The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Tunisian smugglers are behind “Phantom Landings” in Italy, operating out of Sfax

Tunisian smugglers are behind “Phantom Landings” in Italy, operating out of Sfax: A La Stampa September 20 report, translated here, by Fabio Albanese entitled “First five latest Tunisia route traffickers arrested.”
They are all Tunisians between 38 and 27 years of age. They are the first five traffickers – which we know about – arrested for aid and abetting illegal immigration in the framework of the investigations on the “phantom landings” on the beaches in the Agrigento area, and on those of Lampedusa and Linosa. The men of the Ragusa mobile brigade [Carabinieri] identified them and brought them to jail, given that the five individuals had been transferred to the Pozzallo hotspot [centre for the identification and registration of migrants]. The other 116 people who on 15 September were – along with the traffickers – aboard a ship approached by the motor patrol boat Verdecchia of the Finance Police 70 miles southwest of Porto Empedocle, are also in that facility. A vessel of the Italian Navy deployed under the Frontex banner had noticed the ship and raised the alarm. It is one of the first Tunisian boats involved in the “phantom landings” to be located and blocked while still at sea and the last, in chronological order, to have arrived in Sicily.
The five individuals have been identified thanks to a video found in the mobile phone of a migrant woman: The five men are seen in the wheelhouse laughing and joking. It was only after the discovery of this video that some of the migrants decided to talk, to describe the roles of the traffickers, and to share details of the journey at sea which had started a few days earlier from the port of Sfax, east of Tunis, and had been interrupted repeatedly owing to malfunctions of the boat, which was changed twice. Each of them had supposedly paid 2,000 euros for the crossing, a much greater sum than the one paid by desperate people departing from Libya. This trip alone would have therefore produced roughly 200,000 euros in revenue.
The surprise for investigators, however, arrived later during the identification procedures of the 121 individuals who had arrived, and supports some of the investigative hypotheses formulated by the Agrigento Prosecution Office. The latter believes that the “phantom landings” phenomenon has nothing to do with the closure of the Libyan route, and Agrigento Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio, during a conversation with La Stampa, dubbed it “dangerous immigration”: some 30 per cent of the migrants who disembarked that boat and were brought from Porto Empedocle to Pozzallo had previously been in Italy, and had previously been expelled. Some of them were even convicted felons known to the Italian judiciary who had been sent back to Tunisia for that precise reason. Just as it will happen now not only to the repeat offenders but also to those who, as “economic migrants,” cannot receive refugee status and cannot be welcomed in Italy. They have all been already transferred to the (Cpr, ex Cie) Pian del Lago Centre for identification and expulsion in Caltanissetta, awaiting the Interior Ministy’s plane that will bring them back to their country.
“The situation is concerning,” the investigators, who do not try to hide the fact that these landings, the majority of which took place in the dead of the night or during the early morning, and often avoid patrols, may bring ill-intentioned individuals to Italy. According to estimates, some 5,000 migrants who departed from Tunisia supposedly arrived on the beaches of the Agrigento area and those of Lampedusa and Linosa from June until the present day. Those who landed in the Pelagie islands were stopped and repatriated, while those who landed in the most isolated and inaccessible beaches of the Agrigento region, from the Torre Salsa nature reserve to the spectacular beach of Scala dei Turchi, to Siculiana, Realmonte, Ribera, or Licata largely escaped. Some 11 landings have been reported in the last month alone: “But this summer there have been at least some 70 landings that we have heard about,” Agrigentine President of Mareamico [Environmental NGO] Claudio Lombardo said. Lombardo, together with the volunteers of the organisation, has been keeping the beaches under control and monitoring the [phantom landings] phenomenon, also with the goal of prompting the authorities to remove the abandoned boats that spoil the environment and pollute: “In fact, there could be a lot more landings than that, because we count those of the people who have abandoned boats on the beaches. But there are also boats and dinghies that drop migrants off along the shoreline and head back,” Lombardo said. “We realise that because we find on the sand the drenched clothes that migrants leave behind when they get changed to escape, but not the boats that have brought them here.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 4, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Registration Deadline Approaching For The 2nd Yemen Exchange: Join More Than 25 Leading Yemenis, Foreign Diplomats & Practitioners October 11-15 in Beirut

We still currently have two slots left for our 2nd Yemen Exchange which will be hosted in Beirut, Lebanon October 11-15. Once again, the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies has assembled an impressive roster of Yemeni leaders, activists and analysts representing nearly all sides.

Who Should Register:

— Foreign diplomats;

— NGO practitioners;

— Researchers, analysts and journalists;

— Academics and advanced level students working on Yemen and the wider region.

To request a registration form, email before the October 4 Final Deadline II.


