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Posts Tagged ‘Hizbollah’

Conspiracy Theories Triumphant in Turkey

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I wrote in The Hidden Hand, my 1996 book surveying conspiracy theories in the Middle East, that

Turkey and Israel stand out as the only two Middle Eastern countries where leaders are fully accountable to electorates, where the West is viewed more as an ally than as an enemy, and where conspiracy theories have a relatively minor role in public life. … Few mainstream politician, intellectual, or religious leaders [in Turkey] engage in conspiratorial thinking, which exists mostly at the fringes of polite society.

How sadly have things changed in the intervening years. Here’s one example of many, not more egregious but more spectacular than most:

The background: On Jan. 30, Israeli warplanes struck targets in Syria. A week later, the exact details remain murky, but it concerned the transfer of advanced armaments by the Syrian regime to the Hizbullah terrorist group in Lebanon. One might expect the Turkish authorities to applaud this step, both because it did damage to the regime Ankara wants to overthrow and because those advanced armaments could potentially be used against Turkish interests. But no, both the government and the communist opposition spun elaborate and unconvincing conspiracy theories about the Israel raid.

  • Government: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized the Syrian government for not responding to the Israeli attack and spoke of a secret deal. “Why has the Syrian army, which has been attacking its own people with warplanes and tanks for 22 months, not responded to this Israeli operation? Why doesn’t [Bashar al-Assad] throw a stone at the Israeli planes while they fly over his palace and insult his nation’s honor? Why doesn’t he do anything against Israel while he drops bombs on the innocent people of his country? Is there a secret agreement between Israel and Assad?” He suggested that the Israeli air strikes serve the interests of the Syrian government, arguing that Assad is “exploiting” the Israeli attack to increase his support among Muslims.
  • Opposition: SANA, the Syrian news agency, quotes Bülent Esinoğlu, vice chairman of Turkish Labor Party (EMEP), saying that the AKP government in Turkey “has cooperated with Israel in its aggression” on Syria. He goes on to claim that Davutoğlu turned a blind eye to this event and that “the Turkish Government was aware of the aggression in advance.”

In brief, the government has Assad cooperating with Israel and the communists have Prime Minister Erdoğan cooperating with Israel.

Comments: (1) This sort of reasoning can quickly leave one with a sore head. (2) With inane conspiracy theories flying back and forth, the population gets confused, public life is degraded, and the portents for Turkey look dim.

Originally published at the National Review Online, The Corner and Daniel Pipes.org on February 4, 2013.

Air Strike in Syria: The Opening Move?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

If, as international media reports say, Israel was indeed behind last week’s air strikes in Syria, it can be assumed that the attack was the opening move in a longer-term strategy to contain quickly-developing threats emerging from Syria, as well as the broader Iran-Hezbollah axis.

The ball is now in the court of Syrian president Bashar Assad and his allies in Beirut and Tehran. If they attempt further weapons transfers to Hezbollah, more air strikes can be expected – a development that will result in a wider conflict.

Iran is also releasing threats of serious retaliation against Israel, a threat which, if realized, could easily lead to a regional escalation. Days before the airstrikes, Iran warned that it would view any attack on Syria as an attack on itself.

For months, Israel has said that it would not allow strategic, advanced Syrian weapons – be they game-changing missiles or chemical weapons – to fall into the hands of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda-affiliated elements.

Israel has remained mum over the strike, and little reliable information has surfaced over what targets were struck, but reports citing Western intelligence officials said a convoy carrying advanced SA-17 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were the target.

The SA-17 system in Hezbollah’s possession would limit the IAF’s ability to carry out vital sorties over Lebanon, whether for reconnaissance, or to attack Hezbollah targets in a future conflict.

Within days of the air strikes, Syrian state media said the target was a military research center near Damascus that carried out work aimed at “raising the level of resistance and self-defense.”

It is entirely possible that both a “research center” and an arms convoy were struck.

Syria’s vague description of the center fits well with a weapons proliferation organization known as the Scientific Studies and Research Center (better known by its French acronym, CERS).

CERS is a Syrian state organization responsible for developing biological and chemical weapons, missiles, and transferring weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas.

In the past, Israel’s former head of the National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel called on the international community to warn Syria that CERS “will be demolished” if it continues arming terrorist organizations.

