egypt’s government is facing a long task of economic rejuvenation. The economy is forecast to grow at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, insufficient to create new jobs and ease poverty. The government must re-stimulate tourism, close the deficit gap, address long-standing corruption and reassess a costly subsidy system. Ministers will provide Mahleb with a weekly plan to review at cabinet meetings.
Egypt’s new Investment Minister is Ashraf Salman, the co-founder and co-CEO of Cairo Financial Holding. The new Foreign Minister is former ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, and the Minister of International Cooperation is university professor Naglaa El Ahwany. The ministers of ministers for finance, defence, interior, planning, oil, electricity, supplies and communications have remained in place from the previous regime.
16 June – Journalist Abdullah Elshamy to be released
The Egyptian government will release Al Jazeera’s journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, because of his deteriorating health stemming from his hunger strike. Elshamy was arrested on August 14, the day that soldiers and the police used deadly force to break up Islamist protest against the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi. He had been detained without charges and began his hunger strike four months ago. Egyptian state news said that prosecutors were releasing 11 others, who were not identified.
Next Monday, a judge will rule on charges against three Al Jazeera journalists. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to broadcast false reports in order to bring down Egypt’s new military-backed government. The prosecution has not disclosed any evidence regarding the charges. Al Jazeera is currently the only broadcaster in Egypt that is sympathetic to the MB; supporters of the military-backed government have called the news station a terrorist organization.
17 June – British Embassy may re-open in Tehran
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to announce a plans leading to the re-opening of the British embassy in Tehran, after all diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran were suspended in 2011. The unexpected move comes as Iraqi forces clash with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has captured several cities in Iraq over the past week. The speed and organization of ISIS has created a shared interest in among the UK and Iran in confronting the group. Relations between the two nations under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were extremely tense; however in 2013, the election of more moderate President Hassan Rouhani proved a vital step in improving relations between Iran and the West, particularly after Iran’s agreement to scale back its nuclear programme earlier this year. The UK government is still concerned about Iran’s role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria; it is expected the relationship born of necessity may experience tensions.
17 June – ISIS advances spark discussions of separatism, action
The Sunni Islamist militant group, ISIS, have made major advances in the past week. New reports indicate the group has taken over parts of Baquba, 37 miles from Baghdad. If the group successfully captures the city, they will have uninterrupted access down major highways into Baghdad. On Monday, ISIS claimed control over the city of Tal Afar, which lies between previously captured Mosul and the Syrian border. News reports show the air strikes being conducted by the Iraqi Air Force in the strategic region.
The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, believes Iraq may break into separate regions, saying it will be hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before ISIS took control of major cities last week. He added that Sunni Muslims in the region are angered due to their neglect by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. Barzani believes a political solution is the only way forward, possibly leading to an autonomous Sunni region: “We have to leave it to Sunni areas to decide but I think this is the best model for them as well. First they have to take a decision: what they want exactly. And in our view… the best way is to have a Sunni region, like we have in Kurdistan.”
US President Barack Obama has announced that 275 military personnel are being sent to Iraq to defend US citizens and the embassy in Baghdad, and will attempt to relocate embassy staff to consulates in Basra and Ibril. Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to fight ISIS, but has left the door open for targeted drone strikes. The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has been deployed to the Gulf, accompanied by two more warships. On their path through Iraq, ISIS fighters have conducted mass executions, with images and footage being aired on international stations, and confirmed as real by the Iraqi military.
17 June – Jordan’s UN Ambassador Elected High Commissioner for Human Rights
The UN General Assembly has unanimously Jordan’s UN ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will begin his four-year mandate on 1 September, 2014. Zeid al-Hussein will be “the first high commissioner from the Asian continent and from the Muslim and Arab worlds.” He is currently
The UN Human Rights Council promotes and protects global human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development. The High Commissioner functions as the UN official with principal responsibility for global human rights efforts.
16 June – Kuwait to Provide Housing to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Dr. Abdullah Al-Maatouq, Chairman of International Islamic Charity Organization (IICO), has announced that Kuwait will provide 1,000 housing units to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The units will be integrated with necessary services, including clinics, schools, and mosques. Al-Maatouq and others called on the Lebanese government to specify the location for the new housing units. Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees, comprising nearly a quarter of its population. Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the region, is now hosting the largest numbers of refugees. The IICO has previously built 2,000 houses in the Zaatari camp in Jordan and 2,000 houses in a camp in Turkey.
15 June – Hiftar Launches another Offensive in Benghazi
Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar launched another offensive against Islamist militants in Benghazi, resulting in 12 deaths, 18 wounded, and causing dozens of families to flee the area. In fighting on Sunday, large parts of Eastern Libya suffered a disruption of power supplies after rockets hit a power station near Benghazi’s airport. Hiftar’s spokesman, Mohamed El Hejazi, said his forces had detained five leaders from militant groups. Hiftar has declared war against militants in Benghazi, and while he has no official authority, several Libyan army units have joined forces with him.