For more information about any of our upcoming direct engagement conferences in the Middle East and North Africa, visit:

October 11-October 15: The Second Yemen Exchange (Hosted in Beirut)

November 29-December 3: The Libya Exchange (Hosted in Tunis)

January 3-January 10: The 10th Tunis Exchange

January 14-January 21: The 19th Beirut Exchange

Note that registration fee discounts are available for participants who wish to attend multiple Exchanges. To view previous Exchange programs in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq and the Gulf, as well as media coverage of our efforts and alumni comments, visit:

The Exchange

The Beirut Exchange Group on Facebook

The Tunis Exchange Group on Facebook


Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 30, 2017 at 11:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tony Badran’s Realization: Hezbollah Now Has Veto Ally in UNSC

Tony Badran has angrily stumbled on a game changer in Lebanon @KarimMakdisi: Russia now has to some extent wielded its veto power directly in favor of its new battlefield ally. Unprecedented in terms of this degree of exchange relation I think?

“…Sure enough, Hezbollah’s reminder found attentive ears. France, which contributes troops to the force, and whose troops were attacked in 2011, rejected any change to the mandate. And with Russia, which works closely with Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield, reportedly threatening to veto the resolution if it so much as made an explicit reference the group, the whole effort at the Security Council was over before it even began…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 26, 2017 at 11:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

IDF Dahiye Doctrine Author Comes To Terms With Strategic Balance Hezbollah & Allies Have Achieved

The most honest assessment I have read by an Israeli in a long time – and by the architect of the Dahiye Doctrine no less. Read this to understand Israeli’s bind and why “pre-emptive” war is coming and will be massively destructive… also remember it never should have come to this point.

Giora Eiland:

Last Friday, according to foreign sources, Israel attacked a military target in the Damascus airport once again. There seems to be a routine of Israeli strikes in Syria, which no longer interests anyone. The Syrians, Iran and Hezbollah don’t seem too excited by it either. Have they come to terms with the successful Israeli preventive measures? Are they failing to respond because the Israeli deterrence is still very effective? Is Russian pressure stopping them from acting? I’m afraid there may be a different explanation.

Our enemies are willing to occasionally sacrifice means or targets that Israel allegedly manages to destroy, but at the same time, they have found other ways to transfer the advanced weapons from Iran through Syria to Lebanon. This isn’t particularly complicated in light of three things: One, the Syria-Lebanon border is 300-kilometers long, and most of the area is tree-covered and mountainous; two, hundreds of trucks travel from Syria to Lebanon every day; three, there is no one between Tehran and Beirut who is interested in and capable of thwarting this activity.

There’s no escape from concluding, therefore, that despite the alleged Israeli thwarting operations, Hezbollah will continue building its power almost undisturbed. The Israeli activity is reportedly focused on an attempt to prevent Hezbollah from receiving or producing precision missiles. That is, undoubtedly, the preferred target. There is a huge difference between the damage potential of precision weapons and statistical weapons. Israel is a small country with a small number of vital sites and low redundancy. If power stations, airport, seaports, railway stations or hospitals are damaged in the next war, Israel will pay an almost unbearable price—in addition to hundreds of casualties…” READ ON,7340,L-5020144,00.html

Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 26, 2017 at 11:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Bari Atwan: “Quasi-Impossible” Turkish-Syrian Security Meeting Held Under Russian Guidance Over Kurdish Referendum

Translated excerpt today from Abdul Bari Atwan’s column:

“… Mr. Baraani united most of his neighbors against him. There are quasi-certain pieces of information indicating that a Turkish security delegation met with a Syrian delegation a few days ago under a Russian supervision in order to coordinate their positions on the post-Irbil referendum phase in addition to discussing the situation in Idleb. The available news indicated that the meeting was a loud one where the two sides exchanged verbal punches. However, who would have imagined, a few months ago that such a quasi-impossible meeting could actually take place…?”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 25, 2017 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Ten Years Of The Exchange: Join Us In Lebanon, Tunisia, Erbil And Sulaymaniyah and its partners are pleased to announce that 2018 will mark the tenth year of our direct engagement conference series known as The Exchange.

First launched in June 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon, we now count more than 600 people from 51 different countries as alumni of our 35 Exchanges in the Middle East and North Africa.

To register for the 19th or 20th Beirut Exchange in 2018 – or for any of our upcoming Exchanges hosted in Tunis or Iraqi Kurdistan – email


October 11-October 15: Second Yemen Exchange (Hosted in Beirut)
October 29-November 4: Erbil-Sulaymaniyah Exchange
November 29-December 3: Libya Exchange (Hosted in Tunis)

January 3-January 10: Tenth Tunis Exchange
January 14-January 21: Nineteenth Beirut Exchange
June 17-24: Twentieth Beirut Exchange
To view previous Exchange schedules in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq and the Gulf, as well as media coverage of our efforts and alumni comments, visit:

The Exchange

The Beirut Exchange Group on Facebook

The Tunis Exchange Group on Facebook

Note that participation fee discounts are available for participants who wish to attend multiple Exchanges. For more information, please email Furthermore, all our programs are funded on the basis of fees paid by the participants themselves: There is no government, private or non-profit support, an aspect that we believe provides a relatively neutral platform for dialogue and understanding.