According to open source intelligence reports, CERS developed ricin-based chemical weapons. The center was designated as an illegal weapons proliferator by former President George Bush and the U.S. Treasury.

On Saturday, Syrian state TV released footage showing wreckage from the air strikes.

The images appear to have inadvertently verified reports of an arms convoy being the target, as they showed large military trucks that were destroyed in the attack – vehicles that resemble trucks designed to transport anti-aircraft systems.

Since the attack, Iran has led the way in issuing threats to respond. Senior Iranian defense and regime officials have said that the attack will “have consequences for Tel Aviv,” and that a Syrian counterattack will “send Israel into a coma.”

Assad limited himself to condemning Israel as a destabilizer of Syria, and a vague statement saying that Damascus can “confront current threats and aggression against it.”

All parties concerned are aware of the fact that the Assad regime is fighting for its life, and will seek to avoid opening a second front against Israel. Any direct attack on Israel by Syria endangers Assad’s immediate survivability.

On the other hand, Iran’s threats cannot be ignored, and the possibility of retribution was factored in before taking the decision to launch the air strikes.

Iran and Hezbollah could activate terrorist cells abroad to attack overseas Israeli interests. Alternatively, terrorists acting on their behalf could fire missiles at Israel from Syrian or Lebanese territory.

It would be safe to assume that the IDF is on its highest alert for such developments.

Despite the escalated tensions, Jerusalem is projecting a business-as-usual message. Defense Minister Ehud Barak travelled to Germany for an international security conference two days after the air strikes, and IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, landed in Washington on Sunday for talks with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Whatever happens next, last Wednesday’s air strikes mark a watershed in the gradual breakdown of the Syrian state, and send an unmistakable message: That strategic weapons proliferation will not be tolerated, whatever the price.

Israel’s Red Line in Syria

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

The picture is not clear yet about what happened, and has been happening, up north today, but there’s plenty of speculation around. There were reports of Israel having carried out some attacks on something on the ground near Syria’s Lebanese border. When one of the parties makes an official statement, we may have a basis for being better informed. So far there is mainly silence from everyone except the news reporting media.

There’s a background: Israeli officials have been warning for months, using language that has been growing clearer and more explicit, that any transfer of Syria’s advanced weapons, chemical and biological weapons in particular, to terrorist organizations will just not be tolerated. Syria’s government is falling apart in front of the world’s cameras, but still possesses the largest arsenal of ‘non-conventional’ weapons on the globe. The air strike this morning may indicate (according to this source) that the Assad regime is testing Israel’s resolve on its red line.

Much earlier in the day today (Wednesday) in Jerusalem, a well-informed Israeli official, Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Amnon Sofrin addressed journalists about where Israel’s red line is drawn. Sofrin established – and between 2000 and 2003 led – the IDF’s combat intelligence corps. Few media experts will have his authority in interpreting what’s on the mind of Israeli security officials.

For Israel, according to Sofrin, the red line is crossed with the transfer of any of Syrian non-conventional weapons to Hezbollah. Non-conventional weapons? There’s Sarin, an extremely potent nerve gas; that’s the one that worries him less. The other is VX. Wikipedia calls it “an extremely toxic substance that has no known uses except in chemical warfare as a nerve agent. As a chemical weapon, it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations in UN Resolution 687. The production and stockpiling of VX was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993“. For a sense of their devastating effects, take a look a recent piece in, of all places, New Yorker: “The Case of Agent 15: Did Syria Use a Nerve Agent?

Assad, who controls “hundreds of warheads”, might decide that his regime’s days are running out and think, as Sofrin put it: “If I go down and I leave my chair, at least one of the heritage I will leave will be that Hezbollah will have capability to hit Israel very bad. Is it something that you can rule out, I can’t.

According to Sofrin, an Israeli failure to prevent such a Syrian transfer to Hezbollah would leave Israel in the very difficult position of having to

build up a new equation of deterrence against Hezbollah and to make it clear to Hezbollah that if you are going to make any attempt to even think about using it, the price will be very, very high and very painful.”

Israel remains conscious of the burdens it carries. The Australian newspaper quotes Sofrin saying this morning that

Israel was unlikely to carry out air strikes on chemical weapons stocks because of the environmental risks. “When you go and attack a… chemical weapons depot, you’re going to do unwarranted damage, because every part will leak out and can cause damage to many residents… But if you know of a convoy leading these kind of (chemical) weapon systems from Syria to Lebanon, you can send a unit to the proper place and try to halt it” on the ground.