Some analysts believe that Hifter is supported by neighbouring nations, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are worried about Islamist militants exploiting the chaos in Libya. At a news conference on Sunday, Hiftar praised Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his work in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hiftar called an “international spy network”. He also accused Qatar of fuelling Libya’s chaos: “There is no doubt Qatar supports the militias in Libya,” later adding that Qatar was hampering the formation of a national army and police force in Libya.
The latest fighting in Libya comes less than two weeks before a parliamentary election. Libyans hope the elections will put an end political infighting and install an authoritative government.
14 June – Guards stop Illegal Migrants from Crossing Spain/Morocco Border
Nearly 1,000 African migrants were halted in their attempts to storm a three-tier, barbed wire border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla. Moroccan security forces drove back the migrants in the latest attempts to cross into Spanish territory. Illegal immigration has reached crisis levels in recent years; estimates by the Interior Ministry in Madrid suggest that nearly 40,000 sub-Saharan Africans are waiting for an opportunity to go to Spain. In addition, there are increasing numbers of boats attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. These boats often originate in Libya amid the chaos in the nation. A majority of migrants have come from Syria, Eritra, and other impoverished regions in Africa.
17 June – UN Report Suggests Sectarian War Engulfing Iraq and Syria
In a report released on Tuesday, UN human rights investigators say the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria. Militants from ISIS have seized the north of Iraq in the past week, linking it with territory previously taken in eastern Syria. In Syria, 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,” and adds that ISIS kidnapped nearly 200 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo at the end of May. “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,” the report said.
“The international community, and specifically the (UN) Security Council, have yet to demand that the individuals perpetrating crimes against the men, women and children of Syria are held responsible. Through their inaction, a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself,” the report said.
16 June – Tunisia proposes Autumn Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
Tunisia’s election authority has proposed a parliamentary vote in October and the first round of presidential polls in late November. The nation has been run by a caretaker government since 2011; the government that saw through the adoption of a new constitution and has been lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
The proposal suggests holding parliamentary elections on October 26, and the first session of the presidential vote on November 23, with the second session on December 28.The proposal is widely accepted to be approved within coming days.
In the first post-revolution elections in 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won, but came under fire for perceived mishandling of the economy and lenience towards radical Islamist groups. Backlash against the party escalated sharply after the assassination of two secular opposition leaders in 2013, which caused the party to resign and hand control to a technocratic caretaker government.
Ennahda, and the secular party Nida Tounes, are expected to be the strongest election contenders in October. Nida Tounes will be open to a governing coalition with Ennahda if the next elections do not produce a clear majority. The Ennahda party said that Tunisia must be governed by consensus over the next five years to anchor its fragile democracy.
Elections commission chief Sarsar said last month that the new electoral law would assure a free and fair vote, with more than 1,000 international observers invited to monitor it.
United Arab Emirates
12 June – UAE Begins Compulsory Military Service
The UAE has instituted a compulsory military service law aimed at safeguarding peace and stability in the Gulf and combating terrorism. The law applies to all males between the ages of 18 and 30 and in good medical health. Men who have a high school degree or its equivalent will serve nine months, while those who do not have a high school diploma will serve for two years.
The law was imposed to protect UAE strategic resources and prepare for threats, and also to “teach its people, men and women, of solidarity through military service,” said Mousa Qallab, a senior researcher for the Orient Research Center in the UAE.
The small Gulf nation is in the centre of a politically instable region, with many surrounding nations experiencing significant upheaval. In addition, the UAE has a territorial dispute with Iran, over three Gulf islands controlled by the Islamic republic.
Apart from the UAE, the government of Qatar in 2013 also approved a draft bill making it compulsory for males to enlist for military service for a period of up to four months. It is believed that Kuwait is also debating drafting legislation for mandatory military service.
Qallab added, “It is important that the Gulf States strengthen their military forces. Regional security must be ensured because here we have over half of the oil reserves in the world, and we export about 35 percent of them to industrialized regions across the world.”
16 June – Yemeni President orders Removal of Artillery
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has ordered the removal of heavy artillery from hills surrounding Sana’a over fears of a coup led by his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters. Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being ousted in 2012 and replaced by his long-time deputy.
A statement by the Yemeni army said, “The military leadership has dismantled heavy artillery and rockets that were positioned on hills around Sana’a following information of a coup plot [by Saleh] whose loyalists continue to infiltrate the army.” The weapons had been stationed on the hills to secure Yemen from al Qaida insurgency, a northern rebellion and a southern separatist movement.
The decision to move the weapons comes after the Hadi’s presidential guard, backed by armoured vehicles, surrounded a mosque controlled by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a late Saturday. It is believed that weapons had been stored in the large mosque in the city and were being guarded by gunmen loyal to Saleh. A tunnel connecting the site to the presidential palace had also been discovered. Hadi ordered that the mosque and its surroundings be handed over to the presidential guard.
The mosque siege came days after authorities closed the Yemen Today newspaper and television channel. Both stations are owned by Saleh and have often been accused of biased coverage of the post-Saleh government and of inciting protests in Sana’a against power cuts and water and fuel shortages. Analysts have accused Saleh of impeding Yemen’s political transition.