October 29-November 4, 2017
Application Deadline I September 30
Deadline II October 15, 2017
25 slots only/Rolling acceptance

The Erbil-Sulaymaniyah Exchange is co-hosted by the French Association Noria (, and During the six days of the conference, participants from around the world will listen and engage local politicians, civil society figures and analysts. The aim is to provide direct and intensive insight from several different perspectives into Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Iraqi Kurdistan in general, as well as disputed areas between the Islamic State, Erbil and Baghdad. As such, the Exchange rests on two tracks:
Professional & Academic – Participants will attend a series of lectures led by prominent academics, analysts and activists from Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and the wider region. Themes will include, among others:

– The status of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) & Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK);
– KDP-PUK relations in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG);
– The rise of the political opposition parties and movements;
– The relationship between the KRG and Baghdad;
– Kirkuk and the disputed territories;
– The political game around the Islamic State;
– The September referendum;
– Gender and politics in Kurdistan;
– NGO and the clientelist game;
– The place of Minorities in KRG and the Kurdish sectarian system;
– Shi’i militia structures;
– The PKK and the Struggle for Sinjar;
– Kurdish Iranian parties in KRG;
– The Kurdish political parties and the Syrian Civil War.

Dialogue with Leaders – Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage leading social, political and economic actors from across the spectrum in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Iraqi Kurdistan.


NOTE: Accepted applicants will receive the full list of confirmed speakers one month prior to the opening of the Exchange, as well as readings pertinent to the sessions.

Sunday, July 9
6:00PM – Opening Introductions, Schedule & Security Briefing
8:00PM – Comments by Monica Marks, Oxford University & Nicholas Noe,

Monday, July 10
9:30AM – Arthur Quesnay, Panthéon-Sorbonne
11:30AM – Robin Beaumont, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
1:00PM – LUNCH
2:00PM – Maria Fantappie, International Crisis Group
4:00PM – Belkis Wille, Human Rights Watch
5:30PM – Patrick Cockburn, The Independent
6:30PM – Scott Bohlinger, The International NGO Safety Network

Tuesday, July 11
9:30AM – Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Journalist
11:30AM – Muhammed Ihsan, Ex Minister of Disputed Territories & President, Erbil University
1:00PM – LUNCH
2:30PM – Hemin Hawrami, Senior Advisor to the President
4:00PM – Aram Qaradakhy, Journalist
6:00PM – Kamal Chomani, Political Analyst

Wednesday, July 12
8:00AM – Jabar Yawar, General Secretary, Ministry of Peshmerga
9:30AM – Choman Hardi, The American University of Iraq Sulaimani
11:00AM – Arthur Quesnay, Panthéon-Sorbonne
12:15PM – Sarbast Lazgin Senory, Deputy Minister of Peshmerga and Deputy Interior Minister
2:30PM – LUNCH
4:00PM – Hakim Khaldi, Doctors Without Borders
6:00PM – Dr, Mohammad Orfin, Ninevah Voluntary for IDP

Thursday, July 13
9:30AM – Hemin Baban, Journalist
11:30PM – Group Discussion
1:00PM – LUNCH
2:15PM – Amar al-Kaya, Special Advisor to Ibrahim al Jafari
4:00PM – Arthur Quesnay, Panthéon-Sorbonne
6:00PM – Khaled Chwani, MP, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan

Friday, July14
8:30AM – Gevara Zaya, Assyrian Democratic Movement Military Wing Coordinator, Ninevah Protection Unit; Kaldo Ramzi, Political Bureau Member, Assyrian Democratic Movement
10:00AM – Adham Juma, Political Analyst
11:30AM – Rokkan Jaf, Journalist
12:30PM – LUNCH
2:30PM – Zana S. Rostae, Komal Islami
4:00PM – Abu Bakr Karwani, Kurdistan Islamic Union
6:00PM – Rabun Marouf, MP, Goran Movement
7:30PM – Khalil Ibrahim Mohammad, Kurdistan Islamic Union
8:30PM – Soran Omar, MP, Komal Islami

Saturday, July 15
9:30AM – Falah Mustafa Bakir, KRG Foreign Minister
10:30AM – Trip to PDKI Base in Koya, Mustafa Hijri, Secretary General of the PDKI
3:30PM – LUNCH
4:30PM – Liza Hido, President, Baghdad Women’s Association
6:00PM – Christine M. van den Toorn, Director, Institute for Regional and International Studies, AUIS