Those comments were made, as we noted above, before today’s reports of an air attack by the IDF emerged. But they came after a series of reports like one from the New York Times ["Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It"] three weeks ago which spoke of Syrian troops appearing to be mixing chemicals – probably Sarin - at two storage sites and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes and be “airborne in less than two hours.

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Noxious Nominations: The Four Horsemen of the American Foreign Policy Apocalypse

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

I did a lot of soul-searching before writing yesterday’s article, “After the Fall: What Do You Do When You Conclude America is (Temporarily or Permanently) Kaput?” Of course, I believed every word of it and have done so for a while. But would it depress readers too much? Would it just be too grim?

Maybe U.S. policy will just muddle through the next four years and beyond without any disasters. Perhaps the world will be spared big crises. Possibly the fact that there isn’t some single big superpower enemy seeking world domination will keep things contained.

Perhaps that is true. Yet within hours after its publication I concluded that I hadn’t been too pessimistic. The cause of that reaction is the breaking story that not only will Senator John Kerry be the new secretary of state; that not only will the equally reprehensible former Senator Chuck Hagel be secretary of defense, but that John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism advisor, will become CIA chief.

About two years ago I joked that if Kerry would become secretary of state it was time to think about heading for that fallout shelter in New Zealand. This trio in power—which along with Obama himself could be called the four horseman of the Apocalypse for U.S. foreign policy—might require an inter-stellar journey.

Let me stress that this is not really about Israel. At the end of Obama’s second term, U.S.-Israel relations will probably be roughly where they are now. Palestinian strategy–both by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas–has left the United States no diplomatic or “peace process” option on that front. The problem is one of U.S. interests, especially the American position in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world.

You can read elsewhere details about these three guys. Here I will merely summarize the two basic problems:

–Their ideas and views are horrible. This is especially so on Middle Eastern issues but how good are they on anything else? True, they are all hostile to Israel but this isn’t the first time people who think that way held high office. Far worse is that they are pro-Islamist as well as being dim-witted about U.S. interests in a way no foreign policy team has been in the century since America walked onto the world stage.

Brennan is no less than the father of the pro-Islamist policy. What Obama is saying is this: My policy of backing Islamists has worked so well, including in Egypt, that we need to do even more! All those analogies to 1930s’ appeasement are an understatement. Nobody in the British leadership said, “I have a great idea. Let’s help fascist regimes take power and then they’ll be our friends and become more moderate! That’s the equivalent of what Brennan does.

–They are all stupid people. Some friends said I shouldn’t write this because it is a subjective judgment and sounds mean-spirited. But honest, it’s true. Nobody would ever say that their predecessors—Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus—were not intelligent and accomplished. But these guys are simply not in that category. Smart people can make bad judgments; regular people with common sense often make bad judgments less often. But stupid, arrogant people with terrible ideas are a disaster.

Brennan’s only life accomplishment has been to propose backing radical Islamists. As a reward he isn’t just being made head of intelligence for the Middle East but for the whole world! Has Brennan any proven administrative skill? Any knowledge of other parts of the world? No. All he has is a proximity to Obama and a very bad policy concept. What’s especially ironic here is that by now the Islamist policy has clearly failed and a lot of people are having second thoughts.

With Brennan running the CIA, though, do you think there will be critical intelligence evaluations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, or even Hamas? Is the CIA going to warn U.S. leaders about the repression against women, Christians, and moderates? Will there be warnings that Islamists are taking over Syria or reports on Islamist involvement in killing Americans in Benghazi? Can we have confidence about U.S. policy toward Iran?

To get some insight into his thinking, consider the incident in which a left-wing reporter, forgetting there were people listening, reminded Brennan that in an earlier private conversation he admitted favoring engagement not only with the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah but also the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Ask yourself this question: when an American intelligence chief told Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate, secular group who approved that line of argument?

Israel’s US Ambassador: We’ll Act to Stop Chemical Weapons Reaching Hezbollah (Video)

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said on Sunday night that Israel has been monitoring the situation in Syria for a long time and is worried about the possibility of Syrian chemical weapons coming to Hezbollah’s possession.

“If these weapons fall into the wrong hands, it will be a game changer for us,” Oren stated in an interview with Fox News.

Oren told the interviewer, Chris Wallas:”You can imagine the Hezbollah, with its thousands of missiles, having chemical weapons? It could kill thousands of people.”

The Sunday Times has reported that Israeli special forces are operating in Syria as spotters to track the regime’s stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The cross-border operation is part of a secret war to trail Syria’s non-conventional armaments and sabotage their development.

“For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” an Israeli source told the Sunday Times, referring to Israel’s spy satellites and drones. “But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”

New Head of Hamas Military Wing Takes Jabari’s Place

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Marwan Issa has been named the new commander of Hamas’s military wing. Issa was the deputy of Ahmed Jabari who was killed yesterday in an Israeli air strike and buried after public mourning rituals in Gaza.

Issa headed  the Hamas military delegation that traveled to Tehran and Beirut last September and signed secret mutual defense pacts with Iran and Hizbollah.

Questions Outnumber Answers on Downed Drone, for Now

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

The official statement by the IDF is laconic:

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was identified penetrating Israeli airspace this morning, and was intercepted by the IAF at approximately 10:00 AM. IDF soldiers are currently searching the area where the drone was downed, in open areas in the northern Negev, to locate and identify the drone.

That’s the whole report.

News agencies add additional minor details but the large questions remain unanswered for the moment. China’s Xinhua news service says the unidentified drone flew over settlements and military bases in southern Israel briefly before being brought down by IDF fire over an open unpopulated area. It was spotted entering Israel’s airspace from the Mediterranean sea heading from the west to the east. But there is no word on where the UAV originated.

The Daily Mail‘s website, published in the UK says this is not the first incident in which Israel has shot down drones entering its airspace:

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah has launched several such aircraft into Israel over the past few years. In the 2006 war, Hezbollah launched an Iranian-made drone capable of carrying explosives into Israel that was shot down. Another one launched two years earlier crashed in the Mediterranean.

The Mail also quotes the IDF’s military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, saying no one was injured in the process of bringing down this morning’s drone, and that Israeli ground systems alerted the air force to its presence, as a result of which IDF jets were given the order to scramble and intercept it. The Israeli air force “was in control throughout… We had monitoring contact from the ground and from the air.” She said the drone flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate there and declined to give more details. But Israel media reports have suggested this was an intelligence gathering drone and was not carrying explosives.

Times of Israel publishes video footage of the IDF bringing down the drone, and says the army is considering “the possibility that it originated in Lebanon. Hezbollah has flown drones into Israeli airspace a few times in the past, though not for several years“.

Back in April 2012, the daily Yediot Aharonot reported that the terrorists of Lebanon’s Hezbollah have

been allocating increased resources towards bolstering its drone unit… The Shiite terror groups reportedly plans to use its unmanned aerial vehicle to attack Israel in case it mounts a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Hezbollah is equipped with Ababil (“Swallow”) drones, which are manufactured and provided by Iran.The Ababil has several models, including one that can carry a warhead packed with several dozens of kilograms of explosives. Defense establishment officials expressed concern that Hezbollah would be able to send multiple drones into Israel’s airspace and have them crash into targets in the country’s north. “Hezbollah is making a specific effort to acquire such (weapons) as part of its offensive lineup against Israel,” a security source told Yedioth Ahronoth.

The Lebanon Daily Star reported that a Hezbollah drone crash-landed inside Lebanon in July. As far back as 2006, the IDF brought one of those Ababil drones down in the sea off the northern Israeli city of Akko [report].

A website called Arkenstone ["a comprehensive, open source, English-language database on the Iranian armed forces"] gives more background about Iranian drones. Keep in mind we still don’t know the source of today’s drone. And for the moment (it’s 7:45 pm Saturday night here in Jerusalem) there are no reports about this that we can see in the online Iranian media.

Finally, a reminder from the BBC World Service that

Iran has unveiled what it says is a new “indigenous” long-range unmanned drone capable of flying over most of the Middle East, state media report. The Shahed (Witness) 129 had a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles) and could be equipped with bombs and missiles, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said. It is reportedly capable of carrying out reconnaissance and combat missions.

There are certain to be more details in the coming hours.

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