Sunday, July 16
10:00AM – Rebin Fatah, Journalist
12:00PM – Omed Khoshnaw, MP and Head of the KDP Bloc and Hiva Haji Mirkhan, MP and Head of the Finance Committee @ The Parliament
2:00PM – END
Program Format:

The Erbil-Sulaymaniyah Exchange will open at 7pm on Sunday, October 29 in Erbil at the Classy Hotel. On Wednesday, November 1, the group will travel to Sulaymaniyah where sessions will be held until the close of the Exchange at 5pm on Saturday, November 4 (note that bus travel back to Erbil on Saturday will be provided for those participants flying out of Erbil). In order to promote small group dynamics, the number of participants will be capped at 25. Sessions themselves will be conducted on an individual rather than a panel basis for all speakers and will generally allow ample opportunity for question time (translation into English will be provided when necessary). All sessions will also be held under strict Chatham House rules, although we customarily work with our speakers to approve any quotes/references that participants may need for their own work.


Participation Fee – $900; Note that participation fee discounts are available for participants who wish to attend multiple Exchanges. For more information, please email Furthermore, all our programs are funded on the basis of fees paid by the participants themselves: There is no government, private or non-profit support, an aspect that we believe provides a relatively neutral platform for dialogue and understanding.
Accommodation – $75, for a single room per night under our group booking only (breakfast and taxes are included). Shared double rooms are also available upon request and are priced at $50 per participant (we will arrange for sharing with other participants).

Airfare – $500, approximate from the European Union.

About the Co-Directors:

Arthur Quesnay is Assistant Researcher and PhD Research Fellow in Political Science at the ERC-funded Sociology of Civil Wars program at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University (Paris 1) since 2015. He was previously (2010-2014) a Junior Research Fellow in Iraq at the Institut français du Proche-Orient (IFPO). His doctoral thesis focuses on sectarian conflicts in Northern Iraq, where he conducted extensive fieldwork since 2009. He has also conducted parallel fieldwork in Libya (2011-2012) and Syria (2012-2013 and 2016) with insurgent groups. Taken together, his work highlights social and political transformation through the Middle East Civil Wars. As co-director of Noria MENA Programme, Mr. Quesnay calls for social scientists to adopt new methodological and conceptual approaches to understanding these extreme situations and for combining micro and macro analyses.
Robin Beaumont is a PhD candidate in Political Studies at the Paris-based École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). A former student at École Normale Supérieure (ENS, Paris), he joined the European Research Council-funded program WAFAW in 2014, and is currently based in Amman, Jordan, as an associate to the French Institute for Near Eastern Studies (Ifpo). His research explores the reconfigurations of Shia political authority in post-2003 Iraq through a study of the structure of, and relationships between, the religious field (marja’iyya), the Iraqi State, and the various Shia militias.
Monica Marks is a Rhodes Scholar and PhD Candidate at Oxford University, and a doctoral fellow with the European Research Council’s WAFAW program. Her work, which focuses on politics, institutional reform, and Islamist movements in Tunisia and Turkey, has appeared in peer-reviewed books and journals, news outlets including The Guardian, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Post, and for think tanks including the Carnegie Endowment, the Brookings Institute, and The Century Foundation. A former Fulbright Scholar to Turkey, Ms. Marks has taught as a Visiting Professor in the Politics and International Relations Department of Istanbul’s Bogazici University. Recently she has been a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University’s SIPA school and at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). She speaks Arabic and Turkish.
Nicholas Noe is co-founder of the Beirut-based news translation service covering the Middle East media and the co-director of The Exchange program. The first Exchange was launched by Senior Producer Yamen Soukkarieh and Mr. Noe in Beirut, Lebanon in June 2008. Since that time, more than 600 people from 51 different countries have participated in more than 35 Exchanges.


###Ten Years Of The Exchange: Join Us In Lebanon, Tunisia, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah

Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Saudi Shura Council to vote Monday on merging Vice and Virtue police with Ministry of Islamic Affairs

Translated today by our, in part below:

On September 21, the Al-Sharq daily carried the following report: “Well-informed sources revealed that the Saudi Shura Council will be voting this coming Monday on merging the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The sources said that the individuals who recommended this merger, Ata al-Sebeiti, Latifa Shaalan, and Ali al-Tamimi, clang to their recommendation despite the attempts of the Islamic and Judicial Affairs committee to dissuade them.

“The sources believe that the recommendations that will be filed by the committee for voting on Monday are “very weak” and “separated from reality and the developments mainly the committee’s new organization that was achieved through a resolution by the council of ministers” in addition to “…not matching the vision 2030” because it relies on general ideas and on courtesy…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 22, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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